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Review: The Lost City of Z, David Grann

Explorers throughout the ages have been convinced that a huge city lies within the Amazon rainforest.  Descriptions written by the first conquistadors only backed them up, and many men set out to find it only to lose their lives in the process.  One such determined explorer was Percy Fawcett, who took his son and his son’s best friend into the jungle.  Convinced he knew where the city was, he eagerly set off with the boys and only two guides, only to vanish forever.  Mysterious legends sprouted up around his disappearance as well.  Dozens of years later, author David Grann decides to head into the forest after them, seeking to find out what really happened to the trio and to uncover some truths about the mystical city itself.

What a fascinating book.  You may notice I’ve been into travelogues lately, and there is nothing I enjoy more than an author combining history with his or her own personal journey.  This is precisely what Grann does with his search for a city in the Amazon.  I adored the chapters on Fawcett, on the Amazon, and was as wrapped up in the legend as all the explorers were – although not quite enough to set off on foot through the Amazon.  I particularly appreciated the fact that Grann travels in a vehicle and notes that such a journey would have taken Fawcett weeks of hacking through undergrowth.  When Grann thought his trip was hard, it really brought into focus how incredibly difficult exploration of the rainforest was for men of Fawcett’s time and before.

Grann also notes that explorers of the Amazon are often ignored in favor of those who explored the North Pole.  For one thing, those explorers eventually succeeded, whereas no one managed to find the city of Z.  The exact same thing was happening while Fawcett was alive.  He struggled to get funding whereas northern explorers received both money and glory.  He became famous in the end, only to vanish at the apex of his popularity.  One particularly notable chapter included a famed northern explorer heading into the Amazon with Fawcett, only to turn back because he couldn’t take it.  It seems that either you’re suited to risking your life in intense heat and with many creatures out to kill you, or you’re more suited to dying of the cold – you can’t be awesome at both apparently.

I was probably least interested in Grann’s personal story.  It’s fairly obvious that he hasn’t died, which takes away all of the suspense, and he doesn’t really risk his life that much either.  I’m not saying that he imposes himself too much on the story; he doesn’t, it’s simply that I find historical details far more exciting.  He does make a few interesting discoveries, mainly at the end, and it’s worth it to get an up close and personal look at the natives that are likely very similar to those that Fawcett and various other teams encountered while on their hunt for the city.

The Lost City of Z was a fascinating look into exploring the Amazon rainforest and all of its perils.  I would definitely recommend it.

I am an Amazon associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: Chinese Whispers, Jan Wong

During Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Jan Wong traveled to China to attend university.  As a third generation Canadian Chinese, she was one of the first two non-native Chinese admitted since Mao took power, and much of that was undoubtedly due to her belief in Mao’s principles.  In actuality, she believed in the watered-down version she’d been taught, and had no idea of the real depth and consequences for people who disagreed with Mao.  As such, when she told a teacher that a girl she’d just met had asked her how to leave China, she had no idea that she was irrevocably changing that girl’s life.  As an adult, she deeply regrets her actions, and decides to head to China and find the woman she betrayed to ask forgiveness.  In the meantime, she discovers how much Beijing has changed and continues to change to meet the 21st century.

I found this book utterly fascinating.  I’ve read a few books now on the experiences of Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution, but never one from the perspective of an outsider like this one was.  Mainly, I was amazed that despite growing up as a Westerner, Wong became obsessed with China and her Chinese past.  I was also quite surprised to discover that much of Mao’s regime had been whitewashed, so even when she was in China she had no idea what was really going on.  I think that got across more of the deception than a few of the other books had; growing up in China, you would quickly realize that life was very uncertain and a heartbeat separated you from ruin.  Growing up in Canada, Mao’s China simply seemed like a place where everyone worked for the betterment of society.

Standing in vivid contrast to Wong’s memories is the Beijing of 2008 (when she returned) with its glitzy buildings, intense consumerism, and ever-expanding apartments.  She’s amazed that apartments formerly admired, reserved for only the highest of professionals, now look worn and tiny in comparison to the immense ones her old contacts have achieved.  There are shopping malls everywhere, even if no one shops in them, the smog is so thick you can’t see the sky, and there are so many cars in Beijing that you’re risking your life by stepping onto the road.  They’re also steadily pulling down the remnants of China’s past in favor of skyscraper after skyscraper.  This is Beijing, which means I hope that the rest of the country still has a few historic palaces, but the rampant destruction of perfectly good historical architecture made me very sad.

It makes Jan Wong quite sad, too; even the China she knew no longer exists, but some of it is still around.  China is still a police state, so the government can do mostly whatever it wants.  That means large, endless building projects that no democratic country would ever approve.  Wong spends time reminding us of those contrasts as well.  In terms of her search for the woman she’s betrayed, she finds it extraordinarily difficult to find her because the country has in effect wiped away the Cultural Revolution.  Records mysteriously vanish from that period and no one wants to tell her what has happened to Lu Yi.

I really enjoyed Chinese Whispers.  I thought it perfectly combined the history of the Cultural Revolution, with which I’ve been so fascinated recently, to modern day Beijing.  Since Wong is Canadian, I felt like I received a whole new perspective on the period, and as a result I’m very happy I read this book and would recommend it to anyone else interested in modern China.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: Red Azalea, Anchee Min

Anchee Min grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution.  She was virtually responsible for her younger siblings since the age of six, as her parents both had to work all day and thus had no time to actually provide for the family.  Min grew up an ardent supporter and worshipper of Chairman Mao, even going off to become a peasant in relatively good spirits.  It was only love that made her realize there was something wrong with the way her society worked, and which would eventually propel her to leave China and make her home in the West instead.

Since I’ve enjoyed a few fiction books by Anchee Min, I thought I’d read her memoir and see what really happened to her in the midst of Mao’s China.  It was certainly a rewarding read, but since I’ve been quite obsessed with the period lately not much about it was actually new – it was just a new perspective on a similar story.  It’s always vastly interesting to realize how completely people bought into the Communist mindset, if hard to believe – Min freely admits that she fell a victim to the craziness of the culture as much as anyone else did.  It took her a long, long time to realize that life might be better elsewhere – so long that it’s not even in the scope of this book.

At the center of the book is a love story between Min and one of her Communist leaders.  While the details are never totally explicit, the eroticism of this bit startled me and a love affair wasn’t quite what I was expecting in the midst of all the strict farming and regulations.  She very eloquently demonstrates the fact that only this intense love can inspire minds – at least her mind – to break free of all the conditioning that had been forced into them throughout the years.  Anchee Min seized not only on this relationship but on others, feeling them all the more intensely for their forbidden nature.

What was most incredible to me is the fact that Min is precisely the same age as my parents, and that really brought home to me how recent this was.  Her life is so vastly different from my parents’ that it’s almost impossible to believe they lived in the same century.  Shortly after this I read Chinese Whispers by Jan Wong, which also gave wonderful perspective on this in the light of modern China and how everything has become vastly different again.  Min’s own story is set just in the right period to be an absolutely fascinating portrait of all that China was, no matter how brief that period was in their history.

This may not be my favorite account of life in China during the Cultural Revolution, but it was certainly an interesting one.  I’d recommend Red Azalea to anyone interested in the period or looking for more on Anchee Min’s life in comparison to her fiction.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: The Last Empress, Anchee Min

Empress Orchid, formerly known as Lady Yehonala, has truly become the ruler of all China.  Despite her desire to retire, she’s forced to train more than one young emperor, and regularly finds herself resuming rule.  She faces opposition from virtually all sides, not only from within the court and from the public but also from a variety of hostile nations who wish to invade and capture parts of China.  Meanwhile, she’s forced to deny herself the love she desperately craves as she watches her empire slowly begin to collapse.

This is the follow-up to Empress Orchid, which if you’ll recall (or click back to my review) I really enjoyed.  I loved the Chinese atmosphere, the intricacy and intrigue of the court, and Orchid herself.  I liked this book less.  Orchid’s position, while not completely firm throughout the book, is now relatively solid and she finds herself instead dealing with an ever changing rotation of men and women who come in and out of her life.

This is an incredibly detailed time in China and I felt that, for my tastes, the book rushed through it in the interest of getting to the end of Orchid’s life.  It’s also darker in character, if that’s even possible, simply because history in China in this period is very dark.  The empire is clearly collapsing, and it’s obvious even if you aren’t aware of the general history of China.  Foreign powers are regularly invading, even to the point of leveling the empress’s home and driving her out to exile.  Still, we unfortunately miss a lot of the background history going on in China at this point simply because she isn’t there, which makes it harder to get a complete picture of the era, and means the reader feels a bit detached.

