Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Wilding (Isabella Tree)

Tree, Isabella - Wilding

★★★★★★★

Title: Wilding
Author: Isabella Tree
Genre: Non-Fiction/Natural World Pages: 384
First published: 2018
Edition: Audio Book (& Hardback)

Forced to accept that intensive farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp in West Sussex was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to step back and let nature take over. Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer – proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain – the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade.

*

I had a feeling I was going to love this book. I love books that are about someone going on some sort of journey and learning about a subject with them. This kind of felt like that and it felt like a revelation.

As I followed this couple with a farming background return their estate in Sussex to a natural state (or as close as possible with modern rules and regulations in place) I learned what nature actually means. I discovered how manufactured what I think of as nature actually is. But what I learned most is how Mother Nature in all her glory knows exactly what is best for her. One creature’s actions can cause a chain reaction with far reaching consequences for all the creatures and plants around it. This goes for us humans, but also for a Tamworth pig or a beaver.

Of course I loved hearing about nightingales and butterflies, deer and Exmoor ponies, but surprisingly I found the passages on farming incredibly interesting. Both in how farming and government incentives have helped destroy our natural diversity and health and how changing farming practices can be our saving grace.  This book deals with a lot of environmental arguments and it made me much more aware about the world around me and how we can still turn things around. I found it both profoundly sad, but also gave me hope for a brighter future. 

I am not doing justice to this gem of a book, but if you are at all interested in nature and the environment, this is a must-read book.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: Educated (Tara Westover)

Westover, Tara - Educated

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Educated
Author: Tara Westover  Narrator: Julia Whelan
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography/Memoir
First published: 2018
Edition: Audio book

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

*

After listening to the last words of this audio book, I can honestly say that I enjoyed it. Tara’s life story is completely alien to me, but I felt her struggle as she fought to emotionally free herself from her family and upbringing.

At the same time I feel like this is not a book I would read again. Not because I did not like it, but because it did not leave a lasting impression on me. I love a good memoir, but I like to come away from them feeling like I have somehow gained something new and valuable from it and I am not sure this one did that for me.  I do not think the hype helped this memoir. It may have made me expect a bit too much.

Having said all that, I do like reading about a different life experience and listening to this on audio was the right decision, even if I did not always enjoy the accents the narrator used for the male characters. I have no complaints otherwise about the way this memoir was told.

If you are interested in listening to or reading Tara’s story, it is definitely worth your time. It just may not blow your mind.

5 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Epic Solitude (Katherine Keith)

Keith, Katherine - Epic Solitude

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Epic Solitude
Author: Katherine Keith
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir /
First published: to be published 4 February by Blackstone Publishing
Edition: e-ARC, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

‘A Story of Survival and a Quest for Meaning in the Far North’

All her life, Katherine Keith has hungered for remote, wild places that fill her soul with freedom and peace. Her travels take her across America, but it is in the vast and rugged landscape of Alaska that she finds her true home.

This book was a quite a ride, I can tell you that. It broke my heart several times over.

The first half of this memoir I was not convinced. Though I felt for the author, I could not quite connect to the writing style and I struggled with the way Katherine expressed herself. When you are reading a memoir, you want to feel connected to the person telling his or her story and this what was not happening for me in the beginning. However, I think this changed the moment she arrived in Alaska.

The second half of the book had me hooked. I cried with Katherine as she experienced her losses and rooted for her as she bravely fought to be the best she could be, both for herself and the people that needed her.

I once spent five days on a dogsled in the Arctic and it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, so reading about that part of her life brought back amazing memories and made me smile.

I feel like I have been through the wars at the end of this book, so I can only imagine how Katherine Keith must feel. I am so grateful that she shared her experiences with us, the readers. I am full of admiration for this woman.

If you are interested in stories of survival and hardship, read this book. It is worth your time!

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Botswana Time (Will Randall)

TBR - Randall, Will - Botswana Time

★★★★★★☆

Title: Botswana Time
Author: Will Randall
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Travel
First published: 2005
Edition: Paperback, published by Abacus in 2005

Through a series of serendipitious encounters, Will Randall found himself in Botswana, resuming the career as a teacher that had already taken him from an inner-London comprehensive to Poona in India.

This book was a joy from start to finish. It documents the author’s time teaching at a small school in Kasane, Botswana, and the characters he encountered there.

