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captive8122@hotmail.com "Isla" (Nutzville)

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Distinguished Leaves: Poems for Tea Lovers
Distinguished Leaves: Poems for Tea Lovers
by Elizabeth Darcy Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, tongue-in-cheek elitism, 20 Mar. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I come from a long line of tea fanatics. Both the English and Irish sides of my family are nothing short of obsessively enslaved to the tea leaf. To be honest, it took me a long time to appreciate it myself - I started making pots of tea for my mum at the ripe old age of 7, but it was only when I grew up and had got through the adolescent swamp and become closer to my mum as a friend that I was fully sucked into the world of tea.

What this achingly stylish little book captures so beautifully is the intimacy of tea. The social side of it, the soothing and bonding of an almost hypnotic ritual. There is something undeniably magical about it, and Elizabeth Darcy Jones expertly spins the same alchemy in her verse as you find when you stir your chosen brew and take that first sip.

It was lovely to sit down with my mum on mother's day, after a frenetic afternoon's eating-ourselves-senseless and cavorting along the beach, coming home to Make The Tea and chat until it got dark. We took out this little book and leafed through, giggled a bit at the preciousness of some of the descriptions, but nodded along with general spirit of reverence and addiction. The poetry is wonderful and the descriptions of all the teas really do make you want to try a few. All in all, it's like a charming little Bible for the tea worshipper, and given the pleasure and comfort the brew gives so many, it's really not such a silly trifle to have a book devoted to appreciating it, is it?


Beyond All Evil: Two monsters, two mothers, a love that will last forever
Beyond All Evil: Two monsters, two mothers, a love that will last forever
by June Thomson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Shocking and deeply unsettling, 20 Mar. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This really is a harrowing read. I know that, given the tragic circumstances, it couldn't have been anything else, but however strong the bond between the two mothers and the friendship that grew out of their grief, you are left feeling totally shattered by the experience.

It's sensitively written for the most part, but the sheer pain and horror that jumps off nearly every page did make me feel uncomfortably voyeuristic at times. I felt helpless and enraged and deeply sad - just a smidgen of the emotions that these two remarkable women must live with every moment, I guess. It is an undeniably compulsive read, but terribly, dreadfully bleak and heart-breaking. If you're feeling low or prone to depression yourself, not sure I should recommend this, but it certainly does put life in perspective.


Total Spanish (Learn Spanish with the Michel Thomas Method)
Total Spanish (Learn Spanish with the Michel Thomas Method)
by Michel Thomas
Edition: Audio CD

118 of 124 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing short of life-changing, 15 Mar. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm hopeless with languages - always have been. I found them a nightmare at school and even after persevering with French and Spanish GCSEs, I still found myself on holiday in Spain and totally lacking the confidence to even ask for eggs in a supermarket. (I did once gird my loins and give it a shot, but I received such a blank look that I quickly reverted to useless hand gestures and that wonderful trick of English-with-a-Spanish-accent.)

I'd tried a course in Spanish before this one from a guy called Paul Noble. I couldn't get along with it at all, I found the aural learning incredibly taxing because I'd be trying to picture the spelling and shape of words in my head, as Noble never clarified them and insisted on a no note-taking or reading approach while listening. I was wrung out after just an hour and I cowardly avoided going any further. I just assumed that I couldn't learn anything by ear and I didn't have the brain for it.

So I approached Michel Thomas Total Spanish with a sense of resigned dread, fully prepared for an early defeat and a splitting headache to boot. This dread intensified when I found that, strangely, his initial introduction and pep talk were remarkably similar to that of Paul Noble. Given that MT came long before PN, I'm going to assume that the latter was heavily influenced by the former. It's baffling that although superficially similar, Paul Noble (for me) managed to completely miss the essence of what it is that makes the Michel Thomas method so special. MT is always at pains to reinforce your learning using a wide variety of techniques - it's very subtle and very clever. All types of mnemonics and quirky little tools are employed on an almost subconscious level; it's not remotely laboured or heavy-handed. You never feel like you're working or being fed too much information. MT's technique can be as subtle as just the emphasis of his voice in a memorable way or a funny little saying, and he always clarifies the spelling which is such a relief for people like me who need to be able to visualise the words to have any hope of remembering them.

