Older Reviews

Review of à table – whisky from glass to plate

From Claudia Albisser Hund (June 9th 2016)
Hello, I am Claudia a culinary photographer and mad about cooking. At the moment I am on holiday in Islay and we love it. We were at the Bruichladdich Craft Fair on Tuesday morning and I found your new book “à table”. I have already read it from cover to cover and I am delighted with the way you have married whisky with French and Scottish cuisine. I find it so inspiring for my own work. As a culinary photographer, I prepare and cook the dishes and do my own design work. For me, it is important to bring new ways of doing “cuisine” – it’s a play between the different cuisines across the world, having the courage to be creative and bringing together new combinations. There are so many ways your words echo my ideas. Thank you, and may your work continue well!

Review of à table – whisky from glass to plate

From Jean Oswald, The Malt Project, Arizona, USA (June 30th 2016)
à table” arrived 2 days ago and I have been having a wonderful time reading it. Jack wants me to cook something but I’ve been so enjoying just reading….. Love the layout, illustrations, graphics …. The whole approach is so fresh and different…. Did I say I love it!
I will try to cook something of course, but it is just so much fun to read. It deserves great distribution – I hope you get it and it sells and sells. Meantime I sure am enjoying it!

Sam finds Bramble and Coultoon

Having just returned from a (very windy!) week on Islay where my 4 year old son Sam became entranced by the magical world of Bramble and Coultoon, I thought you would like to see this picture of him at Lyrabus Croft, with two ponies who look uncannily similar to his two heroes of his new favourite books.

It was only the second time we have visited Islay with Sam – his first visit was in 2012 so he was really too little to appreciate it – but this time he was into everything. My mum brought him back “Their Hebridean Adventure” after her visit to Islay last year, and this year we were able to get the delightful Sky Dragon and Bolsa Cave as well. To meet Gibson’s ponies at Lyrabus Croft and for them to “be” Bramble and Coultoon topped off a wonderful holiday for him (and us too, of course!)

Warm Regards, Nick Hunt

Review of Bramble & Coultoon – Their Bolsa Cave Adventure (From The Ileach)

Bramble and Coultoon. Their Bolsa Cave Adventure by Catherine Wilson and Ruth Maclean. Ailsapress. £5.99.
With this, the third book in the Bramble and Coultoon series, not only have the two ponies become almost as much a part of Islay’s folklore as the Lords of the Isles, but the telling of their tales has visibly matured.
Illustrated by Canadian and one time Islay resident, Ruth Maclean, the coloured paper cutouts featured on each facing page have surely reached their pinnacle in Bramble and Coultoon’s Bolsa Cave Adventure. You need only cast a glance at the pipe band image left to appreciate their entertainment value for both children and adults alike.
However, it would be missing the point to contend that the book is carried by its pretty pictures alone. Catherine Wilson’s narrative in their Bolsa Cave Adventure is remarkably creative, whether based on notional legends or simply a modern invention.
The devious Mr McEnvy, jealous of the previous adventures experienced by the two ponies, hatches a plan to rid himself of them once and for all. He encourages the two intrepid explorers to take a look inside Bolsa cave where there is said to be a lone piper who never found his way out.
Unafraid, the ponies set off for the cave, intent on camping on the adjoining bay. As you would expect in a book with the word “Adventure” in the title, not everything is as straightforward as it might seem. Mr McEnvy makes a return appearance but not quite in the manner you might expect.
Whether they all live happily ever after, whether Mr McEnvy gets his comeuppance and whether you’ll have the sound of pipes ringing in your ears at the end, I have no intention of revealing. You’ll simply have to purchase a copy to find out.
Author and illustrator are now well into their collective stride with this latest book, one which is long enough to provide lasting entertainment, yet short enough to be repeatedly read to a child/children at bedtime, and even if they can’t read themselves, they’ll delight in simply ‘looking at the pictures.’ That goes double for adults.

Review of Baba King of the Castle & Jacket Potato

– ForArgyll online news December, 2012

A timely delight is a new book from Islay’s Ailsapress – Baba King of the Castle and Jacket Potato two stories about a farm, by Mary McGregor, with illustrations by Jessica Excell – including the gorgeously tactile lamb above. New to Ailsapress is the voice of Mary McGregor, an island woman from an island farm, whose voice is fresh and hopeful. Her two stories should touch young and old – kids, Mums and Dads – everyone with a love of creaturesgreat and small. An orphan lamb and a premature calf are the two remarkable characters in this volume. We find out how they came into this world and how they coped with difficult times. With descriptions of the customs of the small farmer, the stories are subliminally educational.They also carry a supportive emotional message about survival in times of trouble. Jessica Excell’s illustrations add greatly to the charm of this book – and it’s easy to see how true this is.
The book is published by Ailsapress in 2012. Its recommended retail price is £6.99 It looks like the prefect wrap for a certain seasonal gentleman to deliver with abandon.
For more information about the individualist Ailsapress and their quite beautiful publications, visit their website.

