High Risk is a dark, raw and uncompromising tale of the human condition in extremis, drawing on the many lives of Ben Timberlake: as an archaeologist, special forces soldier, combat medic and drug addict.
Ben pursued the rush, and often the chase took him over the edge. Instead of asking why, he asked, why not? Blending confessional narrative, classic reportage and acerbic humour, this memoir takes a gonzo look at terrorists, junkies, soldiers and strippers through the tale of one extraordinary life.
Starting with Ben’s first near-death experience in a Nazi-themed bar in wartime Yugoslavia, High Risk is a whirlwind tour of everything from service in the SAS, combat in Iraq, encounters with a gambling-obsessed 9/11 hijacker and steroid-fuelled mercenaries, to veterans blissed out on MDMA, hook-ups in the world of extreme sex, and battling a heroin habit on a remote Scottish island.
Ben Timberlake’s undercover missions have concerned nuclear terrorism, the Far Right, and the trafficking of people, wildlife, looted antiquities and organs. He has written for the Financial Times, The Guardian and The Economist, and made Channel 4 and Discovery films on topics from Japanese mummies to prehistoric rock art.
Over the last year, I've been reading a lot to relax - when in the middle of a global pandemic, it's always nice to have a book that has a neat and tidy ending - allowing you to rest easy in the knowledge that somewhere, somehow, things do come to an end.
'High Risk' is not the thing to pick up if you're looking for something relaxing. It's high octane, and at times jaw-dropping. But it's also far more than it appears at first glance. Yes, it covers author Ben Timberlake going into some insane situations and escaping by the skin of his teeth, but it doesn't stint when it comes to exploring just what effect those situations can have on a person, and how they can be driven to seek more and more danger.
Timberlake is remarkably open - and his humour breaks up the tension wonderfully - there's a dry wryness which makes Timberlake both a charming author and a great narrator. At times it felt like listening to a slightly mad mate tell his stories down the pub - which at this point in time is something I had sorely missed!
With the humour and the action though, comes a raw honesty and a human emotion. Timberlake explores what has driven him to such extremes during his life - and from that comes a rather wonderful reflection on the human condition and how it can be shaped by external factors, and Timberlake also explores the nature of addiction in it's many forms.
Speaking personally, I come from a family with a history of addiction, so have always walked a tightrope personally, wanting to live life to the full but also conscious that doing so may result in unpleasant circumstances. Timberlake explores addiction and the effects they can have in minute and fascinating detail, and does so in an honest, open fashion.
I started this prepared to be overawed at Timberlake's bravery in the SAS, and I came away overawed by his bravery at being open, straight talking, and admitting his own flaws. Any book that can help people whilst also entertaining is worth it's weight in gold, meaning that 'High Risk' is very valuable indeed.
Many thanks to MidasPR for a copy of the Audio Book
Tineka Smith always knew that growing up Black in America meant certain restrictions. Don’t talk back to white people; expect to be stopped by the police; always be on your guard. So, when she moved to the UK – and fell in love with Alex Court, a white man – she wondered if things might be different.
When Alex proposed to Tineka, it was the easiest decision in the world. What he didn’t anticipate was the reaction – sometimes subtle, sometimes overt – from friends and strangers alike. Nor did he expect to have to think about Tineka’s race, and his own white privilege, every single day.
Tineka has always felt the burden of calling out and educating people, only now she has to teach her new husband at the same time - asking him to see, hear and think with a new perspective about the things he had never noticed before.
But what does this mean for Tineka and Alex’s relationship? With anecdotes, analysis and honest conversations, Mixed Up has the pair attempting to navigate their new and challenging world, confronting race and relationships in the 21st century head on.
I grew up woefully undereducated about race - in a small Northern English town, there was little diversity, so understanding the pressures, pains and daily aggressions that black people face, was not something that really crossed my mind until my early 20's, when I moved to London.