It's been a bit sad to read a lot of quite negative reviews on Total Spanish because as soon as I felt the technique working for me, I rushed to Amazon kind of looking forward to sharing some evangelical happiness with what I imagined would be legions of awestruck fans. The popularity of the late Michel Thomas globally is a testament to his genius, I think, but it's still sad that people criticise his approach for reasons like 'he smacks his lips loudly,' or 'his accent is too heavily German/Polish.' I mean, if things like that truly get in the way of your learning, fair enough, but it just feels very mean-spirited to me to knock the man's wonderful gift to students, his entire technique, based on some superficial little personal preferences. Personally I loved his old voice - it has the texture of aged leather and the strength of his personality is tangible just on the CDs. He's patient, he's dry-humoured and comprehensive, he's amazingly wise. This is turning into a novel, but I have to mention one particular aspect that impressed me. Do you know how language-teaching can often hinge around technical terms to describe its structure such as 'conjunctives' or 'past participles' or words like that? If you're not entirely sure what these mean in English, it's another barrier for you when you're trying to learn an entirely different language. MT realises this and he cuts through any jargon. He actually introduces his own much simpler definitions of nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. He gives you explanations that fit with his entire approach - easily understood snippets that stick in your head because they make sense. Like he says from the outset, 'what you know, you remember.' How simple is that, and yet how true?!

I do accept that one shoe isn't going to fit all. And I know that the male student on the CDs, who's lucky enough to be having personal lessons with Michel himself, can be very, very slow to get things right, but I'm sure if I knew that my clumsy early lessons were being recorded then I'd be even slower than I am, too. Personally I found the guy rather endearing and it helped me feel like maybe I wasn't alone in being a bit of a linguistic blockhead. Misery does love company, after all.

Anyway, so far I've completed 5 of the 7 discs that form the Total lessons. I haven't even tried the vocabulary CDs as yet, but I just didn't want to hold back writing a review any longer because I feel like my entire thinking and outlook on languages has been transformed already. I only started the course last week and I find that I actively look forward to putting on a new CD and making progress. I'm excited because I feel it working and I know, I just -know- that I am going to make progress. Every minute I spend listening I move forward. That's nothing short of miraculous for me. I'm no longer terrified by the word 'grammar' or 'verbs' because I'm learning them without even consciously being aware of it. I can put together what feels like pretty complex sentences with confidence. The structure of the language is opening up to me and, honestly, it feels like sunlight has broken through what was previously one big impenetrable brick wall. I'm enjoying using the review CD rom and cementing what I've learned aurally with the video clips and the interactive exercises. I know it's early days and I have a long road ahead of me, but I'm planning on buying MT's Perfect Spanish course to follow on with, and I no longer feel any fear or doubt about learning the language. I know that, in time, I can get there, and that's a wonderful feeling.

What else can I say? What a magnificent legacy for any human being to leave behind. Michel Thomas was a remarkable man.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 30, 2015 10:56 AM GMT


Western Digital 500GB My Passport Portable Hard Drive for Mac
Western Digital 500GB My Passport Portable Hard Drive for Mac

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, 14 Mar. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a sleek little beauty of a drive. Incredibly lightweight but still sturdy - it feels built to last. I plugged it in and it took all of 5 minutes to format it for use with Windows Vista 64 bit. Backing up an entire old laptop's assorted files and music took less than half an hour; it works speedily and completely silently.

No complaints here, it's a lovely piece of kit!


Mistress of My Fate
Mistress of My Fate
by Hallie Rubenhold
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A page-turning mix of Fanny Hill and Flashman..., 14 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Mistress of My Fate (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had no idea what to expect when I picked this up - to be honest, I was prepared for it to be quickly relegated to the pile of semi-skimmed fly-swatters waiting for their trip to the charity shop. As usual, though, I was completely wrong. Hallie Rubenhold may not be bound for the Booker shortlist any time soon, but she's something that I personally value more than a studiously important and weighty 'literary' author - she's a natural storyteller with the innate ability to make you care about the characters she creates and compel you to keep turning the pages into the wee small hours.

Aside from excellent characterisation, I think it's the pace of Rubenhold's writing and her deft plot development that makes the book work so well. The background is carefully laid down, enough historical detail and embellishment is added to give you a real flavour of the early Georgian era, but not so much that it ever becomes laboured or tedious. Every sentence serves its purpose in driving things forward - either Rubenhold is a rigorously tight plotter, or she has a very superior editor! Her heroine is virtually impossible to dislike; Henrietta is a disarmingly innocent yet candid ingenue, with an honesty and sparkling wit, not to mention courage, tenacity and a very deft turn of phrase. Usually I'm a bit put off by first person narratives, they can feel too enclosed and insular, if you know what you mean, you can sometimes feel you're reading down a tunnel, missing vital parts of, and perspectives on, the meat of the story. This isn't the case here as Henrietta's forthrightness answers all your questions and keeps you gripped on what quickly becomes a breakneck gallop through the highs and lows of Georgian society.

