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February 2024 Review

Happy Leap Year to those that celebrate it… I tend to think of it as an extra day reading. February seemed to both fly and drag at times, but in terms of what I read, it was really good.  I  took the prompt from Kaggsy’s and Lizzy’s Literary Life about reading books from independent publishers. And I did, all the books listed below are from Indies and I have popped the publisher at the end. Do take a look at their website for a bundle of good reading. So here are the books:

Books Read

Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird – Ed. Daisy Butcher & Janette Leaf – 3 Stars (British Library)

Aromabingo – David Gaffney – 3 Stars (Salt)

As the Women Lay Dreaming – Donald S. Murray – 3 Stars (Saraband)

The Museum of Cathy – Anna Stothard – 3.5 Stars (Salt)

Where Furnaces Burn – Joel Lane – 4 Stars (Influx)

Footprints In The Woods: The Secret Life Of Forest And Riverbank – John Lister-Kaye – 3.5 Stars (Canongate)

All Around The Year – Michael Morpurgo – 4 Stars (Little Toller)

The Hero and the Girl Next Door – Sophie Hannah – 3 Stars (Carcanet)

The Narrow Smile: A Journey Back to the Northwest Frontier – Peter Mayne – 3.5 Stars (Eland)

Apple Island Wife: Slow Living In Tasmania – Fiona Stocker – 4 Stars (Unbound)

The Christian Watt Papers: Memoirs of a Fraserburgh Fishwife – Christian Watt, Ed. David Fraser – 4 Stars (Eland)

 

Book(s) Of The Month

There were several four star books this month and this by Iain just had the edge:

The Only Gaijin In The Village – Iain Maloney – 4 Stars (Birlinn)

 

Top Genres

I have only read seven genres so far this year with travel writing way ahead so far

Travel – 10

Fiction – 7

Natural History – 3

Poetry – 2

Biography – 1

Writing – 1

History – 1

 

Top Publishers

Salt – 2

Eland – 2

Bloomsbury – 2

Canongate – 1

Carcanet – 1

British Library Publishing – 1

Vintage – 1

Unbound – 1

Faber & Faber – 1

Little Toller – 1

 

Review Copies Received

Modern Fog – Chris Emery

Seaglass: Essays, Moments and Reflections – Kathryn Tann

Hunt for the Shadow Wolf: The Lost History of Wolves in Britain and the Myths and Stories That Surround Them – Derek Gow

Hedgelands: A Wild Wander Around Britain’s Greatest Habitat – Christopher Hart

The Long Unwinding Road: A Journey Through the Heart of Wales – Marc P. Jones

Mystic Orchards – Jonathan Koven

Sunken Lands – Gareth E. Rees

 

Library Books Checked Out

Stone Will Answer: A Journey Guided by Craft, Myth and Geology – Beatrice Searle

All The Wide Border: Wales, England and the Places Between – Mike Parker

The Orchid Outlaw: On A Mission To Save Britain’s Rarest Flowers – Ben Jacob

Late Light: Finding Home In The West Country – Michael Malay

The Story of Silbury Hill – Jim Leary & David Field

Footmarks: A Journey Into Our Restless Past – Jim Leary

 

Books Bought

Dress & Textiles – Rachel Worth (Signed)

Techno-Feudalism What Killed Capitalism – Yanis Varoufakis

Someone At A Distance – Dorothy Whipple

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art – James Nestor

52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time – Annabel Streets

Venice Sketchbook – Tudy Sammartini

A Line in the World: A Year on the North Sea Coast – Dorthe Nors

West with the Night – Beryl Markham

Trouble Brewing in the Loire – Tommy Barnes

Cairngorms: A Secret History – Patrick Baker

Discovering Hedgerows – David Streeter & Rosamond Richardson

The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook: Extended Edition – Ian Brodie (Signed)

First Overland: London-Singapore by Land Rover – Tim Slessor

North – Seamus Heaney

Discovering Prehistoric England: A Gazetteer of Prehistoric Sites – James Dyer

An Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliyâ Çelebi – Evliyâ Çelebi & Ed. Robert Dankoff

Wild Geese: A Collection of Nan Shepherd’s Writing – Nan Shepherd

The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life – Ryszard Kapuściński Tr. Klara Glowczewska

Dorset: The Isle of Purbeck – Rena Gardiner

High Street – J.M. Richards & Eric Ravilious

Tyneham: Dorset’s Ghost Village – Rodney Legg (Signed)

