Saturday, 31 July 2021

Armchair traveling


Subpar Parks by Amber Share (Plume Publishing, USA)

Social media is often seen as a negative place but just occasionally there are real pockets of joy. Subpar Parks is one of the latter. Talented artist Share takes one star reviews of America's wonderful National Parks and illustrates them in a style very reminiscent of the traditional Parks publicity.

On social media the reviews and images are presented without comment but in this book Share has added details about the park, extra images and even tips from park rangers.

Some of the reviews are crazy - dismissing the Grand Canyon as 'just a hole' for instance, but the book never feels cruel just a delight and one when I am missing travel more than usual I shall dip into (and also use to help plan future trips - but shhh! don't tell Mr Norfolkbookworm that)

You can find more pictures and reviews on Instagram by searching for @subparparks 

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Pretty Post


Presentation is everything

At the weekend I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery, trans. Alison Anderson. (Gallic Books)

This book isn't out for a while and I will review it closer to publication date but I thought I had to talk about it now just to spread the love for the way this proof was packaged.

Everyone likes getting a present and while I was really keen to read the book it has to be said that the care and love that went into the parcel definitely bumped the book up the to be read pile.

It isn't just this parcel that has been so beautifully presented lately. Bex from Ninja Books always makes her parcels a delight to open and the new publishers Fox and Windmill added some lovely touches to my recent Twitter prize. It isn't all about the packaging for proofs & prizes though,  I also received a lovely handwritten & personalised card with my order from Salt Publishing.

Throughout this year I have been trying to use independent publishers and independent bookshops to feed my book habit and it is the care they take with every parcel really does make this a pleasure. I do use bigger, online, book retailers too - especially for ordering books from out of the UK - but where ever possible I am supporting the independent businesses and I think that this has been the easiest resolution I've ever stuck to!

Friday, 23 July 2021

Micro Review 30


The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, trans. Philip Boehm. (Pushkin Press)

How to talk about this book? Set in November 1938 in the few days after Kristallnacht it follows Otto Silbermann as he travels around Germany looking for peace and an escape route.

The tension mounts with each journey Otto takes as he frantically tries to stay a free man despite being Jewish. At times it feels more of a roller coaster than a succession of train journeys made by Otto as he crisscrosses Germany.

What is so interesting about this book is that Boschwitz wrote the book in the weeks just after Kristallnacnt and it is an immediate response to the events that saw German Jews villified, arrested and finally imprisoned in concentration camps.

To say I enjoyed the book is impossible - mainly because of the subject - but it was utterly compelling and I had my heart in my mouth repeatedly. It doesn't have a neat ending, and many story threads are left dangling but that is how it has to be - it is a contemporary response to the events of 1938. Otto won't know how his story ends and thus it is right that we don't - that we have to use our imaginations.

The tight focus on Otto took some getting used to as I started the book, I wanted to know more about the supporting characters that we meet. By the end however this tunnel vision worked for me as it conveyed the fear, paranoia and claustrophobia of what life in Germany must have been like for a Jew in 1938.

Boschwitiz's own story is no less compelling and shocking than Otto's and I do urge you to give this book a go if you come across it, so very different than other novels I've read set around this time.

Many thanks to Norfolk Libraries for buying the book after I mentioned it.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Shadowing a book prize for fun


The Wainwright Prize for UK Nature writing

In the past I have been part of 'official' book prize shadowing projects for what was the Foreign Fiction prize and also the Women's Prize for fiction and enjoyed the process a lot, shadowing means that for a short while you don't have to worry about what you've got to read next as there's a ready made list just waiting for you!

As I've really enjoyed so many of the books that fall under the umbrella I thought that this year I'd try to read all of the books nominated for the 2021 Wainwright Prize. On exploring their website I realised that they have more than one prize so I limited myself to 'just' the 13 books on the UK Nature Writing longlist which was announced in June:

Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald,  Vintage

The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary, Melissa Harrison, Faber

Seed to Dust, Marc Hamer, Vintage

The Screaming Sky, Charles Foster, Little Toller Books

English Pastoral: An Inheritance, James Rebanks, Penguin Press

Into The Tangled Bank, Lev Parikian, Elliott & Thompson

Thin Places, Kerri nĂ­ Dochartaigh, Canongate Books

Birdsong in a Time of Silence, Steven Lovatt, Penguin Press

I Belong Here, Anita Sethi, Bloomsbury Plc

Featherhood, Charlie Gilmour, Orion Publishing Group

The Circling Sky, Neil Ansell, Headline

The Wild Silence, Raynor Winn, Michael Joseph

Skylarks with Rosie, Stephen Moss, Saraband

My growing interest in this genre meant that I'd read two of the books before learning they were on the list and thus 11 books between June and 4th August didn't seem quite so overwhelming. I know that this statement sounds like I am mad but these books are such a soothing read at the moment that it sounds wonderful rather than stressful.

The mixed weather so far this summer has meant that sofa nature walks have often seemed more appealing than the actual activity and now that there's only three weeks until the shortlist is announced I feel that I really might get all the books finished - I've finished 8 and am about half way through number nine...

