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Jesus, King of Edessa by Ralph Ellis

In the realm of biblical archaeology it is often very difficult, if not impossible, to provide an objective historical reality to figures of the Old and New Testaments.

 

Of these, probably the most problematic is Jesus. If the Gospels are put aside then there is precious little evidence attesting to the actual existence of the Christ figure.

 

While this may not necessarily be a problem for those who are satisfied to rely on faith alone or the literal truth of the Bible, it leaves a yawning and troubling gap in the historical record for historians.

 

Author Ralph Ellis has made it his life’s work to reconnect events and persons from the Bible with empirical facts. Though he makes clear that his interest is from a purely areligious perspective, any endeavour that puts the foundations of a religion under scrutiny is unavoidably contentious – and his latest book, Jesus, King of Edessa, could be the most controversial of all.

 

Was Jesus Christ, in fact, a little-known warrior king of Syria who led a failed Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire? Was the New Testament actually a work of political propaganda on behalf of Emperor Vespasian that portrayed his beaten foe as a passive messiah to quell further rebellion?

 

These are bold claims indeed, but they are argued with conviction and a wealth of supporting evidence. Including gospel evidence, which records Jesus as being a king who jailed alongside rebels who had committed murder in the Revolt.

 

Based on a 30-year quest that has taken the author all around archaeological sites and dusty archives in the Near East, the book puts forward a plausible explanation for the true identity and genealogy of the biblical Jesus

 

Previous books by Ellis have made the case for a connection between the patriarchs and events of the Old Testament with the Pharaohs of Egypt, in that they were historically one and the same, much as the 1st century AD chronicler Josephus Flavius attests. And Jesus, King of Edessa – the third and final book in his ‘King Jesus’ trilogy – follows a similar line in exposing a forgotten or erased dual identity.

 

Essentially, Ellis contests that although Jesus has long been placed in the public consciousness as a lowly pauper, in reality he was a son of King Abgarus of the Syrian kingdom of Edessa. The master of a small realm, but with a large treasury and lofty ambitions.

 

His son, King Izas-Manu, became a minor prince of Judaea and, according to Josephus, the instigator of the Jewish Revolt of AD68 – 70. This Jesus-Izas aimed to seize upon instability within the Roman Empire left by the death of Nero and take control of the levers of power.

 

However, he was defeated by commander-cum-emperor Vespasian and, as the history books are always written by the victors, deleted from the historical record. The emperor, Ellis contends, then instructed historian Josephus Flavius to distort Jesus-Izas Manu and his motives to avoid future uprisings in a book that has come down to us today as the New Testament.

 

Ellis points to startling parallels between Izas and Jesus, such as the traditional royal plaited crown of thorns that the kings of Edessa were pictured wearing; the similarities in their names, as well as the figurehead of a king leading the Jewish people in revolt.

 

He also calls upon overlooked accounts by Syriac historians of the period that provide an alternate perspective on the events surrounding the revolt from that of Josephus or the Bible.

 

Ellis describes his latest work as “The book the Catholic Church has been dreading for 1700 years”, which should give an idea of how explosive are the claims he makes within its 500-plus pages.

 

If he’s right then our understanding of Jesus will be completely overturned. For a start it would shift Jesus in the historical timeline from the AD30s to the AD60s, and make him a key figure in the Great Jewish-Roman War. And the huge implications for the identification of King Izas Manu as the Christian saviour and the basis of orthodox Church teachings can only be imagined.

 

Ellis has painstakingly cross-referenced all his findings, and the inclusion of maps, photographs of key locations and religious and historical artefacts, and even video links, brings the text alive for the curious reader.

 

They’re not claims to be taken lightly – to put it lightly – and whether you end up agreeing with the conclusions or not, Jesus, Kind of Edessa puts forward a fascinating case for consideration.

 

Jesus, King of Edessa by Ralph Ellis (Edfu Books) is available now, priced £6.90 as a Kindle eBook and £19.50 in paperback. Visit wedfu-books.uk

 

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Book review: Wyvern and Star by Sophy Boyle

This exciting new novel is set against one of the most dramatic periods in English history, the Wars of the Roses.

