The Twins of Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor

The Twins of Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor

Summary:

In the summer of 1944, Eva Mozes Kor and her family arrived at Auschwitz.

Within thirty minutes, they were separated. Her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, while Eva and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man who became known as the Angel of Death: Dr. Josef Mengele. They were 10 years old.

While twins at Auschwitz were granted the ‘privileges’ of keeping their own clothes and hair, they were also subjected to Mengele’s sadistic medical experiments. They were forced to fight daily for their own survival and many died as a result of the experiments, or from the disease and hunger rife in the concentration camp.

In a narrative told simply, with emotion and astonishing restraint, The Twins of Auschwitz shares the inspirational story of a child’s endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil.

Also included is an epilogue on Eva’s incredible recovery and her remarkable decision to publicly forgive the Nazis. Through her museum and her lectures, she dedicated her life to giving testimony on the Holocaust, providing a message of hope for people who have suffered, and worked toward goals of forgiveness, peace, and the elimination of hatred and prejudice in the world.

My Review:

Eva and her twin sister Miriam was born in Portz, Romania on 31st January 1934 to a hardworking Jewish farming family. They were the only Jewish family in the village. The Twins of Auschwitz (Monoray) by Eva Mozes Kor is the remarkable story of endurance and survival. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

In the Spring of 1944 the family were moved to a regional ghetto. They had no shelter and made tents out of sheets. Later they were moved by the Nazis to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the twins were aged ten. On arrival the mother was approached to confirm if Eva and Miriam were twins. The parents and their two other daughters Edit and Eliz were separated from Eva and Miriam. The parents and Edit and Eliz were sent to the gas chambers.

The Twins never realised they were never going to see their family again and over the next ten months the twins became the property of SS Doctor Josef Mengele known as the Angel of Death and as twins they would be subjected to experiments at one point Eva became very ill and Mengele said she would die within two weeks. Eva was determined to survive and wanted to see her sister again. She did survive.

It was January 27th 1945 that the Red Army liberated Auschwitz and both Eva and Miriam were among about 180 children that were rescued. Many were sent to a convent in Katowice and later they were taken back to Romania were they lived with their aunt.

The fact that Eva publicly forgave both Mengele and the Nazis helped her and Miriam move forward with their lives. She spent the rest of her life giving talks on the Holocaust and giving messages of peace and reconciliation and the removal of hatred.

Miriam had kidney problems years later and Eva donated one of her kidneys to help her twin sister. Sadly, Miriam died in1993 of Kidney cancer. Eva died in July 2019 at the age of 85.

I cannot recommend The Twins of Auschwitz highly enough. In this year the commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz it is a powerful and important book.

240 Pages.

Thank you to Monoray (Octopus Books) and Anne Cater (Random Things Tours) for the review copy of The Twins of Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor.

The Twins of Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor was published by Monoray and was published in paperback on 6th August 2020 and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

Follow the Blog Tour

The Joy of Bookshops

The Joy of Bookshops

Step inside a bookshop and a world of literary delights awaits

Blog Journal: #3

4th August 2020

When was the last time you visited a bookshop? That may seem like a strange question to ask but so much of our lives have changed over recent months and since bookshops have reopened many are still very quiet like many high street outlets. But there is something very special about visiting a bookshop.

During these strange days of social distancing and the wearing face coverings there is still a joy to be had in going to visit a bookshop. May be you are looking for that big summer read you have promised yourself or one of the books on the literary prize you are following. September is going to be a big month for book releases as publishers held off book launches during the lockdown. The key date is September 3rd and 250 hardback books will be launched on that day. Booksellers across the country will be busy that week and it will be a critical time for all bookshops including the indie bookshops who have suffered during the lockdown.

Since the high street started to reopen I have visited my local bookshops a number of times and the staff have done an incredible job in making sure that both staff and customers feel safe and making the bookshops welcoming and I have felt more at ease in a bookshop than the local supermarket. May be it is the book hunter gatherer in me that I want to visit bookshops and the bookish delights that await instore and socially distant book chats with the staff.

As I write and review books on my blog and through magazines, I tend to hear the ‘thud’ on the doormat as the postman delivers book packages from publishers. In the years that I have been reviewing books I still feel real gratitude that publishers and authors have trusted me with proofs ahead of publication but saying that you just cannot better walking into your local bookshop.

