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Liminal by Bee Lewis

4 out of 5 stars

Esther and Dan have taken the plunge and have moved to a disused railway station in a tiny village just south of Inverness. It is a time of change for both of them, Dan had been made redundant from his job and Esther is currently expecting their first child. They want to turn this into a business by making it into a writing retreat.

The story unfolds in their first week at the place. Their new neighbour Mike seems very friendly and even more amazingly Dan seems to be getting on with him immediately. They are beset with fog for the first few days making it very difficult to get out and about there, so Esther starts to unpack the boxes of possessions that they have bought with them. But there are strange things happening around the house, a cupboard that is jammed shut is suddenly found open and tucked at the back is a carved disc of wood with three interlinked hares. As she holds the carving, it begins to vibrate. Her dreams are very vivid and strange, she is walking through the forest that surrounds their home, but is being followed by a hunter. Each day he gets that little bit closer to her…

Esther and Dan have brought a lot of emotional baggage with them too. Esther lost her foot when she was a small girl in a car accident caused by her father who was driving whilst drunk. Dan is from a very religious family and has a very overbearing and oppressive father who they left behind in Bristol. There is also the element of trust between them, a key part of a relationship. A number of the things that Dan says and does do not add up or make sense when looked at in a rational way. She is starting to feel that things are going to be coming to a head soon with the stress of the move still affecting Esther in particular.

At its heart, this is a domestic thriller that has lies, deception and mistrust running all the way through it. Lewis builds the tension between the two main characters well as each chapter unfolds, recounting the events of that day, as well as having a subtle and unnerving creepiness that underlies it all. It didn’t feel very gothic thankfully, rather the unease is drawn from the folk horror elements that Esther experiences in her dreams and the location. I thought that this was pretty good overall, though occasionally the descriptive prose did feel like it was a little overdone occasionally. For me, the final chapter had almost too much going on and personally I would have liked more of the folk horror elements as they can make this sort of book seriously creepy.

 

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers by Robin A. Crawford

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers by Robin A. Crawford and published by Elliott and Thompson.

About the Book

The evocative vocabulary, wit and wisdom of the Scots language – from Robert Burns to Twitter.

Scottish writer and bookseller, Robin Crawford, has gathered 1,000 Scots words – old and new, classical and colloquial, rural and urban – in a joyful celebration of their continuing usage. His amusing, erudite definitions put each of these words in context, revealing their evocative origins and essential character. Delightful line drawings by Scottish printmaker Liz Myhill contribute to this treasury of linguistic gems for language lovers everywhere.

The Scots language is intricately bound up in the nation’s history, identity, land and culture. It is also a living and vital vernacular, used daily. With references to Robert Burns mingling with contemporary examples from Billy Connolly and even Monty Python, Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers revels in the richness of one of our oldest languages, and acts as a precious
reminder of words that are also beginning to fade away, their meaning and value disappearing.

About the Author

Born in Glasgow, writer and Scottish bookseller Robin A. Crawford has a particular interest in the culture and natural heritage of his native land. He is the critically acclaimed author of Into The Peatlands: A Journey Through the Moorland Year, longlisted for the Highland Book Prize 2019. He lives in Fife, Scotland, with his wife.

My Review

I have always loved the country and have visited a number of times including one glorious holiday alongside Loch Goil just where it opens out to Loch Long. Thankfully, the time we were there we weren’t inundated with the dreaded midges. Whilst I have Scottish blood from my grandfather swilling around somewhere within, I must admit I am not that fond of haggis. Whisky, however… I have almost always been able to understand the accent, bar one case where it was so broad that I did struggle a bit.

As well as the beautiful Gallic language that is spoken by some in Scotland they have their own patois and dialect that is distinctively different from the regular English language. Robin A Crawford has collected 1000 of these words from all walks of life and from the modern-day and rummaging through their linguist history for the words that remain in use after hundreds of years.

