Sunday, 4 March 2018

Win a crap book!

Another fortnight of surprises, culture and downright greedy eating freebie fans. In spectacular shoot-yourself-in-the-foot fashion I have decided to give away the most disappointing freebie of the fortnight. Well, it's all about opinion and maybe you disagree. Flick through the soup, music, books, cultural event and ice cream to get to the stinker of a review and competition at the end. Enjoy life's little victories x

Nestle Meritene chicken soup 

 I received a sample of this dried soup mix in the post. It allegedly contains all the minerals, vitamins and protein needed for those over 50. I'm in my late forties so maybe I've done irreparable damage to my insides.
It tastes OK. Just like weak chicken Cup-a-Soup. There's no lumpy bits - no croutons or dried veg - just some green bits that could be parsley. This stuff retails for around £5 for 4 sachets whereas Bachelors Cup-a-Soup is around £1.20 for 4. So those added vitamins must be worth a lot, right?
Or maybe this is Nestle's latest attempt to stop a demographic getting their vitamins by natural means? Now that people are wise to their aggressive marketing of formula milk to third world countries then maybe they have turned to using us first world middle agers to expand their evil empire? As I say, it tastes OK. If I were you I'd buy normal dried soup mixtures and vitamin supplements or make your own chicken soup. You could sell it to African kids and become an international corporation.

BBC Philharmonic at The Bridgewater Hall. 

Can you believe that in all the years I have been in and around Manchester and with my fondness for a bit of classical music I have never been to the Bridgewater Hall? Well, my freebie adventure has resolved that. Built in 1996 to replace the tiring Free Trade Hall as the home of the Halle Orchestra and with state of the art acoustics, the hall is a breathtaking performance space. It's external shape is fine, pointing valiantly toward the city centre, but the materials seem dated. Inside it is wonderful. The foyer is average but the concert hall itself is stunning. Fans of straight lines should head to the auditorium where the seats aren't just on rows but large cells, all designed for acoustic perfection. I was lucky to have my free ticket right in the first row. Well, luckyish.

I had the perfect view of the solo performer for the first piece - 'A table of noises' by Simon Holt.The performer was Colin Currie, for whom the piece was written, and from my six foot distance I could see the concentration and skills with which he played each item, accompanied by a selection of orchestral instruments.

I've said before that I love seeing art and artists at work, whether in the creation or the performance of that art. This freebie blog has taken me to things I wouldn't ordinarily have gone to and it has helped me find new things to enjoy. This wasn't one of them! Undoubtedly talented and ticking all my creativity and performance boxes, but too syncopated and avant garde for me to appreciate.

After the break was my cup of tea. Conducted by John Storgards the whole BBC Philharmonic took the stage for Mahler's seventh symphony, the soaring 'Song of the Night'.

Why does Mahler get classed as heavy, I wonder? I've a few pieces and CD (but not the 7th) and find them quite invigorating and moving. This one was no different and my body tingled through the final movement with it's rousing but abrupt finale.
I've said it in several blogs before, I'm no muso. I write to express my opinions and to analyse fro my viewpoint, which in this case isn't that of an educated expert. To me, the performance was perfect and it's fun watching a conductor and wondering how his movements can be so important. I know they are, because every one of those talented musicians on stage kept their eyes on him. Marvellous how he waves an arm, someone draws horsehair over catgut and such exquisite beauty emerges.

For fellow non-musos the 2nd movement was used to advertise Castrol GTX in the early eighties.

Chinese New Year - Manchester.

I'm not going to review Chinese New Year - what right have I? I'd be happy to hear what my being born in the year of the pig means though.

This wee piece is just my experience of taking my family into Manchester to see the traditional parade. Again - 26 years in and around Manc and this is the first time I've done this. Disgraceful really. We headed straight to Charlotte Street to soak up the atmosphere in Chinatown itself. I'm glad we did - reasons later. A few stalls and fairground rides around here but we headed straight through and towards the Town Hall.

