Monday, 25 June 2018

Guest Post - Warsaw – an undiscovered gem by Julie Ryan - Bookish World Cup - Poland

My first visit to Warsaw was the result of a chance encounter with some Polish students in London. They went on to become good friends and led to me setting up a language school there in the nineties. Back then Poland was a post-communist country struggling to find its place in a modern Europe and you would probably not have considered it as a holiday destination.  Fast-forward a few years and it has much to offer.

Warsaw is perfect for a long weekend and to get your bearings, look for the Palace of Culture and Science (PKIn)– you can’t miss it as it dominates the landscape from wherever you are in the city. It was given to the Polish people as a gift by the Russians and there is the old joke that the best place to see Warsaw is from the top of the building – the only place where you can’t actually see the ‘monstrosity’ itself. Built in the 1950s and now hosting a theatre, cinema, conference centre and museum, it has today become something of an icon and is tallest building in Warsaw with a viewing terrace on the 30th floor. 

Unlike many East-European cities, Warsaw is somewhat different in that the hub isn’t the Old Town. Destroyed during WW2, the houses have been rebuilt to replicate the originals and the ‘Stare Miasto’ is by far my favourite place in Warsaw. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. with its mix of architecture and its medieval feel, it is a lovely square in which to sit in one of the many cafes or bars and watch the world go by.

If it’s culture you want then Warsaw has it in abundance with the Chopin museum, the Royal Palace, Łazienki Park and two opera houses. Just remember to check the opening times and to book in advance if necessary.

For those who prefer shopping as a pastime then you shouldn’t be disappointed. Long gone are the dreary days of having to queue for everything and then finding that there is little to buy. In the last few years Warsaw has become almost unrecognisable. One of the biggest malls is Złote Tarasy, centrally located behind the Warszawa Centralna railway station, it is easily identifiable from its curved glass roof and houses almost every chain store you can think of.  If you’re looking for souvenirs then unusual glassware, wooden jewellery boxes and amber make ideal gifts.

While you’re there don’t forget to indulge in the local fare. Winter is the best time to savour Polish cuisine as it offers hearty soups, stews and my personal favourite perogi.

For me, Poland’s best selling point is its people. Having suffered much in the past, they are a truly hospitable race – always helpful and willing to share even if they don’t have much themselves.

Thank you so much Julie for this great look at Warsaw. 


Julie Ryan’s roots are in a small mining village in South Yorkshire. After a degree in French Language and Literature, wanderlust kicked in and she lived and worked in France, Poland, Thailand and Greece. Her spirit enriched, her imagination fired, Julie started a series of mystery romances, thrillers set in the Greek Isles. 
Jenna's Journey is the first novel in Julie Ryan’s Greek Islands Series, a series she did not set out to create but which took on its own life and grew, rich and fascinating. This is the first of three published so far and promises to delight readers looking for the hidden dark sides of dream vacations in the Greek Isles.

In a new venture, Julie's latest book is a short rom-com called Callie's Christmas Countdown.
A prolific and well-known book review blogger, Julie does her writing and reviewing from rural Gloucestershire, where she lives with her husband, son and dippy cat with half a tail.
You can find Julie on her websites:

Website/blog for book reviews
and on Twitter @julieryan18

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Book Review - American Chick in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson - Bookish World Cup - Saudi Arabia

Amazon UK
Title: American Chick in Saudi Arabia
Author: Jean Sasson
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Purchased
Publisher: Self Published
Publication Date: 17th February 2015
Rating: 5 Stars

It all begins with an ad in the newspaper. When Jean Sasson, a young Southern woman living in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, answers a call to work in the royal hospital in Saudi Arabia, what should have been a two-year stay turns into a life-changing adventure spanning over a decade. Over the years Jean is plunged into the hidden lives of the veiled women in Riyadh, where women are locked in luxurious homes and fundamentalist mutawas terrorize the streets. Jean meets women from all walks of life--a feisty bedouin, an educated mother, a conservative wife of a high-ranking Saudi, and a Saudi princess the world knows as Princess Sultana--all who open a window into Saudi culture and help to reshape Jean's worldviews. AMERICAN CHICK IN SAUDI ARABIA is the first installment in a heartfelt, inspiring memoir about Jean's thirty-year travels and adventures in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq.

