Tuesday 31 January 2017

Monthy Muse

A New Year always offers new possibilities with regards to books, and this year was no exception with the release of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year shortlist. They have expanded the scope of the whole awards and the Stanford Dolman is the premier prize with six other shortlists highlighting different aspects of travel writing.

Specsavers Fiction (with a sense of place)
Wanderlust Adventure Travel Book of the Year
National Book Tokens Children’s Travel Book of the Year
Food and Travel magazine Food and Travel Book of the Year
Destinations Show Illustrated Travel Book of the Year
London Book Fair Innovation in Travel Publishing

Having promised to read them for Nudge I found that there were six books on there that I hadn’t read (!) and a couple I hadn’t heard of either. I had read some from the Wanderlust prize though so started with the ones on there. The ten books I ended up reading were all good, but there were some outstanding ones too; in particular Deep South for the Dolman and my money is on that one to win. The Wanderlust prizes is a little harder to pick. I really liked Climbing Days by Dan Richards and was fortunate to meet him last October. Bravest, or most foolhardy prize, should go to Mike Martin and his battle to drive a Landrover across the Congo. but I think that Sarah Outen may just pip them all with her account of circumnavigating the world by bike, kayak and rowing boat.

Faber were kind enough to send me a review copy of The Disappearance of Emile Zola. It is a fascinating story of his flight from Paris after writing a letter criticising the Government and the military after the Dreyfus affair. It was a fascinating story of Emile Zola and his enforced stay in London, Weybridge and Addlestone. Strangely enough, I walked past a hotel where he stayed a day or so before I started the book. Nicholas Brealey kindly sent me the Evolutionary Ride by Lois Pryce of her motorcycle trip around Iran. An excellent travel book, and a bold trip around a country that has strict Muslim ideology and a liberal sector of the population. Great stuff.

No real duffers this month, but was not overly enamoured with the Sparrow; shame really, as the first book was excellent. Managed to finish 18 books, so overall a good month of reading.

Received eight books last week and a few in the first couple of weeks of January. As I was finishing the shortlists for the deadline I am so behind with my review copies!! My TBR in February has scared me a little.

Review: Interstate: Hitchhiking Through the State of a Nation

Interstate: Hitchhiking Through the State of a Nation Interstate: Hitchhiking Through the State of a Nation by Julian Sayarer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julian Sarayer arrives in New York with the opportunity to make a documentary, and maybe, just maybe hit the big time. At the first meeting they find out that it has been cancelled. He has nothing to do and nowhere to go. Lodging temporarily with a friend, Natalie, he slowly conceives a plan to hitchhike from New York to San Francisco. Sarayer is a seasoned traveller; he set the world record for cycling round the world in 169 days in 2009, a story written about in his book, Life Cycles, so begins his Kerouac inspired trip across the North American continent

Travelling in a variety of vehicles, trucks, cars, pickups, Greyhound buses, the odd police car and even hobo style on a train, Sarayer finds a nation that seems to be a little bit lost. He meets the homeless who have dropped out of society after financial problems, anarchists who have made the decision to have very little interaction with normal society and the honest working, blue collar Americans whose struggle is relentless against the system. There are those are ignore him, leaving him walking along the side of the road and others who show the true generosity of spirit and do all in their power to help him.

The book starts with an emotive dedication at the start of the book: ‘To the immigrant’, a people in America who are both despised and relied on in equal measure. He tells a story that is despondent at times, when you read about the stark differences in society, thankfully there are people who are prepared to pick him up and take him to the next town along the road. What also comes across from the book is just how immense this country is, he spends days with an truck driver from India as they travel back and forth with deliveries; when they part for the next stage of his journey, it is as friends. The last time he crossed America, it was on a bike doing 110 miles a day under his own steam, this time he could get to know the people and the places and it is a much better book because of it.

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Monday 30 January 2017

Review: The Hills of Wales

The Hills of Wales The Hills of Wales by Jim Perrin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hills of Wales is a collection of Jim Perrin’s writings and essays taken from a number of years. They have been grouped together under the various geographical regions that he has walked around and written about. Even though the Welsh hills and mountains do not have the height of their Scottish or European compatriots, they still have a certain majesty to them, but these are still places that need to be treated with respect. Perrin has been walking these hills all his life, even living on them as a shepherd for a time, so knows them intimately. Walking and just being in these hills for him is akin to a spiritual experience for him.

