Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Racing To Mongolia to Pay Back A Ukrainian Mafia Boss You Lost To At Poker. You Know. The Norm.

First Paragraph:

"I am horizontal, mid-air, my feet planting into his chest. He sprawls backwards and the anger knotted inside of me bursts out of my mouth in a shout as he thumps down onto the mat. He scrambles to his feet and comes at me again and in my mind I see myself yesterday, stood up against the window in the office with its view out across the docklands, along with the rest of the trading floor, suited and booted, being told we no longer have jobs and as he tries to jab me my bile rises and I block him, sweep his feet from under him and hop from foot to foot, arms raised and ready. I turn from my waist and switch my front and back feet and then back again."

      Amazon / Amazon.co.uk

Rich in Small Things by Helen J Beal is a story focusing on how much the small things in life actually mean to us.


Melissa had was she considered her perfect job. Working as a city trader she made more than enough to get by, and enjoyed the finer things in life. Now her decade of service has gone down the tube, as the economy hits the company and thousands of employees are made redundant. Luckily she has enough saved to last a few months, but a new job is top priority on her now considerably empty 'To-do' list. Especially with her hobby.

Melissa enjoys online poker, and she's very good at it. But now that she's unemployed, she realises just how little social life she actually has. No friends and the only person she sees on any regular basis is her grandmother- Babu. Desperate for some face-to-face company, she decides to try her luck at a poker game downtown- resulting with her being scouted by a less than scrupulous character. Her poker skills get her noticed by his boss- Victor, who invites her to a private high-stakes game. Despite the fact that he is clearly the type of man you never want to owe money to (and is probably pretty much a sure bet to win) she buys in- for £25,000. Six players, and her confidence is her downfall. She makes a mistake and ends up £175,000 in debt- more than three triple what she has in the bank, plus interest. 

Victor makes her a deal. He likes her. If she joins his team he will clear the debt. She declines, realising the kind of men they are, but is now spectacularly indebted to a Ukrainian mobster. With very little options, she takes any work she can find. In this case, a waitress at a small cafe- where she bumps into an old school friend- Julia- who tells her all about the Ulaanbaatar Cup- a kind of car race from Hyde Park to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia- with a prize of £1,000,000. Melissa sees her chance, however slim it may be, and she and Julia decide to give it a try. 

Meanwhile, a couple other teams are preparing for the same race. Some for the experience, others for the cash. One of the teams is one of Victor's- who has the race on the books. He's determined his team wins- not only for the large gambling sum that will come his way, but also to force Melissa to work for him.

Slowly the groups all begin to interact. They discuss the race, the riddles they are given for bonus points, and what they would do with the money. And slowly, bonds are formed. There are (of course) more than a few mishaps along the way- some accidental, some not. With very few rules regarding sportsmanship and such a large prize to be had, there's plenty of hijinks and some sabotage. But soon each character will realise just what a difference five weeks can make.


This is a book with interesting, fallible characters- and none of them are clear cut. There is no black and white. Each character can forgive or be forgiven, and those that start off seeming like the antagonists are just people by the end. Neither right or wrong, capable of both good and bad. One of the recurring themes of the story is that everybody has the ability to change, given the right incentive.  Likewise, the characters can make mistakes. There are areas where occasionally a character seems to have inexcusably poor judgement, but you can let it slide, not because it isn't stupid (because let's face it, it is), but because sometimes people do, say or believe stupid things. 

The story focuses on its title, managing to deliver a realistic path that leads the characters to each of their own revelations and the beginnings of change. We know from the start how the book will end (or at least can make an educated guess), but like the plot that draws each character in, we're along for the ride. As the old saying goes, "It is not the destination, but the journey."

I thoroughly enjoy road-trip based stories. They offer all the usual things characters go through to reach the people they become by the end of the story, but add in some adventure and sight-seeing. All the different locations and their descriptions, never fail to entice and enthral me. Not only that, but these types of plots help the reader feel like they've travelled the distance with the characters. It makes the 'journey' seem longer and more real- so we experience some its the length too. Not anywhere near as much of the characters, of course, but enough to give us a taster of the weariness, or the sense of triumph and accomplishment once the end is reached. 

The only criticism I have is understandable, but slows the story down. A lot of the information is repeated again and again. Each group of characters discuss the Ulaanbaatar Cup in their own times and places, going over a lot of the things we already know. It makes sense that they would each discuss the race, but we don't need to see it for each group. The race doesn't even get going until around two hundred pages in.

Another minor issue was some of the writing- or rather spelling and grammar. Some of the wording can seem a little off- as though it's a bad translation. There are also a few grammatical/ spelling errors or inconsistencies, but overall I don't really count them as common enough or severe enough to be problems. I was still happily able to enjoy the story.


A fun, entertaining read. Part adventure, part romance and part comedy. Perfect to take along on any adventures you may be planning yourself, or to relive the memories and emotions of a past excursion. It left me with an overwhelming sense to start my own month long road-trip.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

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