Underland

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane

For a remarkable reading adventure, join Robert Macfarlane as he explores the hidden worlds underground, from Slovenia to England to Greenland. This is a book to savor, lyrically written, for readers of adventure, travel, nature, and history, except for the claustrophobic. Moving below ground, he often travels backwards in time, to see red pictographs in Norwegian sea caves, the catacombs deep beneath Paris, and the fungal network linking trees in Epping Forest. There are ancient barrows, a physics lab in a Yorkshire mine, a glacier in Greenland, and caves built to receive nuclear waste in Finland. In China there’s a cave system with its own weather system, and a river deep underground connects Slovenia and northern Italy. Receding glaciers and melting permafrost show that nothing is permanent. Awe and brief moments of terror in locations ordinary and sublime make for a fascinating look at unimagined worlds. Readalikes include Into the Planet, The Hidden Life of Trees, Frozen in Time, In the Kingdom of Ice, and Deep Down Dark. Macfarlane’s other books include The Old Ways, Landmarks, and The Wild Places.

Brenda

 

Eastern Horizons

Eastern Horizons: Hitchhiking the Silk Road by Levison Wood

Adventure travel writer Levison Wood describes one of his first long journeys, backpacking from France to India at age 22. Some of the countries are described in more detail than others, beginning with Estonia and ending with Pakistan, but overall this is an engaging read. On a shoestring budget, Wood is trying to retrace the 1839 Silk Road journey of Arthur Connolly. Usually staying in a hostel or dorm, occasionally sleeping outside, Wood has adventures and gets his eyes opened by the different cultures and people he encounters, often finding warm hospitality. There are also exciting bus rides, anxious border crossings, and more vodka than he’d like. With dark hair, a tan, and a new beard, Wood could blend in more than the usual British traveler, though he still struggled to find his way. His newest book is An Arabian Journey; my favorite is Walking the Himalayas. Enjoy!

Brenda

Northland

Northland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border by Porter Fox

Porter Fox spent three years exploring the northern border of the lower forty-eight states with Canada. Raised in Maine, he begins in the waters off the coast of Maine and travels the 4,000 mile border by canoe, freighter, car, and on foot. Along the way to the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington, he describes the scenery and history of the border region, and talks with many of the border residents, border patrol agents, and visits the Standing Rock pipeline protestors in North Dakota. Some border residents have been used to commuting across the border for work, school, or shopping and are finding the border harder to cross in recent years. Some of the most interesting chapters were a freighter voyage across four of the Great Lakes and canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters. I found this book to be a good mix of history, scenery, and armchair travel.
Brenda

Rediscovering Travel

Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious by Seth Kugel

I enjoyed reading stories about Seth Kugel’s travel adventures, and learned some useful advice for future travel. He wrote the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times for several years, and speaks Spanish, Portuguese, and some French. His suggestions are to spend more time in fewer places, to skip top attractions if they don’t really appeal to you, get suggestions from locals and fellow travelers, save some time on your trip for spontaneity, and try to be in the moment, not staring at your phone. Be skeptical of reviews and don’t spend more money than you need to for an enjoyable vacation. Many interesting anecdotes make for a quick read; suggested for armchair travelers and global explorers.

Brenda

 

Less

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Hilarious, touching, and wistful, this novel unexpectedly won the Pulitzer Prize. Arthur Less, almost 50, is a minor novelist, occasional teacher, and very appealing company. Avoiding both his birthday and the wedding of his younger lover Freddy, Arthur accepts invitations to travel for an interview, an award ceremony, a retreat, a teaching assignment, and as a food critic in order to get away. With his beautifully tailored blue suit, Arthur visits New York City, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Paris, Morocco, southern India, and Kyoto, Japan. There are some funny travel mishaps, and he’s far from being as fluent in German as he believes. Arthur thinks that most of these invitations come from his association with an older, award-winning poet, and has a humble opinion of his own talents, especially as his current manuscript needs major revisions. A truly charming story, this novel is an enjoyable, rewarding read.

Brenda

Mr. Gandy’s Grand Tour

Mr. Gandy’s Grand Tour by Alan Titchmarsh

Finally, a feel-good novel perfect for summer reading. Set in England, Paris, Monaco and Italy, it’s also great for armchair travelers. Tim Gandy is feeling overlooked. At 55, he’s facing early retirement and must admit that his marriage to Isobel is rather blah. He’s close to only one of his three children, although Rosie is pregnant, so there’s happily a grandchild in his future. Tim has always dreamed of traveling in Europe, and Rosie encourages him to make his Grand Tour, even without Isobel, who dislikes travel. Despite feeling a bit guilty indulging himself, he’s off to Paris. Sketching at Versailles, he meets Francine, a gallery owner, who fascinates him. In Monaco, he meets Archie, a young yacht salesman, and poses as a consultant in a very funny scene aboard a superyacht. Afterwards, Archie takes him to meet his Aunt Rosamund, an elderly novelist who give Tim some good advice. The author is known in Great Britain for his gardening books and television shows, and does an excellent job with the gorgeous scenery and giving the story a strong sense of place. The characters are appealing, the story is not too predictable, and it’s quite charming. Perfect escapist reading, although it may make you long to escape to the Riviera, Paris, or Italy for a stroll in a garden or to enjoy a fabulous meal.

Brenda

Two Steps Forward

Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist

Artist Zoe makes a long overdue visit to her friend Camille in France, and impulsively decides to hike the Camino de Santiago from central France to the Spanish border. Her budget is small and she is hiking because of a recent death in her family. Martin, a British engineer working in France, decides to test his design for a one-wheeled cart by hiking with it from Cluny to Santiago. Better equipped and organized, Martin often stays in inns and enjoys gourmet meals while Zoe’s budget barely covers hostel dormitories. However, the trail keeps bringing the unlikely pair together, especially when they are both dealing with upsetting news from home. The scenery is dramatic, the other hikers a quirky bunch, and the dialogue is witty and funny. I enjoyed this charming romantic comedy inspired by a three-month hike of the Camino in 2011 by Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion and his wife, writer Anne Buist. Film rights have been sold.
Brenda