On Courage: A celebration of the Victoria and George Cross holders

Happy publication day to On Courage, stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross holders (published by Constable, Little Brown).

OnCourage

On Courage is a moving collection of 28 inspirational stories, which showcase the valour, courage and bravery shown by recipients of the Victoria Cross and George Cross. The VC is the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy to members of the armed forces, whilst the GC is awarded to those who have displayed heroism or courage whilst in extreme danger.

Each chapter in On Courage is introduced by a public figure – from Mary Berry to Sir Bobby Charlton – and the stories told are remarkable, but also at times hard to read. The determination and selflessness of the VC and GC recipients is just incredible. Reading through the accounts was incredibly humbling – protecting others at the expense of your own safety is something I’m sure not many of us would be selfless and courageous enough to do. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the situations the recipients of the VC and GC endured and overcame.

Today, I wanted to shine a light on one story in particular – the one of RAF flight engineer Norman Jackson. During the war, he climbed out onto the wing of his Lancaster bomber plane, whilst in flight over Germany, to put out a fire using a twisted parachute as a rope. Whilst out there, with exploding aircraft around him lighting up the sky, he was shot in the arm which caused him to plunge down to earth, and many were surprised that he lived to tell the tale. He confronted fear head-on to protect his comrades and squadron, all on the night his first child was born. I found this story particularly moving as my Grandfather was also a pilot in the RAF during WWII – it made me think of the resilience and bravery they must have had up in the sky. But truth be told, this wasn’t the only story that left me with a lump in my throat and glassy eyes.

A heart-warming read, On Courage reminds you of the good in humanity and shows that wherever we go in life there will be remarkable people, if we just look for them. I highly recommend picking this up – just be sure to get the tissues at the ready!

You can order a copy of the book through Waterstones here.

The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association made its archive available, which contributed to the publication of On Courage. The book is part of The Sebastopol Project, which will raise money for Combat Stress, as well as The VC and GC Association – £2.70 of every book purchase will go directly to charity. Combat Stress is the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health.

Advertisements

Wellcome Book Prize: To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell [Blog Tour]

Following on from my blog post on The Wellcome Book Prize shortlist, I’m here today as part of the blog tour, showcasing the wonderful To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell, which is published by Granta Books.

The prize celebrates the many ways in which literature can illuminate the breadth and depth of our relationship with health, medicine and illness. If you’re not too familiar with the Wellcome Collection, then I highly recommend you check the museum out – it’s a great destination for the curious and often has intelligent, engaging and thought-provoking exhibitions on. The museum was originally established under Sir Henry’s will in 1936, and is now a global charitable foundation, which aims to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive.

Here’s a quick reminder of the other shortlisted books:

Wellcome Book Prize 2018 shortlist

The winner is set to be announced at a ceremony on Monday 30th April 2018, which is being held at The Wellcome Collection, and the prize is being judged by:

  • Hannah Critchlow, Neuroscientist, author and presenter
  • Bryony Gordon, Journalist, author and mental health campaigner
  • Edmund de Waal, Writer and Artist
  • Sumit Paul-Choudhury, Journalist
  • Sophie Ratcliffe, Writer, critic and academic 

A little more about To Be a Machine: 

tobeamachine

Transhumanism is a movement pushing the limits of our bodies–our capabilities, intelligence, and lifespans–in the hopes that, through technology, we can become something better than ourselves. It has found support among Silicon Valley billionaires and some of the world’s biggest businesses. In To Be a Machine, journalist Mark O’Connell explores the staggering possibilities and moral quandaries that present themselves when you of think of your body as a device. He visits the world’s foremost cryonics facility to witness how some have chosen to forestall death. He discovers an underground collective of biohackers, implanting electronics under their skin to enhance their senses. He meets a team of scientists urgently investigating how to protect mankind from artificial superintelligence.

Where is our obsession with technology leading us? What does the rise of AI mean not just for our offices and homes, but for our humanity? Could the technologies we create to help us eventually bring us to harm? Addressing these questions, O’Connell presents a profound, provocative, often laugh-out-loud-funny look at an influential movement. In investigating what it means to be a machine, he offers a surprising meditation on what it means to be human.

Author: Mark O’ Connell
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Granta Books

My initial thoughts: 

One thing that really draws me to To Be a Machine is that it looks at the influence technological innovations have on humanity and humanity’s future – ever since I was a young age, technology has fascinated and scared me in equal measure, so this a topic that really intrigues me. Also, in my career to date I’ve worked with a number of huge technology brands and it often astounds me that there’s no end to the use cases of new science and innovations – particularly when looking at new developments within hacking and robotics, I often end up thinking what next?

