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flutel
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Member since: 19.05.2009

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    • Storm Surge Curvex / Watch / 41 Readings / 39 Ratings
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      10.10.2010 22:09
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      Utilitarian glamour

      Every time I look at this watch, on my wrist, I am reminded of how much I love it! I chose it, and was bought it, as a birthday present. It came in a (slightly unnecessary box and stylish, white presentation sleeve)

      Appearance
      ---------------


      The watch is a stainless steel face frame and wrist band. The actual band is made up of chunky links. On either side of the watch face is printed 'Storm' into the steel. The watch face is is a blue/lilac shell material framed in an oblong frame. It seems to shimmer and compliments the stainless steel very well. The analogue face has only the four main numerals marked as stainless steel dots. The fold over clasp is solid and works well; it has never accidentally come off. I had to get the knack of opening and shutting the clasp at first- but now I can do it very easily. I am extremely confident that this is a watch I will never lose by catching it on something and having it pulled off.

      I love how this watch looks - it is a little bit edgy whilst remaining elegantly chunky. I am not a woman that wants wispy, delicate jewellery: I want something utilitarian but something that is a good quality, good looker.

      Telling the time
      -------------------


      This is probably the thing that might put people off buying this watch; it does not have all the numerals marked on the watch face - so some might find it difficult to tell the time. I sometimes wonder if it is quarter past one or two but at a second glance it is usually apparent.

      The watch keeps time well (very important). It is powered by a battery (which I have not yet had to replace).

      Cost
      ------


      The watch I have cost £80 from Debenhams but, at present, is being sold for £69.99 on Amazon.

      To Conclude
      ---------------

      I think this is a beautiful watch which is accurate and durable. It gives me a great deal of pleasure daily as it always looks so great with all my outfits - whether they are my working clothes or scruffy jeans and t shirts.

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      • Hotpoint RF64P / Fridge / 65 Readings / 65 Ratings
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        09.08.2010 09:43
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        A great family fridge freezer

        I have had this fridge freezer for several years now - so I can give an accurate lowdown on its durability and function.

        Appearance
        ---------------

        The fridge freezer is an upright one in silver. The fridge is the top half of the device and the freezer bit the bottom. They look equally size. The trim is in a darker silver-grey. The words 'Hotpoint Iced Diamond' and 'Made in Great Britain' are on the front of the machine. The fridge part has shelves, vegetable plastic drawers, dairy goods compartments in the door and a temperature dial and a light which comes on when the door is opened. The freezer area has four drawers for storage. The doors on this device can be put on either side - allowing it to fit well into any kitchen.

        I bought this particular model in a John Lewis sale when silver 'white goods' were at the height of their popularity. I remember heading the stampede to the Large Electricals Department, hotly pursued by an army of middle-aged women. I clocked that silver fridge-freezer, glittering under the store spotlight and snatched the price tag and held on to it (meaning it was mine to buy). It cost around £200.

        Specification
        ----------------

        The fridge capacity is 171 litres and the freezer capacity is 103 litres with a frozen food capacity of 33kg. The maximum conservation time should the freezer fail is 18 hours. It comes with an egg tray, ice tray and warning lights and anti condensation switch (this needs to be moved from the one water drop symbol to the two drop symbol if condensation forms on the outside of the device. This occurs under certain circumstances' apparently - but I have never encountered them in several years which makes me think the anti condensation switch is superfluous. There is also a red temperature warning light which comes on when the temp in the room rises higher than that in the fridge freezer. Once again, I have never seen that light come on.

        The device is made in Peterborough, has a genuine parts and accessories mail order hotline and a service contact number. The leaflet that comes with it has directions on use and changing the lightbulb etc.

        Using the fridge freezer
        ------------------------------

        The top freezer area is for the fast freeze; this has a pull down door. The bottom area has a pull down door also. The other two area have pull out drawers. I ram all of these areas choc a block full of stuff - and at this time of the year when the allotment is producing stuff- it is especially rammed. It seems to function well in this routine.

        Defrosting the freezer can be accomplished easily in a couple of hours. I only defrost twice a year - so the ice is well formed but, by placing bowls of very hot water in the freezer, it defrosts quite quickly.

        The fridge bit has pull-out plastic coated white, wire shelves. These have lasted well and are not showing any signs of fatigue (the plastic coming off). They are easy to remove and wash. The white plastic walls of the fridge are also very easy to wipe clean. I find that dirt collects under the lift out bottle storage compartment so this needs to be cleaned very regularly - but once again, it is easy to do this and the plastic comes clean as good as new.

        The temperature control dial is simple to use with clear temperature numbers. The light is bright enough to illuminate the fridge fully.

        Issues
        --------

        The only problems with this fridge freezer are:

        The seal around the door has become a little detatched in some areas. This does not affect the function of the device as the door still seals well. Dirt can collect in this area now.

        The plastic vegetable baskets are not as robust as I would like them to be as they now have cracks in them. They also still function well though.

        To Conclude
        ---------------

        I am very happy with this fridge freezer. It shows no sign of demise and is still looking good. I would, of course, like more room in it - but just about every family needs more room in their fridge freezer!

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        • Sandisk Sansa C140 1 GB / MP3 Player / 36 Readings / 36 Ratings
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          08.08.2010 08:51
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          A good first MP3

          Walking around with music filling your ears all of the time - I just don't get it. I have a tough job getting school kids to take off their MP3s in class - and - my own brain is too full of things to do etc to appreciate an mp3 whilst I bustle about. So, I was quite surprised when I was given an mp3 for a gift from my daughter. She had given it to me as a sleep aid as I was struggling with insomnia. She had put some whale music and other soothing sounds onto it. It was such a lovely and considerate gesture - so I began to use my mp3....

          Appearance
          ---------------

          The mp3 is a very little bit of kit. It is black with a small display window, a circular control button with an inner and outer control and an on/off/menu button. It has a neck strap for ease of carrying. A pair of black headphones is supplied with the mp3 and also a lead to transfer data from a pc to the mp3.

          Specifications
          -----------------

          The Sansa c140 has compatibility with audio files in the WMA, WAV, Audible book files and MP3 formats. The file transfer speed is surprisingly speedy, taking 3 seconds to transfer 10 megabytes of music files. The player is powered by a single AAA batery which is very convenient. I know someone who has a different Sansa model and this has to be recharged by the pc which is not so useful if you have your player on holiday.

          Using the Sansa c140
          ---------------------------

          There is a knack to using this player but if I don't use it regularly I forget for a few seconds how to operate it. The menu button is held down until the display lights up and shows the logo. The circular control button must then be utilised to find the music that is desired.

          The player allows you to specify choosing by artist or album or allows a random play list choice.

          Once the music is selected the headphones can be slotted into the ears - and you're rocking - or in my case - snoozing to the sounds of whales. The sound quality is great. I was quite surprised at the clarity

          Issues
          --------

          I don't like the feel of the headphones in my ear. Does anyone out there know of any personal, discreet headphones that don't feel like condiments are rammed into my ear holes? I'd be pleased to know. I am not really sure if it is just this mp3 or if this is a general issue.

          Downloading the music from the pc onto the player is a bit faffy too. I have to choose the right file format for the tunes to play - or else it is just a title on the screen and silence.


          To Conclude
          ---------------

          I like my Sansa c140 and now use it for more than just a sleep aid - by the way the evocative whale noises worked well, turning my mind off other anxieties. I still do not walk around shopping etc wearing it but I now can use it on the beach - or when camping - as it is dinky enough to pack easily.

