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mrsbump1

mrsbump1
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      23.08.2010 16:58
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      The wizarding world awaits for the "boy who lived"!

      20 years ago whilst stuck on a delayed train, a woman was struck by an interesting concept for a story about a young boy embarking on a magical adventure. The idea continued to grow and 7 years later J K Rowling saw her first book make it into print. 7 novels, soon to be 8 movies, countless spin off charity books and a Magical World at Universal Orlando later, and there can be few who don't know about Harry Potter!

      Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is the first book in the series and we are introduced to a hidden magical world alongside the eponymous lead character, Harry.

      Harry lives a dull and rather mundane life in the suburban town of Little Whinging. An orphan, following his parents' death in a car crash, he lives with his mean spirited Aunt and Uncle (Vernon and Petunia Dursley) and his spoilt, monstrous and bullying cousin Dudley. Harry sleeps under the stairs and is treated as little more than a slave by his so called family.

      All this is set to change on his 11th Birthday, however, with the arrival of the larger than life figure of Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry learns that he, like his parents, is a Wizard. His parents were killed by a dark wizard who tried to kill him too but somehow failed and disappeared. Now he is 11 he has been offered a place at the magical wizarding school where he will learn about his magical heritage and join the wizarding community.

      Harry starts on a bewildering journey, which leads him to Paddington Station looking for Platform 9 3/4 from which the Hogwarts Express will be leaving to take all the magical students to school. Harry bumps into another wizarding family who take him under their wing and help him find the platform and a new friendship is formed with their youngest son, Ron who is also about to start his first year.

      At Hogwarts more new friends are made, not to mention a few enemies, in both the students and teaching staff. Harry discovers he is quite famous for surviving Voldermort's attack when he was a baby and he stumbles upon a mystery which he and his newfound friends feel compelled to uncover and try to solve and brings them face to face with trolls, dragons, giant chess sets and a dangerous face from Harry's past.

      The first Harry Potter is a fabulous children's book, but has gained a massive adult following also. It is the first of 7 books, with each one devoted to one school year.

      Whilst not necessarily my favourite of the series, this is where it all begins and J K Rowling had a mammoth task introducing a completely new world whilst maintaining the momentum of the story and creating an action packed adventure for young readers and the young at heart.

      There are some wonderful characterisations in this book from the big hearted Hagrid to the deliciously dry and altogether nasty Professor Snape. Harry is surrounded by fabulous friends in the form of Ron Weasley and his older brothers, teacher's pet and know it all Hermione and hopeless Neville. Harry's school life has its downpoints, mainly in the form of his main adversary Draco Malfoy and his hench-mates Crabbe and Goyle.

      I think this book balances the fun and action really well to keep younger readers interested without leaving them terrified at the scarier moments.

      I would recommend this book to anyone. Whilst undeniably a children's book it still makes for a good read, is well written and entertaining. I have read this book numerous times, on its own and as part of reading the greater Potter Saga. My daughter is 5 and I can't wait till she is a little older so I can start reading this to her.

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        14.04.2010 15:15
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        The final chapter of the vampire love story.

        Breaking Dawn is the fourth and final part of the Twilight saga written by Stephenie Meyer. It is unlikely to win any new fans but as the final part of a set it does bring with it enough existing fans for this not to be an issue. In this novel Bella & Edward's love story is concluded but as in previous books, life and love in Forks is never a simple affair.

        This novel breaks from the norm; whereas in the previous books in the series the narrative has been solely from Bella's perspective, in Breaking Dawn the narrative is split between Bella and Jacob. The story is also divided into three distinct sections. Without giving too much away, here is an overview.

        The first section, from Bella's perspective covers Bella & Edward's wedding and their subsequent honeymoon on a secluded island. At this point the relationship which has been deliberately chaste starts to finally become physical. The setting is idyllic but this being only the first of the book's three sections it doesn't take Alice's gift for foretelling the future to see a cloud on the horizon. Some major complications arise which result in their honeymoon being cut short and a rapid return to Forks being necessary.

        Jacob picks up the second part of the story and the fall out from the honeymoon. Recent events fracture the uneasy alliance between the vampires and the wolf pack, but Bella's unswerving commitment to one course of action starts to splinter familial bonds within both the Cullens and the Quileute Pack and Bella finds an ally from an unlikely person.

        Bella's voice returns in the final section of Breaking Dawn. After the horrific conclusion of Jacob's narrative, life in Forks although irrevocably changed seems to have calmed down. This is until Alice receives a chilling premonition. The Cullens are going to have to muster all their strength and enlist as much help as possible if they stand any chance of surviving.

        Although each book contains its own story arc and can be read in its own right, the series has been building to this point and Breaking Dawn definitively concludes the saga. I think that is what makes this and the previous book my favourites of the series, as everything finally falls into place and all the loose ends are satisfactorily tied up.

        Breaking Dawn explains more about vampire law and we meet lots of new characters that enrich our view of the wider vampire world. With so many new characters arriving in this book it could be easy to get confused over who is who. Thankfully Meyer supplies a useful crib sheet at the back of the book cataloguing the vampires and noting the relationships between them. We also learn more about some of the Cullen family members that until now have remained mysterious. This helps to explain their behaviour to that point and finally makes them a more sympathetic character. As a warning this book gets a little gory at times but I feel this is justifiable within the context of what is happening. The book contains some sexual references (the first section does after all depict a honeymoon between the two principle characters) however these could hardly be called graphic and when things start to hot up the narrative skips forward.

        If the previous books in the series had me gripped, Breaking Dawn did even more so. My daughter, husband and housework all got sidelined in my need to finish the book, although it was with equal sorrow that I realised that the story was now over. The sense of imminent danger, which grew more significant in Eclipse, is upped yet again in Breaking Dawn. This being the final chapter in Edward and Bella's love story you no longer have the safety net of another book to reassure you of a favourable outcome. Anything can happen and the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against the family heighten the drama deliciously.

        If you have read the first three books then I doubt there is anything that will deflect you from reading the final instalment of the saga. I personally don't think you will be disappointed with its conclusion though I imagine you may be loath to leave the series behind. Thankfully Stephenie Meyer is about to release a novella to be read alongside Eclipse - "The short second life of Bree Tanner" which although not a continuation of the story will at least let Twi-hards immerse themselves in the canon from a new angle. Meyer also had plans to release a story called "Midnight Sun" which viewed the events of Twilight from Edward's perspective. Sadly an early draft was leaked which understandably upset Meyer and this novel has been set aside for the time being. An incomplete draft has been posted on Meyer's official website www.stepheniemeyer.com/midnightsun and I hope one day she feels in the right place to complete and publish it. In the mean time we will have to content ourselves re-reading the existing books.

        I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Twilight series of books, but especially the Breaking Dawn. I hope if you decide to read it you will too.

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          13.04.2010 23:13
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          the 3rd installment of the Saga

          Eclipse is the third book in the Twilight saga, written by Stephenie Meyer. Although a novel within its own right, it is very much the continuation of the angst ridden love story between Bella and Edward. If you have read the series up until this point no doubt you will be hooked, I certainly was. In case you are still unsure of what to expect from this book here is an overview.

