Category Archives: Books

Review, Lobbying for Change by Alberto Alemanno

Alberto Alemanno is an academic and an advocate for citizen lobbying and this book fits in well with both of those narratives. The content is well-researched and comprehensive without losing focus on the main purpose: how to lobby as a citizen.

I admit I was a bit impatient about getting to the lobbying part, which doesn’t get addressed until the 30% mark of the book. The theory is important, however, and since I quickly waned in my interest after finding out what lobbying is and how to do it — with some specific and concise examples and a handy instruction section — I can appreciate the effort that went into the first part of the book.

The instructions on how to lobby are clear and accessible and dispel the notion that only a few well-placed people or corporations in society can take part in this type of activity.

One of the latest lobbying actions Alemanno took part in was trying to get glyphosates banned through the EU. The chemical that has been linked to health concerns was renewed for five years through parliament but it could have been renewed for fifteen years. Citizen lobbying has helped in limiting the renewal to a much smaller space of time.

After years of campaigning by NGOs and citizens about its alleged harmful health effects, demonstrated by the four million signatures collected by the European Citizen Initiative (ECI) ‘Stop Glyphosate’ supported by WeMove and Avaaz, no decision-maker could turn a blind eye to such concerns.

Alemanno writes about lobbying the EU but there are legitimate avenues for citizens to have their voices heard in local arenas too and instructions can be found for those as well. When efforts are harnessed in the right way we can all make change happen to a certain extent.  Lobbying for Change: Find Your Voice to Create a Better Society reveals various routes  other than through the traditional forms such as voting. This is called citizen-lobbying and through these years of austerity it’s a nice start to be given directions about how to help.

One example in the UK is the Petitions Committee that provides a mechanism for people’s opinions to be heard. If a petition receives 10,000 signatures, Government will provide a response; if it reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be debated in parliament. So far there have been 44 responses and two debates in parliament.

This book feels like a positive addition to our times, which aims to empower when all around feels like a disempowering exercise to benefit corporations and those already in power. A small read for a greater purpose.

[Also see this book review on the LSE blogs]

Lobbying for Change by Alberto Alemanno available through The Hive (which benefits local bookshops)

Review, Artemis by Andy Weir

People are living on the moon, a mountie is in charge of the almost-non-existent-and-usually unnecessary law, and there is an honest thief about to commit a huge crime that could put the whole planet and its inhabitants in danger.

Welcome to Artemis. (Mostly tourists)

The personal quickly becomes political when the only way for Jazz Bashara to make a lot of money for personal reasons is to commit a very dangerous act. The first rule of Artemis, however, is no fire. As Jazz says, “A fire in Artemis would be a nightmare. It’s not like we can go outside.”

Just as in ‘The Martian’, Andy Weir wades easily into the scientific reasoning behind the reality that would challenge earthians living on the moon.

The explanations are handled well and with a good dose of knowing that living on the moon is exotic and for those of us who don’t know about it, the mundane is thrilling. The tone is similar in that respect to The Martian. There aren’t many writers who could take what is essentially a one-act play and turn it into gripping Human vs Planet super-action. Weir did it then and he does it now. Better than anyone I’ve read, although I’ve not read much science fiction admittedly. Better than anyone I’ve read in most genres at least.

His characters talk to us not as scientists, but like knowledgeable friends.

The characters are real. They want things that are unrelated to the storyline. They live and breathe and exist in creative ways all of their own. The storyline builds around the current crisis faced by the protagonist, hedges a bit to the cultural and the practical – for example, immigration tends to focus in sector-specific work and from certain countries of origin (historically) and on Artemis almost all the welders are Saudis. “We’re just the people who ended up controlling the welding industry.”

Then Weir also brings in the political rulings and structures of earth, the future, the economics of trading blocks and the adjustments needed within the internal runnings of cities at the small and global level.

The intelligence of this intense and thrilling read is astounding. I can’t recommend this book enough. I loved the depth, the fun, the stress, the characters, and the action. And not to forget the science or the mountie who could just as easily have come out of a good Mills&Boon book.

One of my best reads of 2017.

Artemis by Andy Weir is published on 14 November 2017

Review, The Break by Marian Keyes

‘Myself and Hugh . . . We’re taking a break.’
‘A city-with-fancy-food sort of break?’

If only. Amy’s husband Hugh says he isn’t leaving her. He still loves her, he’s just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. Six months to lose himself in south-east Asia. And there is nothing Amy can say or do about it. Yes, it’s a mid-life crisis, but let’s be clear: a break isn’t a break up – yet . . . However, for Amy it’s enough to send her – along with her extended family of gossips, misfits and troublemakers – teetering over the edge. For a lot can happen in six-months. When Hugh returns if he returns, will he be the same man she married? And will Amy be the same woman? Because if Hugh is on a break from their marriage, then isn’t she?

What I thought

I happily admit I’m biased when it comes to Marian Keyes because while her writing invariably involves a romance, she primarily writes around the effects of depression, sadness, mental illness and ways of coping with life. Grief, breakups, death, drug addiction, and unplanned pregnancies have featured along the way and have made her much more than a cliche genre author.

