Book Review: Realityland – True-Life Adventures of Walt Disney World by David Koenig #freereading

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The first-ever in-depth, unauthorized look at the creation and operation of the world’s most popular vacation destination.

Step backstage and witness: Walt’s original plans for Disney World and how his dreams completely changed in the hands of his successors… His undercover agents who secretly bought 44 square miles of swamps… The chaotic construction and frantic first years of the Magic Kingdom… The underground caverns that wind beneath the theme park… Disney’s unconventional, initially disastrous foray into operating its own hotels… The behind-the-scenes machinations that led to EPCOT Center… How safety and security are maintained on property at all costs… The tumultuous change of leadership that turned the cherished Ways of Walt upside down.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a bit of an obsession with Disney, and with the Disney theme parks in particular. I first went to Walt Disney World in 1998, when I was 26 (we never travelled abroad when I was child, my mother hates to fly, my first foreign escapade was aged 15 on a school trip to France) and I fell in love with the place immediately. But, as well as being magical, I was fascinated by how the whole place had been created and was run, how they had managed to make it so self-contained, so separate from the outside world, so that the illusion could be maintained throughout. A few years later, when we visited Disneyland in California, I became even more fascinated by the difference between what Disney had achieved in Orlando compared to Anaheim.

I have been back to Florida countless times in the past 22 years, and it is even more fantastic when you see it through your children’s eyes. My two girls have grown up with it and they, along with my three step-daughters who first visited seven years ago, and even my big, beefy, cynical Irishman are also enchanted with the place. That takes somewhere special. But none of them are as obsessed with the machinery behind the Mouse the way I am.

Here is my shelf of non-fiction books about the Disney company and Walt Disney World (I’ve got a couple more that are too tall for this shelf and are elsewhere, plus a couple of digital ones as well.) They cover everything from theme park design to how Disney train their staff in customer service, boardroom battles for control of the Disney empire, to stories from ex-cast members and maps of the parks, and they are all fascinating. I’m always on the look out for more too, so if any of you have any recommendations, let me know.

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Since we weren’t going to get a holiday abroad this year due to Covid, and my planning for our next Florida trip is also on hold while the uncertainty around  the pandemic lingers, I decided to take a virtual trip there through one of my favourite books about the creation of the Florida theme park, Realityland by David Koenig. This book is a really comprehensive guide to how the idea for the second park in Florida was conceived, how Walt and his team went about acquiring the land and building the park, to how it has developed over the years (although it only goes up to the mid-90s. Any chance of an updated and extended version covering to the present day, David? I would buy it!)

For any of you who don’t know much about Walt Disney World, but are interested in how something as huge as the Florida park came about, this book is a fascinating read. It tells you how Walt wanted to make sure his park was not eventually surrounded by uncontrolled building of cheap motels, restaurants and gift shops as in Anaheim which spoiled the Disney illusion. How they bought the land in secret, and negotiated with the local government for unprecedented control over everything, including drainage, fire and policing. How they turned 40+ square miles of Florida swamp into what is there today, even after the tragic death of Walt before it was completed, and how they tried to be true to Walt’s vision for EPCOT and whether they succeeded.

It would be hard to see how any book on the subject could be more comprehensive than this one, and yet it is still very easy to read and approachable, if you are interested in the topic. And the story of how this amazing and impressive place was built, is maintained and continues to grow and delight people the world over is quite remarkable when you take a step back and look at it. Regardless of whether you love Disney or loathe it, you have to give them credit for what they have created, from Walt’s original and extraordinary vision to what stands there today, which even he probably could not have foreseen. And it all started with a Mouse.

Realityland is out now and you can buy a copy here (although, being an old book it’s quite expensive!)

About the Author

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David Koenig is chief editor for Costa Mesa, Ca.-based 526 Media Group. He received his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton, and has become arguably the theme park industry’s best-known “outsider,” after penning such best-sellers as Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland, Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks, and Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World. He is also an original contributor to MousePlanet.com.He lives with his wife Laura and children Zachary and Rebecca in Aliso Viejo, Ca.

Connect with David:

Twitter: @davidkoenig

Instagram: @davidgkoenig

Guest Post: Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz

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I think we should take it through Guatemala.

A random text from a stranger inspires agoraphobic Colin to leave New York. His first stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender, half-Mayan Luci Bolon, her ancient but feisty great-uncle Ernesto, and Miss Mango, a bright-orange Kubota tractor. Ernesto’s dream is that Miss Mango be driven to Belize and given to the family he left behind nearly seventy years ago. Colin agrees to join Luci on the long journey through Central America.

In 1949, seventeen-year-old Belizean Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to America.

The past and present unfold through two journeys that traverse beautiful landscapes. Painful histories are soothed by new friendships and payments of old debts.

I am delighted today to be featuring on the blog this fascinating sounding book, Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet, although I will have a review of it coming for you a little later in the year. In the meantime, Karen has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you about her love for Belize, the setting of a large part of the novel.