Then of course there are the bookshops that also have their own instore coffee shops and for me this is heaven, books and coffee and not forgetting the cake of course. Since the lockdown the one joy that I have missed is the visiting author and the interview. Will we ever get back to the pre-Corvid19 days of writers being interviewed in front of a packed audience in a bookshop. We can only hope.

Sales of books during the lockdown really held up as people discovered the joy of books, but the dreaded spectre of Amazon is always never far away and they threaten the existence of our local independent bookshops across the country. Footfall in independent bookshops dropped off, our indie bookshops are part of the local community and it is vital they survive. Many are still taking orders online and will help track down that hard to find book for you.

Then of course there is the antiquarian bookshops, as you walk in there is that aroma of the old books, I have missed some of my favourites on the Charing Cross Road which was of course famous for Marks & Co who sold rare and second hand books at number 84 Charing Cross Road. You know the book by Helene Hanff which also inspired the film with Anthony Hopkins. Sadly, they are long gone but there are still second hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road.

Bookshops are a delight to visit and spending time just browsing the bookshelves, maybe it is just me but I find it really relaxing spending time looking for that book I really want to read that is where you will find me. But wearing a face covering.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review

Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver

Hinton Hollow Death Trip Cover

Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver

Summary:

It’s a small story. A small town with small lives that you would never have heard about if none of this had happened.

Hinton Hollow. Population 5,120.

Little Henry Wallace was eight years old and one hundred miles from home before anyone talked to him. His mother placed him on a train with a label around his neck, asking for him to be kept safe for a week, kept away from Hinton Hollow.

Because something was coming.

Narrated by Evil itself, Hinton Hollow Death Trip recounts five days in the history of this small rural town, when darkness paid a visit and infected its residents. A visit that made them act in unnatural ways. Prodding at their insecurities. Nudging at their secrets and desires. Coaxing out the malevolence suppressed within them. Showing their true selves.

Making them cheat.
Making them steal.
Making them kill.

Detective Sergeant Pace had returned to his childhood home. To escape the things he had done in the city. To go back to something simple. But he was not alone. Evil had a plan.

My Review:

Having really enjoyed Good Samaritans and Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver I was really looking forward to seeing what was to come next. The wait was worth it. Hinton Hollow Death Trip (Orenda Books) is released on 6th August and its narrator is evil itself.

Will Carver Author pIc

The story begins with Henry Wallace an eight-year-old boy who was put on a train by his mother and a note attached to him saying keep him safe for a week. Back in his home town of Hinton Hollow evil has arrived and over the next five days the 5,120 inhabitants of this small town will know darkness has befallen their small town and lives will never be the same again.

This is gripping and dark novel that follows Carver’s previous novel Nothing Important Happened Today and we back with DS Pace. Nothing will prepare you for this one though. Will Carver a writer who will take you on a reading journey unlike anything else you will ever read. This small town where everyone knows everyone and their business. Now evil is here and he has a job to do. In this town you will meet some characters that could be similar to those who live in your town. But now evil is here and he is going to make them do things that are out of character to say the least.

This is the third in the series involving DS Pace, but I felt sorry for him as he returned to his home town only to face evil and its manipulations and this will be his biggest test yet. Can he save the residents of Hinton Hollow from themselves? As much as you can read as a standalone you will want to read the previous two after you have read Hinton Hollow Death Trip.

This is a novel with short chapters and into days and allows the storyline to creep under your skin the deeper you get into the book. It will leave you asking many questions of yourself and others. Will Carver’s novels are some of the best in the way that he writes and crafts his storyline and they leave you just wanting more and more. Highly Recommended.

@will_carver

@OrendaBooks

320 Pages.
Thank you to Karen Sullivan (Orenda Books) for the review copy of Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver.
Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver was published by Orenda Books and will be published on 13th August 2020 and is available to Pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

Follow the Blog Tour

FINAL Hinton Hollow BT Poster

The Wainwright Prize 2020 – Interview with Craig Bennett CEO of The Wildlife Trusts

THE WAINWRIGHT PRIZE 2020

Interview with Craig Bennett

CEO The Wildlife Trusts

The Global Conservation Prize

 

On Friday 5th June the longlist for the 2020 Wainwright Prize was announced. This year for the first time there are two prizes.

The Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing:

Specifically, for nature writing, the outdoors or travel covering Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Robert Macfarlane won the 2019 prize with Underworld.

There are thirteen books that make up this year’s longlist. The judging panel will be chaired by TV presenter Julia Bradbury, and her fellow judges are: Geoff Duffield, Wildlife Trust volunteer and former publisher; Andrew Willan, Wealden Festival Director; Patrick Neale, Bookseller Jaffe & Neale; Jessica J Lee, Editor WillowHerb Review; Celia Richardson, Director Comms and Insight, National Trust.

The Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation:

A new prize for this year that focuses on studies relating to conservation or climate change as it affects nature. The writing can be global not just on UK.

There are eleven books that make up the longlist this year. The Chair of Judges for the new Global Conservation Prize is BBC Countryfile presenter, Charlotte Smith. She is joined by Chris Packham, naturalist and TV presenter; John Lewis Stempel, previous winning author; Adrian Phillipps, conservationist; Rachel Woolliscroft, sustainability expert; and Craig Bennett, CEO UK Wildlife Trusts.

I am delighted to be joined on my blog by the new CEO of the UK Wildlife Trusts, Craig Bennett who joined the Wildlife Trust in April of this year. Craig is one of the judging panel on this year’s Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation.

Interview with Craig Bennett

CEO The Wildlife Trusts

 
JF: Congratulations on being part of the judging panel for this year’s     Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing. This year sees the first Global Conservation Prize as part of the Wainwright Prize. There are eleven books on the longlist. Do you have to read all eleven books on the longlist?

CB: Well, yes, we certainly have to give all eleven books a fair shot!

I’ve always had to read a lot in my job, from policy reports and briefings, to longer reports and so I’ve developed a two-speed reading process; fast for getting an overview, slow to properly absorb and enjoy it.

 I looked through the long-list using my fast-reading approach. I’m now taking time to slow-read the shortlist, and I’m enjoying the process immensely.

JF: The Global Conservation Prize is chaired by Countryfile presenter Charlotte Smith along with Chris Packham, twice winner of the Wainwright Prize, John Lewis-Stempel, Adrian Phillipps, Rachel Woolliscroft, because of the current lockdown conditions how are you and your fellow judges getting together to talk through the books on the longlist? Has this been a challenge for the panel?

CB: In the early stages, we worked quite independently to whittle down the original longlist and there was a surprising degree of consensus. But of course we’re going to have to hold round-table like discussions on Zoom to decide the winner. I suspect, they are going to be difficult discussions!

JF: The quality of nature writing in the UK is continuing to grow year on year, and also for books on the environment, as part of the panel of judges what do you look for in a book that could take it to the shortlist? Do you get a remit as to what to look for in each of the books?

CB: This is a new category for the Wainwright Prize and we’ve been told its purpose it to recognise books that “…that further the debate, increase the necessity for action or raise the profile of various conservation issues and address some of the very real problems of climate change”.

But, obviously, the winner will be one that does this while also displaying literary quality, dexterity and an entertaining pull of the narrative.

Personally, I’ll be looking for some good old fashioned story-telling and a little bit of quirkiness that makes me think some original thoughts, to separate out the eventual winner.

For me, that’s the difference between a book, and a report.

JF: As CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, the environment is now quite rightly a big news story, how important is the new Global Conservation Prize in highlighting the environment to people and to the news agenda?

CB: This prize certainly helps in raising the overall profile of the environment to book-lovers and in the wider media. But, as much as anything, I think it helps to keep the debate fresh, and provides a forum for new issues and themes to be discussed and debated. That’s critically important.

JF: You have recently been appointed as Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trusts and in a year that no-one could have predicted the Covid-19 pandemic that spread across the world. How has this affected the Wildlife Trusts on an operating basis across the 46 nature charities and also managing the reserves?

CB: Actually, I don’t think it’s right to say no one could have predicted the pandemic.

Not the specific circumstances, perhaps, but scientists have been predicting for decades that the fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitats – particularly in the tropics – through deforestation, agriculture, mining, roads, and other infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of and trade in wildlife species was creating a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people.

As with the climate and biodiversity crises, recent pandemics like Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID are a direct consequence of human activity. And, as with all of these, we were warned but ignored those warnings.

If we don’t learn the lessons from this, humanity is just going to lurch from one crisis to the next.

Yes, it’s been a difficult period for us at The Wildlife Trusts. The lockdown has resulted in a big loss of income and we had to furlough many staff at the same time that people have been seeking solace in nature, and visits to many of our thousands of reserves have increased.

There have been many challenges, but I hope one of the strange silver linings of this period is that perhaps many now have a greater appreciation of the importance of nature for people’s mental and physical wellbeing.

