“The Closest Thing to Flying” by Gill Lewis



“Present day: Semira doesn’t know where to call home. She and her mother came to England when she was four years old, brought across the desert and the sea by a man who has complete control. Always moving on, always afraid of being caught, she longs for freedom. 1891: Hen knows exactly where to call home. Her stifling mother makes sure of that. But her Aunt Kitty is opening her eyes to a whole new world. A world of animal rights, and votes for women, and riding bicycles! Trapped in a life of behaving like a lady, she longs for freedom. When Semira discovers Hen’s diary, she finds the inspiration to be brave, to fight for her place in the world, and maybe even to uncover the secrets of her own past Gill Lewis is the multi-award-winning and best-selling author of novels including Sky Hawk, White Dolphin, and A Story Like the Wind. This is her unforgettable tale of friendship, hope, and finding the courage to fight for what you believe in.”



This is a story aimed at older children or young teens and I thought it was a wonderful story. The author cleverly blended two young girls’ stories.

One from around a hundred years ago when the suffragettes were fighting for the vote and the RSPB first started. Women were meant to be feminine and stay at home and be sociable. Henrietta’s aunt was fighting the system and took Hen bicycle riding which was most unseemly but it was ‘the closest thing to flying’

the other story was Semira who found Hen’s diary in an old hat box. Semira was a refugee who came from Eritrea with her mother but they were being ‘kept’ by a controlling man who was using them to collect money they should have been given.

The stories are connected as Hen’s gives Semira courage and inspiration, they both love cycling and were forbidden to do it but still did.

I liked the fact that both girls had character and were feisty and courageous. The stories were both interesting and well told.

I would recommend this to all young girls especially but boys could learn a lot from it too. t would open up lots of discussion possibilities in a school for year 6/7 children



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Filed under Children's fiction, family, Fiction, history, present day setting, UK, Young adult

“Carpet Ride to Kiva” by Christopher Aslan Alexander



“Most travelogues chart a journey, but in this case it is the author’s decision to stay put that lifts his book out of the ordinary.”–“Lonely Planet Magazine”Accompanied by a large parrot, a ginger cat, and his adoptive Uzbek family, Christopher Aslan Alexander recounts the sheer magic of Uzbek culture alongside his efforts to rediscover the lost arts of traditional carpet making and establish a self-sufficient carpet workshop offering employment to local women and disabled people.Christopher Aslan Alexander was born in Turkey and grew up in war-torn Beirut. He now lives in the Pamir Mountains.”



I bought this as one of a few books set in and bout Uzbekistan as we are travelling there ourselves in September. I always try to read as many books as I can about and set in the countries we visit.

I found the author’s writing style a very easy read. He gives descriptions that I found easy to picture while not overdoing descriptions in favour or sharing his story.

He initially went to Uzbekistan for a year of charity work combined with work experience but stayed for far longer as he befriended so many local people and managed to set up a couple of businesses that helped a large number of unemployed and many disabled local people to earn a decent wage.

He had some pretty hair raising experiences traveling into Afghanistan and then back and forth from Uzbekistan. Visa issues caused major problems while corruption and bribery gave challenges that the author and his Uzbek friends had to solve on a number of occasions.

I like the way the author didn’t avoid criticism of the regimes and the corruption but also showed how friendly and warm the people were generally.

I found the book a fascinating read but rather hope our trip is less fraught with challenges than his years were. It was not that long ago but I do think things have become slightly more relaxed, certainly for tourists and I have no plans to open a business there!

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Filed under autobiography, Central Asia, history, non fiction, present day setting, travel, Uzbekistan

“The Village” by Nikita Lalwani


“In her award-winning debut novel, Gifted, Nikita Lalwani crafted a brilliant coming-of-age story that “[called] to mind the work of such novelists as Zadie Smith and Monica Ali” (The Washington Post Book World). Now Lalwani turns her gimlet eye on an extraordinary village in India, and explores the thin boundary between morality and evil, innocence and guilt.

After a long trip from London, twenty-seven-year-old BBC filmmaker Ray Bhullar arrives at the remote Indian village of Ashwer, which will be the subject of her newest documentary. From the outside, the town projects a cozy air of domesticity—small huts bordering earthen paths, men lounging and drinking tea, women guiding bright cloth through noisy sewing machines. Yet Ashwer is far from traditional. It is an experimental open prison, a village of convicted murderers and their families.

As Ray and her crew settle in, they seek to win the trust of Ashwer’s residents and administrators: Nandini, a women’s counselor and herself an inmate; Jyoti, a prisoner’s wife who is raising her children on the grounds; Sujay, the progressive founder and governor of the society. Ray aims to portray Ashwer as a model of tolerance, yet the longer she and her colleagues stay, the more their need for a dramatic story line intensifies. And as Ray’s moral judgment competes with her professional obligation, her assignment takes an uneasy and disturbing turn.

