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Looking to find out something more about the world we live in, instead of gallivanting off into the realm of fiction? Have a look at our hand-picked non-fiction choices.
Our March 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. This is such a welcoming and warming read with community spirit, traditional craft, and the environment at its heart. Author Robert J Somerville was commissioned to build an elm barn by hand in Hertfordshire. Over the course of a year volunteers gathered together to help build the barn, and this is the story. There are so many positive elements to this read. A community of volunteers come together to: “teach, practice and celebrate skilled rural craftsmanship”. And while Dutch elm disease has decimated our Elm population, there is hope for the trees survival. As Robert Somerville says: “Elm is a species that suffered a major pandemic, but its incredible determination to survive prevails. Elm is proving itself to be a tree with an enduring life force, and, to my mind, is an appropriate icon for getting closer to nature, the resurgence in making things by hand and for bringing old skills back to life”. The book contains a myriad of interesting illustrations and photos as well as the story from concept to raising of the barn. At a time when community really matters, when our environment needs love and nurturing, Barn Club echoes with all that is good. It is a wonderful read that lightened my spirits and made me smile.
A rewarding and eloquent book that focuses on our connection with nature and how it can bring us back to ourselves, to become more grounded and aware of the world around us. Dr Ruth Allen is a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and adventurer. She is very aware that we don’t all have equal access to nature, yet she shows that access is possible and encourages us to forge relationships with our natural environment. She has: “suggestions, tools, approaches and inklings” and I found an accessible, satisfying read that really spoke to me. She introduces her own story with nature, followed with a guide on how to use the book, stating: “You don’t have to be wealthy, athletic, ‘outdoorsy’, from an adventurous family or of any particular age demographic, gender, ethnicity, nationality or sexuality: the words over the following pages are for all of you.” Beautiful photos accompany her guidance, suggestions, and activities. I feel that this is a book you can take your time with, dip in and out of, or just get on and do, be, and find what strikes a chord with you. Balanced and wise, Grounded helps us to explore our relationship with nature, and I’m pleased to recommend it as a Liz Pick of the Month.
Honest of heart and exhilarating in spirit, Isabel Allende’s The Soul of a Woman is an inspirational account of the writer’s lifelong feminism. Interweaving autobiography with astute commentary, it presents a stunning tapestry of a life lived fighting inequality in all its forms as it seeks to light the way for a better world. “When I say that I was a feminist in kindergarten, I am not exaggerating,” Allende begins this stirring memoir, referring to seeing her father leave her mother “with two toddlers in diapers and a newborn baby” when she was three, compelling them to move to live with her grandparents. It was here that Allende’s “anger against machismo started” as a result of realising that her mother and the housemaids were subordinates without voice or resources. The contrast made between the stoniness of patriarchy (an aggressively imposed system that “grants dominion and privileges to the male gender” and “punishes those who defy it”) and feminism’s ocean-fluid nature is sublime. Feminism “moves in waves, currents, tides, and sometimes in storms. Like the ocean, feminism, never stays quiet.” An ocean metaphor might also be applied to this book - it undulates beautifully as Allende recounts her life through feminist lens. The tone is invigorating, and charmingly familiar too, with interjected “by the way” digressions, as if in the company of a wise and passionate friend. And, like the kind of friend who brings joy to any gathering, Allende ends this book with a bright beam of optimism. While aware that inequalities have never been deeper (“we can’t continue in a civilisation based on unbridled greed and violence”), she believes that this is a time for reflection, a time to ponder what kind of world we want to live in following the brutality of a global pandemic. For Allende, that’s a world in which “peace, empathy, decency, truth, and compassion prevail.”
Jews Don’t Count is a book for people who consider themselves on the right side of history. People fighting the good fight against homophobia, disablism, transphobia and, particularly, racism. People, possibly, like you. It is the comedian and writer David Baddiel’s contention that one type of racism has been left out of this fight. In his unique combination of close reasoning, polemic, personal experience and jokes, Baddiel argues that those who think of themselves as on the right side of history have often ignored the history of anti-Semitism. He outlines why and how, in a time of intensely heightened awareness of minorities, Jews don’t count as a real minority: and why they should.
