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Hot Wheels track for colour changing cars this "garage" has a waterfall under which the cars change colour, a spin dryer and a water pen to customise your cars.
Price - £39.99 from most toys stores, amazon, tesco etc
Age Range - 5-8 years
My son bought this with his birthday money having been seduced by the advert. I was very dubious and though I wish I had been proved wrong unfortunately that wasn't the case.
The waterfall is set off by "pressing" a button which also propels the car around the track. The waterfall empties on pressing this button once but unfortunately getting the car around the track is not that easy. You have to hit the button quite hard to get it to go round and my son (6 years old) can't do it hard enough but if you hit it too hard the car just flies of the track. Every time you try you have to refill the water tank just in case you happen to get it right! On the two times I managed to get it around the track the car didn't even change colour under the waterfall.
There is a jug you need to put under the waterfall to catch most of the water. Having to clear up the water after forgetting to put the jug underneath two times in a row seems to have put off my son from playing with this ever again.
The dryer part is quite good if you use it on its own. You press a button to spin it and then another to release the car. It is quite difficult to get the timing right but much more possible than getting the car around the track.
The customisation pen works ok while the cars are new (see below)
The colour changing cars work if you put them in pots of hot or cold water. The instructions warn that the cars should not be left in hot or sunny places or the colour changing will stop working more quickly. Given that this product is aimed at young boys, not known for putting things away, I think this is a little unreasonable. Also the only car that has any chance of getting around the track is the one which comes with the track. None of the cars that can be bought separately work with the track which seems strange since there are not many products in this range.
Overall I was very disappointed with this product. It would have been worth it if it had taught my son to be more cynical about adverts but alas that has not happened either!
Potentially huge wooden railway system with endless trains and accessories you could buy, it is a toy that can grow with your family and over time until you run out of space, or money!
From 3 years although it is suitable for younger children (from about 18 months) if you are prepared to spend a lot of time putting the track back together. I have a 6 year old who is showing no signs of interest in this waning so I would guess the upper limit is at least 8.
There are two main areas of interest for a child playing with this toy firstly pushing the trains around the track and later designing and building more and more complex tracks. My 6 year old has not really got past the first stage yet so I am hoping for many more years of play building tracks for his brother.
The beauty of brio is in it's simplicity. Very little of it has moving parts or small pieces to be broken. Part of our brio collection is 25 years old and has been through 6 children.
There is a huge amount of this stuff available, many different shaped track pieces, bridges, tunnels, stations, trains etc etc. If you had the space to put it in you could amass a ridiculous amount. However you can start with just a very small track and build it up over time, perfect when you are struggling to think of birthday or christas presents!
Brio is expensive especially if you buy the Thomas the Tank pieces (incidently these are the ones most likely to break!) but if your child likes trains I guarantee it will be your best value for money toy. I am not lying when I say my son has played with his every single day for the last 3 years, I can't think of any other toy I can say that about and that is why I love Brio!
BLOOD TIES - PAMELA FREEMAN
This is the first book in the Castings Triology and the first book written for adults by Pamela Freeman.
This book follows the stories of three main characters with interludes of stories from the minor characters that they meet along the way. All are unhappy with the current state of the world which is ruled by Warlords who having taken control of the lands and now rule through fear and violence.
The decendants of the original inhabitants of the domains, forced to become travellers by the Warlords are often sensitive to the Gods and to ghosts who wonder the land.
BRAMBLE is a village girl who is a decendant of travellers and keen to travel again. When she kills a Warlord in self defence she is forced to flee the village with the Warlords horse. Bramble has a natural affinity for animals and finds a job breaking in unruly horses. Here she also discovers a love for racing, winning many chases until her beloved horse is killed. Here she meets one of the warlords men who she fells has betrayed her but later proves to be useful. As the kill reborn (the winner of the first spring chase) she is considered lucky and Thegan, a Warlord, is keen to claim her as a luck charm for his war against the lake people. Bramble barely escapes Thegan and goes north to warn the lake people after which she meets Ash.