          Picking up from the end of the last novel, New Moon, after reuniting with Edward, Bella forces his hand to agree to her being turned into a vampire. His only condition to this is that Bella has to wait at least till Graduation.

          Settling back into life in Forks, Bella and the Cullens become increasingly aware of an ever growing spate of unsolved murders in nearby Seattle. Although happy to be back with Edward and the Cullens, Bella misses Jacob and friends from the Reservation and so convinces her overprotective vampire boyfriend to let her spend time with them.

          Alice, Edward's sister who can see the future gets a premonition showing a serious threat to Bella on the horizon which may be linked to the murders in Seattle. With a common goal, keeping Bella safe, an unlikely alliance is formed but will they prevail and what will happen between Edward, Bella and her growing feelings for Jacob. You'll have to read the book to find out.

          Whilst I enjoyed the first 2 books of the series, we now get to probably my favourite book (although to be fair Breaking Dawn is a close second). Twilight and New Moon work hard to establish the love story and build up the opposing relationships between Bella with both Edward and Jacob. Before we have not really had a chance to the dynamic between Bella's love rivals, but as this book places both in Forks at the same time it can finally be played out. Mirroring this we have the greater general enmity between the Pack and the Cullens, each showing an amusing disgust and disdain for the other species.

          The threat in this book also appears greater; in Twilight the primary threat was James and whilst his hunt of Bella was serious I felt that in theory as long as they got there in time the Cullen clan were capable of seeing him off admirably. In New Moon again the primary concern was Bella's ability to reach Edward in time. The Volturi, we learnt, are a terrifying foe to come up against but until we actually met them theirs was not necessarily a tangible threat. In Eclipse however the threat Alice forsees is sufficiently great to bring together natural enemies and even then there is a real fear not all who fight to protect Bella may survive.

          All in all I feel this book is where everything slots together. I am sure that the criticisms heaped on previous books could apply with Eclipse also but by this point all I was concerned with was the climax of this story arc and the lead up to it. As with previous books in the series I found it easy to read and compelling throughout.

          If you have read and enjoyed the series so far you will need no encouragement from me to read on, and similarly if you have hated the series thus far I'm sure my review is unlikely to encourage you to persevere, however worth it I feel it is. I would happily read this book again, in fact it is next on my list.

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            13.04.2010 16:27
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            What happens when Bella loses her true love... but is it lost forever?

            As I said in my earlier review of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer's vampire saga is very much a love it or hate affair. If however you have read Twilight and enjoyed it then it is highly likely you will want to read New Moon (the second book in the series) and will like that too.

            With the film of this book having recently done the rounds I am sure most people will be familiar with the events but in case you've been marooned on a desert island and missed it, here is an outline.

            After the events of Twilight, life has returned to what passes as normal in the dreary town of Forks. Bella is still with her vampire lover, Edward but she's troubled. Her beloved Edward is frozen forever as a 17 year old while she continues to age. Bella is consumed with a want to be turned into a vampire so she and Edward can never be parted; Edward, however is (if you pardon the pun) dead against such a move.

            On her 18th Birthday Bella is the reluctant guest at the Cullens' impromptu birthday party. As Bella opens one of her gifts she gets a paper cut. This seemingly innocuous injury proves to be anything but in a room full of vampires and Jasper, Edward's adopted brother (and newest "vegetarian") is overcome by the scent of blood and attacks, deflected by Edward. Shaken but undeterred Bella tries to take what has happened in her stride. Edward, however, unable to reconcile with recent events, breaks up with Bella and leaves Forks with his family.

            Bella's heart break and resultant depression is absolute. But in time she is spurred to move on. Still emotionally scarred she finds that putting herself in danger invokes Edward's voice in her head. This in turn leads her to take greater risks and she turns to childhood friend Jacob Black.

            Jacob is funny, brash and obviously cares deeply for Bella. They spend an increasing amount of time in each others company and Bella seeks solace in their friendship. When Jacob suddenly withdraws Bella discovers a shocking secret about Jacob and his friends. With Jacob's attention elsewhere Bella returns to her thrill seeking ways which results is a disastrous misunderstanding.

            As face from the past returns, a frantic race against time arises for Bella. Can she resolve the misunderstanding in time and if she does will this lead to even greater danger?

            New Moon isn't everyone's cup of tea and I wouldn't suggest reading this book without having read its predecessor, Twilight. It has received some criticism over the quality of the writing but whilst I concede that it is never going to be critically acclaimed I do not see the style of writing as particularly problematic. The descriptions can occasionally suffer from being a little repetitive and some dialogue a little stilted but essentially it was a gripping read which I had trouble putting down until it was finished and to be honest if a book can keep your interest like that it can't be half bad.

            Those that love Edward may be a little put out by this novel as he is largely absent from the bulk of the narrative, flitting in and out as the ghostly voice who begs Bella to stay safe. But Edward's absence opens the way for Jacob Black. Quite a marginal character in Twilight, here he comes to the fore. He is great character, warmer that Edward (in more ways than one) and has good chemistry with Bella. Just as Jacob replaces Edward, Jacob's friends fills the void left by the absence of the Cullens. We are given some background on them and their families and begin to understand their dynamic and the Tribe's association with the Cullens. As the story progresses we are also introduced to the idea of the wider existence of vampires, and vampire law, which I found interesting. Bella is still self absorbed and the selfish way she seeks solace in Jacob, rankles. To be honest it was a passing thing though and it didn't distract me from the ongoing plot. I would rather the characters evoke some emotion in me than not at all.

            I found New Moon an easy but still riveting read which is the type of book I veer towards these days with an active 5 year around to distract me. Many lesser books or those harder to read have fallen by the wayside. This novel is obviously a continuation of the story begun in Twilight and although the immediate situation is resolved at the end of New Moon it still leaves a number of loose ends which compelled me to pick up Eclipse almost immediately (much to my husband's dismay)! If you have read Twilight then New Moon is a must and if you were enthralled by the love story between Edward and Bella then this will only add to that.

            I loved Twilight but found it in some ways the weakest book of the series, due to its need to rapidly set the scene. New Moon was stronger but as it had to bring the readers up to speed with the wolf pack and another back story it is still not my favourite of the four. That is not to say, however that I didn't enjoy reading it and will happily re-read it as part of the set.

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              12.04.2010 18:28
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              Girl meets Vamp, Vamp loves girl, then the fun starts!

              The Twilight Saga and more importantly for this review, Twilight has rather the marmite effect - you're either going to love it or hate it! I come down on the love side though that isn't to say that I think it is the best written or the most original novel in existence.

              I came to this book reluctantly at first, put off by the hype that it perpetuated; but after having caught the movie one day it appealed enough to peak my interest in the books and so my husband's task of finding a suitable christmas present was made all the easier. My christmas, spent largely in the company of in-laws and other family, was taken over to reading the full set.

