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A nerdy type from Wolverhampton, now working full-time in Birmingham. Back after about two years. Trying to play catchup with ratings before I write more reviews...

Reviews written

since 10/06/2008

106

Until You're Mine - Samantha Hayes 14/04/2014

She will not rest until she gets what she wants...

Until You're Mine - Samantha Hayes Whenever I’m browsing book reviews on review websites like Ciao I always keep an eye out for any books that I would actually want to read. ‘Until You’re Mine’ by Samantha Hayes is one such case; I read a review of this book by the lovely marymoose (thanks!) a few months ago. Immediately I added it to my wish-list after seeing it had also received overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon and was in heavy demand at my local library. Finally, last week I managed to get hold of my library’s copy to read on my commute to work. ---Plot--- Claudia Morgan-Brown seems to have it all; a lovely home in the suburbs of Birmingham, a great husband, two step-children and a secure job as a social worker. Best of all, she is finally pregnant with the baby she has desperately wanted all these years. When Claudia puts out an advert for a nanny, she finds Zoe. Zoe seems to be a perfect fit: great with the kids, perfect qualifications, great references…yet despite everything, Claudia believes that Zoe is hiding something, and one day discovers Zoe going through her things in her bedroom. Who is the real Zoe, why is she so obsessed over Claudia’s pregnancy and what is she really after? ---Opinion--- I finished ‘Until You’re Mine’ in only a few days, which just goes to show how hooked I was on this book! As a psychological thriller, the story is well-paced and there are several questions that you want answered by the end of the book- in particular, who Zoe really is and whether ...

The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey 09/02/2014

A touching story set in the forests of Alaska.

The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey ‘The Snow Child’ is a fantasy novel by Eowyn Ivey. This is another book I bought on Kindle over Christmas due to its low price (99p off the Kindle Store), rave reviews and an interesting, fairy-tale like premise- a perfect read for winter! ---Plot--- Jack and Mabel are a middle-aged, childless couple who have relocated to Alaska during the 1920s to start a new life. However, their move seems to not have benefited them at all; Jack is struggling to find work and gather food before the harsh Alaskan winter arrives, while Mabel is lonely and frustrated waiting at home for a husband she is increasingly distant from. One day when it snows, the couple decide to build a little girl out of snow, going as far as to dress her with a scarf and mittens. The next day, the snow girl has gone. On top of that, Jack and Mabel both begin catching sight of girl in the forests near their house- a girl similar to the child they made in the snow. As time moves on, the old couple are drawn to this child, as if she is the daughter they always wanted…but will they be able to hold onto her? ---Opinion--- ‘The Snow Child’ definitely did not disappoint. Whilst it moved more slowly than I expected, as it takes several chapters to for the titular snow child to be revealed in full, I felt the slow pace adds to the atmosphere of the novel. I have never been to Alaska and probably never will, yet Eowyn Ivey easily brings its solitary forests to life. You easily get a feel of how dangerous and harsh the ...

The Babylon Rite - Tom Knox 20/01/2014

A secret that kills...graphically.

The Babylon Rite - Tom Knox ‘The Babylon Rite’ is a thriller novel by Tom Knox (aka journalist and author Sean Thomas).I bought this from ‘The Works’ a while back as part of a 3 for £5 deal, but the book sat on my shelf for the best part of a year before I started reading it. This is partly because I had so many other books I wanted to read first, and partly because I didn’t have really high expectations anyway. ---Plot--- Journalist Adam Blackwood witnesses the supposed suicide of a respected Templar historian in Edinburgh. However, he soon meets Nina, the scholar’s daughter, who believes that that her father was murdered and wants Adam to help her find out what really happened. Adam, eager for a story, agrees to help Nina, but his murder mystery soon turns into a journey across the Templar sites of Europe. Meanwhile in Peru, anthropologist Jess Silverton is digging up the remains of the Moche, one of the most brutal ancient civilizations in the world. But with the excavation of the Moche comes people determined to silence Jess over the secret of their horrific practices. As it turns out, Adam and Jess’s adventures, together with a string of graphic suicides occuring across London, are linked by a dark secret in the deep of the Amazon… ---Opinion--- I did enjoy ‘The Babylon Rite’ a bit more than I thought I would. The story is well-paced and I liked the use of interlinking stories which lead to a joint conclusion. The chapters alternate the story between Jess, Adam & Nina, and the police ...

