Book Reviews: Travel

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Playing House by Amy ChoiBook Cover of Playing House by Amy Choi

Read by Tracy in April 2012

Tracy recommends if you want a very selfish travel memoir

Great premise for this book, boy meets girl, boy wants to go overseas travelling and therefore not have a long term relationship, girl buys plane ticket and following him and everyone lives happily ever after. Hmm that isn't exactly what happened. I love travel memoirs, biographies etc, anything that whets my travel desires and also provides a window in how other people manage to move around this fantastic planet. Our female character is Amy who is fairly self-centred and selfish. She meets Scott, who is a down to earth guy who knows what he wants (to travel to Europe) and is very upfront about having delayed this in the past for relationships but this time he is going. Scott departs for England, but he isn't left alone for long and Amy soon lobs on his doorstep without much of a plan, except she doesn't want to travel and is homesick from day one. Scott meets Amy at the airport and they soon embark on their journey to Shepherd's Bush where Scott has found them a room in a share house. Amy tries out various jobs and they soon embark on a trip to Prague. Yet again you feel that Amy controls everything - what they do, where they go and her constant desire to get Scott to change his mind and return to Australia. She also needs to constantly be in a large group of people and they move from hotel/apartment/hostel to sate Amy's need for companionship. I visited Prague in October 2011 and it was absolutely fantastic, just wandering the streets and avoiding the huge hordes of tourists and unlike Amy I did not find myself bitterly lonesome - there is so much to see and do, especially when you are there with your love. I started to become slightly disappointed at the lack of commentary on the sights, sounds and every day goings on in the places that are visited; instead we are drawn into Amy's thoughts and are not privy to the other point of view. At this stage I think I fixated on her bad points, so I took a step back and tried to ignore her neediness. It is then that Amy visited her parents in London. She expected them to be sitting waiting for her, instead they were out and about seeing what they wanted to see - fantastic finally someone stood up to her. Amy then returns to Scott in Hungary and immediately thwarts his travel plans by arranging a shortened visa. Why on earth can't she just let him enjoy his trip that he wanted to go on? Although as the book progressed realisation dawned on me that Amy and Scott wanted to travel, but not give up their middle-class vision and maybe if they weren't backpacking, Amy may have enjoyed the trip. In Luxor they ate and drank constantly at an English-style pub, I am hoping they actually left it to eat some of the fantastic Egyptian fare. Finally Scott succumbs and they return to their old life in Australia where Scott gets a job at a camp with disadvantages and disabled children. As usual Amy wants to be part of it and insists she attends the camp. However, along the way they become a caregiver to Lydia, a very troubled teen who they take under their wing. However, it isn't all plain sailing and the relationship starts to deteriorate as Lydia fulfils her prophecy of being exactly like her parents. After reading the book, the character Amy was not one to enamour you, I found her manipulative and wanting to be the constant centre of attention. My heart went out to Scott, as I desperately wanted him to stand up and do what he wanted, not what he was told he would enjoy. Amy's parents were the highlight, they were funny, accepting and very interesting - more of them please!

On a side note the artwork for this book cover was fantastic and interesting. It is Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

This book was kindly provided to us by Transit Lounge.

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Loves, Kerbsides and Goodbyes - A Backpacker's Road by David McNamaraBook Cover of Loves, Kerbsides and Goodbyes - A Backpacker's Road by David McNamara

Read by Tracy in April 2012

Tracy recommends this book to get you off the couch

Loves, Kerbsides and Goodbyes is written by West Australia David McNamara and is his account of travelling through some of the remotest and not so remote countries in the world. Accompanied on his travels by various people along the way, we see the sordid and beautiful side of people and places. David travels with a shoestring budget and a backpack over the decade or so of the book and manages to find and lose love, be mugged/robbed as well as have fun and some fantastic adventures which most can only dream about. Unlike a lot of tour guides these days, this book does not rely on the author being given a huge expense account where he can sit in a luxury bar writing about trivial and mundane tour packages. We follow David as he heads through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Asia and South America. I have been to some of these places but certainly not on the limited budget David had and was faced with the opposite ends of the tourist scale i.e. lost luggage, bad hotels and bad wine. Still the world is for everyone and I hope this book makes those of generation X or later get up and experience the world with their own eyes and not their iPads, iPhones etc.

David has a way of describing different scenes which brings back memories and also makes me want to experience them for myself. It is also factual and provides some great tips and pointers from his understanding of alcohol in some Indian towns which are classed as dry due to religious reasons, but how you can get a beer tea pot which hides the discretion which we discovered in Kerala. To nationalism during the Pakistan/Indian border crossing festivities. David also encounters issues with language and laments the teaching of a second language in our schools as inadequate when compared to the majority of other countries.

