Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review – 50 Ways to Make Your House and Garden Greener

50 Ways to Make Your House and Garden Greener

by Sian Berry

Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Kyle Cathie; 1st edition (10 Jan. 2008)

ISBN-10: 1856267725

ISBN-13: 978-1856267724

I bought this book last year. It was brand new and 50p. This tends to suggest that after eight years they are struggling to get rid of the first print run, despite the author having an impressive record in the area.

I can’t think why, because as a quick run-down of ways to make a difference to global warming it can;t really be bettered. It has its fair share of  expensive things to do, but set against that there are plenty of cheap things to try.

As the author says:”Follow the tips you can, and don’t feel guilty about the ones you can’t.”

Put lids on pans when cooking, don’t leave your phone on charge overnight and leave an untidy corner for wildlife in the garden.

Clearly I find one of those tips easier to follow than the others, though I rarely charge the phone overnight and normally use a lid on the pan.

That’s the tone of the book – plenty of sensible reminders and small steps. There are also more tips than the 50 in the title – many of the 50 tips are subdivided into smaller points.

An interesting and highly recommended read, and you won’t often hear me saying that about a book on being green.

 

Book Review – Elements of Murder

The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison

John Emsley

Hardcover: 436 pages

Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st Edition edition (28 April 2005)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0641823894

ISBN-13: 978-0641823893

It has everything I want from a book – science, history and murder. It’s not a book everyone would enjoy but to geeks like me it’s fascinating to know that a broken thermometer played a part in the development of photography. I’m also intrigued to find that Pope Alexander VI  was poisoned in 1503 after dining with his son (well, they were Borgias), and that “perpetual pills” were made from antimony. When swallowed, they would pass through the gut, and irritate the gut into clearing itself out. They would then be retrieved, washed and used again. I’m not surprised their use has died out. I still shudder at the thought of what happened when I swallowed one of my gold crowns.

If you prefer environmentalism to murder you can read it as a book on the damage done to humans, fish and the atmosphere, with examples from history and from modern times.

If science is your thing, there is plenty available, possibly too much.

The book covers the poisons Mercury, Arsenic, Antimony, Lead, Thallium and “Other poisonous elements”. There are other poisons available, but these are the ones in the book – the clue is in the word “element” in the title. If you want a book on poisons in general you need a different book. If, for instance, you were interested in general poisons  (and I am making no judgement here) you may be better with a book on plants.

It’s not an easy read because the detail is quite dense, and you have to concentrate, but it is interesting and informative.

I won’t lie, it’s patchy, and there are slow bits because some of the poisoning cases are well known (like Napoleon’s death by wallpaper) and because the science sometimes goes on a bit, but I like the history and there are hundreds of items of trivia to be gleaned from a reading of the book. I’m not going to criticise a book just because of my inability to process science writing.

It’s going back on the shelf for now, but after leafing through it for examples of trivia, I’ll be reading it again soon.

 

 

 

Biblioperigrination – new word for an old problem

I learned a valuable lesson about book reviews recently. That lesson is do not promise reviews on books you haven’t read yet. The photograph shows The Normans and their Myth, which is quite interesting but not riveting, so I haven’t actually finished it.

Same goes for taking care of books you’ve promised reviews on, as I’ve mislaid 50 ways to make you Home and Garden Greener. It’s easily done when you have piles of books everywhere. I suppose I could review it from memory, but I can’t really remember it that well – I’ve read so many books on this subject.

Reviewing a book from memory, particularly with my memory, could be a dangerous occupation.

The problem is that books seem to have a secret life of their own and are much more mobile than you think. I’m going to see if there is a Japanese word for that. If decided on the word for this phenomenon – biblioperigrination. According to Google there is no mention of this, so I claim to have invented the word. As it’s now going to be in my title and I’m putting in a bid to have it recorded as the first known use. I may write to Susie Dent about it.

I’m going to do The Elements of Murder next. I’ve read it, and I can see it from here, so there shouldn’t be any problems with that. I just need to make sure I’m reading fast enough to keep up with myself.

With that in mind, I won’t tell you what’s next, though I will tell you I’ve just had V. S. Naipaul’s  A Turn in he South delivered. It has been recommended by arlingwoman and I’m looking forward to reading it.

We’re going out now as I’m going to treat Julia to a cream tea. We breakfasted late on scrambled eggs, mushrooms and brown toast, so the cream tea will be a late lunch, which makes me feel better about eating it whilst on a diet. There’s no eating between meals, but if we have it as a meal it’s not a problem.

 

Book Review – Deep South

Deep South

Paul Theroux

Paperback: 441 pages

Publisher: Penguin (3 Mar. 2016)

ISBN-10: 0241969352

ISBN-13: 978-0241969359

I saw this in the shop and thought this would be a good chance to learn something about the southern states of the USA. After reading quite a few crime novels based in the South I thought I ought to learn something about it.

I was expecting poverty, religion and racism and that’s what I got.

The religion, and its role in society was quite exotic for someone in the UK. For most of us, it doesn’t play a big part in our lives, and I’ve certainly never had my hair cut by a man who has his own church. I was hoping that he would visit a church that used snakes, but he didn’t. He didn’t eat much barbecue either, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

The poverty, on the other hand, is discussed in terms that seem fairly universal. Loss of traditional industry, lack of education, poor housing, production moved overseas – all of it could be true of many places.

It’s more interesting when he discusses the growing trend for African-American families to move into farming, and the various routes they have taken. Apart from that you can’t really tell you are in the South. Conversations in development agencies, for instance, seem to run along the same lines whether you are in the UK or the USA.

