Tuesday 27 July 2021

Chasing the Dream by Alyson Sheldrake

Chasing the Dream - A new life abroad: An Anthology of Travel Stories by Alyson Sheldrake is pretty much what it says on the tin. There are 20 tales in this volume each recounting how the authors ended up where they are: living abroad in a distant - or not so distant - country.


'Please excuse Laura for being absent from school. She was sick again so I took her to the doctor and had her shot'. 

Victoria Twead is a supply teacher - used to notes like this from parents - who loves her job, but still hankers after a life in Spain with her husband. He needs persuading but 'you know' lovely hot weather and all that so they move to Spain and get record snowfall in their first winter... Get Your Coat We're Going to Buy Chickens is hilarious.

I've read two of Val Poore's lovely books already but was very happy to read again in Doing Things the Dutch Way exactly how she came to be on a barge in the historic part of a harbour in Rotterdam. Next I must get around to reading about her life in South Africa before she moved.

In Waking up in Japan by Todd Wassel we hear how he fell in love with Japan as young man. He gets a post at a rural school but doesn't take into account the huge cultural differences between Brits and Japanese people and can't work out why no-one will talk about what happened to his predecessor. All kinds of things go through his mind...

Clare Pedrick in An Unplanned Adventure in the Hills of Umbria tells how she exchanged life as journalist in Brighton for a run-down house in Umbria in Italy, really just on a whim. I will investigate her book, Chickens Eat Pasta soon.

Linda Decker was a geography geek as a child, something I completely identify with. (She loved maps, so do I, but my main geography love was stamp collecting.) In Global Nomads she tells how she ended up marrying a chap who was something to do with water supplies and ended up living all over the world. Fascinating stuff. 

In Finding the Dream, Nick Albert and his wife move to Ireland looking for a more rural life, even though they've never previously been there. He has a whole host of books about his experiences starting with, Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds.

Beth Haslam is another author whose first book, Fat Dogs and French Estates, I've already read. Before her and her husband decided to find an estate in France she was a magistrate and I enjoying reading her stories about that in her contribution, From Bench Life to French Life.

Mountain Dreams by Roy Clarke is about a country you don't often hear about: Slovenia. For those not certain of its location it has a western border with Italy and a northern border with Austria and is very mountainous. And for the author 'mountainous' is the attraction as he's a keen cyclist, so when his wife gets a job there, off they go. His, The Sunny Side of the Alps, is another book I plan to get.

Lisa Rose Wright wrote Plum, Courgette and Green Bean Tart which I reviewed HERE. A Toilet Behind the Sofa recounts how their loo was, literally, behind the sofa until they got their bathroom done, and how people reacted to that! But we also hear how happy she is in Galicia and I was pleased to hear that her mum has now joined them there. I have her second book, Tomato, Fig and Pumpkin Jelly, on my Kindle to read soon.

You Lived Where? by Lucinda Clarke deserves its title as the author describes her life in Libya in the 1970s. I've heard other such stories about life for western women in that country so none of it came as a surprise. The author has written quite a few books which I fancy might bear investigating.

From the Gardens of England to the Foothills of the Pyrenees by Nikki McArthur. Relates how a couple who have always fancied living in Greece are not able to achieve that ambition and end up in the French countryside near Toulouse. I have to say that if I were to go and live in France this is the area I would head for too. The book connected with this story is What Have We Got Toulouse?

In A Fridge Too Far, author Ron Johnson tells about moving to Greece, halfway up a mountain overlooking the sea. Sounds wonderful but deliveries are a nightmare. That said, local Greek delivery people are apparently much quicker than many of us are used to and willing to overfcome any kind of difficult situation. I found this one very interesting... and then discovered I already have his book, A Kilo of String, on my Kindle. 

The perils of buying a house with another couple is related in, A Long Way to the Castanets by Jean Roberts. (Hint: Don't.) And hiring someone you've just met to do the work that needs doing is not such a great idea either.

Ann Patras, in Born To Be An Expat, explains how she emigrated to Canada in the 1970s, came home, married and then went off to Zambia and South Africa with her husband.

In Winter Fruit by Vernon Lacey, the author describes how as an exhausted teacher he went off to Spain for a half-term and loved it so much that he wondered whether or not he could chuck in his job and make a living in Spain teaching.

Rachel Caldicott moved country a lot  so the title of her contribution, Travel is in my DNA, is apprpriate. Her family moved from country to country when she was a child and once she was grown up she moved to Italy to teach. She married a glassblower and moved to France amid plenty of difficulties.

In Sight of Aconcogua charts the life of a Canadian Couple when they move to Chile. Author Ronald McCay has to learn how to be an avocado grower.

In Tuscan Dreams author Tonya Parronchi lives in Italy with her husband and sons. He's a keen sailor and she joins him occasionally, sailing from Italy to the Aeolian sea. Sounds wonderful.

Simon Michael Prior recounts how he married a New Zealander and moved to Australia in Melbourne: The Wonder Down Under. His book, The Coconut Wireless: A Travel Adventure in Search of the Queen of Tonga sounds like a lot of fun. (I might have just bought it...)

And last but not least, Alyson Sheldrake relates how she moved to the Algarve in Portugal, in Living the Algarve Dream. I loved hearing about her early morning walk with the dogs. She has several books to investigate too, starting with, Living the Dream in the Algarve, Portugal.

So. This is quite a long collection of very varying experiences of living abroad.  Even though this is not something I would probably do myself I find the subject fascinating as this is what my late sister-in-law did when her and her husband moved to France in the late nineties. So I have some idea of what it entails and the unexpected pitfalls that can occur. I really enjoyed every account in this collection, they're all well written, sometimes funny, sometimes unbelievable, occasionally heart-breaking. The book has also supplied me with rather a long list of new writers to investigate. Val Poore did warn me!

Sunday 18 July 2021

Two British Library short story volumes

I love the British Library's volumes of short stories. They tend to come in several different formats: murder mysteries, science-fiction and 'weird fiction'. Hard to say which I appreciate the most, possibly the weird fiction but it only just has the edge on the other two. The following two books comprise murder mysteries and science fiction.

First up, Deep Waters: Mysteries on the Waves edited by Martin Edwards. 

This anthology is, as it says in the title, all about water. Not just the sea but also rivers, lakes, harbours and so on. A few usual suspects are here. We have Sherlock Holmes' first case as a teenager, The Adventure of the Gloria Scott, set on the Norfolk Broads but essentially a story of a convict ship where the convicts had taken over the ship. Raffles and Bunny are also present in The Gift of the Emperor by E.W. Hornung, where the two are on cruise and Raffles sets his sites on pinching some valuable pearls. 

One of the best stories to my mind was The Echo of a Mutiny by R. Austin Freeman. This one is set around the Thames estuary on one of the lighthouses there and is a story of two men horrified to meet again after a historical onboard mutiny they'd both been complicit in. Austin Freeman's detective is a Dr. Thorndyke and he's brought in in chapter two to solve the murder. I'm quite keen on these Thorndyke mysteries and must read the book of four novels I have on my Kindle. This short story had a very strong sense of place, very 'foggy Thames river, Kent coast' in atmosphere. Loved it. 

Another good Thames mystery was A Question of Timing by Phyllis Bentley, describing how stopping a murder can literally be all about dilly-dallying somewhere for a while, thus delaying you, and then finding you're in the right place at the right time to save someone's life.

Other good stories, The Thimble River Mystery by Josephine Bell, set among the permanent dwellers on yachts on a tributary of the Solent at Southampton, Man Overboard by Edmund Crispin, a tale of incrimination by letter, a clever Cornish fisherman story, The Queer Fish by Kem Bennett and Death by Water a DI Appleby story by Michael Innes, also set in Cornwall. (I really must get around to reading one of the novels.)

These anthologies do vary a bit in quality but all in all this one was very strong. I enjoyed every one of the stories and a few were excellent. Most of all I loved the strong sense of place in most of them, I am rather fond of a good watery murder but nevetheless these would stand up even if that's not your favourite thing. Excellent collection. Beautiful cover too.

Lastly, Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void edited by Mike Ashley. This was sent to me by the British Library for a free and fair review.

These are short stories written before space flight was actually achieved, imagining life 'out there' in the void. It has some very famous sci-fi writers within its covers too: Anne McCaffrey, E.C. Tubb, Jack Vance, Eric Frank Russell, John Brunner. I'd already read just one story, The Ship Who Sang by Ann McCaffrey, but the story of how babies with no hope of survival can have their brains merged with a spaceship is always worth a reread. This one spawned a seven book series, mostly co-written with other authors, entitled 'Brainship'. The E.C. Tubb offering tells of the Sun about to go nova and the Earth's efforts to build a shield to protect the planet. But building is behind schedule, why? A nice human psychology kind of story. Sail 25 by Jack Vance was an interesting 'test the space-cadets' story. One of my favourites in the anthology was O'Mara's Orphan by James White. This is another of the 'hospital in space' series and I've read one or two others in other collections. Such a good story of a juvenile alien that one of the staff has to learn to treat. I must search out more of these. Ultima Thule by Eric Frank Russell recounts how a ship jumps forward, by mistake, into a complete void outside known space. Well written and disturbing. Another favourite was The Voyage that Lasted 600 Years by Don Wilcox. This is a 'generational ship' yarn. A professor will go with them and will be the only one to last the whole trip by being refridgerated and woken up to check on things every 100 years. It illustrates how one mistake he makes at the beginning, by admitting one extra man, can affect the whole project in unimaginable ways. All in all, this was another excellent anthology. Every story was very readable, some quite thought provoking and others very imaginative. I don't think of myself as a huge 'space' fan as regards sci-fi writing (I'm more into alien planets) but I thoroughly enjoyed all nine of these stories and look forward to more of these excellent collections. 

