Book Reviews - December 2018

Book Reviews – December 2018

by Elizabeth Kay

Elizabeth Kay offers Sussex Living readers her thoughts on recent reads that have caught her attention. She gives her views on a selection of books from different genres which may capture your interest

WEEDS IN THE HEART

by Nathaniel Hughes and Fiona Owen

(Quintessence Press)

This rather uninspiring title is a pity, because the book itself is absolutely beautiful and would make a wonderful Christmas present. The illustrations are accurate, informative and exquisite, and make this a coffee table book to leaf through at your leisure. It deals with the medicinal and spiritual aspects of the plants found in the Stroud Valley, and although it is very clear that it is not a medical textbook, it does include scientific elements as well as meditative ones. The opening of the preface sums it up very well: This book is the opposite of an encyclopaedia. It focuses on a relatively small number of uses for a small number of herbs from a highly subjective viewpoint. There are genuine case studies, both from the point of view of the person experiencing the treatment and the herbalist prescribing it, with plenty of references if you want to pursue a particular topic further. Hughes describes himself as an Animist-Buddhist, believing that consciousness can be found throughout nature. Even if you don’t agree with much of the philosophy behind the book, it is still a worthwhile read as many old-fashioned remedies are revisited.

THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP

by Joanna Cannon

(The Borough Press)

This is quite a long book, and needs perseverance. The main narration is by ten-year-old Grace. The action takes place in the heatwave of 1976 on a housing estate, where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and there is a central mystery concerning a disappearance which we see through Grace’s eyes. She decides to investigate, along with her friend Tilly. The flashbacks to 1967 give clues to the main thrust of the book, but the final twist surprised me without feeling I’d been cheated with a bolt from the blue. The misunderstandings of childhood are convincingly portrayed; the self-centredness of pre-teens is well described too, as are the ignorant prejudices of the older generation. There are understated observations of parents – Grace’s mother is always having a lie down, and her mother and father have arguments via the dog, to whom they address their grievances. There are a lot of characters, and reading the book in fits and starts is not recommended as you forget who the people are. By the time I was halfway through, though, the pace had picked up and I read through to the end without getting confused.

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

by Clement C. Moore and Mark Marshall

(Little Tiger Press)

There are a lot of different editions of this classic poem, so it’s worth researching which version you fancy – one with modern illustrations, such as this one, or one with a more traditional Victorian feel. I remember this from my childhood, and it’s just as magical now as it was then. It’s the poem you read to young children on Christmas Eve to persuade them to go to sleep:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled, all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced thro’ their heads;

And Mama in her kerchief, and me in my cap

Had settled our brains for a long winter’s nap

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters, and threw down the sash;

The moon on the breasts of the new-fallen snow,

Gave lustre of midday to objects below.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer…