Monday, 20 November 2017

Review: The Great Soul of Siberia: In Search of the Elusive Siberian Tiger

The Great Soul of Siberia: In Search of the Elusive Siberian Tiger The Great Soul of Siberia: In Search of the Elusive Siberian Tiger by Sooyong Park
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The true king of the jungle is the tiger; lions live out on the savannah. These magnificent creatures have carved a niche for themselves in the humid regions, but the largest and most elusive tiger shuns the warmth of the tropics, preferring icy cold wastelands. This is the Siberian Tiger. It is thought that there are only 350 or so remaining in the wild and so little is known about them and their habits that they are one of the most mysterious big cats.

As the spectre of climate change raises its ugly head, their pristine landscape becomes harder to eek a living from; coupled with the threat from poachers after them for medicines they are becoming rarer each day. For the past two decades, Sooyong Park has made it his life to track follow and study these shy creatures. He has built hides that offer a little shelter from the sub-zero temperatures that the region is famous for to be able to film and observe them. The local people see them as a spiritual element to their homeland and after watching them for this length of time he begins to understand why. This dedication to finding out about their lives results in a very close miss when they saw the camera protruding from the hide.

His dedication to following these magnificent felines is second to none, he is prepared to undertake quite challenging tasks by building elaborate hides to ensure that they are unaware of his presence. The information that he has collected on the tiger he has called Bloody Mary and her various litters of cubs has given us a greater understanding of the lives of these animals. His poignant prose shows just how passionate he is about these tigers and the lengths he is prepared to go, to observe them in the wild. Definitely a book to read on one the world’s most scarce big cats. 3.5 stars

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Saturday, 18 November 2017

#BookPost & Library haul

Got these through the post this week:

And these three from the library today:

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Review: The Lost Words

The Lost Words The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gone are the days when children’s alphabets would begin with A is for Acorn, B is for butterfly and C is for caterpillar. Now days it is likely to be A is for Acer, B is for Blackberry and C is for Cisco. Back in 2015, The Oxford University Press dropped around 50 words that were drawn from the natural world from the latest edition of its Junior dictionary; they argued that it was less relevant as children were spending less time outside and were glued to the screen of a tablet or phone. The alarm that this caused was quite noticeable, authors such as Morpurgo, Attwood and Maitland wrote to the OUP asking for them to be reinstated in the dictionary.

One of the other signatories to the letter was Robert Macfarlane. He has been collecting words on and about the natural world for many years and if you follow his Twitter feed you will see him post a new word every day expounding the delights of the world around us. But he was in a position to do something else about it too. Words that had been floating away in the air like seeds from a dandelion clock have been found and rehomed in this sumptuous book written by Macfarlane and the artist Jackie Morris; The Lost Words.

It is not a long book, the spells written by Macfarlane (he claims that he is not a poet, but he is wrong) has a resonance that is soothing and salient at the same time as well as having their roots deep in the natural world. It is the pictures that make this book really special though; Morris’s art for this book is richly portrayed, full of energy and life, there are letters that swirl across a page, she has captured the steely look from a raven and the blur of a kingfisher just perfectly. It is primarily a book for children, but many others will find solace in the way that it seeks to lead people back into the natural world make this such a special book to possess.

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Review: The Girl Who Climbed Everest: Lessons learned facing up to the world's toughest mountains

The Girl Who Climbed Everest: Lessons learned facing up to the world's toughest mountains The Girl Who Climbed Everest: Lessons learned facing up to the world's toughest mountains by Bonita Norris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

When Bonita Norris stood on top of the world’s highest mountain on 17th May 2010 she became the youngest woman to stand on the summit of Everest. Being there was the realisation of a dream that begun when she was when she heard someone talk about being on the roof of the world and being able to see the curvature of the earth and realised that she wanted to do that too. Not only was it the achievement of climbing through the death zone and being on top of a physical mountain, but her journey along the way had taught her so much about being tenacious, having self-belief and pushing yourself far beyond your modest capabilities.

All she had to do now was get back down.

