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    • Asda Real Mayonnaise / Other Food / 98 Readings / 93 Ratings
      More +
      13.05.2010 00:55
      Very helpful
      1 Comment



      Very good value for money mayonnaise.

      Mayonnaise came into my life relatively late, considering how ubiquitous it is in our diet.
      I was 12 or 13 when I first gave it a try, and only in the past year has it become something I will actually have at home and make a note to buy at the supermarket when I notice it is about to run out.

      Up until a month ago Hellmann's was my one and only mayo, but since my dietary habits underwent a major overhaul to include newer foods that are healthier and cost less, this has changed.

      Obviously, mayonnaise fails miserably on the health factor, but at least there is the possibility of cutting the cost, with the major supermarkets offering their own brand of mayonnaise at a lower price that Hellmann's.

      At less than half the price of Hellmann's mayonnaise, I decided to give Asda's Real Mayonnaise a try to see if it was worth making a permanent switch.

      I don't buy the glass jars like the one featured in the image above, preferring instead the plastic squeezy bottle as I find it more convenient. The mayonnaise however, is the same regardless of the type of container.

      Because Hellmann's is my mayonnaise of choice, it is the standard against which I measure all other brands of mayonnaise.
      The Asda Real Mayonnaise has a similar colour and consistency to the Hellmann's one, so the difference is in the taste.

      Any mayonnaise is an emulsified concoction of lemon juice, vinegar and oil, and there is no way around that. For someone sensitive to acidic flavours - such as yours truly - this is where Hellmann's succeed and other brands tend to fail: making such a potentially astringent food taste smooth and pleasant.

      The Asda Real Mayonnaise, like other supermarket own brand mayonnaises, does taste perceptively sharper than Hellmann's.
      Yet, this is not to the point of becoming unpalateable, only zestier.
      Because I eat it with foods that offset the acidity, it doesn't bother me, although I still notice it.

      Like any Real Mayonnaise, the Asda mayonnaise is very rich in fat and highly caloric: 100 ml contains 62 grams of fat and 622 kcal.

      So, using Hellmann's as the standard, if Hellmann's Mayonnaise warrants a perfect 5 star rating, then Asda's Real Mayonnaise gets 3 stars for flavour alone.
      Taking the price and quality of the product into consideration, I will give it 5 stars for value for money. This averages a very respectable 4 stars. Well done Asda!

      I still prefer Hellmann's mayonnaise, but Asda's Real Mayonnaise is a suitable alternative. I can even imagine that those with a liking of acerbic tastes might even enjoy this one more.

      * A 450 ml squeezy bottle of Asda Real mayonnaise costs £1.07.

      * A 500 ml glass jar of Asda Real Mayonnaise costs £88p.


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      • The Works / Highstreet Shopping / 88 Readings / 85 Ratings
        More +
        10.05.2010 23:20
        Very helpful



        A very special discount bookstore.

        The Works is a discount book specialist, with hundreds of stores throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and one store in the Republic of Ireland.

        It is one of my favourite stores, and whenever I happen to pass by one, I always make time to go in and browse for a while, often finding a great bargain in the process.

        The Works sells mainly books, usually at significant discounts (60% - 75%), but also small gifts, art materials, CDs, DVDs, toys and games.

        The stores tend to be of small to medium size, which consequently limits the amount of stock they can have instore.
        As such, the selection of books is no where near as numerous as that of larger high street bookstores - Waterstone's or Blackwell's, for example - never mind Amazon.

        However, what they do have tends to be surprisingly interesting and (regardless of the release date) "new" to the buyer's eyes:
        Apart from their modern biography section, which is filled with the common fare of assorted celebrity biographies widely available everywhere else, The Works seems to stock books that probably have not been featured on other bookshops' window displays, newspaper reviews or been given high profile, expensive promotional campaigns by their publishers.
        The result is that these books, which are mostly of high quality and that have existed largely under the radar since their release, are given exposure which they would not have got in larger bookstores, where they would have been lost amidst the Top 40 books of the moment, and the perennial classics.

        In The Works, their inclusion in such a small collection makes them inevitably visible and I have discovered quite a few special books among these.

        The store stocks a wide range of books, from the aforementioned biographies and literature classics to history, music, sports and travel.

        They also sell a large (comparatively, by their standards) variety of books about gardening, cooking, health and well being, and DIY and crafts.

        But by far my favourite of all there is on offer is the outstanding collection of hardback "coffee table" books.
        These oversized and beautiful books on diverse topics (art, nature, history...) can be found in all their vibrantly colourful glory priced at a fraction of their recommended retail price.
        The Works usually have one of these books open on display, and the last time I was at my local store, it was a gigantic biographical photobook about Elvis Presley. Now, I don't particularly care for Elvis, and I don't know anybody with a coffee table large enough to accommodate it, but it certainly was beautiful to look at.

        In addition to stocking interesting books at low prices, The Works also has the distinction of being the most friendly bookstore I have ever been to - and I have been to a fair few.
        Whether this is the result of their superior recruitment practices and standards or merely the luck of the draw, the fact is that I have frequented several of their stores across London, and in my experience the staff in all of them have been invariably welcoming and friendly.

        I recommend a visit (or many) to this store to everyone who likes books and enjoys finding exciting and unexpected book bargains.


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        • More +
          05.05.2010 23:17
          Very helpful



          Sweet and practical. And pretty.

          It would have to be a tiny igloo, of course (unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time and millions of little sugar cubes) but it would be cute, and sweet.

          I have liked sugar cubes since I was 5 years old. I saw the film "The Black Stallion", about a boy who befriends a black Arabian stallion when they are both shipwrecked on a deserted island. There is a scene when the boy first sees the horse on the boat, and steals some sugar cubes from the dining hall to give it.
          I had never seen sugar cubes before, and there was something about seeing the black stallion eating the lined up cubes one by one that captured my imagination, and I've had a little fascination with them ever since.
          I like the look of them, all white and cubic...the shiny, compressed little sugar granules...*swoon*...
          Their whiteness reminds me of snow, and their shape of the blocks of snow used in the construction of igloos, hence the title of this review.

          Recently, I have been attempting to improve my dietary habits in order to lead a healthier life, and one of the measures I have taken is to reduce my sugar consumption.
          Sugars are present in most foods, be it naturally or as an additive, and I have been trying to reduce the amount of refined sugars I consume.

          So, no more donuts for me then. Nor a lot of other foods.
          But what about coffee and tea? I'm not a "no milk, no sugar" type of person - I am of the "white and sweet" persuasion - and coffee and tea are two of the simple pleasures life has to offer.

          So far I have tried a few alternatives to sugar, but I still haven't given up on it completely.

          My way of keeping the sugar intake down? Sugar cubes.

          There are at least two advantages to using sugar cubes: it's less messy than using the loose granules, and because all the cubes have the same volume, it's easy to stick to a certain dose.

          Silver Spoon's White Sugar Cubes come in 500g packs.
          Each pack contains 144 sugar cubes, each one weighing 3.4g - that is 3.4g of carbohydrates, and 13 Kcal per cube.