I love the lighthearted tone of the book, though it does touch on serious subjects such as the AIDS epidemic in Africa and racism. One thing I definitely appreciated was that the author did not shy away from calling out the racism he observed during his time in Botswana, whilst also admitting that he was not always sure how to deal with it. As we get to know the author, he shows us his incredible surroundings and the wildlife, but also the progress Botswana has made as a country since independence.

The highlight of this memoir are the Kasane Kudus, the football-mad children that he teaches, and the other characters that inhibit the town. As a reader you come to despise Dirk, the clear villain of this narrative.

This is the kind of non-fiction book that is fun to read and reads away really easily. I enjoyed it a lot and it made me want to go and visit Botswana! I will also be looking out for other books by the author.

6 out o 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Bee Bible (Sally Coulthard)

Coulthard, Sally - The Bee Bible

★★★★★★☆

Title: The Bee Bible
Author: Sally Coulthard
Genre: Non-Fiction/Natural World/Instruction   Pages: 132
First published: 2019
Edition: Hardcover, published by Anima in 2019

“50 Ways to Keep Bees Buzzing”

I was given this charming hardcover book for Christmas and I could not resist diving into it straight away.

It is full of helpful information about bees and how to help them, laid out in easy to read chapters and complimented by lovely little illustration. I will definitely try and implement some of the advice given in the future management of my garden and property to benefit and encourage bees in my patch of the world.

Although this book is based on the UK situation, equivalents will be able to be found all over the world and many of the advice applies to wherever in the world you are.

All in all, I will treasure this little book and I will definitely refer to it when I change things up in my garden come springtime.

Highly recommended. It also helps that this is simply a charming looking little book.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: A Polar Affair (Lloyd Spencer Davis)

Spencer Davis, Lloyd - A Polar Affair

★★★★★★☆

Title: A Polar Affair; Antarctica’s Forgotten Hero and the Secret Love Lives of Penguins
Author: Lloyd Spencer Davis
Genre: Non-Fiction/Biography/Adventure/Natural World   Pages: 400
First published: 2019 by Pegasus Books
Edition: e-Book, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

George Murray Levick was the physician on Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic Antarctic expedition of 1910. Marooned for an Antarctic winter, Levick passed the time by becoming the first man to study penguins up close. His findings were so shocking to Victorian morals that they were quickly suppressed and seemingly lost to history.

At the end of this book I feel like I have gained all sorts of knowledge in the best possible way. This book is not only about penguin sex (though it tells you a whole lot about that!), it is about the race for the South Pole and polar exploration and the hardships those explorers experienced. I learned that it takes a special kind of person to push those limits.

The author goes from his own research and experience in penguin biology and surviving in Antarctica to that of the first penguin biologist, Murray Levick, and the South Pole race between Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Admundsen.

This is an endlessly fascinating account about those first Antarctic explores and the animals they encountered based on their notes and diaries, but written in a clear and engaging way. Their hardships break your heart. It also looks at their lives (if they lived) after polar exploration. And of course, the author shows us glimpses into the often vulgar lives of the Adelie penguins.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in adventure or natural history.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Secret Life of Cows (Rosamund Young)

Young, Rosamund - The Secret Life of Cows

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Secret Life of Cows
Author: Rosamund Young
Genre: Non-Fiction /Zoology   Pages: 139
First published: 2003
Edition: Paperback, published by Faber and Faber in 2018

Cows can love, play games, bond and form strong, life-long friendships. They can sulk, hold grudges, and they have preferences and can be vain. All these characteristics and more have been observed, documented, interpreted and retold by Rosamund Young based on her experiences looking after the family farm’s herd on Kite’s Nest Farm in Worcestershire, England.

I was given this wonderful book by my mother-in-law. At only 139 pages it is a pretty short book that tells about the personalities of a variety of cows on Kite’s Nest Farm.

I really enjoyed meeting the cows and learning about their families and the way they interact with each other. Rosamund Young writes vibrantly and clearly has a lot of love for her subjects here.

The narrative is a bit higgledy piggledy and feels a bit all over the place and somehow I feel it would have been a more satisfactory read if it had been a bit tidier in its structure. Having said that, this little book is a delight and makes me look at our bovine neighbours in a completely different light.

