Because EVERY child deserves access to books…

refugee child - FedjaRefugee child at the Hungarian/Serbian border September 2015 – Image courtesy of Fedja Grulovic

It seems that everywhere we turn now, we are seeing heartbreaking stories of refugees attempting to escape conflict and rebuild their lives somewhere else. From those who make the desperate crossing from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean to others being kept in island detention centres by the Australian government, it is truly a tragedy to see people’s lives reduced to such circumstances through no fault of their own.

Recently, I found myself in a passionate debate with people who did not seem to care. Perhaps they were just frightened, or overwhelmed – but too many people I speak to appear to have lost their compassion when discussing ‘what is to be done’ about the millions of people who are seeking a place of safety.

I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure anybody has. But I do know that this is one planet, with many peoples, all who have the right to live in peace and security. I also know that the fact that I don’t have to try and find somewhere safe with my children after my home and livelihood has been destroyed by conflict is not because I am a better person than anyone else, but because I’m outrageously lucky. That’s all. I was not chosen. So, I will ALWAYS be grateful to whatever higher being it is that allowed me to be born in one of the lucky countries and remember that ‘There but for the grace of God go I’.

But I often wonder why I appear to have more empathy for refugees and asylum seekers than others in my extended family and even some of my friends. And I also wonder why others can appear to be so heartless in their condemnation of those seeking a new life.

And I wonder if it is to do with books.

I have read thousands of books in my lifetime – each and every one of them offering me an opportunity to live, for a short time, the life of another person. Sometimes that may have meant finding myself in the head of a 16-year old cheerleader at Sweet Valley High, but at other times it has found me experiencing the fear and hopelessness of a stubborn, middle-aged Kurdish man living in a refugee camp in Turkey after an earthquake has destroyed his home.

When you read novels, you realise the world is not black and white. There are characters whose motivation you don’t really understand, but because you are inside their heads, you are forced to try, flexing those empathy muscles, again and again. Every book you read makes you wonder what you would do if you were in that person’s situation. That’s just how it works.

When you read fiction about the Holocaust, you completely identify with those in the camps. When you read a novel like Alone in Berlin you appreciate that the German people were also victims. Exodus fills you with the passion of the birth of modern-day Israel, while Mornings in Jenin puts you in the shoes of the Palestinians. People and history are complicated. Novels help you make sense of it.

And there are several studies which appear to back this up.

The Guardian – Literary fiction improves empathy
Scientific American – Novel Finding:Reading literary fictions improves empathy 
The Guardian – Reading fiction improves empathy, study finds
Edutopia – How reading literature cultivates empathy

Even Barack Obama puts his ‘good citizenship’ down to the empathy he has gained from reading novels.

Here are some of the novels I have read which have given me an appreciation for those who have dealt with crisis and conflict. Each and every one of them helps to build that empathy I believe is so important when trying to understand the lives of those you see in the news. There are, of course, many more, but these are some of the ones which have most affected me and I highly recommend each of them…

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Set during Nigeria’s civil war of the 1960s (recently chosen as the best book out of a decade of the women’s prize for fiction winners)
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam – One family during the civil war which sees the birth of Bangladesh.
Gardens of Water by Alan Drew – A Kurdish family become refugees after 17,000 people are killed in Turkey’s 1999 earthquake.
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa – The members of a Palestinian family try to rebuild their lives after they are forced off their land in 1948.
Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway – People try to go about their normal lives as their city comes under fire from snipers.
Anything by Khaled Hosseini! – Hosseini’s novels of Afghanistan such as The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns give an insight to life in that country through different eras and conflicts.

But while I am forever grateful for what I can learn from fiction, can you imagine what it would be like if you were in a refugee camp where you had no exposure to books, culture or education, year after year after year? That’s right, it’s not unusual for refugees to spend several years (sometimes decades) in camps.

Thankfully there is a fabulous organisation which is trying to address the fact that so many kids in refugee situations have no books or education. This is a brilliant idea – have a look at this video. It can explain it much better than I can.

The Ideas Box from Libraries without Borders provides hope and wonder, and puts stories into context… something every child deserves, particularly in times of hardship.

Here are some of the things inside the Ideas Box…

  • Paper books
  • E-readers with thousands of books
  • Tablets
  • Laptops
  • Education from the Khan Academy
  • Other education apps
  • Handheld cameras
  • Board games
  • Arts and crafts materials

According to the website, refugees spend an average of 17 years in a refugee camp – this is a tool to help them rebuild themselves when they are finally able to emerge.

‘The dream is all the more important when we have lost everything…This is the first and last thing we should give to people who have lost everything.’ – Designer Philippe Starck (who helped create The Ideas Box)

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If you are looking for some way of supporting refugee children, you could do worse that donate to, or sponsor an Ideas Box yourself. Perhaps it will go to the children who will one day write the novels that help us truly understand the victims of this current refugee crisis.

Suzi

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Kindle Deal – books set in Turkey, France, China, Crimea and Vietnam

Just a quick one today…

I am often disappointed by the Kindle Daily Deals on amazon.co.uk – there’s a plethora of fantasy, paranormal and dull romances (sometimes all in the one novel), but if I do come across a good deal, I usually put in on the Packabook Facebook page.

I know you are not all fans of Facebook, and even if you do follow Packabook there, the chances are the Facebook gods won’t show you the posts in your news feed anyway, so whenever I see a good deal on something I think you might like, I’ll send you a quick email as well. These will always be the kinds of books I wish someone would alert me to when they see them, so trust me, it won’t be that often! And I’ll always put ‘Kindle Deal’ in the subject line, so you know you need to act quickly if you are interested (or, of course, delete it quickly if you are not!).

They will be short and sweet. Just a picture of the book, the Amazon description, and the price – unless I’ve read the book myself of course, in which case I’ll tell you why I think you should buy it! I hope you find this useful…

Please keep in mind that the prices change quickly and without notice, so please always double check it’s the price you want to pay on the Amazon site before you buy it. As always, these links are affiliate links, which means I make a tiny percentage from Amazon if you click through from here, for which I am eternally grateful!

Here’s a selection of Packabook-friendly novels currently under £2.00 at amazon.co.uk – enjoy!

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin – £1.00

Last train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

BOOK DESCRIPTION FROM AMAZON: As the daughter of one of Turkey’s last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life.

But when the Nazis invade France, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing—not war, not politics, not even religion—can break the bonds of family. For after they learn that Selva is but one of their fellow citizens trapped in France, a handful of brave Turkish diplomats hatch a plan to spirit the Alfandaris and hundreds of innocents, many of whom are Jewish, to safety. Together, they must traverse a war-torn continent, crossing enemy lines and risking everything in a desperate bid for freedom. From Ankara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, Last Train to Istanbul is an uplifting tale of love and adventure from Turkey’s beloved bestselling novelist Ayşe Kulin. Right now it’s £1.00

More books set in Turkey here
More books set in France here

The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks – £1.22

The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks

BOOK DESCRIPTION FROM AMAZON:  From Hanoi to Saigon, a tale of one woman’s search for a better life – and a thriller that strikes to the merciless heart of post-civil war Vietnam.  In the chaos and corruption of 1980s’ Vietnam, three seemingly unconnected lives are brought together by greed, fear and hope.

