Monthly Roundup – November 2021

november

There have been positives this month. I’m going to try hard to focus more on the positives.

Husband and I spent the first weekend of November in the Lake District. Despite the wet weather we had a lovely few days away. We climbed a mountain, walked around several lakes and ran a Parkrun in nearby Ambleside as tourists. We also enjoyed lots of lovely food. Naturally, Edward, my adventuring teddy bear, accompanied us. I wrote about his exploits in Edward Explores: Grasmere.

Edward had further adventures locally. I posted about these in Edward Explores: Fungi. Included is a family meal out to celebrate what should have been daughter’s second graduation, which she could not attend. We are so proud of all her achievements.

Daughter and I attended a ‘gig’ in Bath, visiting Toppings Bookshop on its reopening day. I wrote about this here.

Time has also been spent at the two gyms I frequent, with longer, loopy bike rides taken to get there – so cold at this time of year. I continue to run regularly and beat my personal best at our local Parkrun – pleasing given the course has now turned muddy and therefore slippery following recent weather. After much procrastination, I finally contacted a friend I used to walk with weekly and arranged to meet after many months of no communication. It was good to catch up with her news – we now hope to get back to walking together more regularly.

Hockey season is in full swing so the other members of my family come and go between training sessions and matches. As two of them also work shifts, it is a rare treat to all sit down to eat together.

I posted reviews for 8 books in November. Robyn added her thoughts on a further 2 books.

As is customary in these roundups, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

learwife  Emperor-of-Ice-Cream
Learwife by JR Thorp, published by Canongate
The Emperor of Ice Cream by Brian Moore, published by Turnpike Books

small things
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, published by Faber & Faber

Short Stories

building a wall  colchester writenight
No One Has Any Intention of Building a Wall by Ruth Brandt, published by Fly on the Wall Press
Colchester WriteNight, published by Patrician Press

Translated Fiction

Brickmakers   Byobu
Brickmakers by Selva Almada (translated by Annie McDermott), published by Charco Press
Byobu by Ida Vitale (translated by Sean Manning), published by Charco Press

Translated Non Fiction

intimate resistanceThe Intimate Resistance: A Philosophy of Proximity by Josep Maria Esquirol (translated by Douglas Suttle), published by Fum d’Estampa Press

Robyn Reviews

1tad  1susa
Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson, published by Orbit
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, published by Bloomsbury

Sourcing the books

Robyn purchased her usual pile of pretty hardbacks, none of which she has yet found time to read…

robyn books november  robyn trilogy november

I received a pleasing quantity of books through the post and also made some purchases while at the Toppings gig.

IMG_20211127_175140341

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. Your continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Monthly Roundup – October 2021

october

October has been another month of marking time. Is this what life is to be now – limited social interaction and staying mostly local? At least the lack of travel and associated consumption means less environmental pollution.

I am enjoying the photographs various friends are posting online as they return to travelling abroad. I feel a hint of regret and nostalgia but am happy they are finding ways to navigate the myriad and ever changing rules now in place around the world. I am also grateful that I live amidst beautiful countryside. I can appreciate this from my doorstep.

There have been highlights. Younger son finally secured a job and is now a ‘key worker’. It is part time but he picks up occasional extra shifts to add to his contracted hours. Daughter should have graduated this month but only the former students would have been allowed in the venue so opted not to attend. In the event she was working nights again so a good call. We celebrated as a family a few days later with dinner at a local restaurant. Our young people have missed out on so many milestones that would have been observed more lavishly in former times.

Husband’s calf injury is healing and he has managed a few short and easy runs recently with no ill effects. I continue to run several times a week. At one of my weekly Parkruns I cracked the 28 minute barrier, setting a new personal best for the course. I also set a PB over the half marathon distance, although this run required several days recovery. I am in awe of anyone who can run a marathon or longer.

My cycling has become less enjoyable as the weather turns autumnal, although I did purchase a pair of windproof gloves that have helped keep me more comfortable. Most rides eventually lead to the town gym where I strength train – these workouts are showing gradual improvements. Setting and then ticking off personal goals helps with motivation but are, I realise, unimportant in the scheme of things. We take what we can.

