Book Review: Wildings: The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper by Duff Hart-Davis

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A delightful, beautiful book, capturing a snapshot of an unchanging, rural corner of England, whilst also making a wonderful record of the life and artistic talent of Eileen Soper, her father George, and to a lesser extent, her sister Eva. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

When Eileen Soper died in March 1990, the age of 84, executors found an astonishing treasure-trove at her home in Hertfordshire. Not only did the studio contain a great many paintings by her father George Soper, the celebrated horse artist, who had died in 1942. There were also more than 200 watercolours by Eileen herself, as well as a very large number of her drawings, sketchbooks and letters. Much of her work was done in the half-wild garden that surrounds Wildings, her home near Welwyn. Planted by her father, and designed as a sanctuary for birds and other creatures, the garden became the centre of Eileen’s life, when her father died, she and her sister Eva took it on, extended it, lived in it, worked in it, loved it and fought to protect it. In this magical haven birds would settle on Eileen’s head, and deer would come out to feed from her hand. This fabulous book details many of Eileen Soper’ nature artwork a must have for nature lovers as well as art lovers.

Favourite Quote

“For Eileen, the 1930s were and always remained a golden age, which her father’s engravings and paintings caught to perfection: his prints, she felt, reflected ‘the serenity that seemed then still to prevail on the land’.”

(From Wildings: The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper, by Duff Hart-Davis)

Review

I originally was given this book by my mother who thought I would love the illustrations for my junk journalling. However, on closer inspection of the book, we realised that the village in which Eileen Soper lived, the village where Wildings was built, was the next village up from where my own grandmother was born and spent the early years of her life.

Eileen Soper is perhaps best remembered for her illustrations and front cover art for many of Enid Blyton’s books, though her nature drawings and paintings, which I was unfamiliar with prior to reading this book, are beautiful.

The book is wonderfully illustrated with paintings, etchings, and sketches, by both Eileen and her father, George Soper. As well as the book being a biography of mainly Eileen, and contains snippets of the letters she wrote, there are also verses of her poetry too. A favourite read was on the subject of her dislike of modern art, which she conveyed in her own version of Rudyard Kipling’s If.

Making my way through the book, you can feel the sanctuary that was Wildings, especially in 1930s, for the family as a whole. There is art, there is creativity, there is collectiveness, and above all, you can feel the happiness. Also, although there is talk of many outings and holidays, there is a feeling of isolation and remoteness, which conjured a strange sadness in me as I read. I felt as if Wildings was set apart from the rest of the world, and those within its confines did all they could to keep everything inside it the same. But alas, the passing of time would not allow it.

Wildings: The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper is an interesting, engaging read, capturing a snapshot of an unchanging, rural corner of England as well as the essence and eccentricities of creative people in general, whilst also making a wonderful record of the life and artistic talent of Eileen Soper, her father George, and to a lesser extent, her sister Eva. I would highly recommend this book to those with an interest in the local area.

Rating

Advertisement

Book Review: Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas by Rebecca Smith

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this book is both beautifully presented and a wonderfully engaging and entertaining read. Highly recommended. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Is the man I’m dating Mr. Darcy in disguise. . . or simply a jerk? 
It’s been two centuries since Jane Austen penned Pride & Prejudice and her many other classic novels, yet her adroit observations on the social landscape and profound insights into human nature are as relevant now as they were in her time. If only those of us in need of some good advice today had the opportunity to sit down and tap even a few drops from Austen’s great reservoirs of wisdom. Well, now we do. . . .
 
In Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas, Rebecca Smith channels her great-great-great-great-great aunt’s sense—and, of course, her sensibility—to help readers navigate their most pressing problemsDrawing on Austen’s novels, letters, and unpublished writings, Smith supplies readers with wise and wonderful counsel for living well in the 21st century. From instruction on how to gracefully “unfriend” someone on Facebook to answers for such timeless questions as “Can a man ever really change?” this book enables readers to nimbly navigate life’s most tricky terrain with the good sense, good manners, and abundant humor that are the mark of any great Austen heroine.
 
Sensible, savvy, and funny, Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas cleverly answers every Austen fan’s most earnest question: What would Jane do?  Replete with lovely Austen-inspired color illustrations, as well as quotes from Austen’s various novels to support the advice given, this book is the ideal gift for the Jane Austen fanatic in your life.

Favourite Quote

The following quote is included in answer to the question, “What should my book club read?”

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

(From Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen)

Review

This is such a beautiful book. I read the hardcover edition and the way the book is presented is simply gorgeous. The illustrations are very fitting for a book that blends modern problems and historical solutions to them – just take a look at that tablet-holding regency lady on the front cover! And it’s also a fantastic read.

Clever, witty and well-written, this book is an easy, engaging read. Taking snippets from Austen’s novels and what survives of her personal letters to answer agony-aunt style questions, this light-hearted book is fun and even often sensible!

Broken down into six chapters: Love & Relationships, Friends & Family, Work & Career, Fashion & Style, Home & Garden, Leisure & Travel, it covers almost every aspect of life. And what’s more, I think there is a good chance the reader comes away from it knowing and understanding Jane Austen herself a little better. Her own charm, humour and intelligence certainly comes through.

An entertaining read, that can be read from cover to cover, or flicked through as the mood takes you. I read it from cover to cover myself, and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Highly recommended to those who need regency-era advice to tackle problems of the present day (such as, “How can I delete a contact on Facebook without causing offence?), or to those who simply enjoy the works of Jane Austen.

Rating

Quick Review: Unexplained by Richard Maclean Smith

Summary (from Goodreads)

Based on the ‘world’s spookiest podcast’ of the same name comes Unexplained: a book of ten real-life mysteries which might be best left unexplained. . .
Demonic possession in 1970’s Germany.
UFOs in Rendlesham forest.
Reincarnation in Middlesbrough.
To this day, these real life mysteries and very many more evade explanation.

Based on one of the most successful paranormal podcasts ever, with over 10 million streams and downloads to date, Unexplained consists of ten chapters focussing on a different paranormal event, from Australia to Germany, the UK to Zimbabwe, using the stories as gateways to a journey beyond the veil of the uncanny, exploring what they reveal of the human experience.

Taking ideas once thought of as supernatural or paranormal and questioning whether radical ideas in science might provide a new but equally extraordinary explanation, Unexplained is The Examined Life meets The X Files.

My Thoughts

Although the podcast that inspired this book sounds just the sort of thing I love to listen to, and I have listened to similar-sounding podcasts before, I had never come across it prior to picking up this book. But I will certainly keep my eye open for it next time I’m looking for something to listen to. Unexplained: Supernatural Stories for Uncertain Times was certainly an interesting read.

Covering ten different paranormal events, occurring all over the world, I found this collection engaging. Some of the events and phenomenon I had come across before, the most well-known (to my mind) being the mystery of the Somerton Man. But I liked that more than half of them were new to me mysteries. The one that will stay with me the longest will probably the be the first one covered, where a young boy seems to have the memories of a German pilot whose plane was shot down close to where he lived, thirty years before he was born.

The only downside to the book was that at times the chapters and writing felt overly long, which slowed down the storytelling aspect of the book, and so the pacing dragged. But that being said, the events themselves were interesting enough for me to overlook that and keep reading until the end. It is also worth pointing out that there is an element of heavy reading involved in this book, as the author discusses both complex scientific theory and philosophy in places, in an attempt to explain what might be behind some of the events. I think the book may have flowed better without it.

All-in-all, this book covers some very interesting unexplained mysteries, some of which I may have never heard of if I hadn’t of read it. If you enjoy mysteries and the inexplicable you might enjoy having a read of this.

Rating

Quick Review: Mysterious Britain by Homer Sykes

Summary (from Goodreads)

Throughout Britain’s length and breadth, ancient tribes, druids, Celtic saints, medieval knights, and 18th-century landowners have bestowed upon future generations a wealth of astonishing sights, structures, and landmarks. These awesome sights appear in evocative color photographs, richly enhanced with the history, legends, and folktales that surround them. Imagine dancing maidens and unfortunate princes turned to stone in Devon and Cornwall; water made holy in Wales; and the witch who milked the giant cow in Shropshire. These are treasures worth cherishing.

My Thoughts

This is a very beautiful coffee table style book to look through, full of inspiring, evocative photography. The photos are accompanied by explanatory text, helping to highlight the mysterious charms of the British landscape and folklore.

It’s not the sort of book I would read from cover-to-cover, but rather one I would pick up and flick through. And it’s mainly for the stunning photography that I enjoyed this book so much.

If you’ve an interest in British folklore, landscape and history, you might find this book worth a read.

Rating

Book Review: Sky Burial by Xinran

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fascinating, heart-breaking tale of love and loss, and the strength and determination that can be born out of it. 5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

As a young girl in China Xinran heard a rumour about a soldier in Tibet who had been brutally fed to the vultures in a ritual known as a sky burial: the tale frightened and fascinated her. Several decades later Xinran met Shu Wen, a Chinese woman who had spent years searching for her missing husband Kejun, after he disappeared in Tibet; her extraordinary life story would unravel the legend of the sky burial. For thirty years she was lost in the wild and alien landscape of Tibet, in the vast and silent planteaux and the magisterial mountain ranges, living with communities of nomads, moving with the seasons and struggling to survive.

In this haunting book, Xinran recreates Shu Wen’s remarkable journey in a grand story of love, loss, loyalty and survival. Moving, shocking and finally enriching, Sky Burial paints a unique portrait of a woman and a land, both at the mercy of fate and politics.

Favourite Quote

In return, Wang Liang gave Wen a pen and a diary. ‘Writing can be a sourced of strength,’ he said.

(From Sky Burial by Xinran, page 20)

Review

I picked this book up by accident, if truth be told. Having read on the cover that it was, “An epic love story of Tibet”, I had assumed it was fiction. My mistake. It wasn’t. Yet it is one of the most moving stories I have ever read.

I learned a lot whilst reading this book. The geography and landscape of Tibet is awe-inspiring and the nomadic way of life hard and difficult. However, the connection and understanding these nomadic peoples have with their environment is clear. The isolation they experience is profound to my modern sensibilities, where I am conditioned to fear being so far from help – and modern necessities – and for Wen, even decades before I was born, it was obviously a shock. But she survived it. She became one of them.

Her determination to find out what happened to her husband was very moving, and her love for him unquestionable and undeniable. She went to such great lengths to find out the truth, a search that took up so much of her life.

One of the standout things I will take away from reading this is how time is portrayed in the narrative, cleverly mirroring how it might have appeared to Wen. We move from the beginning of the story set in China, where dates and ages are so exact, to rural Tibet, where it is the seasons that are notable and the passing of one year blends into another. I remember feeling shocked that twenty years had elapsed when Wen had last seen her friend.

I believe this story will stay with me for a very long time.

Rating

Quick Review: The Art of the Maze by Adrian Fisher & Georg Gersher

Summary from Goodreads:

One of the world’s leading maze designers displays his most spectacular and complex mazes, and reveals their powerful psychological secrets, mathematical structures, and how to solve them quickly. Over 150 illustrations, including 100 color photos, cover Greek minotaurs, Roman mosaic labyrinths, medieval Christian pavement mazes, Amazon Indian myths, remote island tribal mazes, aerial shots of modern mazes, and hedge mazes you can build. “Explains the mystery of mazes, from the simplest to the most complex.”–Publisher’s Weekly.

My Thoughts:

This is a very beautiful book, full of beautiful photography. The history of the maze, as well as that of the labyrinth, makes for interesting reading.

However, I found this book more suitable for picking up and flicking through rather than sitting down to read it from cover to cover, making it a perfect coffee table tome. Indeed, I’ve had a copy in my reading nook for a few years, and the brightly covered cover alone is often enough to catch the eye and persuade me to pick it up.

If you like mazes and / or labyrinths, you’ll like this book.

Rating:

Book Review: Death at the Priory by James Ruddick

Death at The Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England, by James Ruddick.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A well-written true crime mystery and an in-depth look into the role of women in the Victorian period. Compelling reading! 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

In 1875, the beautiful and vivacious widow Florence Ricardo married Charles Bravo, a dashing barrister. The marriage seemed a happy one, but one night, four months after the wedding, Bravo collapsed. For the next fifty-five hours, with some of London’s most distinguished physicians in attendance, Charles suffered a slow and agonizing death.  All the doctors agreed: Charles Bravo had been poisoned.

The dramatic investigation that followed was covered in sensational detail by the press. So great was public interest in the case that coverage of it eclipsed the prime minister’s negotiations with Egypt, the Prince of Wales’ Indian tour and the conflict in the Balkans. The finger of suspicion pointed at various times at suicide, at Mrs Cox the housekeeper, at George Griffiths, a stableman with a grudge, and at the remarkable figure of Florence Bravo herself.

Death at the Priory is a gripping historical reconstruction and startling portrait of a woman, a marriage and a society. The brilliant conclusion uses new evidence discovered by the author to demonstrate conclusively who really murdered Charles Bravo.

Favourite Quote

“An unhappy woman with easy access to weedkiller had to be watched carefully.”

(From Death at The Prioy, by James Ruddick, page 172)

Review

It’s not often that I review non-fiction on Sammi Loves Books, because I tend to dip in and out of it, but I read “Death at The Priory” from cover to cover, and was completely gripped by the case.

I enjoy reading about true crime, especially if in an historical context, and especially if said crime remained unsolved, and if it could be classed as a type of “locked room” mystery.  I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the death of Charles Bravo before, given my interest in Victorian history and true crime.  By all accounts, it was covered with relish in the media of the day, eclipsing events on the world stage, even.

Death at the Priory is extremely well-written.  The evidence is presented clearly, in an easy to understand, easy to digest manner, without becoming heavy or requiring the author to dress it up with dramatic prose.  Although some passages are quite graphic – yes, there is a reference to sex in the book’s subtitle – it does help in providing a context in which Charles Bravo’s death occurred.

Florence Bravo, wife of the dead man, was certainly an interesting woman to read about, with a colourful life, and a tragic ending. She had been unfortunate in as much as she’d had to endure two unhappy marriages to husbands who were abusive towards her. The prevailing opinion of the day was that this was a woman’s lot, and she had to suffer it with grace and silence.  Florence, unconventionally for the time, did not believe she had to accept this.  She believed she had a right to be happy and if that meant away from her husband, she would not be forced to remain with him…

Charles Bravo is not painted as a sympathetic character at all, and I found myself having little concern for him in his plight.  I thought the author’s conclusions in his attempt to solve the case were definitely plausible, but of course, after the passage of so much time, and with all those being involved long dead, we will never know the truth for certain.

A fascinating read, one which I recommend to those interested in true crime, or who are interested in the role of women in Victorian society.

Rating

Book Review: Mick’s Archaeology by Mick Aston

Quick Review (read on for the full review)

A fascinating, engaging book, and a treasure to read. Highly recommended!  5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

For Professor and Channel 4 personality Mick Aston, landscape archaeology remains his first love, because it provides so much information about how ordinary communities lived in the past. Environmental archaeology, experimental archaeology, the archaeology of buildings, and his great project at the village of Shapwick in Somerset are just some of the other subjects brought excitingly to life in Mick’s colourful and action-packed pages. Reading this book, it is easy to share the author’s basic conviction that “Archaeology is fun.”

Favourite Quote

I found it very hard to choose just the one, but in the end I went with this from the chapter “Monasteries”:

All of these monasteries were of course dissolved and most demolished, and their inhabitants pensioned off and dispersed in the decade 1530-40, in an act of privatisation (and vandalism) that makes Margaret Thatcher’s government look like a bunch of bungling amateurs.

Review

I have flicked through this book many times (a habit I have with non-fiction books where I read random chapters that grab my interest), but this is the first time I have read it from cover-to-cover.

I loved this book.  It was a fascinating, engaging read.  Professor Mick Aston’s love for archaeology was infectious, and helped to inspire at least one generation’s interest in the subject.  He’s a much missed character.

Full of photographs and anecdotes, as well as information on different aspects of archaeology, this was a treasure to read, and I hated having to put it down.  Having watched Professor Mick Aston on TV since I was a teenager, reading this book was almost like listening to an audiobook – something I don’t think I’ve experienced before. Wonderful!

The chapters covered a variety of topics, from the author’s early years in archaeology to his favourite subjects – buildings, monasteries and medieval settlements.  The final chapter on “Favourite Books and Recommended Reading” was a delight to peruse – who doesn’t like book lists? – and I’ve found a number of interesting titles to add to my reading list.

What I found most endearing is that for a book written to document his own love of the subject and career in it, he is quick to mention other people, be they colleagues, friends and students.  It’s not all about him, but what they achieved together.

If you enjoyed / enjoy watching Time Team, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to you.  I am certain this is a book I will return to read, cover-to-cover, again and again.

Rating


 

Non-Fiction Review: Fighting for Freetown by Comic Relief

Summary:

This short non-fiction read tells the story of a young woman, Ikmatu, and how she helped her community when Ebola struck Sierra Leone in 2014.

Favourite Quote:

But Ikmatu didn’t want to just sit back and do nothing.  She wanted to fight for the home that she loved.

So that’s what she did.

Review:

This really is an inspirational read.  Ikmatu’s story is touching – I can’t imagine being thirteen years old and being witness to the spread of such a terrible disease.  This young woman’s courage and care for the people where she lived, even when they looked at her with fear and suspicion, is truly moving.

I am reminded of the review I wrote for Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith, where I mentioned ” a theme of the book is that Africa can teach the world how to care for other people”, and I think this book not only echoes that sentiment, but reinforces it.

You can read Ikmatu’s inspiring account by heading over to Wattpad.

Rating:

Book Review: Freedom to be Yourself – Mastering the Inner Judge by Avikal E. Costantino

Freedom to be Yourself by Constantino

Freedom to be Yourself is a very deep and thorough look into how our own personal judgement can impact on our lives, and perhaps more importantly, who we are.

The book is divided into four parts: Recognising the Inner Judge, Freedom from the Judge, Being Yourself and Experience.  In these sections we are taken through a variety of subjects including what is the inner judge?, gossip, guilt, sexuality and spirituality.  The book is illustrated throughout with case studies, depicting the lessons mentioned in the chapters, and how the issues were dealt with / overcome.

At the end of each chapter, exercises are provided to help you understand and explore the lessons covered.  These exercises challenge you to face the truth about who you are, and why you are like the way you are; they make you face what is real in your life.  By working through these little exercises, you will come to know yourself better and on a much deeper level.

This book gives us much to think about, especially in terms of who we are, who we appear to be, and how we measure personal worth.  I would recommend this to those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and to those who find themselves asking ‘who am I?’

This book is available as a paperback and an ebook from O-Books.