The Books That Made My Year: 2021

My Books of the Year for 2021

That was the year that was. We are still living in uncertain and strange times, but you can always guarantee that books will be there and get us through and they have again this year.

So as the old year draws to a close, I want to share some of the books that I have read and reviewed here on my blog, or through my book reviews for Word Gets Around magazine or via radio during the past year.

This year I have selected my ten fiction titles and ten non-fiction titles without actually picking just one from each to be my best book of the year. There have been so many great books through 2021 and it was incredibly hard to keep it down to just ten.

My ten fiction books of 2021

My ten favourite fiction reads for 2021:

The Night Gate by Peter May (riverrun)

Set in France in the autumn of 2020, Enzo Macleod is asked to investigate the discovery of the remains of a man found beneath a tree. He has been shot through the head. There is another murder and the two are seventy years apart. To uncover the whole story, you must go back to the fall of France in 1940.

A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy jago (Bloomsbury)

This is a fabulous novel based on the true story that rocked the court of James I. If you love historical novels then this sumptuous novel with vivid characters is just waiting to be read. So much detail of the seventeenth century court life.

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart (Headline)

Paris in 1944 a young woman is hoarded onto a train that is bound for a concentration camp and in an act of desperation she passes her baby to a complete stranger. Fast forward to Santa Cruz in 1953 and the past is about to return. I absolutely loved this novel.

No Honour by Awais Khan (orenda Books)

A story based in a small Pakistani village and sixteen-year-old Abida there are age old rules to abide by and consequences if you don’t. She wants a life with the young man she loves. She has no choice but to leave her village and head to Lahore. But this is where the story really begins. Powerful and heart wrenching.

Still Life by Sarah Winman (Fourth Estate)

Brilliant does not do justice to Still Life. I know this is many readers favourite of 2021 and it is not hard to see why. I just love Sarah’s writing. The story moves between London and Florence in a sweeping novel of love and fate. Simply gorgeous.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex (Picador)

Cornwall 1972 and three lighthouse keepers have simply vanished from the lighthouse, but what did really happen to the three men? Surely, they could not have just simply vanished? Based on real events.

On Hampstead Heath by Marika Cobbold (Arcadia Books)

Thorn Marsh writes for the London Journal but now it has been bought out Thorn finds herself moved from the news desk to the midweek supplement and fabricates a good news story. So why has she done this? You could easily overlook this novel. But don’t it is just wonderful.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (Wildfire)

Shortlisted for Waterstones book of the year. A stunning retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and Minotaur. A wonderful debut novel. Jennifer Saint writes so beautifully. Cannot wait to see what comes next.

The Beresford by Will Carver (Orenda Books)

The Beresford is an apartment building where the rates are cheap but ring the doorbell if you dare. No-one seems to stay for very long, but they never seem to leave if you know what I mean. This is a dark and creepy story with some humour added. A master storyteller.

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks (Hutchinson)

Set across three time periods, beginning in 1914 and WWI and as we move through the years WWII is looming. This is a sweeping love story that begins in Austria. A tale of love lost and found.

My ten non-fiction books of 2021

Power and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages (Head of Zeus)

Dan Jones does not write short history books, at 720 pages but what Dan does is write gripping history books. This account covers the period from AD 410 to AD 1527. It is a compelling read that you just cannot put down. There is so much contained in over 700 pages. Through this period, we see empires built and destroyed. Easily in my top ten of the year.

The Reacher Guy: The Authorised Biography of Lee Child by Heather Martin (Constable)

Think of Lee Child and you automatically know him from the huge bestselling books, over 100 million of them, but do you know Lee Child the man? How did it all begin? Heather Martin has spent time with great man himself and it is all here. There is so much in this biography. Heather Martin is a wonderful writer and if you are a fan of Lee Child, this is a must read.

Mozart: The Reign of Love by Jan Swafford (Faber & Faber)

I have been fascinated by the great composers for many years and really wanted to get to know more about who they really were. Well look no further, this is a stunning book that covers the life of the genius composer. Mozart was not like the other composers. Different is an understatement but what genius as a composer. This book covers his life in over 800 pages.

Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan (Allen Lane)

We can be so guilty of overlooking the humble index, so how did it all begin and were did they begin. The answer is here in one of my non-fiction books of the year. This could be so easily overlooked but it should not as we use indexes more than you think. Next time you Google, think of this. Duncan brings wit into his account of the index which spans over 800 years.

