The Book Show on Talk Radio Europe

Hannah Murray invited me to take part in The Book Show on Talk Radio Europe a few weeks ago, to talk about my Top Five Books of All Time. Now, when someone puts you on the spot like that, it can be difficult to remember your favourites!

I love to read and I’m not particularly fussy about what I take to bed with me, in the book department that is. I read every night without fail, whether I’m crawling into my bed at 5am or having an early night, a book is always involved. Fiction, biography, travel, lifestyle or a combination of the lot – I’m not too fussy.

We had a bit more time than Hannah had originally expected for the interview so started off with some general book related chit chat which caused me to remember lots of things I’d forgotten! Visiting the Bayston Hill library and then later on the mobile Lorry Library in Meole Brace; getting lost in Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume or Malory Towers sat in the corner of my Mum’s office – at least I didn’t confess on air to having read Sidney Sheldon’s If Tomorrow Comes while on holiday with my grandfather at the grand old age of not very old!

So what were my top five books of all time? Well, they all had a story…

Harry Potter Series

As Hannah quite rightly pointed out, this is actually seven books rather than one. If pushed, I would have to say the first one was my favourite. While J.K. Rowling’s amazing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was fast becoming one of the best selling children’s books of all time, I was working for the publishing company which was responsible for the distribution of Bloomsbury books. Thinking it would be a fun read for my nephew who was about eight at the time, I picked up a couple of copies and we read them together. I was hooked (I’ve always loved stories centred around school days) and Thomas was too. Thrilled that the books were dragging him away from computer games, I carried on buying him the new Harry Potter books as they came out each year. If we were in the same country, we’d compare notes (and race each other to the end) and if we were apart then we’d compare notes at a later date.

J.K. Rowling claims not to have had an age range in mind when she wrote the books and Hannah and I were discussing how they crossed over into being popular with young adults and adults too. I think it has a lot to do with escapism, with adults trying to get away from everyday life by immersing themselves in a fantasy land of wizards and broomsticks. For me, it was the draw of the school environment taking me back in time (not that I ever played quidditch or walked around in a cape you understand) but I loved every chapter of each one of the books. The publishers even printed copies with more adult appropriate covers so clearly knew that adults were going to be drawn in too, especially as the later stories intrigued with their much darker story lines.

J.K. Rowling encouraged an entire generation to read with her amazing books. Another of my nephews is reading them now, having already seen most of the films. Again, he’s never been particularly into books, their static entertainment losing out to flight simulators and other wonders from the computing world. He’s really enjoying the Harry Potter stories and his mother’s over the moon that he’s reading! He did seem very focused on racing through the pages to get to the end as quickly as possible but remembered the plot lines, characters and events when quizzed so I guess he takes after me with the fast reading genes (and his Mum!).

In Arabian Nights

In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah was my second choice of book. Regular readers of this blog may have read my review of his book The Caliph’s House which I thoroughly enjoyed while we were staying in Casablanca. In Arabian Nights chronicles Shah’s wider journeys through Morocco, seeking out examples of the stories and fables that Moroccans have traditionally related to their children.

The result is a superb journal of some of his travels around the country, being deposited by Grands Taxis in the middle of nowhere en route south and being led down winding medina streets into dark homes alive with storytelling and folklore. Into the journal he has successfully weaved examples of the Moroccans’ magical tales based down from generation to generation in such a way to help the reader understand more about Moroccan culture than any guidebook can teach.

Shah talks about the way strangers may kiss a child on the street, something that would spark outrage in the man on the Clapham Omnibus but meant we were less shocked when the man sitting next to us on the plane to Agadir kissed a random little girl walking up the aisle. Through stories he explained Moroccan generosity so when our taxi driver insisted on gifting us the CD we’d complimented in the car, we knew not to refuse too vehemently and politely accepted (and paid him a tip that more than compensated!). His observations on daily life also gave us confidence that Moroccans didn’t lie during Ramadan (I still think we may have been overcharged for the taxi ride to the airport!) and helped us to recognise gestures welcoming us into hotels and such like.

Wimberry Picking

I’ve already blogged about my third choice, Wimberry Picking by S. Alexander. I love this book and although I did confess on air that I know the author, I can’t stress enough that this has no effect on my judgement. As I mentioned in my blog, I was expecting to have to say nice things about it and instead I fell head over heels in love with the story. It’s completely absorbing, transporting you to another time and place where you can reminisce about growing up, long hot sunny days and adventures in town and country. Charming, engrossing and heart warming.

