Monthly Archives: April 2016
Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison
The Last Word Review
Melissa Harrison uses the quote from fell-walker Alfred Wainwright in the introduction “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” which sets the tone for her latest book Rain: Four Walks in English Weather as she sets about in a refreshing and in a very British was describing our obsession with our favourite topic, the weather and especially Rain and the its vital role in our lives.
We live on an island and therefore we are dominated by the weather and everything it throws at us and through the opening pages of the book Harrison looks at devastation and deaths caused by the floods in the recent winter. We all know the power of rain fall even the author who lives in South London suffers when the rain falls thanks to a blocked guttering that dampens the walls of her home. The power of rain must never be underestimated. But there is more to rain and Harrison leaves her home and seeks out rain through four seasons in Wicken Fen (Winter), Shropshire (Spring), Darent Valley (Summer) and Dartmoor (Autumn).
Each chapter is a walk that is written so eloquently that it reads like a wonderful novel that is over all too quickly and at around 128 pages it really does end too soon as you read you it feels as though you are walking with Harrison so you may need to pack some wet weather clothing as there is rain. The historical notes that she brings into her writing are a joy to read as are the folklore that the seasons and time has forgot.
If the Oak’s before the ash
Then you’ll get only a splash.
If the ash is before the oak
Then you may expect a soak
There is a sense of poetry in the authors writing and that is a sign of a nature writer in tune of her surroundings and the way she talks about the birds the wild flowers and even Ants. There are childhood memories that intersperse within the writing that play with anyone who has childhood memories our family days walking in the English countryside and getting wet something we tend to expect with the vagaries of the English weather.
The whole ethos of this book is to help the reader look at rain more than just a talking point and helps us explore its life giving and the role is having on our countryside and farming practices.
As you reach the end of the book Harrison has added a 100 words as an appendix describing rain that many readers will enjoy as an example Dimpsey: Low cloud producing very fine rain (Devon). Plash: A downpour; plashy: wet, watery. As for Pissing down I think I will leave that one for the reader.
As a reviewer writing a book review about rain, what could be better as I write and look out of my study window, there has been thunder lightening, snow and now a thick blanket of hail has covered the ground. And this is the last few days of April. Springtime in England.
Rain: Four Walks in English Weather written by Melissa Harrison and published by Faber & Faber and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
My book week
To 23 April 2016
Well here we are another week is over and another exciting book filled week it has been. It started earlier in the week when the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced.
- Ozone Journal by Peter Balakian
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
- Custer’s Trials by T.J. Stiles
- Barbarian Days – A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
- Black Flags by Joby Warrick
One book that I have had my eye on for a while seemed to have crept under everyone’s radar since it was released that is the incredible The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Ngyen which looks like being another outstanding book for 2016 based on the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War it is dark, fascinating and at times witty and ironic look at politics.
Having heard so much already about this book I am looking forward to getting into it and a review will follow in due course. I think it deserves to be read by a wider audience here in the UK.
Moving on to the book reviews for the week it started with the collection of short stories by Helen Oyeyemi called What is Not Yours is Not Yours nine amazing stories that have a connection with keys, lost libraries and locked gardens. My review Here
Then later in the week I reviewed Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, a memoir from a single minded and determined woman driven to become the best at what she does a botanical scientist. This for me was a memorable memoir from Jahren who now runs one of the best laboratories in the world studying plants and trees. When you read this you will look at trees and the natural world very differently. You can read my review Here
It has been a fabulous week for books received for review. This is the collection that has arrived this week.
- The Birdwatcher by William Shaw. Published by Quercus Books
- The Huntingfield Paintress by Pamela Holmes. published by Urbane Publications.
- The Rwandan Hostage by Christopher Lowery. Published by Urbane Publications.
- Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. Published by The Borough Press
- The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis. Published by The Borough Press
- The Evolution of Fear by Paul E. Hardisty. Published by Orenda Press
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
- Different Class by Joanne Harris. Published by Doubleday
- Macbeth (abbreviated) by John Crace & John Sutherland. Published by Doubleday
- Romeo and Juliet (abbreviated) by John Crace & John Sutherland. Published by Doubleday.
- Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave.
On my Kindle I have a review copy of The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney which is being published by The Borough Press on 19 May.
