Charlotte’s Best Books for February 2020

Here are the 5 best books for February, 2020.

You’ll find a whirlwind tour of some of the world’s most unexpected destinations, a heartbreaking tale of a trio of Indian slum kids bent on finding their kidnapped classmates when no one else seems to care, and a feel-good story that asks: what happens when we open our hearts and invite people to experience our authentic selves?

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You have a list of fantasy travel experiences, am I right? Ride a camel in Morocco, maybe. Or kiss a giraffe in Nairobi. Bike the canals in Amsterdam. Ride on a Vespa along the Amalfi Coast.

Well, InstaTravel (DK Publishing, 2020), is your ticket to travel the globe from your comfy chair.

With Aggie Lal, @aggie, Travel in Her Shoes blogger and – yup – world traveller as your personal guide, InstaTravel takes you on a journey to 50 of Lal’s favourite unexpected and under the radar destinations.

InstaTravel is divided into six chapters – Beach and Water Experiences, Adventures, Cultural Experiences, Animal Encounters, City Experiences and Festivals. Lal shares descriptions of each location, what to do, nearby places to visit, what to pack and because she’s an Instagrammer, photo tips on how to shoot uber shareable pics to post on your own Instagram.

Lal is an experiential traveller so don’t expect to find the usual packaged hot-weather holidays in InstaTravel. Do expect to discover off-the-beaten-path opportunities to immerse yourself in once-in-a-lifetime getaways. Maybe that’s skydiving over Dubai or hot air ballooning over Cappadocia – that’s in Turkey, in case you weren’t sure.

If a less adventurous experience is more your travel personality, Lal invites you to eat, pray, love in Rome, have a cocktail in Bangkok in one of the highest rooftop bars in the world, or spend a day at the beach with pigs in the Bahamas. 

Topping my bucket list of Lal-approved adventures? A stay at Original Maasai Lodge in Ngare Nanyuki, Tanzania and experiencing Maasai culture while supporting the local community. Built and run by the Maasai, this non-profit lodge is styled after a traditional village with a series of huts scattered around the property. 

As Lal tells us, “Travel changes you, but only if you let it.”

Inspire your travel photography and trip planning with InstaTravel.
Inspire your travel photography and trip planning with InstaTravel.

Your Well-Being Garden

The science speaks: gardens can enhance your wellbeing. Access to green spaces has been linked to reduced depression, anxiety and stress. 

In fact, David Buck, author of the UK King’s Fund report on the benefits of gardens and gardening on health, says gardens could become a “mainstream” part of health care, with a little more imagination from policymakers.

So, if self-care is on your 2020 agenda – and I expect it is – you’ll want to spend some wintery Sundays snuggled up with Your Well-Being Garden (DK Publishing, 2020).

Your Well-Being Garden is a layperson’s guide to what to plant to boost your cardio system, enhance your mood, reduce your stress level and create an oasis of wellbeing.

Don’t have a back garden? No worries. Your Well-Being Garden also shows you how to turn a balcony or small patio into your personal wellness centre.

The book’s four chapters – The Protective Garden, The Healing Garden, The Nourishing Garden and The Sustainable Garden – explain in terms you don’t need a degree in horticulture to get, what trees, shrubs and plants accomplish, and how.

Say you want to reduce the harmful effects of vehicle emissions or traffic noise. You’ll want pollution busters with hairy, scaly, waxy or rough leaves like cotoneaster, red cedar, yew or hawthorn, to capture the pollutant particles and take them out of circulation. Plant them in containers on your balcony and add a planter of climbers to go up the balcony wall. Neat, huh?

Are you a gigger who works from home? Add houseplants to improve your concentration, elevate your mood and lower stress and blood pressure.

Or create a medicine chest in your green space – feverfew to treat your migraines, or valerian to help reduce stress – it’s a solid sleep aid, too. No garden or balcony? Plant your natural medicines in pretty pots on a sunny windowsill.

Your Well-Being Garden is imaginatively illustrated with to-die-for garden, drawings and design sketches, all inspiration to create a green space that’s as good for you as it is gorgeous.

Horticulture nerds will love Your Well-Being Garden.
Horticulture nerds will love Your Well-Being Garden.

Purchase Our Favourite Reading Accessories at Chapters Indigo

Get cozy with a new book while wearing these comfy reading socks and reading robe.

These scented candles and Ultrasonic diffusers will help you relax at home.

The Kobo eReader makes reading much more enjoyable and easier on the eyes. There are also great eReader accessories available, like the Kobo Sleepcover.

If you’re looking for something for the little ones in your life, we recommend checking out these great kids books, baby products and educational toys that will help develop your child’s love for reading.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

Nine-year-old Jai lives with his parents and sister, Runu-Didi, in a basti – slum – in India, near the end of the Purple Line metro tracks.

Jai’s basti is full of life, despite the community’s grinding poverty and the constant threat of eviction. And like a small town everyone is always up in everyone else’s business.

