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.

Monthly Roundup – April 2021

April has been another mixed month in terms of my mood, with the underlying stress of imposed restrictions shadowing the beauty of new life bursting forth in the woods and fields where I am fortunate to live. Lockdown was eased mid-month allowing for gyms to reopen. I welcomed the return to strength training and, as well as working out alone or with younger son, have enjoyed a couple of sessions with a personal trainer. I am hoping his expertise will help ensure my form is correct, that injury may be avoided as I slowly increase the weights I am shifting. Prior to this I had been trying to improve my fitness with lengthy bike rides. I still cycle to and from the gym but no longer feel the need to pedal endless miles. Much as I enjoy cycling, the routes I use had become repetitive. Life remains tied to my local area.

With organised sport now permitted the other members of my little family have returned to playing hockey. This means I occasionally find myself alone in the house, a strange feeling after so many months of living and working in the same shared space. What had once been taken for granted has become the exception. This also applies to making small talk at the gym. The staff there are friendly but I have forgotten how to socialise, not that I was ever much good at this anyway. Lockdown has exacerbated my hermit-like tendencies.

Shops and restaurants may have reopened but do not appeal while masks are required and certain strangers’ reactions to my proximity suggest I am regarded as a biohazard. I will return to these when I am made to feel welcome. It would be lovely to have a weekend away with husband but we shall wait until hospitality venues are permitted to be hospitable again. I have said this before – it is undoubtedly a bugbear.

My family are keeping as well as can be expected under the circumstances. We had good news last week when daughter’s exam results were released. After six years at medical school she may finally call herself a doctor. She has an NHS position confirmed, enabling her to start work in the summer. We ordered a takeaway and drank quite a lot of champagne to celebrate. Many of her fellow medical students were privately educated and I feel immensely proud that she, coming through the local state school comprehensive system and with no personal contacts within the field of medicine, has achieved alongside them.

My foot injuries continue to heal and I am running more frequently and covering longer distances. During the recent fine weather this was particularly enjoyable, although even in rain I find exercise provides a sense of achievement. As a reward for my efforts I finally treated myself to new trainers. Unfortunately the wrong size was sent – the downside of online shopping.

I reviewed 13 books in April: 10 fiction (3 translated), 2 non fiction, and a poetry collection. I particularly enjoyed The High House by Jessie Greengrass so sent the couple of proof copies I had received to other book bloggers who I thought would also enjoy this tale. I am grateful to the publisher for providing me with a beautiful finished edition.

Robyn added a further 12 reviews making this a bumper month on the blog. We have both been trying to read from our TBR piles alongside new releases.

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

brood brooklyn
Brood by Jackie Polzin, published by Picador
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, published by Penguin

artist floating  every seventh wave
An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, published by Faber & Faber
Every Seventh Wave by Tom Vowler, published by Salt

skyward  the source
Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley, published by Solaris
The Source by Sarah Sultoon, published by Orenda

the high houseThe High House by Jessie Greengrass, published by Swift Press

Translated Fiction

astragal andrea victrix
Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin (translated by Patsy Southgate), published by Serpent’s Tail
Andrea Víctrix by Llorenç Villalonga (translated by P. Louise Johnson), published by Fum d’Estampa

lonely castle
Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura (translated by Philip Gabriel), published by Doubleday

Non Fiction

gone  spirit of the river
Gone by Michael Blencowe, published by Leaping Hare Press
The Spirit of the River by Declan Murphy, published by The Lilliput Press

Poetry

lover from tunisia
Ouafa and Thawra: About a Lover From Tunisia by Arturo Desimone, published by African Books Collective

Robyn Reviews

sistersong  1rv
Sistersong by Lucy Holland, published by Macmillan
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, published by Harper Voyager

ag-sl  heather
All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter, published by Titan Books
Malice by Heather Walter, published by Del Rey

iwwv-1 1tmb
If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, published by Titan Books
The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk, published by Orbit

blood  1
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, published by Macmillan Children’s Books
The Prison Healer by Lynette Nomi, published by Hodder & Stoughton

1aho 2rv-1
A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuval, published by Michael Joseph
Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, published by HQ Stories

last bear  1ar
The Last Bear by Hannah Gold, published by Harper Children’s
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint, published by Wildfire Books

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She also purchased or was gifted some gorgeous finished copies.

