Genre: Travel

The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec (3/5)

Posted August 18, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec (3/5)The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec
Published by Virago Press Ltd on September 4th 2014
Genres: Food, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Personal Memoirs, Travel
Pages: 211
Format: Paperback
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"A relationship was a mathematical formula: the correct variables of age, beauty, morality and finances were entered and the output was a successful, peaceful marriage. It couldn’t be, therefore, that their Iranian son could feel desire for someone six years his senior, someone who didn’t come to him pure and untouched. I was an amusing visitor from another world and soon enough I should return to it, fading quietly into an anecdote …"
In her thirties, Jennifer Klinec abandons a corporate job to launch a cooking school from her London flat. Raised in Canada to Hungarian-Croatian parents, she has already travelled to countries most people are fearful of, in search of ancient recipes. Her quest leads her to Iran where, hair discreetly covered and eyes modest, she is introduced to a local woman who will teach her the secrets of the Persian kitchen.
Vahid is suspicious of the strange foreigner who turns up in his mother’s kitchen; he is unused to seeing an independent woman. But a compelling attraction pulls them together and then pits them against harsh Iranian laws and customs.
Getting under the skin of one of the most complex and fascinating nations on earth, The Temporary Bride is a soaring story of being loved, being fed, and the struggle to belong.

I selected this as my read for the “food memoir” task for Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

Set in Iran, I have to say my mouth was watering with many of the descriptions of local delicacies. It’s clear that the author is passionate about food, recipes, provenance and learning authentic dishes from around the world. However Klinec also comes across as spoilt and selfish. The product of rich parents who seemed to care more about money than their children.

Alongside the food memoir, this is also a story of love. Klinec meets Vahid, an Iranian citizen, who invites her to visit his family and learn from his mother’s cooking. They start a relationship which seems to be doomed from the very beginning.

Reading about her relationship with Vahid, I started to feel angry towards Jennifer. She seemed to be selfish and single-minded, with no real thought to the position she was putting Vahid in with regards his family and his community. That said, by the end my feelings had mellowed slightly, but I still think she could have been more respectful of the circumstances she was in.

For a food memoir, this book is also sorely lacking in recipes! For all she clearly has a love of the food she discovered, there was no further information on the dishes, which was really disappointing.

This was a good read and I enjoyed it. But the inclusion of some recipes would have made it even better!

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (4/5)

Posted July 4, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (4/5)The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
Published by Icon Books Ltd on January 8th 2015
Genres: Travel, Europe, Denmark, Social Science, Sociology, General
Pages: 354
Format: Kindle
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'A hugely enjoyable romp through the pleasures and pitfalls of setting up home in a foreign land' PD Smith, Guardian
When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries. What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made?
Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness. From childcare, education, food and interior design to SAD, taxes, sexism and an unfortunate predilection for burning witches, The Year of Living Danishly is a funny, poignant record of a journey that shows us where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.

The blurb for this book includes a review stating that it’s a “hugely enjoyable romp” – which is probably the best possible description for this book. It is thoroughly enjoyable.

Russell and her partner (“Lego Man”) leave hectic lifestyles in London to head to the Danish wilderness when Lego Man is offered a job. It’s a leap into the unknown – especially as they don’t speak the language. What follows is an enjoyable, “Bridget-Jones-meets-The-Happiness-Project” book, which breaks the year down to 12 individual chapters, each focusing on a different part of Danish life. Interspersed with the chat are interviews with “experts” to add a little more substance to the book.

It’s a light-hearted entertaining look at the surface of Danish life as an expat. But it’s not an in-depth sociological study of Denmark and its inhabitants. It’s an enjoyable read, if a slightly fluffy one.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2/5)

Posted April 24, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2/5)Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Published by Abacus on March 24th 2005
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Travel
Pages: 933
Format: Paperback
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"It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured."
So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.
Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.
As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city's poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.
Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas---this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate lovefor India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

This book has sat on my TBR pile for quite a while before I decided to dive into the 933 pages of Shantaram. The book seems to divide opinion between those who loved it and those who loathed it. Unfortunately after 8 days of reading (which is a long time for me to spend on a single book) I have to say I am more towards the “loathed” end of the scale than the “loved” end of the scale!

It starts off well, and is interesting to see how Lin (or Gregory) ingratiated himself into day-to-day Bombay (Mumbai) life. His tales of first arriving in Bombay, living in the village with his friend Prabaker and his experience living in the slums, were all really interesting accounts of the side of India I know nothing about. However, the writing is overly flowery and self-important; and full of deep, philosophical discussions allegedly had between a group of ex-pats – who make their living in the black markets of Bombay – over their drinks in a bar.

By the time the book moved on to Lin’s activities with the Bombay mafia, and then into his adventures in Afghanistan, I was beginning to lose the will to continue reading. The book seems to descend into a catalogue of his life as a hardened criminal, all the while trying to justify his actions on the basis that he hasn’t killed anyone! He seems to think he is some kind of good samaritan who is somehow removed from the activities in which he is involved, while at the same time trying to present himself as “the westerner who infiltrated the Bombay mafia”.

