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The Swimmer by Patrick Barkham

5 out of 5 stars

I can’t remember quite how I first came across Roger Deakin, but according to my records, I first read Waterlog in 2008, a few years after it was published. I was astonished by how good a book it was. The guy could write. I did a little research to see what else he had written and it was then I discovered that he had died two years before.

However, there was another book that he had written and that would be out soon. There was news of another being brought together from his notes by his literary executor, Robert Macfarlane.

But who was this man who managed to conjure these wonderful books from the same letters and words we have? There was very little about him from what I could find.

Thankfully, that has been resolved with the new book that Patrick Barkham has pulled together from his archive and with the help of numerous other people. It is mostly in his own words too with lots of contributions from those that knew him at the different stages of his life.

It is a fascinating account of a man who could be warm and generous as well as reckless and demanding and difficult at the same time. As brilliant as he was, there were lots of flaws in his character. The other contributors to this life story are honest in their portrayal of Deakin. I thought it was quite refreshing to read some of these, as often biographies can sometimes be far too rose-tinted for my liking.

I you have read, Waterlog, Wildwood and Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, then I can highly recommend this, along with Life at Walnut Tree Farm.

August 2023 Review

Even though I had a chunk of August off, it seemed to whizz by. Alas, I didn’t get as much read as I hoped either, but I did get my #20BooksOfSummer Reading challenge finished for the first time. It was an interesting reading month too, with a whole variety of fiction and some very interesting non-fiction too. So here is what I read and acquired in August:

 

Books Read

An Artist’s View of Jurassic Dorset – Richard Watkin – 3.5 Stars

The Invention Of Essex: The Making Of An English County – Tim Burrows – 4 Stars

Mayhem – Sarah Pinborough – 3.5 Stars

Hot Milk – Deborah Levy – 2.5 Stars

Year of the Golden Ape – Colin Forbes – 2.5 Stars

The Acid Test – Élmer Mendoza Tr. Mark Fried – 2.5 Stars

From a Low and Quiet Sea – Donal Ryan – 3 Stars

Nightingale – Marina Kemp – 3 Stars

Crow Court – Andy Charman – 3.5 Stars

A Perfect Explanation – Eleanor Anstruther – 3.5 Stars

A Flat Place: A Memoir – Noreen Masud – 4 Stars

One Midsummer’s Day: Swifts And The Story Of Life On Earth – Mark Cocker – 4 Stars

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – T.S. Eliot – 3 Stars

All In: How We Build A Country That Works – Lisa Nandy – 3.5 Stars

Walking The Wharfe: An Ode to a Yorkshire River – Johno Ellison – 4 Stars

 

Book(s) Of The Month

Wild About Dorset: The Nature Diary of a West Country Parish – Brian Jackman – 4.5 Stars

 

Top Genres

Fiction – 26

Natural History – 17

Travel – 16

Poetry – 11

Memoir – 9

History – 6

Science Fiction – 6

Fantasy – 6

Art – 4

Photography – 3

 

Top Publishers

Faber & Faber – 9

Penguin – 6

Bloomsbury – 5

Little Toller – 4

Simon & Schuster – 4

Jonathan Cape – 4

William Collins – 3

Granta – 3

Allen Lane – 3

Michael Joseph – 3

 

Review Copies Received

Freethinking: Protecting Freedom of Thought Amidst the New Battle for the Mind – Simon McCarthy-Jones

Interstellar Tours: A Guide to the Universe from Your Starship Window – Brian Clegg

Reboot: Reclaiming Your Life in a Tech-Obsessed World – Elaine Kasket

 

Library Books Checked Out

Some Of Us Just Fall: On Nature And Not Getting Better – Polly Atkin

Ravenous: How To Get Ourselves And Our Planet Into Shape – Henry Dimbleby

Where The Seals Sing – Susan Richardson

Footprints in the Woods: The Secret Life of Forest and Riverbank – John Lister-Kaye

Follow The Money: How Much Does Britain Cost? – Paul Johnson

Rural: The Lives Of The Working Class Countryside – Rebecca Smith

High Caucasus: A Mountain Quest In Russia’s Haunted Hinterland – Tom Parfitt

 

Books Bought

Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World – Tim Harford

Lost Acre – Andrew Caldecott

Asusterlitz – W.G. Seabald Tr. Anthea Bell

How To Be A Domestic Goddess – Nigella Lawson (Signed)