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          • Epson Stylus D78 / Inkjet Printer / 37 Readings / 35 Ratings
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            07.08.2010 08:49
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            Good printer for the price.

            I have had this printer for around three years now. It was bought from Comet for around £36.

            The main criterias I have for a printer is that it is extremely easy to install and operate, that it prints decently and that the cartridges don't cost an arm and a leg. I tend to buy this sort of thing after a brief foray into the specifications in the shop. Then I get bored and buy it if it is half decent. I remember the Comet sales guy told me that the set of inks provided with the printer were not going to last long as they were for display purposes only. I therefore bought another set - only to find that the set of inks in the printer were the regular ones and lasted ages!

            Appearance
            --------------

            The printer is a regular looking black and grey machine, however, it is quite compact and neatly sits in the small amount of space allocated. It has a smoky plastic transparent lid which sits over the printing inks and printing band and flips open for ink cartridge changing. There is a plasic paper supporter which slots in the back to hold A4 paper.

            Setting up
            -----------

            This is a simple process necessitating a quick read of instructions, putting the printer in place, slipping the cd provided into the computer and following the set up wizard. The printer is then connected to the computer and printer set up is complete.

            Printing
            ---------

            The quality of the printing is quite decent with up to 5760 optimised dots per inch. The text and images it prints are of a high quality but the printer can also print photos which are also of a good quality too. Right clicking on the printer icon on your screen can take you to some controls. This includes adjusting the print quality. The choices are: draft (printed out swiftly) regular printing (takes a little longer) and photo (takes a little bit longer than regular). I find that when I change my settings, the printer still prints just one more sheet at the old setting! Slightly annoying.

            Cartridges
            ------------

            The Epson cartridges are too expensive for my liking, averaging at about £10 a cartridge when bought in shops like Currys or Comet. Fortunately, I have discovered that Tesco sells compatible cartridges at £6 ish. I have also noted that Epsom cartridges can be bought from Amazon for a cheap price. This is ok if the postage isn't whacked up. The Ink Monitor Wizard thing that appears on the screen when printing likes to try and bully you into buying proper ones, telling you that others could damage the printer. I think this stuff is tosh. Epsom (or high street shops) should not be selling ridiculously overpriced cartridges. How expensive can ink be?

            The cartridges run out individually and can be replaced individually. Replacement is again quite simple with a few directed clicks and following the instructions given. The cartridges click into place easily.

            To conclude
            -------------

            I think this printer is generally quite good. I am a bit of a computer duffer but I can always find some help for sorting the printer with new cartridges or cleaning the printer nozzle by clicking on the printer icon. If I want to stop printing, I can also cancel the printing jobs quite clearly and easily.

            Another really great thing about this printer is that it does not jam up very much at all. In three years, I have only had to remove a couple of sheets and I think that has been mainly my fault in my defective loading of paper.

            The printer is still going strong and it is looking forward to another year of bashing as I prepare lessons etc in September.

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            • More +
              06.08.2010 09:03
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              Flexible hair stying - a must-have for your kit.

              I was staying at a friend's house for a party when I noticed that one particular woman had thick, poker straight hair. I asked her what she used to get such an amazing finish.
              " Me Remmies!" she exclaimed. She was a scouser, so you have to imagine the accent.
              She then went on to tell me that her normal hair resembled the character of 'Annie' and I realised that her hair straighteners were some sort of miracle-workers.

              Inspired by her story, I set out to find my own pair. Her pair of Remmies were ancient and paddle-shaped but by the time I went looking, the only pair I could find were the new slimline ones. I cannot remember where I bought them but I think they were about £30.

              Packaging
              ------------

              The straighteners come in a purple box. Inside is a slim, silver pouch for storage, some instructions and the straighters.

              Features
              ----------

              The straighteners have a 7ft cable - which is a great length to allow for flexibility of use; it enables me to plug them in and sit comfortably at my dressing table to do my hair. Other features of the straighteners are: automatic shut off after 60 minutes, automatic worldwide voltage 120-240V, wet or dry settings, 15 second heat up, heat up from 150-230 degrees C. All of these features make the straighteners very easy to use and I have no design issues to report.

              Appearance
              --------------

              The straighteners have a funky purple colour with a black trim where the controls are and a silver edge to the temperature display screen. The display and controls are digital. The ceramic plates (which are reputed to last the life of the product) are a grey colour. I think that they look both functional and attractive.

              Using the straighteners
              ---------------------------

              When the straighteners are switched on, a decision needs to be made about whether they are being used either for wet or dry hair. They have a default setting and automatically go to a blue display of 200 degrees. This is for straightening wet hair. The button next to the on/off one is the one to press if dry hair straightening is desired. When pressed, it takes you to a green display of 180 degrees. The display flashes until the correct temperature is reached; then it beeps a couple of times. The temperature can be fine-tuned by two + and - buttons.

              When using the straighteners on wet hair, there is a huge amount of hissing as the water evaporates. The hair is left straight - very straight and the condition seems good - not to have been adversely affected by the extreme heat. I use a heat-defence spray to give it some extra protection. The only thing I have to complain about using this method is the flat and lifeless look of the hair roots when the hair is finished. I find it better to give a bit of root volume by blow drying the roots - but this makes the process a lot more faffy. However, you must suffer for beauty - or so my mother tells me.

              Straightening dry hair is a much easier process. I have fairly fine hair so I try not to abuse it too much with a punishing regime. At the moment, I am blow-drying my hair and then straightening the fringe bits. Also using the straighteners to flick up the ends of my shoulder length hair. Once I have done this, I am spruced and ready for the working day

              Once I have finished using the straighteners, I switch off and leave them to cool. I then slip them into the silver pouch and loosely wind the cord about them. They fit neatly into the drawer.

              To Conclude
              --------------

              I enjoy the versatility of these straighteners. How I want to finish my hair changes from one week to another and these straighteners form part of the kit that allows me to do it. They seem to be robust and fit for purpose and I would definitely recommend them.

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                05.08.2010 08:34
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                A great little toaster!

                I have owned and used this toaster for around ten years; this alone says something about the longevity of the device. Yes, it certainly cooks toast - but it has lost just one function along the way. More of that later.

                I bought this toaster mostly because it looked good in my new kitchen; it was a shiny chrome finish and I wanted it to match my cooker and plug sockets! The price would also have had something to do with it - I cannot remember exactly how much it cost but - it certainly would not have been exorbitant as I would not have bought it. It was probably around the £12 mark.

                Appearance
                ---------------

                The toaster has a shiny chrome finish and black sides where the toast controls are. The design is pleasing to look at and functional. Unfortunately, to keep the toaster looking pristine, regular polishing of the chrome finish is required. I am not inclined to do this regularly and so the toaster looks a little grubby at times! Also, as I have had mine a long time, the metal area between the toast slots looks old, stained and marked due to reapeated use of the toaster; nice chrome finish - ugly functional middle bit.

                The device has an arrangement on the bottom of the toaster, to wrap the cord - leaving just the right amount out to reach your plug socket. This makes the toaster look neat when it is on the work surface: an important consideration.

                Generally, I think the toaster looks quite good.

                Functions
                ------------

                The toast can take four slices of bread. It does not deal well with hugely chunky slices which can burn. This is because the device is not one of those designed to take thick or thin slices; however, it copes well with moderately different sizes. There is a control on the side of the toaster which offers different settings ranging from 2 - 5. There are two settings beyond the numbers: 'Light' being before 2 and 'Dark' being after the 5; it is fairly self explanatory really. The number I cook an average sized slice on is 3. The toast that is produced is great!

