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This June (2010) we went to the Thomas Cook Explorers Hotel, near to Disneyland Paris. It is one of the partner hotels which you can book through the Disneyland Paris website, as I did. It is a three star hotel on the edge of the park, just a five to ten minute drive away with the free shuttle bus. It has been built as the imaginary explorer's Archibald De Bacle mansion, making it sound fun and full of character.
Booking the hotel was fairly straight forward. I decided to book through the Disneyland website as the park tickets were included in the price along with bed and breakfast. This made the process much easier and seemed cheaper than paying separately.
So what made me initially choose the Explorers Hotel? Well firstly we are a large family (there are 6 of us), and this was the only hotel which could fit us all into one suite. It was also in a fair price range, and it looked like lots of fun, with plenty of entertainment for the children. Although I was not planning on spending much quality time at the hotel, as the park was what our trip was all about, I felt that having a pool (a pirate pool with slides) would be some squeezed in extra fun for the children.
I decided to book a private shuttle for the airport transfer as opposed to the Disney bus. This worked out well as it was more reasonably priced than the official bus as well as the added benefit that we travelled directly to our hotel without the hassle of visiting every other hotel as their guests were dropped off.
The hotel was most certainly self service in every aspect. On arrival we found our own luggage trolley and checked in for 4 nights with 5 days in the park. This was all very straight forward, after showing the receptionist our e ticket, it went smoothly and we were directed to our room. I can imagine that at times, check in can be chaos, especially when a bus load of holiday makers arrive as they frequently did. They did have a few miniature arcade toys in the reception area, which were run down and shabby. Also at check in we were asked what time we wanted to have breakfast, as this was done in shifts. I actually felt put on the spot, and randomly said a time I thought would be suitable to our family. This put a little bit of pressure on us in the mornings, especially if one, or two were not ready.
As we trundled down to our rooms, we passed the pirate pool, the large ball bit/jungle gym area and the arcade games room. My boys eye's lit up in absolute delight! Our room, was classified as a crew room (all the wording was in a pirate theme), which included two double beds in the main room, then an extra bunk bed in an annex room. As you can imagine, with any three star hotel with 390 bedrooms, the actual size of the room was on the small side. The room included a bath/shower, a separate toilet, two tv's with a few british channels, a kettle (but you had to buy the tea and coffee), a hairdryer, and the typical hotel safe. I did find the decor rather drab, there was no flamboyant pirate themes to the rooms, or for that fact much colour. The beds were just okay, but after a long day of exploring Disneyland we were all so tired that the comfort of the beds was not an issue due to exhaustion!
On our first night we decided to eat at the hotel. Now, it advertises that it has two evening restaurants, Captain's Library Restaurant (french cuisine), Marco's Pizza Parlour. There are also the Smuggler's Tavern and Trader's Café Bar. We ate in the Captains Library which served large portions, was generally fast food, and tasted good (all for the hyped up Disney prices!). I felt they did need another waiter as our poor guy seemed to be doing everything, and was not coping too well. We did look at the pizza parlour, but it really was not appealing. The seats were set out more like a canteen, and many tables had leftovers strewn about. You could not call it a restaurant, and I am surprised the hotel gets away with it. There was also a little coffee booth, Brioche Doree, along with a separate gift shop which were both well stocked and reasonably priced.
Breakfast was quite a manic, busy affair. As I said earlier we had been allotted a set time. On arrival, we handed out colour coded ticket in and went to find a seat. It is a self service buffet, with plenty of continental breads and cheeses. The food was tasty and you could eat as much as you wanted, all set for a day at the parks.
It is most definitely a family orientated hotel, even to the extreme. As an example the swimming pool was open until 11pm, and it was also in full use with kids charging about everywhere. It is not a quiet or peaceful hotel, but more like a summer camp full of over excited kids! I actually found it too much, and I am a mum of 4.
The swimming pool itself was made to have fun in, and you can watch it all from the pizza parlor/bar area through a vast glass wall. There are two slides and then a ship which pours water out of various shoots onto the swimmers. You have to hire pool towels, unless you bring you own. One thing my kids did complain about (and they loved the pool) was how hot the water and pool area was in general. Another area for the kids is a giant ball/gym area (up to 11 years). They can rush around and let off more steam, whilst we sat nearby and had a semi-relaxing time (very hard when you have kids running around everywhere)!
The Thomas Cook Explorers Hotel was functional and fun for the kids. The shuttle bus service to the parks were excellent and ran like clockwork. The staff were pleasant and helpful. However, I personally would not choose to stay their again, as I found it very chaotic in the people sense along with the untidiness in the eating areas. Like most Disney hotels, it has a continuous stream of guests arriving/departing, so is rather robotic and lacks any personal touches. It was an enjoyable holiday, because of the parks, the hotel served a great purpose but in truth just wasn't for me!
It is the year 1745, set in deep west Africa, where Aminata Diallo, aged 11, and her family live a peaceful life, but are also fully aware of the dangers which lay beyond their village. People are being 'kidnapped' and strangers are lurking. It was only a matter of time before Aminata gets caught. We follow her agonizing journey, both mentally and physically, as she, with many others, are shackled and made to travel for over three moons (months) to the coast where the slave ships await to take them to the western world. This is just the beginning of her long, desperate journey, which sees this poor girl continually fight to survive as others wilt and die around her.
The Book of Negroes is a novel which spans 57 years, and during this time we travel with Aminata, who narrates the story, from Africa, North America, Canada and England. Not only is it a fascinating story, but also one which relates to actual past events, including the Revolutionary War and of course the Atlantic slave trade. This is one woman's journey, which can also be applied to many others who were enslaved, then eventually promised freedom, but all at a cost. In this book the author has made her a true hero and an inspirational character.
The author, Lawrence Hill, has written a captivating and intelligent story based on an absolute abhorrent act of man. It is beautifully written, which really tugs at the heart, and makes you realize the true definition of survival. I did not find it depressing as it is written so well, but it certainly made me angry and scream at the past. There is a huge amount of historical data included in the novel which makes the read even more compelling. The novel is also one of hope and freedom, which in itself is inspiring. Hill won the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for this excellent piece of work.
Hill really explains, in great detail, the way in which a slave (Aminata) sees things for the first time. Through Aminata's eyes we see the vast never ending sea, a prison as a slave ship and an established town (Charles Town), as examples, for the very first time. Everything, both visually and verbally were terrifyingly strange to the enslaved Africans.
I did feel that Aminata, was a very lucky lady through her whole ordeal, from being captured to gaining freedom. For me, a slight niggle, was that she managed to survive many disasters and thus seemed to have more lives than a cat! She was intelligent and managed not only to learn how to read and write (English), but also to speak various African languages as well as English. This side of her did seem a little far fetched at times to me. However, I did enjoy her, as an independent, self sufficient woman, who fought for her rights. Most of her story was darkened by tragedy, but along the way she met some wonderful characters who highlighted the need for friendship and support during troubled times.
The book emphasizes not only the impact that being a slave had on the individual, but also how the most of the slaves joined together and formed small communities. This was truly encouraging, as so many of the slaves came from different tribes and spoke in various languages, however they still had a common bond and supported each other. They also had a huge network and helped each other find lost members, which emphasized the community bond.
What I found really interesting was the fact that many native Africans actually supported the slave trade, caught the slaves (as they knew the terrain better than any foreigner), and earned a good living from it. By doing this it gave them a type of immunity, thus protecting them from the harrowing ordeal. These traders had absolutely no compassion towards their fellow men, but instead showed a new kind of ruthlessness by treating the slaves like wild trapped animals. It was most certainly a case of 'survival of the fittest'.
Not all westerners were bad. The whites were known as 'toubabu' to the enslaved black race. Many were treating and using their slaves appallingly, raping, branding and selling their children as commodities. On the other hand the book introduces some strong opponents to the slave trade who helped to bring some form of dignity back into their lives. These, with some out spoken slaves, helped the gradual process towards freedom.
The title of the book 'The book of negroes' seems rather degrading. I was actually a bit embarrassed to show the front cover to anyone and always faced it down. In America the book has another title 'Someone Knows my Name' which seems a bit bland and certainly not hard hitting. The reason for the title is that 'The Book of Negroes' is an actual document that still exists. It is the book the British used when transporting the freed slaves from America to other British colonies. In effect it was an official register which should be looked at positively as it was moving towards the abolition of slavery.