Whilst I’m yet to finish reading To Be a Machine, I’ve found it to be really thought-provoking, clever and engrossing so far. It manages to explores a really complex, and at times dark, subject matter in a chatty, candid and digestible way. I’m looking forward to finishing it off to see what the rest of the book holds.

Today I’ve also got an extract of To Be a Machine – read on and enjoy:

A broad definition: transhumanism is a liberation movement advocating nothing less than a total emancipation from biology itself. There is another way of seeing this, an equal and opposite interpretation, which is that this apparent liberation would in reality be nothing less than a final and total enslavement to technology. We will be bearing both sides of this dichotomy in mind as we proceed. For all the extremity of transhumanism’s aims—the convergence of technology and flesh, for instance, or the uploading of minds into machines—the above dichotomy seemed to me to express something fundamental about the particular time in which we find ourselves, in which we are regularly called upon to consider how technology is changing everything for the better, to acknowledge the extent to which a particular app or platform or device is making the world a better place.

If we have hope for the future—if we think of ourselves as having such a thing as a future—it is predicated in large part on what we might accomplish through our machines. In this sense, transhumanism is an intensification of a tendency already inherent in much of what we think of as mainstream culture, in what we may as well go ahead and call capitalism. And yet the inescapable fact of this aforementioned moment in history is that we, and these machines of ours, are presiding over a vast project of annihilation, an unprecedented destruction of the world we have come to think of as ours. The planet is, we are told, entering a sixth mass extinction: another Fall, another expulsion. It seems very late in the day, in this dismembered world, to be talking about a future. One of the things that drew me to this movement, therefore, was the paradoxical force of its anachronism. For all that transhumanism presented itself as resolutely oriented toward a vision of a world to come, it felt to me almost nostalgically evocative of a human past in which radical optimism seemed a viable position to take with respect to the future. In the way it looked forward, transhumanism seemed, somehow, always to be facing backward. The more I learned about transhumanism, the more I came to see that, for all its apparent extremity and strangeness, it was nonetheless exerting certain formative pressures on the culture of Silicon Valley, and thereby the broader cultural imagination of technology. Transhumanism’s influence seemed perceptible in the fanatical dedication of many tech entrepreneurs to the ideal of radical life extension—in the PayPal cofounder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel’s funding of various life extension projects, for instance, and in Google’s establishment of its biotech subsidiary Calico, aimed at generating solutions to the problem of human aging. And the movement’s influence was perceptible, too, in Elon Musk’s and Bill Gates’s and Stephen Hawking’s increasingly vehement warnings about the prospect of our species’ annihilation by an artificial superintelligence, not to mention in Google’s instatement of Ray Kurzweil, the high priest of the Technological Singularity, as its director of engineering.

I saw the imprint of transhumanism in claims like that of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who suggested that “Eventually, you’ll have an implant, where if you just think about a fact, it will tell you the answer.” These men—they were men, after all, almost to a man—all spoke of a future in which humans would merge with machines. They spoke, in their various ways, of a posthuman future—a future in which techno-capitalism would survive its own inventors, finding new forms in which to perpetuate itself, fulfill its promise.

Have you read any books on the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist? Which one do you think will win this year? 

You can catch the other blog posts on the tour, here:

wellcometour.jpg

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

COMPETITION: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Last week saw the launch of the brand-new Mike Newell film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, starring Lily James and Michiel Huisman. Based on the book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, it tells the story of the WWII occupation of Guernsey, and a secret literary society set up by islanders to help them through their ordeal.

A bit about the book

guernsey

It’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her – and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her curiosity is piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realises that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.

About the Authors

Mary Ann Shaffer was born in 1934 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She worked as an editor, a librarian and in bookshops. She became interested in Guernsey while visiting London in 1976. On a whim, she decided to fly to Guernsey but became stranded there as a heavy fog descended and no boats or planes were permitted to leave the island. As she waited for the fog to clear, she came across a book called Jersey Under the Jack-Boot, and so her fascination with the Channel Isles began. Many years later, when goaded by her own literary club to write a book, Mary Ann naturally thought of Guernsey.

