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Glitter in the Green by Jon Dunn

4 out of 5 stars

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

Sadly I must admit I have never seen a hummingbird except on the pages of a book or on a screen of some form. They are a bird that can only be found in the Americas and I haven’t been there! They are quite amazing little birds though. They have evolved exclusively to feed on the nectar of flowers and each species has found and exploited a particular niche that suits them.

They have an incredibly high metabolic rate and have to feed a lot during a day just to survive. They are tiny birds too, the largest is only nine inches long, but only weighs 24g! The smallest is the bee hummingbird and is a mere two inches long and only weighs 2g. Their name comes from the noise that the wings make as they hover in front of the flowers flapping them at up to 88 beats a second. There are well over 300 of these amazing little subspecies of birds.

As with a lot of creatures at the moment, they are poised on a knife-edge of survival, mostly caused by us again, with habitat destruction being one of the key reasons. The wildlife photographer, Jon Dun wanted to make sure that he could get to see them before they disappeared for good.

His travels around America will take him from the jungles of South America right up to Alaska, yes, there are even hummingbirds there. He goes looking for the Violet-crowned Hummingbird in Arizona, for the smallest hummingbird in Cuba and uncovers the link between these brightly colour birds and 007. He explores how the feather trade impacted them and chases Coquettes in Brazil and Bolivia.

I must say that I really liked this. Jon is a thoughtful and enthusiastic writer who is passionate about his tiny avian subjects. I liked the blend of travel, natural history as well as some of the historical stories of hummingbirds. Some of the places that he ends up in the pursuit of particular species are pretty dangerous! Dunn is a photographer after all, so the colour photos make this book too, so I wouldn’t expect anything less to be honest. Perhaps one day I will get to see one of the amazing and utterly beautiful creatures, but I can’t see that happening any time soon.

October 2021 Review

October came and went and even though I managed to get a week off at the end, I didn’t get as much read as we had a friend staying and had lots of days out around Dorset. It was good to see her. Nut I did manage to read 14 really good books and only one that I wasn’t that enamoured with.

 

I have read John Wright’s Natural History of the Hedgerow, so when I was offered this I jumped at the chance. It was a fascinating book and full  of those little details that can make a stroll around the countryside a much richer experience.

 

After he caught Covid, John Burnside almost died, but thankfully didn’t! As he recovered it gave him time to think about the processes of extinction that we have inflicted on other animals and this insightful and thoughtful book is the result. Well worth reading.

 

I read quite a lot of fiction in October. The first was Mainstream, a collection of short stories and essays from working-class, coloured and LGBT writers that do not have the same opportunities to see their words contained within the covers of a book. Didn’t like every story within, but there are some good ones. Hag is a collection of modern-day retellings of some classic folk lore tales all written by women. I really liked the modern take on the stories.

   

 

The next two books are set in America, the first is The Fugitives, which is the story of a band who get an invite to travel to America to play and when money is stolen from them, decide to head after the thief. The Con Artist is a story of a graphic artist who is framed for a murder and the shenanigans that he has to go through to prove his innocence. Both very different books!

   

 

I have not yet seen a hummingbird, but having read Jon Dunn’s new book, I now want to go and see one. However, they are native t the Americas and it is going to be a while before I can make it there. Not only is it a good read, but Dunn is a photographer too, so the images are excellent.

 

This is the second Larking poetry book that I have now read, and I really must write up my reviews. I quite like them so far and can see why he is held in high regard for some of them. As with any collection there were a few that I wasn’t keen on, but it is good to be pushed at times.

 

I had high hopes for this science book, but couldn’t get along with it. It is quite dry and academic and I thought that it lost focus sometimes.

 

I read quite a lot of travel books this month and two of them made my books of the month, but more on that below. These books took me to three different places around the planet, first to Thailand and Burma with Charles Nicholl and the slightly dubious company he was keeping at the time. Then a trip to India nearly 50 years ago with the indomitable Dervla Murphy and her daughter. Finally, Joachim Sartorius reminisced about the time that he was fortunate to spend in Cyprus in the book of that name.

