Book Reviews

Unofficial Britain Journeys Through Unexpected Places by Gareth E. Rees

What Da Cover Says: There is a Britain that exists outside of the official histories and guidebooks – places that lie on the margins, left behind. A Britain in the cracks of the urban facade where unexpected life can flourish. Welcome to UNOFFICIAL BRITAIN.; This is a land of industrial estates and electricity pylons, of motorway service stations and haunted council houses, of roundabouts and flyovers.; Places where modern life speeds past but where people and stories nevertheless collect. Places where human dramas play out: stories of love, violence, fear, boredom and artistic expression.; Places of ghost sightings, first kisses, experiments with drugs, refuges for the homeless, hangouts for the outcasts.; Struck by the power of these stories and experiences, Gareth E. Rees set out to explore these spaces and the essential part they have played in the history and geography of our isles.; Though mundane and neglected, they can be as powerfully influential in our lives, and imaginations, as any picture postcard tourist destination.; This is Unofficial Britain, a personal journey along the edges of a landscape brimming with mystery, tragedy and myth.

What I Says: Well this book was certainly an eye opener for me, it wasn’t long ago that I found out the kid from Home Alone was 40 and I felt really old…now I find out the the buildings of my youth are old enough now to potentially be haunted, I feel positively ancient now.

In this book Rees explores those places that are right in front of us but at the same time are almost hidden, multi-storey car parks, industrial estates, pylons, flyovers and hospitals. These are the sort of places we take for granted, we have grown up around them and think of them as landmarks only, not many people realise there is so much life happening around or under them. To me the spaghetti junction is a nightmare of a road to navigate, but there are many who have found peace living beneath it, the way Rees describes things, it almost feels tranquil.

As a young lad I was a scout and we used to go exploring a lot, night-time walks into the countryside to find a farm, it was so eerie, large structures and abandoned machinery gave us a great time. Quite often we’d find ourselves pulled towards a large pylon, usually to listen to it’s crackle and pretend we could hear voices. I have not explored like that in many years, my focus is usually looking for a bit of quite and some wildlife spotting, but after reading this I do fancy a walk around the local industrial estate and maybe a trip to the town centre to check out the car park.

One very interesting side of this book is Rees’ many references to music, film and books which have all been inspired by these structures, most notable are the books by J.G. Ballard and any movie with a young lady being stalked in a car park. Rees meets many interesting people and manages to get some great stories from them.

My favourite part of the book was his trip up the M6, I have travelled that road many times on journeys up to Scotland and so far have missed out on so much….next time it will be different.

Absolutely loved this, such a strange idea for a book which makes perfect sense when you get to the end. Give it a go because Rees’ words can be quite beautiful at times.

Click HERE for info about the book.

Book Reviews

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

What Da Cover Says: A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome its dangers?

WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH?

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age—a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

What I Says: I loved the idea of this story, the last remnants of the human race travelling across space looking for a new home because “surprise surprise” we managed to cock-up Earth. They discover a new home but not all is as expected. The story follows two groups, first there are the humans protecting their cargo and fighting amongst themselves and then you have the occupants of the planet watching them evolve and making similar mistakes to humans during their evolution.

Now for the bits that annoyed me, first the narrator, I couldn’t get my head around if there was a narrator or we were hearing the thoughts of the beings on the planet, it seemed to jump between the two which made things disjointed, why would human words be used, for example there was a plague which was called….a plague. The technology was another issue for me, sometimes things would be explained and the ideas would be really inventive and then at other times you’re just left hanging, I did stop reading the book for a few weeks when I got annoyed that the reader just had to accept that communication between the planet and an object in space was possible, yes I know I’m sad.

I wish I could have enjoyed this like so many others have but it just wasn’t to be. I see there is a sequel and this book was good enough to have me intrigued to see what is next in this saga.

