Category: Book Musings (Page 1 of 14)

October 2020 Review

October came and went sort of in a rush and yet seemed to drag in other ways. Not a bad reading month, but one down on my usual target of 16 books as I ended up reading 15 in the end. There were some good books too and here they are.

 

I read my first Chelsea Green book over the summer and their MD contacted me offering to send me anything from their catalogue that took my eye. Material by Nick Kary was one of the books I chose. This is exploring a lifetime of creating products and artworks with his hands and how that very action can make all the difference to our well being. It is really nicely written too.

I had been meaning to read Modern Nature for a very long time. This is Derek Jarman’s book about his garden on the shingle peninsular of Dungeness and about his determination as he starts to succumb to HIV and then AIDs. Moving and poignant. Another book on gardening that was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize is Alice Vincent’s book, Rootbound. This is about her life in London and as a festival and gig reviewer and how a small balcony sparked a love of gardening.

     

I read two books on birds, the first Corvus is about Esther Woolfson’s adoption of a magpie and a crow and life with them around her Scottish home. Whilst I think these two creatures should be free, I also know that they had a life that may have been snatched from them when they were chicks. The second book is Mark Avery’s well-written argument to ban driven grouse shooting because of the effect it has on the moors and the devastation of the Hen Harrier but ruthless gamekeepers.

   

The second Chelsea Gren book was the wonderful titled, Bringing Back the Beaver. In here Derek Gow makes the case for bringing back the beaver to our riverscapes and the account of his efforts to do so, often stymied by ‘regulations’ and powerful landed people with vested interests to keep the status quo. Gow is somwhat a character too! Treated myself to the new Lost Spells book by Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris. It is aimed at children primarily, but Morris is an artist with a stunning talent.

    

My two poetry books could not have been more different. Confess is about the Salaem witch trials and the arrest of a four-year-old girl, whose forced confession was used to condemn her own mother to death. It is a bit grim, but van der Molen’s prose is sensitive and full of power. My second poetry book was the new collection from Steve Denehan. These are modern and are about his family and life in general. I like the way that they feel relevant and accessible

   

I haven’t read much Doctorow but when I was offered a copy of his new book, Attack Surface, I thought that I would take a punt with it. And it was really good. And quite scary too. That is all will say here as I think that you should read it too.

The rise of AI gadgets in the home is growing apace, but most people don’t think what the implications are for these technologies. Thankfully there are people like, Flynn Coleman who does and her book, A Human Algorithm detail various ways that it is permeating our lives. If you have the slightest interest in this subject then I’d recommend reading it.

I did manage to read four travel books too. The first two are on islands, and I Am An Island by Tasmin Calidis is the account of her time spent on a tiny island in the Hebrides. it was a beautiful spot, but she didn’t have the easiest time settling in. The second island book is Peter Millar’s tale of travelling the length of the Caribean island of Cuba on their almost defunct trains. I really liked this and it made me want to visit the place, as all good travels books should do.

   

The second two travel books were stories of travels on a bicycle. In A Time Of Birds – Helen Moat cycles with her teenage son on the bike she calls the tank all the way across Europe in the spring. It is slow travel at its best.

My book of the month is Signs of Life by Stephen Fabes. Not content with a jaunt across Europe, he decides to take the long way cycling around the world. It is a six-year journey and he is an eloquent and sensitive writer. Cracking book.

Non-Fiction November

For those that follow my blog, you’ll already know that I am a big fan of non-fiction. It makes up around 80% of the books that I read. The genres that I like the most are travel and natural history, but I also like reading books on subjects as diverse as economics, history, architecture, spies, technology and I even read maths books.

While a lot of bloggers and Booktubers read fiction, there are some out there that read non-fiction and six years ago they started talking about the non-fiction they liked to read and thought that the best way to promote it was to have a specific time of the year to persuade people to pick up at least one non-fiction title in that month, and #NonfictionNovember was created.

I would love to see more people reading non-fiction. Rather than them being like reading a dry textbook for school, the very best books can be as good as the fiction out there. One of the biggest advocates of this is Olive, who can be found here on YouTube. Her video for this year’s event is here.

In this, she details some of the prompts that they suggest to help guide you in selecting titles to read and they are:

Time

Movement

Buzz

Discovery

 

As Olive says in the video, these are guides for you to interpret in any way you see fit and they can be a loose as you want! So I thought that I would suggest some of the books that I have read that fit these:

Time

Timekeepers – Simon Garfield

A Time of Gifts – Patrick leigh Fermor

Secondhand Time – Svetlana Alexievich

Time and Place – Alexandra Harris

 

Movement

Move Along Please – Mark Mason

Nightwalk – Chris Yates

The Pull Of the River – Matt Gaw

Around the World in 80 Trains – Monisha Rajesh

 

Buzz

A Buzz In The Meadow – Dave Goulson

Dancing with Bees – Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Extraordinary Insects – Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

Magnificent Desolation – Buzz Aldrin

 

Discovery

Strands – Jean Sprackland

Mucdlarking – Lara Maiklem

The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf

Gathering Carrageen – Monica Connell

 

They are my suggestions. What do you think of them? What would you pick to meet those prompts? Most importantly, are you going to be joining in by reading a non-fiction book this month?

 

You can follow #NonfictionNovember on these various social media sites:

Twitter

Instagram

Goodreads Group

TikTok: @NonfictionNovember

November 2020 TBR

Where did October go? I cannot believe that it is November tomorrow. The clocks have gone back, it is now dark early evening and we are probably going to be in lockdown (again)… Seems like I am going to have plenty of time to read then. I have 28 books to go on my Good Reads Challenge and a huge pile of books to read for various other challenges and reviews. Might get to more of them this month, but we’ll see. The list below is what I am planning to pick from, but there are always extras that sneak in from the side, like library books that others have reserved,

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Vickery’s Folk Flora: An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants – Roy Vickery

Lotharingia: A Personal History Of Europe’s Lost Country – Simon Winder

The Saints of Salvation – Peter F. Hamilton

Nine Pints – Rose George

 

Blog Tours

The Saints of Salvation – Peter F. Hamilton

Music To Eat Cake By – Lev Parikian

The Greatest Beer Run Ever – John Donohue

 

Review Copies

Thank you to the publishers that have sent me these review copies:

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins

The Maths Of Life And Death – Kit Yates

Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico – Ronald Wright

A Bird a Day – Dominic Couzens

The Age of Static: How TV Explains Modern Britain – Phil Harrison

Rotherweird – Andrew Caldecot

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

Featherhood – Charlie Gilmour

Blood Ties –  Ben Crane

On Fiji Islands – Ronald Wright

It’s the End of the World – Adam Roberts

The Secret Life of Fungi – Aliya Whiteley

How Spies Think – David Omand

Behind the Enigma – John Ferris

One Day in August – David O’Keefe

Democracy for Sale – Peter Geoghegan

 

Library Books

Did get to read three last month. These are next up

Nightingales In November – Mike Dilger

Nine Pints – Rose George

Buzz – Thor Hanson

Britain by the Book – Oliver Tearle

Footnotes – Peter Fiennes

 

Challenge Books & Own Books

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

Hokkaido Highway Blues – Will Ferguson

A Dragon Apparent – Norman Lewis

In Search of Conrad – Gavin Young

Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger – Nigel Slater

 

Poetry

Ended up reading two other poetry books last month so these will be definitely read this month

Rapture – Carol Ann Duffy

Mancunian Ways – Isabelle Kenyon (Editor)

 

Science Fiction

Read Attack Surface, which is excellent by the way, so this is still on the list:

One Way – S.J. Morden

 

Any take your fancy?

September 2020 Review

September was a strange month, my youngest two went back to school for the first time in five months, and a week later there was a positive COVID case in my sons class so he was off for two weeks. My company then said that they would prefer me to work at home, so my work commute was a few steps from the kitchen to the office. Didn’t get to read quite as much as I wanted to but it was a very good reading month with two five star books. First some stats after reaching three-quarters of the way through the year.

So far I have read 147 books and a total of 36792 pages. 102 of the authors were male and the remaining 45 were female (31%). I have read 69 review books, 31 library books and 47 of my own.

Top five publishers are:

Eland – 10 Books

Faber – 9 books

Elliott & Thompson – 6 books

Little Toller- 6 books

Canongate – 6 books

 

Top five genres are:

Travel – 32 books

Poetry – 19 books

Natural History – 17 books

Memoir – 12

Fiction – 11

So onto this months reading. Haus Publishing was kind enough to send me a copy of DH Lawrence in Italy by Richard Owen. He was a fascinating character and he adored being in Italy. I have never read any of Lawrence’s fiction, but having read this I want to read his book on Sardina.

One of the shortlisted books on the Wainwright Prize was the beautifully written Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash. It is all about her time spent living in Cornwall and out on the fishing boats with the locals. Well worth reading just for the prose.

I read three books on environmental concerns, the first Losing Eden is about the science behind how we react to the natural world and how it can help heal us. The second two were concerning the current subject of rewilding. Both had a certain amount of overlap and were advocating the various ways of doing this. All worth reading.

           

Isabelle at Fly on the Wall Press kindly sent me a copy of these short stories by Graeme Hall. Set in Macau, these are slightly surreal and unreal stories of the place and people there. I was also sent the new Peter Ackroyd from Canongate, Mr Cadmus. I thought that the first half of this was really good, but it lost me a little in the second part.

