The Border by Erika Fatland – Book Review

I saw this book recommended last year in a book blog featuring recommended non-fiction reads. Sadly, I can’t remember who wrote the post but whoever it was, I’m grateful for finding a great read.

The Border by Erika Fatland

This was a fascinating read, part History book and part travel memoir. For a period of two years, the author travelled the length of the Russian border,  a distance of over 20,000 km. This took her through the North-west Passage with very random mix of elderly travelling companions, to Korea, the Causcaus and eventually Europe finishing off in her homeland of Norway. The final leg of her journey was the sea voyage through the North-west passage but she actually begins the book with this before starting her journey along Russia’s land border.

For each country we get a brief account of its history and then an account of her visit and the people that she meets in each place. It’s a relatively easy book to read and congratulations are definitely due to the translator Kari Dickson who has created such a readable translation. The book was completed in 2017 although not published in the UK until 2020 which means that it has been overtaken by recent events in the Ukraine. She does discuss the 2014 takeover of the Crimean and the Ukranian chapters definitely foreshadow last year’s invasion.

The main premise of this book was to try to discover what the impact of having Russia as a neighbour has been. However, at times this seemed to get lost in the narrative and it just became an account of a country’s history. As the author herself states, there are as many answers to this question as there are neighbouring countries but there did seem to be a common theme of uneasiness. The fluidity of the border was a surprise. Many of the countries haven’t been independent for that long and borders are still changing. Living in the UK with a fixed coastal border, her accounts of interviews with people who had lived in two countries without ever moving were fascinating and at times really sad.

“And none of the countries I had travelled through were without wounds or scars left by their neighbour, Russia. For centuries, the smaller countries and peoples in particular, had been ground between the millstones of power, torn by wars between the major players and pulled here and there.”

I found the opening chapters to be the most compelling particularly those about Korea and Mongolia. This was probably because I knew so little about them before reading this but maybe just because they were the first countries visited and so had the benefit of novelty. At just under 600 pages, the book is very long and at times I did find that the accounts of each country’s history were beginning to blur together. I read it over a period of two weeks but I wonder if I might have been better leaving longer gaps between the different sections to allow my brain to absorb the information better.

Some of the stories that she heard along her journey were heartbreaking especially from those who had survived the second world war and the mass movements of the Soviet population carried out by Stalin. Over and over again, I was reminded of Robert Burns words:

Man’s inhumanity to man,
Makes countless thousands mourn.

This was an incredible journey undertaken by a young woman travelling alone and gave me a bit of an insight into what it must be like to live in a politically unstable part of the world.

“Nations have no collective memory: nations have no healed wounds. It is the individuals, millions of them , who carry the scars”.

This is the second book this year in the Non-Fiction reader challenge which is hosted by Shelleyrae at Book’d Out and details can be found here


This is what it sounds like – A Review

This is what it sounds like by Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas

I love music of all types. I’ve never learned a musical instrument other than the recorder but I have always sung in choirs and operatic/musical societies. I generally have music on in the house and it might be the local pop station or it might be a classical symphony. My tastes are quite wide-ranging  so when I saw this book in the library it seemed like an obvious pick.

The author, Susan Rodgers, is a musical engineer who worked with Prince on Purple Rain as well as a range of other artists and then moved into Neuro-Science. In the book she explores how people react differently to music and some of the reasons for this.

A lot of the book is about her personal experience and that of her friends and the students that she has taught and I found much of it fascinating. It’s not a difficult read and the sections where she moves into the Scientific basis for why things happen are perfectly understandable to a non-Scientist such as myself. I loved the personal anecdotes as well as the nuggets of information such as how Frank Sinatra turned himself into the amazing singer that he was.

The book is divided into chapters that focus on one element of music such as melody, lyrics etc which makes it easy to read. I particularly enjoyed those two chapters as I think that it’s the melody and lyrics that attract most of us to any particular piece of music. I know in  my case, nearly all of the pieces I love, whether classical or popular have a melody line that I can easily sing along too.