                The toaster also has a button that allows you to stop the toaster mid action; a sort of ejector seat button. I liked this function as I could poke it if I smelled that an irregular sized slice was catching a bit. I write 'liked' as it ceased to function quite a few years ago. Never mind - I can achieve the same function by merely turning off the toaster at the wall!

                The toaster has a crumb plate at its base which you can pull out to remove crumbs. This is easy to do; it just slides out and can be slotted in again when emptied. I have never found that this is enough on its own to remove crumbs. The whole device can be picked up and vigorously shaken over the bin. I do this now and again but not nearly enough. I recently saw Kim and Aggie (of 'How Clean is Your house') slagging off someones toaster crumb state. I noted that the crumb build up was extremely similar to my own! I concluded that they are rather anally retentive about breadcrumbs!

                To Conclude
                ---------------

                Clearly, this has been a well used and well loved toaster - and it is still going strong. It will have to explode before I replace it. The device is named 'Coolwall'. Does it live up it its name? I suppose it does. I have never felt the toaster to get over heated on the outside but I would not expect any toaster to do this. Would I recommend this toaster? Still going well and looking good - of course I would! There are probably much more modern models out there now - but this model has proven to be a decent one.

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                • Samsung N130 / Netbook / 34 Readings / 34 Ratings
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                  04.08.2010 09:46
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                  My new best ICT friend

                  Using my work laptop for writing Dooyoo reviews,Facebook and sorting personal e mails was a luxury I knew could not last. When I resigned from my post, I also resigned myself to handing back my well-used laptop. What could replace that gaping ICT hole in my life?

                  The Samsung N130 came recommended by Martin Lewis of Moneysavingexpert.com. It was bought for £220 in November '09 from the Samsung website. I filled in the Samsung form on the Samsung web and received £20 cashback - eventually.

                  It seems that the model can now be bought for £200 on Amazon now.

                  Appearance
                  -------------

                  The netbook is a nifty little black number which is reasonably light. It has the Samsung logo on the front ad looks tasteful. A sliding switch on the front edge enables the netbook to be opened. The screen is well-sized with just a 2cm black border framing it. It is clear and easy to look at with good definition (10.x L.E.D display) The keyboard (17.7mm key patch)is clearly marked and easy to use. Over 8 months of daily use and there are no keyboard problems.

                  Using the netbook
                  ---------------------

                  The netbook has a 1GB capability and this seems plenty to me. I use the netbook with a portable hard drive to store photos and stuff so I don't clog the netbook up. I store lots of text documents etc on it though.

                  It comes with the usual package of Windows XP but does not have Microsoft Office on it. I wish it had done. However, Word compatible programmes can be downloaded and used.

                  The battery life is good and can be extended by adjusting the battery life by a few simple clicks. I took the netbook on holiday abroad and it lasted a decent amount of time before I had to recharge. However, on a day-to-day basis, I remove the battery and just use the lead and plug. Otherwise the life of the netbook would probably be around 2 years. I hope to get several more out of it.

                  Portability
                  -----------

                  The netbook comes with no case - so it is important to buy one if you intend to cart the netbook about. I bought a £4.99 one from WH Smiths which gives it enough padding to give it some protection. I took it on an aircraft in hand luggage with no problems; it was light, neat and slimline.

                  Issues
                  --------

                  Netbooks differ from laptops in that they have no dvd capability. This is possibly the bit I miss the most. This netbook also has a bit of a rubbish sound quality. It has one mono speaker at the left hand side and the laptop can only really be listened to in a very quiet environment. I suggest buying a pair of headphones; this improves the listening experience no end.

                  The embedded webcam is only of a very basic quality, although it is fine for Skype and it is quite fun to fiddle with the camera package an make some distorted photo pictures.

                  The biggest issue of this laptop is the way it seems to randomly change my screen picture/text size. In all of the 8 months I have been using it, I have not worked out why this happens. I can be just lightly using the mouse pad to direct the cursor and then suddenly my screen size might go down to 10% - and then I have to readjust. It's a bit of a pain in the but. I think it is just a little too sensitive. I have to be careful with my cursor to minimize these changes.

                  To Conclude
                  --------------

                  I like Samsung products (I also have the flat screened TV). I think they are of a good quality. The netbook is no exception to this. It gets used daily by both myself and my daughter and is sometimes used in places where it can get quite hot (such as placed on the duvet) but the fans seem to keep it reasonably cool. It has had a few knocks but has not malfunctioned

                  Yes, the gaping ITC hole in my life has been filled and I have moved on with my Samsung N130!

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                    30.07.2010 09:14
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                    A 'can't put down' book that humanises immigration.

                    Hearts and Minds is a novel which focuses on the daily lives of the immigrant community in the sometimes impersonal and always bustling city of London. Reading the blurb at the back of the book did not initially fill me with a huge desire to get stuck in - but I am not a Londoner and I think I was struggling with a bit of immigration fatigue (lots of immigrant 'bashing' in the media). I consider myself fairly liberal but this book changed my rather unimaginative ideas about immigration. I think it is a deeply riveting and worthwhile read.

                    Plot
                    -----
                    The novel opens with the finding of a body in one of the ponds in Hampstead. I had just visited the women's swimming pond, for the first time, days before I read this novel. This was fortuitous as I could easily visualise the exact place the author described; a perfect location for a gruesome find because of the juxtaposition of the quiet,idyllic nature of this set of ponds and the pockets of densely wooded areas which could hide the crime and violence present in London. The reader does not know the identity of the body until much later in the novel but guessing starts quite early on. The narrative follows the lives of a number of characters who live in London: for most of them, England is not their home country and they are either legal or illegal immigrants. At the start of the novel, their lives are mostly separate but as the narrative progresses, the reader begins to see more and more links. Near the end of the novel, some understanding is gained as to the identity of the murder victim and the possible circumstances. More importantly, some comprehension is gained about the hardship and isolation, both physically and emotionally, that is suffered by people who are separated from lands and loved ones.

                    Structure
                    ------------
                    I found the structure of this novel to be perfect in examining the progressively entwined lives of these five, mostly new, Londoners. The book is episodic in nature with each chapter dealing with one specific character. As repeat character chapters occur, the reader begins to empathise more fully with each character. This is important as it begins to break down the barriers that some people may have about those who come to live in Great Britain from other countries - for whatever reason. It is gratifying, as you read to notice the parts of each character's life where the other characters make unknowing cameo appearances. This builds up the idea that the characters are all somehow connected - and that ultimately - we are all connected - sometimes in ways that we do not perceive. The novel is written in the third person.

                    Characters
                    --------------
                    I found both the main and the more marginal characters in this book to be well written and rounded. I was easily able to do the imaginative identikit on them and bring them to life in the narrative.

                    Polly
                    ------
                    Perhaps the most pivotal character in this novel is Polly. She is a British lawyer working in the less lucrative area of immigration law and is dedicated to her clients as she recognises their harsh, poverty stricken and desperate lives. Polly also juggles her career with her role as a single parent of two children and some depressive tendencies linked with the breakdown of her marriage. One of the ways she addresses the frantic nature of her life is to employ an au pair. Using an immigrant au pair (less than the minimum wage) is the only way Polly can afford to run her life. When the au pair runs off, Polly's life descends into turmoil as her domestic routine is severely disrupted and her career is threatened.

                    Job
                    -----
                    This character is an illegal immigrant from Zimbabwe who works two jobs on the meagre wages paid to those who live below the radar. His main job being a taxi driver. This is a character who challenges the tired stereotype of the immigrant. He is selfless, hard working and intrinsically good; performing acts of kindness that have major reverberations. He also dreams of leaving England and being reunited with his wife.

