Category: Blog Tour (Page 1 of 6)

Empire of Ants by Susanne Foitzik & Olaf Fritsche

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Empire of Ants by Susanne Foitzik, Olaf Fritsche and published by Gaia, an imprint of Octopus Books

About the Book

Beneath our feet, a fascinating drama unfolds: Ants are waging war and staging rebellions, growing fungi as crops and raising aphids as livestock, making vaccines and, generally, living lives that — up-close —look surprisingly human.

Evolutionary biologist Susanne Foitzik and biophysicist Olaf Fritsche reveal all in, Empire of Ants, inviting readers to live alongside the workers, soldiers, and conquerors of the insect world—and the researchers who study them. (How do we observe the behaviour of ants just a few millimetres in size—or monitor activity in a brain as small as the tip of a needle?)

Ants’ global dominance (there are 10 quadrillion ants worldwide) and supreme staying power (they have existed since the dinosaurs) give a sense of scale to our own empire-building and destroying. Empire of Ants may leave its human readers asking: Who really runs the world?

 

About the Authors

Susanne Foitzik is an evolutionary biologist, behavioural scientist and international authority on ants. After completing her PhD in ant evolution and behaviour and conducting postdoctoral work in the US, she became a professor at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Currently, she teaches at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, where she studies the behaviours of slaveholding ants and different work roles in insect colonies. Her findings have been published in over 100 scientific papers to date. (Photo www.fotoredaktion.net)

 

Olaf Fritsche is a science journalist and biophysicist with a PhD in biology. He was previously an editor at the German-language edition of Scientific American, is the author and co-author of many books and has been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines.

 

My Review

Just the thought of ants is enough to make some people’s skin crawl. I am not overly worried by them and whilst I am more than happy for the colony’s living alongside our house to stay there, I am less happy with them coming inside as they do occasionally. They are only there for food though and if one of them finds a suitable source of nutrition then it is not long before, what seems like the entire nest is there.

Ants have been around for millions of years and it is thought that there are 22,00 different species of which we have categorised about two-thirds of them. They are a social species and are part of the same family as wasps and bees. They can live in tiny colonies of thirty or so individuals or vast nest containing millions. Each species has evolved in a particular way even though they have some common habits, there is a whole world of particular differences between them.

Ants are a fascinating species and one that Susanne Foitzik has made a career from. She has written over 100 paper on ant behaviours but along with Olaf Fritsche in this book, they are bringing their cutting edge research to the wider readership. It is a mix of personal stories from collecting colonies and filling their host fridge with them, writing about how different species enslave other ants or other insects for food. Some caterpillars crawl into the nest as this is the safest place for them as they pupate unless they do not disguise themselves with the correct pheromones in which case they end up as lunch.

There are stories on how tidy they can be making sure that all waste is placed outside the nest and how this supports another set of creatures in turn. One species is always on the move and they create a shelter called a bivouac in some natural gap. This is made up of ants who hook themselves together to create the shelter to protect the young and old members of the nest. Even though they can’t see much they use other senses to find their way to and from the nest, experiments have show how they use these senses to navigate

I thought that this was a good overview of all things ant. Each of the chapters covers a particular topic on how ant colonies operate, from The Birth of a Colony to The Path to World Domination. It is very readable and thankfully it didn’t read like an academic paper as some popular science books can do at times. If you like insects and creepy crawlies then this would be right up your street.

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 of Random Things Tours for the copy of the book to read.

To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre by Victoria Bennett

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre by Victoria Bennet and published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

About the Book

These poems are an intimate meditation on love and loss, told by a daughter as she cares for her mother through terminal mesothelioma. The poet invites the reader to be witness to the private moments of dying, from the physical reality of caregiving through to the alchemy of death, telling the story of a relationship between women that is transformed through grief.
Honest, unsentimental, and quietly uplifting.

About the Author

Victoria Bennett founded Wild Women Press in 1999 and has spent the last 21 years facilitating creative experiences and curating platforms for women to share ideas, stories, inspirations and actions for positive change, including the global #WildWomanWeb movement and #WildWomanGamer. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University (2002). Previous awards include the Northern Debut Award for non-fiction (2020), the Mother’s Milk Writing Prize (2017), The Writing Platform Digital Literature Bursary (2015), Northern Promise Award for Poetry (2002), and the Waterhouse Award for Poetry (2002).
Her work-in-progress memoir, ‘All My Wild Mothers’, was long-listed for the Nan Shepherd Nature Writing Prize 2019 and the Penguin #WriteNow2020 programme.

Victoria is currently undertaking her MRes in Creative Practice at the University of Highlands and Islands (Shetland), exploring narratives of absence within landscapes of personal and ecological loss. She is a director of The Wizard and The Wyld Ltd, creating immersive playable poetry within video-game platforms. A frequent digital collaborator, she interested in how poetry and new technologies can be used to create meaningful and authentic narratives.

