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Walking Europe’s Edge by Stephen Powell

Walking Europe’s Edge is Stephen Powell’s new and absorbing travel memoir about a marathon 1500 kilometre walk he made through Portugal. As it says in the blurb, “Away from the mass tourism, he wanted to form his own unhurried impressions of this very distinctive country.”

I was fortunate enough to be given the pre-publication draft and found it a captivating read. Writing from his long experience as a journalist for Reuters (27 years, I believe), he enriches the reader with his insights and impressions of the country’s history, culture, scenery and spirit. For me, the book was a fascinating journey of discovery through Portugal’s lesser-known provinces. I learnt about cities I’d never heard of; I found that Porto only became an attractive destination at the beginning of the millenium; and I read about the background, arts, literature and economy of the many unknown, but iconic Portuguese towns he stayed at on route.

In doing so, Stephen Powell outlines the country’s phenomenal empire history, shows us where its poets lived and loved and talks to scholars, estate agents and even bar owners in his quest to feel the pulse of Portugal. On his journey, he lodged with local people, slept under the stars and walked through areas so remote he wondered if he would find his way out. To me, it seems hardly possible to experience such isolation in such a small country, but from his evocative descriptions, I gained a sense of its beauty and its alluring magic too.

Throughout his walk, the author became deeply attached to Portugal, but reader beware: this is not a rosy-hued account. There are no rose-tinted glasses here and Stephen Powell does not flinch from discussing the real state of modern-day Portugal as revealed by the Portuguese experts he spoke to.

I loved his first book, The First Toast is to peace (see my review here), and can recommend Walking Europe’s Edge just as highly. And by the way, there are lovely illustrations as well provided by two of his daughters.

The link to the Kindle book on Amazon US is here.

Chestnut, Cherry and Kiwi Fruit Sponge: a final year to write home about by Lisa Rose Wright

I have loved all Lisa Rose Wright’s memoirs and been lucky enough to Beta read two of them, including this one. From her Camino walk travelogue, the trip which inspired her to move to Galicia to begin with, to this latest in the Writing Home trilogy, I’ve felt I was a personal friend reading her letters to her mum. Added to and embellishing these missives were her diary entries and her vivid descriptions of life in this very beautiful corner of north-western Spain.

Now I was already in awe of Lisa and her husband S’s achievements in renovating an old and ruined Spanish farmhouse, but when they finally convince Mum to move to Spain with them, they embark on renovating yet another, and maybe even more derelict cottage for her. What a couple! This then is the memoir that covers the final period of letters home until Mum comes to join them, a move followed with some lovely chapters about how she settles to life in Spain at the grand age of 83 (all this is in the blurb, so these are not spoilers). In her letters, diary and narrative Lisa describes the challenges and successes of the new project with great humour and much affection for the array of Spanish tradesmen they deal with, as well as for the charming misunderstandings of their Spanish neighbours and the (sometimes hilarious) help they received from volunteer Workaways.

It’s a rich feast of experiences for the reader that includes everything from headaches with Spanish bureaucracy to ‘downtime’ visits to fiestas, historic towns and stunning beaches.

For foodies too, there are recipes and cooking information aplenty; for animal lovers, there are triumphs and tragedies with chickens, cockerels, kittens and cats; for gardeners, there are vegetables to be grown and tips to be gleaned.

I loved it all and learnt and laughed in equal measure. This is a delightful memoir I was sorry to finish and I’m even sorrier there won’t be any more letters home (although I’m so pleased for Lisa and her mum that they are reunited). I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The link to the book on Amazon US store is here, but it’s available on all other Amazon stores. It will be released on 1 October; however, you can pre-order it now.

For anyone interested in finding out more about Lisa’s background, I interviewed her earlier in the year, a post you can read here.

The Coconut Wireless by Simon Michael Prior

This charming and light-hearted memoir of a travel adventure from his youth is Simon Michael Prior’s first personal memoir and is also the first in what will be a series of travel stories.

In this book, he and his girlfriend, Fiona, spend six weeks in Tonga on their way to a new life in New Zealand. Why Tonga? Well, it all comes down to Simon’s long-held memory of hearing about his father’s visual encounter in London with Queen Salote of Tonga when Simon was just a boy. The tale catches Simon’s imagination, and he is determined to see the Queen himself, albeit not the same one. So when the opportunity arises to go to Tonga on route to New Zealand, he jumps at it.