Robyns April Books

I received many books that I am eager to read, although I do feel sad that I am unlikely to get to them all as quickly as I would wish.

april 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: Spring Journal

“there is no joie de vivre,
None at all. It is absolutely banned.”

Spring Journal, by Jonathan Gibbs, was inspired by Louis MacNeice’s long poem, Autumn Journal, which he wrote in late 1938 in response to the impending world war. I am not familiar with this earlier work. Gibbs’ offering is divided into twenty-four cantos, written between March and August 2020. It provides a response to Covid 19, England’s first lockdown, and the summer release that was not the hoped for return to freedom.

I was eager to get hold of a copy of this book as a sort of memento of a time I felt would be a significant life event, however the future pans out. On reading I realised it offered even more than expected, mainly because it highlighted to me how all appeared to enter that first lockdown as a country united to fight an unknown threat, but quickly divided into angry, polarised units of righteously indignant opinion on how others should behave.

“And its March coming in as the last daffs are fading
And the first nasturtiums coming, blithely ignorant of the farce”

The early cantos beautifully capture the early weeks of lockdown – the strange silence of streets devoid of people and traffic; the pause that felt as though the world held its breath, even as nature continued to bring forth new life, as it has always done.

When the impact of both the pandemic and the country’s response became better understood, sides were quickly taken. Focus shifted to anger, with many blaming politicians, as happens when it is not ‘their’ people in charge.

The author acknowledges his privilege. He remained healthy, not alone, able to exercise outdoors.

There is a reminder of the protests that happened about non-Covid related issues (how quickly we forget that which does not directly affect us).

“And if the pubs and restaurants go under, what about the theatres
And galleries and concert halls?
Will we stay at home and mutter nostrums
For the benefit of our four bare walls?”

As I read this I pondered the plight of those who would never use such facilities, through lack of means or desire. A journal will obviously be deeply personal – a strength in the window it offers. The author’s response, at first so familiar, was diverging from my own.

My reaction to this divergence slammed home when Gibbs wrote of a holiday in Greece, taken when released from the first lockdown. I was reminded of the angry tweets at the time from those who still never left their homes and expected others to do the same. Even when laws are not broken there can be a form of moral outrage honing in on what matters most to each individual. I remembered those who attended raves regardless, and those who have chosen to remain under personal lockdown throughout.

“don’t ask why our spending’s more vital than our earning
Or why the economy depends
On us giving out more than we can gather back”

The underlying concern, the gnawing anxiety over future impact, comes through strongly. As summer progressed the author wrote of the young people whose future prospects became ever more uncertain. There were musings on who will bear the brunt of what will be lost.

“everything we’ve grown up to take for granted
And are losing now to toffs and spivs
Who dress like lawyers and act like thieves
And know not to waste a good crisis.”

The final canto reeled me back in as the author reflects on the future, that man’s concerns are insular, that climate continues to change.

The journal is elegantly written and offers much to reminisce over and reflect upon. I shall now put it aside to read in future months and years when what has happened may be put into context of fallout, when we have moved on to whatever must be dealt with beyond.

“it seems we have forgotten how to shout,
Or have lost our voices;
Will we get to forgive ourselves our weakness,
Our failure to act on our justified doubts?”

We are living through ever increasing state intervention on day to day behaviour. This long poem offers a reminder of how it started, how as a country we acquiesced. Worth reading for the literary quality. Recommended as an encouragement towards greater critical thinking.

Spring Journal is published by CB editions.

Random Musings: A year ago this weekend

A year ago this weekend husband and I travelled to Cardiff on a planned city break. Our younger son was at university there and we looked forward to spending time with him and continuing our exploration of the city. We had booked tables at restaurants to take him out for good feeds. We also packed running gear to enable us to take part in the Bute Parkrun on Saturday morning. For reasons financially careful husband would justify, we went by train rather than driving.

