It is hard to believe that we are coming up to the COVID anniversary. This time last year we were preparing to go on a weekend away to Andalucia unaware that it would be the last time we would touch foreign soil for a very long time! Italy had already gone into lockdown, a concept that was still alien to us, and we were monitoring cases closely, deciding whether we should or shouldn’t get on a plane.
Alas we did. We had a wonderful time, and just 4 days after our return, Spain closed its borders. A week later life as we knew it would no longer exist and we would be catapulted into a new normal. Allowed out our homes only once a day with all socializing stripped to virtual interactions, life suddenly slowed down. It was as if there were more hours in the day and more days in the week. But what were we meant to fill those hours with?
I turned to books. In the evening I would sit and read a book, whilst during my dog walks and runs I would listen to an audiobook. I have always enjoyed reading and storytelling, and although my adventures had been curtailed, I was still able to live vicariously through the stories of others. You don’t always have to be somewhere to experience it. That is the beauty of reading. Good authors can take you on a journey far far away.
I am surprised by quite how many books I have got through in the last 12 months! This must be a record! Below are the highs and lows of every book I have read or listened to since the we were plummeted into lockdown on the 16th March 2020.
UK Based Adventure Book Reviews
Quite possibly the funniest book of them all. I found myself grinning from ear to ear on my dog walks and a few times I couldn’t help but laugh out loud to the amusement of the people I was passing. A real feel good story of two guys who decide to cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats. Only, they start with nothing but their Union Jack boxer shorts. No clothes, no shoes, no money, no food and no bikes! They rely the entire way on nothing but the kindness of strangers who water, feed and clothe them along the way.
What I particularly liked about this book is that it shows that kindness comes from the most unexpected places and that we really should not judge a book by its cover. Time and time again they were offered an outstretched hand and by those we have conditioned to fear and judge.
I couldn’t praise this book more. A real reminder that the only thing required to have an adventure is the willingness to have one. Money, possessions and locations have no bearing on how epic the adventure will be.
James decides he wants to climb all 466 nuttals (mountains over 2,000 ft) in England and Wales in just a 6 month period. Furthermore, he does it whilst still holding down his job, his relationship and his other life commitments.
If it wasn’t for how good a writer James Forrest is, this could have been an incredibly dull book. He was after all just climbing relatively boring mountains. However, what James does really well is bring humour into his storytelling, whether as a result of his forgetfulness, the characters he meets along the way or a glimpse into the thoughts that go through his mind.
Would I read it again? Probably not. I don’t regret having listened to it though and it served as a great reminder yet again that you don’t need to travel to far flung lands to enjoy an adventure. That adventure can happen locally, without great expense nor turning your life upside down. If you think the only way you can have an adventure is by quitting your job, then James Forrest will prove you wrong.
A middle aged couple find themselves facing the unthinkable: they are being made homeless. With nowhere to go they decide to walk the South West Coastal Path, living on the small allowance they get every week and living in just their tent.
I have contradictory feelings about this book. Firstly, it talks about a reality that is all too real. Have any of us truly got enough saved up from ending up in their shoes should something go wrong? I’ve done a little bit of work with homeless people which has opened my eyes to how easily it can happen. I admire Raynor and her husband for taking on the walk despite their situation but I was surprised to read just how much hostility they encountered along the way.
The book leads you to believe that homeless people are views very different to those who are on an adventure. If they told someone they had sold their house to walk the West Coast Path they were hailed as heroes. If they told them they were homeless, people would run away and avoid eye contacts as if it were contagious.
I am sure that many do feel uncomfortable in the presence of those who are homeless, but I don’t want to believe it is because they think less of them. I genuinely believe it is a lack of understanding of how to act around them. Did Raynor and her husband experience as much hostility as they did because they expected it? I do think there was element of that. The energy you put out is the energy you get back.
Despite these thoughts however, I still highly recommend this book.
