Book Review – The First of Many…

You know you’re in for a good couple of days when it’s not even Wednesday and you’re already 236% done with the week, don’t you?

The last few days have gone by in rather a blur; work being as horribly worky as it possibly can be, and the weekend being spent stripping the dressing room (say hello to another two boxes for charity and one more bin bag) and being unaccountably grumpy. There was a rather spectacular highlight in the viewing of the new Wonder Woman, which was far better than I hoped for and has meant that my crush on Gal Gadot has escalated to disturbing heights. I even got a bit emotional watching the Amazonian fight scenes at the beginning and spent the half an hour after the film finished trying to convince TMM that I had to take some martial arts classes immediately otherwise I would die (thankfully, I think that urge has slightly fallen by the wayside in favour of slobbing on the couch and eating my own body weight in birthday chocolate, but I can still dream).

 I mean, just look at her for Pete’s sake!

There was a slight concern I wouldn’t even manage to get a blog done this week (SHOCK HORROR), but TMM has been most persuasive and due to the fact he actually went out and bought props to use for my first book review, I couldn’t really let him down. To that end, I have done a review of Number 1 on my “Books to Read” list – “Nigel – My Family and Other Dogs” by Monty Don. It is my first review, so please be gentle with me!

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This Sunday I finished Nigel, slouching on the couch wrapped in a blanket with drooping eyelids. I realised quite early on that it’s a book that requires no urgency or effort and consequently it’s seen me through a stressful week at work, one half hour lunch break of soothing garden chatter at a time. 

As previously mentioned, I am not a huge reader of biographies, though I can be persuaded now and then if they’re told through the mask of a storyteller and liberally sprinkled with hilarious anecdotes (see works by David Niven and Gerald Durrell, which can surely only be classed as semi-biographical by the most lenient of reviewers). 

Whilst Monty Don writes in a way that is perhaps not as raffish or charming as those mentioned above, there is a strong, self assured voice that appeals non-the less. It is almost impossible to read it without hearing him speaking directly to you, and I definitely believe it would benefit massively from having an audio book version. There is still definitely a slight tongue in cheek tone to some of the things he writes though that can’t help but bring a smile to your face, and there is the line “my mother thought, with some reason, that I was immature, feckless and impoverished” which is basically everything I’m looking for in a person.

Nigel, (the star of the show) is spoken about regularly with a kind of cheerful exasperation; he is clearly the hero of the piece and very much his own dog. A terribly handsome Golden Retriever, he is quite confidently aware of his own worth and the relationship between Monty and him is more of a symbiotic bond rather than an owner and pet. Their breakfast routine, beautifully detailed, puts me in mind of a kind of Holmes and Watson scene – set against a quintessentially British backdrop. He does not anthropomorphise Nigel and treat him like a child as pet owners are often want to do, but rather allows the dog’s own character to shine through. He is easy living and embraces  all elements of the gardens he lives in and the TV crew that inhabit them during filming times; more than willing to be centre stage or re-film shots time and time again in true film star style. He manages, without seeming cliché, to embody some rather poignant life lessons that are described quite simply; dogs do not look back or forward, but live purely in the moment. If there is a ball to be chased, a fresh pea pod to be crunched or a puddle to be splashed in, he is as content as can be. Whilst he by no means the only dog that has been welcomed by the Don family, but he is definitely the man of the moment.

The rest of the content focuses on certain key events in the author’s life, as seen through the lens of the dogs that occupied those periods and the gardens they lived in. Somewhat atypically, the narrative doesn’t follow a chronological timeline, but instead weaves in and out; dropping onto certain episodes centred around a particular four legged friend. It does leave you feeling as though you’re flicking through a beloved and slightly worn photo album; stopping to look at random dog-eared snapshots with worn away scribbles on the back. There is a completeness to each story arc through, and though it may not be in the same chapter, you learn about the introduction and subsequent departure of every beloved pet. Monty Don has a very fixed view on not only how one should build a relationship with a dog, but also the huge affect it has on it’s owner’s life, and this includes the unhappy way in which they leave. The last few chapters of the book focus on the deaths of some the dogs, and whilst they are quite heart rending, there’s also an almost holistically and robustly healthy attitude to the way they are described. Very much as each section of his garden has a life cycle that blossoms and withers, so do the dogs.

The admiration and esteem he holds for each of the dogs is tangible, and whilst there are some sections that reflect the time periods they’re about (there was a comment about his father’s treatment of unwanted puppies that involved a sack and a bucket of water that did make me wince), you can tell the impact each separate one has had; be it Beaumont the Blackdog he got from Ranulph and Ginny Fiennes and his steadfast loyalty or Gretel, the twenty first birthday present that spent ten years accompanying him everywhere.

