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First Published in 2001, Atonement is on of McEwan's best selling novels winning unanimous praise by the worlds literature critics, but perhaps is also known for splitting the public opinion. Since its best selling status, it has officially been revered as a British Classic slotting into line with titles from Bronte, Conan Doyle and Eliot. It has also been made into an award winning film starring Kiera Knightly and James McAvoy. As a keen reader, one cannot help but be sucked in by all of this success and hype. But to be honest, I for one am always sceptical of hype. Nonetheless, I had to put my dubiousness to one side and give this novel a go. The question is, should you?
Well firstly it is very hard to explain the story of Atonement without giving the twist away that unravels itself in the final part of the novel. The story starts in the summer of 1935 inside the household of an upper - middle class English family. Briony Tallis is an avid writer for a thirteen year old girl, a girl with a fantastic imagination desperately trying to understand the adult world as well as grabbing any attention she can with her self written play 'The Trials of Arabella'. However, it soon becomes apparent that she looses interest in her family production when she misinterprets a complication between her elder sister Cecelia and the family gardener, Robbie Turner. There is obviously sexual tension in abundance between Cecelia and Robbie, but what Briony doesn't realise is that there is a big difference between lust and manipulation. It doesn't help matters further when Briony walks into the library and interrupts an 'encounter' between the two lovers. From then on, Briony's imagination has severe consequences for Robbie as a series of events unfold which she will forever attempt to atone.
The novel itself is split into four parts and the first part which involves Briony's 'crime' is in fact the most laborious to read. The reason for this is actually a mixture of overly descriptive language and his lack of character depth. It may sound unfair, but his intelligent overly flamboyant descriptions are too grand, too often used and too pretentious at times, which as a result more often than not disrupts the flow of reading. It's fanciful and avant-garde to describe a sunset that lasts a paragraph, but perplexing to comprehend as to why the same detail is not given to the actual characters.
Of course that's not to say that the characters are completely made of cardboard, but rather one dimensional instead. McEwan seems to only give them one face. Briony is finicky, Cecelia is condescending, Mrs Tallis is a hypochondriac and of course Robbie is 'the' victim. This is all very well, but as the reader you soon become a little tired of the monotony and long for something a little more substantial.
Part two of Atonement is much more enjoyable to read as it follows Robbie Turner's role in France during the early events of World War II. The call to retreat has been given and along with two fellow soldiers, Nettle and Mace, Robbie must trek hundreds of miles west to meet the rendezvous point at Dunkirk Beach. Cecelia is a nurse, estranged from her family for their treatment of Robbie and she longs for him to return from France so they can finally start their life together.
There is much more atmosphere here and allows the reader to connect much more with Robbie as his plight of war and experiences escaping Stuka attacks are described in greater detail. I suppose it may be because of an increased amount of action on McEwan's part. However, Robbie still fails to rid himself of the 'victim' tag, which is a bit of a shame.
This section of the novel also gives the reader an insight into the human condition and fight for survival very few of us can barely imagine. Selfishness and greed actually become understandable as we urge Robbie to make it home. Death, desperation and despair are plentiful here and depressing and macabre as they are, it makes for fantastic reading. It's such an annoyance that you have to plough through 200 pages to actually get to it.
To avoid giving spoilers, there is a twist at the end in part four, written from Briony's point of view as an elderly woman looking back on her life. She admits a few truths about the situations described earlier on in the book. No matter how you look upon things it is a surprise and really does give the book a whole new meaning. It is a very clever technique by McEwan to give himself a professional relationship with Briony Tallis and very original too. I for one found it refreshing and thought provoking. The downside of this certain type of shock surprise is that it can ultimately make the novel as a whole a little pointless and self serving. I can't help but wonder if McEwan realised this ambitious idea was a double edged sword?
Linguistically though, this novel is most definitely not for children or the amateur reader. A high understanding of challenging vocabulary is a must and poetic use of elongated sentences may be too much for some casual readers. Paragraphs can sometimes be made up of only one or two sentences yet stretch the breadth of a single page. It is beautifully written on one hand, which makes use of wonderfully thought out metaphors with its long line of adjectives and superlatives, but on the other hand you can find yourself wandering off the straight line and forgetting about the plot altogether.
There are many pleasures to be had with Ian McEwan's 'Atonement', there just so happens to be some downsides too. It's a beautifully novel in many places, very imaginative and detailed, but this elevates it from everyday reading. This book will simply not be for everyone. The detailed paragraphs can be too boring and there is also the issue of character depth, but on the whole there is life to be found in places throughout. It's most definitely worth at least one read but when the shock ending reveals itself; it can be difficult to see any point reading it again at a later date. Refreshing yes, but lacks real substance.
A Little About Ian McEwan:
Born in 1948 in Hampshire, Ian McEwan has been named by The Times as one of Britain's 50th Greatest Writers. Many of his books have been made into films, which includes his best seller 'Enduring Love' and he also won the Man Booker Prize for his 1998 novel 'Amsterdam'. His latest novel 'Solar' was published in 2010.
As smug as it may sound, I do class myself as a Tennis Gamer A -Lister. In my collection, I own at least twenty five tennis games across many consoles and have mastered many of them to completion. News of this latest release from 2K Sports must have slipped me by, as I was surprised to see it spread across the shelves of my local Gamestation store. Tennis games are great because they capture the atmosphere of the Tennis game, but often come under hefty criticism for their repetitive nature and easy Gameplay. However with a overwhelmingly positive reception from professional reviewers, will Top Spin 4 turn things around for the Tennis genre?
Game Modes and Features
It can be really hard for a game such as this to come up with something new and refreshing when the game is based on specifics such as tennis. The career mode is however where it all happens. You create a player from a set of pre-rendered models and choose behavioural traits and then modify hair styles and facial features. We've seen it all before really, but nonetheless seems to work well here. Unlike previous Top Spin instalments where you wander a globe entering tournaments with specific entry levels, you play a full yearly career here with the option to enter one warm up event and one competitive event per month. This is a little unrealistic, but suits the game well with its structured flow. You start off low in the ranking and have to work hard to rise up the levels to reach the top in where when specific criteria is reached, the more harder, more prestigious tournaments are available to enter.
Warm up events consist of exhibition matches to gather experience points to improve your player's statistics, or photo shoots and grand openings to improve your fan base. It's a little original and starts of rather refreshing, but can die off a little as you progress further in the game, but a nice touch nonetheless. The ability to hire a coach is brilliantly implemented also with each coach setting you objectives throughout the match to complete in order to again raise your stats, which in therefore makes your character more tailored to your play-style. Baseline attacker, Baseline defender, serve and volley etc are all in here and is done really well to create a player with specific good points and specific weaknesses. This means as a result that each player you play has a different play-style and can therefore be a challenge to defeat if you don't adopt the right strategy. There is no point going out for an all out attack and hope to hit winner after winner if you are playing someone with a defensive style of play who can keep the ball in play much longer. If you mix this with difficulty settings and you've got yourself a strategically challenging game on your hands. There is nothing worse than getting use to a tennis game and then thrashing your opponent match after match. I started the career mode on the 'Hard' setting and had to work hard to complete it. There were some very tight matches in where I lost I can tell you - and this goes on to add replayability and excitement.
An online version of career mode is included and thankfully much better implemented than previous game Top Spin 4. Lagging rarely happens and each tournament tells you how many other players around the world are currently waiting for an opponent. This is a handy little feature so you don't have to wait in server rooms simply dying of boredom as you wait for someone, anyone, to join. Loosing a career match means you can longer enter that tournament, whereas winning means you can progress to the next level and build up more points. A leaderbaord can be viewed to see where you are ranked amongst players across the globe.
To offer different features, Top Spin 4 offers you different match ups to choose from in the exhibition mode. So the usual singles and doubles are on offer, but it is the scoring system that can be changed. A normal 'classic' mode can be chosen in where you play X amounts of games and X amounts of sets. Tie breaks, Super tie breaks and Hyper tie breaks can also be chosen as well as a score and serve system may suit some and add a little of variety into the game. It is implemented quite well and does offer something a little different not really seen from many other Tennis games, but I assume most will just stick with the classic style really.
Graphics and Sound
I am delighted to say that the stadiums and players have received a massive overhaul in this latest Top Spin game, with attention to detail highlighting the amount of work that must have gone into the production. Players all look great with realistic facial design and emotion that really comes across in the in-game cutscenes and animation between points. Characters throw their racquets in their bag at rest time, or raise their hands in the air with a fist pump to celebrate a hard earned point, or simply wiping the realistic sweat that builds across their faces as the match goes on. Top Spin 4 really does utilize the power of the Playstation 3 to the fullest to create a realistic approach to the Tennis genre. Skirts and shirts rise up and blow in the wind as you jump up and serve or slide across a clay court to reach a ball going wide across the court. Simple details like this seem unimportant at first, but once realised and mentioned really enforces the issue of 'attention to detail'.
Top Spin 4 really tries to capture the atmosphere of a real tennis match especially the excitement that builds up in the Grandslam events. This is done by drafting each stadium from scratch and place layers upon layers with added lighting effects to really capture the look of events like Roland Garros, Indian Wells and the US Open. Sadly Wimbledon is the only Grandslam not licensed here and so appears as the Dublin Open instead. These stadiums all look humongous - despite the only interactive section is the courts themselves. The crowd all react differently too with cheers, boos and hand raises thrown in to boot. They really come alive with great sound effects as the rally goes on for longer or shouting out in the middle for the umpire to reply 'Quiet Please!'. Tension is created on the important break/set/match points with the crowd going unusually silent and all you can hear is the sound of the ball adding a nervous kind of excitement. It's all great stuff.
A new animation feature is included this year called the 'Signature Style' series where players actually move with even more realism than ever before. If you hit a bad ball, players trip and stumble, hit awkwardly or grunt with annoyance. With more controlled shots, players swing their entire body into the ball, jumping in the air and really connect with the rally rather than previous games where the movement of the racquet usually just seems enough. Extra pre-game animations add electrifying atmosphere too with players waiting in the stadium corridors before entering the court to the commentator, or practicing shots before the match starts. Fluidity is the most impressive force here.
Though on a downside, created players all seem a little too manufactured in the face with cartoon style features that look a little odd. It doesn't ruin the game, but as the career mode uses your own players, you will spend a lot of time playing as them, and it can look a bit weird as your players looking a little off screams 'Come On!' as you play some as realistic as Andre Agassi.
Apparently Top Spin 4 is 3D activated, so with a 3D TV and special glasses, players can become even more involved within the experience.
Gameplay and Replayability
So as well as your created players, twenty five pros and legends are available to choose from to play in other game modes all with their own realistic play-styles. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic head up the male players whilst Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic head up the female roster. The chance to play as many legends will also appeal to a wider generation of gamers too which include the likes of Michael Chang, Pete Sampras and Pat Rafter. The roster itself is a little out of date compared to the current season and rankings, but with a downloadable content option, I'm just hoping that at some point in the future more players will be able to be downloaded from the Playstation Store.
Top Spin 4 is Playstation Move compatible, but as I don't have a Move I can't really comment on this feature.
