The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare

Horatio Clare’s excellent book “The Light in the Dark” is out in paperback today. I read it last year in hardback, but wanted to mention it again as the paperback is released, as it was one of my standout books of 2018. It’s a timely read as although as the subtitle suggests this is A Winter Journal, it starts in the last days of Autumn and finishes in the first days of Spring.

It’s a tale of feelings and emotions and mental health and mental wealth, stories of the author’s family both in times of joy and pain, observations of the world both rural and urban and the passage of time across those darker months.

I can’t emphasise how much I like this book, it is so incredibly well written, and open about the authors personal winter and such an engaging read. I sat down with my copy to remind myself one afternoon last week, and ended up finishing the book again in bed that evening.

If you’re looking for an engaging read or even something for a present for someone this Christmas then I’d recommend The Light in the Dark.

Wintering. A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt: A Review

img_20190912_150521920Wintering. A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This is Stephen Rutt’s second book this year, I reviewed his first, “Seafarers” and noted that he’d set the bar very high for himself in terms of his next book. Well, here it is and I’m pleased to say that the bar is very much maintained and possibly exceeded with Wintering.

Like Seafarers there is an element of autobiography from the author, but again this is a biography of the birds, or at least the time that they spend on our shores when visiting us from their summer breeding grounds.

Rutt interweaves his life in Scotland, as he is finishing his previous book, with his interactions and observations of the different species of geese. With visits to other parts of the UK he sees other species and in each case interweaves his observations with those of the likes of Aldo Leopold, Sir Peter Scott and others. Like Scott he also mulls the ethics hunting / eating geese and that the role of goose is more than just as wildlife – foodstuff, feathers for quilts & clothing, guard animal etc, and perhaps that a goose is for more than Christmas.

As with his previous book Rutt writes openly and his style is such that it is like being next to him when he’s in the field, he writes with skill and the observations of the geese are beautiful. As the author found, the geese are captivating and so are his descriptions of them. As I write these words a skein a dark-bellied brent geese fly over my home and I’m thinking back to the words of the book and whether there’s a black brant amongst them (something that I’ve yet to see!)

The historical research and references add depth to the story. If I have but one complaint it is that the book is on the short side and it left me wanting for more, but then wintering geese don’t visit us for long either, so perhaps that’s a reflection of their stay.

I’d also like to give a hat-tip to Elliott & Thompson Books. I’ve reviewed a number of their books this year and I am consistently impressed with the quality and beauty of their covers and bindings.

If you’re stuck for a Christmas present this year for someone who’s “into their birds”, then getting them both Wintering and The Seafarers would make them very happy, but then again why wait for Christmas!

Wintering. A Season with Geese by Stephen Rutt is published by Elliott & Thompson on the 26th September 2019

 

Book Review: Bloom by Ruth Kassinger

“Bloom – From Food to Fuel, The Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World” by Ruth Kassinger.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars.

From her own garden pond, back in time to when life began and fast forward to today where algae can be in soup, sushi and running shoes, Ruth Kassinger takes readers on a journey through the complexities, triumphs and tribulations of algae. Through many facets that most people won’t simply be aware of to those that could be fundamental to the future of the human race.

Now when I was asked to review this book, I had to confess that I already know a little about algae, I’ve been involved in microalgae projects that look to harness them to produce products of value. So this book for me is part Bus-man’s holiday but it was so much more than that. It is truly mind expanding, regardless of how much you already know – or think you know. Whether the author is talking about the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), microalgae, or macroalgae (seaweeds), there is just so much information you’ll probably end up wondering how you never heard of a lot of this before, and perhaps why.

It’s extremely well written, and in a style that is engaging from first page to last, and if you think the subtitle might be a little over-the-top, then prepare to have that illusion shattered. The author clearly knows her subject and her first hand research has taken her to many places that many people won’t know exist or perhaps won’t have even considered that they have a connection to algae, but as you read you’ll realise that some pretty well known brands are investing in algal technologies and that many others probably should be.

I particularly enjoyed the parts on food and fuel, expanding my culinary knowledge, and gaining a better understanding of why some projects and companies pivoted their business models the way they did. The untapped potential in some areas is still huge, but timing or political will can be everything

This is science writing at it’s most engaging and rewarding for the reader, whether scientist themselves or just plain interested in widening your knowledge.

The book also comes with some recipes at the end for algae (mostly seaweed) dishes, which is a really nice touch (although I haven’t had a chance to try any of them out yet, I’m planning to).

