Thursday, 8 December 2016

Book Review: The Storms by Mike Trueman

In August 1979 twenty-seven-year-old Mike Trueman set sail from the south-west coast of Wales, en route to Cornwall. The young army helicopter pilot was helping to move his friend’s yacht from Northern Ireland to the south coast of England. But as they sailed out into the Irish Sea, the sky turned progressively darker and the winds gathered pace.

Over the next twenty-four hours the two young sailors battled to survive force-10 gales in what became known as the Fastnet disaster and which claimed the lives of fifteen sailors off the coast of Ireland. Almost seventeen years later, Trueman was at Camp 2 at 6,400 metres on Mount Everest as the May 1996 tragedy unfolded high above him. As stricken guides, clients and Sherpas tried to survive the fierce storms which engulfed the upper mountain, Trueman was able to descend and – using his twenty-four years of experience as an officer in the British Army – coordinate the rescue effort from Base Camp.

The Storms is the remarkable memoir of a British Army Gurkha officer. Trueman, a veteran of twenty expeditions to the Himalaya, gives a candid account of life inside expeditions to the highest mountain in the world. He gives a unique personal perspective on the 1996 Everest storm, as well as on the fateful day in May 1999 when Briton Mike Matthews disappeared high on the mountain after he and Trueman had summited.

My Review: 
This was another good book about the 1996 Everest disaster from the viewpoint of Mike who was part of Mal Duff's expedition, spending some time with a Yugoslav team and the South Africans. He had previously given an opinion that Ian Woodall was not right for an expedition leader years before based on alleged lying about his experience on mountains and in the army.

Mike backs up what Ian Woodall said about the behaviour of South African team doctor Charlotte Fox, who was fired from the team, and backs up claims made in two books about her climbing illegally on the mountain without a permit. Mike says she went down the mountain ignoring a sick climber needing help, knowing she would be in trouble if she helped him as she was not meant to be there. Angry climbers reported her and she was kicked out of base camp. He does not agree with Ian's assertion that Deshun was on the climbing permit, indicating that Ian's father was on it instead. Not seeing the permit myself, I can't comment on it.

Illness hampers Mike's preperations for the climb and bad weather brings the rest of Mal's team down to Base Camp as the other teams head for the summit. Mal's team and the IMAX had already helped sick climbers on the mountain and were to play a crucial role in the unfolding disaster. On May 10th, the other teams made a summit push when the wind suddenly dropped and Mike was at Camp two. Those lower on the mountain watched and waited for news about who reached the top. Seeing several of his experienced team turn around for varying reasons would have disappointed Rob Hall, having expected them to summit, and it may have explained his increased desire to get Doug Hansen to the top.

This book agrees with other books about poor management of resources. Faster climbers forced to wait on slower climbers, distribution of guides adding to the slow progress, missing fixed ropes at crucial points, lack of oxygen, bad decisions made. The first people on the summit at 1pm were already seeing signs of changing weather but their retreat was hampered by waiting at the Hillary Step as more climbers climbed up. Beck Weathers was left sitting all day at the Balcony with deteriorating eyesight, waiting vainly for someone to help him down. By the time some of these people had got near the South Col, visibility was at zero and they were lost in the storm.

Mike retreats to Base Camp when it becomes clear that a disaster has hit as he can speak Nepalese. He indicates that Ian Woodall was made a scapegoat for everything that went wrong and Mike states that Ian DID offer some help, contributing to radio calls to pass information but Base Camp people did not trust what he was saying. So some of what Ian says he did in his book 'Everest Free to Decide' may well have been true. Maybe the truth lurks somewhere in the middle of all the viewpoints, lost in the confusion of the storm.

I liked seeing the disaster unfold from the viewpoint of those trying to get a rescue started. Mike was in charge at Base Camp, trying to get locations and status of every climber still on the mountain and listing available resources to use in possible rescue. He says the liason officers chose to moan about western weather reports instead of doing anything to help. By now Beck Weathers had been found alive and abandoned in a tent and help was finally prepared for him and the fate of the others were all confirmed. It must have been chaos trying to make sense of everything that was happening.