The Years – Annie Ernaux Tr. Alison L. Strayer

Mother Tongues – Helena Drysdale

An Englishman In Patagonia – John Pilkington (Signed)

In Search of Genghis Khan: An Exhilarating Journey on Horseback across the Steppes of Mongolia – Tim Severin

Venice: A Literary Guide for Travellers – Marie-Jose Gransard

Boneshaker – Cherie Priest

So are there any from that huge list above, that you have read, or now seeing them, now want to read? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

March 2024 TBR

February has passed at about 19,000 miles an hour and suddenly it is TBR time again. It is a little bit longer this time so here we go:

 

Other Books

Hermit – Jade Angeles Fitton

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art – James Nestor

Why Women Grow – Alice Vincent

Cold Fish Soup – Adam Farrer

Very British Problems: Still Awkward, Still Raining – Rob Temple

Very British Problems: The Most Awkward One Yet – Rob Temple

 

Review Books

Black Ghosts – Noo Saro-Wiwi

Now is the Time to Know Everything – Simon Moreton

Minor Monuments – Ian Maleney

The House Divided: Sunni, Shia and the Making of the Middle East – Barnaby Rogerson

Cornish Horrors: Tales from the Land’s End – Ed. Joan Passey

Scenes from Prehistoric Life: From the Ice Age to the coming of the Romans – Francis Pryor

Human Origins: A Short History – Sarah Wild

 

Library Books

Where The Seals Sing – Susan Richardson

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

The Spymasters: How The CIA’s Directors Shape History And The Future – Chris Whipple

Secret Britain: A Journey Through The Second World War’s Hidden Bases And Battlegrounds – Sinclair McKay

Spring Rain – Marc Hamer

The Rosewater Insurrection – Tade Thompson

Sea of Tranquility – Emily St. John Mandel

 

Poetry

Modern Fog – Chris Emery

Any that you like the look of from the books above? Let me know in the comments below

On The Scent by Paola Totaro & Robert Wainwright

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

According to some people we have many more than five senses, with some even suggesting as many as 33! As far as I am aware I only have the five, sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, though my wife would disagree with the hearing sense sometimes.

At the moment they all seem to be working. I don’t have the strongest sense of smell, but the thought of losing even that does not appeal at all. Thankfully when I had a dose of COVID, I had no symptoms and could still taste and smell ok. When Paola Totaro caught covid in March 2020 she lost her sense of smell and her world changed forever.

It took a long while for it to return too and she had to retrain her brain and nose to smell again. It also prompted her to learn about this sense we take for granted. It turns out that COVID had given her anosmia, but thankfully hers was only temporary, unlike 1 in 10,000 who are born with it. She digs deeper into those that suffer from this illness and also a parallel illness called parosmia where they have smell distortions and things never smell quite right, the scent of coffee and poo are often associated with this.

This fascinating book does what all popular science books should do, take a subject that you know little or nothing about and makes you want to read more about the subject. I liked that she blended personal anecdotes with solid science, it adds depth to the narrative and for me the personal angle really worked when she expands from personal experience into the research behind it. If you want to understand a little bit more about the sense you probably think about the least then this is a good place to start.

The World From My Armchair Challenge – Update

In November 2016 I embarked on a journey around the world. I didn’t need to plan an itinerary, book lots of tickets and find places to stay, I was to undertake this trip from the comfort of my armchair.

 

 

It had all came about because I love travel writing and wanted to discover more about the planet that we are on through the eyes of other people. It did involve some planning though, find a book that matched a country was in a lot of cases quite easy, but as you come across the more obscure and faraway parts of the world less people have visited and even less have written about them.

Other people have been interested in this so I copied over the books that I had chosen for each country and popped them in a spreadsheet here.

I initially thought that I could complete the whole challenge in four or five years, and boy was I wrong. Of the total of now 213 countries, seas and oceans I have so far read 83. I started well when I read 20 in 2017 and then peaked again in 2020, when no one could go anywhere, but only managed to read one, yes one, book for the challenge last year.

 

Year Books Read
2016 1
2017 20
2018 10
2019 14
2020 21
2021 9
2022 7
2023 1
Grand Total 83

 

So where have I travelled to? Well as you can see from the map below I have been all over the world so far. I have chosen not to read the books in a deliberate route, partly because I chose to read what was around me at the time and also trying to get a route through every single country in the world would be quite some task logistically.

