Book Reviews

Blog Tour: The Heeding by Rob Cowen illustrated by Nick Hayes

What Da Cover Says: The world changed in 2020. Gradually at first, then quickly and irreversibly, the patterns by which we once lived altered completely.

Across four seasons and a luminous series of poems and illustrations, Rob Cowen and Nick Hayes paint a picture of a year caught in the grip of history yet filled with revelatory perspectives close at hand. A sparrowhawk hunting in a back street; the moon over a town with a loved one’s hand held tight; butterflies massing in a high-summer yard – the everyday wonders and memories that shape a life and help us recall our own.

The Heeding leads us on a journey that takes its markers and signs from nature and a world filled with fear and pain but beauty and wonder too. Collecting birds, animals, trees and people together, it is a profound meditation to a time no one will forget.

At its heart, this is a book that helps us look again, to heed: to be attentive to this world we share, to grieve what’s lost and to hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.

What I Says: I was lucky enough to get an advanced reading copy of this last year and thought this were a blooming good book…one of those books that was perfect and impossible to improve on….shows what I know as the paperback book has a shiny gold cover, that’s like the icing on the cake and now surely it is perfect…unless….nope the cover isn’t made out of icing, maybe something for the 2nd edition? Now for my review. 🙂

There is one thing I hadn’t fully grasped about living through this pandemic until I read this book, which is that everybody has shared the same experience….in years to come I can bore the grandkids with stories of “during the pandemic….” Cowen captures those moments of lockdown coming into force, the staring at the same four walls day in day out, home-schooling and nature stepping up and taking back the world for a bit.

Cowen and Hayes have created something special here, Cowen’s words share experiences with those that have managed to go unscathed during the pandemic and mixed with Hayes’ illustrations it is heart wrenching. When reading “Last Breaths” I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit, I was overwhelmed, too much to handle, my Grandad passed away during the lockdown and was only allowed one visitor (in full PPE) at the end, Last Breaths captures what he and many others went through in their last moments…it also highlights how much the NHS staff did for those people. That poem is a thing of devastating beauty.

It’s not all like that though, there are lighter moments, the joy of home-schooling ending 🙂 and seeing so much nature up close in the garden. Another one I really liked was the feeling you get when you see a hawk hunting alongside the motorway it doesn’t matter how old you are it will always amaze you. “The Problem With Us” covers fake news, internet lies about the dangers of vaccinations, Cowen has utter contempt for those who spread this nonsense without providing any evidence, I gave him a wee clap after reading this one for reading my mind…a side effect of the vaccine?

Hayes’ illustrations fit in perfectly with the poems, with a few of them you get caught up in the moment, turn the page and you are hit with an explosion of art, spread across both pages is nature in it’s full glory. There is some clever use of a hawk as a symbol of the virus, one of the first illustrations shows how deadly it is, taking it’s first victim and one of the last illustrations shows our defiance and escaping from it’s grasp. The last illustration in the book was my favourite, an angry little blue tit that would make a pretty awesome tattoo.

I wish I could include a few lines to tempt you into getting yourself a copy but you really need to get it yourself to experience this book, I would love to hear one day in the future that this book is being taught at school as it really is at that level. One of the hardest books I’ve ever read and one thought kept coming to me, “I wish events hadn’t happened to inspire this book”. This has to be one of the most brilliant books to come out during the chaos of the last couple of years, a record of the sacrifices people made that should not be forgotten, this truly is one of those rare books that I’ll be reading again and again. It left me feeling immensely happy, I was left with a real spring in my step ready to face anything the world cares to throw at me.

This was my stop on The Heeding Blog Tour, be sure to check out the other reviews of this fantastic book. Thanks to Elliott & Thompson for including me.

Book Reviews

The Turkish Embassy Letters by Mary Wortley Montagu

What Da Cover Says: In 1716 Mary Montagu travelled across Europe to take up residence in Istanbul as the wife of the British ambassador. Her letters remain as fresh as the day they were penned: enchanted by her discoveries of the life of Turkish women behind the veil, by Arabic poetry and by contemporary medical practices – including inoculation. For two years she lovingly observed Ottoman society as a participant, with affection, intelligence and an astonishing lack of prejudice.

