Book Review 2017 – Part XIII

Thirteen book reviews, that’s more than one a month and I’m catching up on the books that I’ve read. Two more books to review here and they are both long distance cycling ones.

First up is I’ll be Home by Christmas, by Matthew Blake. As the title suggests, Matthew was indeed home for Christmas, although it was four years after he set off. It’s been over a month since I finished this book, and I’ll be honest I’m struggling to remember anything about it, which is awful. Was the book just not very memorable. Is this the book where the writer was arrested crossing South Sudan? Is this the guy who set off overweight and could hardly ride a bike? I should probably write my book reviews a bit sooner after finishing them. What I will say is that I’ve never read a long distance cycling book that I’ve not enjoyed in some way. Maybe someone out there could read it and tell me a few of the highlights to nudge my memory.

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The Hungry Cyclist by Tom Kevill-Davies on the other hand I do remember. Tom likes to eat and to ride a bike, so he combined the two. He began his journey cycling from New York to Seattle, before heading down the west coast and into Mexico, crossing South America and finishing in Rio.

He meets loads of interesting people, as you generally do when riding a bike. He also adds many of the recipes he tries at the end of each chapter, including beaver tail soup! Probably one that I won’t be trying at home, although the rice dish he shared with Puerto Rican construction workers in New York did sound good. In Mexico he falls in love with seafood tacos as he cycles down the Baja Peninsula.

Obviously he couldn’t cross the Darian Gap, but he does cycle through Columbia. He then heads inland, trying guinea pig in Ecudor, before taking a boat down the Amazon, stopping in Manaus. A friend that I did my PhD with had a stop over there and dexcribed it as an absolute hole. Tom eats street food outside a brothel in the depths of the dodgiest areas of the city.

I really enjoyed this book, and as you can tell it was memorable. Tom’s route is also something that I would like to try, although without the Amazon boat section.

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Book Review 2017 – Part XII

I’m still way behind with my book reviews – maybe I should write more or read less.

First up this time is Just a Little Run Around the World by Rosie Swale Pope. What an amazing story. Before her epic run, Rosie did a little bit of everything, including some freelance writing for a couple of running magazines. When her husband died she looked for something truly epic to do in his name. Running around the world fits the bill, especially taking the northern route, which involved winters in Siberia, Alaska and Canada.

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Rosie might have only managed a half marathon a day, but you try it with a heavy rucksack, which she soon ditched for a trailer. It resembled a coffin on wheels, but contained everything she needed and she could sleep in it as well. As I said earlier, an amazing story from an amazing woman.

Next up we have The Man Who Cycled the Americas by Mark Beaumont. I’ve read all of his books and followed him avidly on Strava as he was cycling round the world in 80 days. I’ve long held ambitions to cycle the Americas, so here is another book on the same topic.

There is an added twist with this book, in that Mark not only cycles the whole continent, but he summits the highest mountains in the north and in the south, although by foot and not by bike. In Alaska this is Mount Denali, and in the Andes it is the Aconcagua. Mark has very little mountaineering experience, but he is fit, and both climbs are with organised groups.

I enjoyed this book more than his race across Africa, mainly because he was taking his time and could interact with the locals. As with all of the other books in the area, he doesn’t cycle the Darian Gap, taking a boat instead. One day I’m sure there will be a road linking Panama and Columbia. Maybe it will be built for when I cycle there.

Book Review 2017 – Part XI

Not being able to cycle for a few days because of nasty cold means that I’ve managed to write one blog entry each day, with Part X Book Review here and an air quality entry here.

I first read Jericho Falls by Christopher Hyde almost 30 years ago. It was delivered by accident when I was a member of a book club and I forgot to send it back. I’m glad that I did because it’s a brilliant thriller/horror novel. I’d lost my original copy many years ago, so when I saw that it was available for a few pence form a large online retailer – I pounced.

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The story revolves around a small town sheriff from a nondescript town in the middle of nowhere. I don’t want to give too much away, but there is biological warfare, government coverups, evil military and general edge of your seat stuff. It’s a little dated, no mobiles, no internet, no Facebook, etc, but overall it stands the test of time well. It is worth looking out for, especially if you’re a Dean Koontz fan.

Generally, on a Monday, I borrow my wife’s car and drive to work, usually managing a quick swim at the Howe Bridge pool on the way. Driving home I get to listen to Simon Mayo’s book club on Radio 2. Usually by the time I’ve got home I’ve forgotten whatever book it was they were talking about, but The One by John Marrs stuck with me.

The plot is that a scientist has discovered part of our genome that identifies if we are attracted to someone, or if someone is ‘The One’. I would suggest that the science behind the book is a load of rubbish, but the premise is quite good. We follow the lives of six individuals as they interact with their ‘One’, without their stories ever crossing. This helps because sometimes a character might be a bit boring, while another is interesting, and then later in the book vice versa. There are plenty of plot twists along the way, including one character’s ‘One’ being a serial killer. Definitely recommended.

Another thing to like about John Marrs is that for his first book he self published, and gradually it gathered momentum until he could become a full time author for his later books.

Book Review 2017 – Part X

I’ve been a bit slack recently with my book reviews, and with my blog in general. I’ve not stopped reading, I’ve just stopped writing about the books that I’ve been reading. It’s got to the point where the stack of books that I need to review is bigger than the stack of books that I’ve not read yet.

First off then is another cycling adventure book; The Beardless Adventurer by Donna Ashton. A couple in their 40’s decide to cycle across Europe, all the way to the Black Sea. Between them they have very little cycling experience. and Donna has a bike which is too large.

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They both had a romantic view of cycling quiet French country lanes, with the sun shinning and being able to stop in quaint villages to buy fresh bread and cakes. The reality was closed campsites, hilly back roads, rain compounded with various aches and pains.

