Travel the world with the Atlas of Us – Tracy Buchanan

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From San Francisco, via Exmoor, Venice, Serbia, Finland to Thailand. and Australia..

Travel the world with the ATLAS OF US


This is a booktrail which takes you far and wide – to the stunning locations such as that as evoked on the cover to England, Australia, Dubai, San Francisco and even Serbia  – an usual location for a novel maybe and certainly an eclectic mix, but one which is used to dramatic and stunning effect. Finland, as the author’s personal favourite location is also evoked beautifully on the page.



Louise Fenton decides that she has to travel halfway across the world to the site of the 2004 Tsunami  in order to find her mother Nora who was there when the disaster struck. She meets up with Jay a journalist who is looking for Claire, a friend who seems to be connected with Nora in some way. Louise is curious and wants to know more. What she discovers is far beyond whatever she can imagine.

What a journey in both the emotional and physical  sense of the world. There is the heartbreak of seeing the destruction of the Tsunami at first hand, the war torn parts of Serbia and the desolate and rather chilling backdrop of Exmoor.

But walking off the map is at the heart of this book – exploring, letting yourself go and discover things, opening up your mind and daring to dream and hope.

Let’s Walk off the map –


Krabi Thailand

The opening scenes of setting where the Tsunami happened are heartbreaking as louise goes in search of answers –

When I close my eyes, the water comes: the violent thud of waves, the tar smell of salty dampness  seeping through the cracks of my dreams. But when I look out of the bus window, it’s nothing but mangled cars again; boats that have somehow found their way onto the roofs of two -storey buildings; suitcases flung open, their innards spilling out on to the dusty pavements below

It is  perhaps the most naturally stunning of al the locations in the book but one stepped in sadness and human disaster – being recent in our memories makes it all the more distressing as we can only wonder what it would feel like to be searching for a loved one – whilst thanking our stars or a god that we ‘re not really there ourselves.

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Exmoor, UK

We are introduced to Exmoor by a drawing tucked inside the Atlas of Us –

The water colour of grey pooling around the edges of moss green valleys, ready to plummet  downwards and destroy everything below

This is the setting for the main part of Claire’s story and we attend a wedding there on the rocky, windy british valley, the slopes of the cliffs into the sea, the sheer drops and the blustering wind – Claire takes her dog Archie for a walk. Th opening line to this chapter and locations sets the scene in more ways than one –

In Exmoor, there a feeling that, at any moment , something might suddenly plummet.

Such evocative writing is not just evocative of location but of emotion too and that makes for some powerful travelling experience. This is the setting for a wedding, a farmer with a secret past and a woman who gets drawn into the evocative and secret past of a family and their rustic home. There are many issues evoked alongside this setting with Claire and her growing relationship with a man called Milo – a strange and secret man indeed. His rugged demeanour and mysterious ways was as wild and mind-blowing as the Exmoor setting….

The ragged outline of the Exmoor cliffs - Wikipedia
The ragged outline of the Exmoor cliffs – Wikipedia


Snapshots – 


Claire takes a trip to Italy – no spoilers here and evokes the location here via just a few words

Venice reeks of secrets. Its air is heavy with them: its narrow alley ways and shadowed canals  tailored for them



Based in San Francisco before her travels, we get s glimpse of her home and early life –

Claire hesitated for a moment peering out of the vast windows that overlooked the Golden Gate bridge. It shone bright red against the stark black sky….

She’d even rented a room in one of San Francisco’s painted ladies, the multicoloured Edwardian houses that lined the city’s Haight-Asbury district

But the scent and air of Thailand never goes away and away from the destruction of the tsunami we see the beauty of the country – this is the scene I imagine describing the cover –


Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand

The rickety old boat bobs up and down on the turquoise seas  and I press my hair against my flyaway hair, trying not to get sick. The girl shad been so excited when I told them I was going to Ko P{hi Phi Don by boat, especially when they heard the boat’;s name meant ‘ Sea monkey’ in thai

In another location, we see and experience the war torn country of Serbia for the first time – 

A Belgrade and B Fruska Gora
A Belgrade and B Fruska Gora

Fruška Gora – Serbia

Claire tried to conceal her  shock as she took in her first views of belgrade. the buildings outside her taxi window were  scorched and windowless, like charred paper decorations hanging from the sky, ready to  crumble at one puff of breath

What the author describes as her favourite location in the interview at the back of the book, there are stunning descriptions of this beloved place –

Inari and Iso
A Inari where Filipe’s family have land and B Iso – Syote, Finland

IsoSyöte, Finland

Claire looked out at the  white landscape spread out before her – skies as pink as a child’s blush…

…like a scene from a Christmas card…

Finland was ideal; she‘d never been before so there were new vistas t explore, new foods to taste, new scents to smell, and something to get her writing teeth into: the land disputes between the indigenous Sami people and the Finnish government were ideal material for her.



