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As my Easter holidays are well and truly underway, my reading habits are also increasing again. Which means it is time to finish some books that have been sat on my shelf for a while. Today?s completion was Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen. I have always enjoyed the Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet adaptation, and decided a few days ago that it was about time I got round to reading the book. Sense and Sensibility is set between 1792 and 1797 in southern England, and follows the lives (and loves) of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. At the beginning of the novel, the girls? father dies, and their estate is passed on to their older half-brother, forcing them, their mother and younger sister, Margaret, to find another, simpler home, and learn to live in a more meagre fashion. Until they find somewhere new to live, they stay with their brother (John) and his wife (Fanny). This results in Elinor meeting Fanny?s brother, Edward Ferrars, a shy yet pleasant man. Unsurprisingly, the pair falls for each other (in a polite, reserved way, rather than the ?obvious? way you tend to come across in more modern stories). The pair are forced apart, both by Fanny?s disapproval and by the Dashwood?s finding a home in Devon. Their neighbours (who are their cousins) are Sir John, his wife Lady Middleton, and his mother in law (Mrs Jennings) who endeavour to make their family members welcome and settled. Sir John and Mrs Jennings particularly make me smile, as they are so friendly, and all they want are for other people to be happy and have a lovely time. They may seem interfering at times, but they don?t have a bad bone in their bodies. Whilst at Barton, Marianne comes across two suitors; one who interests her more than the other. Colonel Brandon is an older, quieter gentleman, who admires Marianne from afar. John Willoughby, however, makes a big impression on Marianne when he assists her after a fall. Their relationship is much more open; it is very clear they have feelings for each other, and they spend a lot of time together (usually in family?s presence, of course), and at times seem to have no care for other people?s feelings ? especially that of Colonel Brandon. As with most Austen novels, the sisters must go through a few trials before they get a glimmer of a happy ending; if they even do get a happy ending. It is not a straightforward story, where the outcome is obvious from the beginning. I like this, as at times there is a new twist to the tale which shakes things up again and keeps your interest. The only downside for me here was that I had seen the adaptation, and so knew a lot of the twists and turns. However, as with most adaptations, some parts of the story were left out. I found that this extra detail to a story I felt I knew quite well really added to my enjoyment of the story, and in some cases answered some questions I had been left asking after watching the film ? I have found that books are very good at that sort of thing! I find it a very gentle novel; if anything dramatic happens it?s not overly extreme, and is quite realistic. I feel for the characters; feel sad for them when they are sad, feel happy when they are happy etc. It is very well written ? and I like that it is quite realistic; everything that happens could plausibly happen. However, although the story is gentle, I do find reading it quite hard going at times; I tend to find the language a little wordy. This happens when I read all the Jane Austen novels; I find them difficult to read in places, but seeing the adaptation helps this, as it allows me battle through and understand what is happening. I think this tells me I need to read a few more older novels! But it doesn?t stop me reading Jane Austen novels; in a way it made me pace myself a little, and read the book at a rate which allowed me to take in a lot of the information ? which is helpful as there are a lot of Mr and Mrs names to follow! I think Pride and Prejudice remains my favourite novel ? mainly because Marianne at times can really annoy me. Her behaviour with Willoughby in front of Colonel Brandon was very selfish, and she spent a lot of the novel in a very self-absorbed way. I know this is the flaw in her character, but at times it was just a little too much. There are a few more twists and turns in the story of Sense & Sensibility, and this is what really kept me going; I learnt a lot about surrounding characters, courtesy of Elinor?s quiet yet inviting nature, and Mrs Jennings? talkative nature (both clever ways of giving the reader information). Overall, I?m glad I finally got around to reading Sense and Sensibility. It filled in a lot of gaps, and on the whole is a very good story. It isn?t perhaps one I?ll reach for regularly, but it will be one that I return to every now and again for a bit of an unwind! I would recommend it, especially if you like romances that won?t leave you blushing too much or disappointed by the outcome ? this is a proper romance novel in my opinion!
This weekend, I finally relinquished and let Mr tinkerbell18 pick a DVD for us to watch; this may seem cruel, but he has been known to put on Man Utd highlights from 1999. His choice this time? You guessed it - apparently it's one of his favourite movies, and I can kind of see why. Scott Pilgrim is a 22 year old band member, fighting to win the affections of a girl he has fallen for. Sounds pretty typical, right? Wrong; he literally has to fight and defeat the 7 evil exes of Ramona Flowers in order to be her boyfriend. Alongside this, his band is competing in the battle of the bands, as well as supporting Scott through this difficult time. There is a fair bit of video game influence - sound effects, coins for the winner of a fight, etc. It's pretty much the sound effects that I remember as a classic arcade game, and is quite a good element, once you get used to it (initially, I found it very strange!). There are also dream-like sequences, which can be hard to follow, and a friend of ours (watching it with us) found them quite 'trippy'. However, it is a way to get information across, and move the story along, so I found it clever rather than irritating. The battles themselves are quite game-y (or older games anyway); there is no real gore; as I said before, there are coins produced rather than blood. The fight sequences are over the top, and almost like a pantomime, and I think I found myself laughing at the silliness more than anything else. This keeps the film quite accessible, and won't put you off too much if you're not a fan of gorey violence. Scott Pilgrim is based on a comic book, which I feel explains the over-the-top fight sequences and video game influences. It is a very clever translation of a comic book to screen; it isn't cartoon-y, but it doesn't completely loose the elements of the comic book. When I was first told the plot, I thought that it could get quite samey or long-winded, as there are seven evil exes that are battled. However, the comic book element, the dream-like states and some comedy elements keep the movie flowing and varied. Also, very unusually, it has had me actually laughing at some points - I usually end up just smiling at funny moments in films, so that's a big thumbs up to Scott Pilgrim in that regard. Overall, I found the way the film was portrayed was very clever, and quite different to a lot of films I have seen (and reviewed). I think the only real negative was Michael Cera (Scott), as I find him quite irritating generally, and he took some of my enjoyment out of the film. I don't perhaps think he was the wrong choice or anything, I just personally find him irritating and a little samey. The film is really worth a watch; it's silly, but still amusing, and not too violent (even if there are 'battles'!). It put a smile on my face, and even made me laugh, and I will be watching it again.
Part of my stocking from Santa this year held a going-away/emergency kit, complete with small face wipes, a small bottle shower gel, and a mini batiste dry shampoo. The dry shampoo had been something I've been considering for a while, but I didn't really want to buy it if it didn't work. This gave me a perfect opportunity to try it out. The idea behind dry shampoo is, as the name suggests, a shampoo that doesn't require water, but gives you clean looking hair. You hold the can about 30cm away from your roots (according to the back of the bottle) and spray. I sprayed quite liberally as I have a fringe, and blonde hair - both of which don't look good when I wash my hair! This left me with lovely white roots and a white fringe, and a slightly dubious feeling. The next step is to brush your hair, and style if you need. Even though it had worked on Mr tinkerbell18's hair the day before, I was still a little unsure about whether it would work in mine. But as I brushed, and the white disappeared, my hair looked blonder and cleaner. It even felt cleaner on my head, rather than feeling like it needs a wash. I hadn't expected that - I thought it would just look clean (and that would have been fine), but it was brilliant that it felt clean. I could run out for emergency tea bags without feeling self-conscious! (According to my sister, that doesn't count as the emergency situation that the shampoo has been provided for by Santa) I have the Blush 'flavour' of dry shampoo, which is a "floral and flirty" fragrance. It has an almost slightly fruity smell to it, but it is definitely muskier than anything else. I think it is here that lets it down - I only really smelt it when I sprayed it, rather than any other time - but then again, not all shampoos leave a lingering smell. I just think it would make your hair (or at least you) feel even fresher than it already does. I would recommend spraying it in a ventilated room, as it lingered in my bedroom most of the day, and wasn't too pleasant to breathe in! I have been really pleasantly surprised by the dry shampoo - it works on my blonde hair, which I wasn't expecting, and leaves it feeling clean for yet another day. I've not been brave enough to try it in work (even when I have become very close to oversleeping and not having time for a shower), but I really think that it wouldn't be noticeable. A really great stocking filler from Santa; and one I will be properly investing in in the future!
