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angiepanj

angiepanj
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    • Cell - Stephen King / Fiction Book / 26 Readings / 25 Ratings
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      13.02.2007 23:37
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      I'm sure I've read this before..

      This was the first Stephen King book that I've read in ages, possibly because it was the first new one my library got in for a while, but also because I've gradually gone off the whole horror genre thing over the last few years. I don't mind the goreyness when it goes along with a decent storyline, for example in Everville by Clive Barker, where I feel quite horrific scenes are balances by frequently beautiful world he invents, thus leaving a bare minimum of a bad taste in your mouth. What I do mind and really don't like is when the horror doesn't have much of a backup, like in Stephen King's Needful things, where he appeared to be horrible to his characters for the sake of it.

      It was therefore with a certain amount ofr trepidation that I decided to attempt this book - with Stephen King books I'm never sure whether I'm going to get a dark fantasy (which I like) or lots of pointless gore (which I don't have much of a stomach for really). Since our local library is small and therefore has quite a limited selection of books, I decided that being a free read, Cell was worth the attempt at least. I've always been a bit of a sucker for the whole post apocalyptic thing and any number of zombies may be forgiven (Ifeel) in an end of the world story, as long as there's a good strong narative.

      The story centres around one man (Clayton.... is it me or is this name kind of familiar? Having read quite a lot of king novels and knowing his penchant for name dropping his own characters I wouldn't be suprised. Feel free to let me know if he has been mentioned in anything else). Clay is an illustrator who has just made itin the career of his choice. He is a quirky, good humoured young man (although not all that young - he is old enough to have a wife an child), quite a likeable character all in all. The reader is introduced to Clay as he wanders through town, portfolio in one hand and in the other, the gift he has just bought for his wife with his first very respectable pay cheque.

      At this point I did vaguely wonder how he managed to fund a wife and child (age 7) without having areasonably paid job. That could just be because I'm pregnant and obsessive at the moment. Anyhow, Clay is just sitting down on a bench in a park to eat his lunch, when he notices a woman talking on her cell phone. A couple of minutes later the world turns into a very strange place indeed, as everyone who has a cell phone with them (or at least those who decide to answer them) go very insane and begin to eat one another.

      Clay survives the initial breakdown in civilization and sets out on a journey to find his son, who may or may not have had his phone with him when the world as we know it came to an end.

      I found the story, as ever with Stephen King, very readable, the narrative carried me along nicely and made sure I kept wanting to read the next couple of pages before I turned out the light, much to the annoyance of my other half. Stephen King does humanity well, producing very nicely balanced, well rounded characters when required and awesomely convincing nutters on occasion too. Whilst there is a certain lack of realism when you consider the subject of the plot - the chances of the world coming to an end and everyone being turned into zombies is hopefully quite low - Stephen king is able to apply a concept to a world of his own making with a large degree of success, so that the reader can, within the boundaries of the created world, take the concept seriously enough to be able to get to the end of the story without putting down the book for a good laugh halfway through.

      Parts of the story line seemed to be less well thought out than with his fantasy stories, for example, I thought that more could have been done with the psychic powers developed by the zombies (oh yep). I certainly could have lived without these mysterious powers appearing during the book but they were well considered - he manages to produce for the sceptical reaader a reasonably believable explanation for them, even though I do not feel they add much to the story line overall. His characters are a well written and plausible as ever, and as likeable, his demons (or rather, baddies) are as crazy and haunting as they have been in his previous books, the scenery nicely painted, the motivations understandable.

      All in all, although I did enjoy this book, generally I didn't feel that it brought anything to the world that hadn't already been offered in one of his previous books. Although the specific subject itself - apocalypse caused by mobile use - is a new one, the story line simply does not live up to the standard of The Stand for example, where he covers the subject of the end of the world in a more mythic, epic and human fashion. I feel that if I had not read his previous works, this book would have been much more enjoyable than I found it on this reading. Even in terms of value for money - you get fair number of pages for your money, but if you want really good value for money, you could just read The Stand, which is at least twice as long, more horrific and definately more haunting.

      The verdict - I did enjoy this read, but at the same time I can't help feeling glad that I did get it from my local library instead of buying it!

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      • mothercare.co.uk / Internet Site / 24 Readings / 23 Ratings
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        12.02.2007 22:54
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        Good value for money as long as you know exactly what you want.

        As I'm now just over six months pregnant and unable to fit into anyof my pre pregnancy clothing, I decided ot shop around for some nice maternity gear to cheer myself up with. When you get this big you start to feel slightly unattractive and so every little helps. I got some nice stuff on this site and at quite a reasonable price too, although I do feel that the overall customer service isn't all its cracked up to be.

        The Site:

        The website has a nice, light, bright colour scheme with lots of primary colours as you would expect from a shop specializing in small children. It's a good site for those who aren't used ot internet shopping, or who as new parents are possibly feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, in that its very basic and therefore easy to find your way around. The main index page is sectioned into current events (currently a grand toy sale), what to pack in your maternity bag (something I'm already thinking of referring to just in case - never hurts to be over prepared), and a very welcome further reductions section. At the top of the page is a row of tabs containing the various sections in the shop. Everything is very self explanatory and simple.

        The site is ideal for the marketplace it is trying to reach. Everything you could possibly need for your child can be bought from this site, from nursery furniture to baby toiletries. There is even a check list section to help parents with everything from getting their child to sleep to home safety.

        The other very useful part of this site is the resource centre. I have registered for this an every week as my pregnancy progresses I receive an update on how the baby is developing, what I could expect it to look like and what I can expect next from my pregnancy. There are entertaining pregnancy diaries, based on the lives of women in various different situations, so that all random browsers can read about a woman like herself and be suitably reassured.

        The Products

        Having got a while before I need to buy any baby stuff, I headed right for the maternity section and was pleased to find that some maternity items are still at sale prices. Despite maternity clothing being only something you wear for four to five months at a time and then put away for a few years at least (lets just see how this first one goes shall we?) it is unfortunately amazingly expensive. Maybe you pay extra for the limited market, or maybe its just that it takes so much more material to make, or possibly a combination of the two, but buyingsomehting that doesn't mae you feel like a giant beach ball or something equally frumpy at a reasonably low outlaw is no mean feat. This mothercare sale was therefore a godsend for me. The maternity clothing ranges from classic to comfy passing through fashioable and sparing it quite a decent glance. As is als traditional with maternity weat though, be prepared for quite a lot of it to come in basic black. Very practical for day to day use, although a little bit boring after a while. Still, its not for long.

        Having ordered and found my way successfully through checkout after following the nice bright orange signposts which say checkout(easy even for pregnant people and considering how much my brain has melted when it comes to everything but babies, this must be a simple process), its a matter of entering my credit card details in the boxes provided and promptly forgetting excactly what it was I ordered, then sitting back and waiting for whatever it was to come.

        Fortunately, they do send you an email confirmation so that you don't have to remember what you ordered on your own. Unless of course you accidently delete it or put it into a folder in your email account that has nothing to do with shopping.

        Anyway - the good arrived as described and well packaged, with clear concise returns instructions. In terms of the clothing itself, I found it all good quality (unlike the stuff I got in New Look which looks like its going to go at the seams at any minute), although the sizing is a bit big. Before I got pregnant I was a size 12, and so, as instructed I ordered my maternity clothing in the same size, but when I got it I found that this was way to big for me, even taking into account the amount of weight I've put on over the course of my pregnancy. The returns instructions I got with the items stated that I could phone to arrange for a collection, although it warned me that there may be a charge, which I didn't fancy, I could drop it into a local store, or return it via the post office. Being of a suitably lazy disposition at the moment and knowing my mum was going shopping in Truro - the only vaguely local place which has a Mothercare, I asked her to drop it in for me, assuming that the returned goods would be credited back to my card. Sadly this was not the case and my mum dropped the goods in excpecting the same but was given vouchers instead, so in effect I ended up spending money on stuff that didn't fit and rather being given a refund I was expected to exchange the goods, despite this not being mentioned anywhere in the returns policy.

        The Verdict

        Make sure you buy the correct sized clothing from Mothercare whilst buying over the internet, and don't treat it like other catalogues - they don't like to take your returns and make it very difficult for you to get your money back.

        The goods themselves are good quality and I am very happy to keep and wear those which actually fit me out of the stuff I originally ordered. The range isn't bad but don't expect high fashion. Cost is reasonable and sales run regularly which are worth looking out for.

