Sunday, 21 January 2018

Mini Book Haul


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We call it planet Earth, but actually, 70% of the surface is of the planet is watery; hence why some think that it should be called the blue planet. Even as humans beings around 60% of our mass is water, entwining us to our planet. There are stories to be found too; at the point where the sea meets the land is a place that people find comfort, face their inner demons and discover their inner purpose. The sea can be a mirror to our moods too, a millpond ocean will calm, whereas a storm crashing against the shore spikes our adrenaline.

Philip Hoare has an intimate connection to the sea, swimming from a beach near his home almost every day. When he is away from home he makes the most of the opportunities to swim whenever he can. He tells us of the moment of feeling rather than hearing whale song, swimming off the coast of Cape Cod and coming out of the water shivering and blue. Woven into his own experiences of the sea are the stories that he has collected about artists, poets, the famous and the unknown and the strands that link them to the sea. There is a little bit of everything in her from science to history and art, but Hoare does return to those magnificent creatures that are his passion and that he first wrote about in Leviathan, the whales.

Having read Leviathan and The Sea Inside I was really looking forward to this third book of musings on all things oceanic. The mix of subjects and genres with black and white photos make this a striking book. There is a lot to like in here too with some truly dazzling prose, but I thought it didn't quite have the focus of his other books and felt like it drifted a little too far from the shore. Still worth reading though. 3.5 stars

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Friday, 19 January 2018

Review: All the Devils Are Here

All the Devils Are Here All the Devils Are Here by David Seabrook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

For the uninitiated, the towns of Margate, Rochester, Chatham, Northfall, Broadstairs and Deal, Seabrook on the north Kent coast seem relatively normal. People go to work, fall in love, fall out, go to the pubs and live life as you'd expect. But underneath this veneer is an unexpected world. It is full of dark secrets, tantalising glimpses of literary and artistic roots, hotbeds of pre-World War 2 fascist supporters and a raft of unsolved murders.

The literary threads that entwine the start of this book are from the authors John Buchan, Robin Maugham, TS Eliot and Dickens, and the fantastical paintings of the artist and murderer Richard Dadd. He contemplates the reasons why these men produced the art that they did as well as speculation over the way that the county wheedled its way into their work. Dickens unfinished book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was set in a thinly disguised Rochester as Kent and Dickens are inseparable and he inhabits the landscape like a ghost from the past.

Broadstairs had its own secrets to tell though. An impressive house perched on top of the clifftop was once the home of Arthur Tester. The son of a diplomat and a German mother, he became a big supporter of the British Union of Fascists and was a spy and a channel for money coming over from Germany. He slipped away to the continent just before the start of World War II after the authorities were beginning to investigate his activities. The final chapter takes us to Deal; there Seabrook is in the sitting room of Gordon Meadows and is starting to hear the stories of the underground gay scene and the details of a horrific series of murders by someone called Jack the Stripper.

On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect

There is very little of the of the suppressed anger and barely hidden rage that permeates the towns of this coastline, towns that have suffered from decades of neglect and no investment, rather this is a trip back into the past of these towns and a re-telling of events that people have tried to forget. The chapter I liked the most was the final one even though it was the most morbid, however, this is possibly one of the strangest books I have read in a while. The bleakness of the subjects along with Seabrook's writing makes this feel desperate and disturbing, surreal and obsessive; it is strange as it is compelling. It is a book that when you have finished, you'll set aside and it will make you wonder just what you have read. You will either love it, or hate it. Probably both. But read it anyway.

