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A Tall History of Sugar by Curdella Forbes

2.5 out of 5 stars

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

No one knows quite who Moshe’s parents are. Unlike most of the people around him in Jamaica, he has pale translucent skin and duo-toned hair. He was found by his adopted mother, Rachel Fisher in the reeds outside her home. He would grow up loved by his parents, but he never quite fitted into life at school and the village.

He does have one friend though, Arrienne Christie. They bond strongly and at times they are inseparable, communicating through a silent language and being the crutch that each other needs at that point in their lives. However, their friendship is fraught with things that threaten to drive them apart.

Moshe has a talent as an artist and it is a skill that takes him from the glorious weather of the Caribbean to the grim cold climate of the UK. He grows in stature as an artist, but he avoids the limelight and fame. But his home country is calling him and he knows it is time to return.

I must admit that I did struggle with this book for several reasons. Firstly the Jamaican patois takes quite a bit of getting used to and I would have to end up reading it a couple of time to get the gist of what they were asking. I found the plot overly convoluted. I think that it would have been better developing the themes of her characters not quite fitting into the societies of Jamaica and the UK in Moshe case as she writes about the racism in the late seventies. It did feel a little overwritten at times, though there were points where the prose was quite lyrical. Glad I gave it a go, but it isn’t really one for me.

A Good Neighbourhood by Therese Anne Fowler

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

Valerie Alston-Holt has lived in the neighbourhood of Oak Knoll, North Carolina for a number of years. She was widowed a long while ago and has raised her biracial son, Xaiver alone. He is musically very talented and has secured a place at college in the autumn to study music.

Her new neighbours, the Whitman’s, have moved into the newly built house next door. Brad Whitman is a well known local businessman who has made his money by offering top quality customer service from his company. He is married with two daughters and it seems like they have a perfect lifestyle and marriage.

Their relationship seems cordial to begin with, but when Valerie realises that her magnificent oak tree has been damaged by the new building work next door she decides to sue the builder and Brad Whitman for $500,000. The good relations that they had just started with, end abruptly. What none of the parents know is that their eldest children, Xavier and Juniper have started to fall in love and everything that each family had built and strived for begins to unravel.

This book had a bit of a slow start as Fowler sets the scenes in each house and the context of the predominately white neighbourhood, the book group with the barbed gossip beforehand, women who are at home as their husbands work and the monied class differentials between Valerie and all the others. She is using this book to look at some of the issues of nepotism and corruption as well as the conflict that the Americans have between class and race. However, the last quarter of the book is where the predominately white Fowler unleashes the main elements of the plot and takes this from a family saga to a high stakes thriller and it was much better than I was expecting.

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

5 out of 5 stars

There is a time for every child to leave home and move on with their life, for Tiffany Aching she is going to become an apprentice witch to the elderly Miss Level. She is to be taken there by her former teacher, Miss Tick. While they are waiting for the elderly witch to arrive they are attacked by an hiver, an ancient and truly horrible thing, which can’t die. They survive but are shocked by the experience.

What she doesn’t expect when she gets to Miss Level’s house is that she has two bodies and a very tidy ghost who tidies the home for them. She joins the local coven of apprentice witches, while she gets on with most of them, she struggles to get along with Annagramma, the self-appointed head of the group. She heads back to the cottage.

It is there, while she is resting, she steps away from her body one day. The shell left temporarily behind is an ideal place for other things to take over like a hermit crab and the hiver is waiting for that opportunity. Even for an experienced witch leaving your body and stepping away from it is fraught with difficulty and danger. Tiffany Aching doesn’t fully realise what has happened, but with the hiver in control, she starts causing chaos. Rob Anybody, who is one of the Nac Mac Feegles, senses that something is wrong and he sets off with his band to see if they can help in their own indomitable way and rid Tiffany of the hiver occupying her mind.

It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done

This is the second of the Tiffany Aching books and Pratchett has written another well thought through book. The characters are engaging and there are the usual laughs all the way through the book. If there was one tiny flaw, it did feel that the final scenes were a bit rushed, and I would have liked to seen a slightly larger role for the Nac Mac Feegles, as they were still hilarious, but other than that I loved it. It does feel like the interplay between Aching and Weatherwax is the beginning of a long partnership, and that her power and experience is slowly being passed to this young witch.

