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When I grow up I want to be a Chair by Ryan Rae Harbuck

A remarkably powerful and deeply emotional memoir. The way Ryan Rae Harbuck uses language is both evocative and plain spoken, lyrical and aggressive. Hats off to this courageous young woman for not only surviving a horrific accident but also for surviving the complexities of her family situation and growing into the fulfilled woman she clearly is today.

This memoir is an exploration into the feelings behind the challenges she faced. It is sometimes difficult reading; it is gripping and unusual but it is immensely inspiring.

The link to the book on Amazon US is here


Mad Cows and Englishmen

I’ve recently finished reading this highly entertaining memoir about Liza and Gary Grantham’s move from the Canary Islands to a remote village in Galicia.

In a kind of reverse role situation, they escape from the sun-drenched beaches of their island home to renovate an old stone village house in the wettest, coldest part of Spain. This page-turning account covers their discovery of Galicia, their hunt for a home, the move itself and their first months among the quirky colourful Galicians who live in their village. There are challenges, disasters and delights too. Spanish property laws seem to be fraught with unexpected problems and all too often they are faced with unwelcome surprises that include trespassing cows and misplaced chicken runs, but they bravely soldier on and fall in love with Galicia in the process. 

By the end of the book, they are well entrenched in the countryside with chickens, a dog, the cat who came with them and a list of jobs still to be done. Liza Grantha writes clever, witty and sometimes poignant poems that serve as chapter separators and make lively reading. I’m looking forward to book 2 now to see what happens next! I loved the book and recommend it without reserve for anyone who enjoys rural life, renovation and moving abroad memoirs.

the link to the Kindle version on Amazon US is here, but it’s available in all regions.

A Drive Down the Coast by Russ DiBella

This is a very well written account of the author’s drive from the northern end of the California coast right down to its border with Baja California in Mexico.

There is plenty of interesting historical, geographical and musical information included, which gives the book a sense of California’s tremendous contributions to the world. Russ DiBella punctuates his trip with visits to a number of hallowed halls of music fame, as well as making numerous literary references to great travel writers’ words of wisdom about journeys and journeying.

My favourite part was his visit to Salinas, the birthplace of one of my literary heroes, John Steinbeck. I also enjoyed the descriptions of that part of his drive. Personally, I would have preferred fewer quotes from other authors and more of Mr DiBella’s own observations, impressions and feelings about what he saw and experienced, but otherwise, this was a very good read about a great trip. Recommended!

The link to the book is here

Two Old Fools in Spain Again by Victoria Twead

I’m gradually reading my way through Victoria Twead’s books and have just finished this one, which I loved as much as the last. Happy to be home in Spain again after their difficult year in Bahrain, Vicky and Joe slot quickly back into village life, enjoying the seasons as they pass.

Most of the characters in the previous books figure equally large in this one and I was highly entertained by the stories about Judith’s mother and the unexpected influence she manages to wield over village conflicts. There are also some funny incidents that give great insights into dealing with Spanish life and bureaucracy, and I laughed my socks off at Vicky’s attempts at wine tasting, although some of the relationship developments among their neighbours were a poignant reminder that not everything is always idyllic. 

Victoria Twead writes with so much affection and humour about the villagers, her chickens, the feral cats and even Felix’s mule. However, her descriptions of the beautiful scenery around them are both vivid and lyrical; a lovely counterpoint to the fun. It was delightful to feel part of their lives as I read, but I can already feel that changes are afoot and am looking forward to reading the next in the series to find out what happens next. As always, there are some luscious recipes for foodies as chapter separators. Anyone who enjoys books about Spanish rural life will love this book. I did!

The link to the book on Amazon US is here.

Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates by Beth Haslam

I’ve been waiting for this book for months and now I’ve read it, I’m filled with Welsh ‘hiraeth’. What a magical memoir about Beth Haslam’s wonderful upbringing in Wales.

For a family who were always tenants and never owners, they lived in the most beautiful and special homes in one of the most breathtaking parts of the British Isles. Having spent every childhood holiday in Wales myself, I thoroughly enjoyed Beth’s wonderfully vivid descriptions of her northern Welsh environs from the mountain views of Snowdonia to the dangerous Menai straits and gorgeous Anglesey.

Her upbringing was strict, with every privilege accompanied by endless chores to earn it, but she was surrounded with love, humour, animals and glorious scenery and I laughed out loud at several of her anecdotes. As for her education, I can only sympathise having had to follow that route myself.

For extra enjoyment, there are lovely quotes from Welsh literature, wonderful Welsh recipes and lyrical Welsh words in every chapter, not forgetting the delightful illustrations. I loved it all. Well done, Beth Haslam. This book is a triumph!