Book Reviews

The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson

What Da Cover Says: The European eel, Anguilla anguilla, is one of the strangest creatures nature ever created. Remarkably little is known about the eel, even today. What we do know is that it’s born as a tiny willow-leaf shaped larva in the Sargasso Sea, travels on the ocean currents toward the coasts of Europe – a journey of about four thousand miles that takes at least two years. Upon arrival, it transforms itself into a glass eel and then into a yellow eel before it wanders up into fresh water. It lives a solitary life, hiding from both light and science, for ten, twenty, fifty years, before migrating back to the sea in the autumn, morphing into a silver eel and swimming all the way back to the Sargasso Sea, where it breeds and dies.

And yet . . . There is still so much we don’t know about eels. No human has ever seen eels reproduce; no one can give a complete account of the eel’s metamorphoses or say why they are born and die in the Sargasso Sea; no human has even seen a mature eel in the Sargasso Sea. Ever. And now the eel is disappearing, and we don’t know exactly why.

What we do know is that eels and their mysterious lives captivate us.

What I Says: This was a fascinating book, I never would have believed that such a well known animal would not be very well know at all. The European Eel is a slimy ugly creature that lurks in dark streams and lakes….well that is what I thought before starting this book. In fact right from it’s mysterious birth in the Sargasso Sea life is tough for this creature, many predators finding it to be a tasty snack and a very long swim to the shoreline of Europe, things ain’t over yet as there is still the journey up rivers and even across land to find that perfect spot to call home until it is time to head back to breed.

The eel has moved way up my list of favourite animals for it’s way of keeping scientists at bay for so many years, it is mind blowing that nobody has found the breeding ground or even an adult in the vicinity. I also loved that the eel has managed to prove the bible wrong, a bit was added to blatantly stop the poor eating eels by saying that you can only eat creatures with fins and scales….turns out the eels have both, very small fins and scales but they are there, which is brilliant.

Svensson’s writing is very good, he draws the reader in with a bunch of interesting facts that makes you realise you are reading about something special. His personal history with eel fishing with his Dad is very moving, reading about their bond over fishing being developed and lasting a whole lifetime was a joy to read. I reckon his Dad would have been proud of this book.

This was wonderful, well worth reading about this mighty little animal.

Book Reviews

Should We Fall Behind By Sharon Duggal

What Da Cover Says: Jimmy Noone escapes his difficult life in a small town and finds himself living on the streets of a big city where he meets Betwa, who brings with her a chance of real friendship and a glimpse of new hope. Betwa disappears and Jimmy walks across the sprawling metropolis searching for her.

He arrives on Shifnal Road on the other side of the river where people from all over the world live side by side yet some inhabitants are so isolated they seem to have disappeared altogether. Jimmy becomes the catalyst for their lives colliding.

Journeys to the street and to the city are retraced, so too are stories abundant with lost dreams, unrivalled friendship, profound love and stifling grief, each underpinned with the subtle threads of commonality which intersect them all.

Should We Fall Behind is about the passing of time, and the intricate weaves of joy and suffering, love and loss which shape human life along the way. It is about the people who have somehow become invisible, and how their stories make them visible once more.

What I Says: I knew from the title and the cover that this story was going to be heart-breaking, and yet I was still unprepared by just how hard it would hit me, so much grief and that small chance of hope left a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Duggal has got some amazing characters here, they are the sort of characters that really make you examine yourself and leave you wondering if you could deal with what life happens to throw at you. I am ashamed to admit that I judged one of the characters almost instantly and I was completely wrong about that person (not naming names to avoid any spoilers).

The plot of the story is about Jimmy, a young lad living on the streets, he is searching for a lost friend, he ends up sleeping in an abandoned car near where she grew up in the hope of finding her. His arrival has an impact on the lives of those living nearby, his presence pushes them to rethink their lives and their interactions with each other trigger a series of forgotten memories. You will fall for the characters, you’ll find yourself unexpectedly caring for them and hoping that things turn around for them.

This book is so full of potential for hope that you can’t help getting emotional, the last 50 pages are incredible, a real rollercoaster that had me smiling one minute almost welling up the next….(luckily I am a robot and am unable to cry)…and as I got to the last pages I had no idea how this book could end in a satisfactory way but Duggal pulls it off by giving the reader a perfect ending.

This book is going to be one I recommend to everybody by showing them the last line of the book’s blurb:

It is about the people who have somehow become invisible, and how their stories make them visible once more.