That interest in understanding the mindsets of people from different backgrounds has been with me since then, but over the last year i've been working on educating myself on this as much as possible - sparked by movements such as Black Lives Matter that have opened up my eyes to the injustices and unequalities that Black people face every day.
And as for the inequalities that women face every day? I'm a proud feminist and I consider myself very well educated on these issues from an equality stand point - but as a homosexual cisgendered white man, I'm aware that my privilege speaks volumes - I'm never going to fully understand these perspectives as they're not lived experiences for me, but I'm always highly interested to read more on this.
With that in mind, I was delighted to be asked to review 'Mixed Up - Confessions of an Interracial Couple' - a fantastic audio book from Audible, by Tineka Smith and Alex Court.
There's an openness and an intimacy to the writing and the reading - perhaps enhanced by the fact that these insights to a couple's struggles was being read directly into my ears.
'Mixed Up' discusses the true life relationship of Tineka and Alex, and there are multiple layers to unpick and discuss here - from Tineka's experiences as a black woman in America contrasting with Alex's experiences as a white man in Britain, the judgements and microagressions that Tineka faces as both a black person and as a woman, and the journey of understanding that both, with a highlight on Alex, experience over the course of their relationships.
It's a listen that's eye opening, emotional, and necessary - there's been a huge amount written about the experiences that different races and genders experience, but it's rare to see those experiences highlighted in such an emotive and personal fashion - Tineka Smith and Alex Court deliver these with style, skill, and serious amounts of substance.
I received a copy of this audio book in exchange for an honest review - many thanks to Audible
In this Audible Original audiobook, Emma J. Bell tackles the ultimate question: why go through life merely surviving, when you could be thriving?
Drawing on the insights of 50 inspiring people who have suffered a wide range of trauma but are thriving nonetheless, Emma J. Bell has extracted nine enlightening secrets from their experiences. You’ll listen as they talk about how they found renewed purpose in life; how they learned to forgive rather than hold on to resentment; and how they developed practices to create calm and live authentically. Whether you want to apply their life changing lessons to your relationships, your work or the way you deal with setbacks or challenging past experiences, each story offers something different and inspiring for you to draw on.
Traditionally I've avoided books that I thought looked a bit 'self-helpy' - I think my inner repressed brit balks at the thought of asking anyone (even a book!) for help, and it's this same inner sabuteur that prevented me from dealing with my mental health until my early 30's.
Had I known that a book like '9 Secrets to Thriving' existed though, I may have thought very differently...
Yes - this is a book that shows the readers they can thrive, grow, and persevere, and the advice is clever, wise, and not remotely patronising - there's a practicality and an understanding that not everybody is going to be willing, or able, to make some of the change suggested here.
What makes this book so brilliantly well though, are the real life stories that are threaded throughout - shocking, thought provoking true tales that allow the reade to empathise, but also gave me a wonderful sense of perspective.
As a former lawyer and judge, author and narrator Bell has clearly seen more than her fair share of the world, and of the many issues that people in it face, and overcome. As such, her prose and narration is wise - but also friendly and kind - there is no judgement here, but understanding and advice.
I finished this audio book feeling both emotional and empowered, and I'll be returning to it in the future!
Many thanks to MidasPR for the copy.
Afro-Brazilian filmmaker Ren is recovering from a romantic betrayal. Kayla is a Black British artist and journalist keen to make her mark. Thrown together during a string of interviews in New York for Ren's latest film, they’re struck by an irresistible attraction. The two surrender to one night of searing honesty and passion, which leaves them with more questions than answers about the future.
With secrets lurking between them, letting their romance continue could upend the separate lives Ren and Kayla have so carefully built. But can they really risk losing their miraculous connection?
Born in Camberwell, author Sareeta Domingo spent her formative years in Bahrain. An editor for Harper Collins by day, and a writer by night, Sareeta has oreviously had various erotic short stories and an erotic novella published, and her first full length novel, 'The Nearness of You' was published in 2016.