One Day

One Day by David Nicholls is another book that I’ve mentioned on here before. I’m sure most of you have read this quirky novel by now, or at least seen the film. Hannah and I talked about the merits of seeing the film before reading the book and vice versa, as well as films that have been said to have ruined a good book. I enjoyed One Day [DVD]at the cinema and although Anne Hathaway was completely slated for her accent, it was possible to tune out her mispronunciations and just enjoy the film. Some people concentrate on looking for too much to criticise! If you want to know more about this great novel, click here to read my earlier review.

A Christmas Carol

Finally, I chose A Christmas Carol (Puffin Classics) by Charles Dickens. Recently I’ve been thinking more and more that I should rewind and read some of the classics that have passed me by. I keep thinking about it; doing it is another matter although some have now been downloaded on to my kindle at least. I have managed to read a few of Dickens’ masterpieces over the years including Bleak House and Oliver Twist but A Christmas Carol (Puffin Classics) has always held a special place in my heart.

Charles Dickens performed his first ever public reading of A Christmas Carol in Shrewsbury, where I grew up so it was not surprising that one day the town would become the setting for a film adaptation of A Christmas Carol [DVD] [1984]. George C. Scott, Susannah York, Edward Woodward and Frank Finlay were just some of the stars that descended on our beautiful market town when filming took place in the summer of 1984.

Despite the time of year, the town was covered in artificial snow and Christmas cheer. Many people gave up their commercial and residential properties for filming and saw them transformed into typical Victorian London locations. It was a magical time for Shrewsbury and I particularly remember eating dinner with my parents at The Prince Rupert Hotel one evening and being in awe that George C. Scott was propping up the bar.

Dickens fever sustained Shrewsbury for many years. I was only ten when the film was made but at 18 I could be found pulling pints and collecting glasses in the Ebeneezer Pub on the town’s High Street. Those interested in Dickens trivia may also like to know that Ebeneezer Scrooge’s tombstone is still located in the cemetery behind St Chad’s Church!

Ebeneezer Scrooge’s Tombstone
Courtesy of

We’d love to hear about your Top 5 Books of All Time so leave a comment below to let us know your favourites. Happy reading!

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Spanish Property Mag

Valencian real estate agent, Graham Hunt, has recently introduced a brand new concept in property publications with the fantastic Spanish Property Mag – Valprop Ltd.

Spain Mag

This completely new style of publication successfully combines the latest technology with all of the benefits of traditional publishing. The Spanish Property Mag – Valprop Ltd is available only on the iPad and you can download your copy from the Newsstand App Store here:
Spanish Property Mag - Valprop Ltd

Its creator, Graham Hunt, describes it as using “cutting edge technology to bring you a new way to view Spanish Property without a viewing trip”. The magazine is packed full with sections on lifestyle, tips on living in Spain, editorials written by English language writers and bloggers in Spain and, obviously, featured properties.

We looked at the first edition and were amazed to find so much great information that applied to the viewer, wherever in Spain he was located. There are special features on Valencia and Mijas as well as informative articles on attic living, mid range properties and bank repossessions. Get advice from the professionals on how to buy property safely in Spain, read Paddy’s Artichoke Adventures in Inland Valencia plus The Seven Steps to Spain and Top 5 Mistakes People Make When Moving To Spain. It’s a “must see” whether you’re thinking about moving to Spain, or are already here!

But you don’t just read Spanish Property Mag – Valprop Ltd. The magazine includes property descriptions plus full length videos embedded within the issue so that you can see the properties for yourself.

Subscriptions to the magazine are available with up to 40% discount on the individual price of future editions from the home screen on the app.
Spanish Property Mag - Valprop Ltd

For more information, check out this video put together by Graham Hunt to explain his project in more detail:


Happy downloading!

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Review: Wimberry Picking by S.Alexander

I read Wimberry Picking by S. Alexander, in its entirety yesterday. It’s the first novel written by a friend of mine from school so I was expecting to be super polite about it and help spread the word.

But I can’t do that because it’s amazing! Thank goodness I’m on holiday because I couldn’t put it down. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be interrupting it to go to work if I was at home!

Now my friend Sarah, the author, lives abroad. She has travelled A LOT and can now be found hanging out with her SIX children in Qatar. When pressed by fans as to how she had time to breathe, let alone write a novel, she eagerly pointed out that she only had four children when she wrote most of the story – oh, that’s easy then!

