The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia – Wolfson History Prize 2020

The Boundless Sea - Cover

The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia

The Wolfson History Prize Shortlist 2020

Summary:

For most of human history, the seas and oceans have been the main means of long-distance trade and communication between peoples – for the spread of ideas and religion as well as commerce. This book traces the history of human movement and interaction around and across the world’s greatest bodies of water, charting our relationship with the oceans from the time of the first voyagers. David Abulafia begins with the earliest of seafaring societies – the Polynesians of the Pacific, the possessors of intuitive navigational skills long before the invention of the compass, who by the first century were trading between their far-flung islands. By the seventh century, trading routes stretched from the coasts of Arabia and Africa to southern China and Japan, bringing together the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific and linking half the world through the international spice trade. In the Atlantic, centuries before the little kingdom of Portugal carved out its powerful, seaborne empire, many peoples sought new lands across the sea – the Bretons, the Frisians and, most notably, the Vikings, now known to be the first Europeans to reach North America. As Portuguese supremacy dwindled in the late sixteenth century, the Spanish, the Dutch and then the British each successively ruled the waves.

Following merchants, explorers, pirates, cartographers and travellers in their quests for spices, gold, ivory, slaves, lands for settlement and knowledge of what lay beyond, Abulafia has created an extraordinary narrative of humanity and the oceans. From the earliest forays of peoples in hand-hewn canoes through uncharted waters to the routes now taken daily by supertankers in their thousands, The Boundless Sea shows how maritime networks came to form a continuum of interaction and interconnection across the globe: 90 per cent of global trade is still conducted by sea. This is history of the grandest scale and scope, and from a bracingly different perspective – not, as in most global histories, from the land, but from the boundless seas.

 My Review:

I am delighted to have been asked to make a contribution to this year’s Wolfson History Prize Shortlist blog tour. It is a literary prize I have kept a close eye on for many years. As part of my blog tour I am reviewing one of the most outstanding history books I have read in a long time. The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans (Allen Lane). Is by no means a light read at over 1000 pages but inside is one of the most detailed histories of the seas that have been the lifeline for every continent be at peace or war. From space the Earth is almost totally blue, no surprise as 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans and contain 97% of the total water on earth.

We as people’s through history has a link to the oceans like nothing else, through exploring new lands, forging new trade links, invasion of lands and as we move forward creating new forms of communications. This is an incredible books considering the huge research that would have gone into David Abulafia’s latest book. Starting with the oldest of the oceans, the Pacific Ocean at 176,000 BC before crossing the oceans at our current times. It is an epic odyssey through 65,000 years of human history of the oceans.  

Written with the authority of a scholar, you would think the narrative could put off the casual reader, but that is not the case. Abulafia writes with such dexterity that you are taken on an adventure through history whether that is through the earliest of explorations or the rampaging Vikings through Northern Europe to archaeology that helps us to understand humanities clues from the past. Reading The Boundless Sea, I found totally compelling reading about the Pirates to marauding adventurers and those seeking new lands to forge both religious and trade links. But there are also the parts that talk of the slavery ships across the Atlantic that began as far back as the 14th Century. Then to almost current times when discussing both the building both the Suez and Panama Canals and the cost in lives through disease.

Author

There is so much detail contained in this magnificent book that no matter what I write here, it will not do it justice. People and the oceans have a link to the earliest part of humanity and that link to this day continues as we transport nearly all cargo via huge container ships across the oceans. It is said that humanity to-date has explored only 5% of the world’s oceans.

The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia is a staggering achievement, I was reading this as a digital copy but ended up buying a hard copy so that I could look at the maps and colour plates.

I have now read two of the books on the Wolfson History Prize shortlist and I have to say just what an outstanding literary prize it has become, trying to pin down one book as a clear winner is harder in this prize than any other literary prize I have become involved with. I wish each and every author the very best with their books. I hope to get to read the remaining books on the shortlist.

1088 Pages.

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@WolfsonHistoryPrize

The Wolfson History Prize Shortlist 2020

The announcement of the winner of The Wolfson History Prize 2020 will be made on 15th June.

Thank you to Ben McCluskey (Midas PR) for the review copy of The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia.

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia was published by Allen Lane and was released on 3rd October 2019 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Please support your local independent bookshop through these difficult times. Many are still trading by offering a mail order service.

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Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

COVER

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Summary:

Diary of a Young Naturalist chronicles the turning of 15-year-old Dara McAnulty’s world. From spring and through a year in his home patch in Northern Ireland, Dara spent the seasons writing. These vivid, evocative and moving diary entries about his connection to wildlife and the way he sees the world are raw in their telling. “I was diagnosed with Asperger’s/autism aged five … By age seven I knew I was very different, I had got used to the isolation, my inability to break through into the world of talking about football or Minecraft was not tolerated. Then came the bullying. Nature became so much more than an escape; it became a life-support system.” Diary of a Young Naturalist portrays Dara’s intense connection to the natural world, and his perspective as a teenager juggling exams and friendships alongside a life of campaigning. “In writing this book,” Dara explains, “I have experienced challenges but also felt incredible joy, wonder, curiosity and excitement. In sharing this journey my hope is that people of all generations will not only understand autism a little more but also appreciate a child’s eye view on our delicate and changing biosphere.”

