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Food, glorious food!

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Food Festivals and Farmers’ Markets – Caroline James explains why she loves them

Food Festivals & Farmers Markets It's festival time again in the foodie world and farmers' markets are blossoming as the weather ...

Bookshelf Reviews


Bookshelf Reviews – April News and LLm Reviews

  Neurotically Yours by Bonnie Trachtenberg Genre: Romantic Comedy   Smart, attra...

People with a passion!

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Mirror, mirror on the wall … make your home the fairest of them all!

Whether it's inside, or out, a mirror can totally transform a space. [caption id="attachment_4589" align="aligncenter" width="584"] A ch...

In Search of a Happy Ending


The Case of the Disappearing Date

Q. I’m a 25-year-old woman who lives in a big city where it should be easy to find a mate. Unfortunately, though, I’m finding it almost im...

Lifestyle contributor

mirror wardrobes (350x261)

Mirror, mirror on the wall … make your home the fairest of them all!

Whether it's inside, or out, a mirror can totally transform a space. [caption id="attachment_4589" align="aligncenter" width="584"] A ch...

Mirror, mirror on the wall … make your home the fairest of them all!

Home by Design with Linn B Halton (1280x405)Whether it’s inside, or out, a mirror can totally

transform a space.

Mirrors bathroom

A chunky, rustic frame for this feature and it has been placed to reflect a row of smaller mirrors. This brings additional light into this tiny, cottage bathroom.


Mirrors open up a small space, making a room feel bigger and brighter. Alternatively, in a large space it can become a feature and focal point. There are, however, a few basic rules you need to consider before you get out the screws, raw plugs, and drill.

It’s as easy as a, b, c… there are just three simple things you need to consider:

a) What will your mirror be reflecting? If it’s something that doesn’t please the eye, or bring in light, then think about placing it on another wall.

b) Style of mirror – is it a feature, i.e. are the frame and size important? Or do you simply want something to make the space feel bigger, so a frameless mirror would actually look better.

c) Horizontal, vertical … a collection of small mirrors? Choices, choices, choices. Think about what you are trying to achieve. Horizontal hanging tends to make the space feel wider, vertical hanging will make it feel taller. So if you have very high ceilings consider placing the mirror horizontally to play down the height and play up the width, bringing things back into perspective a little. If there’s nothing to reflect aside from another blank wall, for example in a narrow corridor, then hang a group of small mirrors in a square or oblong shape. For added effect, do the same on the opposite wall.

Here are some examples of what can be achieved:

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Mirror no. 1. Low ceiling height and a room size of 9′ x 9′ - the mirror is hung portrait-style to make a feature of the corner AND balance the proportions.

Mirror no. 2. A single bedroom in a cottage in the UK. The mirrored wardrobes reflect light, as well as the features in this room. A heavy, silver-framed mirror in keeping with the period, and contrasting with the modern décor, sets off the cast-iron fireplace. Reflected in the mirrored doors, this room feels much larger and brighter.

Mirror no. 3. The same mirror-fronted wardrobes in a new build home. It has the effect of widening what is a long, but narrow, room.

Mirror no. 4. There’s not a lot to reflect aside from some light from an adjacent window, but here the shape and texture are important to create a feature.

A note about mirrored wardrobes. They can really help make a small, or narrow room feel more spacious. However, remember that whatever the mirrors reflect should be uncluttered, or it will be like putting all that clutter under a magnifying glass! According to one of the basic principles of Feng Shui it’s also not good to be able to see yourself whilst lying in bed. There are two options – at night, stack the spare comforter, pillows, etc. at the foot of the bed, OR place some crystals at the foot to help diffuse the effect of any negative energy.

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Mirror no. 5. A small media room that has interesting views from the window. The mirror has been placed opposite it and in summer will reflect a myriad of tree foliage.

Mirror no. 6. A modern house with only a view of a tiny cul-de-sac. The mirror has been put on an adjacent wall so that it can still reflect the light coming in from the window,  but the main reflection is the glossy white cabinet and French doors to the side of it.