          

 

My three books of the month for October were equally varied. Tom Chesshyre takes a slow journey around Spain on 52 trains fining the delights of the country in the out of the way places. Equally slow was Jasper Winn’s 100 miles he sent either on or alongside the canal network of the UK as the writer in residence. Finally, still in the UK, but with a heavy Japanese influence, we larns of the 72 micro seasons of that country and see how we can apply them to the UK and our regular four seasons.

          

Any that you see here that takes your fancy? Or have you read any? Let me know in the comments below.

Aurochs and Auks by John Burnside

4 out of 5 stars

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

If you look back over the history of the earth, you would find that life ebbs and flows in cycles, life blooms and crashes depending on so many different factors that sometimes we can only see with the benefit of hindsight. In the Anthropocene though, we are the ones causing the most recent spate of extinction and it is not getting any better at the moment.

What prompted John Burnside to write about these morbid and depressing extinctions was his near-death experience of Covid. It was a severe case and he ended up in hospital. His wife was told to prepare for the worst. This very act of reaching the abyss and peering over the edge will remain with him forever, as will the taste of that tomato sandwich as his health improved. As he recovered it gave him time to think about the natural processes of death and extinction, renewal and continuity.

When a species becomes extinct, that form is gone: no echoes, no shadow, no living memory. More: it is gone, not only as itself, but as the part it played in the Overall

It is quite a disturbing book at times, he ventures back into history to discuss the Nazi attempts to regenerate the aurochs as they tried to recreate the history of the Song of the Nibelungs. This pursuit of recreating a creature for ideological purposes was doomed to failure, the original animals were driven to extinction in the late seventeenth century. One positive that came from it though is that the land that Goring had is now part of the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve which is now home to lots of endangered animals.

Similar ideologies are driving the elite billionaire class that we have in the world today. Their pursuit of money and power is pushing the planet to the ragged edge and it feels like when they have exhausted and polluted it completely, retired to their Bond-style lairs, we won’t have many pieces to pick up. He like many others are starting to do now looks at the politics and powers behind land ownership and how we need to start to reclaim it for all not the few.

Land that belongs to someone is no longer land where anyone can meaningfully belong

Six days after he was supposed to have died, he was collected from the hospital by his wife, he looked out the car windows on the way home realising that in the short time he was very ill, summer had arrived and his outlook on life had changed forever. It took me a little while to get into this collection of four essays. The subject matter is pretty heavy after all. But the book grew on me as I read through it. Burnside is equally concerned about why we are doing what we are, as much as what we are doing to our planet and he proposes ideas that could make a difference to our survival on this small blue dot.

Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellows 2021

Three of the UK’s most exciting poets Romalyn Ante, Dzifa Benson, and Jamie Hale have been selected as the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellows for 2020/21.

Each poet receives £15,000 and is given a year of critical support and mentoring. Turning the idea of an arts prize on its head, the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship provides each poet with the time and space to focus on their craft and fulfil their potential with no expectation that they produce a particular work or outcome.

Recognising the power of potential, the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship’s approach to funding advocates for a change in art funding practice in the UK, providing opportunities outside commercial pressures for artistic growth and new ideas to flourish. The Fellowship provides financial support towards the development of under-supported and diverse artistic practices across the UK, with a focus on the pursuit of artistic experimentation and the space for artists to thrive.

This alternative approach to recognising and rewarding outstanding poets is now in its third and final edition. Previous recipients are: Raymond Antrobus, Jane Commane and Jackie Hagan (2017-18 Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellows) and Hafsah Aneela Bashir, Anthony Joseph and Yomi Ṣode (2019-20 Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellows).

Romalyn Ante, Dzifa Benson, and Jamie Hale illustrate how diverse and exciting poetry has become in the 21st century. Through activism, visual arts, theatre, and drawing from their personal experiences/circumstances, the three poets express their practice through a multitude of ways, opening poetry up to a wide range of audiences. Each poet has produced outstanding work to date and have demonstrated enormous, unselfish generosity towards other poets, giving far more than they have received particularly during the pandemic. They have been selected for the potential they display at this critical point in their individual careers when the support provided from the Fellowship will make the most difference.

