Thursday, 30 June 2016

Just received these two through the post:

Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker
The Silver Eye: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind Morrow


Wainwright Prize Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2016 Wainwright prize has been announced:

http://wainwrightprize.com/2016/06/30/the-wainwright-prize-2016-shortlist-revealed/

The books are:

Common Ground by Rob Cowen

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane

The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy

The Fish Ladder by Katharine Norbury

The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks

I have read all of them, favourites are Landmarks and The Shepherds Life, closely followed by Common Ground and the Outrun, but they are all worth reading. Here are my reviews on Nudge:

http://nudge-book.com/blog/2016/06/the-wainwright-prize-2016-shortlist-revealed/

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Review: Life from Elsewhere: Journeys Through World Literature

Life from Elsewhere: Journeys Through World Literature Life from Elsewhere: Journeys Through World Literature by Amit Chaudhuri
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collection of literature has been drawn from ten leading writers from all around the world. The themes of freedom and movement are quite prescient at the moment; and it is this that the authors have chosen to explore in their writing. These stories come to us from all around the world, from places of conflict like Syria and Palestine; an author tries to define where they live and another chooses to defy. We have stories of growing up and another author who feels links to his home country.

The best thing about this is its diversity. Each author has a distinct voice and perspective on their life and the world around them. As there are ten authors and each piece is translated by another person, you don’t get a seamless and even quality; but then that is an aspect of life too. Worth reading for a world view different from my own.

I received a free copy of this from Netgalley for providing a honest review.

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Monday, 27 June 2016

Review: The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Up until now, Neil Gaiman has been known as a fiction writer, giving us delights like Neverwhere and American Gods and is the creative force behind the equally amazing and disturbing Sandman series of graphic novels. I first came across him in the collaboration with Terry Pratchett that is Good Omens. When I first read it I hated it as it wasn’t Pratchett enough for me. The second time I came across him was when a book group I am in was reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This melancholy story is an adult fairy tale as a man relives the moments of his childhood with the strange happenings that went on. It blew me away. Since then I have read lots and lots of his books. I like the twists he adds to classic fairy tales, his children’s books enthral and scare at the same time. Best of all he has an imagination that literally knows no bounds. His latest book, The View from the Cheap Seats is his first foray into non-fiction, collected from the articles, speeches, obituaries and sometimes just random stuff he has written.

I did not want to be nailed to the truth; or to be more accurate, I wanted to be able to tell the truth without ever needing to worry about the facts.

The dedication is to his son Ash – these are some of the things that your father loved and said and cared about and believed a long time ago, and so he sets his agenda of subjects that have formed his opinions, shaped his writing and influenced his life. There are pieces on art and music, books and comics, authors who became friends and collaborators. Tales from his childhood as he read his way through the local library and in the process discovered worlds that existed inside the covers. He celebrates the idea; an element that is invisible and contagious, cannot be supressed and is impossible to control. The introduction to books are great, encouraging you to read before coming back to him to carry on the conversation that he has started and to tell you why that book is important to him and why it should be to you too.

I learned that we have the right, or the obligation, to tell old stories in our own ways, because they are our stories, and they must be told.

Gaiman’s mind is like an ocean of infinite width and fathomless depth and in this not insubstantial book he shows us the wealth of ideas he has drawn on and dropped in this ocean. These influences have stretched his imagination and given us, the reader, a series of books and graphic novels that are rich, deep twisted and dark. I liked his fond memories of writers, particularly favourites of mine, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. They were great friends of his, who he misses every day and it brings out happy and sad memories for him. It is full of useful advice too, extolling the virtue of setting your sights high as it is no more effort to produce something cool than it would be to produce something only average and that the only way to do things right is to do them wrong first. Even though he brings all of these things to your attention, persuades you to read and discover the things that made him who he is, there is still something that he does to make his books have that little extra something, that 45 degree skew, that enthrals and scares at the same time.

Brilliant stuff from a master wordsmith.


