Monday, December 5, 2011

I Need a Little More Help...

You may have seen my post about the reading challenge I have set myself for 2012.  The post can be found here.

I have had many, may replies for which I am very grateful.  I still have a few categories which I'm bereft or low on suggestions for though.

These are...

Classic British Novels. This is the one I'm most eager to get into as I am really at a loss here.

Novels Set In or Around Manchester.  I can probably find books in my local library for this but a recommendation is always sweeter.

Biography.  Historical, Sport, Entertainers any surprises I may not expect?

Crime Fiction.  My favourite genre.  I need to spread my horizons.

Non-Adult.  Unfortunately most of my recommendations in this one I'd previously read.

All suggestions most gratefully received :-)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Theatre - Beautiful Thing at the Royal Exchange

I walked into this performance having no idea what the show was about.  I hadn't made the link between the title and the film that had been adapted from it.  I enjoyed the film a couple of years ago, without realising it started life as a play.  I put 2 and 2 together when I read the programme before the play began.

The set was even better than the Royal Exchange's usual standard.  It evoked very well the London Housing Estate the play is set in.  Without being dour.  With the lighting it seemed chirpy and summery.  The lighting was a fabulous part of the scene setting.  From the lights in 'other flats' to the overall feel of the day.

The cast never put a foot wrong here.  They were all excellent but I have to say the two women were fantastic. Especially the younger one who was playing a gobby truant.  The conversations between characters was great. It zipped along wonderfully and never felt scripted.  I have never laughed so much in a theatre.  The one liners are hilarious.

The story deals with two serious topics.  Making you think about them without thrusting them repeatedly in your face.  The sad parts are brief but not too brief.  This is a play that you initially enjoy and then spend time thinking about afterwards.  It doesn't have an explained ending.  It seems that life will carry on.  Not necessarily easily but there's no portent of misery either.

Thanks to a fantastic script and a script full of great banter, this is the play I have most enjoyed at the Royal Exchange.  I'd be hard pressed to think of one I've enjoyed more anywhere.  I'm gutted I haven't chance to see it again.

One question I left with was - Why don't they make those duvet covers in a Double?

I hope any local readers can make it there if they haven't already.  It's well worth the trip.  More info can be found on the Royal Exchange website.

5 out of 5 pawprints

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tome Time - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Started October 16th, finished October 16th.

This was an impulse 'free for Kindle' Amazon download.  I fully intend to exhaust their free ebooks that tickle my fancy.  Suggestions are mroe than welcome :-)

I love this film but I'm afraid to say I hadn't read the book first.  When the film was released I didn't even know there was a book.  

I wasn't surprised to find the book much 'quieter' than the film.  It hadn't been 'Burtoned'.

The tsory tells of Ichabod Crane.  A lanky, superstitious guy who isn't ever going to be part of the 'in crowd'.  He is sent to the small hamlet of Sleepy Hollow as a schoolteacher.  Here he falls for a girl who is seemingly way out of his league.  I won't tell you any more.  It's a short enough tale to enjoy in one sitting and i think worth a read.

The book is spooky with a sense of fun.  Just the right length to tell the somewhat open-ended tale.  It is definitely one I will read again.  None of the characters are fleshed out very much.  The style is more the telling of a folk tale.

4 out of 5 pawprints

Next - Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C Clarke

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tome Time - 102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn

Started October 11th, finished October 15th.

After the events of 9/11 I read quite a lot of books written by people involved in the events, cleanup or building of the World Trade Center.  Then for quite a few years I didn't read anything more.  With the tenth anniversary of those terrible attacks there were obviously books being re-released and catching my eye.

This book tells the tales of those that were in the towers from the time the first 'plane struck to the the falling of the North Tower.  Needless to say this is a moving book.  It seems to contain only what is factually known.  No romanticising things, it's totally unnecessary.

It is well told.  The stage is set well.  The events unfold without any overdramatic build ups to what we know will unfold.  This is s very moving book and although you know the final outcome it is very gripping.  The stories that are most well known are not dwelt on.  Making this a very human book where it would be difficult not to empathise with the people whose stories you are learning.

The facts about the engineering are explained in layman's terms.  As are the planning laws that were in place as the World Trade Center was planned and built.  There is no finger pointing, just the facts.  Which speak for themselves.  This is not a book for conspiracy theorists.  They will find nothing here to occupy their imagination.

I found this a very well written book about a very tender subject.  It's still hard for me to fully grasp the loss of life on that day in America.  This book helps with that while never trying too hard to expand beyond its remit.

5 out of 5 pawprints

Next - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tome Time - The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde

Started October 6th, finished October 10th.

This was a bit of a special read as it was the first I'd read on my ebook reader.  An experience I found I disliked much less than expected.  It's not reading a book by any means and it lacks something but there are also bonuses too.  I won't desert my books but they will be complemented.

The best thing about this book for me was Wilde's way with words.  His put downs are wonderful.  He writes quite differently to anyone else I can think of.  He is a man of wit.  

The story of Dorian Grey is one I assumed I knew.  Picture in the attic and all that.  When I actually thought about it though I realised that was all I knew.  How did the picture come to be?  Is it the only picture?  How does it all end?  Finding the book for free download was the push I needed.

The story moves much slower than I expected.  Maybe a little too slowly.  The scenes are set as opulently as some of the scenes themselves.  We are left in no doubt of the characters and what makes them tick.  I did begin to wonder when things would actually start happening though.  Once they did I was happier.  Though they still meandered a little slower than I'd have liked.  There are so many quotable passages from this book.  Mainly spoken by Lord Henry Wotton.  I wonder if there's any of Wilde in Wotton and his observances.

I did enjoy this book but I wish it had been shorter.  Maybe I was impatient as I can't really say I disliked the  bits that weren't moving the plot along fast enough.  Apparently Wilde added to his original version due to criticism.  Maybe the original version would have suited me better.  I can't complain too much as it isn't a very long book anyway.  I'm glad to have read it and I wouldn't rule out a re-read in the future.  The one thing the book doesn't do is over explanation.  I hate it when everything is explained too heavily.

