Category: Review (page 2 of 51)

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

2.5 out of 5 stars

In the village of al-Awafi in Oman, there are three sisters who are choosing different paths for their future. Mayya and Asma have taken the decision to marry, one out of duty, one after the man she loved broke her heart. The third sister, Khawla, heads to Canada after her beloved emigrated there. As Oman society goes through the changes from a traditional, slave-owning society, and into its current modern and complex version, Mayya gives birth to a girl. Rather than choose from the traditional names and she is heavily pressurised to do so by her family, she picks the name London.

This new child is the prism that shows Omani society. The Oman that she grows up into is changing but still remains very traditional in its outlook, with control from the patriarch of the family. The story is told from a variety of different perspectives each chapter, which occasionally can overlap and get a little confusing. It is not bad overall and is a fast read. What it does do well on though is an insight into Omani culture and customs and the complexity that that arises from family matters.

Stanza Stones by Simon Armitage

5 out of 5 stars

The Pennines are some of our most distinctive upland landscapes. The natural contours shaped by the environment are also deeply scarred by man as people have sought to exploit the resources in the ground. This place is raw and elemental. This is the poet, Simon Armitage’s home territory too, he was born in the village of Marsden and knows this landscape intimately.

 

You are lost, adrift in hung water

and blurred air, but you are here.

 

In 2012 he was commissioned by the Ilkley Literature Festival to write site-specific poetry for the footpaths in the region. The project blossomed and with Tom Lonsdale and started to explore sites that would be suitable locations for his poetry. Calling on the expertise of letter-carver Pip Hall the ideas started to form into solid entities. Secluded sites were selected, words were collected from the landscape and he began to form them into poems. This dynamic and iterative process that saw his words carved into stone

 

To take one drop on the tongue, tasting

cloud pollen, grain of the heavens, raw sky.

 

I can’t quite remember how I came across this book, I have a vague recollection of seeing a link or reference pass through on social media somewhere and thought that I might like that. My library had a copy and it turns out I loved it. This is a beautiful book is about the closely woven links between landscape, art, poetry and geology. Aged rocks that have centuries old patina and grime have a crisp font carved out by Pip Hall and are then placed in the landscape. The words Simon has written have profound resonance to the surrounding landscape.  It is a beautiful book and a stunning art project.

The link to the website is here : http://www.stanzastones.co.uk, have a look and then get the book.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

My final review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick, shortlist, is for The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Imogen Hermes Gowar studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History before going on to work in museums. She began to write small pieces of fiction inspired by the artefacts she worked with. In 2013 won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing. She won the Curtis Brown Prize for her dissertation, which grew into this novel. She lives, works, and walks around south-east London – an area whose history she takes a keen interest in.

My review:

Jonah Hancock hears frantic knocking on his from door one September evening. On opening it he finds Captain Jones, one of the captains of his merchant ships eagerly waiting to see him. He lets him in and then hears the news that he has bought. It is not good; he has sold Hancock’s entire ship for what he has been told is a mermaid. Stunned at first, Hancock is lost for words, but Jones persuades him that this will make his fortune, provided he stirs interest in it.

Turns out that lots of people have heard of this marvel and are desperate to see it. The showing is a success and he is being courted by the great and the good as he rises into the echelons of high society. Mrs Chappell, the sharp-eyed businesswoman sees an opportunity to make money from this wonder and offers to rent it from him for a staggering sum of money. He attends the first event, naïvely thinking that the owner of a bordello might not have an event that descends into a romp; but he was wrong. His chaperone for the evening, Angelica Neal, is one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen, but even her charms cannot keep him there so he leaves the party early.

He is approached with an offer for the mermaid and manages to negotiate a very high price for it; financially he is made for life. He is still seeing Angelica, and she requests that she would love him to acquire another mermaid for her, something that he would have considered almost impossible, but one has been found before.

Historical melodrama in not really my thing, but the advantage of reading a shortlist is that it opens your eyes to books that you wouldn’t have considered before. Gowar’s book is well researched and her attention to detail for the period is spot on. Even though it is almost 500 pages long, it didn’t read like a long novel. The prose is flowery and elaborate but suits the time period that it is written in well. It has a strong moral tale and about obsession, oppression and tragedy. It was a book that I liked but didn’t love it as these are not completely my thing.


There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.

