Category Archives: Reading Retreats

The Readers Roadtrip Days 4 & 5; Booktopia Petoskey

There have been a couple of days of radio silence, this is because I have had the utter joy of attending Booktopiaover the past two and a bit days in Petoskey. It has been a whirl of fun, book chatter, book recommendations and book buying – especially in the case of Thomas which I am sure he will fill you in on via his blog soon!

Now if you’re wondering what on earth Booktopia is, I will describe it thus… Imagine around 100 booky people/addicts/nerds (nerds in a good way) two hosts and seven authors who take over a hotel and a local bookshop (and in some cases a whole town) for two days with lots of author discussion, chances to take literary tours, discuss books over lovely dinners – that pretty much sums it up. It was (because this was the last one, sorry if you’ve missed out) organised by two of my favourite people and podcast hosts Ann and Michael (who I hope I can also now call friends) from Books on the Nightstand, who crazily let Thomas and I not only visit but join them in panels too!

 
We were one of the first two sessions discussing our favourite books; Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, Any Human Heart by William Boyd, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and The Professors House by Willa Cather. You will get reviews on them here soon but even better you’ll get to hear those chats on both our podcasts in the next month or so! Very exciting. We also got to visit some author events, record The Readers Live! and just hang out with some wonderful, wonderful, wonderful people.

There’s almost too many brilliant moments to highlight and bore you discussing for ages but two had to be firstly, being asked to sign copies my favourite book (Rebecca as if you need to be told) which was very surreal but lovely…

And also getting an amazing gift from and amazing woman, Karen Brown you are a star, who had our four favourite books made into prints by none other than Jane Mount who makes the amazing Ideal Bookshelves prints, how stunning and delightful is this?!? We were all unusually speechless and very moved.  

There were lots of other highlights with lots of wonderful people so instead of going on here are some pictures that sum up the whole two days… 

  
  
  
It has honestly been amazing, thank you to everyone who made Thomas and I feel so welcome and discussed books with us for hours! I think we need a Booktopia UK don’t we? I also need a big sleep. I’ve done three cities and five bookstores today so I’m quite tired, more on that tomorrow.

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Reading Retreats #3: The Shangri-La Shard, London

Sometimes we want to get away from it all and just get lost in a good book. Last year I had the luck of going to three places where such a thing was all too possible. Firstly I went of to Fjallbacka, where I could literally live in a book as I spent a few days reading some of the Camilla Lackberg crimes that were set there which was quite brilliant, I then went out into the middle of nowhere (well the ocean) to stay on the Weather Islands and read in the silent still surroundings there. I also went to a Booktopia last year in Asheville, North Carolina which I bizzarely haven’t blogged about, but I will when I go back to the US in a few months I promise. Anyway, a few weeks ago I found myself in quite the reading retreat, one which was much closer to home and yet whilst in the middle of London still felt like some kind of hidden idyll away from the world, possibly because I was over 40 stories above it with Canary Wharf looking like a potential bookmark…

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The idyll in question was the amazing five star Shangri-La Hotel which sits between the 34th and 52nd floors of the iconic Shard Building, which I have been meaning to go in/up ever since Doctor Who did all those years ago when it was revealed it was actually an alien spacecraft. Obviously, it isn’t really yet there is something brilliantly sci-fi about it when you are below it…

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I had initially been invited to attend the Shangri-La’s new series of Cultural Salon’s (an intimate and fascinating event as I told you all on Tuesday) then as a thank you for travelling so far, and as a little extra treat I was kindly offered a night in the hotel as a bonus, well how on earth could I say no. I mean it gave me the most amazing reading base for twenty four hours I could imagine, so naturally I made sure I checked in the moment that I could and headed up to my suite ready to read. When I opened the door I was smitten.

