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?

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 -

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

Monday, 17 April 2017

Haig Club single grain whisky

Today's freebie - a sample bottle of Haig Club single grain Scotch whisky

From - Haig Club

My exceedingly fascinating article on whisky was over a year ago. This is my first foray into a single grain, or at least the first time I've knowingly considered it. Single grains are, like single malts, made by a single distillery. The difference between grain and malt is that malt is always made with barley whereas grain can be be with any grain - corn or rye for example.

Other expert sites, who know more about this sort of thing than me, claim that single grains get an unfair press and can be as complex as single malts. The glass half empty would say that's poor man's single malt, the half fulls that it is a class above a blended.

Drinking this I fully agree that it's somewhere between a blend a single malt, and on a par with a cheaper single malt. A lovely pale colour and not harsh on the tongue, it's a fine drink. It's an award winning whisky that's produced in partnership with David Beckham and others. That name not only adds it a bit of gravitas, it also adds style - it comes in a stunning blue bottle that is a work of art in itself.

It also adds it a bit of price too. £45 for a bottle of whisky is not unusual for a good single malt and probably fine for a good single grain too, but to my palate I'd rather pay less for a single malt. Make no bones about it, it's a fine drink. For £45 though, you'll find better single malts.

Anyway, in drinking tradition, here's a playlist of every song in my iTunes that has whisky in the title.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

OV Guide - the doner kebab version of Netflix

Today's freebie? OV Guide - a website and app that lets you watch films and TV shows for free

Most of my reviews are things I've been sent for review, won in comps or received as samples. Sometimes, though, it's worth highlighting other good things in life that are free.

OV Guide is a website (and also a handy app) that aggregates free to play films and TV shows in your region. The definition of free is loose - a 30 day trial of Amazon Prime is free, so technically there are some good films out there to see. I can't be doing with that though, I want proper free. The site lets you choose these films so you filter out the links to pay to play streaming services.

According to the results, there are over 7000 full, free, films here. 7000! Of course, they'll be the ones that Netflix don't want, but there is some fun to be found in searching. It's why I think of a doner kebab - sometimes you don't want quality fine dining. Sometimes you want dirty, satisfying, messy fodder. This is where you'll find it.

My first foray was "Stag night of the dead", a low budget British zomcom that was neither funny nor scary. So bad it was entertainingly watchable. Horror does seem to be the dominant genre on OV.

I cleared my palate with a few old TV shows - this is the salad in your kebab, something healthy so you don't feel as guilty enjoying the junk. An episode of "The Jack Benny Show" had me laughing out loud, I love Jack Benny. I followed this with a 1937 episode of Zorro - proper Saturday morning fayre. A few dead links exist - it was suggested that Porridge was available and clicking to me to the BBC website where it wasn't available. I guess it depends on what's on the various players at the time.

I finished with "The Fat Slags", an ensemble piece in the finest British tradition. A cast of many stars to deliver a bilge fest that can hold its own with any British tie-in from the seventies onwards. Again, I enjoy the mulch sometimes. And it's got Don Warrington in it.

The adverts don't seem to work, so every 90 minutes you get a seconds blip and back to the show - an uninterrupted viewing bonus. The only time the ads did work it crashed the film and I had to relaunch and then scroll through to the point I was at, but this was once in about 3 hours of viewing. The streaming was slick, the sound perhaps below par. But come one - it's free. Thousands and thousands of new shows for free. They just need a smart TV app now...

Friday, 14 April 2017

Sleepy Moby music

Today's freebie reviewed - "Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep." LP by Moby

Who to thank? Moby himself - it's freely available.

I'm not alone in having trouble sleeping. I actually find it quite easy to fall asleep but wake up after a few hours and struggle to get back off. My mind races with thoughts and stresses so I rely on distracting them. Comedy podcasts is my distraction of choice, but calming music will do.

Moby, bless him, writes his own calming music. this is his own private soundtrack to sleep, meditation, yoga and calming down from panic attacks. Being a lovely chap he shares this for free with the world, and wouldn't it be nicer if everyone were a bit more relaxed?

"Think electronic whale song and you're there - which is apt given Moby's name and ancestry."

It's a big one too. 4 hours of solid music over 11 tracks. The shortest track is 17 minutes long and the longest a whopping 35 minutes. No singing, no percussions of any type, just chords. Think electronic whale song and you're there - which is apt given Moby's name and ancestry.

There's not a vast difference between each track, that's not the point. This was written for a purpose, and it's not recommended to be listened to in the car.

 LA1 opens, obviously, and is where the whale song feeling came in. Just looooong chords, one after the other.

LA2 is like the soundtrack to one of those arty Vimeo vids of the changing seasons filmed from a drone and resembling the flight of a hawk

LA3 - waves on a beach, back and forth. Back and forth....

LA4 is space. Vast, empty space.

LA5 is someone sleeping on a church organ. Slow changing chords for 35 minutes.

LA6 had me underwater, exploring caves.

LA7 had me back at LA2, or one of those new age shops in the late eighties.

LA8 is haunting, much more mysterious, the backing track to a video game where you creep around a house or space station waiting for things to jump out at you.

LAs 9, 10 and 11 had nothing new. But you really should be asleep by now.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Leroy Sane shirt - a happy son!

Today's freebie - A Manchester City shirt signed by Leroy Sane

Thanks to? JD Football

Not much to review on this one. It's too small for me to wear and even if I did it wouldn't make much difference to my skills base. I've got one happy son though! We're going to get it framed and on his wall.

Frank Skinner once said that working out which football team you support is easy. You put a pin in a map where you live and then work out which club is nearest. I don't think Frank was considering non-league clubs, which is a shame, but I get the point. It does make City a Frank-approved choice for my lad.

The lesson here is how easy it is to enter comps. This was a simple retweet on Twitter. A second's worth of thumb work and who knows....?

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Warrior's Tail - is it actually finished?

Today's freebie reviewed - A Warrior's Tail on DVD

With thanks to -

Savva is a ten year-old boy who lives in a  village that was once protected by white wolves. The wolves then disappeared and the village is now plagued by evil hyenas. When his mother is captured into slavery by the hyenas Savva escapes, and sets off on a quest to find why the village is no longer protected so that his mother can be freed.

Some say a magician turned the wolves into bad creatures and that one day a hero will come save the village from the hyenas, which are beautifully coloured, like a monkey's bum. Where the tail of the title comes in, I've no idea. It's the first of many confusions from this mad film.

This is a Russian animation from the writer of Lion King 2. An all-star cast (Milla Jovovich, Sharon Stone, Whoopi Goldberg) provide the voices for the dubbed English version.

Even for an animated film, this is unbelievable. Everything is just so convenient - there is little to thrill, it all just happens. Even the animation is not that hot for 2015 - this film has a lot of competition but the effort isn't there. The characters are stilted and there really is zero humour - I think the makers are trying but they are falling way short.

"... the madness and weirdness of Anime without the plot and the variety of characters of Disney without the charm."

Where I really started to lose it was the constant introduction of new characters. They appear from nowhere and with no prior mention and by the end it needs a clear few lines of dialogue to establish exactly who is on whose side. The plot is incoherent and thrown together - like a series edited to 100 minutes or so. The film has the madness and weirdness of Anime without the plot and the variety of characters of Disney without the charm. And why bother putting so few songs in? None would have been a better choice.

After watching this and starting to write this post up I looked at a few reviews and ratings to see if it was just me that didn't get it. It isn't - this is a bad film. Toward the end a "hut on fowl's legs" appears with no explanation why. Being right sophisticated and that I thought about the piece by Mussorgsky with the same name. I don't know if this is a coincidence or if cottages with legs like a chickens are common in Russia.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Man cannot live on bread alone

Today's little victory? Twelve bottles of craft beer and some meaty snacks

Who's to be thanked for that? Grant at Looking for the Postman blog and Oliver at Craft Metropolis


Craft Metropolis source craft ales from that there London so you don't have to, which is handy for someone who lives in Derbyshire. There are a huge amount to choose from, or you can let CM choose for you. I'm a big IPA fan so went solo and picked the prettiest labels and most amusing names mostly from that section. A more discerning drinker would read the tasting notes but I like an element of surprise. Setting up an account gets you the same order on a regular basis (every 1, 2 or 3 months) at £36 for a dozen bottles (P&P is free). The quality of service is impeccable - quick responses to queries from Oli and a very well packaged box arrived a few days later (see the Instagram photos). I even got a text to say that delivery would be between 1438 and 1538 on the day, which was accurate.
Most of the bottles are bottle-conditioned so there's sediment around, yet this wasn't affected that much during transit. Any cloudiness in the photos is probably due to my extravagant pouring style or greed in trying to get every last clear drop from the bottle. I've got to say, of the 12 beers selected only 2 really disappointed.

Gorgon's Alive (4.3%)

This impudent chap exploded when opened. Bottle conditioned it was the fizziest of the lot, Mrs Blog liked this - I'm a British chap and prefer my ales much flatter. It's light and slightly bitter - think Chris Packham.