Rumours were circulating in the media of some sort of proposed lockdown – whatever that meant – in response to a virus spreading from China. When our son told us a day or so before the weekend that he was feeling under the weather we decided to bring mostly empty suitcases that he could pack what he needed for exam preparation, returning home with us for an extended Easter break. I did not like the thought of him struck down in his halls of residence, alone and unwell. Husband and I had both recently suffered a particularly nasty flu that left a lingering cough it took weeks to shake. We didn’t want our son suffering as we had without support.

The weekend did not go as planned.

Eating out on the Friday night we learned that all restaurants in the city were being closed down, effective immediately. Staff at the Bella Italia we had booked – mostly empty which was highly unusual – had been invited to help themselves to perishables from the kitchen, that would otherwise go to waste. Already the impact of fearmongering could be felt in the emptying streets that were usually thronging with loudly partying tourists.

We learned the next morning that all Parkruns had been cancelled. We ran in Bute Park anyway and were amazed by how empty everywhere felt. Streets were devoid of people. There was little sign of traffic. Our hotel was the only place that would feed us on the Saturday. Our son walked back to his halls that night through a city that had unexpectedly grown feral. For the first time he reported feeling unsafe, the homeless the only others around and they actively shouting abuse as he passed by.

It was a sunny weekend so we had walked down to the harbour area where families were enjoying the spring air. It was the city centre that felt eerie, the few people around scurrying from proximity.

We packed our son’s essentials on the Sunday, leaving his room ready for his return. Since then he has been back to Cardiff just for an afternoon, last September, to move his remaining belongings to the room booked for the next academic year. Foolishly, we believed the assurances that teaching would be happening in person rather than remotely. It didn’t happen and his rented room has served only as an expensive storage facility. Nevertheless, when the media reports of students confined to halls aired, we were grateful he remained here with us.

On the weekend of our escape – for that was how it felt at the time – we boarded a mostly empty train to Bristol encumbered by our many bags and suitcases. From there we learned that trains were being cancelled without notice, including our connection. We watched the ever changing departure boards carefully and decided to catch a train to Swindon from where we could get a bus home if necessary – assuming they were still running. In the event our daughter, who had travelled from London the day before, was able to come rescue us in my car.

And lockdown began. The reports from around the country made me thankful my little family had made it home where we could be together. I felt comforted that we had each other and lived in a rural location.

There were initial benefits. The roads emptied. The skies cleared of contrails. The weather stayed mostly fine. I own a bike and was able to enjoy long cycle rides along routes normally besieged by fast moving motor traffic. I ran regularly and built up my stamina to tackle lonely half marathons. We have long had our grocery shopping delivered and this continued, albeit with regular replacements of certain staple goods that caused more amusement than hardship. We were lucky.

The months dragged on. The lifting of the first lockdown was not a return to freedoms we had never before considered at risk. We ate out twice before deciding being treated as a biohazard spoiled the experience. I discovered that wearing a mask brought on panic attacks. I carry a lanyard announcing my exemption but being unable to read others’ expressions upsets me. The only place I felt welcome – until it was closed again – was the town gym I joined when my local facility introduced measures that made attendance unappealing.

I look back on how life has changed. With travel curtailed it feels as though we have gone back a century. It seems only the very wealthy leave their home environs – that they may still travel abroad with impunity. Meanwhile husband’s car is taken out only occasionally to ensure it still functions. We venture as far as leg power can take us.

I worry at the legal powers given to the police to ensure compliance. I wonder if these measures will be revoked when – if – we are allowed to roam free again. The latest pressures coming from on high revolve around the new vaccines. With threats of travel bans for the non compliant, and eternal mask wearing, I harbour a fear that last year’s trip to Cardiff may have been my last holiday, my last enjoyable visit to a restaurant.

The death toll has, of course, been high. On a personal level this plague brought forward the deaths of my elderly parents. What cannot yet be enumerated is the ongoing cost to the many who, for now, remain alive.

