Friday Night Drinks with… Sverrir Sigurdsson

friday-night-drinks

Tonight, my guest for Friday Night Drinks is currently on a trip to his home country of Iceland. However, as these drinks are virtual, and thanks to the wonders of technology, he is still able to join me for our chat. Welcome to the blog, author… Sverrir Sigurdsson.

authorsSverrir Sigurdsson and his wife and coauthor, Veronica Li, in front of an Icelandic volcano

Sverrir, thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m drinking red wine. It’s good for the heart. They say one glass of red wine is worth an hour at the gym. So now I’m having my hour at the gym.

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

I live in the Washington, DC area, but right now, I’m visiting Iceland. By the way, there’s no “night” out in the land of the midnight sun.

I’ll take you to a place called Perlan, which is on a hilltop in the capital, Reykjavik. This is a restaurant inside a glass dome that gives visitors a panoramic view of the city. Aside from being a tourist attraction, the site also serves a practical purpose. The glass dome sits on top of six hot water tanks. The geothermal water in these tanks is piped into homes for heating.

PerlanA trip to Iceland is high on my bucket list. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I’d like to invite Winston Churchill, so I can ask him how he decided to invade Iceland back in 1941. What went on in his head?  Although Icelanders eventually welcomed the occupiers as their saviors from the Germans, it was a shock to the nation when British warships arrived in Reykjavik harbor without warning. British soldiers poured out of them and took over the country.

The second person is Hedy Lamar. Her gorgeous looks aside, I want to discuss her inventions with her. I, too, love to concoct new gadgets, though nothing as noteworthy as hers. During World War II, she and a coworker in the film industry invented a remote-control system for torpedoes. It’s still an important part of what we today call WiFi.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m now in Iceland to promote my book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir. The English edition was published in the U.S. in November 2020. The Icelandic edition, which I translated myself, will be out in the fall of this year. 

41W9gwghu0L

The book is my memoir and starts with my memories of growing up in Iceland. They say Iceland was discovered twice, the first time by Norwegian Vikings who settled on the island in 874 A.D., and the second time by the Allies during the Second World War. As German troops pushed west, Britain, Canada, and the U.S. realized the strategic importance of Iceland, located right in the middle of the North Atlantic. They invaded the country to pre-empt the Germans from using it as a stepping stone to North America.

As the Second World War raged on at my doorstep, I became very aware of a larger world out there. With my Viking heritage goading me on, my heart was set on traveling the world from a young age. At nineteen, I left Iceland to study architecture in Finland, and from thereon I set out to conquer the world. I pursued an international career that took me to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, North and South Americas, and Europe (including Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union).

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment was holding a copy of my book in my hands. Since there wasn’t much else to do during the pandemic lockdown, I dedicated myself to finishing the book with my co-author and wife, Veronica. Advance copies arrived at our home in June 2020, and the quality of the layout and graphics was everything we’d hoped for. We were very happy to receive a prize from the Wishing Shelf Book Awards in January, 2021. 

The biggest challenge has been the pandemic. Our plan was to carry the advance copies to Iceland. A few days before our trip in July, 2020, Iceland closed its door to Americans. I had to put back in the closet the box of books I’d packed for the trip. The local public library canceled the book launch event it had scheduled for me. Instead of book-signing in person, I met readers online. My book tour went virtual.

But a crisis also creates opportunities. My adventures on the internet have yielded a number of book blogger friends, such as yourself, Julie. I’ve made friends with readers in places as far away as India and Australia. The literary world is truly borderless. 

That’s the great thing about books! What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

I’d love to see my Viking Voyager rise to bestseller rank!  I believe it has appeal to both the old and the young. My story is a reminder of how far the human race has progressed in the twentieth century. From the ashes of the Second World War, the world’s nations went through a period of reconstruction and renaissance. The advancements we enjoy today are fruits of the hard work and resilience of that era. This should instil present and future generations with hope that they too can deal with their challenges. 

