Don’t Ever Travel

Don’t ever travel. Don’t venture further than you have to in this world. If you can, remain in one place for as long as possible – in fact, don’t even leave your hometown. Settle down, dig your roots in deep, and be comfortable.

Don’t ever travel. Don’t get lost in cobblestone streets and don’t spend hours reflecting in little stone chapels, their walls peeling paint while their Saints watch over you. Don’t hold your breath in the Sistine Chapel. Don’t munch on chocolate crepes as you meander to the Eiffel Tower. Don’t explore castle ruins and under no circumstances should you ever go pub crawling at Temple Bar. Do not explore the world around you.

Don’t learn new languages. Don’t attempt to twist your tongue around the rolling sounds of ‘Castello Sforzesco’. Don’t bother with ‘hellos’ and ‘thank yous’ in Hindi. Don’t ever be in a position that requires you know how to barter in Spanish for a taxi to the bus station in Lima. Do not expand your ability to communicate beyond words.

Don’t seek experiences that challenge your beliefs. Don’t discover how your “nothing” can be someone else’s “everything”. Don’t compare a concrete room housing three generations with your two storey house for one. Don’t question the flashy possessions by which you define your identity. Do not experience gratitude.

Don’t try to do something different. Don’t try to break away from your comfort zone. Don’t go paragliding in Kas, don’t eat that weird thing you can neither pronounce nor identify in Beijing, and don’t think for a minute that riding on a tuk tuk through the streets of Siem Reap will be anything other than dangerous. Do not challenge your expectations of yourself.

Don’t ever travel. Don’t seek answers to life in other places. Don’t seek change. Don’t stray too far from your home. Don’t ever travel.

Travel has terrible side effects. You will return home and nothing will have changed, but nothing will ever be the same again. You will never enjoy the morning commute after you have had breakfast in France and lunch in Switzerland. You will never be the same person you were before you heard Buddhist monks chanting in Taktsang Monastery. You will forget the person who left home in search of adventure because that person will become the adventure. 42 will no longer be enough.

To travel is to risk everything – it is to risk your beliefs, it is to risk the world you know, it is to risk the person you thought you were.

Don’t ever travel.

But if you must: tread lightly, look deeply, listen carefully.

And trust me on the pub crawl.

Book Review: ‘The Wild Girl’ by Kate Forsyth

wild girl cover

Book Title: The Wild Girl

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary: Believed to be the source of many stories made famous by the Grimm brothers, this is the story of Dortchen Wild, the woman behind the fairy tales. Set against the backdrop of Napolean Bonaparte’s attempt to conquer Europe, this is a story of stories that follows the love between Dortchen and Wilhem Grimm – and Dortchen’s own story of resilience and hope.

Favourite Scene: I know I say it all the time, but I have so many favourite scenes to choose from in this book – the opening scene is particularly beautiful.

Favourite Character: Dortchen. I try not to choose main characters as ‘favourites’, but I cannot get past this incredible woman.

Review: Stunning. I knew that I was in for a treat after reading Bitter Greens but this book was just … stunning. It took me a little while to pick it up from my table because I was nervous – I had high expectations and I was worried it wouldn’t meet them or, worse, it would exceed my expectations and come to an end all too quickly. It was one part the latter and all other parts breathtaking, so while I caught my breath I stayed in the world of The Wild Girl for just a little bit longer …

It’s not all beautiful and wonderful – in fact, sometimes my stomach churned and I felt physically ill because of some of the things that happened to Dortchen.What is incredible is Dortchen’s spirit – wild in every beautiful sense of the word. Every character earnt their page-time and every detail contributed to a magical tale. Ultimately Dortchen is empowered, presenting a strong and resilient character with a ‘wildness’ that all young women should be encouraged to have: independence, compassion, determination.

I am rapidly becoming a huge fan of historical fiction – and this book sets a new benchmark in telling “untold” stories from history. Forsyth’s depth of research is commendable – it was a brilliant factor in Bitter Greens but she reaches a new level in The Wild Girl in terms of painting accurate (and deeply fascinating) pictures of the past. The result is a plausible (and enchanting) story for Dortchen and her relationship with Wilhelm. I loved the intricate detail of all of the characters, and the magical way Forsyth wove history into her narrative.

I was thoroughly lost in the narrative well into the early hours of the morning, and finding my way back was part of the enchantment.

5 commas!

 

5 commas

Book Review: ‘Bitter Greens’ by Kate Forsyth

bitter greens cover

Book Title: Bitter Greens

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fairytale retelling / Historical

Summary: A retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale, Bitter Greens explores the intertwining stories of three women: storyteller Charlotte-Rose de la Force, exiled from the court of Louis XIV, La Strega Bella Selena Leonelli, obsessed with maintaining her youth and beauty, and Margherita, a young girl held captive in a tower.

