Book Reviews

A Spotter’s Guide to Toilets By Lonely Planet

What Da Cover Says: Loos with incredible views, lavish lavatories, outstanding outhouses – all are featured in this pictorial guide to the world’s most stunning toilets. Whether they’re high-tech or arty, amusing or amazing, each toilet has a photo and a description of its location. More than 100 restrooms to remember are featured, from Antarctica to Zambia.

As any experienced traveller knows, you can tell a whole lot about a place by its bathrooms. Whatever you prefer to call them – lavatory, loo, bog, khasi, thunderbox, dunny, bathroom, restroom, washroom or water closet – toilets are a (sometimes opaque, often wide-open) window into the secret soul of a destination.

It’s not just how well they’re looked after that’s revealing, but where they are positioned and the way they’ve been conceptualised, designed and decorated. Toilets so often transcend their primary function of being a convenience to become a work of art in their own right, or to make a cultural statement about the priorities, traditions and values of the venues, locations and communities they serve.

The lavatory is a great leveller – everyone feels the call of nature, every day – but being ubiquitous doesn’t make it uniform. Around the planet (and beyond it, see page 12), toilets have followed various evolutionary pathways to best suit their environment.

In these pages you’ll find porcelain pews with fantastic views, audacious attention-seeking urban outhouses, and eco-thrones made from sticks and stones in all sorts of wild settings, from precipitous mountain peaks to dusty deserts. So, wherever you’re reading this, we hope you’re sitting comfortably.

What I Says: Full disclosure, whilst I do have a toilet fetish I did not actually buy this book, it was a gift from the wife, I assuming it is either her announcing she knows about said fetish or she is planning on redoing the toilet…which is fine with me as long as it is one of the ones with a mountain view.

Things I have learnt from this book:

  • As with most things New Zealand do it right, the best looking bogs are there.
  • London has a hidden toilet, no it’s not the whole place!
  • Norway have great views but it isn’t stated whether their seats are heated or not.
  • In China there is a building with a fair few toilets in it.
  • This book is about toilets, but you don’t often see the toilet.
  • The best toilet in the book? UK wins, there is a TARDIS in Warmley, where ya can do ya business…whilst Dr Who looks on I expect.

And that’s about it, some inventive toilets out there and some with nice views, overall the book was pretty dull, I was expecting a few jokes but alas I seemed to have missed them.

Interviews

Nobel Prize Winning Interview with Leah Angstman

Hey everybody, it has been a little while since my last interview and there are two reasons for that: the continual ignoring of me by the Nobel Prize committee and a crazy number of amazing books turning up that are begging to be read by me. One of those that turned up was by Leah Angstman, a rather stunning story that made the ice cold heart inside me melt…I reckon Leah started some kind of climate change in me…so I thought she was the ideal candidate to get my interviewing back on track. So, wave hysterically at Leah as she answers the following questions.

Q1: Tell us a bit about yourself and how have you been handling the pandemic? 

LA: I have trouble introducing myself—I know myself quite well, but I struggle to put words to what I know. I process in blips of odd facts rather than in any kind of linear structure. I’m a mama to 1-year-old Torgo—a German Shepherd christened after a laughable villain with goat legs in a tragically awful 60s horror movie—the editor of Alternating Current Press and The Coil, and the author of Out Front the Following Sea, a novel of French and English colonial tensions during King William’s War in 17th-century New England (Regal House, January 2022). I’m good at arranging other people’s syntax, terrible at speaking aloud, and sorta okay at history.

I’m as bored as is everyone of the pandemic, but I’ve gotten by all right. I run my own business and work from home, so I was luckily in a better position than a lot of people, and I was able to hustle for some freelance editing gigs when my partner was put on half-pay. But 2020 was 10 years in one: my dog died, my cat died, my dad almost died, my state was on fire, ash fell from the sky every time I tried to breathe. Funny thing is that I haven’t written one single word about the pandemic the whole time we’ve been enduring it—it drains me even to think about. If historians look back on other historians, then some future historian will wonder why my slate is so blank for such a crucial moment in time. But the world was too real to me; I lost the desire to read novels, fiction felt cheap, and I suppose I looked for answers in the past, like I usually do—I read more research archives in 2020 alone than I had for the entirety of my life prior combined. But, hey, I’m still here. Still staying home. Vaccinated. Just … waiting it out, partially calm and partially binge-raging a lot like this.

Q2:  How did you come up with the idea for the plot of Out Front The Following Sea?

