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How To Make Curry Goat by Louise McStravick

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

How to make Curry Goat is probably the most unusual title for a poetry book that I have read in a while, and the title poem of the book is a meld of ingredients, instructions on how to make it, the eager anticipation of the food and the nostalgic look back at the culture that gave her this recipe.

This theme of multi-cultural poems carries on throughout the book. She is the daughter of the Windrush generation and whilst she does not fully belong to that culture, she an many others have carved out their own multidimensional and faceted life in this country.

But he does not realise that constellations
are stories we tell when the nights
are too dark and we need to
k
now we are not alone.

The poems are wide-ranging and are about her friends and family as well as many subjects such as braces, Earl Grey Tea, life on the sugar plantations and the first impression of England as the take the train from Southampton to Paddington.

Some of the stories that she is telling through her verse deal with quite emotive subjects and she tackles them sensitively and yet doesn’t hold back on her thoughts and emotions. The form of each poem varies which I liked as you never quite knew what you were going to get each time. Worth reading if you wish to immerse yourself in another culture.

Three Favourite Poems
Spices
Postcards From England
Move On

Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamona Ash

4.5 out of 5 stars

Lamorna Ash has headed out of London to Cornwall to Newlyn, a fishing town near Land’s End. The idyllic place of holidays past seems very different when you are living there. The Cornish are not very receptive to incomers, in particular those who want to buy properties there for a second home, driving the prices up so locals are not able to afford to live in the places that they grew up.

She is there because she is feeling lost and disconnected in London and is hoping that being back in the county her mother grew up in will help re-root her once again. She is welcomed by Denise wearing a similar blue striped top at Penzance Station. They have a slightly nervous conversation over tea and she heads up to bed, lulled to sleep by the booms of the waves against the harbour wall.

It is the same sound that wakes her in the morning and there is a waft of bacon cooking so she heads downstairs quickly. That day is the Newlyn tradition of the Lamorna Walk, where pretty much the whole town walks up the coastal path to the Lamorna Cove for a rowdy piss up at the Lamorna Wink pub and staggers back after. She knew she was named after a part of Cornwall, but didn’t expect to be taking part in something like this. She ends up drinking all day and by the end has made some firm friends.

What she really wants to do though is to secure a berth on a trawler. She is told that doing this is nigh on impossible. There are various superstitions to do with fishing, one is not being allowed to mention the word rabbit whilst aboard for some reason, the other is the presence of women on fishing vessels. It seems that Ash’s plan to be a crew member of a fishing boat may fall at the first hurdle. But she gets lucky, she talks to someone called David who has a share in a boat called the Crystal Sea and he is more than happy to have other along for the ride, even if they are there to liven the trip up a bit if they are ill.

Her first trip out to sea is cut short after a force 8 gales sweeps in, but even those few days are enough to light a fire inside to want to do this again and again. She bumps into Don, skipper of the Filadelfia and arranging a trip out on his boat is as straightforward as arranging a beer in a pub. Don is quite a character and so are the rest of his crew as she meets them on board. She will be away for seven days and night with these men and she is quickly accepted into their circle. Seasickness looms in the background but she is there to work for her board and is helping out with gutting the fish.

Onshore she is absorbed into the social life of the town, mostly because the couple she is staying with, know so many people. She plays pool badly in the Legion and contributes to the swear jar often. She manages to blag a trip on a crabber and finds it hard heavy work moving the pots around on the boat. The sea has got a hold on her now as it has with the other fishermen.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ash has a lyrical and distinct voice as she writes about the real side of Cornwall and the people that live there. And it is those people that she shares pints with, stands alongside in a fishing boat gutting fish that make this book. They are rich and complex characters who tell her their anxieties, fears, hope and dreams as she gets to know them better and settles into life in the town. Highly recommended.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

4 out of 5 stars

It had all the hallmarks of a classic friendship, Roommates, Victor and Eli were both fiercely intelligent, rebellious and have a fascination with the people ExtraOrdinarys. These people were rumoured to have special powers, there were videos of people lifting cars and performing other small miracles. Eli has a theory that these have been acquired in near-death experiences and who have successfully be revived to live again. Eli wants to try it himself to see if he can get the same powers by coming as close to death as possible. Victor wants in on this too. They survive the experience, just, and they have both gained small but significant powers. A mutual friend doesn’t survive and Victor is accused of murder.

A decade later these two men have very different goals, Eli is determined to eliminate all of the people who have suffered trauma and have these small superpowers. All expect himself and a lady called Serena who has the power of control over people with just her voice. Victor has just broken out of prison and has revenge on his mind and wants to stop the unnecessary slaughter of his fellow ExtraOrdinarys. He is helped in this by Serena’s sister, Sydney who has a very special power.

There is going to be a showdown between these two men soon; will the hero or the villain win, and who is the hero and who is the villain…

I must admit I am not a huge fan of the superhero genre, I have seen a few of the Avenger and other movies and whilst they are pretty good action films, they really don’t do it for me. The only ones that do are the Dark Knight Batman series but that is as much about the cinemaphotography in those. As I hadn’t read the blurb, it was a little surprising that this was that genre. I was pleasantly surprised by it though, the superhero elements are very much present in the story and are really key to it, but they don’t feel too overbearing. The plot is written in such a way that you don’t really know what side to come down on in the first part of the book, but it is something that you some decide on. The two main characters and their sidekicks seem a little two dimensional at times but then it is such a fast-paced book that there is not the space in the plot for them to develop. I found this a bit of a page-turner and pretty much read it in a day and it has a cracking ending. Will definitely be reading the sequel.

Cut Stones and Crossroads by Ronald Wright

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

Just out of university having studied archaeology, Ronald Wright had a whole world that he wanted to explore, but what piqued his interest was the history and architecture of Peru. It seems like the place to go and he could then find out about the ancient civilisations of the Incas and go and see royal cities of Cusco and Machu Picchu.

It wasn’t quite as was he was expecting though, what he found was a land of contrasts. They may have been suppressed by the Spanish invaders, but the spirited character of the people still shone through. He avoided the tourist routes, instead, taking the local transport or caging a lift in some very dubious cars and trucks, staying in seedy hotels and at other times camping.

He is endlessly fascinated by the ancient buildings and towns that are still visible in the landscape, spending time in amongst the stones to gain the most elementary of understandings as to why they are built. His descriptions of these places are very detailed and almost academic at times, but he is careful to link what he is seeing to the cultural and historical records of the people. His passage on the Saywite Stones is an excellent example of this.

The shadows lengthen now as evening approaches; around me the oblique lighting brings more and more of the strange, half natural landscape to life.

What really makes this book for me is the way that he takes to the people he encounters on his travels. His curiosity is boundless and it doesn’t matter if he is talking to a blind musician, crushed in a bus with 42 other people and a variety of animals watching two passengers slowly chew their coca leaves. I another moment, he is feeling ill and starts swaying from side to side, so sits down. Then he notices that the Land Rover is swaying too, it is a gentle earthquake.

Throughout all of this book you never feel that you get to know the man writing the book, he is to a certain extent elusive, reporting on events and interactions as he sees them and describing the people with empathy and places and architecture with an expert eye. He can see through the culture that the Spanish draped over the society and glimpses the strong spirit of the people that still shines through. I liked the way he has selected songs and poems from the people there and included them in the book, they add a touch of authenticity that you don’t always get in other travel books. Well worth reading and highly recommended.

Dancing With Bees by Bridget Strawbridge Howard

4 out of 5 stars

It wasn’t quite a eureka moment, but there came a day when Brigit Strawbridge Howard realised she knew more about the French Revolution than she did about her native trees. And birds. And wildflowers. And bees. Rather than ignore it, she made a decision to find out as much as she could about these plants, animals and invertebrates that were all around her North Dorset home.