        In terms of baby gear, they have a fairly exhaustive range on the site, and its great in terms of advice for first time mothers like myself, as well as having a very basic, easy to navigate layout.

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        • Budget-bumps.co.uk / Online Shop / 28 Readings / 27 Ratings
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          12.11.2006 14:20
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          Hmmm... haven't tried the service but don't think I will..

          Since I'm now officially on my way to becoming a mother, I though that I would take advantage of this and begin to look at reviewing a whole new world of products. Although I do have about five months to go, having just reached the four month mark, my belly is already about three times the size it was previously and I'm down to about four outfits that I can still comfortably wear. This being the case, I thought it was about time to start looking for clothing alternatives. MY fist attempts took me into the realms of charity shop shopping, all very successful at first, although I've now gone from a size 12 to a size 14-16 in terms of what will actually fit me and look vaguely normal. I'm trying my best to avoid wearing stuff that looks sack like.

          I deeply and completely resent the idea of paying full price for clothing that I'm only going to be in for a few months at the most and which is then going to be consigned to a suitcase on top of my wardrobe and ignored until (there's always the possibility I suppose) the next one comes along and the whole process has to start again from scratch. My partner has already informed me that he would like to have another one within two years of the first one being born. I'm currently a bit less enthusiastic about the idea, but then I'm the one with the large belly and he isn't.

          So, I really don't want to pay full price for maternity clothing, but at the same time I really miss my small flirty tops and skirts. My shape is changing more and more every day and whilst its all well and good to talk about that pregnancy glow, I've lived in this body for a very long time and it and me had got very comfortable with each other. Its a bit disconcerting to find your appearance differing so much from the way you're so used to thinking of yourself looking. So I've finally admitted that buying clothes two sizes too big from charity shops, whilst it may be worthy and frugal, and generally help me to budget for when baby does arrive, since we're going to be very hard up for a while there, isn't doing anything at all for my state of mind and general happiness. I want to wear nice girly stuff while I still can! After all, in about six months time, everything I own is going to get milk, poo, wee and baby sick all over it.

          So a nearly new budget maternity website seemed like the solution to all my problems.

          At first glance the site is very simple. The graphic on the front page is a pale teal image of a woman with a large belly. This can be clicked on to get into the main site, or alternatively along the bottom of the page is a list of the various departments in the store. The site makes it veryeasy for you to give them money, not only do they accept Visa, Mastercard, Switch and the other usual suspects, but for those who prefer online payment methods, they also take Paypal and Nochex.

          On entering the main body of the site, the setup remains very simple. On the left hand side is a menu containing the various categories of items they sell - clothing, lingerie, for baby etc. All well easy to use and find. The centre of the page has a double row of pictures with links to the same categories. On the right hand side is a list of links to useful stuff, like how to find the correct side in maternity clothing, and a general guide to which stage in your pregnancy you should be wearing maternity clothing. This is quite entertaining in a way. It says

          "For your own comfort you will need a good support bra and take a look at our specially designed lingerie to boost your confidence and make yourself feel special! You can still look and feel sexy when pregnant."

          Ha! Has anyone ever felt or looked sexy in a support bra! I'm wearing them because I have to, but they're like being strapped up in a surgically elasticated hammock. Possibly the least sexy thing that has ever found refuge on my body. Yuk. The worst thing is having to wear them at night too. Makes a mockery of nice night dresses when you have these fat elastic straps over your shoulders underneath them. They're also cut much higher than normal bras, so low cut tops are out as well.

          Back to the website...

          Although not the most exciting place I've ever explored on the web, it is very functional and easy to use. White background with black writing in aerial font, with the occasional green belly-woman.

          As far as the products themselves, they don't have much in the way of variety of stock, the items were not what I was looking for at the time, and the prices aren't that much cheaper than going onto the high street and having a look at New Look's new maternity range for example. Since this is a second hand clothing site you may be wondering what else I expected, and maybe you're right and I have been thoroughly spoilt by spending time on the maternity section of Ebay. I do expect a bit more for my money when it comes to second hand clothing though. The lingerie section is as I expected. There's really not a lot you can do with a meternity bra or a support bra to make it look pretty. The baby gifts and toys section didn't have toys in it, although there were gifts aplenty - working mum calendars, baby books and hand and foot casting kits.

          The site also has a range of t shirts with witty pregnancy slogans such as 'baby on board' 'bun in the over' and the considerably less witty 'pregnant'.

          The reason for the lack on available merchandise can be seen from looking at the 'something to sell' section of the site.

          "Budget Bumps will expect to receive and inspect all goods BEFORE payment is sent and if we deem to goods to be not worth the asking price ( i.e. quality not as described), we shall return the goods, less an appropriate quantity or value of items to cover our return postage."

          Seems fairly reasonable, if a bit picky - personally I'd rather pay postage than lose items I could get more money for elsewhere (Ebay for example).

          Then we get onto:

          "All clothing should be freshly laundered and ironed and undamaged. No tears, holes or marks. Please ensure that items do not smell of cigarette smoke and are securely packaged in both paper AND plastic packaging. This should avoid damage in transit.

          When sending more than 6 items, please use a BOX to avoid creasing and damage."

          Yep also reasonable, if a bit more picky...

          "Any items received marks and/or creased will require laundering and pressing by ourselves and a deduction of £1 PER ITEM will be made from the price we agreed to pay you."

          Could be be but I think that's harsh. And bad English. So basically if am item gets creased in the post, they knock a quid off the amount they pay you? Now let me see - budgetbumps or ebay...... I wonder where I'll sell my stuff...

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          • Antenatal Care / Parenting Issue / 24 Readings / 20 Ratings
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            12.11.2006 01:08
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            Wish I had an outside source to grumble too, not just my poor boyfriend!

            I am pregnant. I am undoubtedlyand completely about as pregnant as you can get at the 16 week stage. I'm shell shocked, living in a house share, and have no clue about anything to do with babies. This wasn't a planned pregnancy, as you may have gathered. I'm really not sure what I'm doing at the moment and am quite frankly a bit worried about the whole thing. So far my antenatal care consists of two midwife appointments (one at 9 weeks and another to happen at 18 weeks) and one scan (around 15 weeks). I'm reading lots of books, which helps, but I can't help thinking that the whole thing would be a lot more comprehensible and a lot less scary if antenatal classes started much earlier in pregnancy.

            Yep, ok, I know that its a normal natural thing to undertake at some point in your life, and hey, I am now 29 so it's probably about time I did sort out my biological urges. It would be nice though if there were any kind of support group (yep I know that's probably the wrong term for it as pregnancy is meant to be a happy and fulfilling experience), but some form of support out there where you could gather with other shell shocked newly pregnants in groups with lots of fizzy orange (my current craving) and talk about the pros and cons of pelvic floor exercies, how your other half is coping with things, and just generally reassure each other that everything you are currently semi psychotically (I do mean that - I'm more irritable now than I was when I was a teen, and that was pretty bad) thinking and feeling is perfectly normal.

            You see, pregnancy, for those of you who don't know, is a bit like being possessed by this semi-benevolent entity, who will take over your body and brain - you eat stuff you wouldn't have looked twice at a few months ago and can't face stuff that you previously thought was really good food, your brain turns to goo and you can't carry out more than simple instructions, but you suddenly get really good at homey things like mortgages, joint bank accounts, interest rates and putting up wall paper. And I've also started making my own Christmas decorations.

            The care I've received so far has been very good. I do feel medically pressent and accounted for. My urine has been exhaustively tested (that's quite apart from the five tests I originally took when I first found out I was pregnant, just to be absolutely sure) for proteins and sugars, my blood has been tested for any evil diseases which could hurt my foetus, and I've been instructed in the use of folic acid. Personally, emotionally though, a little more reasurrance would have been nice. Pregnant people aren't logical, even though I've ben checked for everything nasty and cleared, I'm still more than capable of worrying. Antenatal classes, which teach you how to give birth (yep I need lessons in that even if there are lots of people who just get on with it!), and babycare after the birth are still a long way off, around the 26th week to be precise. It would just be nice to be able to feel like I know what I'm doing before then. Ten weeks seems to be a very long time!

