‘Grandpa’s Great Escape’ by David Walliams

The tenth book written by David Walliams, ‘Grandpa’s Great Escape’ is probably the most outlandish of them all – a real disappointment as this book could’ve been something much better.

The book is – unlike others written by the author – set in 1983 and follows the story of Jack Bunting, a shy twelve-year-old obsessed with his Grandpa’s amazing war stories. However, Grandpa had developed a mental issue where he thought that it was still 1940 and he was an RAF pilot fighting in the war. This book is the story of Grandpa and Jack’s great adventure and their escape from Twilight Towers, the formidable old-folks home Grandpa is put into with a dark secret.

I felt that this book was just a mixture of recycled plot-points from other David Walliams books thrown together with hardly anything original in it. The idea of elderly role-models being taken away is a reoccurring theme in Walliams’ books also characters in disguises and not being who they claim to be appear author’s novels as well – notably ‘Awful Auntie’ (my review of that book can be viewed here). There’s also the overly-strict teacher, the menacing villain from Walliams’ later books (‘Ratburger’ onwards) and many other things in this book which I recognised.

There is also the outlandish story which this book tells. Some things are just too unrealistic for my liking, such as Grandpa and Jack breaking into the Imperial War Museum and stealing the Spitfire and flying it before being chased and almost shot out of the sky by a Harrier Jump Jet. It’s things like this which made this book not quite as good as I think it could be. If there wasn’t the menacing villain or the unrealistic heists, this story could be a heartfelt tale of Jack and how he copes with his Grandpa’s difficulties and more like Walliams’ earlier novels which were based around a moral and a lot more simplistic yet – I think – better.

This is something I’ve noticed in David Walliams’ books – his first four (‘The Boy in the Dress’, ‘Mr Stink’, ‘Billionaire Boy’ and ‘Gangsta Granny’) do not include a menacing villain with an evil plot – usually involving torture or death. These books focus about friendships and family, relationships and morals. These, for me, are the best of Walliams’ books as they are entertaining but teach us lessons of life at the same time. However, with later books, Walliams has written of ghastly antagonists for the child-heroes to defeat and I don’t find these stories quite as appealing as the earlier ones. ‘Grandpa’s Great Escape’ – unfortunately – fits into this category of books with over-villainous antagonists and no real life-lesson and just a mis-match of loosely-linked comedic scenes.

I really can’t say much good about this book; I could understand why a child may enjoy it, purely for some of the comedy in some scenes and the descriptions of warfare and dogfight. However, I personally would’ve rather read a  much less extravagant story and one which is more down-to-earth, without the antics of unrealistic heists and escapes and with a lot more emotion and feeling. Because of this, I’m going to give ‘Grandpa’s Great Escape’ a meagre four-out-of-ten and just hope that the eleventh Walliams book isa bit better.

4/10.

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‘Trigger Mortis’ by Anthony Horowitz

Picking up where the novel ‘Goldfinger’ left of, ‘Trigger Mortis’ is a thrilling addition to Ian Fleming’s James Bond series.

After foiling Auric Goldfinger’s evil plot, James Bond returns to London with Pussy Galore. But, just as he starts to get back into the swing of things, he’s called by M for his latest mission – to race around the Nürburgring and protect English racer Lancy Smith from being killed by Ivan Dimitriov, a Russian Racer and suspected agent of SMERSH. The race leads to Bond uncovering a secret Soviet plot and the mysterious figure Jason Sin – all leading to a climatic ending which has any reader on the edge of their seat.

‘Trigger Mortis’ contains all things that make Bond books good: action, fast cars, beautiful women, eccentric villains and – most importantly – a climatic ending, with Bond finding himself in the position of having to save Manhattan from a gigantic explosion from beneath the Empire State Building. My favourite scene, however, would be when Bond is racing on the Nürburgring as Horowitz describes the race so well the reader becomes immersed in it, feeling the speed and power that Bond feels as he rockets around the track.

