Posts Tagged With: recommendation

The BEST Mystery Novels and Series (an ever expanding list)

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1)
Robert Galbraith

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If you want to hear about (one of) my most recommended books – it’s this one, right here. This series blew me away. I don’t know what I expected but what I got was amazing characters, truly interesting mysteries and a perfect balance of both. Even if mysteries aren’t typically your “thing” pick this up!

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1)
Deanna Raybourn

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Can’t help it, guys, I love these books. I actually started this series on book #4 and was smitten with it. Here are some of my favorite things about this series:
1) The language – I am certain that Raybourn has a BLAST writing these books. The time period allows her to be flowery, even overly so. She uses the subtleties of archaic language to say the most absurd and downright naughty things. I constantly find myself giggling at it.
2) The play with time – I love how these books are set in the 1800s but the protagonist doesn’t quite fit. She is a protagonist of the now and her witty remarks are gold in these stories
3) The partnership – Stoker and Veronica are adorable and make me snicker-giggle constantly.

The story itself is lovely as well, but it’s really about the people and the writing. I’ve enjoyed the stories immensely.¬†

Caravan
Dorothy Gilman

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I’ve read this book twice now and it is truly incredible. It has everything – every twist and turn you can imagine. It’s the story of a young girl told by an old one where you can feel the truth of it but with the knowing eye of an old woman looking back. This is a book where horrible, terrible things can happen to the characters and somehow you still want their lives. This book is magic wrapped up in one neat little package and now I can’t say anything else without just positively gushing.

Gilman is a forgotten rock star of mysteries and I recommend this one AND all Mrs. Polifax!

City of the Lost (Rockton #1)
Kelley Armstrong

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I took a risk on buying this book with only a short synopsis read. I was very pleasantly surprised. It has a truly interesting and unique premise, a great main character, solid support characters, and some really interesting stories. The best part was that I legitimately didn’t know where the story was going – not when it came to friends, love interests, what was going to happen next, or, of course, “who dun it.” The whole series is a great read.

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1) –
Rob Thomas

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So, so many reasons to love this book. Let me list them for you!
1) Veronica Mars – anyone who has watched the series (and it’s horrible mid-cancellation) practically wets themselves when there is anything new that comes out. It’s with good reason. All the new Veronica Mars stuff has been fan-tastic.
2) The audio book is read by Kristen Bell – okay, this time I did wet myself. No shame.
3) It’s actually a good story – the book reads just like an episode; and I mean that in a good way. It’s fast-paced with a good mixture of characterization and crime action. The story keeps you guessing but doesn’t put you in the dark either. It was a quick read without being skimpy.

Sex, Murder, and a Double Latte (Sophie Katz Murder Mystery #1)
Kyra Davis

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This book is what I love about chick-lit. It’s silly and sassy and exciting and a read that you can breeze through in just a few days. I’m a firm believer that a story you can get sucked into – silly or not – is a fun story. Yes, this is dated and I don’t really have a thing for Russians – but I am glad I picked up this book.

I would love your recommendations for what else should be on this list!

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The BEST RomCom Books (an ever expanding list)

I am a no-shame RomCom lover and is there a better time to get into a few of these fun, delightful reads than in the midst of a global pandemic? I think not!

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
What do I look for in a romance novel?
1) Giggles
2) Spicy scenes that’ll make me squirmy
3) At least a little bit of heart
This had all of that and then some. What a great book!

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Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
So. aptly. named. The characters are in high school so definitely YA but delightful nonetheless. A+ banter and, well, cuteness.

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My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
Sophie Kinsella is pretty much my idol. I have adored multiple of her books but this is one of the latest and also one of my favorites. It’s light but also one that will speak to you.

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Well Met by Jen DeLuca
Heaaaaarts, rainbowsssss, and sunshine.
That’s what I feel about this book. I adored it. I giggled – a LOT. The characters are delightful, the setting adorable, there’s some very satisfying sexy time and ogling, etc, etc. Basically, it was right up my alley and I highly recommend.