It took me a short while to get into, but once I got the hang of his writing style, I found a man who is deeply besotted with the hills and valleys of his country. He is equally fascinated by the wildlife that populate these hills too, noting when he sees magnificent Red Kites, the smallest wrens, finding the pellets that the owls leave of the small mammals they’ve consumed. He weaves in quotes and poetry from Welsh and other authors throughout the book, chosen perfectly to reflect the mood and the landscape. His passion for the landscape, his landscape, means that when he sees it ruined by workmen, he rightly becomes quite cantankerous, blowing off steam in his prose and taking action by writing to the offending companies. Perrin is a fine author indeed and now I want to read the companion volume. Snowdon: the Story of a Welsh Mountain.

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Saturday 28 January 2017

Review: White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World

White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World by Geoff Dyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this series of ten essays, Geoff Dyer explores the reasons why we travel using examples from the excursions that he makes. He travels to China to see the Forbidden City in Beijing where he starts to become besotted with his guide there. From his home-town of Los Angeles, he makes a pilgrimage to visit the residence of TW Adorno and the art that is the Watts Towers. There is a trip to Mexico to visit the art installation of Walter De Maria called The Lightning Field and the amazing Spiral Jetty draws him to Utah. A trip north to see the aurora borealis with his wife and she is with him again in New Mexico after visiting White Sands where they collect a hitchhiker and then see a sign advising against it…

A trip that has lots of activity for him would be boring, as we see when he goes to French Polynesia to trace the ghosts of Gauguin and it falls a little flat. But it is the journeys that don’t work that gives him scope to explore the inner recesses of his mind and to explore the reasons behind us travelling. Is it for the experiences or the desire to tell people what we have done? Slightly surreal at times, it is really well written in some of the essays, he is very perceptive and his bone-dry wit makes this book amusing quite often. Some of it is fictionalised, and it does feel embellished at times, almost as though he is responding to the desire to convince people that he had great time. You can travel in the mind as much as in the physical world, but his final essay is about a profound life changing event that he has. Some great parts; others less so, but interesting nonetheless.

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Friday 27 January 2017

Review: Station to Station: Searching for Stories on the Great Western Line

Station to Station: Searching for Stories on the Great Western Line Station to Station: Searching for Stories on the Great Western Line by James Attlee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All roads lead to London, and so do the railway lines. The one connecting Bristol with our capital has been around for over 150 years now. This line was constructed by the brilliant and indomitable Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Originally built in wide gauge it was described as his ‘billiard table as the alignment was almost completely level along the whole route. Attlee has been a regular traveller on the route for many years, but he has been fortunate to be appointed ‘writer on the Train’ with a pass for unlimited travel and a letter of authorisation allowing him to talk to anyone on the network.

His journey along the route begins at the architectural masterpiece that is Paddington Station. This is the first of many of the listed and significant tunnel portals, bridges and viaducts the enable the line to remain perfectly level. The chapters are titled, location, diversion and digression, and he uses those headings to good effect as he travels west. We learn about the history of the line as well as places of significance that stretch way back in time to the Neolithic. There are profiles of the famous and infamous people that line the route from royalty to the wild parties of Diana Dors. He meets the people that keep the railway moving, drivers, guards and ticket officers. The foundation of all of these stories is centred on Isambard Kingdom Brunel; his presence still permeates the route and the architecture all the way.

It is quite amazing the quantity of stories that can be drawn just from one point to point journey and Attlee’s book makes for entertaining reading. It is well researched, full of fascinating anecdotes, tales and facts about all manner of random details and well worth reading even if you’re not a train fan.