 

 

This is a list of the regions and countries and the number of books that I have noted and read for each.

 

Continent Number of Countries Number of Titles Number of Titles Read % Read
Africa 52 45 13 25%
Antarctica 1 1 1 100%
Asia 33 33 19 58%
Caribbean 13 10 2 15%
Central America 8 8 3 38%
Europe 41 41 23 56%
Middle East 16 16 9 56%
North America 3 3 2 67%
Oceania 14 13 3 21%
Oceans 20 20 5 25%
South America 12 11 3 25%
Grand Total 213 201 83  

 

Whilst I have titles for most countries, there are a few that I haven’t been able to find any books for. These are listed below, so if you know of any travel books that are set in these places, or pass through, please do let me know.

Capo Verde

Central African Republic

Chad

Gambia

Grenada

Micronesia

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Sao Tome and Principe

Seychelles

Swaziland

Uruguay

 

The Journey So Far

As with any reading challenge, the point is to discover books and authors that you wouldn’t normally pick up. This isn’t quite the case with this as I love travel writing, but there has been the odd duff one and some outstanding books that I have discovered so far. These books include Ottoman Odyssey, Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons, The Gardens of Mars & Minarets In The Mountains and authors such as Noo Saro-Wiwa, Jonathan Raban, Monisha Rajesh & Kapka Kassabova.

 

Next Stages

Ideally, I would like to be around halfway through the challenge by the end of this year so that means reading 23 books this year towards it. Of the 120 books that I have listed on my spreadsheet, I have 52 of them in the house. The other 68 I haven’t yet got copies, but occasionally find them in my weekly trawl of charity shops and second-hand bookshops. (If you’re looking at the spreadsheet, green are books that I had read, and blue is for books I have, but not yet read) At this rate I have a completion date of 2030, assuming that I can find books for the countries listed above.

 

 

Nature Tales for Winter Nights Ed. By Nancy Campbell

4 out of 5 stars

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

I can’t say I have a favourite season, they each have their positives and negatives, but of all of them, winter can feel like it is dragging sometimes. But it is the perfect season for reading, immersing yourself in the words others have written from their experiences and travels.

I thought that this was an interesting collection of essays and extracts of non-fiction, fiction and poetry that Campbell has chosen. The extracts are not all from recent writers, it begins with a heartfelt paragraph from Anne Frank as she mourns the lack of fresh air in her hiding place. There is a piece written by a Japanese lady from 1000 years ago and musings from Darwin, Jansson and folk tales from Iceland.

As with any collection, there are some pieces that I really enjoyed and others that didn’t move me at all. It was good to find the always brilliant Tim Dee in here, I can’t think of anything of his work that I didn’t love reading. I should also note that this is the first time that I have ever read anything by a Bronte!

The other pleasure from this is discovering new authors. I have a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau that I picked up recently, but have not read it yet, based on the two extracts in here it should be really good. My favourite piece though was Encounters on the Road of Hercules by Charlotte Du Cann. I thought it was a stunning piece of travel writing and I have a new author’s work to explore. I personally prefer to have the author bio with the piece, rather than at the back as I don’t like flicking back and forwards every time, but that is just my view. Really good collection that I can recommend.

Grounding by Lulah Ellender

4 out of 5 stars

Lulah Ellender has a garden in Sussex, but whilst she cares for it and is raising her four children there, it is not hers. Soon after the death of her mother, she gets notice that the current owners of the property are looking at selling and she is effectively on notice for her home.

It is one thing too many; she freezes, not wanting to invest time in the garden with the thought that she will lose that too. It doesn’t last long, Ellender is a woman who lives for her garden and she is soon planting, planning and pottering in the out there.

It does give her time to take stock of where they are, where they might be and what her actual priorities are. Tending her garden provide a framework of routine and joy and she harvests produce that she thought she would never see. All the time in the background is an uncertain future.

If you want a book about how the tangle of modern life can be soothed by gardens and gardening, then I can recommend this. It didn’t feel morbid, as sometimes these books can, rather the actor gardening gives those that do it a sense of optimism, and I thought it was the same here. The writing is gentle and conversational, so much so that I felt I was alongside Ellender in her garden helping cut plants back or sitting in the shade with a glass of something and talking about life the universe and everything.