          There is no recommended daily allowance of sugar, because the body does not need refined sugars to function, and it would actually be better not to take sugar altogether, since so many foods already contain sugar naturally.
          In any case, the United States have come up with an official figure of a maximum 40g of sugar per 2000 calories consumed in a day.
          To keep it in perspective, a 355 ml can of Coca-Cola, as sold in the UK, contains 39g of sugar.

          Thus, by knowing how many grams a sugar cube weighs, it's as easy as adding up the number of sugar cubes you consume to know what your daily intake is.

          The design of the packaging is not to my liking: the box opens along the longest side, leaving the top like a big flap that fits too tightly.
          It doesn't really bother me though, as I transfer the sugar cubes to a bowl, but it's not the most practical design if the cubes are kept there.

          The Silver Spoon's White Sugar Cubes are ideal for anybody who uses sugar in their drinks, and I highly recommend them, for the sake of convenience and control.

          A 500g box of Silver Spoon White Sugar Cubes costs 60p (56p at Tesco).


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          • More +
            26.04.2010 12:08
            Very helpful



            Where I have been buying my books.

            My books are my second most valued material possessions (only to my computers, which store a large portion of my life in their hard drive, have I developed a greater attachment).

            They are also, collectively, my biggest financial investment to date: I have never - with the exception of rent - spent as much money as I have on books on anything else.

            For most of my life, most of my books were purchased from bookstores such as Blackwell's, Charing Cross's Foyles and Waterstone's.

            There was also an Ottakar's store very near my home which had a great atmosphere and I loved visiting, which sadly seemed to lose some of its friendliness after being turned into a Waterstone's, when the companies merged in 2006.

            I also have to give The Works a very fond and honourable mention: I always enjoy visiting this store and browsing their selection of (greatly) discounted books.
            The Works does not have as many books to choose from as any of the other bookstores I have listed above, but what they do have is usually at a small fraction of the book's full recommended retail price.

            Last but not least, there is one other bookstore that I need to mention. Unfortunately, I do not know its name or its exact location. I do know it was not far from Foyles.
            It was a very small bookstore, which only seemed to sell Wordsworth Classics.
            Instead of shelves, there were boxes on the floor and the books were piled high around the store - all at £1.99.
            It was a dream come true to a book lover on a student's budget and, like a dream, it was over suddenly, disappearing into eternity without a trace.

            I came across it by chance, glimpsed the stacks of Wordsworth Classics through the small window and walked in.
            That day (late afternoon, to be precise) I took as many books as I could carry, and went home feeling as if I had just ransacked Ali Baba's cave of blue covered treasures.
            Not long after I returned prepared with a big bag to take another batch, but the bookstore was nowhere to be found and I saw no sign it had ever existed.

            This was some years ago, and I still feel a powerful sense of loss.
            My heart weeps for the magical little bookshop everytime I'm near Charing Cross, but I like to think that, having fulfilled its purpose of bringing me a significant amount of joy, it moved on to a new abode to continue its mission of serving other literature lovers in the land.

            Nowadays I rarely buy books from a highstreet bookstore, preferring instead to order them from an online store.
            Books sold online usually have a lower price, and there is also the convenience of having them delivered straight to my door.

            This change, however, did not come easily. I resisted it for a long time, unwilling as I was to relinquish control over the choice of exemplars (what if they pick books that are creased, or with fingerprints, or with a misprinted, blurry cover?) and because going into a bookstore to browse the titles on offer and pick pristine new copies to take home with me was an essential and much gratifying part of the book buying process.

            Yet, one day I finally purchased my first books from Amazon, and the transaction went so smoothly that I became a regular customer.

            By now I have bought all sorts of things from Amazon, but while I still regularly buy other products from other retailers, Amazon has remained my primary source of books.

            I use both amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, and in my dealings both have been extremely reliable and professional.

            Not once have I had to return something I have bought from Amazon - all the items have arrived in good condition. From feedback I have got from other customers though, it seems that the returns process is a straightforward one and they have not had any problems with it.

            I do regularly look into other online bookstores to see what's new, and what deals they have got, but usually if they happen to have books that I want to buy at lower prices than Amazon, this advantage is counterbalanced by the delivery charges, whereas I have free delivery from Amazon on most purchases.

            As a result, I am quite content with Amazon and have not felt the need to go elsewhere to buy most of my books for the past five years.


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            • More +
              23.04.2010 22:36
              Very helpful



              Very effective moisturiser.

              For some reason, my skin went through a change a few years ago, and from normal/oily became dry, complete with the occasional spot of flakiness.
              This is especially aggravated by cold wheather, so it is worse during the winter and autumn months, although it is generally present all year round.

              Add to that the fact that my skin is also sensitive, finding a moisturiser that works and doesn't cause skin irritation becomes a more complicated task.

              Having lost count of the number of moisturisers I tried and tested to see if they would work on my skin, I finally went to a dermatologist who perscribed some moisturisers that actually had visible results.

              Last year I went travelling, and while I was away my perscriptions ran out. On my return to chilly England last month, I found myself having to find a temporary replacement until I was able get my usual moisturiser.

              I chose the Simple Replenishing Rich Moisturiser, one of the very few facial moisturisers available at the supermarket that I had not tried before.

              The Packaging

              Simple do justice to their name with the way they package their products.

              In this case, the moisturiser comes in a very straightforward plastic bottle with a screw cap.
              The bottle itself comes in a box, and both have the same green lettering and graphics on white background which, despite not being fancy, looks very good.

              The Claims

              According to the information on the packaging, the Simple Replenishing Rich Moisturiser contains:

              * Pro-Vitamin B5, which helps restore, soften and smoothe the skin.

              * Glycerin, to hydrate and nourish.

              * Allantoin and Bisabolol, two "skin loving" nutrients that soothe, calm and protect.

              * "Defending UV Filters". It is not specified if the filters are UVA and/or UVB, nor what SPF, if any.

              According to Simple, the moisturiser is dermatologically tested and approved, and contains no perfume, colour or unnecessary or harsh chemicals that upset the skin.


              There are no set instructions per se, but we are advised that in order to achieve the best results, the product should be applied to the face and neck using gentle upward and outward movements.

              The moisturiser is a white unperfumed cream, and I have found that only a small portion is enough to moisturise the face and neck.

              At first the cream seemed a bit watery to me (that is to say, not as thick as the other creams I was used to), but I have noticed that this is actually an important quality: It is very easy to apply. It doesn't require rubbing in to disappear into the skin, and it doesn't form a sticky layer at the surface.

              Personally, I don't always stick to the "upwards and outwards motion" system, but I am always careful to apply it gently, as the skin on the face and especially around the eyes is very delicate.

              The Results

              I could not be happier with this product: It actually leaves the skin moisturised, and the results were noticeable overnight.

              My skin looks and feels moisturised and healthy, without becoming oily.

              I am so satisfied with the results that I have decided to stick with this moisturiser for as long as it continues to yield such good results.

              Cost and Availability

              The Simple Replenishing Moisturiser costs £3 per 125 ml bottle and is widely available in supermarkets and chemists all over the country.

              I would unreservedly recommend this moisturiser to anyone suffering from dry skin.


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              • More +
                19.04.2010 13:00
                Very helpful



                Mediocre romantic comedy.

