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Renza_e
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Member since: 08.01.2009

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    • graze.com / Internet Site / 60 Readings / 48 Ratings
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      16.05.2013 23:38
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      Graze to the rescue!

      Not long ago I stumbled upon an embarrassing video of my drunken flatmate and I ransacking our fridge and proclaiming, in high-pitched Glaswegian accents, just how shockingly 'middle-class' the contents of out fridge were on that specific occasion. There were cries of 'Channel Island Milk! Well, we have gone up in the world' and 'Organic Greek Yoghurt - Well ye' cannae have that.' There was even a wee bottle of rosé wine in the side cabinet. It was certainly a step up from the grub we had in our student days. Now, the Graze box, the product I'm about to discuss, is something I would have no doubt have mocked in my heightened drunken state and I probably would have told myself to get 'away back to Waitrose with that bollocks'. Even now, when I look at my Graze box delivery I wonder if it's really necessary. Could I not just grab an apple and a pack of raisins and get my daily healthy fix? Well, maybe but it turns out I have a weakness for this little 'middle class' indulgence... *~WHO ARE GRAZE?~* Graze is a company set up by a group of friends who started making their own healthy treats when they felt the average snack was not tasty enough and quite frankly, widening their waistlines. Since before Christmas I began to get a little bit worried about the effect my own unhealthy grazing was having on my waistline. I therefore went on a health kick, swapping my lunch time sandwiches for vegetable-laden soups and I have tried my best to resist the allure of crisps and chocolate. Then one January morning, I had daytime TV on in the background and, in a well-chosen post-New-Year-start-of-resolutions time slot, an advertisement for Graze caught my attention. With an offer which included the first and fifth box free, I decided to give it a go... *~CHOOSING YOUR PRODUCT: NATURE THROUGH YOUR LETTER BOX~* The process of choosing your product is simple enough. First of all, you need to decide on the type of box you want. The most popular option is the 'Nibble Box' which allows you to choose from their full range of more than 100 snacks. However, you can also choose other types of boxes based on your dietary goals. These include: ~The eatwellbox - This box is all about being very healthy and cuts out any snacks which include milk/white chocolate or flapjacks. ~The boost box - This one provides nutrient dense foods, cutting out everything the eatwellbox cuts out as well as dark chocolate, olives and crackers. ~The Light Box - This box offers low calorie treats between 50 and 150 calories and cuts out dark chocolate, flapjacks, nuts and seeds. I opted for the nibble box as I am not a hard core dieter and actually want to enjoy life. The other box options sound far too dull and restrictive and as far as I'm concerned, most of the treats seem to be healthy enough. For me a diet is about not over-doing it on the chips, cake and chocolate. You'll never catch me munching on celery sticks, rice cakes and Ryvita, or as I like to call it, cardboard disguised in food form. I need variety and colour in my food and I expect my Graze boxes to be the same... Choosing what goes into your Graze box is simple. You log on to your online account and browse through the range which is divided into sections based on the type of food. You have the 'savoury selection', 'pure fruit', 'flapjacks' and so on and so forth. You can then select what you want based on your preferences for a particular snack. You can choose to 'love', 'like', 'try' or 'bin' a snack. You can also go into your 'Preferences' (under your name on the right hand side of the page) and choose whether you want more snacks that come under the 'try' rating, whether you want a more balanced choice, or whether you want more snacks that you have rated 'like or 'love'. This is great, in theory, when you come across someone who is as fussy as me... *~THERE WAS A FUSSY GIRL NAMED SARAH...~* I never really considered myself to be that fussy when it comes to food. I will eat most things and I'm fairly open-minded when its comes to trying new foods. Then came Graze and I realised that there's a lot of foods I'm not willing to consume. Of the 118 products currently on offer, I have binned all but 41. I tried their fiery seeds and thought it tasted like rabbit food. I won't even bother with their popcorn as I find most popcorn tasteless and cheap. I don't like nuts, unless its cashews or honey almonds. And olives - yeuch. I hate the disgusting green little bastards with a passion. Needless to say, I have binned all of these from my options. For the most part, Graze have been able to cater for my fussiness. They mostly send me snacks that I have rated 'like' or 'love' and I have also been able to use the 'Send Soon' option on most products. This means that if you really want a specific snack in your next order, by selecting this option, you're quite likely to get it in your next box. Graze apparently use an artificial intelligence algorithm to determine what goes into each box. I won't go into too much detail about what that entails but it is all based on things like the customer's preferences, previous order history, nutritional value and even the colour and texture of snacks. I'd love to say that this is an algorithm that is always spot on but I have had one bad box. This happened when I changed my delivery day from a Wednesday to a Monday. I opened up the box and there was just one item that I actually wanted. The other snacks did not come from my 'like' and 'love' categories. This would not have been so bad if the snacks I was given weren't of the blandest, least colourful and dullest selection (seeds and two boxes containing dry, tasteless ingredients like coconut, almonds and strangely lacking in flavour mango and pineapple). Only the Honeycomb Flapjack brought me any true enjoyment. I was so disappointed with this box I sent an arsey message of complaint to the Graze team in a moment of disproportionate rage. Not really expecting much of a response I was pleasantly surprised to find that they take customer dissatisfaction pretty seriously and granted me a half price graze box for one of my future orders. I haven't had a problem since... *~LITTLE POTS OF GOODNESS~* Despite my one disappointing box, I have uncovered quite a few delicious delights in my Graze boxes and thought I should mention some of my top favourites... ~ The Graze Brownie - Only introduced this year, it has to be one of the best Graze products yet. Unfortunately it cannot be marked as a 'send soon' product so, desperate to try it, I sent a message to Graze asking if they could include it in one of my boxes soon. Demonstrating their remarkable customer service, I received a reply telling me they would pop it in my next box. Score! I could hardly contain my anticipation. The difference between this Brownie and your standard Brownie treat is that the Graze brownie is really quite healthy - full of fibre, it is made with ground almonds and beetroot. Think that doesn't sound very appetising? Just wait till you try it. In a lot of ways I prefer it to your normal Brownie as it not only chocolately but very light. ~Boston Baguettes - These are low calorie breadsticks with a BBQ relish which I particularly love as the breadsticks are dusted in spices and the relish has nice big bits of tomato and onion. A lovely savoury option. I love the sweetness and the BBQ taste. ~Smoky Gazpacho Dip - This snack includes delicious crispy wholemeal bread slices with a tasty tomato based relish. Both the bread and the dip are pleasingly flavoursome. ~Toffee Apple - Probably the most unhealthy tasting of these healthy snacks, this treat involves dried apple slices and a rich toffee sauce that you can dip them in. It is diet food that doesn't taste like diet food. ~ Herby Bread Basket - This little savoury pot is an amalgamation of different textures and herby flavours that I really love. Plus, the mini baguettes are quite adorable. ~Apricot Torte - This is a regular send soon option of mine. I love raisins, green raisins and adore the chocolate covered apricots. It is a tasty little dessert option whilst containing one of your five a day. ~ Eleanor's Apple Crumble - I enjoy the dried apple and raisins contained within this snack but what really makes this special are the cinnamon and honeyed almonds which are sweet and crunchy little pieces of sweet heaven. ~ Super Berry Detox - For a dose of super food I love to opt for this one as it has a colourful and tasty combination of goji berries, blueberries, green raisins and cranberries. The goji berries take some getting used to in terms of texture and flavour but I've grown to enjoy them. Honourable mentions: Sticky Toffee Pudding, Bonnie Wee Oatbakes, Honeycomb Flapjack, Billionaire's Shortbread, Sticky Chocolate Pudding, Garden of England. There is a concern with my Graze boxes that I will end of getting sick of what's on offer, especially with my own limited choice. However, it seems that Graze have considered this eventuality and are not afraid to evolve and provide new products. Graze Brownie was the big introduction of 2013 but this was soon followed by Beef Jerky and their 'Little Puds' - miniature, diet-friendly versions of Britain's favourite puddings, that can be heated up in the microwave. I've just recently had their Sticky Toffee Pudding which was a welcome surprise in last week's delivery. Now I'm hankering after their 'Brilliant Black Forest' and 'Beef Jerky'. It's a shame that I can't guarantee one of these will be in my next Graze box and I feel it would be a bit too cheeky to send them another message asking if one of these could be sent out. I just have to hope the great Graze algorithm will send it in my next delivery... *~PRICEY POTS~* The only downside about Graze boxes it that it seems quite pricey to fork out £3.89 for four small pots of food, no matter how nice it tastes. That works out to just under a £1 a snack and the boxes are quite small. When I first started getting Graze boxes I did intend to cancel after my special offer ended. However, I decided that it would, on occasion, be worth it. In addition to that, I suggest taking advantage of many Graze special offers as you can. I cancelled at one point and in an attempt to win back my custom, they offered me three half price boxes. A month or so after this I cancelled again and they promised me yet another half price box if I restarted with four weekly boxes. This is therefore what I have done. At full price I would not allow myself to get weekly boxes. I moved from weekly to fortnightly boxes and just recently I have changed over to the four weekly option. This is not only due to the price but also because I don't want to tire of the products that I'm receiving. By receiving it every once in a while, I think I will appreciate it more. You may also ask why I don't just buy some healthy food at the supermarket which will probably offer you a greater quantity for the same price. This is because I think that the Graze products are well crafted and creative, offering variety, colour and flavour. I think if you were to take the same ingredients to try and replicate what they do it would cost you a lot more. You aren't just getting a pot of ingredients, you're getting something more. *~HOW HEALTHY ARE MY GRAZE BOXES?~* The great thing about Graze boxes is that each product offers you a different health benefit. These include: ~1 of your 5 a day ~ A source of vitamins and minerals ~ A source of fibre ~ Low in calories ~ Health Star - Products with the 'health star' badge are the healthiest in the range, often belonging to the super food category. A few of the snacks could be considered as not entirely healthy. For example, the Honeycomb Flapjack may be full of fibre but is 239 calories. This is quite calorific when compared to the other snacks. However, as I implied earlier, I'm no big calorie counter. Healthy eating should be about enjoying food but not eating too much of it, and your body is crying out for the type of food that Graze has on offer. *~DELIVERY AND CUSTOMER SERVICE~* As I have already suggested, customer service at Graze is excellent. Staff are always on hand to help you when you send them a message and there's lots of friendly banter (just look at their Twitter page). In addition to this, they tend to be very good at delivering boxes on the delivery date you have chosen. So far there has been only one day when my box arrived a day late and I blame that wholly on the Royal Mail. *~ GRAZE TO THE RESCUE~* I don't trust Weightwatchers meals and I certainly don't trust celery sticks and rice cakes. Healthy eating and weight loss should be about eating real, hearty foods in the right quantities. I also think that healthy food products and brands have gotten better over the past decade or so with the rise of brands like 'Innocent' and I think that 'Graze' can be added to the list of brilliant healthy foods on offer. I love Graze because of many of the great products I have tried so far and because of the enjoyment I get opening it up once it has come through the letter box. I love it when I get to try a new type of product and I love that it doesn't feel like I'm eating diet food. When I'm feeling peckish, Graze satisfies my cravings without having to resort to a less healthy, calorie-laden snack. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to cut down on crisps and chocolate. *~Grab yourself a free box with the following code: QPQK69CD~* *~Thanks for reading my review. Also published on Ciao - May 2013 :-)~*

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      • More +
        15.01.2013 22:04
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        Make your cleaning time EPIC!

        My mum has been a fan of Dyson vacuum cleaners since the machines were first brought out in the mid-1990s. She was just one of the many people who helped Mr James Dyson make his millions. I remember her trusty yellow and gray DC01 very well because she must of had it for at least 10 years before she needed a new one. And did she move on to another brand of vacuum? Nope. It just had to be another Dyson. That's the thing - once you've vacuumed with a Dyson, you don't want to use any other machine. With anything else cleaning just begins to seem like too much hard work. As a student, I made ever effort to avoid any cleaning tasks which involved vacuuming. My flatmates and I were often lumbered with crappy vacuums provided to us by landlords which were as powerful as blowing on someone's face. Even Henry the hoover's cheeky little smile could not endear me to overlook that he was a cumbersome machine which could vacuum up bugger all (albeit this specific Henry may have seen better days). Having moved in with my boyfriend over the past year, I made sure that I would do most of the cleaning jobs whilst assigning vacuuming duties to his lovely self. I would dust, I would scrub, I would mop but, without a Dyson, to hell with hoovering! I think he may have picked up on this because, close to Christmas, hints were made about me receiving a rather expensive and much desired present from my dearest parents. I spend about a month trying to guess what it was. My boyfriend was good at guarding his secret. Was it a game console? Was it just money? A car? (This was clearly just a wild guess knowing my parents really couldn't afford this) Driving Lessons? ('Not driving lessons', my boyfriend said, so at least one of those options had been eliminated). It wasn't until Christmas morning when I was presented by a tall-ish vertical package that it suddenly dawned on me what I was getting. I opened it up and saw the Dyson DC41 Animal. At that point I didn't know how to react. It was something I very much wanted and could never bring myself to buy on my own salary. I suppose there was a little child in my head muttering 'But that's not a real present. Where's the Xbox?'. The adult side of me was thinking 'At last. I can get rid of the bloody cat hair'. In the end, I am grateful and thankful to my parents and the little child in me cannot stop me from overlooking the fact that this Dyson is a fabulous vacuum cleaner... *~ULTIMATE FACE SUCKAGE POWER~* Dyson vacuums like this one use a patented technology called Radial Root Cyclone. Dyson claim that conventional vacuum cleaners, bagged and bagless, can clog up causing suction to drop and leaving some dust and dirt untouched. In their own words 'improved flow efficiency reduces turbulence and preserves air pressure, so more microscopic particles are extracted by the inner cyclones.' It really is the perfect vacuum to have if you have any sort of dust allergies or, for people like me who are allergy-free, just want a cleaner floor. In practice, the vacuum cleaner is very powerful and picks up dust and debris very well. I tend to blow dry my hair in our living room and I swear I shed as much hair as the cat. However, after going over the floor with a vacuum it seems that the carpet is entirely cat-hair and Sarah-hair free. My previous vacuums had never been able to satisfactorily pick up all of the dirt and debris on the carpet. This one seems to do the job a hundred times better. It also passes the face suckage test. In the past, to prove just how crap a vacuum was I'd hold the vacuum tube to my face just to show how little face suckage discomfort I was experiencing. Out of curiosity, I thought I would try it with the Dyson tube. This experience has led to my own disclaimer: Do not use the Dyson to vacuum your face. With its ultimate power it will feel like the Dyson is trying to suck off your face. Trust me. Don't do it. It hurts. Apart from its face suckage capabilities, the Dyson also has a whole host of other benefits that make it stand out from all other vacuums and previous Dyson models... ~ A MOTORISED BRUSH BAR - The motorised brush bar draws up dirt, dust, debris and animal hair on carpeted floors. ~ YOU CAN USE IT ON HARD FLOORS AS WELL AS CARPETS - Once you have turned off the motorised brush bar feature you can use it on hard floors which is extremely handy in our kitchen. It is so satisfying to not have to sweep up with a broom any more. It also helps that it will automatically self-adjust to different floor heights. ~ EASY TO CLEAN OUT - All you have to do to empty the Dyson is unclick the barrel from the body of the vacuum, hold it over the bin or bin bag, press the bottom on the top and the dirt and dust will just fall out the bottom. Most of it will fall out unless the barrel is quite full, in which you will have to put your hand in to fish a little of it out. ~ LIGHT AS A FEATHER - It's more lightweight than any other Dyson I've used. Weight is not a particular issue for me. I consider myself to be reasonably strong. However, its nice to handle a machine that so light and I imagine this feature would make it particularly good for those who can't handle much weight, such as elderly customers. ~ THE EXTENSION TUBE SEEMS TO GO ON FOREVER - If you plan to use the attachments to vacuum smaller and more high up areas, you'll find that when you pull the tube out, it's quite an epic length. Apparently, it's 14 metres in total. My mother recommends this for cleaning dust in corners of room and lampshades. I must admit that I have not yet reached this level of cleaning frenzy but may set this job aside for a Spring clean later in the year. ~ A LENGTHY POWER CABLE - The lengthy extension tube is matched by a lengthy power cable which saves you from having to swap plug sockets on too many occasions. Its a whole 9.4 metres of power cable. Very handy! ~ IT WILL PROBABLY LAST FOREVER- I have only had this Dyson for less than a month so I can't say I am fit to judge on the longevity of my vacuum cleaner (Maybe I will return in the future to do so). However, Dyson pride themselves on producing tough and durable vacuum cleaners. The vacuums are made from ABS and polycarbonate, the same material used for riot shields and crash helmets. They also test each component rigorously to make sure that each part will stand the test of time. I can therefore believe (or at least hope) that my Dyson will last me a long time. My mother's own DC01 seemed to last forever and that was the very first model. I have heard about other individuals that are still using their DC01 to this very day. ~ IT IS FANTASTIC TO STEER - The most distinctive feature of this vacuum cleaner is that it rides on a ball. The ball technology was something that James Dyson utilised in the 70s when he invented a wheelbarrow with a ball wheel so I do strongly suspect this technology inspired the design of this Dyson. The ball feature allows you to vacuum your room without having to move it in a straight forward and straight backward motion. You can curve it round and move it in such a way that you can vacuum in odd spaces and angles. In fact, you may find that you can turn it in such a way that your Mrs Doubtfire moments are almost balletic. What makes this feature even more wonderful is that this ball contains the motor, the end of the power cable and the air ducts itself. With most of the important engineering parts in the ball, the centre of gravity is concentrated within it and this makes it easier to steer and more stable. ~ IT IS AESTHETICALLY PLEASING- There is no doubt that in terms of engineering, the Dyson is an ingenious design but I would also argue that this Dyson is also an aesthetically pleasing design. The Dyson has always looked like space-age technology next to the humble old bagged vacuum. However, I always thought the earlier models were a bit clunky looking. The newer models seem to have been streamlined to look smaller and more attractive. I like the design of the DC41 because of its slim design and think that the gray, blue and red colours are quite attractive. It definitely beats the glaring yellow and gray of my mum's old DC01. *~PUTTING IT TOGETHER~* I have to admit that my boyfriend was an absolute gem and put it together for me when I was at work. He told me that it was a fairly easy process, that he followed some simple instructions and everything just clicked into place. *~LOOKING AFTER YOUR DYSON~* If you are going to be using this Dyson, instructions tell you that you must clean the filters once every 3 months with cold water. Having had it for less than a month, I haven't got to that stage. However, I did tinker with it to find out how you do it. Not being a very practical person, I must admit that, at first, I took one look and thought: Oh feck, how do you that? However, to my great relief it's a very simple process if you follow the instructions. One filter clicks out from the top and the other twists out from the side. It really is idiot-proof. *~HOW TO VACUUM YOUR DOG...~* One of the enduring features of the Dyson vacuum are the various attachments you can use with the extension tube allowing you to clean various different areas of your home. These seem to have become more sophisticated and inventive throughout the years. This vacuum comes with the following attachments: ~ Flat Out Head - A tool you can use to clean under low furniture. ~ Soft Dusting Brush - A brush with soft bristles that I like to use for cleaning skirting boards and weirdly enough, my telly. ~ Turbine head - This is like a smaller version of the main vacuum itself and can be used to clean pet hair and dirt. There are various other attachments you can also buy should you feel that you require the use of them. One that amused me was the Pet Grooming Tool which can be used directly on your dogs fur. This amused me as I had visions of using it on my cat Sammy. Sammy has a massive fear of vacuums. When you turn one on it becomes the monster in the room and he is out of there. Only the other day, I started hoovering with the doors closed unaware that Sammykins was snoozing on the couch. After a few minutes I looked up to see Sammy standing up to attention, alert and wide-eyed, viewing the Dyson with terror. I suppose he maybe has a right to be terrified. It probably has the power to suck up a small kitten... Now this then brings me to my only criticism of the machine. The one thing I miss that was on the older Dysons was the ability to attach some of the attachments to the side of the machine. This is handy as you don't have to go looking for where you have stashed them and don't have the worry that somehow one of these could go missing. Additionally, it would have been nice if there was a bit of paper explaining what each attachment was for. There's still one piece of plastic unidentified and I don't have a Scooby what it is. *~A TOP OF THE RANGE MODEL FOR A TOP OF THE RANGE PRICE~* I will admit that, on my salary, there is no way I would have been able to bring myself to splurge on a brand new Dyson. My boyfriend and I had been considering second-hand models last year before I had received this one. My mum spent a whopping £309.99 on this (I can only know this because I had to keep the receipt for the guarantee). You will not be able to get it for much less than this. Amazon are currently selling it for £289 however (That's a lot of amazon vouchers dooyoo-ers. Get reviewing!). However, if you do have the money to splurge on one of these, I highly recommend it. Its performance and durability means that it is terrific value. *~A 5 YEAR GUARANTEE~* One of the great things about this product is that it comes with a 5 year guarantee. Dyson customer service advisers can also be contacted every day between 7am and 10pm which is great if you need to report any faults with your machine. My mum loves the guarantee as with her current Dyson. If anything has needed to be fixed they will send out an engineer very promptly to repair and replace parts. A bit of hard use and a couple of cracked tubes later and she's still got her beloved Dyson machine. *~A DIFFERENT KIND OF ANIMAL~* I love my new Dyson vacuum. It is very effective at cleaning carpets, kitchen linoleum and even my TV. It is great to steer, has lots of helpful little attachments and generally is very easy to use. It is the best vacuum cleaner that I have used. All I can say is that there is a reason that Dyson vacuum cleaners are exhibited in museums. Dysons are true innovations of the domestic cleaning world that get better and better and James Dyson is a man that deserves every bit of success he received. He is, after all, the man who created a vacuum that truly sucks, and I mean that in the most positive way... *~Thank you for reading my review and please excuse the awful pun ;-)~* *~Also published on Ciao underRenza_e - January 2013~*