Tree Thieves by Lyndsie Bourgon

4 out of 5 stars

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

Spending time in the presence of an old tree always makes me wonder just what they have ‘seen’. Not literally of course, but their timelessness means that they are around much longer than us. Whilst I want to see them survive so other generations can enjoy them, there are people out there who see them purely as a resource that will give them an income.

That is essential in our modern society, but when these trees and forests have significance for lots of people in their locale, finding out that someone has cut down trees from protected areas is quite shocking. Just look at the reaction to the sycamore being felled recently.

There is a thriving black market in wood. Trees from protected forests are regularly cut down and sold on to those that aren’t going to be asking too many questions as to where the timber came from. In this book, Lyndsie Bourgon parts the understorey and brambles to show us just how endemic it is.

She concentrates mostly on the forests in North America and highlights specific cases where they have managed to get prosecutions of the individuals involved. But it is a global problem, and the later part of the book explores some of the industrial logging that takes place, often at the hands of criminal gangs who are reliant on those that turn a blind eye, having been bribed.

It isn’t just theft, the wider problem of this illegal logging is that the carbon that these ancient trees were storing has been released into the atmosphere again. Even the process of removing the finely patterned burls from big trees can damage them. You may not think that it is much of a crime to steal some wood from a tree, but this crime is part of a wider problem that we humans have had with the world’s resources and that when they are gone, that is it, no more.

It does make me wonder just how certified FSC wood actually is. If they can trace illegal wood into Ikea and other stores then it probably means that the entire system is flawed and cannot be completely trusted. If you want to read a true crime book that does not have dead bodies littering the prose then I can recommend this.

Reboot by Elaine Kasket

4 out of 5 stars

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

You are almost certainly reading this online, either on your computer or most likely now on a mobile device. Vast swathes of what we do have moved online or have a high technological aspect or element to it. The data that you provide to the companies and organisations that we interact with makes you a valuable part of their business.

Because technology is so pervasive, people have started to question is this actually good for us and our loved ones. I love technology, but I tend to think that the answer to this question now is no. The companies use various techniques to get us hooked and keep us interacting with their particular app. This is borderline psychological warfare on us the customer and at the moment, most people are losing…

Each chapter takes us through each stage of our lives from infancy, and early childhood to the tumult that is modern teenage years and onto our digital interactions as adults and the digital legacy that we will leave behind. In each chapter, Kasket gives a good overview of how technology has changed and the possibilities it offers and more importantly the warning signs that you need to be aware of.

This is a very thought-provoking book, She is not writing to make you feel really bad about all of your habits with regard to technology, but rather, just some of them…

The part that I was most startled by is the amount of technology that parents are expected to smother (not literally) their latest offspring in. We only had a baby monitor and didn’t use that for all of ours. It is also a warning about where we could be going, especially with regard to your digital legacy and the ghost in the machine that you will leave behind.

I did feel that it was missing a how-to-change section at the back. But she made it very clear in the conclusion that she wasn’t and didn’t want to do that. Rather she advocates her Technology Serenity Meditation:

May I have the serenity to accept what I cannot change about tech, the courage to change my use of it where I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

However, on reflection, I thought that the warnings in the book would be different for every reader of this and then they will have the knowledge to begin to make positive changes in their digital life. She does provide guidelines to help in this process. If you feel that you need to have a digital detox, then this is a good book to start that process with.

January 2024 Review

Didn’t January Drag? As ever. And making it to February means that I can look back over the month of reading and acquisitions and think that a book-buying ban is never going to happen… Even though I did by a few, more importantly, I passed a load on and 43 books left the house to find new homes.

So firstly here is what I read in January:

 

Books Read

Hemingway’s Chair – Michael Palin – 2 Stars

And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini – 2 Stars

Endurance: 100 Tales Of Survival, Endurance And Exploration – Ed. Levison Wood – 3 Stars

A Local Habitation – Norman Nicholson – 3 Stars

Ravilious & Co: The Pattern Of Friendship – Andy Friend – 3.5 Stars

The Turning Tide: A Biography Of The Irish Sea – Jon Gower – 3.5 Stars

On Writing and Failure – Stephen Marche – 3.5 Stars

Cornerstones: Wild Forces That Can Change Our World – Benedict Macdonald – 3.5 Stars

