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      23.02.2014 18:20
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      Sure to delight

      Enormouse isn't quite like the other mice. He's big. Really big. And while his great size can be a useful thing (he can reach into high cupboards when they're foraging, he can carry more cheese), that doesn't stop the others laughing at him.

      One day they come across a book, crack it open for a quick read (for these are well brought up and well educated mice) and realise what's been wrong all this time - Enormouse isn't a big mouse, he's a normal sized rat! That explains it all. Feeling like he doesn't fit in, Enormouse leaves home and sets off to find the rats' house. The rats are friendly and welcome him in, but still something's not right and Enormouse is lost. He doesn't belong anywhere, poor thing.

      This is the cutest book! Everyone is nice in it, both the mice and the rats, friendly and polite. And everyone is adorable, even if the rats do live in grotty, smelly conditions. The message of the book is that who you are comes from within, and it's not based on what you look like. It's nice because ultimately it shows differences in a positive light, showing what Enormouse can do that helps the others. As someone who was the smallest in the class and was regularly dressed up, drawn round and sent crawling into small places, it was nice to see the benefits of being unusually sized being celebrated.

      It's a book that's well done. It's fun to read or have it read to you, and it's fun to look at because the pictures have been drawn with an adult eye, including lots of details that will make caregivers smile even if the little ones don't notice all the subtleties.

      This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

      Enormouse is out now in paperback and hardback and widely available.

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        03.02.2014 17:44
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        Can you find what you're looking for?

        If I told you this was a book in which every double page spread features exactly 100 people, and there's no real story to go with it, you might be underwhelmed. You might wonder what the point would be. But I can tell you in one word: fun.

        This is, for want of a better phrase, an activity book aimed at junior school aged children. The only slightly odd thing is that the activity is the same all the way through: can you find a group of 10 people from among the 100 on each page? It's like the literary version of hide and seek, except you're playing by yourself.

        Each double page spread has a theme: 100 cave people, 100 runners, 100 Father Christmases and so on. You are given 10 specific ones to locate which is far from easy because the theme means they all look quite similar - it's not like you're looking for the one Father Christmas among a group of cave people or so on. So you have to have an eye for detail and be quite methodical in your searching. In addition to the 10 bodies you're looking for, each page has extra, optional search criteria. The characters talk to you, asking questions like "Who's wearing a blue hat?" and "How many reindeer can you count?" and if you want, you can search out the answers to their questions as well.

        This is a surprisingly engaging book. In the most unusual way, you can spend a very long time looking at just 2 pages. I didn't want to 'do' it all in one go because my eyes got tired and my brain started to hurt, so I started by doing one theme at a time, a bit like when you have a trivia book you dip in and out of. That made it much more enjoyable, and of course it lasted longer. Unlike some similar books there are no answers at the back of this one (darn!) but the nice size of the illustrations means it's not quite as frightfully difficult as the likes of "Where's The Penguin?"

        This is a beautiful hardback book with wonderfully colourful pages. First published in Japan, there is a clear Oriental feel to the illustrations that make them feel a bit quirky and cartoonish to the British eye, and I loved that about them. The book is big on diversity and features (cartoon) people of different ages, races and body shapes, so it's also great for a starting point for a conversation on valuing differences. The book is over-sized so easy for sharing with one or more children, and you can all crowd round and look together. I know a pair of young sisters who are going to have a field day with this one.

        This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

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          25.01.2014 20:07
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          A slimiline dishwasher that cleans REALLY well

          It's quite illogical, really. I lived alone for years and had a nice big dishwasher, so big in fact it only typically got run once, maximum twice, a week. Then I moved in with the Boy, left my appliances in situ for the tenants who would soon be renting my house, and had to embrace his white goods. His dishwasher, this dishwasher, is, well, small. They say slimline, but that's just another word for small, isn't it?

          Dishwashers are something I wouldn't choose to live without. I have done, several times, in countries in varying state of developments from Sierra Leone (barely has water, certainly doesn't have white goods) to Mexico (much more civilised but none of my 3 properties stretched to automatic dishwashers, though I probably could have had a personal one, called Jose, had I but wanted). So I can do it, but I choose not to. I'm not someone who has a dishwasher but still washes up by hand. Unless it's a big, bulky item, I will generally put everything through the dishwasher. Because this one is so small, it means I can stack up plates on the side for another cycle if it's already full, rather than washing by hand. I think I've made my point.

          So this Bosch. It is a two level dishwasher, but they're narrow baskets which limits capacity. They advertise that this can hold 9 place settings. The question I would ask them (whoever they are) is how you're going to generate enough food for 9 place settings without sullying a few pots and pans, because as soon as you include those, the capacity drops dramatically. Luckily there's just the two of us, and I eat 2 meals a day at work which cuts right down on the number of items we need washing.

          I have this dishwasher running right now and I can hear it humming from the kitchen but it's not too intrusive. I think the washing machine makes more noise, and that's located outside in a utility room. I expect appliances to make some noise, and this one is on the quiet side which is nice. The downside is, it's not always obvious when it's finished because the sound is barely on your radar anyway, but the LED display on the front tells you when it's done if you happen to be within sight of it.

          I think this dishwasher has excellent cleaning power. I buy the cheap (Aldi or whatever B&Ms have in) dishwasher tablets and these are no problem for it. I've never once had to put something through for a second wash because everything does seem to come clean first time, even when it's quite packed. Because it is 'compact' I try to use all the space and sometimes do so in a creative way, for example having a bowl upside down under a saucepan, but find both come out clean - though I should add these pans have normally only had salted water in rather than proper gloopy messes.