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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Review: It's on the Meter: One Taxi, Three Mates and 43,000 Miles of Misadventures around the World

It's on the Meter: One Taxi, Three Mates and 43,000 Miles of Misadventures around the World It's on the Meter: One Taxi, Three Mates and 43,000 Miles of Misadventures around the World by Paul Archer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Like most great ideas, this started in a pub; why not drive the iconic London cab from Tower Bridge all the way to Sydney, just see how much it would ring up on the meter. After they sobered up, they still though it was a good idea, and this was why they found themselves clicking ‘buy’ on a cab not long after. If only they knew they just what they were letting themselves in for…

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. Ernest Hemingway

First though, their new vehicle needed prepping. It was given a full service, new tyres and a roof box were fitted. Leigh, the trip’s mechanic, welded in extra seats and he even decided to fit a winch, just in case. The decided to use the journey to raise money for the Red Cross and thought whilst they were there that it would be nice to set a world record as well. Their leaving day fast approached and Europe and the world beckoned.

They were intending on using the Couchsurfer website to find people to stay with on their trip, as well as pulling in favours from friends to make it as cheap a trip as possible, the days driving around Europe were a fun filled, alcohol fuelled blast. As they came closer to the Middle East and Iran, they suddenly realised that it was going to be a lot more dangerous. The people there were lovely, but they found that stopping to take photos in a restricted area was not the cleverest idea… However, that was a piece of cake compared to the journey through Pakistan where they were accompanied by armed guards. India next where they absorbed the sights and smells scared themselves witless on the roads and the acquired the odd bug or two. In Tibet and China they needed an official guide as their car was not Chinese registered, and so they collected Fred. It was a bit of a culture shock for him to be in the same car as three 20 year old English guys. After China came Laos and an opportunity to make their once in a lifetime trip even bigger.

This book is full of amusing anecdotes and occasionally some very scary moments. Remarkably, they managed to survive all the trials and tribulations of being stuck in a small car for over a year. The idea of taking random people they met as passengers was great, as they brought their own personalities to the trip was a great idea; some of them even joined the guys twice. I liked the way that the two authors wrote from their own perspectives, for me it works so much better that having a homogenised text. If you want an alternative travel book to read, you can’t go far wrong staring with this one.

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Saturday, 25 June 2016

Review: Hunter Killer: Inside the Lethal World of Drone Warfare

Hunter Killer: Inside the Lethal World of Drone Warfare Hunter Killer: Inside the Lethal World of Drone Warfare by T. Mark McCurley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Everyone has heard of drones, those unmanned, mysterious planes controlled remotely from an air-conditioned office on a military base in America. However, drones are the future of military flying technology as they are now a key counterterrorism tool. They contain cutting edge technology, powerful cameras to zoom right in to verify that the correct target has been located and are armed with Hellfire missiles, packing a lethal punch. McCurley is uniquely qualified to part the curtains on this secret world; he was one of the guys who volunteered to serve and has since become commander of a squadron and written the operating manual for the entire Predator programme.

McCurley recounts his time spent in the squadrons he served in, describing the missions that he flew or was involved with and the emotions he had in his role. When based in America he was flying sorties over Afghanistan and in no danger, but it was a struggle though to drive home through the Los Angeles traffic with the images still rolling round his mind. That all changed when he was posted to Iraq and placed on the front line. They were still flying remote, but they occasionally had insurgents fire RPGs at the base. He made is briefly back to America, before being deployed to Africa to continue the work tracking Al Qaeda operatives and running a squadron that was last in the line for logistic support.

It is a strange book in some ways, it is dry, full of technical and military jargon and on the other hand compelling as McCurley describes the missions tracking his targets. It is terrifying too, when you stop to consider where they can go and what they can do when they get there. It was thought that the removal of pilots from the front line and turning the killing into a video game would sanitise what they were doing; but the impression that you get from this book is that they are far more affected than regular pilots who do not have the high spec cameras to see the targets before and after. The writing is reasonable and worth reading if you have an interest in military technology.

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Review: Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change

Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change by Orrin H Pilkey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. It suffered from an immense category five hurricane with 174mph winds combined with a 28 foot storm surge. Safety measures put in place failed, either because of poor design or substandard materials. Two thousand deaths and $100b of damages later it was one of the worst storms ever to hit America.

So far...

To read the rest of this review go here

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Bought Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono and How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman today


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Review: How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery

How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery by Kevin Ashton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some of mankind’s greatest creations and inventions have not been discovered in the way that people think; rather than the ‘eureka’ moment where something suddenly makes sense, the process is a series of small steps and failures as the design or idea is refined. In this book, Ashton, draws on various examples and anecdotes to bring us the history of invention.