An interesting and thought-provoking step into a world most of us won’t have an understanding of. Michael Emmett grew up with a career criminal for a father and joined the family business of organised crime. With links to the Kray Twins, drugs, sex, and violence he lived the high life before being sentenced to 12 years in prison after a huge drugs smuggling conviction. In prison he joined an Alpha Prayer Group, and after leaving began to turn his life around, he is now committed to helping prisoners and ex-offenders. Together with journalist Harriet Compston, he has written the story of his life of crime and consequently finding Christian faith. I think that it is important to try to reach for an understanding of the difficulties faced by children and young adults when immersed in crime from the moment they are born. This is a story that is simply told with verve and colour, though the violence and criminality sits uneasily alongside the glitz and glamour. The author uses the word ‘naughty’ to describe his criminality on several occasions, as though he is talking to the child that was. Sins of Fathers is a fascinating, eye-opening and convincing memoir from a man who is still dealing with his past.
This most certainly isn’t just a fright-fest, it is an intelligent, interesting foray into the world of assassinations. Featuring over 100 cases from Julius Caesar to President Kennedy, we explore the victims and assassins themselves as well as failed assassinations. Just as a word of warning, this book is also full of photos relating to their history (including in some cases the dead victims). The chapters highlight geographic areas, before near the end, there is the eye-opening section on investigative journalists. The move through time from individual assassins to political and religious terrorists, and state sponsored killings is examined. British politician and author Kenneth Baker states that: “All assassins believe that by killing their target they will change the world”. He has personally known eight people who were assassinated, including two who were personal friends, and says: “their deaths did not change history”. He: “wanted to explore whether the assassination of other public figures had resulted in a poisoned chalice for the assassin”. On Assassinations is a quality book, and while this may sound somewhat macabre, it would actually make an excellent gift for those interested in exploring these savage moments of history.
An incredibly thoughtful, eloquent, and revealing book about policing by John Sutherland. Not only is it absolutely fascinating, there are also a whole heap of lessons that can and should be learned within its pages. John spent 25 years with the Metropolitan Police, during that time working his way to Borough Commander, leading teams as they dealt with some of the most sad and incredibly damaging aspects facing our society. Now retired on medical grounds, John is a sought-after public speaker and commentator, he regularly speaks on TV and radio, and writes for major newspapers. I can highly recommend his first book, Blue: A Memoir, this new book goes a step further. John issues an invitation to walk with him and witness the scenes behind the blue and white cordon tape. He talks about ten issues we face in the modern world, from domestic violence through to terrorism. He still cares about and loves policing, he also has huge compassion, this, linked with his ability to see the reality of policing, means he can open our eyes. Accessible, considered, meaningful, shocking, inspiring… Crossing the Line has been chosen as LoveReading Star Book, Book of the Month, and a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month. It really is the most crucially important piece of writing for the whole of our society to absorb, all I can say is, read it! Read our Q&A with John Sutherland.