So if you want to know what a deil’s darning needle or a tourist eagle is, of how you are feeling when you’re forefochen or if you have runkled or fankled something is a good place to start. The range of subjects covered by the words is fascinating, know the difference between an oxter and pintil will save many a red face later on. There are words that most will be familiar with, i.e. neaps, the Tartan Arm and a Glaswegian kiss are pretty much mainstream across the country now.

With each word is a short definition and often an example of usage, very helpful for some of the more obscure ones such as doech-an-doris, lea-rig and stooshie. I thought that this was a delightful collection of words that Crawford has brought together, into this book. I really enjoy learning all things about language and have read a large number of books on the subject. Crawford has properly researched this book but still made this readable and occasionally funny. If you are a bit of an etymologicon then this is for you.

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.

Landscapes of Detectorists by Innes M. Keighren & Joanne Norcup

4 out of 5 stars

I am normally late to most things, but by the time that I had noticed the buzz about the Detectorists the final series had ended. Thankfully BBC4 repeated them and recorded them to watch at some point in the future. Not sure how it happened, but I had some spare time one evening and sat down to watch the first episode from the first series and before I knew it I had watched four of them. I had finished watching them all a couple of nights later.

To say I loved it would be an understatement, Makenzie Crook has made something wonderful here about the simple complexities of human relationships and male friendships and intimacies. The plot focuses on two friends who share a passion for metal detecting, it is normally a fairly lonely hobby, but this is for them a shared hobby. This simple but beautiful comedy had great appeal to people from all walks of life.

It also tapped into various themes that many people found appealing, in particular the way people react to their local landscapes. Some just find it a pleasant place to walk, others see the landscape as a timeline of history stretching way back over millennia, that if you know where and how to look at it, the secrets can be found. These themes are picked up in the four sections of this book, Joanne Norcup considers how gender in the series relates to knowledge and expertise, Andrew Harris writes about how we look at the landscape in the search for clues. Isla Forsyth looks at how the memory works when seen in the context of place and objects and Innes M. Keighren writes about how the characters of the comedy interpret their beloved landscape.

The book is a celebration of the mundane, the items that they find are the casts offs and detritus from normal life, but it as much about the love that the two main characters have trying to read the landscape and find that elusive treasure and the boat burial. But as hopeless as these some times amusing objects are, there is still a story behind all of them. It considers just why (mostly) men would want to spend time waving an electronic device over a barren field and asks if they are there to discover the history of the place or to give some escape or breathing space in a relationship. It is also quite rare, as there is no mocking of the characters for doing what they love, rather it is an acknowledgement that people can be generous about people and their hobby.

I really liked this book, it doesn’t feel too academic in its prose either, which is a relief, as it could so easily of done so. By exploring the gentle themes from the series and expands on them, filling in the details of the character and the landscape which they are searching for objects and mostly understanding. If you liked The Detectorists, then you’ll probably like this too.

The Oak Papers by James Canton

4 out of 5 stars

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

It is said that an oak grows for 300 years, lives for another 300 and then takes 300 years to die. Those, of course, are the lucky ones, most live around 150 to 200 years. The oldest oak in my part of the world, Dorset, is the Wyndham’s Oak near Gillingham and is 10m wide. I’ve not seen it yet, one day though. However, I don’t have a tree nearby that I have the same affinity with that James Canton does. but there is some tree in my locale that I take time to walk by and admire as the seasons grind past each year. I love the way that they constantly change through the days as the light transforms the way that they look.

Canton’s tree is called the Honywood Oak and is a magnificent tree. It has a girth of 28 feet and is thought to be around 800 years old. It is one of the last survivors of the 300 or so oaks that were once in the 130-acre park at the Marks Hall Estate. One of the others left has the fantastic name of the Screaming Oak. Just imagine if most of them were still there and hadn’t been cut down. He was to spend two years of his life with this tree.