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Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Okay, so first off, any NaNoWriMo book has a special place in my heart. But on top of this, it’s an adorable YA novel with a great setting and unique circumstances. While not perfect, it’s cute and easy to get into. Bonus – it’s a series and the rest are adorable too!

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The UnHoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Is there a better trope than two dissimilar people somehow ending up on a vacation together? I THINK NOT.

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Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
This one is a bit deeper than you typical RomCom but I really liked not only the premise but the characters. It felt really authentic and had the main protagonists communicating like I think real humans would actually communicate (shocking!)

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Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston
Mainstream LBTQ? Ugh, love it. That being said, this was a little too Disney ending for me but at the end of the day, that’s not a complaint.

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The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Confession people – I have RE-READ this one. I knooow! Mostly for one particularly epic scene involving a cabin and a yeti… this book gets delightfully spicy but doesn’t cross into the true “romance” category.

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I really enjoy the new flavor of the main character. He’s not your standard knight in shining armor – it’s endearing and energizing to see a new kind of protagonist, one with a “social handicap” so-to-speak. In that respect this story has some truly deeper ideas about love, how it manifests, as our expectations of ourselves AND others.

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Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
An oldie but a goodie. Are there issues here (re: weight concerns that are sooo not concerns, etc)? Yes. But I love the writing style immensely.

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Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
I devoured this book series a while back. This was an adorable YA – cliche as hell, but adorable. Alex is Cutie McCute and sure, there are a lot of groan worthy moments (really, Chemistry class? I mean REALLY?) But let’s face it, Elkeles had me laughing out loud at times. The best friend, Paco, is freaking hilarious.

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G Adventures Costa Rica Kayak Adventure – My Review

In January 2020, Marjorie and I threw money at a tour company called G Adventures and jetted off to Costa Rica. It was somewhat of an experiment after our Bucket List Galapagos Adventure. We both knew nothing could top Galapagos – but could this come close? And would we find value is someone doing all the planning for us (instead of the intense heavy lifted we did ourselves for Ecuador)?

TL; DR – 3/5 stars overall. Enjoyed our time, would not do a tour again.

First you might be wondering – what the heck is this? G Adventures is a one stop shop – you pay, you fly, you follow the leader. Check it out here.

Our trusty little ride

Day 0: Car Rental and Quepos

Okay so we couldn’t resist a little self planning. We arrived one day early, met in the airport, and then we were off like a rocket. We decided to test the waters with a car rental. (This was a BIG DEAL for two city women who very rarely drive and don’t own cars)

We chose Adobe Car Rental after reading a fantastic review from My Tan Feet. My Tan Feet were SO helpful in the booking and understanding-what’s-next process – I highly recommend you use them as your jumping off point if you plan on renting a car in Costa Rica. Additionally, Adobe Car Rental was top notch. Excellent customer service (English/Spanish) and the worker came to the car with me, checked it, helped me adjust everything, etc. Top notch service I’ve never received with any other car rental company.

We jumped right on the highway and took the 3-ish hour drive down the coast to our ultimate destination – Quepos. For anyone squeamish about driving abroad – this stretch of road was pristine. Yes, some people liked to pass aggressively but there was nothing nerve wracking about it in the least.

Quepos is a cute little spot and we arrived in the midst of a political rally -which sounds ominous but was actually more of a street fest that was really fun to walk around in. We grabbed some ice cream at Pops (a chain that is everywhere in Costa Rica. Not bad but not drool-worthy. Think Chocolate Shoppe or Cold Stone, maybe?) and enjoyed the boardwalk.

View from the room

We stayed at Las Cascadas in a room up in the canopy. It had an amazing view but no screens (sigh) so we had to stay huddled away since it was dark and giant bugs were not invited to our sleepover. Also the trek up to the room was at least a 50 degree angle, it was intense. Overall, the space was cute but the room and restaurant felt something to be desired. I wouldn’t recommend this place but suggest another!

