Friday, 30 June 2017

A Month In Books - June 2017

I am delighted that book reviews blog, Literary Flits, hosted another two Guest Reviews this month. If you have an indie author, small press or global literature book review that you would like to share please do get in touch. It doesn't need to be exclusive content and you can check here to see if a book has already been reviewed. I look forward to hearing from you!

Do also get in touch if you want a Spotlight post. These are just £2.50 each and allow authors to showcase their own book to my Literary Flits audience. Further details through This Link. You could win a Spotlight post by following me and retweeting my pinned tweet on Twitter!

For myself, I blogged five Russian authored books for June's WorldReads. My June reading tally was fourteen books including historical fiction from Bulgaria, a lovely Japanese novella about a stray cat, and Kate Vane's newest novel which was almost my Book Of The Month.

Don't forget to check out all the Giveaways - there are five to enter, but one closes today so be quick!

Guest reviews

Kiss Hollywood Goodbye by Anita Loos
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The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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Dancing in the Rain by Lucy Appadoo + Giveaway open until 1st July

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Speaking with Strategic Impact: Four Steps to Extraordinary Presence and Persuasion by Kate LeVan + Giveaway open until 8th July

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Tales from Harborsmouth by E.J. Stevens + Giveaway open until 6th July

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Eye Of The Tiger: a Redcliffe Novel (book 4) by Catherine Green

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My reviews

The Rights Of Man by H G Wells ~ my Book Of The Month!

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Gravel Heart by Abdulrazak Gurnah

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The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

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The Former Chief Executive by Kate Vane ~ my 2nd placed Book Of The Month!

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Greek Fire and Its Contribution to Byzantine Might by Konstantinos Karatolios

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Other People's Business: Much Ado About Nothing - Shakespeare's Romantic Comedy Retold by H J Moat

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Dead On Ice by Lauren Carr + Giveaway open until 22nd July

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A Kind Of Light by H R F Keating

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Quantum Dream by Nicholas Boyd Crutchley + Giveaway open until 7th July

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The Good Old Boys by Elmer Kelton

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Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

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The Parthenon Bomber by Christos Chrissopoulos

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First There Wasn't, Then There Was by Troy Blackford

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Wolf Hunt by Ivailo Petrov

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That's it for this month and I know I have already got some great books lined up for review in July including Harry Whitewolf's new poetry collection which I didn't get to in June, plus other new books by Stuart Maconie and Tin Larrick. Keep up daily on Literary Flits or I will see you here at the end of the month for another round up. Don't forget the Giveaways!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Taking up the #PlasticFreeJuly challenge

I found out about this Australian challenge through Kindsay Miles' excellent website Treading My Own Path. Plastic Free July has been happening for several years and is now embraced by people all over the globe. The idea is to make conscious decisions about what we buy and especially how it is packaged. I had a quick think about what I can do to reduce my plastic usage ...

Always take my steel water flask with me so I am not tempted to buy a bottled drink

Buy a bamboo replacement toothbrush instead of another plastic one

Make up reusable fruit and veg bags from old net curtains instead of taking single-use plastic ones in the shop

Actually visit The Zero Waste Shop in Totnes instead of just planning to go there

Stop buying individually wrapped boiled sweets for car journeys - and find a sweet shop that will refill a tin instead of selling in plastic bags

Bake my own biscuits instead of buying packet ones - I've already found a good Digestives recipe and my Oat and Date Cookies are surprisingly healthy!

What other ideas would be good to implement? Let me know your suggestions in the Comments!
Join the challenge at Plastic Free July too and, if you're Torbay-based (or thereabouts) join our Facebook event to share your Plastic Free successes

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Two great music Kickstarter campaigns!

Rebecca Pronsky's Witness team 
I've taken to blogging live music gigs we're looking forward to on the 25th of the month, but we haven't actually got any booked at the moment so I thought I would share two great music Kickstarter campaigns with you instead.

First up is New York's Rebecca Pronsky who has actually reached her target for Witness: Hillary's Song Cycle, but her Kickstarter campaign doesn't finish until Friday June 30th so you still have time to get on board. Rewards range from digital copies of the album to signed CDs, signed posters, and even your very own Hillary house concert.

