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Review: Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya. Nicolai Lilin

Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya. Nicolai Lilin by Nicolai Lilin My rating: 4 of 5 stars I really enjoyed Nicolai Lilin’s first book and was keen to get stuck into this follow-up. It is really quite a different story and focusses on his career as a Russian soldier in the Chechnya war. The same vivid, friendly writing style is eminent and the reader becomes attached to the colourful characters Lilin describes. The first-hand horrors of war are very striking and there are some really gruesome scenes. The story flows from battle to battle whether it be mountain warfare or more typical urban warfare. Lilin’s military comrades seem as tight a crew as the criminal gang from his youth and their dark adventures are really exciting and quite gruesome and dark. He has a clever way of seeing light in even the darkest of scenarios, an existential view on his predicament. The writing is paced quickly and the descriptive detail gives a clear image of the author’s wartime adventures. It’s a great read and I truly hope that Nicolai Lilin goes on to write further stories of his interesting life. View all my reviews

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Match Report: Everton vs Liverpool (23.11.13) D 3-3

Everton started the game strongly, putting Liverpool immediately on the back foot. It was Philippe Coutinho, however, who delivered the early blow, latching onto a deep Steven Gerrard cross from the corner and delivering a well struck shot at the back post. 1-0 to the visitors after five minutes. Everton were straight back up, putting pressure on though and got their just desserts after eight minutes when Kevin Mirallas got behind the defence on a long, floating cross and banged the ball into the back of the net. Everton continued their early dominance and it was against the run of play after 18 minutes when Luis Suarez won a positioned free-kick 25 yards out. Our star Uruguayan took the kick himself and with a perfectly executed strike, curved the ball around the wall and straight past the Everton goalkeeper into the bottom corner. It was a magic free kick though Tim Howard could be criticised for not having placed the wall correctly. Everton continued to seem to be the team with the most possession and best passing after the second Liverpool goal. We seemed to be struggling to link up and make our game flow. At 31 minutes Ross Barkley, who’d been having a good game, was booked for simulation, faking a dive from a Luca Leiva challenge. A nasty foul on Luis Suarez a few minutes later from Kevin Mirallas left the referee with a bit of a conundrum. The challenge was high, with studs showing and was a potential career-ending tackle. Suarez, who had already been limping, stayed down and the ref really took his time, considering about whether to send Mirallas off or not. He eventually decided on leniency and just showed a yellow card. The game could have turned on this moment. The foul seemed to gee Liverpool up a bit and afterwards they started to have more impact and flow in their game. We can expect heavy tackles, after all it is a Merseyside derby. Half-time came soon and Liverpool go in at the break, happy to be ahead, after not their best performance. Everton seemed to be playing well, though their attacks early in the second half were thwarted by a well-disciplined Liverpool defence, which always seemed to be holding a good position.  Mirallas put through the new Evertonian substitution Gerard Deulofeu, straight on goal. In a one on one confrontation Simon Mignolet did well…

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Match Preview: Everton vs Liverpool (23.11.13)

        Well, thankfully, the last international break of the year is now over. It’s back to business in the premier league and Liverpool have their work cut out with a tricky away derby fixture at Goodison Park. We haven’t done particularly well so far this season immediately after an international break. The gap in our playing schedule has affected our performance. Liverpool looked good last time out and seemed to have regained their form after the slump against Arsenal. Everton are really likely to make a good test of that resurgent form and perhaps present our second most difficult game of the season so far. Since David Moyes’ departure in the summer, Roberto Martinez has stepped in and improved the team. A win against us today would put them level on points after twelve games. Our best season in years is matched by our derby rivals, who let’s not forget, finished above us last season. Derbies are critical games and local bragging rights are very important, especially if no trophies are on the mantlepiece at the end of the season. Roberto Martinez, who was said to be in consideration for the Liverpool job before Brendan Rodgers’ appointment, will savour his first derby match and will be keen for victory. Everton have only lost one game all season, fewer than Liverpool. They will be difficult to beat, especially at home. Their recent form, however, does suggest a bit of a slip, with two goalless draws against Spurs and Crystal Palace. There are no main injury concerns for the Blues. Tony Hibbert and Antolin Alcaraz both are available once again for selection after long-term absences. Liverpool have Jose Enrique missing, out for some time due to a scheduled operation on his troubled knee. Either Aly Cissokho or John Flanagan look set to replace Enrique. Kolo Toure is back available for selection and hopefully Daniel Sturridge will be fit, despite still enduring a dead leg. Our other star striker, Luis Suarez made headlines this week after Reds’ owner John Henry lent him use of his private jet to return home early from his international duties with Uruguay. This game is traditionally the dirtiest game in the league with 26 red cards having been shown. Will it be a tough tackling game or will the flowing style of football favoured by both coaches rule the day? It is a crucial derby where…

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Review: The Real McCaw: The Autobiography Of Richie McCaw

The Real McCaw: The Autobiography Of Richie McCaw by Richie McCaw My rating: 5 of 5 stars Richie McCaw is the best rugby player of all-time. He is the most capped All-Black, and has had such an influence on the game of rugby during his playing career that this claim contains much truth. This autobiography surprised me when it peered out of the shelf at a Welsh bookstore in Abergavenny as part of the closing down sale. As a New Zealand citizen, All Black supporter and former wing forward, it was essential reading for me. I think that autobiographies of any top sportsmen are worth reading and Richie McCaw’s story is similar to other sporting greats in how he has dedicated himself to his passion. He seems such a well-balanced individual, a good all-rounder, with a nice temperament and a very rooted, down-to-earth personality. I loved the way that the rugby stories of such high achievement are interspersed with the glider tales. From tours he immediately hits the Southern Alps to relax in his glider. It just sums up how a man at the top of his game is driven. To see the sport of rugby from Richie’s eyes is a great honour and from his youth days to his super 12 club days to the test matches for the All Blacks, culminating in the winning RWC final in 2011, the description of the matches are truly intriguing. Everything is broken down to basics, beginning in preparation. His view on the game seems so simple yet at the same time is so rich in detail and complexity. I found this book truly exhilarating and it was a real page-turner. My only disappointment is that it could have been a lot longer and more detailed. I am also a bit sad that I cannot keep reading as I’m sure the next four years in the build up to World Cup 2015 will be a true journey also and where Richie should gain his second captain’s Cup Winning medal. I class this book alongside the autobiographies of other sporting heroes of mine such as Steven Gerrard, Ian Rush, Jonathan Davies and Joe Calzaghe. It is truly inspirational and any rugby aficionado will enjoy turning the pages in it as fast as I did! View all my reviews

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Review: The Holy Kingdom

The Holy Kingdom by Adrian G. Gilbert My rating: 4 of 5 stars As an inhabitant of South Wales with a fascination of local history, I found this book truly enlightening. I was aware of the links King Arthur had with local places such as Caerleon and I found that this book built well on the histories I had already heard. To learn about the suppression of British history at various times and how our Roman-centric history is currently favoured was truly a shock. It was nice to see how Gilbert linked up with two serious scholars of early British history and the story that was presented is quite believable and realistic, if at times it sometimes could be found guilty of over-reaching conclusions, perhaps being over-dramatic. I’ve read other books bY Adrian Gilbert and enjoy his style and he always covers interesting topics. The whole story of Arthur is fascinating and has intrigued me to study the legends more. I think the conclusions were a little weak, and find the Joseph of Arimethea links with Britain a little too speculative. It’s a great book and is one that I will be sharing with other friends interested in Welsh history. View all my reviews

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Review: The New Spaniards

The New Spaniards by John Hooper My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a well-written detailed study of Spain and the Spanish and in particular covers the period of change from Franco’s dictatorship into the modern Spanish democracy. The idiosyncrasies of Spain are examined in contrast with the rest of the EU and world. What makes Spain and its people tick? The history and culture are examined and I in particular enjoyed the accounts of the Basque region’s history. There is a lot of political detail, perhaps a bit too much, but it is all explained and leads well on for the author to make good valid points in summarising Spain’s current state. It’s rapid growth and development are apparent and its recent history combines with the desarrollo period to make Spain unique among its contemporaries. The attitudes of the Spanish to themselves and indeed foreigners can be quite eyeopening. I found the cultural chapters to be exceptional and in particular enjoyed the penultimate section which covered Flamenco and bull-fighting. The book is well-written and a student of castellano I found it to be very informative, relevant and enlightening. Anyone who has even the vaguest of interest in Spain should add this to their reading shelves. View all my reviews

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Match Report: Liverpool vs Fulham (09.11.13) W 4-0

Liverpool kicked off the match reverting to their more typical 4-4-2 formation. Daniel Agger had a recall in the centre of defence, pairing up with Martin Skrtel. Aly Cissokho retained his place as left-back and Glen Johnson returned on the right. Philippe Coutinho was our additional midfielder, making a welcome return. Right from the outset, Liverpool demonstrated their intentions by setting up camp in the Fulham half. Defensively Fulham looked very weak. They weren’t pressing the ball at all and had a very shaky formation. they just seemed interested in getting men behind the ball and banks of defenders built up to wait for Liverpool mistakes and to hack the ball away. It seemed as though Coutinho would be more advanced and it was more like a 4-3-3 formation from Liverpool. The side were certainly very positive and were passing the ball around really well, with Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard in particular, dovetailing nicely and creating lots of good attacking opportunities. Luis Suarez came closest to breaking the early deadlock, moving nicely into the box, but being denied by Fulham keeper, Maarten Stekelenburg. In the twenty-third minute, Steven Gerrard lifted another of his perfectly executed free-kicks into the box. It connected with Luis Suarez’s head and was knocked into the back of the net by Fulham player, Fernando Amorebieta. Liverpool deservedly had the lead. Three minutes later and that lead was doubled when Martin Skrtel rose to head home a Steven Gerrard corner. liverpool were rampant with over two thirds of possession and the vast majority of the territory. There were lots of skills flowing, with Philippe Coutinho regularly outclassing the lacklustre Fulham defenders. In the thirty-sixth minute an awesome crossfield pass from Gerrard was slotted through to Luis Suarez by Jordan Henderson. It was a perfectly executed pass and Luis Suarez, in a rich goal-scoring vein, had little hesitation when slotting it past the Fulham keeper. Martin Jol and the Fulham bench looked on desolate and the Fulham players looked relieved at the half-time whistle. Liverpool had enjoyed 70% possession and a return from this result looked out of the question. As soon as the whistle blew Liverpool were straight on the attack. Daniel Sturridge had his turn in front of the keeper and was unlucky not to score and Suarez latched onto the rebound to no avail. Sturridge has looked a bit shaky in front of goal the past…

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Match Preview: Liverpool vs Fulham (09.11.13)

            Liverpool were humbled last week on their trip to the Emirates and have dropped to third place in the league, with Arsenal opening up a five point gap at the top. Today’s fixture offers Liverpool a good opportunity to recover. A home game against Fulham who are just two points away from the drop zone in sixteenth place. Brendan Rodgers has set a target of gaining two points per game in order to gain Champions League qualification and by beating Fulham today their average will rise above this two points benchmark. Glen Johnson, who was ill for last week’s game, will be back available for selection at right-back. Also, Jose Enrique is back in training and should be fighting it out with Aly Cissokho for the left-back position. Philippe Coutinho is fully recovered from his shoulder injury and should be in contention for a starting place. Fulham welcome back captain Brede Hangeland from injury though a few players will be missing; Sascha Riether is serving a three match FA suspension for a stamp against Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj; Hugo Rodellega and Matthew Briggs both have injuries. Fulham have conceded 15 goals in ten games and lost the past three on the bounce. Manager Martin Jol is under intense pressure and is odds-on to be the next Premiership manager to be sacked. However’ Fulham have proved a tricky side for Liverpool in the past few seasons and in three of the past five fixtures between them at Anfield they have kept a clean sheet. It’s the last game ahead of yet another international break so hopefully we should achieve the three points on offer as easily as might be suggested. The SAS are the top-scoring strike premiership and Fulham’s weak defensive record means that we could be witnessing a goal fest at Anfield this afternoon. The match kicks off at 3pm and isn’t televised in the UK, but will be shown on Setanta Ireland and you can usually find a good internet live stream at http://wiziwig.tv

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Review: Siberian Education: Growing Up in a Criminal Underworld