I am sure this is not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it for what it was.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Best Foot Forward (Adam Hills)

Hills, Adam - Best Foot Forward

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Best Foot Forward
Author: Adam Hills
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir/Autobiography    Pages: 355
First published:  2018
Edition: Kindle e-book

Adam Hills was a quiet primary school kid with a prosthetic foot, who did all his homework and only spoke when spoken to. His dad sparked in him a love of comedy and together they’d spend hours watching and listening to the greats like Peter Sellers and Mel Brooks, so, when it was Adam’s turn to speak, he made sure he was funny.

Adam Hills is one of my favourite comedians. I love his optimism and his enthusiasm for everything he does. I picked up this book on a whim, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Adam really became a household name for himself when he presented The Last Leg during the London Paralympics in 2012. That particular event and that particular show did so much to make disability more normal and talked about. And Adam, being disabled himself (though he would say he is not) was a big part of that.

The Last Leg is still one of my favourite shows currently on television. I love how open it is about issues, whether they be politics or disability, and how it manages to make jokes about serious issues without being to crude.

This book mainly documents his journey into comedy and eventually into television and it a good read. It was interesting to read about the people that inspired him and the journey that had taken him to where he is now.

At times I wished I listened to the audio book, but actually, reading it in book format worked fine. Is it the most in-depth autobiography I have ever read? No, but it was a fun read and I had fun with it for sure.

If you like Adam Hills, I would definitely recommend this one. If you don’t like him, well, then there’s no point, is there?

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Meadowland (John Lewis-Stempel)

Lewis-Stempel, John - Meadowland

★★★★★★☆

Title: Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field
Author: John Lewis-Stempel
Genre: Non-Fiction / Nature   Pages: 293
First published: 2014
Edition: Paperback, published in 2015 by Black Swan

In exquisite prose John Lewis-Stempel records the passing seasons in an ancient meadow on his farm. His unique and intimate account of the birth, life, and death of the flora and fauna is threaded throughout with the history of the field and recalls the literature of other observers of our natural history in a remarkable piece of writing that follows the tradition of Jeffries, Mabey, and Deakin.

This is the kind of nature writing I like. It is simply observation from a farmer’s hill farm and it was a joy. I have friends who farm in Devon, whose farm is very similar to the one described in this book. It makes it very easy to visualise the setting.

We read the author’s observations in chronological order as he takes us through the months from January to December. I loved the way he talks about nature. It is full of wonder and awe without being overly flowery. He does not skim the more ugly side of nature, such as death. I realised that although I may not like reading about dead animal babies, it is part of the cycle of life and we cannot pretend it does not happen. 

I loved this easy-to-read nature diary and if you like ‘a slice of nature life’ type books, I am confident you will as well. I will be reading more from John Lewis-Stempel in the future for sure.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Tragic Daughters of Charles I (Sarah-Beth Watkins)

Watkins, Sarah-Beth - The Tragic Daughters of Charles I

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Tragic Daughters of Charles I
Author: Sarah-Beth Watkins
Genre: Non-Fiction / History / Biography Pages: 177
First published: 26 April 2019 by Chronos Books
Edition: ARC e-book, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

Mary, Elizabeth and Henrietta Anne, the daughters of King Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria, would be brought up against the background of the English Civil War. Mary would marry William, Prince of Orange, and be sent to live in the Netherlands. Elizabeth would remain in England under Parliamentary control. Henrietta Anne would escape to France and be the darling of the French Court. Yet none of the Stuart princesses would live to reach thirty. The Tragic Daughters of Charles I is their story.

This is my third biography by this author and, as her previous offerings, it has been meticulously researched and converted into a very readable book.

The timeframe of the book spans the 1600s from 1630 onwards and it is a time period I actually know hardly anything about and I have come away from reading this biography a little bit wiser as to what transpired at this time, which includes the reign of The Sun King, Louis XIV, and in fact much of Henriette Anne’s story plays out at his court.

This could have so easily been a very dry biography, but Watkins possesses the skill to convert facts consisting of letters and accounts into a coherent story of the life of these ill-fated Stuart princesses.

If you enjoy royal histories, you will probably enjoy this book and I would recommend checking out all of Sarah-Beth Watkins’ biographies (including Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots and Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife).

5 out of 7 stars