Monthly Archives: July 2017
As we come to the end of July a real sense of excitement for me as one of my favourite book prizes of the year announcements is just a few days away. The Wainwright Book Prize 2017 in association with The National Trust is an award that celebrates the very best in writing about Nature and the great outdoors. One of my boyhood heroes was Alfred Wainwright and I have spent many hours just reading those wonderful iconic Pictorial Guides to the fells of the Lake District. It is no secret that one of my favourite genres in books is nature and the outdoors and my bookshelves are filled to capacity with some of the great books on these subjects. There is nothing better than being out in wilderness whether that is just being at one with nature or just admiring the stunning beautiful wild places that we have in our countryside from the mountains and islands of Scotland to the fells of the Lakes and the valleys of Wales and not forgetting our hardworking farmers. These are places to rejoice and to treasure now but above all for future generations. We are the caretakers and must preserve for our children and theirs to come.
I was honoured to have been given the opportunity to read all the books that make up The Wainwright Book Prize shortlist for 2017. I am still reading through the books and my personal reviews will appear soon. On the 27th June the shortlist was announced and on Thursday 3rd August direct from the BBC Countryfile live show the judges will announce this year’s winners. You can of course read more about the award and the judges chaired by TV’s Julia Bradbury on the website The Wainwright Prize Ahead of the announcement I thought I would give you just give a little introduction into the seven books that make up the shortlist.
The Wainwright Book Prize Shortlist 2017:
The January Man (A Year of Walking Britain) by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday)
The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel (Doubleday)
Love of Country (A Hebridean Journey) by Madeleine Bunting (Granta)
The Otters’ Tale by Simon Cooper (William Collins)
Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss (Vintage)
The Wild Other by Clover Stroud (Hodder & Stoughton)
Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel (W&N)
Previous Winners of The Wainwright Book Prize.
2016: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate Books)
2015: Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel (Transworld Publishers)
2014: The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thompson (Windmill/Random House)
The 2017 Shortlisted Books
The January Man – A Year Walking of Britain by Christopher Somerville
This is the story of a year of walking around Britain and was in fact inspired by the song of the same name by Dave Goulder. The author sets off on a journey of discovery with memories of his late father walks that would cover all four seasons from all four corners of Britain from the Scottish isles to forests and vales. This in itself is a hope that readers will don their walking boots and grab their walking poles and explore the length and breadth of our country and the rich natural history and landscapes regardless of the vagaries of the British weather.
Rich not only in its descriptions but the exquisite writing of Christopher Somerville who has written thirty-six books.
The Otter’s Tale by Simon Cooper
For those like me who remember reading Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson then The Otter’s Tale by Simon Cooper will also surely appeal. Simon bought what was an abandoned water mill in Southern England and then go on to share his home and his life with a family of wild Otters.
What this enabled Simon Cooper to achieve was to observe one of this country most secretive of mammals and he did so at very close quarters. The family allowed the author to become a member of their own family and in turn this gives the reader a personal and unique insight into the lives of the Otters in what turned out to be an extraordinary relationship of trust between Otter and man the close relationship between Simon and the female Otter called Kuschta is incredibly close and personal.
Within this story Simon Cooper also discusses the natural history of Otters here in the UK and a mammal that was once so persecuted that it was very close to being extinct in this country. A year in the life of not only Simon Cooper but also a beautiful insight to a family of Otters that shared the life of the author.
Love of Country – A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting
Some of my happiest of memories are those when I have been walking on some of the islands of the Western Coast of Scotland. Just mention the names of some of the islands like Jura, St. Kilda, Lewis, Harris, Sky, Rum and so many more. Each rich in their own history and also natural history. Here Madeleine Bunting a former Guardian journalist takes us on a journey that took six years to complete. Each time she would return there was more history and culture to uncover more islands to explore. The history of these islands shapes our countries history even today. The author not only explores but also asks questions. This is a wonderful travel companion if you are heading to one of the islands for a holiday. Read before you go and read while you are there as there is so much to read and learn. A wonderful book.
