Book Reviews

Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell


What Da Cover Says:  Hailed a masterpiece when it was first published, the story of Gavin Maxwell’s life with otters on the remote west coast of Scotland remains one of the most lyrical, moving descriptions of a man’s relationship with the natural world.

What I Says:  This is one of those tricky books to love in this world of political correctness gone mad, an Otter is a wild creature and should be left that way, ok if you rescue it but still it should be released.  Gavin Maxwell was living in a different era, a time when you could buy a ring tailed lemur from Harrods for 75 quid.  For him buying a baby otter and transporting it home, causing it a huge amount of stress was an obvious thing to do.  What this book shows is just how much love he had for the otter and that it still had a full life in the wild…it just had somewhere cozy to come home to.

Gavin was not a people person, he was living in a remote, inaccessible, cottage where the nearest neighbours are far away.  The beginning of the book describes in detail where he lives, the work to be done, the local wildlife and his wonderful dog.  Once his dog has passed away Gavin struggles with the loneliness and while abroad gets his first otter.  Eventually when he successfully gets an otter to the cottage, the book comes alive, Mij is a fantastic little character and his little “almost human” mannerisms make this book a joy to read.  You can easily picture Mij splashing about in the bath, hunting for eels and using Gavin as a towel to dry himself.  The bond between the two is incredible, the fact that they almost have a dialogue blows your mind, Mij getting Gavin to lift rocks that are too heavy was fantastic.

The book has it moments of great joy and also of great sorrow and you can’t help but get swept along with Mij’s life.  It is a brilliant read that I recommend….would I want a pet otter?  Nope, way too much maintenance….Would I wanna spend a day playing with one?  Hell yeah!


Book Reviews

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor


What Da Cover Says:  London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

What I Says:  This is one of those books where the cover sells it for me, I’m not that interested in “Historical fiction” why mess with history? I say….But look at the cover, it is amazing, pencil drawing (I think) and so much detail, you can spend ages looking at it, also it is one of those covers that goes across the spine and onto the back cover and because of that I picked up a copy.

The plot is a detective type story, some people have been murdered and it is up to one person to find the killer.  I am not a fan of who-dunnit books as I usually figure it out within 50 pages and spend the rest of the time bored as the detective catches up.  This time however there is no doubt who the killer is, it is quite refreshing to sit back as the “detective” figures out how to track down the killer and unweave all of the sub-plots.

One of the main characters is female and the book has a real Jane Austen feel to it as she tries to make her way in a man’s world.  I couldn’t shake that feeling through the whole book, it feels like a classic with a modern day twist…maybe I am sold on the “Historical Fiction” genre after all?  The one real weakness of the story is that it is a series of murders set to the great fire of London, the fire is over quickly and the bulk of the book is set to the rebuilding effort, this worked ok but I wished there was more fire.

This is quite a fast paced book and easy to read, I did enjoy myself and am glad I picked up a copy,  according to goodreads there are more in the series and I’m sure I’ll be looking for book 2 to see how the characters all get together again for a new story.


Book Reviews

A Year in Marrakesh by Peter Mayne


What Da Cover Says:  Having learned to appreciate Muslim life while living in Pakistan, Peter Mayne settled down to live in the back streets of Marrakesh in the 1950s. Rather than watch from the shelter of the hotel terrace, he rented rooms, learned the language, made friends and became embroiled in conspiratorial picnics, hashish-laced dinners and in the enchantments and misunderstandings of the street, with its festivals, love affairs, potions and gossip.

By turns used, abused and cherished by his neighbours, Mayne wrote their letters for them and captured the essence of their lives in this affectionate and hilarious account.

What I Says:  Another great book published by Eland,  I’ve read quite a few of their books now and so far haven’t been disappointed.  A Year in Marrakesh follows Peter Mayne as he spends a year living with the locals, the reason for this is to write a novel, he feels living as he was in society, was stifling his ability to write.  He moves to Marrakesh to find that bit of inner peace to be able to produce that novel he has in his head.

First off I was very impressed by Peter, he doesn’t just sit in his hotel room and write, he goes out and meets people and instead of using a translator he takes lessons on learning their language, this enables him to fit in better than the usual visitor to a place like this.  He meets so many wonderful people and once they realise he isn’t a tourist they treat him as one of their own….also as a good source of cigarettes, stamps, food and drink.  He gets involved in their daily dramas, doing his part and intervening when he can….at times this did feel like a soap opera.  Once word spreads of him being a writer he gets bombarded with requests for letter writing and not once does he decline.  He develops some very strong bonds with some locals and the end of the book/year has some moving scenes.

This book isn’t the book he set out to write, this is his journal and it makes for some interesting reading, if you want an insight into what life was like in Marrakesh during the 1950’s then this is the book for you.


Book Reviews

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan


What da Cover Says:  Do you remember the water buffalo at the end of our street?

or the deep-sea diver we found near the underpass?

do you know why dogs bark in the middle of the night?

Renowned Australian illustrator Shaun Tan, award-winning creator of The Arrival, reveals the quiet mysteries of everyday life: homemade pets, dangerous weddings, stranded sea mammals, tiny exchange students and secret rooms filled with darkness and delight.

