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Saturday, 30 March 2013

"Cobblestony old Europe" in Luxembourg (the e-book version)

The Expats by Chris Pavone, thriller set in Luxembourg.
This post can now be found on the new TripFiction website here

Time out on Tilos, Greece

This post can now be found on the new TripFiction website here

Falling in Honey by Jennifer Barclay, set on Tilos, Greece

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Coasteering* and loved-up encounters in Pembrokeshire


Caerfai Bay, Pembrokeshire

A Cottage by the Sea by Carole Matthews This post now appears on the new TripFiction website here

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Bangkok and on Thailand's Islands

THAI GIRL by Andrew Hicks, set in Bangkok and Thailand's Islands

this post can now be found on the new website here

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Hexham (not Haltwhistle) - the centre of Britain

We have selected two top books to escort you around the highways and byways of Britain "see a location through an author's eyes". Discover Britain!

Are We Nearly There Yet by Ben Hatch tells the story of Ben, his wife Dinah and their two pre-school children, Phoebe and Charlie who are commissioned by Frommers (the American equivalent to Time Out) to set out on a 5 month family odyssey, an 8000 mile journey around Britain. Only the foolhardy, surely, would take up the baton and set off from the Brighton area in a westerly direction and then up to the northern sphere, with a boot and roofrack full to bursting with luggage, two tinies in tow... but gamely, they embarked on this trip with aplomb and enthusiasm. In parts a chronicle of hilarious experiences, in part a travelogue that honestly charts the sights worth seeing (and those to be missed), interspersed with enough poo and vomit to keep the whole family (and the readers) down to earth (including an unusual encounter with a toothbrush, which results in a visit to Hexham Hospital). Encounters abound, with the World's Largest Pencil (or possibly not, as it transpires) at the Cumberland Pencil Museum (and Borrowdale graphite was the drawing material of choice of Michelangelo, well, I never....); from negative encounters in the Lake District (this is depressing when it is England's largest and best known national park, and is widely considered the most romantic spot in England - Bill Clinton proposed to Hilary here, as did Sir Paul McCartney to Heather Mills, which, of course, did not end well....); to the Robin Hood Experience (worth a miss, it would seem); to Craster, which at the turn of the 20th century was the UK Kipper Capital, smoking over 25,000 fish per day (the fish were "gutted by Scottish fishwives, who lived in ramshackle buildings called kip houses, suitable only for sleeping in" - hence the saying, to have a kip.

Scotland gets short shrift at just 3 pages and the geography goes a bit haywire at this point.
Daughter Phoebe has a larger than life presence in the book, and in the background is the tragic demise of Ben's Dad.  Relationship officionados will also be able to glean a bit about the couple's marital fit, and observe the interpersonal exchanges that really keep the show on the road! Overall, a gamut of emotions contained in one informative travelogue. In the next print run we would love a map to be included in the book, that charts their, at times, erratic journey!

Our second featured book is a work of fiction, and at 87 days and 627 miles it covers considerably less ground. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. is a gentle meander from Kingsbridge in Dorset to Berwick-upon-Tweed, the northernmost town in England, as Harold Fry finds a fit of passion on his way to post a letter and just continues walking in a northerly direction. Along the way he encounters beautiful English countryside, which is dreamily described and will just transport you to this green and pleasant land: Trees and flowers seemed to explode with colour and scent. The trembling branches of the horse chestnut balanced new candle spires of blossom. Rambling roses shot up garden walls, and the first of the deep red-peonies opened like tissue-paper creations. The apple trees began to shake off their blossom, and bore  beads of fruit; bluebells spread thick like water through the woodlands. The dandelions were already fluffheads of seed  all kinds of weather is thrown at him, from blistering sun to rain that drove at him in thick pins... (isn't that just a lyrical description of England at its best?).

This is a slow story of love and loss and love regained, Harold's aim to see his old friend and work colleague Queenie before she dies of cancer.  He shows unplumbed depths of determination as he ploughs on, accumulating a coterie of people who want to latch on to his journey, in the hope that his inspired walk will rub off  them and they too can take ownership of his "pilgrimage". Towards the end he diverts briefly to Hexham, to try and catch up with someone he met earlier on his walk.

A gentle and meditative novel, that entices you to keep up with our hero, tand to share his trials and tribulations as the miles pass by. Bit by bit the shared history that he,and his wife Maureen have long grappled with begins to take shape. A languorous read that will transport you to a ruminative place, but will frustrate readers who like a fast-paced book.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

"Paris at my feet" (from Les Misérables)

The Novel:
Anna Trent (pronounced Tron in French) suffers an accident in a chocolate factory in England where she works. She loses a couple of toes and in order to get back on her feet, her erstwhile French teacher Claire - who herself is extremely poorly -  suggests she takes some time to get herself together and work for Thierry, master chocolatier, and also Claire's amour from younger days. Paris  certainly calls....
Anna settles into a tiny apartment high above the rooflines of Paris, which she shares with Sami, an operatic costumier who brings a sense of exoticism to the story (as though diving in and out of chocolate making and eating delicious food isn't enough!). The story deftly weaves its way through the quartiers of Paris, as love and care blossom and we follow Anna as she experiences an "EXTREMELY foreign experience".