Bloom – From Food To Fuel, The Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World by Ruth Kassinger is published by Elliott & Thompson Books on 4th July 2019.
(Published as “Slime” in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

About The Author: Ruth Kassinger writes about the intersection of gardening, history and science. In addition to her several books, Ruth has written for the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Health, National Geographic Explorer and other publications. Find her online at: www.ruthkassinger.com

Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book to review.

The Seafarers – A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt: A Review

Last week I was sent a copy of Stephen Rutt’s first book – “The Seafarers – A Journey Among Birds”, by the publishers, Elliott & Thompson.

It was an unexpected surprise and “The Seafarers” is one of those great joys of a book that is part autobiographical of the author, biographical of the birds he writes about and full of information and detail of those birds. Be they the charismatic Puffin or the extinct Great Auk the author writes a treatise on each and every bird he sees on his journey, and their homes and habitats.

Stephen Rutt has written a lyrical and delightful story, it is a book written from the heart and takes the reader to the homes of the birds where the author has been as part of his career and where he has escaped to, away from a more hectic life. He writes delightfully about each of the species he encounters, some that will be very familiar to the reader, but possibly many that won’t be and in each case he writes so that we all become familiar with each one. He makes the facts and details of those species accessible to the reader in such a way that it is easy to loose oneself in the story and picture each bird for it’s own character.

The book is also full of references and sources so that the reader can also look further for those species that capture their imagination or want to know more about – I found myself tapping in urls to look at other details of species. I know that I’ll be returning to this great book to reread the sections on those species that are close to my heart, but also as a point of wider reference to other species.

I look forward to reading the next book from this author, although I acknowledge that he has set his own bar very high.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

From The Publisher:

In 2015 Stephen Rutt escaped his hectic, anxiety-inducing life in London to spend seven months at the bird observatory on North Ronadlsay, the most northerly island in the Orkney archipelago. His time there among the seabirds changed him.

The Seafarers is published on 23rd May 2019 by Elliott & Thompson.

About The Author:

Stephen Rutt is a writer, birder and naturalist. He studied on the literature and environment MA at Esses University and has written for Earthlines Magazine, Zoomorphic, The Harrier, Surfbirds and BirdGuides amongst others. As a teenager, he interned with Birdguides.co.uk and in 2015 he spent seven months at the bird observatory in North Ronaldsay. Stephen lives in Dumfries and The Seafarers is his first book.

Revisiting “Under The Rock” by Benjamin Myers

I first read “Under The Rock” last year when it came out in hardback and it has now just come out in paperback from Elliot & Thompson Books.

At the time I first read it I wrote:

Very much a book of the landscape, nature and the human interface I read most of this in just over a day. It was over too soon, and I know it’s a book that I am likely to revisit again and again. It’s also shaped how I look at the world now, giving me a different lense through which I see things.

Under The Rock was one of my top books of 2018 and the publishers have asked me if I would revisit my previous review which I’m pleased to do as it has given me a chance to reread the book – perhaps a dangerous thing to do, because will the book be the same second time around? Well I’m pleased to say that it was, and perhaps more so, as although the writing was familiar and I remember large parts of the book, there are also things that I don’t remember or missed first time around. This time my read took me a little longer giving me more of a chance to absorb the telling.

The book is essentially autobiographical about the period in the authors life when he moves to Mytholmroyd from London and begins to explore his new home. His walks and discoveries mean that the book is also biographical about his new location, it’s history, former and current residents. The “Rock” of the title is the overshadowing (Hathershelf) Scout Rock and the authors tales are interwoven around its presence. They are of nature, social history, character tales and stories of the surrounding areas, the moors, Myer’s dog Cliff and of course The Rock. The book arcs back through time but also brings it right up to date with the serious flooding the area suffered in the mid-decade.

It’s hard to put into words that do this book justice but it remains one of my favourite books. To be able to write about a place in such a way that it comes to life for the reader is a gift and the author’s gift to the reader is in turn and incredible book. I recommend this book to anyone, and if you haven’t read it already go track down a copy (or scroll down to see how you can get your hands on the one that I have to giveaway).

About The Author (From the publisher)

BENJAMIN MYERS was born in Durham in 1976. He is a prize-winning author, journalist and poet. His recent novels are each set in a different county of northern England, and are heavily inspired by rural landscapes, mythology, marginalised characters, morality, class, nature, dialect and post-industrialisation. They include The Gallows Pole, winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and recipient of the Roger Deakin Award; Turning Blue, 2016; Beastings, 2014 (Portico Prize For Literature & Northern Writers’ Award winner), Pig Iron, 2012 (Gordon Burn Prize winner & Guardian Not The Booker Prize runner-up); and Richard, a Sunday Times Book of the Year 2010. Bloomsbury will published his new novel, The Offing, in August 2019.