I also hope my book will inspire young people to travel, not just as a tourist, but to live and work for a spell in a foreign country. They’ll be surprised what kind of opportunities they’ll find. Most of all, they’ll be surprised to find out who they are and what they’re capable of. 

What have you planned that you are really excited about? 

I’ve traveled to 60 countries during my international career, but my favorite place is still Iceland. 

As I said, I’m there right now. Assuming the volcanic eruption is still ongoing and open to the public in the next weeks, I hope to hike over and watch molten lava spew out and flow down the valley. Eruptions are usually dangerous, but this kind is what Icelanders call a “tourist eruption.”  Instead of explosions, this flare-up is as safe as fireworks and as dramatic. Spectators have been able to walk up to the sizzling lava and cook hot dogs in it.

I’m also excited about my trip to south Iceland, where I spent summers working on a farm from age nine to fourteen. This is part of the volcano belt that gave Iceland its nickname, “land of fire and ice.”  Here, glaciers lie atop volcanoes gurgling and biding their time to erupt. My book cover shows the scenery of this area: a mountain that was once an island, a cliff with a doorway carved by the sea, and in the background the volcano that erupted in 2010 and shut down trans-Atlantic flights for a week. 

The Icelandic landscape is the wild and wonderful creations of violent volcanic activity. Each of the outcroppings mentioned above once sat on a fissure and was formed when fire met ice or seawater, causing the rapidly cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called “tuff” or palagonite. Iceland is full of such fantastic landscape, and despite the many times I toured the country, I haven’t seen them all.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

The place I rave about (aside from Iceland) is the Chesapeake Bay in the U.S., about 120 miles from Washington, DC. This is the largest estuary in North America, where more than a hundred rivers and streams meet the tide of the Atlantic Ocean. The bay branches into hundreds of creeks. They’re like fingers gouging into the land and turning them into long and narrow strips, like chicken necks. On one of these necks sits my cottage, which I designed and built with my own two hands. This was my retirement project, a culmination of a lifetime of experience as an architect, builder, and carpenter. It’s a humble cottage designed to give people a comfortable place to enjoy the spectacular view of sky, water, and birdlife. I enjoy it so much I go there every weekend. 

chesapeake house

House on the Chesapeake Bay designed and built by Sverrir

High on my bucket list of places to visit is the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Great Britain. I’ve read about them in the sagas. About 1000 years ago, a Viking chief tended to his farm in Iceland during the summer, and in the fall, when his farm work was done, he and his men sailed to the Shetlands and on to Ireland to rape and plunder. They returned home as heroes. I’d love to see the archeological sites on the islands that show Viking dwellings and longboats, and meet the people who are my relatives. Genetically, Shetlanders and Icelanders have much in common.

download-2

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

Readers would be surprised that I didn’t become fluent in English until well into my twenties. I was well-versed in several Scandinavian languages—Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, and Finnish—and my German was passable. But I’d always viewed English as a scrappy, undisciplined language that jumbled bits and pieces from the Romance and Germanic schools, with neither the ardor of one nor the structure of the other. I didn’t take English seriously until my last years in Finland, when I realized English was the lingua franca of the twentieth century. To prepare for my travels around the world, I gave myself a crash course by consuming every Agatha Christie mystery. It worked!

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?  

Since I’m in Iceland and can’t take my mind off it, I’d recommend Independent People by Halldór Laxness, the Icelandic Nobel Laureate for literature. Veronica says she never understood why I was so strange until she read the book. The main character, an Icelandic farmer, is so stubbornly self-sufficient that it’s comical. He’d rather let himself and his family starve than ask a neighboring farm for help. When he’s out in the frigid wilderness looking for a lost sheep, he pushes a boulder around until he warms up and catches a few hours of sleep. When he’s freezing again, he goes back to pushing the boulder. That about sums up the Icelandic character.

Laxness’s writing is concise, sharp witted, sometimes outright funny, and his characters are so vivid they remind me of people I know. His books have been translated into many languages.

