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    • Nokia 113 / Mobile Phone / 39 Readings / 37 Ratings
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      19.10.2013 11:37
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      Cheap and cheerful!

      I am the kind of person who likes "No Frills" phones- the ones thant just make calls and texts. I have no desire to surf the web on my phone or do anything fancy. I have my iPad and PC for that. I also believe in squeezing every last drop of life out of a phone before I replace it. I only buy a new one if I really need to.

      Sadly, my last phone gave up the ghost and I went over to Tesco to buy a new one. I had one mission: to buy the cheapest, most basic phone in the shop. I saw the Nokia T113 and its tiny price tag and took it home with me. I popped my Tesco Sim in the slot and I was ready to go.

      Like I mentioned, the phone is very basic, with few features. The phone does have internet capability, but it is very basic and slow, so I don't bother using it.

      *Home Screen*

      The home screen has nine icons:

      Call log
      Contacts
      Games Gift (EA sports credit included with phone)
      Store (apps)
      Messaging
      Photos
      Settings
      Applications
      Internet

      The icons are easy to toggle through using the arrows on the keypad and pressing the OK button to access each one.

      Out of this list, I tend to just use the call log, messaging and contacts icons. I occasionaly use the phone to take a photo, but the quality is quite grainy.

      *Calls*

      Calling is easy and straightforward. The sound quality of the phone is good and I have no problems hearing the person I am talking to. The keypad is easy to use and the contacts list makes it easy to access the information of the person I am trying to call.

      It is also easy to save contacts if an unfamiliar number calls you, although there seems to be no way to block unwanted phone numbers.

      *Messaging*

      I use the messaging feature a lot. Texting is simple and easy to do and there is also the option to add smileys, pictures and even video to your messages.

      *Music*

      Another useful option of the phone is that it has an inbuilt radio. I can use the supplied earphones to listen to my favourite radio stations during a commute. The reception is good and sound quality fine.

      *Games*

      The are a few games intalled on the phone, like Snake and Sudoku, but I have to confess, i have never bothered with them.

      The phone itself is sturdy and well built and looks like it will last a long time. It doesn't seem flimsy or poor quality.

      The phone is glossy black and easy to keep clean by wiping the screen over. I tend to keep it loose in my bag, but the screen has been surprisingly scratch and mark resistant.

      I know the T113 is basic and functional and some people may look upon it with disdain, but to be honest, it suits me fine. I have had smartphones in the past, but always seem to come back to little basic phones like this, because they are uncomplicated, sturdy, and it doesnt matter too much if I lose it or break it!

      The T113 would be ideal for those who are uncomfortable with technology, as it is very basic and even the most inexperienced phone user could handle it without any problems. It would be a good first phone for a child or a great backup phone to keep in the drawer for emergencies.

      I cannot fault the T113 (apart from its inability to block unwanted calls). It is a functional phone with no frills that does what it says on the tin. I hope it lasts me for many years to come!

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        06.10.2013 10:57
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        Average picture book. Nothing special.

        A lonely child wishes for a little brother or sister to play with, but ends up with a crocodile instead. The crocodile is messy and intrusive and soon starts making a nuisance of himself, causing trouble at teatime, bathtime and bedtime. Can the crocodile and the child get over their differences and become friends in the end?

        I Got a Crocodile is a rather unusual little story about what happens when a friend does not meet your expectations. The story shows young children that by embracing differences and learning to find ways to play together and cooperate, bonds of friendship can grow between the most unlikely playmates.

        The artwork is charming, playful and simple, with subdued colours. The pictures have a childlike quality, with the 'colouring in' often intentionally going over the lines. This gives the drawings a slightly messy, blurry appearance which kids will be able to identify with. Seeing the huge crocodile trying to master human activities, such as riding a scooter and eating spaghetti is sure to raise a giggle from young readers.

        My young son had a bit of a problem with the plot of the book. The opening line is:

        I always wanted a brother or sister....but instead I got a crocodile.

        My little boy couldn't understand why the child in the book had a crocodile instead of a brother or sister! It really seemed to bother him and he kept asking me over and over again about how the crocodile got there.