Using a normal controller, Top Spin 4 utilizes an even more in depth control system never before seen in Tennis games. There are various ways to hit the ball and I am very pleased to say that this all adds a certain depth to the Gameplay. So just tapping the buttons will hit what is called a 'control' shot - a shot which doesn't have much power but can be used to hit nearer the lines and build up a game plan. By holding down the button, a circular sphere appears and when full it adds power to your shot making it harder for your opponent to reach/replay the ball. All have their own upsides and downsides and so the right approach is to know when to use what type of shot and when you mix that with the various shot types such as slice, flat, top spin, drop shot etc it can all become complicated and detailed. You do have to be in the right position to pull of the shot properly; otherwise the ball will simply just hit the net or go out. This is fantastic for beginner players to experience an in-depth game, where it will please veteran gamers who are use to other styles and need to adapt their own style. Serving is just a variable with an added element of the right analogue stick to add extra precision and power to your serve - it can feel a little weird at first doing all these different things with your fingers, but it adds the challenge every Tennis Gamer has been waiting for.
A varied amount of difficulty settings means that you will come back over and over again no matter what your skill level. If you play Serena Williams for example on the 'Normal' difficulty, she can cause you a few problems hitting the ball quite hard, but letting ample chance to get into the rally. On 'Hard' setting however, the power increases and the depth in which she hits the ball means she is really going for those winners and you'll have to come up with your own play-style to beat her.
Unlockables means you will return over and over again just to gain extra stadiums and extra costumes. Ever player has a third costume to unlock with a specific challenge waiting for you in order to unlock it. There are over 40 Playstation trophies to unlock also all differing in difficulty. The replayability therefore is immense.
So does it eventually become repetitive I hear you ask? Well a little if I'm completely honest, what game doesn't? But as every player has a different play-style, some having quick shots, others who like to take a bigger swing means being in the right place to pull of a great shot is different for every player. Timing is everything. The timing for one player is different than another and so hitting the ball too soon or too late can have dire consequences, which as a result may mean you loose the match. Mastering all these styles can be difficult and is not an easy feat I can tell you. You really do have to stay on your toes and be constantly changing your gameplan to match the weaknesses of the opponent you are playing.
Atmospheric TV style Matches
In Depth difficulty settings and control systems
Player AI challenging and strategic
Off looking created players
CPU cannot play as your created player
Possibly outdated roster
Top Spin 4 is a fantastic and excitingly engaging game and really reenergises the genre for newcomers and old timers alike. It has a fresh addictive atmosphere and varied control system which means it will keep you coming back for more. You rarely find a strategic quality associated with the Tennis Genre, but with an impressive player AI system, you can't help but feel challenged when playing different styles of opponents; and a challenge is exactly what you are looking for when playing a tennis game. It really has set the bench mark for others to follow and it utilizes all of features to the fullest. There are a few downsides but ones that neither ruins the Gameplay or halts your enjoyment and therefore I cannot see any reason why this game should not be awarded with five stars. Highly recommended.
Radox for men Shower Therapy
My skin is ultra sensitive, it can react with almost any wash powder and soap and keeping it irritant free is nigh on impossible. After recently moving, the opportunity to have showers again has become possible, which for me is great. I have also taken up exercise regularly as a New Years Resolution and the need to keep clean with regular showers has increased so I needed to buy a super safe, super great shower gel. Radox for Men Shower Therapy stood out to me because not only was it aimed For Men, but had added fennel; aniseed is a smell I adore.
What is the 'Radox' Range?
Radox first made a salt foot bath wash in 1908, but fast forward to the present day and you'll be surprised at the extensive range they offer. From deodorants to bubble baths, to shower gels to hand wash, Radox seems to have taken over the market in personal hygiene and cleanliness. Now owned by Unilever, I would arguably say that the majority of their products are aimed towards the female market.
A 250ml of this For Men range does stand out on the shelf simply because the clear bottle shows off the metallic blue liquid inside. The 'Radox' logo is very visible and the picture of the green and blue fusion gives it an interesting image compared to the other For Men products with their generic block colours. On the reverse, it lists the ingredients and its usual Radox Claim.
The cap is of a lighter blue than the liquid and it is a flip cap which is extremely easy and useful in dispensing the liquid into your hands. A little hook is fitted onto the top of the bottle, which is ideal for hanging onto a shower door or shelf.
The Claim and Key Ingredients
This particular range of shower gel is a 2 in 1 shower gel and shampoo, which is aimed at the busy man who needs to get in the shower and out in the morning for a busy day ahead. On the back it asks 'Ever need help waking up in the morning?' It goes on to claim that it will leave you feeling 'awake and invigorated'. It also states that it has a 'perfect pH balance' and a 'thumbs up from the skin experts'. To me this gives the impression that it can be used on different types of skin (even sensitive) since it doesn't say otherwise or what skin it is to be used for.
Fennel - is obviously something many people will regularly see in the supermarket as a vegetable commonly used with fish dishes or stir-fries. Fennel in its plant form actually contains anethole, which is a flavouring property. Basically this means it can scent things very easily. After some research I have found that fennel does have some medicinal properties, however it needs to digested first either in the form of a syrup or by eating seeds. Therefore it can only be assumed that the fennel here is just used for its distinct aniseed fragrance.
Sea Minerals - is basically salt and minerals extracted from the sea. It is theoretically meant to help ease skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema and can apparently have an anti-aging effect by reducing wrinkles and help hydrate the skin naturally.
Using the Shower Gel
After showering for a few mintues to soften the skin, the gel is easy to lather and rub all over your body. There are no exfoliating tiny 'bits' inside so it feels smooth and glides over your body extremely easily. When you rinse all of the soap off, you can tell instantly that it has left your skin very clean with its shiny appearance and smooth after feel. It certainly feels very nice and doesn't dry out your skin when you have gotten out of the shower and dried.
However it most definitely doesn't smell of aniseed, so the fennel has really lost its purpose. It only smells of that usual generic shower gel frangrance. Also I found that after a few uses, my skin broke out very easily and therefore proves that this shower gel is most definitely not for people with sensitive skin.
When using the shower gel as a shampoo, wet your hair first and then rub throughout your hair scrubbing at your scalp as well. The first thing I found was that it did clean my hair, it easily removed the hair products I use and didn't leave any dandruff either. However I must say that once my hair was dry not only did it smell of that generic smell I was talking about earlier, but it dried my hair out leaving it very fragile. The problem is that it doesn't tell you what type of hair it is best suited for on the bottle.
Overall, I would not recommend this 2 in 1 shower gel and shampoo. It does get you clean and doesn't dry out your skin which obviously is a major plus but for anyone having sensitive skin it will probably cause you to break out, like it did for me. It claims to contain fennel, which usually has a strong aniseed / liquorice smell which this certainly does not have. When used as a shampoo it is obviously a very average basic shampoo not targeted really towards anyone. You will definietly need to use a conditioner afterwards and if you are one of these 'busy men' that this is aimed at, you'll probably fair better with a 2 in 1 shampoo - conditioner rather than one with a shower gel. It looks nice and *cough* manly but its claims fall rather false I'm afraid.
Name: Goodbye Lullaby [Deluxe Edition]
Released: March 2011
Chart Position: TBC
Singles: What The Hell: #25
1. Black Star
2. What The Hell
4. Wish You Were Here
6. Stop Standing There
7. I Love You
8. Everybody Hurts
9. Not Enough
10. 4 Real
12. Remember When
14. Alice [Extended Version]
15. What The Hell [Acoustic]
16. Push [Acoustic]
17. Wish You Were Here [Acoustic]
18. Bad Reputation
I'm pretty sure everyone would have heard the name 'Avril Lavigne' at some point no matter what their age, but mixed feelings usually follow. Despite her mixed reputation, Avril nonetheless has gone on to sell over 30 million albums worldwide, making her one of the most successful musicians to come out of Canada. With three UK number 1 albums, she has set the benchmark for female artists to follow. Evolution seems to be the name to her game, as with every album comes a different sound, much to some fans dislike. However being described as being like her 'older stuff' Goodbye Lullaby is her highly anticipated fourth studio album, but can it realign her back into being a well liked artist or does it disappoint from start to finish?
Before this album was released, first single What The Hell seemed to do little impact on the charts around the world. For starters it is nothing like her 'older stuff' and more like the tracks we became accustomed to on her third album 'The Best Damn Thing'. It is upbeat, loud and in your face, but nonetheless a great bubblegum pop anthem. You can see why it has been compared to previous single 'Girlfriend' with its bratty attitude and I don't have a care in the world theme. Despite mixed reactions though, it is a song that will get stuck in your head and if you are a lover of all pop / rock tunes, this song will undoubtedly be on your iPod.
Smile is also a highly commercial tune that smacks you in the face with its cheerleader beat and use of swift rhythm. Swear words are also used throughout this song which ultimately brings back memories of a previous song off TBDT called 'Everything Back But You'. But alas the chorus erupts into a strong flowed and cheerful melody that highlights Avril's voice for all the right reasons. For the chorus alone, I could see this blasting out of the radio from teenagers around the world with an 'I do what I want when I feel like it' attitude.
And that is where the commercial stature of Goodbye Lullaby stops. Musically, Goodbye Lullaby is a stripped down instrumental delight full of acoustic guitars and piano melodies. Everybody Hurts is a gentle song with an almost country - esque sound. It sends an almost grown up message that it is alright and completely normal to question yourself sometimes and in life there are going to be ups and downs, but if you hang on things will get better. The simple acoustic guitar that hums away in the background never falters with its chord and it's this type of simplicity that flows through this entire album.
The sole message that runs throughout this album however is the heartbreak and the end of relationships, more specifically her own relationship with ex husband 'Deryck Whibley'. The opening of Not Enough 'I'm sorry if this hurts you' really shows you how much Avril Lavigne has moved on in terms of her music. This is not a boy bashing album; this is a deep album full of meaning where she recognises that everybody plays a part. She doesn't slate Whibley for being a bad husband, but simply lets him know that it wasn't enough. I Love You although not a strong stand out song musically, is in fact a beautifully written song that lets Whibley know that 'Even though we didn't make it through, I am always here for you'. It is this type of forgiving positive attitude that we rarely see from Avril and I've got to be honest it makes great music.
Vocally, Avril is for the most part fantastic. It is this sort of album that really shows off her voice and range of being able to belt out addictive hits, but can become softer and more fragile on the more slow flowing songs. Remember When is a heart wrenching ballad that will hit home with almost everyone who has had a difficult break up in their life. She breaks up her voice at times to produce a soft raw sound that fits perfectly with the slow sounding piano. Whereas Push is a little bit of a disappointment. Before the chorus, her voice is tone perfect, but as soon as the chorus of 'Maybe you should shut up ...' is almost tone deaf. It becomes too high pitched, too rushed and doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the song. If im honest it is too over produced that it becomes an unrealistic sound. I would love to compare the song to a live performance to see how different the two songs would sound.
Ballad Wish You Were Here is arguably the best track on the album. Soft acoustic guitar starts slowly getting faster until the chorus where it becomes loud and very upbeat and addictive. The 'Damn, Damn, Damn' of the hook is also highly addictive getting stuck in your head and wonderfully shows the frustrating theme of the song. Goodbye is also a wonderful song that reminisces of 'When You're Gone' and to some extent Let Go's 'I'm With You'. A medieval string echo makes this ballad almost gothic, but the vulnerability of her voice makes this track easily one of the most honest and memorable of her entire collection. When she can produce songs like this we can only imagine what else she can do in the future when she lives life further gathering more experience. It is a simple song with not many lyrics, but if you loved 'Tomorrow' off of her first album then this is an extension of that.