Mike's book also goes on to talk about disasters on later expeditions with seven of the storm survivors dying in the next six years including Mal Duff at Base Camp the following year. This was an interesting if sad addition to the book. I found this to be an excellent read.
star rating photo: Four Star Rating 4stars.png

Book Review: Everest: Free to Decide by Ian Woodall, Cathy O'Dowd

May 1996 was one of the most eventful months in Everest's history - for all the wrong reasons. Fourteen expeditions were trying to climb the mountain from the southern side, among them the first South African team ever to attempt the summit. Sponsored initially by the "Johannesburg Sunday Times" and with the personal blessing of Nelson Mandela, the expedition was led by Ian Woodhall, and ex-British Army officer who had relatively limited high-altitude experience. The South Africans were dogged by early problems, which started when the three most experienced climbers in the team quit before even reaching base camp due to personality clashes with Woodhall, who also banished a reporter and photographer from the main sponsor, who then withdrew their support. 

At the South Col (26,000 feet) they sat out the huge storm of May 10-11 that led to the death of 11 climbers, but finally achieved their goal on Saturday 25 May when Ian Woodhill and Cathy O'Dowd reached the summit of Everest. Bruce Herrod, the deputy leader and a renowned photographer, reached the top later that day, unfortunately he did return - his body was found not far below the summit a year later.

My Review: 
When I read this book I was well aware of the allegations laid against the South African team on not doing their share to help in the rescue attempt in the 1996 Everest disaster. From everything I've read, I don't believe they did enough to help and there is no doubt that team leader Ian Woodall was disliked for being abrasive and uncooperative with other expedition leaders. However I decided to judge this book instead on the quality of the writing and not personality.

In the interests of fairness, there are a few points that need to be made. All of the teams on Everest that year paid a lot of money to be there and everyone had the same ambition to reach the top. Everyone wants to make a summit attempt during a good weather window so I don't think Rob Hall or anyone else had the right to order any team to sacrifice their best chance of summit glory to let Rob's or Scott's team get it instead. I understand the fears Rob and Scott had about a bottleneck and why they wanted to stagger the summit attempts but you can't ask others to climb in worse weather for their attempt to suit you. I understood why Ian wasn't happy about that idea. As it happens, the South Africans did not attempt to summit on that day, a decision that had them safe in camp when the storm hit.

This book defends the actions of Ian, which you would expect. He disputes that he ranted to Rob about being ordered to summit on a different day and that he said he was unsure which day he would climb, based on weather and not what Rob said. Ian says when he was asked to help with the rescue, he said they would if someone showed him the route up. As first timers on Everest none of his team knew the way to go and needed guidance to find their way in poor weather, but that no one came to guide them due to lack of radios at camp four. Ian claims to have tried to get around camp to find someone to guide them but could barely find the tents in the storm and had to give up. Ian and Bruce want to bring the bodies of Beck and Yasuko back to camp and say nobody showed them where the bodies were. If that is true could she have been saved? In Mike Trueman's book he indicates that Ian did offer help but Base Camp did not trust the information he was providing on the radio because they didn't get on with him. This would suggest that some of what Ian says about help being turned down was true.Perhaps the full truth is somewhere in the middle, confused by the chaos of the storm.

Cathy's book 'For the love of it' talks in detail about the in-fighting and civil war in the camp before the climb. This book starts with the team left behind after the others quit, and preperation for the climb. The description of their first trip through the Icefall was vivid and well written and I really got a sense of what it was like to be there. It felt more real than when described in other books...bone chilling cold yet a hot sun ready to blind you without eye protection, high snow walls, nervous climbers, shaky ladders...very well written.

There is a lot of detail about the camp that you don't normally get in expedition books. I enjoyed reading about all the tasks that the cook takes on and just how difficult his job is. Ian talks about the constant stress of leadership which might explain his temper and his decisions at time, with Bruce being the camp peacemaker. Other books are critical of the competitions he runs to select team members but it gave him the chance to evaluate their actions in an actual stressed climbing environment and their ability to get on with him. Is it any different from taking on rich clients with little high altitude experience as the other teams do for profit? I don't think so. We also hear more about how much work goes into packing the bags for the Sherpas to carry...what a logistical nightmare! It was good to get detail on things that are usually glossed over in other books.

There was good detail in the actual climb before the disaster and also when the team went for the summit in the aftermath of the disaster. Ironically, they had perfect weather for the climb which allowed the three to summit. Had the other teams waited for a certain longer weather window, nobody would have died. It seems a real tragedy that Bruce, described by everyone as such a nice man, died in a fall on the way down.