JF: I cannot think of anytime in my life that nature has been so important to each of us during the pandemic whether listening to the dawn chorus of a morning or out walking as a family watching wildlife, how important would you say is nature to our mental health and also our general wellbeing during these difficult times?

CB: We’ve known for a long time that contact with nature is important for people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Research has shown that patients recovering from operations recover more quickly it they have a view of nature from their hospital window, and also that the amount of greenspace in urban areas is linked to differences in life expectancy.

But this connection between people’s wellbeing and nature has become something of a hot topic during lockdown, as millions of people took steps to ensure they got their daily does of nature whether it was walking to a local nature reserve, spending time in their garden, or connecting online. At The Wildlife Trusts, visits to our wildlife webcams increased 2000% during lockdown, and this year a record 600k people participated in our #30DaysWild initiative during June where we invited people to consciously connect to nature in some way, every day, during the month.

Research from Leeds University has shown that many people taking part in #30DaysWild report an improvement in their mental wellbeing for up to two months afterwards.

JF: As the new CEO of the Wildlife Trusts what are your future aims and goals for both wildlife and also the environment?

CB: We like to think we live in a green and pleasant land but sadly the truth is that we live in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Forty one percent of our wildlife species have suffered sharp declines in abundance since the early 1970s, and many species that were once common are now rare.

It’s not good enough just to talk about conserving what we have; we need to reverse these declines and put nature into recovery, and help create robust, flourishing, fully functioning ecosystems at landscape scale once again.

At The Wildlife Trusts, we’ve now committed to an aim of getting at least 30% of our land and sea being managed for nature’s recovery by 2030; creating more space for nature, and protecting and connecting those areas to bring our wildlife back.

We want this to be happening everywhere; in our uplands and lowlands, on land and sea, in towns, cities and countryside, and in a way that allows nature to help us tackle both the causes and consequences of climate change.  And while improving the physical and mental wellbeing of millions of people.

JF: As the country moves out of the lockdown, is it time for the government to put a green agenda to the forefront to the UK’s recovery?

CB: Yes, and more to the point, it would be disgraceful for them to do anything else.

Given all the evidence of how unsustainably we were living before, it would be madness to simply restart the economy exactly as it was before. We need to upgrade and reboot the economy into a sustainable, circular and regenerative economy, where we stop investing in economic activity that destabilises the climate and destroys nature, and start investing at scale in economic activity that cuts carbon and puts nature into recovery.

“The irony is that many aspects of lockdown have shown us how to do it; from the importance of super-fast broadband, to pop up cycleways, to local shops and supply chains, to local nature and greenspace, and – of course – communities looking after each other. There are so many positive examples of how to build back better, with emphasis on the ‘better’ and not the ‘build’.”

JF: Do you have a favourite wildlife moment to share with readers?

CB: Last summer, we had a week’s holiday sailing on The Norfolk Broads and one afternoon, an otter popped its head up in the water about 15 metres ahead of our boat, and then swam alongside us for ten seconds or so.

It was only the briefest of encounters, but truly magical.

And it probably wouldn’t have happened if organisations like The Wildlife Trusts hadn’t campaigned to protect otters when their numbers were in fast decline because of hunting and pesticide pollution in the 1970s and 1980s.

JF: Final question! For anyone who is reading this and has discovered nature during the lockdown period, what would you say to them about encouraging them to continue exploring nature and the environment as we move forward?

CB: Don’t stop! There is so much more to discover! At The Wildlife Trusts, we have more nature reserve than McDonalds has restaurants in the UK – one thousand more to be precise. And 60 percent of the British population live within three miles of a Wildlife Trust nature reserve.

Furthermore, nature is all around us, and even if you live in a flat with no garden – just space for a window box, you can take action for nature by planting bee friendly plants and enjoy watching the bees come and visit.

If you’re not a member, join with the 850,000 that are, and become a member of your local Wildlife Trust, and we’ll keep you updated with information and things to do. And you’ll get ever more hooked!

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/

My grateful thanks to Craig Bennett for giving his time to be interviewed for The Last Word Book Review.

The Shortlist for The Wainwright Prize will be announced on Thursday 30th July with the winner being announced on 9th September. Sadly, due to the ongoing Corvid-19 pandemic the announcement of the winner will not be held at the BBC Countryfile Live event as this has since been cancelled. Further details of the virtual or digital announcement will be made soon.

