Saturday, 25 March 2017

Fractured - a novel.

Today's freebie - Fractured by Clar Ni Chonghaile

How - A Goodreads freebie - the review below is from that site

FracturedFractured by Clar Ni Chonghaile
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This debut novel follows the experiences of 3 people - Peter Maguire, a journalist kidnapped and held for ransom in Mogadishu; Peter's mother, Nina, who has travelled to Somalia to try to get the release of her son; Abdi, a Somali youth coerced into working for the kidnappers and who, as Peter's guard, develops a relationship bordering on friendship with his captive.
Abdi assists in Peter's escape and together they head into the multitude of dangers that this part of the world holds. Peter's escape is also Abdi's escape - he wants to be free of the demands of kidnappers and from causing harm for a living. Nina also needs freedom from the burden of secrets she is carrying - finding Peter may well aid this release.
The author is a journalist who has covered and lived in many places, East Africa being one of them. This shows both in the knowledge of the profession displayed in the story and also in the depictions of the region and the understanding of its people.

This is a thriller but without the cliches of an airport paperback. The characters don't suddenly develop excellent gunmanship or the survival skills of an SAS soldier but without any training - they are plausible and garner empathy.

This is a fine debut that does thrill but also gives an experienced view of extreme journalism and the motivations of fundamentalism.

[I won this book through Goodreads]

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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Moments of honesty

Today's freebie? Bruce Guynn & Big Rain fan freebie

Bruce Guynn & Big RainBruce Guynn seems like a good man. He loves his music and wants to share this with anyone who will listen. The band are hard working and use their music to support a lot of causes and Bruce's blog is honest and open. Bruce Guynn is literally living his dream. Sending him your name and an email address brings you 4 songs.

Described as 'crossover', this 4 song collection leans more towards country than anything else to my ears. There are sounds of steel guitars in the background, that twangy sound that lends itself well to melodies.

"Sweet inspiration" and "I'm not running" are country pop type songs, straightforward pleasers in a George Harrison kind of way. The songs are positive and upbeat, the lyrics perhaps a little basic.

"Angel in my room" is quite a personal song. The 'angel' in question is vague - is this a song about death or protection? Or could the vagueness be an accurate reflection of a true experience? Dreams can be mad old things, perhaps it's just a memory of one of those.

My pick of the bunch is "Moment of honesty", a song that moves closer to the blues and brought Robert Cray to my mind. There's a juicy bit of guitar work in this too.

The website headlines Bruce Guynn and Big Rain as "The cure for the working classes". It's easy to see why they retain a popularity in the States. The style is unlikely to garner a huge British following but fans of country rock will be pleased, and come on - Bruce is giving the songs away! 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Once you pop...

Today's freebie - A 40g tube of Pringles

How did I get it? An online coupon from Pringles themselves, redeemed at the Co-Op

Quite a straightforward freebie this one. I spotted a link to a free tub, printed off the voucher and then took it along to my local supermarket. 10 minutes later I've popped the top and you know the rest.

Funny old thing, Pringles. They have a wonderful crunch and satisfy my saturated fat and salt cravings, but they're horribly processed. All mushed up spud (less than 50% is potato) put back together in a clever shape. The manufacturers (Procter & Gamble) even went to court to argue that it wasn't a potato crisp (which attracts VAT) but an ordinary food stuff (which doesn't) - they lost. The judges ruled that even though it was less than 50% it was reasonable to assume that it was a potato snack and therefore subject to VAT.

Politics, economics and morals aside, these took me about 30 seconds to demolish. Salty, fatty badness that nails that satisfying crunch in your mouth.

Keep your eyes open, these promotions run quite regularly.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Gardens of the National Trust book

Today's freebie - Gardens of the National Trust by Stephen Lacey

How did I get it? A competition win

This took some reading. It's so big and heavy that I couldn't read it on my daily commute, and propping it up to read in bed or bath was tiring. I made it to the end though, even though I was quite bored at times. Neither encyclopedia not photographic table-book, it's an expensive (£30!) folly, I feel.

This review is from my Goodreads page.