I was more interested in how Sarah tuned her mind into the South Wales setting when she was writing while living in a Fijian paradise. When thinking about writing a book, I find it difficult to ignore my current surroundings and delve deep into another location. When in Spain, I want to write about Spain; when in Western Sahara, I want to write a story set in the desert. Severely lacking in imagination, I’ve never been able to get past writing about my life and things that have affected us. I’m destined to be a factual writer – I’d best leave the fiction to the wonderful authors in whose works I love to lose myself.

Wimberry Picking starts in London where a young man from South Wales is toiling away, working his hardest to support his girlfriend and their small daughter. When the girlfriend leaves him for the promise of a new and exciting life in Spain, daughter Tess in tow, Tim McCarthy’s world crumbles and he returns to the sanctuary of his parents’ house in Mynydd Mawr. From there, the story centres on the twists and turns of Tim trying to rebuild his life in The Valleys and, at times, trying to lose himself in the pedestrian certainty of small town living.

The story has a somewhat voyeuristic appeal as the reader is invited to watch Tim’s world unfold from a safe distance. At times, I incorrectly second guessed the route the author was going to take, having read between the lines the odd hint or two leading to some more sensationalist happening. Instead, her style of writing dealt sensitively with issues we all grew up observing and harked back to the innocence and naivety of our childhood.

As an expat myself, references to aspects of our quintessentially English school days made me smile: the black jacks and sherbet dib dabs that swallowed up our pocket money, coke floats (yum!) and the Shrewsbury Flower Show firework displays that made us ooh and aah every August. Sarah has created an amazingly warm duvet of nostalgia in which many will want to envelop themselves while reading about the highs and lows of the McCarthy family.

Wimberry Picking is an outstanding debut novel and I can’t wait to read the sequel. Congratulations!


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Review: The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah

It seemed appropriate to read an expat’s tale of moving to Casablanca while in situ and at the very least it gave us some insight as to what to expect before the plane landed in this chaotic city.

Peter Mayle gave me with my first taste of reading an author’s first hand experience of starting up a new life abroad. As an expat myself, this genre of writing certainly appeals and, to be honest, makes me wish our story was interesting enough to put down on paper. Perhaps someone else’s histoire is always more captivating than your own…

Tahir Shah, author of The Caliph’s House, lives in Casablanca with his wife and two children, plus the staff he obligatorily adopted with the property and a few others as well. To many, completing on a house purchase while suicide bombers wreaked havoc in the city around them would be enough to send anyone packing. But Shah, despite being caught up in the 2003 bomb blast at the Farah Hotel, seems to successfully shrug this off (or at least not dwell on it) and continue with his goal of integrating into Moroccan life, like his Grandfather before him, aiming to create the ideal home in which to bring up his two small children.

His Afghan heritage and travel experience throughout the Arab world and beyond may have helped him to accept and be accepted but he still appears at time quintessentially British and enlists the help of the locals around him to explain, educate and assist him in his endeavours. No doubt their contribution was invaluable particularly in the house renovation project but at times their superstitions, concerns and preoccupations seemed to amusingly (for the reader at least) stifle rather than expedite progress. The jinns, an “army of invisible spirits” were of particular concern and consumed much time and energy!

More of a page turner than most books of this genre, The Caliph’s House will have you crossing your fingers for the family, holding your head in exasperation and gaffawing into your G&T. It’s certainly not just another story of house renovation abroad. Shah’s anecdotal explanations of Morocco, its culture and its people teach you much while entertaining you in such a way that you inwardly digest more information than you could imagine.

For us, reading The Caliph’s House while travelling in Morocco was more educational than swotting up with a guidebook. The author’s storytelling father would be proud of the way his son’s descriptions are capable of “diverting the mind while passing on a kind of inner knowledge” like A Thousand and One Nights. It made me take a sharp intake of breath as we passed the glass fronted bomb stricken hotel which, I confess, I would not have looked at twice without Shah’s book under my belt. His descriptions of Ramadan made us much more tolerant of the shouts and gestures we witnessed in the shambolic traffic jam from the airport to our hotel. And Tahir, I would like you to know that we drank our bottled water in toilet cubicles as we had no kitchen table to hide under at the airport during Ramadan!

We have now swapped the hectic city of Casablanca for the remoteness of the oceanside desert of Western Sahara. You can’t help but focus on the extreme contrasts of life in Morocco when you sit on the edge of nothingness while happily downloading Shah’s sequel In Arabian Nights on wifi. Living in Spain, France, Switzerland or Portugal is nothing. Read The Caliph’s House
if you want to know what living in a FOREIGN country is really all about.