The prize is supported by White Lion Publishing, publisher of the Wainwright Guides, the Wainwright Estate and in partnership with the National Trust. The £5000 prize fund will be shared and presented to the authors of the winning books.

More details about The Wainwright Prize and previous winner can be found here: https://wainwrightprize.com/

@wainwrightprize
#WainwrightPrize

My thanks to Ruth Cairns at Featherstone Cairns for her help in arranging the interview with Craig Bennett: https://www.featherstonecairns.com/

John Fish

©The Last Word Book Review

Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent

Cover

Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent

Summary:

When she was a girl, Alice Vincent loved her grandfather’s garden – the freedom, the calm, the beauty of it. Twenty years later, living in a tiny flat in South London, that childhood in the garden feels like a dream.

When she suddenly finds herself uprooted, heartbroken, living out of a suitcase and yearning for the comfort of home, Alice starts to plant seeds. She nurtures pot plants and vines on windowsills and draining boards, filling her new space with green, and with each unfurling petal and budding leaf, she begins to come back to life.

Mixing memoir, botanical history and biography, Rootbound examines how bringing a little bit of the outside in can help us find our feet in a world spinning far too fast.

LONGLISTED FOR THE WAINWRIGHT PRIZE 2020

My Review:

There is something about tending plants whether you have a garden or a balcony that gives you a real sense of belonging and grounding. All forms of nature and by that I include gardening is extremely important to our wellbeing. Recently the longlist for The 2020 Wainwright Prize was announced and I am delighted at seeing Rootbound (Canongate) by Alice Vincent is among the thirteen books to have made the longlist for UK Nature Writing.

Author

Alice is now the feature editor for Penguin Books but was previously an editor and writer on the arts desk at The Telegraph, but it is gardening that is a passion that gives Alice her grounding. It was 2014 that she taught herself gardening and learning and watching plants grow taught her about how important nature is and can help us in our lives and also in a world that at times seems to be out of control. Alice released her first book How to Grow Stuff back in 2017 and has since written for various gardening magazines.

What really struck me about Rootbound was how beautifully Alice Vincent writes. It is when something happens in her own personal life that suddenly shook Alice, a real sense of suddenness but there was something she would find that would become important in her life. A rural past would become the bedrock for the future. At a young age when everything seemingly fits so well in life including writing for a major newspaper you could think that life is working out really well. Something was missing.

That what was missing was indeed plants and the need to grow and nurture and also to understand. Interspersed into Alice’s memoir are the historical horticultural notes, especially the women who worked tirelessly to create a future for themselves the world of horticulture. Memories of her grandfather’s peaceful garden and when life suddenly becomes harder and leaves her heartbroken and bereft this is where nature becomes the cure. Planting a few seeds and the roots are put down for the future. As I know only too well once you start it never leaves you. Watching the plants grow and become established through the different seasons, it is like nature taking you by the hand. It won’t let go now.

There are wonderful stories of travel to different parts of the world and also closer to home give you the urge to want to explore these lands and their wonders. Rootbound by Alice Vincent is a memoir but also horticultural history. The joy and the sorrow but also finding the beauty in watching plants grow. An open and honest and also brave account of her life. Reading Rootbound I saw through these pages someone who was broken but through the power of nature she became whole again.
If you want to learn more about Alice Vincent head over to her personal Instagram account. It really is quite special.

Instagram: @noughticulture
Twitter: @alice¬_emily

For more information on The Wainwright Prize 2020: The Wainwright Prize

368 Pages.

Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent was published by Canongate and was published on 30th January 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

wainwrightprize

Memories by Naim Attallah

Cover

Memories by Naim Attallah

 

Summary:

This engaging and illuminating potpourri of vignettes selected from Naim Attallah’s fifteen books of memoirs and interviews, along with a sprinkling of blog posts, gives a taste of late 20th century London culture and entertainingly evokes the shifting fortunes of publishing life over the past forty years. In Memories, Attallah not only writes about his contemporaries at length, but is also written about by them and he is never shy in expressing the highs and lows of his different relationships with a catalogue of cultural luminaries, many of whom are still close friends of his to this day. These range from violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin to the late Christina Foyle, owner of Foyles; jeweller Tomasz Starzewski to artist Emma Sergeant and the former chairman of Conde Nast Britain, Nicholas Coleridge. As the chairman of Quartet and former owner of the Women’s Press, Naim has published a diverse roll call of notable literary names throughout the years, including Angela Carter, Leni Riefenstahl, Annie Ernaux, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Thomas Bernhard, to name but a few. Attallah was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to literature and the arts.

