The Japanese Chronicles by Nicolas Bouvier

What Da Cover Says: A distillation of Bouvier’s lifelong quest for Japan and his many travels, so that the reader discovers the country through the eyes of both a passionate young man, the sensual appreciation of a middle-aged artist, and the serenity of an experienced writer. Bouvier was an image merchant and photographer as well as a writer; this Eland edition of Japanese Chronicles is accompanied by many of his startling images of Japan.

What I Says: A book of two halves, one is a concise history of Japan and it’s people and the second half is a travelogue of one of the most chilled travel writers you’ll ever read.

The history of Japan is not something I know much about, it has only briefly been mentioned in other books so this was the most in-depth I’ve gone. As with a lot of countries they are plodding along nicely…you could say thriving….until the Europeans come along and cause chaos and much bloodshed. The people in Japan did manage to do quite a good job of holding them off and it is because of that achievement they are such a strong nation today. Bouvier has a great love of Japan and this comes through in his writing, a subject that could be rather dry is brightened by his wonderful way with words. I think I would have to re-read this book to get a better understanding as it is difficult to remember all the place names and people.

The second half of the book is the memoirs of a man who has spent many years living in and exploring Japan. He comes across as being super relaxed, going with the flow and in no hurry at all. He does his travelling with very little money sleeping in some awful places full of fleas, this is one of the best things about being an armchair traveller 🙂 He meets some extraordinary people, Bouvier was the sort of person that could befriend anybody and get them to take him in and show him around, the fact he had a camera opened a lot of doors for him. He has a great sense of humour too, I loved the bit where he meets a group of kids and they all give him bits of paper for his autograph and he writes lots of different names for them as a joke.

The best part of the book was at the Abashiri Museum, he meets the owner who is happy to take things out of cabinets for Bouvier to photograph, it turns out this museum is his personal collection of years and years of travelling, he was a brilliant character.

A couple of years ago I read So It Goes by this author and I felt it was a mistake to read his last book before any of his others and I was right, this book is fantastic and will give me a whole new perspective of So It Goes when I read that again.

Another fine book from Eland who have never let me down. Grab a copy from HERE:

Book Reviews

Castles from Cobwebs by J.A. Mensah

What Da Cover Says: ‘I’d always known that I was Brown. Black was different though; it came announced. Black came with expectations, of rhythm and other things that might trip me up.’ Imani is a foundling. Rescued as a baby and raised by nuns on a remote Northumbrian island, she grows up with an ever-increasing feeling of displacement. Full of questions, Imani turns to her shadow, Amarie, and her friend, Harold. When Harold can’t find the answers, she puts it down to what the nuns call her “greater purpose”. At nineteen, Imani answers a phone call that will change her life: she is being called to Accra after the sudden death of her biological mother. Past, present, faith and reality are spun together in this enthralling debut. Following her transition from innocence to understanding, Imani’s experience illuminates the stories we all tell to make ourselves whole.

What I Says: What an incredible debut novel, I was captivated right from the start, a baby found in the snow by a nun on an island just off the Northumberland coast…I knew that this was going to be an interesting puzzle to unravel.

Imani was that baby and there is something rather unique about her, her shadow seems to have a life of it’s own and goes by the name Amarie. You don’t get much info about what she is, Demon? Angel? a twin? What you do know is that others can see her, it’s hard to get an idea of whether Amarie is good or evil. When Imani is 19 she gets a phone call telling her that her mother has died and she has to come home to Ghana for the funeral. The story then becomes a discovery of self identity, who is she? what is her shadow? and why did her mother leave her alone on the island. There are so many questions that need to be answered and I’ve got to admit I was worried there was too many and that Mensah would struggle to answer them all and still have a story that makes sense.

Using some clever use of timelines and using Anansi the spider (an African folklore character and God of stories) as a tool Mensah was able to weave a beautiful story that answers all your questions and leaves you feeling rather emotional. There is no way of figuring out things for yourself as this story is just too clever for that so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

For me this is gonna be one of the top books I’ll read this year some fantastic characters and stunning settings on the island and in Ghana have made this a joy to read.

Thanks to Saraband books for the copy of this book I won in a competition, you can get a copy of this book from HERE: I would check out their other books too as they have some beautiful looking books.

