Sunday, 15 October 2017

Artistic ingenuity - WIN some!

My freebies are usually posted to Instagram first, when I'm in the moment. I then follow up with a full post of observations, reviews or anything else I fancy writing after I have had time to reflect.

During these past 2 weeks I've posted 6 free things but the highlights are around art and performance. Read through and at the end you'll find a chance to win a DVD copy of 'Fences', the Oscar nominated film starring Denzel Washington. In fact, let's start with that film...

Fences DVD. A competition win from Fabulous magazine.

Troy Maxson (our Denzel) is a former Negro-league baseball player who know works on the bins (I think it would be called a refuse collector) in 1950s Pittsburgh. His friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) has been alongside him for many years and they work hard to provide for their families. It is this sense of provision that is core to the story.

Troy sees providing for his family as his duty, and the duty of every man. We (or certainly I) see that Troy has other values that he may not even know he has himself. He does want to provide, but he also wants others to provide for themselves. He demands recognition for what he provides (maybe harking back to the adulation of being a revered sportsman) but fails to recognise the journey others wish to take. He loves and respects his wife, Rose Lee, but shows an incredible lack of empathy at a crucial point and his attempts to keep people near gradually seem to drive them away.

The film is adapted from August Wilson's 1985 play and the title reflects these values. Building a new fence is a sideline activity in the film that symbolises the fences Troy (and all of us) build in our lives. Some keep people out, some keep people in. Some come down, some need strengthening. The screenplay (by Wilson, just before his death) is astonishing and skilfully directed by our Denzel himself. With just seven characters and fewer locations it is the conversation that held me spellbound for two hours. A film can be judged on special effects, action, thrills and many other things. This relies on script and performances.

Oh my, what performances. Viola Davis won a 'Best supporting actress' Oscar as Rose Lee Maxson, the wife of Troy Maxson. Jovan Adepo excels as Troy and Rose Lee's son Cory and Mykelti Williamson is convincing as Troy's brother who suffers mental difficulties from a war injury. But for me Denzel Washington gave the best performance I have seen in a film for many years. Absolutely spellbinding in his portrayal of fun and humour, anger, arrogance and fight. Washington so easily shows that there aren't just many types of man, there are many sides to each individual.

One of you lucky readers is going to find this out for yourselves - there's chance to win this copy at the end of this post. I've redeemed the download code so this might not work twice, but you get the DVD so that'll do you.

Perkulatte Colombian Inza coffee. 


My thanks to Perkulatte for sending a free sample of their artisan coffee. They source unusual, quality coffees from around the world and then send them to your door in post-friendly parcels. Coffee orders can be for whole bean or ground and there are a range of subscriptions but all seem to work out at less than 40p per cup. The sample I received suggested it had ' juicy cherry notes with a candy sweetness' and that was bob on. A really unusual coffee and very enjoyable.

Gardenscapes


Looking for freebies isn't difficult really. There are tens of thousands of free games for mobile phones and I'm sure much better bloggers than me dedicate their blog to them. I can no longer call myself a gamer as the two boys in my house have full control over the Xbox and I only snatch the odd game of Fifa or COD. The heavily used iPhone can only really cope with one installed game at a time otherwise the memory and battery disappears too quickly.

This game has stayed as that sole game for well over a year now. Quite why a simple match-3 game has gripped me I'm not sure but I think it's the  progression and development of the garden that is the key other than the usual working your way through the levels that you get with games like Candy Crush. Completing a level wins a star and you swap stars for things for your garden. Austin the Butler is your trusty sidekick who guides you through the main storyline and odd sub-story. There are other little side projects every week and I'm fully lost in it. The pictures here show you how a small piece of my garden has developed in a week, and this is about 10% of my garden. I'm on level 1383 and there are at least 2000 levels I reckon with more added each week. Looks like me and Austin are going to be friends for a long time.

Gardenscapes is free to download and play. There are in-app purchases available to get you through quicker but just be patient, you don't need them.

A walk up Mill Hill to see a Second World War aircraft wreck. 


Every blog post sees me talking about the best freebie of them all - walking in our beautiful country. Accessible to most of us, free and beneficial to body and mind, walking for pleasure is my favouritest thing in the world. I do like eating and drinking though - that's why I'm portly.


 The High Peak area of Derbyshire is littered with aircraft wrecks. The remoteness of the sites means that little other the bodies and valuables were removed and in some cases a lot of wreckage remains. This Liberator crashed on the 11th October 1944 flying from the USAAF base at Burtonwood to USAAF Hardwick in Suffolk. The crew of just 2 were delivering the plane to its new home on this autumn morning through the usual clouds that gather over this part of the Peak District. Through a gap in the clouds the pilot noticed just how close they were to the ground and tried to power up higher but it was too late and the plane crashed into the hillside. Luckily, the crew survived with a broken jaw being the worst and managed to get themselves out of the wreckage and limp a couple of miles down to the nearest road. The call from the Grouse pub to their base must have been an awkward one.
This is an easy wreck to find. Over the stile opposite the junction with Monks Road and keep going for about 2 miles towards the summit of Mill Hill and it's next to the path. An engine and a couple of bits of wing are here. Leaving the path (only do it on a foggy day if you have your compass with you) and exploring a bit soon brings you to more fuselage, two more engines and a bit of wheel strut. The plane remains were burned or buried but the shifting peat has uncovered this. This is a bleak location with lovely views on a clear day but unforgiving on damper days. I love it, it's the wilderness on my doorstep. After viewing the wreck it's the 2 miles back down to the road or carry on for a more ambitious walk to Mill Hill summit and over towards Kinder, cutting back through William Clough and Middle Moor.

Mattessons black pudding.

Freebies come in many ways - a competition win, a sample, a free item in return for a review or simply finding something.
I'm not going to say where this freebie came from as someone will get into trouble. A high street supermarket is all I'm prepared to say. I always take a peek at the sections that sell things off cheap at the end of the day and on this particular day these black pudding rings were reduced to 19p and still in date - that's important to know. Now, I love a bit of congealed pigs' blood and happily eat it straight off the shelf, fried for breakfast or on a sandwich with mustard. It's a healthy food, delicious and good for keeping my iron levels up which is important to a platelet donor. I grabbed 2 of them, each in a bag with a printed barcode sticker on and headed to the till.
Well, the sticker wasn't having any of it. Beeping on the scanner, zapping it with the handheld scanner and then me reading the code out to have it typed in manually was all to no avail so the checkout assistant put them in my bag and said "oh, just have them." Sorted - £3.78 of black pudding for nowt. Blog alert.