As a US Army deserter, Alexander is a man without country; trapped in a life he no longer controls and embroiled in the dark business of trading women. His latest victim is Hanh, a rural girl who moved to Hanoi to escape inevitable poverty and who sees Alexander’s arrival as the answer to her prayers. Neither of them has ever met Phuc – a Vietnamese businessman who backed the wrong side in the war and is now unable to pay his financial and political debts to the Party. But his struggles are about to change both their lives.  From a society torn apart by war comes a tale of redemption and salvation; a thrilling saga and an explosive debut novel. Right now it’s £1.22
The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin

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BOOK DESCRIPTION FROM AMAZON:  An elegant, powerful novel, set in Victorian England, a time not so different from our own… perfect for fans of THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER and THE SHADOW OF THE WIND

Ambitious young journalist Thomas Kitson arrives at the battlefields of the Crimea as the London Courier’s man on the ground. It is a dangerous place, full of the worst horrors of war but Kitson is determined to make his mark. Under the tutelage of his hard-bitten Irish boss Cracknell, and assisted by artist Robert Styles, he sets about exposing the incompetence of the army generals.

Two years later, as Sebastopol burns, Thomas returns to England under mysterious circumstance. Desperate for forget the atrocities of the Crimea, he takes a job as a ‘street philosopher’, a society writer reporting on the gossip of the day. But on the eve of the great Art Treasures Exhibition, as Manchester prepares to welcome Queen Victoria, Thomas’s past returns to haunt him in the most horrifying way… Right now it’s £0.99

A Thread Unbroken by Kay Bratt – £0.99

A Thread Unbroken by Kay Bratt

BOOK DESCRIPTION FROM AMAZON:  Chai and Josi share a bond that transcends ordinary friendship. While Chai has always been Josi’s protector—ever since they were toddlers, growing up together in a small Chinese village—she finds herself helpless when they are both abducted from their families and sold to faraway strangers. In their new home, with the family of the fisherman who bought them, their old lives are torn away piece by piece. But Chai knows she must stay strong if they’re to have any chance of escaping.

That same tenacious hope guides Chai’s father, Jun, who fights to find the girls and bring them home, despite seemingly insurmountable odds and a corrupt legal system. The days since the girls were taken soon stretch to weeks and months, but Chai’s spirit remains unbroken and Jun’s resolve unwavering.

Set against the backdrop of modern day China, A Thread Unbroken is an inspiring story of remarkable courage, indefatigable hope, and the invisible ties that hold people together, even when everything around them is falling apart. Right now it’s £0.99

More books set in China here

Hopefully there’s something there that appeals to you – and it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of the cheaper prices we are sometimes offered on the kindle version of the books.

Suzi

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Now I’m just a little bit scared…

I am in the process of doing something quite a bit scary, and wanted to share it with you.

I have been working on this for what feels like years now, but have only recently taken the concrete steps to make it happen – and that is to develop a Packabook iPad App.

My dream is, that when you are out and about with your iPad, you can find the locations near to you that are featured in great novels. Or if you are heading to Paris, and you are staying in a particular area, you can choose some novels right near where you are staying. Eventually, the app will be a travel app as much as a book app, in that it will be recommending plenty of things for you to do in that area as well.

But it’s early days.

First I wanted to share with you a couple of screen shots of the design. I have spent FOREVER working on this, as I tried to come up with something that reflects the glamour of travel’s glory days – which in my head is somewhere around the 1940s. This was when people (with money!) had beautiful luggage, and engaged in long train or ship journeys. They spent time writing in their travel journals or conversing with their fellow passengers over gins and tonic, and could afford to travel for months on end. Travel these days is often about cramming as much as you can into carry-on bags, hours and hours at airport security, and paying for over-priced food on budget airlines. But – there’s no reason why we shouldn’t imagine what life was like in years gone by. And that’s what I’m hoping the design of this app will conjure up for you.

It’s very un-Apple like – especially as Apple has now moved to flat, clean lines for apps – but so be it. The Packabook App is for those who appreciate a different kind of life.

See what you think!

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IMG_0117

Right now the very basic, free version of the app is with the developer. This is the bit that scares me, because I really don’t know what those guys do. I pay them some money and they say they can make my app. I can only cross my fingers and hope I’ve managed to explain to them what I want to achieve. I’m not sure how long it will take or even whether Apple will accept me into the App Store – it is a leap of faith. And then of course, maybe it will just disappear into the app black hole where something like one million apps already live. How will people find my brave little adventurer?

I will keep you updated…and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments,

Suzi

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Your votes are counted…

Just a quick note to thank you for all your votes on which shelves I should be building next at the Packabook Store.

Your choices have all been counted and I can now inform you of our upcoming destinations.

I hereby give you the latest league table for our next country!

COUNTRIES
Albania – 1
Austria – 1
Belgium – 1
Belize – 1
Bulgaria – 1
Cambodia – 1
Canada – 1
Costa Rica – 1
Ethiopia – 1
Israel and Palestinian Territories – 2
Jordan – 1
Kenya – 1
Kuwait – 1
Myanmar/Burma – 2
New Zealand – 1
Scotland – 1
Seychelles – 1
Sri Lanka – 1
Syria – 1
Qatar – 1
Vanuatu – 1

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I’m loving seeing such a wide variety of countries on the list, but this of course makes it harder for a single place to edge ahead. In fact, we had a tie between Myanmar/Burma and Israel and the Palestinian Territories — two destinations that have had to go in the Nepalese hat for a draw before.

And here they go again….

September voting

This time Myanmar (or Burma – I’ll let you read this explanation at the BBC as to why there are two different names) makes it through. I am really looking forward to this one, as is one of our keenest Packabookers, Mona. Mona has made at least one trip to Myanmar, though I think it might be two, and I’m hoping she’ll be offering us some fabulous reading suggestions…

Moving on to U.S. states… here’s the table!

U.S. STATES
Alabama – 1
Delaware – 1
Florida – 4
Georgia – 1
Illinois – 1
Kansas – 1
Massachusetts – 2
Montana – 1
New Hampshire – 1
New York – 1
New Mexico – 1
Ohio – 1
South Dakota – 1
Vermont – 1
West Virginia – 1

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As you can see we have an overwhelming winner for this one, so it’s time to pack those bags for Florida. A big thank you to Linda and Mandy for your votes this time round and to Kelly and Marla from a previous round.

And a clear winner too for our U.K. county…

UK COUNTIES
Cambridgeshire – 1
Cumbria – 1
Cornwall – 1
Derbyshire – 1
Devon – 2
Durham – 1
Kent – 2
London – 3
Manchester – 1
Northumberland – 1
Shropshire – 1
West Midlands – 1

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It seems you are hankering for a city-break this time, with London narrowly defeating Kent and Devon. Choosing novels set in London is going to be an endless delight, as I suspect new books are being published in my home city faster than I can add them – so while I won’t be offering you every single London-set novel out there, I can guarantee a fabulous selection…

Right – loads of work to do to get started…

Apologies if you didn’t get your choices this time, but your votes stay on the table for the next round, so they will have a head start then.