White Light, White Peak by Simon Corble

4 out of 5 stars

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

People have been inspired to create some form of art in response to their favourite landscapes. Some paint, others use it as a rich vein of stories for film and others seek the stories in amongst the rocks. For Simon Corble, the White Peak is a landscape that was once a tropical ocean, and not is the southern part of the peak district. He lives in a village on this limestone plateau and for him and many others, it is a special place.

This collection of poems and photographs follow the year, month by month. They reflect the seasonal change that happens, snow in the winter, the increasing light in the spring and the return of the migrant birds. The heady days of summer are over all too soon and as the year approaches autumn the tone of the poetry changes, the shadows in the photographs lengthen and the solstice beckons.

This time I’m wise to the faery trap
the tempting call of rainbow colours
enticing to enchant
an innocent child off the map

Not only is this book a thing of beauty, but I really liked this collection of poems and loved the black and white atmospheric photos too. The seasons are important to Corble, they determine the context that he is writing in and frame the words within each poem as he explores the deep connection to the place and landscape that he lives in. If you like books that are intimately connected to the landscape then find a copy of Stanza Stones by Simon Armitage, it is a beautiful combination of poetry and art embedded in the hills.

Three Favourite Poems
Snowman Remains
Arrivals
Immersion

The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Anthony Jones

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Anthony Jones and published by Elliott & Thompson.

 

About the Book

For almost a decade, Paul Anthony Jones has written about the oddities and origins of the English language, amassing a vast collection of some of its more unusual words. Last year, doubly bereaved and struggling to regain his spirits, he turned to words – words that could be applied to difficult, challenging times and found solace.  The Cabinet of Calm is the result.

Paul has unearthed fifty-one linguistic remedies to offer reassurance, inspiration and hope in the face of such feelings as grief and despair, homesickness and exhaustion, missing our friends and a loss of hope.

Written with a trademark lightness of touch, The Cabinet of Calm shows us that we’re not alone. From MELORISM, when you’re worried about the future of the world and AGATHISM, when you’re feeling disillusionment or struggling to remain positive to SELF-SOOTHE, when you’re struggling to sleep and STOUND, for when you’re grieving, someone else has felt like this before, and so there’s a word to help, whatever the challenge.

 

About the Author

Paul has a Masters in Linguistics and is a language blogger from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. His obsession with words began with a child’s dictionary he received as a Christmas present when he was eight years old.  As @HaggardHawks he has tweeted obscure words since 2013 and now has a social media following of over 75k, including the likes of JK Rowling, Robert Macfarlane, Susie Dent, Richard Osman, Greg Jenner, Ian McMillan, Rufus Sewell, Simon Mayo, Michael Rosen and Cerys Matthews.

HaggardHawks.com brings together the entire HH network including a blog, books, quizzes & games, the 500 Words YouTube series, Instagram gallery and newsletter. He regularly contributes to the media.

 

My Review

In case you have been living in a forest in the middle of know where there is a lot going on at the moment. We are in the middle of a global pandemic at the moment, the planet is heating up dramatically and weather systems are becoming more extreme because of climate change. Politically we have the rise of nationalism in many countries and there is, of course, the UK’s special project, Brexit…

Some people have the ability for all these issues to just wash over them, shrugging off things that keep other people wide awake at night. But how to comfort those that need it? Well Paul Anthony Jones has just released The Cabinet of Calm. In here he has scoured the dustier corners of the dictionary to bring us words that will bring comfort to us when we are grieving, or in despair at the world around us, or have lost hope in everything.

Respair – the return of hope after a period of despair

All of these words that Jones has unearthed are a source of reassurance for those that seek solace in these troubled times within the pages of a book. In here you can learn what frowst means, words for when you are overcome with sadness or for those who often run out of weekend and you have the Monday morning blues. One very much for this moment in the middle of the pandemic and missing your friends is angel visits. If you’re in a bad mood following the news too, there is even a word coined by Dickens for a room to go and growl in.