Later that night I cracked one open and had a nibble with mustard and it wasn't too good. Dry and crumbly, I was disappointed but not surprised. Mass produced cheap food is never as good as the properly produced stuff. The next morning I fried a few slices for a breakfast sandwich and this was even worse. Not even brown sauce could save it and I am surprising myself, dear reader, to tell you that I didn't finish it and threw the other away. Powdery, tasteless and clagging up my mouth it's not an experience I'll repeat and will stick to Bury black puddings from supermarkets from now on.

Ballet at the Palace Theatre, Manchester - "The Song of the Earth" and "La Sylphide".


Going to see a ballet has been on my bucket list for a while and thanks to Showfilmfirst I managed to to tick it off as a freebie. I do like classical music (it's not all rock in my head) and have been to lots of classical concerts and a few operas so I was sure that it would be pleasant experience and I wasn't disappointed.

The Palace has been refurbished, I think, since I last visited some 10 years ago. Tidy, smart and filled with the most pleasant staff you can imagine, it's a fine theatre venue. It originally opened in 1897 but has probably changed over the years thanks to refurbs and the Luftwaffe who scored a direct hit. It still retains a traditional feel and charm and is a comfortable place to have a pre-show drink in, which is what I did so that I could peruse the programme and make sure I knew the plot of what I was going to see.
Song of the Earth is a spartan piece set to Mahler's music. No stage set or extravagant costumes, the choreography by Kenneth MacMillan interprets the music rather than gives a literal performance. As a first taste of ballet it was interesting if slightly strange. Musically, the orchestra seemed on song and the contralto and tenor performances of Rhonda Browne and Samuel Sakker were my personal highlight.
During the first interval the stage was set for La Sylphide set to music by Lovenskiold and with choreography by August Bournonville. This was more my sort of thing with a lore literal presentation of the plot and a storyline that I found it easier to follow. It's one of the oldest surviving ballets which made it a bit more special for me. Set in Scotland the costumes were traditional with kilts a-flying, witches a-plotting and booze a-flowing. My kind of party and I would have enjoyed the pre-nuptial celebrations of the story as James prepares for his marriage to Effy before being seduced by the Sylphide and the subsequent troubles this causes, aided by Madge the witch and Gurn (who fancies Effy himself).
This was pure pleasure and made all the better by having a great stage set. Stage sets fascinate me, they are my favourite part of any theatre visit - to see how the entrances and exits are managed and the Scottish farmhouse of Act 1 was one of the best. Follow the link for the dancers as this bit is important but I don't know enough to comment on how good each was. I do know that I had a top evening. That's why I started doing this blog - to get new experiences even though I don't have spare money. One day I will have disposable income and then I can pick and choose.
More ballets! More walks! More Denzel Washington! More artisan coffee! More discerning choices of black pudding! And I'll still be working through the levels of Gardenscapes....


'Fences' DVD giveaway

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Slasher to safety via Bush - my week of freebies


A walk around Lyme Park (with free parking tips). 

You know the place - it's where Mr Darcy swam in the lake. Lyme Park is about 25 minutes drive from me and a place I love spending time wandering around. I've been in the house and gardens a couple of times but not for ages now, yet the surrounding park is full of adventure from remote, mysterious buildings to wild moorland and woodlands. There are deer too, lots of them. The herd at Lyme Park descends from the original medieval herd and are fairly easy to spot if you know where.
You know the place, it's where
A good, short, walking route is freely available at site the National Trust's - as are plenty of other walks where you can see the annual rut each autumn. This is the one I followed and took me just under an hour, including the walk from my chosen parking spot where I picked up the walk at point 8 rather than the main car park.
National Trust won't appreciate this but I find £8 just to parking unaffordable. If the whole family are going for a day then fair enough and I'm happy to pay for that but I like the odd walk and I ain't paying that each time. Yes, I know that I can take out membership but that is also expensive and to be honest, Lyme Park is the only place I go to regularly. Here's my legitimate freebie tip for other walkers - on Mudhurst Lane there's a large layby right next to an old track that leads to the East Lodge. The track is no longer used for access as the old bridge halfway along is dangerous and it's a lovely quite walk that can form part of a longer perimeter walk. Walking though the East gate you enter the park alongside the deer sanctuary and the herd are usually easy to spot here. Fine views past the cage to Manchester and the Cheshire plain too - it's odd seeing planes flying lower than you as they approach Manchester Airport.

The walk takes you in a circular route past the old cottage gardens and up the edge of moorland into Lantern Wood with it's eponymous tower. Romantic but not much to see in the tower really, it's primary use is to be seen from the house and not the other way round. The walk brings you back down to the sanctuary. It's not a big walk out of your way to the Cage or the house, and there's a marvellous adventure playground for the kids too.

Prevenge on DVD

My blog overview states that I'll tell you how I got each freebie. This is so that you can decide
whether I'm biased in my reviews if I've been given stuff for free. There are 2 things you need to know about this review of Prevenge. The first is that I don't know where it came from, it just turned up in the post with no covering letter. It's most likely a comp win but I remember entering a few comps for this so I'm not sure which one I won.
The second potential point of bias is that I have a ridiculous crush on Alice Lowe that has lasted some 13 years since I first saw Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. This talented person wrote, directed and plays the lead in this film described as a 'comedy slasher' film.

This isn't a dark comedy, it's darker than that. 

Ruth is in the latter stages of pregnancy and her unborn baby is talking to her. "Ah, sweet," I hear you say. No. This baby is urging Ruth to avenge the death of baby's dad who was killed in a rock climbing accident by tracking down the others involved and, well, you can guess why this is in the slasher genre.

The greatest part of this film are the characters. Most are quite horrible with the exception of Ruth's midwife (played by Jo Hartley) who is just irritating and Mike Wozniak's Josh who is lovely.  In the first scene we are introduced to Dan Skinner playing a pet shop owner who is creepy, slimy and by the end of the scene, late. You think he's a horrible character? Wait until you meet DJ Dan (Tom Davis) who is the most marvellously grotesque creation I've seen for a long time. His scenes are wonderful, viewed through fingers, and you can feel good about sheering his demise.

Lowe herself is as you would expect - straight faced, casually delivering lines of comedic beauty and leaving the viewer unable to work out whether this is scripted or improvised. What isn't improvised is the pregnancy, Lowe herself being pregnant at the time of filming. I'd be a bit scared of Lowe if I met her, I think, if she creates stuff like this with a baby inside her. What if we end up reading some horrific story in the papers and we all realise she was trying to tell us something?