Alastair Humphreys has quickly become one of my favorite authors. A very talented writer with a knack for storytelling. A number of his books feature on this list, all of which I would recommend above Microadventures. This book is more of a manual than a story and if I was to buy it again I would buy the actual book rather than listen to it on Audiobook. It’s not the kind of book to read cover to cover, but instead to jump to the relevant sections, revisit it when an adventure is brewing and to use as a reminder that adventures can happen even in your back garden!
Having cycled around the world (really great book!) as well as been on a large array of other epic adventures, Alastair is now focusing on making adventures much more accessible to everyone, regardless of location, commitments, or financial availability. In this book Alastair takes you through all potential adventure opportunities that lie directly from your front door.
If you are looking for inspiration for things you can do, then I definitely recommend this book. My only suggestion though is that you buy the actual book so you can easily refer to it time and time again.
Not quite an adventure book as such, however, it does take place in the Scottish Highlands where many adventures will no doubt be taking place during the surge of staycations in 2021. It wasn’t the first time I had read it and I enjoyed it just as much the second time.
John is a member of the Cairngorms Mountain and Rescue Team and tells the stories of the many rescues he has been involved in throughout the years, some with heartbreaking consequences. There is a lesson to be learnt from each chapter and a strong reminder of how insignificant we are when it comes to dealing with the power of nature.
A true page turner and one that will remain on my shelf for years to come.
EPIC Adventure Book Reviews
Another book that serves as evidence that you can navigate a country without a penny to you name. Alastair sets off on an adventure across Spain with nothing but his clothes, his tent and his violin. Retracing the steps of Laurie Lee, Alastair spends a month walking across Northern Spain’s beautiful landscapes relying on his violin to earn him enough to eat each day.
I should probably say that I don’t think it was so much the violin he relied on but more so the kindness of strangers who despite his terrible playing still shared their change with him. Alastair is a wonderful writer and does a fantastic job of recounting his journey.
Although his trip around the world was possibly my favourite of his books from a topic point of view, I have to say literally, this is the best one. Not only does he address the challenges of balancing an adventurous spirit with the daily grind of normal life, and the impact this can have of mental health, but also showcases once again that adventure does not have to be expensive.
My favourite thing about this book though, was immersing myself in the Spanish culture. As I listened to Alastair I could transport myself to the lively plazas in the Spanish towns, I could hear the chatter and savour the chorizo along with him. I highly recommend it.
Polly set off on an around the world walk to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. I was laughing from the prologue. Polly is a brilliant storyteller who does such a fantastic job at narrating her own story. She will have you gripped from the go as she relays the most ridiculous experiences across the many cultures she experiences. From faux pas to extreme kindness, from inadvertently insulting someone to the frustration of misunderstandings. I enjoyed every minute of this book and I couldn’t help but yearn to get out travelling again.
The best thing about travel without a doubt is the people you meet and the cultures you experience. These experiences are always memorable, but not always comfortable at the time. Polly does a really good job of relaying these exact feelings. And as with so many other of the great adventure books I have read, one thing underpins it all: kindness!
Polly does such a good job of telling her story that I would certainly recommend listening to this one on Audible.
An epic 4,000 mile journey across war torn countries, this is an epic adventure like no other. Having seen Lev on TV, and therefore heard his voice, I can’t help but feel that the narrator didn’t really suit the book. I nearly gave up an hour in as it just didn’t feel natural. However, I’m glad I persevered as it is a fantastic tale of highs and lows, of corruption and kindness, of bureaucracy and unlawfulness.
I particularly enjoyed the fact it gave me a glimpse into a part of the world that very few of us know much about, since it rarely makes it into mainstream media. A reminder of the challenges that millions of Africans face every day in the name of survival. I feel it is a very humble account of a rather extraordinary journey.
A bit of a weird one, I won’t lie. And not particularly long either! Now this is one of the downfalls of Audible, all the books are worth the same, whether they are 10 pages or 1,000 pages! At only 2 ½ hours long it isn’t the best value for money, however I listened to it nonetheless.
Alastair recounts his journey across India by telling the story of a single day. Only it isn’t in a single day, it is a mixture of all the days in one. It is certainly creative and it is certainly different and I do hope one day he writes a longer version of the events, as I am sure it would be an amazing tale.
