Book Review: Unspoken by Luke Allnutt

This Kindle single is an intensely personal story of death and loss. The writer’s father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the book deals with him coming to terms with this and also his expectations of what the loss will be like.

Allnutt discusses how attitudes towards death have changed as has the idea of what a “good death” is like. He talks about how we’ve started to expect profound, meaningful conversation as part of the process. This expectation weighs heavily and slightly sours the time they have, with Allnutt uncomfortable trying to engage and his father’s condition eventually robbing him of the ability to have that kind of talk.

It’s extremely honest and open about the whole process and Allnutt doesn’t shy away from times when he is self centred or feels left out.

All in all it reads well and raises an important point that we need to embrace and experience events, and not worry they don’t fit how we expect or think they should be.

Emotionally powerful and an interesting read. It’s rather short though and Allnutt has a tendency to use a lot of sources about philosophies surrounding death. It perhaps would be more powerful if it remained focused on Allnutt’s experience.

7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: Pompeii by Robert Harris

Spoiler alert, the volcano erupts at the end.

Harris has a knack for crafting quick paced clever and gripping thrillers and this is no exception. Marcus Antillus has been sent from Rome to be the chief engineer of the Aqua Augusta, the aquaduct which provides the towns around Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. The area is in drought and the water levels are falling. Antillus also has to deal with angry, jealous underlings and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of his predecessor.

First sulphur poisons the waters and then the supply fails, meaning he must set out to fix the aquaduct. He heads to Pompeii to work down the system to find the blockage or leak. While there he discovers that a former slave Ampilatus who rose to success in the aftermath of an earthquake seventeen years earlier.

He begins to suspect that Ampilatus and his predecessor had some kind of deal, and wonders if this is why he vanished. He sets out to fix the water supply but has to deal with earthquakes and odd phenomenon like ash flows on the side of the mountain.

Are these signs building to something?

Well, obviously they are but Harris does a good job of making the story involving enough. Attilus’ investigation into the disappearance of his predecessor starts to reveal a conspiracy before it takes a surprising turn.

Similarly Ampilatus is a good villain, someone who has dragged himself up through bluff, ingenuity and ruthless ambition. He adores his new place of power, particularly the unease of former masters now dependant on him.

The story unfolds well and the final eruption provides a gripping finale. Harris captures the chaos and horror of the eruption as darkness and death rolls over the town. The panic and tension builds well and the conclusion is executed brilliantly.

Harris also does a good job of including real historical figures like Pliny and also of detailing the different stages of the destruction. There’s also a delicious example of dramatic irony provided by a prophecy, which reads differently to the audience than it does for the characters.

Verdict: Fast paced, involving and building to a tense conclusion, this is a really well crafted thriller that adds a human element to a large historical event. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: A Wrinkle in Time

I really wanted to enjoy this movie. Unfortunately, despite some cracking visuals this is a painfully dull and poorly written affair.

It’s been four years since Dr Alexander Murry (Chris Pine) vanished, leaving his family reeling. His thirteen year old daughter Meg (Storm Reid) has become directionless at school, isolated and angry. Her gifted younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) has befriended a strange trio women, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which (Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey, respectively). They reveal themselves to be cosmic beings who have come to help the Murry kids find their dad, who turned out to have been right about the idea of interstellar travel and has been cast into space.

They try tracking him down but it turns out he has been captured by the It, the evil force in the universe which corrupts life wherever it finds it. Can the Murrys, along with Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), find him and rescue him? And can they resist the dark side?

What a load of cosmic twaddle. Not helped by weak child performances- Reid is bland, and oddly expressionless for long stretches, while Charles Wallace is the kind of brainy, precocious kid who is immensely slappable and unlike any kid you’ve ever met.

The visuals are impressive but the “love is the most powerful force in the universe” idea is cheesy beyond belief and there’s far too much talk for a kid’s movie. This would be fine if the action sequences were up to scratch but they’re uniformly limp and there’s never any real sense of peril.

The adult characters are one note too. The Mrs characters are an interesting idea, and visually striking, like one of Jack Kirby’s cosmic creations filtered through RuPaul’s Drag Race, but other than exposition, weak philosophy and a few lame gags, they add little.

Weak. I can’t imagine this winning many fans- too talky and slow for kids, too twee, cheesy and poorly executed for adults.

Avoid.

Verdict: Some of the visuals are good. That’s all the positives I can manage. 2/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fat Boy on a Diet: March Update: Mountains and Mirrors

I haven’t been able to hop on the scales the last couple of weeks, so I don’t know exactly where I am weight wise.

With no hard data I’m gonna have to guess how the month has gone. I think I’ve lost a fair bit this month thanks in part to all the extra walking I did for Sport Relief (I raised £175 in the end, which is a start on my “raise £1m for charity” bucket list item).

Walking with Oz

I’ve also been swimming a couple more times, and while I still suck, I’ve passed 1000m which is more than I managed between 1999 and 2017. So, that’s something, I guess.

Eating healthy has been hit and miss, with us moving house there have been a few evenings when MWF and I couldn’t be bothered to cook and opted for take aways.

Despite feeling like I’ve lost weight this month, and enjoying the extra exercise, body confidence wise I can’t say I feel great. Our new bedroom has built in wardrobe with a mirrored front.

This means that getting up in the morning, or getting ready for bed I get to see my body as big as life. And twice as ugly.

I saw old photos of myself at university this week, and think I look better now, but back then I don’t remember having the same revulsion at my reflection. Or did I just ignore it then?

For those few moments before or after sleep I am confronted with a body I dislike. I have half baked plans for working on my bucket list and trying new things, but I feel I need to scale it back and for now, just focus on slimming down.

I know I’ll never be one of those insanely ripped guys, and frankly, I don’t want to be. But I definitely want to be smaller and more comfortable and happy with what I see in the mirror.

It might take a while though.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Peace on Earth by David Boyle

For me, like many, the Christmas Day truce during the First World War is an inspiring moment of shared humanity, compassion and regular men setting aside the machinations and orders of the higher ups to silence the guns and enjoy a brief peace. In this book David Boyle looks at the truce and how it came about and raises an interesting point, that it has been romanticized and it’s significance grown due to what came later.

In December 1914 the First World War was still in the early stages, and while the grim realities of trench warfare was starting to take hold it had yet to become the slaughterhouse it would. Chemical warfare had yet to arrive and it was before bloodbaths like the Somme. Boyle argues that this is why the truce was so widespread and not repeated later. Simply, that later in the war the horror had become to great.

He also discusses the fact that the higher ups weren’t too happy about things, fearing that the fraternisation might sap their men’s will to fight. That the “live and let live” attitude would stop armies from attacking. I get this and the fears of morale being weakened, but can’t say I see it in a bad light. The soldiers, reluctant to kill men who were so like them may have found some way forward without bloodshed.

As was, the war resumed and the dead piled up.

Boyle draws extensively on letters, diaries and interviews by those involved which shows an odd situation. Stories of kindness, comradeship and humour seem out of place with the front line.

Not all of those who are featured are keen. Some lament the truce for softening the men, or see it as a waste of time. Hitler and De Gaulle find themselves in agreement on this. There are also those who refuse to take part, like “war hero” Billy Congreve who opens fire on Germans trying to leave their trench.

For a Kindle Single it manages to fit in a lot and provides more context to the truce and the First World War in general. Boyle’s writing is balanced, no nonsense and he presents the evidence well.

Verdict: An interesting read about an iconic momemt in history and well researched. Short, but detailled. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


From Atop Kilimanjaro

So yesterday evening I completed my Sport Relief challenge to walk the equivalent of climbing Kilimanjaro. It went pretty well and taking a greater effort to get out every day has made me feel better and hopefully the exercising has helped with my hopes of losing some weight.

But Sport Relief isn’t until Friday so it feels foolish to stop now. Besides I want to keep the momentum going and give people a reason to sponsor me, so I’m taking on a few more challenges. Starting yesterday I decided to do the 100 Quidditch Pitches challenge.

It’s not as long as the Kilimanjaro one, but it should keep me busy for the next couple of days and I have one more planned for later the week.

Anyway, if you’d like to sponsor me, you still can by going here. It would be greatly appreciated, and remember, every little helps.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Black Panther

Often the weight of expectation can seriously damage your enjoyment of a movie, and having watched the excitement and adoration for this film grow online when I finally got to see it this week it had a lot to live up to.

To it’s credit it is a solid movie, entertaining throughout and a worthy addition to the MCU. However, for me it seems like a second tier entry in the series and not quite as good as some of the hype had said.

The film deals with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returning to his homeland of Wakanda to assume the throne following the death of his father (see Captain America: Civil War). He must deal with his own doubts about whether he is ready to rule.

He also pursues Ulysseus Klaue (Andy Serkis) an arms dealer who has stolen Wakanda’s most valuable resource, Vibranium, the metal which powers their advanced technology. Klaue also has a new ally in Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), a vicious and ruthless individual with a murky past and secret connections to the Wakandan royal family.

Can T’Challa adapt to his new role as king and maintain justice? Can Wakanda keep it’s advances secret and safe from the rest of the world?

The good for this movie is that it continues the entertaining, fun and action filled tone that the Marvel universe is built on. It also creates a whole new setting in Wakanda, a high tech utopia. To the credit of the filmmakers they have crafted a fictional society that feels real, with it’s own traditions, factions and history.

