Strange Animals – Tom Jackson

This book combines two of my favourite things, photography and fun facts. Because I’ve devoured so many books with fascinating, adorable and weird animals over the years, there wasn’t a lot of information that was new to me here. It was still an entertaining read, though, and I loved the photos.

It’s always hard to choose my favourite facts. This time around I’ve picked two from each section: Asia, Africa, Australasia, North America, Central & South America, Europe and Oceans. They’re a combination of my favourite animals, photos and facts.

A tarsier’s eye is bigger than its brain.

At around 35cm (14 inches) from snout to tail, the tokay is the world’s largest gecko.

Photo of a torkay

A naked mole-rat queen “controls her workers using chemicals in her urine.”

The African fat-tailed gecko uses the fat stored in its tail when food becomes scarce.

Photo of an African fat-tailed gecko

The duck-billed platypus detects electrical currents produced by its prey with its bill.

Echidnas are related to the platypus. “It too lays eggs, and the pointed snout is sensitive to electricity given out by insect prey.”

Photo of an echidna

The thorn bug is a treehopper. “It sits on a twig and jabs its pointed mouthpart into plants.”

The rubber boa ties itself in a knot when it’s threatened.

Photo of a rubber boa

The pink river dolphin is born grey. When its skin rubs against objects, it becomes pinker.

The axolotl was named after the Aztec god of fire and lightning.

Photo of an axolotl

The wisent (European bison) is Europe’s largest wild land animal.

The Atlantic puffin’s diet consists solely of fish.

Photo of an Atlantic puffin

The Christmas tree worm grows on coral reefs around the world.

The Pacific hagfish have a “spiral of teeth that they twist into corpses to drill out a cylinder of flesh.”

Photo of a Pacific hagfish

NB: The images I’ve included in my review are screenshots of the eARC. The colours may look different in the book.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Amber Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How does a mudskipper fish manage to “walk” on land? Why is the Hoatzin also known as ‘The Stinkbird’? And once the female Pipa toad has laid her eggs, where does she put them?

The answers? The mudskipper can “walk” using its pectoral fins, the Hoatzin has a unique digestive system which gives the bird a manure-like odour, and the female Pipa Toad embeds its eggs on its back where they develop to adult stage.

Illustrated throughout with outstanding colour photographs, Strange Animals presents the most unusual aspects of 100 of the most unusual species. The selection spans a broad spectrum of wildlife, from the tallest land living mammal, the giraffe, to the light, laughing chorus of Australian kookaburra birds, from the intelligence of the Bottlenose dolphin to octopuses that change colour when they dream to the slow pace of the three-toed sloth.

Arranged geographically, the photographs are accompanied by fascinating captions, which explain the quirky characteristics of each entry. Including egg-laying mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, cannibalistic insects and other invertebrates, Strange Animals is a compelling introduction to some of nature’s most curious beasts.

The Wild – Claudia Martin

Five countries hold 70 per cent of the world’s last remaining wilderness: Russia, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the United States, much of the last country’s wild land lying in Alaska.

This book’s whirlwind trip around the world was fodder for my travel wish list. Divided into sections by geography – Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania & Antarctica, North & South America – the photography highlights various landscapes across the seasons. The isolation and serenity made this the perfect coffee table book for me.

Although I almost always love photography books, because there are so many to choose from, I like to get a feel for what to expect before deciding if they’re for me or not. With that in mind, I’ve chosen my current favourite photo from each section.


Legend says that dragons throwing rocks at one another created the distinctive landscape of the Drakolimni of Tymfi, found in Vikos-Aoös National Park, Greece.


The combusting sulphur in the Ijen stratovolcano complex in East Java, Indonesia, causes Api Biru, Blue Fire.


African teak is a deciduous hardwood tree with explosive pods able to spread seeds over several metres.

This teak forest is in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.


The world’s largest population of dugongs make their home at Shark Bay, Western Australia.


This gorgeous winter scene comes to you from the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.

While this book features some breathtaking landscapes, it also includes photos of animals. My favourite is this American alligator, a species that can reach 4.8m (15.7 feet) in length, chilling out at Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, USA.


NB: The images I’ve included in my review are screenshots of the eARC. The colours may look different in the book.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Amber Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Illustrated with beautiful colour photographs, The Wild leads the reader to the planet’s least cultivated places, from jungles to tundras. Take a step into the wild!

