Category: Book Musings (Page 1 of 16)

August 2021 TBR

Another month passes and I nearly forgot to add the next set of books to this still vast list that I will be picking from during August.  It is starting (!!!) to get a little out of control now…

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

Sea People – Christina Thompson

On The Marsh – Simon Barnes

Another Fine Mess – Tim Moore

Girl Squads – Sam Maggs

Bloody Brilliant Women – Cathy Newman

 

BLOG TOUR

Peacocks in Paradise – Anna Nicholas

 

Review Copies

Burning The Books – Richard Ovenden

Dear Reader – Cathy Rentzenbrink

Astral Travel – Elizabeth Baines

The Germans and Europe – Peter Millar

Britain Alone – Philip Stephens

We Own This City – Justin Fenton

Spaceworlds – Ed. Mike Ashley

Elites – Douglas Board

The Fugitives – Jamal Mahjoub

Invisible Work – John Howkins

Slow Trains Around Spain – Tom Chesshyre

The Power of Geography – Tim Marshall

Finding the Mother Tree – Suzanne Simard

The Four Horsemen – Emily Mayhew

The Spy who was left out in the Cold – Tim Tate

No Matter How Many Skies Have Fallen – Ken Worple

The Devil You Know – Gwen Adshead, Eileen Horne

Letters from Egypt – Lucie Duff Gordon

Nature Fast and Nature Slow – Nicholas P. Money

The Glitter in the Green – Jon Dunn

Borderlines – Charles Nicholl

The Sea Is Not Made Of Water – Adam Nicholson

The Pay Off – Gottfried Leibbrandt and Natasha De Terán

MAINSTREAM – Ed Justin Davis & Nathan Evans

Flight of the Diamond Smugglers – Matthew Gavin Frank

White Spines – Nicholas Royle

Above the Law – Adrian Bleese

Somebody Else – Charles Nicholl

Goshawk Summer – James Aldred

Fire, Storm & Flood – James Dyke

Walking Pepys’s London – Jacky Colliss Harvey

 

Library

The Nightingale – Sam Lee

Weathering – Lucy Wood

No Friend But The Mountains – Behrouz Boochani

 

Poetry

Slate Petals (and Other Wordscapes) – Anthony Etherin

 

Challenge Books

An Affair Of The Heart – Dilys Powell

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

The Con Artist – Fred van Lente

Water Ways – Jasper Winn

The Night Lies Bleeding – M.D. Lachlan

Divided – Tim Marshall

The Wonderful Mr Willughby – Tim Birkhead

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Asian Waters – Humphrey Hawksley

Light of the Stars – Adam Frank

Blue Mind – Wallace J. Nichols

21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari

The Restless Kings – Nick Barratt

The Kindness Of Strangers – Ed. Fearghal O’Nuallain

To Obama – Jeanne Marie Laskas

What We Have Lost – James Hamilton-Paterson

 

Wainwright Prize

Vesper Flights – Helen Macdonald

Seed to Dust – Marc Hamer

English Pastoral: An Inheritance – James Rebanks

I Belong Here – Anita Sethi

The Wild Silence – Raynor Winn

June 2021 Review

I almost can’t believe that we are halfway through the year already. First a few mid-year stats. I have now read 99 books and 26274 pages, or pretty much double what I had read by the end of March. Sixty-four of the authors were male and the remaining thirty-five were female (35%). I have read 52 review books, 27 library books and 20 of my own. I have read books from 59 different publishers so far.

The top five publishers are:

Eland – 5 books

Picador – 5 books

Faber & Faber – 5 books

William Collins – 5 books

Bloomsbury – 4 books

 

My top five genres are:

Travel – 17 books

Natural History – 15 books

Fiction – 14 books

Poetry – 11 books

Miscellaneous – 5 books

So on to the books that I read in June. I read four fiction books during the month. Trimming England by M.J. Nicholls is a comedic story about a future English Prime Minister who decides to rid each count of its most annoying citizen and send them to Jersey. There were some amusing parts, but it wasn’t really for me. The Others is a completely different book, set in the modern-day, it is about an author who finds a set of notes about the Carlist Wars in the mid-1830s and the story of a Prussian Gentleman who arrived in the region to fight. Not a bad book overall. The Lip is Charlie Carroll’s first fiction book. This story is about a girl who lives in Cornwall and who objects to the way the people who can afford second homes are pricing the locals out of the neighbourhood. I liked it and the way it tries to deal with mental health and many other factors. My fourth book is one of my books of the month, which is at the bottom of this post

 

        

 

I read three books that had a food theme, one of which made it to my books of the month too. These two could not be more different though, the first is all about the wonderful drink that is cider. There is not a lot of detail in here, but it is a good introduction though. Pete Brown writes some really good books on food and drink and this is his selection of the meals that make Britain. Some of the foods he picks would have made my list but some won’t have…

   

 

I read two books that had a musical theme, the first Lev’s Violin is the story of Helena Attlee being captivated after hearing a violin play and sifting through history to find out more about the instrument. When Quiet Was the New Loud is a book about the music that Tom Clayton listened to during the late 1990s and early 2000s. I must admit that the music is not really my sort of thing, so much so that I had barely heard of some of the bands he talks about. That said I really enjoyed the book, he has a way with words that makes it worthwhile reading

     

 

The Odditorium does exactly what it says on the cover; namely tells you about all the people who have done something significant but slighting unusual in their lives. Interesting and light-hearted reading.

I read two natural history books this month and both had the same story to tell about how interlinked the natural world is, but from very different perspectives. I can recommend both

   

 

The two science books I read both were about the nuclear industry. The first is about the creation of the superheavy elements that were originally needed by the scientists and engineers who were making nuclear reactors. The second is about the mess that we have left in the relentless pursuit of this nuclear goal.

     

 

I have only reading Wilding before by Isabella Tree, so was looking forward to her book on Nepal. This is part travel and part history about the Living Goddesses who are still revered in Nepal. Whilst context is needed, I felt this was much heavier on the history and rituals behind the position rather than her travels in the country learning about them.

 

An so onto my books of the month. First up is the wonderful Summer in the Islands, an account of the time that Matthew Fort spent travelling around Italy on his Vespa eating lots of lovely food. This will make you hungry! Next is The Heeding, an artistic and poetic response by Rob Cowen & Nick Hayes to the lockdowns that we had to go through with the pandemic. Finally is the beautifully written Fox Fires, about a girl who is looking for her father in the dystopian city of O.

       

Have you read any of these? Are there any that you now want to read? Let me know in the comments below.

July 2021 TBR

Halfway through another strange year, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better at the moment. I could go on about Covid, but you’re probably as bored of it as I am.  Anyway, you are here for the books so this is the super long list that I am intending to work my way into. If I don’t emerge please send doughnuts.

