Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Missing travel? Forget your passport, grab a book ! (review)

Did you manage to get away on holiday this year? We visited family in the UK and went on a mini adventure in Belgium, but that was it. No big trips planned for us again, as, even though we're all double vaccinated, I just didn't feel at ease with travelling to exotic, far-flung places. I do miss it though - seeing new places, meeting new people, tasting exotic dishes and discovering things that are completely different to anything we find at home. Luckily, publishers Cranthorpe Millner came to the rescue and sent me some fabulous books that gave me the travel experiences without leaving the comfort of my favourite armchair !

My first read was Secret Lands, Petrol Clams and a Bagful of Bolivar by Sharon Cracknell, author of the fabulously-named previous book, Pringles, Visas and a Glow in the Dark Jesus. The titles tell you everything you need to know about her writing style - she's full of exciting travel stories about off-the-wall places that cannot fail to make you laugh. You know all those things that go wrong on holiday but you say, "Ah well, at least we'll remember this and get a good story out of it" ? Well, imagine that to the power of a hundred and you'll have a good idea of what to expect in Sharon's writing !

I love the way the book instantly had me googling things before I'd even turned to the first page. I'd never heard of bolivar so I was intrigued to find out what it referred to. A quick google search revealed that it is the currency in Venezuela. Aha ! Sure enough, stories are revealed about Sharon quaking at the airport as her bag stuffed with illegal banknotes goes through a Venezuelan airport scanner. And petrol clams? Well, yes, google had the answer again. It's a traditional North Korean way of preparing clams on a barbecue by dousing them in petrol then setting them on fire. Sounds crazy ... and probably tastes crazy too !

Even those places that are not so far off the beaten track are revealed in new ways. Whilst giggling at Sharon's tales of dodging epic farty-pants on a hike up Mount Toubkal, I was surprised to learn that this is in Morocco, a country I've been to. It's also the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. How had I never even heard of it ?!

This is the beauty of the book. As well as being an enjoyable read, it is an educational and informative one. Sharon goes to places that most people, even those who enjoy travelling, will never go to. Ethiopia, Cuba, Columbia, North Korea, Tanzania, ...  even Kyrgyzstan, that I'd never even heard of !

The next book that I discovered was Because Japan by Ash Watson. The tone is quite similar and frequently had me chuckling as I raced through the pages. It focuses on the time that author Ash Watson spent in Japan, in particular the two years he lived in Tokyo, working in a private high school. Japan is a country that is frequently shown on TV and in magazine articles, but here, you get the real deal - what life is like behind the scenes in Japan, through the eyes of an expat. The Journal of Firsts, kept by Ash during his time there, to record all the weird and wonderful experiences along the way, became the basis for his book. It's an interesting and intriguing collection of memories, covering everything from the ultra modern (Pokemon Go) to the ancient and symbolic (Mount Fuji). 

While the tales of culture shock are perfectly predictable, the author also faces bigger issues involving mental health, racial discrimination and sexual orientation. While developing a new understanding of the country around him, the author looks deep within himself and grows as a person. That sounds very serious though, whereas the main thing I brought away from this book was a bagful of belly laughs !

The Banana Road by Andrea Montgomery is subtitled It's Tenerife But Not As You Know It. Well, that's not complicated for me as I've never been to Tenerife, but we did take a family trip to another of the Canary Islands, Lanzarote, a few years ago. I had some misgivings about going before we left and, I must admit, when we arrived, I was put off by all the cafes selling full English breakfasts and English-speaking bars which just seemed like any random British seaside town with a bit more sunshine. However, we hired a car and travelled further afield, giving us an insight into what life was really like away from the touristy areas. This is what the author does, telling the story of her time in Tenerife, getting to know the locals (humans and animals !) and really discovering how the locals live.

Along with her husband Jack, she set off from Manchester to discover a new life in the north of the island, in a little house surrounded by banana plantations and a pitch 'n' putt golf course. The people that they come into contact with are so weird and wonderful (with the accent on weird !) that it is sometimes hard to remember that this all really happened ! As well as providing a great deal of humour and an insight into what life is like on the other side, so to speak, we also get to see what happens when things start to go wrong. This book constantly had me reading just one more chapter before turning off the light, even when it was already way past my bedtime, because I wanted to see what would happen to the couple and their dreams of a new life in an exotic location. I'd love to catch up with their story and see what happens next !

for more information : www.cranthorpemillner.com/

Disclosure : I received review copies of the books, n order to share my honest opinion.


  1. Petrol clams sound dangerous. :) Don't think I would fancy to try that local delicacy. As a family, we only travelled to Cornwall this year, though my DH went to Italy a few times. I also don't feel comfortable going through the airports etc.
    From these three, Because Japan would probably be my choice to read, as I'm fascinated by the Japanese culture. But they all sound good.

    1. I would imagine petrol clams take on the taste of petrol - yuck ! All three books appealed to me. It's lovely to get a taste of being somewhere exotic without all the travelling ! :)


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