Mary Ann died in February 2008 – she knew that this, her only novel, was to be published in thirteen countries. Before she died she wrote, ‘I must tender special thanks to my niece, Annie, who stepped in to finish this book after unexpected health issues interrupted my ability to work shortly after the manuscript was sold. Without blinking an eye, she put down the book she was writing, pushed up her sleeves, and set to work on my manuscript. It was my great good luck to have a writer like her in the family, and this book could not have been done without her.’ Annie Barrows is the author of the Ivy and Bean series for children, as well as The Magic Half.

The competition

LilyJames.jpg
Lily James in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

To celebrate the launch of the film, Condor Ferries is offering the chance to win a VIP prize for 2 worth over £1,000; including a high-speed trip to Guernsey by sea, to stay in one of the island’s finest hotels and have a private tour of the island, visiting all of the historic sites the film is based on! How amazing does that sound? As a lover of both history and books, I know I’ll be very envious of whoever wins!

The prize also includes:

  • A copy of the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, signed by co-author Annie Burrows, who completed the book after her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer fell ill whilst writing it.
  • Return upgraded ferry travel with your car, plus meet the Captain on the bridge
  • £100 duty free voucher to spend onboard
  • Luxury 2 night stay including breakfast at the Old Government House Hotel and Spa
  • Potato Peel Pie cookery lesson and dinner at one of the island’s top restaurants, Pier 17 Restaurant

To enter the competition, all you need to do is head over to the Condor Ferries Facebook page, tagging the person that you would like to take with them. Then just share the post, and you’re done! The competition closes 30 April 2018, with travel by 31 May 2018, exclusion dates apply.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about the film from other fellow book lovers – I’m hoping to get to my local cinema this week, I’ll let you know what I think.

Good luck!

 

Blog Tour: A Breath After Drowning by Alice Blanchard

Today, I’m on the blog tour for A Breath After Drowning by Alice Blanchard, published by Titan Books.

About the book:

BreathCover

Child psychiatrist Kate Wolfe’s world comes crashing down when one of her young patients commits suicide, so when a troubled girl is left at the hospital ward, she doubts her ability to help. But the girl knows things about Kate’s past, things she shouldn’t know, forcing Kate to face the murky evidence surrounding her own sister s murder sixteen years before. A murder for which a man is about to be executed.

Unearthing secrets about her own family, and forced to face both her difficult relationship with her distant father and the possibility that her mother might also have met a violent end, the shocking final twist brings Kate face to face with her deepest fear.

Paperback: 400 pages
Published by: Titan Books
Author: Alice Blanchard

My review:

A Breath After Drowning is a tense, page-turner of a book – a psychological thriller that really packs a punch.

Kate, the central character, is complex – full of guilt, mental health struggles and intelligence. At times, she is dark, brooding and intense, so it was refreshing to see other light-hearted relationships alongside this – her boyfriend’s character added depth and a little humour to the book. This juxtaposition was very much needed amongst the grief and darkness that plagued the rest of the novel. Whilst ABAD is character-led, the author has done a great job ensuring you’re invested in the plot, making sure you want to know how every element of the story unfolds.

The book is a little slow in places, but that by no means detracts from the plot, as the pace later increases, with tension firing up on all cylinders.

I’m also a huge fan of books set over multiple time periods – Blanchard creates a rich puzzle of past and present events, overlapping wonderfully. I love discovering new authors and this has definitely intrigued me, leaving me wanting to read more by Alice Blanchard. I highly recommend ABAD – engrossing from the first page, to the last.

You can catch the other blog posts on the tour, here:

A Breath After Drowning_FINAL

Thank you to Philippa, from Titan Books, for sending me an advanced copy of the book – this is an honest and unbiased review. 

Blog Tour: The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl

Another day, another blog tour – today, I’m here with The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl, published by the wonderful Orenda Books.

About the book

The Ice Swimmer AW.indd

The Oslo Detectives are back in another slice of gripping, dark Nordic Noir, and their new colleague has more at stake than she’s prepared to reveal…When a dead man is lifted from the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour just before Christmas, Detective Lena Stigersand’s stressful life suddenly becomes even more complicated. Not only is she dealing with a cancer scare, a stalker and an untrustworthy boyfriend, but it seems both a politician and Norway’s security services might be involved in the murder.

With her trusted colleagues, Gunnarstranda and Frølich, at her side, Lena digs deep into the case and finds that it not only goes to the heart of the Norwegian establishment, but it might be rather to close to her personal life for comfort. Dark, complex and nail-bitingly tense, The Ice Swimmeris the latest and most unforgettable instalment in the critically acclaimed Oslo Detective series, by the godfather of Nordic Noir.