So - a romance novel. Not something I would necessarily seek out, but then I feel that categories can be rather limiting for books - the "Chick Lit" field, for example, leads people to ignore the deep and often moving work that authors like Marian Keyes create in that genre.
Romance is one where I would, perhaps, have assumed that the majority of books would be swooning 'mills and boon' type romances that involved a lot of bodice ripping and copious amounts of straight sex which, as a gay man, I rather got bored of reading about after a while.
However, I'm well aware of how much an ass I am for relying on assumptions, and I'm hugely glad that I was asked to review a book rather out of my comfort zone, as 'If I Don't Have You' is thrilling, contemporary, and hugely memorable - mostly due to the authors fantastic writing, but also due to excellent narration from Jakobi Diem and Jessye Romeo - bringing the characters to vivid life, and allowing the listener a compelling narrative that alows them to view the perspective of both Ren and Kayla as their relationship grows and changes.
No romance would be complete without some stumbling blocks, and there are plenty here - but not the cliches one might expect from a romcom, but instead ones that feel remarkably real and grounded.
As for my worries about being a bit bored with another straight romance? Absolutely not. This pair is hot, sexy, and hugely readable, and there's no element of "virtous woman overpowered by body-ripping brute" - kayla is fiery, independent, and very much in charge of her sexuality, which is wonderful to read.
Compelling, Sexy, and Contemporary, If I Don't Have You is available now from Audible. I received a copy from Midaspr in exchange for an honest review.
The first in a series, Clockwork Sherlock follows ex-soldier Captain Jo Barnes. The mysterious VR detective singles her out as his own Dr Watson, but he’s about to find out she’s no fawning sidekick.
When tech giant Robert Fairfield is found dead of a suspected drug overdose, fingers are pointed at the two women who stood most to gain from his death: his fiancée and leader of the New Ludds, Greta Blackstone, and Beth Fairchild, Robert’s ambitious daughter. But when Beth is found dead and the evidence shows she was killed before her father, the suspect is obvious. To everyone, that is, except Sherlock Holmes.
Using futuristic tech and good, old-fashioned sleuthing, Captain Barnes and the famed detective set out to find the killer
Author Ian W.Sainsbury has had a varied career - running away from University to join the circus, playing in a band providing accompaniment for monkeys riding on pigs. As you do...! His musical career continued from there, with Ian playing piano on cruise ships before spending over a decade singing in European piano bars. He has also run a choir or two! After five years as a stand-up comic, Ian turned to writing - and the success of 2016's 'The World Walker' has seen Ian able to focus his attentions on writing, whilst living in East Anglia with his wife, two children, and a flatulent dog.
This Audible original audio book is narrated by the fantastic actress Shvorne Marks - who has appeared on our screens in programmes such as Endeavour and Silent Witness, and has narrated a considerable number of high profile audio books, including the award-winning "Queenie" by Candice Carty-Williams.
So, I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. My Dad was (and still is), a big fan of Arthur Conan-Doyle, and prominent books of my childhood were the exceddingly large Sherlock Holmes collections we had sitting in our living room, as well as copies of other books like 'The Lost World', alongside rather stranger volumes focusing on Conan Doyle's interest in the Supernatural. With the UK TV Show 'Sherlock' and US tv show 'Elimentary', interest in Sherlock Holmes has surged over the last few years - and I was initially wary of 'Clockwork Sherlock' in case it was an excuse to jump on the back of a popular bandwagon.
However, 'Clockwork Sherlock' takes the world's most famous detective in a whole new direction - one that's wholly original, and yet familiar for those who love the original tales.
Jo Barnes serves as the 'Watson' here - and her relationship with 'Sherlock' serves as the backbone of this book - with the two working together to solve the central mystery, but building a partnership that, I hope, will be developed in further installments.
As this is a book featuring Sherlock Holmes, it would be nothing without a good mystery - and Robert Fairfield's death is a fascinating case that Barnes, Holmes, and the listener are invited to crack, working through a series of puzzles and seemingly impossible situations, to a rewarding resolution.
