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Review of The Furthest Points by Andy Hewitt



What are the ‘furthest points’? You may well ask, as did I when I saw the title for this memoir by Andy Hewitt. In this case, I discovered they were the extreme points south, east, north and west of Spain and Portugal, and in some cases, such as the furthest point south, these were of continental mainland Europe too.

The aim to travel to these points started as an idea for a motorbiking holiday. Andy and his wife Kim decide to tour the perimeter of Spain and take in these particular points as goals for their journey. Travelling on a swish crimson Harley Davidson (well, it looked swish to me, but then any HD bike does that), they set off for a three week tour that takes them from the Algarve, along the Spanish sunshine coast, and then on round the country to its north western tip before ducking down into Portugal again and following the coast until they reach home.

This is a good humoured, well written and light-hearted travelogue and I enjoyed getting to read about the beauties and regional characteristics of different parts of the Iberian peninsula, not to mention the vagaries of the Spanish weather (not full on sunshine and roses at all). I also liked the teasing way Andy writes about his relationship with his wife, the feisty and internet savvy Kim ‘dot com’, as well as reading about their encounters with the Spanish people they met along the way.

For motorbike lovers, there is a wealth of information about bikes Andy has had, both past and present, and also quite a bit of useful technical know-how woven in to the narrative. My knowledge of bikes is confined to the old classics my ex-husband used to love, but I can readily see the appeal of a Harley Davidson after reading this book. Andy Hewitt has made me want to urge my other half off his scooter and back onto a real bike!

The book is very ‘English’ in its idiomatic style and makes many comparisons between Spain and the UK. I’ll confess  these were a bit lost on me as I don’t know Spain that well and I haven’t lived in England for longer than I care to remember. As a result, the current situations as regards behaviour and culture in both countries are a bit academic for me, but I can imagine British readers will relate to it very well. He also describes rides in other parts of the world too, confirming him as an avid international biker.

Altogether, this was a very entertaining read and I hope Andy Hewitt keeps writing because he does it well.

Here is a link to the book

A shorter version of this review will be posted on Amazon and Goodreads


Review of Made Again: Our true love story from online dating to military family life


I’ve had this book on my Kindle for quite a while and with all the train travel I’ve done this summer I’ve finally managed to read it. Not being much into military stories, I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I found it a moving and poignant read.

I was very touched by Sara and Brad’s story of how they met, got to know each other and coped with the trials, separations and fears of the military life Brad embarked on at quite a late stage in life (relatively speaking). It was quite eye opening in many ways and I gained a great deal of respect for how the couple dealt with the very difficult issues they faced and became ever closer in the process. Military training is no walk in the park, that’s for sure, and military wives have to have a huge fund of inner strength to adjust to the long absences.

I wasn’t sure at first about the transcription of all their emails, but actually found it a  good way of showing how the couple’s relationship developed and the reader gets a first hand account of all their emotional highs and lows.

Altogether, this was a heart warming and encouraging story that is both honest and touching.

The link to the book is here

Memoir of an Overweight Schoolgirl by Bev Spicer


What a trip down memory lane this has been. I have thoroughly enjoyed Bev Spicer’s recollections of being a slightly food and weight obsessed schoolgirl in the sixties and seventies. The self-deprecating humour is gentle and truly amusing and the incredible detail with which she draws on memories of life at the time is just amazing.

There were so many things I’d forgotten: school dinners with the inevitable lumpy mashed potato, desks with inkwells, parker pens, sweets, snacks and brands that have long gone. But the music and the clothes of the early seventies were all too familiar. I also spent hours listening to Tommy by the Who, and loved wearing cheesecloth.

There is a delightful honesty to Bev Spicer’s depiction of her young self and it brought back what it was to be a teenager at that time when so many things were still not discussed openly. Life is much freer now and there are far fewer taboos. There were also many feelings and emotions to which I, and I’m sure many others of our generation too, could relate

For a trip down memory lane, this memoir is hard to beat, and maybe a great book for teenage girls to read today too, just in case they imagine their trials and tribulations are unique. It is funny, informative and nostalgic; in short, highly recommended.

The link to the book on Amazon U.S. is here

Review: I Wish I Could say I was Sorry by Susie Kelly


What a rollercoaster ride this memoir of Susie Kelly’s is. I started reading it because the first chapters appeared at the end of Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants and I got hooked straight away, so I bought it.

This is the story of many a post WWII dysfunctional family in Africa. It is sad, but riveting. It tells of Susie Kelly’s life growing up as the victim of a broken marriage and the misfit in her father’s second family in the context of a conventional colonial society. Having lived in South Africa myself for 20 years, I know many people with similar backgrounds and family histories.

The richness of the book is that it is largely set in Kenya and Susie’s love for the country and its people shines through. I didn’t grow up in Africa, but I wish I had. Despite the many problems, inequalities and injustices of African colonial life, it was a wonderful place to be a child. The freedom, the space, the outdoor life, all these were food for a child’s soul.

Added to that, children often forged deep and lasting relationships with their family servants and these are the most precious of the stories Susie had to tell as she continued to love and value her Kenyan servants in adulthood.