See you soon…

Suzi

 

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Time for your votes again…

With the Argentina, Arizona and Dorset bookshelves now safely constructed in the Packabook Book Store, it’s time to turn our attention to the next country, U.S. state and English county you’d like me to focus on.

Iraqi woman votingIraqi woman voting – Image courtesy of DVIDSHUB via Wikimedia Commons

As usual, I’d love you to give me your votes for each in the comments below, on the Packabook Facebook page or via email to suzi@packabook.com –  I will add your selections to our previous tally and declare a winner for each category.

Don’t forget – you have three votes 1) Country 2) U.S. state and 3) English county – you could choose somewhere that’s currently in the news, your next holiday destination or just somewhere that you have never read a book about before. It’s up to you!

You can vote for places you have put a bid in for before, or you can choose new ones… they will all be added to the previous tally. The list of places to choose from is below. Voting closes on Sunday September 1st and I will announce the winners soon after.

Which ones will you go for? I can’t wait to see where you are sending me next!

Suzi

Countries

Albania
Algeria
Andorra
Angola
Antarctica
Arctic
Armenia
Austria
Azerbaijan
Bahamas
Bahrain
Bangladesh
Barbados
Belarus
Belgium
Belize
Benin (Dahomey)
Bhutan
Bolivia
Botswana
Brunei
Bulgaria
Burkina Faso (Burkina, Upper Volta)
Burundi
Cambodia
Cameroon
Canada
Cape Verde
Cayman Islands
Central Africa Republic
Chad
Channel Islands
Chile
Colombia
Comoros
Congo (Congo-Brazzaville)
Cook Islands
Costa Rica
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Djibouti
Dominican Republic
DR Congo (Congo-Kinshasa, Belgian Congo, Zaire)
East Timor
Ecuador
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea
Estonia
Ethiopia
Falkland Islands
Fiji
Finland
Gabon
The Gambia
Georgia
Ghana
Gibraltar
Guatemala
Guinea (French Guinea, Gineau-Conakry)
Guinea-Bissau
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras
Iceland
Indonesia
Isle of Man
Israel & the Palestinian Territories
Ivory Coast  (Côte d’Ivoire)
Jordan
Kazakhstan
Kenya
Kiribati
Kosovo
Kuwait
Kyrgyzstan
Latvia
Lebanon
Leeward Antilles
Leeward Islands
Lesotho
Liberia
Libya
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Macedonia
Madagascar
Malawi
Malaysia
Maldives
Mali
Malta
Marshall Islands
Mauritania
Mauritius
Micronesia
Moldova
Monaco
Mongolia
Montenegro
Morocco
Mozambique
Myanmar (Burma)
Nagorno-Karabakh
Namibia
Nauru
Nepal
Netherlands
New Zealand
Nicaragua
Niger
Nigeria
Niue
North Korea
Northern Ireland
Norway
Oman
Palau (Pelew, Belau)
Panama
Papua New Guinea
Paraguay
Philippines
Pitcairn Islands
Portugal
Qatar
Romania
Rwanda
Samoan Islands
San Marino
São Tomé and Príncipe
Saudi Arabia
Scotland
Senegal
Serbia
Seychelles
Sierra Leone
Singapore
Slovakia
Slovenia
Solomon Islands
Somalia
South Korea
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan (North Sudan)
Suriname (Dutch Guiana)
Swaziland (Ngwane, Swatini)
Sweden
Switzerland
Syria
Tajikistan
Tanzania
Taiwan
Togo
Tonga
Trinidad and Tobago
Tunisia
Turkmenistan
Turks and Caicos Islands
Tuvalu (Ellice Islands)
Uganda
Ukraine
UAE
Uruguay
Uzbekistan
Vanuatu
Vatican City
Venezuela
Wales
Western Sahara
Windward Islands
Yemen
Zambia
Zimbabwe

American States + Washington D.C.

Alabama
Alaska
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Washington D.C.
Wisconsin
West Virginia
Wyoming

English Counties – with some adaption for practical purposes, making places easier to find for those from other countries!

Bedfordshire
Berkshire
Bristol
Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire
Cheshire
Cornwall
Cumbria
Derbyshire
Devon
Durham
Essex
Gloucestershire
Hampshire
Herefordshire
Hertfordshire
Isle of White
Kent
Lancashire
Leicestershire
Lincolnshire
London
Manchester
Merseyside
Norfolk
Northamptonshire
Northumberland
Nottinghamshire
Oxfordshire
Rutland
Shropshire
Somerset
Staffordshire
Suffolk
Surrey
Warwickshire
West Midlands
West Sussex
Wiltshire
Worcestershire
Yorkshire

 

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Dorset here we come…

“Through the open middle sash is visible the crescent-curved expanse of the Bay as a sheet of brilliant translucent green…On the left hand white cliffs stretch away till they terminate in St. Aldhem’s Head, and form a background to the level water-line on that side. In the centre are the open sea and blue sky…” – Thomas Hardy  “The Dynasts”

Bat's Head - Dorset coastThe Dorset Coast – Image courtesy of HerbyThyme via Wikimedia Commons

Well, it’s nigh on impossible to discuss novels set in the beautiful English county of Dorset without beginning with Thomas Hardy.

Hardy’s novels may have been written more than 150 years ago, but they have well and truly stood the test of time; his literary themes spilling down through the generations of writers that followed.

Location was extremely important to Hardy, so much so, that he made up an English county in which to set many of his books, calling it Wessex. Wessex did really exist as a medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom but became extinct as a political unit around the time of England’s unification in the 10th century. Hardy decided this would be a great name for his ‘fictional’ West Country county of which present day Dorset is at the heart, but which also spreads into a good chunk of south-west England including Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset. Hardy’s Wessex (and the area it actually covers) causes much fascination amongst his fans and even gets its own Wikipedia entry. Within ‘Wessex’ Hardy uses fictional names for real places. To find out what place is where in the Dorset-based novels, this article is a great help. Some of the more famous Dorset locations include ‘Casterbridge’ for Dorchester, ‘Budmouth’ for Weymouth and ‘Havenpool’ for Poole.

If you haven’t read any Hardy, I really urge you to give it a go. My favourite ever description of English weather comes from his Far From the Madding Crowd, in which he describes a day as having “a summer face and a winter constitution”. It’s something that I first read when I was 15 and is such a perfect description of a crisp, winter day I have never forgotten it. As a ‘landscape novelist’ he really brings Dorset and its surrounding counties to life, but also creates some truly memorable characters and great stories. Hardy favourites with clear Dorset connection are Tess of the D’urbervilles, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge – but there are many others.

If you happen to be in Dorset itself, check out the Thomas Hardy Society website which has lots of info about locations and holds talks and walks galore to really take you into Wessex life. For a taste of what’s available for Dorset explorers, here’s a Hardy walk recommended by The Guardian newspaper. And for some real Hardy indulgence, get some friends together and take this five-day guided tour… You will emerge from that one completely steeped in Hardy knowledge having enjoyed some stunning countryside along the way.