My Review

Many people have experienced loss of some kind or another in the past year and a half. Whether that is the loss of some freedoms that we have taken for granted up until now or a loss of close contact with family or the death of a loved one, it has not been an easy time.

Victoria Bennet poems in this collection are about her caring for her mother who is suffering from terminal mesothelioma. They are written with the full knowledge that her mother is going to die from her cancer and we as a reader can understand some of that emotional rollercoaster that she is going through.

so quiet,

I almost missed you leaving.

This is grief in its most raw form, her most intimate thoughts and feelings of the terror of losing someone so precious to her are written in these poems. And yet in amongst this intense emotional prose, there is still hope, a fundamental understanding that these feelings are always transitory, that life carries on, that death can give life.

She is not there any more, but there are still glimpses of her in shop windows and the scent of lily of the valley that brings memories that will never fade.

 

And the tides are not full of sorrow

But stones, singing:

A story yet to be told

 

There are very few books out there that have this raw visceral emotion that Bennet has managed to squeeze in this very slender collection. Each person’s grief is so very different and yet so similar. We cling to those things and memories that remind us of that person who is no longer here. Grief never leaves us, we may be able to compartmentalise it but there will always be that unexpected moment where it can unleash its full force on us again. I am not sure that I can say that I liked this book, but it is powerful, honest and a reminder that life continues after we lose someone so precious.

 

Three Favourite Poems

How To Watch Someone Die

Solway

There Is Always More To Lose

 

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 Kenyon for the copy of the book to read.

Follow Victoria on Twitter here

Her website is here

Botanical Curses and Poisons by Fez Inkwright

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Botanical Curses and Poisons by Fez Inkwright and published by Liminal 11

About the Book

Discover the folklore and history of our most toxic plants through this beautifully produced, gorgeously illustrated compendium.

“If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland  In both history and fiction, some of the most dramatic, notorious deaths have been through poisonings. Concealed and deliberate, it’s a crime that requires advance planning and that for many centuries could go virtually undetected. And yet there is a fine line between healing and killing: the difference lies only in the dosage! In Botanical Curses and Poisons, Fez Inkwright returns to folkloric and historical archives to reveal the fascinating, untold stories behind a variety of lethal plants, witching herbs, and funghi. Going from A to Z, she covers everything from apple (think of the poisoned fruit in “Snow White”) and the hallucinogenic angel’s trumpet to laurel, which emits toxic fumes, to oleander (a deadly ornamental shrub), with each plant beautifully illustrated by the author herself. This enthralling treasury is packed with insight, lore, and the revealed mysteries of everyday flora—including the prevalence of poisoning in ancient Rome, its use in religion and magic, and common antidotes—making this perfect for gardeners, writers, folklorists, witches, and scientists alike!

About the Author

Fez Inkwright is an illustrator, author and folklorist. Her greatest passions are botany, nature, primitive religions, and folklore, which flavour most of her work. For the past eight years she has produced work for children’s books, hand-drawn maps and tattoo design and now spends her time indulging in conservation work and writing. She lives in Bristol with two cats and several hundred bees.

My Review

At a fundamental level, we are all sustained by plants, either from the oxygen they supply or from the food they can provide or by using them to build shelters. But we would be foolish to think of them as passive lifeforms that can accept being munched by any passing animal. They have developed sophisticated defences to stop them from disappearing down the gullet of a herbivore. These defences can vary from the spiked leaves, sour-tasting stems all the way to the utterly lethal parts of some plants that can kill an animal in a short space of time.

People have learnt the very hard way over time immemorial which plants are safe and which are deadly. People have used this plant knowledge too for all sorts of nefarious dealings too, planning a murder using the poisons from a plant requires careful and deliberate preparation. Yet some of these plants have a very grey line between medicine and toxin and knowing what plant is capable of what normally needs an expert.

Some of these I know from childhood, I remember being told very sternly that I must never ever touch the glistening berries of the Deadly Nightshade that I used to see growing down the lane near my house. I grew to learn which plants could hurt when you fell off your bike into them and even contemplating touching a mushroom was forbidden. Thankfully in this beautiful book by Fez Inkwright, the knowledge of which plants to avoid has been brought bang up to date.

It is an A to Z list and begins with the most unlikely of fruits, the apple. It is here for good reason though, the pips in every apple contain cyanide. There is not enough in any apple that you are eating to be deadly, however, it has been found that it could leech out when apples are crushed to make cider. The apple has been used in literature to represent a deadly fruit as well as having associations with the dead and various enchantments. It is not the only fruit I here, there are sections about sloes and the blackthorn, peppers and walnuts. There are plants that I expected to find within, such as hellebore, wolfsbane and hemlock.

Unexpected additions to this list were plants such as broad beans, hydrangea, willow and even basil. There are some truly deadly additions to this list including one that is highly restricted under the terrorism act in the UK. As well as the plants that will make your life much shorter and painful, Inkwright has included plants that have been used in folklore to curse others, such as elder, hellebore and willow.