My teddy bear post this month saw Edward out and about locally – those interested may read Autumn.

It has been a mostly decent reading month. I posted reviews for 8 books in October. Robyn added her thoughts on a further 2 books. The non fiction titles I read inspired me to write a personal post, On Mattering.

As is customary in these roundups, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

case study narrow door
Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet, published by Saraband
A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris, published by Orion

Translated Fiction

bureau  winter flowers
The Bureau of Past Management by Iris Hanika (translated by Abigail Wender), published by V&Q Books
Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve (translated by Adriana Hunter), published by Peirene Press

Occupation
Occupation by Julián Fuks (translated by Daniel Hahn), published by Charco Press

Short Stories

dead relativesDead Relatives by Lucie McKnight Hardy, published by Dead Ink Books

Non Fiction

northern irish writing  aurochs and auks
Northern Irish Writing After The Troubles by Caroline Magennis, published by Bloomsbury Academic
Aurochs and Auks by John Burnside, published by Little Toller

Robyn Reviews

1naom  1kate
The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik, published by Del Rey
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, published by 4th Estate

Sourcing the books

Robyn purchased her usual pile of pretty hardbacks. Now all she needs is some time between long work shifts to read them.

robyn received october 21

I was delighted to receive a fine stack of books and am looking forward to picking up many of these.

jackie received October 21

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. Your continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Monthly Roundup – September 2021

september

The mostly settled weather throughout September has enabled me to get out and about locally each day – to exercise alone as I still fear socialising may be fraught with strongly held opinions and brusque castigations. I am marking time in this way as so many lockdown restrictions remain – in people’s heads even if no longer legislated. The media continues to whip up fear that fits their agenda, with few readers appearing to dig deeper. It is hard not to despair at the apparent lack of critical thinking and bullying nature of so much commentary. Facts on issues remain a challenge to access if off message, with name calling endemic. So much of the science will not be provable until properly researched over years. The sociological and psychological effects already appear chilling.

September saw the reopening of the local gym and swimming pool I had been a member of for years before it closed its doors in March 2020. Although I have continued to run and cycle outside throughout lockdown, I missed my strength training, hence why I joined a town gym when access to such facilities was granted again. I don’t understand why it took so long for my original gym to reopen to former members but, now that this has been rectified, I am very glad to be back to regular swimming (my long unused muscles beg to differ). I am, however, considering whether I can continue to justify two gym memberships. The strength training equipment is much more extensive at the town gym but attending both feels decadent.

In addition to my local runs, I have continued to enjoy weekly Parkruns since they restarted. Husband and I attend these together, although he tore a muscle in his calf fifteen minutes into his first hockey match of the season so has since been volunteering as a marshal while I lollop around the course. I was pleased to beat my personal best time mid month. Some weeks I push hard and others I simply enjoy joining in.

Husband’s hockey may have been curtailed but our boys still train and play – for different teams this season which can make transport logistics interesting. Daughter has been working nights and then weekends so has yet to play a league game.

Younger son continues to apply for jobs – a frustrating process when everything is online and not all links provided work. He has been offered two interviews thus far, neither of which he could progress due to inoperative booking systems and a lack of contact details to be found to raise the issue.

For my fellow teddy bear fans, the month included two updates in my occasional series, Edward Explores. These were, A Happy Birthday and London in the Time of Covid.

Edward’s adventures in London occurred because I was invited to a party – an actual in-person literary event where people chatted and enjoyed themselves in a fine venue. I wrote about the evening here: Launch Party for Dreamtime by Venetia Welby.

Following this, husband and I talked of arranging another trip away, to a remote location rather than a city while access to attractions remains limited. We are, however, reluctant to book anything much in advance due to the threat of sudden changes to restrictions. We have no desire to travel abroad at this time but a short UK break would be welcome once his injury heals.