Very much like the Gerald Durrell book this takes its name from, there is an approach to the animals and the natural world that is imbibed with a warmth and heartfelt adoration. The relationship he has with his garden (which cannot be ignored considering his career) is that of a partner in crime rather than a proud creator. He talks about the management of it as an endless process; an on-going exercise that changes with the seasons, the requirement of the film crew and even his mental state. He describes the garden as though we all know it (which admittedly, if you avidly watch Gardener’s World you probably do), but rather than coming across as patronising or in a lecturing tone, it’s more of a shared consciousness. I know barely anything of plant names (Latin or otherwise) or how certain things should be done, but reading this I found  it’s pleasantly engaging

Overall, there is an integral warmth to this book this which must be experienced in kind to truly create the full effect; read outside on sunny days on a soft lawn, with eyes squinting against the sunlight. The nostalgia winds through the narrative but doesn’t overwhelm and it’s nicely complimented by Nigel, who gently trips through the whole book looking for tennis balls, colouring it golden and bringing forth visions of long lazy afternoons and abundantly green gardens.

Monty

Photo Credit – My very own Man Muffin. He’s getting so good at this now!

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Anyway, I’m one review down and it’s hump day tomorrow – things can only get better, right?

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Fully Booked – A weekend of being busy and bookish

Happy Tuesday to one and all! I hope you enjoyed the Bank Holiday and aren’t too upset to be returned to your original schedule. I have been repulsively productive this weekend (I think I might have had a mini breakdown) and completely blitzed the en-suite and the bedroom. I vacuumed ceilings with various attachments, I washed curtains, I found bank statements from 2007 (why?!) and threw out two bags of rubbish. Poor Ross was drafted into assist with the bedroom, but I did treat him to a Primark shop and take him to watch the new Guardians of the Galaxy in a cinema with reclining seats (say whaaaaaat), so he really can’t complain too much. I also spent yesterday making stencils with my new laminator (Lexy) and painting tropical patterns all over our bedroom cabinets, because who doesn’t want jungle chic in their bedroom?

Cupboard

Getting closer to becoming a Wild Thornberry one stencil at a time

We also had some good news in the arrival of nephew numero uno, Stanley Andrew Darby Pendlebury (weighing in at a tiny 6.02). There have been some adorable pictures and even though he was super early, everyone is doing fine. We’re going to visit him later this evening, so prepare for more photos. In the meantime, please enjoy this gem:

Babies

Sister Robyn looking adorably perplexed to see her new brother in situ.

I also spent a majority of yesterday listening to The Red Necklace as read by Tom Hiddleston, which I have to say is just delightful. I haven’t really done that many audiobooks (ignoring my fascination with PG Wodehouse tapes at bedtime) but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the superbly talented accents of Mr Hiddlescake whilst doing my afternoon DIY.  I definitely think I might have to find some more to enjoy, especially whilst doing my craft projects. In the meantime though, I’ve got my HUGE list of new books to get through, and in honour of that I’ve decided to do a Pre Book Review for you all to enjoy (you’re welcome).

Ten books. Ten pre-reading opinions. Ten further posts seeing if they lived up to my expectations. Boom. Say hello to a million blog posts about my massive book lust. I mean, let’s face it, there’s another 21 books that I’ve not even mentioned that I’ll want to review as well…you might want to strap in.

PRE-BOOK REVIEW

5 books I am most looking forward to reading:

1)      Nigel – My family and other dogs by Monty DonI love Monty Don. Like love him. It’s my fascination with Kevin Whately (Detective Inspector Lewis) all over again. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about slightly saggy tired looking old English men that really works for me – it’s like some kind of soothing fascination. I will happily lose hours to Gardener’s World and watching Monty potter around with a complete lack of urgency and a following of adorable doggos. My adoration only really started last year, though I have been aware of him for a while, but it has blossomed rather fantastically. I think it partly helps that I have one memory that really sticks with me of watching RHS flower show one year with the family and hearing Robin ask what his last name was – because she though his first name was Montydon. It left us all in hysterics and still brings a smile to my face whenever I see him.  Now typically I am not too interested in biographies, but I’m willing to waver that for dear Monty. The fact that he’s played on a Gerald Durrell title only adds to the joy, as the Corfu Trilogy (starting with My Family and Other Animals) is one of my favourites and anything that plays homage to it can’t be bad. I’m expecting great things from this book, and I hope I shall be able to tell you it delivered.

2)      Rivers of London Series by Ben AaronovitchI read the first one these a few years ago and remember being completely engrossed by it. The basic premise is something I can always get behind – Urban Fantasy according to wikipedia, and this was so engagingly written I think I flew through it in about two days. The plot focused on a young police officer who (amongst plenty of other things) has to search for and stop some unknown entity who is turning people into twisted murderous versions of Punch and Judy. Now I despise Punch and Judy with an unequalled passion; there is literally nothing about the puppet show that works for me at all and I will go on a rant about them if required. Still I think that element added another level of grotesque fascination to my reading, so I’ll be interested to see if Mr Aaronovitch can maintain the attraction in the later books. The covers alone are pretty pleasing too, so I have high hopes.

3)      LumberJanes (a comic)I can’t actually remember what introduced me to this originally. It was probably a Buzzfeed article, but it made such an impression I ordered it directly afterwards. I still haven’t had chance to look at it though, and it’s been sat on my “To Read” shelf for about 3 months now. It is set around a summer camp for “Hardcore Lady Types” and five scouts of varying levels of awesome – it’s basically everything I’m looking for in life. It’s had excellent reviews and has been described as both accessible and girl friendly in a typically male dominated medium, so I am prepared for it to jump right to the top of my favourite comic list. I’m hoping to be able to pick this up pretty soon, and it won’t take me very long to read so I shall provide a post review asap.

4)      Catch 22 by Joseph HellerI remember really enjoying the film when I saw it a couple of years ago (I think I could totally forge passports in a bathtub) but I’d never really thought too much about the book. Whilst in Hay on Wye though, it was one of those books that seemed to pop up in every shop and after hearing Woo talk about wanting a copy, I felt slightly overwhelmed by the urge to give it a go. It’s a pleasingly weighty copy, so it’s one I’ll probably save for a holiday or a week off, but I’m looking forward to it and I’m hoping that it will please me as much as the film (even if I have committed the heinous sin of watching something before reading it’s primary source).

 5)      The Prince and the Zombie by Tenzin WangmoI found this one on a tucked away on a shelf in a corridor in another Hay bookshop. It was one of those ones that just caught my eye whilst I was reviewing something else and I almost didn’t look at it properly. It drew me back though and I’d turned to pick it up before I’d fully made it into the other room. The blurb speaks of a young prince sent to capture a zombie endowed with magical powers and the difficulties he faces in overcoming the zombie’s powers and completing his task. There was something about it that really appealed to me, but I still don’t really know exactly what. I think I’m secretly hoping this might be my magical book (because every good heroine starts her story with a magical book that leads her to adventures galore) so we shall have to see…

5 books with the most attractive covers – they always say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but who really isn’t drawn to a book with an interesting cover?

1)      Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la MareThis is one of those books that you look at, then double look at, then put back but keep in the back of your mind and proceed see in every shop you go in afterwards. I almost didn’t get a copy, but thankfully the choice was made for me and I was bought it as a birthday present. It’s a little startling in it’s title and it’s cover is pleasing in it’s simplicity – hopefully the story will follow through.

2)      Mister Memory by Marcus SedgewickTMM picked this one up and gave it to me with the tagline “this one looks pretty. Buy it if you like it”. So I did. The woman behind the till spoke about how beautiful the cover was too, so it really had to be on this list.

3)      The Virgin Cure by Ami McKayI’m always drawn to books with Victorian style fonts and this one was no different. I mean, this book looks like it’s going to have it all – sex, violence, kick ass Victorian ladies. What’s not to love?

4)      The Dark Secret of Josephine by Dennis Wheatley – We actually got this one from a pub in Warrington about three years ago. We were on a day out drinking with a friend and we’d gone into a pub that had shelves of books behind the seating area in true hipster fashion. Anyway, I can’t be presented with a bookshelf and not look at them, and this one stuck out with a elegant blood red leather covering and neat gold lettering. So I nudged and wheedled and prodded and did my best puppy dog eyes and eventually TMM went to the bar and after some smooth negotiating and a bit of a bemused bartender, we got two books for £7. Nice.

5)      Welcome to the Night Vale Joseph Fink & Jeffrey CranorI have been meaning to listen to the podcast for ages, but the cover of the book drew me in and I purchased it before I ever got round to the audio book. I’m a bit torn as to whether I should read it first or listen to the audio version, so I might just end up doing both at the same time and fully immersing myself on weekend.

So that’s my top ten , but I’ve got high hopes for all of them. I’m about half way through Monty’s now and going strong, so you should start to see my post reviews coming through soon. Until then, try not to miss me too much.

Book list

But first, let me take a #shelfie…

In Order: (top row L-R) The Prince and the Zombie by Tenzin Wangmo, The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch, The Dark Secret of Josephine by Dennis Wheatley; Nigel; My family and other dogs by Monty Don

(bottom row L-R) Welcome to the Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la Mare, Dead Interviews edited by Dan Crewe, The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay, The Mill Girls by Tracy Johnson, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgewick, Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, The Franchises Affair by Josephine Tey, Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes, LumberJanes by Stevenson/Ellis/Watters/Allen

(Not Pictured) The Eyre Affair Series by Jasper Fforde; The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins; The Empress of Ireland by Christopher Robbins