I loved David's description of the smell of Yak. After travelling through Nepal and Tibet the smell is something that I presume you must either love or hate, but can't escape. Along with the piles of dried yak cheese which is everywhere and also yak tea which I never acquired the taste for. We too struggled with visas and the different requirements for foreigners in Tibet, but bit the bullet and hired a driver and guide as it was difficult to negotiate, especially during winter, the required paperwork. It didn't save us from a very nervous afternoon in a police station when we realised our visa had expired. I have to say, just like David, Tibet is one of the coldest destinations I have visited, but it is also one of the most interesting destinations - nothing like seeing Monks in North Face fleece tops and Timberland sandals to make you realise that what is normally portrayed in TV and films is different to reality.

Although David doesnít have a complete hatred of Lonely Planet he has a desire to escape the Lonely Planet path. Although the Lonely Planet provides a great resource, it also causes tourists to end up congregating in their recommended places and it can be easy to lose track of the more undeveloped destinations and in a desire to tick off the "must see" sights you can miss some wonderful experiences.

One of the funniest chapters was 19, Border Rules - I laughed as it is so true. Not sure who makes rules, but the fact you get a plastic knife and a metal fork has always made me chuckle as I am pretty sure you can do some fairly hefty damage with a fork. The book was funny, maybe because I had travelled parts of it, although not in such a simplistic style. However, yet again, I feel the constant desire of travellers to spend their nights stoned and drunk seems to be a bit stereotypical and I would have liked the book to be more descriptive of the sights, smells, sounds of the people and countries. After all if I want to see drunk and drugged Australian backpackers I can visit any major city.

I did feel that the book may have benefitted from a more stringent editing process as the stories were out of sequence and sometimes jumped around it was difficult to follow i.e. the stories of Misty Lane and also Elinor, I started to become confused about the timelines of everything, but then it is hard to condense your memories and thoughts. That aside, David has inspired me to dust down my backpack and head out in the world again.

There is a Loves, Kerbsides and Goodbyes Facebook page.

Loves, Kerbsides and Goodbyes was very generously provided to us by Thomas Clarke Publishing, although this not influence my review

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Shanti Bloody Shanti an Indian Odyssey by Aaron SmithBook Cover of Shanti Bloody Shanti an Indian Odyssey by Aaron Smith

Read by Tracy in January 2012

Tracy recommends as a slightly quirky retake on the "finding yourself" travel book

I have to admit I was not looking forward to yet another book of someone heading to India to find themselves blah blah blah - even I have travelled there hoping to discover a karmic meaning to life in an attempt to combat the profligate consumeristic lifestyles surrounding me and I although I didn't have a world shattering epiphany, I fell in love with India and like Aaron found myself seduced by her smells, the delays, the crowds and the persistent hustle and bustle of the streets which all work together harmoniously that you forget you are surrounded by millions of people (pg 122). India is a country where Sab Kuch Milega (everything is possible) (pg 117). I think it was this change in Aaron's philosophy that made me devour the book in one sitting.

Aaron is fleeing Australia because of some shady business and an affair with the girlfriend of his drug dealer. He finds himself sitting in the travel agent's office at closing time finding out that it is cheaper to book a round the world ticket than just a return ticket to India, so he picks the other countries and is soon arriving in Mumbai to meet a friend. He initial thoughts as he takes a taxi from the airport to the city which gives you a birdís eye view of the slums and shantytowns and their tenacious hold on life through illegal electricity and water hook-ups. His stories however are interesting and the other travellers he meets along the way provide an interesting interlude of eccentric characters. Aaron does have the ability to make you want to pack up your bags and head off again and when he describes Beach Number Seven in the Andaman Islands I was mentally there - warm waters gently washed against the white sand without rip or current, creating a complete balance of harmony (pg 77). Aaron also managed to insert a fair amount of historical background information as well as the constantly changing political situation in India and Nepal which doesn't bog the book down in detail, but makes for a more enjoyable reading experience. His analogies were also funny and I laughed that crossing the road in India is probably more dangerous than the Nepalese revolution (pg 115), so true.

The book is not all hippy travels and there are some life changing moments when coincidences and events collide to show how mighty nature is and how doing something great can end is sadness but also draw travellers together. So amongst some of the more serious stories, I found the book was particularly funny when it talked about the comparisons between India and Australia and particularly in relation to cricket. This sport is idolised in India and played on every conceivable surface and, like Aaron, knowing a few of the cricketers names can certainly get you out of some stick situations. Aaron travelled to a lot of the same places that I had previously travelled to, although from very different perspectives. In Shanti Bloody Shanti Aaron is constantly under a cloud of drug use and seems to spend a fair bit of time just sitting around. His trip to Hampi (a must for Indian visitors) was spent in his hotel room, what a shame. This constant drug use was one of my pet hates in the book. I presume the demographic Aaron is targeting are the twenty somethingís who want to travel in ways reminiscent to the drug fuelled sixties, but don't let this stop you from seeing a country that has so much more to offer.

This book was kindly provided to us by Transit Lounge

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