There was plenty on racism, including discussion of the Civil Rights movement and the current situation, which doesn’t seem to have moved on as much as you would have thought. I’m not going to develop this discussion because there is too much scope for putting my foot in it.  Just let’s say that it gave me food for thought.

To sum up, there’s a lot to this book, but while it gave me much to think about, it also seemed to leave a lot undone. It seems too long, partly due to digressions about previous travels and Southern literature, and partly due to repetition of things like Gun Shows, but in some areas it just didn’t go deep enough.

Not a bad book, but an unsatisfactory one. Would I recommend it? Probably not.

Sorry to be so negative for two reviews in a row, that’s just how it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Some Desperate Glory

Some Desperate Glory

Max Egremont

Picador (2015)

Paperback 335 pp  £9.99

ISBN-10: 0374280320

ISBN-13: 9780374280321

This book is trying to do too much at once. It’s a history of the Great War, a book of biographies, a poetry book and, cynically, a book to take advantage of the centenary.

As eagle-eyed readers will have deduced from the £1 sticker in the picture, booksellers obviously found it difficult to shift.

My first observation, before even opening it, is simply that I can’t think why any writer would re-use such a well known title. I know it’s a good quote, but when I hear it I always think of Edwin Campion Vaughan’s memoirs. It’s confusing, to say the least.

It was heavy going to start, though it did get easier towards the end, and proved to be worth the effort. Trying to fit history, biography and poetry into a flowing narrative is tough, and it isn’t helped when you have to fit the origins of the war in too. It flows better towards the end: by then the history is simpler and many of the poets are dead  or recovering from wounds.

There are eleven of them in the beginning – in the army, joining the army or thinking about joining the army. By the Armistice there are five left. It’s a tragedy, but it does help the flow of the book.

Finally, why just eleven poets? The eleven selected subjects are all listed on the War Poet Memorial in Westminster Abbey. What’s wrong with the other five? No Aldington, no Binyon, no Gibson, no Jones and no Read.

Then of course, there is the question of the war poets who weren’t amongst the 16 on the memorial. I won’t try to address the question, as it would double the length of the review and the internet is already bulging with material of dubious worth.

Anyway, to cut to the chase. I enjoyed it in the end, though I did struggle at first. It felt like I was being lectured at times, and the way the narrative was interwoven made it difficult to get into a reading rhythm. It was worth reading for the information and context, but wasn’t really a pleasurable read.

I’m currently halfway through reading And All Roads Lead to France. It concentrates on Thomas and poetry preceding the war, so it isn’t a direct replacement for Egremont’s book. But it is a pleasure to read, and proves that it is possible to cover a broad area and still keep it readable.

I’d recommend Some Desperate Glory as an overview of some of the poetry of the Great War with the proviso that it is limited in scope and you will have to work at it.

 

 

Book Review – Wycliffe and Death in a Salubrious Place

Wycliffe and Death in a Salubrious Place

by W J Burley

Orion Books (2016)

Paperback 222 pp  £8.99

ISBN-10: 0752865358

ISBN-13: 978-0752865355

The murder is on the second page, which I always consider an advantage in a crime novel. I’m not keen on the ones where you have to read half a book to get to the action.

It’s an easy read, being well-written and moving on without undue delay. That’s not to say that the plot is simple – it isn’t. There is a satisfying complexity to the plot, which isn’t mirrored in the characters. They are, in the main, simple men and, in the case of the police, all of them seem to smoke pipes.

This, as much as the point on which the plot hinges, indicates that this is one of the earlier books. There is more character development in later books and they also allow women in later. First published in 1973 this is a fourth novel in a series that eventually went to over 20 titles.

The plot point? A local girl, infatuated with a pop star who has retired to the Isles of Scilly, purposely gets pregnant by him in the belief that he will then feel he has to marry her. It’s not a moral dilemma that has worn well over the years, though it’s nice to take a step back in time when things were more innocent.

Good read, well paced and with a challenging plot. I’d recommend it, but as someone said in another review, don’t buy it as you aren’t likely to read it again.

My copy was passed to me by a neighbour, which allows me to feel quite relaxed about the whole thing. If I’d paid full price I may have been more critical.

Book Review – The Most Perfect Thing

The Most Perfect Thing

by Tim Birkhead

Bloomsbury (2016)

Hardback 220 pp  £18.99

ISBN-10: 1632863693

ISBN-13:978-1632863690

I started reading the book and was instantly taken back to my days producing hatching eggs. Though I’d worked part-time while I was at school, I’d only reared chicks and worked in a hatchery. When I started full time they found me a job on a breeding farm run by a manager who had started working with poultry in the 1930s and had been a lecturer at agricultural college.

While the book taught me about eggs I was drifting back in a parallel world where I was a teenager again, being taught the same things for the first time. I was surprised by how it all came back.

There was also a lot in the book that I didn’t know, which was interesting and wide-ranging, but also possibly one of the faults – in a few places I felt it did get a bit lecturing. It didn’t stop the flow of reading, or detract much from the enjoyment, but it did jar slightly.

Despite this it was easy reading, so I was educated, informed and entertained at the same time and could, if time had allowed, have read it all in one sitting.

I’m happy to recommend it to bird watchers and general readers, with just one proviso – it’s very good, but it doesn’t strike me as the sort of book I could love. There’s just something a little cold in the tone. But that could just be me – don’t let it put you off.