Thursday, 23 March 2017

Review: Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this collection of fourteen essays Dillard brings her almost forensic observation of natural world as well as a keen perception of the smallest detail to a wide variety of subjects. Starting with her thoughts on a solar eclipse that she travels to see in Yakima, we accompany her on her a journey to the Appalachian Mountains and all the way to the Galapagos Islands. With her we see the world through the eyes of a weasel and take a walk from her home. We also meet the man who inspired the title of the book, who is Teaching a stone to speak; most will think this a futile gesture, but as Dillard explains, it is his way of communing with the natural world at the pace he desires.

The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega.

There is a strong spiritual dimension to her sparse but eloquent prose. It is beyond me how she manages to pack so much meaning into so few words. Her childlike fascination with the world around is evident in the book and she manages to deftly entwine this with themes of exploration and discovery and how we can use it to watch and observe the things that happen around us. I particularly liked the essay on lenses, how it is something that you have to master before you can use it to see the far away and the near. Until now I have never read any of her books before, now will be working my way through her non-fiction back catalogue.

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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Review: Behind Her Eyes

Behind Her Eyes Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

David and Adele are the perfect couple. He is the level-headed psychiatrist; she is the beautiful and glamorous wife who loves him deeply. But behind this perfect fragile marriage there are secrets; dark disturbing secrets. David’s new secretary, Louise, is drawn into their surreal, controlling world, though neither are aware that she knows both of them. Little by little she discovers their secrets and it slowly dawns on her that there is something in this relationship that is very, very wrong. Louise doesn’t know what it is, nor just how far that the person will go to keep that secret safe.

I loved the pace of the story, it was enough to keep me turning the pages fairly rapidly. The build up through the book with the narrative coming from first Louise and then Adele with flashbacks to an earlier time and events was done really well. As for the ending; I won’t tell you… It is a very different ending to what I thought was going to happen, I was expecting something much more dramatic.

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Exquisite Book Post today

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Wellcome Book Prize 2017 Shadow Panel

I am delighted to announce that I have been asked by Rebecca at Bookish Beck to be a member of the shadow panel of readers who will make our way through the six titles shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize. We will be choosing our own winner shortly before the official prize announcement on Monday, April 24th. We are also joined on the panel by Amy Pirt who blogs at This Little Bag of Dreams.

The shortlist is below:

So far I have read the four non-fiction on the list:

When Breath Becomes Air

The Gene: An Intimate History

I Contain Multitudes

How To Survive A Plague

I have just reserved the two fiction from the library and I'm looking forward to them arriving.

Review: Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case

Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some people see stationary as a necessary evil, as long as the pen works and the end of it has not been chewed too much, then all is good. Then there are those who covert the clean piece of paper, the curl of wood from a freshly sharpened pencil, the cellophane covering the new pack of Post-It’s or the possibilities that a pristine cover of a Moleskine holds. If you are in the latter group; this book is for you. Each and every one of us uses stationary in some form or other, though that has fallen with the advent of smart phones and devices.

Ward has an obsession with stationary bordering on the unnatural, but that obsession has driven him to ask the questions that no one else would ask, such as: What are the 1000’s of uses for blue tack? How many pencils do Ikea supply each year? Who pays $43 for a pencil? Is there a risk when licking a gummed envelope? And where has the sellotape gone again?

He tells us just how the highlighter came into being, the evolution of the pen from quill to gel, Why the staples never fit your stapler and why one bank stopped chaining its pens to the desk. Sadly we seem to be losing the art of writing, as tapping things out on your phone seems to have more appeal. I have always liked stationary; as I look around me I have two of the black and yellow waspish coloured Staedtler pencils, one un branded pen, a Uni-ball pen (my favourite), a plastic eraser and one of those double pencil sharpeners that have a standard and a large hole. In all my years I have never used the large hole to sharpen a pencil…

This is a brilliantly quirky book about those things that we never really consider in any depth. Ward has uncovered the history behind the most mundane of objects and tells the stories of some of the characters who made the brands that we know and love today. Great stuff.

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Review: Spring: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons

Spring: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons Spring: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons by Melissa Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spring is that time of year where we shrug off the dark nights and sullen weather and celebrate the light and the warmth of the sun as it floods through the gothic formwork of trees. Plants are waking up too, buds swell and then burst with fresh green leaves, the wanderers return from afar and there is the frantic race to find a mate. Those that have spent the winter gestating, are born, bring new life into the world. It is the season where change is most noticeable and for a lot of people most welcomed.

Harrison has once again drawn together some of the finest new writing from established authors and exciting new ones and scoured the classic texts to gather them in this book. She has selected a good mix of prose and poetry too, each with the essence of the season distilled within. Most exciting are the new authors that are here for the first time in print, people like Jo Sinclair, Alice Hunter, Vijay Medtia, Elliot Dowding and Chris Foster. All have the potential to add to the natural history lexicography.

It is full of the wonders of nature, acute observation of the landscape around and writers celebrating the joy of the season. It is a lovely book too, the stunning foil blocked cover by Lynn Hatzius captures the energy and zest of spring perfectly. For those of you that love your nature writing, this collection is a perfect distillation of the moment.

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Monday, 20 March 2017

Review: Death's Mistress

Death's Mistress Death's Mistress by Terry Goodkind
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

She has been called Sister of the Light, and even Sister of the Dark; Nicci has been the lieutenant of a tyrant and pledged to destroy a man who she then fell in love with. But that was in the past. It is a new and safer world out there, and Nicci’s new role is telling the people of how Lord Rahl’s rule will bring peace and prosperity to their world. But the first job is keeping the wizard and prophet Nathan out of trouble… Nathan wants to visit the witch called Red, whom he wishes to get to tell him his life story.

She does, but issues a cryptic message to him; He must seek the place Kol Adair, where the answers and solution to his fading magic will be answered. It is a place that no one has heard of, and its name appears on no chart. They make haste their preparations to travel south and whilst getting provisions, Nicci saves the life of a traveller called Bannon who is being robbed. He is so grateful that he recommends the ship he is sailing south on and pledges his services to her. So begins their perilous journey south to find this mystery place. They will face threats from the sea, the land, bargain with dragons and face the greatest threats to the world that they know.

I do read some fantasy every now and again. It is a genre that can either be excellent, full of intrigue and political shenanigans or can fall a bit flat as it is broadly similar to other stuff that you have come across. This is the first of Terry Goodkind’s books that I have read, and overall it wasn’t too bad. There was plenty of pace to the story, with a mix of dramatic events and the standard tropes from the fantasy genre. It did suffer from being a bit formulaic, though, but that is the problem that I have with a lot of the quest style fantasy. Not bad, though, might even read the sequel!

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