Goshawk Summer: A New Forest Season Unlike Any Other by James Aldred

Goshawk Summer: A New Forest Season Unlike Any Other by James Aldred

Summary:

In early 2020, wildlife cameraman James Aldred was commissioned to film the lives of a family of Goshawks in the New Forest, his childhood home. He began to plan a treetop hide in a remote site that would allow him to film the Gos nest, the newly hatched chicks and the lives of these elusive and enchanting birds.

Then lockdown. And as the world retreated, something remarkable happened. The noise of our everyday stilled. No more cars, no more off-roaders, no more airplanes roaring in the skies, no one in the Goshawk woods – except James.

At this unique moment, James was granted a once in a lifetime opportunity to keep filming. And so, over Spring and into Summer, he began to record his experiences in a place empty of people but filled with birdsong and new life.

Amidst the fragility and the fear, there was silver moonlight, tumbling fox cubs, calling curlew and, of course, the soaring Goshawks – shining like fire through one of our darkest times. A Goshawk summer unlike any other.

My Review:

James Aldred is an Emmy award-winning wildlife cameraman and has worked alongside Sir David Attenborough on many projects. Recently released is his latest book Goshawk Summer: A New Forest Season Unlike Any Other (Elliott & Thompson) Which tells the story of how James was commissioned to film a family of Goshawks in the New Forest during the countries first Covid lockdown. Goshawks are incredible birds of prey. I have only ever seen one in my life and was left in awe at its power.

When James Aldred was given permission to film a pair of Goshawks deep in the New Forest the country was in lockdown, the forest was quiet, even the sky was free from the noise of aircraft. It felt like James had the entire forest to himself. This was a rare opportunity to film without disturbance.  A treetop hide gave incredible views of the nest during the spring months as the pair began to raise their family.

Rarely seen as they are silent hunters of the forest James will have just seconds as he will hear the call as one of the Goshawks approaches the nest from deep within the forest. Through the spring the forest is awakening from its winter sleep and life is returning the forest is full of birdsong, but this is a springtime unlike any other we have known. As James filmed, he also kept a written diary, and this is how Goshawk Summer is set out. James writes so beautifully you are almost there with him. We all may have been locked down at home, but nature came into its own and as spring turned into early summer the forest came alive.

As much as this is a book about a family of Goshawks what James also brings us is the story of how the New Forest burst into life with birds and animals. This indeed was a very special moment and a rare moment even for the experienced James Aldred. The year 2020 was a dreadful year and one we will never forget but at the same time what James brings us here is something rather special as you join him doing what he loves in a special place that is close to his heart. Goshawk Summer is a very special book and one I treasured reading.

304 Pages.

My thanks to Alison Menzies and Elliott & Thompson Books for the review copy of Goshawk Summer by James Aldred.

Goshawk Summer by James Aldred is published by Elliott & Thompson Books on 29 July 2021 and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector by Nicholas Royle

White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector by Nicholas Royle

Summary:

A mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction. White Lines is about a Nicholas Royle s passion for Picador s fiction publishing from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. It explores the bookshops and charity shops, the books themselves and the way a unique collection grew and became a literary obsession.

My Review:

We all love books, but do you collect books from a specific publisher? Nicholas Royle does just that, he does not just love books he is an avid collector of old books published by Picador. These are the books with the white spines. In his wonderful new book White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector (Salt) the author takes us on a literary journey from second-hand bookshops on his travels. This reads like a love letter to books and writing and it really is.

There is nothing better than spending time in a bookshop and then discovering a second-hand bookshop, there are real gems to be found. Many times, I have purchased a book from a second-hand bookshop I have found notes from the previous owner, or the book has been inscribed and you just wonder who this person really was.

I just loved the way Nicholas Royle talks about his passion for books, his excitement at finding a new edition though sometimes the publisher may change the cover design that might not do justice to the book. He also shares with us the bookish conversations he has had about great books that have been read.

