Saturday, 9 December 2017

Review: Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492–1900

Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492–1900 Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492–1900 by Simon Schama
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This second volume of Simon Schama's history of the Jewish people begins in the ghettos of Venice where the Jews of the Iberian peninsula had ended up after being expelled. Those that had not escaped were forced to convert and even then were still persecuted. This search for safety and somewhere to live where they could carry on with their lives in peace had been a pressing concern; and as this book explains in some detail, the theme of moving, settling, suffering and moving again, would keep repeating for the next few hundred years.

The story that Schama tells is as epic in scope as it is global. We travel with him all around Europe, into the cold of Russia, across the Atlantic to the New World of America and venture into the privileged upper-class world of the English aristocracy. He tells of those that lost children as they were conscripted into the army, those that found peace before the winds of change in Europe blew through once again, those that suffered for their faith and those that fought back. Even though this is a sweeping history of a people, he concentrates on individuals and specific events to explain the wider history the Jews.

This is a huge book, at around 800 odd pages long and Schama goes into huge amounts of detail as he tells his stories of the Jewish people. Some of it is fascinating, but there were times when I felt like I was wading through it as he expanded on the minutia as the events unfolded. It is one that I feel some sort of accomplishment having read it now.

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Thursday, 7 December 2017

Monthly Muse – November

November was a busy month, with lots going on at home, and fighting the last of the woodchip off the walls of the lounge, but I still managed to squeeze in 14 books. Somehow. It is now all painted and looks really good. And here they are:

Following on a recommendation from Kim French and others on Twitter, I got two of Gillian Clarke’s poetry books from the library Five Fields and Zoology. I read very little poetry normally, preferring to wade through various non fiction tomes, but these were quite delightful. She has a mastery of the language that I envy and whilst I didn’t get all of them, the poems felt deeply rooted in her country and personal experiences. I am a huge fan of Robert Macfarlane’s writing and splashed out of a copy of The Lost Words that he has created with the artist Jackie Morris. It is a children’s book, but a finely crafted and richly drawn and imagined one as they seek to re-introduce children to the delights and wonder of the natural world. Peter Davidson’s book The Last of the Light: About Twilight looks at the artistic and literary response to the period of gloaming that happens every day. It is a finely produced book from Reaktion with high-quality reproductions of the art that he is discussing. I had reserved Ben Aaronovitch’s latest book from the library and was quite surprised when it came through really quickly. The Furthest Station find Peter Grant back in London trying to find out what has spooked the regular ghosts on the Metropolitan Line. Another cracker in the Rivers of London series and was just too short really!

It was #NonFictionNovember too, a social media tag run by Olive and Gemma. Most of my reading is non-fiction and in total,  read a further nine non- fiction books. I had the last two or three to read on the shortlist for the Baillie Gifford Prize, and I am still wading my way through the largest, Belonging. I struggled a little with The Islamic Enlightenment by Christopher de Bellaigue which was a history of the way that Islamic countries have ebbed and flowed between having a strong faith and social change, Whilst there were elements that were interesting, it didn’t come across as a book for the general no fiction reader. Much, much better though was Kapka Kassabova shortlisted book, Border: A Journey to The Edge of Europe. In this she travels back to her home country to see what the border is like at the very edge of Europe. She has a wonderful considered prose and manages to tease the stories out of the people that live in this area.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo was a very good book about the people of the slums in Mumbai and how they are eking a living out finding scrap materials that they can get a few rupees for, it was a well-written book about what could be a harrowing subject. Bonita Norris’s memoir, The Girl Who Climbed Everest, is as much about her expeditions climbing some of the highest mountains in the world as it is about the lessons that she learnt and made her the person she is today. The Anticipatory Organization by Daniel Burrus was a reasonable business book with an interesting premise about teaching us how to look for trends in the wider world and making the most of them.