The link to the Kindle version of the book on Amazon US is here. However, it’s available on all Amazon marketplaces.

A Doorbell, A Dictator, A Dad by Mitos Suson

I received this memoir as a prize in a Christmas competition and am so pleased I’ve read it. It’s an absolutely riveting account of the author’s youth during the Marcos regime in the Philippines when her dad was arrested for conspiring against the dictator. I read it in two sittings and found it fascinating, sad, compelling and informative.

An excellent record of what happened at the time and how the harshness of the regime disrupted Mitos Suson’s family and thousands of other lives.

Here’s the link to the book on Goodreads where you can choose where to buy it.

Don’t Drop the Dolphin by Lally Brown

Having read and loved all Lally Brown’s other books, I was thrilled to be asked to beta read her latest memoir and am happy to confirm it lived up to all my expectations. I have now bought the Kindle book to read again and will probably buy the paperback as well when it’s available.

I love the author’s writing style and I so enjoyed this period of the family’s life. The two children who were little more than babies in Treefrogs Can’t Sing are now teenagers embarking on O and A level GCSE exams. How they cope in the informal and colourful world of the Caribbean is a delight to read and Lally Brown’s depiction of local characters is again imbued with great affection. I loved all the stories of the island folk, although some of them were maybe a touch more colourful than was desirable. There are tales of drug busts, gun-toting enforcement agents, mad, vengeful tractor drivers and employees with some, shall we say, interesting habits. The family take all of these challenges in their stride and revel in the exotic, but also down-to-earth, lifestyle. Their greatest pleasures come from the glories of nature, although they take a fascinating and exciting trip to the US during their two-year stay, which takes them to some some of the country’s most spectacular locations.

However, as a book that brings you the magic of the islands, the awe of swimming with dolphins and the charms of a sun-kissed existence, you may wonder what on earth the title can mean. Well, read it and find out. You’ll love it, I know. Well done, Lally Brown. This is a wonderful read.

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

A Hair’s Whisper: from cancer to the courtroom by Shirley Ledlie

I have been eagerly awaiting this sequel to Shirley Ledlie’s Naked In The Wind, and I have now romped through it with undiminished admiration and respect for this awe-inspiring woman. A Hair’s Whisper tells the story of her continuing fight to gain justice for all women with permanent hair loss resulting from a specific chemotherapy drug.

Pulling no punches, Ms Ledlie takes on the lawyers and representatives of the drug’s manufacturer and scores a major triumph in flouting the demands of the pharmaceutical giant. I loved the book, the descriptions of the legal battles and also the extra glimpses into her life and travels, especially in New Orleans.

Congratulations, Shirley Ledlie. I remain in awe of your courage and hope there will be more on your campaign for patients’ rights to come. You are doing what most of us would never have the bravery to do. Very highly recommended.

The link to the book is here

Watch Out For Pirates by Jules Brown

This new book from Jules Brown is a great third in his series of anecdotal travel memoirs. Following the same pattern as his first two books, (Don’t Eat the Puffin, and Never Pack an Ice Axe), Watch Out for Pirates is a diverse collection of stories spanning the decades of his life as a travel writer. I love Jules’s writing, so was already predisposed to enjoy it, and this collection didn’t let me down at all. 

From the funny descriptions of his first encounters with Bangkok, to a touching tour through Scotland with his beloved, the stories sweep across the world and the decades. They even include a humorous account of his father’s and grandfather’s take on travel, which I loved. Jules writes with beautiful flexibility and is a true wordsmith whose style seems as effortless as it is fluid. He is both witty and serious; honest and real. He also manages to be sensitive, self-deprecating and sympathetic, all of which makes the reader feel personally involved with his experiences. I laughed, I gasped, and felt several tugs at my heart-strings. Lovely!

The last few chapters of the book offer some great trips to tourists and travellers. Overall, Watch Out for Pirates is a gem, and not to be missed. I received the book as an ARC copy and give it an unstinting 5 stars.

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

Pulpo, Pig and Peppers by Lisa Rose Wright

I received this book as an ARC copy and enjoyed it so much I’ve ordered a paperback to keep for future visits to Galicia. Lisa Rose Wright’s affection for her adopted region shines through her writing and I loved travelling with her, S and her mother to the many and diverse beauty spots of Galicia. Sometimes, she takes her readers on road trips and other times on hikes, but in every case, we are treated to a wealth of glorious scenery, rich history and interesting comment. We also get to sample the local cuisine when sharing their many delicious menus of the day.

I especially enjoyed the pithy dialogue between Lisa and S, and really felt I was walking with them on their hikes, or sitting in the car as they drove the stunning country roads. This is the perfect travel companion for those who want to visit Galicia and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I do hope there’ll be another travel book from Lisa soon.

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