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The First Time We Saw Paris by Neal Atherton

This is the first book by this author I have read and I’ll be sure to read his other books as well. I loved his unbounded enthusiasm for travel and finding the joy in experiencing a new culture and a new language. Embarking on a coach tour to a holiday camp near Perpignan in southern France, this is the first time the Atherton family have ever been out of England and their first impressions are not all that inviting.

However, the author’s love of history and adventure, together with his willingness to try new foods and wines and great people observation skills soon make this a holiday that will change the family’s lives and keep them returning to France year after year into the future. Above all, it is their encounter with a French café owner that changes their potentially calamitous holiday into one where long term friendships are made.

This is a lovely memoir full of exuberance and humorous personal comment and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about travel stories that contain something of everything: Landscape, people, food, wine and history. It’s all there.

The link to the book is here

Plum, Courgette and Green Bean Tart by Lisa Rose Wright

I’ve just finished this delightful book and can recommend it to anyone who enjoys the ‘upping sticks and living abroad’ genre of memoir. I was lucky enough to win it in a draw a while ago and am so pleased I’ve now had a chance to read it.

What I loved most was the author’s sunny, humorous and cheerful writing style. Much of the book consists of letters to her clearly much-loved mother and this gave the whole memoir a wonderfully personal and conversational style. As the reader, I almost felt like her mother and know I’d have loved receiving letters like these. What’s even better is that they were all hand written, which made them still more natural. There are also diary entries, plus a well-written narrative to fill in the gaps between the letters.

I must say I admire Lisa Wright and her S for taking on the task of simultaneously re-building the ruin they bought as a home in Galicia, northern Spain, and setting up their allotment to become self-sufficient. The energy these two must have had is mind boggling because for every diary entry that read ‘re-pointed the bedroom wall today’ or ‘polished the ceiling in lounge’, or ‘laid the tiles on the roof over the bathroom’, I could fill in the amount of work it all involved and almost got tired just by reading about it.

Add to that blistering heat, carting water in buckets to her vegetable patch, hunting for stray eggs and doing endless amounts of fruit preserving and I was finished at the end of every day too! Phew! But I also enjoyed every minute of it too, being a DIY and self-sufficiency fan myself. The adventures with their chickens had me chuckling, as it seems these dotty creatures are incredibly endearing.

I also loved the way they interacted with the local people and realised very quickly that they had the knack of drawing people to them with their open, friendly personalities. As with all these living abroad books, the bureaucracy entailed in becoming official residents is a test of endurance, and I felt every frustrating step, although Lisa doesn’t dwell on these moments, which somehow made me empathise more.

Altogether, I really enjoyed this book and will look forward to the next one when it’s available.

The link to the book is here

One young fool in South Africa by Joe Twead

Joe Twead grew up in care in Johannesburg; however, he was not an orphan. Sadly, he and his baby sister were the victims of a marriage breakup and subsequent neglect. From a tragically early age, they were placed in institutional care, a situation that was to remain Joe’s until he left school.

Although this memoir is set in South Africa, it’s not about South Africa. It’s about young Joe’s life in the institutions that were all he knew until he was a teenager. However, I still managed to have a great sense of place and I could almost see Jo’burg and its suburbs and especially the south coast of Natal where the Home boys went to Camp every year.

There is also little about apartheid even though the book is set in the apartheid years. However, the searing honesty with which the author writes shows that he knew and was keenly aware of how fortunate he was compared to black children in his situation.

The story, though, is his, told from the perspective of his younger self and it’s unlikely that a young boy would have given all too much thought to the plight of others when he was dealing with so many challenges himself.

I found it a profoundly moving and poignant book, and I was incredibly impressed by its candour and sincerity. Joe Twead never tries to excuse his own behaviour, some of which made me wince, but he also bears no grudges or bitterness for his situation, and his powers of forgiveness are truly remarkable. His was not an easy childhood; it was one of survival in an institution based on tough boys’ school rules and pecking orders.

I loved the inserts written by his wife and muse, Victoria. In these, we find Joe Twead’s heartache for his past transgressions in the dialogue between them. They provided a kind, gentle balance to the sometimes harsh scenes he describes.

