Book Reviews

Meadowland the private life of an English field by John Lewis-Stempel

 

23353422What da cover says:  WINNER OF THE THWAITES WAINWRIGHT PRIZE 2015

What really goes on in the long grass?

Meadowland gives an unique and intimate account of an English meadow’s life from January to December, together with its biography. In exquisite prose, John Lewis-Stempel records the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn, and includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath: the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren, the skylark brood and the curlew pair, among others. Their births, lives, and deaths are stories that thread through the book from first page to last.

What I says:  If you want to read a book about a piece of land where the writer is truly in love with that piece of land then this is the book for you.  So many people will probably come across a meadow and see only a field, so few are going to see things through the eyes of John Lewis-Stempel. His knowledge of all the types of animals, flowers, bugs and even grasses is incredible.  Whenever I read a nature book I try to remember one thing and then go and identify it in the wild, this time around I am focusing on the awesome sounding “Wolf Spider”  I get them in my garden and will now be able to identify them as I save my wife and eldest daughter from being eaten alive by one of them.

You can’t help but compare this book with Roger Deakin’s Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and whilst they are a similar blend of nature, musings, poetry and life on the farm each author has such a strong voice they feel so different.  Deakin wrote a lot of his book whilst sat at his desk indoors, John Lewis-Stempel is outside in the meadow for the whole of the book.  The level of detail in this book is greater too, who knew there was so much life in a cow pat.

The was a lot on twitter this summer about letting your lawn grow and become a meadow of sorts, I only have a small lawn but gave it a go, any reason to not have to mow, I counted 9 different flowers growing at one time and for the first year ever we had cinnabar moths.  My youngest got protective and spent time out the front guarding them from local kids.
Caterpilla
MothraThis was the first book by this author and I can see why he is so highly acclaimed, I can’t wait to pick up another of his.

4_stars

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Interviews

Reader Interview: Liz Scanlon

Hello everybody, after the hugely successful reader interview with Alison, who has had to go hide in the Scottish hills due to all the authors now hunting her down for sport, this time we are travelling further afield to somewhere I’ve never visited before Ireland (Sounds like a place full of rainbows), please welcome Liz Scanlon.

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Liz is a fellow Cape wearer, opting for the “pants-on-the-inside” look, with some very cool looking boots. As you can see her identity has been protected by the security forces at Tesco.

Q1: Here it is, the most important question never asked of a President wannabe: Gnomes! Are they heroes or Villains? Also, what year do you think they will take over the world?

Gnomes have already taken over the world! We just haven’t noticed it because they’re tricky like that. I think they’re potentially the necessary evil! Cute on the outside, great hidden depths in the inside and get shit done.

Q2: Has a book ever inspired you to visit where it was set or follow a particular route the characters took?  If not is there a story you’d fancy basing a road trip on?

If we’re talking fictional worlds, then I think the world that has been created by Marian L Thorpe in her Empire’s Legacy series, book 3. The city is called Casil and it would be a discovering man’s wet dream. Oh, Jen Williams created some great visual too in her Ninth Rain book with mushroom forests and weird alien beings- that would be ace… In real world? Yeahh, I mean who wouldn’t want to travel the world?

Q3: What is your favourite book and why?

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe Tragic, romantic, unbelievable emotion, translated to English beautifully and with a great historic background. I mean, Napoleon commended the book and first copycat suicides happened because of this book… It’s just mind blowingly incredible specimen of literature, for sure.

Q4: Hardcopy, Kindle or Audio?

I personally don’t get along with audiobooks because my attention just goes poof! Hard copy, paperback, Kindle- tattered, new, semi decent: all goes!

Q5: If you were to stalk an author, who would it be and how would you go about it?

Does the author have to be alive at present?

Don’t see why that should be an issue, all good stalkings end in a death (Rule of Misery) 

Ok, from author’s who live, I’d like to stalk Laurent Binet because the way he wrote HHhH was so maddening, a reader can feel his passion. So, I’d probably like just appear at his doorstep, lie to him that I have important historical information and then just wing it… Have cups of coffee with him and suck all his knowledge in like a sponge… He’d be inspirational for sure…

From the dead authors, I’d like to use Wells’s time machine and go hang with Orwell in London and Paris.. I’d give him a cigarette and we’d be best buddies! 

Q6: You heard of Desert Island Discs? Well this is Dessert Island Books.  Pick one Dessert and 3 books to get stranded with on an Island.

Ha! Getting stranded – hashtag life goals!