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

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

Behind the Enigma: The Authorized History of GCHQ, Britain’s Secret Cyber-Intelligence Agency – John Ferris

On The Marsh: A Year Surrounded By Wildness And Wet – Simon Barnes

Pie Fidelity: In Defence Of British Food – Pete Brown

Another Fine Mess: Across Trumpland In A Ford Model T – Tim Moore

 

Blog Tour

The Storm is Upon Us – Mike Rothschild

 

New Book

These Towers Will One Day Slip Into The Sea – Gary Budden & Maxim Griffin

 

Review Copies

Did manage to read 7 review copies in May, but the list grows ever longer each month:

Burning The Books – Richard Ovenden

Dear Reader – Cathy Rentzenbrink

Astral Travel – Elizabeth Baines

The Germans and Europe – Peter Millar

Britain Alone – Philip Stephens

We Own This City – Justin Fenton

Elites – Douglas Board

The Fugitives – Jamal Mahjoub

Invisible Work – John Howkins

Slow Trains Around Spain – Tom Chesshyre

The Power of Geography – Tim Marshall

The Four Horsemen – Emily Mayhew

The Spy who was left out in the Cold – Tim Tate

Tarmac to Towpath – David Banning, Julian Hyde

Where – Simon Moreton

The Devil You Know- Gwen Adshead, Eileen Horne

Human, Nature- Ian Carter

Letters from Egypt – Lucie Duff Gordon

The Glitter in the Green – Jon Dunn

Lakeland Wild – Jim Crumley

Croak – Ed. Phil Bishop

Borderlines – Charles Nicholl

The Pay Off – Gottfried Leibbrandt and Natasha De Terán

The Eternal Season – Stephen Rutt

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Chapters – Marianne Taylor

Mainstream – Ed Justin Davis & Nathan Evans

Flight of the Diamond Smugglers- Matthew Gavin Frank

White Spines – Nicholas Royle

Above the Law – Adrian Bleese

 

Library

There are fewer library books this month as I managed to renew some:

The Lost Plot – Genevieve Cogman

The Burning Page – Genevieve Cogman

The Way To The Sea – Caroline Crampton

Concretopia – John Grindrod

The Electricity Of Every Living Thing – Katherine May

Weathering – Lucy Wood

No Friend But The Mountains – Behrouz Boochani

Seed To Dust – Marc Hamer

 

Wainwright Prize

The Wainwright Prize was announced last month and I have read six so far so I am intending on working my way through the ones that I haven’t read yet.

Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald

The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary Melissa Harrison

Seed to Dust Marc Hamer

English Pastoral: An Inheritance James Rebanks

Birdsong in a Time of Silence Steven Lovatt

I Belong Here Anita Sethi

The Wild Silence Raynor Winn

 

Poetry

Only intending on reading one this month given the vastness of the rest of the list…

Owl Unbound – Zoë Brooks

 

20 Books Of Summer

Cathy at 746 books is running this again and my post about it is here. I am not going to get to all of these this month, but they are here so I can start ticking them off the list to read. Two down from last month!

An Affair Of The Heart – Dilys Powell

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

The Con Artist – Fred van Lente

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History – Sam Maggs

Water Ways: A Thousand Miles Along Britain’s Canals – Jasper Winn

The Night Lies Bleeding – M.D. Lachlan

Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls – Tim Marshall

The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist – Tim Birkhead

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion – Humphrey Hawksley

Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth – Adam Frank

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do – Wallace J. Nichols

21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari

The Restless Kings: Henry II, His Sons and the Wars for the Plantagenet Crown – Nick Barratt

The Kindness Of Strangers: Travel Stories That Make Your Heart Grow – Ed. Fearghal O’Nuallain

To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope – Jeanne Marie Laskas

What We Have Lost – James Hamilton-Paterson

Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention – Cathy Newman

 

These lists never seem to get any shorter, do they? 🙂

Any that you have read or are there some above that take your fancy?

Anticipated Titles for Autumn 2021

I have been through all of the autumn 2021 publishers catalogues that could lay my hands on (31 so far). I have listed all the books that I really like the look of. The majority on this list are non-fiction, as you have probably come to expect by now, but there are a smattering of fiction, sci-fi and the odd poetry in there.

 

4th Estate

Thinking Better – Marcus De Sautoy

A Cook’s Book – Nigel Slater

 

Allen Lane

Index, A History Of The – Dennis Duncan

 

Basic Books

Rule Of The Robots – Martin Ford

 

Bloomsbury

Farewell Mr Puffin – Paul Heiney

Everybody Needs Beauty – Samantha Walton

A Field Guide To Larking – Lara Maiklem

Ripples On The River – Laurie Campbell & Anna Levin

Abundance – Karen Lloyd

Tales From The Tillerman – Steve Haywood

In Kiltumper – Niall Williams & Christine Breen

Truffle Hound – Rowan Jacobsen

Urban Wild – Helen Rook

Feet First – Annabel Streets

The Book Of Vanishing Species – Beatrice Forshall

 

Bloomsbury Sigma

Our Biggest Experiment – Alice Bell

Worlds In Shadow – Patrick Nunn

Fire And Ice – Natalie Starkey

Sticky – Laurie Winkless

 

Bodley Head

Four Thousand Weeks – Oliver Burkeman

 

British Library

Future Crimes – Mike Ashley (Editor)

 

Canongate

Livewired – David Eagleman

Small Bodies Of Water – Nina Mingya Powles

Explorer – Benedict Allen

 

Chatto & Windus

The Amur River – Colin Thubron

 

Ebury

Why We Swim – Bonnie Tsui

Evil Geniuses – Kurt Andersen

Surrounded By Bad Bosses And Lazy Employees Or, How To Deal With Idiots At Work – Thomas Erikson

The Man Who Mistook His Job For His Life – Naomi Shragai

 

Eland

The Turkish Embassy Letters – Mary Wortley Montagu

A Moroccan Trilogy – Jérôme And Jean Tharaud

Bengal Lancer – Francis Yeats-Brown

 

Elliott & Thompson

The Pay Off – Gottfried Leibbrandt And Natasha De Terán

The Eternal Season – Stephen Rutt

Goshawk Summer: A New Forest Season Unlike Any Other – James Aldred

The Red Planet – Simon Morden

Light Rains Sometimes Fall – Lev Parikian

 

Europa Editions

A Short History Of Spaghetti With Tomato Sauce – Massimo Montanari Tr. Gregory Conti

 

Eye Books

Above The Law – Adrian Bleese

 

Faber

Chewing The Fat – Jay Rayner

Allegorizings – Jan Morris

 

Gollancz

The Ultimate Discworld Companion – Terry Pratchett And Stephen Briggs, Illustrations By Paul Kidby

 

Granta

Hello, Stranger – Will Buckingham

A Trillion Trees – Fred Pearce

Slime – Susanne Wedlich

 

Greenfinch

A Portrait Of The Tree – Adrian Houston

This Is The Canon – Kadija Sesay, Deirdre Osborne And Joan Anim-Addo

 

Harvill Secker

The Dream Of Europe – Geert Mak

 

Haus

Walking Pepys’s London – Jacky Colliss Harvey

My Cyprus – Joachim Sartorius Tr. Stephen Brown

 

Head of Zeus

The Story Of Life In 10 1/2 Chapters – Marianne Taylor

Scenes From Prehistoric Life – Francis Pryor

Fire, Storm & Flood – James Dyke

The Heath – Hunter Davies

 

Headline

A Curious Absence Of Chickens – Sophie Grigson

Secret Nation – Sinclair Mckay

 

Hodder & Stoughton

Gifts Of Gravity And Light – Editors: Anita Roy & Pippa Marland

Firmament – Simon Clark

Journeys To Impossible Places – Simon Reeve

Trust No One Inside The World Of Deepfakes – Michael Grothaus

(Dis)Connected – Emma Gannon

 