The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence 12/01/2014

One of my favourite books in recent years.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods’ is a novel written by debuting author Gavin Extence. I first heard about the novel from my sister who told me about its premise. Being intrigued and seeing its many positive reviews on Amazon, I downloaded a sample to my Kindle and really liked the novel’s style and opening chapter. Sometime later, I bought the whole eBook off the Waterstones website. Needless to say, ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods’ was finished in a day! ---Plot--- When 10-year old Alex Woods was struck by a meteorite, his life changed forever. As if having a psychic mother and living in a small village where everybody knows your name wasn’t enough, Alex has to deal with epilepsy and bullying as he grows older. Luckily, by coincidence he meets Mr Peterson, an elderly, sullen American man who lives nearby, and the two of them form an unlikely friendship that results in an incredible journey for the both of them. ---Opinion--- So ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods’ is a coming-of-age story that might appear to you as a bit outlandish. Yet the premise works brilliantly due to the author’s style of writing. The book begins with the 17-year-old Woods being stopped at Dover in his car carrying a bag of drugs and an urn whilst being treated as a pariah by almost everybody else in the country. From there he narrates his story from the time of his incident so that you find out how he ended up in this position. I really liked Alex as a narrator. He is witty, intelligent and a bit ...

The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro 08/01/2014

A story of love, life and witticisms.

The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro When my sister hinted that she was buying me a novel for Christmas, I didn’t expect the book in question to be ‘The Remains of the Day’. I expected it to be something either longer or more contemporary. Nevertheless, I was not unhappy with her choice either, because I had both read and enjoyed ‘Never Let Me Go’ earlier last year. Above all, despite my initial misgivings, ‘The Remains of the Day’ proved to be a better novel than I expected. ---Plot--- Set in 1959, the narrator of ‘The Remains of the Day’ is Stevens, an elderly butler serving at Darlington Hall. Stevens is encouraged by Mr Farraday, the Darlington Hall’s new owner and Stevens’ new employee, to take a holiday during his absence. Stevens uses the opportunity to visit Miss Kenton (now married and known as Mrs Benn), the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall who now lives in the West Country. As Stevens undertakes his journey through the South of England, he reminisces about his days as the head-butler of Darlington Hall including his service to the late Lord Darlington, the turbulent political climate between the First and Second World Wars and his relationship with Miss Kenton. ---Opinion--- What makes ‘The Remains of the Day’ such a good book is perhaps not so much the story (being mainly told in flashbacks) as its powerful narrative. With Stevens as the narrator, you get a real feel for his personality, relationships with the other characters and opinions on various matters due to his complex way of ...

Just Dance 2014 (Nintendo Wii) 27/12/2013

Taking to the stage once again!

Just Dance 2014 (Nintendo Wii) My mom seems intent on getting a new dance/party game for every Christmas season for all the family to enjoy, even if it is only two or three of us who play them after Christmas. Last year it was ‘Michael Jackson: The Experience’ ‘The Hip-Hop Dance Experience’ (which I’ve reviewed previously) and ‘The Cube’ to enjoy. This year, my mom bought us ‘Just Dance 2014’, the latest instalment in the successful series by Ubisoft. Although this is the first ‘Just Dance’ game I have played, the series’ popularity means that I had some fairly high expectations. But does this game impress, or is it a sign of a cash cow franchise? ---Gameplay--- The gameplay and controls for ‘Just Dance 2014’ are presumably the same as in other instalments. Players hold the Wiimote in their right hand and, following the prompts running along the bottom of the screen and the dancer, mimic the dance moves as accurately as possible to a selected song. It is pretty easy to pick up and play as no buttons need to be pressed (unless navigating the menu)- every dance move is motion based. At the end of each song you are given a star rating out of five, a point score and earn a certain amount of coins (the purpose of which is explained later). There are 47 songs available to play of varying difficulties (Easy, Medium, Hard and Hardest), and all of them can be played as above. Most also have special modes of the song which have different rules, which I have listed below: *Sweat*: The choreography is focused ...

