Read any good books lately?

Welcome to the latest blog from Le Shack on April 9th 2021.

A typical hilltop village, taken by Michael on one of his recent walks.

This never-ending pandemic and the wearying succession of lockdowns is becoming challenging for a blog that was supposed to be about a life of freedom and travel! However, we will not be beaten, and so this week seems as good a time as any to talk about finding a good book to read. After all, what else do you do in a lockdown apart from head to Amazon Kindle and press “buy now” ? I have always been a keen reader, but a year of restrictions has sent me running into the pages of books to escape the doom and gloom. I know many of you will have done the same. The choice of books seems to grow ever larger, and the challenge of finding a well-written book that will hold my attention as well as inspire or amuse or educate me, grows with it.

In my forties I went to creative writing classes. We met every week for several years and, as well as learning all about plot and dialogue, creating tension and a sense of place, we shared any good books that we’d read. When I began to run my own writing classes some years later, we did the same thing and those recommendations were a great way to find new books, often tempting me to try something quite different to what I might normally read.

When we moved into Le Shack I had hoped to start up some writing classes for the local ex-pat community, but the pandemic has put that on hold for this year. I have read some fantastic books over the last twelve months, and it seems a shame not to share them so, with a huge leap of imagination, let’s pretend we’re all sitting round the table together, talking about books. Here are some of my favourites. Those of you who know me well are probably sighing and expecting a list of dragons, witches and fantasy worlds, but you might be pleasantly surprised as my tastes have become more eclectic over the past few years.

So what do I have in my shopping basket for you today? A thriller, a historical novel, a lifestyle book, a travel book, an environmental book and, last but not least, a fantasy book. I hope perhaps there might be something in there that might be of interest.

Thriller – American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

This book tells the story of Lydia and her son Luca as their comfortable, secure life in Acupulco in Mexico disappears overnight, and they are forced to flee from a drug cartel. I’m not particularly keen on violent books and this is not an easy read, as it opens a window on a situation we’d all rather pretend didn’t exist, but it deserves to be read. It is brilliantly written, an edge-of-the-seat page turner that has you holding your breath from the very beginning. It portrays the worst and the best of human nature and opened my eyes to what it means to become an illegal immigrant through no fault of your own. I hope I might be kinder to those in need as a result of reading this book. An important social message as well as an engrossing read.

Historical – The Seal Woman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

In 1627, Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted 250 of its people. The story is told through Asta, the pastor’s wife, as she and her fellow villagers are sold into slavery in an alien Arab culture. This is based on a true story, skillfully re-imagined by the author, and is a book about survival, courage and a love between husband and wife that endures despite separation and tragedy.

Lifestyle – The Way Home – Tales of a life without technology by Mark Boyle

I know we are trying to live a sustainable, off-grid life here in Le Shack but Boyle takes it to another level. I couldn’t make my life this difficult, but I love reading about someone else having a go. Returning to his homeland in Ireland, Boyle embraces a life completely without technology and, whilst there is no doubt that it is very challenging, he finds it a hugely enriching experience.

Travel – Why the Dutch are different by Ben Coates

Stranded at Schiphol airport, Ben Coates called up a Dutch friend to beg a bed for the night. He stayed for dinner. And then he stayed for good.

This book is not so much about where to go and what to see, rather it gets under the skin of what it means to be Dutch, looking at historical influences and modern-day realities. He has an easy writing style and both a deep love for, and knowledge of, the country. One of those books that will mean you get much more out of a visit when the pandemic finally allows you to visit it.

Environment – A Life on our Planet by David Attenborough

Attenborough describes this book as ‘his witness statement and a vision for the future’ and, to me, that was reason enough to buy it. We will not see his like again and I wanted this book as my own connection with an extraordinary life. We all know that climate change will have dire consequences for our planet and for all of us that live on it, but so often there seems to be no way forward. We are told what we must stop doing, but not what we must start doing – and I don’t just mean the small, everyday changes, important as they are.

This book does show a way forward. It offers some hope for the future. He believes we have one last chance, and that we can do it. All we need is the will to make the necessary changes. I wish I could believe that the collective will of all our governments around the world was as focused and as committed as they need to be for this to happen. Time will tell.

Fantasy – The Bone Ships, a trilogy by RJ Barker

I have read a huge number of this type of books in my time and have become resigned to the fact that the stories have all been told so often, in so many different ways, that there is nothing truly new and original left to say. This series breaks the mould. It takes you on a sea-faring adventure in an imaginary world, and is simply a wonderful read. It took me a while to get into it, but it was worth the patience. Now I have to be patient again as the third and final book of the trilogy isn’t out until later this year. If you enjoy fantasy and adventure, read this book.

And that brings me to the end of my list. If any are of interest I hope you enjoy them.

I’ll leave you with just two pictures this week.

This little fellow landed on the roses on the kitchen table.
Double decker cats

Otherwise I hope all is well in your worlds, wherever you are. I know April has turned very cold back in the UK. We have been down to freezing the last few nights and I have had to cover my strawberry plants (latest impulse buy) but all have survived and the weather is getting warmer again.

See you next week.

MJ

6 thoughts on “Read any good books lately?

  1. Lots of good ideas here – thank you. I look forward to David Attenborough’s book, and any others I might come across akin to ‘Lifestyle’.

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  2. That’s an interesting list. The only one I’ve read is American Dirt, so you’ve given me some additional ones for my TBR list. I’ve always read a lot, but I’ve been reading twice as much during Covid and the various lockdowns. In fact, I was quite surprised by how much I’ve already spent this year!

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  3. Where would I be without my Kindle. Books galore. I do tend to read a lot of fiction, and I have all of Iris Gower books too on my shelves, she was a Welsh writer who has since passed away, but I have all of her series. Other good authors are Kate Morton, Rachel Hore and also Victoria Hislop who is Ian Hislop’s wife. I thoroughly enjoy her books too. One of our daughter’s bought me David Attenborough’s book for last Christmas and it’s the sort of book you pick up every so often, read a bit and then go back to it another time. Hope your new book checking is going well, and looking forward to reading it. I love the photo of your plants on the table with those two beautiful cats. Cats are so laid back with a calming effect. Stay safe both. Best wishes from us both….. Ann and Gareth

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    1. Hi Ann. Hard to imagine a life without Kindle, but if space and location weren’t an issue I still prefer a book I can hold in my hands. However our tiny bookcase is full…. Take care.
      MJ

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