414AYFLGd0L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Bjartus is a sheep farmer determined to eke a living from a blighted patch of land. Nothing, not merciless weather, nor the First World War, nor his family will come between him and his goal of financial independence. Only Asta Solillja, the child he brings up as his daughter, can pierce his stubborn heart. As she grows up, keen to make her own way in the world, Bjartus’ obstinacy threatens to estrange them forever.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Drink lots and lots of water! Stay hydrated. It works for me.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

My cousin Agnar has organized a family reunion for me. It would be like old times. We were six boys who terrorized the neighborhood: my brother and I and my uncle’s four sons. We lived in the same apartment building, played hide and seek in our neighbors’ yards, and held stone-throwing contests, sometimes with disastrous results. It’s most satisfying to see we’re all grandfathers now and comfortably retired. Except for me and one of my cousins who lives in Norway, they’ve all returned home after a stint studying and working overseas. That seems to be the Icelandic pattern since the old Viking days. 

six boys

Sverrir is second from right

Sverrir, thank you for joining me, this has been an entertaining and informative chat and has increased my desire to visit Iceland soon.

 Sverrir’s book, Viking Voyager won a prize at the Wishing Shelf Book Awards. You can buy a copy here.

41W9gwghu0L

This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland. Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success. Spurred by this favorable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!

From Rosie Amber’s review site: “Until we are once again able to travel as freely as we did before the advent of Covid 19, we have the joy of books like Viking Voyager to entertain and inform us.”

Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies, as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica.

You can connect with Sverrir via Facebook and Twitter.

A Little Book Problem banner

Friday Night Drinks with… Todd Wassel

friday-night-drinks

Friday has come round again, so it is time for another celebratory drink and chat with an interesting author. Tonight I am delighted to be sharing Friday Night Drinks with… Todd Wassel.

A7_03085

Todd, thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Coffee. It might be evening for you but it is Saturday morning for me!

1200px-A_small_cup_of_coffee

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

To a cool little container bar on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane, Laos. It is called LaoDi and it is run by a Japanese and Lao that have their own Rhum factory that they use to mix with Japanese liqueurs. 

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

The Buddha and Janis Joplin. 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

Beside my 9-5 job trying to save the world and help people, I’m in the middle of writing a 3 book memoir series. I’m on book two now and I want it to lead to more happiness, doing what I love, and telling others about it. 

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

The first time someone commented on a blog piece I wrote, and I realized that I had something to say. My biggest challenge was believing that I had something to say and finishing my first book. 9 years of thinking about before I was finally able to get it out into the world. 

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I’d love to earn a decent income from having adventures, writing about them, and having enough people read them that it just keeps going. 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

In a few years I plan to buy an old Japanese farmhouse and spend a few years moving it, and renovating it. 

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

After 45 countries and 21 years living abroad that is a really difficult question! I’d say hiking into Machu Picchu was on my bucket list and deserves to be near the top. Bhutan is at the top of my current list. That and hiking the 100 highest peaks in Japan. 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I was born in San Diego California, while my Dad was going to Top Gun as a navy pilot. Yes, the place is real. From there we moved every three years of my life as I followed along. My day job was for a long time working in conflict and war zones with Non-profits. Despite all of that, I considered myself to be timid and not adventurous 😊

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I’m actually a Fantasy nerd at heart. I’d say the Brandon Sanderson Stormlight series. A great new take on the genre. 

61e8Q6T6acL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilisation alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soil-less ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armour that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

The result of more than ten years of planning, writing, and world-building, The Way of Kings is but the opening movement of The Stormlight Archive, a bold masterpiece in the making.

Speak again the ancient oaths:

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

And return to men the Shards they once bore.

The Knights Radiant must stand again.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Sleep as long as possible, and have a beer to even things out around 11 am. 

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Spending the day rock climbing or hiking and then the evening on a porch with a BBQ, a beer and a view

Thank you for joining me this evening (or morning in your case), Todd, it has been a fascinating chat.

Todd Wassel is the author of Walking in Circles: Finding Happiness in Lost Japan and you can buy a copy here. The book is available for free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Cover WIC

Far from the lights of Tokyo. A 1,200 year old pilgrimage. A life changed forever.