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            • More +
              19.06.2006 21:05
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              Good if you like your food and fairies

              I am what could quite easily be described as a fairly indiscriminate, voracious reader. Basically,
              if it has a story line I will quite happily pursue it, regardless of genre. I read Cecilia
              Dart-Thornton's first trilogy about a year ago, and was pleasantly surprised by its dark drama,
              very twisted plot lines, and not entirely happy ending (shan't say any more incase I spoil it for
              you).

              Whilst randomly bumbling about on Amazon, I was pleased to discover that she is attempting a
              second trilogy, and immediately got myself a copy of the first volume of it. The synopsis on the
              back cover was much lighter than that of her first works, but I thought to myself that if she could
              manage to entertain me as much with her second load of books as she did with the first I would
              be very happy to read a happier story. Possibly whatever angst she was carrying around with her
              managed to be incorporated into her first lot of novels leaving room for a nicer, chirpier style.
              Don't get me wrong - I wasn't expecting comedy, although in places that is just what this book
              provides, although I'm not entirely sure whether this is accidental or on purpose.

              Despite the maxim "don't judge a book by it's cover", in the name of reviewing an item entirely,
              that's where I'm going to begin..

              Cover Art

              The cover art for this novel is uncoincidentally, very similar to that of her other novels. The
              greenery gives the whole a very organic feel, reminiscent of the swamplands where the main
              character ends up, whilst the central picture glows with the burnt oranges and browns of the
              desert where the story begins. Under the title (written in green to contrast with the nice bluey
              sky), a lone rider sits astride a horse, staring out at what could, with a little stretch of the
              imagination, be considered the horizon. Meet the main character, Jarred. His hair is the colour
              of cardamom, and occasionally has colour so rich that it flows like gravy (oh yep! she does say
              that), all the village maidens find him irresistible, and he has lots of friends. What colour is
              cardamom exactly? I always thought they were kind of grey but the blokey on the front colour
              doesn't seem to have grey hair... or green for that matter, they're sometimes green too aren't they?

              Anyway, please excuse my unasked for moment of frivolity... (his hair's like gravy!! Gravy! Will
              have to find the page number so you can have a look but really, honestly, she does say that). So
              welcome to the cover.

              The Book

              Oo the title of this section is evocative. Being a nice brand new book, it still smells papery and
              new. I managed to read this one without dropping it in the bath, which makes a change as its one
              of my favourite places to read. At the very beginning of the book is a glossary, informing the
              reader about the names of the various seelie and unseelie wights inhabiting the pages of the book,
              and the pronunciation thereof. So far so good. Always better to know how to say things before
              reading about them, as it saves the effort and embarrassment of having to bleep over the names
              as you read them. There is then a pretty map, followed by the introduction, which is written by
              an unknown chronicler. All very traditional, although most books put the glossary at the back. I
              sense your patience is waning, and so I will go to probably the most important part of the review,
              skipping over the pretty leaf designs at the top of the pages and the references at the back. These
              you will never learn about from this review!

              The Novel

              I know this section has a similar title to the last, but in the last I was talking about the physical
              aspects rather than the plot, characterisation and such like.

              The story goes like this - Jarred is born in the desert. When he was a little boy (and not the big,
              strong, handsome, gravy haired man he is now), his father left the village. His father was not a
              village man, but a wandering chap who had come to visit and never managed to leave. Before he left
              he gave Jarred an amulet, telling him that this would keep him safe from any kind of harm.
              Jarred duly grows up, safe from the various hauntings and earthquakes that his fellow villagers
              suffer, and one day decides to leave town. He kisses his mum farewell, takes the packed lunch
              she made for him, an assortment of bells and charms and goes off with a gang of childhood
              friends to make his fortune.

              Sometime later, he arrives in the swamp lands, falls for a girl (Lilith - a nice archetypal name if
              ever I saw one)leaves the village, gets set upon by bandits, and then loses a wager with one of his
              friends involving the accuracy of his stone slinging, which then frees him to return to the village
              to court and marry Lilith.

              And they all should live happily ever after.... but DO THEY??

              Nope, I shan't tell you... I'm not going to reveal any more of the plot line than is strictly necessary
              to put together a coherent review. For example if I said, "well, I'm not going to tell you what this
              book is about cos then you'd know what it was about and wouldn't need to read it" that would just
              be silly as you wouldn't have any idea of whether the book was good or bad and you wouldn't
              bother to read it anyway. I will however, give you an amazing show of self restraint and tell you
              to read it if you want more.

              The Writing

              Here we get to the crux of the problem. Here is a woman who has spent years and years
              researching folklore, written down her research in no particular order, shuffled it up a bit for
              good measure, typed it all out in bits and pieces and then tried to put together lots of bits of
              storyline in the middle to try to join them all up. In places it really works, the underlying
              mythology helps her to design a magical world, where football exists along side fairies of various
              dispositions, where druids act like tax men and the aristocracy is nicely corrupt. In others, it
              creates quite pointless loose ends, for example, when Jarred is a teenager, he goes off after a
              football game to find a spy glass that his friends left behind in the grass. He finds it just before
              darkness falls, and in his haste to get home before the fairies come out and his mother starts
              worrying (despite the magical amulet) he takes a short cut home over a haunted bridge. At this
              stage you may be thinking - worried about fairies so he goes for ghosts instead.. hmmm... logic?
              Anyway, young Jarred gets attacked on his way across the bridge by a wight of some sort which
              hangs onto him with its skeletal arms and then disappears when he reaches the village. For the
              rest of the book I found myself looking out for what had happened to the beastie from the bridge
              and trying to find the place in the plot where the reason for this strange happening would crop up
              and all would tie in. It wasn't there! There are similar beasties which do equally meaningless (in
              the grand scale of the plot line) things. There is also the way her descriptions involve food stuffs.
              This I find quite bizarre and a little disturbing, but she is consistent in this - it does continue
              throughout the book.

              Jarred is possibly a little too good to be true, but then so is Lilith (until Things Happen), the
              storyline which is at first fairy tale like and simple begins to swirl and twist and turn in a very
              satisfying fashion later in the book, the majority of characters are well written, well portrayed and
              likeable. The scenery is fantastic, as are the various characters (i.e., wights and ghosts and
              brownies) that inhabit it and make it what it is. I liked the ending too.

              Conclusion

              All in all an enjoyable read if you can make it through the first part, with its weirdly disjointed
              feel. Its almost as though Cecilia Dart-Thornton is a bit out of practice when she starts but then
              manages to get back into the swing of things once she's got all that rambling on out of her
              system. Either that or she's in such a desperate hurry to portray the surrounding world and build
              up her characters that in the first couple of hundred pages she forgets the need for a storyline.
              My advice would be to ignore the food analogies and persevere with the pointless happenings
              what crop up now and then. Grab the story by the throat, give it a good shake to put it in its place
              and by the end of all this persevering, you will hopefully be quite happy with the resulting
              ending.

              In the spirit of the ending I have one last thing to say.....who would WANT to have hair like
              gravy? Thick and slimy and smelling of beef? No thanks!

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              • neopets.com / Internet Site / 29 Readings / 22 Ratings
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                18.06.2006 22:09
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                Free games, pretend pets which don't poo, fake stockmarket, and lots of shiny things!

                I drag myself away from the site, determined to put type to screen to review the one site which keeps on relentlessly dragging me back, time and time again...

                So what, you might find yourself asking, is a 28 year old doing messing around on a site based on the keeping of virtual pets?? Its a question I often ponder myself, and yet I'm still hanging around on it, playing the pointless games, hoping to save up my fake money to buy by fake pet nice things and to earn new avatars for the chat boards that I rarely actually go onto.

                And there are hundreds of games.. whatever your fancy, from hit the soft toy with a stick games, to solitaire and RPGs. From the games you earn neopoints- the aforementioned fake money.

                What is it for?

                The site was originally created by a bunch of students, who, unable to have their own pets with them at college decided to create virtual versions. Years later, following many changes, expansions and with the addition of a healthy (or unhealthy - depending on your viewpoint) dose of commercialism, we have the all singing (oh yep), all dancing site you can see in front of you today. Whilst Neopets still has all of the original charm that longtime visitors have come to enjoy and probably take for granted, members do now have to put up with a certain number of animated banner adverts appearing on the pages. The only downside of this as far as I can see is that it makes the pages take longer to load. Undoubtedly, the current site owners are making a substantial amount of money from ads, merchandising toys, games (there's even a playstation game out but I've never played it), films (releaesd in america anyway) and t-shirts, but this commercialism doesn't affect the quality of the game playing to a significant extent. The students have long since sold the site, but nonetheless, it certainly fulfils the purpose for which it was originally intended. Despite the commercialism, the owners haven't fallen prey to the evil that is popup advertising either.