3.5 pawprints out of 5

Next  - 102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn

Tome Time - Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly

Started September 26th, finished October 6th.

I'm always glad to be starting a new Michael Connelly novel, especially if it's a Harry Bosch story.

This starts with Harry looking into a robbery/murder.  Whilst not being too happy with his partner's work ethic. From there it twists and turns and twists and turns.

This is by far the most 'action' of Connelly's novels that I've read.  It's also the first time I've come sort of close to disbelief.  However, it didn't mar my enjoyment of the story.  I do kind of hope it's not the first of a run of movie style books about Harry.

This looks into things that are new for Harry.  It takles a look at the Immigrant Community and the darker side of that than we've seen before.  Harry leaves LA.  He learns much more about being a father.

I won't go into the plot any more as it would be difficult to do so without spoilers.  Whilst I was reading the book certain things didn't add up for Harry as he was working things out.  It was the same for me.  Stick with it though.  It all makes sense in the end.

There are big shocks in this book.  Connelly certainly doesn't pull any punches.  This is a whirlwind of a story.  One I enjoyed but I'm not sure it would work trying to find similar situations for Bosch to recover from again.  I like his ordinariness.

Harry's life is certainly changed by the happenings in this book.  Much more than we've seen things change before.  I'm interested to see how his story progresses.

3.5 out of 5 pawprints

Next - The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tome Time - When the Tripods Came by John Christopher

Started September 26th, finished October 4th.

Now, I have made little secret how The Tripods trilogy is my favourite reading material from when I was but a child.  I still love it.  This is the prequel, written a while after the original trilogy.

I am always dubious when encountering something, added to something great, at a much later date.  However, true to form the author doesn't disappoint.  The story of how the Tripods came to Earth is told through the eyes of a young teen, Laurie and his friend, Andy.  Once again the characters are well written and believable rather than being heroes.  Laurie is reminiscent of Will in some ways and Andy has some similarities to Henry but that is where the links end really.  There is no tedious links to teh original trilogy which would make the story unbelievable.  The story of how The Tripods conquer Earth is well told and logical.  I was originally feared that this book could spoil the experience of the story.  It doesn't, it enhances it.

It leaves you at just the right point.  You know where they are and what will come but it's not all tied up in a patronising fashion.

Whenever I re-read the books I always read the prequel last.  It feels much better that way.  I suppose I should try reading it first and see what that does to the reading experience...

4 out of 5 pawprints

Next - Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Need Your Help!

Reading Challenge 2012

Dear Reader, you probably know that I did the 50 Book Challenge this year.  As I have little responsibility in my life and I read too fast I managed to finish early.  I probably would again if I tried next year so I decided to opt for something a little different.

I would like to expand my reading outside my comfort zone.  I have decided on 12 genres and I would like you to choose for me a book in those genres.  Hopefully I will get at least one suggestion for a book that is new to me.  I will read at least one book from the genre list each month and try for more than that.

The list is below and I'll be repeating requests for each month as we go along.  Please comment with your suggestions.  I need help to travel further afield in the world of literature.

January - Great  American Novels.  This is an area I have hardly read anything at all.  In fact I think the only book that would qualify that I've read is To Kill A Mockingbird.

February - Historical Fiction.  I have read quite a bit in this field but I want to find something new.

March - Classic British Novels.  Again an area I am shamefully uneducated in.

April - Novels Set In or Around Manchester.  My latest interest in reading.

May - Travel Memoirs.  Not an area I've read much in at all.  Strange as I love to travel and this genre should appeal to me.

June - Fantasy Novel.  I haven't read much in this area lately.  Apart from the first in the Game of Thrones serial.

July - Biography.  An area I find fascinating but I want to read about someone that hasn't occurred to me before or one I've missed that I should have read.

August - Science Fiction.  An area in which I am scandalously badly read.

September - Crime Fiction.  Probably my favourite genre and I'm always hungry for more of it.

October - A Non-Adult Book.  Maybe teen fiction/young adult fiction would be a better description.  An area I feel many adults miss little gems.

November - Autobiography.  Same as with biography really :-)

December - Your Favourite Book.  Whatever you feel I should definitely read.  In any genre, fiction or non-fiction.

I am quite excited about this so please give me plenty of suggestions and ask people you know to do so too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tome Time - Doctor Who The Tomb of the Cybermen by Gerry davis

Started Sept 30th, finished Oct 2nd.

This is a follow along with  Paul's Blog.  Pop over there.  His reviews are usually in much more depth.

I was looking forward to this one.  I hadn't read it before and it's one of my favourite stories.  Luckily I had missed the hype before I saw it.

The pedant in me was dismayed by the wrong Cybermen on the cover.  I'm very fond of the very early Cybermen and they shouldn't be airbrushed out!

I have heard that there are slight updates in the Target novel to update it for a more modern audience.  Since we're now even further on those updates were a little lost to me.  I have to say I couldn't find much difference between the text and the TV version. 

The story was told well.  Built most of it's character's up at a good pace.  If I had to choose between the book and the TV version I'd take the TV version.  That's rare for me but 'those iconic scenes' just don't come across as well in the book.

I enjoyed this telling a lot although the excitement is never there when you know how it all ends.  I'd say it's one of the better re-tellings.  It's just a shame I never read it as a kid.  Unless I've forgotten that I did.

4 out of 5 pawprints

Next - When the Tripods Came by John Christopher

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tome Time - Twisting My Melon by Shaun Ryder

Started September 27th, Finished September 30th

Now, I knew before I borrowed this book from the library the risk I was taking.  They say you should never meet your idols.  Though no-one in the right mind would cast Ryder as an idol.)  I would add to that, be very wary of the memoirs of those characters you find interesting.  Hearing someone tell their story always alters your perception of them.  Sometimes, as with Mandelson, you are pleasantly surprised.  Others and I think a little more often they disappoint.  That's probably because they're human and I've built up an image I like to think of them as in my mind.  The worst was Gordon Ramsay, I read his autobio and liked him a lot less once I'd finished.  I then read Marco Pierre White's and was amazed how he'd managed to write a book about himself, I'd read it and I knew very little more afterwards.  he managed to hide his true self behind words.