Some aspects of this are wonderfully done like the Dora Milaje, an all female elite guard who are shown as a brilliantly badass fighting force. Or the way each of Wakanda’s five tribes is different.

However, there was one aspect of Wakanda that struck a bum note with me. It seems massively selfish of the country to horde the technology it has, and while concerns over their weaponry are understandable, their withholding of medical advancements is hard to defend. This forms part of the plot of the film but at times the “Wakanda is best” rhetoric from some characters felt a little bit full of itself.

Similarly a point about how Wakanda had been spared oppression unlike much of Africa didn’t ring true. Yes, it had kept out foreign invaders, but T’Challa’s ancestors had taken over the five tribes because of the powers given to them by Vibranium.

These minor points aside the movie works well, although for once this is a comic book film that could have benefited from more villains, perhaps a henchman for Killmonger. It would have provided a second more viable threat for the finale.

That being said the finale is pretty good anyway, and the fight scenes throughout are very well done, particularly the larger scale battles. There’s also a belter of a car chase.

I enjoyed this movie and had great fun. I’ve long liked the character of T’Challa and Boseman does good work here, even if the love subplot was a little underwhelming. And there are some good new characters introduced, particularly M’Baku (Winston Duke) leader of one of Wakanda’s tribes and a swaggering, colourful character who exists on the fringe of Wakandan society. Similarly I also really liked Okoye, the Dora Milaje leader played by The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira, who can kickass but hints at a softer, more humorous side.

A solid adventure and ticks a lot of boxes, but I think I went in expecting too much.

Verdict; 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Climbing Kilimanjaro. Kinda.

Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain which, as we all know, rises like Olympus above the Serengeti. Climbing this mountain has become a regular charity fundraising event, and this year in aid of Sport Relief, it’s my turn.

Sorta.

I’ve joined the charity’s step challenge fundraiser and one of the challenges is the Kilimanjaro one. This means I have to try and make 58,750 steps before the 23rd of March, which is roughly how much it takes to get to the top.

I’ll keep you guys up to date with how I do, and if you fancy sponsoring me that would be great. Here’s the link. Thanks.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fundraising for the Unfit

I spent a lot of the last week quite tired and fed up thanks to moving house and work. Despite this towards the end of the week I was seized by a sudden burst of energy and enthusiasm.

The focus of this? My resolutions list, particularly item 3- Cross at least one item off the Bucket List. I’ve been thinking and planning a few of them, and will keep you posted.

One of the items is to raise £1m for charity. I’ve known from when I added this to the list that it would be something that took time, with me chipping away at the amount over the years.

Which has got me thinking about what I can do to raise some cash? I’m nowhere near healthy enough to do a race at the moment (although hopefully after shifting some weight I can get back into running) and I’m not crafty enough to make things to sell.

I’ve thought of a few lazy fundraising ideas:

  • Bad movie marathon- people donate and suggest terrible films for me to watch. I try to watch as many as possible.
  • Blog marathon. I try to write as many blog posts as possible in 24 hours. Although would probably help if I invested in a decent laptop first.
  • Tattoo auction. People bid to chose what marks part of my skin. Massively risky, but would generate publicity.
  • Man vs Food challenge. Would seriously damage my weight loss attempts, but would count as crossing something else off my list.

Would you donate to someone doing one of those? Or have any ideas of your own for how I can raise some money? If so, you know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Frozen Heat by Richard Castle

Having recently finished and rewatched Castle I was eager to throw myself back into the tie-in novels and this, the fourth instalment, didn’t disappoint.

Nikki Heat investigates when a body is found crammed into a suitcase and stashed in a freezer truck. But the case becomes painfully personal when she recognises the case as having belonged to her mother, stolen the night of her murder.

Digging into the case she discovers more connections to her mother and her death, and soon begins to delve into a murky world of secrets and conspiracy. Learning new things about her mother, Heat must confront the secrets she kept and is left questioning her morality.

Aided by wisecracking journalist Jameson Rook, Heat hunts for justice but must also deal with the walls she has built up emotionally. Are these more hurtful than helpful?

Again, I think that this book provides more for viewers of the show as there are little injokes and references to it (they even work in a Firefly reference). Similarly, the characters are thinly veiled versions of the show’s, meaning long-term fans will have a clearer image of the characters.

However, I believe that even for newcomers to the world would enjoy what is a fun, if formulaic, thriller. This is the kind of airport novel which entertains and grips you enough but won’t change your life.

Verdict: An involving and entertaining thriller which ticks a lot of boxes and is a fun, gripping way to pass the time. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.