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Reviews Written by
Stewart M (Victoria, Australia)
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   

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The Outrun
The Outrun
by Amy Liptrot
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Honest and Wonderful, 4 July 2016
This review is from: The Outrun (Hardcover)
Amy Liptrop, the author of this is honest and rather wonderful book has not tried to sugar coat her decline in to (and recovery) from alcoholism. Neither has she tried to over romanticise (too much) her connection to the Orkneys, where she was raised as a kid.

And I think this is the strength of the book. The accounts of some aspects of her alcoholism are toe-curlingly honest, and make it clear that this addiction is not something happens to ‘others’ who are not like her readers, but can engulf almost anybody.

The author’s relationship with the landscape of Orkney is something of a mirror image of her relationship with alcohol. At first she flees from Orkney to the ‘bright lights’ of London, but in the end it is the landscape she once rejected that she most craves, and finds most therapeutic.

I think that the landscape of home is most powerful for those who have had it taken away – and here I think that Liptrop looses her (healthy) sense of place in the world to alcohol. In this book she seems to refind it in wave washed ocean beaches, the chill of the winter air and the call of the birds.

By the end of the book she seems to be becoming healthier by the day.

The writing in the book is crisp and to the point. The personal landscape of the book is not pretty, but the physical landscape is remarkable.

Very highly recommended.

The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream
The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream
by Katharine Norbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

4.0 out of 5 stars All journeys start at a single point, 26 Jun. 2016
The second line of the title of this book – A Journey Upstream – is a little misleading, and in some ways diminishes the scope of this rather wonderful book.

Sure, one of the key elements of the book is about a number of journeys up rivers, in search of the source. But there is a good deal more happening in this book than just that.

A number of reviews here have suggested that the book is rather self-indulgent, and could not have been carried out by a person without some kind of external support – and while that may be true, is it not also true for the vast majority of other ‘journey’ books as well. To my reading, this feel petty and small minded.

The journeys in this book are physical, historical and medical. All start from, or aim at, a single point – a point that determines the direction of the journey and the flow of the stories.

I rather liked it as a meditative, if not exactly groundbreaking read and I would be confident in recommending it.

The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District
The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District
by James Rebanks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars For the love of the Lakes, 23 May 2016
The Lake District must be one of the best-loved areas of England. For many it is an adventure ground, holiday destination and daydream address. This book looks at The Lakes in a different way – as a place of work and a home.

“The Shepard’s Life’ follows the life of James Rebanks from his (Grand)fathers knee to his own farm. It plots the many changes in attitude and circumstance that come with growth up, moving away and coming back.

In this regard this is not a very original book – many people have written about these three things - but what sets this book apart is the place where it occurs. The Lake District comes alive as more than just a playground in this book, and the reality of the work needed just to keep your head above water is always present.

At times it’s easy to forget that the Lake District is a landscape that was formed by work, and not one that was formed for play. The fact that so many people ‘love the Lakes’ is due to the hard work of others, who are often not given the credit they are due for the work they do.

I recall reading heated debate about the closure of footpaths during the foot and mouth outbreak - but one small section of this book puts all that into a different perspective.

I suspect that the author was a bit of a pain as a teenager, and I am sure some things he writes here will rub people up the wrong way. However, this is passionate writing about a much loved place.

In the end the Lakes will only survive if people can live and work there – and this book is an honest look at what that means to some people.

Highly recommended.

The Lucky Country?: Reinventing Australia
The Lucky Country?: Reinventing Australia
by Ian Lowe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.95

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Australia - we need to talk., 9 May 2016
The phrase ‘the lucky country’ was first used in 1964 by Donald Horne to describe Australia. Since that time the meaning of this phrase has been corrupted, often by the media and politicians, to mean ‘a wonderful country’. Its original meaning, was that Australia was lucky enough to have so many spoils ‘rich and rare’ that even when run by incompetent governments things seemed to work out ok. In this original meaning, Australia was a bit of a ‘spawny git’ that managed to get away with all kinds of mismanagement and still come out on top.

This new book re-examines many of the issue that were identified by Horne as being things that Australia needed to do better – but were getting away with through shear dumb luck. Things like the size of the population, its relationship to Asia and the rest of the world and the nature of its society.