                I am not usually a fan of romantic comedies.
                However, while at the cinema waiting for another film to start, the trailer for "How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days" came on and did its job beautifully, making me want to go see it.

                My first attempt was unsuccessful: I had gone to the cinema with a boyfriend, and when he realised what film I wanted us to watch he point blank refused to see it, thinking it was some kind of hint or that it would give me ideas.
                We ended up watching "Bruce Almighty" instead.

                I finally got around to watching it years later, when my mother bought it for about £1 from a supermarket.


                Released in 2003 "How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days" was directed by Donald Petrie and based on Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long's spoof cartoon book by the same name.

                The film tells the story of Andie (played by Kate Hudson), who is a journalist at New York-based magazine Composure, a Cosmopolitan-esque publication. She writes a regular feature of "How to..." do various things, but finds the trivial nature of her usual topics rather dull.
                Inspired by her colleague Michelle's relationship problems, she pitches her boss the idea of writing an article about being able to drive away a new boyfriend in 10 days.

                Elsewhere in Manhattan, advertising executive Ben (Matthew McConaughey) is competing with fellow ad women Judy Green and Judy Spears (Shalom Harlow and Michael Michelle) for a lucrative diamond jewellery account.
                To convince his boss, he tells him that he is ideal for the job because he can get any woman to fall in love with him in 10 days.

                The warped logic of that reasoning aside, when the staff of the magazine and the advertising agency meet at a party, the two Judys dare Ben to seduce Andie to prove his point.

                Both Andie and Ben are unaware of the other's agenda, and from then on a series of situations unfolds where Ben tries to pull off textbook gallantry, and Andie will go along with it for a while until she screeches to a halt and does something so unreasonable and annoying that severely tests Ben's determination to win his bet.

                The reasons I had wanted to see this film when it first came out, were that I thought it was a premise with good comedic potential, and I am always hopeful that the stories will do justice to the concept.

                Such a set up of deception and emotional manipulation in real life would be despicably cruel, but in the safe environment of a romantic comedy I could allow myself to enjoy the resulting shenanigans with a clear conscience that in the end everything would turn out well and no one's feelings would be hurt.

                Moreover, I had somehow got the impression from Kate Hudson's flirty persona that she would have a natural aptitude for playing romcom leading ladies.

                As it turns out, the film is unsatisfying, although still enjoyable at times.
                The story's gags are hit and miss, with emphasis on the misses: many of the situations are either not very funny to begin with, or stretch the imagination with Andie's ridiculously flakey and puerile behaviour.

                This is annoying because it means that the scenes get dangerously close to the limits of viewers' suspended disbelief, as well as because her actions are supposedly based on a list of typical women's relationship faux pas: self-involvement, clinginess, insecurity, meddling, over emotionality and unreasonableness.

                Now, I am sure there are women out there who really are unreasonable, childish, controlling and hysterical, but it just seems that the film is taking these characteristics to be behaviours that a lot, if not most, women display in their relationships with men. which seems a ridiculous and facile generalisation.

                Even taken with a considerable pinch of salt, and allowing exaggeration for comic effect, Andie still comes across as psychologically imbalanced, and each one of her behaviours would send most sane men running for the hills.
                So in effect, it is like watching suave Ben desperately trying to appease a mentally ill person, rather than trying to win over a "difficult" woman.

                For this reason, McConaughey's character manages to become the more sympathetic of the two, despite the abhorrent fact that Ben is actually trying to make a woman fall in love with him, only to eventually disappoint her once his bet is won.

                Both actors play their parts adequately but, surprisingly, there seems to be a lack of chemistry between the two. The surprise comes from the fact that Hudson and McConaughey are (or were, at the time) supposedly friends in real life, yet there's very little warmth between the two of them, which makes it hard, as a viewer, to care about the progress of their characters' relationship and their feelings for each other.

                On a positive note, some of the film's set pieces are successes: I enjoyed their trip to a "relationship counselor" (a disguised Michelle, who inspired Andie to do the assignement), while my mother liked the bathroom cabinet scene (incidentally, it's probably one of the more realistic parts of the film).
                My favourite part of all was their trip to Madison Square Garden (an arena that hosts sporting events and music concerts): Ben believes they are going to attend a sports game, and the horror on his face when he realises what kind of event they are actually there for is priceless.

                All in all, it is an average romantic comedy, in which the both the romance and the comedy aspects of it are underwhelming.

                Had this been a film I disliked, it would have been easy to title this review "How To Lose Interest in 10 Scenes", "How Not To Make A Romantic Comedy" or some other pun of the same nature.
                But I don't actually dislike it, although it is definitely a "pass the time" film, rather than a reference in the genre.


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                • More +
                  13.04.2010 10:04
                  Very helpful


                  • Reliability
                  • Reliability


                  Stylish camera capable of high quality photographs.

                  Canon know how to make good digital cameras.
                  My experience with two Canon Ixus cameras and another Canon Powershot, each of them capable of taking great photos, meant I had high expectations for this interesting looking camera.

                  The Look

                  In a shop display, the Canon Powershot E1 stands out immediately from the other digital cameras.
                  With soft, curvy lines, it looks like a 1960s product rather than an 2008 offering.
                  The choice of colours - baby pink, baby blue and white - only reinforces the retro feel.

                  It is not the tiniest of cameras [ W = 10.5cm x H = 6.5cm x D = 3.5cm ] and with its curved design, certainly not the kind that will fit into a small pocket, much less stay there unobtrusively. Oh no.
                  And quite rightly so - this is a camera to be seen.

                  At 223g, it is also not the lightest camera around, although still very easy to carry.

                  Although aesthetics are not a consideration of utmost importance to me when it comes to technology (my priority is to get the best quality product I can) I must say that the camera is indeed very cute, and is a welcome change from the abundance of regular looking cameras.
                  It has grown on me, and I like it more now than I did when I first saw it, when I thought it might be a bit too quirky.

                  The Results

                  The Canon Powershot E1 is a 10 megapixels compact digital camera.
                  The flash is great, albeit non-adjustable, and is very quick to operate: from being switched on to being able to take the first picture only takes 2.4 seconds.
                  The camera has a 4x zoom lens and an optical viewfinder, face-detection technology and image stabiliser (to help when taking photographs in unsteady circumstances) and there are 13 scene modes to choose from.

                  The photographs are very good, for this type of camera, with good colour reproduction.
                  Most impressive are the photographs taken in poor lighting - their quality surpasses that of many more expensive and supposedly more sophisticated cameras.

                  The camera also takes short movies, the quality of which is better than that of my Canon Powershot A480 and even better than the Canon Ixus 80 IS.
                  Of course, a video sequence of 640 x 480 at 30 images per second, the quality of the videos cannot be compared to that of digital camcorders, but for a digital point-and-shoot camera it is quite good.

                  This camera also has the advantage of having an exceptionally good battery life, taking some 250 photos per pair of standard alkaline AA batteries (which is greatly increased with rechargeables) the best result I have got per AA battery charge..

                  On the other hand, there is limited manual focusing, which is not a problem for those who mostly stick to the automatic mode, but may be unsatisfactory for more experienced photographers who like to be more hands-on.
                  The viewfinder is also not entirely accurate, although I have not found this to be in any way detrimental to the quality photographs.


                  * 10 mega pixels

                  * 4 x optical zoom, 4x digital zoom.

                  * LCD screen size: W 50mm x H 38mm

                  * 9 focus points

                  * Face detection: 9 faces

                  * Lens: 6.2-24.8mm

                  * Maximum wide angle: 35mm

                  * Maximum tele zoom: 140mm

                  * Camera red eye fix

                  * Dual anti-blur functions: optical image stabilizer, and motion detection technology

                  * Memory card formats: SD/SDHC/MMC/MMC plus

                  * PictBridge compatible

                  * ISO range 80-1600.

                  * Maximum manually selectable ISO: 3200 [ when at 2MP resolution ]


                  Included with the camera are:

                  - User manual
                  - 32 Mb memory card
                  - Wristband
                  - AV cable
                  - Interface cable for USB
                  - 2 AA batteries


                  The RRP for this camera is £140.

                  Currently, Amazon is selling them for £109, while Argos has the best prices, from £74.99 (Pink) to £78.99 (Blue).


                  Stylish and capable of high quality photographs and reasonably good short movies, this is a remarkable camera at an affordable price that won't leave anyone indifferent to it.

                  My 5 star rating takes in consideration the type of camera it is and its value for money.


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                  • Accepted (DVD) / DVD / 98 Readings / 91 Ratings
                    More +
                    12.04.2010 21:55
                    Very helpful



                    Good-natured college life comedy.

                    Crafty slacker Bartleby Gaines has a problem: having spent his high school years applying his time and intellect to partying, making fake IDs and other extra-curricular activities, he finds himself rejected from every single college and university he applied to.

                    Unable to face his parents' disappointment, he decides to pretend he has been accepted to study at an inexistent college.
                    He is joined by fellow college rejects Hands, Glen and Rory, and together with his friend Sherman Schrader - who has been accepted into the prestigious Harmon College - they create the South Harmon Institute Of Technology (S.H.I.T.), complete with its own website and acceptance letters.

                    Bartleby takes over a disused psychiatric hospital and gets Schrader's roguish uncle to play the Dean during his parents' "college tour".
                    The ruse works, but the following day he wakes up to find a horde of expectant students at the S.H.I.T. gates: It turns out the college website was fully functional, and all those students had been accepted.

                    In possession of a million dollars' worth of tuition fees and resourceful as ever, Bartleby quickly appoints his friends as staff and faculty, and proceeds to make the most of the academic life.

                    Everyone's enjoying being in the S.H.I.T. but trouble is brewing close by at the bona-fide Harmon College: Suspicious of how a whole educational institution just sprouted overnight like a mushroom, alpha preppy jock Hoyt (whose girlfriend Monica Bartleby is trying to woo) takes it upon himself to uncover the truth behind the mysterious rival college.


                    Bartleby Gaines - Justin Long
                    Sherman Schrader - Jonah Hill
                    Monica - Blake Lively
                    Schrader's Uncle - Lewis Black
                    Glen - Adam Herschman
                    Hands - Columbus Short
                    Rory - Maria Thayer
                    Hoyt - Travis Van Winkle

                    It is apparent that this was not an expensive film to make. It only adds to its charm (and realism), that it really conveys the sense of a small group of people getting together to create something much greater than the sum of their individual efforts.

                    Originally released in 2006, it was the feature film debut of director Steve Pink.
                    It is manifestly a family-friendly, feel-good movie, and a welcome respite from the deluge of gross-out comedies of the past 15 years - although, be warned, it does have a moment or two where it forgets this, and lapses into unnecessary scatological inanity.

                    It features no big name stars (some of the actors are well-known now, but were not so four years ago), although a few faces are familiar, but crucially, all the performances are pitch perfect.
                    While the final part of the film is facile and cornily earnest, there is some enjoyment to be had until then.

                    The characters are almost universally one-dimensional: the spaced-out weird kid, the mean popular jock, the nice beautiful girl who just so happens to date the mean popular jock, the excentric intellectual, etc. Even the assortment of weirdos and misfits who make up the S.H.I.T. student body are easily identifiable types.
                    The most interesting character is that of Bartleby, which is in a few ways reminiscent of the much celebrated Ferris Bueller. Like Ferris, Bartleby is bold and resourceful. The best moments of the entire film are the scenes in which he deals with love rival and overall enemy Hoyt: Justin Long manages to play these with just the right balance of formal politeness and outright despisal.

                    In any other way this is an unmemorable film, save for the marvellous fact that it is a film about college life and frat boys that does not stoop to the stereotypical low level of college and frat boy humour. For this it earns a solid 3 star rating, and it would have earned more, if the plot had been better developed and contained a higher number of jokes, rather than relying on stereotypes and comic looks and expecting the laughs to elicit themselves.

                    "Accepted" is not a laugh-out-loud film - more a mildly entertaining one.
                    I first saw it in the cinema, hoping to while away a couple of hours on a boring weekday afternoon, and it fulfilled this purpose effectively.

                    With a PG-13 certificate, it is safe for family viewing (unless you happen to have particularly reckless, adventurous children, in which case some of the stunts may give them ideas they are best not having).


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                    • photobox.co.uk / Internet Site / 99 Readings / 95 Ratings
                      More +
                      11.04.2010 01:17
                      Very helpful



                      Excellent quality internet-based photo printing service.

                      Photobox is an internet-based photo printing company. With photography labs in London, PhotoBox offers a variety of products that customers can personalise with uploaded photographs and images.

                      The website is fairly easy to navigate, and all the important links can be found on its main page: The different categories of products available; the special offers; delivery information; referral incentives (etc.).


                      There is quite a wide selection of products to choose from, most of which offer additional variations of theme, colours, size and layout.

                      - Prints: standard, posters, enlargements, framed, collages.

                      - Calendars : A3, A4, A5 & A6 calendars. Desk, wall and poster calendars. Choice of start month, as well as many different templates to choose from.
                      There is also the option of a NSPCC calendar, with a percentage of the cost going to the charity.

                      - Stationary: Includes business cards, notebooks, greeting cards and postcards.
                      Wide variety to choose from. Many different and very attractive designs available and, for photo notebooks, choice of plain and lined white paper.

                      - Photobooks: Various themes for special occasions.

                      - Wall Décor: Canvas, acrylic, poster, collage and pro poster prints. Various sizes.

                      - Clothing: the usual T-shirts and bags, as well as over 70 other products to be personalised (caps, aprons, umbrellas, jackets, scarves...)

                      - Home Gifts: Mugs, mouse mats, coasters, placemats and cushions.

                      - Fun Stuff: Fridge magnets, stickers, teddy bears, keyrings, jigsaw and etched glass trickets to personalise.


                      The most time-consuming part of the process is navigating all the options available and finally settling on a definite choice. Once the product and its specific template is chosen, uploading and inserting the photograph(s) is extremely quick and easy.
                      There are photo editing options, and - most important! - photo quality assessment, with a cute little face that smiles happily at you when the photo you have chosen is of good quality, stays poker faced when the quality is mediocre and frowns disapprovingly when the photo quality is poor.
                      This last feature is crucially important, as it reduces the chances of creating and paying for a product that turns out to be of disappointing quality.