        As kid's books go, I found this one quite average. The plot was not very exciting and the premise a little confusing for young children. The artwork was sweet, however, and the book contains a worthwhile message about friendship that could be a useful way of teaching kids how to get along with one another.

        I previously reviewed this book on www.thebookbag.co.uk and thank the publishers for my review copy.

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          26.09.2013 14:01
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          Lovely book for dino fans.

          There are dinosaurs in the supermarket!
          Look, they're everywhere!
          If only grown-ups noticed them
          They'd get a frightful scare.

          But of course, the grown-ups are so immersed in their grocery shopping, that they don't notice the dinosaurs hiding on the shelves, in amongst the vegetables and behind the display cases. Only one little boy is observant enough to spot the dinosaurs all around the supermarket and the fact that their antics are causing chaos. If he doesn't do something soon, the adults may blame HIM for all the mess appearing on the walls and floors.

          Dinosaurs in the Supermarket is a lot of fun to read. There are dinosaurs hiding on every page, but finding them can be quite tricky. The pictures are colourful and bright and brimming with detail. Was that a pair of eyes I spied peeking out of the carrots? Is that a purple tail behind that display of tins? Is that T. Rex disguised as a customer wearing a trilby?

          I loved the fact that only the boy in the story and the reader can spot the dinosaurs. All the adults are cheerfully going about their business, completely unaware of the disorder around them. I also liked the way that the dinosaurs are pictured inside the end covers and their names are spelled phonetically, so that we can pronounce them properly. Kids have a great ability for tackling complicated dinosaur names and it gives them something to impress the teacher with at school!

          The story also has a brilliant ending with the dinosaurs jumping out from their hiding places to say BOO! to the grown-ups. Children will love the picture on the last page of the colourful dinosaurs revealing themselves to the petrified customers. Of course, it gives both parent and child the perfect opportunity to shout BOO! as loud as we can in unison!

          This story is perfect for young dinosaur fans and the detailed pictures will keep them amused for ages. A lovely book to share.

          I previously reviewed this book for the Bookbag website and thank the publishers for my advance copy.

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          21.09.2013 18:47
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          A lovely picture book for young ones.

          Two curious little spiders find a monkey nut lying on the ground. They don't know what it is, but they do know that they both want it and that they don't want to share. But what is this strange, knobbly object? Is it a chair? A musical instrument? Maybe a boat? Whatever it is, the two little spiders are not the only ones interested. A much bigger, hairier spider is lurking in the shadows, waiting for the chance to grab the monkey nut for himself, but will he succeed?

          Monkey Nut is a bright and cheerful picture book that will have young readers laughing out loud from beginning to end. The beauty of the book is its simplicity; basic illustrations in bold primary colours combining hand-drawn characters with photographs. The text is also minimal, with only two or three large-print words on each page, making it perfect for those just learning to read. With just a few well-chosen words and pictures, Rickerty is able to tell a charming story with likeable characters.

          The story encourages creativity, with the little spiders finding different uses for the nut. On one page it is a telephone, on the next, a hat. It rather reminded me of the props round in the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? when the contestants were handed a random prop and expected to find as many creative uses for it as possible!

          My little boy loved the book and kept bringing it back to me to read again and again, although as soon as I opened the book, he started reading by himself out loud. The book is such a lot of fun and so engaging that it is the kind of story that young children will want to read over and over again.

          I previously reviewed this book for the website www.thebookbag.co.uk and I thank the publishers for my review copy.

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          14.09.2013 09:27
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          Another triumph by Morpurgo

          In The Imperial War Museum, a little wooden dog stands in a glass display case. He was donated to the museum in 2005 by a family who lived at a farm in Kent. The little dog was made from cast-off apple boxes by a German prisoner of war who worked at the farm.

          The little dog, 'Manfred', inspired Michael Morpurgo to write a fictional account about the prisoners and their relationship with the family, specifically the little girl, who lived at the farm. The story discusses the tragic realities surrounding the sinking of the Hood and the Bismarck and visualises the deep emotional scars that would have haunted the survivors. On a lighter note, the book also touches on another confrontation between England and Germany: the famous 1966 World Cup final. To discover how all these separate plot elements come together, you will have to read the book for yourself!

