Category Archives: Doubleday
As another year comes to a close we look back on 2018 and the news might be full of bad news but in the world of books it has been another great year. Sales are continuing to grow in both physical hard copy but audio books are also booming. This really is great news and added to this more independent books shops have opened during the year with the trend set to continue. With the high street struggling like never before it is just heartening to see the growth of sales in books. Just a few years ago some were saying the days of the hard copy book were doomed.
2018 will be a year that I will remember for years to come. So many great books have been read some sadly I have not had time to read and will miss this end of year review. I look back with great memories to take away from this year whether it the honour of being asked blog about some of the books and authors for The 2018 Jewish Book Festival to being invited to assist with a very special book On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders a day surrounded by some of the bravest men and women. Real heroes. Also to be involved with The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize a book prize that is dedicated to books on natural history and the great outdoors. Then of course there was The Lost Words project I launched for Somerset Primary Schools in August which is still going to this very day. The generosity of many that made this a success. To those behind the scenes who helped and are still helping I could not have done this without you. To the many radio interviews not just in Somerset but across the UK and also in Europe. In the early part of the Summer I was invited to take a tour of The London Library which turned out to be an incredible experience a very special place that holds over one million books on over 17 miles of shelving. You walk in the footsteps of literary giants.
So this brings me to my 15 books of 2018. The books that made my year. This was incredibly hard as so many could have made it in.
The choices are in no particular order so there is no number one book just the best of the year.
Our House – Louise Candlish
(Simon & Schuster) 5th April 2018
Fi Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house. The terror of knowing your life is about to be turned upside down and all the possessions of your life with Bram have gone and who are these people moving into the home they never had any intention of selling. Bram has made a dreadful mistake and there is a price to pay. Now there are score to settle. Both have secrets that they kept from each other.
Our House is a gripping domestic noir read that I recall racing through and kept up long into the night.
All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison
(Bloomsbury) – 23rd August 2018
With memories of The Great War still in the minds and memories of the community it casts a shadow across the fields as the autumn harvest approaches. It is 1933 the glamorous Constance arrives from London to write about the traditions of the Suffolk farming community. For Edie Mather adulthood is approaching and the arrival of Constance is seen by Edie to be everything she longs for. But there is something more to Constance than Edie thinks. This is a remarkable and powerful novel from the Costa Shortlisted author of Hawthorn Time.
Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon
(The Borough Press – 11th January 2018
With a Battenburg cover Three Things About Elsie is just a wonderful and delicious story. 84-Year-old Florence has had a fall and as she lies there waiting for help to come she wonders if some part of her past is come back. Florence lives in a flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly and she wonders if the new resident is who he claims to be as he died sixty years ago. It is a beautiful, charming and profound novel from the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.
Something of His Art – Horatio Clare
(Little Toller Books) – 11th October 2018
The year is 1705 and the yet unknown Johann Sebastian Bach is earning a living as a teacher and organist sets off on more than a 250 mile walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck to visit a composer. This was to be a pivotal time for the young J.S. Bach and this short book tells of his walk and Horatio Clare walks in his footsteps and re-traces that walk that was to change Bach’s life. Based on the BBC Radio 3 series of the same Horatio talks of the walk, the sights, and sounds and natural history that would have accompanied Bach on this epic adventure that would see him become the greatest composer.
The Lost Letters of William Woolf – Helen Cullen
(Michael Joseph) – 12th July 2018
William Woolf works for the Dead Letters Depot in East London were he spends his days solving mysteries that include terrible hand writing, missing post codes, torn packages to name but a few. Then he discovers letters addressed to ‘My Great Love’ and suddenly life for William Woolf takes on a whole new perspective. These letters written by a woman to a man she has not met yet, and William now starts to think that he could be the man the letters are meant for. Now he must take on his biggest mystery to follow the clues in the letters and solve the biggest mystery of all. The human heart. This is a charming and romantic novel a wonderful debut. Shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year – Irish Book Awards.