Despite the oddity of the book though, it was still enjoyable and it offered a fascinating view into rural Indian culture.
I will admit that I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like this book. It kept coming up on my recommended list yet something about it kept putting me off. Eventually I thought, “Why not?” and gave it a listen. The only disappointment I have is that I waited so long. Sean is hilarious. He had me laughing out loud as he recounted his exploits on his bike.
The book spans over ten years of record-breaking attempts and failures. A real reminder that in order to achieve our goals we need to be prepared to embrace failure time and time again. As well as funny I found the book hugely inspiring, a reminder that nothing worth having comes easy.
Soon to be added to my review list no doubt will be a number of other Sean Conway books. If that is not recommendation enough I’m not sure what is!
An epic journey from the most northern point of South America to Ushuaia, the most southerly tip. This is the third of Anna’s books that I have read and it did not disappoint. She is an exceptional narrator, although I don’t think any book has yet beaten her first, “Pants of Perspective”. She brings the story to life and takes you on a journey with her, full with hugs and all.
In Llama Drama Ann is joined by her friend Fay, which gives a new dimension to the adventure. Anna is honest on the challenges adventuring with someone else brings. The highs and lows, the arguments and the laughter. Their journey is one I hope I can do one day, not just for the scenery, but also for the people, the experience, the food and the adventure.
Danny is a primary school teacher and has been educating the kids on why it is important that we reduce our carbon footprint. Planes as an example are BAD! He then decided he wants to spend some time teaching in India but how will he get there without going against everything he has taught the kids? Only one option: by bike!
A great long distance cycling adventure that has very little to do with the cycling and all to do the experiences and the people Danny meets along the way. Staying in questionable accommodation, eating questionable food and meeting amazing people, Danny does a great job of recounting his adventure.
Unfortunately not out on Audible so you will have to read it the old fashioned way!
Quite possibly one of my favourite books from the pandemic. The audio book is actually a combination of the two books that make up this epic 4 year journey around the globe. Leaving the UK without a clue what to expect, Alastair makes his way across Europe, down through Africa and across to the tip of South America. From here he pedals (with a little bit of boating) all the way to the tip of Alaska before crossing over to Russia and back home.
What I particularly liked about the way Alastair tells the story is that he manages to very delicately and without prejudice discuss the challenges that face so many of the countries around the world. What particularly struck me was the impact foreign aid has on countries. And I am not necessarily talking of positive impact. I really felt I learnt a lot as I joined Alastair on his journey.
It is a book that I know I will listen to again in years to come and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
This was the first Anna McNuff book I read and can I just say that I was gripped quite possibly from the first sentence. I found Anna to be incredibly relatable and if I am honest just desperate to be her friend. She is funny and interesting, but above all I feel she radiates an aura of positivity and kindness. After a tough day at work I’d just want to be enveloped in one of her big hugs. No wonder she made so many amazing friends along the way.
This book made me want to explore New Zealand. It has also inspired me to buy a tent and set off on my own self-propelled adventures, albeit in the UK, thanks to the pandemic. If you haven’t yet met Anna McNuff then start with this book. They are all great, but this is the best, and it offers the best introduction to her.
Imagine cycling across the 50 states of the US of A! That is exactly what Anna sets out to do. I think many of us have many misconceptions of America and one thing that this book does really well is shatter any theories we might have. It is yet again a story about the kindness of strangers told through a fabulous storyteller.
The one thing that resonates with every single adventure book I have read, is that every one of them includes random acts of kindness. If we step outside our comfort zone, and put ourselves in a vulnerable position, I believe kindness will always prevail. I think it is our hectic every day monotonous routines that zap the opportunity for random kindness to take place. Not because it isn’t there but because we don’t allow it in.
A great adventure and a great listen, I certainly recommend it!
High Altitude Climbing Book Reviews
Still unsure whether Nimsdai is truly human, this is a story of sheer grit and determination, of mental resilience and of achieving the impossible. There are 14 mountains over 8,000 metres in the world, the so called death zone mountains where the amount of oxygen available to the body simply isn’t enough to sustain human life. 8,000 metres is the altitude at which planes fly. There are a handful of individuals who have climbed all 14 peaks, but none in Nimsdai fashion.