          When Morpurgo writes for children, he never talks down to his audience. The material in this story is sometimes distressing, even shocking, yet the themes are always covered in a dignified, respectful and gentle manner that put the reader at ease. Morpurgo never shies away from the emotional issues surrounding events and I must admit that as with most of his books, I was blinking back tears whilst reading.

          Little Manfred is another shining example of Michael Morpurgo's excellent storytelling, again bringing together his favourite subjects; war history and the relationship between man and animals. The book brings history to life for young readers and will ensure that the events of the past remain alive in the minds of the next generation.

          A wonderful mixture of old and new, Little Manfred will appeal to readers from the age of 8 to 108, with its charming narrative, beautiful illustrations and fascinating storyline. I devoured the whole book in one sitting.

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          23.08.2013 17:19
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          The Woman Behind the Myth.

          Queen Isabella of Spain will always be regarded as a bit of an enigma. On the one hand, contemporary sources claim that she was wise, kind and gentle, hating any kind of cruelty, including the popular sport of bullfighting. Her rule brought about the unification of Spain and heralded a new era of peace for its people. On the other side of the coin, she and her husband Fernando sanctioned the infamous Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of all Jews from Spain. Her most vehement critics may also point out that her sponsorship of Columbus brought untold misery to the inhabitants of the Americas, although in her defence, there is no way that she could have predicted the eventual consequences of his pioneering voyage.

          So how can these contrasting sides of her personality be reconciled? This was the task that C.W Gortner set for himself when writing The Queen's Vow, an account of Isabella's life, beginning with her early childhood and ending with Columbus setting sail for the New World. The story is a rich, sweeping epic, with an expressive, engaging narrative that completely immerses the reader.

          Gortner's characterisation is wonderfully descriptive. I especially enjoyed the passages describing the greasy, world-weary king Enrique and his loathsome 'favourite', Villena. Equally fascinating was the depiction of Torquemada the Inquisitor as a gaunt, skeletal, shadowy figure, constantly lurking in the darkness.

          The story sees Isabella develop from a shy teenager to a formidable warrior-queen. Gortner treads a fine line between writing sympathetically about the queen, whilst taking care not to justify her flawed reasoning and more extreme actions. It is clear that because of her devout faith, she believed that what she was doing was for the good of her country, although history would later judge her to the contrary.

          The Queen's Vow is not just an historical epic; it is a human story, written in the first person perspective from a woman who initially felt overwhelmed by the tasks set before her, but rose to most challenges with dignity and wisdom. Her love for her husband was deep-seated and real, with the passage describing their first, 'stolen' dance in the garden one of my favourite passages in the book.

          My only criticism was that the pace of the story was slow and plodding at times; fans of action and excitement may find themselves bored by the sedate tempo of the storyline.

          Admire her or hate her, Isabella is sure to divide opinion, but this absorbing novel gives a fresh perspective on historical events by telling the story from an original and very personal point of view.

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            13.08.2013 11:17
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            Time travelling romp in the style of H G Wells

            On a dark and rainy night, a weary but determined Langdon St. Ives rides out in hot pursuit of the villain who is holding his wife, Alice, captive. Catching up with his nemesis on the road, the resulting standoff between the two ends with St. Ives witnessing the cold-blooded murder of his beloved, shot in the head at point blank range whilst pinned under the wheels of a carriage. It is a scene that will play out again and again in his mind, driving him to the brink of madness and desperation. There appears, however, to be a glimmer of hope in the form of a mysterious machine in the possession of the Royal Academy of Science; a machine that may hold the secret to time itself. Is it possible for our hero to harness the power of Lord Kelvin's Machine and rewrite history?