Diary of a Young Naturalist recounts a year in the life of an autistic and highly gifted 15 year old, struggling with school, bullies, moving house and fearing the decline of the natural world whilst rejoicing in it. Dara McAnulty is clearly an extraordinary person and a beautiful and mature writer. His descriptions of his adventures in nature are inspiring for children, but also sure to brighten the souls of many an adult too. The intensity with which nature presents itself to the author is overwhelming, and his ability to share this with the reader is enthralling. It’s a rollercoaster ride being in the head of this young man, but the book has the magic to open our eyes and ears to what beauty is around us each and every day - if only we looked! McAnulty's knowledge of wildlife and nature is simply extraordinary. His autism is a burden but also a super-power, providing him with piercing insight to a world that simply cannot be ignored with all its truth, tragedy and hope pouring out of every hedgerow, pond and dry stone wall. This is a diary which highlights our essential connection with the natural world, the landscape and our history embedded within it - but more importantly, it is also about our futures. Dara McAnulty is on a mission, and if the quality of this book is anything to go by, he will have a huge impact. For many children, this book will be the beginning of a wondrous journey. ~ Greg Hackett Greg Hackett is the Founder & Director of the London Mountain Film Festival
Always engaging and illuminating, Laura Galloway’s Dálvi is an uplifting ode to doing something different. A testament to how a person can flourish after fleeing the monotony of the work, spend, socialise, show-off-on-social-media cycle of modern life to live by an entirely different kind of cycle - the kind that’s directed by nature’s shifting seasons in a unique environmental and cultural setting. Threaded with themes of flourishing through adversity, and finding home and love in unexpected places, this remarkable memoir is as stirring as it is gripping.The author’s journey began when a genetic test revealed that she shares DNA with the indigenous Sámi people of the Arctic tundra. Having endured a disastrous marriage, and growing increasingly dissatisfied with her life in NYC, Galloway ventures to the Norwegian town of Kautokeino, ostensibly to discover her roots, but in actuality discovering herself and her future way of life. Here, in this remote reindeer-herding region she meets and falls for a herder and decides to stay - even after he leaves her just six months later. With only very limited knowledge of the Sámi language, Galloway lives a largely solitary life with little money, and yet this life is so much better for her: “Now it is simple. There is no noise and no distraction. I have to be with myself, whatever that means, in the silence, listening to nature, being still.” In contrast, “When I left New York, I was exhausted – emotionally, financially and physically, as if I had been on a giant rat wheel.”Galloway is an amiable, amusing companion - never self-indulgent and always honest, not least when writing about her traumatic childhood (the death of her mother when she was only three, and the unrelenting vindictiveness of her father’s second wife). In time, little by little through her six years in the Arctic, she realises, “I’ve moved between two worlds.” And, at the heart of this transition, and a consequence of living in nature, her “endlessly fascinating companion”, is the realisation that “home is inside you and all around you.” Home whispers, “’I am here’, when you are most alone.” What a joyous life-affirming read.
Written and illustrated by award-winning artist and current affairs specialist George Butler, Drawn Across Borders is a unique empathy-inspiring portrayal of the affecting personal experiences of twelve migrants, covering countries as diverse as Tajikistan, Myanmar, Kenya, Syria and Palestine. It’s an honest, awe-inspiring tribute to the featured individuals, a testament to the strength of the human spirit, and a timely reminder that real people lie behind every news story on migrants. Real people with real (and varied) reasons for leaving places they once called home. Butler frames the book with brilliant clarity: “People move around the world for many reasons. Some migration is voluntary; most is not.” The written portraits are deeply personal, framed by the author’s experiences on the frontlines of - for example - refugee camps, and based on his conversations with migrants. When combined with the accompanying painterly illustrations, they create a book that draws the heart and eye to a clutch of stories that should be known.