I only really have one criticism with this book and that is that it is too similar to others in the Bond series. Some may like the fact that Horowitz has written in the style of Fleming and that the book fits perfectly into the timeline of events, however I think it’s just too Fleming-like. i’d much rather the book’s story was a bit more abstract, a bit less predictable and like other stories in the series. You could see similarities between ‘Trigger Mortis’ and other Bond novels – rockets from ‘Moonraker’, evil billionaires from ‘Goldfinger’, set in America from ‘Live And Let Die’, and many more. I wish the book was about a more difficult task for Bond, something which he’d never come across before, not just a mish-mash of plots from other books. I would liken this book to the film ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, where there are so many references and homages to previous films in the series, the story just becomes a repeat of something the audience have already seen. This book is like that, with lots of references and nods to other Bond books making this novel just not quite as original as I hoped it would be.

Overall, ‘Trigger Mortis’ is a good addition to the Ian Fleming Bond novels and well-worth a read for anyone who has read the series. However, for me there wasn’t enough original story and so I will have to give this book eight-out-of-ten.

8/10.

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‘Thunder and Sunshine’ by Alastair Humphreys

The sequel to the bestseller ‘Moods of Future Joys’ (my review of which can be viewed here), ‘Thunder and Sunshine’ follows Alastair Humphreys as he travels by bike across the Americas and Asia before finally returning home to England.

After his amazing cycle from Yorkshire to Cape Town, Humphreys continues his journey around the world by bike, the book picking up pretty much where the last left of. It opens with Humphreys  searching for a way to cross the Atlantic Ocean and continue his journey around the world by bike. He crosses through some of the most beautiful and dangerous places in South America as he rides over gigantic mountains and over massive salt flats before entering North America. He then rides up into Canada and rows down the Yukon River to Alaska where he catches a ferry crossing over to Russia in the depths of winter.

As Humphreys cycles across Russia and through Asia, the book becomes not only an excellent piece of travel-writing but also an informative history book. Humphreys writes about the history of the areas he rides through and their political and cultural heritage. It’s quite interesting to read about some countries’ slightly mad leaders and political turmoil as well as Humphreys’ awe-inspiring journey. For me this added to the appeal of the book and made it an even more interesting rea, especially as he passes through ex-Soviet countries and central Asia.

Another part of this book which I really enjoyed is that – as the reader – I could feel the isolation and sense of loneliness that Humphreys was feeling on his trip and emphasise with him. Although he rode with friends for some of the way, Humphreys was usually alone for the four-year-long bike ride and the reader can really feel the sadness of that when reading ‘Thunder and Sunshine’. It also makes the reader realise how far away from anything some of the places Humphreys visits are; one such instance being when Humphreys is in isolated Siberia and staying in a small hut outside a café. Unfortunately, the café catches fire and the two of the three people escape, severely burnt, the last sadly dying. The fact that the ambulance took four hours to get to the café and that was only after waiting two hours for a passing car to come and make the call really made me realise how big the world is and made Humphreys’ journey just that bit more awe-inspiring.

Although this book is brilliant, there is one flaw and it is the same as the previous book: not enough Europe! Most European countries were completed in a few pages, and I don’t think France even got one. I think that with this book the author found himself having to cram so much in that he perhaps didn’t have time for an in-depth description of Europe – either that or when he was doing the ride he was so excited with the prospect of almost being home that he forgot completely about taking notes. However, I would’ve maybe preferred if the series was split into three books rather than two so that some things could have a slightly more detailed description, or maybe even five novels, one for each continent. Either way, I felt that in ‘Thunder and Sunshine’ there maybe wasn’t as much in-depth description as I would like and maybe it would be better if the Around The World By Bike series was split into more than just two books.

Overall, ‘Thunder and Sunshine’ is a brilliant piece of travel-writing with engaging history and an amazing story being told. However, the lack of description of Europe and some other countries has made me give this book only eight-out-of-ten, although I’d still recommend it and the former book in the series, Moods Of Future Joys.