ASH is the son of travellers, he has been abandoned by his family because despite knowing alll the songs of the history of the domains he cannot sing a word- his singing voice is the voice of the dead (something which will no doubt be significant in the next book). He becomes an apprentice to a safeguarder taught to kill with little thought. Ash is special to his boss Doronit because of his ability to see ghosts and more importantly force them to speak. This allows her to find out secrets about the townspeople. He later defies his boss by defending the local stonecaster from her. He then leaves on a journey with the stone caster to visit the "Well of Secrets".
SAKER is an enchanter. We learn comparitively little about Saker's story compared to Ash and Bramble. He is driven by anger against the Warlords for killing his entire village when he was a boy. He spends his life learning to raise the dead, and keeping them alive long enough to fight back. At the end of the first book he has managed to raise the ancient occupants of a village and use them to kill the current occupants.
Each chapter in this book is named according to the character that it is about. This works quite well and I enjoyed this book. I did find the meeting up of Bramble and Ash a little contrived, requiring a loss of time on Brambles journey explained away by magic. This is the only thing where I think that Freeman failed to completely make the transition from childrens to adult literature.
However it was a good first part to the trilogy and I would probably read the next part.
Scott Lynch has written a book with many different sub plots containing characters with multiple alter-egos. This book should be incredibly difficult to understand and too clever for its own good. But it isn't, it is so well written that even the names don't get confusing.
~ Plot Outline ~
I don't want to go into too much detail about the plot as the beauty of this book is that you never know what happens next and I doubt anyone would guess all the crazy schemes that Locke thinks of. I have no intention of ruining this book for anyone but I will give a basic outline of what the book is about.
There are two main stories going on in this book and while I often find two concurrent stories annoying that wasn't the case in this book because both were as interesting as each other.
The first is set in the past and follows the orphan, Locke Lamora, as he gets taken in by the Thiefmaker (a little bit Oliver Twist here) and then following something awul that he did, which we find out later, is sold on to Old Father Chains. Father Chains is a blind priest of Perelandro to the world but behind closed doors he is a con artist with no visual impairment whose time is spent training Locke and three other boys Calo, Galdo and Jean to become false facers. This part of the story shows the early days of these thieves and how they came to get their skills and their schemes and how the relationships develop between these four boys.
The second story is set in the present after the death of Father Chains. Locke, Calo, Galdo, Jean and their new recruit, Bug, are involved in a "game" to relieve one of the local Nobility "Don Salvara" of a large proportion of his wealth through a false business deal. The ploy which starts off very well quickly becomes extremely complicated and the boys find themselves involved in a war between the gang leader "Capa Barsavi" and the illusive "Grey King" as well as doing a very good job of pissing off a very powerful Bondsmage.
~ The Characters ~
LOCKE LAMORA is the newest recruit to Father Chains gang of theives, known as "The Gentlemen Bastards" but quickly becomes the leader due to his ability to quickly think up fantastic plans for stealing from the rich or for getting out of difficult situations. When he arrives he is a bit arrogantbut that is quickly knocked out of him. Locke is of a very slight build and is rubbish at fighting but he uses his brain to avoid conflict where possible but most often to get out of a bad situation with his life. Most importantly Locke is a brilliant actor able to take on any accent and invent characters at will allowing him to fool almost anyone.
CALO and GALDO SANZA are twins who cannot be told apart. They are the oldest members of the group and are great teases, enjoying being superior to Locke until the need for his brain power arises. The Sanza twins are the entertainers and are also great actors. They excel in dressing and making up people to give them totally different appearances. They are also pretty good fighters although not as strong as Jean.
JEAN TANNEN arrives a while after Locke after the sudden death of his merchant father and mother. He at first seems soft, with his posh voice and his stunning ability with maths but it turns out that he has a great deal of anger in him and with training becomes a top class fighter. He is never seen without his pair of hatchets known as "the wicked sisters" and is the muscles of the group though of course he too is a great actor.
I really enjoyed this book and have read it several times. Despite the protagonist of the book being a theif and a con artist you cannot help liking Locke and wanting him to get away with all his crazy schemes. I would love to know what anyone who had actually been the victim of a scam thinks of this book but with the amount of work that Locke and his friends put into thier cons you almost feel they deserve to win.
I haven't read horror for a few years but having exhausted the fantasy collection at my local library I thought I would give it another go. For the most part I'm glad I did.