So good, I read it twice. In recent years, television reality shows and documentaries have provided an insight into what it takes to become a badged member of our Special Air Service, the highly skilled and largely anonymous elite soldiers who stand at the very pinnacle of the UK’s armed services. Many, many books – non-fiction and fiction – have been written about the exploits of these soldiers. Some have been auto-biographical; most have described life at the sharp end – from the Iranian Embassy to Afghanistan – where the blades, as they are often called, pursue their dangerous profession. Following a traumatic departure from a corporate career, Monica began working at the SAS Headquarters as a kitchen hand. The blades – geezers as we discover they are now more often called – discovered someone they could talk to, someone who would listen, someone who cared. In the main, Geezers is a series of anecdotes; stories of conversations, of characters, of situations and challenges. At times it is tragic, at times it is very funny. Always, it is fascinating. Never before, has the public been given the opportunity to read a lay person’s account of what life away from the front line is like for these men – during selection, during training, in their down time and when they are at rest and play. What do you talk to your wife or partner about when so much of what you do is secret? What is it like to work away from home, cut off from friends and family for months at a time? How do men adjust from kicking down doors and fire-fights to playing with their children, mending a leaking tap or dealing with mounting household bills when they eventually return? The fact this is a book written by a civilian is key to the engaging quality of Geezers. Monica Lavers is observant, intelligent and articulate. She is not constrained by military training or doctrine. As a result, this book is really quite unique. Which explains why I read it twice. Because, at first, I was sceptical. By the time I was half-way through Geezers, I was hooked. And so, I went back and read it again. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Click to read our Q&A with Mark Adlington A book to fall totally and irretrievably in love with, Lion is full of the most gorgeous paintings, drawings, and sketches, and is absolutely stunning. The lion, an apex predator, is surely one of the most beautiful sights you can see. When I was 19 I found myself in Kenya, eyes wide, mouth open as I watched a lioness and three cubs at a water hole. It is something that is as clear to me now as it was then, so, when I saw this book was going to be published, I was first in the LoveReading queue. Here we journey together with Mark Adlington as he studies lions in East and Southern Africa. The foreword by the winner of the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa and Co-Founder and Director of Operations at the Big Life Foundation, Richard Bonham, is effusive in its praise of Mark Adlington. It comes with a warning, that lions do not make good neighbours, and “where humans and wildlife compete, wildlife will surely lose”. However all is not: “doom and gloom… in the Amboseli ecosystem, by 2003 there were only 25 lions left… today, things have changed and the population has clawed itself back to over 200”. Mark has painted the progeny of the lions this programme has saved, and they appear in this dazzlingly impressive book. Mark describes meeting Richard and his wife Tara as a miracle: “I found myself invited to stay ‘in the most beautiful part of Kenya’ by a total stranger on the strength of a little sketch of a lion cub posted on instagram”. Mark also allows us access to his sketchbook musings (oh, the tortoise!), and finishes by saying that a world without the lion is unimaginable. What then follows is page after page of the most beautiful artwork, and this is where my mouth dropped open. Each piece is so full of character and movement, so vibrantly alive, that it brought tears to my eyes. The art is allowed to shine, no page numbers or captions to distract, you can simply sink into the beauty of the lion. So, Lion is a book to take pride of place on your bookshelves, a book to return to and open with wonder, to sit with eyes wide and heart open, to adore. Undoubtedly one of my personal books of the year, Lion just had to join our LoveReading Star Books and is of course one of my Liz Picks of the Month.
Take one articulate, impassioned environmental journalist with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, add honesty, humour, and some fascinating travels stories and you have an inspirational book in your hands. Jeremy Hance is an award-winning journalist with a job that means he has to travel to some of the most remote countries in the world. Each time he begins a journey he is joined by OCD (Jeremy has named Steve), and depression (Malachi) which makes for an interesting trip. We first join Jeremy in 2017 en route to Jakarta as he struggles to cope with the journey, we then travel back to 2006 when his love for travel and the environment really began. His honesty is refreshing and uplifting, I smiled, laughed, and winced on occasion as I travelled to some truly wonderful places. And then he invited me to feel his sorrow at the loss of nature across this world that we are a part of: “There are things in the world we’ve take advantage of for our ten thousands years of civilisation: a stable climate, a rich biodiverse white of wildlife, healthy oceans, and a deep connection to other forms of life. We’re risking all of these now.” He also sees the good, the possibilities: “… in reality, we’re all just human. And every day we can choose kindness or cruelty. We can choose to be brave or ambivalent”. And then he introduces hope: “Leave nature alone and it will flourish. Help it along a little, and it will come back all the faster and richer. Life is tenacious. Life will find a way, but we first have to leave it a path.” And so I travelled the world with Jeremy as he faced his fear every single day, and I found it inspiring, and fascinating in equal measure. Baggage: Confessions of a Globe-Trotting Hypochondriac is a wonderfully readable, engaging, and rewarding read, that I have chosen as a Liz Pick of the Month.
A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making-from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency-a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil. Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation's highest office. Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune's Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden. A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective-the story of one man's bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of 'hope and change,' and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible. This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama's conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day.
