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The Virgin's Lover is another of the offer from Philippa Gregory set in a intricately detailed and highly researched Tudor setting. This story is a fictionalization of the infamous love affair that is rumored to have taken place between Queen Elizabeth and one of her courtiers Robert Dudley.
I've become quite a fan of Philippa Gregory over the past few months. Her writing style does take a little getting used to as she does not write in chapters but rather in small diary like entries set out into seasons or years. This is a bit confusing to begin with, particularly if you like reading a chapter before bed but it doesn't take long to get used to.
This particular book takes place immediately after "The Queens Fool" and if you haven't read that book already I would suggest that you do so, although you should still find it easy to follow this book regardless. I have to admit that this is not one of Philippa's best books in my opinion. Instead of concentrating on one character as she generally does she chose to tell the story from the viewpoint of 4 characters, Queen Elizabeth, Robert Dudley, Amy Dudley (Roberts wife) and William Cecil the queens friend and trusted advisor. The result of this is that the story feels fragmented and diluted. I don't feel that I ever really had the chance to feel a great connection to any of the characters and because of this their troubles and heartache are just part of the story and not something that moved me at all. In addition to this most of the characters had very little to recommend themselves, they were all selfish and fickle and the only character that didn't fit this model came across as rather pathetic. All of this is big shame as had this tale been told from the point of view of only Robert Dudley I think it would have had a far greater sense of energy and the struggle and loss would have been far more moving.
Having said all of the above this is a good story and a compelling read that kept me going until long after I should have gone to sleep. Philippa has once again done a very good job of bringing the Tudor period and historical facts to life in a believable way and I would recommend this book just not as highly as some of Philippa's other books such as "The Other Boleyn Girl" or "The Queens Fool".
The iPod is the most well known media player on the market and when you get your hands on the nano you can easily see why.
While this iPod had now been superseded it is still far from old hat. The look of it is still stylish with the iconic touch wheel and relatively large colour screen on the front. The curved edges allow it to sit pleasantly in your hand and the width is less than 1cm. This model comes in a range of colours from silver through to green (mine is purple!) and it feels sturdy enough, although you're probably going to want to cover up that lovely paint job with a case straight away in order to prevent your iPod getting scratched up.
If you've never had an iPod before (like me) it may take you a little while to figure out where everything is. For example it took me nearly two months to figure out how to turn shuffle on while listening to a play list! I've also had friends buy these for the first time and take several days to learn how to turn the thing off! So you may want to have a look at the online user guide which is reasonably user friendly.
Once you get the hang of the iPod it really is quite nifty, the menus are easy to understand and you can quickly shift from one playlist to the next, shuffle all of your music or choose by music type or artist. One of the other really nifty features is the cover flow. If you turn your iPod on its side you can scroll through the covers of all of your CD's and choose one to play, very good for us visual people. 8GB also gives you plenty of room. My iPod had 30mins of video, 50 photos and 1100 songs on it so unless you are music mad it should keep you well entertained. I do have to say that the earphones supplied with the iPod are shocking, not only do they not provide the best sound but they are also quite uncomfortable. I struggled to keep them in longer than an hour without feeling extremely uncomfortable.
In addition to the normal music modes the iPod nano also has a fair few extras although most of them are pretty standard on phones these days so it's unlikely you will ever use them. After all who get's their MP3 Player out to use as a stop watch. However there are a few extra's that are worth a look. The games section is pre-loaded with three games Klindike (Solitare), Maze (Mercury), and Vortex (Break Out) all three make good use of the bright colour screen and touch wheel, Maze even uses the motion sensor so if like me you spend a lot of time waiting for people who are always late these games may come in handy. You can also download new games (for a fee)
Other useful extras are the photo gallery which is handy if you're phone doesn't have a lot of memory to story pictures on, however as this iPod does not have a camera you will have to upload them from your computer and the video gallery where you can upload video from your PC, this may not be useful for everyone as one movie would take up just about all the memory and you'd go cross eyed watching the tiny screen for any length of time, however if you want to share a movie of your child causing mayhem or a clip of something this is quite handy.
The packaging for the iPod is tiny and has only the iPod (which you will have to prise out of a plastic container) a leaflet telling you where to go to download iTunes, your earphones and a USB cable to connect your iPod to your PC. I personally thought this was a little stingy as I would have liked to see a regular power lead for my money, I was even more disappointed when I realised how long it takes the iPod to charge from the PC. And when I looked at official chargers I was shocked at how much Apple wanted to squeeze out of its customers for the privilege of charging their iPod in a reasonable amount of time. I would add at this point that the iPod nano remains charges while playing music for a fair few hours. I've often listened to mine for 10 hours without needing to charge however if you dare to play the games you will find you iPod completely drained within about an hour! I was shocked when I realised this.