Jobs have been lost and others created – not necessarily in chosen specialisms. Fear has polarised opinion, at times dividing family and friends. Unable to get together as previously, mental health issues are exacerbated. With healthcare focusing on Covid, other potential illnesses – some of which will bring forward deaths – have gone untreated.

Husband works from home now, something he railed against at first, missing the office camaraderie. We get used to so much when choice is removed. We adapt as best we can.

I read of rats invading empty office spaces. I read of scams being run by those eager to profit from others’ fear. I hunker down and nurse the injuries my body suffers, probably from over exercise – my way of coping with anxiety induced by so many changes. I watch more TV now than I could ever have imagined – a way to fill a dark evening. As one who lived by the mantra of making the most of every day as it could be my last, this past year feels a waste of what is limited time alive.

Only hindsight will tell if the reaction to Covid has been as cataclysmic as it sometimes feels.

I wanted a memento of the year. To forget is to lose the chance to learn. I chose a book – no surprise there – and was also gifted a furry companion. My cuddly plague nurse, pictured below, never fails to make me smile.

My review of the book, Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, will be posted tomorrow. For now we continue this stymied existence through strange and concerning times.

Monthly Roundup – February 2021

February has been tough. My minor physical injuries continue to heal but not yet sufficiently to allow me to return to running or even to walk any distance. In the week just past, the cold and wet weather finally cleared to enable me to return to cycling. It is good to get outside but I still miss running more than I could have imagined before I took up the habit. It is, as far as I have experienced it, akin to an addictive, if mostly socially acceptable, drug.

My little family is keeping well although stress levels have increased notably. This has not been helped by the raising then smashing of hope that came with the government’s proposed path out of lockdown. The suggestion that mandatory vaccination or testing will be added to mask wearing in public spaces raises the spectre of being unable to eat out, take a holiday in the UK or even visit my local gym for the foreseeable future. The prospect of still being deemed a biohazard after so many months staying home leaves me questioning the freedoms we have surrendered – what a country I moved to for its tolerance and opportunity has become.

My inability to exercise each day left me with little to do other than read. Thankfully most of the books I picked up proved capable of taking my mind off the more negative aspects of the life I am currently required to live. February has been a busy month on the blog, mainly because I agreed to help promote the inaugural Barbellion Prize by reviewing the shortlist. My roundup post for this may be found here. 

I reviewed 13 books: 5 fiction (including 2 short story collections) of which 3 were translated; 8 non-fiction, 5 of which were memoirs. All of the latter chronicled the lives of people with health impairments. They were eye-opening and well written. None milked the misery but rather wrote to raise awareness of issues faced. Robyn added a further 12 reviews, a good mix of new releases and older works.

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 / Short Stories

 
Astral Travel by Elizabeth Baines, published by Salt
Like Fado by Graham Mort, published by Salt

Translated Fiction

 
Theatre of War by Andrea Jeftanovic (translated by Frances Riddle), published by Charco Press
Havana Year Zero by by Karla Suárez (translated by Christina MacSweeney), published by Charco Press

Translated Fiction – Short Stories


Nordic Fauna by Andrea Lundgren (translated by John Litell), published by Peirene Press

Illustrated


Dreamy Days and Randon Naps by Mawson, published by Odyssey Books

Non Fiction

 
The Pleasure of Regret by Scott Manley Hadley, published by Broken Sleep Books
Chauvo Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo by Sam Mills, published by The Indigo Press


Trauma: Essays on Art and Mental Health, published by Dodo Ink

The Barbellion Prize Shortlist

Four memoirs that explore the realities of living with disability and chronic health conditions.