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        • Long Wave - Jeff Lynne / Music Album / 46 Readings / 45 Ratings
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          09.01.2013 23:29
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          One of ELO and classic rock fans...

          I look back on the 50s, 60s and 1970s with a sort of fake nostalgia and longing that can only come from a girl born in the 80s. I'd love to travel back to the 70s. Just give me a pair of bellbottoms and Farrah Fawcett flicks, transport me back and I'm quite sure I'd have a smashing time. Of course, my boyfriend, a wee boy growing up in the 70s tells me that this decade wasn't quite so fantastic as my own mind would imagine it. He's quick to point out its drawbacks and his dislike of those 'ridiculous' flared trousers every kid was forced to wear. Apparently, it wasn't all that good. Well, I refuse to believe that a decade which produced the likes of Queen and Electric Light Orchestra was nothing short of magical. Who cares if they had dodgy wallpaper and mad trousers? I can't imagine that the Western world will ever experience a musical revolution quite so rich and explosive as that in the 50s and 60s. From Elvis Presley to the Beatles, both sides of the Atlantic presented us with the very best of rock 'n' roll. In my eyes, a musical golden age which carried on through to the 1970s... Jeff Lynne, of the Electric Light Orchestra, grew up during this golden age, experiencing the rise of rock 'n' roll. The album is called 'Long Wave' as it uses songs which he would have heard on his dad's old transistor radio. The songs he sings are songs he had stuck in his head the past 50 years and he has stated that this album was a vehicle to get these songs out of his head. *~SOUNDS OF HIS CHILDHOOD~* Most people that come across this album should be familiar with at least a few of the songs covered in the album. These are not songs that have been plucked from obscurity but rather popular ones that seem to have been imprinted upon Jeff Lynne's brain... 'SHE' The album opens with the song 'She'. The French original was by an artist called Charles Asvanour. If you're wondering what the song sounds like, trust me when I say, you will probably recognise it instantly when it starts playing. It was a song released in 1974, so I'm not sure I would classify it as a song Jeff heard growing up but I'm easy to forgive when it's a song as beautiful as this. His version is gorgeous and heart-warming without making the error of being schmaltzy as you may expect with some covers of this song. His vocals are silky smooth and, as with all of the songs of the album, it has a great sound... 'IF I LOVED YOU' The second track on the album, I adore the fact that this is a cover of a Rodger and Hammerstein's song, taken from the musical 'Carousel'. The song is quite different as it has lost its traditional 1950s musical sound. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as there is still a real magic there in the warmth and soaring vocals of Lynne's voice. Rodgers and Hammerstein would be proud! 'SO SAD' A song by the Everly Brothers, the general feel and tone of it isn't too different from the original, a song lamenting a love gone sour. The guitar sounds richer and we have the distinct standalone voice of Jeff Lynne rather than the perfect blend of harmonies of the Everly Brothers. Nevertheless, it is still very similar. That is definitely one of the prized characteristics of this album. In homage to his favourites, Lynne will in some ways make an effort to imitate the original artists in his songs whilst retaining a lot of his own distinct style. It works really well. 'MERCY, MERCY' Moving on from the lamentations of 'So Sad' we have the soulful sound of 'Mercy, Mercy'. God, I love this one! I had never heard of it despite it being covered by the likes of the Rolling Stones. But what a great discovery. A song with great soul and a great beat... 'RUNNING SCARED' I can thank this track for introducing me to the legendary Roy Orbison. What I love about this track is that Lynne does such a good job channelling the vocal style and charm of his late friend Orbison. It acts as a wonderful tribute... 'BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED' Following 'Running Scared', this is a song I am familiar with, being a fan of Rufus Wainwright's rendition. The original song is apparently from a Rodgers and Hart musical 'Pal Joey' (no, I hadn't heard of it either). Lynne's version is gorgeous, enchanting and again, oozes warmth. 'Smile' You may see this track on the playlist and think 'Really? Another cover of this? Well, that's original.' My view: It may not be original but there's always room in the world for a Jeff Lynne cover. Possibly one of the few songs in the world which can make me happy and want to cry all at the same time. If you need a song when everything is shit, this is a song to listen to. So, if you're feeling crap then stick this on. Somehow this song and Jeff's vocals make the world a better place... 'AT LAST' An Etta James classic, I fell in love with this song when Beyonce sung it as Barack and Michelle Obama danced together as President and First Lady on the evening of his inauguration. I'm not going to lie and say that this is the best version of the song I have heard. It cannot hold a candle to Etta James's original or even Beyonce's cover which both burst with passion. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed hearing a version with male vocals. It has a class and a smoothness that transports me to another time. 'LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING' This is the one song which Jeff Lynne has reworked that sounds most like the b-side on an ELO single. It still retains a lot of the original but it is the warmth and tinkling of the instrumentals which scream out: 'Jeff Lynne sung and produced me!' And like a true ELO song it sends me off to somewhere otherworldly. Quite a splendored thing... 'LETS ROCK' He really couldn't have revisited the tunes of his past without including a little Chuck Berry. This track is a real footing tapping song with the signature Chuck Berry beat and sound that reminds me of his other classic 'Johnny B Goode' and many other rock n' roll tracks of the 50s. If anything I can applaud Jeff Lynne for not choosing Johnny B Goode. That would be too obvious! It was nice to hear a Chuck Berry track I'd never heard before.... After 'Lets Rock' the albums big finale is bonus track 'Beyond the Sea'. Quite a charming song, the instrumentals have a sort of seaside jingle which reminds me of Queen's 'Seaside Rendezvous' and it makes it quite a fun track to end the album on... *~A DIFFERENT TYPE OF COVER ALBUM~* Now, I'm not normally that favourable of cover albums. I see most of them as a lazy attempt to avoid a bit of song writing, like the generic, soul-less tripe X factor keep churning out every Christmas. However, this is an album which is an absolute exception. I have always been a fan of ELO. I find much of their material exuberant and uplifting, with a mood-changing talent to provide me with an instant burst of 'happy.' It also helps that Jeff Lynne is a masterful producer working on countless songs and albums like The Beatles 'Free as a Bird'. With his production skills and sheer musical talent, Jeff Lynne has produced beautiful re-workings of very well-known songs with flavours of ELO. The only possible criticism that comes to mind is that it is an album that, in places, sounds a little over-produced. The rawness and edge you can hear in the originals of the songs he performs have been smoothed out in favour of perfection. However, even if parts of it do sound over-produced, I am an absolute sucker for his vocals and instrumentals and could listen to this album on a loop. If you want to hear an album which celebrates old classics sung by one of the greatest talents of 20th century rock, I can't recommend it enough! Highlights: I could say the whole album but if I am to choose a few - 'She', 'Running Scared' and 'Mercy'. You'll like this if: You are a fan of golden oldies like Roy Orbison and some of rocks greatest of the 50s, 60s and 70s. *~Thank you for reading my review. Nice to be back! Going to try for at least a review a fortnight! :-) x~* *~Also published on Ciao under username Renza - January 2013~*

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          • More +
            15.10.2012 15:21
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            Management need to get their wands out and give it a magic touch!