In Albert Square there were a few more stalls with Chinese toys (clacking drum things, paper dragons, that sort of thing) and some Asian food stalls. The square was quite busy and the view of the entrance poor so we headed round the corner and took up our spot on Princess Street. This too fills up but after about half an hour the dragons appear and bounce along the street, sweeping over the crowds to the accompaniment of drums (quite the percussive blog, this), back and forth the dragons dance, up and down their lengthy bodies. Great fun and a wonderful way to celebrate a cultural event. Sweets are given out and as the parade passes we follow towards Chinatown.

Yowser. Here it gets busy and, in my view, dangerously so. Crowds hold themselves inches from the tram track as trams crawl though and the small side streets of Chinatown are blocked off leaving the crowds to walk around looking for a way in. We gave up and, glad that we had at least walked though Chinatown before the parade, headed home. I wasn't content to leave town without eating some Chinese food but with everything choc-a-bloc we settled for noodles near the station. I great, free, event and there are a lot of other things going on around it in places the art gallery and central library. Can't wait for next year, and a happy year of the dog to you all.

Before I go by Catherine Cookson. 

Another Goodreads win - I won this for my mother but decided to read it first. Rather wish I hadn't! The review below is from the Goodreads site.

Before I GoBefore I Go by Catherine Cookson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another win from Goodreads and one I entered in the hope of a surprise for my mom - a big Catherine Cookson fan. Hands up from me - I've never read a book of hers but I am told that they aren't your typical family saga. No reason why only middle aged women should be the only ones to read a particular genre but there are genres that do have audiences of a particular demographic. The majority of Cookson's readers (and there will be many - she was the most borrowed author from British libraries for several decades) will be women.

When I was about ten I was given the responsibility of running the book stall at a fundraising jumble sale at my local chapel. People brought bags of old books as donations and I arranged them and sold them for a few pennies in aid of the church. My mom left me with a little instruction: "If anyone brings 'Our Kate' by Catherine Cookson then put it to one side and I'll put the money in the pot". I was so happy to open almost the first donated lot to find that very book and Mom was just as happy too as she dropped the pennies in the pot. She'll be delighted when she gets this too.

This book follows on from previous biographies and autobiographies (such as 'Our Kate') and is a previously unpublished memoir. To be honest, as my first experience of Cookson I wish it had stayed hidden. Cookson doesn't come across as particularly likeable to me and I feel bad about that.

Catherine Cookson came late to writing. Before then she earned a living through hard work running laundries and as a landlady. During this time she kept patience with her chronic alcoholic mother and was taken advantage of by several people she befriended, some for many decades and well into her years of fame. Cookson knew she was being taken advantage of but, and this is going to sound awful, she does seem to relish the victim state. She had several various serious illnesses and conditions throughout her life that eventually left her blind. She suffered a lifetime of bleeding and there is no doubt suffered long bouts of pain. Coupled with several heartbreaking miscarriages and it seems harsh of me to say she enjoyed relished being a victim but on top of this we hear about her debilitating fear of heights (she cowered on the back seat when driving on mountain roads) and other conditions that, to be honest, aren't really that serious and sometimes one can perhaps understand why several doctors fobbed her off even when she was ill. As well as illness the book also details many, many people who did Mr and Mrs Cookson wrong. In fact, one suspects the memoirs are little more than a black book of hate. The only person who has Cookson's unswerving love and devotion is Tom, her beloved husband. The love appears mutual and together they faced the endless trials like Mr and Mrs Pooter.

The book does touch upon the journey to becoming a famous writer but not enough to make this a book about her career. I am assuming that aspect is covered elsewhere. All told, this is one for the fan who has read everything else - the tagline on the back "A story of talent, good humour and determination" is quite misleading.