At the start of every new year I set myself a challenge to read 50 books that I've never read (I'm trying to get through all my books!). I inevitably fail, but always try again the next year. I have also decided to try and review every book I read! Wish me luck! So to start off, the first book of 2014 is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I've been a fan of his educational videos on YouTube, and hadn't quite registered he'd written books until my sixth former handed me this one and told me to read it. As tends to be usual for me when given books, I didn't bother looking at the blurb and started to read. Several hours later.... The book focuses on 16 year old Hazel, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Thyroid cancer at the age of 13, resulting in very bad lungs, wheeling around an oxygen cart, and the knowledge that the cancer is terminal. Hazel doesn't let this stop her, and the book doesn't let this be the main focus (although, unsurprisingly, it is still a rather large feature). We follow Hazel as she reluctantly is sent to a weekly support group by her mother, where she meets Isaac who lost an eye to cancer, and the charismatic Augustus Waters who lost a leg to cancer but is now in remission, and won't let his disability control his life - even if his driving is a little bit jolty! What follows is a gripping story as we follow two teenagers bond over films and a book that Hazel is a huge fan of, about a girl who has cancer. Now, the lives of teenagers have many ups and downs (as I'm sure some of you may know), but add to this the added element of cancer. Although, like I said before, it isn't the centre of the story, I feel you get an insight into how a young person with cancer may feel, juggling a severe illness with a severe crush, and how guilty it can make them feel. John Green states that his work as a student chaplain in a children's hospital helped him, as it "showed that the children there were "as human as healthy people" - and I think this is portrayed excellently in his book. I think the thing I love about the book is it keeps bouncing between so many different emotions. Yes, it does at times make you sad, and bring a lump to your throat, but at other times I was smiling, and even laughing out loud. The Fault in Our Stars shows that a book about cancer doesn't have to be sad - here we see Hazel determined not to let cancer be her life; she attends college two days a week, she spends time with Augustus and Isaac, she even manages to fulfil some of her dreams; all without letting her disease stop her (where possible). She, and Augustus want to live life- and really do try. Even if it is in his basement bedroom discussing their favourite books - they have a life and they will lead it. The Fault in Our Stars may be thought of as teen fiction, but really I think it is suitable for adults - mainly because I think John Green doesn't feel patronising, and treats his readers as adults. It touches on themes of depression and sexuality, but also on feelings of happiness. There is some mild swearing, but very infrequently towards the end of the book. It is a fantastic story, and is even though-provoking and I have now bought myself a copy so I can read it again and again. I'd just say be prepared that it's not always a happy book!
About 4 months or so ago, I decided drastic action would be needed and so therefore joined Weightwatchers with the other half. I did think this would be the end of chocolate, and tasty snacks, and all things generally unhealthy. Within my first meeting, I found there was one snack I could eat pretty much guilt free - a Cadbury Curly Wurly! So I thought I would review the chocolate bar that lives in my cupboard for emergencies; so, basically Mondays! Curly Wurlys are long thin snacks that tend to come in packs of five (the pack ranging from £1 when on offer to at least £1.60. I swear they were cheaper when I was younger). Each bar is about 8 inches long, a couple of centimetres wide and half a centimetre thick. They are also very holey! There does seem to be a slight pattern to the holes, almost like a higgledy-piggledy ladder, but the important thing to consider here is that it isn't solid! Curly Wurlys consist of quite a thin layer of Cadbury's milk chocolate covering a fairly generous helping of caramel. The chocolate balances the caramel quite nicely, ensuring the whole thing isn't too sickly sweet. The chocolate can tend to flake away when you bite into the Curly Wurly (which isn't good when you're wearing anything white!), but whatever does remain compliments the caramel well. I quite enjoy waiting for the chocolate to melt in my mouth before tackling the chewy caramel. This is the part I really love about Curly Wurlys - and a really good way of extending a nice little treat! I tend to keep the bars in my kitchen cupboard, which is quite cool, resulting in the caramel being really tough and chewy. I find if you pop it in the fridge it gets too hard and just snaps, and is impossible to chew, whilst letting it get too warm means it's far too easy to chew through, and is gone far too fast! It can also get stuck in your teeth at times, so I'd eat it before you brush your teeth at night! Below is a link to the nutritional information from Cadburys website. In terms of Weightwatchers, a Curly Wurly bar is 3 propoints - not bad for such a satisfying treat! It settles a craving, and can last more than two minutes if I keep it at the right temperature. I think the only downside is that there isn't a lot of it; but then again, this is probably a brightside in the long run. Just don't get it stuck in your teeth! http://www.cadbury.co.uk/products/Curly-Wurly-2403?p=2403
As promised a review or two ago, I am reviewing my experience with the o2 online shop (especially the online help feature) when I ordered my new phone last year. My phone broke suddenly in January, and as I seem to get stuck in work a lot, I decided to look online to decide which phone and contract would be suitable. Navigating the shop itself is quite easy. You can select whether you want to look at Pay as you go or contract phones, and scroll through what they have. You can also select make of phone if you know which company you'd like to go through. I wanted either a Samsung or Nokia, so I selected these, which narrowed down my search immensely. When you select a phone, you can also look at the tariffs available for the phone; how much they cost a month, how many minutes you get, how many texts you get, how much data you get and how much the phone handset is (sometimes, if you get a cheaper contract but a newer phone, you do end up paying some money for the phone, so just be careful!). It is really nicely laid out, and really clear what you are getting. There are multiple images of the phone from a variety of angles, which gives you a really good idea of what it looks like and what you are getting. You can also look at some reviews for the phone - but it really does depend on how new it is, and they can be quite brief. I'd stick to Dooyoo for helpful reviews! I logged into my account (which you tend to set up when you get a SIM or phone contract, and is usually your email address and a password of your choice), and looked at the 'overview' page that shows up. This shows what your contract is, how many minutes, texts and data you have used, what your current bill is, and how long left till upgrade (all of which is very handy, and very quick and easy to see). As I had had my SIM only contract for over six months, I was eligible for an upgrade to a phone contract; according to the shop assistant when I had got the contract anyway. However, my lovely information screen showed I wasn't eligible (even though I had had the contract for about 9 months!). This is where the long-windedness started. I selected an option to speak to someone online (which, again, is a very useful feature, especially if you can't call the helpline or get into a shop on time). The person was quite helpful, and asked a couple of questions to determine that I was who I said I was - a security question that I had set up a while ago as well; I really need to write all these down! The assistant answered my questions helpfully about the phone I was interested in, and gave all the correct information: when I say correct, I mean it matched up with the information on the website, so yay there! However, when I asked if I could go in store and upgrade, they got a bit vague and evasive, and said they can't tell me what deals are offered in store, and what they are telling me is only relevant for online orders. I never did get to the bottom of whether I could have upgraded in store - I imagine this was possible, but we went around in this argument for about 15 minutes before I gave in. The assistant then went through all my options - which contract would I like, which phone, for how long etc. They were good at answering my questions (other than the upgrade one!) and very clear. However, at the end of the conversation they said they were placing my order, which I got very annoyed at as I was under the impression they were just answering my questions. I eventually let them place the order (after getting a little grumpy at them), and that was that. A few days later, I had had no confirmation email, even though I had been promised one, and there was no record on my o2 page that I had even placed an order. I opened up a chat to an assistant again, where after the security questions they found that there was no record of an order at all. I had to go through the process again, but got asked more questions, such as whether I wanted insurance, whether my card details were correct and that sort of things - goodness knows why I hadn't noticed that this didn't happen previously! As soon as the order was placed, the assistant gave me a reference number; I also got an email and a text, and my o2 page was updated. Phone was very definitely ordered! Even though the first person I had spoken to online had just been a little bit useless, the second person was far more helpful, and my phone order was processed really quickly. I think I had it within a week of placing my order the second time. The company that delivered my phone seemed to only deliver between 9 and 5 (which can be a pain when you're teaching), but my phone arrived safely and securely, and signed for by my downstairs neighbour (not sure about this, but I'm not going to complain!). When I logged into my account, it let me know what my new contract was, how many minutes etc., I had used, and my upgrade window kept me posted about my order (which is very handy). I think the only thing I'll do differently next time, is wait for my contract to be ready to upgrade (and have a cheap phone in the meantime). The whole process seems a lot simpler - press the upgrade button, find the phone and contract you would like, enter your details and press order! It's quick and easy. To be honest, once I had got pass the first assistant, the whole process was smooth and efficient. I just was left a little cranky and frustrated and wishing I had just gone into the actual shop! Overall, I think the o2 shop makes sense. It is easy to use and find the information you want - without accidentally ordering anything! The information is very clear, and I don't feel you get any surprises price-wise. When I was ordering my phone, most pages I looked at informed you that prices would increase in April, so you'd end up paying a little more - and the assistant told me exactly what my contract would become. I think the only downside of the website is the online assistant; it's a little bit hit and miss - but to be honest, the idea is excellent as it means it's a free way to talk to someone for information, at a wider range of hours! I just wish the online assistant was consistently as good, clear and informative as the rest of the shop!