As grim as its subject material is, Inkwright has written a fascinating book on this subject. I have read other weighty tomes on plant folklore, and whilst it isn’t as comprehensive as some others, it is well written and full of fascinating details and anecdotes. A lot of that knowledge in here has been lost as the current generation has retreated to stare at the screens that dominate our lives now days. Definitely worth reading for those that have a passing interest in the subject and has more depth (and a decent bibliography) for those that were to explore this subject more.  There is also a poison garden that is up in Northumbria (here) for those that want to really get to know their subject.

 

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.

Enough by Dr Cassandra Coburn

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Enough by Dr Cassandra Coburn and published by Octopus Books.

About the Book 

WE PRODUCE AND EAT UNHEALTHY FOOD, KILLING OURSELVES AND THE PLANET IN THE PROCESS
Food production systems are the single biggest cause of environmental change to the planet. And the food we are producing is killing us – more than a quarter of the world’s population is overweight or obese, and deaths from stroke, heart attack, cancer, diabetes etc are at epidemic levels. It is easy to feel helpless.
But there are things we can do to positively impact our own health, as well as that of the world around us.

About the Author

Dr Cassandra Coburn is a scientist, writer and editor. She obtained her PhD in Genetics from the Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London, UK. She joined The Lancet in 2013 and is now Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet Healthy Longevity. Cassandra has given talks on health in China, Japan, the USA and across Europe, and has led multiple specialist commissions to address inequities in healthcare provision. A career highlight was launching a research programme for cancer care at the United Nations, alongside US President-Elect Joe Biden.

My Review

We seem to be reaching crisis after crisis at the moment. There is the pandemic, just in case you haven’t noticed it, then the climate crisis that if it hasn’t already reached a tipping point, will probably be along any day soon. On top of that, we have a food crisis that is building and we are starting to run out of potable water in certain places. The vast factory farms and food production systems are designed to pump out low nutrition and heavily processed food that is at best unhealthy for us and at worst will kill us and the planet.

Great…

Thankfully some really clever people have been working on a system that should be able to help us and help draw the planet back from the abyss. It is called the Planetary Health Diet and was first published in 2019. It asked the question; can we provide a growing population with a healthy diet from sustainable food systems? The answer is yes. But to do it successfully we have to make lots of changes to the way we produce our food to give us a healthier lifestyle and to save the planet.

First, we have to understand where we are at the moment and how we got to this point. In her new book, Enough, Dr Cassandra Coburn takes us through the how we farm at the moment and the negative effects it is having on the planet. There are chapters on carbohydrates and sugars, fat, meat and fruit and vegetables. How we grow each of these food types is explained in a clear way along with how the present methods of producing them are harming ecosystems and us.

To produce 1kg of beef for a small family Sunday joint takes 326 square metres of land. That family that is going to be eating it, is living on 68 square meters of land. So that one joint need just under five times the amount of land to produce. Wheat needs about 4 square metres to produce a kilo, rice 3 square metres and potatoes 1 square metre. That is quite some difference.

Along with the details on what the is going wrong, there are lots of clear explanations on how we can change our eating habits, recommend diets and more importantly if lots of people start to make these changes to their diet how they will start to have a cumulative positive effect on our environment.

With Coburn’s academic credentials, this could have been a dry read. Thankfully it isn’t. It is full of clear and concise explanations of how and why the Planetary Health Diet will work in practice and being jargon-free is very accessible to readers of all levels. This is a very important book in lots of ways and I hope that it gets the attention it deserves.

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.

On Borrowed Time by Graeme Hall

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for On Borrowed Time by Graeme Hall and published by Rodrigues Court Press.

About the Book

On Borrowed Time is set in Hong Kong and Shanghai over the period 1996/1997 – including the handover of Hong Kong to China. The novel explores the choices that people have to make; in particular between doing what is easy and what is right.

In Hong Kong Emma Janssen discovers the truth behind the death of her brother four years earlier. Meanwhile, in Shanghai, a PhD student meets a woman with an unusual degree of interest in his research. These storylines converge at the time of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, and Emma finds that she has to choose between revenge or the future happiness and safety of both herself and those close to her.

While being a work of fiction, On Borrowed Time is rooted in the author’s own experiences of living and working in Hong Kong from 1993 to 2010, in particular the final years of British rule and the transfer of sovereignty back to China.

About the Author

Author Photo

Graeme lived in Hong Kong from 1993 to 2010 and still keeps a close connection to the city. His first novel was set in Hong Kong and Shanghai over the period 1996/97 and most of his writing comes from his love of that part of the world. Graeme first visited Macau in 1993 and he quickly became fascinated by the oldest European settlement in Asia. His short story collection, ‘The Goddess of Macau’ was published in August 2020 by Fly on the Wall Press.

He has won the short story competitions of the Macau Literary Festival and the Ilkley Literature Festival, and his writing has been published in anthologies by Black Pear Press and the Macau Literary Festival. He is an active member of the Leeds Writers Circle whose members have been a constant source of advice, support and encouragement. Graeme lives in Calderdale, West Yorkshire with his wife and a wooden dog.