The previous record was held by someone who had completed all 14 peaks in over 7 years. Nimsdai did it in under 7 months! A feat that everyone other than Nimsdai thought was impossible, however, not only did he achieve it, but he did so whilst trailblazing, carrying his kit, and rescuing others along the way.
It truly is an awe inspiring story apart from one little annoyance. I just could not warm to him. The words are not read by him on the audiobook, and potentially this had something to do with it, but I never felt what he said and what he felt was the same. He wants the reader to believe he is really humble, but it just didn’t come across like that. I always felt there was a chip on his shoulder, something he needed to prove, and that sapped the enjoyment out of the book for me.
However, having said that, I have spoken to many people who loved it, and they didn’t interpret it the way I did, so don’t let me put you off!
My interest for high altitude climbing started after I watched the film Everest. I was so shocked by what happened on the mountain during that fatal ascent of 1996, when 8 climbers died, that I started reading all the books surrounding this event. I started off with John Karkow’s “Into Thin Air” before looking for an alternative version of events and reading Anatoli Boukreev’s side of the story in “The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest”.
What I liked about Ed’s tales of his high mountaineering achievements, wasn’t the heroics of pushing through despite losing digits left right and centre. It was instead his mentality that it isn’t about reaching the top, it’s about getting back down again. I found Ed’s tales of his ascents and descents truly inspiring.
However, reading everything I have read about high altitude climbing has also made me question some of the choices we make. Is it fair to take such drastic risks on loved ones? Is the pursuit of such extreme goals not causing a huge amount of suffering for those nearest and dearest? It makes me think about how I would feel if my own husband, Doug, was too take up a high risk sport. I would of course always want to be truly supportive of his desires, but would I truly be able to?
This is the story of Geordie Stewart, the youngest Brit to climb all 7 summits (the highest peaks in each continent). You might be thinking… how will this one be different to the above? What Geordie does really well is convey emotion. He had me hooked at the beginning because his climbs were less about his summiting ability and more about his teenage vulnerabilities. He is very open about his struggles with mental health, and specifically with eating disorders. It is this vulnerability that really helped me empathise with him as a reader.
Would I read it again? Probably not. However, I do look forward to the day his next book is out on Audible as I know I will enjoy listening to it. Heroic tales like these always remind me that if there is enough of a will there is a way. We set ourselves limitations on what we can and can’t do, but truth be told, if we really want to do it there is nothing stopping us other than ourselves!
Self Development Book Reviews
I was completely glued to the Audiobook. I’ve always thought highly of Michelle Obama, however, hearing her story has only given me even more of a girl crush on her. Getting an understanding of where she has come from and what she has become was truly inspirational. But what really made an impact was the compassion and caring she has shown throughout her life and career. She truly is a woman to look up to.
I also found it an interesting read as it gave me a much better understanding of politics in America and the difficulty in passing legislations. It was also nice to feel like a fly in the White House, getting a glimpse at what life is actually like!
I’ll start off by admitting to the fact I am a meat eater and I don’t have any intentions of giving up meat, however, this book really did make me question where I buy my meat from and how much I eat. It was worth noting that the book is based on US farms, which do have different regulations to the UK. I do hope we are better! However, what this book really does is highlight just how inhuman we are. It is written by a vegetarian who has an agenda, however I really do feel he does a good job at highlighting the many issues surrounding meat consumption. I also did not feel persecuted for being a meat eater and in fact he does a good job of discussing the benefits of buying ethically sourced meat.
I didn’t expect it to, but it really did have a big impact in my attitude towards animal products.
My husband loved this book and found it really inspiring. The idea that when you set your mind to something everything is possible if you try hard enough. What David Goggins has achieved is truly amazing and I cannot fault his physical and mental strength, and above all his perseverance and resilience. However, whilst listening to the book I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. I felt his sheer determination to succeed meant he lost out on so many other aspects of life, and I am not so sure that is particularly healthy!