Whether he sees the queen or not is something readers will have to discover for themselves, but suffice to say the young couple have a wonderful time in this desert island paradise. I enjoyed the delightful local characters, the laid-back approach to living and the evocative descriptions of island scenery and weather. I also liked Simon’s ‘aside’ thoughts, which pepper the book. It’s a story of romance, youthful travel, and the joys of experiencing pacific islands and all they have to offer. Recommended feelgood reading!

The link to the book on Amazon US is here, but it is available on all Amazon stores.

Itchy Feet: Tales of Travel and Adventure, an anthology of travel stories from Alyson Sheldrake

I had the privilege of reading this anthology and reviewing the stories before publication and have to say it is a wonderful collection. Each of the twenty chapters is written by a different writer, and almost all of them have been previously published either as memoir authors or as travel writers. Many of the stories deal with how and why the authors gained their itchy feet, while others focus on a specific travel adventure.

Whichever the case, the reader is in for a treat. From South Africa to South America, from Japan to Egypt and everywhere in between, these stories will open your eyes to a whole range of travel experiences, including boat trips up the Nile; between islands in the Philippines and Thailand; on a barge across the North Sea and Atlantic crossings on a famous cruise liner. But there are also overland adventures ranging from Alaska to Rwanda and Nepal, as well as right across South Africa during the pandemic lockdown. If your feet are itching but you can’t roam free, this collection of adventures will be the salve you need.

The book has been thoughtfully collated, finely edited and beautifully presented by Alyson Sheldrake, whose memoirs about her life in Portugal have achieved Amazon bestseller status.

The link to the ebook on Amazon US is here, but it’s available for pre-order on all Amazon market places and is due for release on 26 September.

Dancing Through Life, Volume II by Shirley Read-Jahn

I won Dancing Through Life, Volume 2 in a draw, and while I know I should have read the first book (Volume I) before starting this one, I peeked into it and just got hooked. The author, Shirley, Read-Jahn has led a fascinating and rich life and seems to have an amazing amount of energy. Although not particularly lucky in love, she has picked herself up and started time and again with zest and enthusiasm. I loved the descriptions of the music events and the people she met and admired her ability to establish a new business in gardening when life threw lemons at her.

This book is very well written and engaging in style. There are photos as well, which give great visual support to the events she writes about. Given that she embarked on a new career when she’d already turned sixty, I am now wondering what she’s got up her sleeve next. I’m also keen to read the first book, as that sounds equally fascinating. Well done, Shirley Read-Jahn and three cheers for your wonderful and indomitable spirit!

The link to the book is here

Sidney Delicious: the memoir of a Spanish rescue dog by Helen Stephenson

What a charming memoir this is! I wasn’t sure how being written from Sidney’s perspective was going to work, but it is so well written and Sidney is such a wonderful personality that I was soon immersed in his free-ranging world. 

As a Spanish rescue dog of indeterminate origin, Sidney has lived the life of a roamer until one day, Helen and Jo find him. From that day on, his life changes and he becomes their constant, and very endearing, companion. However, Sidney has had a hard life and has picked up some unsavoury survival habits, which stay with him no matter how much luxury he lives in. The results are so funny, I found myself weeping with laughter, particularly because Sidney doesn’t quite see the problem with his behaviour much of the time. 

This is a heartwarming, uplifting story about a dog of great character and his relationship with his saviour humans. It is also the author’s memoir about her and her husband’s life in their new home on a campo in a remote part of rural Spain. It is clear from Helen Stephenson’s writing that Sid Delicious was very much loved despite his idiosyncracies and independent nature. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the scenery, the seasons and the lifestyle they lead in Almeria. In fact, I absolutely loved the book and can recommend it very highly.

The link to the Amazon US page is here. The book is available on all Amazon stores.

