Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Review: Rebellious Spirits: Audacious Tales of Drinking on the Wrong Side of the Law

Rebellious Spirits: Audacious Tales of Drinking on the Wrong Side of the Law Rebellious Spirits: Audacious Tales of Drinking on the Wrong Side of the Law by Ruth Ball
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

The British have for thousands of years have been inventing various ways of getting drunk. We have had fruit wines, Even the Romans had vineyards. We have made apples and pears into ciders and perry's made all types of grains into beers. For a lot of people, alcohol was the only safe way to get fluids as often the water wasn't safe to drink. To really get a kick from the drink though it needs to be stronger, much much stronger.

There are various claims as to who invented distilling, some say the Egyptians, others the Greeks, but it was brought to the UK by French monks. The products of those first stills were supposed to be used for medicinal purposes, however, it didn't take long for the locals to realise there were much better uses than trying to make yourselves better. It was always a low key thing though until in 1643 the Long Parliament decided to introduce excise duty on a selection of things including spirits. This tax was universally hated and rather than become legal, lots of stills went underground and it was the beginning of a long battle against the government and the beginning of the whisky industry in Scotland and Ireland.

That most English of drinks, the G&T, is actually Dutch. Bought over when William of Orange invaded and became our monarch, we adopted it and made it our own, so much so that around one in five houses sold drams in one part of London. The political elite was watching the population slowly become drunk all the time and rather than seeing it as the symptom of poverty they saw it as the cause. So they tried to ban it. As you can imagine, it didn't quite go to plan, so they passed the Gin Act and that didn't help either…

The Irish had been distilling for a while now, but when the taxman decided that they wanted the revenue from this, then they fought back. They realised that it was easier to move poitin rather than grain around the country, devised methods to hide their little pot stills and generally didn't really want to assist the authorities in any way at all. They had ingenious ways of hiding the small stills, sometimes the easiest way was in plain sight! On top of all that, they had to try and stop the smuggling; whole coastal communities including the clergy would ensure that goods were snuck in under the noses of the excise men. With the advent of the Second World War, the government clamped down on the production of spirits diverting grain to the food needs of the country. But if you wanted a drink and happened to know the right people, you could still get your hands on a bottle. Not legally of course and the substances that were added were included with the spirits that really shouldn't have been in some cases.

Work is the curse of the drinking classes - Oscar Wilde

Ruth Ball has managed to take a wide-ranging variety of stories of alcohol and distil them into this delightful little book. I found these tales are entertaining and written with a wry sense of humour. On top of this entertaining read, she has made a collection of recipes based on the originals that were almost certainly more fun trying than making and must have been the source of a few hangovers too. If you like sitting down every now and again with a glass of something to hand, then this is a perfect accompaniment to it.

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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Review: Puzzle Ninja: Pit Your Wits Against The Japanese Puzzle Masters

Puzzle Ninja: Pit Your Wits Against The Japanese Puzzle Masters Puzzle Ninja: Pit Your Wits Against The Japanese Puzzle Masters by Alex Bellos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Sitting down to do the crossword or Sudoku in a paper gives most people a lot of pleasure, it stretches your brain and enables you to while away a few moments away from a screen of some sort. For those that want to stretch themselves some more, then Alex Bellos has been over to Japan and has come home bearing puzzle shaped gifts.

These have been sought from the enigmatologists of Japan and are very different to the puzzles that you may have come across so far. There are graphical ones, ones that create mazes, a puzzle where you need to separate the wolves from the sheep and even a golf one. For most of them, there are two or three simple rules, however, from simplicity comes complexity and these may start easy, but he collected puzzles that he describes as excruciatingly difficult.

Dare to ask questions and seek answers to the puzzles of life. ― Lailah Gifty Akita

So if you fancy having your brain fried in new and fiendishly complicated ways, this could be the books for you. There are twenty of these new puzzles and over 200 examples in total collected from the wonderfully named Puzzle Poet and The Super Sensi to name but two. Was pleased to see one of my favourites in here, O'Elaki too. If you love puzzles then this is one for your bookshelf; though I cannot be held responsible for any stress caused…

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Sunday, 17 June 2018

Review: Inside the Wave

Inside the Wave Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the ultimate things that surfers seek is to ride inside the tube, this tunnel of water is a transitory and for surfers an almost religious experience that only lasts a few seconds in most cases. It is a place that some surfers feel most alive in, but it can be lethal too. Helen Dunmore looks at this transient line between life and death with her poems in this, her tenth and sadly final, poetry book.

In this moving collection that has themes on water, the voyage of mortality and elements of the ancient Greek classics. There are some poems that I really liked, the Lamplighter, Bluebell Hollows and Festival of Stone in particular. Hold out your arms is a poem that has been added to this collection and was written just before she passed away. As with all poetry collections, there are some in here that did nothing for me. That is the nature of poetry, each reader gets something different from the verse. Will definitely give some of her other collections a read though.

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Review: The Cryptic Pub Quiz

The Cryptic Pub Quiz The Cryptic Pub Quiz by Frank Paul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

I do love a good quiz. One that has a balance of straightforward questions and some that you are sure that you know, but aren't sure until you hear the answer. Sitting down to one of those where you struggle to comprehend what the question actually is, let alone what it is asking might be too much, but that is what the artist Frank Paul does on a regular basis at the Mill in Cambridge.

Since 2015, his cryptic quizzes have become legendary, full of anagrams, cryptic links, word searches and his amazing artistic creations. This book has collected some of his finest examples, including a Murder Mystery Advent Calendar of Doom, Eight Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Premature Obituaries, lots of palindromes and a Quizmas Carol.

