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The Railway Children (Penguin Popular Classics)
The Railway Children (Penguin Popular Classics)
by E. Nesbit
Edition: Paperback

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic writer's classic book, 6 Jan 2006
Before J.K.Rowling and Roald Dahl, there was E.E.Nesbitt; the most prolific and inventive children's author of all time, even if the inventor of Harry Potter may be close to usurping that title. Even though her books were written a century ago, such was the universal appeal of her themes and the ease with which children could identify with her characters that she has remained in print to this day and the stories are just as good now as they were then.
As with any children's classic - and "The Railway Children" is both a classic and most probably her best book - its appeal lies in a cracking plot, good character development and adult accessibility; parents are as keen to read as their children are to listen. The plot is simple: well-to-do-kids living ideal life in London suddenly have to "play at being poor" in the country after Daddy mysteriously disappears. After a series of adventures, all based around the railway that runs near their house, events coalesce into a satisfying finale.
The story centres on Roberta (Bobbie), the eldest daughter through whose eyes the story is narrated. She is one of my own favourite literature heroines and, as she suffers loss and hardship; and gains friendship and love, I would challenge even the most hard-boiled cynic not to shed the odd tear. The story is not, however, nearly as fluffy as all this may intimate. Like Rowling, Nesbitt loved to include magic and enchantment in her stories (it is, perhaps, ironic that her best tale contains none although it is certainly enchantING). Like Rowling, her stories also tend to have a dark side: many contain, and even hinge around, an absent, idealised father, reflecting the loss of the writer's own parent when she was just six. I've worn my way through two copies already!). Buy dozens! Spread them around your own children, their friends, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, neighbours ... any child who can manage joined-up writing will be enchanted by this story - and so will their parents


7 Books in 1: The Railway Children, Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Story of the Amulet, The Story of the Treasure-Seekers, The Would-Be-Goods, and The Enchanted Castle
7 Books in 1: The Railway Children, Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Story of the Amulet, The Story of the Treasure-Seekers, The Would-Be-Goods, and The Enchanted Castle
by Edith Nesbit
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.78

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent Seven, 28 Dec 2005
Before J.K.Rowling and Roald Dahl, there was E.E.Nesbit; one of the most prolific and inventive children's authors of all time, even if the inventor of Harry Potter (who acknowledges her as her favourite children's author) may be close to usurping that title. Even though her books were written a century ago, such was the universal appeal of her themes and the ease with which children could identify with her characters that she has remained in print to this day and the stories are just as good now as they were then.
As with any children's classics the appeal lies in a cracking plot, good character development and adult accessibility; parents are as keen to read as their children are to listen. The plots are simple and tend to have a similar basic theme: well-to-do-kids living ideal life suddenly have to face change through unseen circumstance and/or magic, like Rowling, Nesbitt loved to include magic and enchantment in her stories (it is, perhaps, ironic that her best tale, “The Railway Children”, contains none although it is certainly enchantING). Like Rowling, her stories also tend to have a dark side: many contain, and even hinge around, an absent, idealised father, reflecting the loss of the writer's own parent when she was just six, but it is this that gives them their impact. Although it may be cheaper to buy the books individually in paperback, I find hardback a better investment - children will want to read these stories again and again and, over forty years, every Nesbit paperback I have ever bought has disintegrated through overuse. This omnibus represents a superb investment; every house should have one or - to possibly prevent fights - two!


