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Ridley40

Ridley40
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Member since: 01.12.2012

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      04.02.2013 18:37
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      Tension between Mages and Templars comes to a head with explosive results.

      Dragon Age 2 starts with a choice of 6 back stories, but you have to be human, male or female. You can choose to be a rogue, a mage or a warrior, a choice which has a significant impact on the game. The story is told within a story, with a dwarven bard named Varic being hauled in by a Chantry Seeker to tell the story of Hawke.

      You are a character named Hawke, who is fleeing Lothering (destroyed in Dragon Age Origins) with their family, two siblings and their mother. If you play a rogue, or a warrior, you have fled from Ostagar. The family meet a templar named Wesley and his warrior wife, Aveline, named after the knight from ancient legend. They are rescued from a darkspawn horde and head to Kirkwall. They are refugees in Kirkwall, and find that the family fortune and estate has been gambled away by their mother's shady brother. After spending a year in indentured servitude the hero spends their time completing quests and raising money to finance a Dark Roads expedition (with the help of Varic).

      You meet Anders again (Dragon Age Awakening) who has become a much darker and sadder character. He takes a significant role within the narrative. You are joined by your sibling, Isabella (a lustful pirate captain who made a cameo in Dragon Age Origins), an elf named Fenris who has escaped from slavery in the Teinter Imperium, an elven blood mage named Merrill and Aveline, the knight from Lothering who has become a guardsman.

      There is intense tension in Kirkwall between Mages and Templars, fuelled by an over-zealous knight commander, whose deputy is Cullen (the Templar who was traumatised by his experience at the Ferelden Circle). There is also significant racial tension between elves and humans, and a group of Qunari who have settled in the slums.

      The game charts the rise of the Champion of Kirkwall (Hawke) and the corresponding rise of tension within the city. The tension between mages and templars, and between your companions, escalates into epic proportions. You have the opportunity to complete companion quests, and romance companions (all companions apart from Aveline are romance able by a Hawke of either gender.

      It's a great story with some fantastic characters, with Varic and Anders as highlights. There are things I really hate about it though. The elves are cartoonish caricatures and the Dalish have Welsh, Irish and Scottish accents, as though Bioware decided the three were interchangeable. The design is simply not as good as in previous games which is a shame, and unless you have a new, high definition television, the text is barely readable.

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      12.01.2013 14:40
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      Interesting expansion pack for Dragon Age Origins, notable for new companions.

      This is an expansion pack for Dragon Age Origins. Your Warden Player character - or an Orlesian outsider - has been assigned as Warden Commander, with his/ her own Arldom (kingdom). The game starts by the player beating back dark spawn from their new base of operations, vigil's Keep. You begin with a Grey Warden recruit who hasn't yet experienced the joining, and as you progress you meet up with a mage named Anders. He has some similarities to Alistair (from Dragon Age origins) but Anders is an apostate who has escaped from the Circle. When you meet him, he is attacking Dark spawn, which have killed his Templar guards (he is later blamed for this). The attack is punctuated by a maniacal dwarf who blows up a section of the Keep (later you can purchase explosives from him). After journeying up the tower, you hear a talking dark spawn, and have to rescue the Keep's Seneschal from his attackers.

      Afterward, the King / Queen of Ferelden (depending on your choices in the previous game) will visit with reinforcements for the Keep. You will be charged with rebuilding the Wardens and governing your land on behalf of the wardens. You will also meet Nathaniel Howe, son of Arl Howe (a corrupt nobleman, killed in Origins) - you have the option to recruit him into the Wardens.

      Oghren from Origins also turns up - I wasn't too fussed about him in the first game though, and would have preferred Leilana or Zevran. Anders is a great companion, funny and dark, who loves cats; you have the option to gift him a kitten, which he names Ser-Pounce-A-Lot. As well as some cute interactions, the cat has the ability to raise dead party members. You can gain three more companions later on; a cheerful dwarf in the Legion of the Dead; a psychopathic lady elf I wish I hadn't bothered to recruit; and a Spirit of Justice.