Dear Fran, Love Dulcie: Life and death in hills and hollows of bygone Australia by Victoria Twead

This is one of the most moving books I have read in years. In an astonishing turn of events, Victoria Twead has been able to research the story behind this young Australian woman’s letters to her penpal in America, and to publish them with the full support of the family. Dulcie’s letters to Fran are unique in their depiction of Australian rural life from the 1950s to the 1970s. They reveal the harshness of the land and its merciless demands on those who live and farm it. The weather, the crop failures, the tough conditions for Dulcie and her family are all described with a matter of fact acceptance that is somehow shocking and deeply touching.

However, although there is heartbreak and loss, there is lightness and humour too, as well as a closeness between the two penpals that develops gradually over the years. And it is this closeness that makes the ending all the more heartrending. I feel privileged to have been able to Beta read Dulcie’s letters; it was a truly profound and unforgettable experience and my thanks go to Victoria Twead for transcribing the originals and explaining the background and context of how they came to be published.

This is an important historical document as well as being a fascinating book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The link to the Amazon US site is here

40 Inspirational True Stories: 2021 edited by Robert Fear

This is a fantastic collection of stories by 26 different authors, some of whom have more than one story published. It’s an anthology to lift your spirits, especially during these difficult times. From inspiring travel tales to heartwarming accounts of good deeds and special relationships, there’s something for every occasion. A marvellous addition to anyone’s reading library.

What I enjoyed about it was the variety of different types of stories. They covered every possible aspect of life but with the common theme of being uplifting and encouraging. It is a book that can be dipped into, picked up and put down and also returned to. I am happy to have a paperback copy that sits on my bedside table for whenever I feel the need.

Robert Fear gives authors, both novice and experienced, an opportunity to showcase their talents. He publishes a new collection at the end of each year. Up until this edition, the anthologies have been travel stories, so this theme is new and as such it is a lovely development.

The link to the book is here

Chasing the Dream – A new life abroad: An anthology of travel stories curated by Alyson Sheldrake

A slightly different post on my review blog this time. This book, Chasing the Dream is one I am privileged to have a chapter in, but I’m not trying to review it on my own behalf; I am, after all, just one contributor. There are twenty chapters altogether and each one is by a different author, so I am writing here about the rest of the book, which is a truly terrific anthology of stories by writers who have all moved abroad to live for one reason or another.

For many, they really were chasing a dream, but others (like me) landed up living in other countries through circumstance, work or a simple desire to explore the world. I was lucky enough to read the early drafts of the book and have also read the finished product, and I can honestly say that each reading was a delight. The diversity of the stories and writing styles makes the collection an absorbing and rich read. The authors have been given free rein to write with their own voice and without a script, so there is everything from humorous, dialogue-driven accounts to chapters of descriptive and even poetic beauty. There are travel adventures, moving house nightmares, cultural lessons and linguistic challenges. Some are introspective, some are lively, many are funny and all of them are fascinating.

Even better, the range of countries covered makes world travellers of the reader. From Chile to Japan; from Ireland to Slovenia, Greece and Italy; from the Netherlands through France, Spain and Portugal; from Africa (both northern and southern) to the Middle East, the incredible diversity gives a truly global perspective to the book.

This is a fantastic collection, beautifully produced, edited and presented by Alyson Sheldrake and I can recommend it very highly. I was delighted to be part of it.

The link to the book is here

Donkey on the Catwalk by Marjory McGinn

What a delight this book has been to read. I’ve devoured all Marjory McGinn’s previous Greek memoirs, and this collection of stories from both her more recent travels there as well as the visits she made to the country in her youth is a marvellous addition. There are many wonderful accounts that fill in the gaps and explain why she kept going back to the country until, with her husband, she spent four years in the Peloponnese starting in 2010.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters about her experiences in Athens and Crete from the 1970s to the 90s. They portray a simpler, yet richer country and despite the political traumas of the 70s, it is easy to see what drew Marjory to Greece and the Greeks. There are beautiful chapters of nostalgia too, some of which moved me deeply. And then of course, there is a liberal sprinkling of humour in the chapters where Wallace, Jim and Marjory’s delightful Jack Russel, features as well as those that include the famous Foteini.

All in all, this is a wonderful mix that will give the reader more insights into Greece and Marjory McGinn’s ongoing love affair with the country. Highly recommended!

For those interested in buying the book, the link is here

I also did an interview with Majory on this blog a few weeks back, which you can read here.