Book Review: Out Of The Dark by Greg Hurwitz

Book Review: Out of the Dark by Greg Hurwitz

I bought Out Of The Dark when the hardback edition was first released, drawn in by the image of the White House on the front cover. Anything to do with American politics and I’m in. It was only when I got home that I realised that there were three books in the Orphan X series preceding this one. A quick Google and it became apparent that I needed to read them in order, so I put Out Of The Dark on the bookshelf and sourced book one.

Fast forward seven months and I am ready for the 4th installment of Orphan X, and the adventures of Evan Smoak. Out Of The Dark sent Evan on his biggest challenge to date, I mean, killing the President of the United States of America is a huge task for anyone, even arguably the greatest Orphan of them all. The reasons behind the mission were clear from the start, with motive and justification being added with every passing chapter.

What Greg Hurwitz doesn’t research for his books isn’t worth knowing, and the amount I now know about weapons and mission strategy are pretty impressive. Every single detail is covered, but never so it seems unnecessarily long winded. On the contrary, the information is vital in setting the scene and the ramifications of having this knowledge always pay off later in the story.

As an assassin and strategist at the absolute top of the game, emotions and relationships aren’t something Evan has much experience of, or need for most of his life. However, his clumsy romantic bond with Mia, and probably more so her son Peter, are fascinating to see develop, or not, and add humanising layers to his tough, unflappable character. Best of all though, is his relationship with Joey, the 16 year old Orphan in training who he rescued in the previous book. Awkward and untrusting at first, Evan has become a Father figure to Joey, and just the one face to face interaction they had in this whole book, was enough to tug at my heartstrings, hard. Of course I then I spent the rest of the book worried something might happen to her.

Oh, and as well as all this presidential assassination and emotional blundering, Orphan X also has his calling as The Nowhere Man, which in this latest installment sees him come to the aid of a troubled young man whose family have just been masacred, only leaving him alive as leverage and for future torment.

Out Of The Dark is my first five star book of 2020 and deservedly so. The action is unparalleled, the story one that is both believable and has you emotionally invested from the start, with twists and turns that come naturally, but shock to the core when needed. Greg Hurwitz’s Orphan X series stands alone at the top of the action thriller genre. With a fifth installment, Into The Fire, coming out in just eleven days, I’ve timed it perfectly to read another couple of books before getting stuck into another Evan Smoak escapade.

Book Review: 30 Days In June by Chris Westlake

I knew nothing of this book, nor its author Chris Westlake, other than the small synopsis that I read before getting a free copy on Amazon. I’m always drawn to books in a diary or day by day format, so that was enough to pull me in, together with a crime thriller theme.

From the start the story was very compelling, with a mystery I wanted solved and a character I wanted to get redemption. I was a bit worried when an early chapter flashed back 30 years, fearing we’d spend too much time in the past and not enough time progressing the action. However, the flashbacks were limited to just the odd chapter, so we got context without getting bogged down.

30 Days In June by Chris Westlake

Aside from a couple of typos the book was very well written, with a number of big twists and turns that I never saw coming, and enough intrigue and suspense that I couldn’t read the last third quick enough. The relationship between the protagonist and his father, although meagre by most standards, tugged at the heartstrings and had me quite emotional at one point.

30 Days In June was a fantastic read, and one I’d have been more than happy paying full price for. A serial killer story unlike any I’ve read before, and one that I wholly recommend.

Epic Stranger Things Clothing at Primark

I’ll hold my hands up and say that I never expected to be writing a post about clothes, or Primark, but sat eating KFC with my son at Westfield Stratford yesterday, I spied the Stranger Things collection in their window. I’m a huge fan of the show, but always seemed to miss out on the limited run clothing released at shops such as PULL&BEAR. Though it should be noted that as I check the name of the aforementioned website, on going there I see they have a new range of Stranger Things tops, and not all are sold out. Ironic much?

Back on track, and I was pleased to see that in Primark there was a big range for men as well as women, and though the beanie hat was too small for what I always thought was my average sized head, I did come away with 3 t-shirts and a hoody. The season 3 poster and Scoops Ahoy tees are two that I desperately wanted, and had considered paying way too much for non official versions last year. Glad I waited, because at £8 each these are somewhat of a bargain. The logo tee was £6 and the Palace Arcade hoody, with its deliciously 80s design, was £14.