            If my title is anything to go by I may have been magicked away by a host of goblins to their enchanted den. Maybe whilst I was there I came across a David Bowie-esque goblin king, his package finely accentuated in his tight spandex? Perhaps we would dance the night away to the perfect 80s soundtrack enclosed in a giant bubble? Or maybe girls named Sarah should lay off the rotten bewitched peaches or hallucinogenic mind-altering drugs. Sounds like a sensible idea... Returning to the real world, I'm in a sort of piss poor situation when it comes to my days off work. I never get two consecutive days off so when the rare occasion arises that I do get some time off, I feel the need to do something. On this occasion my boyfriend and I decided to go away for a night in exotic Scotland. Spying a deal on Living Social for the Goblin Ha', at £36 for a night for bed and breakfast, it was exactly the cheap deal we were looking for! The very name of the hotel, the Goblin Ha', intrigued me enough to want to visit. It takes its name from an underground vault attached to the ruins of Yester Castle, built in the 13th century. Sir Hugo de Giffard built the castle and was known to be a warlock and necromancer. Folklore suggests that Hugo made a pact with the Devil who sent a goblin army from hell to help him build the castle and the cavernous vault of the Goblin Ha' where he supposedly practised his sorcery. Even today, the Goblin Ha' is associated with the mysterious and mystical. Visitors, locals and paranormal investigators have claimed that the chamber is haunted and there have been reports of various ghostly going ons including strange lights and shrieking. From the sound of it, I wouldn't want to spend a night there. However, did I want to spend a night at the Goblin Ha' hotel? *~AN ENCHANTING EVENING IN EAST LOTHIAN?~* We drove to Gifford in the late afternoon as, living on the outskirts of Edinburgh, we only live 20 miles away. When we arrived I was awed by how pretty and traditional this little parochial village was with its quaint village square, majestic clock tower, old church and parish graveyard. I even saw a little bunting over the church yard entrance. It was like a village from Midsomer Murders, had Midsomer Murders been set in the somewhat staid Scottish countryside... The Goblin Ha' sits right next to the village square. Right away I loved the look of the hotel from the outside. Its exterior decor is a distinctive white and goblin green. Hanging on the side of the building is a sign with a goblin sitting cross-legged with two pints in its hands. Well, what else would you expect? We arrived outside the hotel a little confused as to where we should check in. As the entrance to the hotel accommodation was unoccupied by staff we came to the conclusion we would need to check in at the pub. We went in and made ourselves known to the bar staff and after a few minutes we presented our vouchers and were taken to our rooms. Entering the hotel lobby, it was quite clear that the place was in the middle of refurbishment and it would be quite unfair to criticise them for this. This was probably why they were offering a discounted deal on Living Social in the first place - something to keep the business going whilst the hotel didn't look it best. I remember they were pulling up carpets in the hallway on the day we departed the hotel and nobody would want to pay full price for that... We were taken to our room and given our key by a member of staff who also told us to notify her or another member of staff should any issues arise. After she had gone we entered the room and dumped our stuff. At this point we didn't spend much time looking round the room. We were quite hungry and much too interesting in heading downstairs for some pub grub. *~GOBLIN HA' PUB GRUB~* The pub that night was quite lively with people. Going by its popularity, I assumed that it was the place to be for locals and people passing by. Unfortunately as we entered the pub it seemed that maybe staff were a little bit too preoccupied with current clientele and we had to find our own seats and wait to be served. I'm going to be completely honest and say that service was fairly average. Staff were pleasant and polite enough but it did feel like they were just going through the motions. I also felt that at some points it was a little difficult to get service, such as when we were trying to flag a staff member down to get some tomato sauce. Before we got our food, we ordered some drinks. My boyfriend had some cider and I had a Raspberry Mojito. I had originally asked if it was possible to get a single glass of Strawberry Daiquiri but they only offered it as a pitcher. However, the Raspberry Mojito was delicious so much so that I ended up ordering another and at £3.45 it wasn't too badly priced (although I am admittedly used to Edinburgh prices where a cocktail typically costs me six to nine quid). The food itself was quite average for what you were paying. We got 'Nachos Fiesta' to share as a starter and this cost £4.95. The nachos were stacked in a circle, topped with cheddar cheese, mozzarella, jalapenos and salsa. The middle of the circle was filled with sour cream and rocket. All these ingredients tasted rather nice and I loved that it came with rocket, my favourite leafy vegetable. On the other hand, I have never been able to justify spending almost a fiver on a plate of nachos which I always saw as quite cheap to make, unless these nachos were absolutely laden with ingredients and included guacamole. These nachos didn't come with it and its just not the same without a bit of guacamole on the plate. There was a good variety of different types of food on the bar menu from British to Mexican to Indian. For my main course I decided I'd be especially Scottish and have myself some Chicken with Haggis. The haggis was inside the chicken and topped with a creamy white drambuie sauce. It also came with a side of winter vegetables (carrot, broccoli and cauliflower) and they were good enough to let me have chips. All in all, it was quite an enjoyable meal although I thought that at £11.85 it was a bit pricey for what it was. My boyfriend had some Spaghetti Bolognese which I tried and thought it was pretty average and he was pretty disappointed that they didn't offer any parmesan cheese to go with it. After we had finished our meal we were asked if we would like any dessert or anything else. As much I would have enjoyed a bit of pudding we both decided that we were far too full and had spent quite enough. We decided to pay and retire to our rooms... *~DISENCHANTED WITH OUR ROOM~* Possibly the biggest disappointment of our visit was the room that we spent our night in. For an establishment which has the name, the 'Goblin' Ha' it did not have me under its spell. Certainly the bedroom and bathroom were very clean. The bed was comfortable and I had a good night's sleep. Additionally, there was a decent selection of refreshments in a tea caddy - tea, coffee, biscuits and a couple of bottles of sparkling and non-sparkling water. However, it merely felt like a place to stay for a night, a roof over our heads. The decor and the amenities were very basic. There seemed to be a love affair with beige and brown in both rooms. I was also disappointed that the side tables were clearly IKEA - it just seemed really cheap and common. Moreover, the room just didn't have the same cosiness and comfort that I have experienced in other country hotels and B and B's. It had a tiny wee portable heater which I suppose did the job but I didn't understand why they couldn't have a proper central heating system in both the bedroom and bathroom. It would just seem much more sufficient to do so. The other thing that bugged me were the washing facilities. The bathroom had a bath but no proper shower facilities, just one of those shower heads and nozzles that attach to the tap so you have to plonk yourself on your bum or knees and hold it over your head to wash yourself. I think most people like to have a proper shower in the morning. To make matters worse, I was going to run myself a bath as it's something I love to do when I stay in hotels. However, I couldn't get any hot water. I spent about ten minutes wondering if I should go down and mention this to the staff. Eventually I was so keen on having myself a nice bath that I went downstairs and brought it up with a member of staff. The staff member I spoke to, who I think was the manager, was very apologetic and said that quite often on a Sunday evening the hot water gets used up by the kitchen and two of the rooms don't get much hot water, one of the rooms being ours. He did offer to provide me with keys to another room which he said should have hot water or to wait half an hour or so as the water would get hotter as the kitchen staff had finished up. He also told me that they were actually going to be replacing the boiler eventually as they needed a better one. I was thankful that he apologised and offered to give me the keys to another room but I preferred the comfort of using a bathroom attached to our room. I decided I would wait till later to run my bath. However, I ended up falling asleep before I could even consider running a bath... *~COLD BEANS FOR BREAKFAST~* We woke up in the morning and very leisurely headed down for breakfast which was included in our stay (from 8am to 11am). When we got down to breakfast there were two other couples there but again, no staff member came to greet us and so we found our own seats again. On a table was a selection of cereal and orange juice. I decided I'd have a little cereal. I had read there was a hot breakfast on offer but a staff member didn't come out for at least five minutes to offer this along with teas or coffee. It took quite a long time to get our cooked breakfast and when it did come out my beans were cold (they had obviously cooked these too early). I also would have liked if there had been a little bit more choice. At most hotels and bed and breakfasts you get the choice of what you want to have in your plate and whether you wanted your eggs fried, scrambled or poached. I was given fried eggs which I don't like and would have liked them scrambled or poached instead. It would also have been nice if they had offered us toast instead of us having to ask for it. All in all, breakfast may have set us up for the day but it was not the best breakfast I have had at a hotel. *~THINGS TO DO IN THE EAST LOTHIAN COUNTRYSIDE~* We headed out the Goblin Ha' hotel with the intention of visiting a few locations. For anyone who does find themselves in the East Lothian area, it may be because they are on their way to Edinburgh. However, I think that East Lothian is worth visiting in itself. In just one day we visited one town and three castles. Places worth visiting include: ~ Hailes Castle ~ A romantic ruin, we actually came across this by chance on our way to Tantallon Castle. The ruin is quite gorgeous and sits quite majestically next to the River Tyne. Entry is completely free. ~ Tantallon Castle ~ This fortification very grandly rests upon the cliffs facing Bass Rock on the Firth of the Forth. It is quite a formidable 14th century castle that is largely in ruins after suffering the past effects of warfare, erosion and age. However, quite remarkably you can still walk all the way to the top by going up a spiral staircase. As someone who is afraid of heights, the whole experience left me jelly-legged but provided us with fantastic views of Bass Rock and the surrounding countryside. ~ Dirleton Castle ~ By this point you can probably guess that I love my castles and as we had bought a couples pass for Historic Scotland at Tantallon Castle we decided we'd stop at Dirleton on the way back to Edinburgh. Dirleton was probably my least favourite of all the castles we visited that day. It didn't quite have the charm and romanticism of Hailes and lacked the magnificence and grandeur of Tantallon. Nevertheless, it was still worth a visit and has a very pretty garden attached to it. Other Places to Visit: ~ Local Towns like Haddington, North Berwick and Dunbar - We stopped by Haddington and were a little bit saddened as you could tell the town had seen better days. With closed down hotels and pubs and shops with shabby exteriors, it could do with a much needed visitor boost. Going by local campaigns and advertisements it seems like Haddington residents are painfully aware of this. ~ John Muir Country Park. ~ National Museum of Flight. ~ Seabird Centre. *~SO WHY DIDN'T I VISIT THE GOBLIN HA' OF ALL PLACES?~* Of all the places, I never did visit the Goblin Ha', part of the ruins of Yester Castle. I will admit that I am kicking myself that I never visited it. It had been the original plan to ask a few locals about its location and head down there in the morning but a few things had put me off. Firstly, when I asked staff members in the Goblin Ha' hotel about it they were unable to tell me of its whereabouts. Then when I went into a local shop the shopkeeper told me that it was difficult to get to, next to a golf course and that the groundskeeper was the 'Get off my land' type who didn't like people wandering over the edge of his golf course. So in fear of getting lost and pissing off a groundskeeper we decided to set off for Tantallon Castle. It was a great shame because since then I have seen many pictures and videos of the relatively small number of people who have made the journey out there and its seems like quite a stunning structure, even better than Hailes Castle. I would have loved to have seen the wonderfully preserved subterranean hall with its Gothic vaulted ceiling. I would have also loved to find out if the atmosphere was as eerie as some say it is. My boyfriend has promised we will visit some time next summer when it is warmer and we'll at least have a torch with us to explore the dark cavern. We can then hope that we don't bump into any ghosts... *~NEEDS A MAGIC TOUCH~* As for the Goblin Ha' Hotel I really try hard to like a place and I'm careful not to make negative comments without taking full consideration, especially when I understand that the people running a place can put a lot of hard work and passion into it. Going by the general manager's responses to comments on Trip Adviser, his passion certainly shows. However, I think that the Goblin Ha' has a lot to improve upon. Whilst staff were polite and pleasant enough, I thought that service was slow and staff needed to be more attentive and more engaging with customers. I dislike feeling neglected when I am eating in a restaurant. More importantly, I think the rooms require a drastic revamp. I think that the quality of our stay did for the most part match the price that we paid (only £18 each) but there is absolutely no way that I would pay £79.50 for one of those rooms (this is the normal price as detailed on booking.com). I found that my room back home was cosier than this hotel room, that the facilities were basic and that the room lacked character. The fact that the room lacked character was probably the worst aspect of the whole visit. With a name like the 'Goblin Ha' the rooms should reflect this and I would love to see it take on a twist of the rustic and the modern, with quirky little additions that set it apart from anywhere else. The sad fact is that there are other hotels and bed and breakfasts out there that charge the same or less that have a lot more to offer. One random example is Broseley House in Shropshire: http://www.broseleyhouse.co.uk/bed-and-b​reakfast/index.shtml They charge just £35 per person for a double room, the rooms look stunning and the facilities are fantastic. It just shows you that the Goblin Ha' has a lot to live up to. The Goblin Ha' has a lot of potential. It has a great name, is set in a picturesque little village, has a mysterious castle near by and is on the road to Edinburgh. Currently in the process of being refurbished, I really do hope that their intentions are to transform the hotel from run-of-the-mill accommodation to something quite special... Unremarkable and quite average, the Goblin Ha' desperately requires a magic touch and if the Goblin King Jared isn't around to cast his spell over the place, maybe management will get their wands out. *~Thank you for reading my review :-) ~ Also published on Ciao under username Renza - October 2012~*

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            • Kraken Black Spiced Rum / Spirits / 34 Readings / 32 Ratings
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              23.09.2012 22:59
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              Put a beast in your belly...

              The Kraken - It's quite a sexy-looking beast. My bottle takes pride of place on my living room cabinet next to all of my other ornaments and knick knacks. The bottle itself is quite unique and interesting. With its classy black and white colour scheme, it has a vintage-style label with the mythical kraken creature emblazoned on the front and a liquid inside as black as squid ink. Even more distinguishing is the brand name embossed in the glass and the two glass loops on the neck of the bottle. Inserting my fingers through this double-handled bottle makes me feel like I'm brandishing a rum-filled trophy steering me on to the path of tipsiness... You could so easily be seduced by the Kraken's bottle design and branding. However, I was seduced by its flavour. When I first tried it you could almost call it a blind taste test. I was on a drunken night out with one of my closest friends and she encouraged me to order a Kraken and coke. Admittedly, drinking a drink with the name of the beast that took down Captain Jack in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 seemed quite appealing. However, it was the taste of the drink that made me fall in love with it and I may have ordered one too many Kraken and cokes on that drink-fuelled night... *~PUT A BEAST IN YOUR BELLY~* Now I'm no spirits connoisseur. Every spirit I have has to go with a mixer as the strong taste of concentrated alcohol is too much for me (I know, what a wuss). This no doubt means that I miss out on the subtleties of flavours that you get from sampling a quality rum on the rocks. However, you still get a good sample of different flavours from a strong rum and coke. Like most dark rums, Kraken is distilled from molasses. A true Caribbean rum, the base rum is from Trinidad and Tobago. It is a rum that is aged for 12 to 24 months and then has a mixture of spices added to it including cinnamon, ginger and clove. On its own, Kraken smells beautiful and looks appealing. It has a sweet vanilla-like aroma and sitting in a glass, has a dark brown caramel colouring. When I drink it, I always make sure I have a generous serving with some coke. I try not to let the coke drown out all of the flavours and when I do taste it, I can taste vanilla and caramel, the caramel flavour no doubt coming from the molasses. Whilst the taste may be too sweet for some but it's definitely worth trying. You may find that you appreciate its rich flavours which are pretty good for a rum that has only been matured for a maximum of 24 months. It definitely beats other popular dark rums on the market such as Captain Morgans, a drink I have enjoyed for quite some time. Kraken is better because it is more robust, has more of a kick and much more flavour. Your Kraken and Coke far surpasses your usual Captain and Coke... *~STEP ASIDE CAPTAIN MORGAN AND SAILOR JERRY, KRAKEN BLOWS YOU TWO OUT OF THE WATER!~* There is no denying that those behind the Kraken were on to a winner when they crafted the brand. Launched in Chicago in 2009 into what is arguably a crowded market, Kraken have really had to make their mark, something they certainly been able to do. Popularity of the drink in the States has allowed it to be brought over to us in the UK. The brand and the bottle has a strong style and personality that really sets it apart, so much so that they even have their own online shop selling posters, t-shirts and even shower curtains (sadly they don't seem to ship to the UK yet). It also helps that the bottle looks like something a pirate would drink, getting mightily drunk and singing 'Yo ho ho' whilst sailing the seven seas. I could even imagine Captain Jack keeping a few bottles safe in his cabin... Of course, a memorable brand has to come with a memorable drink and they definitely succeed in this aspect. Sweet, rich and smooth to drink, this rum has a flavour which sets it apart from anything else which I drink. As a rum, it has a taste which is absolutely Kraken! *~SPARE A FEW DUBLOONS~* The price is probably one of the downsides of buying this rum. I found my bottle of Kraken at a Tesco for £22.50 and haven't been able to see it for any less than £22 elsewhere. It's definitely not the cheapest dark rum around. Captain Morgans may not be as nice but at £13 for a 70cl bottle, it costs quite a bit less. *~A WEE BIT MORE INFORMATION ABOUT KRAKEN...~* - It contains 40% alcohol so be careful not to overindulge. Drink safe m'hearties! - It's gluten-free and vegan. - Don't be afraid to experiment. I may have only had my Kraken with coke so far but there are lots of different mixer and cocktail recipes to play around with. Some of them can be found on their website: http://www.krakenrum.com/ *~Thank you for reading my review :-) Thought for once I'd try and write a review that was short and sweet this time round~* *~Also published on Ciao under Renza - September 2012~*

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              • More +
                29.08.2012 20:20
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                Universally Overrated!

                I'll begin by excusing my absence in the world of reviewing over the past few months. Much of it was spent working dreaded sixty hour weeks in order to fund the 'trip of a life time' for my boyfriend and me. And when I wasn't working my arse off I was spending whatever precious free time I had left over planning for said trip... A visit to Universal Studios, Florida had long been an ambition of mine ever since my gran went there in the 90s. She had told me at length about some of the rides. One in particular caught my imagination: 'The E.T Adventure'. She said that when she entered the attraction she was asked her name by one of the ride assistants. 'Roberta', the man repeated back to her, 'That's a very SCAT-ish name' (Oh, I do love it when Americans treat us Scots like a novelty). She told me that the ride itself involved sitting on a bike and flying through the night sky, just as Elliott does in the film, over tree tops and teenie tiny little buildings. She described her astonishment as the ride neared its end and a life-sized E.T thanked her and each rider individually by name (hence why she was asked her name before she went on the ride). It all sounded very fantastical to my nine year old self. I would just have to go to this place one day... Back in the summer of 2009 I worked at a Girl Scout camp in Ohio. Well, I would hardly call it work. It was a hell of a lot of fun, I made some new friends and when I was done being camp counsellor I spent two weeks touring the east coast with Trek America. On this trek stayed over in Orlando for a night but we were only given enough time to visit Disney before heading down to the Florida Keys. I never did get to visit Universal. However, fast forward to this year and I was attending the wedding of one of the lovely girls I met at summer camp. After the wedding in Ohio my boyfriend and I both headed down to Florida and I made a personal point of going to Universal not just for one day, but for two days. Universal Studios, you see, is made up of two different parks - the original Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure. If you really want to make the most of your time there it really is best to get a two day ticket and visit both parks separately on two different days. I wouldn't even bother trying to visit both on the same day - it's one or the other... *~A VERY UN-SCOTTISH HOGSMEADE: HOGWARTS IN 100 FAHRENHEIT HEAT~* On our first day to Universal Studios, there was no question about which park we would visit first. I have always been a massive Harry Potter fan (yes, I know, just like everyone else) and I was desperate to go to the 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter'. So off to the Islands of Adventure we went. We had barely stopped in the park for ten minutes before I had whisked Daz, my boyfriend off to Hogsmeade. And what a sight. It's very strange but rather brilliant to find something quite so British bang in the middle of Florida. Entering the gates of Hogsmeade you are politely reminded to 'Respect the Spell Limits' and are greeted by the strange sight of a snow-topped village in the heat of the Floridian sunshine. Look to your right, and there's a wonderful replica of the Hogwarts Express. Look straight ahead and you'll see a whole host of shops recognisable from the books: Honeydukes, Zonkos, Ollivanders and many more. On a summer day like this one you will also no doubt be faced by throngs and masses of people. Damn Muggles, you were not meant to be there. Shoo! Back from whence you came... If you can ignore the peculiar heat, then the streets of Hogsmeade seem like they have been lifted right from the pages of a Potter novel. As delighted as I was by this, I still felt a little unsettled by the idea of it all. It was like when I went to see a Queen and Paul Rodgers gig back in 2008. I applauded Rodger's gravelly vocals and watched in awe as Brian May delved into his signature guitar solos just feet away from me. However, the whole time I was there I thought this sad, unpleasant thought: 'Ach, I want Freddie. It's not the same without him.' It was the same with Universal's Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. As much as I enjoyed my butterbeer and the fake snow on the rustic-style buildings, it all felt wrong in the 100 degree fahrenheit heat. I wanted the real Hogwarts in its Northern Scottish setting and its British eccentricities. I wanted a few more magical-looking people wandering about in long capes, maybe the odd individual rushing home as if they had just remembered they had left the cauldron on. Yes, you are probably thinking - You can't have that Sarah. Freddie is long gone and Hogwarts is a fictional place which sprung up from the recesses of J.K Rowling's fabulous imagination. Don't remind me. I'm still waiting on my letter from Hogwarts... Ach well, a girl can dream and whilst I was in Hogsmeade I found myself spending a lot of time visiting the shops, admiring the Potter-themed goodies but not admiring the prices (see rant later in this write-up if you want to know about the prices). I bought myself a frozen Butterbeer in a souvenir mug and it was much tastier than expected. It is a very sweet drink with a foamy top which is quite difficult to describe. Probably the closest description came from an American friend who described as being like a combination of root beer or cream soda with butterscotch. I really didn't think I would like it. Even with my sweet tooth, I thought it would be too sickly and that I wouldn't have been able to manage more than a few gulps before downing some water. However, it is surprisingly refreshing and delicious. Not too sweet at all. Whoever crafted this recipe is worthy of an award from the Ministry of Magic itself. As for the rides, the Dragon Challenge rollercoaster and Flight of the Hippogriff are great for a bit of a thrill but it is the 'Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey' that is the crowning jewel - not only of this park but of the whole of Universal Studios. It is a long wait but when you get inside the Hogwarts castle there is lots to see. Portraits move and talk to you. You bypass Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff and Salazar Slytherin deep in conversation and well, argument (I was especially thrilled to hear Rowena's Scottish accent). You get to walk through Dumbledore's office, a replica of the film set and are addressed by the man himself. You even come across Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. At one point Ron even casts a spell which misfires causing a real amount of magical fluff to fall upon the waiting crowds. Hermione of course fixes this for him and it is not long before the trio disappear again underneath their invisibility cloak. The ride itself is stunning. It is the finest simulation ride I have ever been through. It takes you through Harry Potter's world, playing Quidditch and soaring above Hogwarts castle. I don't think I could even do justice describing it. You really have to experience it. As a fan I found it to be jaw-droppingly astonishing in the way that it immerses you in the Harry Potter world. I can even unashamedly admit I felt a little bit teary by the end I enjoyed it so much. Even my boyfriend, who has very little to do with Harry Potter thought that it was the best ride in the park. Absolutely magical. *~EXPLORING THE REST OF THE ISLAND OF ADVENTURE~* It took me a few hours before I could tear myself away from Hogsmeade to explore other parts of the park. We pretty much bypassed the Dr Seuss themed area of the park. I have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever. I much prefer British children's fiction such as Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl. I tried to read some Dr Seuss when I was a kid but it just wasn't my thing and I found the'Cat in the Hat' film quite ghastly. There are four other parts of the park that we did set to explore: The Marvel Superhero Island, the Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park and the Lost Continent. Superhero Island was a lot of fun particularly as I have been a fan of superhero films and TV series since I was a little girl, spending many afternoons watching the dodgy 90s Spiderman animations on Fox Cartoons. This part of the park looks like it was lifted right from one of the older Marvel comic books. There is none of the gloss and stylish panache of some of the newer superhero creations (think Nolan's 'Dark Knight' and Andrew Garfield's Spiderman). The sets look like they were lifted straight from an 1960s comic book and when you do come across some individuals dressed up like characters from the X-men they all look a little bit silly. Let's say that Wolverine is no Hugh Jackman. It is all big, bold and cheesy primary colours. The true American comic book hero. For the thrill seekers on Superhero Island, there is the Incredible Hulk Coaster and Doctor Doom's Fearfall. As a bit of an adrenalin junkie, I really wanted to go on the Hulk Coaster but I am unfortunate to have a boyfriend who I can lovingly refer to as a bit of a wuss. He still hasn't forgiven me for dragging him on all the rides at Alton Towers (although I would have blamed his queasiness on the Naga curry he had the night before). I therefore settled myself with the Spiderman ride which was pretty fun. Universal are very good at simulation rides and 3D shows and in this 3D simulation ride you find yourself following Spiderman round New York as he fights various super-villains. The rest of this park is pretty ho-hum in comparison to the Harry Potter and superhero part of the parks but still rather fun. My complaint about Jurassic Park was that there just wasn't enough animatronic dinosaurs and not enough rides. However, after being soaked in Bluto's Barges in Toon Town we did miss out on the Jurassic Park River Adventure for fear of being soaked again. In hindsight, I really wish we had gone on it as I think it may have given us the additional serving of the animatronic dinosaurs that I so desired. After going around all the parks, we found ourselves heading back to Hogsmeade as it began to approach nightfall. I had to see Hogwarts at night and couldn't resist going back on the Forbidden Journey ride again. For us, the Islands of Adventure would have been nothing without this part of the park and I am really glad I didn't go to Universal in 2009 as it wouldn't quite have been worth my money without the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I even think they should expand it, build upon it and make it even bigger and more magical. Just as Cinderella's Castle has its own night show and fireworks display, I think that Hogwarts Castle should get its own one day.... *~15 years of anticipation: Was the Original Universal Studios all it was cracked up to be?~* After our first day spent at the Islands of Adventure we decided to postpone our return to the original Universal Studios for another day, choosing to head over to the Kennedy Space Centre instead. That was the great thing about our 2 day pass. It didn't force us to visit the parks two days running and gave us the leisurely and more relaxing option of going to the Space Centre between visits. Refreshed after a days break, we headed over the Studios. After my years of waiting, I had high hopes for this park. Possibly a little too high... When I first got into the park I loved its focus on movie making and not just movie subject matter, which I suppose is something you would hope to expect from a studio theme park. The majority of the park looks like a classic film set and in some parts of the park you may expect some retro-looking 'broads' and 'gangsters' to step out on to the sidewalk. Sadly, this was not the case. One of the first things that I did see at the park was an 'I Love Lucy' exhibition. Now, I've heard about 'I Love Lucy' but I'm not overly familiar with the show. I think that most Brits are probably the same. Ask us about Dad's army and Only Fools and Horses and you'd get quite a reaction. Ask us about I Love Lucy and from most of us you'll probably just draw blank stares. Nevertheless, I found the exhibition very interesting and charming. I felt I was getting a small history lesson about one of America's popular culture heroes. As for the rides, it was a bit of a mixed bag. On one end of the spectrum, there is the brilliance of the more modern Simpsons, Men in Black, Mummy, Terminator and Shrek rides. I have already mentioned that Universal Studios excels in its simulation rides. The Simpsons ride was no exception. What I particularly loved about this simulation was the creativity and humour which reflects what you would find in an episode of the Simpsons. Another highlight of the park was the indoor Mummy ride which I found quite thrilling. Indoor roller coasters I particularly love as I enjoy the sense of the unexpected when you are plunged into darkness with unseen dips and jerks. On the other end of the spectrum, a few of the older rides really seem to be showing their age. In the Twister ride, for example, you can see a lot of strings amongst its very rickety special effects. A cow flying through the area looked like it was suspended on rope. I guess this could be part of the joke and also part of the charm. Is it really that wrong to hold on to a few beloved retro rides? I recall my gran telling me all about how she jumped out of her skin when she went on the Jaws ride. Others have said that Jaws was a bit crap and looked ridiculously plastic when it rose up out of the water. Whatever the case, there were quite a few people who missed that plastic shark when they got rid of it in January this year. It has long been deemed an iconic Universal ride. Like E.T, it was there since the park's inception. However, none of this sentiment will be able to diminish my disappointment at finally getting to ride the 'E.T. Adventure'. My boyfriend and I waited in the queue for quite a considerable time, we gave our names to the ride assistant who very impersonally touch typed it into a computer at the speed of light and we were given out 'Interplanetary Passports' (no friendly remarks upon my Scottishness). The room you enter before the ride was quite beautiful - a dark forest setting with various props from the film. Sadly, the ride was extremely underwhelming. I had hoped that you would get to rise up and swoop over towns as if you really were on a bike flying through the air. Instead it just felt you were driving through a rather pretty but not very remarkable set piece. To add insult to injury, I didn't hear E.T. saying my name. Maybe I wasn't listening hard enough. All I know is that after years of anticipation, I felt rather deflated. Other than the rides, there are a few shows that run in the main park. Being a fan of Tim Burton, I thought I would catch the Beetlejuice show. I really wish I hadn't. The idea is that Beetlejuice had summoned Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein and the Wolfman and has transformed them into all-singing, all-dancing versions of themselves. Such a cringeworthy spectacle of cheesy rock and pop tunes, it churned up more bile within me than watching a particularly sentimental episode of Glee. I did have to laugh, however, when they played some Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. Daz hates them with a passion and I could see that he wanted a pair of ear plugs when they belted out those tunes. Being British we were too impolite to leave... Having entered the park at about 10 o'clock in the morning, we had had enough of the park by around 6 o'clock. A theme park really should make you want for more and encourage you to stay till closing time. This was not the case. We may have stayed for the Cinematic Spectacular show and firework display later in the evening had we not had to return a rental car... *~Dining in the Park~* I can't really provide much information on dining in the park as we really didn't eat much when we were there. The prices weren't too extravagant (about $11.99 for Fish and Chips at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade) but we made a decision that it would be better value to eat outside the park before and after we spent the day there. We did have one snack of chilli cheese fries on our second day at the park. It was probably priced over and above what we would have paid outside the park but it wasn't too expensive. Moreover, we filled up on a hearty portion of free salad and gherkins at the nearby burger salad bar... *~UNIVERSAL GIFTS FOR THE UNIVERSALLY RIPPED OFF~* Whilst the food wasn't too badly priced it was the gift pricing that really pissed me off. I had hoped to buy a few gifts and keepsakes from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter but the prices were completely out of my budget. I know that theme parks inflate prices because park retailers fully expect people to buy the stuff but the prices at Universal Studios left me exceptionally disgusted. In the end, all I could really allow myself to buy was a frozen Butterbeer in a souvenir cup (just under $11), a Chocolate frog (just under $10) and several postcards for my friends (a dollar each). There's no denying that all of these items were rather special. The Butterbeer was very tasty. The chocolate frog was made of thick beautiful chocolate, came in beautiful packaging with a wizard card inside. All of the postcards I bought were stamped with a special owl post stamp outside the post office. The gifts on offer were terrific. However, when I wanted to buy myself a Marauders Map I had to draw the line as you were effectively spending twenty dollars on a piece of polythene wrapped illustrated paper. As tempting as the gifts may be for any Potter fan, if you don't have a great amount of money, you will probably balk at the prices... *~BUYING YOUR TICKETS: MAKE SURE YOU SHOP AROUND~* One thing that I would recommend doing when you purchase your tickets for Universal, is to shop around a bit. By no means, should you buy them from the Universal website. For example, you can get an adult 2 day pass for the park for $139.99 on the website but we paid around $20 less per ticket for our discounted tickets. We paid around £70 to £80 each for our tickets which, at around £30 to £40 per day you could argue is good value for a park as big and extravagant as Universal Studios. However, I do think we could have actually received an even better deal. Walking down International Drive we found several discount ticket booths and I got the sneaky and somewhat unpleasant suspicion that I could have purchased cheaper tickets there. Bottom line is, you really need to shop around at as many places as you can in places like International Drive and never settle for buying tickets from the website unless they suddenly start offering the deal of the century. *~UNIVERSALLY OVER-HYPED~* All in all, I ended my experience at Universal Studios with rather mixed feelings. I absolutely adored the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and thought it was one of the best attractions I have ever been to. I would rate it four stars and the reason it is one star short of five is because I wanted more of it. Here's to a bigger, better version of this in future incarnations of the park. The rest of the park, unfortunately, just left me feeling a touch disappointed. The rides and shows, on the whole, didn't live up to my expectations... I have considered that my slightly negative experience of Universal Studios could have been contributed to by the fact we visited during the height of summer. I had gone to the USA to attend my friend's wedding and I did wish that she hadn't chosen to schedule her wedding in the middle of July. As a couple without kids, we probably would have chosen a less popular and less expensive time to visit the States. By visiting in July we were probably visiting when the park was at its busiest. Had we visited during the off-peak season we may actually have been able to go on more rides and wouldn't have had to deal with queuing in the ridiculous Florida heat when a ride was busy. Deep down I know that I would have enjoyed it more in a month like February. Last time I was in Florida we visited Disney at the start of September and it was gloriously quiet. Had we visited Universal when it was quietest I am quite sure that we would have had a much more enjoyable time. We did have the option to buy an Express pass which costs from around twenty to fourty-odd dollars. However, I entirely resented the idea of paying additional money just so we could get on the rides more quickly. Disney have a free system where you can get a fast pass ticket and visit more popular rides at a later allocated time. At Universal they did away with this system to introduce a money-grabbing paid system. All this does is creates a sort of 'under class' of those who cannot afford to buy Express passes and those who grudge paying for them having already paid a lot for their park ticket. Whilst I was at Universal Studios I heard an enthusiastic employee mockingly refer to the park as the second happiest place on earth. With a ticketing system like that, I am not surprised. Disney clearly wins and I do know that I had a much more favourable experience visiting Disney back in 2009. Whether this was due to the timing of my visit or because the attractions are just superior, I am somewhat undecided. I fully realise that you should avoid theme parks during the summer holidays but I cannot hide my disappointment with a few of the rides and the ridiculous gift shop pricing. Had it not been for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it would have been easy to feel entirely disappointed with the trip. However, Hogsmeade and Hogwarts was a real treat and I would definitely go back just for that. I would just make sure there were a few less Muggles about... *~Thank you for reading my review. Nice to be reviewing again. You will also find this review on Ciao under Renza - August 2012~* Edited in September: I can't believe no one pointed out the massive editing mistakes I made e.g. bad spelling, duplicated paragraphs, etc. Oh dear....

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                • More +
                  23.04.2012 23:38
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                  My Wimple Brings all the Boys to the Courtyard

                  'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' After studying history at university I was all too familiar with L.P Hartley's over-used and exhausted citation. And what a shame it is that there are no Easyjet flights to the Summer of Love of '69, no package holidays to Victorian London and no long-haul expeditions to Ancient Egypt. Nevertheless, Ian Mortimer does the best he can do in the absence of a Time Lord travel agency as he endeavours to take his readers on a journey back to a time long gone. And you won't need your sunglasses, flip-flops and itsy-bitsy bikinis for this trip. In fact, a young woman such as a myself may fare better with a wimple, a husband of good standing and a newly adopted coy attitude. This is 14th century England after all... *~LIVING, BREATHING HISTORY~* If you had asked what life was like for a medieval yeoman, my mind would have been cast back to a few of the dull and uninspiring lectures which I endured in social and economic history (otherwise a thoroughly engaging area of history). These were lectures which detailed statistics of grain yields, population figures and agricultural methods. 'Help! Help! I'm being repressed.' Monty Python's 'The Holy Grail' may have had more to do with modern parody than history but at least they breathed some sort of life and colour into their peasant characters. In my historical studies, a medieval serf often seemed to be no more than a statistic - something that was born, sowed the land, possibly gave birth or sired a number of children and then died at a relatively young age. In Mortimer's book the reader becomes a time traveller but this is no piece of science fiction. It is a real historical study with a unique perspective. Instead of thinking about the past as having happened he thinks about the past as actually happening. By looking beyond graphs and statistics, he looks at what it meant to experience 'the sensations of being alive' in this age, examining the medieval people in a more personal and 'sympathetic' way. By looking at medieval people as a living, breathing individuals with feelings, an exciting and invigorating way of approaching history begins to emerge... *~WOT? NO POTATOES?~* 'A Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England' is one of the most interesting history books I have read. Very well written and engaging, Mortimer provides a vivid account of what life could have been like in the 14th century without compromising and fabricating historical detail. Chapter after chapter, he builds a picture of a society which increasingly feels very tangible and real. He covers a whole host of topics, topics you would expect to research if you were off to visit an exotic clime. These topics are as follows: * LANDSCAPE - What type of surroundings do we expect to come across on our escapade? The novel opens with a colourful and detailed description of what it was like to walk into the city of Exeter. We also gain a top ten list of places to visit in London to rival Time Out's publications. * THE PEOPLE - What are the locals like? In this chapter, he describes medieval English society as very young and as a place where women faced much sexual prejudice. * MEDIEVAL CHARACTER - What type of people are they? As it turns out, it seems that society at this point in time was violent, religious and had a rather skewed knowledge of the wider world. This is probably not a place to voice any atheist point of views. * THE BASIC ESSENTIALS - This describes everything you need to know to survive your visit including language, time, greetings and money. You won't need no travellers cheques where you're going and good luck understanding the local lingo... * WHAT TO WEAR - What attire should we adopt? God forbid we turn up in our hot pants in the year 1300. * WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK - We all know about the horrors of dodgy bowels on our holiday travels. What should we expect to eat in medieval England? What do you mean they don't have any tomatoes and potatoes?! * HEALTH AND HYGIENE - Are the medieval people quite as smelly and disgusting as we might think? Shall we take a clothes peg for our nose? Maybe a gas mask? * THE LAW - Lets face it, no one wants to end up banged up in ye olde gaol on our trip. How do we keep on the right side of the authorities? Let's try and stay out of the stocks and as far away as possible from the scaffold. * WHAT TO DO - A spot of dancing, singing, jousting... perving at Heath Ledger in some chain mail armour? What DO the medieval people do for fun? By examining the past as if we were actually living it, Ian Mortimer explores details of the past which I did not read about when I studied medieval history at university. I finished this 300 page book feeling rather enlightened. One thing that blew my mind was the thought that Anno Domini was not in used back then but that time was recorded using the regnal year. In my two semesters of medieval history, I did not pick up or read about this concept and yet it seems so obvious that this is something I should have known. This is a world where even dates were different, mechanical clocks had only just been introduced and people were woken up by and beckoned to bed by church bells. Throughout his chapters, Mortimer paints a picture of a society that is very different to our own. Here we are living in a world where we are worried children are growing up too fast and in the 1300s people could be respected leaders in their twenties. This was a time when Edward III led his army into battle against the Scots at the tender age of 20. It was also a world where people had really skewed ideas, particularly about what constituted reality and fiction. They believed that no men could go to the Southern parts of the world, the Antipodes, as they believed it was too hot and could only be inhabited by strange races such as the Amazons (fierce one-breasted women) and Sciopods (people with one big large foot). For medieval people it was all about the 'quantity of their knowledge, not its quality and correctness.' Logic quite often was banished altogether. This is a book that really does allow you to envisage what it may have been like to live in the 14th century. You are advised on what to do and what not to do, what to wear and what to eat. As I have suggested, ladies like myself wore wimples. There was then the introduction of tailored clothing around 1330 but I had to laugh when Mortimer referred to this 'new figure-hugging sexiness'. There was no limb flashing for women like me in this day and age. As a woman, I would have to make sure I covered my limbs, bagged myself a husband and remembered my position within society. Should I be looking for a spot of entertainment, maybe I could catch a jousting tournament. The chapter which details information about jousting is one of my favourite parts of the book as it opened my eyes up to the fact that jousting was highly dangerous. The reality of the pastime was a lot more brutal than the sanitized Hollywood versions would suggest - It's not very often you see knights crashing to their deaths in one of those films. In the eyes of medieval society, jousting was a form of expression of masculinity for noble men (an expression interchangeable with stupidity in my opinion). A man hadn't really proved himself unless he had bled in battle and many knights could be killed in just one tournament. Even 'jousts of peace' using capped lances could be fatal. Before a noble man had even stepped on a battlefield, he could end of perishing in the jousting arena... *~HUMANIZING THE MEDIEVAL PEOPLE~* Should I have been planning to travel back to England in the 1300s any time soon I would certainly have given this a read first. This is a rich piece of history written in a fun and entertaining style. Even those with just a passing interest in the medieval period should find this book easy to digest as it isn't weighed down by umpteen facts and figures. Mortimer understands that statistics may be important in historical studies but he also understands that there is more to history than just facts and figures. History is not history if we cannot understand its people and the way they lived their lives. By humanizing medieval people, Ian Mortimer has produced a history book that is refreshing and engaging to read and one which I highly recommend. *~PORTRAITS AND PICTURES~* I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of a number of contemporary pictures within this book. One illustration the burning of the Templar's made me giggle a little - 'Images of extreme cruelty provide an opportunity to study men's underwear'. Never mind the execution of these men, look at the pants they've got on. Another illustration which made me smile was one of a surgeon named John of Arderne, performing a 'fistula' operation (a rather painful procedure involving the anus). John of Arderne states that 'Surgeons should be able to make their patients laugh'. 'Not easy, in this situation' states Ian Mortimer. *~WORTH A GROAT OR TWO~* In a world where books are not quite as expensive as in the 14th century, you'll be pleased to know you can find this book for as little as £4.69 including postage and packaging. *~ Thank you for reading my review : - ) )~* *~Also published on Ciao under Renza - April 2012~*

