Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Book Review - Sarah Raven's Wild Flowers

I recently recieved an email from a Senior Marketing Exec at Bloomsbury Books who had been rootling around on my blog (!) and "thought that you might want to hear about a book that we are publishing in October – Sarah Raven’s Wild Flowers." She also wondered if I'd be interested in "seeing a sample of the book, with a view to perhaps mentioning it on your blog, as a fresh angle for your readers? "

Well, not being one to miss out on doing something a bit different for you lot for a change (aren't I so good to you, eh?!), emails were swapped and it was agreed that I would review the book from the information on the sample providing that "I have the freedom to give a clear, open and totally honest review of the book as I see it?! ". So here it is.....

I duely awaited the arrival of said sample with excited anticipation whilst not being fully sure what a sample would consist of ..... would it be a whole chapter? just a few pages stapled together? a hefty wodge of the book perhaps?! I knew it wouldn't be the whole thing because: A) I was getting a sample! and: B) the book had been described to me as 'a whopper', but even so I have to confess that I was just a wee bit disappointed to recieve this:

An A2 sheet concertinaed down to A6 size.

When I opened it out there was a very pretty poster on the back, photographed by Jonathan Buckley - who took all the photos for the book. The 9 photos on the sampler are glorious and I have no reason to doubt that the others in the book will be equally as good. The photos are clear, sharply focused yet with wonderful slightly hazy backgrounds and depths of fields or, alternatively, the soft background greens of spring grass:

I had initially felt a bit let down by the size of the sampler, but I felt even more so when I looked at the information side of the sheet - as it only contained 4 examples of wild flowers and their descriptions....not much of a sample from a book of 500 wild flowers that is described as a 'lavish book' , 'a botanical marvel' and something that will be 'the most covetable flower book on the market'!!!

Anyway, once I'd got over being miffed at having to review the book from such a tiny sample (about 3 days later 'cos I can be a stroppy baggage at times!) and sat down to read it properly, I did quite enjoy what I read.

According to the (limited) information on the sampler, there are landscape photos throughout the book and a portrait of each plant to accompany each species description.

Two of the 4 extracts are shown below and you can click on them to enlarge them for reading:

I knew nothing about the Fly Orchid, except that I thought I vaguely recognised it from early summer walks out in Derbyshire, so this description of what it looks like and why, combined with where I might find it was useful and I felt I'd be far more able to spot Fly Orchids and to astound my companions with my depth of knowledge whilst on my wanderings in future!

I loved this photo but there was no description to go with it as the writing alongside the photo was too busy telling me what a perfect gift the book would make and how Sarah Raven has travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles to find these 500 "most breathtaking beautiful wild flowers".

Apparently she will be also presenting a 3-part BBC2 series about biodiversity and British wild flowers this Autumn - what a coincidence!

Mild sarcasm at marketing aside, the photos in the book are absolutely stunning, the species description write-ups are informative, clear and well laid out. Each one begins with a brief overview, then covers plant type, flowering period, height, description (very useful), companion species, distribution and habitat.

I did enjoy reading these 4 species descriptions as I only knew one of the four plants shown, although I didn't find them quite as captivating as the sampler blurb suggested I would, and I found the initial paragraph about the Wood Anemone a little bit twee as I don't go in for anthropomorphism in plants, but that's just me! I also found that as I didn't recognise the names of some of the companion species mentioned, I'd have to be flicking to and fro through the book to find the companions if I was using it in real life (as it were!)

But the book cover is pretty - even if it is somewhat predictably of bluebells:

....yet I was left feeling that as they had managed quite easily to get 2 photos and 2 species descriptions onto one A4 sized section of the sampler when the actual book itself is a nominal A4 size with a photo on one page and the species description on the facing page, then £50 for a large format hardbacked edition (yes...fifty quid!!!) and seventy five quid for a special slipcased edition was a hell of a lot to pay for some pretty pictures and a larger font that I could read without my glasses on!