The website is here: http://www.youngwriteraward.com

The Young Writers Twitter Account is here: https://twitter.com/YoungWriterYear

You can find them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/YoungWriterAward/

Or follow the hashtag: 

My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat – https://bookishchat.wordpress.com

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books – https://alifeinbooks.co.uk/

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit – https://thelitedit.com

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words  https://theselittlewords.com/about/

Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow

Wilding by Isabella Tree

5 out of 5 stars

Their land at Knepp in West Sussex had been farmed by them and the family before, for years, but it had reached the point where the farm had become unviable as a business. Not sure what to do with the land, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made that decision to let nature take over again. Fences were taken up and they selected some hardy breeds of pigs, Exmoor ponies and cattle to wander freely around the 3500 acres site.

Wildlife under the modern capitalist economies is taking an absolute pounding. A recent report says that we have lost 60% of our global wildlife and figures in the UK show this too; we are ranked 29th in the world for biodiversity loss: 56% of species are in decline and 15% are threatened with extinction. The species that we used to regularly see and hear are no longer around; when did you last hear a cuckoo?

Locals objected to several elements of what they were doing, ragwort was a particular issue with some people, but slowly the recovery began on their land. Species that had plummeted in the weald, begun to return. They were finding that they were suddenly one of the top sites in the country for creatures like purple emperor butterflies and turtle doves. With an abundance of invertebrates come predators and this rippled up until they realised that they peregrine falcons back. In fact, there were several species that had appeared that were not fitting in the niche that would normally be expected.

This inspirational book shows what can be achieved in just a decade, how we can regain a wilder country. Ensuring that we put things in place to support the natural world will make the world and our own lives a richer place. We can make some attempt to reverse the devastating trend even after a decade and whilst farms might not be able to implement all of what they have done, even some of these will have a marked improvement to our natural world.

 

Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth

My second review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick, shortlist, is for Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth

Adam Weymouth is interested in the relationship between humans and the world around them. It has led him to write on issues of climate change and environmentalism, and most recently, to travel the Yukon River and tell the stories of the people living on its banks. He lives on a 100-year-old Dutch barge on the River Lea in London. He has written for a wide variety of outlets including the Guardian, the Atlantic and the New Internationalist. Kings of the Yukon is his first book.

My review:

There are very few areas left in the world that haven’t had some interference from mankind, but one of the true wilderness areas left is in Alaska. It is through this part of Canada and America that the Yukon River snakes its way to the coast and it is this 2000 mile river that Adam Weymouth is intending to canoe along. Even this remote wilderness is showing the signs of climate change and the results of our ruining the planet.

Weymouth is also there to track the King salmon, or chinook as they are known in Canada, as they head upstream from the Bearing Sea to carry out their last act before dying; spawning. They have been away in the Pacific and no one knows exactly where they go, or indeed how they find their way back to the same river and the exact pool where they were spawned themselves. When they have committed this last act, they die. The return of the salmon brought food for the various predators and economic activity along the river for the people that choose to live in this part of the world. However the thousands and thousands of salmon that used to almost clog the river up in their desire to reproduce are no longer there, changes wrought by us and climate change hade decimated the populations.

His account of his four-month journey was in reality split over two years as the river was impossible to canoe down during the winter. That doesn’t lessen his desire to find the people with the stories to tell, and what stories they are. This part of the world attracts those that wanted to drop out of normal society. He meets the indigenous people too who have relied on the king salmon as an intrinsic part of their culture for thousands of years and who until recently have only lightly touched the earth. Weymouth takes time to talk to those he meets, tease out the stories and understand the shocking effects we have been causing on this otherwise unspoilt wilderness and the way that people who have depended on this natural resource are trying to change to reverse some of the changes. For a debut travel writer,  he is pretty accomplished. This is a really enjoyable travel book with a sharp focus and I am looking forward to reading what he does next.

 


There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.

The website is here: http://www.youngwriteraward.com

The Young Writers Twitter Account is here: https://twitter.com/YoungWriterYear

You can find them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/YoungWriterAward/

Or follow the hashtag: 

My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat – https://bookishchat.wordpress.com

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books – https://alifeinbooks.co.uk/

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit – https://thelitedit.com

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words  https://theselittlewords.com/about/

Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow

Elmet by Fiona Mozely

My second review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick, shortlist, is for Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Fiona Mozley grew up in York and later lived in London, Cambridge and Buenos Aires. She has gone full circle and is now back in York, where she is writing a PhD thesis on the concept of decay in the later Middle Ages. Elmet was her first fiction book and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for fiction. She currently works part-time at The Little Apple Bookshop.