Rebecca says, In the weeks following the election, Hillary Clinton all but disappeared. She went from being one of the most visible people in the world to someone who barely updated her Twitter account. During that time, I was consumed with intense feelings of empathy for Hillary. I wondered how she was coping and I worried about her emotional state. I began writing songs from her point of view, an inner monologue of her life during that mysterious time. The result is a song cycle called "Witness". In "Witness" we follow Hillary as she goes for walks in the woods, wrestles with the voices of her doubters, dances in her living room barefoot, and swears... a lot. Her monologue travels from disbelief to depression, rage to grief, and acceptance to hope.

Witness: Hillary's Song Cycle

Rebecca Pronsky is raising funds for Witness: Hillary's Song Cycle on Kickstarter! A song cycle that imagines the inner world of Hillary Clinton during the weeks following the election.

Sam Baker from Austin, Texas, has just started his Kickstarter campaign for his latest album, Land Of Doubt. He is also a couple of days into his UK tour so do get along to hear him play if you can. The remaining gigs are in Bradford, Sheffield, Leicester, London and Bristol (click the town name to visit its WeGotTickets gig page).

Land Of Doubt is Sam's fifth record. Kickstarter rewards range from digital downloads of the album to signed CDs, limited edition artworks, VIP show packages, and even one of Sam's guitars.

Sam says, In 1986 I was on a train in Cuzco, Peru that was blown up by terrorists. It killed the people I was sitting with. I had a cut artery, brain damage, blown in ear drums and should have died - but I didn’t. I tried to figure out what it means to be blown up - to survive when others die. I wrote a lot. It was mostly drivel. But with the drivel came songs.
For me, doubt is part of living, part of being engaged in life, part of the great questioning of life. Curiosity can be fueled by doubt. My life got better when I accepted doubt as an integral part of life, as the counterweight to hope and security. By accepting uncertainty, by learning how to live with the unknowing, I began to find beauty in the moment. Beauty in the act of being alive. And especially the beauty of music. This record is a meditation, a reflection on day-to-day life. The goodness, the struggle, the uncertainty. It gives me strength to share doubt. It gives me strength to hear others share doubt. With doubt comes clarity. With doubt comes hope.


Sam Baker is raising funds for LAND OF DOUBT on Kickstarter! A new album by Sam Baker - Land of Doubt

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Our cycle tour from Eye

Big Head by Ben Platts-Mills 
One of the leaflets in our current campsite's information pack, Cycling Around Eye, detailed two cycle routes both of which start in the nearby town of Eye in Suffolk. We chose the longer of the two, a twenty-one mile jaunt, and set out in glorious sunshine complete with a picnic lunch and plenty of cold water in my new stainless steel drinking flask which has been a godsend so far on this holiday.

From our Braiseworth starting point, we headed down to Thorndon where remains of a Bronze Age settlement were discovered. Bronze tools from the site are displayed in the British Museum, but we didn't see anything about the find as we pedalled through the village. Thorndon church tower dates from the fourteenth century.

Leaving Thorndon, our road went east and then north to Occold where we joined up with the Route Two of our leaflet. This pretty village is named in the Domesday Book as Acholt meaning oak wood in old Aenglish and there are still several impressive oak trees in the vicinity. I remembered the proud village signs in Suffolk and Norfolk from our time touring the UK in 2015 so enjoyed spotting several more examples.

This part of Suffolk has innumerable pretty houses and cottages, many of which are painted in pastel colours and have amazing gardens. I could have filled a books with photographs of cute homes so you will probably be glad to know that just this one will stand to represent them all in this post! I was tempted to imagine myself living in several!

Past Bedingfield, Redlingfield and Athelington, we paused at Horham for lunch. Dave used to work in Horam in Sussex and the village names probably have the same linguistic root meaning a muddly enclosure or place. Both are much posher than that today! Benjamin Britten lived in the Suffolk Horham for a time and the village holds a second musical claim to fame in that they hold the oldest peal of eight bells in the world. The bells are even on a village sign by the church although fortunately weren't pealing through our lunch.