Day 1: Quepos and San Jose

The following day we heavily debated – do we go to Manuel Antonio or the Spice Farm? We decided a lot of nature was in our future and, even though I’m sure Manuel Antonio is amazing – we skipped it in favor of Villa Vanilla. And, look for anyone who has been in Central or South America, we found this to be a real treat. We’ve see cocoa, we’ve seen coffee, but this to me was truly unique. It’s a very small operation with a jungle of variety of plants. It was educational, beautiful, unhurried, and delicious. I highly recommend this tour.

Instead of trying to shove too much into one day, we hopped back in the car and made it to San Jose for our orientation. Looking back – and with some knowledge, I would have done this totally differently. Our hotel in San Jose was nothing to brag about (El Sesteo). Some rooms didn’t have air conditioning, some did, but all were depressing. The courtyard was cute but it was definitely not a place I would have chosen on my own. Location was fine, but not great either… and here begins the reason why tours are just not my thing. I hate feeling like the money I put into the tour wasn’t used the way I would have used it. That might not be fair, but it’s true.

We had orientation which, honestly, for anyone with an iota of previous travel experience, was unnecessary. We met our guide, Gabriel, who was a lovely human being, but otherwise the information was general and not something that needed walking through. We learned that night that immediately in the morning we were boarding a public bus for about 4 hours to get to La Fortuna.

Here’s where I would have done it differently – since we already had the car, Marjorie and I should have just driven up to La Fortuna and spent the night there. There was NO reason for us to have a night in San Jose at all if we were already going to have a car. We could have skipped the public bus and had that much time in comfort and in La Fortuna.

Day 2: La Fortuna

We started our day on the bus which, if I’m honest, was actually way nicer than anticipated – but still, a long bus ride! (Also at every bus station in Costa Rice you’ll find a chain bakery that is SUPER tasty! Musmanni – check it out!)

When we arrived in La Fortuna we had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe (no, not that one) which was tasty and a place we went back to for breakfast. We decided to try and squeeze in an excursion (and save a little money) and instead explored a little of the town. La Fortuna is tiny with only a few streets around the main square. It’s very cute but it’s really just a jumping off point for all the various activities. And it was going to be home for three nights. On one hand, it’s nice to not move around a lot, but on the other, the hotel was (again) something to be desired. We stayed in Hotel Las Colinas and our room in particular was so small it was literally impossible to unpack (it was our beds and ONE tiny table – no dresser or closet) which defeated the purpose of spending a few nights, in my opinion. Now – it had a few positives with being in an incredible location to walk around and having an amazing view. But the room seriously sucked.

View from the patio of Las Colinas

We did get an amazing ice cream on square and has a really great meal at Yellow Bark – so it’s not like it was a total loss of a day.

Day 3: La Fortuna and our First Group Excursion

I’ll admit, coming onto day three I was getting pretty salty. Two lackluster hotels, a bus ride, and basically nothing happening yet? I was feeling antsy and wondering where my money went.

Kayaking on Lake Arenal

But then – this! Our first kayak excursion! It was led by Desafio and I loved this. They took us over to Lake Arenal where we split the group into two – one group kayaked out to the peninsula while the other group did SUP (Stand up paddle board) and then we switched. During our break in the middle of the lake we had fruit and beer to enjoy.

This was my first time doing SUP and I was practically giddy I loved it so much. It was a beautiful and amazing spot to the activity and I highly recommend it. One thing to note – you do NOT need to be on this G Adventures tour for this! This is a tour hosted by Desafio and you can buy it one-off if you are in La Fortuna on your own.

After lunch, we went on a hike to get a better view of the Arenal volcano. This was organized through our guide and G Adventures, but it was, again, a tour hosted by Desafio that you can do without being part of a larger group. It was a nice little outing – definitely more “walk” than “hike” but did give some good opportunities to see wild life and pictures of the volcano with some informational tidbits.

