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This book is the story of two British girls, school friends Jo and Ants, who decide to drive a Tuk-Tuk (auto-rickshaw) 12,500 miles from Bangkok to Brighton. Both girls have suffered with depression at some point in their lives and decided to use this opportunity to raise money and awareness for MIND, a mental health charity. Whilst I admire the girls' enthusiasm and dedication, not to mentions their personal account of the illness, as a book this isn't great.
The first part is padded with information on the countries they were going to be visiting with random facts, not their experience. The actual content of the journey was taken from the blog that they had written as they were completing their trip. They don't appear to have edited it at all. They took it in turns to write the blog, and this is what appears in the book. This means that you hear Jo telling you of the day's events, and the next day Ants tells us the same thing (more or less) in her words. Thus we are reading the same thing twice which seems like cheating to me – if you can't be bothered to re-write it together to present one cohesive story, then perhaps it is best not to bother.
That said, the girls had a very interesting journey, had plenty of trials and tribulations and met some great people and I enjoyed reading their experiences (once was enough) so I cannot discount the book as a complete waste of time. Maybe worth a punt second hand or on a Kindle/e-book promotion. Certainly not worth full price.
I have long been a fan of Clinique products. They are a premium brand at a premium price, but I have always found the quality and results to be worth the extra money.
I have been using their 'rinse off foaming cleanser' on and off for about fifteen years. A 150ml tube costs £17 and it will last a fair while. Clinique claim it is allergy tested and 100% fragrance free.
Firstly wet your face and then squeeze a small amount onto your palm, rub them together to create a lather ('foaming' might be stretching it a bit) and massage onto your face- upwards and outwards. Rinse thoroughly. You only need a small amount – pea sized – as it lathers up really easily. It goes on smoothly and is easy to evenly cover your face and neck. I usually rinse off using a face cloth which I find the most effective for this product. It does take a good rinse to remove it properly. Clinique recommend you follow with their ‘3-Step Skin Care System’.
Overall my skin feels soft and clean, and it does not dry it out. I always use a moisturiser soon after anyway. Once opened it can be kept for up to 24 months.
The ethics: Clinique have always marketed themselves as a dermatological brand with the emphasis on science. However Clinique does now test on animals because their products are sold in China, and are required to do so under Chinese law.
Overall: I like the product as it is easy to use, does what it is supposed to, and makes my skin feel good. I am disappointed with Clinique over their ethical stance however, and for that reason will remove a star and consider other products when my current stash runs out.
I visited Honduras, a country in Central America a few years back. I didn't get the opportunity to explore very much of it, as we only stayed in the Copan region near the Guatemalan border. However this is a charming area and relatively safe. Copan has a small Mayan site with some interesting carvings and stelae (small, carved stone monuments) but was far from the most interesting Mayan site I saw on my travels. However, it was small and easy to explore - they were still discovering part so it when I was there, so expect to see an active archaeological site. Another major advantage is that you don't have hoards of tourists here.
I also really enjoyed a trip to nearby Macaw Mountain where they had a small nature reserve and bird park. I saw some amazingly colourful parrots and macaws but was most charmed by a photogenic toucan - I loved his cheeky expression as it watched me take its photo. The guides in the park were informative, if surprised that there were no brightly coloured birds (like macaws) native to the UK! Macaw Mountain also had a small coffee plantation, but there is a bigger,separate one just outside the town if you are particularly interested to see one.
I also had a very memorable meal in Copan. Honduras is a very meaty country and I was worried how I would fare as a vegetarian. For one meal, in a restaurant called Nia Lolo, I had an amazing veggie skewer that was about 12” (30cm) long and packed with corn (cob), marrow, tomatoes, mushrooms and all sorts. It was very tasty and a generous portion for a very modest sum of money. I also ordered a vodka and coke, but they didn't really understand so bought me a tumbler of vodka and a small bottle of coke! It's a miracle I remember anything about the meal at all, to be honest!
