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Sally Walker (Eastbourne, UK)

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The Yorkshire Shepherdess
The Yorkshire Shepherdess
by Amanda Owen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars I absolutely loved this book, 2 May 2015
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I absolutely loved this book and found it hard to put down. It represented for me a form of pure escapism because Amanda Owen lays her completely rural life so vividly before the reader. For all town dwellers it’s a chance to learn what a true rural life is like, living off animals, in this case sheep, that live on the land. Apart from the use of some modern farming machinery and the use of Land Rovers for transport, the life she is living is centuries old. We learn too much about the yearly cycle of rearing sheep. The beautiful and remote landscape that she inhabits is portrayed too. Her highly appealing down to earthness and humour is apparent throughout her memoir. This all makes for highly engaging writing that draws you in and plunges you right into the heart of the Yorkshire Dales and this young woman’s life. Really a must read, I believe it has something that will appeal to everyone.

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found
Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found
by Cheryl Strayed
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars Not hard to see why this book was a No.1 bestseller, 25 April 2015
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An extremely engaging, page turning account of a young woman’s walk along over an eleven hundred miles stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail when she was twenty six in 1995. She was under prepared for this walk and ‘Wild’ recounts the trials and tribulations that she experienced along her trek. Strayed tells us of the landscapes she walked through, the effect the daily trekking had upon her body, the people that she met and the animals and wildlife that she saw.

But interwoven throughout this journal of her physical journey is the deeper and more profound emotional journey that she underwent. The use of the word ‘journey’ is often inappropriately and over-used, but I believe it is entirely fitting here. Strayed tells us the story of her young life, heavily dominated by her relationship with her mother who tragically died of cancer when Strayed was only twenty -two. It is about her coming to terms with her loss and finally leaving her grief behind on the trail, which enabled her to then start to live her life to the full and create her own family.

At no point did I find this self-indulgent as perhaps it could so easily have become. Rather, Strayed courageously tells it exactly as it was. She does not seek to over analyse her emotions nor to intellectualise them and this is refreshing and all to the good. She lays her feelings and experiences bare with no censorship and because of this she comes across as a very real person, somebody that you can relate to. There are passages which are intensely moving.

I can quite understand why this was a no.1 bestseller. I therefore heartily recommend it.

by Dava Sobel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An inspiring heart-warming and human story, 11 April 2015
This review is from: Longitude (Paperback)
A simply and engagingly told account of the race to find a means of measuring longitude and thereby save thousands of sailors lives. Lives which were being lost because mariners simply did not know with a sufficient degree of accuarcy where they were in the ocean. Such was the importance of solving this problem, that literally a king’s ransom was offered as the prize to the person who could produce an accurate longitude measuring device. Eventually it would be King George III who would intercede to bring about John Harrison’s success.

Naturally John Harrison takes centre stage in this book, but first his work is set within its historical context. Sobel sets out the impact that not being able to measure longitude had had upon mariners, by citing a few examples of shipwrecks and disastrous sea voyages. She also recounts man’s historical attempts to measure longitude. You’ll learn something of the development of science, in particular in the astronomical and time-keeping fields.

Ultimately this is a story of a ‘David’ fighting a ‘Goliath’, the non-academic, meticulous craftsman eventually winning over the academic snobs, after spending a lifetime trying to succeed. This makes for an inspiring heart-warming and human story about the adherence to perfectionism and tenacity in the face of adversity.

Conscientious Objectors of the Second World War: Refusing to Fight
Conscientious Objectors of the Second World War: Refusing to Fight
by Ann Kramer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Highly informative, 9 April 2015
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Ann Kramer’s book has supplied me with a lot of valuable information about what happened to conscientious objectors during WW2.

Topics covered include:

- The growing inter-war peace movement.
- The basis of conscription, including relevant legislation that introduced conscription prior to WW2.
- The process of registering to become a conscientious objector.
- What happened to people who did nothing at all and did not make an application to register to become a conscientious objector.
- The tribunal process where would be conscientious objectors stated their case in person before a panel and at which a decision was made as to whether they could be registered as conscientious objectors.
- The options open to the panel.
- The differing strength of objectors’ feelings ranging from absolutists to those prepared to enter the non-combatant corps of the army.
- Numerous first hand accounts of the varying experiences of conscientious objectors, including those who had nothing to do with the system at all, absolutists, members of non-combatant corps and those imprisoned and court martialled.
- The work undertaken by and the working conditions of conscientious objectors.
- The discrimination and abuse that they experienced during and after the war.
- What happened to conscientious objectors after WW2, how they picked up their lives again.
- What lasting differences they made to our society, the peace movement and how we view wars now.

These topics are written about in a very straightforward and direct manner, that is easy to follow and digest.

There are numerous black and white photographs.

I heartily recommend this book to you.