We now come to the bane the iPod... iTunes! This programme is the most clunky waist of time I have ever encountered and the worst thing about it is that you cannot choose to use a different programme as you would with other MP3 players. The initial install takes forever and once you have it on your computer it will randomly decide which of your music files it will accept and which it will ignore. If you have a lot of old CD's don't expect it to find covers or track titles for you, you will have to look that up yourself and if it does name the tracks for you don't count on them being correct. Synchronizing with your iPod will take forever, don't even think about sharing music with your friends unless you want all your music files to disappear and do not log into the iTunes store unless you have super fast broad band. I really hate this programme but it is the evil side of iPod that cannot be amputated.
So to conclude, I love my iPod. It's nifty and sexy but I wouldn't say it's brilliant value for money, at the end of the day I think you are paying for a fashion accessory more than a MP3 player. The unit is brilliant but Apple could have been more generous with the accessories and the fact that apple force you to use iTunes would make me think again before buying another iPod. That being said I also think that this is a robust little unit that will last a very long time before needing to be replaced.
I have been using the Acer Aspire 5920 for over 2 years now and have found it to be a very reliable and versatile machine.
Aesthetically it may not be to everyone's taste and I do believe that when it came out the stylish shiny black outer shell with the cream inner shell was slated, however I love the look!
Technically the laptop has lots of whistles and bells the write about including a Intel Centrino Duel Core Processor, 250 GB hard drive, separate NVIDIA Graphics card, Virtual Surround Sound, built in mic and web cam and a crystal bright screen. When I purchased this laptop 2 years ago for about £460 it was the heighest spec for the lowest price on the market and was actually better than the next Acer model up!
I have used this laptop for digital artwork, photo editing, word processing, gaming and surfing the net and have found that it performs well at all of these tasks.
It handles large art files with ease and runs programs such as Photoshop with no problems at all. I do have an issue with the monitor which can washout colour unless you position it just right however I have found that this is a problem that I can work around.
I've found that when word processing it allows me to work on many spreadsheets and word document without losing performance.
I've also found that although this isn't a gaming laptop the independent 256mb Geforce graphics card does give it the ability to play most games. I've mostly played Sims 3 and Oblivion and although the performance may not be as good as a gaming PC I have found it perfectly adequate for my needs.
As is common these days this laptop is fitted with a DVD player and I have found that when travelling this is an excellent feature, although the virtual surround sound looks cooler on the description than it is. In reality the speakers are a little flat and the sound is capped to prevent damage to them meaning that everything is a bit dull. My suggestion is plug a good pair of earphones in for a excellent sound experience.
Other features that I would like the mention is the abundance of USB ports. There are 4, 3 to the left and 1 to the right. As well as all the other ports you would expect to see on a modern laptop. There is also a slot for the most common memory cards which is brilliant if like me you need to upload lots of photos but don't want to keep plugging your camera in.
At a glance Pro's
- A very capable all rounder.
- Bright screen that works well in all light conditions.
- Separate Geforce graphics card which makes running games far easier.
- Built in webcam.
- Lot's of ports to hook up all your peripherals to.
- SD card slot to make transferring photos quick and easy.
- Large wide screen monitor perfect for movies and games.
At a glance Con's
- This is not a light laptop, I ended up with shoulder strain last time I took it abroad!
- The battery life leaves a lot to be desired, you'll be lucky to get 2 hours out of it.
- The speakers are dull and volume capped so you won't see much of the virtual surround sound advantage.
- The screen can look washed out unless you are positioned perfectly in front of it.
- The shortcut keys at the right of the keyboard are irritatingly easy to hit while typing.
- The cooling vent is on the underside of the laptop so placing it strait on your lap is not an option. Also if you are playing graphic rich games you will want to use a rest which lifts the base of the laptop so that it doesn't overheat.
- The screen often goes into power save mode when watching iPlayer, I have yet to find a way to prevent this happening.
Despite its failings this is a fantastic little laptop which has served me well and never let me down. Its reliability more than makes up for its short comings and for the price I could not have found a better all round laptop.
My grandmother used to say buy cheap buy twice, I think she was talking about these teabags!!!
This tea comes in a traditional square flat teabag. The first thing you notice when you open the box is that there is a lot of loose tea flakes sprinkled thought the box. Most of the teabags are still connected to each other and it's easy to tear the bags open when pulling them apart.