I have been pleased to note that businesses are starting to state whether behaviours such as mask wearing will be expected at events. It makes arranging attendance – or avoiding – an informed choice. For this reason I will not be at the Marlborough Literature Festival next weekend – a shame as I enjoyed this in previous years. I assume they are catering for what the majority want and that makes economic sense.

I posted reviews for 7 books in September. Robyn added her thoughts on a further 5 books. I also posted an author interview, gleaning some interesting background from Sam Reese whose latest book of short stories I reviewed.

As is customary in these monthly posts, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

passage north  Some Rise By Sin cover
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam, published by Granta
Some Rise By Sin by by Siôn Scott-Wilson, published by Deixis Press

passing of formsThe Passing of the Forms That We Have Loved by Christopher Boon, published by époque press

Short Stories

stories tell children  distant ridgeline
Stories We Tell Our Children by Marc Nash, published by Lendal Press
On A Distant Ridgeline by Sam Reese, published by Platypus Press

Translated Short Stories

song of youth
The Song of Youth by Montserrat Roig (translated by Tiago Miller), published by Fum d’Estampa Press.

Poetry

sun is open
The Sun Is Open by Gail McConnell, published by Penned in the Margins

Robyn Reviews

1lind  1tori
The Second Rebel by Linden A. Lewis, published by Hodder & Stoughton
The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino, published by Titan Books

1tjkl  1marg
Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune, published by Tor
Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson, published by Simon & Schuster Children’s

1alexThe Winter Garden by Alexandra Bell, published by Del Rey

Sourcing the books

Robyn has made many purchases this month, including three copies of the same book and a third copy of her favourite story of all time (The Night Circus). She now earns her own money so who am I to ask questions?

Robyn received september 2021

I also received a generous stack of enticing titles. I am eager to read each of these.

Jackie received September 2021

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. Your continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Monthly Roundup – August 2021

august

August has been a better month. After so many months of hard to suppress negativity it feels good to write that.

We have eaten out twice, both venues making us feel welcome. The first was a delayed celebratory meal for younger son’s 21st birthday at our local pub. A couple of weeks later we celebrated my birthday with a meal at a local town restaurant which was delightfully busy and buzzing – I was served one of the tastiest fish dishes I have ever eaten.

Hockey training has restarted and all three of my children have signed up for the new season. They have also met up with friends for drinks and various more active pursuits. Daughter and younger son both hosted small gatherings of friends – our guest room was occupied for the first time this year. It has been lovely to see and overhear everyone enjoy themselves.

My boys drove to Cardiff to clear younger son’s unused university accommodation after he opted not to pay for a further year of remote learning. Whilst sad that his higher education has been such an expensive let down, with the decision made he can now move forward. He is currently applying for jobs. These do not appear to be as readily available as the media makes out.

Daughter is settling in well at her new hospital job. We are all still adapting to life as a family of five adults living together after so many years of term time absences.

For my fellow teddy bear fans, the month included another update in my occasional series, Edward Explores. There are more planned adventures to come.

I posted reviews for 8 books in August. I was also delighted to host a guest review by fellow Bookmunch contributor (and editor), Valerie O’Riordan. Robyn added her thoughts on a further 4 books.

As is customary in these monthly posts, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

echo chamber  angels of L19
The Echo Chamber by John Boyne, published by Doubleday
The Angels of L19 by Jonathan Walker, published by Weatherglass Books

dreamtime  an island
Dreamtime by Venetia Welby, published by Salt
An Island by Karen Jennings, published by Holland House Books

Translated Fiction

Elena+Knows
Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro (translated by Frances Riddle), published by Charco Press

Non Fiction

goshawk summer  beethoven
Goshawk Summer by James Eldred, published by Elliott & Thompson
Beethoven by Laura Tunbridge, published by Penguin

Guest Review

things are against us
Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann, published by Galley Beggar Press

Poetry

bent for the jobBent for the Job by Mick Guffan, published by Tangerine Press

Robyn Reviews

1fari  deeplight
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, published by Usborne
Deeplight by Frances Hardinge, published by MacMillan Children’s Books

1pdje  1silv
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark, published by Orbit
Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, published by Jo Fletcher Books

Sourcing the Books

Robyn was impressively restrained in her book buying this month, adding only one hard copy to her TBR pile.

book received robyn august

I on the other hand, added many more than I managed to read (I shall use my birthday as an excuse).

books received jackie august

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. Your continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Book Review: Goshawk Summer

goshawk summer

“Ultimately, just how compatible are concepts such as commoners’ rights, unfettered public access and commercial logging, with the encouragement and protection of biodiversity?”