The orchid that produces the vanilla pod is a wonderful thing, the exotic flavour from the pods are used in so many things now, ice cream being the obvious, but you will find its scent in famous perfumes. Until the middle of the nineteenth-century no one knew how the flowers were fertilised, or if there was a way that they could improve this artificially. It was a small boy who demonstrated that they could be fertilised very simply and gave birth to the multi-million dollar industry that we have today. He explores just how man learnt to fly, hence the title of the book, with the foolhardy parachutists of Paris to the Wright brothers who solved each problem of flight before tackling the next. There are examples of critical breakthroughs that individuals had, like the re-invention of the vacuum cleaner and the development of the stealth bomber after one engineer decided to prove that it was possible.

This was a really enjoyable and accessible read for those interested in the creative process. I particularly liked the chapter on the can of coke where he shows just how many countries and processes are required to get the 330ml of soft drink in your fridge. Ashton is best known for the invention of the phrase ‘internet of things’, and phrase that many have not come across as yet, but will hear of soon. In this he blows some myths out of the water about the creative process, demonstrating just how the iterative method is so much better. He also describes how creative type struggle in the corporate world where uniformity and blandness are celebrated rather than genuine innovation and development. Overall a very interesting book.

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Monday, 20 June 2016

Review: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Savannah, Georgia is the oldest city in the Deep South; beautiful and unique it is full of neat squares, shaded cobblestone streets, parks, and historic buildings. But in the 1980’s the city was gripped by the events that happened in Savannah's grandest mansion very late one night. Was the death of Danny Hansford, a male prostitute, murder or self-defence?

In this narrative, Berendt introduces us to the place that is Savannah, as well as the characters of the time that made this such an entertaining place to live. We meet the Lady Chablis, a transgender drag queen and dancer, Minerva the voodoo priestess, the well-heeled ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club and the man at the focus of the story, Jim Williams. He was tried four times for the murder of Hansford, three times in the city before the final trial elsewhere in the state. Berendt builds a picture of the city as much as the people, and you get a sense of the magnificence of the houses and the people. He builds the tension magnificently, bringing to life the society that really didn’t know what to believe as the trials were underway. He highlights the undercurrent of tension between black and white, this is the deep south after all, and how Williams was able to move at all levels of society.

It is very well written and even though it isn’t far short of 400 pages, took very little time to read. I liked the way he wrote about the characters and made the city feel so real, but there were flaws. But even though it was non-fiction, I felt that there were too many embellishments and it felt more like fiction at times. It has made me want to visit the city though as it feels very atmospheric.

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Saturday, 18 June 2016

Got Few and Far Between: On The Trail of Britain's Rarest Animals by Charlie Elder from the Library and bought a copy of The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane, specially issued for Independent book Week.



Review: On the Road... with Kids: One Family's Life-Changing Gap Year

On the Road... with Kids: One Family's Life-Changing Gap Year On the Road... with Kids: One Family's Life-Changing Gap Year by John Ahern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Ahern thought that he was living the dream; a high-flying career, a plush house, a loving wife and growing family, but what some would deem to be a successfully life was not making him happy. After a career changing moment, he needs to get out of the rat race. The adventure is conceived; take a year off, rent out the house and travel around Europe for a whole year. They buy a tatty motorhome over the internet and after getting everything settled, leave Australia for their European road trip.

Arriving in Holland, they head to the dealership to pick up their camper. It is a bit bigger than they thought, well from the outside anyway; inside is another matter as they crash into cupboards and bang heads. The vendor shows them how everything works and they decide to camp nearby the first couple of nights, just to get the hang of it. They learn the ropes with their new home on wheels, before heading north into Scandinavia to visit Denmark, the first of their 30 countries that they will go through.

What an adventure it is too. They can go to wherever they want, at the time that suits them best. The family see and experience so many things as they travel, even venturing into North Africa. Ahern writes with a wry sense of humour, recounting the escapades and trials and tribulations of travelling with two small children. It is a life changing moment too, they realise that priorities needed to change in the way that they live, and they start to consider getting out of the rut of having the big house and lifestyle, but having to work long hours and earn loads to pay for it all. Overall it is a really entertaining book; worth reading for those that are contemplating the idea of a long road trip. Maybe just maybe…

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Thursday, 16 June 2016

My interview With Dan Richards author of Climbing Days

http://nudge-book.com/blog/2016/06/amr-dan-richards-meets-paul-cheney/

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Review: Climbing Days

Climbing Days Climbing Days by Dan Richards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The chance discovery of a book called Climbing Days by one Dorothy Pilley, a pioneering mountain climber of the early twentieth century starts Dan Richards on a deeply personal journey, for Pilley is his great-great aunt. He was aware of her and her husband Ivor Richards because of the stories of their exploits in the high Alps from his father and other relatives, but she was still an enigma to him. Maybe climbing the same mountains and walking the same passes, with her memoir as a guide, will help him understand her.

