Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Racing To Mongolia to Pay Back A Ukrainian Mafia Boss You Lost To At Poker. You Know. The Norm.

First Paragraph:

"I am horizontal, mid-air, my feet planting into his chest. He sprawls backwards and the anger knotted inside of me bursts out of my mouth in a shout as he thumps down onto the mat. He scrambles to his feet and comes at me again and in my mind I see myself yesterday, stood up against the window in the office with its view out across the docklands, along with the rest of the trading floor, suited and booted, being told we no longer have jobs and as he tries to jab me my bile rises and I block him, sweep his feet from under him and hop from foot to foot, arms raised and ready. I turn from my waist and switch my front and back feet and then back again."

      Amazon / Amazon.co.uk

Rich in Small Things by Helen J Beal is a story focusing on how much the small things in life actually mean to us.


Melissa had was she considered her perfect job. Working as a city trader she made more than enough to get by, and enjoyed the finer things in life. Now her decade of service has gone down the tube, as the economy hits the company and thousands of employees are made redundant. Luckily she has enough saved to last a few months, but a new job is top priority on her now considerably empty 'To-do' list. Especially with her hobby.

Melissa enjoys online poker, and she's very good at it. But now that she's unemployed, she realises just how little social life she actually has. No friends and the only person she sees on any regular basis is her grandmother- Babu. Desperate for some face-to-face company, she decides to try her luck at a poker game downtown- resulting with her being scouted by a less than scrupulous character. Her poker skills get her noticed by his boss- Victor, who invites her to a private high-stakes game. Despite the fact that he is clearly the type of man you never want to owe money to (and is probably pretty much a sure bet to win) she buys in- for £25,000. Six players, and her confidence is her downfall. She makes a mistake and ends up £175,000 in debt- more than three triple what she has in the bank, plus interest. 

Victor makes her a deal. He likes her. If she joins his team he will clear the debt. She declines, realising the kind of men they are, but is now spectacularly indebted to a Ukrainian mobster. With very little options, she takes any work she can find. In this case, a waitress at a small cafe- where she bumps into an old school friend- Julia- who tells her all about the Ulaanbaatar Cup- a kind of car race from Hyde Park to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia- with a prize of £1,000,000. Melissa sees her chance, however slim it may be, and she and Julia decide to give it a try. 

Meanwhile, a couple other teams are preparing for the same race. Some for the experience, others for the cash. One of the teams is one of Victor's- who has the race on the books. He's determined his team wins- not only for the large gambling sum that will come his way, but also to force Melissa to work for him.

Slowly the groups all begin to interact. They discuss the race, the riddles they are given for bonus points, and what they would do with the money. And slowly, bonds are formed. There are (of course) more than a few mishaps along the way- some accidental, some not. With very few rules regarding sportsmanship and such a large prize to be had, there's plenty of hijinks and some sabotage. But soon each character will realise just what a difference five weeks can make.


This is a book with interesting, fallible characters- and none of them are clear cut. There is no black and white. Each character can forgive or be forgiven, and those that start off seeming like the antagonists are just people by the end. Neither right or wrong, capable of both good and bad. One of the recurring themes of the story is that everybody has the ability to change, given the right incentive.  Likewise, the characters can make mistakes. There are areas where occasionally a character seems to have inexcusably poor judgement, but you can let it slide, not because it isn't stupid (because let's face it, it is), but because sometimes people do, say or believe stupid things. 

The story focuses on its title, managing to deliver a realistic path that leads the characters to each of their own revelations and the beginnings of change. We know from the start how the book will end (or at least can make an educated guess), but like the plot that draws each character in, we're along for the ride. As the old saying goes, "It is not the destination, but the journey."

