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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog UNTOUCHED by Jayme Bean (@JaymeBeanAuthor) If you’ve always loved adventures in the jungle, read this #RBRT

Hi, all:

I bring you another one of the discoveries from Rosie’s group, in this case, a debut novel, so it’s truly a discovery, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was published yesterday, but I had a chance to check an ARC copy before its publication.

Untouched by Jayme Bean

Untouched by Jayme Bean

Dr. Julia Morrow and her graduate students, David and Marisol, embark on a research trip to explore a remote section of the Amazon rainforest. When their trails seem to change direction at will and they find themselves lost and without communication, the trio worry they may be in for more than just the latest scientific discovery. After strange circumstances divide the group, they’re left deciding which is more important – finding out why the rainforest seems like it’s alive or getting back home in one piece. The deeper they travel into the jungle in search of answers, the more they realize that some places are meant to remain untouched.

https://www.amazon.com/Untouched-Jayme-Bean-ebook/dp/B08YN48638/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Untouched-Jayme-Bean-ebook/dp/B08YN48638/

https://www.amazon.es/Untouched-Jayme-Bean-ebook/dp/B08YN48638/

 

About the author:

Jayme Bean is an independent author who enjoys writing stories that speak both to the wonders of the world and the highs and lows of the human condition. Inspired by her travels around the world and her career as a zookeeper, she writes using her experiences, which lend a unique viewpoint to her stories. Jayme calls the sunny state of Florida home and shares her life with her husband, son, and four cats.

Catch up with Jayme over social media:
@JaymeBeanAuthor on Twitter and Instagram
/JaymeBeanAuthor on Facebook

You can also visit Jayme on Goodreads or on her website JaymeBeanAuthor.com

https://www.amazon.com/Jayme-Bean/e/B08TMZYPPV/

 My review:

I write this as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is a debut novel, and based on the acknowledgments, it seems that despite the author’s initial reluctance to write a book, her enthusiasm for the Amazon rainforest, her contact with other writers, and her husband’s support encouraged her to embark on the project, and I am grateful for it. It is a great story, and I’ve enjoyed it enormously.

The plot is not too complicated, although this is a book where the devil is in the detail. What if the Amazon rainforest could defend itself against the intrusions and destruction it is suffering at the hands of the human being? What if the plants and the trees fought us back? The Day of the Triffids came to my mind, but let that not confuse you. That’s not what this is about. The beauty of the story is that the protagonists who end up fighting for their survival are not “baddies” in the classical sense, but quite the opposite. They are not there to destroy the forest but to research and learn about it, to try to preserve it. But, research and experiments, as we all know, are not always harmless, and the best of intentions can have terrible consequences. In that peculiar setting, we have the protagonists (Marisol and David are the research students, and they get separated from Dr. Morrow quite early in the book, although they become a trio again when they meet Ben, who’d gone missing before their arrival), and the novel is, in a way, something I’ve referred to before: a “coming of age”-style or “rite of passage” novel with a grown-up protagonist. Although the three: Marisol, David, and Ben are put to the test by what happens, David is the one that goes through a major change, and whose experiences get him further away from his comfort zone. In their own different styles, the three are geeks: studious, bookworms, and more focused on their research and learning than on their social lives, but David has always loved the indoors and seems totally unprepared for the expedition. Despite that, his contributions are very important to the resolution of the novel (although I won’t spoil the whole of the story for you), and he comes out of it a changed man.

If I had to choose a genre, I am not sure which one I would use to describe the story. It is an adventure story, a mystery (as two people go missing in the story, and later on there are other mysteries to try to solve, as the protagonists get lost in the rainforest and don’t know how to get out) that veers into horror at times, but also a story about learning who you are by confronting your fears, learning to work as part of a team, and to trust others. Along the way, we learn a lot about plants, biology, and the Amazon rainforest, about the organisation of a research expedition, about some Peruvian traditional beliefs, about panic attacks and its symptoms, and there is an interesting —if somewhat brief— conversation about bisexuality and how people react to it. There is a love story as well, and although I don’t think it will take anybody by surprise, it works well, and it adds further depth to the characters.