It’s worth noting that the Stranger Things Season 3 poster and Scoops Ahoy t-shirts are what they call oversized fit, which suits me fine, as I’m guessing they will suffer from washing machine shrinkage and therefore still fit post wash.

Stranger Things Season 3 Poster T-Shirt from Primark
Stranger Things Scoops Ahoy T-Shirt from Primark
Stranger Things Scoops Ahoy T-Shirt from Primark
Stranger Things Palace Arcade Hoody from Primark
Stranger Things Palace Arcade Hoody from Primark
Stranger Things Logo T-Shirt from Primark

There were more t-shirts, and a great Upside Down sweatshirt, that unfortunately was too tight on the neck for my liking. As someone who doesn’t get excited about buying items of clothing that often, I was super happy to fuel my Stranger Things obsession with these purchases from Primark.

Book Review: Identity Crisis by Ben Elton

A fascinating, astute and often hilarious social commentary on modem day life in Britain. Brilliant observations about social media, the different personas people adopt, their behaviour and consequences. The way gender identification and sexual orientation are dealt with, from the virtue signalling snowflakes to the patriarchal dinosours is spot on. Let’s also not forget the inclusion of cyber manipulation, Russian interference, another referendum and the exploitative nature of Love Island. And underneath all this is a murder spree to solve! A very clever and engaging read, no matter on what side of the fence you sit on.

I Read 63 Books in 2019

As a member of Goodreads you get to set yourself a reading challenge of how many books you want to read in the coming year. In 2017 I set a goal of 40 and read 41. In 2018 I set a goal of 38 and read 39. This year I knew my reading game had gone up a level, so I set my goal to 50, and as of last night, have read 63 books and started a 64th. These are those 63 books I read in 2019, Date Read being the day I finished said book. Now to set my goal for 2020…

Title Author Date Read
Blue Moon (Jack Reacher, #24) Lee Child Dec 30
Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs James Dixon Dec 24
Educated Tara Westover Dec 18
Saving Faith David Baldacci Dec 11
Resistance Reborn (Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, #1) Rebecca Roanhorse Dec 03
Twisted Steve Cavanagh Nov 25
Game Changer Douglas E. Richards Nov 21
The Lord’s Day (Harry Jones, #1) Michael Dobbs Nov 13
How to be Famous (How to Build a Girl, #2) Caitlin Moran Nov 07
The Terminal List (James Reece, #1) Jack Carr Nov 03
Thirteen (Eddie Flynn, #4) Steve Cavanagh Oct 26
Hellbent (Orphan X, #3) Gregg Hurwitz Oct 20
The Sting Kimberley Chambers Oct 14
How to Build a Girl Caitlin Moran Oct 13
Your Perfect Year Charlotte Lucas Oct 05
The Watanabe Name Sakura Nobeyama Oct 01
How to Be a Footballer Peter Crouch Sep 25
Diary Chuck Palahniuk Sep 20
The Girl Who Lived Twice (Millennium, #6) David Lagercrantz Sep 17
Joe Country (Slough House #6) Mick Herron Sep 11
Thrawn: Treason (Star Wars: Thrawn, #3) Timothy Zahn Sep 04
The Vinyl Detective – Flip Back: Vinyl Detective Andrew Cartmel Aug 30
The Music Shop Rachel Joyce Aug 23
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill Abbi Waxman Aug 19
The Nowhere Man (Orphan X, #2) Gregg Hurwitz Aug 16
Knife (Harry Hole, #12) Jo Nesbø Aug 12
Victory Disc (The Vinyl Detective #3) Andrew Cartmel Aug 04
The Loot (Charlie McCabe, #1) Craig Schaefer Jul 24
A Killing Truth (Leine Basso Thrillers, #0.5) D.V. Berkom Jul 17
Once Quiet (Jack Widow, #5) Scott Blade Jul 15
London Rules (Slough House, #5) Mick Herron Jul 08
CyberStorm Matthew Mather Jun 25
The Run-Out Groove (The Vinyl Detective #2) Andrew Cartmel Jun 18
The Debt Collector (The Debt Collector, #1) Jon Mills Jun 11
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, #1) Douglas Adams Jun 09
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars, #1) Rob Thomas Jun 04
Orphan X (Orphan X, #1) Gregg Hurwitz May 31
Tooth and Nail (Inspector Rebus, #3) Ian Rankin May 26
Spook Street (Slough House, #4) Mick Herron May 21
Live Wire (What Doesn’t Kill You #13; Maggie #1) Pamela Fagan Hutchins May 14
The Burning Mind M.G. Gardiner May 08
The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax Andrew Cartmel May 01
The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium, #5) David Lagercrantz Apr 26
To Kill the Truth (Maggie Costello, #4) Sam Bourne Apr 10
Real Tigers (Slough House, #3) Mick Herron Apr 04
The List (Slough House, #2.5) Mick Herron Mar 27
Hide and Seek (Inspector Rebus, #2) Ian Rankin Mar 26
The Thirst (Harry Hole, #11) Jo Nesbø Mar 21
Daisy Jones and The Six Taylor Jenkins Reid Mar 12
The President Is Missing Bill Clinton Mar 10
Police (Harry Hole, #10) Jo Nesbø Mar 04
Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus, #1) Ian Rankin Feb 26
Phantom (Harry Hole, #9) Jo Nesbø Feb 25
All the Beautiful Lies Peter Swanson Feb 18
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine Gail Honeyman Feb 15
Triggerfish Twist Tim Dorsey Feb 11
Die Last (Max Wolfe, #4) Tony Parsons Feb 06
The Rebel’s Revenge (Ben Hope #18) Scott Mariani Feb 04
The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium, #4) David Lagercrantz Jan 29
Lethal White (Cormoran Strike, #4) Robert Galbraith Jan 22
Dead Lions (Slough House, #2) Mick Herron Jan 15
My Thoughts Exactly Lily Allen Jan 08
The Leopard (Harry Hole, #8) Jo Nesbø Jan 06

