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

Chickens Eat Pasta Author Photo

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

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.

Tempted by….Mrs Bloggs The Average Reader: Up by Ben Fogle and Marina Fogle @MrsBloggsReader @Benfogle @FogleMarina @4thEstateBooks @WmCollinsBooks #Up #bookbloggers #Everest #travel #adventure

My eyes lifted to the horizon and the unmistakable snowy outline of Everest.

Everest, the mountain of my childhood dreams. A mountain that has haunted me my whole life. A mountain I have seen hundreds of times in photographs and films but never in real life.

She looked angry.

In April 2018, seasoned adventurer Ben Fogle and Olympic cycling gold medallist Victoria Pendleton, along with mountaineer Kenton Cool, took on their most exhausting challenge yet – climbing Everest for the British Red Cross to highlight the environmental challenges mountains face. It would be harrowing and exhilarating in equal measure as they walked the fine line between life and death 8,000 metres above sea level.

For Ben, the seven-week expedition into the death zone was to become the adventure of a lifetime, as well as a humbling and enlightening journey. For his wife Marina, holding the family together at home, it was an agonising wait for news. Together, they dedicated the experience to their son, Willem Fogle, stillborn at eight months.

Cradling little Willem to say goodbye, Ben and Marina made a promise to live brightly. To embrace every day. To always smile. To be positive and to inspire. And from the depths of their grief and dedication, Ben’s Everest dream was born.

Up, from here the only way was Up.

Part memoir, part thrilling adventure, Ben and Marina’s account of his ascent to the roof of the world is told with their signature humour and warmth, as well as with profound compassion.

Today on the blog I have been Tempted by…  the book, Up by Ben and Marina Fogle, as recommended by Caryl in this review on her blog, Mrs Bloggs Average Reader.

I really love a good non-fiction travel memoir and I have read and enjoyed Ben Fogle’s writing before, most particularly his book, The Teatime Islands, which I have read several times. So I thought I would enjoy this book, and Caryl’s review just convinced me of it. Caryl is a fan of books about Everest and, having read several, recommended this as a noteworthy addition to the canon so it sounded like this was a worthwhile read. In addition, the inclusion of their experience of dealing with a personal tragedy that I have myself suffered, made the book sound like one I would find particularly relevant.

If you don’t follow Caryl’s blog already, why not? It is a pleasingly constructed and easy to navigate blog. She has a great mix of content, an eclectic range of books that she reviews and her critiques are always honest, well-considered and clearly expressed. She is one of my go-to bloggers for reliable reviews and I trust her opinion. We seem to often align on our feelings towards the books we have read and have similar tastes. I highly recommend taking a peek at Mrs Bloggs The Average Reader, if you haven’t already.

If you have been tempted by Caryl’s review of Up, you can buy a copy here.

Tempted by….Linda’s Book Bag: Finding Myself in Puglia by Laine B Brown @Lainebbrown @Lindahill50Hill #bookbloggers #readingrecommendations #Blogtober18

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An Italian memoir.

Laine gave up her job as a nurse, sold her home and gave away most of her belongings. She has three desires bubbling at the heart of her choice: to write a book, paint a picture and climb a mountain before she died.

A man with a van took most of her remaining belongings, along with her basset hound Basil, down to the heel of Italy over 1,500 miles away, where she would spend the next four years.

If it all seemed like a folly, then she was willing to take the risk. She moved to a house that she had only spent a week in the year before. She knew no one and yet she had surety in her resolve. She wanted to feel fully present in feeling unsafe and comfortable with the not knowing.

And so the journey began, a new language, a new life laced with humour and laughter under the warm southern Italian sun.

Come and join her…

There was a certain contentious Twitter thread last week which questioned the efficacy of book bloggers in promoting books and generating sales for authors. As a result, I decided that now was a good time to launch my new occasional series, highlighting books that I have been enticed to buy by reading reviews by my fellow bloggers.

I know that book bloggers are effective at generating sales for authors because, since I started blogging and reading more reviews by my fabulous fellow bloggers, I have been tempted to buy more and more books, to the extent that I have had to buy two new bookcases in the last year and my Kindle is over-flowing.

First up we have Finding Myself in Puglia by Laine B Brown which I was enticed to buy by this fabulous post on Linda’s Book Bag. Linda Hill is one of the best book bloggers out there, so make sure you check out her wonderful blog if you haven’t visited it already.

The book is a non-fiction memoir of living in Italy which is just up my street as I am a travel junkie. I also thought that Laine might be someone I would enjoy reading when she nominated some of my favourite writers as people she would like to bring along on her night in with Linda.

If you like the sound of the book, you can buy a copy here. Make sure you visit Linda’s original post to read more from Laine about the book. I am looking forward to reading it soon.