A nature diary by award-winning novelist, nature writer and hit podcaster Melissa Harrison, following her journey from urban south London to the rural Suffolk countryside.
Detailed, interesting, and offering a personal insight into The Five Eyes intelligence community from the only man to have worked for both US and UK intelligence organisations while a citizen of each country. The Five Eyes alliance, comprising of the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, formed after the Second World War. Anthony R Wells believes that the intelligence institutions covered in this book have saved the free world. He says: “This book does not profess at all to be all-seeing and all-knowing”, he hopes that readers can: “make their own observations, draw their own conclusions, and come away with informed, educated, and non-biased and most certainly non-politicised views on intelligence in the modern era”. We read about the author’s experiences in chronological order over 50 years, covering a variety of threats, new opportunities, and technological advancements. It is quite clear that there is still much that we, the public, don’t know and shouldn’t know. Having said that, Between Five Eyes is an absolutely fascinating read for anyone interested in the intelligence community and wider world.
An interesting, perhaps surprising look into the world of counselling. When Therapy Goes Wrong uses the author’s own experience of therapy, the good and the bad, as a foundation to educate and warn others “ to be aware of the potential consequences of therapeutic negligence and the dangers of abusing a position of power, especially when you work with vulnerable people.” It is acknowledged that this warning is not needed for the majority of those who work within therapy as a profession, but the author goes on to illustrate the lack of regulation within this sector and the potential for vulnerability when looking for a counsellor or therapist and trying to validate their reputation, accreditations or qualifications. This is a very interesting insight into the world on counselling. Written from the perspective of a client and a training counsellor, the author is frank about the problems she’s seen with the system and the regulation bodies that do exist, as well as taking a look at the response to women within healthcare. Throughout the book there are black and white illustrations from the author, created as an additional form of expression which I liked, and there are references at the end for articles mentioned in the book.
A wonderful game for all the family, this really would make the most beautiful gift to celebrate the wonder of nature. Based on the best-selling book The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris this is a game for two to four players from the age of 8 and up. The Lost Words was one of our Books of the Year in 2017, and the more recent The Lost Spells is another LoveReading Star Book, these are books to celebrate and treasure. The card game has been created in conjunction with the authors, and is firmly embedded within the ideology found in the books. The cards are large (tarot size), feel luxurious to touch, and the pack contains the beautiful artwork of Jackie Morris (Nature Cards), spells of Robert Macfarlane (Spell Cards), and Special Cards which instruct an action, such as fishing for a Spell Card or sealing and protecting a completed pair. The aim of the game is to be the first player to place a matching Spell Card, on to all of your displayed Nature Cards. I would suggest you thoroughly read the instructions before starting, and perhaps form a few rules of your own, such as when you match a Spell and Nature Card, you read or chant or sing the spell! The game takes roughly 30 minutes, I was thoroughly beaten when playing for the first time. I would say there is a small amount of skill involved, but it is mostly down to the luck of the draw, which means all of the family can play together. The Lost Words Card Game would make the perfect stocking filler for Christmas, and comes with a celebratory thumbs up from me.
Cartoonist, Robert Crumb said; “When I come up against the Real World, I just vacillate”. Well, he can happily vacillate here for a while. This section features a whole host of books covering subjects as diverse as Mankind’s place in the Universe (Human Universe by Brian Cox), the history of the human journey to work (Rush Hour by Iain Gateley) and the real business of reading books (Bookworms, Dogears and Squashy Big Armchairs by Heather Reyes). This is the ‘Human’ section in our book lovers’ journey.
If you love reading, then you’ll find something here to fascinate you. There are new and interest-piquing passages here from science, philosophy, politics, history, religion, and all of the things that occupy the lives of humans. And we mean ALL of them. The fight against Cancer, the fight for freedom, feminism, fatality, frailty and fame. It’s too big to list. Have a browse through the titles by using our monthly recommendations past and present. We guarantee you’ll be hooked in minutes!