                      It is possible to create products without opening an account, in which case the uploaded photographs will go into a temporary folder which will be deleted after one has left the website. Joining the website will give customers the full benifit of uploading an unlimited number of jpeg images (up to 20mb per file), and organising them in different folders for easy access.
                      Registering also allows customers to save their product designs for future use.


                      More expensive than using the printing stall at the local shopping centre, but in keeping with the prices of other online printing companies.

                      - Examples -

                      Prints start at 5p each and enlargements from 16p.
                      Posters, notebooks, and a set of 3 keyrings are from £5.15.
                      A3 calendars are from £17.49.
                      Bags start at £35.29, and t-shirts at £8.25.
                      Stickers are £2.49, and mugs vary between £8.25 and £8.49.
                      Cushions (canvas or faux suede) are £40.15.

                      The standard prices can be undercut by sporadic special offers (see below).


                      Once a product has been ordered, Photobox gives an estimate of when the order will be completed and the date it will be delivered. In my experience, these estimates have been accurate.

                      Prices vary according to the type and number of products.
                      On the "Delivery Information & Prices" page, there are tables that clarify both the turnaround times for the different products, and their delivery prices.

                      - Examples -

                      Standard delivery:

                      * Up to 99 standard prints = £1.49.
                      From 100 to 149 = £2.49

                      * One Calendar (of any size) = £3.99.
                      2 to 9 calendars = £5.99.

                      * One photo mug = £2.49.
                      2 to 9 photo mugs = £4.49.

                      * One Notebook = £1.99.
                      2 to 9 notebooks = £3.49.

                      Standard, courier and special delivery are available, with courier and special delivery charges being made in addition to the Standard Postage fee. This is £5.00 for courier and £7.00 for special delivery.

                      Special Offers:

                      The standard prices quoted for the products can be improved by taking advantage of the many occasional special promontions* that the company offers.
                      Currently, new customers can order 40 prints for free (plus postage costs), as well as enjoying discounts on selected products.
                      Delivery is free on orders over £10.

                      There is also a friend referral incentive bonus of £2 credit for every new customer you refer.

                      * About the special offers: For some reason they tend to appear when you first access the website, but after some browsing, when returning to the main page the links to the "40 Free Prints" and " Free Delivery over £10" are nowhere to be found, so you may have to either click on those links right away or go to the website on another browser to see if they appear again.

                      Customer Satisfaction:

                      In my experience, every time I have used Photobox I have been pleased with the service.

                      The products are of good quality, and the photos are well printed and look as good as one can expect.
                      In some cases where I have used lower quality images I have even been surprised by the quality of the results.

                      The products are well packaged to avoid damage during delivery, and they have always arrived in perfect condition.

                      Delivery is fast and within the estimated time period quoted by the company.

                      So far, this is my favourite digital photo printing company, and I would recommend it to any one looking to create personalised articles for their personal use, home decoration or as gifts for friends and family.

                      WARNING: Endless hours of fun to be spent here. Be prepared to enjoy it a bit too much!

                      Whether you want a calendar with your best travel photos, a mug with your life motto written on it, a canvas of your baby, an apron with your kittens or your puppy on a cushion, there are plenty of ways of putting your favourite photographs to good use.


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                      • Sweet Home Alabama (DVD) / DVD / 200 Readings / 195 Ratings
                        More +
                        20.09.2009 07:59
                        Very helpful



                        Average southern romantic comedy.

                        SWEET HOME ALABAMA is a romantic comedy film starring Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas and Patrick Dempsey.
                        Directed by Andy Tennant, it was released in September 2002.


                        Melanie Carmichael is an up-and-coming fashion designer.
                        After she becomes engaged to Andrew, whose mother is the Mayor of New York City, she decides to go back home to Alabama, claiming that she wants to tell her family, whom she has not seen in 7 years, about her engagement personally.

                        However, when she arrives at her home town it becomes clear that she has not been completely honest about herself and her background: Her real surname is Smooter and she is not the daughter of a rich plantation owner, coming instead from a working class family.
                        Moreover, the real reason for her trip home is that she is already married, and needs to obtain a divorce from her husband Jake before she can marry Andrew.

                        Melanie and Jake were childhood sweethearts, but their relationship deteriorated after a series of personal disappointments, ending with Melanie moving away to pursue her dreams and start a new life.

                        Melanie arrives at Jake's house demanding a divorce, but he refuses.
                        Despite their constant bickering (or because of it), it is apparent that neither has fully dealt with the demise of their relationship.

                        Back in New York City, Andrew's ambitious mother is not pleased about her son's impending wedding. She is grooming him for a distinguished political career, possibly the presidency, and does not consider Melanie to possess the required pedigree to be her son's consort.
                        Alarmed that her investigations cannot even find a "Melanie Carmichael", she sends her assistant out on the trail of the real Melanie, intent on discovering information that will stop their wedding.

                        Meanwhile, unaware of both Melanie's predicament and his mother's intentions, Andrew travels to Alabama to surprise his fiancee...


                        Melanie "Carmichael" Smooter - Reese Witherspoon
                        Jake - Josh Lucas
                        Andrew - Patrick Dempsey
                        The Mayor - Candice Bergen
                        Young Jake - Thomas Curtis
                        Young Melanie - Dakota Fanning

                        Born and raised in the South, Reese Witherspoon gets to put her native accent to good use in this film. She gives a solid performance as Melanie, who turns out to be not so much a delicate southern belle as a tough and quite mischievous young woman.

                        Josh Lucas is well cast as estranged husband Jake, playing the character with a somewhat infuriating combination of rugged charm and defiant stubborness.

                        Both Candice Bergen and Patrick Dempsey give good perfomances as mother and son, although neither is stretched in their roles as a hard, cunning politician and a gallant, upper-class, handsome man, respectively.

                        Patrick Dempsey is immensely charming as Andrew; his is the most likeable character: noble, sensitive and understanding.

                        There is one rather glaring casting mistake, though: the young Melanie seen at the beginning of the film is played by a girl who is some 3 years younger than the actor playing the young Jake. Three years in adulthood is not a significant age difference, but when it comes to pre-teens, it is very noticeable and it makes for a very bizarre pairing.


                        Although set in Alabama, the film was actually almost entirely shot in the state of Georgia.

                        SWEET HOME ALABAMA was a huge commercial success, for such a middle-of-the-road romantic comedy, grossing over 180 million dollars worldwide.

                        As usual, the plot revolves around a girl torn between two suitors.
                        What differenciates this film from so many other romantic comedies is that conflict remains wholly contained within the Melanie <-> Jake dynamic, and there is no antagonism between the two men, despite the fact that they are effectively rivals.

                        Melanie also emerges as the toughest character of the three. In a scene right at the beginning, she claims that she does not have a "thick skin" like Andrew's. Not so, and the occasional moment of insecurity and emotional vulnerability aside, she has a steeliness to match Jake's intractability.

                        Despite this being a romantic comedy, the humour revolves as much - if not more - around the "southerness" and "smallness" of the town where the action is set and the quirks of its inhabitants, than on the romantic entanglements of the protagonists.

