Books beyond seasons


By Nora Vasconcelos

It’s almost the end of the year and as December approaches, I can’t be happier for all the great books I have had the chance to read in 2016. Some of them were new releases, some others were published some time ago; some were famous, some others, wonderful little gems which I’ve luckily come across.

There’s not really a particular order I’ve chosen to present them, it’s merely as they come to my mind. My biggest wish is that these books will bring to you as many delightful hours as they brought to me:

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. The magic of this book comes from combining a wonderful location with a very sweet love story and the fantastic presence of books all along the story as the ones that shape the life of all the main characters. If you like France, either because you’ve been there, or because you have the idea of this idyllic country, this is a perfect book for you as wonderful tender descriptions of Paris and the little towns along the main French rivers are presented here. The story will capture your mind from the first chapter when it takes the main characters to an unexpected but charming journey in which not only they will open up to share their deepest fears and dreams but also it will take you along for an introspective trip in which one main question hangs in the air: “what would I do if I found out decades later that I’ve been all wrong about love?”.

The Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier: I’ve got to read this book thanks to the kind recommendation of my good friend Andrew Hill. The story begins with an unexpected event that makes the main character decide to change his complete life at the age of 57. An inexplicable meeting and a unique book make him drop everything and go to the station to catch the night train to Lisbon. From there, his life will become something very different. Apart from falling in love with Lisbon, I found in this book some of the most wonderful quotes ever about life, books and traveling. This is my favorite one: “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”

A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk: Placed in Turkey, this book tells the story of a street vendor who sells a couple of traditional homemade products. The magic of this novel resides in how the story presents at the same time the changes that this country faces for many decades while the vendor grows up, from a little boy to an old man. Pamuk’s masterful way of writing offers the reader a majestic read in the simplest way, developing an easy-to-read novel based on a very complex topic.

The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat: Publish in 1839, this book can be read and enjoyed at any time as it takes the reader’s imagination to a fantastic journey in which the main character goes from ship to ship in order to break an old curse that affects him and his family. Even when some words have the feeling of old English, the skill of the author delivers a fast-paced, easy-to-read story that will absorb you from the beginning to the end. For ship lovers and people who love traveling to exotic lands and adventures, this is a perfect read.

The only street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino: This is not a work of fiction. It’s the result of an amazing work of investigative journalism combined with the delightful narrative of a New York Times correspondent who fell in love with the rhythm and lifestyle of a particular street in Paris, and out of her immense curiosity and skill as a journalist presents a series of interviews with the owners of the stores located along this street in the form of a delightful memoir/travelogue that makes the reader wish, chapter after chapter, to take the first plane to France and go straight from the airport to the Rue des Martyrs.

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Five Authors Lured by the Seas

By Nora Vasconcelos

Spanish_Galleon - Public Domain

From wooden galleons to luxurious cruise ships, several authors have found their inspiration on the magestic vessels that have crossed the seas througout the old and the modern times, writing fantastic stories in which both, the ships and the oceans have taken the main characters to unimaginable places, changing their lifes forever. Here, five of them:

The Phantom Ship:
Written in 1839 by Frederick Marryat, the story places young Philip Vanderdecken facing a dark destiny marked by his dead father whose ghost can only be freed by Philip. Based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman, Marryat develops a fascinating story in which he describes with great detail the life of the Dutch sailors centuries ago. While traveling aboard differt ships, Philip learns all the skills required to command a vessel as well as how to deal with the commercial aspects of the sea travels. However, he remains hunted by the idea that only him can save his father’s spirit, who is believed to be seing crossing the oceans and causing disgraced to any ship that happens to run into his ghostly apparition.

The Count of Monte Cristo
In 1844, Alexandre Dumas published The Count of Monte Cristo. Although the story is better known for the wrongful imprisonment and fantastic escape of its main character, what actually marks the crucial moment of the story is when the young and enthusiastic Edmond Dantes arrives to Marseille, France, commanding The Pharaon, a commercial ships that has taken the crew through the Mediterranean sea and which has lost its capitain, due to a terrible sickness. It’s Dantes brilliant ascent as a sea man which also causes him his terrible misfortune.