The Unadulterated Cat – Terry Pratchett, Ill. Gray Jolliffe

Super Crunchers: How Anything Can Be Predicted – Ian Ayres

Cold Fish Soup – Adam Farrer

The Horizontal Oak: A Life in Nature – Polly Pullar

Running a Hotel on the Roof of the World: Five Years in Tibet – Alec Le Sueur (Signed)

To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace – Kapka Kassabova

Glowing Still: A Woman’s Life On The Road – Sara Wheeler

East to the Amazon: In Search of Great Paititi and the Trade Routes of the Ancients – John Blashford-Snell & Richard Snailham

42: The Wildly Improbable Ideas of Douglas Adams – Douglas Adams Ed. Kevin Jon Davies (Signed)

Three Stripes South: The 1000km thru-hike that inspired a women’s adventure movement – Bex Band

Caesar’s Vast Ghost – Lawrence Durrell

 

Are there any there that you’ve read? Or like the look of? Let me know in the comments below.

September 2023 TBR

We’re into the final third of the year and the mornings already have that autumn twang. Not that we had that much of a summer after the promise of June…

Any way you’re here for the books, and I am here to tell you what I am aiming to read in this equinox month.

Still Reading
Wasteland: The Dirty Truth About What We Throw Away, Where It Goes, And Why It Matters – Oliver Franklin-Wallis
Challenge Books
The Lost Whale – Hannah Gold
Bloom: From Food to Fuel, the Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World – Ruth Kassinger
The Military Orchid – Jocelyn Brooke
Other Books
A Life in Car Design – Oliver Winterbottom
 Letters to Camondo – Edmund de Waal
Follow This Thread: A Maze Book to Get Lost In – Henry Eliot
All My Wild Mothers: A Memoir Of Motherhood, Loss And An Apothecary Garden – Victoria Bennet
Some Of Us Just Fall: On Nature And Not Getting Better – Polly Atkin
 Ravenous: How To Get Ourselves And Our Planet Into Shape – Henry Dimbleby
Waypoints: A Journey On Foot – Robert Martineau
Review Books
The Granite Kingdom: A Cornish Journey – Tim Hannigan
In Sardinia: An Unexpected Journey in Italy – Jeff Biggers
Wind: Nature And Culture – Louise M Pryke
Coast of Teeth: Travels to English Seaside Towns in an Age of Anxiety – Tom Sykes
Way Makers: An Anthology of Women’s Writing about Walking – Kerri Andrews
An Almost Impossible Thing: The Radical Lives of Britain’s Pioneering Women Gardeners – Fiona Davidson
Reboot: Reclaiming Your Life in a Tech-Obsessed World – Elaine Kasket
Poetry
The Haw Lantern – Seamus Heaney
Serious Concerns – Wendy Cope

 

It is a bit shorter than normal as previous TBRs have been recently. This is partly a hope that I can actually read all on the list and secondly that I have less than 60 book to go on my Good Reads challenge.

Undercurrent by Natasha Carthew

5 out of 5 stars

Natasha Carthew is Cornish born and bred. Her family have a long history in the county too and were responsible for building most of the village that she was born and grew up in. She no longer lives there for a number of reasons the most significant is that she is not in a financial position to be able to afford a property there. There are villages now where no locals live, they are all owned by rich people with second homes or people who let them to the influx of summer visitors.

She had everything going against her growing up, poor female and also gay, she was one of the disposed people in the poorest county in the UK. They lived off her mum’s income, as her dad considered anything that he earnt to just be for him. He wasn’t around much either, having ducked responsibilities he was a womaniser and always had a girlfriend or two, one of whom moved into the flat above them with him at one point!

Her mum was resourceful and resilient though, always ensuring that Carthew and her sister were fed and looked after. They managed to move into the village to a slightly larger home, which helped a little. School was a struggle, mostly because she couldn’t see the point, but the chance finding of a leaflet with a course that really appealed to give her a path out of the vicious poverty circle she found herself in.

She went to the very edge of the abyss several times and the thing that kept her here then is the same thing that keeps her sane now and that is her writing

This is not an easy book to read by any means, it is an emotionally charged book full of raw prose and revelations of her upbringing. The is as much a personal memoir as it is a critique of the way that the Cornish have been abandoned by the UK government. High property prices because of the influx of second homeowners combined with low seasonal wages mean that most people born in Cornwall cannot afford to live there now. Whilst Carthew has come to terms with not being able to live in the place she chooses, many in the county are being forced out. It would be nice to think that those in power would read a book like this, but I somehow doubt they will. If you have read Lowborn by Kerry Hudson then this should be on your reading list too.