Gardens of the National TrustGardens of the National Trust by Stephen Lacey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a weighty book, well over 400 glossy pages. Those pages contain the expected beautifully shot photos of most of the National Trust's gardens. I very much doubt that anyone will ever be disappointed by a visit to one of the gardens as they are cared for by an army of dedicated experts.

The gardens are not just pretty to look at, they are also interesting and informative - an education in horticulture, history of gardening, gardening itself. Many are also productive, using traditional techniques to grow produce used in restaurants and tea rooms at the property. Unlike many of the buildings in the Trust's care the gardens aren't preserved, they are always improved, renovated or restored.

And yet it's hard to see where this book lies in highlighting this. The size and expense lead it to being a coffee-table book. One couldn't carry this as a portable guide to the gardens, one wouldn't heave it around the garden for tips - apart from the odd page from NT gardeners there are few practical gardening hints here.

The book is of greatest interest to plantspeople, those that really want to know exactly which variety of a particular plant is found at which property and probably recognise it from it's Latin name. It's a very specific book and that's what made it quite dull for ordinary garden enjoyers like me. The first few paragraphs give an interesting overview of the garden or property but after that it's lots of wordy detail of the garden contents, lists of plants and features.

It's a shame that the beauty of the garden is given over to words. Take this example from Ascott early in the book:
"Here the grounds open into an extensive arboretum, the foreground to a sweeping panorama across the Vale of Aylesbury to the Chiltern Hills...Everywhere, there are trees of eccentric habit and hue: weeping, cut-leaved and copper beeches, blue, golden and weeping cedars, variegated sweet chestnut, purple maple, cut-leaved alder, yellow catalpa - the scene further enriched in autumn by the potent tints of scarlet oak, red maple, tulip tree and liquidambar. In spring, waves of yellow and white daffodils wash over the slopes, followed by colonies of snakeshead fritillaries and native wildflowers".

All this accompanied by a single picture of an avenue of trees (in summer, not autumn or spring) either side of a road. That's it, not a single flower in sight. At £30 I would prefer a lot more glossy photos and far fewer words. If you were really interested in the detail of gardens you'd be more likely to just go than to want to read about the gardens, I feel. Those that could be swayed into visiting probably aren't drawn in enough by the too few photos.

One for the specialist.

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[This book is too heavy to post as a giveaway. My copy has been donated to a local charity shop that raises money for a local childrens' hospice]

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Oh Abbey day...

Today's lovely thing for free? A walk around Kirkstall Abbey

How did I get that? It's always free - go for it!

 I am a walker, it's my joy and my escape. I'm lucky enough to live on the edge of the Peak District so beautiful walks are easy to come by. Last weekend, though, I fancied seeing something new. Kirkstall Abbey is a place I've driven past several times but I have never ventured in. A quick check on the website for opening times and I find it's free - perfect for the blog!

An hour's drive later (with some classic prog to accompany me) and I pull up at the FREE car park. A quick visit to the Abbey House Museum shop (cos it has FREE, very clean toilets) and it's across the road to the Abbey.

The Abbey was founded in 1152 by the Cistercian order and the building was largely completed by 1182. How good is it to live in a country where buildings nearly 1000 years old are still in abundance all over the land and in some cases are completely free to enter?

Kirkstall Abbey is one of the best preserved Abbeys in Britain. Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries removed the power of the houses and the buildings were sold off to fund military campaigns. Some were converted into private houses, others left to ruin or to have the stone taken away for other purposes (bits of Kirkstall went to bridge building in Leeds), yet Large elements of Kirkstall have survived.

Entry is through a shop and visitor centre and a map can be borrowed to direct you around the ruins. Information boards are dotted about to give a potted history of each part of the Abbey. The most interesting fact to me was that the main road into Leeds from this direction ran straight through the aisle of the church and the carved signatures of travellers are still seen.

Once the main road into Leeds

Being free this is a popular site for families. It's been a wet and windy few weeks so the play area was too soggy to coax kids onto it but who needs it when hide and seek is there? The whole site is surrounded by a fence so children will get a bit lost, but can't leave the ruins themselves. With so  many walls and rooms around there were quite a few hide and seek games going on.