The book is a fictional novel, which must be kept in mind, so it is slightly over dramatized in a few places. However, it still makes a great read which has plenty of moral implications. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a haunting narrative, which really shouts out the horrors of the enslavement of innocent people. It also highlights the more positive road to the abolishment of slavery. So, packed with historical content alongside a super story this truly is a superb novel.
Published by Black Swan
Number of Pages 498
Georgy Jachmenev is a young, 16 year old Russian boy. During 1915, in a small village called Kashin, Georgy rather bravely (or some may think stupidly) steps in front of an assassin's bullet, saving the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievich (a cousin of Tsar Nicholas II). As a reward for his heroic gesture, Georgy has been charged with looking after the Tsar's son, young Alexei. From here on his life is about to change, where he will see and travel beyond his previous limited boundaries, be introduced into a world of wealth, find love and become caught up in the countries political turmoil.
Jumping sixty five years we meet an old Georgy, based in England, who has been happily married to his true love, Zoya for over sixty years. From Zoya's hospital room, Georgy starts to revisit his past and with this he brings back many significant memories.
The House of Special Purpose is written by John Boyne, the author famous for The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas. Once again, he has written his novel based (loosely) around historical occurrences. In this novel, the core of the story is based on the Russian Imperial Family, the Romanovs and their demise as the Bolshevik take control. However, it also follows Georgy's life, working from 1981, as a man in his eighties, backwards to when he was working for the Imperial Family.
This point leads on to how the book was formatted. I really enjoyed how Boyne has structured the novel. The first chapter is about an eighty year old Georgy (1981), the second travels back to the Imperial times (1916). From here it alternates between Georgy's post Imperial life, with each of these chapters going back in time (1979, 1970, 1953 as examples) and his time with the Imperial family, until eventually the story becomes one in 1918, and everything is answered. Now, this may seem confusing, but it is what makes the book, as you are following two different stories, via Georgy's flashbacks, and as each chapter ends you want to read more to find out what is going to happen next.
I rather liked Georgy. He was a quiet, loyal person who was definitely a man of habit. His life, whilst in exile, was one of routine, which was the complete opposite to his younger life as a guard and escapee. There are various other characters which were prominent in Georgy's life, including the Tsar's family and Rasputin. I felt a need to get to know these character's in greater detail, but unfortunately this just did not happen. Rasputin was a real nasty guy, who could have given the novel a lot more juicy happenings along with thrilling episodes.
The novel is a work of fiction, but Boyne has used historical events to develop his story. I was a little disappointed, as much of the historical content was not actually what happened in reality. Boyne seemed to be writing an alternative, lets say imaginary, demise of the Romanovs and the Imperial era. It was as if Boyne wrote about what he wished would have happened to the Imperial Family. For me, much of the novel was based on Imperial Russia, and I would have enjoyed it far more it the historical content was accurate. It is also quite a difficult subject to write a novel on, as we all know the eventual outcome. What he accomplished with The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas he has failed to do with this novel.
The rest of the book is super, following Georgy's life, sharing his emotions and adventures. Much of his life was spent looking over his shoulder as he was living in exile. Throughout the novel there is an ongoing beautiful love story, which is predictable but still enjoyable. It is a marriage which has survived against all odds, including tragedy, temptation and the loss of loved ones.
It is a lovely story which is written well, both in style and format. In general, it is easy to read, and not too taxing, which I found to be great escapism. But, Boyne has let it down, by swaying away from the actual truth which was always a niggle in the back of my mind. It could have been so much better, and far more thrilling, with accurate historical data. Overall I did enjoy the actual story, and did get lost in Georgy's life tales, despite it being fairly predictable.
The House of Special Purpose is published by Black Swan
Number of pages 428 (large paper book)
The year is 1570, and all 'hell' is about to break out in the convent of Santa Caterina. Set in Ferrara, Northern Italy, this quiet peaceful convent has been a haven of religious sanctimony for years, even centuries. Many young girls are forced into convent life by their families. This is due to the fact that wedding dowries are very expensive, and families can only afford to marry off one daughter. It was cheaper to put the other daughters, many against their will, into the convent, where only a small donation was required. It is, upon the forced arrival of 16 year old Serafina, that questions start to be asked and nuns of a high standing are doubted.
Sacred Hearts is written by Sarah Dunant, who is well known for her Italian historical novels, set in the Renaissance period. She has certainly written an interesting and factual tale, or should I say love story, in her latest book, which is bursting with relevant details along with a bibliography to back up and support her work. It is basically a novel following two nun's in the Santa Caterina convent, and how their lives intertwine, causing them both to rethink their purpose in life. It is an interesting story, and one which needs to be finished as the ending is what makes the story.
The two main characters are Serafina and Zuana. Many other nuns are mentioned, and the abbess, Madonna Chiara, has an interesting role.
Sister Serafina enters the convent at the tender age of 16. Her family have forced her into the isolated convent life, as she had fallen in love with a lowly singer, beneath her status. At first, Serafina defies the convent way of living, then as she hopes to be rescued by her love, she starts to conform. She has a wonderful voice, that similar to an angel, and she uses this as her 'weapon' to deceive the other nuns.
Sister Zuana has been living at the convent for many years. Her father was a physician who taught his daughter many medical remedies and facts. Upon his death, Zuana was left without family to care for her, so the convent took her in. She actually accepted the way of life, as she was allowed to run the infirmary and continue her medical studies. It was seeing poor Serafina, watching her suffer, which made Zuana question the convent and the imprisonment of new nuns. It also made her question her loyalty to those in higher places.
Firstly, I must mention, that I did find the first third of the book slightly tedious and rather slow, both the way of writing and the actual story were dragging along at a snails pace. It was not until the actual events (which were being built up in the first third) started to happen that the story came alive and thoroughly enjoyable, from here I whizzed through the novel. I was, initially, tempted to give up, but after reading so many good reviews, I felt I had to give it a chance and am extremely glad I persevered.
What I found really interesting was learning all about the lives of the actual nuns. To me, there has always been something dark and mysterious about the way in which nun's live. The doors are shut to the outside world, and through this novel, it allows us to see what actually went on in those times. The nun's formed a small community, and although this convent was far more relaxed than others, they still had strict regulations and were punished for disobeying the rules. Their lives were dictated by rules set to a rigid timetable, including prays ( 7 times a day), meals, work hours and also social time when outside families were able to come and visit at set times during the week.
It was fascinating to read, although fictional, about the relationship between the various nuns. There were those of extreme faith, acting as Brides of Christ, who felt their convent was too lax, and there were those who had been forced into this extreme lifestyle, accepted it, and were unwilling to change it. Many of these young girls were technically imprisoned, deprived of love and motherhood, had no form of escape, and if by some miracle, they did, they would be hunted down by the police, all because their families could not, or would not, pay their marriage dowries. The actual internal politics within the convent was intriguing to say the least. What was meant to be one of the most peaceful existence's on earth, was riddled with in house corruption, bullying and overall manipulation.
One thing that I did find confusing was all the different nun's names. Firstly, they are known as Suora (as in Sister) for some of the book, and then at other times they are just known by their name. Also I felt that many of the nuns were not introduced fully. By this I mean their introduction was so brief it was hard to pin point who they were when they were later mentioned. Their names are quite complex, like Perseveranza, Umiliana, Magdalena and Benedicta and I just felt confused every time they were reintroduced.
I feel that maybe I have been a bit unfair by only awarding three stars. Almost every review I have seen has raved about this book, but I did find it far too slow in the beginning. It is worth reading (and maybe it is me that is slow!) and has some excellent historical content. The story itself is intriguing, educational and (later on) a good read. The characters are complex and well developed, allowing for an interesting plot. It is an historical love story, which combines religion, conflict, and deviance, embracing a mountain of emotions.
Sacred Hearts is published by Virago
Number of pages 461
Clareece 'Precious' Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a 16 year old African American girl living in Harlem. She is hugely obese, and is illiterate. Known as Precious to her family, but only in name, as she is certainly not precious to any of them. It is in the film named 'Precious' that we witness how this young girl strives to survive against all odds.