In The Break, a single event with a pretty obvious bad guy (the husband for leaving) is traced back over time to the origins of the relationship and what really took place in the dynamics of the family.

Keyes’ writing skills are excellent and, no matter the topic, she consistently shows and doesn’t tell while sustaining more than one -or two- narratives and storylines.

This is a great read.

The Break by Marian Keyes is published on 7 September.

Review: The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

 The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker starts off in the voice of Lineker –the dog– and the tempo and voice and narration are just as upbeat and ebullient as you’d suspect a joyful labrador to be. Unfortunately, this dog is pretty much house bound with his agoraphobic (and people phobic) master Reginald who has become utterly antisocial due to personal tragedy at the same time as England (and the world?) and all its political and social systems have collapsed.

The narrative takes place through the two voices of Lineker and Reginald who take turns narrating their sides of the story. The conflict they need to deal with is that brought on by the world as they hunt down a home for a 7-year-old girl who comes to their door.

Emotionally, this is a gruelling piece of work and Walker take no prisoners in his sustained literary pursuit of pushing through the worst of society and humanity.

The writing and the theme are excellent. I was very glad to have read it and it was by no means a trivial task to do so.

There were some obvious parallels with concentration camps, and there was a none-too-subtle setup of the book as an answer to how people end up commiting such atrocities. Then there was a bit of an homage to Tolkien at one point with the cloaked figure in a bar being a saviour etc. I won’t spoil the story, I just thought the bar scene was a bit of a wink to readers of this type of ‘journey’ novel.

Ultimately Walker examines the idea of nature and what we can all become with enough pressure and circumstance. The idea is applied to both Reginald and Lineker and I am still not sure which was the toughest to read.

The Last Dog on Earth is published on 7 September, 2017 and is the first of a two-book deal Walker has signed up to with Del Rey.


Exposure by Helen Dunmore, Review

Exposure is utterly compelling but equally stressful. Dunmore wrote characters so well and this is a thriller that unfolds by following the lives of people caught up in a tense situation during the Cold War.
I could not stop reading until I discovered whether the characters would be okay, especially since little children were involved.

Dunmore often said she was interested in showing what ordinary people would have gone through in dramatic times and she does this scarily well in this, one of her last books before she passed away last month.

Helen Dunmore had lived in Bristol since graduating from the University of York in 1971 and was the first winner of the Orange Prize. She died at the beginning of June from cancer, which she revealed she had when releasing her book Birdcage Walk. This last book of hers was the only one set in Bristol.

Great Stories by Chekhov, review

Known far more for his plays such as the Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters, Chekhov is regarded as the father of the short story as well as the first modern fiction writer. His famous Chekhov’s gun comment is still regarded as some of the best advice for storyline progression:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. … One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off.”

His short stories are a wonderful example of how he rejected conventional forms to examine the lives of ordinary people in prosaic situations.

His impressionistic depictions of Russian life and the human condition resound with emotional honesty, focusing on character rather than plot and revealing subtle but important truths. Thomas Mann held Chekhov in highest esteem, declaring, “His short stories rank with all that is greatest and best of European literature.”

This compilation of seven tales attests to the timeless appeal of the Russian author’s short fiction.

Selections include “Misery,” an account of a sleigh-driver’s attempts to communicate his overwhelming grief; “A Father,” a meditation on the conflict between rejecting a monstrous parent and giving him his respectful due; “A Problem,” which proposes that criminals cannot reform unless they pay for their misdeeds; and “In Exile,” an examination of whether it is better to dream of happiness or to accept a living hell.

Other tales include “Ward No. 6,” relating a conflict between an asylum inmate and the institution’s director; “My Life: The Story of a Provincial,” in which a rebellious young bourgeois joins the working classes; and “Peasants,” an exposé of the dehumanizing effects of poverty.

If you haven’t read Chekhov since school then I highly recommend picking up this book and diving in. I enjoyed it tremendously.

Every Which Way Crochet Borders by Edie Eckman

With crochet, a title such as Every Which Way Crochet Borders is beautifully literal. The borders are delicate, colourful, and well explained. The explanations are clear and concise. There is some preparatory content before the borders are written out in patterns.

There are 139 new border designs with step-by-step instructions and symbol charts. The instructions are clear enough for beginner crocheters, and the patterns are creative and fun enough for more advanced hookers.

The styles are creative and fresh, which is brilliant in crochet because there is so much information and so many patterns already out there. I loved this book and would buy it myself. I’d use it for knitting and crochet projects.

Every Which Way Crochet Borders by Edie Eckman is out now.

Bristol Book events coming up in February

11 February – 14:30
Waterstones, The Galleries
Children’s author Maz Evans talks about her book Who Let the Gods Out?

Waterstones, Broadmead, Bristol, BS1 3XD
T: 0117 925 2274 W:




11 February – 11:00 to 16:00

Waterstones, The Galleries

Walker and travel writer Christopher Somerville will be at Waterstones signing copies of his new book January Man and the Times Britain’s Best Walks.



11 to 19 February – 14:00 – 16:00
Foyles, Bristol
Half-Term Story Corner
Children’s Event, Free Event
For the little ones during half-term, there will be colouring, drawing, quiet reading time, and complimentary squash and biscuits!

There will be a cosy corner set up in the children’s section between 14:00 and 16:00 throughout the whole week of half-term as well as free refreshments and giving away stickers.

Foyles, Cabot Circus, Bristol, BS1 3BH

23 February – 18:30 – 20:00
Spike Island

As part of the Novel Writers series, Emma Flint talks about her novel Little Deaths.

It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.

The sexism at the heart of the real-world conviction of cocktail waitress Alice Crimmins for the 1965 murders of her two young children forms the basis of British author Flint’s gripping debut.

Spike Island, 133 Cumberland Road, Bristol BS1 6UX

27 February 2017 – 19:00
Waterstones, The Galleries

Dorit Rabinyan talks about her new novel All the Rivers. chance encounter in New York brings two strangers together: Liat is a translation student, Hilmi a talented young painter. Together they explore the city, share fantasies, jokes and homemade meals and fall in love. There is only one problem: Liat is from Israel, Hilmi from Palestine.

Waterstones, Broadmead, Bristol, BS1 3XD
T: 0117 925 2274 W:

28 February – 19:00
Waterstones, The Galleries

Simon Sebag Montefiore talks about his internationally acclaimed book The Romanovs, the Waterstones Non-Fiction Book of the Month.


Nan Shepherd, The Weatherhouse, review

canongate weatherhouseI chose this book because of the cover, which is stunning. The blocks of colours are reminiscent of a golden time, especially in terms of classic old books and detective novels.

Instead, I found a completely different world to what I expected. I hadn’t realised this was a story written in 1930, and didn’t realise it until after I’d given up reading. It makes a bit of sense that I struggled with the dialect, not realising it was Scottish at all. I thought it was perhaps some type of olden colonial American.

There was a cast of characters at the start, which these days is redundant because an author is expected to be able to introduce her characters well enough for them and their connections to be made obvious and remembered.

I read up to 11% (according to Kindle) and I still hadn’t found a storyline. I think a house had an extension built on it to connect it to another house and this extension was the titled ‘Weatherhouse’. I struggled with the dialogue because I couldn’t understand the dialect. Other readers will hopefully have a better time with it.

<< ‘He’s eident, but he doesna win through,’ he would sometimes say sorrowfully. ‘Feel Weelum,’ the folk called him. ‘Oh, nae sae feel,’ said Jonathan Bannochie the souter. ‘He kens gey weel whaur his pottage bickers best.’ To Francie he was still ‘The Journeyman.’ >>
I have no idea what the above says.

Also, I was frustrated by descriptions of a tale that I couldn’t understand.

<< "Granny loves a tale. Particularly with a wicked streak. “A spectacle,” she said, “a second Katherine Bran.” Katherine Bran was somebody in a tale, I believe. And then she said, “You have your theatres and your picture palaces, you folk. You make a grand mistake.” And she told us there was no spectacle like what’s at our own doors. “Set her in the jougs and up on the faulters’ stool with her, for fourteen Sabbaths, as they did with Katherine, and where’s your picture palace then?” A merry prank, she called it. Well!—“The faulter’s stool and a penny bridal,” she said, “and you’ve spectacle to last you, I’se warren.” Granny’s very amusing when she begins with old tales.’ >>
I couldn’t understand how Granny was amusing because I didn’t understand what she was saying.

There was a particular use of the adjective ‘delicious’ to describe a room, which irritated me no end. It’s probably quite a clever use of delicious to mean tastes good, that then leads on to a room decorated in ‘good taste’. Perhaps. All I could think was of someone sitting in ice cream.

What the book is about:
The women of the tiny town of Fetter-Rothnie have grown used to a life without men, and none more so than the tangle of mothers and daughters, spinsters and widows living at the Weatherhouse. Returned from war with shellshock, Garry Forbes is drawn into their circle as he struggles to build a new understanding of the world from the ruins of his grief. In The Weatherhouse Nan Shepherd paints an exquisite portrait of a community coming to terms with the brutal losses of war, and the small tragedies, yearnings and delusions that make up a life.

– I will have to try reading it again at a different pace and with further context. It certainly wasn’t for me right now.

The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd. Downloaded from NetGalley.

Novel Writers – Spike Island – two authors

Novel Writers

Spike Island hosts debut authors each month at their Novel Writers event.  In January there are two authors.

On Wednesday, January 25, Yaa Gyasi reads from and discusses her debut novel Homegoing at Waterstones, Galleries.

Wednesday 25 January, 7–8pm

Waterstones, 11A Union Galleries, Broadmead Bristol BS1 3XD

Homegoing begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver.
Book your place (please note: this event is taking place at Waterstones, Bristol Galleries)

On  Thursday 26 January, 6.30–8pm, Wyl Menmuir reads from and discusses The Many.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016, The Many, by Cornish writer Wyl Menmuir is an unsettling ecological parable that explores the impact of loss and the devastation that hits when the foundations on which we rely are swept away.