St Mary's, Horham 
From Horham to Denham and on to Hoxne and we were both starting to feel a little the worse for wear! Suffolk seems much flatter at the start of a long bike ride than by the three-quarters mark! Perhaps if we both cycled more often it would help? I was pleased by the patience and courteousness of the vast majority of car drivers we encountered (except for one Audi driver - why is it always an Audi?!) and we did mostly have the roads to ourselves which made for a relaxing tour.

Plodding back from Hoxne to Eye to Braiseworth, I screeched to a halt on spotting the Big Head sculpture pictured at the top of this post. It is a little way out of town tucked behind a gate so we probably would have missed it completely from a car.

Dave will tot up an accurate total of our mileage on gmaps later, but we are confident we cycled between twenty-five and thirty miles altogether - the mapped route plus getting to it and back again - before collapsing in sweaty messes back at our tent!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

Goal Zero Rock Out 2
Solar Rechargeable Speaker
It's so gloriously summery at the moment that the last thing you might want to do is browse the internet. Surely we're all lapping up the sun and enjoying ice cream and picnics?! For those of you stuck at home or at work though I have tracked down a post's worth of great deals and special offers.

I'm starting at All Outdoors who have a variety of items reduced at the moment including this Goal Zero Rock Out 2 Solar Rechargeable Speaker. Perfect for chilling out in the garden or on the beach, runs for up to ten hours on bluetooth with recharge times of two hours by USB or eight hours of solar power. It is on sale at £75.85 at All Outdoor, reduced from £99.99.

Gandhak stripe jersey dress 
If your wardrobe has let you down recently, head over to the Weird Fish Summer Sale to stock up on practical and attractive clothing for the outdoor life. I love Weird Fish style, especially the Macaroni range, and there are lots of cotton dresses, tops and tunics from which to choose as well as their wickedly humorous fish pun t-shirts. Weird Fish are offering up to 50% off. The Summer Sale starts today and continues until the 2nd of July.

For perpetual offers on beach reads and holiday books, sign up to the Alibris newsletters or keep an eye on their dedicated vouchers page. It seems to me as if there are always deals of around 10-20% off! Usually a minimum spend applies, but this is split into tiers so you can get a satisfying reduction without having to stretch your budget to do so.

Waitrose offers 
Are you entertaining in the near future? Save yourself a bit of the preparation stress, especially in this heat, by ordering the makings of a sumptuous (and fairly healthy!) summer dessert from Waitrose. Waitrose is currently offering 25% off Summer Desserts and this deal lasts until the 27th of June so you still have a few more days to take advantage. Let me know if you do so we can pop round to help with the actual eating as well! There's discounts on beers and barbecue food too.

Finally I guess we'll all be cooling off with more showers than usual so The Body Shop's latest sale is neatly timed. You can save up to 50% on the Recommended Retail Price of items included within the “SALE” category online between 9am on Monday 19th June 2017 until 9am Tuesday 18th July 2017 or whilst stocks last. Offer applies ONLY to items in this category and does not apply to any alternative products.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Exploring the Eye Town Trail

Eye church 
We are camped in a gorgeous wild flower meadow in the tiny hamlet of Braiseworth in Suffolk. Surrounded by tall trees for shade and with space for just five units, Frog's Hall campsite is absolutely perfect for us! It's a Camping And Caravanning Club CS with minimal facilities - electric hookup, drinking water and waste disposal - run by Denise and John who are friendly and very helpful. On arrival we were given the loan of a comprehensive information pack detailing local cycling routes, shops and businesses in Eye, dozens of leaflets for attractions in the area and further afield, and a map of the nearby footpaths. Traffic noise is rare and the soundtrack here is basically birdsong and a light breeze rustling leaves. Idyllic! Frog's Hall is great value at £13 a night though you will need to bring your own toilet (we are glad of our portable toilet!)

Lacons brewery plaque 
Having not travelled far from Wood Norton to get here we had a whole afternoon to explore and decided to walk into Eye and do the historic Town Trail, a leaflet for which was in the information pack. Eye is about an hour's wander away on quiet single track roads and footpaths. In hindsight it probably would have been better to have cycled in because, with the town walk as well, over three hours turned out to be a bit much on the hot afternoon but we didn't realise that until too late of course!