              I'm sure by now most people are vaguely aware of the theme and story of Twilight, but for those who have been hiding under a rock for the past few years here's an overview:

              Isabella "Bella" Swan moves from sunny Phoenix to her father's house in overcast and rainy Forks when her mother goes on the road with her new husband. Although the relocation was her decision, Bella's move is somewhat reluctant and she hesitantly attends the local High School where she is taken under the wing of a group of the local kids. Bella's interest is peaked by the Cullens, a pale and attractive group of kids adopted by the local doctor and his wife who keep themselves to themselves. Bella's next lesson throws her into the path of the dark and brooding Edward Cullen, though this first meeting is marred by Edward's obvious revulsion to her. As the days pass, Edward appears to thaw a little towards Bella and an uneasy friendship is born. Bella is ever clumsy and is gifted in attracting trouble/danger to her. Twice when her life is put in danger, miraculously out of nowhere Edward appears to save her. Edward is unwilling to explain himself which leads Bella with a little help from old family friend Jacob Black to finally and correctly come to the realisation that Edward and his family are Vampires.

              Edward explains he and his family are "vegetarian" existing solely on the blood of animals and they try to live as normal a life as is possible. Edward is attracted to Bella primarily because of the peculiar scent of her blood which he finds irrestible and Bella is blown away by his beauty and so their desperate love story begins. Obviously their relationship is not without complication, it is paramount that the Cullen's secret does not become common knowledge and Edward can never lose control around Bella for fear of his bloodlust overtaking him or him getting carried away and unintentionally hurting her. Despite these obstacles, Bella is welcomed into the Cullen family; but during an interesting family game of baseball trouble rears its head in the form of a covern of non-veggie Vamps, putting Bella and the Cullens in grave danger. Can Bella and indeed her relationship with Edward survive this new threat and what excatly does the future hold for them all? I will leave that for you to discover if and when you decide to read the books or what the films but this being the first of four books by Stephenie Meyer you may not be entirely surprised by the books conclusion.

              On the whole I enjoyed Twilight, when gripped by a story I am a voracious reader and I read the entire series within the Christmas holidays. I studied English at university so be under no impression that I critically hold the book in the highest regard; certain descriptive phrases grew somewhat repetative and at times the book dragged, but that aside I enjoyed the story. The main protagonists have met with some criticism. Bella is rather self absorbed, she is quick to find fault with most aspects of her life and can think of nothing but Edward and her desires. Whilst I appreciate this grated with some people I didn't find it bothered me; Bella is a teenager consumed by her first love, as the story is told from her viewpoint I was expecting a fair amount of self absorption. Edward's need to remain in control can make him rather dry and one dimensional at times but again not problematically so. He has the ability to read minds (though interestingly not Bella's) and his disposition the answer questions obviously posed by other characters internally kept me amused. The book has other more engaging characters, namely Jacob Black, a native American peer of Bella's who lives on the Reservation. His father seems to universally dislike the Cullens (could there be a secret there to be uncovered in subsequent books?). The Cullens themselves also add colour to the tempestuous love story. Dr Carlisle Cullen and his wife Esme appear essentially good people and it is interesting to gain an insight into their back story, learning how their family came together. Alice, Edward's favourite "sister" is spunky and funny. She can see people's futures (based on their immediate decisions) and this ability leads to some good one liners. Rosalie another "sister" is haughty and distant. She takes an unfathomable dislike for Bella when the rest of the family is so welcoming. Emmett and Jasper (Edward's "brothers") also add interest. Emmett is your typical older brother who pokes fun and enjoys rough-housing with his brothers, while Jasper (being the newest member of the family and the Vampire least adjusted to their vegetarian lifestyle) is quite withdrawn though as the book progresses he is shown to be a sympathetic character whilst still retaining an air of mystery.

              Twilight is essential to the Saga, as it sets everything up and introduces the main characters and the fictional landscape but that is also its curse and you sometimes get bogged down in detail. Consequently this makes it one of the weaker novels of the four. It is never going to win critical acclaim but as a fluff novel it is like a trip to a fast food joint; it is a guilty pleasure which satisfies your craving regardless of the knowledge it isn't the best quality and leaves you wanting more. As a stand alone book this could be problematic with plenty of loose ends and unexplored angles but within the context of the Saga this is fine and encourages you to read further and find out what comes next. Ultimately the book is aimed at the teenage girl market as as such it has won a legion of fans. I don't fit the targetted demographic but whilst I could see its flaws they were not so bad to put me off. The novel gripped me and it wasn't a taxing read and at the end of the day sometimes that's all you want of a book.

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                11.04.2010 22:47
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                Entertaining journey through an old favourite.

                **FILM ONLY**

                Troubled by a recurring dream involving a white rabbit, a young girl is comforted by her father. Reassured that it was only a dream and things in dreams are not real and cannot hurt you, she settles back to sleep. Years later we revisit the girl, Alice, whose father has since passed away. Now 19, she attends what turns out to be a party to celebrate her engagement to the dull and unimaginative Hamish. Stifled by the attention heaped upon her by this unexpected and totally unwanted proposal, Alice makes a run for it, in pursuit of a white rabbit who has haunted her all afternoon. Her chase leads her to a hole at the foot of a tree which she falls down. And so Alice's adventures begin.

                Caught in what she assumes is a dream she finds herself in a bizarre land, meeting fanciful creatures and characters who seem to know her, whilst discussing amongst themselves whether she is the "right Alice". On her journey through Underland, she meets The Mad Hatter, a crazed, dual personalitied milliner. He appears to be leader to a resisitance movement against the improbably large headed Red Queen. The resisitance insist Alice has been to Underland (or as she had mistakenly called it "Wonderland") before when she was younger and believe that come the Frabjous Day Alice will defeat the Red Queen's champion, the Jabberwocky and restore the crown to the rightful White Queen.

                Is this just a dream that Alice will wake up from or is this adventure really happening. If it is real, will Alice be able to find the courage to wield the Vorpol sword and rescue Underland from the Red Queen's oppresive rule?

                When I heard Tim Burton had set his sights on making a version of Alice in Wonderland I was immediately intrigued. I am a fan of most, if not all, things Burton and with the notable addition of his favourite actor Johnny Depp, the film for me became a must see.

                The film is a reimagining of the Lewis Carroll tale, making ample use of the characters we know and love like the Mad Hatter, Tweedles Dum and Dee, the Cheshire Cat and of course Alice but it tackles the story from a different direction. A more grown up Alice returns to Wonderland/Underland years after her original visit. She has little or no recollection of her first foray in the magical land and what she does remember has been consigned to that of a recurring dream she has been plagued with from a young age. Underland has become a darker place over her years of absence and is under the oppressive reign of the Red Queen and her enforcer the Knave of Hearts. The Red Queen has a number of creatures which help to keep the Underlanders in check; the Jabberwocky, Bandersnatch and Jubjub Bird all still inventions of Carroll's but belonging to "Through the Looking Glass". Alice begins the film browbeaten, bored and unsure of herself; all in part conditions resulting from the death of her imaginative, creative father and the change in social standing imposed on her and her family since his death. The proposed engagement to Hamish, although totally unwarranted in Alice's eyes, is something that her own family are keen to impose on her in order to secure their own situation. On her first meeting with Absolom the Caterpillar he remarks she is "not hardly Alice". As the film progresses she tries to take control of the situation she finds herself in. Helping her new friends and along the way, she starts to reclaim her life; but will she be able to come to terms with the reality of Underland and save the day and what will happen when and if she ever gets home?