In each of the chapters, she discusses various tracks of music that illustrate the points that she is making and one of the things that I loved is that all of the tracks are available on a website. It was really helpful to be able to click on each of the songs and see how it fitted into the point that she was making. The songbook can be found at

I’m not sure that the book actually gave me very many insights into why I like the music that I do or what it says about me, but it was certainly an enjoyable and fascinating read. As a non-specialist, I did learn a lot about how popular songs are created, how records are produced and how pop music in particular changes over time.

I would definitely recommend this for any one who enjoys popular music of any type and is interested in the hows and whys behind its creation.

This is the my second non-fiction book of 2023 and so it keeps me on track with my target of at least 6 non fiction books for the 2023 Non Fiction Reader Challenge

The Darkness Manifesto – #bookreview

The Darkness Manifesto by Johan Eklof

The Darkness Manifesto is a well-researched book on the effects of our ever-increasing love of artificial light on our world. I was aware of the effect of light pollution on our night skies and have seen several studies on the need for humans to maintain their circadian rhythms but I had no idea about the implications for wildlife. Even basic information that bats and moths are important pollinators was new to me.

The author is a bat scientist and there is a heavy emphasis on bats during the book but also on birds and other creatures such as coral . I found the book to be extremely informative and it certainly made me aware of issues that I had not previously thought of. It was probably especially apt to read this over the Christmas and New Year period when our towns and homes are all illuminated even more than usual. I love seeing all the lights and enjoy seeing buildings such as old churches lit up without ever having thought of the wider implications before.

The facts and figures that he quotes are unbelievable. I had never really thought about moths as pollinators but they are as important as bees. The dangers of pesticides to bees and sudden colony deaths are quite widely known but this is the first time that I have read anything about the devastating effects of artificial light on moths and insects. The author tells us that the number of insect species is decreasing by 3% every year and so the disruptive effects of light on them becomes even more important.

He also looks at the effects on humans of the tendency to live in a world which is never dark and some of the figures that he quotes about hormone based cancers are quite scary.

The book is very research heavy and at times, I found it to be quite disjointed and lacking a strong narrative flow. There were several times when he cited a specific incident or piece of research and then just moved straight onto something else when I expected that he would discuss this further.

I did enjoy reading this and certainly learned a lot from it. It is obviously an important issue and  I especially liked the final part which is his Darkness Manifesto, a series of simple actions that anyone can do.

Thank you to Net Galley and the publishers for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Darkness Manifesto was published by Random House UK in November 2022.

This is my first read for the Non Fiction Reader Challenge 2023

Journeys to Impossible Places – a review

Humans have always needed to explore. Over the centuries our desire to travel has had profound consequences including innovation, brutal conquest, trade, settlement and love. Travel has helped to create our culture, civilisation and forge the modern world. Our endless adventures are evidence of something fundamental: going on a journey is the essence of our species. Our desire to travel and explore helps to make us human.

This book details some of Simon Reeve’s travels into the most remote parts and inaccessible parts of the world. He together with his camera crew travels through the Tropic of Cancer, trying to follow the equator and then around the Indian Ocean.

I loved his accounts of the places that he travelled through and the people he met. He feels very strongly that the purpose of his journeys is at least partly to give a voice to some of the most isolated people on our world, to tell their story to a wider audience.

It’s a really uplifting book in many ways as he meets so many people who risk their lives to help Simon and his crew visit these remote communities. It was really humbling to read how little some people manage to survive on and still lead fulfilling lives. He is able to show you the reader what he sees in such a way that you feel that you are there too. I loved the way that he acknowledged how lucky he was to be able to visit these parts of the world that are close to what we might imagine paradise to be like.

It was also an incredibly depressing book as he sets out very clearly the damage that we are doing to our planet. The details of the plastic nurdles that now form a large part of the beaches in Hawaii were horrifying together with other scenes such as huge rubbish dumps just around the corner from somewhere that looked like it was paradise on earth. But maybe worse than the damage we are inflicting on our planet, some of which is through ignorance, were the accounts of the damage and harm we cause to each other. Places such as Sudan, Burma and Colombia where it was dangerous (and in one case, completely illegal) to film really came alive for me.

It’s a memoir as well as a travel book and he gives full details about his mental health issues as well as the problems he and his wife had conceiving their son. These parts interested me less and I possibly didn’t need quite so much detail about sperm health but his openness was a feature of the whole book and would have been less without it.

This was a fascinating read and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in travel or just about the amazing world we live in.