I didn’t include graphic novels as they don’t take long to read and skew the results somewhat, though I read a fair number of those this year too.

Top 10 Films of 2019

I have so many more films to watch from 2019, so this list will not really be complete until a good few months into 2020, but it’s traditional to publish such lists at this time.

  1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  2. Yesterday
  3. Booksmart
  4. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  5. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  6. Avengers: Endgame
  7. Brightburn
  8. Fighting With My Family
  9. Dumbo
  10. Captain Marvel

Kind of a foregone conclusion as to what would be number one, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker didn’t disappoint. Just a few of the film’s I still need to see that could make the list: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Joker, The Irishman, Frozen 2 and It: Chapter 2. My least favourite film of 2019? The Lion King. Just so boring and pointless – enough with these computer generated live action remakes.

Top 10 Albums and EPs of 2019

Traditionally a top 10 starts with a number 1 and ends with a number 10, or vice versa. I have followed this convention at every year-end, but for 2019 I really can’t say which is my favourite album/EP of the year. There are at least 4, that at any one time could be on the top spot, and they are the first 4 on the list, but in no order.

I have also decided to include EPs as standard, which is somewhat of a departure as I’ve not always been a fan of EPs. This year, however, I’ve discovered a number of super talented acts who aren’t at the album stage of their musical journey but have released incredible music worthy of recognition.

2019 has also seen my music taste take a huge move away from country /Americana, and back to Rock with the addition of low-fi indie pop, so I’m told. So, without further ado, here are the 10.

Top 10 Albums and EPs of 2019

Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell
Soeur – No Show
Saint Agnes – Welcome To Silvertown
Clairo – Immunity
Jade Bird – Jade Bird
Snail Mail – Habit
Stella Donnelly – Beware of the Dogs
Tusks – Avalanche
beabadoobee – Space Cadet

Agree or disagree, use the comments and leave me your recommendations.

Could Crush’s Coaster Be My New Favourite Ride in Disneyland Paris?