Also received this week is a collection of poems by Ana Maria Caballero called Mid-Life.
Coming up this coming week more book reviews including Rain by Melissa Harrison and there will also be an interview with Hallie Rubenhold and a review of her new historical novel which is out now called The French Lesson.
That’s it for this for this week, look out for more reviews and you can also keep up to date via my Twitter feed @thelastword1962
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
The Last Word Review
Incredibly open and frank memoir. The natural world through the eyes of a botanical scientist. Witty and an emotional read.
When I left school I had dreams of studying botany and to a degree it worked out for me and I would spend my days and nights studying plant life forms and I would study seeds of all shapes and sizes like an accountant studies figures. Today it still excites me as much as it did in my younger days.
I was delighted when Lab Girl by Hope Jahren landed on my desk as I just knew what would be between the covers.
Lab Girl is a beautiful memoir of a life destined to become a leading botanical scientist. Jahren spent her younger days at her father’s college laboratory in Minnesota the seeds for her future were sown during these days spent under the work benches playing as a child. Now Jahren has her own lab were she spends her days. A place she feels secure and is her place of worship.
Life growing up in Minnesota was never easy the Winters are long and hard and the home life was not happy and Jahren wanted more and her studies took her to UC Berkeley Ph.D. Jahren’s climb to where she is today being born out of determination to succeed, today she is an acclaimed geobiologist with a laboratory that is not only her own but one that is seen as one of the best in the world.
Bill is her loyal partner in her work and the stories of their adventures is something to behold and the scrapes they end up getting themselves into all in the name of science from the United States to Europe. Life was never like this in the early days as they struggled to obtain funding for the work she was so desperate to pursue. Jahren’s dedication to her work comes through every page and she admits to being completely single minded in her approach. She talks openly of her bipolar disorder but this is a memorable memoir full of humour and some of the most anecdotes that are found throughout the book, there was so many to select that it was difficult to choose just one for this review. One line that did stand out for me is ‘Science for war will always pay better that the science for knowledge.’ Apt in these days.
Lab Girl is a beautifully written and is witty and warm, every page was a pure joy and delight to read, it is informative and fascinating and every turn of the page as Jahren recounts the early days struggling to fund even the very basics of living to the workaholic lifestyle desperate to learn and understand.
Anyone who has an interest in the natural world will enjoy reading a fabulous memoir and will look at plants and the natural world through new eyes.
Hope Jahren’s Wikipedia page is worth reading. Here
My thanks to Fleet for a review copy of Lab Girl.
Lab Girl written by Hope Jahren and published by Fleet. Publication is 21 April 2016 and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshop.
What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
The Last Word Review
Ambitious mix of short stories that are captivating and will catch your literary imagination. A gifted young writer.
Keys play an integral part in Helen Oyeyemi’s collection of short stories, in fact they are pivotal to all nine stories. Oyeyemi was named as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists of 2013 now returns with What is Not Yours is Not Yours a fascinating and wondrous collection of stories that just plays with the reader’s imagination with stories akin to fairy stories and a strange and beautiful playful mix of stories and characters.
Starting with the first and my favourite story is ‘Books and Roses’ and starts as many fairy story might ‘Once upon a time in Catalonia a baby was found in a chapel.’ The story about two women both seeking those that should be closest to them but abandoned at birth. Central to this story is a key to a locked garden and to a library. This story is work of a genius, superbly written and conceived from start to finish.
With each story involving secrets and locked doors and keys What is Not Yours is Not Yours is unique and fresh like nothing I have read before and I am a lover of short stories and many will treasure like me each one. Many will have a personal favourite and I will not spoil it for you about the remaining eight but they are just a short story aficionados dream a collection of masterful writing of searching, supernatural puppeteers and of sexuality all appear and there are tentative links with some characters appearing from one story to another, but the reader must pay attention to each story.
The beauty of Oyeyemi’s writing is that it shifts so eloquently from one story to the next seamlessly spellbound at every new story. Like a rather good bottle of wine you just savour every moment of each story to the last.
I have read What is Not Yours is Not Yours twice since receiving it a few months ago and I was truly absorbed in each story and left emotional both times at its end. My recommendation is go and but a copy on its release and I promise you will be captivated by each story and the characters you will encounter.