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                  • Dear Fatty - Dawn French / Biography / 51 Readings / 50 Ratings
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                    12.03.2012 23:18
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                    Dawn French, I'm feeling glum, will you be my second mum?

                    DEAR 'MOO' FRENCH, Forgive me for my informality in addressing you in such a manner. You don't know me and I really don't know you (as revealing as your autobiography may be). However, I use this informality knowing just how splendid a day we could have together, breaking down the walls of formality to become splendid chums. I mean, I'm not nearly as witty as some of your comedy friends but I'm quite nice. However, a lot of the stuff I do is unintentionally funny so you'd have some great material right there. I was thinking we could test-run the 'chum' things with a spot of afternoon tea somewhere, with doilies and the works. You see, I'm not your usual fan. I won't be chirping 'More tea, vicar' at every opportunity. In fact, if any cheeky waiter or passer by does try this one on you I promise I will beat them with a stick. See, that's the sort of chum I am... And if the age difference makes the chum thing a bit awkward maybe you could just be my second mum. You seem to be awfully good at it. Not that there's anything wrong with my mum - she's a star, just not of the red carpet and comedy circuit variety. But you could definitely have a go at being my mum too (you've got some stiff competition though, I might add). I reckon you'd be amazing at cheering me up when I'm down. You look like you'd provide some top quality huggage, even if you've lost quite a lot of your motherly bosom as of late with your amazing weight lose. When I'm really down you could just give me some in depth details about what it's like to snog Richard Armitage. This could help improve my daydream visuals although this is possibly not wholly appropriate for our 'mother-daughter' relationship... Whatever the case, please join me for a scone or two. It's much too weird seeing you as a skinny 'Moo'. Lotsaluv, Sarah (Aged 23 ½) ************************************* I thought Dawn French was at her best when I first saw her in the 'Vicar of Dibley'. She is just so perfectly suited to the role of the fun-loving and vivacious village vicar, Geraldine Granger. Her comedy performances are superb and she emits a cuddliness and warmth that would have even ME in church every Sunday. Of course, she started out her comedy career on 'The Comic Strip' in the 80s with comedy personalities such as Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmonson, Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson. This was where she started up her comedy double act with Jennifer Saunders. They would eventually go off to create their own show 'French and Saunders', showing all those lads that women can pull off the comedy lark too. She released her autobiography back in 2008 with the title 'Dear Fatty' which quite affectionately and ironically refers to her slimmer partner in crime, Saunders. The book itself is made up of a sort of patchwork of letters written to various notable people who have had some sort of influence in her life (Thus explaining my own letter to the cuddly comedienne at the beginning of this review). I suppose that some people may be put off by this mish-mash sort of style. She simply refuses to follow the standard autobiography format - she admits herself at the start of the book that she'd rather treat it as a memoir rather than an autobiography. She therefore avoids the run-of-the-mill linear, chronological layout that most celebrities use in their autobiographies and I think that it's a quite refreshing and inventive change. She includes letters written to quite a variety of different people in her life, from her father to childhood celebrity crushes, and of course, there are a few letters addressed to dearest 'Fatty'. By writing to the people in her life, many of whom are very close to her heart, she provides you with a very honest account of incidents within her life, warts an' all. This is a book where Dawn really bares her soul. It is written in a conversational style which makes you are gaining a true insight into the real Dawn French and her life. The extent of information about her life experiences and innermost thoughts and feelings makes the account feel almost voyeuristic, if it was not for the fact that she is the one inviting you in to read about it all... *~It ISN'T ALL ABOUT THE FAME...~* One of the most striking things about the autobiography is that she talks more about her own personal life than she does about her showbiz career. Of course, we get to hear some things about her rise to fame - starting out on the Comic Strip, being on stage and filming the Vicar of Dibley. However, we get to hear more about the person behind the comedy persona. We hear about her life growing up - having to move from school to school and from place to place as her father worked for the RAF. We get to hear about her first loves, her family, her time at college and how she met the man who was to be her husband, Lenny Henry. We are also met by a heartbreaking account of her father's death. I suppose some people would be tempted to use that old cliché and say that this is an event that allows us to see the heartbreak behind the laughter and the smiles. However, I would say that this is not quite the case. Certainly, Dawn French's dad committed suicide when she was just 19 and this had a devastating impact upon her and her family. In this book, a lot of the letters are addressed to her father and you gain the impression that, by writing to him, this has acted as a form of therapy for Dawn. The death of her father is no doubt something that she will struggle to forget. Nevertheless, I find her writings about this difficult subject to be quite inspirational and highlight one of her most valuable traits - her ability to deal with the difficult things in life with such positivity. As upsetting as her father's passing may have been, I think that the way she writes about it is a true testament to her strength and ability to remain so upbeat in spite of what happened. Another admirable quality of Dawn French is that she has not allowed her ascent to fame to raise her up to that lofty and aloof place where most celebrities seem to go. Not only does she seem like a very down to earth and genuine person but she bemoans the nature of fame and value that people place on 'celebrity'. In one fantastic passage she states that fame is 'toxic'... 'There are benefits, but even those are dangerous if you get too used to them...you are constantly on guard to resist the bluster of gushing praise which is blown up your bum. It's very tempting to swig from it, but it is a poisoned chalice. I find the status and value system in our country confusing - how have we come to this place where footballers and singers and jesters are prized above teachers and doctors and carers? Don't get me wrong - I don't underestimate the importance of entertainment, not at all, but why are we paying so much attention to the wrong people?' After she lambasted the nature of fame and our love of celebrity I couldn't help but adore this woman more. It's quite clear we live in a society where there are young girls who would rather be glamour models than doctors. So many of us seem to bow down on our knees, worship and drink at the fountain that is 'celebrity'. And those things called the Kardashians - They are nothing but a bloody disease disease, a great bit blot upon society... I'm just glad that someone else shares my dislike of the Western world's obsession with fame and realises that greater value can be placed on many of the people we see and greet in our everyday lives. *~A HILARIOUS LADY~* One of the best things about this book is just how funny it is, demonstrating her talent for observational comedy and her sharp eye for the hilarities of life. From the very outset, the book had me laughing out loud. There is one spectacular incident when she is a little girl and she accidently sees her dad bollock naked. Shocked at the sight of her dad's unmentionables, she thinks there's a peculiar animal latched to his groin area and she begins attacking in it, whilst her parents are gripped by unbelievable laughter. Even when she was a little girl she was pretty hilarious, even if she didn't mean to be. The book itself is written in a quirky and amusing style as she muses upon the things that happened in her life. She doesn't avoid talking about her insecurities either and spends a few pages noting observations about her own body and her hang ups. She laments her 'underarm beach balls' which appear when she is lying down at the beach and her constant inability to find a flattering bra for her 42H chest. What I found really quite amusing is when she apologizes to all flat-chested women for her 'seemingly appalling greed'. And sorry you should be Ms French. I'll have some of your bosom any day. My favourite parts of the books are the two lists which she compiles - a list of all the people she has kissed and a letter to all the parents she babysat for. Her letter to all the parents she babysat made me giggle. It lists all the various naughty things she did at their houses of various children she baby sat for. This was not limited to just her trying on their clothes, their make up and eating their chocolate. The funniest confessions include her admission that she did have 'a small bit of sex' with her boyfriend on their sofa and that she 'did tell some people who called up that [they] had gone to a swingers party'. As for her list of all the people she has kissed, Dawn states that she made it her goal in life to 'test-drive as many lips as possible before I am too ancient and repulse my accomplices.' As a result she has kissed a great number of men AND women in this quest - a feat which left me tickled and just a wee bit jealous. Dawn lists and describes a vast list of smooches she has experienced in her life including her kiss with Hugh Grant ('professional'), Brad Pitt ('a woman's mouth, bliss'), Johnny Depp ('sweet, respectful...'), George Clooney ('bold, unashamed...') and to make me even more ridiculously envious, the delicious being that is Richard Armitage ('shy, giggling, loving'). What I would give to have Richard Armitage's lips pressed up against mine. Dawn French, you absolute b***h... *~A QUEEN OF COMEDY~* When it comes to their funny bone credentials, female comediennes do get a bit of stick for being less funny than their fellow men folk. This is why it's always nice to have performers like Dawn French who show us that women can be just as hilarious as the men. Some people are just born funny and Dawn seems to be one of them. This is something that shines throughout the whole book where there are some real laugh-out-loud moments and many more that made me smile. As for the stories she tells and the things she writes about, at the beginning of the book she explains that she has endeavoured not just to tell us about any old dull event in her life. In fact, it appears that Dawn has been careful about what she chooses to write about and as a result, this makes the content of the book fascinating and engaging. It's an easy and interesting read which you can just 'gobble up' in a few sittings. We don't have to hear of any drab encounters about when she 'put the washing machine on the wrong cycle'. However, I'm sure that with her wit and story-telling capabilities, should she have chosen to writ about her washing machine she probably would have made this domestic 'disaster' into an interesting read with its very own anecdote (like those internet reviewers who display wit when they are only writing about a Tesco Value kettle - kudos to you). All in all, 'Dear Fatty' is an engaging and hilarious account of the life of one of Britain's best female comediennes. What is most extraordinary about the book is undoubtedly the great positivity that appears to have driven her throughout her whole life, despite any adversity and hardship she has come across. I think that this sort of quality in a person is quite beautiful and it is for this reason that this is quite a beautiful book. It is clear to see from her autobiography that Dawn is a very warm, fun-loving and admirable person in many ways and I think a lot of us (myself included) could learn a lot from her outlook on life. We may not have had her sparkling comedy career but it's quite clear from her perspective that there is more to life than celebrity and the trappings of fame... *~And what about the pictures?~* Pictures in the middle! I must face it - Whenever I read an autobiography I skip straight to the middle to view any retro pictures of the celebrity in question. I rather enjoyed the pictures in Dawn French's book - pictures of her young father looking uncannily like herself, pictures of her meeting the Queen Mother and a rather hilarious teenage picture entitled 'Moody and recently sexed' (which reminded me disturbingly of a young picture of my mum when she was on holiday with my dad. Yeuch!). *~WHERE TO BUY?~* You shouldn't have any trouble getting this cheap. At the moment it's only £1.89 for a used copy on Amazon. Not bad at all! *~Thanks for reading my review : - ) Also published on Ciao under username Renza - March 2012~*

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                      05.02.2012 19:06
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                      Someone claimed it was Battle Royale for the Twilight generation. Don't make me laugh! Give me Katni

