Book Reviews

No Fixed Abode: A Journey Through Homelessness from Cornwall to London by Charlie Carroll



What da cover says:   In the summer of 2011, Charlie found the school he taught at could not afford to renew his teaching contract. With no job and no money, but suddenly all the time in the world, he decided to travel from Cornwall to London in a peculiarly old-fashioned, quintessentially English and remarkably cheap way – as a tramp, on foot, sleeping rough. The journey was filled with colour, surprise and danger, and a range of memorable encounters – from Stan who once saved a boy from being raped but whose homelessness stemmed from a paralysing addiction, to Ian, who lived in a tent on Parliament Square. With a striking mix of travel and current affairs writing, No Fixed Abode sheds light on a side of the UK few ever see from within.

What I says:  This authors hero is George Orwell and his book “Down and out in Paris and London” sort of inspired Charlie to go on this journey tramping from Cornwall to London sleeping rough every night.

Charlie gives a very honest account of his experiences, he admits that he does not fully commit and has his lifelines to safety by having money and a couch to sleep if needed, his reason for this is he has no need to beg to get proper help when there are those out there who would miss out because of that. I understand this but it is a shame he didn’t commit himself as fully as Orwell did.

The results of Charlie’s rough sleeping are very similar to Orwell’s, you spend most of your time paranoid, fearing the public, drunkards and other homeless people, but the worst seems to be the boredom, having nothing to do all day long, every day. The only real changes over the years is you can stay in one place, in Orwell’s time they try to keep you moving, you are not allowed to come back to one place for help within a month, these days you can keep going back for help.

Some organisations are doing some fantastic work for the homeless but these are very few, there need to be more organisations out there helping the homeless rebuild their lives. Charlie was quite lucky in his travels as he doesn’t come across any of the council’s made ideas for dealing with homeless, like bars on benches so you can’t lie down on them. He tries to interview a few other homeless people but what is missing is some kind of communication with councils to get their take on the situation, what with us being a “1st world country” and still having people with no food, water or shelter.

All in all an interesting read, it loses a star as the walk seems to have been rushed, he doesn’t seem to spend much time enjoying the areas he was walking in, I have walked in a few of the areas and they were stunning, but Charlie had his head down and was focusing on getting to his destination.


Book Reviews

The Long, Long Life of Trees by Fiona Stafford

28819137What da cover says:   A lyrical tribute to the diversity of trees, their physical beauty, their special characteristics and uses, and their ever-evolving meanings

Since the beginnings of history trees have served humankind in countless useful ways, but our relationship with trees has many dimensions beyond mere practicality. Trees are so entwined with human experience that diverse species have inspired their own stories, myths, songs, poems, paintings, and spiritual meanings. Some have achieved status as religious, cultural, or national symbols.

In this beautifully illustrated volume Fiona Stafford offers intimate, detailed explorations of seventeen common trees, from ash and apple to pine, oak, cypress, and willow. The author also pays homage to particular trees, such as the fabled Ankerwyke Yew, under which Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn, and the spectacular cherry trees of Washington, D.C. Stafford discusses practical uses of wood past and present, tree diseases and environmental threats, and trees’ potential contributions toward slowing global climate change. Brimming with unusual topics and intriguing facts, this book celebrates trees and their long, long lives as our inspiring and beloved natural companions.

What I says:  I love looking at trees they can be so majestic at times. I’m quite lucky in that my place at work has some nice grounds with a wide range of trees available to see, some are hundreds of years old, we even have a couple of oaks where the trunks are nearly 2m in diameter. I’m always checking them out looking for places to build a treehouse…once I figure out how to get work to authorise that as my new office. We have one tree, I’ve no idea what type it is but it’s in the middle of a meadow on it’s own, the meadow has always been there but for some reason the tree has huge metal bars sticking out of it, at some point in the past, this metal was bolted to the tree and the tree just grew around it. The tree’s ability to heal is impressive.

metal tree

This amazing book has really opened my eyes, I never realised just how much trees are ingrained in our life, from religion to place names and even flags they are always there in some form or other. The number of places and roads with names originating from trees in the UK alone is impressive.