The side benefit of all this reading is that I am able to borrow so many of the books from the library either in physical or eBook editions, the ones I can't borrow are letting me continue to support independent publishers and bookshops as I acquire them!

Unlike other prizes that I've shadowed I am not at all falling out of love with the genre as I effectively binge read the subject. The books are all so varied that it is wonderful and not at all predictable I've definitely got my own favourites for ones I'd like to see on the shortlist!

Once the short list is out I'll start posting my reviews and thoughts on the books, but for now I am going to curl up on the sofa while listening to the bees on the honeysuckle that is just outside the window and making the front room smell lovely!

Friday, 9 July 2021

Micro Review 29


Darwin's Dragons by Lindsay Galvin (Chicken House Ltd.)

Copy loaned to me by the KentishBookBoy

As predicted last year when my nephew and I were reading and reviewing together the time has come where he has fallen in love with a book so much he was insistent I read - and he even lent me his treasured copy.

I feel a bit bad as shortly after I saw KBB and he lent me the book a whole new raft of reading for a project came up and Darwin's Dragons slipped down my to read pile for a while. However a wet and stormy weekend (and a text from KBB) made me abandon everything else and just settle down with this book on a Sunday afternoon.

Well I am kicking myself for not having read the books sooner as I did proceed to read the book from cover to cover during the afternoon and I found myself swept away with Galvin's story telling - the book was so visual that like all the best books as I was reading I also had a 'movie' in my mind.

The book takes Darwin's trip on HMS Beagle and his visit to the Galapagos Islands as a starting point, and the main character is his young  assistant Syms Covington. A storm sees Mr Darwin fall overboard from a rowboat and Syms then saves him but is swept away as he does so. Landing on an unexplored, volcanic, island Syms's adventures continue his life is saved repeatedly by a lizard he names Farthing. In an exciting volcanic eruption Syms and Farthing save some eggs from a lava tube and then as they escape the eruption they are rescued by the Beagle.

The rest of the book is about the return to England after the full Voyage of the Beagle and then the struggle to get their ideas accepted and in keeping the lizards alive in the bleak Victorian London climate.

This summary does give just the bare elements of the story and there is so much more to it than I've explained here - and it really is quite fantastical at times, although I just managed to suspend belief and to go with the flow.

The modern day environmental message is conveyed gently and not too obviously, and the other message of getting people to believe in what you are telling them is also gentle and not too didactic.

As I came to the end of the book I wanted to know more about the Voyage of the Beagle which is always a good sign, and I had overcome my initial thoughts that I wanted the book to be the historical story and not the fantasy one. A day or so on from finishing the story I am still thinking about it (and in a positive way) so that for me marks it out as a good book!

Huge thanks to KBB for lending me this book - what shall I read next though?

Monday, 5 July 2021

Blog Tour - How to Be Brave


How To Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson (Pushkin Press)

electronic proof provided by NetGalley and Pushkin

Today is my stop on the blog tour for How to Be Brave - and I am very pleased to be a part of this tour as I've been sat on my review for this book for months!

I can't remember when I became a fan of the school story genre. I definitely read Blyton's Malory Towers books as a child and I enjoyed them, however I wasn't such a fan of her St. Clare's series. I also recall borrowing Anne Digby's Trebizon books as a teenager.

At some point before I left school I discovered The Chalet School books and even as an undergrad I wasn't ashamed of reading the genre - and there were some hardbacks in the Uni library so reading them counts as study surely?! With the growing internet I found out about fan clubs and that there were other authors who wrote in the genre and lo! a collection was started.

I've never been ashamed of reading children's books, even in public, and Twitter has been a great way to find likeminded people and new books. This was how I found Johnson and the news of her book.

How to Be Brave is very much in the traditional school story mould - due to a series of events and mishaps Calla ends up at the boarding school her mum attended but all is not well at this incredibly unorthodox convent school. Somehow it is all related to Calla, her mum and a rare duck...

The book mixes school stories, adventure stories, a few gentle issues and healthy dollop of Arthur Ransome -  but at no point did it feel derivative and I loved reading something so familiar and yet so new. It also features biscuits and other sweet treats. Lots of them - & I defy you to read this book without at least wanting to raid the biscuit tin!

The title 'How to Be Brave' relates to so much of the story and it isn't about big acts - Johnson recognises that for each of us bravery means something different and explores this in such a gentle way that it is only afterwards you realise just how cleverly and subtlety she has made the point.

There's lots of humour and Johnson makes much use of footnotes throughout the book. These act in the traditional way, as a way of crowbarring an extra plot in, and also as a Basil Exposition. By the end of the book I was a little weary of them but they were in the main great fun - I can see that the will make the book hard to read aloud however.

This was a fun book, and I'm hoping that Johnson will write more as it was a lovely  to spend a couple of afternoons with her characters.

I'm looking forward to finding out what other readers thought about this fun read.

The book is published by the wonderful Pushkin Press and can be ordered directly from them here, but do also check out your local library and see if they have copies (and ask them to order it if they don't) as authors do get an income from library loans.