When you put the teabag in hot water it becomes apparent just how cheap these teabags are as it's a real effort to get any tea out of them, you can't even squeeze them as there is very little to squeeze. Once you have got enough tea out of the bag to make something resembling a brew the resulting drink is very poor being both weak and bitter. The most disturbing thing about these teabags is what's left in the cup after you've finished your drink. At first I thought my kettle needed cleaning out as left in the bottom of the cup was a grainy, gritty substance that looked like lime scale residue however after cleaning out my kettle and trying again I realised that whatever it was in my cup it had come from the teabag!
So my verdict, you definitely get what you pay for with these teabags. They may be cheap but buying them is false economy as if you're anything like me you will throw them away after only a using a couple of bags. Save yourself the trouble and invest in PG Tips or Tetley instead as everyone knows there is nothing like a nice cuppa and these teabags make nothing like a nice cuppa!!!
This version of Robin Hood is not what you would expect from the traditional story. In truth it is more of a prequel so if you're expecting to see men in tights running around stealing from the rich and giving to the poor you will be sadly disappointed.
I will try to write this review with as few spoilers as possible although it's awfully difficult so please excuse me for not commenting much on the story line.
The main characters in this story are of course Robin played by Russell Crowe and Marion played by Cate Blanchett. I'm not a big fan of Russell as an actor but his acting of this part was very good, reminiscent of his part in Gladiator so there are lots of poignant speeches and inspirational yelling. Cate also played her part brilliantly by portraying a strong clever and hysterically sarcastic Marion who is a world away from the poor defenceless girl that Marion is often portrayed as.
Robins "merry" men are also well cast and although they have few lines it's a case of quality not quantity. I particularly liked Little Johns character, again his part is very small but the little you see of him is brilliant.
The movie takes place in a convincing medieval England. I myself am a medieval re-enactor and the friend I watched this movie with is an archaeological illustrator, both of us were impressed with the accuracy of the living conditions, fighting, costume (with the exception of Robins leather hoes and Marions corset which was a step too far with artistic licence). Being a longbow archer I was also impressed with the quality of the archery as they avoided all the pitfalls that usually make movie archery laughable to real archers. The one thing that lets the movie down as far as historical accuracy is concerned is that it does seems to jump around over a couple of hundred years period but as this is in effect a fairytale that can be forgiven.
As far as the overall movie is concerned it is a good tale with beautiful imagery, humour, action and good dialogue but unfortunately the movie falls a little flat. The movie feels as though it is trying too hard to be an epic and because of this it feels laboured and not as enjoyable as it could have been.
The Blue-Ray version of this movie includes one blue-ray disc including the theatrical movie and the directors cut which has 16 minutes of extra footage. The second disc is a DVD including 62 minutes of additional material including 10 deleted scenes.
Edit - As has been pointed out that I failed to mention anything about the blue-ray presentation of this movie which is very good. The menu is backed by the stunning oil painting style animation. The animation of the option selection is nice and smooth and as always with blue-ray there is a in movie pop up menu that you can use to change setting etc without leaving or pausing the movie.
The picture and sound quality of this presentation is sensationally vibrant as you would expect and more than justifies the higher price of blue-ray. It really is true that once you have made the move to Blue-ray you never want to go back!!
Toblerone 35g is a pocket sized version of a chocolate bar that you would usually expect to see as a novelty bar at Christmas.
The Swiss chocolate with honey and almond nougat has a unique flavour that won't be to everyone's taste. This chocolate lies somewhere between crumbly and creamy being neither one nor the other, it is also very sweet and the nougat does stick to your teeth in a less than pleasant way. I also find that the chocolate leaves a strange almondy aftertaste in your mouth that takes a little getting used to.
Toblerone chocolate is unusually hard and I have often found that the larger bars are almost impossible to eat due to this but in the 35g bar this is not a problem as the triangular sections are perfectly bite sized and also thin enough to be easy to bite through.
So my opinion would be that the Toblerone chocolate won't be to everyone's taste. If like me you're a fan of Cadbury or Galaxy you probably won't want to run out and buy a bar. However making the bar bite sized is a distinct improvement that makes the eating experience much more pleasant.
The Constant Princess is yet another in Philippa Gregory's Tudor court stories.
This book tells a fantasy tale of Henry VIII's first wife Katherine of Aragon and follows her rise and fall at his hands. This book is a little unusual compared to the other Philippa Gregory books that I have read as it tells the story of a monarch from their point of view instead of the story of a smaller person at court which just happens to include a monarch as part of it. This does give the book a very different feel to other Philippa Gregory books, as with them there is a greater range for creativity within the story, where as with this tale must follow the dictates of history and as such has a greater storyline which most people will already know.
