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      Something Wicked This Way Comes...   10/09/2019

      The Autumn Supporter Giveaway!       Welcome to the very first of the seasonal BCF supporter giveaways! This month also marks one year since I took on the forum, so I want to say an extra huge thank you to all of you for keeping this place going. I have a little bit more to say about that later but, for now, let's get to the giveaway!     The Autumn Giveaway winner will be getting two Penguin Little Black Classics, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe and To Be Read At Dusk by Charles Dickens. Both of these little books contain three atmospheric short stories, perfect for autumnal evenings. The winner will also get Mary Shelley tea (a lavender and vanilla black tea) from Rosie Lea Tea's Literary Tea Collection (https://www.rosieleatea.co.uk/collections/literary-tea-collection) and a chocolate skull, to really get that spooky atmosphere .   and...   A special treat for a special month. The winner will choose one of the following recent paperback releases from the independent bookshop Big Green Bookshop:       The Wych Elm by Tana French A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan Melmoth by Sarah Perry The Familiars by Stacey Halls  The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White   The winner will be chosen via the usual random selection process in one week. Patreon supporters are entered automatically. If you aren't a patreon supporter but you'd like to join in with this giveaway, you can support here: https://www.patreon.com/bookclubforum.   I really hope you're all going to like this introduction to the seasonal giveaways. It's been a lot of fun to put together. Other chocolate skulls may have been harmed during the selection process…     
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chesilbeach

Claire's Wainwright Prize challenge

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1 hour ago, chesilbeach said:

Before the list was announced, I'd been thinking I wouldn't bother this year, as I'm very close to finishing the English Counties, and I've done a lot of reading off that challenge this year, and I wanted to start reading books I've picked up here and there on offer or on impulse at the bookshop, but when I saw the list and started looking at the books, I couldn't resist!

 

 

I know what you mean.  One reason I got stuck into the last books on the English Counties challenge was just that: having had my surge last year, I wanted to start reading other books I'd picked up over the last few months (including some of both year's Wainwright lists!), which is a bit what I'm doing at the moment (although I do have the US States to kickstart, and a couple of others that I'm already involved in).  Good luck with finishing off the Counties - you're almost there, especially now you've got past the Cronin! 

 

BTW, I did very much enjoy Landskipping, which looks like one of those from last year you didn't get around to - so I can recommend it.  I've got the other one, Weatherland, on the bookshelf read to read too!

 

Edited by willoyd

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50 minutes ago, willoyd said:

BTW, I did very much enjoy Landskipping, which looks like one of those from last year you didn't get around to - so I can recommend it.  I've got the other one, Weatherland, on the bookshelf read to read too!

 

I definitely still intend to read Landskipping, but having had a quick browse through Weatherland, I'd decided to give that one a miss (although I can't actually remember why now! :doh:)

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Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss

 

Synopsis

Can Britain make room for wildlife? Stephen Moss believes it can. 

The newspaper headlines tell us that Britain’s wildlife is in trouble. It’s not just rare creatures that are vanishing, hares and hedgehogs, skylarks and water voles, even the humble house sparrow, are in freefall. But there is also good news. Otters have returned to the River Tyne; there are now beavers on the River Otter; and peregrines have taken up residence in the heart of London. Stephen Moss travels the length and breadth of the UK, from the remote archipelago of St Kilda to our inner cities, to witness at first-hand how our wild creatures are faring and ask how we can bring back Britain’s wildlife.

 

Review

I decided to start this years selection with this book, as I liked the fact that it starts with an optimistic premise.  One of the capacities we have as humans is to understand the impact we've had on the natural world, and in some cases, try to put it back to how it should be, and in some cases, just the simplest actions can have astounding results, and prove that, at times, nature can recover itself.

 

Taking a different environment in each chapter, Moss talks about his own personal experience of a particular memory, trip or even his own garden of the current situation with regards to wildlife and plant life in that setting, and then looks at some successful programmes to help recover lost habitats and with that the species that have disappeared from the area or our nation as a whole.  He talks about how we have affected the area whether that be damage to the land, change of purpose, use of chemicals and the like, and what we need to do to encourage the return of the missing inhabitants.