Precious comes from the most awful family. A life incomprehensible to most of us. Her mother Mary (played by Mo'Nique), is an out of work, lazy, chain smoking woman who depends solely on abusing the welfare system. Mary also has severe anger issues and takes her frustrations out on Precious both verbally and physically. They live in a small run down flat, and many of the flat scenes during the movie, show how Precious gets beaten and attacked by her mother, often to the extend of passing out. There is pure hatred on her mother's part, and this is not due to how her daughter looks but because of what she has done.
The father, who we do not really meet (only in a flashback rape scene), has made Precious pregnant twice. The first child, who has Down's Syndrome, lives separately with Precious' Grandmother. Here, I did wonder why Precious just did not go and live with her Grandmother too (the point was never raised). Mary often 'uses' her mentally ill grandchild for benefit claims, but has complete hatred for her. The second child is born during the movie, and is the central reason for Precious making a better life for herself.
Kicked out of regular school, as she is pregnant, Precious is advised to join an alternative school. This is an inspiring and uplifting part of the film. Although, still having to live with her mother, we see Precious making friends, learning to read and have some fun. When she smiles the whole screen lights up. Her teacher Miss Blu Rain (Paula Patton) is her support and trusted mentor. Precious also develops a strong relationship with her welfare officer Miss Weiss (Mariah Carey), who I did not recognize at all! Both of these women listen and support Precious for who she is, and really help her in her struggle. I must say that both of these women were a little too perfect for the film and not true to the district. Even a make up free Mariah Carey looked too attractive, which didn't quite fit for the overall setting of the film.
When Precious is in an uncomfortable situation she starts to day dream. She dreams of herself being famous and rich, with a young partner. She is either walking down the red carpet or on the stage, in both, being adored by tons of fans. This young girl, wants to be loved for who she is, but to get this she has to escape to her fantasy world.
Precious (directed by Lee Daniels) is a film based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire. It is running away with award nominations at the moment and also winning a fair few. Young Sidbe makes her debut in this film, and acts superbly. She displays a huge talent, is against the Hollywood norm (slim and attractive) and will go far. It is Mo'Nique who is winning the awards as Best Supporting Actress, and she truly deserves them. She plays this loathsome character with such power and hatred, she acts fantastically.
Now, this film may seem like the one not to watch as it includes, rape, incest, beatings, bullying and the list could go on. Although all these points are central to the film and Precious' life, they are not what the film is actually about. The film is about hope and survival. Watching Precious cope with all the wrong doings which have happened to her, witnessing her make her own decisions then choosing the best life for her and her children is inspiring.
Although it is inspiring, it is not a happy film, and when the credits role, you will not bounce out of your seat ready to recap all the exciting bits. No, instead it makes you think and ponder how some people can be so unlucky, and in comparison, most of our lives are full of tiny insignificant worries.
I enjoyed all the music played during the film. There was a large variety, ranging from hip hop, to gospel choir, to pop, and then onto soul music. Not only did the film feature Mariah Carey, but also Lenny Kravitz made his acting debut. He plays a nurse, who has a soft spot for Precious, he is a gentle and very likable character. He is totally transformed and in no way recognizable as the 'hot' rock star! Surprisingly neither of these two stars featured on the soundtrack.
Precious is a film you will either appreciate or give up on half way through. It is moody, aggressive and focus's on taboo topics. The language is appropriate to the film, lots of swearing and shouting. I found the film moving and heart wrenching. It certainly made me realize that my problem's are very small.
In eighteenth century Georgian society, Mary Eleanor Bowes was a lady born into wealth, living an opulent life. She was a vibrant, intelligent young lady who had a keen interest in botany. She came from a good family, but this did not prepare her for her life ahead. When her father died she was the richest lady in Britain (some even say Europe) at a very young age, 13. Gold diggers were on the hunt, and with no parent to guide her, she made some bad decisions.
It was continuously emphasized, that in eighteen century Britain, women had no rights at all. Most were controlled by their fathers, then pushed into marriage at an early age, often as young as 13, only then to be controlled by their husbands. Mary Eleanor, as with most women, lost the rights to her property and inheritance once married to her first husband, Count Strathmore, at the tender age of 16, with whom she bore 5 children. It was only on the death of her husband did she regain her rights. It really made me wonder why on earth she chose to marry again, after already experiencing her family fortune being squandered on another family who had already lost their wealth. It seems as if many Georgian men on the social circuit were after a wealthy woman to take care of their over the top lifestyles.
Once widowed, the wealthy Mary Eleanor was again the interest of many men. Countess Bowes came across as a lady who enjoyed life, socializing and being romanced. She did have a few lovers during her life, had several abortions and even had an illegitimate child,. She was all set to marry George Gray, but then Andrew Robinson Stoney, a broke Irish soldier came on the scene. He knew what he wanted and set up an unrelated duel to which he was 'apparently' severely injured and on death's door. He made Mary promise to marry him as his dying wish. Either she was totally gullible or he was a genius and a master of lies, but whichever, they married and he remarkably made a 100 per cent recovery!
It was during her 8 year marriage to Stoney, who changed his name to Bowes, that you saw this vibrant character, wither away to a broken, shattered human being. Stoney was an evil, despicable man, who was totally out of control, beating his wives both mentally and physically. Stoney was married three times, and he treated all of his wives like animals, locked away, and throughout the book he just seemed to increasingly get worse and worse. Not only did he beat Mary Eleanor, he also spent much of her money, ruin her estates, have prostitutes bear his children, and mistreat the staff.
Wedlock, How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match is a fascinating book, full of scandalous facts, written by Wendy Moore. It follows the intrepid life of the wealthy Mary Eleanor Bowes. She goes through absolute hell in this brutal marriage, then her escape and her challenge to, not only Stoney, but also society. She fought for divorce, custody and her money, through the male dominated courts, something unheard of in those times. In this biography we meet an inspirational women who managed to survive (just) and change history in some respects.
This is not normally the type of book which I would read, let alone enjoy. It is a historical biography, but most certainly does not read like one. It was not a chore to plough through, but rather a delight. It is just like a 'juicy' historical novel, full of affairs, villains, fights and even a bit of exploration. Moore has cleverly written it in a style which is educational yet still enthralling. She enlightened me on eighteenth century divorce laws (or complete lack of), women's rights, and the custody of children. All these issues are still prime topics in today's society, just at a different level. It is interesting to see how society has adapted.
One thing that I did find sad was the general relationship the wealthy people had with their children. Many were sent off at birth to a nurse maid, then later onto boarding school. Initially, Mary Eleanor did not have much time for her children (which was surprising as her father had so much time for her), and then later they had little time for her. She did ensure that they had a decent education, but once married to Stoney he made sure she had little contact with them. Alone and scared, this was when she needed her children, and realised she had no control.
As in those times, people were not very imaginative when naming their children. I did get a little confused with the number of Mary's in the book, when at times 3 where mentioned on one page. Also, I struggled a little bit when Stoney took Mary's Maiden name (as requested by her father in his will) and the author referred to them both as Bowes. I really needed to stay focussed. Later in the book, she was referred to as Mary and he Bowes, thus easier to understand.
The book is 502 pages long, a huge biography, which may seem off putting. However, the actual reading matter is only 414 pages long, and the rest is made up acknowledgments, reading group notes, notes and an index. It is all very comprehensive and Moore backs up her biography with hundreds of notes giving evidence of her extensive research. I also found the reading group notes interesting as they posed pointers to consider. The book did include some pictures of Mary Eleanor and her family.
I would definitely recommend this book, as do the 'TV Book Club'. Do not be put off that it is a historical biography. Traveling back in time, entering the life of this Georgian lady is both enjoyable and thrilling.
Wedlock, How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match is published by Phoenix
It is the early 1960's, in Jackson, Mississippi, and the racial divide is severe. The wealthy white employ the under privileged African Americans (known as coloured's in the book) who in many respects are treated like a lessor race, or in some cases like animals. Civil rights movements have started, by the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, but only in more political and racially aware states, like New York. However, in the deep South, white people are reluctant to change, for fear of having to share their lives with another race. It is through an open minded, educated lady and a number of coloured workers who try, in a silent way, to voice their protest.