It wasn’t so long ago that I discovered the glory of Big Thunder Mountain, and after years of ranking Pirates of the Caribbean as my number one in Disneyland Paris, the Wildest Ride in Wilderness usurped it. It is my son Lucas who determines which rides we try, as I always said that I’d go on any ride that he wanted to go on. Being that I’ve always been somewhat of a thrill avoider, that’s quite a promise, but fatherhood takes you to crazy places.

Crush’s Coaster was on the list for our last family trip in December 2017, but Lucas wasn’t feeling it so we shelved it until our next trip, the one we took just a few weeks ago. I’d had quite a few people tell me that Crush’s Coaster was a pretty wild ride, with the combination of spinning, whilst travelling a fast roller coaster track. Some said it was amazing, others said it was very jerky and even quite painful. I actually didn’t think Lucas would want to do it this trip too, but come rope drop on our second day and there we were, just 45 minutes from ticking a new ride off the list.

Crush's Coaster in Disneyland Paris
Crush’s Coaster in Disneyland Paris

Whilst the queue might look long, and it is, so looks aren’t deceiving, it moved quite quickly, so there wasn’t really a great deal of time to overthink things and get nervous. That and this was my first trip to Disneyland Paris with chemical courage, to give it a daft and pretty off the mark name, but I’m a fan of alliteration, so it stays. Through the switchback queuing area and I thought we were there, only to be welcomed by some stairs a bridge and more stairs – what goes up must come down. Still, it’s a wonderfully themed area, and I never got bored of the mine mine mine seagulls standing atop the beach shack.

I’d be lying if I said wasn’t a tiny bit anxious when we were seated in the shell themed riding vessel, and being at the back I was a bit perturbed that I couldn’t see what was coming. But did I go as far as turning my neck as far round as humanly possible, in an attempt to see what was coming? You bet I did, but not so much that I wasn’t there for Lucas and looking around at the Finding Nemo characters and scenes that make up the first gentle part of the ride. Past Bruce (fish are friends not food) and to the summit of the incline and it went dark. Not so dark that you couldn’t see anything, but dark enough that each twist and turn of the track was a surprise, as we plummeted backwards, spun, and flew along at a pretty rapid speed.

Crush's Coaster in Disneyland Paris
Inside Crush’s Coaster in Disneyland Paris

The second part of the ride is maybe a minute long, and in that time you are sent in every direction, sometimes facing forward, other times backwards and even sideways. When I disembarked from that inaugural ride I wouldn’t say I came off loving it, but I was pleased that I’d coped so well and was keen to ride again. Lucas and my wife Denise loved it, and in Denise’s case, I’ve never seen her come off a ride so buoyant. Wanting to capitalise on the momentum, we queued again, this time for well over an hour. My second ride, knowing that nothing life-threatening was awaiting me, was much more enjoyable, to say the least.

Crush’s Coaster became the story of this most recent trip, and we rode it 8 times. That might not sound a lot compared to the 12 Big Thunder Mountain and 13 Pirates of the Caribbean rides on our Summer 2017 visit, but those 8 rides involved a lot of queuing. I didn’t find it at all jerky, and though the sensation of speed is considerably faster than Big Thunder Mountain in some places, I found the experience really very smooth. It’s quite telling that those 8 rides on Crush’s Coater almost tripled the 3 rides we had on Big Thunder Mountain, and whilst some of that is most definitely the novelty factor of a new ride, the excitement of another go on Crush’s Coaster had us all buzzing.

So, is Crush’s Coaster my new favourite ride in Disneyland Paris? I think that question is best answered with another question – if I could go on one ride in Disneyland Paris right now, which would it be? The answer is most definitively, Crush’s Coaster. Gnarly dude!

100 Word Book Review: Knife – Jo Nesbo

100 Word Book Review: Knife - Jo Nesbo

It’s a credit to Jo Nesbo that he manages to keep each new Harry Hole story so fresh and different. Knife took things in a very unexpected and dark direction which had me so sure I knew whodunnit on more occasions than any book I’ve ever read. Of course, I was completely wrong each and every time, and didn’t for one second think the culprit would turn out to be who it was, as much sense as it actually made. An utterly captivating and heartbreaking book, one that I couldn’t wait to finish, and am sad now I have.