Elixir: In The Valley At The End Of Time – Kapka Kassobova – 4 Stars

Vuelta Skelter: Riding The Remarkable 1941 Tour Of Spain – Tim Moore – 4 Stars

Abroad in Japan: Ten Years In The Land Of The Rising Sun – Chris Broad – 4 Stars

Blue Dahlia, Black Gold: A Journey Into Angola – Daniel Metcalfe – 4 Stars

 

Book(s) Of The Month

Local: A Search for Nearby Nature and Wildness – Alastair Humphreys – 4.5 Stars

 

Top Genres

Travel – 6

Fiction – 2

Writing – 1

History – 1

Natural History – 1

Biography – 1

Poetry – 1

 

Top Publishers

Bloomsbury – 2

Arrow – 1

Harper North – 1

Head Of Zeus – 1

Eye Books – 1

Thames & Hudson – 1

Sort Of Books – 1

Jonathan Cape – 1

Bantam – 1

Vintage – 1

Faber & Faber – 1

Methuen – 1

 

Review Copies Received

Utter, Earth: Advice on Living in a More-than-Human World – Isaac Yuen

Doomed Romances: Strange Tales of Uncanny Love – Ed. Joanne Ella Parsons

 

Library Books Checked Out

A Line In The World: A Year On The North Sea Coast – Dorthe Nors

Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed – Catrina Davies

God Is An Octopus: Loss, Love and a Calling to Nature – Ben Goldsmith

 

Books Bought

Pages From My Passport – Amelia Dalton

Tyneham – The Lost Village of Dorset – Andrew Norman & Mary Hurst

The Museum of Cathy – Anna Stothard

Ultra-Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food … and Why Can’t We Stop? – Chris van Tulleken

Aromabingo – David Gaffney

Cranborne Chase – Desmond Hawkins

Scenes from Prehistoric Life: From the Ice Age to the coming of the Romans – Francis Pryor

Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries – Ian Stewart

Scotland the How?: The Hows and Whys of Scottish History – John and Noreen Hamilton

From a Persian Tea House: Travels in Old Iran – Michael Carroll

Pottery – Penny Copeland-Griffiths

Riding the Magic Carpet: A Surfer’s Odyssey in Search of the Perfect Wave – Tom Anderson

The Anthology of Scottish Folk Tales – Various

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India – William Dalrymple

Throwim Way Leg: An Adventure – Tim Flannery

The Cruise of the Snark – Jack London

A Stroke of the Pen – Terry Pratchett

The New Poacher’s Handbook – Ian Niall

 

So any from that huge list that you have read, or now seeing them, now want to read? Let me know in the comments below.

February 2024 TBR

Another month rolls by and as January always takes so long to get through, I almost forgot about posting this! I saw a post a little while back about #ReadIndies a February project to read some of the amazing books on your TBR from the Independent Presses that we are still so lucky to have in this country. It is being co-hosted by Kaggsy’s and Lizzy’s Literary Life. Whilst it is aimed at getting people to read from publishers who have five employees or less, I have stretched it a little to include Unbound and Bloomsbury!

So here are my book for February’s TBR:

 

Reading Through The Year

Nature Writing for Every Day of the Year Ed. Jane McMorland Hunter

A Cloud a Day Gavin Pretor-Pinney

 

Still Reading

Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird Ed. Daisy Butcher & Janette Leaf

 

Other Books

Cold Fish Soup Adam Farrer

Other Books As the Women Lay Dreaming Donald S. Murray

Other Books Aromabingo David Gaffney

Other Books The Museum of Cathy Anna Stothard

 

Review Books

All Around The Year Michael Morpurgo

Where Furnaces Burn Joel Lane

Minor Monuments Ian Maleney

The Christian Watt Papers: Memoirs of a Fraserburgh Fishwife Christian Watt, Ed. David Fraser

The Narrow Smile: A Journey back to the Northwest Frontier Peter MayneReview Books The House Divided: Sunni, Shia and the Making of the Middle East Barnaby Rogerson

Cornish Horrors: Tales from the Land’s End Ed. Joan Passey

 

Library Books

Apple Island Wife: Slow Living In Tasmania Fiona Stocker

The Only Gaijin In The Village Iain Maloney

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

Footprints In The Woods: The Secret Life Of Forest And Riverbank John Lister-Kaye

 

Poetry

The Hero and the Girl Next Door Sophie Hannah

So there you have it. I am kind of expecting to have library reservations to kick in and end up reading some different books though… Any that take you fancy from the above list? Let me know in the comments below.
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