Finding fossils on the beach
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Lyme Regis Beach Huts - DorsetBeach huts at Lyme Regis – Image courtesy of Stuart Wilding/Geograph via Wikimedia Commons

Turning to other novels, beaches figure quite heavily in Dorset-based fiction, and so they should as the county has a fantastic coastline; so good it has been designated a World Heritage site. But where I just see dramatic cliffs, amazing rock-like formations in the shape of arches and pebbled beaches, people with far more scientific minds know that the Dorset coast is in fact a geological marvel, so much so that it forms part of the area given the rather grand title of The Jurassic Coast and has rocks which apparently record 185 million years of the Earth’s history.

Now if you are like me – then you need a novel to bring all that science alive – and with Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures we can make a start. Famous for her book Girl With A Pearl Earring, Chevalier is renowned for her ability to take real historical figures and create a compelling work of fiction around their story. This novel tells the story of Mary Anning, a 19th century working-class woman form Dorset’s Lyme Regis who became one of the world’s most well-known fossil hunters. By combing Dorset beaches she made some of the most significant geological finds of all time. Chevalier explores the challenges Anning faced coming from a poor, uneducated background at a time when women struggled to be taken seriously by the scientific world and as she says herself, the aim of the book is to “make fossils sexy”.

Here are some of the comments on Amazon.

“This book is one of the best I read this year. Don’t look any further if you’re looking for some good entertainment mixed with interesting history.”

“This book is a must read. You will learn so much about fossils and yet, while fossil finding and the creatures discovered is so very scientific, Chevalier makes it so totally interesting and wonderful.”

“Tracy Chevalier’s writing is perfect. I felt myself discovering the fossils, the wind in my face, the obstacles of being a woman at that period of time. For those who loves a very good book.”

“The way Chevalier was able to describe the Lyme Regis area in England has compelled me to put it on my list of travel interests! But, regarding the story itself, I enjoyed learning about this would-be heroine that actually changed the course of scientific history by just doing what she was gifted to do… very inspiring… I have read it again and again. Each time, I walk away refreshed and aching to see those cliffs and beaches! I WANT AN AMMONITE!!!”

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And here’s one other interesting fact about Mary Anning – she is apparently the inspiration for the tongue twister “She sells seashells on the seashore”, so I think we’ve all grown up with a little Mary Anning in our lives and never ever knew it. If you find yourself in Dorset, you must pop in to the Lyme Regis Museum to find out a lot more about this fascinating woman, and you can even go on a Mary Anning Walk around the city.

Chesil Beach
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Chesil Beach Walkway - Books set in DorsetWalkway onto Chesil Beach, Dorset – Image courtesy of C.Masssey/Geograph via Wikimedia Commons

Just 25 miles to the east of Lyme Regis is Chesil Beach, an 18-mile shingle (pebble) beach which also has significant geological importance. It is the setting for Ian McEwan’s novella of the same name. At barely 200 pages, this book tells of the agonising first night of a young couple’s marriage in the early 1960s. They have booked into a small Chesil Beach hotel, and while they are very much in love, they are both virgins and are approaching the evening with trepidation, if not dread.

What follows through the course of the evening is a breathtaking example of how a lack of communication and comfort with intimacy can have devastating effects on a relationship.

There are plenty of Amazon readers who adored this novel.

“What an amazing, amazing book! Days later, I re-read the last 50 pages or so, aloud, to a friend, and even knowing it all ahead of time, had to stop several times. Couldn’t go on. The last chapter, the fifth one, is among the most moving pieces of writing I have ever encountered.”

“I am awed by this book. McEwan is a master, a compelling and powerful storyteller, with an all-important message to convey.”

“Despite its brevity and simplicity, On Chesil Beach is not an effortless read, but it is beautifully written and a fine, sensitive piece of literature. I loved this book.”

.
On Chesil Beach is a very short book, which some reviewers weren’t happy about. Others found it depressing. But I thought the novel was stunning; McEwan has an amazing ability to express things I have thought myself  but never thought to put into words, and his insight into how human beings respond when they are trying to protect themselves from hurt is very powerful.

To be fair – we don’t see a great deal of Dorset itself; most of the action takes place in the hotel, the past and the characters’ heads – but we do get some glimpses of the water and a sniff of the salty air from time to time, until the final scenes when the beach takes on a greater role. But the impact of this novella is such that I could never walk along Chesil Beach without thinking of Edward and Florence, and remember how tragic it is when human beings are unable to express their love and fears.

One more honourable mention for Dorset before I leave you to explore all the books selected for yourself. The coastal town of Lyme Regis was a popular spot for 19th century visitors and Jane Austen was one of them. And while she rarely set her novels in real places, Lyme Regis has a pivotal role in her classic novel Persuasion. Read more about it here.

Finally, if you are planning a trip to Dorset make sure you first head over to the official Jurassic Coast website to read about all the great things you can do to really explore the area, such as walking the Dorset bits of the South West Coast Path which sounds sensational. Just don’t forget to pack that Tracy Chevalier to take with you!

Find my selection of books set in Dorset here. You’ll need to look over to the menu on the right hand side and select ‘Dorset’.

Suzi

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)

And the results are in…

 

Huechulafquen Lake Patagonia - Books set in Argentina

Huechulafquen Lake Patagonia – Image courtesy of Andres2190 via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to one and all for your votes on which country, state and county we should be adding next to Packabook. And I’m pleased to say, the results are in… Here is the current tally following the latest voting.

COUNTRIES
Albania – 1
Argentina – 3
Austria – 1
Belize – 1
Canada – 1
Costa Rica – 1
Ethiopia – 1
Israel and Palestinian Territories – 1
Kenya – 1
Myanmar/Burma – 2
Scotland – 1
Seychelles – 1
Sri Lanka – 1
Qatar – 1
Vanuatu – 1 .

.
As you can see – our winning country is Argentina with three votes. A big thank you to Marla and South American Travel (who may be a little biased!) for their votes this time round, and Bea who put in a previous vote. I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in the land of the tango for a while and seeing what I can find.

US STATES
Alabama – 1
Arizona – 3
Delaware – 1
Florida – 2
Kansas – 1
Massachusetts – 1
New Hampshire – 1
New York – 1
New Mexico – 1
Ohio – 1
South Dakota – 1
Vermont – 1

.
For the USA – we are heading off into the desert to Arizona. I’ve already done a bit of investigating and have discovered a hefty haul of fiction for this one. I hope you all have your water bottles ready, we may need to spend some time there! Voting thanks to Vera, Jackie and MC… And how’s this for a co-incidence – there is a Colorado River in both Argentina and Arizona!

UK COUNTIES
Cambridgeshire – 1
Cornwall – 1
Devon – 1
Dorset – 2
Durham – 1
Kent – 2
West Midlands – 1

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In the UK – it came down to a tie between Kent and Dorset…so it was time to get out the Nepalese hat and pick one out.