What I Says: Wow, what a woman Lady Mary was, such intelligence and wit in her writing, a woman living a life way ahead of her time. In a time where anything intellectual was the domain of men, the self taught Mary had a literally talent that put most writers to shame. There had been travel books written in the past but they were by writers passing through a place only seeing what their guide showed them, so things were briefly described and whole places unseen. Lady Mary lived in these places, explored them thoroughly, finding those places that had been missed, she fully included herself in the culture, learning the language and earning the respect of the people…you can’t help but feel proud of how she represented England.

I don’t think you can not help but notice how important these letters were to society back in England, Lady Mary’s opening words on the letters are all about placating the impatience from her friends demanding to know where she is, what she has seen, who she has met and demands for her to send them stuff. Also included are Lady Mary’s demands to know more about what is going on back at home, her words are sharp and amusing, you can see that any conversation with her could be quite daunting. Once she starts the main body of the letter it becomes more like travel writing, she takes care to go beyond what is written in traditional travel books, being a woman she was able to get insights into places never written about before, bath houses, places, harems and the private residences of princesses. I found what she saw fascinating, the details on fashion were very vivid and easy to picture in my mind. A few comments would have got her in trouble these days but you can see that what she wrote was innocent.

At the end of the book there is a biography about Lady Mary written by another mighty female travel writer, Dervla Murphy, and this insight into the life of Lady Mary was very good. This extra information gives an added dimension to the letters, I had wondered why the husband didn’t get mentioned much, almost a background character that she just happened to be travelling with. Most importantly was finding out about her work with smallpox inoculations, she had to deal with the same craziness as those trying to push covid vaccinations, the abuse, the bizarre theories about God not wanting this, but she was a strong woman who held her ground and eventually it was accepted and because of this one woman 1000’s of lives were saved…before this book I had never heard of her, she most certainly deserves far more recognition than she gets.

A book of two halves, first the unique views of a woman travelling across in the 1700’s and second the insightful biography of that woman…two very good reasons for getting yourself a copy of this book to read.

Thanks to Eland Publishing for sending me a copy of this book, if you wanna check it out then you can get it from HERE:

Book Reviews

Nick Cave’s Bar by Aug Stone

What Da Cover Says: A mission to find a mythological watering hole… In June 1999, Aug Stone and his best friend flew to Germany to find the bar they had heard Nick Cave owned in Berlin. They assumed they would get off the plane, ask ‘which way to Nick Cave’s bar?’, and then spend the rest of their time living it up amidst the wild world of its confines. Instead what followed were nine days of confusion, thwarted plans, and perpetual drunken misery. To this day, they’re not sure Nick Cave ever owned a bar in Berlin.

What I Says: If Trainspotting’s Begbie was to go on a road-trip with the Inbetweeners we will be almost at the level of alcohol imbibed within the pages of this book…what is more impressive is that this is achieved in under 150 pages. Everybody has one of those moments in their life where a passing comment sticks with you forever, for Aug it was asking a girl if she likes Nick Cave and she replies that Cave has a bar in Berlin, Aug instantly knows that he will be attempting to locate this bar. Back home best mate Andy has been told and is on board…this all happens in the 1990’s and I guess it would have taken too long to load up Ask Jeeves so off they go with no research…how wrong could it go?

The first part of the book goes into detail about Aug’s love for music, the women he loved and the influences in his life, at first I was wondering why this was included but after a while I was hooked, great taste in music and movies, in fact this has to be the first book to give a shout out to Night Watch, great fricking movie. Then the book moves onto the trip to Germany, they don’t give themselves long to find the bar and things ain’t helped much by the constant drinking, including waaaay too much Absinthe which lead to intense hangovers, utter misery and many distractions around female Scottish football fans. I wouldn’t say it was a fun trip, the chaos and lost opportunities hit the guys hard but their friendship prevailed.

The end of the book contains a number of postscripts, updates in Aug’s life since the trip and a shocking moment. This was a great account of a monumental trip to find a bar that may or may not exist and well worth having a read.

PS: I heard that Bob Dylan owns a kebab van in Melbourne.

Massive thanks to Aug for sends me a copy of this book to review, if you’re interested you can get a copy from HERE:

Book Reviews

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

What Da Cover Says: Now hailed as an American classic, Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller’s masterpiece, was banned as obscene in this country for twenty-seven years after its first publication in Paris in 1934. Only a historic court ruling that changed American censorship standards, ushering in a new era of freedom and frankness in modern literature, permitted the publication of this first volume of Miller’s famed mixture of memoir and fiction, which chronicles with unapologetic gusto the bawdy adventures of a young expatriate writer, his friends, and the characters they meet in Paris in the 1930s. Tropic of Cancer is now considered, as Norman Mailer said, “one of the ten or twenty great novels of our century.”