The Help was written by Kathryn Stockett, and is a rather 'different' novel. Stockett grew up in the South and also had a coloured maid, so she writes with knowledge. It is fairly big with 451 pages ( I have the large sized paperback). Basically it is a novel covering a rather sensitive subject, racial prejudice, but it does so in the form of an exciting story. The novel is based on three main ladies, Miss Skeeter, Minny and Aibileen, whose lives interlock. The story covers two years, and shows how slowly but steadily people of different races can work together and achieve a tremendous step forward in civil rights. The novel is divided into chapters based on these three women, for example, Aibileen will tell her story, then it will go on to Miss Skeeter followed by Minny and so forth. I was really immersed into each lady's story and did not want their chapters to end!
As the novel is central to three main characters I shall briefly mention them. Miss Skeeter is a well educated white American, tall awkward and not so attractive, who longs for a career in journalism/writing. Her Southern mother is just looking to get a ring on her spinster daughter's finger. Miss Skeeter is, at first, part of the social elite in Jackson, but soon realises there is a huge divide in society which just is not right.
Aibileen is a loyal, honest maid. She has been a nanny to over twenty children and has seen how they change from no awareness of colour to having a racial attitude. She loves to care for the children and tries to teach them that God made everybody equal. Aibileen has recently lost her only child, a son, so is bitter towards the white race. Having said that, she is a lovely character, who works hard and is extremely loving to the employers off spring.
Minny is such a super character. She is also a maid and a friend of Aibileen's. However, she can never keep her job as she is so outspoken (which is not allowed) and always says what she thinks. At first she work's for an older lady who has the most awful daughter, Miss Hilly (the real racist in the novel), and falsely accuses Minny of stealing, claiming she will never work again. Minny has a rather hectic home life with a husband who regularly takes his troubles out on her.
One other character, who must be mentioned is Miss Hilly. An absolutely atrocious lady, who treats her workers ('Nigra's') and any coloureds like filth. She is a real 'witch' and seems to have control over all the other society ladies, and how they treat their staff. I felt an immense dislike towards her.
Now, this may all sound very serious and perhaps a little depressing, but I can assure you that it is not. It is a novel, where you meet the three main characters and the people who are linked to them, whether it be employers, family, friends or enemies. You go on a journey full of hope, risk, and friendship with oodles of emotion. I found that I became part of their lives, and wanted to read more each day.
Stockett must be given credit for her historical research as she includes facts throughout her novel. One historical aspect that I found interesting was the portrayal of how the white and coloured could not mix socially at all. There were separate amenities for each race, and if a coloured crossed the line then imprisonment or a 'legal' beating would occur, often leaving the person damaged for life. It was also a huge problem if a white person was seen as a sympathizer, not only would they be ousted from society, but also risked imprisonment. Throughout the book, the three ladies take continuous risks, always aware of what may happen, but know that their cause is worth it.
I find it amazing that there was a racial divide, but still many white employers did have sexual encounters with their 'help' and often a child was conceived. It is highlighted in the novel, that a mixed raced child is more or less an outcast and has no definite place in society. It makes you realise how far society has come today, in just 50 years, with Barack Obama as the President of America.
I found the relationship between child and nanny really interesting. It was one of love, on both sides. The parents were more like an 'extra' who liked the children to be seen and not heard. The nanny's were the mother's, during working hours, and I dread to think how the real mothers coped on their own! It was always a fear to Aibileen, that once the child started school they would change, through peer pressure and teaching. It also amazed me that the adults would not share a toilet with the staff, but would happily let their children be completely bought up by them.
The author has tried to make the book more realistic by making the various people think and speak in an appropriate dialect, the white people with the Southern drawl and the coloured with a more African American twist. Although easy to understand, I found that it was a little bit inconsistent throughout the book.
The Help is not only an enjoyable novel, getting into each of the ladies minds, but it is also, historically extremely interesting. It is full of hope and inspiration, wanting the ladies to succeed in their fight for civil rights. They are great characters allowing for this novel, which could have been quite arduous and sombre, to be an engaging read. I would definitely recommend this book, it is a fairly easy read, perhaps a bit too long, but thought provoking and eye opening.
The Help is published by Puffin
Number of pages 451
Invictus is directed by Clint Eastwood, and in his true form it is a fabulous film released in December 2009. It is an historical drama involving politics and rugby. This may sound a little tiresome and somewhat familiar, but I can assure you it is not. It is superbly cast and wonderfully directed. The story it tells is truly amazing and will bring tinkles down every viewers spine.
It is 1990 and Neslon Mandela has been released after spending almost 27 years in prison. He wins the local black nation's heart, voting becomes fair as apartheid has been abolished. Mandela becomes president at the age of 75 in 1994, and South Africa is a very confused, post apartheid country. The white Afrikaners are worried and resentful, a former terrorist is now ruling their country and their lives are about to be transformed. The black are angry and upset that apartheid has controlled their lives for so long, they want instant change and equality.
"He can win an election but can he run a country? ......That is a legitimate question."
South Africa had huge problems, including economic stagnation, unemployment and crime, as well as alienation from other countries. How could anyone, let alone an ex prisoner, bring this country together? Something big, with worldwide viewing, would not only bring outside recognition, but also help unite a broken country.
Mandela was interested in rugby and supported the national team, the Springboks (who were actually playing appallingly). The South African colours, green and gold, are familiar to the world. It was a white team, apart from Chester Williams, which many African's felt was still promoting apartheid. Mandela was under pressure to change the name and kit of the team, to wipe out all traces of the old South Africa. However, much to the confusion of the black nation, Mandela refused to change either the name or kit.
The film develops, following the Springboks and Mandela. People become more accepting of the new South Africa, and you see black and white working together. Roll on 1995 and the Rugby World Cup, hosted by South Africa. Mandela had built up a relationship with the team, especially Francois Pienaar the captain. We follow the Springboks journey through the World Cup, and the impact that such a huge event actually had on a divided country.
Invictus has captured the struggle that Nelson Mandela faced in post apartheid South Africa. It was a country divided. Mandela managed to unite a country through a predominantly white played sport, through hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup. It was fascinating to watch how slowly, but surely, the nation came together and supported their country. Eastwood, really emphasized this, but not in a corny way, by scenes of black and white coming together, congratulating each other over their wins. It was viewed as an acceptance, living together as one country.
Mandela may have been in his seventies, but he was driven and knew exactly what he needed to do to achieve a peaceful solution. The police, army and economy were all still controlled by the Afrikaners, they needed to be kept happy, and that is why he kept the Springboks and their kit. He was portrayed as an extremely intelligent yet shrewd man, with not one ounce of bitterness or resentment in him. He was a workaholic who exhausted his bodyguards, as they could not keep up with him and his schedule. It was moving to see Pienaar visit Mandela's basic prison cell (no 4664) and realise what an immense man he was dealing with. A man locked away for almost 30 years, yet now carries no anger towards the white race, and just wants a peaceful yet successful and equal country.
Nelson Mandela, an amazing man, has been portrayed brilliantly by Morgan Freeman. The two have met in real life and Freeman was technically invited by Mandela to play him, as he wrote in his memoirs that if an actor did portray him he would want it to be Freeman. Freeman, now 73, makes a fantastic Mandela, he has the South African accent of to a tee, his mannerism and gait are exact, so much so that he could be an impersonator, which just proves what an excellent job he does.
Francois Pienaar is played by Matt Damon. He is not really a man of many words throughout the film, but when he does speak he uses a very realistic Afrikaans accent. He has toned up, and actually has to act some physical rugby scenes. Damon acts convincingly, and portrays a real gentleman of the sporting world.
Why was the film called Invictus? This is actually a poem written by William Ernest Henley in 1875. It was supposedly read by Mandela during his years of captivity, giving him hope and courage. During the film, Mandela wrote the poem down and gave it to Pienaar to read, hoping it would also give the Springbok's inner strength. It was a lovely gesture by Mandela, and accepted graciously by Pienaar.