Sainsbury is an excellent writer, who carefully balances the tension of the overarcing plot, with descriptive writing that fully pulls the listener into the world of Captain Jo Barnes. This is hugely complimented by superb narration from Shvorne Marks, bringing the steely Jo Barnes to life, alongside the ever enigmatic detective Sherlock Holmes
Many thanks to Ben at MidasPr - I received a copy of this audiobook in exchange for my unbiased review.
Twenty-seven bodies, vacuum-packed, buried in a woodland trench. Some have been there for years, some for just days.
When DI Brendan Foley recognises one of the Warrington 27, he knows this case is about to shake his world.
Detective Sergeant Iona Madison is a skilled boxer and a vital support for Foley. Theirs is a newly established police force, and loyalties are about to be tested to the extreme.
Pressure mounts as news of the mass grave is plastered over the news. Brendan knows they can’t crack this case alone, but he’s not letting a rival force take over.
Their investigations lead them into the murky underworlds of Manchester and Liverpool, where one more murder means little to drug-dealing gangs, desperate to control their power bases.
But as Madison steps into the ring for the fight of her life, the criminals come to them. It’s no coincidence that the corpses have been buried in Foley’s hometown. The question is, why?
Rob Parker lives in a village near Manchester, UK. A married father of three, Rob is also the author of the Ben Bracken books A Wanted Man, Morte Point, The Penny Black, Till Morning Is Nigh and the standalone post-Brexit country-noir Crook’s Hollow. He writes full time, as well as organising and attending various author events across the UK - while boxing regularly for charity.
One of my favourite things is a good, well crafted crime thriller - and despite the amount of them on the shelves of bookshops across the country, ones that truly grip whilst also building character and avoiding cliches are really rather hard to come by. So it was with great delight that I listened to the Audible book of Rob Parker's 'Far from the Tree' - a story that I found myself unable to press pause on, so wrapped up was I in the grim yet real world that Parker has created.
No good crime thriller is without a successful duo at the heart of it - and 'Far from the Tree' is no exception. Brendan Foley and Iona Madison work brilliantly together as foils for the listener, and whilst they do tick some of the crime cliches (troubled backgrounds, skeletons in closets etc.) it doesn't matter here, as the author brings these characters to life with such vivid work that the cliches instead become key aspects of both character and plot, and at no point feel unrealistic. These are real, working policemen who I could see on the job in the real world - and it is absolutely to Parker's credit that no suspension of belief is required at any point.
I won't go into the plot too much - as the twists are frequent, brilliant, and at times rather breathtaking. Suffice it to say, this is a dark, brooding read (as any book that starts with the discovery of 27 corpses is rather likely to be), and plunges the reader deep into the criminal underbelly of the North West, but the author has care to ensure that it is a balanced read also - the violence isn't of the gratuitous kind that often stalks books of this nature, and the deaths are handled with sensitivity and care - with the deceased being handled as people who had lives and backstories rather than just tools for plot development. I've seen this described as suitable for fans of both Ian Rankin and the tv show Line of Duty, and that's exactly how I would pitch it - the world and character building of Rankin combined with the breathtaking twists that Line of Duty is so known for.
I would be remiss not to mention Warren Brown's excellent narration too - Warren Brown is best known for leading roles in shows such as 'Luther' and 'Strike Back', although he's firmly embedded in my head as the evil (and impaled) Andy Holt from Hollyoaks. He's excellent here - being from Warrington his accent is (unsurprisingly!) spot on, and whilst I already rated him as an excellent actor, he excels himself here - spending multiple hours with just one voice can be difficult if the narrator is poor, but Brown is an excellent guide to the dark and shadowy corners of the world that Rob Parker has skilfully created.