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Thursday 26 January 2017


With thanks to Canongate and Head of Zeus

Review: Squirrel Pie (and other stories): Adventures in Food Across the Globe

Squirrel Pie (and other stories): Adventures in Food Across the Globe Squirrel Pie (and other stories): Adventures in Food Across the Globe by Elisabeth Luard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The travel experience is not just the sights and sounds of new locations, the tastes and the flavours make a place too. How many times has that bottle of wine that you bought back from holiday, not tasted quite as good as you remember it?. In this delightful book, Elisabeth Luard travels from deserts to rivers, forests to islands trying new foods and speaking to those that grow or make them. Luard joins hunters in the forests of Maine, looking for their native grey squirrel to make the title of the book. In Sardinia, she samples the finest, and eye wateringly expensive bottarga. Her river trip on the Danube brings a cross between a doughnut and churro, scented with vanilla and in Gujarat learns that it is as much about the customs as it is the food. Tasmania brings the salty tang of oysters and sweet sharp strawberries.

This is not the first of Luard’s books that I have read; that was Family Life an account of her life in Andalusia with her husband Nicolas and four children. Squirrel Pie has that same warm, calm authoritative voice of a lady who takes great delight in finding and sharing fine foods in the countries that she visits. The book is peppered with her lovely sketches of scenes from the markets and kitchens that she visited. At the end of each chapter there are a few selected recipes, each chosen to reflect the location she visits and the flavours encountered that you can recreate in your own kitchen. What permeates the book is the pure delight she has in finding something really nice to eat, and the joy in sharing that experience with you.

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Tuesday 24 January 2017

Book Post!

Review: Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads

Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by Paul Theroux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After five decades spent exploring and writing about the far-flung and exotic places of the world, Paul Theroux has looked to his home country for inspiration. America has always been a place of contrasts and there is none as stark as the differences between the rest of America and the Deep South. Unlike his other journeys, this is one difference; he can climb in his car and drive there. So he does, leaving his home and traveling to the area over the course of four seasons. Each time he catches up with friends made from the previous visit, dodges twisters, sees new places and experiences fresh things.

The American South has a long history, there are deeply ingrained attitudes and prejudices, widespread poverty, high unemployment and collectively some of the worst performing schools in the country. The contradiction is that he has some of the warmest welcomes, listens to some brilliant music and eats probably too much of the fine local cuisine. He will talk to anyone regardless of colour or status, the mayor, the homeless, authors, church leaders, gun traders and those that stood up to segregation. The stories that he draws out from these people in his return trips vary from the fascinating to the sad, there are happy moments and some frankly horrifying stories.

Theroux tells it as it is, not seeking to judge those he meets, but to let them tell their story in their own words. What comes across is a part of a nation that feels unwanted. The fantastic but equally melancholic photos by Steve McCurry show just how abandoned and derelict some of the towns are, haunted only by ghosts and echoes from the past. It is a poignant book, one that shows just how tough life is there. It is my first book by Paul Theroux, even though I have had a number of his books sitting on my shelves for ages, and it definitely won’t be my last.

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Friday 20 January 2017

Review: Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey

Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To describe the Outer Hebrides as remote is somewhat of an understatement. Even today it can take the best part of a day to get to, but once you are there you have reached not only some of the oldest parts of our planet, but also the epicentre of one of our country’s ancient cultures. This edgeland is the very periphery of our landscape and faces the full brunt of everything that the Atlantic can throw at it; even the summer can have five days of gales a month. This tough, uncompromising landscape shapes the place and the people that inhabit it.

People belong to places, rather than place belong to people

These islands have attracted a variety of people over the millennia. There were those who sought religious solitude on Iona and whilst there created the works of art that are the Book of Kells. Jura’s simple way of life gave George Orwell the space that he needed to create the dystopian horror that is 1984. The traditional way of life on the islands is formed as much by the landscape as it is by the language, and these tough, resilient people took those qualities with them as they left the islands either by choice or enforced by landowners. It is to this landscape that Bunting returns to countless times over six years, immersing herself into it, teasing out stories of the people and history and letting the place soak into her.

‘I couldn’t conceive of living on this land without getting my hands dirty. It keeps me connected with the place.’

This is another really well written book by Bunting, she has managed to capture the very essence of the Outer Hebrides as she travels around and crosses the straits between the islands including a boat trip heads out to the Strait of Corryvreckan, the place where Orwell nearly drowned and is the location of one of the world’s most powerful whirlpools. Well worth reading.

