Recent Summary and Plans for March

I’ve had a stressful few months, but things are beginning to fall into place and I’m starting to read again. We’ve found a beautiful old house in Worcestershire and now have to wait patiently until we find a buyer for our current property – when I’m sure everything will become manic again! 

I’ve not had enough reviews to do a monthly summary for a while, so this collection goes back a few months. Hopefully it will remind you how amazing Home is Burning by Dan Marshall is. It hasn’t received the attention it deserves, but if you like powerful, emotional books that aren’t afraid to be brutally honest then you need to get hold of a copy!

Home is Burning 

Home is Burning by Dan Marshall 

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck 

Death and Mr Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis 

Counting Sheep by Philip Walling 

News From Nowhere by William Morris 

Neurotribes by Steve Silberman 

The Getting of Wisdom by Henry (Ethel) Handel Richardson 

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge 

The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts stars21

Plans for March

I’m not going to make ambitious plans, but I hope to catch up with my reviewing by giving brief thoughts on these books:

Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld

Meatspace by Nikesh Shukla

Black Milk by Elif Shafak

When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall

I then hope to read most of these, some of which I’ve already started: 

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov

War of the Worlds by HG Wells (because the 150th anniversary of his birth is coming up and I really should read it before I leave Surrey)

The Best Thing That Can Happen To A Croissant by Pablo Tusset

I hope that you’ve had a lovely February!

2015 Non Fiction

Counting Sheep by Philip Walling

 Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: British, countryside, history, farmers, change

Counting Sheep is one of those rare books with the power to interest the reader in a subject of which they previously had little knowledge. The book gives a complete history of sheep in Britain, explaining how breeds have changed over time to reflect our varying needs for wool, meat and milk.

Counting Sheep does for sheep what Leviathan by Philip Hoare did for whales. It is packed with little anecdotes and is the sort of book where you find yourself continually pausing in order to tell others some bizarre fact that you’ve just learnt:

In hard times, when grass is really scarce, Herdwicks will find a way to survive. The most enterprising will find their way onto roadside verges, jumping stone walls or getting over cattle grids by squeezing themselves close to the side-walls and tiptoeing along the edge like a ballerina; I heard of one ewe that mastered a trick of doing a side-roll over the bars.

The book is divided into chapters which each focus on a different breed of sheep. I was previously unable to identify many different characteristics of these animals, but I feel I could now confidently distinguish a Dorset Horn from a Black Hebridean!

Philip Walling’s love for the British countryside shone through and I loved the descriptions of his travels to meet different flocks. The historical research was also impressive and I especially liked learning that working dogs sometimes brought flocks of sheep home from markets without any human accompaniment – sometimes even stopping overnight for food and shelter at known inns!

I occasionally found the detail of the breed history a little boring, but the book wouldn’t have been complete without this information. I was happy to skim over the names and dates in order to move onto something more interesting, but I’m sure that anyone with a greater affiliation with sheep will find these details useful.

If you have any interest in the natural history of Britain then you need to add this book to your shelves – it will give you renewed admiration for the flocks quietly grazing in nearby fields.


Nobel Prize Pulitzer Prize

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

The Good Earth  Source: Personal copy

Winner of 1932 Pulitzer Prize

Pearl Buck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938

Five words from the blurb: China, farmer, changes, wealth, family

The Good Earth is set in pre-revolutionary China and shows how the fortune of farming families is dependent on the weather, good planning, and the whims of those in power. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, but I presumed it would be difficult and so put it off for many years. When I finally started I was surprised to discover how readable it was. The accessibility of the writing is its main strength and I recommend this classic book to everyone.

The Good Earth tells the story of Wang, a farmer from a rural community who becomes rich through hard work and good investment. The vivid descriptions give a full picture the surroundings:

Pulling this rickety, wooden wagon on its two wheels behind him, it seemed to him that everyone looked at him for a fool. He was as awkward between its shafts as an ox yoked for the first time to the plow, and he could scarcely walk; yet must he run if he were to earn his living, for here and there and everywhere through the streets of this city men ran as they pulled other men in these. 

This book does not gloss over the darker side of life. Some people may find the descriptions of prostitution and child slavery too disturbing, and I suspect that many will object to the seemingly endless misery that the family is subjected to. This wasn’t a problem for me because I didn’t become emotionally attached to the characters. There was a fable-like quality to the writing which meant everything was kept at a distance. In fact, this was probably the biggest drawback of the book – it contained many fascinating bits of information about life in rural China, but I didn’t care what happened to Wang or any other member of his family.

Pearl Buck was an American citizen who spent much of her life in China. This means the book has a different feel from the Chinese books I’ve read. The mindset of the characters felt Westernised and the reader must bear this in mind when thinking about this book. I’m sure it is a fairly accurate portrayal of what happened to the people, but I think you need to read Chinese texts to really understand how they felt.

This book didn’t have the emotional power to become a personal favourite, but is deserving of its status as a classic. Recommended.




The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl wrote many of my favourite children’s books and I’m pleased that my sons love them just as much as I do. Dahl was born in 1916 and many events are planned to celebrate this centenary year.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the press preview of the new “Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl” exhibition at the Southbank Centre in London. 

The exhibition is aimed at children aged between 7 and 12, so I brought my two boys (8 and 10) along to experience it. 

The exhibition is set up in the same way as an immersive theatre, with each room transformed into another world. They’ve done everything from creating a miniature forest (Danny the Champion of the World), to a room with everything stuck to the ceiling (The Twits). 

Photo Credit: Vic Frankowski
Photo Credit: Vic Frankowski

But the rooms do more than simply reflect each book, they show how Dahl’s life influenced his literature. There is a classroom, displaying Dahl’s school reports and letters home; and one set up as the scene of Dahl’s plane crash in the Libyan desert.  I especially liked the way photos of the people who influenced Dahl’s characters were displayed. 

This isn’t a dry museum – children will learn things without even realising they’re doing so. I loved the sense of fun that was present throughout. Both my boys enjoyed their time in the exhibition and I recommend it to anyone who loves Dahl’s writing as much as I do.


Photo Credit: Vic Frankowski
Photo Credit: Vic Frankowski

‘The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl’ is part of the Imagine Festival at the Southbank Centre. Tickets cost £11 for adults, £9 for children.

They have a range of events for children (including talks with David Walliams, Michael Morpurgo and Cressida Cowell) between 10th – 21st February. For more details see the Imagine Children’s Festival Website.