Initially I had this book pegged at 3 out of 5. It seemed a bit far fetched that a freak accident with a meteor could put an 11 year old boy onto the path of becoming a media sensation, geek freak, epileptic and all round weirdly over intelligent teenager. Oh, what's more with a mum who ran a business as a fortune teller. No wonder he was bottom of the pops at his local school. In addition, for about half of the book we are in plot development mode, with not a great deal happening, and unusually for me, I really did consider giving up and moving onto one of the many other books beckoning me to pick up.

But not long after half way, the book took a decidedly surprising and most interesting turn. The subject of assisted suicide is a political hot potato in our Western society with increasing numbers of people living with terminal illness. The burden, stress, and suffering this places onto the person with the illness and onto those who care for and love that person are impossible to quantify. Tie into this religious beliefs, the sanctity of life, the sanity of the ill person, the culpability of those doing the assisting, and we have a major ethical and moral dilemma on our hands. After all we don't let our animals suffer unnecessarily, so why should we let our loved ones.

The person in this novel who wishes to die is not our young protagonist Alex Woods, 17 at the time of his narration of the story, but an older man, Mr Issac Peterson. Mr Peterson is probably in his 60s, American, an ex-Vietnam vet with a damaged leg, who lives alone since his wife died a few years before from cancer. A most unlikely and special friendship develops between these two when Alex, in his early teens, meets up with Mr Peterson while trying to escape from a group of school bullies. Under Mr Peterson's guidance and friendship, Alex quickly finds his teenage world rapidly improving, he learns to deal with the bullies from school, and develops ways to keep his epilepsy under control. Things are on the up.

Then Mr Peterson is diagnosed with a debilitating illness with no prospect of a cure. After considerable research and soul searching, Mr Peterson decides assisted suicide is the only option, and the only place this is legal is in Switzerland. There is no doubt in Alex's mind, and in the mind of Mr Peterson that they are doing the right thing. And so the wheels are put in motion to enable Mr Peterson to die with dignity and self worth.

The second half of this book dives right into this fraught subject in a very open minded way. The author is obviously in favour of assisted suicide, but he sends his message without being inflammatory or judgmental of those not in favour. By using a teenage boy - idealistic, highly intelligent, having had his own share of pain - as his vehicle he has probably found the easiest path to convey his feelings on the matter.

I greatly enjoyed reading the last third of this book. This is not a subject people feel very comfortable talking about, but I found it handled in a very touching and meaningful way. And it has certainly got me thinking more about how we care for and treat people close to us who are terminally ill.  Upgraded to 4 out of 5!


COLLATERAL by Ellen Hopkins

I have never read a novel in the form of poetry before. It was a bit of a surprise to open this to begin reading to find it all in verse form, and initially was a little weird to read. But once I forced myself to get over the different format, reading became a strangely captivating experience. There is nothing like poetry as a vehicle to tell a love story. The sparseness and pin point accuracy of language is achingly beautiful, passionate, sad, violent, loving, and memorable, at the same time telling a story. 

Here, at the bottom of the world, we aren't a society very familiar with being at war. So it is probably difficult for most of the population to fully relate to the impact that being a Marine at the coal face in Afghanistan can have on the family and partner left behind, and on the self. Cole is such a Marine, Ashley is his long term girl friend. For five years and four deployments Ashley and Cole work very hard at keeping their love alive, and at the same time trying to retain their own individual sanity. There is nothing like war to heighten the emotions and make one live with a little more feeling.

Narrated primarily by Ashley, with odd bits of poetry in Cole's voice, the story moves between the past from the time the two of them met to the present day. Different fonts indicate who is speaking, and what time period we are in. Ashley is a college student, studying poetry. She and Cole meet one night in a bar, connect instantly, and it is full on from day one. Their passion is very intense and beautifully rendered into free form verse, but as we all know passion is not enough to keep a love alive. And slowly over time the relationship begins to falter - the distance, the long periods apart, his daily dice with death vs her daily college routine, similar relationships around them crumbling - all contribute toward an inevitable conclusion.

Since the beginning of time, the lives of those without the power have been torn apart by war. As much an indictment of war on the average person, the way this novel is written also shows how a small story can leave such a big impact on the reader. After all in the scheme of things Ashley and Cole are really just the cogs in the wheel of the war machine, yet their story rings with hope, poignancy and loss. I don't know how this book has been received by the families of those serving in Afghanistan; how true this particular scenario is. But I don't think it actually matters. Love and overcoming obstacles are part of what we do as humans, and so this setting really only serves to highlight the intensity of what we all feel. Outstanding. 



This man has so many lessons that he can teach the rest of us about living a life to the best that we can. His autobiography is chock full of worthy mantras to live your it by. On a random page opening, "Life is all about getting up again, dusting yourself down again, learning from the lessons, and then pushing on". Or "It was time to get out there with all of my enthusiasm and commit to fail...until I succeeded". And on his dream to one day climb Everest - "But I had a dream, and that always makes people dangerous...To a man, they thought I was mad". I think a lot of people still do!  And these are just a very few of the thoughts scrambling around in this man's head. But other than his courage, his curiousity and his fearlessness, perhaps the most remarkable thing about him is his  humanity and humility, his bloke-next-doorishness, how Jo-average he seems to be. And the encouragement, that anyone can take on the sort of challenges he has and succeed. Aside from the respect he engenders in people, perhaps his greatest gift is the model he provides for children and young people. He is the youngest ever head of the Scout Association, (he was a Cub Scout as a boy), and is in a most unique position to pass on his passions, his knowledge, his moral and ethical code, and his very ordinariness to the world's youth. 

Any search engine will toss up all sorts of biographical detail about this extraordinary man, and you would have to have lived in a deep cave not to have heard, at the very least,  about Man vs Wild, even if, like me, you have never actually seen it. But a bit like the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, he is as much part of popular culture and entertainment, and as British as One Direction or Kate and Wills. In this book Bear Grylls delves deeper than the story of his life and shares the influences and elements that have shaped him into the man he shares publicly.

He comes from a privileged background, but not outstandingly so. His family is very important to him, and he has some very interesting forbears who have made their own mark on the world.  He had a passion for adventure, the outdoors and climbing - be it hills or buildings - from a young age. He went to Eton College where a culture of freedom and pursuit of individual interests further developed his adventurous streak. His decision to try out for the SAS selection almost did him in, the fracturing of three vertebrae in his back almost killed him, as did a fall during his climb of Everest. These combined with his wife and children and his strong Christian faith have all made him the man he is today.

There is no doubt that he is one of the luckiest men to be alive. He has had more lucky escapes than I imagine he cares to count. The two main ones he writes about in this book - the broken back in a parachute accident and the fall into a crevasse on Everest - are, at a guess, barely the tip of the iceberg.  I can't think of anyone who has done more for the saying "Feel the fear and do it anyway" than Bear Grylls. I do wonder though how long he can continue living his life, quite literally, on the edge.

This is such an easy book to read, very short chapters, lots of action, fair amount of self-reflection but in a good and straight forward way, finishing with an epilogue that sets the scene for volume two. Yes, you will want to read more, and you can only wonder what the next forty years of this life will produce.