I was very excited about reading this book as I had become a fan of Philippa Gregory's portrayal of Katherine of Aragon though her earlier book "The Other Boleyn Girl". The first half of the story concerns Katherine's youth, when she was taken from her native Spain to be married to Prince Arthur, the future king of England. There is a great question over weather the marriage of Katherine and Arthur was consummated, a question which latter King Henry would exploited as a reason for divorce. No one will ever know for certain one way or another but this tale tells a heart warming story of two young people forced together who learn to love and respect each other. Pilippa writes this section of the story beautifully conveying all the frustration, fear and finally joy of the young Katherine in such a way as to be believable and endearing. Unfortunately history dictates that this cannot be a story with a happy ending and the portrayal of Katherine's heartache and sorrow is equally as good and believable, as is the justification for Katherine's steadfast determination to deny her marriage to Arthur and refuse to be anything but Queen of England.
I found the beginning of this story a pleasure to read. The love story between Katherine and Arthur was so tender in its portrayal that I found myself wishing that the story would never end, that Katherine and Arthur would be allowed to head off into the sunset like a fairy tail. In fact there is definite Camelot feel to the Ludlow location and their life there. In equal measure I found the post Arthur part of the story heartbreaking and very well written. There are constant reminders thought the book that though Katherine becomes Henry's wife and loves him as a wife should she never forgets his brother and he is never far from her thoughts and heart.
My only complaint about this book is that I believe it finishes in a strange place. Had it finished earlier, for example when Katherine became queen or latter at her death I believe the story would have flowed better but as it is the last section of the book feels like it doesn't belong, even though it does neatly round off some parts of the plot.
This isn't my favourite of Philippa's books and didn't seem to flow the same way her other books do, perhaps because she had less scope for artistic licence but it is an enchanting tale none the less and well worth reading.
The Queens Fool is another in Philippa Gregory's fantastic tales set in the Tudor court.
This story revolves around a young Jewish Girl living in a time when being discovered as a Jew was enough to earn a death sentence. If that doesn't make her life difficult enough she finds herself serving in the court of the infamous "Bloody" Mary, betrothed to one man and promised to serve another.
Philippa Gregory has an unusual writing style. Unlike most writers she doesn't writing in chapters but instead in diary like entries usually set into larger seasons. This does take a little getting used to, particularly if like me you read a chapter before bed.
As with all of Philippa's stories of this type the historical facts have been carefully researched which lends a sense of plausibility to the tale. I really loved the main character Hannah and I found the story of her struggle against so many conflicting thoughts and feeling very compelling. I also thought that she was written very in a very clever way. When we meet Hannah she is little more than a child and although her behaviour is very grown up for her age her underlying thought process is very black and white and almost idealistic. As Hannah grows thought the book her character slowly changes as she learns that the world is neither black nor white but shades of grey. I also though that the nervous tick, a mark of her traumatic childhood was a stroke of genius which made Hannah seem very real.
In the interest of balance I will say that I found Daniel (Hannah's betrothed) was not my favourite character. His personality and behaviour seemed a little too erratic. I would have liked either to have seen more of him in the book to explain his behaviour or for his behaviour to have been more constant.
The Queens Fool is by far my favourite of the Philippa Gregory books that I have read so far. The majority of the characters are masterfully written so that fantasy and history melded seamlessly and as always the scene is set both beautifully and plausibly. The licence that Philippa took to bring life to more well known historical figures was creative but again within the realms of possibility and the story as a whole was compelling and full of twists and turns. At the end of the book I felt as though I had been on a journey thought Hannah's life and I found that I could have quite easily have believed that Hannah was a real girl and had lived a real life.
When I heard that Star Trek was being pulled out the cupboard, dusted off, given a new lick of paint and sent back out into the universe I was caught between excitement and concern. After all Captain Kurk, Spock and the rest of the crew are such icons that surely no-one other than the original actors could be allowed to take over the helm of the original Enterprise, could they?
Luckily my concerns were unfounded. Star Trek has all the originality, energy and character of the original TV show. The opening scenes throw you into an exciting bombardment of action and surprisingly emotion. There are not many films that have made me cry within the first ten minutes but this one did... and I mean that in a good way.