                    Anna
                    ------
                    Through Anna, the lives of young women who are trafficked into the UK to work as sex slaves is described. She is only 15 and believes she has used her family's money to transport her, from the Ukraine, to a life as a waitress in London. Instead, she is imprisoned and raped. It is difficult to read Anna's story as it is a horrific depiction of what life is like , for countless women behind the rather dingy and innocent building facades of London and other cities.

                    Katie
                    -------
                    Katie's story describes the world of an American immigrant. Her marriage to a British bloke has failed and she is making a brave attempt to start a new life in a flat in a rather rundown area in London. Even though she is the generally more socially acceptable face of immigration - being white and having fewer communication issues - she struggles with alienation in her work (in a typical middle class journalism environment) and in her personal life.

                    Daniel
                    --------
                    This character is a white South African immigrant working as a teacher in an inner city secondary school. He struggles to teach in a school of disengaged students: many who are from immigrant families. Daniel tries hard to do a good job in unfavourable circumstances. I found the account of Daniel's experiences to be the most satisfyingly accurate account of teaching in an inner city school that I have ever read. It showed the root of the issues of troubled schools to lie with a culture of social exclusion and poverty rather than resorting to the usual teacher-bashing of the media.The author had done much research and was informed by the experiences of real teachers.

                    Themes
                    ----------
                    Immigration is the primary theme of 'Hearts and Minds' - which is shown in many different guises and humanised. If you began the book as a reader who had some prejudiced opinions about the subject, then I think you would end the book as a person who has a more sympathetic and rounded view. This is a major achievement in itself given the weight of public opinion on immigration generally. The book urges the reader (and ultimately British society in general) to look beyond the label and consider the lives and circumstances of the immigrant population - particularly those who suffer extreme poverty, loneliness and alienation. Through the narrative it is shown that a more rounded view of those who share our country is ultimately a more sensible, safer, compassionate way of living.

                    Goodness is another important theme and Job is the character that mostly exhibits heroic acts of goodness which change lives - although other main characters also show a more domestic form of good. Good is shown as a positive force and is a challenge to the more negative characters/traits that the protagonists fight in their daily lives (pimps, liars, racists, misogynists, terrorists, prejudice, murderers). It is this theme that makes the novel a contemporary fight against evil and forces the reader to confront any evil (prejudice) that may be within.

                    To Conclude
                    ---------------
                    City life is a difficult experience for many people but this novel places a magnifying glass over the lives of people who are struggling, to varying degrees, as immigrants. Instead of being cut off from these lives, the reader takes an in depth look at them. This process re-humanises a group of people who are not always treated so sympathetically by the modern media. I find it hard to express how important and necessary I think this process is -and this novel has done this skillfully.

                    We are often reminded that we (society) should learn the lessons of the holocaust so that it never happens again but I often see, or experience, the fear and the hate (that are some of the conditions that create terror) in everyday life. This book is a worthy book as it challenges this - as well as being an extremely entertaining read - which had me peeping at later chapters such was my desire to find out what happens next.

                    Given that many UK citizens have concerns about overcrowding and jobs when considering immigration, it is glaringly obvious that this is an area that Amanda Craig does not really discuss. Her more embedded opinion on this matter is shown in the reality of the immigrants' lives. Many do not wish to remain here indefinitely. We see one of the main characters leaving London at the end of the novel. There is at least one other character who may also do the same, given the opportunity. Choice and opportunity are not as simple as some would make out. It is also made clear in the novel that many of the immigrant population contribute significantly more (economically and socially) to UK life than they take.

                    I really enjoyed this book on many different levels and would recommend it.

                    Mental note to self: buy a Big Issue from the Ukrainian woman who stands outside Wilkinsons.

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                    • More +
                      22.07.2010 18:13
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                      I think of my camera as a bit of a lazy friend; I like it but iit is sometimes disappointing.

                      I have had this camera for over a year now so I am fairly familiar with it even though I am not a digital camera boffin.


                      I really like the size and the portability of this camera; it is small enough to slip into a small bag to take to all occasions and since I have had this camera, I have taken loads of pics and loaded them on Facebook - so I have a full record of my last year's activities. Also, the camera is fairly robust; I dropped it on the top of Helm Crag, in the rain, in the lakes and it was found by a walker and returned by post, to me in perfect working order.


                      In good light conditions, this camera can take good photos - but if the light is not the camera takes ages to focus; by the time the shutter snaps, the moment has gone. This has also happened to me when I have been trying to take close up shots on the Macro setting. I was snapping bees at work. Sometimes the camera would respond to my button-pressing and sometimes it just wasn't ready.


                      The camera has many settings and a 'scene recognition' setting (such as portrait or landscape, movie) where it will decide what you are snapping and adjust the fine tuning. This is easy - but I sometimes think that it does not take a good photograph, despite that. I prefer to use the natural light setting if I can. There is also a setting which will take a photo in natural light and then another a second or so afterwards with the flash . I am rarely satisfied with these snaps. The movie setting is fine for simple little movies - such as some Turkish dancers in a restaurant doing their stuff - but when I took some movies at a gig the sound quality was pants.


                      Recently, I took my camera to London to snap an event. My partner took a 35mm camera. I thought my pics were good until I compared them with those from the 35mm - which had much more depth. Unfortunately, the 35mm is a bit bulky to lug around.. Swings and roundabouts really


                      The battery life seems to be reasonable - and it is very easy to recharge the battery. The charger is light and slimline which enabled me to take it on holiday for recharging purposes; I was, therefore, never without my fully functioning camera.


                      The camera cost around £150 last year but on this page, as I write this, Amazon is offering the camera for much less.


                      I have mixed feelings about this camera. I have felt quite frustrated about it's ability many times, particularly as I have become more familiar with it over time. I have also taken some great pics. It took me ages to finally get a close-up picture of a bee on a shrub, that time - but when I did it was a good photograph with lots of detail.

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                        15.07.2010 20:42
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                        Once was great but once was enough

                        This year, I didn't expect my pound to go very far, so like many people, I chose to go to Turkey. I had never been there before and I knew very little about it - mostly that Greeks are reputed to hate Turks. I chose the holiday on the basis of value for money and destinations that were available from my local airport. We travelled in mid May and stayed at the Oren Apart Hotel (self catering) in Icmeler (pronounced Ish-meller).

                        The town of Icmeler is situated at the meeting point of the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea in Southwestern Turkey. It is in the district of Marmaris but can also be thought of as a suburb to the much larger and brasher city of Marmaris. It has a warm climate with a humidity rate of 50-70% in the Summer - which is very comfortable to walk around in. I felt it was not dissimilar to England on a lovely Summer's day.

                        Getting There

                        I flew from East Midlands Airport to Dalaman Airport, taking just over 4 hours. The transfer time by coach took well over 2 hours - and this felt quite arduous - especially as it was advertised as less. At Dalaman Airport it is extremely expensive to buy food (£12 for a McDonalds meal)- so take your own food for the return trip. I'm not interested in McDonalds - thank goodness - but there were lots of horrified faces.

                        The Town

                        The town is nicely laid out and has a completed infrastructure. Twenty years ago, it was a town of just 12 hotels - now it has over 150! Over the last Winter, it has undergone some remodeling and building; some bars being shut and new ones opening. Generally, the town is well-laid out and clean with good pavements, street furniture and green areas. It has two canals running through the town to the sea and a promenade that stretches to Marmaris. The beach is a dark, gritty sand - but perfectly acceptable to stand on. The town is loosely divided into two parts : the old town and the newer, more touristy bits. Our hotel was situated in the older town, behind the mosque and this allowed for a peek into the lives of the Turkish people as we walked to and from the beach. Many of their homes are duplex type buildings. The bottom story being occupied by old people, the 1st floor by the family of the older occupants and the top floor often being rented out to generate an income. I think this is quite a clever way of sorting out living arrangements with older parents. There are springs in the town that locals collect water from (taps in the street in the old town). I think this is probably why the water here was very drinkable; I never bothered buying bottled water.