                      '1984', 'Brave New World', 'V for Vendetta', 'A Clockwork Orange' and now 'The Hunger Games'. I am fascinated by novels which present a vision of a dystopian society. 'The Hunger Games' presents a post-apocalyptic vision of a North America, tainted by humanity's past mistakes, it is little like North America as we know it. Divided into 12 districts, it forms the land of Panem and is ruled by an oppressive government called the Capitol. The ultra-futuristic Capitol is a despotic seat of power and indulgence. Whilst the Capitol residents fuss over their lives of luxury and up and coming fashions, citizens within the districts work hard and struggle to get by, some dying of starvation in the streets. To add to their suffering, each year the Capitol holds its annual 'Hunger Games', a reminder of the prevailing power of the Capitol after the districts rebelled against them many generations ago. Each district must put forward two 'tributes', a boy and a girl aged between 12 and 18 to fight to the death within the Hunger Games arena. In true 'Big Brother' fashion, the games are broadcast live to every part of the state for everyone to see. There can only be one winner, who shall be renowned throughout Panem for their victory. The losers, however, can only face one eventuality - death. 'The Hunger Games' caught my attention last year when I heard that this bestselling book was to be adapted into a film to be released this coming March. I heard great things about it and there seemed to be a lot of hype generated by the media and other authors. Stephanie Meyer claimed to be 'obsessed' with this book and declared it 'amazing'. Now I'm not sure she is in a place to judge what makes quality literature (sorry Twi-fans). It's like when the Daily Star raves about the latest action blockbuster. I just don't trust it. Nevertheless, I decided to treat myself to the trilogy box set just before Christmas and whatever my opinions may be about the Twilight author, she was right about this book. It IS amazing... *~'HAPPY HUNGER GAMES! MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOUR~* The story is told from the first person perspective of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl from District 12 who has not had an easy life. Her father died during a mine accident when she was young and with her mother numb with grief, she was forced to help feed her family and keep her mother and her little sister Prim alive. Every year, each district has to face the annual 'reaping' for the Hunger Games, a lottery where every eligible district child has their name entered at least once to be considered for participation. It's all in the luck of the draw. However, some children have their names entered in more than once in exchange for extra grain and oil for their families. Katniss is one of them but, fiercely protective of her sister, will only let Prim's name be entered once in the run up to the annual reaping. It is therefore a great shock when, against all odds, it is Prim's name that is drawn for the games. Katniss, desperate and fearful, runs forward to take her sister's place as tribute. Fully aware that this could be a death sentence upon her, she makes a promise to her little sister that she'll come out of the games alive and victorious. A borne survivor who has battled to keep herself and her family alive all those years, Katniss must now face the ultimate test of survival in the Hunger games. *~A NOVEL I COULDN'T PUT DOWN~* From the very beginning 'The Hunger Games' is a compelling read, which I really struggled to put down. There really is nothing more satisfying than finding yourself a book which you become hooked on. I ended up reading into the wee hours of the morning just to find out what is going to happen next and had to force myself to put it down when I realized I was probably going to struggle to get up for work the next day. Those types of books don't come around very often. The novel is certainly an easy read with a style that is easy to digest. It's true it's no literary masterpiece but it doesn't need to be and just because it isn't doesn't mean it's not well-written. Its simple style, devoid of literary tropes, makes for a very effective adventure novel. Fantastically fast-paced at points, it draws you into the action. I couldn't get enough of it. Just when I said I would read one chapter more, I ended up reading another five. When Katniss is chosen to be a tribute, Peeta Mellark, the son of a baker in district 12, is chosen to be the male tribute. Both Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol to prepare for the games. When they get there, it is clear that it is all a show. She is designated a prep team to 'beautify' her and dress her up. Like the other tributes they must train, give interviews and parade about in extravagant costumes. For a period of time they are pampered, eat good food and live a life of luxury in the Capitol. However, before long they must meet the harsh reality of the games where they must kill each other to come out alive... *~KATNISS, THE GIRL WHO WAS ON FIRE~* One thing I love about this novel are the great dynamics within the story, particularly those between particular characters. I was surprised by the depth of the characters within Suzanne Collin's novel. In a story where individuals must fight to the death, I expected a high degree of two-dimensionality. And whilst we cannot get to know every tribute in the games, you gain quite an insight into the personalities of many of the characters. Characterization is one of the strong points of the novel. Collins creates characters you can truly care about and the odd character which you can love to hate. Katniss herself is quite the heroine. All throughout her life she has suffered true hardship and has really fought to keep herself and her family alive. She demonstrates strength in everything she does which she carries with her to the Hunger Games. It is great to find a female character who is so admirable and inspiring to young girls in terms of strength and resilience. There are a lot of people out there who seem eager to compare this novel and its characters to the Twilight series. However, I would argue that the only thing these novels share is success within the young adult genre. Katniss, in opinion is a much better role model for young girls than Bella from Twilight will ever be. I found Bella to be quite a weak and pathetic character, allowing her 'love' for Edward to take her to the point of self-destruction. Of course, 'The Hunger Games', like the Twilight series, has its own love triangle as Katniss battles with her feelings for Gale, her friend back home and Peeta, her fellow district 12 contestant. However, this is a romance that is quite often sidelined throughout the whole series to take into consideration other more important issues. This is quite a refreshing change to novels like Twilight. Katniss doesn't constantly launch into internal monologues describing her love and adoration for the men in her life. She has more important matters to deal with. There is, after all, more to her life than her feelings towards certain young men... This is probably why I found Peeta to be one of the weakest characters in the first book of the series. Katniss met Gale when she was a girl and they quickly became hunting partners helping one another to feed their families. Spending all this time together hunting, it would make sense that they could grow to love one another. Katniss's fondness for Peeta, however, stems back to an act of kindness when she and her family were starving and he gave her some bread. In the Hunger Games arena, their relationship grows but I just didn't find Peeta an all too convincing love interest. This may very well be intentional because towards the beginning of the book their apparent 'love' for one another seems to be nothing but a show for the cameras to help them win the games. Nevertheless, it just further proves my point that this book is not all about love interests and romantic relations. Peeta and Katniss's relationship is drawn out and explored further in later books. In the first book, there are a lot more important matters to care about. There are a whole host of other great characters which you come across when reading this novel. As she is preparing for the games she meets some characters from the Capitol. Larger than life, they live a sheltered life in the capitol with their bizarre fashions and cosmetic enhancements. One such Capitol character she meets is Effie Trinket. When Katniss first meets Effie she is the announcer of the tributes for district 12 and escort to the chosen tributes. With her pinkish hair and outrageous dress sense, she is a true Capitol citizen. Training as a tribute in the capitol, Katniss grows sickened by Capitol indulgences but at the same time grows sympathetic. This is all Effie and other Capitol citizens know. They don't understand what it means to struggle every day to get by. All they have to worry about is what Lady Gaga-esque couture is in fashion that year... When Katniss begins the Hunger Games, this is when you really get to know some of the other tributes from the districts. One such tribute is the little 12 year old Rue. She ends up joining forces with Katniss and they take care of each other for a while. By getting to know some of the characters like Rue, this not only makes the story more interesting but makes the deaths of some of the characters all the more weightier. For the Capitol the Hunger Game is just a sport and anyone could die. It is a blood sport of the cruellest kind... *~'BATTLE ROYALE FOR THE TWILIGHT GENERATION'?~* Whilst some people may be eager to compare the novel to Twilight, a more obvious comparison can be made with Battle Royale, a Japanese novel and film set in a totalitarian state where a group of schoolchildren are forced to battle to the death. Some have claimed that the Hunger Games is a mere rip off of Battle Royale. The similarities are clear and at times The Hunger Games can be quite violent although certainly not as gratuitously violent as Battle Royale. Suzanne Collins claims that the idea for 'The Hunger Games' was borne without knowledge of this Japanese story. She claims the idea came to her when she was channel surfing, coming across footage of people competing in a reality show and footage of the Iraq war. She took the idea of a battle and a reality show and put them both together to come up with the idea of the Hunger Games. Whether, the novel was inspired by Battle Royale or not I don't think it really matters as I think it's quite different from Battle Royale in a lot of respects and a thoroughly entertaining read. All throughout the novel you develop the feeling that Katniss is not just up against the other tributes but is up against the might of the Capitol. She may come across ruthless and violent tributes like the killing machines Cato and Clove but you get the strong impression that it is the Capitol that is the real villain in the whole piece. This is an idea that sets up the premise for the rest of the trilogy. The Hunger Games may share similarities with Battle Royale but it has its own characters, its own story and its own version of a harsh totalitarian state. *~'THE PERFECT ADVENTURE NOVEL'~* The Hunger Games stands out as one of the best young adult novels that I have read. One critic referred to it as a perfect adventure novel and I couldn't agree more. The book itself is an exhilarating page turner that constantly captures your interest. The characters are rich and interesting, the story is dynamic and the writing style means that it is perfectly paced. It is an adventure and science fiction novel with a little bit of romance interspersed between. However, Suzanne Collins doesn't let the romance take over. In fact, as I've said before, the love story that runs through the plot seems to pale in significance when you compare it to the rest of the action. Collins has produced an exciting novel which had me reaching for its sequel as soon as I'd finished it. Battle Royale for the Twilight generation it certainly is not! In fact, this is a novel which is a lot worthier than Twilight with a strong female protagonist whom I hope will be a lot more inspiring to any young women out there. *~AVAILABILITY~*: You'll have no problem finding this book anywhere. I got my box set for £11.98 on Amazon although it looks like it's gone up in price since then (£14.98. Must be all the hype generated by the film...) *~FILM RELEASE~*: 23rd March 2012 in the UK. I can't wait and Jennifer Lawrence seems like the perfect choice to play Katniss! *~LOOK OUT FOR...~* The marketing team for the Hunger Games film have made a Tumblr page entitled 'Capital Couture'. It's a fun little piece of publicity for the film (and the password for it is #lookyourbest) *~Thank you for reading my review :-) Also published on Ciao under username Renza - Feb 2012~*

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                        01.01.2012 22:38
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                        A special revamp of a special game here to captivate the imaginations of a whole new generation of g

                        I enjoy reflecting upon my experiences with my Granny Molly. She died when I was only eight years old but I have beautiful memories of her tucking me up in bed and telling me brilliant stories about living in wartime Glasgow and the day she was saved by a bowl of porridge (true story). Thinking about her bedtime stories fills me up with a warmth and sentimentality. The Monkey Island game series transports me back to a similarly innocent and cosy place. It summons up within me a warm nostalgia that goes beyond Pokemon cards, Tamagochis and any other tat that I accumulated during my 90s childhood. When I was a little girl, maybe about five or six years old, I remember sitting on my dad's knee watching him play the terribly grown up game of 'Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck's Revenge.' By today's standards the graphics were quite primitive and pixelated but even so it was pretty to look at. I was mesmerized by it, particularly its detailed close-ups of its characters and its interesting cut-scenes. Sometimes I would try to help my dad solve the puzzles but it was clear that it was above and beyond my five year old intellect. I therefore contented myself by letting my dad work out the game, watching the action play out and meeting all those weird and wonderful characters which Guybrush came across. Through Monkey Island I got to be close to my dad and I was introduced to a fantastical world of pirates and adventure. 'The Secret of Monkey Island' was released by Lucasarts in 1990 and received a positive response from gamers and critics alike. Within gaming history it was quite a breakthrough, particularly due to its humour and gameplay and it is quite often considered one of the best video games of its time, if not all time. I personally believe that Monkey Island's popularity is largely a generational thing, achieving cult-like status amongst small pockets of people around my age and above. I would hardly expect your average 21st gamer to have any clue about Guybrush and co. I was actually delighted to discover that my flatmate, about the same age as me, also shared an appreciation of the game and was the one who alerted me that a revamped special edition had been produced for the Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2. I was particularly interested about playing the Secret of Monkey Island, the first game of the Monkey Island series, as I'd never played it before (My dad only had the second of the series). It was therefore with much excitement and anticipation that I downloaded and began to play this game... *~I'M GUYBRUSH THREEPWOOD, MIGHTY PIRATE!~* Whilst I'd never played the first game, the game style and characters are instantly recognizable and I am quickly transported to my nostalgic 'happy place'. The story follows the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood who, in his quest to become a true swashbuckling pirate, becomes tied up in a whole other adventure. He falls for the beautiful and vivacious Elaine Marley, governor of Melee Island. However, not long after their meeting she is snatched away and kidnapped by the zombie pirate LeChuck. LeChuck harbours a sinister, unrequited love for Elaine and Guybrush must save Elaine from the clutches of this evil buccaneer... I won't mention too much about the story as it is essentially what drives the whole game and if I give too much away I'll ruin it for you. The story itself is brilliant and provides the gamer with a modern twist (or to be precise, 1990 twist) on the romanticized stories of pirates. Set on fictionalized islands within the Caribbean, it is jam packed with 'piratey' and paranormal themes, as you come across fellow pirates, a voodoo queen and some other rather colourful characters. The characters have great personalities. They don't merely serve as instruments of the story to help Guybrush progress through the game - they ARE the story. Guybrush himself plays the goofy underdog who, you can never really be convinced is a true pirate, but his lovable and quirky character means that you champion him all the way through. Elaine on the other hand is feisty, fiery and strong willed and although Guybrush feels the need to rescue her you do wonder if she really needs saving. Or maybe she does? LeChuck is a rather dastardly villain. Undead and formidable, he has managed to frighten pirates into joining circus troupes just to avoid sailing the Caribbean seas. The assortment of characters Guybrush comes across throughout the game are an absolute joy. There is Stan. He sells second-hand boats to the pirates and has the persona of a pushy if good natured used car salesman. He's quite annoying but makes up for this with the humorous conversations he has with Guybrush as he tries to force his sales patter down his throat. Larger than life, I could always imagine someone like Jim Carrey playing him in a life action version of the game. My favourite supporting character has to be the Voodoo Lady. Ever since I sat on my dad's lap and watched him play the game I have adored this creepy fortune teller. The Voodoo lady is an exotic and mysterious character who provides portents, offers Guybrush rather vague information and generally frightens the crap out of him... *~HOLY MONKEY BLADDERS IT'S MONKEY ISLAND!~* The characters, story and dialogue of this special edition version of this game are exactly the same as the original but it seems that everything else has been given the 21st century treatment. One of the changes that is most striking are the revamped graphics. As I've suggested before the old style graphics of this game were really quite pretty for the technology available at the time. The attention to detail was great, the stars twinkled and there seemed to be so much life in those pixelated characters and backdrops. The revamped version takes these charming scenes and turns them into breathtaking pieces of art. I spent a good amount of my first ten minutes of the game ooo-ing and aaa-ing at the artwork. The skies not only still have those twinkly stars but now have swirley 'Van Gogh' clouds. There are also complex additions here and there like ships and other little things which the old gaming technology would have been unable to support. It's really very beautiful to look at and I must applaud those who redesigned the game. They have made it look quite stunning without departing too much from the original designs. The best thing about this special edition is that by pushing 'F10' you can switch between the old version of the game and the new version and see just how different both versions are. Not only have the graphics changed but so have the sounds. When you speak to other characters you can not only view the lines of dialogue but you can actually hear them. They have brought in voice artists such as Dominic Armato as Guybrush who has worked on the newer Monkey Island games. His upbeat and distinctive voice really brings this character to life. The gameplay of the Secret of Monkey Island remains very much the same. It is still a click and point adventure game with the same verb commands as before. You must use these commands upon characters and objects in order to solve the many puzzles you need to complete to progress through the game. I'd like to think that now I'm no longer five years old that I am now big and smart enough to work these puzzles out. However, the game can be quite challenging at times. Not so challenging as to force you to throw in the towel but challenging nonetheless. Each scenario which you come across forces you to think outside the box. Every conversation you have and every object you come across must be regarded as potentially useful. The game is all about being curious and inquisitive and taking into consideration things you may not have thought were important. After all, who ever thought a rubber chicken would have its uses? In the new version, they have introduced a hints button to help you out when you really do get stuck. If you press 'h' it gives you a tip on what you need to do next. I sort of feared that this meant that the game had been dumbed down a bit but I would be a liar if I said I did not use that button at some point in the game. Whilst it gives you a great sense of achievement to work out the puzzles all by yourself, the hints button stops you from hitting your noggin against any palm trees when you do feel a little bit stuck. Now it's is normally quite easy enough to use the verb buttons within the game. In the old version the verb menu and inventory are part of the screen. In the new version, they have got rid of this clutter so you can enjoy the full widescreen experience and only bring up these menus when you need to use them. This only caused one problem and that was when I was trying to combine items in the inventory. Screaming at my computer scream, I did have a small fit when, after several attempts I was unable to combine two items during a timed activity. It was only when I changed over to the old version with the old graphics that I found that I was able to do so. Apart from this niggle, the game play is generally smooth... As with the original, you rely on working out the puzzles by having conversations with other characters and this gives rise to some fabulous tongue-in-cheek comedy. I even read somewhere they are credited with inventing the concept of humour in computer games. Certainly, right from the outset of the game, you are given a great big dose of funny. Walking into the Scumm bar towards the beginning the part one, you can choose to meet and converse with one particular pirate: 'What's your name?' he says. 'Guybrush Threepwood' ''Ha! Guybrush Threepwood. That's the stupidest name I have ever heard.' 'What's your name?' 'Mancomb Seepgood.' So much of the dialogue gives rise to a giggle and a meeting with some cannibals left me particularly tickled. After nabbing some of their fruit one of the cannibals greets Guybrush by saying 'Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just glad to see us?' I do love it when family entertainment drops in an adult reference that makes you giggle but swoops over the heads of any innocent child in the room (Spongebob Squarepants have been known to do it on occasion). The rest of the cannibals dialogue is just as funny if not quite as 'naughty' When Guybrush is locked up in a cabin waiting to become the cannibals next meal, their ringleader spends much of his time worried about the detrimental effects eating Guybrush will have on his health. 'Think of your arteries' he tells his man-eating friends, 'cannibals have to watch their saturated fats like everyone else.' Some of the best comedy arises from the sword fights Guybrush engages in. Victory in a sword fight is not so much based on the use of the weapon but upon the insults traded between the two opponents. A pirate must gain the upper hand through their witty remarks rather than their skilful sword work and Guybrush must learn to hone his insults in order to become a great swashbuckler. The Monkey Island series has therefore become rather famous for the humorous insults and comebacks traded during its swordfights... 'You fight like a dairy farmer.' 'How appropriate, you fight like a cow.' *~A SPOT OF 'PIRATE REGGAE'~* Today I just need to hear the tinkle of Monkey Island's old 8-bit synthesiser theme tune for me to be overcome with childhood glee. The Monkey Island theme tune is distinctive and memorable. The best way to describe it is 'pirate reggae' and whoever wrote the original is truly a god among men. The special edition of the game opens with this retro theme tune and old style backdrop of Melee Island before unveiling the new style backdrop with an updated soundtrack using real instruments. I adore the new theme tune, soundtrack and sounds within the game. There was only so much music and sound effects that the original game could support which means that the new version is a lot less quiet. *~THAT'LL BE SIX PIECES OF EIGHT, SIR~* Buying yourself a copy of this special edition of Monkey Island is really quite different to buying the game back in the early 90s. The original game was expensive and even once you had brought it home, it was several hours and about a hundred floppy disc installations later that you could finally get round to playing it (ok maybe a slight exaggeration there). Today you can buy it and download it from a website called Steam and using the Steam software it probably takes about half an hour to download and install. I bought the Monkey Island Special edition bundle with the first and second game for just £6.29 in the Steam holiday sale. I thought this was rather cheap for such a beautiful revamp of both games. *~ONE OF THE BEST GAMES OF ALL TIME~* This special edition update is an absolute dream for any old time fans of the Monkey Island series. With all the effort that has gone into this remake you can tell that those who worked on it hold a true love for the game. They have given it a glossy makeover whilst respecting every aspect of the original. Even without its special edition update, the Secret of Monkey Island is one of the best computer games of all time. It has characters you really care about, funny dialogue and challenging puzzles that keep you entertained for hours. It's just a shame that it is the sort of game you almost don't want to end. This is why I took my time with the game, exhausting all of the humorous conversation lines and even then it only took me ten hours to finish. This left me wanting more and I can only be glad that there are four other Monkey Island games out there for me to devour. I would like to think that this glossy update of this 1990 game may open up the Monkey Island series to a whole new generation of gamers, some of whom were not even born when this game was first released. Unlike some modern games, which often encourage kids to be mindless zombies, this is a game which dares the player to use their brain. And if the game is too difficult for some younger children, you can always team up with them to help them solve the problems. I do find it a rather heart warming thought that just under 20 years after I sat on my dad's knee to watch him battle LeChuck, there could be another little kid perched on their mum or dad's knee as mesmerized by this pirate world as I was... *~FUN FACT~*: It is almost impossible to kill Guybrush which makes for easygoing game play - However, I say almost as there is one point where Guybrush is underwater and if you keep him there for more than 10 minutes you will have one dead wannabe pirate ;-) *~ Thank you for reading my review :-) I hope you don't find it too long. It seems my passion for this game lead to another essay-length review~* *~Also published on Ciao under username Renza - January 2012~*

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                          21.12.2011 12:55
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                          Better than that blonde one from Abba!

