Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Fusing history, nature writing and travelogue, The Lost Pianos of Siberia is a captivating exploration of an extraordinary and largely unknown part of the world and its unexpected musical legacy.

Siberia’s story is traditionally one of exiles, penal colonies and unmarked graves. Yet there is another tale to tell.

Dotted throughout this remote land are pianos – grand instruments created during the boom years of the Nineteenth Century, and humble, Soviet-made uprights that found their way into equally modest homes. They tell the story of how, ever since entering Russian culture under the influence of Catherine the Great, piano music has run through the country like blood.

How these pianos travelled into this snow-bound wilderness in the first place is testament to noble acts of fortitude by governors, adventurers and exiles. That stately instruments might still exist in such a hostile landscape is remarkable. That they are still capable of making music in far-flung villages is nothing less than a miracle.

But this is Siberia, where people can endure the worst of the world — and where music reveals a deep humanity in the last place on earth you would expect to find it.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia

Sophy Roberts


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Cultural history can follow some odd paths, and on the surface of it, The Lost Pianos of Siberia is certainly setting off on an odd path. Ask most people about Siberia, and they will mention cold, vastness, cold, isolation, cold, and exiles. Did I mention the cold? The genesis of the book is given toward the end of chapter one. The author sets herself the task of finding a piano for a Mongolian prodigy. A truly British piece of eccentricity. Thus, begins a chase covered in the following 12 chapters and epilogue.

Roberts tells the story of pianos in Siberia in 3 acts: Tsarist, Soviet, and post-communism. But why pianos? Russia in whatever guise was as afflicted by piano mania as every European (and pretender) country. Pianos usually bear serial numbers, making proving provenance possible. Pianos were a powerful cultural icon, denoting civilisation. Many countries, including Russia, had thriving piano-manufacturing industries. Russia, off many people’s cultural radar since the Bolshevik Revolution, was a stop of importance during the time of the tsars.

Roberts follows the advance of Russian influence and the march of events. Each chapter has a small map showing locations mentioned at its beginning, thus reducing the immensity of Siberia to a more human scale. But more than a story of pianos, this is a story of people; those who chose Siberia, or more frequently had Siberia chosen for them. The pianos came by sled, by boat, by train, by plane. They were the property of governors, exiles, free settlers, merchants, the military, the state, and evacuees. And like the people, the climate and conditions in Siberia killed more than a few.

Naturally, there is a New Zealand connection. The skipper of the boat taking Sophy and a group of birders around the Commander and Kuril Islands is a Kiwi.

Roberts has told an excellent story here. It encompasses the nature of Russia and Siberia, along with the quintessential cast of characters that are Russians in their full idiosyncratic glory. This is a book that both satisfies and encourages wanderlust. Read it.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

New Zealand has a huge range of backcountry huts, most of which are available for public use. Some can sleep 80 people, while others are tiny two-bunk affairs with not even room to stand up in. They are located in our mountains, on the edges of fiords, our coastlines and lakes, beside rivers, in the bush and on the open tops. Together they form an internationally unique network of backcountry shelter, and these huts, so often full of character and history, are fantastic destinations in their own right.

A Bunk for the Night offers a guide to over 200 of the best of these huts to visit. This inspirational book has been written by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown and Geoff Spearpoint, the authors of the seminal, best-selling history of New Zealand’s backcountry huts Shelter from the Storm.

Featuring well-known huts from the main tramping areas in both the North and South islands, the authors have also scoured the country for other interesting huts in out-of-the-way places, such as those in the Bay of Islands, on Banks Peninsula, in the Whanganui hinterland, the dry ranges of Marlborough and Stewart Island/Rakiura. This is a wonderful smorgasbord of must-visit huts, and an essential book for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Jacqui

The back country of New Zealand is sprinkled with cabins where a weary traveller may find a roof for the night (and sometimes little else). Some require booking and payment in advance, others are free to use. All this, and more is explained in the introduction.

The authors have selected some two hundred or so from the nearly thousand huts, most administered by the Department of Conservation, which they consider the best, and described them in some detail. Each description includes a heading with the location, the number of bunks, heating, and facilities.

This is followed by some paragraphs explaining what makes the particular hut interesting, perhaps something about the location, or about its history, and often how to get there. Each is accompanied by a colour photograph; and I suspect that is what will most likely draw people, especially those who are not trampers, to look into this book.

It’s obvious that this book is a labour of love from a trio of good keen kiwi blokes who really enjoy getting away from it all. It is not intended to be a book for those whose idea of travel involves aeroplanes and motor cars. This is a book for the person who hikes, who travels on their own two feet into the real New Zealand that lies far beyond the noise and the bright city lights. For me, the appeal is in the excellence of the photography and the stories.

hot pink spice saga

Two Kiwi ladies went to India. One wrote about it, the other took lots of photos. They collected recipes from the people they met. Finally they made it all into a book, and they called it “Hot Pink Spice Saga”. Which, I must admit, is a great title, and fits the book very well. It’s essentially a travelogue, describing the adventures of Peta, Julie and their gastronomads on a tour of India, and its most colourful culinary hot spots. I have something of a love-hate relationship with Peta’s writing. Her exuberance and the way she evokes a sense of place are amazing; but her habit of switching from present to past tense and her dodgy grammar are irritating. Julie’s photography is however consistently excellent, adding considerable visual flair to the book, and her epilogue was a welcome addition to the text. That said, I would have appreciated more detailed maps, perhaps accompanying each chapter.

The recipes are an eclectic collection, even including some classic European dishes as they are still prepared in one of the grand hotels of Kolkata. What you get is real Indian recipes which have been adapted for New Zealand kitchens by New Zealanders. With suggestions for appropriate substitutes. Thus, if you can’t find jaggery for the vindaloo, (and it is a proper Goan vindaloo), it is suggested you use molasses. There are more recipes in the book than you might think, and you would have little difficulty putting together some very interesting and distinctively regional Indian menus. I was particularly taken by the rose-petal and mint ice-creams which would go very well after a curry. You’ll have to look elsewhere for basics like how to cook rice, although there is a nice brown rice pulao (which is much nicer than plain rice). There is also a very good how-to-make-paneer, and some courgette pakoras that I must try when the zucchini glut hits.

But this is not a book you would buy for the recipes. It is a book that will take you to India, metaphorically, if not literally; and allow you to experience the sub-continent through the eyes and ears of two ladies from New Zealand. And then you can taste it in your own kitchen…


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

my two heavens

Some people do lead interesting lives… and some of them do write about it. With varying results, but this is one of the good ones. It fits into a curious little sub-genre; the offspring of cookbook and autobiography. It is a personal story interspersed with recipes, and illustrations of pictures; most of them drawings by the author’s partner, but some lovely colour photos in a section in the middle. So, not the usual pictures of food that you find in a cookbook; and I must admit that it might have helped to have some drawings and diagrams with some of the recipes.

The writing is evocative… those few days in Paris last year kept coming back to me as the author described her second home in France. There’s something of the travelogue here too, from New Zealand to Britain, France, Morocco, the Middle East and India. The recipes come from all those cuisines; and are well-written with abundant anecdotes explaining exactly how to get it right (and what can go wrong). The author has an enthusiasm for the history of food which I can certainly relate to.

I have only a few quibbles… if you’re going to write a personal history out of chronological order and wombling across the globe, it helps to put a place and date (even if it’s only a year) at the top of each section. The conclusion felt a bit weak… I guess that might be an autobiography thing, it’s not a genre I read in often. And the paper the book is printed on feels really rather pulpy – so sadly, it may not last as long as it deserves to.

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui


Join award-winning memoirist Marlayna Glynn Brown on a tender journey to understand the father she never knew in life by spreading his ashes around the world after his death.

A relatable must-read for anyone who has lost a loved one, this memoir lights the way to afterlife and afterdeath where forgiveness supersedes pain, blame, remorse and regret.

In her effort to understand the generational effects of alcoholism and subsequent dysfunctional adult relationships, Marlayna takes her youngest son and her father’s ashes on a personal journey, embarking on an emotional voyage to both physical and mental states of being. She confronts her own existence as a mother and a daughter, seeking and ultimately finding peace with her disappointment, anger, failed marriage, and complex relationships with her own four children.

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I sit at his bedside, my eyes focused on the thin plastic tube that brings oxygen to his nose. What a strange thought that my father can no longer breath without this tube. Years of smoking Kool menthols have eradicated any ability he has to breathe without aid now. So the thin plastic tube hooks over his ears, allowing him to pull weak breaths in and out of cancered lungs. My father, who once ran races and jogged around our city parks and swam off the Mexican shore in the Pacific ocean he loved so much, cannot breathe without the cool oxygen of this artificial tube.

He tries to talk but his words are mired in wet coughs, rendering conversation cruel and laborious.

That tube stands between me and all that I want to know about him. I take his thin hand in mine and look him in the eye. “I’m glad you were my father.”

He nods once; a regal gesture of acceptance, resignation or possibly both. “Me too.”

There are so many questions I want to ask him, so much I want to know about his childhood, his life, his feelings, his essence.

Unasked, as if he would try to explain the one thing I might want to know, he volunteers, “Some people were just born to drink.”

“How can you say such a thing?”

“Look at me,” he coughs.

“You woke up every day and made the choice to drink. You could have changed your life any time you wanted.”

“No. Couldn’t.”

Is this then the final damning curse of a life of alcoholism, the acceptance of no reality that does not include alcohol? “You could have stopped drinking any time you wanted. People do it every day. You could have known me. You could have known your grandchildren. They are such great kids and you don’t even know them.”

“I’d been a rat for so long. Thought I might as well stay a rat.”

I don’t understand this kind of thinking; this acceptance of anything less than the highest and best. It’s the final and saddest nail in the coffin of my relationship with my father.

During our last day together, I hear myself telling him that I want him to be at peace. I want him to be out of pain. I know even as the words are tumbling from my consciousness and out of my mouth that my father’s death is not about me; his passing is not dependent in any way upon what I want.

It is his journey and I am no longer on it.

Then again, I never really was in the first place.

For how could you ever be on a journey that is not your own?

 About the Author

rip me 2266

Marlayna Glynn Brown is a best selling American memoirist, award winning photographer, screenwriter and yogi. Immediately upon publication Marlayna’s first book became and still remains one of the most highly rated author memoirs on Amazon, and placed as a finalist in the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Marlayna’s extensive travels, BA in Literature and MS in Human Services have honed her remarkable gifts in observing and recording the ways of humanity. Her works include:

Overlay: A Tale of One Girl’s Life in 1970s Las Vegas

City of Angeles

Big As All Hell And Half Of Texas

The Trilogy: Memoirs of Marlayna Glynn Brown

One Day The Invitations Will Stop Arriving: A Travel Memoir

Lovers, Liars and Lotharios: Lessons Learned and Self Esteem Earned

Rest In Places: My Father’s Post-Life Journey Around The World

The Nomadic Memoirist: Memoir Writing Tips For Authors

The Nomadic Memoirist: Award-Winning and Best-Selling Promotion and Marketing Tips for Authors

Find Marlayna on Facebook, Twitter, and visit her at

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