Alongside the freely given grant of £15,000, the three Fellows will each receive mentoring from the programme’s manager Dr Nathalie Teitler FRSA and access to experts drawn from the poetry world and beyond. Nathalie has run literature programmes promoting diversity in the UK for over 20 years, founding the first national mentoring and translation programmes for writers living in exile. She is the Director of The Complete Works – a national development programme that helped to raise the number of Black and Asian poets published by major presses.

Romalyn Ante is an award-winning Filipino-born, Wolverhampton-based poet, translator, editor and essayist. She is co-founding editor of harana poetry, an online magazine for poets writing in English as a second or parallel language, and her accolades include the Poetry London Prize, Manchester Poetry Prize, Society of Author’s Foundation Award, Developing Your Creative Practice, Creative Future Literary Award, amongst others. Apart from being a writer, she also works full-time as a nurse practitioner, specializing in providing different psychotherapeutic treatments.

 

 

Dzifa Benson is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work intersects science, art, the body and ritual, which she explores through poetry, prose, theatre-making, performance, essays and criticism. She has performed nationally and internationally for Tate Britain, the Courtauld Institute of Art, BBC Africa Beyond and more, and she abridged the National Youth Theatre’s 2021 production of Othello in collaboration with Olivier award-winning director Miranda Cromwell.

 

 

 

Jamie Hale is a poet, script/screenwriter and essayist based in London, whose work often explores the disabled body, nature, and mortality. Their pamphlet, Shield – about disability, treatment prioritisation, and the COVID-19 pandemic was published in January 2020. Their solo poetry show, NOT DYING, was performed at the Lyric Hammersmith and Barbican Centre in 2019, and the filmed version has been screened nationally and internationally since. Jamie is also the founder of CRIPtic Arts, an organisation showcasing and developing work by and for d/Deaf and disabled creatives.

 

 

Jon Opie, Deputy Director, Jerwood Arts, said: “The Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowships is a special programme, which over the last four years has charted significant changes in the poetry world as begins to embrace the diversity of voices, experience and histories it encompasses. Past Fellows, and now the ones we have announced today, exemplify some of the multitudes of forms and languages that makes poetry an essential part of this country’s life, inseparable from mainstream media, powerfully articulating lived experiences and enhancing other art forms. I am hugely looking forward to working with Romalyn, Dzfia and Jamie over the coming year. Their talents are unique, and yet they share a generosity and sense of responsibility towards other poets and their communities. I have no doubt their Fellowships will be profound for them and for others around them.”

Sarah Crown, Director of Literature, Arts Council England, said: “The Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship continues to champion change in art funding practice in the UK as fearlessly as it has done for the last four years. Providing mentoring, financial support and, most importantly, time and space for under-represented poets to experiment and hone their craft – without the external pressures of meeting a particular outcome – nurtures creativity and enriches the sector as a whole.

The selectors have had the tough task of choosing three recipients from what was yet again an extremely strong set of nominees. Romalyn, Dzifa and Jamie join a long line of talented Fellows, and I am excited to see how they flourish over the coming year.”

The three recipients were selected from a strong field of nominees by award-winning poet and writer Joelle Taylor; writer, performer, and facilitator Yomi Ṣode (Jerwood Compton Poetry fellow 2019); and award-winning poet Pascale Petit.

Nominations were made by a pool of over 200 specialists nationally including poets, publishers, editors, literary development agencies, artists, funders and festival organisers.

Selector Joelle Taylor said: ”The task of selecting only three Fellows from a longlist of 86 poets was a painful process. Each of the poets we saw were of an international standard, committed to their practice and the changes they wish to see in their work. We made decisions based not only who was ‘best’ but on who it felt most essential to support. The three Fellows we chose are at an urgent moment in their careers. They stand at a crossroads within their art, compelled to make substantial changes, to forge new narratives, to develop in a way that would not be possible without support from Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowships.”

