Book Review: In Search of Nice Americans

by Geoff Steward

Geoff Steward is keen from the outset that his readers are fully aware he’s not the type of lawyer who wears a wig. He is, in fact, a specialist in “litigation, with a focus on intellectual property, sports and competition law.” In other words, he’s a solicitor. When we first meet him, at home in West Sussex, he’s feeling overworked, harassed, restless, middle-aged and has a hankering to go on an American road trip – about which he hopes to write a book.

And so, it came to pass. The result of Geoff’s 2016 sabbatical is the light-hearted In Search of Nice Americans, subtitled, Off the Grid, On the Road and State to State in Trump’s America, a disorderly but entertaining drive across the USA, ending with a memorable few days in Costa Rica before returning to Blighty.

A Kerouac-type odyssey this is not – and there is nothing impromptu or bohemian about the trip. For starters, he receives professional help creating his itinerary, and endeavours to stick as closely as possible to the travel agent’s pre-booked hotels, tours and meals. He also has in tow Jackie, his volatile Irish wife, whom he deliberately, and rather sadistically, I feel, irritates and generally discombobulates at every given opportunity. I imagine that twenty-five years in the legal profession doesn’t always bring out the best in a person.

Twice wedded, and with several children from both marriages (his step kids are referred to throughout as his “spare children”), Geoff loves music, movies (especially those starring Tom Hanks) and books, so he has great fun exploring New York, Los Angeles and Nashville. He is in his element when visiting The Johnny Cash Museum and the Grand Ole Opry, but is the first to admit that he is easily irritated by people, and therefore enjoys lampooning elderly American couples on his Alaskan cruise. He has an immense liking for the affable, easy going Nashvillians and their incredible Music City; less so for the reserved Angelenos, but he meets many fascinating characters along the way.

Each chapter comes with its own soundtrack, so, for instance, Chapter Nine, in which he passes the Dakota Building in New York, has the sub-heading, Soundtrack: John Lennon – ‘Nobody Told Me’. Whether in Utah, Yosemite or Savannah, he faithfully recounts amusing conversations, describes his accommodation in detail, takes an interest in the wildlife and is generally witty and facetious about everything and everybody, including himself.

This is no spiritual journey, but it is entertaining, and I could imagine sitting in my local pub listening to Geoff regale fellow drinkers with anecdotes about his jaunt to the USA.

A light and humorous read for chilly autumnal evenings.

Many thanks to Biteback Publishing for gifting an autographed copy of this title.

Book Review: Shooting Stars Are the Flying Fish of the Night

by Lynn Michell & Stefan Gregory

What a fabulous title, was my initial reaction to receiving Shooting Stars are the Flying Fish of the Night from Linen Press.

I grew up on the North Wales coast and spent large chunks of my childhood in and on the sea, so I was immediately drawn to this true tale of mother, father and son setting out together on a maritime adventure of a lifetime. The father, Stefan Gregory, an enthusiastic boatman, and the mother, Lynn Michell, the Director of Linen Press– seasoned sailing partners of some thirty years.

The narrative begins in 2003 and continues throughout with male and female monologues, allowing the reader to follow the thoughts, fears, highs and and lows (what the intrepid couple call “internal voyages”) of the Skipper and his First Mate as they cross the vast expanse of ocean. A kind of nautical he-says/she-says, if you like.

I have to confess that I zoned out slightly when reading about the vital statistics of various sailing vessels, but to be fair, that had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the writing and everything to do with my lack of interest in the practicalities of finding, purchasing and equipping a boat. However, the excitement picked up considerably once Stefan and Lynn found Scarlet, their perfect craft, and set sail for Europe from the north east coast of America.

I do not want to include any spoilers in this review, so suffice it to say, fatigue, fog, sea sickness, food shortages, mountainous waves, sensational sunsets, dolphins and yes, shooting stars and flying fish, all have their part to play the story. The family kept their heads and their humour throughout this incredible journey and I felt as if I were on board that boat with them for every nautical mile.

A highly enjoyable read.

Many thanks to Linen Press for gifting a copy of this title.