Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for October

Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel

OK, here’s my dirty little secret: travel media is my porn. Travel shows, magazines, newspaper pieces, blogs – whenever I need some me time I plan a trip I may never take.

So you know what happened when Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel (DK Publishing, 2017) arrived: I pushed the pause button and spent an afternoon exploring the origins of travel and why, for 60,000 years, we’ve travelled the world either because we had to (food, trade, warfare, pilgrimage) or because we simply wanted to find out what was on the other side of the mountain.

Produced in partnership with the Smithsonian, Journey is a breathtakingly illustrated account of human journeys, starting with traders in 3000 BC who set out on crazy-hard-and-long land and sea travel looking for markets, to the search for new frontiers in space.

Journey invites you to time travel through are-you-kidding-me accounts complete with biographies of conquerors (how Hannibal crossed the Alps with 100,000 soldiers and 37 battle elephants is pretty incredible), explorers (the Vikings really were here first Chris Columbus), stories of technological innovation (I soooo want to take a trip on the Concorde!) literary journals and more.

Illustrations and images of ancient world maps, postcards, passports, train tickets and other travel souvenirs capture the romance of packing a bag and heading off on an adventure.

And just in case you thought the whole backpack post-uni thing was new(ish), the chapter on the Hippie Trail is an eye-opener. For hippies (Did you know the name came from their almost-hip length hair? Me neither.), the destination – India – wasn’t the point, the journey following the old Silk Road was: from London or Paris or Amsterdam (the first pot-smoking mecca) through Germany, France, Italy, Greece across the Med to Istanbul and then on through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan to Delhi or Goa or perhaps ending in Kathmandu or Bangkok.

It was a mind-boggling trip that invited the travellers to interact with communities and cultures along the way – what travel agents today are touting as “experiential travel” -minus the comfy bed and tasty food at the end of the day.

Natural Wonders of the World

Natural Wonders of the World (DK Publishing, 2017) is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous companion to Journey, a continent-by-continent trip to the most astonishing landscapes on earth. Seriously – together, the two books let you plan the places you really do need to see before you leave this veil of tears.

From England’s Lake District, to the granite domes of Yosemite, the Pantanal wetlands in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Carlsbad Caves in New Mexico, the surreal landscape of the Serengeti and tons of other gasp-worthy locations, Natural Wonders combines the most beautiful landscape photography I have ever seen with illustrations and 3-D terrain models to show how the landscape came to be, and bios on the plants and animals that live in each place that bring the landscape to life.

Natural Wonders isn’t just cake, though. Easy-to-understand graphics reveal the geology, physics, chemistry, botany and zoology behind the features the way I wish my high school science teachers had.

Did you know that glaciers that flow to the coast extend only a short distance over the sea? Then the stress created by the glacier’s weight causes chunks to break off and float away as icebergs. This is called iceberg calving. You’re welcome.


If you’re like me, you’re thinking about eating more fish – it’s healthy, right? – but you’re worried about sustainability and mercury levels and offshore farmed fish treated with antibiotics. And a bunch of other stuff you don’t actually understand.

Well, now you have your personal fish and seafood sommelier to sort it all out for you.

Lure, the stunning new cookbook by food writer Valerie Howes and Ned Bell, former executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver and currently Ocean Wise Executive Chef serves up everything you need to know about embracing the ocean’s bounty with easy-to-understand sustainability guidelines and 80 simple (really!) recipes for everyday and stops-out entertaining.

OK, Bell focuses on West Coast seafood but he points out that while fresh may be best, don’t wrinkle your button nose at good quality frozen (the fish is frozen on the boat and is actually often the freshest option), so even here in landlocked TO, you can find the fish he calls for.

Lushly photographed, Lure begins with the basics – a sustainable seafood primer, if you will – including what sustainability means and why we care, how to buy and store fish and seafood, basic cooking techniques and a wardrobe of yummy-sounding basic sauces to dress up the dish.

Then he gets to the main event: recipes catalogued according to type of fish – white, fatty and shellfish plus sea greens (aka seaweeds).

Bell’s recipes cover appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, main courses, snacks and – yes – desserts (seaweed brownies anyone?). And because he’s inviting us to think beyond salmon, he also includes a bio of every species he calls for, pretty handy if, like me, you have no idea what a lingcod is. (According to Bell, it’s the “aging rock star of the deep”.)

A Legacy of Spies

John le Carre’s much-anticipated A Legacy of Spies brings back George Smiley, enigmatic puppet master at the British Secret Service, circa The Cold War – his first appearance in 25 years – in a tight, controlled and very le Carre spy novel that explains the why behind the what of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Le Carre – real name David Cornwell – was a British intelligence officer before turning his talent to fiction writing which is why his spy novels, all 25 of them, read like the real deal.

Smiley’s acolyte, Peter Guillam, is living in comfortable retirement at the family farmstead in Brittany. Unexpectedly, he’s summoned back to London by the Circus, his not affectionate name for British Secret Service.

It seems that the children of operatives shot at the Berlin Wall are threatening to blow open a decades-old covert operation and expose the Circus to the sunlight. Files from the day have disappeared, the principals are dead or AWOL and Guillam is ordered to reconstruct the event, which becomes, in fact, the backstory to Spy.

If this sounds all cloak-and-daggery . . . well . . . it is. And it’s masterful. Guillam’s world is not the glitz of 007; it’s grey coats and sunglasses, and intelligence versus gadgetry, and it feels entirely probable. Not sure if that gives me comfort or not.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, is a solid, sometimes slow-moving, historical novel that features fully formed characters you care about, and an old-fashioned plot that centres on a powerful father-daughter relationship.

It’s 1934 Brooklyn and Eddie Kerrigan is struggling to support his wife and two daughters, one severely disabled, by working as a bagman for a corrupt union official.

Anna, his healthy 11-year-old daughter, often goes with her dad as he carries bribes to city officials. One day, he brings Anna to the Manhattan Beach home of Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner who works for the underworld.

By the time Anna turns 19, her father has disappeared and is presumed dead, America is in the War and Anna has fought to become the first female civilian diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard.

Out with a friend at a club one night, Anna runs into Styles; he doesn’t recognize her and she gives him a false name.

They are drawn to each other and Anna is convinced that Styles can help her discover what happened to her father – but the price they pay as they discover who they are is steep.

Manhattan Beach’s themes – family secrets, love found and lost, feminism and personal fulfillment – aren’t fresh and the backdrop – the Depression and then WWII – have been explored to death. But Egan’s meticulous research and carefully crafted characters make it a pretty satisfying rainy Sunday read.

Written by Charlotte Empey with Illustrations by LEZ AUTRES

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