            Lord Kelvin's Machine is the third book in Blaylock's Langdon St. Ives trilogy and is set several years after the events of Homunculus, featuring many of the same characters. The book is divided into three shorter stories, each written from a slightly different point of view. The first story introduces the mysterious machine as a possible salvation for planet earth, which is in danger of being catapulted into a collision course with an oncoming comet. The second story is written from the standpoint of Jack Owlesby, a close friend of St. Ives. This section seems to go off at a tangent from the main theme of the book, but is an entertaining standalone tale in its own right. The third story charts St. Ives' descent into madness and his use of the machine to warp the fabric of time in order to save Alice.

            I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, as I really disliked Homunculus. Thankfully, Blaylock has done much to redeem himself with Lord Kelvin's Machine. The writing style is more consistent, there are fewer characters and the characters themselves are more rounded. In Homunculus, the villains were nothing more than shallow ciphers, but this sequel gives a better insight into their personal stories and psychological states. I particularly liked the insane Willis Pule (fantastic name) and his equally deranged mother who dress alike and seem intent on chopping up their enemies and rearranging their body parts, with the hope of selling the resulting chimeras to 'Mr Happy's Circus'.

            There was plenty of action throughout the story, although certain sections did seem long-winded with excessive rambling. Blaylock, who is usually word-perfect when it comes to writing Victorian-English made a clanging mistake when referring to aubergines as 'eggplants', but this was the only Americanism I noted in the book. In conclusion, Lord Kelvin's Machine was an enjoyable romp, reminiscent of H. G Wells Time Machine which was both gripping and touching to read.

            I previously published this review at www.thebookbag.co.uk and thank the publishers for my review copy.

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            10.08.2013 23:17
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            A must-read account of our all too recent history.

            There are certain aspects of world history that we are duty-bound to teach to each generation. World War I was called 'The Great War' for a reason; it changed the world scene irrevocably and is regarded as the single most important event of the twentieth century. The war introduced dreadful new weapons designed to slaughter as many people as possible with maximum efficiency, sadly resulting in many millions of deaths.

            The Great War is a remarkable book, thoroughly covering every aspect of the conflict in painstaking detail. It examines the sweeping political disputes that set the world scene leading up to the war and then zooms in to minutiae of life in the trenches by means of eyewitness accounts from both sides of the battlefield.

            What sets this book apart from others of its kind is the fact that Hart takes a completely neutral stance and does not write the account from the bias of any particular nation. Lesser-known skirmishes, events at sea and at the Eastern Front are given equal consideration to the famous battles of Mons, Marne and the Somme. This gives a more balanced overview of the war as a whole and it is refreshing to see a new perspective on these historical events.

            The eyewitness reports are moving, harrowing and horrific. One particular account; a letter from a soldier to his wife and newborn baby was particularly difficult to read and shows the devastating effect that the war had on ordinary families. The addition of black and white photographs taken on the battlefield add to the sombre mood of the book and help bring the accounts to life. Hart spares no detail in describing the gruesome, grisly injuries inflicted by the new breed of weapons developed in this time period.

            Hart has an excellent way of conveying information in layman's terms without talking down to his audience. His writing style is informative and engaging and easy to understand and the layout easy to follow.

            The Great War is not an easy read at 608 pages long, but it is one of those books that perhaps we must read, however difficult. The aftershocks of the conflict still resonate today. The world must never forget the events of 1914-1918, the greatest human tragedy in history. With his thoroughly researched, well-written narrative, Peter Hart has created an appropriate and thought-provoking tribute to those who sacrificed their lives in the Great War.

            I previously reviewed this book for www.thebookbag.co.uk and thank the publishers for my copy of the book.

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              04.07.2013 19:46
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              Fabulous book based on a true story. Incredible.

              Little Mishka finds his cosy world turned upside down after the death of his beloved Babushka Ina. Unable to cope, his desperate mother finds solace in the arms of an abusive, alcoholic boyfriend and things go from bad to worse. When his mother mysteriously disappears, five year old Mishka flees to the heart of the city, where he joins up with a gang of street children, begging and stealing to survive.