                        The low point has to be the gay subplot involving one of Melanie's childhood friends. It is just contrived and serves as an intentional distraction from the main story, which does not have much holding it together, as it is.

                        Then there is also the recreation of Civil War battles with which the community is very enthusiastically involved, with them playing the Confederates, of course.
                        It is understandable why this was written into the story: it reinforces the quaintness and indiosyncracy of southern culture, and these sort of re-enactments do take place in the US - yet it comes across as a gimmick, and not a good one.

                        On the plus side, there are some scenes where it is possible to glimpse the impressive natural beauty of the scenery. Said beauty will probably be more noticeable on a large screen than in a smaller one (I first saw the film in the cinema, where it made a visual impact not to be experienced when seen on television).


                        No prizes for guessing the theme song.
                        Indeed, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" provides more than the title for the film, and its opening chords and chorus are heard frequently throughout the film.
                        Now, that is a great song, and those are some great chords and choruses, but after a while the repetition becomes tiresome.

                        = // =

                        Overall, it is an enjoyable film, with a considerable amount of charm. Certainly not groundbreaking, but easy to watch, bar a few unecessary scenes.

                        Although I would not recommend anyone to purposefully set aside time to watch it - if it happens to be on, it is unlikely it will disappoint fans of the romcom genre.


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                        • White Chicks (DVD) / DVD / 167 Readings / 162 Ratings
                          More +
                          13.09.2009 01:04
                          Very helpful



                          Better than it looks.

                          Released in 2004, WHITE CHICKS is a comedy film by Wayans siblings Keenen, Shawn and Marlon, the same team responsible for SCARY MOVIE and SCARY MOVIE 2.
                          Developed from a story conceived by the three brothers, it was directed by Keenen with Marlon and Shawn playing the two lead roles.


                          Marcus and Kevin are two FBI agents. After botching an undercover operation, they are assigned the task of protecting two cruise line heiresses - Tiffany and Brittany Wilson (a parody of Nicky and Paris Hilton) - who are believed to be at risk of being kidnapped.
                          They are to accompany the two rich girls on an important social event - a weekend away with the rest of their social circle, where they aim to star in a fashion show and be the belles of high society's summer season.

                          However, after a minor car accident leaves them with small facial cuts they both refuse to appear in public, and Kevin and Marcus decide to take their place.
                          Enlisting the help of disguise experts, they impersonate the two girls and attend the weekend's events, hoping to solve the crime and repair their reputation before their superiors at the FBI.

                          The plan encounters a few obstacles, as they have to not only fit in with Brittany and Tiffany's friends Lisa, Karen and Tori, but also fend off the unwelcome attentions of Marcus's ultra controlling wife Gina, and the romantic advances of Latrell, a famous basketball player who is determined to seduce "Tiffany".


                          Marcus/"Tiffany" - Marlon Wayans
                          Kevin/"Brittany" - Shawn Wayans
                          Brittany - Maitland Ward
                          Tiffany - Anne Dudek
                          Tori - Jessica Cauffiel
                          Lisa - Jennifer Carpenter
                          Karen - Busy Phillips
                          Latrell - Terry Crews
                          Gina - Faune A. Chambers

                          Production and Observations:

                          With a premise such as this, the two black men successfully disguising themselves as two white girls is an obvious issue.
                          As it is, no amount of prosthetics, make-up and wigs make them in the least believeable as two human females, of whatever skin colour.
                          Moreover, the layers of prosthetics they have to apply to the face make their heads disporportionatelly bigger than the rest of their body, with the facial features of a 1978's cosmetic surgery victim.
                          The overall result is nothing short of bizarre.
                          Not that this is necessarily detrimental to the viewer's enjoyment: this is a film of unmitigated silliness, with an unrealistic story to begin with, and one just has to be willing to suspend disbelief for the concept to work.

                          I am guessing that the special effects budget wasn't great, either. There is a scene where they are driving in a car with a dog hanging from the window by a leash, where it is strikingly obvious that they are not on the road.
                          Again, we just have to accept this and go along with it.

                          Despite the shortcomings of their disguises, both Marlon and Shawn Wayans are entertaining as two men trying to act like girls.
                          However, their "Brittany" and "Tiffany" are very different from the originals - the spoilt, ridiculous sisters so masterfully played by Anne Dudek and Maitland Ward. They are on screen only briefly, and their performance in their short scenes made me want to see more of them.

                          I really have to commend the casting for this film: all the actresses who played the supporting characters gave excellent performances, however small their parts may have been.

                          Terry Crews, a former professional football player, managed to put in a very funny performance as Latrell, even during some very unfortunate scenes.

                          Throughout the film several themes of female life and relationships are explored: friendships, boyfriends, bitchiness, weight-obssession, love of shopping (and pop ballads)...

                          The film contains both physical and situational comedy, as well as the Wayans' usual staples of flatulence and gay jokes (am I the only one who doesn't find these funny?)

                          Highlights include the "girls" attempting to sing along to Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles", the "meltdown" scene in the clothes store's changing room and the real Brittany and Tiffany's introductory scenes.

                          All in all, I enjoyed WHITE CHICKS more than the Wayans brothers' previous works. The SCARY MOVIES may be more jam-packed with gags but they wade so deeply into gross-out territory to be off-putting at times, whereas this is a gentler more subtle type of comedy, which relies more on behavioural humour than on outrageous gags and cultural references.

                          Given the absurd storyline, the film won't be to everyone's taste. One will need to have the disposition and be in the mood for this type of comedy, in which case it is possible to find quite a few funny scenes that will elicit smiles and laughs, amidst the occasional cringing.


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                          • Domino (DVD) / DVD / 192 Readings / 186 Ratings
                            More +
                            05.09.2009 23:03
                            Very helpful



                            A fabricated mess of what could have been an interesting true story.

                            Oh yes. I concur.

                            Directed by Tony Scott (whose previous works include Top Gun, Days Of Thunder and True Romance) and released in 2005, DOMINO is an action film inspired by the life of bounty hunter Domino Harvey.

                            About Domino Harvey:

                            Domino Harvey (1969 - 2005) was the daughter of stage and screen actor Laurence Harvey, who starred in The Manchurian Candidate, Room At The Top and BUtterfield 8.
                            She was raised in England and educated at boarding schools, being expelled several times for fighting.

                            After school she allegedly was a Ford model, and studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute, although no one at the modelling agency or drama school has any recollection of her.
                            By the age of 20 she had moved to California where her mother (who had married Hard Rock Cafe co-founder Peter Morton) was living.
                            After spells as a ranch hand and a firefighter, in the early to mid 90s she worked as a bounty hunter in Los Angeles.

                            In 1994 the Daily Mail ran an article about her, which prompted film director Tony Scott to track her down and propose making a film about her.
                            After she sold the rights to her story, Domino remained involved in the project, visiting the film set and even contributing some music to it.

                            It has since been reported that she had been denied script approval, that her friends and family have said that she was unhappy with aspects of her portrayal in the film, and that she was planning a documentary that would tell her true life story.

                            A long-term drug addict, Domino passed away of a drugs overdose while awaiting trial on drug-related federal charges.
                            She never saw the finished film.