      As well as the ongoing battle against the Dark spawn, there is the conundrum of the talking Dark spawn leader, a missing Grey Warden and human caravans that are being slaughtered in the local area. You can pick up quests from various NPCs as well as options to complete companion quests which will make your companions more loyal, as well as giving them special abilities.

      This add on is a nice size, and didn't feel like a rip off.

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      07.01.2013 21:26
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      Dark, intelligent game incorporating moral complexity and politics. Not that many dragons.

      This was a Christmas Present and I absolutely love it. There are six origin stories, Mage, Noble Dwarf, Commoner Dwarf, Noble Elf, Commoner Elf, and Noble Human. I played a Mage, then a City (commoner) Elf.

      The kingdom of Ferelden is being attacked by dragons and dark spawn. There are some strong underlying themes of oppression and slavery, with elves who live among humans relegated to ghettos, and non noble dwarves restricted to the crime ridden slums of Dust Town.

      The fear is that Mages are likely to be possessed by demons, or that they will engage in blood magic (necromancy) and in an effort to prevent this, Mages are kept in extremely restricted communities known as 'Circles' where they are guarded by Templars. The templars are backed by the Chantry, the equivalent of our Church, and have a great deal of power over Magi. Some templars are represented as noble, pious men, others as power hungry zealots. Mages are subject to many rituals, from the Harrowing, a test of their ability to resist evil spirits, to the 'Tranquil Solution' where troublesome or dangerous mages are cut off from the Fade (spirit world), in a process that results in a person becoming docile and emotionless; it's the spiritual equivalent of a lobotomy.

      After the origin story, you are recruited into the Grey Wardens, an organisation that was founded in order to combat the periodic Dark spawn threat. At the Grey Wardens camp, you find the King and his general, Teryn Loghain, at loggerheads about the proper way to conduct a forthcoming battle. The King is young and idealistic; his general is more experienced and realistic. After undergoing the joining, the ceremony which completes your induction into the Grey Wardens, the Dark spawn attack. You and your fellow warden, a sarcastic and charming ex Templar named Alistair, are sent on a mission away from the fighting.

      After the battle, a near escape and a dark betrayal, you have to travel Ferelden to gather allies to fight against the pretender to the throne and the insidious Dark spawn threat.

      I am a big fan of Bioware games, like Never Winter Nights and Mass Effect, and this game measured up in terms of plot, game play and dialogue. The characters are genuinely witty, their loyalty quests are intriguing and it continues the LGBT friendly theme that Bioware is so known for. I prefer combat as a swordsperson - magic is a little frustrating as it requires so many steps. Would definitely recommend.

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      07.01.2013 20:56
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      Spy thriller set in Africa. Somewhat like Jack Higgins.

      This Agatha Christie book is a standalone thriller where a suicidal woman is offered a new and more exciting way out.

      The heroine, Hilary, has lost her husband to another woman and her baby to sickness. She is settled in a luxurious hotel populated by stereotypes; the rich magnate with a younger, spoilt wife; the impoverished, sour English spinster; the ebullient American widow; the elderly yet charming tycoon. None of these stereotypical tourists are what they seem, and when she begins her suicide attempt she is offered a different route. Hilary is persuaded to take the place of a plane crash victim in order to investigate a suspected Communist cell in North Africa

      Her journey through Africa and into the world of post war espionage renews her lust for life, just as she is catapulted into a life threatening situation.

      It's an entertaining new direction for the mystery writer but unintelligent. It nods to the threats of Fascism and Communism while exploring the way the 1950s middle class would holiday to exotic locations like Marrakesh and Casablanca.

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        30.12.2012 14:49
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        A medieval murder mystery with a twist.

        One of my favourite Ellis Peters books. Royal cousins King Stephen and Empress Maud are still competing for the throne, and the conflict has brought King Stephen to Shrewsbury, to take the fort held by William FitzAlan and Fulke Adeney. Brother Cadfael, monk, herbalist and former crusader, is brought a young boy named Godric as an assistant, and assumes his family has sent him to the monastery to protect the boy from conscription. Godric expresses loyalty to Empress Maud and Cadfael states his own neutrality, cautioning the boy not to be too open as there are tale tellers everywhere. The worldly monk soon discovers that 'Godric' is actually 'Godith' - and the daughter of Fulke Adeney!