***** (out of 5)

100 Word Book Reviews are a maximum of 100 words, but can be less. They are also spoiler-free reviews, mostly.

Buy from Amazon: Knife – Jo Nesbo

Going Back to Disneyland Paris as a Mere Guest – Things I’m Most Looking Forward To

This feels quite strange, being the first time I’ve written about Disneyland Paris for a decade, away from the Disneyland Paris website I used to run, but here I am. Three weeks tomorrow and we depart from London on the Eurostar, for my first time back since last October, and the first family trip since 2017. After going countless times over the past 17 years, can there really much left to get excited about? Well there’s always something to look forward to in life, but being more specific to this article, let’s see what I can come up with.

Visiting as a Mere Guest

This is something I haven’t done for a long time, most of Lucas’ life and all but one of my trips with him. Running a Disneyland Paris website (podcast/social media/YouTube) meant that even during family time, and as much as I tried to keep it to a minimum, there was always that little voice in my head, wondering if I should take a photo for an article, or some video for a tweet. I made sure it didn’t impact family holidays too much, but it was always there. This summer, my time at Disneyland Paris will be spent on purely enjoying what is on offer, with my family. Sure I’ll take the odd photo or video, but there will be no feeling of obligation to do so.

Going Back to Disneyland Paris as a Mere Guest – Things I’m Most Looking Forward To

I’ll Be Spoiler Free

Even when I first visited back in 2002 I searched the internet for information and tips, and needless to say (but I will anyway), every trip since has been with intimate knowledge of everything that will be on offer, especially during the Disneyland Paris website years. I’ve managed to completely separate myself from the Disneyland Paris community since December last year. This has meant unfollowing and muting friends and words on social media accounts, and not once visiting any website associated with Disneyland Paris in any way. As such I have no idea what to expect in the way of new entertainment, other than what I knew before my blackout, that The Jungle Book is involved and there’s a new Lion King show at the new Chaparral Theatre. Both of which could be individual items on this list, but as I am ignorant to any details, they’d be very brief.

Riding Big Thunder Mountain at Night

Having only started travelling on the wildest ride in the wilderness a few years ago, I still get excited at experiencing Big Thunder Mountain. However, more than anything, I’m so looking forward to once again ride it at night, in the dark and with the lights of Disneyland Paris all around. There is nothing quite like it, and not only because of the lights, but also the added sensation of speed, and short queue times right at the end of the night. Lucas and I were chatting last week, and our quest is to be on Big Thunder Mountain whilst Illuminations is showing, in hope that we can see the lasers and fireworks, whilst flying around that great roller coaster.

Riding Big Thunder Mountain at Night

The Reopened Phantom Manor

This has been public knowledge for some years now, and after a long closure and refurbishment, it opened again earlier this year. As to what has changed, I have absolutely no idea. I’m hoping the story has is explained a little better, as hardcore fans may be happy to read up on the many variations of this online once home, there shouldn’t really be any need for that. The last time I visited Disneyland Paris when Phantom Manor was open, I rode it just once, and it left me feeling very underwhelmed. The ride felt old, with lots of frequently broken and non-working parts. I love what they did with Pirates of the Caribbean, so changes of that vain would be very welcome, but I’d go as far as saying they need to do even more than what they did to Jack et al. There were rumours of Fastpass being added, which I still think is utterly pointless for an attraction that rarely has a queue. A character photo location would be a welcome addition, with the characters in Phantom Manor costumes of course. Pretty excited to see what Phantom Manor has to offer, which is not something I’ve felt for quite some years.

A lot is covered by everything new that I don’t know about, which I’ll have more to say about when we return, but the big ones are going without any website work on my mind, and new things to experience that I haven’t read up on, seen videos or photos of. Being there with our good friends Martin, Hayley and Jake from Holiday Hamster will be fantastic too, as will the big steins of beer we’ll have in King Ludwig’s. We have no plans to return anytime soon, with a tour of mainland Europe being talked about for next summer, so we’ll be making the most of every moment. Disneyland Paris again? Yes, but this will be a trip different to all those that came before.