LA: Everything about Out Front the Following Sea was an accident. I had written poetry since I was a teenager and had never even penned so much as a prose poem or microfiction when I randomly thought one day that I should start an epic novel. Which I of course shouldn’t have, because I spent the next 11 years trying to undo every sentence I’d initially written. The book was an excellent exercise in editing and reediting and reediting, but the first iteration, clocking in at nearly double the length she is now, didn’t even have a plot. I was Virginia Woolfing just to hear myself talk and purple-prosing like a Melvillian disciple, but so much of it ended up being useless. I don’t think the plot even truly found itself until draft two or three.

Q3:  You must have done a lot of research to create this story. It comes across as feeling very authentic, especially the use of language. How did you go about doing the research? (I loved that you included a map of the ship at the start, did you get the chance to go on one?)

LA: In the most simplistic terms, I love language. I thrill at discovering “new” old words and can’t wait to insert them into some future passage. For this particular book, it was very important for me to make sure the Pequot language was portrayed as authentically as possible, which was its own kind of challenge because it wasn’t a written language, and the last Native Pequot speaker died in 1908. It’s considered an extinct language. There are close dialectal variations (Mohegan), close Eastern Algonquian cognates, some fragments of remaining scholarly attempts to capture a few phrases and syntax, but I largely had to piece together the structure from white translators’ and colonial settlers’ vocabulary lists from the 1600s and 1700s, which of course is problematic in its own right. You can find a resource list for those translations in the back of the novel.

The older words I use within the English language tend to come from diaries and written accounts of the time. My favorite way to get the feel of a place and time is to read really boring things, like itemized cost lists from merchant shops, town records (births, deaths, weddings, properties, census, wealth accounts), farming almanacs, newspapers (especially classifieds and advertisements), local diaries or record-keeping journals of regular civilians, local histories put together by resident town historians and archivists, scientific papers, and personal letters written back and forth between everyday people. My reading list tends to look a little like Henry David Thoreau mentioning the cost of each nail to build his house. I pay particular attention to architecture, how people would have moved within a given space under certain restrictions, historical weather, and even what the actual phase of the moon was on a given night.

And lastly, the ship. Ah, the ship. I love to draw maps, and since so much time is spent onboard the fluyt Primrose, the diagram had to be included. But the nautical realm is not my area of expertise (though it is my area of affection), so I do my best with my Treasure Island-understanding of daring ship adventures, close my eyes, and cross my fingers that I get most of it right, and I avoid mentioning the difficult ship lingo and items that escape me as a land-dweller. The diagram comes from an amalgamation of real diagrams of the time period, but no, I’ve never been on a fluyt, nor any ship that old. I have been on some stunning and fascinating ships, however—among them Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous flagship US Brig Niagara, a great 1797 East Indiaman replica called the Friendship of Salem, and the world’s actual oldest ship of any type still afloat, the USS Constitution aka “Old Ironsides.”

Q4:  There are some brutal scenes in your book. Was it is hard to write them?  Are there any bits you wished you had done differently?

LA: My book is a lot less brutal than actual history was, but yes, I write brutal and violent stories. There are enough people who romanticize history into silly ruffles and cotillions, and I’ve never been big on that. History generally sucked for most people, and only the tiniest sliver of a privileged class got to enjoy anything—mind you, they still pooped in pots and holes in the ground—and usually their privilege was at the expense of someone else’s agony. I consider it a great trait of mine that I can look back at historical events without rose-colored glasses and am able to see clearly that even the historical folks I admire had plenty of flaws. There are no real heroes in history—just people doing what they think is right (or specifically what they think is wrong) at the time to muddy it all up into a palette of grays. I love the nuances that so many stories miss, but with each nuance comes the necessity of tackling uncomfortable truths. History is an ugly beast, and the discomfort is what I love most about her. She’s wildly imperfect and dark.

So, were the brutal scenes hard to write? No, on the contrary—they were hard for me to rein in. I could have made everything so much worse and still been within historical accuracy, and I don’t always know where to draw that line. I have to rely on editors to tell me when my brutality is too much.

As for what I might have done differently, eh. A story goes through so many different iterations, and at some point, you finally have to say you’re done and walk away from it. I could write it and rewrite it and change a hundred things and end up with an entirely different story, but it ends where it ends, and I’ve walked away from it. I’m too busy for that kind of regret. If there’s something I should have done differently, I’ll recycle it for some other story in the future. She is the beast she is. Let her go.

Q5:  Where do you do your writing?  Do you have an interesting view?

LA: I don’t have any one specific place where I do my writing. I lounge on multiple couches, sit at the kitchen table, stand at a standing desk, write in bed, sit in my backyard, write in the car, pace all through the house, talk into my voice recorder while I’m walking the dog. This entire book was first handwritten (yes, handwritten!) on loose-leaf lined paper while sitting on a bean bag in front of an iron stove heater in the dead of a freezing winter over the course of a few weeks, and by the end of the first draft, my neck hurt so bad that I had to ice it for days. So, do I have an interesting view? Sometimes. I do have the Rocky Mountains right in my backyard. Sometimes I have an incredible sunrise. Sometimes this face is my view.

Q6:  Your book is out this January. You got any publicity plans to get it noticed?

LA: Wait, I thought this interview was going to win the Nobel Prize? That’s what I’ve been banking on all along.

In all seriousness, I have purchased lots of advertising space in literary marketplaces, am in the middle of a huge mailing campaign to bookstores, am spending a ton of money I don’t have on advance reader copies, and am planning several U.S. tours throughout 2022 to bookstores, colleges, libraries, and literary festivals. Everything else is just hustle, hustle, hustle.

Q7:  Are you much of a reader?  What is your favourite book?

LA: I’m an avid reader, though most of what I read “doesn’t count” for reading challenges, Goodreads, or booklists. I read a ton of old research documents, letters, treaties, legislature, old medical journals, and of course I read a ton of submissions for Alternating Current Press. I try to read one “real” book per week, so I always set my Goodreads Challenge for 52 books per year, but most of them tend to be audiobooks while dogwalking or poetry books if I slip behind in my challenge and have to catch up. The rest of the time, I’m stuck reading these 800-page biographies that I can hardly hold open in my hands.

My favorite books are all old nostalgic (and brutal) kids’/YA books from my youth: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, My Brother Sam Is Dead, The Summer of My German Soldier, Johnny Tremain, Call of the Wild. For big-kid books, I love the ones that tear me to pieces: Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Killer Angels, The Things They Carried, Lonely Hearts Hotel, and a handful of others that you can find on my Bookshop list. My favorite book is in there somewhere, but it changes from day to day.

Q8:  If you could go into a book or movie as one of the characters, which book would you choose and how would you influence the story?

LA: The dog lover in me would say Rin Tin Tin, or Buck from Call of the Wild, but there’s little I’d change except giving a swift buttkick to the Man in the Red Sweater for clubbing dogs. I guess I should leave it at that, so I don’t crash headlong into spoiler alerts. I can think of a gazillion I’d-make-this-person-not-die scenarios, but I don’t want to spoil the stories for those who haven’t read them!

Q9:  What is your favourite meal?  And if you could pick one person to share that meal with, who would you pick?

LA: Comfort food, mostly any kind of mac and cheese. The history nerd in me says I’d want to share it with the marquis de Lafayette, first circa 1781, coming off the triumph of Yorktown, to see him at his happiest, but then at a second meal later, after the agony of the French Revolution, after being jailed for years, after leaving the French legislature (but before being asked to come back to America, so let’s say early 1824), to ask him what parts were worth it, and what parts he’d do over if he could. Maybe I’d have a third mac and cheese with him on his deathbed and just let him ramble and reflect in a pneumoniatic haze while I write it all down, the arbiter of his memoirs.

But if you caught me unawares with this question on the street, the fangirl in me would probably just squeal and blurt out: Bruce Springsteen! I’d totally have mac and cheese with The Boss.

Q10:  When your book eventually gets made into a series/movie who would you like to play the parts of Ruth, Owen and Samuel?

LA: Oooof, this is very difficult because Owen was actually fashioned with a young Wes Bentley in mind, circa 2002 in The Four Feathers (only with shaggy hair), and I just don’t know anyone today who comes close to that. Wes Bentley is too old now to play a twenty-something, but Hollywood! If you’re listening! Find me a young Wes Bentley! But if I have to pick someone of age, then okay, let’s go with … Dylan Sprayberry? With shoulder-length scruffy hair, some dirt and sweat, rolled-up sleeves, and a five o’clock shadow. Is he versatile enough, though? It’s a pretty taxing role.

For Ruth, hmmm, I don’t know very many young stars these days. I think I’ll pick Sophia Lillis. She’s the rightish age and has incredible natural beauty (those freckles!). Give her long hair and we’ve got a Ruth.

For Sam, I guess I imagine him as a younger Russell-Crowe-as-Javert, but since that’s not an option anymore, well, I’ve always been a fan of the unnerving eyes and commanding voice of Richard Armitage. He can be equally placating and terrifying.

Q11:  What plans you got for the future? Any new books coming out after Out Front the Following Sea?

LA: I’m slow to finish things, but I’m not slow to start things. I always have a poetry collection, a story collection, an immediate novel, and a long-range novel that I’m working on at any given time. I try to write one poem per weekend, one short story per month, one novel per year, and one long-range novel over the span of as long as it takes. (For the bigtime fans, you can subscribe to my Patreon for my story-a-month and poem-a-week posts.)