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Magnum classic ice cream

Quite a spectacular giveaway in Manchester Piccadilly Station last week. Thousands and thousands of these tubs were given away and they weren't sample size - they were your full size comfort eat. I didn't risk trying to get it home, I ate it at my desk and felt sick for the rest of the afternoon. That's not down to the product, that's down to greed.

You know your average Magnum on a stick is a creamy white ice cream covered in lovely Belgian chocolate? (I think it's Belgian, it tastes Belgian). Well image that ice cream filling a pot but still being surrounded by that chocolate. Yes, that's what his is - the entire pot is lined with chocolate and the chocolate filled with ice cream that itself has shards of chocolate in it. The idea is that you squeeze the pot to crack the chocolate and then smash through the lid to get at it - boy was it good. The chocolate really is something else (the ice cream I can take or leave). My challenge with my remaining pot is to see if I can get it out like a sandcastle rather than cracking it. Photos will follow if that is achieved.

Love, freedom, aloneness by Osho

yet another Goodreads win and one I'm going to giveaway to one of you lucky readers. I'm not expecting many entries as I gave it a stinking 1 out of 5 stars! But it's all about opinion - maybe you disagree? Win it and let me know.

Love, Freedom, and Aloneness: The Koan of RelationshipsLove, Freedom, and Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships by Osho
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Osho was an Indian spiritual guru who spread his teaching in Asia and the US until his death in 1990. His advocacy of more open sexual relationships was perhaps ahead of its time and stems from the overarching theme of love and happiness. Osho eshews family and marriage and this book wholly relates to his teaching of meditation and love of oneself. Everything is about oneself and to love oneself is above all things.

It's claptrap.

I fully agree with peace and love. Nothing epitomises my own beliefs more than this. I disagree with Osho's demands for communes and no families, with the selfishness of love for oneself and the simplistic belief that if everyone did as he said everything would be alright. The book refers to many religions and most of them are criticised (fairly in most cases), with Hinduism and Buddhism coming closest to being near Osho's own beliefs. On a general level I can see the frustration in politics and religion keeping people in their place but this is the outcome of moral corruption and not the primary purpose. I don't believe that without organised religion and a political system people would all be happy.

Two passages sum the book up for me. The first is Osho's description of his childhood "I have never been associating with people....they thought something was wrong with me"; "The reality is something is wrong with you, I am perfectly happy to be alone".

Fair enough, but why make this the basis for teaching and a belief that everyone should follow his guidance? The second passage is on the next page: "When I became the professor at the university...I used to park my car under one tree". You'll need to read the entire book to understand why this annoyed me, but 240 pages telling you to do nothing but meditate, love yourself first and just be, rather than think. Who services the cars, mends the roads or runs the university?

Nah, I'm not buying it. How this became a career is beyond me and advocating freedom and fulfillment in a book selling for $16.99, with links to the Osho Meditation Center and other corporate moneymakers does nothing for me. If Osho were around he'd probably just look at me with a sad smile and tell me that I just don't love myself yet. Fair enough, but I'm not believing the religious man either.

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Monday, 12 February 2018

Cruise! Conquer! Crunch! Dance! WIN!

A week of freebies that almost became perfectly alliterate but I couldn't think of a suitable synonym for dance. But did you notice that important word in capitals? Yes, you can WIN the copy of Caesar's footprints that I received from Goodreads. It's hardback, dust-jacketed and retails for £20. It could be yours by entering via the widget at the end. Until then read about all 4 freebies I enjoyed this week, total value should have been about £35.

Gingerella (RockaFela) at HOME, Manchester.

Freebies have taken me places I would never have gone if I was paying. I've been to HOME before but an arty improvised film about improvisation? That's a new one for me and a chance to expand my cultural horizons.

Written and directed by Alex Reuben the film is an exploration of "the meaning of dance and synchronisation" resulting from a collaboration with leading neuroscientist Prof, Chris Frith.