        She was betrothed as a child to Hugh Beringar, an intelligent, cunning man now looking to find favour with the King. He seeks an audience with King Stephen at the same time as a young woman named Aline Siward, who has come to present the king with her house's loyalty. She explains that her brother should have done this, but that he has gone over to Empress Maud's party. Both Beringar and the King's right hand man, Adam Courcelle, take an interest in her, prompting a subtle rivalry between the two men. Courcelle escorts her to the abbey guest house that same evening. The King intimates to Beringar that if he secured Godith Adeney, that would help his prospects in court. Beringar goes in search of Godith, and overhears her former nurse, Petronilla, discuss both girl and the treasury of the fort, which has disappeared - he learns it is to move that very night.

        Later, a beggar glimpses a desperate looking man entering the King's camp, intent on making some sort of deal.

        The next day the army take Shrewsbury fort, and King Stephen has the garrison hanged to make an example, though FitzAlan and Adeney had escaped. The abbot fearfully asks the king to let him give the garrison Christian burials, and Cadfael takes charge of the work, and finds an extra corpse amongst those hanged - and demands the matter be investigated. The bodies are laid out, and the townspeople come to identify them. Aline Siward finds her brother Giles among the hanged, to Courcelle's great distress - the man returns a cloak with a particular clasp, a symbol of her family. Aline decides to donate her brother's clothing and asks Cadfael to distribute it.

        Cadfael shows Godith the 'extra' corpse and she identifies Nicholas Faintree, a squire she knew whilst growing up. The king gives Cadfael license to pursue the matter. He then visits Petronilla with a message from Godith. The nurse explains that Nicholas Faintree and another squire named Torold were tasked with moving the treasury, and that Beringar had come looking for Godith the day before. Meanwhile, Godith has gone harvesting with the rest of the novices, and comes upon Torold, injured and hiding in a mill. She brings Cadfael to treat him and the two strike up a friendship. He discovers Godith's true gender when they have a play fight, and they confide in one another. Cadfael plans their escape (along with the treasury), but becomes suspicious that Beringar is spying on them.

        Courcelle descends upon the monastery to search for Godith, who seeks refuge - with the treasury - in Aline Siward's house, knowing it is the one place he will not ransack. Aline protects her and the two women bond. Torold goes to collect Godith, and the two kiss. They begin their escape, pausing at an abbey outpost where they are confronted by Beringar. Later, Cadfael searches for clues - with a tip from the beggar that saw the suspicious man entering the King's camp - until there is a dénouement culminating in a duel between Beringar and Courcelle.

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          28.12.2012 18:18
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          A funny, sensitive exploration of faith from an atheist comedian.

          <p>I'm a big fan of Marcus Brigstocke's comedy, and opened the book expecting it to be funny - but I didn't expect his exploration of faith to be as respectful and interesting as it was. He opens by discussing a friend of his named James, who had died young, of heart problems. </p> </br><p>This prompted a crisis in faith, and he decided to explore the major religions in search of answers. He doesn't pull punches - atheists are called on their smugness, christians on their self entitlement, muslims on their misogyny. He talks about the horrible paradox of his atheism; he isn't any happier than people with faith, and almost wishes there was a god, but he can't find any representation of a higher power that he thinks is real.<p> He also discusses the complications of being a recovering addict and explains how groups for addicts are scrupulous about separating religious practice from that faith in a 'higher power'. <br>
          It's also brilliantly, laugh out loud funny. He outlines his problems with Dawkins (shared by many atheists) and shares anecdotes ranging from a racist priest to he and James (equally sober due to his heart condition) being thrown out of a club because the bouncer was convinced they were high. He explores the difficulties in being an atheist friend, and parent; celebrating the brilliance of his child, and furious that someone told his little boy that not worshipping god meant you would burn in hell for all eternity. He finishes by pondering on the concept of an afterlife, and hoping that such a thing is possible.

          It's a wonderful, surprisingly sensitive book, and well worth a read.

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          • Dell Inspiron 1520 / Laptop / 4 Readings / 3 Ratings
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            06.12.2012 20:42

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            Overall a good laptop, was a great investment and well worth the money.