Since my 18th birthday, I have owned at least one pair of high top converse, usually in black but I have branched out into more colourful varieties. They are my go to shoe, and I hate that I can't wear them for school! I'm not quite sure where my liking or rather want for them came from, but they are a rather good pair of shoes/trainers. The pair I'm writing about are a little different to the usual ones I wear. Usually, there is one layer of canvas, either in one colour or with a pattern (such as bright spots). However, a pair in Office caught my eye a couple of years ago; they had the usual outer layer (in this case, the traditional black colour), but some of it was cut away to reveal an under layer of canvas, and a second 'tongue'. In the case of these shoes, the underlayer is a brilliant turquoise-blue - and my favourite colour. With double layers comes the option of double laces. You have a choice of three colour, black, white and the turquoise, and you have two laces in at once; those shoes aren't going anywhere! I personally have white and turquoise, as these stand out very well against the black. I got a size 6 and a half, even though I'm a seven, as lengthwise converse can be too long for me. You need to be careful when buying them, as some types come in both male and female sizes; so a male 7 is bigger than a female 7 in converse. However, my issue with converse is the width. They are very narrow shoes, and looking back on my purchase, I should have got a size 7 at least. Unfortunately they were the last ones in the sale and I just had to have them! Even with the right size I sometimes find the shoes too narrow; one of the first places to break on the shoe are the edges at the widest point (usually where you bend shoes when you go onto tip toes). These become cracked and split along the edges, but the canvas and sole remain intact. The cracking even makes the shoes feel a little more flexible, but there is a risk of the cracks reaching the sole (this hasn't yet happened to me, but I'll keep you posted). Other than this, I have had no problems with my converse; considering I am quite tough on my shoes and wear through them quite quickly, I have yet to have a pair die on me - and some pairs I own are three years old. These ones get a little less wear, so have yet to split on the sides, so will last even longer! I do a lot of walking as I can't drive and haven't quite braved cycling around Cambridge. I find Converse are my shoe of choice as they are incredibly comfortable (even with the narrowness). The soles are fairly thick, which means I don't feel every stone through the base and my shins don't hurt - unlike with my dolly shoes, which barely have any soles. The downside of the double layer (and perhaps the fact they're half a size too small) is that occasionally my feet feel tingly after wearing them for several hours - it could be that the double lace is just a little too tight for my feet! Also, the double lace itself is a pain; as they are comfy, I go shopping in them. However, they take forever to get on and off as there is a lot of lace loosening to do, which means I don't really try things on when shopping - so I make sure I wear them when I shouldn't be buying clothes! Overall, I find these shoes really funky, especially the bold turquoise against the black. I have only ever seen one person wearing them (funnily enough, a male work colleague), even though Converse are quite popular. I got these shoes in the Office sale for about £26, whereas usually the price can be £40 and above (another reason why I was so keen to buy them). They are very suitable for all the walking round that I do, and it's a shame I can't get away with them for work. The downsides are that they aren't wonderful for my wide feet, and the double laces are a pain when you are trying to be quick!
As a birthday treat to myself in August, I decided to buy a new purse. Mine had finally given up after 5 years, and the coin section had a huge hole - not very helpful in my opinion! The final spur to my purse buying decision was a gorgeous purse in River Island. Coincidentally enough, it is the purse I am reviewing! I was attracted to it as it had a beautiful black and white rose pattern on the outside panels. It's not overly fancy, or overly busy. The pattern is large enough to have a fair few roses and leaves and vines on the purse, but not too small - if it was any smaller I wouldn't have bought it because the pattern would look too busy and that really puts me off, especially with flowers. The edges and inside of the purse are a black leather effect, except for the two coin sections. These also have a continuation of the flower pattern on the outside of the purse. I was very much drawn to the pretty simplicity of the purse (and I have received many compliments about the purse, so it's not just my opinion on its looks!). There is a white flap that closes over the purse (and allows the clasp of the coin section to poke through), and is fastened by a popper. The popper is small but secure, and after two months of considerable use, and absent minded fiddling, it's as strong and secure as ever. However, I suppose with purses that it's not what's on the outside that counts, but what's on the inside! Over the years I seem to have collected more and more cards for goodness knows what, and really struggle to find a purse that holds them all. This purse has about 5 card slots on each outside flap (yay) and under one of these panels is a set of small pockets, and 4 more card slots. Plenty of room for all my cards - just! There is another hidden panel under the other card slots, but this has no pockets and I tend to just not use it. Confusingly, there are two coin sections in the purse (or I'm misusing one!). One of the sections close with a good clasp - the type that crosses over slightly, and needs a good tug to open it. The other section is a zip section, and I tend to put my coins in there. Well. Up until this weekend I put my coins in there. Since I bought it, the zip has had a few issues carrying out its primary job. The teeth of the zip seem to come out of line occasionally when trying to close the purse, meaning a half closed purse and some gentle zipping and unzipping. This has gradually got worse, to the point of me having to patiently push the zipper back into place with my nail. This usually has to happen several times before I can encourage the purse to shut. I have now actually given up using this section, and transferred all my coins to the clasp section, leaving the zip half closed! I have a feeling this may be a common problem with the purse, as the first one I picked up had zip issues (which I just ignored), and my friend almost bought one until she found the zip completely broken. This is obviously really frustrating - and it's lucky there is a second coin section in the purse, minus a zip! Otherwise I'd have yet another leaky change issue. I think the saving grace of this purse is two things: the absolutely gorgeous pattern, and the brilliant storage space. Other than the zip, there are no other faults, and considering how bashed this purse can get in my work rucksack! However, I am very frustrated considering I spent £17 on the purse - the most I have ever spent. My last purse cost £5 and the first real problem was the hole in the purse (and this was a purse from New Look!). I'd've hoped that the high price would have meant that my purse would last, but unfortunately not. Even though it is a beautiful purse, I think I'll revert to my usual technique next time and shop around for a bit of a bargain rather than spending so much on a purse - at least if it's cheap and it breaks I'll know I haven't spent the best part of £20 on something that lasted two months!