My review:

Daniel and Cathy live in a home that their father, John, built with his own hands. He is a huge man and an acclaimed bare-knuckle boxer but as a parent caring for his children, he is a gentle giant. They were never like the other children, and have an alternative upbringing, dropped out of school, spend their days foraging and hunting for food and share their fathers roll-ups and cider. He has told them that this is their home forever, but he has no truck with details like who actually owns the land.

Soon the ghosts from his past lives begin to haunt him once again, the local landlord and hood Price needs John to fight again, large amounts of money are stake and Price has leverage over John. The children notice a difference in their father, gone is the calm; now they see rage flame in his eyes. John decides to accept Prices request to fight, negotiating a deal to secure their future properly and so begins his training…

 I normally don’t read Booker Prize books as I have not always got along with them in the past but this was on my list to read as I was fortunate to win a signed copy. It is a dark tale of the underground culture of a northern village, with the characters deeply rooted in the very landscape they inhabit. I thought it did take a little while to get going, as Mozley takes time setting the scene and builds the atmosphere, however, the last quarter of the book flew by. The prose is sparse yet visceral and charged. Her portrayal of the characters, whose flaws give the plot the friction it needs, make this tale of a family who have stepped away from contemporary society, unnerving and disturbing.


There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.

The website is here: http://www.youngwriteraward.com

The Young Writers Twitter Account is here: https://twitter.com/YoungWriterYear

You can find them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/YoungWriterAward/

Or follow the hashtag: 

My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat – https://bookishchat.wordpress.com

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books – https://alifeinbooks.co.uk/

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit – https://thelitedit.com

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words  https://theselittlewords.com/about/

Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

My first review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick shortlist, is for The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman.

Laura Freeman is a freelance writer and art critic. Her first book The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite has been shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.

She writes about art, architecture, books and food for the Spectator, Times, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Apollo, Literary Review,  Standpoint, World of Interiors, Country Life and TLS. She is a former dance critic for the Evening Standard.

Her work has been short-listed for Feature Writer of the Year at the British Press Awards.

She read History of Art at Cambridge, graduating with a double first in 2010.

My review:

At the young age of fourteen, Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia. Where everyone saw a really thin girl with almost transparent skin, she saw something utterly different in the reflection in the mirror. It was the culmination of months of avoiding certain foods, before almost stopping eating completely until she reached the point where she was starving to death. While she let very little pass her lips in the form of nourishment, she still devoured books, and it was literature that was to hold the key to her recovery.

The road to recovery for an anorexic is long and fraught and it was no different for Laura, but where others just had the mental battle, she had the extra support from the books she was reading. In between the covers of Dickens, Sassoon, Woolf, Lee and Leigh Fermor, she would discover how they were able to consume vast plates full of roast beef, bowls of soup and exotic sounding breads without a care in the world. She reads of soldiers who treasure the moment of a scalding hot cup of tea after an intense battle in World War One. In fact, what she discovered was that these authors loved food; revelled in the taste of what they were eating and sharing the moment with others. These passages in the books slowly gave her the confidence to rediscover food for the pleasure of eating it rather than purely as a fuel.

Even though her mind had driven her to the point of abhorring food, one thing that she never lost was her love of reading. Most people do not realise just how debilitating anorexia is and there is some painful moments in here as she recalls the lowest points of her illness. But there are the moments too, where she is sustained by her mother’s love, an invitation from a friend that arrived at just the right moment. I have read a fair number of the books that Laura talks about in here and whilst the eating and celebration of life between friends and strangers is a key part of them, it is not something that particularly stood out for me, until now. Just reading the descriptions quoted in the book made me very hungry! However, it did for Laura and this list of childhood favourites and other classics has played a crucial role in her accepting that food is not something to avoid and can be enjoyed.


There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.

The website is here: http://www.youngwriteraward.com

The Young Writers Twitter Account is here: https://twitter.com/YoungWriterYear

You can find them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/YoungWriterAward/

Or follow the hashtag: 

My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat – https://bookishchat.wordpress.com

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books – https://alifeinbooks.co.uk/

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit – https://thelitedit.com

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words  https://theselittlewords.com/about/

Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow

 

 

Bognor and Other Regises by Caroline Taggart

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The current Royal family can trace its lineage back to William the Bastard through the various direct links and, err, shall we say, more tenuous links. This proliferation of royalty through the ages has added a lot of history to our country and culture. Earlier monarchs seemed to spend a lot of time trying to stop themselves being killed whilst simultaneously trying to knock their competitors off. Places are as intertwined with these people as much as the history is, and in this book Caroline Taggart take us to 100 places around the UK that have had some significant events happen in this regal history.