The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel
A former winner of the Wainwright Book Prize this year has two books on the Shortlist, the first titled The Running Hare looks at life on a farmland, the wild animals and plants that life on it and in it. This is an extraordinary piece of writing and you can see why this writer is so acclaimed. With so many species lost, this is a farmer who took a field and farmed it in a traditional way to conserve the wildlife that inhabit our fields. He talks about the birds that feed off the land and microbes that live in the land each having their own battle to survive modern practices. In fast paced modern world can farming go back to old practices to husband farmland thereby protecting the wildlife that also share the same farmland. A Place were the wild Hare can call home and live safely. Beautifully written and profound. A book that will stand the test of time and will be read by future generations to come. This is one of the great nature writers of our time.
The Wild Other by Clover Stroud
A deeply moving memoir from Clover Stroud about a life that was shaped by a tragic accident to her mother when Clover was only sixteen-years-old. Her mother was left with brain damage after a riding accident. Clover found herself from gypsy camps in Ireland to rodeos of Texas then to the far reaches of Russia before the White Horse vale of England brought her home to England. These journeys she took in the name of trying to understand a sense of home that was left shattered and broken. A remarkable and deeply honest account of loss and love. Nature has the power to heal the wounds that seem never to heal and here in The Wild Other Clover Stroud tells her personal story that is full of bravery and a life lived to the full. At times frank Clover reveals all in this haunting memoir that will both move and inspire the reader.
Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss
Stephen Moss is the acclaimed naturalist, writer and TV producer. Here in Wild Kingdom Stephen Moss at times is frank about this countries disappearing wildlife and asks some important questions about the land we share with the animals the Britain. It is not all bad news, just look at how Otters are now doing. But many others are not faring so well and Moss poses the question how can we bring back Britain’s wildlife. With intensive farming practices and housing developments taking over and wildlife being squeezed out of their natural homes something has to give and the wildlife suffers as a consequence. There has to be room for both man and wildlife to life in harmony. Rewilding is a term we may yet start to hear more of in the years ahead. So many questions are posed here. Moss takes us on a journey from farmland to wetlands from one part of the country to another. He knows what he is talking about and there is so much to understand. Common sense is key. If we care about our wildlife we can make a difference. It is not all bad news there is much to praise but there is not resting on laurels as there is work to do. Generations to come will point to our generation if we do not. This is so well written by a man who is passionate about the future of our wildlife.
Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel
Where Poppies Blow is the second book by John Lewis-Stempel in this year’s Shortlist along with his The Running Hare. We all know of the horrors of the Great War. But in this book the author takes the connection between the British soldiers fighting in the Great War and the animals and plants and the relationships between them.
For many soldiers living inside the land they were close to nature as you can possibly get, many soldiers sought solace in the birds and plants around them, at desperate times it provided both peace and solace in a place of sheer hell. Many soldiers indeed were birdwatchers and there are stories of officers and men fishing in flooded shell craters. Here you will read of soldiers planting flower beds in trenches, this sounds truly remarkable but John Lewis-Stempel has researched this book and brings to life the incredible stories of fighting men and nature and in the end the cure that only nature can bring in its purest form. There is a quote on the inside of the book that just sums up what the men went through. ‘If it weren’t for the birds, what a hell it would be’. A remarkable book that will take pride of place among the many natural history books in my book case.
I have been following The Wainwright Book Prize now for a number of years and I believe this has to be the strongest of the shortlists yet. The quality of the writing is just outstanding. I am not sure if it is just me but it just gets stronger and stronger every year. I really do not envy the judges in their decision, but every one of these seven books is a real candidate to win the prize. Could John Lewis-Stempel win the prize again? I just have a feeling The Running Hare is going to be the book to look out for on Thursday. I would love to hear your views on the shortlist and if you have a favourite to win. I will of course be following the prize announcement as and when it happens and will Tweet the winning book as soon as I know over on my Twitter page The Last Word 1962 I will be reviewing each of the books in the coming weeks.
Yesterday by Felicia Yap
Summer is the time when we all tend to relax with a good book, well I am now going to let you in advance of a book that is hitting the bookshops in a few weeks’ time that is going to be THE thriller of the summer. Those that follow my Twitter feed will know that I have been talking of the stunning debut thriller Yesterday by Felicia Yap. This is a name that you will be hearing a lot more about.