If you can either accept that this account of the disaster goes against most other accounts, or can just ignore it, or believe that the real story will never be proved, there is plenty to like in this book. It is well written with a lot of interesting detail about the expedition, the climbs and the people behind the scenes that make it all happen. I liked that it chose to talk about different things from other similar books and overall, I actually like it. I might not be convinced by everything I read in the book but it entertained me which is why I marked it higher.

Read June 2016
star rating photo: Four Star Rating 4stars.png

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

When Chuckles did a zombie guest post!

If like me you just luuurrrvvvee zombies then I hope you have been following zombie month over at Velvet's blog at I was delighted to be offered the chance to do a guest post on the subject of zombie prepper books! This was my first ever guest post so it was all very exciting!  

Here is the link to my guest post:

It would be great if you could pop over and take a look at the post and leave a comment if you have time. And I know Velvet would love it if you could visit her blog through zombie month and maybe leave a few comments! We must have more zombies in our life!



Chuckles Childhood Book Loves

Continuing on with my look back at my childhood book loves. When I went to secondary, the girls were starting to read the coming of age type books that Judy Blume was writing, which then led a lot of us into the romance side of things. Yes chuckles actually did read teen romance! We asked the school librarian if he had Judy Blume's 'Forever' and he called us deviant little perverts! *sniggers*  Eventually one girl bought it and about ten of us borrowed it from her!

After Forever, I read other similar books which tackled sexual relationships and other issues for teenagers including rape, pregnancy, crushes on teachers, relationship problems. It was all by the same publisher.

Then we had the more slushy Sweets Dreams romance books which we all read. These were some of my favourites at the time.

And then we all became totally addicted to Sweet Valley High! Everyone seemed to be Team Jessica (including me!) or Team Elizabeth! But if Jessica had that number of boyfriends at our school, she'd have been called all sorts! Here are a few of my favourite books from that very long series...

I swear they had the longest school year EVER and the twins never aged past 16...I heard there was a senior year but I've never seen any books from it. I did try some of the Sweet Valley University books but Elizabeth drove me crazy in them and I stopped reading after about 20 books or something. Still, they were trashy fun! The other series I liked around this time was the Cheerleaders series but I never got to read them all. I hated Mary Ellen, stuck up cow...Nancy and Vanessa were my favourites!

The author who thought up Sweet Valley High did another series about a bitchier, richer version of Jessica who was a cow from hell. It was a good trilogy at the time.

Anyone read any of these books? Funny how I loved these when I was about 13 but now I don't enjoy books that are heavy on romance!

Chuckles Cover Love #4

If there is one thing that makes a great book even better, it is when it has a cover that we love! The cover design is what catches the eye as we browse through a bookstore shelf or check out the Amazon or Goodreads recommendations. The right cover makes me look closer at a book, to read the blurb and maybe make a purchase. A poor cover might mean I never look at the blurb at all. This is the first in a series of posts celebrating all those book covers I love...and why!

When I started out on my urban fantasy adventures, the third author I tried was Patricia Briggs and her Mercy Thompson series. I still regard this as one of my top three urban fantasy series, if not the best. When I first bought her books from Waterstones they were in mass market paperback form with small writing and these uninspiring covers:

Not exactly pretty huh. I got the first five books and then I heard they were changing to trade paperback, the bigger size, which meant new covers. Now those who know me are well aware that this is a pet hate of mine, changing book size and cover half way through a series but in this case I was hoping for good covers. 

I saw US friends with these covers but I've never seen them available here in the UK. While I like the colours and designs much better than my covers, I still had to wonder why Mercy was half dressed on two of them. But I liked them and would have been happy if these were what I got. Anyway here they are:

So what covers did I end up with? These are an example of the new covers that became available on Amazon and I was ok with them overall. Not as pretty as the other covers but much better than my original buys anyway! I can live with them. Moon Called is a bit ugly though...

I can live with them! I like the cover for Bone Crossed the best-I always like that pinky purple shade! OK lets also talk about the Alpha and Omega books. The first two I got in mass market paperback with one cover design and then it switched to trade paperback in the newer design. I'm waiting to see if I like the series before I buy the newer versions for the first two books. I do like both designs though.*sigh*

What covers do you have? Which do you like and how do you feel about any changes to the covers you were buying?