Riding Ale (3% Pale Ale)
Howling Hops

Full of body in several ways (taste and hue) the taste of this chap belies it's weakness. A true session beer with a lemony taste. Charles Hawtrey.

Peel Sessions (4.3% Blonde Ale)
High Fidelity
 A warmer, caramel taste made this a favourite. A pleasant flowery taste made me want to spend more time in it's company. Slightly cloudy, but they might be my clumsy introduction. Noel Fielding.

Sandycombe (4.4% Golden Ale)
Kew Brewery

Mildly hoppy, the first sip is of rosy creaminess but a lingering bitterness lurks beneath. There's a dustiness here, a slightly spicy taste that doesn't quite burst through. Ben Kingsley.

Quartermaine (6.2% IPA)
Wimbledon Brewery

A mild taste for a strong beer, in fact surprisingly little taste for a beer of this stature. What is there is pleasant though. Big Pat Roach, the gentle giant.

Besko (6.5% IPA)
Pressure Drop Brewing
Classy little bugger, this. Deep and wholesome. On first taste this is your standard IPA but as the experience wears on you realise this is a cut above. Quite obviously Fiona Bruce.

Hepcat (4.6% IPA)
Gipsy Hill

Oh dear. Cited on the label as 'jazzy', it's a bit more quickly thrown together muzak. The label also says it goes well with roast lamb and a rimmed hat, I regret I drank without the hat. And the rim.
This is the most disappointing bottle of the lot. It's not foul, just unsavoury - a footpath through a field that runs a little too close to an abattoir. Jamiroquai.

Mariana Trench (5.3% Pale Ale)
Weird Beard
Oh, oh! Raspberries! I'm finally getting a taste I recognise and I've come over all Jilly Goulden. Am I right, does it say raspberries on the label? [checks] 'Mango and passion fruit'. It's fruit - I win!
The label also says to drink it with South East Asian food, but I only had Sou-Sou West so went hungry. An interesting brew this, fun and fruity - Jimmy Carr. And it's raspberries, the label must be wrong.

Brockwell IPA (5.6% IPA)
Canopy Beer Co.
Like the elephant on the label, rampant in trousers and tails, this is entirely run of the mill. Citra hops always sounds more exciting than they are, they're really not citrussy and all the beers I've knowingly had made with these hops have been fine but average. An unobtrusive tipple, try with a sunday roast. Matt Baker.

OA (6.5% IPA)
Partizan Brewing
I say 'IPA', the label calls it 'Centenniel Mosaic Pacific Jade IPA'. Pretentious hipsterism. This is a confused beer. It tastes like a half decent beer left under the bed for a week. It's dusty and soon forgotten, which is a shame. Les Dennis with a very late aftertaste, it's gone again.

West Coast Special (6.9% IPA)
Howling Hops
Oh, that's lovely. Dark, rich and proper hoppy - the Beach Boys wouldn't have coped with this. Unless by 'West Coast' they mean Aberystwyth - those lads would do it justice. Dafydd Jones.
This beer was the one supped alongside the meaty snacks spoken of later, well suggested.

Five O' Clock Shadow (7% American IPA)
Weird Beard
A brute of a beer: rich and bitter but in a good way, not pathetic like Farage. Don't turn your back on this swine. It's lovely but could turn nasty. Hairy, outwardly dastardly but actually quite lovely. Giant Haystacks.




Cleaver & Keg meaty snacks

When a craft ale enthusiast joins with a high quality charcuterist to create pub snacks the end product should be screamingly good. These snacks are 3 ruddy farmers bursting into a pub, eager to slake their thirst and thrusting meaty goodness down everyone's neck. Being a Black Country lad at heart, would they compete with a decent scratching? Yes. Yes, they would. At £2.26 a pack you'd need to make them last, but with tasting notes to match yer snack to yer ale, these are a special treat because you're worth it. See the packets ripped open and displaying their meaty insides on my Instagram post)

Hot strips of beef
Oh yeah. Very hot and peppery. Cured with chilli jam for an extra kick, these are muscular and would have a moustache. Stunning.

Chorizo cuts
Dark and lean, salty and spicy. A decent chorizo, that's all.

Salami cuts
The fennel really stands out in these beauties. These are squat and funny, aniseedy pals have your back when you're supping.

617 Squadron - the Dambusters at war by Tom Bennett (book review)

  This review is from my Goodreads page 617 Squadron: The Dambusters at War by Tom Bennett My rating: 3 of 5 stars This was given freely ...