Thanks to Bluemoose Books for this review copy. You can get the book from HERE once it is released in October.

Book Reviews

Cut Stones and Crossroads A Journey in the Two Worlds of Peru by Ronald Wright

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What Da Cover Says:  Travelling through Peru, tracing the history of the Incas from their royal cities of Cusco and Machu Picchu to their mythic origin in Lake Titicaca, Ronald Wright explores a land of contrasts – between Indian and Spanish, past and present, coastal desert and snow- crowned Andes.

Yet Wright is equally interested in the chance encounters of the road. With admiration, humour and a wry anger, he brings to life the complex culture of an ancient land seeking its place in the modern world.

What I Says:  I really enjoyed the dual timelines in this book, having somebody so knowledgeable take on this modern day journey through Peru whilst walking us through the history of the Incas and their eventual downfall at the hands of the Spanish made for some very interesting reading.  This was Wright’s first book, being inspired by another book whilst ill he decided to publish his travels, he was brave to republish this edition without doing any editing.  It doesn’t feel like a debut, these are the words of an adept author.

Wright fully immerses himself in the culture, sleeping wherever he can, eating local food and chatting with everybody he meets.  Without doing that he wouldn’t get the stories and local history included in this book.  He has a real love of the country and it’s indigenous people and that really comes across in the book, getting angry and lashing out at those who are racist and being heartbroken at the damage caused by tourists, it really is depressing the lack of care humans can have for each other.

Peru has a fascinating history and this book is jam packed with great account of it’s people, certainly one to read again in the future.

Thanks to Eland for the copy, you can buy a copy from HERE.

4_stars

Book Reviews

Rhyme and Rebellion by Harry Whitewolf

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What Da Cover Says:  Voted one of Readfree.ly’s 50 Best Indie Books of 2016.

Swiping, biting, seething, pleading, fresh and funny, Whitewolf’s latest book of verse is a language sandwich filled with shit, shopping, poverty, war, Wi-Fi and wordplay.

Awaken your inner rebel for the modern era, with poems like: Equality For The Poor, You’re So Far Right, Ads, Abs And Apps, P.C. Pussies, Reality And T.V, Puppet Politician and The Google Boogie.

What I Says:  I’m a big fan of the Whitewolf’s work and this is a top class collection of poetry from the master of words.  There is some real anger here, Harry is trying to get us to stand up and stop taking the crap from the 1%, stop watching crap on TV, stop plugging in and start looking at what is going on around you. After reading Charlie and the chocolate factory I can see Roald Dahl had similar thoughts, more on the unplugging than rebelling, but still if only people would listen to Harry and Roald, two brilliant writers, maybe you wouldn’t have to deal with seeing your family watching x-factor, googlebox and stupid cooking programs with annoying narrators.

Whilst reading this I felt Harry was showing a number of different personalities, we get the amazing flow of his beat poetry as before, now though I thought I caught a glimpse of “Harry the Rapper”, another reviewer mentioned Mos Def, I can Mos Def see that (hehe  I’m so funny) that wasn’t all though, whilst reading “Shopping and War” I was sure I saw “Harry the Cheerleader”.

Harry asks a lot of questions here too, like how come all these new houses are being built and none of the homeless are being rehoused?

Favourite line was “Bombard the bombastic bebopic narcotics” genius!  Why is that not on a T-Shirt?

Favourite poem was the two-parter “Beat Bomb Boom” some of Harry’s best beat poetry. Which you can check out here:

Grab yourself a copy of this fine book.

5_stars

Book Reviews

Book Tour: CAULD BLASTS AND CLISHMACLAVERS By Robin A. Crawford

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What Da Cover SaysA celebration of the irreplaceable magic of language, and the wit and wisdom of 1,000 Scottish words.

The Scots language is an ancient and lyrical tongue, inherently linked to the country’s history and identity, its land and culture. In Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers, Robin Crawford has gathered 1,000 words from his native land – old and new, classical and colloquial, rural and urban – in a joyful and witty celebration of their continuing usage and unique character.

airt o’ the clicky – bawheid – carnaptious – dreich – eejit – forefochen – Glasgow kiss – haver – inkie-pinkie – jags – kelpie – loch-lubbertie – meevin’ – neuk – oxter – pawky – quaich – ramstam – simmer dim – tattie bogle – usquebaugh – vratch watergaw – yowe trummle.

