Saturday, 16 June 2018

H is for Hawk

H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rarely do you read a book where every word seems so perfectly in place, every thought so apt, each observation clear, original and enlightening. But then, this is a rare book. A rare book about a (reasonably) rare bird, at least in the wild. But it's so much more. Much more. I've had it on my shelves for a while now but - to be honest - it was the hawk on the cover, of the title, and subject of almost all the articles I'd read and discussion I'd heard that stayed my hand as it reached up to the shelf. Because although I love natural history, and ornithology especially, I wasn't sure I was ready to invest a week in the company of someone training a hawk. But the book - as all good books, on whatever subject - is about so much more. The hawk moments are wonderfully real and vivid, but in many ways serve as a metaphor for the internal struggle of the author as she comes to terms with the loss of her father, comes to terms with her place in the world, with the natural order of things, and recovers from illness. It's also an intriguing literary critique of the naturalist and author T.H. White, perhaps best known now for his Arthurian novels but also an accomplished (and deeply flawed) falconer. White's journey of self-discovery through falconry mirrors Macdonald's own growing appreciation of his account of training the eponymous raptor in 'The Goshawk'. And, of course, his journey is hers - both in terms of the bird they both trained, and the struggles they endured and - in Macdonald's case at least - overcame. A richly fulfilling and rewarding read.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Really Readly Good!

David Bowie once famously declared that music would one day flow like water from a tap. The man was a prophet. It does.

It flows freely from any number of sources: Spotify, Apple, Amazon and their streaming subscription services.

But the print world has been slow to catch on.

Until now.

Because now Readly ('the Spotify of magazines') is here.

Readly is a digital newsstand service which gives customers unlimited, “all-you-can-read” access to hundreds of national and international magazines in one app for just £7.99 per month – both streamed and downloaded.  Ultra-fast, easy-to-use and convenient – each subscriber can access the inventory on up to 5 devices across the major operating systems – the service has an increasing range of functions, including advanced zoom, bookmark, search and sharing tools.

It's also a great last minute Father's Day gift idea!

If you're stuck for ideas, why not give dad the gift of unlimited reading this Father’s Day? With the Readly digital magazine app you can bag dad a last minute gift that keeps on giving way beyond Sunday 17th June.

And, whether he's interested in tech, cars, news & reviews, sport or even celebrity & gossip, he can read his favourite title and experiment with many more with the Readly digital newsstand.

The Readly gift card is the perfect gift for Father’s Day and has options to suit every gift budget:

1 month - £7.99
3 months - £23.97
6 months - £47.94

And at the moment there's a 'three months for the price of one' special offer.

Yes, Readly!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Keep the Home Fire Burning

You heard it here first. Well, perhaps not. But I'm delighted that one of my picks of the year last year picked up the prestigious (and lucrative) Women's Prize for Fiction last night at the annual award ceremony in London.

Congratulations Kamila Shamsie. Her book really is a worthy winner. Here - should you not yet be persuaded - is my original review...

Home FireHome Fire by Kamila Shamsie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having wasted a small amount of my time last term on the government’s online ‘prevent’ strategy for school teachers I can honestly say that reading this book will give you a greater insight into radicalism than the ridiculous primary school caricatures contained in the so-called training. That, and the satisfaction of some seriously life-enhancing reading makes this book well worth the time ‘borrowed’ from marking and preparation... and pathetic attempts at politically-motivated teacher training.

View all my reviews

Monday, 4 June 2018


Excuse the language.

But that's the title of a book, crowdfunded by my own crowdfunding publisher, Unbound, today.

By today, I mean - today. I mean, it launched today, funded today (an hour after launch, actually) and now stands at a whopping 643% funded.*

I know.

Makes you sick, doesn't it? 

I mean, makes the heart glad.

Seriously, though.

What an achievement!

*actually, make that 644%. And for those of you puzzling over the maths, 100% gets the book written, edited, proof-read, printed and distributed. The rest is profit!

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Thomas Hardy

Happy birthday.

Because the grand old man of English letters was born on this day, way back in 1840.

I've been a fan of Hardy's for years, ever since discovering his poetry through the wonderful settings by Gerald Finzi.

It's odd stuff, not to everyone's taste, but nothing if not accessible. Some, it has to be said, is faintly risible. He wrote too much. But then, he wasn't the first. And probably won't be the last.

But I keep reading for those moments of utter magic, those memorable phrases, those wonderful (in both the novels and the poems) characters.

Here's one of my favourite extracts, from 'Under the Greenwood Tree'.


Monday, 28 May 2018

Little Kids, Big Dilemmas

However confident you feel as a parent (actually, does anyone ever feel confident as a parent?) we all need help from time to time. Thankfully, there's plenty on hand.

A slew of experts have written 'how to' manuals since Dr Spock first burst on the scene (not that one!).

Heck, I've even had a go at it myself, with my 'how to' guide for dads.

But more isn't always better. In fact, at times, it can make things worse.

If you're fed up with conflicting advice and looking for something that's more fact (scientifically researched, too) than opinion, then this book might be for you.

Psychologist Dr Sarah Kuppen, expert in early child development, uses her scientific expertise to sort through the hype and give you the facts.

Using the latest developmental research, she provides practical tips and solves more than 50 familiar parent questions and dilemmas. There'sadvice on:

• five ways to tame a tantrum
• what to do if your child isn’t talking
• the scientific facts on breast versus formula feeding
• managing sibling fights and conflict.

And it's good advice, too - backed up (as I said) by the latest research.

The book - the layout, principally - could be better, however.

As it is, you find yourself starting with toddler tantrums before moving on the sleep issues and then (in chapter three) to a section on breastfeeding.

Chapter four is about screen time while chapter eight is a fascinating psychological discussion of what a new-born is capable of knowing.

With that reservation, Little Kids, Big Dilemmas remains a useful guide for science-minded parents as well as childcare professionals. Reading it will allow you to make informed decisions on the big topics for parenting in the early years.

Just don't read it in the order that it's printed!

Little Kids, Big Dilemmas is available via

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