In this book Fiona Stafford gives us a nice intro into each tree, you get the basic info, the shape of leaves, the flowers and the berries. You also get a bit of history on the more famous trees and those who loved them and either wrote about or painted them. You get given an idea of how long they live and the sort of events in history they have witnessed, this is something that always blows my mind. Then she explains some of the uses that the trees have been used for, making a type of tar to catch thrushes and other small birds and the number of trees you can get drunk from, makes me all the more prepared for the apocalypse.  I have since tried Birch water which wasn’t too bad, I’ve still to find any of the vodkas made from trees. 🙂

The writing, on a topic many would get bored by, is almost poetic at times. Even though there are many pictures included I was always popping onto my phone to google a fact, and each time it wasn’t wrong…a single apple tree with 250 different types of apple on it? True fact! I only have one issue with this book and that stops it from getting 5 stars, the book just suddenly ends, no epilogue, no final thoughts, just the last sentence about apple trees and that’s it, just a long list of references.


Book Reviews

Crow Country by Mark Cocker



What da cover says:   One night Mark Cocker followed the roiling, deafening flock of rooks and jackdaws which regularly passed over his Norfolk home on their way to roost in the Yare valley. From the moment he watched the multitudes blossom as a mysterious dark flower above the night woods, these gloriously commonplace birds were unsheathed entirely from their ordinariness. They became for Cocker a fixation and a way of life. Cocker goes in search of them, journeying from the cavernous, deadened heartland of South England to the hills of Dumfriesshire, experiencing spectacular failures alongside magical successes and epiphanies. Step by step he uncovers the complexities of the birds’ inner lives, the unforeseen richness hidden in the raucous crow song he calls ‘our landscape made audible’. Crow Country is a prose poem in a long tradition of English pastoral writing. It is also a reminder that ‘Crow Country’ is not ‘ours’: it is a landscape which we cohabit with thousands of other species, and these richly complex fellowships cannot be valued too highly.

What I says:  My reason for reading this book is that where I work we have a rookery living in a few of our amazing trees, it is quite small, I think about300 birds. I am always walking past the trees looking upwards with me mouth wide open watching them playing together and scaring off Red Kites. I thought it was time to learn a bit more.

This book is not quite what I expected, I thought it was going to just be some info about birds and the authors experiences in watching the birds, it is that and more. There is so much history of the birds included and even on the watchers themselves. This is probably the first book I read that made me realise that nature books tell a story and is not just a source of information.

I have learnt a lot in reading this book, I can now identify the birds and know some of the things they do. During the winter months I am looking forward to being at work as dusk arrives, I will be out watching to see them do their roosting flights. (I have since seen this, truly amazing spectacle.)

A fantastic book that I really enjoyed reading.


Book Reviews

Freaks I’ve Met by Donald Jans


What da cover says:   Spokane, Washington, is nearly perfect for most people, but Jack Fitzpatrick is not one of them. Hours after graduation and armed with his final paycheck from his nemesis, Mrs. Pohlkiss, Jack heads for Southern California determined to prove that money does buy happiness. Thanks to a lucky run-in with a talent agent a few weeks earlier, Jack has loftier (and more lucrative) dreams than minimum wage in the basement of Nordstrom’s. But once there, he learns that lofty dreams are a dime a dozen in the City of Angels. Broke, barely scraping by, and hating his life as a temp, L.A. is definitely not what Jack expected. But that doesn’t mean he is going to lay down and give up–not yet. After reading “Best Paying Jobs of 1987” in Newsweek magazine, he decides to go after the only one he thinks he has a shot at: institutional bond broker. Once frustrated that his dazzling lack of experience keeps getting in the way, Jack is ecstatic to land a job at Freedom Capital, a no-name firm with a hire anybody mentality. Pumped to be on his way to his first few million, Jack eagerly engages in the challenged ethics of his new employer. When a series of innocent events lands him in prison, he’s sure things can’t get any worse. He would be wrong. Funny, scathing and over-the-top, “Freaks I’ve Met” is an adventure so unlike any other, it must be totally true.