Goshawk Summer: A New Forest Season Unlike Any Other, by James Aldred, was written from field notes the author kept while filming a family of goshawks in the spring and summer of 2020. An experienced wildlife cameraman internationally, Aldred was happy to return to what had been his childhood stomping ground during the first lockdown. As the rest of the world retreated he was able to fully appreciate the creatures of the New Forest and how they behaved when freed from the invasions of people. And then lockdown ended and the public, restless from many weeks of confinement and with few other options, returned to the forest in barely manageable droves.

Aldred’s observations are measured and candid. He films with the help of New Forest Keepers who grant him access to areas where they know the various creatures he seeks are breeding. The author may grow exhausted from the 3am starts and days spent ankle deep in water but footage captured provides him with a new perspective on the forest – its visitors and inhabitants.

“Humans are sensory beings, we all want to feel alive to prove we’re not wasting our short time on this planet, and I find the best way to connect with the here and now is to step into trees and give myself over to the wonder, curiosity and joy that they evoke. They help remind me of who I am, where I’ve come from and where – ultimately – we are all going.”

The New Forest is very much a managed environment, even if now mostly aiming to conserve its biodiversity. There is much in this book on species under threat from multiple sources. Ground nesting birds can have their nests trodden on by careless walkers or disturbed by curious off the lead dogs. When numbers of a bird species decline, their ability to fight off predators as a team effort becomes less viable. Aldred does not focus entirely on goshawks through their breeding season. He also observes amongst other creatures: lapwings, a Dartford warbler, curlews, dragonflies, a family of foxes. He notes not just their behaviours but also the conditions they require to survive. People are an obvious threat to survival but certainly not the only one. For all its endearing beauty, this is nature and it is brutal. In rearing their chicks, goshawks must hunt for the food they require to grow.

“It’s almost impossible to identify most of the corpses that arrive on a goshawk nest, especially since the male usually plucks and butchers them beforehand. It’s like trying to recognise an animal from the inside out.”

To capture his required footage, the author sets up a hide in a tree, fifty feet above ground. On filming days he then brings in his expensive camera equipment, all without scaring away the subjects who are well aware of the dangers man poses. Adult goshawks are particularly wild and wary, and could choose to go elsewhere if a threat is deemed too great. Each arrival and departure must be carefully planned by Aldred to be minimally disruptive.

The forest during lockdown was alive with creatures venturing out where they would normally avoid. The author muses on how amazing this was while recognising his own invasion and the privilege of being there to observe. In the outside world there is fear of dying. The forest is also a scene of regular quietus.

“We tend to celebrate springtime as a joyous period of awakening, fecundity and new beginnings: the season of life. And so it is. But its easy to forget that springtime is defined by death just as much. The pressure placed on parents to bring back a never-ending supply of food results in nothing short of a seasonal killing spree. We just don’t tend to see it”

When lockdown is eased and visitors return, the killing of creatures on the busy roads is added to the more nature driven death toll. Many of the people arriving have little idea how to behave in the forest, risking barbecues on tinder dry surfaces, organising raves and leaving behind litter or other environmental damage. Locals grow incandescent with rage as verges are parked on. Fear of disease being imported leads to othering.

Just as many of the people arriving are not New Forest natives, neither are many of the creatures the author observes. Species of raptors that were once common have been hunted to extinction – many regarded them as vermin. Their cousins exist in the forest now thanks to reintroductions. Goshawks were returned in 2000 and appear to have established a foothold – at a cost to those they feed off.

