Tuesday 30 January 2018

Review: Eastern Horizons: Hitchhiking the Silk Road

Eastern Horizons: Hitchhiking the Silk Road Eastern Horizons: Hitchhiking the Silk Road by Levison Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Sometimes it is the little things in life that make the biggest differences. Having snuck into Alton Towers to save some cash, Levison Wood then lost his wallet with all his money in… Dismayed and penniless, he was shocked, to say the least when it dropped on his doormat with a note from the army officer who had found it. Wood wrote back to say thank you and to ask about a career in the services; a reply was swiftly forthcoming with six pages of notes that detailed recommendations and suggestions to optimise his chances of getting in and the final sentence was the recommendation; above all, travel…

Which is why he found himself at the age of 22 setting off a journey to hitch-hike from Nottingham across Russia with a friend, before heading south alone to follow the route taken by people for millennia, the Silk Road. He was inspired to follow this route after finding a book called the Great Game in the library whilst he should have been researching something else. This book told the tale of Arthur Conolly who in 1839 tried to see if it was still possible to travel along this legendary road.
His budget of £750 was stretching the definition of shoestring fairly thin, especially as he was hoping to fly home rather than hitchhike back again. His companion in Russia was Jon Winfield, a friend who shared a love of the open road too. Wood's Russian leg would take him from Calais to Stavropol via St Petersburg and he would drink more vodka than was definitely healthy for him, but as they approached Georgia, the first of the Caucasus countries Jon decided to head home., with the ominous message that he didn't want to hear about Levison on Al Jazeera.

Having heard all the horror stories from the Russians about the Georgians, he finds them warm and welcoming and find that the loathing that they have for each other is mutual. Leaving the country to pick up the Silk Road from Turkey and would head into Iran. It is a country of contrasts, with the theocratic mullahs having the most influence and the population committing their own individual acts of defiance. Next was the most dangerous part of his journey, into Afghanistan; this was in 2004, and the country was still under American occupation with battles still happening between the mujahideen, the Americans and the Taliban. The people were resigned at the time to another war taking place in their country but still were as hospitable as they could be given the circumstances. Surviving Afghanistan, Woods crosses the Khyber Pass and into Pakistan the penultimate country on his trip, before reaching the beaches of Goa at journeys end.

It was a journey that had a significant impact on his life. He did join the army as an officer in the parachute regiment and served in various theatres before leaving and becoming a journalist and photographer, but adventure travel is what he has become best known for. This latest book, about his experiences hitchhiking across Russia and the middle east, is I think his best yet. It may not have the freshness of his walks across Africa, Central America and the Himalayas, as it was written from the notes and journals that he kept, but he has matured as a writer and it shows in this book. 4.5 stars

View all my reviews

Monday 29 January 2018

Publisher Profile - Little Toller

For me, independent publishers are the people in the industry who are prepared to take risks on new authors and books where the larger players either don't wish to venture, or they can't see there being a return on. Each month in 2018 I am aiming to highlight some of my favourite independent publishers, along with some of their books that I have loved and also to have someone from the publisher answer a few questions.

The publisher that I am going to be starting with resides in my home county. Little Toller are in Toller Fratrum, nestled in the hills of West Dorset and have a focused portfolio of books that are centred on the natural world. They are not only reprinting classic books about rural life, but they are ensuring that we are getting new books too as they commision books for the fantastic Monograph and Field note series. I am slowly working my way through their back catalogue and I have liked and loved all that I have read. Particular favourites though have been Orison for a Curlew by Horatio Clare, Snow by Marcus Sedgewick and Arboreal. Not only are the authors that they choose top class there is something about one of their books that is quite special, from the cover art, the grade of paper that they choose and the tiny details in the way that it is made. 

They are also a significant part of Common Ground a charity that seeks to engage people with their local area and are the originators of Apple Day

As part of this Jon Woolcott was kind enough to answer some of my questions below on behalf of Little Toller:

Can you tell me a little about the history of Little Toller?

Little Toller was founded by Adrian Cooper and Gracie Burnett in 2009, with the aim of republishing the great books of rural life – books like The South Country by Edward Thomas, Four Hedges by Clare Leighton and Men and the Fields by Adrian Bell. That list, our nature classics, now has over twenty-five titles, and we now publish contemporary landscape and nature writing; in fact that’s now the main focus of our publishing.

How is the company organised today and how many people work for you?

We’re tiny! Four of us work in the office regularly, working variously on editorial, sales, marketing, artwork and production, just like a normal publisher, on a micro-scale. But we do use freelance proofreaders, and have many collaborators, like the team who work on our blog, The Clearing- where we publish new nature and landscape writing and interviews with authors, plus podcasts and develop new themes.

What is the company philosophy when it comes to selecting for your catalogue?

We’re very choosy- we try to think about how the genre of nature and landscape is developing. Fundamentally, it must start with the words.

How much effort goes into the design of the book, for example the cover design, font selection and so on?

This is critical for us, and should be for all book publishers. If physical books are to survive in a digital age, they need to be beautiful.  Carefully selecting artwork for jackets is really important, often commissioning new work by young artists. We feel the same about internal illustrations, the endpapers, the cloth that covers the jackets. We spend a lot of time thinking about paper quality, its weight and its grain. These things matter.

Are there any up and coming books that you are publishing soon that we need to look out for?

We’re delighted to be able to publish Eagle Country, by the poet Seàn Lysaght in April – his quest for the eagle landscapes of the western coast of Ireland – this will be the tenth in our monograph series, which includes books by Fiona Sampson, Iain Sinclair and Adam Thorpe. In the Nature Classics series, we’re looking forward to publishing Dorothy Hartley’s Made in England in the same month – an account of cottage industries and village life in the 1930s. This will have an introduction by Fran Edgerley of the Turner Prize-winning architectural collective, Assemble. We’re also publishing Herbaceous by Paul Evans, in paperback, next month – this was our first ever monograph, and is remarkable. And we’d have to mention the extraordinary Carol Donaldson – her book On the Marshes, about the watery edgelands of northern Kent was a debut last year, and a big success – the paperback is coming in May. We have plenty more wonderful books to come, but we’re yet to announce them.

What debut authors are you publishing this year?

We’re excited by Martha Sprackland’s book, Sharks, about the science and mythology and culture of this much misunderstood animal. It will be safe to go back to the beach, after all…

What title of yours has been an unexpected success?

When you’re small, any success is welcome, and of course, we feel that all our books deserve a wide interest – especially because we pour such energy and love into each one, but we were delighted with how well On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe and Snow by Marcus Sedgwick we received. Both were BBC Radio Four Books of the Week.

What would you say were the undiscovered gems in your catalogue?

All our books matter hugely to us. I personally have a huge fondness for Dexter Petley’s memoir, Love, Madness, Fishing, about growing up, as he puts it, among the rural poor on the Kent/Sussex borders in the 1960s and 70s. It’s a quite astonishing evocation of a mostly vanished world, and it’s brilliant.

How do you use social media for promoting books and authors?

While we don’t do much with ebooks, which don’t suit our books well, the digital world has much to offer the small publisher. While Twitter and Facebook are important mouthpieces for us, the real point is that we try to use these opportunities creatively, in a way that works for our books. We make little films with our authors for new books, and distribute them online; and as I mentioned earlier, The Clearing is an important way of beginning a dialogue with our readership about important issues. What the internet enables us to do, is to be very targeted, and to reach people interested in what you’re doing more easily, and frankly, more cheaply.

Is working with book bloggers becoming a larger part of that process now?

Yes, to a certain extent. The truth is that there are fewer places for books to be reviewed as national newspapers find their continued existence more challenging, so finding sympathetic bloggers, who write about the appropriate subject area is bound to be a bigger part of what we do. Having said that, nothing beats a proper review in a national paper, or a serious radio discussion.

What book do you wish you had published?

We have talked about this sometimes – we publish books in such a distinctive way that it becomes difficult to separate that from the text alone. I’d say that while we’re often admiring of other books, it doesn’t usually extend into wanting to publish them.

What does the future hold for Little Toller?

When you’re as small as we are, planning means thinking about books we might publish in, say 2020, and while we have one or two very exciting projects, we’re still developing them. In the meantime, we hope to make bigger and bigger splashes with our books and, furthermore, to develop The Clearing more too.

Thank you to Jon for taking time out of his hectic schedule to answer those questions for me. I really appreciate it. Little Toller's books are available from all good bookshops. I would urge you to buy them from an independent bookshop if you can as this support them, the publisher and of course the author with one purchase. 