          I highly rate the way the items are dry when it clicks finished. In my own, old dishwasher items often had droplets of water on, especially after using the economy cycle, so I had to open the door and let them dry a bit before putting away (since drying with a tea towel, much like washing up by hand) is something I avoid where I can. I appreciate the fact that in this Bosch, I can put things away immediately. I also like that the items aren't hot when I go to unstack the dishwasher, as I have found can be the case with some older models. There's no worry of a steam burn or similar when opening this one as the items are warm at most, and properly dry. I didn't realise that dishwashers can be graded on their drying ability as well as their washing ability, but this one is A rated for both, and an A+ in terms of energy efficiency.

          This dishwasher has some options I don't tend to use, but are nice to know about, for example you can set a delay on it so it starts in 3, 6 or 9 hours. If you're on the right sort of energy tariff this can be helpful as you can set it to run during the night, but we're not and to be honest I generally start it as soon as it is full. There are numerous different settings with this dishwasher, in theory for different items or levels of cleaning required, but I've only used one. The great thing about the settings is that you can keep it on the same one each time and just press the go button, whereas on my old machine it was a dial which moved round during the cycle, so you had to re-set it every time.

          This dishwasher closes securely with a reassuring click so you know it's properly shut, and it won't run unless the door is up. You also cannot open it mid-cycle which ensures I don't flood my new country farmhouse kitchen in the way I almost did once at my old city centre place.

          The baskets move smoothly in and out and the bottom one comes out all the way across the door when it's down so you can easily place items neatly without having to squirm at the back. I once lived in Italy with a family who only stacked items in the same order as each other. As an au pair, stacking the dishwasher was, in theory, one of my jobs, but I was soon excused from it when they realised the devil may care attitude I employed for slotting in the oily pasta plates and Nutella smeared knives. I'm sure people will comment that there are good reasons to be methodical in your stacking, but I just feel life's too short. In this dishwasher I arrange things by size and shape rather than direction, to maximise the capacity of any one cycle. The prongs are a bit odd and a few different heights, but it's the cutlery basket that really gets to me because it doesn't really sit well anywhere, and often tips precariously to one side if you don't balance it just right. This is especially noticeable when you're filling it over a few days rather than all in one go, because every time you add another knife or fork the weight shifts slightly. It's actually easier when it's full with plates because these help hold it in place.

          While the upper basket has less height, you can still fit most things up there, including tall tumbler glasses, and pans and baking trays. My only complaint is that the baking trays need to lie flat in both baskets rather than standing up between prongs, which again reduces the capacity.

          The top rack has an additional shelf for things like big knives and wooden spoons or spatulas. While this is helpful because they don't easily fit in the cutlery basket, it can also be a pain if you want to put taller glasses under it as they lever it up a bit meaning the items on the shelf don't lie flat.

          We use dishwasher tablets for convenience, but I do find the compartment these go in can be quite temperamental and sometimes it takes a few attempts to click the cover closed. I've not been using this since new, so I'm not sure if it's a fault that develops over time, but it is noticeable because it happens so frequently.

          I think a lot of people would choose this washer based on the space, or lack thereof, they had available. I'm not quite sure why it came with this house as we have a massive kitchen we could have fitted a larger one in, but I can also see why the Boy hasn't replaced it. There's simply no need. It may be small in size but it's high on performance. It washes and dries better than some full size models I've used, and you can't really deduct marks for capacity when the whole point is that it's a slimline model.

          Based on my experience since last autumn, I would recommend this model. It has niggles rather than faults, and I feel the advantages outweigh these, specifically the cleaning (and drying) ability. Two thumbs up.

          Around the £300 mark as of January 2014.

          Bosch Classixx SPS40C12GB

          Dimensions: H85cm x W45cm x D60cm

          Widely available

          See http://www.johnlewis.com/bosch-classixx-sps40c12gb- slimline-dishwasher-white/p231461650 for full spec

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            12.01.2014 17:51
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            A lovely book of short(ish) bedtime stories to enjoy together

            A whopping 45 stories make up this reissued book of nursery stories perfectly pitched at the pre-school and early years audience. There are animal stories and stories about fantasy creatures. There are tales of good, sweet children and tales of naughty, crotchety ones. There are stories that go on for pages and others that finish after a few paragraphs. There are entries you might end up reading again and again, and entries you might read once or not at all, in favour of the favourites instead.

            This is a weirdly wonderful compilation of classic stories from over the years, from Thumbelina to Milly Molly Mandy, via the Billy Goats Gruff and My Naughty Little Sister. Some I expected more than others - the fairy tales for example, I'm used to seeing in books of mixed stories - while others such as the Joyce Lankester Brisley and the Dorothy Edwards I've not come across in anthologies before. They were a wonderful surprise, though. You can't beat randomly coming across the girl from the nice white cottage with the thatched roof. The appeal is universal. One of my staff is 20 years older than me, and South African, and picked it up, located Little Red Hen and had to sit and read it immediately because it brought back her childhood so vividly

            I would say I was about 50:50 in already knowing these stories, and I was a very well read (or rather very well read to) child. I certainly don't remember a little girl called Caroline who preferred to go by Annette, though it's a splendid story. And I don't recall hearing the tale of the princess who couldn't cry, or the clever way someone made it happen, when all others had failed, but again it's a good one.

