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

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.

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Review: The Real McCaw: The Autobiography Of Richie McCaw

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!

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Review: The Holy Kingdom

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.

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Review: The New Spaniards

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.

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Review: Siberian Education: Growing Up in a Criminal Underworld

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.

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