                Site Layout

                When you enter the site, the first page you come to is bright and attractive, if a little busy. On the left hand side of the page is a friendly side bar with quick links to explore the virtual world, games, message boards, shops, news and neomail. This side board stays with you on almost all the pages of the site, so it is quite hard to get lost whilst exploring. On the right hand side is a summary of the current news in Neopia (the land where your virtual pet lives). The centre of the page lists events currently underway, provides links to a couple of the games on offer, links to graphics available for download, merchandise on sale and the Neopian Stock Market (see? something for everyone, as long as you can handle the whole virtual pet thing).

                All in all, although the first impression may be of a rather messy site, the addition of the side bar makes the whole thing quite easy to navigate. There is also a search option on the left hand side, although this provides a very specific search of the site, so you need to be fairly precise in what you are searching for.

                The rest of the site is much more intuitive to use. The various pages (and there are a lot of them) continue to reflect the cutesy, cartoony fluffy animal theme of the first page (possibly to excess)and I feel that in general, once the premise of virtual pets, worlds, money, shops and houses has become acceptable, you won't have too much difficulty finding your way around the site.

                The animation of the games is good, although they may run a little fast if your internet connection is a very high speed, making your score slightly lower. A lot of the site has been written in flash though, so you will need to have the currently version installed. Most of the games are flash too, although there is an odd one that isn't (such as solitaire). Games do open in new windows too, so in some cases it may be necessary for you to turn off your pop-up blocker.

                What does it do?

                First pick your pet. There are 54 pet types, some of them more difficult to get than others. Of the 54, there are 12 which are either limited addition or restricted pets which you have to fulfil certain conditions inorder to get to. An example of this is the Krawk, which can only be grown from an egg, and then hatched in a 'secret' cave on a hard to get to part of the site.

                Once your pet is created you begin to earn Neopoints. These can be used to spend on virtual items to make your pet happier, feed it, doctor it, change its colour, species or intelligance level, increase its fighting stats, or just brighten up your user lookup. The Neopoints can come from playing games, buying, selling and trading items, or random events, to name a few.

                The aim of the game can be basically whatever you want it to be - the options are many. You could collect avatars - made available by random events or the purchasing of certain items or just clicking on the right part of the site, collect stamps, or if you aren't the collecting type battling your pet against other pets or just making your user lookup as pretty as possible is another option. Joining up also makes available a certain amount of webspace that you can use for whatever you want to.

                Personally - I just spend lots of time on the games and trying to improve my score!

                Verdict

                This is a free site which is a lot of fun and which also has a good sense of community. I would recommend it to children of all ages or even to adults with a little spare time on their hands, who feel like getting away from their usual browsing, althoughh, be warned - it can be a little addictive. I prefer it to other virtual pet sites I've tried, such as Powerpets (which is quite good but with poorer graphics and much more difficult to acheive aims). The ability of the player to interact with his fellow gamers gives the whole a more open feel, and also produces a sense of competiveness which is missing from some other online gaming sites, meaning that there is always something new to aim for, even when your current goal has been fulfilled. A game which could keep both your kids, and possibly you, occupied for hours.

                Whilst I know I haven't covered all of the options, quests and playing possibilities offered by this site, I feel that if I do say anymore I will be instructing readers on the playing of the game rather than writing a review, so, before this becomes a game guide, let me just say thanks for reading, and I hope it was enjoyable!

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                • More +
                  02.07.2004 18:34
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                  • "junk mail!"

                  I regularly send off for lots of junk, purely on the grounds that if I don't have to pay for it, no matter how useless the object is it must be good. I actually came across this site wandering through dooyoo, and seeing that it hadn't had any reviews as yet, thought I would give it a go. Especially since it appears to have lots of Stuff available at zero cost. The front page for this site is very straightforward, so at first impression the site is very easy to navigate. The left hand site has a menu of free things, the right a menu of special offers- obviously where the site gets its revenue from. No pop-ups on this page though, so it must be doing quite well. The page is fast to load, and whilst not the most attractive website in the world (black and white and a beigey colour for the headings), it does everything it needs to. Reading the about us page, the site has been going since 2000, which is pretty good for a site of this nature. It has its own personal server (good for the high volumes of traffic of which it boasts), and had a dead link reporting feature. All very useful in making sure the stuff is still available and still as free as when the original entry was posted. Free email is available- I didn't try this out as I have too many email addresses and didn't feel the need for another one. The site will also provide you with an update newsletter once a fortnight to let you know about any extra stuff they've listed. Another link provides a long list of testimonials where people who have had good free stuff write about how wonderful their stuff is. The freebies they have vary from books and magazines to windows freeware, and includes good stuff such as shampoo free samples, food and drink and pet food. I sent off for a couple of samples, and got a free baileys froth maker thingy and some free shower gel within a week. So
                  not bad at all really. I did notice though, that whilst Ciao! is listed in their Web Currency section- there's no sign of dooyoo as yet! I may email the Webmaster to see if this can be corrected. I found this site on whole very easy to navigate, the freebies actually work, and the offers and bargains have comparison engines which allow to you see what you can save on phone, gas, electricity or ISP. Very good value for money considering you don't have to spend a penny to use the services this site provides. So all in all, despite the vague yuckiness of its decor, this site is very good at doing what it does, very straightforward, although in signing up to the offers you may end up inundated with junk mail via post and email, this is as a result of the companies you send off to for free stuff and not because of this site selling on your info. The junk can be annoying, but you do get it in exchange for lots of stuff, which you may someday find useful. Just goes to show really- there isn't such a thing as a free lunch.