                        Getting Around

                        Dolmus minibuses are everywhere in Icmeler. It is relatively cheap and easy to travel to local places by these buses. There are bus stops everywhere. It is, however quite hard to travel longer distances. We tried to get a bus from Marmaris to a place 30 miles away; it was totally impossible to find the right place to get the bus (lots of conflicting advice). We literally went around in circles.

                        Tourism

                        Icmeler has a varied history, being controlled by many nations, in the past, including Ionians, Lydians, Persians, Romans and Byzantines. Now, it seems largely to be controlled by the nation of tourists (mostly British but some Swedish, German and Russian also) as the economy of this town is virtually completely dependent on the income generated by them. Conversations with workers revealed that many of those in the service industry work 24/7 in the Summer months - but do absolutely nothing in the Winter (as there is no work). This accounts from the robust efforts made in the resort to claim your custom. Fishing and farming are livelihoods for some inhabitants - but there is not much evidence of this in the town.

                        The Beach

                        Icmeler is situated on a bay with mountains behind and before it; it is stunningly beautiful and has been awarded a Blue Flag for cleanliness. This is best appreciated whilst swimming in the crystal clear waters - which - in May were a warm temperature. I really loved doing this. Swimming was a bit of a respite from the army of sun loungers on virtually every inch of the beach (around £2.50 for a day's hire for 2 loungers plus an umbrella). They make for a comfortable lazy day but they make the beach look ugly and trashy - and they are quite close together. Waiters patrol the beach to take orders. This is useful but sometimes it can be intrusive - especially if a waiter takes a shine to you (and many of the guys there are looking for a lady with a good job in England); they are mega-flirtatious). This can get troublesome and tedious.

                        Things to do

                        As a holiday resort, Icmeler has much to offer with something new to do every day (for those who want to avoid relaxation). Tip - don't book with your own tour operator as there are loads of tour agencies there who offer special deals and competitive prices.

                        Boat Trips

                        Most holidaymakers take some sort of boat trip from Icmeler but these trips should be chosen carefully - not all offer great value for money and being trapped on a boat trip can make for a horrible experience. The 'Lazy day' trip offers a day-long sail around the bays of Icmeler, complete with barbeque for the very reasonable cost of about £8 per person. There are, however, some hidden costs and these are the drinks that you must buy on board - and they are not cheap. You are only allowed to bring one small bottle of water per person - so these extras on a baking hot day are unavoidable - and all day trippers should be prepared for the hard sell from the crew.

                        The places around the bay are lovely though and a day spent snorkeling and swimming in the sun is a lovely thing. The boat visits (among other places) the 'fish farm' (I don't think it really is) and the Phosphorescent Cave, which, when I saw it, had no phosphorescence at all. Check that there are enough sun loungers on the top deck for all the passengers though! A better option is to take an all-inclusive trip. These usually involve a short bus journey to a different town. Icmeler is on a peninsular so this is easily achievable! The 'Turf and Surf' or the 'Blue Voyage' trips are more expensive - but are on a less crowded boat.

                        Jeep Safari

                        We were advised to take one of these when we popped into the 'Insutour' tour agency on the main square (Yasmin, the agent, is helpful and charming). We wanted to take a coach tour to the villages. She told us that coach tours 'were for old people' and we should do the jeep safari. We took her advice and opted for the smaller jeeps with less people (slightly more expensive at around £14 each including lunch- which was very basic with little choice). This was a crazy day and I would hesitate to recommend it. One of the jeeps in our convoy of two was old, damp and smelly and neither jeeps had good seat belts. Not to worry, said the scally-type jeep guys (who later invited us to come and smoke some hashish with them - we declined), seat belts were not mandatory - even on those mountain roads with sheer drops.

                        The Selale Waterfall we visited was stunningly beautiful but the experience was marred by two things: the jeep guys had purposely driven us through a giant puddle and soaked us (for fun) just previous to the experience and a lone member of the jeep safari (whilst walking along a muddy path) slipped and fell down a steep bank into a pool of water. I think the man had mild special needs but the safari leaders had failed to notice his vulnerability. I had to tell them to call a car to collect him and return him to the hotel as he was soaked and injured. They hoped he would carry on with the trip!

                        Other trips include a Turkish Bath tour (they exfoliate roughly so go only when not sun burned) a trip to Dalyan (turtle) beach where the turtles nest. This includes wallowing in a mud bath. Be warned - the boats are totally packed for this trip and the sea journey is 1 and ½ hours each way. Your seat needs to be chosen carefully. Scuba diving, Rafting, Quad Safari (we passed the Quad Safari whilst on the Jeep Safari tour and it looked like torture). There are tours to Pamukkale (the cotton castle)and Epheseus an ancient Roman city. These are the most expensive of tours costing just over £30 per person and involving a lot of driving on a coach. There is also a waterpark in Marmaris but this seemed quite expensive at £15 per adult.

                        Cheap fun in Icmeler can be had by walking along the prom to Marmaris (it is a long way but the views are great). Give up and take a Dolmus from the main road if it becomes too much. Fares are cheap (between 60p - 90p) and there are plenty of orange-coloured buses. Bikes can be hired in the town. There is a bar quite near the front with a bike hire sign outside. Also, the Dolmus or the water taxi can be taken to the nearby village, Turunc. The bus is cheaper than the water taxi but the water taxi is an experience. I enjoyed doing both - great views either way. Turunc is much quieter than Icmeler and I found the shops here to be a little bit cheaper with less bartering to get the lowest price. The first restaurant to your right, on the seafront, as you alight the water taxi, is one which actually serves some Turkish food; the vegetarian meze here was a delight.

                        The town market is a great event on Wednesday. There are a lot of fake designer goods that Brits especially seem to snap up. I liked the stalls with huge piles of amazing fruit and veg. Also, there were some stalls where local women sold their produce such as knitted slippers (£2.50 a pair!) chilli garlands and rosehip jam. It was good to be able to support these ventures. I wear the slippers as I write this.

                        Cat feeding is a popular British holiday past time. Whilst some Turkish people are shooing away and squirting street cats with hoses, Brits (including me) feed them with table scraps and, in my case, a big box of 'Le Cat' bought from the local supermarket. The street cats are uber friendly and some are quite chunky (unlike Greek cats)

                        Night life

                        All bars must shut by 12am in Icmeler with just two clubs allowed to stay open into the early hours. I like this rule as I enjoy sleep, however, as we were there in the early season, the town was not mega busy anyway and rowdiness was not a problem. There are various shows in different restaurants including a Michael Jackson show in one. We watched a lackluster Turkish dance display by some Turkish teenagers in a restaurant on the prom. Drinks were priced about the same as in England - but measures were much larger. Pockets of hilarity could be discovered here and there but, in general, I think that this is not really a resort for the serious party crowd.

                        Restaurants

                        There are a huge variety of restaurants with different themes - such as the one which is a bit like a cruise ship with all waiters in uniforms (to attract women) but they all seem to serve similar English type foods. I found this frustrating as I wanted to sample more Turkish cuisine as it is primarily vegetable based - and being a vegan I looked forward to eating it. The Salem restaurant , near the old part of the town served genuine Turkish food. They are a husband and wife team and worth a visit.