Credit must also go to Picador for the stunning finished copies that will be appearing in bookshops on its official release day, one of the most beautiful books I have come across, when you hold a copy in your hands you will not want to leave the bookshop with a copy.
My thanks to Sophie Jonathan (Picador) for an advanced review copy.
What is Not yours is Not Yours written by Helen Oyeyemi and published by Picador on 21 April 2016. Available through Waterstones and all good bookshops
One of my busiest weeks so far this year when it comes to my book related matters, it has been non-stop since I posted my first My book week over a week ago. I recall saying that 2016 could be one of the best years for book releases and debut authors and so far this really has been the case with some exceptional fiction and non-fiction releases with many more to come. I have a feeling that come December we will be recalling a vintage year in literary terms.
Some will know that I am researching for a book I am planning to write well the exciting news is that it is not one book but two. I just need to find that thing called time as many writers know only too well. Many a long night lies ahead.
Looking back over the last week I posted reviews for some incredible books each one outstanding in their own right. The Week started on Monday with my review of My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout but sadly my prediction that it would make the shortlist for the 2016 Bailey’s Prize proved not to be the case. My review Here
On Tuesday I reviewed The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley, one of the great classic crime novels that has inspired many a crime writer, now re-released. You can read my review Here
Wednesday saw my review of the final book in the Enemy series by Rob Sinclair Hunt for and you can read the review Here
With Friday being the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic it was an appropriate day to review the brilliantly written The Midnight Watch by David Dyer which looked the role of the SS Californian the ship that stood by as the Titanic was lost along with over 1500 children, men and women. My review Here
Many of you will know that I am a big fan of short stories as well as the full blown novel so on Saturday I reviewed a short story by Tanya Bullock called Homecoming a beautifully written novella that is heart-warming and you can read my review Here
So onto to books arriving this week, only two this week, but two exceptional books. The first an historical novel set around the Great Fire of London in 1666 by the best-selling author Andrew Taylor The Ashes of London and published by Harper Collins.
And finally arriving on Saturday was Nevernight by Jay Kristoff and published by Harper Voyager but you will have a long wait for this exciting book as it is not released until August of this year. Sorry!
Over the next week look out for reviews for the following books a collection of short stories by Helen Oyeyemi called What is Not Yours is Not yours published by Picador, The French Lesson by Helen Rubenhold published by Doubleday and I am working on an interview with Helen to go with the review and finally the fabulous Lab Girl by Hope Jahren published by Fleet.
That’s it for this week, thanks for reading and happy reading.
Homecoming by Tanya Bullock
The Last Word Review
heart-warming and poignant love story so beautifully written. One short story not to be missed.
Homecoming by Tanya Bullock billed as ‘Quite possibly the strangest romance ever told.’ What you end up reading is quite possibly one of the most heart-warming love stories in a novella format you may ever read. It is poignant and beautifully written.
In under 90 pages this short story will be read in one afternoon and quite possibly read again it is that good. Without giving too much of the storyline away and that is difficult with novella’s.
This is the story of Rosie and Tom and set both in the present day and looking back to when they first met just before the outbreak of WWII. Now both in the nineties but what so they believe. Despite living in a nursing home Tom is totally devoted to Rosie and will do anything for her. At times the story is totally heart-breaking as the story address those suffering from dementia and not recognising family members will upset anyone who has gone through a similar experience.
I loved both Rosie who has a real sparkle in her eye and Tom the war veteran whose passion is nature and the outdoors. Homecoming
a story that is so delicately handled as they share their memories or what they believe their memories tell them that is true.
It has been both a pleasure and a privilege getting to know them a very special couple.
Tanya Bullock is a writer of immense quality and one I am so looking forward to reading more in the future and if Homecoming is anything to go by then future accolades will be well deserved.
My thanks to Rosalie Love at Blackbird Digital Books for a review copy.
Homecoming by Tanya Bullock and published by Blackbird Digital books is available both as Kindle download and also in paperback via Amazon UK.
The Midnight Watch by David Dyer
The Last Word Review
The role of the SS Californian during the loss of the Titanic. Outstanding fictional account
At 11.40pm on Sunday 14 April 1912 the largest passenger liner RMS Titanic was four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York when the Titanic struck an iceberg. Two hours and forty minutes later the Titanic was lost on board there was an estimated 2,224 people. Over 1,500 men, women and children perished, one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history.