There are negatives to the film. I found the plot confusing at times. I'm trying to avoid spoilers but there were several unanswered questions at the end and even some of the things I thought were clear and talked about to my wife ended with her saying "really, I thought that she did that because...." and we were way apart. My wife thought long and hard about the film and the next day told me that she didn't think she enjoyed it. For her, the comedy wasn't enough to outweigh the horror in the way it would in, say, the Cornetto Trilogy. For me, I enjoyed it more than that but not as much as the aforementioned Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright films.

Bush at the Ritz O2, Manchester.


A fellow blogger was given 2 tickets for this show and shared the wealth. My first visit to the Ritz since seeing the Chameleons about 20 years ago although I was a regular at the student nights there in the mid-nineties. It didn't seem to have changed much - tiny lobby with box office then straight into the ballroom with a bar either side. The balcony was off limits for this gig which probably reflected the size of the crowd. Nice and compact it is - the bars are next to the floor so you miss nothing, there are no seats - we're all in it together. £5.40 for a pint of San Miguel kept the pre-show drinks to a minimum, mind. I like this venue - easy in, easy out and straight into the city.

It was my first experience of Bush. Straight face. None of my friends are really into Bush and I was surprised how little I knew of the band. I reminded myself of their back catalogue on YouTube before the gig but only 'Swallowed' was familiar - their only UK top ten hit. Yet, this London band are HUGE over the pond and the reason is probably why few people over here have taken to them. Their style is very American and a pretty straight up Nirvana clone years after grunge first appeared. They also launched themselves in the mid-nineties at the height of Britpop so most Brit guitar music fans seemed to have let them pass by.

This is also reflected in the crowd. The stadium selling band over there didn't sell out the Ritz over here and of those present I suspect many were on freebies too. The atmosphere was polite, intent and supportive but for a loud rock gig's opening salvo of chords not to be met with a bouncing mosh pit was telling.

And yet by the end this crowd was pretty much won over. At one point the still buff Gavin Rossdale went walkabout in the crowd and while the going was relatively easy the camaraderie was genuine. Corey Britz kept the arms aloft and engaged with the crowd while Chris Traynor and robin Goodrige maintained the pace on lead and drums.

Rossdale (did I mention his incredible figure - the man's 51!) bounced around with guitar, without guitar and stuck pretty much to working his way through 15 songs over 90 minutes. With each song more arms took to the air and there was a decent singalong to Swallowed and, during the encore, a cover of REM's 'The one I love'. My personal highlights was 'This is War' - tight, loud and heartfelt. The atmosphere got progressively rockier and I think a fair bit of respect was won from previously dismissive musos. Certainly the case for me.

I can't let the gig pass without mentioning the support, Raveneye. These boys rocked. Blistering rock 'n' roll from a British three piece that really looked like they were enjoying themselves. Laughter, high jinks and a wall of joyful noise. I posted at the time that I've never seen a support act win a crowd over as quickly as Raveneye. I really wanted to point you in the direction of the live Facebook feed they broadcast but the sound is awful. Have some YouTube stuff instead.

Rail safety week stuff - pen, ticket wallet and a bottle of water.

I'm a daily rail commuter and have been for several decades. I'm sensible but maybe take my safety for granted. I definitely take the safety of others for granted - there a some harrowing statistics on the website for this. One death, even one accident, is one too many and anything that raises awareness of this is a good thing. Rail Safety Week is an industry led initiative but focuses on all those involved with railways from the rail maintainers to the operators to users like me. Please do take time to visit the site.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

A surprisingly healthy few weeks of freebies

Well, I started my last post by saying I was going to start blogging weekly. That was just under 2 weeks ago. Meh.

School has started in earnest and I'm 4th in the queue for the laptop. My 3 kids all go to bed that bit later too so by the time I get my go I'm too tired to think. I wish blog posts were as easy as Instagram...

Late summer and autumn is a wonderful time for a walk - the greatest freebie of them all. The colours and smells change, the animals are grown, the leaves start to fall. Plus, there's an abundance of free food in those hedgerows. Off we set through one of my favouritest corners of Derbyshire for a blackberry forage. A tree full of crab apples was a welcome bonus too. We took just as much as we needed and left the rest for others or the birds - there are always plenty to go round.



A few days later my wife magicked these into a wonderful crumble - I don't remember a year we haven't had blackberry something. It's usually a crumble (sometimes eked with elderberries or, like this year, crab apples) but we've enjoyed pies, tarts and I've made a lovely liqueur before now. Popping blackberries into vodka with some sugar syrup at this time of year gives you a stunning drink just in time for Christmas, and the booze-soaked blackberries can then be mashed into whipped cream or ice cream for a boozy dessert.

The Carabao Cup appeared at Manchester Piccadilly station last week. Nobody seemed too bothered to lift it and have their photo taken, the cup seems to be as popular with commuters as it is with Pep Guardiola. Carabao gave plastic cups of the drink away and it was OK, as energy drinks go. I'm not a big user of them but I don't mind them - this seemed very similar to Red Bull (Carabao is also from Thailand) or stores own brand drinks to me. Fine, but nothing different. Other people seemed to disagree and maybe were caught out by it being an energy drink. The outside of the station had a few plastic cups lying around with this yellowy liquid in it - I was reminded of the aftermath of a large rock concert.

Dead Man's Fingers is a small batch spiced rum produced by the Rum and Crab Shack in St Ives. I've
entered a few competitions to try and win a bottle but in the meantime I received half a dozen cool stickers. I suspect they are bottle labels, but the kids loved them as stickers. There's something about skulls and a bit of kudos in having boozy merch on school books, I'm sure.

The highlight freebie of the last few weeks is my huge chimenea that I won from Santa Maria latin American sauces and stuff like that. It's a contemporary cast iron structure and was easy to assemble. We've had about an hours fun with it so far as the weather has been shocking but so far so good. Maybe this weekend we get to taste a marshmallow or 2. I really must highlight the incredible service from Santa Maria - the parcel company managed to lose the original chimenea (how you lose something this size I don't know) and then continued to mess up every instruction sent to them. I won't say which they were but I was tracking the parcel on the internet and it wasn't getting closer to me. The contact at Santa Maria was wonderful and kept in touch for the several weeks it took, even popping in a gift voucher as a gesture of goodwill. I hadn't paid for anything, it was a competition prize! If the customer service for paying customers is as good as it is for comp winners like me then they deserve every success. I must point out that Santa Maria have no idea that I write these blogs or post in Instagram, I was just any other comp winner to them.