The main problem with this album is simply that it is out of character to the Avril caricature that blasts out on 'Sk8er Boi' and 'Girlfriend'. This is a raw Avril and to be released so late as it were in her collection makes you wonder if she has lost the majority of her fans already? Let Go was a fantastic album that allowed teenagers to connect their own confusing questions about life with her own fears. Under My Skin, considered by many her best album, garnered more fans with its edgier sound. But with the release of The Best Damn Thing, Avril lost a lot of fans with its overly pop sound and bratty attitude, and instead attracted a new generation of fans, pre-pubescent girls more likely who loved this new sense of girl power. Goodbye Lullaby is a cry out to all the 'old fans' but is their interest in Avril over? The new generation of fans I already mentioned will love 'What the Hell' but sadly will be too inexperienced for the rest of the album.
Bonus tracks come in the form of Alice, her single to be released for the Tim Burton remake of Alice in Wonderland, plus a collection of acoustic versions of the songs already featured. 'What the Hell [Acoustic]' is an interesting track which strips down the poppy beats and instead gives it a different sound, a remix of sorts. As a special treat for fans her jingle for her fragrance Black Star opens the album, the only shame being that it isn't longer than it is. For anyone who saw her live during 'The Best Damn Tour' will love the trip down memory lane whilst listening to Joan Jet's hit 'Bad Reputation'.
I suppose another doubt that can creep into your mind when listening to this album is that although it most definitely Avril at her most meaningful and vulnerable, you can easily tell the emotion that has gone into making this, but it still has an overly 'teenager' sound. Adults will probably skip this without a second thought wanting to listen to something a little more familiar to them. At the age of 26, Avril Lavigne is still young herself, but I've got to be honest more older more mature contemporaries produce much better sounding songs regarding the themes in which she sings about.
With the deluxe edition of the album there comes a DVD with a roughly 30 minute 'Making of' Documentary on it. It is definitely worth watching as you finally get to see the real Avril Lavigne, an Avril that is calm and collected and can talk about her music with such passion and conviction. She talks you through each of the songs and what it means to her and how she was inspired to write. You can tell in her voice and eyes just how much this album means to her and it really does let you see a different Avril than we are use to. Some studio sessions are also included in the DVD which are worth watching just to see how great her voice can sound without the need for music or instruments.
Overall 'Goodbye Lullaby' is an album of tremendous highs but still not polished enough to shake the lows. It has some great standout tracks which can easily make the goosebumps rise on your arms. Emotion flows through the songs with ease and the stripped more raw feel is a step forward both musically and lyrically. It does sound 'teenager' ish though at times and I do question the success of this album commercially. For its audience it sort of sits in a limbo world where it tries to hang on to older fans who have now grown up and left her alone, where as it is far too mature in terms of themes and lyrics for her new generation of fans. It does have something for everybody though and when you are in the mood to look back at the past, or you yourself are in the middle of a breakup or have been hurt by something, this album can bring out feelings you never knew existed. It's definitely worth a listen and I would arguably say it is her best album to date.
Name: The Auschwitz Violin
Author: Maria Àngels Anglada
Released: 1994 (Catalan) 2010 (English)
Ever since I read Shindler's Ark I have felt a very big urge to read more stories set and based inside the Second World War and the events that unfolded during the Holocaust. I find the stories so compelling and addictive despite their obviously sensitive subject matter, but nonetheless we should always have something that reminds us of those horrific events. Apparently this shot story written by one of Catalan's most prolific authors has received international appraise, including from John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Though after flicking through and realising that it was only just over 100 pages long, I suddenly felt very sceptical about the impact a short novel such as this would have. Was I right?
A Little About . . . Maria Àngels Anglada
Anglada was a renowned Catalan novelist who died in 1999 aged 69. Throughout her writing career she had won many well known awards for her novels. The Auschwitz Violin is also widely known as El violi d'Auschwitz.
'In the winter of 1991, at a concert in Krakow, an older woman with a marvellously pitched violin meets a fellow muscian who is instantly captivated by her intrument. When he asks her how she obtained it, she reveals the remarkable story behind its origin.
Imprisioned at Auschwitz, Daniel feels his humanity is slipping away. Treasured memories of the young woman he loved and the prayers that once lingered on his lips become hazier with each passing day. Then a visit from a mysterious stranger changes everything, as Daniel's former identity as a crafter of fine violins is revealed. The camp's two most dangerous men use this information to make a cruel wager: if Daniel can build a successful violin within a certain number of days, the Kommandant wins a case of the finest burgundy; if not, the camp doctor, a torturer, gets hold of Daniel. And so, battling exhaustion, Daniel tries to recapture his lost art, knowing all too well the likely cost of failure.'
Climent is a violin player and is captivated by the music and skill a young woman named Regina can muster when she plays a very special violin. This is a violin that looks a little bit special, it isn't an ordinary looking model of any of the 'brands' Climent knows so well. He is mesmerised by the young woman and seeks to know more about her as well as her violin. Finally plucking up the courage, he enquires about her very sentimental instrument. And so a story set in the past pursues . . .
Daniel is imprisoned at Auschwitz, a concerntration camp set up in Nazi occupied Poland. He is alone, malnultritioned and exhausted, but he stumbles on by living in hope that his wife and niece are safe and eating hearty food. He escaped the chop by lying about his profession, and so Daniel the Carpenter is asigned to the shed to work on shelving, cabinets and doors, living off turnip soup and the occasional 'lost' apple. It isnt until he interuppts the Kommandant out of urgency to save an innocent violinist's life, that he is tasked with fixing the violin and restoring it to its decent stature.
Alive with excitement and new longing for life, Daniel the Violin Maker reammurges from the shadows and takes his time to rebuild the violin and put his own stamp onto an already beautiful musical instrument. However unbeknown to him, Daniel is not only against the harsh conditions that plague the Auscwitz camp, he is also against the clock. The Kommandant has placed a bet with the sadistic doctor. Can he build the violin in time? If he fails, he will be sacrificed to the doctor's rumoured experiments and never see his family again. His life hangs inside the violin.
What I loved about 'The Auscwitz Violin' was the way in which Anglada uses the present to slip back into the past. In a short space, it adds a very true and realistic story backdrop into a novel which really isnt very long at all. At the end of the book, it skips back to the present day, but from the point of view of a character introduced from the 'past' section of the novel, and this i've got to be honest, is quite clever indeed.
If we strip it down into layers however, the beginning of the book, although it makes sense upon completion, is rather drab and laborious. I think the main reason for this is that you just simply cannot connect with the starting characters. The detail is all very vague and what little insight is given is rather uninteresting to say the least. However, once the story of Daniel begins to unfold, it is then that the real story evolves and transforms.
Life for Daniel is extrememly hard and Anglada doesn't skim on the awful life in which he exists. The whippings and confinement add a level of emotion into the novel and I challenge anyone not to feel for him. When he starts to talk about his wife, it again pulls on the heartstrings. He doesn't waste time pining to see her again, but instead dreams that she is well looked after and well fed, living a life under Nazi occupation much better than he is. This is extremely sweet and adds character to ironically a charcater whose not got a lot to give. As she describes his every effort into sanding down the violin head, or measuring the length of wood needed, you as the reader stay with him, urging him to make the best violin he can, because you know if he doesn't it will surely mean his death.
There are times however, when the story of Daniel becomes rather dull. I'm not sure if it is meant to add an underlying tone of what Daniel himself had to go through, but Angalda uses repetition a lot throughout. It becomes a bit of a chore to simply read over and over again his thoughts on the watery Turnip soup and oh how he longs for a little bit of carrot or potato to be added in secretly.You understand the first couple of times, his desperation to hold on to anything is admirable, but after a while it begins to gnaw. Why? Why repeat the same thing over and over again. At 109 pages long, we need extra titbits of Daniel's feelings to really connect with him, but sadly at times you can't help but questioning do you feel for him really as a character whom you can connect with or is it simply because it is a story set in Auscwitz that does it?
There aren't too many character's in here, but that works really well for such a short novel, too many would have made the story more complicated. Bronislaw is an interesting character, one that really starts to evolve at the end of the book. You do really feel for him as an old man trying to forget the past, but letting curiosity plague his mind. What happened to Daniel, the man who saved his life in Auschwitz? I think that is what the real problem with this book is, lack of detail. Anglada only gives you certain information about charcaters and so they do feel most of the time rather lifeless and undimensional. You know that the Kommandant and Doctor are evil men. But apart from being told that they are, you sometimes wish for scenes where it is proven. Scenes where the Doctor does experiment, or where the Kommandant unleashes his anger upon an innocent and helpless prisoner. This would have made the characters as well as the story a little more engaging.
What is interesting is the use of official documents used at the beginning of each chapter. A document which sets the scene for the theme of that chapter. For example the document at the beginning of Chapter 3 is a real letter by Dr S Racher who refuses to use a woman in his experiment to raise the body temperature of prisoners frozen in tanks of freezing water. At some point in that chapter, Daniel hears rumours about some of the experiments preformed on his fellow jews.
Anglada's use of language is quite simple, easy to follow and easy for any type of reader. When she talks about the violin and musical background she delves deep into imagery and words that flow from sentence to sentence. It spices up a subject me myself have little knowledge about. It's just a shame it never really materialises in other parts of the book. The storyline of the wager mentioned in the blurb is also a bit of a let down. It is itself not introduced until pretty late into the book and only introduced by Bronislaw as something he overheard. Again little detail is given and then that is it. The storyline is never really touched upon again apart from to be used as a cliffhanger, did he make the violin in time? Hmmm well we assume he does. As a result this makes the blurb rather false.
Overall, I would recommend this book to be read once, perhaps borrowed from a library since it is definitely not worth its £10 price tag, though I have since found out that at some point in 2011 it will be published in paperback and therefore be considerably cheaper. It has some really stand-out moments, the moment where Daniel risks his life to protect another prisoner. The moments where you can really get behind the character of Daniel and spure him on to pull through the harsh existence of a nazi ran concertration camp. However the best way to sum up this book is halfway there but never really pulling through both in characterisation and emotion. It tries to pull on the heart strings, but to be pulled off succesfully it needs much more detail and a much better opening.
Dettol Neutra Air Fresh Morning Dew
Despite there being an abundance of 'spray devices' that you can place around your home, these spray cans are still very much a popular buy for the average home. When you have guests coming round, it is so easy to whip out a can and spray wildly around your head to desperately try and get your home smelling fresh and sometimes fruity. It can leave a long lasting pleasant smell that can easily brighten up anyone's day when they get a whiff. The question is can Dettol's Neutra Air Fresh Morning Dew do all of that?
What is the 'Dettol' range?
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the name Dettol is not normally associated with an air freshener. Usually you would pick up Dettol bleach to clean kitchen floors with but over the past couple of years Dettol has become so popular that it has expanded into kitchen work surface cleaners, antibacterial wipes and even hand wash for your bathroom. Owned by the Reckitt Benckiser group, Dettol first started off as an antiseptic cleaner, with its TCP sort of smell and murky yellow / brown liquid, but has now transformed into a well recognised brand on the high street,
The Air Freshener comes in a 300ml can of about 20cm tall; you know the usual size for this type of product. It is pastel / sky blue in colour and depicts a sort of meadow on the front in a very watercolour-esque design, assumingly to match the 'Fresh Morning Dew' aroma. I've got to be honest it isn't a very eye-catching design and Air Fresheners by Glade caught my attention first; the only reason I bought this was simply because I use other Dettol products. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it actually was a product made by Febreeze, because the design right down to the colour is almost identical, apart from the Dettol logo standing firm in green.
On the reverse of the can it has a sort of checklist with ticks and crosses on where you can use this air freshener and where you cannot. Bin lids, Toilets, carpets, fabrics are allowed where as leather surfaces, food preparation areas and pets are definitely a no no, not that you need telling that the product is not intended to be used upon your pets directly. A quick four step by step guide tells you how to use this also.