IMG_0737

IMG_0739

IMG_0741

And as you can see from the photos, Dorset got the nod. Kirsten and Deborah – this one is for you. Dorset is situated in the south-west of England, and it has some wonderful countryside. In fact, three quarters of its coastline is a World Heritage Site. And given it is the birthplace of the wonderful Thomas Hardy I think we have some treats in store. I do not believe Dorset possesses a Colorado River unfortunately, but it does have a River Piddle, which is infinitely more entertaining…

Piddle_passes_through_Athelhampton_-_geograph.org.uk_-_473364

The River Piddle in Dorset – Image courtesy of Chris Downer via Wikimedia Commons

Right – I’m off to explore…. See you on the other side with my discoveries. In the meantime – if you have any suggestions for any of these places, I’d love to hear about them in the comments…or feel free to drop an email to suzi@packabook.com.

Suzi

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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January country – let’s have your votes!

Travel Novels

…and whatever happened to Laos, Oregon and Tyne and Wear?

Well, I have to apologise for being so late with our new additions to the Packabook site.  I have been doing a lot of travelling and had far less computer time than I was anticipating…but I’m pleased to say I’m on track to upload the pages for Laos, Oregon and Tyne and Wear by the end of the year!! So far I’ve come across around 50 novels set in Oregon, which I think is a pretty impressive starting score for the state. Though mostly it’s due to the work of two extremely prolific writers. I look forward to sharing them with you soon.

But now, let’s open the voting for our next round of additions. You are invited to vote for one country, one U.S. state and one English county from the list at the end of this post.

These votes will be added to you previous votes on the tally boards, which are here.

COUNTRIES
Albania – 1
Argentina – 1
Canada – 1
Israel and Palestinian Territories – 1
Kenya – 1
Myanmar/Burma – 1
Seychelles – 1
Sri Lanka – 1
Qatar – 1
Vanuatu – 1

US STATES
Alabama – 1
Arizona – 2
Florida – 1
Kansas – 1
New York City – 1
Ohio – 1
South Dakota – 1

UK COUNTIES
Kent – 1
Devon – 1
West Midlands – 1

If you are still keen on your previous choices, you can vote for them again, giving them a greater chance. But if you’d like to switch to a new destination, you can give those places your latest vote instead.

And if this is your first time voting, then welcome! I hope you will remain with us for a long time as I gradually build up this literary map of the world. If you are a first time voter, you might find it useful to read this previous post explaining what this is all about! But after that – make sure you pop back over here to put your vote in the comments…..

Here’s the full (long!) list of choices below – where will we head to next? Let me know your votes in the comments….Remember – one country, one U.S. State and one English county…voting closes December 21st!

Suzi

Countries

To Do: (177)
Albania
Algeria
Andorra
Angola
Antarctica
Arctic
Argentina
Armenia
Austria
Azerbaijan
Bahamas
Bahrain
Bangladesh
Barbados
Belarus
Belgium
Belize
Benin (Dahomey)
Bhutan
Bolivia
Botswana
Brunei
Bulgaria
Burkina Faso (Burkina, Upper Volta)
Burundi
Cambodia
Cameroon
Canada
Cape Verde
Cayman Islands
Central Africa Republic
Chad
Channel Islands
Chile
Colombia
Comoros
Congo (Congo-Brazzaville)
Cook Islands
Costa Rica
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Djibouti
Dominican Republic
DR Congo (Congo-Kinshasa, Belgian Congo, Zaire)
East Timor
Ecuador
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea
Estonia
Ethiopia
Falkland Islands
Fiji
Finland
Gabon
The Gambia
Georgia
Ghana
Gibraltar
Guatemala
Guinea (French Guinea, Gineau-Conakry)
Guinea-Bissau
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras
Iceland
Indonesia
Isle of Man
Israel & the Palestinian Territories
Ivory Coast  (Côte d’Ivoire)
Jordan
Kazakhstan
Kenya
Kiribati
Kosovo
Kuwait
Kyrgyzstan
Laos – in progress, don’t vote for this one, it will be a wasted vote!!
Latvia
Lebanon
Leeward Antilles
Leeward Islands
Lesotho
Liberia
Libya
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Macedonia
Madagascar
Malawi
Malaysia
Maldives
Mali
Malta
Marshall Islands
Mauritania
Mauritius
Micronesia
Moldova
Monaco
Mongolia
Montenegro
Morocco
Mozambique
Myanmar (Burma)
Nagorno-Karabakh
Namibia
Nauru
Nepal
Netherlands
New Zealand
Nicaragua
Niger
Nigeria
Niue
North Korea
Northern Ireland
Norway
Oman
Palau (Pelew, Belau)
Panama
Papua New Guinea
Paraguay
Philippines
Pitcairn Islands
Portugal
Qatar
Romania
Rwanda
Samoan Islands
San Marino
São Tomé and Príncipe
Saudi Arabia
Scotland
Senegal
Serbia
Seychelles
Sierra Leone
Singapore
Slovakia
Slovenia
Solomon Islands
Somalia
South Korea
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan (North Sudan)
Suriname (Dutch Guiana)
Swaziland (Ngwane, Swatini)
Sweden
Switzerland
Syria
Tajikistan
Tanzania
Taiwan
Togo
Tonga
Trinidad and Tobago
Tunisia
Turkmenistan
Turks and Caicos Islands
Tuvalu (Ellice Islands)
Uganda
Ukraine
UAE
Uruguay
Uzbekistan
Vanuatu
Vatican City
Venezuela
Wales
Western Sahara
Windward Islands
Yemen
Zambia
Zimbabwe

Done (30)
Afghanistan
Australia
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Brazil
China
Croatia
Cuba
Egypt
England
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
India
Iran
Iraq
Ireland
Italy
Jamaica
Japan
Mexico
Pakistan
Peru
Poland
Russia
South Africa
Spain
Thailand
Turkey
Vietnam

American States + Washington D.C.

To Do: (51)
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon – in progress, don’t vote for this one, it will be a wasted vote!!
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Washington D.C.
Wisconsin
West Virginia
Wyoming

Done: (0)

 

English Counties – with some adaption for practical purposes, making places easier to find for those from other countries!

To Do: (43)
Bedfordshire
Berkshire
Bristol
Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire
Cheshire
Cornwall
Cumbria
Derbyshire
Devon
Dorset
Durham
Essex
Gloucestershire
Hampshire
Herefordshire
Hertfordshire
Isle of White
Kent
Lancashire
Leicestershire
Lincolnshire
London
Manchester
Merseyside
Norfolk
Northamptonshire
Northumberland
Nottinghamshire
Oxfordshire
Rutland
Shropshire
Somerset
Staffordshire
Suffolk
Surrey
Tyne and Wear – in progress, don’t vote for this one, it will be a wasted vote!!
Warwickshire
West Midlands
West Sussex
Wiltshire
Worcestershire
Yorkshire

Done: (0)


Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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And the results are in….

Just a quick note to let you know the results of the voting for our next country, U.S. state and English county to add to Packabook.

If you are wondering what on earth I’m talking about, here’s the link to the post which explains!