8/10.

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To read my review of the previous book in the series, ‘Moods Of Future Joys’, click here.

Signed copies of ‘Thunder and Sunshine’ can be bought here from the author’s website.

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‘Moods Of Future Joys’ by Alastair Humphreys

The first part in the ‘Around The World By Bike’ series, ‘Moods Of Future Joys’ is the story of Alastair Humphreys’ journey from Yorkshire to Cape Town on his bicycle, travelling through Europe and Africa.

The book is fast-paced right from the beginning, opening with Humphreys mounting his bike for the first time and starting his journey. Europe is completed within the first few chapters, the book only describing small pieces of the journey through the continent. Most of the book takes place in the Middle East and Africa, describing Humphreys’ fears and emotions as he travels through what he at first imagines to be some of the most dangerous places on the planet.

‘Moods Of Future Joys’ isn’t a book about the tourist attractions and hotels in the countries Humphreys visited; quite the opposite actually. On a small budget of £7000, Humphreys couldn’t afford luxury hotels and he describes nights where he camps under the stars in fields or stays with locals who offered him a bed for the night. The hospitality of the people Humphreys met really comes across in the book and the reader can get a sense of what it’s like to stay in the countries he visited.

The book also describes in detail what it’s like to be on the road for so long, not really knowing where you’re going or who you’re going to meet. Humphreys doesn’t hide the fact that the journey took a toll on him – he wrote about how he’d cry and really start to think about turning back and going home. Humphreys’ journey is both physical and emotional – he has to battle with the rough terrain and roads where he cycles as well as the emotions and thoughts that keep on making him want to turn back and return to England.

For me the most entertaining part of the book was when Humphreys was travelling through Ethiopia. The people are less than friendly towards him and it makes a really entertaining story as Humphreys fights the urge to lash out at the Ethiopian children and continue riding. The chapter where he passes through into Ethiopia is called Miles Not Smiles – see if you can spot why!

Overall, there isn’t much wrong with this book. Slightly more information about Europe would’ve been nice, however the story is mainly about the Middle East and Africa. For that, I’ll have to give ‘Moods Of Future Joys’ nine-out-of-ten, as it’s a really good read for anyone wanting to read about both the highs and lows of an adventure, but not for someone looking for a travel guide to Europe.

9/10.

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To read my review of the second book in the Around The World By Bike series, ‘Thunder and Sunshine’, click here.

Signed copies of ‘Moods of Future Joys’ can be bought here from the author’s website.

If you liked what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any book in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Book Requests’. Happy reading!

‘Shoot To Kill’ by Steve Cole

The sixth instalment in the Young Bond series, ‘Shoot to Kill’ is a brilliant story about a young James Bond’s adventure in America. Although slightly unrealistic, the plot is full of twists and turns, and I didn’t find myself bored at all when reading the story.

The book follows James Bond as a teenager after being thrown out of Eton and into his new school, Darlington Hall. He then goes off on a school-trip to Los Angeles (which he travels to via airship) where he finds himself uncovering a Chicago gang’s plot hidden behind the façade of the Hollywood film industry. The book offers some quite dark and scary scenes, one such scene being when James and his companions are thrown into an old movie set to be ruthlessly hunted down by killers so that their gruesome deaths can be filmed on camera for an up-coming film.

There aren’t too many characters and the plot isn’t too confusing, making it a good and engrossing read. The reader is on edge throughout the story, wondering if Bond and his companions will all survive, and how they’ll get out of their current situation. My favourite character would have to be Hugo Grande, a quick-witted and funny dwarf who is first to befriend James at Darlington Hall.

Although the book is really enjoyable as it’s full of action and drama, it does have one, big flaw: the plot. I find it highly unlikely that after attending a school for just twelve days and stealing an ambulance, a teenage boy would be allowed to board an airship with four other children and one adult to travel to Los Angeles and that, when at Los Angeles, two of the children would be allowed to attend a party with some of the most famous and glamorous people in the film industry also.

I understand that Cole had to somehow write about how James and five other children travelled from Exeter to Hollywood so that he could get to the main part of the story as quickly as possible, but there are slightly more realistic ways for six children (one with a firearm in his pocket!) to travel across the Atlantic Ocean quickly and efficiently.

All told, if you can overlook the unrealistic plot, ‘Shoot To Kill’ is a really good book and a brilliant instalment in the Young Bond series and well worth a read. However, for the plot, I’ll have to give this book eight-out-of-ten as the book is definitely not perfect.

8/10.

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‘There Are Other Rivers’ by Alastair Humphreys

‘There Are Other Rivers’ is a piece of travel-writing like no other. It recounts Alastair Humphreys’ journey across India, following one of the seven holy rivers across from the Coromandel Coast to the Malabar Coast. Unlike most travel books, the book is not a literal re-telling of the author’s experiences, but more of a generalisation of the trip.

‘There Are Other Rivers’ is not a conventional, linear story – it’s set on a single day, with Humphreys reflecting on his journey, his other adventures and “the eternal appeal of the open road”. The book tells very little about India; it is more focused on Humphreys’ motivations for his many trips and his feelings and emotions as his journey progresses.

The parts of the book that talk refer India do not mention the India that most of the Western world is familiar with – the book describes the ‘real’ India, the India that not many see. Humphreys’ journey takes him through rural villages, where he describes playing cricket with young children and being welcomed into homes by some of the people he met. He writes about how he wanted to experience “normal India” rather than visiting the Taj Mahal and air-conditioned hotels, which led him to follow one of the more obscure rivers in India.

The book is very ‘jumpy’, something I’d usually criticise. However, it is the main draw of the book. The whole point of ‘There Are Other Rivers’ is to break conventions – Humphreys explains in the ‘Author’s Note’ section about why the book was self-published. Essentially, he wanted greater freedom with his writing, paralleling his motives for his many adventures – freedom. As such, I can’t really fault the book for its lack of flow, however it would’ve been nice to have learnt a bit more about the route Humphreys took, where he went, and more of what he did.

All told, I’ll have to give ‘There Are Other Rivers’ a nine-out-of-ten, with the non-linear story making it an interesting read. But you shouldn’t pick it up if you’re looking for a guide to India!

9/10.

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You can buy signed copies of ‘There are Other Rivers’ from the author’s website.

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‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir

‘The Martian’ is a book about the intrepid astronaut Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars. Unlike a lot of sic-fi/fantasy novels, the book doesn’t employ the use of warp-drives or hyperspace or technology that still hasn’t been created, but is a realistic telling of what might happen if someone was to be stuck on Mars.

The book opens with Watney entering a new log entry, telling of how a storm on Mars had sent a satellite hurtling into him and piercing his spacesuit and sending him too far away to be recovered before the rest of his crew evacuated. He then goes onto explain how much food he has and how long it will last him, eventually concluding he’ll die.

However, as the book progresses, ideas start to form and Watney thinks he can make it back to Earth. However, problems always occur and the book is full of clever twists and turns making it a really good read. You never know what’s going to happen next, but you know it will be something bad.

Some of the best scenes in the book is when Watney is haveng his ‘down-time’. His crew were allowed to bring a USB drive with anything they wanted in on it and – after finding two of his comrades’ drives – Watney finds himself listening to disco music and reading Agatha Christie novels, which infuriates him as he gets tired of disco. These are light-hearted funny moments in his otherwise dark story.

There’s not much wrong with this book – it’s a solid story about an entertaining and humorous character. However, one problem is how ‘jumpy’ it is – the book can cut from Mars to Earth, from 1st to 3rd person, from present to past, all within one chapter and so it can become very confusin
g when there is no sign as to when the setting will change.

Overall, I’d give this book nine-out-of-ten as its ‘jumpiness’ can make it confusing but the rest of the story is entertaining and well-written.

9/10.

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