The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood – John Lewis-Stempel
(Doubleday) – 8th March 2018
For four years John Lewis-Stempel managed a mixed woodland of three and a half acres that is Cockshutt Wood and raised cows and pigs that had free reign through these woods. This is John’s month by month account of his last year managing the wood. Through the lives of the trees and the birds and animals that made this wood their home a sanctuary for the wildlife and also for the author. You are there through the changing seasons through to the final days of John’s management of the woods that became his spiritual home. This is a man in tune with the natural world and one of the country’s finest natural history writers. Longlisted for the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.
Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan
(Simon & Schuster) 11th January 2018
A scandal that will rock Westminster. This is a high profile marriage and James has been accused of a shocking crime and his wife Sophie believes in him and will protect the family. Kate on the other hand is the Barrister who believes he is guilty and will make sure he pays for the crimes he has committed.
This is an explosive thriller that will keep the reader on the edge of their chair until the very end. Superbly written with great characters. A story of marriage and power and who has it and how they use it. Totally absorbing and gripping.
The Last Wilderness – Neil Ansell
(Tinder Press) – 8th February 2018
Nature and solitude. Neil Ansell has spent the best part of his life walking the remote parts of Britain but here in The Last Wilderness he takes on the part of Scottish Highlands but doing so as he talks of his hearing loss and hoe this affects his love of the great outdoors and the birds he loved to hear that have now become silent. To be in the wilderness is to be at one with nature. It is indeed a love letter to both the wilderness and to the Highlands of Scotland. The wonderful rich writing of Neill Ansell almost makes you believe you are there walking in his footsteps. A treasure of a book. Shortlisted for The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.
I Love You Too Much – Alicia Drake
(Picador) – 8th February 2018
A novel based in Paris and centred around Paul a quiet and lonely boy who is unloved. He spends his time watching those in his family and his rather glamourous mother Séverine and her musician boyfriend Gabriel. For a boy who closely observes his family and their daily lives, you just know one day he will see something he is not supposed to see.
Paul seeks the friendship of the not so quiet Scarlett and the patisseries of this part of Paris. Paul is crying out to be loved but what if love does not come his way. What then? This is a book I totally loved and still do to this day. So deserving to be read by a wider audience. It is deft and intelligent and so beautifully told. One book I would I would recommend.
Erebus: A story of a Ship – Michael Palin
(Hutchinson Books) – 20th September 2018
Michael Palin tells the story of the ill-fated journey of HMS Erebus and its crew that set sail for the arctic in search of the North West Passage. In 1845 it disappeared with HMS Terror along with their crews. What really happened? A story of the ship and its crew as Palin recounts the adventure and ultimately the biggest naval disaster. Together with photographs this makes for a remarkable read for anyone who has an interest in the sea or adventures.
Dark Pines – Will Dean
(Point Blank) – 14th June 2018
An impressive debut by Will Dean. Dark Pines is dark, chilling and atmospheric. Set in an isolated Swedish town. An unsolved murder from two decades ago a deaf reporter trying to find a story that could make her career. Now Tuva needs to find the killer before she becomes the killers next target. But there are secrets in the pine woods were Tuva must venture. If she solves the crime she could find a way out of the small of Gavrik and finally make a name for herself. Dark Pines is the thriller that really beats all thrillers in 2018 and is the first in a series with Red Snow about to be released in January 2019. If I had to choose my book of the year Dark Pines would be that book. If you have not read Dark Pines and thrillers are your genre, then read it now!
Owl Sense – Dr Miriam Darlington
(Guardian Faber Publishing) 8th February 2018
I have been fascinated by Owls all my life and have been lucky to have travelled and seen many species of Owl in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean and I loved Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington she takes walks with her son seeking species of UK Owls. Then she travels into Europe from France to Spain, Serbia and Finland and close to the arctic lands of snow and ice. But this book not only is a story of a quest for Owls but her son Benji becomes very ill and then suddenly it is also a quest for a cure. Owl Sense brings to life the mysterious lives of Owls and what we are so fascinated with these mysterious birds.