The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster (Little Toller Books)

Writing this on a dull last day of the year, I miss the Swift, the scream as they fly low of the house. But it won’t be long I tell myself. In the meantime, here is an account of Charles Foster’s as he follows the Swift from its wintering home and waits patiently for the return to the UK. It is poetic and thoughtful with beautiful illustrations. Shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize in 2021.

The Making of Oliver Cromwell by Ronald Hutton (Yale University Press)

This is a new and fascinating history of Oliver Cromwell. The only English commoner to become head of state. Ronald Hutton gets to the facts of a man that really has his place in history of this country. I am really hoping there is a part two to this outstanding book.

A Poet for Every day of the Year by Allie Esiri (Macmillan)

I have had a love of poetry since I was very young and have many of the collections put together by Allie Esiri and here are 366 poems for each and every day of the year. From Shakespeare to Wordsworth to Christina Rossetti and many more. Many of the poets and the poems may be familiar but many will be new to you. This book is never far away from me every day.

The White Ship by Charles Spencer (William Collins)

One of the great disasters of this country happened was the sinking of the White Ship in 1120. Many drowned including the King’s heir. But what really happened that night. It was the fastest ship afloat. Charles Spencer writes an historical account, and it reads like a bestselling thriller.

Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack by Richard Ovenden (John Murray)

A 3,000-year history of the destruction of knowledge. We all know of the burning of the books in Germany in 1933, but books have been under attack since the clay tablets. This is a really important book about knowledge, and it is very thought-provoking.

The Glitter in the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds by Jon Dunn (Bloomsbury)

Having been to the Caribbean and seen Hummingbirds up close, they are just so alluring. Jon Dunn takes us on a journey to discover some of the great Hummingbirds with great stories of his encounters with the birds and the people he meets on his travels.

So, there we are another year in books comes to a close. I will keep saying this, but writers and books are so important, especially during uncertain times when we can escape into a book be it a novel or a book on history. This year I have started my journey with the Open University studying English Literature and Creative Writing and it has already given me a new perspective on how I read as well as writing.

I have really sharing some great books over the last year and I am so grateful for all the kind comments that many have taken to the time to add. Sat on my desk among the pile of study material are some great books for 2022 just waiting to be read and it already looks like being another great year.

This is also my opportunity to thank all the authors and publishers and the many people who work in PR who have trusted me with their books. To each one of you all I can do is thank you. It is also a chance to mention bookshops and the incredible booksellers who again have been working so hard in these difficult times and yet just look at the book sales over the past year.

I hope the New Year is a better year for us all. Here’s to more great books in 2022.

Aurochs and Auks: Essays on Mortality and Extinction by John Burnside

Aurochs and Auks: Essays on Mortality and Extinction by John Burnside

Summary:

Aurochs and Auks is a deeply moving and intelligent meditation on the natural processes of death and extinction, renewal and continuity. Prompted by his own near-death in a time of pandemic, John Burnside explores the history of the auroch (Bos primigenius), the wild cattle that has become the source of so much sacred and cultural imagery across Europe, from the Minotaur and the Cretan bull dances to Spanish corrida traditions. He then tells the story of the Great Auk, a curious bird whose extinction in the mid-nineteenth century was caused by human persecution and before stepping into multiple extinctions of the outer and inner world.

My Review:

John Burnside is a poet and an author, for his latest work Aurochs and Auks: Essays on Mortality and Extinction (Little Toller) John Burnside takes a look death and extinction in a collection of four essays which includes the story of the Great Auk that was extinct back in the mid-nineteenth century directly because of human persecution.

What prompted John to write his collection of essays was a near-death experience because of covid. This was the catalyst that created the four essays and begins with Aurochs. These were the very large Cattle that roamed the landscapes of Europe centuries ago. The very last Aurochs died out in Poland in 1627. The second is a look at extinction itself and a look really behind the word and Extinction Rebellion come into this chapter.

The third chapter is the sad story of the Great Auk that became extinct in the mid-nineteenth century again this was due man’s persecution. Been keen on ornithology I have read many books on this incredible bird. It is sad that we never had the chance to witness the Great Auk.

The final chapter ‘Blossom Ruins’ looks at the authors near-death experience due to covid and how close John was to dying, so much so that that his wife was told to prepare for the worst. To come back from this experience is life changing and you look at life and the world very differently. He notes in his account his deep appreciation for the NHS and the work they have done during this dreadful time and how they looked after him.