So, my poetry project is currently a longform narrative about the marquis de Lafayette during his time in the French National Guard; and following the completion of that one, I’ll begin an epic biography-in-verse of my twelfth-great uncle, American Revolutionary War “hero” (myth? legend? folklore? actually a stubborn pain-in-the-arse?) Ethan Allen. I’m currently shopping a poetry collection about the American Midwest and the selling of my childhood home (which has been three times a bridesmaid, never a bride: she’s been a finalist in the Cowles Poetry Book Prize and the Able Muse Book Award, and a semifinalist in the Hillary Gravendyk Prize), and I’ve got another completed feminist poetry collection about women in history that’s getting its final editing touches from beta readers and should be ready to shop in 2022.

For short stories, my current project is Second Sons. It’s a riff on the horrible “The _____’s Daughter” title trend, but each historical story is titled “The _____’s Son,” and it’s about the tragedies of secondborn sons throughout history (but don’t worry, there are plenty of ladies in it; it’s not a sausagefest, I promise). It’s turned out to be shockingly dark so far, even for me. Next on deck after that is Imagined Endings for the Disappeared, a collection of made-up endings for the real-life disappearances of historical people. And my agent and I are currently shopping my first completed story collection of short, non-linked “histories,” which includes my favorite thing I’ve ever written, a novella about a female botanist in the 1850s.

And ah, the novels, novels, novels. My second novel, about the French Revolution, currently longlisted for a Goethe Award for post-1750s historical fiction, is under consideration from a press right now, and we’re hoping for a spring 2023 release for that one, especially since Paris seems to be a hot trending topic in historical fiction at the moment (though the book was first written in 2011, when no one cared about the trend yet). If you thought my first novel was brutal, lol, wait until you get to the noyades de Nantes. My agent is also shopping my third novel, about the decline of the Gold Rush in 1850s Sacramento Valley, which is currently longlisted for a Laramie Award for Americana fiction; and my in-the-works project is my fourth novel—an accidental loose sequel to the latter book, taking place ten years later at the end of the American Civil War in the western wilderness. And of less interest to you, probably, is that I’m working on a series of historical coming-of-age stories for middle-graders, about young girls and boys/pre-teens/teens living in various places in the U.S. throughout history, exploring different regions, historical events, wars, cultures, &c. Those are under a pen name because of the brutality of my adult books.

The current long-range novel project looks like it’s going to end up being a trilogy. It’s an ungodly ambitious alternative history of the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars, featuring real-life historical individuals. It’s a lot. I’ve had to read six huge biographies just for the first two paragraphs’ worth of writing. Based on that, I think the first book will take me three years to finish, and the entire trilogy (if it turns out to be a trilogy) will take me 10 to 15 years. Wish me luck!

Practical task:  I am doing a gnome gallery on my blog, can you create a piece of artwork based on Gnomes, can be any medium and you are welcome to name the piece. 

Massive thanks to Leah for such a great interview, some fantastic books to look forward to in the future. And Sophia Lillis is an awesome actress and would love to see her playing Ruth.

Leah Angstman is the author of the debut novel of King William’s War in 17th-century New England, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA (Regal House, January 2022), and the editor-in-chief of Alternating Current Press and The Coil magazine. Find her at leahangstman.com and all over social media as @leahangstman.

Book Reviews

Thin Places by Kerri Ní Dochartaigh

What Da Cover Says: Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. She was brought up on a grey and impoverished council estate on the wrong side of town. But for her family, and many others, there was no right side. One parent was Catholic, the other was Protestant. In the space of one year they were forced out of two homes and when she was eleven a homemade petrol bomb was thrown through her bedroom window. Terror was in the very fabric of the city, and for families like Kerri’s, the ones who fell between the cracks of identity, it seemed there was no escape.

In Thin Places, a mixture of memoir, history and nature writing, Kerri explores how nature kept her sane and helped her heal, how violence and poverty are never more than a stone’s throw from beauty and hope, and how we are, once again, allowing our borders to become hard, and terror to creep back in. Kerri asks us to reclaim our landscape through language and study, and remember that the land we fight over is much more than lines on a map, more than housing estates and parliament buildings – it will always be ours but, at the same time, it never really was.

What I Says: This is one of those books where it is hard to do a review that does justice, there is no way I can put together enough coherent words to show you just how powerful this book is….but I’m gonna do it anyways. As a person who has led a safe and sheltered life it really does blow my mind how some people are able to take so many hits in life, be witness to so much trauma and still be standing on their own two feet at the end of it. Kerri was born to a Protestant parent and the other parent was a Catholic, in the time and place she was born this was not a safe combination. Humanity’s ability to be so cruel always amazes me, neighbours can so easily turn on each other with (to me) no logical reason. Growing up in and around Derry, Kerri was witness to a huge amount of violence and hatred and once there was peace in Ireland, the world managed to find new ways to traumatise her.