“you have to accept that when you bring these things back – just like goshawks themselves – it will have an impact. But how do you know what’s the norm? … chuck a new species back into the mix it’s obvious others are going to suffer”

The author welcomes the greater variety of creatures and despairs of the species in decline. He ponders how much man should be doing to bring nature into line with whatever is currently perceived as desirable.

“I believe that a little space goes a long way and sometimes all we really need to do is take a step back to let nature do its thing. A helping hand is sometimes welcome, but to think that nature needs constant micromanaging smacks of hubris and to my mind simply reflects our generally elevated sense of self-importance.”

He returns to this theme when filming dragonflies that thrive in and around a mire.

“Dragonflies have lived in perfect harmony with the planet for [280 million years], while the way we treat it makes me sometimes wonder whether we are as sentient as we like to believe.”

Aldred’s knowledge and appreciation of his surroundings are inspiring and instructive. I was, however, somehow pulled up short when he described a visit to a couple who raise birds of prey in captivity. This is done for the purpose of training them to fly alongside a camera. The author states that these birds make regular appearances in David Attenborough documentaries. While much of the footage is skilfully captured wild animal behaviour, it appears some is staged – and this disappointed me.

Not that such revelations are a reflection on the book. It is simply another nugget shared by a man whose work brings life in the wild to a wider audience. If changes are to be made to protect the wild creatures, people must be made aware of the dangers modern developments pose. Goshawk Summer offers a fascinating window into the lives and habitats of many forest visitors and dwellers, and their complex interrelationships. Man doesn’t need to be banned from the benefits of existing alongside but rather to be educated in how to minimise the damage currently wreaked by rapacious usage.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Elliott & Thompson.

Monthly Roundup – July 2021

july

Today would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary. It seemed an appropriate day to finally scatter their ashes. Sadly, once again, I won’t be joining my sister to share in this act of remembrance. Guidelines for travel are still too unsettled, with uncertainty around rules for last minute testing and vaccination. Despite the supposed lifting of restrictions earlier this month, many businesses continue to mandate mask wearing. My social media feeds are exuding anger against those who show their faces in enclosed settings. To the righteous, it seems, being exempt is a poor excuse for what they regard as endangering others. I do not wish to risk enforced cancellation or confrontation.

And so, July has seen little change in my locked down life. Daughter started her new job meaning three family members now come and go thanks to gainful employment. Younger son read the proposed rules for students in the coming academic year and, realising his final terms at university would likely remain on-line, has opted not to return. He has still to clear out the expensive room he has been renting in Cardiff, that he has spent just the one afternoon in – to deliver his belongings when he was told there would be in person teaching, last September. What a waste of borrowed finance.

We have been doing our best to find entertainments. In an attempt to be upbeat I wrote a second instalment in my teddy bear series: Edward Explores – Lockdown Life. I continue to run, cycle, and visit the gym for strength training. Parkrun finally restarted and, in our delight at the opportunity to run alongside others after a 70 week hiatus, both husband and I achieved personal bests at the first event. I also ran my first half marathon distance of the year, again achieving a personal best time.

I posted reviews for 9 books in July – all worth reading. Robyn added her thoughts on a further 10 books.

As ever in these monthly posts, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

siphonophore  Source
Siphonophore by Jaimie Batchan, published by Valley Press
Source by Rosemary Johnston, published by Story Machine

Translated Fiction

forty lost yearsForty Lost Years by Rosa Maria Arquimbau (translated by Peter Bush), published by Fum d’Estampa

Poetry

white eye needle
White Eye of the Needle by Chris Campbell

Non Fiction

where  things are against us
Where? Life and Death in the Shropshire Hills by Simon Moreton, published by Little Toller
Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann, published by Galley Beggar

white spines  unwell women
White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector by Nicholas Royle, published by Salt
Unwell Women: A Journey Through Medicine and Myth In a Man-Made World by Elinor Cleghorn, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson

corpsing
Corpsing: My Body and Other Horror Shows by Sophie White, published by Tramp Press

Robyn Reviews

1aewa  1aide
Subject Twenty One by A. E. Warren, published by Del Ray
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, published by Swoon Reads