 My Review:

Many would not know the name of Naim Attallah, but in the publishing world he is an iconic figure. Naim is the chairman of Quartet Books and his rise from Immigrant to his role today really is inspirational. In 2017 he was awarded the CBE in the New Year’s Honours. I was delighted to have been sent a copy of what his latest addition to his autobiographies entitled Memories (Quartet Books) which was released in April.

ATTALAH

Naim Attallah formerly funded both the Literary Review and the Oldie magazines. (two magazines I read regularly). Naim took over Quartet Books in 1976 and Memories is his sixteenth book.

I never write in books unlike Charles Dickens used to do when researching his novels but my copy of Memories does has Post It notes on many pages with remarks I have made. It is a sign of a book that really has so much life and is high praise.

In Memories Naim Attallah looks back at his time and talks about those who he has come to know but also recollections of his life in London. After arriving in London he had to start somewhere and here Naim talks about his early days. Then talks about those with whom he has come to know. It really become a who’s who of the friends he has made. Names such as: John Le Carré and Auberon Waugh to name just two. The list of names that appear in the book, the Bee Gees, Billy Connolly and Dame Margot Fonteyn, Yehudi Menuhin and the late Christina Foyle owner of Foyles bookshop.

There are poems that have been written for Naim Attallah from past year that appear through the book which says a lot about the man. A look back at the social life and the times of a remarkable man who legendary launch parties for the books he published were by a man who was fearless and noticeable as his was his blue Rolls Royce.

278 Pages.

Thank you to Quartet Books for the review copy of Memories by Naim Attallah

Memories by Naim Attallah was published by Quartet Books on 16th April 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

Coffee and Seasons

COFFEE AND SEASONS

Blog Journal: # 2

9th July 2020

Today for the first time in nearly four months I am back in my favourite coffee shop having coffee and cake and making notes for this and future blog journals. Over these past months of lockdown I have really missed coming here. The coffee shop I know very well, it is where I come to quietly read and write and watch life, but this time it is strangely empty and quiet; people are not sure about coming inside. It will take time before confidence returns. So long as the virus is out there, people will remain cautious.

Recently I paid a visit to Hestercombe Gardens which is close to my home, it was one of those very hot days with wall to wall blue skies. It is a favourite place here in Somerset. If you are looking for peace and tranquillity, then Hestercombe is the place to head to. You can follow the walk past the waterfall and lake and sit among the trees and read and write a few lines, then back to walk among the formal gardens. A mix of Georgian landscape gardens by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde and the Edwardian formal gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens. There is always something to see here no matter what the season.

Photo

During the lockdown we have seen the clocks go forward and we passed the longest day. Dare I say I am beginning to notice these long summer daylight hours just beginning to get shorter if ever so slightly. It has not been helped of course the recent heavy grey skies that look more akin to autumn that the warm days of July. This got me thinking about seasons and how those of us who love nature and of course the gardeners among us that follow them. The autumn days of “Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness” A season of Blackberries and cobnuts. The light is receding fast each day and we kick our way through the fallen leaves, I have always loved the sound of those dry fallen leaves as we kick our way through, and look for fallen conkers from the Horse Chestnut trees. Back when I was studying horticulture in Cheshire in the late 1970’s they would have conker championships. It was all taken very seriously with stories of ‘doctored’ conkers. We watch squirrels looking for nuts and scurrying away to bury them pretending not to be seen. Can squirrels actually remember during the winter months where they first buried their stash of nuts? The colour of autumn trees provides a last warm glow before they too must fall and the trees fall into a long deep sleep ahead of the onset of cold winter days that are coming. These are the days when we retreat indoors and curl up with a book in front of the fire. But as the seasons change, nature continues to surprise us.