Icon Books

Space 2069 – David Whitehouse

Flight Of The Diamond Smugglers – Matthew Gavin Frank

Once Upon A Time I Lived On Mars – Kate Greene

The Babel Message – Keith Kahn-Harris

 

Jonathan Cape

Learning To Sleep – John Burnside

Silent Earth – Dave Goulson

Vuelta Skelter – Tim Moore

Eating To Extinction – Dan Saladino

 

Little Toller

English Farmhouse – Geoffrey Grigson

No Matter How Many Skies Have Fallen – Ken Worple

Woods Of Se Wales – Oliver Rackham

The Long Field – Pamela Petro

Aurochs And Auks – John Burnside

Venetian Bestiary – Jan Morris

Millstone Grit – Glyn Hughes

 

Maclehose

The Dawn Of Language – Sverker Johansson Tr. Frank Perry

533 – Cees Nooteboom Tr. Laura Watkinson

 

Nicholas Brealey

Why Travel Matters – Craig Storti

 

Oneworld

The Longest Story – Richard Girling

The Gold Machine – Iain Sinclair

Animal Vegetable Criminal –  Mary Roach

A Thing of Beauty – Peter Fiennes

By Any Other Name – Simon Morley

Life as We Made it – Beth Shapiro

Infectious – John S. Tregoning

The Invisible Universe – Matthew Bothwell

 

Pan Macmillan

Broken Heartlands – Sebastian Payne

 

Penguin

Gathering Moss – Robin Wall Kimmerer

Another Bangkok Reflections On The City – Alex Kerr

This Is Your Mind On Plants – Michael Pollan

 

Picador

The Glass Wall – Max Egremont

The Cat Who Saved Books – Sosuke Natsukawa

New And Selected Poems – Ian Duhig

Oak – Katharine Towers

 

Profile Books

The Nation Of Plants – Stefano Mancuso

What’S The Use? – Ian Stewart

Being A Human – Charles Foster

A Spotter’S Guide To Countryside Mysteries – John Wright

The Library – Andrew Pettegree And Arthur Der Weduwen

Fabric – Victoria Finlay

The Wordhord – Hana Videen

 

Reaktion Books

Crime Dot Com – Geoff White

Blood, Sweat And Earth – Tijl Vanneste

The Sea – Richard Hamblyn

Miracles Of Our Own Making – Liz Williams

Most Unimaginably Strange – Chris Caseldine

 

Riverrun

Storyland – Amy Jeffs

 

September Publishing

The Wheel: The Witch’s Way Back to the Ancient Self – Jennifer Lane

 

Seven Dials

Frozen In Time – Rhys Charles

 

Square Peg

The Swan – Stephen Moss

 

Tor

Invisible Sun – Charles Stross

 

Transworld

Woodston – John Lewis-Stempel

London Clay – Tom Chivers

Making Numbers Count – Chip Heath And Karla Starr

Liquid History – John Warland

The Soaring Life Of The Lark – John Lewis-Stempel

 

Two Roads

An Atlas Of Endangered Animals – Megan Mccubbin

A Spell In The Wild – Alice Tarbuck

 

Unbound

Mainstream – Ed Justin Davis & Nathan Evans

 

W&N

The Star Builders – Arthur Turrell

 

William Collins

The Black Ridge – Simon Ingram

Cider Country – James Crowden

Sbs – Silent Warriors – Saul David

 

WW Norton

The Sound Of The Sea – Cynthia Barnett

Cryptography – Keith Martin

Super Volcanoes – Robin George Andrews

Seed Money – Bartow J. Elmore

 

Any that take your fancy? More importantly, are there any that I might have missed that you know about?

Q&A With Lev Parikian

One of my books of 2020 was Into The Tangled Bank by Lev Parikian. It is a funny and thoughtful meander into how the British experience the natural world. It was published by Elliott and Thompson last week in paperback. As I really liked it I thought that I would tell you a little bit more about the book and then get Lev to answer some questions and tell us a little more about his new (!!!) book that is due to be published in September.

First a little bit about the book, in case you’ve not come across it:

Lev Parikian is on a journey to discover the quirks, habits and foibles of how the British experience nature. He sets out to explore the many, and particular, ways that he, and we, experience the natural world – beginning face down on the pavement outside his home then moving outwards to garden, local patch, wildlife reserve, craggy coastline and as far afield as the dark hills of Skye. He visits the haunts of famous nature lovers – reaching back to the likes of Charles Darwin, Etta Lemon, Gavin Maxwell, John Clare and Emma Turner – to examine their insatiable curiosity and follow in their footsteps.

And everywhere he meets not only nature, but nature lovers of all varieties. The author reveals how our collective relationship with nature has changed over the centuries, what our actions mean for nature and what being a nature lover in Britain might mean today.

 

And about Lev:

Lev Parikian is a writer, birdwatcher and conductor. His book Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? was published by Unbound in 2018. He lives in West London with his family, who are getting used to his increasing enthusiasm for nature. As a birdwatcher, his most prized sightings are a golden oriole in the Alpujarras and a black redstart at Dungeness Power Station.

 

Q & A

Firstly are the swifts back with you?
YES! And to much excitement. They were held up by cold weather pretty much everywhere, I think, but we saw our first in rather surreal fashion during a hailstorm on the evening of 5th May. It swooped down out of the gloom, darted around frantically for a minute and then disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, as if through a portal in the sky – it felt like a visitation from another world. It was a few days before the rest of them turned up – we have three or four nesting pairs in the houses either side most years – and now they’re swifting away like anything.
Are you still lounging around on pavements looking at wildlife?
Whenever possible! My most recent ground-level experience was photographing some Egyptian goose chicks (actually they’re more like teenagers now) at Tooting Common. Getting down to the level of the wildlife you’re interested in often gives a different perspective on things, although getting back up again is sometimes problematic!
What everyday creature, would you use to show people how great the natural world is?
For me it would probably have to be a bird – it needn’t be anything exotic – and all I’d do is say ‘look at it fly’. Take pigeons – much maligned, especially our ubiquitous city types, but if you discard prejudice and watch them fly – fast, manoeuvrable, wings held in a sharp V shape as they come into land with unerring accuracy – perhaps that’s a way in to looking at things through different eyes. It doesn’t really matter what it is – everyone has their preference – but I’d say the main thing is simply to develop a curiosity about things you might once have taken for granted. It works for me, anyway!
In between all the lockdowns, have you managed to make it to any nature reserves?
I had a wonderful trip to RSPB Rainham Marshes on my birthday in late April. I love exploring my very local and very urban patch, and have had plenty of opportunity to do so during the pandemic, especially given the subject of my next book, Light Rains Sometimes Fall (see below) – but sometimes it’s good to get away, and after such a long time confined to barracks this was a particularly enjoyable visit to a place I know well.
What was your top sighting in the past year?
Possibly the little egret that flew over the house early one morning quite out of the blue. For many people, who might live near a river or estuary or any kind of wetland, that would be a fairly routine sighting, but over a suburban south London garden it caused quite the stir. And I heard a black redstart singing on Piccadilly the other day – clearly audible over the rumble of traffic and general urban bustle. Terrific stuff.
What sort of kit would you recommend for an absolute beginner to start discovering wildlife in their local area?
Eyes and ears and a keen interest. But also a good pair of binoculars – they needn’t cost the earth – and a camera. With binoculars, it’s easy to be confused by all the jargon, but if you can get to a good optics shop where you can try out a few pairs to see what feels comfortable, that’s a trip worth making. And a good bridge camera will enable you to take some decent photographs – helpful for identification as well as the intrinsic visual pleasure they can give – without the expense and cumbersomeness (if that’s a word) of the long-lens types.
When we can properly travel again, where are you heading to, to watch birds?
I haven’t yet decided, although if all goes well my work as a conductor will take me to Edinburgh, so a trip along the coast to places like Musselburgh Lagoons, Aberlady Bay and Bass Rock might well be in order.
What has been your favourite nature book of the past year?
It wouldn’t be fair to single one out, but I’ve recently particularly enjoyed reading a proof of Steve Rutt’s The Eternal Season, which is out in July. Does Josie George’s A Still Life count as ‘nature writing’? It’s a beautiful and honest memoir, and while there’s so much more to it, her observations on nature are imbued with intelligence and perception. Also, Richard Smyth’s An Indifference of Birds – a very short and fascinating look at how we’ve changed the world for birds.
What author(s) do you buy their books without even reading the blurb?
I actually very rarely read blurbs, especially for fiction – the result of a painful experience some years ago when the back cover blurb gave away (or hinted very strongly at) a plot twist that occurred on page 298 of a 330-page book. But I do rely strongly on the recommendations of people I trust. And when Unbound announced the crowdfunding of a new Douglas Adams book – a neat trick for someone who’s been dead for twenty years, and one of which he would no doubt have approved – you couldn’t see me for the clicking.
What are you currently reading and would you recommend it?
Two very contrasting books: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Richard Fortey’s Fossils, both of which get a strong thumbs-up. I’ve also just finished Eley Williams’s A Liar’s Dictionary and John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – again, they gave me enormous amounts of pleasure in different ways.
Can you tell me some more information about your forthcoming book, Light Rains Sometimes Fall?
With great pleasure! It’s the story of a year spent looking at the nature on my local urban patch in south London. I took inspiration from the traditional Japanese calendar, which divides the year into 72 very short microseasons – about five days each. It occurred to me that this was an excellent way of noticing and charting the small changes in the natural world through the year, as well as an incentive to really pay attention to my local patch. It comes out on 16th September.
Thank you to Lev for answering the questions I posed really quickly. I can recommend following his Twitter and signing up for his newsletter as his deadpan humour is hilarious.