              Unsure of where he truly belongs and disillusioned by the cruelty of the other children, Mishka follows a friendly stray dog back to its pack and soon assumes his place in the group. The dogs are loyal and unlike the cruel humans, they share food and look out for one another. As the harsh Russian winter advances, Mishka and the dogs rely on one another for survival. Years pass and Mishka slowly begins to lose his humanity, forgetting his mother and ascending in status to Alpha male of the pack.

              The Dogs of Winter is a fictional account based on the amazing true story of Ivan Mishukov, a 'feral child' who spent several years living on the streets of Moscow with a pack of wild dogs. In an interview with Mishukov in 1998 he reportedly said: 'I was better off with the dogs. They loved and protected me.' Indeed, this was a symbiotic relationship, as Ivan was able to get food for the pack and the dogs, in turn, offered him warmth and protection.

              The story is dark and gritty and children with a more sensitive disposition may struggle with the subject matter and the fact that the story does not have a clear-cut happy ending. Parents should also be aware that the book does touch on the subjects of alcoholism, drug abuse and child prostitution, though the references are subtle and likely to go over the heads of younger readers. In my opinion, this book is best suited for children aged 11 and over.

              I found the narrative so engaging that I completed the whole 350 page book in one sitting. I just couldn't put it down! The Dogs of Winter is an amazing story of survival and of the special, primal relationship between humans and dogs; an extraordinary read.

              I previously published this review at www.thebookbag.co.uk and thank the publishers for my review copy.

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                03.07.2013 21:14
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                Too Plain Daft...

                What could possibly be the connection between a mechanical toy crocodile that eats birds, a giant emerald, an oxygenator device for a spaceship and a tiny alien man with the power of life and death? The answer, of course, is that each item on this unusual list has been placed inside one of four identical boxes. The boxes are hidden in various locations in order to prevent the contents from falling into the wrong hands, but evil has a habit of seeking things out....

                Homunculus is a zany adventure, set in an alternative Victorian world full of mad scientists, reckless heroes and pantomime villains. To say that the plot is convoluted would be an understatement, as the elaborate narrative includes, amongst other things, references to aliens, perverse machines, carp glands that reanimate the dead, a false messiah and a pair of skeletal hands with a penchant for piano playing.

                The style of the book swings precariously between Wodehouse-inspired jolly humour and dark, brooding horror. This approach seems to jar somewhat, with the resulting narrative an uneasy mix of clashing styles that prevents the story from flowing as smoothly as it should. The cluttered plot is peppered with too many side-stories and superfluous characters, making the story difficult to follow at times. The pace at the beginning of the book is painfully slow, with several rather dull chapters wasted on a group of men sitting around in a tobacco shop, talking and smoking.

                Despite the slow start, the book does have a few redeeming scenes, some of which are absolute gems. My favourite was a scene where one of the characters had been captured and locked in a dark room that is being used to reanimate corpses. A grim looking corpse lies motionless on the slab before him, along with the skeletal cadaver of a peahen, the remains of his captor's lunch. Suddenly, the man senses something moving. A trick of the mind? Perhaps. The scene is written in such a way as to crank the tension to the maximum.

                The characters in the book are instantly forgettable and have no depth. For example, the main villain, Narbondo, is undoubtedly evil, thinking nothing of murdering women and children and using their remains for his own purposes. But beyond this, the author gives us no clue as to why the character acts this way. I also disliked the way that Blaylock marks his villains with some sort of physical affliction, whether it be a hunchback or a skin disease. Some of his physical descriptions seem mocking and cruel and served to alienate me as a reader.

                I'm in no doubt that Homunculus will have a loyal band of cult fans, but sadly, I cannot count myself as one of them. I found the plot of the book complicated and silly, the humour out of place and occasionally crude and the characters badly drawn and weak. I was disappointed by this book.

                I previously published this review at www.thebookbag.co.uk and thank the publishers for my review copy.

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                26.06.2013 16:01
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                A steampunk-themed book for older children.

                Sixteen-year-old orphan Rémy Brunel is the headline act at a small, shabby travelling circus. Her grace and extraordinary ability on the high wire and trapeze ensure that she is highly prized by her cruel master, Gustave, but her skills as a jewel thief are what make her invaluable to him.