My Review

In Shanghai, Kwok-wah is slowly finding his feet. He forgoes doing a PhD in America, choosing to join Professor Ye in studying comparative algorithms in mobile data transmission. It was taking him a while to settle in, but playing basketball with the guys in his dorm was helping him with the language and not being seen as an alien.

The first time that Emma met Sam was when she became a temp at his office. He was an up and coming lawyer at the McShane Adams firm. She is there to cover for a short period of time and demonstrates that she is a cool efficient worker. Everyone wants to know who this new blonde in the Hong Kong office is, especially when he catches up with Kate and Rob for her birthday.

Emma headed out of the office to meet up with her friend, Alice, who had finally persuaded her to join a human rights group she was involved with. There she meets the small number of members that they have, including a tall Chinese lad called, Liang-bao. He had a good English accent and when Emma questioned him on it, he said that he had completed a masters in England and lived in Stepney.

Alice happens to be Kwok-wah’s cousin too and he is finding in Shanghai that he has attracted the attention of another student. She is a tall slender American-Chinese girl who is studying building sciences. He keeps seeing her around and one day she stops to say hello; it makes him miss the basket he is aiming for! They slowly get to know each other better as they spend more and more time together.

Emma is also in Hong Kong to see if she can find out more about her brother’s death in Hong Kong a few years earlier. He had been killed in a traffic accident and the guy jailed for his death had just been released, but Emma didn’t believe that he was the person really responsible. Susan is not just interested in Kwok-wah she also wants to find out more about the guy visiting the professor he works for. Slowly these six peoples lives become more intertwined as the story heads back to Hong Kong.

I am not a big reader of fiction and it has been a long time since I have read a thriller. I had read Hall’s book of short stories that were set in Macau and enjoyed this one, hence why I decided to give this go too. I must say that I liked it, it is a reasonable plot as he manages to tangle the six characters lives up as the story builds to the end. I liked the setting most of all. I have been fortunate to go to Hong Kong briefly a few times and he got the character of the city spot on, with the chaotic mash-up of London and China that it feels like. Worth a read if you like a different sort of thriller.

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 from Fly on the Wall Press for the copy of the book to read

The Germans and Europe by Peter Millar

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook and my stop on the blog tour for The Germans and Europe by Peter Millar and published by Arcadia Books.

 

About the book

Based on a lifetime living in and reporting on Germany and Central Europe, award-winning journalist and author Peter Millar tackles the fascinating and complex story of the people at the heart of our continent.

Focussing on nine cities (only six of which are in the Germany of today) he takes us on a zigzag ride back through time via the fall of the Berlin Wall through the horrors of two world wars, the patchwork states of the Middle Ages, to the splendour of Charlemagne and the fall of Rome, with sideswipes at everything on the way, from Henry VIII to the Spanish Empire.

Included are mini portraits of aspects of German culture from sex and money to food and drink. Not just a book about Germany but about Europe as a whole and how we got where we are today, and where we might be tomorrow.

 

About the Author

Peter Millar is an award-winning British journalist, author and translator, and has been a correspondent for Reuters, Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph. He was named Foreign Correspondent of the Year for his reporting on the dying stages of the Cold War, his account of which – 1989: The Berlin Wall, My Part in its Downfall – was named ‘best read’ by The Economist. An inveterate wanderer since his youth, Peter Millar grew up in Northern Ireland and studied at Magdalen College, Oxford. Before and during his university years, he hitchhiked and travelled by train throughout most of Europe, including behind the Iron Curtain to Moscow and Leningrad, as well as hitchhiking barefoot from Dubrovnik to Belfast after being robbed in the former Yugoslavia. He has had his eyelashes frozen in the coldest inhabited place on Earth – Oymyakon, eastern Siberia, where temperatures reach minus 71ºC, was fried at 48ºC in Turkmenistan, dipped his toes in the Mississippi, the Mekong and the Nile, the Dniepr and the Danube, the Rhine and the Rhone, the Seine and the Spree. He crisscrossed the USA by rail for his book All Gone To Look for America and rattled down the spine of Cuba for Slow Train to Guantanamo. He has lived and worked in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Warsaw and Moscow, attended the funerals of two Soviet leaders, been blessed six times by Pope John Paul II (which would have his staunch Protestant ancestors spinning in their graves), and he has survived multiple visits to the Munich Oktoberfest and the enduring agony of supporting Charlton Athletic. Peter speaks French, German, Russian and Spanish, and is married with two grown-up sons. He splits his time between Oxfordshire and London, and anywhere else that will have him.

I have an Extract to share with you today:

Vienna

How one family nearly took over the world and lost Germany as a result

The Last Empress

One dark, wet, dreary afternoon in the spring of 1989, as the world we had known for more than four decades was begin- ning to fall apart, I attended a funeral in the heart of Vienna that marked the final death rattle of an even earlier epoch and was in its own way every bit as historic as the events about to rock Europe.
The funeral service was attended by 8,000, a further 20,000 braved the frightful weather to line the Vienna streets, and in the days beforehand some 200,000 had filed past the coffin. The mourners included princes of Belgium, Monaco, Morocco and Jordan.

