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Exclusive Pedigree by Joh L Fear, compiled and edited by Robert Fear

What a remarkable book this has proved to be. John Fear was a man born to be a broadcaster. He started life as the son of a family devoted to a specific religious sect, the Exclusive Brethren. During his upbringing he embarked on a career of preaching and broadcasting God’s word that carried him through his life long after he divorced himself from the Brethren. Eventually it led to his becoming a radio broadcaster in countries as diverse as India, Kenya and the Syechelles.

When I started reading this book, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it, but the reviews were excellent, so I dipped in. I soon got hooked by his account of his early life in Leicester as a Brethren son. It was fascinating and I always enjoy memoirs of childhood.

I was also intrigued because the editor, John Fear’s son Robert, has written his own travel memoirs and it has to be said that his books have no religious aspect to them. Nevertheless, Robert has done his father proud and the book is both compelling and absorbing. When reading his diaries and letters home, I had an impression of great humanity, and also a love of life and travel. I can imagine that of all things, this last is what he gave his son.

John Fear comes across as a man who is constantly searching for the right path; he is human, flawed, rebellious and troubled. But he is also a lover of life, good cheer, football and fun. He meets an amazing array of celebrities during his career and his insights on these people also make very interesting reading. That said, it is John’s multi-faceted personality that makes this book such a great read; that and his beautiful writing.

This is a book that takes time to read and savour. It is both an impressive autobiography and a moving personal memoir – a wonderful tribute to a father from his son. I can recommend it very highly.

The link to the book is here

Dogs n Dracula: A Road Trip Through Romania

Having been to Romania a couple of times myself, I was very curious to read Jackie Lambert’s Dogs n Dracula for two reasons: they drove where I travelled by train, and they took their dogs with them in a caravan. I am an unashamed dog lover and a wannabe camper, so I found the blurb of the book very appealing.

However, what I hadn’t expected was how funny and interesting it would be. Dogs n Dracula is a mix of personal travelogue, hair-raising adventures, and fascinating history. The scrapes they got into travelling through rural Romania with what I can only describe as their ‘rig’ had me on the edge of my seat. As for the dogs, well, that’s a story in itself – a charming, heart-warming one as well. The descriptions of their journey are lovely and of the towns the couple visited there were several I didn’t know and now want to visit. There are castles, monasteries, traditional villages and fortified churches, and after reading this book I want to see them all.

Added to that, Jackie Lambert is clearly interested in the background stories of everywhere she goes and her take on Romania’s past was both refreshingly honest and very informative. Romania is a country steeped in the history of invasions from the Romans on and she offers heaps of ‘did you know?’ type facts, which of course I didn’t and enjoyed reading about.

This is a very well-written and lovely book. I laughed, gasped, gazed and sighed with them throughout. It’s definitely made me want to go back to Romania, but I think I’ve learnt from this intrepid couple – a four-wheel drive camper sounds like the best bet, plus space for the few stray dogs I’d probably be unable to resist.

The link to the book is here

One of its legs are both the same by Mike Cavanagh

What a lovely, honest and whimsical memoir. The author, Mike Cavanagh, tells us upfront that this is not a book about Asperger’s but more a look back into his childhood and youth following his diagnosis in an effort to make sense of it in the context of his life. He was always told he was different and so he delves into his memories of growing up in 1960s and 70s Australia when autism and Aspergers were virtually unheard of. That Mike had difficulties with relationships was clear, but this special book is not sad or troubled; it is a beautiful account of a young man’s development in a world that was very accepting of unconventional behaviour such as his. Indeed it was what marked the post WWII generation, which is, I imagine, why no one pointed out to him that his responses to emotions and situations were anything other than occasionally ‘lacking in compassion’ or ‘empathy’.

Mike Cavanagh’s writing is often lyrically beautiful and striking in its expression. I loved his descriptions of everything from the run down cottage where he lived after dropping out of university to his feelings about nature, life and relationships. I also loved the parts about his childhood. His parents were astonishingly tolerant and his youth was blessed with tremendous freedom, which he was lucky to enjoy in such a sun-kissed land.

Altogether, this is a wonderful, funny, poignant and beautifully written book and I am sad to have finished it. I loved it and recommend it highly.

The link to the book is here

From Gaudi’s City to Granada’s Red Palace by EJ Bauer

What a beautiful, richly detailed travelogue this is. I enjoyed E J Bauer’s , otherwise known as Elizabeth Moore, first book about travelling through France very much. Even so, although I am a complete Francophile, I think I enjoyed this one about Spain even more.

I felt I was immersed in the scents, sights and sounds of Spain and Portugal as I travelled with Elizabeth, her sister and her friend to Barcelona, San Sebastian, Madrid, Lisbon and Seville. The word pictures and images evoked by her observations were just lovely and I liked learning something about the history of the locations they visited as well. However, as Elizabeth says, her memoir is more about impressions and what the history meant to her than a list of facts, so somehow it was even more personal and relevant.

I also enjoyed being prompted to look places up on the map and have now added Ronda, in particular, to my wish list, along with San Sebastian and Lisbon, both of which are cities I would love to go to, especially after reading this book.

Elizabeth’s delight in chance encounters with a variety of charming people is evident and I felt her pleasure in this almost wondrous connection that could be formed with fellow travellers, taxi drivers and guides she would surely never meet again. They had so much fun I could physically sense the regret with every parting.

Altogether this was a lovely, beautifully written book that gave me the feeling of being in Spain with them on this special ‘someday’ holiday. Highly recommended.

The link to the book is here

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