As I've had my phone for 10 months, I thought that was sufficient time to get used to it well enough for a thorough review (hopefully I won't do my usual thing and make it too long but we'll see how we go!). I wasn't due to get a new phone for another six months (a limit set by myself), but my BlackBerry decided to turn itself off one day. As I had a SIM only contract with O2, and because I had had it for more than 6 months, it was possible for me to upgrade to a contract with a phone. This was quite handy considering that I still wanted smartphone abilities (and you can't really get a cheap smartphone) and I didn't really have a lot of money. I ended up carrying out the whole process online - and I'll review the ease of this next review! The phone I chose was a Samsung S3 mini, which is a relatively small, touchscreen smartphone. The screen is about 4 inches wide, which, considering the size Samsung smartphones are becoming, is absolutely tiny! I didn't want to go for a bigger phone because I would find it awkward to use with one hand. I had been into the store to have a look at the S3 and S3 mini, and just found the larger phone awkward to use easily with having to hold with one hand and use the other (I tend to like to multitask). I also have a tablet so didn't really feel that I would need a large screen as I didn't intend to watch any videos on my phone (unlike my other half, who uses his S3 big to watch a lot of videos!). As I ordered it online, I couldn't quite remember the size, so I was a little worried it may be smaller than I remembered, but fortunately it was the opposite; it was slightly larger than I remembered. But it is easy to hold, and lovely and light. I really wanted the blue version of the phone, but it wasn't available at the time, and I'm not very patient. I went for the white version, and was slightly dreading it as me and white things tend to magnetise dirt to them! The phone is white on the front and back, with silver around the edge. There is a thin silver speaker (for phone calls) at the top of the phone (a thin tablet shape), above the word Samsung (also in silver). To the left of this are two small circles (which don't seem to do anything, so I imagine these are sensors), and a slightly larger circle, which contains the forward camera. There is another raised button beneath the screen - this is the home button. When the phone is unlocked, there is a menu button to the left of the home button (this is a light on the phone, and not an actual button that you click), and there is a back button to the left. These are only accessible when the phone is unlocked, and only light up when you touch them - they work a little like the touch screen! The lock button is on the right edge of the phone towards the top, and the volume button is on the opposite side. Both are silver and part of the edging. Overall, there are three actual 'clicky' buttons, and 5 buttons altogether including the touch ones - so quite a simple system. There is a rounded square on the back of the phone containing the second camera, with a smaller square beneath containing the very bright flash (very!), and two slits in the cover next to these where the speaker is found. I think the layout is very simple - there isn't anything there that you won't need, and nothing added to make the phone look 'fancy'. The white and silver make the phone look very classy, and so far I haven't got it dirty - it's got a slight shine to it which seems to stop dirt sticking to the white. The simplicity of the design is carried through to the phone and how it works. As I've said before, it is touchscreen and is actually quite sensitive - it responds to your touch without you having to continuously jab the screen, but not to the point that all you need to do is look at it and it works! You swipe across the phone to change the screen (I have about 5 screens with different options and apps on it) and the movement is very fluid - to the point that I did just sit there 'swishing' the pages for a while when I first got the phone! There is also an option to swipe downwards and see all your notifications and select the ones you wish to view, the battery power, turn on wi-fi, Bluetooth, data, and change the backlight on the phone (although this is done automatically as well). So. So far we now know that the phone looks good, and is fun to swish the pages. The important thing: does it work as a phone? The clarity on a phone call is very clear, and you can just swipe across a name to call them (this is sometimes a lot of effort, as the phone does not track your full swipe all the time, and it'd be quicker just to select the name and phone it). You can pull the phone away from your ear and there are on-screen options, such as mute, and a keypad can be brought up if you need to input any numbers - which is especially useful as you have no actual keypad! It's simple to use (especially when you avoid swiping to call!). There is an option for the phone to hang up when you turn it over (either end or reject a call) but I turned this off as I found that that was a bit of a pointless option for me, and I was worried about whether it would always do as it promised! There is a nice option to reject a call and send a quick message at the same time; you swipe upwards and pick a text to send (the top text is I'm driving) - it's swipe and click, so quick and easy to do when you're busy. It only really works if someone is calling off a mobile, but you can reject any call with that one swipe. You can even programme in your own rejection text to send, but I find the options that are there are quite sufficient. Texting is simple. It is a Qwerty keypad (so laid out like a computer keyboard) and you can hold the phone portrait or landscape. Landscape allows the keys to be slightly more spread out, and slightly larger, but does reduce how much of your text you can see - you can see what you are currently writing but the rest disappears, as does the text you are responding to. This is the only time my phone irritates me, because scrolling up to see the text is fiddly: the phone really doesn't like to do this if you are composing a text. It's much easier when you are just going through a series of messages however. The landscape option for texting is useful - I don't really use it, but I have noticed the older members of my family revert to this whenever they use my phone (my dad does have larger fingers than me!). So in terms of what you would expect from a mobile - it calls, it texts, and without too much frustration. Yay! In terms of a smartphone - I absolutely love it. For the internet, there is already a shortcut for Google Chrome, which is my preferred internet browser. You can sync the phone to your Gmail account (just press the Gmail shortcut, a little red and white envelope) and follow the instructions. This can sync to your calendar, if you use a Gmail calendar, and ensure everything is connected together. At the moment, my calendar is linked to Facebook, but it only notifies me about the events I want to know (usually the events I've put in there myself). I tend not to use the Samsung App store as it seems to have a limited amount of apps available (more games, less Facebook and BBC News), so I just the Google Play store, which is indicated by a shopping bag shortcut! You put your card details into here, but don't fear, you can't accidentally make a purchase - I have to put a password in every time I want to make a purchase, so when I have once or twice accidentally pressed the wrong thing, it's easy to escape! I must admit I do have Angry Birds of the Star Wars variety on my phone (I was so pleased to see it isn't just Apple!), as well as Facebook, Twitter, BBC News and Weather (which both come in larger 'widgets' so you can actually see the weather and news headlines on your phone screen, without having to open anything or press anything), and Amazon Kindle (just in case my Kindle does run out of battery! Considering the amount of things I have on my phone, each runs smoothly, and my phone is just as quick as it was in January when it was empty! You can access a full menu of all the apps and 'widgets' (never quite sure what these are, but my BBC News updates on my screen are one) that are on your phone - both ones that you have downloaded and ones that were already on your phone. A really handy widget I have found is the torch widget - with the touch of a button, I can turn on the incredibly bright light on the back of the phone - it's very, very bright! To put an app or anything on your main screen, hold it down until you feel a little buzz, and drag it to the page you want (I currently have about 4 or 5 home pages at last count, with a variety of things). You can shift apps around and delete them as and when you need - just when in doubt, press and hold them down and you usually get some options! I think the same can be said for a lot of features; just press and hold buttons down and you seem to access some new shortcuts and features. The battery does hold out quite well on the phone. I let the phone die completely before I charge it fully again - which I do every two days. Considering how much I use it (phoning family, playing games, texting), I think that the battery life is quite reasonable. If I am on the phone for more than an hour and use my phone like normal the battery doesn't last as well as it could (usually about a day rather than two days). The charger that came with my phone has quite a long cable, and will go in other phones, not just Samsungs. This appears to be a common thing with smartphones now - they all seem to have the same type of charger, which is such an advantage when I go and see my big sister, who has a Nokia, as I don't need to remember to pack my charger anymore! I did pay £50 for the phone, but I went for the cheapest contract (which was about £17.50 but that was raised with a VAT rise, or something like that). If I had been willing to pay over £25 a month, I would have got the phone for free. I think now, even my contract would result in a free S3 mini, as there are several newer phones out now! Overall, I love my phone. I have invested in a cover for it to protect the screen - this replaces the back of the phone, and has a flap that can be opened to reveal the phone screen. It didn't stop me making the edges look nibbled when I dropped it three times in one day, but considering that was the only damage, I'm quite chuffed. The S3 mini is a simple, robust little phone which does the job I want; it allows me to access my emails, text my friends, and fiddle on lots of apps when I should be working (or writing 'short' reviews). I will keep you posted with how it lasts, but with 10 months in, the only issue is that the edges look a little chewed - not bad considering my usual track record with technology!