The deceased was an old lady of 96, a widow for most of her long life, who had lived for many years in the clement climate of the Portuguese island of Madeira. Born to a Portuguese mother and an Italian father, she had been christened Zita Maria delle Grazie Adelgonda Micaela Raffaela Gabriela Giuseppina Antonia Luisa Agnese. The 17th child of the Duke of Parma, already dispossessed of his dukedom during the unification of Italy, she would grow up to become Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary and of Bohemia, Dalmatia and Croatia, Grand Duchess of Cracow and Tuscany, and at least nominally, Queen of Jerusalem, before losing the man she loved, who had bestowed the titles on her.
Her future had seemed less imperial and ultimately less tragic, if grand enough, on her marriage to the Archduke Karl of Austria in 1911. It was only with the assassination of his uncle, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, that her husband became heir to the vast but crumbling Habsburg empire. In 1916, when the old emperor Franz Josef died, Karl inherited his multiple thrones. But in the midst of a war that was already going the wrong way he only managed one coronation ceremony, as King of Hungary, photographed for posterity with his wife at his side and their three-year-old, blond, curly-haired son Otto dressed in ermine between them. Two years later, the empire was no more; the imperial family, including their eight children, became refugees overnight, first in Switzerland before finding their way to Madeira in 1921. Karl died a year later, after contracting bronchitis while out buying toys for his children.
The weather on the day of the old empress’s funeral was foul, yet spectacularly suited to the macabre theatre of the event. During the service itself I sat in a hotel overlooking the Stephansdom, Vienna’s great 14th-century Gothic cathedral, with its soaring spire and extraordinary blue, white, yellow and green zigzag-tiled roof slick with rain. Water flowed like Hollywood tears down the mosaic of the Habsburg dynasty’s double-headed eagles as the amplified voices from inside the cathedral sang the 1854 version of the old imperial anthem: Gott erhalte, Gott beschütze unser’n Kaiser, unser Land (God save, God protect our emperor, our country). The melody, originally composed by Joseph Haydn in 1797 in honour of Emperor Franz II and used until 1918, confused more than a few of the watching press, given that since 1922 it has been that of the German national anthem, still known to the unenlightened as Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles, a song originally dedicated not to global superiority but to the basic idea of having any sort of country called ‘Germany’ rather than more than a hundred tiny stateless.

In the cobbled streets round about, standing stiffly to attention in the pouring rain, were troops of armed men. Their weapons were muskets, halberds and swords, their headgear drooping feathered hats, the antiquated uniform of members of the Burschenschaften, semi-paramilitary organisations with their origins in university societies, a romantic Germanic equivalent of Oxford’s Bullingdon Club or American fraternity boys. Alongside them lined up groups of hunting society members in knee britches with broad-brimmed hats and capes – unexpectedly practical given the weather.

It seemed to a cynical journalist’s eye as if anyone with a fancy dress costume in the back of their wardrobe and a feasible excuse for carrying a weapon in public had got them out and come to stand guard in the rain in honour of an old lady and a lost world. Some wore the black-and-yellow colours of the old empire, lapels embroidered with the letters ‘KuK’ (Kaiserlich und Königlich – ‘imperial and royal’, for the Habsburg dual monarchs were emperors of Austria but kings in Hungary). Others wore the colours of neighbouring Bavaria, and more than a few those of Austria’s long-lost province of South Tyrol, handed by Britain and France to Italy in 1918 as a reward for switching sides in a betrayal of its former ally.
As the mourners emerged from the cathedral and lined up behind the hearse I had the surreal impression of watching a cross between Disney’s 1937 cartoon Snow White and a 1970s Hammer Horror Film. I was all too aware that, in accordance with her wishes and family tradition, the empress’s heart had already been cut out of her corpse and interred at a monastery in Switzerland next to that of her husband. The procession moved slowly over the rain-soaked cobbles towards the ancient family crypt beneath the Kapuzinerkirche, Church of the Capuchin Friars, the body carried in a black hearse, the same carriage that had carried the body of Emperor Franz Josef in 1916, pulled by black horses with black plumes on their heads. All of a sudden, the iron-rimmed wheels slipped. Behind the glass windows, the coffin slid backwards. For one moment of exquisite tragi-comic horror I feared it would hurtle out, hit the chief mourner, Otto, the curly-haired toddler, by then an old man of 79, and crash onto the cobbles spilling the ex-empress’s mortal remains onto the slick stones of Vienna.
It was, after all, April Fool’s Day.