            This is a luxuriously presented book with pages so thick I kept thinking I must have turned over two accidentally. The illustrations are by the wonderful Shirley Hughes and her trademark scruffy pencil designs. You look at this book, and you think old school. It's classic in design, not at all garish like some modern releases. Even the formatting seems from a bygone era with one story running into another - no clean page breaks here. Of course there are lots to fit in - 200 plus pages in fact - so it's just as well there's no white space going to waste.

            The writing style of these stories will, again, be familiar to parents as the sort of thing they had (and indeed their own parents had) as children. Some of the vocabulary will be unfamiliar to today's little ones, as may the approach of talking out to the reader (Now, would you believe it?), but as stories for reading aloud they're just perfect.

            Highly recommended, this is 45 books in one and would be a bargain at twice the price.

            Out now in hardback.

            This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

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              06.11.2013 19:10
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              Christmas is not a happy time for carrots!

              It's Christmas time, and there's every reason to be afraid, at least if you're a carrot. While everyone else is getting excited about the season, the Christmas carrot is dreading it. He's about to go under the knife and emerge as a side dish on the family dinner table tomorrow. Gulp! Luckily Billy has other ideas, and seizes him from the kitchen where his dad (a nice touch...it's not just mums who cook) had been about to prepare him. Outside they go, heading for Billy's snowman who is missing one small feature... a nose! It's a last minute save from the chopping board, but the Christmas carrot is still not happy with this career change, because it's, y'know, rather cold out here. And so his adventure continues.

              You'd be surprised how many things there are to do with a carrot in winter. Everyone wants a piece of the poor little thing, but far from feeling popular, he feels rather under attack as he bounces from one place to another, trying to find somewhere safe to rest, away from knife wielding dads, and nose-less snowmen and, later, various hungry animals. With each misadventure a new pursuer joins the chase, until you have a Pied Piper style situation with a whole raft of followers hot on the carrot's tail. Can he escape his fate and live to see Christmas?

              This is an exciting, rather cheeky little book that will have them in fits of laughter. The carrot is clearly a determined little critter, and ingenious and creative too in his attempts at escape, and you really feel yourself rooting for him. The repetition that comes with each new addition to the chase adds a rhythm to the story and helps it gallop along. There's a bit of danger to be had but none of it transferable to children so it creates excitement in the story but no nightmares, unless you have particularly spookable little ones who are scared of being eaten by rabbits, or chopped up and plated up next to sprouts.

              The illustrations are brilliant: bright, sassy, quite cartoonish. The sentences are short, and there is that aforementioned repetition, making it an ideal book for children starting to read by themselves. The story has lots of familiar elements to relate to: eating Christmas dinner, making a snowman, a visit from Father Christmas. But, you don't know what's going to happen next, there's lots of edge-of-your-seat action as you cross your fingers the carrot makes it through his latest challenge, and the ending is entirely unexpected. It might make your children stop eating carrots, but in exchange for them reading books, I think that's a fair trade. And there's nothing in the story to put them off meat or potatoes or spouts or gravy, so they can still go ahead and enjoy that Christmas dinner.

              Highly recommended.

              This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

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              • HP KUS0133 / Keyboard / 58 Readings / 56 Ratings
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                28.10.2013 19:04
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                Smart card technology built right in

                The HP KUS0133 is a traditional, full-sized keyboard with the added extra of smartcard technology, which I'll explain a little more about later on. This is the keyboard we have at work, and when we had a recent upgrade and got new PCs they brought us some new keyboards too - new KUS0133s to replace the older, but identical, KUS0133s we'd had before. I suppose as the manager I could have fussed and asked for alternative keyboards for us, but that would have been throwing my weight around for nothing, because these are perfectly adequate. In another arena, 'perfectly adequate' might sound like I'm slating a product, but here it means they're fine, good even, nothing wrong with them, do what they should, are reliable and functional and, well, perfectly adequate.

                I spend my work days typing on one of these, and my evenings using one of two laptop keyboards. It's been almost a year and I still struggle to find some keys on the Boy's laptop, because it's not the same as mine, so one of the things I liked best about the KUS0133 was that the keys were in sensible, intuitive places. There's a standard design for keyboards and I always find it rather daft when manufacturers faff around, almost as if they're trying to put their own personalised stamp on something, and manage to mess it up in the process. This is a UK style keyboard, by which I mean it has QWERTY letters and no added accents, thought it does have £, $ and Euro available without too many key combinations. Slightly to the right of centre are the navigation keys (Page Up / Down, Insert and so on) and to the far right is the numberpad, useful for when you're typing in a foreign language and need the correct letters. Or when you have a name like Zoë (that's Alt + 0235).

                The thing that makes this keyboard a bit different is the aforementioned smart card technology. This is clear because it has 'Smart Card Terminal' written at the top right hand corner, and there's and additional light next to the ones that tell you whether num lock, caps etc are on or off. It looks like a card chip, and while it doesn't light up if a card is in, it does flicker when you first insert a card. This is a bit annoying, because sometimes when my staff are having issues, I can't tell whether it's the card or keyboard without finding another card or keyboard to swap in. I would prefer it if it lit up to show it had a card in and was reading it.

                I've never worked in another organisation that has smart cards, but the NHS is very big on them, as you have roles assigned and can therefore limit who has access to what, important when patient data is at stake. You also have a clear audit trail of who has accessed what, when. The main advantage of cards over passwords is that our cards have photos on, and you can therefore immediately see whether someone is on a computer using someone else's log in. These cards have other uses too. Like giving you a stellar Dominos and Nandos discount, but that's by the by.