What a fascinating account of life in the late 70s for an American woman living in Saudi Arabia.  I know a whole lot more about Saudi Arabia and its attitudes towards women, then I did before I read this  and although I was aware of some of it, the rest was eye opening. 

At times I felt like applauding Jean as she tried to explain Western freedoms to women who have lived their life under the veil, but at the same time I had great respect for the Saudi women she spoke to and befriended that had their own stories to tell, some of which were rather positive. 

I wish I had read this on a device that had colour photos to really see the opulence of the royal hospital that Jean was working in.  From the moment she landed in Saudi Arabia we are treated to a fabulous look at what life is like for a Western woman who is trying to fit in and learn the local customs. 

There was one chapter that really captured my attention and the one I think may stay with me for a while, which is Jean's experience when she dressed in the veil and went into the markets to see just what Saudi women experience.   To say it was an education would put it mildly. 

For a book that I feared could be heavily religious or political, I was greatly pleased to see was written in a way I could follow, the descriptions of Islamic customs were familiar from my GCSE in Religious Studies where half my course was learning about Islam. 

Although not my typical read,  and it has been possibly years since I last read anything remotely like a memoir, I really did enjoy this book and if you want a short, easy to follow look at life for women in the last 70s then this is certainly a book to be looked at. 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Guest Post - Watching France 98 from Serbia by Keith Anthony - Bookish World Cup - Serbia

France 1998.  Who remembers that World Cup, can recall even what they were doing when David Beckham was sent off against Argentina?  

I was watching in the Sports Bar, just off Republic Square (Trg Republik) in Belgrade, the capital of the then remnants of Yugoslavia, today's Serbia.  It was after the civil wars which had seen first Slovenia and Macedonia (quite easily) then Croatia and Bosnia (much more bloodily) break away.  By the time I was there, only Serbia and Montenegro were left of the old country and the war in Kosovo (an ethnically Albanian stronghold in a culturally important part of Serbia) was brewing.  
I stayed four months and, despite the wider horrors, liked Belgrade a great deal.  I felt safe in its boulevards, even if the ubiquitous Cyrillic writing signposted that you had stepped out of Western Europe.  I loved strolling along Kneza Mihaila, the pedestrianised street which led from Trg Republik down to the Kalemegdan park and fortress, overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers.  Just occasionally, I'd see a "Proud to be Serb" T-shirt which, given the history, hinted at a dark side; and once I saw a street stall selling memorabilia of leaders many would consider war criminals.  But these were exceptions.

Beo (white) grad (city), as it is called in Serbian, felt at ease with itself.  The culture was rich and the people stylish as, stretching their one affordable drink an entire evening, they chilled outside cafes in the warm Serbian air.  At parties they would dance in circles to their infectious folk music, which could also be heard played by troubadours walking Skadarlja, a steep cobbled street lined with restaurants, along which gypsy children sought to sell diners their flowers.  As Serb food is dominated by grilled meats, being vegetarian, I lived off pizza, pasta and Pečurka (mushrooms).  Further up the Sava, was Ada Cinganlija (Gypsy Island), where on warmer weekends the city would relax with the lake on one side and the river on the other.    

Amidst mounting excitement, I saw Yugoslavia win a warm up game 3-0 against Nigeria at  Red Star stadium and then, during the World Cup itself, I remember walking through the parks along the Danube towards the small town of Zemun and hearing roars explode from the tower blocks as Yugoslavia scored another goal.  Ultimately their competition ended in an anti-climax to which England fans would relate, losing in the second round.  A few weeks later they had their consolation, winning the world basketball championships.  Enormous crowds came out to celebrate, throwing handfuls of valueless local currency into the air, much as we might throw confetti at a wedding; though one local I knew saw this brief high as no more than a drug-like distraction from the parlous problems their country then faced. 

Outside Belgrade, I travelled east to be taken flying from the aerodrom at Vrsač, near the Romanian border.  The journey there again felt Balkan rather than western European, with undeveloped roads, carts and little motorised traffic besides occasional tractors.  Feeling much more modern was the highway north to the exquisite Danube city of Novisad... I was depressed to hear, a couple of years later, that NATO had bombed its bridges.  It seemed that violence - sometimes hidden sometimes obvious, sometimes self inflicted other times inflicted by others - haunted Serbia: it could feel serene but was the type of place where, 18 months later, a celebrated/notorious (dependent on view) warlord could be shot dead in the lobby of a hotel where I often ate.