I thoroughly enjoy road-trip based stories. They offer all the usual things characters go through to reach the people they become by the end of the story, but add in some adventure and sight-seeing. All the different locations and their descriptions, never fail to entice and enthral me. Not only that, but these types of plots help the reader feel like they've travelled the distance with the characters. It makes the 'journey' seem longer and more real- so we experience some its the length too. Not anywhere near as much of the characters, of course, but enough to give us a taster of the weariness, or the sense of triumph and accomplishment once the end is reached. 

The only criticism I have is understandable, but slows the story down. A lot of the information is repeated again and again. Each group of characters discuss the Ulaanbaatar Cup in their own times and places, going over a lot of the things we already know. It makes sense that they would each discuss the race, but we don't need to see it for each group. The race doesn't even get going until around two hundred pages in.

Another minor issue was some of the writing- or rather spelling and grammar. Some of the wording can seem a little off- as though it's a bad translation. There are also a few grammatical/ spelling errors or inconsistencies, but overall I don't really count them as common enough or severe enough to be problems. I was still happily able to enjoy the story.


A fun, entertaining read. Part adventure, part romance and part comedy. Perfect to take along on any adventures you may be planning yourself, or to relive the memories and emotions of a past excursion. It left me with an overwhelming sense to start my own month long road-trip.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Monday, October 7, 2013

"So what's your role on the stage of life?" She asked. "The hopeless romantic, I guess. To Shakespeare that means tragedy."

First Paragraph: 

"The girl lay lifeless in his arms, nineteen and full of innocence. He wept, brushing strands of brown hair away from her once-sparkling eyes; eyes that had offered him hope when he was feeling down, eyes that narrowed with sarcasm whenever his ego was getting the better of him. It wasn't her time. She'd done nothing to deserve this. A heavy sadness rippled through his body, and only desperate pleas escaped his trembling lips."

All American Addict by Jason Cunningham is a story about William.


The prologue puts us near the end of the book, before pulling us back a few months to seventeen-year-old William Plum, on his daily commute through New York City on his way to school. This morning is a little different as a beautiful girl catches his eye on the train. The trip is over all too quickly for William, but Westmore Academy (and his best friend Philip) await.

William takes great pride in his grades, and Westmore is the place to get them. A school for the exceptionally wealthy or intelligent, William hopes to use them as a stepping stone on his way to his dream college- Oxford. In the two categories who frequent the school, William is a part of the former (though he has the grades to be the latter), and Philip the latter. William's mother is a celebrity chef working for HGTV, while his father was recently given the title "American Surgeon". Both parents excel at their work, but life at home is far from perfect.

His mother, Grace, is on the verge of being an alcoholic, and struggles to deal with the fact that her husband is never home, and that he rarely ever speaks. Mike (William's father) on the other hand, is haunted by the souls he couldn't save, and the family members left behind to grieve for them. He's aware his own family is slipping out of his grasp, but his duty to his patients is too strong to deny. 

Both parents are so involved in their own problems that William's are often unseen too. They know very little about their son at all. In fact, William is the youngest person ever to win the Hemingway Award, and his father hasn't even read the essay which one him the prize.  

William is positive the award will land him a place in Oxford however, and couldn't be happier. His current life is nothing special. In fact, he and Philip are each other's only friends. Outcast and bullied at school- Philip for being poor and black, and William for being an insufferable smart-ass, William's only joy is when he and Philip are together. 

With all that in mind, William can't believe his luck when Heidi (an attractive cheerleader) asks him out on a date. His first date ever. He bends over backwards to meet her requests, but unfortunately- after possibly one of the worst first dates in the history of the world- William finds himself in court with drug charges. It doesn't matter that he had no part in it, or that the drugs in his system were literally force-fed him by Heidi, the judge is unmoved, and sentences him to ninety days community service at Gateway Community Centre. 

For William, this is the end to his dream. He will be living on the premises, and for those three months will have no schooling. Which means no graduation. No Oxford. Even if he managed to graduate, the black mark on his record would be enough to keep him out. And just like that William goes from a life of monetary privilege, to working in one of the poorest areas of the city.