This is a beautifully expressed, sincere memoir of the author’s childhood and I loved it. Well worth reading and highly recommended.

The link to the book is here.

Living the Dream in the Algarve by Alyson Sheldrake

Part memoir, part guide, this is a friendly and enthusiastic account of life in Portugal as the author has experienced it. She’s very honest about the downs, especially about the endless bureaucracy and paper trails they had to chase concerning every aspect of life there, but she still manages to imbue what must have been very frustrating times with good humour and lots of good advice.

As for the ups, they are pretty much self-explanatory: sunshine, relaxed lifestyle, kind people and an easy-going existence. In fact, it sounds so desirable it makes me want to move there myself, and reinforces why I love the Algarve so much too. I think much of this book will be very useful to wannabe Portuguese residents, but for me, the best parts were the descriptions of their interaction with the Portuguese people themselves. I think Alyson and her husband must be very nice people as they drew so much kindness from their neighbours.

I also enjoyed the stories about her adventures with the language. Being a stranger in Holland with a new language to learn, I could sympathise and giggle along with her. I also admire the fact they set up their own businesses and are contributing to Portugal in a real and positive way. Alyson is an extremely talented artist and thanks to social media contacts in Portugal, she and her husband were invited to exhibit at a local venue. This led to commissions for both and they were well away. Well done, Alyson and David Sheldrake. I enjoyed your journey and I’m sure you’ve given others hope and encouragement with your constructive tips and description of your experiences.

The link to the book is here

Two Old Fools Down Under by Victoria Twead

Victoria Twead’s Two Old Fool books are a hugely popular series, and this one is as deserving of the praise it’s received as all the rest. It’s an immensely enjoyable, warm-hearted and interesting read.

What I most like about reading memoirs is learning something new about the places people choose to live and the people they meet. Well, I wallowed in all the new things I learnt about Australia from this lovely, personal account of Vicky and Joe’s move to the southern hemisphere. I knew the country had some substantial differences from Europe (and indeed anywhere in the world) in terms of wildlife and flora, but I didn’t realise to what extent they were different. I also knew Aussies had their own language and terms for things, but again, how different these can be was a surprise to me.

The story follows Vicky’s arrival in Australia and her challenges with finding a suitable home to receive Joe, who has had to remain in the UK for health reasons. It also includes her adventures in gaining a new puppy, and all the adjustments that living in a completely new country entail. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was fascinated by the detailed observations she made about life in the Antipodes.

The book is also quite a rollercoaster of emotions as she and Joe learn to cope with his medical conditions alongside the frustrations of renovating their house. Without giving any spoilers, I can admit I choked up a few times while reading it, but I also laughed out loud at some of their DIY adventures.

Written in the author’s friendly, conversational style, I almost felt as if I was reading her diary or letters to her family. This feeling was enhanced by the recipes that separate each of the chapters and the email correspondence from Spain, which gave a sense of continuity with their previous life. All in all, it was a terrific read. Highly recommended.

Fortunate Isle by Ronald MacKay

What a gorgeous memoir this is. It included everything I love: travel, people, local customs, adventure and real life as it’s lived in other countries. All of these are combined in this charming and reflective story of a young man’s journey to find his place in his world.

I particularly enjoyed the parallels the author drew between life in the tiny village of Buenavista and rural life in Scotland. They were a constant reminder that despite the differences in culture, people and what they value are often intrinsically the same wherever we go. I also loved getting to know the people in the village where he spent almost an entire year.

Ronald Mackay claims to have been quite reserved in talking about himself and his background, but he must have been an open and friendly young man to have won the respect and friendship of so many locals. Anyway, I have to say I was really quite sad to finish the book. It is beautifully evocative with lovely descriptions and marvellous character studies. This is a special memoir that I’ll remember for some time to come.

The link to the book is here

What have we got Toulouse by Nikki McArthur

What Have We Got Toulouse is a really interesting and informative book about a young family’s move to France. Armed with heaps of courage and a growing number of children (they start with three and end up with five), Nikki and her husband Gary decide to move to South West France to fulfil a long held dream of living abroad.