Although there are some other characters that contribute to the story (like the local guides, some of the other members of the research team), and I would have liked to get to know Dr. Morrow a bit better, the story centres on the three characters I’ve already mentioned. Marisol comes from Florida, her humble family is originally from Puerto Rico, her mother died when she was quite young, and she is very fond of her father, brothers (including a twin brother), and despite her scientific studies and knowledge can’t help but remember her grandmother’s teachings and religious beliefs, which make her worry about the guides’ refusal to go further into the forest, that they deem “tierra maldita” (“accursed land”). David, on the other hand, is from a very well-off family, but his parents have never been particularly close or even interested in him and his life, and he took refuge in his books and his studies. He never seemed to connect with anybody and has no true friends. He also suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and although he has learned to manage those quite well, in most cases, it is not easy in his current circumstances. They make for a very odd couple, but, as you will probably image, they learn much about each other and about themselves in the process. Ben… We don’t get to know so much about him, as he is introduced later in the story, but he comes from a reasonably happy family, although he prefers to do his own thing and feels his parents try to over-control him; and he is independent to a fault, having learned how to live in the rainforest and become a true survivalist. The story also reminded me of a Young Adult or a New Adult story, because of its focus on characters (especially David) who are emotionally younger than their years, with the advantage that in this case, their ages (they are in their late twenties) make the whole novel more realistic, as we aren’t confronted with 17 years old who have the skills and knowledge that many experienced adults would be envious of, a common trope in some of these novels.

The story is told in the third person, although the point of view alternates between the different characters. In my opinion, David’s point of view dominates the story overall, but the author is excellent at introducing the experiences of the other characters as well, and although there is a fair amount of telling (because the characters —and us, of course— need to learn details about the project, the place, the plants, and the environment to make sense of what is happening), we often get to see and experience the full richness of the rainforest, the wonder and marvel of the sounds, the colours, the shapes, the feelings, the smells, and also the fear of being at the mercy of nature and not fully knowing what is coming next. The combination of the scientific knowledge titbits (that I found fascinating despite knowing very little about plants and even less about the rainforest), the fight for survival, and the strength and resilience of the characters, with the occasional touch of humour, reminded me of The Martian, and although the setting is completely different, I think there are some commonalities there. There are scenes of great tension interspersed with more contemplative moments, and the narrative eaves and flows, but although sometimes it might seem as if the characters are banging their heads against a wall (tree?) or spinning their wheels, I was hooked by the narrative and gripped by the story from very early on, and sad when it came to an end.

I highlighted much of the text and have found it too difficult to choose a few examples from the selection to share. There are witty dialogues, moving confessions, wonderful descriptions, scientific explanations, and awe-inspiring and scary passages as well. As usual, I’d advise prospective readers to check a sample of the novel, to see if the style of writing suits their taste.

I loved the ending, and although perhaps I would have liked to know more, it felt satisfying and right. I’ve mentioned the author’s acknowledgments, and I enjoyed reading about the process and what inspired her to write this book.

I recommend this book, which I had a great time with, to readers who enjoy adventure stories set in the wild, particularly those with an emphasis on ecology, biology, and the rainforest, happy to read about science and learn new things, and who also enjoy novels whose characters grow and learn from their experiences. There are beautifully descriptive passages that don’t overwhelm the story; there are plenty of adventures and scary moments for those who like to be gripped by a narrative; and also much to make us think. At the beginning of the novel, the author warns about the presence of episodes describing anxiety and panic attacks, and it is a fair warning, as the descriptions are very realistic and might cause upset to sufferers. There are also very mild scenes of M&M intimacy (I’d hesitate to call it erotica, and there is little explicit in them), but as I know what is somewhat subjective, I thought I’d mention it. There is no interpersonal violence in the book, but I’ve mentioned some scary scenes, and there are other kinds of violence and injuries present as well (that probably would be covered by the author’s warning about strong themes).

Oh, I came across this video shortly after reading the novel, and I couldn’t help but add it here, in case you want to learn more about plants and their defense mechanisms.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for the support, thanks to the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, to take care, and, of course, to keep reading, smiling, to comment, and to share if you know anybody who’d enjoy it. 