This is my twelfth Non-Fiction book so far in 2022 which means that I have achieved my Non-Fiction Reader Challenge this year. I’ve really enjoyed pushing myself to read books that I wouldn’t normally have looked at and will certainly continue to read non fiction into 2023. I’ve already got my next book sorted –

The Non-Fiction Reader Challenge is hosted at Book’dout and you can find the details of the challenge here

How have your reading challenges gone this year?

Agatha Christie – a very elusive woman. Book Review

I really enjoyed this Biography of possibly the world’s most famous female author. Despite having read nearly all of Agatha Christie’s novels, I didn’t actually know that much about her. I knew about the mysterious disappearance and also that she married an archaeologist who was younger than her but that was pretty much it. When I saw that Lucy Worsley had written a new biography it was a must-read for me.

Official Blurb from the book:
“Nobody in the world was more inadequate to act the heroine than I was.”

Why did Agatha Christie spend her career pretending that she was “just” an ordinary housewife, when clearly she wasn’t?  Her life is fascinating for its mysteries and its passions and, as Lucy Worsley says, “She was thrillingly, scintillatingly modern.”  She went surfing in Hawaii, she loved fast cars, and she was intrigued by the new science of psychology, which helped her through devastating mental illness.

So why—despite all the evidence to the contrary—did Agatha present herself as a retiring Edwardian lady of leisure? 

She was born in 1890 into a world that had its own rules about what women could and couldn’t do. Lucy Worsley’s biography is not just of a massively, internationally successful writer. It’s also the story of a person who, despite the obstacles of class and gender, became an astonishingly successful working woman.

With access to personal letters and papers that have rarely been seen, Lucy Worsley’s biography is both authoritative and entertaining and makes us realize what an extraordinary pioneer Agatha Christie was—truly a woman who wrote the twentieth century.

Blurbs for non-fiction books are definitely getting better. This one really made me want to read the book and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Lucy Worsley has a really easy writing style and her prose carries you along effortlessly. I’ve only watched a couple of her television shows but the same enthusiasm that she showed there is also apparent in her writing.

This is an extensively well researched biography and the author also uses Agatha Christie’s own autobiography which helps us to really get a picture of her subject. We learn about her life and how her writing fitted into that and also how her writing arose out of what was happening around her. The subtitle is very true as the biography clearly shows the less well-known side of her character; the retiring woman who would rather not be the centre of attention.

I had only ever seen pictures of her as an elderly woman and so it was fascinating to read about how attractive she was when younger. The work she did during WWI was also interesting and the parallels that Worsley drew with Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth as both the women were in a similar situation.

Obviously the most famous part of her life was the mysterious disappearance in 1926 and the biography covers this in detail. A lot of this was new to me although possibly won’t be to people who know more about Agatha Christie. I had no idea that the hunt for her was on such a large scale or that public opinion about it was so negative. Lucy Worsley paints a sympathetic picture of why Agatha felt the need to disappear which seemed very plausible to me.

She doesn’t gloss over the problematic elements of the Christie novels either. She shows Agatha’s Christie’s casual use of racist language and characterisation that would be unthinkable today. She was also very much of her upbringing and the working class were often portrayed in stereotypical ways in her earlier works. However, she also shows that these attitudes did change over time.

Agatha Christie was a much more interesting person than I had imagined. I loved finding out about how adventurous she was. From her coming out season in Cairo, to running archaeological digs in Iraq, she loved to travel and again, these experiences fed into some of her best known novels such as Death on the Nile.

The main interest though for me was Christie’s writing. We see how committed she was to writing and how she constantly kept notebooks with ideas for plots and characters. Her books have always been incredibly popular and Lucy Worsley makes the point that they reflected life for a lot of people at the time. Now, the life that is shown is historical fiction but at the time they were published, they reflected a changing society. Her financial affairs are interesting too, especially the arguments with the US tax authorities

This biography is best read if you have already read a lot of Agatha Christie’s work or if you have a poor memory as there are several spoilers contained in the biography as Lucy Worsley discusses the novels.