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Tuesday 17 January 2017

Review: Cycling the Earth: A Life-changing Race Around the World

Cycling the Earth: A Life-changing Race Around the World Cycling the Earth: A Life-changing Race Around the World by Sean Conway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sean Conway was stuck in a rut, working as a portrait photographer he was bored of taking photos of uncooperative children; and his relationship had just gone south too. Whilst in this limbo, he heard about Mark Beaumont breaking the record for cycling around the world. He had managed over 100 miles a day and obliterated the previous record. Even though he hadn’t been on a bike for years, this was a challenge that immediately inspired him; but could he actually do it?

An arduous six-month training schedule would prove it one way or the other…

Somehow, he survived it. He packed his entire belongings into a set of boxes and joined some other like minded maniacs on the start line in Greenwich Park for the adventure of a lifetime. His aim was simple, cycle around 180 miles per day, every day and claim the record for himself. He started well, managing to reach his daily total and he cycled across Europe and then on to South America and the pan-American highway Atacama desert. Tracking the opther swho set out on their own journey. As America beckoned, with the wide road and good tarmac, he realised that he was in for a good chance of the record.

Then disaster! As he came to, he now realised that not only was record may slipping from his grasp, but he might not even be able to finish the challenge.

What comes across in this is his relentless drive to complete the challenge that he set himself. He wears his heart on his sleeve too as we follow his high days and low days, dodge tornadoes and chases dogs. He is no wordsmith though, but there is plenty of self-depreciating humour in the text, making this is an enjoyable read as we follow Conway racing around the world. He is quite inspirational too, proving that anyone can be ambitious and achieve their dreams. Not the best round the world cycling adventure, but still worth reading.

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Review: Crossing the Congo: Over Land and Water in a Hard Place

Crossing the Congo: Over Land and Water in a Hard Place Crossing the Congo: Over Land and Water in a Hard Place by Mike Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone says that a journey is impossible, most people will leave it at that, but not these three. The crossing of the Congo River Basin, heading from Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Juba, in South Sudan had be done before, but not for a very long time and not since the region had descended into war and conflict. On top of that, this 2,500 mile journey was to be driven in a 25 year old Land Rover called 9Bob, which had already been driven around a large portion of West Africa and was really on its last legs.

On this unbelievably tough journey, the route they followed could not be described as tracks, let alone roads. However, this was only one of the challenges that they faced; as well as the sheer hard graft it took to carve a way through the jungle, they had to cope with tropical diseases and fevers, fire ants that numbed their legs after biting, suspicious locals who thought that they were prospecting for minerals. The hardest part for all of them though, was dealing with the endemic corruption and bureaucracy from petty officials and kleptocracy that was rife. The three had to rely on every single ounce of ingenuity and effort to get themselves through the jungle, digging themselves out of mud, building and strengthening bridges and even rafts to get their Land Rover and gear across rivers. Sometimes they were assisted by the locals, who appeared almost magically out of the forest anytime they stopped, but frequently they were just watched as they struggled against the elements.

Even though this was a short journey compared to other travel books, it was unbelievable tough. It strained their relationships to breaking point; occasionally beyond. Some days their distance travelled was just a handful of miles, the relentless dealing with the petty officials and the people and the daily battle to keep the Land Rover going slowing progress to a crawl. It is a well-written book, even though it feels a little clinical at times, they manage to convey the tension of daily life. What makes this book really special though is the stunning images of their journey taken by award winning photographer Charlie Hatch-Barnwell. It also gives us an insight into the harsh lives of the Congolese people, still affected by the ongoing conflicts and the legacy left by their Belgian colonial masters. It is a tough book about an astonishing journey.