Thursday 8 July 2021

Several crime fiction titles

As always I'm behind with reviews... right back into June for one of these in fact. I'm reading a lot faster than I can review at the moment and at some stage I'm just going to have to concede that I can't review everything, try as I might.

First up, Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear.

Maisie is unsettled. She feels as though she's reached some kind of  crossroads in her life and that it's concerned with travelling, - with following in the footsteps of her late mentor Maurice Blanche and going to India. The trouble is, she's engaged to be married and her fiance, James, is off to Canada and wants her to go with him. It's a dilemma she's trying to deal with when an Indian man asks her to take on the case of the death of his sister, Usha Pramal. Usha had travelled to England as a governess with a family but for some reason left them and ended up in a hostel run for Indian ayahs cast out by English families who no longer need their services. How she ended up dead by the side of a canal is a shocking mystery and Maisie takes the case on after the police had failed to get anywhere. Another case Maisie takes on involves a missing teenage boy so she's busy enough to keep her mind off her current dilemmas. Indian women being brought back to England to continue working with families they worked for in India and then being dismissed when they were no longer needed, in a foreign country, was not something that I was previously aware was happening in the 1930s. So I learnt something from this book. To be honest I learn something every time I pick up a Maisie Dobbs book. Jacqueline Winspear has a habit of finding a new slant on known issues that I'd never thought of before or even issues I'd never even heard of like this one. I like how much her books make me 'think'. I can also understand Maisie's personal problems and will be very interested to see what she does next. I understand the next book, A Dangerous Place, is set on Gibraltar so that should be rather interesting. Of course WW2 is fast approaching in the books and I'm fascinated to see how that's handled in this excellent series. 

Next, The Searcher by Tana French.

Chicago detective, Cal Hooper, has retired and moved to Ireland. 'Rural' Ireland. It's all woods and fields, endless rain, and a village where everyone knows everyone else's business. The locals are friendly though and happy for him to buy a dilapidated cottage and fix it up. It's not long though before Cal realises he's being watched and eventually a young boy creeps into his field of consciousness and starts to help Cal with the carpentry. As the days progress the boy asks for help in finding his brother, Brendan, aged 19, who disppeared six months ago. Cal is at first very reluctant having decided to leave this kind of thing behind him in Chicago. The boy, Trey, persists and eventually Cal agrees to help him having absolutely no idea of the can of worms he's about to open. There's quite an air of hidden menace in this novel. Tana French does not write cozy crime stories and she gets right to the nitty-gritty of rural Ireland, which looks so idyllic but has all the same problems they have in the city but on a much more personal level because everyone knows everyone. I've read one book by Tana French, In the Woods, so I knew her writing was superb and that I would find myself really immersed in the story. And the story is heart-breaking in places and scary because you know there is impending menace from the locals but you don't know who. And there was one real curve-ball that took me completely by surprise... evidence that I need to keep my wits about me a bit more. An excellent read, although I would be interested to know whether the ex-American cop rings true to American readers. 

Lastly, Swansong by Damien Boyd. 

This is the fourth book in the author's 'DI Nick Dixon' series, set in Somerset in areas I know very well. In this installment Nick goes under cover to work as a trainee teacher in a boarding school in Taunton. A girl has been found dead in the school grounds, murdered with her ring finger cut off. What Nick hasn't told his boss is that the case mirrors a murder that happened at his old boarding school, when he was sixteen, and his then girlfriend was killed. The crime was never solved. Nick feels certain that it's the same killer and now feels in a position to find his girlfriend's murderer but really he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near this case. I like school based fiction so rather enjoyed this one. It's very much a police procedural yarn with lots of twists and turns and dashing up and down the M5 in a Landrover! I wouldn't fancy trying to do that in the middle of summer (this was set in December). So, a very pacey story with a lot going on and I really do enjoy the 'local to me' aspect of this series.

Friday 2 July 2021

Books read in June

I can't believe we're halfway through the year already. It's now downhill all the way to Christmas. *Ducks rotten eggs and sundry well aimed missiles*

Enough of frivolity. I seem to have read nine books in June but have no clue how that happened because it felt like I was going quite slowly. Plus, you know, 'the garden'. But there you go...

These are the books:

40. A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier 

41. People Missing in the Woods by Steph Young 

42. The End of the Road by Jack Cooke 

43. A Quiet Life in the Country by T.E. Kinsey

44. A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps 

45. Faring to France on a Shoe by Valerie Poore 

46. Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void edited by Mike Ashley (to be reviewed)

47. Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen 

48. Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear (to be reviewed)

So that's five fiction and four non-fiction books and as usual with me it's quite a mixed bag. There's the usual travel writing, three murder mysteries, some sci-fi and some contemporary fiction. I've travelled all around the USA and the UK, been to Sicily, Northern France, and Nice in the south of France. Pretty much every book was very good, so I can't pick a favourite but I'll do a shout-out for these three:


All three of these were superb and luckily all three writers have written more books for me to enjoy. 

I'm currently reading this:

So my July reading journey begins in Ireland.Where else will I be travelling in my armchair this month I wonder? Exciting!