What I Says: I recently read a biography about Hunter S. Thompson and it mentioned how much influence Miller had over him so I thought it must be time for a re-read of Tropic of Cancer. I first read this book in 2014 and enjoyed it enough to give it 4 stars, I am much wiser now so how does it compare?

It feels like there are two voices in this book, the voice people watching, silently taking in the absurd characters and the outrageous nonsense they get up to, this voice witnesses the abuse towards women and the derogatory terms directed at them. The second voice is the internal voice of the narrator, commenting on what he sees and carrying out some beautiful rants. I think the first time I read this I smiled at the coarse language and the antics the women get up too but in this new “woke” world it felt a bit cringey, starting to show it’s age at the edges. There are some gems but when somebody goes on and on about what he is gonna do to some c**t if he got his hands on her it just made me laugh and think “yeah mate you got a tiny dick for sure” I think laughing at trolls on twitter may have tarnished this book a bit for me. haha!

The inner voice is fantastic and in the modern world it still works, things ain’t changed much over the years, the things that angered the narrator are similar to what angers me today, I loved how the rants need to be read at 100mph, seeming to get faster and faster until it happens to explode off the page. Some brilliant writing, that to me seems way ahead of it’s time.

In my first review I said “This book wasn’t too shabby” and I stand by that, I’ve enjoyed this greatly, it’s a nice little snapshot of the debauchery carrying on in 1930’s Paris sharing all the seedy, dirty and lowlife’s that you might have met if you knew the right narrator to hang out with.

Massive thanks to Litalist for sending me this copy from my wish-list, go check out the site and start creating your own fantastic bookshelves, check out my shelf HERE:

Book Reviews

Pour the Whiskey Over My Heart and Set It On Fire by Bogdan Dragos

What Da Cover Says: Horror Sleaze Trash proudly presents the poems of Bogdan Dragos.

What I Says: I have followed Dragos on WordPress for many years now and he has entertained me all that time with some bloody good poems, you are guaranteed to get something dark and fucked-up that will give ya a chuckle….unless it’s just me giggling.

Horror Sleaze Trash presents this mighty fine collection from Dragos, it contains some of his most twisted material, I love how again and again he is able to surprise me with how the poem ends. In my opinion the tone of a poetry collection is always set by the first one, it has to be strong and it needs to get some kind of rise from you or you ain’t gonna enjoy what’s next, Dragos starts us off with “some things can never be put back together” a brilliant start, messed up and had me chuckling. Favourite poem was “Proposal” this one will make your eyes pop-out….what sort of mind can come up with something like this? Love it! Another brilliant one was “You cannot kill a poet” I was wondering where this one was going and the twist was genius.

This is a very good collection from one of my favourite poets, He produces a lot of work and it never disappoints.

Book Reviews

Nettles by Adam Scovell

What Da Covers Says: It is the first day of term at a secondary school on Merseyside, 2001. The Towers are soon to fall. A boy cowers in an alleyway, surrounded by a group clad in black. They whip his bare legs with nettles. This is only the start.

As term unfolds, their bullying campaign intensifies. Soon the boy finds solace hiding in marshland under the nearby motorway. Voices there urge council with Grannies Rock, a strange stone that sits on derelict land known as The Breck. There, the whispers in the breeze promise a terrible revenge.

Twenty years later, the boy has grown. He is back home from London to pack away his childhood. Armed with a Polaroid camera, he aims to exorcise those painful memories through a series of photographs. But is his memory of what happened reliable?

Nettles is a powerful exploration of memory and violence, excavating the stories we tell ourselves to escape our past.

What I Says: Mesmerising! This was so good, one of those books that comes along in a blue moon that takes you on a harrowing journey and leaves you feeling exhilarated at it’s conclusion. This is a book exploring a childhood memory and how that person’s memory interpreted certain events.

It’s a boy’s first day at school and he experiences some incredibly violent bullying, the scenes are shocking and leave you feeling really uncomfortable. The subject matter is the sort of thing that many of us have dealt with in our time, the constant threat of a bully, the not knowing when the next attack will come and being unable to tell a teacher for fear of the consequences….all that life experience gives an added dimension to Scovell’s words.