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Monday 16 January 2017

Review: Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran

Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran by Lois Pryce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Britain and Iran have always had a turbulent relationship, and in 2011 just after the latest tit-for-tat diplomatic storm Lois came back to her motorcycle and found a note stuck to it:

... I wish that you will visit Iran so you will see for yourself about my country. WE ARE NOT TERRORISTS!!! Please come to my city, Shiraz. It is very famous as the friendliest city in Iran, it is the city of poetry and gardens and wine!!!
Your Persian friend,


Being the adventurous sort, she has ridden across down through Africa and all the way up from South America to Alaska, this unofficial invitation to a country that very little of us know anything about, was too much to resist. Perhaps, she might even be able to meet the man who wrote the note. When most people think of Iran, the things that come to mind is the Iran – Iraq war and the boggle-eyed fanatics that seem to delight in setting western flags alight. Against the official advice of don’t travel there and to the horror of her friends and family, she applies for a visa. Amazingly, it is granted. Crossing the border from Turkey by train, her first Iranian city was Tabriz and the beginning of her 3,000 mile motorcycle ride around the enigmatic country that is Iran. The people that she encountered on her travels came from all walks of life; there are students, soldiers, housewives, teachers and even drug addicts.

It is a country of stark contrasts; ancient and modern, pragmatic and whimiscal. She comes to understand the juxtaposition between the strict Islamic control that the mullahs and Revolutionary Guards enforce, and the warm, welcoming and generous people who share their homes and lives with her and we learn how the real people live behind closed doors and how they feel about their country. It is a brave journey too given the attitude towards women, in particular solo Western women. There is one heart stopping moment in the book, though thankfully Pryce was seen as a curiosity and a welcome visitor to the country most of the time. Pryce immerses herself in the country and the warm, welcoming experience of Iran that she brings us is rich and engaging, making this well written account an excellent travel book.

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Friday 13 January 2017

Review: Walking The Himalayas

Walking The Himalayas Walking The Himalayas by Levison Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As if walking the entire length of the Nile was not mad enough, his good friend Ashwin Bhardwaj persuades him to walk along the rooftop of the world; the Himalayas. Wood had been to Nepal before way back in 2001, when the country’s Royal family was massacred. At that time a man called Binod took him in and protected him whilst the unrest continued. This new walk along the world’s highest mountain range meant that he had the opportunity to return and see him once again.

Flying into Kabul would be adventure enough for some people, but that was where he needed to get to, to be able to reach the eastern foothills. The last time Wood had been there he was in the army. Met by his minder at the airport, he is taken to the scruffy looking car to make the first part of his journey, before a helicopter ride to the start point. Wakhan Corridor. He is accompanied along the walk by guides, even persuading Ashwin to join him for one section, before he makes it to Nepal for a reunion with his friend, Binod, before continuing his journey to Gankhar Puensum in Bhutan.

Wood is one tough guy; not only is this a mammoth walk of 1700 miles, but he does this at altitude too; no mean feat. He is an easy-going character, meaning that as he meets some of the toughest and nicest people he fits in easily, drawing their stories and lives out into the narrative. The range of cultures is quite an eye opener too, from the strict Islamic areas to the more relaxed and laid back Nepalese. It is reasonably well written, gripping in parts and has one heart-stopping moment. Haven’t seen the TV series yet, but I’m looking forward to watching it soon.

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Book Haul

Thank you to Summersdale for Kapp to Cape

Thursday 12 January 2017

Review: Dare to Do: Taking on the planet by bike and boat

Dare to Do: Taking on the planet by bike and boat Dare to Do: Taking on the planet by bike and boat by Sarah Outen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sarah Outen’s previous endurance challenge was rowing across the Indian Ocean, as described in her book, A Dip in the Ocean. For most people this will be enough, but not for Sarah. On the 1st April 2011 she embarked from Tower Bridge in a kayak in her latest venture, London2London, the aim of which was to circumnavigate the globe purely by human power; rowing, cycling. First, she had to kayak to France across the channel. So begins an adventure that was to take four years, one bike, one kayak and two rowing boats.

This journey was long, tough and relentless and she had to battle tropical storms, hurricanes, loneliness, ill health and depression. It was physically and emotionally draining too, but Outen is made from tougher stuff; quitting was not an option. It was not entirely solo as she was joined on parts of it by Justine, a world renowned paddler, for the kayaking, and her partner for the bitterly cold ride across North America. The ocean rows though were solo. These were the most risky too, as she pitted her energy and tenacity against the might of the sea. On top of all that, Sarah fell in love too. Her rowing set another raft of records and achievements for her amazing journey. She was the first woman to row from Japan to Alaska, first to kayak the Aleutian archipelago and the first to cross the mid Pacific from West to East under her own steam.