 

That tumultuous struggle of the fifteenth century saw the throne of England pass –  several times over – between the rival houses of York and Lancaster before it was eventually won by an offshoot of the Lancastrian line, the Tudors.

 

With its heady mix of treachery, bloody battles and dynastic rivalries, it’s no wonder that the explosive contest for the crown has long fascinated so many, from historians to playwrights and novelists – including Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin.

 

While most novelists writing on this period choose to focus on the house of York, Sophy Boyle has instead based her new series Wyvern and Star on the Lancastrians, no strangers themselves to intrigue and bloodletting.

 

Wars of the Roses devotee Boyle has taken the unusual line of weaving the story around fictional lead characters backed by a large supporting cast of real historical figures.

 

At the heart of the action is the fictional Robert Clifford, a flawed character; a daring but vengeful man who squanders his gifts and his chances, giving rein to short-sighted and self-destructive impulses.

 

The book sets out its stall with the opening chapter, a disturbingly vivid and brutal recollection of the slaying of a young foe. Though a hardened soldier, Clifford cannot forget his involvement in this shameful murder, and we soon learn that this is only one among a number of regrets haunting him.

 

This novel – the first in a series of seven – spans the years 1470-71, the beginning of the second phase of the conflict. Clifford, a staunch Lancastrian, means to bring his fortunes back from the brink with an audacious plot to invade England, wrest the crown from the Yorkist king Edward IV and return the imprisoned Lancastrian Henry VI to power.

 

As the novel begins he’s emerging from a dark decade of penniless exile into what he hopes will be a more favourable future with Alice de Vere, the woman he loves. But Alice, who’s both fascinated and horrified by Clifford’s menacing reputation, turns his schemes on their head when she marries instead Edmond Beaufort, Duke of Somerset – leader of the Lancastrian faction and Clifford’s erstwhile friend.

 

The book follows the parallel stories of Clifford and Alice, along with a cast of impressively-drawn characters whose lives are inextricably linked with those of the ill-starred pair. While Clifford’s faithful follower Loic Moncler is a solid and loyal confidant throughout, others in the inner circle reveal themselves to be scarcely less treacherous than the enemy. Clifford’s eldest son, Hal, harbours feelings of his own for Alice, while younger son Aymer has inherited all his father’s ruthless ambition.

 

As the novel races towards its battle-scarred climax, Clifford and the Lancastrian alliance come tantalisingly close to victory, but all is jeopardised by rivalry and betrayal within their own faction.

 

Packed with vivid detail, evocative prose and a thrilling, twisting plot, Wyvern and Star offers an utterly engrossing and escapist read. Its streak of gallows humour and the modern voice keep it fresh, ensuring readers with a taste for hard-edged historical fiction will lap it up.

 

Wyvern and Star sets the scene for an equally explosive second installment, expected to be released later this year.

 

Wyvern and Star by Sophy Boyle is out now, priced £8.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an eBook. Visit www.wyvernandstar.com to find out more.

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Book Review: Thrive – How to Achieve and Sustain High Level Career Success by Dean Williams and Mike Tinmouth

Ambitious professionals who want to rise to the top – and, as importantly, stay there –would be well-advised to read this practical, informative and actionable business how-to guide.

 

Written by two experts in the field – award-winning executive coach Dean Williams and business journalist Mike Tinmouth – Thrive is a clear-cut, no-punches-pulled blueprint to career success that will help any talented individual achieve their true potential.

 

The book sets out its subject matter in clearly-defined chapters and follows a non-linear structure which allows readers to ‘plug in and play’, starting from whichever section seems most relevant to their present situation rather than feeling obliged to read straight from cover to cover.

 

Thrive, Williams’s second book, following Creating Grade ‘A’ Business Relationships, offers plenty of insightful guidance based on Williams’s vast experience as a top-tier executive coach. He counts global blue chip brands including Samsung, Barclays, MasterCard and BUPA among his clients and has undertaken nearly 2,000 senior coaching sessions in the last decade.