I am not a lover of Winter, those days when the wind is strong and the rain is heavy and cold, the year is growing old and we too begin to slow down and we retreat indoors more. I have lost count of how many umbrellas I have gone through over recent years as storm after storm blows through. I do though love those crystal clear frosty mornings when your breath hangs in the air frozen in a moment of time. A long walk and then finding a pub with a roaring log fire. Winter though always seems as though it never wants to let go and just when you think it is over, it gives one last stand and surprises us. I look forward to the shortest day as then I know the days will begin to lengthen again and now I can start to think of better days to come. Slowly the daylight hours are longer and come March Spring is here, the Chiffchaff’s are singing their name. Birds are looking at nesting sites again. The days are warming up and so is the soil and new life is starting to show. As we move into April and May, this really is my favourite time of the year. Along the Somerset Levels Bitterns with their strange ‘Booming’ call can be heard and Cuckoos are calling, the reed beds are alive with the songs of warblers that have arrived from Africa. These days are as precious as the finest of jewels to treasure. You cannot put a price on these moments. They are there to be enjoyed by everyone and to be protected for future generations. Then of course there is the dawn chorus and this year it seemed like no other spring dawn chorus due to the lockdown, no sounds of traffic so the birdsong seemed to be more enhanced. I would lie in bed and identify the birds I could hear. The pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers has taken up residence in the same hole in the nearby tree again and I can hear them as they ‘tap tap tap’ at the hole making some adjustments to their home. A pair of Starlings have taken up residence in the roof again this year, I will hear the brood as the parents busily fly back and forth with food from dawn to dusk. Then they will fledge and all will be quiet again.

We come full circle as spring becomes summer and the days are long and warm. Days of sitting in beer gardens or reading a book. This summer though is unlike any summer we have seen before. Like many I never know what each is going to bring. We must though dress our days and hold on to whatever we can.
John Fish
The Last Word Book Review

The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt

COVER pb

The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt

Summary:

The British Isles are remarkable for their extraordinary seabird life: spectacular gatherings of charismatic Arctic terns, elegant fulmars and stoic eiders, to name just a few. Often found in the most remote and dramatic reaches of our shores, these colonies are landscapes shaped not by us but by the birds.

In 2015, Stephen Rutt escaped his hectic, anxiety-inducing life in London for the bird observatory on North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney Islands. In thrall to these windswept havens and the people and birds that inhabit them, he began a journey to the edges of Britain. From Shetland, to the Farnes of Northumberland, down to the Welsh islands off the Pembrokeshire coast, he explores the part seabirds have played in our history and what they continue to mean to Britain today.

The Seafarers is the story of those travels: a love letter, written from the rocks and the edges, for the salt-stained, isolated and ever-changing lives of seabirds. This beguiling book reveals what it feels like to be immersed in a completely wild landscape, examining the allure of the remote in an over-crowded world.

 My Review:

Watching birds has been a passion of mine since childhood but there is something rather special about sitting on a windswept headland looking out to sea and watching seabirds. Whether it is on the South West coastline or along the Scottish coast or taking a boat trip across the Minch to the Outer Hebrides watching seabirds has given me some of my best birdwatching days I can remember. I was so grateful to have received a copy of The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds (Elliott & Thompson) by Stephen Rutt that has just recently been published in paperback. It has won the Saltire First Book of the Year for 2019.

Author

It was 2015 and Stephen Rutt was packing up and moving to the remote Scottish island of Ronaldsay, one of the furthest of the Orkney Islands, Stephen was struggling and he needed to get away from the fast pace of London. He had decided to volunteer at the bird observatory for seven months. During this time, he would monitor the movements of seabirds. A pivotal moment as this seemed to just what he needed. Nature is calming on the soul.

There is something really soothing about Stephen’s writing, it is calm and relaxed and yet there is something more here, facts. He talks of oil spills and the disastrous effect this had on wildlife, and would the seabird numbers recover in the years to come. I recall seeing pictures of scores of dead seabirds covered in oil. These pictures still haunt.

From here Stephen takes us on a journey around the jagged coastline of Britain to watch seabirds. From Puffins to Skuas, Storm Petrels and Gannets galore and Manx Shearwaters and we cannot leave out the Terns on the Farne Islands.

We are an island in fact the UK is an archipelago with over 1000 islands, and around 790 of them off the Scottish coastline which makes this one of the most incredible and diverse places to study seabirds. Stephen Rutt really has written a love letter to seabirds, and their incredible lives. When Stephen is not watching these wanderers of the seas he is at home reading books from some of the great writers on birds. A beautifully written memoir and that I am delighted to add to my natural history library.

288 Pages.

Thank you to Alison Menzies for the review copy of The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt

The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt was published by Elliott & Thompson and was published in PB on 4th June 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

My July/August 2020 Book Reviews for Word Gets Around Magazine

pics_1

July/August 2020 Edition of Word Gets Around Magazine

My Fiction and Non-Fiction Book Reviews

Because of the Corvid-19 pandemic lockdown the May/June edition of Word Gets Around Magazine for Taunton and surrounding areas and the brand new copy for West Somerset did not get published. BUT WE ARE BACK! The July/August edition number 40 is now available. Congratulations to Paul and the team for working so hard during these difficult times and getting the magazine out. Visit their webiste for more information and have a look at the back copies of the magazine: Word Gets Around   Where you can also find all my previous book reviews.