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I mean how could you not want to read on that bed? Or at that desk? Or in that armchair? I mean the options were instantly endless, I would have to read hotdesk frankly. And then I was given the ultimate reading treat when I opened the door to the bathroom…

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I mean seriously, firstly the bath has a book holder in it, secondly, THAT VIEW!!! I did actually notice the view first obviously but being such an utter reading addict as soon as I spotted the book holder I knew where I was going to be spending many of my hours that evening and indeed reading, I did a lot.

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Yes, that is indeed Tower Bridge that I was looking/reading over. Quite the most surreal experience but by the time it had gone dark and the water had gone cold for the third time I had finished off one book and was headed onto the next, though in bed. I have to admit though I actually ended up staring at the night time lights of London for an hour or two until I had to pop the blinds down so I could read a bit more and get some kip. Because the next day were two more highlights. First up was breakfast…

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Now I don’t know about you but a) I love hotel living anyway and could happily tour hotel to hotel for the rest of my adult life, well maybe a lot of it if not all b) I am an absolute 100% fan of the hotel breakfast buffet. If I go somewhere and there’s just a menu, I judge it instantly. I mean I love an Eggs Benedict like the best of them but in a hotel I want both the fun and the potential opportunity a buffet can provide. In fact my love in my life probably goes 1. Books 2. Cats 3. Hotel breakfasts 4. Loved ones and friends. 5. Bed. Seriously. Well the Shangri-La met my challenge…

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And again…

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And again.

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Yes that is Dim Sum on my breakfast plate, I am destined to move in forever, this hotel knew me that well. It  was amazing and I won’t lie will be in my number one breakfast moment of the entire year, this is high praise from me. Anyway, I had to get a wriggle on and a swimming costume because next up was a date on the 52nd floor, with a swimming pool…

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And also another book blogger, who I was allowed to sneak in for a Friday morning dip, the lovely Eric of LonesomeReader. Note – this is the highest infinity pool in Europe and we had it all to ourselves for several hours as we chatted; mainly about books and the view…

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And even did a little light reading…

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Seriously, it is like some kind of readers paradise. If you ever get the change to stay, and it is worth treating yourself let alone any of your loved ones, then I would highly recommend it as somewhere to escape from it all, with a good book, great food and incredible views and service. I loved it. I could get quite used to it. A big thanks to both The Shangri-La Shard London and Virginia at The Massey Partnership for inviting me and letting me stay, I won’t ever forget the experience.

So I would love to hear from you as to where some of your favourite Readers Retreats have been, be they intentional or found by luck and chance? I would also love to know if you ever go on holidays away from it all just to read, be it with friends and family or without. If you have recommendations of any other Readers Retreats I should go or hunt out let me know, I am always up for the potential to escape it all with a good book, aren’t we all?

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Reading Retreats #2: The Weather Islands, Sweden

It is a general rule of thumb that when any of us go away, avid reader or not, we always make sure we have some reading time scheduled in on our holidays, yet we never think of having a holiday that is simply a reading retreat do we? I have to admit I find it hard to find a quiet space to read in my own home so wouldn’t it be great to have trips away that were just ‘reading retreats’? Be they somewhere without readers and authors and booky types or somewhere completely out of the way, surrounded in almost silence where you can just read and relax in the remoteness. In the case of the later I might have discovered the perfect place, The Weather Islands. The furthest islands West of Sweden yet within 40 minutes of a boat ride of the mainland.

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Väderöarna is a protected marine nature reserve where one passed you can only see the horizon for miles, no sign of life apart from seals, gulls and the odd dolphin on occasional summers. It actually feels like you are on the edge of the world. On it however there are some holiday cottages and the wonderful Väderöarna Vardshaus Inn, a wonderful guest house that sits right between two of the bays that interlinks Storo Island and Ramno Island. These buildings were all part of a community of pilots from the 1750’s until the 1960’s. These were set up with a lighthouse on the islands as the amount of ships that were wrecked in the area was endangering lives at sea but also putting off trade on the land. It is like walking straight into the past.