 

He also touches on non-native species that have become native, such as the grey squirrel, and also what happens when top predators are removed from the environment and cause over population of some species, such as deer in Scotland, and whether we should consider removing or reducing the numbers of these species to allow the native wildlife to return.

 

There's a lovely, easy-going feel to the writing, and it's a very companionable read, and I read it in a couple of sittings.  There are some topics that I was already familiar with while others were new, but I enjoyed the balance so that it never felt preachy or dictatorial about what we should do, but gave me hope for the future that we are already undoing some of the damage we've done to our natural world in Britain, and there are postives moves afoot to do more, but it does require action and consideration to not just charge in with short term wins, but measured thought to make sure that we change things for the long term.

 

My rating: 8/10.

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On 6/6/2017 at 8:10 AM, Janet said:

Some good sounding books there.   I like the sound of The January Man (I think I've looked at it before - and has @poppyshake or someone read it?)  :)

 

On 6/6/2017 at 10:33 AM, chesilbeach said:

 

Yes, I'm sure I've heard of someone reading it, and I think you might be right that it was Kay.  I have high hopes for that one at least!

Yes .. it was me! :D I enjoyed it, some parts more than others but, on the whole, great read! 

 

Edit: If either of you want to borrow it you're welcome .. I'll bring it with me next time we meet :)

Edited by poppyshake

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Foxes Unearthed: A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain by Lucy Jones

 

Synopsis:

As one of the largest predators left in Britain, the fox is captivating: a comfortably familiar figure in our country landscapes; an intriguing flash of bright-eyed wildness in our towns.

Yet no other animal attracts such controversy, has provoked more column inches or been so ambiguously woven into our culture over centuries, perceived variously as a beautiful animal, a cunning rogue, a vicious pest and a worthy foe. As well as being the most ubiquitous of wild animals, it is also the least understood.

In Foxes Unearthed, Lucy Jones investigates the truth about foxes in a media landscape that often carries complex agendas. Delving into fact, fiction, folklore and her own family history, Lucy travels the length of Britain to find out first-hand why these animals incite such passionate emotions, revealing our rich and complex relationship with one of our most loved – and most vilified – wild animals. This compelling narrative adds much-needed depth to the debate on foxes, asking what our attitudes towards the red fox say about us – and, ultimately, about our relationship with the natural world.

 

Review:

I'd had my eye on this book for a while, as I first saw it in hardback and wanted to read it, but had put it on the wishlist until it was released in paperback, so seeing it on the long list made me realise I definitely needed to read it!

 

I liked the way the book had been split into chapters which covered different aspects, for example, there's one on the fox throughout British history, and another on the nature of foxes and their role in the food chain as a top predator.  I'd been intrigued before the start how it would deal with fox hunting, and I pleased to say there were two chapters covering this, one from the perspective of the hunt and then alternately, one from the anti-hunt leagues and saboteurs.  Lucy Jones grew up in a family that supported hunting but is now against it, so it's impressive that she managed to write from both sides objectively, although I think it's inevitable that it does tend to focus on the extreme ends of the spectrum.  It's incredible to believe that the current government are looking at reinstating hunting.

 

One other thing to mention is that the paperback edition is beautiful.  Good quality components make all the difference to the experience of reading a book, and there's a very tactile feel to the cover, which has almost a textile feel to it, with a beautiful cover design and some absolutely beautiful illustrations on each chapter header page.  A thing of beauty.

 

A very enjoyable read, although I thought the two chapters on the hunting aspects were quite hard going at times, and I would have preferred more focus on the fox rather than the people, but still a very worthwhile book to read.

 

My rating: 9/10

 

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The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel

 

Synopsis:

Traditional ploughland is disappearing. Seven cornfield flowers have become extinct in the last twenty years. Once abundant, the corn bunting and the lapwing are on the Red List. The corncrake is all but extinct in England. And the hare is running for its life.