    

Ther is a new publisher out there called Chroma Editions. Their first book is by  David Banning and it is called Boundary Songs. This is the account of his journey around the Lake District national park as he recounts what he sees as he walks and cycles. It is a very good start and I am looking forward to seeing what they publish next.

I was offered The Gospel of the Eels by the publisher and accepted a copy. It is a family memoir with ells basically. I thought it was good, but not exceptional. Dancing with Bees is very good, Brigit Strawbridge Howard tells of the bees that she finds in her garden and around her North Dorset Home.

     

My two poetry books could not have been any more different, the first, How to Make Curry Goat by Louise McStravick is a poetic response to her mixed-heritage, working-class identity. Tongues of Fire by Seán Hewitt is very different; its dedication to life, hope and renewal as seen through the natural world.

   

People who decide to head off around the world without going anywhere near a plane are a special breed. Elspeth Beard is one of those and Lone Rider is her account of a 35,000-mile journey taken on her trusty BMW motorbike in the early 1980s. A really good travel book and if you like motorcycle travel, then Read Bearback by Pat Garrod too.

Now for my books of the month and there are two of them this month. The first is Unofficial Britain by Gareth Rees. This is about the things that are on the fringes of society, industrial estates and electricity pylons, motorway service stations of roundabouts and flyovers. Places that most people don’t notice, but still have the capacity to collect stories. The second is about a man that I had never heard of until I picked up this book, Bruce Wannell. He was a great traveller and orientalist and this is a collection of tribute from those that knew him.

   

Have you read any of them? Or do any take your fancy now you have seen them?

October 2020 TBR

Hi Everyone. As the nights are rapidly drawing in I am looking forward o getting stuck into these in October.

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Vickery’s Folk Flora: An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants – Roy Vickery

Lotharingia: A Personal History Of Europe’s Lost Country – Simon Winder

A Time Of Birds: Reflections on Cycling Across Europe – Helen Moat

Slow Train to Guantanamo – Peter Millar

Corvus: A Life with Birds – Esther Woolfson

Modern Nature – Derek Jarman

 

Blog Tours

Attack Surface – Cory Doctorow

Confess – Julia Van Der Molen

Days of Falling Flesh and Rising Moons – Steve Denehan

 

Review Copies

Thank you to the publishers that have sent me these review copies:

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins

The Maths Of Life And Death – Kit Yates

Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico – Ronald Wright

A Time Of Birds: Reflections on Cycling Across Europe – Helen Moat

A Human Algorithm: How Artificial Intelligence Is Redefining Who We Are – Flynn Coleman

Signs of Life: To the Ends of the Earth with a Doctor – Stephen Fabes

A Bird a Day – Dominic Couzens

The Age of Static: How TV Explains Modern Britain – Phil Harrison

Material: Making and the Art of Transformation – Nick Kary

Bringing Back the Beaver: The Story of One Man’s Quest to Rewild Britain’s Waterways – Derek Gow

Rotherweird – Andrew Caldecot

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

Featherhood – Charlie Gilmour

Attack Surface – Cory Doctorow

 

Library Books

Complete change around from last month as for the first time in a very long time I have had to renew my library books. These are the next books due back fairly soon now:

Modern Nature – Derek Jarman

Inglorious – Mark Avery

Nightingales In November – Mike Dilger

Nine Pints – Rose George

Buzz – Thor Hanson

 

Challenge Books

As well as a dusty shelf challenge that I am running on Good Reads, I am joining in with #20BooksOfSummer run by Cathy at 746 books.

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

Hokkaido Highway Blues – Will Ferguson

A Dragon Apparent – Norman Lewis

In Search of Conrad – Gavin Young

 

Own Books

See challenge books!

 

Poetry

Rapture – Carol Ann Duffy

Mancunian Ways – Isabelle Kenyon (Editor)

 

Science Fiction

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

One Way – S.J. Morden

Attack Surface – Cory Doctrow

August 2020 Review

August has come and gone, all to soo as the advent of September brings forth autumn. Gone are the balmy long evenings and the nights close in all too soon. That said, I like this season as much as the others, but it does feel that this side of the planet is spent and needs time to rest. But you’re here for the books really. Not a bad month, in the end, did get seventeen books read in the end. Much less that I thought I would get through even though we had a lovely weeks holiday in Jersey. It was a good selection as ever with a lot of different books, so here they are:

 

         

I have read A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab a long while ago and found this in a charity shop so I thought I’d give it ago. Not normally a fan of superhero stuff, but this was very different and I really enjoyed it. The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood is a classic Victorian Gothic melodrama. I won this and thought that I would give it a go. I am not being a huge fan of the genre but I thought this was well written even if it didn’t do much for me. Been meaning to read Liminal for a long while. It is a domestic thriller with a dash of folk horror mixed in and pretty good book overall.