            Had this laptop for 7 years now. I'm running Windows vista, with Microsoft Word and a Google Chrome browser for the internet. It was about £700, with a cherry red custom cover. (Which the annoyingly stone age shop assistant assumed would be the main draw for me).

            It's ideal for word-processing, freelance work and gaming, up to certain levels. This laptop has a high processing power and can cope with running fairly high spec computer games, including Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2, though it struggled with the Lair of the Shadow broker downloadable content. It has a relatively long battery life and the webcam is good, although it's not something I tend to use.

            It's still going, though it is missing a key and the CD drive has stopped working. There was a brief fault where a lead came loose, and the screen went completely dark, but I got it fixed at a local computer repair shop.

            Overall a good laptop, was a great investment and well worth the money.

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            02.12.2012 21:00

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            Religion, redemption and obsession.

            Alex-Li Tandem is a man who makes his living buying and selling autographs. He has a stunningly beautiful and intelligent girlfriend, Esther, and a wonderfully loyal best friend (her brother) despite being described as physically unattractive, unfaithful, and amoral. It is implied he has been deeply affected by the early death of his father, due to a brain tumour; perhaps taking refuge in a childhood hobby as a way to escape maturity and adulthood. He has an obsession - described as common within his field - with an obscure Hollywood actress from the 40s named Kitty. He smokes, takes drugs and drinks too much, yet has a morbid fear of cancer, and drinks a special Chinese medicine concoction to stave it off.

            There is a theme of the Jewish faith throughout the book. Alex keeps a diary he calls the 'Judaica' where he splits concepts, objects and body parts into 'goyish' and 'Jewish'. The book is interspersed with religious texts and humour. There are three rabbis (which sounds like a joke in itself) and his best friend Adam, is a handsome, mature, spiritual man who studies Kabbalah. Alex himself has a profound sense of the holiness of ordinary moments and things.
            A trip to America to visit an Autograph convention takes him closer to his dream woman.

            More salutary elements of Alex-Li's personality are revealed as he treats a woman famous for being a prostitute (implied to be Divine Brown) respectfully and chivalrously, and upon his return to reality (the UK) helps a broken down former autograph man.

            The book ends with Alex-Li finally saying Kaddish for his deceased father.

            A wonderful book, which stands more than one reading

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          • MAC Studio Fix Fluid / Make Up / 2 Readings / 2 Ratings
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            02.12.2012 19:54

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            My perfect foundation.

            I won't wear any other kind of foundation. I wear the NC15 shade as I have very pale skin which shows every blemish and scar. It gives me a smooth, even finish which makes a great base for powder and blush. My skin is pretty sensitive and it doesn't cause any breakouts or irritation. The creamy texture is heavy, but you can mix the foundation with tinted moisturiser for summer and use it unmixed for autumn winter. I have tried applying it with a brush, sponges and fingertips, but sponges seem to be the best, I struggle to blend it correctly with brushes. Simple, smooth triangle sponges are the most effective for even coverage.
            Store this Mac foundation out of sunlight and in a cool area as it separates easily. However it will last a long time and is exceptional value for money. Although a premium item, definitely worth the initial investment.

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            02.12.2012 19:44
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            Slagar comes back.

            I've been reading the Redwall chronicles since I was little. This is the story of the son of Matthias, warrior of the abbey of Redwall, and the revenge of Slagar. The fox Slagar and his mother formed an unlucky alliance with a horde of rats previous to the book, and were betrayed and slaughtered by them Slagar survived but has twisted the past in his brain so that he blames the peaceful abbey creatures. He kidnaps the children of Redwall in order to punish them, and the warriors, Jess Squirrel, Basil Stag Hare and Matthias, make chase. They meet up with other creatures and pursue the fox to the ends of the earth. Back home the abbey creatures have their own problems when they are attacked by a group of crows, looking for a retirement home in the warm. They step up and fight their own battles, with a climatic confrontation.

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          • Board Book:Is This My Nose? / Junior Book / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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            02.12.2012 19:34

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            Good for babies up to around 18 months.

