Posts Tagged With: travel

YA Book Review: Instructions for a Broken Heart – 2 of 5

Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson

instructions

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sorry, folks, this is not good. I know some of you loved the book, but this was cringe-tastic. It’s like Culbertson took all the bad parts of a YA novel and shoved it all into a beautiful package.

This book has so much potential! A recent break-up, an Italian vacation, twenty dares from a best friend – I love the premise. The execution was total blerg.

Where do I begin? Let’s start with my biggest frustration – the trip. That was the most boring, god-awful travel log I have ever read. Seriously, how do you write a book about a trip to Italy and focus only on the bad parts? I’d done a trip like what Jessa experienced in this book and I know what Culbertson was getting at – school trips abroad are generally terrible ideas. You sit in a boring bus all day, you barely have any time at locations, etc. I don’t want to read about it. I don’t need to see all the nuances of why traveling in a group sucks.

This book, to me, is just littered with Culbertson’s life experiences. It’s so obvious to me that each experience Jessa has Culbertson likely had in life. I’m all for authors drawing on true experiences, but this is just too much. All the referrals to specific musicals and games and whatnot – it was all too exact. Television shows and movies were just too alienating; as a reader I didn’t know a lot of the pop culture that was mentioned. None of it had meaning to me and so I just felt like I was listening in on a young girl’s (boring) life.

And then, of course, my main issue. Every single character needed to just get over him or her self. I know people are self-absorbed at that age but I don’t want to read about it in the extreme. Jessa’s pity party went on for far too long – blah blah you loved him blah. Based on everything we learned from Carissa, he obviously sucked, so you shouldn’t have loved him. And this whole “being too busy” thing was just lame. And can I mention how apparently everyone in their brother was poet or a singer? I know they were drama kids, but still.

I don’t know, it seems like very little in this book rang true (what’s up with Jessa having like six incredibly close guy friends? And everyone on the trip hooking up? What was up with her telling a new story for her scar all the time?) or, when things did ring true, I didn’t want to know (I don’t need to know how bored you are on the bus. I really don’t,)

It’s not my intention to be completely mean.  I did finish it, after all. The writing was decent and there were some really nice lines but I just couldn’t get lost in it. So not worth it.

Categories: Put Downs, Travel, Weekly Review, Young Adult | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – 3 of 5 stars

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

wind

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finished reading this book while sitting on my couch, stuffing my face with Starburst jelly beans (side note; best candy ever). Needless to say, I don’t have any freaking clue what Kamkwamba’s life was like growing up. Or now, for that matter. I have no real concept of how hard farming in Malawi is. I don’t know how hot the sun gets or what it’s like to not have light after dark. I don’t know what it means to be hungry even for a day – much less an entire country being hungry in a famine. I don’t know what it feels like to have no money for school, to teach myself science, or to build something great.

What I’m trying say is, Kamkwamba and I don’t have a lot in common. I therefore feel like a D for not rating his book 5 stars. Oh well, it is what it is.

I certainly am glad I read it. There were many parts I won’t forget – particularly how he describe the famine in his country. It was incredible and he did such a great job at pointing out the parts of being hungry that became normal life. It made even a well-fed lady like myself feel cold all over. But that all fell away to the great joy I felt when he spoke about his first TED conference. Kamkwamba’s memoir does a great job at highlighting the highs and lows of his life.

Still, I don’t think this book is for everyone. If you like memoirs, you’ll enjoy it. If you’re not a huge memoir fan, you might want to pass. I found the beginning cumbersome with the stories of his family and the belief in magic in Malawi. I also found many of his descriptions of his learning and actual building of the windmill to be too detailed (probably because I didn’t understand it). I think they were valuable parts to write about and helped to round out the story, but it didn’t make for action-packed reading.

Regardless of the number of stars, I finished this book feeling inspired. I feel humbled and encouraged by the fact that there are people out there doing great things. Even though I know I will never achieve that kind of greatness myself, I hope I help a little just by hearing his story.

Categories: Travel, Weekly Review | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: The Lost Girls – 3 of 5 stars

The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World. by Jennifer Bagget

lost

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There a lot about this book that I love – there is so much to be jealous of. These girls found the time and dedication to travel for an entire year. It’s something I would love to do and it’s also something I know I will never do. It’s just not my life. So living vicariously was exactly why I picked up the book. These girls traveled to places I have never been and say such amazing things. I really loved reading about it.

Still, I just can’t rave about the book. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, it’s just a little bland. Vanilla. I can tell these girls are used to a very journalistic writing. Their prose all sounds exactly the same and, with names like Jennifer, Holly, and Amanda, I found it impossible to keep them straight. I was constantly mixing up who was who. I feel like the book would have really benefited if they could have figure out a way to develop different writing styles. Some visual aides could have really helped – you know they took a million pictures. I would have loved to have seen the beat-up van, Esther, the yoga retreat, etc.

Despite the adventures and nice mixture of this-is-what-I-saw and this-is-what-I-felt, it took me a really long time to get through this book. This is something I should be devoured. Besides the lack of voice, I’m not sure what was missing – other people maybe? One of my favorite memoirs is Somebody’s Heart Is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa because of the author’s incredible ability to observe others and bring them into the story. This memoir is firmly on these three girls and, despite being a young white woman traveler myself, I just couldn’t quite get invested.

Still, it’s certainly not bad, and it’s a great thing to read if you’re itching for a trip of your own but can’t get away. There are nice tid-bits along the way, too, that give some good perspective.

“After all my searching for something to believe in, what if taking the journey itself were the highest act of faith? Traveling anywhere that was foreign inevitably meant I’d have to rely on the kindness of strangers. To venture out in the world, I had to have faith in the goodness of people – and to be open to the lessons that every new person might bring.

Amen, Holly. Or was that Amanda who wrote that? Jennifer?

Oh, who cares. Amen, sister.

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Time to Roam! This gal is going to Nicaragua!

Oh man – it feels so GOOD to say that.  When I don’t have a trip on my schedule I get all antsy.  Now I’m just nervous/excited.  Years ago I put “do a volunteer travel program” on my bucket list and now I’m going to check it off.  I’ve signed up to travel for Habitat for Humanity and help do a build for about 10 days in, of all places, Nicaragua.

nicaragua_beach-7822

This is why I love doing this kind of stuff.  When I did classes in Spain last year, I found myself in Salamanca, a little town I probably never would have visited, but that’s where the classes were, so I went.  It was incredible and now it’s one of my favorite cities. Now I’m going on a new adventure. I would never have thought to go to Nicaragua.  Latin America, while interesting, hasn’t been on my radar when it comes to “where should I go next”?  Now it is, and I can’t wait to discover it.

Of course, the main reason people don’t travel often is because of the (lack of) dolla dolla bills.  This, then, is my nudge, nudge, wink, wink to ask you to think about donating to my trip.  The cost for my 10 day stint, sans airfare, is just under $2000.  This covers the transportation to the build site, funded by Habitat, my lodging while there, all building materials, paying the construction manager (a local Nicaraguan), food, and then additional funds to make sure this, and other Habitat builds, can keep on going.  Obviously, I believe in the cause and it would be wonderful if you could donate just for that.

However, I’m going to give you a bit more incentive.  In an effort to sweeten the pot, I’m putting in my own milestones. If you donate, you get more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.  I offer the following prizes:

DONATE and you will receive:

$15 – A picture of your name written in the sand (we’re building on the beach) with a thank you – likely a thumbs up with be included.

$30 – Your name written in the sand and a handwritten Nicaraguan postcard.

$50 – Your name written in the sand or a handwritten Nicaraguan postcard (you pick!) and a Nicaraguan souvenir (no idea what, yet, but I’ll find something cute!).

$100+ – A video of me dancing and singing obnoxiously to any song you’d like. This will likely be done on the beach but, as I’m going to need the assistance from people I have yet to meet, I’m not going to promise a location just yet. If I get a lot of these I may limit the length of the song since this will be highly embarrassing.  You’re welcome.  You can also get the name in the sand, postcard, and souvenir too 🙂

I know!  WHO can resist?!  Did I mention that your donation is tax-deductible?  BECAUSE IT IS.  So much good!

Link link link – tell your friends!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

inarabiannights

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

  walltowall

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

HeartBurning

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

Incognito

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

littleprinces

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

Categories: Lists, Pick Ups, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria by Eve Brown-Waite

First Comes Love, then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and A Third World Adventure Changed My Life by Eve Brown-Waite

malaria
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Man. What a good title. It’s catchy, it’s nimble, and it’s accurate. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Brown-Waite knew what she was doing when she wrote this book. Her writing style just flows; her pacing is done exceptionally well. I’ve found that somewhere in a memoir things can start to drag and, while Brown-Waite is no exception, she knew how to keep the process moving. I found that pretty impressive considering how many years this spanned with really no large breaks in between.

It’s also nice to read a book where a young woman really goes somewhere with some adventure. Brown-Waite spends part of this book in Ecuador and another part in Uganda. She integrates the beauty and extreme poverty of the locations she experienced along with her own life. Sometimes I felt like she did a great job with this – sometimes she would tell a story that showed her own emotions right alongside with what life is like there.

However there were other times when Brown-Waite got in her own way of the storytelling. She relied heavily on self-deprecation for her humor which, while often funny, sometimes became redundant. She talked about her whining and inability to figure out how to cook, or really exist, in Uganda a lot. Believe me, I would have been terrible about it, too, but it wasn’t until the very end that I realized maybe she was more self-reliant than she led us to believe. I think I missed some of the parts where she is a woman who has the ability to live and make decision on her own… something I would have liked emphasized.

Still, overall it’s a quick read for its size and interesting to boot. Another good travel memoir to add to the list!

View all my reviews

Categories: Debuts, Pick Ups, Travel, Weekly Review | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart

Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart


lemons

Man. I should have loved this book. When I pulled the off the shelf at Half Price Books I knew I had to have it. It was perfect for me. Not only was it a travel memoir, one of my great weaknesses, but it was a travel memoir about Spain. Add onto that a quirky story and I’m sold.

So what happened? Why am I not head over heels for this story? The writing was quite good, the descriptions were also nicely done. There is nothing glaringly obvious throughout the entire length.

The problem is that I just don’t care. Stewart, whether he meant to or not, kept me at arms length. I felt no suspense nor any struggle. All of the characters, especially his wife, were more supporting cast than ever having real personalities of their own (except maybe Romero). At times he hinted at disappointment or challenges but I never felt it. Everything that was hard seemed easy – something which moving to a falling down farm in the middle of rural Andalucia should never seem.

Maybe I should have known. After all, the title says “an optimist in Andalucia.” That optimism definitely permeated the book. The problem was it wasn’t just over Stewart. You could feel it over every moment and every character. It watered it down and even though he was writing about an area of the world near and dear to my heart, I found myself just not caring.

This may be a bold statement, but I feel while Stewart didn’t do anything wrong, he also didn’t do anything right with this book. Though maybe that’s harsh. There was one piece that touched me, toward the end. Stewart mentioned how he didn’t feel like he fit in until he let himself be an outsider. Those are his exact words, but they are close enough. I understand that completely. My first time in Spain I tried so hard to fit in – I bought all European clothes, did European things, etc. Of course, it didn’t work. Everyone spotted me as American, and treated me as such. When I went back years later and lived in Salamanca, I did nothing to hide my foreignness, and somehow I just fit better. It’s funny how it all works.

So, Stewart, I do thank you for the one spark of inspiration in the whole of the book. However, even with that, I just can’t lay my recommendation to it.

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Memoir Book Review: Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach


Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman
by Alice Steinbach

withoutreservations

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the kind of memoir I hope I never write.

As cruel as that sounds, it’s what was going through my head as I read Steinbach’s tales of her so-called “Year of Living Dangerously.” (Actually, she may have called it something else but I really don’t want to re-read any of the book in order to find the correct wording.) Steinbach’s telling of her “adventure” consisted almost entirely of pre-made plans that were completely safe and her being chatted up by entirely harmless and friendly people who somehow were all the same.

I consider myself a traveler. I think I have made a great effort in my life to not only see new places but to experience them as well. Because of this, I felt a sharp tang of disgust as a I read Steinbach’s supposedly risky adventure. I’m going to go right ahead and sound pretentious and say there really wasn’t much risk involved. This woman went to Paris, England, and Italy, staying in hotels and often participating in tour groups. To top it off she clearly had no financial concerns even with being away from work for an entire year.

Please note that, in direct contrast with the book title, she wholeheartedly made reservations for every stop on her trip.  Yawn.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for traveling in ways that best suit you. My own “adventures” are in many ways not so different. But if you’re going to write a memoir about, there needs to be some pizzazz. By the end of the book I could guess what was going to happen – somewhere in town someone was going to randomly speak to her, they would talk, get tea, connect, maybe hang out for a couple more days, and then the cycle would repeat in another location. Oops, maybe I should say spoiler alert.

Sorry, I didn’t even realize how much this book bothered with me until I started writing this review. I should pull back a little because I don’t think it’s entirely useless. I think Steinbach had a great year of travel and I love that she did it. I just regret I had to read about it in the way I did. I think Steinbach has a good writing style (if quite clipped, likely from years in her profession as a journalist) and she did make some wonderful observations from time to time. Sometimes she really made me think and there is one particular chapter about rain in Rome that allowed me to connect with her.

But one chapter out of an entire book just isn’t enough.

If you want a good travel memoir, bypass this book. On that note, in case you were wondering, bypass Eat, Pray, Love, too (I swear, they are almost the same thing). There are so many wonderful tales out there about women adventuring and traveling alone – like Somebody’s Heart Is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa or even, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone.

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