The Lingering – SJI Holliday
(Orenda Books) – 15th November 2018
This dark and creepy ghost story is best read during the dark hours as it really sets the tone. Though you might not want to switch the light off after.
Jack and Ali move have moved into a self-sufficient commune set in Rosalind House, the local village it is said is were witches roamed and the home itself has a dark and sinister past. But it is not long after they arrive that things start to happen. Now the residents and locals are nervous, something or someone is seeking retribution. But why? Terrifying and unnerving. The Lingering really had me spooked. Superbly written and a storyline that holds until the very end.
Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale
(Tinder Press) – 21st August 2018
Set in the 1970’s West-Super-Mare and only son Eustace has been signed up for Cello lessons by his mother. Music is an escape for Eustace and his lessons from his teacher he cannot get enough of. But it is his mother that is not sure of the glamorous teacher. Soon though it is lessons in life and love that take on whole new meanings for Eustace. This is beautifully told story of coming of age and finding out who you really are told with real compassion. A truly wonderful read.
The Lost Words – Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris
(Hamish Hamilton) – 5th October 2017
After everything this year, I could not leave The Lost Words out of my selection for the year. It has been the bedrock of my year.
Imagine a world where children no longer talk of Heron’s, Otters, Bluebells, Acorns, Conkers, Dandelion, Bramble to name but a few. Well there are around 50 words that The Oxford Dictionary for Children removed. What they did not reckon on was Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. Here is the most beautiful book imaginable. In words spoken as Spell-Poems and paintings by the amazing Jackie Morris they both bring these words back to life.
Many people across the country have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to bring this book in into Schools, care homes and hospitals. Even today many more are planned to launch. A truly remarkable book that has a life all of its own. And this story for Somerset has only just begun.
And so there we have it. As the old year ends and a new one is about to begin and so it starts all over again. It has been a pleasure and an honour to work with such incredible writers and publishers and I thank them all for their incredible work.
In 2019 I have some great plans ahead I am honoured to have been asked to be an official blogger for The Jewish Book Festival in early March. I will be podcasting through the year and hope to take the podcast on the road to talk to writers and may be a few publishers. I will be doing my usual book giveaways when time permits and also there will be The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.
Have a happy and peaceful 2019 and remember “We read to know that we are not alone”. Books take us to places and to escape all the bad news of the day.
The Last Word Book Review
Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks
The first thing that will draw your attention to the book is the incredible cover design. This is down to the magic of Leo Nickolls. Just one of the best covers this year.
Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks is set on the bleak windswept Tollbury Marshes, eighty-six-year-old Virginia Wrathmell has spent all her life here, but she knows the end is near. It is New Year’s Eve 2015 and as she stands looking out over the bleak marshes holding the skull of a Curlew she is remembering something that happened many years ago. A powerful and evocative story of loss and of guilt and the how the past can live with you forever.
Virginia was adopted by Clem and Lorna as the war arrived in 1939. But Virginia has been haunted by an event during those early days of WWII that has loved with her all these years and now as New Year’s Eve 2015 has arrived she knows that this will be her last day.
During those early days of WWII, a German aircraft crashed on the marsh and Clem attempts to rescue the pilot. From that moment life for Virginia has changed forever. No clues from me here as to what happened but I have to congratulate the author on a quite superb atmospheric and haunting novel. There really is something about Call of the Curlew that will attract readers of novels by the
Brontë’s indeed Elizabeth Brooks call her novel “her homage to immersive and evocative writing of Charlotte Brontë”. Marshes have real character I speak from much experience here, and this plays a real part of this outstanding story. An ever changing part of the landscape through the seasons but also one of real and present danger. I totally loved Virginia the main character. But the other characters you will meet Elizabeth Brooks weaves them so brilliantly into the storyline. Some you will warm to others you may not. Call of the Curlew is a story that I totally loved and one that I know many are going to love just as much as I have done.