Review of Baba King of the Castle and Jacket Potato

– Calum Kennedy, Dunoon (18/12/2012)
Just to let you know the books arrived OK. I have had a read of them and I must say they are very good indeed both in the story and the illustrations. The kids will be fascinated with the Islay connection and the ferries as they love going to Islay. However whether you have been to Islay or not, they are great books for children (and not bad for adults either)!

Carl Reavey, Editor of the Ileach (01/12/2012)
Comprising two short stories entitled “BaBa King of the Castle” and “Jacket Potato”, they are delightful autobiographical accounts of the relationship between Mary and her brother Donald and animals that have lived on their farm, particularly an orphan lamb and a very premature baby calf.

We are surrounded by farms and farmers on Islay. Those of us who have had the privilege of being able to experience farming at first hand will enjoy the descriptions, particularly from the days when the cattle over-wintered in the byres being fed hay and before they moved into the sheds on a less romantic diet of silage. For those of us who have not been so lucky, the book provides an evocative window onto what we have missed.

It would be good to think that Mary’s little book will become a bit of a trend setter – bringing story-tellng back into the forefront of everyday life. .. . This island is full of wonderful stories, they just need to be teased out of folk!

Review of Island Moments

Elizabeth Bazeley (29/01/2013)
Here are pairs of photographs on facing pages which, connected with a touch of words, become inter-reflections mystical as the islands and sea inspiring them. Sometimes infinite and infinitesimal contrast. Or an idea mirrors itself with a subtle shift of form. Or we are reminded that we humans are the participant observers in and of nature. It is a beautiful little book you can meditate over, with changing perspectives for eye and mind your reward.

forargyll.com (13/05/2012)
Island Moments is the headline title of Catherine Wilson’s latest book for Ailsapress. Its full title is: Island Moments. Taken by surprise in the Hebrides.It is a title that subtly captures the impact of Cathy Wilson’s openness to the experience of new places in a genre of landscape that somehow touches her soul.‘Taken’ means just that. She has been taken – possessed by and possessed of these places.‘Taken by surprise’ – because it is the surprise (and the ability to be surprised) that is the possessing force. It is the gasp of the unutterable that cements a indestructible relationship. In a way this book is a love poem in images as well as some telling words, not just to specific places but to love of place itself. Click here to read the full article

Dr Margaret Mackay, Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh (04/05/2012)
Island Moments is an absolutely captivating collection, combining a wonderful eye for detail in nature and a talent for enabling the images to “speak” both in themselves and in succinct, thoughtful words. It will give continuing pleasure as a focus for memory and reflection.

Brian Palmer. The Ileach newspaper (11/02/2012)
The advent of the affordable digital camera has turned us all into ‘expert’ photographers, underlined even more so by the pixels on almost every mobile phone. Surely such advanced technology would scarce let us capture imagery that is any less than perfectly formed? With accompanying high-quality inkjet printers and glossy photo paper, there are few, if any reasons to leave undeveloped rolls of film lying in the kitchen drawer. There is nothing that moves or stands still that cannot be framed as a digital image, and evidence on social network sites would point to that being endlessly the case.

However, as with many an artistic pursuit, even partial mastery of the materials allied to a modest degree of technique cannot guarantee imagery that is unquestionably pleasing to the human eye. Such is still the preserve of those with a grasp of the right moment, the right light and the opportune time to click the shutter. Oh that it were all so simple.

Cathy Wilson, it would seem, has at least approached mastery of that which garners the interest, often on a micro level with her images of sea-shells, tiny fish, the movement of grassy shorelines and that which most of us miss when looking up instead of down. The landscape writ large is also a feature of her lens and a pleasing amalgam of both are presented in a small volume of colour imagery entitled ‘Island Moments’ featuring landscapes large and small from both Islay in the Inner Hebrides and Taransay in the Outer Hebrides.

This beautiful book has been laid-out in a series of related images on opposing pages, the subtitle of which, ‘Taken by surprise in the Hebrides’ is a recollection of the process of discovery that led to the paired imagery. The element of surprise is just as pertinent to the reader, for though the boundaries are narrow, it truly is surprising how the miniscule reflects the larger settings in which they are found. Cathy has carefully chosen words to describe each open page of two images, words that not only describe, but leave further room for consideration.

‘Island Moments’ is a quietly unassuming book that will bear repeated viewing as much for insights into the quiet corners of both islands as for the consummate quality of the imagery.
A delight.

Reviews of Bramble and Coultoon: Their Sky Dragon Adventure

Calum Kennedy, Dunoon (18/12/2012)
Just to let you know the books arrived OK. I have had a read of them and I must say they are very good indeed both in the story and the illustrations. The kids will be fascinated with the Islay connection and the ferries as they love going to Islay. However whether you have been to Islay or not, they are great books for children (and not bad for adults either)!

Nadia Danyluk, Children & Youth Services Librarian, Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library
I have been happy to include the Bramble and Coultoon books in our picture book collection at the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library. The adventures experienced by the two ponies are wonderful in the way that they take something like a trip about the Hebrides – an adventure that is completely possible – and turn it into something grand with storms and tall ships and meeting a prince. Isn’t that childhood in a nutshell: when trips to the seashore come complete with castles and a night camping in the woods means fending off (imagined) terrible beasts?

We were happy to be able to host Ruth MacLean and Catherine Wilson for an author visit at the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library recently. Their interaction with each other and with the group of grade 2 students in attendance was wonderful. To a Canadian audience it was a bit of a novelty to listen to Catherine’s wonderful Scottish accent.

The cut paper collage illustrations were wonderful to see. They are detailed enough to invite curiosity and interest, and yet simple enough to stoke the creative minds of children who feel it would be possible to make their own versions of the illustrations. Following Catherine’s reading of “Bramble and Coultoon: their Hebridean adventure”, the children were given an opportunity to create their own cut paper collages. Ruth and Catherine worked so well with these children offering encouragement and assistance until we finished with a wonderful collection of artworks which I am sure are hanging proudly on fridges and walls all over town.

Claire Ballantyne’s review from the Ileach newspaper;

Bramble and
Cultoon were introduced to us in Catherine Wilson and Ruth MacLean’s previous
picture book ‘Their Hebridean Adventure’. They return in a new story ‘Their Sky
Dragon Adventure’. The imaginative use of different textures of paper produces
charming and atmospheric pictures which engage the reader and companion
immediately. The naive and simplistic medium used to create the illustrations
are reflected by the text, which relates the story of the curious ponies and
their kind response to the predicament of a Sky Dragon in distress and breathes
life into a new myth.

Ciara Irving of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada age 5 says;

wanted to tell you I love your story “Bramble and Coultoon, Their Sky Dragon
Adventure”. I loved the adventures that the ponies took. How nice it was that
they took such good care of the dragon. I enjoyed the bumpy hills in the story
and I liked how the dragon went back to his land. I love Bramble &
Thank you to the Chocolate shop in Bridgend for selling this book
to my mom.

From Margie Logan, Cupar, Fife:
Bramble and Coultoon: both books, Their Hebridean Adventure and Their Sky
Dragon Adventure, are quite delightful stories, and make us all laugh, for
different reasons, young and old. Charlie, my three year old Grandson, says they
are his favourite books, especially Bonnie Prince Charlie, whom he is hoping to
meet soon. The illustrations are so charming, and like Islay Whisky, Bramble and
Coultoon have plenty of Spirit. We look forward to their next

Well done Catherine and Ruth!

Reviews of Bramble and Coultoon: Their Hebridean Adventure

Calum Kennedy, Dunoon (18/12/2012)
Just to let you know the books arrived OK. I have had a read of them and I must say they are very good indeed both in the story and the illustrations. The kids will be fascinated with the Islay connection and the ferries as they love going to Islay. However whether you have been to Islay or not, they are great books for children (and not bad for adults either)!

Anne Johnstone in The Herald 11/04/09
Two ponies from Islay set off with a tent, a kettle and a bag of peat to see
what happens on the other side of Jura. They end up trotting all over the
Hebrides, with some help from CalMac and a reincarnated Bonnie Prince Charlie.
This quirky story is full of amusing detail. For instance, on the ferry they
picnic on hay and chocolate and they make a campfire by enterprisingly striking
their hooves against stones. The charming illustrations, made entirely from
paper collage, are full of character. This would make a great introduction to
the Hebrides for a child going on holiday there. More Bramble and Coultoon
stories are planned.

Ileach Newspaper Review by three Islay children aged 9, 11 and 13
years. 11/04/09

This is a story about two ponies, Bramble and Coultoon, who set off on a
journey. It is about their adventures together as friends, their travels, the
people they meet and their experiences along the way. They leave their farm on
Islay to decide to find out what is on the other side of Jura. However, a small
problem of getting on the wrong ferry and … all sorts of odd things happen,
including bumping into a famous prince back in 1746.
This is a beautifully
illustrated book; we really like the collage effects and these give it a simple
and colourful feeling which small children would love to look at again and
again. The book is for 5 to 7 year olds, and a confident reader could manage it
independently although some of the words are quite difficult. It could also be
read by an older sibling or adult. The story may also be told simply as wee ones
may be a bit impatient to listen to all the words every time.

Reviews of The Tail of Ailsa

Carl Reavey, Editor of The Ileach,
This beautifully produced little book is…accurately aimed at that most
dedicated band of pet owners – the cat lover. The elegantly sparse layouts and
strong, yet subtle colours of the block drawings make for a real page turner. It
is a sunny book – a little ray of sunshine – a feelgood book that purrs and
bounces along just like Tabitha, Marmalade, Rhubarb and of course Ailsa. Those
of you who have cats will understand. Those of you who don’t, should buy one for
someone who does. They will thank you and perhaps try to explain…

Victoria Murchie. The Press & Journal
With the honourable exception of tabbys, domesticated cats tend to come
in the darkest of hues, but that doesn’t stop this collection of poems and
illustrations from being a riot of colour.

Seventeen years in the life of
Ailsa, a spirited and inquisitive feline, are depicted in technicolour style by
Canadian artist Ruth MacLean, Ailsa’s adoptive owner, and Islay dwelling writer,
Catherine Wilson.

The one-time stray is shown breaking eggs, topplings vases
and leaping in the shower, and her pawprints are, literally, all over this book,
adorning the pages which aren’t lit up by the cut-out illustrations.

The pun
in the title is, unfortunately, all too appropriate, as Ailsa lost her tail
after an unexplained incident, but her zest for life was undimmed, and she had
the companionship of a mate who became the father of her kittens.

about cats will always evoke thoughts of TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of
Practical Cats, but while the Tail of Ailsa is rather different in essence,
Ailsa’s mischief and character mean she could easily slot in alongside Macavity
and Mr Mistoffelees in the parade of enchanting puss poetry.

Terry Samuel
A rare treat! Artistically and colourfully delightful. The storyline is
both linear and timeless – sure to enthrall imaginative readers of all
As for stars, I’d have to give Ailsa a full rating: Five

Sarah, a publisher friend
It’s gone midnight and I have just realised that I did not manage to
call you back today re your query. Nor have I written to thank you for the
wonderful copy of the book, The Tail of Ailsa is fabulous. You have achieved
something with the project – the quality of the print and design, the story and
all of it. I just think you two are really onto something with this, and I hope
you pursue it. Two things are rare these days in publishing – beauty and
originality, and your book has both.

Mukami Ireri
Ailsa is witty, courageous, playful and loving. I recommend this book to
children and adults of all ages. It will make you think, laugh out loud and
thank heaven for all colours.

…a marvelously captivating storyline – linear and also timeless –
illustrated with artistic skill and colourful insight. A treasure for
storytellers of all ages.

Johanna H. Brown
A friend introduced me to “The Tail of Ailsa”, hoping I’d enjoy it. I
can’t thank her enough. This wonderful book, perfect for both adults and
children, combines the best of visual art and verses. Each time I turned a page,
I laughed with recognition – “Hey! My cat does that! And my OTHER cat does
THAT!” Now, of course, I’m recommending it to all of my cat-people

Matthew Williams. Bookshop Manager. Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh
The Tail of Ailsa” is a great book for cat-lovers and art-lovers of all
ages. A gallery bestseller that has been enchanting my customers and has them
purring with satisfaction and delight

Colin Duncan
I am happy to endorse this book. I read it on my own – without the help
of my children! It is delightful. I chose the book [for the National Galleries
of Scotland] because I feel the artwork/imagery make up a substantial proportion
of the impact of the book. Normally we stock only art/design/photography based
titles for kids. In this case, the book is suitable because it is ‘art led’.

What about you?

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book to: reviews@ailsapress.co.uk