 

Written in exquisite prose, The Running Hare tells the story of the wild animals and plants that live in and under our ploughland, from the labouring microbes to the patrolling kestrel above the corn, from the linnet pecking at seeds to the seven-spot ladybird that eats the aphids that eat the crop. It recalls an era before open-roofed factories and silent, empty fields, recording the ongoing destruction of the unique, fragile, glorious ploughland that exists just down the village lane.

 

But it is also the story of ploughland through the eyes of man who took on a field and husbanded it in a natural, traditional way, restoring its fertility and wildlife, bringing back the old farmland flowers and animals. John Lewis-Stempel demonstrates that it is still possible to create a place where the hare can rest safe.

 

Review:

Oh, how I loved this book!  For me, it was the perfect blend of farming, wildlife, history, memoir, language and nature.  It was a fascinating story of the author attempting to recreate the wild flower wheat field of bygone years, and without the use of any agrichemicals to see if he could bring back wildlife that is often missing from our farmlands nowadays, and in particular, the hare.

 

I loved everything about it, the writing is wonderful, the history of ploughing was interesting, and the comparison of the wildlife in the experimental field to the large, industrial arable field next to it was fascinating.  I tried to force myself to put the book down between chapters and think about it, but within minutes, I was often picking it up again, and only having other things I needed to do made me put it down, otherwise I would have read it through in one sitting.

 

If you enjoy nature writing, I can't recommend this highly enough.  It's going to take a lot to beat this as my favourite in the long list and I've only read three of the twelve so far!

 

My rating: 10/10

 

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Glad you loved it Claire.  So did I - can only agree with everything you say!

 

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On 6/11/2017 at 11:05 PM, willoyd said:

Glad you loved it Claire.  So did I - can only agree with everything you say!

 

 

Thanks!  I haven't started the next Wainwright book yet, and it's definitely sticking in my head.  It makes me wish I could have seen Flinders in all its glory.

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The short list was announced this week, and there are seven books selected:

 

Love of Country by Madeleine Bunting

The January Man by Christopher Somerville

The Otters' Tale by Simon Cooper

The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel

The Wild Other by Clover Stroud

Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel

Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss

 

I've read the ones in bold so far, and they're actually my favourite three of the five I've read, so that's a good start! :D  I'll be starting The Otters' Tale tomorrow too. 

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The January Man: A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville

 

Synopsis:

In January 2006, a month or two after my father died, I thought I saw him again – a momentary impression of an old man, a little stooped, setting off for a walk in his characteristic fawn corduroys and shabby quilted jacket. After teenage rifts it was walking that brought us closer as father and son; and this ghost of Dad has been walking at my elbow since his death, as I have ruminated on his great love of walking, his prodigious need to do it - and how and why I walk myself.

 

The January Man is the story of a year of walks that was inspired by a song, Dave Goulder's The January Man. Month by month, season by season and region by region, Christopher Somerville walks the British Isles, following routes that continually bring his father to mind. As he travels the country – from the winter floodlands of the River Severn to the lambing pastures of Nidderdale, the towering seabird cliffs on the Shetland Isle of Foula in June and the ancient oaks of Sherwood Forest in autumn - he describes the history, wildlife, landscapes and people he encounters, down back lanes and old paths, in rain and fair weather.

 

Review:

There's no doubt for me that this is a well written book, and I enjoyed reading it, with some great descriptions of the landscape, observations from the different walks, and showing that sometimes, with difficulties with weather or circumstances, there are times when you just want to get to the end of the day. I could certainly empathise with those rough days when the pub beckons at the end of the walk!

 

The problem I had was that I didn't feel there was enough coherence between the chapters. Each of the walks was interesting, and the ongoing story of the authors relationship with his father and how they walked together was woven throughout the book, but I didn't always get the feeling that I knew why he'd chosen the walks he had other than from the map, in that they continued on the route around the country - was that enough to justify the walk? There's also a problem with the subtitle of the book, "A Year of Walking Britain", as of all the walks taken only one was in Wales, and one was partially in Scotland, and everything else was in England, so I felt a bit shortchanged in the locations of the walks from the title.

 

So, it's not my favourite but it's also not my least favourite of the year, but I think I'd wait until I'd read all the books before making up my mind whether it would make my short list this year.