Mirror no. 7. Add something small, but unusual to create interest. Remember to keep it simple though, as the reflection doubles up whatever you display in front of the mirror.

Mirror no. 8. This slightly dark sitting room has low ceilings and two narrow sets of doors opening in from a light, bright conservatory. The placement of the mirror captures the brightness beyond and with sweeping forest views from the conservatory windows it will reflect the seasons, making a perfect feature.

Let’s take it outside…

Be adventurous! You can buy mirrors suitable for use in the garden or, alternatively, find an inexpensive mirror and paint it a fun colour. It might only last a year or two – longer if you sand and re-paint the frame and also ‘seal’ the back with mastic so the water can’t seep in. Either way, it can make a small garden seem larger or it can add interest. Same principles apply – position your mirror where it will reflect something that is lovely to look at.

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Here mirrors are used to a) make the space look larger and b) hide an oil tank

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Pretty In Pink—It’s Flirty Fashion For Spring!

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photo credit: via photopin cc

I’ve been waiting to write this post because I’ve been waiting for spring! After so many weeks here in the northeastern US with below zero temps, I want to see the sun and soak up some Vitamin D.

This picture on the right? Totally not me, by the way. You get the idea, though, right? We need some sun!

Spring is finally here! So why not kick off the season with a look at fashion for spring 2014?

Pretty Pastels

It’s no surprise that pastels are in this spring—they always seem to be once we shed those heavy winter maroon sweaters. Sweet frocks adorned in lace will make you shine in hues of lavender, mint, and buttercup. Partner those with a cool satchel and hip, movie-star sunglasses. Plus, don’t forget flowered jewelry and sweet shoes to perk up your outfit.

Pretty Pastels

Untold lacy dress
$190 -

J Mendel long sleeve top
$2,925 -

Mango grey coat
$250 -

Aldo necklace

Miu miu sunglasses


Boxy Jackets

Everything seems to be an Eighties throwback lately and jackets are no different. Check out cool jean jackets and zippered leather to enhance your spring flings.

Boxy Jackets

Urban Renewal jean jacket


Fun & Flirty

It’s time to get your bomber jackets back out! Woot! Bombers in everything from leather to satin will compliment trouser slacks. Add patterned sweaters to tea-length skirts. And don’t forget fab pastels partnered with button-down shirts and fun chucks!

Flirty & Fun


Filles A Papa shirts top
$250 -

Burnout tee
$25 -

Topshop black top

Collar leather jacket
$125 -

Tome tea length skirt

Converse blue canvas shoes
$83 -

Wood home decor

Personalized home decor

Laura Ashley clock
$52 -


The New Black

Tired of drab blacks and grays? Make way for the new black. Shades of orange will be all the rage this spring as a replacement for the little black dress. Check out this shade in fun flats, belts, bags, and pants.

The New Black

Orange jacket

MARC CAIN orange pants
$48 -

Cheap Monday flat
$100 -

Wrap bracelet

Well, there you have it. Some fashion trends for spring. I’d show you more, but it’s time to pack my winter clothes away. Welcome spring and happy shopping!



Can’t resist a man in a suit … what’s stopping you guys?

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 Visit  the Bonobos suit collection:

Interview by Linn B Halton

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Outdoor Concerts

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After a long, cold winter the prospect of getting out into the great outdoors is most welcome, especially once the outdoor concert season begins. There’s nothing like sitting on a blanket or in your lawn chair at one of these events. It can be rock, country or even classical music – a single group or a weekend festival with numerous performers such as England’s Glastonbury and in Scotland’s T in the Park.