Something About Belize by Karen Winters Schwartz

In all my travels there was something about Belize, Central America that touched me like no other county. The place, its people, its history, and culture went on to inspire much of my writing including my just released, newest novel Legend of the Lost Ass. From my first breath of Belizean air, I was in love with the place. My husband and I bought property and built a house on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Hopkins, Belize nearly 15 years ago.

There are so many reasons to love Belize. It’s not just the beauty of the land or the sea, but the magic of the culturally diverse people who call this place home. Belize is a melting pot consisting of mainly Mestizos, Mayans, Garinagu, Chinese, Mennonites, Kriols, and expats from Europe, US, and Canada. The pot is small, but it’s rich and deep with welcoming people.

Years ago, my then teenaged daughter, Sarah, and I were walking along the beautiful, debris-covered beach of the village of Hopkins. The day was awesome—the air still, with no humidity—the sea, a shimmering blue. Small terns strutted ahead anxiously, never taking flight, as they were not quite sure of our intentions. The gentle waters lapped at our feet as we studied the fresh array of unmatched shoes, coconuts, plastic bottles, brown clusters of seaweed, copious amounts of green sea grass, shattered unidentifiable pieces of plastic, neatly sliced halves of oranges with their gut sucked clean, the severed head of a pineapple… All of which had found their way onto the shoreline of Belize.

Sarah declared, “I want a coconut!” 

“Take one. They’re everywhere.”

She found a beautiful large green monster of a coconut which she lugged along before coming to a rare, but hard, rock thrusting out from the edge of the surf. Nearby five small Garifuna children played and splashed in the shimmering blue water. Sarah began throwing the coconut against the rock in an attempt to break its thick green covering. I began to help her. We took turns thrusting it against the rock. It wasn’t long before the children waded out of the water and grabbed this massive nut.

We stepped back in surprise (had we taken a coconut that we had no right to?) and then in amusement, as they took their own turns throwing the coconut against the rock. They got down on their knees in the surf, the Caribbean waters glistening and slipping off their dark bodies, and took turns banging it repeatedly. They stood up and threw only to sit back down and continue the assault. Sarah and I smiled and watched. I threw in a “Wow” here and there, but the children weren’t talking; they were strictly concentrating on the task at hand. Finally, after a good ten minutes, the green nut began to give up and split apart. The children dropped to the wet sand and used hands, feet, and fingers. Banging and tugging at the white pulpy fibers that covered the inner stone, they threw the strands of fibers above their heads and flung it into the sea. Another ten minutes later and a perfect light tan globe about the size of a small cantaloupe was revealed.

The oldest, and most hard-working of the boys, stood up, dripping from the sea, and proudly handed the coconut to Sarah. She bowed slightly, smiled, and said, “Thank you! Let me shake your hand.” She shook all the children’s hands. Then they splashed, without a word, back into the sea. 

I don’t remember how that particular coconut tasted or even if we ever ate it. What I remember was the magic of the moment when that little boy offered up the nut as if he were welcoming us to his world. It’s this magic and the character of Central America that I strive to capture in my novels. 

In Legend of the Lost Ass, my characters are part of the beauty of Central America. The missent text I think we should take it through Guatemala inspires agoraphobic adventure novelist, Colin, to leave the safety of his NY apartment. First stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender of the text, a half-Mayan woman named Luci, who, at thirty, has yet to confront her role in the death of her father when she was six. They instantly find each other annoying. He also meets a bright orange Kubota tractor named Miss Mango and Luci’s ancient but feisty Great Uncle Ernesto. It’s Ernesto’s dream that Miss Mango be driven to Belize as an atonement to his family, which he abandoned nearly seventy years prior. 

In 1949, British Honduras (now Belize), seventeen-year-old Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to the States.

What I enjoyed most about writing Legend of the Lost Ass was merging my personal Belizean experiences with massive amounts of research, creating a story where past and present unfold in two parallel journeys with slightly crazy characters put in even crazier circumstances. Through their eyes, I’m pretty darn sure, I succeeded in capturing the place, its people, its history, and its culture.

 

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Karen, thank you so much for sharing that experience with us, it is a beautiful story and Belize sounds like a place I need to be adding to my bucket list.

Legend of the Lost Ass is out now and, if you have been enticed to buy a copy by the glimpse into the country which inspired the book, you can buy a copy here. Watch out for my own review of the book coming in the autumn.

About the Author

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Karen Winters Schwartz wrote her first truly good story at age seven. Her second-grade teacher publicly and falsely accused her of plagiarism. She did not write again for forty years.

Her widely praised novels include WHERE ARE THE COCOA PUFFS?; REIS’S PIECES; and THE CHOCOLATE DEBACLE (Goodman Beck Publishing). Her new novel, LEGEND OF THE LOST ASS, was released by Red Adept Publishing on July 21, 2020. 

Educated at The Ohio State University, Karen and her husband moved to the Central New York Finger Lakes region where they raised two daughters and shared a career in optometry. She now splits her time between Arizona, a small village in Belize, and traveling the earth in search of the many creatures with whom she has the honor of sharing this world. This is her second year as a Rising Star judge. 