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                  • All About Music / Archive Music / 0 Readings / 18 Ratings
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                    01.07.2004 20:32
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                    Had to have a go at this, it?s a great challenge, but it does take a very long time to do! This is the third day I?ve spent doing this- its becoming an obsession and I also seem to be running out of music adjectives. Thought I?d better just submit it and have done with it before I start repeating myself too much. Here goes?! ~ The rules ~ Just three simple rules to adhere to: 1) Use all the letters of the alphabet. 2) Only one choice per letter, i.e. no listing close seconds. 3) Give reasons for your choices. ~ Hints ~ Using all the letters may seem an easy task, but believe me, you'll soon discover that some are considerably more difficult than others. Then of course you have the enviable task of choosing just one record. So here are some hints to help you complete the challenge: 1) Solo artists, duo's or groups are allowed - use them wisely, E.g.: Lionel Richie and the commodores could come under l, r and c 2) Album tracks as well as single releases are allowed, but not whole albums. 3) Proper names and stage names can be used e.g.: Fredrick Bulsara = Freddie Mercury Ta da! It took quite a lot of time, but I've finally done it. I can honestly say it was not an easy task. Welcome to my A-Z of music, I've tried to use mainly bands and songs that bring back memories, and have meaning to me, but I got a bit stuck on X unfortunately so this theme isn't followed all the way through. Hopefully I'll give you some ideas for new things to listen to or at the very least, annoy you so much with my selection that you'll have to go off and write your own. A Animals, Super Furry Ok. This is sort of cheating, althoug h their name does have an A letter it isn't really the first letter of the name as such.. Super Furry Animals for those who haven't encountered them are not a load of
                    mammals parading around in Superman suits; they're a lively, quirky Welsh band of very good lyricists, playing rough around the edges guitar music with occasional interesting electronic noises. Very catchy tunes, just right for summer. My current favorite is still the track Herman Loves Pauline, with its excellent chorus. B Beta Band This band should go down in history as one of the most influential of the 1990?s. Lovely meandering music in a kind of gentle drum and bass style, with light smooth vocals over the top. Lovely stuff. C Cash, Johnny He of the absolutely knackered voice. Johnny Cash sounds like he has overdosed on whisky and cigarettes, been kicked in the gutter, walked through the desert without any water then made to swallow a barrel of dust. Country and western godfather, producing such classics as ?I Walk the Line?- a classic story of a man taken advantage of by a lady, and the amusing but entirely heart felt ?A Boy Named Sue?. Not many singers could sing about being called Sue without looking foolish, but this man managed it and furthermore managed to grab the sympathy of his audience when he did so. Not to be forgotten. D Divine Comedy If you take a handful of old crooners, add in a huge sense of humour and a lot of originality, mix well and leave to stew for a couple of hours, the end result will be something very similar to the Divine Comedy. Incase you haven?t heard them- they did the theme tune to Tomorrow?s World. E Eno, Brian He is one of those little geeky blokes who wander around muttering about levels unde r their breath, wearing Bennie hats that only serve to make their heads look larger, and making lots of ambient albums in their spare time. Ok, so he may actually be the only one who does this, but the fruit of his labour is played at some point almost every day on the BBC as background music. From the joyous, jagged edges and sinister lyrics of Takin
                    g Tig er Mountain, to the smooth, sublime ambient gentleness which is ?Music for Airports?, its worth putting on your geeky hat and collecting him, just so that you can show off by identifying Eno on the TV to impress your friends. F Foo Fighters I really like this band! Foo Fighters rock! And they truly do. Great chugging guitar, lots of energy, if you like the Pixies, then you will like these people too. They aren?t particularly heavy, but neither do they have that insipid produced to make money feel to them which many middle of the roaders (Bon Jovi for example) occasionally suffer from. Also they?ve done a great cover of Gary Newman?s ?Down in the Park? which is well worth tracking down. Delicious. G Grand Drive As a comparison- Foo Fighters are like pork crackling, or treacle toffee, Grand Drive are like smoked salmon and cream cheese without any bread. Wholly self-indulgent. Gorgeous harmonies that make you want to sing along and make up your own, mandolin playing to make your mouth water and rich enough to keep you going for a while even though you feel quite hungry. Gentle guitar and soothing singing- these people are not the coolest of the cool, but they certainly make up for it in quality. H Hope Sandoval and the Good Intentions Girly, girly vocals, sliding in a satiny soar into your ears. Think Cocteau Twins with less synth, and a little less vacant ethereality (not sure if this is a word but it seems to fit). I In the Meantime- Spacehog In the Meantime is the name of a track on the album ?Resident Alien?. The band hails from Leeds, and made this album whilst living in New York. The album was apparently recorded in a barn in Woodstock. I would like to recommend the entire album as worthy of a listen or two, but of course I?m not allowed, so I shan?t. There are some great tracks on it though, and once again, this is a band whose humour comes across in their music very nicely. At
                    first listen (to the track of course, not the album, wouldn?t want anyone to think I was actually trying to get them to listen to the album), the vocals are strangely reminiscent of Axl Rose, of Guns n Roses fame. Great souring guitars and the genial roar of the singer make this song a triumphant ballad, very much gentler than you would expect from a man with a voice like this. J Jeff Buckley Jeff Buckley died very young, not long after the start of his career, by accidentally downing in the sea. Not a rock and roll ending at all, no sex drugs or scandals involved, but thousands for all time will regret his death. I say thousands, as not many people seem to have heard of him, but he had a magnificent vocal range, a glorious voice to go with it, and a great way with songs. I strongly feel that everyone should at least give him a go- if you?re a Jeff virgin, then I would recommend you start with the album ?Grace? (the only one he managed to complete) before going onto ?Sketches? as it can be quite easy to get lost if you do it the other way around. I think this singer should be played in schools to ensure our children have good taste in music. K Kris Kristofferson Another country and western oldie. Yet another one with a very worn out sound to him too. Truly a great song writer, with such memorable songs under his hat as ?For the Good Times?; ?Sunday Morning Comin' Down?; Help Me Make it Through the Night? and ?Good Enough For Me and Bobby McGee? but also has his face shown in quite a few films, including the never forgotten ?Convoy? (an anarchic anti establishment film about lots of truckers beating the law). He says about his writing: "It's where the stuff you feel in your heart is expressed, it's the closest thing to your soul. To me it's satisfying to express things that you feel and have other people say 'Right, that's exactly how I feel, too.'" And in the land
                    of melanc holia he seems to inhabit, he certainly succeeds. Another sterling lyricist. L Love Me or Leave Me- Nina Simone From the album ?Feeling Good?, which of course once again I am not reviewing nor am I trying to get you to listen to it at all, although you may enjoy it if you did. Deep dark husky vocals, a classic song snappily delivered with lots of emotion. Smooth. M Mansun No better than they should be but just as good as you should have come to expect from the quality of bands on my list ;-)In a world of their own, one which sucks you in, gently addicting you to the rich fuzz of their guitars, blasting you with the clever catchiness of the subtly hidden hooks in their songs, you?ll have their album taking up permanent residence in your c.d. player before you know it. N Nine-Inch Nails Dark, deep and depressing electronica. Great music to be angst ridden to, heart broken, or just down right sad. Screaming vocals, over run by hypnotic erratic synth. Not exactly lovable, but there?s a cer tain something to the music which keeps me going back for more. Great stuff but not a song you?d want to meet down a dark alley after midnight. Scary. O Offspring More kid rock- West Coast Indie sound but with a lot more aggression than you'd expect. Real emotional rollercoaster, including tracks to be angry to such as 'Self Esteem' wonderful jumping up and down and falling over people songs like 'Come out and Play'. Catchy is an understatement. P Primus A raging rampage of noise! Wild guitar chugging, great musicianship without any rules to bind them to any kind of real structure or harmony, they nonetheless manage to produce amazing records and not the total ear burning chaos this suggests. To call these guys quirky would be like calling the queen not too badly off. Not for the faint hearted, but definitely good for those who enjoy a bit of rock and woul
                    d like a bit of a change. Q Queer- Garbage Seductive dirty singing from our Shirley. Drags you down to her level and embroils you in her world. Lots of erotic guitar backing, some well placed electronic backbeats and fuzzy noises, and plenty of vocal power to force the dangerous melody into submission. Lovely. R Rhapsody In Blue Ok. I didn?t want to write about Radiohead as I thought they had probably been done to death, I decided I didn?t want to attempt Mercury Rev cos I thought that was far too tenuous a connection to the letter R. So here we have a piece of classical music composed by the late great George Gershwin. Wonderfully evocative and quintessentially American, this piece (thanks to the Galaxy chocolate adverts) is strongly reminiscent of luxurious velvet cushions and satiny sheets. Also mmmmmm, chocolate.. S Spiritualized Drugged up chemical music for the guitar generation, with a few orchestras thrown in for good measure. This band reaches for the upper atmosphere and manages to get quite close to heaven. Sublimely produced soaring smoothness, interspersed with bottom of the bottle, razorblade rock. If you do give these folks a try, don?t just listen to one track. With Spiritualized it really is all about the bigger picture- you need to get lost in one of their albums to fully appreciate the feast for the ears they present for your delight and delectation. T Talvin Singh Mind blowing at times, but occasionally not quite such a delight. Chanting bhangra-esque world music. Talvin Singh combines traditional folk music with a taste of the drum and bass chill out culture. When he?s good he?s very, very good, but when he isn?t skip to the next track. I wouldn?t recommend you buy the album, but certain tracks are definitely worth a listen. Ugly Kid Joe Another far too easily forgotten great American lyricist. Remember ?Cat?s in the Cradle?? You should. V Va
                    n Morrison- Moondance Class. Just Class. W Weezer A classic indie band. Traditional West Coast indie from the band who started the sound. They don?t make them like this anymore. Lovely chugging guitars, plenty of roughness to the production and the overall sound. Nice nerdy lyrics and very addictive hooks. Good for what ails you and very much summer surfing music. X X-Factor- Bad Seeds Not one of their best, but the only thing I could think of which began with X! Y Yellow Scary Yellow! A forgotten 80?s German electronica group. During their existence, they produced such classics as Rubberband Man, Homage to the Mountain and last but by no means least, Tied up, Tied Up in Red and Tied up in Black. Good chunky rhythms and amazingly good vocals, the vocalist talks through the songs, but this complements the way the music is produced. Z Zygotic Mynci, Gorky's Insane Welsh band. Great harmonies, lots of lovely guitar and some very peculiar lyrics. Sounds strange but it all fits together nicely, even if you can?t understand a word of what they?re singing about. A good way to end a review too!