The poets now join the six previous Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellows – Raymond Antrobus, Jane Commane, Jackie Hagan, Yomi Ṣode, Hafsah Aneela Bashir and Anthony Joseph – who have shown how transformative a supported year can be. Without setting limits or expectations, the Fellowship has enabled the careers of previous Fellows to flourish. Each Fellow has significantly developed their practice, and themselves, through the support of the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowships.

Fellow Raymond Antrobus has gone on to win the Ted Hughes Award, be the London Book Fair Poet of The Fair, and be shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Griffin Poetry Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize, amongst other achievements. In 2019 he became the first-ever poet to be awarded the Rathbone Folio Prize for the best work of literature in any genre.

Jane Commane launched her first poetry collection, Assembly Lines at the Verve Festival in 2018, published by Bloodaxe. She also launched How to be a Poet: A 21st Century Guide to Writing Well, which ranked among the top five writing guides on Amazon. She is currently working on her second poetry collection, working title Municipal.

Jackie Hagan was one of five writers selected by Hat Trick Productions for its Your Voice, Your Story development scheme in partnership with Channel 4. In 2018, her one-woman show, This is Not a Safe Place, showcased at the Hebden Bridge Festival and at the Unlimited Festival, Southbank Centre.

Fellow Yomi Ṣode has toured his acclaimed one-man show COAT to sold-out audiences. In 2020 his libretto Remnants, written in collaboration with award-winning composer James B. Wilson and Chineke! Orchestra was lauded by BBC Radio 3 and The Guardian. He founded BoxedIn and The Daddy Diaries – an online blog platform for fathers & guardians. Yomi’s debut collection is scheduled for publication by Penguin in Spring 2022.

Fellow Hafsah Aneela Bashir was commissioned to write her play Cuts Of The Cloth for PUSH Festival 2019. Her debut poetry collection The Celox And The Clot was published by Burning Eye Books. During lockdown she founded the Poetry Health Service, a digital service providing free poetry panaceas by the people for the people.

Fellow Anthony Joseph was shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, the Royal Society of Literature’s Encore Award, and longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for his novel Kitch. As a musician, he has released seven critically acclaimed albums, and in 2020 he received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Composers Award.

I also am fortunate enough to have extracts of some of Dzifa Benson’s poems below

For the Love of Hendrik de Jongh, Drummer from Batavia

i
In the beginning,
he was my lord
of the 6 weeks.
When !Kaub showed
the dark side of his face
again, I had to slough off
my lover’s name.

ii
You are on the other side of the water.
Here, my forehead touches only air.
I map the radiant places of your body
the seams of my skin brittle and ablaze.

iii
Even when the rise and fall of our ribcages insist
we are still here, I try to live above the flood.
I breathe you in. You breathe me out. The world,
in rain-wind and dilate-sun, leans in to learn
which way to carve the howling sweep of years.

iv
You asked: What parts of you are unknown to me?
I answered: This too muchness of self in its not enoughness.

v
Day empties through us as a Cape sugarbird sparkles thinly
in the shadows.
You let me follow you into your dreams. Vast night looks in,
open-mouthed,
leads us by a nose of buchu into its fluid corners on the //Stars Road.
Our eyes don’t close.
I want to bury the chameleon of this love in a secret place of nerve and sinew
while we wait for the mantis to sing the !Great Hunger to sleep.

vi
If I arrived at your voice again would it fatten
into a new kind of passing time,
pour down my back into this thousand years
hollow of my spine? Your memory breathes
warmth over my skin. My body catches it
like when our astonished spirits
were every crashing leaf on every tree,
when our hallowed hands cupped
soft curving and fingered lean meat.

vii
You never left. We endured. I was still denied.

viii
My I was him.
In order to live
I had to use
the knife
between us.