Fiendish is an understatement.

I think his brain works in a totally different way to everyone else's, but if you love quizzes and verbal puzzles then this should be an essential book for your collection. His unique combinations of quizzes and games along with his wonderful art and very original games will have you exasperated and stumped in roughly equal measures; what is satisfying when you know or have worked out the answer. If you're still totally baffled, and I will admit I was on some of these.

Thankfully there are the answers in the back…

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Friday, 15 June 2018

Review: Walk Through History: Discover Victorian London

Walk Through History: Discover Victorian London Walk Through History: Discover Victorian London by Christopher Winn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

London is an intense city. It feels vast and packed with people, the modern architecture punches the skyline with the grey steels and glass structures. The shops are full of glitz and glamour. Some locations ooze money, others areas seem run-down, but every part of this great city is layered with history. In this charming little book, Christopher Winn wants to take you on seven walks around parts of the city to reveal the huge influence that the Victorian age had on the city and to show you the vast amount of it still left.

Each of the seven walks has a map and clear directions with around 20 or so notable examples of Victorian architecture. The places to find on the walks vary from marble urinals, palaces, terraced houses, pump stations, stations and churches. There are loads of details in here to add extra to the buildings that you are being taken around, including who built them, when they were built, historical details and snippets.

All the way through the book, accompanying the text, are the delightful drawings by Mai Osawa. These drawings are of the buildings and details from them, like gargoyles and occasionally some of the interiors. The prose is straightforward and pragmatic, the main intention of the book is to inform you of buildings that you will see on your walk and fill in the gaps in the history of the areas. More importantly, there is a helpful list of pubs provided at the end of each walk to enable you to slake your thirst and recover from your perambulation. Great little book on the London that a lot of people see every day but will be utterly unaware of.

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Thursday, 14 June 2018

New Publisher & Author Spotlight

In the spirit of helping small publishers and new authors out, I am delighted to profile Steve Dressing and his new book, Game Keepers.



 I’m a new, self-published author with a book I think will be enjoyed by many if they can just find it. “Game Keepers” is the first of what I hope will be several books I publish over the next few years through my own publishing company, Number 6 Publishing. Turning from my career as an environmental scientist to a publisher and author of books for kids is quite a change. It has been a lot of fun, but there have been many new things to learn, most of which come with an unpleasant price tag. The world isn’t particularly kind to authors in my situation, but we’re a group that doesn’t give up easily.

Getting to the point of selling the book was probably the easiest part of the journey for me. Marketing has been a huge challenge, particularly after purchases by friends and family dried up. I know that the faithful have told others about the book but even with my large family that only takes you so far. It feels like my book is simply a needle in a huge haystack competing against the thousands of books neatly displayed in huge bookstores and featured on major websites. How do I get people to even bother to check the haystack to see if there is something worthwhile inside?

Multiple outlets are being used to advertise the book, including social media, libraries, and book stores.  That alone doesn’t set you apart, however, because this business is very competitive with an ever-growing group of talented new writers.  Of all the possible outlets, I want most to be able to share my book with the local community.  “Game Keepers” has a baseball theme, and I am currently a coach and an umpire in the neighborhood Little League.  I find it unethical, however, to use my platform in the Little League to advertise.  That has caused me to seek other outlets to reach this same community, outlets such as the local hardware store.  One day I would like to do a book reading at the store with both new and old faces from my community.   

I haven’t yet dreamed of being lost in one of Van Gogh’s beautiful piles of hay in his “Haystack in Provence”, but sometimes I feel that way.  Sometimes I feel as if my story is covered by layers of inescapable hay.  My hope is that people will come by, pick up a fork, and tear apart the haystack. Quickly the needle lost in the haystack becomes treasure.

You can find more details about the book here: https://www.number6publishing.com

Follow Number 6 Publishing on Twitter here: @Number6Publ 















Review: Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now

Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now by Stuart Maconie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Eighty-two years ago around 200 men set off from the Tyneside town of Jarrow to march to London. The reason for this was to protest at the closure of Palmer's shipyard that had affected everyone's livelihoods in the town. Calling themselves crusaders, they were carrying a petition to the government of day asking for a new industry to be created in the town. Back in the 1930's it was nothing like it was today, the world was in a global depression, there was the rise of right-wing political interests, a stark north/south divide, food banks and indifference from the political elite; err hang on…

It is through modern England that Stuart Maconie wants to retrace the march that the Jarrow Crusaders followed stopping in the cities that they did, seeking the places that supported them with food and provisions, seeing how many people know of anything about their story and to take the pulse of a just post-Brexit Britain. Whilst some things remain the same, there is a lot that has changed in the UK in that short period of time; gone are the big industries, mines and manual jobs that the north relied on and in their place are service jobs, disillusionment and high unemployment.

Maconie is one of those guys who can talk to almost anyone and in this book he does, from waiters to mums, healthy debates in pubs and even gets invited to an event with the leader of the opposition. He is prepared to say it how it is, how even now the north still is massively underfunded compared to the south-east of the country, how the London bubble distorts the economy and how there is much more community spirit the further from London you get. As usual, he writes with deft humour and his keen eyes observe the subtleties as he moves through the country at walking pace. As some have complained about the number of times he has mentioned food in previous books, he takes special care to ensure we know exactly what he has eaten. So you will read about a few curries, several beers and the odd dram or three and one of the best pork pies he has ever eaten. This is another thoroughly enjoyable book from Maconie and if you have read his others you will almost certainly like this.

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