Milk-Blood by Adrian Simon

Book Review

Milk-Blood by Adrian Simon

Anyone who’s picked up a backpack since the 90s will have heard of the ‘Damage Done’, the story of Warren Fellows, who served twelve years for drug smuggling in Thailand’s toughest prison . Well, ‘Milk Blood’ is written by his son, Adrian Simon, and is a amazing story in itself but one that also adds the degree of balance to his father’s book; namely, filling in some important background. Adrian is a likeable narrator and it is all credit to him that he has grown up as such a well-balanced individual and has written this riveting account. It is the only full-length book I’ve read in one sitting.

Chris Thrall is an adventurer and author of the memoir “Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Crystal Meth Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland”

 

 

 

“Downhill from Here: Running from John O’ Groats to Land’s End”

Downhill from Here

An upbeat account of a ‘downhill’ challenge

This gem of a read has interest for everyone. It will appeal to those who have made a five-kilometre jog the limit of their running experience as well as those aspiring to run distance – particularly the length of the country itself. Those who enjoy living their adventures vicariously from the comfort of an armchair and who may have never given the sport a second thought will also appreciated its page-turning grip.

A rich vein of wonderful and quirkily descriptive English flows from Gavin’s Scottish pen like a seasoned wordsmith. He places you so firmly into his running shoes that as someone in preparation to complete the challenge myself I was actually a little disappointed – because thanks to Gavin’s exciting, detailed and inclusive narrative I feel like I’ve run it already and have to do it all again! In truth, alongside Gavin’s clever observations, ever-present sense of humour and self-deprecating wit, there’s a wealth of winning detail, from planning and navigating the route, to booking accommodation, liaising with support vehicles, which kit to take and what to fuel your body with.

‘Downhill from Here’ is not pitched to the wannabe-macho somewhat naïve audience that lap up over-hyped nonsense. You won’t see our ‘hero’ surmount impossible odds or breakthrough a superhuman-pain threshold and the barriers of endurance while achieving a cheering mass of mere mortal followers struggling to keep up with his momentous pace in the Rocky Balboa-style. Gavin not only tells you of his personal history, shortcomings and motivation but also – and quite often! – how not to go about running from John O’ Groats to Land’s End. Candidly, he retells how he loses his way on many occasions, which has you shivering on top of a Pennine Peak clad in a pair of shorts with him or up to your neck, camera equipment held aloft, attempting to ford a bitterly cold river. You can expect the police and the goodwill of strangers, hikers, pub landlords and farmers to help our protagonist on his way on more than one occasion.

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And how delighted was I to find that after running with Gavin for less than half a day (when his 1117-mile route passed twenty miles from my home) and being treated to a meal for my efforts, he went on to include a couple of pages about my own life story along with a photo which makes for a great souvenir. Gavin is honest and generous, an accomplished writer (and filmmaker) and a credit to the long-distance or ‘ultra’ running community. This book makes for a seminal text with respect to ‘running’ that most British of British endeavours, the JOGTLE.

Chris Thrall is an adventurer and author of the memoir “Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Crystal Meth Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland”

A Review of ‘My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia’ by Leanne Waters

“But let’s not get ahead of ourselves now …”

– a review of My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia by Leanne Waters

I found this book to be exceptional, for so many reasons it’s hard to articulate in this short piece.

Leanne’s writing style is up there with the best, descriptive, articulate and richly metaphorical; the recall of her experience so detailed – as only the memory of someone who has been through extreme trauma can be.

Leanne takes you through the phases of bulimia, from the socio-psychological foundations of this condition – for example, the bullying at school – to the ‘fasting’, ‘binging’, ‘purging’ and ‘recovery’ that then plays out – each stage intricately narrated for the readers understanding and at the respective pace.

You find yourself so in-tune with Leanne’s story and so fond of her personality that you wonder how in our society this self-denunciation could be allowed to happen, or to go unseen – particularly brought home as Leanne details hiding her bulimia from all those around her

My favourite line is the book is “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves now” and the most touching part for me is when her friends stand fast to support her recovery.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is invented. The Girl with the Eating Disorder is real life. Take your pick … I know which book added more to my life …

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland– a bestselling true story

www.christhrall.com

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A review of Wordjazz for Stevie by Jonathan Chamberlain

“…life worth living…”

 

Wordjazz for Stevie is Jonathan Chamberlain’s deep and moving tribute to his late eight-year-old daughter, a candid and beautifully written soliloquy born out of the pain of loss but conveying hope, love, happiness and insight.

Stevie arrives in the world when expat Jonathan and his Chinese wife are living on a quiet island off Hong Kong. Although shocked to learn Stevie has Down syndrome, Jonathan and Bern immediately accept the additional challenges this presents, challenges that increase significantly when an operation to close a hole in Stevie’s heart goes horribly wrong, starving her of oxygen and resulting in severe disability. Towards the end of Stevie’s short-but-delight-giving years, little does Jonathan know her failing health is not the only major life-changing event on the horizon.

Wordjazz for Stevie is a remarkable testament to the human spirit, friendship and integrity. Penned with fondness and gratitude, it will appeal to anyone who has faced hardship or prejudice, love and loss, or can relate to bureaucracy and social/cultural difference whether at home or abroad. But putting the textbooks aside, it’s simply a touching and enlightening story that should inspire all who read it.

And if you’re wondering why I choose this title for my review, I opened the book at random and this is what I saw.