First though, he needs to learn how to climb. Trips to the Lake District, Scotland and Wales are his training grounds as he learns the correct way to ascend before travelling to the Alps. He visits a cousin in Spain who knew her and spends time with him pouring over photos and learning more of her character. There are a visit to Cambridge, meeting with Robert Macfarlane and finding out about the exploits of Ivor whilst he was there. However, all of this is a precursor to his ultimate desire, travelling to the Swiss Alps to climb the 4357m high Dent Blanche, following in her footsteps.

Richards has written a most satisfying book. It is a mix of history, memoir and travel and he has the balance of each genre just right. He has managed to highlight her achievements in life by drawing on different peoples perspectives; his father, his cousins and the Swiss guides, as well as his own journey of discovery. It is a physical and emotional voyage as he climbs the mountains and clambers back up the family tree. The book has photos liberally scattered throughout of his adventures and of the people he met as well as reproductions from the photo albums of Dorothy and Ivor; they enhance the book really well. Pilley was held in high regard by those that knew her and the intention of following the footprints of his great-great aunt in the mountains is a great idea. It is a fitting eulogy to a trailblazing woman, who was way ahead of her time.

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Review: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A family is left bereft after the death of a mother; two small boys face a future with no joy and their father, a poet and scholar sees only a hollow life populated with well-meaning people. Into this emptiness comes the crow. He threatens to stay until they no longer need him, acting as a focus for their grief and becoming part of the family as healer and babysitter. With the crow as their antagonist, tormenting as much as assisting them, the physical effects of their loss slowly ebb away.

‘The life and song of their mother. Unfinished. Beautiful. Everything’

Porter’s mix of styles and short punchy text make this a fast read, but it is raw, spiky and emotional. It is cleverly done, especially writing about such an emotive subject as death. It is told from three perspectives, the father, the boys and the crow and he even manages to inject a little humour into the prose, whilst capturing the highs and very deep lows of anguish at their loss. 3.5 stars overall.


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Monday, 13 June 2016

Review: Woodbrook

Woodbrook Woodbrook by David Thomson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Near the old port of Sligo in Ireland is a large house called Woodbrook; it is so well known that the area around it also takes its name from the house. A family called the Kirkwood have owned the house since the seventeenth century. At the age of eighteen David Thomson was appointed as a tutor to Phoebe Kirkwood in 1932. He ended up staying 10 years. In this memoir, he describes how he came to love the house and the region, and how he slowly fell for his pupil. As well as the story of the family and house, it is about Ireland in between the wars when there was a much slower pace of life.

There were sections of this book that I really liked, in particular his travel around on a bike and personal interaction with the locals and other characters. Whilst I realise that it is important to set the context, I felt that there was too much history in the book for a memoir and it just felt that I was wading through it. Even though the time he was there this was after the civil war and into the Second World War, it was a tough life there and his recollection is lyrical but quite melancholy. Overall was ok to read, just didn’t live up to the promise of ‘masterpiece’ for me.

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Sunday, 12 June 2016

Review: Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys through Britain's Secret Wilderness

Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys through Britain's Secret Wilderness Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys through Britain's Secret Wilderness by Paul Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Someone once told Paul Evans that Britain had no wilderness left. Man has eradicated all things natural from the Neolithic onwards where what is left are the estuaries, unreachable cliffs and those places in our minds eye. Evans disagrees and in this book his is taking us on a journey to the natural spaces where one borders another, to see what is left and to see what is possible. This trip will take us up ridges, over floodplains, to islands past ruins and to the strandlines where land meets sea. There he reveals nature in its rawest state, at that pinnacle between exquisite and peril.

From his home in Wenlock Edge, Evans seeks out the natural world and brings it alive with his eloquent prose. But he draws on more than that in this book; there is elements of history and culture as well as poetry and razor sharp observation. Even though I read the Guardian, I haven’t knowingly read any of his articles in there, but after this book, I will definitely be reading them now.