                "...she was the best gem snatcher in Europe, probably in the whole of the world. Rémy had never been caught. And, she thought to herself, I never will be. Never."

                One night, after the show, Gustave prepares to send Rémy on her most ambitious mission yet: the theft of the Darya-ye Noor diamond, sister stone to the famous Koh-i Noor. Unfortunately for Rémy, a young detective called Thaddeus Rec has been entrusted with the mission of keeping the stone safe at all costs. The scene is set for a battle of wits and skills, but will either party ultimately come off victorious?

                In the opening chapters of The Diamond Thief, Sharon Gosling wastes no time in getting to the thick of the action, painting wonderful word-pictures of life in the dingy backstreets of Victorian London. The murky, smog filled neighbourhood is the perfect backdrop for this engaging piece of gaslight fiction. Gosling has a knack for beautifully descriptive writing, creating rich and vivid settings for the characters to play against.

                Rémy, the main protagonist, is a strong, likeable character and the sympathetic way she is written leads the reader to truly care about her fate. She is a good example of one of those exceptional Victorian women who fought against the consensus of society to gain recognition in their own right. On the other hand, Thaddeus, the hero of the tale, seems to merely appear as a foil to the feisty character of Rémy. Despite a promising start in the opening chapter, Thaddeus does not seem to develop much as a character as the book progresses and seems to spend the majority of the time pining over Rémy, who appears aloof and distant.

                The book has its fair share of plot twists, but the biggest surprise for me as a reader came in chapter five, when the narrative metamorphosed into something completely new and original with the introduction of a steampunk element. By introducing the character of the 'professor' and his machines, including recording equipment, night vision goggles and tracking devices, Gosling manages to open up the story to a wealth of possible plot developments.

                Sadly, the author seems to take a fairly safe and predictable route through the following chapters, and for the most part, the main body of the story appears to lose the momentum and excitement of the early scenes. Some parts of the story seem to descend into incredulity. For example, on more than one occasion, a character is trapped, only to reveal some inexplicable magical ability that helps them to escape in the nick of time. Despite these failings, the book does manage to recover at the end and reach a satisfying conclusion, more in keeping with the tone of the earlier chapters.

                The Diamond Thief is an original, exhilarating and fast-paced story with plenty of twists and turns to engage young readers. I loved the steampunk theme, which adds a new dimension to the historical genre and I hope to see more authors incorporating this element into their work in the future.

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                24.06.2013 16:00
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                A fun, pocket-sized book of facts to impress your friends with.

                The Change Book is a pocket-sized publication with lofty ambitions. Small enough to slip into a handbag, and a mere 167 pages long, it makes the following claim:

                "...look forward to surprisingly simple explanations of our inexplicable world-and to having some of your preconceived ideas radically changed."

                These seem bold promises for such a small book and my curiosity was definitely piqued. Would my view of the world be radically different by the time I had finished reading this book?

                The book itself is about understanding the concept of change, be it on an intimate personal level, or a vast global level. Each section of the book uses models and graphs to present complicated ideas in layman's terms. The reasoning behind this idea is that we understand concepts better when they are presented as images.

                The book itself comprises of four sections. Two sections are about understanding and explaining the changes in my world and the other two are about the bigger changes in our world. The result is a fragmentary fusion of soundbites, quotes, images and ideas that cover a bewildering array of subjects in a very short time. Each model only takes up two pages of text, so there seems to be very little scope to approach a subject with any kind of depth. One minute I could be reading about global economic collapse; the next I could be deciding which Oscar Wilde quotation is most appropriate in any given social situation. It was all quite perplexing.

                The models themselves are quite interesting, although I must admit that some of them seem hastily-scribbled and almost childlike. Krogerus makes use of basic pie charts, mind maps, flow charts and axis models in order to translate his ideas into a simpler format. At times I was quite dismissive at the minimalism of some of the models, but was reminded by the back of the napkin model that the budget airline industry was born from a triangular scribble on the back of a napkin; the corners of the triangle representing three boom cities in the USA. Just because a model is simple, doesn't necessarily mean that it is pointless.

                The change book is full of stimulating and thought-provoking facts, providing the reader with a plethora of entertaining conversation pieces. However, the brevity of each chapter meant that the book is never going to live up to its claim of radically changing preconceived ideas. It may, however, encourage the reader to explore subjects in further depth as the appendix provides references and websites for reference should someone wish to explore a topic in greater detail. Unfortunately, I found the book a little preachy in places and ironically, considering the book is about change, it makes so many contemporary references that it is likely to appear dated a couple of years from now.

                In conclusion, The Change Book is entertaining, informative and diverting, but unlikely to live up to its own bold ideals.

                Fans of The Change Book may also enjoy The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking by the same authors, which follows the same model-based approach to understanding the world around us.

                I previously reviewed this book under my own namee at www.thebookbag.co.uk and thank the publishers for my review copy.

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                  19.06.2013 14:47
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                  A great page-turner and Victorian romp.

                  That loveable rogue, the Artful Dodger, is one of the most memorable and amusing characters in all of English literature. Oliver Twist ended with Dodger Jack Dawkins arrested for the theft of a silver snuff box and transported to Australia. But what happened next? James Benmore explores that idea in Dodger, which takes up the story six years after the events of Oliver Twist.

                  The story begins with a seemingly-wealthy Dawkins returning to England with a full pardon accompanied by his valet, an Aborigine called Warrigal. Enthusiastic at the prospect of a reunion with Fagin, Nancy and his former gang, the Dodger soon discovers that this London is very different to the one he left six years ago. With most of his former friends dead or ruined and a new breed of policeman running the streets, can the Dodger pick up the pieces and continue where his old life left off?

                  Dodger is an exciting, action packed adventure set in the murky underworld of Victorian London. The Dodger has a mission; to retrieve a precious jewel hidden inside a wooden doll that Fagin gave to 'his favourite'. But just who was Fagin's favourite? Finding the answer literally means the difference between life and death for our hero.

                  The narrative is written in the first person, through the eyes of the Dodger himself, which gives the reader an inside perspective on how he thinks and feels. The characterisation of Dodger is spot-on, exactly as I would have imagined him as a young adult. Benmore has a natural talent for writing characters and there are some wonderful examples in this book. He expertly emulates Dickens' style for creating memorable individuals. I particularly liked Kat Dawkins, the thieving, whoring, odd-eyed mother of the Dodger, who really deserves a spin off book of her own. Benmore also manages to cleverly sneak a few well-known Dickens characters into the story for a cameo. Finding them all proved to be an interesting challenge.

                  Despite the engaging story and memorable characters, the book also has some major flaws. The language used in the book is generally inconsistent, with the story narrated in a combination of faux-cockney and the Queen's English. Benmore also uses certain words far too frequently in the text, cove being the main offender. Another problem I had with the book was the inclusion of a rather crude and explicit sex scene, as well as several uses of the F-word in the final few chapters. I may sound like a purist, but in my opinion, a writer undertaking a sequel to such a well-loved classic should stick to the spirit of Dickens' original work.

                  However, I did enjoy the story immensely and found it very difficult to put down, reading all 405 pages in two marathon reading sessions and laughing out loud through most of it. The book is set to have a sequel, which I will be looking forward to with 'great expectations!'

                  I reviewed this book under my name previously on the website www.thebookbag.co.uk. I thank the publisher for my review copy.

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                  • Stick Dog - Tom Watson / Junior Book / 31 Readings / 30 Ratings
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                    17.06.2013 12:57
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                    Great characters, but a poor storyline.

                    I Can't Draw, Okay? Tom Watson apologises in the opening chapter of Stick Dog. He then goes on to lay some ground rules with the reader, explaining that:

                    ....this Stick Dog story (with the bad pictures that my art teacher doesn't like) will also be told in a way that I like (but my English teacher doesn't).

                    Good deal?

                    Excellent. Let's move on.

                    This is going to be fun.