Now Dettol Neutra Air claims to be more than a simple air freshener. It doesn't just add a nice fragrance throughout your home, but also eliminates the odour, kills 99.9% of bacteria that clogs up the air causing bad smells but alas also eliminates 99.9% of bacteria when sprayed on to surfaces. It's almost like an air freshener, fabric cleaner and ventilator in one.
I cannot simply write yes it works or no it doesn't here, simply because bacteria is something we cannot see. I will agree that it can eliminate bad odours throughout your home, so for the most part it can be safe to assume that it is true in its claims.
Using the Air Freshener
The lid has a button on top, which once pressed squirts out a spray of the product out of a small hole in the side of the lid. When using the product in the air, holding it upright and squirting will cause of small 'spray' to jet out in the direction you wish. It is a very thin light spray which means it can be used sparingly; a little goes a long way if you will.
When used upon fabrics, such as your settee, holding it downwards and spraying over your furniture until a mist has appeared over it would do just the trick.
I'm afraid this is where the downside appears. When purchasing an air freshener, for the most part it has to smell nice. That's one of if not the most important feature. Maybe I was the one that was wrong, but what do you think of in your own mind when reading 'Fresh Morning Dew'? I think of freshly cut grass, a sort of breezy summer fragrance that is fresh, not fruity but almost like walking out in the morning and knowing that it is going to be a great day, weather wise. Well I'm afraid that is definitely not what is inside this can.
It smells absolutely awful! Very much like wet, soggy mould. A sort of offish smell that makes you screw your face up and say out aloud 'what is that smell?'. It does have a first impression of freshness, before the mould eventually takes over. The only plus side I can think of is that when sprayed in the air or even on your settee, the smell evaporates very quickly and is simply gone.
You have to question though does this really satisfy your description of an air freshener? Surely you want your room smelling of its 'fragrance' for at least an hour or two?
Overall, I would most definitely not recommend this air freshener. It smells disgusting; it most certainly doesn't lift your spirits or create a warm fresh smelling environment to welcome your guests into. Yes it offers other advantages such as killing bacteria and neutralising odours, but I would prefer to use three different products than using this one to do all three. In my own opinion, I expect an air freshener to smell wonderful, sadly this does not. It is most definitely not value for money at roughly £1.70 especially when its competitors offer better smelling, longer lasting equivalents that can cost much cheaper.
Biore Ultra Deep Cleansing Pore Strips
When I was a teenager I suffered really badly from acne and despite now being in my twenties, I still get regular flare-ups and moments when my skin has seen far better days. Blackheads have also been a problem, a persistent problem to say the least. There is a lot of stigma associated with people who suffer with acne and blackheads; dirty, unclean, unhygienic to name but a few words that apparently 'categorise' us. My skin also swaps and changes from ultra dry to ultra oily and the nose area is always a target area for painful spots and stubborn blackheads. A friend actually recommended the Biore Nasal Pore Strips to me. I've tried countless things in the past so my expectations were extremely low, but I decided to give them a month's trial nonetheless.
What is the 'Biore' Range?
Biore is a registered brand of Kao Brands Europe, who specialise in beauty products that help revive skin and nurture hair. The Biore range incorporates many different products including face washes, cleanser creams, moisturisers and scrubs that are specifically targeted to fight skin plagued with blackheads. There products are distributed nationwide and can be found in Boots and many supermarkets including Tesco and Asda.
On the shelf you could be forgiven for missing them entirely as the pale green box shies itself away compared to the invigorating and colourful designs of its competitors such as Clearasil. Despite this it does have a clear and simple design with a small picture of a woman wearing the nasal strips with a small description underneath. This may be simple, but on the whole it puts itself forward as quite professional and adult, rather than fitting in with the teenager specified products.
On the reverse it has a further description of what is inside the strips themselves as well as a five step guide on how to use the strips. Again professionalism here is the key thing that sets itself apart from other products. The steps are easy to follow and are accompanied by a bite size illustration next to each step.
The Claim and Key Ingredients
Our facial skin is made up of over 20,000 pores which naturally open and close to release important oils and keep out dirt. Because of this our skin can easily become clogged up in dirt and oil which in turn break out as spots and blackheads. Our skin can produce too much oil with isn't a good thing and without regular in-depth cleaning it can result in further facial conditions. Biore Nasal strips claim they can remove the 'stubborn pore-clogging dirt and oil' remove blackheads and refresh and purify our pores. Three important ingredients apparently help this process.
Tea Tree Oil - is something we see regularly nowadays in beauty products. Harvested from leaves native to Australia, Tea Tree Oil has now been proven to beneficial medically with antiseptic and antifungal properties. It has been proven to combat Staphylococcus aureus - a harmful bacteria that can cause illness when left untreated for long periods of time.
Menthol - is an organic oil extracted from mint plant such as peppermint. When applied to the skin it reacts with a naturally occurring protein and produces a cooling sensation that I'm sure we have all experienced. It is grouped as an analgesic medicine which reduces pain in a specifically targeted area.
Witch Hazel - produced from the Hamamelis virginiana plant, Witch Hazel is an anti-oxidant which apparently is fantatsic against fighting acne and reduces swelling. It is also highly effective for psoriosis and eczema sufferes.
So with all the layman science put forward it certainly sounds convincing doesn't it? However does it do 'what it says on the tin'
Using the Biore Strips
The strips themselves are only about four inches long and are easy to remove from their sticky backing. There are two sets of three slits which need to perferated before use. After thoroughly wetting your nose, you remove the backing and place over your nose. The slits help it wrap around the shape of your nose perfectly and are able to press into the very corners of your nostrils, which for me have always been a problem area.
You are told to leave the strip for fifteen minutes and as you wait you can feel it start to dry out and become very hard. It becomes very rigid and stiff and can cause a feeling of pressure on your nose, it isn't painful or tense, but it is definitely not a normal feeling. Also as it's working you can feel the cooling sensation mentioned above assumingly from the 'Menthol'.
When the time is up you need to peel it off gently from the sides pulling forward to the centre of your nose. It is very tough and can give you the feeling of a 'ripping' sensation. It can be slightful uncomfortable. After looking down at the amount of dirt, dead skin and general 'mank' left on the strip it is then you realise just how dirty the area can become.
Did it work?
I was so surprised actually at how well the strips work. Over a period of a month used every three or four days, my nose became much more blemish-free and the blackheads only occur every now and again. The dry skin that forms on the nostril part of my nose has gone completely. I actually forgot to use them once and I went without them for a period of roughly two weeks and all the problems I had came rushing back. But with just two application they were eradicated again. They have been simply a God send.
So, there must be downsides?
Well I am sure everyone has different pain thresholds and although the sensation it quite stiff and a little uncomfortable, I am also sure for some this will be too much and put them off. You do get use to the tightening feelings it produces, it is almost like Papier-Mache.
The only real downside I have to point out is the price. In a economy such as ours will we really fork out nearly a tenner for a pack of just 6 strips. But if you think about it 6 strips if used every four days will last you just over three weeks. It is expensive though and I am positive there are other nasal strips that cost less but I haven't tried them. The best thing I have found is that Boots tend to have more offers on them, so the last time I got a Buy One Get One Free deal, also the points accumilated on your Boots Advantage card will eventually give you one pack free.
Overall, I would highly recommend these nasal strips to anyone who does suffer from outbreaks of blackheads and any kind of fungal irritation on or around their nasal area. When used regularly it certainly improves the look of your skin but more importantly helps combat the problems in the first place. It can cost you a bit of money and they are obviously marketed towards the fairer sex so men can easily dismiss them. However for people with confidence issues, this simple little strip can work magic and inject a big boost of happiness into someones life and give them less worry about the look of their face.
With Valentines Day just around the corner and with no love in my life at this moment I felt it right to pull out a cheesy Romantic Comedy and chill with a bottle of beer in my hand. You see I'm going to let you in on a very dark secret ladies, men do in fact love 'chick flicks', but for obvious reasons, pride, ego, macho prowess to name but a few, we simply cannot let ourselves admit that when we are alone, sometimes it is nice to stick on a predictable no-brainer and choke back the tears when you know that happy ending is about to rear it's ugly head. Released in 2009, The Proposal was released to worldwide success but limited positive appraise. Is this a chick flick one too many? Is it simply just too predictable?
Introduce Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock), a no excuses, hard whipped, emotionless editor for a huge Book Publisher. Her employees dislike and fear her when she walks through the door. Imagine her surprise when she realises that her Visa to stay in America has expired and she has been sentenced to leave and head back to her native Canada. Introduce Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), Tate's personal assistant and the perfect victim to blackmail. He longs to have his manuscript published and has worked for Tate for the past three years and is dismayed to hear she has rejected his novel. Threatening to destroy his potential career Tate forces Paxton to agree to marry him in a sham wedding meaning she can stay in America and keep her cushy job and large paycheque.
Forced to visit his family up in Sitka, Alaska the 'couple' must learn to get to know each other in order to pass the Immigration test as well as fooling Paxton's family long enough to make it up the aisle. As one can imagine, this is not an easy feat as things goes horribly wrong when they are forced out of their comfort zone and see each other for who they really are. Will the truth emerge or will they end up marrying each other? I won't spoil the ending for you.
I think it is obvious to say that yes this is in fact a true chick flick at heart, predictable and unoriginal. You can almost second guess what is going to happen next and the sham wedding to avoid deportation is a story been told many, many times before. I've got to say though that at times, there is nothing wrong with predictability. It is comforting to know that you don't need to engage in a complex story and in fact films don't always need an intriguing, complicating, twisting storyline to be enjoyable. However, I would go as far as to say that the storyline here is not what gives us the enjoyment factor. That comes from many other factors that gel this foreseeable Romcom into an easy flowing piece of easy viewing.
One of the better parts of this film is unsurprisingly Sandra Bullock who gives us a wonderful character. This film in itself is pretty much what we've come to expect from Bullock, but it is so refreshing to see her play a sort of Devil Wears Prada kind of role, where she is cold and bitter. Her sarcasm too is also biting and at times so witty and humorous and mix that with an almost snobby kind of clumsiness and you get a stereotype; true, but an engaging one at that. Two memorable scenes are firstly where she has her mobile phone stolen by an eagle and uses the family puppy as bait to try and receive it back (Cold) and secondly where she is using a computer and a dial up tone for the internet can be heard and she is completely clueless as to what it is (snobby clumsiness).
I don't think Ryan Reynolds is as strong here compared to his compatriot, but maybe that's because he plays the victim in all of this. The nice guy who gets blackmailed, the poor sap who obviously is in love with another woman but cannot do anything about it in order to salvage whatever he can from his career. His character is not without sarcasm too and at times matches Bullock in delivering witty lines with ease. I think the problem with his character is that for a chick flick he is just a little too predictable, which can overall come across a little one dimensional. Despite this, their chemistry is amazing. They play their roles really convincingly and they just suit each other really well. They play almost polar opposite characters that create this special sort of magic that charms the viewers and allows us to follow their progress. It is because of all of this that we can forgive that by the time the film starts to come to an end they realise that they actually are in love with each other.
As aforementioned sarcasm is heavily used to create the comedy aspect to this film, but silliness and covered up sexual references also play a big part too. Gammy (Betty White) Andrew's Grandmother is an unforgettable character. There is a fantastic scene in where she is overly excited about the presence of a male stripper and even resorts to telling Bullock to 'Smack his ass'. It's almost unbelievable yet not so farfetched either and that is where the true humour comes from. Nudity does come into it at one point, a non sexualised scene in where Bullock is getting out of the shower and falls into a naked Reynolds who is going to go for a shower. The humour comes from the repulsion towards one another.
