books of the week

In the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon (BBC, pounds 16.99 hardback) by Joanna Lumley.

This picture-packed, easy-to-read stocking filler, is Ms Lumley's account of her journey to Bhutan in her grandparents' footsteps. Sleeping in a tent and travelling by foot and pack pony, she visits Buddhist monasteries and villages like Wangdi-Phodrang, making friends with everyone she meets. However, having heard how she cheated on her Girl Friday programme, I'm not as ready to believe she really used earth latrines and washed her own clothes in icy streams along the way. It's bound to be a best-seller.

Travellers' Tales from Heaven and Hell (Travellers' Eye, pounds 6.99) by Dan Hiscocks (ed.).

There isn't a rotten apple in this barrel of laughs and sighs. Even the story titles, such as Five Go Mad in Paignton and Niet Way Out, raise a smile. My favourites include the nightmare story of a manic Egyptian doctor in the next seat on a long flight. Some stories seem just too good to be true. But I blame Joanna Lumley for my all my irrational cynicism.

The Travellers' Guide to Mars (Cadogan, pounds 4.99) by Michael Pauls & Dana Facaros.

This guide to the red planet is a marriage of scientific facts on climate and geography with tongue-in-cheek humour, such as how much it costs to get there ($3bn strapped to a Viking 2 space probe). I'm not sure to whom this book would appeal, but if you fancy a look, buy it in a discount book store for 20p in six months.

Russia & Central Asia by Road (Bradt, pounds 12.95) by Hazel Barker.

This guidebook can take you from Vyborg, in Finland, to Vladivostok, on the Manchurian Plain by 4WD, motorbike or bicycle. The planning section has lots of good advice on what to take, although the rest of the book is a different kettle of ribah (fish). For example, "What to see in Moscow" is covered in half a page; and the fact that "Russian bread is generally very good," isn't going to help when you're starving on the steppes! While the lack of information may provide a pioneering flavour, I'm not sure I'd trust the book to give me the most out of such a journey.

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