Sunday 28 January 2018

Review: The Secret Life of Animals: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discovering a Hidden World

The Secret Life of Animals: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discovering a Hidden World The Secret Life of Animals: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discovering a Hidden World by Peter Wohlleben
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Animals of all kinds have played a part in the human story from way back; they have been companions, used for work, providing and actually being the food in a lot of cases too. Whilst some have been cherished, lots have been treated as pure commodities and we have often been quite cruel usually because people thought that they were not capable of communicating or had emotions.

The latest scientific research and observations though is uncovering a very different story. Lots are known about dolphins and whales though we and not very far down the road of understanding what is being said, and it turns out there are a lot of other animals that communicate in one way or another but there is another world that is slowly being revealed. They have discovered instances of animals feeling shame, sadness, regret and as well as the way they can consciously select partners.

I really enjoyed Peter Wohlleben's first book, The Hidden Life Of Trees, a subject he knows a lot about having been a forester for around three decades, and the intimacy of his knowledge there shines like a blade of sunlight through the glade. With this, he is out of his comfort zone somewhat and even though he is drawing on personal experience and scientific research to highlight just how animals behave. Whilst it may have a grounding in science, this is primarily anecdotal evidence and also shows how we as humans project our not fully understood emotions and habits onto all sorts of different species. Still worth reading as some of the stories in here are quite entertaining.

View all my reviews

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this stark new world, there has been a catastrophic nuclear war and what is left of America has now become the Republic of Gilead. In this theocratic and totalitarian state, freedoms have been curtailed, the Eyes are everywhere watching every move. In this cruel state, the handmaid Offred barely exists, her freedoms are curtailed, she can shop daily with another handmaid, and everything that she does is monitored. In this society there are almost no children, so the handmaid, a fertile woman placed with one of those societies elite with the intention of providing children to a Commander and his wife. , The act of trying to impregnate her is called the ceremony, and it is carried out once a month at the optimum moment where she is the womb between the husband and the wife.

My name isn't Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it's forbidden.

In this mundane life, she remembers the life before women lost almost all their rights, the daughter that was stolen from her, and her husband who was shot trying to save them by getting them over the border. As if this wasn't traumatic enough, she was sent to the Rachel and Leah Re-education Center where she was taught subservience and indoctrinated by the sadistic aunts who ran the place. In her walks to the shop, she passes the Wall, a place where dissenters and others that state deems to be troublemakers are hung and left for all to see. But not is all it seems in this society, Offred discovers that the elite still hankers after elements of the past world that the state has forbidden and that however much you oppress people there is still a rebel in everyone.
I lie in my single bed at night, with my eyes closed, and the name floats there behind my eyes, not quite within reach, shining in the dark.

I haven't read many books by Margaret Atwood, but the few that I have read have been superb. This tale of a shocking dystopian society has been drawn from the various societies that oppress women in one way another around the world at this very moment, and distilling them into this has made them much more sinister. Her real skill in this is the way these elements are brought together make a frighteningly plausible and very readable story full of razor-sharp perceptions. There are no dramatic twists, just this steady feeling of dread as you read it. Compelling and definitely a modern classic.

View all my reviews

Thursday 25 January 2018

Review: Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains: A Journey across Arunachal Pradesh - India's Forgotten Frontier

Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains: A Journey across Arunachal Pradesh - India's Forgotten Frontier Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains: A Journey across Arunachal Pradesh - India's Forgotten Frontier by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just on the other side of Bangladesh in the Northeast are a number of states that borders Tibet, Myanmar and Bhutan. Its remoteness means that it has never been on the tourist trail and ongoing posturing from China who dispute the borders in this mountainous region mean that it is not likely to be anytime soon.

One of these states, Arunachal Pradesh, which translates as 'land of the dawn-lit mountains' that is probably the remotest of the lot. Travelling on a small motorbike, called Hero, it is this landscape and people that Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent wants to explore and discover about. It is a landscape that has as many surprises as it does legends and the isolation of the state has ensured that the culture there has remained distinctly different to the rest of India. Accompanied by guides and sometimes travelling alone, she finds the people warm and hospitable regardless if they are shamans or monks. She meets those that accompanied the Dali Lama as he passed through the state to safety. The remoteness of the place means that there are very few roads and while the scenery is breathtaking it can be equally dramatic especially when the monsoon hits.