Labyrinth
Labyrinth
by Kate Mosse
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Labyrinthine saga, 28 Dec 2005
This review is from: Labyrinth (Hardcover)
How much you like this book will depend entirely on whether you like your suspense fine drawn and slow burn or are more in the wham, bam, all-action, non-stop school of cliff-hangers. As comparisons with Dan Brown's “The Da Vinci Code” are inevitable, let me place Kate Mosse firmly in the former school and Brown in the latter; however, there are in reality few if, any parallels, between the two despite the superficial similarity of topic, the search for the Holy Grail.
This is an interwoven tale of Allïs, a 13th century Cathar sympathizer, and her descendant, Alice a 21st century archaeologist - just how interwoven the tales are develops from tantalizing hints to complete synthesis as the myriad pieces of Mosse's puzzle drop satisfactorily into place. The story is epic: the conflict between love and duty, desire and betrayal, belief and conformity and the effects on both modern day and mediaeval populations, but it is also personalised to the individuals in the tale, with whom the narrative wealth makes identification easy.
Despite the preponderance of strong female lead characters, this is a book whose intelligence and gentle nuance will appeal equally to both sexes. However, be warned, if you're not sucked in by page 100, the end will seem a long way off; if you are, your toes will be tingling by the half way stage, which point you should aim to reach when you have an entire day without distraction or commitment as you will not wish to put this book down.


Palm Treo 650 GSM/GPRS Smartphone
Palm Treo 650 GSM/GPRS Smartphone

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The truly terrific Treo, 28 Dec 2005
After exhaustive research and no little trepidation I plumped for this rather chunky Smartphone over all the other market offerings; three weeks later I only wonder why I spent so much time taking the plunge. Lets start with the basics: it's a good phone backed up by the best contacts package I've come across. The chunky external aerial gets a signal where other phones don't and, even when the phone goes on the blink, there's usually still signal enough to text, e-mail and surf. In all three cases, the software offers sophisticated options - I may not have explored every permutation of every sub-menu, but I've yet to find something it can't do.
I also found using the QWERTY keypad really easy. I had fully expected to have to buy a portable keyboard as I have rather large hands and big thumbs and, at first sight, it seemed even smaller than I has thought. However, clever contouring and a very positive action makes it very quick and easy to use, even with two, size nine left thumbs! A word of warning though, you will NEVER want to go back to an ABC/DEF keypad again.
The huge plus for this phone though was the ease of its Hotsync functon. As the owner of a Mac G4 laptop, I had become fed up waiting for the other phone companies to get their act together and was rather sceptical as to how well handheld and lap top would work together. At the very least, I thought I might have to give up using Microsoft Entourage - which has by far the best integration and project management facilities of any desktop organizer I have yet to come across - or cobble something together using either Palm's own software (which I have used happily before) or Mac's own version (which continues to be a disappointment, even on OSX "Tiger" 10.4). Although it took two minutes fiddling with conduit settings, the Hotsync, which works with the touch of a button and takes just seconds, operates smoothly with any of the three and actually does MORE than it claims.
As for the rest, the digital camera and video both work better than my HP photosmart 812, even if I have yet to work out how to sync it with iPhoto; the built in training is better than the manual, which is bulky yet, ironically, short on detail and the MP3 player works fine. Set up, for once, was all done first time with no loss of temper. The only possible thing missing is a built in radio and I'm sure that, sooner or later, a piece of software will emerge that allows you to use the RealPlayer as an MP3 dictaphone.
Certainly, every other eventuality seems to be taken care of on the software front: it comes with edit-enabled Microsoft Office Lite (which can also be synchronised to your laptop), all of which means I can function without my G4; and everything from GPS to games is available as downloads from the (rather expensive) palm store - I invested in a dictionary, universal infra-red remote and some multi-game bundles. With regard to accessories, I found it a bit chunky to carry in a pocket so got a stylish belt pouch; the earpiece and speakers are both inadequate for music, but a simple adaptor was all that was required to use my existing ear-phones; screen protectors and a spare stylus are a must, my fingers are far too large to use the touch screen. Battery life is such that a car-charger and spare battery are not necessary. If you want multi-functionality on the go, the Treo 650 sells itself !