Guided by a wandering ascetic hiding from the Freemasons; naked Yakuza; a scam artist pilgrim; and a vengeful monk, Walking in Circles is a fun, inspirational travel memoir set in a Japan few outsiders ever get to see.

Award-winning writer Todd Wassel draws on over twenty years in Japan to retell his epic journey through the contradictions of a contemporary yet traditional Japan while trying to overcome the barriers to happiness modern life throws up.

Over half a decade after first landing in Japan Todd is lost, unable to go home, or move forward. Convinced there is more to life, he risks everything to return to the one place he found answers years before: the ancient Shikoku Henro pilgrimage. Walking the 750-mile henro path, sleeping outside each night, Todd is armed with only a Japanese map and the people he meets along the way.

Todd Wassel is an international development professional, author and traveler. He has worked across Asia and Europe for the past 20 years as an English teacher in Japan, a human rights advocate in Sri Lanka, a conflict management specialist in Timor-Leste and Kosovo, and has worked in and traveled to over 40 countries. He has worked for the United Nations, small local NGOs, for the US government, and is currently the Country Representative for the Asia Foundation in Laos. Todd won the People’s Choice Award in the Southeast Asia Travel Writing Competition and has been featured in Lonely Planet, the Diplomat and ABC Australia.

Todd has hiked into Machu Pichu, watched the sun rise from the top of Mount Fuji, dived the reefs of the Maldives, honeymooned in Bosnia and Herzegovina, danced for three days at weddings in India, hiked from Montenegro to Albania, through Kosovo and into Macedonia, and walked the 900-mile pilgrimage to the 88 temples of Shikoku Japan, twice (the topic of his new book). He likes adventures and strong coffee.

Fluent in Japanese, Todd has a B.A from Colgate University in Asian Studies and Comparative Religion as well as a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher school at Tufts University. Todd met his wife Kaoru during a security crisis on the tiny half island of Timor-Leste and they have been traveling the world together ever since.

They currently live with their two children, Kaito and Sana, in Laos along the banks of the Mekong.

Connect with Todd via his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A Little Book Problem banner

Guest Post: Viking Voyager by Sverrir Sigurdsson with Veronica Li

41W9gwghu0L

This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland.

Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success.

Spurred by this favourable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!

Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by Sverrir Sigurdsson on the process of co-writing his book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir with his wife, Veronica Li. Over to Sverrir to share his piece.

Husband-Wife Collaboration by Sverrir Sigurdsson

When I told stories of my travel adventures to friends, their reaction was often, “Why don’t you write your memoir?”  I never thought I was important enough to do that.  At the same time, I did have many fond and exciting memories of growing up in Iceland and later traveling the world for both work and pleasure.  So, I started jotting down memorable recollections and saving them in a folder called Episodes on my hard drive. 

In my retirement, after I’d done everything I ever wanted to do, including designing and building a house with my own hands, I got more serious about writing down my memories.  I now live in the U.S. and am watching my all-American grandson grow up with little knowledge of his heritage.  The desire to leave him a cultural legacy became more urgent.

I showed a few of my “episodes” to my wife for feedback.  Veronica is a former journalist and published author who had taken a “Glad he has something to occupy him in his retirement” attitude toward my project.  But one day, she looked up from reading one of my episodes and said, “Sverrir, you’ve really had an interesting life.”  From then on, my project became hers too.

The first step was to decide on a focus.  This was easy as we both knew what I was about.  The theme would be my life as a modern-day Viking, traveling the world like my forefathers.  The memoir would hark back to my childhood in Iceland, which shaped my outward-looking worldview.

We hit an impasse in chapter one.  Veronica wanted to start with the present and from thereon traverse a flexible timeline between past and present.  I wanted chronological order, beginning from my grandparents and working my way linearly to the present.  After several rounds of verbal fistfights, I threw in my knockout punch.  “This is my life.  I’ll write it the way I want.”  She lay down and surrendered, or more like played dead.