Many thanks to Amber at Midas PR for a copy of the Audio Book in exchange for an honest review
Against a backdrop of enigmatic nights scattered with spoken-word poetry in London, Venice, Accra and Paris, Ekuah tries to reconcile her personal journey with the love she struggles with for Dee Emeka, a gifted musician who is both passionate and aloof in his treatment of Ekuah.
After 18 months together, he disappears from her life, confirming her worst fears about the unstable foundation of their relationship. She attempts to graduate university whilst retreating into herself, searching for new validations and preoccupations from heartbreak.
Life marches on and Ekuah finds personal fulfilment in her poetry and community work. But when she must choose between her first love and the promise of a new, unexpected love, in the form of Jay Stanley, can she handle the vulnerability and forgiveness required?
Grappling with her examples of love, Ekuah must forge her own path. With an increasingly successful career, she finds herself travelling around the world. When her rise intersects with Dee's own fame, the two are pushed to reach a final resolution.
Author Maame Blue is a Ghanaian Londoner, podcaster, and author.
A previous life saw the author as a psychotherapist, but now manages projects for Not-for-Profits.
Splitting her time between Melbourne and London (currently in London) the author recently saw a lot of kangaroos. So there’s that.
Narrator Vivienne Acheampong is an actress and accomplished voice artist. Recent appearances have included The Other One, Holby City and Famalam.
Love is hard. Most of us would agree with that - having spent years suffering through endless awkward dates, or wasting time in a relationship you know isn't right but can't bring yourself to break out of. Thankfully these days, things are a lot less painful for me on that front - but they are for Ekuah - the protagonist of Bad Love.
Author Maame Blue writes skilfully - hooking you in as soon as the book is begun, and ensuring that the reader gets to know Ekua swiftly. She's real, flawed and rounded - a perfect companion to spend a few hours with, and one who is wholely believable, leading me to root for her to make the decisions that would be right for her, rather than the ones that would make for good plot twists!
For a book that has a relationship lacking trust and honesty at the centre, it's refreshing to see how honestly Maame Blue writes. There is a rawness and a bluntness to both the writing and to Ekua's character that works fantastically - and the author doesn't hold back when talking about the ups and downs of relationships. Dee and Jay also leap off the page - there is a very three dimensional feel to to 'Bad Love', I imagine due to quite how realistic the characters feel.
Added to that - Ekuah's travels allow the reader or listener to embark on a trip to some wonderful places around the world in her company - which at this point in time is particularly welcome!
I listened to this book on Audible, and was highly impressed by the narration from Vivienne Acheampong too - she fits the voice of Ekuah perfectly for me - and there are wonderful facets in her voice of hope, weariness, and excitement as the story progresses. In addition, she makes Ekuah truly feel like someone who you might know or meet in the street - author and narrator combined have created something truly special that is well worth whiling a few hours away with!
Many thanks to Amber at MidasPR for the opportunity to review this.
No food. No water. Out of ammo. Safety is south. But between there and here is 150 miles of barren desert – freezing at night, boiling in the day – populated solely by Ernst Rommel’s fearsome and deadly Afrika Corps.
What would you do?
Give up? Or get on with it?
For the seven SAS supermen in Damien Lewis’s explosive new audio exclusive, the answer was simple: Escape. Evade. Survive. From the mountains of Italy, to the deserts of Africa, these heroes epitomise the bravery, esprit de corps and daring do of Britain’s finest elite fighting force.
Author Damien Lewis has written over a dozen books, topping best seller lists worldwide. His book Zero Six Bravo was a No.1 Best Seller, and another book, War Dog is being developed as a movie.
Narration is performed by Leighton Pugh - a graduate of both Queens College Oxford and LAMDA, Pugh has a vast number of stage and radio credits alongside his significant experience as an audiobook narrator.
More often than not, I listen to audio books to relax. I tend to go towards non-fiction and enjoy things that can accompany me on a quiet walk. So if, like me most of the time, you're looking for gently paced biographies, then maybe this isn't the audio book for you.
However, if you want to be gripped by fascinating, thrilling and genuinely pulse racing stories of real-life escape, perseverence and survival, then this is a listen I cannot recommend enough.