A Bloggers Reading Journey – Book Bloke

The next in my slightly erratic series is from BookBloke. He describes himself as talking books and nonsense. Tea Addict Opinions my own. Wears bad shirts. Jokes usually stolen. He can be found on Twitter here.

 

What is your earliest reading memory?

Sitting on my grandad’s knee reading a railway series book

What was your favourite childhood book?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of secrets

What book do you remember reading at school?

More than I’ve time to list here but Harry Potter (obviously) Roald Dahl and lemony snicket

What was the book that changed you?

A wanted man by Lee Child. A random purchase in Asda for a holiday. That book got me back into reading.

Who was the author who helped you discover a whole new genre?

John Nichol. Now I buy anything to do with aviation history.

What was the last book that you bought?

No Plan B by Lee and Andrew Child

What was the last book you reread?

Thunderball by Ian Fleming

What was the last book you couldn’t finish?

I’ll get flailed for this but it was Billy Summers by Stephen King

The book I am currently reading

The ink black heart by Robert Galbraith

Where do you read?

Anywhere I can

What books/genres do you turn to, to get out of a reading slump?

The world according to Clarkson or a Jack Reacher book

What was your last five-star read?

Top Gun : the real story by Dan pedersen

How many books do you currently own?

Hundreds probably

What is the oldest book on your bookshelves?

An old copy of Gordon The Big Engine

What book did you last buy based on the cover?

Typhoon by Mike Sutton

What book do you always recommend?

The Jack Reacher books.

July 2023 Review

I am very late in posting this as I have been away to Jersey and came back last weekend. And then have been busy doing lots of other things this week.

Anyway, July was a good reading month, with two books making my book of the month

Books Read

Circles And Tangents: Art In The Shadow Of Cranborne Chase – Vivienne Mary Light – 4 Stars

The Bedlam Stacks – Natasha Pulley – 2 Stars

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley – 3 Stars

Don’t Look Now – Daphne du Maurier – 2 Stars

One August Night – Victoria Hislop – 2.5 Stars

The Last Dance And Other Stories – Victoria Hislop – 2.5 Stars

Blood Storm – Colin Forbes – 3 Stars

The Mermaid of Black Conch – Monique Roffey – 3.5 Stars

Himself – Jess Kidd – 3.5 Stars

Elowen: A Story of Grief and Love – William Henry Searle – 4 Stars

A Trillion Trees: How We Can Reforest Our World – Fred Pearce – 3.5 Stars

Out For Air – Olly Todd – 3 Stars

We, Robots: Staying Human In The Age Of Big Data – Curtis White – 2.5 Stars

Venice: The Lion, The City And The Water – Cees Nooteboom – 4 Stars

 

Book(s) Of The Month

La Vie: A Year In Rural France – John Lewis-Stempel – 4.5 Stars

The Swimmer: The Wild Life Of Roger Deakin – Patrick Barkham – 5 Stars

 

Top Genres

Fiction – 18

Natural History – 15

Travel – 15

Poetry – 10

Memoir – 8

History – 6

Science Fiction – 6

Fantasy – 5

Art – 3

Photography – 3

 

Top Publishers

Faber & Faber – 8

Bloomsbury – 5

Penguin – 4

Little Toller – 4

Simon & Schuster – 4

Monoray – 3

Chatto & Windus – 3

William Collins – 3

Doubleday – 3

Michael Joseph – 3

 

Review Copies Received

Walking The Wharfe: An Ode to a Yorkshire River – Johno Ellison

A Fenland Garden: Creating a haven for people, plants and wildlife in the Lincolnshire Fens – Francis Pryor

The Uncanny Gastronomic: Strange Tales of the Edible Weird – Ed. Zara-Louise Stubbs

Holy Ghosts: Classic Tales of the Ecclesiastical Uncanny – Ed. Fiona Snailham

 

Library Books Checked Out

A Flat Place: A Memoir – Noreen Masud

Wasteland: The Dirty Truth About What We Throw Away, Where It Goes, And Why It Matters – Oliver Franklin-Wallis

One Midsummer’s Day: Swifts And The Story Of Life On Earth – Mark Cocker

The Invention Of Essex: The Making Of An English County – Tim Burrows

Borderland: A Journey Through The History Of Ukraine – Anna Reid

Some Of Us Just Fall: On Nature And Not Getting Better – Polly Atkin

Ravenous: How To Get Ourselves And Our Planet Into Shape – Henry Dimbleby

The Only Gaijin In The Village – Iain Maloney

One Thousand Shades Of Green: A Year In Search Of Britain’S Wild Plants – Mike Dilger