I made the most of being in the area by walking a few miles along the Leeds - Liverpool canal nearby. Kingfishers, marsh tits and many other birds serenaded the walk up to Bramley Fall park and back. I'll be back to see this is Summer when the trees are in full green, although the number of cyclists will also increase at this time. This is a VERY popular cycle route but the cyclists were all courteous. Back at the Abbey there is a lot of open green space inside and outside the ruins and picnic benches aplenty.

Hide and seek

The people of Leeds are very lucky to have all this on their doorstep.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Good Gardener

What freebie reviewed today? The Good Gardener by Simon Akeroyd, a National Trust gardening advice manual.

How did I get it? A competition win.

It's taken me a week to plough through this, £25 worth of handy gardening advice. So handy, in fact, that Mrs Blogger is keen to keep it on the shelves rather than give it away as a prize - sorry!

The review below is taken from my Goodreads page. There's a lovely playlist at the bottom too, all songs from my collection inspired by gardens.

<The Good Gardener: A Hands-on Guide from National Trust ExpertsThe Good Gardener: A Hands-on Guide from National Trust Experts by Simon Akeroyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The National Trust know how to garden. I don't think I've ever been to one of their properties and been disappointed with the garden. Given that they aim to encourage visitors by maintaining beautiful gardens and have a self-endowed responsibility to preserve species and techniques then they know what they are doing.
This book is an excellent introduction to gardening. It covers all aspects of the garden, from designing the garden to identifying the type of soil; from choosing different plants for different seasons to advising on fruits and vegetables, herbs and grasses, trees and shrubs. It's hard to think of anything that isn't covered in its 284 glossy pages. Sowing seeds and propagation are covered as is choosing tools and encouraging wildlife into the garden - the Trust are notably green in their methods and materials.
Need to know how to dry out beans? Tick.
Moving a tree? Tick.
Grow your own herbs? Tick
Want bats in your garden? Tick.

Dotted within the pages are small gems from the Trust's gardeners - historical looks at gardening and insights into places that have embraced older methods of gardening. All of this is gloriously illustrated with photos from the Trust's gardens.

I'm a reluctant gardener but this book is simple and basic enough for people like me to get a bit of inspiration. Expert gardeners or someone looking for very specific information on one technique or type of plant won't get all they need, but almost every house with a garden small or large would benefit from having this introduction on their shelves.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Capability Brown & his landscape gardens - WIN A COPY!

Thing for free reviewed today? Capability Brown and his landscape gardens book.

How did I come by it? A competition win

The review below is from my Goodreads pages. Scroll down to win it for yourself!

Capability Brown: and His Landscape GardensCapability Brown: and His Landscape Gardens by Sarah Rutherford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's difficult to understand the impact Capability Brown has had on the British (but mainly English) landscape. In the eighteenth century it was his designs that changed the formal gardens of our large houses and palaces into sweeping, more natural landscapes. Indeed, it is the view that his work is so natural that you don't realise he has done anything that shows the impact he had. Aristocratic pursuits of hunting, riding and rearing livestock are enabled in his designs, yet his careful positioning of structures and clumps of trees shows his eye for views and showing off a house and its estate in full. Along with his trademark serpentine lakes the influence can be seen in many surviving parks, even those designed after his lifetime.
This National Trust book is a coffee table item. It has glorious illustrations on almost every page and is on very high quality paper. The blurb describes it as 'accessible' and this is a fair comment. It is an overview of Brown's life and works and not a detailed synopsis of the man, his works or the properties where the work can be seen.
Those seeking an academic work will be disappointed at the lack of footnotes, references or bibliography although there is a short list of suggested reading and an index. The gardens and houses are not covered in any detail and certainly not given any historical context but then that's not the point of the book.
As a short read it's biggest annoyance is in the way it jumps from property to property within each chapter. I found it difficult to recall specifics about certain estates from earlier chapters. Stowe, for example, has over 30 index references from the start to the end but no work has more than 2 consecutive pages devoted to it. A whole chapter is given to Brown's contemporaries and rivals which is of little interest - I'd have preferred more detail on his life or methods.
The real enjoyment of the book is in the photography. In particular, the aerial photos show the details and genius of Brown's works. It is for these that the book will be picked up and browsed.

View all my reviews Capability Brown book giveaway