Futility – The Wreck of the Titan
As amazing as it might sound, 14 years before the sinking of the Titanic, Morgan Robertson published a novel that described a luxurius trasatlantic cruise ship, called Titan. Although the story has its origins in 1898, the coincidences couldn’t be bigger as the Titan crashes against an iceberg on an April day, while crossing the North Atlantic sea. While reading the book it’s hard not to feel inside the ship which displays all sort of luxurious elements. At the same time, it’s hard not to experience the passangers anguish when they realize the tragedy that is developing while the ship is going under.

In 1975, James Clavell published his novel Shogun. Taking advantage of his experiences while traveling through Asia as part of the Navy, the author managed to developed a captivating story that describes the adventures of the fictional captain John Blackthorne, a British sailor that commands a Dutch ship. The plot of the novel accompanies Blackthorne from the moment he fights his enemies in the ocean, to the moments his vessel, the Erasmus becomes a shipwreck in Japan. While learning the language and trying to understand the culture of that country, Blackthorne has only one thing in mind, to go back to the seas. The Erasmus, and the Blackship (it’s main adversary) become then an essential part of the story. Both ships will mark the destiny of the pilot.

She wore only white
Published originaly in German under the title Weit übers Mee, in 2012 it appeared the English version of this novel by Dorthe Binkert, which was inspired by a piece of news read in a newspaper that talked about a mysterious woman who boarded and traveled on a cruise ship wearing only white clothes. From here, the author developed a fictional story for this woman to become then, a stowaway that spent some days aboard the S.S. Kroonland at the begining of the last century. The novel also shows how her presence affected the lives of the people who got to know her while crossing the ocean.

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The dream of Crusing the Panama Canal… and writing about it!

By Nora Vasconcelos

panama canal photo

As it often happens we save things to do them “someday”, but for Sunny and Al Lockwood a car accident made them decide that “someday was today” and then they agreed that it was time for them to go on that long dreamed cruise that would take them from San Francisco, California to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, traveling for 17 days aboard The Zuiderdam, a cruise ship which also would sail from the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic through the Panama Canal.

But the dream didn’t end there, from their experiences, Al and Sunny wrote a book: Cruising Panama’s Canal, savoring 5,000 nautical miles and 500,000 decadent calories, published by Front Porch Publishing.

panama cover book

“We came up with the idea before we left on the cruise. We were reading books and articles about the history of the Canal in preparation for our cruise, and the history was so dramatic, so fascinating that we thought describing our trip through the canal would be interesting to others,” tells me Sunny, while talking about their book.

“Since I’ve made my living as a writer (for newspapers and magazines), I go through life with a notebook and pen in my hand. And Al almost always has a camera. So the idea of writing about our trip seemed pretty ‘normal’ to us.”

So, after 17 days cruising, and one year working about 5 days a week on their book, “writing and re-writing, cutting and throwing out stories, adding stories, trying to shape and polish”, Sunny and Al completed a book that invites the readers to be part of this literary trip, like good all friends who get together to share their traveling stories, from the moment they booked the trip, to the time they boarded the ship, the amazement that came from finding such an ample art collection aboard, as well as the cooking classes, the fun and relaxing times and the unexpected and surprising experiences.

Page by page, they take the readers along with them through the different areas of the ship, share their advice on how to keep fit and healthy, and their thoughts on how to transform the desserts time into magical and savory moments whenever Al has the chance to indulge his sweet tooth and write about it.

“I know a fair bit about desserts because I just love eating them. I also love cooking—baking especially, but I’m purely self-taught. And every time I find something really unusual—the Sacher Torte, for example, I’ll research its history (that one’s fascinating),” says Al when I ask him about his deep knowledge on the subject.

Al and Sunny also share their experiences on how to make the most of the shore excursions that, in their case, took them (and the readers along) to visit places like Zihuatanejo and Huatulco in Mexico; Costa Rica and its beautiful natural wonders and its unique Doka Estate and Coffee Plantation (a real paradise for coffee lovers); Cartagena, Colombia, and Half Moon Cay, Bahama.

And when the long awaited time comes to cross the Panama Canal, they share in great detail, step by step, all what it takes for a ship as big as The Zuiderdam (operated by Holland American Line), to fit into the different sections of the Canal.

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Funny, entertaining and informative, Cruising Panama’s Canal invites everyone to go along on this journey “of thousands of miles and tens of thousands of calories”. Because this book is much more than a travel guide, this is a book that “has been a labor of love and sharing”, as the authors state on the acknowledgments section.

* All the images and photos courtesy of Al and Sunny Lockwood

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