Two high-quality and well-written books I’ve reviewed recently for Shiny New Books, and I was slightly unnerved by both of them when I received them, but was OK in the end!

GUnofficial Britain gareth reesareth E. Rees – “Unofficial Britain”

The worry: too scary and uncanny for feeble little me?

Another excellent and exciting read from Elliott & Thompson. I gladly accepted this when I was offered it as I do like a bit of psychogeography, then I got a bit worried when I read the opening, set in a mystical area of Olde Worlde Britain and descending into a scenario like a horror film, and then read it was going to feature housing estate poltergeists, trading estate catmen and wolf-like figures perambulating around liminal areas. But the quality of the writing and especially the bringing together of old phenomena and new drew me in, and as long as I read it in daylight, preferably outdoors, I was fine (I am notably easy to alarm!).

The central premise of the book, that modern spaces a) attract as much myth and storytelling, emotion and nostalgia as older ones and b) often overlay and/or echo those older spaces, is a powerful one that pulls the book together and gives it shape. Not just a collection of weird tales, it’s an explanation of the power of story in our lives today, and the attraction of unloveable spaces.

One of the themes throughout the book is the link between older traditions, myths and stories and modern ones, whether that’s community memories of housing estates being built on graveyards, the placing of real or ersatz standing stones within motorway junctions, links between scary wolf figures of previous centuries and those which pop up today, the “thin places” of Celtic myth and the liminal places of the modern day where you could slip into … anything, or the arrangements of motorway junctions and their reflection of the layout of ancient sacred sites. Rees does really good work on this and it’s fascinating. He also does a good job of weaving his own memories in with the ones he tracks down and researches here without making the book tediously all about himself; this is most notable in his return to the M6 motorway in the final chapter, which also manages to pull together all the themes of the book

Read my full review for Shiny here.

I have to say that I found myself waiting in a liminal space between the bit of the canal that features the remnants of a swing bridge to a road that now goes nowhere and a large and secretive-looking mineral works, by its abandoned former building, for a friend who was having a comfort break in a nearby wooded area, and thoroughly unnerved myself, which I feel the author would have appreciated!

Thank you to Alison from Elliott & Thompson for asking me if I’d like to read this and sending it over in return for an honest review.

Sarah Maslin Nir – “Horse Crazy”

The worry: All the horses will die and I’ll have to read awful things about the Holocaust!

I received this book via NetGalley and it seemed like a good fit for Shiny so I proposed to review it for them, too. It’s about a woman who loves horses but feels she’s not in quite the right horsey set. In addition, she’s labouring under a huge load of survivor’s guilt because her father escaped the Holocaust as a child. I hadn’t realised about that aspect when I requested the book, and when I realised that each of the chapters was named after a horse that had been important in her life, I really worried that I’d be wading through terrible stories and horse deaths.

I needn’t have worried. There were no graphic details of the war and of course horses are long-lived beasts, so apart from a couple of demises, off-stage and copable-with, many of the ones described and commemorated are living out their retirements or still going strong. It was a fascinating read and recommended.

While there’s a fascinating chapter of the weird-eared Marwari Horse (look them up and be prepared to be surprised; this is not a horse breed of which I was aware before), a horse which you won’t see outside India as there’s a ban on exporting them, most of the stories in the book centre around American people and their horses – and those horses rather fascinatingly range from little plastic models at actual shows for … little plastic models, to giant work horses used to patrol Central Park. We meet the real Misty of Chincoteague and the horses used on urban farms, to dish-faced Arabs and the ubiquitous racing thoroughbred.

Read my full review for Shiny here.

Thank you to Elizabeth from Simon & Schuster for making this one available to me on NetGalley in return for an honest review.