Reuben took 10 years to make the film which stitches together scenes from vsarious locations with Eleanor Sikorski the dancer who literally improvises her role in each scene. At the heart of the film are 13 interpretations of the Cinderella story. I know this because I read it on the HOME website because, to be honest, I hadn't got a clue what was going on. It was the weird arty film I expected and I thoroughly enjoyed it, not because I was moved by the yadda yadda but because I work in an uncreative profession so seeing the results of so much inner creativity being appreciated by similar types was a night out in itself.

As a bonus Reuben was at this showing and sat for a Q&A session after, expertly hosted by a director of HOME. This session showed the real desire to translate something into art and the trials of producing something like this which will never be a commercial venture. Tip for the audience though - asking a question doesn't need to be that long. Once you've reached the bit with the question mark stop and let the chap answer it, don't carry on into the next sentence and answer it yourself. It's not about you! I'm becoming a fan of HOME, a marvellous venue.

British beef and Suffolk ale crisps from Tyrrell's

A small but delicious win from Tyrrell's. If I were on a desert island and could only have one
foodstuff for the rest of eternity then I hope I am shipwrecked alongside a container full of crisps. Hand cooked crisps like these have that extra crunch and these hold a lovely meaty flavour. There's real beef in them, vegetarian readers.

World of cruising magazine

This just appeared so I'm assuming I'm thanking the publishers
themselves for this free sample. I do enter a lot of competitions for holidays and have yet to post my first holiday blog. The magazine is glossy and full of beautiful pictures. The articles are surprisingly interesting too - there's more to cruising than just big luxury liners. This magazine also has articles on 12 room cruisers plying their trade in Scandinavia, river cruises and of course those huge cities of the sea. You'd need to be a cruising fanatic to want to subscribe to this and at just under a fiver it's a big ask as a one off. For me, it was a pleasant hour dreaming of a win that might be, or a time when I can actually afford to pay for one!

Caesar's Footprints: Journeys to Roman Gaul by Bijan Omrani

The review below is from my Goodreads  profile. Thanks again for yet another Goodreads win. I've stopped entering giveaways for a while as I really need to catch up on a few wins. Fancy this expensive work of history? Enter the competition below. 

Roman culture was well established around the Mediterranean before Caesar set his sites on further conquest. This book describes how Caesar conquered Gaul with cruelty, military skill and a little diplomacy. Bijan Omrani is a historian and classicist with several books to his name and a fine learning pedigree. Such a clever chap is obviously going to produce a well researched and scholarly work and at the outset I found myself wondering about 2 points - would it be dry or readable; would I find myself engaged in the history of a place I have never been (I'm thinking of the southern parts of France, not the North which I have visited many times) where I find it easier to identify with British history?
The answer to both questions was positive. It IS readable and not overly wordy, but does not patronise with everyman language. This is a reference work that can be read from cover to cover as I did. Roman history does impact on britain too, of course. We have our own Roman ruins and a chapter of the book is given to the Roman conquest of Britain.

Of course the biggest reason we Brits should understand about the Roman conquering of Gaul is that it led to a change in our own history and the history of Europe as a whole. It moved Roman influence away from the Mediterranean and towards Northern Europe - a legacy which remains with the latin based language of French and the eventual passage of Christianity into the region.

Caesar's rising through the political system is like a mini-series or soap opera. His ambition and actions are scary and parallels can be drawn with every age though history including the present. Someone with ambition can get to a powerful position and abuse that power most cruelly, however scary that sounds. Early in his career Caesar is captured by pirates and held to ransom. When he reasons the sum being asked he is incensed and insists that the sum is higher. He also promises to return and crucify his captors - which is exactly what happened when the ransom was paid and he was released. Money wasn't as important as power to Caesar. The average annual salary of a soldier was 900 sesterces; Caesar's debts ran to 31 million sesterces.