May 2021 Review

May seemed to rush past. I didn’t get quite as much reading down as I wanted as I spent an inordinate amount of it up a ladder decorating. But we are nearly done now in the hall stairs and landing now so I can get fully back to the books. I still managed to get around to reading 16 books in May and here is a roundup of them:

I read three books that had mental health as the central focus. In Finding True North, Linda Gask tells of her move to Orkney and coming to terms with a lifetime of depression and the lessons that she learnt by helping others overcome their issues. Moving to a smallholding was supposed to be the ultimate dream for Rebecca Schiller, however, as she tells us in Earthed things didn’t go quite as planned until the medical profession finally diagnosed her condition. Phosphorescence is very different. Julia Baird has long been fascinated by the natural light that is given off by creatures and she sees that as a metaphor that we can use to inspire us to do better and greater things.

       

My three poetry books this month could not have been any different. One was my first Seamus Heaney and whilst I didn’t love it, I did really like the way that he crafts words into these poems about the rural culture he is steeped in. Very different is watery through the gaps, rather than the connection via the land, Emma Blas is looking for a connection via water in her prose. Different once again is Victoria Bennett’s pamphlet, To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre which is about the loss of her mother. Very moving poems.

        

Just two natural history books this month, one of which is my book of the month at the bottom of this post. First though is Empire of Ants which is about those amazing little creatures that have been creating societies for millions of years and the research that Suzanne Foitzik has been undertaking on them. A very interesting book,

Not quite natural history, but still very much well worth reading is Helen Gordon’s new book, Notes from Deep Time. this is a deep-time view of the forces that create and still have the power to change our planet.

Where possible I am trying to read themed books together. This month the theme was technology and I have five different books on how were are using and coping with technology in the modern world. Fred Vogelstein’s book is a bit like ancient history now as it looks into the rivalry between Apple and Google. It was an interesting read though. My now teenage kids have grown up with broadband and online access. They have never had to suffer dial up! Born Digital is a look at how this new generation is coping with the always online permanent connection to the worldwide web. Really well done and worth reading. Tracey Follows comes at this from a different angle and looks at the things we need to do and have in place to maintain a strong and balanced online presence.

       

Everybody Lies is about the data that we generate every time we do something online and how looking at this metadata can show trends before they are visible in the real world. More worrying are the revelations revealed in Reset, this is how the surveillance industry tracks what we are doing and how less than honourable companies are turning that to their advantage.

   

My two travel book could not have been any more different this month. Westering is the account of Laurence Mitchell’s walk from Norfolk to Wales. Paul Theroux’s book is about the time that he spent in Mexico finding out more about the country that borders his and the pressures that people are under to move to America to eke out a living.

    

My book of the mo(n)th is Much Ado About Mothing. Moths are one of those insects that have bad press but in this book, by James Lowen aims to set the record straight. He is a teenie bit obsessed by moths and he does a really good job of conveying that in the prose.


Have you read any of these? Are there any that you now want to? Let me know in the comments below

June 2021 TBR

It is already June. How did that happen? Anyway, the gloom and horrible weather seems to have cleared and the sun has come out. Sadly I have been stuck inside decorating the past few weekends and haven’t got as much reading as I would like done. So the TBR this month is even more ridiculous than the one in May.

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

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

Behind the Enigma: The Authorized History of GCHQ, Britain’s Secret Cyber-Intelligence Agency – John Ferris

 

Blog Tour

Tapestries of Life: Uncovering the Lifesaving Secrets of the Natural World – Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

 

Review Copies

Did manage to read 11 review copies in May, but the list grows ever longer each month

Astral Travel – Elizabeth Baines

The Germans and Europe: A Personal Frontline History – Peter Millar

Britain Alone: The Path from Suez to Brexit – Philip Stephens

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption in an American City – Justin Fenton

Fox Fires – Wyl Menmuir

Invisible Work: The Hidden Ingredient of True Creativity, Purpose and Power – John Howkins

The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveals the Future of Our World – Tim Marshall

Elites: Can you rise to the top without losing your soul? – Douglas Board

Trimming England – M.J. Nicholls

The Fugitives – Jamal Mahjoub

Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void – Ed. Mike Ashley

Slow Trains Around Spain: A 3,000-Mile Adventure on 52 Rides – Tom Chesshyre

The Others – Raül Garrigasait

Burning The Books: A History Of Knowledge Under Attack – Richard Ovenden

The Four Horsemen: And The Hope Of A New Age – Emily Mayhew

The Spy who was left out in the Cold: The Secret History of Agent Goleniewski – Tim Tate

The Devil You Know: Stories of Human Cruelty and Compassion – Gwen Adshead, Eileen Horne

When Quiet Was the New Loud: Celebrating the Acoustic Airwaves 1998-2003 – Tom Clayton

Letters from Egypt – Lucie Duff Gordon

The Heeding – Rob Cowen & Nick Hayes

The Glitter in the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds – Jon Dunn

 

Library

Lots of library books to read this month because of other people reserving them and me neglecting to get them read before. Might end up paying the fines as you can’t return and renew at the moment.