What was a little surprising to find in here are some fantastic atmospherical backdrops and clips of the Alaskan mountains with lush green growing upon it whilst the wispy mist rising from the valleys below create a dreamy paradise. I assume these cinematic shots are what rose the $40 million budget up. Despite being pretty breathtaking they are a little random in appearing at intervals within the film.
If I were to mention one 'bad' point to the film, then I would definitely mention the inclusion of Gertrude (Malin Akerman) Andrew's ex girlfriend. They make an issue that its obvious he still loves her, maybe to make you feel that little more sorry for him that he is being forced to marry someone he 'loathes' and cannot be with who he really does have feelings for, yet she is not in it for long and this side sort of story never really takes off, never really progresses and it does make you think well what's the point? It was also obvious that the relationship between Andrew and his father (Craig T. Nelson) was going to be strained. I would have loved to see maybe the mother son relationship have tension, something that maybe would have lifted this from just your average predictable chick flick into something a little more surprising and original.
The DVD enjoys its usual list of subtitle delights and the standard will give you an uninspiring audio commentary where as the blu ray feature will give you some deleted scenes and an alternate ending. The extra bonus features on the blu ray version is definitely not enough to fork out the extra price tag.
Overall I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed The Proposal with its memorable laughs and quirky sarcasm. Think Devil Wears Prada meets 13 Going on 30. This is Bullock at her Romcom best to be quite frank and yes it is unoriginal, but remember that is good sometimes. It flows very well, isn't too long to be unbearable and I guarantee many laughs can be had with this film. I wouldn't pay full price for it mind you, but if you see it for a few quid, it's definitely worth the money. Guys, if you aren't going to do the real proposing this year, but what a nice little gift to keep the lady in your life happy without being bored stiff yourself, opt for this, trust me.
Name: Saw: The Videogame
Released: November 2009, PS3
Developed by: Zombie Studios
Average Professional Score: 5 out of 10
You may like Saw: The Videogame if you liked:
Alone in the Dark (PS3)
Siren: Blood Curse (PS3)
After a whopping six films, it is no wonder a computer game rendition was in the pipeline to go hand in hand with the popular horror brand. To coincide with the release of Saw VI, 'Saw: The Videogame' was released in late 2009. On paper it could make a hugely successful game and potentially re-ignite the survival horror genre, which has been rather lacking recently. After reading a few professional reviews it was very apparent that the game has a chillingly seductive atmosphere, but is the really the case? Does it translate into a thrilling enjoyable game?
Though the game connects to the films on a subjective level, the game has been written to tell a sort of side story. You play as Detective Tapp, who awakes to find himself wearing the infamous bear trap and locked inside a medical asylum. It soon becomes apparent that The Jigsaw Killer has kidnapped him and placed him inside the locked building to save various victims that all somehow relate back to the films. He also discovers that placed inside his chest is a key, a key that unlocks the exits and thus to freedom. Running around being 'tested' themselves is other characters that must solve the clues to reveal that their only way out is to retrieve the key from inside Tapp.
It isn't that simple however, horrific and gruesome puzzles await Tapp and he must solve the riddles and free the victims from all sorts of situations, from shotgun booby trapped doors, furnaces, walls of spikes and other monstrous torture devices. It becomes even more difficult still as The Jigsaw Killer has an accomplice, a shadowy character named Pighead who traverses the asylum in search of Tapp. Can Tapp make it out of the asylum alive and can he save the victims along him quest? Or is his obsession for The Jigsaw Killer too strong to ignore and be lured deeper into a mind game of secrets and twists?
I suppose when you buy the game you already have an idea of what the story is all about, a sort of 'does as it says on the tin' kind of feeling. And that is exactly what you get. It's unoriginal, lets be fair, but sometimes unoriginality does not mean boring or bad. The plot itself is intriguing and addictive enough to find out the true meaning behind the Jigsaw's riddles and vague monologues. It is also rewarding enough to hear the stories of the victims all locked inside the asylum, whether it be a heroin addict or a neglectful mother. Characterisation adds depth to a story and in here it's obvious that it also adds atmosphere and emotion into a game that is otherwise all about death.
Upon release, Saw: The Videogame has received an inundate of attention regarding to the barbaric nature of the game. Apparently 'torture porn' in nature and a 'tutorial for sadists to get pleasure from'. I have to disagree, not only does the game come with a whopping 18 certificate therefore making it only available for adults, but also anyone who is a fan of the Saw franchise knows that the whole backdrop regarding the creation of The Jigsaw Killer is about morals and lack of appreciation of life. People are being punished for their bad decision making and for shunning responsibility. There is a very strong message in the game if you follow the story hard enough to see past the gory devices and the death of computer animated characters. Horror films rely on pushing boundaries and causing controversy, and by reacting to the game it only makes people sit up and notice even more.
Graphics and Sound
The Playstation 3 has been around now for a good while now and with examples of games such as Final Fantasy, God of War, Call of Duty etc as a gamer we come to expect decent looking graphics. It doesn't make a game, but nowadays it could break a game and it is really an important aspect to create a visual spectacular for the player but also to add atmosphere, replayability and recognition. If I was to be honest, characters in Saw: The Videogame looked bland and lacking in a really specific kind of detail. It promotes generic-esque design and results in a sort of budget Playstation 2 feel. What I mean by this is the sort of block colour fill-in that makes up the variety. There doesn't seem to be much texture to the character design either that is usually always the case with low budget titles.
Animation is a little jerky also, which for me put me off the game, im sorry to admit. When fighting (see Gameplay) the actions are very limited and often square-ish which is game talk for an action that doesn't flow or follow through smoothly. It just looks unrealistic and unnatural. However lighting is used to create a truly spectacularly cold atmosphere. At the beginning of the game you only have a lighter to see your war ahead. Just imagine how dark the game is and the great potential for scares and frights. Atmosphere in a horror survival game is a must and here is one plus to go on the 'too buy' list. However, sadly the atmospheric potential of thrills and scares never really materialise and you are left with what if's and could be's.
Many critics pointed out the accomplished soundtrack and sound effects that add the scare factor in, but perhaps I missed something. It has been known. But if there was a soundtrack in the game surely it can't be that great since I can't even remember anything stand out and grab my attention. I can recall the shattered glass effects from walking around in the dark, plus the chilling voice of the Jigsaw which is also a nice touch, but im afraid that's it.
Gameplay and Replayability
There are countless games in the Horror Survival genre now, all with varying takes on the Gameplay aspect. Some go for all out action, whilst some rely on atmosphere and plot. Saw: The Videogame mixes the two in what can be called a cataclysmic failure. Let's take the combat first. As aforementioned in the plot, other characters are out to kill Tapp to obtain the key inside his chest. Therefore it becomes necessary to arm yourself with a weapon and defend yourself. Metal pipes, wooden bats, scalpels and many many more are all available at your will to wipe out the hoards of attackers. With a light and hard attack button available you'd expect a wide variety of actions available, but sadly not. There are no combos and you have to rely on blocking then attacking and vice versa to get lucky and kill your opponent. What's worse is the slow reaction from controller to Detective Tapp, which means at times you are already loosing valuable health before the commands are even recognised. Enemy AI isn't better either, with lacklustre opponents that suffer from mediocre moves themselves.
The combat is really just an added extra into the Gameplay; the puzzles are the heart and soul of the actual Gameplay. So for example you need to press the right button at the right time to avoid booby traps and also play mini games such as sticking your arm into a toilet filled of needles to obtain a key. By moving the analogue stick against pressure and pressing the pick up button will successfully catch the key. The problem with all these types of puzzles is that we've seen them all before and don't really take much brain power; no puzzle is really that challenging. Take the X-Ray puzzle for example. A key is hiding inside a corpse; there are four corpses with name tags. Choosing one of the three incorrect bodies will result in something bad happening. Which dead body do you pick? Simple, by looking at the X-Ray it will tell you the name of the patient.
Repetition is a common problem in this game and it halts the enjoyment of a game that had so much potential. You just get bored so easily. The game also suffers linear walkways. Later on in the game you can take multiple routes, but does this really solve that? Whole areas are blocked off early on so you just simply follow the only way through. This also comes back to the puzzle element of the game. Some puzzles are simply solved by taking one thing from one place to another part of the asylum and bingo!
There are multiple endings to the game which is always a plus point in any game, because it forces replayability. The problem with this is, is Saw worth playing again to see another ending? Probably not. There are also two difficulty levels. I've tried both and the harder setting gives you more opponents with much more aggressive tendencies and it also gives you a little less time on certain life or death puzzles. Trophies are a common thing now in all PS3 games, but there are 47 trophies to unlock, 11 of which are secret so figuring them all out can be a little challenging. There was apparently going to be multiplayer game mode but was scrapped early on in the development stage.
Atmospheric horror setting
Bland graphics engine
This horror game is one for fans only I'm afraid. I would certainly not recommend it over many other titles in the same genre. The worst part of the game is the fact that the controls are so unresponsive at times it becomes a chore to play and therefore you have to ask yourself is it worth its £37.99 RRP? The critics were right in saying that it is highly full of atmosphere and the omnipresence of the antagonist can provide a few thrills. It does have a good enough story, but im afraid the sad point is that you have to play the game to realise the truth. It has potential and at the current date of this review write up a sequel has been released. Let's hope that was given a much bigger budget because the promise is that it can be turned around. Unfortunately Saw: The Videogame is not an enjoyable experience and definitely doesn't re-ignite the genre liked I hope it would.
Name: Alexander: Child of a Dream
Author: Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Released: 1998 (Italian) 2001 (English)
Series: Alexander Trilogy
Alexandrian history is one of my passions in life. The exotic heroic adventures have been embellished, retold, twisted and transformed many of times, but in 1998 Italian writer Valerio Massimo Manfredi, wrote down in three parts the life of Alexander. The first novel 'Child of a Dream' depicts in a sort of biographical form, the early years of Alexander the Great. Does it capture your attention throughout however? It takes a skilled writer to mix fiction with fact and pull it off successfully. Is Manfredi that type of writer?
A Little About . . . Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Manfredi is a 'mature' Italian author, but is a renowned journalist and historian too. Born in 1943 in a town called Castelfranco Emilia, Manfredi has had fourteen novel published to date as well as many more non-fiction accounts and essays. His wife, Christine Manfredi, translates his work from Italian into English.
All three of his 'Alexander' novels were originally published in 1998 in Italian. However, it wasn't until three years later that they were translated for our reading pleasure.
He currently resides in Bologna, Italy.
'Who could have been born to conquer the world other than a god? A boy, born to be a great king - Philip of Macedon - and his sensuous queen, Olympias. Alexander became a young man of immense, unfathomable potential. Under the tutelage of the great Aristotle and the friendship of Ptolemy and Hephaiston, he became the mightiest and most charismatic warrior, capable of subjugating the known world to his power.'
Born to Philip, King of Macedon and Queen Olympias, the young Alexander has huge dreams and infamous influences. Not only does he expect a lot from himself, but as Prince of Macedon, a lot is expected from him. It isn't easy though; life in ancient Greece is chaotic and through hard work and determination, Philip has managed to transform a collection of Barbarian city states into a fully fledged civilisation. Alexander is set to inherit all of this.
Tutored in combat and internal politics he is later moved away from the palace to be taught by the famous Aristotle, which in turn gives him vital life skills needed to rule as King. Surrounded by his small group of close friends, Alexander, though still young, must learn to make important decisions in battle whilst handling the abuse of his alcoholic father and vindictive obsessed mother. This is a story that combines interesting historic factual events with life changing choices. With distant Persia always a threat, what choices does Alexander make and more importantly are they the right ones?