From the conquest the book moves everyday life in Gaul and how Roman culture was assimilated into Gaulish life. Many high born Gauls were keen to adopt the Roman way as it was more luxurious than the harsh tribal ways they were used to. It is much easier to retain an empire when the natives are shown a better way of life and can receive protection from raiders of other Northern tribes.

Throughout the book the author intersperses the narrative with snapshots of the sites in modern times. He gives us a first person, present tense stroll through ancient sites and modern towns. These moments are the highlight of the book for me, to not just read about history but to also understand it is still all around us. Omrani's enthusiastic research is infectious.

Further interest is gained in the description of life under the Romans and how Gaulish religion was absorbed into Roman. Gaulish gods were worshiped alongside the Roman gods as equals and rituals retained. this continued into the Christianity era as the Roman Empire started to adopt the new faith. Pagan rituals were retained in the guise of Christianity and the timing of certain festivals could be fluid so that the old and new worlds could merge - much as happened in Britain.

Caesar used bloodshed to conquer Gaul but later leaders showed the benefits of membership of the Roman Empire by increasing trade, protecting Gaul from other invaders and building large towns and civic buildings. High born Gaulish leaders embraced this and Roman and Gaulish influence came together in the beginnings of modern France.

An interesting read. I wasn't hooked by any means and what I have learned has filled a small gap that I may or may not return to, but I'm grateful I had the chance to enjoy it thanks to the Goodreads giveaway.

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 Caesar's footprints book giveaway Listed On Loquax

Saturday, 27 January 2018

"Need to know" by Karen Cleveland

I was lucky to get access to this book for free courtesy of Pigeonhole. Pigeonhole is new to me and different way to read books. In this case a section (usually 2 chapters) was released each day which both heightens the tension (there are some real cliffhanger chapter endings) but also stems the flow. My full review below is taken from my Goodreads account.

The real novelty of Pigeonhole is that it's an online book club. As you read you can comment alongside the text and reply to the comments of others. In fact, you are encouraged to comment - that's the point of doing it this way. In this instance we were informed the author was reading along with us and not to hold back - a great new development.

Joining doesn't give you free access to all the books you want, this was a draw to be one of many people, but the chances of getting involved seem good. Definitely worth a try.

Need to KnowNeed to Know by Karen Cleveland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an e-copy of this book free of charge from The Pigeonhole.

Viv Miller is a CIA agent working on Russian counter intelligence. She's a spy, but drives a desk rather than an Aston Martin. When she finally decrypts a laptop known to belong to a Russian spy she uncovers evidence that tests her loyalties and emotions beyond the limit.

The Pigeonhole released this book in daily sections which does work well with cliffhangers. I do think, though, that those that say they have sat and read it in one sitting are the best judges. It is a relatively short book for a thriller of this type and flows freely. The style isn't challenging and there are multiple twists and turns. It's quite a clean book, not too graphic in language, violence or sexuality.

The core theme of the book is really about love and trust, not politics or espionage. Written in the first person we hear how Viv's trust of colleagues and her husband change throughout the book, and the deep love she feels for her children.

In plot alone, it's a great read. A single day of a holiday or a long train journey would be all the better for this. For the more discerning thriller fan I would suggest it lacks depth. Viv's feelings change quickly and her actions are unnatural - often we wonder why she took a turn when we should be either with her, or at least understanding her rationale. During the central part of the book we really would have benefited from a deeper understanding of the relationship with her children and how they are affected by events.

The story also lacks a killer turning scene towards the end - a big action piece that grips. There is a scene which could fill this plot but it seems too brief and too easily cleared up. I wouldn't expect lots of actions pieces - this is a psychological work and not an action one, but I would have enjoyed a few more key big moments rather than lots of little ones.

But I'm being picky. 3 stars is good and there is enough here to fill a very pleasant gap in your reading time. You may not remember it all months later but that just leaves space for more doesn't it?