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Going Local in… Gran Canaria

Once again, I thought I’d got it all sorted and then a curve ball came my way.

I’ve been booking trips and holidays on the internet for at least 12 years. The first time was fairly tame, using a tour operator’s website to choose the destination and hotel, leaving the rest to them. It was one of the best holidays we’ve been on!

Over the years, I’ve got braver, booking flights, transfers, hotels and tours independently through a variety of sites. It can take hours but I feel like I’m getting a better deal. Having said that, it’s probably best not to add up all the man hours of work and research it takes!

Our holidays have had varying success. My other half has quite simple holiday requirements. Sun, sea, beach and restaurants at a stone’s throw away from the self-catering apartment we would rent. We could stay at home except that my tastes are normally more demanding, swinging between romantic luxury and sightseeing overload.

Given free rein, he’d vote for us spending every holiday in the Canaries. Far enough that if we fall out, we can’t drive home, but similar enough to what we have here. After all, that’s what we love and that’s why we live here. He’s got a point.

Last year, I tried to ease him out of his comfort zone by booking a holiday to Madeira, not too far from the Canaries. It was a resounding… disaster.

She said: Beautiful hotel, amazing view, lots to see.

He said: No beaches, pool surrounded by more mature folk (not his words exactly), this place is “closed”.

So, I’m adamant not to let him down again. Of course, I could insist that he help with the whole decision making process but then we’d end up staying home! Instead I’m going for something radically different and just a little bit adventurous.

Well that was the plan before I came across Matthew Hirtes new book, Going Local in Gran Canaria. Before I’d even looked inside, the cover had me doubting my non-Canarian holiday resolve. Immediately you can tell this isn’t your average guide to negotiating the nightclubs and English breakfast joints that I so detest in resorts like Playa del Ingles.

Instead I was completely seduced by the striking cover photo of the sun setting over a rugged and mountainous Gran Canarian landscape. Described as a guide on how to turn a holiday destination into a home, buying this book would be a sensible investment for those planning a holiday on the island, but an essential “bible” purchase for those intending a new life there.

Hirtes has been living on Gran Canaria for eight years with his Canarian wife and their children. In Going Local, he has successfully gathered all the bits and pieces we would hope to find (but probably fail to find) via an awful lot of google research and created one handy guide. I am the queen of gadgetry and an internet surfing goddess, but even I would prefer to filter out all the trash available and have one succinct guide book when going on holiday or relocating. I might even buy it as a paperback, although to be honest, you’re more likely to find me consulting the kindle version!

Generally history sections of guidebooks leave me cold. I try my best to read and digest but usually skim, not taking it in at all. My other half, conversely, loves the historical facts, figures and statistics which introduce most books of this genre. Full points to Hirtes. Not only did I (properly) read the Brief History chapter, but I have retained a few facts as well! Hirtes and I share a similar dry, slightly juvenile sense of humour. His writing style hooked me in right from the start. In what other guidebook would you read: 1502 – An old friend returns as Columbus visits Maspalamos as possibly the south of the island’s first tourist. As well as catching some rays, he stocks up on explorer essentials: firewood and water.”  Historical facts for the historically challenged – I love it.

Also, let’s face it, I’m a nosy parker. The injection of his family’s personal story into the chapter appealed hugely to my voyeuristic nature and left me wanting more. Not only did I get more of his story, but I also got to read personal anecdotes from other contributors living on Gran Canaria. What a treat!

The book includes sections useful to those relocating to other parts of Spain as well as to the Canaries with tips on language and how to learn it, healthcare entitlements, school enrollment, property buying vs. renting, form filling, setting up in business and so much more. Specific to Gran Canaria are chapters about climate, culture, public transport, and employment to name but a few. Far from boring the reader with practical advice, Hirtes manages to combine useful facts with an honest description of the island’s limitations.

My favourite section suggests ways that different groups of travellers from romantics to sports fanatics can enjoy the best that Gran Canaria has to offer whether they are there for just a weekend, a week, a month or a lifetime. Hirtes then moves on to discuss each individual area of Gran Canaria in his witty, informal and chatty style concentrating on food, beaches, accommodation, nightlife, fiestas and attractions.

Going Local is a fantastic guide for holidaymakers. But, if you are thinking of making a permanent move to Gran Canaria, it’s an essential for your hand luggage. Moving to a new country is baffling even for the seasoned pro but this guide will help smooth the way.