                Alice in Wonderland is a sumptuous film, you can see that Burton has really gone to town to bring the magical land to life, no mean feat as so much of this was created in the realms of cgi, with the characters playing largely to a green screen. Indeed even the live action characters don't escape with the addition of cgi; Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter and Matt Lucas have all been manipulated visually to make their characters appear more fantastical. Although I did not view the 3D version of the film, friends who have seen it have remarked how well they felt it translated to this medium.

                Johnny Depp's portrayal of the Mad Hatter was superb. He could so easily have played it flat, remaining totally as the simpering, genteel and quite unhinged milliner but the addition of the angry, psychotic scottish dual personality who rears his head periodically adds depth and a darkness to the character which shows how the political climate of Underland has affected him. You can tell Helena Bonham-Carter relished her role as the Red Queen; she channels a spoilt child at the height of a tantrum and yet still manages to convey the Queen's insecurities. Anne Hathaway's White Queen is serene and yet there is a subtle manic side evident. New girl, Mia Wasikowska, who plays Alice was very good. Tim Burton wanted to move away from the stereotypical portrayal of the young precocious Alice and I think Mia achieved this. She has some gumption about her and you can see how the character grows through the film, although at times I felt she was a little overshadowed by other performances. As with most Burton films, Alice in Wonderland is filled with many notable appearances. Matt Lucas's Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee were very funny and there is a strong voice cast showcasing Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Alan Rickman as Absolom the Caterpillar and Barbara Windsor at the Dormouse (who I confess annoyed me, for no other reason than the voice grated a little).

                All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I took my 5 year old to the cinema with me and she loved it too. She was a little scared by the Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch but it didn't bother her that much and she hasn't stopped talking about the movie since. If you are an Alice in Wonderland purist you may not enjoy this new interpretation of the story but I think Tim Burton has created a very good reimagining which keeps enough of the original characters whilst giving us a fresh perspective.

                This film will definately be added to our dvd collection when it is released.

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                • Sense And Sensibility (DVD) / DVD / 30 Readings / 29 Ratings
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                  14.10.2009 23:43
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                  Austin's classic brought to life.

                  When the old Mr Dashwood dies he asks his son, John to look after his sisters and step mother. Although John promises his father he will, his Mr Dashwood is barely cold before John's calculating and money grabbing wife Fanny has her say. By the time she has finished Mr Dashwood's second family is left with a meagre allowance and the knowledge that life as they knew it will never be the same.

                  It is not long before John and Fanny have installed themselves as the new owners of the Norland Estate whilst Mrs Dashwood and her daughters the steady, reserved Elinor, headstrong and emotional Marianne and tom boy Margaret are left looking for a new home. Fanny invites her brother Edward Ferrars to stay and he proves to possess none of the callous sensibilities of his sister, quietly befriending the greiving sisters. Fanny sees a growing affection between Edward and Elinor and contrives to remove her brother from Norland before anything more can come of it, she also goes to great lengths to make it clear to Mrs Dashwood that her brother is expected to marry into far loftier circles than Elinor moves in.

                  After Edward's departure, the Dashwoods move into a cottage in the grounds of distant relative, Sir John Middleton's estate. Sir John lives with his mother in law Mrs Jennings and the rambunctuous pair ensure the family cannot escape their lively company, insisting they come up to big house to dine frequently. It is here they meet Colonel Brandon, a friend of Sir John's. He is shy and reserved but it is clear he soon falls for Marianne. Sadly the young girl is horrified by such a suitor and brashly, though not entirely unkindly avoids such thoughts. Brandon is well and truly brushed aside when the dashing Mr Willoughby rides in and literally sweeps Marianne off her feet.

                  As the movie progresses there are heartbreaks, secret engagements, a untimely pregnacy and misunderstandings. To find out how it ends you'll need to watch the film, I won't spoil the enjoyment of watching the drama unfold.

                  Sense and Sensibilty was directed by Ang Lee. There were several raised eyebrows over this choice, Lee had previously directed The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman so S&S was rather a departure from his usual fayre. Few can deny, however that his appointment was a success. Working with a script that took Emma Thompson 4 years to write the pair stay true to Austin's vision. The cinematography is breathtaking and the characterisations well observed.

                  Thompson's casting as Elinor goes against the novel in as much as the character was only 19 in the book however Lee believed that changing the character's age to 27 made her worry about becoming a spinster more accessible to the modern audience. I think Thompson makes the part her own and I feel her older age makes her reserve and frustrations over her Marianne's impulsiveness more believable. Kate Winslet plays the wayward Marianne whose youthful exhurberance is knocked out of her by events that unfold. She exhibits a charm that you cannot help but like despite her not always being the most proper or kind in the way she expresses her thoughts and feelings.

                  The film is blessed with a myriad of well known actors who all seem perfectly cast. Greg Wise plays the dashing cad with a heart, Willoughby to perfection and no doubt caused cinemas across the country to sigh as he rode masterfully onto the screen. Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs play the irrespressible Sir John and Mrs Jennings whilst Imelda Staunton plays her silly chatterbox daughter. Hugh Laurie is wonderful as Mr Palmer, the long suffering husband of Charlotte who although world weary and grumpy around his wife proves himself to be kind and considerate to Elinor when she is in dire straits. Hugh Grant seems doomed to be perrennially cast as the bumbling awkward but proper english gentleman and as Edward he is certainly not stretched from this typecast. His depiction of Edward is warm and likeable though and precisely what is needed; he has a good rapor with Thompson if a little reserved but then again this reserve is what marks him as Elinor's emotional equal. Alan Rickman plays Colonel Brandon and excels in this role. He is deliciously understated around Marianne which balances Willoughby's youthful vigour. His melancholy over previous loves is wonderfully observed, as is his unrequited but deeply held affection for the young Miss Dashwood.

                  This film could all too easily have been overly dramatised and as a result quite heavy going, however Lee and Thompson have an eye for the comedy in Austin's novel. The characatures of Mrs Jennings and her daughter add light relief, whilst early interactions between Edward and as he calls her "Captain" Margaret who unashameably bosses him around and even fells him with a branch during a mock sword fight serve well to balance the state of grief which understandably is over Norland following Mr Dashwood's death.

                  This gentle film is a delight to watch. It carries you along though the cinematography and soothing soundtrack whilst the story can make you laugh out loud one minute and then next feel the pathos portrayed onscreen. I believe this to be the definative adaptation of Austin's novel (far superior to the BBC's recent version) and so well observed are all the characters that I would find it hard to believe anyone else in the parts. Highly recommended.