 
Sanatorium by Abi Palmer, published by Penned in the Margins
The Fragments of my Father by Sam Mills, published by 4th Estate

 
Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer, published by Virago
Kika & Me by Amit Patel, published by Pan MacMillan

 

Robyn Reviews

 
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, published by Rebellion
The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell, published by Bantam Press

 
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth, published by Borough Press
Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, published by Orbit

 
Fable by Adrienne Young, published by Titan Books
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, published by Faber & Faber

 
To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers, published by Hodder & Stoughton
Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, published by St Martin’s Griffin

 
The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers, published by Hodder & Stoughton
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, published by Orbit

 
The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu, published by Pan MacMillan
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, published by Jo Fletcher Books

 

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She also purchased a number of hard copies, supporting: Illumicrate, Goldsboro Books, and Blackwells.

My monthly book post was both generous and interesting. It included a couple of purchases from Toppings.

 

As ever I wish to thank all 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

Monthly Roundup – November 2020

November had barely started before England was once again forced into lockdown. With gyms closed and club sports banned, life for my little family became even more constrained. Mood was not helped by the inclement weather and shortening days. There have been moments when I have felt a dearth of hope that we will ever again be allowed to travel freely. I look back on time spent enjoying restaurants and hotels with nostalgia, throwback photos on my social media platforms reminding me of good times had. Until the hospitality industry is permitted to be hospitable again – no curfews, distancing, masks or demands to use hand sanitiser – and the threat of closure at the whim of government is removed, we will not be booking nights out or time away.

To retain a degree of mental stability – until a minor foot injury late last week made it seem unwise – I had been out running three or four times a week, walking or cycling on most other days. I value our local lanes but was growing bored with the repetition. Driving further afield for the sake of variety felt like going against the spirit of what lockdown is trying to achieve. I may rail against restrictions but am trying to adhere to the rules however inconsistent the reasoning.

With gyms due to reopen this week I hope for a better December. Life is short and being made to mark time rather than enjoy what days we have left feels such a waste. Nevertheless, we count our blessings. They are abundant and I must focus on this.

I posted reviews for nine books in November (2 novels, 1 novelette, 1 short story collection, 1 short story chap book, 1 children’s fiction, 1 poetry collection, 2 works of non fiction). Most were outstanding – a good reading month. Robyn added a further eleven reviews. The eagle eyed among you will notice that we both posted our thoughts on one of the books.

Click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

 

Fiction

 
Cat Step by Alison Irvine, published by Dead Ink
Inside the Beautiful Inside by Emily Bullock, published by Everything With Words


You Ruin It When You Talk by Sarah Manvel, published by Open Pen

 

Short Stories

 
London Gothic by Nicholas Royle, published by Cōnfingō
Signal by Michael Walters, published by Nightjar Press

 

Children’s Fiction / Horror


They Threw Us Away by Daniel Kraus (illustrated by Rovina Cai), published by Henry Holt

 

Poetry


Vertigo to Go by Brendon Booth-Jones, published by The Hedgehog Press

 

Non fiction

 
My Second Home by Dave Haslam, published by Cōnfingō
Absolutely Delicious by Alison Jean Lester (illustrated by Mary Ann Frye)

 

Robyn Reviews

 
The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter, published by Orbit
Paris by Starlight by Robert Dinsdale, published by Cornerstone

 
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, published by Harper Collins
Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly, published by Hot Key Books

   
They Threw Us Away by Daniel Kraus (illustrated by Rovina Cai), published by Henry Holt
The Betrayals by Bridget Collins, published by Harper Collins

 
The Burning God by R.F. Kuang, published by Harper Voyager
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, published by Pantheon Books

 
The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapowski (translated by David French), published by Gollancz
Infernal by Mark De Jager, published by Rebellion


These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, published by Hodder & Stoughton

 

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She also purchased or received quite a number of hard copies, including several special editions.

 

I was delighted with my November book post and read a couple immediately.

December is always a quiet month for new releases so I plan to use the time to tackle my TBR pile. Robyn has decided to focus on books by one of her favourite authors – Brandon Sanderson. She wrote about her plans for a Cosmere Christmas here.

As ever I wish to thank all 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

 

Monthly Roundup – October 2020

Happy Halloween! It will be a quiet celebration this year, although I always prefer festivities to be enjoyed with just my little family around me. Daughter will not be able to join us from London where she remains busy on the wards – she did manage a visit earlier this month which we all benefited from.