Nicholas takes us on a tour across the country of great bookshops he has discovered, and he also takes time to talk to some of the authors of the Picador white spine editions. At the back of the book, he gives us a list of his collection of these very desirable books he has collected over the years.

I just love books about books and White Spines really is a terrific read very much set out in a diary format and is so full of heart. Who knows one day someone will find a copy of White Spines in a charity bookshop and take it home and inspire them to discover the old Picador collections from the 1970’s to the 1990’s. My copy will be staying with me forever. It is a pure delight to read.

176 Pages.

My thanks to Helen Richardson for the review copy of White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector by Nicholas Royle.

White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector by Nicholas Royle is published by Salt and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

Walking Pepys’s London by Jacky Colliss Harvey

Walking Pepys’s London by Jacky Colliss Harvey

Summary:

Samuel Pepys walked round London for miles. The 21/2 miles to Whitehall from his house near the Tower of London was accomplished on an almost daily basis, and so many of his professional conversations took place whilst walking that the streets became for him an alternative to his office. With Pepys’s London, the reader will come to know life in London from the pavement up and see its streets from the perspective of this renowned diarist. The city was almost as much a character in Pepys’s life as his family or friends, and the book draws many parallels between his experience of 17th-century London and the lives of Londoners today. Colliss Harvey’s new book reconstructs the sensory and emotional experience of the past, bringing geography, biography and history into one. Full of fascinating details and written with extraordinary sensitivity, Pepys’s London is an unmissable exploration into the places that made the greatest English diarist of all time.

My Review:

In my youth I really enjoyed reading Samuel Pepys’s diary his accounts of the Great Plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of London the following year both witnessed by Pepys’s and they offer a great insight of what it was like in the city as the rich and wealthy fled including the king. I have walked many times through London retracing the many key places of times past, but I was delighted to have received a copy of Walking Pepys’s London (Haus Publishing) by Jacky Colliss Harvey just released in a stunning read hardback edition simply perfect for your pocket.

Samuel Pepys was a great walker and he walked across London daily, and it is said that the streets were indeed his office. I have often thought about what routes he took and now Jacky Colliss Harvey has written a book that is a guide to five of the walks that Samuel Pepys would often take and now you can retrace he famous walks.

Each walk is of varying length and Jacky is your guide as you trace Pepys steps the author points out many famous places and landmarks. They are both entertaining and informative. Walks from Westminster to the City, a night walk, a walk along the river to Greenwich and even a New Year’s Day walk. Each synonymous as the great man himself would have walked each.

You will get to visit many famous places that would be of real interest to anyone who loves the city and its links to famous names, and many are pointed out.

The real beauty of this book is that you do not have to travel to London, from the comfort of your chair Jacky is your guide and there are maps that lead you along each walk.

The night-time walk is really a half-day walk through London then across the river to Southwark and to one of the oldest pubs in the country the George Inn which dates back from 1677 and a place I know very well and remains a place close to my heart. It is owned and leased by the National Trust and is worthy of a visit.

I really enjoyed Jacky’s writing as she guides you across the capital pointing out places of interest. If you enjoy history and London, I can really recommend Walking Pepys’s London by Jacky Colliss Harvey.

220 Pages.

My thanks to Haus Publishing for the review copy of Walking Pepys’s London by Jacky Colliss Harvey

Walking Pepys’s London by Jacky Colliss Harvey is published by Haus Publishing    and was published on 15th April 2021. Available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster

The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster

Summary:

Swifts live in perpetual summer. They inhabit the air like nothing on the planet. They watched the continents shuffle to their present places and the mammals evolve. They are not ours, though we like to claim them. They defy all our categories and present no passports as they surf the winds across the worlds. They sleep in the high thin air – their wings controlled by an alert half-brain. This is a radical new look at the Common Swift – a numerous but profoundly un-common bird – by Charles Foster, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Being a Beast. Foster follows the swifts throughout the world, manically, lyrically, yet scientifically. The poetry of swifts is in their facts, and this book, in Little Toller’s monograph series, draws deeply on the latest extraordinary discoveries.