                  ** This is a review of the film only - although I possess the dvd I confess I have never felt the need to venture into the disc's extras.**

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                • Come Dine With Me / TV Programme / 22 Readings / 20 Ratings
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                  14.10.2009 15:50
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                  Dinner parties with an edge!

                  I have given very few dinner parties over the years but they few I have have been friendly jovial affairs where hopefully all in attendance have had a good time with food that may not win any michelin stars but was perfectly edible! The preparation may have been a little stressful wanting everything to be perfect but I was always safe in the knowledge that any late courses or burnt bits would be forgiven by my guests and nothing too serious. Those sort of assurances are rather more thin on the ground for the contestants of channel 4's Come Dine with Me.

                  The programme brings together 4 or 5 people from one area, all vying to win the coveted £1000 cash prize. Each takes it in turn to put on a dinner party for the other contestants, serving up a three course meal they have devised. At the end of the evening the contestants (usually in the taxi home) score the dinner party and their host out of 10. The scores are added together and the winner is the person whose night scores the highest.

                  The programmes vary in format depending on the number of contestants. Originally the show was shown on 5 consecutive days with each 30 minute programme focusing on one dinner party, however a different format was an hour long show which showcased all four dinner parties.

                  This programme could so easily have been disastrously boring but the production company seems to excel in picking contestants that are most likely to clash with each other, which in a Big Brother society is just the ticket to keep your attention. There are plenty of opportunities for back stabbing as the contestants speculatively peruse the nights menu prior to turning up at the hosts house. Once at the dinner party the contestants have the chance to snoop around whilst their host is putting the final touches to the meal and then of course at the end of the night they pick over the proverbial bones of what they have just experienced. Friends and enemies are made in equal measure over the course of the weeks dinner parties making for some uncomfortable dining for the warring guests and we are privvy to all the ensuing arguements, tears and laughter. If you prefer your reality shows a little more showbiz there are even Celebrity editions of the show, with the likes of Biggins and Peter Stringfellow vying for the crown.

                  What is astonishing is the ends some people will go to in order to win, some will buy ready made food that they just reheat and pass off as their own, others hire in caterers whilst some even get their local restaurant to deliver the meals through the kitchen window course by course. The contestants are given £125 in order to put the dinner party on but this does not prevent them spending over this amount, some have spent more than that on the wine alone. Some decide that entertainment is the key and over the series there have been burlesque performers, operatics, magicians, even Amy Winehouse tribute acts.

                  So far this programme still doesn't scream success but the addition of Dave Lamb's non-stop sarcastic voice over is the icing on the cake. His input adds a whole new level to the show, poking fun at the contestants and directing the action we see on screen.

                  Come Dine With Me is shown all over freeview, with new series showing on channel 4 and repeats on more4. It also frequently is shown on discovery realtime, with an omnibus edition on sunday evenings showing a weeks worth of dinner parties back to back. If this isn't enough to quell your appetite you can find many of the recipes on channel 4's dedicated CDWM website covering all the previous series.

                  The program is never ging to win any awards for its content but it is a lighthearted, amusing way to kill a few hours, and you never know it might even give you a few ideas for your next dinner party!

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                  • 27 Dresses (DVD) / DVD / 31 Readings / 31 Ratings
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                    14.10.2009 00:10
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                    Always the bridesmaid, never the bride?

                    When I was younger I remember an old wives tale that to be a bridesmaid more than three times was to condemn you to a life as a spinster. If this were the case in 27 dresses then Jane (our heroine) would have thus condemned herself 9 times over!

                    27 Dresses is rom com starring Katherine Heigl as Jane, a woman who has turned being a bridesmaid into an art form. She discovered a love of all things matrimonial at a young age when she came to the rescue of a bride in need and has since become the no. 1 bridesmaid to have. By day she works as an uber efficient PA to the managing director of an outdoor clothing firm. Jane pines after her boss, George (Edward Burns) who is blissfully unaware of her true feelings whilst her best friend, the acerbic Casey (Judy Greer) regularly takes her to task over her unrequited love. In her spare time Jane likes nothing better but relaxing at home and reading the wedding announcements in the paper, in particular those by writer Malcolm Doyle.

                    During a particularly taxing stint as bridesmaid (Jane is attending 2 weddings in one day and flitting from one to the other seemlessly), she bumps into Kevin (James Marsden) a hardened wedding cynic. She unwillingly shares a taxi home with him at the end of the night and like a modern day cinderella leaves not her shoe but her filofax behind. Kevin can't resist reading it and becomes intrigued by Jane and her role as perennial bridesmaid.

                    At this point enter Tess, Jane's younger model sister. When out at a works party with Jane, Tess and George meet and much to Jane's horror begin dating. Tess however, eager to secure George's affections begins recreating herself as a outdoorsy vegetarian whose interests closely mirror George's. Her contrivances succeed when George proposes and she innocently compounds Jane's agony by taking posssession of their dead mother's wedding dress (the dress Jane had always dreamed of wearing on her own big day). In despair Jane meets up with Kevin. He tells her she needs to start living for herself and saying no to others more often. She accepts the criticism but proves herself incapable of taking his advice though when she ends up taking on most of the organisation of the self-centred Tess's wedding arrangements. When Tess excitedly announces that her and George's wedding will be covered by Malcolm Doyle, Tess comes face to face with none other than Kevin.

                    Jane does her best to avoid Kevin, angry that he failed to tell her who he really was.Kevin however is tired of writing the wedding announcements and sees Jane's story as his ticket into writing real journalism. He makes the most of his need to speak to her about Tess's forthcoming nuptials to get to know more about her bridesmaid fascination. Chancing upon her bursting closet, he urges Jane to model all 27 dresses she has amassed over the years and photographs each ensemble. As they two begin to talk more you can see a thaw in their antagonistic relationship.

                    Will Jane continue to be walked all over by Tess and contain her growing uneasiness over her lies to George? What will happen if and when Kevin's article ever makes it to print? And will Jane get her man (and indeed if she does which is it, Kevin or George)? I don't want to give too much away about how the film ends so to discover what eventually happens you will need to watch the movie for yourself.

                    Katherine Heigl and James Marsden bounce off each other brilliantly and beneath the antagonism you see a growing understanding of one another which may betray deeper held feelings. One of my favourite parts of the movie is their drunken rendition of Benny and the Jets, made all the more entertaining by their inabilty to sing the correct lyrics (each one thinking their version the correct one). Malin Akerman and Edward Burns are well suited as George, the Boss who cannot see what is right in front of him and Tess who endeavours to make sure he only sees what she wants him to.

                    I thoroughly enjoyed 27 Dresses. It is a funny, warm and engaging film with some great one liners and a fantastic cast. It is a little predictable but to be honest show me a rom com that isn't; if you want unforeseen twists you're watching totally the wrong genre of movie! If you are at a loss for something to watch and fancy a laugh with a heap of romance thrown in for good measure then I would highly recommend this film.