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Sunday, 7 January 2018

A saunter around The Roaches, Tameside

Many councils have free walking guides on their pages and Tameside have a great variety. This short walk of 2 miles is one I've done several times in different directions.

There's a good reason why I've done this walk more times than others on the list - it's got 2 good pubs at the start/end. The Roaches Lock is well known for great food and beer and it is this pub's car park where the walk starts. Further up the canal is the Tollemache Arms which is a proper boozer. Lovely bar and today the scene of a blazing fire. It's a quiet pub and full of old men, which is how I like it. The landlord won't spoil you with smiles but when he can get a pint of Robinson's Unicorn tasting good then who cares?

The walk is in a figure of eight style so you can do one of 2 circular walks of just a mile, both of which have the Huddersfield canal as a decent stretch. As well as a bit of hill farming fields, the river Tame roaring away (with an old millhouse next to it, minus a wheel but lovely nonetheless) and plenty of birdsong in the woods, there's also heaps of industrial heritage too. Perhaps the mills aren't the prettiest things you'll see and their time for being spruced up and given a new lease of life hasn't arrived yet, but it's a fine way to spend an hour. I even had a  kingfisher dart alongside me, a small bolt of electric blue skimming the water and then disappearing up the river.

Monday, 1 January 2018

"Militia" by Michael Hill

Another win from the marvellous Goodreads site. The review below is taken from my Goodreads page.

MilitiaMilitia by Michael Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

William Mitchell is an apple farmer in rural Massachusetts when tensions rise between the local Patriots and the British-supporting Tories. Joining his local militia William finds himself going into battle against the well trained British and struggling with balancing his ordinary home life with life as s soldier, trying to protect that very life. His time in service sees him take part in several battles of the Revolutionary War before becoming a representative of his community and being a part of the development of the US Constitution.

Whilst William is a fictional character the novel is based on actual events and features some real names - several of whom are the ancestors of author Michael Hill.

The novel is short at under 200 pages and doesn't delve into the depths of the War of Independence, the catalysts and aims of the Revolution. It does, however, give a neat overview of the period through the eyes of one ordinary man. Many brave men (and women, as the book acknowledges) did take up arms to protect their communities and their fears and trials are recognised in William's experiences.

The brevity of the story means that things are explained quickly. There is little time for background descriptions of William's home or time to develop the personalities and characters of him and his wife, Doll. Conversations and speech is unnatural and somewhat wooden and I admit that the first chapter didn't excite me into looking forward to the rest of the book. That soon changed as the conflict started and I did start to get right into William's motives and fears. Here is a quite real hero - an ordinary man thrown into something that he doesn't really want to be part of. His experiences in battle are as confused as battle itself is (I imagine) and his post-traumatic stresses are genuinely moving. The human condition is skillfully understood even if the overall depiction lacks a true novelist's touch.

Criticising the quality of writing isn't the point here. Michael Hill is rightly proud of his ancestry and their achievements and getting their story into a wider audience is the point. Hill has done that and the story is entertaining and educational.

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"Broken by Messines" by Mark Wardlaw

Broken by Messines in WW1 - The Grandparents I Never KnewBroken by Messines in WW1 - The Grandparents I Never Knew by Mark Wardlaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Peter Wardlaw met and fell in love with Catherine (Kate) Hay in the heady days before the Great War. The world was open for them to explore and neither forewent the opportunity to squeeze the most out of life. Peter worked hard for an engineering company and set up his own business while Kate sailed to work as a teacher in New Zealand - both remarkable adventures for such young people. Throughout the few years they were apart they wrote to each other, getting engaged by correspondence and keeping each other informed of daily life.

And yet a massive cloud covered the World. Europe plunged into war and soon other nations followed, including many New Zealanders and Australians who sailed to the other side of the world to protect the Old Country. Peter enlisted too and found himself fighting in the same theatre as these Antipodeans at Gallipoli, one of the most famous and most tragic battles of the War. From Turkey to Egypt and then on to France, Peter wrote to Kate often. Would they and their love survive the war?