Ayers Rock or Uluru is at the heart of Australia's red centre
Ayers Rock or Uluru is at the heart of Australia’s red centre (Wikipedia)

The Red Centre of Australia is a land on fire,burned up with fever, hot and agitated


And a quote that sums up both the essence of what we love at The Booktrail and what we believe reading and travelling means –

Photo courtesy of Tracy Buchanan
Photo courtesy of Tracy Buchanan

They’d been there for her when she was a kid craving consistency too, curling out in a little nook somewhere, the characters she’d read about becoming her friends when she only had her family for company as they travelled from one place to the next.

The Atlas of Us – and the world of books – seen through the eyes of the author – meet Tracy on twitter – @TracyBuchanan and

Frog Music in San Francisco

Set in San Francisco 1876


“Frog Music” —Emma Donoghue’s first historical novel set in America — takes us to San Francisco in the boiling summer of 1876 and for a true life tale that shocked the city at the time and which in Frog Music is brought back to its seedy crime ridden life.

Crime, disease and racial violence are not the only things keeping this city aflame however, there are immigrants threatening to riot, a shaky atmosphere pervades the air and there is always the threat of a smallpox epidemic to contend with.

It is based loosely on the true  and unsolved crime  –  The San Miguel Mystery—the unsolved murder of 27-year-old Jenny Bonnett, a cross-dressing transgressive who worked as a frogcatcher – catching and selling frogs to French and Chinese restaurants.

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Find out more about Emma Donoghue’s research here –

Blanche , the narrator of the novel, and Jenny are two women striving to scrape a living in a turbulent and violent city. Blanche, formerly of the Parisian Cirque d’Hiver, is now an exotic dancer living with her pimp Arthur and his close friend Ernest. Blanche falls pregnant and is forced to place her son in a baby farm. This comes back to haunt her in more ways than one.

And who was the sole witness of Jenny’s murder in a railway saloon. Was Jenny really the target of the gunman or was it in fact Blanche herself?  Blanche sets out to solve the crime

Listen to the (old) song in the novel and still used today by mothers to send their babies to sleep –

Eclectic or what? And unbelievable if it weren’t based on true facts but the author captures not only the time and mood of the story but the setting in rich vivid detail. You can feel the sweat running down your own back as you read and the feather bower tickling your nose. There are also lots more songs included in the novel or mentioned. Infact we were ver pleased to see a song list of sorts at the back of the book. You definitely need to play this when reading this book. Talk about not only experiencing a place as the author did but to listen to the same music to put yu in the very spot musically too. In a novel about showtunes, dancing and music. Very clever.

In Frog Music,San Francisco is a  city on the edge, pushing itself to its very limits with regards to a epidemic, heat wave, racial tension and both poverty and crime.

The Golden Gate bridge - (c) the booktrail
The Golden Gate bridge – (c) the booktrail

On this seedy side of the city, despite the portrayal of the underbelly of such a  vibrant place as San Francisco there is an overwhelming vibrancy and lust for life as the characters charge headfirst in to danger and self destruction

Ladies and Gentleman. Welcome to San Francisco

Literary haven, USA

Green Apple

Green Apple Books, a quaint and unique book store in SF was a particular joy to visit when I was travelling on the West Coast. Apparently it’s ten times the size it was when it opened back in 1967. I didn’t ask any of the locals about it, I simply wandered in one day and was looking forward to discovering a lovely book haven. I sadly didn’t take pictures as I didn’t have a camera with me, but allow me to take you there in your mind’s eye….

Well I wasn’t disappointed. It is a book haven and then some. New books, old books, battered books but well-loved books and the atmosphere created in Green Apple was one I wanted to linger in. I remember the WOW collection of books but also the décor of the store – the towering book cases lining the wall, stuffed full of words, images and  literary bliss.

Hours I spent just gaping in awe – only looking down as I stepped on a creaky floorboard which only added to my book searching bliss. I didn’t really know what I was looking for but I found it. That’s the measure of a very good book store. I even wondered at one stage if I would be able to drag myself away. Would they let me sleep here I wondered? I saw a comfy chair and thought about building a wall of books around me, but the desire to read what I’d bought was too strong and so I did leave in the end.

The books here are the main attraction but the hand written signs and maps were a notable second. Someone has literally made and crated this store with their hands. Handwritten signs and maps. Signs about the till. The written word – both outside and inside the books. And I loved the  haphazard storage as it added to the thrills and spills of what a good book shop should really offer: a search facility  with a great literary prize at the end. The ‘read around the world section’ was a particular favourite of mine. Reading around the world is my favourite thing ever and the reason I do this blog! I’ve found a bosom buddy I thought to myself. I was meant to wander in here!

The sounds and smells of Green Apple made it a day to remember. The staff was so friendly and I almost asked them for a job so I could stay there forever. This is the Apple store I love – although I do have an iphone and have been known to read books on it – there is no joy as pure as finding a thrift book store and losing yourself in the wealth of the printed literary word. Browsing on the apple phone or in the Green apple shop? Both healthy but there’s nothing like the feel and smell of a new literary friend.

I very much hope I have the pleasure of returning one day. I miss it already.