Author: Paul (Page 3 of 150)

Villager by Tom Cox

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Villager by Tom Cox and published by Unbound.

 

About the Book

There’s so much to know. It will never end, I suspect, even when it does. So much in all these lives, so many stories, even in this small place.

Villages are full of tales: some are forgotten while others become a part of local folklore. But the fortunes of one West Country village are watched over and irreversibly etched into its history as an omniscient, somewhat crabby, presence keeps track of village life.

In the late sixties a Californian musician blows through Underhill where he writes a set of haunting folk songs that will earn him a group of obsessive fans and a cult following. Two decades later, a couple of teenagers disturb a body on the local golf course. In 2019, a pair of lodgers discover a one-eyed rag doll hidden in the walls of their crumbling and neglected home. Connections are forged and broken across generations, but only the landscape itself can link them together. A landscape threatened by property development and superfast train corridors and speckled by the pylons whose feet have been buried across the moor.

 

About the Author

He is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling The Good, the Bad and the Furry and the William Hill Sports Book longlisted Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia. 21st-Century Yokel was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize, and the titular story of Help the Witch won a Shirley Jackson Award. @cox_tom

Tom Cox has 80k followers on Twitter and 33k on Instagram. He is also the man behind the enormously popular Why My Cat is Sad account, which has 240k followers. He lives in Devon.

 

My Review

The Dartmoor village of Underhill is exactly where you would expect, under a hill. It has a long history of occupation, the stone circle taking it back beyond recorded history. Some of the stories from the landscape have gone forever but others have permeated the local folklore if you know where to look.

The people that have lived in the village over this have their own stories to tell and the narrative switches between different characters from 100 years ago to almost 150 years in the future. They all have a different story to tell of their time spent there, from the music that was created there and became a cult in its own right. There is the story of a doctor seeing the ghost of a woman in a ruined barn and the discovery of a body by two golf man teenagers.

Each of these stories is connected by the main character of the book; the landscape. Its presence is often brooding and sometimes comforting in each of these short vignettes and it feels like it is watching over the inhabitants of the village as they change the land for better or for worse.

The stones will talk, I think, if you give them long enough

I have been a big fan of Tom Cox for ages, so much so that I have even read his golf book, and I really liked this. It took a few days to grow on me, and this, like his non-fiction, is full of quirks and tiny details that make me wonder just where he gets his ideas from. I really liked the underlying rumble of folk horror in the stories, it is there like a satisfying bass line in a favourite track, not enough to scare you, but enough to give a feeling of unease. It is not a conventional novel by any means and is a strong reflection of his interests and passions. I am so glad that I read this, if it wasn’t for Unbound then we may not have seen this as most publishers wouldn’t consider this a commercial book. I still think that his non-fiction writing has an edge over this, but I am very much looking forward to whatever he writes next.

 

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 Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for the copy of the book to read.

June 2022 TBR

June! Already. Where do the months keep going? It is beyond me. It only seems a few days since I was posting the May TBR and here we are again. You know the drill, this is a frankly disturbingly long list and I am not going to read all of them, but it does give me the option to pick and choose.

 

Reading Through The Year

A Poem for Every Night of the Year – Allie Esiri

Word Perfect – Susie Dent

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Opened Ground Poems 1966 – 1996 Seamus Heaney

The Antisocial Network – Ben Mezrich

A Still Life – Josie George

Salt Lick – Lulu Allison

 

Blog Tour

The Ottomans – Marc David Baer

 

Review Copies

Isles at the Edge of the Sea – Jonny Muir

The Good Life – Dorian Amos

Astral Travel – Elizabeth Baines

Britain Alone – Philip Stephens

We Own This City – Justin Fenton

Spaceworlds – Ed. Mike Ashley

The Power of Geography – Tim Marshall

The Spy Who Was Left Out In The Cold – Tim Tate

The Devil You Know – Gwen Adshead, Eileen Horne

Letters from Egypt – Lucie Duff Gordon

Crawling Horror – Ed. Daisy Butcher & Janette Leaf

The Valleys of the Assassins – Freya Stark

The Cruel Way – Ella Maillart

Above the Law – Adrian Bleese

Cornish Horrors – Ed. Joan Passey

Somebody Else – Charles Nicholl

Scenes from Prehistoric Life – Francis Pryor

Black Lion – Sicelo Mbatha

The Babel Message – Keith Kahn-Harris

The Heath – Hunter Davies

The Seven Deadly Sins – Mara Faye Lethem

One People – Guy Kennaway

Three Women of Herat – Veronica Doubleday

The Sloth Lemur’s Song – Alison Richard

Where My Feet Fall – Duncan Minshull

Polling UnPacked – Mark Pack

Jacobé & Fineta – Joaquim Ruyra

The View from the Hil – Christopher Somerville

The Best British Travel Writing Of The 21st Century – Jessica Vincent

Ring of Stone Circles – Stan L Abbott

Field Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises – Mark Carwardine

 