Thus I started my story with the tragedy that befell my maternal grandfather.  I believed this was the root of who I was and felt compelled to get it out on the first page.  I dumped it all out, everything I knew about the incident and the life of Icelandic fishermen.  Veronica and I worked and reworked the chapter several times, and the final product was, to our surprise, everything we both wanted.  In the middle of the distant past, she sneaked in time-traveling to the present and made me introduce myself as an old man writing to leave a legacy to future generations.  This became the blueprint for the rest of the book.  The chapters are chronological in order, but within the chapter, the story flashes backward and forward to other time zones, offering a rather kaleidoscopic dimension.

No two people can be more different than Veronica and I.  She’s a people person and calls me a “thing” person.  Being a passionate carpenter and a professional architect, I’m in tune with wood, brick, and mortar but a moron with regard to human emotions and signals. She, on the other hand, can sniff out emotions like a dog but is blind as a bat to the world of machines and hardware.  Her nagging question, “So how did you feel?” annoyed me to no end.  But as she pushed me to probe into myself, I unearthed emotions I didn’t know I had.  Such as the Christmas my father traveled to a London hospital to undergo life-saving treatment for his kidney disease.  As a ten-year-old, I said goodbye to Dad one bleak, cold morning.  The family doctor had warned my mother to be “prepared.”  I don’t remember feeling anything at that moment, but I do remember the sadness that spilled out when Mother brought out the previous year’s Christmas tree from the attic.  Because of Dad’s illness, my parents pinched every penny, including money for a tree.  The poor tree looked like a mangy animal, with its needles brown and half gone.  Writing about it seventy years later made me realize I had feelings after all!

Veronica’s ignorance in mechanical matters also forced me to a new level—hers.  I’d assumed everyone knew the mechanics of a car engine, a block and tackle pulley system, or a carbon arc lamp.  When I realized she had no clue, I had to draw it out in diagrams for her.  Once she understood, she popularized my techno-jargon into a flowing narrative for every audience.  She was happy for the new knowledge and I was happy to be saved from my geeky self.

Our disparate talents also came in handy in describing scenery.  Veronica drew from her poetic instincts, comparing rock pillars rising from the sea to “spikes on a dragon back,” and well-fed glaciers to “paunches of sleeping giants.”  My contribution was my knowledge of geology, something all Icelanders learn as children.  In a country where glaciers sit like lids on volcanos, the dramatic reaction of fire meeting ice causes fast-cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called tuff or palagonite.  This is the stuff that forms much of the spectacular landscapes Iceland is famous for.

I’d thought the gap between our personalities would cause contention, but it turned out to be our strength.  And when friends ask, we answer yes, we’re still happily married.

*******************

Thank you for sharing that with us Sverrir, it sounds like each of you brought your strengths to the writing of the book and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is a prize winner of The Wishing Shelf Book Awards organized by a group of UK authors.
“Not only a well written memoir, but an interesting take on Icelandic history from post-World War Two until present day. A RED RIBBON WINNER and highly recommended.” The Wishing Shelf Book Awards

About the Authors

9vchqire8duugdehv701btsrdv._SY200_

Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica.

Veronica Li emigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a teenager. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and her masters degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University. She has worked as a journalist and for the World Bank, and is currently a writer. Her three previously published titles are: Nightfall in Mogadishu, Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home, and Confucius Says: A Novel.

Connect with the authors:

Facebook: Sverrir Sigurdsson

Twitter: @Sverrir_Sigurds

A Little Book Problem banner

Book Review: Whisper of the Lotus by Gabrielle Yetter #BookReview

Front cover

Sometimes you have to go a long way from home to come full circle back to discover what was right in front of you..

Charlotte’s mundane, dead-end life lacked excitement. She never imagined that sitting on a plane to Cambodia, struggling with her fear of flying, would lead to her being befriended by Rashid, an old man whose tragic secret would take her on a mystery tour of discovery.

In a land of golden temples, orange-clad monks, and smiling people, Charlotte discovers nothing is as she’d expected. She also never imagined the journey would take her back to the night when her father walked out on the family.

