Summer Book Club: four new books for adults

Summer Book Club: four new books for adults

Wild Swimming Walks South Wales: 28 Coast, River & Waterfall Days Out

By Nia Lloyd Knott, Wild Things Publishing

Nia Lloyd Knott was born in South Wales and her knowledge about and affection for the area makes her an engaging guide for these walks. Included are routes in the Gower, the Brecon Beacons, the Wye Valley, the Usk Valley and more. Living in Bristol, South Wales is just a stone’s throw and has some of my favourite places to escape to – Skenfrith in Monmouthshire, Hay-on-Wye, Pen y Fan. The book is a fantastic resource as it offers lesser-known walks and swims to be found in each place. I have often taken what the book describes as “the motorway” route up Pen y Fan, so it was great to discover an alternative, complete with swims at a glacial lake, pools and waterfalls. I enjoyed her warning about leeches in the lake and how to avoid them! Each entry includes fascinating stories and insights and things to look out for en route. The instructions are easy to follow and key information about each walk is visible at a glance. There’s a range of difficulties, so you can pick walks suitable for your group; there is a lovely, child-friendly walk around Hay-on-Wye. As with all Wild Things guides, the book is a handy size, beautifully presented and with stunning photos throughout. AE

‘Feeling Blah’? Why Anhedonia Has Left You Joyless and How to Recapture Life’s Highs

By Tanith Carey, Welbeck Balance

In Feeling Blah?, Tanith Carey explores the science behind ‘anhedonia’ – the Greek word for ‘without pleasure’ – which describes a feeling of numbness that stops you from enjoying the things that used to make you feel good. She encourages us to re-evaluate our expectations of life if we have found ourselves accepting it as simply going through the motions.

There are different routes to anhedonia, all of which can creep up on us. Carey examines the way the brain’s reward system was originally intended to ensure our survival. Today, if we’re lucky enough to live in a privileged society in which all our immediate needs are met, there’s the potential for this reward system to become overloaded. Hormone shifts (during menopause, for example) and inflammation in the body caused by lifestyle, diet and illness, can also be triggers for anhedonia.

Carey suggests many ways, backed up by scientific research, to bring ourselves into balance again and find joy – and, indeed, other feelings that may have become lost to us. These include wide-ranging lifestyle shifts, as well as attitude tweaks that encourage more positive feeling. Small changes “that add up to big changes in the way you feel about the world”. She discusses the importance doing more of the things you love and the impact holding on to good feeling after an experience can have on the brain.

The benefit to ourselves in feeling more joy is obvious, but Carey highlights the way this ripples out to our families and the wider world. Ridding ourselves of apathy enables us to engage more fully with all of life. She asks, “Have we finally got enough understanding of the human brain to work out how it flourishes best and how best to use it for the good of the planet?” AE

The Mighty Goddess: World Myths

By Sally Pomme Clayton, illustrated by Sophie Herxheimer, The History Press

Contained within the pages of this book is the mighty history of the mythologised female, represented by the goddess. Included are stories from all continents (bar Antarctica), from civilisations past and present. The goddess is depicted variously as creator, virgin, warrior, lover, mother and crone – headings under which the stories are grouped. Some of the myths are familiar, but many were new to me, and it is interesting to see the connections that pop up between them. I loved the Aztec myth of Cihuacóatl, Snake Woman.

When a child is born, Cihuacóatl shakes her skirt of snakes, stamps her feet and dances for joy. The snakes slough off their skin and the Eternal Grandmother grows young again. Plump flesh covers her bones, her hair grows thick and lustrous and her black tomb turns green, an arbour covered in flowers. Snake Woman shows us how to live and live again. The Goddess of Death is the gateway to eternal life.

I love the idea of the eternal female and death giving way to new life. The image of transformation is incredibly powerful, and many such metaphors, largely drawn from nature, are found throughout the collection. The author is a long-time storyteller, and there is a wonderful performative quality to the writing, which echoes the oral tradition of mythology. Papercuts by Sophie Herxheimer have a primal boldness. They capture the essence of the stories they illustrate wonderfully. AE

Telling the Seasons: Stories, Celebrations and Folklore Around the Year

By Martin Maudsley, illustrated by Alison Legg, The History Press

This is a wonderfully evocative book that brings nature to life across the year. I am enjoying reading it by month, so that the folklore and stories of celebrations and plants feel alive around me. In May, I read about greeting the first rays of May sunshine; tales of the Fairy Queen luring Thomas the Rhymer away from the bluebells; traditional May Day celebrations across the country; stories of a farmer wishing for frost to spoil the apple blossom on St Franken’s Days, so that local people drink his beer rather than a rival’s cider! I enjoy how the book weaves together native plants and folklore, reminding us how plants have been used and gained importance across the years. Many of the stories are forgotten to us, even though the use goes on. The book draws us back to nature in myriad ways, helping us to enjoy and appreciate the changing seasons around us. SF


Reviews by Alice Ellerby and Saffia Farr.

We feature a range of book reviews for adults, teens and children in each issue of JUNO, published bi-monthly. 

First published in Issue 84 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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