Paris, the City:
Come, follow us to Paris via this  beautiful tale of romance, heartache and chocolate:

"Friday afternoon in early July on the Ile de la Cité was hot and sticky and bustling with tourists. Away from the formal 'placement' of the organised streets and wide boulevards, the far corner betrayed its twisty, hugger mugger mediaeval origins; little alleyways springing hither and thither; roads narrowing to nearly nothing or ending abruptly at the wall of one of the great churches." Tempted to visit....?

Author Interview:
To mark the publication of this fabulous new book, TripFiction poses some questions to author Jenny Colgan

TF - You warmly evoke Paris in your new novel – so much so that we are left yearning to visit again. How have you come to know the city so well? 

JC - My brother moved there when he was in his early twenties and lived there for a long time so I used to hop across all the time. Now I have two friends who spend a lot of time there and I love going to see them from Antibes, where I live. It's a beautiful trip on the TGV. 

TF - You describe how Laurent and Anna set off down a tiny maze of alleys, heading for a restaurant that only has a mushroom over the door to indicate an eating establishment; it is somewhere only Paris insiders would know about. Does this restaurant exist and how did you discover it? 

JC - It certainly does, and it's amazing- we were taken there by friends, I can't even remember where it is. We ate nine mushroom based courses. Extraordinary place. 

TF - You share so much wonderful information about the production of chocolate. Where did you learn about the process? 

JC - Haha, thank you but very boring research I'm afraid; books and the internet. Alas, I never got to go to a factory! 

TF - The story is in part romance, but it also has a much darker edge it to it. What was your inspiration for the storyline? 

JC - Well, I really did it backwards - what would make Anna go? It's so hard to throw up your whole life and change everything, really difficult. So I thought someone must have inspired her to go and Claire's story came out of that really: when I started the book I didn't envisage Claire having such a large role. 

TF - How did you choose the names for your characters? 

JC - With enormous difficulty. Every writer will say this, it's a great question. You want names that tell you a bit about a character but not too much. I chose Claire because it sounds the same in both English and French. Finding a boy's name was quite difficult because a lot of the male names I really like in french sound a bit feminine to english ears- Clément, Florian, Baptiste. So we experimented with a few and settled on Laurent. Anna started off with another name, I can't remember what it was now. Actually funny story: my daughter is called Delphine and when I told my writer friends two of them went 'oh, really?" So this year both Jill Mansell and Maggie O' Farrell have books coming out with Delphines in them. I'm really pleased! 
A huge thank you to Jenny for answering our questions.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Museums & Fiction in MEXICO CITY

We are so pleased that author Carmen Amato has kindly agreed to guest blog her selection of fiction set in and around the Museums in Mexico City……
There you are, strolling through amazing exhibits and you know something’s missing. Like the backstory. Wish you'd known more before going? But there wasn't time. Besides,  researching before going to a museum sounds too much like work. 
So prep with a little fiction! Have fun and get the backstory before you go by matching a good book with a counterpart museum. It’s like pairing white wine with fish or a cabernet with a good steak; each tastes better with the other. 