In reality little more than a good-sized village, Eye was actually designated a borough until the 1970s complete with its own mayor and local government. A prosperous trading centre until the railway didn't come here in the 1800s, Eye can possibly blame its lack of subsequent growth on trains taking all their potential business to Diss. However, back in Norman times, nearby Hoxne was a flourishing market town until Eye stole their thunder and trade - what goes around comes around?

Eye's church and castle both date back to the Normans with one William Malet being given the Honour of Eye by William the Conqueror. His original castle has been rebuilt several times and is now again a ruin, but one that stands high on the original bailey around which the town centre is shaped.

There are many old buildings dating from various periods dotted around and I enjoyed discovering a number of them including thatched cottages, medieval town houses and Victorian facades disguising older structures. There are good independent shops one of which sells knitted cakes, a proper hardware store and The Bank which is now a not-for-profit cafe and art space where we went to a fantastic gig! We climbed up to the ruined castle to look over the town and then descended to the Co-Op where we discovered Wendy's House baked slices - delicious! Dave enjoyed Raspberry And Coconut and I can recommend the Banana, Date And Pecan!

Walking home along a different footpath route, I loved finding ourselves at a farming version of a Richard Long sculpture!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Jonathan Byrd (and Jess Morgan) at The Bank in Eye

Jonathan Byrd and Johnny Waken
Photo by The Bank in Eye 
We originally planned our current trailer tent holiday around two gigs near to each other on consecutive nights. Sadly the Philip Henry and Hannah Martin library gig was cancelled (that's the third we've had cancelled this year. Perhaps we should stop booking our tickets so far ahead?!), but we were treated to an absolutely fantastic evening in the little town of Eye on Saturday. Eye is a historically interesting destination in itself and I will blog about that soon, but for today I want to talk about amazing music and a lovely venue!

North Carolina's Jonathan Byrd has been touring his music for the best part of twenty years so I was surprised than we had not stumbled across one of his gigs before. A singer-songwriter and guitarist, I loved his thoughtful lyrics and the range of his music which takes in many styles from a capella blues to beautifully crafted story songs with a couple of cheesier country numbers along the way. We saw him accompanied by the inimitable Johnny Waken - a talented multi-instrumentalist who managed the whole (stiflingly hot) evening in full three-piece suit with a tie. Perfectly dapper! Dave and I both felt privileged to have seen such an incredible performance and Dave even said this was the best new-to-us musician he has seen for several years!

There are four more gigs on the UK Tour including tonight so, if they're not already sold out, get your tickets through these links:
19th June - Leicester
20th June - Bristol
21 st June - London
23rd June - Saltaire

The Bristol gig will be supported by Jess Morgan from Norfolk who we also saw at The Bank on Saturday. She has a gorgeous voice and good songs on unusual topics and I was happy to have discovered her music as well. Judging by the quality we saw and heard on Saturday I am happy to recommend The Bank to anyone living near or passing through Eye. It's a non-profit cafe and art space located in the old HSBC building and utilising some of the bank's wooden counters which gives the place a unique look. Well worth a visit!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Richard Long sculpture trail at Houghton Hall, Norfolk

A Line In Norfolk by Richard Long 
Driving to Sheringham from our Wood Norton campsite we were lucky to spot an advertising hoarding for a summer-long Richard Long sculpture exhibition at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. Built for the first British Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall is now a fabulous stately home with extensive gardens and grounds open to the public. Tickets can be bought online and, at the time of writing are £10 to view the gardens only and £18 for the house and gardens. We got lucky (again!) with Dave spotting a 10% off discount code for online sales: AAAA. I don't know for how long this code is valid.

"Richard Long is one of the most influential figures of conceptual and land art, part of a generation of distinguished British artists who extended the possibilities of sculpture beyond traditional materials and method. Long’s work is rooted in his deep affinity and engagement with nature, developed during solitary walks. Long’s new pieces in the grounds of Houghton Hall use a variety of materials, including local carr stone, flint from East Anglia, trees from the Estate and Cornish slate, and accompany the permanent Long sculpture, Full Moon Circle, which was commissioned for Houghton in 2003."