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As you can see from the above pictured, the beautiful view from my bedroom, the Island isn’t teaming with people, in fact there are only about 10 or 12 buildings most of which are summer homes and so the silence is incredible. Perfect for reading! However even I can’t solely read for a whole day when there are such natural wonders around but fret not there are three options available on the island when you need a break from a book. The first is hiking…

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Sweden has reinvigorated my love of hiking hugely and it is thanks to a trekking in Fjallbacka, Valo Island (more on that in a few weeks) and The Weather Islands. Not only is the scenery stunning…

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Where you have to play ‘spot the posts’ as wooden posts guide you through rocky terrain, marshes and a woodland that suddenly creeps up on you – being the adventurer again. The wildlife is incredible. I saw seals, Guillemots and lots and lots of toads which live in abundance as there are no predators (bar the occasional gull) on the island, they are honestly everywhere…

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You also couldn’t feel more like you were walking in a Cold Crime novel if you tried…

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There are also a few of my other favourite pastimes on the Weather Islands. There is marvellous swimming, in some of the clearest waters (which in summer get to over 20 degrees) I have ever splashed about in and also the quietest. I had an entire cove just to myself like a private swimming pool, though I have saved you from the horrors of me paddling. There is also an amazing restaurant on the island, part of the Inn, where I had one of the best prawn starters of my life, seriously…

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They also have a bar where guests of the Inn, folks from the summer houses and boats and a few toads can all sit together, chatter, read or just ‘be’ and watch one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen in my life.

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Yes, I had a little weep as I have done before in Tel Aviv and Iceland when the beauty of the world hits you with a wallop (I have also since done this just down the road in Wales which I will share soon) and just leaves you speechless. A blissful place which for me was much more a ‘heaven in the sea’ than a ‘hell on earth’ which is what the folk of the past used to call it. A perfect reading retreat indeed.

Why is it that we go on holidays and schedule in time for reading yet we don’t just go away on a reading retreat? For example we schedule time by the pool or on a lounger on the beach if we are off somewhere hot, or we use the travel time as quality reading time. When I fly to America in a few days I am seeing the almost twenty four hour journey (three flights one long stop in Chicago) there as a day which I can dedicate to reading. (Forgetting the facts that I will have the panic sweats on the plane, possibly get sidetracked by a film or three, or be asleep – the latter being unlikely as I will be in a panic about being 30,000ft up in a tin can, though would be ideal as I have a horrid feeling I might be slightly over tired when I arrive in Asheville.) Should we not just take reading breaks away? If so where have you been that is a perfect reading retreat and where would you love to go?

This post is the fifth and final post in a week of Savidge Reads in Sweden after I was sent by the lovely people at the West Sweden Tourist Board to go on a cold crime adventure.

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Reading Retreats #1: Fjallbacka; Where Fact and Fiction Meet (Part II)

So after our first walk through the village of Fjallbacka the other day (which only lead up to lunchtime with much more to discover after) visiting some of the sites from Camilla Lackberg’s series of books I thought in the second instalment I would take you to a place that inspired her. I wanted to say that this is the place inspired the novel yet it might have just inspired the murder that opens it – why quibble though, it was inspiration behind The Preacher in some way.

I am always fascinated by what can inspire an author and so, having been forewarned that it was quite a hike and I should take a bottle of water and a Mendelberg cake, I turned from Ingrid Berman Square (which I shared with you the other day) and headed to the start of Kungsklyftan, which leads you on a walk through and then over the mini-mountain of Vetteberget.

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Now when the lovely Emelie, of the West Sweden Tourist Board, said that all you had to do initially was walk up a few steps I think she might have made a small understatement as the first thing that greeted me after I had turned the corner was these wooden steps which lead you high off up into the wilderness.

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Having climbed those, had a quarter of my bottle of water and a third of my Mendelberg cake (which is a meringue bigger than most average human hands) to keep my fluids and sugar levels up I spotted that the previous steps had been a walk in the park, almost literally, as what lay ahead was stone steps in the most liberal sense of the word.

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Whilst climbing them I felt a real sense of adventure, especially as the walk was pretty much deserted. I was suddenly taken back to my youth when I was sent off ahead on walking holidays to ‘go and find the route’ up a mountain. There is also a wonderful sense of history of the place especially when you come to the level and are greeted by this…

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This is the path that goes over an old fault which was created by an earthquake in the ice age (yes I did wonder both if there might be one right then and what would happen and also if I might fall at any moment into the earths core – not that I am a drama queen at all) and as you can see amazingly three rocks go wedged by the ice and earthquake and all those tectonic shenanigans and have been wedged there ever since (and yes I did briefly worry that they might choose that minute to fall and flatten me) – isn’t it amazing?

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You can certainly see why Camilla Lackberg was haunted/fascinated/inspired by this place to stick a dead body down it, it does make a good place for someone to leave one that is at some point going to be found – as is the plan of the killer in The Preacher. It is a stunning place that at once feels rather out of this world and yet really grounds you to the earth and reminds you that you are on this big huge rock spinning through space. Before that made my head hurt I headed up a much steeper set of wooden steps to the top, and what a view awaited me…

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The whole of Fjallbacka (though this is only the old side as wordpress won’t let me upload panoramic photos) and the Islands that surround it lie before you, beautiful. I spent a wonderful forty minutes just looking at the view (and eating more Mendelberg) before the sun started to set and I knew it was time to head back down and onwards towards dinner.

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As everyone loves a food picture (oh come on you know they do) I thought I would share with you the amazing starter that arrived in the restaurant, which also luckily enough happened to be at my hotel – Stora Hotellet Bryggan which Lackberg used to base Erica’s parents home on in her books – where I got to watch this whilst I devoured more food and a cheeky cider or two.

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I am slightly obsessed with sunsets, I think they are one of the most beautiful natural daily occurrences ever, and this was one of the three up to that point that made me a bit breathless and weepy, you wait till we go to the Weather Islands in the next post though!

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Will all that it was time for this wanderer and adventurer to head to his bed, which aptly is where a sailor is once supposed to have laid his head after his adventures at sea and also aptly has a Victorian feel which is my favourite era, before more adventures (and several boat trips) awaited him next…

This post is the fourth post in a week of Savidge Reads in Sweden after I was sent by the lovely people at the West Sweden Tourist Board to go on a cold crime adventure.

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Reading Retreats #1: Fjallbacka; Where Fact and Fiction Meet (Part I)

If you are a big fan of the novels of Camilla Lackberg (and let’s be honest there are several million of those) then you may have pondered about, or even dreamed of going to, Fjallbacka which is her home town and also the setting of her crime series. Well, lucky you because having been on a trip there a few weeks ago I thought I would share a trip (or in fact two) around the village. If you haven’t read any of Camilla Lackberg’s books then you might want to try starting at the beginning of the series and in the meantime just enjoy the lovely pictures!!

When I arrived in Fjallbacka, having just had time to pop my luggage in my room and freshen up after a plane a train and a coach, I was met in the reception by the lovely Asa who both runs the Tourist Information on the waterfront and who also gives tours of the village and the murder sites which feature in Lackberg’s books. Now I am slightly fearful that I will miss out many of the facts of the villages history because Asa knows so many fascinating stories that to be frank you need to travel there and here them directly from her. But I will give you some snippets.

We started from the top of a snow free Fjallbacka, after I learnt how one of the townsmen had created the cardboard cartons that transport liquids – no lie, and what is amazing is when you arrive in the village you come from the back and so you are greeted with an unassuming, yet quaint, image of a small Swedish village. Go to the top of the hill near the church and the whole vista suddenly opens up in front of you and it is stunning…

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In the distance you might just be able to make out the diving board where one of the crimes in a later Lackberg novel begins as a man sits in this very spot of a morning and spots it! Here is of course where the church is which rises above the village and can be seen from virtually any street/house you walk into.

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The church is relatively new (though over a hundred years old) to the area as in times of old people would have to travel a further six miles, not that many people lived in Fjallbacka preferring the islands until the herring boom in the 1800’s. When the church was added, after the land was donated to the villagers for free, it was decided that it should be something special yet something in keeping with traditional churches. How did they do this? Well if you look at the picture above you will see that not only is the granite its made from several colours it is all sorts of shapes making it like a puzzle not your normal structure. It is very beautiful and inside it simply (and simplistically) breathtakingly beautiful…

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Those of you who have read the books will know that the church features a lot in the books, though not quite as much as the graveyard does, ha! If you have seen the TV adaptations you will be thinking I am a liar because they used another church as this one was deemed to bright. I loved the brightness though, I could have spent ages in there but Asa had some much more to show me as we wandered through the winding streets, including Lackberg’s very own fishing cabin which is staying a secret with me. The houses in the village are beautiful all having to be built to a specific traditional design to make sure it is in keeping. Don’t they just instantly conjure ‘cold crime’?

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As we wandered through the streets we also caught more of the spots from Lackberg’s books. I haven’t gotten this far in the series yet but this, sadly now closed and run down, hotel becomes a spa in one book…

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To me it looks more like it should be a house come book shop, doesn’t it to you? If any has a spare few million do please let me kow as I would simply adore to take it on. Anyway, we also saw the factory where the very rich and very naughty family from The Ice Princess is based on, but I can’t share all these sites with you as you won’t go! Now diverting from Lackberg a little, one of the places that you simply HAVE to go and visit and cant really miss is Setterlinds Bakery (it does get a mention in the books) which was non other than Ingrid Bergman’s favourite bakery where she got her favourite cake (I was reliably informed by Emelie from West Sweden Tourist Board) Mendelberg which I will report on later in the week…

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Ingrid Bergman actually moved to one of the islands just off the coast of Fjallbacka, following one of her marriages, to escape the glare at the height of her Hollywood fame. Initially, as you might imagine, this caused quite a stir upon her arrival not just because of her fame but also her occasionally hedonistic lifestyle which wasn’t in keeping with morals of the time. Soon enough though it was like she had never not lived there to the point that the town, without the council knowing when they did it, added Ingrid Bergman square after her death and indeed it is one of the focal points and most popular meeting place in the town.

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From here you can take a walk up Kungsklyftan, which we will do later in the week as a) we haven’t finished the tour yet b) it features in the opening of The Preacher which I will be discussing tomorrow and is so stunning it needs a whole post of its own, or you can take in the marina…

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…Which is what I did. Take a walk along and around the old town and  head out into one of the jetties and you get a whole new view of the village facing it straight on, again showing you how utterly beautiful it is. Can you tell I was smitten and already wondering if I could hide in a fishermans hut all of my own for a summer?

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After all that walking, and having said goodbye to the delightful Asa (who very kindly gave me a lift after I had been on the Weather Islands – you won’t believe your eyes – back to the train station and who I might be plotting doing something literary in Fjallbacka with) I realised I was starving. Whilst I should could have simply run back to Setterlind’s and bought the shop, I decided to try the recommended (by Asa) local fish store…

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…You might think this doesn’t look like an ideal luncheon stop, secretly round the back though is a seafront restaurant which only serves possibly the best fish and chips that I have ever had – coming from a Northern Englishman that is high praise indeed!

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Sitting watching the boats and the people and the waves, eating freshly caught fish goujons and just embracing the peace and quite and the fresh air was pure heaven, and the perfect break before I headed off up Kungsklyftan which we will head to on Thursday. It is honestly beautiful. Until then, who else has been to Fjallbacka? And which other places and settings from books have you been to and were they as you expected.

This post is the second in a week of Savidge Reads in Sweden after I was sent by the lovely people at the West Sweden Tourist Board to go on a cold crime adventure.

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