The premise for this book is ‘How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday’ and this is where the title of the novel comes from. This is a future world with two types of people, Mono’s those that can only remember yesterday and the more elite group of people called Duos who can also remember the day before yesterday. I world were iDiaries are the must have for everyone as this is the only way of knowing what you have been doing on a daily basis, just imagine every night before bed if you were a responsible adult you completed your iDiary filling in your day’s activities. Welcome to a dystopian mystery that is just brilliantly written with such unique characters unlike any I have come across in a thriller.
In this engrossing novel we have two central characters in Claire who is a mono (can only remember yesterday) and is married to Mark a Duo (remembering two days). This is a couple with their own personal marital problems which are all too plain to see from the opening pages. Then a young beautiful woman is found dead in the River Cam she has been murdered and the detective is standing on the doorstep of Claire and Marks home. It appears that on the dead woman’s I Diary she claims that she is Mark’s mistress and now Mark is the prime suspect in her murder. So we go back to the premise of the novel in ‘How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday.’
We now find Claire trying to piece together the days leading up to the murder of the young woman and the story is told from the perspective of all four of the leading characters and a story so well thought out and told, an incredibly well balanced debut thriller based in a future world were memory really is short term. There are many twists in the story to keep you on your toes and some you will not expect.
Great characters are important to me in novels and in Yesterday Felicia Yap has created some very strong characters that make this an unforgettable book and one that you will not forget easily. I was lucky enough to meet Felicia Yap earlier this year at a get together at the publishers and learnt more of the story from her directly. One of my major books of 2017 and one I know many people are going to be reading on the beaches through this summer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Millie Seaward for the advanced review copy.
Yesterday by Felicia Yap is published by Wildfire on 10th August and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Malice by Hugh Fraser
Hugh Fraser returns with Malice the third in the series following up from Harm and Threat also back is Rina Walker in 1960’s London and if you have read and loved Hugh’s first two then you are in for a real treat. This is an action packed thriller that packs a punch from the first page and will keep you gripped to the very last.
1960’s London was well known for gangs and its leaders and we love a hero who will take them on, in this series we have a heroine in Rina a complex character and she fearlessly takes on the ‘bosses’ and hunts down those she needs to. There is violence as you would come to expect in this series. Rina is a gritty woman and one you would not pick a fight with, a gritty and determined leading character.
This time around Rina is hired to ‘take out’ a rival gangland leader who is threatening George Preston’s patch. But what Rina does not realise is that dealing with one problem will unleash more danger and revenge. The violence is at times graphic as the story takes us from Soho to the Midlands and then to the Spanish Coast. Like the previous two in the series I raced through this as it is a fast paced addictive read. If, however you have not read the first two in the series fear not as they can be read on their own. Be warned though, read on and you will want to read the entire series. One day a screenwriter will read one of these and will see just how dramatic they are and will want to transfer to the small screen. It would make for dramatic television viewing.
Thank you to Matthew at Urbane Publications for the advanced review copy of Malice.
Malice by Hugh Fraser is published by Urbane Publications and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Other Twin – L V Hay
Take a bow Karen Sullivan founder of Orenda Books yet again she has found yet another outstanding writer and one to watch for the future. L V Hay may not be a name you are familiar with but this may be about to change as with her debut psychological thriller The Other Twin was released earlier this month and if you are heading for a Summer holiday then this is one book you may want to seriously consider packing this in your case as one of your holiday reads. It really is a wonderfully layered thriller.
Where do it start with this review apart from telling the world that they must read The Other Twin? Poppy wakes from a night that she can barely recall and with the hangover to go with it, she finds her mobile and the battery is lifeless finally finding the charger she heads off for a shower to wash away the night before. When she finally gets to access her phone there are many messages from her mother and the tone concerns Poppy. The call she makes gives her some shocking news her sister India is dead! How could this have happened? The two sisters may not have been close in recent years but she is her sister and Poppy finds herself heading on the next train to Brighton to be at the family home. India has taken her own life by jumping from a bridge onto a railway. But still the question will not go away as to what really happened to India to make her take her own life?