I know it's meant to be a coffee table book and I know I adore wild flowers and would love to know more about them, but there is no way that I would cough up that amount of money for any book no matter how beautiful and informative it is! I didn't pay anywhere near that for my much loved and well used RHS 2 volume Garden Plant Encyclopaedia in a slipcase and that has vastly more than 500 plants in it!

Also Sarah's hefty tome is hardly a transportable little number, so you'd have to remember to either bring a bit of plant back with you (which I suspect is illegal for some plants anyway - not that I'd know without the book there though!) or to take your camera with you and then remember to take a photo of the plant and hope it came out clear and non-blurry enough to be able to identify the plant from...or is that just me and my photography skills?!

Having said all that though, if it ever comes out in a smaller, softbacked edition that would fit in the pocket of my rucksac so that I could have it to hand for when I spot the wild flowers when I'm out and about and, ideally, costs less than a tenner, then I'll be the first in the queue at WH Smiths but until then I'll just have to hope that our local library gets a couple of copies!!!

However, if money is burning a hole in your pocket or you've got some rich relative prepared to fork out the dosh for a cracking Christmas present that will indeed look very elegant on your coffee table (and may well have to stay there because it's too heavy to move), then this could be the book for you.

It was published on Monday, 17th October by Bloomsbury Books. The large format hardbacked edition is Wild Flowers, Sarah Raven

ISBN 978 1 4088 1394 2 480PP and is £50 ...or if you go onto Amazon it's down to £28.50 already..... looks like I'm not the only one that thinks it's too expensive then!


Liz said...

Hi Liz,

As much as I love Bluebells (I really do) I find the front cover a little boring, or should that be; predictable.
C'mon, I think that possibly every single wildflower book out there has bluebells on the front! I guess it's a safety zone, we all know bluebells will sell and after all that's what they want :)

Sue@G.L. Allotments said...

It sounds as if it could be an interesting book but the sample sent for you to review was a bit mean and hardly allowed you to produce a full review - those could have been the best few pages!. I was asked to review a book recently and was sent a complementary copy of the whole book and that was even more expensive than this one. Also there was substantial section of the book free to browse on the internet too.

Muddy Boot Dreams said...

I have the feeling that they got more then they bargained for asking for a review from you. But for us it's a straightforward honest approach.

The good, and the bad all packaged up in the little piece of paper.

Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

Britta said...

Hi Liz,
I really laughed reading your review, which might have been even a bit longer than the 'sample'. But, as everything has at least two sides: you can put that 'sample' into your rucksack and start an excursion to find those three wild flowers you didn't knew till now :-)
50 Pounds is a lot of money...
The late wife of our former chancellor Schmidt, Loki, published a beautiful though tiny book on wild flowers, 123 pages, very demure and modest, but she started protecting plants at a time where a lot of people didn't give a damn - in the early Seventies).

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

It sounds nice but pricey. And, you made me learn a new word: concertinaed. I actually knew what a concertina is, so it all makes sense now.

Pondside said...

Well, when you keep your word you are scrupulous! I'd have said 'why bother' but you've given the pamphlet fair attention. I wouldn't be paying that much money for a coffee table book when what I'd really want is a smaller 'field' guide in full colour.

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Liz. I am SO with you on the bluebells! I sighed when I saw the cover many beautiful flowers to choose from and they go for bluebells again!

Hi Sue, the sampler was pathetic actually - and I don't think I'm ever going to get a free copy of the book now after they've read my review!!!

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Jen. They knew from the outset that I was going to be honest in my review and I did try to be fair in my assessment...which is why I left it a while to write the review after I'd recieved the sampler. I didn't think it was right to do it when I was in a stroppy, hacked-off mood with them!

Hi Britta - I'm glad I made you laugh even if that wasn't my intention! Haha ...I'll be off to track down the other 3 flowers then...sound advice! I think I'm also going to try and track down Loki Schmid's little book too! :)

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Monica - I'm not sure if 'concertinaed' is a real word or yet another of my inventions, but it does describe it so nicely....!