                On the HP KUS0133, the smart card reader is built in to the right hand side, near the top corner. You insert the card, chip first, and it reads it and then opens the relevant software, where you have to enter your PIN. For now we can enter our clinical system using either a smart card or an old school log on, but it's quicker to go in with your card, and that is what I prefer my staff to do. The speed at which the card is read and the window opened is remarkable. There's no 'thinking time' for the keyboard at all, it's in, click, go. This is a really important advantage for me, because I want to encourage smart card use, and it means they can't use the excuse of it being too slow or complicated a process compared to their old method of just passwords.

                I have been using these keyboards for over 18 months, and I have found the card readers robust (though seeing as they're internal, it would be quite hard to damage them). We also have a few external card readers for a different model of keyboard in a couple of consulting rooms, and these are much more temperamental, and require the jiggling of cards and lots of taking them out and putting them back in again. This compares to my integrated HP keyboard where I've never once had a problem with it failing to detect the card, or an error message of any kind.

                This is a USB keyboard which means you can plug it in to any USB port on your computer. Again, this is handy, because it's highly unusual to get a PC without USB ports aplenty these days. This is a plug and play device so you don't have to faff around getting any fancy software, it is ready to use from the moment you plug it in. And, while it is designed to allow smartcard log ons, it doesn't object to being used normally without a card. It is a wired connection which means you're limited a little in how far away you can move the keyboard from the PC, but I've not had a problem with this in any of our rooms. The wire comes out of the middle of the back which is a tad annoying for me as I plug it in to the back of my base unit, so it has to snake round the front, then down the side - if it came out of one corner instead that would be more convenient for me, but it's not a massive issue, and this way it's not specific to those who use USB ports on the left or right - it works with either. I do have USB ports on the front of the unit that I could use, but I prefer to keep these free for things I need to plug in and out more often, and also using one at the back helps use up some of the cord so it's not coiled round in a loop, getting in the way.

                This keyboard has no specific ergonomic features. It's a simple rectangle, rather than one of the more crescent shaped designs and there's no wrist rest although these are easy enough to install, should you want one. It's not that light, but then as a wired keyboard rather than a wireless one, it's not necessarily designed to have on your lap. It's not a heavy thing by any means, and it's easy enough to move around, but I'm not sure I'd describe it as lightweight compared to some others I've used. There are two height settings, meaning you can have it flat or at a slight angle (I definitely prefer the latter), and the legs are easy to snap up and slot down, so if you share a PC with someone else on alternating days, it wouldn't take 2 seconds to adjust it for you if needed.

                While you might not consider this keyboard if you didn't need the card reader feature, I wouldn't be that quick to dismiss it. It's a well designed, functional option whatever you want it for, and the Smartcard feature is subtle and hidden away a bit, so it wouldn't get in your way if you didn't want to use it. If you do need Smartcard technology though, then look no further. It's quick, reliable and easy to use. A winner.

                Often coming bundled in with PCs, you can also buy this keyboard alone, though I've only seen it online. Expect to pay around £20.

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                  27.10.2013 08:43
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                  You can do all Toucan can, but can Toucan do all that you can?

                  If you've ever wondered what a toucan can do, this book will tell you. The answer, in a nutshell, is EVERYTHING!. Some are typical things - dancing and singing and sliding and swinging. Some are more random - banging a frying pan, doing the cancan. But they all look like a lot of fun, and the question remains: can you do what Toucan can? I bet, I bet, I bet you can!

                  Told entirely in rhyme, this is a crazy and wild, but ultimately adorable, book that gets faster as it goes along, like a stomping flamenco spinning round and round in a circle, which seems a good analogy given the exotic nature of the book.

                  While this book is fun (and we mustn't over look this, because it is Super fun, capital S) it is also a brilliant one for engaging your child as you read to them. You can talk about what Toucan can do, and later what you can do that Toucan can't. You can talk about families and whether your aunts are like Ewan's aunts, and whether they too have pet pandas. And you can talk about animals generally because there are so many new ones in this book they might not have come across before - like goose and gander and panther and salamander. It's a lovely imaginative book in which kangaroos do kung fu (the panda doesn't - that would be too much of a cliché) and an eclectic mix of animals live (and dance) in harmony.

                  Even as a child, I appreciated that hardbacks were that little bit more magical than paperbacks, and this edition is no exception. The colours are so vibrant and the animals jump (and swing and dance) right off the page at you. The paper is silky, glossy, feels like a treat to read and the pages are huge and full of detail, though text is limited to a line or two per page to keep it from being too overwhelming. The minutiae are awesome too - the look on Aunty Shanti's face when she sees Aunty Anne and Aunty Candy dancing without her is delicious and will make little ones cackle.

                  Simply put, this is a brilliant book I defy any child not to enjoy it.

                  This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

                  You Toucan buy this book now in hardback or Kindle forms.

                  Publisher: Gecko Press
                  ISBN-10: 1877467537

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                    19.10.2013 15:09
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                    A girl fights to clear her father's name when he's accused of killing her classmate

                    ...You're Sure Of A Big Surprise. And not a good one.

                    Popular girl Ashlee is dead. They're saying the father of her less-popular classmate Emily is responsible. She cannot accept this, cannot accept that her own father could do something like that, but all the evidence points that way. Emily can't stop thinking about it. She starts investigating what really happened in the woods that night, but the more she uncovers, the more uneasy she feels. Could her father actually be the one who killed Ashlee? And should she stop digging before she unearths something really unpleasant?