Managed to read four natural history books too, the first was a wonderful book about the Orca, called Of Orcas and Men. In this David Neiwert tells us some the history and what we understand about their habits, the shameful act of keeping these magnificent creatures and describes his encounters with them when kayaking. Sooyong Park has spent two decades of his life tracking and studying the elusive Siberian tiger. He has written a book about it too, Great Soul of Siberia, which is as much about his obsession as it is about this huge feline. Last were two books on woodlands, A Wood of One's Own is the tale of Ruth Pavey and the wood that she owns, quite a lovely book, and I have serious envy! Oak and Ash and Thorn is really lovely too, Peter Fiennes takes us round the country visiting some of our finest woodlands and ends it with a call to arms to save a rejuvenate our tree cover in the UK.

Didn’t have one book of the month this time but two, The Furthest Station and Border. Buy them and read them as soon as you can.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Review: The Curious Bird Lover's Handbook

The Curious Bird Lover's Handbook The Curious Bird Lover's Handbook by Niall Edworthy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Most people have fleeting glimpses of wildlife every day, occasionally mammals, but most frequently birds. You will see them out of your office windows, or hear them singing and if you have a bird table they will frequent your garden too. But even though we encounter them fairly often, most people know very little about them, their habits and just how we have ended up with such a diverse range of different types.

In this book Niall Edworthy aims to enlighten us to the facts, figures of the 10,000 different species of birds and how they have evolved, how they survive and other fascinating aspects of their lives. We will find out what bird lives the longest, the number of heartbeats per minutes, why some eat grit and if they are intelligent or not.

It is full of facts, poems sketches and irreverent details on our feathered friends, but I think this is more of a book for the general reader rather than the dedicated birder. There were some factual errors, such as peregrine speed claimed to be 180km/h then elsewhere as 180mph when they have been clocked much faster. Ok overall really.

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Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Review: Question Time: A Journey Round Britain’s Quizzes

Question Time: A Journey Round Britain’s Quizzes Question Time: A Journey Round Britain’s Quizzes by Mark Mason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Mark Mason is better known for his travel books, but he is also a huge fan of quizzes. He did not take a lot of persuading to combine both interests and travel back and forwards across the UK to find the best quizzes in the country. It was also a quest to see if he could find that most perfect thing, the essential elements of the perfect quiz question.

Which comic strip took its title from the names of a French theologian and an English political philosopher?

People have been known to actually earn a living from quizzing, either by participating in the plethora of TV shows or by travelling from pub to pub answering the questions on the quiz machines. He meets quizzers old and new, those that frequent the TV circuits and those are happy sitting in a pub calling out the questions. He joins journalists fighting for prestige and credibility by winning the annual parliamentary quiz, travels to the Beaulieu in the New Forest to see the Quizfest UK and attends a corporate quiz in heart of England.

Who is the only person ever to receive an Oscar Nomination for acting in a Star Wars film?

I do love a good quiz, ideally, one that has a balance of straightforward questions and some that really make you think, but I don't want to sit down to one of those where you struggle to comprehend what the question actually is, let alone what it is asking. Mason is obviously a big quiz addict, something that is very obvious when you read this. Being a talented writer he has woven together the art of quizzing with a social and contemporary history of the parts of the country he visits. It was quite a lot of fun, my head is now even more crammed with random facts than normal and it was a pleasure to read. And if you want to know what the answers to the two questions posed are then you'll need to read the book!

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2018 Books

Even though I haven't finished all the great books that were released in 2017, I have been scouring the recently released catalogues and now have quite a list of books that are being released in 2018 that look like they will be really really good and that I really want to read.

 Has anyone heard of these? Or do you have a list of your own for 2108 books? 