Library

A Sky Full Of Kites – Tom Bowser

A Curious Absence of Chickens – Sophie Grigson

Scraps Of Wool – Bill Colegrave

Park Life – Tom Chesshyre

The Bookseller’s Tale – Martin Latham

The Spymasters – Chris Whipple

Looking for Transwonderland – Noo Saro-Wiwa

A Sky Full Of Kites – Tom Bowser

A Curious Absence of Chickens – Sophie Grigson

 

Poetry

New Leaf – Sean Lysaght

 

Books to Clear

Our Game – John Le Carré

The Tailor of Panama- John Le Carré

Year of the Golden Ape – Colin Forbes

Dreaming in Code – Scott Rosenberg

 

Challenge Books

The Wood That Made London – C.J. Schuler

English Pastoral – James Rebanks

Wild Silence – Raynor Winn

Fox – Jim Crumley

Woodland Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland – Lisa Schneidau

 

Photobook

Dorset Before the Camera: 1539-1855 – David Burnett

 

So, er, that is it. Inevitably there will be library books that have to be read as others have reserved them. Either way, I win!

Any in that list that you like the look of?

20 Books of Summer 2022

It was warm over the weekend, but it is very much NOT summery out there at the moment. However, that is no reason not to want to announce my book list for 2o Books of Summer.

This challenge was dreamt up by Cathy at 746 Books, it is a challenge for bloggers and anyone else and the aim is to try and read through 20 books that are on their TBR. I have tried for the past two years. In the first year, I read 18, in 2020 managed 12 and in 2021 only 10! I like the idea of it and It is good to support other bloggers in what they are doing to promote reading but I have always been disappointed in failing to complete it every time so far.  I did um and ah about doing it. l like to pick themes usually, I have had travel, and outstanding review books and then realised that it fits in with another challenge that I am undertaking:

I raised that on the spreadsheet that I have been using ,I physically had 20 books that I had not read from the categories above. So without further ado, here is my list of books:

Fish The Old Man and The Sand Eel Will Millard
Urban Wildlife Fox Jim Crumley
Land Rules / Trespass The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines that Divide Us Nick Hayes
Classic Nature Novel The Overstory Richard Powers
Walking Trail I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain Anita Sethi
Another Country Wild Nephin Sean Lysaght
Migration Swifts and Us: The Life of the Bird that Sleeps in the Sky Sarah Gibson
Nature Restoration / Recovery A Trillion Trees: How We Can Reforest Our World Fred Pearce
Short Stories At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond Various
Sky My House of Sky: A Life of J A Baker Hetty Saunders
Glaciers / Mountains Two Trees Make a Forest: Travels Among Taiwan’s Mountains & Coasts in Search of My Family’s Past Jessica J. Lee
Mental Health A Still Life: A Memoir Josie George
Water (Sea / River / Ocean) Caught By The River Jeff Barrett, Robin Turner, Andrew Walsh (Editor)
Remote Nature True North Gavin Francis
Ferocious Animals Black Lion: Alive in the Wilderness Sicelo Mbatha
Trees Living Trees Robin Walters
The Forest The Wood That Made London C.J. Schuler
Farm English Pastoral An Inheritance James Rebanks
Auto-biography Wild Silence Raynor Winn
Folklore / Folktales Woodland Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland Paperback Lisa Schneidau

Follow the hashtag #20booksofsummer22 to follow those who are taking part this year.

Machine Journey by Richard Doyle

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Machine Journey by Richard Doyle.

About the Book

Machine Journey is a pamphlet of poems and flash fictions. Travel the road from Slough to Mars. Discover wild visions, strange tales and machine futures. Scramble your way to the prefect stroke

 

About the Author

Author Photo

Richard Doyle is an old-school SF fan who began writing seriously in 2001. He has a Diploma in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and collaborated on a book in 2006. He has had poems published in the UK poetry magazines Orbis and Sarasvati and is a regular member of the Bristol Stanza Poetry Group. His debut pamphlet “The death of the sentence” was published in 2020. Two of his poems appear in the Bristol Stanza pamphlet “The Weather Indoors” (2021).