The Lip – Charlie Carroll

Lev’s Violin: An Italian Adventure – Helena Attlee

Summer In The Islands: An Italian Odyssey – Matthew Fort

Sea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific – Christina Thompson

Superheavy: Making And Breaking The Periodic Table – Kit Chapman

On The Marsh: A Year Surrounded By Wildness And Wet – Simon Barnes

Pie Fidelity: In Defence Of British Food – Pete Brown

Another Fine Mess: Across Trumpland In A Ford Model T – Tim Moore

The Living Goddess: A Journey Into The Heart Of Kathmandu – Isabella Tree

The Odditorium: The Tricksters, Eccentrics, Deviants And Inventors Whose Obsession Changed The World – David Bramwell & Jo Keeling

Ciderology – Gabe Cook

The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind The Myth Of The Scandinavian Utopia – Michael Booth

Elephant Complex: Travels In Sri Lanka – John Gimlette

Tweet Of The Day: A Year Of Britain’s Birds From The Acclaimed Radio 4 Series – Brett Westwood & Stephen Moss

 

Poetry

Only intending on reading one this month give the vastness of the rest of the list…

The Heeding – Rob Cowen & Nick Hayes

 

20 Books Of Summer

Cathy at 746 books is running this again and my post about it is here. I am not going to get to all of these this month, but they are here so I can start ticking them off the list to read.

An Affair Of The Heart – Dilys Powell

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

The Con Artist – Fred van Lente

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History – Sam Maggs

Water Ways: A Thousand Miles Along Britain’s Canals – Jasper Winn

The Night Lies Bleeding – M.D. Lachlan

Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls – Tim Marshall

The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist – Tim Birkhead

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age – Fred Pearce

Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion – Humphrey Hawksley

Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth – Adam Frank

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do – Wallace J. Nichols

21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari

The Restless Kings: Henry II, His Sons and the Wars for the Plantagenet Crown – Nick Barratt

The Kindness Of Strangers: Travel Stories That Make Your Heart Grow – Ed. Fearghal O’Nuallain

To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope – Jeanne Marie Laskas

The Secret Network of Nature: The Delicate Balance of All Living Things – Peter Wohlleben

What We Have Lost – James Hamilton-Paterson

Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention – Cathy Newman

 

These lists never seem to get any shorter, do they? 🙂

Any that you have read or are there some above that take your fancy?

20 Books of Summer 2021

After the truly bloody horrible May that we have had, the past few days of heat and sun have meant that it almost felt like summer. Not convinced it will last though. And as it is summer then it must be time for this challenge once again.

It was dreamt up by Cathy at 746 Books, it is a challenge for bloggers and anyone else and the aim is to try and read through 20 books that are on their TBR. I have tried for the past two years. In the first year, I read 18 and last year I only managed 12. I almost didn’t do it this year, but I like the idea of it and It is good to support another blogger in what they are doing to promote reading. Follow the hashtag #20booksofsummer21 to follow those who are taking part this year.  I like to pick themes normally. Last year it was travel and this year the theme is trying to read through some of the review books that I have had around for way too long. So without further ado, here is my list of books:

An Affair Of The Heart by Dilys Powell

Dilys Powell’s love affair with Greece and the Greeks began on a sun-baked archaeological dig in 1931. Joining her husband the archaeologist Humfry Payne on the remote peninsula of Perachora, she came to know the villagers who laboured on the site, camping beside them year after year, for months at a time.

Despite personal tragedy, the occupation of Greece and civil war, Powell’s affair of the heart continued. She returned time and again through the ’40s and ’50s, and with each visit there was a reconciliation with her idyllic memories of the country. Both with Humfry and without, she explored remote mountains in the company of shepherds, isolated stretches of coast and island with local fishermen and olive-dotted hillsides with the subsistence farmers who worked them. Out of this she has fashioned a gem of a travel book.

 

Wyntertide by Andrew Caldecot

Welcome back to Rotherweird, where an ancient plot centuries in the making is about to come to fruition – and this time the forces of darkness might actually win . . .

The town of Rotherweird has been independent from the rest of England for four hundred years, to protect a deadly secret.

Sir Veronal Slickstone is dead, his bid to exploit that secret consigned to dust, leaving Rotherweird to resume its abnormal normality after the travails of the summer . . . but someone is playing a very long game.

Disturbing omens multiply: a funeral delivers a cryptic warning; an ancient portrait speaks; the Herald disappears – and democracy threatens the uneasy covenant between town and countryside.

Geryon Wynter’s intricate plot, centuries in the making, is on the move.

Everything points to one objective: the resurrection of Rotherweird’s dark Elizabethan past – and to one date: the Winter Solstice.

Wynter is coming

 

The Con Artist by Fred van Lente

This illustrated mystery will appeal to comic book fans and anyone who appreciates an unconventional whodunit.

Comic book artist Mike Mason arrives at San Diego Comic-Con, seeking sanctuary with other fans and creators—and maybe to reunite with his ex—but when his rival is found murdered, he becomes the prime suspect. To clear his name, Mike will have to navigate every corner of the con, from zombie obstacle courses and cosplay flash mobs to intrusive fans and obsessive collectors, in the process unravelling a dark secret behind one of the industry’s most legendary creators.

 

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History by Sam Maggs

A modern girl is nothing without her squad of besties. But don’t let all the hashtags fool you: the #girlsquad goes back a long, long time. In this hilarious and heartfelt book, geek girl Sam Maggs takes you on a tour of some of history’s most famous female BFFs, including:

• Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the infamous lady pirates who sailed the seven seas and plundered with the best of the men
• Jeanne Manon Roland and Sophie Grandchamp, Parisian socialites who landed front-row seats (from prison) to the French Revolution
• Sharon and Shirley Firth, the First Nations twin sisters who would go on to become Olympic skiers and break barriers in the sport
• The Edinburgh Seven, the band of pals who fought to become the first women admitted to medical school in the United Kingdom
• The Zohra Orchestra, the ensemble from Afghanistan who defied laws, danger, and threats to become the nation’s first all-female musical group

And many more! Spanning art, science, politics, activism, and even sports, these girl squads show just how essential female friendship has been throughout history and throughout the world. Sam Maggs brings her signature wit and warmth as she pays tribute to the enduring power of the girl squad. Fun, feisty, and delightful to read—with empowering illustrations by artist Jenn Woodall—it’s the perfect gift for your BFF.

 

Water Ways: A Thousand Miles Along Britain’s Canals by Jasper Winn

For a hundred and fifty years, between the plod of packhorse trains and the arrival of the railways, canals were the high-tech water machine driving the industrial revolution. Amazing feats of engineering, they carried the rural into the city and the urban into the countryside, and changed the lives of everyone. And then, just when their purpose was extinguished by modern transport, they were saved from extinction and repurposed as a ‘slow highways’ network, a peaceful and countrywide haven from our too-busy age. Today, there are more boats on the canals than in their Victorian heyday.

Writer and slow adventurer Jasper Winn spent a year exploring Britain’s waterways on foot and by bike, in a kayak and on narrowboats. Along a thousand miles of ‘wet roads and water streets’ he discovered a world of wildlife corridors, underground adventures, the hardware of heritage and history, new boating communities, endurance kayak races and remote towpaths. He shared journeys with some of the last working boat people and met the anglers, walkers, boaters, activists, volunteers and eccentrics who have made the waterways their home. In Britain most of us live within five miles of a canal, and reading this book we will see them in an entirely new light.