As I am sat waiting for the school's Open Evening to begin, I decided to make productive use of my time, ignore my marking pile and write a review! I think the time has come to review the second season of Downton Abbey, considering I have just rewatched it for about the fifth time! A couple of my friends have been watching the whole series (1-3) on Netflix for the first ever time, and sending me a running commentary. It's been lovely to hear some comments about it that I thought the first time I ever watched it, and made me feel like I was watching it for the first time again. To sum up for those who may have never seen it, Downton Abbey is a period drama set in a country estate, looking at the lives of the Crawley family and their servants. The show charts the lives of the characters through several key periods of history, and how they respond to these changes - especially those that affect their lives and the social hierarchy they have been used to. Season two begins a little later than season one left off - in the midst of the Great War, about 1916. The family are just as affected by the war as other houses; not only have two of their footmen gone to war, but Matthew Crawley (the heir) has also gone to war, although he does spend a large amount of time visiting the house! But the war doesn't just effect the men of the family; Sybil, Lord Grantham's youngest daughter, is fed up of just sitting round and waiting, and so, with the help of Matthew's mother, she sets out to become a nurse - which may have more repercussions than the family first envisaged. The war even manages to bring Mary (the eldest) and Edith to a form of truce, and really highlights how people seemed to learn to work together to keep going throughout the war. All three Crawley girls carry out tasks and come across challenges that only a few years ago they would never have dreamt of facing (although I have a feeling that Sybil may have dreamt for something different than her life). And when disaster strikes (in more ways than one), can the family adapt again, or will it all fall apart? Is romance in the air for a member of the family, or one of the servants? And will the war have a greater effect on their lives than anyone realised? My historical knowledge of this era is a little light, but from what I know (and from what I have come to expect from the writers of Downton), it is rather accurate. The Great War changed a great many things, both during and after, and families had to adapt to survive. It also indicated that the 'old' traditions that those at Downton Abbey followed may not be able to survive the changes the war caused - it did seem to have a social effect as well as a more drastic effect on human lives. It is fascinating to see how the younger generation were more ready to adapt to the changes the war invoked, and how willing most were to 'muck in', no matter what their background. It is here that you see the subtle shifts in social standings. The elder members of Downton (whether family or servants) seem much more stuck in their ways, and a little unsure of the paths the younger members are heading down; I think this can pretty much be said for now as well as then! I love the storylines in Downton, as they encompass a lot of the possible events that could have happened to families in those times. It doesn't seem to be afraid to see what would happen if a certain event or two happened, or if a certain family member got their own way (I won't be more specific). It obviously picks some of the more dramatic storylines, but it makes the show feel very real. You very much feel like you are there, experiencing the same things as the Crawley's and their servants. It also gives me more of an understanding of the limitations on even the Aristocracy, and how the Great War touched everyone's lives, even if they weren't fighting in it. I think this series looks at more complex storylines, and perhaps slightly more controversial storylines than in the first series - it's stretching it's legs and seeing how far it can take things, as well as giving the viewer a more realistic (and perhaps dramatic) impression of what that era was like. This series allows you to learn more about the characters we met in season one, and their lives. It also allows them to learn more about their own characters, as there are a lot of challenges for them to face. We are also introduced to a few new characters - some more likeable than others! These have a pivotal role later on, and although their appearance may be frustrating at first, just wait it out, because in true Downton Abbey ways, it all works out in the end (pretty much anyway). I would advise two things for this series - have some tissues ready, and have the Christmas episode on standby! The season ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I promise you will be wanting to find out what happens as soon as you can!
I have previously reviewed the first season of Stargate SG-1, so this review (season 2) will focus a little more on the season, rather than the back story. Although you know I can't help myself and will probably write more than I should! The whole Stargate SG-1 series is one of my favourite series of all time, but Season 2 is weirdly one of my least favourite - probably because it was the only season we owned on DVD and therefore I over watched it before I was able to watch any other season. This doesn't mean it's a bad season though; but I will leave it up to you to decide. The basic premise of Stargate is space exploration through a series of round gateways (Stargates) and the wormholes that form between them. These gates lead to a variety of worlds, using the symbols around the edge to 'dial'. The exploration by the US Air Force also uncovers a different story to Earth's history - most notably, Earth's Egyptian history (I love this interpretation). The focus is on the main team that goes through the gate - SG-1. They are made up of Colonel Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), Dr Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), Captain Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) and Teal'c (Christopher Judge). It is a bit of an odd group: a retired military Colonel with a troubled past who has been 'encouraged' back into the forces; a Captain who is a very clever physicist, who has to battle a little against some male prejudice (I don't know how reflective this is of the military in reality, but it is quite interesting to see her battling against this); an Egyptologist who is fast becoming an expert in the worlds they are visiting, who is very definitely non-military and has some different approaches to certain scenarios; an alien who was once the right hand of his Lord, who is determined to defeat the cruel rulers, and be of help to the world that saved him, whilst dealing with the disgust of his race. The four have to adapt to each other's ways and beliefs, and form a cohesive team: at times, their lives depend on this, and they can't spend their time arguing. To be fair, they do tend to follow Jack's lead, but he and Daniel especially tend to lock horns sometimes. It comes out a fair bit in this season, as the group are still 'teething' and forming together, and Daniel is continuing to search for his wife; a lot of his decisions are based on getting her back, rather than what is best for the team at times - to be honest, I think this is quite fair. It also isn't overplayed and overdone - you don't feel like the whole series is about Daniel and Sha're. As Goldilocks would say, the storyline is played out "just right". I like the fact that in this series we get to know Carter more; very early on, she has a traumatic encounter that has an effect on her beliefs, which has knock on effects throughout the series which may influence more than just Carter. Amanda Tapping plays the storyline very well, and is a very strong actress; a lot of the episode was focused on her and her internal struggle, and she held up very well to the scrutiny. There are also moments throughout the season (and the series) in which the encounter still has an influence on her, and whether this is subtle or intentionally noticeable, Tapping plays it very well and very believably. Hats off to her! This season begins on a cliff-hanger (I was very glad that I didn't have to wait to watch it) - not just an episodic cliff-hanger, but on a season cliff-hanger. SG-1 are in the middle of a long battle with Apophis, a rather nasty Goa'uld (the parasitic rulers of a lot of the world's SG-1 go to, that style themselves as Gods). Their aim is to stop Apophis invading the Earth, which has been drawn to his attention, as well as showing the world's that their God is false and they need to uprise (very much like Teal'c did). A small part is Daniel's quest to find his wife, but this is definitely not the main priority! But as Season 2 progresses, we come across other Goa'uld, some of which may make you question your opinion of them, others of which really make your skin crawl. We learn more about Teal'c, and about his son Rya'c. Teal'c also has quite an emotional season, which Christopher Judge plays very well. He still has to prove to some humans he has turned, whilst facing sheer hatred by his people, and people who once loved him. Like with Carter, it's fascinating to learn more about Teal'c, and watch his struggle between what is right and what he loves. And with that, I am probably telling you too much! The season lets you meet new planets and races of people, whilst learning more about those you have already met. There are literally nail-biting moments, tear jerking moments, and, as always, moments that will make you giggle. The team really gels together in this Season, and it is here that a get a firmer image of the SG-1 I know and love. As usual with me, I love learning more about the characters and their lives, as well as the world's they encounter. Sadly, some world's you never see again, but keep your eyes peeled because one or two things may pop up again in later seasons. And this is definitely a season that seems to get used and referred to again and again - so there are some pretty important things going on. A lot of the time you can just dive into the series and be caught up quite quickly, without watching Season one. The first episode has a re-cap, but you could probably just go from the second episode; this is the first season I ever watched, and I picked up the story quite quickly. I also picked up the Stargate bug, and hungered for more seasons - hence the epic amounts of rewatching. I am pleased to inform you though, that although I still won't watch it again for a little while, and it's still not my favourite season, I'm not as against Season two as I first thought. There are a few brilliant episodes, and this is definitely the season that sets the scene for many to come. Enjoy!