Incisive, moving, and superbly written, The Village deftly examines the limits of empathy, the slipperiness of reason, and the strength of our principles in the face of personal gain.”


Parts of this I enjoyed and found fascinating but other aspects I found rather unbelievable and irritating.

The concept of the village and the characters residents of the village I found very interesting. Their stories were interesting and believable.

The three characters who were supposedly making a BBC documentary of the village, however, I felt were less believable. I honestly cannot believe that there would only be three people from the BBC involved in documentary making. I also found it hard to believe their behavior. I might be making assumptions that the BBC employees would be better behaved and more responsible and I hope that I am right.

The story was quite clever in that it did make you think about the morality of making a documentary which put people’s lives in the spotlight and filmed as they were put in awkward emotional situations or told shocking health news.

The end was quite interesting and Ray, the main character and narrator made a very brave decision I felt.

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Filed under Fiction, present day setting, travel

“The Breadwinner” by Deborah Ellis – graphic novel version



“This beautiful graphic-novel adaptation of The Breadwinner animated film tells the story of eleven-year-old Parvana who must disguise herself as a boy to support her family during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan.
Parvana lives with her family in one room of a bombed-out apartment building in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city. Parvana’s father ― a history teacher until his school was bombed and his health destroyed ― works from a blanket on the ground in the marketplace, reading letters for people who cannot read or write. One day, he is arrested for having forbidden books, and the family is left without someone who can earn money or even shop for food.

As conditions for the family grow desperate, only one solution emerges. Forbidden to earn money as a girl, Parvana must transform herself into a boy, and become the breadwinner.
Deborah Ellis’s beloved novel has been adapted for film by Aircraft Pictures, Cartoon Saloon and Melusine Productions in association with Angelina Jolie’s production company, jolie pas productions. The animated feature film, directed by Nora Twomey, will launch in the UK in 2018.”


This is a beautiful graphic novel version of Deborah Ellis’s award winning book of the same title. This book is based on the film of the same title.

The illustrations are excellent, I have not read the text version of this book nor seen the film so can’t say how they compare.


The story is obviously only partly told in this version and I see the original story was a trilogy so this is probably just part 1. I did think it finished a bit ‘up in the air’ and I was left wanting to know what happens to the family.

Afganistan has certainly suffered and it is the average person in the population who is paying the price for all the terrorism and war.

The country has been invaded by the Soviets in 1979 and the USA then went in supporting military factions against this invasion and by 1989 the Soviets were defeated and moved out. Things have become more and more complex as different Islamic factions fight against each other. There have been the Taliban who are extreme fundamentalist Muslims, originally supported by the USA and allies who took charge and took the country back to the dark ages with women severely restricted and forced to wear full burkas at all times and never go out alone without a man who is a family member!!
Since then in 2001 Al Qaeda attacked the Twin trade towers and the Pentagon which resulted in the USA bombing Al-Qaeda strongholds in Afganistan.


As I said it is the population that has suffered and many now don’t know a time when there has not been a war in their country. This is the setting for this book told in a simple, yet a poignant way for children.


On the last page is this beautiful piece from Rumi:thumbnail_IMG_2621

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Filed under Afganistan, Children's fiction, family, Fiction, graphic book, history, present day setting, travel

“Orphan of Islam” by Alexander Khan



“I’ve told you before, and I will tell you again, if you are unable to read the Holy Book you will be punished.” The teacher’s face was a mask of anger. “Understand?”

Born in 1975 in the UK to a Pakistani father and an English mother, Alexander Khan spent his early years as a Muslim in the north of England. But at the age of three his family was torn apart when his father took him to Pakistan. Despite his desperate cries, that was the last he saw of his mother – he was told she had walked out and abandoned them; many years later he learned she was told he’d died in a car crash in Pakistan.

Three years on Alex is brought back to England, but kept hidden at all times. His father disappears to Pakistan again, leaving Alex in the care of a stepmother and her cruel brother. And it is then that his troubles really begin. Seen as an outsider by both the white kids and the Pakistani kids, Alex is lost and alone.

When his father dies unexpectedly, Alex is sent back to Pakistan to stay with his ‘family’ and learn to behave like a ‘good Muslim’. Now alone in a strange, hostile country, with nobody to protect him, Alex realises what it is to be truly orphaned. No one would listen. No one would help. And no one cared when he was kidnapped by men from his own family and sent to a fundamentalist Madrassa on the Afghanistan border.