Book Reviews

Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du Mal) by Charles Baudelaire

What Da Cover Says: Charles Pierre Baudelaire (April 9, 1821 – August 31, 1867) was a French poet who produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe. His most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), expresses the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the 19th century. Baudelaire’s highly original style of prose-poetry influenced a whole generation of poets including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stephane Mallarme among many others. He is credited with coining the term “modernity” (modernite) to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience.

What I Says: This is the sort of poetry that put me off the subject when I was at school, if you just read the book it is bloody awful, if you take your time and try and figure out what the words mean then you’ll grasp just why everybody says this is so good. It will also help to read this when stuck in a pandemic lockdown, the feeling of melancholia from the book will ring true with you.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this collection, I can see that it was ahead of it’s time and it is great that it inspired so many but it strictly sticks within the rules of poetry, each poem sticks with that fancy iambic meter thing used in poetry and the rhyming has to work at the expense of using a sensible word, this dumbass had to keep looking up words…what sort of crazy person would use “laves” instead of wash? Because of sticking within these rules the poems don’t seem to have any character to them, this really shows in the longer poems, I was nearly falling asleep near the end of a few of them. Every now and then though you come across a real gem, a poem that stands out and grabs your attention..one like “The Death Of The Poor”.

Not the easiest collection to read but a million times better than anything I could produce.

Book Reviews

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time by Simon Garfield

What Da Cover Says: Not so long ago we timed our lives by the movement of the sun. These days our time arrives atomically and insistently, and our lives are propelled by the notion that we will never have enough of the one thing we crave the most. How have we come to be dominated by something so arbitrary?

The compelling stories in this book explore our obsessions with time. An Englishman arrives back from Calcutta but refuses to adjust his watch. Beethoven has his symphonic wishes ignored. A moment of war is frozen forever. The timetable arrives by steam train. A woman designs a ten-hour clock and reinvents the calendar. Roger Bannister becomes stuck in the same four minutes forever. A British watchmaker competes with mighty Switzerland. And a prince attempts to stop time in its tracks.

Timekeepers is a vivid exploration of the ways we have perceived, contained and saved time over the last 250 years, narrated in the highly inventive and entertaining style that bestselling author Simon Garfield is fast making his own. As managing time becomes the greatest challenge we face in our lives, this multi-layered history helps us tackle it in a sparkling new light.

What I Says: A collection of essays on time, from hanging from the minute hand in a movie to the art of watchmaking. I found this a fascinating read and Simon’s quirky humour really adds to the book. A sign of a good book is when I spend ages telling people about bits I’ve learnt, I had some great discussions about when we adopted modern time and the influence the railway had on that, living in this day it is really difficult to imagine the chaos of time in different cities around the UK.

Time also seems to have been affected in this book, the start mentions a moment when the author fell off his bike and when the same scene is mentioned in the epilogue it felt really weird so much time seemed to have passed.

The epilogue is the weakest part of the book, the last chapter ends perfectly, a long quote by the great Carl Sagan and some very moving words about death and that we don’t have time to mourn properly these days, it was a fine ending and then the epilogue, a few pages about some bizarre watches, seemed a very odd way to end things, I don’t really get it.

This is a top book on a topic many would find boring, give it a go, you don’t have to read the whole thing in one go, dip in and out reading a chapter now and then, you’ll take plenty from giving it a go.

It is remarkable just how much of this book sticks with you, it was a few years ago that I read this but I can still use information gleaned from this book in everyday conversation….I can supply so much information you can see their eyes glazing over….bliss!

Book Reviews

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

What Da Cover Says: Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

What I Says: What a rollercoaster of a read this was, every up and down experienced by Macdonald was also experienced by this reader, the further into madness she went the more intense I felt towards this bird, each time the bird flew I found my heart also about to explode with joy. When I was younger I developed an obsession with Osprey’s I wanted one more than anything else, I could easily imagine myself training it and popping to the shops with it on my fist….my parents got me two canaries instead which were a bugger to train to hunt. Before starting this book I was in two minds about whether I would like it, I love going to the local Hawk Conservancy (coincidentally this was where I purchased this book) and being able to see these beautiful birds up close but at the same time I feel guilty that I get this happiness at the expense of their freedom.