Favourite Scene: So many! Some are so haunting that they are prominent in my mind, not as favourites but as scenes I simply cannot forget. I loved – I can’t say, it’s a spoiler!

Favourite Character: Selena – this is a ‘wicked witch’ you can feel for.

Review: I love a good ‘flawed heroine’ and Bitter Greens delivers three strong female characters, each beautifully written as believable, sympathetic characters. They are flawed, they are scarred, they are desperate for their stories to be told. It is more than a fairytale retelling – history and elements of magic are woven into the narrative so intricately that the darkest of spells is believable. Every character in the novel exists with a purpose, and no story is left unravelled. The attention and detail given to historical figures is demonstrative of an extensive amount of research and consideration not only for the person but the people who would have existed around them.

Sixteenth century Venice is, itself, a character richly portrayed through elegant prose. Renaissance Venice rose up from the pages and I walked down its streets with a fresh perspective of one of my favourite cities – no easy feat considering I’ve been there three times.

Kate Forsyth is one of my favourite authors, and I credit her Witches of Eileanan series for my love of fantasy. She is one of the writers who most influenced teen-me when it came to both reading and writing. Her two most recent books – Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl (review to come) – have given adult-me renewed love for her work.

5 commas!

 

5 commas

Book Review: ‘Rivers of London’ by Ben Aaronovitch

rivers of london coverBook Title: Rivers of London

Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Paranormal / Urban Fantasy

Summary: Peter Grant, probationary constable in London’s Metropolitan Police Force, finds himself caught up in a case that is not entirely ordinary. After taking a statement from a witness to a bizarre murder, he is promoted to Detective Constable and apprenticed to Inspector Nightingale, wizard. Credited as “what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the fuzz” (Diana Gabaldon), it is an exciting modern-day crime thriller with a few vampires, ghosts, and gods thrown in.

Favourite Scene: When Peter first creates a ball of light. (And the last scene in the book, which I can’t write about here!)

Favourite Character: Lesley

Review: I thoroughly enjoyed travelling through London escorted by a young constable solving paranormal crimes. That he is bordering on incompetent and generally not very clever in a detective sense makes it even more enjoyable, particularly because he ends up in some rather tricky situations as a result. And I can just see Lesley rolling her eyes …

Aaronovitch creates a multi-layered London with its own unique mythology and stories to support the characters and their subplots. It’s a fun and enjoyable beach-read – thoroughly entertaining and unique without being brain-challenging-complicated. I’m not normally a fan of crime fiction, but I’ve happily floated through this book and its three sequels. Don’t expect a super-happy ending for this one, but do expect to enjoy the faults and foibles of an apprentice wizard and wannabe detective constable (who’s partway there with the badge, he just needs the skills).

Did I mention that the different rivers of London (not just the Thames) have their own gods and goddesses?

4 commas!

4 commas

Book Review: ‘The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year’ by Sue Townsend

woman who went to bed for a year cover

Book Title: The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year

Author: Sue Townsend

Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Chic Lit

Summary: The day that Eva’s children leave home for university is the day she decides to go to bed and stay there. Her refusal to continue to be a dutiful wife and attentive mother has some amusing consequences, including a group of people who gather beneath her window believing her to be some kind of saint or angel, her husband’s mistress moving into the garden shed, and general chaos in her personal relationships.

Favourite Scene: Eva finds a spoon dirty with tomato soup resting on the chair she upholstered with silk she had embroidered by hand. Her heartache at this lack of consideration resonated with me.

Favourite Character: None. At all.

Review: Of Adrian Mole fame, Sue Townsend set high expectations with the combination of her reputation and the title of this novel. Alas, after the first few chapters the potential for hilarity, social commentary, and character development just … withered into nothing. I don’t enjoy writing negative reviews – but I also don’t enjoy reading books that are a total let down. The premise is exciting: a woman, sick of her selfish husband and inconsiderate children, turns away from the world and resolves to stay in bed. The first chapters give reasons we should be sympathetic and justify Eva’s drastic decision, but eventually the novel just … flops.

Eva ends up being just as selfish as those she wishes to rebel against – she expects someone else will take care of her while she resides in her bed. Her mother and mother-in-law become the main caretakers (ironic?), as well as a handyman who – for some strange reason I could not quite understand – is sympathetic to her plight. Her intention to stay in bed for a year becomes fastidious; at one point, she almost starves because no one brings her food. While I’m sure I was supposed to pity her, I couldn’t help but think Eva might have had a more enlightening experience if she had simply left her husband for an isolated country cottage.

The novel does switch between different points of view, but all this really does is emphasise how selfish every single character really is. I simply could not feel any sympathy for anyone. The title and the wistful thoughts that accompany thinking of going to bed for a year are as exciting as this novel gets. Maybe that’s the point? 2 commas!

2 commas