I have been so obsessed with success that I have allowed everything else to fall by the wayside, including my marriage. My mentality has thankfully changed. What have I learnt? That I am both happier and more successful now.
So with that in mind I’d say proceed with caution. Hugely inspiring and if you need the motivation to convince you that you can do something, then yes, it’s definitely for you. Just bear in mind his mentality is not exactly healthy.
What is really great about this Audio book is how they have produced it. It is both an Audio Book and interview and a podcast. A really interesting way to present it and one I hope other follow suit with.
A very simply concept. Stop procrastinating. Count back from 5 and just do it! I can tell you, it works! That is basically all you need to know about the content within the book. Is it therefore worth listening to it? Hell yes! Mel Robbins does such a fantastic job at telling her story that it is worth listening to just for the entertainment value!
I was recommended this book and I listened to it reluctantly and because I felt obliged to. I had no intention of liking it and certainly had no time for all the spiritual nonsense that it was no doubt going to talk about.
But then I started listening, and it was like every chapter was a chapter out of my life. I would think “Oh, I do that”, “Oh, also I do that”. In a very subtle way this book started to shift the way I thought and felt. At the time I was a very angry individual. I lived in the past and the future, and not in the present. I felt hard done by and I blamed others for my misfortunes, wallowing in everything that had gone wrong. I had a chip on my shoulder and something to prove and I was actually becoming ashamed of the person I had become.
This book taught me one of my most valuable lessons. There is always the option to shrug your shoulders and let it go. Can I say just what a revelation it was to realise that I had control over my feelings? That the past was in the past and that the only way to change the future was to focus on the present? A completely life changing book for me and one I would highly recommend.
They say that if you want to improve as a writer you should read lots of books. However, there is only one book about writing that is ever recommended, and that is “On Writing” by Stephen King. It tells his story of how he became the revered writer that he is today. It also provides you with loads of tips of what to do and not do, but in such a way that you will enjoy every minute of it.
If you like writing, and want to write more, then this book should definitely feature on the must read list!
Memoirs and True Story Book Reviews
This book really surprised me as it wasn’t what I was expecting in the slightest. I suppose it is two stories in one. The disastrous events of a near fatal accident whilst descending from Mount Whitney, and the aftermath of those events.
As someone who has experienced trauma, albeit very different trauma, I found this story incredibly inspiring. It highlights how the road to recovery is not straight forward, and I found Jean incredibly candid as she recounted her story.
It is not your typical adventure book, but it is an inspiring book all the same.
This is a book about horrific childhood abuse, so please make sure you are in a good mindset before reading it. I could not put the book down and finished it within a couple of days. It is beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking. Unfortunately, this is a story that repeats itself time and time again within all societies and therefore important that it is heard, so we can be aware of it and put a stop to it. A very sad, but very well told story.
If you have watched “Blood Diamond” then you have will already have a small understanding of the war in Sierra Leone. Heartbreaking scenes show how kids are turned from innocent beings to deadly weapons. In this book, Ishmael tells his story. A harrowing account of how he lost everything. Of the fear and worry as he traversed miles upon miles in search of safety. Of how he eventually became a child soldier. And finally his road to recovery.
It is easy to disassociate ourselves with the truth of war. Yet even today there is still estimated to be over 250,000 child soldiers in the world. An emotionally hard read, but one I think should feature on everyone’s bookshelf. If nothing else as a history lesson to not be repeated.
On the subject of War, David Nott’s account of his time serving as a medic in far too many wars is shocking beyond belief. I don’t think I had ever appreciated the danger doctors and nurses put themselves in to be able to save lives: everyone’s lives.
David does a brilliant job of recounting the various stories, some with humor, but most with sorrow. I found myself thinking about this book for weeks after I had finished it. The disregard for civilians when it comes to achieving the “ultimate” goal. The amount of grief that millions of people have gone through for what?
Another book that I think should be present on every bookshelf.
Auschwitz has a hold over me. I find it a fascinating subject. I struggle to get my head around how it was possible that anyone could be OK with the concept of murdering millions, regardless of the cause. And then I realise that nothing has changed, that the “greater good” still prevails around the world as a reason to cause insurmountable harm.