This is my tenth book Non-Fiction book so far in 2022 so I’m well on track to hit my Non-Fiction Reader Challenge this year. The Non-Fiction Reader Challenge is hosted at Book’dout and you can find the details of the challenge here

Non Fiction November – Book Pairings

It’s Non Fiction November and as reading more non fiction was one of my aims this year, I really wanted to take part in this.

Nonfiction November is a month-long event highlighting nonfiction books with weekly blog post prompts and a daily Instagram challenge. It is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction, Jaymi at The OC Bookgirl, Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks, and Rebekah at She Seeks Nonfiction.

I completely ran out of time to complete last week’s task but I did have what I thought was a brilliant idea for this week.

My non fiction/ fiction pair are all about Jane Austen.

My Non Fiction Choice

Lucy Worsley takes us back to Austen’s childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodations, the houses–both grand and small–of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life. Jane Austen lived in very different places from the fairly affluent Steventon Parsonage where her father was Rector to small rented rooms in Bath and Winchester.

Lucy Worsley looks at those homes and the changing circumstances of Jane’s life as her family fortunes fluctuated. We see very clearly how Jane’s livelihood was completely dependent on the men in her family. First her father and then her brothers all had to support and provide a home for Jane, her sister and mother.

My Fiction Choice

This is a novel based on the life of Anne Sharpe who is mentioned in Jane Austen at home. She was governess to Jane Austen’s niece Fanny and when she and Jane met at Godmersham Hall, they become friends and corresponded with each other throughout their lives.

In this novel, Gill Hornby weaves a lovely novel about a year in Anne’s life from the few letters and evidence that we have. She also makes it very clear how dependent women were on the men in their family and how precarious existence was once you were alone in the world.

I found that these two books were a perfect pairing as each of them cast more light and gave me a greater understanding about the other.

What would your fiction/non fiction pairing be?

Taste by Stanley Tucci – A review #blogtober

I first saw this book in a book shop and thought that it looked quite interesting and then I began to see reviews and mentions on social media so decided to order it from the library. I’m so glad that I did as it was a really enjoyable read.

Book Blurb – Taste is a reflection on the intersection of food and life, filled with anecdotes about growing up in Westchester, New York, preparing for and filming the foodie films, Big Night and Julie and Julia, falling in love over dinner and teaming up with his wife to create conversation-starting meals for their children. Each morsel of this gastronomic journey through good times and bad, five-star meals and burnt dishes is as heartfelt and delicious as the last.

After a blurb like that, how can anyone who enjoys food resist this book? Taste is part a memoir and partly a cookbook. It is Stanley Tucci’s homage to food and the importance that it has played in his life.

It’s mostly a chronological account beginning with his childhood memories of his mother’s cooking and watching cooking shows on TV. The memories of eating with his family and the meals cooked by his mother are obviously still incredibly vivid and you definitely get a sense of a family for whom shared meal times were so important.

The importance of food to his family when he was growing up has obviously stayed with him and the book details periods of his life and the meals he ate both in restaurants and later prepared by himself and his wife. The descriptions of the food are amazingly vivid and it is definitely difficult to read this without wanting to immediately go and eat an Italian meal.

Each chapter not only contains details of the meals eaten but some of the actual recipes as well including one for traditional English roast potatoes. I read the actual book rather than the audio version, but as you read, you can definitely hear Tucci’s voice and the passage where his wife cooks roast potatoes in the traditional way to the bemusement of her husband and in-laws really comes to life.

As a film actor, he’s travelled a lot and the book covers some of the different places that he has eaten as well as the company he ate with. One of the most memorable passages for me was the meal he describes in Normandy in the company of Meryl Streep. Unlike most of the food descriptions in the book, this one doesn’t tempt me at all!!

There is a lot of humour in the book even in the later chapters where he finds that he is suffering from oral cancer and was in danger of losing his sense of taste completely. It’s a very easy book to read and I would find that I sat down to read for a short time only to find that an hour had passed.

Stanley Tucci constantly makes the point about how important food and the sharing of meals is to so many of us. I love going out for a meal with my husband and we try to eat together as many nights as we can as that shared time is so special. I also love books where food plays a large part. Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti views food with the same love as Tucci and the novels have many descriptions of Venetian cuisine. Another series where local cookery is a an important part are the Bruno, Chief of Police books by Martin Walker which are set in the Dordogne and feature many mouth watering meals.