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Thursday, 9 June 2016

Review: At Night: A Journey Round Britain from Dusk Till Dawn

At Night: A Journey Round Britain from Dusk Till Dawn At Night: A Journey Round Britain from Dusk Till Dawn by Dixe Wills
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is an alternative side to Britain, a side only revealed, though that is probably the wrong word, at night. Familiar landscapes become eerie and disorientating, but also calmer and quieter. Animals and people not normally seen during the day emerge. Other senses are enhanced and you become more aware of the smells and sounds around you. With your sight diminished, it takes a while to adjust to the dark, but on a moonlit night you can still see well.

In this quirky, delightful book, Wills goes looking for Britain at night. He joins in with an overnight bike ride, cycling from London to Dunwich. His regular bike was stolen, so he is on a spare bike and it isn’t quite roadworthy. He travels on the overnight sleeper train from Scotland to London and spend a night on the island of Skomer watching out for Manx shearwaters. The legend says that a night spent on Cadair Idris will turn you mad or into a poet, so Wills has to give that a go. He lives in London, and one of his jaunts was spending time wandering around the same streets that Dickens trod, revealing a whole new aspect of the city to him.

Like his other books, this is a really enjoyable read. He has a knack of choosing subjects that are rarely touched on by other writers, and by exploring the various aspects of the country at night he has found another niche. There are tips on moving safely at night too, as he wants us, the readers, to venture into the night in the same way that he did. Worth a read, and I am looking forward to his next book.

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Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Review: The Green Road

The Green Road The Green Road by Anne Enright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The children of Rosaleen and the late Pat Madigan have grown up and scattered from the nest. They have roamed near and far from their home; reaching Canada, third world countries and down the road in Dublin. After she announces that she wishes to sell the family home, the children, Dan, Emmet, Constance and Hanna are drawn back for one last Christmas. This final celebration with their challenging but difficult mother will bring to the surface the tensions that have always been there as the children face a change that none of them expected.

The quality of the writing is excellent, making it effortless to read. Enright has managed to capture perfectly the mood and moments of the era. The characters of the four children are briefly sketched in individual chapters before they are thrust together in the family reunion in the second part of the story, where the strains in the relationships are tested. If you are looking for a complex plot then this might not be the book for you as not a lot happens; just the deeply fragmented layers of family sagas. It did feel a bit clich├ęd though, otherwise it was a fine read.

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Sunday, 5 June 2016

Review: Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by Bike Part One: From England to South Africa

Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by Bike Part One: From England to South Africa Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by Bike Part One: From England to South Africa by Alastair Humphreys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harbouring a desire to ride round the world Alastair Humphreys had saved and planned it for ages, and at the age of 24 he was ready to leave. Or was he? Huge doubts had set in and he was worrying about all sorts of things, but he took the plunge and set off to the continent. As the days passed through Europe, confidence grew and after a couple of weeks cycling he was approaching Istanbul, and the prospect of leaving Europe and moving into Asia. Then the September 11th attacks happened. This changed everything and made the route through Iran, and Afghanistan he’d had in mind, untenable. Instead he had to turn right and pedal through a tense middle east and head into the wild lands of Africa.

So begins the first part of Humphreys global journey. It is well written account of his ride and encounters with the people of each country he passes through. Almost exclusively he finds that people are friendly and welcoming, bar the odd one or two, and even though he was strongly advised not to ride some of the countries, he takes a risk. He writes with an open heart and he tells us the moments where he is at his lowest ebb and his moments of elation. Overall a very enjoyable read; looking forward to the second half soon.

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Saturday, 4 June 2016

Latest Book Haul

Popped into a favourite second hand bookshop this afternoon ended up getting several
A la Mod by Ian Moore
Serge Bastarde ate my Bagette by John Drummer
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The restaurant at the end of the universe by Douglas Adams
Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams
So long and thanks for the fish by Douglas Adams
Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

















Truckers by Terry Pratchett
Wings by Terry Pratchett
And bought the new paperback of The Shepherds Crown by Terry Pratchett

















Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Thud by Terry Pratchett (Signed!!!!!)
Got Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt from the library too





Friday, 3 June 2016

Review: Weatherland: Writers & Artists Under English Skies

Weatherland: Writers & Artists Under English Skies Weatherland: Writers & Artists Under English Skies by Alexandra Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You can tell when someone is English, as they will talk about the weather whenever possible. They will study the weather forecasts for the glimmer of hope that a sunny day offers and are as surprised as the experts in the Met office when it rains. In this book, Harris takes a detailed examination of the responses to the wide variety of weather and the seasons that authors and artists have had over two millennia. Early Roman mosaics have been discovered with seasonal details, and ancient Saxon writings have lamentations on the coldness of exile and their writing talks about how many winters old people were. Focus on particular details of the weather, such as storms, birdlife, rain clouds and flowers, fascinated different eras in turn. Harris has unearthed all sorts of treasures; a fragile glass with a silver rim, last used at the frost fairs when the Thames regularly froze over, the scowling face of Winter in a Roman mosaic and chart for predicting the weather for the year ahead.