 

My rating: 8/10

 

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Love Madness Fishing by Dexter Petley

 

Synopsis:

Soon after Dexter Petley began writing down his observations of people on the borders of rural Kent and Sussex during the 1960s and 1970s, he realised that his stories were acquiring a broader significance. Between the riverbank where he taught himself to fish and the secondary modern where gardening and smallholding were on the curriculum, he witnessed the lives of a demobbed generation who were still adjusting to post-war Britain, surviving hand-to-mouth, eking out a living mending cars, recycling scrap metal or hop-picking. This fractured landscape, carried like an heirloom since boyhood, has allowed Petley to untangle the fragments of his own life, from the loss of his first love to the nomadic existence he has been living ever since, in London, Africa and France. Here is an unsentimental memoir of exceptional quality. Reminiscent of Laurie Lee and H.E. Bates, each story is peopled by vivid, earthy characters who gravitate around the lakes and ponds and rivers that have flowed through Dexter Petley's life.

 

Review:

Hmm. I've been struggling to thing what to write about this book. It wasn't a difficult book to read, and there were some beautiful passages in there, but on the whole, I felt it a bit of a chore. I never felt any connection to the author or his family and friends as he discussed them. I couldn't relate to his experience of school and growing up, and I didn't really understand the fishing side of things, getting confused about what type of fishing he was attempting at time, and the names of the rods and what that meant eluded me. I'm sure there will be an audience of readers for whom this book would be a completely different experience, but I'm afraid it just didn't engage me, and it's been my least favourite of the books on the longlist so far. I've rated it seven, but over time (and after reading other books on the list), I'm inclined to drop it to 6/10, but this rating is about my enjoyment of the book only.

 

My rating: 7/10

 

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The Otters' Tale by Simon Cooper

 

Synopsis:

When Simon Cooper bought an abandoned water mill that straddles a small chalkstream in southern England, little did he know that he would come to share the mill with a family of wild otters. Yet move in they did, allowing him to begin to observe them, soon immersing himself in their daily routines and movements. He developed an extraordinary close relationship with the family, which in turn gave him a unique insight into the life of these fascinating creatures.

 

Cooper interweaves the personal story of the female otter, Kuschta, with the natural history of the otter in the British Isles, only recently brought back from the brink of extinction through tireless conservation efforts. Following in the footsteps of Henry Williamson’s classic 1920s tale Tarka the Otter, readers are taken on a journey through the calendar year, learning the most intimate detail of this most beautiful of British mammals. Cooper brings these beloved animals to life in all their wondrous complexity, revealing the previously hidden secrets of their lives in this beautifully told tale of the otter.

 

Review:

Now this was much better! Simon Cooper's style for this book was to write the story of a family of otters who lived near his home, but to tell it from the otters' point of view. It could have been a fine line between keeping it realistic and anthropomorphising the personality of the individual otters as he talks about them, but he does a fine job of keeping them the wild animals they are and attempting to interpret his observations of their lives into a coherent tale, that almost reads like a novel but with natural history occasionally added to the mix.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading every single page of this book. When I think about it, I do have to wonder just how much artistic license has been taken in order to make the story of the family of otters flow. Otters are notoriously difficult to observe, and while they lived in close proximity to the authors home, he must have had to imagine some of the aspects, and used his knowledge from observation and from scientific studies and other books in order to complete the story of this family. There are certainly a lot of books listed at the back which the author has read and referenced, and at the end of the day, the end result of his research is to write a captivating tale of the otter in the modern world, so I guess it doesn't really matter, but it did make me wonder if this was nature writing or novel writing. Regardless, it was an incredibly engrossing book.

 

My rating: 9/10

 

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A Sky Full of Birds by Matt Merritt

 

Synopsis:

Britain is a nation of bird-lovers. However, few of us fully appreciate the sheer scale, variety and drama of our avian life. From city-centre hunters to vast flocks straight out of the Arctic wilderness, much-loved dawn songsters to the exotic invaders of supermarket car parks, a host of remarkable wildlife spectacles are waiting to be discovered right outside our front doors.