There is one star left in his black sky, however. By sheer coincidence, the girl from the train works in the kitchen. And she is everything he needs. While the rest of his life crumbles from beneath him, Noe is the only constant, and the only one who listens. 


I want to start with William. He is without a doubt the most interesting aspect of this entire book. He has (in his own words), "dry wit, biting candour and word mastery", and that is certainly an apt description of the teen. However, there is a lot more to him than that. He is sarcastically snarky, quite pretentious, but still very likeable and funny (through his wit). It's hard to have a good combination of irritating arrogance, and undeniable endearment. He delivers a lot of his lines with dead-pan snark, which is aided by the strong writing itself. It is clever, all delivered straight and plays a little on social satire. I am a big fan of this style of writing- with its terrifyingly blunt descriptions of the world, delivered with humour and intelligence- which don't exactly soften the truths, but make them a little more palatable. It's not sugar-coating exactly, it's more like it shows you your bleak existence and then gives you a hug to make you feel less lonely and depressed.

That in a nutshell is basically William. Brutally honest, yet not heartless. His mannerisms and sense of humour struck me as quite British in a way, despite him being a New Yorker. In fact, he reminded me a little of Artemis Fowl. Lonely and isolated by his own intelligence and arrogance. That aside, his personality is a fantastic base for the rest of the story to play off of. Some of it is his own doing, true, but William is now at a stage in his life where it's all coming to a head. As he tries to cope with the whirlwind that is his life and the people in it, more and more gets piled on top of him, and with no one to turn to it's only a matter of time before it overwhelms him- dragging him (and anyone else in the vicinity) down. All the while, he's still struggling to determine his own identity, as this is a coming-of-age story in its purest form, as he chases his image of the "All American Dream", and discovers which dreams are actually worth chasing.

His parents' have their arc too, and each member of the Plum household is given a second chance. It's up to them how they use it. They're not just second chances, they're the last chance. If they get it wrong this time, it's all over.

The plot itself (considering the genre) is quite slow-moving. It's typical of this genre to be more character driven than plot driven, and because of that this is more a story about William and his interactions with the world around him and the people in it. I didn't have a hard time getting through the book, however I did have a hard time getting back to it once I put it down. Because of the plot, there's very little tension, so I didn't feel a desperate need to race to continue reading. Don't get me wrong, once I did pick it up again I flew through the pages, but the story is all about the characters, so I equate my need to read it with them. They're like friends. Some friends you miss the moment they're out of sight, and you can't wait to see them again. The characters in this story didn't quite reach that level, but it is a rare level to reach. To me, they were more like friends that I throughly enjoyed spending time with, but ones I don't see that often, and I'm content with that.

The tension finally builds in the last quarter of the book, as consequences finally take affect. The story draws on the age old theory that everything in the world is somehow connected, as it goes full circle. 

There are some corny moments that come from the story of a first love from a teen's POV, but they work well when interlaced and contrasted against the harsh, gritty reality they're surrounded by. Everyone has problems, and money doesn't change that. Regardless of whether you lack it or have an abundance, as the characters show. 

The ending is suitable (if played a little safe and unrealistically), and brings everything around full-circle, with no difficulties pulling the relevant emotions from its readers. I do wish the author had been a little more daring with his ending, but I can see why he chose this one. 

A story full of charm and "whimsy", though to be honest the main reason I kept reading was William. His personality is entertaining and pleasant- despite his sharp tongue. I found that he was the only character I honestly cared about, but through him I cared for the other characters too. They are so vital to his existence, that you can't help but have some of his intense emotion rub off on you too. 

That's what I think I enjoyed most about this book. Everything is so raw. William tells it like it is, no holding back. None of that taking hundreds of pages to explain how he feels, and you have to give him credit for that. He may be a snarky smart-ass, but his emotions are pure and heartfelt, and that was what captured me. 

Disclaimer: I received this book through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.