I’ve read lots of stories about Auschwitz survivors but this one really stood out. It gives a different flavour to the camps. It talks about the “mafia” that ruled the camps. The bustling trade market and even the prostitution. It highlighted Auschwitz as much more entrepreneurial than I had ever realized it was. It is also beautifully written and told. Highly recommend it.
I listened to this book a couple of years ago and loved it so much that I went to see Adam Kay live at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. I re-listened to it again during lockdown and I must say, it was just as good as I remembered it.
Adam takes you through his career as a doctor by reading his diary notes from all the funny anecdotes and patients he encountered over the years. You can expect the removal of items that should definitely not have been where they were found as well as the tall tales of how they got there!
Although very funny for the majority it is also very sad in places so be prepared to cry with laughter and grief.
Fiction Book Reviews
Yes, this is a childrens book, but then so was Harry Potter and I love those too. As you would expect from JKRowling it is fantastical! And yes, that is the word I meant to use to describe it. It is strange and magical, but equally covers all the moral topics that are so important today, albeit hidden in a kids book. It is compelling reading and I simply could not put it down. I will certainly be rereading it in the future.
The Hunger Games at their inception, when Snow was just a teenager. As a huge Hunger Games fan I really wanted to like it, but I simply couldn’t like Snow, and as the main character that made it pretty tough. It is a good idea, and moments of it were great, but I’ve learnt I like to be able to empathise with the main character, and I simply couldn’t. I won’t lie, it was perhaps the most disappointing book of the pandemic!
The next three books are all by Jodie Picoult and I simply love the fact she takes a complicated subject and tells it from lots of different peoples’ perspective. They always leave me realising that life is not black or white, that it is all grey. That actions can be both right and wrong depending on the perspective you look at them from. That we shouldn’t be too quick to judge and that really, we need to approach everything with kindness.
This book debates whether a dad should be taken off life support or not. One kid wants to keep him alive even though his life will be significantly different, whereas the other kids wants to let nature take its curse. Very hard to put down!
I had read this a few years ago when it first came out, but I felt it was worth revisiting in 2020 as Black Lives Matter took centre stage. It tells the story of a white supremacist couple who ask that the Black midwife does not deliver their kid. The kid dies whilst at hospital and the decide to sue the black midwife as she was the one that found the baby dead whilst in the post natal room. The story is told from the point of view of the white supremacists, the black nurse trying to fit within white society, a very vocal Black Lives Matter campaigner and a white lawyer who does not believe she is a racist but who actually, like the majority of us, has very little understanding of what being black in America means.
Really insightful and a true eye opener, from every angle.
The last is a firm favourite. How would you react if a model citizen admitted to having committed mass murder? This books tells 3 stories in one. A fictional tale of life at Auschwitz. The story of an Auschwitz survivor. The confession of an Auschwitz guard. Can his actions ever be forgiven? Can any amount of good ever justify the evil? Another book that will leave you questioning your beliefs for days after you finish reading.
I realise that there weren’t really many bad ones! That isn’t quite true. The beauty of Audible is that if you start listening to the book and you don’t like it you can simply return it, get the credit refunded and start a new book. There are probably another 12 books in addition to the ones listed above of which I never got past the half way mark on.
I’m always looking for new books to read and would love any recommendations you might have. I am sure you can guess from the eclectic list above what is likely to take my fancy. Also, if you haven’t yet tried out Audio Books, then I highly recommend you give it a go. I use Audible which is based on a monthly subscription costing £7.99. You get a credit each month and you can always top up the credits if like me you read more than one book a month! If you don’t use all your credits they don’t disappear. If you want to give it a go use this link so you can get the first book for free. Just remember to cancel the subscription if you don’t intend to keep going with it.
I look forward to reading your recommendations!
Please note that some of the links in this blog are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase I will get a tiny commission. However, my reviews and comments are made not because of the potential of earning 10p if you buy a book, but because of my genuine thoughts and feelings about the books in question.