                        To Conclude

                        I enjoyed visiting Icmeler and found the local people generally welcoming and friendly - but I think once was enough. I wanted a more authentic Turkish experience and this town was just a bit too British. I don't blame the businesses there; they are really successful at attracting holidaymakers, I just want to sit on a beach without wall-to-wall loungers and eat local food at a simple taverna-type place.

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                          01.06.2010 21:53
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                          Painful history is brought to life

                          I flipped the first page of this novel open on a beach in a trashy tourist resort, surrounded by hedonistic holidaymakers swilling beer and roasting their uncooked pastry-coloured bodies. After a few pages, I gave up. A tale of malicious ghosts in a jerky, concealing language: it was clearly not my sort of book. I reopened it on a quiet bench in the airport - and immediately became engrossed. The themes of the book are compelling.

                          Plot and Structure
                          ---------------------

                          Beloved is a novel written by Toni Morrison in 1993 and received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is set in the 1900s at the very beginning of a transition period for slaves - some slaves were being bought out of slavery and a vague opposition to the practice was being voiced. However, in this period, the USA was a nation prospering from the labours of the enslaved black people. The novel explores the lives of a community of slaves centering around a woman called Sethe. The house where Sethe and her daughter, Denver live in the present time of this novel is 'haunted' by the restless spirit of Sethe's dead baby. The two, troubled by the poltergeist-like actions of the spirit,challenge the spirit to 'Come'. It does just at the same time as a fellow slave, Paul D, from 18 years ago arrives at the house also. The narrative describes what happens next in the present time but also interweaves snippets from the former slaves' terrible past lives creating the fuller picture of terror, loss, deprivation and denial.

                          The language of the book is interesting; I felt it took you deeper into the very separate (from 'white folks) lives of the black characters and made their true lives (rather than the ones that 'white folks' in the novel perceived them to have) more vivid to the reader. As I began the book, I needed to go back and re read phrases to extract their full meaning but as I got further into the book, I became more familiar with the language. Towards the end of the novel, the writing takes on a more poetic stream-of-consciousness for some pages. This is fitting as it expresses some of the more complex emotional states and worlds of key characters - some of which would be difficult to describe in straight prose.

                          Characters
                          -------------

                          At one point, towards the end of the novel, a peripheral character says, "We are all mad." and this perhaps sums up the mental state of slaves and former slaves who have been damaged and changed by acts of immense cruelty. The novel examines some of the particular 'journeys' of the slaves. The main character of this novel, Sethe, is a woman whose mental state, is deeply affected by this at various points of her life. The reader sees her as a slave,as a runaway as a daughter in law, as a lover, as an employee - and as a mother: it is as though we are viewing her from a multitude of angles - the huge strength and the meltdowns. Her daughter, Denver, is also shown as a character who makes a journey -but hers is from inertia and fear to bravery and independence. Paul D is a character who takes the longest physical runaway journey to freedom - but his hardest task is to figure out what his place is -either involved - or not involved - with this troubled family with which he is strongly connected to from the past. Other characters include Baby Suggs - the visionary mother in law of Sethe and Beloved - the pivotal presence. A number of other characters include 'white folks' slave owners and others, many, many slaves and a few ex slaves. As a reader, you get the feeling of a cast of thousands but with the scrutiny falling to a few. Those few tell the pain of the many.

                          Themes
                          ----------

                          The main theme of this novel is - what it means to be 'free'. All other themes such as love and being a parent are all examined under the umbrella of this major theme. Through the various characters' stories, the reader sees the agony of a life in enslavement where all emotions need to be repressed because the pain of loss (loss of family, children, dignity, control, self esteem etc) are commonplace in a place where white society views black slaves as animalistic and treats them accordingly. I felt that the themes were incredibly thought provoking, making the reader consider the realities of slavery in a tangible and emotionally connected way. As, I went deeper into the book, I understood some of the complexities of the situations and emotions that the themes explored.

                          To Conclude
                          ---------------

                          'Beloved' is a must-read book. It took me to a greater understanding of the lives of slaves. It is a reminder of the horror and institutionalised violence that characterised the USA at that period and continues to rear its ugly head intermittently - in the world - and over the ages. There are still many in the Western world whose family wealth is directly attributable to the work of slaves.

                          This is not a particularly easy read but it is extremely engaging - and this makes it a worthy winner of its prize. I found myself thinking of the horrors and the dilemmas of the fictional characters - and of the real people who endured and were murdered by the atrocity of slavery.

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                            31.03.2010 17:51
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                            An easy way to store pc files

                            This review is for an Iomega Portable Hard Drive 320. It is similar looking to this casing apart from the fact that it has a rounded end and looks a little more streamlined.

                            You will be able to see from the review so far that I am no computer geek. I like my pc products to be easy to use with no unfavourable jargon. I want them to be fit for purpose and hardwearing. Buying a piece of kit like this was quite painful for me. I knew I needed something to store lots of pictures on that would not fill up too quickly so I searched on Dooyoo to get some idea of what reviewers would recommend. This was very useful and resulted in me buying this product.

                            How to use it
                            -----------------

                            The Iomega comes with a lead which attaches to the storage device - the other end having TWO usb cable ends on (a bit like a two headed beast). These usb ends plug into a laptop or pc that has two available, close usb holes (clearly a very technical term). It will not work if only one usb end is attached.

                            Once the Iomega is plugged in, there is usually a little jingly noise to announce the pc/laptop has aknowledged it. Sometimes a box comes up.

                            To save something on the Iomega, I click the 'Save As' button, go to 'Computer' and then select the 'Iomega Storage Device' that is shown. At first (being no pc whizz) I was slightly confused - but got the hang of it very quickly when I messaged the reviewer of the Iomega that I had read; he was very helpful.

                            Is it fast?
                            ----------

                            In my experience, the Iomega saves pictures, powerpoints and word files almost instantaneously. I have not saved any music -but my daughter has - and has expressed no difficultes. So, far, I have loads of stuff stored on it and there is still lots more space.

                            I have taken my Iomega along to job interviews that have required a presentation, plugged it into the interviewer's laptop and opened it up easily.

                            Portable?
                            -----------

                            I find it extremely portable; I have no case for it so I stow it in a hiker's sock (a great look for an interview) and it has come to no harm. I have also dropped it on numerous occasions and it functions magnificently. It is actually marketed as being hardwearing and this was a major selling point for me (knowing I was likely to drop it/fling it/crush it).

                            It actually is pocket sized - I can slip it into my coat pocketbut I don't think it would be very easy to fit into a skinny pocket.

                            Would I recommend it?
                            ----------------------------

                            I already have. There are now three Iomega portable hard drives in my household (daughter and partner) - all using them happily.

                            I am seriously glad I took the plunge and bought this bit of kit. It cost me about £43 from Comet.

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                              21.02.2010 10:13
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                              Gripping gothic horror

                              This novel gets off to an explosive start - literally. A few pages in, Frank, the just sixteen year old protagonist of this tale, plants some home-made bombs in rabbit warrens and explodes them. Shortly after this, he uses a home-made flame-thrower device on the stunned and injured rabbits. It's a shocking beginning - and I almost did not get past it; the animal cruelty/gore was significant. It sounds strange but I had to remind myself that this was fiction - but I felt troubled by the author's (warped) imagination. I did persevere with the (gothic) horror and quite soon became gripped!