Lastly, our group decided to partake in what our guide, Gabriel, called a more “rustic” hot springs experience. This, my friends, was the most unique and hysterical activity we encountered in our G Adventures trip. We stopped by a little market, bought some beer, and then Gabriel led us down some super sketchy steps into was was clearly just a dam run off or something super podunk. I almost lost my suit in a particularly aggressive portion but eventually the group of us set up shop in the back, Gabriel pulled out some candles, and it was downright relaxing and silly. We never would have found it on our own without Gabriel and it was definitely a perk to the trip. If you are in La Fortuna on your own and you ask around, you could find it, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it by yourself.

At the ridiculous hot springs!

Day 4: La Fortuna

Our last full day in La Fortuna was unscheduled so we opted to try the boat tour up in Cano Negro. And there was a bit of the problem with the whole “other people plan for you” type of vacation – we weren’t sure what we were signing up for. We thought there was some kind of hiking element… or some kind of really unique situation. It was pretty much just a long, slow boat ride where you almost saw some wildlife. All in all, not our favorite use of our time (though it was lovely… just not quite active enough for us). It did include lunch, but our lunch stop was very awkwardly on someone’s farm property and there was no place to take advantage of the “outdoor commode” without showing your butt to the world.

We spent our final evening in La Fortuna enjoying the weather, walking, and doing a little shopping. It was lovely, but definitely time to go. Dinner at Lava Lounge which was tasty, but expensive.

Day 5: Sarapiqui and the 2nd Kayak Adventure

Welcome to Summer Camp!

Seriously – this was the point in our tour that you have to either laugh or cry. I think I did a little of both. We left La Fortuna in a lovely little private van and made our way to Sarapiqui. My jaw dropped when we pulled into Cinco Ceibas. The painted bus was adorable, the main lodge was fun and campy, but the fact that they housed NINE WOMEN in one of these cabins (with 3 bedrooms… 4 if you count the one that was just curtained off from the kitchen) and one bathroom was, to me, not okay. And don’t get me started on the food (the first included meals ALL TRIP). (Spoiler: the food sucked).

Look -let me back up here. I am not a finnicky traveler. I don’t get grossed out. I understand limitations. I was HOT about this though. I did not pay for shared accommodations. I paid a very decent price for this trip – it wasn’t supposed to be shoe string and, lemme tell ya, this is shoe string accommodation.

Ok – but if I was able to put aside my frustrations and absorb the good – let’s be honest we NEVER would have found this place on our own. And it really was like summer camp – we were the only people there and ate cafeteria style. It was kind of adorable.

We got there early enough to do our kayaking trip in the afternoon and that was a blast. It was a level 1 rapids – basically, a river with a slight current – which made the kayaking trip a LOT of fun. We dumped ourselves but it was a solid workout and an amazing trip. For people who don’t like adrenaline it was the perfect level up from a lazy river and a truly unique experience.

Outside of the kayak trip though there was NOTHING to do there (they didn’t even have board games in stock) so we chilled out in the main lodge (the only spot with mediocre wifi) until it was late enough to go to bed.

Day 6: Tortuguero

We bid a not unwelcome good-bye to summer camp and made the long-ish trek to Tortuguero. Now, this was a truly lovely place. Only accessible by boat I imagine a lot of solo traveler skip it but I definitely recommend finding your way there. It took a lot of travel but we eventually made it to the Baula Lodge – easily our nicest accommodations on the trip. While no luxury establishment they had cute little rooms in pretty colors, a nice pool, and fun places to hang out near the water.

At the Baula Lodge

We took a walk around the little town which was adorable (and honestly larger than I thought)! It’s all water taxis and cuteness around here and I could have spent more time but decided to enjoy the lodge instead.