The new Kurk possessed all of the womanising, impulsive brilliants of the original character but unlike William Shatner, he's actually attractive and not at all creepy. The new Spok underwent more of a transformation. Unlike the TV Spok who acted almost entirely Vulcan the new Spok has a feel closer to the latter movie Spok who was far more emotional.
In addition to the new lead characters there are a host of newly spawned crew members that bare enough of a resemblance to the originals to make them recognisable while not becoming carbon copies. The Enterprise her self has had an overhaul, somehow looking sleeker and more impressive while still being the undoubtedly original ship.
Overall plot of the movie is the story of how the young and wild Kurk becomes the renowned Starfleet Captain that we all know and love and on the whole the story is very clever. The writers have used lessons learned from long running comic books that are required to reinvent themselves every 5 or 10 years and managed to create a story which is original and new while not completely destroying everything that has been done before. They have also left them selves open to go forward in any way they choose without risking the timeline.
The movie also moves seamlessly from action scene to action scene while still maintaining a good plot and giving you time to get emotionally involved with the characters. There is also more than one moment of comic genius in the movie, often involving the cynical Bones.
All in all I don't have a bad word to say about this movie, it ticks all the boxes and appeals easily to both hardened Trekers and those who've never had the dubious pleasure of seeing William Shatner in a jump-suit!!!
The Amber Spyglass is the third in the His Dark Materials trilogy. The story picks up immediately after the Subtle Knife lefts off and you will need to have read both The Subtle Knife and the first book Northern Lights in order follow the story at all. I admit that I came to this book sceptically as I really didn't like Northern Lights as I found it a real drag to read however I did rather like The Subtle Knife so in my mind this would be the book that decided weather I had wasted all those hours or not.
The good points; In my opinion the level of writing in this book has improved dramatically compared to the first book. I also felt that there were some very well written characters, Dr Mary Malone who plays a much larger role in this book being one of my favourite. The story also had some very good plot twists and the tale itself was very engaging.
The bad points; Although the writing style has improved I still found it lacking in places. The story seems to rush ahead too fast, making me feel as if I had completely missed half of what was going on or slowing down to a crawl and becoming boring. I also found that character development and character motivation left a lot to be desired. Characters seemed to make life threatening decisions at the drop of a hat without any great thought for the consequences. I also found that the Mrs Coulter & Lord Asriel characters changed their goals and priorities more often than I change my socks! I'm sure this was supposed to make them seem complicated but I found that it just made them unbelievable.
The character development that bugged me the most came almost at the end of the story and I suppose this could be considered a spoiler so feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph... Ok, towards the end of the book Lyra and Will's characters suddenly go from acting and thinking reasonably normally for their characters who are only 12 years old to acting and thinking like someone much older. While this change might have been acceptable if it had happened gradually it seemed to jump within the space of a day. Even though you can see the plot development coming a mile away it seemed forced and sudden and very unrealistic.
My final gripe with this book is the increasingly religious tone. Although religion plays a large part within the plot and I had no problem with any of the imagery or bible reference being used I did find that as the book went on there was a increasing amount of the writers personal religious views being injected into it which started to make me feel a little uncomfortable.
So to summary, although this book has several good points, the strongest of which being the tail itself, these virtues in my opinion were overshadowed by poor character development, writing skill and the writers increasingly "preachy" tone.
I hadn't heard much about this movie when I bought it so I was a little dubious as to whether it would be any good. I'd heard the story from the folk lore angle which has it full of witches and magic potions but this version tries to stick to the historic angle rather than fairy tail.
The story is set during the dark ages, the time just after the Romans left Britain when the British isles were cut up into smaller kingdoms busy trying to gain power over each other. The characters have a very Arthurian feel with Marc, the king who would unite all the smaller kingdoms and bring peace and security to the country playing the part of Arthur. Tristan the young, hansom and fierce worrier who is the most trusted servant and adopted son of Marc playing the part of Lancelot and Isolde the beautiful and clever daughter of the Irish tyrant king playing the part of Guinevere.
The story is entertaining enough and although it's not one of my favourites. I though that the change in Tristan and Isolde's characters towards the middle from being honourable and clever to being deceitful and whiney was a bit much and resulted in me disliking them so much that I found it hard to care about them during the ending scenes. There was however a lot of well shot action and fight scenes and the script was far better than I had expected. The majority of the acting was believable although I though the acting of Tristan's character slowly declined throughout the movie and Isolde's Irish accent which was rather bad to begin with tended to come and go like a yoyo.
I should also mention the costume and props which were very beautiful were not always historically accurate and were often a bit too fantasy for my liking. I think it's very difficult for movies to get this period right because there is so little recorded from this period so everything is guess work and they had a very different idea back then of what was aesthetically pleasing than we do now.
