WELCOME to our first book review collection especially for the Gazette & Herald from Kemps Books in Malton.

Each month we will share just a small selection of some of our favourite fiction and non-fiction titles reviewed for you by members of our book team. The shop is full of many more titles and, as a new shop we are learning and hopefully growing into the bookshop our customers want. So, please send us ideas for titles we should know about or better still pop in for a browse and a chat.

We are always looking for reviewers and readers or all ages to help curate our shop collection so if you can’t pop in then please get in touch shop@kempgeneralstore.co.uk

English Pastoral, James Rebanks

English Pastoral is an important book: it explores our connection to the landscape and nature of England from the perspective of Lake District farmer and writer James Rebanks. Since its publication in the Autumn of 2020, it has drawn a range of plaudits and critical acclaim, becoming the Sunday Times Nature Book of the Year, and was named ‘Book of the Year’ by many UK newspapers, as well as being featured on BBC Radio 4.

Through the memoir of his early life as part of a Cumbrian farming family, Rebanks tells the story of his changing relationship to the farm and surrounding countryside of the Lake District. The history of farming in the UK is told alongside the story of his changing attitudes to farming practices.

As a young man, Rebanks worked abroad in Australia to gain experience of farming elsewhere. Although homesick for the landscape and mixed farms of the Lake District, he admired the efficiency of the large-scale farms he saw there. On his return to England, and with his family farm in debt, they adopted the more modern, seemingly efficient farming practices he’d seen abroad in order to try to survive.

Rebanks recounts how, over time, the intensive farming practices impoverished the landscape he loved. He tells of a neighbour who farmed traditionally, and was found to have the healthiest soil in the locality. That realisation, alongside reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring made Rebanks question how he and others had neglected farming methods which worked with nature rather than cause its destruction.

Alongside exploring the role that farmers can play as custodians of the landscape, he highlights how disconnected we are as consumers from the landscape that produces our food, asserting that we are “strangers to the fields that feed us.” As a remedy for ourselves and our beloved English landscape, Rebanks sets out his agenda for the future of the English countryside.

ISBN 9780241245729 £20.00 Hardback (Allen Lane, 2020)

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, retold and illustrated by Sabina Radeva

In her beautiful adaptation of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Sabina Radeva combines her expertise as both scientist and illustrator to convey one of science’s most complex topics to children. Containing a wide range of beautiful illustrations depicting the rich biodiversity of the natural world, she provides a concise and accessible explanation of Darwin’s work on evolutionary science in an engaging and accessible format.

One of the book’s triumphs is that the author does not shy away from the complex ideas Darwin hoped to explain – in fact, the book helps youngsters see the world with the eye of a scientist. Darwin’s discoveries and theories are included, as are the unresolved scientific questions that his work raised. Topics included range from the history of evolutionary science (including references to scientists with whom Darwin collaborated), how fossils are formed, how well-known domestic animals fit into his theories, how geography affects evolution, as well as how food chains work. Throughout, a range of accessible quotations from Darwin’s original are included to provide an authentic link to his work and ideas. In addition, a well-judged glossary supports readers with any new scientific terms needed to understand Darwin’s ideas.

Not only are we told about Darwin’s scientific discoveries, we also learn about his family life (and a rather cute dog named Polly), as well as his travels and adventures to lands as far away as The Galapagos Islands aboard HMS Beagle.

Radeva’s book does not shy away from introducing challenging scientific concepts and will be enjoyed again and again as readers mature, providing a great foundation for scientific discussions with family and friends.

ISBN 9780141388502 £12.99 Hardback (Penguin, 2019)

The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story by Monique Roffey

A deserving winner of this year’s Costa Book Prize, The Mermaid of Black Conch is a highly original and stylishly written novel from Monique Roffey, a Trinidadian-born British writer. Set in a sleepy Caribbean village in the 1970s, the novel recounts the tale of a mermaid, Aycayia and her love affair with David, a local fisherman.

We learn that Aycayia became a mermaid hundreds of years previously, as a result of a curse placed upon her by others jealous of her beauty. Exiled in the sea with an old woman from her village, she revisits the same fishing grounds (as does David) until eventually their secret meetings become regular.

However, the course of their love affair is disrupted as Aycayia is captured by an American father and son who arrive in the village for a fishing trip. Roffey describes her incredible power and strength as a captured mermaid, but also the brutality she experiences as she is taken by force and held prisoner. Eventually, David cannot stand by and watch her cruel treatment and feels compelled to act.

Roffey’s light touches of magical realism show the transformative power of love upon Aycayia. However, despite her connection to David, she remains an outsider and her influence upon the Caribbean village where she lands is to shine a light upon the character of others who respond to her arrival.

Ultimately, Aycayia’s story reveals the destructive power of jealousy and we see her suffer at the hands of both men and women who envy her power, beauty and freedom.

ISBN 9781845234577 £9.99 Paperback (Peepal Tree Press, 2020)

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant

It’s no surprise that Voyage of the Sparrowhawk was the children’s book category winner in the recent Costa Book Awards. Set just after World War 1, the novel (suitable for children aged 8-13), is a fast-paced adventure which will appeal to independent readers and to parents who share reading with younger family members.

Although the novel has a nostalgic feel created by the time it is set, it’s right up-to-date in the style of its storytelling. This provides readers with a window into an important time historically but also provides youngsters with characters they can admire and relate to.

The plot is centred on two young people – Lotti and Ben – for whom The Great War has changed life beyond recognition. Ben has to act fast if he is to avoid being returned to the orphanage where he spent an unhappy time, and he needs to find his brother Sam, reported missing in action after the War. Lotti has to try to settle in with her uncaring aunt and uncle to avoid being sent away to boarding school (again), having been expelled from the last one.

Despite their tricky circumstances, this is a fun adventure story with two great central characters. Lotti and Ben form an unlikely friendship and set out on an adventure involving police chases and an exciting voyage on a boat (The Sparrowhawk), and some unexpected puppies.

ISBN 9780571348763 £7.99 Paperback (Faber, 2020)