This reconnection with the natural world moved quickly from an interest to a passion as she discovered just how fortunate she was to live where she could see all manner of things around her. One creature though became a borderline obsession, the bee. Her husband is a beekeeper, so she is used to having honey bees around, but she fell in completely in love with the solitary and bumblebee species. Her enthusiasm for the bees in her garden knows no bounds and she set about planting and growing as many plants that were suitable for these pollinators.

As she discovers more about these creatures, she starts to be able to identify more and more species around her garden and in the lanes near her home, such as the buff-tailed bees, cuckoo bees and even has a trip up to the Outer Hebrides to find the Great Yellow Bumblebee on the island of Balranald. There is more to this book than just the bees though, Howard is fascinated about all shapes and sizes of wildlife and the book is as wide-ranging as it is detailed. She is rightly concerned about the effect we are having on wildlife with our blanket use of pesticides and soon realises that each species is interdependent on lots of others in the ecosystem.

It is only when we realise that we are a part of nature, rather than apart from it, and behave accordingly that real change is likely to happen.

I really liked this book, she writes with warmth and boundless enthusiasm for all of the subjects and creatures that she chooses to write about in the book. Howard goes to prove that amateur naturalism is alive and well, we just need more people to be like her, start to care about their local patch, populate their garden with plants that pollinators adore. I love the little illustration at the beginning of each chapter and scattered throughout the book, and the endpapers are gorgeous. Highly recommended.

Fibonacci’s Rabbits by Adam Hart-Davis

3 out of 5 stars

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

It has been a long while since I took mathematics at university when I studied mechanical engineering. Compared to some of the other subjects on the course, like stress mechanics, which was just, stressful, it has always been a subject that I enjoyed. However, that was many years ago and I am a bit rusty at it, to say the least.

Maths has been a subject that has intrigued people going back hundreds and thousands of years, in fact, the first evidence of people counting was found on a bone in a cave between South Africa and Swaziland and is estimated to be over 40,000 years old. From this early beginning, Hart-Davis explains why people count using base 10 and base 60, something that we still do even today, before moving onto the mathematics that the Ancient Greeks did with squaring the circle and Pythagoras famous theorem.

They had bigger ideas though about what could be done with numbers and soon they were considering infinity, how to calculate Pi and how many prime numbers there were. The baton was passed to the Islamic world who gave us our numbering system that is still in use today, taught us how to solve quadratic equations and borrowed the concept of nothing from India.

Hart-Davis moves onto the Europeans with chapters on probability, imaginary numbers, the roots of calculus and Fibonacci sequence before covering game theory, the complexities of flow and the three-body problem. As the understanding of mathematics increased so the variety of things that it could describe, this was the era of statistics, Venn diagrams and chaos theory.

The final sections of the book have chapters on more modern mathematical solutions that describe how our modern communications systems work and some of the complex geometries that can be achieved with a little mathematical nous.

I thought that this was an approachable maths book that might even appeal to those that normally turn pale at the thought of a quadratic equation. Hart-Davis writes with a wry humour and it has clear and concise explanations of mathematical discoveries that have changed the way that we see the world and is laid out with lots of pictures and diagrams to make it feel a lot less like a textbook! I did spot the odd typo which baffled me on one of the chapters until I realised where the error was. Apart from that tiny omission, I thought that this was a nicely produced book.