20200703_123357

Inside there are many features for Taunton and West Somerset readers and business. Also my latest fiction and non-fiction book reviews and for this edition two books I know readers are going to love.

The Fiction Book for July/August Edition: Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Miss Benson's Beetle - Cover

Published by Doubleday on 23rd July from the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which so many people took to their hearts back in 2012. Miss Benson’s Beetle is just the perfect novel for these difficult times and will be a big hit with fans of Rachel Joyce. You can pre-order a copy through any of our local bookshops.

100 Birds - Cover

The Non-Fiction Book for July/August Edition: 100 Birds by Carl Bovis.

You only have to look at Carl’s stunning photographs on his Social Media feed to see just what a special wildlife photogrpaher Carl really is. His photograph’s are loved by so many and living here in Somerset and close to the Somerset Levels is just ideal for many of the outstanding shots inside his book. You Can visit Carl’s Twitter page: @carlbovisnature and also his website where you can buy copies of the book as well as his most popular photographs: Carl Bovis

For more information on Word Gets Around Magazine please visit: Word Gets Around

Or on Twitter: @_wordgetsaround

Instagram: @WordGetsAround

 

 

Lockdown by Peter May

Lockdown Cover

Lockdown by Peter May

Summary:

A CITY IN QUARANTINE

London, the epicenter of a global pandemic, is a city in lockdown. Violence and civil disorder simmer. Martial law has been imposed. No-one is safe from the deadly virus that has already claimed thousands of victims. Health and emergency services are overwhelmed.

A MURDERED CHILD

At a building site for a temporary hospital, construction workers find a bag containing the rendered bones of a murdered child. A remorseless killer has been unleashed on the city; his mission is to take all measures necessary to prevent the bones from being identified.

A POWERFUL CONSPIRACY

D.I. Jack MacNeil, counting down the hours on his final day with the Met, is sent to investigate. His career is in ruins, his marriage over and his own family touched by the virus. Sinister forces are tracking his every move, prepared to kill again to conceal the truth. Which will stop him first – the virus or the killers?

Written over fifteen years ago, this prescient, suspenseful thriller is set against a backdrop of a capital city in quarantine, and explores human experience in the grip of a killer virus.

 My Review:

Imagine writing a novel about a pandemic and then having it rejected as it was unrealistic. Well back in 2005 that is exactly what Pater May had done. He did write a novel and it was rejected and so he left it there.

Fast forward to 2020 and we have a pandemic in the form of the Coronavirus that has swept across the world. Suddenly Lockdown (Riverrun) by Peter May does not seem unrealistic after all.

Author

London is the centre stage for this gripping thriller. The world in is the grip of a pandemic with governments struggling to cope as cities are closed down and violence is spreading, now people are not allowed out of their homes with people are struggling to cope with the lockdown as the death toll mounts across the globe. Sound familiar?
In London the streets are deserted, just litter blowing through the dusty city streets. If you spoke, I am sure it would echo like a dystopian sci-fi film. A new temporary hospital is being built in London to cope with the many patients of the pandemic, it is a building site but the builders find the remains of a body and it falls to D.I. Jack MacNeil from the Met to investigate what looks like the remains of a child. MacNeil is in the final hours of his career, and he has his problems but now there is a killer on the loose and it is not the pandemic.
As D.I. MacNeil begins to investigate the case it becomes apparent that this is not just a murder case but a conspiracy and a cover up. Someone out there is watching his every move and does not want the truth to come out. Time is against MacNeil but he must get to killers before they get to him. For Jack MacNeil his career and his marriage have gone, but why should he care about the case, in a matter of hours he will be out of the force. But he is being watched! They are close and so is the virus.
If you have enjoyed Peter May’s thrillers before, then you will really enjoy Lockdown, and to think that this was written fifteen years ago and here we are with the world in the grip of the Corvid-19 pandemic. When written it really was ahead of its time. A really compelling read. Peter May remains one of my favourite thriller writers and I am delighted to recommend.

416 Pages.

Lockdown by Peter May was published by riverrun and was published on 30th April 2020 and is available to order online through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.