I found the opening scene very poignant. A private school fenced in, white boys playing rugby in a neat kit, with a proper pitch. Over the road african boys playing football in their own scruffy clothes, on a piece of waste land with makeshift goals. It was clear to see that apartheid was still rife, especially through sport. At the very end of the movie, even after the credits, a scene from a rugby training school flashes up, in a local area with black children being taught using the proper facilities and being given equal opportunities.
The black white issue is dealt with close up through Mandela's bodyguards. He initially has four black guards who request more guards. Mandela brings in four white guards who had previously worked for De Klerk, the old apartheid president. The relationship between these guards is initially one of immense dislike, but gradually moves on to one of trust and respect. It is central to the film and the larger story.
The film is in no way 'wet'. It does have a happy ending, most people should know the outcome of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. What the film does do is put the real story behind the win, something I was completely unaware of. It is inspiring.
You do not have to be into rugby to enjoy this film. The sporting scenes are accurate and enjoyable. Eastwood has included pieces of each match, but the most thrilling pieces, so it is not tiresome at all, in fact it is nail biting, wanting them to win all over again! It is not just the matches that you are watching, but also the crowds in and out of the arena. Their reactions are what the film is all about, unity.
During some parts of the film I actually had difficulty understanding the accents of some of the actors. Thus, I did miss a few lines. But, overall, the accents were not too strong and the film flowed well.
The music during the film had a real African feel, a bit like Lion king. I actually enjoyed the music, it really gave it the African spiciness, with the tribal music playing to support only a few of the scenes. It was haunting and had the desired emotional effect.
There is a small amount of swearing in the film which is a shame really, as I feel many children would benefit from seeing this film and learn a huge amount, from leadership, forgiveness and greatness, as examples. It would also be an enjoyable and educational visual lesson.
Invictus is definitely a film I would recommend. It is no Bourne Identity, but instead it is a historical drama, full of fact, following an amazing man on an unbelievable journey. It certainly made me more aware, and appreciate what Nelson Mandela did to try and form a rainbow nation.
Greg Heffley is a bit of a 'wimp'. He is not really athletic or academic. He is a middle of the road young lad, trying to find his place in life. He is in sixth grade and his best friend is called Rowley. Greg has been given a diary by his Mum (he asked for a journal as diary's are too wimpy, but Mum got it wrong) so that he can write his 'feelings' down. It is in The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney, that we can read, laugh and cry out "oh no", as Greg writes about his fictional but entertaining pre pubescent life!
Greg basically uses his journal to write what he has been up to and shares his hilarious escapades. Throughout the novel, poor young Greg, gets himself caught up in numerous difficult situations, and gets his poor 'best' friend Rowley into lots of trouble. Greg tries to come up with bizarre money making ideas, including terrorising young kids in his 'haunted house'. Even when poor Greg tries to do right, it turns out wrong. Everything in his life should have a purpose to his benefit. He is a typical young, geeky lad, who is never wrong (or more likely will never admit it!).
The book is written in the form of a journal/diary, with young Greg writing about what he has been up to, along with his feelings and opinions (which are often very funny). Now, this may seem quite 'Adrian Moleish', which I would have to agree with, but it is in a much more basic form and suitable for 9 years and up (which is clearly labelled on the back cover of the book). Although, it is easy to read, I think older children will appreciate the humour and understand Greg more so than younger readers. It is a large book, with 217 pages, with an easy to read font (made to look like Greg's writing) and lots of doodled, cartoon like pictures.
Jeff Kinney first wrote The Diary of a Wimpy Kid online in daily installments (Funbrain.com). In 2006 he signed a multi book deal, and this, his first book, has been on the New York Times children's bestsellers list for over 40 weeks even reaching number one. I am not surprised at all, as it is a breath of fresh air in children's literature.
You may question why I have read this book which is actually aimed at young readers. Well, firstly I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about and why it was so popular. I also wanted to keep an eye on what my son was reading, and thought it must be good (in his eyes) as he actually chose to read it in his 'free time' without me having to nag him.
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid was, surprisingly so, an enjoyable read for me too. It was entertaining and even made me chuckle on more than one occasion. I really liked the way the author has made Greg into such a 'real' character, both in thought and action. By this I mean, I have four boys, and much of the time I do not understand why they have done something which is totally daft and sometimes dangerous. By reading this book, it made me realise that it is not only my boys that do such weird things at times. I could actually relate to what Greg was up to or going through, by my own experiences.
The relationship between Greg and his best friend, Rowley, is one that changes as the book develops. Greg is only really friends with Rowley as he can boss him around and look cool. Poor old Rowley is mothered through and through, and also willing to go along with all of Greg's 'mad' ideas, even when it leads to a broken arm. It is interesting when things change and Rowley becomes popular, leaving Greg out on a limb. Greg still can't admit he is wrong or apologise. Any young reader will be able to observe Greg's 'mean' behavior and realise that it is wrong.
It was great to read about Greg's relationship with his brothers, He is the middle child, and really felt the pressure. His older brother, Rodrick, was awful and not really interested in Greg, unless it was to wind him up. His younger brother, Manny, was babied and got whatever he wanted. It was always Greg that got into trouble, due to Rodrick's manipulation or Manny's innocence. It actually made me think that maybe sometimes I need to listen more to all sides of the story (with my sons) and not presume who is causing the trouble!
This is definitely not a normal reading book. It breaks away from the formal novels that some children find so hard to get into, and presents itself in a fun way with an easy reading format. I think it is great to read all different genres, and for any child that finds reading a chore I am sure they will enjoy this book, along with the other three, and feel hugely successful at finishing a large book.
I would most certainly recommend this book. It is full of realistic, but very amusing scenarios which many of us can relate to. It is funny and actually quite addictive. It also highlights mean behaviour along with bullying. But overall it portrays a goofy young boy, searching for his position within his peers and family, trying his hardest to be cool and accepted.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is published by Puffinbooks
Robin hood, an outlaw in 12th century folklore, lives in Sherwood forest with his band of so called 'Merry Men'. Once a Lord and a great supporter of King Richard (who is away fighting in the Holy Land), he is forced to 'hide' in the forest as the evil, self obsessed Sheriff of Nottingham has put a price on his head. Robin is a wanted man, but he is also a good man, famously known for robbing the rich to give to the poor.
This classic tale of Robin Hood has recently been televised by the BBC to make three action packed series. Series three is the last series to be made, as the BBC has decided to take it no further, which I feel is a good thing, as you can only make up so many scenarios before the story line gets tired and drained! Each programme is 45 actioned packed minutes long. This review does continue from the other two series, so there may be some spoilers if you have not watched them.
***Cast and their Characters***
Jonas Armstrong plays Robin Hood. He is young, handsome with a cheeky boyish grin (definitely the initial selling point of series one!). He acts the part of Robin very well. Robin, orphaned at an early age, inherited a noble position, and was then ousted by the bad sheriff, lives his life to help others. He is smart, an excellent archer and always seems to have an escape route up his sleeve. In this series, he plays a much darker and more angry character, due to a previous loss, and is really out for revenge.
Richard Armitage is Guy of Gisborne. I really enjoy his acting, and he plays a wonderful bad guy. Guy of Gisborne took over Robins parish of Locksley and has always been loyal to the Sheriff. Robin and Guy have always been enemies and even more so now in Series 3. Guy is not the man he use to be, he is broken and desperate.
Keith Allen plays the fantastic, yet very 'hammy' Sheriff of Nottingham. He really makes the series, with his smart remarks and comical facial expressions. The Sheriff is a real bad character, and doesn't think twice about continually raising taxes for the poor to please Prince John (who is trying to take the throne from his brother, King Richard). The sheriff actually has some bad luck in this series and only features in half the episodes, which I found a shame.
The Merry Men consist of the original 3, Little John (Gordon Kennedy), Much (Sam Troughton), and Allan of Dale (Joe Armstrong), plus two new members, Kate and Tuck. Kate (Joanne Frogatt) is the new female fighter, whom much of the group have the hots for. Tuck (David Harewood) is dark and mysterious, a man of the cloth, who has decided that fighting for England is the only way to survive.
Prince John is played by Toby Stephens. He is a super camp character, full of energy and loves himself to bits. He is desperate for the throne, and will do anything to overthrow his brother, King Richard. He only appears in three episodes.