 

My Review

This is a strange and eclectic collection of verse and prose. There are poems about being a writer and how he shuffles scenes of death and dramatic entrances. It is the first collection that I have read that had something about Slough of all places.

He moves from the Stone Age with the poem called the Stone Computer about the screen that has not displayed an image for hundreds of years to the far future and a trip to Mars.

I particularly liked the Collision With A Greenberg, kind of a green punk story about an event that took place and Encounter with an Angel where someone has an angel reach out to touch them and The Trouble With Spaceships and novel and possibly illegal ways of travelling to Mars.

I liked this short collection. Doyle has drawn on subjects that are niche and wide-ranging. They are quirky and infused with gentle humour and are a pleasure to read.

 

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 Isabelle Keynon for the copy of the book to read.

39 Ways to Save the Planet by Tom Heap

3.5 out of 5 stars

Contrary to the message that is pumped out by the oil industry, we are in the middle of a climate crisis. As well as the billions of tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere, there is a massive loss of biodiversity and a scandalous amount of waste and pollution. For the regular person, they can all feel a little hopeless with all this bad news.

But we have got ourselves into this mess and we are the only species that can do something to turn this around, however, we seem to be lacking the political willpower to do something. There is lots of hot air from politicians, but there are still significant people in our current government who are still banging out the mantra from the oil companies that net-zero is unachievable.

I first came across 39 Ways To Save the Planet on Radio 4. Tom Heap is an enthusiastic presenter and when I found there was a book at my local library I grabbed it. Each of the 39 ideas is a short essay on a specific idea that people are actually doing to solve one aspect of the climate crisis. There are some excellent ideas here and they have been grouped into various broader subjects such as energy, society, transport and industry. Three I like in particular are, bamboo, thorium nuclear energy and low carbon steel.

Each essay is short and to the point, what Heap is trying to show is there are lots of people out there that do care and that they care enough to actually do something about it. There is a brief summation of the benefits of each of the ideas at the end of each chapter. I would have liked to have seen a summary at the end to total up all of these changes to show what an impact just these 39 could have. There are a lot more out there trying to make a difference and my fear is that we might be too late!

Riding Out by Simon Parker

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 really hard being a travel writer when you’re not allowed to travel. This was the problem that Simon Parker had as the pandemic swept around the world at the beginning of 2020. Gone were the fancy flight and stays in nice hotels that were his natural habitat in his career as a travel journalist. His partner’s public relations business had more or less folded and they had no income and didn’t know when they would be able to earn again.

They had to give up their flat and move elsewhere and then to top it all a close friend died. The anxiety that he somehow had managed to keep suppressed began to bubble up and he knew that if he didn’t do something soon he would be a total lost cause. The therapies that he knew would work were travelling and exercise and it was these two activities that he turned to. He made a plan to cycle from the most northerly point on the British Isles, and he paused, overlooking the magnificently named Muckle Flugga, a lighthouse in Shetland. He climbed on his bike and cycled away.

Apart from the odd training ride, he had done very little training and he knew that he was going to feel it very soon. It was a journey that he hoped would help him meet new people and experience new things, the first person he came across on Shetland that he wanted to ask the way was a postman. His PPE was one stage down from a hazmat suit and it was then it dawned on him that cycling in the midst of a covid pandemic, might not be the trip he had envisaged.

Travel, I was reminded, was only ever a force for good.

It would change though and the people that he would meet as he cycled south would show kindness and generosity in equal measure. Not only is it an exploration of Scotland and England at 15mph on a bicycle in the midst of a pandemic, but it is a journey through Parker’s mind as he battles with self-doubt, anxiety and his mental health. On top of that, he has had to cope with the grief of losing two close friends. But in amongst that maelstrom he somehow manages to hang on and the dark moments fade away with the help of friends, family and the strangers that he meets on his ride.

I liked this a lot. Not only is it a really good travel book about his two journeys around the coast of the UK in the time of the pandemic and numerous lockdowns but Parker is using it to be open about addressing sensitive and complex issues about his mental health. It goes to prove that the greatest adventure you can have is not scaling vast mountain ranges, rather is it coming to terms with your abilities and limits.

Dorset in Photographs by Matthew Pinner

4 out of 5 stars

I thought that this was a great collection of photographs of my home county. Pinner has a great eye for framing these shots and I think that his best shots are those that feature water in one form or another. Particular favourite photos include the spring sunset at Sandbanks, a misty summer sunrise over Wareham and the delights of the Jurassic Coast.