I finally got to the end of The Ice by Laline Paull. full review is on Goodreads (yes, it was yet another of their giveaways sponsored by the 4th Estate) . An important environmental message comes through the story line but it did plod along a bit before rushing the finale.
My

L'Occitane en Provence have some very generous giveaways. One of their Manchester stores happily parted with a sample of a shaving balm in return for a voucher that was offered on the internet. It's lovely - you'd expect high quality as it's not cheap stuff and their shops look quite exclusive. It's on King Street, if that tells you anything. The balm is thick and soaks in wonderfully, lasting all day. It smells fresh and slightly manly but not overly so - it reminds me of holidays but I've never been to Provence.It's a smell I feel proud of when I get on the train in a morning.

Talking of generous giveaways in return for a voucher, Holland & Barrett surprised me when I went
to claim one of their freebies. I was expecting a sample sized jar of vitamin C tablets but no, it was about £9 worth to last 3 months. If I have a cold in the next 3 months I'll edit this post and complain but no complaints so far. they do taste a bit more orangey than the cheap soluble ones I usually get from a budget chain.

And so the last freebie and one I nearly passed up on. As you've noticed, I spend too much time noticing the best things in life and finding little victories that cheer me up cos I'm as skint as most other people with five mouths to feed, clothe and shelter. I walked past JD Williams giving away nags of something as it appeared to be stuff for the ladies and that's not part of
this blog's mission statement! However, a colleague did grab a bag and in it was a very good quality brolly that wasn't overly girlie. Now I love a brolly as the sound of walking under one in the rain reminds me of camping and makes me feel cosy. I went back and was cheerfully given a bag so thanks JD Williams and I'm sorry I won't be buying any frocks just yet. Mrs Blogger has flicked through the magazine though, so who knows.




Not a bad few weeks really. Nearly £200 worth of freebies I reckon and all happily given away. When I started blogging I had 2 rules - I won't lie and I won't beg or blag. See you next week (or the week after, whatever homework allows).

(All the photos are mine).

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Music, curry and clowns - my week of freebies

I've decided to change the way I blog and move to a weekly summary rather than individual posts. I like posting about each freebie on Instagram but trying to come up with something each day about, say, a bottle of Coke can be burdensome. I'll still post book reviews on Goodreads rather than here and link through but all others will be below. I also aim to still give away as prizes any freebies that I've enjoyed but don't want to keep - usually books or DVDs. Follow by email (it's on the right, over there) to make sure you find out when. I might not even run a competition and just give bits away to a subscriber drawn out of a virtual hat.

So here goes...


Sunday started the week well with the culmination of the Town Hall Sessions free music festival in Glossop. It moved into town centre this year rather than being in Bankswood Park in neighbouring Hadfield and several pubs and clubs also held gigs. Due to other commitments I didn't get to see as much as I liked but I did catch the closing set from Rook and the Ravens and they were excellent, as expected. Quite a coup getting a decent band like this at a free festival. They've been going for a few years now and have a great catalogue of songs (and singers) to choose from. Great weather and a decent turn out - roll on next year.


Monday was a Bank Holiday and a chance to try a free sample of Simoniz car shampoo. Instruction were followed to the letter and the results were fine. Nothing more special than most other shampoos but no smears or marks so fair enough. First time I've actually enjoyed washing a car for a few years too, not sure why that was. It looked great all week until today. I had to park under a telegraph pole yesterday and now it's splattered with starling cack. Gits.

On Wednesday I spotted the smiling face of a jolly chap outside Leon's on Piccadilly Approach in Manchester. Nothing unusual about that but this chap was holding a tray of samples. Free food is always good even in small amounts, and Leon's is good food. The South Indian spiced fish was delicious. Nice chap informed coley from Scotland and it was lifted with a creamy coconut and turmeric sauce. Slightly spicy but not too much to take away from the fish, although coley does have a stronger flavour than most white fish and can carry off spices well. It was on a wee bed of Leon's rice that is a triumph in itself. It's brown rice and is also lightly spiced or dressed in something to give it some body. For those not in the know, Leon's does fast food in a healthy and generally ethical way. Walk in, tell them what you want and it's already cooked just like any other fast food joint. The difference is that this is healthy stuff cooked well. It's a pay day treat as ethics don't come cheap but it does make a change.
me that the fish was sustainably caught

Also on Wednesday was the usual Shortlist magazine, I'll write more on this another time but it's a free magazine I look forward to each week and go out of my way to get. As I do with the Manchester Evening News every Thursday - it's jobs day!

The week finished with me finishing off another book that I was lucky to win in one of Goodread's giveaways. Clown Wars : Blood & Aspic is dark humour or humorous horror, whichever way round you prefer. It's gruesome, sickening and genuinely funny and a clever satire on the state of the modern world. The pictures in my head were like scenes from the League of Gentlemen and the plot like a terry Pratchett. My full review is on Goodreads and I can't wait to read the rest of the series. Nice of the author to comment on my review too.

So there it is, my week in freebies. Not a bad haul and not a penny spent on all those. I'll leave you with another freebie - a ten song Spotify playlist to see you through until next week.


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Berghaus give a masterclass in brand reputation

Today's freebie? Taking part in Berghaus' #TrailTakover in the Goyt Valley, with a bit of the ViewRanger app and others thrown in

Thanks to? Berghaus, of course.


Yesterday was a delightful example of those wonderful times when you take part in an event that was completely free, thoroughly enjoyable with happy, friendly people and with bonus freebies thrown in. Berghaus showed that building a brand reputation by holding an inclusive event can be fun and rewarding without needing to give the hard sell every few minutes. I shall certainly be looking out for the next one and absolutely recommend everyone else to do the same.

It started a few weeks ago when I spotted the first references to Berghaus' #TrailTakeover - the chance of winning a holiday drew my attention of course. I duly registered my interest and waiting to find the location. On Thursday (2 days before) the email came out with a link to the route on the ViewRanger app (more on that later) and I was pleased to see it wasn't too far from home and a place I knew well and had walked often - I even blogged on it last summer.

I rolled up to the Berghaus marquee at the Errwood Car Park just after midday and was greeted by a lovely person who ticked my name off, gave me a wristband to show I was part of the event and then surprise number 1 - a carton of Vita Coco coconut water and a block of Romney's Kendal mint cake. She checked I had the ViewRanger app and the route loaded (I did) and off I went.

I've had the ViewRanger app for a while as a few sites (such as the Outdoor Guide) release free walks through it. This is the first time I've actually used it though and it was useful for the first half mile or so as there are a few ways to get to Pym's Chair from Errwood. Once at the top of the woodland walk I didn't bother as I knew where I was headed after that. Being used to using paper maps I confused myself with the app at the start as the lines of the route and the direction I was headed clashed, but it was accurate and once I understood what it was meant to do then it was fine. Of course the real downside of walking apps is battery drain - I left the app running in the background to map my route, speed and collect all the other data it can but together with taking and posting a few photos on Twitter it meant my iPhone 5s battery when from full to about 20% over the 2.5 hours of the walk. Those with a portable charger or charging backpack will probably be fine but walking and following it for the whole route wouldn't have worked. The app is probably most useful to people testing new walking routes as it gives lots of detail on speed, elevation etc. Plus, it's free! There are purchases that can be made  - walks I have looked at are priced at 99p and you can also pay for OS maps on top, but this freebie released by Berghaus for suited me just fine.
[edit - one of the Berghaus people contacted me after I published this to say that ViewRanger had given them a battery-saving tip. If you download the route and then switch your phone to airplane mode it saves your battery loads]

The start of the walk is steep and after decades of walking my body still hates hills, particularly at the start of the walk before I get my rhythm going. I wandered off the set track by a couple of hundred metres as I got used to the app, probably to the amusement of the 3 much younger lads following who soon found me following them 😳. I hit my pace, overtook them again and soon found my heart thumping, copper taste in my mouth and realising I'd hit this climb too fast (even though I've done it a dozen times!) so I sat back in the heather and ate my lunch as they overtook me
again. I need to grow up.

After polishing off my homemade tarka dall whilst watching the paragliders over the later part of the route I enjoyed more freebies thanks to nature's bounty. The Goyt Valley is the best place I know for bilberries. They are plentiful, unbelievably healthy and delicious yet nobody seems to bother with these fruits - maybe the effort required to get to them and pick them isn't enough as they are quite small and would take some picking to fill a pie. All the more for me and the birds I suppose.

Up the Street and on to Pym's Chair with its incredible views over the Peak District, the Cheshire Plain and towards Manchester. The walk along from here to Shining Tor via Cat's Tor is stunning and has to be seen to be believed. It's within view of Manchester but you can't comprehend the beauty unless you are on the edge and can see either side.

More lovely Berghaus people at Cat's Tor who persuaded me to try and balance on a rope line (I struggle to balance on terra firma after a climb like that) and for the price of my email address a £20 voucher for Berghaus.com in a lanyard. Free walking socks, I reckon! A nice chat and onwards and upwards to Shining Tor. The Berghaus guy here was resplendent in waterproofs with hood up and seemed surprised I wasn't cold. He has no idea how much sweat was trickling down my back. I welcomed the chance of another stop and chat and posed for my pic next to the #TrailTakover post that is now posted on Facebook and will act as my entry to the competition to win a holiday. No. I'm not posting it here, it's bloody awful and looks like a fat middle aged fella who has just walked too quickly up too many hills. More fine conversation with this lovely fella was cut short before I started to chill and off I set for the last part of the walk - probably about a third of the walk but as most is downhill it went so quickly.

Just before the descent I cracked open the Vita Coco water. Refreshing and 99% coconut water not from concentrate so if you have drunk the water from one you've won at the fair you'll know it's not unpleasant but a bit bland.

Halfway down I got my last boost of energy from a square of mintcake. I love this stuff but am good enough to keep it aside for when I need it (unless the kids find it, then it goes in seconds and they run around like loons) and it lasts for months unless it gets wet.

So, 2 and a half hours after setting off I reach the end and that included stopping for chats and lunch. And what a welcome at the end it was! A handbell tolls and I'm invited to the TrailTakeover pub (another marquee) for a beer. It would have been so easy to bulk buy bottled lagers but no, I'm handed a bottle of Hesket Newmarket's Helvellyn Gold - this was the point I knew how much quality means to Berghaus! A lovely golden ale that was welcome and given with beautiful smiles by people who have spent all afternoon being eaten by midges while seeing sweaty tired people come off a hill.

What a wonderful afternoon and I can't wait to hear about the next in November. 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

History of wolves by Emily Fridlund - an observant debut

What's today's freebie? History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Where from? Another from the mighty Goodreads


This uncorrected bound proof copy for review was a lucky giveaway gain for me from the blessed Goodreads where my profile grows. My review is posted on there and is copied below. A bleak book, but thoroughly engrossing and recommended.


History of WolvesHistory of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a Goodreads win.
This is as remarkable a debut novel as any I have read for a number of years. It is quite beautiful, darkly mysterious and heartbreaking on many levels. Fridlund skilfully maps the Minnesota landscape with the human condition - bleak and dark in the winters of life, but warming and engaging at others.
This is a book of observation. Told entirely in the first person it is a story of a young girl's coming of age as recalled by her older self. Linda (also known as Maddie) develops a companionship with neighbours of her family in an old series of shacks near a lake. She becomes the babysitter for their 4 year old son and establishes bonds she is unable to forge with her own family.
This is a book about observation more than anything else. Events are related in a relatively factual manner, devoid of feeling. It is a story of disassociation - Linda doesn't fit in with anyone: school friends, family, neighbours. Even the core companionships with her neighbour, Patra, are lacking in closeness. Only young Paul seems to trigger any sort of emotion with Linda, maybe because he too is slightly odd and distant but is willing to learn and share with her.
Linda does blend well with the earth and land though and all non-human life. Trees, the lake, her dogs, insects and other pests are accepted, tolerated or even liked by Linda. She gets high; she even finds an enjoyment in chopping wood. She seems to understand anything which has no great thought of its own.
Although Linda lacks empathy she does seem to have an understanding of the human condition and an almost primeval instinct for life and self-preservation.
The second half of the book jumps in time to after the events of the first part of the book, recalling the circumstances they lead to but also jumping into the times leading up to them. The narrative moves from early childhood to the time of the main part of the story to adulthood and possibly ending in the present. It requires concentration and some effort of imagination - some things appear deliberately left to the reader to fill in the gaps.
The story, seen entirely through the eyes of a remarkably observant but unemotional narrator held me fascinated and broke my heart. The characters are not cruel; they have no hate or conscious cruelty, but each person's inability to understand the feelings of others can be a bleak read. The ending, unfortunately, needs some work. I have no problem with an open ending or things left unexplained, but I do get annoyed with them being confusing. This isn't as big a matter as it might be though. Whereas Maddie/Linda misses the bigger picture by concentrating on the detail, I enjoyed seeing the bigger picture where so many sub-plots are left unresolved. The style and language is mesmerising.


View all my reviews

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Ship Trilogy by D Krauss - an epic journey that deserves wider audience

What did I get? The Ship Trilogy by D Krauss, comprising "The Ship to look for God", "The Ship Looking for God" and "The Ship Finding God".

How did I get them? The first was from a giveaway at, you've guessed it, Goodreads. The second and third were sent by the author after I posted a review at Goodreads. See? It pays off to post!