A Shadow Above: The Fall and Rise of the Raven by Joe Shute
The Long Spring: Tracking the Arrival of Spring Through Europe by Laurence Rose
Catching Stardust: Comets, Asteroids and the Birth of the Solar System by Natalie Starkey
The Dark Stuff: Stories from the Peatlands by Donald S. Murray
Orchid Summer: In Search of the Wildest Flowers of the British Isles by Jon Dunn
All Among The Barley by Melissa Harrison
Outnumbered: Exploring the Algorithms that Control Our Lives by David Sumpter
A Black Fox Running by Brian Carter

Bodleian Library
A Library Miscellany by Claire Cock-Starkey

Bodley Head
A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean by Roland Philipps
Speech Odyssey: The Story of Vocal Communication – from Neanderthals to Artificial Intelligence by Trevor Cox
Buried Light: The Hidden Connections that Illuminate the World by Lewis Dartnell

The Valley At The Centre Of The World by Malachy Tallack

Duckworth Overlook
Pennyfarthing: The Great British Cycling Revolution by William Manners
Spaceport Earth: The Reinvention Of Spaceflight by Joe Pappalardo

Walk Through History: Discover Victorian London by Christopher Winn
Built for Speed: Bikes, Beers and Balls of Steel by John McGuinness

Elliot & Thompson
The Almighty Dollar: Follow the Incredible Journey of a Single Dollar to See How the Global Economy Really Works by Dharshini David

Faber & Faber
The Messenger by Shiv Malik
Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington
Mrs Moreau’s Warbler How Birds Got Their Names by Stephen Moss
The Immeasurable World Journeys in Desert Places by William Atkins
Insane Mode: Inside Tesla and Elon Musk’s Mission to Save the World by Hamish McKenzie

Head of Zeus
Hadrian’s Wall by Adrian Goldsworthy
The Secret Surfer by Iain Gately
Painted Cities: Illustrated Street Art Around the World by Lorna Brown
The Seven Ages of Britain by Hywel Williams

Ikon Books
The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers between Music and Technology: A Memoir by Thomas Dolby
Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to Her Books by Annie Spence
Astroquizzical by Dr. Jillian Scudder
Places I Stopped on the Way Home: A Memoir of Chaos and Grace by Meg Fee
Hello, Shadowlands: Inside South-east Asia’s Organised Crime Wave by Patrick Winn
The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal by David E. Hoffman

Jonathan Cape
Ground Work: Writings on People and Places by Tim Dee
Our Place: Can We Save British Nature Before it is Too Late? by Mark Cocker

Little Toller
Eagle Country by Seán Lysaght
Sharks by Martha Sprackland
Landfill by Tim Dee
Hold Your Ground

Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World by Leonard Mlodinow
Paths to the Past: Encounters with England's Hidden Landscapes by Francis Pryor

The Know It Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball by Noam Cohen
Weird Maths: At the Edge of Infinity and Beyond by David Darling & Agnijo Banerjee
It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs
The Prodigal Tongue: The Love–Hate Relationship Between British and American English by Lynne Murphy
Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light by Bob Berman
Nine Lives: The True Story of an MI6 Operative on the Frontlines by Aimen Dean, Paul Cruickshank & Tim Lister

The Old Man and The Sand Eel by Will Millard
Don't Give Guns to Robots: The Next Big Disruptions and What They Mean for You by Adam Savage and Drew Curtis
Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives by Mark Miodownik
Agency by William Gibson
Underland by Robert Macfarlane

The Debatable Land: The Lost World Between Scotland and England by Graham Robb

Sounds Appealing: The Passionate Story of English Pronunciation by David Crystal
Rainforest: Dispatches from Earth’s Most Vital Frontlines by Tony Juniper
Water Ways: A Thousand Miles Along Britain’s Canals by Jasper Winn

War Gardens by Lalage Snow

Random House
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth
Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris

Royal Octavo
Beyond Supersonic: Bloodhound and the Race for the Land Speed Record by Richard Noble

Square Peg
Bookworm by Lucy Mangan
Chasing the Ghost: The Wild Flower Map of the British Isles by Peter Marren

The Sea: A Celebration of Shorelines, Beaches and Oceans by Isobel Carlson
Eat Surf Live: The Cornwall Travel Book by Vera Bachernegg & Katharina Maria Zimmermann

The Last Wilderness: A Journey into Silence by Neil Ansell

The Wood: The Life & Times of Cockshutt Wood by John Lewis-Stempel
AIQ: How People and Machines are Smarter Together by Nick Polson and James Scott

