Showing posts with label books for travelers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books for travelers. Show all posts

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Having A Heat Wave ~ A Novel Escape

You can count on July and August in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese to be sizzlers. But this year, the heat has had an intensity that takes one's breath away. 

Heading to Pantazi beach to beat the heat

Our wet, chilly spring hung on so long that we wondered if we would have a summer. But by mid-July there was no doubt about it: summer had arrived. Two weeks ago, temperatures hit 109F/42.7C at our house, and just an hour's drive to our east, soared to 115F, slightly over 46C.

Kalamata beach fun and sun - a tourist favorite

Plants in our gardens have withered - blooms and leaves are brown. Hillsides and olive groves are virtual tinderboxes. Tourists are flocking to the beaches to cool off while residents, like us, are hunkered inside behind shuttered windows (to block sun rays) with our fans and air conditioners getting their seasonal workout.

Hillside tinderboxes 

The heat has occasionally shut down popular tourist attractions like the Acropolis in Athens during the day. Jobs requiring hard physical labor throughout the country were suspended several times during the mid-day as heat reached record highs. Wildfires are still being fought out on several Greek islands and near Athens. 

The water bucket is an ominous sign of summer here

The sound of helicopters this time of year means firefighting is underway. We search the surrounding sky for smoke when we hear the beat of the copter's blades. Luckily, fires have been a distance from us and have been contained quickly.

With no energy or desire to leave our home's cool interior, we have turned to novel getaways for our summer fun; the kind of get-away best undertaken from an easy chair or couch.

Our Novel Escapes

Our favorite souvenir is a book purchased at some wonderful bookstore we've happened upon in our travels. The book, besides providing a great armchair escape once we are home, brings back the memories of shopping for it as well.  Sometimes the search for a bookstore is almost as memorable. Surprisingly, one of our favorite 'reads' of the summer came from failing to find a bookstore:

Celebrity Edge has a pool but no library.

We'd taken a week-long Celebrity cruise from Rome to Barcelona in late May. Planning to find a bookstore at one or more of our ports of call, or turning to the ship's library if we couldn't find a store, neither of us took any reading material. A mistake, to be sure! 

We couldn't find a bookstore in Ajaccio, Corsica, nor in Portofino, Italy or Cannes, France. And our Celebrity Edge ship, built in 2018, was constructed without a library (one of the few negatives about the ship, to my way of thinking).  

Our cabin's indoor deck was a perfect spot for reading.

I finally managed to find a handful of books (in a cupboard behind the reception desk) that had been left behind by former cruisers. 


Among them was a beat-up book, The House at the Edge of Night, by Katherine Banner. Published in 2017 by Random House, it was that year named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, the Los Angeles Public Library and Kirkus Reviews. Set on a fictitious Italian island, the novel spans four generations, and features a main character who collects stories of island life.  The author was inspired by three real-life chroniclers of Sicilian and Italian folk stories: Giuseppe Pitre, Laura Gonzenbach, and Italo Calvino.

A perfect summer read


My favorite novel getaway so far this year came from a chance purchase at Eslite Bookstore in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - a sprawling place that encompasses most of the second floor of a downtown shopping mall.  It required at least three trips to visit all its sections. We seek local authors whose work has been translated to English and hit a goldmine when we discovered. . .

Display at Eslite Bookstore Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

. . .The Gift of Rain, the debut novel of Malaysian writer, Tan Twan Eng. The book set in Penang, Malaysia, opens in 1939 and spans a time before, during and after the Japanese invasion of that country as part of World War II. The book is so rich in historical, religious and cultural layers, that I plan to read it more than once to absorb all that it has to offer.   The author is a gifted wordsmith whose first line had me captured: 

Debut novel long listed for the Booker Award

 'I was born with the gift of rain, an ancient soothsayer in an even more ancient temple told me.'  

Viet Nam

Ho Chi Minh City Opera House

 I wanted to read more books set in the countries we'd visited on that February trip, specifically Cambodia and Viet Nam.  While taken with the beauty we found in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)  I wanted to be reminded of the country's recent history as well. I had been too young during the war to grasp the magnitude of its horrors. 

I got a taste of them though in, The World Played Chess by Seattle author Robert Dugoni.

A coming of age novel

His book is a coming-of-age tale that centers around three young men: one an 18-year-old fighting in the Viet Nam war. It is a captivating read, with story passages that can make you laugh and cry. Spoiler alert: His research on Viet Nam combat was thorough, there are some tough passages in this one.  


Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace - Florence

I am the first to admit that I find textbook-style history to be too dry to comprehend.  But when I happen upon a well-written historical novel - or in this case, a saga of novels - that keep me entertained while teaching me something, I am unable to put them down.  

Italian writer Matteo Strukul, has caught both of us up in his three-book trilogy about the Medici's: Medici Ascendancy is set in 1429, Medici Supremacy in 1469 and Medici Legacy, 1536. 

Florence from the Boboli Gardens

The Medici's were a rich and powerful family that ruled Florence and later Tuscany from 1434 until 1737, with the exception of a couple of periods of time.  It is difficult to visit Florence and not be impressed with the impact of the Medici's on Italy.  These books are an entertaining- if somewhat imaginative - look into the history and legacy of that powerful family

Who Dunnit?

I love getaways, that involve figuring out who committed the crime in some favorite destination.  While on the topic of Italy, Florence in particular, we must give a shout-out to our favorite crime writers in that city, Michele Giutarri.  He certainly has done plenty of first-hand research and probably has more story ideas than he'll live long enough to write.  

Florence at night

Giuttari is the former head of the Florence Police Force, serving from 1995 until 2003.  He has turned his talents to writing crime fiction. . .or is it fiction? Whatever the case, the books are page turners, and you get a travelogue of the city with each case he solves.

A who-dunnit set in Florence

And then came Pinocchio

'How can I be an English major and traveler and yet had never read Pinocchio?' I asked myself during our visit to Florence last month. And I remedied that, during that same visit with a purchase of the Penguin Classic version of this book written by Carlo Collodi in 1880. 

Carlo Collodi is the pen name of Carlo Lorenzini, 1826 - 1890, a writer, novelist, journalist and political satirist who was born in Florence.  

You are never too old to read Pinocchio!

I was expecting a quick read of a simple children's story - with a storyline similar to the mid-century Walt Disney movie I had seen as a child.  Was I ever in for a surprise! Thanks to this annotated edition I discovered this little children's story is actually a sophisticated satire that reflected the author's concern for the social inequities of his time.  The annotations were as interesting as the plot!  Who knew?  It was a delightful read and I highly recommend it!

Enough about our novel getaways.  Where have books taken you this season?  Leave us a note in the comments or shoot us an email -- we are always looking for a recommendation for a novel getaway! Until next time, wishes for safe travels to you and yours and thanks for the time you spent with us today!

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Armchair Travels To Far Away Places

It is winter in the slice of the Greek Peloponnese we call home. Sometimes winter here can be as harsh in its wet and windy way as springtime and fall can be gorgeous.  After two blustery weeks we've concluded this might be one of those more nasty winters.

Our Village - wind, rain and waves

The rain -- admittedly, badly needed after the summer's drought -- has been making up for lost time. We've had very little of that Mediterranean sun in recent weeks. The wind gusts so strong that they can topple heave planted pots, often knocks out internet when we least expect it. In recent days we've kept the fireplace at the ready in case we lose power, which means we lose heat as well.

Waves are 'Hawaii-sized'

It is the kind of weather that calls out for a warm beverage and an armchair and a journey to somewhere exciting.  Thanks to the written word, we've taken some interesting trips of late without setting foot outside the door. Here are some of our destinations and the writers who took us to them: 

Greek Islands:

We journeyed back in time and to two Greek islands with books written by Australian writer, Charmaine Clift. Clift and husband, George Johnston, also a writer packed their bags in 1954, leaving post-war London to live and write on a Greek island. 

Her first book, Mermaid Singing, tells of their life on the tiny island Kalymnos, known then as the home of sponge divers.  Not finding quite the life they were looking for they headed to Hydra and that story is told in her second book, Peel Me a Lotus.

Hydra Island, 2020

They lived for almost a decade on Hydra and were key players in the informal bohemian community of writers and artists there, a group that later included Leonard Cohen.

You need not be an expat to enjoy these tales of life on Greek islands in the mid-20th Century.


We headed back in time again reading in this historical novel by another Australian writer, S. C. Karakaltsas, The storyline going back and forth in time links the narrator, an old man, to his childhood  and the horrors it held.  A Perfect Stone is set in both in modern-day Australia and Greece during the time of its Greek Civil War, 1946 - 49.

Anyone who has dealt with aging parents will appreciate this book as well as those who have an interest in Greek history.


Yes, we've just returned from Italy and one souvenir I always bring back with me is a book about the place we are visiting, purchased from a real brick-and- mortar store there. Luckily Bologna, our first stop, is home to a university and has as many bookstores as it does coffee shops. It can be fact or fiction.

It was a murder mystery, A Quiet Death in Italy by Tom Benjamin that came home with us this time. It was such a page-turner that I've now ordered another of his books.  I was glad all we saw was the beautiful side of Bologna and not the sinister one we found in his novel although when the mist moved in at night and the streets emptied we could understand how he got his inspiration.

Bologna street scene


It has been far too long since we've been to France. We were supposed to go there last year but Covid took care of those plans. 

So I got my shot of Paris by finally getting around to reading a memoir published in 2005 by a Canadian journalist, Jeremy Mercer, who found himself living at the iconic bookstore, known as Shakespeare & Co.   I found Time Was Soft There a somewhat far-fetched memoir, but then again, I wasn't there and truth is often stranger than fiction!

Located near Notre Dame, the bookstore is still popular (you can follow it on social media or order books from it on-line). The most fun would be shopping there. It is located at 37 Rue de la Bucherie.

Middle East

The Middle East serves as the basis of the narrative but this action packed spy thriller has taken us from France, to England, the United States and Spain.  Another page turner by Daniel Silva with such detail that sometimes you forget it is only a novel. . .

Desert sands of the Middle East

The clouds are darkening and it could be time to light that fireplace soon. So I'll sign off for this time around. Hope you'll be back for a bit of Italian train travel. . .and thanks for your time today!

And I haven't mentioned it for awhile, but signing up to receive our posts as emails, is a snap with our new distribution service.  So if you liked this and want to hear regularly from us, just head to the TravelnWrite  home page and fill in your email address!

If you have some time how about telling us where you've armchair traveled to lately? We'd love to see some book recommendations from you!!

Linking with:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Summer’s Novel (and not-so-novel) Destinations

The morning sunrise seems softer and the green leaves are showing hints of red and gold – both sure signs that August is leading us into an early autumn in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. It is the time of lazy afternoons on the deck soaking up the last of summer  ~ a time of travel to novel, and not-so-novel, destinations without leaving the chaise lounge.

Armchair, or deck chair, travelers, this post is for you. No packing or security pre-check required. Sit back as we are off to. . .

Jerusalem. . .

Jerusalem, Israel
“Jerusalem is the universal city, the capital of two peoples, the shrine of three faiths; it is the prize of empires, the site of Judgment Day and the battlefield of today’s clash of civilizations. From King David to the 21st century, from the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is the epic history of three thousand years of faith, slaughter, fanaticism, and coexistence.”opening line of Amazon’s description of this book

We visited Jerusalem on one of those one-day-see-everything-you-can cruise ship tours last year. It was the one city of all the magical places we’d visited that didn’t ‘grab’ us.  Perhaps we’d seen too much before arriving there, perhaps the crowds were too enormous, perhaps any number of things caused us to be less than ‘wow’ed’ by this place. 

The glimpse we had - though hasty - of its historical places left us wanting to know more about it: the conflicts that make up its history, how that ‘real’ history meshes with the Biblical version. . .we needed to fill in some blanks and answer some questions.

And one of the best books we’ve found to do that, is the book pictured to the right by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

At 704-pages it is not a light read in any sense of the phrase. But it is an easy read and a fascinating journey.

Middle East. . .

Wadi Rum - Jordan
She has been called the female Lawrence of Arabia, which, while not inaccurate, fails to give Gertrude Bell her due. She was at one time the most powerful woman in the British Empire: a nation builder, the driving force behind the creation of modern-day Iraq. – Amazon books

Our fascination with the Middle East continues, even now, months after our introduction to it on that Magic Carpet Ride of a cruise last year. 

While images of Lawrence of Arabia came to mind while we traveled there, it wasn't until this year that we read about Gertrude Bell. I have to admit that it was not until I was channel surfing for movies aboard a transatlantic flight a few months ago, and landed on one called,“Queen of the Desert” starring Robert Pattison and Nicole Kidman, released in 2015, had I ever heard of Gertrude Bell and her mark on history.

After reading this book, I don't think the movie does  justice to this woman’s amazing adventures and contributions! Before she conquered the desert she climbed a few mountains. Too bad they didn’t have ‘blogs’ back then – hers would have had millions of followers.

Egypt. . .

Diwa Bookstore - Cairo, Egypt - a must for visitors
I know many of you swear by your Kindles and electronic books, but for us there is nothing better than discovering a bookstore in a new city and spending a good deal of time there looking at covers, flipping through pages.  That was the case with Diwa Bookstore in the Zamelik district of Cairo.  We couldn’t resist buying three of the oh, so many, titles that tempted. . .many by writers of whom we’d never heard of before but whom we've since found on Amazon (so you don't need to go to Cairo to find the book).

This sweeping novel depicts the intertwined lives of an assortment of Egyptians--Muslims and Copts, northerners and southerners, men and women--as they begin to settle in Egypt's great second city, and explores how the Second World War, starting in supposedly faraway Europe, comes crashing down on them, affecting their lives in fateful ways.

Central to the novel is the story of a striking friendship between Sheikh Magd al-Din, a devout Muslim with peasant roots in northern Egypt, and Dimyan, a Copt with roots in southern Egypt, in their journey of survival and self-discovery.  - Amazon books

This book may have been one of the best ‘reads’ we’ve had this year.  The other two books, not novels, pictured above, were also excellent.  On the left, ‘The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Cairo to the New World” (2008) is written by Lucette Lagnado about her family’s relocation to the United States from Cairo. An amazing tale.

“Six Days: How the 1967 War Shaped the Middle East” is an almost hour-by-hour look at the six day war that took place way back when we were too young to understand war or how it would shape the Middle East. Written by Jeremy Bowen, who from 1995 – 2000 was the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent, the book is a must for anyone trying to understand what has led to today’s conflicts there. It doesn't provide all the answers, but it certainly puts them in perspective.

Australia. . .

Sydney Opera House from our cruise ship deck
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.                    – Amazon Books

To tell you much more about this novel than the summary by Amazon would simply tell you too much about the plot. A friend loaned this to me while we were in Greece and I am ever so glad she did.

 This has to be one of the most powerful, and yet dark, books – a look at love and at human nature; good versus bad – that I’ve read in a long time. A bit of a tear-jerker as well.

One of the most unusual narratives and the setting so remote. . .you actually could feel the loneliness. . .

Seattle. . .

0911800-R1-007-2 [630928]
Seattle as seen from a ferry on Puget Sound
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before.  -- Amazon books

This book has a 4.5 star out of 5 rating on Amazon with more than 600 reviews, so don’t just take our word for how good this first-novel by Seattle writer, Kelli Estes, is!  Another friend gave me this book for Christmas and again I am so glad she did.

Amazon’s review doesn’t do justice to the book that tells an amazing love story based on real life tragedies in this city’s past.  Just as Jamie Ford’s “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” told of the injustices committed her against the Japanese in Seattle during World War II, Estes tells of the treatment of the Chinese immigrants through a narrative that bounces between the present and the late 1800's.

Greece. . .

Entryway at our Stone House on the Hill
Sofia’s love life has ended in disaster. Having lost her London home, she now lives with and cares for her Greek grandmother, matriarch of the family, astute business woman, and widow of an English man. Sofia hears stories from the past, of her grandparents’ meeting and life in the remote coastal village of Galini on the Greek island of Tritinos. When her grandmother dies, she bequeaths to Sofia the family house in Galini, with one condition attached.   -- Amazon Books

Sofia's House by [Gordon, William]
Now you didn't think I could leave out Greece, did you?

Long-time readers of Travelnwrite will remember the English writer and his editor wife, Bill and Val Kitson, who we met by chance several years ago on Crete’s southern coast in a tiny village called Loutro. We’ve stayed in touch and since the initial meeting have rendezvoused in that village to celebrate Greek Easter a short time ago.

While Bill has any number of novels to his Bill Kitson name, he also writes as William Gordon. And some of those 'pen name' novels are set in Greece, like Watering the Olives. Late last year were honored to have him select a photo of mine of our Stone House on the Hill to be the cover photo of his Greek novel, Sofia’s House.

If you just need a bit of romance on a Greek island -- with a plot twist or two thrown in -- this is the book for you!

That’s a bit of our ‘summer arm chair travels'. How about you?  Any good novel – or not-so-novel – destinations to recommend to others?  Send us an email with the name of the book, the author (where and how to buy it) and why you recommend it. If I get enough responses, I’ll do another post featuring your recommendations for arm chair travels.

Again, we appreciate the time you spend with us. Thanks for sharing our posts on FB!  Hope your summer is going well and that your travels continue to be healthy and safe.  See you next week – bring some friends and family with you!

Disclaimer:  In the beginning I displayed books to purchase from Amazon on this site, then I realized I was simply taking up valuable blog space. I am technically still an Amazon Associate - however, I've never sold a book thus never earned a dime. So I am recommending these books because they are good reads in our opinion - not because I am trying to make a few pennies off a sale of a book.

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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