                            Domino Harvey is being held by the FBI on suspicion of involvement in the disappearance of 10 million dollars from an armoured truck.
                            Her story is told through flashbacks, as she is being interrogated by a criminal psychologist.
                            We see her as a child, as a fashion model and as a sorority member, before she starts working for bail bondsman Claremont, alongside fellow bounty hunters Ed Moseby and Choco.

                            At one point they are contacted by a television production company that proposes a reality TV show which will follow them around as they find and capture criminals.
                            But things become (very) complicated as a relative of Claremont's mistress becomes ill and needs to undergo expensive medical treatment.
                            Claremont, who apart from being a bail bondsman also runs an armoured vehicle business on the side, decides to rob one of his clients, then employ his bounty hunters to retrieve the stolen money, collecting a fee for the job which will then be used to pay for the child's treatment.

                            It seemed as if the plan would work, until the FBI and the mafia become involved...


                            Domino - Keira Knightley
                            Ed Moseby - Mickey Rourke
                            Choco - Edgar Ramirez
                            Claremont - Delroy Lindo

                            Tony Scott roped in as many well-known names and faces as he could for the film.
                            Apart from the main cast, there are appearances by Jacqueline Bissett as Domino's mother; Christopher Walken as the reality TV producer; Mena Suvari as his assistant; Lucy Liu as the criminal psychologist; comedian Mo'Nique as Claremont's mistress and singer Macy Gray as her friend and accomplice. Even Tom Waits has a cameo!

                            Most bizarrely, Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green of Beverly Hills 90210 appear as "themselves" - or hopefully, a much more annoying and pathetic version of themselves - as the presenters of the reality TV show.

                            There is even a scene set on the Jerry Springer Show, which contributes absolutely nothing to the advancement of the plot, apart from including Springer in the film and showing a bunch of "ethnic" women shouting at each other.

                            Mickey Rourke does what he can, but the script is so appallingly poor and ludicrous, even the best actors look bad bringing it to life.

                            Christopher Walken is undoubtedly the most stellar of all the names involved in the film. He is also notorious for never turning down a role as long as he has the time to do it, seeing each role as a learning experience.
                            Christopher, if you are reading this, I hope the lesson was worth the learning.

                            As for Keira Knightley in the title role, she is nothing if not ambitious: throughout the entire film she attempts the multitasking feat of pouting AND looking well 'ard at the same time.
                            She fails, but we cannot fault her for trying.

                            It is also unfortunate that her Domino only masters 3 poses: when she is not cavorting in her underwear or waving guns around, she spends her time with one arm stuck up in the air, haughtily holding a cigarette like some symbolic statement of how dark, broody and rebellious she is supposed to be.

                            Production and Design:

                            I first came across this film when I was sent a link to the official trailer.
                            It showed Keira Knightley and comrades bursting onto some criminals' den, where they are confronted by a dozen guns pointed straight at them.
                            Keira then saves the day by petulantly blowing a mouthful of smoke into the barrel of a gun and proposing a lap dance to the chief gangster. Which she duly delivers.

                            It was shockingly bad.
                            I had to watch it twice to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me, and then even checked to see if it was legitimate, and not a comedy viral video, one of those that occasionally make the internet rounds.
                            Fast forward a few years, and recently I had the opportunity to watch this in its entirety.
                            So, moved by sheer morbid curiosity, I decided to sacrifice the necessary 2 hours of my time.

                            There were no surprises. The trailer had the rare quality of being truly representative of the whole film: It is one ridiculous scene after another.

                            There were two attention-grabbing facts in the real Domino's story:

                            1. She was the daughter of a movie star, whose family was connected to very wealthy and famous people.
                            2. She was a rich girl who had chosen to live a very unusual and risky life when she could have lead a comfortable existence in extravagant opulence.

                            Clearly this was not enough for Tony Scott, and Domino's reality of capturing minor criminals and only earning around 300 dollars per week was not sufficiently interesting, so a convoluted plotline about a 10 million dollar heist and a myriad of supporting characters was concocted to make it more exciting.
                            Oh, and a sublot of an Afghan trying to help his country, too.

                            The plot as a whole is such a mess as to be nearly incomprehensible, and not a single scene retains any trace of realism or can be watched with a straight face.

                            What's more ludicrous: Domino as a runway model, assaulting another model on the catwalk during a fashion show? Or Domino as a sorority girl, breaking the nose of her hazer whilst a gaggle of girls in their underwear bend over to show their pert behinds?
                            Perhaps Domino holding a machine gun in each hand, simultaneously firing relentless rounds of shots, Rambo-style, when it's likely that the recoil of a weapon half as powerful as those would have ripped the arm of someone so slightly built from her shoulder joint after the first shot?

                            This inanity would be bearable - and even enjoyable - had the film been presented as a parody of the genre, but this is not the case. There is never a trace of real, knowing irony in the film, and for all the comedy moments, most are unintentional.

                            Not even sound and photography help it. Filmed and scored like one long MTV - style hip hop video, the throbbing music, the manic editing, flashing lights, and blurry and juxtaposed images constitute an organized assault on the senses.

                            The best that can be said about it is that at least, for such a trigger happy film, the body count remains unusually low for the most part, although two innocent TV sets do get smashed, and two goldfish are flushed down the toilet.

                            There is a single poignant, hard-hitting moment to be found in DOMINO. It comes after the film has ended and before the credits roll, and it's the few seconds when footage of the real Domino is shown on screen.
                            With her hair cropped short and her face ravaged by drug use, she is unrecognisable from the beautiful (if tough-looking) luscious blonde seen in the photo published in 1994.

                            This is a preposterous film, from start to finish.
                            It's not completely useless, though: if you are having a "bad films night in" with your friends, this is a definite contender.

                            That little star you see in the rating graphic is there by default and won't budge, but don't be fooled - for all the glittering names involved, this is really a no-star film.


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                              More Comments
                            • More +
                              16.08.2009 20:24
                              Very helpful



                              A comprehensive manual that helps gap year takers to plan their time out,

                              THE GAP YEAR BOOK is Lonely Planet's guide to planning and taking a year out.
                              Written by Lonely Planet's team of seasoned travel writers, the book is a comprehensive and itemised source of information for those thinking of taking a gap year, helping them to explore their options, plan their journey and learn how to make the most out of their time and circumstances.

                              The book is divided in 3 parts.

                              PART 1

                              Part 1 covers topics such as reasons to take a gap year; travelling alone vs. accompanied (and the importance of choosing the right company); and practical advice concerning travel documentation, financial costs and health and safety.

                              There is also a very useful section dedicated to packing the essentials (what to pack and how to pack), to make sure we have what we need without carrying unecessary weight.

                              PART 2

                              Part 2 deals with worldwide travel.
                              Here, the world is divided in 10 geographical areas. Information is provided about each one of them, including:

                              * places of interest
                              * what to do
                              * when to go
                              * what to expect from the experience

                              Each section has contributions from Lonely Planet's travel authors, who have in-depth knowledge of the area.

                              PART 3

                              Part 3 provides information on activities that gap year takers may be interested in participating.