1rach  1seve
The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin, published by Sourcebooks Fire
Seven Deaths of an Empire by G. R. Matthews, published by Solaris

1camr  1shel
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett, published by Penguin
She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, published by Tor

1chuc  1jenw
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig, published by Del Rey
Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams, published by Harper Collins

1kath  1nkje
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, published by Solaris
The City We Became by N. K. Jemison, published by

Sourcing the Books

Robyn is on NetGalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She also received a good number of hard copies, gifted from publishers or purchased.

robyn books july 2021

My book post included several titles I have reviewed already, along with a generous number of additions to my TBR pile.

jackie received July 2021

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. Your continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Edward Explores – Lockdown Life

edward bbq

Welcome to another post keeping you up to date with how life is treating a small (but perfectly formed) teddy bear named Edward Gainsborough. When this series was introduced last month, Edward had been hoping to be out and about on exciting adventures by now. Sadly, the lifting of lockdown restrictions was postponed meaning he is still confined to his house and garden. He has, however, been working hard at keeping his bearers’ spirits up as much as is possible – a task teddies are particularly adept at.

When, for a brief period at least, the sun came out and temperatures rose, a cheering barbeque was requested. Edward enjoys barbeques. He and his good friend, Al (a build-a-bear companion made for youngest bearer) took their sunglasses and deck chair into the garden to watch an exciting table tennis match while food was cooked on flames – they stayed well back from those. Edward particularly enjoyed the chocolate stuffed banana he was given, eating it all up before it could be photographed – yum!

new bear - Helga

It is always an exciting day when a new bear comes to live at Edward’s house. Helga (a Steiff bear from the Netherlands) brought with her a tulip and a small companion who had kept her company in the box they travelled such a long way inside. Edward introduced her to all her new friends, whose names she cleverly committed to memory. She is a lovely addition to the sleuth and gives excellent hugs.

When the weather turned damp, Edward suggested a pancake night – something that brings his bearers together, drawing them out from their private spaces within the house. They listened to music and talked about football, a sport Edward was to learn a great deal more about in the weeks ahead.

pancake

With the need to find entertainments at home, the recent European football competition has provided a welcome distraction. Edward joined his bearers to watch the Scottish match, although that team’s supporting bears wanted to know where their flag was. They also wondered how to turn the big television on – in their excitement they had arrived a tad early for kick-off. Teddy bears are, of course, very patient but were keen to learn what exactly footballers did and why this was so exciting.

Although Edward’s bearers shout a lot at the players – something a quiet bear would never do – he was pleased to note that they seem to enjoy themselves, especially when their team wins the match.

football 1  football 2

There was also a birthday to celebrate this month, which required cake. The chocolate orange creation didn’t last long but was declared delicious by the young bearer it was made for. Edward agreed.

patrick cake

More football was watched and goodies eaten in celebration of the England team’s continuing success. The bears enjoyed sharing the edible balls provided. They may need more time to master the skills required to make use of the one they were provided with to kick.

football 4  profiteroles (2)

Limited as they are to home entertainments, Edward is pleased to see his bearers interest in the sporting action, even if it is only on a screen. He wishes the England team good luck in the final. He is hoping a win might result in much joy for his bearers, and perhaps another celebratory cake.

football 3 (2)

Monthly Roundup – June 2021

june

I have found June tough. For all the talk of lifting restrictions it seems conditions may be imposed that I personally regard as untenable – a choice to conform or accept pariah status. I am beginning to think I will not be able to make overnight trips or even go out socially in the foreseeable future. If this is to be my life – confined, repetitive and blamed for not acquiescing to the demands of believers – I find myself questioning its worth.

Day follows day and I put myself through the motions. I cycle, most often ending up at the gym where I lift weights. I run on local tracks and lanes. I deal with dishes and laundry, trying to stay on top of things for my family. I remind myself of our many privileges.