Former People: The Destruction of the Russian Aristocracy
Former People: The Destruction of the Russian Aristocracy
by Douglas Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic in scope and detail, 8 Mar. 2015
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This book is epic in its scope and detail. It breaks new ground: it is the first book written about what happened to the aristocrats and nobility in Russia post revolution. Douglas Smith tells us what befell some of them intelligently, sympathetically and engagingly. He has concentrated on the experiences of two Russian families in particular: the Golitsyns and the Sheremetevs, but also peppers throughout his accounts of these families with details of what happened to some related and un-related families and individuals. All lost practically everything, and they had a lot to lose. Interestingly, many at some stage in their fall from immense wealth, lives lived in luxury and with great formality and often idleness and a great deal of ennui, agreed that the way the system was before, always cambered in their favour, was unjust and could not go on. Some even found that their lives were enriched by the experience. However, in the main the experiences were cataclysmic and devastating. Some no matter how bad things got steadfastly refused to leave Russia their motherland, whilst others saw the writing on the wall and fled to various ‘safe ports’ in the west.

Smith’s book must be the result of a profound amount of research, the length of the bibliography bears testimony to this. Of course and necessarily, the account of what happened to the upper layers of Russian society after October 1917 is interwoven with an account of the course of the revolution, the build up to it, the events that comprised it, its main actors and protagonists and what happened afterwards. You might think that the worst crimes against the Russian nobility were committed during and soon after the revolution, but in fact they continued for decades, most intensively under Stalin.

So in short this is not only the history of two Russian noble families and others but of Russia itself during the first half of the C20th. No mean feat to pull off, but Douglas Smith certainly does. I believe it will be a reference book for future historians for a long time to come, it is that good. Please don’t be put off my referring to it as a reference book because this is a good read, the pages will quickly turn as you become engrossed in the events that unfold before your eyes. You will quickly develop incredulity at the cruelty that men can exert on their fellow man, his wife and children. There is more than one moving story, but one in particular that is indeed heart searing.

I have learnt such a lot by reading this book and feel much less ignorant about Russia and its revolution. It has stimulated in me the desire to learn so much more.

This book definitely goes into my ‘a must read’ category.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 23, 2015 6:47 AM BST

Fathers and Sons. Translated by Rosemary Edmonds (Penguin Classics. no. L147.)
Fathers and Sons. Translated by Rosemary Edmonds (Penguin Classics. no. L147.)
by Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev
Edition: Unknown Binding

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, 12 Feb. 2015
By comparison with practically any of Tolstoy’s literature, (a contemporary of Turgenev) Fathers and Sons is wafer thin at just 237 pages. But my oh my, what a masterpiece it is, on a par, in my opinion, with the writing of the much better known and fated Tolstoy. Turgenev similarly gets into the heads of his characters and lays bare their innermost thoughts. He paints his characters, their actions, the buildings and landscapes through which they pass in depth and fine detail, to the extent that you feel as if you are diving into mid-C19th Russia.

Based upon my reading of Fathers and Sons I do not understand why Turgenev is somewhat overlooked. Be this as it may, Fathers and Sons, is dense with meaning and observations of human feelings and frailties.

At the time that Fathers and Sons was published in 1862, it was ground breaking because running throughout it is the propounding of Nihilism. The book’s main protagonist Bazarov is the vehicle used to put forward the central tenets of Nihilism. He says it like it is and brings most human emotions down to their base level and exposes the real motivation behind people’s actions. He speaks completely uncensored and whilst he is often hurtful, at the same time there is a searing honesty, integrity and even a purity to his character. One can’t help but feel that if we communicated with one another a bit more like Bazarov there would be far less misunderstanding and resulting unhappiness from much of human communication.

Another theme at the heart of this book is the universal one that has forever and will forever sweep down the ages, of young men, (people) reaching a certain age and looking at their parents with something akin to disdain and pity in their firm belief that they know so much more than their begetters. Corollary to this is the parental emotion, so beautifully and finely portrayed by Turgenev, of adoration and a longing for the presence of the offspring, who is fast disappearing into their own created adult life. There is thus much pathos in Fathers and Sons.

Key is that Turgenev was Russian and the narrative is set in Russia in 1861. So Bazarov, is if you like, delivering a message from the future, a Boshevik future: a future in which Romanticism has been annihilated.

1861 was the year in which the serfs gained their emancipation and so a reading of this work gives one a brilliant snapshot of Russian life at one of the pivotal moments in Russian history. It also lays bare the great divide between the have and the have-nots at that time in Russian society.

I highly recommend this book, you’ll enjoy the brilliance of the Turgenev’s writing and it will get you thinking.

The Russian Concubine
The Russian Concubine
by Kate Furnivall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Action packed and clearly based on sound research - a very good read, 5 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Russian Concubine (Paperback)
My reading definitely has a non-fiction bias to it and I tend to be a fiction snob, so for me to like a work of contemporary fiction is quite uncommon. I really enjoyed this book; it’s a good read. The writing is immediate, engaging and unpretentious.

