09 December 2017

Saturday Spotlight | Around The World In 80 Books, Update #13

In addition to the usual blog posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday about our eccentric travel adventures and day-to-day life living aboard a sailboat, I also occasionally post on Saturdays, focusing on things related to writing such as cover reveals, book launches, reviews, interviews with authors etc. So if you're a bit of a book nerd like I am, check in on Saturdays - you never know what might pop up.


Remember when I started that "Around the World in 80 Books" challenge? The one I was so gung-ho about, but then never finished. Yeah, I had completely forgotten about it too until my mother reminded me about it. So, while we're land-locked and working on boat projects, I thought this would be a good time to start ticking more countries off of the list.

The idea of the challenge is to read books set in 80 different countries, effectively exploring the world from the comfort of your armchair. Since my last update, I've read books set in five more countries – Cambodia, Hungary, Italy, Singapore, and South Africa.

That makes a total of 65 books since I started the challenge - only 15 more to go!

You can read more about the challenge here, as well as check out Update #1, Update #2, Update #3, Update #4, Update #5, Update #6, Update #7, Update #8, Update #9, Update #10, Update #11 and Update #12.


IN THE SHADOW OF THE BANYAN by Vaddey Ratner | Cambodia

This is a book that stuck with me. It describes what life was like in Cambodia during the 1970s under the rule of the Khmer Rouge from the perspective of a seven-year-old girl, Raami It's based in large part on the author's own childhood, which makes it more poignant. Rammi and her family, who are members of the royal family, are forced to leave their opulent home and lifestyle and move to collective labor farms where they endure suffering, starvation, and personal tragedy. The juxtaposition of Rammi's former life and the life she ends up enduring is striking. In the following passage, she describes an ordinary breakfast prior to the revolution. Later in the book, she is happy for any scrap of food she can get.

"Before us was an array of food - lotus seed porridge sweetened with palm sugar, sticky rice with roasted sesame and shredded coconut, beef noodle soup topped with coriander leaves and anise stars, mushroom omelets, and slices of baguette - a dish to suit everyone's morning taste."

You can find out more about In the Shadow of the Banyan on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.

THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE by Julie Orringer | Hungary

{Side Note: Dennis - this is the book I was telling you about.}

I really enjoyed this book. It combines a compelling love story with an account of World War II and the Holocaust from a Hungarian Jewish perspective. I don't think I actually knew anything about the impact of World War II on Hungary and its Jewish population until I read this book. The Invisible Bridge centers on Andras Levi, who goes to Paris to study architecture. There, he meets and falls in love with Clara, a Hungarian ballet teacher. As a result of the war, they end up back in Hungary and suffer unimaginable heartbreak and tragedy. At one point, they consider leaving Budapest to escape persecution, walking around their city and trying to capture in their memories everything they will miss. What would you miss if you had to leave a city that you hold dear?

"On Sunday afternoons they walked the city together, packing their minds with the things they wanted to remember: the green haze of the river-cooled air around Margaret Island; the thrumming vibration of cars crossing the Szechenyi Bridge; the smells of cut grass and hot-spring sulfur in the Varosliget; the dry concrete pan of the skating pond; the long gray Danube embankment where Andras had walked with his brother a lifetime ago, when they were recent gimnazium graduates living in a room on Harsfa utca. There was the synagogue where he and Klara had been married, the hospital where their son had been born, the small bright studio where Klara taught her private students.

You can find out more about The Invisible Bridge on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.

THE GONDOLA MAKER by Laura Morelli | Italy

The Gondola Maker is written in present tense, which I always find a bit off-putting. I know that it's used more frequently these days, but I find that it takes me a while to stop focusing on the tense usage and start focusing on the story. Once I became accustomed to the present tense, I found that I really enjoyed this book, in large part because I learned about what life was like in Venice in the 1500s and because I learned about the artistry that went into building gondolas during this period. The main character, Luca, is the eldest son of a respected gondola maker and is expected to take over the family business. As a result of a catastrophe in the boatyard, he ends up leaving his family and finding a new destiny.

I will continue to work in my father's boatyard, and at the moment of his death, it will become my own. I will teach our sons how to season walnut and oak, fashion the keels to be virtually indestructible, and stain ten different woods with our family's own formula of lacquer that will make the craft watertight. On my own deathbed, I will pass the business on to my eldest son. It is preordained.

You can find out more about The Gondola Maker on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.