If I had to make one small gripe (and I feel a bit mean for doing it) it would be that some of the more colourful episodes that Henrietta finds herself embroiled in do sometimes stretch incredulity rather far, but that's a bit of a pointless criticism given that the aim of the novel is very plainly to entertain and keep the reader hooked until the end. Henrietta's account of her experiences certainly achieves that, and I'm eager to read the next book in the trilogy. If you're looking for something rather fun and frothy, but written with real skill and humour, I'd recommend this.


In at the Deep End
In at the Deep End
by Jake Tilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.00

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to rate less than 5 stars..., 13 Dec. 2011
This review is from: In at the Deep End (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It'd be mean-spirited to nitpick with this book as its nature is so generous. Jake Tilson has packed so much into it, you never feel like you're just reading a cookbook, you feel like you're being taken on an adventure with colourful, honest accounts of his varied travels and experiences, his feelings about food, his attitude to living, and his love of all things creative.

It's a book with enormous heart and artistry - open it at any random page and you'll initially find a beautiful visual spread for your eyes, then a fascinating read for your mind, and more often than not an interesting recipe to try. I really appreciated the fact that the recipes are meant more as inspiration, they're rather loose and open-ended; you can easily adapt if you don't have the exact ingredients he mentions, and Jake Tilson really does inspire you to give a recipe your own twist with whatever is fresh and in season. Personally I'm absolutely mad about fish in all its forms (except squid!) so this book was a treat for me, but if have certain fissues (please excuse that dire pun, couldn't resist) and you're not quite sure how to approach it, this would be a great place to start. For the fish-lover in your life, this is a must-buy present sure to captivate them.

Very warmly recommended - this is definitely the most interesting and vibrant cookbook currently sitting on my shelf.


Breville VHB070 3-in-1 600 W Red Hand Blender Set
Breville VHB070 3-in-1 600 W Red Hand Blender Set

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Robust and reliable, 17 Nov. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had my old Breville 3-in-1 set for almost two years, and it was still going like a little trooper, until yet another bout of chronic random stupidity hit me and I overfilled the mini chopper with biscuits (for the birds) one day and then couldn't get the lid off, so banged it forcefully on the table and managed to break the mechanism.

The replacement set is being treated with the respect it deserves. I love the new red colour - very dapper and easily cleaned, and it's every bit as sturdy and useful as its predecessor. It's one of the few gadgets in the kitchen that actually earns its (small) surface space. This one doesn't get pushed to the back of a dusty cupboard with the pasta maker, ice cream maker, oversized pestle/mortar, sushi making kit and assorted other sounds-good-but-not-worth-the-hassle detritus. Nope, this little beauty earns its keep and I use it most days. The blender attachment is remarkably effective for such a petite gizmo and makes quick work even of the biggest pot of soup. The plastic blender pot is handy for storage and whipping up smoothies, and the beauty of the whisk attachment is that it's almost impossible to overwhisk cream with it because you're fully in control of the speed and it's not as frenetic as most hand whisks. I find that it's fantastic for making up a super quick batch of delicious homemade mayo - you don't have to go as slowly as they say, just use a pint sized pyrex jug, buck in an egg yolk, spoon of dijon, bit of honey, worcester and your chosen seasonings/herbs, then drizzle in your oil while whisking. When it's thick enough, add a spoon or so of lemon juice/white wine vinegar to taste, and you've got gorgeous mayo, all done in about 3 minutes. The shape of the whisk attachment and its speed just seems to work really well for mayo, especially in a jug where it can combine everything quickly.

The mini chopper is probably the best part, though. Nuts, breadcrumbs, herbs, smaller quantities of pastry, even mince for meatballs - it's got it all covered. And provided you're not as daft as me and subject it to bangs or bashing, there's no reason why it shouldn't be a faithful kitchen companion for a good few years.

Fantastic performer. Highly recommended!


Blue Monday
Blue Monday
by Nicci French
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Departure from the usual French formula..., 22 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Blue Monday (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
...with patchy results.