Dessert: honey cake (yummmyyyy)

Book 1: The Satanic Bible (to keep me grounded)

Book 2: The Good Soldier Shvejk (to keep me entertained)

Book 3: Andersen’s fairy tale collection (to keep the nostalgia)

Q7: What’s the first book you remember reading?

Oh blimey! It’s all a bit hazy from back then… And I read a lot… Um… I’m going to go with the earliest- Mickey Mouse comics! Do they count?

Of course they do, I reckon comics got a lot of kids into reading books 

Woop! I had a massive stack of the comics.. all piled up, the collection was actually taller than me. Shout-out to my sister for keeping them coming, haha…

Q8: What book would you recommend to somebody who wants to get in to reading more books?

Hmmm…

It depends… What are they into? I wouldn’t push a classic on them, more something exciting and fun and gripping to prove that reading can make a heart beat faster! Again, there’s loads to pick from

But

Let’s say they’re a fantasy reading folk… I’d send them Ravencry or Kings of the Wyld… OR if they’re into experimenting with something a bit more out there and had an open enough mind: Prezident Scumbag! All the way

Hell yeah!

Scumbag was hilarious! Yeah, pop that one as number one! A bit of shock factor never hurt one!

Q9: I see from your blog that you have started to dabble in the art of writing, so lets put those skills to good use, you have been tasked with rewriting Fifty shades of Grey, what would you change from this perfect book?

Oh, dude… I’d totally go back to the drawing board. Now, I haven’t nor am I planning to read it, but I’ve done my research on it… It’s out there, right? So, I’d put a twist on it and turn what’s-her-name into a blow up doll character and write about the culture of blow up dolls being used as a means to battle loneliness. That means Christian Grey may or may not turn into an slightly creepy older character who likes to put the doll sitting on the front seat of his car, tied up to the dash as he goes about his daily shopping.

Q10:  Now is your chance to make a demand of all the many authors who will read this blog…What story would you like to see written?

Interesting question! And a difficult one! A lot of the stories are out there already in one form or the other, but I would like more of the unapologetic and real human condition delivered with no apologies… More of the human in the real world, with real struggles, more of the underdog!

Harry Potter: Adventures of the Hufflepuffs?

Oh god no!

I mean, there’s plenty of stories of people in high places suffering and everyone feeling sorry for them…

Time to put the regular Joe Soap into the spotlight, because for every celeb wedding or funeral there are hundreds or regular people going through the same thing… Eh, it’s a really simple example, but it’s the same with everything…I mean.

 

And that’s that, if you fancy honey cake and Satan then go find Liz stranded on a certain island. I’d like to say thanks to Liz for taking part in this here crazy interview.  If you want to follow/stalk her or if you want an advanced copy of her version of Fifty shades of grey then you can find her on Twitter and be sure to check out her awesome blog.

Book Reviews

6 Stories by David S. Wills

21373516What da cover says:  “6 Stories” is the debut short story collection by David S. Wills, author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the “Weird Cult”, and editor of Beatdom magazine.

In this collection a woman is retweeted by Zach Braff, a man is afraid to say the word “pussy”, the American Dream is finally achieved against the backdrop of a peaceful alien invasion, a man learns to talk to his cat, an internet troll takes his trolling offline, and two men play a mysterious game called “stickmen”.

What I says:  The thing that made me check out this book was the cover, it is so simple and cute, and that works really well,  a cartoon drawing of a cat driving a UFO, what’s not to like? I had read a bit of David’s work in a couple of his Beatdom magazines, but this is very different from that.

There are 6 short stories here, they are slightly dystopian and end up bit quite funny, I’m not sure if that was intentional but I had a good laugh. There is a warning about the future of Twitter, alien invasions and offline trolling.

My favourite has to be about the man who could talk to his cat, every time my cat walks into the room it shouts at me (even if it has just been fed) and I am always wondering what it’s trying to say. I have also experienced being herded towards the cupboard with food.  In fact the cat is staring at me whilst I write this, if I make eye contact she will shout.

I recommend giving this light hearted collection of short stories a go, it’s a fun read.

4_stars

Book Reviews

Mr. Zumpo’s Amazing Zoo of Unusual Animals by Mr. Wolf

42368589What da cover says:  When Raj and Reya meet a rather strange stranger called Mr. Zumpo, they find themselves visiting his Amazing Zoo of Unusual Animals to see some of the most peculiar and bizarre creatures in the whole wide world, such as a Ping-Pong Popperphant, a Wurly Wurlitzer Whistleroo, a Beatbox-Bunny, a Trombonial Pig-Fish and a Grumpy Bubble-Gum Chawooga.