 

The Night Lies Bleeding by M.D. Lachlan

The world is at war again. London is suffering from the German Blitz. For one immortal werewolf, the war means little. He knows he will soon have to give up his identity once more, begin a new life. Before the wolf emerges.

But a chance conversation leads him to the scene of a gruesome murder, and the realisation that another war is being fought. The runes want to be together, and the when they are the wolf’s story will end.

And in Germany, one weak-willed doctor finds himself caught up in the Third Reich’s fascination with the occult and the Norse myths. They believe that the runes will bring them power, and wish to abuse them for their own ends.

And if they succeed, Ragnarok will come.

 

Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls by Tim Marshall

 

We feel more divided than ever.
This riveting analysis tells you why.

Walls are going up. Nationalism and identity politics are on the rise once more. Thousands of miles of fences and barriers have been erected in the past ten years, and they are redefining our political landscape.

There are many reasons why we erect walls, because we are divided in many ways: wealth, race, religion, politics. In Europe the ruptures of the past decade threaten not only European unity, but in some countries liberal democracy itself. In China, the Party’s need to contain the divisions wrought by capitalism will define the nation’s future. In the USA the rationale for the Mexican border wall taps into the fear that the USA will no longer be a white majority country in the course of this century.

Understanding what has divided us, past and present, is essential to understanding much of what’s going on in the world today. Covering China; the USA; Israel and Palestine; the Middle East; the Indian Subcontinent; Africa; Europe and the UK, bestselling author Tim Marshall presents a gripping and unflinching analysis of the fault lines that will shape our world for years to come.

 

The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist by Tim Birkhead

From the author of Bird Sense, a biography of Francis Willughby, the man who pulled the study of birds out of the dark ages and formed the foundations of modern ornithology.

Francis Willughby lived and thrived in the midst of the rapidly accelerating scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. Travelling with his Cambridge tutor John Ray, they decided to overhaul the whole of natural history by imposing order on its messiness and complexity. It was exhilarating, exacting, and exhausting work. Yet before their first book, Ornithology, could be completed, Willughby died in 1672. Since then, Ray’s reputation has grown, obscuring that of his collaborator. Now, for the first time, Willughby’s story and genius are given the attention they deserve.

In his too-short life, Francis Willughby helped found the Royal Society, differentiated birds through identification of their distinguishing features, and asked questions that were, in some cases, centuries ahead of their time. His discoveries and his approach to his work continue to be relevant–and revelatory-today. Tim Birkhead describes and celebrates how Willughby’s endeavours set a standard for the way birds–and indeed the whole of natural history–should be studied. Rich with glorious detail, The Wonderful Mr Willughby is at once a fascinating insight into a thrilling period of scientific history and an authoritative, lively biography of one of its legendary pioneers.

 

The House of Islam by Ed Husain

‘Islam began as a stranger,’ said the Prophet Mohammed, ‘and one day, it will again return to being a stranger.’

The gulf between Islam and the West is widening. A faith rich with strong values and traditions, observed by nearly two billion people across the world, is seen by the West as something to be feared rather than understood. Sensational headlines and hard-line policies spark enmity, while ignoring the feelings, narratives and perceptions that preoccupy Muslims today.

Wise and authoritative, The House of Islam seeks to provide entry to the minds and hearts of Muslims the world over. It introduces us to the fairness, kindness and mercy of Mohammed; the aims of sharia law, through commentary on scripture, to provide an ethical basis to life; the beauty of Islamic art and the permeation of the divine in public spaces; and the tension between mysticism and literalism that still threatens the House of Islam.

The decline of the Muslim world and the current crises of leadership mean that a glorious past, full of intellectual nobility and purpose, is now exploited by extremists and channelled into acts of terror. How can Muslims confront the issues that are destroying Islam from within, and what can the West do to help work towards that end?

Ed Husain expertly and compassionately guides us through the nuances of Islam and its people, contending that the Muslim world need not be a stranger to the West, nor its enemy, but a peaceable ally.

 

Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age by Fred Pearce

Environmental journalist Fred Pearce travels the globe to investigate our complicated seven-decade long relationship with nuclear technology, from the bomb to nuclear accidents to nuclear waste.

While concern about climate change has led some environmentalists to embrace renewable energy sources like wind and solar, others have expressed a renewed interest in nuclear power as an alternative source of carbon-neutral energy. But can humanity handle the risks involved?
In Fallout, Fred Pearce uncovers the environmental and psychological landscapes created since the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Traveling from Nevada to Japan to the UK to secret sites of the old Soviet Union, he explores first the landscapes transformed by uranium and by nuclear accidents–sites both well-known and little known. He then examines in detail the toxic legacies of nuclear technology, the emerging dilemmas over handling its waste, the decommissioning of the great radioactive structures of the nuclear age, and the fearful doublethink over our growing stockpiles of plutonium, the most lethal and ubiquitous product of nuclear technologies. How, Pearce asks, has the nuclear experience has changed us? Is nuclear technology indeed the existential threat it sometimes appears? Should we be burdening future generations with radioactive waste that will be deadly for thousands of years?
Fallout is the definitive look at humanity’s nuclear adventure, for any reader who craves a clear-headed examination of the tangled relationship between a powerful technology and human politics, foibles, fears, and arrogance.

 

Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion by Humphrey Hawksley

Few territories are as hotly contested as the western Pacific Ocean. Across the 1.5 million square mile expanse of the East and South China Sea, six countries lay overlapping claims that date back centuries. China, Vietnam, Korea and Indonesia assert their right to trade routes, deploying military garrisons to defend disputed territories while Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines resist their expansion. But no single government can face a superpower such as China alone, and as the country extends its reach, less powerful states look to the US for diplomatic mediation creating an American security umbrella that stretches across the Asia-Pacific nicknamed the “American Lake”. These conditions produce an unstable cocktail of competing interests and international tensions poised for conflict.

BBC foreign correspondent Humphrey Hawksley has been following this increasingly precarious situation in East Asia for decades. Reporting on years of political developments, he has witnessed China’s rise to become one of the world’s most powerful trade entities, elbowing smaller markets out in the process. In Asian Waters, Hawksley draws on his experience as a veteran journalist to portray the region in all its complexity and delivers a compelling account of where it is heading. Will China continue to rise to power peacefully or will its ambition prompt a new world war? Will Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan create a multi-lateral alliance similar to NATO to pre-empt further encroachment? Asian Waters delves into these topics and more as Hawksley presents the most comprehensive analysis of the region to date.

 

Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth by Adam Frank

Light of the Stars tells the story of humanity’s coming of age as we awaken to the possibilities of life on other worlds and their sudden relevance to our fate on Earth. Astrophysicist Adam Frank traces the question of alien life and intelligence from the ancient Greeks to the leading thinkers of our own time, and shows how we as a civilization can only hope to survive climate change if we recognize what science has recently discovered: that we are just one of ten billion trillion planets in the Universe, and it’s highly likely that many of those planets hosted technologically advanced alien civilizations. What’s more, each of those civilizations must have faced the same challenge of civilization-driven climate change.

Written with great clarity and conviction, Light of the Stars builds on the inspiring work of pioneering scientists such as Frank Drake and Carl Sagan, whose work at the dawn of the space age began building the new science of astrobiology; Jack James, the Texas-born engineer who drove NASA’s first planetary missions to success; Vladimir Vernadsky, the Russian geochemist who first envisioned the Earth’s biosphere; and James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, who invented Gaia theory. Frank recounts the perilous journey NASA undertook across millions of miles of deep space to get its probes to Venus and Mars, yielding our first view of the cosmic laws of planets and climate that changed our understanding of our place in the universe.