But the horses were up to the occasion, and found their footing. Zita – or at least most of her – was interred in the tomb of her husband’s ancestors. It was a strange but somehow fitting farewell to an old world order. Just a few months later her elderly son, Otto, a member of the European Parliament for a German constituency, would mark the beginning of the end of a new version of the old European order, hosting a ‘Pan-European Picnic’ at the frontier between Austria and Hungary. To mark a moment of nostalgia, and a symbol of rapprochement between two small nations that had once jointly ruled a huge empire, but had for decades been on opposite sides of an Iron Curtain, the frontier was opened. The opportunity was immediately seized by hundreds of East Germans holidaying in their repressive government’s supposedly loyal Communist ally to flee to the west, the beginning of a flood that would end with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

My full review of the book is to follow in January

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 Amber Choudhary and Midas PR for the copy of the book to read.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever by John “Chick” Donohue

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for The Greatest Beer Run Ever by  John “Chick” Donohue and published by Octopus Books.

 

About the Book

 

A Crazy Adventure in a Crazy War is the amazing true story of a young man going to take his buddies a few cans of beer – in the heat of the Vietnam war. In 1967 – having seen students protesting against the Vietnam war, some New York City bar friends decided that someone should hop over to Vietnam to buy their various neighbourhood army buddies a beer, to show them that SOMEONE appreciates what they’re doing over there. One man was up for the challenge: John “Chickie” Donohue. A U. S. Marine Corps veteran turned merchant mariner, Chickie decided he wasn’t about to desert his buddies on the front lines when they needed him most.

Chickie set off on an adventure that changed his life forever. Armed with Irish luck and a backpack full of alcohol, he made his way to Qui Nho’n, tracking down his disbelieving friends one by one. But Chickie saw more of the war than he ever bargained for…

 

About the Author

John “Chickie” Donohue joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of seventeen and spent several years as a Merchant Mariner after his discharge. His work took him to numerous foreign ports, including Saigon during the Vietnam War. After the war, he became a Sandhog, or tunnel builder, and eventually became the Legislative and Political Director of Sandhogs, Local 147, Laborers International Union of North America, a post in which he served for over three decades. Donohue is a graduate of the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government where he received his Master of Public Administration degree. He is happily married to Theresa “Terri” O’Neil and spends his time between New York, Florida, and West Cork, Ireland.

Peter Farrelly, writer and producer of Green Book, is turning THE GREATEST BEER RUN EVER into a movie. In 2018 Green Book won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor. Farrelly has also directed and produced Dumb and Dumber, Shallow Hal, Me, Myself and Irene, There’s Something About Mary, and the 2007 remake of The Heartbreak Kid.

 

My Review

Donohue was 26 years old and already a veteran. He was an ex-marine and now a merchant seaman, and he had got together with his friends in the Doc Fiddler Bar in Manhattan. They had gathered there to drink, tell jokes and stories, have a laugh and share the craic. Something that their Irish and Scottish ancestors would have understood completely. They had all seen the protestors who were making a stand against the ongoing Vietnam war, a war that a number of their friends were still fighting in.

One of the guys at the bar suggested that someone, one of the guys present here ideally, should sneak into Vietnam, find their friends, give them a bear hug, let them know they were missed back home, have a few laughs and to hand them a beer. ‘Chick’ volunteered for the mission. It’ll be the greatest beer run ever.

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

Word got around that he was going and people started to pass him names of family members and the units that they were in. He collected them together but in the cold light of day nerves were setting in. He made a promise to the mother of one of his best friends that he would find him, so he really had to go now. He managed to get a passage on the SS Drake Victory. It was leaving very soon, so he grabbed some things and hurried down to the port. He stopped at a bar to get some beers and after he explained to the barman what he was doing he gave him a great price on them. He was soon on the way in the ammo ship to Vietnam.

They anchored of Qui Nhon and he thought of a ruse to get ashore. He found the captain and told him about the family news that he wanted to pass on to his step-brother in person. The captain fumed a little and as he had arranged for the shift to be covered let him go ashore for three days. He thought that would be all the time he needed to catch up with the guys and hand them a fine New York beer. Little did he know how wrong he was.

He jumped on the water taxi that had dropped off some MP to help guard the ship. The other guys on the boat were from the 127th MP Company, Tommy Collins unit. And it turns out they knew him and the ship they were going to next he was on! If it was that easy finding his friends he would have this wrapped up in no time. To say Tommy was shocked to see him was an understatement, it was quite an emotional reunion, and he really liked the beer.

He wanted to head north to find Rick Duggan and manages to bump into another of the friends in the jeep that stops to offer him a lift. Kevin is also shocked to see him, but he knows lots of people and helps him blag a lift of a Huey Helicopter that is heading north. In fact, being in civilian clothes seemed to be helping as most of the military personnel though he was from the CIA. The ride in the helicopter was pretty scary and they don’t shut the doors, and the pilots turned off the big fan up top just to scare him. It was early evening when they landed and the guy they spoke to knew where Duggan was. Donohue was told to jump in a fox hole and they radioed Duggan to return.

He only had a day left to return to his ship though and he manages to blag a lift of a chinook, and then wangles his way onto another plane that took him to Phu Cat. That was 17 miles from his destination. He decided to walk overnight, but gave up and headed back to the camp. He was lucky not to have been captured or shot. Arriving at the port the next day he sees that his ship has already departed. He is in so much trouble.

