Ratings: 5* – Outstanding! 4*+ – Good to very good; 3* – average; 2* – run-of-the-mill; 1* – dismal; zero * – no comment. DNF – did not finish . NF – non-fiction

Two books with the word Mountains in the title. Two books which could not have been more dissimilar – one a beautifully written book about nature & landscape (reviewed on this blog) , the other a somewhat surreal novel set in Portugal. I wrote a review of Part One on this blog. The remainder of the book was surreal in parts – particularly Part Two – but the final Part Three was wonderful, culminating in one of the most dramatic endings I have ever read. I have already added the novel to my 2018 Best Books list, under the heading of Most Original Novel.
Another huge contrast: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jasmal. Quite a read! Funny, shocking, erotic – plus – as a sub-plot, the solving of a murder. There’s also a romance on the go, so the book has plenty to offer. Those who dislike erotica should leave this book well alone!
I’m including a mention of a poetry book I read this month : The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra – Thanissara, but I haven’t star-rated it. It’s a wonderful epic poem – see review on this blog – and perhaps some of you may be encouraged to try it? At one point I read (and wrote) poetry, but not so much these days. So Thanissara’s poem made a refreshing change to my reading month.
I spent an enjoyable Quick Dip (QD) half hour with Maurice Kibel’s collection of Rhyme & Reason; another TBR bites the dust! At the opposite end of the Spectrum to the Bitter Almond Hedge collection – but there’s room in my life for a limerick and a smile, alongside the serious reads.

5* Mountains of the Mind – a History of Fascination – Robert Macfarlane. NF A wonderful rich read – spellbinding, actually. Reviewed on this blog.
5* The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel. Dazzlingly original. A Must Read for me. Reviewed on GR: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2308999253

4* Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jasmal . Southall, London and the Punjabi widows with erotic stories to share; growing sisterhood and overturning prejudice. Reviewed on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/review/edit/32075853

3* The Right Way Up – Paige Nick. Light, fun read. Family drama at its breathless best. Reviewed on this blog.

The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra – Thanissara . Poetry, Buddhism, San stories and Buddhist Heart Sutra. Reviewed on this Blog.
General Tso’s Chicken and the 7 Deadly Sins : A Collection of Rhyme and Reason by Maurice Kibel. Limericks, light verse. Fun!
Continue reading “FEBRARY 2018 READING ROUND UP”





The subtitle is : A History of Fascination.

My son-in-law pressed the book upon me, and I politely accepted it. The book languished, unread,  and then I accidentally donated it to my local Library book sale , rescuing it  only on Sale Day!  I carted it home and thought: I’d better read a few pages so I can say something sensible about the book when I return it. 

A few pages in, and I was hooked. For starters, Robert MacFarlane writes like a dream . I discover he’s currently a Fellow in English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.  His prose is clear, elegant, with occasional  little sharp asides – I feel his Scottish-ness gleaming through these little comments. Don’t think the book is a dry, academic  treatise about mountains (although Macfarlane is an enthusiastic mountaineer); it’s about landscape and nature.

His introduction to mountaineering stems from his boyhood in Scotland. He recalls happy times spent tramping over the hills and mountains of the Cairngorms; he continues to hike and climb in wild places.

The opening chapter delves into the history of geology in the most entertaining way. Again: not a dry history lesson but a fascinating glimpse into the lives, minds, discoveries of the greats like Charles Darwin, John Ruskin, Charles Lyell – to name a few. He traces the start of the science of geology during the 1800s. I had no idea that geology was such a young science.

The Victorian age was consumed with interest pertaining to Nature, private citizens collecting and displaying specimens from the animal, mineral and vegetable kingdoms, in their homes, in elaborate cabinets and cases.

We hear about explorers, travelers, cartographers, the political Great Game in Asia; the enormous Great Trigonometrical Survey of  India which immediately reminded me of one of my favourite books Kim by Rudyard Kipling. I learned, to my mild astonishment, that the world’s highest mountain, Everest, was named after  the Surveyor General of India, George Everest, in  1856. I’d never given any thought to the name of the famous mountain, but when you think about it, why does a mountain deep in the Himalayas bear an Anglo Saxon name?  As Macfarlane points out, the mountain already had a Tibetan and a Nepalese name but of course, the British Raj paid no heed to those!  With typical colonial arrogance, they renamed it. Just one of the many fascinating snippets I picked up in the book.

Macfarlane’s book is crammed, literally every page introduced a new, glittering nugget of fact or history, it’s like eating a very rich Christmas fruit cake.

I could rave on for pages. What a wonderful read.  I can’t recommend the book highly enough. Do yourselves a favour, and try it.