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                    • More +
                      29.06.2004 03:36
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                      If you ever hear a book described as haunting- this should be the story that immediately springs to mind. I read this book first when I was twelve, but have returned to it many times since then. Marianne Dreams grabs you from the start, and provides by turns a touching story of first love, an insight into the life of an invalid child, and the feeling of vague discomfort and horror that only a true fairy story can provide. The main character, which is of course named Marianne, suffers an unnamed illness, which leaves her weak and convalescing. During this long, dull convalescence period, she creates for herself a dream world, with the assistance of an indelible pencil which she receives a gift. Through out the book, the reader is left to decide whether they see the dream world as simply an imaginative reflection of Marianne's current situation, or whether the world into which Marianne retreats in her dreams is truly the creation of the magic pencil. Whilst on her sickbed, Marianne is tutored by a governess, who regales her with tales of another ill child, a boy called Mark. Marianne's adventures begin when she draws a picture of a house, and later adds a picture of a boy in the window looking out at her. The story takes quite a scary turn when Marianne has a fight with the dream Mark, and begins to draw monstrous entities in her picture. The characters drawn by the author are well done, realistically portraying both the temper and the turbulent wishes of an adolescent. The story, to me, conveys a great sense of waiting, even as it continues, Marianne is waiting impatiently for the day when she can get out of her sickbed and rejoin the world she has been forced to leave behind for a while. Although the story has a real elemental power to draw you in to it, you still get the feeling that Marianne is glad when you get to the end of the story, where she is allowed to move on. This does not detract from the book, but seems to add anoth
                      er layer of mystery to it. To conclude then, I would recommend this book to anyone, from the age of twelve upwards. This is one of the books that started off my sci-fi/fantasy addiction, and I believe that it would be great for getting a young person into reading more, or even for any adult who still loves to read a chilling fairy tale. It is quite a thin book, although I'm usually a great exponent of judging the value of a book by the amount it weighs, in this case i would put forward this book as being the exception to the rule. I may be written for teenagers, but there is nothing of the usual condesending manner which many authors suffer from when writing for this age group. It may not take very long to read (and I am a definate example of this) but it does stick with you a long time! Definately value for money!

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                      • General / Discussion / 1 Reading / 16 Ratings
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                        27.06.2004 02:30
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                        - Do you believe in life after death? I like to hope there's something after death- I quite like the idea of reincarnation, but obviously have never had the opportunity to find out (to my knowledge anyway- I could always give past life regression a go, but am not quite convinced that what the person thinks they are experiencing is the product of a past life rather than simply suggestion on the part of the hypnotist. I like the idea of it but then my innate scepticism kicks in am I'm left with as little clue as I was before I started thinking about it). - Should smoking be banned in public places? I'm a smoker, and yet I do think that it should. From a purley selfish point of view this would help me to stop smoking quite as much as I do, so I could sped my money on more intersting things than putting a sitck in my mouth and setting fire to it. From a more altruistic view point, I have to say that smoking (even roll-ups as I do) does really smell and I feel that no-one should be subjected to it without their agreement. Which of course you can't really give in the middle of a public street. - Is capital punishment wrong? Yes and no. I don't think that an eye for an eye is all that good a philosophy for the prison service ot live by, but then again, if you do have repeat offenders and serial killeres and things, then if you give them a sentence they serve their time and get out again, what happens if they reoffend? Then again, the justice system being all that it is, what about those people who really didn't do the crime for which they were punished? This is far too tricky a question for me to give an easy answer. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I just don't know. Maybe brainwashing wouldn't be quite so bad an idea after all... big brother state and all that.. hmmmm.. - Should cannabis be legalised? Yep, I do think that it should be legalised. The massive tax re
                        venue that the government is getting for tobacco could be mightily increase by the addition of tax on cannabis, it would cut down on the expense of chasing people involved in drug related crimes and also it would be easier to keep an eye on those few people who do end up with some kind of dependance on it, or a problem as a result of it. Its far too easy for someone to get hold of anyway, so they may as well just get it over with and stop prosecuting people for having it. - Is beauty only skin deep? Nope, I don't think so. I think that the more you get to know someone, the more attractive they seem to you (if you get on with them anyway- if you don't get on with them then ofcourse the converse could be applicable). - Do animals have rights? Yep. Definately. If I was a dog I wouldn't want to spend my life tethered to a fence with rotten food. To a certain extent I think that you should treat anyone, and anything living (with the possible exeption of plants) as you would want ot be treated yourself (to a certain extent I said- so you needn't spend lots of money buying steak and champagne for your dog, as it would probably get ill, even if you would quite enjoy it yourself, there are limitts to this philosophy). - Does Britain still need a monarchy? Nope. Although if I was a memeber of the royal family, with all the resources at my disposal that they have, I would probably have a different opinion. - Should fox hunting be banned in England and Wales? Yep. Its a pointless sport, if foxes really do need culling, there are much more humane ways in which to do it. - Should Britain join the Euro? Yep, I have to say that honestly, I think they should It would make life a lot easier, and as its a decimal currency, its not as though it would be all that difficult ot get used to. Eire has done it, so why not us? - Should all fire arms be banned for
                        private use? Yep. They should. I think they cause more problems that they solve, if you have one for protection, if you use if for self defense you'd only end up being prosecuted yourself, so whats the point? - What is your opinion on legal prostitution? I think it should be lagalised. Its supposedly the world's oldest proffession. If its been around for such a long time, then there's not gonna be any getting rid of it now is there? I think we should live with those things that can't be changed, and the best way of doing that would be to legalise it. - Are we living in rip off Britain? I have quite a high quality of life, even though I don't have a very highly paid job. I would be nice to actually be able to afford to buy a house one day though. Can't see that happening any time soon.. - What is your opinion on pornography? This is a silly question. Pornography is just one of those things which is inescapable, from the skinny woman with the huge breasts on the car advert to the top shelf in a newsagents. If you ban porn then you have to get rid of the rest of it too, and where would it stop? Lingerie adverts in women's magazines? How about those full lips and shiny teeth on a toothpaste advert? Surely they're using sex too? Like it or hate it, you have to live with it so whats the point in allowing yourself to feel insulted by it? - Is genetically modified food right? Possibly. The idea behind it is a good one, but more research should have been done as regards its impact on the environment and the effect it would have on your body, before it was brought in as a foodstuff. Then again, most of the food we eat have been over processed by horrible chemicals anyway, so why should this be any different?

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                        • Job Centre / Employment Service / 3 Readings / 15 Ratings
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                          25.06.2004 07:00
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                          • "lurid colours on site"

                          I used to have an incredibly soul destroying, mindless job. It was the kind of job where time seems to run slower and slower everyday, until you feel as though you're going backwards, not forwards. It spoilt my days off- everything I did was a count down to working again. I cut down my hours- this didn't help at all, just made me feel as though my leisure time was even more tied in with what I did for a living. The job itself was not the job which you needed to take home- in fact it was pretty much responsibility free. I began to take a look at things and decided that if I wasn't having any fun doing something that took up a substantial amount of my time, it was time to make an attempt to do something about it. This was hard work, at first at least. Due to the awful hours of my shifts I had no time to go to the job centre. Local papers weren't much good unless I wanted seasonal work, I needed something permanent- I did a lot of temping in London, but there isn't much in the way of economical security in doing that sort of thing in Cornwall. My rent ain't much but it keeps a roof over my head and I certainly didn't want to take the risk of not having the aforementioned roof! Strangely enough, help was at hand, from someone at work of all places. They showed me that if you type job centre plus into google, it gives you http://www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk/. This was highly useful information. It meant I could look for non-seasonal work, either from work, or from home. Hurrah! On entering the site you are faced with a horrible clashing green and red front page, with lots of links in nasty yellow writing. Ho-hum, I thought to myself, just like the job-centre, no sense of colour co-ordination. I had very low expectations about the contents, having spent a month and a half looking for something vaguely appealing to apply for, with no success. I shan't go into detail about the layout and overall conte
                          nt of the site- the bit that I think is most applicable in this review is the job search section. It was soooo easy to use! To search for a job, all you have to do is to click on the link which says 'looking for a job', pick what kind of job you're looking for, where you want to work and how far out of the area you will go, then, hey presto! You can trawl through the many entries that come up under that heading! Anyone who has been into a job centre will probably be familiar with the touch-screen machines they have in there now, which do a very similar job. They let you pick your area, the job type.... and here's where they go wrong, when you pick the type of job you're looking for, you have to be very specific- far too specific for my liking. I will do anything to do with admin, I'm not fussy. In an actual job centre, this means standing at one of those machines and going through the whole search procedure for every kind of admin role they have listed in my area, the town next door and the town down the road. On the website, you don't have to do this! You can search as indiscriminately as you like, write down the references, then ring the 0845 number for the job centre plus and get straight through to someone who, in exchange for your name address and national insurance number, will send you as many application forms as you need! My only criticism is that it would be nice if they could simplify it to the point where no phone contact with the job center people is necessary, although whenever I phoned them there was never any kind of a queue to get through to speak to someone. There is also a link you can click to get advice on benefits- you just click on the part of the list which applies to you (for example- expecting a child, or unemployed) and it will navigate you through to the kind of benefit which would apply to your current circumstances and will explain what you need to do to apply for it. This
                          site rocks! I was looking on it everyday for a fortnight and I ended up with 8 application forms, followed shortly by 6 interviews, and now I have a nice, shiny, new job! I would highly recommend this method of job hunting to anyone who a) doesn't know where their local job centre is b)doesn't like spending their lunch hour in their local job center c) would like a new job.... fast! d) hates queues. It?s the best change they've made to the job centre in years. Highly recommended.