Thank you to for the review copy of Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks
Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks will be published by Doubleday on 28th June 2018. You can pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
How to follow the Blog Tour
The Wood – The Life & Times of Cockshutt Wood
by John Lewis-Stempel
The standard of nature writing over recent years has just got better and better, we are so fortunate to have so many great nature writers in the UK and twice winner of the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing. (2015 & 2017) John Lewis-Stempel returns with his best book to date. The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood is an intimate account of John’s last year managing this three and half acres of mixed woodland in Herefordshire.
Lewis-Stempel’s latest has been written in a diary format and takes us through the four season and the changing face of Cockshutt Wood, the flora and fauna of this working wood comes to life through the poetic words of a nature writer at his very best. We meet the Tawny Owl who is affectionately known as ‘Old Brown’ the various animals from pigs to sheep who mad the wood their home to keep the dreaded bramble at bay.
The book starts in December when the days are at their shortest but even now when the trees are dormant there is still life in John’s working wood. The sheer beauty of this book is how John brings the history, poetry and even recipes (some of which I will be trying through the course of the year) There are recipes ranging from Acorn Coffee, Chestnut Soup and Elderflower Champagne.
John comes from a farming family that dates back to the 13th Century and is ideally placed to write about countryside as he sees it, his passion for everything in the countryside and its history and future. As the season moves from Winter to Spring, Cockshutt Wood wakens from its deep winter sleep, animals and amphibians that have slept through the cold and dark winter months now feel the warmth of Spring and waken from their slumber. The mixed woodland now starts to come to life, the sap is rising with the temperature.
The poetry is just wonderful and carefully selected and really works to bring the wood alive. The sights and sounds and even the smell of the wood just seep from every page not to mention the recipes. John ends his tenure managing the wood in the month of November with the words “I though the trees belonged to me, but I now realise I belonged to them” As he left the wood there is a sense of pain at leaving the wood and its inhabitants behind. The writer at one with the countryside and a book that deserves the plaudits. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The Wood – The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood by John Lewis-Stempel is published by Doubleday and was published on 8th March 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan
There are some writers that you connect with and Donal Ryan is one of those great writers who was just born to write. His latest book From a Low and Quiet Sea (Doubleday) Donal Ryan brings together three stories that may read like four short stories but in a way they are all connected by human experiences of life. Three men three experiences of life.
The three men Farouk, Lampy and John are completely un-connected. Farouk story is set in war torn Syria. Farouk is a doctor trying to look after the sick and those caught up in the fighting and also keep safe his wife and daughter. The situation is now getting very grave and he knows no-one is safe. It takes a visit to the local square and what Farouk then sees with his own eyes is so appalling that he knows that he must get his family out of Syria to safety. Their journey into the unknown and to the safety of Europe will be tragic. This is a story that so deeply touched me and I loved how this story was told with so much sympathy.
We meet Lampy who is struggling with his own personal issues, struggling with the fact that his father never existed in his life, he family exists of his mother and grandfather. Lampy is not sure of his life and were down the road he is as his relationship with Chloe has now ended he feels empty and alone his heart broken. What do other people actually think of him really? What now for Lampy?
Lastly there is John, a life lived and by all account fulfilled but sometimes not everything may seem true and right. John’s life is coming to an end and now he realises he must seek the truth of his own life. Grief and regret come to the fore.
These three stories are just the most beautiful of stories, told with compassion for humanity and written with such empathy to everyday lives. Some books you read leave a last mark on the reader and I am sure that anyone who reads From a Low and Quiet Sea will feel that this is a book that will just linger long in the memory. There is something about the final chapter that read then re-read. This may be a small book in terms of pages but this I promise, there is something within the pages of this book that is much bigger. Anyone who has a heart and shows compassion for their fellow man will read this. “Be kind” HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you Sophie Christopher for the advanced review copy of From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan.
From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan is published by Doubleday and was published on 22nd March and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
How to follow the Blog Tour for From a Low and Quiet Sea
Home by Amanda Berriman
Welcome to life through the eyes and also words of four-year-old Jessica Petrowski. Both little Jessica and her mum will become your new heroes. Home the debut novel by Amanda Berriman is nothing short of extraordinary. This is an extremely moving story of a single mother coping with life and also trying to bring up Jessica and her baby brother Toby.
The family live in what can only be described as an appalling flat not fit to bring up a very young family. The stairs to their ‘home’ are smelly as Jessica knows only too well. This is the story of their lives through little Jessica’s eyes. And I will warn you now Jessica will steal your heart. This little lady sees and hears everything. She knows the ‘Money man’ comes to call and he is not at all nice. Jessica’s world is ever changing and she is growing up fast.
The story of this family almost certainly can be any story involving a single mum living in shocking housing conditions and trying to cope with everyday life and bring up her family. Jessica’s father left the family home to move to Poland. Leaving them to cope alone. Then one night Jessica wakes up to find the green man hurting her little brother, in fact he is a paramedic and Toby is very poorly with ‘new monia’ and has to be rushed to hospital and this is where also Tina is admitted with the same illness. Jessica is now separated from her mum and baby brother for a number of days and has to stay with a foster family while Tina recovers.
All Jessica wants is for her mum and Toby to go to a home with a garden and a trampoline. But they have to go back to the disgusting flat with the smelly stairs. Now Tina faces eviction from what she calls their home. Now what will happen to them. Who will take them in. Jessica sees her mummy crying a lot and cannot understand why she is so sad. We are also introduced to her new best friend Paige, but Paige has a secret and this secret will have shocking consequences come the end of the story.
An incredible story that will move anyone who reads this book. For Tina trying to cope with so much and not at all trusting of many if anyone at all. She is a real hero in every sense of the word and yet she does not want help from anyone. But sometimes in life we all need a helping hand when we are down on our knees as life seems to grind you down. I loved the characters that Amanda Berriman has created here, and Jessica’s voice will live with me for a very long time to come. I wanted the family to pull through and you will be rooting for them as well.
A powerful and moving story of poverty and also abuse but also a story of a mother’s love for Jessica and Toby that shines through despite the desperate heartache. A story many will want to read. My congratulations to Amanda Berriman on a sensational debut novel. A new voice that I am looking forward to hearing more from in the future. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
My thanks to Sophie Christopher for the review copy of Home by Amanda Berriman
Home by Amanda Berriman is published by Doubleday and is published on 8th February 2018 and is available NOW through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops
How to follow the #Home by Amanda Berriman Blog Tour
The Secret Life of the Owl by John Lewis-Stempel
I was delighted to have been invited to the Wainwright Prize award in August at Blenheim Palace and seeing John Lewis-Stempel collect the award for the Where Poppies Blow. This was the second time the John has won the award and it was great to meet him after the ceremony and talk about his book. John is one of this country’s greatest nature writers and he returns with his next book The Secret Life of the Owl
The Secret Life of the Owl is may only be short at 96 pages but this is a unique look at the Owls of Britain in both word and verse. No other bird has captivated us more than Owls both is legend and also in mythical terms.
Here John talks about all the species of Owl that make this country their home including Eagle Owl and a winter visitor the Snowy Owl also a few of the rarer species of Owl that have come to Britain. There are some incredible facts that even this life-long bird watcher did not know, for instance it was once known that if you touched or ate an Owl it would cure drunkenness, though I am not sure I would eat an Owl. There is also Poetry that makes the pages which as a lover of poetry I enjoyed. At the start of the book there is a Prologue and at the end an Epilogue John talks about ‘Old Brown’ the Tawny Owl he knows so well in Three Acre Wood both are really worth reading and enjoying John Lewis-Stempel’s words as he talks about his wood and ‘Old Brown’.
As a keen birdwatcher back in my younger days, I would go out on to the marsh were I knew there was a pair of Barn Owls and look for Owl pellets and then taken them home to study what the Barn Owls were taking as prey and here in The Secret Life of Owls John, does indeed take a look at Owl pellets.