Lovers Of The Arctic Circle [DVD] [2000]
Lovers Of The Arctic Circle [DVD] [2000]
Dvd ~ Najwa Nimri

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical Medem's Masterpiece, 17 Dec 2005
Stumbling across this film by way of Amazon's DVD rental “if you liked that, you might want to try this…” service was a piece of marvellous serendipity; this is a gem of a film, a stunning treat on every level. If, like me, you were previously ignorant as to the existence of Julio Medem, there could be no better place to start than this, his undoubted masterpiece.
The story is told in a series of overlapping vignettes, mostly from the viewpoints of the two central lovers who meet aged eight and never fall out of love. Their story, and that of their families, becomes impossibly entwined and entangled in a world where fantastic coincidence is the norm; where everything seems to fated. The plot is unique and, as the Gods play with the pieces, Medem turns the screw and the tension becomes totally gripping.
Although a dark tale, the directorial style - typically whimsical and full of humour and delightful detail - stops things from ever becoming mawkish or sentimental. Fele Martínez is charming as the adult Otto - as are the actors portraying the younger version - but the film is stolen by Najwa Nimri (Anna) whose expressive eyes (close-ups of which the story begins and ends) render the subtitles almost superfluous. This is a film to buy, not to rent; second and third viewings are better - the harder you look to more you see.


Bug Jack Barron (Overlook SF & F Classics)
Bug Jack Barron (Overlook SF & F Classics)
by Norman Spinrad
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, absorbing, shocking., 1 Dec 2005
Perhaps the defining mark of what makes a science fiction classic is how future generation will judge the book. One generation on, this dark, gripping tale has an even greater hold on the reader than it did in 1968. Derided at the time for its “hippy” portrayal of the future power of global corporations and television networks, the future universe in which the mercenary Jack Baron operates his televisual human puppet show is now all too believable. In fact, one almost wonders why nobody has yet started a “Bug” show, whereby audiences can phone in to get some celebrity to phone politicians and business executives and harangue them for their perceived misdemeanours in the name of social justice, public interest and ¬- above all else - the level of ratings where advertising sells for a small fortune.
The novel was also given a lot of stick for being the first science fiction book to use the 'F' word, although by modern standards, the language is quite tame and I can recall reading a wonderful critique of the time, taking the author to task for his 'preposterous' prediction that America would ever have Ronald Reagan as its president ¬- as I said, the world is a totally believable one to a 21st century audience!
This is science fiction, and Norman Spinrad, at their respective bests. The book easily crosses the divide between mainstream novel and science fiction - there are no aliens called Gloop from the planet Glup, just ordinary people falling in love, being haunted by their pasts and buckling to the corruptive lure of power, fame and immortality. The first time I read this book was during my morning commute into London for a job I detested; the week it took me to savour every word was the only time in three years I got out of bed relishing the journey. Totally absorbing, shocking and riveting: a unique tale, and by far Spinrad's greatest work.


The Man Who Loved Women [DVD]
The Man Who Loved Women [DVD]
Dvd ~ Charles Denner
Price: £7.04

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Food for the thoughtful, 17 Nov 2005
This film could only have been made by the French, and then only in the 1970's. It would be easy to dismiss it at first glance as a chauvinist celebration of political incorrectness; indeed, when the Americans tried to remake it in 1983 by casting Burt Reynolds in the Charles Denner role, that is exactly what it became.
However, here the story is in the hands of a master. Truffaut's deft directorial touch poses myriad questions about the nature of the relationship between men and women; about love, commitment; physical attraction and sexual politics. The film begins with the funeral of Betrand Morane (Denner), attended only by women and then tells the story of his relationships with most of them. Interestingly, he really does love the women - he can't seem to help loving them. He is not a philanderer, nor is he interested in conquest or sexual gratification: the film is, in fact, strangely asexual.
He decides to write about his experiences, the book is dismissed by the male reviewers but his manuscript is accepted by the sole female with whom Morane inevitably falls in love. As the story moves forward and, in doing so, flashes back, one grows to like Morane more and more; he is a sweet, bewildered character who is also a man loved by women. This film will not be for all: if you are the Hollywood blockbuster type; if you hate subtitles; if you like your films with nice, neat endings then this is not for you. However, for lovers of the European school of whimsy, this is a must; not Truffaut's best - but even his second best is better than most.


Romeo and Juliet (1968) [VHS]
Romeo and Juliet (1968) [VHS]
VHS
Offered by pkeylock
Price: £3.44

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply stunning Shakespear, 16 Nov 2005
Like many people, I first encountered Zeffirelli's masterpiece during a school trip whilst studying the play for 'O' level. The film swept me - and my classmates - off our feet; I recall seeing the entire 1st XV front row crying like babies, and time has blunted neither the charm nor the power of the classic tale's definitive version. The performances coaxed from the appropriately very young cast are amazing: it is impossible not to fall in love with Olivia Hussey's mature performance and other-worldly beauty; not to be moved by Whiting's accessible candour or fail to be stirred by Michael York's firebrand Tybalt.
But it is not just the script and direction that excel. The cinematography is perfect: you can smell Verona; feel the sun on your back and the cobbles beneath your feet and the soundtrack has become a literal classic in its own right. All of this sucks you irresistibly further and further into the inescapable momentum of events. For the student, the pacing and production reveal meaning to Shakespeare's words; even the bardic buff will get new insights into the quintessential exploration of love in its many forms, although purists may feel uncomfortable with the occasional liberty taken with the Uncle Bill's original however necessary for the difference in pacing between stage and screen. Forget Verona beach and guns, this is probably the best screen adaptation of any Shakespeare play…ever.


The Horse Whisperer [DVD] [1998]
The Horse Whisperer [DVD] [1998]
Dvd ~ Robert Redford
Price: £4.00

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent epic, 12 Nov 2005
Although this is a truly magnificent film with a great script; impeccable acting from all four leads (Kristin Scott Thomas, Robert Redford, Sam Neill and a 13-year-old Scarlet Johannsen), admirable self-direction from Redford and cinematography that captures the very essence of the Montana grasslands, it will most definitely not be for everyone.
Let's begin with the pacing. The film is 16 minutes off being three hours long. If you're mad about horses, love pictures of landscapes, get lost in romantic movies or could watch Redford/Thomas all day, this is not a problem - time will fly and you should buy this film immediately. If, however, you're more of the action movie type, then the subtleties and nuances of the film will pass you by and the time will drag. A fair test might be “The Remains of the Day”; if you liked that, you'll probably also like this; if you felt nothing ever actually happened in that film, save yourself a rental fee.
The one other sticking point might be for those who read and loved Nicholas Evans' novel on which the film is loosely based: emphasis on the 'loosely' here. Although the film mirrors the book to start with ¬- the horrific accident that maims both horse and girl - the development of the two plot lines is given a different emphasis in the film. Hollywood have also done to the ending what they so often do ¬- as per “Captain Correlli's Mandolin” ¬- and changed it, not really for the better, though doubtless that was the intent. However, this epic is so good that, not only are you prepared to forgive this, but not knowing what is going to happen in the end actually adds a piquancy to the romantic angst that otherwise might be lacking.


The Red Squirrel [1993] [DVD]
The Red Squirrel [1993] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Emma Suárez
Offered by rileys dvds
Price: £19.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cult classic, 3 Nov 2005
This dark thriller is very much in the European school ¬ - if you like your suspense Hollywood style, slick and with lots of car chases, this is not the film for you. It is also quite definitely a grown-up movie, not in terms of its content which is surprisingly mild given its 18-rating, but in that it requires concentration: even by the third viewing you are picking up nuances, twists and meanings that passed you by earlier. Indeed, what looks at first sight like a naïve piece of sub-titled film-noir, develops rapidly into a film of intelligently presented mystery with surreal elements.
Nancho Nova is delightfully brooding as the nonchalant yet suicidal Jota (Jay) who fools the enigmatic, alluring Emma Suarez into believing she is his estranged, co-habiting girlfriend, Elisa … or does he? As the film and its characters develop, there are twists and turns aplenty; a rich wealth and diversity of supporting characters, many of whom are redundant to the plot development but add beautifully to the overall effect and a new sinister significance to squirrels.
Set to become a foreign cult classic, this film deserves every award it picked up and has grown rather than diminished with time.


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