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Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview A HISTORY OF TREES by Simon Wills (@WillsyWriter) (@penswordbooks) The perfect gift for nature. #non-fiction

Hi all:

Another different offering from me, and I think it will make a great gift:

A History of Trees by Simon Wills
A History of Trees by Simon Wills

A History of Trees by Simon Wills The perfect gift for nature lovers who enjoy amusing trivia, stories, and photographs.

Have you ever wondered how trees got their names? What did our ancestors think about trees, and how were they used in the past? This fascinating book will answer many of your questions, but also reveal interesting stories that are not widely known. For example, the nut from which tree was predicted to pay off the UK’s national debt? Or why is Europe’s most popular pear called the ‘conference’? Simon Wills tells the history of twenty-eight common trees in an engaging and entertaining way, and every chapter is illustrated with his photographs. Find out why the London plane tree is so frequently planted in our cities, and how our forebears were in awe of the magical properties of hawthorn. Where is Britain’s largest conker tree? Which tree was believed to protect you against both lightning and witchcraft? The use of bay tree leaves as a sign of victory by athletes in ancient Greece led to them being subsequently adopted by many others – from Roman emperors to the Royal Marines. But why were willow trees associated with Alexander Pope, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Samuel Johnson? Why did Queen Anne pay a large sum for a cutting from a walnut tree in Somerset? Discover the answers to these and many other intriguing tales within the pages of this highly engrossing book.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Trees-Simon-Wills/dp/1526701596/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/A-History-of-Trees-Paperback/p/16232

Dr Simon Wills
Dr Simon Wills

About the author:

Simon Wills is a history journalist, wildlife photographer and genealogist who writes for many magazines. He is an expert adviser to the BAFTA award-winning ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ TV series and has also appeared on the show. He is a regular presenter at ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Live, and other history-related events. Simon enjoys the meticulous research that’s needed to provide an authentic account of the past, but believes in telling a good story too, and reviewers have noted that he creates a very readable account.

You can follow Simon on Twitter @WillsyWriter or via webpage www.birdsandtrees.net

Simon’s latest publication is ‘A History of Birds’ featuring his original photos. This book is a bit like the TV programme ‘QI’, but for birds: lots of fascinating but true tales, told in an entertaining and informed way, and with many myths debunked. It’s the ‘back story’ to the birds in our everyday lives and covers everything from the ancient Egyptian belief that the Heron was the first animal created, to the arrest of a pigeon for plotting against the Indian Prime Minister in 2016.

His next book will be ‘A History of Trees’, due for publication in October 2018.

Simon’s well-received ‘Wreck of the SS London’ is the intriguing tale of the loss of a luxury liner in 1866. Only three passengers survived the disaster, and it left an indelible mark on Victorian society because the death toll was so heavy. It’s an intriguing story that is at times hard to believe. The unexpected twists and turns of real-life events open up the lost seafaring world of Victorian Britain.

Simon’s practical guide to photographs of our maritime ancestors, ‘Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors’, reveals the stories behind the images. What rank is that Royal Navy officer? Did he work for P&O? When was this Royal Marine photo taken? Are they lifeboatmen? How can I trace the career of a yachtsman? If you enjoy old photos, like to analyse them, or have seafaring ancestors, then this heavily-illustrated book will keep you interested.

Shortlisted for the Mountbatten Maritime Literature Award, Simon’s novel ‘Lifeboatmen’ is a surprising but true story set in 1866. Lifeboatmen are famed for their courage, but what happens when things don’t go according to plan in the middle of a hurricane?

‘Voyages From The Past’ tells the true stories of passengers who travelled by ship from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Their first-hand accounts illustrate how life at sea has changed dramatically over the centuries. Each voyage is full of the amusing, tragic, or everyday anecdotes of real people – from smelly ship’s captains and crooked ship-owners, to pirates, rats and disease.

Simon also has a longstanding interest in the history of healthcare – working part-time as an information adviser to the NHS. When he’s not working, his interests include cycling, cricket, birdwatching, the theatre, and his dog, Max.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Simon-Wills/e/B00B5FUQ94

My review:

Thanks to Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this beautiful book that I freely chose to review.

I love trees and I can’t imagine living in a place with no trees at all, even if they are not in their natural environment, as is the case in cities. I’m not a connoisseur, although I’ve read some books that featured trees prominently and have enjoyed them, and this volume seemed the perfect opportunity to learn more.

This is a beautiful book that would make a perfect present for anybody interested in trees, in general, and UK trees in particular. It is a photographic book, but it also contains a wealth of written information about trees: factual and botanical data, historical events related to specific trees, folk and mythological stories about them, literary connections, etc. As the author explains in the introduction, due to the limits in the length of the book he could not include all British trees, and he selected the ones he felt were not only better known but had also the best tales to tell. Not that I had any doubt about it, but the author makes a good case for his choice of topic in the introduction: “Beyond their practical utility to us and our simple liking of them, trees form the great forests of the world, which are said to be the lungs of the planet. So trees, more than anything else, keep us alive” (Wills, 2018, p. vi).

The list of trees included in the book are: alder, apple, ash, bay, beech, birch, cherry, elm, hawthorn, hazel, holly, hornbeam, horse chestnut, lime, London plane, magnolia, maple, monkey puzzle, oak, pear, pine, poplar, rowan, sweet chestnut, sycamore, walnut, willow and yew.

This is a book one can deep in and out of as one fancies, or read it cover to cover. I often found myself picking it up just to have a quick look, and discovered an hour later that I was still glued to its pages and its wonderful stories. The original photographs are beautiful, and there are also well-chosen images from the British Library and the Welcome collection, as the author explains in his acknowledgements. The writing is supple and I’d dare say it will appeal to a large variety of people, because although it is not perhaps addressed at botanists or experts, it shares plenty of anecdotes and stories likely to interest most readers.

I had to share this ditty, because we’re in spring already and, well, one never knows:

The fair maid who, the first of May,

Goes to the fields at break of day,

And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,

Will ever after handsome be (Wills, 2018, p. 67).

If you try it and it works, don’t forget to let me know!

I enjoyed the pictures, the stories, and I became convinced as I read the book that I’d like to read more of the author’s works, and I’d love to attend one of his lectures. Of course, he had me at the acknowledgements already, when he mentioned his dog, Max (oh, don’t worry; there’s a picture of him too).

“Finally, I would like to thank Max, to whom this book is dedicated, for allowing me to frequently stop his walk and take photos of trees. He’s very tolerant” (Mills, 2018, p. viii).

In sum, this is a beautiful, informative, entertaining, and amusing book that will delight all those who love nature, trees in particular, and who enjoy trivia, stories and photographs. Perfect as a present, for yourself or others, as an inspiration, and as a breath of fresh air. Enjoy!

Wills, S. (2018). A history of trees. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword White Owl.

Thanks to Rosie and Pen & Sword, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep reading and smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD by Tracy Chevalier (@Tracy_Chevalier) I enjoyed the story, the characters, the historical detail, the beautiful language and yes, the trees too

Hi all:

My list of books to read from NetGalley is very long (I’m sure any day they’ll stop approving me because I can’t keep up) but I’m very greedy when it comes to books (not so much for other things, thankfully) and often I just see on offer a book by a writer that I’ve always felt curious about but never quite got round to reading and… Yes, I can’t resist. This is one of those and it was well-worth it.

At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier. Cover 1
At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

·         Hardcover
$18.36

 

·         Paperback
$11.27
1 New from $11.27

 

·         Audible
$24.94

 

·         Audio CD
$33.28

“With impeccable research and flawless prose, Chevalier perfectly conjures the grandeur of the pristine Wild West . . . and the everyday adventurers—male and female—who were bold enough or foolish enough to be drawn to the unknown. She crafts for us an excellent experience.”
USA Today

From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

Chevalier tells a fierce, beautifully crafted story in At the Edge of the Orchard, her most graceful and richly imagined work yet.