This is a brilliant read that made me immediately want to try the recipes as well as track down the TV shows and films that he mentions. If you enjoy celebrity memoirs or cookbooks, then this is certainly one to read.

This is my ninth book Non-Fiction book so far in 2022 so I’m well on track to hit my Non-Fiction Reader Challenge this year. The Non-Fiction Reader Challenge is hosted at Book’dout and you can find the details of the challenge here

Spring Cannot be Cancelled – A Review

I love the art of David Hockney and have been lucky enough to go to two of his exhibitions so when I received this book for my birthday, I was thrilled.

Spring Cannot be Cancelled is a series of conversations, mostly by phone and email, between the artist, David Hockney and Martin Gayford, an art critic, author and friend of Hockney. In 2019, Hockney moved to Normandy with his assistant and Gayford visited him there. Some of their conversations during that visit form the first chapter of the book and then most of the remainder are records of phone and zoom calls and emails between the two. As well as the emails, Gayford provides biographical details about Hockney which provide some background to the subjects that they discuss as well as his thoughts on what they discuss.

It sounds a bit boring when I sum it up like this but the book itself is fascinating. Hockney is 82 but his enthusiasm for life and his art remain as strong as ever. His love of nature and desire to paint what he sees is a common thread through all of the chapters.

You should paint what you love. I’m painting what I love; I’ve always done it”

The move to Normandy meant that he was able to just step outside and look at the countryside and his delight in being to do this is clear. He talks about the tiny details such as the ripples in water and how they are constantly moving and then moves onto how he tries to represent these things in pictures and also compares the way that other artists have attempted the same thing.

Hockney also talks a lot about how he works and the need he has to paint every day.

“I have to paint. I’ve always wanted to do it. That’s my job I think, making pictures, and I’ve gone on doing it for over 60 years.”

He discusses how he uses different methods to recreate what he sees in front of him. One of the things that I have always loved about his work is his use of modern technology and he talks about how he uses his ipad to create his pictures. We also see inside his studio and he compares his to the studios of other artists both past and present.

Obviously, in a book about Art, you want to see what they are talking about and the book is full of pictures, not only of Hockney’s work but also pictures by other artists who have inspired him or simply made him think about something differently.

The illustrations aren’t just put together in a picture section as so often happens in a paperback but actually in the correct place in the text so there is no need to be constantly flipping backwards and forwards between the picture and the text. Ironically, one of the things that he talks about is that seeing a picture of an artwork is not the same as being faced with the actual painting but at least the pictures show what he is talking about.

“You notice more with each successive year.”

I loved this book and Hockney’s ability to still be inspired by the tiny day to day changes in trees, light and water is something that makes me want to go out and try to do the same.

This is my eighth book Non-Fiction book so far in 2022 so I’m well on track to hit my Non-Fiction Reader Challenge this year. The Non-Fiction Reader Challenge is hosted at Book’dout and you can find the details of the challenge here

I Belong Here – a review

In my aim to read more non fiction this year, I seem to be drawn to books about walking. So far I’ve read In Praise of Walking and Windswept and I Belong Here is another book where walking is the central theme.

I Belong Here: A Journey along the backbone of Britain by Anita Sethi

Anita Sethi was inspired (or driven to) walking the Pennine Way after being the victim of a Hate Crime involving racial abuse while on a train journey. The crime was reported and the perpetrator eventually prosecuted and found guilty. However, the author was traumatised by this whole experience and felt driven to explore the landscape of the place where she was born and had been brought up. She hoped that this would alleviate her anxiety and maybe provide a sense of belonging.

I was expecting something along the lines of The Salt Path which I read last year as in both cases, the authors had set out to complete a journey. However, this was a very different book and ultimately for me, a much less successful one.

The book is very much about the healing power of nature and how walking can ease your mind but the actual journey formed a much smaller part of the book than I expected. I loved her actual walking experiences especially when she went out for the day with a young girl who was staying at the same hostel. Her descriptions of the setting and her feelings are vivid and really made me want to see the peaks and pools for myself. I also loved the way she noticed the tiny details as she walked, first with a companion and then on her own. I share her frustration in seeing plants and birds and not being able to identify them. She was also very clear about how hard the actual process of walking was. It was very easy to empathise with her descriptions of how uncomfortable it is to carry your belongings in a single rucksack and I really felt her frustration when she injured her foot early on and had to interrupt her journey as a result.