                    Damon is bereft. His girlfriend has been murdered, and while the guy who did it is behind bars, he's still left troubled by the events of that night. He was the last person to see Ashlee alive... he thinks. But why can't he remember the details? And if his mind has hidden those memories for a reason, will it do more harm than good if he tries to recall what happened?

                    The book flits between Emily's voice and Damon's, to great effect. At the start they are on two different sides, Emily convinced of her father's innocence and Damon of his guilt. But, as they both start to delve deeper into what went on in the woods, their perspectives change.

                    This is a really interesting, really unique bit of young adult fiction. It's a proper whodunit that keeps you guessing right up until the end, both for the culprit and the motive as lots of strings of information along the way point to different people for different reasons. Just when I thought I had it sorted, something else would come to light that made me reconsider what I thought I knew. The clues are key, but they can also be interpreted in various ways, so you can see why the characters jump to the conclusions they do, based on the evidence available at the time. This wasn't a book where I saw the ending coming, but it also wasn't a book where the ending is so outlandish you feel let down. Now I know how it ends, I want to re-read it because I'm sure there are more clues to be had that I, and Emily and Damon, failed to see first time.

                    This is a book set in a nondescript town and it took me a while to work out if it was supposed to be the USA or the UK. It's a timely book because of the links to the army and soldiers returning from war, but ultimately it's about family relationships and friendships, and how well you really know your nearest and dearest.

                    One of the themes of the book is The Game that is played by some of the characters. It's mentioned in passing almost right from the start, but it's a long way in before you find out actually what it involves, and I was quite surprised by the content, expecting something different, perhaps with more members, bigger teams. Again, now I know the ins and outs I think I'd find a second reading quite different.

                    This is the sort of book that stays with you after reading. The writing is very atmospheric, so even reading it on a blazing hot summer day, I could imagine myself deep in the dark, wet woods somewhere, hiding from the rain beneath the trees, getting muddy, and being frightened by shadows.

                    I really enjoyed this book, in part because it was so easy to read and to engage with, and in part because the story turned out to be rather interesting. It's probably not the sort of book that would have existed when I was a teen because of the nature of what goes on (just like books in my mother's era never featured mobile phones) but it's bang on for today's young, and not so young, readers. Highly recommended.

                    Out now in every form, from paperback to Kindle to audiobook.

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                      15.10.2013 19:39
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                      Great self-catering apartments close to the original Legoland

                      Big Sis was working in Denmark and so we decided a trip to Legoland was in order (for what else is there in Denmark, after all, apart from comedic lesbians and knitted jumpers?) Billund is where you find Legoland, but there's not much else in the small town so accomodation options were limited. We ended up staying in these apartments, located through booking.com though they do also have their own website


                      http://www.karolinelund.eu/

                      Located on a farm to the south of Billund centre, there are conflicting views of how far out these apartments are, and with some websites things like "5 minutes away" without putting the mode of transport (Car? Foot? Wheelbarrow? Donkey?) we weren't too clear. We got a taxi from the town centre when we arrived, and this cost about £7. Another time we walked, and this took maybe 45 minutes. Big Sis's taxis to and from the airport cost more like £17, but then it is a bit further, and of course silly airport fees apply. In other words, the apartments are close enough to Legoland to be a useful base, while not being so close to the centre that you can pop out for fresh croissants for breakfast.


                      There are only two apartments in the complex, because they're housed in a building on a farm site, and the rest of the property is occupied by the owners. We had the upstairs apartment, so my comments are based on this, though the website implies the downstairs one is not entirely dissimilar.

                      Our apartment consisted of 2 bedrooms (one twin, one double/twin), a shower room, and an open plan living/dining area. My first impression was that it had been thoughtfully designed and equipped to make it a home away from home. For example, the kitchen had all the essential crockery and cutlery, but also things like salt and pepper - things that really help when self catering, but which you might not think to bring with you or want to buy a big thing of. There was a coffee maker and some filter coffee, and a small bowl of chocolates and toffees to greet us. There were also things left behind my previously occupants - in a helpful, not grubby way. Some dried pasta, some herbs, that sort of thing. When we left, we also donated a few things because it seemed a waste to bin them, and whether they went to the owners or the next guests, it didn't matter.


                      The kitchen consisted of two hob rings (electric), an odd toaster thing, and a combined microwave/mini grill. It's not a lot, but you can certainly cook a decent meal there. There was also a sparklingly clean fridge, with ice box, and a dishwasher. Searching in the cupboards, we found dishwasher tablets and washing up liquid, and tea towels were also provided.


                      The bedding configuration implied it could sleep up to 4 people, but the communal areas might have been a bit cosy had it been fully occupied, as there is only one sofa and one comfy chair, best accommodating a maximum of 3 people between them. The dining table had two chairs and a bench, but again might have been a bit snug for 4 people as the table itself was quite compact.


                      As two of us were traveling light, with only hand luggage, we asked for bedding and towels (an optional extra) and these were waiting for us on arrival, with the beds already made up. The beds were super comfy and warm, as was the whole apartment, with central heating we could control ourselves. There was good natural light and we had a nice view onto the fields and the courtyard, depending on which window you were peeking out of.