About the author:

Author Tracy Chevalier
Author Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier is the author of nine novels, including the international bestseller GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, which has sold over 5 million copies and been made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. American by birth, British by geography, she lives in London with her husband and son. Her latest novel, AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD, is set among the apple trees in Ohio and the redwoods and sequoias of California. Her next book NEW BOY is a re-telling of Othello, set in a Washington DC playground in the 1970s. It’s part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project in which various writers take a Shakespeare play and write what Jeanette Winterson described as a “cover version.” Tracy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has honorary doctorates from her alma maters Oberlin College and the University of East Anglia. Her website www.tchevalier.com will tell you more about her and her books.

https://www.amazon.com/Tracy-Chevalier/e/B000APQH6G/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, The Borough Press for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily choose to review.

Tracy Chevalier was one of the authors that I had wanted to read for a long while but somehow never got around to it. When I saw this title on offer I decided it was now or never. For me, it was well-worth the wait, but more about that later.

The book follows the story of a family who moves from Connecticut to Ohio in the XIX century and later of their youngest son, Robert and his adventures. It is divided into several parts, and it is symmetrical and beautifully composed. We first get to know the parents, James and Sarah (Sadie), whose first-person narrations alternate, and whose points of view and personalities couldn’t be more different. Then there are the letters that Robert, their youngest son, writes back home, which give us a brief insight into his adventures, without narrating every little detail. Then there is the narration of Robert’s adventures, this time in the third person, and how he goes full circle and after trying many things ends up working with trees, his father’s life mission. There follow the letters from his youngest sister, Martha, who tries to find him, and also tell a story that would have been much more difficult to read if it had been told in detail. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but let’s say her way of talking about her experiences make them more poignant for me. Robert was right when he told her she was stronger than she thought she was.) Then we go back to James and Sadie’s story, picking it up at the time where it had been disrupted, and by the end of the novel, we’re back to Robert’s story. Although the story goes backwards and forwards in time, I did not find it difficult as the times and the narrative voices are well and clearly delineated.

Life in the swamp is vividly described as harsh and demanding. It kills animals, people, and crops. It also can destroy the spirits of some individuals. The only bright spot are the apples (be the sweetness and the joy of growing them, for James, or the cider and Applejack for Sadie). Here I found myself fascinated by the description of the trees, the process of looking after them, what they came to represent, the fights over the different types of apple trees, and later about the love of people for the sequoias and the business involved in exporting trees. It has happened to me more than once that when I read about a subject I’d never thought much about; I become entranced by it, not because of the subject itself, but of the passion and beauty with which it was written about. I remember, as an example of this, American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I’d never given a second thought to glove making before reading that book, but I the way the craft was described, so lovingly. In this case, to Chevalier’s advantage, I like apples and trees, although I’ve never studied them in depth, but I loved the factual knowledge, the beauty of the language, and the use of true historical figures, as the author explains in her notes. As a note of warning, having read some of the reviews, not everybody found that part interesting. I guess I’m more of a James (or a Robert) than a Sadie in that respect.

The characters are not immediately relatable to or even likeable, but they do ring true. Both parents seem to be trapped in relationships and roles not of their liking but unable to do anything else, at a time when survival was the main object and most people had to put up with their lot in life, like it or not. Robert is a quiet man, who prefers nature to the company of others, but he is also loyal and more attached to people than he likes to acknowledge, even to himself. The book is built around a secret he keeps, although for me that was incidental and not the hook that kept me reading. He ends up becoming fonder of people and, like the trees of the story, gets to move around and see the world. Martha, his sister, is a great character (she would have made an interesting protagonist too, but perhaps her story would have been too bleak) but does not get a lot of space in the book. Some of the secondary characters, based on historical ones, like John Chapman and William Lobb, deserve whole volumes dedicated to their endeavours, and some fictional characters, like the housekeeper and Molly, are larger than life.

I can’t compare it to any other of Chevalier’s books, but I enjoyed the story, the characters, the historical detail, the beautiful language and yes, the trees too. I recommend it to lovers of historical fiction who are happy to delve into the texture and the feel of an era or an occupation. And now I have to try and catch up with the rest of her books.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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