August 2020 Review

August has come and gone, all to soo as the advent of September brings forth autumn. Gone are the balmy long evenings and the nights close in all too soon. That said, I like this season as much as the others, but it does feel that this side of the planet is spent and needs time to rest. But you’re here for the books really. Not a bad month, in the end, did get seventeen books read in the end. Much less that I thought I would get through even though we had a lovely weeks holiday in Jersey. It was a good selection as ever with a lot of different books, so here they are:

 

         

I have read A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab a long while ago and found this in a charity shop so I thought I’d give it ago. Not normally a fan of superhero stuff, but this was very different and I really enjoyed it. The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood is a classic Victorian Gothic melodrama. I won this and thought that I would give it a go. I am not being a huge fan of the genre but I thought this was well written even if it didn’t do much for me. Been meaning to read Liminal for a long while. It is a domestic thriller with a dash of folk horror mixed in and pretty good book overall.

 

   

Sometimes nature writing is about more than the flora and fauna and these are two books that show what I call landscape writing off to a T. Dick Capel’s The Stream Invites Us To Follow is about the Eden Valley and his contribution to the artworks along its length. Native is very different, in this, Patrick Laurie writes about how hard it is to farm in Galloway, but also how rewarding it is too.

 

Staying in Scotland, Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers is exactly what it says it is, a gold mine Scottish Words, some of which have drifted into the mainstream vernacular and a lot that hasn’t ventured south of the border until now.

 

I love maps, and whilst this isn’t your classic OS map, it is a brilliant way of comparing lots of similar and disparate information about all manner of subjects.

 

I have heard of most of these mathematical discoveries in Fibonacci’s Rabbits by Adam Hart-Davis, but it had been a long while since I had thought about them. It is a nicely laid out book and shouldn’t frighten the novice too much.

 

Family museums are not a thing at the moment, but they could be after this book. In here Rachel Morris takes us through her not so straight forward family tree, whilst comparing the curating that she is doing to the advent of museums as a store for our memories.

 

One of my favourite trees is the oak, it is my family name after all. James Canton spent a couple of years watching and studying the Honywood Oak near where he lives in Essex. It was a place he could go to during a difficult episode in his life, but it is more than that, in that he uses it as a prism to look at the natural world and how we have used these trees over time.

 

   

My two poetry books this month were both from Penned in the Margins. Both very different and enjoyable in their own way.

 

   

 

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus was the first book that I have read by Lawrence Durrell or any Durrell for that matter. He is a really good writer and I enjoyed this a lot. Have now acquired several of his others to read. Kapka Kassabovais another beguiling writer, and in A Street without a Name she reminisces and revisits her home country of Bulgaria, a place she loved and lothed in equal measure.

 

   

Walking through a tropical jungle is not many people’s idea of fun. Getting lost in one and separated from the rest of your party isn’t going to be on many people’s wishlist. This is what happened to Yossi Ghinsberg and he survived to tell the tale and this is his book about it. Still, in South America, Ronald Wright tells us about his travels in Peru in Cut Stones and Crossroads. Excellent writing by a man who is fascinated by all he sees around him

My book of the month is another Eland, The Way Of The World: Two Men In A Car From Geneva To The Khyber Pass. This was Nicolas Bouvier’s first books and I would say that it should be an essential read for anyone wanting to discover classic travel writing. I have had a copy of this for a while now and wish I had picked it up earlier.

Jungle by Yossi Ghinsberg

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

As travel destinations go, South America is hard to beat, which is why in pre-COVID time it was popular on the backpacking circuit. Yossi was one of those who was there wanting to see the sights and enjoy life for a bit. He wanted to take a trip to Macchu Pichu but after he got talking to a man called Karl, the offer of a guided trip into the Amazon Rainforest in Bolivar was discussed. He was desperate to go, and managed to find a couple of others who were interested in doing it too.

The guy leading the venture was a little bit of a maverick and said that they only had a limited amount of time as he was going to see his uncle who had a remote ranch in around a months time. They collected supplies and soon after began their trip into the jungle. To begin with, it was just what they had hoped it would be, a tough adventure that would push them to their limits. Somehow they acquired a dog on their trek, but this was left at one of the villages. They ate what they found as they walked, from game to fruits, but slowly Yossi began to realise that the places where Karl said they would be, weren’t always there. Even though there was only four of them, tensions began to rise as the group dynamic fell apart and they made the fateful decision to split up into two pairs. Yossi and Kevin get to take the raft and Karl and Marcus would make their own way back to La Paz.

They are not that experienced with the raft and when they get to a small waterfall and all hell breaks loose. The raft gets stuck on a rock and Kevin jumps free. Just as Yossi is about to get off, it breaks free and he is carried over the waterfall and falls in the water. Somehow he doesn’t drown, but loses his pack and is washed ashore. He is utterly alone and doesn’t know if he will see anyone ever again. Making a shelter is the first priority, but the machete is with Kevin so he struggles to make something suitable. He finds his pack in the morning, but it is sodden. Thankfully the dry bag inside kept some things from getting too damp.

Now he had to find his way back to civilisation.

Not only did he have almost no food, everything in the jungle seemed to want to kill him. There was a heart-stopping moment when he was face to face with a jaguar and he came across snakes a couple of times that had the potential to kill. But what almost killed him was the relentless rain and water. He nearly drowned several times, the pervasive damp turned his feet into a bloody red mess and they had developed by a fungal infection too. Then there were the leaches and the fire ants and he even managed to pick up a horrid sounding bot fly.

He was so so lucky to survive this trip, none of the locals who were helping to search for him thought that he stood a chance of surviving and the way that he was found was a miracle. Quite what happened to the other two, Karl and Marcus, is anyone’s guess, though it is likely that they perished.

It is a bit of a page-turner, especially in the latter half of the book. I am sure that he did go through the events in the books, but I thought he was an ok writer, but occasionally the narrative felt a bit too fictionalised. I was surprised that he knew just how many days he had been staggering through the jungle as I think that most people by then would be just concentrating on staying alive. It did remind me of The Backpacker by John Harris, which is another chilling story of a holiday adventure gone wrong.

September 2020 TBR

Still only managing to read around 16 a month at the moment, so only expecting to get through about half of these, However, here is my TBR for September:

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery (now halfway through!)

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

 

Blog Tours

None this month

 

Review Copies

Thank you to the publishers that have sent me these review copies:

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins (still wavering on this one a little with all the publicity about this)

The Maths Of Life And Death – Kit Yates

Time Among the Maya – Ronald Wright

Rewilding – Paul Jepson, Cain Blythe

A Time Of Birds – Helen Moat

The Goddess of Macau– Graeme Hall

The Gospel of the Eels– Patrik Svensson

Tales from the life of Bruce Wannell– Kevin Rushby

Unofficial Britain– Gareth E. Rees

DH Lawrence in Italy– Richard Owen

Rotherweird – Andrew Caldecot

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

 

Wainwright Prize

Only read one so definitely want to read the first two on the list before the prize announcement.

Dar, Salt, Clear – Lamona Ash

Dancing with Bees – Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Rebirding – Benedict Macdonald

 

Library Books

Complete change around from last month as for the first time in a very long time I have had to renew my library books. These are the next books due back fairly soon now:

Lone Rider – Elspeth Beard

Losing Eden – Lucy Jones

Inglorious – Mark Avery

Nightingales In November – Mike Dilger

Nine Pints – Rose George

Buzz – Thor Hanson

 

Challenge Books

As well as a dusty shelf challenge that I am running on Good Reads, I am joining in with #20BooksOfSummer run by Cathy at 746 books.

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

Hokkaido Highway Blues – Will Ferguson

A Dragon Apparent – Norman Lewis

Slow Train to Guantanamo – Peter Millar

Corvus: A Life with Birds – Esther Woolfson

In Search of Conrad – Gavin Young

 

Own Books

See challenge books!

 

Poetry

How to Make Curry Goat –  Louise McStravick

Tongues of Fire – Seán Hewitt

 

Science Fiction

Didn’t read any last month (yet again!!!) so this is still on the list:

One Way – S.J. Morden

The Museum Makers by Rachel Morris

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Museum Makers by Rachel Morris and published by September Publishing.