My Review:

On that showery Saturday in Hyde Park in London back in September 2018 I was among thousands of those who love wildlife that gathered ahead of a Walk for Wildlife on that day there was many speakers but among them was a young man who captivated the crowd. I thought then this was a young man with a great future. Dara McAnulty has been passionate about wildlife since he was very young and today sees the release of his debut book The Diary of a Young Naturalist (Little Toller Books) which in a diary format looks at the 15-year-old’s year starting in Spring. Dara is the youngest recipient of the RSPB’s medal for services to conservation.

Dara

Like Dara, I became passionate about wildlife in my very young days and that love of nature has never left and through some difficult dark days it has been nature that I find helps and especially through these difficult times that we are living through.

Dara lives with his family in Northern Ireland and spend their time finding the beauty in nature through their times away from home. Nature after all is all around us. Whether it is a bird, butterfly or insect Dara will stop and wants to learn all about it. Dara is autistic and suffered the most horrific abuse from pupils at school. It is the love of his family that is his rock and is harbour during those difficult days. He also finds solace in his love of punk music.

When Dara discovered writing he poured his heart into writing thoughts on paper and when you are reading Dara’s words you very quickly become aware of just what a powerful and poetic voice Dara has. Dara wants to be heard about just what a dangerous place our wildlife is in. What struck me in Dara’s writing is just how lyrical he really is whether Dara is talking about his life or about his family or about the nature around him as he discovers through each season and through the anxiety of moving house and starting a new school, difficult for any of us but when you have autism this is multiplied on many levels. Trust me Dara will be heard and Diary of a Young Naturalist is his voice and this will inspire a new and young vibrant generation of wildlife lovers. There are many great voices in nature writing and you can now add Dara McAnulty to the list.

I cannot recommend Dara’s debut book highly enough and Diary of a Young Naturalist will appeal to readers of all ages.

240 Pages.

*Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty will be the Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 from Monday 25th May at 9.45am

Thank you to Gracie at Little Toller Books for the review copy of Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty was published by Little Toller Books and was published on 25th May 2020 and is available to order through the publisher and also through your local independent bookshops.

 

Wendy Holden – Author Guest Post

Wendy Holden

Wendy Holden – Author Guest Post

I am delighted to welcome back to my blog an author I have had the pleasure of working with for my not only my blog but also as part of  Meet the Author interviews and also a radio interview on Somerset Cool back in 2019.

Wendy Holden has written a Guest Post: Light in the Darkness which is about two of best-selling books Born Survivors and One Hundred Miracles. A new and updated version of the internationally best-selling of Born Survivors (Sphere) was released on April 30th to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII and the paperback edition of One Hundred Miracles (Bloomsbury) is released tomorrow 14th May.

One Hundred Miracles

Summary:

The remarkable memoir of Zuzana Ružicková, Holocaust survivor and world-famous harpsichordist.

Zuzana Ružicková grew up in 1930s Czechoslovakia dreaming of two things: Johann Sebastian Bach and the piano. But her peaceful, melodic childhood was torn apart when, in 1939, the Nazis invaded. Uprooted from her home, transported from Auschwitz to Hamburg to Bergen-Belsen, bereaved, starved, and afflicted with crippling injuries to her musician’s hands, the teenage Zuzana faced a series of devastating losses. Yet with every truck and train ride, a small slip of paper printed with her favourite piece of Bach’s music became her talisman.

Armed with this ‘proof that beauty still existed’, Zuzana’s fierce bravery and passion ensured her survival of the greatest human atrocities of all time, and would continue to sustain her through the brutalities of post-war Communist rule. Harnessing her talent and dedication, and fortified by the love of her husband, the Czech composer Viktor Kalabis, Zuzana went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most renowned musicians and the first harpsichordist to record the entirety of Bach’s keyboard works.

Zuzana’s story, told here in her own words before her death in 2017, is a profound and powerful testimony of the horrors of the Holocaust, and a testament in itself to the importance of amplifying the voices of its survivors today. It is also a joyful celebration of art and resistance that defined the life of the ‘first lady of the harpsichord’– a woman who spent her life being ceaselessly reborn through her music. Like the music of her beloved Bach, Zuzana’s life is the story of the tragic transmuted through art into the state of the sublime.

Born Survivors

Summary:

Among millions of Holocaust victims sent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 1944, Priska, Rachel, and Anka each passed through its infamous gates with a secret. Strangers to each other, they were newly pregnant, and facing an uncertain fate without their husbands. Alone, scared, and with so many loved ones already lost to the Nazis, these young women were privately determined to hold on to all they had left: their lives, and those of their unborn babies.