                    With this unusual introduction over, Watson launches headlong into a tale of a badly-drawn dog and his four (equally badly-drawn) doggie friends: Poo-Poo the poodle, Stripes the Dalmatian, Mutt the mongrel and a Dachshund called...Karen. The dogs have but one mission; to infiltrate the barbeque at the local park and grab themselves some burgers.

                    The style of the book is great fun, with lined pages resembling a school exercise book filled with plenty of random scribbles and scrawls. The author uses a chatty, conversational tone throughout the book, as if he is talking to a close friend, and often gets lost in his own thoughts and asides, which can be quite humorous at times, although the language is very child-like and clearly aimed at the target audience.

                    Stick Dog is quite a lovable character really. Maybe I like him because I draw dogs in a similar way! He is a sensible sort of character; wise and unflappable despite the chaos going on all around him. I thought the illustrations in the book were quirky and cute and would really appeal to young children. The book is written in a similar style to Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.

                    Unfortunately, the story was not as engaging as the illustrations. I found it all a little flat and nonsensical. The cover art brands Stick Dog as: A really GOOD story with kind of BAD drawings. I would disagree. I liked the artwork but found the story lacklustre and predictable. The intrusive narration becomes a little irritating after a while, although that may be purely my perspective as an adult reading a kid's book.

                    I genuinely liked the characters though and would love to see Stick Dog again in the future, but with a stronger storyline. Given the right kind of stories, Stick Dog could prove to be a very popular character indeed.

                    This book review previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk. I thank the publishers for my review copy.

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                  • More +
                    14.06.2013 13:43
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                    A disappointment.

                    Cashel Byron's Profession is the fourth of five "Novels of My Nonage",written by George Bernard Shaw in 1882. In the preface of the book, Shaw heavily criticises these early works, which were rejected by the publishing houses of the time, blaming his immaturity and lack of experience in life. He was clearly unhappy about the way he had written some of his characters, stating that: "...he has not in his nonage the satisfaction of knowing that his guesses at life are true."

                    Despite the initial negative reaction to the story, it was eventually published in serial form in a socialist magazine and later, once it had gained sufficient popularity, in book format.

                    The story is about a boy who runs away to sea and ends up in Australia, where he is kindly taken in by Ned Skene, a boxer, and his wife. Ned teaches Cashel how to fight, and many years later, he returns to England as a renowned champion prizefighter. He meets and falls in love with the priggish heiress Lydia Carew and seeks to hide the details of his profession from her. According to the blurb on the back cover, the story is: "...with Shaw's inimitable wit and sparkle-a tale of miscommunication, drawing-room comedy and love." With this in mind, I was keen to begin reading, expecting a lighthearted, witty and entertaining narrative.
                    Unfortunately, I was greatly disappointed. I agreed wholeheartedly with Shaw's preface, in which he had concluded that his characters were badly written. For example, the titular character is a sullen, rude and childish man, prone to bouts of tears or violence when things don't go according to plan. In contrast, his love interest, Lydia, is pompous, demanding and arrogant. Neither character seems to have any redeeming qualities to provoke sympathy or understanding from the reader. It is hard for a story to work if the reader does not care about the characters.

                    The story itself, although billed as a comedy, is quite a dark tale. Although the tone of the book is consistently lighthearted, there is a sense that there is something much deeper at its heart, bubbling just under the surface. Shaw uses the book to promote his political views and also his strongly-held views on animal rights, as seen in a passage where Cashel is justifying his career by stating that prizefighting is much more honourable than "baking dogs in ovens" (a reference to vivisection), foxhunting and pigeon shooting.
                    Sadly, my opinion of the book did not improve as I continued to read. The promised "wit and sparkle" seemed very thinly spread, although there were a couple genuinely funny scenes, which did make me smile. The biggest problem for me was I could not find one single character in the book that I liked and the pace of the narrative was slow and plodding. It did pick up a little halfway through, but I found the ending rather silly and contrived. Sadly, this was not the lost literary gem that I had hoped for. However, for those interested in social history, the book is fascinating as a snapshot of its time, giving revealing insights into past attitudes about class, wealth and race.

                    This review previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk and I thank the publishers for my copy.

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