My Review:

As I write this it is that time of year that I become excited, I know they are coming, and I have heard reports of sightings, but I am out walking most days eyes searching the sky looking and hoping to see the return of my most favourite birds that visit us for the summer months. The Swift (Apus apus) but as I have been waiting patiently, I have been reading The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster that has just been released by Little Toller Books.

Swifts spend all their time on the wing and only come to land to breed, they even sleep on the wing and in the book the author recounts details of a WWI pilot while flying at night coming across a group of Swifts that seemed to be sleeping in a cloud even airline pilots have recounted sighting of Swifts.

But they like many species are under so much pressure in our modern world whether it is the insects they feed on or their nesting sites diminishing. Yet imagine a summer without seeing a flock of screaming Swifts flying low over your house. An RSPB survey said numbers had fallen by 53% between 1995 and 2016. That is a shocking statistic and more must be done to save them.

I read recently that there are 113 species of Swift in the world (International Ornithological Congress), and we do have the odd rarity of Swift that crosses the channel to the UK most summers. But for the Common Swift they are built for flying and not for landing just look at those incredible wings and the forked tail. Ever since I was a boy I was fascinated with Swifts and to this day the excitement of seeing my first of the summer. But sad when the time comes for them to depart on their return journey to Africa. I have spent a few weeks during the winter in Africa watching Swifts and bid them farewell until the summer when I left for home. It was the naturalist Gilbert White said that Swifts hibernated under water.

In The Screaming Sky, Charles Foster follows them from Africa in their wintering home and then counting the days for their migration and their perilous journey to Europe and the UK. Foster also talks about how strange weather can create vast gatherings of Swifts and in 2020 off Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire there was a gathering of more than 46,000 birds, I cannot even begin to imagine what a sight that must have been.

This is a wonderful book for anyone who loves our annual summer visitor and the illustrations by Jonathan Pomeroy just make this book so perfect. This is a book that will sit perfectly among my vast natural history books and will cherish re-reading during the cold dark winter months after the swifts have departed. But first I am off for a walk in the hope of seeing my first sighting of the summer. It has been a long winter. I yearn to hear a flock of screaming swifts again.

You can follow Charles Foster on Twitter: @@tweedpipe

And Little Toller: @LittleToller

179 Pages.

My thanks to Little Toller Books for the review copy of The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster.

The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster is published by Little Toller Books and was published on 14th April 2021. Available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

Notebook by Tom Cox

Notebook by Tom Cox

Summary:

Sure, sex is great, but have you ever cracked open a new notebook and written something on the first page with a really nice pen? The story behind Notebook starts with a minor crime: the theft of Tom Cox’s rucksack from a Bristol pub in 2018. In that rucksack was a journal containing ten months worth of notes, one of the many Tom has used to record his thoughts and observations over the past twelve years. It wasn’t the best he had ever kept – his handwriting was messier than in his previous notebook, his entries more sporadic – but he still grieved for every one of the hundred or so lost pages. This incident made Tom appreciate how much notebook-keeping means to him: the act of putting pen to paper has always led him to write with an unvarnished, spur-of-the-moment honesty that he wouldn’t achieve on-screen. Here, Tom has assembled his favourite stories, fragments, moments and ideas from those notebooks, ranging from memories of his childhood to the revelation that ‘There are two types of people in the world. People who f*cking love maps, and people who don’t.’ The result is a book redolent of the real stuff of life, shot through with Cox’s trademark warmth and wit.

My Review:

Notebooks, I must admit I love them. I have so many of them and I would never get rid of any of them, and I have to use a good quality fountain pen. I would be out of my mind if I ever lost one or had one stolen. But that is exactly what happened to Tom Cox as he explains at the start of his new book that is called appropriately Notebook (Unbound) and it is out now.

Tom Cox loves his notebooks and in these he writes his thoughts and observations on life and the places he visits. Until back in 2018 when he visited a pub in Bristol, and someone walked off with his rucksack that contained his precious notebook while he was strutting his stuff to Michael Jackson. I would be mortified. All Tom’s work had been stolen and this is how Notebook became a book.