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                          • More +
                            07.02.2004 22:02
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                            Having (as mentioned in a couple of recent reviews) rediscovered my library card, I embarked on yet another literary adventure, and made the decision to start reading as many of the Anita Blake books as I could get my grubby little paws on, following a recommendation from someone at work. Having got up to book ten, I'm feeling a little dissatisfied about the whole thing, and here's why. The Books The books in the series are as follows- Guilty Pleasures; The Laughing Corpse; Circus of the Damned; The Lunatic Cafe; Bloody Bones; The Killing Dance; Burnt Offerings; Blue Moon; Obsidian Butterfly; Narcissus in Chains; Cerulean Sins. The Setting The story is set, as with the Mercedes Lackey Elves on the Road novels (for those of you who have read them) in what is more or less an ordinary, modern world. There are however, some exceptions. Vampires have been legalised in the USA, and it is now illegal to discriminate against either them, or against Werepeople. There is also quite a lot of magic around, much of it centering around Bad Things. There's even a church of eternal life, where vampire fans can go to get turned. The Characters The story centres around an unlikely bunch of not-so-ordinary people. The lead role is taken by a lady named Anita Blake, a very ordinary, dark haired woman with some not so ordinary genetically bestowed abilities. Ms (never miss- yo for feminism, she takes no sh*t about anything!) Blake is a necromancer, who occasionally takes on vampire hunting contracts (but only for evil rogue vampires, although she was never that discriminate before they became legal), and assists the police with suspected paranormal crimes. This is peculiar enough, but as the books progress (sorry to spoil the story for anyone!) she begins to date a vampire. And also a werewolf. At the same time. The vampire is the second of those characters who appear in all of the books. He has the
                            rather cliched, exotic French vampire name of Jean-Claude, and is a real catch, if you like that sort of thing. Many paragraphs are devoted to telling the reader about the lithe, graceful lines of his body and his long, immaculately coiffured, flowing hair. Many, many paragraphs. In each of the books. This does get a bit repetitive after a while, as the books aren't quite lengthy tomes, but that could be because I read them all one after the other rather than having a break between them. As with some series in the genre, or cross genre, the majority of the first chapter is taken up with telling the reader who all the characters are again, and reminding them about what happened in the previous instalments. The third component to this triptych is Richard, the werewolf. Once again, he's a very good looking blokey, with lots of muscles and big bulging shoulders. He becomes leader of the werewolf pack in his area, and begins the ongoing moral quest of trying to change his pack ffrom a bunch of part time beasts into a democratic society. He has lots of description devoted to his body too. The Books The stories are really well written, and easy to get hooked on. This is easy reading with a difference though, as Anita gets closer and closer to the monsters, pulls her trigger to kill more and frequently, and gradually becomes less and less human. the storylines are pretty much tugged along by major crimes which Anita has to assist the police in solving, mostly involving lots of bodies. The books begin with Anita portrayed as a fairly normal person, with a few interesting quirks, and not too high a body count, but as you make your way through the series, the stories get darker and darker and the mysteries get more and more disturbing. I found the way in which the lead role changes so gradually, but so completely, as Anita compromises on more and more of her principles was really cleverly done, and found it quite fascinating, possibly more
                            so that the actual story lines. One thing that I could have done without was the gradual escalation in the amount of sex in each of the books, until by the final novel Anita becomes some kind of kinky s&m queen. The final novel I found was a real disappointment, as the author had put so much sex into it, that there wasn't really enough room left for a proper story. You can definitely have too much of a good thing (and the only one it was any good for was Anita anyway and she's not real!). The best book in the series was Obsidian Butterfly, where Anita takes on a group of vamps who think they're Aztec gods. I preferred this one as it really underlined the amount of change she had undergone since the start of the series, whilst not relying too much on erotic interludes to carry the storyline. All in all, I would recommend these books to anyone who enjoys a strong supernatural element in their crime fiction, or alternatively a bit of who-dunnit in their sci-fantasy books. Well written, fast paced and very, very dark, they definitely keep your attention. I wouldn't recommend reading the final book, except a new one is due to come out later this year and you might need to read book ten so that you don't miss too much for book eleven. You never know, it might be better! *price quoted below is for full box set on amazon.

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                              05.02.2004 20:17
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                              I rediscovered my library card as a direct result of a shortage of funds after Christmas, which meant that I could no longer afford to buy my fiction but had to start reading books which - shock! horror! - had already been perused by someone else. I was wandering through the shelves of my local library one day, and as usual, ending up stuck in the sci-fi section, spotted a particularly prolific author. After a brief struggle with myself, where one part of me thought that anyone with a name like that couldn't possibly write anything I'd want to read, whilst the other part of me hit that first part over the head with a bottle and shouted 'its a library- you ain't paying anything, give it a go!' (in a purely metaphysical fashion, or else they would have chucked me out of the library for being a bit mad and noisy), I cracked and decided to try a few of her books. Three series of books later, I'm still reading my way through them quite happily. They've kept me going for quite a while- she's written loads! The books I'm going to write an opinion of today comprise of her 'real world' fantasy stories, rather than the more magic kingdom styley ones, basically because I haven't got around to starting the other ones yet. The series are based in the 'Elves on the Road universe' which is basically the world in which we live, but with a few changes, the biggest one being that magic exists and there are still a few elves running around out there. Diana Tregarde. This is the series I would recommend any new reader of Mercedes Lackey to begin with, as it breaks you in gently to the overall feel of her writings, and also provides you with some bits and pieces of information that the other series in this 'universe' alludes to from time to time. Diana is romance writer, who also happens to be a Guardian. Being a Guardian means that she has to use her magic powers, to assist people i
                              n trouble, but only if they ask her for help. The series consists of three books, Burning Water, Children of the Night and Jinx High. Personally, I find Diana very reassuring- she is five foot tall with dark hair and wears trainers a lot. Definately not one of those pointless screaming women who need to be rescued all the time. Its enough to renew your faith in femininity, kind of. The novels are written in a similar style to a who-dunnit crime novel. The characterisation can feel a little shallow at times, but the books are very well written, and the author is definately not lacking in imagination. Each book introduces new supernatural baddies for her to conquer, and the stories are written with humour and plenty of real world mundanity to make the overall concept more convincing. Burning Water and Children of the Night are the best two, Jinx High does have a slightly adolescent feel to it. As with most of Mercedes Lackey's fiction, there is a very stark divide between the goodies and the baddies. The downfall of the books generally is that since the books are quite happy, you know that the main character will survive things, because otherwise she wouldn't have the book written about her. A minor downfall in an otherwise very enjoyable series though. The series was not further continued due to poor book sales and also general outcry at making the heroine in a story a practising Wiccan. Bit of a shame I think. Bedlam Bard Series. This series centres around the life of, you guessed it, a Bard. It also introduces the story of the Elves to the reader. The books are written in a very similar style to the Diana Tregarde books, but with this series, the lives of the main characters get a bit more attention, whereas Diana seemed to have a fairly solitary existence, the leading man in these books- Eric Banyon, has a full and exciting social life. He's once again, a very down to earth character, the magic is portrayed as a tool
                              which can be used to surmount problems and generally make life easier. The books do introduce a walking, talking gargoyle, who acts as a kind of a 'watchdog' for the building in which the lead characters have made their home. This is a longer series than the Tregarde one, presumably no one minded a bit of Druidism and made it worth her while! Bedlam Boyz Knight of Ghosts and Shadows Spirits White as Lightening Beyond World's End Summoned to Tourney Mad Maudlin Music to My Sorrow Sadly, I can't give you a full opinion of the series, as the library didn't have the two final volumes. They were still a very enjoyable read, as far as I got, although I have to say that it is fairly easy to predict what happens in the life of Eric in the final two volumes. The series doesn't have quite the same divide between good and bad as the Tregarde series, the author leaves room for a bit of grey shading which was rather refreshing after reading so much Diana in one go! The Serrated Edge This series centres around another ordinary average guy- a bit like Eric, except that he's a mage instead of a Bard. The lead characters in this and the previous series of books do tend to be very similar in lots of ways, although they look reassuringly different, and lead very different lives. The lead in this book, Tannim (meaning- son of a dragon), has a real world job as a race car driver/mechanic. His Mach 1 Mustang is described in great detail, and becomes as much as a presence in the books os the mage himself. Accompanied by a dragon, a fox- spirit and numerous Seleigh (good) elves, the group are the good defenders against the evil Unseleigh elves. The series harks back to folklore of the fey folk in a very tidy way, and as with the rest of the books, they are a very enjoyable read. Once again in this series, shades of grey are apparent and at times some of the characters appear nicely neutral between the
                              two sides. Everyone has to choose which side to support in the end though, which is a bit of a shame. Born to Run Wheels of Fire Chrome Circle When the Bough Breaks All these novels have lots of happy endings, some characters do get killed off occasionally though. I would highly recommend these books, not as an intellectual outing of any kind, but as good alternative 'pot boiling' fiction, for when you get sick of reading too much reality fiction, as one thing these books all have in common, is that they are an easy read- easy to get into, easy to get hooked on, but in no way do they provide much in the way of intellectual stimulation! If its escapism you're looking for, these books are great with lots of nice shiny things to enjoy, in much the same way as I would recommend a good girly shopping film, or one with no storyline but lots of really cool fight sequences! *price is amazon price, based on average price for each volume rather than exact price