The harbour master recommends that he heads to Saigon and speak to the American Consulate. They would be able to get his out of there. But his arrived in the city happens at the time of the Tet Offensive by the Vietcong. He is now in the middle of a war zone and he is really not sure if he is going to live, let alone make it home.

He survived. We wouldn’t be reading this book otherwise.

It was an experience that changed him and the guys to deliver the beers too and this book is a warm and generous account of his travels. I can imagine that it was terrifying at times. He is a good storyteller, the writing is full of anecdotes about the people that he meets and helps him in his task of delivering the beers to his friends. The photos that he took enhance the writing. I liked this a lot, the writing is light-hearted and conversational. Whilst he was not in the thick of the fighting, he manages to convey the tensions in the country, in particular, the descriptions of the war.

 

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 of Random Thing Tours for the arranging a copy of the book to read.

Music to Eat Cake By – Lev Parikian

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Music to Eat Cake By by Lev Parikian and published by Unbound

About the Book

Today’s reader has choices: books about love, about life, about death – and everything in between. The variety is overwhelming, bewildering.

But what if the reader could play a part in producing something different, something about everything, about nothing, about everything and nothing at the same time? What if the reader could tell the writer what to write about?

Lev Parikian asked his readers those very questions, gathered their responses and then set out to write that book. Music to Eat Cake By is the result, a collection of essays exploring everything from the art of the sandwich and space travel to how not to cure hiccups and, of course, his beloved birdsong. Lev considers each subject with his signature wit and warmth, inviting the reader to wonder: what might we ask him to write about next?

About the Author

Lev Parikian is a writer, conductor and hopeless birdwatcher. His first book, Waving, Not Drowning, was published in 2013, and his second, Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? followed in 2018. His numerous conducting credits include the re-recording of the theme tune for Hancock’s Half Hour for Radio 4.

My Review

If you were to walk into any bookshop you would be able to find books on most subjects and the bigger the shop the more specialist and wider the range of books available. Most of the time you can find what you are looking for, but what if you had the opportunity to tell a writer a subject that you would like him to write about? And it could be an obscure a subject as you wanted to pick. Foolishly, Lev Parikian has done just that, funding his book through Unbound he gave people the opportunity to suggest things for him to write about.

To add a twist to this concept, he set each of the essays or musings a particular word length starting at four thousand words and dropping by 100 words each time down to the final chapter of 100 words with a subject suggested by his wife, Tessa. Asking people for subjects to write about has given us a book that mines a rich seam of Parikian’s life and background.

To say the subjects are diverse is an understatement, there is a longer essay on Where’s the cue ball going, allotments, scars gelato (most definitely not ice cream) and the link between chocolate, Wombles and musical theatres. There are a few chapters on some of his favourite subjects; cricket, music, and of course birds.

Like Lev himself, this is quite a unique book. He has a way with writing that will mean that you will be falling around laughing fairly soon into the book. I was with his description of just how bad amateur musicians can sound and a handful of pages in. This humour is a common thread in each of the chapters, whether it is him trying to remember the people whose wedding that he went to, the delights of getting older, how to stop hiccups and how to tell what species of elephant you are looking at.

They are very diverse subjects and I am fairly sure that one or two have been deliberately picked to be super difficult. Can’t think why that is… That said, he has risen to the occasion magnificently and each essay is entertaining, opinionated, full of snippets of his life and he often heads of on tangents, mostly because he can. He does manage to sneak quite a bit of cricket in too. As with all his other books, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

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 arranging for a copy of the book to read.

The Saints of Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for The Saints of Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton and published by Pan Macmillan

About the Book

Humanity welcomed the Olyix and their utopian technology. But mankind was tricked. Now these visitors are extracting a terrible price. For two years, the Olyix have laid siege to Earth, harvesting its people for their god. One by one, cities are falling to their devastating weaponry. And while millions have fled to seek refuge in space, others continue to fight an apparently unwinnable war. As Earth’s defeat draws near, a team attempts to infiltrate the Salvation of Life – the Olyix’s arkship.

If it succeeds, those chosen will travel to a hidden enclave thousands of light-years away. Once there, they must signal its location to future generations, to bring the battle to the enemy. Maybe allies scattered throughout space and time can join forces. Yet in the far future, humanity are still hunted by their ancient adversary. And as forces battle on in the cold reaches of space, hope seems distant indeed…

About the Author

Peter F. Hamilton was born in Rutland and now lives near Bristol. He began writing in 1987 has penned many bestselling novels, including the Greg Mandel series, the Night’s Dawn trilogy, the Commonwealth Saga, short-story collections and the Salvation Sequence, set in a new universe.

My Review

Having originally welcomed the Olyix and their technologies, it became apparent that they had tricked mankind. They laid siege to the Earth and began harvesting the people there, cocooning them and shipping them back through their wormholes as offering to their god. They claim it is a mission to present all sentient life to this god at the end of time. Humanity is fighting back though, and they are prepared to play the long game, their plan has been millennia in the making and they are starting to reach the point where the final elements can be put into action.