                              The Author
                              -------------

                              'The Wasp Factory' is the first novel of Iain Banks (1984). In 1993, Banks was aknowledged as being one of the best of young British writers and wrote a number one bestseller, 'Crow Rd' in 1996 which was dramatised. He lives in Fife in Scotland - which is significant as he sets 'The Wasp Factory' in a remote area of Scotland.

                              Plot
                              -----

                              Frank lives in a remote spot with his O.C.D. 'eccentric' father who conducts accurate measuring of all household items in imperial measurements only. They get news that Frank's older brother, Eric, has just escaped from the mental institution that he usually resides in; they know immediately he is on his way and destructive havoc will ensue. Other characters include a crabby housekeeper and a dwarf drinking-buddy of Frank's. The mother figure of this household is noticeably absent. Frank's hippy-type father has never registered the birth of his son so Frank lives a life of semi-invisibility often passing as his father's nephew. Frank has murdered three children some years ago - but believes it is all in the past. The novel follows Frank as he waits for the reappearance of his brother and takes a number of random telephone conversations from him on the way.

                              There is an interesting twist to the end of the tale and even writing this review, I need to make sure the integrity of the ending is preserved by not divulging too much by being technically correct. If this is confusing, you'll have to read it to see what I mean!

                              Structure
                              ------------

                              The book is divided into 11 chapters and each one seems to explain some aspect of his life -for example, the chapter called 'The Bomb Circle' is a chapter that fully describes how he killed one of his victims. Just what is the 'wasp factory'? This too has a chapter which describes the idea more fully. However, this novel is also full of little bits of information that the reader collects on the way and these 'hints' help you to build up a clearer (and fascinating) picture of the motivation of Frank and the other characters.

                              I really enjoy a novel that drops hints because I appreciate a pro-active reading experience where you have 'the penny drops' moments and this book has them in just the right amount. Some of these kind of novels can be a little confusing if the hints are too obscure or too many - but 'The Wasp Factory' seems to hit the right note.

                              Characters
                              --------------

                              Frank, despite his cruel side, is quite enigmatic. The novel is written in the 1st person (Frank's narrative) so the reader gets to know him quite well being privy to his secrets and thoughts. He is a self confessed killer - but seems to be both smart and sensible. He has been home schooled by this father and is a competent bomb builder. Strangely enough, he seems to quite like his victims; his motivation to kill them clearly does not come from hate and the reader is left wondering about a seeming lack of empathy.
                              Frank's unkempt father (estimated age about 45) is most often seen cooking (usually) vegetarian dishes in the kitchen. When he is not doing this, he is drinking whiskey in excess or ferreting about in his locked study (which Frank tries to get into but cannot). "What height is this table?" he asks Frank. This is a routine that has been going on for Frank's lifetime. There are little stickers on all household items with the measurement of each part on. Frank knows it is weird behaviour. The relationship between Frank and his dad is perfunctory; there are few feelings discussed and both seem to live relatively separate lives - each with their own significant secrets.
                              Eric's character is mostly learned from his wild 'phone conversations with Frank. These are comic in their nature and usually end with the harsh abuse of a public telephone receiver - or of Frank hearing fragments of abuse to a captured pet dog. Eric is well known for his habit of setting fire to dogs and Frank warns him constantly to leave the dogs alone. This seems quite strange - bearing in mind that Frank has a history of several murders.

                              Themes
                              ----------

                              The theme of family ties is a huge one in this novel. Frank and his family are dysfunctional to the extreme; riddled with warped, destructive and secretive behaviours and yet normal behaviours are interspersed - Frank's dad makes tea, they talk about other people, they listen in to each other's 'phone conversations; they are deeply connected. Even when Eric is expected to return home from the asylum, Frank looks forward to seeing him despite knowing it will be terrible. There is a love there - the warts and all kind.

                              Death is another major theme in the novel. Frank is obsessed with it; it is like a hobby for him. It is something to do in the remote loneliness of his invisible life. Rituals are created with the deaths and the display of small creatures (heads on poles, skulls with candles in) - and of course, there are the human murders. The question is ultimately posed - why would someone do these sort of things? I think the novel answers this question quite well at the end.

                              'Secrets' is a huge theme. All of the major characters have significant secrets (rituals, places, emotions). Once again, the idea of motivation is questioned. Those who have secrets clearly have (often painful) reasons for keeping them. In the context of these particular characters, the motivations are eventually exposed in a satisfying manner.

                              Misogyny is a thread that runs through the tale of this all male household. Frank expresses some fairly offensive and woman-hating opinions. Once again, quite unpalatable to the reader - but dealt with by Banks quite interestingly.

                              To Conclude
                              ----------------

                              I felt horrified as I began to read this book. However, the book is described as a 'gothic horror 'story - so I suppose I should not have been surprised. In some ways, the book fits quite neatly with my own perspective on human life - that the veneer of life has the appearance of 'normality' but much of human life relies on industrialised horror and destruction (especially with the non-stop animal slaughter/ environmental devastation that human life seems to completely rely upon). Ultimately, 'damage' is the main theme of this novel and the karma that exists in negative feedback.

                              Another comment I need to make is about the twist at the end of the story. I was left wondering about the feasibility of such a thing - but I am a woman and the author was male. Our perspective could be different. Read the book and think on this for yourself!

                              Interspersed between the horrors of the story was a comic thread. There is something about the way that Frank describes terrible things with a lightness of tone that is slightly amusing. This, of course, makes you question the character's empathy (quite a few 16 year olds seem to lack empathy anyway) - but it shows a skilled hand in the forming of such a character and it makes a satisfying read.

                              Would I recommend this novel? Yes - but I think it should never be made into a film as I feel it has the power to provoke copycat activities of cruelty and destruction (and there's enough of those in the world already).

                              Interestingly, this novel is sometimes studied for A level English. Apparently (and unsurprisingly), teenage boys have huge levels of engagement with the story - and probably feel pulled up quite sharply by the significant end!

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                                16.01.2010 09:14
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                                A book about modern self awareness and the search for truth

                                'On Chesil Beach' is an entire novel written about a couple (Florence and Edward) trying to have sex for the first time; it is like a microscope zooming in close to the minutiae of the matter. Granted, the novel is fairly short (166 pages) and it does pop in and out of the protagonists' pasts - but its focus is painfully sharp and entirely rivetting.


                                The setting of the novel is important. The western world is waiting for an era of sexual liberation. There is a rumour of 'The Pill' and a feeling that lives free from the restraint of the past decades are being lived - just out of view from the protagonists. Edward has a feeling that, 'just out of sight, men of his age were leading explosive, untiring sex lives, rich with gratifications of every kind.' In retrospect, we know that this was indeed true - but the young couple are confused by the restrictions and the expectations of the new 1960s. They are still stuck in an age where only marriage enabled you to be totally free and real - but a different age is tantalisingly close.

                                Plot
                                -----

                                The novel is divided into five chapters. The first chapter places Florence and Edward in July 1962. It is their wedding night ad they are at a hotel which overlooks Chesil Beach. They have not had sex before and done very little exploration of each other; the atmosphere is tense with the approach of the seemingly inevitable.

                                The second chapter visits the past lives of Edward and Florence and we come to know these two people better because of this. Edward's family life is shown to be a bit of a sham - his father keen to keep up the sham of everything being normal in their house when, in fact, Edward's mother has brain damage (form an incident that happened when she was already married) and their house is a place of physical and mental chaos. Florence's life also has issues. Her mother is cold and disinterested and her father is a businessman - competitive and preoccupied.

                                The third chapter returns to the matter in hand - and the sex act that is starting to happen. After they fumble along in a tortured fashion - most of the action being cerebral - the book then moves to Chapter Three where the reader learns a little more about the past and the courtship of Florence and Edward. Finally, the book returns to the present and the culmination of all the fumbling and heavy thinking....