The route Norris took to get to the bottom of Mount Everest was not a completely straightforward one. Her childhood was generally a happy one, until from her parent’s separation. This sparked some anxieties, including an eating disorder, but these were overcome and she ended up studying a degree at Royal Holloway where she heard Rob Casserley and Kenton Cool talk about climbing. This one moment was to change her life forever, give her a purpose that had never crossed her mind and help her forge a different path to the one she was intending. She dropped Kenton a message, and they met at Kings Cross station and he outlined what she needed to do to reach that goal. Now more convinced than ever that she didn’t want to be one of those that had never climbed it, practice at climbing begun in earnest. Her parents were less convinced though, and persuading them she would be able to do it was another mountain to conquer too. Less than a year later Bonita was on her way to Nepal for the first time for a practice run up Mansulu, and her first climb into the death zone of a mountain.

Funding the Everest trip was going to be hard though as these trips are not cheap. She began writing to lots of companies to try and raise the necessary funds and was getting nowhere. A last fraught attempt to raise the cash by ringing into a radio station had the result that she needed and her experience of a lifetime was actually going to happen.

There were several mountains that had to be conquered before her dream of standing on top of the world could happen. Not just persuading her parents that she would be fine as she was climbing with some of the best in the world, but building the self-belief and discipline that comes with undertaking a task like this. Hs has learnt from the heart-stopping moments that she has had when in the high mountains as well as taking those moments to enjoy the personal and team achievements of reaching the highest places on earth, including one of the few to summit Lhotse. Norris is another tough lady who set her sights on a dream and realised it. The writing is not bad, but this is more a book to inspire others to discover the things they want to do and to set about achieving them.

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

An interview with Little Old Me

An interview I did with Stuart from Always TrustIn Books for Non-Fiction November:

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review: Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe

Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kapka Kassabova now lives in Scotland and before that resided in New Zealand, but she was not born in these places. Twenty-five years ago she left Bulgaria as a teenager and in this book she returns to her home country. In her childhood, the border between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece was part of the Iron Curtain. A few miles from where she played on the beach was the physical barrier, an electric fence whose sharpest barbs were directed at the real enemy; its own people. It had the reputation of being an easier point to cross over to the West than further North and therefore the woods and valleys crawled with soldiers and spies after those people seeking freedom.

The recent past is just a small part of the long history of this region. Kassabova travels around the region talking to border guards, fire walkers and treasure hunters as well as meeting the disposed and displaced who have made their way from Iraq and Syria. These refugees have walked away from the horrors of war with only the clothes on their back in search of freedom and a new life. There is much more to this landscape that the modern borders sit uncomfortably on top of. Peeling back the layers of past in the dense forests, she travels to springs that have deep pagan roots and are still considered to have healing qualities and visits tombs that add an ancient dimension to the land.

'It is not for everyone', Nevzat agreed, but I could see that he loved these villages. He and Mr Karadeniz resonated with the ruinous beauty of this landscape. Because they were its children.

This book is primarily about people of the region as well as the places they inhabit. Kassabova meets and speaks to the people in villages who are seeing their populations plummet and the buildings crumble around them. However, this is not just about those that live in the region; but she is prepared to share a coffee or a meal with those that are waiting before passing through to other places, shining a light on the current refugee crisis that is prompting the rise of nationalism in Europe. Most impressive though is Kassabova’s writing; it is elegant and lyrical with a beautiful haunting melancholy about it, immersing you, the reader, in the landscape. Just, quite a wonderful book really. 4.5 stars

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Sunday, 12 November 2017

Review: The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason

The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher De Bellaigue
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In these frankly, traumatic times where various parties are taking more umbrage at each other’s point of view and the language is becoming more provocative one of the accusations levelled against the Muslim world is that they are failing to adapt to a modern world and modernise their culture. This has not always been the case though, as back in the nineteenth century the Muslim world embraced change and modern practices, medicine and universal suffrage. In this book on the Islamic Enlightenment, de Bellaigue goes back over 200 years to take us through the history of the region and the politicians, scientists and writers who have been key to driving the change in the region.

This is not a book you can rush, as de Bellaigue takes enormous pains to find the movers and shakers who drove through the change in this Muslim world and tell their story. It is full of complex tales and he is equally critical of the Muslim countries and of the Western states that carved up the region for their own ends whilst using the local political leaders to continue to oppress the populace. The amount of research that has gone into this makes for incredibly dense prose and I found it quite challenging to read. I also felt that sometimes the narrative of the stories of the people got lost in the detail. Will probably become a standard text in its time, but it is possible more for the specialist rather than the general reader.

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