Day 7: Tortuguero and Kayak Trip #3

We decided to have a packed day and started off with a morning hike to a beautiful look out. We had enough people join us that we had our guide come but it was something you easily could do on your own. It was a lovely little hike with some good stairs at the end.

Then it was straight to our third kayak trip which was delightful. It was a good three hours down the canals. Wide and beautiful at times and super narrow little hidey-holes in others. It was so much fun – we got really close to caymans and limbo’d under fallen trees. A truly wonderful and fun experience.

After a well earned lunch we then went back to the Tortuguero side of the river and took a nice long walk. This was led by our guide and we walked through the jungle, looking for wildlife, and then walked back on the beach side. It was relaxing and energizing and I got all the walking in the surf a gal could want.

Day 8: Back to San Jose

We took out time enjoying some coffee in the morning before heading back to the mainland. The boat trip back certainly seemed to take longer than the way there but eventually we made our way back to San Jose (and my faaavorite hotel. Sigh).

We took a little walking tour downtown, really racking up our steps (and wandering through some fairly sketchy areas) but finding some cute little tidbits in town. I’ll admit, what you read about San Jose in the guide books is pretty accurate. There are a few interesting spots but for the most part it’s not a very desirable city to wander. Half a day was plenty of time to feel like we got what we wanted out of it.

Dinner was a Restaurant Machu Picchu – tasty with HUGE blended drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

Day 9: Home

And that was it! There was nothing in the morning at all, just shipping us off to our destination. We walked a few blocks (again, so sketchy around our hotel) but found this adorable place (Hotel Grano de Oro) that had an excellent breakfast. It was a breath of fresh air before getting on our flights home.

All in All

We had a lovely time in Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful country with lots of fun activities. Taking out trip through G Adventures gave us things we could have – and would have – easily found ourselves but also a few extras. The kayak trips – the whole point of the tour was chose – were all exceptional and truly different. We might not have ever done one of them and definitely wouldn’t have done all three – so that was a huge perk. But the let down with the hotels and food was a big one. And – we did the math – but this trip more or less cost the same as Galapagos and Ecuador (well known for being expensive). That was definitely a let down as we figured we’d save a little this way but there were SO many added fees. I feel like ultimately we enjoyed ourselves despite the tour, not because of it, and Costa Rica just held enough positive attractive to keep us positive overall.

Overview Costa Rica Recommendations:

Car:
Adobe Car Rental – 5/5 – highly recommend
Hotel:
Las Cascadas (Quepos) – 3/5 – okay but there’s better nearby
El Sesteo (San Jose) – 2/5 – cute courtyard is about the only kind thing I can say.
Hotel Las Colinas (La Fortuna) – 3/5 – if location is your game this is fine, for anything else try another
Cinco Ceibas (Sarapiqui) – 2/5 – I can’t even….
Baula Lodge (Tortuguero) – 4/5 – I’d be curious about other establishments, but this is a solid spot.
Food:
Musmanni (bakery, various locations) – 5/5
Los Guarumos (near Jaco) – 4/5 – huge and cute
Soda La Hormiga (La Fortuna) – 5/5 – so cute, so good, so authentic! We ate here twice!
My Coffee (La Fortuna) – 3/5 – fine, but Rainforest Cafe was better.
Yellow Bark (La Fortuna) – 4.5/5 – excellent burgers!
Nanku (La Fortuna) 4/5 – tasty but pricey
Rainforest Cafe (La Fortuna) – 5/5 – tasty and cute
Lava Lounge (La Fortuna) – 3/5 – good but really quite expensive
Restaurante Machu Picchu – 4/5 – decent dinner spot
Hotel Grano de Oro (Breakfast, San Jose) – 5/5 yummy and so nice!
Ice Cream:
y’all, I have a whole POST for ice cream

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Ashley’s Top 5 Favorite Travel Memoirs (So Far)

Work has been SO busy lately. Whenever that happens I just want to get away and enjoy something new and wonderful. ¬†Unfortunately, what with¬†buying a house and all,¬†money is a little tight so gallivanting off to a foreign country just isn’t in the cards. ¬†At least not without some serious deal hunting.