The final part of this huge trilogy is set in two separate timelines. The main story is of Yirella and Ainsley and their efforts to take the fight to the Olyix. They decide to take a few calculated risks in their preparation to stop the Olyix taking humans and other species to their deity. The second smaller sub-plot is set on Earth; it is not a place as we would recognise. Cities are protected by shields to stop the harvesting of the population by the Olyix. They have laid waste to the world and slowly their agents and are some traitors are ensuring that the shields are coming down so their capturesnakes can capture the people left.

The final battle between humanity and the Olyix is frantically paced and contains all the things that I have come to expect from Hamilton, new concepts like time flowing differently only meters apart, wormholes linking places thousands of light-years apart, star-sized weapons, huge 3-metre tall humans that have evolved down a different path. On top of that, all the technologies feel plausible and utterly alien at the same time.

I really liked this as with the other two books in the trilogy. He has a knack of writing the huge galaxy-wide space operas that still have those intimate stories woven through it. It is very much plot-driven and the various threads that were teased out from the first two books are concluded almost neatly. I say almost, as there are certain suggestions in the book that implies there is much more to come from this universe that he has created here. I really hope that is the case.

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 Bethan at ed public relations for the copy of the book to read.

Days of Falling Flesh and Rising Moons by Steve Denehan

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Days of Falling Flesh and Rising Moons by Steve Denehan and published by Golden Antelope Press.

About the Book

Steve Denehan’s wholehearted response to family life is the cornerstone of this wise and canny book. Through the tiny, everyday moments, we come to know an energetic seven-year-old daughter, a wife whose presence heals, a father aging into forgetfulness, and a host of others. We see bonds between parent and child strengthen through conversations about dinosaur-shaped clouds, questions about death, quiet humming, loud car-singing, evening bike rides. We witness an adult father re-seeing his own childhood, the parental decisions which had shaped him, and the decisions which he and his spouse are making as they give their Robin her wings. As songwriter Mark Nevin says, Steve Denehan is a “beautiful soul with an all too rare lightness of touch.”

The collection was finished before a virus named Covid-19 shook the globe and sent Ireland into a complete lockdown. However, that event seemed to require poetry, so ten of this collection’s final poems are late additions, Denehan’s responses to the pandemic. Taken together, they constitute a microcosm, not just of the Covid-19 world but of this poet’s interior landscape. They range from shock to acceptance, from strict observance of painful rules to moments of deep peace and bright wings.

Such intertwining keeps readers aware that both happiness and pain can be fragile, easily cracked or crumbled. Though wholehearted devotion to a rich family life is the collection’s cornerstone, it’s the awareness of complexity that gives Denehan’s Days of Falling Flesh and Rising Moons its essential shape.

About the Author

Steve Denehan is an award-winning poet who lives in Kildare, Ireland, with his wife Eimear and daughter Robin. He is the author of Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below (Cajun Mutt Press), Of Thunder, Pearls and Birdsong (Fowlpox Press), Living in the Core of an Apple (Analog Submission Press) and A Chandelier of Beating Hearts (forthcoming from Salmon Poetry). His numerous publication credits include The Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review, Acumen, Westerly and Into The Void. He has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best New Poet and has been twice nominated for The Pushcart Prize.

My Review

Family life in all of its messy forms is one of the fundamental things that tie communities together across our world, especially in times like this. Steve Denehan’s new collection is a mirror reflecting back his close family; there is his seven-year-old daughter, his wife who can calm him, and his parents who are in their twilight years.

His messy, complexity and emotional real-life are present in all of the poems in here. The subject range is vast too, so there are verses on Karaoke, floating in a pool in the dark, painting a room, the joy of holding a buttercup under his daughter’s chin, bouncy castles and most of all love in all of its different forms.

You are still my father

but sometimes, now

in these darkening dusks

I have the privilege

of being yours

There is humour in these poems, but it is often framed with a black gilt edge, just like life really, we can be laughing at something one moment and soon after we are hearing of the latest tragedy to strike someone we know. The collection feels very relevant too; there are a few poems on his take on the COVID pandemic, the one that struck home the most is when his father goes to hug his daughter and is sharply told no by his mother. Covid has driven a 2m gap between generations of the same family and love and the warmth of a hug is forbidden.

I am old

I stand

Still

At the edge of the ocean

 

The salt air sings to me

A lullaby

I look across the infinite expanse of green-blue

hypnotised

As his first collection, Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below, Denehan puts his heart and soul into this, and his emotions soar and writhe in these short bursts of prose. I liked the variation in structure and the way that the form and layouts have been changed to suit particular poems. Another highly recommended collection.

Three Favourite Poems

Your Old Datsun Cherry

Fiat Ritmo

An Eight-Minute Summer

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 from Fly on the Wall Press for the copy of the book to read.

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