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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Review: The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot Through the Heart of the Middle East

The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot Through the Heart of the Middle East The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot Through the Heart of the Middle East by Leon McCarron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leon McCarron is different to most. Not only has he walked from Mongolia, right across China to Hong Kong, he has crossed the Empty Quarter in the footsteps of Sir Wilfred Thesiger and has cycled right the way across America. So if you were to ask people to list places where they'd like to take a walk, then the Middle East is unlikely to be at the top of that list. McCarron though relishes a challenge, so a 1000 mile walk from Jerusalem to the heights of Mount Sinai begins. 
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Lao Tzu
He will be following a set of trails that have been recently re-established but trace their origins back to the ancient trading and pilgrimage routes that crisscross the landscapes of the West Bank, Palestine and into Jordan. It is a hotly contested region, that is still subject to aggression and violence, especially in the West Bank. He is accompanied by friends and guides along the way and sees some of the most beautiful landscapes as he walks through. Apart from one tiny incident with some exuberant teenagers, all the people that he meets are warm and welcoming and generous with their time and experience. 
I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour - Rebecca Solnit

These troubled lands are affected by the volatile mix that is geopolitics, cultural differences and religion, but as McCarron finds on his walk, people are the essence of this place that can trace its history back thousands of years. There are some people who want to ensure that the differences are amplified and use that to drive wedges between people, but there are many others who want to live in peace in their own country and trade with their immediate neighbours. One nice touch to the book is the photo of all those who walked with him on his journey to Sinai. This book is a great insight into a troubled land that could only have been achieved at the speed of a walk.

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Sunday, 14 January 2018

Review: Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago

Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

We are an island nation, and this element has gone a long way to defining our character as a people. As well as the main two islands, there are an astonishing 6,289 others, making us an archipelago. The largest of our islands is the Isle of Wight and they go all the way down to small pieces of rock that are only inhabited by seabirds. Some are permanently populated and are semi-autonomous states with their own laws, traditions and a very different view on taxation. Some have temporary residents or are strategic military locations and others were abandoned decades ago.

Form these 6,289 islands Patrick Barkham has chosen eleven that best portray an element that shows just how special these places can be. First on his list is the home of the TT, the Isle of Man, which along with Jersey and Guernsey are Crown Dependencies. This means that they are not part of the UK, nor part of its overseas territories nor part of the European Union. Whilst we are responsible for defence, they are a self-governing and self-contained island that has made a unique position for itself in the world. From there he heads north to three of the Scottish islands that face the brutal onslaught of the winter storms. These places were once the centre of the Neolithic world and the ancient landscape that we can still see resonates into the modern world. He meets some of the new owners of the island of Eigg who bought it from the original laird and see how it is run as a trust. He visits one of the most famous islands that was abandoned back in 1930, St. Kilda, now occupied by military contractors and seabirds. This wedge of rock that leaps almost half a kilometre from the ocean is the last remains on an ancient volcano.

Ireland has its fair share of the islands that go to make up our archipelago and he heads to Rathlin just off the north coast. Like many of our specks of land, it is populated with mostly seabirds, but here people still make a living from the place. His tour of our island bounty would be amiss if the Scilly Isles and the Channel Islands were not visited, so he heads to Prison Island in Alderney home of the only Nazi concentration camp on British soil and St Martin's, which is less than 1 square mile in size. But it is the islands that are so very tiny that are the icing on the cake of his all too brief journey. In Ynys Enlli he learns about the spiritual dimensions and solitude that an island can offer His final destination is two islands off the wild Essex coast, one that offers privacy and discretion to those need it and to one that is now abandoned and is slowly returning to nature.

This is another book by Barkham that is a heady blend of travel, natural history, personal stories and history. Bearing in mind he has barely dipped his toes in the tales that our islands can tell with the eleven he has chosen, there are some fascinating stories in here. Throughout the book, we hear the stories of Sir Compton Mackenzie, another man who was equally obsessed with islands and even bought one too as well as living on others. He is not afraid to talk about the positive and negative aspects of living on an island either. The beginning of each chapter on each island has a delightful sketch and a carefully chosen quote from D.H Lawrence 'The Man Who Loved Islands'. All of these elements deftly drift in and out of the narrative making it a joy to read.