I have to get a couple of grumbles out of the way first as I don't want to end this review on a negative. At the beginning of the book there is a glossary of terms which I dutifully read only to discover that each term is explained in context throughout the first few chapters, in much the same detail as in the glossary. It was irritating to have to read this twice and I felt that if the author expected noone to read the glossary there was little point in including it.
My second source of irritation with this book (although it did lessen to some extent as the book went on) was the names of the vampires; Wrath, Phury, Rhage, Vishous, Zadist and Tohrment. I found the names quite contrived and even unimaginative and although the irritation was reduced somewhat by their regular abbreviations, I still found it grating throughout the book.
Despite these petty moanings however I found the book very readable and enjoyed it a lot.
The book opens with a vampire, Darius, asking another particularly mean sounding vampire to help his half human daughter during her transformation. The vampire, Wrath, refuses but when Darius is suddenly killed by a car bomb Wrath feels duty bound to help the daughter through the transformation which would most likely kill her.
Beth is unaware of her parentage and her first encounter with Wrath happens shortly after she narrowly escapes a rapist. Naturally she is terrified but soon lust takes over. It is not long before Beth finds herself involved with a gang of vampires known as the Black Dagger Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is a gang of elite vampires who aim to protect civilian vampires from the Lessening Society. These lessers are humans who have traded their soul to be immortal and whos single aim is to eliminate all vampires.
<I>Wrath</I> is the most powerful of all the vampires despite being nearly blind. As the only survivng vampire with 100% pure blood he is a reluctant king in the vampire world. He holds human blood very much in contempt, at least until he meets Beth. We first see his softer nature when he decides to help Beth following the death of her father who she has never met. He attempts to talk to her a couple of times but draws back when he scares her. When they do finally meet he is suprised to find that passion takes over and before long he finds himself completely obsessed by her despite all his intentions. Whilst concentrating so much on his relationship with Beth, Wrath also has to contend with the usual war with the lessers, a more focussed attack by the leader of the lessers, Mr X, as well as threats on his life from human cops and other vampires.
<I>Beth</I> is a journalist for a local paper and well known among the cops in a professional capacity. Having grown up in care after the death of her mother she is very self-sufficient and strong-willed. She is stunningly beautiful and has long been worried that she does not seem to fancy men or indeed women. When she meets Wrath al this changes and she gives up her life and career very quickly to protect him when the police are after him for murder. Her desire for him helps her deal more quickly with the startling revelation that she is only half human and the painful transformation that she is powerless to stop. Beth is a very strong character which allows her to build a powerful relationship with Wrath and to gain respect from the Black Dagger Brotherhood yet she is caring and calm and looks out for those who deserve it regardless of her personal feelings towards them.
<I>Butch</I> is a cop and a bit of a ladies' man. Very good looking with a tendency to be violent towards deserving criminals he has fancied Beth for a long time and is confused as to why she is not interested in him. Because of his care for Beth and also some loyalty to the police force from which he has recently been suspended Butch finds himself drawn into the Brotherhood as he tries to rescue Beth and arrest or kill Wrath. Having accidently found himself inside the Brotherhood and knowing too much he has to fight for his life. A combination of the vampire's respect for Butch's fearlessness and his love for a female vampire grant him at least a temporary reprieve.
<I>Mr X</I> Is the new leader of the Lessening Society and is the ultimate bad guy. His time is spent recruiting new lessers to replace those that keep getting killed by the Brotherhood and the major recruit featured in this book is the man who earlier tried to rape Beth. As a new leader he is also trying to prove himself and so instead of concentrating on killing civilian vampires he hatches a plot to take out the Brotherhood
<B>Price</B> £6.99 from all good bookshops
This book is not really a true horror book, more a romance that happens to be about vampires! I really enjoyed this book though and will definitely be reading the next in the series.
This is the first in the a series of novels by Naomi Novik and indeed her first novel, and what a promising start.
The book is set during the Napoleonic war. My history is not good (sorry Mr Bonner) but I'm guessing it is not exactly an accurate account of the wars!
It starts when naval captain William Laurence's ship takes a French ship thereby securing itself a dragon egg. The dragon hatches soon after and takes a liking to Laurence. In the line of duty Laurence is forced to abandon his known and accepted life in the Navy for a life as a social outcast in the Aerial Corps. The dragon, Temeraire, is very intelligent and quickly becomes a worthwhile and much loved companion. His size and rare breed surely help to install some pride in Laurence about handling such a beast.