I loved Tom’s previous books, and Notebook is just the perfect read, it has moments where you cannot help but laugh. Here are his thoughts from his collection of notebooks that Tom has kept. These are random thoughts on almost anything in life. Trips to various locations and places he has lived, even woodpigeons manage to get into his notebooks as does his love of vinyl records and cats and nature.

Every page is trademark Tom Cox, his warmth and his humour are a real joy to read. Tom’s parents Mick and Jo contribute illustrations throughout the book. At only 144 pages this a tonic to dip in and out of and then there is the stunning cover design by Clare Melinsky. Notebook by Tom Cox is a fabulous read. Be prepared to laugh out loud.

#Notebook

@cox_tom

@unbounders

@RandomTTours

144 Pages.

My thanks to both Unbound and to Anne at Random Things Tours for the review copy of Notebook by Tom Cox.

Notebook by Tom Cox is published by Unbound and was published on 18 March 2021 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

FOLLOW THE BLOG TOUR

From Field & Forest: An Artist’s Year in Paint and Pen by Anna Koska

From Field & Forest: An Artist’s Year in Paint and Pen by Anna Koska

Summary:

Highly respected illustrator Anna Koska is best known for her drawings of fish and fruit and is widely celebrated by food journalists and restaurateurs. In this mindful, artistic journal, Anna celebrates the natural world; the changing of the seasons, the blossoming of flowers and the ripening of fruit.

Working in watercolour, pen and ink, oils and luscious egg tempera, Anna’s illustrations are reproduced in beautiful detail and they are accompanied by her musings and observations of objects, engaging us in the everyday realities of her artistic practice.

Anna sources inspiration from the flora and fauna in the fields and forests surrounding her home in East Sussex. Her illustrations root us in nature, allowing us to pause to admire and appreciate the beauty and significance of everyday occurrences – whether she is drawing wasps feasting on apples fallen in the orchard, or trying to capture the cerulean blue of a winter sky. \

In this book, image and narrative text are wedded to create a beautiful journey through the seasons, taking time to appreciate our surroundings.

My Review:

Anna Koska is a celebrated illustrator of around 25 years over the years she has illustrated fruit, vegetables and nature, Anna’s work has featured in over 100 books but just published is Anna Koska’s first book, From Field & Forest: An Artist’s Year in Paint and Pen (Pavilion Books) that looks at the seasons and nature that surround her home and it really is an incredibly beautiful book.

Beginning in autumn and working through the seasons Anna celebrates the natural world that surrounds us. The beauty of From Field & Forest is that it is like being out in nature in that it makes you stop and wonder of the beauty that we have in front of us, and Anna captures this in both words and through her stunning illustrations. As the seasons change so does the natural world from autumn to the dark winter months and walking through a muddy landscape or hearing the gentle crunch of a frost covered field listening to the winter birdsong. As natural world awakes from its winter sleep, and life begins again Anna captures this beautifully within the landscape that surrounds her Sussex home.

Finally, Summer has arrived, and the hives are busy, and flowers are plentiful, there is something about standing in your garden at first light of a Summer’s day, the grass damp with early morning dew, listening to the birdsong. Anna describes these moments, and it is like you turn a page and you are there. Anna Koska has written and illustrated the most beautiful book in From Field & Forest that anyone who loves the natural world will enjoy through the seasons.

You can follow Anna Koska on Twitter: @GremKoska and also via her stunning Instagram account: @gremkoska

For mor information of books available via Pavilion Books: Pavilion Books

144 Pages.

My thanks to Komal Patel for the review copy of From Field & Forest by Anna Koska.

From Field & Forest by Anna Koska published by Pavilion Books on 4th March 2021 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

Covid Thoughts created and Photographed by Gemma Levine

Covid Thoughts created and Photographed by Gemma Levine

Summary:

This book is a thought-provoking exploration of the challenges, lessons learnt, and personal experiences of the global pandemic communicated through the eyes of some of the influential public figures in society.