We live in an increasingly urbanised world, but there are still many magnificent stretches of wilderness unaltered by humankind. From the most remote mountains and valleys in Alaska to the southern tip of Chile and Argentina, from Europe’s primeval forest on the Polish-Belarusian border to Norway’s fjords, and from the Namib Desert to Kamchatka in far-eastern Russia to canyons in Kurdistan and rainforests in Cambodia, The Wild celebrates the beauty of uncultivated landscapes all around the globe.

Arranged by continent, the book roams across landscapes and climates, from Antarctica’s dry valleys to African burning deserts, from European marshlands to Arabian rugged peaks and on to Tanzania’s craters, Indonesia’s volcanoes, and New Zealand’s bubbling mud pools. Each entry is supported with fascinating captions explaining the geology, geography, flora, and fauna. In doing so, the book reveals some of the world’s most naturally bizarre places.

Abandoned Palaces – Michael Kerrigan

I love abandoned places photography! I adore the atmosphere, the haunting quality of the images and imagining the history of the buildings and those who have lived in or visited them.

Most of the collections of abandoned places I’ve seen have focused on the buildings’ interiors. This book includes some interior photos as well as some bird’s-eye view shots that show an interesting blend of interior and exterior. However, a greater proportion show the overall exterior of the building, with sections of facades crumbling on some and nature overrunning others, and I really enjoyed those photos. I particularly liked those that highlight the contrast between neglected architecture and flourishing greenery surrounding it (and oftentimes growing over it).

The descriptions that accompany each image are succinct; you learn enough to provide context but not so much that the information overwhelms the picture. Each section includes a short introduction to the overall location: The Americas and Caribbean, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia and the Pacific.

Each time I look through this book (three times so far) different photos catch my eye and details I’ve previously missed stand out. I do have a few favourites that I expect will remain, no matter how many times I return. The one that stands out the most and that I most desperately need to visit is Pidhirsti Palace in Lviv, Ukraine.

The original photo by LALS STOCK can be found on Shutterstock here. Editing of the image in this book (or it may be because I’m reading an ARC) has given it a creepier feel than the original, but that has added to my love for this particular photo.

Although the colour feels off (again, this could be due to my viewing an ARC on an iPad) my favourite photo that showed some interior was of Ladendorf Castle in Mistelbach, Austria.

I loved that this open door felt like an invitation and, although it’s actually a courtyard you’re getting a glimpse of, I immediately imagined that a path out of view behind this building would lead intrepid explorers to another world. (That is one of the reasons why I love photography so much; it awakens my imagination.) This photo of Ladendorf Castle is by Viennaslide and can be found on Alamy here.

I was quite disappointed to learn that the photos were all sourced from stock image sites: 123RF, Alamy, Dreamstime, FLPA, Getty Images,, iStock and Shutterstock. In the past I’ve enjoyed collections of abandoned places photos by a single artist; I find this provides more of a cohesive feel to the project and gives me a sense of their ‘eye’ by the end of the book. I also enjoy the anecdotes a photographer can provide based on their experiences shooting at specific locations.

These details are missing here; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but is certainly something I would have liked to have known before I started reading/looking. Also missing are the interior photos that show details of abandoned items that I love to pore over; they provide a small but important connection for me to the history of the buildings and the people who spent time there.

To be taken with a grain of salt as this relates to the ARC: There were some photos that appeared underexposed and others that appeared to have been edited so the colour was unnaturally saturated in places. These may be artistic choices by the individual photographers or the book’s editor or could be due to the fact that I viewed an advanced copy on an iPad. These comments may be entirely irrelevant once this book has been published.

Thank you to NetGalley and Amber Books for the opportunity to view this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From imperial residences and aristocratic estates to hotels and urban mansions, Abandoned Palaces tells the stories behind dilapidated structures all around the world.

Built to impress, built with style and grandeur, built, above all, to last: it’s all the more remarkable when buildings such as these fall into disrepair and become ruins. From ancient Roman villas to the French colonial hill station in Cambodia that was one of the final refuges of the Khmer Rouge, Abandoned Palaces charts the decline of what were once the homes and holiday resorts of the super wealthy.

Ranging from crumbling hotels in the Catskills or in Mozambique, to grand mansions in Taiwan, to an unfinished Elizabethan summerhouse, to a modern megalomaniac’s partially completed estate, they were deserted for reasons including politics, bankruptcy, personal tragedies, natural and man-made disasters, and changing tastes and fashions. Filled with stunning, nostalgic images, this volume is a brilliant and moving examination of worlds left behind.