That the gas chambers ran out of Zyklon-B just after the babies were born, before they and their mothers could be exterminated, is just one of several miracles that allowed them all to survive and rebuild their lives after World War II. Born Survivors follows the mothers’ incredible journey – first to Auschwitz, where they each came under the murderous scrutiny of Dr. Josef Mengele; then to a German slave labour camp where, half-starved and almost worked to death, they struggled to conceal their condition; and finally, as the Allies closed in, their hellish 17-day train journey with thousands of other prisoners to the Mauthausen death camp in Austria. Hundreds died along the way but the courage and kindness of strangers, including guards and civilians, helped save these women and their children.

Sixty-five years later, the three ‘miracle babies’ met for the first time at Mauthausen for the anniversary of the liberation that ultimately saved them. United by their remarkable experiences of survival against all odds, they now consider each other “siblings of the heart.”

A heart-stopping account of how three mothers and their newborns fought to survive the Holocaust, Born Survivors is also a life-affirming celebration of our capacity to care and to love amid inconceivable cruelty.

 

LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

by Wendy Holden

THIS week (May 14) sees the paperback release of a book that almost didn’t happen. One Hundred Miracles tells the incredible true story of Zuzana Rüžičková, a young Czech piano prodigy who survived three concentration camps and slave labour to become one of the world’s foremost musicians.

The resilience and courage of this tiny woman was inspirational to me from the beginning. When I first met her in Prague in September 2017, she was a 90-year-old widow in poor health and yet she worked tirelessly with me to answer all my questions. Her family told me later that she was determined to bear witness to history. I left her on Friday and she died the following Tuesday. This book, compiled from those interviews and others that she gave along with the testimonies of many who were with her on the same journey from the ghetto to Auschwitz to slavery to Bergen-Belsen is her legacy, along with her remarkable canon of music.

Zuzana’s story begins in the city of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, where she had an idyllic childhood with devoted parents, marred only by a weak chest. At the age of nine when she was suffering from yet another bout of pneumonia, her mother begged her to get better and promised her anything she wanted. Zuzana’s eyes flicked open from her sickbed and she replied hoarsely, “Piano lessons.” Her wish was granted and her new tutor immediately saw her ability. It was ‘Madame’ who introduced her to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach which, Zuzana said later was, “Love at first hearing.” When she discovered that Bach would have composed most of his works on the harpsichord, she begged to study the antiquated instrument and was promised an apprenticeship in Paris with a famous player once she reached the age of fifteen.

The arrival of the Nazis in Czechoslovakia in 1939 changed all that and Zuzana and her family, being Jewish, were dispatched to the ghetto of Terezin, where they remained for nearly two years. During that time she lost both her grandparents and her beloved father. Her mother – broken by the losses – was almost catatonic by the time the pair were sent to Auschwitz in December 1943. In her pocket, Zuzana carried a small scrap of paper with the opening Sarabande of Bache’s English Suite No 5. She told me, “As long as I had this talisman, I had proof that beauty still existed.”

Incredibly, and because of what she said were ‘one hundred miracles,’ she and her mother not only survived Auschwitz and then slave labour that ruined her pianist hands, but also the “worst part of Hell’ – Bergen-Belsen. By the time they were liberated on April 15, 1945, they each weighed just four stone. The tragedies that befell them after the war – with the loss of their home, their business and all of their family – still didn’t defeat them and Zuzana went back to basic piano classes to retrain herself and restore her damaged hands. In 1947, she was accepted into the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and – despite ongoing anti-Semitism and years of persecution by the Communist regime that took over her beloved country – Zuzana became a world renowned musician and helped spark a global revival in baroque music. With the love and support of her mother and her husband, she became the first person ever to record the entire keyboard works of Bach.

Zuzana’s story, told movingly in her own words, is a profound and powerful testimony of the horrors of the Holocaust and a testament in itself to the importance of amplifying the voices of its survivors today. It is also a joyful celebration of art and resistance that defined the life of the ‘First lady of the harpsichord’ – a woman who spent her life being ceaselessly reborn through her music. It was one of the greatest privileges of my life to chronicle her testimony and I am so proud of One Hundred Miracles. I only wish she was still alive to see it published in seven countries, especially in this important commemorative year in which we mark 75 years since the end of WWII.

And, unusually for any author, it is in this time of memories that I have another Holocaust memoir out in paperback, with the release of a special 75 years commemorative edition of my international bestseller Born Survivors, now published in 22 countries and translated into sixteen languages. This tells the true story of three young mothers who hid their pregnancies from the Nazis and gave birth in the camps. Both books have powerful messages of hope in times of despair and in this strange and surreal period of lockdown I cannot help but draw on the spirit of Zuzana and the three mothers I have written so immersively about and take comfort from the fact that light can always be found in the darkness.

Wendy with Zuzana

Wendy with Zuzana, one week before she died

 

  • One Hundred Miracles: Music, Auschwitz, Survival and Love by Zuzana Ružičková with Wendy Holden. Bloomsbury £9.99

Small One Hundred Miracles

 

  • An extraordinary memoir … A moving record of a life well lived in the face of appalling obstacles” – Sunday Times
  • A compelling story of terrible suffering surmounted by incredible bravery” – Daily Telegraph
  • Zuzana’s humanity shines through all the inhumanity …Vivid and moving” – The Jewish Chronicle
  • Through Auschwitz and the brutalities of the early Soviet era, the music of Bach shines like a beacon of hope” – Financial Times, Books of the Year

      ~

  • Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance and Survival by Wendy Holden, Sphere £8.99 (special WWII 75th anniversary edition with a conversation with miracle ‘baby’ Eva Clarke added to the audiobook)

Small Born Survivors

  • “An exceptionally fresh history, a work of prodigious original research, written with zealous empathy.” New York Times
  • “A work of quite extraordinary investigative dedication. Born Survivors is a moving testament of faith.” Sir Harold Evans
  • “A sensitive, brave, disturbing book that everyone should read.” Rabbi Baroness Neuberger DBE
  • Packed with harrowing detail and impressively well researched…. intense, powerful and moving… a worthy testament to these three women and the miraculous survival of the children.” Jewish Chronicle

 

Because of the lockdown, Wendy Holden has moved her creative writing courses online and the next one is June 9. See www.wendyholden.com or strangemediagroup/courses for more information

Wendy Holden can be found on Twitter: @wendholden

and Instagram: @wendyholdenbestsellingauthor 

Both One Hundred Miracles and Born Survivors are available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and also through your local independant bookshops. During the pandemic lockdown your local independent bookshops need our support during these difficult times and many are offering deals on delivery. Please contact your local bookshop for stock and also delivery.

House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth Century Jewish Family by Hadley Freeman (audio Book) Narrated by Hadley Freeman

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House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth Century Jewish Family by Hadley Freeman (audio Book) Narrated by Hadley Freeman

 

Summary:

After her grandmother died, Hadley Freeman travelled to her apartment to try and make sense of a woman she’d never really known. Sala Glass was a European expat in America – defiantly clinging to her French influences, famously reserved, fashionable to the end – yet to Hadley much of her life remained a mystery. Sala’s experience of surviving one of the most tumultuous periods in modern history was never spoken about.

When Hadley found a shoebox filled with her grandmother’s treasured belongings, it started a decade-long quest to find out their haunting significance and to dig deep into the extraordinary lives of Sala and her three brothers. The search takes Hadley from Picasso’s archives in Paris to a secret room in a farmhouse in Auvergne to Long Island and to Auschwitz.

By piecing together letters, photos and an unpublished memoir, Hadley brings to life the full story of the Glass siblings for the first time: Alex’s past as a fashion couturier and friend of Dior and Chagall, trusting and brave Jacques, a fierce patriot for his adopted country and the brilliant Henri who hid in occupied France – each of them made extraordinary bids for survival during the Second World War. And alongside her great-uncles’ extraordinary acts of courage in Vichy France, Hadley discovers her grandmother’s equally heroic but more private form of female self-sacrifice.

A moving memoir following the Glass siblings throughout the course of the 20th century as they each make their own bid for survival, House of Glass explores assimilation, identity and home – issues that are deeply relevant today.

My Review:

As we are all in the pandemic lockdown I have been reading a lot more that I normally would do if that is at all possible. But I decided to also to listen to a few audio books and recommend these as part of my reviews. One book I wanted to read was House of Glass by Hadley Freeman and I decided that this was to be my first lockdown audio book review.

Hadley Freeman byline picture. 
Photo by Linda Nylind. 24/5/2013

House of Glass is narrated by the author Hadley Freeman and she tells of the time when after her grandmother died she was looking through her closet when she discovered a dusty shoebox tucked out of the way. The contents of this shoebox would take Hadley away from what she was planning and onto a journey of discovery. Inside the dusty shoebox were photos and documents from a time passed, it was as if a quest was being given to Hadley to piece together the secrets of the past and this is exactly what she set about and this was now going to form the best part of a decade to piece together the contents of this dusty shoebox.

Hadley Freeman is so eloquent in the way she brings the family story together as well as playing detective in piecing together the family secrets of the early 20th Century that tells of a Jewish family in Poland through the horrors of what was to follow and follows the brothers from Poland to France and the years of poverty. Freeman tells the story of the three sons and a daughter who born into a poor family decided after WWI to move from Poland to France and settled into one of the poor districts of Paris. A change of name from the family name of ‘Glas’ to ‘Glass’ As the years passed the three brothers found their calling.

Despite changing their name they were of course still Jewish and as WWII started they realised the danger they faced as the Nazi’s marched across Europe they lived in fear as they were not going to be protected by the French government. As the war approached it was decided that the brother’s sister Sala was to be sent to America for safety if Sala had stayed in Paris the chance of being caught and sent to one of concentration camps to real. Now the brother’s faced the reality of trying to survive in an environment of anti-Semitic brutality and murder.

Hadley’s grandmother Sala entered an unhappy marriage were she had two sons. We learn of Sala’s love of Paris and how she missed her family dearly. Listening to Hadley Freeman tell the story of her families past is nothing short of a remarkable story of human endurance and sheer bravery and the wanting to survive. It is also a testament of the authors painstaking research. This is her families story in her own words and one I felt privileged to hear. On the audible narration there is an interview with Hadley Freeman were she talks about the themes of her book House of Glass as well as some of the extraordinary events.I cannot recommend House of Glass highly enough.