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Saturday, 13 January 2018

Epic #BookPost

Thank you to Tor, Nudge, Reaktion Books, Modern Books and Golancz for all of these

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards

One of my favourite book prizes is the Stanford Dolman travel one. There is a whole world out there that some of the best writers are discovering and then telling us about through their books. The shortlist were announced last night at an event in Londo (that I was offered a ticket for but sadly could make). And there are here:
Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year, in partnership with The Authors' Club
• Islander by Patrick Barkham (Granta)
• The Rule of the Land by Garrett Carr (Faber)
• Border by Kapka Kassabova (Granta)
• The Epic City by Kushanava Choudhury (Bloomsbury Publishing)
• RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR by Philip Hoare (Fourth Estate)
• Where the Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt (Nicholas Brealey Publishing)
• Travels in a Dervish Cloak by Isambard Wilkinson, Photographs by Chev Wilkinson (Eland Publishing Ltd)
Hayes & Jarvis Fiction, with a Sense of Place
• Towards Mellbreak by Marie-Elsa Bragg (Chatto & Windus)
• These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper (Hodder & Stoughton)
• Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Oneworld)
• Hummingbird by Tristan Hughes (Parthian)
• Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Apollo)
• The Bureau of Second Chances by Sheena Kalayil (Polygon)
Wanderlust Adventure Travel Book of the Year
• The Orchid Hunter by Leif Bersweden (Short Books)
• Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent (Simon & Schuster UK)
• The Land Beyond by Leon McCarron (I.B. Tauris)
• Revolutionary Ride by Lois Pryce (Nicholas Brealey Publishing)
• Shark Drunk by Morten Strøksnes translated by Tiina Nunnally (Jonathan Cape)
• Eastern Horizons by Levison Wood (Hodder & Stoughton)
Food and Travel Magazine Travel Cookery Book of the Year
• Zoe's Ghana Kitchen by Zoe Adjonyoh & Nassima Rothacker (photographer) (Mitchell Beasley)
• The Palestinian Table by Reem Kassis (Phaidon)
• My Vegan Travels by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small)
• Chai, Chaat & Chutney by Chetna Makan & Nassima Rothacker (studio photographer), Keith James (location photographer), Amber Badger & Ella McLean (illustrators) (Mitchell Beasley)
• Andina: The Heart of Peruvian Food by Martin Morales & photography by David Loftus (Quadrille Publishing)
• Bart's Fish Tales by Bart van Olphen & photography by David Loftus (Pavilion Books)
Destinations Show Photography & Illustrated Travel Book of the Year
• Londonist Mapped by AA Publishing (AA Publishing)
• Pilgrimage by Derry Brabbs (Frances Lincoln, The Quarto Group)
• Atlas of Untamed Places by Chris Fitch (Aurum Press, The Quarto Group)
• Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins (Viking)
• Lonely Planet's Atlas of Adventure by Lonely Planet (Lonely Planet)
• Explorer's Atlas by Piotr Wilkowiecki and Michał Gaszyński (Collins)
Marco Polo Outstanding General Travel Themed Book of the Year
• The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per. J. Andersson translated by Anna Holmwood (Oneworld)
• Small Island by Little Train by Chris Arnot & AA Publishing (AA Publishing)
• Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain's Food Culture by Matt Goulding (Hardie Grant Books)
• Island People: The Caribbean and the World by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro (Canongate)
• The Hidden Ways by Alistair Moffat (Canongate)
• The Alps by Stephen O'Shea (W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.)
London Book Fair Children's Travel Book of the Year
• The Picture Atlas by Simon Holland & illustrated by Jill Calder (Bloomsbury)
• Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins Children's Books)
• The Earth Book by Jonathan Litton & illustrated by Thomas Hegbrook (360 Degrees)
• A World Full of Animal Stories by Angela McAllister & illustrated by Aitch (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)
• What We See In The Stars by Kelsey Oseid (Boxtree/Pan)
• The Explorer by Katherine Rundell & illustrated by Hannah Horn (Bloomsbury)
I have so far read six of the Stanford Dolman shortlist and one from the Adventure Travel. Will be reviewing all of these for Nudge