It must be hard to write a story about a man when his life has been told so many times before. But it has to be said that Manfredi does so with a skilful hand and writing wit that ultimately sheds smaller insights and at first glances, unimportant detail as well as including the more well known aspects of Alexander's life.
Whilst reading, you suddenly cannot help but realise that Manfredi is an unbiased writer; he never puts Alexander up on the famous pedestal. Behind the legendary face lies a boy, who yes is privileged to be royalty, though still must learn to get through his teenage years and grown into a man. He had to figure out his place in the world and I think this is really a fantastic gem of an undertone that runs throughout this first book.
To say Alexander's life is like an episode of Eastenders would be greatly melodramatic, but the dramas and events that unfold in here are very much on a soap opera scale. His father and king loves to drink and Alexander feels excluded from his father's personal life, but behind his macho façade is a father who only wants what is best for his son. His mother suffers from paranoid delusions and tries to project them onto her son. It is these personal 'everyday' incidents that make you appreciate just how detailed this book is. It isn't just a historical novel depicting fact after fact. There is a very real story to be told and it as a result lures the reader in, quite successfully too.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the story just revolves around the young prince, but people from Philip, Aristotle, Olympias to best friend Hephaestion all have personal moments here. It is really addictive story telling and allows the novel to escape the box and become more dimensional.
To have a successful lead character, you must really connect and or like them or really loathe them (but secretly want to know more). That is why little inclusions of story telling are required to project Alexander: Child of a Dream from historical biography into a historical adventure novel. At one moment in the book for example, Alexander sees a slave girl in a labour camp and feels obliged to save her from the rotten life she was destined for. Though admirable, as the reader, you have to think to yourself; is this fact or fiction? I don't actually know, but what I can tell is that Manfredi uses this moment for various things.
Firstly, it draws upon our feelings regarding slavery without our own society. Notice that Alexander is distressed by what he sees and therefore it draws us to relate to him. Also Manfredi uses the opportunity to give us a lesson in Macedonian social policies - all through the mouth of Philip. In essence, we learn along with Alexander. It is a unique form of story telling that works really well.
Manfredi uses a nice balance of descriptive language to fluff up his imagery with precise historic detail. His use of similes and metaphors are quite flamboyant sometimes, very much like the ancient writers Homer and Virgil. I was very pleased I can tell you. However one problem bound to arise from this type of novel is the constant use of place names, regions and semantics. To an everyday Joe Bloggs reader, this can disrupt the flow of reading and sadly at times it does.
Another let down from Alexander: Child of a Dream is the rushed ending. Alexander is preparing for war, but also fighting battles in his own region. At times Manfredi skips over the detail extremely quickly to get to the end. Months pass in the space of sentences and it all results in a sort of avalanche, leaving the reader bewildered as to what happens next.
I however, forgetting the rushed end, thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I had never read a Manfredi novel before this and his reputation did not disappoint. I cannot wait to read the next in the series. The writing is educated but easily accessible and simple to follow. I loved learning about things I didn't know, but felt a real longing to experience Alexander's plights along with him. I highly recommend this to any type of reader and don't worry Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie are nowhere to be seen. The hardback edition is quite rare to get a hold of now, but the paperback version is cheap enough from Amazon or Waterstones.
Do you ever remember these little treats as a child? Well Tooty Frooties are still going strong and have actually been around since 1963. If I can do maths properly that's 47 years. They are made by Rowntree's, which in turn is a trademark brand of Nestle. They are widely available from small corner shops to big brand supermarkets and even though they are marketed at children, they can be enjoyed by children, teenagers and adults alike. Although this is within reason.
The packaging has changed over years but has always supported a cartoon style which obviously appeals to children. Though the packet itself is small, it is coloured in vibrant purple with bold yellow lettering which creates a 'Look at Me' feature. It stands out and is made of a strong plastic packet which can be recycled. When opening the bag it doesn't easily split which is a bonus as time and time again, I cannot tell you how often I've opened a packet of sweets and it rips all the way down and the product falls out onto the floor.
On the back of each packet, it contains a little picture of a cartoon Tooty Frooty which a toothbrush. It quotes 'Don't forget to brush your teeth'. Though I suspect this is just a marketing ploy by Rowntree's to avoid any awkward question about sugar content, it does add a tool for parents to use about convincing children to brush their teeth.
Each Tooty Frooty is a few cm across and is actually squared shape, but with curved edges. Just think how painful they would be with sharp edges as you or your child tries to swallow! On the outside is a hard sugar coating and on the inside is a fruit flavoured chewy centre. They come in five colours which represent a different flavour. They consist of Lemon, Orange, Apple, Blackcurrant and Strawberry. What is nice about the taste is that the flavours are never bitter and overpowering, yet not too subtle either. It combines a nice balance in between.
One problem however is that they can be a little too hard to chew especially for a child. I would most certainly never recommend these sweets to any child under the age of five. If you take one sweet in your mouth it is fine, but as you reach the end of the bag your mouth can feel a little achy. This increases much earlier, if like me, you have a few in your mouth at once. The part of the mouth to ache the most is definitely the roof.
A typical small bag has between 15 and 20 sweets inside, which in my opinion is just right. Too many more and your mouth will feel like it is going to collapse! Also the more you have in there, potentially means the more sugar you are feeding your child.
The Nutritional Content
Each small bag contains 179 Kcal which is 10% of your child's recommended daily intake. Even though it contains a small amount of fat (1.6g), the worrying element is obviously the sugar which is a whopping 33.1g. That is more than a small glass of cola. No wonder the little picture for brushing teeth was added. Taking this as advice, you can see that actually Tooty Frooties are most certainly a sweet on the 'high end' of sugar intake. You can find many other products that children would love with up to half the sugar. I am not going to advise parents on diet and would never accuse sweets like these of giving children diabetes, but I think you may respect the understanding that constant sugary treats such as these more than once a day every day can undeniably lead to unhealthy addictions.
On the plus side, no artificial colourings and flavours have been used and although it is only 3.5% of the entire content, real fruit juices have been used to create the fruity flavours. It does contain vegetable fat in the ingredients rather than gelatine, but on the packet it does not say 'Suitable for Vegetarians' so I would recommend any vegetarian or vegan to take a close look at the ingredients for themselves.
They are considerably more expensive than they used to be. A small single bag will cost you 42p from Tesco, 41p from Asda and 45p from Morrisons.
Sugar,Glucose Syrup ,Fruit Juices (3.5%) (Strawberry, Blackcurrant, Apple, Orange, Lemon) ,Vegetable Fat ,Malic Acid ,Gum Arabic ,Flavourings ,Acidity Regulator (Trisodium Citrate) ,Citric Acid ,Glazing Agent (Carnauba Wax) ,Wheat Gluten ,Colours (Carminic Acid, Riboflavin, Beta-Carotene, Vegetable Carbon, Anthocyanin)
I think Tooty Frooties are great and taste lovely, I prefer them to Skittles. They are nice as a little fruity treat and can be used as fantastic party fillers. They do however contain massive amounts of sugar and can be too chewy for some children. Younger children could choke on them as well, so always use your common sense and knowledge of the child you are giving them to as the sugar coating is hard. They are usually placed with the till counter products with the chocolate bars, so if you fancy something different from a chocolate bar, grab a bag of these and relive your younger days.
Name: Final Fantasy XIII
Released: March 2010, PS3
Developed by: Square Enix
Average Professional Score: 9 out of 10
You may like Final Fantasy XIII if you liked:
Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)
Grandia II (PS2)
News of this fourteenth instalment of the main series was first introduced in 2006. Finally released on the Playstation 3 in early 2010 shows that Square Enix has been working on it for nearly five years. It's also been announced that it has become the fastest selling episode in the franchise. With raving reviews and sales galore, surely this game must be a hit? Well I've stripped this one apart and believe me there is plenty to say on that matter.
Humans live on a world called Cocoon, a shell like planet that inhabits itself within another planet. Pulse looms down below. God like beings known as fal'Cie let humanity flourish until a war broke out between the Pulse fal'Cie and the Cocoon fal'Cie. Since this War of Transgression, humans began to fear anything 'Pulse' related and after being fed a media plague of hatred about the world below supported the Purge, a mass exile to anyone who has come in to contact with Pulsian matter. It is during the Purge that we find our heroes introduced to on another.
With betrayal, lies and secrecy running the show, it is no surprise that all is now what it seems and Lightning, the main protagonist, suspects a corrupt government. After becoming into contact with a Pulse fal'Cie, all six of the main cast are cursed into being l'Cie puppets of the fal'Cie who cursed them. Now branded an enemy of Cocoon, they must trust each other in escaping the law, whilst not only bringing down the Sanctum (government of Cocoon) and completing their focus. All l'Cie are given a mission (focus), if they fail they will all turn into Cie'th, monsters who must linger the world forever trapped.
So before you even get stuck into this, you know that all of the characters have a secret and are in it because of their own agenda. It just obviously takes playing the game to unravel these truths. To start with, the player is introduced to very little and with so many things going on, this can be very confusing. Events just don't seem to make sense at all and as a result this halts the drive and addiction needed to getting into the story and grabbing on with both hands and teeth in unison. Terms are thrown at you in all directions. It's almost as if they were given a set of Scrabble letters and told to create as many words as they can. Cie'th, fal'Cie, l'Cie; this list just goes on. In all honesty, it isn't until you familiarise yourself with all of the names and divisions that you start to sit up and appreciate the complexity of the world Square Enix has created.
Despite of this complexity, the story just reveals itself too slowly. With the most successful RPG's they make you believe you are fighting for a cause or establish a connection between the main characters and the gamer. Whether this connection is emotional, respectful of admirable varies on the title. Sadly, Final Fantasy XIII does neither. The characters just seem too familiar. Lightning is obviously a female carbon copy of Cloud (FFVII), Vanille is Selphie (FFVIII) and antagonist Dysley is just too similar to Seymour (FFX).
With other Final Fantasy titles, the story has always been so definitively defined. I don't know what went wrong here. It's like it fused Transformers and Power Rangers into one. The infamous eidolons make a return here and unfortunately just seem to add to disappointment list that is evidently stacking up so quickly. Everything in the world is so mechanical, both physically and environmentally, which results in a manufactured sort of feel to it.
On a plus note (let's face it we need one) as expected, it is very pretty to look at with such clean lines and design. I would go as far as to say that it is arguably is the most realistic looking final fantasy. So much detail has been put into the faces of each character, so that we can even read the emotions they emit on so many different levels. Background scenery consists of a mixture of 3D and 2D structures to really give a fantastic illusion of being set in a very real world.
Cut scenes and FMV's are in one word; phenomenal. Clever camera work and luscious lighting creates a magnificent atmosphere, whether it is in the beautiful but lonely landscapes of Gran Pulse or the ambush scene in Palumpolum. Colour is vivid also and never falters in helping it difficult to notice transitional points between cut scenes into FMV. Despite my distaste to the futuristic mechanical theme it nonetheless looks brilliant, mixing levels of dark caves to ice covered lakes means it has a brilliant variety in level design.
Voice acting is overly familiar again, though this doesn't mean it is necessarily a bad thing. There is emotion and belief in Ali Hillis' voice (Must Love Dogs) who plays Lightning and Troy Baker (Resistance 2) doesn't do an awful job in bringing Snow to life. But I do have to mention the voices of Vanille and Fang. They have got to be the worst acted characters I have ever heard in a game this serious. Their ridiculously over exaggerated Australian accents left me rummaging around for the mute button. To a certain extent it leaves a part of the game a joke and anything serious they have to say; cringe worthy. Vanille is played by Georgia Van Cuylenburg and Fang is voiced by Rachel Robinson.