It’s clear that her way of life is unsustainable, which should lend an air of nostalgia to the work, but instead it just feels corrupt.  Even though Orchid is suffering, and it’s painful to see China fall, one can’t help but feel that a better government is genuinely necessary, even if not the one that China eventually ended up with.  Orchid can’t even speak with the Western leaders and hardly has any idea of her own country – how is she meant to rule, let alone the privileged boys who are called emperor and then completely spoiled with no responsibilities?

Overall, though, I still enjoyed Min’s writing and I enjoyed The Last Empress overall.  I didn’t feel it was quite as strong as the first in this duology, but it hasn’t put me off reading the rest of her work at all.  I’m at present especially interested in delving more into a wider history of China in this period; I think it’s absolutely fascinating, so don’t expect my China fixation to stop any time soon!

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Review: Katherine Swynford, Alison Weir

Katherine Swynford is one of English history’s best known mistresses.  Her attractions were clearly so strong to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, that he eventually broke all tradition and gave up the prospect of marital advance in order to marry her, a knight’s daughter who offered very little at that point in her life.  But who was Katherine and what do we know about her?

As it turns out, the answer is not much, and this effort by Alison Weir ended up as a disappointment for me.  I’ve never really enjoyed the history that is virtually all speculation.  I understand some of it is necessary in many pursuits, but I went through this book feeling that Weir didn’t really need to write an entire book on Katherine’s life when she had so little to work with.  As always, it ended up being a book about the men in Katherine’s life and bits about her more illustrious relations and children.  Large sections are devoted to Chaucer, who had an absolutely tiny role in Katherine’s life, but because he’s a well known figure in history and was married to Katherine’s sister, he gets a role, even after Katherine’s sister dies.  I have to say I was disappointed in that; I thought a book based solely on John of Gaunt or Geoffrey Chaucer would have been far more interesting, as Weir could have dug deeper into their lives and drawn a few more relevant conclusions.  It’s a sad reality that medieval women’s lives are so little documented, something we all wish we could fix, but that’s not a case to make a book out of something.

I was also disappointed with the level of scholarship I found in the book.  Weir’s analysis of her sources seems very uneven.  Virtually all first hand medieval sources are unreliable to a degree – you have to take into account bias, propaganda, and so on, just like you would when deciding whether to believe someone today – and she seems to use this when it suits her and ignore it when it doesn’t.  This is especially true in the case of Froissart – I thought she should have addressed his unreliability from the start, so readers had a solid background going in.  I like that she uses so many primary sources, but I would prefer a bit more depth of analysis, even in popular history like this.

I also really disliked how she drew conclusions from what may have been and then just went with them, without considering other options as the text went on, as it severely limited the depths of her continual analysis throughout the book.  It also led to flimsy conclusions built on flimsy assumptions, which all historians should do their best to avoid.  There genuinely isn’t enough here for a book, which is what’s caused this problem.  Some of the assumptions are necessary to keep the history going as a fairly steady narrative, and possibly helps for people who are unfamiliar with the Middle Ages, but I just wanted more from it.  I remember enjoying Weir’s earlier books a great deal more than I liked this one.

That all said, I do think Katherine Swynford is a decent choice for getting a nice, reasonably accurate picture of fourteenth century England.  Weir’s work is very readable, although at times devolves into lists and dates. For the most part she paints a nice picture of the time in which Katherine lived and how she might have thought or felt.  Sadly, it’s impossible to draw any conclusions about Katherine herself, and despite Weir’s flimsy guesses we end up with little picture about the woman herself.  I ended up feeling like the book was lacking, even though I liked it while reading it, and would only really recommend it to someone interested in these few years of English history and not necessarily looking for much detail about Katherine herself.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Mini Reviews

Trying to catch up again before the start of October!

Bombay Time, Thrity Umrigar

In this moving novel, a group of families in Bombay come together for the wedding of one of their children.  While there, they are all thrown into reminiscing about their past together and just how they got this far in the future.

I wish I’d reviewed this one earlier so I could look more deeply into it, but unfortunately it got a little lost in the shuffle as I tried to get reviews for actual review books out.  I loved it, however, most particularly the depth of the relationships between the people and their all too human foibles.  I found it gave me striking insight into some aspects of Indian communities and India itself, how it was growing and changing and the people either grew or didn’t grow with it.  The relationships – both romantic and platonic – between all of these people are gorgeously drawn, and what I really appreciated was the fact that they weren’t over.  This is a snapshot of lives, not an ending to them.  Beautiful book and has me determined to read more by Thrity Umrigar.