This may seem like a dark book to read but the message through these pages is loud and clear for all humanity to read. Maybe this is a book that politicians around the world need to read. John’s words are profound and prophetic if man does not change its ways. After all are we not the caretakers of this planet we call home? Not just for us but all the creatures on this planet.

128 Pages.

My thanks to Little Toller Books for the review copy of Aurochs and Auks by John Burnside. Published on 18th October 2021 and is now available direct through Little Toller Books https://www.littletoller.co.uk/shop/books/little-toller/aurochs-and-auks-by-john-burnside/ or through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or via Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

The Reacher Guy: The Authorised Biography of Lee Child by Heather Martin

The Reacher Guy: The Authorised Biography of Lee Child by Heather Martin

Summary:

Lee Child is the enigmatic powerhouse behind the phenomenally successful Jack Reacher novels. With devoted fans across the globe, and over a hundred million copies of his books sold in more than forty languages, he is that rarity, a writer who is both critically acclaimed and adored by readers. And yet curiously little has been written about the man himself.

The Reacher Guy shows us for the first time the young man behind the invention of Jack Reacher. Through parallels drawn between Child and his literary creation, it tells the story of how a lost and lonely boy from Birmingham with a ferocious appetite for reading grew up to become a high-flying TV executive, before coming full circle and establishing himself as an internationally bestselling author.

Heather Martin explores Child’s lifelong fascination with America – and shows how the Reacher novels fed and fuelled this obsession. Drawing on exclusive correspondence and conversations with Child over a number of years, she forensically pieces together his life, from Northern Ireland and County Durham to New York and Hollywood. This is the definitive account of the man behind one of the most iconic series of our times.

My Review:

I have to admit here that I read this some months ago when the weather was warmer and the days longer. Welcome to The Authorised Biography of James Dover Grant OBE. Or to put it another way. The Reacher Guy: The Authorised Biography of Lee Child (Constable) by Heather Martin. Huge international bestselling author does not do him justice. Lee Child is more than this.

I have to say a very big thank you to Heather Martin who I have go to know on Twitter and her inspirational comments. The paperback was released on 21st October.

This really is the stuff of boyhood dreams to become one of the worlds leading thriller writers. Everyone knows the number one worldwide Jack Reacher series from book to Hollywood silver screen. But how many of us know the man behind the writing?

What Heather Martin has done is to craft his story from the in-depth conversations over a period of time that has given Heather the chance to tell the story of Lee Child from childhood and his early school days in Coventry to the day he was made redundant, and this is where he decided that this was his moment in time to become an international bestselling writer. We all dream the dream of making good and the security this will bring but as many writers know there is rejection, but his time had arrived.

As biographies go this, I found to be a real page turner, as I have been fascinated with writers and their craft for many years and I must congratulate Heather Martin for the engaging way she has gone about writing Lee Child’s biography. There are interesting facts that come to light through the pages.

This is by no means a quick biography at 544 pages it is a fabulous read. If you have enjoyed reading the Jack Reacher series, then you must make The Reacher Guy high on your list as this will give a gripping insight to the man who made it all happen and proves that dream can come true.

There are also interviews with teachers, colleagues, and friends in interweaved with many stories of Lee Child’s life that eventually took him to the USA. One biography not to be missed.

544 Pages.

My thanks to Heather Martin, Little Brown and to Anne Cater (Random Things Tours) for the  review copy of The Reacher Guy by Heather Martin. Published by Constable (Little Brown) on 21st October 2021in Paperback 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

Follow The Reacher Guy Blog Tour.

Three Stripes South by Bex Band

Three Stripes South by Bex Band

Summary:

In 2016, desperate for a drastic change, Bex Band decided to walk the length of Israel with her husband: a 1000km trek including a dangerous crossing through the vast Negev desert.

She’d never done anything like it before and the experience changed her life, building back her confidence and self-esteem.

Three Stripes South tells the story of this transformative adventure – battling heat, exhaustion, self-doubt and prejudice – and the new life Bex built for herself when she got home, founding the Love Her Wild women’s adventure community.

‘Lacking confidence is something that a lot of women can relate to’ says Bex. ‘For me personally, it began at school with undiagnosed dyslexia and bullying. This fed into my adult years where I found myself in a vicious cycle of unhappy jobs and bouts of depression. I had low self-esteem and a belief that I really wasn’t capable of achieving much in life.’

Fast forward to today and Bex has transformed her life, tackling gender inequality in adventure travel, and championing women in the outdoors through regular talks, blogging and leading women on adventures all over the world. Nominated for multiple awards for her work advocating women in adventure, her story is an inspiration.