This book consists of three parts, the first part is about a woman who has lost her father and is dealing with the grief, next there is the same woman buying a Goshawk and training it and finally there is the man who inspired her, T. H. White in which we find out all about his life and his experiences with training his hawk. Reading about Macdonald’s father and how his death almost broke her was heart-breaking but her words about this man were wonderful and I loved reading about him, reading about the Goshawk (named Mabel) was mesmerising, the writing is so powerful the bird almost comes alive on the page. I found the parts about White hard going, this man was doing it all wrong and I had no real interest in him, I just wanted to get past those pages and get back to Mabel to see how she was getting on. But as the bond between Macdonald and Mabel started to grow and after Mabel starts to fly I found myself drawn more towards White, everything about him was so tragic and he was incredibly self destructive, the man may have had no idea about training his hawk but you soon realise it was his mistakes that has taught us so much about falconry today.

Macdonald’s love and attachment to Mabel is intense, her emotions feel so raw and I got quite emotional reading as she started to become feral, pulling away from the community and losing herself in the hawk. Mabel herself is a thing of beauty and seeing just how free she actually is made me feel much better about those trips to the Hawk Conservancy. Once you let the bird fly it is all up to her whether the bond with the human is more powerful than the lure of flying free and doing what she was born to be, any time she is released could be the day she says “see ya laterz”. A lot of these books try to show the animal’s human side but here that fails, the bird’s identity is just too strong and in fact it is the human that start’s to show their animal side…I could image myself running a mile if Macdonald was to burst through a hedge covered in blood chasing a rabbit out into the open.

This book was so good, one that will stick with me for a long time and one that will always come to mind each time I see a bird of prey. 100% recommend giving this one a go.

Book Reviews

Whiteout Conditions By Tariq Shah

What Da Cover Says: Ant is back in Chicago for a funeral, and he typically enjoys funerals. Since most of his family has passed away, he finds himself attracted to their endearing qualities: the hyperbolic language, the stoner altar boy, seeing friends in suits for the first time. That is, until the tragic death of Ray ― Ant’s childhood friend, Vince’s teenage cousin. Ray was the younger third-wheel that Ant and Vince were stuck babysitting while in high school, and his sudden death makes national news.

In the depths of a brutal Midwest winter, Ant rides with Vince through the falling snow to Ray’s funeral, an event that has been accruing a sense of consequence. With a poet’s sensibility, Shah navigates the murky responsibilities of adulthood, grief, toxic masculinity, and the tragedy of revenge in this haunting Midwestern noir.

What I says: A heart-breaking road trip in the midst of a tragedy that hits the characters harder than they want to let on. Shah’s unique writing style gives the reader brief glimpses of the character’s past and present with this unknown tragedy looming over them the whole time, these glimpses are almost as hypnotic as watching windscreen wipers on the slow setting, with each sweep the story moves on.

Our narrator is Ant and something feels off about him right from the start, he has this weird obsession with funerals…he almost craves them… He is collected at the airport by Vince and they embark on the journey to a funeral of a childhood friend whose violent death has hit the national headlines. There is a tension between Ant and Vince which keeps threatening to boil over into violence and it is this tension that keeps you on edge, wondering what has gone down between these two and has you guessing at what has happened to their childhood friend.

This is a tale about grief and how we cope with loss, Ant has to deal with a lot and the book’s fantastic ending feels so surreal, playing out in a way you could never have guessed.

This is the sort of book I enjoy reading, having no idea where it is going to take you. One of the biggest arguments for giving indie publishers a go because the big guys ain’t gonna take a risk on putting something this beautiful out in the world.

Thanks to Dead Ink Books for the copy of this book. You can grab yourself a copy from HERE:

Book Reviews

The Sound Mirror by Heidi James

What Da Cover Says: Tamara is going to kill her mother, but she isn’t the villain. Tamara just has to finish what began at her birth and put an end to the damage encoded in her blood. Leaving her job in Communications, Tamara dresses carefully and hires a car, making the trip from London to her hometown in Kent, to visit her mother for the last time. Accompanied by a chorus of ancestors, Tamara is harried by voices from the past and the future that reveal the struggles, joys and secrets of these women’s lives that continue to echo through and impact her own.

The Sound Mirror spans three familial generations from British Occupied India to Southern England, through intimately rendered characters, Heidi James has crafted a haunting and moving examination of class, war, violence, family and shame from the rich details of ordinary lives.

What I says: Heidi James has produced a spectacular exploration of three generations of one family and how past events and shame can pass down to future family members. It was rather eye-opening for me being a man discovering just how much mothers and daughters go through during their life and how much their outcome can be changed by one decision going against them, the changes that Ada goes through are incredibly drastic. The book has scenes that were heart-breaking and others that dazzled they were so full of love.