As with his other books, it is a fascinating read, not only do you get the word, you get all the cultural and etymological background to each word and a raft of other much-underused words like sphexishness, forswunk and neiperty that you can add to your vocabulary. If you are a language addict then this is a must-read; however, its primary aim is to help those that are finding the real world all too much at the moment and I think that this will be a great help to them too.

 

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

 

Buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

 

My thanks to Alison Menzies for the copy of the book to read.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

5 out of 5 stars

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

It is only now that so many of us have lost that connection to the natural world we are starting to realise just how important it is. Time spent outdoors walking along a path, or sitting by the river recharges us in ways that we cannot comprehend, but have a deep need for.

But for some people that connection is much more vivid and real. Dara McAnulty is one of those people. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s and autism just over a decade ago and because he was so different to other children, was the victim of bullying at school. Getting out into the natural world was more than an escape from this torment, it became a life support system for him.

Lying below the oak, I can feel it surging below the ground, the roots curling around me, a restless energy feeding me strength.

It is this lifeline that he had from the world around him that gives him the energy to carry on fighting for the things he believes in. Moving home and school took him away from the places that he had grown to love, but this change became a positive one. He found new places to visit, like Murlough Beach where he could see seals, butterflies and hear the scream of gull and the song from the skylarks above the dunes. The new school is a positive too, rather than constantly being defensive and hating it, he is beginning to thrive.

Other changes were afoot too, he was becoming more involved in campaigning, heading to the UK to hand in a petition to the Prime Minister and was even asked to read a poem at the People’s Walk for Wildlife. His fury about the lack of action to protect wildlife and the natural world is starting to have an impact.

I must say that I really enjoyed this book. For someone so young, he has an amazing talent already as a writer. This diary format works real too, you sense the daily battle and the ebbs and flows he has with life in general. I think this comes from within, he is deeply passionate about this cause primarily because it sustains him. It is very evident from this book too that he has grasped from a young age the interconnectedness of all things. This is almost certainly connected to his autism, but I think that this is a strength rather than a weakness. McAnulty has a bright future in this world, troubled as it is at the moment. I think that he has the will to influence others to begin that change that the planet needs.

The Birds They Sang by Stanisław Łubieński

4 out of 5 stars

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

If you want to see wildlife without having to even leave your house, then one of the easiest things to do is look out the window for birds. Łubieński fell in love with birds, when his mother read Four Feather Friends to him. However, this passion had lapsed in the years after childhood, and it only resurfaced again at the end of his college years when he discovered a Polish edition of Birds of Europe. He purchased it and a new pair of binoculars and fell in love with all of the birds again.

Łubieński is fascinated by the inspiration that our avian friends have on music, films, books and dance and he explores some of them in this book. I had read about A Kestrel for a Knave before in other books, as well as the bird watchers who managed to still pursue their hobby whilst interred in a German POW camp. I wasn’t aware of the source of Ian Fleming’s well-known spy, James Bond or what President Mitterrand had for his last meal.

But there is more to this book than a few interesting cultural references, his writing is such that you feel close by where he is watching from. It can be settled in a hay bundle observing a flock of cranes gurgling and hooting the other side of a meadow or revisiting an old cottage that is just standing and seeing nature claim it once again. He muses about the creation myth of the stork and heads out to see if he can still find nests in the country.

Łubieński’s book is very different from a lot of what I have read in natural history writing. He is an enthusiastic bird watcher rather than a twitcher and this shows in the book. To start with it was refreshingly different, his writing is curious and intelligent with a deep-rooted warmth to his feathered subjects. His is fascinated in the way that the avian world has influenced our cultural landscape too. But mostly this is about the pure pleasure of seeing birds around you on a daily basis. Highly recommended.