Some of the best outdoor concert venues in the world are:

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver, Colorado, USA

outdoor concert

By Brian W. Schaller (Own work) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Greek Theater, Epidaurus, Greece

(WT-shared) Digr at wts wikivoyage [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Meredith Supernatural Amphitheater in Victoria, Australia

By MMF Pty Ltd (Meredith Music Festival) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It doesn’t have to be a huge amphitheater to make an outdoor concert memorable. There are many smaller locations that are just as enjoyable – and maybe even more so. Local parks offer free to inexpensive options for an afternoon/evening of music.

outdoor concert gazebo bandshell

By Teemu008 from Palatine, Illinois (Woodstock Town Square Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The gazebo styled band shell in the photo above is similar to the one in Hardy Park in my hometown. But even without a ‘stage’, a band or orchestra can set up and play.

The next time you’re out and about and hear the strains of music floating through the air, check out the source. You could be pleasantly surprised.

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Celtic Connexions Blog

Facebook Author Page

@RobertsoKing on Twitter

Available for purchase from 4RV Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bricks ‘n mortar locations.

Livin’ La Vida Nashville – Country 2 Country 2014

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Howdy y’all! Here I am, back from another amazing trip to the Country 2 Country music festival at the O2 arena, London.

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I am a huge country music fan and last year I dragged my husband, Mr Big, along with me to the very first festival. He is far more Guns ‘n’ Roses than Rascal Flatts and he wasn’t sure what to expect BUT he absolutely loved it and needed no persuasion to come this time!

During the day the O2 is turned into a mini town with stalls selling everything from leather goods to jewellery, denim to diamantes and some combining all of those!

Mandy 14 cowboy boots

                                                                                    Boots from Vintage Cowboy

Around the stalls and in between the restaurants and bars are pop-up stages presenting the cream of country talent from the UK and further afield. The fantastic Raintown were there…

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plus US duo, Striking Matches, who have had a number of their songs featured in the TV show, Nashville.

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Check out this video of their latest single ‘Trouble Is As Trouble Does’.

Day one in the main arena featured performances from Martina McBride, Dierks Bentley, The Dixie Chicks and The Zac Brown Band. It was so wonderful to see a sold-out crowd, proving that country music has found its new home in the UK. YAY!

Day two and I had my red carpet Country Music Awards style photo shoot.

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 And was treated to more spectacular music on the pop-up stages. Here are Ward Thomas and Curran.

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I was in my flip-flops by this stage because all the walking and dancing and generally hoedown merrymaking plays havoc with your feet. And of course it’s easier not to have anything with a heel when you’re drinking all those beers!

The entertainment in the main arena on day two was provided by the gorgeous Chris Young, The Band Perry, Rascal Flatts and the fantastic Brad Paisley. All country music greats in my opinion.

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Rascal Flatts

All in all it was another EXCELLENT weekend and if you need any more tempting into going in 2015 here is a little video of the Country 2 Country highlights.

Me and Mr Big


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Bookshelf Reviews – April News and LLm Reviews

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Neurotically Yours

by Bonnie Trachtenberg

Genre: Romantic Comedy


Smart, attractive, and ambitious, thirty-seven-year-old Dara Harrison is, nonetheless, still single—and on sabbatical from dating. Ironically Los Angeles’ most renowned relationship advice columnist, Dara has become a Southland sensation with her “tell-it-like-it-is” approach to the mating game. When Dara launches a revolutionary dating service geared for the perennially single and romantically challenged, its no-holds-barred theme soon makes the company a roaring success, even catapulting Dara onto the national talk show scene—until, of course, it all backfires!

Kate at MeMyBooksandI says: “The writing style was captivating and kept pulling me back for more, making this a quick read for me.  I became totally caught up in the day-to-day running of the dating service and also in each of the character’s lives – the drama that seemed to follow them all was an added bonus! This was a thoroughly enjoyable, easy read with some touching moments thrown in too.  I look forward to reading more from this author.”

Neomie at Best Chick Lit also enthused: “I really recommend this book to anyone, because it does have wide appeal and would sit comfortably in more than one genre. It is a rounded and fun read giving me the giggles one minute and leaving me exasperated with the main character making me want to shout in pantomime style “he’s right here for goodness sake!!” the next. This book is a definite keeper.”