Splendour, Anna Godbersen

I actually haven’t reviewed any of the last three of this series, so this will stand as my summation of all of them.  As a result I won’t bother with a summary here; let’s just say that the ladies of New York City are out and about yet again, as things are shifting and their lives are going slightly crazy as always.  I have enjoyed this series; I still stand by my original assessment that it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure read as these girls’ lives are so scandalous and probably not quite accurate to history.  Unfortunately I wasn’t quite satisfied by the ending, but I am glad I managed to read to the end, and would recommend the whole series to anyone who is interested in a very romantic YA series based around the lives of a few girls in early twentieth century New York City.

Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne

I’d never read the actual Winnie the Pooh before, so when I found it was free for my Kindle, I decided to give it a read.  I was thoroughly charmed, let me tell you; these stories are so enchanting and so quick to read.  Even with the black and white screen, the illustrations are just gorgeous and bring the words to life.  This is really the perfect book for children and if/when I have some of my own, I fully intend to get them this book for their very own.  It was only missing Tigger; when does he show up??

The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister

As a girl, Lillian uses food to express herself and to bring her mother back to her.  As an adult, she runs a restaurant, and on Mondays holds a cooking class to bring other people together with food.  The motley mix of students this time each have their own problems and varying degrees of happiness, and Lillian doesn’t offer them a solution.  Instead she offers them a peaceful haven to rediscover themselves and to find connections with others that they’d feared lost forever.

This is one of those books I suspect I’d like more if I actually enjoyed fiction about people who have lives just like mine.  Unfortunately I didn’t think it dug quite deeply enough; each person got a single chapter, which was just enough to get a taste of their lives and not much else.  They were, for obvious reasons, all heavily tied in with food.  Eventually they do start to link together, but without the community feel and thoughtfulness of a book like Bombay Time.  This one just left me empty, although it did make me hungry as well with its luscious descriptions of food.  I’d hesitate to recommend this but I know others have enjoyed it more than me, so it might just be my dislike of women’s fiction popping back up again.

I am an Amazon Associate. None of these books were sent to me for review.

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Mini Reviews

Because otherwise these books are never going to get reviewed!

Ten Things I Love About You, Julia Quinn

Annabel Winslow is looking for a rich husband to rescue her family from the poorhouse.  And she’s found a potential suitor, an aged, lecherous earl, of whom she isn’t at all fond, but she figures she has to resign herself to her fate – even if he does nearly assault her.  Then she meets the earl’s nephew, Sebastian, and everything changes.  They may be falling in love, but will Sebastian have the funds to save her siblings?

Much the same as the last book in this series, What Happens in London, this book is very sweet and very funny.  It’s easy to become fond of both characters and believe in their romance, even if everything is far too rosy for real life.  The series lacks the real fantastic romantic potential of the Bridgerton series, but still all of them provide a nice, quick diversion from every day life.

Lead Me On, Victoria Dahl

Jane Morgan has worked very hard to get her position as an administrative assistant to an architect.  She rescued herself from years of bad behavior as a teenager in order to turn herself into a real adult – even if that means she’s neglected her family.  But she can’t seem to kick her attraction to big, tattooed, rough men, no matter how many businessmen she dates.  When Billy Chase steps into her office, she simply can’t resist him – but can she fit him into her new life?

I think I may be the only romance reader in the world who had some issues with this book – I just found that it wasn’t really to my taste.  Dahl’s writing is funny and smooth, so no problems there, but I couldn’t connect with her characters and the book was a little too raunchy for my tastes.  Jane spends most of the novel as a complete snob, and it bothered me that she judged people so heavily on their appearances when she knew perfectly well that people could be more than that.  I should have been delighted that her prejudices got absolutely torn apart and she had to face reality, but I was already too annoyed with her to bother!

My negative reaction to this book won’t really stop me from reading more Victoria Dahl, though – the concept of the book was very good and I liked the writing a lot.  I think I’ll try another one of her books and see if the characters annoy me less!

Stealing Water, Tim Ecott

Tim’s parents give up their home in Ireland to move to South Africa, a land where Tim’s father believes he has a respectable job waiting, and where Tim’s mother believes she will finally be free of the boggy Irish weather.  But things don’t turn out as they expect and the family become virtual vagabonds, struggling to get by.