The author is clearly passionate about India, and about Bombay in particular. I have to admit that India isn’t a country I’ve been particularly drawn to in the past. But this is the first book I’ve read which is piqued my interest to find out more about the country, its history and its population. For that alone, it was worth the read.

The Bookshop that Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw

Posted November 23, 2015 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Bookshop that Floated Away by Sarah HenshawThe Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw
Published by Constable on April 3rd 2014
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Travel
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
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In early 2009 a strange sort of business plan landed on the desk of a pinstriped bank manager. It had pictures of rats and moles in rowing boats and archaic quotes about Cleopatra's barge. It asked for a GBP30,000 loan to buy a black-and-cream narrowboat and a small hoard of books. The manager said no. Nevertheless The Book Barge opened six months later and enjoyed the happy patronage of local readers, a growing number of eccentrics and the odd moorhen. Business wasn't always easy, so one May morning owner Sarah Henshaw set off for six months chugging the length and breadth of the country. Books were bartered for food, accommodation, bathroom facilities and cake. During the journey, the barge suffered a flooded engine, went out to sea, got banned from Bristol and, on several occasions, floated away altogether. This account follows the ebbs and flows of Sarah's journey as she sought to make her vision of a floating bookshop a reality.

This book has sat on Mt. TBR for a fair while now. It was bought as a gift for me and looked good from the blurb on the back, but unfortunately the execution of the book was a disappointment.

Henshaw herself says at the beginning that there are very few characters that are constant through the book. Pretty much just Sarah herself, Joseph the boat, and a few people who pop in and out such as her on-off boyfriend Stu and her parents. This gives the book a very disjointed feel as people appear for one chapter, only to disappear again. It’s almost like a series of short stories – yet hasn’t been written like a short story, so it’s ultimately unsatisfying.

Henshaw’s writing is also all over the place with some events hinted at, while other seem to appear from nowhere, leaving the reader wondering what they’ve missed. In parts it almost feels like a diatribe against the kindle, which is understandable (she also appears to be equally against Scottish banknotes, which is less so!) but it does get a bit much. She also comes across as someone with very little business nous, which makes the whole commercial aspect of the book barge very questionable to say the least. Ultimately it appears that without parents and her aforementioned on-again/off-again boyfriend to shore up the finances, the venture would have folded very quickly (or possibly not got off the ground at all).

I also skipped Part 2 completely as that was a fictional account of the book barge’s life, written in the first person. It was just odd!

Overall she comes across as impulsive and privileged to have people who can shore up the financial aspect of something which is nothing more than a flight of fancy. This one just wasn’t for me.

Gatecrashing Paradise: Misadventures in the Real Maldives by Tom Chesshyre

Posted October 23, 2015 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Gatecrashing Paradise: Misadventures in the Real Maldives by Tom ChesshyreGatecrashing Paradise: Misadventures in the Real Maldives by Tom Chesshyre
Published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing on January 27th 2015
Genres: Non-Fiction, Travel
Pages: 288
Format: Library Book
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Gatecrashing Paradise offers a first glimpse of a newly accessible tourist destination. To many the Maldives not only symbolizes "paradise", but is paradise. Until Recently, outsiders were banned from islands not officially endorsed as "tourist resorts", but now a thousand sandy shores have opened up in the Indian Ocean-the flattest area on Earth.

This is a really good “behind the scenes” book on the idyllic Maldives.

We were fortunate enough to honeymoon in the Maldives in 2007, on a tiny island with 48 villas and over 100 staff to service them. It really was a heaven-on-earth. But this kind of luxury honeymoon idyll is only part of the story. Tom Chesshyre’s book goes (pretty much) behind the scenes of the 5 star luxury resorts and looks at the life of the real Maldivians.

It covers a lot of the political turmoil that has hit the islands, as well as covering the historical and religious background of this island nation. The people he meets are full of character that it really brings the book to life.

By travelling via ferry and commercial boats, and staying in small guesthouses and people’s own homes, the book really brings the Maldives to life.

Above all, with tourism only permitted on “local islands” very recently, this travelogue is all written with the feeling that Tom is the first person to have completed this journey. Something that is really quite remarkable in this day and age.

Highly recommended.

Yemen by Tim Mackintosh-Smith

Posted October 20, 2015 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Yemen by Tim Mackintosh-SmithYemen by Tim Mackintosh-Smith
Published by John Murray on July 1st 1998
Genres: Non-Fiction, Travel
Pages: 280
Format: Library Book
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I really struggled with this book. The author seemed unable to decide whether he was writing a history of Yemen, or a travelogue of the country. Bits of the text were interesting, but the vast majority read like a dry, advanced-level text, unsuited to the layperson.

Unfortunately the amount of travelogue/interesting bits weren’t enough to bring this up to a 2* read for me.

Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming

Posted October 3, 2015 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming

This is a very interesting collection of memoirs, written by an American lady living in Bhutan. The contrasts between the two countries are stark, but Bhutan, without all its consumer excess and wealth, is richer in many other ways. It’s interesting (to me) that this book is written by an American. While Bhutan is not […]

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Posted September 20, 2015 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Urgh! What a load of codswollop. I made it through about a third of this book. The first third mainly being about the breakdown of Liz’s marriage and how she found herself in Italy. Which was vaguely interesting. But the book just drones on and on and ON and by the time she got to […]