When a shy classmate named Bahadur goes missing Jai, who watches too many crime shows and fancies himself a pint-sized Sherlock Holmes, enlists his best friends Pari and Faiz to find him. 

The trio scour the basti, down narrow alleys crammed with too many people, dogs and rickshaws, past stalls selling all manner of street food and through dangerous corners of the Bhoot Bazaar. The smog hangs over everything, sometimes so dense they can barely breathe. No trace of Bahadur. 

Then Omvir disappears.  And Aanchal.  And Chandi.  And Kabir and Khadifa. Who is stealing the basti’s children? Some think it’s the Muslims and, stirred up by the rhetoric of Hindu political leaders, many in the basti march in a dangerous anti-Muslim riot. But Kabir and Khadifa are Muslim – so is Faiz, by the way – so the kids are pretty sure that rumour is not true.

Maybe the snatchers are soul-snatching djinns, shape-shifting spirits that that can be good or evil. The community is terrified, and the police, even when bribed, pretty much don’t give a damn. Then Runu-Didi goes missing. And life in the basti is changed forever.

The plot of Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, Anappara’s debut novel, unfolds around each disappearance, the disappearance itself chillingly told from the missing child’s perspective. 

A journalist, Anappara draws on real cases – it’s estimated that 180 children go missing in India every day. Poor children. Street children. Children the authorities dismiss as having no value. They’re sold into slavery. Sold out of the country. Their organs are sold on the black market.

That said, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line never falls into absolute darkness. It’s a tragic story, yes, heart breaking even, but it’s also smart, often funny and in the end, hopeful. Perhaps, Jai, Pari, Faiz and their generation will be the world they want to change.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara.

You May Also Enjoy Reading…

The Other Mrs.

Will Foust, a college prof, and his wife Sadie, a doctor, are living the life. Two terrific boys, Otto, 14 and Tate, seven. Great jobs. Trendy condo in downtown Chicago.

OK, Otto took a knife to school to threaten the bullies. And Sadie suffered a stress-related breakdown at work. Oh. And Will had an affair. But still.

When Will’s sister commits suicide – she hangs herself, not the easiest way to go – and leaves Will her house on an island off the coast of Maine, and Imogen, her 16-year Goth daughter, the Fousts decide to move to the island and make a fresh start.

And that’s when things get downright creepy. The beautiful young neighbour across the street is brutally murdered. Imogen is acting way weird – she shows Sadie a picture she took on her phone of her mom swinging from the rope in the attic. Sadie worries that Will is having an affair and it looks like Otto has brought his Chicago problems with him to the island.

And as if that weren’t crazy-making enough, the town cop thinks Sadie might be the murderer.

The Other Mrs. is told from the perspective of three characters – Sadie, Mouse and Camille – in both the past and the present, which gets kinda confusing. But Kubica is an accomplished storyteller and as she deftly moves the plot forward, dropping a hint here and a hint there. I guarantee you will not see the climax coming.

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica.
The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica.

The Authenticity Project

Seventy-nine-year-old Julian Jessop, an eccentric painter of some renown back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, is bone-chillingly lonely.

When his wife Mary died 15 years earlier, Julian took to his bed for months and when he finally emerged, had lost contact with, and interest in, his old friends and his former life.

As Julian takes his solitary walks around his south west London neighbourhood, he wonders why people aren’t honest with each other. Or with themselves. Everyone lies about their lives, he says to himself. What would happen if they told the truth?

So, he buys a tidy school scribbler, writes the story of his true life, and leaves it on the table of Monica’s Café on the Fulham Road, inviting whoever finds the journal to add their truth and leave the journal in some other random place for another person to discover.

The journal passes from one stranger’s hand to another. They all add the truth about their deepest selves. 

Before long, the journal brings together six main characters and a strong supporting cast at Monica’s Café – serendipity? fate?  There is Monica, a corporate lawyer turned café owner, Hazard, a now clean-and-sober alcoholic and cocaine addict, Riley, a see-the-world Australian gardener passing through London, Alice, an influencer and new mom, Lizzie, a volunteer at a daycare and, of course, Julian.  

Thanks to the journal, these once-upon-a-time strangers know more about each other than their families and friends do and, warts and all, they soon become real, true companions.

The Authenticity Project is not what an award-winning author friend of mine would call “literature” but it is a charming, well-crafted story based on an interesting premise: what happens when we open our hearts and invite people to experience our authentic selves?

The concept rings true and for good reason. Pooley tells us that like Hazard, she was an alcoholic. After many attempts to quit drinking, she took to the internet to tell her story in a blog – The Sober Diaries.

And what she discovered – just as her characters do, was “. . . telling the truth about your life really can work magic and change the lives of many people for the better.”

The Authenticity Project
The Authenticity Project

Written by Charlotte Empey. Illustrations produced on iPad Pro with Apple Pencil by Mark Scheibmayr.

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