Hi Di - to quote a UK TV advert..'it does exactly what is says on the tin'! They knew they'd get an open, honest and fair assessment of the book - and they did!
I wouldn't actually mind it as a coffee table book to dib in and out of, just not at that price! But I would love it as a field guide!

Anonymous said...

HA Liz, your review is priceless and great entertainment. I guffawed several times, nearly lodging the honey crisp apple slices being eaten for lunch in my throat. Thanks for such a good laugh. That you would even review a book without the book! is a miracle. Stroppy baggage, sublime. It sounds like this book is intended not for field observation and identification of native wildflowers but for leisurely perusal indoors. The bluebells are lovely on the cover. I notice that the stem is arching, unlike the bulbs sold to me as the true non-scriptas. Am trying again with a more reputable source with bulbs from a special hideaway in Wales, to have the real deal. This has rambled on quite long enough, thank you thank you for bringing me here.

VP said...

How mean is that? I'm sure Bloomsbury could cough up some pukka copies for keen bloggers like your self.

I think I'll stick to my trusty Francis Rose Wild Flower Key for my IDs. BTW you can pop it in your rucksack and is THE book for IDing plants in the field

BilboWaggins said...

I'm glad VP said "mean". I was thinking how damn insulting. It's not like post-Harry Potter Bloomsbury cannot afford a proper publicity budget.

My experience of La Raven and her expanding empire has not been good (I've resisted posting part 2 of my sweetpea problems because I haven't yet managed to edit my draft post to avoid potential libel) so I guess I am not really surprised.

Fifty quid is ridiculous, the publication doesn't deserve the time and effort you've put into writing your review.

RobD said...

What a bunch of cheapskates! If they want some publicity for it the least they could do is send you the whole book. I for one will be refusing to buy it until they send you the book.

And when you get it can I borrow it, far too expensive - even at half price.

catmint said...

Hi Liz, I enjoyed the book review. Interesting that it's already down to $28.50 already - I think the book trade is currently in a bit of a muddle between paper and ebooks. You didn't say, but I wonder if it covers a specific geographical area. The photos are lovely. Shame that you didn't get a whole book from them. cheers, catmint

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Frances - glad you enjoyed it! I wasn't being intentionally funny, just writing as I'd normally speak - stroppy moments and all!!! :P
Hope your new bluebells do better - but if they don't then let me know and I'll send you some of my bluebell bulbs because we've got the proper English ones xx

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi VP and thanks for that - I'll be buying a copy of Francis Rose's book then as it'll go in my rucksac!

Hi Bilbo. I wasn't expecting a full book because she's said a sample, but I was expecting rather more than one side of an A3 sheet!!! Not impressed with Bloomsbury at the moment .....but I doubt if I'll get a freebie copy now! :P

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Rob ...hahahah! Course you can - but I expect we'll both be having a bit of a long wait! :P

Hi Catmint - apparantly Sarah Raven has travelled all over the British Isles for this book - but the poxy sampler didn't say which bits or where and the sarcastic side of me reckons the poor photographer did all the travelling and brought the photos back for Sarah to look at in the comfort of her own home...oh such cyniciscm!!! :P

joey said...

I think your delightful review might be even better than the book, dear Liz! (The photos are quite lovely). You're a hoot and I love you :)

Nutty Gnome said...

Awh, thanks Joey! I have to admit to still feeling mildly stroppy when I wrote it(!), but it is a jolly expensive book for the level of information you get!
You're wonderful and I love you too! :D

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Hi Liz

£50 quid is a lot of money and I can't believe Bloomsbury didn't send you a copy!

I've had for some years a copy of her 'Bold and Brilliant Garden', again with superb photos by Jonathan Buckley. I really like that book, but it wasn't fifty quid.

Kathryn said...

Hi, Liz, Oh, this is cracking me up! LOVE your wit, my dear. It's tickled me both as the blessed recipient of your wonderful review of my own book (lucky me and thank you again!) but also as a longtime book publicist. I can't BELIEVE Bloomsbury had the audacity to ask you to review a book from a promotion piece!! WHAT??? In my 33 years as a publicist, wow, that's a new one, and hopefully not any indicator of Where Things Might Be Going. And then on top of that there's a Postscript that it's fifty quid?? (Did I say that right?) Oh, my. The Bloomsbury publicists are surely reading this and I'm certain I will never be asked to promote anything for them (nor would I, if that's the deal), nor are they going to want to publish my book in the UK! (I am looking.) Nor would they want me as an author, because I'd be raising bloody hell if they pulled on editors what they just pulled on you. Here's a tip: ask for a copy of the book, my dear, because they OWE YOU ONE.
Gardening Bloggers Unite! Done w/ rant. Love, Kathryn xoxo

Woody Wilbury said...

Are you opening a book (sorry!) on how long it will be before they ask you to review anything else?

Cracking good review; indignation fairly crackles off the screen!

In fairness, her book on growing vegetables was quite good and substantially less then £50 (especially as I borrowed it from the library!)

Drinks in November? To celebrate my retirement last week.

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Rob - I'm sure she has written good books in the past, but I'm not sure that this one is up there with them...and not for fifty quid!
I somehow don't think I'll be getting a freebie copy of the book any time soon really!

Hi Kathryn - yep, I wasn't dead impressed with Bloomsbury really! I know she said a sample, but I was expecting rather more to go on! Your book was easy to review because I had the entire book AND there was a lot of excellent content to work with :)
Yes, you were right at fifty quid!
Thanks for the tip too ...I'll summon my courage and ask for a copy.....I won't hold my breath for it though! xxx

Nutty Gnome said...

Ey up Woody ......I'm starting the book(!) at,erm, never!!!

Haha - you know me too well now! Righteous indignation was indeed present - but at least I'd waited a few days so that I was no longer thoroughly hacked off!!!

A slightly cynical part of me wonders if there's an element of her trading on her good name abit here with this book?! Bugger! That's really stuffed my chances of a freebie!

Drinks would be great - happy to celebrate your retirement into your new working life on the allotment! Just let me know when and where! See you soon then :)

VP said...

Hurray - you've inspired my post for today :)

A further thought - have you sent a link to the person who offered you the sample? I suggest you do if you haven't already. You've tackled the situation in a very humourous way, and I think they should see the reaction in your comments too.

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi VP - glad to be of help!
I did send an email to the Marketing bod when I first posted , but I haven't had any response from her (hardly suprising really!). I'm going to take your sound advice and send her the link again so that she can read everyones comments!

Elephant's Eye said...

Sample is an interesting new interpretation of the word. Was just a publisher's blurb, with extra hype and hold the mayo? Did enjoy your review ;~)

Elephant's Eye said...

PS VP lured me here.

Anna said...

Just coming back with a postcript to my comment Nutty but can't see the comment:( I had a couple of gos at posting it at the weekend but it appears to be lost in cyberspace :( Just wanted to say though that I picked up this book today in Waterstones(I nearly toppled over in doing so) and would not consider buying unless it eventually appears in paperback. Too heavy and bulky for a lot of people to use in comfort -never mind the price:(

BilboWaggins said...

Elephant's Eye made me think {don't laugh} so I toddled off to a couple on online dictionaries. I rather like the definition from Webster's dictionary:

Definition of SAMPLE
1: a representative part or a single item from a larger whole or group especially when presented for inspection or shown as evidence of quality :

or perhaps not, in this case ....

Nutty Gnome said...

Ooops, been a bit busy chaps, so haven't had much time for blogging! Many apologies to you for my lack of replies to your comments before now, but here goes!

Elephants Eye - good to see you and thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the review - and that VP lured you in to read me! :)

Hi Anna - sorry that your previous comment got lost in cyberspace, but thanks for trying again! I totally agree with you, but it does make a good coffee table! :P

Bilbo my friend, you do make me chuckle!Thanks for that :)