All in all I think this was an entertaining enough little yarn although little niggles stopped me from truly enjoying it. I would have probably enjoyed it more if the story had set itself out as fantasy rather than historical. I also had a hard time ignoring the poor accents which detracted from the acting but that having been said I would probably watch this movie again as I do love Arthurian tails and that is what this movie is... they've just changed the names a bit.
You'd have to have been living on the moon for the past 10 years not to have heard of Harry Potter. I myself refused to read the book for years because everyone was raving about them but they sounded plain stupid to me. Eventually I gave in and the result was I ended up reading the first 3 books cover to cover within 2 days! I've now read The Philosophers stone about 20 times so I thought it was about time I wrote a review.
The Story (Ooo look, spoilers)
The story is set in an alternate world where wizards and witches exist in secret along side muggles (non magical people) This story starts with Harry's aunt and uncle. They're a very stereotypical mid 80's family living in a nice estate and concerning themselves with keeping up with the Joneses. Then one day their nephew who was born into the wizarding world is dropped onto their doorstep after his parents are mysteriously murdered.
Harry spends the next 10 years living in their downstairs cupboard and being generally mistreated until just before his 11th birthday he receives a thick letter which sends his aunt and uncle into a spin. They refuse to let him read it but after destroying the first letter they find the more and more latters arrive until finally they flee their home in an effort to get away from the mysterious sender and end up camped in a shack on a rock several miles from the coast.
Their efforts are in vain though as in the middle of the night Hagrid, a giant man claiming to be from a School called Hogwarts turns up to hand deliver Harry's latter and the rather shocking news that Harry is a wizard and will be attending Hogwarts weather his aunt and uncle like it or not.
Harry who has never had anything that wasn't handed down from his cousin now finds that in the wizarding world his parents left him well provided for. Where in the muggle world he had no friends he now finds himself with two best friends Ron and Hermiony. He also finds himself quickly drawn into intrigue at Hogworts.
On the surface this story is rather ridicules and not particularly original. The whole normal kid suddenly finding out that they are extraordinary story has been done so many times before. However I think there are several things about this book that make it stand out more than any other of its kind and pave the way for the following six books.
Firstly the humour is genius, J.K has a talent for one liners that cross all ages groups.
Secondly the characters, I'm sure that everyone at school remembers being either a Harry, Ron, Hermione or a Nevil and everyone knew a Draco. I myself was definitely a Hermione. The teachers are also stereotypes of people that most will remember from childhood making the mental wizarding world very familiar and normal. Then of course there is Dumbledore, the kind, wise and slightly mental leader who is impossible not to like and Snape the perfect love to hate character.
The final piece to the puzzle making this book just that little bit different is Harry's past. On the face of it the Philosophers stone is a children's book funny and light hearted but as in most books the hero has to face a certain amount of adversity. J.K very cleverly writes Harry's circumstances in such a way that they won't be too apparent to young children but adult readers will recognise the undertones that Harry has spent his childhood being abused and mistreated by his aunt and uncle, locked up in a cupboard forced to act pretty much as a servant to the family. Only now finding out that the parents he had never known were horribly murdered and having to deal with that fact and the fact that the murderer is still at large.
The end of the book, where Dumbledore explains to Harry how his mother died still brings a tear to my eye even after reading the book so many times.
So to summarise. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone is a light hearted and funny tale with deeper undertones. It has great re-read value and it's particularly interesting to re-read it after reading the rest of the set as there are so many hints of what's to come that you just don't see the first time round.
I decided to watch this movie as I really enjoyed the book. Usually when I watch a movie made from a book that I like I try to treat them as separate entities as otherwise I tend to end up disappointed. I have however found it very difficult with this one as the movie and the book stray so far apart as to be unrecognisable.
The Story (as always there are spoilers ahead)
The movie tells the story of the Boleyn children Ann, Mary and George. Raised in a wealthy family of the court of King Henry XIII the two girls find themselves thrown into the path of the king by their father and uncle. Mary, the younger and sweeter of the two is removed from the care of her husband because the king takes a shine to her but when she's put into seclusion while carrying his child Ann the eldest seduces him and ultimately convinces him to leave Mary, divorce his queen and marry her. Unfortunately for her his infatuation only lasts long enough for her to give him a daughter before he takes a fancy to Jane Seymour. A rumour passed to him from Georges discontent wife give Henry just the excuse he needs to get rid of Ann and the rest as they say, is history.
I was left a little disappointed by this movie. Henry XIII was one of Englands more interesting and volatile kings and his time was one of decadence yet this movie failed to express that. The acting was of a calibre you'd expect from such experience actors and the costume and set dressing was lovely if dull. There were none of the vivid colours that would have been present in the royal court. The sets were obviously period but as they are now, rather than as they would have been then. In other words colours that would have been bright and vivid to an almost headache inducing degree were washed out and faded.
I also thought the story was somewhat rushed. I was able to understand it because I had read the book and was therefore able to fill in the blanks but otherwise I think I would have found it very confusing. The situation moved on so quickly from the king being besotted with first one girl then the other and then from making Ann queen to having her beheaded, that it really did seem as if there was very little reasoning behind any of it.
The Other Boleyn Girl is based on a book by Philippa Gregory and I found it to be a very poor representation.
The first and largest let down was that the movie was the story of Ann Boleyn whereas the book is the story of the lesser known sister Mary Boleyn. In the book Ann's story just happens to feature heavily in Mary's life. This was a big let down as I felt that the story of Henry and his wives as been covered in many movies and TV shows where as the story of Mary was far more unusual.
I was also disappointed by the way the characters were portrayed within the movie. In the book Mary's mother and father were quite happy to sacrifice their girls happiness for their own gain. There was little in the way of the motherly affection or fatherly regret shown in the movie. In addition the book shows Ann to be a much darker character, cunning, cruel, selfish and intent on destroying any chance for her sisters happiness whenever she could. The kings character was also left wanting, the movie failed to show the kings steady decline from a strong, beautiful and virile man in the prime of his life to a worried, petty and over indulgent ailing man afraid of his own mortality. These changes were paramount in the book and explained much of his behaviour.
There were many characters that didn't even make it into the movie and of all the characters that did the only one which did ring true to the original was Mary who was perfectly cast and managed to come across as much like the written character as possible given what she had to work with.
My final complaint about this movie as an adaptation of the book is the story. The story portrayed on screen had little resemblance to the one written. I can understand that much of the book had to be cut down as it is a very long book which sometimes goes into excessive detail however there are major events in the book which map out the story and many of these were either in completely the wrong order or just missed entirely. For example the kings riding accident which happens practically at the beginning of the movie but which in the book doesn't happen until long after he has bedded Mary and moved onto Ann. In addition there was no feeling of time within the movie. Everything happened at once in what seemed to be the space of a year or two while in the books the story spans much, much longer.
Because the writers chose to focus on the obvious Ann Boleyn story they completely missed the best of the Mary story. They failed to show her struggle to be a good woman despite being powerless at the hands of her male relatives who were all pushing her to do things she did not wish to. Her love affair with the king was skirted over and her relationship with the queen which in the book is complex doesn't even exist in the movie. The tragic death of her husband just when she was beginning to fall in love with him didn't happen and neither did her affair and elopement. Her devotion to her children and her sisters cruel act of using her son as a pawn to keep Mary in line was also sadly missed out.
All these smaller details and many more made the story great and all of them were sadly missing from this movie.
So to summarise, this is a reasonably entertaining movie which is quite pretty but feels rushed and fails to make you feel for the characters. The writers choice to make this movie about Ann instead of Mary means that instead of a deep and sad story of a Tudor courtier and her struggle between obeying her family and doing the best for herself and her children, you get a shallow story that fails to invoke any emotion. I'm glad I was given my copy as I would have been very disappointed had I spent money on it.
I got this book as a freebee when I bought a cage at Pets at Home and was so appalled by some of the information in the book that I didn't bother reading all of it and in the end threw it in the bin.
The book is more of a glossy booklet, about 2mm thick with some very basic information much of which in my opinion is either completely false or in some cases even harmful. I am very experienced rat owner. I've owned 9 does and 13 bucks, I currently have a group of 8. I've also dealt with many rescues, aggressives and various illnesses so I tend to know my stuff.
The first piece of false information I came across was a statement that rats can catch colds from humans! This is completely false and I've lost count of the number of new rat owners that I've had to correct on this point and just to clarify I have confirmed this is incorrect with my vet.
The second piece of information that seriously worried me was the statement that wood shavings are a preferred bedding. Yes it is possible to use special wood chip specially prepared for rats but that particular product is practically impossible to find and far from the best option. Regular wood chip and sawdust is harmful to rats delicate lungs and can lead to breathing disorders that often lead to pneumonia, scaring of the lungs and a painful and premature death. I would always recommend a paper based dust free bedding.