And who was Rashid? Was he just a kindly old man, or was there something deeper sewn into the exquisite fabric of his life?

I received a digital copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review, for which she has my thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I am partial to a book that takes me to another country, especially one that I have never visited in person. Cambodia is a place that is at the top of my bucket list so, until I can get there in reality, I was really looking forward to being transported there between the pages of this book. The author certainly managed to do that in Whisper of the Lotus. The book is filled with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and people of Cambodia and really brought the place to life in a way that only someone who is very familiar with the country really could.

Charlotte is a person who doesn’t really have a life of her own. After her parents split up, she has been left at home looking after her mother – a woman consumed by bitterness and self-pity – by a mixture of guilt and fear. Her best friend Roxy went off travelling and found a new life in Cambodia, so Charlotte decides to take a long-desired holiday to visit her out there. Charlotte is afraid of flying, afraid of travelling alone, afraid of anything different, so this is a big deal for her. She is befriended on the flight by an elderly man who calms her down with words of wisdom, and that encounter sets her the path of a mystery when she lands in Cambodia that will change everything for her.

This is a really unusual book which crosses a number of genres. Part travel novel, part mystery, part supernatural, part exploration of Buddhism, part family saga, there is a lot that will appeal to many different people here, and it will probably be like nothing you have read before. The author explores the relationship between Charlotte and her mother and how that has impacted her life, and between Charlotte and her friend Roxy and how the differences between the two illuminate the changes that Charlotte needs to make to her life to make her happy. The book takes us on an exploration of Cambodia that is enriching and delightful for anyone who is interested in life in other parts of the world, and her writing here is rich and detailed and full of affection and admiration for the country and its people. 

I found the discussion of Buddhist principles through Charlotte’s learning of them particularly fascinating, as it something I have always had a mild interest in but never particularly pursued beyond that, so learning a little more was enlightening and made me think I might look into it a bit further. Charlotte begins down the path of seeing how it could help her move on in her life, although it is clearly not an easy path because she seems to forget what has been taught as soon as she gets into a difficult situation! I think this indicates it is something that takes a lot of time and dedication to explore and cannot turn things around overnight.

I did have a couple of issues with the book, which came mainly from the character of Charlotte. I did find her a hard person to warm to at times. She is quite whiny and addicted to her victimhood (as Roxy points out!) and very quick to fly of the handle if she thinks anyone is telling her something she doesn’t want to hear. I appreciate that her character needs to be like that at the beginning so she can move on from it through the book as she learns and grows, but I didn’t feel like she had got there by the end; she still seemed to be quite self-centred at the conclusion. Normally this might be quite fatal for my enjoyment of a book, but the rest of it was written so beautifully and was so entertaining that I was able to get past it. She is not a character I could ever love though.

The supernatural element of the book created some moments of beauty and interest, and I enjoyed it, although I think some people might find it too unbelievable and coincidental to swallow. It is definitely a book that requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. The book is a languid and leisurely feast for all the senses, that doesn’t rush but takes a slow and circuitous route to its conclusion. It is not without flaw, and won’t appeal to everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it for anyone looking for something that little bit out of the ordinary.

Whisper of the Lotus is out now in ebook and paperback and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

kqiljdkmrets4b7hivecns96sp._US230_

Gabrielle Yetter has lived in India, Bahrain, South Africa, Cambodia, England and the USA. She worked as a journalist in South Africa, owned a dining guide in San Diego, wrote a cookbook about traditional Cambodian desserts and freelanced for publications and online sites in the US, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Southeast Asia.

In 2010, she and her husband, Skip, sold their home in the US, quit their jobs, gave away most of their possessions, and bought a one-way ticket to Cambodia.

In June 2015, she co-authored Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure, with Skip. In May 2016, she published her first children’s picture book, Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn’t Swim Straight followed by Martha The Blue Sheep in 2017.

She lives in Eastbourne, England and her first novel, Whisper of the Lotus, was released in November 2020.