 

Given this, he has the inside track on the common challenges and traps that professionals can encounter when looking to move up the corporate ladder and is able to present an informed roadmap to going about career progression the right way.

 

The biggest fail, he says, lies with rising stars rushing to advance their careers without being fully prepared for the increased workload, responsibilities and expectations that inevitably come with promotion.

 

Though on paper they may have a CV to die for, many will struggle to adapt to the new work environment if they haven’t done the necessary groundwork first, resulting in an unsustainable situation that can lead to demotion and possibly lasting reputational damage.

 

At the heart of the book is Williams’s patented ‘Career Annulus’ – a tried-and-tested model for senior leadership success. The model offers a process, formula and science for advancement, and challenges individuals to measure their performance against nine core elements.

 

 

The authors makes it clear that anybody who is not already excelling in their current role should not imagine that they will somehow shine in a more senior position, quoting Henry Ford’s sage advice that “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

 

Yet it can still be hard to know when it’s the right time to take the next step, and mistiming that jump can prove VERY costly in the long run, so having a checklist such as the Annulus is a great aid.

 

By breaking down the recipe for promotion into specific elements, such as ‘Peer Support’ and ‘Be An Ambassador’, it makes the process far less daunting and will, no doubt, serve as both an initial motivator for those truly ready to begin thinking about promotion, and an invaluable compass for those already committed on the path.

 

The book offers smart tips for shining in the workplace and in interview situations – both for internal and external positions.

 

Much of the advice – for instance, appear confident, dress the part, maintain a cheerful disposition – may sound like simple common sense, but as the authors point out, common sense can be surprisingly hard to come by!

 

Other sections provide sound tips on such things as handling workplace jealousy, and how to accept the news of a failed interview, with many real-world case studies throughout to provide further illumination of best, and worst, practice.

 

Thrive is aimed squarely at ambitious employees looking to instill a structured and disciplined model to success all the way to the most senior of leadership positions.

 

It should also be noted that HR, learning & development and talent teams – will also find much of use within its pages. After all, many employers are guilty of neglecting their talent to the detriment of their own bottom line, seeing their most prized staff burn out or be scooped up by competitors.

 

Not everyone is ambitious, and the authors don’t have any issues with those who are content where they are, but if you are the sort of person who wants to rise to the top of the talent pool, catching the eye of directors and being recognized as serious contenders, then Thrive is highly recommended.

 

Thrive – How to Achieve and Sustain High Level Career Success by Dean Williams and Mike Tinmouth (Grosvenor House Publishing) is available now, priced £9.99 in paperback and £7.19 as an eBook.

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Travelex’s Next Great Travel Writer 2017 – Deadline for entry Friday 5th February

Travelex and Penguin books have come together in a search for the US and UK’s best new travel writer. Entrants must submit a 1,000 word short story about a ‘travel experience like no other’ to impress a panel of celebrity bloggers, journalists and Travelex and Penguin representatives.

 


The winner of the competition will receive an impressive £1,500 prize and a two hour, one on one session with a Penguin editor in order to discuss writing style and ideas. There is also a student category allowing for university entrants from any discipline to break into the writing industry and win a £500 prize!
 
The general public also have the chance to vote for their favourite travel writer. Using social media, Travelex are going to award the person from the judge’s shortlist who gets the most tweets supporting their entry. Just use their unique hashtag, (#NGTW) and tweet the TravelexUK twitter handle and you could be in with the chance a winning a set of beautiful Penguin books.
 
The successful candidate will receive a one-to-one session with a Penguin editor as well as a £1,500 prize. Click here to find out how to enter. Deadline for entries is Friday 5th February 11,59 GMT 2017.

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Book Review. In Search Of The Lost Testament Of Alexander The Great by David Grant

More than 2,300 years after his death, Alexander the Great still holds a fascination virtually unparalleled among historical figures.

 

By the time he died, aged just 32, the Macedonian king had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, spanning Europe and Asia, and remained undefeated in battle, ensuring his place in the annals as one of most successful and brilliant military commanders of all time.

 

In Search Of The Lost Testament Of Alexander The Great differs from the numerous modern accounts of Alexander by not looking so much at his life, but his death and its immediate aftermath in the bitter 40 years of war that broke out between his generals for control of his vast empire.

 

The first thing we learn as that there is much that remains unanswered about Alexander and this period in history. No first-hand accounts survive from his era, so we are forced to rely on secondary sources from Roman-era historians.

 

But, as author David Grant explains, all histories are biased and written with an agenda, and the quest to unravel the reality from the legend and propaganda is never straightforward.

 

This is a recurring theme most relevant to the last will and testament of Alexander the Great.

 

Only five barely intact accounts of the death of Alexander, at Babylon in 323 BCE, have reached us, none from eyewitnesses and all to greater or lesser degree contradictory.

 

According to one genre of accounts from the Roman era, Alexander died leaving his kingdom ‘to the strongest’ or ‘most worthy’ of his generals; in another version, he died speechless after being comatose for some days, without making any succession or estate plans at all.

 

So among academics it has generally been accepted for centuries that Alexander died intestate – without a will.

 

But this ‘standard model’, as Grant calls it, strikes the author as highly suspect, not least given how methodical and organized Alexander was.

 

As an historian with no academic ties, Grant is able to bring a fresh, non-indoctrinated perspective to the Alexander mystery.

 

His radical proposition is that there was indeed a last will and testament, that it was suppressed in the years after Alexander’s death for political ends by his unscrupulous generals, the Diadochi.

 

Remarkably, a version of the document still survives under historians noses in the Greek Alexander Romance, an ancient book of fables that became one of the most widely read books of all time.

 

His contention is that the version of the will found in the Greek Alexander Romance is, in fact, an echo of an original testament, reworked and reissued for political purposes.

 

Many modern historians indeed agree that the testament was circulated as part of a political pamphlet issued within two decades of Alexander’s death. It has nevertheless been long dismissed as a fictitious document, though Grant makes a compelling argument for a re-evaluation of Alexander’s will and its reintegration into the historical record.

 

What’s more, Grant also believes he has uncovered the identity of the pamphlet’s author, and by so doing can help bring new understanding into the Wars of the Diadochi and the division of the empire at Alexander’s death.

 

Eschewing a dry academic tone in favour of an entertaining and engaging style that opens the subject to both scholars and the casual reader alike, In Search Of The Lost Testament Of Alexander The Great is a fascinating journey summed up by the author as the “backstory behind the history” of the great Macedonian and his generals.

 

Its rich narrative brings the dramatic events of this tumultuous period to life, and also delves into the wider themes of Greek art; influences of religion, philosophy and rhetoric on written history; the development of language and books themselves; and the latest archaeological discoveries about Alexander and his family.

 

Packed with illustrations and footnotes, this is a substantial and rewarding book for anyone who enjoys history, the history of warfare, and the challenging mechanics behind the reconstruction of the past.

 

In Search Of The Lost Testament Of Alexander The Great by David Grant (Troubador Books) is available now, priced at £19.95 in eBook, £29.95 in paperback and £39.95 in hardback. To find out more visit alexanderstestament.com

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EMERGING WRITER AWARD 2017

The Emerging Writer Award – Submissions open 23rd January
Deadline: Monday 25th February, 5pm

 
Established in 2015, the Emerging Writer Award (formerly the Bridge Award) is now in its third year, and is run by Moniack Mhor in partnership with The Bridge Awards, a philanthropic venture that has helped to fund theatre and visual arts projects.

 
The award winner receives a tailor-made package worth up to £2,000 including tuition via open courses, retreat time and/or mentoring.
You can read about the previous winners HERE.

 
Moniack Mhor and The Bridge Awards are pleased to announce the opening of applications for the 2017 Emerging Writer Award, (previously The Bridge Award). The award is for unpublished prose fiction writers wishing to make a significant breakthrough in developing a full-length piece of work.

 
Tracey Emerson, from The Bridge Awards, says: “We hope that the combination of Moniack Mhor’s beautiful setting, inspiring courses and experienced mentors will enhance the awardee’s creative practice and provide a valuable stepping-stone in his/her writing career.”

 
The successful candidate will receive a tailor-made package worth up to £2,000 including tuition via open courses, retreat time and/or mentoring. Click here to find out how to enter

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Lovereading Review. Under The Ivy by Marcia Lake

Under The Ivy is a unique collection of short stories and essays, all of which contain an inspirational spiritual element or undertone.

 

Bound together by a sense of positivity and grace, they are uplifting and bring a real sense of comfort to readers.

 

Easy to dip into, the book covers a broad array of subjects, from a girl with acne who is desperate to have clear skin, to an elderly lady with dementia trying to understand her path in life.

 

Although varied, the major theme that runs throughout each story is the sense of “overcoming” some great hurdle. It may be a sense of loss or grief, unrequited love or isolation from being different that presents the crisis, but help is found from the spiritual realm.

 

This metaphysical aid comes in many symbolic forms, such as guardian angels, saints or the kindly apparitions of those who have long since passed over, but each is a manifestation of, and connection to, a deeper reality than the protagonist was previously aware of.

 

In one story, for instance, a young girl is guided by angles during a serious operation, while another contemplating suicide is jolted away from her dark thoughts by the appearance of a rainbow.

 

Author Marcia Lake is a rising name in the sphere of mind, body and spirit (MBS) literature and her writing reflects her own beliefs and life experiences.

 

Having found great support in this world-view, her aim is to help awaken readers to their spiritual side and to show through her writing that there is a greater good at work in the universe that helps lost souls “learn their lessons in life”.

 

Her message is simple: that spiritual forces, including animals in some cases, can do much to protect us from harm and help us understand our spiritual pathways.

 

The MBS genre isn’t for everyone, and whether you subscribe to the author’s spiritual convictions or not is entirely a personal matter, but Marcia never oversteps the mark or risks harming the poignancy of each story or essay by coming across as preachy.

 

Indeed, she weaves her underlying beliefs subtlety into the narrative arcs so that they work towards the literary effect rather than intruding.

 

Each piece of writing is self-contained and exudes a sense of the poetic, with a fairytale and dream-like quality to them.

 

Though Marcia deals with traumas, her writing is designed to heal wounds rather than cause them, and build that essential feeling of hope even in the darkest hours.

 

In fact, the stories are often very funny and despite having a spiritual undertone are heavily set in realism and the relatable.

 

For instance, they’ll often be about common modern worries, such as having bad skin, finding a good job or yearning to find that special soul mate.

 

Teenage girls and young women may particularly connect to these tales, as will fans of the MBS genre, but the book is meant for anyone who has encountered difficulties and is looking for something beyond themselves to help fill a spiritual gap.

 

This is Marcia’s second book, and follows 2013’s Grace, a deeply personal and autobiographical account of her battle with, and eventual victory over, mental illness. Upon release, Grace was praised for breaking down barriers regards mental health issues and its inspirational message, and should be considered a companion piece to those who enjoy Under The Ivy.

 

Under the Ivy by Marcia Lake (Hope Books) is out now in paperback, priced at £5.99. Visit marcialake.com

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Man Booker winners face off in Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards Shortlists

Two literary giants find themselves in the running for the Fiction (with a sense of place) Book of the Year in shortlists for the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards announced today. The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel, author of 2002 Man Booker winner Life of Pi, is joined on the shortlist by The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, who claimed the same prize in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending. They are joined on the shortlist by novels by authors Jessie Burton, Eowyn Ivey, Robert Seethaler and Madeleine Thien, with locations including Alaska, Austria, China, Portugal, Spain and the former USSR.

Lyn Hughes, co-founder of Wanderlust magazine and chair of judges for the category, said: “Setting is a vital aspect of any novel; writers are granted all flights of fancy when it comes to character or plot, but if they are unable to transport the reader to their chosen locale, to bring the sights, sounds and smells of their characters’ surroundings to life, they will have failed. Our shortlisted writers have succeeded brilliantly, creating vividly portrayed backdrops around the world and across the centuries.”

Setting is also key, alongside blood, sweat and tears, in the shortlist for the Adventure Travel Book of the Year. Cycling exploits feature heavily: in Mark Beaumont’s Africa Solo, which tells of his record-breaking ride across Africa; Zimbabwean adventurer Sean Conway’s Cycling the Earth; and Dare to Do, Sarah Outen’s account of how she single-handedly circled the globe by bicycle, canoe and boat. Levison Wood and Dan Richards take us high into the mountains in Walking the Himalayas and Climbing Days respectively, while Crossing the Congo is an account of Mike Martin, Chloe Baker and Charlie Hatch-Barnwell’s epic 2,500-mile African journey. Phoebe Smith, Wanderlust editor and chair of judges for the category, said: “This shortlist is a tribute to the human spirit of endeavour and adventure, containing not just thrills and spills but inspiration on every page.”

Recipes from around the world, including Iran, Pakistan and Ibiza, feature in the Food and Travel Book of the Year shortlist, while folk tales, language and wildlife feature heavily in the Children’s Travel Book of the Year category. Islands and countries that no longer exist (if they ever did), maps from over 400 years past and photography from some of the world’s most stunning locations can be found on the shortlist for the Illustrated Travel Book of the Year. Finally, maps are at the core of the majority of the Innovation in Travel Publishing Award shortlist.

Tony Maher, Managing Director of Edward Stanford Limited, said: “As the world grows smaller and in many cases more dangerous, travel writing in all its forms keeps us in touch with our global family. These disparate shortlists have one unifying feature – they are all marvellous examples of what travel writing and publishing does best, which is to show the reader a world far from our own doorsteps, made reachable by these glorious, powerful and unforgettable books.”

The shortlists in full are as follows (alphabetically by author/creator):

Specsavers Fiction (with a sense of place)
• The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape)
• The Muse by Jessie Burton (Picador)
• To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (Tinder)
• The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (Canongate)
• The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler, trans. by Charlotte Collins (Picador)
• Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (Granta)

Wanderlust Adventure Travel Book of the Year
• Africa Solo by Mark Beaumont (Bantam Press)
• Cycling the Earth by Sean Conway (Ebury)
• Crossing the Congo: Over Land and Water in a Hard Place by Mike Martin, Chloe Baker and Charlie Hatch-Barnwell (C. Hurst & Co)
• Dare to Do: Taking on the Planet by Bike and Boat by Sarah Outen (Nicholas Brealey)
• Climbing Days by Dan Richards (Faber & Faber)
• Walking the Himalayas: An Adventure of Survival and Endurance by Levison Wood (Hodder & Stoughton)

National Book Tokens Children’s Travel Book of the Year
• Atlas of Oddities by Clive Gifford & Tracy Worrall (Red Shed)
• Atlas of Animal Adventures by Lucy Letherland, Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins (Wide Eyed Editions)
• Hello World: A Celebration of Languages and Curiosities by Jonathan Litton and L’Atelier Cartographik (360 Degrees)
• A River by Marc Martin (Templar)
• A Year Full of Stories: 52 Folk Tales and Legends from Around the World by Angela McAllister and Christopher Corr (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
• A Walk on the Wild Side by Louis Thomas (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

Food and Travel magazine Food and Travel Book of the Year
• Persepolis: Vegetarian Recipes from Peckham, Persia and Beyond by Sally Butcher (Pavilion)
• The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan (Bloomsbury)
• Provence to Pondicherry: Recipes from France and Faraway by Tessa Kiros (Quadrille)
• Eivissa: The Ibiza Cookbook by Anne Sijmonsbergen (HarperCollins)
• Rick Stein’s Long Weekends by Rick Stein (BBC Books)
• Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes and Memories from Pakistan by Sumayya Usmani (Frances Lincoln)

Destinations Show Illustrated Travel Book of the Year
• Explorer’s Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert (Thames and Hudson)
• The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World (Lonely Planet)
• An Atlas of Countries That Don’t Exist by Nick Middleton (Macmillan)
• This Land: Landscape Wonders of Britain by Roly Smith and Joe Cornish (Frances Lincoln)
• Britain’s Tudor Maps: County by County by John Speed (Batsford)
• The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths, Mysteries, Phantoms and Fates by Malachy Tallack and Katie Scott (Polygon)

London Book Fair Innovation in Travel Publishing
• Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti (Particular Books)
• Citix60 series by Victionary (Gingko Press)
• Curiocity: In Pursuit of London by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose (Particular Books)
• Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton (Workman)
• Blue Crow Media Maps (Blue Crow Media)
• Lonely Planet Best of series (Lonely Planet)

The awards will be judged by expert panels, there is also a public vote open now, which will be combined with the panel votes. All voters will be entered into a draw to win £100 of National Book Tokens.

The shortlist for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year, in association with the Authors’ Club, will be announced on 17th January at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards launch party at the National Liberal Club. The winners of all categories, as well as the Lonely Planet Travel Blog of the Year and Bradt Travel Guides New Travel Writer of the Year, and the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing, will be revealed on 2nd February during the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival at Destinations: The Holiday and Travel Show at Olympia. The awards will be supported by a trade-wide travel books instore promotion at booksellers and libraries from 6th January until 24th February.

The Winner of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the year receives £5,000 and all winners receive an antique globe trophy, to be presented at the Awards ceremony.

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Book Review: 100 Mindfulness Meditations: The Ultimate Collection of Inspiring Daily Practices by Neil Seligman

In recent years, the practice of mindfulness has become increasingly popular in the UK.

 

Many of the guides written about it, however, can be far too wordy and theoretical, and that’s why 100 Mindfulness Meditations by Neil Seligman is such a joy to read.

 

ns-fc-100-mindfulness-meditationsAs the title suggests, this fun and informative book is a handy and comprehensive compilation of easy-to-follow practices and activities that can be accessed and actioned at the flick of a page.

 

Author and corporate mindfulness expert Neil Seligman has deliberately designed the book to help readers self-teach at their own pace, and with their own preferences guiding their journey.

 

Each meditation is between five and fifteen minutes long so they help even the most time-hungry readers embed a regular mindfulness routine into busy lives.

 

And in the pressurized, highly-stressful environment of today, this has to be a smart move, as mindfulness has been shown to offer a wide range of benefits from stress reduction and greater calm to enhanced compassion, creativity, wellbeing and decision making.

 

Very much a practical guide, 100 Mindfulness Meditations is designed to appeal both to the general public and business professionals alike, the latter having been keen to adopt mindfulness techniques to help them perform better in the office.

 

But serving, as it does, as an excellent reference to the best mindfulness meditations, the book is also an indispensable go-to resource for enthusiasts and mindfulness teachers.
Divided into three parts, the first section of the guide looks at the foundations of mindfulness, which is built on the aim of achieving greater self-awareness and honing the ability to navigate our inner world with the same confidence as the outside world.

 

This is a concept generally more familiar to the East than the West, where meditation is enshrined in various ancient religions, but mindfulness should not be confused with a religion and does not have any religious undertones.

 

The author takes readers gently by the hand to explain how to adopt the correct posture, breathing and attitude for the meditations and offers simple exercises to develop a heightened awareness of the current ‘moment’, your surroundings and yourself.

 

This section also covers emptying the mind, controlling thoughts and letting go, how to be mindful in movements — such as waking, walking and stretching — and how to improve connections between the mind and body.

 

The second section of the book is on how to incorporate mindfulness into a hectic daily life.

 

Expert tips cover how to dress mindfully, achieve a mindful tea break, how to be grateful and how to achieve practical kindness.

 

This might manifest in giving a surprise gift to somebody – a sandwich for a homeless person, for instance – or it might be a service, such as helping someone across the road, or holding open a door.

 

The key to all these acts, the author says, is to “smile and connect with an open heart”.

 

The final section covers advanced practices for those who want to explore deeper. Meditations include slowing down, increasing compassion, accessing intuition and recognising that you “are enough”.

 

Seligman also explores how mindfulness practices can be used as tools during dark times, with insights into how to minimize anxious thoughts, how to deal and cope with pain and how to forgive and let go of the past.

 

Far from being critical or superior, 100 Mindful Meditations is both supportive and encouraging in its approach, stressing that mindfulness is a skill that once learned will become a rewarding life-time practice.

 

For those wanting to get stuck right in, this is the ultimate collection collection of easy-to-follow mindfulness practices. Whether you are a beginner or seasoned practitioner, it will soon become your trusted companion.

 

100 Mindfulness Meditations: The Ultimate Collection of Inspiring Daily Practices by Neil Seligman (Conscious House) is available now in paperback, priced £12.99.

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Book Review. The Pearl and the Carnelian, by Annabel Fielding

Dark secrets, hidden desires and forbidden encounters abound in this absorbing work of historical fiction, which blends racy romance with astute political observations.

 

pearl-and-the-carnelianThe Pearl and the Carnelian, by Annabel Fielding, calls to mind the works of acclaimed historical novelist Sarah Waters as much as it does the upstairs-downstairs power games at play in Downton Abbey, it’s an engrossing tale set in the paranoid period between the two World Wars, and raises questions about the rise and attraction of fascism that feel startlingly relevant today.

 

The book is set in mid 1930s England, when Hester Blake, a bright young girl from an insalubrious Northern town, takes a job as lady’s maid to the enigmatic Lady Lucy Fitzmartin.

 

Despite doing their best to keep up appearances of grandeur, the Fitzmartins’ fortunes are fading and mistrust, resentment and barely-concealed contempt are as much a part of family life as grand society balls.

 

Hester is startled to find that, far from displaying the aloof attitude she had been expecting, the isolated Lucy is quick to confide in her, and the pair soon become much more to each other than merely Lady and her maid in waiting.

 

A budding writer who fills her time writing frothy society columns, Lucy harbours ambitions to achieve greater literary acclaim, and to live independently from the family she resents.

 

Embarking on a passionate affair with her mistress, Hester is drawn into a glitzy world of travel and high society, but knows that her true relationship with Lady Lucy must remain a closely-guarded secret.

 

Meanwhile, Hester’s clandestine meetings with her jazz-singing sister spark an irrational jealousy in Lucy, whose own white-skinned, delicate beauty appears to mask a dark determination.

 

With war clouds looming menacingly on the horizon, Lucy finds herself drawn into a political world of lies and subterfuge, and is readily convinced that, by forging bonds with the Germans, she is acting in her country’s best interests.

 

“After all, we all have an interest in not being killed”, as she bluntly puts it.

 

Issues of race, of ‘pure blood’ and of the reasoning that leads people along dubious political paths are key themes in this book – Hester’s olive skin and a family legend lead Lucy to dub her ‘My Moorish girl’, while her darker-skinned sister is beaten for her apparent ‘foreign’ status.

 

Deepening the plot, a clandestine relationship between a member of Lucy’s elite social circle and a black musician provides Lucy with ammunition to further her political ambitions, while Hester begins to resent her mistress’s increasingly inflammatory newspaper columns.

 

This is a cleverly-paced, intricately-plotted novel whose diverse range of female characters engage our sympathies even when we can’t condone their actions.

 

Lucy and Hester are particularly well-drawn, but side characters, such as Lucy’s sister Sophie, are also interesting enough to linger in the memory after the book has been put down.

 

The author has a clear interest in the history of inter-war Britain, marked by rapid and alarming social and political upheaval, and her writing provides a ‘girl’s eye view’ of a turbulent and relatively little known era.

 

And while this is very much a work of fiction, aspects of the book have taken influence from real-life events.

 

The politics of the time, with the chilling popularity of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts and the early attempts at appeasement towards Nazi Germany, feel disconcertingly similar to present-day Britain where, post-Brexit, growing dissatisfaction with the establishment and xenophobic sentiments are sending seismic shocks through the fabric of society.

 

The Pearl and the Carnelian is a novel that succeeds on many levels: as a gay romance, a solid work of historical literary fiction told through a female perspective, and a thought-provoking piece of social commentary on a fascinating and dynamic time.

 

The Pearl and the Carnelian by Annabel Fielding is out now, priced £12.30 in paperback and £4.61 as an eBook.

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