It features contributions from 30 personalities and politicians including the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, Bryan Robson, Prue Leith, Sir David Suchet, Joanna Lumley, William Boyd, Dame Maureen Lipman, and Terry Waite.

As well as raising funds for Lymphoedema research, Covid Thoughts is a compelling collection of the real accounts of people from across a diverse range of backgrounds offering a humbling and insightful glimpse into their Covid journeys.

Foreword by PROFESSOR PETER MORTIMER MD FRCP
Preface by DAME JUDI DENCH CH DBE FRSA
Introduction by GEMMA LEVINE FRSA
Afterword by PROFESSOR JAMES A. LEVINE MD PhD

My Review:

Gemma Levine is a well-known photographer and has published 20 books of photographs, she began her career back in 1975 and she is especially known for her stunning black & white photographs and since the 1980’s the list of names that she has photographed from British society are Politicians, sportsmen and women, many from stage and screen, writers, six Prime Ministers and royalty.

As the pandemic struck here in the UK Gemma Levine asked 40 people to pen their ‘Covid Thoughts’ and to go alongside this Gemma photographed each. And the photographs are amazing and so natural. Each contributor gives thought provoking and personal experiences of the pandemic as it took hold in each of our lives. For everyone, The Covid-19 pandemic has been a journey where all of us have experienced loss and grief and a journey through the course of the past 12 months.

Reading the words of famous names and those working on the front line and in care homes and from all walks of life their own words strike a chord as they describe their own personal journey.

Many famous people have supported this project by Gemma Levine in support of Lymphoedema research at St George’s Hospital in London. Names such as: Dame Judi Dench, Baroness Joan Bakewell, William Boyd, Simon Callow, Dame Joan Collins, Sir Karl Jenkins, Prue Leith, Joanna Lumley, Priti Patel, Dame Esther Ranzen, Dr Miriam Stoppard, Sir David Suchet, Terry Waite, The Lord Mayor, plus those who work on the front line: A Covid ITU nurse, also there are contributors from the Arts, Care Homes, Hospitality, Medicine, Music, Media, Politics, Sports, School and University students. etc.

*Lymphoedema is a long term-cronic condition that causes the swelling of the body’s tissues. It can affect any part of the body but usually develops in the arms and legs. If not identified and treated early it can get worse.

World Lymphoedema Day on Saturday 6 March 2021.

Copies of Covid Thoughts by Gemma Levine can be purchased Here

More details of the St George’s Hospital Charity can be found here: St George’s Hospital Charity

Price per copy: £15.00

My thanks to Grace Pilkington for the review copy of Covid Thoughts by Gemma Levine.

Covid Thoughts by Gemma Levine was published on 6th March 2021 and is available to order through via: Covid Thoughts   Proceeds from sales will go to Lymphoedema Research Charity, at St George’s Hospital.

Two Summers: Nixon and Trump by Greyhound Bus by Tim Albert

Two Summers: Nixon and Trump by Greyhound Bus by Tim Albert

Summary:

In 1969 the 22-year-old Tim Albert spent three happy months on a 12,000 mile road trip around the United States on Greyhound buses. Half a century later – to the day – he set out to revisit his trip, armed with his original 30,000-word diary. Would he find the America of President Donald Trump much altered from the America of President Richard Nixon? How would Greyhound bus travel have changed in a world flooded by motor cars and electronic devices? And would his 72-year-old body last the course?

In this funny and finely observed account, our game hero tours New York with a 50-year-old Michelin Guide; discovers that bus passengers speak into their phones and not to each other; celebrates the golden jubilees of the moon landings, the gay rights movement and Kermit the Frog; declines the offer of a mail-order AK-47; and is told by half the people he meets that the President is a dangerous embarrassment and by the other half that he is a saviour who never lies. When two older ladies assume our scruffy traveller is homeless and reach into their handbags to give him money for food, he realises that one thing hasn’t changed – the generosity of Americans.