W.W. Norton
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams
Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth by Adam Frank
Limits of the Known by David Roberts

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

India is the second most populous country in the world, with around 1.2 billion people living there. Around 20% of the population live in poverty, scraping an existence well below the minimum living wage recommended by the UN. It is a country of growth too, with over 5% increase in GDP per year, which has lifted around 20% of people out of poverty. This growth is very obvious around certain cities; the skyline of Mumbai has changed dramatically over the past few years. Modern hotels and skyscrapers have pierced the skyline as the areas around the airport have increased in prosperity. The jarring juxtaposition though is the slum area that butts up against these oases of luxury, of which Annawadi is one.

To understand this place, and to try to get a handle of the vast chasm between the very poorest and richest that live alongside each other, the Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo spent three years in the slum to get the best understanding of how the people there lived. She saw how Abdul would take life-risking chances to collect the scraps of plastic in the hope that they may make a little money. She also tells the story Kalu, a fifteen-year-old who is trying to make a living stealing scrap metal and Asha who has concluded that if she cannot beat the system then she is better of joining it. She is there when a petty argument erupts into a death and a court case, when terrorists attack one of the luxury hotels, killing a number of the rich guests and of how the city suffers in the modern global economy.

Katherine Boo has written a brutally honest account of the hazards and trials of life in a Mumbai slum; she doesn't hold back on the reporting about the squalor that the people live there suffer with whilst they look onto the rich and privileged as they live out their lives in comfort. Her prose is measured and written with a level of balance as she describes what she sees, but she is not scared to write about the reality for these people at the bottom of the caste system in India. An eye-opening book of a side of India that we know but rarely hear about and worth reading. 3.5 stars.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Review: The Last of the Light: About Twilight

The Last of the Light: About Twilight The Last of the Light: About Twilight by Peter Davidson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Twilight is that moment when the sun is below the horizon, but the light from our star is still illuminating the lower atmosphere. That moment between light and dark, the gloaming, has been split into three twilights by scientists, civil, nautical, and astronomical before either dawn or dusk. This moment as the world turns inexorably on has fascinated people for millennia and has provided inspiration for writers and artists to explore something that is not quite daytime and not yet night.

Watching through the windows the wastes of evening / The flare of foundries at the fall of the year

In this meticulously researched book, Davidson takes us through the twilight zone into the world of poetry and fine art that is the response to those beautiful sunsets. But is more than those moments, as he expands on the meaning behind the poems, critiques fine art portraits and contemplates foggy autumn days in photographs of a London past. With him, we will discover the extra depth to famous paintings, writers both well known and forgotten and some of the finest prose ever written on the melancholic events of dusk. It is printed on a fine glossy paper to ensure that the reproductions of the art are top notch. It is a book for all those that love the art of all forms and their responses to twilight and one to dip into again and again.

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Sunday, 26 November 2017

Review: Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woodlands and New Forests of Britain

Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woodlands and New Forests of Britain Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woodlands and New Forests of Britain by Peter Fiennes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If we were asked to imagine what the UK would look like way back in the Bronze age, people tend to think that there would be a canopy of trees stretching from coast to mountain with gaps where people had felled trees to grow crops. It wasn’t like that though, but there was a significant amount of forests and copses that provided food, shelter, fuel and livelihoods. The love of woodlands is deeply ingrained within our psyche and have contributed to countless legends, myths and fairy tales that have permeated our culture too. In 2010 the government at the time thought it would be a good idea to sell off the Forestry Commission; they didn’t quite expect the reaction that they got from the public who were vehemently against the sale of the woodlands and the plan was shelved.

In this quite delightful and whimsical book, Fiennes taps into that deep love that people have for their forests and local woodlands, mixing his own experiences as he visits ancient woodlands, including one quite dark and creepy moment in a woodland at dusk. He explores the reasons why that even though we have the lowest amount of forest cover of any European country, we have the greatest number of ancient trees, and how London is technically a forest. His ‘Short History of Britain’s Woods in 3508 Words’ is a quite spectacular piece of writing.

His passion for our forests and copses is evident when you read this, but this is a practical book too. He has a great list of 30 achievable things on an action plan list we can do immediately with regards to planting trees and improving our woodlands. They are all simple things and they would make a significant difference to the quality of our natural environment. Definitely a book to read for those who have any interest in woodlands. We cannot rest on our laurels as ancient forests are always under threat from all manner of sources and the more that people are aware of their local woods and use them the better their chances of survival. Would also recommend reading this in conjunction with the excellent A Tale of Trees: The Battle to Save Britain's Ancient Woodland by Derek Niemann.

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Friday, 24 November 2017


Went to See Professor Alice Roberts speak last night about her new book Tamed. This is a wander back through history looking at the animals and plants that have been tamed by humans and have made a significant difference to the quality of human life.

She spoke for about two hours in total, explaining when it was thought that wolves first became dogs, the first appearance of wheat and how farming and farmers had migrated across from the near east and the fertile crescent and how the horse was tamed and became an essential part of the lives of  people of the steppe.

All these stories were supported by facts and details from archaeological evidence, the genome and historical records. Roberts spoke with authority and clarity all the way through and it was fascinating stuff. Really worth attending and I bet that there are very few writers who can command a sell out theatre. Naturally, I bought the book, and Alice kindly signed it for me.

Review: A Wood of One's Own

A Wood of One's Own A Wood of One's Own by Ruth Pavey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

After many years of the headlong rush of people and traffic that is London, Ruth Pavey felt that she needed to re-connect with the countryside in one way or another and having a small piece of England that she could call her own and maybe plant a small woodland would be just perfect. The best-laid plans of mice and men don’t always work out though and after a lot of searching and viewing fields that were not really going to be suitable a plot came up at auction. With around £10,000 to spend and an assurance that it wouldn’t go for more than that Ruth was stunned when it sold for £19,500. The wreck of a house and accompanying land sold for over £100k and that left a small piece of wooded scrubland. The opening bid was £2000 and after a few nervous moments, it was hers for the price of £2750.

She finally had her own woodland.

Having only visited briefly before, it was time to fully explore just what she had bought. It was a strange shape, squeezed in between an orchard, fields and ash woods and sloped facing the sun. As it had been uncared for there was a large amount of thicket and it felt dark, private and slightly intimidating. As she spoke to the people that owned it before and other locals, slowly the wood revealed its secrets to her. The first summer spent there gave her a better feel for the place and she begins to formulate plans of what would work best. A rollalong was acquired purely by chance and suddenly Ruth had a place to make a hot drink and shelter from the showers and maybe, just maybe, she could stay the night in her wood.

It took a number of years for Ruth to bring the wood into some sort of order, but it still had its wild and unruly elements to it and for her and her friends it was a place of solace, somewhere for reflection and to immerse themselves into the natural world. This is more than a book about her wood, as she explores the wider landscape around the Somerset levels and discovers the history of her patch and the people that used to own it. Ruth does not set out to turn it into a productive wood so if you are hoping for a book about woodland management or coppicing then you may want to look elsewhere. Ruth wants to make this a personal place and plants the woodland with fruit and other trees to remember people who have been significant in her life. It is a touching memoir written with gentle and thoughtful prose. I now am envious as I have always wanted a woodland I could call my own.

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Monday, 20 November 2017

Review: The Great Soul of Siberia: In Search of the Elusive Siberian Tiger

The Great Soul of Siberia: In Search of the Elusive Siberian Tiger The Great Soul of Siberia: In Search of the Elusive Siberian Tiger by Sooyong Park
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The true king of the jungle is the tiger; lions live out on the savannah. These magnificent creatures have carved a niche for themselves in the humid regions, but the largest and most elusive tiger shuns the warmth of the tropics, preferring icy cold wastelands. This is the Siberian Tiger. It is thought that there are only 350 or so remaining in the wild and so little is known about them and their habits that they are one of the most mysterious big cats.