The events have a rather amazing background, Scovell shows us an unexpected beauty in the landscape, a motorway bridge surrounded by marshland. It’s this land, or at least it’s spirit which saves the boy, it’s what gives him temporary sanctuary and it’s what keeps him strong during those scenes of violence. Scovell is revisiting his childhood home and he takes a polaroid camera with him, the images are included and I love how this is used as the stepping stone into the past.

This is a fantastic book, very poetic and easy to read, in fact a little too easy, I had to keep telling myself to slow down and savour the words. You’ve gotta give this book a go, it’s one of the best I’ve read exploring an individual’s past.

Massive thanks to Influx Press for sending me this copy to review, if you wanna check it out then bypass that site named after a river and get directly from the publisher HERE:

Book Reviews

The Sharp End of the Rainbow by Madeleine Swann

What Da Cover Says: The stories you’ll find at The Sharp End of the Rainbow will transport you to a dystopian wonderland full of bizarre characters who engage in even more bizarre antics. These stories will make you laugh, cry, and gag—but more importantly, they show humanity in the face of the truly absurd, and act as a mirror to the world around us. 

What I Says: I am a big fan of the Swann lady, her way of seeing the world always makes me smile and this collection doesn’t disappoint. Swann takes us into multiple futures (a future that seems to be edging closer all the time) full of apocalyptical scenarios that seem plausible when you think about them, covering bizarre situations of living under a glass dome, travelling in a glass hotel and a race to the moon on cheese and ladders.

A lot of the stories here have been featured in a number of publications and a few were taken from Swann’s book Fortune Box, it was nice to revisit those stories, I’d forgotten how fun they were. The stand out stories for me were Trump Moon (absolutely hilarious, had me chuckling into me tea) and Invite Ghosts and Earn Pounds, the idea behind this was genius, I would so be up for this if it was possible.

Worst story in the collection you ask? Why that would be How To: Make your own Live Kitten Necklace, brilliant idea and I want to make one of these…a catalogue is mentioned about things you can buy to help you achieve this but no link is provided, outrageous! I think this story shows what a crazy sense of humour Swann has.

The stories may be heavily of the absurd kind but the more you think about them they become scarily accurate, take Trump Moon for example, somebody is doing something incredible dumb and even though you can see this you still get caught up in the madness and this is just like having a twitter argument with a douche bucket. I also like how Swann messes with your concept of time, the stories are based in the past, present and future but once you get into it you soon forget when you are.

This book was great fun, there are so many layers to these stories that when you re-read it you are definitely going to spot new things you missed the first time around. It is fantastic that all these stories have been gathered together here for you to see just how fashionable Swann is with her live kitten necklace.

Thanks to Heads Dance Press for sending me a copy to review. If you wanna check it out you can get it from HERE:

Book Reviews

The Restless Republic: Britain without a Crown by Anna Keay

What Da Cover Says: The Restless Republic tells the story of what life was like during the unprecedented and unrepeated decade when Britain was governed without a king. Who cut radical paths? And who suffered the monumental costs?

Acclaimed historian Anna Keay follows nine figures who made names for themselves during this time. Among them Anna Trapnel, the young prophet whose visions transfixed the nation. John Bradshaw, the Cheshire lawyer who found himself trying the king. Gerrard Winstanley, the man who saw a utopia where land was shared and no one went hungry. William Petty, the precocious academic whose audacious enterprise to map Ireland led to the dispossession of tens of thousands. The redoubtable Countess of Derby who defended fiercely the last Royalist stronghold on the Isle of Man. And Marchamont Nedham, the irrepressible newspaper man and puppet-master of propaganda.

The Restless Republic ranges from the corridors of Westminster to the common fields of England. Gathering her cast of trembling visionaries and banished royalists, dextrous mandarins and bewildered bystanders, Anna Keay brings to vivid life the most extraordinary and experimental decade in Britain’s history. It is the story of what happened when a conservative people tried revolution.

What I Says: I was the sort of kid at school it was impossible to get interested in learning, everything was so very dull with the teachers droning on and on…my history teacher actually taught PE and had no knowledge of the second subject he was forced to teach. So as soon as I got a chance I dropped history…now and then though a book comes along that makes me regret that decision big time, imagine how much I could have learnt if Anna Keay was my teacher. This book was a fascinating read, I always assumed that Oliver Cromwell was a psycho that killed many to fill his need to become King, what this book has done is bring him to life and explain his role in the ending of Charles I reign and the years that followed. I feel like I have a great understanding behind his motives and that he did believe he was following god’s will and not doing this all for himself.

The book isn’t just about Cromwell, I only mentioned him as he was one of the biggest players in this moment of history, it actually follows a small number of people, not all of them well known, and the book looks at how they played their part in events and how in their small ways they influenced things. The book follows these people in a chronological format starting with those that were involved with the King’s trial all the way up to those that helped get Charles II on the throne. The research has been impeccable, it must have taken a long time to find out all this info about those with smaller parts, in fact Keay has to admit defeat on the ending of one person as they just seemed to vanish. A lot of history books can be very dry and filled with quote after quote, this one is very different, the quotes are kept to a minimum and the rest is all Keay’s words, at times I got so caught up in the narrative that I forgot it wasn’t fiction. The book is over 400 pages and not once did I get bored and that is a huge accomplishment for this sort of subject.

For me the most interesting thing in this book was the part women played, they were so strong and without their influence over the men things could have been very different…and as is usually the case they get mostly forgotten over time. I loved how one Lady held a castle under siege against one of the toughest generals (A real Game of Thrones woman), another held her own in court against some manly lawyers and another was instrumental in putting a King back on the throne. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

I highly recommend this book, a small period of history that was very unique and these peoples stories have been told in a riveting way.

Thanks to Matt Clacher for sending me this copy, the book is out in March and you can get more information from HERE:

Book Reviews

2020: A Year in Taiwan by Ray Hecht

What Da Cover Says: Ray Hecht recaps how he spent the year 2020 in Taiwan in the form of a short comic following on from his comic biography Always Goodbye.

What I Says: I loved this and I want more, a fantastic way to look back on the past, ya know when they do those specials on TV where they look back on events for a particular year? Well this is like that but with a much better narrator. The illustrations are great, it’s the style I like, pencil drawings and all writing is hand written, being a little rough around the edges gives it a bit of character.

2020 was an epic year (yeah I know 2021 is trying to top it) and Ray shares with us all the big events, some of which I had forgotten (the shock death of the black panther for one) and he shares what he was doing during the lockdown in Taiwan…it’s amazing how calm things can be when you don’t have a bumbling buffoon in charge. There are only 15 pages but it feels like Ray has done a grand job of trying to make sense of all the madness whilst managing to include a few personal events into the mix.

Make sure you read Always Goodbye first as this is more like an epilogue for the main book. I hope Ray produces one for 2021.

Book Reviews

Preacher Volume 1 by Garth Ennis

What Da Cover Says: One of the most celebrated comics titles of the late 1990s, PREACHER is a modern American epic of life, death, love and redemption also packed with sex, booze, blood and bullets – not to mention angels, demons, God, vampires and deviants of all stripes.

At first glance, the Reverend Jesse Custer doesn’t look like anyone special-just another small-town minister slowly losing his flock and his faith. But he’s about to come face-to-face with proof that God does indeed exist. Merging with a bizarre spiritual force called Genesis, Jesse now possesses the power of “the Word,” an ability to make people do whatever he utters. He begins a violent and riotous journey across the country in search of answers from the elusive deity.

What I Says: I am one of those annoying people who has done things the wrong way around, I watched and loved the series before I found out it was a graphic novel and because of that there is no way of reading this volume without comparing it to what I saw on the TV.

I didn’t enjoy the graphic novel much, it feels very disjointed, more a collection of adventures there is no smooth transition between the events and for some reason things don’t seem to be explained very well. The spiritual force known as Genesis has escaped and some heavenly beings…not quite angels…are trying to get it back, they talk to a cowboy and then that’s them done for this volume….this left me thinking what’s the point? The characters on the TV were miles better, Tulip is rubbish, Ruth Negga truly made the character her own.

Jesse feels very whiney, Cassidy though still rocks, I thought he was awesome in both book and TV, Ennis and his team have created a brilliant character here. The plot and scenes are violent and shocking and some of the subject matter will make a fare few people raise an eyebrow.

The graphics are top notch, it is amazing how old these books are now and they don’t look at all dated, some brilliant looking full page scenes and everything is laid out well so that it is easy to follow. Trying to decide if I’m going to continue on to volume 2 as I’m just going to keep comparing and picking at faults. If you are interested in this series then I highly recommend reading this before turning on the TV, I think the whole thing always works out better if you do these things in the right order.