Siberian Education: Growing Up in a Criminal Underworld by Nicolai Lilin My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is an exciting tale of a youth living in the Transnistrian underworld. His society, a Siberian criminal society has its own strict laws. The tales of violence and crime are quite horrifying but there is a sense of justice in this honest criminal’s life. The rules seems to provide a cohesive society and it is interesting to see how the people of Bender survive, resisting the government and mainstream authorities. I particularly enjoyed the tale of the police raid at his grandfather’s house where the laws of not addressing the police directly were explained. The most horrific part of the book described his experiences in a youth detention centre where other boys were subjected to horrifying rape ordeals. The story runs swiftly and is narrated well. At the end as he strives to move away from the criminal underworld the way is paved for a new career in the army. I look forward to reading the follow-up book about Nicolai Lilin’s life as a sniper in the Chechen war. View all my reviews

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Match Report: Arsenal vs Liverpool (02.11.13) L 2-0

It was immediately clear from the start that we were facing high quality opposition. Whereas there are other premiership sides that pass the ball and retain possession well, Arsenal are masters. Their passing is not just quick and clean, it’s incisive. They play very creatively and recovering possession is difficult. We have to make our attacks count as they will be fewer and far between. A surprise to me was the starting of Jon Flanagan at right back. Him and Cissokho out on the wings will most probably both face a tough game. The early possession was divided up roughly 60/40 in Arsenal’s favour. It was back and for and Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson broke through into the box well yet was unable to finish off properly. Liverpool had a few early free kicks in the opposition half but nothing productive seemed to be resulting. In the 19th minute Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla hit a flying shot which luckily rebounded off the post. Not so luckily the rebound fell right back to his feet and he comfortably slotted the goal into the net past a fallen Simon Mignolet. Arsenal were sharp and now had managed to maintain their record of scoring in every premiership game so far. It was 1-0 and our challenge had become a lot harder. Bacary Sagna entered the book for a challenge on Luis Suarez, who had started to motor up against the Arsenal defence. Steven Gerrard lifted a lovely free-kick into the box and the keeper made a cracking stop to a Liverpool header but it would have all been in vain anyway as it was given offside. At the other end of the pitch Aaron Ramsey forced a good save from Mignolet. Sagna managed to outwit Aly Cissokho and he received the second booking of the game. Arsenal, when attacking, were really making us look uneasy. If Liverpool want to get anything from the game we need to focus on maintaining possession and allowing our attack to devastate. The first half finished and Arsenal were clearly on top with a goal, more shots on targets and 60% possession. Brendan Rodgers decided to act at half-time and our Brazilian dynamo, Philippe Coutinho, was brought on, with Aly Cissokho being replaced. A very positive manoeuvre and hopefully the impetus we need to get back into the game. Early second half and Liverpool began well, putting Arsenal under pressure….

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Match Preview: Arsenal vs Liverpool (02.11.13)

            Well, this is the big clash. Ever since the fixtures list was published I’d been eyeing up today’s date as one to watch. Arsenal are a very testing side, one of the most consistently best sides in the Premiership and an away fixture against them is always a challenge. I think our current form and good league position has been helped by a kind fixture schedule so far. Today’s clash will be a big challenge, probably the first time all season we have faced a team residing ahead of us in the league. For all our good cheer, Arsenal have been grinding away and have been top for the past month, with few really acknowledging their almost flawless campaign. For all the criticism of their summer transfer market policy and action, Arsene Wenger’s side are actually having their best run in years. A stable side can often outwit a team full of changes and Arsenal are no slouches. Since the departure of Ferguson, Wenger takes over as the most experienced league manager. He is as cunning as a fox and tactically few can match his astuteness. Brendan Rodgers will face a true battle today and should we overcome Arsenal, then maybe talk of us winning the league can be actually taken seriously. The timing of the fixture is actually quite good for Liverpool. Arsenal were defeated at the hands of Chelsea midweek in the Carling Cup, and at the Emirates. OK, it was a second string side, but a defeat is a defeat and it will have hurt morale. Liverpool have skipped through their dip in form and last week against West Brom was, perhaps, our best performance all season, with the resurgent Luis Suarez really standing out. Of course, the transfer market controversy will be on the tip of everyone’ tongue and Luis today will be under the spotlight. Hopefully he will prove his true value to us today and be keen to demonstrate to his suitors that they really did miss out on a legend. The Gunners did make one key signing and German attacker Mesut Osil has been proving himself to be deadly, although perhaps with fewer headlines than our notorious SAS. Both sides will be welcoming back key players. Mikel Arteta, the former Evertonian will be back to boss their midfield after a suspension, and we all know how anyone…

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