However, the actual descriptions of her walking were constantly interrupted with other thoughts and the chapters seemed to meander between describing her journey, musings on society in general and racism in particular and even to include parts of a dictionary. Sometimes, this meandering made it hard to maintain interest especially the digressions into word meanings.

She makes a lot of very important points about how prevalent racism still is here in the UK as well as how unsafe many places still are for women on their own but I felt that the book really needed to be better organised. I really loved many parts of this book but others just didn’t hold my interest which is a shame as this was a book that I really wanted to like.

I Belong Here was published in 2021 by Bloomsbury.

Windswept – Why Women Walk ….. a review

Windswept (Why Women Walk) by Annabel Abbs

I was inspired to read this book after seeing it mentioned in a magazine article a while ago. The article mentioned the book in connection with Georgia O’Keefe, an artist who I have loved after seeing an exhibition of her work at Tate Modern a few years ago and as I also love walking, it seemed like the perfect choice for my next non-fiction read.

The book is a combination of memoir and biography as the author retraces the steps taken by a collection of notable women on their walks. The subjects include Gwen John, Nan Shepherd, Simone de Beauvoir and of course Georgia O’Keefe and all of the women broke with convention to go on solitary hikes into the wilderness. As Annabel Abbs walks in the steps of those women, she reflects on her own feelings and experiences and how they compare to those who have gone before her.

The book wasn’t quite what I expected as I didn’t realise that there would be so much of the author’s own experiences. At first, I found this a bit irritating as I wanted to learn more about the women she had researched. However, as I read on, I became just as interested in the author’s experiences as in her subjects.

Some of the chapters appealed more than others. I loved the chapters on Gwen John, Nan Shepherd and Georgia O’Keefe especially and was inspired to find out more about the life and work of Gwen John who I had heard of but knew very little about. All of the women found that they needed to escape and walk on their own to cope with their lives and find who they really were when not constrained by the roles expected of them. Each of them broke the normal rules of female behaviour by doing this. Walking, especially serious walking of 10 miles a day and more, for many years was the preserve of men. Women were expected to stay at home and by breaking these rules, all of the women exposed themselves to unwanted attentions. Walking alone exposed them to curiosity at best and sometimes outright danger. Sadly, one of the things that hasn’t changed in all this time is that women are still at risk when out walking as the recent murder of a primary school teacher on a canal path has shown.

Frieda von Richthofen in particular gave up everything in 1912, a home, husband and three children to go on an walking adventure with her lover, the author DH Lawrence. This is the first of the walks that the author covers as she retraces Frieda’s steps through Germany and over the Alps into Italy. We get more details about the author’s own experiences than Frieda’s as Frieda doesn’t give much information in her own memoirs but Annabel Abbs tries to recreate the routes taken and find some of the places where not only Frieda and Lawrence but each of her subjects stayed.  

As well as details about the historical walks and her own thoughts, we also get a fair amount of the Science behind walking and the benefits that walking in the countryside, along rivers or up in the mountains can bring to you. There are many mentions of the mental health benefits of walking in areas such as this compared to urban areas and all of the women in this book certainly found that the act of walking for miles and miles had a beneficial effect on them. There were one or two places where I felt that the heavy emphasis on finding yourself and inner harmony was a bit overwhelming but I’m sure that other people will find that more interesting.

The landscapes that the women chose to walk in are very varied. We travel from the great European rivers, over the alps and Scottish Munros to the Texan desert and each one of these presents its own challenges and has its own rewards. I loved the Georgia O’Keefe chapter most, partly because of how the desert inspired the artwork that I love but also because this was a landscape that is totally alien to me. I loved being transported to the empty expanse of the desert and trying to imagine what that emptiness would feel like.

I really enjoyed reading this book and finding out about these different women and where they walked. It has certainly inspired me to take my walking a bit more seriously and venture further afield than I presently do.

The Non Fiction Reader Challenge is hosted by ShelleyRae at Bookdout and details can be found here This is the fifth non fiction book that I have read in 2022 so I have definitely achieved my aim of reading more non fiction this year 😃