This little piece of India to the East of Bangladesh can rightly claim to be one of the planets least explored regions. Overcoming her anxieties prior to a trip of this magnitude was an achievement in its own right and Bolingbroke-Kent has written a book here that is thrilling and informative in equal measure. It can, I think, be described as a book that epitomises travel writing; someone very much out of their comfort zone, yet who still manages to discover the wonders of this little-known land and write about it with keen and compassionate observation.

View all my reviews

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Review: The Orchid Hunter: A young botanist's search for happiness

The Orchid Hunter: A young botanist's search for happiness The Orchid Hunter: A young botanist's search for happiness by Leif Bersweden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever orchids are mentioned, most think that they only live in the tropics where their fantastic colours and shapes have dazzled are the ones that have captivated and obsessed people over the ages. This level of obsession has caused grown men to almost lose their minds, squander fortunes and even resort to theft to possess the finest specimens. The United Kingdom has its own collection of orchids that are native to the isles; over fifty of them in fact. Leif Bersweden shares this obsession, having been fascinated with plants from an early age and when an opportunity to take a gap year presents itself, he conceives the idea of travelling around the UK trying to find each and every one of them when they were flowering. Working frantically to save the money for the journey, his parents give their approval for his journey around the UK, his only concern is whether his slight clapped out van is up to making the trip too?

The season for spotting these plants is from May to September and they are spread all around the country. Some of these plants are rare too, with only one or two endangered plants in secret locations. He will walk through bogs, walk through swathes of wildflowers as he sought orchids on chalk downlands, getting slightly lost whilst pushing his way through trees and slide down sand dunes in search of these small but still beautiful plants.

This is a really good combined travelogue and natural history book, with a really nice set of colour photos of all the orchids that he found too, for anybody that wants to discover any of these spectacular plants for themselves. For someone so young, Bersweden has an impressive and clear style already and writes about his passion with infectious enthusiasm. There are brief reflections through his personal life, his anxieties and hopes as he formulates the direction that he wants to take with his life after his orchid challenge. It is too a stark reminder of just how perilous the existence of these plants actually is, half of them are on the UK endangered list and the spectres of climate change and intensive farming are having irreversible effects on the habitat. Definitely one for the plant lovers out there and also one for those who have a wider interest in our native ecology.

View all my reviews

Monday 22 January 2018

Review: Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean

Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean by Morten A. Strøksnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the Northwest of Norway far above the North Sea lie the Lofoten islands. The waters here are incredibly deep and lurking at the bottom of them is s relic from the past, the Greenland shark. This is one species of sleeper sharks, and they have been known to live up to 400 years. As they live at depth, their flesh is toxic from the saturation of trimethylamine N-oxide, giving those that eat it a hallucinogenic trance, however, this does not stop the Icelandic people eating it…

There has been a long history of the residents of these islands doing all they can to catch one of these one-tonne creatures. It is a task made much harder because of the depth they swim at, they roll the moment they sense they have been caught and their sandpaper-like skin snaps fishing line so a chain has to be used at the end of the line. But first, you have to find one. Morten Strøksnes and his friend Hugo think that they can catch one too. They have the rods, lines and chain, the innards of a bull that stick to high heaven and an awful lot of optimism, and a very small rubber boat. Should all be fine; shouldn't it?

This is an account of a mad quest to catch one of the great sharks of the deep ocean, however, this book is more than that. Hunting one of these creatures involves Morten and Hugo sitting in a tiny boat for hours on end, and that gives them time to think, to talk and contemplate the wider questions on life the universe and everything. Hence the book covers an array of fascinating subjects such as mythology and science. As it is an island, the weather changes constantly as the warmth from the from the Gulf Stream meets the cold air from the Arctic and the way that Strøksnes' prose describes this and the stark beauty of the land and seascapes around the Lofoten islands is quite special.

View all my reviews

Sunday 21 January 2018

Mini Book Haul


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

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

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

View all my reviews

Friday 19 January 2018

Review: All the Devils Are Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View all my reviews

Tuesday 16 January 2018

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

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

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

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

View all my reviews

Sunday 14 January 2018

Review: Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago

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

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

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

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

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

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

View all my reviews

Saturday 13 January 2018

Epic #BookPost

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

Thursday 11 January 2018

Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards

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