Also introduced are Isabella (Lara Pulver) as the abused and twisted sister of Guy of Gisborne, and Archer (Clive Standon) a long lost relative of both Robin and Guy, who has fantastic fighting skills along with new techniques.
Continuing from series two, we are greeted by a broken man, Robin Hood. Ready to abandoned his cause, and instead kill Gisborne, he walks away from his men. It is here that Brother Tuck is introduced and manages to persuade Robin that the people still need him, more so than ever.
Cause and Effect
The male villager's are being taken, actually sold by the Sheriff, to the Irish (the Sheriff needs cash). Robin and his gang try to intervene, but manage to make the situation worse. The feisty new lass Kate is caught up in the middle of all the chaos, and actually causes more trouble. Gisborne is 'given' to Prince John as the Sheriff cannot pay his debt.
Lost in Translation
Tuck is the main focus, as it is religiously linked. The Sheriff decides to once again try and capture Robin Hood, and turns the villagers against him, by accusing him of stealing from the church which an abbot confirms. Little do the villagers know but the abbot is being blackmailed by the Sheriff. Tuck tries to resolve the situation and ends up on the 'rack'.
Sins of the Father
The Sheriff employs a new tax collector, who has no mercy on the villagers, he is a real bad piece of work. He is also quite a fighter and very aggressive, unlike his son who has a conscience. Here Kate has no option but to join Robin and his gang.
Let the Games Commence
Here we are introduced to Isabella (Guy's sister) who is on the run from her violent husband. Guy also returns, as leader of the Black Elite Army and manages to herd Robin and his gang up, apart from Little John who gets himself into trouble with a group of traveling con artists. The Sheriff is still desperate for money and will do anything to get some.
Do you Love me?
Prince John wants Robin dead and craftily persuades both Gisborne and the Sheriff to kill each other to show their loyalty. Kate develops a disease called 'scruffula' as a diversion for the other gang members to steal the jewels and money.
Too Hot to Handle
During a heat wave, Prince John shuts off the water supply to all the village dams and wells. It is up to the Merry Men to try and find fresh water. Meanwhile, Robin and Isabella (love interest) try to open up the water from inside the castle, leading to a few wet problems.
The King is Dead, Long Live the King
Prince John is up to his evil tricks and proclaims his brother is dead and even produces a body. He immediately wants the coronation to take place, which cannot be reversed. Guy has been made an outcast and a bitter Isabella is working with Prince John to survive. Robin and his gang need to prove the King is still alive, but how?
A Dangerous Deal
Isabella becomes the new Sheriff, and claims she is not a traitor but looking out for herself. She has captured Gisborne and is about to have him executed. However, an unexpected visiter from her past arrives and truly threatens her.
During this episode the history of Robin and Gisborne is explained, to both men, by a mystery man. It is interesting but not really attention holding. It goes back to their joint childhood, where they discover they have a joint relative.
The Enemy of my Enemy
Gisborne is to join Robin's gang, much to the horror of the other member's. They need to overthrow Isabella. They also travel to York to breakout a half brother called Archer, who has mysterious weaponry skills from the orient. This leads them to much trouble and near execution.
Something Worth Fighting For Part one and Two
The final two episodes with bucketful's of action. Isabella is up to her tricks, trying to capture the outlaws as well as taking the local men of Locksley for Prince John's army. Robin and his gang take the castle with the local men as their army. The Sheriff returns wanting his castle and position back. A full on battle commences which leads to a number of demises.
***Costumes and Set***
The costumes are all 12th century based on lots of leather and laces. Each individual character suits their costume, by this I mean Robin and his merry men are all in earthy browns and greens, Gisborne and the Sheriff both wear black leathery outfits making them dark and mean. Most costumes stayed the same throughout the series, apart from Isabella. She arrived wearing bright flowing gowns, but as her character developed and she became self obsessed and resentful, her gowns became dark and at times had a dominatrix flavour.
All the extra's whether soldier's or villager's wore apt costumes, that didn't look fake or unsuitable.
Filmed in Hungry, the outdoor scenes are as I would imagine. Lots of forrest scenes and plenty of space. The large shots of the castle all look computer animated (to my older eyes), especially during the last two episodes. It is very impressive for a BBC production.
Disc five is a special feature's disc. I, along with my two older son's, have enjoyed watching these features. You actually get to meet the 'real' new members of the cast. They, of course, are so different in real life, Isabella is not evil and Tuck is not a monk, an eye opener to my son's, and what a "cool" job to have (when watching Archer's video diary)!
Overall rated a 12, although inside two of the disc's (2 and 4) are actually a PG. Does it justify this rating? There is no nudity or bad language, but there is violence and death. All the disc's have fighting, leading to the death of some rather obscure 'extra's' in the form of soldiers and villagers. The higher rated discs do have more close up killings, and these are mainly with swords. You never actually see any blood or gore, it is all in the facial expressions along with the action, of both the attacker and attacked. I actually did not enjoy some of these scenes, especially as knife crime is so rife in this present day and age.
This series is much more serious and far darker than the previous two. Generally at the end of each episode, Robin and his gang survive with the last laugh. During these episodes, the humour was not so astute and the actual overall presentation was more dramatic, especially the final three episodes.
I am fully aware, that it is a costume drama, with plenty of corny scenes and people surviving beyond all odds. There are plenty of unbelievable events, which would never have happened in reality. But, this is what I particularly enjoyed about the first two series along with the initial episodes of Series three. It was enjoyable escapism, which my boys were in awe of, and it left you with a happy feeling.
Now, the way in which Series Three has been finished certainly did not leave me a happy viewer! It would have been super if the writers had left it on a high note. Much to my horror, I was completely let down, and disturbed (yes, I know it's only acting, but I had grown to enjoy the characters over 3 series!).
I would recommend this series, it is still a good series, but I did prefer series two. My older son's really enjoyed it, especially the battle scenes, and yes, they have gone on to make bows and arrows!
It is available from Amazon. I paid £19.18
Harrods International Bar (and Nightspot) is a small, hangout, shanty bar in a fictional East African country called Kuwisha. The bar is run by a rather formidable lady, the widowed Charity Mupanga, who is also a kind lady both to the local population and to foreigners. She has an agenda, to make the township/slum of Kireba a better place, and uses her excellent contacts to try to achieve this. Charity has her own private problem, as some London lawyers are claiming that she has no right to use the name 'Harrods', and are threatening litigation. Charity named her bar after her late father Harrods Tangwenya, so she is fighting all the way, completely unaware of what she is really up against!
Last Orders at Harrods - An African Tale is written by Michael Holman who grew up in Zimbabwe and has worked as an African journalist for many years. He tells a humorous fictional tale which also deals with many of the serious underlying problems of modern day Africa. He does have an enormous amount of experience in Africa and relays a satirical tale through this book.
I enjoyed the way that Holman has replicated African life both for the locals and expats. He has taken the extremes and made light of their individual circumstances. Holman has introduced a President, or should I say Dictator, who very much reminds me of a number of late African Presidents both in characteristics and objectives. The Government of Kuwisha is extremely corrupt, taking aid money for their own projects. The poor get poorer, whilst the rich get richer (who don't give a thought to those in need, unless it will benefit themselves). Then, in contrast, there are the cheeky street urchin boys who form the Mboyo Boys Football Club, the only positive thing in their lives. They steal, sniff glue (to keep hunger at bay) and live on the streets. It is Charity that gives them little jobs and pays them with food.
The expatriates in the book include a journalist, out for his own glory, a couple of diplomats, who are not really that interested in the social and economic decline as they are due to move on every three years, and a well-meaning WorldHealth worker. Holman draws a good comparison between the various character's lives, starting with the street boys, to the hard working African, then the expatriate followed by the president and his wealthy government ministers. It is the kind hearted Charity along with the street boys who are central to all these characters. Her bar is the meeting place for many of them, where their lives intertwine.
On a much more serious note, Holman incorporates many key issues such as slum living, without clean water or sanitation (leading to disease such as cholera), street kids (many orphaned due to Aids) along with the complete lack of governmental support, and open corruption from the very top. All these issues exist in many 'real' African states today. Holman has used his literacy skills to jolt our minds, but made sure his book is in no way depressing or boring.