 

In A Sky Full of Birds, poet and nature writer Matt Merritt shares his passion for birdwatching by taking us to some of the great avian gatherings that occur around the British isles – from ravens in Anglesey and raptors on the Wirral, to Kent nightingales and Scottish capercaillies. By turns lyrical, informative and entertaining, he shows how natural miracles can be found all around us, if only we know where to look for them.

 

Review:

Although I love spotting birds in the garden or when we're out, and I love hearing the dawn chorus on my way into work during the spring months, I would never consider myself a birdwatcher. What I loved about this book, was that the author made me realise that I can be a birdwatcher without being one of the people (often referred to a "twitchers") who will travel hundreds of miles to see a rare sighting of a bird and tick if off their list. This book is all about appreciating the amazing spectacles of birds that can be found in and around the British Isles, from the more well known, such as the murmurations of starlings at dusk, through to close to fourteen thousand of pink-footed geese at dawn in Norfolk.

 

Matt Merritt is the editor of Bird Watching Magazine, so birds are a big part of his life, but he describes how he came to love birds as a young boy, and then they got a bit forgotten during his teenage years, but after a doctor recommended walking to relieve chronic back pain, he started to take note of the birds and his passion has grown from there. As well as the birds, you get to appreciate the different type of birdwatchers, from the casual (like me), to the more dedicated who have a good set of binoculars and take pleasure in the observation of birds, through to the obsessives who will travel many miles for a view of a rare bird that they can record and mark off their list of all the birds in their county, country, continent or even the world, and how all can have their own appreciation of these creatures. The combination of his own experiences with the descriptions of the birds makes for a wonderful read, and would definitely have made my shortlist this year.

 

My rating: 9/10 (but I might raise this to a 10/10 on reflection)

 

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The Nature of Autumn by Jim Crumbly

 

Synopsis:

In autumn nature stages some of its most enchantingly beautiful displays; yet it's also a period for reflection, melancholy even, as the days shorten and winter's chill approaches. Taking in September to November, Jim Crumley tells the story of how unfolding autumn affects the wildlife and landscapes of his beloved countryside. Along the way, Jim experiences the deer rut, finds phenomenal redwood trees in the most unexpected of places, and contemplates climate change, the death of his father, and his own love of nature; thus painting an intimate - and deeply personal - portrait of a moody and majestic British autumn.

 

Review:

Aargh, what a frustrating book this was to read!  I love autumn, so I was eagerly looking forward to reading this book.  It started very promisingly, with the author looking at the natural world of autumn in his local surrounding in Scotland.  And then the author starts referencing his previous books, which I found a bit annoying at first, and then it got more annoying as it went on.  I kept reading and that seemed to stop until I get to the second half of the book and he starts referencing and paraphrasing things from earlier chapters of this book!!!  It felt like it was an ongoing conversation with himself, rather than a book for an outsider to read, and I found it stopped me in my tracks every single time.

 

What was so frustrating was that there were moments of outstanding writing, and beautiful observations.  There's one incident he witnesses two ravens working together to steal a piece of fish from a juvenile herring gull which was so perfect in its observation and description that it put a huge smile on my face, and made me realise it was worthwhile read, even if I couldn't get on with the self referencing throughout.

 

Glad I read it, but would be towards the bottom of the list for me out of the books I've read so far.

 

My rating: 7/10

 

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Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel

  

Synopsis

Where Poppies Blow is the unique story of the British soldiers of the Great War and their relationship with the animals and plants around them.

This connection was of profound importance, because it goes a long way to explaining why they fought, and how they found the will to go on. At the most basic level, animals and birds provided interest to fill the blank hours in the trenches and billets - bird-watching, for instance, was probably the single most popular hobby among officers. But perhaps more importantly, the ability of nature to endure, despite the bullets and blood, gave men a psychological, spiritual, even religious uplift.

 

Animals and plants were also reminders of home. Aside from bird-watching, soldiers went fishing in village ponds and in flooded shell holes (for eels), they went bird nesting, they hunted foxes with hounds, they shot pheasants for the pot, and they planted flower gardens in the trenches and vegetable gardens in their billets. It is in this elemental relationship between man and nature that some of the highest, noblest aspirations of humanity in times of war can be found.