My Review:

The year was 1969 and Tim Albert (aged 22) travelled to the USA and spent three months travelling 12,000 miles across the country via the famous Greyhound buses. This was the time of President Nixon. After this mammoth adventure Tim became a journalist both local and national and for medical publications. 50 years later in 2019 Tim decided that it was time to recreate the trip across the USA.  

This time it was the era of Trump in the Whitehouse, so setting off on his adventure 50 years later together with the original diary and his old guidebook and a 12,000-mile adventure awaits. But just how has the USA changed in the 50 years since his last trip? I have to say after swapping many emails with Tim about this, just what a fantastic idea to recreate his original trip really was. Exciting and brave at the same time.

Just stop and think for a moment, 50 years ago, there was no mobile phone, no internet let alone email! You not just Google when you needed information, you had to go and find it yourself. But now times have really moved on. People on buses not communicating with each other but would rather communicate via mobile phones. But not everyone is Google happy and have the latest smartphones.

To get to know the USA of today you must really speak to people on the street and this is what Tim does, and gets a real feel for how people think of Trump and their homeland of today. Tim writes superbly and has lost none of the journalist. Yes, you can of course read this as a travelogue but one thing his trip across the USA did prove was that just how divided the country had become under Donald Trump as President.

From July 2019 and arriving in New York to September Tim travelled across country, I loved the humour and how despite the hiccups Tim faces and sometimes asking for help you find out just how kind people really are. There are conversations with many people from all walks of life and these really are interesting. Across the bus rides visiting cities and towns Tim Albert takes the reader on a Greyhound adventure. An excellent read and Tim’s love for the USA really shines through.

262 Pages.

My thanks to Tim Albert for the copy of Two Summers: Nixon and Trump by Greyhound Bus by Tim Albert.

Two Summers: Nixon and Trump by Greyhound Bus by Tim Albert was published by Elbow Publishing on 26th June 2020 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

My Books of the Year 2020

Books of the Year 2020

1st January 2021

As we start the New Year this is my opportunity to look back at my favourite books that got me through that awful year of 2020. For all of us who love books they really got us through that difficult year. We could lose ourselves in stories and head of on adventures or we could read some non-fiction and learn from history or read books on natural history. How would we have got through 2020 without books.

This is also my opportunity to thank all the authors and publishers who have trusted me with their books. To each and everyone one of you all I can do is thank you. It is also a chance to mention bookshops. All have struggled through the lockdowns and have had to adapt. All are still struggling and need our support through the months ahead. Bookshops are vital for every community just like libraries. We would be poorer without them. They have managed to adapt by click and collect or many delivering free to people living local and who have been isolating. It has been inspiring to hear and read their stories.

Without further ado here are my ten shortlisted fiction and ten non-fiction books of 2020 and at the end I have chosen my fiction and non-fiction books of the year.

MY TEN SHORTLISTED FICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

Published by Fourth Estate.

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020

Longlisted for the Booker Prize

The long-awaited sequel to Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and the conclusion to the fabulous trilogy. I have to admit this was my tip to win the Booker Prize and make it a hat-trick of wins. I still think this is just some of the best writing in many years.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Published by Doubleday

I have been a fan of Rachel Joyce’s writing for some years now and Miss Benson’s Beetle is set in 1950 a story of adventure and friendship.

Summer by Ali Smith

Published by Hamish Hamilton

Longlisted for the Highland Book Prize

The finale to the seasonal quartet. Like each season the quartet seems to have gone so fast. All four to cherish in the years to come.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Published by Tinder Press

Winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction

Waterstones Book of the Year 2020

This is one book I have been speaking about since I was lucky enough to receive a review copy and was one of the first books of 2020 that I read. Instantly I knew this was something incredible and without doubt Maggie’s finest hour in writing.

A story based on the story of Shakespeares wife Agnes (Anne Hathaway) and their young son Hamnet. It will break your heart but stunningly beautiful. Deserved of all the plaudits.  

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Published by Viking Books

This is just a brilliant debut from the TV quiz master Richard Osman. It has gone on to become one the biggest selling books of 2020. A novel set in a quiet retirement village. Readers will love the characters involved. Warm and very funny.

Winterkill by Ragnar Jónasson 

Published by Orenda Books

Sadly, the finale in the Dark Iceland series. As chilling as an Icelandic winter this is gripping finale as Ari Thor returns to solve the death of a young woman found dead beneath a balcony. Suicide or something much more sinister?

Shuggie Baine by Douglas Stuart

Published by Picador Books

Winner of the Booker Prize 2020

The Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2020

Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction 2020

Bleak and heartbreaking. A story set in Glasgow in the early 1980’s of young Shuggie Baine and Agnes his mother. Even now I keep thinking of this story.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Published by Orion Books

Selling well over one million copies the international bestseller. A heart stopping thriller that had me guessing until the very end. Why did Alicia Berenson who had a perfect life and marriage suddenly shoot her husband dead five times in the head. Six years later and incarcerated she has not spoken a word.

Three – Fifths by John Vercher

Published by Pushkin Vertigo

Set in 1995 in Pittsburgh and a story of race, class and violence. A powerful novel, that is so brilliantly written. Nominated for many literary awards.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Published by Raven Books

The Year is 1634 and Samuael Pipps the great detective is being transported to Amsterdam from the Dutch East Indies to stand trial for a crime he says he did not commit. He could face the death penalty. But as the ship sets sail things begin to happen on board.

MY TEN SHORTLISTED NON-FICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The Ratline by Philippe Sands

Published by W&N

A breathtaking account of the life of  SS Brigadeführer Otto Freiherr von Wächter. Painstakingly researched. Otto managed to escape justice as he was indicted for mass murder. Escaping via the Austrian Alps and then to Rome where he was helped by a Vatican Bishop. Powerful and reads like a thriller.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Published by Little Toller

Winner of the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing

This is Dara’s diary from Spring to Winter looking at the natural world and his own life at school as well as being an environmentalist and conservationist. Beautifully written.

Rootbound by Alice Vincent

Published by Canongate

Longlisted for the Wainwright Prize

Part memoir, botanical history and biography. This is just a beautiful book about what the outside world can do even by bringing it indoors. Insightful and beautifully written.

The Lost Spells by Jackie Morris and Robert Mcfarlane

Published by Hamish Hamilton

If you loved The Lost Words then you will automatically know and love the follow up or the kindred spirit to The Lost Words. Breataking in its beauty in both words (Spells) by Robert Mcfarlane and the artwork by Jackie Morris. It is never too far away and how it has helped during periods of lockdown and being isolated. It is just georgeous!

The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts

Published by Doubleday

I was just blown away by this incredible book. Across the landscape that is Siberia are the lost pianos that were created during the boom years of the nineteenth century. Sophy Roberts travelled this land in search of the pianos. This remarkable book is her story.

Jeoffrey: The Poet’s Cat – A Biography

Published by The History Press

Jeoffrey was a cat that lived over 250 years ago and with the poet Christopher Smart were confined in an asylum. This is the story of Jeoffrey the cat and how it came to be in one of the greatest poems of all time’Jubilate Agno’.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Published by Viking Books

Barack Obama started to write his memoir as he boarded Air Force One as he left the White House as President of America. This is the first part of what will become one of the great political memoirs. Obama writes with the calmness and assurance and with humour that we came to know and love. It is just a fabulous read.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Published by William Collins

What was it like to be around Churchill and his family through the countries darkest period, the blitz? This is the book to read. It is a gripping and page turning read that was painstakingly researched by Larson.

Beethoven: A Life in Nine pieces by Laura Tunbridge.

Published by Viking Books

In 2020 we celebrated the birth of truly one of the greatest composers the world had ever seen. Ludwig van Beethoven. Yet there are so many myths. Here Laura Tunbridge looks at parts of his life in each chapter and a piece of music. Not to be missed if you love Beethoven.

The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia

Published by Allen Lane (Penguin Books)

Winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2020

Some books just leave me speechless. The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia was one of those books. A stunning book that looks at the Oceans and the need to trade goods but in the end not only goods but culture. Not a small book in over a thousand pages but a book that will stand the test of time. A masterpiece and a deserving winner of the Wolfson History Prize.