Once on land Temeraire and Laurence go to Scotland to begin training in aerial combat. Laurence finds himself having to prove himself as a worthy Aerial Corps Captain and struggles to get along with the other captains due to his own prejudices and theirs.
It is not too long before he and Temeraire are involved in a great battle with the French dragons, the result of which is the end of the book although no the last we will see of these characters.
<I>Captain William Laurence</I>, known throughout much of the book as merely "Laurence" although as "Will" during scenes with his family, has spent all his life in the Navy. He comes from an upper class family and socialises almost exclusively in these circles. He has grown up to view the Aerial Corps with some disdain, a view common to the upper classes and Navy alike due to the lower classes of the riders and their usual dishevelled appearance. During the book we see Laurence struggle to fit into a life so different from what he is used to and though he never loses some of his Navy habits, by the end he is so much a part of the Aerial Corps that he finds it hard to get along with his old Navy comrades and family circle.
<I>Temeraire</I>, the dragon, is really the other main character in this book. Avery intelligent and rare dragon, Temeraire is definitely a character in his own right and not just Laurence's beast. Indeed it was Temeraire who chose Laurence as his handler soon after he hatched. Temeraire has a passion for jewellry and books which Laurence indulges often. He likes to learn about battles, science and mathematics among other things. He struggles, however, with Laurence's explanations of human laws and the concept of duty but the latter, at least, becomes clear during battle.
There are many other characters in this novel from Naval officers to Laurence's family to Aerial Corps officers and ground and air crews. I will not describe any of these in detail as none are really more important than any other and it is Laurence's reactions and relationships to this myriad of characters that is key to the book.
<B>Price</B> £5.99 from Amazon
I really enjoyed this book and found myself disappointed every time my train arrived at the station and I had to stop reading. I will be reading the second book in the series as soon as I can so expect the review shortly.
I had never even heard of Timon of Athens before deciding to see it at the Globe. Not being a fan of Shakespeare's comedies and being offered a chance to go to the Globe I opted for this as the only other option currently available. I was worried that I wouldn't understand anything that was going on but found that I need not have worried.
Admittedly I did read the synopsis on Wikipedia before I went but I think even without this I would have been fine. There were of course some sections of speeches that I didn't follow completely but it is a credit to the actors and the director (Lucy Bailey) that the majority of the story comes across clearly despite the words.
<B> The Story (very briefly)</B>
Timon (pronounced tea-mon) is a rich man at the beginning of the play and generous with it. As a result of his generosity he is surrounded by many people who he considers his friends. Later Timon falls on hard times (echos of the current credit crunch here) and looks to his "friends" to come to his aid. None do. Timon leaves Athens to live alone in the wilderness where he becomes slightly mad. He stumbles across a hidden stash of gold and becomes rich again but he is now disillusioned with money and sets out to show his old friends the error of their ways.
<B> The Production </B>
The stage scenery is very simple leaving plenty of time to examine the beauty of the globe theatre and the stage itself. The most interesting feature of this production is net which is cast across the top of the theatre upon which actors dressed as vultures move throughout the performance on bungee ropes. This is not as distracting as it might sound!
The play itself includes lots of light humour, including some toilet humour, chocolate coins and a very little bit of male nudity, all of which help to break up the speeches and keep the interest up in this little known play.
<B> Being a Groundling </B>
If you are going to the Globe and are reasonably fit I would recommend being a groundling. Not only is this the cheapest option (£5) leaving you spare money for coffee, beer or burger in the interval, but it is a lot of fun. The benches in the Globe are not particularly comfortable anyway and being a groundling you are free to move around as you like. It is also easy to get out during the interval and get to the toilets before the queue.
The disadvantages are that you cannot see the lower part of the stage very well especially if you are short (although there are plenty of seating areas with a worse view) and you are more vunerable to the Great British weather! I also ached a lot the next day from 3 hours of standing!
In conclusion I would say that an evening or afternoon at the Globe is great and cheap entertainment. Timon of Athens would not be my first choice of play to see but it was very enjoyable and I do not regret seeing it at all.
This is a story all about stories and yet contains far fewer seeming random tales than Jeanette Winterson's more famous work "Oranges are not the only fruit". The book has two stories running through it.