Off peak you may find a lot of restaurants and bars catering to tourists are closed, so choices are limited.
The Bonesetter’s Daughter is a novel by acclaimed American author Any Tan. Tan is of Chinese heritage and both the books I have read of hers (the other is the Joy Luck Club), use this as a key aspect of the story. The book was published in 2000 and I think I first read this book around about this time and enjoyed it. This was also at the time when a lot of Chinese novels and biographies were popular. When my book club chose this our November club choice I was happy to read it again (something I don’t often do – there are so many good books I haven’t read even once yet).
In The Bonesetter’s Daughter we meet Ruth, an American-Chinese woman, who thinks she has settled in the US with her American partner and his daughters. Her widowed mother, LuLing, is getting more and more confused and eventually dementia is diagnosed. Ruth tried to care for her alone, and discovers a manuscript her mother had hidden about her life before coming to America. We then flash back to the 1930s to hear the story of LuLing and her family. This is the main part of the book for me, and it is interchanged with chapters telling us more about Ruth and LuLing’s adult relationship. I did prefer the Chinese part of the story however. I didn't like LuLing at first, as we were learning about her through her daughter’s eyes, but she became a much more interesting and complex character as the book progressed.
Tan’s writing style was easy to read, I didn't struggle with getting into the story or engaging with the characters. Although only Ruth and LuLing were exceptionally well-drawn, as it was their ‘voices’ that you hear, the other characters (particularly in the modern strands) were more two-dimensional. I don’t mind that however, as I want my story to keep on track, without being bogged down in sub-stories that are not directly relevant to the tale of Ruth and LuLing. It is refreshing and re-assuring that excellent books can be written around the 400 page mark, and do not need 7-800 pages which some of the recent prize-winning books seem to have.
I do recommend this book, not just if you are interested about Chinese culture, but generally if you are interested in a well-written novel, which is succinct and engaging
The Prince Charles Cinema, just off of London's bustling Leicester Square is the last independent cinema in central London. It shows new art-house releases and subtitled films, as well as 'theme' nights. It rarely shows new blockbuster releases as they are easily available at the big multiplexes nearby.
In the past I have seen foreign films here, but most recently I have gone along to a Grease or a Rocky Horror sing-a-long. They also do Frozen, Dirty Dancing and Sound of Music. We are encouraged to dress up and the Rocky Horror show includes goodie bags or 'props' to be used at key points in the film. This showings cost about £16 and are normally on Friday or Saturday nights. They also do theme nights for other cult movies and marathon days/nights for various trilogies or themed movies.
Normal films are cheaper and if you come mid-week during the day then you will find prices discounted. Generally prices are substantially cheaper than any of the other cinemas on Leicester Square.
There are two screens here, I have only been to the larger downstairs theatre, but neither are big. It is dark in the cinema but seats don't appear to be too worn or damaged. There is a small bar in the downstairs foyer with limited drinks and a pricey kiosk. There is are loos which aren't too bad considering the use they get when people are drinking quite a bit before a film.
If you are looking for a theme night or a sing-along night in central London then this place is worth checking out.
Amity & Sorrow is a novel by American author Peggy Riley. A friend of mine had started to read it and thought I would like it so I downloaded for my Kindle. The thing that interested both my friend and I was the fact that it was about a religious cult, something neither of us knew anything about, so read it whilst hoping to be informed as well as entertained.
Amity and Sorrow are sisters, who have run away with their mother Amaranth, from their commune (for want of a better word) where they lived with their father, his other wives and many other children. It is Amaranth who got them away, no longer feeling comfortable with the actions that were occurring within the community. Sorrow is the eldest daughter (who allegedly had some sort of hotline to God) and was unhappy being away from home, but poor Amity, her younger sister, was stuck in the middle. Torn between her loyalty to her sister and to her mother, not to mention the new discoveries she is making in the outside world.