Audio book length: 10 Hours, 14 Minutes.   (Audible) 

Audible has a free 30 day trial period and £7.99 a month after the trial period ends. 

House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth Century Jewish Family by Hadley Freeman (audio Book) Narrated by Hadley Freeman was published by Fourth Estate and was published on 5th March 2020 and is available as an audio book via Audible and also as a hardback book through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

 

 

Rhubarb Rhubarb: A Correspondence between a hopeless gardener and a hopeful cook by Mary Jane Patterson and Jo Thompson

Rhubarb Rhubarb Cover

Rhubarb Rhubarb: A Correspondence between a hopeless gardener and a hopeful cook by Mary Jane Patterson and Jo Thompson

Summary:

Rhubarb Rhubarb collects the witty, wide-ranging correspondence between Leiths-trained cook Mary Jane Paterson and award-winning gardener Jo Thompson. Two good friends who found themselves in a perfect world of cupcakes and centrepieces, they decided to demystify their own skills for one another: the results are sometimes self-deprecating, often funny, and always enlightening.

Jo would find herself one day panicking about what to cook for Easter lunch: a couple of emails with Mary Jane and the fear subsided, and sure enough, a delicious meal appeared on the table. Meanwhile, Jo helped Mary Jane combat her irrational fear of planting bulbs by showing how straightforward the process can be.

The book is full of sane, practical advice for the general reader: it provides uncomplicated, seasonal recipes that people can make in the midst of their busy lives, just as the gardening tips are interesting, quick and helpful for beginners. Mary Jane shares secrets and knowledge gathered over a lifetime of providing fabulous food for friends and family, while Jo’s expertise in beautiful planting enables the reader to have a go at simple schemes with delightful results.

My Review:

During these lock-down days I have been lucky to have been surrounded by so many books to read and review. One book that arrived just recently was Rhubarb Rhubarb: A Correspondence between a hopeless gardener and a hopeful cook (Unbound) by Mary Jane Patterson and Jo Thompson and it is just was warm and friendly book that is just perfect in these difficult days. I read Rhubarb Rhubarb in one sitting.

Mary Jane Patterson and Jo Thompson

Mary Jane Patterson is a Leiths-trained cook while Jo Thompson is a leading garden designer who has won gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Both are good friends and would swop emails. I think I would fall into the category of the hopeless let alone hopeful cook as I am a qualified gardener.

The book is so friendly and packed full of really good practical advice and many great recipes some of which I am now tempted to try. Throughout the book there are many photographs both garden and kitchen related with beautiful illustrations by Laura Jazwinski. For the gardener Jo Thompson offers many good ideas while Mary Jane Patterson supplies many good mouth-watering recipes to try.

The correspondence between the two is special as there is warmth there as well as dry humour. This is an ideal gift for anyone who loves gardening or cooking.

160 Pages.

Thank you to Unbound and to Anne Cater (Random Things Tours) for the review copy of Rhubarb Rhubarb by Mary Jane Patterson and Jo Thompson

Rhubarb Rhubarb by Mary Jane Patterson and Jo Thompson was published by Unbound and was published on 2nd April 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop many of which are still offering mail order while bookshops remain closed. Many are offering free delivery.

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Just Another Mountain: A memoir of hope by Sarah Jane Douglas

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Just Another Mountain: A memoir of hope by Sarah Jane Douglas

Summary:

At the age of twenty-four, Sarah Jane Douglas lost her mother to breast cancer. She was alone and adrift in the world, but had promised her mother that she would keep going, no matter what. So she turned to the beautiful, forbidding mountains of her native Scotland – and then beyond.

By walking in her mother’s footsteps, Sarah found the strength to face her grief, to accept her troubled past and, ultimately, to confront her own cancer diagnosis twenty years later.

Sometimes all you can do is put one foot in front of the other and keep walking…<

 My Review:

A memoir with so much honesty and inspiring at the same time. Just Another Mountain: A Memoir of Hope by Sarah Jane Douglas (Elliott & Thompson) is now out in paperback and I am very grateful to Alison Menzies and the publisher for sending me a copy.

Author

Sarah Jane Douglas lost her mother to breast cancer and now she was alone in the world but as a promise to her mother she would put one foot in front of another and carry on. So mountains became her solace. She climbed Kilimanjaro but if that was not enough she had got the bug of climbing mountains and then wanted to climb all of 282 of Scotland’s munros. She achieved this as well and then to the Himalayas. Sometimes we just do not know what is around the corner of life but the mountain adventures were going to be preparation for what was to follow for Sarah Jane Douglas.

But Sarah Jane Douglas also had her own personal mountain to climb. Losing her mother to cancer is horrific but she also was diagnosed with cancer twenty years later. There is so much honest, warmth and with on every page. You want to laugh and you will want to cry. Sarah Jane Douglas has written a memoir full of hope but is very much life-affirming. Highly Recommended.

304 Pages.

Thank you to Alison Menzies and Elliott & Thompson Publishers for the review copy of Just Another Mountain: A memoir of hope by Sarah Jane Douglas

Just Another Mountain: A memoir of hope by Sarah Jane Douglas was published by Elliott & Thompson and was published on 26th March 2020 in Paperback and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

 

Ten Poems about Flowers

ten-poems-about-flowers-cover

Ten Poems about Flowers

Summary:

A bouquet is a welcome and beautiful thing, but the beauty is inevitably short-lived. This delightful mini-anthology, however, is guaranteed never to wither. Roses, fritillaries, daisies, gentians and the humble ragwort are celebrated here by poets ranging from Mimi Khalvati to William Wordsworth.

We experience their colours and scents in vivid language, so each lives on the page with all the intensity of a real flower. Sometimes it seems we can even learn from them.

My Review:

I am delighted to bring you one of the latest poetry pamphlets from Candlestick Press. Ten Poems about Flowers is now available to order through their website (details below).

Flowers bring joy in many forms whether it is a beautiful form garden in the summer or a bouquet of flowers to a loved one on a special occasion. These flowers however may only have a limited time, however poems about flowers can last a lifetime.

With poems by such names as John Clare, William Wordsworth, Helen Dumore as well as DH Lawrence bring colour to every page. My personal favourite is City Lilacs by Helen Dumore

“Lilac, like love, makes no distinction.
It will open for anyone.
Even before love knows that it is love
lilac knows it must blossom.”

 The stunning cover design is by Angie Lewin. If you are buying a bouquet for a loved one, then Ten Poems about Flowers would make the perfect card to accompany the bouquet.

Candlestick logo 2

Thank you to Candlestick Press for the review copies of Ten Poems About Flowers Now available to order through their website: Candlestick Press

Candlestick Press are a small independent publisher based in Nottingham and were founded in 2008. The team consists of four dedicated people in Di Slaney (Publisher), Kathy Towers (Assistant Editor) and two admin assistants. Their aim is simple to spread the joy of poetry to adults and children alike who love poetry and or may be just beginning their journey in to enjoying poetry. These small pamphlets are just ideal for bedtime reading or like I have been doing and that is enjoying them on journeys.

They have published so many of these beautiful pamphlets on a wide range of topics from Christmas to Cricket, from Dogs to Sheep and even Clouds and walking and even breakfast. These wonderful poetry pamphlets make the ideal

In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas

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In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas

Summary:

In mid to late March 1913, as the storm clouds of the Great War which was to claim his life gathered, Edward Thomas took a bicycle ride from Clapham to the Quantock Hills. The poet recorded his journey through his beloved South Country and his account was published as In Pursuit of Spring in 1914. Regarded as one of his most important prose works, it stands as an elegy for a world now lost. What is less well-known is that Thomas took with him a camera, and photographed much of what he saw, noting the locations on the back of the prints. These have been kept in archives for many years and will now be published for the very first time in the book. Thomas journeys through Guildford, Winchester, Salisbury, across the Plain, to the Bristol Channel, recording the poet’s thoughts and feelings as winter ends.

 My Review:

It is ironic that I am writing a review for a book with this title as I write yet another winter storm blows through and dark winter clouds speed past as I gaze skywards from my desk the looks out to the Somerset hills.

As the darkness of winter begins to fade and the signs of Spring are gathering pace Edward Thomas wanted to see the end of winter and find the signs of Spring but to do this he would need to travel from his home in South London. It is March 1913 as much as the darkness of winter is receding there are much darker clouds on the horizon. This was the year before the start of The Great War. In Pursuit of Spring (Little Toller) by Edward Thomas tells his story of his journey to seek signs of Spring.

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As Edward Thomas began his journey on his bicycle from the suburbs of South London to Somerset this was just not going to be a journey of finding Spring but also a journey that would make Edward Thomas the poet that we would come to love. This land was very different in March 1913 in many ways but the leisurely journey he took I have known for many years. This was not going to be a journey rushed it was leisurely as he not just cycles he also walked for parts of the journey and armed with just the very basics but the most important was a notebook and pencil and a camera for the photos in this book are the very ones he took.

As a Welshman Thomas loved his homeland but loved this country and the typical English countryside. He wanted to fields and churches and typical sleepy English villages, writing and taking photographs as he went. Each county is unique in many ways and reading In Pursuit of Spring you get a sense of the poetic and yet hypnotic sense of Thomas’s writing and what was to come.

Many of the photographs in this beautiful book are of empty lanes and roads through villages, a snapshot of a moment from history. But as I read his words my heart ached for what was to come for Edward Thomas in coming years as war approached. But Thomas wanted to seek the end of Winter and welcome Spring like a long lost friend and to feel the wind and rain on his face. Stopping at various locations and reciting poetry that can be found on the pages of this book.

As he reached Somerset he found Spring and the dark clouds of Winter have departed. It was as he travelled through the village of Nether Stowey, the home of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a place in Somerset where not just my heart lies, a place I have come to love. Anyone with a passion for poetry and prose and the countryside will love In Pursuit of Spring.