For Poppy she is not convinced by what she is being told by officialdom and decides to begin her own investigations. There are secrets out there and the more Poppy digs the more she begins to find the tangled web of secrets. Now she must access India’s laptop and she thinks there could be information that could be more than just useful. A name crops up from here and that is Jenny but who is she and what exactly is Jenny hiding? Clearly India was on to her? This is a brilliantly crafted thriller that takes the reader on a journey in and around Brighton and tackles many current themes. The Other Twin is packed with tension with some uneasy moments. A complex and addictive storyline mixed with the fresh writing talent from a new name that I am looking forward to hearing more in the future.
Thank you to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the advanced review copy.
The Other Twin by L V Hay is published by Orenda Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
How to follow the Blog Tour for The Other Twin by L V Hay
The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce
There are many out there that love Rachel Joyce and her books and the characters she creates I count myself as being a big fan. How many of you read and loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry or The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey or the wonderful collection of short stories A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Now finally the wait is over and it seems to have been a long wait. Released today (13th July) is The Music Shop (Doubleday). This is a story that will lift your soul and capture your heart.
This is a beautiful story set during the late 1980’s and as the title suggests is based around a music shop where we meet Frank who is more than just loves music it is in fact his life and his passion. Frank’s music shop has just about every possible genre of music so long as it is on vinyl that is. If you were looking for a piece of music, then Frank was your man. Just a few years before the first CD’s hit the record shops but for Frank the idea of selling music on a CD did not go well with him despite everyone around him telling him it was time to move with the times. It was the beginning of the end of vinyl as we knew it.
Then one day something happened it was just like any other day except outside Frank’s music shop there was a woman dressed in a pea green coat. Her name is Ilse Brauchmann This German woman seems a mystery to everyone including Frank but all Ilse wishes is for Frank to teach her about music. Frank is lonely and to escape this he throws himself into his music shop and making sure his customers leave with the music they are looking for. Here through the chapters of this touching and wonderful novel we find out more about Frank’s past and also about Ilse Brauchmann.
There is something warm and cosy about The Music Shop could it be the characters that Rachel Joyce creates or is it the memories we have the nostalgia aspect of the story. The past plays quite a role here and some are quite painful and for Frank the wounds do not heal easily and what was the reason for Ilse stopping by that day to the music shop. As you would expect music plays a major part in this story and in the relationship between the two characters the story. There is some humour here but also some real sadness but above all there is a message of hope. When souls are broken they need help to be put back together. Music has power to deliver on many fronts it can bring hope and it can heal. As the words to the song goes “Music was my first love and it will be my last.” Fans of Rachel Joyce will delight in this tender, wonderful and uplifting novel and just is just so beautifully written. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Alison Barrow for the advanced review copy of The Music Shop
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is published by Doubleday on 13th July and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Alex Preston & Neil Gower
The year was 1972 and my love affair with birds and the natural world was born. I was only ten years-old but I was hooked. All these years later I still stand and watch as Goldfinches move from one thistle seed head to another. Like many others my first bird book the wonderful Observers Book of Birds which still to this day takes pride of place among the many natural history books. There is one more book to add to bookcase and that is As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Alex Preston and Neil Gower.
Alex Preston (Writer & Author)
Words are provided by the writer and author Alex Preston and the truly wonderful plates are from the internationally acclaimed graphic artist Neil Gower and are just wonderful. The whole ethos of this book is to celebrate birds and how authors down the years have used birds to grace the pages of their own books, interspersed with this what you could say is part memoir as Alex Preston recounts his love of birds and birdwatching. Each chapter celebrates one unique bird and with a plate by Neil Gower. We have authors, writers and poets that fill this wondrous book with writings and memories, when you read each chapter and the notes provided I can only imagine the research that must have gone into this book.