I was very disappointed with the book as I felt it didn’t give much background as to why the women joined the community, let alone why they stayed, nor what made their father ‘tick’. I puzzled over Amaranth’s decision to stay, Sorrow’s selfishness and the fact that the farmer who gave them refuge didn’t ask more questions or try to help. He just let these random women sleep on his porch for weeks. Characters were two-dimensional, and the only one I even half-liked was Amity on her journey of discovery in her new world. I did wonder if the author left the book deliberately vague in parts, in order for the reader to make up their own minds, but mainly it came across that she wasn't that bothered by that side of the story.
Whilst the writing is clear and engaging, the story is not, and I cannot recommend this book because I felt there was so much room for improvement. Whilst we did, eventually, get a bit of Amaranth’s back story, it was too little, too late for me, and still didn’t answer my questions satisfactorily.
An article a few years ago, in The Times newspaper (UK) claimed that the British Museum was the second best museum in the world (after the Smithsonian in DC, USA). A few other publications put it a bit further down the list, but it is pretty much in the Top Ten, if not the the Top Five, in most publications. It is also one of the oldest in the world and at any given time, just a fraction of its collection is on display. The picture at the top is of the Great Court within the museum which was recently done up. This spacious area houses a coffee shop and gift shop.
The main problem with the museum is its vastness, it is easy to miss something or get museum-fatigue before you have seen what you came to see. I would recommend choosing a few collections of personal interest beforehand, or picking up the free leaflet and checking out some recommended highlights which will take you around parts of the museum.
I did the latter and whilst not always blown away by their choices, I often spotted other interesting pieces that I may not have done, on my route around, such as a stunning 1901 Tiffany cash register. It is too easy to wander around aimlessly and get tired, so I do recommend having a plan of some sort in place before visiting.
One popular room is the Egyptology room which has a lot of interesting artefacts and mummies from ancient Egypt and the pyramids. This is often busy and one to avoid if coming at the same time as a school party!
You can also see the controversial Elgin Marbles from ancient Greece, a small Easter Island head, a huge variety of Asian ceramics and samurai artefacts and ancient Celtic chess sets!
A History of Modern Britain is a non-fiction book written by British journalist and political pundit, Andrew Marr. It covers British history, with the emphasis on politics, from the end of the Second World War to 2009, when the book was published. At 640 pages it is not a small book, but the last 20% or so is notes and citations. I believe there was also a TV series.
Generally, I read non-fiction books slower than I do novels, as there is usually more to take in. This book is no exception. Marr writes well and is informative, and offers a lot of factual information, but written engagingly enough that it isn’t dry. That said, I could only read it in small chunks before taking some time out for a bit of a lighter read. He keeps a seemingly politically impartial view of the key figures, offering praise or criticism as he sees fit, rather than along any party lines. Saying that this isn't a full biography of any one person or event, so you are still skimming the surface to a certain extent. A lot of the events discussed happened before I was born and were new to me, plus it was also good to see his re-telling of events from more recent years. I didn't check or refer to his sources, so cannot comment on their accuracy. The book isn't all about Britain’s political history, Marr references the influences on fashion, pop and film through these years, though it is plain that he is out of his comfort zone.
Director: Gabriele Muccino. Released 2012.
George (Gerard Butler) is a retired footballer (soccer) player who played in the USA. He is divorced from wife Stacey (Jessica Biel) and has a young son Lewis. He has not been the most consistent role model in his son's life. With no work on the horizon (he is trying to become a pundit) he moves to Virginia to be nearer Lewis and his mum (who is getting re-married).
One weekend George finds himself coaching his son's soccer team and the kids really love it and so do their mothers! Of course, just as George starts to reignite feelings with Stacey, then he has to fend of the likes of Judy Greer, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones. That and a bro-mance with Dennis Quaid.
George has a learning curve coming up in how to be a good parent and could do without all these distractions, not to mention he needs to get a job...
I can't really fault the acting in the film, but to be fair, none of the roles were ever going to be that challenging. The young lad who played Lewis did a great job in playing the son who misses his dad and wants not to be disappointed.
This is a pretty run of the mill romantic comedy. I am guessing they are trying to get the boyfriends of their target audience involved by adding a sporting angle and some hot women. I've no idea if this worked, but the film didn't really grab me as a female, but I don't think it is the sport angle. I found it all pretty formulaic and uninspiring.
This novel is the most famous book in Azerbaijan, with coffee shops and book stores named after it. The author Kurban Said is unknown – a pen name to conceal an identity of possibly a woman or a Jew (all have been rumoured). I decided to read it after a visit to Baku in Azerbaijan last year and nominated it to my Book Club in east London. Most loved it more than me.
Ali is a local Muslim lad and Nino is a Christian girl from neighbouring Georgia and they both go to nearby schools in Baku in in about 1918. They fall in love but there are the inevitable conflict of their diverse religions (Ali promises Nino she won’t have to wear a veil or be part of a harem), their cultural backgrounds (Nino is more Western and modern, whilst Ali’s family is more traditional), and the battle for their homeland potentially being torn apart by either the Russians or the Ottomans (Arabs). The path of true love does certainly not run smoothly for these two. Due to the nature of the times and the region, women are not valued.
Whilst I enjoyed the themes of identity and conflict running throughout the novel, I struggled to see the appeal of the two main characters to each other. I think the book lacked a certain level of character development for me to engage with them as a couple, rather than as two individuals. The book is quite descriptive but I think my previous visit to Baku helped me imagine how their old town would have been.
All in all I was a tiny bit disappointed with this book, but if you like a historical romance, you will certainly find a unique one here.
This ‘chick-lit’ type novel is by Stella Newman who I had not read before. I bought it as a Kindle 99p deal. I wouldn't have paid full price for this genre, as there is so much of it, and not all of it is any good, but wanted it as back-up for the times when you need a light, easy read.
Sophie works for a (fictional) major supermarket chain head office as a buyer in their chilled desserts department. She loves her job but her new boss is a bit of a twerp (to put it politely) with all sorts of ridiculous ideas. One night she meets James, the man of her dreams – he is rich and successful, slightly older but very charismatic. Sophie falls for him and all he can give her, but he is spoiled and controlling with an ex who is a model. With James blowing hot and cold, Sophie doesn't know where she stands and starts to feel very insecure and paranoid that James is seeing his super-skinny ex again. All of this starts to effect her professional life also.
Sweet toothed foodies may love the dessert descriptions. However I lean towards the savoury end (bar the occasional chocolate fondant) so didn't get excited about the creamy, gooey concoctions that Sophie tries.
As far as the genre goes there is an element of romance, but it is given more depth by the way Sophie’s self-esteem is manipulated. As a reader, looking in you will see the harm that is being done, but Sophie doesn't see this and this can be frustrating for the reader as she is a nice girl and you can’t help but get behind her.
Overall I enjoyed the book, but I wouldn't rush to read any more of Newman’s books again as it didn't grip me particularly.
I had not heard of this museum until a friend wanted to see a special exhibition that was looking at fans in advertising, and I decided to tag along as I wanted to see this niche museum for myself. The museum is in Greenwich in SE London and is a 10 minute walk from the Docklands Light Railway station. It is situated in two converted houses and has some lovely tea rooms at the back serving afternoon tea. There is also a gift shop selling fan related gifts including jewellery. It costs just £4 to visit (concessions available, free for Art Fund members) and there is a free guide you can borrow. I think it is a few pounds more for the special exhibitions.
The museum has a permanent exhibition which is the history of the fan, and shows the components and evolution of fan design. They also have temporary special exhibitions that show for a few months each year, so you can see more of their extensive collection. When I visited it was the art of fans in advertising and showed an impressive array of colourful fans used to promote various businesses. These fans were mostly French and very stylish, often used to promote premium products such as champagne, hotels and luxury shops. Some fans originated from the early 19th century and in the run up to the 1930s there were used often in advertising, the colours and designs evoked the era perfectly.