I think Kerri has been very brave in writing this book, being at a stable time of her life this must have brought up so much darkness and pain and to then put it out there in the world where any Tom, Dick and Harry (all 3 are well known trolls) can read it and then potentially deal with abuse over it’s content shows you just how strong this Lady is. I can’t say I’ve “enjoyed” this book, I was mesmerised by it, the honesty almost sweeps you away and you forget this is someone’s memoirs. The writing is poetic, at times it even feels like a chant, I know that sounds weird but when Kerri stops for a moment and directly addresses the reader, a chant is exactly how it felt to me. My favourite part was the bits about nature, when Kerri is at her darkest moment, when her grip on life is at it’s weakest nature steps in and pulls her back from the edge, it is only fleeting but enough for Kerri to know she has been seen, it’s only at these times you realise you’ve been holding your breath for the last 5 pages. It was great to see that she still has so much for the island even though she has faced so much there.

This is a book everybody needs to have a read of, maybe it will give you some hope, Kerri has faced so much and is still here. I loved the little dedication to M in the acknowledgments, some fine words there.

Book Reviews

The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson

What Da Cover Says: Your Husband is the reason for your existence. You are here to serve him. You must not harm your Husband. Nor may you harm any human.

Sylv.ie is a synthetic woman. A fully sentient robot, designed to cater to her Husband’s every whim. She lives alone on the top floor of his luxurious home, her existence barely tolerated by his human wife and concealed from their child. Between her Husband’s visits, deeply curious about the world beyond her room, Sylv.ie watches the family in the garden—hears them laugh, cry, and argue. Longing to experience more of life, she confides her hopes and fears only to her diary. But are such thoughts allowed? And if not, what might the punishment be?

As Sylv.ie learns more about the world and becomes more aware of her place within it, something shifts inside her. Is she malfunctioning, as her Husband thinks, or coming into her own? As their interactions become increasingly fraught, she fears he might send her back to the factory for reprogramming. If that happens, her hidden diary could be her only link to everything that came before. And the only clue that she is in grave danger.

What I Says: Wow! What a debut this is, in my mind this story is an instant sci-fi classic, fantastic characters with compelling stories made me fall for this one in a very short number of pages. Sylv.ie is a robot, built to carry out any pleasure her husband (the person who first switches her on) demands…she is anatomically correct so it is pretty obvious what her main roll is gonna be. She lives in a room on the top floor and her world is what she can see out of the window and the time she spends with her Husband. She has a lot of time on her own with her thoughts and one day her Husband gives her a diary to write in, not a smart move as she starts to recognise patterns and that her trips to the hospital are not all that they seem…Sylv.ie starts to question her programming.

This is a sort of coming of age adventure for a robot in a future where the human woman has lost their place in the world, a world where robots have sentience but aren’t classed as alive and possibly it could be a world where even a sex robot could find love. The detail on the technology was brilliant, Sylv.ie being able to count the blades of grass or even seeing the gaps in a plane of glass was well written, you don’t get swamped down with technical details, you get just enough to say “coooooool”. The exploration of how men treat women and sex reveals some quite shocking facts, mostly about how much I could identify as being just like real life, emotionally we are not that far removed from this future, it does make things feel bleak and that we truly can be an awful species. Sylv.ie’s battles with her programming are heart wrenching, I was urging her on all the time and getting right angry at those who did her wrong…I possibly got a little too much involved with this book.

This reminded me of the Bicentennial Man and also The Handmaid’s tale, so if you are a fan of those then you’ll love this. The book really needs to be made into a series, just so all those out there who haven’t read it can see what they’re missing. I am looking forward to what Anderson produces next…this reader is hoping for a sequel.

Thanks to Dead Ink Books for this copy to review. If you want to check it out you can get the book directly from Dead Ink here.

Book Reviews

Creepy Sheen by Rebecca Gransden

What Da Cover Says: For decades, Humankind sent transmissions around the globe. In addition to reaching every corner of the planet, the signals travelled beyond, into the dark void of space. All of broadcast history made its way gracefully through the stars, racing into the unknown—until the mid 1980s, when nuclear mushroom clouds plumed in the skies of Earth’s Third World War.

The magnitude of the explosions caused the extinction of life on Earth, and sent a shockwave through the fabric of reality. Due to this anomaly, all broadcasts running at the time of the bombs hurtled into space at an impossible speed. The signals, disobeying natural laws, outran and passed all transmissions from previous eras, leaving them far behind. At the head of Earth’s messages to the cosmos travelled the collective broadcasts from one atomic day in history.

In a remote star system, eyes turned towards the approaching 1980s transmissions.

Curious consciousnesses examined the broadcasts from the strange extinct civilisation of Earth. Filled with these transmissions, the distant consciousnesses devised their response. They returned it in the form of their own transmission, directed back to the origin of its inspiration—1980s Earth.