The Shadow Year - Hannah Richell 25/12/2013

A cottage holding a 30-year-old secret...

The Shadow Year - Hannah Richell With a moderately long commute to work in the mornings and evenings, I have looked towards passing the time on the train by reading instead of playing on my phone (something which isn’t really possible with no Wi-fi or a data package!) When I was at my local Sainsbury’s a couple of months ago, I came across a novel called ‘The Shadow Year’. With a compelling blurb and a low cost of £3 I snapped it up on impulse. ‘The Shadow Year’ is a 2013 novel by Hannah Richell. I have never heard of Richell prior to reading this book, but it seems last year she had a bestselling novel with ‘The Secrets of the Tides’ and the high praise of that novel fills the covers of her second one. ---Story--- In 1980, Kat and her university friends stumble across an abandoned cottage in the middle of nowhere. Won over by the cottage and its beautiful surroundings, the five friends decide to leave behind their graduation lives and live in the house. However, as they stay in the house and the seasons turn, the friends discover life in the cottage isn’t easy and relationships soon turn sour. Thirty years later, the now dilapidated cottage is left to a young woman named Lila for reasons unknown. Lila has recently undergone a miscarriage and the loss is putting great strain on her marriage with her husband. For her, staying in and renovating the cottage is a much needed escape project. However, she soon discovers that the cottage holds many secrets, including why she has been drawn to the cottage ...

Sleeping Dogs (Essentials Edition) (PS3) 24/11/2013

Bringing down the triads, Jackie Chan style.

Sleeping Dogs (Essentials Edition) (PS3) ‘Sleeping Dogs’ is an action-adventure game released in 2012 by Square-Enix for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC via Steam. Originally meant to be part of the ‘True Crime’ series of games, the poor reception in that series meant that this game was scrapped, placed in development hell and then picked up again as a standalone title. I was recommended this game by my cousin, as normally I don’t play action games but after playing a load of rpg titles I wanted to try something different. The good reviews and gameplay videos for ‘Sleeping Dogs’ won me over, so I bought it with rather high expectations. Thankfully, I can confirm that this game more than met those! ---Story--- ‘Sleeping Dogs’ is set in Hong Kong. Wei Shen is an undercover police officer who has come back to his birthplace after having moved to the United States as a teenager. He is chosen by the Hong Kong Police Department to infiltrate the Sun On Yee faction of the triads. Wei meets his childhood Jackie Ma, an acquaintance of local Triad leader Winston Chu, and he helps him to join a group called the Red Poles led by Winston Chu. However, Wei has a personal vendetta against the Sun On Yee, and as he gains the trust of the triads, the line between cop and triad becomes increasingly blurred. The story of ‘Sleeping Dogs’ is very dark and filled with complex characters and a lot of grey morality. Wei Shen, despite his chequered past with the triads and quite violent approach to undercover work, is a likeable ...

Wunderlist 20/11/2013

Wunderful!

Wunderlist I tend to use my mobile phone as a place to put lists of things to do and upcoming events to prepare for. When I got my Google Nexus 4 a couple of months I began looking for an app that could help me out with such lists and I was initially going to go with a typical ‘post-it note’ one. Then I saw that my sister (who had bought the exact same phone as me- cheeky!) had a to-do list widget on her phone’s homescreen. I asked her what app that was from and she told me it was called ‘Wunderlist’. Apparently Wunderlist is the app version of a website of the same name, but I had never heard of it prior to downloading the app, so my experiences of this company are purely based on how the app works rather than how it compares to the website version. Anyway, Wunderlist is a free task-managing app. You can create categories of lists on there and set up individual tasks and reminders for each one. The preset lists available include: ‘Inbox’ (a general one), ‘Work’, ‘Private’, ‘Shopping’, and ‘Movies to Watch’, but you can create more of these to be displayed in the left-hand column of the screen. Tasks can be set due dates and reminders, and simply touching the star on each one highlights it as a priority task which shows up in the ‘Starred’ list. Once you complete a task, simply touch it to mark it completed and it will disappear from your ‘to-do’ list. I use Wunderlist to set up tasks for personal and work purposes. For each task you can add more detail; touching one opens up a ...

LG Google Nexus 4 8GB 09/11/2013

A Nexus in my hands.

LG Google Nexus 4 8GB Several months ago I started hunting for a new mobile phone. My previous phone was a Blackberry Curve 8250 which I received for Christmas a couple of years ago, but now Blackberry phones are no longer as popular, plus the Curve 8520 just felt slow and clunky whenever I used it. I looked towards getting a Samsung or HTC mid-range phone to browse the internet efficiently and access games and apps from the Google Play Store. The LG Google Nexus 4 was not one of the phones I was looking to consider as I felt it was way beyond my budget. However, when Google put their 8GB Nexus 4 phones on sale for £159.99 at the end of August I decided to bite the bullet and buy it. After all, the Nexus 4 is a high spec phone that rivals the iPhone 4S (or is it just 4? I’m not sure) and Samsung Galaxy S2, so the price ought to be worth it! ---Packaging--- The Google Nexus 4 arrived in a surprisingly small box. All the packaging consisted of was the phone itself, a quick start manual, a tool to help you put in/take out a micro sim card, the phone charger/adapter and the USB cable. To be honest, that is all you really needed- there are no random leaflets or irrelevant manuals. I imagine if there was a problem that the quick start manual couldn’t fix then you would have the sense to go onto Google and search for a solution anyway. ---Phone Specification--- For those who care about the technical points, here are some basic specifications I’ve found for the phone (please just scroll down if you ...

Tales of the Abyss (Nintendo 3DS) 02/11/2013

Great game? Yes! Great Port? Sorta.

Tales of the Abyss (Nintendo 3DS) ‘Tales of the Abyss’ is a role-playing game released for the 3DS in 2012, although it originally came out on the Playstation 2 in 2005 for Japan and North America. This was a game I really wanted to play at the time of its original release, but like mainly games in the cult ‘Tales’ series (which include the popular ‘Tales of Symphonia’ for the Nintendo Gamecube), it did not make it to Europe until now. When I got a 3DS console in June I knew this was one of my ‘must-by’ games, and I bought it back in July with high expectations. Having now completed ‘Tales of the Abyss’, is this port worth the seven-year wait to come to Europe? ---Story--- ‘Tales of the Abyss’ takes place in the world of Auldrant, governed by an ancient prophecy known Yulia’s Score. Created by a woman who became one of the first to see the future, The Score’s accuracy at foretelling events means that the people are pretty much ruled by its readings, believing that deviating from what is written will bring disaster. One of the great prophecies of the Score is that a Chosen One will be born in the Kingdom of Kimlasca and bring prosperity to the region. Said Chosen One and game protagonist is red-headed noble Luke fon Fabre. Unfortunately, ever since he was captured by the enemy empire Malkuth at seven years of age, Luke has no memories of his childhood and has been trapped in his manor for his supposed safety. Spoilt, sheltered and immature for his age, Luke’s only escape is sword training with his best ...

Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure (Nintendo 3DS) 01/11/2013

Hitting most of the right notes.

Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure (Nintendo 3DS) ‘Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure’ is an adventure/puzzle/rhythm game released for the Nintendo 3DS. I quite like rhythm games and when I heard about this game I immediately went and downloaded the demo from the 3DS eShop. The demo, which consisted of 3 rhythm games that make up the core gameplay, were very good – the style of gameplay reminded me of cult rhythm game ‘Space Channel 5’. I finally bought a physical copy of the game, which in reality can be described more as ‘”Professor Layton” meets “Space Channel 5”…and came away with the better business deal’. ---Story--- The game is set in Paris, France. Our hero is a young man named Raphael, otherwise known as ‘Phantom R’- a thief who steals precious artworks from around the city only to return them some time later. In reality, Phantom R is doing this to find his father, whom disappeared when he was younger, by creating a reputation that would get his attention. Accompanying Raphael is his sidekick dog, Fondue. At the start of the game, Phantom R’s next target is a bracelet in the Louvre. However, after stealing it he encounters Marie, a young violinist and orphan, and a strange man, claiming to be Emperor Napoleon himself. “Napoleon” is looking for his own treasure and is intent on capturing Marie for reasons initially unknown. As Raphael travels around Paris trying to find his father’s whereabouts, he must also protect Marie (who is looking for her mother), avoid the Parisian police force led by obsessed ...

Mega Mall Story (Android) 27/09/2013

Taking your money has never felt so good!

Mega Mall Story (Android) Ever since I played ‘Game Dev Story’ (reviewed previously) I’ve become a sucker for other Android games made by the same company. ‘Mega Mall Story’ was my first purchase after ‘Game Dev Story’ since I had downloaded its demo and became instantly hooked. For £2.99, I can say that the full game is certainly worth the price! ---Gameplay--- Players take control of a shopping centre complex, starting with only a few floors, no shops, and one overworked member of staff. They have twenty game years to make your mall (I know ‘mall is an Americanism, but I’m using it henceforth because it’s easier to type) achieve a five-star rating and earn as much money as possible. You do this by building many different shops, increasing the size of your mall by adding floors, expanding transportation to and around the mall and by investing money into your local area so as to increase the number of customers. What makes ‘Mega Mall Story’ a lot more complex than what I’ve described above are that many small factors that you have to take account of to help your mall. Firstly the position of shops is crucial. Stores on the highest, lowest, or middle floors get a popularity boosts, as do those placed next to facilities or adjacent to specific shops to create a “combo”. There is a great range of stores available to build, from supermarkets to shoe stores, fish markets to grocers, convenience stores to an observation deck! At the same time, you don’t want stores to sell out so that they have to close ...

Game Dev Story (iPhone) 25/09/2013

A game about making games? Sure, sign me up!

Game Dev Story (iPhone) *NOTE: This review is for the Android Version of ‘Game Dev Story’. There is no difference in gameplay or controls, which is why I have put the review in the iPhone version rather than create a Product Suggestion for an identical product.* At Christmas I received a tablet for my parents for “educational purposes”. Whilst I have indeed been using it for my university studies, I have still looked for some nice time-wasters from the Google Play Store. Among the overlooked gems is ‘Game Dev Story’, a surprisingly addictive management game from Japanese developers Kairosoft. I have played many games from this developer, all of which are management games in a different field- whether it is running a shopping complex (‘Mega Mall Story’), a tourist island with Pokémon-like creatures (‘Beastie Bay’) or even a Japanese-style inn (‘Hot Springs Story’). However ‘Game Dev Story’ is by far the most popular, and easily the best, of the Kairosoft games. ---Gameplay--- Well, if it isn’t obvious to you from the title, you play the CEO of a new video game developer. Your aim is to create and release video games over different video game systems and make as much money in twenty years of game time. As you earn more money, you can expand your company base, hire better staff and improve the quality of your games, perhaps even nabbing you the crowning achievement of Best Video Game at the end of year awards ceremony… What I love about this game is amount of control you have into shaping your ...

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Kyoto 19/09/2013

A Golden Opportunity!

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Kyoto Even those who are only vaguely familiar with Japan may have heard about this building, or even seen it on television or in photos. The Golden Pavillion, known as Kinkakuji Temple in Japan, was originally built in the 14th century, although the current building is a reconstruction created in the 1950s. As with most of Kyoto's attractions it has since become a World Heritage site and an icon synonymous with the city. It has such a reputation that it inspired the building of the "Silver Pavilion" (Ginkakuji) by the owner's grandson, although that building isn't made of silver. Why is the Golden Pavilion so special? Well, the answer is in its name- the temple's top two floors are covered in gold, as a symbol of affluence for the period Kinkakuji was originally built in. ---Location--- The Golden Pavilion is located in Northern Kyoto and is best accessed via bus. We caught the 101 bus directly from Kyoto Station for a 40 minute journey; as with other bus journeys a one-way ticket is ¥220 and a day pass is ¥500. Alternatively, you can catch the Karasuma subway to Kitaoji station, which takes 15 minutes and costs ¥250 yen, but then you would still need to take either a taxi or a bus to the temple entrance, so I'd recommend just sticking with the bus direct from Kyoto Station. ---The Temple Itself--- First things first, you cannot actually enter the Golden Pavilion. You do pass by it- enough to see the interior somewhat- but obviously it's a sacred temple and priests still ...
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