                          I'm not much of a cider drinker. You won't find me sat in a pub with a pint of Scrumpy. However, you may find me cradling a bottle of fruit cider, which I've developed a love for over the last year or so. It began with Strawberry and Lime Kopparberg - a drink which is fruity and delicious. I then discovered Strawberry and Lime Rekorderlig on an outing to a local bar and this proved to be even more sublime than Kopparberg. This is quite an achievement as I consider both drinks to be rather divine... Rekorderlig comes in a brown bottle with a rather simple label and an image of some strawberries and a lime. This minimalist and classic design makes you feel like you are drinking a somewhat high class beverage. It looks like a premium cider and, my god, it tastes like a premium cider... *~A DELIGHT TO THE TASTEBUDS~* When pouring this pink-coloured drink out into a glass full of ice you are met with an alluringly sweet aroma. The drink itself tastes delightful. It has the sweet taste of strawberries which is balanced out by a hint of lime. It is a crisp and refreshing drink which quenches your thirst. I enjoy it more than Kopparberg as it is sweeter, more fruity and smoother to drink. In a lot of ways it tastes less like alcohol than Kopparberg which is probably why I enjoy it so much. I am the type of person who enjoys the buzz and kick which alcohol provides but I prefer the taste to be masked by oodles of fruits and sweet flavours. In my first year of university this largely involved sucking alcopops through a straw like the teenager I was. I am glad to say that my taste has grown to be a lot more mature and refined since. As a university graduate my drink of choice is Rekorderlig. With 4% of alcohol it is not too boozy and it is very easy to drink. The one thing that lets the product down is the fact that the label on the back does not give you any information on the ingredients and calorific content of the cider. This information I gathered from another source. The ingredients are as follows: Carbonated spring water, pear and apple wine, berry flavors and caramel. Acids: citric acid and sodium citrate. Preservatives: E202 and E220 (contains sulphites). The ingredients suggest it is not really cider and is more of a fruity wine than anything else. I'm not really complaining about this as I enjoy it whether it is considered cider or not. However, this fruity 'wine' packs in 63 calories per 100ml. That's 315 calories per 500ml bottle! Like most alcoholic drinks, it is an indulgence and all worries about waistlines should be cast aside... *~TOO SICKLY SWEET FOR SOME?~* I don't know anyone who has tried it who didn't enjoy it. My boyfriend and my housemates adore this drink and we bought some for our house Christmas dinner, taking care to keep count of how many bottles we had each. It is a light drink and this makes it the perfect accompaniment to a meal. However, if you prefer a traditional rustic cider or don't enjoy sweet drinks you may not be a fan of Rekorderlig. I reckon that this drink could be a bit too sickly for some and not enough like your normal pint of cider for others. Certainly, I love the drink and plan to buy more for Christmas Day with the family. The drink is also nice to have when unwinding after a hard day at work. However, after a number of hard days at work, I've had to hold back on getting them too often as they cost just over £2 per bottle at Tesco and Asda which is rather pricey in comparison to other bottled beverages. On the other hand, the drink can sometimes be found on special offer and I understand you can get three for £5 at the moment at the two aforementioned supermarkets. In addition to this, if you get bored of this particular flavour there are other flavours to chose from including Apple, Pear, Wild Berry, Apple and Blackcurrant and Winter Cider. The Wild Berry and Apple and Blackcurrant are almost as delicious as the Strawberry and definitely worth a try. I just wish I could find a shop which stocks the Winter Cider. With its vanilla and cinnamon this aught to be the perfect drink for the holiday period but I can't find it anywhere. I'll just have to stick to the Strawberry and Lime variety for now. I highly recommend this drink, particularly over the festive period. I cannot get enough of it. Many memorable things have come into being because of the Swedes - Ikea meatballs, Daim bars, Lindqvist's 'Let the Right One In' and male fantasies about that blonde one from Abba (so my boyfriend tells me)...Rekorderlig just happens to be one of those. *~Thank you for reading my review :-) ~* *~Also published on Ciao under username Renza - December 2011~*

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                            05.12.2011 23:55
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                            A four star review for a four star hotel.

                            At the start of October I was luckier than some. Three weeks after losing my job I was hired by one of our national banks. Whilst I was aware another chunk of my soul may be lost in the process of working for another big corporation, I was also aware that it could be a long time before I could get a decent holiday. I had a week before I started in the role. I began to think up fanciful ideas of where my boyfriend and I could escape to before I started the role. Paris? Maybe Venice? Eventually, we settled on the more realistic and affordable option of a UK short break in a luxury hotel. With much excitement, we decided to head north for a one night spa break in Atholl Palace Spa Hotel in Pitlochry, just an hour and a half outside of Edinburgh. *~M'LORD AND I MAKE OUR WAY TO OUR HUMBLE COUNTRY ESTATE~* In my eagerness to get to the hotel and make full use of the facilities, we set off for the hotel in the late morning. We arrived there a good two hours earlier than our check in time and were rather pleased with what we found. The drive up to the hotel is very befitting of a palace. The road curls up round a hill which the 'palace' is situated on top of, a palace which is somewhat grand, if in a rather staid, Scottish style. If you wish, you may even take the opportunity to pretend you are lord and lady of this manor, driving up the road to your own country estate... Entering the hotel lobby with our luggage we were met by a polite and welcoming lady on reception who was very accommodating despite our early arrival. She even apologized for not having our complimentary drinks ready for us and invited us to come back down later for them (Of course, she need not apologize. We were considerably early). After booking our meal times and confirming our spa treatment we headed up to our rooms... *~OUR COSY LITTLE BEDCHAMBER~* Now I wouldn't say our room was anything special. We would really have had to have paid out extra for a more extravagant turret suite or feature room, some of which have four poster beds. However, I was satisfied with what we got. Our bedroom was a pleasant and somewhat cosy affair. It was comfortable, clean and tastefully decorated. We had the usual freebies - coffee, tea and some shortbread next to a travel kettle; shampoo, conditioner and shower gel in the bathroom. If I could state any gripes at all with the room it would be that there was no green tea in the freebies basket, no shower cap and that the bathroom was too white for my liking. Is that even a real complaint? The bathroom was too white? *~A SPOT OF AFTERNOON TEA~* We weren't slow in getting ourselves down to the spa. After an hour spent in the swimming pool and jacuzzi we resurfaced to obtain our complimentary drinks from the reception. We were served a delicious honeyed whiskey liqueur. I say delicious as even though I am not a fan of whiskey this was really easy to take to. We sipped at this drink in the lounge whilst we waited for our afternoon tea to be prepared. Now I've never had afternoon tea before. It always struck me as a very British thing to do amongst old biddies. However, apparently it is something that is quite in vogue now and after having afternoon tea at Atholl hotel, I could certainly get into the habit of having it more often. Those who were scheduled for tea at 2 o'clock did have to wait a little longer than expected to be allowed entry into the Verandah restaurant where the food was being served. This generated impatience amongst an older couple who made their feelings known. I did get the impression that the staff were operating at a rather relaxed, almost sleepy pace. This could have something to do with the fact that it was a weekday, the hotel was rather quiet and only a few of us were actually about for Afternoon Tea. My boyfriend and I weren't all too bothered by the wait. We'd just come back from a refreshing swim in the pool and our minds were in holiday mode. If anything the unrushed service added to the calming atmosphere of the hotel. It was nice to just sink into the comfy lounge chairs and chat inanely. I'd take a guess and say that they were an older married couple and maybe they'd had enough of each others inane chatter over the years. I swear they barely uttered a word to each other during their tea, her husband barely looking over the top of his paper throughout the whole meal. The food itself was brought out on a three-tiered cake stand and there was plenty of it. We started off with the selection of sandwiches and savoury scones with smoked salmon on top. I enjoyed the sandwiches but wasn't much of a fan of the savoury scones but that's due to personal preference more than anything. I'm not a savoury girl. I did however love the sweet scones provided which tasted very rustic and traditional and were lovely smothered with jam. The cakes, I ended up smuggling back up to my room for later as I was absolutely stuffed. One of these cakes had butter icing, glitter and stars on top and tasted absolutely delicious. I was definitely very satisfied with my afternoon tea. It provided me with a relaxing, tasty and filling meal. Even if the service was a little slow I found the staff polite and thought it was very nice of them to substitute my cup of tea with a glass of lemonade for free. In addition to this, sitting in the verandah, we had some stunning views of the scenery outside, its forests and rolling hills. Even in a city like Edinburgh, life can seem a too fast-paced at times and it was nice to take things down a notch in this glorious setting. *~MY VERY FIRST PROFESSIONAL MASSAGE~* After our afternoon tea we made our way back down to the spa, located in the basement. We had scheduled lava shell massages and I was really looking forward to it as it was my first professional massage. Certainly, the girl who provided the massage did not disappoint. The massage lasted for somewhere around 40 or 50 minutes and it was absolutely fantastic. She covered various areas of my body including my back, legs and even the palms of my hands and creases of my fingers, which I found particularly relaxing. It was good to let go of any pent up tension in my body as I'd been quite stressed in those three weeks of unemployment. After the massage, I was led into a room with two lounge chairs. This area was set aside for some post-massage relaxation and I certainly took advantage of it. I found I was able to make myself some Twinings Green Tea and Cranberry and lay back in my seat waiting for my boyfriend to come out of his massage session. I felt rather pampered! The spa itself is terrific even if you haven't scheduled a treatment. There is a heated indoor pool, a Jacuzzi, a steam room and a plunge pool. We particularly enjoyed the indoor pool as, being an October weekday, it was so quiet and we had it to ourselves for a large portion of the time. It is also great to not have to endure the chill and discomfort of an unheated pool. Absolute luxury! *~OUR EVENING MEAL~* After spending a considerable portion of our afternoon in the spa we attempted to make ourselves presentable and headed to dinner. I was quite nervous about dinner as I had read bad reviews about the food but hoped that it would be as enjoyable as our afternoon tea. I'm glad to say that dinner actually exceeded my expectations, at least in terms of the starter and main course. We both ordered a seafood starter. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of this starter but it comprised of a sort of half pureed concoction of seafood including prawns. This was actually tastier than it sounds. It had a great spicy kick and it was undeniably more-ish. For our main course, my boyfriend got a pork dish and I got a beef olive dish. The beef olive dish also was better than I expected too. It was very tender and served in a mouth-watering sauce. It also came with delicious asparagus and potato sides. It was just a shame that the dessert was rather disappointing. I ordered profiteroles. These profiteroles were of the ice cream variety rather than the fresh cream variety and I didn't find them particularly brilliant. It reminded me of something you could buy in Iceland. They really need to work on their desserts! *~WINDING DOWN FOR THE EVENING~* After dinner we spend some time exploring the hotel, its little nooks and crannies, including a Games room. My boyfriend and I played a game of backgammon before we decided we could find somewhere more comfortable to relax. The games room was certainly not the best place to chill out in. It is rather sparse and neglected, its décor more suited to a store room. It's just a shame that they haven't considered taking this room and redecorating it, filling it with comfy chairs and atmospheric lighting. Surely it would transform the room into an absolute treasure. We just didn't feel at home in the place and decided it'd be better to grab a drink or two at the Stagshead Bar on the ground floor. This bar looks like your traditional dark wood game pub. It's the type of place you imagine a group of flat-capped men would gather after a pheasant hunt. I much preferred the lounge areas to the bar as the chairs were much more comfortable, so we took our drinks through to there. I must say that I appreciated the service of the staff at the bar and elsewhere in the hotel. If they were passing by and saw you gazing at a drinks menu they were attentive enough to come over to you and ask you if you would like anything. I also must compliment the Polish guy who was on the bar that night as had to endure the most patronizing older gentleman, who treated him like a child when he wasn't quite up to speed with his Scottish whiskey knowledge. I'm not sure I could have managed to be quite so polite and professional on this occasion. After a couple of rum and cokes, my boyfriend and I retired for the night. I must admit I was a little bit disappointed with our bed. I had hoped that in a 4 star hotel I'd have a bed I could sink into. However, the bed was rather firm and distinctly average. This was one of my few gripes with the place. Although I had a rather good night of sleep, I've had better. *~HOME AGAIN ALREADY?!~* We woke up in the morning hungry for breakfast. Sadly I wasn't that impressed with what was on offer. A mixture of hot and cold food, it was buffet style and I thought that it was pretty standard in terms of taste and quality. It was great that there was haggis and black pudding but it was very, very average. Moreover, I'm always disappointed when cooked breakfasts have no hash browns. It just isn't a cooked breakfast without them. I do wonder if my opinion of breakfast was just a matter of personal preference. My boyfriend, for example, thoroughly enjoyed breakfast. Maybe I am just picky? Certainly, breakfast filled me up for a large portion of the day and we went for a swim in the pool after (This was a bit of a mistake - we definitely should have went swimming before breakfast. I had a stomach like a rock). After a swim and a shower, we checked out of the hotel and I must admit that, even if the bed and the breakfast could have been better, I did come out of there feeling happy and relaxed - exactly what I hoped from the place. It was just a shame we had to head home... *~A PEACEFUL SCOTTISH RETREAT~* We stayed at Atholl Palace for no other purpose than to be treated well and escape our usual everyday life in Edinburgh. It is great to stay somewhere that offers you much more than just the basics. Lord knows I've stayed in enough hostels and economy hotels in my time. If we really wanted there were several facilities we could have taken advantage of. There was a gym, a tennis court, a putting green and even a museum about the hotel located in the basement. We didn't visit the museum as I didn't fancy paying any more money than what it cost to cover our stay. However, it is fascinating to know that the place started out as a 'hydropathic establishment' which ran on 'strict temperance principles to treat people in the healthy air of Pitlochry'. Crazy Victorians and their frivolous ideas! So we did not visit the museum but we did take advantage of the gardens and walks before we left. The gardens of the hotel are lovely and I can only imagine how stunning they must be in the summer time. It was just a shame it was a grey and dreary day when we had a look round... *~A FOUR STAR REVIEW FOR A FOUR STAR HOTEL- but it has so much more potential!~* We definitely had an enjoyable time in the hotel. I found that the staff were polite and I appreciated that they kept some distance from you, allowing you your own space to enjoy your time there. I also appreciated the price of the stay. It was £135 each which is in no way cheap but I thought it was good value as it was all inclusive of the room, food, spa treatment and use of the spa facilities. And my god, the lava shells massage was good! My stay was certainly not without criticism. As I have said, the beds and food at breakfast could be better and there a few other things they need to sort out. One thing I love about the hotel is the entrance lobby and the lounge with its elegant lighting, antique furniture and traditional interior design. However, some of the décor gives you the impression the hotel has had its day. Some of the carpets and curtains, for example, are ghastly. Whoever chose them has questionable taste. Now, in no way do I want them to depart from the traditional Scottish country house look but they desperately need to update parts of the hotel. I think that whilst the hotel is good it has so much more potential. It just needs something extra special that really makes it stand out amongst other 4 star hotels. Maybe a revamp of the games room or a brand new games room? A refurb that gets rid of its hideous carpets and curtains? Some changes and some added sparkle and, maybe in future I can award this place five stars. I've given my visit to Atholl Palace hotel a four star rating because even though it had its faults I did have an enjoyable stay there and would consider going back there in future. I think that it would be particularly wonderful to take some friends up there for New Years as its holiday celebrations look particularly promising (if only I had the time and money!). Whilst in some ways this hotel needs a big hard kick into the 21st century, overall I had a very pleasant stay there. Atholl Palace Hotel is a great place to sit back, relax and lose all sense of time. With its relaxed, country atmosphere it is a great place to escape a busy life and leave your troubles behind you. *~Thank you very much for reading my review : - )~* *~Also published on Ciao under Renza - November 2011~* Extra Tip: From the months of May to September, the hotel even has its own outdoor swimming pool! (if you're crazy enough)

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                              08.11.2011 11:20
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                              One of the best books I have read in a long time!