However, this is much more than a tale of a journey round our planet. This is Sarah’s story of being able to dig deep when it feels that everything is against you, having the doggedness to continue even when plucked from a battered rowing boat in the middle of a vicious storm and having that inner strength to get up and carry on. As hard as it is to physically do, the mental drain is equally telling, thankfully the strong team behind her, as well as the kindness of people from all round the globe carried, pushed and cajoled her into completing this quite frankly amazing achievement. Even though she is a better adventurer than author, it is a compelling read.

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Sunday 8 January 2017

Review: The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case

The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case by Michael Rosen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

At the turn of the 19th century the famous writer, Émile Zola is fleeing from his home country of France. Carrying a nightshirt, he takes the train from the Gare du Nord, crosses the channel and heads to London. He had committed no crime, just had the audacity to take on the French government over the handling and verdict of treason handed out to a Jewish artillery officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Like many others, Zola believed he was innocent and the real culprit for handing over secrets to the Germans was another officer, Major Esterhazy. Zola’s open letter, 'J'accuse', published in L’Aurore, accused the French Army and establishment of antisemitism and injustice. The intention of this provocation was to be sued for libel so that documents in the Dreyfus case could be revealed and the innocent man freed.

It didn’t quite work out like that, hence why he was on his way to London.

Rosen has in this book revealed a fascinating little piece of history of a world-renowned writer who believed in justice and the truth. He details his movements into London and out into Weybridge, keeping a low profile, unlike his previous high profile visit where he was lauded and celebrated. We learn about the two women in his life, his wife Alexandrine and the mother of his children, Jeanne; it was a complex ménage-a-trois; He was not overly enamored with the weather in England, and loathed the food, but used some of the time here to embark on the Les Quatre Évangiles novels.

I have read a couple of Rosen’s books before, including as most parents would know well, Going on a Bear Hunt. I have never read any of Zola's novels as yet and knew almost nothing about him, but Rosen’s skill as a writer means that he has added in those little details to the narrative to show Zola’s flaws and qualities without it becoming too bogged down. Definitely, a must read for any Zola fan, I found it an interesting account of a small slice of history.

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Friday 6 January 2017

Review: The Celts

The Celts The Celts by Alice Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Celts and a mysterious people. You either think of a woad daubed, near naked warrior, screaming at the top of his voice, or see them as a hugely artistic people who produced the most exquisite gold jewellery. These images have been elicited from Roman literature and from burial sites and finds in fields. Unlike the Romans and Normans who left vast swathes of solid architectural evidence and literature for us to understand them, the Celts touched the earth lightly leaving traces only of their existence. The artefacts that we do find though are quite beautiful; the tales that history whispers are strange; so who are these people?

But the evidence is there; provided you know where to look. In this companion book to the BBC series, Roberts takes us from Northern Europe and right down to the Mediterranean to speak to those who are investigating these people, to see the latest evidence and touch the few possessions that have survived across the ages. It is an interesting journey as the people are so elusive, partly as they left precious little traces of their homes and lifestyle. There are some interesting theories as to the roots of Celts, how they influenced European language and culture and how the echoes of their legacy still reverberate even today. Good stuff, now to watch the TV series.

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Edward Stanton Travel Writing Awards

One of my favourite genres is travel, so I was quite looking forward to the shortlist announcements today of the Edward Stanford Travel award


I have read two of the books on the Short list already, Climbing Days by Dan Richards and Africa Solo by Mark Beaumont. Both really good books. Have got three out of the library this week, and the final one on reserve. Looking forward to reading an reviewing them.

Thursday 5 January 2017

Book Post

Thanks to Hodder

Review: Counting Sheep: A Celebration of the Pastoral Heritage of Britain

Counting Sheep: A Celebration of the Pastoral Heritage of Britain Counting Sheep: A Celebration of the Pastoral Heritage of Britain by Philip Walling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Normally when I think of sheep, the first thing that springs to mind is the hilarious series by Aardman, Shaun the Sheep. That aside, sheep have had a long history in this country from the ancient wild Jacob breeds, the domesticated breeds that the Romans brought over 2000 years ago, right up to the modern breeds and crosses that populate our hills and pastures still now. Way back in the past, sheep drove our economy and people made vast fortunes supplying, what was considered, the finest wool in the world. The ovine economy helped define our culture and landscape too, the Wooksack can be found in the Lords (now they have removed the horsehair), and the husbandry of sheep played a significant role in our social structures and infrastructure.

