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N. A. Walters "Miss_M" (Middlesex, UK)

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The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking)
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking)
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars At last: an original plot, wonderfully executed, 7 Aug 2009
I was given this title as a present for my 34th birthday, and was doubtful that my interest could be engaged by a book categorised as 'teenage fiction'. My misgivings were not helped by the fact that I've been left feeling rather unsatisfied by much of the fiction written for adults that I've come across lately, which I've found to be largely formulaic or, even worse, forced. However, I decided to give 'The Knife...' a go as the person who gave it to me is a pretty trustworthy source. Thankfully, I found myself immediately engaged by the story's unique premise (ably explained by plenty of previous reviewers) and its creative and skilful delivery by the author.

Ness seamlessly combines a flavour of the Wild West with a dose of Sci-Fi and interweaves this with philosophical undertones to produce a convincing and finely-crafted tale. The main characters, Todd and Viola, are in turns perplexing, intriguing, amusing and exasperating - a testament to Ness's skill for character development. One of my favourite elements of the story is the poignant portrayal of the relationship between Todd and his trusty dog, Manchee. The growing bond between the cynical, care-worn boy and his irrepressible, carefree dog is wonderfully captured in their subtle but memorable exchanges:-

'" Good poo, Todd".

"I'm sure it was, Manchee".

..."Poo," Manchee says quietly.'

Being the first of a series, 'The Knife...' ends on a cliff-hanger that is surprising, frustrating and utterly perfect. For me, the ending adds an extra, deliciously harrowing dimension to the main characters' experiences in the preceding story.

I will add one small note of caution here: the book is pitched at those of 12 and over, but contains some grisly (though not gratuitous) violence that, in my opinion, isn't really suitable for some younger readers. I certainly won't be giving this to my 12-year-old. However, adults and older teens should hopefully find this story riveting and an utterly satisfying read. I'm glad I gave it a chance - who'd have thought this 34-year-old's love of fiction could be reignited by a book written for the over-12s? I certainly won't be waiting until my 35th birthday to read the sequel.

Hi-Lo Xtreme Workout [DVD] [2008] [US Import]
Hi-Lo Xtreme Workout [DVD] [2008] [US Import]
Dvd ~ Amy Bento
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £7.67

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intense aerobic challenge..., 16 July 2009
Amy's workouts are usually challenging, and this is one of the toughest I've tried. It gets the adrenalin pumping and you're kept moving almost non-stop, although one of Amy's assistants does demonstrate modifications to some of the more explosive moves. The workout is made up of 'combos' and intervals. The combos are fairly tricky to learn, with complicated choreography, but Amy breaks them down initially and once mastered they are great fun and very aerobic. The intervals are more repetitive and straightforward, and are designed to ramp up your heart-rate for a few minutes between combos. The nine pre-mixed workouts are a good idea, as they take sections of the original routine and mix them up in various ways (and bearing in mind the entire blistering workout lasts for over an hour, the shortened versions are a real bonus). You can pick one depending on the length (and intensity) of workout you fancy, ranging from 30 mins of peak-intensity cardio to nearly 2 hours of aerobics and strength-training. My only tiny gripe with the pre-mixes is that the editing is a little shoddy between sections, as the picture freezes for few seconds whilst the next circuit loads. Strength workouts from Amy's All-Pump Extreme DVD are also included in some of the pre-mixes, but you'll need a VAST array of exercise equipment to complete those.

To sum up, this is an extremely aerobic and a fast-paced workout that challenges the entire body and is great for taking your fitness to the next level. I use this when I want to get streamlined fast, and it never disappoints.

The Firm - Bootcamp Maximum Calorie Burn [DVD]
The Firm - Bootcamp Maximum Calorie Burn [DVD]
Price: £9.99

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best of The Firm, 16 July 2009
For me, this is by far the best of the workouts I've tried from The Firm (and I've tried a few). The 'trick' is that they raise your heartrate in a weights section by including some plyometric (explosive) moves, then send it higher in the subsequent cardio section. Weights/plyometric and cardio sessions are alternated throughout. By the end of the workout I feel that my cardiovascular system has been pushed hard - pretty impressive for a DVD. Plus the toning is very effective, using free weights and incorporating upper and lower body in 'compound' moves; they're especially good for firming up the thighs & butt. Even the stomach work is challenging and varied, for the lower as well as the upper abs (something that I don't find in many workout DVDs). The instructor is very precise with her directions (although a bit repetitive), and she works hard herself, something that I find motivating. She also frequently reminds you to use the beginners' modifications if necessary. All in all, I'd recommend this for those looking for a well thought out, challenging workout that lasts less than an hour.

Ministry Of Sound: Pump It Up! The Ultimate Dance Workout [DVD]
Ministry Of Sound: Pump It Up! The Ultimate Dance Workout [DVD]
Dvd ~ Pump It Up!
Price: £7.07

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Credit where it's due..., 27 Jun 2008
When I first played this DVD I was quite disappointed. Frankly, all the hip-thrusting and hair-flicking made it look more like an audition tape for Spearmint Rhino than a proper workout, and I didn't take it seriously at all. However, after following the routine I realised that it is actually highly effective (yes, even the hip-thrusting - gives the glutes a good workout!). As an added bonus, it's also quite fun to do.

I am a devotee of Nell McAndrew's Ultimate Challenge workout, and I reckon this Pump it Up! routine is almost as tough. It is certainly much more varied. The warm-up is thorough and helps set the pace for the workout ahead. There are then two 20-min sections of challenging, sustained cardio work that really raise the heartrate. I've noticed that the dance/aerobic style moves (e.g. 'grapevines', 'spotty dogs' and basic salsa steps) in the cardio sections engage and tone all the major muscles without overloading them. As a result, I've ended up with a longer, leaner look than I achieved with Nell McAndrew's workout, which seemed to bulk up the muscles a tad too much.

The toning section is also quite effective but a bit short for my liking at only 10-mins, and it lacks lower ab exercises which would have nicely complemented the crunches and obliques work. Personally, I find the cool down far too long (around 15-mins) and feel that five minutes of this could have been culled and used as more toning time instead. Despite these minor issues, as an avid user of home exercise DVDs I would say that this workout is one of the best for fitness and weight-loss (and fun!) that I've found yet.

Pilates: Intermediate [DVD]
Pilates: Intermediate [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ana Caban
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £11.46

41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Brilliant, 6 Mar 2007
This review is from: Pilates: Intermediate [DVD] (DVD)
I can't praise this dvd enough. In a few sessions, this has drastically toned my stomach, waist, thighs and even the tricky triceps. More than that, I feel stonger and energized after every workout. If you're new to pilates, then I'd recommend trying the Beginner's Mat Workout by Ana Caban first, as you'll probably need some preparation before attempting the intermediate workout (it took me a while to work up to this one!). Also, Ana explains important concepts such as alignment and breathing on the beginner's dvd, but doesn't touch on them much during this workout. In fact, the only complaint I have is that the instruction could stand to be a little more informative at times, especially for trickier poses which may strain bad backs, such as 'the teaser'. Still, the workout is so effective that I can't bring myself to deduct a star! Ana's assistant demonstrates the easier versions of the moves, so 'improvers' like myself should find this useful.

The routine may only be 30 mins long, but the pace is rigorous and the moves are challenging, so it's plenty long enough. Also, there's a bonus 10 min workout for those who want to do that little bit extra.

My previous experience of pilates was limited to Lynne Robinson DVDs, and as good as they are, they didn't give me nearly the workout and results that this one does. Highly recommended.

Disappearing Acts
Disappearing Acts
by Terry McMillan
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless, 24 April 2006
This review is from: Disappearing Acts (Paperback)
The book tells the story of the conception and development of a love affair between the two main characters: Zora and Franklin. However, this is not a simple romance novel and is evocative of real life in many ways. Both characters narrate alternate chapters and McMillan uses this simple device effectively to portray relationship issues from both the male and the female perspective. The two narrative styles contrast nicely, from the sometimes 'prim and proper' and sometimes emotional voice of Zora to the brash, coarse but intelligent style employed by Franklin. This reflects the contrasting outlooks and personalities of both characters that make their liaison all the more interesting and explosive.

The novel does touch on some gritty subjects including domestic violence, racism and rape, but is not primarily about these issues. McMillan manages to weave such events into the plot without making the story unpalatable. She does this by portraying her characters as real, and therefore complex people, rather than caricatures falling conveniently into a particlar category such as 'victim' or 'abuser'. McMillan does not seek to wax evangelical about such subjects, she simply attempts to portray them in as honest a light and context as possible, leaving the reader to develop their own views on the events that take place.

The book is no literary heavy-weight, nor is it attempting to be. There are a couple of occasions where the plot seems downright facile, but these are thankfully rare and brief. Overall, this is a fascinating and satisfying read.

Davina: Power of 3 [DVD] [2004]
Davina: Power of 3 [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Davina McCall
Offered by Media Vortex
Price: £12.39

57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for toning..., 14 April 2006
I bought this after shifting a good few pounds doing Tae-bo. I felt I'd reached a plateau and needed something to help me tone up. I'd never bought a celebrity DVD before, and was a little sceptical about doing so. However, I eventually decided to take the plunge and I haven't regretted it as this DVD certainly does the job. After doing the warm up, at least two of the main sections and the cool down twice a week for several weeks, I ended up with noticeably harder, leaner muscles. This whittled an extra inch off my waistline simply by defining my abs and sculpting my waist. My legs and especially my arms are also more toned.

The workout is comprised of a 10-minute warm up, 15-minute sections each of arm, legs & bums and abdominal toning work and a 10-minute cool down. Interspersed throughout the 15-minute sections are 1-minute blasts of cardio, such as jumping jacks, jogging on the spot and punching. The toning exercises are basic and traditional (squats, crunches, curl-ups with weights etc.), but effective. They're carried out in 2 or 3 sets of eight which I found to be just the right amount, as my muscles have a tendency to bulk up too easily.

This is a good buy, especially if you're looking to tone and strengthen your muscles without adding bulk, or if you want to get back into exercise. However, if you're already fit and like to work flat out, you probably won't find the cardio sufficient in this.

Billy Blanks' Tae-Bo - Get Ripped [DVD]
Billy Blanks' Tae-Bo - Get Ripped [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tae Bo
Offered by replay-international
Price: £14.98

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does the job, gets results, 14 April 2006
For those of you who don't like the traditional aerobics DVD, with instructors in leotards doing boring crunches or silly dance moves, this may well be the DVD for you. See these workouts for what they are: at times haphazard and chaotic (Billy sometimes miss-counts or forgets to work both sides of the body equally), but great calorie-burners and loads of fun. Billy Blanks is hyper and can be a bit cheesy, but despite his flaws he is somehow inspirational. Plus, he's naturally, if unintentionally, funny which also motivates me to keep coming back for more.

I started using this DVD a couple of years ago, and once I (eventually) graduated onto the hour-long advanced workout I lost almost a stone after a month, doing it only once a week with no other exercise. I wasn't overweight, but the workout is so darn high-energy that you can't help but burn fat and lots of it. Oh, and you will sweat buckets so keep plenty of water at hand.

Tae-bo is not a particularly precise form of exercise, However these workouts will help you become generally firmer and fitter with their kicking and punching combos. Most of all they'll melt away the pounds. If you're new to Tae-bo, you can begin by taking it fairly easily and building the intensity of the workouts by gradually putting more energy into the moves, and aiming higher with your kicks. This way, you can use the same workouts to take you from beginner level to beyond.

My only real complaint: at 25 minutes, the basic workout doesn't last quite long enough. 35 or 40 minutes would be ideal.

Overall, these workouts are fun, high-energy and great for weight-loss.

Isabella's Power Workout [DVD]
Isabella's Power Workout [DVD]
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.60

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh, my burning thighs!!, 13 April 2006
This is a really comprehensive workout that gets you sweating and targets most of the the major muscles. It starts off with a 10 minute warm up, followed by a 40 minute main workout, consisting of toning work for legs broken up with short blasts of cardio, plus floorwork for back, arms, butt, core & stomach. It finishes off with a 10 minute cool down and stretch. All of the sections are well thought out and effective.

I'm only moderately fit, and I have to admit I find parts of the main workout gruelling (is it just me?!). Specifically the huge amount of squats, squat jumps and backwards & forward lunges. My thighs hurt for DAYS afterwards! The 40 press-ups are no picnic either. The stomach workout is tough, but do-able and even includes some 'core' work, such as 'the plank'. The good thing about this DVD is that I see progress each time I do it, which is encouraging (even if it's only managing an extra two squat jumps before I collapse!). I always look forward to doing the workout again, to see what I can achieve next time. This is one exercise routine I won't grow out of quickly.

Although the instructor has never done an exercise DVD before, his instruction is concise and well-timed, apart from the odd miss-count. He also gives helpful little tips to make sure you execute each move properly, like keeping your knees in line with your toes when you squat - it sounds silly, but I didn't know to do that before and it's made a real difference to my form. Subsequently, I finish the exercises feeling as if I've really hit every muscle properly.

Isabella 's attempts at playful banter are a bit cringe-making, but she still comes across as a lovely girl and she obviously takes her fitness seriously. The music (instrumental versions of songs like 'Dare' by the Gorillaz) is uninispiring and sounds almost like lift music in its production quality, but the workout's tough and enjoyable enough to take your mind off small details like that.

Overall, this is a good workout that should show results quickly, especially for those of an intermediate fitness level. Those who are less fit: just do half the number of squats to start with and then build up VERY SLOWLY like me!!

Davina - My Three 30 Minute Workouts [DVD] [2005]
Davina - My Three 30 Minute Workouts [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Davina McCall
Price: £13.32

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only O.K., 12 Mar 2006
I bought this after getting decent toning results from Davina's first workout DVD, but I have to say that I haven't found this this one as effective as the first.
'The Pump' section is the best one for working up a sweat, but focuses far too much on bums and legs for my personal tastes. There seem to be countless squats and lunges with weights but only about 3 ab exercises, which are rushed through with little instruction on how to do them properly. If you're looking for toned arms, legs and bums, but aren't too worried about your tum, then this will probably work for you.
If you're familiar with Tae bo, the 'Cardio Box' section is basically a much tamer version of that. There are lots of punching and kicking combos, which make it interesting. The problem is that it's not very challenging overall - I get a bit out of breath doing this, but don't feel as if I've really worked out hard enough (and I'm only moderately fit at best). Also, the instructor (Mark) sometimes gets muddled when telling you what's coming next, which can throw you off. At other times, he just moves on with no warning at all.
'Core Stability' is deceptively difficult. It's similar to Pilates or Yoga - the challenge is to hold each posture correctly and for the right amount of time, which leaves me sweating slightly, even though there's no cardio work. Other reviewers are right when they say that there isn't enough explanation on how to execute the moves with this one. I have to rely on my (very limited) knowledge of Pilates when trying to get into each position. A bit more information on what each move is supposed to do for your body would be nice too.
Davina is her usual nutty self, which can be a laugh or extremely irritating, depending on your point of view. Overall, this DVD will only give you an adequate workout if you're not already fit. The instruction leaves a lot to be desired and the background is dark and uninspiring. The 'meal plan' section is frankly pointless. However, the fact that each of the three workouts is only 30 mins is a real plus if you're struggling to fit exercise into your life, which is why I gave the DVD 3 stars and not 2.

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