Black Earth by Jens Mühling

4 out of 5 stars

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

If someone was to have asked me what I thought the second largest country in Europe was, I wouldn’t have picked Ukraine. Turns out it is. Up until now, I had only known it as the location of the town of Chernobyl, the location of the world worst nuclear disaster to date. This was the first of many crises that enveloped the country, ousting of former presidents and the Russian annexation of Crimea are two of the notable events that have shaped this country. There

Back in 2015, Jens Mühling decided to try and discover this enigma of a country for himself. Climbing on a bus in Poland he wanted to try to discover why this place had been subservient to a variety of powers for the past thousand years. After a minor delay at the border towns of Medyka and Shehyni, he was in. There never used to be a border there until relatively recently. The whole region used to be called Galicia and was part of Poland. But borders have a habit of moving and places come under different fiefdoms and this region was no different, even being part of Austria at one point in its history.

Travelling onto Lviv, there he meets a Pani Kristina who takes him around the local prison which was where 1000 people were slaughtered by the retreating Soviets. This was a propaganda boom for the Nazi’s at the time, who filled it once again with their own choice of dissident and committed equally appalling atrocities. He also meets a man who at one point was in the SS Galacia division. After the war, he returned to Lviv as he was a member of the OUN. He was soon caught by the Soviets and imprisoned along with thousands of others.

In the South-West of the country is the town of Dilove. The countryside he passes through is undeveloped, but beautiful farm and smallholding land that seemed to have been heading back to a pre-industrial time. It is a beguiling sight. It is dark by the time he arrives, but the view he glimpses of the mountains stands out starkly from the sky. Called Transcarpathia by people from Kiev, it originally used to belong to Hungary, then Czechoslovakia before the residents declared their own state. It lasted a day before it was invaded again. It was absorbed into the Soviet bloc before independence in 1991. It is a town that he finds fascinating, but he is made very aware of the way that the place has been marginalised over the years.

He heads to other cities in the country, visits museums where he is the sole visitor, share a bus seat with a woman holding a giant pumpkin who had never seen a foreigner before and arrives in the city of Uman as 30,000 Hasidim arrive to commemorate the passing of Rabbi Nachman. He arrives in Kiev, as the chestnuts are falling from the trees and collecting at the bottom of the hills. He even manages to get over to the Crimea which is now controversially part of Russia once again.

I thought that this was a carefully written book about a country that isn’t always visible on a global stage. His descriptions of the landscape he passes while looking out the windows of buses and trains show a country that has not really emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mühling makes an effort to engage with all the people that he meets, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with their point of view. There is a lot of history in this country and he draws the stories of the country out revealing details of places that have been subservient to greater European powers whilst mostly being ignored by them.

Unspeakable by Harriet Shawcross

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

We are not the only animal that can communicate. A lot of animals send out warning signals when a threat is sensed. Dolphins and whales have perfected the art of conversation across small and vast distances to keep in touch with one another. But almost no others have the level of language and communication that we have developed. Which is why with that ability that we have as human beings, it is strange that some have made the conscious decision not to talk unless it is unavoidable.

Harriet Shawcross was one of those. As a teenager, she withdrew from communicating and socialising unless really necessary, spending time in obscure parts of the school to avoid contact with fellow pupils. It was something that she thankfully grew out of, but it sparked an interest in why some people chose to not communicate with others but also why some people lost the art of speech and in some cases writing too.

Her journey will take her from the ghosts of her past to the history of the illness where it was first identified by a Swiss doctor, Moritz Tramer, who first named it elective mutism. It has since become known as selective mutism as it is now understood that children are not choosing who and when to speak to people, rather they are gripped by paralysing anxiety. A conversation with the speech therapist, Maggie Johnson, who learnt this the hard way with a boy where the thought of talking to anyone, filled him with abject terror. She now works with children getting to overcome this fear, using exercises to override their flight response.

Her search for silence takes her to America where a camp for children helps them to overcome their silence by pushing them, a technique that has its detractors. Remembering the time she was cast in the play The Vagina Monologues but decided against it as it went to a place that she thought was beyond her comfort zone. She ends up in New York and interviews Eve Ensler in her apartment about the effect that the book and play have had on breaking the taboo about this intimate part of the body. Other travels take her to Nepal where she meets those that lost so much in the 2015 earthquake, attends a service with the Quakers and goes on various retreats.