I really enjoyed several of the French partnership's early works - Killing Me Softly, Land of the Living, Beneath the Skin. All very readable thrillers and a cut above a lot in the genre, with characters memorable enough to linger in the mind for a good while after the books were finished. Even some of their later novels are still entertaining, even if the formula is starting to show its age. It seems like the authors have finally got bored themselves with their standard professional-female-in-peril routine. Not that this is any wild shift, but it's definitely different and I'm not sure that the authors are all that comfortable with making that change, or that they're altogether convinced by their own creation.

Frieda Klein is an engaging enough character, cut very much in the mould of independent, thoughtful French heroines. But I'm afraid that the rest of the bunch are slightly too paper-cutout for my blood. The world-weary detective with a Scandanavian surname, the difficult child, the inept builder, the too easily spotted creeps.

To be honest, I was ready to give up after 50 pages, as for once, a French novel had kind of failed to hook me early on. But I came back to it and things did warm up a bit, so I soldiered on until the rather predictable and not entirely resolved ending. Rather disappointing, really, still well-constructed as always, but I'm not sure I'll be buying any more. Shame.


The Winslow Boy (Classic Radio Theatre)
The Winslow Boy (Classic Radio Theatre)
by Terence Rattigan
Edition: Audio CD

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect late-night listening, 15 Sept. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm a hopeless insomniac and the wee small hours can be pretty miserable when you're sleepless and lonesome. But I curled up with this CD and a big mug of cocoa and found that the time zipped along beautifully. Too quickly, in fact. A great deal of action and fantastic dialogue is packed into the play's petite 90 minutes, and perhaps it's greedy to have craved a bit more - the pace may have been lost if the play had been any flabbier.

The story of Arthur Winslow's passionate fight to clear his son's name still feels very contemporary, not remotely dated, perhaps because Rattigan's central themes of family, class, and loyalty, are so timeless. This radio production was produced in 1981 but I'd never have guessed it was 30 years old. The audio quality is crisp and clean, and although I can see that the cut-glass upper crust accents all round may be a little off-putting for some, personally I appreciated being able to make out every single word easily. It's lovely not to miss any of Rattigan's often wry and very subtle dialogue. Every member of the cast deserves credit, there wasn't a weak link anywhere, but perhaps special mention should go to Aubrey Woods as Sir Robert Morton, the quite terrifyingly brilliant barrister who decides to defend Ronnie Winslow. Michael Aldridge is also first class as Ronnie's stalwart father, Arthur Winslow, a man with an unwavering belief in his son, and a unbreakable determination to win justice for him.

This is very understated entertainment. Cerebral, not visceral. No noisy bombast or easy glamour. Decorous restraint is the order of the day, but it's the strength of the emotions that lie underneath the very civilised veneer, that makes this play so gripping for me personally. Rattigan may paint with delicate brushstrokes, but the portraits he produces pack a real emotional punch.

Maybe not everyone's cuppa tea (or cocoa!) but I really loved this, and I do hope that the BBC find and remaster a few more of these neglected classics in their archives. It seems a terrible waste to know that there are beautifully produced pieces such as this just languishing on dusty shelves where no one can enjoy them - especially given the quality of the pap that's served up on the box these days!


Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery (PC)
Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery (PC)

2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't work for me, 14 Sept. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don't want to give this product one star because I'm no techie and perhaps I was hoping that it could do something impossible. I accidentally deleted a folder of holiday pics from my hard drive nearly a year ago, and being a total twit I didn't have them backed up. I've since installed quite a bit of new software and almost filled the drive with music and other photos and videos. So maybe it just wasn't feasible to hope that Photo Recovery could do anything, given the timeframe and the fact that the drive has likely been over-written (if that's even the right term - as I said, I'm pretty hopeless with anything technical).

The installation process itself was very speedy and the interface was clear and easily navigated. There wasn't much in the way of a helping hand, though. The information resources were very scant. The biggest kick in the teeth, though, was that a scan of the particular drive I was hoping to find the folder on, took over 12 hours and hogged enough of the system to make doing anything else with the laptop very difficult.

At the end of the scan there were thousands of files to sift through, but it just seemed to have regurgitated existing material on that drive, not found anything that I'd deleted. So, didn't do the job for me. It may work if you're a little more savvy, or the deletion was more recent, I don't know, but either way it'd be helpful if the manufacturers had made it clear just what you could hope for, exactly. There's a lot of bombastic claims on the sleeve, but no real guidelines.


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