My review of The Ship to Look for God and The Ship Looking for God  are worth reading to see how my reviews progress with this strange series - the final review from Goodreads is below. They aren't good reviews, I'll admit that, as the trilogy is hard to talk about without giving too much away. They do deserve a wider audience though.


View all my reviews
The Ship Finding GodThe Ship Finding God by D. Krauss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to the author for sending this book after I reviewed the first 2 books in the series.

This book concludes the trilogy after "The Ship To Look For God" and "The Ship Looking For God". The trilogy is an odyssey in which our hero, Otto Boteman, dies and embarks upon a journey through times, spaces, dimensions and mind boggling circumstances in search of an answer.

This volume moves Otto on to his goal and there are far fewer new faces in this book. The tone is different as the answer nears and the steady introduction of famous names from history makes way for angels and other beings. It's difficult to talk more openly for fear of spoiling the plot and the answer to the supreme question and I'm going to hope that this ambiguity encourages readers to read my reviews of the first 2 books and seek them out for themselves. This trilogy is not published by a major name, in fact it seems to have been self-published. In my view, Otto's journey deserves wider attention. Goodreads is full of testifying memoirs and books in praise of God, Christ and other deities. These books are different - they ask questions. Of course it leads to a spiritual conclusion and yes, JC has a cameo. But it also has an open ending that makes one think and leaves space for you to find your own interpretation. It's a positive message, I concluded, that steers away from hate and damnation and points towards being good.

I have typed this review some time after reading the book. I wasn't as pleased with the ending as I wanted to be as I, like most readers, expect and prefer a distinct conclusion. Maybe that's unfair with a subject matter like this and having re-read main parts again there are different interpretations that can be made by different readers. I'm not a very religious person but do appreciate spirituality and the loving parts of faith.

And after everything Otto has been through, he still seems oddly surprised at each new acquaintance!


View all my reviews


Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Index of Dreams by Vicky Matthews - a macabre tale of obession

Today's freebie - The Index of Dreams (paperback) by Vicky Matthews

Thanks to? Goodreads, as usual.


Yet another giveaway from Goodreads and another fine debut novel. My quick review below is taken from the Goodreads site.


The Index of DreamsThe Index of Dreams by Vicky Matthews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won this through Goodreads.

A fine debut novel that deserves a wider audience. Sabina (Beanie) is one of life's drifters - temping job after temping job with no plan and not much promise for the future. Her only meaning in life is an obsession with a film she hasn't seen (it's banned)- The Index of Dreams - and it's creator Ossian Brohmer. A chance encounter brings Beanie and the film closer together and Life takes on meaning and excitement. Beanie moves to the seaside and becomes acquainted with Brohmer as the story takes on deeper themes of control and obsession.
Everyone seeks some meaning in life and some people don't find that in day to day things that surround them - they reach for art or celebrity, anything that can hold focus. This is Beanie and the story of her search for meaning and whether she has the strength to control or be controlled.

Thoroughly recommended.


View all my reviews

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Carrying Albert home by Homer Hickam. Wonderfully bizarre.

Today's reviewed freebie? "Carrying Albert home : the Somewhat True Story of a Man, his Wife and her Alligator" by Homer Hickam

Where from? Another one from Goodreads



Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of A Man, His Wife, and Her AlligatorCarrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of A Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator by Homer Hickam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Goodreads for this giveaway.

Sometimes a couple's love isn't based wholly on love as we think of it. It's sometimes based on respect, a deep feeling that doesn't always manifest itself but is there nonetheless. This book is of such a couple - a hidden love.

This dreamy novel is based on stories told by the author's mother that are somewhat embellished by the author. Albert is the alligator, a gift to Elsie from a former lover and a reminder of her days in Florida when life stretched before her. That life was meant to be with Buddy Epsen (the real person - Google him) but when Buddy moved to New York Elsie found herself back in West Virginia and married to her high school sweetheart, the miner Homer Hickam. Albert was Buddy's gift, a memento of Florida.

Elsie remains unfulfilled with life in West Virginia, raising an alligator in a bath. When Homer tires of his housemate he gives Elsie an ultimatum - Albert or him. Elsie considers in some depth, and decides to take Albert back home to his native home of Florida. Homer gets a sabbatical period from his employer and accompanies them both on a bizarre road trip across America during the Depression era.

On route the trio meet other real characters such as John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway and even appear in a Tarzan film.

Akin the "100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared" by Jonas Jonasson, this is a hazy novel with some real dream sequences. It's a warm, funny, uplifting book that is a love story without romance. Quite bizarre, in fact utterly mad at times, it's a wonderful summer read.

View all my reviews

Monday, 19 June 2017

Today's freebie? A boxed set of 7 David Walliams novels

Thanks to? Not sure, but thanks!


I think I've mentioned before that my first degree specialised in childrens' literature. My love of reading started early and hasn't stopped. My reading choices haven't changed, they have just widened and I don't see why boundaries of reading material need to be dictated by age.
Having children that love books also made it easy to get into new writers and each sprog has introduced me to new authors. They're getting older now though and so I'm the first in the house to have read all 7 of the books in this set.


Not that you need to have read the books to be familiar with the stories of course. Billionaire Boy, The Boy in the Dress, Gangsta Granny and Mr Stink have all been made into film adaptations with Ratburger to follow this Christmas. If you've seen any of those then you'll be familiar with the style - David Walliams' books are very stupid, very British and very, very funny.

Like many famous books, the heroes of these books are mostly outsiders who are shunned by other children for something that is harmless and beyond their control. Each book focuses on a brave child overcoming the odds to beat the baddies and each book overcomes prejudice. The boy in the dress becomes the footballing hero despite enjoying female fashions; billionaire boy eventually has friends because of who he is, not what he's worth; Ben's granny shows that old ladies aren't boring; Chloe is bullied and is the loneliest girl in the world until she meets Mr Stink, who has his own story of prejudice to tell.

Walliams is the heir to the Roald Dahl throne. There is very little to tell between styles and themes (the description above could apply to any of Dahl's books too) and even the illustrations continue the similarity - Quentin Blake and Tony Ross providing the illustrations to these books, you can't get more heavyweight illustrators than that. Dahl's canon was always too short in my mind, so to have someone take that mantle and continue running pleases me.

Where Walliams differs just slightly is his willingness to put true sadness and tragedy into some of the stories, and when I say tragedy I mean true heartbreaking tragedy. While the baddies never win, the hero's victory sometimes comes at a price. There is an astonishing depth to each book and often I need to flick back through to remind myself of the breadth of storyline that has been covered in about 2 hours worth of reading.