Finally the fact that it has a section on breeding is absolutely ridicules given how basic the book is. Encouraging people to believe it's easy to breed rats with so little instruction is terrible. I've seen so many recue situations caused by people deciding to breed because they feel like it and then ending up way over their heads when they don't know what to do if there are complications or miss sexing the babies and ending up with far more than they can handle. A doe will have a average of 10 babies in a litter, miss sex one doe and suddenly you have a lot of kittens.
If you want to have a go at breeding you should definitely have more knowledge of rats than just what you've read in this book and in an idea world you should know at least one responsible breeder to guide you through your first litter and you should have genetic history of your breedable rats line in order to make sure you're not breeding rats with genetic problems which are very common in rats.
These are just the points that jumped out at me, if I hadn't been so appalled I chucked the book I'm sure I could have found many, many more.
So to summarise. This book is at best written by someone who has very little knowledge of rats, I do find myself wondering if the writer just Googled pet rats and scribbled down what he found with no discrimination. At worse this book will miss lead new rat owners into unwittingly harming their rats health and possibly encourage them to breed their rats without the knowledge and experience to do so responsibly and in doing so create more rescue situation.
I would strongly advise anyone who has bought this book as a new rat owner to return it and instead look on any one of the many rat care forums and websites. Rat folk tend to be friendly people and are always ready to give advice to new owners.
Avatar is without a doubt my favourite movie of all time!
I watched Avatar for the first time in regular version at the cinema because I didn't want to be distracted by the 3D effects. I then watched it in 3D latter. Both versions blew me away but this review is for the original version on Blu-Ray.
First the story, this will include spoilers so feel free to look away now.
Avatar is set in about 2150 when a new world has been discovered by humans called Pandora. This world is rich in a very expensive mineral called Unobtainium (I assume this was a joke on the writers part!) The planet also has a population of natives called the Na'Vi. They're blue, live in a tribal society and are very hard to kill. They also live above a rich deposit of Unobtanium.
The humans who live on Pandora come in two groups, the scientists who are fascinated with the strange network of Pandora's flora and fauna which the na'vi seem to be able to link to. And the miners and the trigger happy head of security who just wants the natives out of the way. This is where our main character comes in Jake is a crippled ex-marine so his natural alliance is with the ex-military security chief but his twin brother, a scientist was signed up to the Avatar programme. A programme where the scientists grow bodies made from mixed human and native DNA which they can remotely interface with so that they can interact with the world and the natives. After his brothers death Jake finds himself taking over his position with the scientist due to his ability to link with his brothers Avatar.
Once on Pandora Jake finds himself quite by accident taken into the Omaticaya tribe his role to learn their ways from Neytiri, a beautiful and important native. He is now stuck between a rock and a hard place having agreed at the beginning to learn their ways so that he would be able to either talk them into moving or tell the security chief how to destroy them but the longer he spends with the people the more he becomes one of them falling in love with their ways, their world and Neytiri.
I won't mention any more of the story but needless to say that everything finally blows up in his face as both sides believe that he has betrayed them.
I know that many people have said that the story isn't very original and it would be very familiar to anyone who's seen dances with wolves or Pochahontas but the important thing about this movie is not so much the overall story but the story in context of this movie.
For the first time ever when watching this movie I felt as if I was watching reality. This wasn't a collection of special effects and actors. This movie does something to you on a very deep level, you feel it as if it were real. At the beginning I watched the movie and wondered at the beauty of Pandora but as it moved on and you begin to see the destruction and horror caused by the invading humans it just ripped my heart in two.
Onward to this presentation of the movie. The Blu-Ray format gives an incredible clarity. One of my friends who had only watched it on DVD before said it looked like a completely different movie in Blu-Ray. The sound is also exquisite, allowing you to hear the most subtle background lines and forest sounds. This version also has a DVD copy and a digital copy included which is very handy if you like to watch movies on your laptop or media player while your travelling.
It is worth a mention that this movie will be re-released twice before the end of the year. Mid summer (July I believe) it will be released with an additional 7 minutes of footage and in December a 3D Blue-Ray copy will be released. If the cinematic experience is anything to go by it would almost be worth buying a new 3DTV to watch this on. Some people have complained that this Blu-Ray is a waist of money based on it being re-released so soon but for my money I'm happy to have both copies!
So to sum up. This is a beautiful movie, maybe not the most original story but it has plenty of soul to make up for it. This copy is beautifully arranged and is so much better than the DVD version that it's like watching a different movie. I can't imagine that this movie will be knocked of the top spot of my favorite Blu-Rays for a very, very long time!