White Deer Circle by Richard Long 
The Richard Long exhibition is entitled Earth Sky. It will continue until the end of October 2017 and incorporates six large outdoor works dotted around Houghton Hall grounds, a gallery showing a few photographic records of other works, and one indoor work which we didn't get to see as we hadn't splashed out on a house ticket! I loved the contrast of works such as A Line In Norfolk which tears straight down the centre of a pristine green lawn right in front of the house!

Waterflame by Jeppe Hein 
As well as Earth Sky, Houghton Hall also boasts a permanent sculpture trail of nine works placed in various places around the grounds. We were given a map on arrival and searching out the sculptures gave us a good tour of the beautiful formal gardens. It took a good two hours to see everything and that was without going into the house. Houghton Hall would easily make a four to five hour day out with a picnic or cafe lunch!

My favourite non-Long was the surprisingly accurately titled Waterflame by Jeppe Hein, created in 2008. It consists of a simple water fountain, but with an additional jet of what we assumed was paraffin or something similar so the top of the fountain was water and fire. This work was hypnotic to watch as the fountain died away and regrew repeatedly.

Houghton Hut by Rachel Whiteread 
Two other sculptures that caught my imagination were Houghton Hut by Rachel Whiteread and Interior Space by Stephen Cox. Houghton Hut actually depicts the inside of a small building, Whiteread having made a cast of its interior walls and door. This is mind-boggling in itself, especially so when what appears to be a solid sculpture is positioned at the end of a narrow woodland track along which it cannot possibly have fitted!

The reverse is true of Interior Space. This piece is a marble box whose only entrance is the slender cutaway shown in the photograph. It was just wide enough to put my head through and peer inside, but the temptation to try and wriggle in was very strong. I wondered if anyone has got themselves stuck?

Interior Space by Stephen Cox 
Skyspace Seldom Seen by James Turrell is an amazing idea and one for which I don't want to spoil the surprise for people who have not yet seen it. The work is presented in a large wooden box structure and I will say that I loved the topiary hedges alongside its approach because they reminded me of the moss-covered lava fields we saw in Iceland.

The Silver Sea by Blott Kerr-Wilson 
If you go to Houghton Hall, don't miss the Norfolk By Design pop-up shop that has taken over the old stables building until the end of September. This initiative showcases smaller items by forty-five varied Norfolk artists and artisans including gorgeous lamps, naive pottery, lifesize crocheted deer (yes, really!), shell covered boxes and vanity items, and artworks. My absolute favourite was this picture made from mussel shells, The Silver Sea by Blott Kerr-Wilson.

Houghton Cross by Richard Long 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Two weeks in a trailer tent!

As you probably guessed from that title, we're on the road again! Our camping fortnight started with a single night at Barnstones Caravan and Camping Site, just outside Cropredy. This was quite a big site by our usual standards, almost all hard-standings and was surprisingly busy too. We were glad we had booked when we learned every pitch had been full the night before. Our pitch with electric hookup was £14 and we were right next to the good shower block which also included washing up sinks and a laundry room. I loved the penguin tiles pictured below.

For a busy site Barnstones was very quiet most of the time apart from constant traffic noise from the M40. We both liked Barnstones and would happily return here for a longer stay using the site as a base to explore the local area although perhaps not when the folk festival is on as I imagine the roads roundabouts would be ridiculously busy then!

From Barnstones, we continued on our way to North Norfolk and a few days at the very pretty Four Acre Farm Campsite at Wood Norton, near to Fakenham. A plaque at the entrance commemorates 120 trees being planted here for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the owner reckons he has planted over a thousand in the last fifteen years! Traffic noise here is sparse rather than continuous and the facilities are low key but good. A pitch with electricity is £15 per night and there are two toilet buildings, one of which also has a good shower and a washing up area. For entertainment we can watch swallows and bats at dusk, and yesterday sheep were being shorn in the next-door field. I think there's a couple of dozen pitches here over two fields and another field for rallys too. We are one of only about five units though so the site feels tranquil.

Four Acre Farm is our third time of pitching our Raclet Solena and I am pleased (and relieved) to be able to say we are definitely getting the hang of it now! From our several-hours effort for the tent and the awning at The Crib, we are now down to 11 minutes for just the trailer tent and half an hour total for both. Yay us!