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland– a bestselling true story

 

www.christhrall.com

www.facebook.com/christhralllauthor

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 

The Alphabet of Vietnam by Jonathan Chamberlain

When men come back from war they bring the war back with them …

Having read two of Jonathan Chamberlain’s memoirs – King Hui about a Hong Kong playboy and Wordjazz for Stevie, a touching tribute to Jonathan’s late daughter who was born profoundly handicapped – I was really looking forward to reading ‘The Alphabet of Vietnam’ and seeing how Jonathan turns his hand to fiction. I was more than impressed. It is an exceptional piece of writing, well researched, one that explores the light and dark in every ‘man’s’ soul in a refreshingly unapologetic manner.

The story unfolds through a series of skillfully interwoven narratives: Two psychotic – or perhaps completely sane – Vietnam veterans who bring their sick war games home with them. A brother who comes to question all he believes in an attempt to do what is right. A return to modern-day Vietnam that explores US war crimes and the country’s rich history and culture through a series of cleverly though out vignettes.

‘And then there is love – and love is complicated …’

What a great book!

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland – a bestselling true story.

Drug-induced Paranoia on the Mean Streets of Hong Kong

 

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Eating Smoke reviewed by the South China Morning Post

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The All-time Hong Kong Tale

King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong

Jonathan Chamberlain has done history a great favour; filling in what for many a keen observer is a void in Hong Kong’s not-so-distant past.

In KING HUI, he preserves from the sands of time a story like no other; one that weaves its way through the Fragrant Harbour’s colourful colonial heritage; a rich tapestry as depicted by an aging ‘Peter’ Hui, a man that at one time owned all the opium in Hong Kong.

“. . . Scandal and corruption, drugs and pirates, triads and flower boats; the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and the Communist takeover of Canton. Peter Hui was there. He knew everybody and saw everything. This is the real story of Hong Kong, told with the rich flavours of the street . . .”

How true the backcover blurb! But this story is so much more. It’s an invitation into the psyche of the Chinese mind. It’s where East accommodates West, then fellow East, then West again. It’s a rare insight into Hong Kong’s idiosyncratic culture and meteoric rise to become the trading capital of the world, as told, rather refreshingly, from the straight-talking perspective of a local witness and without an Orientalist agenda.

It’s the story of Peter Hui – revered kung fu fighter, slickly dressed entrepreneur, handsome womaniser, gambler, drinker; friend of the rich, the famous, the powerful . . . as well as the destitute, the deviant and the downright dangerous. But most of all it’s a touching story, told with candour and flavoured with nostalgia, from the heart of an endearing old man; one who no doubt realises he is not long left for this world and has a tale he believes should to be told . . .

. . . and when you’re compelled to read the last page of this book again and again as I was, head spinning with thoughts and emotions brought to bear by the life of someone you’ve never even met, you fully appreciate why Jonathan Chamberlain is best placed to tell it.

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland

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When a Pixel Portrays a Hundred Thousand Words

Here’s my amazon review for Tom Carter’s incredible photo book on China

CHINA: Portrait of a PeopleWhen a Pixel Portrays a Hundred Thousand Words

 A picture painted a thousand words. That was before Tom Carter started taking them. Now, it seems, a pixel portrays a hundred thousand – and that’s for those of us with limited imagination!           

I first came across Tom’s work through his travel writing while doing some background research for EATING SMOKE – a book about the time I spent ‘roughing’ it in Hong Kong and China. Not only did Tom’s unrestrained generosity and supercharged positivity towards people and place change the course of my life (in the first of many kindly returned e-mails), but upon purchasing China: Portrait of a People it became immediately apparent how this philanthropic aura extends to the subjects he captures through a lens.

Tianjin to Tibet, Shanghai to Sichuan, Hong Kong to Henan, Tom takes you on a serendipitous journey – river deep, mountain high, citywide, countryside – to reveal the relationship between a vast, enigmatic and relatively unknown land and its incredibly diverse population. 

From the birthplace of Chinese civilisation on the banks of the Yellow River, to the birthplace of Shaolin kung fu on the sacred peak of Song Shan, to a proud mother soon to give birth in the Year of the Golden Pig . . . to the growth of the Christian Movement in Hong Kong, rice in the paddies of Nanjing and consumerism in Hangzhou . . . to the demise of traditional housing in Jinan, the death of a puppy in Siberia’s frozen wastes and the resting places of honoured ancestors in Macao, his images usher you full-circle through all walks of life in all of the Middle Kingdom’s thirty-three provinces. 

Tom’s discerning eye combines the deliberate, the subtle, the fortuitous, the impromptu and the random to create a candid and affecting collage that juxtaposes young and old, shiny and crumbling, ancient and modern, humble and brash, happy and sad, and beauty with – the occasional – frank ugliness to provide an exceptional up-close-and-personal incite into a proud people whose individuality differs greatly and whose way of life stretches across a millennia, and shows a country so swept up in the paradox of global capitalism that, if not careful, it will look upon China: Portrait of a People in the not-too-distant future with nostalgia as the pre-eminent historical record. 

This book took me on a truly remarkable voyage; one that many will be delighted to complete in armchair comfort as they flick through its pages, awestruck by such an undertaking and grateful for its profundity, while others will reach for their backpacks, further inspired to set out and snatch a peek at this extraordinary country and meet some of its colourful inhabitants for themselves. 

My only criticism of Tom’s contribution is when he says ‘The snapshots in this book are not meant to be works of art.’ 

If this isn’t Art, Tom . . . then I don’t care to see what is.

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