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                    12.10.2009 13:54
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                    Another entertaining romp through historical secrets and codes.

                    After having read and enjoyed Dan Brown's Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code I was looking forward to reading his newest offering in the Robert Langdon series, The Lost Symbol.

                    Now lets get a few things straight about Mr Brown's books, they are probably never going to be the most critically acclaimed, they tend to follow a set formula and generally revolve around an ancient sect or religion with the established beliefs surrounding them being challenged or debunked. Robert Langdon, in these books, habitually has a female companion to accompany him on a breakneck tour round historical landmarks. He is invariably on the run from the authorities as he tries to solve the various mysteries presented to him. Chapters move around the viewpoints of several characters, one inevitably being the bad guy who will be shrouded in mystery until a confrontation and an explanation towards the end of the story. As far as this goes, The Lost Symbol closely follows what has gone before. These issues do tend to create a marmite effect within the read base: you either love or hate Dan Brown's books. I fall on the love side; I find his books engaging and entertaining, they are easy to read (a definate bonus when you have a hyper 4 year old vying for your attention). The stories explore art and architecture and the secrets hidden within then which I find interesting.

                    So onto the plot of The Lost Symbol.

                    The action all takes place over a 12 hour period and where in previous books the Church and its standpoint against the role of Mary Magdalene (Da Vinci Code) and Science (Angels and Demons) were the central themes in The Lost Symbol Masonic law comes to the fore.

                    Robert Langdon is invited to Washington DC seemingly by an old and trusted friend, Peter Solomon (a 33rd Degree Mason) to give a lecture at the National Statuary Hall. On arrival however he discovers he has been lured there under false pretences and after the grisly discovery of Solomon's severed and now tattooed hand he soon finds himself caught in the evil Mal'ach's web of lies, trying to uncover the famed Mason's Pyramid to save his kidnapped mentor.

                    Langdon is accosted by the CIA who appear to have their own agenda regarding the nights events and as Langdon is fearful that their main priority is not the safety of his friend, when the opportunity arises he escapes, with the help of the Smithsonian's Architect (another Mason). It is not long before Langdon meets up with Solomon's sister and together they fight to solve the mystery of the small pyramid they find and rescue Peter before Mal'ach can complete his mission.

                    I will not spoil the story by disclosing what happens next, or in fact the end of the tale but it is a thrilling romp with a couple of Dan Brown's usual twists (one of which I must confess I guessed about half way through, though it made the journey to its revelation no less entertaining). One of the things I enjoyed about this book (and in fact his previous ones in the series) is that so many of the symbols and clues hidden in the art and architecture which Brown describes are grounded in fact (at several points in the story I googled images of the artwork being scrutinised to see what was being talked about myself) and from this fact he masterfully weaves a conspiracy. I also found the book enlightening because it highlighted some facts about the Masons that I didn't previously know and debunked other misconceptions I may have previously had. I can't say the ending came as a complete surprise but just because a book doesn't leave you completely astonished I see no reason why the book would be any less enjoyable or interesting.

                    Dan Brown and the Lost Symbol may not be everyone's cup of tea but I would think that if you have read and enjoyed his previous works then you should similarly enjoy this too. I know some have expressed some disappointment in the latest book but I enjoyed it enormously (probably more than Da Vinci Code as it covered a conspiracy theory I knew little about) and I fully intend to revisit its pages once my husband has finished reading it.

                    The Lost Symbol may not be the best book I have ever read but I would highly recommend it to anyone.

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                    27.09.2009 00:52
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                    World history under one roof

                    Over the years I visited the British Museum on a number of occasions to view different parts of the Museum's collections, starting with Lindow Man (the body of a young man possibly the victim of a ritual killing which was perfectly preserved in a peat bog), then the treasures of Sutton Hoo and finally wonders of Ancient Greece. The Museum never failed to capture my imagination and I loved exploring its exhibits. My husband had never visited it before but had heard me talk so fondly of it that he decided that my 30th Birthday treat would be to visit it again.

                    Our visit was planned for a saturday. The Museum's impressive main entrance is on Great Russell Street, with Holborn, Tottenham Court Road and Russell Square tube stations in close proximity. Although the Museum exhibits don't open until 10am, the Great Court (the museum's reclaimed and redesigned covered inner courtyard) is open from 9am. The Great Court in itself is something to behold. As this was the first visit in a long while and certainly the first time I had visited since it had been redeveloped. The simple act of walking through the doors into this new space was breathtaking. I would heartily recommend arriving early for several reasons; first you have the opportunity to take in the Great Court while it is quiet. Second, as the cafe in this area also opens at 9am you can fortify yourself before you start exploring and finally because you can be ready to go when the Museum proper opens its doors.

                    Room 4 (Egyptian Sculpture) is just off the Great Court and tends to be most visitors first port of call. Here amongst other impressive exhibits you will find the Rosetta Stone. As we moved through this gallery and beyond, again and again we were met with imposing statues, and pieces of ancient architecture, each as impressive as the next. After slowly working our way round the Assyrian galleries we headed off to the rooms encapsulating some of the treasures of Ancient Greece. Having studied Clasical Civilisation at A-level, this was what I was especially looking forward to seeing. The examples of black and red figure vases are beautiful and the architecture and other treasures that are housed in these galleries well worth the visit but finally we made our way to room 18 - The Elgin Marbles. Regardless of whether you believe the marbles should stay in England or be returned to Athens (I am personally undecided) they are something to behold. Although not complete, the frieze is no less impressive and plaster moulds fill in the blanks caused by years of damage insitu in Athens. The sculptures from the pediments were also beautiful.

                    By this time we were starting to flag and the visitor numbers were rapidly increasing. We rather too hastily explored the Europe exhibits and finished off looking round the Egyptian Mummies. I have to admit that although the Mummies were impressive, I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed. Since my previous visits the exhibit had moved rooms and this time round the dimly lit rooms felt too claustrophobic though this may have been attributed to the volume of people clamouring to view the exhibits and my aching feet.

                    We by no means exhausted the exhibits on display at the Museum; in addition to all it's usual galleries the Museum houses temporary exhibitions for which you have to pay to view. But this I think is the beauty of the British Museum, I don't honestly think you can hope to do justice to all its treasures in one visit and as standard admission is free you can target areas you are interesting in seeing and spend a few hours looking round and come back another day to something else. The museum also offers late night opening until 8:30pm on a thursday and friday so if you want you can visit in an evening which makes it accessible to those who want to visit after work.

                    There are a number of places you can eat and drink in the Museum. The Great Courtyard, as I mentioned earlier houses a cafe which is fine for a sandwich or cake or a drink. The Gallery Cafe serves "hearty meals" and markets itself as family friendly. If you want more formal dining then the Court Restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and afternoon tea sittings, with starters costing from about £8 and main meals costing between £15-20. In this credit crunch climate, you may want to bring a picnic. The Museum is not averse to this and at weekends and in the school holidays offer the use of the Ford Centre on the lower floor as a picnic area.