THE AMBASSADOR'S WIFE by Jake Needham | Singapore

The Ambassador's Wife is one of those thrillers that you end up reading just one more chapter before you turn off the lights. When an American woman is brutally killed at the Marriott in Singapore, Inspector Tay is assigned to investigate. He ends up tangling with the American ambassador, the embassy staff, and the FBI during his investigations, but doggedly sticks to trying to uncover the truth despite the American claim that they've identified the killer. Having visited Singapore as part of our travels through Southeast Asia to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, it was interesting to read descriptions of the city-state from the perspective of Tay.

It broke his heart sometimes, this city of his. Back before the Marriott had been built, there was a traditional Chinese department store on that very same corner. It was a glorious building, each of its five floors wrapped in graceful, iron-arched galleries supported by tiled colonnades. Tay remembered the mysterious air they had cast over the structure, the way they had obscured its interior in dim shadows and enveloped it in an unnaturally soft, almost dreamlike light.

You can find out more about The Ambassador's Wife on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.

THE FEVER TREE by Jennifer McVeigh | South Africa

I can't imagine having to accept a marriage proposal because there were no other good alternatives, but that's the position that the main character, Frances, found herself in after the death of her father which left her in a state of destitution. She accepts the proposal of doctor and leaves London to travel to colonial South Africa to marry him. On the passage to South Africa, she meets another man who is the complete opposite of her fiance and finds herself drawn to him, even after her marriage. I learned a bit about life in South African during this time and the impact that the smallpox epidemic had on the mining industry. I also learned that, as horrible as it sounds, zebras can be domesticated to an extent.

"One evening Edwin brought home a mule pack. He suggested she try it on Mangwa, and Frances liked the idea. The zebra didn't, throwing his orange muzzle into the air, laying his ears back, and lashing out with his hind feet. Edwin threw a rope around his hind legs and hobbled him, and after three days of wearing the pack, Mangwa grew resigned to the weight on his back. They took him out walking with them on Sundays, stowing her watercolors in the pack, along with lunch - bread wrapped in paper, a round of goat's cheese, a couple of peaches, and a flask of water."

You can find out more about The Fever Tree on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.


If you're participating in the challenge too (or any other reading challenge), I'd love to hear what you've been reading. Even if you're not doing the challenge, let us know what books you've been enjoying lately.

COUNTRIES READ TO DATE: Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Djibouti, England, Estonia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Portugal, Republic of Kiribati, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia,  Scotland, Slovenia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United States, Vanuatu, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

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  1. I love getting lost in a good book. Hubby and I read every single day. Every single day and it's wonderful. We've traveled the world many times.

    Have a fabulous weekend, Ellen. ♥

    1. Reading is a wonderful thing. Glad both you and your hubby enjoy it.

  2. Wow! Those first two sound so intense, and all interesting. Thank you for sharing. I'm mostly reading my own stuff these days, trying to make cohesive tales out of books sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, *and* nineteen of my novelette series. I'm starting to think pairing down all the horrible exposition will result in three stories instead of four. We shall see. Thanks for well wishes on my friend's bid for a writing fellowship and kind words toward my books' potential logo. Best wishes on your writing and be well!

    1. They really were intense. Good but intense. They tell stories about humanity at its worst and also at its best.

  3. You're making great progress on your around-the-world challenge. (And you don't even have to take off your shoes for TSA!) I recently read a book about North Korea that continues to haunt me, even though I've read three other books since finishing that one.

    1. Funny you should say that as I'll be taking my shoes off for TSA today :-)

      It's interesting how some books stick with us long after we've read them.

  4. Thanks for the book recommendations! I've been trying to make more time to get back into reading this year and I'll have to add your books to my 2018 list. Dr. Seuss had wise words!

    Cheers, Coastapus

  5. You're really heading along nicely! The last two have my interest.

  6. I always enjoy hearing about your progress in this challenge! I recently completed my Goodreads Challenge of reading 85 books this year. Not sure what I'll do for next year, but I really like setting myself goals like this. :)

    Right now, I'm reading and loving The Ghost Writer by Alessandra Torre. :)

  7. Sounds like some interesting books. I love challenges like that, but this will be the first year I don't meet my Goodreads one. Ironically, I blame my book club. Some of those books aren't to my liking, so I take too long to finish them.

    1. I'm thinking of setting a Goodreads goal this year, but not sure what's realistic.


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