Most of the places in the photographs I am familiar with and in certain cases know really well. There was the odd place that I didn’t know and have added to the list to visit at some point. If you like Dorset you’ll probably love this collection.

Secrets of a Devon Wood by Jo Brown

4 out of 5 stars

I have often wondered about keeping a record of some of the species that I see but have never quite got around to it. Knowing me it will probably be a spreadsheet. What I can’t do though is the amazing way of recording the wildlife that Jo Brown finds in her garden and near her home.

In this beautiful book are ninety pages of her beautiful art of creatures such as blue tits and frogs, insects like the cockchafer and shield bugs and orchids, campions and a number from the weird and wonderful world of fungi.

These are a stunning set of artworks that Jo has made from the common and less common wildlife that is found in her garden or at various locations near her home. I like her style, the pictures feel alive and dynamic and are full of colour and details. Each of the pages has notes about the featured subject, and details on what you need to look for when identifying them. I like that she has recorded the location of most of the flora fauna and fungi on each of the pages. So locations, like her garden or for particular rare species are kept deliberately secret. Highly recommended.

Seed To Dust by Marc Hamer

4 out of 5 stars

For the past two decades, Marc Hamer has cared for a twelve-acre garden. It is not his, rather it is owned by a lady called Dorothy Cashmere who lives alone on this vast property. They have a strange relationship, they are formal and polite with each other and yet there is an intimacy there that comes from knowing each other for a long time and sharing this garden.

The book follows his work and musings about life and the universe seem through this garden. There are the mundane elements of gardening such as cutting the grass and deadheading, as it is about finding the joy in the way that the garden changes every single day. He sees beauty in all parts of the growing process, from the unfurling of a leaf in the spring, the hum of bees around a proliferation of flowers in the summer and the gentle decay of a dahlia flower in the autumn.

I wake to the applause of rain and wonder for a moment…

As he explains in the book, he has had a tough life has been a vagrant, homeless and had stood at the very edge of the abyss at times. That has all changed now and one of the things that come across in his writing is that he is immensely happy with his lot now. He has learnt from his life that he wants for little apart from his books and a dram of whisky on a regular basis.

This garden is my temple. I come here and expect to feed and taste the world. I make it lovely for the pleasure of it being so, for the labour that is good for my body and my mind.

Hamer’s writing has a wistful melancholy about it and it is often quite beautiful. It is basically a collection of essays, some less than a page and others that are much longer. The essays are loosely pulled together in some order, but there are some that don’t quite fit the month that he has grouped them into. The book also feels a bit like I imagine the gardens he creates, not formal, more arranged in a way that there is beauty in the disorder, surprises as he changes the subject depending on what he wants to write about at the time. It might not be for everyone, but I really like it.

The Sea Is Not Made Of Water by Adam Nicolson

4 out of 5 stars

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

To sit a watch the waves by the sea is one of the ways that I find to relax, but under this ever-moving surface there is often much more going on than you realise. Life and death in all of its form is taking place day in and day out and we are totally unaware of it. One way of seeing the creatures that inhabit this space is to go rock pooling.

In the intertidal zone, as the water recedes some creatures are left in the pools and if you know where and how to look, you can find a rich variety of life. On the coastline of Argyll, Nicholson wants to see what he can find in this zone, but first, he needs permission from the Scottish Crown to create his own rock pools. It is quickly granted and he sets about making them using rocks and waterproof cement. It was cold work and took three days but he had his first pool. The first tide came and went that evening and under the light of a full moon, he could see the first life in his torchlight; prawns.

The first few chapters are about each of the creatures that he finds in the pool; winkle, crab, anemone and sandhopper, with a potted history of each. The second part of the book suddenly zooms right out from the microscopic view, and then he is considering the tides that bring these animals in twice a day before taking an even bigger step back to look at the geological time and the rock that make up the bay.

The final section is the people that have inhabited this shoreline, how they came to be there, how they survived on the most meagre of rations and their faith that somehow sustained them is this harsh place. The book ends with the creations of a third and final pool and the latest influx of creatures that end up within it.

As with almost all of Nicolson’s books, this is a well researched and well-written book. He has a way of writing that feels knowledgeable and accessible at the same time and I always come away feeling that I have learnt something. What did through me a little though was the way he went from a detailed examination of the life in these pools that he has made to a full widescreen view of tides and how the very rocks he was standing on came about? It is a bit discombobulating, but picks up on a thread that is appearing in more books that I read at the moment; everything is interconnected even over aeons of time. This is a really good book and I highly recommend that you read it.

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