Where The Seals Sing – Susan Richardson

Footprints in the Woods: The Secret Life of Forest and Riverbank – John Lister-Kaye

 

Books Bought

Wayfinding: The Art And Science Of How We Find And Lose Our Way – Michael Bond

One More Croissant for the Road – Felicity Cloake (Signed)

Tojours Provence – Peter Mayle (Signed)

Treacle Walker – Alan Garner

Gone Bones – Margaret Atwood (Signed)

Bridges – David McFetrich & Jo Parsons

Harry Mount’s Odyssey: Ancient Greece in the Footsteps of Odysseus – Harry Mount

The Heavens – Sandra Newman

Follow This Thread: A Maze Book to Get Lost In – Henry Eliot

From Yukon to Yucatan: A Journey of Discovery in the Footsteps of America’s First Travellers – Irwin Allan Sealy

Farming – J.H. Bettey

The Gallows Pole – Benjamin Myers

Bitter Lemons – Lawrence Durrell

Motoring With Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea – Eric Hansen

A Shepherd’s Life – W. H. Hudson

Against Straight Lines: Alone in Labrador – Robert Perkins

The Old Stones: A Field Guide to the Megalithic Sites of Britain and Ireland – Andy Burnham

A Far Country: Travels in Ethiopia – Philip Marsden-Smedley

Raven Seek Thy Brother – Gavin Maxwell

The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology – Lonely Planet

An Introduction to William Barnes – Douglas Ashdown

Setting the Poem to Words – David Hart

The Skin Spinners: Poems – Joan Aiken

 

Are there any from that list that you may have read or having now seen, would like to read at some point? Let me know what you read above in July in the comments below.

August 2023 TBR

This month is all about the challenge and completing (for the first time ever) the #20BooksOfSummer Challenge. I have eight to go! So here is my list. It would be good to read more that 16 too this month…

 

Still Reading
The Last Dance And Other Stories – Victoria Hislop
Challenge Books
A Perfect Explanation – Eleanor Anstruther
Mayhem – Sarah Pinborough
Nightingale – Marina Kemp
Hot Milk – Deborah Levy
From a Low and Quiet Sea – Donal Ryan
Year of the Golden Ape – Colin Forbes
The Last Dance And Other Stories – Victoria Hislop
The Acid Test – Élmer Mendoza Tr. Mark Fried
Bloom: From Food to Fuel, the Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World – Ruth Kassinger
In Search Of One Last Song: Britain’s Disappearing Birds And The People Trying To Save Them – Patrick Galbraith
Botanical Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland – Lisa Schneidau
Other Books
36 Islands: In Search Of The Hidden Wonders Of The Lake District And A Few Other Things Too – Robert Twigger
A Flat Place: A Memoir – Noreen Masud
Wild About Dorset: The Nature Diary of a West Country Parish – Brian Jackman
All In: How We Build A Country That Works – Lisa Nandy
Waypoints: A Journey On Foot – Robert Martineau
A Life in Car Design – Oliver Winterbottom
Crow Court – Andy Charman
Review Books
Cry of the Wild: Tales Of Sea, Woods and Hill – Charles Foster
The Granite Kingdom: A Cornish Journey – Tim Hannigan
Walking The Wharfe: An Ode to a Yorkshire River – Johno Ellison
Lost In The Lakes: Notes From A 379-Mile Walk In The Lake District – Tom Chesshyre
Minor Monuments – Ian Maleney
Natures Wonders – Jane V. Adams
Call of the Kingfisher: Bright Sights and Birdsong in a Year by the River – Nick Penny
The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths – Brad Fox
Isles at the Edge of the Sea – Jonny Muir
The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist – Tim Birkhead
The House of Islam – Ed Husain
On the Scent: Unlocking The Mysteries Of Smell – And How Losing It Can Change Our World – Paola Totaro and Robert Wainwright
Swan: Portrait of a Majestic Bird, from Mythical Meanings to the Modern Day – Dan Keel
Handbook of Mammals of Madagascar – Nick Garbutt
RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildlife: 3rd edition – Peter Holden & Geoffrey Abbott
Reconnection: Fixing our Broken Relationship with Nature – Miles Richardson
One Fine Day: A Journey Through English Time – Ian Marchant
The Possibility of Life: Searching for Kinship in the Cosmos – Jaime Green
Once Upon a Raven’s Nest: A Life On Exmoor In An Epoch Of Change – Catrina Davies
The View from the Hill: Four Seasons in a Walker’s Britain – Christopher Somerville
Across A Waking Land: A 1,000-Mile Walk Through A British Spring – Roger Morgan-Grenville
Poetry
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – T.S. Eliot
Photobooks
An Artist’s View of Jurassic Dorset – Richard Watkin

Elowen by William Henry Searle

4 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided a copy of this, free of charge, in return for an honest review.