The Promise of Provence

by Patricia Sands

Genre: Contemporary Fiction



June in Provence is full of promise when Katherine arrives from Canada, eager to feel renewed by her surroundings. Endless rows of lavender prepare to burst into pink and purple blooms. Fields of sunflowers flow in golden waves among vineyards and olive groves. Ancient hilltop villages beckon. It’s the postcard setting she envisioned, but is that all she needs?

Heidi at Cosmochicklitian says: “I really loved the idea that The Promise of Provence explores the life of an “older” person and not someone in their twenties or thirties that you encounter in most books. Although Katherine is young at heart, I had to keep reminding myself that she faces completely different obstacles than a younger person would. The Promise of Provence evoked a feeling of wanderlust in me. I always wanted to visit France, but even more so now after reading about this breath-taking and beautiful region in this book.”

Kate at MeMyBooksandI commented: “Katherine’s emotions jumped out at me.  She was a character who I easily connected with and enjoyed following her as she faced lots of difficult decisions.  The main feeling I got from the storyline was all about learning to move on with life when massive changes are thrown at you, there was a strong sense of hope radiating from the pages. This was a book that left me with a smile on my face and the strong desire to visit France!”


The Wind Weeps

By Anneli Purchase

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

 The Wind Weeps


Andrea leaves big-city boredom in Ontario to search for love and adventure on B.C.’s rugged coast. The love of two men and a woman leads her into the world of commercial fishing. She is drawn into a rough life alternating between savage beauty and serenity. But when adventure turns to terror, and Andrea’s survival is threatened, will her newly acquired wilderness skills be enough to save her life? The Wind Weeps is a pure Canadian tale of love, betrayal, and triumph, told with gusto, humour, and bold insight.

Susan at Fascinating Books says: “This is a well-written story of how our decisions affect our lives and the people we come in contact with.  Anneli Purchase has woven the captivating tale of Andrea’s life into a masterful cloth.  The reader is drawn in and becomes part of the story.  A superb, unputdownable read!”

Shannon’s Law

By Emma Calin

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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Wild child inner city cop Shannon Aguerri walks a dangerous line between her methods and justice. When the bosses lose their nerve, she is transferred to green pastures to play out the role of a routine village cop. In Fleetworth-Green she encounters signs of people and drug trafficking and homes in on serious millionaire criminals. Please note: This book contains joyful explicit sex between adults in a consenting relationship. There is also strong language in high-stress police confrontations with criminals.

JB at Brook Cottage Books says: “Shannon’s law is fast paced from start to finish. Shannon is a strong willed female character and takes no nonsense from anyone. She is tough but fair and I liked that side of her. We get to see her vulnerable side where the Earl is concerned and she is unsure of her place in his world. At the heart of the book is a love story between two very different people who society would not expect to be together. There are some very very racy sex scenes in the book which are quite explicit and had me heading for a cold shower! An enjoyable read.”

Nikki at Books4U agrees: “The story is fast paced and it had me gripped from the very beginning. I liked Shannon as a character. There are strong scenes of an adult nature in this book and they seem to jump out of you just when you are getting into the storyline. If you are into erotica you will like these kinds of scenes and find them sensational.”

Kate at MeMyBooksandI included these comments in her review: “Shannon was a brilliant character, she was very strong and feisty, some of her comments had me laughing out loud! The criminal side of things was really interesting for me. I felt like a detective as I tried to solve the case alongside Shannon. A heart-pounding rescue mission was one of my favourite parts of the book. Once again there were times when I found the author’s writing style to be almost poetic, especially the romantic/steamy/sexual scenes.  Shannon’s sexual encounters were described in detail so please bear this in mind when you choose to read this book – it may not suit everyone’s tastes. Another enjoyable read from Emma Calin, romantic and sexy with a twist of police action!”