I don't understand or judge the ordinary Serbs at that time - perhaps I should, but I know it was not a one way street, having met a man whose parents had been ethnically cleansed from their house in Croatia... I do know I liked their city and brought home happy memories of friendly hotel staff, chatty taxi drivers, warm Serbian colleagues, elegant young men and women stretching out those drinks, none of who had resented my comparative wealth.  

I hope that - having eventually split from even Montenegro (finally consigning Yugoslavia to history) and now a candidate to join the EU - Serbia, its neighbours and their children all have happier futures, moving on from past horrors and leaders that perhaps led their parents astray because, despite that dark underbelly, this was a happy "time and place" for me and  I remember it fleetingly, but fondly, on page 80 of my book.    

Well it wouldn't be a feature month influenced by a World Cup if there wasn't a post about the World Cup in there, and I loved this one. Thank you so much Keith Anthony, and your France 98 memories are clearly more exciting than mine although I do remember where I was clearly when England was knocked out!

Ten years after his daughter Justine's death, an anxious Fergus embarks on a cruise with his wife.  On board, he meets a myriad of characters and is entranced by some, irritated by others and disgusted by one.  These turbulent feelings, combined with a sequence of bizarre events, only lead to his increased anxiety.
In a series of flashbacks, Justine enjoys an ultimately short romance, a woman concludes she killed her and an investigating police officer is drawn into her idyllic world.  Fergus, haunted by poignant memories, withdraws in search of answers.
Back on the cruise, Fergus reaches breaking point, fearing he has done something terrible.  By the time the ship returns, his world has changed forever.
"Times and Places" spans Atlantic islands, the Chiltern countryside, Cornish coasts and rural Slovenia, all of which provide spectacular backdrops to a humorous and moving tale of quiet spirituality.
Purchase from Amazon
Purchase from Book Guild 
Purchase from WH Smith  
Purchase from Waterstones

Author Bio –

Keith was born and brought up in the Chilterns, to where he returned after studying French at university in Aberystwyth and a subsequent spell living in west London.  He has a love of nature, both in his native Buckinghamshire countryside, but also in Cornwall and wherever there is a wild sea. 
Keith has been lucky enough to spend time living in France, Spain, Belgium, Serbia and Croatia, as well as being a regular visitor to Germany, and languages were the only thing he was ever half good at in school.  Since graduating he has worked in government departments, but between 2005 and 2008 he was seconded to the European Commission in Brussels and, thanks to a friend from Ljubljana he met there, has travelled regularly to Slovenia, getting to know that country well. 
Keith's other great love is music and he plays classical and finger picking blues guitar, though with persistently limited success.  He has always enjoyed writing, including attempts at children's fiction, and in 2016 he began work on his first full book with “Times and Places" the end result: an accessible, observational story, mixing quiet spirituality with humour, pathos and gothic horror, and setting it against a rich backdrop of the natural world.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Book Review - Heart Surgeon in Portugal by Anna Ramsay - Bookish World Cup - Portugal

Amazon UK
Title:  Heart Surgeon in Portugal
Author: Anna Ramsay
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Purchased
Publisher: Parma Medical Romances
Publication Date: 3rd December 2013
Rating: 5 Stars

He's too old for her - sophisticated, worldly, a formidably gifted heart surgeon. She's sweet and straightforward, and not at all his kind of woman. The hospital grapevine says the devastatingly attractive Rafe Harland is a heartbreaker. Ellie Robey has no intention of getting her heart broken. And anyway, what's the likelihood of such a powerful man giving a plump young nurse a second look?

But put the two of them alone together in a holiday villa in the sunshine - and anything could happen. 

Getting over glandular fever, Ellie's been prescribed sunshine and plenty of it. Her surgeon brother fixes her up with an easy working holiday in Portugal. All she has to do is some light cooking for Rafe Harland at the villa where Rafe will be staying while on a research sabbatical from his London hospital. He's also teaching advanced surgical techniques to cardiac surgeons at a nearby Cardiac Centre staffed by hospital-trained nuns. 

It's the perfect chance for Ellie to get fit again, ready to start her specialist course in Critical Care in September. 