Afterwards we went to the Orangery at the back of the museum for tea and scones. It is a really charming space. You don't need to allow much time to see the museum, but I think it is well worth timing it with a special exhibition that may appear to you - be it the style or the era.
Stratford-upon-Avon is a small, picturesque town in Warwickshire, England. It is most famous as the birthplace of 16th century playwright William Shakespeare. Most of the attractions in the town are built around this most famous of writers. If you only go to one place go to the house in which he was born and the accompanying exhibition to learn some more about him and his work. It is right in the centre of the town. You can also visit Hall's Croft where his daughter and her doctor husband lived. There is a small exhibition on Tudor medical practices too. You can also visit New Place where he spent his last years. Just outside the town (accessible by car or tour) are Anne Hathaway's Cottage (the family home of his wife) and Mary Arden's Farm which was the childhood home of his mother. The latter is more for families with young children.
The pretty village church has his grave and can be visited (except during service times). You can get various passes to make visiting all homes easier.
If you are interested in seeing a play I would recommend checking out the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre in advance as they are likely to sell out.
As a popular tourist destination hotels are not cheap, and at weekends may require a minimum two night stay (booking late may get you a one night deal if you prefer), I stayed in a B&B just across the river from the main part of town - it was only a short walk though. There are various restaurants dotted about town so finding places to eat won't be a problem, but like any town there are rather a lot of chain establishments rather than independents. The shopping is not different here than on any other small high street.
I think the town is well worth a visit over a weekend
I bought this book for the Kindle a few years ago when it was on a ‘deal’ for 99p. I finally read it earlier this year and really enjoyed it. It is set at the mansion of Lady Pamela , who hosts an annual Jane Austen conference.
Attendees at the conference include Katherine, who is an Oxford lecturer that has been invited to speak. Katherine is also a fan of trashy historical romances by Lorna Warwick who she has struck up a written correspondence with, newly single, she is looking forward to a relaxing girlie weekend. Robyn is a young lady in a relationship with her school sweetheart but is beginning to wonder if he is really suitable but not sure how to broach the subject. Warwick is a man hoping to meet a pen-pal at the conference. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, lots of things actually, not least Robyn’s dreadful boyfriend showing up, and Katherine discovering the truth about Lorna Warwick (revealed to the reader very early on), however the weekend does bring a lot of positives to the lives of these two ladies. The book is quite humorous, there are some interesting supporting characters and events happening at the hall including a glamorous regency ball to look forward too.
This is really a light, chick-lit read cashing in on the popularity of Austen. I’ve read a few of these ‘spin-offs’ and for the most part I found them lacking, but I rather enjoyed this book. It was a lot of fun and didn’t take itself too seriously. The writing was warm and easy to get into, the story won’t challenge you, but sometimes it is just what you are in the mood for and I recommend this to Austen fans and chick-lit fans as this is one of the better novels in the genre.
Around the World in 80 Days is a classic novel by Jules Verne which has been made for the screen a number of times. These versions often feature different methods of transport that are not featured in the original novel, which at 154 pages, won't take you long to read. It was first published in 1873.
Phileas Fogg is a wealthy English gent with an exacting routine. After accepting a £20,000 wager at his club saying that it is not possible to travel around the world in 80 days, he instructs his new manservant, a Frenchmen called Passepartout to pack their bags and they set off for the train. During the journey the pair are accompanied much of the way by an undercover Scotland Yard detective called Fix, who believes Fogg to be responsible for a bank robbery, they also rescue a young Indian woman called Aouda from being sacrificed. Passepartout also gets himself into a number of scrapes and the group get separated. It is all a bit of an adventure story as they race against the clock and the challenges that could potentially impede their journey.
If this book was written in modern times, the adventures would be a lot more sophisticated, there would be more character development also. If you are used to contemporary adventure stories, you might find this lacking. However at the time, such distances travelled were rare and I can see how this had such appeal - there is good reason why it has been emulated in so many forms.
Because of the ago of the book you can get paperbacks for about £2 new, or free on the Kindle.