Connect with Gabrielle:

Website: http://www.gabrielleyetter.com/

Facebook: Gabrielle Yetter

Twitter: @gabster2

A Little Book Problem banner

Guest Post: The Sifnos Chronicles by Sharon Blomfield

IMAG1217

Photo credit: Brian Richardson

Quirky and beguiling, often unwittingly funny, and always so utterly kind, the people of the Greek island of Sifnos charm and fascinate. They roar past on motorbikes with whole families squeezed on top, plus whatever earthly goods they can manage to hold on to. They live their lives in the open, their shouts, their squabbles, and their laughter in plain view of anyone who takes the time to notice. Open-hearted and spontaneous, they ply strangers with countless gifts… … and, impromptu, they invite a passing traveller to their wedding.

Filled with encounters and observation, gentle humour, and more than one unforeseeable twist, The Sifnos Chronicles is a narrative tale that takes readers along on this traveller’s journey through whitewashed alleys, into homey tavernas, across ancient marbled paths through the hills, and ultimately into the heart of this magical isle.

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog Sharon Blomfield, who is going to tell us about the inspiration behind her travel memoir, The Sifnos Chronicles. Over to you, Sharon.

When The Muse Speaks by Sharon Blomfield

I still recall the exact moment, know precisely where I was sitting in that Greek island taverna. The taste of fresh herbs in the revithokeftedes, those chick pea fritters I’d polished off, still lingers on my tongue. My nose quivers still at thoughts of the hot olive oil that hung in the air. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat had just stuck his head through the front door and had started into another of those faux-Shakespearean soliloquies of his. It was at that very instant that the island itself grabbed me by the hand and gave a firm yank. There’s a book here, it said, and you are the one who must write it.

A book? A whole book? Not me. It was short articles I wrote, travel stories, not books. Plus, the ferry was about to arrive and in minutes would take me away. My time on Sifnos was finished.

The island, though, had other ideas about that.

When I’d arrived on Sifnos three weeks before, I’d found pretty much what I’d expected of a Cycladic Greek isle. Blue skies, marshmallow-white buildings, crimson bougainvillea spilling over it all. But almost right away I sensed something else, something quite curious, a sensation I’ve never felt anywhere else on my travels. It was as though I’d landed somehow in the middle of a story, one with a whole cast of characters carrying on around me, wandering through my days. Every morning the same ones would flock to the square to inspect the fishmongers’ wares, never to buy, merely to see who caught what last night. There was the family who thought nothing of squabbling in view of everyone in their taverna, the bossy mother-in-law  in the corner peeling potatoes, the kids who’d ignore their mother’s loud orders and run in from the street and back out at will, the husband who’d bury his head in the TV and ignore it all, who we watched once turn up the volume when there were too many customers and he couldn’t hear. The Happy Greek my own husband dubbed him. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat who pretended to be Italian and thus more sophisticated, but wasn’t either, who you’d see every day squish himself into the cab of his tiny three-wheeled truck and tootle off across the island in search of someone – anyone – who’d pay attention to his latest outlandish antics. For those weeks I threw myself into their midst, waited to see what would happen and wisely as it turned out, recorded everything I could recall in my journal at night, laughing at so much of what I’d observed once more.

I revelled too in the kindnesses I’d received. The kindnesses, oh my. The generosity. The hearts so wide open, so willing to embrace even a random traveller like me. There were sweet treats galore at the end of most meals. The man who, after we’d paid, would invent a different excuse every time to pour us an ouzo. “To fight off the cold,” it was one balmy night, then he’d sit with us and chat for another hour or so. There was Coffee Shop Lady whose warm hand on my shoulder one morning spoke the words our lack of a common language couldn’t. And the dear woman we called Grandma who cut a bouquet of roses from her garden for me once, but snipped off every single last thorn before she’d hand them over.

The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, the book that muse of an island coaxed out of me, begins on that ferry two years later, this time in the moments before it lands on Sifnos again. Finished with this island, I was not. Hardly. Those characters and their faces were as real to me as though I’d seen them all yesterday.