As the spectre of climate change raises its ugly head, their pristine landscape becomes harder to eek a living from; coupled with the threat from poachers after them for medicines they are becoming rarer each day. For the past two decades, Sooyong Park has made it his life to track follow and study these shy creatures. He has built hides that offer a little shelter from the sub-zero temperatures that the region is famous for to be able to film and observe them. The local people see them as a spiritual element to their homeland and after watching them for this length of time he begins to understand why. This dedication to finding out about their lives results in a very close miss when they saw the camera protruding from the hide.

His dedication to following these magnificent felines is second to none, he is prepared to undertake quite challenging tasks by building elaborate hides to ensure that they are unaware of his presence. The information that he has collected on the tiger he has called Bloody Mary and her various litters of cubs has given us a greater understanding of the lives of these animals. His poignant prose shows just how passionate he is about these tigers and the lengths he is prepared to go, to observe them in the wild. Definitely a book to read on one the world’s most scarce big cats. 3.5 stars

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Saturday, 18 November 2017

#BookPost & Library haul

Got these through the post this week:

And these three from the library today:

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Review: The Lost Words

The Lost Words The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gone are the days when children’s alphabets would begin with A is for Acorn, B is for butterfly and C is for caterpillar. Now days it is likely to be A is for Acer, B is for Blackberry and C is for Cisco. Back in 2015, The Oxford University Press dropped around 50 words that were drawn from the natural world from the latest edition of its Junior dictionary; they argued that it was less relevant as children were spending less time outside and were glued to the screen of a tablet or phone. The alarm that this caused was quite noticeable, authors such as Morpurgo, Attwood and Maitland wrote to the OUP asking for them to be reinstated in the dictionary.

One of the other signatories to the letter was Robert Macfarlane. He has been collecting words on and about the natural world for many years and if you follow his Twitter feed you will see him post a new word every day expounding the delights of the world around us. But he was in a position to do something else about it too. Words that had been floating away in the air like seeds from a dandelion clock have been found and rehomed in this sumptuous book written by Macfarlane and the artist Jackie Morris; The Lost Words.

It is not a long book, the spells written by Macfarlane (he claims that he is not a poet, but he is wrong) has a resonance that is soothing and salient at the same time as well as having their roots deep in the natural world. It is the pictures that make this book really special though; Morris’s art for this book is richly portrayed, full of energy and life, there are letters that swirl across a page, she has captured the steely look from a raven and the blur of a kingfisher just perfectly. It is primarily a book for children, but many others will find solace in the way that it seeks to lead people back into the natural world make this such a special book to possess.

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Review: The Girl Who Climbed Everest: Lessons learned facing up to the world's toughest mountains

The Girl Who Climbed Everest: Lessons learned facing up to the world's toughest mountains The Girl Who Climbed Everest: Lessons learned facing up to the world's toughest mountains by Bonita Norris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

When Bonita Norris stood on top of the world’s highest mountain on 17th May 2010 she became the youngest woman to stand on the summit of Everest. Being there was the realisation of a dream that begun when she was when she heard someone talk about being on the roof of the world and being able to see the curvature of the earth and realised that she wanted to do that too. Not only was it the achievement of climbing through the death zone and being on top of a physical mountain, but her journey along the way had taught her so much about being tenacious, having self-belief and pushing yourself far beyond your modest capabilities.

All she had to do now was get back down.

The route Norris took to get to the bottom of Mount Everest was not a completely straightforward one. Her childhood was generally a happy one, until from her parent’s separation. This sparked some anxieties, including an eating disorder, but these were overcome and she ended up studying a degree at Royal Holloway where she heard Rob Casserley and Kenton Cool talk about climbing. This one moment was to change her life forever, give her a purpose that had never crossed her mind and help her forge a different path to the one she was intending. She dropped Kenton a message, and they met at Kings Cross station and he outlined what she needed to do to reach that goal. Now more convinced than ever that she didn’t want to be one of those that had never climbed it, practice at climbing begun in earnest. Her parents were less convinced though, and persuading them she would be able to do it was another mountain to conquer too. Less than a year later Bonita was on her way to Nepal for the first time for a practice run up Mansulu, and her first climb into the death zone of a mountain.