Getting your head around a tree that can still be alive around at 10 times your life span takes some doing. They are almost timeless; to think at oak speed means slowing ourselves down to the speed that this tree operates at. Appreciating the imperceptible changes that take place to the tree over the year, without contemplating it in the context of minutes and seconds or the latest social media notification, takes a fair amount of self-control, but it was something that Canton managed to do. In fact, it was something that he needed to do as this oak became something of a crutch in supporting him through an emotional time dealing with a breakup.

But there is more to this than his time spent with this particular tree. It is often considered to be our national tree and it had helped shelter us, we have built boats and ships from it and even further back in our history it had a strong spiritual and ritual element especially those that had mistletoe growing in the branches. He speaks to knowledgeable people who know much more about the local woods that he could ever know and takes the time to glean details from them.

Tentatively I close my eyes.
Time passes.
A calm creeps over me as though a blanket has been wrapped around my shoulders.
A numinous peace descends.
When I open them, there is only the oak framed before me, the grey bark ridged and still, so still. I feel bewitched.

An obsession with a particular tree could be seen as being slightly dysfunctional, but in these strange times in 2020 people have been taking the time to walk out in their locality and connect with places, woodlands and people have begun to reconnect with the natural world once again. If I am looking for a particular peace then I know I will find it alongside water and in among trees. I have a particular affinity for the oak too, as my name is derived from the French for oak, le chêne. I really liked this, the writing feels natural and at other times intimate. I liked the diary format that was used in some parts of the book, it didn’t feel overbearing, just fitted right in with the wide topics that he is writing about in his exploration of oaks in our culture and folklore. If you have a thing about trees then this would be one to read.

The Stream Invites Us To Follow by Dick Capel

4 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 time since I went to the Lake District, but I remember loving the landscapes and the hill when I was there. We never went to the Eden Valley when we were in the area either, mostly because this was the first time that I thought that I had heard of it. Or so I thought… Turns out that I had read about it before as this is the same location that my favourite artist, Andy Goldsworthy, had constructed his sheepfold art. I was now intrigued by this book.

This blend of art and landscape is a theme that runs all the way through Dick Capel’s books. He is a man who has had many jobs in the past, but in his post as Countryside Manager for the Eden Valley, he has been able to ensure that others can enjoy the landscape in many different ways now.

He begins his journey in this book at the source of the river in the wonderfully named Mallerstang where the water rises from Red Gill and State Gutter. He visits the source every year as a form of personal pilgrimage, and in that March, winter still gripped the land with snow over the moor and ice over the pools. He next heads to the place where the first of the sculptures that he commissioned, Eden Benchmarks, is located. These are by a number of different artists and were raised to celebrate the Millenium in 2000. They do function as benches, but their primary aim is art that interprets the local landscape. It was a project that was to take four years to complete and from the pictures that I have seen online, they are beautiful.

Next, he heads to Pendragon Castle, then Little Ormside, Temple Sowerby and Fiends Fell. I think these are all magnificently named places. Even though he is not particularly religious, he is often drawn to the churches along the river. They fill a spiritual hole for a lot of people like the neolithic sites that are still visible in the landscape.

I really liked this book about a tiny part of Britain that I knew almost nothing about. Capel would not be considered the most lyrical of writers, his style is more matter of fact and ensuring that all the details are covered, What is evident though is his deep love for the landscape of the place and the joy and reaction as people come and see the artworks along the valley. It does what most good books do and that is to make me want to visit the locations. Strongly recommended. You can see the places in the book here.

 

 

Shell Life on the Seashore by Philip Street

4 out of 5 stars

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

Living near the coast we have spent a lot of time on the beach because we can. Over the years the children have accumulated a hefty number of different sized and shaped shells that we have been laying out under the front window of our home. I knew what some of them were, in particular the limpets, oysters and the occasional razor clam. We have even found scallop shells before now, but there is a lot of shells that were acquired which I had not got a clue what they were. This book helped with identifying them.