This was okay, but I think is one instance where I enjoyed the idea of the book more than the book itself.  The family’s South African life is so full of crazy, illegal antics that, even though they were often necessary to survive, it made me uncomfortable.  There were aspects I enjoyed, though; my favorite bit was when Tim worked in a Johannesburg hotel, at a total contrast to his home life, and became acquainted with guests solely based on their voices.  It was clever and funny.  I also enjoyed glimpses of period department stores and cities.

I also struggled because I couldn’t really understand the way his parents worked; I would basically never do what they all did, much less not return immediately, or as soon as I could, once I realized things were going haywire.  I felt for Tim quite often but it was hard to relate to everything that happened.

Visions of Heat, Nalini Singh

Faith is an F-Psy, meaning she can predict the future.  She’s one of the best, which also means that she is bound to go mad eventually, but she’s making her family rich in the meantime.  Outside her home lurks Vaughn, a changeling jaguar who longs to know more about the girl he senses behind the walls of the compound.  When Faith comes out, she and Vaughn collide, opening her to emotions and physical sensations she’d never dreamed of.  When the Psy world no longer begins to make sense, Faith wonders if she and Vaughn can make a life for themselves without it.

I definitely enjoyed this, and the world-building that went on, but I didn’t really find it to be anything particularly out of the ordinary.  As usual I find Nalini Singh’s love scenes a little too racy and a little too frequent for my personal taste.  I’ve read that she tones down the heat in the next volume, though, as well as lays on the plot, and I’m really interested to see what happens to Judd, so I think I’ll keep on reading.

I am an Amazon Associate. I did not receive any of these books for review.

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Review: Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness

This review contains spoilers for the entire Chaos Walking seriesDon’t read this, read them!

War makes monsters of men, and Todd and Viola are discovering just how true that saying is.  Separated once again, Todd has remained with the mayor to keep him calm while Viola has gone with the Answer and her new shipmates to broker a compromise.  Into the mix we’re thrown a third character with his own perspective on events, set to radically change both the way Todd and Viola think about their new world and their strategy for the forthcoming war.

Everything about this book is basically awesome.  Patrick Ness has taken on enormous issues in this series and executed them perfectly, without a hitch, sending out clear anti-war themes but at the same time showing just how humans are so susceptible to dictatorships and strong personalities.

First of all, what struck me as so eerily true to life is the way that Mayor Prentiss can simply take charge, how he can twist reality to suit himself without ever suffering any flack for it.  It reminded me most of the way that the media can twist things as they wish, but most people don’t bother to research (or watch more than one TV channel) so they’ll never know the truth of the way the world works.  Even Todd and Viola know vastly more than they’re told, but they still find it easier to settle into the same grooves they’ve known their whole lives.  Todd himself finds it easiest to dehumanize the Spackle because they aren’t exactly the same as him even though they are thinking, speaking beings like he is, just because he’s committed atrocities against them and needs a reason to do so.  The introduction of the third character throws a wrench into those plans, both for readers and for Todd.

Throughout the book my heart ached most for Todd and I simultaneously feared for him.  He gets far too close to the Mayor and is convinced he’s acting for good, but I knew he couldn’t be, that the mayor was a force for dissent and fear.  But as we learn by the end, even that’s not entirely true.  The worst character in the series is himself multi-faceted with surprising reasons for how he works, which don’t excuse him but help us understand him.  Each and every character with page time in this book is a complex human being with believable motives and actions.  It’s a genuine work of art.

The entire book is sobering in its depiction of war, especially as Todd is growing up in the midst of it.  It’s evident from both his actions and even from the text itself as the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors slow down drastically in this third installment.  He’s becoming a man, but how I feared he wasn’t going to live to get all the way there.  The constant battles and struggles speedily mature him, so much so that it was easy to forget his true age.  Not all that much time has passed since he first discovered Viola, that pocket of silence amidst the Noise.  And I keep talking about Todd, but it was Viola who became my favorite character, for her strength and reason and love.

I wish I was talented enough to articulate clearly the many ways Monsters of Men – and the rest of the series – made me think and feel.  I borrowed this book from the library but I know it’s one that I’ll need to own and reread in its entirety.  It’s incredibly powerful in so many ways and I truly think is literature at its finest; it’s a series with a lot to say about the world, not only Todd’s but our own, and with a fantastic story to go along with it.  What more could any reader ask for?