Funding the Everest trip was going to be hard though as these trips are not cheap. She began writing to lots of companies to try and raise the necessary funds and was getting nowhere. A last fraught attempt to raise the cash by ringing into a radio station had the result that she needed and her experience of a lifetime was actually going to happen.

There were several mountains that had to be conquered before her dream of standing on top of the world could happen. Not just persuading her parents that she would be fine as she was climbing with some of the best in the world, but building the self-belief and discipline that comes with undertaking a task like this. Hs has learnt from the heart-stopping moments that she has had when in the high mountains as well as taking those moments to enjoy the personal and team achievements of reaching the highest places on earth, including one of the few to summit Lhotse. Norris is another tough lady who set her sights on a dream and realised it. The writing is not bad, but this is more a book to inspire others to discover the things they want to do and to set about achieving them.

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

An interview with Little Old Me

An interview I did with Stuart from Always TrustIn Books for Non-Fiction November:


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review: Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe

Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kapka Kassabova now lives in Scotland and before that resided in New Zealand, but she was not born in these places. Twenty-five years ago she left Bulgaria as a teenager and in this book she returns to her home country. In her childhood, the border between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece was part of the Iron Curtain. A few miles from where she played on the beach was the physical barrier, an electric fence whose sharpest barbs were directed at the real enemy; its own people. It had the reputation of being an easier point to cross over to the West than further North and therefore the woods and valleys crawled with soldiers and spies after those people seeking freedom.

The recent past is just a small part of the long history of this region. Kassabova travels around the region talking to border guards, fire walkers and treasure hunters as well as meeting the disposed and displaced who have made their way from Iraq and Syria. These refugees have walked away from the horrors of war with only the clothes on their back in search of freedom and a new life. There is much more to this landscape that the modern borders sit uncomfortably on top of. Peeling back the layers of past in the dense forests, she travels to springs that have deep pagan roots and are still considered to have healing qualities and visits tombs that add an ancient dimension to the land.

'It is not for everyone', Nevzat agreed, but I could see that he loved these villages. He and Mr Karadeniz resonated with the ruinous beauty of this landscape. Because they were its children.

This book is primarily about people of the region as well as the places they inhabit. Kassabova meets and speaks to the people in villages who are seeing their populations plummet and the buildings crumble around them. However, this is not just about those that live in the region; but she is prepared to share a coffee or a meal with those that are waiting before passing through to other places, shining a light on the current refugee crisis that is prompting the rise of nationalism in Europe. Most impressive though is Kassabova’s writing; it is elegant and lyrical with a beautiful haunting melancholy about it, immersing you, the reader, in the landscape. Just, quite a wonderful book really. 4.5 stars

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Sunday, 12 November 2017

Review: The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason

The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher De Bellaigue
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In these frankly, traumatic times where various parties are taking more umbrage at each other’s point of view and the language is becoming more provocative one of the accusations levelled against the Muslim world is that they are failing to adapt to a modern world and modernise their culture. This has not always been the case though, as back in the nineteenth century the Muslim world embraced change and modern practices, medicine and universal suffrage. In this book on the Islamic Enlightenment, de Bellaigue goes back over 200 years to take us through the history of the region and the politicians, scientists and writers who have been key to driving the change in the region.

This is not a book you can rush, as de Bellaigue takes enormous pains to find the movers and shakers who drove through the change in this Muslim world and tell their story. It is full of complex tales and he is equally critical of the Muslim countries and of the Western states that carved up the region for their own ends whilst using the local political leaders to continue to oppress the populace. The amount of research that has gone into this makes for incredibly dense prose and I found it quite challenging to read. I also felt that sometimes the narrative of the stories of the people got lost in the detail. Will probably become a standard text in its time, but it is possible more for the specialist rather than the general reader.

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