In 1915 Edward Thomas enlisted in the Artist’s Rifles and was killed in 1917 in the Battle of Arras. In Pursuit of Spring was first published in 1914.

 228 Pages.

Thank you to Little Toller for the review copy of In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas

In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas was published by Little Toller and was published on 3rd March 2016 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

2019 Costa Book of the Year. The Volunteer: The True Story of the resistance hero who infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather

COVER

The Volunteer: The True Story of the resistance hero who infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather

Summary:

Would you sacrifice yourself to save thousands of others?

In the Summer of 1940, after the Nazi occupation of Poland, an underground operative called Witold Pilecki accepted a mission to uncover the fate of thousands of people being interned at a new concentration camp on the border of the Reich.

His mission was to report on Nazi crimes and raise a secret army to stage an uprising. The name of the detention centre — Auschwitz.

It was only after arriving at the camp that he started to discover the Nazi’s terrifying plans. Over the next two and half years, Witold forged an underground army that smuggled evidence of Nazi atrocities out of Auschwitz. His reports from the camp were to shape the Allies response to the Holocaust – yet his story was all but forgotten for decades.

This is the first major account to draw on unpublished family papers, newly released archival documents and exclusive interviews with surviving resistance fighters to show how he brought the fight to the Nazis at the heart of their evil designs.

The result is an enthralling story of resistance and heroism against the most horrific circumstances, and one man’s attempt to change the course of history.

 WINNER OF THE 2019 COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR

My Review:

I have read so much about the Holocaust and then I come across the incredible story of Witold Pilecki who volunteered to enter Auschwitz Concentration Camp to organise an escape and also obtain as much information about what was really going on at Auschwitz. Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather recently won the 2019 Costa Book of the Year award.

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Poland has been defeated by the Nazis and now they rounding the Jewish men, woman and children, sent them to the ghettos before they were sent in cattle trucks to Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Witold Pilecki was one of the bravest men of WWII. What we know now about Auschwitz, the world did not know during the war. Did anyone believe the German’s could be capable of creating death camps that killed millions? Back then no-one knew. During the Summer of 1940 Witold Pilecki a former cavalry officer in the Polish army was a member of the Polish resistance agreed to captured and sent to Auschwitz to gain as much information about what was really happening there. It was the autumn of 1940. On entering the prisoners witnessed one of the men being beaten to death by the guards. Straight away the message was given to the prisoners.

This remarkable true account of how Pilecki began work in Auschwitz on getting as much evidence on crimes being committed there as well as starting work on starting an underground network inside of Auschwitz. But the conditions were a lot worse than even Pilecki had feared. Even thinking about starting an underground network was dangerous. If caught it would have meant certain death for him and many others. This was very dangerous and courageous.

Very quickly prisoners in Auschwitz were dying at an alarming rate every day. Starvation and daily beatings were the norm by the guards but Witold Pilecki had managed to smuggle out details of what was going on there. Pilecki witnessed the first gassings by the Nazis using Zyklon B and the murders on industrial scale.

With reports passed to the Warsaw resistance who then passed to the Polish Government, they hoped at last the Allies would act, despite repeated calls for the British and American air force to bomb Auschwitz no help was forthcoming.

In April 1943 Witold Pilecki managed to escape Auschwitz in April 1943 and found his way back to Warsaw. It was not until after D-Day when the allies landed in France that the allies began to discuss Auschwitz. Pilecki had believed he had failed those he left behind in Auschwitz.

Following the war Pilecki was arrested by Poland’s the secret police and was accused of treason and then was interrogated over 150 times and was executed in May 1948.

Witold Pilecki’s brave story was lost to history but now thanks to the incredible research by Jack Fairweather Pilecki’s courageous story has finally been told. A deserved winner of the 2019 Costa Book of the Year. Highly Recommended.

528 Pages. (Paperback)

The Volunteer: The True Story of the resistance hero who infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather was published by WH Allen and was published in Paperback on 9th January 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

Fiction and Non-Fiction Books of the Year 2019

Fiction and Non-Fiction Books of the Year 2019

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As the old year comes to a close it is time to look back at the books I have read and loved through the year. This year I am going to do something a little different rather than just select my favourites I am going to simply select my best fiction and non-fiction. Two books that really made my year and really got my attention. So many books could have made the list that I had trouble just choosing the top ten.

FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019

 

COVER

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

(Harper Collins)

Summary:

EVERYONE’S INVITED.
EVERYONE’S A SUSPECT.
AND EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT IT.

In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year.

The beautiful one
The golden couple
The volatile one
The new parents
The quiet one
The city boy
The outsider

The victim.

Not an accident – a murder among friends.

Fiction Book of the Year 2019:

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley was my first read fiction read that I started on New Years Day and it was the perfect read for the time of year. It screamed Agatha Christie very quickly into the book. I was hooked and this is a story based at a Hunting Lodge on The Loch Corrin Estate in the Highlands of Scotland a group of friends who have known each other for many years gather again to bring in the New Year Hogmanay style. The weather is closing in with heavy snow falling and there is a murder. Nobody can leave. Among the group trapped in the lodge are the guests and a small number of staff and there is a murderer among them. But who is it?