As we had lots of countries getting one vote each, and no clear winner, everyone’s vote went into a hat and I drew out a winner. We had two states at the top of the table, so they too went into a hat, but we had one clear winner for our English county, so no need to do a draw for that one.

You can watch the video below to see who won….

If you have any book suggestions for the winning places, I’d love to hear them (I’m afraid I can’t include self-published novels at this stage); you can either add them in the comments below or head over to the Packabook Facebook Page where the discussion is already underway.

And the good news is – all the votes already received will remain on the tally board, so next month, when you vote again, your old votes remain. So that means that if you vote for the same country next time as this time, then both your votes will be counted. If you continue voting for the same place, it is sure to win eventually!

Thanks to everyone who took part – it’s just fabulous having you all involved!

Suzi

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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I need your help! Where should we go next with Packabook?

Travel Novels

I need help!!

When I dreamed up the idea for Packabook I decided to start with around 20 countries, and then add more as and when I could. But a couple of years later, I am a little disappointed with how few new countries I have added between now and then. Currently I am sitting on about 30, and there are just SO many more places in the world which are not yet represented.

On top of that, there are places which you just cannot really put on as one single country, because there are far too many books to group together – yes USA, I am talking about you! The United States absolutely must be divided into states from the beginning, and so too England should have been divided into counties from the start…

So – this is the plan…and I’m going to need your help.

Each month I’d love  you to nominate a world country, an English county and an American state. And over the next month, those are the ones I will add. It makes sense that with so many places to choose from, I work on those you most want to see. So for those who have emailed me in the past asking about particular countries – here’s a chance for you to put in a vote for the ones you desire!

Below, I have made a list of the possible countries and territories etc (177), English counties (43) and American states (51). A girl should always have a list to work from, and I’m going to enjoy moving them from the ‘To Do’ list to the ‘Done’ list, even if it takes nearly 15 years to do them all, which it will if I stick to the planned rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these countries may not actually exist by the time I get to them!

Which brings us to the real challenge of doing this.

It’s hard to avoid a political quagmire when making a list of countries. While it may seem straight forward – colonisation, conflict and calls for independence result in constantly changing borders and disagreement over where those borders actually are. I am avoiding the political game as much as possible and categorising places in the way that makes the most sense to me. I started with a list of United Nations’ sovereign states, and then adapted it from there. Some of those sovereign states I have broken up into their respective countries and territories (i.e. UK into England, Scotland etc), some I am grouping together by geographic region (many of the Caribbean countries). Some have their own listing because they are disputed territories (Western Sahara), others because they are geographically so far away from their ‘Mother Country’  it makes no sense from a traveller’s point of view to list them as part of that country (Pitcairn Islands), and some because they are a combination of the two (Falkland Islands). There are even some tiny (or uninhabited) places I have missed altogether for now, knowing that I’ll deal with where best to put them, if and when I find books set there. And finally —  please understand that this is no way a definitive list. I will be adjusting it, changing the categories and making additions as I dig a little deeper and make new discoveries about countries, their borders and their history. After all – that’s partly what Packabook is all about.

It’s been a fun process putting this together and I’m looking forward to you joining me for the next bit. It is amazing how many countries there are in the world and I’m delighted to say I discovered some I didn’t even know existed in parts of the world where I should have known better – Andorra for example! How did I not know there was a separate microcountry squeezed in between France and Spain? I had always mistakingly believed Andorra belonged to one or the other.

So – will you join me in the challenge of making Packabook a truly valuable resource so that one day, wherever you go, you will be able to find the ideal novel to take with you? Even if it is in Andorra? Help me set our travel itinerary by choosing one country, one English county and one American state for me to work on in October…and if you have a favorite novel for any of the places you choose, I’d love to hear about that as well. (No self-published books at this stage please, with so many traditionally published novels to deal with first, the huge number of self-published novels will have to wait!) Once you’ve made your choices, please use the comment section below  — preferably using the Facebook comments so we can widen the discussion beyond the blog itself — to let me know what they are. You’ll have to go all the way down past the looooong lists of places to get there!

This is very exciting. You are all steering the ship….where will we go next??

Countries

To Do: (177)
Albania
Algeria
Andorra
Angola
Antarctica
Arctic
Argentina
Armenia
Austria
Azerbaijan
Bahamas
Bahrain
Bangladesh
Barbados
Belarus
Belgium
Belize
Benin (Dahomey)
Bhutan
Bolivia
Botswana
Brunei
Bulgaria
Burkina Faso (Burkina, Upper Volta)
Burundi
Cambodia
Cameroon
Canada
Cape Verde
Cayman Islands
Central Africa Republic
Chad
Channel Islands
Chile
Colombia
Comoros
Congo (Congo-Brazzaville)
Cook Islands
Costa Rica
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Djibouti
Dominican Republic
DR Congo (Congo-Kinshasa, Belgian Congo, Zaire)
East Timor
Ecuador
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea
Estonia
Ethiopia
Falkland Islands
Fiji
Finland
Gabon
The Gambia
Georgia
Ghana
Gibraltar
Guatemala
Guinea (French Guinea, Gineau-Conakry)
Guinea-Bissau
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras
Iceland
Indonesia
Isle of Man
Israel & the Palestinian Territories
Ivory Coast  (Côte d’Ivoire)
Jordan
Kazakhstan
Kenya
Kiribati
Kosovo
Kuwait
Kyrgyzstan
Laos
Latvia
Lebanon
Leeward Antilles
Leeward Islands
Lesotho
Liberia
Libya
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Macedonia
Madagascar
Malawi
Malaysia
Maldives
Mali
Malta
Marshall Islands
Mauritania
Mauritius
Micronesia
Moldova
Monaco
Mongolia
Montenegro
Morocco
Mozambique
Myanmar (Burma)
Nagorno-Karabakh
Namibia
Nauru
Nepal
Netherlands
New Zealand
Nicaragua
Niger
Nigeria
Niue
North Korea
Northern Ireland
Norway
Oman
Palau (Pelew, Belau)
Panama
Papua New Guinea
Paraguay
Philippines
Pitcairn Islands
Portugal
Qatar
Romania
Rwanda
Samoan Islands
San Marino
São Tomé and Príncipe
Saudi Arabia
Scotland
Senegal
Serbia
Seychelles
Sierra Leone
Singapore
Slovakia
Slovenia
Solomon Islands
Somalia
South Korea
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan (North Sudan)
Suriname (Dutch Guiana)
Swaziland (Ngwane, Swatini)
Sweden
Switzerland
Syria
Tajikistan
Tanzania
Taiwan
Togo
Tonga
Trinidad and Tobago
Tunisia
Turkmenistan
Turks and Caicos Islands
Tuvalu (Ellice Islands)
Uganda
Ukraine
UAE
Uruguay
Uzbekistan
Vanuatu
Vatican City
Venezuela
Wales
Western Sahara
Windward Islands
Yemen
Zambia
Zimbabwe

Done (30)
Afghanistan
Australia
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Brazil
China
Croatia
Cuba
Egypt
England
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
India
Iran
Iraq
Ireland
Italy
Jamaica
Japan
Mexico
Pakistan
Peru
Poland
Russia
South Africa
Spain
Thailand
Turkey
Vietnam

English Counties – with some adaption for practical purposes, making places easier to find for those from other countries!