Sunshine, swimming and salads work their magic and soon Ellie's caught not only Rafe's eye but the attentions of a hot young Anglo-Italian called Ricardo Schiapa. Ricardo's been to the best charm school in the world and graduated top of the class. He knows he's irresistible. And his actress mother sees in Ellie the perfect daughter-in-law.

But the nuns at the Cardiac Centre have other plans ...

I do love a good medical romance and I love a good beach read too and in this you have the best of both worlds which I thoroughly enjoyed reading on a hot day in May. 

The entire time you are aware of a connection between Ellie and Rafe, some sort of desire but both of them are completely determined to ignore it to the extent as a reader you start to wonder if you will get the HEA that is pretty much expected before you even pick up the book. 

I really loved both of these characters in addition to the insights of the local market place in Portugal, and the amazing casa where they are staying.  There are some great descriptions of Portuguese food, and you certainly get a sense of the warmth of the country. 

In addition we see Rafe and Ellie in a professional sense and get to know just how much they can care for others which in Rafe is a rather sexy quality. 

This is a lovely way to spend a few hours, and has reminded me that I really should read more medical romances when I get a chance. 

Guest Post - From the High Seas to The Algarve by L S Fellows - Bookish World Cup - Portugal

I caught the travel bug early on, as a ten-year-old taking my first cruise without my parents.
No, they didn't bundle me into a packing crate and have me shipped halfway across the world (though that may have been what they hoped might happen!) It was a school trip, and along with my classmates I boarded the SS Nevasa in Southampton (having bade a tearful farewell to my parents hours earlier when the coach journey began)

The Iberian Peninsula awaited us, with stops scheduled at Vigo, Porto, Lisbon and Funchal.
But, first we had to get our sea legs!

We were placed in dorms - ours being Captain Cook - and one the second day we began lessons in makeshift classrooms. Primarily, we read about the explorers after whom our dormitories were named; Captain Cook, Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus ...and so on.

It's been a fair few years since that trip, but it made a huge impression on me. My first trip abroad without my parents (we'd only ever been as far as Jersey before!), my first passport and my first experience of foreign languages outside of school. Once we went ashore, bedecked in matching uniforms (a tiny green floral print on a white dress, with a coloured neck tie to identify our different groups - mine being yellow) we were hardly inconspicuous, and caught the eye of the locals who 'jabbered away' incessantly. I was entranced - and so began my love affair with language.

One of my greatest memories of the trip was visiting a Sardine factory in Porto. As you can imagine, ten-year-olds are not likely to be quiet when the stench of raw fish assaults them.

It was overwhelming, and to rub salt in the wound, when we were back on board ship, dinner consisted of ... sardines. Sometimes, adults are cruel, aren't they?

I can see the irony now, but as a child, all I saw was a gazillion other kids running from the dining room, retching at the thought of dinner that night.

Overnight, we sailed down to Lisbon, disembarking on a beautiful day to visit the sights.
As a tiny ten-year-old, looking up at the humongous statue of Christ made me feel dizzier than the previous night's sardine feast.

But, photos were obligatory, and after we had settled sufficiently for the teachers to take the regulatory snap, we headed off for lunch and an afternoon by the beach.

Who knew the mother of all waves would descend upon that beach and have us running for our lives back to safety? As I've said, I wasn't the tallest of children (even now, most teens tower over me), but I'm not kidding when I say those waves were gigantic. I think it was at that moment I recognised the dangers of the ocean for the first time. Let's just say, it wasn't anything like Weston-Super-Mare!

The final stop was in Funchal, Madeira where I had my first encounter with an exotic creature. Now, I'm no Gerald Durrell - not now and especially not then - so my screams may have come across as excessive, but the lizard strolling along the wall I had chosen to perch on and eat my lunch may well have been a dinosaur. I've seen several geckos since, and I can assure you I no longer scream, but nor do I stop to play, or take photos or admire in any way.
Traumatic experiences can last a lifetime.

At the outset, I mentioned I caught the travel bug - and, indeed I did - although maybe a more sanitised version of what it was then in the 70s. While that cruise introduced me to a whole new world, it also left me with a few minor issues. I can't stomach sushi (I blame the Sardine Factory), I'm scared of the sea ( because of those demon waves) and I'm not Nature's hugest fan. But I did find my love of words following that trip. Was it inevitable that I chose to write? Who knows? But, travelling has certainly played its part in my stories. And, Portugal features heavily in the story that has since spawned its own series.

The Fifth Wheel is set in the Algarve, where the stunning beaches and busy night-life attract many a British holidaymaker. My characters expect to simply enjoy the sunshine and relax, have fun and eat well. But, of course, there is much more at stake than they realise.

Thank you L S Fellows for sharing with us this fabulous trip to Portugal, I love cruising myself but still not been to Portugal. 

Fern Mortimer has mastered the art of being invisible. Since a hit and run accident five years ago left her wheelchair-bound, she has become a recluse in her parents' home. 

After finally venturing back into the real world, she struggles to make friends and trust anyone. Getting the nickname of The Ice Queen at her new place of work does little to build her confidence.
However, one young woman, Nessa Sullivan, sees through Fern's mask and is determined to be her friend. A mission that only months later sees Fern joining Nessa and three others on a well-deserved and much-needed holiday to the Portuguese Algarve.

During the holiday, Fern is seduced by a handsome restaurant manager, raising her mood and her hopes of a romantic entanglement whilst also robbing her of her usual common sense and sound judgement.

So, why is her wheelchair now lying capsized in the infinity pool and a body is spotted out at sea? Where is Fern Mortimer?

The story continues in "Casualty of Court", which also introduces The Blackleaf Agency Series.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Guest Post - Julie Houston on Mexico - Bookish World Cup - Mexico

When, as a teacher of a class of eleven-year-olds, I was told I’d be teaching about Mexico, I was slightly peeved. If we were intent on heading to South America, at least let it be Brazil or, even better, Peru from where my sixteen-year-old son had just returned with a stack of resources, photos and – despite dire warnings from the age of ten that any drugs, tattoos or piercings would mean instantly being cut out of any inheritance - a pierced lip.  

The little information I had about Mexico was gleaned from the school’s pink Axolotl - a salamander native to Mexico and obviously the natural son of an uncooked Walls’ skinless pork sausage and Gollum – and the confusing Mexican food. I didn’t – and to be fair, still don’t – know a Nacho from a Fajita; a Taco from a Burrito or an Enchilada from a Tortilla. Visiting my son, newly ensconced at Newcastle university – sans piercing and thus back in the running with his sister for anything left in the coffers - he proudly took us to a student dive where we ordered Nachos. The plate that the four of us shared was as big as the table and consisted of fifty-thousand salty triangular crisp things covered in melted cheese, salsa, guacamole and soured cream. A bit like eating two Mars bars on the trot. At the end you ask yourself: Why? And that was just the starter.

So, with knowledge of only the Axolotl and the Nachos, as well as some hazy recollection of the Aztecs from my own Junior school days, my class and I set out to find out about Mexico. To my shame, I didn’t even know that Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and even California once belonged to Mexico, but had become the American spoils of the 1846-48 war. Poring over political and physical maps of Mexico we found Tijuana -  which led to someone bringing in their granny’s Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass CD - and the Chihuahuan Desert which, thank God, didn’t result in any uninvited ratty little dogs. We made papier-mâché skulls in honour of El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, when Mexicans celebrate the lives of friends and family who have died, and learned that much of February is given over to Carnaval, the equivalent of Brazil’s Mardi gras - or Fat Tuesday – in addition to an average 5000 fiestas celebrated throughout the year in Mexico. Obviously a jolly sociable, party-going lot.

So, when my husband and kids were planning yet more ski and scuba diving trips from which - as I loathe snow, don’t like water anywhere above my neck and am a physical coward – I’m always excluded, I decided I was off to Mexico. By yourself? Doesn’t your husband mind? Will you go out to dinner by yourself? Won’t you be frightened on your own? I confidently answered: Yes; No, not at all; Yes, with my trusty Kindle; and I’d be far more frightened hurtling down a black run or eyeballing a Great White, to the above questions regularly thrown at me when I say I’m off tout seul.

I’ve now done Mexico two Februarys on the trot. I eschew Cancun which, I’m lead to believe, is a bit of a concrete jungle, and head for Riviera Maya located on the Caribbean coastline in the eastern bit of the Yucatan Peninsula. Imagine, if you will, a huge hotel room overlooking the sea, all to oneself with a whacking great hot tub on the balcony to soak one’s limbs after a hard day on the beach. I’ve spent hours watching herons - poised stone statues that suddenly plummet into the sea like ancient pterodactyls - surfacing with huge fish in their mouths. At dawn and dusk the most wonderful cacophony of bird, insect and, I’m led to believe, howler monkey calls, emanates from the rain forest. There is no shortage of wildlife in the actual hotel grounds and I regularly came across Agouti, Iguana and Racoon ambling down the path in front of me. 

February and March is the best time to go to Riviera Maya: it will possibly rain, but showers last only a few minutes, and without such welcome drenching there would be none of the verdant rainforest for which this area is famous. Even in October and November, when it will probably rain a lot more and is actually the hurricane season, the sun will shine and temperatures rise. A day out to Chichen Itza to see the ancient Mayan civilisation is a must, as is a boat trip to Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres. 

Such is my love for this area, I’ve given over three chapters of my latest novel: Little Acorns – out November 2018 – to my main character Cassandra’s holiday to Riviera Maya in Mexico. 
But possibly the best thing about the country is that, at just five-foot tall myself, I feel at home with some of the friendliest, happiest - and smallest- people I’ve ever met.

Thank you so much Julie for taking the time to talk to me about Mexico, easily my best memory of Mexico is swimming with Dolphins in Cozumel on my 30th Birthday.

About Julie Houston 

Julie Houston’s first three novels GOODNESS, GRACE AND METHE ONE SAVING GRACE and LOOKING FOR LUCY are all Amazon Humour #1 best sellers both here in the UK and Australia. LOOKING FOR LUCY hit the #1 best seller overall in Australia. Her new novel, LITTLE ACORNS will be published in November 2018 and HOLLY CLOSE FARM in February 2019.

Julie lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire where her novels are set, and her only claims to fame are that she teaches part-time at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old junior school and her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author, Joanne Harris. Oh, and she was once rescued by Frank Bough when, many years ago, she was ‘working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’ at the Kensington Hilton in London. After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country. She now teaches just two days a week, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the past nineteen years, and, when not distracted by Ebay, Twitter and Ancestry, spends much of her time writing. Julie is married, has a twenty-four-year-old son and twenty-one-year-old daughter and a mad Cockerpoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book  - preferably with Matthew Mcconaughay in attendance. She is represented by Anne Williams at KHLA Literary agency.

You can contact Julie through her website

Book Review - I'm Dreaming of a Wilde Summer by Rhona T.Pinkleton - Bookish World Cup - Mexico

Amazon UK
Title: I'm Dreaming of a Wilde Summer
Author: Rhona T. Pinkleton
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Purchased
Publisher: Self Published
Publication Date: 11th January 2014
Rating: 4 Star

The comedy adventures of Jack, Harry and Gladys Wilde continue in this eagerly awaited sequel to I'm Dreaming of a Wilde Christmas.

Jack and Gladys are having a rocky ride with their relationship and things only get worse when Gladys announces that she is going on holiday with her best friend Wendy.

With Jack downtrodden, his best friend Harry decides that they too should have a holiday and so books a trip to Acapulco. 

The vacation begins badly for Jack: He clumsily spills red wine over himself, only to find that he has picked up the wrong suitcase at the airport and the case contains nothing but women's clothing and a blonde wig.

Harry stubbornly refuses to lend Jack any clothes, and with no shops open, he manages to talk Jack into dressing up as a woman in order for them to go out to eat. 

But things are about to get worse when, at the restaurant, they bump into Gladys and Wendy. Jack quickly hides his face behind a handheld fan and Harry introduces him as his girlfriend Jacqueline. 

The following morning, Harry convinces Jack that he should remain a woman for the rest of the vacation so that they can keep an eye out on Gladys. They go out shopping for the very best makeovers and designer clothes – but they are foolishly using cash found bundled in the ‘new’ suitcase, unaware that it is laundered drug money. 

Soon Jack is transformed into the glamorous Jacqueline and so, with Gladys believing she has found a new friend in Jacqueline (and a drug dealer anxious to retrieve the suitcase), Jack, Harry and Gladys begin a holiday adventure they will never forget.

Depending on your sense of humour this is either a laugh a minute book or a roll your eyes groaning every minute sort of book.  There is masses of great banter that goes off at a million tangents, and once you get accustomed to it, is actually really clever. 

I didn't particularly laugh reading this but I was amused by the whole story, especially the solution to Jack's case not turning up in Acapulco which has inventive and fabulous.  

There isn't too much description of Acapulco but rather the mickey is taken out of Mexicans and Spanish a lot, although it may have been nice to get a better idea where most of the book was set. 

Two sets of best friends are on holiday in Mexico, they happen to both be in the same resort, despite booking separately and Jack and Gladys are a couple, albeit a rather rocky one.   Jack doesn't want Gladys to know he is there too, and the assorted situations all 4 of them find themselves in go from the bizarre to the ridiculous. 

What I will say is this is a wonderfully light hearted story, it is easy to read, its highly entertaining, and I suspect that if I read the next book in the series I may enjoy it even more as I would be accustomed to the writing style. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Guest Post - Five Days in the Life… by Lindsay Bamfield - Bookish World Cup - Russia

The train passed an abandoned Siberian prison camp. Its bleak architecture and the razor wire atop the walls brought back the starkness of a book I’d read many years before in my teens, The Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Apart from Animal Farm and 1984, it was the first political novel I’d read and it’d had a profound effect on me.

I’d dreamed of making a Trans-Siberian railway journey since I was 12 and now I was gazing at its ever-changing view. The Russian part of the journey would be five days long from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. Boarding at Yaroslavl Station my rucksack contained several books. I’d debated taking the Great Russian Novel, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, but when you’re back-packing, weight is all important – this was before the advent of the Kindle – so it stayed on the shelf at home next to Anna Karenina. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky was another contender but again was too weighty so the slimmer Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev accompanied me along with Henry V both of which were on my syllabus that year for my Literature degree. There was also some lighter reading just in case!

Our train was a Mongolian one so I was disappointed to find boring electric urns in place of the romantic samovars I had read about. Instead of fearsome Soviet provodnitsas, our carriage attendants were two charming Mongolian ladies. Ours was the ‘de-luxe’ carriage with compartments for two instead of the four or five that most locals used. There was a toilet at each end of the carriage with a tiny basin providing only cold water. To ensure this wasn’t wasted the tap operated by pressing an awkward lever upwards. There was no shower but a helpful drain hole in the middle of the floor would ensure a DIY version with the help of hot water from the urn and a plastic mug. Luxury travel this was not.

Neither my companion, who’d packed Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, nor I read as much as we’d anticipated because there was so much to see. We passed endless birch woods interspersed with dachas and small farms boasting haystacks and vegetable crops. Approaching the towns we saw bleak Soviet concrete apartment blocks and industrial sites. Looking out of the back of the train we could see miles of the dead straight track and watch fabulous sunsets. The landscape changed as we crossed the Bokara Steppe with the pines, spruces and larches of the taiga stretching away into the distance.
On our first visit to the restaurant car we were shown an impressively long menu, but only a few items had prices pencilled next to them. This indicated what was actually available and items were crossed off daily as supplies dwindled. Breakfasts were tomato and cucumber salad with a huge dollop of soured cream, rye bread and for the first couple of days sliced cheese or a hard-boiled egg. Lunch was soup made from ham, sausage, onion and picked cucumber with more sour cream. Dinner consisted of rice or pasta topped with goulash or a burger with tinned sweetcorn and peas. With the addition of Russian ‘champagne’ which was very acceptable and incredibly cheap we feasted royally especially on the days we bought fresh berries or bread at the stations. No matter what time of day or night we arrived at a station, be it Kirov, Perm, Omsk, or Novosibirsk, the locals would be waiting. 

Here the Mongolians on the train would trade the piles of goods they had acquired in Moscow. Light fittings and umbrellas were popular along with shoes and clothing. In return the locals offered travellers bread, dried fish, fresh berries and, at one station, voluminous pink nylon underwear.   

The train stayed on Moscow time as we passed through five times zones. We ate breakfast in midnight darkness and my bedtime reading about Nikolai Petrovich, Arkady and Bazarov was conducted in sunlight. One morning, at first light, we plunged into a tunnel. On emerging we saw our first glimpse of Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest lake. In spite of its reputation for being near freezing, even in summer, several people were bathing in its blue water. Perhaps in the hope, according to local legend, of prolonging their lives. For me it indicated we would soon reach the Mongolian border and my Russian odyssey would be over. I still had two chapters of my Russian novel to read. 

Thank you so much Lindsay for sharing this experience with us.  Must have been a once in a life time trip, although not sure how keen I would be to do it.

About Lindsay Bamfield 

Lindsay Bamfield has written a number of short stories and flash fiction pieces as well as non-fiction articles. She has been published in Hysteria 6 Anthology, Stories for Homes 2, Greenacre Writers Anthology, Mslexia, Writers’ News and Writing Magazine as well as on several websites. Prizes include Hysteria 2017, Great British Write Off 2106 and Words with Jam competitions.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Book Review - Saffron Summer by Jewel Allan - Booksh World Cup - Morocco

Amazon UK
Title: Saffron Summer
Author: Jewel Allan
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Purchased
Publisher: Self Published
Publication Date: 27th August 2017 
Rating: 4 Stars

While on vacation in Morocco, American culinary student Mimi falls in love with the tastes and sights of Marrakech...and gorgeous local cop Hassan. But when she meets his family and realizes their budding relationship will likely not work long-term, she must decide whether to play it safe or give love a chance on the sand dunes of the Sahara.

A sweet contemporary romance novella by award-winning writer Jewel Allen. "Saffron Summer" is a standalone book in the "Love around the world" series and can be read in any order.

This is a lovely sweet romance between a young American girl and a Moroccan police officer, while she was on a short holiday in Morocco. 

Given I have spent some time in Tunisia so have an idea of the intensity of the men, forgive me for rolling my eyes somewhat cynically when incredibly soon after they spend time together, Hassan declares his love.  And forgive the cynic in me for just wondering if the guy was after a green card! 

That being said and the reason I picked this book to read was to get a taste of Marrakech and of Morocco.  And for that this book definitely met my expectations giving a great idea of the colour, sounds, tastes and sights of the country. 

Based on my own experiences in that part of the world the descriptions of the markets with all the pushy vendors is spot on, but also made me smile while remembering my own holidays.  I did find it weird that in the few days Mimi was there that there was no haggling at all. 

Equally there is even a camel ride into the desert which was fun too, and to see it all through the eyes of an wide eyes Mimi is quite fun. 

This is a lovely and exotic way to spend and hour or so,  in this quick to read romance that is just that taste of the exotic. 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Book Review - Hygge and Kisses by Clara Christensen - Bookish World Cup - Denmark

Amazon UK
Title:  Hygge and Kisses
Author: Clara Christensen
Format reviewed: Paperback
Source: Goodie Bag
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 21st September 2017
Rating: 4 Stars

Bo, 26, has always been careful, cautious. However, she's just been made redundant and her life plan is beginning to unravel. Before she starts immediately applying for other jobs in a panic, her friend Kirsten persuades her to take a holiday, to visit Kirsten's mother's house in Aalborg, North Jutland, a part of Denmark Bo is ashamed to admit she has never heard of.

'What's the weather going to be like?' she asks Kirsten hopefully, scrolling her cursor over the budget airlines webpage. 'Terrible,' Kirsten replies, 'London is positively Mediterranean by comparison, and of course it's November so it'll be dark seventeen hours a day. But no one goes to Denmark to get a tan. You need a change of scene and to blow away the cobwebs, and trust me, Skagen will do that. Besides, the summerhouse is cosy whatever the weather, and you never know who else will be around.'

I've read a few fiction books in the last couple of years that feature Hygge and what I am coming to appreciate is just what a fabulous concept it is, and the section of this book set in Denmark really brought home that feeling to me. 

Bo reckons she is heading for a quarter life crisis, she is working in a job she no longer enjoys and has a secret relationship with Ben. When she loses the job her flatmate and friend Kirsten convinces Bo, to go to Denmark and stay in her mothers summerhouse in Aalborg, Denmark. 

Bo had never been to Denmark before, nor travelled alone,  and is apprehensive at sharing the summerhouse  with complete strangers, but what I loved is how her life changed for the better since she landed in Denmark. 

I loved the descriptions of AAlborg and the summerhouse and found the book really picked up interest in part 2.  The Danish food sounding delicious and the new friendships being formed were good to see too.  

I found this to be a surprisingly easy book to read, in fact after an hour or so in the garden, I was well over half way through.  The pages appeared to turn and although it was moderately paced I found the book fit in well with the concept of Hygge, it was compact and cosy, and there were plenty of small pleasures to be gained from the reading of the story. 
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