 

Lusus Naturae at Bartholomew Fair: Natural-Born, Made and Fake

Ms Harvey’s eyes and hair made people weak at the knees with an uncommon fervour

They say I look like an angel with my hair
the pale straw colour of the silkworm’s thread
my eyes, a shade lighter than Indian pink.
They say I’m impertinent without being impolite
while maintaining a proper feminine dignity. Yet
the mob at Glasgow Fair was so unaffected by
my beauty, it turned me out of my cosy booth
as it also turned out a showful of wild beasts.

Ms Hipson, the tall Dutchwoman, dreams of dancing with a man tall enough to make her feel delicate

I cannot stand silence so it’s the glee and the din
of the stage for me. I sway among rafters to the patter
of the gaffer, to the gauge of long drum and hurdy-gurdy.
I am a spiritual sister of giraffe-necked women, daughter
of a stilt-walking Titan. Home is sawdust and greasepaint.
Kin is the spit-snarl of the rabble, half-cut with pale ale.

Ms Morgan, the Windsor Fairy, excited in the breasts of dukes sensations of wonder and delight

It’s a big world and I’m a little person. Blood can be
flowers or the very last thing you ever see. Even walking
can seem like a uncanny thing when you are a simulacrum
of woman, when something has been left behind. It’s a strange
tongue, this one my body has to speak. But please, do not
mistake the smallness of my anatomy for the smallness of a life.

 

Ms Sidonia married twice and retired a wealthy woman

God sent me this beard, I will not take it off!
How else would they notice me? This visage
is a lure, toast of the mob, I am a sight to silence
the baying crowd. I cheated death, I fought
and won. That makes me beautiful. I bow now
to the deities who live in my whiskers.

Ms Hopwood silenced the room when they lifted her out of the womb

They look at me as if this embarrassment of limbs
protruding from my chest is an act of war committed
against them. A wound, God in the shape of a jest,
the flight of chimaeras in hurricanes. My body is surely
not the most hospitable of hosts, cobbled together in taverns
and fairgrounds, in excess of the natural order of things.
They can’t imagine what I choose to believe in this armour.

Ms Vaughn of the piebald skin is also a trick-roper of royal lineage

Your bodies were given to you, not chosen by you.
You take your bodies for granted so you don’t exist
to me. When you thought of a daughter, you never
expected this. Shrivelled apple for a face, my epidermis
a hot to the touch patchwork of failed answers. Myth is
your yawning maw. I am the mooncalf who comes
and goes. After the fifth time my mother marked me
so she would know me again in other lives.

Ms Baartman wears her sense of self tightly, she musn’t let it float free

Here I am ripe and raw, carved root fashioned as woman.
Stone born from the brow of a dark mother whose many limbs
speak in tongues of glinting silver and singeing iron. I hang
like a curtain skirting the stage, my cloth pouring down endlessly.
These watchers, black holes where their hearts should be, would
walk right through me. They see in me the things they would do
to themselves if they were me. Who marked me while I was in the womb?
Who would curse me? I prance up and down these floorboards to keep
from weeping, sing myself away over and over again with the same red song.

 

Thank you to Gaby from Midas PR for providing the extracts and the information

Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowships

The Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowships are a six-year initiative supporting poets in the UK. The programme runs biennially for three editions between 2017 and 2022, creating a total of nine Fellows. Each receives a bursary of £15,000 and mentoring support. The Fellowships invest in the process and practice of making poetry, with no expectations of published work or performed events as a result of the award, and support individuals whose practice encompasses poetry in the broadest artistic sense. Poets are matched with a core mentor and have further access to a range of advisers and ‘critical friends’ to support their developing practice.

 

Project credit:

The Jerwood Compton Fellowships are designed and managed by Jerwood Arts, with support from Arts Council England including funds from the Joseph Compton bequest.