                    I only fleetingly looked round on of the gift shops. There are several different gift shops on site; one which is specifically a childrens shop, a book shop, a general souvenir shop and a more specialist (and expensive) shop. Between all these shops you should be able to find something in your price range to afford, be it a postcard or something a little more special.

                    The facilities overall are good, I believe there are toilets on all levels and the ones I used were clean. There seem to be various tours available (although I did not use these so cannot comment further) and there appeared to be wheelchair access and lifts to make the galleries accessible to all.

                    I would happily recommend anyone to visit the British Museum, there is so much to see I believe most people should be able to find something to interest them. I would suggest checking on the official website before you visit to work out which galleries you are most interested in seeing on your visit, some galleries are periodically closed and it would be a shame to arrive and find you cannot see what you wanted. I also swear by getting there early as it can get quite busy.

                    I am now starting to get itchy feet writing this and am already starting to work out when I can next visit and see some of the areas we missed!

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                      24.09.2009 18:26
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                      Farm, Zoo, Fair, Play Centre - a fantastic day out for all.

                      A little early for half-term maybe, but if you find yourself in Pembrokeshire and want somewhere to take the kids then you could not hope for a better place than Folly Farm; a tourist attraction with something for everyone.

                      On one of our visits to the inlaws over in Wales we happened upon Folly Farm. Our daughter was 2 at the time and was fascinated by all things animal. The inlaws suggested Folly Farm as a day out and with the promise of seeing lots of animals off we went.

                      We weren't too sure what to expect as we drove over to Kilgetty but what awaited us was a revelation.

                      The admission prices were very reasonable, I cannot remember exactly what we paid but this years prices are £7.50 for adults, £6.50 for children 3-15 (under 2s are free). After paying you walk through a building with shop on one side and restaurant on the other. As you leave this building you go out into a courtyard of sorts, off which is the first attraction - Jolly Barn.

                      The Jolly Barn is, as you would expect, a barn inside which is housed a variety of your typical farm animals. In the centre of the barn there are arranged rows of haybales which make impromptu seats for the regular feeding sessions that are held. Farm staff at various times throughout the day will hand round bottles of milk and then let loose the baby lambs and goats. What follows is nothing short of out and out (wonderful) chaos as the hungry kids and lambs hurtle about looking for their bottles. The look of wonder and squeals of excitement as my little girl fed an enthusiastic lamb were worth the entry cost alone. When the feeding was done and the babies put away again we wandered round the various pens stroking all the animals (there were frequent cleansing stations and numerous reminders to wash hands after touching animals).

                      Coming out of the Jolly Barn we next went into the pet centre. There were numerous cute and cuddly animals to look at including the standard bunnies and guinea pigs plus hamsters, gerbils and chinchilla. There was a small toddler soft play centre which diverted my daughter for a few minutes whilst we worked out where to go next.

                      Next we decided was to look for a drink and so we went into a large barn/building that houses the Vintage Funfair and a cafe. The funfair was impressive with dodgems, the gallopers and cake walk along with various other rides and sideshows. After our drink we walked round the funfair but didn't actually go on anything as little one was a little young for the rides and at that point was unsure of them (I am sure that now she would be begging to go on them all!)

                      We decided it was time to see some more animals so wandered round the zoo part. This certainly didn't disappoint. The enclosures were well sized and spread out round the grounds and held a variety of animals divided into different geographical zones. The zoo plays home to lemurs, wallabies, ostriches, camels, giraffe, zebra, macaques, wild cats and many more.

                      After our animal encounters and a stop off for lunch we ventured off to the Carousel Woods, an enormous, fantastic indoor soft play area. There are plenty of seats for parents and a cafe so you can have a drink and relax whilst the little ones let off some more steam. If the weather is on the warm side there are some great outdoor playing areas too; there is a dragon themed play area for the younger children and a pirate ship area for the older kids. There are also peddle tractors and mini diggers to keep the kids entertained or for an additional fee a go cart track.

                      Over the road from the main site (accessible via an underpass) is Folly Wood, Folly Farm's own country park which can be explored on foot or by way of the land train tour.

                      The park as a whole was very clean (obviously the farm animal areas will hardly be pristine but they were not left overly dirty). The toilets were plentiful and clean also. There were several different places to eat on site with something to suit most tastes, although there were picnic areas dotted round if the weather took a turn for the worse. What appealed to me was the variety of attractions all "under one roof". There was easily enough to keep you entertained whatever the weather. We were fortunate that we had a lovely day but if it had rained we could still have had a pleasant time regardless.

                      My daughter had a whale of a time and didn't tire of the attractions, she took some convincing that it was time to come home, although a quick visit to the gift shop sweetened the blow (the shop was reasonably priced and full of your average zoo fayre; t-shirts, cuddlies, books etc)!

                      I am sure that as the years go by we will be making repeated visits to Folly Farm when we visit the inlaws. I would definately recommend this tourist attraction to anyone.

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                        08.09.2009 17:20
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                        small centre, BIG on birds.

                        Birds of prey have always held a fascination for me and having met my husband (who is owl mad) it was inevitable that our mutual love of all things feathered and bearing talons would lead to spending many hours at various birds of prey centres.

                        Numerous times during our travels in the cotswolds we have seen signs for the falconry centre at Batsford and thought we should visit. Finally when we had a spare week, visit we did. The centre shares its carpark with the adjacent arboretum and in fact you can buy combined tickets to both attractions. On this occasion we just bought tickets for the falconry centre and very reasonable the entry was too (£6 for adults, £2.50 for children).

                        Entrance is via what looks like a converted stable block which also housed the toilets and the obligatory gift shop. Coming out of the gift shop you are straight into a little courtyard with hawk, eagle and owl mews in front and to the left and a pagoda and picnic area to the right. At first glance, my husband and I were a little disappointed as the centre looked very small, but a pathway bordered by 3 or 4 larger aviaires led us to a demonstration area and beyond that a woodland owl aviary and further aviaries at the bottom of the paddock. There is a varied collection of birds of prey, ranging from the much loved barn owl through to golden eagles and ruppells vultures. The centre also has a lovely collection of caracaras, some of which I had never seen before (which is always nice to visit a collection and see something out of the ordinary). The centre is bordered on 2 sides by a deer park and it was lovely to see the herd milling round the park during our visit.

                        After a quick wander round we noted that the first demonstration was about to take place and duly took our seats. The show piece of any bird of prey centre is the demonstration; it is a way of bringing the birds closer to the visitors, whilst educating them about the wonderful birds being flown and giving them an idea how birds would fly in the wild. At Batsford there are 4 daily demonstrations, at 11:30am, 1:30pm, 3pm and 4:30pm and it is here the centre comes into its own. Each demonstration lasts about an hour, and whilst maybe not the most polished I have ever seen, they were entertaining, interesting and brought a variety of birds closer to the visitors. Falconers introduced us to each bird, spoke about their history and their habits and commendably explained about the various environmental factors that are seriously depleting some wild birds of prey. Specifically, the falconer spoke about the oriental white back vulture whose numbers have critically declined in recent years due in no small part to the removal of carcasses from the countryside (thus removing the main component of their diet) and the widespread use of anti-inflammatories which are fatal to the vulture. During this first demonstration the falconer most notably flew a ruppells vulture, certainly something to behold (its wingspan is immense). An eagle owl was also brought out, as was a harris hawk who the falconer got to fly to different people (mainly kids). Audience participation was encouraged and kids were called on throughout the day to help out (racing a harris hawk, pulling a lure for an eagle to stoop too etc). Although the paddock where the main demonstration took place was a fair size, when the larger birds were brought out (golden eagle, vultures, tawny eagles) the falconers hopped over the fence and made use of the deer park to encourage longer flights and more impressive stoops once the birds had caught the thermals and gained some height.

                        At the end of the first demonstration there was just enough time to have a look round a few aviaries and head to the kiosk for lunch. There is ample space to bring your own picnic, however the kiosk sold a variety of reasonably priced homemade sandwiches, crisps and chocolate plus hot and cold drinks and icecreams (the locally made icecream was divine).

                        Much of the rest of the day was spent watching demos and then popping back for a drink or snack and a quick wander before the next demo began.

                        Although the centre is small they have packed a lot in and certainly try to pack lots of things into a visit. The centre is nicely laid out and well kept, the birds all seem to be in lovely condition and the aviaries have been cleverly arranged so that more shy birds can withdraw themselves if they get overwhelmed by the visitors. The staff are all very friendly and helpful and will happily answer any questions you may have.

                        At the end of our visit we cast our eye over the gift shop and found a few souvenirs which were reasonably priced. The shop stocked little bits and bobs that most children would be happy with but also stocked items that may be of more interest of their parents.

                        The centre made for a lovely day out and a very reasonably priced one too. It is certainly somewhere we will be visiting again... and again.

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                          05.09.2009 21:09
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                          Lovely laptop to encourage laughter and learning

                          I bought this Winnie the Pooh laptop in the sales last year and put it away for my daughter's christmas present last year. She was about to turn 4, loved all things Pooh and had started to express interest in playing on our laptop; so when I saw this I knew she would love it.

                          The laptop looks attractive with a bright yellow lid and purple base. It also has 4 3d characters (Piglet, Tigger, Roo & Pooh) which stand up as the laptop is opened. The lid houses a smallish monotone screen with a friendly picture of Pooh bear and friends in a school room around the outside and a volume switch (the volume only has two settings but the quiet setting doesn't grate too much, which is a blessing).

                          The keyboard, in addition to the 3d figures has a sliding curser by which your child can choose which game they wish to play, a bumble bee on/off button and number and letter keys. The keyboard not suprisingly is not qwerty, something that obviously makes sense for children learning their alphabet but certainly threw both my husband and I when at first we were helping our daughter get started! The letter keys bear the letter and a corresponding word and picture beginning with that letter (eg A Ant, T Tigger, P Piglet, L Log etc) which is a good way at first to enable children to locate the relevant letters.

                          Gameplay varies from simple letter acknowledgement (the child presses a letter and Pooh says what that letter is and what word is associated with it; upon a further press of the button pooh will make the letter sound) to encouraging spelling (a picture will be shown and the word said, all the letters will appear on the screen and the child has to press the letter keys in the right order. Further games help children to learn the position of letters in the alphabet in relation to other letters (two letters are shown onscreen with a space for a third either at the beginning, middle or at the end and the child is required to work out what letter should fill the space). There are also number games starting with simple counting and moving on to addition and subtraction. If you feel your child may be too young to pick up the letter and number games there are a few simpler games requiring the child to match a shadow to the picture, choose the odd one out or even just press a button to play a different piece of music and watch the character on screen dance.

                          For each game the child is given a time limit and the space to make a few mistakes before Pooh gives the answer. If numerous correct answers are given in a row the child is congratulated by Pooh and rewarded with a short cheery tune and the characters dancing on the screen.

                          The laptop is sturdily built out of strong plastic and has succumbed to some fairly rough treatment over the last 9 months and yet in all honestly looks as good as new. I have only had to replace the batteries once in all this time and it has seen a fair bit of use so the battery consumption is very good.

                          So far all of this review has been from a parent's point of view but i think the most telling part of the review is that from my daughter. From the very first this laptop had her attention and over christmas it was by far the most prized present she recieved. What is more is the speed she picked up the games. After a relatively short space of time she was able to play a few of the games without any help and as she grew bored of one game, instead of putting it down would simply go onto a new game or put it into music mode and sit and watch the screen. The different games ensured that as she was constantly stretched so didn't get bored because there was a good range of games aimed at different levels. She is just about to start school and the laptop is still one of her favourite toys. I all honesty I'm not sure I would have paid £45 for this laptop (I managed to find it in a sale for £12.50) but if you shop around you can find it cheaper and for the amount of mileage my daughter has got out of it and the letter and number help she has recieved from it it has definately paid for itself several times over.

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                            10.05.2009 22:33
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                            Homely surroundings and good british fare.

                            Long before Tim Burton coaxed Mr Depp to take up barbers blades and sing for his supper, a seemingly little pie shop sprung up on Castle Street in Reading. Called Sweeney & Todd and amusingly situated next to a barbers it is a gem of a place. Originally marketed as purveyors of a pie and a pint for a fiver; times and prices may have changed, however the quality of both pie and pint have not.

                            From first glance off the street the shop appears to simply sell pies (plus quiches and sandwiches etc) which are tantalisingly arranged in the double fridges and indeed if you are in a hurry you can just buy a pie to take away. If you have a little more time and venture further inside you see a comfortable little bar beyond the fridges.

                            If you are after a sit down meal you head down into the labyrinthine cellar with its various nooks and crannies. The atmosphere is intimate and homely (if a little dated - though this is forgotten when the food arrives).

                            Pie really is the order of the day... the question really is though what flavour. The waitress will reel off a long list of pies available (pay attention it can be a long list and you don't want the waitress to have to repeat herself!) Some of the popular regulars are the Yorkshire Ham and stilton, 5 Nations (containing ingredients from the 5 original rugby nations), Vicars (with meat sourced from Vicars a local butchers, as indeed all the meat is) and Chicken, Honey & Mustard. The range of flavours are vast and are ever changing according to season. The pies are a decent size (roughly 6" in diameter) and can be served on their own or with chunky chips, cauliflower cheese or ratatouille. The pies are full of meat with a rich gravy and the pastry is very tasty.

                            Sweeneys is a firm favourite with my family. My husband grew up in Reading and although we have all since moved away, whenever we return we make a pit stop at Sweeneys and buy half a dozen to freeze and enjoy at a later date. Whether you are after a takeaway or a pie and pint I couldn't recommend Sweeney & Todd highly enough.

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