Walliams is a man of many talents. Whilst his sketch comedy did start to wear thin with me he soon scotched any negative vibes by raising ridiculous amounts of money for charity by completing astonishing feats, then he becomes a genuinely supportive and amusing judge on BGT and still churns out these books.I hope he churns out many more, and my library and bookshop can continue wondering who I'm getting them for when I'm still reading them in 20 years time.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Saint Etienne at RNCM - I took it all in

Today's freebie? Tickets to see Saint Etienne at the Royal Northern College of Music

Thanks to? Northern Soul


Another first for the Best Things in Life Blog. I've done albums, DVDs, smellies, days out, food, crockery, footballs and all manner of stuff. This is my first gig review, and what a wonderful gig I'm kicking off with.

Saint Etienne are a cameo of my student days. If those days were a film you'd hear 'Who do you think you are?' in the background at a Friday Night Bop in the Students' Union or tracks from the 'Tiger Bay' album thumping from a housemate's bedroom. They never quite made it to the forefront of my taste in those early to mid-nineties days when I headed more towards the rockier, guitar sound of indie pop. I don't mind, it's lovely to be able to find a whole back catalogue of a band in later life and think "I remember this", "this reminds me of so-and-so" or "wow, this is brilliant!"

Saint Etienne formed in 1990 and early tracks had a 'baggy' drum pattern of that time on songs such as 'Nothing can stop us'. Where other bands headed in a guitar direction Saint Etienne stayed with the dancier beats and are essentially a pop group, but a proper and cool pop group that retained the integrity and popularity of the indie scene.

This was my first time seeing Saint Etienne and my first time back at RNCM since my student days too, it's a wonderfully relaxed venue. I'm sure it won't be my last of either. The band treated us to a masterclass of pop music and musicianship that was a joy. They obviously have a group of loyal fans and they give those fans so much respect and love back - this was one of the most intimate gigs I've ever been to and more like a party than a gig.

Let's get one of the main things out of the way and answer the question I have been asked most since I went to see them. Is Sarah Cracknell still, you know...? The answer is yes, she is still stunningly beautiful. And funny, charming, talented, caring, empathic and pretty much perfect.


Having listened to their latest album 'Home Counties' twice during the day I was looking forward to hearing a few songs from this sublime piece of observational pop and I wasn't disappointed. My favourite track from the album ('Whyteleaf,') featured, as did 'Magpie Eyes' 'and, during the encore, the brilliantly worded 'Train drivers in eyeliner' - an anthem in theme that makes you want to shout "Yes!! Yes we do need more train drivers in eyeliner!"

Amongst the pop and observances of modern life we see Saint Etienne's caring side. This is a band that states clearly where their beliefs and allegiances lie from their Tweets during the recent election to the backdrop of "for the many not the few" that appeared throughout the night. This is a group that cares, that invites fans to dance on stage at the end of the gig and that appeals to such a diverse audience - many of Manchester's most fabulous were out on Sunday and it was magical.

Older fans weren't disappointed - 'You're in a bad way', 'Sylvie', 'Like a motorway' and, to close, 'He's on the phone' were received with joy, flamboyant dancing in the aisles and sing alongs. It's clear why Saint Etienne have such a loyal following and have continued unabated throughout their career - these aren't comeback albums and tours, these are a continuation. I'm already looking forward to the next album and tour.


(video taken from this YouTube channel)

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, by someone who hasn't read her other book

Today's freebie reviewed - Into the water by Paula Hawkins

Thanks to? - Penguin


Wonderful to have a hardback book drop on the doormat and at £20 not one I'd have forked out for. As my Goodreads review says, I have never read the "Girl on the Train" - a 20 million selling worldwide bestseller. That makes my review look at the book purely on its own merits, I bet there aren't many of those around.

You can own this copy by scrolling down and entering my competition. It's not a review copy, it's a proper £20 off the shelf copy. Good luck.


Into the WaterInto the Water by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The next sentence is probably the most important in this review.

I have never read "The girl on the train" nor have I seen the film. The next book an author writes after a 20 million bestseller is going to draw lots of comparisons but not this one. The dust jacket biography mentions that this is Hawkins' second stand-alone thriller and it's important to note that this is standalone - as far as I am aware there are no continuities with any characters.

Nel Abbot dies just before the start of the book, drowned at a location known as the Drowning Pool. The pool has claimed several victims over the centuries, all women ("troublesome women" as one character describes them). Nel was obsessed with these women and the water and was researching for a book on them - research that seems to have got too close to uncovering secrets.

Nel's estranged sister, Jules, travels to Northumberland to look after Nel's troubled teenage daughter. It's a return to the scene of her childhood and many uncomfortable memories.

Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the many characters in the vicinity. Most, but not all, are in the first person. Even those chapters written in the third person still divulge inner thoughts and feelings of the character an it's these half remembered, half told thoughts that reveal a very twisted mystery. It's a mystery that goes back several decades and covers each death.

The plot thickens and stirs. Many twists are revealed throughout the book and a whole history of a small area gradually reveals itself. The chapters are short and intense, jumping from character to character and sometimes going over the same scene from several viewpoints - it's a style that is mastered and for me keeps a perfect pace. I was happy to move the plot on as a personality is gradually revealed over the course of the book, some are quite plain until the very end.

A criticism is the number of characters - there are a number to keep up with. Several are similar - quite and loyal wives who take some reading to discern which wife is which. A bit sexist of me? This is a very patriarchal book - the men control the women throughout the plots and not always through explicit aggressive dominance. This harkens back to the earliest vignette of a witch trial and the first girl to drown in the pool, men subjugating women. Despite the number of characters I did find enough depth to keep me in the story, a story that kept me guessing and gasping until the very end.

It's inevitable that there will be calls for this to be made into a film like Hawkins' first book. I don't think it's suited to that. I see this as a series that gradually reveals itself over its course. I hope they keep it in Northumberland too - any sighting of Craster is a good one.

So there you go - a standalone review of a standalone thriller. No comparison to the Girl on the Train at all, I hope that helps.

View all my reviews

Listed On Loquax   Into the Water hardback giveaway- worth £20!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Win a DVD of sex, drugs and cliches!

Today's freebie  - Vinyl, the complete series 1 on DVD

From? Not sure, it just kinda turned up in the post. Thanks!


Scroll down to enter to win this copy. You won't regret it, but be warned it has graphic images of everything your mother warned you about.

I'm pretty sure your job isn't like Richie Fenestra's. If your life is anything like Richie's then you wouldn't be reading this, it really wouldn't be your kinds thing. Unless you were trying to tap into the next big thing in blogs and wandered to sleazy corners of the internet to see what's going on, fuelled by cocaine and booze, having sexy young types throwing themselves at your feet and wasting money on extravagant food. I'll sleep with you if you can make me a star.