We live in such a noisy world that the cacophony often hides the silence that some people are overwhelmed by. Shawcross has made a good attempt in this book to open up the discussion about selective mutism and how it affects people in different ways. At times her writing is lucid and full of power. However, I did have a few issues with the book though; it did seem to lack a little focus at times and whilst her personal story was relevant at the beginning as an opening piece, the others seemed unnecessary embellishments to the book. Not bad overall though and some may find it useful to read.

April 2020 Review

Well, that seemed a much longer month than usual and it is the first month in ages that I have not bought a single book. Not one. Mind you I am not going to run out anytime soon. I have been sharing pictures of my crammed shelves on Twitter, follow the #ShowUsYourShelves hashtag to see mine and hundreds of others. Would you like to see a bookshelf tour on here? Let me know in the comments. I had a week off in April, and it was my 25th Wedding Anniversary. Our children did a Lockdown dinner for us which was lovely of them.

Even though I had the week off, I spent a lot of time faffing and ended up reading 16 books in the end, and that was only because I read three very short fiction books at the end of the month. Really need to get a wriggle on as I am only just ahead of my Good Reads target at the moment. Anyway, onto the books that I read in April. It was a mixed selection as you can see:

I have been following Tim Clare for a little while on Twitter and he asked if people could read and review his book. Thankfully the library had a copy which I got before they closed. I quite liked it, but it has masses going on and I think reading the first would have helped with the context. Cynan Jones is another author that I have been following on twitter for a while now and really liked Stillicide which I read last year. I have had Cove for a while after buying it last year, it is a sparsely written novella about a man who is struck by lightning whilst out in a kayak and it is his fight for survival. And that is all I will say about it.

   

Salt kindly added Used To Be to an order that I placed with them a while ago and I finally got to read it at the end of the month. It is not a bad collection of short stories. A more contemporary take on the short story is How the Light Gets In by Clare Fisher. It is an interesting collection and feels rougher at the edges as modern life is.

   

I have long been fascinated by language and was fortunate enough to be sent a copy of Unspeakable by Harriet Shawcross. In this, she explains about her problem as a teenager of selective autism, this is where people choose not to speak to some or all people. It can be cured, but it is a slow process with those affected.

I am not sure I’d want to keep bees, but completely understand why some people want to. Liquid Gold is an amusing tale of Roger Morgan-Grenville taking up the hobby with a friend half his age and the things that they got up to.

I read two poetry books this month, Awaking and Holding Unfailing. Both very different as one is about climate change and the other is about a modern life in China.

   

Politics… Just hearing the word is enough for most people, but Tatton Spiller is fascinated by it. In We’re Living Through The Breakdown he evaluates some of the reason why it is so fraught these days and makes suggestions as to how to improve how we deal with each other politically

We are intrinsically linked to this planet and in Origins, lewis Dartnell shows just how we have been formed and shaped by the very rocks that we have walked upon. made for a fascinating read.

There is something about a Gibson book that grabs the zeitgeist by the dangly bits and reinvents just how to do a near future Scifi book. Agency is that book

Managed to read four travel books this month. First up was the latest by the wonderful Kapka Kassabova. In this, she heads over to the border of  North Macedonia, Albania, and Greece where there are two lakes, Ohrid and Prespa. Two ancient lakes joined by underground rivers. Her family were from there and this is a story of family and the push and pull of nations. Another book that was on the Stanford list was Last Days In Old Europe. More memoir than travel, Richard Bassett takes us back 40 years to some of the European countries where he worked. Fascinating read.

   

When people think of Ukraine then Chernobyl is the town that always comes to mind. But there is vast history in the rest of the country and Jens Mühling wants to discover all about it. A good refreshingly different perspective of a country that is always in turmoil. A calmer book is Leonie Charlton’s Marram Grass. She treks through the Outer Hebrides with her friend  and leaves small beads in memory of her mother. Lovely descriptions of a part of the world that I’d love to go to

   

My book of the month was the next in the Discworld series that I read, A Hat Full of Sky.  Terry Pratchett does it again with another great Tiffany Aching book and the always hilarious feegles.

 

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