About the Book

‘Without even thinking I began to slide all these things from the dusty boxes under my bed into groups on the carpet, to take a guess at what belonged to whom, to match up photographs and handwriting to memories and names – in other words, to sort and classify. As I did so I had the revelation that in what we do with our memories and the stuff that our parents leave behind, we are all museum makers, seeking to makes sense of the past.’

Museum expert Rachel Morris had been ignoring the boxes of family belongings for decades. When she finally opened them she began a journey into her family’s dramatic story through the literary and bohemian circles of the nineteenth and twentieth century. It was a revelatory experience – one that finds her searching for her absent father in archives of the Tate, and which transports her back to the museums that had enriched a lonely childhood. By teasing out the stories of those early museum makers, and the unsung daughters and wives behind them, and seeing the same passions and neglect reflected in her own family, Morris digs deep into the human instinct for collection and curation.

About the Author

A director of the museum-making company Metaphor, Rachel Morris has been part of the creation, design and delivery of some of the most exciting displays, renovations and museums of the last few decades, from the new Cast Courts at the V&A and the Ashmolean, Oxford to the Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum and Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Rachel is also the author of two novels.

My Review

My father’s father died when I was eight years old. I had only just started to get to know him and he was gone. We didn’t know that much about him other than he was born in East Street, Bridport in 1902 and was an orphan whose mother was called Margaret Annie. About 12 years ago my father and I decided that we could see what we could find out if there was anything to find that was. We trawled all the family history sites and then one day got lucky and found his mother on a census. We discovered a whole family going right back to 1595 that we knew nothing about.

Rachel Morris didn’t have a problem. She knew lots about her family and the various characters involved from her parents all the way back through the generations to the painter William Gale. There were stories that she had heard that were more rumour than fact and most importantly she had boxes of these personal family archives under her bed and they had been there for years. Just the thought of them and the circumstances behind receiving them made her sad.

However, it was time to pull them out from under the bed, blow the dust off them and start looking through.

Tipping the contents out onto the carpet in her room from the first box and sorting them into small piles for each relative brought a flood of emotions back. There was no monetary value to the items within the boxes, letters, locks of hair, photos, poems, wool, diaries and even a hat! The treasure was the stories that the items would tell of her family.

And what a family it was. Her father was an immensely talented printer and mostly an absent alcoholic. Her mother had been told not to marry him by her mother, but being headstrong did so in secret. She was left bringing up her and her siblings, after the disappeared but never really stopped loving him as she was to find out through the letters in the boxes. The hub of these family memories is her Gran, a formidable yet kind woman. She was brought up on art books and romantic love. She had lived in New Zealand, a place that she loathed, written a book, went back to England leaving her husband with her two daughters there. She returned to the UK in 1947 and never went back.

As she is sifting these family stories into some semblance of order, she realises that she is creating what she calls the Museum of Me. It is fitting in some ways as she works for a company that puts together exciting and innovative displays for some of our top museums. Museums do what she is trying to do, which is with these personal effects to present the past in a way that we can understand and how they often came about from large personal collections.

Women are the memory keepers, they can keep those family links and connections

It is a fascinating story of her family and all their successes and secrets, full of happy and sad memories. Whilst she could not always understand the reasons why a particular family member did something, her collection gave her an insight into some of the reasons why it happened. I thought that it was really nicely written, sensitive and also written with an authority and confidence. She doesn’t judge her family for the decisions that they made, each person made that particular choice at a certain time of their life for a variety of reasons. If you like family histories, then I can recommend Dadland by Keggie Carew and Mary Monro’s Stranger in My Heart. They are very similar to this, women unpacking their father’s history that they knew almost nothing about.

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour

You can buy this through Hive here
Or at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Di Riley and September Publishing for the copy of the book to read.

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