The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra – Thanissara

These days I seldom read poetry, but in past years I read, enjoyed, and wrote a great deal of poetry. But over the years one’s reading tastes can and do change. A friend lent me her copy of Thanissara’s long poem, and I’m so glad she did. Actually, its a book I’d like to own.
Thanissara has skilfully combined traditional San (Bushman) stories, with the Mahayana classic Heart Sutra, and woven in a thread of current eco-warrior concerns. This gives us an epic poem in 19 sections , plus a useful Introduction and Forward to the Heart Sutra. Non-Buddhists, and indeed many Buddhists, may not be familiar with this giant classic sutra and mantra, so explanations are necessary. I found them very helpful.
The poem deals with South African history, from the time of Jan van Rieebeek, the Dutch official of the Dutch East India Company who set foot on the tip of Southern Africa’s shore in 1652 and thus started the colonisation process in this part of Africa, culminating in the apartheid years of the 1960s to 1990s.
Each new section is prefaced by a wonderful traditional San story or legend – again, probably unfamiliar to many readers, both within and without our borders.
The book is one which demands slow, careful reading, many times over , to savour and digest the ideas as they unfold in the poem. Thanissara is drawing the link between our dislocated, numbed modern heart and mind, and our ravaged planet, and showing a path back to wholeness, via the Heart Sutra. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand and appreciate her ideas. Her message is universal.
I particularly enjoyed the San stories, all of which were new to me. I found them poignant and haunting. Once we become urban dwellers, our link to the natural world is inevitably diminished. We become denizens of a capitalist, consumer society and the natural world fades away from our immediate consciousness. Predictable, of course, but not necessarily beneficial either to us or the natural environment.
Maybe poetry is “not your thing” but this is a very different experience to the poetry forced down our unwilling throats at school. If you care for yourself and others, and are concerned over what’s happening to our planet, I urge you to try this very insightful and redemptive poem. You can buy it from the Dharmagiri Hermitage shop , which would be nice, as they would appreciate the support; alternatively it is available on amazon.com .







Like everyone else I was blown away by Martel’s hit novel Life of Pi. I wondered what could he possibly produce after such an imaginative triumph. His High Mountains of Portugal novel, is his post-Pi novel and I dithered for ages about buying it, thinking it could only be a disappointment after the wonders of Pi. I found a low-priced copy on a sale last December, and bought it.

I’m 82 pages into the story, and am enjoying it immensely. Thus far, the book fits into the Quest/Adventure genre. Our hero, Tomas, inspired by an old century diary written by Father Ulisses who was marooned in the African colonies, sets out to find the mysterious artefact which Father Ulisses shipped back to Portugal. After some deductions, Tomas decided the likely location of the artefact will be in one of the remote churches situated in the High Mountains of Portugal.

Here the novel takes an unexpected swerve. Tomas has only ten days holiday in which to reach and search the region. How will he get there? His rich uncle lends him a fully equipped and kitted out shiny new Renault motor car! The story is set in the very early 1900s when motor cars were rare, and regarded as a new-fangled abomination in the age of horse drawn conveyances.

You and I, dear Reader, do not give one millisecond of thought about driving or travelling in our motor cars. To us, nothing could be more mundane or unremarkable. But to Tomas, passenger in the Renault, being hurtled around Lisbon by his Uncle’s enthusiastic combative driving, the experience is bewildering and terrifying. Martel shows us a car that leaps and pounces on the roads – we get a clear picture of a dangerous, mechanical beast! His writing is terrific. We experience the roaring, fumes, bumps, rattles, dodgy steering, and of course, the incredible speed. In third gear, no less! At one point a dizzying 50 kmph.

I think this is the first time I’ve ever read a story that deals with the period of moving out of the slow horse drawn age into the mechanical motorised age. What a traumatic transition it was, for all concerned : drivers, passengers, road users, and bystanders.

I actually don’t care whether Thomas succeeds in finding this historical artefact. Just to read about the trials and exhaustion of early motoring has been a joy in itself.





The inimitable Paige Nick gives us the story of the Frankel family, beset by upheaval. Every body’s life is in turmoil. Consider this: youngest daughter rocketing around Europe on a gap year, adventure after adventure. Another sister announces her lesbian status. Eldest sister is besieged by three rambunctious children and a working life. Mom & Dad are in crisis mode after decades of marital bickering. Dad – a non-smoker- starts somnambulist smoking.

But its twins Lucy and Stella who provide the catalyst that turns the whole shebang upside down. Communications count. And when the comms chain breaks, misunderstandings multiply by the page. Goody-two-shoes starts to live her life for real instead of via her Agony Aunt column in a magazine . Read on! Its light, its fun and its Chick-lit.

I couldn’t put it down. Enjoy.



indexRatings: 5* – Outstanding! 4*+ – Good to very good; 3* – average; 2* – run-of-the-mill; 1* – dismal; zero * – no comment. DNF – did not finish

My eyesight presented problems in January, so my reading time was curtailed. However, I managed to read some wonderful books, the two 4* books, and the enjoyable anthology on gardens. I enjoy books that are ‘Dippers’. You can dip into them at intervals, when time is short, put them back on the shelf for another time.

4* The Pigeon Tunnel – Stories from my Life – John le Carré. Master storyteller’s anecdotal account of a lifetime lived either in the shadows or the limelight. Fascinating.
4* The Song Collector – Natasha Solomons. A lifelong passion for music, home, and the natural world. The magic of the English countryside.


3.5* The Way I See it – The Musings of a Black Woman in the rainbow nation – Lerato Tshabalala. Soweto collides with Cosmo magazine. Feisty, funny & fabulous.


3.5* Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore – Matthew Sullivan . Joey’s suicide inside the bookstore wrenches open old, bad personal history for bookstore clerk, Lydia. Mystery/cold case murder story.


3* The Garden of Reading – edited by Michele Slung. Sub-title: Anthology of 20th Century short fiction about Gardens and Gardeners. Enjoyable. Reviewed on GR: https://www.goodreads.com/review/edit/1563529