Thankfully this book first published in 1961 has been produced in this new edition with a beautiful fold-out cover with glorious colour artwork of the shells that you can find on the UK shoreline. It is an informative and very interesting book on all manner of shells. There are lots of details about tiny shells that are only a few millimetres long that you might on come across when scouring the sands when the tide is out.

It is a perfect volume to accompany the Pebbles On the Beach by Clarence Ellis that was published a little while back and it is a worthy addition to your shelves.

Rock Pool by Heather Buttivant

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

If I have a choice then I would rather spend time at the coast, walking over dunes, sitting having an ice cream or even bodyboarding. I like to go all times of the year, from the blistering hot days that we occasionally get in the summer to the windswept winter beaches where there is almost no one there.

One of the activities that we have done for the past decade, in particular at one of my favourite places, the beautiful harbour of West bay, is to go crabbing. Some of days we have caught loads, and there have been other days when we got a few pieces of seaweed. As disappointing as that is it is still good fun. When we are in Jersey we try to head out to the east coast to see what we can find in the rock pools.

Rock Pools are Heather Buttivant’s passion, so much so that she has made a career from it. Down in the beautiful county of Cornwall she takes people out on to the tidal zone to see what they can discover lurking just out of sight. The book is split into three sections, which are the upper, middle and lower intertidal zones, or as she headlines it, Life at the Extreme, Rock Pool Specialists and Gateway to the deep. In each of these sections she describes the type of animals such as the Shanny, the Dog whelk or the Squat Lobster, that you could come across if you are prepared to get a little wet when searching for them.

Understanding a sea squirt as an animal is far more challenging. It stretches the imagination beyond its twanging point.

If you are expecting a guide book for things that you might find in rock pools, this is not the best book for that. Join her as she alternately freezes and bakes in the sun exploring the rock pools that are close to her Cornish home without having to get wet and cold.  As well as spending time introducing you to the weird, wacky and seriously strange creatures you could come across whilst rootling about in a rock pool, there is a little of her life story too. No so much to distract us from her obsession, but enough to help you understand why she is doing this today. This is a joy to read as her enthusiasm is evident on every single page and you are a lover of the things in the sea then this is definitely a worthy addition to your natural history shelves.

Exploring Rights by Edward Ragg

4 out of 5 stars

 

There is a lot of talk about a person rights at the moment, in particular when it comes to free speech. One person’s right to express their opinion may mean that another person is offended by that opinion. We may think that we are free, but there is all manner of restrictions on what we can do and say, and it seems to be the way that our so-called freedoms are being eroded at the moment.

In his latest collection, Edward Ragg is considering what that means for us as an individual. He has lived for a while in China a country known for its poor record on human rights, mass surveillance of the population and often brutal suppression of the population.

His poetic response to this is wide-ranging there are poems on his rights, one on article 29.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, armed robbery, the reclamation of irony and even one by Trump.

 

The earth is suddenly bright and the rain

Reflects what light it must, is more vividly

There for the thick crusts of experience

 

The poems vary in length, metre and style so you go from reading a dense poem to one that does not lose any of the power in its brevity. I thought that this was definitely his best collection yet.

 

Three (ish) Favourite Poems

The Undetected Path

In Flight

The Question

In the Climate of Tautology

Confirm Humanity

July 2020 Review

Another month whizzes by and another birthday for me too. Not sure I am any wiser yet… Really good reading this month too, with three books getting five stars and I managed to read 18 too! So here we go.

Not quite sure how I got to hear about this one but managed to get a library copy prior to lockdown. This is a multi-layered story about a Piers Shonks who was supposed to have slain a dragon. Unpicking the fact from the myth takes Hadley all around the country.

Landscapes of Detectorists is about the TV series that is as much about the human character as it is the landscape. In here four academics look at what makes this such a wonderful comedy.