                              'Kindred' tells the tale of a twenty-six year old black woman named Dana who is busy unpacking boxes in her new home with her husband, Kevin. Overcome with dizziness she finds that she is unwillingly transported from 1976 California to plantation-era Maryland. Travelling back in time she finds herself in the outdoors and saves a young boy from drowning. The next few weeks of her life prove to be tough. She is repeatedly transported back and forth between 1976 and the 1800s. She soon discovers that the reason why she is there is because the boy she saved, Rufus Weylin, is the son of the plantation owner and a white ancestor of hers and on each journey back, she ends up saving him from danger. She must work out why she is being brought back to the Antebellum South and what she must do during her time there. It is certainly not a place for a black woman of 1976 and each trip to the past proves to be longer and more dangerous than the last. Dana goes on to discover that she must not only learn to survive on the plantation but she must make sure that her black ancestor, Alice, has a child with son of the plantation owner, Rufus. This child will become Dana's direct ancestor and we find ourselves a common time travel scenario featured in science fiction. Dana must ensure her own birth by making sure that the birth of her ancestor occurs. However, this is not your run-of-the-mill science fiction novel. In fact, it is debateable as to whether it truly belongs to such a genre. It has more in common with historical fiction than any science fiction I have ever read. Dana doesn't travel back in time because of a marvel of engineering but because of a psychic force that transcends the boundaries of place and time. She has no Delorean or Tardis, no doctor to assist her on her travels. The book's author, Octavia E. Butler, admitted that there is no science in this novel and that it is more of a 'grim fantasy' than anything else. It doesn't matter how Dana travelled back in time. What matters is what happens when she does... *~IT LIES LIKE THE TRUTH...~* This novel straddles the genres of science fiction, historical fiction and fantasy and this makes for an addictive and gripping read. This is largely because it is so realistic and true to the history of the era. Octavia Butler really did her research when she was writing this book, reading slave narratives and visiting Talbot county, where the book is set. If Dana and Rufus Weylin were real they would have found themselves living during a time when real-life people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas were working hard to escape the shackles of slavery and help others escape with them. You therefore gain a sense of the time and place, of the relationship between black and white people and it reads like a piece of autobiographical narrative. Using elements of history, Robert Crossley suggests that 'like all good works of fiction... it lies like the truth.' This is a book which feels more real than many history books I have read on the subject of slavery. When she briefly returns to 1976 after a trip to the past, Dana finds that no historical account she reads can prepare her for her first hand experience of slavery. She deplores works of fiction like 'Gone with the Wind' stating that 'it's version of happy darkies in tender loving bondage was more than I could stand.' She grows to learn what the true experience of slavery meant and romanticized accounts like 'Gone with Wind' act as an insult to the memory of slavery and Dana's experience on the plantation. In stark contrast to some rose-tinted accounts of slavery, Butler tells a story of true suffering and hardship which reflects the real experience of slaves at this time. Their world was 'a sharper, stronger reality. The work was harder, the danger was greater and the pain was worse.' The book begins with the sentence: 'I lost an arm on my last trip home'. From the outset, this presents a sense of great danger. Everything about this world is brutal, raw and hard. Plantation workers endure backbreaking work, slaves are whipped like cattle, families are broken apart by the mere whim of a greedy slaveholder looking to become richer through the sale of their members and one scene features the rape of a slave woman who refused to give in to her master's affections. The novel is quite harrowing in places, truthful about the violence of the age. At one point in the story, Dana observes the beating of a slave, whose crime was to be found in bed with his free-born wife without written permission from his owner. Dana speaks of this disturbing experience: 'I had seen people beaten on television and in movies. I had seen the too-red blood substitute streaked across their backs and heard their well-rehearsed screams. But I hadn't lain nearby and smelled their sweat or heard them pleading and praying, shamed before their families and themselves.' Slavery was brutal and Butler makes every effort to portray this fact. Not even Dana, with her education and 1976 mind, can escape the brutality of the period. You may even hope that Dana's white ancestor Rufus would grow up gentle and enlightened after several visits from Dana at various points in his life. However, even Rufus cannot escape the fate of becoming a harsh and cruel plantation owner, much like his father. Black or white, people are tainted by their experience on this Maryland plantation... *~BRINGING THIS EXPERIENCE OF SLAVERY TO LIFE~* One of my favourites things about this novel are the colourful and complex characters within its pages which bring Dana's experience of slavery to life. Settling into life on the plantation, she finds a family amongst the black slaves of the household. There is Alice, her ancestor and a free born black woman who becomes a slave of Rufus when she becomes the object of his affections. There is Sarah - the cook, a matron amongst the servants and a mother figure to all. She presses on with her life despite having most of her children sold off by plantation owner, Tom Weylin. She is the lady who teaches Dana how to cook and how to survive on the plantation. She has a mute daughter named Carrie who is not sold off because of her defect. Carrie is a sweet, compassionate woman who later becomes a friend to Dana. The black household of the Weylin plantation have to endure the treatment of their masters. Tom Weylin, Rufus's father and owner of the slaves, is a despicable and cruel man who fails to see any humanity in his slaves, selling them off whenever he incurs debt. He doesn't like Dana because he feels threatened by her intelligence and he resents her independent ways. His wife, Margaret, is no better. She mollycoddles her son Rufus and treats the slaves like dirt. An unpredictable and hysterical woman she is constantly yelling at the slaves and Dana learns to keep out her way. Tom and Margaret Weylin make life difficult for the slaves on the plantation and the reader hopes that Rufus will grow up to be a better character than his parents and will learn to treat the slaves well. However, Rufus himself is a complex character and the reader grows to fear that he will become as harsh as his parents were. He develops an obsessive love for Carrie and her lookalike descendent, Dana. He comes to treat both women as his property and demands that they never leave his side. Through his development into a young man, the reader begins to fear he is not the good man that Dana hoped he would become. A significant character I cannot fail to mention is Dana's white husband Kevin from 1976. Kevin faces shock when Dana disappears and reappears before him when they are unpacking boxes in their new house. At first he has trouble believing that she has travelled to and from the past. However, the book takes an interesting turn when, during one of her dizzy spells, Kevin grabs hold of Dana and ends up travelling back with her. In 1976, Dana and Kevin's interracial marriage was somewhat novel - in 1819, it was unheard of. Kevin has to take on the guise of Dana's slave owner and this adds an interesting dynamic to their relationship. Kevin and Dana's relationship is a highly important relationship which gives the reader hope. Her love for Kevin helps her endure the extreme hardships she faces on the Weylin plantation. Despite the damage slavery caused - its more immediate damage in the 1800s and the legacy it left in 1976 - Dana and Kevin's relationship serves as a beacon of hope in both modern times and the past which they both have to endure. *~'I WAS TRYING TO GET PEOPLE TO FEEL SLAVERY'~* 'Kindred' is an inspiring book which is very easy to read. It is written in an arresting straightforward style from the first person perspective of the protagonist, Dana. Butler claimed that when she wrote the novel she was 'trying to get people to feel slavery...to get across the kind of emotional and psychological stones that slavery threw at people.' I can say that she has been very successful in doing so. The novel draws in the reader and even if the events are fictionalized you get a sense of the reality and emotions of the period. Octavia Butler herself is an inspirational lady and I was saddened to read that she passed away in 2006 at the relatively young age of 58. She grew up during a time when not many black women or, indeed, women, were writing and publishing science fiction. In fact, she was one of the first women to publish science fiction in the 1970s. In writing 'Kindred', Butler produced a novel which takes on the style of a slave narrative imaginatively recreated through the sci-fi device of time travel. It is powerful story with well-developed characters and great emotional depth. It evokes a great sense of the past - both of the experience of the physically abused blacks and psychologically warped whites. I must admit that I am fascinated by black history in the USA and therefore fascinated by this book. From the slave ships to Martin Luther King and beyond, I find it difficult to ignore history which maps such an arduous journey to freedom and equality which spanned hundreds of years (and some would argue is still ongoing). This book draws from the past and is both tragic and uplifting. It is a flight of fantasy and yet is so heartbreakingly real. Certainly, it is one of the best books I have read in a long time and captures the spirit of a difficult and heavily prejudiced age. Its story is engaging, its characters are real and interesting, and it is a book that keeps you hooked from start to finish, right up until the very last sentence! *~Thank you for reading my review :-) Also published on Ciao under username Renza - Nov 2011~*

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                                29.10.2011 14:36
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                                Mother Earth would approve!

                                Recovering from a brief period of unemployment, I have become a bit of a penny pincher as of late and quite a fan of freebie websites, snapping anything up from shampoo to cat food. When I saw a link advertising free samples for this anti-blemish moisturizer I jumped at the chance to claim my sample, aware of just how spot-prone my skin can be. I cannot even pretend that I wasn't thrilled when I got my sample through the door. In this age of e-mail, I tend to get a little bit over-excited about any form of snail mail that is delivered to me (only to be crushingly disappointed when it turns out it's just more junk mail or a letter from my bank). Upon this occasion, I opened up the package to find a small tube of the product, a miniature 15 ml version of the full-size 100ml tube. Immediately I got a sort of earth child vibe from the packaging. It is a pretty light purple tube with curls and leaves as part of logo and proclaims to be free from animal ingredients, parabens and sodium laureth sulphate (the latter two chemicals have been said to have possible harmful effects). Its key ingredients are natural fruit extracts which they claim have a host of benefits for your skin... *~Mother Earth would approve!~* The Miracle Mattifier Moisturiser is part of an anti-blemish range which claims to use superfruits to create 'gentle, super-effective formulations...designed to make the most of your skin.' In this moisturiser we have blackcurrant, goji berries and liquorice extracts which are meant to reduce inflammation and keep spots and oiliness under control. Additionally, we have mango extracts and mango seed oil. Vitamins have been extracted from mangoes which are meant to provide an antioxidant boost to skin. The mango seed oil not only has antioxidant effects but it is said to be great for moisturizing skin and keeping it supple. All these juicy ingredients are included in a moisturizer which is supposed to nourish your skin and keep spots and oiliness under control. However, are these claims true? *~Smells Superfruity~* I have long been a believer in moisturizing my skin even when my skin is at its oiliest and spottiest worst, usually as a result of stress and exams. You may think that, if you have oily skin, moisturizing your face is only adding to the problem. However, if you do suffer from it and are using various spot-fighting products, you have to be careful not to strip off moisture when cleaning away any excess sebum. I always find that spot creams and sticks can dry out my skin and produce even more oil. I therefore try to counterbalance this problem by using a light moisturizer on a daily basis. When I first started using this moisturizer, I put a small amount of it on my clean hands and massaged it into my face, including my oily t-zone. The first thing that hit me when I was using it was the gorgeous fruity scent, no doubt as a result of the of the blackcurrants and goji berries. This is my favourite thing about the product. It smells absolutely glorious! As for its effect upon your skin, it rubs in really well and acts as a great base for makeup. I've now been using it for about two weeks now. It's hard to say whether it reduces my blemishes and controls my oily skin as I have an excellent toner that keeps my blemishes to a minimum (Garnier Pure Active Spot Purifying Toner, as reviewed 2 weeks ago). However, I have had very few blemishes using it and it seems like the perfect partner to my toner. It is light enough not to suffocate my pores and leaves my skin in a pretty good, well moisturized condition. *~A Miraculous Moisturizer?~* Whilst I enjoy this product, I wouldn't go so far to say it was miraculous. It isn't particularly life-changing and I would expect skin treatments from Mr G. Almighty to return my skin to its initial baby bum condition - or to make matters simpler, he could just give me Natalie Portman's face. So it may not be miraculous but it is at least very good. It's also great value for money. Where it is stocked it retails for around £7.99, the standard price for many moisturizers out there. However, I intend to buy my full-sized bottle of it from Superdrug online, which has priced it at £4.99 with free standard delivery. This is a great price for what is essentially a great quality product. The Miracle Mattifier Moisturiser is ideal for younger skin which may suffer from blemishes. It has been much more effective than the Clean and Clear moisturizer I was using previously and other moisturizers I've tried which are designed for those who suffer from spots. Not only does this moisturizer smell amazing but my skin appears healthier, softer and smoother to touch. It takes full advantage of natural ingredients and has provided me with satisfying results. For anyone with oily t-zones and skin that sometimes sprouts acne, this is certainly one to add to your skincare routine. *~Thank you very much for reading my review : - ) It seems a lot of my reviews are positive reviews these days. Seems I need to find something to complain about ;-) I'm quite good at complaining... ~* *~Also published on Ciao under username Renza - October 2011~*

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                                  22.10.2011 03:00
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                                  Fabulous hair to 'dye' for!

                                  I accidently dyed my hair a horrendous pillar-box red when I was a teenager and ever since then I promised myself I'd never dye my hair by myself again. I've stuck to salons and proper hairdressers since; keen to cover up the ugly natural hair colour I grew into - a weary combination of very dark blonde and grey light brown. For the past few years I had my mum's friend dye and cut my hair for a cheap £25. When she decided to open up her own salon, her prices shot up and I didn't really want to pay salon prices for a simple all-over colour and trim. I'd much rather save up my money for travelling and various other escapades. I therefore decided to give the home hair dye kit another go! *~GOING FOR THE SEXY RED HEAD LOOK~* The packaging for Schwarzkopf's Live Color XXL is distinctly eye-catching in comparison to the other brands out there. For starters, they have two attractive, if generic, models on the front - a man and a woman. In some ways, they look a bit like a couple, although none of us can deny it would be rather creepy to see a couple with 'his' and hers' matching hair shades. Certainly, it seems that Schwarzkopf are trying to appeal to both sexes in the marketing of their product. I can hardly imagine most men would pick up a box of Clairol's Nice and Easy or a similar brand with their pretty looking women on the packaging. To feature a man on the boxes of this product can only be a smart move to boost sales by drawing in the male demographic. One thing that really appealed to me about this product was the range of interesting shades that are on offer. The Color XXL brand covers four different product types including Colour Intense, Hot Reds, Luminance and Unlimited Gloss. The Colour Intense range includes pomegranate and Vitamin C-enriched dyes which are supposed to dye hair extra rich and intense colours including Absolute Purple, Cyber Purple and Cosmic Blue. The Hot Reds range similarly brings us exuberant colours that are designed to transform the user into a red head. In addition to this, we have Luminance and Unlimited Gloss. Luminance appears to be specifically targeted at those which dark hair who may have trouble lightening and colouring the hair particular colours. There is then Unlimited Gloss which professes to have a gloss boosting formula within its dye to give hair a glossy shine as well as strong colour. When I first noticed Color XXL I was working at Tesco and did spend a moment or two pondering over whether I could get away with a shade like Cyber Purple. No doubt I would have been sent home. Managers would have denounced it for being contrary to the corporate image and old 'dearies' at the checkouts would have clucked and tutted about my rebellious barnet. Or so I'd imagine. It's not like I was thinking about dying my hair bright pink... Having begun to start using a hair dye kit, I loved the look of the 'Cool Scarlet' shade included within the Hot Reds range. I'd dyed my hair red two years previously and had only ever stopped doing so because it faded so drastically, especially in the sun. However, I decided to give the red head look another go. And I suppose red hair is something that is considered by some to be rather sexy. Or at least I'd like to think so. Amy Adams, Emma Stone, Karen Gillen and Christina Hendricks - There's lots of gorgeous red heads out there. Now if only I had their looks and figures! *~THE APPLICATION STAGE: A BIT OF A CHORE?~* Having bought the dye, I never really look forward to the application stage as I consider it to be a bit of a chore. However, applying this product is not particularly difficult. Like other dye kits you are provided with a tube of colour crème, a bottle of developer, gloves and an instruction leaflet. Now, I do recommend that before you use the product you perform the recommended skin test 48 hours beforehand. I have read about horror stories of those who have suffered severe allergic reactions from the skin test alone, their faces ballooning to elephant-man proportions making them look like some sort of alien. Surely something nobody wants to happen to them... Once you are sure that you are not sensitive to the product, you can go right ahead and start using the dye. All you need to do is stick on the gloves, unscrew the lid of the developer bottle, squeeze the colour crème in and give it a good shake, making sure it's properly mixed together. You then apply it to your hair and wait 30 minutes... *~THE UNEXPECTED RESULTS~* After I have waited for half an hour, I'm ready to run my hair under the shower. I attempt to wash the red dye out of my hair and it runs into the bath. It's like the scene in 'Psycho'. I then proceed to use conditioner upon my hair and the great thing about the Hot Reds range is that they actually provide you wish a small tube of colour shield conditioner, designed to help lock the colour in when washing. I really like this conditioner. It lasts me for about two to three washes after dying my hair and leaves my hair feeling soft and manageable. The results of the dye itself were actually rather unexpected the first time I used it. The colour was darker than I had imagined it would be. It was a sort of rich dark brown and red combined - a red which really showed up in the sun or brighter lights. However, even if the colour was unexpected, it didn't stop me from loving it. If anything, I preferred the dark tones. As for the longevity of the colour, Schwarzkopf have claimed that the dye they provide retains up to 90% of colour after 30 washes. In most cases, I tend to be distrustful of claims like this. However, in this case, I have a lot of reason to believe that they may actually be right. In the past when I dyed my hair, I found that red shades were prone to fading and deteriorating in quality, especially when I spent time out in the sun. Nevertheless, I've never had this problem with this dye. I don't usually tend to dye my hair until 2 to 3 months after the last time I dyed it and I have been surprised at just how long my hair retains the colour before it starts to look lacklustre and in need of more dye. This is something not only I have noticed but my boyfriend and flatmates have picked up on it, commenting on how good my hair looks a good two months after I have dyed it. *~THE FINAL VERDICT~* When I last bought this product it was absurdly good value, priced at around £3 to £4 at my local Tesco (I cannot for the life of me remember the actual price). Even at its usual price of £4 to £5, I still think that it is great value as it is a product which really delivers. The Cool Scarlet dye which I used on my hair, not only produces a vibrant and interesting shade which I love, but it really enhances the look and condition of my hair. It leaves my locks shiny and a lot of the colour is retained more than two months after the previous occasion in which I dyed it. Overall, this is a top quality product which I recommend to those who would like to dodge a potentially quite expensive trip to the hairdressers to get their hair coloured. I am only too happy to turn my back on professional hairdressers. I have not only found a product which spares me the expense of salons but leaves me with fabulous hair... ...Fabulous hair which is to 'dye' for! *~Thank you for reading my review : - ) ~* *~Also published on Ciao under Renza - October 2011~*

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