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Review of Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 2 by Nick Albert

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This is the second of Nick Albert’s books and while I enjoyed the first one very much, I absolutely loved this one. It has so much more of everything I really like reading about. Firstly, Nick is a self-confessed newbie to the whole DIY renovation game, and I could relate to his labours so well. I loved all the descriptions and could have done with even more of the ‘how I went about it’ sections. I should also say I admire him hugely for taking on such mammoth tasks as rebuilding a complete wing/barn and moving a floor upwards. Goodness me, what courage he had. But let’s not forget Lesley, Nick Albert’s wife, too. She is one brave and hard-working lady, given the personal challenges she was faced with – as any reader will testify.

Secondly, I enjoyed and laughed along with the author’s self-deprecating humour. I had several good chuckles, but my favourite line in the book has to be this one about buying a new car: “Owning the most expensive, shiny, new, super-fast status symbol in County Clare is akin to putting lipstick on a pig. No.” That one really caught my funny bone big time.

Thirdly, I loved all the animal and dog parts, but especially his tales of their chickens and ducks. I could just see it all. I have a great fondness for the daftness of chickens and being a boat dweller, I am constantly delighted by duck behaviour, but Nick’s birds are different. Lovely, funny tales that had me roaring with laughter.

Lastly, the book is imbued with the flavour of Ireland in its country characters, the descriptions of the scenery and the liberal dashes of Irish history and culture. There are also some personal challenges for the couple that give poignancy and anxiety to an otherwise wonderful new life. Altogether, this book has everything that makes it the perfectly mixed cocktail of ingredients for a terrific read. Thank you, Mr Albert. I shall now look forward to reading Book 3!

Review of The First Toast is To Peace by Stephen Powell

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Oh my goodness, what a fascinating and alluring book. I’ve never been in the slightest bit interested in Georgia or Azerbaijan; neither had I any clue about the break-away states of Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia. So why did I embark on reading this marvellously enlightening book? Well, for me it was firstly because it included Armenia, a country that has interested me for quite a while now, and the second reason was simply the intriguing title. What was it about the first toast? What about the southern Caucasus. Well, as the saying goes ‘I learnt me so much.’

Stephen Powell, retired Reuters editor and journalist who has seen and witnessed many of the world’s hottest spots and conflicts, embarks on a journey through the southern Caucasus region that reminded me of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Laurie Lee. Admittedly, he doesn’t make his journeys in one long trip as did those young men in the 30s, but he does his in similar style: walking and riding for most of his year-long travels. In this way, he sees places and meets people he would not otherwise do and what incredible company he keeps. Even farmers in remote places can talk to him of politics in northern Europe. Just astonishing. Not to mention the border guard in Abkhazia who could discuss Celtic history and language with him. The book is revealing, disarming and personal, but at the same time it observes and comments on the troubled regions of the Caucasus with the broader view of an experienced eye. It is a story of dispossessed people and people possessed; of those longing for lands they have been evicted from and those who are fighting to retain their national identity against many odds. And above all these troubled but rich cultures, broods the mighty power of Russia, playing one Caucasus country off against another, leaving the region uneasy with itself and its neighbours

I loved the descriptions of the scenery in Georgia and would love to now visit Tbilisi and meet its vibrant people, visit its vineyards and enjoy its culture of toasting. The chapters about Armenia were tragic, given their focus on the genocide of 1915 and its ongoing aftermath as well as the terrible earthquake that devastated Gyumri. Even so, its people remain positive and resilient despite their unease with being a Christian country sandwiched between Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Stephen Powell finishes his book with a summary of the longings of people evicted from the lands of their birth and history: the Georgians from Abkhazia and vice versa, the Armenians from Azerbaijan and so on. It is a tale that represents the tragedy of so many parts of the world where boundaries have been redrawn forcing thousands of people to be deported from land they have called home for centuries.

As for the title, it is an acknowledgment of the wonderful tradition that is so much part of the culture of the region; that of making toasts at gatherings for meals or drinks; toasts that acknowledge proud ideals worthy of…well…toasting.

All in all, I found this book profoundly moving, hugely informative and incredibly stimulating. It led me to study maps, look up personalities, writers and historical figures, and to record the names of other books I would now like to read. Wonderful stuff. Many thanks, Mr Powell. I would now like to have a hard copy of this book to accompany my other favourite travel books.

The link to the Amazon product page is here.

High & Dry in the BVI by Lally Brown

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This is the third of Lally Brown’s books I’ve read and again I’ve enjoyed it so much. I actually read and reviewed it on Amazon in December, but being very busy at the time, I didn’t get round to posting my review here. However, as this is where I record the memoirs I’ve read, I’m making up for my omission now.

More light hearted than the author’s other two books, it nevertheless gives a clear and informative account of life in these British Virgin Islands in the 1970s. Lally Brown comes across as a lovely, warm personality and her involvement in local projects and the Red Cross are a testament to her kindness and the affection she had for the islanders.