We know the outcome of this because Peter and Kate are the author's grandparents. Many of the pieces of correspondence (from other family members and acquaintances as well as Peter) received by Kate survive and have been curated and pieced together with commentary by Dr Wardlaw.

This isn't a book about war and doesn't contain great detail about the events of War experienced by Peter; the letters would be censored so details would have been edited anyway. This book is a picture into Edwardian courtship and everyday life in Britain before the war. The interest isn't in the content, it is in the context. This is an unadulterated view of how people faced the time of great change and their feelings during this time. Much is hidden and in the final chapters we feel the emotion ourselves as their destiny reveals itself.

In my view the book would have benefited with more historical detail of the events that impacted upon Peter and Kay. The battles, U-boat peril and some social history are introduced but not built upon and with that background it would have been more interesting but to make too much of that would be unfair. Dr Wardlaw isn't trying to tell the story of the war, he is telling the story of his family. Ordinary people in an extraordinary time - would our own lives turn out the same if we faced the same challenges?

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Saturday, 16 December 2017

Kings of America by R.J. Ellory

Kings of AmericaKings of America by R.J. Ellory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Goodreads win is my first experience of Ellory's writing. As a piece of crime fiction it's more of a linear story rather than whodunnit. We know whodunnit in graphic fashion, it's the web of crime that slowly gets more tangled that is the glue in this thriller.

Danny McCabe flees Ireland for New York after becoming a wanted IRA fighter. Landing Stateside he meets Nicky and Lucia Marioni and together they start their life together in the land of dreams. At first Danny's boxing skills and Nicky's management looks to be their way to riches and the method of bankrolling Lucia's desires to get into the movies. Another bad turn sees them leave New York quicker than planned and the remainder of the story sees their lives move on in Hollywood as Danny changes identity to avoid the authorities and Nicky sinks into the underworld.

Now, I'm wondering if the publication of this book has been rushed. I'm happy for someone to point out to me that I've missed something but there are huge issues with the scope of the story and it's development. The blurb of the book states that it is set over 3 decades and the Goodreads description states it is an 'epic that spans the 1930s to the 1960s' (which is actually 4 decades) and yet it doesn't reach the 1950s. This wouldn't be an issue of the descriptions weren't read, I wouldn't have picked up on it otherwise, but it does also pick up on another nagging problem I had with the plot.

The second world war is pretty much mentioned in passing and the real action jumps from America's entry into the war in the early 40s to the end of the war. With a deeper plot this could be explained but for no reason we skip a few years. If Danny doesn't go back to Ireland and Nicky back to Corsica to fight then the same plot could be continued during the war but for some reason it is important that the war ends. Here comes the other hole that bugs me..

Louis Hayes is a detective determined to bring down the whole mob running Los Angeles. He's got his eyes on Nicky and doesn't let go in bringing him to book. So why take so long? 6 or so years after a crime is committed Hayes is still trying to resolve it. I'm wondering if there is a much more epic story here and an entire section set in the Second World war back in Europe so that the action in LA is put on hold for a while. Has this been cut? There may well be a finale that has been ditched that covers the later years - or maybe a sequel that hasn't been alluded to.

Given my criticisms above it could be a surprise that I gave as high as five stars. Well, the book is with it's high points. A bit of mob culture is always a good piece of escapism and this helps with that escape. The main characters are believable (although Hayes is clumsily brought into the story) and the lesser characters have their parts to play and play it well.

The biggest seller of all is the era. The glamour of Hollywood in the years either side of the war is fascinating and this story tells not of those that made it big in the pictures but who made a living around the edges - legally and illegally; easily and desperately. Real life people such as Lucille Ball and F Scott Fitzgerald appear at differing ends of careers and many, many references are made to classic movies. Film buffs might like the setting and it's a fair novel, but crime purists are going to be disappointed.

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