A chilling and atmospheric crime thriller and a cast of characters that you will come to know and one of them could be the killer, but then again what of the staff? You will also get to hear their thoughts as well.

My Review from January 2019:

What a cracking start to 2019 with a good old fashioned murder mystery and The Hunting Party (Harper Collins) the debut crime novel Lucy Foley and what a cracking edge of your seat thriller it turned out to be. The perfect read between Christmas and New Year as you will see why.

It is New Year’s Eve at a group of friends have come together to see in the New Year in style at The Loch Corrin Estate which is a typical out of the way hunting lodge in the Highlands. A Hogmanay to remember as it turned out for all the wrong reasons.

Snow is falling and it is turning out to be a white out, real blizzard conditions. So a group of friends who all went to oxford spend their New Year’s Eve year on year together. The story starts on New Year’s Day and something is very wrong as one of the guests is missing and a body has been found. This was no accident in the snow. This is murder. So who done it and why?

This group of friends now in their thirties have known each other for some years so who has been murdered and it is clear the killer is one of the party. With the snow getting worse. No-one is leaving and the police cannot get to the lodge due to the bad weather.

We do not know who has been murdered as Lucy Foley keeps us guessing as we work back and forth and are introduced to each of the characters and what a group of characters they are. Then there are the staff. There are three on duty for the Hogmanay celebrations and we get to know each of them. The plot is thickening and past history is bubbling to the surface.

There is something brilliantly old about reading The Hunting Party, knowing you are trapped inside this old lodge and there is a killer among you and will they strike again?

The characters really do bring something to the party and eerie setting makes for a chilling and twisty plot.

This will keep you gripped to the very end. Brilliant writing from Lucy Foley makes The Hunting Party a one to watch for January 2019. I would order your copy today. How well do you know your friends?

So many great fiction titles I have read through the year and so many of them came very very close but The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley was the book that I just kept talking about through the year.

NON -FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019

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The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

(Doubleday)

Summary:

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.

Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.

Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2019

Hay Festival Book of the Year 2019

NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019:

If my choice of the fiction book of the year was my first book to have been read of 2019, then my choice of Non-Fiction book of the year was my last book to have been read of 2019 and what a book it was.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold was released in late February of this year and I never got to read this until December despite many people recommending this to me and what an outstnading piece of work by Hallie Rubenhold. For over 130 years the five Women were all labelled as protitutes and finally Hallie Rubenhold tells the story of the five women and their lives. There only crime was that they were homeless and many of them turned to drink and so when their bodies were found they were labelled as protitutes. What Rubenhold tells in her account is the story of the five women. This book will leave a mark on me for many years and will make you angry at how badly each of the victims have been treated for over 130 years. A briliant book that will finally give a voice to the five women.

My Review from December 2019:

The brutal murders by Jack the Ripper took place in 1888, that was 131 years-ago and at last a landmark book has been written of the real lives of the five women that were murdered in London by a killer that has never been identified. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Historian Hallie Rubenhold (Doubleday) gives a voice to the five women and it is without doubt one of the greatest books of 2019.

If you searched for books on Jack the Ripper it would take you the best part of the day to look at each one as each book sets out trying to identify who the killer was, but how many books have there been that give a voice to the five women: Mary Anne ‘Polly’ Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. The research done by Hallie Rubenhold has been extensive and deserves the many plaudits she has received for this vital book. The misogyny that surrounds the many stories of Jack the Ripper through the years and even still today.

Each of the women has a chapter dedicated to them and follows their lives from day they were born to when they died. Each one found themselves alone and in poverty in the Whitechapel part of London. Each of the women led a life and someone’s daughter, friend, lover and deserves better than history has given them. At last in Hallie Rubenhold’s book their lives are detailed and the myths finally buried.

What Rubenhold explores is the extreme hardship of the times and being a woman meant having little or no support. Being born into hardship and spiralled downwards, alcohol dependency and being homeless, the police investigation tells of the women being prostitutes but this Hallie Rubenhold after extensive investigations finds that there is no evidence stating that three of the five being Nichols, Chapman or Eddowes were not prostitutes but they were preyed upon because they were just intoxicated, homeless and asleep. To Jack the Ripper they were targets.

Never has a book held me in its grasp as The Five has. History has been extremely shameful in what has been said of the five women but 131 year later, Hallie Rubenhold has provided justice for each of the victims for which I congratulate the author. It is though shameful that it has taken over 130 years for this wrong to be righted. Highly Recommend.

Books of the Year 2

 

So there we have it. Another year in books has come to a close. A year that I will remember for many great reasons. We celebrate books and the writers through the year and looking ahead to 2020 and a new decade it promises to be another exciting literary year.

To those who follow me here or through my Twitter feed, thank you for all your kind words and to the those who I have had the pleasure of meeting here is to the next time.

Let us hope for a more peaceful year ahead.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year.