As a journalist, he has written widely about music, arts and nature. He lives in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, the inspiration for Under the Rock.

Giveaway

The publishers have kindly given me a paperback copy of Under The Rock to giveaway to readers of this blog. If you’d like to be in with a chance to win this, simply leave a comment below (the email address you use to comment with will be the one I contact you on if you win, but won’t be published). I’ll draw one winner from random from all of the comments that are present after 12th May 2019 and contact the winner by email for their postal address. If the winner doesn’t respond within 7 days, I’ll redraw. My decisions are final.

(Please note if this is your first time commenting here, I will need to approve your comment. If it doesn’t appear straight away, don’t worry.)

TWTW # 14 – A Scorcher

It’s Bank Holiday Monday as I write this, and I’m a little bit later than usual sitting down to think about what’s happened in the last week. Essentially a short working week for most with the long weekend around Easter and quiet for me as I am waiting for my client to respond regarding a report. He has responded and is taking a wider view across his organisation before giving formal comments.

It’s been getting progressively warmer all week with the weekend turning into quite a scorcher and I’ve been doing quite a bit allotment and garden wise, while I’ve had the time. I’ve sown some lettuce seed as individual plugs – some for my Mum’s garden and the remainder as back-ups for the allotment. I’ve potted on some tomatoes and have got some more seed to sow a few more plants.

I’ve also started off my runner beans. Garden lore says that you should sow your runner bean seeds on the first Bank Holiday in May and plant them out on the second one, so these are a little early but that might not be a bad thing as they were covered in a little mould which I washed off and they seem to be okay – not soft or any obvious other damage other than the mould – so if they don’t grow I’ll have time to get some more.

My car was MOT’d and serviced at the beginning of the week. It passed and so there’s nothing further to do until next year or unless there’s a problem.

Wilson was also back at the vets for his next round of tests – we’re awaiting the results.


I’ve been reading “The Way Home – Tales from a Life Without Technology” by Mark Boyle, essentially the stories of the author when he completely gave up technology, including electricity and other mains utilities, living on an island near Ireland. I’m not that far in, but I’m enjoying it so far.

Slightly ironically I’m reading it on my Kindle.


I’ve also  got  the  (re)review  of “Under  The  Rock” coming  up next weekend with the chance to receive a copy of the paperback.



Been watching the new season of Bosch on Amazon over the weekend, it’s another great season of the show, and it’s great that such high quality tv can be be made to this standard – thoroughly recommended! If you’ve read Michael Connelly’s “Two Kinds of Truth”, it’s mostly based on that.


The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw (Book Review)

The Pull of the River – A journey into the wild and watery heart of Britain by Matt Gaw 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Hardback & ebook: Available now

Paperback: Publ. 21st February 2019

Matt and his friend James set off in a homemade (by James) canoe to explore the rivers and waterways of Britain. The canoe named the “Pipe”, and a smaller craft “Pipette” that Matt later buys “at mates rates” to do some solo exploring, take the pair on some entertaining adventures.

The two initially naive canoeists learn fast from their experiences and mistakes to become more experienced waterman and along the way explore both the slower and faster pace of the watercourses they encounter, as well as the conflicts between users and the natural environment that they at times literally occupy. It doesn’t pull any punches with some of their experiences either. It isn’t just a gentle exploration of the natural environment. There is plenty of evidence as to how we as the human race have adapted, altered and spoilt this essential element of the natural world.

The book has a well researched backstory drawing on the likes of Stevenson, Roger Deakin and others to tell some of the history, myths and facts of the rivers that they set out to explore. It has at times almost poetic prose in describing the natural world; the Barn Owls, Kingfishers, Otters, Beavers and even the infamous “Nessie” (spoiler: there’s no sighting).

This is the authors first book, and I would have loved it to continue on some of the rivers that I am more familiar with. If you are a lover of books about nature, or waterways then you’ll enjoy it too. Similarly if you have an interest in canoes, although not if you are expecting a lot of technical details or long explanations of the building of the Pipe.

[Disclaimer: I was sent an advanced copy of the paperback version of The Pull of the River by the publishers in return for a review. I have received no payment for this review, and the thoughts are my own.]