And so now I have to find my fiction and non-fiction book of the year. There have been so many incredible books this year and selection ten fiction and ten non-fiction was hard enough. So hear are my two books of 2020.

My Fiction Book of 2020

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Published by Tinder Press

It had to be Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. This story of grief and loss has staye with me throughout this year and I cheered the when Maggie O’Farrell won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. How on earth does Maggie follow up on Hamnet. If you have not read Hamnet yet then this is one book that you must read. So much is weaved into the storyline about Agnes and Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, about a Kestrel and then there is the flea that finds its way aboard ship in Alexandria and the time of the plague that shut the playhouses in London and the devastation it would cause. Maggie’s writing is just dazzling.

My Non-Fiction Book of 2020

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia

Published by Allen Lane (Penguin)

A difficult decision to find my favourite non-fiction book of 2020, but ultamately The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia won through because it is a remarkable piece of writing. One of the greatest books on world history. I read The Boundless Sea through part of the Summer and just became lost in the book. Inside there are pages of maps and colour photographs that go to make up one book that takes pride of place among my non-fiction books. To even begin to think about writing a history of the oceans is heartstopping to produce a work that is a masterpiece. From pirates to kings to sailors and slave ships to conquerers they are all here. One day I will re-read and travel the worlds oceans through time again. Worthy winner of the 2020 Wolfson History Prize.

So there we are my books of 2020. A year that books got us through the worst year we have ever known. We will need books just as much in 2021. So here’s to all the writers and publishers and bookshops across the UK.

Have a Happy, peaceful and safe 2021.

Happy reading.

John

David Hockney: A Life by Catherine Cusset

David Hockney: A Life by Catherine Cusset

Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan

Summary:

A compelling hybrid of novel and biography, Life of David Hockney offers an accessible overview of the painter who shook the world of art with a vitality and freedom that neither heartbreak nor illness nor loss could corrode. Born in 1937 in Bradford, David Hockney had to fight to become an artist. After leaving for the Royal College of Art in London, his career flourished, but he continued to struggle with a sense of not belonging, because of his homosexuality, which had yet to be decriminalised, and his inclination for a figurative style of art not sufficiently ‘contemporary’ to be valued. Trips to New York and California – where he would live for many years and paint his iconic swimming pools – introduced him to new scenes and new loves, beginning a journey that would take him through the fraught years of the AIDS epidemic.

My Review:

One of the most famous painters from these shores is one I have come to admire through many years. David Hockney: A Life (Arcadia Books) by Catherine Cusset is a fascinating and interesting ‘novel’ about the man himself and written before the author meeting David Hockney.

This was one of those books that I really was not sure about before I started reading as this is a novel about the man himself not a biography. But in the end I was actually really pleased that I did. Hockney was born in Bradford in July 1937 and later studied at the local School of Art before heading to London to study at the Royal College of Art.

What Cusset does in her novel is to write a fictional account of the painter’s life from his humble start from a family with little money to his determination to focus on his love of art and to achieve his goal. Using a mix of fact and fiction Cusset tells her story of Hockney’s life through the decades, the success and awards that followed but also the tragedies in his life. What I enjoyed reading about the paintings and making a note of them and later just spending time looking them up.

It is a brave step to write a novel about someone who is still alive and then later meeting them in person. I did wonder how that meeting went. But credit to Cusset as I found her writing to be vivid and shows a love for David Hockney from his days on both sides of the Atlantic. Not a man who paints to a trend but one who follows his own unique style and this is what made him one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. Now in his early 80’s David Hockney keeps fit by swimming for half an hour each morning and can stand at his easel for more than six hours a day painting. An enjoyable read.

192 Pages.

Thank you Anna Zanetti (Midas PR) for the review copy of David Hockney: A Life by Catherine Cusset

David Hockney: A Life by Catherine Cusset was published by Arcadia Publishing and was published on 12th November 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshops. UK Bookshop.org