Jerwood Arts is the leading independent funder dedicated to supporting early-career UK artists, curators and producers to develop and thrive. We enable transformative opportunities for individuals across art forms, supporting imaginative awards, fellowships, programmes, commissions and collaborations. We present new work and bring people from across the arts together in the galleries at Jerwood Space, London, as well as online and across the UK.

www.jerwoodarts.org

 

Arts Council England is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

www.artscouncil.org.uk

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

5 out of 5 stars

Tiffany Aching has been building her reputation as the witch of the chalk. People were beginning to trust her and let her help them with their many problems. But somewhere out there is a tangled ball of evil and spite, that has awoken from its slumber. It is full of hatred and malice and one of the things that it has begun to do is to stir those old stories about the witches. The trust that she had carefully built is fading away.

She has been caring for the local Baron and when he suddenly dies in front of her she is suspected of his murder. His only son, Roland, is in the city of Ankh-Morpork and she travels there to tell him of his late father’s demise. On the journey there though she is attacked by the Cunning Man. Her arrival in the city is fraught, she is always shadowed by the Nac Mac Feegles and they manage to destroy one of the cities pubs and she and another witch, Mrs Proust, who lives in the city are arrested and locked up for their own safety.

After they are released the following day, Tiffany meets Eskarina Smith a rare woman who became a wizard. She explains where the Cunning man came from and the sort of horrors he is capable of. They return to their home on the chalk and find a soldier trying to dig up the Nac Mac Feegles home. She is arrested and thrown into the dungeon but escapes soon after.

As the guests start to arrive for the funeral and then the wedding of Roland and Letitica, herself a talented but untrained witch, they are joined by Granny Weatherwax and all the other witches who are there to observe the coming showdown between Tiffany and the Cunning Man.

They will be a reckoning. But nobody knows who will win.

I can sum this up in two words, just brilliant. I loved the way that the story circles around through the labyrinth he has created before it builds to the ending that is drawn deeply from folklore. It was good to have some of the Watch characters appear too. If there was one flaw it was the ending, it was over almost too quickly, as I was expecting a bit more of a showdown with the Cunning Man. Tiffany seems to build in stature though and there is one more book with her in, the final book that he wrote.

Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

All of my life I have known four seasons spring, summer, autumn and winter. as the world turns on each of the solstices and equinoxes each season brings certain delights. Over my life, these have been In recent years with the coming catastrophe that is climate change, it feels like we have been reduced to two seasons: warm wet winters and cool wet summers. Unseasonal weather throughs people too; another effect of climate change, wearing a T-shirt in November on a hot day or suffering the inclement weather as the summer holidays start is becoming more and more common.

It wasn’t until I saw this book that it had even crossed my mind that there would be more than four seasons, but different parts of the world actually have different seasons that we do here in the Northern hemisphere. Japan though is unique in having 72 seasons. They are called micro seasons and they only last four or five days each. The system is, as you would expect from the Japanese, incredibly detailed and deeply rooted in their culture. For example, the micro season of Pure and Clear is between the 5th and 9th of April and it is when the swallows return in the spring there.

Parikian has taken these micro seasons and sees how they fit our seasons and place on the globe. Each chapter has what the micro season is in Japanese and the translations and for each small period, he heads out onto his local streets to discover what is happening on his local patch and to make notes about it. This is during the time of lockdown so he is only allowed out for the permitted hour to see what he can see in that brief period of time.

Even that restricted time and locale gives him plenty of opportunities to spot all manner of animals, plants, lichens and especially birds. It seems by having that dramatically restricted time available has sharpened his senses to what is around. The local graveyard is a favourite spot, the absence of traffic brings extra peace to his walks there. His observations are full of wonder for even the most mundane of creatures, the joy at seeing a blue tit for the first time after having to isolate kind of sums him up. It is laced with humour, the description of a squirrel running across a branch is hilarious, but there is also a fury to his writing as he has the time to consider the perilous state of our wildlife in this country.

This is another cracker of a book by Parikian. Following on from Into the Tangled Bank, this is another book that is very much set in his locale. The plan had been to write the book set in various locations around the country, but I think that it is a richer experience because of the limits placed on him. Liked his other books, this made me laugh a lot which I am not sure natural history books are supposed to do… It is also a reminder that the natural world is all around us. You don’t need to chase after the rarities, you can have as much joy in looking at a squirrel trying to get at a bird feeder as you can listening to a hedge full of sparrows fall silent as you approach and then start up again as you pass. Very much worth reading.