I suppose this up and down pattern is even more true to the entire sound department inside of Final Fantasy XIII. Whether it was the classic winning sound in FFVII, Liberali Fatali in FFVIII or Suteki Da Ne in FFX, there has always been a memorable and strong stand, but sadly this instalment misses out. There are some blood pumping themes in some very tense moments forcing an increase in pace. However on one level, a dark industrial themed level I may add has a funky jazz/blues melody screeching out of your TV. It was so out of place that it even urged a response from my other half. The most out of place award must however go to the main theme song. Imagine, you've just spent 25 + plus hours completing the game, you've just survived a lengthy boss battle and along with the final cut scene Leona Lewis starts whining in the background. What a mistake!
Ok, so in FFXII, developers Square Enix made some big changes to the battle system and this title some things have stayed and others radically changed again. Random battles haven't returned with visable enemies on screen, but the old style battle screen makes a welcomed return. It does use an active time battle system but allows you to create an attack combo from individual abilities learned from the Crystarium, which ultimately is a spiral world of abilities to learn and a place to spend accumulated experience points. Unlike the License Board in FFXII you do not need a license to wield a weapon.
Instead you create roles for your characters such as commando, medic, sentinel and ravanger. Each having a different purpose. Again you can only control one character in battle (which I find a shame) and therefore must set paradigms for your other two battle members. This is basically an AI command on which role to take and which attacks to use. Only certain members can use certain roles, which mean players will have a very strategic decision to make at each crucial point in the game as to who will make up their party of three. Brand new is the stagger state. Each enemy has a chain gauge and when this is raised and full it will become staggered, essentially weakening the enemy and becoming easier to defeat. Ravengers are magic users that help raise the chain gauge.
Though the stagger state is original and helps create a more tactical approach to the game, the rest is far from original. We've seen it all before in FF X- 2 with the costume systems haven't we? At times it makes the game more interesting, but in others it can make the game feel a little monotonous as you flick back and forth between roles. I certainly would have loved to see something more exciting and refreshing. The crystarium is also a weird and laborious way of levelling up your characters. I can remember spending an hour or two trekking the world map to level up my characters so they were fit and ready for more advanced enemies. Here however you can expose an enemy's weakness by simply switching to a different role. Where has some of that old school charm gone that made the PSOne adventures so addictive?
The game is split into chapters and for the first eight maybe nine at least the game is so straight forward and simple most RPG fanatics would have simply switched off. The game does become much more strategic and worthy of playing though after those chapters, but that's about twenty hours into the game. Is that really such a worthy sacrifice? At times after this it also becomes ridiculously difficult in patches, with enemies having enormously high health making battles sometimes last for more than fifteen minutes. You also get a star rating out of five at the battle end screen. The more stars obviously means better items you loot.
Any Final Fantasy fan will tell you that the side quests are some of the juiciest elements hidden away for their pleasure. It also pains me to say that yet again there aren't that many in here, never mind interesting ones. On Gran Pulse you are given the opportunity to complete missions from Cie'th stones. Basically completely the focus from the l'Cie that failed them. This involves killing a hoard of monsters that get stronger with each mission. Unless you are looking to prove yourself in killing strong enemies then I'm afraid that's really it. No bonus summons to find, no secret weapons (although there are ultimate ones), no extra bits of story to unlock. Oh, there is a Chocobo treasure hunt, but that is just lame. Running around on a Chocobo until a sign appears above its head telling you to dig is not an entertaining side quest. It was obviously really just put in to act as an Easter Egg. The addition of other memorable Easter Eggs is nice, for example an aircraft is called Lindblum which was a town in FFIX.
Square Enix tried hard to add something different into their first PS3 outing, but sadly misfired on so many levels. The battle system is far from perfect, although it does create some tactical battles, and its linear walkthrough makes the game overly simple at times feeling rather like a scrolling platformer than an RPG. The graphics are gorgeous but the storyline is confusing yet complicated to a laborious degree. It is pretty much a rollercoaster ride of ups (FMV) downs (Familiarity) and some total disasters (Voice Accents). If you are a hardcore FF fan them I recommend playing this through once, simply to get to the good parts in the later stages of the game. If you are simply an average RPG fan then stay away from this instalment as it most certainly doesn't illuminate any of the series' highlights. It really is the weakest FF game since X - 2.
© Danpentagram 2010
Name: That's Not My Monkey
Author: Fiona Watts
Series: That's Not My ...
There comes a time in every person's life where books become highly interesting. Usually it starts in childhood and as my daughter reaches sixteen months old, that special curiosity, that wonderful interest has now begun. Choosing books for a baby/toddler can be more daunting than it first seems, but I happened to stumble upon this book in my local WHSmith. Now the test begins. Did it capture my little one's attention?
Upon reading the book, which really only consists of ten pages, you are quick to notice that there isn't actually a story. I've got to be honest, I was quite surprised at this, as naïve as I sometimes am, I thought all books had a story. Upon reflection however, why on earth would a book marketed for babies have a story? Each page has a picture of a monkey on describing why it isn't 'my' monkey until the very last page where 'your' monkey has been waiting all along.
If you think about the advantages of this, one: it holds their attention simply because it is that simple. Over complicating a book aimed at someone who cannot even string a full sentence yet would obviously result in boredom. And two: by repeating words and reusing the same sentence albeit for one or two words, teaches them the basics for forming a sentence. After counting the words (yes, I am that sad) I found that actually there were only eighteen different words used.
I actually think the way the sentence has been formed is very clever, despite finding myself memorising it in my head whilst laid in bed after a marathon ninety minutes of reading it over and over again. By taking a body feature and giving it an adjective teaches them about describing words without them actually realising it. This is helped by the 'touchy-feely' element of the book.
The front cover, for example, has a picture of a chimpanzee with the statement 'That's not my monkey ... its ears are too soft'. The ears are then made using that ultra soft carpet like material that even make us adults go 'ooh' when we walk across barefooted. By touching the ears, they soon become accustomed to that feeling representing 'soft' and when they feel anything else similar that too is recognised as being 'soft'. The same goes for the other materials in the book including suede (velvety), Velcro (rough) and bristles (hairy).
The pictures are obviously the most important feature within the book giving the children visual stimulation. They are nice and big with a huge black outline to give the monkeys a 'look at me' characteristic. Apart from a few branches in the background, not much else appears. This is therefore a little limited because backgrounds can give further educational appeal. For instance the reader can say 'where is the ... flower?' etc and teach the child to identify other objects as well as the main subject of the book, monkeys in this case. Of course a monkey appears with a banana on one of the pages. Nice to see stereotypes being introduced to kids at such an early age. Backgrounds are actually made up of bright primary colours. They did capture my daughter's attention and it certainly gave her plenty to notice.
The main disadvantage is simply that kids love to put things in their mouth. Some of the materials used if pulled hard enough to tend to rip or come apart. Not good if your child puts carpet in their mouth. As well as being made a strong cardboard type material, the simplest solution is to make sure it is read with adult supervision. Though being made of the strong kind of card gives it a sort of sturdiness and hardiness to make it last a while. Pages cannot easily be ripped.
The bright pictures capture the eyesight, the patches of material give the fingers new sensations to touch and the quick short sentences appeal to aural awareness meaning that it has the fantastic balance of education and entertainment. It is a great way to interact with your child with both reading and touching. It does perhaps need some more detailed backgrounds and the material in the mouth option is a worry. Though I may moan about the amount of times I do have to read it, there is great pleasure to be had in seeing a big smile appear on my daughter's face. It costs £5.99 which I suppose is a little bit too much for so few pages and compared to some children's books I've seen, but it is a fair amount to see the excitement light them up.
Name: God of War III
Released: March 2010, PS3
Developed by: Sony Santa Monica Studios
Average Professional Score: 9 out of 10
You may like God of War III if you liked:
Devil May Cry 4 (PS3)
God of War II (PS2)
Released in March 2010, this third instalment of Sony's huge selling franchise was receiving a heavy amount of attention long before that eventual release date. It is the first game in the series to appear on the Playstation 3 and not only did players and fans expect a lot, but its developers promised a lot. With 'revamped graphics' and more fluid Gameplay would this chapter finally conclude the story of the battle between mortal and gods positively? If we look at the professional reviews conducted by all the gaming mags and e-zines, then most definitely with scores averaging at 9 out of ten, but is it really that good or has the savage bloodthirsty Gameplay clouded their eyes?
Being the last game of the main story trilogy (other games have appeared on the mobile and PSP) it does in fact revert back to the other games storylines, so even though yes it is a very playable game on its own I solely recommend playing the other two main titles in the series to really get a feel about the plot that takes place in this. It literally picks up where the second game leaves it, Kratos, warrior of Sparta, on his way with the Titans to Mount Olympus to confront Zeus and the rest of the Olympian horde. This is a story of revenge for the hardships and terror that the gods have unleashed onto Kratos over his life and he plans to leave no God alive. At the core of the game it simply is a round up mission of killing off each God Kratos comes across, finally levelling up to almighty Zeus himself at the games finale. Though it has to be said it is not an easy quest, with the underworld and deadly traps waiting for him at every corner and beyond. Upon his quest, Kratos learns that the infamous Pandora's Box still exists and so must travel the known world in search of the tool that will enable him to wield the power strong enough to completely annihilate a God.
This isn't the type of game that needs a strong complicated and interwoven storyline. It simply relies upon its basic enough story and heavy fuelled Gameplay. Saying this, the storyline in the game, the entire series actually, works surprisingly well. It's a little bit unoriginal and a little bit predictable, but on the whole very entertaining. It's not too long, keeping your interest throughout and despite the checklist of Gods that need slaying, it's a story that is addictive enough to play again, adding an element of workable replay value. In this addition alone it's nice for a gamer to play something that comes around full circle. If you are a God of War fan and know the history then plotting revenge and unleashing it throughout the Greek world is really the cherry on top of an already extensively iced cake.
Playing God of War III and not noticing its visual improvement would be like walking along a street and not realising that you've just stepped into the middle of the road. It hits you smack on with a hammer. Its character engine is so precise and detailed that you can see the almost Japanese-esque style it was going for. Muscles are defined, figures are suggestive and all in all lines are pretty neat, creating an all round game in terms of detail. The real strong point about the character design really comes across in the cut scenes where close ups and lighting are used to fantastic effect. The interactive cut scenes also use gore to an indescribable amount, but one that doesn't over do it but reinforce the brutality and realism the game tries to get across.
It is quite a moody game, in the sense that it is dark, a bit gloomy and stands a little stale in parts, but this is an astounding effect that simply reiterates the dark depressing themes thrown in the storyline. Lighting is used in sporadic dribs and drabs to give emphasis to important factors to the Gameplay such as levers and other interactive devices. The objects within the game that build up the scenery are also quite impressive especially the level in the underground where statues make up part of the level. What is also impressive is the ability to turn an object or thing such as Gaia the Titan from character to actual level design using the camera zooming in and out at points to create a platform type style with a huge wow factor element.
The wow factor doesn't stretch as far to the backdrops however. Im afraid the horizon background and vista properties leave little to the eye with dingy looking environments and a cardboard cut out feel. For such an interactive game this is a little disappointing, simply because it's obviously been left out. Some may say it's only a background but what it really does is lessen the effect of atmosphere that fills an entire level. You can always tell something is missing and this factor may just be the missing link that binds it all together.