            I read this book to my little god daughter. It has helped her learn what her facial features are, and encouraged her to ask about others, for example, eyebrows and hair (quite impressed that she's learned the word 'eyebrows'!).

            She still points at the pictures sometimes when you ask her where her nose is, but it's a great start. The repetition worked well for her and she seems to like it - the litmus test is that she gets to choose her own books and she frequently brings it over for me. She had a lot of fun pointing at the babies at the end as well. She's coming up for two now and chooses it less, but for about six months it was her firm favourite. There are babies of different colours and nationalities so it is quite inclusive. Would definitely recommend this book for little ones - and their parents.

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          • The Call of the Wild - Jack London / Junior Book / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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            02.12.2012 19:17

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            A dog sheds his training and returns to the wild.

            Essentially White Fang in reverse, but in my opinion, a vastly superior book. It follows the story of Buck, a dog from the 'soft southland' who is sold to a dog musher during a gold rush. He swiftly sheds his civilised veneer, stealing to survive and developing a rivalry with a cruel husky called Spitz. It follows his ascent, then his fall as he is sold over and over again, essentially being worked to death for the sake of money. When he and his team is bought by a group of incompetent hobbyists, he comes close to death before being rescued by a decent, Thoreau type of man named John Thornton, who gets by on his wits, gun and hunting skills. Thornton and his friends head into the wilderness to search for gold, with tragic consequences that leads to Buck turning truly feral. Primal strength, civilisation and greed are central themes in this book, with most tragedies being triggered by the desire for gold.

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            01.12.2012 20:24

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            The nature of humanity and morality explored.

            One of Phillip K Dick's best. I am probably in the minority in preferring it to Bladerunner - apparently even PK Dick preferred the noir film to his original manuscript. Like in The Kraken Wakes I find the 'whimper not a bang' narrative a lot more satisfying and realistic than a dystopia. There is a theme of veneration of animals, along with a steady degeneration of humans on earth, who pretend it's not happening in order to preserve their sanity. The government are frantically promoting mass emigration to the colonies, along with promotion of a new religion, Penfield organs that improve mood, and a worldwide syndicated television show, all of which solace and soothe the population. There's a great exploration of what it means to be human; comparing humanoid androids, humans, humans who have had their brains damaged by radioactivity, animals and electric animals. It measures empathy and intelligence against one another in a kind of arena of worth.

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            01.12.2012 20:09

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            A 50s style exploration of the nature of reality.

            The book starts in an idyllic 50s town, where a man earns his living by entering a newspaper contest (somehow earning enough to support himself). He stays with his sister and her family, and is dallying with a neighbour's wife. He begins to suspect his world is an illusion, and tries to get away from it, failing at every attempt. The first half of the book, centring on this world, is excellent. I dislike the second half, which lurches into an ill fitting sci-fi universe with clumsy oriental references. I read elsewhere that the tack on was demanded by his editor, who liked pulpy fiction stories.

            The book employs the false memory trope, and includes the common Phillip K Dick uncertainty about the nature of reality. The trigger for his memories is a magazine featuring Marilyn Monroe - a perfect symbol in this tale, as her apparent perfection masked a much more tragic and turbulent life.

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            01.12.2012 19:48

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            Witty analysis of the end of the world, with a note of hope at the end.

            Possibly my favourite book ever. It follows the adventures of a couple who write radio documentaries together, who witness the first indication of the end of the world, on their honeymoon. It follows the development of the crisis through their eyes, with provocative scientist Bocker acting as a Cassandric messenger whom nobody ever quite believes - but who grasps the nature and scope of the crisis almost immediately. It is divided up into three parts, the first their introduction to the phenomena, the second it's development and the third l'écroulement de angleterre. It has been labelled a 'cosy catastrophe' in that none of the principal characters suffer too much; both the UK and the World try to go on as normal until it becomes impossible; but this seems more realistic to me than the sudden and brutal degeneration popular in most apocalyptic fiction. It also gently mocks the predictable nature of both politicians and the press, who are more concerned with scoring points and increasing their circulation figures than they are about the end of the world. It's also way ahead of it's time with a pertinent eco message.

            Great book.

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