We celebrated younger son’s 21st birthday at home with cake, champagne and a takeaway. He seemed pleased with his presents. His future plans remain uncertain. I still don’t know if he will wish to return to university, especially now campus students may be required to adhere to a plethora of personal interventions. Another year learning from home would be a lonely existence.

Daughter finished her final stint working the wards in London and has now also moved home. She purchased her first car that she may commute to the job she starts in a few weeks. I am so very proud of all she has achieved but can see she finds living with us full time frustrating after her taste of independence.

Husband and elder son seem in a better place, their jobs providing structure and purpose alongside contact with colleagues.

On the blog, at the request of a reader, I started a new series that will feature one of my many teddy bears – Edward Explores. I am thinking this will be a monthly endeavour. It has proved a much needed injection of fun during what feels a particularly bleak period.

Sorry for being so negative – I hope you are doing better.

I posted reviews for eight books in June before going on hiatus. Robyn picked up the slack, posting fifteen reviews.

As ever in these monthly posts, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

ever rest  whereabouts
Ever Rest by Roz Morris
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri, published by Bloomsbury

Everything Happens
Everything Happens for a Reason by Katie Allen, published by Orenda

Translated Fiction

yesterday
Yesterday by Juan Emar (translated by Megan McDowell), published by Peirene Press

Short Stories

intimacies
Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell, published by Faber & Faber

Poetry

owl unbound the heeding
Owl Unbound by Zoe Brooks, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing
The Heeding by Rob Cowen (illustrated by Nick Hayes), published by Elliott & Thompson

Non Fiction

screaming sky
The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster (illustrated by Jonathan Pomroy), published by Little Toller

Robyn Reviews

1alex  1hann
These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy, published by HarperCollins
For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten, published by Orbit

1cari  1sach
Threadneedle by Cari Thomas, published by HarperVoyager
The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, published by HarperVoyager

1tash  1avar
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, published by Orbit
The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid, published by DelRey

1acwi  1juli
Wendy Darling by A. C. Wise, published by Titan Books
Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa, published by HQ

1emmi  1wahe
Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta, published by Harper Voyager
In the Wars by Dr Waheed Arian, published by Bantam Press

1case  1joan
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, published by St. Martin’s Griffin
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He, published by Text Publishing

1mile  1yoko
Artifact Space by Miles Cameron, published by Gollancz
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada (translated by Susan Bernofsky), published by Granta

1jorDon’t Breathe a Word by Jordyn Taylor, published by Harper Collins

Sourcing the Books

Robyn is on NetGalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She also received a good number of enticing titles, gifted from publishers or purchased.

Robyn received june

I received an eclectic selection of books in the post this month and look forward to reading them all.

june books received

As ever I wish to thank the publishers who send me their titles to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. Your continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Book Review: The Heeding

the heeding

The Heeding is a poignant and powerful poetry collection written by Rob Cowen and stunningly illustrated by Nick Hayes. It reflects on the year following the first COVID19 lockdown and will serve in the time to come as a reminder of when the world changed profoundly – how we lived lives altered in previously unimaginable ways. The poems capture the concerns and frustrations of families required to deal with the challenges of: house arrest, homeschooling, a ban on visiting their cared for elderly. It provides an evocative reminder that nobody will live forever.

“They are staring into a child’s eyes, wondering at the storm that’s coming.
How they might put themselves between what they love and everything”

The author is father to young children and his worries centre on them. He reflects on his own childhood and the lessons learned and valued from his parents and grandparents – often appreciated only in hindsight. He was taught to heed what was around him, particularly in nature. He now wishes to pass this valuable skill on to the next generation.

The poems have a depth that belies the ease with which they may be read. Incidents recounted are often everyday yet have an impact, a value, in the connections they engender.

Solidarity on a Saturday Night is a short poem about neighbours lighting up their backyards and somehow feeling together without the need to meet. This Allotment reflects on a humanity that is possible when people are accepting of difference in looks or creed – willing to offer practical advice and their labour along with excess produce.