For me, Halloween is about harvest, and witches – the betimes feminists who lived by their own means, often as healers, and did not kowtow to the men of their time who regarded women as chattels and brood mares. Witches were feared because they challenged rules that were clearly detrimental to a great many people. We need more of this, especially given the current situation in which we are being made to live.

The nights have drawn in and the temperatures dropped this month – hibernation beckons. I continue to visit the gym and run the local lanes but life has contracted further with the turning of the season. Husband  works from home – thankfully unaffected as yet by recent redundancy announcements – and elder son travels to his office each weekday. With masks required on public transport, I allow him to use my little car for his commute – otherwise it would remain garaged. My bike is my favoured mode of transport given I travel only short distances these days. I haven’t used any motorised vehicle in many weeks – others are obviously not so concerned about travelling widely as the roads remain busy and pictures on social media reflect outings and holidays.

University term has commenced for younger son. I am grateful he is studying remotely and living at home given the way so many students are being treated. The accommodation he had to sign up for – having had no confirmation until the last minute that he could remain here – is now an expensive storage facility for the equipment he needs when living away. We wonder if it will be needed at all this academic year.

I have read some truly excellent books this month, and received a bonanza of titles to see me through the days when inclement weather keeps me on my sofa or snug in bed. I posted 9 reviews: 6 novels (1 translated), 1 short story collection, 1 poetry anthology, 1 work of non fiction. Robyn added a further 14 reviews, including 1 in collaboration with Books2Door – I wrote about this here.

You may click on the title below to read the review, and on the cover to find out more about each book.

 

Fiction

 
Orfeia by Joanne M. Harris, published by Gollancz
Real Life by Brandon Taylor, published by Daunt Books

 
Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer, published by the common breath
A Jealous Tide by Anna MacDonald, published by Splice


The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, published by Picador

Translated Fiction


The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili (translated by Elizabeth Heighway) published by Peirene Press

Short Stories


London Incognita by Gary Budden, published by Dead Ink Books

Poetry


Chaos edited by Anna Johnson, published by Patrician Press

Non Fiction


The Secret Life of Fungi by Aliya Whiteley, published by Elliot & Thompson

 

Robyn Reviews

 
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, published by Bloomsbury
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, published by Titan Books

 
The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison, published by Rebellion
The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier, published by Angry Robot

 
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, published by Orbit
Witch by Finbar Hawkins, published by Head of Zeus

 
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, published by Orbit
Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott, published by Head of Zeus

 
There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, published by Orbit
As the Shadow Rises by Katy Rose Pool, published by Orbit

 
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (translated by Danusia Stok and David French), published by Gollancz
Northern Wrath by Thilde Kold Holdt (translated?), published by Rebellion

 
Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco, published by Hodder & Stoughton
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee, published by Rebellion

 

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She also purchased or received a number of hard copies (I’ve stopped asking her about the multiple copies she buys of beautifully bound editions).

Publishers have been particularly generous this month, with book post arriving almost daily – some purchased or requested, most offered for review. Such abundance may result in me being unable to post my thoughts on every ARC received at or around its publication date. As I am eager to read most of these books, I will get to them as soon as I can manage.

As ever I wish to thank all 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

Monthly Roundup – September 2020

Six months into lockdown and I remain amazed at how readily so many have adapted to imposed restrictions. September started with what looked to be a relaxation of mandated measures but ended with threats of hefty fines for non-compliance with stricter rules – rushed through laws applied without balanced debate. I have needed to be outside regularly to remind myself that the world is still a beautiful place.

With the passing of the autumn equinox the changing colours on the trees can be admired. I crunch through fallen acorns and horse chestnuts on many of the local trails I frequent. I have continued my thrice weekly gym visits for strength training – cycling to town and back whatever the weather. I was grateful for our Indian Summer, although the marked increase in car traffic suggested others were going further afield to enjoy the sunny days.