What I Says:  This is the second dictionary that I have read cover to cover in my life time, the first one was what got me through some terribly dull times at school, it was the dictionary of slang and was good fun to read.  I got much more fun out of Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers though, my wife is from Motherwell and it was nice to finally have a book to explain the meanings of those lovely pet names she has for me; eejit and Sassenach being the ones most commonly used.

I know this isn’t a full dictionary but I still call it that because it works the same, you have the word, then it’s origin, pronunciation, definition, examples of usage and now and then a well known quote using that word.  One really good part of the book was the examples, not only were they humourous but previous words were included in the example, this was a great way to actually learn the words, see them in everyday use and to not end up just reading the definition and moving on.  I am rubbish with accents so having somebody Scottish available to read out the phrases is a must have, the language is very inventive and the Scottish sense of humour comes through big time.  Many words seem to leap out of the pages when you recognise one, i.e. Jobby, when I hear that word instantly I picture Billy Connolly and one of his great jokes.

There was one word here that was new to the family which we all loved, now whenever one of us spots a bee you are guaranteed that somebody will shout out “there’s a hairy bummer!”  Just waiting on a call from the youngest’s school to ask why she is shouting things at bees.

I have enjoyed reading this and will be keeping in on my shelf ready for when I want to give Burn’s poetry a go, I reckon this will be very helpful addition to understanding his work.  Since reading this book I have actually been able to put it to use a couple of times, reading Kathleen Jamie’s “Surfacing” I was able to look up a couple of the words she used.  I got a copy of another book by Crawford for my birthday, Into the Peatlands and am looking forward to reading that.

Thanks to Elliot & Thompson for including me on this blog tour, you can get more info on the book  from HERE:

4_stars

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Book Reviews

Rise of the Chupacabras by Raegan Butcher

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What Da Cover Says:  On the Rise! After chupacabras slaughter hundreds of people at the annual Boiling Man festival deep in the California desert near the Salton Sea, Joe Gifford and his gang of professional chupacabra hunters are forced to unravel the mystery of the creatures’ origins. Do chupacabras come from outer space? Or were they genetically engineered in a laboratory to be the ultimate weapon? Can Joe and his crew stop the Rise of the Chupacabras? The latest installment of Raegan Butcher’s massively entertaining Chupacabra Chronicles series is another action packed thriller with a quirky cast of colorful characters and a brutal, heart-stopping climax that is guaranteed to leave readers breathless in shock.

What I Says:  There are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe how much I love this series of books. This is bloody amazingly bloody crazy bloody blooming marvellous, I’ll have to settle on that.  If you have ever seen any of the classic monster movies that have ever been made then you’ll have an idea of just how cool this is,  humans against swarms and swarms of killer monster, battling against insane odds.  Driving cool cars and saying awesome one liners as they despatch a monster….oh and there are lots of guns and flame throwers and helicopters.

Joe Clifford’s crew is growing to look pretty awesome,  a tough bunch of guys n gals…things are escalating, the men in black are about and the number of monsters seem to be out of control.  There are a lot of characters in this episode and Raegan Butcher is hefting a might big axe,  who will survive?  There are gonna be tears from readers that’s for sure, my heart certainly got broken in this book.

Absolutely loved this perfect book,  Raegan Butcher truly is a writer of master pieces, I know of no other writer in his league….and there is still another book to go!

5_stars

Book Reviews

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie

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What Da Cover Says:  Under the ravishing light of an Alaskan sky, objects are spilling from the thawing tundra linking a Yup’ik village to its hunter-gatherer past. In the shifting sand dunes of a Scottish shoreline, impressively preserved hearths and homes of Neolithic farmers are uncovered. In a grandmother’s disordered mind, memories surface of a long-ago mining accident and a ‘mither who was kind’.