Alex Bellos keep coming up with really good puzzle books and So You Think You’ve Got Problems? is no exception. Brain stretching stuff.

Two very good books from the writer, Neil Sentance on his family history in the fields of Lincolnshire. Really nicely written vignettes of place too.

     

Roy Dennis has been a passionate supporter of the natural world and the environment for decades. There are 52 essays in her with his take on what we should be doing and some of his past successes in the reintroduction of extinct birds and animals.

I love spending time by the sea, and if you are going to do that then you can’t go wrong picking up these two books. Buttivant’s enthusiasm pours out of the page in Rock Pool and this new edition of Shell Life on the Seashore is beautifully done. Definitely worthy additions to your shelves.

   

Two poetry books this month, both utterly different. Flèche deals with complex themes of multilingualism, queerness, psychoanalysis and cultural history and The Picture of the Wind is about that perennial British obsession, the weather.

   

Finally got to read this one, it has been on my TBR for months, and it is a well-written explanation of why carbon is key to life on this planet.

I had read Gabriel Hemery’s book called Green Gold, and when he offered me a copy of this I accepted. It is a collection of fiction stories about trees and often ventures into the science fiction realm. Really enjoyed this.

We rely on codes in almost all things on the web and this book is about their evolution from ancient times to the modern-day. Clear explanations and lots of graphics and pictures

Lots of travel books this month. I have read all of Jamie’s natural history books abut not this one. It is excellent, as you expect from an accomplished writer, full of empathy of the people that she is staying with. Thubron is one of my favourite travel writers but I had not read this, his first book about Syria. It is really good, but a touch heavy on the history, I much preferred his dealing with the people of that city.

    

And now for my books of the month, three this time. Two are real-life stories of experience in World War 2, one set in Somalia and the other in Italy. Both writers are sensitive to the people that they are alongside and they are both full of tiny details about how life was at that time. Lev Parikian’s new book, Into The Tangled Bank, is my final book of the month. In here he writes about his wider experiences of exploring the natural world and pays homage to some of the great of nature writing. Very funny and occasionally a bit rude!

         

So there we go. Have you read any of these? Are there any that you now want to read? Let me know below.

 

August 2020 TBR

Starting to get through the backlog at the moment and actually have a week in Jersey so more reading time. Here is my TBR for August:

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

The Way Of The World – Nicolas Bouvier, Translated By Robyn Marsack

Reckless Paper Bird – John McCullough

 

Blog Tours

The Museum Makers – Rachel Moris

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers – Robin A. Crawford

 

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

Fibonacci’s Rabbits – Adam Hart-Davis

The Stream Invites Us To Follow – Dick Capel

Cut Stones and Crossroads – Ronald Wright

Time Among the Maya – Ronald Wright

Rewilding – Paul Jepson, Cain Blythe

The Oak Papers – James Canton

 

Wainwright Prize

Dar, Salt, Clear – Lamona Ash

Native – Patrick Laurie

Dancing with Bees – Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Rebirding – Benedict Macdonald

 

Library Books

Only read one library book in July, but now there are slowly opening up, I even got my first two books out this week, so aiming to get to these:

Brilliant Maps – Ian Wright

Lone Rider – Elspeth Beard

Sea People – Christina Thompson

The Way To The Sea – Caroline Crampton

A Beginner’s Guide To Japan – Pico Iyer

Pie Fidelity – Pete Brown

The Bells of Old Tokyo – Anna Sherman

 

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.

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus – Lawrence Durrell

Jungle – Yossi Ghinsberg

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

The Crow Garden – Alison Littlewood

Vicious – V.E Schwab

A Street without a Name – Kapka Kassabova

Hokkaido Highway Blues – Will Ferguson

 

Own Books

Liminal – Bee Lewis

 

Poetry

Read a different poetry book last month from the two I had on my TBR, so have one of those to finish and then this one:

The Perseverance – Raymond Antrobus

 

Science Fiction

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

One Way – S.J. Morden

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