To Do: (43)
Bedfordshire
Berkshire
Bristol
Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire
Cheshire
Cornwall
Cumbria
Derbyshire
Devon
Dorset
Durham
Essex
Gloucestershire
Hampshire
Herefordshire
Hertfordshire
Isle of White
Kent
Lancashire
Leicestershire
Lincolnshire
London
Manchester
Merseyside
Norfolk
Northamptonshire
Northumberland
Nottinghamshire
Oxfordshire
Rutland
Shropshire
Somerset
Staffordshire
Suffolk
Surrey
Tyne and Wear
Warwickshire
West Midlands
West Sussex
Wiltshire
Worcestershire
Yorkshire

Done: (0)

American States + Washington D.C.

To Do: (51)
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Washington D.C.
Wisconsin
West Virginia
Wyoming

Done: (0)

OK – now it’s over to you. Which country, county and state would you like to see next on Packabook? Scroll down to the bottom of the page and let me know in the comments…

And thanks for helping out…

Suzi

 

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
2 Comments • Posted in General

Steal President Obama’s holiday reading list


Image courtesy of the White House via Wikimedia Commons
In his article at The Daily Beast  Michael Medved gives us a glimpse of what U.S. President Barack Obama is believed to be reading on his summer vacation.

Medved points out that despite all the information Obama is expected to consume, he is taking the time to indulge in some fiction. And having had a look at the president’s choices – I am convinced he is a closet Packabooker. Mr Obama knows how to choose fiction with a strong sense of place.

If you’d like to join Obama in his summer reading – this is what he is believed to have with him in his Martha’s Vineyard Book Bag.

In The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell Obama is off to Louisiana (or somewhere very nearby). Chief protagonist of these three novels is Detective Rene Shade who takes us deep into the criminal underworld along the steamy shores of a bayou. From the murder of a city councilman to a poker game which goes horribly wrong, Shade walks both sides of the law as he attempts to get to the truth. Filled with authentic dialogue and characters, this is a fine choice for someone wanting to explore America’s deep south with a bit of ‘country noir’. If you saw last year’s Oscar-nominated film Winter’s Bone it is based on another of Woodrell’s novels.

Chicago is Obama’s next stop with Ward Just’s novel Rodin’s Debutante. The story of Lee Goodell who grows up in the 50’s in a town on the outskirts of Chicago. Intending to become a sculptor he rents a basement studio on Chicago’s South Side where he is exposed to crime, violence and death. Chicago itself is one of the characters of this coming-of-age novel, but larger issues around the differences between rural and urban America are among its themes.

The president then travels much further afield with his next choice – Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Ethiopia’s internal coups and conflicts in the 50’s and 60’s are the backdrop to this novel in which twin boys are abandoned by their surgeon father after their mother dies in childbirth. They grow up in a missionary hospital in Addis Adaba, until political events eventually force the narrator, one of the twins, to flee. This novel has overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon, with many describing it as unputdownable and others saying it is the best book they have ever read. Obama seems to be on a winner with this one!

Obama’s final choice takes him to the complex world of the Middle East. To the End of the Land by David Grossman tells of an Israeli mother suffering under the strain of her son’s army conscription. Fearing a knock on her door telling her that her son has been killed, she sets out to walk from the north of Israel to Jerusalem.

Mr President – we salute your decision to include a range of fiction in your holiday reading. As Packabookers well know – while there is much to learn from histories and political biographies, sometimes the most important stories only come to us in a novel.

Happy Reading…

Suzi

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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So how would you spend your 40 Aussie dollars at Amazon?

 

UPDATE: Amazon appears to have extended this offer of free postage until August 2011. Perhaps it will remain forever. Go here to check the latest info on shipping costs

If you live in Australia, you are used to paying a lot for your books.

I am Australian, and I had no idea I had been paying so much until I moved to the UK and saw how cheap books were here, and that was in the days when it cost you three Aussie dollars for one English pound.

Since then it has got even better. After much reluctance I fell under the Amazon spell resulting in ever more amazing deals, and the exchange rate now means it only costs around $1.60 for one pound sterling.

For a book-lover, it is heaven. Quite often I can buy a book for less than most people’s daily coffee budget. Now the constraints on my book buying are not about money – but more about the lack of space in a one-bedroom London flat.

But in Australia, where the average price for a book is something like $20, I would be thinking twice before every purchase. Buying a book would become quite the luxury.

But bookshops are in trouble…

Despite these high prices – and I understand some of that is due to artificial means to protect someone or other along the way – bookshops are struggling. Staff at two of the largest chains, Borders and Angus and Robertson, are waiting to find out which of their hundreds of stores are to close, as the companies behind them try to cut costs to survive. And people are asking questions as to the viability of bookshops at all.

This is no doubt painful for those who love to read. There is no Amazon in Australia, and like most of us of a certain age, many continue to hold great love for bookshops. So where does that leave the Australian reader? Torn, no doubt. Does this make you determined to support the remaining bookshops to keep them alive? Or are you going to give in to the lure of cheap online bookshops – a category Packabook also falls into, even though we like to consider ourselves a boutique service.

What should you do?

Only you can make that decision. Do you support bookshops by paying up to three times the cost of a book you can buy online? Or do you decide that change is inevitable, and you may as well enjoy a lot more books in the meantime, supporting writers and publishers from a different direction…

If you are considering going down the online route – Amazon UK is making it easy for you. Until May August 2011, it is offering free postage to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India if you spend 25 pounds on books. Who knows what will happen after that. If we are lucky it is an experiment which will become a permanent policy, if not, it’s a rare chance for you to pick up some books at a great price.

It got me thinking about what I would buy with my 25 pounds if I was going to take the plunge…

Twenty five pounds is around 40 Australian dollars – for that you can buy 2 to 2.5 books in Australia. (It appears you can get some books for around $17.95, but that was the cheapest I could find.) From Amazon I can buy six books for the same money.

Here’s my list

This is what I would buy with £25 from Amazon. Please note – with Amazon, prices change all the time, so you may not see exactly the same price if you click through – but this was what was on offer at the time of writing.

The Long Song by Andrea Levy The Long Song by Andrea Levy – set in Jamaica – £4.00
In this latest novel from the author of Small Island, July is the child of a slave and a slave-master, living on a sugar plantation in the early 19th century. Born into slavery, she lives through the struggle to abolition and the freedom that follows.

The book cuts deep but the author does an amazing job of keeping the reader gripped from the very first page. Absolute work of art !!! ” – Amazon Reviews.  Average of four stars.

Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna – set in India – £4.00
I haven’t heard a great deal about this one, but it sounds like a perfect Packabook book, and I love the cover!
As a child, Devi befriends a young boy whose mother has died in tragic circumstances. Devi and Devanna become inseparable, until Devi meets the man she vows to marry.

.“This book immediately grabs your attention with it’s descriptions of landscape and people, with prose of such elegant literary quality that enhances the story and makes the book such a pleasure to read. A veritable feast for the senses. ” – Amazon Reviews.  Average of four and a half stars.