Publisher: Orenda Books
Paperback: 276 Pages
Translated by: Don Bartlett

A brief overview of my thoughts…

The Ice Swimmer is a wonderfully written Police Procedural, fronted by Lena who is a whip smart and strong female detective. Gripping from the start, it works wonderfully as a stand alone novel – this was the first book I’d read in The Oslo Detective series and I didn’t feel lost, or like I was missing any information.

Full of plot, twists and tales this kept me intrigued from the first to last page – I wanted to keep going until I found out what had happened. If you’re into your Nordic Noir, I’d recommend this clever, twisty tale.

About the author

kjellauthor

One of the godfathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjovik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frolich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

You can keep up with the other posts on the blog tour, here:

iceswimmer

As ever, a HUGE thank you to the wonderful Anne for organising another wonderful A Random Things Tour.  

March Reads

I would say ‘how has another month passed?’ but I seem to say the same thing every month, so I’ll save the spiel.

I had a real bumper month of reading and got stuck into some amazing books, so without further ado here’s an update

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – 4/5

eleanor

This one is nominated for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction and is such a memorable read. Loneliness, depression and friendship are all explored through Eleanor’s wonderfully quirky and bereft character – Gail Honeyman has created such a complex, deep and believable character in Eleanor, one who is set in her ways until one small accident changes everything for her. There were bits of this book which weren’t perfect, however overall I absolutely loved it and would heartily recommend it to friends and family. 

An Unremarkable Body by Elisa Lodato – 4/5

unremarkable.jpeg

When Katharine is found dead at the foot of her stairs, it is the mystery of her life that consumes her daughter, Laura. The book highlights that although, as we discover from her autopsy, Katherine has an unremarkable body she’s had a life full of hidden secrets. This book is a trip down memory lane, Laura longs for her dead Mother as she tries to figure out if she ever really knew her at all.

The F Word by Lily Pebbles – 3/5

fwordlily.jpeg

A modern-day tale of female friendship and its complexities, written by YouTuber Lily Pebbles. This was an easy read, but felt more like one long journal entry, than a study on friendship and was a little repetitive in places. For me, it lacked real substance and I think  it is probably better suited for a younger audience.

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper – 4/5

dividingwalls

An absolute powerhouse of a book. These Dividing Walls starts as a cosy look at the people behind four walls in Paris and ends up being an explosive look at race, politics, terrorism and relationships. I’m not going to say much about the topic, or what happens, as I implore you to read it. Fran Cooper’s second novel – The Two Houses – is out now and I’ve made sure I’ve requested it at my local library.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – 4/5

livingdanishly.jpeg

Denmark is officially the happiest nation on Earth. When Helen Russell is forced to move to rural Jutland, can she discover the secrets of their happiness? This book is split into months of the year, with the writer exploring one element of Danish life in each chapter – covering everything from traditions to the harsh Danish winters. This was such an enjoyable, cosy read which made me question what makes me happy in my life, but most of all it made me want to move to Denmark. Sign me up, when do I leave? 

We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

SaltofSea.jpeg

A lyrical, literary crime story. – a poetic ode to the sea. At times I struggled with the flow of this book – it has a certain lilt to it and a very distinctive voice rhythm and style. Unfortunately, on this occasion I just think it was the wrong timing for me to read this.

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth – 4/5

animals

Described as a female version of Withnail and I, Animals is a raucous read from start to finish – it leaves you tired from Laura and Tyler’s high-octane escapades. However, underneath the drink, drugs and whirlwind lifestyles, it questions how we want our lives to pan-out, asking us when is the right time to grow up, as well as understanding what we might need to leave behind to achieve a happy life. A tale of female friendship, love and belonging.

Giveaway: We Were the Salt of the Sea

Today I’ve got a great giveaway for you – the wonderful folk at Orenda Books have given me two copies of Roxanne Bouchard’s novel, We Were the Salt of the Sea, as part of the blog tour.

About the book:

Truth lingers in murky waters…

As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation.

On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters. It’s enough to make DS Morales reach straight for a large whisky…

About Roxanne:

Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspe Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. We Were the Salt of the Sea is her fifth novel, and her first to be translated into English. She lives in Quebec.

You can enter the giveaway below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Take a look at the other blog tour posts, here:

blogtour