In this luminous new essay collection, acclaimed author Kathleen Jamie visits archaeological sites and mines her own memories – of her grandparents, of youthful travels – to explore what surfaces and what reconnects us to our past. As always she looks to the natural world for her markers and guides. Most movingly, she considers, as her father dies and her children leave home, the surfacing of an older, less tethered sense of herself.

Surfacing offers a profound sense of time passing and an antidote to all that is instant, ephemeral, unrooted.

What I Says:  Kathleen Jamie is one of my favourite writers, she has the ability to capture the magic out of the smallest thing and come up with beautiful words to describe it.  In Surfacing she is removing a layer to see what is underneath, archaeological digs in Alaska and on the isle of Westray revealing human history, losing a parent, kids moving out and searching for what that means for her.

There are 3 big essay’s here, two of them are the digs and the third is about time spent in Xiahe in Tibet when China shut the borders down and the students rose in protest.  All three of them draw you in and it feels as if you are there, you sense the cold in Alaska, the wind of the Orkneys and the quiet of the monastery at Xiahe.  Mixed in between are some short pieces, observations of things around us that we would normally miss, driving along and seeing an eagle and getting lost in the moment watching it glide effortlessly without beating it’s wings.

A couple of favourite chapters of mine were the 3rd part of Links of Noltland, thinking of the people who lived there 5000 years ago and asking them question after question about their lives. Then there is A Tibetan Dog, a cancer scare and turning a dream of a memory on it’s head, that was some mind blowing stuff.  I enjoyed the Links of Noltland sections so much I did a bit of googling to look for pictures and I laughed when I saw one photo of the team and found that Kathleen’s descriptions of their clothing was spot on.

Fascinating stuff as always and as usual I’m left jealous of her experiences.

5_stars

Book Reviews

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

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What Da Cover Says:  Part of Penguin’s beautiful hardback Clothbound Classics series, designed by the award-winning Coralie Bickford-Smith, these delectable and collectible editions are bound in high-quality colourful, tactile cloth with foil stamped into the design.

Constance Chatterley feels trapped in her sexless marriage to the invalid Sir Clifford. Unable to fulfil his wife emotionally or physically, Clifford encourages her to have a liaison with a man of their own class. But Connie is attracted instead to her husband’s gamekeeper and embarks on a passionate affair that brings new life to her stifled existence. Can she find a true equality with Mellors, despite the vast gulf between their positions in society? One of the most controversial novels in English literature, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is an erotically charged and psychologically powerful depiction of adult relationships.

What I says:  This is the second reading of this classic, my first reading was when I was a young lad and my focus was mostly around finding the dirty bits,  from what I can remember they weren’t particularly great.  For my re-read I am older, wiser and have read my fill of books with rubbish sex in them (I’m looking at you 50 shades!) the version this time around was one of the beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classics, the cover is a real piece of art…it is also the 3rd edition, I think this is the one with plenty of sex that the unimaginative tried to get banned.

Second time around I really enjoyed this book and yes there is plenty of sex but it is so well written, gone is the traditional virgin woman who lifts her petticoats for her husband and bish-bash-bosh out comes a baby.  Here Lawrence is fighting for the woman’s (and man’s) right to have proper sex, to worship each others body and make sure each other get satisfied.  The language is course at times but unlike the awkward sex scenes in poorly written books dropping the C bomb works here, the Gamekeeper’s accent gives him a certain way with words.  The use of flowers to decorate each others bodies whilst exploring was very touching and gave the characters much more depth.  The story is very interesting and kept me entertained, it also makes good use of letters between characters to move the plot along.

Lawrence was way ahead of his time with this book, Mellors, the Gamekeeper, comes across as very wise, his outlook for the future is bleak, over population, technology replacing workers, more and more lights being put up and the divide between rich and poor getting wider are all predictions that unfortunately came true, Mellors also predicts that the Great War wasn’t the end, more was to come.  This was all written in the late 1920’s.  The book comes across as being anti-war and anti-establishment which I found very surprising,  turns out Lawrence wasn’t scared to upset, the more Mellors spoke the more I sided with him.

There is an intro by Doris Lessing and it gave me a good laugh, she doesn’t shy away from using “Fuck” or “Cunt” because that is what Lawrence would have wanted.  Brilliant!

4_stars