As I am currently sat here watching the future sister-in-laws play it, it has inspired me to write a review! It also gives me a bit of a break as it is the second day we have sat here and solidly played it in our effort to unlock more characters. Mario Kart Wii is the sixth instalment in a series of spin-off games from what I consider Nintendo's flagship game - Mario. As the name suggests, it is for the Nintendo Wii console, and is basically a selection of your favourite (or not so favourite) Mario characters battling it out for first place in go-karts and bikes. Sounds pretty simple does it not? Don't be so silly! You race against 11 other characters who are determined to win (who isn't I suppose) and will employ any means possible to get that coveted first place. And I do mean any means; these range from banana skins to slip over, cannons to fire you from last place, and airborne missiles to get rid of the person in first place. There are also the oh so familiar shells that can be fired at your opponents to clear them out of your path. Along the racetrack you have several chances to gain these boosts, in the form of little boxes. However, they take a few seconds to 'refresh', so if someone beats you there, you need to wait until the next chance. This can get really frustrating, especially when you are in last place and waiting for that elusive cannon to move you up the ranks! There are up to 32 tracks you can unlock, of varying difficulty. There are 4 in each cup - such as the flower, shell, leaf - you get the idea. You start off with four cup challenges (so 16 races), and get to unlock the rest through winning cups, participating in a certain number of races, coming in first place for every race. It varies - at the moment we are trying to unlock a character through coming in first place in all four races in the leaf cup; much harder than it sounds. I think the remote control will be going out the window pretty soon! There are motorbikes and cars available; you can race as bikes only, cars only, or mixed. As with the rest of Mario Kart, you can unlock more bikes and cars as you go on, and some are better than others, so be careful when you look at their abilities! There are four game options, which are as follows: *Grand Prix - this is where you have the option to win cups. You race against 11 other players on the tracks for the cup you have selected. This is a solo option *Time Trials - You race against yourself or a 'ghost' which is either a random players best time, or your own best time, on any track of your choice, as many times as you want. *VS - This is similar to Gran Prix but you have more options when choosing a race; you aren't just limited to the four in the cup race you have selected, and you can customize the race a little more *Battle - I don't do this too much as it can go on for a bit. You are on teams and the goal is to either collect as many coins as possible, whilst stealing the other teams; or you need to keep your three balloons intact whilst trying to pop the other teams. There are different tracks for this than the main races, which tend to result in you driving in circles. We have it set to best of five games; this is why it can take a very long time! You can also play with up to 4 players - as long as you have four Wii controllers! Players can take part in Grand Prix type races, either solo, or on teams if you are feeling nice. They can also take part in battles - this is helpful if you have someone round that is a bit of a pro! We spend a lot of the time on team races, perfecting our skills on certain maps. Except Rainbow Road. I will never manage that one. It sounds pretty, but it is in space, with no edges, and lots of twists, turns and jumps. I spend half my life falling off it! There is also the option to play online if your Wii is connected to the internet. This is very much like the more than one player races you can play without going online, but some people are ruthless! It makes me really wish I was just playing the Grand Prix - there are some people out there who are incredible at Mario Kart. So I'd try this at your peril, but I prefer racing against friends or just the computer. It's slightly less frustrating! Mario Kart is bright and colourful, and has cartoony graphics. It is really clear, and considering the game is so fast moving there has never been a fault in the graphics, or any lag. It is very eye catching and I just think it is very well done. The scenery around the track is just as good as the track - except for when you end up off the track admiring it all too closely! Tracks have been taken from old Mario Kart games, so it's quite good when you play it with someone who has played previous games - they definitely recognise some of their favourite tracks! There are also nice touches from previous Mario Games that you notice as you go round - especially some familiar faces! The music is very like the graphics - bubbly and fun. Each track has its own music, which speeds up when you are on your final lap. Luckily the music isn't too annoying, otherwise I think we would have gone mad (or been sensible and reached for the mute button!). Sound effects also come out of the controller, to warn you that you're going to get hit, or 'twinkle' sounds when you make an impressive jump! The game comes with a wheel you can slot your controller into; some people find this easier to use, rather than the controller on its own. However, as only one wheel is included, you may be loath to buy anymore - I managed to get 3 second hand from GameStation for about 50p each, but it does depend on whether there are any available, and whether you want new ones or not. You drive with the controller horizontal, and moving it left and right, rather like how you usually drive a car, so I can see how a wheel is preferable to some people. The number 2 button is used to power your car - if you don't hold this down, you're not going anywhere! The directional pad can be used to fire shells and other weapons backwards or forwards depending on where you want them to go. All in all, quite user friendly controls I feel! Even my dad managed to grasp it and complete a race, and he isn't the best at games! Overall, I love Mario Kart. We can happily play the game for a few hours, even if we do get a little frustrated when we come third again! It's a game that is fun for all the family - we have managed to drag the younger one out of her room for two days in a row (normally she's in there reading). Like I said before, even the gaming shy people can manage Mario Kart relatively happily - although the initial onslaught of bombs, shells, and shrinking can come as a bit of a surprise. It is a great investment; mine came free with my Wii, but it costs around £29.90 (according to Amazon). These prices probably will vary, especially considering it is a relatively old game now, but it is well worth it in my opinion. And at the end of the review, we still haven't won all the races on the leaf cup, and have now resorted to team racing on Rainbow Road (I'm sitting this one out!). Have fun!
For a while I have been hearing about the show, Game of Thrones, and how 'awesome' it is. Slightly late to the bandwagon, I have now watched all 3 seasons. But, being a bookworm, I decided that I needed to read the books. Mainly because I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything, but also because I have no patience and wanted to find out what happened next. A Game of Thrones is the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. There are several books and novellas in the series, along with a second series being written - a fair few to keep me busy for a while! It is a lovely thick book at 804 pages long, which is part of the reason I bought it; I'm a bit of a sucker for long books! It was originally released in 1996, but has been re-released to tie in with the TV series (there is one with the lovely Sean Bean on the cover). I will try my best to be as spoiler free as possible, but do let me know if you feel one has snuck in there somewhere. The book focuses on three main locations. The first is Westeros, made up of seven kingdoms which are overseen by Lords and ruled by King Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne (well, the throne is made out of a lot of swords, but it is called the Iron Throne). Each Kingdom tends to be ruled by a family, with several other families answering to them; a key kingdom is the northern realm of Winterfell, overseen by Eddard Stark and his family. Ned is a close friend of King Robert, having helped him overthrow the Mad King. We begin the novel with a visit from Robert to Winterfell to 'ask' Ned to become his Hand - his primary advisor - after his previous one suddenly dies. Ned reluctantly agrees, if only to try and protect his friend, and takes his daughter Arya and Sansa with him. This leaves his sons Robb, Bran and Rickon at Winterfell with their mother Catelyn. When Ned reaches King's Landing, and his new role, he seen discovers a lot more than he wanted to, with repercussions that may spread all the way back to Winterfell. Being the Hand of the King isn't all it's cracked up to be. Meanwhile, in the Eastern lands over the sea (they always seem to be across the sea don't they?), Viserys and his younger sister Daenerys Targaryen are setting in motion his plan to regain the Iron Throne, which had been stolen from their father (coincidentally, he was the Mad King). Daenerys is married off to a horse lord in exchange for use of his army. Unfortunately, Khal Drogo takes time with his end of the bargain, and Dany becomes used to her new role as Queen, beginning to become a stronger character, rather than the timid girl we first meet. And in possession of three fossilised dragon eggs, whose race has long been extinct... The final setting for this book is The Wall, a 300 mile, very, VERY, high structure made of ice, rocks and if the rumours are true, a little bit of ancient magic. Its role is to stop the Wildlings from the North from invading Westeros, and is guarded by the dwindling NightsWatch. Their newest member is Jon Snow, Ned's bastard son, who has pledged his life to the NightsWatch; a pledge that means no marriage, no children, and death if you desert. However, Jon quickly finds that this once noble guard is made up of men serving time in prison for very questionable acts, or sons sent away from their families. All must be trained to be of use to the NightsWatch, as they are the first line of defence against the Wildlings, no matter where they came from. Even so, beyond the Wall something is stirring; an old wives' tale is come to life again, and Winter is Coming... The book is told from eight characters points of view; each chapter is a character and keeps you up to date with what's going on where. The chapters are written in third person, but from the set character's point of view. This works well as it means there is a set person to focus on (and therefore a set location), but you aren't always limited to only the things they 'see' - although at times Martin does seem to do this, it ensures he has scope to elaborate a little more than I feel you could with a first person story. As the book goes on, certain characters get more time than others, but this is just to do with their story at the time - it's where the most important happenings are at the time. There's no set order to whose turn it is, which is a good thing otherwise I think it would probably become a little repetitive, and not flow as well as it does. The stories follow the same timeline (thank goodness - I don't particularly want to start jumping around in time as well as location), and as I've said before, who you are 'with' depends on what is going on at the time. The eight storylines, and the several characters do make it hard to follow at times, although the set 'storytellers' do make it a little easier. I did find myself flicking back and forth to refresh my memory and realise the links between some characters. Luckily they have relatively different names - give or take a few - which makes life a little simpler again. I found that watching the first series of Game of Thrones really helped me follow what was going on, and a few of my fellow readers have said the same. But I do know people who have read the book without watching the TV programme, and they managed to keep up with the characters (mostly), so it's not too bad I suppose! One thing I discovered is that despite the large cast of characters, the book was very readable. I managed to get halfway through it in about 6 hours - considering it is a large book and I was accompanied by a coach-load of children, I think that says a lot! I did slow down after that, mainly because I knew what was coming and didn't want to get to it - definitely a down-side to watching the show before reading the book! It is incredibly well written, and the detail is of a standard you would expect when one writes a fantasy novel. It was easy to imagine the world of Westeros, and see the Wall - and this has been said by people who may not have been tainted by watching the show. A heads up that I will give is that A Game of Thrones is quite graphic, both violence-wise and sexual-wise. This very much puts the book in adult fiction; I wouldn't even let a teenager read it, which is why when I saw a 12 year old reading it in school, I wasn't impressed! There are more graphic moments in later books, and some readers may not find this one overly graphic, but it needs to be said as it was a bit of a surprise - yes, I have seen the show, but I just presumed is was HBO giving it 'The Tudors' treatment, rather than being quite true to the book. It hasn't put me off reading it, but I am a little more careful where I read it! I found that there are one or two storylines that I loved the most; the plight of little tomboy Arya to be more than just a girl, alongside the story of her sister, Sansa who is trying to be the best lady possible so she can marry Prince Joffrey, Robert's son. As with a lot of sisters, the girls are the complete opposite, but try their best to get along for their father (well, most of the time). It's so interesting how their stories develop, and even how their wants change along the way. You find them both becoming more like each other in some ways, and I love seeing this happen, and look forward to seeing how this continues. At times these aren't my favourite stories, but looking back these are the ones that stick out in my memory most - so there must have been something about them! Graphicness and my own knowledge of what happens aside, I really loved A Game of Thrones. It is again different to some of my favourite fantasy novels; even though there is some mention of magic, there isn't really any use in this book, and it's quite refreshing. I do find a lot of fantasy novels tend to rely heavily on magic, whereas A Game of Thrones is about the people, the battles and a little bit about the bedroom. You get more of an insight into the political workings of the families struggling for power (or in some cases, not struggling), which is really interesting and done in a way not to bore the reader. There is backstabbing (sometimes literal), intrigue, murder, battles and a fair few moments where you don't want to read anymore, but dive back in because you can't help yourself! I am currently half way through the second book and still love it - it will definitely be a book I come back to, and it's a shame it has taken me until now to discover it; although it does mean that there are plenty of books for me to read now!
In what has become a very odd summer tradition, myself and Mr tinkerbell18 spend our summer working through Gilmore Girls. And with every review I write, I realise how much of a goggle-box I am - though I do tend to do other things whilst the TV is on! Gilmore Girls is a show about a single mother and her daughter, Lorelai and Lorelai (Rory) Gilmore, and their life in Stars Hollow, Connecticut - which is unfortunately not a real place! This town is filled with a variety of characters, and a whole host of town events and shows. Lorelai works at the local Inn with her friend, Sookie St James, a very clumsy chef, and Michel, a very grumpy, very French, concierge at the Inn. These three are a loveable trio - even though Sookie and Michel don't always see eye to eye, and they all dote on young Rory (Michel does so begrudgingly so). Rory is Lorelai's 16 year old daughter, whose dream is to attend Harvard, and whose nose is almost always found in a book, or with her best friend, Lane. When the show begins, Rory has just been accepted to a very prestigious (and very expensive) private school, Chiltern, which will help her in her ambition to reach Harvard. However, they want their high fee before she starts, so Lorelai has to resort to something she swore she'd never do; asking her estranged parents for financial help. Lorelai became estranged from Richard and Emily Gilmore when she became pregnant at 16; Richard and Emily belong to a privileged world of portraits, golf clubs and coming out parties, and Lorelai just did not belong. After Rory was born, she wanted independence from her parents, and wanted her daughter to have the normal life she had craved. But now, both Lorelai and Rory end up right back in that world, with a weekly family dinner (and the occasional soirée) at the Gilmore residence. Doesn't sound bad does it? The main themes in the show are Lorelai's relationship, which is at times tense, with her parents, especially her mother; Rory's determination to go to Harvard and the obstacles she faces - boys, snobby girls, Chiltern work; Lorelai's determination to own her own Inn with Sookie one day; and the lovely relationship between mother, daughter, and the town that raised them. The thing I love the most about Gilmore Girls is the town they live in; there is always something going on, be it a cat funeral, war at Luke's Diner because he won't decorate it, re-enactments of the town's founding, or a Christmas fair. The citizens are welcoming (mostly), and really make you smile. No matter what is going on in the Gilmore world, there is something in the town that will make it seem less intense. And I think the same can be said for the show; there are 'dramas', there are fallings out, there are moments where you just want to shout out the TV; but then you go out into Stars Hollow and it makes the whole thing a little better. The characters are mainly good natured, and there are some real characters in the world of the Gilmores; Miss Patty the dance teacher who knows everything and everyone, Luke who owns the local diner and keeps Lorelai and Rory stocked with coffee, Kirk the hapless worker who seems to have a new job every episode. An odd mix, but it somehow works! The first season focuses on introducing the characters and Stars Hollow, and showing what a quaint (if not slightly bonkers) little town it is. It goes through the fragile beginnings of Lorelai's new relationship with her parents, and their less fragile new relationship with Rory. There are other new relationships for both Lorelai and Rory along the way, which aren't the smoothest at times (when are they to be honest?). And, of course, the thing that started this whole crazy show off, there is Rory's journey through her new school, snobby girls and suicidal deer included. Hidden behind the drama are some serious issues; teen pregnancy, family relationships, relationships in general, starting business', bullying (slightly), dealing with intense school workloads (trust me, its crazy). They are all dealt with sensitively, and show ways of dealing with each issue. It's definitely not like watching Eastenders or the other soaps; they actually seem like realistic issues, and with realistic ways to deal with them, and not too intense either. And it doesn't make it seem like things such as a teen pregnancy are a breeze either; it makes it clear that Lorelai has struggled to get where she is, and it doesn't always end out as well as it does for her (see a later season for a clearer demonstration). I'd say even with the tensions and the dramas, it is a very light-hearted show and easily watchable. Episodes still make me laugh, even though I am going through the series for the fourth time now. It's a show that I put on when I'm feeling glum, and it never fails to at least distract me, and at the most, cheer me up. From the first moment, you feel welcome in Stars Hollow, and find yourself wishing you were there. Lorelai and Rory's insane diet and penchant for coffee will have you wondering how do they stay looking that skinny, and their relationship is a thing of wonders. Sookie's clumsiness in the kitchen, mingled with her amazing cooking will make you cautiously want to visit the Inn, as long as Michel is in a good mood. So, why don't you; pick yourself up the first season, cosy up on the sofa, and hop over to Stars Hollow - and why not take a few people with you?
I am having a very productive summer, courtesy of my pile of books to read and my subscription to Netflix. Annoyingly, a lot of the programmes I want to watch aren't there. Luckily for you lovely readers, I found a series that I had only seen a few late episodes of: Warehouse 13. Warehouse 13 is located in a remote part of South Dakota, and is the new location for two secret service agents. Pete Latimer and Myka Berring are transferred here; one moment they were protecting the president, the next a bushy-eyebrowed man (Artie Nielsen) was putting an object into a mysterious sparking bag, and the mysterious Mrs Frederic is sending Myka and Pete to their new protection role; guarding the objects found in Warehouse 13. Sounds a bit of a downgrade from protecting the President doesn't it? Well, even though some of the objects they guard fight back, Pete (and even Myka), begin to settle in with each other, Artie and the Warehouse, and enjoy their new role. That is until a ghost or two from Artie's past come back to haunt them... So a key feature of the show is the Warehouse and the objects, well Artifacts, it houses. These Artifacts are pretty much magical objects, that have been imbued with something from their creator, user or major event - they are usually connected to historical or mythological events, especially in series one. For example, Pete and Myka are sent after a pen that was owned by Edgar Allan Poe which can make anything the user writes a reality, but they also find within the Warehouse Marilyn Monroe's hairbrush that turns the user's hair platinum blonde. Most Artifacts can tend to have a sinister effect - I know I wouldn't want platinum blonde hair! - either with the first use or over time. The job of the Warehouse and its agents are to protect the Artifacts that have been already found, and hunt down the Artifacts still 'at large' - these are usually found at the centre of strange happenings. The characters. Well, we have quite a usual combination with Pete and Myka - Myka is very no-nonsense, play by the rules, and is not happy about her new role. Pete, almost unsurprisingly, is far more relaxed, and a bit go-with-the-flow. He is also like a big kid, and spends a lot of time trying to get Myka to lighten up. When it comes to cases, they both have different styles and tend to argue how best to go about things. During season one, you see them both beginning to accept each other's styles, and even incorporate both into their plans. There is a little flirting, but Pete is a natural flirt, and nothing ever comes of it, which I find quite refreshing. I can't quite see Pete and Myka together - they seem a bit more like a brother and sister than potential boyfriend and girlfriend. Leading on from this family idea is Artie Nielsen. He is very much like the Dad of the group - a role he also grows into. You don't quite know how long he has been without other agents in the Warehouse, but he definitely settles in to bossing Pete and Myka around. Artie is very clever, and takes both agents under his wing (one more willingly than the other). At times Artie seems a little mad, but he seems to know more than almost everyone else about the task, and is more than an agent of the Warehouse - he is part of the Warehouse. You don't learn much about Artie at the start, but it is his past that is pivotal to the entire series; and not always in a negative way. Leena runs the B&B that Pete and Myka now live in - as with all things Warehouse, Leena isn't what she seems at first. She isn't a Warehouse agent, but she does work there and places the Artifacts in areas where they will suit (trust me, Artifacts can get sulky!). Leena tends to be quite a calming influence, especially between Myka and Artie. I wish that we could get to know Leena more - I know she isn't a main character, but I feel that she isn't properly 'introduced', and you just don't get to connect with her as much. This is a shame, as from the snippets you do learn; I feel that Leena could be a very interesting character. Keeping with the family idea, I'd say Leena is the Aunt of the operation, providing cookies and a different perspective when she visits (even though she lives there, but you get the idea). Each member of the Warehouse has an ability that aides them in their job; Myka has a photographic memory (quite a useful trait I think), Leena is able to sense auras, and detect whether someone is feeling 'off' - doesn't sound all that wonderful but it does come in handy. Pete has 'vibes' - when he gets a bad feeling, it does well to pay attention to it! Artie's appears to be his unique grumpiness, as well as his cleverness and intricate knowledge of the Warehouse. These abilities are all quite subtle, and aren't really magical powers; they are more like enhancements of everyday abilities. I think they work well with the Warehouse, as the Artifacts they deal with are also enhanced, and special, so it is only right that the people guarding them are also special. So that is the family of Warehouse 13. Throughout the series there is an overarching story, which as the series goes on gets more developed and more obvious. However, if you pay attention (or watch it again at least once), you notice little things that are used or are important later on. What I love about Warehouse 13 is that even though there is a series storyline going on, there are some amazing episodes - both freestanding and/or comedy episodes; I think these are the best, and give Pete opportunity to be himself. They are also episodes which make me laugh out loud - which is actually quite unusual for me! There is even a Christmas episode at the end of the season; it doesn't fit with the timeline and events of the main season, but it is brilliant and highlights how much of a family they all are. And it makes you think differently about your Christmas lights... I love Warehouse 13. I think that pretty much sums the whole thing up. It is a show that makes me laugh, cry, and bite my nails off. The stories behind the Artifacts are well written, and a sneaky way of getting you to learn some history (there is a bit in there, though perhaps the involvement of the Artifacts can be taken with a pinch of salt). I love the family feeling of the characters, and the fact that this can be watched with the family - there is no excessive gore, not much more than passionate kissing and some inappropriate jokes from Pete. I have watched this with the family, and it does become a weekly thing. As always, I'd say for you to watch it to deem if you want your children to watch it, but it is very much more about the story and the Artifacts than the gore and the sex - quite refreshing compared to some TV shows out there! So get yourself down to the Warehouse - who knows what you may find on the shelves!