That transmission is Creepy Sheen.

What I Says: If there is one thing I’ve learnt from reading Gransden is that her writing infiltrates your subconscious and starts to mess with your dreams…cue vivid dreams about me trying to pick up purple rat crystals in a dark alley. As with her other books it took me a couple of stories to get into the rhythm, not a fault with the writing, it’s just there is nothing out there like this, such a unique style that takes you on some crazy rides and makes you ask 20 questions every few seconds but once you’ve gotten used to things you are then hooked.

In each of the chapters it feels like you have been dropped into the middle of a story, it leaves you feeling displaced and you can easily pick up the tension of the characters, you ever seen an episode of the twilight zone? You get that great start that fills you with unease and then the story kicks off, that’s what it feels like with this book and it makes it fun to read. Highlights for me were; “Arcady” it was scary, the sort of story that lacks any hope at all and yet you still cheer on the hero. “Tranquilisers at the Mall” was just plain old messed up, only a few pages long but just long enough to toy with your mind. Favourite was “Infomercial for a Dying World” apart from the great title the story captures the human spirit for carrying on regardless even in the face of impending doom.

This book captures the aura of the 1980’s you can almost hear the sound of a cassette clicking in the background. It was great fun reading it and now I’m off to lie in a bright room filled with lots of calming soft things.

Book Reviews

Light Rains Sometimes Fall: A British Year in Japan’s 72 Ancient Seasons by Lev Parikian

What Da Cover Says: See the British year afresh and experience a new way of connecting with nature – through the prism of Japan’s seventy-two ancient micro seasons.

Across seventy-two short chapters and twelve months, writer and nature lover Lev Parikian charts the changes that each of these ancient microseasons (of a just a few days each) bring to his local patch – garden, streets, park and wild cemetery.

From the birth of spring ( risshun ) in early February to ‘the greater cold’ ( daikan ) in late January, Lev draws our eye to the exquisite beauty of the outside world, day-to-day.

Instead of Japan’s lotus blossom, praying mantis and bear, he watches bramble, woodlouse and urban fox; hawthorn, dragonfly and peregrine. But the seasonal rhythms – and the power of nature to reflect and enhance our mood – remain.

By turns reflective, witty and joyous, this is both a nature diary and a revelation of the beauty of the small and subtle changes of the everyday, allowing us to ‘look, look again, look better’.

What I Says: The idea of 72 micro seasons really appeals to me, who doesn’t take a moment to notice when a season changes, there is always spotting the first blossom on a tree or noticing when that tree turns red, seemingly over night, imagine having 72 seasons…that is 72 times a year you can stop what you are doing and have a look to see what nature is up to (of course it does mean you get distracted from those YouTube videos 72 times in a year).

Like all of us in 2020 Lev was faced with a lockdown, not able to travel and see nature in all it’s glory he decides to explore the area around his house and taking inspiration from Japanese idea of 72 seasons he constructs his own versions. The seasons are 5 to 6 days each and Lev restricts each chapter/season to 5 or 6 pages…each, once he had that all sorted it was time for nature to step up and do it’s part. One of the things I love about Lev’s writing is his ability to make the reader see or hear things in a different way, after reading Into the Tangled Bank I was straight outside looking for bugs in the hedges, this time he tells us to sit down and listen so that’s what I did. 6pm in my back garden, Basingstoke, this is what I heard over 1minute:

Cars on the ring road

A drill echoing off the houses

My dog chewing his foot

A magpie shouting at me that the bird table was out of meal worms

A really cool guy on his motorbike on the ring road going very fast and loud

A mum shouting to her kid “Shut the F*** up or I’ll F****** give you a slap”

Aaaah the joys of living in a housing estate.

I could have walked further afield and heard some much better sounds but this is what I hear most of the time when out reading in my garden so I thought I’d share. I would love to be able to identify birds from sight or sound as well as Lev does, he puts himself down a lot but he is still very quick to identify, I can identify the bird by sight if it stays still long enough, my failing is identifying their song, blooming useless.

Lev’s writing is impeccable as always, he has a wicked sense of humour and this book is full of it, yes it is a nature book but it is so easy to read, instead of poetically describing a bird’s mating call that could bore many he tells us that the bird is gagging for it and that works for me, you can instantly picture the little bird singing for all its worth. Now you should be warned there are a few swear words in these pages and I think that is perfectly acceptable, you ever seen a blue tit sitting on a branch and singing whilst looking right at you? I have and I’m fairly certain it was being rather abusive towards me. There are loads of interesting info here too, I never knew about the dark side of woodpeckers and there are some crazy facts about butterflies.

This has been a joy to read, I’ve laughed loads and have been inspired yet again, if you’ve never read anything by this chap then you are missing out so get yourself a copy of all his books.

Thanks to Elliot & Thompson for sending me this copy to review. If you want a copy you can get it from this A****n free site.

Book Reviews

English Magic by Uschi Gatward

What Da Cover Says: English Magic moves through fields and parklands, urban estates and empty beaches, upmarket art galleries, scuffed corner shops. It lands at Heathrow Airport, takes a taxi to the suburbs, finds emptiness and oppression. It strikes out for the countryside on May Day to where there are maypoles and fire blazing haybales, and where blessings sound like threats. It takes a train to the sea. The rain powers down. The beach is damp. Balloons pop. It in a flat, drags itself out of half sleep… and there something tapping behind the gas fire. Scraping and flurrying. What is it? In her debut collection of short stories, the prize winning author Uschi Gatward takes us on a tour of an England simultaneously domestic and wild, familiar and strange, real and imagined. Coupling the past and the present, merging the surreal and the mundane, English Magic is a collection full of humour and warmth, subversion and intoxication a and announcing the arrival of a shining new talent. 

What I Says: Well this was stunning, I think some of the most talented writers are those that can produce a short story and take you on what feels like an epic journey and make you forget that it is only 20 or so pages long. Gatward manages to do this again and again. The stories in this collection all feel very different, she seems to be able to capture so many different voices and every story takes the reader in a new direction. She gives nothing away, you can tell something sinister is going on but have no idea until she is ready to share, the opening story “The Clinic” really shocked me, I thought I was getting a story about the fears of parenthood…not at all, it was far scarier than that.

Gatward toys with the readers emotions revealing your paranoia and fears, this is done so well in “Beltane” a normal celebration which leaves you constantly on edge trying to figure out what the sinister plot is and in “Oh Whistle And” (my favourite) she ramps up the pressure by replacing the characters names with letters so that you are never sure who is who and whom to trust. Another fantastic story was “My Brother Is Back” a man released by the US after being held in captivity for a number of years, it’s about him trying to find his family again but his time in prison and sudden release leaves him unsure of his place or even what day of the week it is. Finally another good ‘un was “Lammas” to me this felt like a story told in echoes, an old man remembering events from his past in small muddled glimpses, every now and then you get hit hard by a gentle line.

This is such a good debut collection, you can see why Galley Beggar Press produce so many award winners, it is their dedication to finding that perfect book.

Many thanks to Galley Beggar Press for sending me this copy to review. With my copy I got a little bag of seeds which I “expertly” planted/dumped in my mini wild garden. Some things have started growing, no idea if they are random weeds or from ones from the little bag but this is what it looks like at the moment:

Cover Reveals

Book Cover Reveal: The Case of the Missing Firefly by Chris McDonald

It’s time for another book cover reveal, this one is Chris McDonald’s latest book, it is book four in the Stonebridge Mysteries, the previous books have had some cracking covers so this one has a lot to live up to.

So here we go, the cover…

The Case of the Missing Firefly by Chris McDonald

Fantastic looking cover, lives up to expectations and fits in with the series perfectly.

What Da Cover Says:

The notoriously hard-drinking, backstabbing Stonebridge Radio crew are having their Hallowe’en party on Winkle Island, rumoured to be the most haunted place in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, Adam and Colin are there too, having accepted an easy payday from Colin’s event organising mother.

At dinner, a shocking announcement is followed by an even more shocking murder, and the theft of a priceless Firefly necklace. To top it all, thanks to a raging storm, everyone is trapped on the island.

Faced with devious radio presenters, a strange tour guide, and a rampaging murderer, Adam and Colin are back in business.

The Case of the Missing Firefly is the fourth in the Stonebridge Mysteries series of cosy crime novellas.

You can Pre-Order in paperback, hardback or eBook from HERE:

The previous covers in the series:

Book Reviews

Blog Tour: Raiders of the Hidden Ark: The Story of the Parker Expedition to Jerusalem by Graham Addison

What Da Cover Says: Where is the Ark of the Covenant? One of the Bible’s most sacred and powerful objects has not been seen for over 2,500 years. The missing Ark has inspired many quests and even a famous film.

Perhaps the most remarkable of the quests to find the Ark is the Parker expedition. Its story seems stranger than fiction and includes aristocrats, poets, psychics, secret cyphers in the Bible, a deadly curse, bribery, gun-running, riots, and madness. It sounds unbelievable but the Parker expedition is real. Rudyard Kipling, who knew several expedition members, wrote ‘Talk of fiction! Fiction isn’t in it’.

In 1908, a Finnish scholar convinced a group of young Englishmen from wealthy and titled families he had uncovered secret cyphers in the Bible showing where the Ark was hidden. They were educated at Eton, had fought in elite units of the British military and socialised with European royalty and wealthy Americans. One had thwarted an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. Another had helped spark the Boer War. Most of the funding came from the family of one of the richest men to have ever lived in Australia. With them were a Swiss psychic, a Finnish poet, and a Swedish captain who had experienced the darkest heart of colonial madness in the Belgian Congo. They headed for Jerusalem on a private yacht to dig for the Ark.

They spent a fortune and in the course of their years searching for the Ark they unwittingly ‘scattered sparks in the religious tinder-heap’ that is Jerusalem. The expedition still has echoes today. They caused riots and disorder resulting in a parliamentary enquiry and headlines around the world.

What I Says: Like most people I have heard of the Ark of the Covenant, that heroic fella Indiana Jones managed to survive it’s opening by closing his eyes, what I hadn’t heard of was the Parker Expedition and the impact they had during their dodgy as hell search for the Ark at the beginning of the 20th century. Parker and his posh Etonian mates were drawn into the mystery of a hidden message in the Bible and soon were purchasing land in Jerusalem to see if they could be the ones to finally locate it.

Addison has done an amazing amount of research to try and get to the truth of this story, I can just imagine him surrounded by stacks and stacks of paper trying to make sense of it all and to find a way of getting it all written down in a way that makes sense. I have to admit that I kept feeling like he was including too much background info before getting to the dig itself, but I was wrong as it worked, you really get to know the main players and this helps you understand why they were so committed to an adventure like this, at times putting their lives at risk, most of them didn’t need money so what were their reasons? Addison’s research does a great job of explaining that and his sense of humour really helps too. I loved his description of the whole thing being like Downton Abbey meets Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown, that’s the best description you’re gonna get of this adventure.

At first their dig goes well, they are doing a lot of good for the locals and everybody is happy, soon real world events start to affect them and desperation kicks in and they cross a line that ends up causing international outrage (I shan’t say anymore as it will ruin the reading experience). Of course they don’t find the Ark otherwise you would have heard of it being on display somewhere. The end of the book covers some of the theories of it’s whereabouts, the sort of theories that could take you down a rabbit hole of conspiracies. If only Parker and his mates had looked on eBay, I found this one on there for 35 quid!

Pretty sure it is being sold by this guy:

I have really enjoyed this, there so much to learn, not just about the Ark but the people involved with it’s search, you can’t fault the research and it was great that Addison included so many photos. I felt there was one thing missing though, maps, I would have liked to see where it was they dug, there were a few drawings of the tunnels but not clear enough to understand what was going on. A fantastic and intriguing story that is well written, I would highly recommend this.

This is my stop of the blog tour, make sure to check out the others.

Book Reviews

A RoamingReads Hopeful Monsters by Roger McKnight

What Da Cover Says: Roger McKnight’s debut collection depicts individuals hampered by hardship, self-doubt, and societal indifference, who thanks to circumstance or chance, find glimmers of hope in life’s more inauspicious moments. Hopeful Monsters is a fictional reflection on Minnesota’s people that explores the state’s transformation from a homogeneous northern European ethnic enclave to a multi-national American state. Love, loss, and longing cross the globe from Somalia and Sweden to Maine and Minnesota as everyday folk struggle for self-realization. Idyllic lake sides and scorching city streets provide authentic backdrops for a collection that shines a flickering light on vital global social issues. Read and expect howling winds, both literal and figurative, directed your way by a writer of immense talent.

What I Says: What a magnificent piece of story-telling this is, 17 short stories sharing with the reader the lives of a group of people in Minnesota, we witness all their ups and downs, it doesn’t matter how short the story is you still want the best for them, McKnight’s clever writing gives you that brief glimpse of hope in each story that just maybe things will turn out alright.

Whilst reading these stories I’ve tried to look to see if there was a theme, there are certainly links between the stories if you look carefully but I wasn’t sure about a higher level theme, the best I could come up with is Faith. All kinds of Faith, in a higher being, the kindness of strangers, Faith in yourself to do the right thing, Faith that the stranger you are walking around a lake with isn’t going to murder you, but mostly Faith in that an event is meant to be. Regardless about how dark the characters life is you still get that uplifting feeling. The last story though, just Wow! Focused around an old washing machine it brings together so many elements from the previous stories, each time I recognised something I couldn’t help smiling.

I have been very impressed with this book, it is more complex than most and demands your full attention so that you don’t miss a thing.

This was part of Storgy’s #Roamingread experience, read the book, review the book and pass it on. I love how much effort has been put into this, a map to track the books journey, an old fashioned library slip to book out the book and a very stylish bag to contain it all. Massive thanks to Storgy for including me in this one. I hope that this book does get to travel, I’ll leave links to other reviewers below.