A fascinating and compelling account of young boy caught between two cultures, this book tells the true story of a child desperately searching for his place in the world; the tale of a boy, lost and alone, trying to find a way to repair a life shattered by the shocking event he witnessed through a crack in the door of a house in an isolated village in Pakistan.”


This is going to be a hard one to review as I found it both horrifying and fascinating in equal measure. This child was born in the UK to a Pakistani man and British white woman who were married. The man’s family, mainly his sister didn’t approve and refused to see the woman. After some time the couple split up and the Dad continued to see the children aged 3 and 5.

One day he collected the children and never returned them. He took them to Pakistan where they stayed with family. It turns out Dad had a second family in Pakistan and the reason for his trips to Pakistan was to visit this family!!

Mum was informed that the children had died in a car accident in Pakistan and after some time Dad brought the family from Pakistan to the UK as well as the two British born children. The young Pakistani wife was pleasant enough and things were going ok.

One day Dad suddenly died of a heart attack and that’s when things changed for these two young children. Boy did they change!!!

This poor young lad got the worst of it and the things he suffered were outright child abuse of the very cruelest kind.

The book is written by the young lad, now a happily married man and is not at all ‘poor me’ in its style. It is an easy read in that it is as though he is telling his story to you one to one.

The people who perpetrated the horrors he underwent should be locked away and the key thrown in the sea. Along the way there was also a murder of a British Pakistani woman by her husband, (honour killing they called it) and I still find it hard to believe the girl’s family covered it up. This took place in front of the girl’s family in cold blood when they came back to Pakistan to try and scape the irate husband. the poor girl would have been more likely to survive if she had gone to a refuge in the UK.

It was a real eye opener and I was really horrified at what awful things can be done to a child even in the UK behind closed doors and why were they traced and sent to school? They came back into the UK on their British passports and were born here!?

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Filed under Afganistan, biography, coming of age, family, non fiction, Pakistan, present day setting, travel

“Miss Burma” by Charmaine Craig


Miss Burma

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 

Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction


“After attending school in Calcutta, Benny settles in Rangoon, then part of the British Empire, and falls in love with Khin, a woman who is part of a long-persecuted ethnic minority group, the Karen. World War II comes to Southeast Asia, and Benny and Khin must go into hiding in the eastern part of the country during the Japanese Occupation, beginning a journey that will lead them to change the country’s history.

After the war, the British authorities make a deal with the Burman nationalists, led by Aung San, whose party gains control of the country. When Aung San is assassinated, his successor ignores the pleas for self-government of the Karen people and other ethnic groups, and in doing so sets off what will become the longest-running civil war in recorded history. Benny and Khin’s eldest child, Louisa, has a danger-filled, tempestuous childhood and reaches prominence as Burma’s first beauty queen soon before the country falls to dictatorship. As Louisa navigates her newfound fame, she is forced to reckon with her family’s past, the West’s ongoing covert dealings in her country and her own loyalty to the cause of the Karen people.

Based on the story of the author’s mother and grandparents, Miss Burma is a captivating portrait of how modern Burma came to be and of the ordinary people swept up in the struggle for self-determination and freedom.”



I found this quite hard to get into too initially as the characters didn’t come to life for me but around halfway through it began to be more interesting. Not only the characters became more interesting but also the story developed and became more intriguing.

Having visited Myanmar in recent times I have been very interested in the history of the country and more recently in the events taking place with the Rohinga Muslims. This book is set against a backdrop of attempted genocide of the Karen minority in Burma. This minority group are the second largest minority in Bura after the Shan

This is not an uplifting book and at the end I felt quite depressed. It was well written and had strong characters but what an awfully sad story.

I did a bit of research to see how much of the story is true and what happened to the Karen minority at this time and afterwards. It seems that it is pretty much based on events at the time and the real names are used for the leaders at the time. The characters in the story are obviously fictional.

This is good book but be prepared , it is not an uplifting read!

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Filed under Central Asia, family, Fiction, history, Myanmar, semi autobiographical, travel

“An Unsuitable Woman” by Kat Gordon

This is also known as “The Hunters” on some sites but is the same book




“Sweeping, evocative and sumptuously told, The Hunters is a dramatic coming-of-age story, a complex portrayal of first love and family loyalty and a passionate reimagining of the Happy Valley set in all their glory and notoriety.

Theo Miller is fourteen years old, bright and ambitious, when he steps off the train into the simmering heat and uproar of 1920s Nairobi. Neither he, nor his earnest younger sister Maud, is prepared for the turbulent mix of joy and pain their new life in Kenya will bring.

Their father is Director of Kenyan Railways, a role it is assumed Theo will inherit. But when he meets enchanting American heiress Sylvie de Croÿ and her charismatic, reckless companion, Freddie Hamilton, his aspirations turn in an instant.