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                              • Dove in general / Archive Lifestyle / 0 Readings / 14 Ratings
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                                04.02.2004 15:04
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                                I got a triple pack of Dove products for Christmas, containing some of the Silk range. This review is of the Supreme Silk Softening Body Wash, as I have got into the rest of the products as yet, but I will be working my way through them slowly, so I predict a number of various Dove reviews from me in the near future! The Packaging. The body wash come in quite an attractive bottle- the traditional white opaque plastic with a shiny pearly lid, and lots of blue writing. The lid is a flip cap and easy to get into, unlike many other products with this kind of packaging you don't have to sacrifice your nails to get into it. The bottle itself is a vaguely oval shape, slightly top heavy so that it looks like it should tip up easily, but it doesn't, its actually surprisingly stable, although this could be because I haven't used all that much of it as yet. All in all then, I'm very positive about the packaging. The Contents. When you flip the cap, the stuff inside has a very sweet, fruity, slightly musky scent. It does smell quite strongly. The body wash is quite thick in texture, and very creamy. Its the usual off white colour of most Dove products. The blurb on the back says 'Dove Softening Silk Body Wash combines specially selected pure Silk with Dove's 1/4 light moisturing cream' and states that it has the properties of 'gentle cleansing with a rich, silky lather, helps maintain your skin's natural moisture balance, leaves your skin feeling silky smooth'. Here's if it really does. Using the Wash. I have to admit that when I saw the adverts on tv I was very sceptical about whether or not adding silk top a product would actually make a difference to its ability to make you 'skin feel silky smooth'. Having used this product I still am. A small amount produces lots of bubbles, so it probably does go quite a long way. The stuff does have a rich, creamy lat
                                her, which feels nice and rich when you begin to wash yourself with it and the smell isn't too bad. It is quite strong when you first get it out of the bottle, but as you wash with it the smell isn't quite as overpowering as you think at first sniff. It lathers up easily, and feels very nice to use. There's one point in its favour- I like the lather more than I do similar products. Not sure if this is down to the silk or not though- most Dove products of this sort do have quite a rich lather. It doesn't leave any residue on your skin after rinsing. Hmmm, not quite sure where all that 1/4 moisturiser and silk have gone, but they don't seem to be on me! Afterwards. Well, don't feel particularly moisurised, and certainly not more moisturised and silky than usual. My skin feels maybe a little less dry than it would with soap, but not the advertised silky smooth that was claimed on the packaging. The smell is still here, and whilst very pleasant, I would recommend that you make sure you don't mind smelling like this all day. Overall, my general opinion of this product is that it isn't bad for a body wash, but then again, many cheaper products would do the same job and leave your skin feeling just the same. Also, that if you want to smell nice, then you can always buy perfume, which will probably last a lot longer. Still, it was a gift, so I'll use it all up, but I can't forsee me actually buying the stuff. *price covers a 250 ml bottle.

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                                  03.02.2004 19:50
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                                  Although in many of Terry Pratchett?s recent novels, there is an overall feeling that the author is in it for the money, and no longer taking the care he used to in his earlier books, the Wee Free Men proves that the master of comic fantasy still has the ability to take an over done theme and make it funny. Very, very funny. I began reading this in the car on a journey up to Hampshire from Cornwall. My boyfriend kept turning up the radio as he found my sniggering so distracting (I kept reading bits out to him to and they really don?t work out of context, so that could have been the problem rather than the sniggering). For those of you who have not yet been introduced to Terry Pratchett and the Discworld novels, the story takes place on a very unusual world. The Discworld is just that- an alternative reality in which the world really is flat, and in which it travels through space on the back of four elephants, who stand on top of a giant space turtle (gender unknown), which swims its way through the universe to an unknown destination. The story is based in a small village, somewhere on the surface of the Disc. For old Pratchett addicts, the story ties in with the three witches stories, although Granny Weatherwax and co. only make a token appearance at the end. The book centres on the tale of a girl living on a farm, whose brother gets stolen away by the fairies. The girl (whose name is Tiffany), is in many ways a typical farm girl, very good at cheese, lots of fellow feeling for the land, and very practical in nature. Like any practical girl, when at first her brother is threatened by a monster with big, pointy teeth, having been warned by a local clan of pictsies, she hatches a plan involving using her brother as bait to catch it, and then hitting the monster when it comes close enough with a cast iron frying pan. The aforementioned monster sinks into the depths of the small stream from whence it came and the triumphant girl returns ho
                                  me with her very sticky, runny-nosed brother. This kind of thinking soon brings her to the attention of a wandering witch, who takes it upon herself to teach Tiffany witchery. It also results in the girl being made the Kelda (a kind of queen) of the pictsies who depend on her for her sensible mind, having very little common sense of their own, although they are very good at drinking, fighting, and erm... that other thing. Tiff learns from the travelling witch that the sudden onslaught of monsters and general fey folk are signs that the fairies are trying to break in to her world to take things over and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Her small sticky brother gets stolen, and the feud between Tiffany and the Queen of the Fairies is on. Queue lots of raucous singing by the Pictsies (who in the best traditions of Pratchett are true Pictsies- very Scottish with lots of blue tattoos and ginger hair, and a typical Celtic fiery temperament), lots of fighting and drinking of sheep lineament, queue magic circles and Tiffany realising that witching mostly involves knowing exactly who and where you are at all times, lots of hard staring and that if you hit things very hard with a pan they tend to go away. There is also a talking toad whose purpose is not revealed until the very end of the story, but he manages to fit in very satisfactorily. The story is as well written as all of Pratchett?s books tend to be, his characters are all just that- they have more than enough personality, and then some. There are the usual amusing foot notes, explaining bits of Discworld behaviour which the reader may not be entirely familiar with, and adding even more humour to an already hilarious story. The scenery is well drawn (except in the Fairy world where it?s not meant to be- read it and you?ll see what I mean), and ties in many folklore tales and legends in the usual Pratchett parody. There are no screaming wussy heroines in this book- th
                                  e women are much more scary and practical than the men. The only downfall of the book, is that it was just too short. Like many of the best Pratchett novels, I wished that it had lasted for much longer than it did. All in all, I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in witches, fantasy, folklore, laughter, reading.... actually I'd recommend it to anyone!

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