Initially, I did find the book a little hard to get into. It took me a few chapters, and then it started to flow. One thing that did bother me was the character's names. I found them confusing, similar, and often had to flick back to confirm who they were.
I was quite wary when reading this book. At first I though it would be a replica of The No One Dectective Agency (which I did enjoy). But I can assure you it is not. The fact that one of the main characters is an independent widowed lady is as far as the similarities go. It is far more risky, and really tackles some of the issues which were taboo in the other fictional African novels that I have read.
Riddled with humour, which certainly made me smile and at times laugh out loud. It is a funny yet intelligent read, that brings home many truths about the developing world, in particular Africa. It is a book for both genders to enjoy and also contemplate on who and how the third world countries are being run!
Last Orders At Harrods is published by Abacus
ISBN No 978-0-349-12009-6
It has 306 pages.
The fabulous pairing of Mario and Sonic are back, along with many of their cronies. These superstars are all set to face numerous winter olympic events, in Vancouver, and challenge each other to the ultimate prize, an olympic gold medal. For those that have played Mario and Sonic at the Summer Olympics, then this game will be familiar, although it does have a number of changes. The objective, to win gold, is the same, and the level of fun is high (especially if you are winning!).
On initially starting the game you see the official Olympic license for a couple of seconds. Approved by the Olympics, then it must be good? Next you are greeted by Mario and Sonic in a cool snowboarding/skiing pose asking you to touch the bottom screen to begin. If you are busy then the screen will start to show little clips of the various events. Before you can begin playing you need to press one of just two data menu's. These are basically saved games and I found it a bit miserly with only providing two, especially as in our house there are five active users!
Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics is suited for 3 years and up, although I personally feel it would be quite a challenge for one so young. It involves using various buttons along with the stylus, and lots of reading and learning.
On entering your details and choosing the country which you are representing then you are ready to proceed to the main menu. Here you are given a choice of four things to do. There is the single player mode, multi player mode (up to four players wireless), adventure tours, and record log, where you can view best times and other data. I always tend to play the single player mode first, just to try and gain some 'skill', before I risk playing anyone else.
Even within the single player mode you are given four choices of play. The one I always opt for is the quick play, single match, as it is easy to press play again and repeat the event, improving all the time (well, in some events I improve!). The other options are multi round match, where you can play up to five events one after the other, party games (bingo & cards), and ghost where you race against your own ghost.
So, as you can see there is plenty to do within the winter olympics game, and as you can also see it is initially quite confusing. The overall objective is to win an olympic gold in each event, and if you can, try to beat the out standing olympic record. You will either be competing against the computer, which chooses 3 other competitors, or competing wirelessly against friends.
The sports which Mario and his mates race in, range from skiing, ski jumping, cross country, ice skating, bobsleigh, curling and ice hockey to name a few, there are actually over 25 events. There are also 'dream events' that are far harder in a number of these sports which need to be unlocked as you advance through the game. On choosing an event, the character then needs to be carefully selected (if you are really serious) or you can just press random like I do! There are twenty comical characters to select from, including animals, people, and super creatures, who all have their own skills in certain areas. Most people would be familiar with a number of these characters, who doesn't know Mario, Luigi, Sonic and Donkey Kong?
The actual events themselves are fun and reasonably straightforward, but only when you know how. The one thing that really annoys me, and my boys, with this game is the getting to know how. Every time you enter an event three large options appear which explain the controls and give you tips. A much smaller option at the bottom of the screen is also there, begin game. I don't now if it is just me, but when I start a game, I want to get into it as quickly as possible. I will quite happily read instructions of which controls to use, but in a basic and efficient manner, like the Summer Olympics had. In this game the instructions are a video clip, which show a slow motion demo of how to achieve high marks. By the time the demo has finished, I have forgotten the various moves.
Another little gripe, relating to the controls, is that many of the events have similar features, like 'power up', this is basically gaining as much energy as possible before the starter gun fires, thus you are ready to zoom off at top speed. Instead of using one standard button to 'power up', there are different ways depending on which sport you are doing. It is really annoying, so to remind yourself, the demo needs to be watched again and again!
The actual events and characters, combine to make a great game. Although it can be extremely frustrating at times, when I think I am doing so well at mogul jumping and I come fourth with 2.795 score. But that only makes me do it again, until I get it right. It is also super to beat the world record, then I know I am doing it right!
In the multi player mode it is excellent fun (especially when my 5 year old beats me). We have four DS's in the house, so my four boys are often challenging each other to the various events after choosing the character they want to be. It can cause arguments, but mostly it causes laughter, as they all excel at different events.
Trying to follow the more traditional Mario game, they have included the Adventure Tour mode. Here Mario and Sonic are looking for the 'snow' that baddies Bowser and Eggman have kidnapped. Whilst going around they are met by certain obstacles, which need to be cleared. To do this Mario or Sonic are given mini missions to achieve and then they can move on until they reach a boss battle. It supplies a little but of adventure and detective work, and gives a break from the continuous racing.
Throughout the games there is an annoying tune being played, thus I often play on mute. Other audio effects are that of a commentator, the character's praising or commiserating themselves, and sounds for the actual sports, like swishing in the snow.
The graphics are excellent for a DS game. All the characters are very cartoon like and full of bright colours. You could actually be part of a TV programme!
All in all, I will have to say that Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics is a success. I do have my gripes, and I must say that I prefer the Summer Olympics, but it does have the Mario magic. Once the confusing various events have been learnt, (no one is a professional in a day!), then whether you are Donkey Kong zooming down the mountain, Bowser skating in the rink or Princess Peach jumping over moguls, it is an enjoyable, amusing game.
Mr Wolf, a kind thoughtful chap (yes you read it correctly), would not, without prior reason hurt a fly. He is considerate to others, and wishes people would treat him the same, especially when he needs help pulling a giant turnip from his garden. In this lovely, over-sized picture book, 'Mr Wolf and the Enormous Turnip', we follow poor Mr Wolf looking for help, and in doing so, he meets some interesting and familiar characters.
The story starts with Mr Wolf going into his garden and finding an enormous turnip. It's looks good, and turnip stew is on the menu. There is just one large problem, after pulling and pulling the turnip will not move. Rather exhausted, Mr Wolf hears a sad, little voice, coming from behind him. It is a little, wet frog, who explains, that once he was a handsome prince, a nasty witch cast a horrible spell on him, and the only thing that will turn him back is a kiss from a princess! Mr Wolf agrees to help the frog find a princess, so that she can relieve him of his spell. In return, the frog tells Mr Wolf, that he will get his servants to pull up the turnip. Deal!
The story develops nicely, with Mr Wolf and the frog going to the palace and meeting a couple of ghastly princess's who flatly refuse to kiss the amphibian. Poor Mr Wolf try's to persuade them by offering to share his turnip stew, but the princess's are far too important to firstly, kiss a frog, and secondly to be eating turnip stew. Both the royal cat and royal goose try to help by kissing the prince (as they have royal blood), but the spell does not break.
At last they find the third princess, working in the garage, fixing her car. She is not pretentious, in fact she does not even look like a princess instead more like a car mechanic, and she gladly kisses the frog. True to his word, the frog turns into a prince (rather awful), but then untrue to his word he flatly refuses to help Mr Wolf pull up his enormous turnip. Well, a wolf can only be so good, and then his man eating traits appear!
One thing that I really enjoy about this book (and the other's based on Mr Wolf) is that it is centered around famous children's stories. This one is obviously based on 'The Giant Turnip', but also includes a prince turned into a frog, a goose that can lay golden eggs, a cat playing a fiddle and some princesses (Cinderella). All of these characters and the general story of pulling the turnip is one which children can relate to. It is amusing to have the wolf as the good guy (well almost) and the prince to be the bad guy.
As the two princess's are so horrid, it is great for the listeners to both hear and see, what effect being nasty has. Straight away they recognise that the princess's, and later the prince, are not nice. It is always good to remind them of appropriate behaviour, and the book really emphasizes that.
I found the story fun and very entertaining, both through the writing and illustrations. Jan Fearnley has used various sized fonts throughout the story, making the important words bold. Each time someone tries to kiss the frog, the expression " X kissy X kiss x kiss x " has been used, which has my boys squirming in their seats! The language used by one of the princess' is a bit harsh (get lost), so I generally improvise.