Thrilling science at the grandest of scales, Light of the Stars explores what may be the largest question of all: What can the likely presence of life on other worlds tell us about our own fate?

 

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols

Why are we drawn to the ocean each summer? Why does being near water set our minds and bodies at ease? In Blue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols revolutionizes how we think about these questions, revealing the remarkable truth about the benefits of being in, on, under, or simply near water. Grounded in cutting-edge studies in neurobiology, cognitive psychology, economics, and medicine, and made real by stories of innovative scientists, doctors, athletes, artists, environmentalists, businesspeople and lovers of nature – stories that fascinate the mind and touch the heart – Blue Mind will awaken readers to the vital importance of water to the health and happiness of us all.

 

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

In Sapiens, he explored our past. In Homo Deus, he looked to our futureNow, one of the most innovative thinkers on the planet turns to the present to make sense of today’s most pressing issues.

How do computers and robots change the meaning of being human? How do we deal with the epidemic of fake news? Are nations and religions still relevant? What should we teach our children?

Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is a probing and visionary investigation into today’s most urgent issues as we move into the uncharted territory of the future. As technology advances faster than our understanding of it, hacking becomes a tactic of war, and the world feels more polarized than ever, Harari addresses the challenge of navigating life in the face of constant and disorienting change and raises the important questions we need to ask ourselves in order to survive.

In twenty-one accessible chapters that are both provocative and profound, Harari builds on the ideas explored in his previous books, untangling political, technological, social, and existential issues and offering advice on how to prepare for a very different future from the world we now live in: How can we retain freedom of choice when Big Data is watching us? What will the future workforce look like, and how should we ready ourselves for it? How should we deal with the threat of terrorism? Why is liberal democracy in crisis?

Harari’s unique ability to make sense of where we have come from and where we are going has captured the imaginations of millions of readers. Here he invites us to consider values, meaning, and personal engagement in a world full of noise and uncertainty. When we are deluged with irrelevant information, clarity is power. Presenting complex contemporary challenges clearly and accessibly, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is essential reading.

 

The Restless Kings: Henry II, His Sons and the Wars for the Plantagenet Crown by Nick Barratt

In The Restless Kings Nick Barratt presents the tumultuous struggle for supremacy between the first Plantagenet king, Henry II, and his four sons – a drama that tore apart the most powerful family in western Europe and shaped the future of two nations.

As well as exploring the personalities and crises facing these extraordinary people as a family, The Restless Kings follows them as they raced around western Europe, struggling to hold together a vast conglomeration of lands – often through force of arms – whilst constantly harried by the their nominal overlord and arch rival, Philip Augustus, king of France.

Although the key events took place over 800 years ago, their significance still resonates today. Whether you’re looking for the root causes of Brexit or tension in the Middle East, their origins can be found in the actions of the Angevin kings of England.

The Restless Kings will challenge everything you assumed you knew about the medieval world. Above all, it brings to life some of the most remarkable, complex, flawed and brilliant monarchs ever to have sat on the English throne.

 

The Kindness Of Strangers: Travel Stories That Make Your Heart Grow by Ed. Fearghal O’Nuallain

Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer

Travel opens our minds to the world; it helps us to embrace risk and uncertainty, overcome challenges and understand the people we meet and the places we visit. But what happens when we arrive home? How do our experiences shape us?

‘The Kindness of Strangers’ explores what it means to be vulnerable and to be helped by someone we’ve never met before. Someone who could have walked past, but chose not to.

This is a collection of stories by accomplished travellers and adventurous souls like Sarah Outen, Benedict Allen, Ed Stafford and Al Humphreys, who have completed daring journeys through challenging terrain, adventuring from the Calais Jungle to the Amazon, from Land’s End to the Gobi Desert, from New Guinea to Iran and many other places in between. Each has a story to tell of a time when they were vulnerable, when they were in need and a kind stranger came to their rescue.

These are stories that make our hearts grow, stories that will restore our faith in the world and remind us that, despite what the media says, the world isn’t a scary place – rather, it is filled with Kind Strangers just like us.

All royalties go directly to fund Oxfam’s work with refugees.

 

To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Every day, President Obama received ten thousand letters from constituents. Every night, he read ten of them before going to bed. This is the story of the profound ways in which they shaped his presidency.

Every evening for 8 years, at his request, President Obama received a binder containing ten handpicked letters from ordinary American citizens — the unfiltered voice of a nation — from his Office of Presidential Correspondence. He was the first to President to save constituent mail, and this is the story of how those letters affected not only the President and his policies, but also the deeply committed people who were tasked with opening the millions of pleas, rants, thank yous, and apologies that landed in the White House mailroom.

Based on the popular New York Times article, “To Obama,” Laskas now interviews the letter writers themselves and the White House staff who sifted through the powerful, moving, and incredibly intimate narrative of America during the Obama years emerges: There is Kelli, who saw her grandfathers finally marry – legally — after 35 years together; Bill, a lifelong Republican whose attitude toward immigration reform was transformed when he met a boy escaping M-16 gang leaders in El Salvador; Heba, a Syrian refugee who wants to forget the day the tanks rolled into her village; Marjorie, who grappled with disturbing feelings of racial bias lurking within her during the George Zimmerman trial; and Vicki, whose family was torn apart by those who voted for Trump and those who did not.

They wrote to Obama out of gratitude and desperation, in their darkest times of need, in search of connection. They wrote with anger and respect. And together, this chorus of voices achieves a kind of beautiful harmony: here is a diary of a nation. To Obama is an intimate look at one man’s relationship to the American people, and the the intersection of politics and empathy in the White House.

 

The Secret Network of Nature: The Delicate Balance of All Living Things by Peter Wohlleben

Did you know that trees can influence the rotation of the earth?
Or that wolves can alter the course of a river?
Or that earthworms control wild boar populations?

The natural world is a web of intricate connections, many of which go unnoticed by humans. But it is these connections that maintain nature’s finely balanced equilibrium.

Drawing on the latest scientific discoveries and decades of experience as a forester and bestselling author, Peter Wohlleben shows us how different animals, plants, rivers, rocks and weather systems cooperate, and what’s at stake when these delicate systems are unbalanced.

The earth’s ecosystems are too complex for us to compartmentalise and draw up simple rules of cause and effect; but The Secret Network of Nature gives us a chance to marvel at the inner workings and unlikely partnerships of the natural world, where every entity has its own distinct purpose.

And the more light that is shed on relationships between species, the more fascinating nature’s web becomes.

 

What We Have Lost by James Hamilton-Paterson

Between 1939 and 1945, Britain produced around 125,000 aircraft – to take one example – and enormous numbers of ships, motor vehicles, armaments and textiles. We developed radar, antibiotics, the jet engine and the computer. Less than seventy years later, the major industries that had made Britain a global power industrially and militarily, and had employed millions, were dead. These industries had collapsed within a mere three decades. Had they really been doomed, and if so, by what? Can our politicians have been so inept? Was it down to the superior competition of wily foreigners? Or were our rulers culturally too hostile to science and industry?

James Hamilton-Paterson, in this evocation of the industrial world we have lost, analyses the factors that turned us so quickly from a nation of active producers to one of passive consumers and financial middlemen.