The first is set in the 'present' of a young girl who becomes an orphan and finds herself living with a blind lighthouse keeper who gives her a passion for stories. We learn much of her early life but the latter part of her story becomes more elusive and obscure as the book goes on, leaving a lot to guesswork, implication and imagination.
The second story is that of a priest 'Babel Dark' from the past whose double life made him the inspiration behind Robert Louis Stevenson's "Jekyll and Hyde" (for the purposes of this novel at least). This part of the story is all supposed to be conjecture yet we know more of what happens to this man than to the story teller.
The novel is written in Oxford educated Winterson's usual style of intellectual feeling whilst being very easy to read. It may be an easy read and short (only 232 pages) but there are many passages which would invite deeper thought and discussion if you were so inclined.
I liked this book for the warm and unlikely friendship between the young orphan and Pew the blind lighthouse keeper. I also like that Winterson does not feel the need to explain everything in the story or to give an end to every part of it. This allows you to imagine parts for yourself.
This would be a good book to read if you don't have a lot of spare time for reading and wanted something thought provoing but not too heavy.
This book is the first in the Jewelfire trilogy by Freda Warrington. This series of books is an excellent fantasy adventure showing real imagination in setting the scenes and plot lines, however the real strength in Freda Warrington's writing is the depth of her characters.
The Amber Citadel begins when Ysomir is taken away from a small village as a conscription by the king. Her boyfriend Lynden, sister Tanthe and Lynden's brother Rufryd follow in an attempt to rescue her back.
The characters soon find themselves involved with strange events including an increasingly mad king, a shape-changing race called Bhahdradomen who were thought to be exiled and another elusive race, the Aelyr, who had all but exiled themselves.
This book is very engaging and fast moving. There are many different stories to tell and subplots involved but it is so well written that you never forget who the characters are or lose track of what is going on.
I would thoroughly recommend this book and the next two in the trilogy, The Sapphire Throne and The Obsidian Tower.
I stumbled upon Eragon the first book in this series somewhat by accident and absolutely loved it. I was incredibly excited about seeing the film and was so disappointed by it as it was nothing like the book. It was with a restrained excitement then that I started the second book in the series "Eldest" but I wasn't to be disappointed a second time.
Eldest follows Eragon and Saphira in the build up to another battle between the Varden and the Empire. There is a large section of the book where these two principle characters go to Ellesme'ra, the home of the elves, to complete their training. The book also gives a lot more focus to Roran, Eragon's older brother, who has a large part to play in this story.
This books is a lot slower paced than "Eragon" and places more emphasis on character development and the relationships between them. Part of this is inevitable in the middle stage of a trilogy, setting the scene and readying the characters for an action packed final book. However there are some strong action passages towards the end of this book with plenty fo suprises for Eragon along the way.
In short if you have read "Eragon" and liked it you will definately enjoy this book. If you have seen the film of "Eragon" you may enjoy this book but I would recommend reading the first book before in order to get more enjoyment out of it. Personally I cannot wait to read the third installment "Brisingr" later this month.
I was dubious about spending so much money on a camera for my four year old son, after all its great that he won't be able to break it (and he hasn't managed it yet) but at over £50 for a camera with so few megapixels could it ever be worth it? It turns out that the lack of megapixels is not the problem with this camera at all. The major flaw is the shutter speed. It takes so long for a photo to be taken that it is incredibly difficult for me to keep the camera still enough to take an unblurred photo, for a four year old it is nearly impossible. The camera does have some fun features and is good practice for using buttons while taking pictures and despite my disappointment at the blurry photos my son absolutely loves it. I guess at the end of the day that is all that really matters.
Why follow the crowd and buy an ipod when you can have so much more for your money, 8MB storage, colour screen, video, sound recording etc. This mp3 player is very robust and does not seem to get scratched even plonked in a bag with no case. I have had mine for over a year and it still looks like new. It is easy to use although the scroll down could be faster. The colour screen is small but very readily visible. Battery life is very good unless the screen is on too often, so watching video or regularly switching between albums will drain the battery very quickly. Overall it is a very nice little player, sits nicely in the hand and is nice and small. In fact I like it so much that if I were to manage to break it tomorrow i would replace it with another of the same.