 

   

Sometimes nature writing is about more than the flora and fauna and these are two books that show what I call landscape writing off to a T. Dick Capel’s The Stream Invites Us To Follow is about the Eden Valley and his contribution to the artworks along its length. Native is very different, in this, Patrick Laurie writes about how hard it is to farm in Galloway, but also how rewarding it is too.

 

Staying in Scotland, Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers is exactly what it says it is, a gold mine Scottish Words, some of which have drifted into the mainstream vernacular and a lot that hasn’t ventured south of the border until now.

 

I love maps, and whilst this isn’t your classic OS map, it is a brilliant way of comparing lots of similar and disparate information about all manner of subjects.

 

I have heard of most of these mathematical discoveries in Fibonacci’s Rabbits by Adam Hart-Davis, but it had been a long while since I had thought about them. It is a nicely laid out book and shouldn’t frighten the novice too much.

 

Family museums are not a thing at the moment, but they could be after this book. In here Rachel Morris takes us through her not so straight forward family tree, whilst comparing the curating that she is doing to the advent of museums as a store for our memories.

 

One of my favourite trees is the oak, it is my family name after all. James Canton spent a couple of years watching and studying the Honywood Oak near where he lives in Essex. It was a place he could go to during a difficult episode in his life, but it is more than that, in that he uses it as a prism to look at the natural world and how we have used these trees over time.

 

   

My two poetry books this month were both from Penned in the Margins. Both very different and enjoyable in their own way.

 

   

 

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus was the first book that I have read by Lawrence Durrell or any Durrell for that matter. He is a really good writer and I enjoyed this a lot. Have now acquired several of his others to read. Kapka Kassabovais another beguiling writer, and in A Street without a Name she reminisces and revisits her home country of Bulgaria, a place she loved and lothed in equal measure.

 

   

Walking through a tropical jungle is not many people’s idea of fun. Getting lost in one and separated from the rest of your party isn’t going to be on many people’s wishlist. This is what happened to Yossi Ghinsberg and he survived to tell the tale and this is his book about it. Still, in South America, Ronald Wright tells us about his travels in Peru in Cut Stones and Crossroads. Excellent writing by a man who is fascinated by all he sees around him

My book of the month is another Eland, The Way Of The World: Two Men In A Car From Geneva To The Khyber Pass. This was Nicolas Bouvier’s first books and I would say that it should be an essential read for anyone wanting to discover classic travel writing. I have had a copy of this for a while now and wish I had picked it up earlier.

September 2020 TBR

Still only managing to read around 16 a month at the moment, so only expecting to get through about half of these, However, here is my TBR for September:

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery (now halfway through!)

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

 

Blog Tours

None this month

 

Review Copies

Thank you to the publishers that have sent me these review copies:

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins (still wavering on this one a little with all the publicity about this)

The Maths Of Life And Death – Kit Yates

Time Among the Maya – Ronald Wright

Rewilding – Paul Jepson, Cain Blythe

A Time Of Birds – Helen Moat

The Goddess of Macau– Graeme Hall

The Gospel of the Eels– Patrik Svensson

Tales from the life of Bruce Wannell– Kevin Rushby

Unofficial Britain– Gareth E. Rees

DH Lawrence in Italy– Richard Owen

Rotherweird – Andrew Caldecot

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

 

Wainwright Prize

Only read one so definitely want to read the first two on the list before the prize announcement.

Dar, Salt, Clear – Lamona Ash

Dancing with Bees – Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Rebirding – Benedict Macdonald

 

Library Books

Complete change around from last month as for the first time in a very long time I have had to renew my library books. These are the next books due back fairly soon now:

Lone Rider – Elspeth Beard

Losing Eden – Lucy Jones

Inglorious – Mark Avery

Nightingales In November – Mike Dilger

Nine Pints – Rose George

Buzz – Thor Hanson

 

Challenge Books

As well as a dusty shelf challenge that I am running on Good Reads, I am joining in with #20BooksOfSummer run by Cathy at 746 books.

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

Hokkaido Highway Blues – Will Ferguson

A Dragon Apparent – Norman Lewis

Slow Train to Guantanamo – Peter Millar

Corvus: A Life with Birds – Esther Woolfson

In Search of Conrad – Gavin Young

 

Own Books

See challenge books!