                      We arrived mid afternoon and had no plans to leave the apartment again until morning, so were happy to find little comforts to make our evening pleasant. There was a selection of games such as Yahtzee (a great choice for an international clientele), some children's books and colouring things, and a selection of DVDs in various languages, from Inspector Morse to Mamma Mia. The TV itself was easy to use, though there was little of interest on - we found Neighbours in Danish (not having watched it for years, and not really speaking Danish, I worked out what it was by figuring the Danish word "Erinsborough" might translate as, erm, "Erinsborough". I was actually more entertained by the TV listings I discovered:



                      16:45 Gennemsnitlig Sex

                      18:45 Fuckr med dn hjrne



                      We also had free wifi, and the password was provided in the welcome pack so you didn't even have to ask. This being the land of Lego, you might think there was a bit of an oversight from what I've mentioned so far, so I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that actually, Lego bricks were also provided for guests' enjoyment. This was proper, made in Denmark Lego too (not the made in China stuff) from back in the day when local residents could buy seconds from the factory shop. I celebrated by building a house, and my name out of bricks.


                      The apartment had everything we needed for a 2 night stay, and was really comfortable. Unfortunately the weather was pants, but had it been nicer I'm sure we could have enjoyed the gardens which included a trampoline and big lawns, though info in the welcome pack stated there was a pond in the private bit of the gardens (code for "keep an eye on any young children").


                      What really made these apartments was the service from Bjarne and Astrid, the owners. We arrived on the Friday and before we'd even got out of the taxi, Bjarne was coming out to greet us and show us where we were going (we'd had instructions emailed ahead in case they were out when we got there, telling us how to get the key and so on). We enquired about the best way to summon a taxi for the following morning and he promptly offered to drive us into town himself, which he then did, including a mini tour of sites on the way and telling us a bit about the town (fun fact: it's roundabout central there, with barely 20m passing before you come to another). He also offered to lend us bikes if we wanted to explore. The following morning (our day of departure), they also stopped by to check we were ok, give us some change for the money we'd paid the day before (it's cash only) and ask if we needed a lift to the airport. It was a lovely gesture (which we took them up on) and as we chatted in the car, you really got the impression they liked having international guests come and stay, even briefly.


                      These are lovely, comfortable apartments that are convenient for Legoland, though a bit of advanced planning is required - we stopped at the supermarket on the way and stocked up which was a lot easier than trying to go out again and make our way all the way back into town. If you had a hire car, they would be even better, as there's plenty of space to park and it would make getting around a doddle. The street wasn't on the main map given out by Tourist Info at Billund airport, but I had Google mapped it before we went and managed to use the sat nav on my phone when we got a smidge lost. Bjarne also gave us another map on the Saturday which showed the apartments and the route into town. Other local info, including taxi details and local attraction brochures, was provided in the apartments too, and again, we added to it the stash of things we'd picked up from the airport, in case they were of interest to the next guests.


                      Prices vary depending on the season, and what extras you require (breakfast can be ordered, for example) but it's mostly in the region of £65 per apartment per night on a self catering, which is great value for Denmark, a lot less than hotel accommodation for 3 or 4 people, and just as comfortable.



                      Email (the pair speak great English): karolinelund@karolinelund.eu



                      Address: Karolinelund Apartments

                      Grenevej 11

                      Billund , 7190

                      Denmark

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                        07.10.2013 18:52
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                        : A family struggle to cope with the disappearance of their 10 year old daughter a decade ago

                        Ten years ago, a little girl vanished from a playground near her London home. Her body was never found. A decade on, and her parents are different people, her mother Beth still hung up on what did, or didn't happen that day, her father Brian trying to move on with his new family, his new daughters. On the anniversary of her disappearance, a strange visitor arrives on Beth's doorstep saying she knows what happened to Amy Archer. She also knows a great deal about Beth's life, and Amy's, from that time. Things no one should know. No one could know. But the only explanation is beyond belief. Either someone is playing a cruel joke on Beth, or it's time to start believing in miracles.

                        This is a harrowing thriller that keeps the reader, and the characters, guessing from start to finish. Beth narrates throughout which keeps the story quite one sided and wonderfully frustrating as we hear her opinion and her conclusions on what is happening, but can't find out what others are thinking. The crucial thing is that no one, even Libby, can ever get inside Esme's head, so the only person who can possibly know the truth is the girl herself.

                        I really enjoyed this book and didn't want to put it down because it was written in such a way that you always felt like something important was coming next - as often it was. At the same time, sometimes I was wrong. I had great suspicions about Jill's behaviour because I thought she was acting oddly when Beth went to Manchester and expected her character to turn out differently.

                        I had only a few minor niggles with the book as I was reading. I didn't really see the point of the obscure name of Henry Campbell Black, because while a name was needed, something more in keeping with the character would have done. There was an issue with Facebook that wouldn't have happened, to do with the way family is displayed, but I appreciated the accuracy in bus numbers in Manchester, the sort of detail that's often overlooked. I thought the taped revelation was a bit easy - and I didn't quite work out why it would have been done - but it certainly helped move on a story that was already long.

                        In this book you don't know what to think. Esme's claim is quite impossible to believe, but also impossible to doubt. Sceptic that I am, I was hoping for a logical explanation for it all, and I think the ambiguous ending works well as it allows you to think what you want. There's a bit of a curve ball related to Beth's childhood towards the end that seemed a tad superfluous, but there was enough good stuff going on for me to look past this.

                        All in all, a gripping story that is something I've not read before. The gap of 10 years between the incident and this follow up is certainly a new and intriguing take on suspected child abduction, and shows the aftermath it can have on families, and the lengths they'll go to to get answers and closure.

                        Highly recommended.

                        This review originally appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk The book is out now in paperback and Kindle formats.

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                          02.10.2013 18:13
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                          Elmer and Wilbur follow Grandpa's advice and have a big adventure in the process.

                          Elmer and Wilbur are spending some time with Grandpa Eldo, something lots of children will identify with. He tells them that in his youth, this was the time of year he'd go down to the coast for some Whale watching and, well, that sounds like a marvellous idea, so Elmer and Wilbur decide to try it for themselves. But it turns out there's more to Grandpa Eldo's story than he's telling them, and Elmer and Wilbur soon find themselves on a wild adventure.

                          Elmer is brilliant. The patchwork elephant loved by so many, he features in stories that are sweet but adventurous, and colourful beyond belief. This latest outing is no exception and the story moves neatly along with an obvious beginning, middle, and happy ending.

                          I really enjoyed the sense of cooperation in this book. In some worlds crocodiles would eat you, or at the very least snap at your toes, but here they help out their fellow animals. Everyone is friends in the forest, and so Elmer and Wilbur try to include them, though Lion and Tiger sadly have other priorities so have to stay behind. Even animals the pair might not have met before are friendly and helpful, so it makes sense that they talk to 'strangers' and ask them for assistance when things don't quite go to plan. You could always interpret this that all animals are equal, like all children are, so it's fun to make new friends and play with new classmates you've not met before.

                          This is a simple book that reads as if it's set in a simpler time, though it may just be that animals have got their priorities sorted and aren't as preoccupied with nonsense as humans. Either way, I would quite happily move to the forest because it seems such a jolly nice place to be.

                          The artwork in this series is always bright and brilliant, and even with the vivid colours, the elephants manage to stand out with their patchwork coats, Elmer's a rainbow of colours and Wilbur's a neat monochrome.

                          There are more words to this one than a lot of picture books, but that means it will keep for a while and grow with them, from the point that it's a reading aloud story to later on when they can read it themselves. The sentences are quite sensible and short and there's lots of speech too which is fun.

                          It's impossible to slate Elmer because the books are so right, and so spot on. Colourful and fun, the whole series is already a hit, and this is a fine new addition.

                          Elmer and the Whales is out now in hardback and on Kindle (um, ok). I got my copy courtesy of the Bookbag where this review first appeared.

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                            29.09.2013 20:35
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                            Would make a great present

                            Sometimes a picture book comes along that is so beautiful, it's almost wasted on slobbering, grubby-fingered toddlers. This is one such book. 'Animal Noises' is one of the prettiest board books I've ever seen. It is a lift-the-flap book of, you've guess it, sounds made by animals.

                            Each page starts with the sound and a hint about the animal's personality - so for example we have

                            "This wise bird goes TWIT TWOO!"

                            Life the flap on the opposite page and, yep your hunch is confirmed. It was an owl, as confirmed by both the printing of the word, and a picture of the bird himself, sitting proudly and quite seriously atop a branch.

                            One of the nicest things about this book is the way the animals are shown not just standing there, but actually interacting with their natural environment. So the monkey is swinging through the trees, the lion is trekking through the long grass, the bee is heading off, leaving his flowers behind. Something else I thought lovely was the way each facing page has a hint of the animal before you lift the flap - a tail poking out being the most common one - so there are multiple ways to read this book as the child develops, from making the sound to peeking at the edge of the picture before the whole thing is revealed.

                            This is a really well thought out book. The animals chosen have obvious, identifiable noises so there's no ambiguity. The flaps are really sturdy and will withstand a lot of opening and shutting and general yanking at, without ripping. The colours are bright and simple, easy for young eyes to focus, and even traditionally scary animals like the lion and the snake somehow look cute here, and are unlikely to lead to nightmares.

                            This is part of a new series of books, and I also had the chance to flick through 'Animal Opposites' which operates the same lift the flap style to look at pairs of words, and is just as delightful.

                            These books would make a brilliant 1st or 2nd birthday present for a child, because they're a little bit special (which the parents will appreciate) and a little bit fun (which said parents AND their kids, will love).

                            This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

                            The series is available now, online and in bookstores.

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                              21.09.2013 19:20
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                              Tim's lost his teddy at bedtime, but the farmyard animals band together to help him out

                              Tim is visiting Grandad and Granny Red on the farm. It's bed time, but Tim can't find Ted. He makes them look for him, but they don't really bother. Just a perfunctory peek behind the sofa and, when that doesn't unearth the teddy, Tim is packed off to bed with the promise that they'll look again in the morning. But it's hard to sleep without your toy, isn't it? So, deep in the middle of the night, Tim creeps out of bed to go searching once more. He's not alone, though. Grandad and Granny Red might be fast asleep but others on the farm are awake, and like the Pied Piper, Tim soon finds himself with quite a following.

                              This is a story about friends helping friends, even when those friends are horses and hens and ducks. The crowd gets rowdier but they're all there to help Tim so he can't be too cross. And when Ted appears, in the most unlikely place, the adventure isn't over as the animals have to band together to help Tim safely back to bed before his grandparents realise he's missing.

                              This is a lovely story told in rhyme with a great rhythm for reading aloud. There's lots of animal noises, too, but for the most part the poem is short and has a clear beat:

                              "Ben runs over
                              Ben says Gruff
                              Tim says, Down boy
                              Ssshhh that's enough"

                              Anyone who has ever misplaced a night time companion will understand Tim's torment, though this is perhaps not the best book to read if you're currently going through the same thing. Because Tim's ability to locate Ted is great, but is hardly going to make you feel better. While there is a fair bit of adventure to the story, it moves towards a more calm, and happy, ending that clearly indicates that it's time for Tim, and for you, to shut your eyes and go to sleep.

                              A lovely read that will appeal to those who like farmyard animals and who like to imagine what happens on the farm at night when everyone else is asleep.

                              Out now and recommended.

                              This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

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                              17.09.2013 18:57
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                              A look at life on both sides of the pond

                              Terry Eagleton is a Brit (Manchester born, no less) who now lives in Dublin with his American wife and children, so he seems well placed to write a book about the difference between us and them, there Yanks. Mid way through the pages, he even stops to tell us that in a way he had to write this, because when he wishes to read a book, he writes it. To read someone else's, he suggests, is 'an unwarranted invasion of their personal space'. That's how so very British he is.

                              This book is a big of a hodge podge of observations about the two nations, and although the subtitle is "An Englishman's view of America" at least as much time is devoted to examining the British way of doing things, our language, culture and so on. There's also a fair number of references to the Irish, another nation in itself as we all know (though some Americans may forget).

                              The sections are short, loosely grouped by theme into chapters, but it is definitely a train of thought kind of structure that takes you off in odd but not unpleasant directions. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this book is not quite knowing what's going to come up next. For an academic, this is a surprisingly personal book, but personal it is, full of judgements and generalisations and statements of fact that some may beg to differ with, but which are worth considering as long as you bear in mind they are, at times, a single person's view point. I feel the author's age also shows through, as does his background as an erstwhile Oxford don, for some of his observations seem to miss the point that our two countries are now so inextricably linked that the lines are very much blurred. For example by his reckoning I must be an American for the way I acknowledge words of thanks, or spend as much time as possible overseas, and not just in climatically blessed destinations.

                              At the same time, for the most part I found the book entertaining and relished some of his musings on areas I'd not really considered before. I very much enjoyed his observations on the wide-mouthed American actresses and the wonderful notion that if you want something enough you can make it happen. Clearly wanting Osama bin Laden dead was, as he says, something the US wanted so much more than abolishing poverty, hence making the former happen while the latter still lingers. His observations about being able to tell someone's social class or region or origin, or in the case of the Irish, their religion, simply by looking at their bone structure made me smile, because it's something I've said for ages and always been put down upon for.

                              I didn't find this book offensive in any way (though I feel the potential could be there), but I did take it with a pinch of salt because I knew to what extent I agreed or didn't with his statements about the British, and used this as a measure of how to take his observations on the Americans when it came to areas I was unfamiliar with. I almost wonder whether it would be of most entertainment to readers who were from neither nation under the spotlight, though I'm not quite sure why they'd choose to read it in the first place.

                              It is an interesting book as a one off, but it didn't make me want to rush out and buy any of his earlier works, in the way finishing my first Bill Bryson did. It was missing something - a little charm, perhaps, or observations with more concrete evidence to back them up. It took me a while to finish as it wasn't quite the book I expected. But then by Eagleton's reckoning, perhaps I should write my own in that case.

                              This review originally appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

                              Out now in paperback, Kindle, and audio book formats.

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                                15.09.2013 19:23
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                                A young model is wooed by a photographer

                                Jemma is a model who thinks nothing of photographers taking an interest in her. In fact, she rather likes it. After all, that's the sort of thing that leads to more work. But when the renowned Dominic Vane comes after her, the works he has in mind is something a little different. As an erotic romance, you can imagine what he wants her body for. Hint: it's not just as a clothes horse. And so, thanks to a helpfully understanding boyfriend with whom she's in an open relationship, Jemma decides to welcome Dominic into her life... and her bed. Except for some reason, he's playing hard to get. The more he eludes her, the more she wants him, and their initial relationship turns on its head as she becomes the one now pursuing him.

                                This is a longer story than I'm used to with erotica and has much more of a plot than many. There's no denying the genre, though, as the scenes come again and again if you'll pardon the pun. While I wanted to find the writing dirty, it was too clichéd for me and if it hadn't had the erotic aspect to it, I would have given up early on as the writing was too flowery and obvious for my taste. Every noun had to have an adjective so it's always a 'magnificent' body, then a 'spectacular' body, 'wild' spasms, a splendid muse and so on. The adult content helped mute this somewhat but I still did not enjoy it to the extent I had anticipated as the writing style grated.

                                It's hard to pinpoint exactly what was lacking because all the ingredients were there - a strong lead character, some mystery and intrigue, exotic locations, action and drama - but combined they fell short of the sum of their parts. I can see the attraction of the premise as the thrill of being watched goes to a whole new level when a photographer becomes involved. But for someone who already clearly has a more liberal sex life than many, I can't equate this story with being Jenna's 'sexual awakening' as described on the back cover. There's a lot of sex but it's all quite samey, whereas my previous experience of Black Lace books is one of much more variety with every encounter a bit different, until there's pretty much nothing left to do.

                                The author clearly has an obsession with hair down there, and never ceased to comment on or describe someone's, erm, groomed status. Someone needs to get the woman a Brazilian stat, so she can get hair off her mind, and off her body for that matter. It was something I failed to find hot, and the constant repetition every time a new character was introduced soon became tiring. The terms "silky bush" or "wiry hair" made me cringe rather than laugh even, and I soon came to dread the unveiling of new nether regions, knowing that the accompanying description wouldn't be far behind.

                                If I were Jemma, I would have given up on Dominic much sooner. If I were not reviewing, I would have given up on the book a little sooner. I'm sorry I didn't like it more, because I really wanted to, but it's not one that's going to find its way into that drawer of my bedside table.

                                Out now in paperback.

                                This review originally appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk

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