What I Says:  I love everything about this book from the illustrations to the quirky little stories.  So much care has been taken to make the whole book fun, even the boring bits,  check out the best ever contents page:

ShaunTan1The illustrations reminded me of the far side cartoons, and they pair up perfectly with the short stories.  There are so many gems here it is tough to pick a favourite, the story about the government keeping missiles in everybody’s gardens and how people soon modify them to be useful, wonderfully shows a side of Humans you don’t get to see.  The instructions from a young girl on how to make your own pet out of unwanted household items is super cute.  But for me the stand out story was “Eric” a story about an exchange student and the impact he has on the visiting family, seriously beautiful ending.

I’m going to give this book to my youngest to read and I can guarantee there will be some tears from her.  100% recommend this, you’re missing out big time if you don’t read it.


Book Reviews

Neither Here, Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson


What Da Cover Says:  Bill Bryson’s first travel book, The Lost Continent, was unanimously acclaimed as one of the funniest books in years. In Neither Here nor There he brings his unique brand of humour to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hammerfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to Istanbul on the cusp of Asia. Fluent in, oh, at least one language, he retraces his travels as a student twenty years before.

Whether braving the homicidal motorists of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant or window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.

What I says:  Bill Bryson is 1 part comedian, 1 part explorer and 1 part grumpy-old-bastard, when you put those three things together you get a very funny travelogue by a reluctant traveller who dislikes most humans.

Neither Here nor There covers two journeys, one when Bill was young and touring Europe with his “mate” Katz and today where Bill is retracing that first journey.  He visits France (full of psychopaths), Belgium (sooooooo dull), Scandinavia (too wet), Italy (untidy), Switzerland (grumpy people), Germany (obvious), Liechtenstein (not very big), Austria (full of tat), Bulgaria (Makes you feel guilty) and Turkey (woohoo made it to the end).  Bill’s sense of humour is not for everybody, he is full of opinions of England’s neighbours (see comments above in brackets) and that can come across as a tad racist at times, I know it was him trying to be funny but I did struggle for a while when he got to Switzerland.

One of my favourite lines in the book is when he is describing the Pompidou centre and says of it’s architect, Richard Rogers; “Look, I put all the pipes on the outside, am I cute enough to kiss?”

He is not the ideal person for this type of journey, he only speaks English, he never plans ahead, he will argue over everything and refuses to try local cuisine as it is probably sheep’s eyes or something similar.  This does add to his charm and regardless of all his faults you do cheer him on when he gets a win.

My second book by Bill Bryson and I’m sold, he is a very entertaining travel writer.


Book Reviews

The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, Jackie Morris (Illustrator)


What da Cover Says: From Acorn to Weasel: a gorgeous, hand-illustrated, large-format spellbook celebrating the magic and wonder of the natural world

All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. Words like Dandelion, Otter, Bramble, Acorn and Lark represent the natural world of childhood, a rich landscape of discovery and imagination that is fading from children’s minds.

The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of the poetry of nature words and the living glory of our distinctive, British countryside. With acrostic spell-poems by peerless wordsmith Robert Macfarlane and hand-painted illustrations by Jackie Morris, this enchanting book captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages.

What I Says:  A truly magical book. Jackie Morris captures the essence of nature perfectly.  From Kingfishers stalking a river, a nightmarish Willow tree in the moonlight, to my favourite, the otters showing their agility in the water.


Robert Macfarlane is trying to bring the words of nature back into the limelight and he uses clever wordplay to make that happen. Each word starts off hidden amongst other letters, you have to decipher the word to continue and find a wonderful poem.  The best of these was the starlings, you could sense the next page was going to feature the murmuration.

I read this book with my daughter and she loved it, each poem created discussion on the words used, each picture was explored looking for hidden gems, every page was savored.

This is a wonderful book, you’ve got to get your hands on a copy to experience it.


Book Reviews

Horror Sleaze Trash Poems edited by Arthur Graham


What da Cover Says:  A collection of submissions sent to Horror Sleaze Trash Publications.

What I Says:  I took my time reading this collection, savouring the fine poems contained within.  One of the things I dislike with their quarterly releases is the length, you just get into it and boom it’s over.  In this book that has been overcome as you get 240 pages crammed full of poems/prose by some of my favourite writers, Johnny Scarlotti, Ben John Smith, Scott Laudati, Rebecca Gransden, A. Lynn Blumer, John D. Robinson and Leah Mueller just to name a few….even the mighty Harry Whitewolf manages to slip one in. (hehe)

The book has been nicely split into THREE parts, poems based around Horror, Sleaze and Trash….and a fourth part at the end which I think is the editors ripping off the Marvel movies by giving you an extra bit at the end.

There was one poem that stood out far above the others which I’ll include here as a sample to entice you into giving the book a go, this is the best poem I’ve read this year:

Rhetorical Question
David Boski
after sitting there
to their tedious conversation
where they relentlessly insulted
all men
all walks of life
referring to them with names
such as:
amongst other things
while suggesting that
it was impossible
for them to find
even remotely
worth dating
in this
big city of ours
I finally
took a sip of my beer
and proposed
a simple question –
“did you ever think that,
perhaps you’re a cunt?”
This book lives up to it’s name as being horrifying, sleazy and trashy and I highly recommend it because it is also great fun.