Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Category: Book reviews

To pack or not to pack #1: A reading round-up

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One of the things I love about holidays is how, away from all the distractions of home, you can get through more books in a week than you did in the three months before. However – unless you don’t mind risking using your Kindle or tablet by water or leaving it unattended on a sun lounger – this can make packing tricky. Books aren’t particularly light or pliable, and if you’re anything like me, you often have to make tough decisions about which ones make the final packing cut.

OK I’ll be honest, this slightly long-winded introduction is essentially my roundabout way of justifying doing a regular round-up of my recent reads on a travel blog: do they deserve a precious space in your suitcase? And because I want to start 2015 on a positive note, here are my five favourite reads from last year, all of which are worth risking your weight limit for.

The Power of One

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Not just one of my favourite reads of 2014, but ever. Set in 1930s and 40s South Africa, The Power of One follows Peekay, a white, English boy on his journey from his early years with his Zulu wet nurse, to being bullied as an Englishman in a school of English-hating Afrikaans, through to his later school life and quest to become welterweight champion of the world. Although Peekay himself is lovable, its the supporting characters (especially Geel Piet) who will really lodge themselves in your heart; I couldn’t stop talking about them not just while I was reading this book, but long after I’d finished.

And don’t let the boxing element dissuade you. I won’t deny that there are fight scenes, training scenes and betting scenes – and as a kickboxer admittedly I had some understanding of and interest in it on a technical level. But, judging by the fact that the friend who gave me this book isn’t a boxing fan (as far as I’m aware), this certainly isn’t a pre-requisite to enjoy this book. I just hope it takes you in as much as it did me.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Set in the 80s over the course of one school year, this is the story of an unlikely romance between two 16-year-olds; the strangely-dressed ‘misfit’ new girl and the quiet comic book fan. But it’s so much more than that.

I could heap superlative after superlative on this book. It’s line after line of jawdropping, suckerpunch-to-the-heart, wonderfulness. I could quote it, but you deserve to discover it yourself. But I will say that in particular, I love Rowell’s dialogue (not just in this, but all her books). If I could afford it, I’d give a copy to every guest at my wedding. I’m aware that I’m properly fan-girling out here, but seriously. Oh just go and read it, you’ll see.

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
It’s really hard to recommend this book, because you can’t really say what it’s about without spoiling it. To be honest, the best way to enjoy it is to avoid reading anything about it first. So all I’ll say is that all the hype is valid. And that it’s particularly recommended if you like character-led books, and/or have an interest in psychology.

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Socially awkward Don Tillman has to be one of the most endearing literary characters of recent years. The story revolves around the genetic professor’s search for a wife through ‘The Marriage Project’ – a long questionnaire designed to lead him to his perfect wife. Except completely-imperfect-on-paper Rosie arrives, and turns everything on its head.

But the book is as much about Don as a person as the ‘love story’; the story is told from his perspective, and I loved getting to know his routine and seeing the world through his eyes.

It’s also a genuinely funny book – I tend to just chortle inwardly when I’m ready, but was laughing out loud at some points when reading this.

Perfect if you fancy a lighthearted read that’s a little bit different (and if you really like it, there’s sequel too – The Rosie Effect – which I’m yet to read, but assured is equally as good).

The Circle
The Circle by Dave Eggers
The Circle isn’t a book to take on a sightseeing holiday – not if you actually want to see any sights, anyway. This addictive book focuses on Mae, a new recruit at the eponymous organisation which is something of an amalgamation of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Paypal, and probably some others I’ve forgotten. It shows her descent into the technological world as The Circle becomes more and more present in her – and seemingly, everyone’s – lives.

Although towards the end there were some bits that felt ever-so-slightly over the top and one metaphor I really didn’t like, overall I was hooked by Eggers’ scary, futuristic world and how, even more scarily, it didn’t actually seem too futuristic at all.

Now I’ve told you my picks, tell me yours – what should I make sure is in the luggage next time I go away?

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I <3 the USA: Stateside beach reads from a British point of view

First off, apologies for the month-long hiatus – one holiday (Copenhagen), one mini-break (Penally/Tenby) and one mini-mini break (less than 24 hours in Manchester, mainly for a Backstreet Boys concert. I know you’re jealous), followed more recently with some housing projects in the room our computer is in, don’t make for a very productive blogging environment! This also means that I don’t have access to the photos from these trips for the time being – but I will wrote about them all soon, promise. In the meantime, an entry I can do with some stock photos.

With prime holiday season just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about some of my favourite ‘escapist’ reads. Perfect for holidays on the beach, long plane journeys, road trips or just a quiet hotel night in, these books are the ones where the location is just as exciting and vibrant as the characters and plot.

