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Sunday, 22 March 2015

Casting Off by Emma Bamford

(Book received from, and reviewed for,

Sailing away to Adventure and Happiness        My rating:   5/5
An uplifting autobiography where, following a chance conversation with a newly pregnant friend, Emma Bamford turns her perceived failure to achieve her goals in life – husband, detached house and children by the age of 31, into an opportunity. Leaving behind her daily “hour long tube commute” and job in Fleet Street as a News Editor, she runs away to sea.
Emma’s first experience of the sailing life is to join a yacht in Borneo owned by a “small, bald and ugly” man she has never met before and his aloof cat. Later she sails on a catamaran with 5 others and finally leaves the freedom of carefree sailing to become a bossed around crew member of a “superyacht” in Italy looking after very rich guests.
This fun, and often humorous, autobiography gives the reader an insight into Emma’s new world. What it is like to live in cramped conditions with strangers, the beauty of sailing alone at night, the wonders of exploring uninhabited islands, the occasional bouts of loneliness and the massive culture shock of a visit back to the UK. Emma writes in a light hearted manner, skimming over the downsides of this lifestyle, and drawing the reader into the, often, magical world she has joined.
Borneo, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and The Andaman Islands are just a few of the places she visits; on the way she sails terrified through pirate ridden seas, and wondrously over stunning coral reefs. As Emma explores islands, villages, rainforests, and encounters pigmy elephants (not as small as one might think), she colourfully describes her impressions and the sights of all she encounters. She visits many places where only a yacht can reach and as she goes she gives an insight into different worlds and cultures. In between the sailing and exploring she receives two marriage proposals and spends time re-painting 400m of anchor chain.
This is not a book to learn about the politics or economics of the places Emma visits, nor does she give details of where to visit, what to avoid etc. This is a book that flows from place to place, with little reference to dates and to the passing of time. The reader is given Emma’s impressions of places, and her experiences. The sailing terminology is kept to a minimum, mostly using everyday language, so readers with no experience of sailing will be quite comfortable.
I loved this refreshing adventure story, with Emma’s easy going writing style making light of the ups and downs of her new lifestyle. I would have found diagrams of the sailing routes helpful, but the absence of these did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. This is a book where you can enter the world of someone else’s life, dream what it would be like to do something like that, and then be very happy you have not (or perhaps be inspired to do so). The book closes as Emma sets off for another adventure – what happens to her? It’s a cliff-hanger of an ending. I do hope that there is a follow on book. A great summer read!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Martian, by Andy Weir

Exciting Escapism          My rating:  4/5

Set in the near future Mark Watney, stranded on Mars, has to find ways to stay alive until possible  rescue.  He writes a, often humorous,  blog, in case he does not live to tell the tale,  detailing his survival methods, and (much more excitingly) how he survives the catastrophes that beset him. 

Meanwhile in Houston, meetings are held and jobs rushed in an attempt to get Mark back. 

There is quite a lot of science in this book - most of which I skipped through quickly with no idea as to how plausible it was.  There is plenty of excitement and suspense to  make it worth non-scientists (like me) to continue reading, and the tension just keeps building and building.

For the tourist, the insight into the space centre at Houston is minimal, but gives a flavour. 
Mars seems a pretty lifeless place. 

Science fiction is not a genre I usually read, but I really enjoyed this book - an exciting page turner of a book and total escapism from normal life (mine at least).   There is a film of the book being released late in 2015; I shall definitely see that, and am glad I have read the book first.