Mr Wolf and the Enormous Turnip is a very large picture book, aimed at 3 - 8 years. As it is large the illustrations are fantastic. They are big, brightly coloured and full of detail that you just cannot miss. They also have a modern twist, with the car mechanic princess wearing converse's and the witch on her computer, as examples. There really is a lot to discuss from the pictures alone.
I enjoy reading this story. I love to see the reactions on my little listeners faces during the book, and especially at the end. It does have a small hint of those traditional nursery stories where in the likes of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs someone gets gobbled up by the big bad wolf. But, in this book Mr Wolf is likable and kind, so all listeners are actually a bit more understanding when he does the dirty deed!
Mr Wolf and the Enormous Turnip is published by Egmont
Balram Halwai was a driver in New Delhi. Born and bred in Laxmangarh, commonly known as the Darkness along with all other poor slums and villages, Balram was from a low caste in the Hindu society. Life was tough in the Darkness, people lived in extreme poverty, survived from the land, with the water buffalo being the fattest living thing in each family as it provided the essential milk. Families were also used to work, and education was unimportant, so each child left school early to help. Bahram, a bright boy, was set to work in a tea shop, and after seeing his poor father die of TB he knew he had to get out of the Darkness.
A boy with ambition, he managed to borrow money to learn to drive. He luckily got employed, by a local gangster family, and then moved on to Delhi with one of the sons, as a driver and general servant. Here he was introduced to the corrupt lives of the rich who were always bribing the corrupt government officials to avoid taxes. The book develops and we see young Balram confronted with problems relating to survival, corruption, loyalty, deception and murder.
The White Tiger has been interestingly written. It is based on seven days (chapters), which are a continuous letter to the Chinese Premier His Excellency Wen Jiabao. Balram has written the letter and explains his life story, as well as his thoughts and ideas. I really enjoyed the fact that the book was a narrative seen in the eyes of the servant, rather than the wealthy. As Balram was born into the rigid caste system, he had a natural respect for his employers (a higher caste), but also despised their corrupt minds and complete lack of loyalty to their servants. He was torn between the two ideals, and this was a continuous problem for him throughout the book.
Balram started life as an honest young man, out to improve his own future with hard work and perseverance. He was known as 'the white tiger', as he was a rare, intelligent breed within his community. He did well, becoming a driver, and worked hard. Slowly, through the book he realised that everyone who was anyone was corrupt. The rich were getting richer whilst the poor, poorer. The only way to survive was to become corrupt himself. With corruption he needed to become sly and deceiving, which was not in his nature initially. It was fascinating to watch the character change and develop, all for the purpose of bettering himself. Although corrupt, he was a likeable character.
There are a number of other important characters in the book, whom affected Balram's life. They are mainly from his employers corrupt family, known as the 'Animals'. Balram actually worked for the kinder, more considerate son, known as Mr Ashok but still life was tough. Mr Ashok had actually escaped the clutches of his family and moved to America, married an American, then made the dreadful mistake of returning to the family. He was completely controlled by the father and his brother, and throughout the book we see his character crumble as loyalty to his family overrides his true feelings, making him a broken man. I actually began to feel sorry for Mr Ashok. He had everything, then lost it all. He did have a heart, and at times I had a glimmer of hope that the master/servant relationship would break down and a friendship would develop. However, family always seemed to intervene and realign his loyalty.
The book really emphasised the comparison between rich and poor within India. Seen through the eyes of Balram, parts of Delhi are all glitzy and glamourous. The rich make themselves unaware of the poverty in surrounding areas, and live a complete life of luxury. They turn a blind eye, to the beggars and desperate, whilst traveling to the up market shopping malls or nightlife. Yet around a corner there are slums, with people living in dire circumstances, right next to the city's sewerage. The book seems to represent an adequate account of life in Delhi, and actually made me much more aware of the two extremes.
India is a society with numerous religions. It was interestingly portrayed in the book. Young Balram was a Hindu, but did not seem to have time to pray, partly because he was on 24 hour call, and partly because his life was so bad faith was not an issue. He did use 'temple visits' as an excuse to escape work, but that was all it was. Faith was not going to get him out of his inherited caste status, but deception and crime would.
I did ask myself, why is the book based around a letter to the Chinese Premier? It is really a confession from one man to another. It also justifies communism,to Balram, as he realises that life in Indian is far worse than being ruled by a single communist government. A corrupt government and society is far more oppressing than communistic rule. Throughout the book he makes interesting comparisons.
The White Tiger is a debut novel by Aravind Adiga, for which he won the Booker Prize 2008. I felt that the book was a superb, enjoyable read. Generally, to me, books that win prizes can be quite extreme or heavy going. Surprisingly, The White Tiger, was neither of those. It is an uncomplicated read, which includes humour, satire and suspense. It is captivating and eye opening. I have read a number of 'Indian' novels, including Shantaram and Q & A, and found The White Tiger just as enjoyable and full of valid information. I do not know what distinguishes it from other books to win such a prize, however, it is fantastic that a new author is being recognised for his work.
As I have said, I really enjoyed this novel. There is a murder and some suspense, alongside the intrigues of Indian life. I could totally understand why Balram did what he did, which included committing various crimes to achieve a better life.
The White Tiger is published by Atlantic Books
Mosquitos, midges and other annoying bitting bugs, can ruin a long awaited for holiday or even just a day out. I live in a country, Tanzania, where the mosquito's are not just an annoyance but also, in severe cases, a killer. In my family, we have tried many different types of mosquito sprays, lotions and creams. Some are excellent, but extremely potent and others useless. Mosquitos are tough little critters and have learnt to 'drink' through various chemicals, completely immune to some of the repellents!
Mosi-guard comes in various forms, including a pump action spray, an aerosol, a cream, a roll on and a stick. I use the 100 ml spray which is meant to give 10 hours of protection. The reason I bought Mosi-guard is because it can be used on children from 3 months and up. I am very wary about putting too many chemicals on my children's skin. It can be a real problem, chemicals versus potential malaria. It claims to be a 'natural' insect repellent which I was immediately attracted to. Although it is called 'Mosi-guard', it also repels other biting insects, ticks and leeches.
The actually container is predominately white with blue and green writing. It also has a picture of a mosquito in a red circle with a red line going through it. The pump is small enough to put into your bag, without taking up too much room. It has a green lid, which helps to prevent any accidental sprays. It is recyclable.
The natural active ingredient in Mosi-guard is Citriodiol. This ingredient originally comes from the eucalyptus citriodora trees. These trees are a natural and renewable resource. To complete the ingredients, alcohol has been added, so the repellant is flammable. No leaving it next to the camp fire!
When I first used the spray I was completely overcome with the smell. It is strong, and extreme. No wonder mosquitos don't bite! It smells of citronella, and when it claims to last for 10 hours, so does the smell. There is absolutely no point in wearing perfume, the repellent is the 'new' eau de citronella. If you are going out for a nice meal, then to be truthful the smell can be off putting for other diners.
The spray works nicely, and pumps mists of repellent onto your exposed areas. As with most sprays, it does not really give an even coverage, so a good rub of the sprayed area is required. I don't put repellent on faces, and never have, mosquitos don't seem to bite there. If you feel more comfortable with your face protected then spray onto your hands and then rub it in. Do not spray directly onto your face, it will hurt like crazy if it gets into your eyes. Another pointer, always wash your hands after, it certainly does not taste good and it burns.
I only use the spray at night, mainly when we are going out. As we all sleep under mosquito nets, I tend not to use it at home. My spray has lasted for just over two months, and that is not using it every day.
Mosi-guard does work. I am the type of person who mosquitos love. As soon as the sun sets, I am being nibbled. They seem to steer away from me, along with everything else, when I have sprayed. I feel comfortable wearing it knowing I am safe, but I don't like the smell. My kids are completely unaware of the smell and never complain. Even with the strong smell, I would recommend this product, as it is natural, it does work, and it will make sure you have a great holiday free of biting bugs!
Mosi-guard 100 ml spray is available at Amazon for £5.37.