What I says:   I’m not that sure where I stand with this book, the issue is probably down to me trying about 20 times to win a copy of this on the Goodreads Giveaways (RIP to the Goodreads Giveaways) and I never managed to win a copy, in the end I gave up and purchased a copy instead.  So after spending so much time trying to win a copy my hopes for an amazing book had been built quite high.

The book is made up of many short chapters in which you get to meet a lot of odd people or at least they seem odd, a lot are gone before you get the chance to figure them out.  Things then seem to be main character whines, a few freaks make an appearance main character whines some more followed by more freaks, I have to admit I struggled at this repetitiveness.

Then you realise what is going on, Jack, the main character is growing up, getting better at his job and making big decisions, the story then picked up a bit and I got into things more.  The ending, a sort of moral was a nice touch too.

All in all it was a good read, a touch hard going at times but worth giving a go.


Book Reviews

The Hatch by Joe Fletcher


What da cover says:   “I will do such things,” King Lear shouts before the storm, “What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be / The terrors of the earth.”

Drawing upon Edmund Burke’s definition of the sublime—the odd beauty associated with fear and self-preservation; our astonished delight in what destroys, what overpowers and compels us toward darkness—these strange poems mine the sinister fault lines between weird fiction, expressionism, gothic horror, and notions of the absurd, cracking the mundane shell of our given metaphysical order. In the traditions of Nerval, Trakl, Schulz, Tadić, Poe, and contemporaries Aase Berg and Jeff Vandermeer, the wonderful disassociation brought to bear on the reader lies in the conjuring of unprecedented worlds, their myths and logics, their visions and transformations—worlds that resist interpretation almost successfully, and reveal to us the uncanny and nightmarish.

What I says:   This book of poetry/Prose/Flash Fiction is way before it’s time, to fully appreciate this work you need to be living in a dystopian future where the survivors are few, buildings are in ruin and people are a little bit mad.  If you live in that future then great, start reading this book, if that future hasn’t arrived for you yet then still read this book to get you ready.

I am a fan of Rusticles by Rebecca Gransden and this book’s meandering randomness fits in perfectly. One of my favourites in this collection is a poem containing multiple parts, it is about a poet looking through a hole and each time seeing something odd. Each story in Rusticles is a bit like that.

There is the odd bit of humour that will give you a chuckle:

“Here comes the president,
so close to the screen you spy the elastic of his wig”

The book is not afraid to go a bit dark now and then either, there are some lines that are so random they are almost beautiful in their description:

“In a casino bathroom in Malta
I vomited two red dice
into a woman’s hand.”

The highlight for me though was the following wonderful bit of prose:

“A Woman in the Philippines receives news of the death of American entertainer Michael Jackson moments before she is to see a film.  In the dimness of the theatre she unleashes sobs into her hands throughout the romantic comedy. Upon exiting, she notices several other people with reddened eyes.”

This is the first thing I have read by Joe Fletcher and it certainly isn’t going to be the last.


Book Reviews

The Naked Shore: Of the North Sea by Tom Blass


What da cover says:  Like the Celtic and Nordic gods of the countries surrounding it, the North Sea has battered and bewildered, produced and provided, damaged and destroyed in equal measure. Its inclement weather and perilous tides have made it a playground and a proving ground, a nursery and a grave, an object of veneration and a mighty adversary. A sea like no other, it has shaped our modern world and yet remained the same ancient beast known to the earliest inhabitants of its shores.

In North Sea, journalist Tom Blass trawls the bottom and skims the waves of the North Sea, searching for all that glistens, enraptures, enrages, and appals. He sets out to meet the men and women who have devoted their lives to uncovering its secrets, from marine biologists studying the North Sea’s submerged landscapes to the world’s leading expert on Doggerland.