                                Characters
                                --------------

                                Both characters are described as 'young, educated and both virgins'. They both have painfully old-fashioned names that are never shortened or replaced by nicknames like the 'Twiggy' of the same era. They seem to be firmly cemented into traditional ways.


                                Florence is a dedicated musician. She plays the violin - which she has studied at university and is keen on making a career out of it. She seems a little prim. The thought of sex and the human, male body is repulsive to her - but she has never communicated this to her boyfriend. She, therefore, finds herself on her wedding night in a high state of anxiety. The novel hints at some possible sexual abuse that takes place in her childhood and her distaste of maleness is somehow linked with her feelings for her father.


                                Edward has studied History and has a vague notion one day to be a History teacher and avoid National Service. He shows his extreme naivety in his constant misreading of his wife/girlfriend's agonised attempts to behave in a normal or appropriate physical way but does not entertain the notion of opening up a conversation about the negative sexual tension that exist between them. He somehow accepts it as normal and continues doggedly in his acts of 'self-pleasuring' whilst walking on sexual eggshells around his wife/girlfriend. As a character, he is as frustrating as his own feelings.


                                Both characters are perfectly depicted. They represent an important part of history with an acute awareness of massive change in the arena of sexuality - but with a faltering reticence to move forward and seize the moment. It is ironic that Edward has studied History but cannot recognise the true validity of his own moment within it and also that Florence has studied music but is unable to find any sort of expression otherwise - either through verbal communication or through physicality.

                                To Conclude
                                ----------------

                                I thought 'On Chesil Beach' to be a fascinating and well crafted read. In its understated narrative it reveals the agonies of that early age and paints an eloquent picture of the decade preceding it. The childhoods of both of the main characters are visited and examined - and within them the reader sees the attitudes - both positive and negative that have formed these two characters and their generation. The ending of the story sums up all the reader may be feeling about the couple's actions and their possibilities - because the narrative is discussing something much more profound than just the actions of two people. The setting of Chesil Beach also has meaning. It is described 'with its infinite shingle' and this reflects the infinite (sexual?) possibilities of the coming age. I have visited this beach and it is indeed a beach which stretches off into a perspective point. Those characters are so close to this age of freedom!

                                The Author
                                -------------

                                Ian McEwan was born in 1948 in Aldershot. He has written novels, screenplays, a stage play, children's fiction, an oratario and an article on climate change. 'On Chesil Beach' is his most recent novel, written in 2007;it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In 1962, the date of the setting of the novel, McEwan would have been 14 and he too would have been poised on the edge of his own sexual maturity and the age of 'sexual liberation'.


                                Would I recommend this book? Highly. It is a deeply satisfying read on many levels which can be read in a relatively short space of time; little effort but maximum gain.

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                                  09.01.2010 10:22
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                                  Parenthood can be Hell

                                  Jodi Picoult has written a number of novels - and I am ploughing through them, due to the fact that my library always seems to have a different one available when I go in.


                                  The Tenth Circle has a slightly unusual format to other Picoult novels I have read as it also has a comic strip story interrupting the narrative at intervals. This comic is written by the dad character of the story and mirrors his endeavours and emotions in the narrative. The Tenth Circle also has no courtroom ending (as many of Picoult's novels have). All of the action leads the reader to believe this will happen but then events curtail it.

                                  The book also had a liitle riddle for the reader to solve at the end. This involved finding hidden letters in the comic-strip to reveal an important theme in the book. I can't say that I was compelled to complete the riddle; I found two letters easily - and then I took the book back to the library. I like to think about themes instead.


                                  Plot
                                  -----

                                  Trixie is a 15 year old girl who comes home from a teenage party and claims to have been raped by her ex boyfriend. She is clearly distraught - and her protective father is enraged. Trixie's mother is involved in the ending of an affair at the time of the rape. The narrative follows the consequences of the rape for all of the characters and Trixie's father's demands for justice.

                                  Characters
                                  --------------

                                  Daniel Stone is Trixie's father who is a man with secrets in his past relating to his childhood when he was brought up the only white child in an Inuit community. His rage is a huge part of his personality and this is reflected in his comic book story. He is a fiercely loving and protective father.

                                  Laura Stone (Trixie's mother) is a uni lecturer who has a specialist subject of Dante's 'Inferno'. She has been preoccupied with an affair she has hadwith a student. At the beginning of the book, she is ending the affair and trying to reconnect with her husband.


                                  Trixie Stone is a teenager who is struggling with the after effects of being dumped by her popular, attractive, team-sports boyfriend, Jason. She tries to win him back at a party with some provocative behaviour, advised by her best friend. At the end of the party, when she is alone with Jason is the time when she claims he raped her.

                                  Jason is a typical all-American successful teenage boy. He has a bright future and many friends. He is just the sort of boy that no one would believe would commit the crime of rape. He claims to be the vicim of false allegations.

                                  Themes
                                  ----------

                                  The love of a parent for a child is a main theme of this book. The question is posed - just how far would a parent go to rescue their child? This question is expored through the comic-book interruptions that appear at strategic point in the novel and show the comic's protagonist travelling through the nine levels of Hell to rescue his young daughter. He is accompanied through Hell by Virgil, the only man to have come out of Hell alive. He describes the different levels and dangers of Hell as they arrive at each level - with al the different types of sinners.

                                  Sin is obviously another theme of this book. Rape, adultery, deceit, murder - are all examined in this novel. Daniel Stone is a man with secrets in his past - but as the novel unfolds, it appears that he is not the only one. Sin is everywhere - and it seems that only the truth will release everyone from the grip that holds them. At the end of the novel, the truth is held by an unlikely character and offers a suitable twist to one of the themes.

                                  Teenage Promiscuity is an important theme of this book. The narrative describes how Trixie and her friend behave at a teen party. This behaviour is not entirely comfortable with the teens themselves - but it is powered forward by peer pressure, expectations and naivety. This is the sort of teen behaviour that has become the normal for many young teenagers - and it is behaviour that is clearly well out of the view of adults - and covered with a veil of lies to hide the tracks. Picoult does not offer an overly judgemental opinion on this subject - but by the aftermath of the party - shows the consequences to become a 'hellish' experience. The implication is that these youthful, uncomfortable sexual experiences can lead to terrible physical and mental states; damage is caused. A healthy teen interaction is shown in the novel as a contrast to the bad stuff -- but this remains undeveloped and a little unsatisfying.

                                  The tenth circle of Hell does not exist - but as readers, we wonder at what this might be. The final comic strip offers an idea of this.


                                  To Conclude
                                  ---------------

                                  I found this book rather slow. At one point, the action moves to Alaska - and this is the bit that actually caught my attention and had me reading much more speedily than I previously had been doing. I Also found the chapter's rather long. I kept trying to read to the end of a chapter and then giving up because it was too far away and I was a bit bored.

                                  I like the fact that rape and the supposed grey areas is a topic that has been developed in this novel. Picoult is an author who exploits controversial subject matter - and this is no exception. I did, however, find it somewhat lacking and empty; I didn't feel the empathy that I thought I would. Maybe this is because I was subconsciouly judgemental of the unwise overtly sexual behaviour of the teens. Maybe this was a device to make a reader question his or her own preconceptions. I'm not sure about this as I am quite clear on my own definition of 'rape' and it is seperate from the thoughts I have on teen promiscuity.

                                  Would I recommend this book? If you have some tenacity as a reader, yes. Otherwise -give it a wide berth.

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