Richie is the main man at American Century records, a label that's on its arse and needs to get something big. Episode 1 sees the label lose out on Led Zeppelin having promised their German overlords that it was a done deal. Robert Plant is an early sample of real characters amongst the fiction and the casting is, well, fair. There's a small tendency for anyone British to have a mockney accent regardless of what they actually sound like (Robert Plant would NOT have sounded like that in the early 1970s!) but it's not too bad. Elvis sounds and looks great on stage in a later episode, as does Bowie, but when they talk the magic drops. I'm asking for the world here aren't I?

Richie is supported by a great cast of characters. Ray Romano is wonderful as Zak Yankovich, head of promotions and Max Casella as Julie Silver (A&R guy) provides my favourite moments when he dances to a new sound he likes, a dance I fail to be able recreate. Bobby Canavale tops the lot though as the wonderfully horrible Richie - the greatest anti-hero I've seen in recent years. He thinks he is trying to keep his marriage and fatherhood together but he's making no serious attempt to do so. He craves success and will even mess with the Mob to get it.

Everything is in here - gangsters, drugs, sex, murder, relationships, even a bit of the supernatural and lots of great music. The whole spectrum of the time is covered from rock n roll through blues, heavy rock, disco, mainstream and a good deal from the birth of punk. One of the several storylines running through the series stems from Richie's desire to find a new sound. Having witnessed the excitement of seeing the New York Dolls he finds himself signing The Dirty Bits, a proto-punk band fronted by Kip Stevens (played by James Jagger, son of executive producer Mick) and the series follows them through finding an image, a sound and a decent gig. I ain't gonna spoil it for ya...

I'm writing this a week after finishing watching the series and I'm missing it. There are so many more stories to tell but sadly it wasn't a success and there's no second series. You can, like me, hope that another network picks it up or you'll just have to finish it off in your head.

I'm giving away my copy of the series - try your luck below. UK only, I'm afraid, as I can't afford the postage further away! And check out the playlist of a selection of songs  that appear in the series (below) - everyone a belter.


'Vinyl' series 1 on DVD giveway



Saturday, 6 May 2017

Kung Fu cooking

What did I get for free? A Kung Fu Panda 3 noodle bowl and Chinese cookery book

酷!Who from? Lee Kum Kee


 
Ah, noodle soup! Most blessed of dishes! Lee Kum Kee have eased my ability to make nourishing, fresh food by sending a colourful bowl and a booklet of simple dishes to make.This bowl is incredible - it holds cereals, soup, stew and other stuff too. Most versatile of dishes!


Both products have been vigorously tested by making the Valley of Peace soup as directed by the booklet. Well, as nearly as I could. My local supermarket doesn't stock Lee Kum Kee products so I had to go for alternative brands. I swapped the beef mince for turkey mince as one of my warriors doesn't eat red meat and expertly flung in a handful of bean sprouts cos Tesco were flogging them off for 8p, other than that I was most faithful to my master's words.

Came out alright, really but needed more taste. Probably my fault for swapping the beef for turkey - it needed the stronger body of a cow. I made it up by adding more soy sauce and pepper post-serving. Dead easy to make though and had an authentic Chinese texture what with the cornflower and egg white.

Pleased to report that the bowl was structurally sound and all the soup stayed in it. It is a jolly bowl.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The War against the Assholes - which side am I on?

Today's freebie - The War Against the Assholes by Sam Munson

With thanks to? Goodreads.com


Another review of mine is posted at Goodreads and I feel bad that it's another negative one. Still, feedback is why publishers give these proofs away and honesty is the best policy, even if that makes me an asshole.

Here is my Goodreads review:

The War Against the AssholesThe War Against the Assholes by Sam Munson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received this proof copy thanks to Goodreads.

The blurb on this book states that it is a YA novel with real crossover to an adult readership. I am mostly an adult but did study childrens' literature at University and have a teenage daughter who is an avid reader (and separate Goodreads contributor) and who passes many books my way. This should give me enough to enjoy a good YA novel and to appreciate it for what it is.

This isn't one of those novels. It is far too complex for readership of any age. The writing style is a stream of consciousness that flits from scene to scene with no coherent underlying idea.

Mike Wood is a teenager at a dull school in New York. It's only when he is introduced to a mysterious old book - The Calendar of Sleights - that he is introduce to an underground world of magic, wizardry and war. Mike's magic powers are unlocked and he becomes a soldier in an age long war...a war fought beneath New York City between classes of magical beings. Mike is quite possibly the person who can bring an end to this war.

And yet I found it hard to really care. No explanation is given as to when the war started, why the factions are fighting and what is at stake. What happens if Mike fails? We don't know.

The book obviously has hidden depths and meanings but nobody really wants to work this hard to find them and teens certainly shouldn't have to. The book is trying too hard to be teen rather than appeal to teens. It borders on pretentious and to me it read like a teen going out of their way to be weird for its own sake. The staccato sentence style didn't lose its irritation and wasn't the unique selling point it was probably meant to be. The book fought against me. But then maybe that was by design. As I'm an asshole.





View all my reviews

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A Hero in France by Alan Furst

Today's freebie - A Hero in France by Alan Furst

Thanks to - Goodreads.com


The review below is taken from the Goodreads site.

A Hero of France by Alan Furst
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a Goodreads win. A minor point - the edition I received is titled "A hero in France", not "...of France".

Set in 1941 at the height of Nazi gains in Europe and when Britain is on the back foot, this spy novel takes place in the back streets of Paris and elsewhere in Europe. Dark and murky, the characters dive and sneak their way around avoiding Nazis and collaborators. This is a story of the Resistance.

Their aim is to rescue British airman and get them out of France and into Spain. A wide network of operatives, message carriers and shopkeepers whose front belies what is at the back all collude to outwit the German command. The network is successful, so Berlin ups its game to break up the network...

The novel is superbly detailed and captures the atmosphere and challenges of wartime France, and this is the high point of the novel. Sadly, the plot lacks a coherent narrative. The various missions are simple vignettes of stories and there is no obvious spine or thread to the story. This is the first Furst (!) novel I have read but from the blurb and background reading I don't believe it is one in a series - I checked as there are so many gaps. I want and need to know more about the characters - how they are in this position, what drives them to do this, how did these relationships form?

The novel is relatively short - fewer than 240 pages in hardback - and needs much more. There are far too many characters introduced with not enough time spent on each so we don't get to form an empathic relationship. This feels like a novel cut short or rushed - the number of characters, the amount of short missions, suggest a longer book or a series of books was either planned or is warranted.

View all my reviews