I am lucky to have a Tawny Owl that visits the tree during the autumn and winter evenings and there is nothing better than hearing the call of a Tawny Owl during the dark hours, and even early of a morning while standing in the garden I know there is a pair of eyes watching every move I make. Over the years I have manged to see every Owl that makes Britain its home from the Tawny Owl through to the Snowy Owl these have been some of my most magical experiences in watching and studying birds.
This is a wonderful little book for anyone who want to know a little more of some of our most secret of birds and ones that should be celebrated. I have already bought a few copies to give as gifts this Christmas to friends who enjoy our cherished Owls.
Thank you to Sophie Christopher at Transworld Publishers for the review copy of The Secret Life of the Owl.
The Secret Life of the Owl by John Lewis-Stempel is published by Doubleday and was published on 19th October 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Like a warm cosy blanket on a cold winters night, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa wraps itself around you and does not let you go until the very end. The international bestseller is so beautifully written and a heartwarming tale from Japan.
The story starts with Nana the cat who has been befriended by Satoru Miyawaki and they soon become the best of friends. Now together they embark on a trip together across Japan but this is no ordinary trip, this a trip that involves visiting some old friends including some Satoru has not seen in a long time. The reason becomes obvious that Satoru is looking some a new home for Nana the cat. At first there is no real clue as to why he wants to Nana away to a new home. But as the journey deepens and the seasons change Nana who is a wise cat soon begins to realise why they are on this journey and this will soon become totalling devastating to Nana and to the reader. The news is heartbreaking.
Along their journey together Nana is always riding in the front seat of the Van that Satoru drives. The pair whose bond and love for each other is so strong Nana has become totalling loyal and trusting from the time Satoru took him in from the street. Anyone who loves animals not just Cats will totally understand what I am saying here. Their road trip across Japan together is so incredibly life-affirming and along the way they will meet some of Satoru’s old friends and they too are curious as to why he wants to give Nana away. But Nana has worked it out now.
A beautiful tale of kindness and so warm and tender and will bring great joy to everyone who reads The Travelling Cat Chronicles. Translated by Philip Gabriel who is experienced in translating from Japanese literature and best known for his work with Haruki Murakami. Delighted to highly recommend The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. This is a book that has sadness, real joy and there is some humour as you take a journey across Japan with Satoru and Nana the cat. Make yourself a coffee and settle down with this wonderful book. You will not want to stop reading it.
Thank you to Poppy Stimpson for the advanced review copy of The Travelling Cat Chronicles.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa is published by Doubleday and is published on 2nd November and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
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.
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.
The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith
Hailed by The Bookseller as one of the Rising Stars of 2016 Mahsuda Snaith’s debut novel The Things We Thought We Knew is a story of a young Bengali woman is who confined to bed with chronic pain since an accident some years previous. Here she now reflects on the past.
Ravine has not left her bed in the last decade, confined to the council flat in Leicester since her best friend Marianne disappeared. She has just celebrated her 18th birthday and with a bleak future ahead of her, she cannot leave the flat because she is in so much pain her mother as you can imagine is desperate for her daughter to try and make an effort ‘Will you at least try’ are the words from her mother. There is a sense that coming through the story that Ravine is using the pain as she is not in any hurry to make any effort. Her mother gives her a notebook to use as a pain dairy and then we journey back through the years as Ravine uses the diary to open her heart about her best friend Marianne and her disappearance. What really happened that day? As Ravine writes the reader is pulled into an intriguing journey and a story on an affecting friendship. It is clear that Ravine is hiding from the outside world even scared and hiding beneath the duvet provides her with security.
An intriguing coming of age story that will keep the reader guessing as to what really happened to Ravine’s best friend. This outstanding debut novel has some great characters that are so believable that weave through the story. With Mahsuda Snaith writing the initial novel when she was only sixteen. Impressive writing from a new and exciting author. From here I look forward to future books from Mahsuda Snaith.
Thank you to Doubleday for the advanced review copy.
The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith is published by Doubleday and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
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