It has the added interest in that the inception of this book was the author’s learning of her Russian ancestry. This is in fact the second book in a series of books. This is the first book of the series that I have read and the fact that I had not previously read the first did not detract at all to my enjoyment.

It is clear that Furnivall has undertaken a lot of research into the history of the time in question in Russia and China. I think most readers would wish to find out more about these two countries having read this book. A viewing of Furnivall’s website following reading this book is a worthy activity. You will find out much of the historical back-story to this book and the author’s reasoning behind the characters that she has created.

It’s not a book to pick up and put down, you need to keep reading I would say at least twice daily so that you don’t lose the thread of the plot, which is constantly twisting and turning. Furnivall does not shy away from developing gritty themes. The narrative is action packed and stuffed with many characters. The main character is a schoolgirl of fifteen, later in the plot sixteen years of age. Some of her words and actions are far beyond the scope of most girls of this age and there is a degree to which the reader has to suspend their disbelief and cynicism and just take the narrative at face value and enjoy for its own sake.

A good piece of historical fiction that is well worth spending your time reading.

Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir
Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir
by Dolores Payas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all PLF devotees., 5 Feb. 2015
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This is a must read for all Patrick Leigh Fermour devotees. What it gives the reader which Artemis Cooper’s biography did not do, (please be clear I do not wish to take anything away from Cooper’s brilliant and comprehensive biography, I believe I am simply stating a fact) is a first hand account of what it was like to be in his company for an extended period of time. Albeit that the author’s contact with PLF came right at the very end of his life, when he was in his middle nineties, what comes across strongly is that he tried to maintain his normal lifestyle right up until the end. Whilst is hearing and sight were failing him, his wit, intellect and charm had not deserted him.

It’s a slim volume, but nonetheless of merit and substance. The writing is intelligent, sincere and heartfelt but never cloying.

Visually this book has been beautifully produced: the text punctuated with large full page or double page photographs that are relevant to the text immediately preceding. The scarlet endpapers are a nice touch too.

Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor's footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn - A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods & the Water and The Broken Road
Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor's footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn - A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods & the Water and The Broken Road
by Nick Hunt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hunt's writing is strong enough to be judged on its own merits and not to be found wanting, 20 Jan. 2015
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A really good first hand account of a young man’s walk from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn, undertaken in 2011. Hunt writes intelligently and interestingly, with vivid descriptions and observations. It’s a well-crafted book that deserves to be on a shelf alongside well-known travel writers. I hope he goes on to make further travels and to write about them.

Hunt was following in the footsteps of the great Patrick Leigh Fermour who walked the same route in 1933-34. PLF’s writing is incomparable and it is perhaps courageous of Hunt to try to follow in his literary footsteps. Hunt has a different writing style, but in my view it is strong enough to be judged on its own merits and not to be found wanting.

For all those who have read PLF’s a A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, (and if you have not I urge you to do so) and thought at the end I wondered what happened to the people that he spent sometime with along the way then Hunt’s book will give you some of the answers.

Just as PLF gave us a snapshot of European life at a particular time – pre-WW2 - so does Hunt - post WW2 and post the fall of communism in eastern Europe. Thus Walking the Woods and the Water makes for a fascinating read and device by which to make comparisons. Much has changed of course, but some things remain the same, for example the simmering feud between Hungarians and Romanians over land.

As does PLF, so does Hunt, give us an account of the changes in the landscapes, languages, cultures, physical appearance and attitudes of the people of the eight countries through which he walks. This all goes to show us how diverse Europe and its people are.

I thoroughly recommend this book, you’ll not be disappointed.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Cooper, Artemis (2012) Hardcover
Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Cooper, Artemis (2012) Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A well-written and comprehensive account of his life, 11 Jan. 2015
Having read A Time For Gifts and Between The Woods and The Water I wanted to find out what happened next to PLF and what kind of man he turned out to be; how he lived his life. PLF An Adventure has certainly satisfied my quest. It is a well-written, engaging and comprehensive account of his life from beginning to end. Cooper has clearly done a lot of research, helped by the mass of correspondence that PLF wrote over his long life.

In addition being the grandaughter of one of PLF's long-term armours / friends - Diana Cooper - Cooper had probably known PLF since she was a young child and was therefore well placed to write this biography. But this is not a book about the Paddy she knew at all. Indeed the author only at one point says I was there and I witnessed PLF do this. Thus to her credit she keeps herself off stage. Given that she will have a fount of fond memories of him, I presume, it is also to her credit that she has written a very balanced account of his life - she passes no judgement, just tells it like it was. So Cooper's biography of PLF is not littered with her take on him and this leaves the reader free to form their own opinion.

I thoroughly recommend this book.

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