Traveling by tram, ferry, and twelve-seater aircraft around the eclectic borderlands, Blass interviews local fishermen, ornithologists, and bomb-disposal experts, capturing the wild, war-torn history of the North Sea, as well as the ways in which humanity has ecologically transformed it through overfishing and the race for energy.

North Sea scatters light into the sea’s cold and murky depths, exploring its wonders and its relationship with humanity–from drug gangs to the Schleswig Holstein question to the sea’s new role as a headline-grabbing environmental battleground.

What I says:  I saw this book and just had to read it, the North sea is not that far away from me and I know practically nothing about it or the places located on it’s shores.  The book had loads of information about the places and people around a few parts of the sea, most of those places I hadn’t heard of.  But huge chunks seem to have been missed out, Norway barely got a mention and neither did the sea itself.  No interesting stats about length of coastline, it’s depth, lighthouses and the writer only seemed to spend a very short time riding the waves.  Plenty was still included though, oil rigs, fishermen, The Principality of Sealand, artists who have painted the ocean and those that live in areas currently losing the land to the water.  I’ve certainly learnt loads.

The writing lets the book down though, I enjoy reading these types of books because the author always has a love about what they are writing, it doesn’t feel like that here.  Things have a sterile feel to them as if it is a magazine article that the author has been asked to research and write about.  I might have it all wrong, it is a tough thing to write about, the people he meets are secretive, there are big language barriers he doesn’t always manage to get past and the sea itself is a grim old place.

I would recommend this book if you want to know more about the areas around Holland and Germany where folk live right on the edge of being washed away, that was probably the best part of the book.  There might be better books out there but this is a worthy place to start.



Book Reviews

The Road To Purification: Hustlers, Hassles & Hash by Harry Whitewolf


What da cover says:  When Mad Harry spontaneously books a flight for Egypt, he doesn’t know that he’s about to embark on a fate given pilgrimage.
In fact, he’s not even sure why he’s going, or what he’s going to do when he gets there.
All he knows is he’s got to get away.

Guided by signs in numbers, names and otherworldly encounters, Mad Harry’s trip often seems to be a magical manifestation of his mind.

A crazy headed, hassle driven, sleep deprived, dope smoking journey with non-stop tests of trust and temptation.

A holiday this is not.

This good humoured true story is told in a frank, rhythmic and playful voice. Set in 2010, shortly before the revolution, it’s a backpacking odyssey through tremendous temples, towering pyramids, chaotic cities, small villages and dirty beaches, with a backdrop of ancient spiritual gnosis!

A post-modern, pot smoking Egyptian pilgrimage.

What I says: Before you start reading this book play the opening theme tune for the Mighty Boosh…because you are about to go on a journey.

This is one hell of an amazing book, by far the best thing I’ve read by the Whitewolf, the book is so emotional you won’t be able to avoid getting caught up in the madness of Egypt and the rollercoaster that is Harry’s mind… during the scenes where Harry is suffering from a headcold and was feeling feverish I felt it too. The time he spent ill is so well written, it’s amazing he could remember anything from then and for me it is where the book really comes alive. Harry is well known for his beat poetry and during those scenes of not knowing what is real it works so well.

Egypt has never been a place I want to go because of all the hustlers and haggling and hassle, way too stressful for me, but Harry embraces all that and makes it his personal battle to win against everybody he meets, by the end you’ll be cheering him on and he’ll be looking about 7ft tall. If I was to go to Egypt on holiday, he may have to come too.

At times the book does get quite spiritual and that makes for some interesting reading, I don’t claim to understand it all but it does make you stop and think how much better the world could be.

I do recommend reading this before Route Number 11: Argentina, Angels & Alcohol I did them the wrong way round and I think reading in the correct order really helps understanding what is going on with Harry in Book 2.