In many respects, the memoir is a mystery too. Why was she the misfit? Why did her stepmother hate her? What was the truth she was never allowed to hear? I can relate to her family situation very easily as in my family, there were also things we didn’t talk about, stony loaded silences, unexplained rages etc., but I think that was the case in many post-war families. Conventions, manners, pride, what was and wasn’t done were all there to repress discussion and open dialogue, so feelings exploded without explanation. Poor Susie lived with constant tension and the questions it raised.

I read this in a day and loved it for the Africa it took me to; the sense of place, the warmth of so many people in Susie’s life, the entertaining stories about her school years, some of which had me crying with laughter. I also felt her sadness in being unable to solve the mystery; at being unable to talk to her family because there were so many taboos. The contrast between the love she received from others and the cold silence of her family underscored the poignancy.

Altogether, this book is a personal and honest window onto a world and life that has now mostly disappeared and I recommend it highly. Wonderful!

The link to the book is here

Review of Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants by Susie Kelly


Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants is an intriguing title for this book which I expected to be quite a comedy, but actually, it was a great travelogue through a number of Kenya’s game reserves with some fairly serious content. What I loved about it was the author’s depth of affection for the country where she grew up, her love for its people and her fascination for its wildlife. This is partly a travel memoir and partly a look back into the author’s past life in Kenya, and as such the reader is transported through the African bush as well as back into Kenya of the 1950s.

Invited on a luxury safari, the author describes the magic of the African landscape in all its glory while being guided from one game reserve to another by a group of incredibly well-informed Kenyan guides. There is a wealth of fascinating information about the animals that Susie Kelly gleans from the guides as they go along, and I gained so much admiration for these knowledgeable and wonderful men who care for the travellers in their charge, ensuring they get the best of possible experiences. Susie also compares the Kenya of today with her memories of the past, when the country was in the last stages of British colonial rule.

There were certainly some amusing elements, especially early on, when the author discovers what she has managed to leave behind (hence the baggy pants), but there were also some tough calls when we read about the harsher realities of nature, for example Susie’s story about what Safari Ants can do. I still shudder at the thought.

I must say that I found Travels with Tinkerbelle, the last book of Susie Kelly’s I read, a more professional product than this one in terms of editing polish, but as I read on, I became so immersed in the African experience, the landscape, and especially the lovely people Ms Kelly meets that it didn’t seem to matter anymore. Altogether, I really enjoyed it and it made me hanker for Africa all over again.

As a bonus, there is a link to Susie Kelly’s beautiful photos of her trip. They are quite stunning!

The link to the book is here

Review of Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker


Along the Enchanted Way: A Story of Love and Life in Romania is one of those books that lingers in your mind long after you have reached the last page and closed the covers. I bought this as a paperback and am so glad I did as it includes several pages of rather grainy black and white photos that might not have shown too well on my Kindle. It’s also a book I’m sure I’ll read again.

Written with lyrical beauty, the author describes how curiosity led him to visit Romania following the fall of the Berlin wall, but having made his way there, he found it hard to leave and ended up staying for several years.

He immersed himself in rural life, seeing this as the ideal existence. Romania in the 90s was largely unaffected by the western world and William Blacker loved its old world simplicity, free of the trappings and technology of modern life. He was welcomed into the community where he made his home (in Breb) and learnt many of the arts and customs of country life.

However, curiosity also led him to investigate the former Saxon villages in Transylvania that he passed through on his first visit to the country, and there he met and fell for a gypsy girl.

The book really comprises two parts: Blacker’s life in Breb with the Romanians and his life in the Saxon village with the gypsies. The former is idyllic, the latter is fraught with tensions and troubles, but both are fascinating as insights into Romania, its people, its post communist developments and its attitude to the gypsies. There is also a good deal of historical detail, which gives added depth to his story of this complex country. Romania’s people are lovely, but there is also a huge amount of underlying prejudice and suspicion in society, a legacy of its troubled past.

For me, it was eye-opening as well as beautifully written and has made me want to make a return visit to Romania to see how much things have changed in the country since the book was written. With the opening up of Europe, western conveniences have flooded in and eroded much of the old way of life, but it is still there in the more rural heartlands.

This was a lovely memoir as well as being an important record of what life was like in Romania only twenty years ago. Highly recommended.

The link to the book is here.

Review: With Love From Bratislava by Christy Morgan


This was an enjoyable memoir about the author’s decision to release herself from the tedium of a marriage gone stale and set out on an adventure to discover herself in a new country and culture. Slovakia might seem an odd choice for a Canadian, but the author’s background and former relationships pave the way for her decision to move to Bratislava with her two young children. Luckily, she has the wholehearted support of her ex-husband and a number of new and kind acquaintances in her adoptive city.

Dealing with the bureaucracy involved with residency would have had me tearing my hair out, but Christy Morgan stays the course and learns to love her new home. This is a very personal account, and apart from those within the author’s immediate circle, we don’t learn much about the Slovakian people until close to the end of the book. Most of the story focuses on the challenges with the immigration processes and her personal relationships, Bratislava and its cafés being the backdrop. All the same, it made me google the places she wrote about and I found myself intrigued by the city too.

This was a pleasant and entertaining read and I hope there will be a sequel.


The link to the book is here