Now Shaun Ryder, the local legend I grew up hearing about.  Star of many a scandalised newspaper article.  Centre of many urban myths.  The man who seemed to epitomise the Madchester dream.  I knew very little past the facade that had been erected around him and his bands.  I didn't watch I'm a Celebrity.

I knew reading this would give the legend back the bog standard humanity.  The question was would I like what I read?  In truth, it didn't give me huge feelings either way.  He cam across as pretty selfish at times but not too badly.  It would be nice to read an account from someone else in the band.  He's not too complimentary about most of them.  Without ever seeming to see that he must have been hell to work and tour with.

He tells his story pretty light heartedly.  The scrapes he gets himself into are far from funny but the way he tells it you can't help but see an amusing side.  It's written well by him and his ghost writer in that you can fly through it.  This isn't a book to ponder over and weigh up the morals.  That would be painful.  Pick it up, go along for the ride and enjoy it.  Just be glad he can remember as much as he has!

3.5 pawprints out of 5

Next - Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen by Gerry Davis

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tome Time - The Third Man by Peter Mandelson

Started September 6th, finished September 24th.

Now this is a massive read.  It's thick enough but then you realise how small the typeface is. 

It is a book I'm glad I gave the time to though.  It's a fascinating look at modern politics and New Labour.  It's a no holds barred look at both those subjects.  The big surprise was the lack of bitterness and bitchiness.  The book is startlingly fair.  I couldn't quite understand how he could be so fair but maybe the nasty environment of power grabbing they call politics gives you a thick skin.

No one comes out of this book all nice and shiny bur no one is shot down in flames either.  Gordon Brown comes out the worst.  Even more so because Mandelson doesn't attack him personally.  Letting the acts speak for themselves.

Blair and Campbell don't shine all the time.  Blair comes across as weak and Campbell as arrogant and unwilling to listen. 

Mandelson tells an often complicated and dragged out story well.  Some pieces took longer to read than others but I never wanted to put the book down.  I would have liked to hear more about his work as an MP.  That features very little.  leading me to believe that 'career politicians' have a constituency merely to gain a cabinet position.  What benefit that is to those constituencies is worrying.

Another question that raised its head persistently was who pays for all the back room staff?  Next time the Labour party rings me for a donation at election time it will get short thrift.  Politics seems to be about image rather than helping the masses.  Thankfully we have limits on electioneering spending.  So while we may waste considerably less than the US (think what their party spends could do in NASAs budget instead) we still could improve on how party's spend their donations.

I did feel that Mandelson had the urge to better the country and especially it's lower classes.  However I think that is impossible if you also want to have a 'career' in Politics.

This is a fascinating but very long book.  I'd recommend reading it in sections.  Even the chapters were monstrously large.  It would be interesting to read as candid a book as this from his opposite side of the House of Commons.  I fear it would read very much the same though.

Next - Red Shift by Alan Garner

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tome Time - The Cats on Hutton Roof by Marilyn Edwards

Started August 22nd, finished September 22nd.

This is another titbit book.  The third in the series by the author about life for her and her cats.  In this book there is much upheaval as they all move house.

These books are wonderful for cat lovers but may not entrance one who is not so enamoured.  I love the author's observations.  So many are so similar to many of my own.  This lady can just tell the story much better than I ever could if I tried.  

The illustrations are also superb.  Not all artists, by far, can catch that feline essence.  It may have four legs and a tail but it doesn't always look like a cat.  Peter Warner catches it perfectly.

The story is mainly about life with her cats but also includes other people's stories.  People she has met and people who have contacted her with their stories.  These are always wonderful to read but, be warned have had the tears rolling on more than one occasion.  She also includes info on the local wildlife and her neighbours.  It's a lovely book to read.  Makes me want to move myself and my cats somewhere more rural.  One day....

4 out of 5 pawprints

Next - The Third Man by Peter Mandelson

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tome Time - Shabby Tiger by Howard Spring

Started September 3rd, finished September 5th.

I have decided to read more books based around my local area.  Manchester, Lancashire, the North West, etc.  This book is a favourite of my mum's and one I've been seeing on the shelves forever.  It was about time I read it.

The tale starts with Anna, a maid, running away from her job.  She meets up with Nick, an artist, and their story is told.  It incorporates many other characters, all of whom added interest for me.  The cast spans the Manchester classes from just above the very bottom to the top.  With those in between not always happy with their lot.  It was written and set in the 1930's.  It's still recognisable as Manchester and gives a fascinating viewpoint of the city.

None of the characters are entirely sympathetic or totally loath-able.  They're all pretty much in between.  Much like normal folk I suppose.  This isn't a dreary kitchen sink drama about the state of the nation's poor.  It gives a window into life but never dwells on anything.  This is no miserable read.  It's fun, although not so on every single page.  It rips along at a great pace.

It has encouraged me to read more about the local area.  Starting with the sequel Rachel Rosing.

Unfortunately the book is no longer in print but is available via the usual 2nd hand sellers.

It was filmed for a Granada TV series in 1973.  Luckily I managed to get a DVD from Amazon.  That is going to be interesting viewing as it was filmed where it was set.

4 out of 5 pawprints

If anyone has any recommendations for books set around the NW of Engalnd I'd love to hear them.

Next - The Cats on Hutton Roof by Marilyn Edwards

I've been invited onto Goldfish & Paracetamol

I know, I know, this blog has been shamefully quiet of late.  Real life has got in the way of my online meandering.

I have however managed to get my nose through the door over at my friend Paul's blog, Goldfish & Paracetamol.

Here I describe my first venture into Big Finish.  Paul & Odile finally got me to listen :-)

It's very nice over there at Goldfish & Paracetamol, lots of Whoniverse, publishing and Cult Britannia stuff.  I highly recommend you have a good look around.

I promise to blow the tumbleweed off these pages sharpish.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tome Time - Catwatching by Desmond Morris

Started September 3rd, finished September 3rd.

There's not much you can say about this book that the subtitle 'The Essential Guide to Cat Behaviour' doesn't tell you.  It's a fascinating read for cat lovers.  You may know some of the reasons behind some of your cat's behaviour.  There's bound to be the answer to more than question you've had at the back of your mind for years though.

