Books of the week

The Field of the Star (Michael Joseph, pounds 16.99) by Nicholas Luard.

This is the story of Nicholas Luard's pilgrimage from Le Puy in France to Santiago de Compostela, the cathedral town and shrine to St James in north-west Spain.

His journey along the ancient pilgrim path, El Camino, enables him to reflect upon the approaching death of his eldest daughter, Francesca, from Aids-related cancer.

Luard is quick to inform the reader that his story makes no attempt to be a gazetteer or historical guide (as there is already a wealth of literature on the historical legacy of the Camino). He is more interested in understanding what lives there: the interaction of the elements with wild flowers and animals, his strong and magnetic travelling companions, and the various pilgrims and people they meet, from Eduardo the aspiring writer, to the Swiss Inland Revenue cycling group.

Along the way the reader is privy to the very personal insights of a loving father exploring a relationship with his daughter that was complex and often turbulent. We laugh and cry with him, but never do we feel that demands are being made on our sympathy. The Castilians say: "El Camino es una droga," but for Luard, the Camino and his resulting book are a form of catharsis.

The Mini Rough Guide to Madrid (Rough Guides, pounds 5.99) by Simon Baskett.

The latest model off the Rough Guides assembly line is the Mini Guide which, at about five-and-a-half inches by four, fits comfortably into my back pocket and will cater very nicely to the burgeoning city-break market.

Strong features include detailed instructions on how to get into the stadia of Madrid's two big football clubs, as well as fulsome restaurant, bar and hotel reviews - every one of which includes a location reference to the maps at the back of the book.

In terms of appearance, I would call this an improvement on the traditionally austere Rough Guide format, though the trade-off vis-a-vis Lonely Planet's City Guides is as you would expect (cheaper but without the glossy pictures). I haven't checked all the telephone numbers but it is reassuring to know that the author is a resident of Madrid.

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