This is a no holds barred account of the ups and downs of their first few years in a country where they didn’t really speak the language well enough for comfort, but still forged their way ahead. Learning to negotiate both the bureaucracy and the health care system would have daunted me, I’m sure, but Nikki finds her way through it all and shares her experiences with us all in her easy, conversational and lively style.

The book is full of useful information and tips for anyone contemplating a move to France. The do’s and don’ts; the must haves and the pitfalls to avoid. It’s all there and I can imagine would be very useful for anyone else planning to bring up a family and set up business there.

A very enjoyable read.

Random Too by Adrian Sturrock

 
I read and loved the first Random (and also Sat Nav Diaries) by Adrian Sturrock, so I was looking forward to the next helping of his highly humorous and self deprecating collection of stories from his life.

These are very much the author’s musings played out against the foil of his sharply witty wife, Nat. The repartee is just as scintillating as in the first book, and oh how I laughed at his mishaps but even more at his deliberate provocation: ‘I refer you to’ his airport and school interview stories. As for the eyebrow story…well, you’ll have to read it.

Adrian definitely has a flair for witty dialogue like no one since Robert B Parker in his Spencer books. Every one of Adrian’s stories is built around the alternately sweet and spicy tang of his daily conversations with his partner. Whether it be a conversation while they are sitting in bed, or a sharp exchange on their travels, the result is the same…Nat always has the last word, and I love it.

I can highly recommend Random Too as the follow up to Random, and once more, Adrian Sturrock has impressed me with the brilliance of his dialogue and his succinct, bullseye wit. A fantastic read.

The link to the Kindle book is here

Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 3 by Nick Albert

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Last night I finished Nick Albert’s lovely Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 3 and I’m already looking forward to the next one. What a wonderful series! It contains everything I love: dogs, chickens, DIY challenges, history and fun. I laughed a lot and teared up a few times and I’m in awe of Nick’s DIY courage and achievements. Just a gorgeous read.

Nick and Lesley have moved from the home counties in England to a remote farmhouse in county Clare in Ireland. This book picks up where the last one left off, and the story begins when they are part of the way through the renovations on their old house. I  learned quite a bit about building projects and even more about how not to do things through Nick Albert’s endearing and self deprecating humour. Being a DIY enthusiast myself, I found the descriptions of his progress fascinating and could even have done with more of them, but I understand that for a memoir, the DIY had to be balanced with the rest of the story.

What surprised me was how much ‘weather’ they have in western Ireland. From raging storms to heavy snow and runaway fires, life in County Clare sounds just as exciting as it was in my old South African home. There is even the odd tornado, and even worse for me, the danger of sinking into a bog. Awful to contemplate.

The animal stories were of course a delight. The dogs the couple gather along the way show what great animal lovers they are, and as for the chickens and ducks, I howled with laughter over their antics. One day I’ll have chickens too, simply for entertainment value…the eggs would just be a bonus.

Thank you, Nick Albert. This book was just what I needed and I’m very much looking forward to number 4.

The link to the book is here

Watching the Daisies by Brigid Gallagher

 

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It’s taken me a while to read this memoir, but somehow I think it’s fitting as the subtitle of Watching the Daisies is ‘Life Lessons on The Importance of Slow.’

Overall, this is a memoir about healing and self-development. However, the story is really that of Brigid Gallagher’s life and we follow her progress from early childhood in Ireland to a life in Scotland with her family and then back to Ireland again. Throughout the telling of this gentle story of poignant loss and gain, we learn of Brigid’s career in spiritual and holistic healing, which later leads to a new career in horticulture after a number of life changing events.

The book is quite detailed, but what dominates the story is the author’s love of family, her soul-searching for spiritual growth and her quest for a health that seems to evade her. We also travel widely with her to wonderful locations, such as India, Morocco, Bali and Italy, where she seeks out spiritual and healing experiences. What I found particularly intriguing was her openness to different faiths and her ability to embrace aspects of a number of spiritual paths, while remaining a devout Christian.

Altogether, I found Watching the Daisies a profound and moving memoir, and a lovely enriching read.

The link to the book is here