So one of the most important things about having combat and brutality in a game is if it looks good. Animation. This is like the froth on top of an ice cold bear, if it's no good, then it's all no good. Thankfully, Sony Santa Monica have utilised all of the Playstation 3's power to produce fluid, vivid and silky smooth animations that add an extra helping of excitement when you kick all of those demons arses. The cruel thing is you can see the enjoyment on Kratos' face and the reaction on some of the mugs when they are being bashed into a wall is classic.
And to the musical score. It pretty much borrows a lot from its predecessors, which isn't a bad thing, but maybe something that was worth a retouch. It does sound a little crisper, all those haunting sounds that chills all around, reverberating and ricocheting off across the levels with an eerie but cool echo effect. At times of increased difficulty or importance the increase in tempo creates an increase in pace which only adds to the drama, the tension thus creating even more excitement. As for the voiceovers, well they are good in a hammy overdramatic way. It's not overdone to a humorous standard, but you definitely wouldn't take it seriously if it were a film. The husky booming voice of TC Carson returns to voice hero Kratos, which gives it a toast of authenticity. It just wouldn't be the same really though would it if it were someone else.
Okay, so now to the nitty gritty stuff, the stuff of substance. Gameplay value. Does it have it and more importantly does it sustain a gamer's attention all the way to the end? It must be hard for a developer such as Sony Santa Monica Studios to produce a game that technically cannot change too much from its two previous instalments so as to keep it addictive, yet still develop it to be refreshing and not too similar so as you don't feel you are playing a buffed up predecessor.
We obviously know that the game revolves around combat, but with a mixture of puzzles thrown in to create a sort action platformer. Combat does pretty much stay the same but with new and improved combos allowing for more choice in execution. I suppose this could be seen as a way to keep it refreshed. Giving the player more choice in weapons and moves allows for players to adopt a different tactical approach, though it still is evident that some enemies must be killed in a certain way or with a certain weapon. A new grapple style system has been included as well to give another extra option in decimating your opponent. A great improvement is the ability to switch weapon in the middle of executing a combo with another weapon. The style is fluid, rapid and no loss in battle time is evident allowing for a numerous amount of hit combos to be preformed. Mastering these amounts of combinations can take a long time and I must say I actually just stuck the weapons I felt most at ease with as im sure many gamers will. Though with up to four difficulty settings, mastering those manoeuvres are deadly important.
As with many games in recent times, Kratos, after slaying his opponents, collects different coloured orbs (Devil May Cry anyone?) which in turn can be used to upgrade the weapons and abilities you possess. This, to some extents, adds a sort of RPG element into the game. Variety is good I suppose but it is unoriginal and one area where I think a huge retouch would have been revolutionary. The use of magic has also seen an improvement with many different spells to unleash.
Stripped down, right to its core, this game is really just a hack n slash title where you start at the beginning of a level and hack your way to the end, where in turn you do it all again for the next area. But I have to say it is absolutely faultless in its ability to intertwine levels to give a sort of never ending feel. One huge problem though, which I have found, is its linearity. You tend to just follow one single path up until the last quarter of the game where a few paths take you to hidden treasure chests and orbs. On the grand scale of things it doesn't really stop the enjoyment because you have too many enemies and puzzles to deal with to really notice, but maybe in future this is something they can look upon. I do believe this does contribute to its short playing time. To complete the main story game, a maximum of eight hours is really all that is needed.
Speaking of puzzles earlier, another feature of the game which I find too sporadic and too easy. It does not take a genius to figure out that if you move this crank and then press this button etc a bridge will come down. They are really not well thought out at all, which really just leaves the challenge in the game up the combat. Upon completing the game and other challenges, new options are added to the main menu such as the 'Challenge of Olympus' which pits the player against seven trials all resulting in a reward for completing it. A combat arena can also be unearthed to challenge yourself with any enemy from the game. Trophies are available in the PS3 version also, though many form part of the main story. After completing a certain section of the game a trophy will unlock. What all of this does is add mega bucks worth of replay value into a game that can actually be played many times over.
There are faults to this game, lack of interesting puzzles and a limited story mode that has a short playing time and linear map are examples, but overall God of War III has a fantastic engrossing storyline and addictive nature. It isn't too original, but smart enough to stick in your head and come back to. With the addition of extra Gameplay modes and challenges it does keep you coming back for more, especially if this genre of gaming is one of your favourites. The brutality in the game may be of some concern for parents who like to keep an eye on what their children are playing, but to be honest this is just one of those things you now to come to expect in a game such as this. If you enjoyed the previous two in the series, then you are most definitely going to enjoy this. If you have never played a God of War game before then I strongly recommend playing the others first. Not because you need to, but to get that extra sense of something special as you play this instalment.
Name: The Lost Symbol
Author: Dan Brown
Released: September 2009
Series: Robert Langdon Stories
I think one of the best qualities I love so much in books is their unique ability to diversify into so many genres, so many avenues to flow through, one being a hilarious family adventure, another being a steamy, albeit cheesy, erotic drama. There were many before so don't get me wrong, but as copies of The Da Vinci Code literally jumped off of the shelves, a new addictive sub-genre of sorts was created. Now countless numbers of 'conspiracy' novels reaped with intrigue and ancient historical prophecies are published each year. Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol was bound to receive so much attention, but does it have that elusive flavour that made its predecessors so captivating.
It doesn't hint as to how many years has since past to the Parisian showdown, but like Angels and Demons before that, 'The Lost Symbol' can be described as a stand alone novel rather than being a part in a trilogy. Our friend and intellectual symbologist Robert Langdon has been called away from New England to D.C by respectable friend Peter Solomon, who just so happens to be a high ranking Mason. Getting to the seminar he was persuaded to give, Langdon soon realises all is not right. After receiving a rather chilling phone call by story antagonist, Mal'ahk, he soon discovers he has been duped into a race against time.
Mal'ahk has kidnapped Solomon and uses death threats to persuade Langdon on a cat and mouse chase across the city to uncover the secrets of the Masonic Pyramid, an ancient device that can unlock the Ancient Mysteries and give its user unimaginable power. Langdon teams up with Katherine, Solomon's sister, to try and sole the puzzles to rescue Peter, but alas they have a powerful CIA agent on their back, tracking down their every move. With Solomon's life hanging in the balance and time quickly running out, can Robert Langdon successfully crack the symbols and be the hero of the day . . . again?
The one thing I find hard when it comes to writing book reviews is how much of the story to tell. Too much could potentially ruin the enjoyment of reading yourself or too little fails to give little insight to back up a critical review. The one thing I found disappointing about 'The Lost Symbol' was its general placid storyline especially compared to its two predecessors. It never really punches or stings enough to make you go wow. The same goes for all the twists and turns. They aren't that surprising, despite huge effort on Brown's part to build up a strong element of suspense.
It is addictive to read though as it is eccentrically hard to put down. This really is because of Brown's charm, creating a story that could be great, but just turns out not to be in the end. It is far from being an awful story. Robert Langdon is a fully developed character, one is recognisable, and it's just that with this adventure, it's a tad bit too lacklustre to be given a second chance.
At the time of publication both his Langdon stories had been turned into Hollywood films and at times this story seems to flow in such a way that it could almost be said that it was written with a blockbuster in mind. Apart from that it all seems a bit too predictable. Not in a bad storytelling way, but in a Dan Brown way. He doesn't seem to have evolved his writing, so because this is the third book in a series, it can easily be guessed what happens next, almost as if we can see right through Brown's mind. Sometimes predictability can be a good thing, a nice comfort of lazily adjusted entertainment. Sadly this type of story is not one of those moments.
Characterisation is an important writing method in any novel, but more so in a Dan Brown novel as its one of the devices used to elevate it to an adult story with depth and sophistication. However I don't understand what went wrong here because the general feeling throughout the book is that the characters within 'The Lost Symbol' do not gel together. Robert Langdon, although aforementioned recognisable, is a little weak. Maybe there isn't much else to discuss about his life that we don't already know, or perhaps he is just a boring symbologist with not much of a story to tell.
The same can be said really for the other characters in the book. Katherine Solomon, unfortunately, must be one of the most boring female leads to grace a novel. She isn't interesting and rarely contributes to the progression of the story, but rather just fills the gaps into an already gap fuelled elongated story. Perhaps the purpose is just lost on me, but I don't quite understand her involvement. Not literally, but on a level Sophie Neveu or Vittoria Vetra did in the previous instalments. The times she does solve a clue etc is done so idly it's almost silly. It's like Brown needs to give her something important to contribute so miraculously gives her all the answers. His book also suffers from stereotyping as well. Other important characters such as Inoue Sato are co clichéd it might as well be a satire dramatisation. Her ridiculously stoic attitude and no nonsense speech are unsurprising for a CIA agent.
I do however like Brown's antagonist character, Mal'ahk as he creates a dark evil persona, one much more in depth than seen before. He builds up his character is such a way that despite his evil intentions, as a reader you are given an incredible insight in understanding his thinking no matter how warped it may be. Another intriguing dimension to Mal'ahk is that it is obvious how flawed a person he is. One that isn't perfect and nicely rounded with smooth edges, but a man with strong beliefs suffering from human anger and resentment. The colours are never black or white with him and it contrasts greatly with his other lifeless individuals.
Sometimes his writing style lacks a little detail often coming across rather clinical and lacking in description. But colour and imagery has never been something you expect when reading a Dan Brown story. You would expect to go in and learn something as facts and historical information is thrown at you in every direction and 'The Lost Symbol' is no exception. I actually am going to sit on the fence on this one. Its really refreshing to read something with so much detail in historical fact, it gives you a full picture rather than something unsubstantial, but at times I have to agree with the professionals, you cant help but feel like he just pumps in too much. It's like reading an encyclopaedia or text book on special subjects. He relies too much at times to fill in the blanks with this style of writing and it makes his lead character a bit too one dimensional. It's like the personality of Robert Langdon shuts down whilst he is spewing all this information like a monotonous robot. Balance is everything and Brown should be more modest in his writing skill, rather than exploding these wikipedia style paragraphs on every page.
I also can't help but notice his particular interest in male genital areas. This is nothing huge but just a little annoying repetition I found cropping up over and over again. When his description of Mal'ahk sets off, for some reason Brown needs to explain to us again and again what his Lion cloth is covering and the process of his castration. It is not that I find is difficult or tense to read, just I don't see the need to repeat it dozens of times throughout the book. The same goes for other areas actually and I suppose it's this repetition that makes the story over 500 pages long.
Despite my low assessment of the book, I think I would recommend this book for people to read at least once. It does reintroduce to us to why his books are so popular, despite the fact that it doesn't actually fulfil its potential this time around. His characters are lifeless, lost in an overly descriptive book worthy of a place on university challenge. His story never really picks up properly and relies too much on its well known lead character to get us through the book. The surprises don't surprise and the twists and turns are more of a detour than a full blown shock. However, it is readable, highly so, with enough action to create a flow page after page and keep us wanting to read more. It isn't really until you get to the end how much you realise how disappointing the book is. Whilst you're reading this, it does try and create suspense and eye catching moments that urge to read on which is something I suppose and although it is weaker than the previous Langdon Mysteries it does have something to offer. I suppose the one thing it really does lack is that huge debate of life changing belief we see in 'The Da Vinci Code'. This time around it doesn't mock, reinterpret or falsely accuse a particular religion which is one reason why people find his work so readable in the first place. If Dan Brown's name wasn't on the cover of this book, I would safely say it wouldn't have been as successful.