She writes about these Caribbean people with insight, humour and love, the result being that their personalities are vivid and beautifully drawn. Among all the delightful characters we meet in the book, I especially liked Rosalind with her quirky headgear and imaginative superstitions, as well as the inmates of the infirmary. Lally Brown’s writing style is lively with a gentle wit and charm that makes the book an easy and captivating read. The descriptions of the stunning scenery on and around the islands are also lovely,

I would definitely recommend this book highly to all travel memoir lovers and those who enjoy reading about living in foreign parts. A super book!

the link to the book is here

Much More into Africa with Kids, Dogs, Horses and a Husband by Ann Patras

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I was privileged to Beta read this book for the author, Ann Patras, and I have to say I romped through it. Reading about Ms Patras’ experiences in Zambia (and later back in the UK) was akin to sitting at the kitchen table with her being spellbound by her anecdotes of life as an expat in one of Africa’s gloriously chaotic countries.

The fun, laughter, escapades and adventures the family had with everything from massive spiders in the bathroom to wonderful safari trips were riveting. I imagine Ann Patras writes as she speaks so it’s easy to believe you are sitting next to her with a glass of wine and shouting with mirth at another of her mishaps.

As regards Africa and its people, she writes with warmth and affection without disguising the problems entailed in living as expats in a country where people have so little. It is clear she and her family adored Zambia and everything it offered, but life was never meant to be settled for the Patras family and moving on seemed to be part of their script. This book brings the reader to the end of their Zambian period, with hints of adventures in South Africa to come. I am very much looking forward to reading that one if and when it comes out.

Highly recommended for all lovers of books on life in Africa.

The link to the book is here

Apple Island Wife by Fiona Stocker

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What a delightful memoir this was for me. The author, Fiona Stocker, and her husband Oliver move to a smallholding in Tasmania to escape the heat and stress of city life in Brisbane and so begins a complete change of life for them.

I will confess that I’ve wanted to go to Tasmania for about thirty years, ever since I met some people from Hobart in the course of my work in South Africa. From their stories, I became fascinated by the island and read a number of books about its history. As a result, when I won this book in a draw, I couldn’t wait to read it. Fiona Stocker’s memoir was a totally different take on Tasmania and its people and I loved reading about the development of her family’s life there. From the lyrical way she writes about the scenery, the weather and the farming culture there, I’m just convinced I’d love it.

I also enjoyed her wry sense of humour and her observations about her husband and her neighbours. The subtle teasing jokes slide in and out of her narrative as if they’re just there for those awake enough to see them, smile and move on. If you miss them, well the book is still rich with lovely detailed accounts of their growing menagerie. Who ever knew that Alpacas could be temperamental, that chickens could be social and funny, that guinea fowl could be horrendously noisy?

A highly recommended read which I enjoyed tremendously.

The link to the book is here

Summers of Fire by Linda Strada

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I received Summers of Fire as a free giveaway so I was pleased to have the time to read it over the Christmas holiday. It’s a long memoir, so it took me some weeks to read it, but I found it so interesting and absorbing I enjoyed taking my time with it.

Set in the 70s at a time when women employed as forest firefighters was almost unheard of, Linda Strada showed great determination to achieve her dreams against tremendous odds. Despite their apparently friendly attitude, most of her fellow firefighters didn’t feel that women should be there at all and it was only her persistence and the support of one or two seniors that ensured she got the jobs. Her memoir shows how entrenched discrimination could and maybe still can be, especially in careers that are typically considered to be men’s. However, she faced it all with tremendous strength of character, and I greatly admired her refusal to be cowed.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that forest firefighters do not fight fires all year round; it is a seasonal problem after all, and there are many other activities with which they are involved such as forest management, clearing and fire prevention. In fact, they are both firefighters and conservationists.

In terms of the labour required, Linda Strada did everything she was asked with a will and stoicism even some of her male colleagues didn’t have. When work was in short supply in her home state, she upped sticks and went where she found it, even if that meant going to Alaska. Finding out about a forest firefighter’s life didn’t only mean the excitement and adrenaline rush of facing massive and terrifying flames; it also meant learning how to prevent them as well.

However, one of the by products of her ‘can do’ attitude to life was the knowledge she gained about native and desert plants, a knowledge that she employs in her own business today. I must say I learned so much from reading this book, and this was what I enjoyed about it most.

The story is also interwoven with quite personal accounts of the author’s love life during this period, and relationships sometimes got complicated when these were with colleagues. One girl among so many men resulted in challenges, especially when that girl was young, pretty and feisty!

Altogether, I found this a great read on many levels and I would recommend it to anyone interested in memoirs about a different kind of life. It certainly opened my eyes!

The Amazon link to the book is here

 

Only in India by Jill Dobbe

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I won this memoir in a draw on a travel book site, so I didn’t know what to expect in advance. As a result, I was really pleased to discover what an enjoyable and informative read it was. The author writes in an engaging and friendly style and both she and her husband have a great sense of curiosity, which gives the reader an enthusiasm for their explorations too.

Jill Dobbe and her husband have an interesting life in education and have made a career of teaching in foreign countries. As a couple they have taught in several exotic locations including Egypt and South America and Jill has written other books about their travelling educator lives. This book is about the year they spent at a school in Gurgaon, a short distance south west of New Delhi.

I have to confess I’ve never wanted to visit India because of the extreme poverty and Jill Dobbe confirms the many abuses of both lower caste people and exploited elephants. However, I loved finding out so much about the culture, and especially about the northern provinces in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Tibetans in exile live. The author and her husband spent an enjoyable week there and the descriptions of their journey make it sound very appealing. A recommended read!

The link to the book is here