The writing is poetic at times and the characters feel so real, it has been a while since I’ve read a book containing such vivid characters and whilst there are three different storylines I was constantly thinking back to what had happened and what could possibly happen next to them. There was a real love/hate relationship with the characters too, whilst life was throwing them a bad ‘un you really felt for them but when it was them being the cause of stress you felt like picking them up by their lapels and giving them a good telling them off. The plot was intriguing, for a lot of the book I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out and how the characters were related, when things were revealed you couldn’t fault the choices made.

I have really enjoyed this, following the lives of these three women during three very different time periods was fantastic, how James managed to juggle them and make the changes between chapters feel seamless boggles my mind. The first book I’ve read by Heidi James and it has left me craving more of her books.

This was part of the Bluemoose Women writers special and they have done themselves proud by releasing some brilliant books. Here are my reviews of the others:

Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught

Should We Fall Behind By Sharon Duggal

East Coast Road by Anna Chilvers

Captain Jesus by Colette Snowden

Book Reviews

The Future of You: Can Your Identity Survive 21st-Century Technology by Tracey Follows

What Da Cover Says: In the future, how many identities will you have? How many do you want? Digital technology is causing us to think differently about who we are and who we could become, but with the right knowledge we can turn this incredible capacity to our advantage.

‘Who am I?’ is one of the most fundamental questions of all. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to answer as technology enables us to negotiate and create many different versions of ourselves.

In our digital, data-driven world, Facebook gets a say in verifying who we are, science can alter our biology, and advances in AI are revolutionizing not only how we interact online but with the physical world around us. Understanding and defining ourselves is becoming confusing but, as this fascinating book argues, it is possible to embrace this new era of transformation while preserving our autonomy.

In The Future of You, Professional futurist Tracey Follows shows how our personal freedoms and potential will be transformed over the coming decades. From health passports, bio-hacking and relationships with machines to mind clones, digital voting and virtual legacies beyond the grave, we need to understand these vital issues today so that we might design the future of our identity tomorrow.

What I Says: This has to be one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read…possibly one of the scariest too. Tracey Follows takes a look at emerging technologies to try and get an idea of what the future holds for us, a lot of what she covers already exists and the rest is in concept mode, meaning the basics are there, it just needs a whole load of development to exist for real. I now know how my parents felt when computers and the Internet were what the kids were playing with, it was a huge leap into the future and they had no idea how they would keep up, now with these future possibilities I am left wondering if I’ll be able to keep up, managing a digital identity where everything is virtual is one thing but keeping it safe is scary as hell, what if I get implants and then get hacked? Do I need a better password that Password1 from now on? The more I read though the more excited I became for what the future holds, could we be really close to The Matrix being a thing? Which pill did what now?

Follows does a very good job of explaining each concept in a way that made it sound so very simple, for example blockchain, I have heard this mentioned a lot and didn’t understand it, now I get it and am very impressed by how it works. I found myself taking a break between each chapter because she gets your brain whirling like crazy and you go on a google bender reading up on things discussed and checking out companies and the services they offer. One of the most interesting was a company that interviews a parent and records their voice, they then create an app and when that person has passed on you can chat to them and hold a conversation with the app, this is so cool and would allow Grandchildren to hear that voice. This technology already exists and the book covers what could be available in the future.

There is a lot to process here, ownership of data is one of the biggest things, for example if you could store memories online and then divorce who would get them? Before a huge amount of this technology exists a lot of work will have to be done to amend laws. It was also of interest to see what countries are already doing, Taiwan successfully used their digital infrastructure to give them an advantage during the Covid pandemic and because the people accepted the digital ID and followed rules they survived…meanwhile over in the UK we had protests over wearing a mask. I can see the UK being left behind, whilst the rest of the world goes online we will be on the streets still complaining about our loss of rights due to needing a vaccination passport to purchase 600 rolls of toilet paper.

This is a very good book, with tonnes of information for you to take on board, too much for a first read through, luckily there is ample info at the back of the book for further reading. Whilst the future may seem like a long way off, technology is certainly speeding it up, I’m glad I gave this book a read to prepare myself what is to come. Now where’s that red pill?

Thanks to Elliot & Thompson for the book, you can get a copy from HERE:

Book Reviews

Gone: A search for what remains of the world’s extinct creatures by Michael Blencowe

What Da Cover Says: Inspired by his childhood obsession with extinct species, Blencowe takes us around the globe â€“ from the forests of New Zealand to the ferries of Finland, from the urban sprawl of San Francisco to an inflatable crocodile on Brighton’s Widewater Lagoon. Spanning five centuries, from the last sighting of New Zealand’s Upland Moa to the 2012 death of the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, Lonesome George, his memoir is peppered with the accounts of the hunters and naturalists of the past as well as revealing conversations with the custodians of these totemic animals today. 
Featuring striking artworks that resurrect these forgotten creatures, each chapter focuses on a different animal, revealing insights into their unique characteristics and habitats; the history of their discovery and just how and when they came to be lost to us. 
Blencowe inspects the only known remains of a Huia egg at Te Papa, New Zealand; views hundreds of specimens of deceased Galapagos tortoises and Xerces Blue butterflies in the California Academy of Sciences; and pays his respects to the only soft tissue remains of the Dodo in the world. Warm, wry and thought-provoking, Gone shows that while each extinction story is different, all can inform how we live in the future.

What I Says: Wow! This was one hell of a book, absolutely fascinating. Blencowe shares his life long obsession of extinct animals with us and takes us with him around the world as he checks out the last places these animals were seen….and has a go at trying to spot one of the animals pretending to be extinct and claim the prize money for discovering it. The big names are here, Pinta Island Tortoise, The Great Auk and of course the mighty Dodo, also included are lesser known species, The Spectacled Cormorant, the beautiful Xerces Blue butterfly and my favourite the Huia. I first heard about the Huia in the movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople and it sent me on a google trip researching the bird, it was great to see the movie get a mention here.

One thing that this book shows is the human’s appetite for killing and the lack of care of other species, I knew that the Victorians would eat anything and wiped out whole groups of animals, what I didn’t know was just how brutal they were, the treatment of the Steller’s Sea Cow was horrible, so unnecessarily cruel and wasteful. Blencowe describes how other species have been wiped due to habitat lose, some just don’t stand a chance and whilst there is some hope as people become aware of what we are losing I don’t think it is enough as the decision makers don’t seem to care, the HS2 line in the UK is a good example of so much destruction so that people can get somewhere a little bit quicker. The subject matter is very dark, it could make the reader rather depressed, I certainly felt low at some points, luckily Blencowe brings his wonderful sense of humour and childlike wonder to his writing, who hasn’t as a grownup got distracted and had an ice cream melt all down their hand, Blencowe shares this with us and you can’t help sitting there with a massive grin on your face. One last interesting bit from the book is in the conclusion, in the making of this book Blencowe has travelled the world and he comes to terms with his impact on the environment, a nice little touch.

The book is full of wonderful little illustrations by Jade They which really do bring the animals to life, these illustrations mixed with Blencowe’s writing make this a stunning little book that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Thank you to Leaping Hare Press for the copy, You can get this wonderful little book from HERE:

Book Reviews

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

What Da Cover Says: George Orr is a mild and unremarkable man who finds the world a less than pleasant place to live: seven billion people jostle for living space and food. But George dreams dreams which do in fact change reality – and he has no means of controlling this extraordinary power.

Psychiatrist Dr William Haber offers to help. At first sceptical of George’s powers, he comes to astonished belief. When he allows ambition to get the better of ethics, George finds himself caught up in a situation of alarming peril. 

What I Says: The first book I’ve read by Ursula Le Guin and what an impressive book this was. There was no reason to start with this one, I wanted to read one of her books and this was the only one at the library. If there is one thing guaranteed to give me a headache it is books about time-travel and trying to figure out how timelines can be affected, this book was just as bad. George Orr’s dreams can change reality, people can be wiped out in the blink of an eye and nobody would realise, it’s crazy, who’s to say this doesn’t happen in real life…have I always existed or have I just been created whilst reading this book? Have the 4 people who will read this review only have existed because I dreamed they’d read it? And why didn’t that dream about an endless supply of Whiskey not come true?

George Orr isn’t the best of characters he is very dull, maybe due to being sleep deprived, I found it very hard to care about him, it is obvious that he has been damaged by the stress of living with the repercussions of his dreams but I still found him too annoying to care about. His doctor is far more interesting, reading as he comes to believe in George’s ability and him throwing ethics out the window to start controlling the world was much more fun. I did find some outcomes predictable and I’m guessing that was on purpose seeing as we are relying on George’s imagination.

Overall I did enjoy the story, a few weaknesses but an original idea for a sci-fi novel, I’ll definitely be looking to reading more by Ursula and am open to recommendations.