I bought this book back in May this year direct from the lovely indie publisher, Vertebrate Publishing, after buying another book from them and getting on their enticing email list (do check them out, they have some fascinating books and great discounts). I pulled it off the TBR shelf for the themed reading you might have noticed I’ve been doing this month, and it was certainly a lovely wintry read (though also with pandemic stuff, not too major, but drawing his project to a halt).

I’ve also decided to share some interim books received, as otherwise my 1 January 2022 post is going to become unwieldy, so books opened on Christmas Day there (I know I have at least a couple) and BookCrossing Secret Santa books and other random buys here. But first …

John D. Burns – “Wild Winter”

(04 May 2021 – bought from the publisher)

I know this place well. In my imagination I take an eagle’s ride over the sweeping ridges, across the dark lochs and down the wide glen to where the lights of houses twinkle at the roadside. The journey is filled with memories of days spent wandering in the rain, days on sunlit rock climbs, days on snow-crusted hills – some with friends and others alone with the landscape. These valleys and hills keep drawing me back. (p. 2)

Burns is an ex-mountaineer and keen bothy-bagger, visiting bothies (simple stone shelters for walkers, many originally shepherds’ huts) in the Highlands of Scotland both to simply enjoy them and to write in. He has a couple of interesting friends who he takes with him sometimes, not least Martin, who likes to keep things as they were in 1976, including woolly suits and an ice-axe that gets him into trouble on the public transport he loves to take. Burns decides to up his knowledge of the flora and fauna of his adopted homeland, especially after he fails spectacularly at a bird identification game on a boat trip with “proper” birders, and plans a project over the winter of 2019-2020 (yeah, you can see where this is heading) to see the big mammals of the north (wildcat, otter, stags rutting, etc.) as well as get in some trips.

The fairly slim volume starts with a walk in the dark to watch the sun rise and the stags gather to rut, Burns considering a long life in the outdoors in the mountains and hills he knows so well. He writes very nicely, lyrically but also practically, so we can really imagine the scenes he’s seeing and the places he inhabits temporarily. There’s also persuasive and passionate language as he describes the desecration of the Highlands by the big estates for their grouse-shooting – and then joy as he finds some estates which are encouraging re-wilding and holding back on the dead moors. I didn’t really know about this in detail so it was fascinating to read – and fits in with the rewilding strand there’s been to my reading for a while now.

Of course, given the timing, the pandemic encroaches on his plans. He never sees beavers (though he sees their evidence) or wildcats, and pine martens only at a feeding station a contact has set up. As lockdown starts, he’s confined to his flat in Inverness, staring at the top of a tree where small birds congregate, and he’s lost at first, then finds some solace in exploring his local environment in his mandated exercise half-hours. He ends the book saying that the readers will know what has happened next (though of course we don’t really, yet) and wondering what will happen to the bothies, but there is a hopeful note in this well-done book about the rewilding and rethinking going on in the Highlands.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 24/85 – 61 to go and I’m well ahead of my schedule of 7 per month so far, with a couple more read or in progress to finish by the end of the month.


Here’s Barclay Price’s “The Chinese in Britain: A History of Visitors and Settlers” which I knew was on its way when I posted my last Book Confession but hadn’t actually arrived yet. It goes up to 2019 and back as far as history tells us, and is the only book I’ve found so far that treats this topic comprehensively, so I’ll be interested in mining its bibliography and notes, too.

Last Thursday, we had the opening ceremony (on Zoom, again) of the Birmingham BookCrossers’ Not So Secret Santa (not secret because we register the books on BookCrossing so once the recipient has put in the number inside the book, they know who it was from). As well as some lovely chocolate and a Christmas decoration cracker, the lovely Sam gave me three crackers of books (ha ha) – Fiona MacDonald’s “Christmas: A Very Peculiar History” which is a timely little volume, with a note to look at p. 92, which has a list of odd things Icelanders do on New Year’s Eve. I hope to read this on Christmas Day. Then Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers”, a novel in which a teen pregnancy and love triangle lead everyone to wonder ‘What if?’ and Mariama Ba’s “So Long A Letter“, a novel in the Heinemann African Writers series which details the reminiscences of a Senegalese schoolteacher (both a novella and a Women in Translation book, this will come in handy for a challenge or two next year) – these were both from my wishlist and I am very excited about reading them.

After reading the story of a young Inuk man in “One Arctic Night“, I said to myself and in my review that I wanted to find some Own Voices narratives of life in the Inuit lands and particularly the Canadian territory of Nunavut, where that novel was set. Frustratingly, just as I have found with books on Aboriginal Peoples in Australia, books on Inuit life and culture are difficult to obtain here in the UK, with even e-books being ferociously expensive, print books even more so. And I do understand that publishers with short runs need to price to survive, but I also doing have an infinite budget and many aren’t available at all. So I found Paul Okalik’s “Let’s Move On” for a budget price on Amazon and snapped it up, and it rather improbably arrived in a day or so and here it is. Okalik was the first Premier of Nunavuk and grew up there, and while he has a co-writer who is not an Own Voice, they did live in the territory for a good decade themselves and have also written with other politicians. So I’ll see how I get on with that – I bet none of my readers have read that one!

Hopefully reviewing two light e-books tomorrow and another two novels soon to wrap up the Christmas reading before I shoehorn in another couple of winter ones. What are you reading in the run-up to the Festive Period?