Seven stories of SAS servicemen in WWII - all true, all heart-poundingly exciting, and all of an equal quality - there are no stories that are worth skipping here.
A lot of writing about military manouvres can be dry - focusing solely on the action but avoiding any elements of detail or worldl building. Author Damien Lewis doesn't skimp here - and this aspect combined with Leighton Pugh's stirring narration ensures that the listener is well and truly by the side of these brave men at every step of the action.
Pugh has a slightly old fashioned sound to his voice, and it works fantastically well for these tales - reminding me of classic films like "Where Eagles Dare" and giving a real sense of authenticity to the WWII setting.
Those who served in WWII are increasingly few among us now - and I think it is vitally important that writers are still bringing their stories to vivid life to ensure that our generations and those following us never forget the sacrifices these people made and the bravery they had in order to turn the tide of war.
SAS Great Escapes is both a brilliant tribute and a stirring listen - just make sure to listen at a time when you're able to pause everything and continue listening, as none of these stories are at all easy to pause!
Many thanks to Midaspr and Audible for the copy of this fantastic audio book.
No one would call David Rose - or ‘Rosie’ as he’s known to one and all - a star, but he’s good at his job and proud of his work as a sportswriter for a national newspaper. He’s used to seeing flashier talents come and go - both on the field, and in the competitive world of the press. Football comes first in the way he spends his working life, but he’s happy to pitch in whatever the sport - from Formula 1 to Test cricket in the West Indies, the Olympics to a heavyweight championship bout in Japan.
He’s used to the ups and downs of a journalist’s life and has learned to keep his own head safely down - until an especially venal boss pins his own misdemeanours on the entirely innocent Rose. Rosie’s revenge is slow but sweet, as he manoeuvres through a world where egos clash, money talks and you’re only as safe as your latest by-line
Author Simon Barnes was the chief Sports Writer for The Times until 2014, with a number of journalistic awards encompassing a career spent writing about both sports and nature. Writing his first book in 1986, Barnes has written over 20 since, with "The Game's Gone" an Audible exclusive, brilliantly narrated by actor Colin Mace, who, judging by his Twitter feed, is an apt choice due to his passion for sport.
I'll be honest and admit to a little apprehension when I began listening to this, as I'm not the biggest sports fan - I enjoy Rugby, love the Tour de France and get briefly into Wimbledon every year, but I'm certainly not a commited sports fan, and my only real knowledge of sports commentary and journalism comes from watching Grandstand or Match of the Day with my father on the Saturdays of my childhood.
In truth though, "The Game's Gone" isn't necessarily a book about sport. Yes, sport plays a big part, but what's clever is how sport is weaved through the plot - not only the games, but the emotions and passions that lie at the heart of every game out there.
Rosie is a compelling character for the listener, and narrator Colin Mace conveys him well, making this a relaxing read that's told with a friendly intimacy by a character whose side it's impossible not to be on, and whilst his story is certainly not plain sailing, the warm humour Simon Barnes infuses his story with ensures that the reader isn't on edge for too long.
Barnes cleverly uses his experience to create characters who are layered and interesting - he's not interested in using characters that are stereotypes or who are instantly likeable, but instead he builds them to feel real and relatable - and it takes a while to warm to some of them - including the narrator! This worked well for me, and combined with what felt like very real reflection on sporting events, made for a listen that truly bought the world of sports journalism to life for me. In essence, it reminded me of the humanity and warmth at the core of sports that Nick Hornby wrote about in Fever Pitch, combined with a gripping plot about the cutthroat world of journalism - a Count of Monte Cristo but with balls and pens instead of swords and pistols.
A vastly enjoyable listen that took me on an immersive and exciting dive into the world of sports journalism, "The Game's Gone" is available exclusively from Audible.
Many thanks to Amber at Midas PR for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour for "The Game's Gone" - I received the review copy in exchange for an honest review.