Book Review: Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton

Wabi Sabi by Beth KemptonI’m wary of life guides these days. I went through a phase of ploughing through self-help manuals a decade ago and still have a pile of books selling success and unlimited cash stashed in a cupboard somewhere.  Most of them were wildly out of sync with my own nature – I’m not a fiercely-driven entrepreneur seeking vast wealth or a person who is looking to find themselves (although perhaps I didn’t realise this at the time). The tips were often unrealistic too and I frequently felt demoralised when I didn’t achieve my goals. Because of this I pretty much steered clear of this genre until I heard of Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life and thought its gentle approach might be more in tune with my lifestyle.

I already knew a little of Beth’s journey and her kindness of spirit through Instagram. She’s an entrepreneur, writer and mother who really takes time to help people. She also has a longstanding connection to Japan after living and working there for many years.  This deep awareness of Japanese culture coupled with Beth’s progressive attitude towards life persuaded me to buy a copy and I’m really glad I did.

Physically Wabi Sabi is a compact book and beautifully produced, yet it’s size doesn’t reflect the universal scope of the themes within.  These stretch from the philosophical to the practical, offering checklists and realistic ways of bringing this Japanese world view into your everyday life.  Wabi Sabi is hard to define and Beth concedes this early on, but her summary below gives a basic overview of the concept.

‘Wabi sabi (“wah-bi sah-bi”) is a captivating concept from Japanese aesthetics, which helps us to see beauty in imperfection, appreciate simplicity and accept the transient nature of all things”

She then takes us on a considered journey through history and art to explain how the aesthetic evolved and how it manifests itself in Japanese thinking – as much as that’s possible.  One thing I loved about this book is that it has a soft focus and specific answers are rarely given.  You don’t have to read it in a linear way either although I would recommend this as it gives a fuller sense of the principles at work.

Despite the abstract nature of Wabi Sabi, Beth provides lots of concrete examples of how to integrate this aesthetic at home and at work by sharing anecdotes from her own life.  I found these particularly useful – even the small incidents such as remembering to remain positive in difficult situations (in this case making the wrong booking at a hotel) had huge value.  There are also checklists and tips within each section covering subjects ranging from developing resilience to creating a wabi-sabi-inspired home.  I recognised some of the pointers from coaching practice and although I wasn’t entirely sure if they fitted the rest of the text, I’m sure many readers would find them helpful.

Add to this reflections on ageing, finding the right career, decluttering finances and appreciating nature and you begin to see how far-reaching the material is.  It seems like a lot to cover in only 219 pages and it is, but somehow it all works brilliantly because it’s written from the heart.

I felt as if I’d been on an intense retreat by the time I finished the book.  Overwhelmed, yet invigorated and inspired. Wabi Sabi isn’t a one-pass read, it’s a wise little friend that you can turn to time after time. I would recommend it for anyone who’s trying to slow their lives down a little and see the bigger picture.  It won’t solve all your problems but will make your life a little more perfectly imperfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elephants on Tour Book Review – a Q&A with Guillaume Cornet

Elephants on Tour

From the skyscrapers of New York and Tokyo to the jungles of Peru and Madagascar, the elephants are off to see some of the most amazing places in the world – discovering famous buildings, food, transport and activities in each destination along the way.

A puzzle book with travel, food and elephants? Yes please!

We were thrilled when Laurence King Publishing asked us to be part of the Elephants on Blog Tour -not only does it involve many of our favourite things in life, it’s also filled with the most amazingly intricate illustrations by Guillaume Cornet.  We’ve spent the last week huddled over the pages, trying to spot the elephants and their signature objects in the detailed landscapes.  Little M’s been obsessed with finding the Foodie’s tiny pink cupcake and I’ve developed an eye for tracking down the Athlete’s skateboard among the city streets, but despite some dedicated time with a magnifying glass we’ve only uncovered a fraction of the hidden items.  There are twenty spreads of famous locations to explore, each with bonus finds and mini fact files.  We were astounded by the level of detail in the artwork – you could spend hours just looking at the pictures – so we jumped at the chance to ask Guillaume few questions about his process and inspirations:

What inspired you to write the book?

My previous work often features Elephants, but the idea came after a Solo show I did in Hong Kong in March 2016 called Elephants in Hong Kong. Taking a group of Elephants through the Hong Kong skyscrapers and busy streets. After a meeting with Elizabeth Jenner at Laurence King Publishing, the idea grew from one city into a World Tour!

What’s your favourite place in the world?