 

Review:

I really, really wanted to love this book, as John Lewis-Stempel's other book on the shortlist, The Running Hare, is still my favourite of the books on this years prize list.  Unfortunately, and this is definitely the fault of the reader, not the writer, I just couldn't get on with it.  I don't like biographies where there are lots of names and dates referenced, and this book is packed full of similar facts.  I can completely understand that it is crucial to give the proper credit to all the men who are referenced and quoted, and giving their full name, rank and regiment or squadron is essential, but as a reader, every single time I came across one of these, it stopped me in my tracks.  There's another problem, again it's my fault, not the authors, but there's quite a lot of poetry and verse quoted, and again, I just don't get on with poetry.  I don't know why, but I just don't get it - I find it hard to find the rhythms and the meter or the words, and I find it hard to read. 

 

I feel terrible for being so negative, as I'm convinced it's down to me, not the author and his writing.  The role of the land in the psyche of the British armed forces was fascinating to read about, and I loved the chapter on the birds.  I struggled a lot through the chapter on horses, and found the chapter on lice, vermin and parasites unreadable.  Another issue for me, which I found strange as I'm usually a statics person, is the constant reporting of the numbers and statics of various facts, as again, it just took me out of the reading, as I can't just read 4,038,913 as an approximate number, I have to read the whole number and think about how many that is ... now that is probably the intention, to make the reader really think about the impact of the facts they're being presented with, but again, I found it just took me out of the text all the time.  I have to admit, skim reading some pages and skipping over poetry and names by about half way through.

 

I'm so sorry I had such a strong reaction to this book, and I'm sure other readers will appreciate it for the quality writing that is present, but I'm afraid for me, it wasn't an enjoyable experience.  My rating is based on my enjoyment and I did enjoy some of the writing, particularly about the birds, but without that chapter, it would have been an even lower score.

 

My rating: 6/10

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Love of Country by Madeleine Bunting

  

Synopsis

Few landscapes are as iconic as the islands off the north-western Scottish coast. On the outer edge of the British Isles and facing the Atlantic Ocean, the Hebrides form part of Europe's boundary. Because of their unique position in the Atlantic archipelago, they have been at the centre of a network of ancient shipping routes which has led to a remarkable history of cultures colliding and merging. Home to a long and rich Gaelic tradition, for centuries their astonishing geography has attracted saints and sinners, and stimulated artists and writers, inspiring awe and dread as well as deep attachment.

Over six years, Madeleine Bunting travelled north-west, returning again and again to the Hebrides, exploring their landscapes, histories and magnetic pull. With great sensitivity and perceptiveness, she delves into the meanings of home and belonging, which in these islands have been fraught with tragedy as well as tenacious resistance.

The Hebrides hold a remarkable place in the imaginations of Scotland and England. Bunting considers the extent of the islands' influence beyond their shores, finding that their history of dispossession and migration has been central to the British imperial past. Perhaps more significant still is how their landscapes have been repeatedly used to imagine the British nation. Love of Country shows how their history is a backdrop for contemporary debates about the relationship between our nations, how Britain was created, and what Britain has meant - for good and for ill.

 

Review:

This is probably the book most focused on the travel writing aspect of the prize, and with an eye on landscape more than the natural world.  The stories of the Hebrides and their history through the ages from both the point of view of the people who live there, those who bought and sold them, and the connection to the British Isles and its history, were an engrossing read for me.  There's a compelling argument that for those hardy souls who live in these pretty isolated communities that there is a strong link with their own land, and that brings a sense of belonging.  It certainly made me think about whether I have that same connection with my home, and whether with my tenuous link to any land, as such, gives me the same sense of home and belonging.

 

A mix of tales of wealth, poverty, art, literature and community, bring to life the history of these small islands and I found it hard to put down, in fact, I read it in a single day.  I can imagine this being a strong contender for the prize and am not surprised to find it on the short list.

 

My rating: 9/10

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Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham

 

Synopsis:

An introverted, unusual young boy, isolated by his obsessions and a loner at school, Chris Packham only felt at ease in the fields and woods around his suburban home. But when he stole a young Kestrel from its nest, he was about to embark on a friendship that would teach him what it meant to love, and that would change him forever. In his rich, lyrical and emotionally exposing memoir, Chris brings to life his childhood in the 70s, from his bedroom bursting with fox skulls, birds' eggs and sweaty jam jars, to his feral adventures. But pervading his story is the search for freedom, meaning and acceptance in a world that didn’t understand him.

Beautifully wrought, this coming-of-age memoir will be unlike any you've ever read.

 

Review:

I was not expecting the style of writing in this book.  Packham recalls his childhood as a series of essays, written mostly in the third person, and often putting himself in the mind of others he came in to contact with.  There's no chronological order either, but we skip about between various incidents that are recalled, but each have some link to the creatures (be they live and in the natural world or dinosaurs that were also an obsession) that had an impact on this introverted young boy.  There are heartbreaking stories to read, but there are also uplifted stories to, but at the end of each chapter there is also a conversation with the grown up Packham trying to explain and understand how his childhood affected the man he grew up to be.

 

The writing is great, and the style makes it feel almost like a novel at times, but because of the constantly shifting timeframe, I did find it a bit difficult to follow and each time had to try and figure out how old he was during each section.  What is never difficult to follow is the impact of nature on his childhood, and some of the descriptions of his interactions with the natural world are wonderful, although sometimes surprising compared to our modern day sensibilities around subjects such as egg collecting.

 

What you won't find, however, are any stories after school age, so there's nothing about his journey from the young boy obsessed with animals to becoming a specialist nature broadcaster.  This is purely about the childhood that was lonely and isolated from friendship with other children, but rich with a concentrated fascination with the natural world, and an insight into how this affected him.

 

My rating: 8/10

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I haven't managed to review my last book on this years longlist, but I will try and get around to it soon.  However, I did finish reading the entire longlist before the prize winner was announced, which I was really pleased with!

 

My favourite this year was The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel, which I thought was pretty damn near perfect as a nature book.  I had three joint second favourites - A Sky Full of Birds by Matt Merritt, The Otters' Tale by Simon Cooper and The Wild Other by Clover Stroud.  Apart from A Sky Full of Birds, all my favourites were shortlisted, so I was in with a good chance, but the judges went with John Lewis-Stempel's other shortlisted book, Where Poppies Blow as the winner.  Personally, I didn't get on with it, but I can appreciate his writing - obviously, since I picked his other book as my winner! - and this is his second win in three years and the prize has only been going for four years. :D

 

I wasn't sure if I'd try to read them all again this year before the longlist was announced, but I have to say, on the whole, it's been a most enjoyable summer of UK nature and travel writing, and I think this may become an annual event for me.  This year, I'm going to try and get ahead of the game and read some more potential nominees before the announcement of the longlist, and I've asked other people on social media who also read the books for recommendations, so I have a nice list building ready for Father Christmas, assuming I've been a good girl this year ;).

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I loved The Running Hare too.  I gave last year's winner, The Outrun, 6* when I read it last year, and wondered why I originally 'only' gave TRH 5* (excellent, but not quite a favourite at that point).  My mini-review written when I read it in May last year might explain:

 

Beautifully written account of a year turning a field in the midst of barren agribusiness in Herefordshire back to traditional farming methods, and the dramatic and immediate effect it had on the wildlife.  I'd have enjoyed it even more if the quotes had been less chunky - I sometimes wondered who was meant to be the writer, which was a pity as I usually preferred the author's own words.  A message of hope before it's too late - but we must be on the cusp in some places. 

 

Having said that, I later upgraded to a six - it had certainly got under my skin, quotes or no quotes! 

I can thoroughly recommend The Seabird's Cry by Adam Nicolson - will be very unhappy if it's not short-listed, especially having given it a six as well!  Most of my other nature reading this year has been of older books (Sightlines, Sea Room, The Sparrowhawk's Lament etc), but one other recent publication I've read is Richard Smyth's A Sweet, Wild Note.  I enjoyed it, and do recommend it as a good read (4*), but it's not quite a Wainwright contender for me.

 

 

Edited by willoyd

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