To answer questions like: “What is a Woc?” “Exactly how smelly is a Super Pooper Stinky Pong Beast?” “How do you find an escaped Invisible Wibble Beast?” and “Is Mr. Zumpo really as friendly as he seems?”, you will have to accompany Raj and Reya to Mr. Zumpo’s Amazing Zoo of Unusual Animals.

Suitable for all ages 7+

What I says:  Take the dark humour of Roald Dahl, the zany animals of Dr Seuss, Enid Blyton’s naughty famous five kids, a moral by Aesop and the moustachioed opera singer from a certain British advert and you get this mighty fine children’s book.

Mr Wolf has pulled it off again, a humourous dark story that will have the kids on the edge of their seat and the parent with a sore throat from doing funny voices and sound effects.  One of my favourite things about Mr Wolf’s writing is how animated my daughter becomes, she cackles at the funny sounding animals, the Woc was her favourite, whenever there is any danger she can’t keep still and she gets so engrossed in the story that if you ROAAARRRR she jumps big time.

Most exciting of all was when she got this book in the post and opened it to find it had been dedicated to her, everybody she meets now gets told about it, she even made her grandma buy her own copy just so she could check her name was in that one too.  The perks of being the No. 1 fan.

If your kid loves a crazy book and if you want to read them a story that has some humour for the adult then give this author a go.

5_stars

Interviews

Reader Interview: Alison McCulloch

I am starting a new series of interviews, this time with the readers of the literary world, those heroes who keep Stephen King’s stock of Mars Bars nice and full.  Soooo there is going to be tonnes of pressure on the first interviewee to make this interesting, on that note please welcome Alison McCulloch from sunny olde Scotland.

AlisonThank you for taking part in this Alison and thanks to your daughter for taking this photo of you, Interesting to see the glass of wine is bigger than that large hardback book you’re holding. 🙂

Q1: Probably the most important question you’ll ever get asked: Gnomes! Are they heroes or Villains? Also what year do you think they will take over the world?

Gnomes are heroes! They have such an important presence in gardens all over the world. Their faces are so animated, you know that world domination is their goal. I think 2020 is the year that we shall have gnomality

Q2: How much time do you get a week to spend on reading?

Sadly, I’m averaging about 4hrs a week for reading for pleasure. I’m mostly reading for marking or CPD. In all, I probably manage about 10hrs a week

Q3: What is your favourite book and why?

Germinal by Emile Zola. I had to read that for one of my degree modules and I left it to the end because I thought it sounded so lame. Once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. My daughter was in hospital at the time so I read it twice. Eventually embarked on reading more of the series by the same author and have never looked back. It was probably the first novel I read that showed the frailty of being human. I also aced the critical essay assignment for that – highest assignment score I have ever attained!

Ahh Emile Zola, you still reading them in the correct order?

Yes. I am now but I’m having a break cos I now hate my kindle!

That ties in perfectly for Q4: Hardcopy, Kindle or Audio?

Hardcopy for sure! I like my Kindle but it’s not ideal for some of the books I like to read. Audio books I like the idea of and have tried a few while marathon training but I kilts don’t take on the information.

can you explain that one? Kilts?

That’s a random typo. And absolutely kilts are not involved with anything in my life. Apart from that one time my boss wore one and took part in a relay race. And slid on the grass in front of me. Full fall and full frontal view …. I am scarred for life now

Q5: If you were to stalk an author, who would it be and how would you go about it?

I tried to stalk Leo Robertson (Link added for those wanting to stalk) once. I sent him some questions on Facebook but he was evasive in his answers. I decided then that I’m not sure stalking is for me!

Q6: If you could be any character in a book, who would you be and would you use your “Character powers” to alter the story?

I’d be Bertha Mason from Jane Eyre. No way would I be happy being locked up in the attack by that misogynistic Mr Rochester. I’d be using my madness powers to haunt him every day. Cos I’m a crazy bitch and he needs to know he’s not the boss of me!!

Q7: What’s the first book you remember reading?

I remember reading the Amelia Anne series, sitting on the back door steps of my terraced house. She was a right sassy girl and I think she has moulded me to be who I want to be. I must have been about 6

Q8: What book would you recommend to somebody who wants to get in to reading more books?

If they were starting out I’d recommend Of Mice and Men. It’s short and you can take away so much from it depending on your reading and understanding ability. If they were looking for something a bit more sophisticated I’d be advising them to look on Goodreads.