Sylvie and Freddie’s charm is magnetic and Theo is welcomed into the heart of their inner circle: rich, glamourous expatriates, infamous for their hedonistic lifestyles. Yet behind their intoxicating allure lies a more powerful cocktail of lust, betrayal, deceit and violence that he realises he cannot avoid. As dark clouds gather over Kenya’s future and his own, he must find a way back to his family – to Maud – before it is too late.”



This story is set in Kenya in the early 20th Century when the rich and shameless acted in just that way. They were notoriously badly behaved and known as the Happy Valley set.
I enjoyed the book as it did represent the time, people and place well.

The characters were well constructed and although pretty awful in the main they were believable of the time and place.
Colonial Brits at this time were very superior and racist and this comes through loud and clear as does their complete disregard for others, even some who they counted as friends!

This was my book I “could finish in a day” for my 2019 reading challenge


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Filed under coming of age, family, Fiction, history, Kenya, Reading challenge 2019, travel

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid




“Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Written with Reid’s signature talent for creating “complex, likable characters” (Real Simple), this is a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it costs—to face the truth.”



I really enjoyed this book and actually looked up Evelyn Hugo as I wondered if she was a real person! It was written in a very believable way. It harked back to a time past when there were fewer film stars and people only read about their private lives in newspapers rather than heard about everything instantly through social media.

Both Evelyn and Monique Grant, the young girl writing her memoirs were very believable and sympathetic characters. Even though at times Evelyn’s behaviour and actions were selfish, they were kind of understandable in many ways, considering where she came from.

I didn’t see the end twist coming at all – that was a surprise!

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Filed under Fiction, history, Reading challenge 2019, USA

“The Map of Us” by Jules Preston




A story of love and lost directions

Violet North is wonderfully inconvenient. Abandoned by her family and lost in an imagined world of moors and adventure, her life changes in the space of just 37 words exchanged with a stranger at her front door.

Decades later, Daniel Bearing has inherited his father’s multi-million pound business, and is utterly lost. He has no idea who he is or where his life is headed.

When Violet’s granddaughter’s marriage falls apart, Tilly, always adept with numbers, compiles a detailed statistical report to pinpoint why. But the Compatibility Index Tilly creates has unforeseen consequences for everyone in her world.

Tilly and Daniel share a secret too. 10.37am, April 22nd.
Soon, a complex web of secrets and lies is exposed and an adventure begins with a blue typewriter…”



This is a lovely gentle read, quite sad at times but the sadness is not dwelt upon. The characters are lovely, not busy lively characters but thoughtful and heartwarming.

It is a romance but in the most platonic way. The garden features as quite central as does Violets’ wonderful imagination.

It is very different but it does sort of remind me of other gentle stories “The Keeper of Lost Things”, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” to name a couple.

The story is simple but it is the way the relationships develop and the gentle humour that remains with you after you have finished.




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Filed under family, Fiction, present day setting, UK

“The Murmur of Bees” by Sofia Segovia




“From a beguiling voice in Mexican fiction comes an astonishing novel—her first to be translated into English—about a mysterious child with the power to change a family’s history in a country on the verge of revolution.

From the day that old Nana Reja found a baby abandoned under a bridge, the life of a small Mexican town forever changed. Disfigured and covered in a blanket of bees, little Simonopio is for some locals the stuff of superstition, a child kissed by the devil. But he is welcomed by landowners Francisco and Beatriz Morales, who adopt him and care for him as if he were their own. As he grows up, Simonopio becomes a cause for wonder to the Morales family, because when the uncannily gifted child closes his eyes, he can see what no one else can—visions of all that’s yet to come, both beautiful and dangerous. Followed by his protective swarm of bees and living to deliver his adoptive family from threats—both human and those of nature—Simonopio’s purpose in Linares will, in time, be divined.

Set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution and the devastating influenza of 1918, The Murmur of Bees captures both the fate of a country in flux and the destiny of one family that has put their love, faith, and future in the unbelievable.”



This is set in Mexico and initially, I was a bit unsure because the central character, Simonopio was found as a tiny baby disfigured and covered in bees by an old woman who never moved off her rocking chair except to go to bed.

This strange child had a connection with bees and thy guided him in life. They also helped him look after the family who adopted him. The bees never hurt the child or anyone he was close to but could attack when the child needed defending.

The story is set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution and the devastating influenza of 1918a and follows the family through these major historical events and more, in Mexico at the time.

It was well written and translated and I found it quite fascinating

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Filed under coming of age, family, Fantasy, Fiction, history, Mexico, Reading challenge 2019