Daughter came home for a short visit at the beginning of the month, when we were still hopeful of a return to greater freedom. We ate out at the Prezzo in our local market town and had a pleasant evening, despite the restaurant greeter’s demand that we sanitise our hands on entering. At least there were no ‘masked bandits’, as my son refers to them. Food and service were good and we talked of returning. Our options have been reduced with business closures increasingly prevalent – and now, of course, only likely to accelerate. We will not be going out to eat while masks must be worn between door and table – I’m at a loss as to what that new rule is intended to achieve.

The promise of cooler weather made it clear that I needed a few additions to my wardrobe. Goods were ordered online with delivery to a town outlet – the only way to achieve free delivery and returns for the various sizes and styles I wished to try on before choosing what, if anything, to keep. Thus I had to enter a shop wearing my mask exemption lanyard – stressful, but the staff were lovely and I suffered none of the feared abuse from customers, who I ensured I distanced from.

Confidence boosted, I decided to shop for a new bookcase at a store owned by a local family – I like to support their business. Here the staff wore masks, which felt strange as I regularly pass them in our village. I still find these face coverings disturbing but, thankfully, I was able to choose what I needed quickly and leave. I am pleased with all my purchases but shopping has become an anxiety inducing activity and will remain limited.

I suffered a foot injury when I accidently bashed my toes into furniture mid month. This has made walking any distance painful – my stout boots press against the swollen digit. I continue to run, perhaps foolishly as the foot is not healing as quickly as expected. There seems little point seeking medical advice with current restrictions on contact. I’m not sure what we are expected to do if we require the expertise of doctor, dentist or optician – services previously taken for granted. I fear lockdown will be the catalyst for a significant increase in the privatisation of healthcare.

Younger son should have been preparing to leave for university but what they will want him to do remains uncertain. This lack of clarity means he has had to keep paying for the expensive accommodation he hasn’t used since March – alongside tuition fees for a course that may remain entirely online. With the current media tales of students confined to their tiny flats, unable to socialise or attend teaching, he would now prefer to stay home and access remote learning. What is needed is a decision for the academic year – and a get out clause if rental contracts are no longer needed through no fault of the students. I realise this is unlikely as landlords will want their income.

When not out exercising I am still reading, albeit slowly as I struggle to concentrate amidst so much uncertainty. I posted reviews for 6 books (2 novels, 1 short story collection, 1 poetry collection, 2 works of non fiction). Happily, all were good reads although I would say the weakest was my choice from the Booker longlist – so much for major literary prizes offering worthwhile recommendations. It is, however, pleasing to note that every book I reviewed this month was published by an independent press.

Robyn continues to read voraciously and contributed 15 reviews. These included one for Mordew by Alex Pheby, a book I have previously posted my thoughts on but wished her to read as it is her favoured genre – fantasy fiction. I was interested in her views, and hope other readers will be too.

You may click on the title below to read the review, and on the cover to find out more about each book.

 

Fiction


The Nacullians by Craig Jordan-Baker, published by époque press
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook, published by OneWorld

 

Short stories


Postcard Stories 2 by Jan Carson, published by The Emma Press

 

Poetry


London Undercurrents by Joolz Sparks and Hilaire, published by Holland Park Press

 

Non fiction


Unofficial Britain by Gareth E. Rees, published by Elliott and Thompson
Dead Girls by Selva Almada (translated by Annie McDermott), published by Charco Press

 

Robyn Reviews


Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, published by Wednesday Books
Queen of Volts by Amanda Foody, published by HQ


A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington, published by Quercus
Divine Heretic by Jaime Lee Moyer, published by Quercus

 
The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas, published by Macmillan Children’s
The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus, published by Transworld


The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart, published by Orbit
Five Little Liars by Amanda K Morgan, published by Simon & Schuster


The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry, published by Titan Books
La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, published by David Fickling Books


The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty, published by HarperVoyager
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, published by Bodley Head


The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, published by Gollancz
Mordew by Alex Pheby, published by Galley Beggar Press


A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, published by Del Rey

 

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She also purchased or received a number of hard copies – including a surprise copy of a book she is now offering as a giveaway (do check her Twitter feed).