Q9: You have been tasked with rewriting Fifty shades of Grey, what would you change from this perfect book?

I would take out all the clichés and change the grammar. I’d remove the cringey car scene and the uncomfortable exchange with the architect. In fact, I’d delete this whole trilogy from existence

Q10:  Now is your chance to make a demand of all the many authors who will read this blog…What story would you like to see written?

I would love to read a proper scary novel. One that kept me awake and spooked for days

So with that challenge to all the horror writers out there I’d like to say thanks to Alison for taking part in this experiment.  If you want to follow/stalk her or if you are a horror writer seeking revenge then you can find her on Twitter and Goodreads.

Book Reviews

The Study Circle by Haroun Khan

42295627What da cover says:  High up on the 17th floor of a South London council block, a study circle is being held. They re studying the Koran and Ishaq has been attending for five years now, but official interest in the group is building. With an EDL march in just a few days time, some of them think they might be under surveillance. Ishaq is secure in his identity as British and Muslim but, as papers discuss Asian sex gangs in the North and a European politician appears on television discussing a final solution, he wonders if Britain itself sees him the same way. When he runs into Shams, an old friend looking for work, Ishaq offers to help him out. And that s all it takes to begin a chain reaction that will collide with extremism, nationalism, and MI5.

Based upon Haroun Khan’s own experiences with extremism being brought up on a South London council estate, The Study Circle is a groundbreaking look into the state of modern Britain through the lives of urban Muslim youth.

What I says:  Completely blown away by this book, never in a million years was I expecting something this good.  The blurb says this book is “Groundbreaking”, that is so true, it also has the potential to become a modern classic.  It’s handling of sensitive subject matter in a time when the world is on the edge of chaos, was sublime.  The last 70 pages were read in a blur, I could feel this weight in the pit of my stomach as the book reaches it’s inevitable conclusion.

Ishaq, Marwane and Shams are three very different lads who have been friends since they were little.  Ishaq has the weight of the world on his shoulders, trying to find his place in a chaotic world, he finds it tough dealing with the prejudices a Muslim faces everyday.  Shams is a troubled youth, not as bright as Ishaq and easily influenced by others, his recent life choices has set a series of events in motion.  Marwane is a top lad, he is the rock that keeps the other two going, he’s in the background a lot of the time but without him there then things would have fallen apart ages ago.  The story follows these three with the backdrop of an impending EDF march.

In an world where Brexit exists for all the wrong reasons this becomes a very important book, the sort of book that should be read in schools, it gives the reader an insight into a misunderstood race/religion.  I expect this is going to end up being the best book I’ve read this year and I highly recommend it, don’t miss out on this reading experience.

5_stars

Book Reviews

The Ukimwi Road by Dervla Murphy

1419349What da cover says:  The Ukimwi Road is the riveting account of renowned traveler Dervla Murphy’s most intrepid journey yet – 3,000 miles by bicycle through the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has recently drawn the world’s attention as an epicenter of the AIDS epidemic (Ukimwi is Swahili for AIDS). Along her route – from Kenya through Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia to Zimbabwe – Dervla Murphy observed the harrowing problems of the people among whom she traveled. She witnessed the devastating effects of AIDS, drought and economic collapse on the land, as well as the skepticism of Africans about Western “development projects” and “aid schemes” which promise so much but deliver so little. She also discovered a wide range of reactions to AIDS, which has reached epidemic proportions in Africa, and which poses a new and mysterious threat to traditional family life.

What I says:  My first book by Dervla Murphy and what an incredible woman she is, completely blown away by what she achieves in this book.  A woman who may be physically old, but does not feel that one bit, cycles across sub-Saharan Africa, during summer, on her own, no back up team, just relying on her wits and the kindness of strangers.

No amount of preparation would have got Dervla ready for what she was going to experience on this journey, the devastation left by white rulers, malaria, tsetse and AIDS makes for some hard reading.  Dervla doesn’t shy away from the topic of AIDS, she tells it how it is, she expresses her feelings well and scolds herself when she thinks western thoughts.  She faces many challenges, meets some incredible people who are fighting the AIDS outbreak and for women’s rights in Africa.  The generosity of those who have so little really hits you hard and Dervla does handle her emotions well in this book, so easily a situation could have grown into a full blown rant.

You can really see why Dervla is such a renowned writer, her fearless writing gives the journey an epic feel.  I’m really looking forward to getting another of her books.

4_stars