As well as the palaces and castles that Royals are usually found in, Taggart takes us to the homes of the great and the good, seaside resorts, abbeys, riversides,  and even the odd field. In each of the 100 locations scattered across the whole country, there is a little back history of the place and the Royal personage and event associated with it. Each of the 100 locations to visit are grouped under the various Royal Houses, for example, the Tudors, the Plantagenets and the House of Hanover.

We have so much history in this country that a book like this can only skim the surface. What it does well though is provide a list of places that you can get out to and visit as well as telling you a series of anecdotes and entertaining snippets to bring the places and people to life. Would be a great read for someone who unfurls the bunting every time there is an announcement from the Buckingham Palace.

Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey

3.5 out of 5 stars

I have only seen dolphins once briefly in the wild. We were coming back from holiday in Jersey and as the ferry eased its way into the narrow harbour of St Peter Port in Guernsey behind the boat there were some leaping in the wake. It was a magical moment in that brief glimpse. There are often off the coast of Dorset and we have been out to Durlston Head to see if we can see them, but haven’t been fortunate yet.

They are highly intelligent creatures, they can recognise themselves in the mirror, are capable of empathy, grief and teamwork. They are excellent communicators, their clicks and whistles are almost continuous as they zip through the ocean. The more that we discover of their abilities the more amazed we become. They are almost human-like in some ways.

However, these magnificent creatures though are under threat. Being an apex predator they accumulate all the toxins and plastics that are contained within their prey. Those that we haven’t killed accidentally are frequently killed in nets and there are communities in the world that see them as a threat to their fishing stocks and kill thousands each year. On top of all that the world’s oceans are now a noisy place with a constant drone from propellers and super loud sonar from military manoeuvres. Dolphin carcases wash up on all the shores around the world, but if that part of the ocean is polluted then the numbers dying grows enormously.

Casey falls in love with these amazing animals and heads to various places around the world to meet those that love dolphins such as Dolphinville on Hawaii’s Big Island where people spend time swimming with the spinner dolphins, as well as taking more harrowing trips to Japan, and seeing where hundreds are slaughtered. On her travels, she discovers more about the trade in live creatures and how a creature that needs the whole of the ocean to live in ends up in marinas and private collections. Her descriptions of her visits to see the animals that are held in captivity are shocking and heart-wrenching. We are rapidly approaching the tipping point where we may not have any dolphins left in the seas. If that ever happens we as a species will be much poorer for it. Not quite as good as her book on waves, but still makes for compelling reading.

Something of his Art by Horatio Clare

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

In the winter of 1705, a young organist set off to walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck to visit the organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. This 250-mile journey was to become pivotal for this teacher and as yet unknown composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. He had got permission for four weeks leave, but his visit ended up taking more than four months which upset his current employers at New Church, Arnstadt. It wasn’t a pilgrimage in the usual sense, rather he was continuing the long tradition of being a wandering scholar. He would pass through a series of cities, duchies and mini-states, would be a transformative moment in his career.

Three centuries later Horatio Clare set off on the same journey, to follow in his footsteps immerse himself in the landscape and perhaps gain some insight and understanding to the great man. Clare was not alone like Bach though, nor was he armed like Bach almost certainly was, instead, he was accompanied by Richard who was recording the journey and Lindsey who was producing it for BBC Radio 3.

It is though a sky cannot be quite large enough to contain the gentle venerations of the cello.

Some of the noises that they encounter would have been the same as Bach encountered on his walk, the burble of the river, bird calls and songs and the wind rustling through the trees, but compared to those days when working on the land was essential to survival, they encounter almost no one on parts of their walk. There would be no drone of traffic, rather Bach would have heard the squeak of cartwheels behind the heavy breathing of horses. As Clare emerges from the paths into the cities, he knows he is treading the same cobbles that Bach will have walked upon too.

The sun goes down leaving a crimson scripts and a huge flourish of flared cloud above pine forestry.

Clare’s describes his walk as being close on the heels of Bach’s ghost, and as they arrive in Lubeck the anticipation is electric. Entering the church send shivers up his spine, It is not the same building, having been rebuilt after World War 2, but Bach’s still presence permeates the space. There is something deeper going on here too, the music that Bach wrote stemmed from what he learnt and mastered here in the freedom that Lübeck allowed. Something of his Art is a well researched and passionate about its subject, however, it is the quality of Clare’s writing and his keen eye describing the places they walk through make this a special book to read.

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