Harris has written a dense tome, but thankfully not an unreadable one. Each chapter is packed full of detail for each era, subject and individual covered. Her readable prose is enhanced with excellent reproductions and photographs, as we have come to expect from the art publisher Thames and Hudson. This makes this not only a pleasure to read, but it is a joy to hold and look at too. A very good book that can be dipped into time and time again.

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Thursday, 2 June 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats - An Evening with Neil Gaiman

Until now, Neil Gaiman has been best known as a fiction writer, giving us delights like Neverwhere and American Gods and is the creative force behind the equally amazing and disturbing Sandman series of graphic novels.

I first came across him in the collaboration with Terry Pratchett that is Good Omens. When I first read it I hated it as it wasn’t Pratchett enough for me. The second time I came across him was when the book group was reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This melancholy story is an adult fairy tale as a man relives the moments of his childhood with the strange happenings that went on. It blew me away.

Since then I have read lots of his books; lots and lots. I like the twists he adds to classic fairy tales, his children’s books enthral and scare at the same time. Best of all he has an imagination that literally knows no bounds. His latest book, The View from the Cheap Seats is his first foray into non-fiction. It was to be launched in London with an evening with him and the author Audrey Niffenegger.

And I had a ticket.

The evening started with him bringing his son, Ash, out onto the stage to see everyone. Then Amanda Palmer, his wife, sung one song with her father, before he re-appeared on the stage for the main event. Niffenegger begun by asking how the book came into being. He described how he sent every single piece of writing off to a friend, Kat Howard, who chose the best and suggested the order it should go in; naturally he disagreed on the order, but it gave an initial shape to the book. He reads his own audiobooks and it was a poignant moment when he was telling us just how hard it was to read the introduction that he wrote for a Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett. The audience and those following on Twitter were allowed to ask questions and he told us that even if he has a plan for the characters, he doesn’t always know where they will go. His razor sharp wit and subtle humour meant that the discussion was often accompanied by a fair amount of laughter. He read twice from the book; his distinct, clear voice talking about what he believes and what he thinks.



He says in the first line of the book that he never went into journalism because he wanted the freedom to tell the truth without ever having to worry about the facts. But inevitably as a writer he ended up writing non-fiction as he was commissioned to write essays and obituaries, introductions and speeches. This book has drawn the finest of those together in one place, and it was great to hear him talk about it in person.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Review: Dreamstreets: A Journey Through Britain’s Village Utopias

Dreamstreets: A Journey Through Britain’s Village Utopias Dreamstreets: A Journey Through Britain’s Village Utopias by Jacqueline Yallop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I think of model villages I think of those miniaturised places that children love so much as they peer in through the tiny windows and look at the treasures within. But the title of model villages was given to those places that were built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by philanthropists and employers for families working in factories and mines. These places are scattered across the country and are as well-known as Port Sunlight, Saltaire and Bournville.

Part historical examination and part travelogue, Yallop provides a scholarly overview of each of these villages and the effect that they had on the social scene of the day, coupled with a personal view of how they sit in the modern landscape now. She considers the effect that the Arts and Crafts movement had on the worker’s cottages, the rising concerns that the great and the good had about poverty and the political system that gave birth to these communities.

It is an interesting book, these places have become embedded in our cultural landscape. The original factories and industries that these places supported are long gone now but some are as popular to live in today as they were when built. Yallop brings her expertise and personal experience to the book; she worked giving guided tours at a village in the high fells, and it shows as it is eloquent and well researched. What doesn’t work for me though is it that the books feels disjointed. A chapter starts at a particular village, then wanders off to other places before going back to visit to the original village. It feels a bit disjointed and loses some of the fluidity that could have made it so much better. I did like the travel parts of her book though; her visits to the villages are richly descriptive and full of warmth.

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Spent a lovely day wandering around some on London's best bookshops yesterday. Went to Foyles, Stanfords, Waterstones, Hatchards and Daunts. Didn't buy that many but did get
Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts
Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (signed)
Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman (signed)
View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (signed)