But when I started writing this entry, I realised there were far too many for one post (or at least one you’d be able to get to the end of). So I decided to group them in themes. So hopefully in the first of what will be many book recommendation posts, these are some of my favourite books about Brits conquering (OK, exploring) America.

I’ve kept it to ‘lighter’ reads for the time-being (not to diminish them, they’re just not Chekov. Which is not a complaint!) but I know I’ve still left lots of this list. What would you add?

Angels by Marian Keyes


Angels – Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes is one of my favourite authors. Angels is the first novel of hers I read, and the first time I realised that chick lit could cover more ‘hard hitting’ issues – in this case, separation and divorce is the last of it.

Part of the Walsh Family series, Angels is the story of ‘the good one’, Maggie. Except Maggie doesn’t feel like doing everything ‘right’ any more, and decides to leave her life – including her husband – in Ireland to join her best friend, Emily, 5,000 miles away in the city of Angels. What follows is an adventure around Los Angeles combined with an exploration of Maggie’s past as we slowly come to understand what really brought her here.

Incidentally Rachel’s Holiday (one of my favourite ever books) and The Brightest Star in the Sky are two other Walsh family stories partly set overseas, both in New York. The city is less of a theme in those, so they didn’t quite make their own entry on this post, but both are brilliant novels more than worthy of a spot on your ‘to read’ list.

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The Longest Holiday – Paige Toon
There seems to be a mini theme emerging already! The Longest Holiday’s protagonist, Laura, also runs off to the States to get away from a floundering relationship. Except this time we’re on the other side of the country, in the Florida Keys.

The plot isn’t the most unpredictable, but the engaging, interesting characters and mouthwatering, colourful setting ensure this a real page-turner that draws you in and makes you want to book the next flight to Miami.
divaslasvegas
Belinda Jones – The California Club, California Dreamers, Divas Las Vegas, On The Road to Mr Right

Some of Belinda Jones’s best novels (in my opinion) are set state-side. Of her ten books, The California Club and Divas Las Vegas are my personal favourites.

The former follows a group of friends who visit their fifth member, Helen, in their newly adopted hometown in San Diego. Except she’s unrecognisable from the person they once knew. Helen attributes her transformation from clipboard-wielding organisation freak to relaxed surfer to The California Club and insists her friends try it out. What follows is an adventure from Yosemite to Tijuana, told through the eyes of the likeable Lara, as each friend tries to understand what they really want from their American adventure.

Divas Las Vegas follows best friends Izzy and Jamie as they seek the men of their dreams in Sin City.

Although Belinda Jones’s plotlines aren’t always the most realistic (this is escapist chick lit after all!), I love how she really brings a location alive – wherever the novel is set, you’ll have added it to your ‘to visit’ list by the end. You might even find you end up there – it’s because of The California Club that we knew about, and decided to stay on, Coronado Island when we went to San Diego a few years ago. Sadly not in the Hotel Del… though. Maybe one day.

Alternatively, if you prefer non-fiction, On The Road To Mr Right is worth a look, following Belinda and friends’ mission to visit towns with loved-themed names throughout the States (Intercourse, anyone? OK, maybe love and lust themed…) on a quest to find the perfect man.

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America Unchained – Dave Gorman

Talking of road trips reads, this non-fiction book has to be one of the most interesting I’ve ever come across in the genre. Comedian Dave Gorman attempts to drive from the West to East coast without giving any money to ‘The Man’ (aka chains). Along the way he discovers a dog-shaped motels, unique diners, petrol (sorry, gas) station woes, Mom and Pop stores and whole host of characters that make this a fascinating and inspiring read.



Mousetrapped – Catherine Ryan Howard

From avoiding ‘the Man’ to working for one of the biggest conglomerates of them all – Mousetrapped is Catherine Ryan Howard’s memoirs from her time working at Walt Disney World, Florida (though for a chain on property, rather than for The Mouse itself). Featuring backstage antics, dodgy flatmates, the Space Centre and plenty of Starbucks, this is a light-hearted but interesting read about ex-pat life in the Sunshine State.

I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased as I was actually working in Walt Disney World around the same time as Catherine, so could relate to a lot of what she experienced (Disney run an International College Programme where university students can work with them for a summer . Despite the 6-day weeks, 13 hour shifts and being paid the equivalent of about £3 an hour, I genuinely had the best time of my life and would recommend it to everyone. Non-students should check out their other international programmes). But I think anyone who has experienced living and working abroad (or would just like to know what it feels like) will appreciate and enjoy this well-written book.

Header image taken from Litreactor