I also made several purchases to add to the review copies publishers kindly sent. These included another Booker Prize contender – will it be more impressive?

I was a guest on Shelf Absorption, a blog that enables readers to check out other people’s shelves. I reblogged the post here. The stack of books pictured on the floor now fills my newly purchased bookcase.

 

As ever I wish to thank all 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

Monthly Roundup – July 2020

July has had its highs and lows. The early part of the month brought with it some welcome client work, thereby adding a structure to our weeks that has been missed. Work is still entirely from home, for the time being, but is a step in the right direction.

Elder son changed jobs, moving to a trainee position in his profession of choice, a year after graduating. In the interim he has worked in a local factory and then a supermarket – real life experience that will, I hope, result in greater appreciation of how privileged he is in so many ways. Daughter passed her end of year exams and has now returned to London to complete her final year at medical school. Our little household will remain at four as younger son’s university informed him learning will be online until at least January. His expensive student accommodation lies empty but must still be paid for.

It had begun to feel that we were moving forward after the stasis of the lockdown months. We watched as shops, pubs and restaurants started to reopen, albeit with restrictions. A lovely hairdresser visited our home, cutting my and daughter’s hair while wearing rather offputting PPE. News that gyms and swimming pools were to grant access to their facilities was welcomed.

And then came the announcement that mask wearing was to be made mandatory in shops as well as on public transport. The polarisation of opinion this created caused a massive spike in my stress levels that has still to abate. I wrote about my reaction in a personal post: Mask wearing and other plague related issues. I will now be avoiding enclosed public spaces for the foreseeable future: On not wearing a face mask.

I continue to try to manage my anxiety with exercise – long walks and bike rides in the still beautiful countryside, plus regular runs that push me to my physical limits. I miss the strength training gym membership offered and await news on restrictions these establishments will be forced to work to. Elder son returned to training on opening day and I may join his town centre gym. The little local facility I have been a member of for years cannot yet know when it will be permitted to open fully and freely.

I hurt for the small businesses that will not survive mandated restrictions, the employees facing redundancy and the stress this brings. It feels to me at times that a section of society is so concerned with not dying that they have forgotten how to live. Risk exists in many chosen activities.

In amongst all else that has been happening, I still turn to my books. Reading cannot offer the relaxation and escapism I crave in these times of uncertainty – I struggle to concentrate for long periods – but I still gain pleasure from appreciation of fine writing.

I reviewed 9 titles in July: 7 fiction (1 translated) and 2 non fiction. In addition, Robyn contributed 9 reviews.

You may click on the title below to read the review, and on the cover to find out more about each book.

 

Fiction

 
Patience by Toby Litt, published by Galley Beggar Press
Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, published by Doubleday

 
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams, published by William Heinemann
The Silken Rose by Carol McGrath, published by Headline Accent

 
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, published by Picador
The Blackbird by Claire Allen, published by Henningham Family Press

I am running a Twitter giveaway of The Blackbird that will close at 5pm on 31/7/2020. Do consider entering for the chance to win a copy of this truly beautifully bound and illustrated book – it is well worth reading.

 

Translated Fiction


A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti (translated by Fionn Petch), published by Charco Press

 

Non fiction

 
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker, published by Quercus
Not Far From The Junction by Will Ashon, published by Open Pen

 

Robyn Reviews

 
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, published by Jo Fletcher Books
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, published by Hodder & Stoughton

 
The Story of Silence by Alex Myers, published by Harper Voyager
The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune, published by Hodder & Stoughton

 
The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant, published by Harper Collins
The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi, published by Mantle

 
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
The Year of Witching by Alexis Henderson, published by Bantam Press


Circe by Madeline Miller, published by Bloomsbury

 

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She received her first physical ARC this month as well as making a couple of hefty purchases.

     I

I took delivery of some intriguing sounding books, many of which I couldn’t help but read immediately.

As ever I wish to thank all 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, speedy recovery from any illness, and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx