I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this memoir about a Londoner who relocates to the Seven Valleys area in northern France with her husband, where they spend over a decade renovating a rundown old house. Susan Duerden narrates the audiobook (available from Hoopla Digital). While Janine and Mark live in a tiny village, their life there seems very lively, with festivals, seasonal markets, eccentric neighbors, and the antics of farm and domestic animals. Even frustratingly slow internet is humorous here. Janine is a travel writer, and often travels by train to a different region, to discover its charms, then comes home to realize that France’s Opal Coast is where she wants to stay. Readers will feel well acquainted with many of the residents in the village, and long to travel there, or at least want to try some of the seasonal pastries or local cheeses mentioned. Excellent armchair travel with warmth and humor, with wonderful descriptions of food and drink.
Set against the backdrop of the 1960s and 1970s and the Vietnam War, Cooke follows the careers of several women who worked as stewardesses for Pan Am, which focused on international flights. Biology major Lynne Totten, experienced traveler Karen Walker, and Tori Werner, a Norwegian woman who wanted to work for the foreign service were all hired by Pan Am and sent to a six-week training course before getting assigned to flights around the globe. As they gained seniority, they could bid on their preferred flights and live abroad, from New York to Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Their perks included free air travel and paid vacations, with time for all-night parties or sightseeing. Later, some stewardesses sued Pan Am for the right to keep working after marriage and even during pregnancy during an era when new hires had to be slim, attractive, female, unmarried college graduates younger than 27. The author’s father worked for Pan Am until it went bankrupt in 1991, and the family traveled frequently on standby. At reunions for former flight crew, Cooke met and interviewed many retired stewardesses, and was fascinated by their stories. Most notable was an Operation Babylift flight that Tori Werner supervised as purser with Lynne and Karen as part of her crew, that brought orphaned and refugee infants and children to the United States from Vietnam. I would have liked a little less about politics and the Vietnam War and more stories about the other stewardesses mentioned, but I found this well-researched book to be an engaging read about a very challenging job that also allowed the women to expand their horizons.
Armchair travel has been a reading theme for me this summer. Fortunately, there are a lot of terrific books that can take the reader on a virtual journey. In his first book, Emmy award-winning television correspondent Conor Knighton visits all the National Parks in the U.S. in 2016, beginning with the first sunrise of the year in Acadia National Park in Maine. Imagine visiting Alaska, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, and American Samoa in the same year, along with all the other National Parks! Conor, recovering from a broken engagement, isn’t sure where he wants to live when his year of traveling is over. His writing is insightful, and occasionally funny. I would have liked more photos, but enjoyed the ones that are included. For videos from his time in the parks, visit his website. Different chapters cover the night sky, climate change, diversity in the parks, and how the most popular parks are coping with crowds. Knighton talks with many park rangers and guides, and is smitten by a litter of puppies in Denali, where dogsledding often makes more sense than snowmobiling. He gets advised to not always climb the highest peak, as the view and experience may be better from another less popular peak. Every cave tour has a moment of utter darkness, and while dark skies in some parks make for amazing stargazing, it’s getting harder to find an area without cellphone service. I enjoyed Knighton’s writing so much, I read several short passages out loud to my family. Since 2016, Conor has visited our newest national parks, including the Indiana Dunes, some national parks in other countries, and many islands.
Romy Keene works for her uncles in their New York City bookstore, living in an apartment above the shop. When the building is sold and their rent skyrockets, Romy enters a contest to win a huge bonus and a position with a travel company. All Romy needs to do is visit the same landmarks as Phileas Fogg did in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days, without taking a commercial flight. And Romy needs to be faster than Dominic Madison, whose uncle is her new evil landlord. Romy has never been further from New York City than Montreal, and is definitely not an intrepid traveler. Many adventures later, the cargo ship she and Dominic are traveling on rescues a group of Somali refugees, and the pair find a new, mutual goal. This book is perfect armchair travel reading for summer, complete with a little romance (with Dominic, of course!). A good non-fiction readalike is Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman. This novel really kept my interest, and will be published on August 11.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.