The work has always been hard, as Walling finds out as he meets the shepherds and enthusiasts who own and care for the modern day breeds today in our countryside. They still support our rural economy today, though they have much less impact financially than they did. In his journey back to our heritage he re-discovers the landscape today and learns of the modern challenges behind sheep farming today. It is not a bad book overall, with thought provoking writing. I really think though that I really don’t need to know any more about sheep now though.

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Tuesday 3 January 2017

2017 Reading Intentions

Some of my aims for 2017

I have decided to set myself something that I am calling The World from My Armchair Challenge. My intention for this challenge is to read a travel or non-fiction book from every country, ocean and a number of the seas around the world. I have taken the list of countries from the UN (192) and each sea and ocean bringing the total to 212 books! Not all in one year I hasten to add.

I have a number of Terry Pratchett books from his Discworld series that I have not yet read, so want to finish those next year.

Will still be working my way through the Summersdale travel catalogue, and also discovered the Stanford Travel Writing awards

Will be reading the longlist from the the Wainwright Prize again, as this is something that I am now doing for Nudge / nb Magazine

Not reading as much Sci Fi as i would like to. Managed one from the Arthur C Clarke Award. I have sorted out the books I have at home and intend to read those in 2017, as I didn't in 2016; including steampunk!

My Good Reads Challenge is set at 190. Same as last year. It is a fair amount of books, but I know that is well within my capability to achieve.

Book Haul!

From the library

From a charity shop

Review: Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi

Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi by Piers Moore Ede
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Varanasi is one of the cities in the world that has been inhabited for around four thousand years. Situated on the Ganges, it is the focal point for a number of religions; the two patriots of Jains were born there, it is where the Buddha preached his first sermon and for Hindus there is no place more revered. Those four millennia have seen a lot of history too, invasions, colonial rule and independence have all influenced the city.

This is a huge city too, home to 2.5 million people, over the course of a year it will welcome 5 million more. Thousands bathe each day in the sacred, polluted Ganges. It is the destination at the end of people’s lives too; they come here to die, or to be cremated on the pyres alongside the river. On top of all that the city is the centre of a large silk and textile industry. There is a darker side too, not only is corruption endemic, but there is a thriving drug trade and prostitution is rife.

It is this city though, that draws Ede back there to stay for a year. He spends some time with people to bring the city alive to us reading it. The book is intense as I imagine the city must be and Ede’s writing manages to transport you to this madly alive and vivid city. You prickle from the heat, the smells and noise assault your senses, you know that this place is where religion, culture, life and death all come together in one swirling mass of humanity. It is a book that is well worth reading, he has managed to bring a human perspective to a city that is one of the largest on earth. Will definitely be reading his other books.

First book from the #WorldFromMyArmchair too.

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Monday 2 January 2017

Review: Billy Connolly's Tracks Across America

Billy Connolly's Tracks Across America Billy Connolly's Tracks Across America by Billy Connolly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Billy Connolly has spent over half his life in America, but apart from seeing the inside of a few airports and a fair number of cities, he hasn’t seen much of the country. In this journey, he is letting the train take the strain. This mammoth journey from Chicago to New York, via Seattle, south the California and heads east through Texas is really the long way round; but it is a journey aiming to discover more of its backyard and people. He meets and greets the real people of America, visits a tent city caring for homeless people, tastes the Juicy Lucy, meets some genuine hobos, goes to a cannabis farm and learns the secrets behind a murder scene.

Connolly is an irrepressible wanderer, and this book is no different to his others. Not only is he quite philosophical now, he is a great people person too, talking and befriending the people he meets along his route is second nature to him. It is written in his whimsical chatty style and makes for fairly easy reading. Good companion to the TV series, which I am now going to watch.

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Sunday 1 January 2017

Books for Blokes

This list started as an idea for my local library. They have a toddler session at the weekends, and it is mostly dads that bring the children along. The children end up taking out lots of books, but rarely the dads; hopefully some from this list they will find appealing and might make them read more.

Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Girl with all the Gifts – M R Carey
The City and The City – China Miéville
Railsea – China Miéville
Perdido Street Station – China Miéville
Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Renyolds
On the Steel Breeze – Alastair Renyolds
Poseidon's Wake – Alastair Renyolds
Consider Phlebas – Iain M. Banks
The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
Good Omens – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch
Pashazade – Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Effendi – Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Felaheen – Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Redrobe – Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Principles of Angels - Jaine Fenn
Consorts of Heaven - Jaine Fenn
Uprooted - Naomi Novik
A Darker Shade of Magic - V.E.Schwab
The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North
The Shining Girls - Lauren Beurkes

The Girl on the Landing  - Paul Torday
Clay - Melissa Harrison
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Crow Road – Iain Banks
The Business – Iain Banks
The Travelers – Chris Pavone
Reamde – Neal Stephenson
At hawthorn Time - Melissa Harrison
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Trinity Six – Charles  Cumming
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – John le Carre
The Night Manager – John le Carre
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carre
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
1984 – George Orwell
Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
Last Night in Montreal - Emily St. John Mandel
Oryx and Crake - Magaret Attwood
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Long Way Round – Charley Borman and Ewan McGregor
Long Way Down – Charley Borman and Ewan McGregor
Walking the Nile – Levison Wood
Dare to Do - Sarah Outen
Walking the Himalayas – Levison Wood
Call of the Wild – Guy Grieve
Walking the Amazon – Ed Stafford
Arctic – Bruce Parry
Explore Everything: Place-Hacking The City From Tunnels To Skyscrapers – Bradley L. Garrett
Revolutionary Ride - Lois Pryce

SBS: The Inside Story of the Special Boat Service – John Parker
Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World – James Hamilton-Paterson
Spies in the Sky: The Secret Battle for Aerial Intelligence During World War II – Taylor Downing
Vulcan 607 – Roland White
Phoenix Squadron – Rowland White
Agent Zigzag – Ben Macintyre
Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World – James Hamilton-Paterson

French Revolutions – Tim Moore
The Time of Gifts – Patrick Leigh Fermor
Between the Woods and the Water – Patrick Leigh Fermor
The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos – Patrick Leigh Fermor
McCarthy’s Bar – Pete McCarthy
Tequila Oil – Hugh Thomson
This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland – Gretel Ehrlich
Round Ireland with a Fridge – Tony Hawkes
Bearback: The World Overland – Pat Gerrod
Shadow of the Silk Road – Colin Thubron
The Tent, the Bucket and Me – Emma Kennedy
Canoeing the Congo: First Source to Sea Descent of the Congo River – Phil Harwood
Drive Over lemons – Chris Stewart
Love of Country - Madeline Bunting
Climbing Days – Dan Richards
Boundless - Kathleen Winter
Adrift: A Secret Life of London's Waterways by Helen Babbs
Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica - Sarah Wheeler

Natural History
The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane
Waterlog – Roger Deakin
Edgelands – Paul Farley
Crow Country – Mark Cocker
Nightwalk: A Journey to the Heart of Nature – Chris Yates
Sightlines – Kathleen Jamie
Findings – Kathleen Jamie
Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach – Jean Sprackland
The Outrun - Amy Liptrot
To the River: A Journey Beneath The Surface - Oliva Liang

Are You Dave Gorman? – Dave Gorman
Fatherhood – Marcus Berkmann
Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life - Nina Stibb

Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
Patrick Leigh Fermor – Artemis Cooper
The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Rain Men: The Madness of Cricket – Marcus Berkmann
Twirlymen: The Unlikely History of Cricket's Greatest Spin Bowlers – Amol Rajan
Soccernomics by Simon Kuper, Stefan Szymanski

Popular Science
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body - Jo Marchant
Bringing Down The House – Ben Mezrich
For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair with Poker – Victoria Coren
The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean - Susan Casey
Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt
The Secret Lives of Colour - Kassia St Clair 
The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
The Big Short – Michael Lewis
Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England - Sarah Wise
Bad Science – Ben Goldacre
Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics – Alex Bellos

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine – Michael Lewis