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer The Glass Room by Simon Mawer – The Czech Republic – £4.80
One of my favourite reads last year. Mawer’s book is set in the former Czechoslovakia in the 1930’s – when a Jewish family builds a stunning modern house. (Based on Villa Tugendhat in Brno which is now an icon of modern architecture). We follow the drama of Victor and Leisel’s lives and marriage, as war approaches the country. This amazing house is always central to the novel, and it certainly gave me a new appreciation of architecture along with a great story.

“I suppose the highest praise I could give this novel is that I would like to start reading it again from the beginning.” – Amazon Reviews.  Average of 4.4 stars.

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey – Trinidad – £4.19
It’s the mid-1950’s and George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England. George relishes their new life, but Sabine does not. She doesn’t like the heat, feels isolated and is nervous of upcoming political change on the island. But then she falls under the spell of a charismatic political leader…

“This is one of the best books I have read in years. It has everything you want from a novel – incredible use of language, fascinating context (Trinidad’s emerging independence) and wonderful characters who stay with you long after the book is finished.” – Amazon Reviews.  Average of  four stars.

Cutting For Stone Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – Mainly Ethiopia, but other countries along the way – £4.69
The story of identical twins born to an Indian nun and a British doctor in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The book spans spans decades and continents, but reviewers say it gives a very real portrayal of Ethiopia in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Not for the squeamish as there are some very realistic descriptions of surgery!

“An intelligent and gripping story which will remain with you long after the final page has been turned.” – Amazon reviews.  Average of 4 and a half stars.

One Day by David Nicholls One Day by David Nicholls – England – £3.99
This is the story of Dex and Emma who meet as students in 1988. For the next twenty odd years we get to see what they are up to on July 15th each year – discovering their love and hate for each other, their insecurities, and their inability to tell each other what they really think.

“Nicholls has created two characters that are truly archetypes for the modern generation: the aimless, boy-man who believes he can get by on charm alone, and the woman who refuses to settle for anything, be it jobs, men or ideals…An emotional journey, but not without its gorgeous descriptions of London and truly humorous moments.” – Amazon reviews. Average of 3.7 stars.

What would you choose?

So, if I have done my calculations correctly (and there is definitely no guarantee of that!) the grand total is £25.67 or A$41.52. And until May August at least, there’s no cost for sending it to you. If you can wait a few weeks for your books, then this is a great deal.

Here’s all the details on how to get the free postage.

What about you? What would you put in your £25 basket? Or are you eschewing Amazon and sticking to supporting your local bookshop despite the cost? Let us know in the comments….

Suzi

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Welcome new Packabookers!

There’s been quite a flurry of activity at Packabook lately with a number of new signups to our emails and blogposts, so I thought I would take a moment to welcome you all to the Packabook community.

Our aim is to bring together people who really enjoy the sense of place that novels can provide, whether it is to learn more about the history of a place or just to feel like they have been transported to somewhere exotic. Here’s a bit of a rundown of some of the things we have going on:

One Country One Book

From the moment you sign up to Packabook’s free newsletters, you begin a journey around the world in which we visit one country for a month and read one book that is set there. Each week (more or less!) you receive an email in which we take a closer look at the book and the place in which it is set, exploring some of the facts behind the novel and the things you could do if you visited that location. It’s our own special kind of book club and is exclusive to those who sign up by email.

World Party Reading Challenge

This is a challenge running on the blog in which we focus on one country a month and encourage you to read anything that is set there – novels, memoirs, plays, travelogues – anything that takes your fancy. If you have your own blog, you can then write a review and provide us with a link so we can all be inspired by what you have read. This month we are in Iran, and in February we are off to England. Take a look at all the World Party Reading Challenge posts and see what we have been reading so far.

Facebook and Twitter

If you haven’t already done so, then we’d love you to follow Packabook on twitter and like us on Facebook. This is where we link to some excellent travel articles, let you know when we come across a great price on a favourite novel at Amazon, and find inspiring (and amusing!) stories in the world of books. Want to know how to turn your favorite book into a handbag? That’s the kind of thing you just might find on our facebook page! Most of this never makes it to the blog, so you will need to get yourself over to facebook or twitter if you’d like to join in….

Finally I’d like to thank you for your support. Packabook is a fairly new venture with an ambitious plan to see people all around the world learning more about the countries of this amazing planet through reading great novels. We have had great feedback from those who have already come on board, and we wish you the most excellent adventures ahead.

And don’t forget – we always welcome suggestions for books with a great sense of place that we should be adding to Packabook. Just drop us an email or send us a tweet.

Thanks again and happy reading,

Suzi

What? You are not whether you should sign up for our emails? Read some more about why you should give it a go

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Kids vs books+travel – can you have it all?

Packabook ventured into uncharted territory this week with a guest post at a parenting website. Parents read, right? You know – all that time they have when the kids are sleeping?

Ok – so we are being a little provocative….

See for yourself at The Parenting Myth, a great blog for those Mums and Dads who want a bit of brutal honesty and humour mixed in with the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaaahhs’ of parenthood.

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Writers of the future announced…

The New Yorker’s selection of the best writers under the age of 40 has plenty to offer Packabook readers searching for stories set in foreign lands. Due to be released on Monday, the “20 under 40” list of fiction writers highlights those authors it believes are well worth watching in the years ahead. And the list is blessed with writers who come with heritages stemming as far afield as Ethiopia, Russia, Peru and the Balkans.

View 20 Under 40 Titles

Nigerian-born Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is on my list of all-time reading highlights, doing exactly what we love at Packabook – revealing a story about a country and its history that we previously knew nothing about. This haunting novel is the story of two wealthy sisters during the time of the Nigerian-Biafran War of the late 1960’s.

Daniel Alarcon writes of a fictional South American country in his Lost City Radio combining elements of history from Peru, Argentina and Chile. And in his short story collection War By Candlelight the tales are mainly set in Peru – especially in the poorest areas of Lima.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated is set in Ukraine and Yiyun Li’s A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is a collection of ten stories exploring the effects of China’s Cultural Revolution. While some of the stories are in America, most take place in small-town and rural China, a setting also explored in her novel The Vagrants.

Belgrade-born Tea Obreht’s debut novel The Tiger’s Wife is not due out until next year, but it will be set in a fictionalised  Balkans.

The immigrant experience is also a  popular topic for the writers on the list – from Salvatore Scibona’s novel The End which tells of Italian immigrants in Cleveland, Ohio, to Dinaw Mengetu’s Children of the Revolution, the story of an Ethiopian grocery store owner who fled his country after seeing his father murdered by soldiers during a 1974 military coup.

So now you have a head start on the writers expected to influence our literary culture over the next ten years, there’s not much else to do except grab one or two of their books and start reading. We’ll be joining you…

Suzi

P.S. Make sure you keep up to date with all the latest Packabook suggestions by joining our mailing list – you’ll receive the blog posts and be able to take part in our One Country, One Book journey around the world….

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Please note - if you read our reviews and click on our links to buy books, we will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and we thank you for your support! Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk