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since 24/08/2007


The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai 18/03/2009

The Inheritance of Loss - big themes, fragmented story telli

The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai is the Booker Prize winner from 2006 and is a novel about a community of misfits from the north eastern Himalayas, each with a very different background from this caste based society, still rocking from colonial days. The novel follows them as they try to find their way in a very harsh environment that is jostling for survival, position and for power, struggling for change in a society where tradition is so important. Why I Read It ~~~~~~~~~~~ My favourite way to select a book to read is through a recommendation from a friend with similar taste, but at a loss recently as to what to read next, I had a look at previous Booker Prize winners to see whether any caught my imagination (and was available on the library book shelves!). I selected the Inheritance of Loss and The Gathering by Anne Enright (you can read my review on this too, if you like!). Reading is so subjective and such a personal experience, that you cannot guarantee that just because a book has won a prize or been included in the Richard and Judy Book Club, that you are going to enjoy it. Still, selecting from a prize winner means you will usually get SOMETHING out of reading it, even if it is not entertainment… I had no pre-conceptions about this book, but I was attracted by the quote from Suketu Mehta (the New York based, Indian born, author ‘Maximum City’)on the blurb: “A revelation. Vast in scope, from the peaks of the Himalayas to the immigrant quarters of New ...

Generation Kill (DVD) 10/03/2009

Generation Kill - stunning drama and shocking reality

Generation Kill (DVD) Generation Kill is a 7 part American mini-series, that has just finished showing on the FX channel, which follows an elite group of Marines from the First Recon Battalion through the first 40 days of the assault on Iraq. The credentials for Generation Kill made it essential viewing in our house. It is the latest offering to hit the UK TV network from HBO, the US TV production company who brought us The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and The Wire. HBO have been lauded by many as moving television into a new realm, where it competes on an equal footing with high quality cinema. Generation Kill was written by David Simon and Ed Burns, the team behind The Wire, a stunning series that followed the drugs in Baltimore from the highest level of politics, through the ranks of the police, to the barons, the dealers and the addicts. Generation Kill was adapted from the prizewinning book by Evan Wright, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone who was embedded with a battalion from the US Marine Corps during the 2003 assault on Iraq. If the subject matter of following a unit of US marines through their experiences in Iraq was not appealing (and as a 37 year old English mother of 2, I am probably not the target audience), then the promises of excellence from these credentials just made it impossible to ignore. The series really shows up the sense of chaos: one mission follows another, without any apparent clear progression or end target, the men complain about their lack of equipment, ...

Dance Hall at Louse Point - John Parish 18/02/2009

Dance Hall at Louse Point - a dark and beautiful experiment

Dance Hall at Louse Point - John Parish The very fact that Dance Hall at Louse Point (which was released in 1996) has been listed on Ciao since 2003 and yet this is the first review is indicative of this way that this album was released, promoted and received. It was released just as PJ Harvey was riding the crest of the wave of success of the album 'To Bring You My Love', but it seemed to go almost unnoticed, perhaps because top bill went to John Parish (who wrote and played the music, whilst PJ Harvey wrote the lyrics and sang vocals) and she was listed as Polly Jean Harvey rather than the usual PJ Harvey we know and love her as. Critics saw it as an art experiment, reviews of it are mixed, but to me it retains that bluesy rock sound that we know PJ Harvey for and is a beautiful and oddly crafted album of dark moods, angular guitar and percussion and an array of vocal styles that surprise, entertain and disturb. As John Parish and PJ Harvey prepare to release a new collaborative album (release date in March 2009, to be followed by a live tour), I have re-discovered Dance Hall at Louse Point and thoroughly enjoyed doing so. PJ Harvey PJ (Polly Jean) Harvey released her first album, Dry, 17 years ago (1992) to critical acclaim. She has been likened to Patti Smith. True, she shares with Patti the poetic lyrics, the strong, deep vocals, the longevity and I dare say that Polly has been influenced by the punk movement of which Patti was so much a part. I think she has a similar attitude to Tori Amos - she's ...

The Gathering - Anne Enright 07/02/2009

The Gathering - Beautifully Written Inner Dialogue

The Gathering - Anne Enright At a loss as to what to read next, I went in search of Man Booker Prize winners and found this one (from 2007) in the local library. The blurb describes it as a 'family epic', 'tracing the line of hurt and redemption through three generations', but at its heart is the story of one woman's inner turmoil, her scrambling through family history to find whatever it is that will help her to make sense of and then return to, the life from which she has become both physically and emotionally detached. In the review I wrote of the last book I read, Down River (John Hart), I said that I prefer less action and more emotion, character, prose. Well, I certainly got what I asked for! The plot itself is very simple. The protagonist, Veronica Hegarty, is bringing her brother's body back to Ireland from Brighton where he walked into the sea to his death, his blood full of alcohol, his pockets full of stones. The Gathering of the title refers to his wake, attended by the vast Hegarty clan. Veronica believes that the seeds of her brother's suicide were sewn many years earlier, when they were children staying at their grandmother's house. And so she reaches back into history reimagining events that she never witnessed, retelling stories that she has heard, delving into her own unreliable memory to paint a picture of the past. Some of this comes across as a stream of consciousness, with her sometimes correcting herself when she remembers wrongly, or questioning her own memory. This is ...

Eight Below (DVD) 05/02/2009

Eight Below - A Diverting Couple of Hours

Eight Below (DVD) Eight Below is a Disney action film, released in 2006, which tells the story of a group of huskies who are left to fend for themselves through the harsh Antarctic winter and their handler who is fighting to be able to return to collect them. It is 'inspired' by a true story and is a remake of a Japanese film. I first went to see this at the cinema with my eldest and we got the DVD at Christmas. It got mixed reviews at the time, but it's very popular in our house. The first almost half of the film introduces us to the huskies and their handler, Jerry, as they take a visiting scientist on a hazardous journey to find evidence of a rare meteorite. The trip introduces us to the beauty and the dangers of this part of the world and to the bravery and obedience of the dogs who evidently love their work and unquestioningly get the visiting scientist the hole in the ice he's fallen through. When a serious storm starts up, they are forced to return and the science centre closes for winter. There is not enough room to bring the dogs on board the plane they leave on and Jerry is promised that they can return immediately to collect the dogs, who he leaves chained up. Once they reach the staging point, he is told that it will not be possible to fly back as the weather has deteriorated and it is not safe to fly. The dogs are left to fend for themselves whilst Jerry battles to find a way to return and recover them. It's a good old fashioned tale of endurance that Disney does so ...

Wall-E (DVD) 30/01/2009

WALL-E - Destined to be a Classic

Wall-E (DVD) One of the homework activities suggested by my son's school as part of their 'Space' topic, was a review of a film set in space, such as WALL-E. In solidarity, I have decided to write a review of the same film. WALL-E is the most recent film from the Disney Pixar studio, the computer animation wizards who gave us Finding Nemo, Cars and Ratatouille, all of which our family have thoroughly enjoyed. The film was released in 2008 to critical acclaim and the DVD was released in time for Christmas - my sons got a copy as a gift. The film is set in a world abandoned by humans because 'trash' has taken over. The WALL-E bots were designed to clear up the earth's surface, whilst humans took off in huge cruise liner style space ships. Something has gone wrong, though, as there is now only one WALL-E robot (maybe some one missed him when they turned the others off) left doggedly working away on his own amongst mountains of rubbish and sky scrapers of 'garbage cubes'. WALL-E is very resourceful - he fixes himself from parts he salvages from other defunct WALL-E bots, he recharges his battery through solar power, he has found himself a container in which to live and to shelter from the wind storms that ravage the abandoned earth. There is no telling how long he has been here endlessly doing the job for which he was created. He is very lonely. Until one day a space ship lands. A robot is deposited and then the ship disappears. The robot is sleek and white, all smooth curves and ...

Deutsche Bahn (formerly Deutsche Bundesbahn)(Germany) 24/01/2009

City Night Line from Deutsche Bahn

Deutsche Bahn (formerly Deutsche Bundesbahn)(Germany) I was so looking forward to travelling to Vienna through the Rhine valley on the night train. I imagined gazing up at flood lit Austrian castles under the stars, eating a meal in the dining car amongst crystal and porcelain, clinking wine glasses with my husband as we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Somehow, the whole vision took place in black and white and amidst steam and whistles (think The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps or Brief Encounter) Could the reality ever live up to my ideal? What is the City Night Line? = This is a service operated by Deutsche Bahn that runs through Europe, connecting cities in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Italy. The service operates specially designed trains incorporating couchettes and sleeper cabins as well as seats and (apparently) cushioned axles for a smooth ride, and therefore a good night's sleep. Why Did We Choose the City Night Line? = In 2008 my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. We had been away for a weekend to Umbria on our 5th anniversary where we'd vowed to do similar each 5 years and so we were looking for a suitably romantic way to mark the achievement that is 10 years of marriage. My husband travelled by train to Berlin a couple of years back and noticed on the Cologne to Berlin leg of his journey that you could get a night train from Cologne to Vienna. Due to my work, we are fortunate enough to have international rail ...

Build-A-Bear Workshop 16/01/2009

A Bear is Born Today

Build-A-Bear Workshop My two sons (5 and 8) have often lingered at the window of the Build-a-Bear Workshop in our nearest shopping centre as their dad and/or I try to drag them past because there are chores to be done and because going in will no doubt mean copious amounts of money being spent!! Our youngest is particularly keen on soft toys and has often talked about the Build-a-Bear Workshop as somewhere he'd like to go. So when Nana and Grandpa asked for ideas for his 5th birthday, I suggested vouchers, and we planned an outing for him to spend them. His 8 year old brother so wanted to join in that he raided his Christmas money and started to fuel the excitement that built up ahead of our trip. The Concept = In the Build-a-Bear Workshop you select what kind of bear or other soft toy you would like, you stuff it and insert its heart, choose clothes for it and then print off a birth certificate. Being a cynical old (OK, not THAT old) lady, I find this to be just a concept and a corny one at that. It's simply a teddy bear shop, isn't it? You go in wanting a teddy, you come out with one. Same as any other toy shop, except with a gimmick that is probably going to cost me money. And yet, this is missing the point. This shop is not aimed at me, but at my kids and this is NOT how they see it. They feel they have created their own bear, they thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and they love the bears they've brought home (sorry, they DO have names, Tom and Bill) all the more for it. ...

Altstadt Vienna, Vienna 09/01/2009

Small, but perfectly formed hotel in Vienna

Altstadt Vienna, Vienna In October of last year my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Astounded at how quickly the years had passed and determined to reward ourselves for our staying power, we looked for a suitably romantic/memorable way to mark the occasion. It was my husband who hit on the idea of getting the night train to Vienna (must write about this too) and I was tasked with selecting the hotel. Well, I really wanted to make sure I picked something special for the occasion. I work away quite a bit (only in the UK - nothing special) and get to stay in Hiltons and Crowne Plazas, and, whilst these are really good quality chains, I was really hoping to find something different so that I wouldn't feel like I was on a work trip! I found the Altstadt Vienna on tripadvisor where it was the 5th most popular hotel in Vienna. Well, the Altstadt Vienna certainly fitted the bill. It was just right for a romantic stay and was the perfect base for our weekend. Location = The Altstadt Vienna is situated in an old-fashioned Viennese apartment building. As you enter the hallway you have to go up the wide and sweeping stone staircase to get to the reception which is on the first floor. Also on this floor is the 'red salon' and breakfast area (more on this anon), the 42 rooms are spread across the 2nd and 3rd floors. Because it is not a custom built hotel building, it feels like a slice of 'real Vienna'. The hotel is just 5 minutes walk (to the west) of the famous Vienna ...

Beautiful Future - Primal Scream 07/01/2009

Beautiful Future - Primal Scream

Beautiful Future - Primal Scream In 2008, Primal Scream, who have now been going for a staggering 26 years, released Beautiful Future, their 9th studio album. They started out as part of the Scottish indie scene that gave us Jesus and Mary Chain, but left behind their jingle, jangle sound to take on a more rocky sound. They've been in and out of the charts over the years and have collaborated with various other artists (Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine, Barnie Sumner, Robert Plant, The Chemical Brothers to name but a few). There is no way a band can survive 26 years unless they keep moving, morphing, trying new things, whilst maintaining some thread of a story. Not only will most of the audience get bored with them, but they too risk getting stale and disinterested. I guess that Primal Scream have managed to do something different with each of their 9 albums, with varying success. The high points (for me) were Screamadelica (1990), which, with it's dance based slant on indie rock, was hailed as being 'of its time and timeless' and XTRMNTR (2000) which was darker, faster, harder rock with an electronic edge. The main low point for me was Give Out but Don't Give Up (1994) which just seemed to be a Rolling Stones tribute album. They have not been a consistent band in this sense. The line up has changed quite a bit over the years, but front man Bobbie Gillespie, with his distinctive, if somewhat weak, vocals, is a constant and guitarist Andrew Innes is from the very early days. Bassist Mani (ex ...

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger 03/01/2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler's Wife is essentially a love story, but it's a love story with a twist - set in Chicago, Henry has a genetic dysfunction which results in him travelling through time, where he meets Claire. For the first half of the book she is a young girl who is visited occasionally by Henry, the older man, who knows all about her and what happens to them in the future. Then they meet in real time and it is Clare who knows about Henry through his visits from his future into her past, whereas he is meeting her for the first time. Niffenegger's version of time travelling is completely outside of Henry's control - that is, he can move in time without notice, and can end up anywhere and anytime, although usually (but not always) in his own past and in places with which he is familiar. He can take nothing with him and arrives in his destination naked, leaving nothing but a pile of clothing behind him and often resulting in dangerous situations on his arrival. As a result, he develops survival skills such as lock picking, pick pocketing and fighting. He can also travel to a time where another version of himself is present so that it is possible for two versions of the same person to be in the same room interacting with each other. The concept of time travel is not a new one and has been used many a time in science fiction. I enjoyed the mind twisting scenarios that came up and the occasional having to pause to make sure I'd 'got' it. One example of this is where Henry, ...

The Green Ship - Quentin Blake 03/01/2009

The Green Ship - A Real Gem

The Green Ship - Quentin Blake My 4 year old son received this book for Christmas and I have so enjoyed reading it to him that I'm sharing the experience with you all. The Green Ship is written and illustrated by Quentin Blake, who you will probably know from his illustrations for Roald Dahl. As well as providing illustrations for many other children's authors, he has also written his own books, some of the most well known are Mister Magnolia and Clown. He was Children's Laureate in 1999 and generally considered a national institution. The Green Ship takes you into the world of fantasy - two children, whilst staying with their aunt one summer, climb over a wall into the neighbouring garden of a large house. Here they discover a 'ship' made out of hedges trimmed to be a bow and stern, two trees clipped to look like funnels and two tall trees with a few branches and leaves to look like masts. A garden shed perched on an old tree stump makes a wheel house. They make friends with Mrs Tredegar who owns the garden and spend a summer of adventure on imaginary voyages on the 'green ship'. This book is a real joy to share with your children. The language is a pleasure to read aloud, the illustrations are colourful and humorous, the story is warm and meaningful. My son has requested it being read and re-read and his 8 year old brother has also enjoyed it. I've been happy to read it over as I enjoy it as much as they do. So what makes it so good? The illustrations are superb. I asked my 8 year old why ...

Goodnight Mister Tom - Michelle Magorian 30/12/2008

Goodnight Mister Tom - a grown up children's novel

Goodnight Mister Tom - Michelle Magorian My eldest son is in Year 4 (second year of Juniors or 8-9 year olds in old money) and last term he and I read Goodnight Mister Tom together in support of the WW2 syllabus subject that they were following. I found that what is essentially a children's novel (in the vein of The Railway Children and The Chronicles of Narnia) and which appears on the school syllabus, had both the depth and gravity of a novel aimed at adults, whilst remaining accessible to the younger reader. To be frank, I was surprised at how moved I was when reading it. The book, by Michelle Magorian, was published in 1980 and tells the story of a WW2 evacuee, Will, who leaves London to live in the depths of the English countryside with a grumpy widower, Tom Oakley. We meet Will on his arrival in the village of Weirwold and it is revealed that Will has come from a troubled and abusive home - he is covered in bruises and lesions, is emaciated, wets the bed and is frightened of everything and everyone. His mother has sent him away with only a bible and leather belt for his carer to beat him with. Magorian deftly develops the relationship between Will and the withdrawn and unfriendly widower to give us a heart-warming and life affirming story of a true friendship. The healing power of this friendship not only improves Will's physical well being, but allows him to discover that he has talents and is a valued friend. Tom (or Mister Tom as Will calls him) also benefits from this friendship, returning to the ...

Empire of the Sun - J.G. Ballard 28/12/2008

Empire of the Sun - a modern classic

Empire of the Sun - J.G. Ballard First published in 1984, Empire of the Sun won the Guardian Fiction Prize amongst others and has been hailed as a modern literary classic. It was made into a major motion picture in 1987 with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Christian Bale, John Malkovich and Miranda Richardson. Set in China as the Japanese invade post Pearl Harbour, it is based on JG Ballard's own childhood experiences as an intern of a Japanese camp outside Shanghai during the Second World War. The book follows twelve-year-old Jim, who lives a privileged life in pre-war Shanghai, set amongst the melting pot of nationalities in the International Settlement (made up of British, Americans, New Zealanders, Canadians and Danes), alongside Germans and Japanese and the largely down trodden Chinese. As Jim and his parents are chauffeur-driven through Shanghai to a fancy dress party the contrast between their lifestyle and the rest of the city is vividly highlighted as they pass a Chinese beggar slowly dying of hunger and cold at the end of their drive. The car accidentally drives over the beggar's foot, but whilst Jim notices this, nothing is said and no action is taken. This incident is not surprising or untoward to the occupants of the car. This life of cocktail and pool parties is turned upside down with the events that follow Pearl Harbour as the Japanese invade and occupy Shanghai. Jim becomes separated from his parents and the novel follows his fight for survival ...

Zuma Deluxe (Xbox Live Arcade) 21/06/2008

It takes balls to play this!

Zuma Deluxe (Xbox Live Arcade) The simplicity of Zuma is part of its appeal. It is as addictive as Tetris and shares the same challenge to your hand eye co-ordination, but as gaming has moved on, you can expect more levels, more variations and therefore increased longevity. More recent games with a similar vibe are Bust-A-Move and Ballistic. I am, quite simply, hooked. The Concept ~~~~~~~~~~ Zuma is a puzzle game. Different coloured balls roll along a path towards a skull whose 'mouth' will open as they approach to swallow them and end your life. In order to stop them, you shoot balls of the same colour from the mouth of a frog in the centre of the screen. When you shoot and hit 2 or more balls of the same colour, they burst. The balls either side of the burst ones move together and if they make a chain of 3 or more balls of the same colour, they too burst, giving you extra points for a 'combo'. If you manage to eliminate all of the balls before they get to the skull, then you complete that level and move to the next one. Higher levels a faster and add different coloured balls. There are points to be won - the longer the chain, the more the combos, the more points you earn. You can earn bonuses by hitting a coin, which is usually only attainable briefly from between exploded balls. You also earn bonus points for creating an explosion by hitting a ball through a gap in the chain. As you earn points, a yellow bar grows, when you have enough points the bar will fill and the balls will stop ...
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