November 2021 TBR

Another month passes and suddenly it is TBR time again. You know the drill, he is an unfeasibly large list that I will be picking my books from:

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

Sea People- Christina Thompson

On The Marsh – Simon Barnes

Another Fine Mess – Tim Moore

Snuff – Terry Pratchett

The Spirit Engineer – A.J. West

Folk Magic and Healing – Fez Inkwright

The Wheel – Jennifer Lane

Index – Dennis Duncan

 

Blog Tours

None this month

 

Review Copies

Astral Travel – Elizabeth Baines

The Germans and Europe – Peter Millar

Britain Alone – Philip Stephens

We Own This City – Justin Fenton

Spaceworlds –  Ed. Mike Ashley

The Power of Geography – Tim Marshall

Finding the Mother Tree – Suzanne Simard

The Four Horsemen – Emily Mayhew

The Spy who was left out in the Cold – Tim Tate

The Devil You Know – Gwen Adshead & Eileen Horne

Letters from Egypt –  Lucie Duff Gordon

The Sea Is Not Made Of Water – Adam Nicholson

Above the Law – Adrian Bleese

Somebody Else – Charles Nicholl

Scenes from Prehistoric Life – Francis Pryor

The Turkish Embassy Letters – Mary Wortley Montagu

On Gallows Down – Nicola Chester

Survival of the City – Edward Glaeser & David Cutler

Wish You Weren’t Here – Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

Black Lion – Sicelo Mbatha

The Babel Message – Keith Kahn-Harris

Troubled Water – Jens Mühling Tr. Simon Pare

Sunless Solstice – Ed. Lucy Evans & Tanya Kirk

Biography of a Fly – Jaap Robben

The Heath – Hunter Davies

 

Library Books

Looking for Transwonderland – Noo Saro-Wiwa

Venice – Cees Nooteboom

Afropean – Johny Pitts

Rag And Bone – Lisa Wollett

London Incognita – Gary Budden

Minarets In The Mountains – Tharik Hussain

 

Poetry

100 Poets: A Little Anthology Ed. John Carey

 

Challenge Books

The Night Lies Bleeding – M.D. Lachlan

Divided – Tim Marshall

The Wonderful Mr Willughby – Tim Birkhead

The House of Islam- Ed Husain

Asian Waters – Humphrey Hawksley

Blue Mind – Wallace J. Nichols

21 Lessons for the 21st Century- Yuval Noah Harari

The Restless Kings- Nick Barratt

To Obama- Jeanne Marie Laskas

What We Have Lost – James Hamilton-Paterson

 

Wainwright Prize

Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald

Seed to Dust Marc Hamer

English Pastoral: An Inheritance James Rebanks

I Belong Here Anita Sethi

The Wild Silence Raynor Winn

 

Stanford Award

Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul Taran Khan

Travelling While Black Nanjala Nyabola

 

Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam Terry Pratchett

Borderlines by Charles Nicholl

4 out of 5 stars

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

Charles Nicholl wants to experience a little of the world so in 1986 he heads to Thailand to take in some of the sights and to learn about the spiritual traditions of forest Buddhism. He was heading to the north of the country to a place called Chiang Mai to visit a temple but the train he was on has just pulled into the Lop Buri. There is much excitement with vendors selling everything from smoked fish to iced drinks in plastic bags.

When the train gets moving again, he heads down the carriages to see if he could find the tall Caucasian guy who had boarded. He was an American and they get talking and it was in this conversation that he heard about Harry. It wasn’t long after that he met him, a slight seedy but formal man with swept-back black hair and an accent that he couldn’t quite place. He recommended a place for Nicholls to stay and they all went back to their carriages

It wouldn’t be long before they were to meet again and as they talked, Nicholl realised that the aim of finding spiritual solace in the temples of Thailand was looking less appealing than the thought of travelling along the banks of the Mekong and into the Golden Triangle and maybe even Burma. It would be a journey that would take him to some of the sordid bars of Bangkok with a German businessman, to partake in the pleasures and pain of opium and to spend far too long in the company of Harry’s girlfriend, Kitai.