“When heart-sore, I often wonder if this place is
secretly a model for what should be; how things could be,
were we not so preoccupied with property”

Last Breaths took my breath away, moving me to tears. It is a heartfelt account of a man in a nursing home, dying alone of this terrible plague. He remembers aspects of his life: war, a beloved wife outlived, a daughter who died in childhood, another now banned from seeing him – to keep him safe! The illustration that goes with this poem is perfect, as are so many here. The words brought home to me, perhaps for the first time, how my own father passed away last year – hand held by a nurse in PPE.

Another particularly poignant poem is Dennis, a man taunted relentlessly by local children whose casual cruelty makes their older selves squirm. The reason for his odd tics and behaviour is heartrending.

There are poems that describe encounters with birds and other creatures along with the Yorkshire landscape where the author lives. Nature is depicted as savage as well as beautiful, teeming with life but also death. There are reflections on more human concerns – failing businesses, history, politics, fearful unease.

“These cancelled birthdays.
These bans on being together.
These redundancies, uncertainties,
limits on impulse and joy,
on movement and autonomy.”

Black Ant highlights how we may try to save a tiny creature in difficulties, but will not tolerate those that threaten the structure or safety of our dwelling and family.

Pharmacy Cake brings home the loneliness of lockdown life for the elderly it was sold as designed to protect.

“This braving of sleet and virus;
this coddling of staff, is a way to treat a pain
more mangling, more unbelievably sore
than any of us are collecting prescriptions for.”

Viking Gold is a wonderfully evocative remembrance of a stern grandmother who, in the end, offered the author a window into all she had kept in check throughout her life, just before ‘her mind unspooled towards infancy.’

“Born of bleak moor and indoctrinated patriarchy;
the dark, meagre modesties of mill town terraces.
Be grateful for the least. Repent, repress
the sin of boastful joy; let your worries be endless
lest God give you, with a clout,
something proper to worry about.”

Lockdown, with all the mental baggage it has created, has certainly given the author much to worry about. He is scathing in his opinion of those who do not take the vaccine, especially those who spread fear about side-effects, branding them murderers. I pondered how many were living with such concerns and if this will change how they interact once guidelines are lifted.

Whatever views one ascribes to on this, the collection offers much to consider along with an appreciation of the natural world that continues to turn through the seasons however man is living within. I found this thought uplifting, that we too may choose to go on, perhaps still at risk but not allowing this to rob us of the joys to be found both in our back yards and beyond.

“Be kind. Forgive. Attend and heed.
Be strong, but lead with love not power.
Look for the universe inside the seed”

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Elliott & Thompson.

Book Review: We’ll Meat Again

well-meat-again

“The owls are hooting in the afternoon again

or maybe the world is just quiet enough to hear them.”

We’ll Meat Again, by Benjamin Myers, is the third title published by the recently formed Ration Books (I review the first here and the second here). These are pocket sized quick reads intended to be: disposed of, passed on, left for other readers to find. Ration 3 is described on the back cover as ‘quarantine dream scenes disguised as fleeting poems’. In reading them I pondered if the author had been ingesting the special cookies (not that I am suggesting he indulges in such behaviour).

Myers’ trademark appreciation of nature, alongside his willingness to face down brutal realities, are injected with elements so surreal that they at times perplexed this reader. His lockdown observations are undoubtedly pithy and witty but some remained opaque even after several attempts to decipher meaning. Others honed in on tropes that garnered media attention as life grew ever more constricted. Images evoked are often playful, if morbidly so. This is not an offering that celebrates the best of what man can be in a crisis.

“A man accidentally strangles himself with the clanking chain of his sex swing

Neighbours are alerted by the black smoke pluming from his burnt sourdough”

My reaction after first perusal was to question what I had just read. Be assured, enjoyment improves with rereads. There is play on language alongside a reminder of what lockdown featured. Perhaps this work is intended as an aide-memoire for the times we have experienced over the past year.

“Keep two claps apart
and wash your metres

Social the unprecedented
extension hands.

Isolate a lockdown.
Panic immediately.”

As a literary reminder I personally prefer Jonathan Gibbs’ Spring Journal. There is, however, room on my shelves for a collection such as this that both provokes and entertains.