                              Whether they would like to volunteer, take part in expeditions or conservation projects, work their way around or just find casual or seasonal work, this last section has not only a great amount of information on what each option entails, but also extensive lists of organisations dedicated to providing or facilitating those experiences.

                              Each organisation is listed with a brief explanation of what they do, the timing and length of the activity, the salary (if any), who is eligible to take part, and how to apply.
                              The full contact details are given for each organisation.

                              One feature that I found particularly interesting was the testimonials from people who had taken part in the activities: how they had got involved, what it was like, and whether they had enjoyed it.

                              THE GAP YEAR BOOK contains some illustrations, both in colour and in black and white.
                              Some of these are decorative (the landscapes at the beginning, for example), but most are informative (maps, routes, diagrams).

                              At the end of the book there is a small section set aside for readers to write down their plans for the gap year, month by month.

                              I truly found this to be an invaluable book. I was very sceptical about it - I wasn't entirely convinced that I needed it since I felt that I had enough travel experience, independence and resourcefulness to negotiate every eventuality by myself.
                              Now that I have read it, I cannot imagine setting out on my travels without the knowledge that I acquired from it.

                              There is not one part of the book that I find superfluous - All of it was very useful to me, and I believe that anyone that is thinking about taking a gap year would benefit from having a copy, reading it and referring back to it when necessary.

                              Hopefully, your gap year will not be the best year of your life (I personally believe that every year should be an improvement on the previous one), but certainly one of the most enjoyable, exciting and unusual times of your life.

                              This book will help you to plan your time according to your needs and desires, in order to make the most of your gap year.

                              THE GAP YEAR BOOK is available from Amazon from £4.45.

                              ISBN-10: 1740598652
                              ISBN-13: 978-1740598651


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                              • More +
                                15.08.2009 23:12
                                Very helpful



                                Excellent introduction to the italian language.

                                If ever a publication proved the old adage that one should never judge a book by its cover, it is this one.

                                Featuring a bearded individual in profile, sitting on a Vespa in front of a dirty, old metal garage door, the whole scene engulfed in shadows, it simply cannot be overstated how unattractive and underwhelming the cover is.
                                I have looked in vain for the name of the art director responsible for this, but whoever it was, he/she must have been on a dare to produce the most boring and uninspiring cover they could get away with.

                                And yet, behind this inauspicious façade is a gem of a book, so outstanding in its usefulness that it is truly staggering.
                                Its beauty and power lie in its simplicity. I have had larger italian language books, lavishly decorated and three times as expensive, none of which was as clear and easy to follow as this one.

                                Being a beginner's manual, it starts with the basics: how to pronounce vowels, consonants, and combined letters, and how syllables should be stressed.

                                From then on the book is divided into 20 chapters, each exploring one theme, such as greetings, asking personal information, telling the time, shopping and family life.

                                Each theme includes a number of related topics, each taught in a very clear and straightforward manner, with examples and helpful advice, so that they are very easy to understand and memorise.

                                The book contains some illustrations, but these are few and far between, and always monochrome.
                                They are, however, in keeping with the rest of the book, simple and to the point.

                                There are exercises and mini-tests in every chapter, and all answers are provided at the end of book, along with Italian-English and English-Italian glossaries.

                                This book does not substitute a grammar with full verb lists and their conjugations, but it provides the most readily understood and therefore, as I see it, best introduction to the italian language that I have encountered so far.

                                Another thing I like about it is its small size. With dimensions of 19.6 cm x 12.8 cm x 2 cm, it is very light and handy, and can be easily carried around.

                                Written by Vittoria Bowles, who has taught italian for over 3 decades, the TEACH YOURSELF BEGINNER'S ITALIAN comes in paperback, and is also available in a book/CD pack.

                                The RRP is £8.99, but it is available for £6.74 from Amazon.

                                ISBN-10: 034087015X
                                ISBN-13: 978-0340870150


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                                • More +
                                  12.08.2009 12:46
                                  Very helpful



                                  Excellent french language book for beginners.

                                  I've had a copy of this book since I was a child.
                                  My father is a french speaker, so when I learned to read he bought me this book to get used to reading french.

                                  Fast forward some years, and I saw it again on sale, and was delighted to see that not only the content remains the same, but that I still remembered every single illustration, even though I hadn't looked at them since I was 7 or 8.

                                  The book introduces readers to the basics of the french language:

                                  * How to greet people
                                  * Naming things
                                  * Arranging things
                                  * Telling where things are
                                  * Saying what you like to eat
                                  * Going Shopping
                                  * Talking about your family
                                  * Telling the time
                                  * Hobbies
                                  * Months and seasons
                                  * Colours and numbers

                                  Each topic is taught using cartoons which feature an array of recurring characters: Pierre, the snorkeller; the dancers; the sunbathers; the painter; the Teddy Boy; and many, many more...

                                  The drawings are the key element in the book - they set it apart from other beginner's manuals as they have two advantages:

                                  1) They provide context and act as visual aids: Seeing the sentences being used in appropriate circumstances helps to encode the information, so that it is more easily memorised.

                                  2) They make learning more enjoyable: There is a comedic aspect that pervades the illustrations, that make what could otherwise be a tedious endeavour a much more interesting and fun experience.

                                  The humour can be found on many levels: in the expressiveness of the drawings; in the slighty (or not so slighty) zany situations; in the little details, that are sometimes not immediately picked up on, so that with every read one discovers something new.

                                  Each page also contains a glossary that gives the meaning of the words and sentences used.

                                  The book contains grammar boxes where new grammar is explained, and a few puzzles.
                                  A comprehensive glossary and a pronunciation guide are also provided at the end.

                                  The fact that the book contains funny and colourful illustrations may lead people to think that it is only appropriate for children.
                                  This is, after all, an Usborne publication, and it is certainly suitable for children - but not exclusively so.

                                  In fact, I like it more now than I did as a child, since I can appreciate the brilliance of its surreal humour more.
                                  Back then, to my overactive mind who just had to make sense of EVERYTHING, the incongruity of some of the vignettes would really bother me: "Why is Pierre throwing a house party decked in full snorkelling gear? Why is Jeanne always dancing wildly with her hands in the air? Why is that bird putting on sunscreen?"
                                  Nowadays, I just relax and enjoy the beauty of it.

                                  My review concerns the book only, but it should be noted that there are several versions of it. The content of the book is the same in all of them, but they come with added extras:

                                  - The "Internet-linked" edition provides url addresses to the Usborne website where you can read and listen to the audio recording of the words and sentences.

                                  - The "Audio CD Pack" edition comes with the internet links and with one audio CD, with recordings of the books content and translations.

                                  This is an excellent book for french students of any age.
                                  It does not contain verb drills, so it does not substitute a grammar book with a comprehensive list of french verbs.

                                  It is, however, an outstanding book for beginners to learn the basics in a very easy and entertaining way.

                                  Highly recommended!

                                  ~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~

                                  Dimensions: 24.4 cm x 19.2 cm x 0.6 cm

                                  Book only: £3.49 from Amazon.

                                  ISBN-10: 0746000545
                                  ISBN-13: 978-0746000540

                                  Book with Internet Links and Audio CD: £6.99 from Amazon.
                                  ISBN-10: 0746046391
                                  ISBN-13: 978-0746046395


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