My Review:

Have you ever dreamed of just giving up your home and your job and just heading off on the adventure of a lifetime? Allow me to introduce you to Bex Band who did just that along with her husband and gave up everything and headed off to Israel. Three Stripes South (Bradt Travel Guides) is Bex’s account of their adventure.

The Israel National Trail is 1,000-kilometre trek that includes a dangerous trek through the Negev desert, and this is the trek that Bex and her husband gave up everything and head to Israel and complete the arduous trek in searing temperatures.

Bex has had to this point very little in the way of experience in trekking this sort of distance but after years of seeing dreams becoming stifled, she knew that there needed to be change and to find herself and regain the confidence that sometimes only the wild outdoors can bring. Nature as they say is an incredible cure. So now Bex found herself booking airline tickets. Just that little click, and her life was about to change for ever. Now the 1,000-kilometre trek lay ahead of her. Like a pebble tossed into a pond and watching the ripples spread outward, this was how this incredible trek, and its effect had her confidence and self-esteem. Just the thought of the trek through the desert is an incredibly brave thing to do when you do not have the experience. But does this stop Bex and her husband, not on your life.

Bex writes with humour and passion for what she does, and how this trek has changed her life, after returning home she set up Love Her Wild and this has inspired so many people with her social media posts and just reading Three Stripes South is inspiring. You will want to buy yourself a pair of walking boots and head off.

You can almost feel the heat of the sun from the pages, it is an engaging read, and I really enjoyed the adventure.

You can find more about Bex Band through her Twitter page @Bex_Band

216 Pages.

My thanks to Bex Band and Bradt Travel Guides for the review copy of Three Stripes South by Bex Band Published by Bradt Travel Guides on 6th August     2021 and is now available through Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

A Short History of Russia: From the Pagans to Putin by Mark Galeotti

A Short History of Russia: From the Pagans to Putin by Mark Galeotti

Summary:

Can anyone truly understand Russia? Let one of the world’s leading experts show you how, using the fascinating history of a nation to illuminate its future.

Russia is a country with no natural borders, no single ethnos, no true central identity. At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it is everyone’s ‘other’. And yet it is one of the most powerful nations on earth, a master game-player on the global stage with a rich history of war and peace, poets and revolutionaries.

In this essential whistle-stop tour of the world’s most misunderstood nation, Mark Galeotti takes us behind the myths to the heart of the Russian story: from the formation of a nation to its early legends – including Ivan the Terrible and Catherine the Great – to the rise and fall of the Romanovs, the Russian Revolution, the Cold War, Chernobyl and the end of the Soviet Union – plus the arrival of an obscure politician named Vladimir Putin.

My Review:

When we think of Russia, we think of the Russian Revolution and more recently the Cold War. The world’s largest country has quite a history and how Mark Galeotti manages to keep it to under 210 pages is a real feat, but in A Short History of Russia: From the Pagans to Putin (Ebury Press) he manages this really well.

This is not a book the delves deeply into Russian history there are many books already out in bookshops that cover this but what Mark Galeotti brings us is a concise history of the rulers and from tsars to Communist Party leaders, of course there are the wars, and they are covered here. It is impossible to cover just about every aspect of Russian history. What I did like was the various timelines at the beginning of each of the eight chapters and there are photographs along the way and there are suggestions for further reading if you want to explore the various subjects.

But most of all I really enjoyed Mark Galeotti’s writing style, I found it easy to follow and really engaging. As you reach the climax of the book we get to the end of the USSR and then on to the rise of Putin. Which you could well write a whole book on.

All in all, this for anyone who has an interest in history and even politics I would happily recommend.

208 Pages.

On Friday the 8th October, we welcome back the Cheltenham Literature Festival and in-person book events.

Mark Galeotti will be attending the festival as part of the Understanding Russia event with details below:

Monday 11th October 2021. 10:30am for tickets to the event Understanding Russia:

https://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/literature/whats-on/2021/l092-understanding-russia/

The 2021 Cheltenham Literature Festival returns to live in person events this year. For further information on all events taking place over the next two weeks:

https://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/literature

#CheltLitFestival

My thanks to Sofia Sagir (Midas PR) for the review copy of A Short History of Russia by Mark Galeotti.

A Short History of Russia by Mark Galeotti is published by Ebury Press 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

Follow the Cheltenham Literature Festival Blog Tour

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

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