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenwintersschwartz.com

Facebook: Author Karen Winters Schwartz

Twitter: @authorKWS

Instagram: @_kaws_

 

Book Review: The Beach by Alex Garland #freereading

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Richard lands in East Asia in search of an earthly utopia. In Thailand, he is given a map promising an unknown island, a secluded beach – and a new way of life. What Richard finds when he gets there is breathtaking: more extraordinary, more frightening than his wildest dreams.

But how long can paradise survive here on Earth? And what lengths will Richard go to in order to save it?

I, like most other people in their early twenties when this book was published in 1996, read this when it first came out and was spellbound by it. It was a book like nothing else around at the time; Lord of the Flies for the MTV generation. It was one of those books that just captured the zeitgeist of that moment and, as a result, was a debut publishing phenomenon.

I, personally, was particularly obsessed with it because I was entranced by the idea of just taking off on a backpacking adventure. At this point, I was in the midst of the hard graft of my two year training contract that aspiring lawyers needed to complete to qualify as a solicitor. This involved working long hours and studying for exams at the same time, so daydreaming about laying back on a perfect tropical beach, living some self-sufficient fantasy, was the perfect antidote to this grind for the few minutes I managed to allow myself each day to engage in such escapist nonsense.  This was never going to happen for me and, by the end of this book, I was fairly glad of that.

Hollywood made this into a not-entirely-terrible film starring the entirely un-terrible Leonardo DiCaprio but, whilst the film was okay in and of itself, it was fairly disappointing interpretation for the novel’s diehard fans. If all you know of this book comes from watching the film, you need to approach the novel version with this parental advisory ringing in your ears – the book is much, much darker. This being said, don’t let it put you off because the book is also much, much better.

I thought Leo did a reasonable job of carrying over some of the darkness that dwells within Richard’s soul into the film, but the cartoonish nature of the scenes in the jungle distract from this a bit. Unfortunately, its inevitable that a book which relies so heavily on the internal thought processes of the main character to fully round out the plot is going to struggle somewhat in translation, so we can’t entirely condemn Danny Boyle, I think he did the best he could given those limitations. But the book will give you an entirely different perspective on Richard’s nature, and the behaviour of the other travellers in the camp. And the romance with Francoise? Forget it- fabricated by the scriptwriters to please the vagaries of Hollywood moguls. Plus they changed the ending, and not for the better but, once you read the book, you’ll probably understand why this was necessary.

So, coming back to this book 24 years after my first reading of it (I have read it a couple of times inbetween), how has it faired, given that both I and the world have changed beyond recognition in the interim? Did it still move me in the same way as it did in my youth?

No, of course not. Whenever we read books from our youth later in life, we inevitably react to them differently, influenced by the life experiences we have had inbetween. However, it did still move me. I just drew different things from it this time around. And, despite the fact I have read this book half a dozen times, and watched the movie four or five times too, the book still retains the power to shock and thrill me, even though I know  everything that is going to happen. This is the power of great writing. It can survive the decades, survive the moving on of the world, of technology, of our own characters, and still find ways to excite and challenge us, new ways that hadn’t occurred to us previously and which keep the reading experience fresh and interesting, as well as being comforting and familiar at the same time.

I would be very interested to see what a reader in their twenties now, who grew up in a world that has moved on from the one Alex Garland was writing about back in 1996, makes of this book and if it resonates in any way with them. Someone who does not have the same emotional attachment and desire to tap in to the vestige of their youth that is tied up in this book for me. Any volunteers? The fact that this book remains in print, and was given an updated cover and new release for its twentieth anniversary, would indicate that new readers are still finding that this novel speaks to them in some way.

The Beach is available in all formats here.

About the Author

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Alex Garland was born in London in 1970. He is the author of two novels, The Beach, The Tesseract and an illustrated novella, The Coma, in collaboration with his father.

He has also written screenplays for films including 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go and Dredd. In 2015, Garland made his directorial debut with Ex Machina.

Blog Blitz: Through Dust and Dreams by Roxana Valea #BookReview

Through Dust and Dreams

I am delighted to be taking part in the one day blog blitz for Through Dust and Dreams by Roxana Valea. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for asking me to take part and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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At a crossroads in her life, Roxana decides to take a ten-day safari trip to Africa. In Namibia, she meets a local guide who talks about “the courage to become who you are” and tells her that “the world belongs to those who dream”. Her holiday over, Roxana still carries the spell of his words within her soul.

Six months later she quits her job and searches for a way to fulfil an old dream: crossing Africa from north to south. Teaming up with Richard and Peter, two total strangers she meets over the Internet, Roxana starts a journey that will take her and her companions from Morocco to Namibia, crossing deserts and war-torn countries and surviving threats from corrupt officials and tensions within their own group.

Through Dust and Dreams is the story of their journey: a story of courage and friendship, of daring to ask questions and search for answers, and of self-discovery on a long, dusty road south.

I absolutely love travelogue novels, especially ones about places I haven’t visited and experiences I am never likely to have myself, as this is the closest I can get to being there myself, particularly is the writing is evocative and immersive. I have always been peculiarly obsessed with reading books about Africa, the more remote corners the better, because it is a world so far away from the one I know and these are places I am unlikely to get to in person. This fascination was ignited by the Gerald Durrell books I read in my teens and has never abated. I wanted to take on overland trip across Africa after uni but my parents wouldn’t allow it and, since then, the opportunity has never arisen, so books are the closest I can get.

This book describes the kind of trip I wished I could have taken myself, and probably the exact reason my parents didn’t want me to go. The author takes a massive risk in making this journey into one of the most dangerous and unknown parts of the world with total strangers, and I was absolutely fascinated and terrified for her at the same time. I very quickly became totally involved in her story, because I could so easily but that younger version of myself that wanted to make such a trip in her shoes, and I was envious and panicked in equal measure throughout. Despite this being a true story, or maybe because it was factual, this was as gripping as any fictional tale, with as many highs, lows and hair-raising moments as you could wish for. The pace is compelling throughout, and I read through it in record time.

The author is Romanian by birth and has lived in many different countries and this has given her a turn of phrase that is unusual and takes a little while to get used to but, in the end, it added to the exotic feel of the whole experience and I really enjoyed it. There is a lot of description of her feelings, and the emotional experience she has along the way. For me, this was one of the things that I liked most about the book, as an empathetic person who always wants to understand the motivations and feelings that underpin everything, this brought the book to life for me. There may be other people for whom the navel-gazing detracts from the travellers tale. Horses for courses.

This book brought Africa, its landscapes, different countries and diversity of people to life for me. It aroused every sense – sounds, tastes, smells, sights and tactile experiences are all described vividly and in detail, it was a tactile reading experience which is a real skill to achieve. I have to say, the book did not disappoint any of my hopes or expectations for it, it was a throughly engaging and rewarding read that I felt fully rewarded me for the time I invested in reading it.

This book has succeeded in feeding my obsession with Africa and my desire to visit these far-flung outposts for myself one day. Until then, I’ll have to seek out more reads like this to take me there from my armchair.

Through Dust and Dreams is available now via this link.

About the Author

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Roxana Valea was born in Romania and lived in Italy, Switzerland, England and Argentina before settling in Spain. She has a BA in journalism and an MBA degree. She spent more than twenty years in the business world as an entrepreneur, manager and management consultant working for top companies like Apple, eBay, and Sony. She is also a Reiki Master and shamanic energy medicine practitioner.

As an author, Roxana writes books inspired by real events. Her memoir Through Dust and Dreams is a faithful account of a trip she took at the age of twenty-eight across Africa by car in the company of two strangers she met over the internet. Her following book, Personal Power: Mindfulness Techniques for the Corporate Word is a nonfiction book filled with personal anecdotes from her consulting years. The Polo Diaries series is inspired by her experiences as a female polo player–traveling to Argentina, falling in love, and surviving the highs and lows of this dangerous sport.

Roxana lives with her husband between England and Spain, and splits her time between writing, coaching and therapy work, but her first passion remains writing.

Connect with Roxana:

Website: https://roxanavalea.com

Facebook: Roxana Valea Author

Twitter: @roxana_valea

Instagram: @roxana_valea

Walking Back To Happiness by Penelope Swithinbank #BlogTour #Extract (@minstriesbydsgn) @malcolmdown @LoveBooksGroup #lovebookstours #WalkingBackToHappiness

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Two vicars, their marriage in tatters with wounds reaching far back into the past, set out on a journey to find healing and restoration. Their route will take them from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, but will it help them find their way home?

Along the 320-mile route across rural France, burdened by backpacks and blisters, Kim and Penelope stumble across fresh truths, some ordinary, others extraordinary. But will they be defeated by the road ahead or triumph over the pain of the past? Is there a chance they’ll find themselves in France and walk back to happiness?

In this simple but enchanting book, part travelogue and part pilgrimage, Penelope invites you to walk with her and her husband on their epic journey as they encounter new faces and new experiences, and reconnect with each other and with God. Every step of the way, you’ll discover more about yourself and what’s really important to you.

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for Walking Back To Happiness by Penelope Swithinbank by featuring a short extract from the book. My thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Tours for inviting me to take part and to the author and publisher for allowing me to reproduce this extract for you.

Extract

“Preparing to do a Great Walk focuses the mind wonderfully. And  makes me realise that gentle Sunday-afternoon strolls are one thing, but walking three hundred and thirty miles carrying a heavy backpack is something totally different.

A long hike once a week needs to become the norm – eight to ten miles might be a good rehearsal.

But things do not go according to plan.

Originally we had planned to retire in July and do The Great Walk Across France two months later; but the selling of the listed property we were using as a Christian retreat house took a further whole year, with new planning permissions imposed by the local conservation officer causing headaches and money and building work. The stress must have contributed to Kim having a stroke very unexpectedly, followed by ocular shingles. Fortunately the stroke left no physical impairment, but he suffered dyslexia-like symptoms and great tiredness. The Walk was put on hold.”

If this has whetted you appetite for the book, you can buy a copy of Walking Back To Happiness here.

If you would like to read some reviews and other content for the book, make sure you check out the other blogs taking part in the tour:

 

About the Author

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Penelope is an avid walker and spends a lot of her time stomping in the hills and valleys near her home outside Bath. She is a chaplain at Bath Abbey and a spiritual therapist and counsellor for clergy (and some normal people too). Since becoming a vicar nearly 20 years ago, she has worked in churches in the UK and the USA, and has led pilgrimages in the UK and in Europe.

She and her husband Kim have been married for more than 40 years and have three children and six grandchildren. Penelope rarely sits down, loathes gardening and relaxes by reading, going to the theatre or playing the piano. She is the author of two books, Women by Design and Walking Back to Happiness and is currently working on her third, due out in 2020: Scent of Water, a devotional for times of spiritual bewilderment and grief.

Connect with Penelope:

Website: https://penelopeswithinbank.com

Facebook: Ministries By Design

Twitter: @minstriesbydsgn

Instagram: @penelopeswithinbank

Love Books Group Tours (1)

When Adam Met Evie by Giulia Skye #BookReview #BlogTour (@GiuliaSkye) @RaRaResources @RNATweets #PublicationDay #RachelsRandomResources #WhenAdamMetEvie

When Adam Met Evie

I am so happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for the debut novel by my fellow RNA New Writers’ Scheme member, Giulia Skye – When Adam Met Evie. And it’s Publication Day! I hope you enjoy it, Giulia.

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My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

When Adam Met Evie - FINAL Book Cover

When former Olympic Swimmer, Michael Adams—now Canada’s hottest reality TV star— insults his fake showbiz wife on social media, he escapes the ensuing scandal and jumps on the first flight to Australia. Desperate to experience ordinary life again—if only for a few weeks—he becomes “Adam”, just another tourist traveling through the Outback. But with a reward out for his safe return and his fame’s nasty habit of catching up with him when he least expects, he needs a better disguise… and he’s just found it.

Sweet and scruffy British backpacker, Evie Blake, is taking a year out of her busy London life. Tired of lies and liars, she’s looking for adventure to heal her broken heart. So when the hot Canadian she meets at the campground offers to be her travel partner through Western Australia’s wild Kimberley region, she grabs the chance, unaware he’s got the world out looking for him.

He’s just a down-on-his-luck traveler, right?

This book was always going to start off on the right note for me because there is nothing I love more than a book that takes me on a journey to a place I’ve never visited before and makes me feel like I am really there with the characters, and this novel does that in spades.

The author whisks us off to the Kimberley region of Australia, a place few of the readers of the book will have visited in person, as it is a remote and often hostile environment, well away from the normal tourist trail. This is exactly why it has attracted the two protagonists in the book, who are both running from something in their every day lives. It is somewhere that the author has obviously visited though, as she describes it in vivid and beautiful detail, making the landscape come alive to the extent that it becomes an additional character in the book, and an essential part of the story. I felt like I was exploring and experiencing the harsh landscape and amazing sights along with Adam and Evie as they went on their journey.

Aside from the allure of the great unexplored landscapes, the emotional journey that the protagonists go on in the book is equally compelling. The author has drawn two interesting and complex characters to explore, and created a complicated relationship dynamic between them, woven through with real emotion and sizzling chemistry. The writing felt honest and real – this is no flowery, fairytale romance, but a proper, lusty, immediate physical attraction that grows into something emotional and mature. A relationship written the way relationships actually are, rather than the way we imagine they might be before we’ve actually experienced life (except Adam has a much better physique than any man I’ve come across in real life, and Evie is much nicer than most people, but it wouldn’t be fiction if it were too close to real life, would it? We always need a hint of escapism!)

The plot is novel and interesting, containing enough tension and twists to make the reader want to pursue it to the very end. I was invested enough in both characters to care what happened to them, and I enjoyed all the fun little escapades that were fed in along the way (Webbo and his novel travelling companion were a particular highlight!) Giulia doesn’t shy away from writing the love scenes with *ahem* passion either!

This is a strong debut by a confident new author and I will be watching eagerly to see what she does next. Having looked at what she has planned for her follow ups, I am sure I will be taking more exotic adventures with her characters soon. One to keep an eye on.

When Adam Met Evie is out today as an ebook and paperback, and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour and read the reviews and content of my marvellous fellow bloggers:

When Adam Met Evie Full Tour Banner

About the Author

Giulia Skye - Profile Photo

Italian-born Giulia Skye spent her childhood watching classic Hollywood films and thinking up her own romantic stories. After two decades working in TV production, she knew turning those stories into novels would be much more enjoyable – and far cheaper – than turning them into films. She still keeps her hand in TV production but is at her happiest being a stay-at-home mum, spending time with her family, growing her own vegetables and conjuring up sizzling stories about sexy heroes meeting fiesty heroines who aren’t always as they at first appear.  When Adam Met Evie is her first novel, Book 1 of her “Take a Holiday” series.

Connect with Giulia:

Website: https://giuliaskye.com

Twitter: @GiuliaSkye

Instagram: @giuliaskye

Desert Island Books: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson #BookReview #travel #travelwriting #bookbloggers #bookblog #desertislandbooks #readinggoals

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In the company of his friend Stephen Katz, Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.

Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.

So, the first of the twelve books that I will be taking with me to my desert island for my Desert Island Books feature is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

I love Bill Bryson’s writing, his travel books in particular, but out of all of them this one is my favourite. I must have read it half a dozen times now and it still fascinates me, makes me thoughtful and makes me laugh, all at the same time. I don’t think I will ever get bored of it.

I had a quick look at the reviews on Goodreads of this book just prior to writing this review. The book has an average of 4 stars, but the most prominent review on the first page was a one star by someone who took exception to pretty much everything about the book’s content and the way it was written, which quite surprised me. The review is so prominent, despite being 13 years old, because it has an exceptionally high number of comments on it, as other Goodreads members debated the merits of the review, and the book, back and forth. It is quite clear that this is a book that divides people.

Oddly, the majority of the things people listed as reasons for disliking the book, were the things that make it one of my favourite reads, so I guess you need to decide if these are things that appeal to you.

This is a book about Bill Bryson’s mid-life trek along the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 mile wilderness footpath that traverses a mountainous route through the forests of the eastern USA from Georgia to northern Maine. Now, I love to read about other people’s travel adventures, and I find this one particularly appealing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love the USA and this book covers a couple of the areas of the US that I am particularly fond of – the south eastern states and New England. I  personally have been to the mountains of North Carolina, parts of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampsire and Maine. I’ve stayed at the Mount Washington Hotel and travelled to the top of Mount Washington via the famous cog railway mentioned in the book. I’ve been to Franconia Notch State Park in Vermont. I’ve visited the town Bryson lived in when he wrote this book, Hanover in New Hampshire, so some of the places he talks about are familiar and I can clearly visualise them and it is always interesting in a book to get someone else’s view of something you yourself have experienced. Equally, there are many places in the book I have never been but sound enticing, and I know for a fact that, whilst I might dream about hiking the Appalachian Trail, it is something I will never do, so I can live it vicariously through Bryson’s experience.

This book is extremely varied as it covers, not only his actual experience of physically hiking the trail, but a lot about the people he meets, the climate and weather of the region, geology and history of this part of the USA, information about the flora and fauna and how that is changing, the development and management of the trail, socio-political history of some of the areas he passes through, and much more. Some people find this annoying and accuse him of ‘hopping about’. I find it all fascinating and, for me, it gives the whole experience a context and a richness that really brings it to life and gives it relevance in the mind of the reader. The author obviously shares my insatiable thirst to know everything about everything he sees on his travels and really understand it. I do huge amounts of reading about a destination and its history before I travel, which deepens my interest and enjoyment of a place, and this is the perfect approach for those fact hounds amongst us.

Another thing some people seem to find a negative about this book is Bryson himself and his authorial voice. I do wonder if this is a matter of national perspective. Whilst Bryson is American by birth, he has spent the better part of his life living in the UK and his humour is very British in nature. He relies heavily on self-deprecation, sarcasm and irony and this is not a type of humour that appeals to everyone. I recall from his book, Notes From A Big Country, (a book about how he and his British family adjust to life in the US after living in the UK for many years) an anecdote about how his wife had to ask him to stop making jokes with his American neighbour, because his neighbour didn’t understand them and their exchanges were giving his neighbour migraines. Some people seem to think Bryson comes across as mean and a bit superior, but I actually find that the biggest butt of his jokes is always himself and he is actually very amusing and gives the book a very light-hearted and entertaining tone, rather than it being a heavy and torpid read, despite the fact in contains huge amounts of factual information. He has a real way with words; his prose is vivid and lyrical. He writes the way I would love to write and I could read it endlessly.

I read a lot of travel writing, because travel is a passion of mine, and for me this represents the absolute best of the genre, mixing anecdotes with a lot of interesting factual information and history, and conveying it all in a clear, fun and pacy package. If you have enjoyed Bryson’s other writing, you will love this book. If you don’t like him, you will hate it because his voice is strong and clear throughout. Maybe the Marmite of travel books, but I, for one, will never tire of Marmite on my desert island.

If you have been tempted by this review to want to read A Walk in the Woods for yourself, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. Settled in England for many years, he moved to America with his wife and four children for a few years, but has since returned to live in the UK. His bestselling travel books include The Lost Continent, Notes From a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods and Down Under. His acclaimed work of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Aventis Prize and the Descartes Prize, and was the biggest selling non-fiction book of the decade in the UK.

Shelter Rock by MP Miles #BookReview (@mp_miles) @matadorbooks #thriller #africa #writewhatyouknow

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South Africa is under attack from all sides when Elanza, a politically connected heiress blinded by disease and looking for love before it is too late, meets a naïve English boy. Ralph, eighteen and innocent, has accidentally stumbled upon Elanza – and South Africa’s biggest secret.

When Ralph disappears into the darkest part of the Continent to walk home overland, a Swazi spy, the only black African agent working for the apartheid era National Intelligence Service, comes into both of their lives.

Angel Rots is uniquely qualified for his official mission to find Ralph and a private mission to settle an old score, but in a pursuit from Cape Town to Cairo, Ralph is always one step ahead and Angel starts to ask questions. Why is this kid so important? What has he found? Looking for answers, Angel discovers a secret that challenges his own loyalties – and could change the course of history.

From illegal nightclubs in South Africa to poachers in Zimbabwe and the Batwa pygmies of Burundi, from arrests in Uganda and drugged hit men in Kenya to thieving Sudanese nuns and a final confrontation in the bazaars of Old Cairo, no one would make it home without an angel watching over them. 

When I was offered the chance to review this fascinating sounding novel, I jumped at it. As well as promising to be a pulse-pounding thriller with huge scope, it offered an epic journey for the reader across Africa, following a route that the author himself has walked. With a hook like that, who could resist. Huge thanks go to Sophie Morgan at Troubador for asking me to read the book and for my copy which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I had this book on my TBR for ages, so my apologies to the publisher and author for taking so long to review it. I had a bout of illness between April and June which meant I could not read for a while, and this book is a thick old tome, so I had to wait until I had a sufficient gap in my blog tour schedule to fit it in. When I did finally get round to it though, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The story is an interesting mix of thriller, travelogue, political commentary and coming-of-age story. I have never come across anything quite like it, and the fact that it was based on the author’s own experiences of travelling through Africa in the 1980’s added another level of interest to the story for me.

I actually found the book a little difficult to get in to initially. I did read the first 10% and didn’t really become invested on my first attempt so I put it to one side for a couple of weeks, thinking that maybe I was not quite in the right frame of mind. When I went back to it, I still found the beginning a little confusing and difficult to get through, but this time I persevered and, once I got to the part where Ralph sets off on his journey through the heart of Africa, I was thoroughly engrossed and raced through the rest of it.

This is the strongest part of the novel for me. The political thriller element, which was quite complicated to set up and follow and which ostensibly operates as the frame on which to hang Ralph’s adventure and add the tension of pursuit, didn’t quite work for me. The real story was Ralph’s extraordinary journey, and the fascinating commentary on the socio-political landscape of central Africa during the time of this journey is what had me glued to the page. Honestly, I was riveted by this aspect and, if this is a subject that interests you, this book is really a must read. For me, the book would have worked just as well as a straight forward travel book without the thriller element, but that is just a matter of personal preference possibly.

I got a little lost again at the end when the thriller elements were being tied up, and overall, I was much less invested in the subsidiary characters of the book, who did not feel as well fleshed out and purposeful to me as Ralph. It was clear which character the author closely identified with in the story, his journey – both physical and emotional – burnt through the page and into my heart, the rest was just background and window-dressing, which is why I believe it could have worked as well as straight forward non-fiction travel writing. However, there may be other people, bigger fans of political thrillers, who will react to it differently. As someone who loves travel writing, and social commentary, I probably focused in much more on the aspects of the book that appealed to those interests.

This book has a lot to recommend it, and I feel like I have been enriched by the experience of reading it, despite my little niggles about certain aspects. It requires quite an investment of time and mental energy, but it is an investment that will be well rewarded.

Shelter Rock is out now and you can get a copy here.

About the Author

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MP Miles is originally from a small town in Dorset. He is a pilot, a diving instructor, and an award-winning chef. A lifelong sailor he now lives with his girlfriend on-board a yacht called Pacific Wave.

Connect with MP Miles:

Facebook: MP Miles Author

Twitter: @mp_miles

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson #BookReview @cox_eleanorc31 #SummerReading #freereading #readingrecommendations

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An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. As the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and yearnings, a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the very island itself.

Written in a clear, unsentimental style, full of brusque humour, and wisdom, The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story. Tove Jansson captured much of her own life and spirit in the book, which was her favourite of her adult novels. 

So, my cousin Eleanor lent me this book about a year ago and urged me to read it as soon as possible because she thought I would love it. My family and friends don’t recommend books to me very often because I have usually read everything before they get their mitts on it and I am recommending it to them or, in the case of my friend, Mary, because she thinks I won’t like it. This mostly tells me that my friend, Mary, does not read my blog or she would know that I will read almost anything and my tastes are wide, diverse and not particularly highbrow. (I will wait and see if she mentions this review to me as a way of testing whether or not I am correct!)

Anyway, bloggers being bloggers, I have had this book on my TBR ever since and had not found a slot in which to, well slot it, until I gave myself a summer off blog tours to do some free reading. I wish I had not waited so long because she was right, I did love it.

This book is the story of a young girl and her grandmother whiling away a summer on a remote island off the coast of Finland. Whilst not specifically written as a biography, the book is based on the author’s own childhood experiences and you can feel the love and affection for these memories she had shining from the page.

The book is an unusual construction, more akin to a series of related short stories or anecdotes than a linear tale, but I think this is part of its charm. It is a series of snapshots of events that stand out in the course of a summer when the rest of the days were probably all much the same, as summer days tend to be. And when I say stand out, they stand out in small and insignificant ways by and large, because mostly nothing huge happens. But this is the way of childhood, the things that are important are things that are insignificant when we get older and busier and more wrapped up in adult concerns. We don’t have the time to focus on the millions of tiny miracles that happen every day. These are the privileges of childhood and, as evidenced by this book, of old age when life again slows down and we can appreciate what is around us once again. Life come full circle, generations in tune.

This is the beauty of this book, the gentle, slow, true understanding and affection between these two generations sharing a quiet, slow summer on a small island. There are misunderstandings and arguments, moments of sadness, moments of fear, moments of joy and lots and lots of love. It really portrays a warm and real and beautiful relationship between two people and it really made me feel happy and hopeful. I will repeat that – happy and hopeful. What more could anyone ask for from a book? An unusual but very special read that deserves a place on anyone’s bookshelf, to be reached for a times when one’s soul needs a salve. Thank you for the recommendation, Eleanor. Oh, and happy birthday. xx

You can get a copy of The Summer Book by Tove Jansson here.

About the Author

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TOVE JANSSON (1914-2001) is revered around the world as one of the foremost children’s authors of the twentieth century for her illustrated Moomin chapter books.

Chickens Eat Pasta: Escape to Umbria by Clare Pedrick #BookReview #BlogBlitz (@ClarePedrick) @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #ChickensEatPasta

Chickens Eat Pasta

I’m very pleased to be taking part in the blog tour today for Chickens Eat Pasta by Clare Pedrick. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Not just another romance, but a story of escapism, coincidences, friendship, luck and most of all… love.

Chickens Eat Pasta is the tale of how a young Englishwoman starts a new life after watching a video showing a chicken eating spaghetti in a mediaeval hill village in central Italy. 

“Here I was, 26 years old, alone and numb with boredom at the prospect of a future which until recently had seemed to be just what I wanted.”

Unlike some recent bestsellers, this is not simply an account of a foreigner’s move to Italy, but a love story written from the unusual perspective of both within and outside of the story. As events unfold, the strong storyline carries with it a rich portrayal of Italian life from the inside, with a supporting cast of memorable characters. Along the way, the book explores and captures the warmth and colour of Italy, as well as some of the cultural differences – between England and Italy, but also between regional Italian lifestyles and behaviour. It is a story with a happy ending. The author and her husband are still married, with three children, who love the old house on the hill (now much restored) almost as much as she does. 

Chickens Eat Pasta is Clare’s autobiography, and ultimately a love story – with the house itself and with the man that Clare met there and went on to marry. If you yearn for a happy ending, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a story that proves anything is possible if you only try.

Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for a good piece of non-fiction travel writing so I was really looking forward to reading this book. Now, having done so, I can say this is one of the more extraordinary travelogues that I have read.

This book reads like a piece of fiction, to the extent that at times I forgot I wasn’t reading a novel. The story contained within this book is quite remarkable, even more so because it was true. I read the entire thing from cover to cover in one sitting on a trans-Atlantic flight and was captivated from beginning to end.

The author took the kind of risk most of us imagine taking only in our wildest dreams, and at an age where it would be unthinkable to the majority of us. She embarks on a project that would be daunting to the most seasoned property developer in a remote corner of Italy, alone in a place where women are still seen to need a man to look after them. I was quite staggered by the gumption this must have taken and was firmly rooting for everything to work out for her from the outset, particularly as most people seemed to think she couldn’t do it.

The author’s long experience as a journalist shows in her writing, as she manages to pick out the most interesting and illuminating episodes from her adventure, and draw them with a clear eye for detail and bringing the people, the landscape and the atmosphere of Italy fully to life. I think you can tell from reading it that she is used to writing shorter pieces, as the narrative does jump around in places, but I personally did not find that this detracted at all from the narrative and immersion in the story for me.

By the time I have finished the book, I felt that I knew the author and the other inhabitants of this tiny, mountain top village intimately. I mourned with them, I celebrated with them. I could taste the food, feel the heat of the sun, smell the warm earth, hear the birds in the trees. It was a fully sensory experience and I really enjoyed immersing myself in that world.

If you would like to take a non-fiction journey to the rural heart of Umbria, and indulge in a true-life love story at the same time, this is the book for you. A great piece of writing that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

Chickens Eat Pasta is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you follow the rest of the tour as detailed below:

Chickens Eat Pasta Full Tour

About the Author

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Clare Pedrick is a British journalist who studied Italian at Cambridge University before becoming a reporter. She went on to work as the Rome correspondent for the Washington Post and as European Editor of an international features agency. She still lives in Italy with her husband, whom she met in the village where she bought her house.

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Pedrick

Twitter: @ClarePedrick

Blog: https://chickenseatpasta.wordpress.com