Instead, I’ve decided to live vicariously and seek out a memoir or two. ¬†For those of you who might be in the same boat at me, let me draw you attention to my five all-time favorite travel memoirs (so far). ¬†In case you’re wondering,¬†Eat, Pray, Love is¬†not¬†on the list.

1) In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams by Tahir Shah

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If you’ve read a few other posts of my blog, you’ll probably have already heard me gush about Tahir Shah and Arabian Nights. I can’t help it, this man just speaks to me. ¬†Shah is such an incredible writer and when you add that in with his reflection on his move to Morocco… well, it’s magic to me. ¬†This book might not quite fit the category of “travel memoir” like some of the others, but the core is the same. ¬†It’s a book about discovering a new land – and therefore discovering yourself. ¬†Everybody and their brother needs to read this book (IMHO)!

2) Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail by Mary Morris

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For me this book is the definition of the perfect woman travel memoir. This book was phenomenal – not only is Mary Morris probably the most self-honest person on the planet (I don’t think I could write my actions with truth like she, does even if I wanted to) but she’s a fantastic writer. Her personal struggles combined with the fascinating travel events make this a truly enthralling read. It’s set in such a dramatic time in history – Morris was in China, Russia, and Germany in 1986. Seeing some of those historic events happening through her eyes is unbelievably interesting. Great read!

3) Somebody’s Heart is Burning: A Woman Wanderer In Africa by Tanya Shaffer

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Shaffer’s memoir seemed very familiar. Woman travel memoirs tend to have a similar theme – the driving force in these stories is often a man back home. Why does she travel – is it because she’s running away or does she just love and enjoy what she’s doing? It’s hard, of course, to know. Part of a person, as a traveler, loves it. But the other part is exhausted. When you’re away from the place you grew up, even if you’ve been there for quite some time, you never can quite let down all of your guard.

There are two things very unique and refreshing about this book – the pictures and people. Shaffer had snapshots scattered throughout and it was fascinating for me to go back and forth between her descriptions and compare them to the face in the photograph. And she described people a lot. In fact, every chapter was focused on someone else – someone she met along the journey. She didn’t so much analyze them as she did talk about her experience with them and by the end of the chapter you realized how Shaffer felt changed by them. It was a very refreshing way to read a memoir.

4) Incognito Street: How Travel Made Me a Writer by Barbara Sjoholm

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You can probably tell from the title that I’m a bit biased by the plot of this story. ¬†It’s about travel, and writing, and it’s set in Spain. ¬†Clearly, I’m going to love this. ¬†Sjoholm doesn’t disappoint. ¬†She does a great job about remembering herself in this time the way she took chances, the people she met. ¬†She really learned who she was in the process of this journey and it wasn’t until later when she was reflecting and writing this story that she was able to understand the way her life was affected by this trip. It’s such a beautiful thing to be let in on – and my main reason why memoirs are some of my favorite reads.

5) Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

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Like Arabian Nights, this book has more to it than just the travel bit. but it still will pull at your travel bone if you take it in. ¬†Grennan did what I would love to do – do something crazy because you feel like it’s the right thing to do and let it change your life. He has had such an incredible journey and has been able to take his travel to a new height. ¬†His book highlights that journey in of himself but he doesn’t forget to talk about the travel and country and people he met either. ¬†Did I mention, to, that this book is funny? ¬†Not something I expected from something about orphaned children! ¬†I read his via audio book and Grennan narrates it himself – so good!

So, what’s next?

The best part about travel is that there’s always more to see – and the great thing about memoirs is that there’s always another one to read. ¬†I’ve narrowed down my choices to these three – any suggestions to which one I (hopefully) enjoy first?

Don lost NoHurry

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