They persevered and it does end up being a great adventure, and I especially like their ineptness at the beginning because it gives me hope that I can manage the same one day.

Eleven Minute Late by Matthew Engel isn’t a cycling adventure book. Instead, as the title cryptically alludes to, it’s about trains in the UK. I was hoping that it would be a kind of Bill Bryson on trains, and it was, to start with. Matthew buys a two week unlimited travel card and sets off on various journeys, including the longest in the UK which runs from Penzance to Dundee and takes almost 12 hours.

I like reading about obscure routes where trains only run once a week. He also stopped off in Rogart, and small station in the Highlands where me and my wife spent an enjoyable night sleeping in a converted train. Unfortunately the book veered off into the history of the railways, who ran them and ultimately discussed privatisation. Interesting, but not really what I was looking for.

Book Review 2017 – Part IX

Walking Home from Mongolia is the second book by Rob Lilwall that I’ve read. The first one was reviewed here, where he cycled from Siberia back home to the UK, the long way. I enjoyed it, although there was a little bit too much religion.

In this book he decides to walk from Mongolia to Hong Kong, a distance of 3,000 miles. He asked his old friend Al to join him, but he was busy. Instead he was joined by Leon McCarron, who I reviewed here when he cycled across America.Leon wasn’t just going to walk with Rob, he was going to film it for a TV series.

As expected, they had some problems along the way, and as with Rob’s other adventure they didn’t always see eye to eye. A lack of Visas and extreme cold were other problems, but if I’m completely honest, I didn’t really enjoy this book. It didn’t make me want to go out on an adventure. It also came across that neither man was really enjoying the walk by the end. I think I’ll stick to cycling books.

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I don’t just throw together these reviews randomly. The second book, Thunder and Sunshine is by Al Humphreys, and as you know, Al was Rob’s cycling buddy in Siberia. This is the second book by Al and you can read about the other book here. In this book he continues to write about his cycle ride around the world, mainly up the whole of the Americas. As with book review part VIII (here) there is once again the small problem of there being no roads between Columbia and Panama, although Rob does cycle through much of Columbia, and finds it to be one of the most welcoming countries he visits.

The most intriguing section of the book is the Siberian part, this time from Al’s perspective. I really enjoyed this book, which goes to show that I am definitely more of a cycling person and not a walking type of guy.

Book Review 2017 – Part VIII

I’ve been a bit slack recently with new blogs posts and I haven’t written anything new here. Instead this is a book review that I wrote over a month ago and never got round to typing it up. Two books once again, although very different.

First up is The Longest Road: An Irish Pan-American Cycling Adventure by Ben Cunningham. So many long distance cycling books, it’s almost as if I can’t get enough. This particular book saw a group of Irish cycling novices traverse from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska all the way down to Patagonia. Very different style once again, as these guys had a support vehicle for almost all of the journey, with a large trailer for all of their luggage. Not something that I would consider, but it is one way of doing it. They also liked to drink and party whenever possible. Having their own security through Mexico and parts of South America is probably not warranted, although travelling in such a large group, sometimes up to a dozen of them, would draw attention. Also, it’s got to be expensive.

As with all of the books that I’ve read, they were advised to miss out Columbia, especially as apparently there are no roads between Panama and Columbia. I find that hard to believe. It would be like no roads between England and Scotland and you’d have to go via Ireland. Truly bizarre.

I finished that book while me and the wife were cycle touring around the Highlands of Scotland. One night we stayed in a converted train, which was brilliant. They also had a selection of books, so I left Ben’s book and picked up one about the British Wrestling scene.

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The Wrestling was written a few years ago by Simon Garfield, before the recent resurgence in British Wrestling, so it does dwell on former glories up to the early 90’s when ITV cancelled wrestling from World of Sport.

I will be honest, I was always a big wrestling fan as I was growing up, and if I had more time I would probably continue to watch it every week. Back to the book, and a lot of the names are from the 50’s and 60’s, who I didn’t recognize, but once we hit the 80’s it was totally my era. I was slightly disappointed that my favourite wrestler, Ironfist Clive Myers didn’t get a mention.

It was also sad reading about the demise of British wrestling, especially as this period coincided with the rise of American Sports Entertainment with the WWF, now the WWE. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but as I said, I was and still am a wrestling fan. It would be good to see a few extra chapters from the last five years; new names and new stars, for example, Gentleman Jack Gallagher, Will Osprey or Neville.

Book Review 2017 – Part VII

So many books to read, so many reviews to write, and too much time spent at work. Never-mind, here’s a Dean Koontz double bill.

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I’ve been a Dean Koontz fan for almost 30 years, when my Uncle lent me a copy of Phantoms, which scared the hell out of me. In the years between I have probably read most of his books, even though he is fairly prolific. I wasn’t a fan of his Frankenstein series of books, as for me they didn’t really work, but otherwise I have enjoyed all of his work.

Recently my wife has started to read some of his books, so with an Amazon voucher from work I bought two of Mr Koontz’s finest; Watchers and Lightning.

Lightning is a time travelling thriller, where a mystery man keeps popping up to save a young girl’s life. Where does he come from, or more correctly, when? The ‘science’ part of the book is definite ‘fiction’, but it’s a great read, and the ‘when’ is not what you expect.

Watchers is more horror than thriller, although it does have an intelligent dog as the hero. Apparently Mr Koontz receives more fan letters about this book than any other, and I can see why. I’ve read it at least 3 or 4 times, and will probably read it again in the not too distant future.

The dog, our hero, brings together two lonely people and between the three of them they have an adventure. I don’t want to say too much as my wife is only half way through, and I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say – it’s a great read.

That should be my catch phrase for book reviews – it’s a great read. You can find all of my other book reviews here.