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: Notes from a Big Country, Bill Bryson

After twenty years in England, Bill Bryson and his family moved back to his native United States, for reasons he can’t quite fathom.  To his surprise, his country has changed a lot since he last lived there.  Even though he isn’t particularly inclined to write a newspaper column about it, his friend asks him to, and his essays are published weekly.  This book is a collection of some of these essays, on topics ranging from the tax system to sports to garbage disposals.

I’m on a bit of a Bill Bryson spree these days, so I picked this book up without really thinking about it.  I found its quality to be more variable than the first two books of his I read, but overall it was still very enjoyable.  Bryson’s humor is excellent and he makes even the most mundane exchanges into passages that have me giggling away, to the extent that my husband asks what’s so funny and is, I suspect, now eager to get his hands on one of Bryson’s books.

The funniest passages were easily the ones that I have had experience with.  This book is now quite dated; it was published in 1998 and so all of the essays are from before that time.  As a result, things in America aren’t the same as they were, but I can remember a lot of this from my childhood.  The catalogues, for example; it did feel at times like we got a catalogue for everything under the sun without ever actually asking for them.  Plenty of trees were wasted for this purpose, but some of the products in catalogues were delightful and exciting, even if I can’t actually remember ever ordering anything out of them.

Some of the sections didn’t work quite so well; these are generally the few that don’t consist of actual anecdotes but are just him trying to demonstrate the absurdity of things like tax forms.  There are also some outdated ones which no longer strike the right note, like his comments on computers.  Overall, though, these are only a few pages long so they don’t detract too much from the overall humor of the book.

It’s also best to approach this knowing that mostly he makes fun of Americans and American things, but as he seems to do this with everything, it didn’t bother me.  It just amused me because most of it was true and his style of writing makes it clear that nothing is really an insult at all.  It’s just, for the most part, a very amusing book about American culture.

Notes from a Big Country is not quite a travelogue, but it’s an entertaining look at America through a former expat’s eyes.  Despite the few off notes, if you like Bill Bryson’s books, you’ll enjoy this one too.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: A Castle in Spain, Matthew Parris

One spring morning in Catalunya, Matthew Parris came across an awesome sight; a large, moldering, old house that immediately spoke to him.  Clearly medieval and once high status and in the process of remodeling, the house had been left to sit and rot for at least fifty years.  It was called L’Avenc; virtually everyone in the small nearby town knew about it and thought its slow destruction was sad, but none of them was going to save it.  So Parris, his sister Belinda and her husband, and her husband’s brother put together the money and purchased the house themselves.  The remodelling took longer and was more expensive than any of them had imagined, but their goal to save the house kept them going through catastrophe after catastrophe.

I’ve seen it bandied about that this entire book is mostly an advertisement for the holiday cottages Parris and his family built alongside the house, but I thought it was quite a lot more than that, especially considering I didn’t even realize that you could stay there until halfway through the book.  (Of course, I want to now, so if it was an advertisement, it worked.)  I loved the fact that these four people took on this medieval house.  One of them did research into its origins and found out the various stages of its actual construction; parts of it date from the 12th century.  Anyone who spends hundreds of thousands to rescue a medieval house is awesome, and this book truly gets across the author’s love for this house and its character.

He also conveys the vast difficulty, sometimes seemingly insurmountable, of actually restoring the house.  The roof was falling in, the floors were rotting away, and there were no plumbing, electricity, or telephone lines.  The construction went on for years, hampered by legal difficulties and an angry neighbor who cut off the family’s water supply and refused to reinstate it.  It’s not even finished when the book is, although I think it must be by now.

A Castle in Spain is also partly travelogue, with Parris extoling the virtues of various parts of Catalunya (also spelled Catalonia).  He expresses plenty of regret that people mostly visit Spain to go to cramped beaches and cities instead of exploring the beauty of its interior, Catalunya in particular.  I must admit that despite my recent interest in travelogues, I found these parts a bit boring.  I would love to visit Spain, but I am not sure Parris’s writing style is that suited to it, and I found his discussions of the house much more interesting.

This book is a very interesting tale of a family and a mission, with some history and culture thrown in for good measure.  It is perhaps not the most standout of its genre, but it certainly made me curious about the area.  I wish I could actually afford one of the holiday cottages, if only to see it all myself in person.  Recommended if you like travelogues, memoirs, and old, crumbling houses. It seems to be out of print, but used copies are about for fairly low prices.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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