I was under no illusions, though. We two Canadians were but tourists here, mere blips in the passing crowd that had surely numbered in the thousands in the two years since we’d been gone. Memories of us, if wisps of them remained at all, would have dimmed to almost nothing.

But once again, this island had its own opinion about that. As we walked down the alley on our way to dinner that first night, Grandma was exactly where I expected to see her and she rushed toward us with a smile and warm hugs once more. The Happy Greek was right where we’d left him and he spotted us right away as we crossed the square on our way toward his place. “You!” he exclaimed as we neared and his index finger practically jabbed my husband in the chest. “Two years,” he marvelled at how long we told him it was we’d been away. Inside, our usual table, the one with the best view of the goings-on, was still vacant and we sat down right where we’d left off. Ouzo man was soon back at it once more. Fisherman Hat guy too.

Over the next four weeks, there were more people to see again, and new ones as well, and twists of fate we never saw coming. A photograph my husband did on the first trip popped up again and in one heart-stopping moment cemented his connection forever with a family of fishermen and their tiny seaside village. A chance encounter netted us an impromptu invitation to one of those quintessentially Greek island weddings. High on a hill at the end of the island, the church was white and blue-domed, of course, and surrounded by the Aegean on almost four sides. The ceremony, bathed in the warmth of the late afternoon sun and presided over by two black-hatted priests, smashed forever my illusions about Greek Orthodox religious practice and how sombre it is.

That muse was right. A whole book was what I was living on Sifnos, and when at the end of a month we returned home, I began in earnest to write The Sifnos Chronicles, my tales from this Greek isle.

When a place calls to your heart as strongly as this one has to mine and says you must return, you must. As often as it insists you must. Nine more times to Sifnos since the events in that book and counting, in our case. And always, the island has made known its demands of me. There’s a second book now too. Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, set six years later in that tiny fishing village, tells more of the fun, of the relationships with this island and its people and how they’ve grown. There is too my blog, The Sifnos Chronicler.

The message Sifnos had for me that day in that taverna was loud. I can’t wait to see this pandemic in the rear view mirror, to get back to my island again, to see what else it has in store.

*******************

Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Sharon, it’s made me want to travel to Sifnos immediately. Let’s hope we are all able to visit our favourite destinations again soon.

If you would like to get your own copy of The Sifnos Chronicles  and do some armchair travelling whilst stuck at home, you can buy a copy hereThe Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales is also available here. But if you’re on Sifnos, drop into To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop, in Apollonia. (https://www.facebook.com/Το-Βιβλιοπωλείο-The-Bookshop-Sifnos-270568056317513) Independent book stores everywhere need our support now more than ever.

About the Author

SONY DSC

I am a writer and traveller who on my wanderings has found myself somehow invited to tour an odd hobbit-like house in the South Seas, to drink wine in the kitchen of a sunburned chalet in a high Alpine pasture, and to be a guest at a Greek island wedding. My stories and photographs have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, among them The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Boston Globe and France’s Courrier International. I live in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada with my photographer husband and fellow traveller, Jim Blomfield. 

The year 2006 brought us to Greece for the first time, to the island of Sifnos. It was meant to be a one-time visit but what I hadn’t counted on was how the kindness of its people and the unexpected adventures we encountered there would melt my heart and how we’d be drawn back almost every year after that, always for a month at a time. How Sifnos would turn me into a book author and a blogger. 

Connect with Sharon:

Website: http://www.sharonblomfield.com/home.html

Facebook: Sharon Blomfield

Twitter: @SharonBlomfield

A Little Book Problem banner

 

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

51Rr2PranQL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

IMG_5444

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

Unknown

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

Legend-of-the-Lost-Ass-1877x3000-Amazon-300dpi

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.

 

***********************

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

karen-home-240x300

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

51OdvFw8YPL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

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

250px-15-alex-garland.w330.h330

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.

Through Dust and Dreams Cover

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

Through Dust Author Pic

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

51snc5NJLdL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_

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

B13eibR7ciS._US230_

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)