 

Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention by Cathy Newman

 

A fresh, opinionated history of all the brilliant women you should have learned about in school but didn’t.

In this freewheeling history of modern Britain, Cathy Newman writes about the pioneering women who defied the odds to make careers for themselves and alter the course of modern history; women who achieved what they achieved while dismantling hostile, entrenched views about their place in society. Their role in transforming Britain is fundamental, far greater than has generally been acknowledged, and not just in the arts or education but in fields like medicine, politics, law, engineering and the military.

While a few of the women in this book are now household names, many have faded into oblivion, their personal and collective achievements mere footnotes in history. We know of Emmeline Pankhurst, Vera Brittain, Marie Stopes and Beatrice Webb. But who remembers engineer and motorbike racer Beatrice Shilling, whose ingenious device for the Spitfires’ Rolls-Royce Merlin fixed an often-fatal flaw, allowing the RAF’s planes to beat the German in the Battle of Britain? Or Dorothy Lawrence, the journalist who achieved her ambition to become a WW1 correspondent by pretending to be a man? And developmental biologist Anne McLaren, whose work in genetics paved the way for in vitro fertilisation?

Were it not for women, significant features of modern Britain like council housing, municipal swimming pools and humane laws relating to property ownership, child custody and divorce wouldn’t exist in quite the same way. Women’s drive and talent for utopian thinking created new social and legislative agendas. The women in these pages blazed a trail from the 1918 Representation of the People Act – which allowed some women to vote – through to Margaret Thatcher’s ousting from Downing Street.

Blending meticulous research with information gleaned from memoirs, diaries, letters, novels and other secondary sources, Bloody Brilliant Women uses the stories of some extraordinary lives to tell the tale of 20th and 21st century Britain. It is a history for women and men. A history for our times.

 

So there we go. Is there any that you’ve read? Or now want to read? Let me know in the comments below

April 2021 Review

We for a short month that ended up a really good month for reading. I didn’t get anywhere near the number of books that I wanted to read but did manage to clear another 17 from my TBR and had three, yes three five star reads. Mor on them at the bottom of the post.  And here they all are.

I read four books about Japan this month and first up is a translated book, Touring the Land of the Dead. It is two novellas by Maki Kashimada and translated by Haydn Trowell, one story is about a couple who have been surviving on his wife salary after he could no longer work. The second is about a family of four sisters who have always been close and then one finds a man and the bond is tested and loosened. Both slightly surreal in that very Japanese way.

I had heard a lot about, How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell and had managed to get a copy via the library. I liked the premise of this book, that we are constantly distracted by all of modern life and Odell’s philosophy of how to resist it. In the end, it didn’t really live up to my expectations.

I am trying to read books that have a theme where possible and these three are on health. Stroke is a fairly obvious title, and it is the story about Ricky’s survival following a stroke that almost killed him. Sinéad Gleeson’s book won our Wellcome Prize Shadow Award last year, and these are a series of essays about the various and numerous health problems she has had. She is quite some writer too! Finally in this little section is How to Be Sad which is Helen Russell’s take on how to be sad properly, how to get through it and how to use that to enjoy the better times when they come.

         

Another theme and this time it is symbols. Hyphens & Hashtags is a wonderful little book about the characters that you find on keyboards and the second a wider look at symbols that we come across in our modern lives.

     

The first two of the six natural history book that I read in April, are The Spirit of the River by Declan Murphy and Save Our Species by Dominic Couzens & Sarah Edmunds. Murphy’s book is about the summer he spent watching the dippers and kingfishers in a local river and Couzens’ book is ways that we can practically help the endangered species in our country.

    

Gone is about the animals that we deliberately or accidentally chose not to help and are no longer with us. Michael Blencowe has written a fascinating tale of his search for their remains in museums around the world. Roger Morgan-Grenville has a thing about shearwaters and this rather good book is the story of his obsession with them.

   

Only read one poetry book this month. In a strange bit of book serendipity, Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott was mentioned in Constellations and it was going to be my next book to read. It is not a bad collection all about her mortality

My travel reading this month was all centred on Japan. First was Pico Iyer’s  A Beginner’s Guide To Japan, a series of though and muses about his life in that country. In Hokkaido Highway Blue, Will Ferguson decides to follow the cherry blossom from the South West of the Country right up to the northernmost island. He hitchhikes his way of getting to see the country and meet the people that are not on any tourist trail at all.

   

I have three Book of the Month for April. First is the sublime The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman which is her story about seeking the great bells by which the inhabitants of Edo, later called Tokyo tracked their lives by. Next is another obsession distilled down into a book, The Screaming Sky. Charles Foster doesn’t really do anything by halves and this is his musings on those masters of the air, Swifts.  Finally is Neil Ansell’s book about a place near me, The New Forest. Beautifully written as ever, he extolls the place and the natural world that manages to just cling on. Read all three.

       

So have you read any of these? Are there now any that you want to read? Let me know in the comments below.

May 2021 TBR

Another month passes and I suddenly realised that I haven’t decided what I am going to read for next month! Quickly shuffled around the spreadsheets and now have a list for May. Totally ambitious as ever, but I did read a fair amount in April. So here we go:

Finishing Off

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

Behind the Enigma – John Ferris

 

BLOG TOUR

To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre – Victoria Bennett

Empire Of Ants – Suzanne Foitzik & Olaf Fritsche

 

Review Copies

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot

Astral Travel – Elizabeth Baines

The Germans and Europe – Peter Millar

Reset – Ronald J. Deibert

Britain Alone – Philip Stephens

The Future of You – Tracey Follows

We Own This City – Justin Fenton

Born Digital – Robert Wigley

Fox Fires – Wyl Menmuir

Invisible Work – John Howkins

The Power of Geography – Tim Marshall

Finding True North – Linda Gask

Elites – Douglas Board

Trimming England – M.J. Nicholls

The Fugitives – Jamal Mahjoub

Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void – Ed. Mike Ashley

Slow Trains Around Spain – Tom Chesshyre

Westering – Laurence Mitchell

Much Ado About Mothing – James Lowen

Earthed A Memoir – Rebecca Schiller

Phosphorescence – Julia Baird

The Others – Raül Garrigasait

Burning The Books – Richard Ovenden

The Four Horsemen – Emily Mayhew

 

Library

Everybody Lies – Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

On the Plain of Snakes – Paul Theroux

Notes From Deep Time – Helen Gordon

Sea People – Christina Thompson

Summer In The Islands – Matthew Fort

The Electricity Of Every Living Thing – Katherine May

 

Books to Clear

Battle of the Titans – Fred Vogelstein

Where My Heart Used to Beat – Sebastian Faulks

Prisioners of Geography – Tim Marshall

 

Poetry

Three this month as I only read one in April

Watery Through the Gaps – Emma Blas

To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre – Victoria Bennett

Door Into The Dark – Seamus Heaney

 

Challenge Books

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

 

Stanford Award

Without Ever Reaching the Summit – Paolo Cognetti

The Border – Erika Fatland Tr. Kari Dickson

Shadow City – Taran Khan

Travelling While Black – Nanjala Nyabola

Owls of the Eastern Ice – Jonathan C. Slaght

 

Science Fiction

Planetfall – Emma Newman

After Atlas – Emma Newman

I know it is quite a lot, but I am hoping to get to at least 18 – 20 of them

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