As I write this review we are in the second day of what will be the longest Australian general election campaign since 1969 and many of the key issues identified both by Horne and ’64 and Ian Lowe in this book are essentially absent from the political debates put forward by the major parties. It seems that they still need to rely on luck rather than thought.

The longer the questions raised by this book go unanswered the harder it will be to find solutions to them.

While this may sound like it is all very Australian, with little relevance to else where, but this is not the case.

If you despair of the shortsighted nature of the government in your own country this will be a book that may feel very familiar, but will also confirm that you are not alone.

Highly recommended, especially if you already think that there is more to society that GDP numbers and military spending.

1215: The Year of Magna Carta
1215: The Year of Magna Carta
by Danny Danziger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 1215 with a cast of 1000s, 3 May 2016
1215 – The Year of Magna Carta, is a book of two very unequal parts. The majority of the book is taken up with an account of life in 1215 (this is not a shock given the title of the book!), while the last two chapters are about the immediate reaction of the King to the Magna Carta and its subsequent influence.

The first section is well written and not without interest, but at times it can read like a story with 1215 Characters all of which you meet fleetingly and never get to know – in other words it feel fragmented and seems to lack passion.

The final two chapters are much better – which a much greater sense of pace. The details of the Kings reaction to Magna Carta were largely unknown to me, and the details of the rise of this once ‘dead’ document to the level of legend is fascinating to think about.

The book was a good read, but it was saved in the end by the final chapters, where the Magna Carta really becomes the core of the story.

If you are already a history buff this book may be just a little too light weight – otherwise recommended as a decent enough, by unchallenging read.

The Woodhen: A Flightless Island Bird Defying Extinction
The Woodhen: A Flightless Island Bird Defying Extinction
by Clifford Frith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £41.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but maybe only if you are on the way to Lord Howe, 21 April 2016
Lord Howe Island is a tiny patch of land in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand. It’s a remarkable place and has wildlife to match.

The Woodhen is endemic to LHI and at one point in recent history there were only about 30 of them left on the island. This book is both a history of the recovery of the Woodhen and the island in general.

While the book is a good read, I would be surprised if it has wide enough appeal to be read by anybody other than those fortunate enough to be going to the island. (I went twice!)

So, maybe a book for bird completests or those flying off to this wonderful little speck!

The Forgotten Islands: A Personal Adventure Through The Islands Of Bass Strait
The Forgotten Islands: A Personal Adventure Through The Islands Of Bass Strait
by Michael Veitch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars These places should not be forgotten., 23 Mar. 2016
Between the Tasmania and the mainland of Australia lies Bass Strait, and scattered throughout Bass Strait are dozens of islands. Some are large, some are small, and some are two islands at high tide, but one when the tide is low. Some are thought never to have been walked on by humans, and some are the resting places for hundreds of drowned souls. Bass Strait, with its rocky islands and strange, treacherous currents is one of the most hazardous stretches of sea in the world. It is into this world that this book takes us.
As a child the author was told a tale of an assistant lighthouse keeper on Deal Island. The tale may be true, or the tale may be false, but whatever the case it was the ignition point for a life time interest in the islands.
Over the course of five journeys we travel the islands of Bass Straight – but not without danger, disaster or humour. The title of the book comes from the idea that even Australians are largely unaware of these islands and the stories they hold, that these are islands that have been forgotten.
I was fortunate to spend a short time on one of the main islands in the book. The picture painted of the island was both familiar and new. I had been to some of the places mentioned – and even talked to some of the people – but the book still managed to say something new about the place. Equally, on smaller, even less well know islands that I have never visited, the places came to life.
What is remarkable for me is that this book takes place on my doorstep – and yet the islands feel distant and wild. For me that is the power of this book – that you do not have to seek distant lands or foreign shores to find stories that are worth telling.
This is a splendid, gentle, engaging book that I would recommend highly. It is a book about the character of place and space that because it will be largely unfamiliar to most readers manages to feel both new and original.
Highly recommended.

Come Rain or Shine: A Weather Miscellany
Come Rain or Shine: A Weather Miscellany
by Storm Dunlop
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.98

3.0 out of 5 stars Dull, with occasional sunny intervals, 7 Jan. 2016
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the English are more than a little obsessed with the weather.

And (unfortunately) this book is a rather clear piece of evidence that this universally acknowledged truth is in fact true.

The main issue I had with this book is its tone. It’s really rather too factual (dry?) to be really entertaining general readers like me, and seems rather too lightweight (breezy?) to appeal to those hard core weather nuts we all try to avoid when we go out for a pint.

Now, it’s not that this book is unreadable – far from it – it’s just that I don’t understand whom the book is targeting (apart from the English!).

There are a few gems in the book – finding out what happened to the Ferrybridge cooling Towers in 1965 and the scathing assessment of William McGonagall’s poetry are almost worth the price of the book alone (almost) – but beyond that I did not really find much entertainment here.

In the end I can’t resist the idea that this book is more or less like a typical assessment of the British weather – ‘Dull, with occasional sunny intervals’.

Proceed with caution.

Engel's England: Thirty-nine counties, one capital and one man
Engel's England: Thirty-nine counties, one capital and one man
by Matthew Engel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful journey, 1 Jan. 2016
This book is rather splendid, county by county account of the variation and regional eccentricity for which England is(rather) famous. Each chapter is based around the ‘traditional’ counties of England – not mention here of Avon or Bath and North East Somerset, or for that matter Cumbria.

First and foremost I think I need to say that I really enjoyed this book, finding it thorough enough so I felt at home in the counties that I knew and not so detailed that I became bogged down in areas with which was I was less than familiar. In other words the book feels comprehensive, but it does not feel like you are reading an encyclopaedia.

The pattern of travel around England seems essentially random, which I rather like, so the book never becomes ‘stuck’ in a region of England. A few themes do appear – such as the demonic rise of Tescos and the impact that this has on local, smaller business. Equally, many places are defined by their relationship to London – which for much of the SE (and an increasing area of the rest of the country) seems fair enough.

I can’t help but compare this book to the latest Bill Bryson book – The Road from Little Dribbling - which I happened to read a few weeks before this one. Firstly this book seems far more authentic, without some form of concocted journey at its heart. Secondly, this book seems to be a book about England rather than a book about an author.

Given the scope of the book – ie a decent chapter on each county – it does feel a wee bit long, but the quality of the written and the texts hidden humour makes me willing to forgive it this minor quibble!

In the end, all I can do is recommend this book highly. It’s a great read.

The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island (Bryson)
The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island (Bryson)
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Same bones - different clothes, 1 Jan. 2016
Notes from a Small Island is a classic of it’s type so there was always a risk associated with writing a follow up to a much loved book – and it’s clear from some of the reactions here that The Road to Little Dribbling is not considered up to the mark.

However, I do not share that opinion.

Trying to find something different to do in travel books is not that easy, especially in a place as well travelled as the UK. Here the idea of travelling along the longest straight line in the UK is used – this is termed the Bryson Line – and is as good a construct as any other. The only problem with this idea is that it is essentially absent from the book, and is basically ignored for most of the time. The only section of the book in which it seems to be become relevant is near the end, when short of time the author has to take a few ‘short cuts’ to make sure the line is traversed. The whole structure of the book could well have been based on the idea of an extended Sunday afternoon drive, and it would have been basically the same.

But this is not the aspect of the book that some people seem to object to, it’s more the books tone. Bryson is not adverse to calling a spade and spade – and sometimes calls it a Fu**ing Shovel – which I seem not to recall from his earlier books. However, this honest approach seems, well, honest to me.

The UK is not a land of milk and honey where an undeniably wonderful landscape can make up for (what appears) to be a growing culture of rudeness, vandalism and political disrespect in both directions.

I left the UK 20 years ago, and this book came as a wonderful summary of how I felt about the place in my last two return journeys – the bones of the place as still the same, but it seems to be wearing clothes that I don’t recognise.

I think this book is probably just a little too honest about some of these ‘new clothes’ for some readers, but for me I found the tone to be just right: funny, sad, angry, confused but always in awe of the wonder that can be found just around the corner – even if that corner may have more litter than in the past and be mined with dog turds!

Highly recommended

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