 

Poetry

How to Make Curry Goat –  Louise McStravick

Tongues of Fire – Seán Hewitt

 

Science Fiction

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

One Way – S.J. Morden

July 2020 Review

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

   

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

   

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

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

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

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

    

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

         

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

 

Wainwright Shortlisted Books

It is that time of the year again when the shortlist for one of my favourite prizes is announced. Yesterday the two shortlists for The Wainwright Prize were announced. Normally by now, I would have read all of the books on the longlist and have some strong opinions as to what should be populating the shortlist, but due to many other factors and commitments this year I haven’t got to all of them. There is a pile of books glaring at me from a bookcase to be read soon. But without further ado, here is the shortlist:

Diary of a Young Naturalist – Dara McAnulty (Little Toller Books)

Diary of a Young Naturalist chronicles the turning of 15-year-old Dara McAnulty’s world. From spring and through a year in his home patch in Northern Ireland, Dara spent the seasons writing. These vivid, evocative and moving diary entries about his connection to wildlife and the way he sees the world are raw in their telling. “I was diagnosed with Asperger’s/autism aged five … By age seven I knew I was very different, I had got used to the isolation, my inability to break through into the world of talking about football or Minecraft was not tolerated. Then came the bullying. Nature became so much more than an escape; it became a life-support system.” Diary of a Young Naturalist portrays Dara’s intense connection to the natural world, and his perspective as a teenager juggling exams and friendships alongside a life of campaigning. “In writing this book,” Dara explains, “I have experienced challenges but also felt incredible joy, wonder, curiosity and excitement. In sharing this journey my hope is that people of all generations will not only understand autism a little more but also appreciate a child’s eye view on our delicate and changing biosphere.”

 

 

 

The Frayed Atlantic Edge – David Gange (William Collins)

An original snapshot of the beauty of the British Isles, as captured by a brand new voice in nature and travel writing.

After two decades exploring the Western coast and mountains of the British Isles, the historian and nature writer David Gange set out to travel the seaboard in the course of a year. This coastline spans just eight-hundred miles as the crow flies, but the complex folds of its firths and headlands stretch more than ten-thousand. Even those who circumnavigate Britain by kayak tend to follow the shortest route; the purpose of this journey was to discover these coastlines by seeking out the longest.

Travelling by kayak, on foot and at the end of a rope, Gange encounters wildcats, basking sharks and vast colonies of seabirds, as well as rich and diverse coastal communities. Spending nights in sight of the sea, outdoors and without a tent, the journey crosses hundreds of peaks and millions of waves. With an eye attuned both to nature and the traces of the past, Gange evokes living worlds and lost worlds on the tattered edges of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England.

Written with literary finesse in an immersive style, and informed by history, this new talent in nature writing takes us on a whirlwind trip over the course of twelve months, each chapter serving as a love letter to a different region of the British coastline.

On the Red Hill – Mike Parker (Cornerstone)

In early 2006, Mike Parker and his partner Peredur were witnesses at the first civil partnership ceremony in the small Welsh town of Machynlleth. The celebrants were their friends Reg and George, who had moved to deepest rural Wales in 1972, not long after the decriminalisation of homosexuality. When Reg and George died within a few weeks of each other in 2011, Mike and Peredur discovered that they had been left their home: a whitewashed ‘house from the children’s stories’, buried deep within the hills. They had also been left a lifetime’s collection of diaries, photographs, letters and books, all revealing an extraordinary history.

On the Red Hill is the story of Rhiw Goch, ‘the Red Hill’, and its inhabitants, but also the story of a remarkable rural community and a legacy that extends far beyond bricks and mortar. On The Red Hill celebrates the turn of the year’s wheel, of ever-changing landscapes, and of the family to be found in the unlikeliest of places. Taking the four seasons, the four elements and these four lives as his structure, Mike Parker creates a lyrical but clear-eyed exploration of the natural world, the challenges of accepting one’s place in it, and what it can mean to find home.

 

 

Dark, Salt, Clear – Lamorna Ash (Bloomsbury)

A captivating, lyrical and deeply discerning portrait of life in the Cornish town of Newlyn, the largest working fishing port in Britain, from a brilliant debut writer
There is the Cornwall Lamorna Ash knew as a child – the idyllic, folklore-rich place where she spent her summer holidays. Then there is the Cornwall she discovers when, feeling increasingly dislocated in London, she moves to Newlyn, a fishing town near Land’s End. This Cornwall is messier and harder; it doesn’t seem like a place that would welcome strangers.
Before long, however, Lamorna finds herself on a week-long trawler trip with a crew of local fishermen, afforded a rare glimpse into their world, their warmth and their humour. Out on the water, miles from the coast, she learns how fishing requires you to confront who you are and what it is that tethers you to the land. But she also realises that this proud and compassionate community, sustained and defined by the sea for centuries, is under threat, living in the lengthening shadow cast by globalisation.
An evocative journey of personal discovery replete with the poetry and deep history of our fishing communities, Dark, Salt, Clear confirms Lamorna Ash as a strikingly original new voice.

 

Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape – Patrick Laurie (Birlinn)

Desperate to connect with his native Galloway, Patrick Laurie plunges into work on his family farm in the hills of southwest Scotland. Investing in the oldest and most traditional breeds of Galloway cattle, the Riggit Galloway, he begins to discover how cows once shaped people, places and nature in this remote and half-hidden place. This traditional breed requires different methods of care from modern farming on an industrial, totally unnatural scale.

As the cattle begin to dictate the pattern of his life, Patrick stumbles upon the passing of an ancient rural heritage. Always one of the most isolated and insular parts of the country, as the twentieth century progressed, the people of Galloway deserted the land and the moors have been transformed into commercial forest in the last thirty years. The people and the cattle have gone, and this withdrawal has shattered many centuries of tradition and custom. Much has been lost, and the new forests have driven the catastrophic decline of the much-loved curlew, a bird which features strongly in Galloway’s consciousness. The links between people, cattle and wild birds become a central theme as Patrick begins to face the reality of life in a vanishing landscape.

 

 

Dancing with Bees – Brigit Strawbridge Howard & John Walters, illustrator (Chelsea Green Publishing)

A naturalist’s passionate dive into the world of bees of all stripes–what she has learned about them, and what we can learn from them.

Brigit Strawbridge Howard was shocked the day she realised she knew more about the French Revolution than she did about her native trees. And birds. And wildflowers. And bees. The thought stopped her quite literally in her tracks. But that day was also the start of a journey, one filled with silver birches and hairy-footed flower bees, skylarks, and rosebay willow herb, and the joy that comes with deepening one’s relationship with place. Dancing with Bees is Strawbridge Howard’s charming and eloquent account of a return to noticing, to rediscovering a perspective on the world that had somehow been lost to her for decades and to reconnecting with the natural world. With special care and attention to the plight of pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees, and what we can do to help them, Strawbridge Howard shares fascinating details of the lives of flora and fauna that have filled her days with ever-increasing wonder and delight.

 

 

Wanderland – Jini Reddy (Bloomsbury)

Alone on a remote mountaintop one dark night, a woman hears a mysterious voice.

Propelled by the memory and after years of dreaming about it, Jini Reddy dares to delve into the ‘wanderlands’ of Britain, heading off in search of the magical in the landscape.

A London journalist with multicultural roots and a perennial outsider, she determinedly sets off on this unorthodox path. Serendipity and her inner compass guide her around the country in pursuit of the Other and a connection to Britain’s captivating natural world. Where might this lead? And if you know what it is to be Othered yourself, how might this colour your experiences? And what if, in invoking the spirit of the land, ‘it’ decides to make its presence felt?

Whether following a ‘cult’ map to a hidden well that refuses to reveal itself, attempting to persuade a labyrinth to spill its secrets, embarking on a coast-to-coast pilgrimage or searching for a mystical land temple, Jini depicts a whimsical, natural Britain. Along the way, she tracks down ephemeral wild art, encounters women who worship The Goddess, falls deeper in love with her birth land and struggles – but mostly fails – to get to grips with its lore. Throughout, she rejoices in the wildness we cannot see and celebrates the natural beauty we can, while offering glimpses of her Canadian childhood and her Indian parents’ struggles in apartheid-era South Africa.

Wanderland is a book in which the heart leads, all things are possible and the Other, both wild and human, comes in from the cold. It is a paean to the joy of roaming, both figuratively and imaginatively, and to the joy of finding your place in the world.

 

Some thoughts on this shortlist:

So far I have read four of the shortlist and they have all been good in very different ways. Dara’s book shows the promise that he has as a writer and his passion for the natural world in all its forms is evident. The Frayed Atlantic Edge is an evocative travel book about our coastline that faces the mighty Atlantic Ocean and the time he spent bobbing around in a kayak on it. Mike Parker book is a story of the place they live as much as it about the four people in it. Wanderland is a very different book about seeking that something extra from the landscape to fill the spiritual yearning that some people need. I have got the other three on the shortlist and will crack on with reading the final three next month prior to the prize announcement on the 9th of September. I was a little disappointed to not see Surfacing and Bird Therapy on the list, but the difficult choice would be what to leave off to fit those in. It is good to have a couple of travel books on here too. I know which would be my winner from this list of the books that I have read so far, but I don’t envy the judges choice in picking this one!

 

And then there is the Writing for Global Conservation Prize which is a new and necessary addition. These are the books that have been shortlisted:

 

Irreplaceable – Julian Hoffman (Hamish Hamilton)

All across the world, irreplaceable habitats are under threat. Unique ecosystems of plants and animals are being destroyed by human intervention. From the tiny to the vast, from marshland to meadow, and from Kent to Glasgow to India to America, they are disappearing.