History records that nearby a ship looked on that ship was the SS Californian and its Captain, Stanley Lord slept on and did not go to the bridge. The RMS Titanic fired eight distress rockets and all eight were ignored. Still Captain Lord stayed in his cabin.
The SS Californian
In The Midnight Watch by David Dyer the role of the Californian has been fictionalised to tell of what may have been going on at the time on board the Californian. On board Second Officer Herbert Stone on Midnight Watch sees the first of the rockets light up the night sky and realises the significance of the flares and alerts his captain only to be told to carry on and only alert him when it is certain the rockets are a distress signal. Further rockets light up the night sky and still no response from Captain Lord. By morning the Titanic is at the bottom of the North Atlantic.
The enormity of the disaster reaches the states and John Steadman a reporter with the Boston America realises there is a massive story to be told and he wanted that story no matter what. Dyer manages to tell the story brilliantly switching from the crew on board the Californian who experienced the disaster at first hand and then from the point of view of John Steadman determined to tell a story of the loss of the Titanic.
What the story tries to tell is what was going on board the Californian and why did Captain Lord not react to the distress rockets, to this day and I guess forever more we will never know why the captain reacted in a way despite him a very good and enigmatic captain. On land Steadman is gathering his story and determined to get to the truth and be the voice of those who perished either in the freezing Atlantic or those who went down with the Titanic.
What does come out of the story in The Midnight Watch is that Captain Lord was an extremely difficult man to get to and went through his entire life in total denial of his role in the loss of the Titanic and his action can only be described as totally reprehensible.
Credit must go to Dyer for the amount of research that went into writing this book and the way he weaves the story so beautifully and sensitively from historical fact to fiction to create an incredible story.
One part of the book brought more than a few tears to my eyes as the story moves to that of the perspective of the passengers and of an entire family of eleven who perished. For someone like me who has followed the story of the Titanic since a boy this part of the story hit me pretty hard and one I will not forget.
If you have an interest in historical fiction or just want to read a fictional account of what took place on the Californian during those hours as the Titanic slipped beneath the waves taking with her over 1,500 souls, then I can highly recommend this fabulous fictional account.
Thank you to Atlantic Books for a review copy.
The Midnight Watch by James Dyer and published by Atlantic Books is now available through Waterstones and all good book shops
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
The Last Word Review
The crime classic that packs a drunken punch on every page. An all-time classic.
When a crime novel starts with the following opening line: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” You know that this is a no holds barred cult crime classic and since it was first published in 1978 this opening gambit still stands the test of time as far crime classics go.
C.W. Sughrue is a Montana based private investigator in who seems to spend most of his time as drunk as he could get to it, in fact drunk nearly all the time is a more accurate perception.
The story is that Sughrue is hired by a woman to find her ex-husband, the wandering alcoholic Abraham Trahearne who is a writer and she believes is hell bent on killing himself with booze. Sughrue then spends weeks tracking Trahearne in every bar most of which seem to fall into the category of dives and hell holes. Sooner or later he was bound to catch up with his quarry and sure enough he does and what follows is pure classic crime writing fiction, a hell of bar fight takes place involving a number of the clientele and including the drunken Bulldog. Trahearne is hurt in the bar-room brawl and is hospitalised.
Following the fight, the owner of the bar then requests the help of Sughrue to help locate her daughter who is missing San Francisco and has been for many years. How they disappeared really is interesting. It then transpires that Sughrue and Trahearne both end up looking for the girl.
The way that Crumley has written the story very much in the first person but also at times he will lure you into his head to read his mind and you become part of the story as you try and solve the mystery surrounding the missing girl. This is pure classic crime noir.
There is plenty sex in the story line as well as alcohol infused profanity. The old premise that you can run but you can’t hide really starts to come out as part of the story looks at identity and looking at and dealing with your past.
The Last Good Kiss has been really influential since its first release and helped launch some of the great crime writers of the last thirty years. Even though it was first released in 1978 it will have a new readers flocking to Crumley’s writing. If you have not read this before and you enjoy a raw crime novel this is a must read.
Thank you to Naomi Mantin for an advanced review copy.
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley released through Black Swan and available through Waterstones and all good book shops.