Here are some suggestions for pairing fiction books with museums in Mexico City. Just like Corona with carnitas! (Click on the covers for more information).
Chapultepec Castle and The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo
The museum: Perched on top of a hill, with sweeping views over Mexico City’s western sprawl, the fortress-style castle was home to the ill-fated Emperor Maxmillian I and his empress, Carlota, during the Second Mexican Empire from 1864 to 1867. You can walk through the rooms, which are arranged shotgun fashion--each leading into the other--insuring that no one at the court had much privacy. The gilded, delicate French-style furniture is an indication just how out of touch the royal court was from real life in Mexico. Take the trolley from street level up the hill, otherwise you’ll be too exhausted from the climb to appreciate the museum.
The book: The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo is a fictionalized account of the Second Mexican Empire seen mostly through the eyes of the American woman whose son was adopted (or seized depending on your point of view) by the childless Maxmillian and Carlota in the vain attempt to establish an heir to the Mexican throne. The book is a real gem and shows off both amazingly detailed research into the life and times of the Second Mexican Empire and the author’s ability to create wholly believable historical characters.
The Palacio Nacional and The Eagle’s Throne by Carlos Fuentes
The museum: This long, stately building rises impressively along one side of Mexico City’s enormous Zócalo central square. It is a working government building but visitors flock there to see the famous murals by Diego Rivera that adorn the main stairwell and the walls of the second floor. Grandly titled "The Epic of the Mexican People," the murals were painted between 1929 and 1935 and tell Mexico’s story from the Aztecs to the worker of Rivera’s times. Above the building’s central doorway, facing the Zócalo, is the main balcony where just before 11:00 pm every 15 September, the president of Mexico gives el Grito de Dolores, the infamous cry for independence from Spain originally made by national hero Miguel Hidalgo. Hidalgo’s church bell from the church of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, hangs above the balcony. 
The book: The Eagle's Throne by Carlos Fuentes - The murals and the el grito commemoration are integral parts of Mexio’s turbulent and at times visceral political rivalries and history. The Eagle’s Throne, written as a series of letters by a tangled net of political players, is a masterfully crafted inside look at that political game. The letters reveal the story bit by tantalizing bit, with allegiances, conflicts, brinkmanship, and manipulation driving the narrative. An amazingly complex and skillful book, there is nothing else that so perfectly takes the reader inside Mexico’s political world. It is a winner of the Cervantes Prize as well.
La Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo’s house) and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
The museum: This cobalt blue house in the artsy Coyoacán suburb of Mexico City was the family home to iconic painter Frida Kahlo and where muralist Diego Rivera also lived during his stormy marriage to her. Kahlo and Rivera were socialist sympathizers and la Casa Azul was an intermittant refuge for Leon Trotsky 1937-39 when he fled Stalin’s Russia. The house contains numerous Kahlo artifacts and pieces of artwork. An outdoor room built by Rivera and encrusted with shells shows just how unrestricted the two were in their creativity.  
The book: The Lacuna traces the life of a troubled young American man who was raised (by a free spirit mother) in Mexico City and becomes assistant, chef, and secretary to Kahlo and Rivera. Rich in imagery, poetic prose, and character development, we see the conflict and intimate life of the two artists through his own troubled eyes. Their commitment to Trotsky and his time in Mexico City is the real centerpiece of the book. I didn’t love the end, but the novel is a dense, lavish telling of the story of Kahlo and Rivera—and all that had happened in that house.
The Tamayo Museum and The Hidden Light of Mexico City by Carmen Amato
The museum: The Tamayo is the queen of contemporary art in Mexico, drawing in A-list international artists and fearlessly promoting new ideas and installations in the art world. A huge curved sign occupies prime real estate on Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s main drag, advertising the ever-changing array of exhibits. The building is a piece of glass sculpture, a nice contrast to its neighbor, the more stolid Anthropology Museum. Well curated, it is rarely crowded and always gives fresh perspectives. Also, the small restaurant has very good coffee. 
The book: In The Hidden Light of Mexico City by Carmen Amato anti-corruption attorney Eddo Cortez Castillo talks to housemaid Luz de Maria Alba Mora in front of the museum and mistakes her for an art teacher. Their tour of the museum brings the reader right along, showing the variety of things one is likely to see in the Tamayo, from video installations, to 3-D objects of startling variety and materials, to classics like actual paint on canvas. Like it does to everybody, the Tamayo startled Eddo and Luz but also hugely entertained, leading to an unforgettable conversation about life, history, and love. Of course more happens after that—Eddo’s hunting a corrupt Minister of Public Security and an elusive cartel leader while Luz’s family implodes—but you’ll have to read the book to see how it all works out in an ending that takes on Mexican government corruption as well as the country’s rigid social system.
Carmen Amato is the author of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the EMILIA CRUZ mystery series set in Acapulco. Both draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America. Her blog series GIRL MEETS PARIS captured her adventures while a student in the City of Light. She currently divides her time between the United States and Central America. 
Visit her website at where she blogs about the elements of motive and offers a book club that travels the world two books at a time. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenConnects.
This is an update of an article previously posted on

Friday, 1 March 2013

A brush with China under Manchu rule

At TF we came across Peirene Press very early in our researches - they specialise in contemporary European literature, that is thought provoking, well designed and short. They have a perfect strapline from the TLS which absolutely sums up the books they produce:  "Two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film". Click on the cover to see reviews and to find our more!

We feature the Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe which spans much of the 17th century in China. It follows the life of  Zhu Da, a descendant of the Ming Dynasty, who has the tremendous gift of producing beautiful pieces of artwork. His scholarship progresses, as his character morphs and adapts to the new regime of the Manchus, through Buddhism studies to feigned madness, in an attempt to can keep his integrity as an artist and continue his quest to capture the essence of nature with a single brushstroke. The book is a thought-provoking study of scholarship and persona, and is beautifully translated from the German original.

The Sea of Ink in the title refers to the highest category of scholarship that could be attained. The book has a scattering  of delicate and contemplative picture postcard vignettes of the work of Shu Da, who by the ends calls himself Bada Shanren (the name under which he is remembered and his work classified). The prose is delicate and contemplative and his artwork simple in nature and beautifully composed. A dream of a novella for those interested in art and this period of Chinese history.

Click here to see more of our featured fiction set in, and evocative of China. Please add any books set in China that you have liked and have evoked the country.

 We have a rolling selection of books that we can send to you for review. If you are interested, click on the blogpost on the right hand side bar "Review Copies for Readers" to see the books currently available for review.