My one complaint is that Matthew Hirtes has in fact created the guidebook I wanted to write about my little corner of Spain. Do you think he’d notice if I stole his format?

Going Local in Gran Canaria: How to Turn a Holiday Destination into a Home by Matthew Hirtes is published by Summertime and available to buy from Amazon as a paperback (£11.99) or Kindle e-book (£4.86). For more information, click on the link below or visit our bookstore:

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One Day by David Nicholls

I was given a copy of “One Day” by David Nicholls as a belated birthday present, just in time for me to indulge in some reading for pleasure over the Christmas holidays.

Now, I pride myself on being quite up there when it comes to new book releases but I’m mortified to share that I’d never even heard of it!

The cover is very eye catching with its bright orange profile silhouettes. Ever since I received my copy, I’ve been running into other people reading it wherever I go! That hasn’t happened since Alex Garland’s “The Beach”.

Somewhat unusually, in our household at least, “One Day” was a book that appealed to my partner as much as to me. In fact, no sooner had I got my copy home, than he grabbed it and became immediately engrossed. That’s pretty unusual for him – he quite often will have a number of books on the go all at the same time and will dip into one and then into another. But “One Day” had him gripped.

Its appeal to men and women may stem from the story being told from both a his and her perspective all the way through as it chronicles one day each year (15th July) in the lives of Dexter and Emma from their first meeting in 1988 and for the next 20 years.

Dexter and Emma are also more or less the same age as my partner. They experienced university life, post-graduation conundrums, first serious (and complicated) relationships and important political and cultural events in the UK, all at the same time as him.

For me, it was a fantastic romantic comedy/love story that captured my attention completely from about the second paragraph onwards. It sounds overblown but I truly felt that Dexter and Emma were becoming my friends and, in some chapters, they seemed to be mirroring my own life, fears and triumphs.

I miss them now that it’s over but I’m hoping it won’t be too long until they’re back in my lives as a classic Richard Curtis rom-com. Hugh Grant (although perhaps he’s too old now!) as Dexter and as Emma? I’m not sure. Perhaps Anne Hathaway?

I’ve passed the book on to a friend but despite my very limited storage space at home, I might have to buy another copy of this book. It’s definitely a keeper!

In fact, I’m off to buy it again right now together with whatever else David Nicholls has written! You can get your copy from Amazon by clicking on the link below. Enjoy!

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From Notting Hill with Love… Actually by Ali McNamara

My clever partner saw this book in the supermarket while we in the UK over Christmas and thought it would be an ideal stocking filler for me. As usual, he was right and “From Notting Hill with Love… Actually”, Ali McNamara’s first novel, has become a great new entry into my list of chick lit favourites.

As the title suggests, the author seamlessly incorporates many scenes from some of our favourite chick flick movies into the story. The main protagonist is Scarlett, a huge movie fan who is about to marry her terribly sensible fiancé, David.

Scarlett feels that marrying David is the right thing to do but before she walks down the aisle, she is given the opportunity to spend a month living in Notting Hill. As soon as she arrives, she starts to meet a variety of different characters in situations which, although plausible, could have jumped straight out of a romantic comedy. This makes Scarlett only more determined to demonstrate to her friends and family back home that it is possible to live your life like a movie.

Reading this book is like watching your favourite Richard Curtis film for the umpteenth time. There are no twists and nothing will take you massively by surprise, but you’ll feel comfortable enjoying Ali McNamara’s easy to read prose and endearing style.

There are a few bonuses at the end of the book with some lovely little extras added by the author which will appeal to all rom com junkies. Even the cover of the book (designed by Lucy Truman) will titillate chick lit aficionados with its sparkly snowflakes and cinema billboard text.

To order your copy of this great easy read, click on the link below:

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Dear Fatty by Dawn French

20th May 2009

I’ve just finished reading Dawn French’s autobiography, Dear Fatty. She chose a lovely style of presenting her memoirs – all by way of letters written to friends, family and a few people that she had teenage crushes on!

It was at the same time hilariously funny and crushingly sad. But it was her letter to husband Lenny Henry that made me want to comment on here. Wowsa. She said it all. It was by no means a sychophantic, drooling, gushing love letter with the aim of reinforcing to the media and public just how solid they are as a couple (the trap into which most celebs fall afterall). It was a thank you letter, thanking him for all the times he’s come through for her and even times he’s made things better after doing something wrong. It was so simple and heartfelt, genius.

And it made them so normal.

That’s what I want…

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