Irreplaceable is not only a love letter to the haunting beauty of these landscapes and the wild species that call them home, including nightingales, lynxes, hornbills, redwoods, and elephant seals, it is also a timely reminder of the vital connections between humans and nature, and all that we stand to lose in terms of wonder and well-being. This is a book about the power of resistance in an age of loss, a testament to the transformative possibilities that emerge when people unite to defend our most special places and wildlife from extinction.

Exploring treasured coral reefs and remote mountains, tropical jungle and ancient woodland, urban allotments and tallgrass prairie, Julian Hoffman traces the stories of threatened places around the globe through the voices of local communities and grassroots campaigners as well as professional ecologists and academics. And in the process, he asks what a deep emotional relationship with place offers us–culturally, socially and psychologically. In this rigorous, intimate, and impassioned account, he presents a powerful call to arms in the face of unconscionable natural destruction.

 

Life Changing – Helen Pilcher (Bloomsbury)

We are now living through the post-natural phase, where the fate of all living things is irrevocably intertwined with our own. We domesticated animals to suit our needs, and altered their DNA–wolves became dogs to help us hunt, junglefowl became chickens to provide us with eggs, wildebeest were transformed through breeding into golden gnus so rifle-clad tourists had something to shoot. And this was only the beginning. As our knowledge grew we found new ways to tailor the DNA of animals more precisely; we’ve now cloned police dogs and created a little glow-in-the-dark fish–the world’s first genetically modified pet. The breakthroughs continue.

Through climate change, humans have now affected even the most remote environments and their inhabitants, and studies suggest that through our actions we are forcing some animals to evolve at breakneck speed to survive. Whilst some are thriving, others are on the brink of extinction, and for others the only option is life in captivity. Today, it’s not just the fittest that survive; sometimes it’s the ones we decide to let live.

According to the Bible, Noah built the original ark to save the world’s creatures from imminent floods. Now the world is warming, the ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising. With nowhere “wild” left to go, Helen Pilcher proposes a New Ark. In this entertaining and thought-provoking book, she considers the many ways that we’ve shaped the DNA of the animal kingdom and in so doing, altered the fate of life on earth. In her post-natural history guide, she invites us to meet key species that have been sculpted by humanity, as well as the researchers and conservationists who create, manage and tend to these post-natural creations.

 

Rebirding – Benedict Macdonald (Pelagic)

Rebirding takes the long view of Britain’s wildlife decline, from the early taming of our landscape and its long-lost elephants and rhinos, to fenland drainage, the removal of cornerstone species such as wild cattle, horses, beavers and boar – and forward in time to the intensification of our modern landscapes and the collapse of invertebrate populations.

It looks at key reasons why species are vanishing, as our landscapes become ever more tamed and less diverse, with wildlife trapped in tiny pockets of habitat. It explores how Britain has, uniquely, relied on modifying farmland, rather than restoring ecosystems, in a failing attempt to halt wildlife decline. The irony is that 94% of Britain is not built upon at all. And with more nature-loving voices than any European country, we should in fact have the best, not the most impoverished, wildlife on our continent. Especially when the rural economics of our game estates, and upland farms, are among the worst in Europe.

Britain is blessed with all the space it needs for an epic wildlife recovery. The deer estates of the Scottish Highlands are twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. Snowdonia is larger than the Maasai Mara. The problem in Britain is not a lack of space. It is that our precious space is uniquely wasted – not only for wildlife, but for people’s jobs and rural futures too.

Rebirding maps out how we might finally turn things around: rewilding our national parks, restoring natural ecosystems and allowing our wildlife a far richer future. In doing so, an entirely new sector of rural jobs would be created; finally bringing Britain’s dying rural landscapes and failing economies back to life.

 

Sitopia – Carolyn Steel (Chatto & Windus)

We live in a world shaped by food, a Sitopia (sitos – food; topos – place). Food, and how we search for and consume it, has defined our human journey.

From our foraging hunter-gatherer ancestors to the enormous appetites of modern cities, food has shaped our bodies and homes, our politics and trade, and our climate. Whether it’s the daily decision of what to eat, or the monopoly of industrial food production, food touches every part of our world. But by forgetting its value, we have drifted into a way of life that threatens our planet and ourselves. Yet food remains central to addressing the predicaments and opportunities of our urban, digital age. Drawing on insights from philosophy, history, architecture, literature, politics and science, as well as stories of the farmers, designers and economists who are remaking our relationship with food, Sitopia is a provocative and exhilarating vision for change, and how to thrive on our crowded, overheating planet. In her inspiring and deeply thoughtful new book Carolyn Steel, points the way to a better future.

 

 

 

What We Need to Do Now – Chris Goodall (Profile Books)

What We Need To Do Now sets out a comprehensive programme of action to counter the threats to our environment. It is a manifesto for groups around the world that are seeking urgent action on climate breakdown and other threats.

Emphasising the importance and relative simplicity of decarbonising our energy supply, the book also stresses that this is a small part of the switch to a sustainable planet. Among many other urgent transitions, we also need to focus on changing the agricultural system and reducing our hugely wasteful use of resources. As importantly, we need to make sure that the transition to a zero-carbon world benefits the less well-off and reinvigorates the smaller cities and towns around the world that have been left behind.

This is a practical, original and inspiring book: a new green deal for an inhabitable earth.

 

 

Working with Nature – Jeremy Purseglove (Profile Books)

From cocoa farming in Ghana to the orchards of Kent and the desert badlands of Pakistan, taking a practical approach to sustaining the landscape can mean the difference between prosperity and ruin. Working with Nature is the story of a lifetime of work, often in extreme environments, to harvest nature and protect it – in effect, gardening on a global scale. It is also a memoir of encounters with larger-than-life characters such as William Bunting, the gun-toting saviour of Yorkshire’s peatlands and the aristocratic gardener Vita Sackville-West, examining their idiosyncratic approaches to conservation.

Jeremy Purseglove explains clearly and convincingly why it’s not a good idea to extract as many resources as possible, whether it’s the demand for palm oil currently denuding the forests of Borneo, cottonfield irrigation draining the Aral Sea, or monocrops spreading across Britain. The pioneer of engineering projects to preserve nature and landscape, first in Britain and then around the world, he offers fresh insights and solutions at each step.

 

 

 

Some thoughts on this shortlist:

I have read two from the longlist so far, both of which were excellent, but only one of those made it to the shortlist, Irreplaceable. this is an urgent plea to take action to save those things that once they have gone, will be gon forever. Again I want to read all of them from here as these are books about urgent subjects that have not gone away in the COVID pandemic. Again I don’t envy them picking one from that pile. As soon as the library reservations are back up and running again I will be reserving the ones that I haven’t read.

 

Have you read any? Do you now want to read any of them? Let me know in the comments below

For links to my reviews, where there are any, please click on the title of the books.

2020 Six Month Stats

These are my book stats so far for 2020 now we have got to six months through the year. I have read 97 books so far and 25402 pages. My monthly average of books is  16.2. This broke down into these monthly totals:

January – 17

February – 16

March – 16

April – 16

May – 16

June – 16

The split of books read

Male Authors – 66

Female Authors – 31 i.e. 32%

Review Copies  – 43

Library Books – 26

Own Books– 28 (This is already more than last year!)

 

Non-Fiction – 68 – 70%

Fiction – 17 – 17.5%

Poetry – 12 – 12.5%

 

Stars Awarded:

5 Stars – 5 Books
4.5 Stars – 11 Books
4 Stars – 38 Books
3.5 stars – 18 Books
3 stars – 18 Books
2.5 Stars – 4 Books
2 Stars – 2 Books
1.5 stars 0 Books
1 stars – 0 Books

 

Genre

I use a spreadsheet to keep a note of the types and genres of books that I read. There are detailed below:

Travel 23
Poetry 12
Natural History 10
Memoir 9
Fiction 8
Science 7
Fantasy 5
History 4
Science Fiction 4
Psychology 2
Politics 2
Language 2
Miscellaneous 2
Environmental 1
Sport 1
Craft 1
Britain 1
Cricket 1
Humour 1
Reportage 1

 

Publishers

These are the number of books read by each publisher so far:

Eland 6
John Murray 6
Penguin 5
Faber & Faber 5
Canongate 5
Little Toller 4
Granta 4
Jonathan Cape 4
Sandstone Press 3
Fly on the Wall Press 3
Corgi 3
Elliott & Thompson 3
Cinnamon Press 3
Haus Publishing 3
William Collins 3
Bloomsbury 3
Saraband 2
Picador 2
Icon Books 2
Bradt 2
Allen Lane 2
Dey Street 1
Michael Joseph 1
Salt 1
Profile Books 1
Wildings Press 1
Stella Maris 1
The Westbourne Press 1
Headline 1
Fitzcarraldo Editions 1
Headline 1
Little, Brown 1
Sphere 1
Duckworth 1
Hamish Hamilton 1
Seven Dials 1
Myriad Editions 1
The Bodley Head 1
Gollancz 1
Michael O’Mara Books 1
Tor 1
Allen & Unwin 1
4th Estate 1
Inkandescent 1
Influx Press 1
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