Any French cheese shop. 

How long does it take you to complete an illustration?

Each double-page (A2 format) from the Elephants on Tour takes around 200-250 hours.

What’s your typical day like?

I cycle to my studio around 8am and start the day with a coffee going over admin while sorting any visual research/inspiration for the day. Then I like to get in the zone and focus on one illustration for a few hours. I will typically work until 7 or 8pm.

What tips would you give to budding illustrators?

  • When using Ink, always try to incorporate your mistakes. It will save you time and will make the artwork more unique.
  • Get to the studio early and you will get more done!
  • Don’t be shy to follow up with possible commissions, often clients simply forget to get back to your quote but it doesn’t mean they are not interested anymore.

For a better look at Guillaume’s art, you can download colouring sheets on the official Elephants on Blog tour page. You can also follow the rest of the tour on social media via the #ElephantsonBlogtour hashtag.

The detail in the illustrations, together with the fun travel facts on each spread makes this a truly special book with lasting appeal.  Ideal for 4-7 year olds with curious minds!

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Book Review: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Processed with VSCO with  presetTo save her child, she will trust a stranger. To protect a secret, she must risk her life . . .

I first became aware of The Familiars when it was acquired after a nine-way auction and applied for an advance copy as soon as I could. Being partial to a bit of sorcery, I was instantly drawn to this historical re-imagining of the Pendle witch trials told from the perspective of pregnant 17-year-old noblewoman, Fleetwood Shuttleworth.

From the outset, I could understand why so many publishers battled for this story. The writing is incredibly fluid, pitch perfect with just the the right amount of lyricism.  We see Fleetwood’s world so clearly – her decadent lifestyle juxtaposed against the real fear that a third miscarriage could lead to her death.  With such high stakes, it’s inevitable that she becomes desperate for help even if it arrives in the form of Alice Gray, a mysterious and impoverished woman who has ties to the hated Pendle witches.

The growing bond between the two women forms the backbone of the story while events twist and turn around them.  The pace is handled nicely – enough plot to move the action along but also richly descriptive.  I felt for the characters, particularly Fleetwood who never gives up although she is at the mercy of her husband and her own body throughout the novel. Although Alice isn’t as clearly drawn, there are reasons for her enigmatic nature which become evident later on. These are women whose lives are restricted by society and they must tread carefully if they are to survive.

Unusually for me, I flew through the book which says a lot about the writing.  I was compelled to find out what would happen and although the ending seemed a little rushed, it was also satisfying on a number of levels.  I was left with a sense of wanting more – always a good sign. One thing I would mention though is that despite the title, don’t expect a paranormal novel. There is a suggestion of witchcraft, but the references are incredibly subtle.  The role of the familiars is a minor one and never quite explained so if you’re hoping for overt magic you won’t find it here.  However, if you’re looking for an atmospheric historical read with touches of weird then this is perfect for dark evenings and windswept days.

The Familiars is due to be published 19 February 2019. You can pre-order here.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Thriving Child by Dr William Stixrud and Ned Johnson

Mum and daughter balancing on a tightrope

I read a whole bunch of parenting books when Little M was a baby and then stopped – mainly because nothing really seemed to answer the questions I had and partially because there was too much choice, but as soon as I spotted The Thriving Child in a Penguin Random House Instagram giveaway, I sensed that it could really help our family.

Like many 5 year-old kids, Little M is a child of two halves fluctuating between being fiercely independent and pretty clingy.  She also has a wild imagination which can make her prone to anxiety so I was keen to see if this book could offer any tips on how to encourage resilience.

And did it?

Yes and more. What I love about this guide is how it veers away from trying to force your child down the standard path of academic achievement.  Instead it advocates letting them make their own choices (within reason!) and learn the art of self-motivation.  It sounds fairly radical, but when you sit down and work through it, there’s a lot of common sense in the advice.  The parent takes a consultancy role rather than being a micro-manager and there are lots of case studies in the book to explain how to apply the approach in real life situations. The authors have bags of experience when it comes to helping children achieve their full potential and you get the full benefit of their knowledge as you read the book.

The bulk of the guide focuses on older children and is written for the US market, but the tips can be applied to all children and I’m really glad that I’m aware of these techniques while Little M’s still young.  I’d much rather that she has the tools to develop her own passions than be pushed down a route that might not suit her skills. And if she learns how to cope with and push through inevitable setbacks on the way then even better.

We won this copy of The Thriving Child: The Science Behind Reducing Stress and Nurturing Independence by Dr William Stixrud & Ned Johnson (published by Penguin Books). All words and pictures are our own.

 

 

 

Book Review: How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear by Jess French and Angela Keoghan

Child Saving the PlanetIf there was a prize for the book that’s had the most impact in our house this year then this would win it!

How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear introduces the reader to thirteen different habitats – from gardens to mountains – then gives them practical advice about how to protect each one.  Dr Jess French’s tips are really accessible and 5 year-old Little M was instantly hooked by the plight of the wildlife facing extinction – so much so that she decided she was going to make some changes straightaway (no more plastic straws for a start).

As we read the book together, we worked out which of the 70 tips we’d already adopted and made a list of the ones that we still needed to do.  Little M also enjoyed spotting the creatures she recognised and learning about new ones that are depicted in Angela Keoghan’s beautiful illustrations.  There’s so much detail on each page that it’s possible to read it many times over and not get bored.

What astonished me most though was how excited Little M was to protect the planet after finishing the book.  She felt as if she could actually do something to make a difference and the great thing is – she can! (See her garden tips video on our IGTV channel)

Whether you have a future green crusader in your family or just want your kids to become more aware of the environment then I’d highly recommend this title.  It’s essential reading for the next generation.

We were sent a review copy How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear by Jess French and Angela Keoghan (published by Nosy Crow/National Trust). The words and pictures are our own.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

The Storm Keeper's Island by Catherine DoyleWhen Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet …

Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.

But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island’s next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.

Who could resist such an enticing cover (illustrated by Bill Bragg) and blurb? Not me – that’s for sure! So when Bloomsbury offered me a review copy of The Storm Keeper’s Island * I jumped at the chance.

Initially, I was drawn in by the idea of overlapping worlds in this middle grade novel. I’ve always been fan of low fantasy where magic intermingles with reality and the tale really delivers on that score. From the outset we know that Arranmore is enchanted, especially for Fionn and this sense of power is richly developed as the story unfolds.  Doyle casts us into a landscape that’s full of gods, myths and half-buried histories.  At the centre of this, Malachy – Fionn’s grandfather and the current Storm Keeper – is trying to hold everything together from his homely cottage filled with mysterious candles, but his strength is waning and so a successor must be found.  Malachy is a beautifully drawn character, one of my favourites in the book, full of humour and kindness – very much like Fionn who is also incredibly witty.  The sparky dialogue between the characters is a real highlight of the novel. I’d read more by Doyle just for her banter alone!

Of course, where there are heroes, there are also villains.  The island has a motley crew of unlikeables topped by Morrigan, an evil sorceress who wishes to rise again. This is where it got a bit more complicated as different timelines began to interweave but I enjoyed the intricate plot and will be interested to see how the author brings everything together in the sequel (out July 2019).

A compelling summer read for 9-12 year olds and fans of old-school novels such as The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner.

*This post includes affiliate links

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

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It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.

I expected love, jealousy and nostalgia from Tin Man. And I found all those things, yet not in the guise I’d imagined.  The novel is short, less than 200 pages, but Winman manages to encapsulate entire minds and lives within this compact story.

It’s told from two perspectives – that of 46-year-old Ellis, who’s dissatisfied with his working-class existence after losing his wife Annie in a car accident and from Michael, his closest friend, whose wistful recollections are detailed in a journal that Ellis discovers.  Both are historical in the sense that the ‘present’ takes place in 1996 – an unusual choice, but poignant for a reason that becomes apparent later in the book.

With the promise of a love triangle, I anticipated drama, but the novel steers away from high action and veers towards contemplation; the pleasure of living life to the full and savouring the moment.  The relationships are complex and sexuality fluid. There is jealousy, but there is also kindness, respect and mutual affection. Love binds the characters together throughout the decades, beyond death itself – finally bringing redemption.

It’s impossible to share this review without praising Winman’s skill as a writer. Her words are brilliantly concise, and her subtle handling of emotion brought tears to my eyes more than once. The patterning was deft too with clear motifs that steer the reader to key themes – sunflowers, Walt Whitman’s line O Captain! My Captain! (also used to moving effect in Dead Poets Society) and panel beating (the tin man). The structure is intricate with many flashbacks but it holds together convincingly, giving a rounded feel to the novel.

Tin Man isn’t for those who seek plot, but if you are searching for a bittersweet reflection on life and love, then this novel is pretty perfect.  As a new Winman convert, I’m looking forward to reading her other books and will relish my summer days even more after following Ellis and Michael’s journeys.