I really liked this book, mostly because it doesn’t conform to what you would find elsewhere with travel writing. There is not much detail about the places that he is passing through, but he manages to convey the atmosphere in very few words. Rather this is a people-centred travel experience and what does come across is that he is sometimes out of his depth, not because he is getting himself in trouble, rather Harry is playing a very different game on the fringes of society there. Even though he has a certain amount of naivety in his travels, he is open-minded enough to know that this is an experience that he might never have happened if it wasn’t for the chance meeting on that train. The book is full of the wonder that he sees in the people and places they end up in.

The Song of Youth by Montserrat Roig, Tr. Tiago Miller

3 out of 5 stars

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

These eight stories have been translated from Catalan into English for the first time. They were originally written in the early 1970s when Spain will still in the shadow of fascism and Franco.

The collection opens with a woman in the hospital who wakes up every morning wondering if it is going to be her last. She hears the laboured breathing of the woman next to her and knows as the screens are pulled over that then it will become a death rattle soon enough. The second story, Love and Ashes, is about a husband and wife who make the decision to travel to Africa so he can see the reticulated giraffes.

On the island, I walked up to the sea and begged it to tell me its secret. But the sea would only answer to the wind.

Other stories concern the inhabitants of a graveyard, a censor who stopped the public from reading the erotic stories in books but had a number of flaws of his own. Another story concerns a child who knew by the shoes his mother was wearing, who she had been with and what her mood was going to be like. She tried to hide him when they were conscripting seventeen-year-olds, but they found him soon enough.  He had almost no training before being dispatched for war.

I thought that this was a reasonable set of short stories. Roig prose, whilst politically charged, does not lose its sensitivity. There is plenty of variety in each story, they feel dystopian without having a strong science fiction vibe to them and it is great that Fum D’Estampa are bringing this and other books to a wider audience.

Three Favourite Stories
Free from War and Wave
I Don’t Understand Salmon
Love and Ashes

The Fugitives by Jamal Mahjoub

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 Kamanga Kings, a Khartoum jazz band have been disbanded for a long time, and not all of the original seven members are still alive. One of those members was Rushdy’s late father, whose brother, Maher, also played in the band too. He was an old man now and he liked his routines, one of which was to check his mailbox each week. It was normally empty, until one day he received a letter from America.

It was from the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts. The Kamanga Kings were being invited to travel to America and perform at the annual festival of world music. Rushdy’s uncle sighed at the news and said it would be impossible for them to go. Rushdy has other ideas though, he feels he is in a dead-end job and that having an opportunity to see another part of the world is too good a chance to miss.

He decides to have a go at reviving the band with the help of his slightly unreliable friend, Hisham and after persuading Alkanary, another original member they advertise for new members. They are inundated with potential musicians who have a wide range of musical skills, but they eventually manage to select a new line-up. A businessman offers to help fund them and act as their manager. They are on the way to America.

America is an alien place compared to Khartoum, full of bright lights and strange sights. After they get through the tough immigration, they make it to the hotel. In no time at all it is time to play the venue but before they can bask in the praise they realise that their manager has taken the money they are due and disappeared. Rather than feel sorry for themselves Rushdy wants to go after him, but before he knows it, all the band members want to come too. They escape from the hotel and before they know it they are wanted by the immigration authorities and the FBI…

It was about the music, about excavating a spirit had been buried for decades, something that we each had carried within us all these years as a longing.

This was an unsolicited copy that I was fortunate enough to receive from the publisher. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be my sort of thing at first, I don’t read that much fiction for one thing and when I do, this is not going to be very high on the list of books that I would have selected. That said, I actually enjoyed this. I thought it was a genuinely heartwarming tale that made me laugh as much as it did make me feel for the characters. Give it a go, you might like it!

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