My first child was born over 22 years ago now. It was a fairly straightforward birth, but she wasn’t the easiest baby. Now she is a confident young woman who knows her mind. The thought of losing her just before she made an appearance is something that I really don’t know how I would cope with.

It happens though and one of those people that this tragedy happened to is William Henry Searle and his partner Amy. Their daughter was due around the end of July and until a few days before, everything seemed to be well with both mother and child. He wakes to find Amy holding her swollen tummy saying that she can’t feel any movement. She is pale and beginning to panic. They make the journey to Southampton Hospital rather quickly and after various medical examinations discover that their daughter has died in the womb.

Elowen would never know her parents and they would never know her.

To say this is a moving book is an understatement. He is angry and wants to know why it happened. Was it something that they did? Was there another problem that the scans and checks they do these days never picked up? He explores these and other questions as well as taking us through some of his own personal dark moments of grief.

He goes through the five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They do not happen one after another, instead, it is mixed in a swirl of emotions and other feelings. He is very open about his feelings about the loss of Elowen and the raw and heart-rending prose cut right through to me. It reminded me of this, where the grief never fades, rather it becomes part of your character.

I would be lying if I said this was a great book to read; it is and it also isn’t. Seeing the emotional strain of a couple who have lost a child is not going to be for the faint-hearted. This is a book written from the heart of a man who wanted to be a father and is mourning all that he lost. It is an important book though, to show that even though the process of grieving can be long, the energy can be found to be able to do other things in time.

The Language Of Trees Ed. by Katie Holten

5 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided a copy of this, free of charge, in return for an honest review.

Trees are hugely important for our global ecosystem, just how important though, we really don’t know fully. Research is always uncovering the ways that they work and the methods that they communicate amongst each other. They are some of the oldest living organisms on the planet too, with some individual trees reaching 4,00 years old and it is thought that some groups are many times older than that.

The book is split into nine sections such as Seeds, Soil, Saplings, Flowers & Fruits and Tree Time which have over sixty essays by authors such as Jessica J. Lee, Suzanne Simard, Robin Wall Kimmerer and Robert Macfarlane. There are even the lyrics from a song that Holten has applied her wonderful tree font to. The essays are varied and interesting though, as with any collection, I did have some favourites.

This is one of the most beautiful books I have read this year. The fine gold detail on the cover is exquisite. But couple that with the pale cream pages and the rich green ink used throughout, the whole thing is a work of art. Holten’s Tree Alphabet used to highlight the writing she has drawn from numerous sources is the icing on the cake. She uses this for the titles of the essays and to introduce each section. What I did like was the ways that some of the short essays have been entirely recreated in this wonderful font, the pages move from small copses and sometimes dense woodland.

Hard Lying by Lewen Weldon

4 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided a copy of this, free of charge, in return for an honest review.

Lewen Weldon was in Marseilles en-route home for his biannual leave. For the previous fourteen years, he had been mapping the deserts of Egypt. But the UK has just declared war on Germany and started what would become First World War.

He had a particular set of skills, including being a fluent Arabic speaker, that the intelligence services knew they could use and they had a very important role for him. He was to run a network of spies behind the Turkish lines dropping them by boat and interviewing locals who were sympathetic to the allies and their strategic aims.

The book was written from his diary of the time and it is almost like reading a report with embellishments. But it is those additions that bring it to life as a book. There are details about the mundane parts of the job and the terror of being bombed whilst in the harbour and torpedoed.

How the book came back into publication too has an interesting back story.  I am glad it has been brought back as I thought that it was a fascinating book. Weldon gives a great insight into the job of running agents in enemy territory. It is written in a clipped mater of fact style which is very detailed about who he met with and where, but he also manages to convey just how tense it was in the area when they were carrying out these operations, in particular at night. Well worth reading.

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