I flew through this in a couple of hours.  It's a pretty short book with no flannel.  Just explanations for why cats do what they do.

It's a pretty old book.  So I'm unsure as to whether it would still be seen as totally accurate.  I'm sure some of what is given as explanation is opinion based on his long years of experience. Maybe views of parts of it have changed.  

It's not a cat care manual just a very interesting look at felines. 

5 out of 5 pawprints (naturally)

Next -  Shabby Tiger by Howard Spring

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tome Time - Redshift by Alan Garner

Started 5th September, finished 26th September.

I really expected to love this book.  The Weirdstone of Brasingamen, The Moon of Gomrath and The Owl Service could have been written for me personally.  It also fulfils my want to read more books set locally too. 

However, as you can see from how long it took me to finish the shortish novel, it didn't grab me at all.  I just couldn't get into the story at all.  The way it's written doesn't help.  It's virtually all told via dialogue.  Not a style that helped me immerse myself in a story I didn't really grasp anyway.

The story is told in three different times. Roman Britain, the Civil War and present day.  A sign of how badly I received this book is that I thought the modern day setting was the future for a long time.  I didn't recognise the characters at all.  I didn't care for them much either.  The only time I felt any emotion really was for the women in the Civil War era.  Without a quick look at Wikipedia I wouldn't have realised which era I was reading about at all though.  I thought at first they were other, supernatural planes.

I think either I'm too thick for this book or my mind doesn't work that way.  I just couldn't fully understand it.  I gave up once and came back to it.  Thinking a fresh mind would help.  The further I got in, the easier I found it to read but never did a fondness arrive.

If I had to say the story it's telling it seems to be one of love.  Love not going smoothly and heading towards great disappointment.

I still think Alan Garner is a wonderful creator of worlds and great stories.  It's just that this one is most definitely not for me.

2 out of 5 pawprints

Next - Twisting My Melon by Shaun Ryder

Monday, October 3, 2011

Edward II at the Royal Exchange

This was the season opener at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.  An impressive building that's worth a visit even if you're not attending a performance.  The building is definitely worth viewing and they have a lovely cafe and craft shop with some impressive things on sale.

I knew the gist of the story and had heard of the famous final scene.  Otherwise I hadn't read or seen this one before.  I had read two muted reviews in different Times' newspapers which didn't fill me relish at the visit.  This was on;y worsened by the most lacking programme I've ever purchased at the Exchange.  It was very poor.  No synopsis, no background to the play.  A nice 1950's timeline.  Full cast and crew and a heap of ad's.  It seems the theatres are struggling with cuts and nowhere was this in more in evidence than the programme. 

As the play began I did enjoy the 1950's setting much more than the reviewers had.  It worked well for me.  The 1950's seem to be the last decade where people dressed to a certain standard throughout society.  With the freedom of the 60's we lost the formality and stiffness in what we wore.  The costumes were excellent, as always.  The sets were more bare than I'm used to at the Exchange but very good.  

The cast didn't disappoint either.  The only weak link was the young Prince, I couldn't hear all his lines but he was very young.  Gaveston was played by someone who reminded me very much of a young Martin Sheen. The bits of Martin Sheen that I appreciate, not the annoying side. Isabella was played very well by Emma Cunniffe who I have to mention has just been in Dr Who ;-)  The King came across very well as a pathetic, petulant monarch.  This wasn't a play where I had much sympathy with any one character for long.  That may have been part of my problem with it...

Despite it looking great, good cast, lovely costumes, well acted I got bored.  the first half seemed to drag into eternity.  I can't have been the only one as there was more than one misplaced round of applause as members of the audience assumed the interval had arrived.  It picked up a little in the second half but once again began to drag.  I couldn't hate any of the characters but I couldn't like or respect any either.  Not enough empathy or emotion to keep me hooked.  The language was easier to follow than Shakespeare.  Which helped ease things.  I must be pretty lonely in my view as this is heralded as a classic and it doesn't look like it will stop being staged any time soon.

3 out of 5 pawprints

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tome Time - Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse

Started September 2nd, finished September 3rd.

This was the second of my holiday reading books in September.  I went away fro a quiet week with my friend to chill, read and test out the restaurants.

I picked this book up mainly because of the local connection.  The author and her sisters own a restaurant in Manchester's Northern Quarter.  This is the story of her family and how the generations moved from a small village in China to owning what many say is their favourite Chines restaurant in Manchester.

The main character for the first part of the book is the author's Grandmother Lily.  Hers is a wonderfully inspiring tale.  The admiration I felt for this woman was immense.  She is a truly inspiring woman.  Not written as saintly but faults and all.  This is s story of grit and determination coupled with hard work and a desire to succeed.

The story passes along the generations and leads to the sisters who now own and run a thriving, modern restaurant in my favourite part of Manchester.

I won't tell you any more as I think this book should be discovered for yourself.  Apparently it has been adopted by schools and added to their curriculum.  It is definitely something I would want any female offspring I had to read.

5 out of 5 pawprints

Next - Catwatching by Desmond Morris

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Deathtrap at Oldham Coliseum

This is the season opener at Oldham Coliseum Theatre.  It's described as a hilariously twisted comedy thriller.

I did quite enjoy the play but I had a couple of grumbles.

The cast were the best thing about the production.  It's always good to see Max from Brookside, especially when he's playing a role well :-)  The cast played the roles just a little OTT which is what the play required.  However these kind of plays are not my favourite kind of plays.  The best in the play was Helen Kay who plays 'the wife'.  Apparently she's also done some Big Finish stuff.  She was very convincing and had a great physical but subtle way of expressing her feelings.

The plot is great at its twists and turns.  That is definitely the best thing about the script.  My main grumble was that it went on just a bit too long.  I think I'm getting more impatient as I get older.  The endings went on too long for me.  They tied everything up well but seemed tacked on.

The set was done very well.  One of the best I've seen at the Coliseum.  It was the perfect setting and represented the characters well.

I didn't know that Rosemary's Baby was originally an Ira Levin novel until I read the programme.  That's one I'll have to look up soon.

I'd give this 3.5 pawprints out of 5.  It was done very well but wasn't quite to my taste.

Next on the season ticket is Equus.  I've informed my theatre buddies what we'll be seeing in that! 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tome Time - A Question of Belief by Donna Leon

Started August 31st, finished September 2nd.

Apparently this is the 19th in the Brunetti series.  I had no idea I had read so many.  Which is a good sign as as it hasn't begun to drag as so many crime fictions series' do.

I think the aspects of these books that I love most are the descriptions of Venice and of Brunetti family life.  Nothing set in a well described Venice can fail to enchant me.  A look at Italian politics and way of life as seen through Brunetti, his wife and his colleagues eyes doesn't ever stop being fascinating.

My only quibble with this book was the coincidences involved in aspects of investigations merging.  Though in an area with such a low crime rate maybe this is more believable.  Brunetti is looking into crimes seemingly committed by a 'bad' man and crimes committed against a 'good' man.  The book looks at what makes a man a good man.  It's no surprise where the politics of character and person lie in this book if you've read previous novels.

The scene is set in a Venice suffering a heat wave.  As always this is evoked perfectly.  You're wishing Guido can escape to the mountains whilst also wishing him to stay and solve the mysteries that have surfaced.

I love these books so I'm probably biased and they'll always be high on the pawprints.  I just hope she carries on writing them for a long time yet.

4 out of 5 pawprints

Next - Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Britfilm - Burke & Hare

This was supposed to be a restorative tonic on a Sunday afternoon.  I was suffering from wine flu and needed a little light entertainment.

I'm not a big Simon Pegg fan.  I think once you've seen one of his characterisations, you've pretty much seen most of his repertoire.  I am however a huge fan of Andy Serkis' work.  That and it being a film by the director of An American Werewolf in London hinted at a fine piece of screen filling.

Once I started to watch I was pretty amazed by the quality of the cast they had brought together.  Favourites of mine included Tim Curry, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Hynes, David Schofield and the magnificent Sir Christopher Lee.  There are plenty more quality names in there too.  Let alone the people who came forward for cameos.  There's a cracking hound in there too.

However, I just can't rate this film highly.  The cast all looked like they had a fun time working on this.  It just doesn't do credit to its cast.  The film lacks the humour I so enjoyed in American Werewolf and is just silly.  No-one lets the side down really it just didn't make me laugh very often.  I was very disappointed overall.

I did wonder when I first heard they were making this film how they could successfully make a comedy with the subject matter.  That side of things wasn't too badly done really.  It didn't ever seem as offensive as it could have been.  It just wasn't dark enough for me.  I could always see where I was supposed to laugh but it just didn't amuse me as it should have done.  The laughs were too predictably placed.  It was silly but it had no clever side to it.  Maybe I was in a miserable mood?  I won't be giving it another chance though.

2 out of 5 pawprints.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tome Time, The Haunting of Gad's Hall by Norah Lofts

Started August 25th, finished August 31st.

I was very worried that I wouldn't like the Gad's Hall books.  They're two of my mum's favourites and I'd hate to have to tell her they were a disappointment.  Luckily neither of them were.

I have to say that once again it wasn't a book that focused on the spooky very much at all.  There's enough of it in there to deny Trading Standards a collar but it's a very minor part of the story.

It continues where the first book left off.  In both time settings.  The vast majority of the story is dedicated to the historical family.  I was glad about this as their story was much more interesting to me than one set in more modern times.  This is a novel about family.  The trials and tribulations that families go through together.  Where is stands up well for me is the characters.  They are all vividly written.  It can't have been an easy job to write five very different female characters all so well.  I believed in each one and the actions they took.  It's not a sentimental book.  It writes its characters very honestly.  Faults and good points all included.

I'm not sure whether or not I would keep the supernatural element of the story in if I were to advise the author.  It seems only to be there to direct the tale back to the historical era.  I don't really think it's necessary.  It doesn't spoil the story but it does feel a little tacked on.  The historical tale is a great read and leaving it open to the reader to decide what was actually at work would have pleased me more.

I really enjoyed a story set in the not too distant past centred around well written women,

4 out of 5 pawprints.

Next - A Question of Belief by Donna Leon

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Apollo 18 (spoilers hidden)

I've been waiting to see this film for quite a while now.  It seemed designed for me.  Moon landings and aliens.  What more could you want?  I deliberately kept my knowledge of the plot as low as possible, though it seemed that the poster pretty well spelt it out.

I wasn't disappointed with the film.  It starts out looking very much like Apollo 13 in style.  There's some home video of the crew and their families.  Followed by more cinematic looking footage from NASA.  The actors are all completely new to me making it easier to sink into the telling of the story quite quickly.  The performances all held together for me.  They weren't great but good enough not to take me out of the story.

The story starts off explaining the 'found footage' with text across your screen.  Then it's all found footage throughout.  This is a good thing in my view.  The presence of 'conspiracy theorists' or deniers on screen would have weakened the viewing experience for me.  I enjoyed this film.  I haven't yet read any other reviews but I have seen some ratings.  It seems my appreciation is in the minority.  My only real bugbear which isn't huge, is in the spoilers below.

SPOILERS BELOW  rollover to view

I liked the inclusion of the dead Russian Cosmonaut and his ship.  It helped to give some warning signs to the men from the Lunar Capsule.  It also is a good explanation (in the realms of this being true) of why the Russians didn't take to the Moon after the US had abandoned their programme.  The added tension of a possible escape was used pretty well too.

It did seem blindingly obvious to me that the crew member who had stayed behind in the ship was never going to be allowed home.  The easiest solution to him ever spilling the beans seemed to be to not allow his return to Earth.  I'd already said goodbye to him before the Russian ship left the surface.

I did feel a little let down by the aliens.  However, on a low budget it was a clever idea to go small.  They stood up to on-screen scrutiny much better than something a lot bigger.  It would also explain why we hadn't noticed them before.  The idea of some of the aliens having returned to Earth on previous Apollo missions weakened it for me though.  That statement should never have been scrolled across my screen.  It would surely have occurred to the viewer anyway.


I thoroughly enjoyed watching this in the cinema.  I was going to give it 4 pawprints.  But, as I was writing this I started to see flaws I had ignored as I was watching.  I don't think this would stand up to repeated viewings very well.  I am glad I've seen it though and I'd mark it as a Damn Good Effort.  I definitely want to see more of Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego's work.  Mention has to be made of the miniscule budget.  I didn't feel this film looked cheap at all.  I'd lump it in with Moon.  Though not as great a film as Moon.

3.5 out of 5 pawprints

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tome Time - The Death of a Mafia Don by Michele Giuttari

Started August 21st, finished August 24th

This is my favourite so far of this author's books.  Either he is getting better or I'm getting more accustomed to his style.

This is a very Italian crime novel.  Looking into the Mafia and what surrounds them.  The author is still enjoying planting the character he seems to write himself as at the centre of everything in the world he's created.  This irritated me less in this book than the others.  Described these books could sound very similar to the Brunetti series.  In reality I'd say they're very different.  I see this author as an Alpha Male describing himself as he sees himself in these books.  The other characters aren't as well described but that doesn't really cause me problems.

I found this a good story I rolled through quite easily.  I found the final chapters a tad fantastic but I let it go.  The bit I found most irritating was the the consequences of the final chapters wasn't ever looked into.  Maybe in the next book?  This is a fun crime story that can't be read with a critical eye.  Just roll with it.  I wouldn't advise reading this without reading the book prior to this though A Death in Tuscany, as that forms the backbone of a lot of this book.

3.5 pawprints out of 5

Next - The Haunting of Gad's Hall by Norah Lofts

Monday, September 12, 2011

Britfilm - The Inbetweeners Movie (no spoilers)

In the last few months I discovered The Inbetweeners.  I was very late to the party but glad I got on board.  The first series was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time.  We got through the entire series in one night.  I can't remember that many belly laughs in one evening before.  Series two was also hilarious but seemed just a touch less funny.  Still brilliant though.  Series three I enjoyed but didn't feel it was as good as the first two.

I was therefore wondering what I'd get with the film.  Would it be a step too far?  Would taking the lads out of England lose the charm or would a 'lad's holiday' give them the material they needed to get the original spark back?

Well, I suppose it was a bonus that they had a new environment to focus on.  With all the 'traditions' they could use from a lads holiday.

I found the film very enjoyable and I laughed a lot.  Mr Meks felt slightly let down by the predictable parts but I took them as usual in this kind of film.  This is no cinematic masterpiece, it's just a fun watch.  In fact it's pretty much what you'd expect to see from The Inbetweeners on holiday.  It's predictable in parts.  Some of the storylines are believable some aren't.  

I'm not sure how I'd have found the film without knowing the characters from the tv series.  You'd still find parts laugh out loud I imagine but I don't think it would be as good a watch.

Will I ever watch this again?  Probably, when it's on Channel 4.  It's not one I'd go out and buy though.  I can't see what could be gained by a re-watch.  It definitely entertained me and I got my money's worth from the trip to the cinema though.

4 out of 5 pawprints.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tome Time - Dr Who and the Daleks by David Whittaker

Started August 15th, finished August 19th.

This is a read-along with Paul's Target blogging.  It is also the first of the re-released Target novels.  It's teh only one I've bought so far but I'll probably pick more up in time.  Paul gives a good overview of the new editions here.

I remember the weird feeling I had when I first saw the Dr Who story The Daleks.  A strange sense of deja vu.  It took my weak brain a while to figure out why this was.  then it dawned on me.  My childhood viewings of the Cushing films.  I hadn't realised they were lifted from original, unseen by me, scripts.  

I was wary of what I would make of the book from the dual viewing of one story already.  I am a fan of teh second Cushing film but not so much the first.  Even the foreword by Neil Gaiman couldn't ready me for what I found between the pages.  I found the rewriting of the opening scenes off-putting enough.  The real killer for me though was the new Ian Chesterton.  I love Ian Chesterton I don't want him changed by an annoying Roy Castle or a writer who's fiddling.  The revamped Ian and especially his 'will they, won't they?' with a temperamental Barbara was very distracting throughout the tale.  It did neither character any favours if you ask me.  I couldn't understand why the Doctor was sidelined for Ian.  It was a bit like a prior Rose Tyler Show.

The Daleks story is quite long and drawn out.  The 'journey' parts do quite well here, better than the tv or film, at making it seem like a journey.  I just couldn't get into the story though.  The narrative from Ian put me off as well.  I can't understand the Thals reasoning for not taking a stand.  I'm surprised they've evolved at all if that's their viewpoint.  This book is not a highpoint in the Target universe for me.

As for this edition.  It does add something to the books when you get to read about famous DW fans for the Target novels.  I am immensely fond of them and I like to see them praised.  Although Gaiman's intro was hardly going to win over new readers on its own.  I couldn't think what was missing from my copy.  Until I read Paul's blog, it was the Target logo.  I imagine no-one wants to put a defunct and not their own logo on a book.  It would have been nice to see it though :-(  The explanation of the story at the end was useful.  How it put into perspective the aired version vs the novel.  Unfortunately it was a bit of a grind finishing the story so I was weary by the time I got to that.  

All in all, I'm glad teh books have been reprinted.  I won't be reading this one again any time soon though.  I wonder what they've done with Doctor Who and the Cybermen.......

2.5 pawprints out of 5

Next The Death of a Mafia Don by Michele Giuttari

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I miss Ice Magic

One of the fond memories I have of my childhood is Bird's Ice Magic.  It was the perfect Ice Cream topping.  It used science! to make a chocolate sauce that went hard due to the coldness of your ice cream.  You could then crack it with a spoon or if you were really adventurous....  Stir it, really quickly into your ice cream creating your own version of choc-chip.  It came in a cool upside down cone bottle.  The lid then looked like some Ice magic that had been squirted onto ice cream.

The different colours for different flavours.  Chocolate, Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Orange are the ones I can remember.

A Google search suggests that you can get hold of a product called Ice Magic but it's bloody dear and critically, comes in a boring bottle with a flip top lid.

Bird's Ice magic also had a very cool advert for a kid.  The 80's were mainly crappy but there were a few stand out stars.

Yeah, I know that it wasn't the perfect item to live in the cold North West with.  But, you could always run it under the hot tap to get it out of the bottle ;-)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Apes will rise?


I was looking forward to seeing this.  Hearing Andy Serkis interviewed and his enthusiasm for it helped a lot.  The trailer made it look very good and exciting.  The original film is a classic.

The film looked great.  The apes looked fantastic but it isn't new technology anymore, I expected it to be good.  Technically there was nothing wrong with the film for me.  It had Brian Cox, always a bonus.  John Lithgow gave a great performance, heartbreaking.  James Franco was ok.  Didn't rate him, didn't hate him.

The message of the film is pretty sledgehammer.  Nevertheless it struck a nerve with me.  I found the opening scene upsetting.  It's very clever for setting up how you should feel for the rest of the film.  If none of the film is subtle it still worked on me.  Which is unusual, slamming a message into my face usual shuts my empathy down.

My huge problem with the film was its predictability.  You knew what was going to happen and when.  Making the majority of the film drag and drag.  There was an awful lot of stuff you knew was coming for the last payoff of the last 10 minutes.  

I did enjoy the last ten minutes.  Even though they were as predictable as the rest of the film at least there was some excitement.  It ends plausibly for the original film to then come into being.

There are many nods to the original film.  Some clever, some not so clever and one that took me out of the moment.  I missed a few.  Luckily Wikipedia has a nice list of them.

All in all, I couldn't fault the cast.  It looked great.  The apes were much better than I expected.  The predictability was what ruined it for me.  I was bored for a lot of it.  There wasn't a plot point you couldn't see coming.  I can't see me ever sitting through it again.

2.5 pawprints out of 5

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Food Standards Agency Ratings - How clean are your favourite establishments???

I found a link to this via the Manchester Confidential mailout.

I have found it totally addictive.  The Food Standards Agency has put the results of its inspections online.  You can find your local cafe, restaurant, pub and more to see how clean their facilites were when they were inspected.  The scores range from zero to five.  Zero being 'Urgent Improvement Necessary'  and Five 'Very Good'.

I had a good scout around my regular haunts.  Some of the results were quite offputting.  I won't be eating in some of them again.  Luckily though quite a lot scored 4 or 5.

The visits range from very recent to 2 years ago. I'm not sure how often food supplying businesses are checked.

Below is an explanantion.  Go on you know you want to check your local!  This works for England and Wales.  The Scottish have a similar scheme though.

The food safety officer inspecting a business checks how well the business is meeting the law by looking at:
  • how hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored
  • the condition of the structure of the buildings – the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities
  • how the business manages and records what it does to make sure food is safe
At the end of the inspection, the business is given one of the six ratings. The top rating of ‘5’ means that the business was found to have ‘very good’ hygiene standards. Any business should be able to reach this top rating.
The food safety officer will explain to the person who owns or manages the business what improvements are needed and how they can achieve the top rating of '5'. The local authority will check that these improvements are made.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tome Time - Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich

Started August8th, finished August 14th.  312 pages.

I borrowed this one from the local library after heating the author interviewed.  Much was made of his writing the books behind 21 and The Social Network.  I quite enjoyed 21 but can't say it shook me in any way.  I still haven't seen The Social Network.  This book sounded more up my street.

It is the story of a NASA intern who steals a quantity of Moon Rocks.  Now the title should have been a giveaway.  It's gratuitous to say the least.  In the interview the author had defended this saying it wasn't his idea.  Maybe not mate but you still used it.  His style of writing is very sensational.  Even when the story isn't really that exciting.  I couldn't gel with his style.  It didn't help that one chapter never flowed to the next there was always a jump in time and often tone between the end of one and the start of the next.

THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW, rollover to view.

I think the author wants us to sympathise with the subject of the book.  I couldn't.  No, not even his fear for his life and his pretty awful upbringing made me empathise with him.  He's a pretty shitty character really.  Builds his future on his wife's work.  Cheats on wife.  States how he presents a false face to everyone he meets at NASA because he wants to be someone else.  Abuses everyone's trust at NASA who are giving him chances a lot of people would kill for.  Claims it's all for love.  Packs in his teaching of other inmates in prison because he's had 'his heart broken'.  Destroys a man's life work.  This man is a self centred romanticist with a nasty lack of conscience.  The real clincher is the lack of remorse I find between the pages.  I'd describe him as a total French roof.


Don't believe the hype on the cover.  Be put off by the unnecessary gratuitousness of the title.  Look the story of Thad Ryan Roberts up on t'interwebs if you have an interest.  The part of how they pulled off the heist is not going to make a very tense film.  They'll need lots of ominous soundtrack.

2 out of 5 pawprints

Next - Doctor Who and the Daleks by David Whittaker

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Just what you want....

... on your washing as it's drying.


Friday, August 19, 2011

How-To: Build a Cardboard Cat Rocket blog

How-To: Build a Cardboard Cat Rocket blog

Today I found this wondrous cat project thanks to @PixelAddiction on Twitter. I have an abundance of spare cardboard boxes at work. I can see me beginnign this project. My worry is that as with so many other 'great projects' it may never get finished.

Sil and Pawlie surely deserve such a wondrous den though? I could even pipe Space Oddity and Life in Mars into it :-D

Tome Time - The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah

Started July 31st, finished 7th August.  552 pages.

I was lent this book by a friend who really enjoyed it.  I was keen to read it as it was by a local author.

It's best described as a psychological thriller.  It's a hulk of a novel that is definitely very cleverly written.  It takes you through many twists and turns.  Looking back to people's pasts as well as telling the story of their present.  The length of the book gives plenty of time to look into the character's and let them grow on you. The main two characters are well written.  I didn't believe the male characters as I did the female though.  They seemed a little more caricature.  I didn't get a sense of depth with the male figures in the book.  especially the male police officers that pop up here and there.

My downfall with this book was the style of writing.  It's written in a very 'trendy' style and it grated on me somewhat.  It didn't feel natural it felt like a style had been adopted.  This grew less grating as the book went on but never really disappeared.  Because the story is well thought out, clever and quite gripping it didn't manage to spoil the book for me.  I did enjoy the story but I can't see me reading any more of this author's work.  It's not that she's a bad writer, just that the style of writing isn't for me.  I was left satisfied with the ending.  Which is always a worry when a novel is all about the suspense.

3 out of 5 pawprints.

Next - Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You know when...

... you open a book and the first thing you read is...

...that it's going to be interesting :-)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book 52 of the 50 Book Challenge

No Off Switch by Andy Kershaw, 401 pages

Started July 19th, finished July 30th.

I heard Andy Kershaw being interviewed by Richard Bacon about this book.  As he's a local lad I decided to give it a go.

A lot of the sentiments expressed by the author are similar to my own.  I'm impressed by his vast knowledge and immense passion for his music.  His bravery in covering some of the world's most horrible hotspots is commendable.

The problem is the man's arrogance.  It oozes out from every page once he gets on his high horse about something.  The old fashioned case of 'You may be right but I can never condone a case put so smugly and so condescendingly'.  A little bit of charisma goes a long way to help your cause.  A bad attitude, borne before you had a point to make, does not.

Then there's his attitude to women.  It's terrible.  He seems to know this and yet does nothing to improve it through his adult life.  I'd love to like this guy, he has a lot to offer.  Sadly he just comes across as a gobby, chauvinistic, Northerner.  The book is still an interesting read.  Just be prepared for your hackles to frequently lift.

3.5 pawprints out of 5

Total so far, Books - 52, Pages - 15,374 Yeah, made it over 15,000 :-)  Next year I'm going to try a different challenge.  One to expand my horizons.  Maybe read some of those classics I never got around to.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


As with many women I am no stranger to dietary regimes aimed at losing weight.  At one point in my life I lost 25% of my body weight.  Mainly through willpower, with a little help from a site called  That was an excellent site based on calorie counting.  The best part of the site was the forum community.  Always happy to help and great for tips to help you along.  The second best part was their insistence that you could not go down to silly levels of restriction on what you ate.  Unfortunately sticking to a safe level, without enough exercise was my downfall.  I'm very short and that means a smaller amount calories for me than most.  I couldn't lose more than a tiny amount per week without going beyond their 'safe levels'.  There was no accounting for height.

A couple of months ago I bumped into a friend I hadn't seen for a while.  I never thought she had weight to lose in the first place.  Apparently though she'd lost 1 1/2 stone.  As a group we were chatting about it and she'd done it online with WeightWatchers.  I liked the online idea but the WeightWatchers bit put me off.  Further into the discussion I learned that it had changed.  The 'points system' had been revolutionised.  Towards healthier eating rather than just restrictions.  The best bit I heard was that you could eat as much fruit and veg as you wanted.

I went home and looked it up.  Various newspaper reports gave their take on it.  Apparently the 'points' are now calculated differently.  Rather than just taking into account the calories, fat, etc they look at how your body digests the type of food group you're consuming.  The new version of Points is ProPoints.  It seems to me to be geared against Carb's as well as fat.  Bread, potatoes, etc seem quite high in ProPoints.  That means I just eat less bread at one sitting.  Apparently under the old system a Banana was the same points value as a Curly Wurly.  Guess what, this meant people picked the Curly Wurly.  Now a banana has no ProPoints value, it's free.

I've found I can still eat what I want.  Just a little less.  Portion control has been key.  With much less sugary snacks in my life.  The best bit is I can eat enough to still have the energy to go running.  Running is the only exercise I've found that gives back a fair number of ProPoints.  It's a good job it's my main exercise!  I am eating loads more fruit & veg.  Obviously you can't eat fruit all day long and not expect it to have an effect.  I'm eating a fair amount though on top of my ProPoints allowance and I'm still losing.  I'll always be wary of too many bananas.  I save them for a post run snack.

For the first couple of weeks I was getting to know the programme.  I had a few misjudgements on portion size and the like.  It's an easy system to use though.  There's a great App that means I'm never in the dark about what I'm eating if I've got 3G or wi-fi.  There are restaurant guides to average points for if you're eating out.  Overall I'm impressed.  I haven't spent any time on the forums really.  They seem quite new and I'm not feeling the need to chat with others.  They are there though and people are helping each other out.  I think that side of things will grow quite a bit.

Weeks two and three I had the opposite problem.  I'd found enough food low in ProPoints to ensure I never never reached my allotted amount.  I wasn't eating enough.  So I went out and bought some nice snacks to fill the gaps.  I think now I have it sussed.

I get 29 ProPoints a day that I cannot 'rollover' from one day to the next.  On top of that I have 49 weekly ProPoints for use whenever I feel like a treat or if I go out for a meal.  When I run, I get more ProPoints that can be rolled over.  Running is great for wine enabling ProPoints :-)

In the six weeks I've stuck to the plan my skin's improved and I've lost 7lbs.  Before I started the plan I was running but eating more than I'd earnt in compensation.  The Structure of this and the focus on healthy and filling foods has given just what I need to get healthy.  Without miserably starving myself for a fortnight, then splurging only to try again a month later.  This is by far the healthiest, most sensible of the big name diet plans I've seen.  Hopefully more will push towards this kind of lifestyle rather than limiting your food groups or starving yourself.

I'm hoping to use this to get me to a healthy weight and keep me there.  I'm too old to keep promising myself I'll get on it tomorrow.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book 51 of the 50 Book Challenge

More Cat Tales from Moon Cottage by Marilyn Edwards, 282 pages

Started June 30th, finished July 29th

As the first book in this series was a perfect titbit book I opted for more.  It is just as says on the cover more tales about the author's cats.  If you're a cat lover you'll recognise plenty in this book.  If you're not a cat lover it's probably not for you.

I enjoyed reading it and I've ordered the next in the series.  There's not much to say other than what the title describes.  It's a quick, fun read.  I'm unsure I'll read it again but I'm glad to have discovered the series.

3.5 out of 5 pawprints

Total, Books - 51, Pages - 14,973 Just short of 15,000!

Next - No Off Switch by Andy Kershaw