Neil Gower (Graphic Artist)
Poetry and birds seem to have gone hand in hand through since we started writing poetry may be that is why since my childhood days I have loved both birds and poetry writers down the years have written about birds and incorporated them. Birds have played a part in all our lives and each of us has our own memories. Then there are the great nature writers those that fill my bookcase and from time to time I sit and lose myself in some of the most outstanding writings. For Alex Preston his love of birdwatching had to be hidden away when he was fifteen due to his peers and he spent his time reading books on birds that kept his love of birdwatching alive so that all these years later he pours his heart out through his writing and those writers and authors and poets that brings our love of birds to pages. As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a book that celebrates birds in writing and poetry and personal memories. A book to love now and in the years to come. A celebration of our feathered friends whether that is the gardeners friend the Robin or the haunting sight ghostly sight of a Barn Owl hunting at dusk. This is a book to be loved and cherished and so beautifully illustrated. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Grace Vincent for the advanced review copy of As Kingfishers Catch Fire.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Alex Preston and Neil Gower is published on 13th July by Corsair and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
To Kill the President by Sam Bourne
Many will know how much I enjoy reading and writing about thrillers so it will come as a surprise that I have not read any of Sam Bourne’s thrillers before now and what a way to start. Just imagine the United States elects to power a President that is disliked by the majority of the world and whom they see as impulsive to say the least. Well in Sam Bourne’s latest blockbuster To Kill the President that is exactly what has happened.
Many who pick up this thriller will very quickly come to the idea that this is really a novel based on the current ‘real’ Commander in Chief and it is not difficult to understand why. Here in this fast paced thriller the President of the United States is in a war of words with the North Korean regime and the world is plunged into fear that the President will launch a nuclear attack on North Korea. The world is on a knife edge and at any moment the world could be plunged into WWIII. What’s more this tyrannical president is backed by his chief strategist Crawford McNamara.
He we have a president that feels he can do anything he wants and is liable to react without thinking through the consequences for the world. Something must be done to stop him. Enter Maggie Costello she served the previous president and she is wise and soon discovers that there is a plot to assassinate the President. Now here is the dilemma. She serves the president so does she do something to raise the alarm or bearing in mind the lunatic in the oval office does she keep quiet and hope the plot succeeds.
I soon realised after just a few pages just how close to reality this novel is based. The world has held its breath a number of times with Donald Trump as president and here in To Kill the President a novel that is just a little to scarily real. The characters are believable and have egos to match their inflated personalities. Gripping thriller that lasts from the first page through to the last and will keep the ardent thriller fan entertained. A thumping good read with a little twist and if you are following the current ‘real’ Commander in Chief’ then you may want to read this sinister page turner.
Thank you to Emilie Chambeyron for the advanced review copy of To Kill the President.
To Kill the President by Sam Bourne is published by Harper Collins and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
How to follow the To Kill the President Official Blog Tour
Exquisite by Sarah Stovell
Exquisite the debut psychological thriller by Sarah Stovell is not just as the title says but this just exceptional. It is a precise and powerful thriller set among the rolling fells of the Lake District. It is a terrifying novel that is intended to keep you turning the pages long into the night until you get to the end.
I like nothing better than to curl up with a taught, dark and compelling thriller, and when I first heard of Exquisite and that it was set in the Lake District, I was already hooked, but as soon as I opened the first page I realised this was going to be an extraordinary debut. My goodness it delivers on fronts. It does everything you want a good thriller to give the reader.
I really enjoyed the way that Stovell has created her main characters in this thriller. Bo Luxton a successful author and mother of two children and married to a man some years younger than herself. The family live near the beautiful setting of Grasmere and surrounded by the fells of the Lake District. Then we meet Alice Dark who is desperate to succeed as a writer, she is in her twenties and seems to bounce from one job to another. The two meet at a writing retreat and they seem to hit it off instantly they have after all a love of writing. But this sudden friendship is destined to have dramatic and more frightening consequences as they embark on a relationship.
Both women had very difficult childhoods and may be this is why this was always going to be a fatal attraction. Both are flawed characters living lives that are so different, one very successful and living a life that that many could only dream of. But sometimes all that glitters are not gold. Sometimes the truth is somewhat different. A story of obsession and desire and truth and lies that some people live. This is a fast paced thriller that will have your pulses racing until the very last page. Not one to put down.
The setting is just stunning and the story-line is chilling. Exquisite is a thriller that is unforgettable and I am already looking forward to seeing what Sarah Stovell has in-store for us next. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Karen Sullivan for the advanced review copy.
Exquisite by Karen Sullivan is published by Sarah Stovell and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.