 Learning to Love

By Sheryl Browne

Genre: Romantic Comedy

 learning to love


Widower, Dr David Adams, has recently moved to the village where no one knows him, to start afresh with his ten-year-old son. Angry and withdrawn, Jake blames his dad for the death of his mother and David doesn’t know how to reach him. Andrea Kelly has too many balls in the air. With three children and a “nuts” mother to care for, her fiancé can’t fathom why she wants to throw something else into the mix and change her career. Surely she already has too much on her plate? When Andrea’s house burns mysteriously to the ground and Andrea and her entourage are forced to move in with the enigmatic Dr Adams, the village drums soon start beating, fuel aplenty when it turns out someone does know him – the woman carrying his baby.

Jo at CometBabesBooks says: “The book flows along nicely as you get to know both Andrea and David, with added bits of their children along the way.  There is a colourful array of other characters; Sally and Eve are the main ones that stand out. The author tells you the story from both Andrea’s and David’s point of view and also hints that things may not be as they seem with Jonathan but leaves you hanging with questions. I enjoyed the book and the back story. It is nice read. The main characters are easily likable. Jonathan had made mistakes and I certainly didn’t feel sorry for him. There was little bit of a twist to the story. It was well set up.”

Fran at ReviewedByFran said of Learning to Love: “Sheryl has done a fantastic job with this book. The main character Andrea is very well written, making the reader understand Andrea’s life struggles. At the start of the book I had an instant dislike to Jonathan, but I didn’t know why. I loved this. It made me want to read on to see what he had been up to. The book examines relationship, family, and friends in such a realistic way. Friendships of neighbours are examined and the reactions of a community rallying around to support the family was lovely to read, something you may not see in the large communities these days. It’s a great easy read that I would definitely recommend!”

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Brought to you by Janice Horton

Hopeless Romantics: The Film Fatales Pick Their Favorite Cinematic Sagas of Love

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We may be two of the most sarcastic broads to live and breathe, but — believe it or not – we both often fall victim to the sappier side of ourselves and enjoy a romantic movie, or two, or three, now and again. We know… We know… You’re probably thinking that’s just not possible. Oh, but it is. And, here’s the proof: We’re listing our favorite cinematic romances. (And, by the way, we’re very interested in what your picks are. So, remember to add your own list in the comments section of this post.)

elizabeth’s Favorite Romantic Movies

way we wereThe Way We Were
Starring Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand

Two desperate people have a wonderful romance, but their political views and convictions drive them apart. (IMDb)

There is such an interesting storyline in this flick besides the freaking chemistry between Bob and Babs. People in Hollywood were being blacklisted for their beliefs and while Katie made waves, Hubbell just wanted smooth sailing in their lives. That ultimately doomed these lovers. I didn’t believe for a sec that their love wouldn’t last a lifetime even after Katie stopped getting her hair ironed. And, the one scene that was rumored to have Redford sans clothing in bed – well, let me just say that the thought of it kept me warm in winter.  I am ready to be hosed down.

annie hall

Annie Hall
Starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton
Neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer falls in love with the ditsy Annie Hall. (IMDb)
You can’t live in New York City and not want to be in a Woody Allen movie. His love affair with the city was evident in every movie filmed there and Allen always framed her in the best light possible–which made for such a wonderful backdrop for the two neurotic lovers. I loved the dialogue, the music, Keaton wearing ties, and that line that runs through my head nearly every day – La Di La. As a New Yorker, I wanted their life – right up to their painful breakup. I have had my own breakups. Thank you very much.

an affair to rememberAn Affair to Remember
Starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr
A couple falls in love and agrees to meet in six months at the Empire State Building – but will it happen? (IMDb)
This was my first intro to romance on the screen. Every year my mother and older sister cried their eyes out at the end of this movie. Once I started to wear a bra, I got it. Boys might be a good thing. Here we are in New York City again and after meeting on a cruise, Nicky Ferrante and Terry McKay make a pact to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months. Why six months? Because they are engaged to other people. Will they show up or will some tragedy keep them apart? I’m not telling. Rent the movie, but do not forget the hankies.

love actuallyLove Actually
Starring  Hugh Grant , Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy and Rowan Atkinson

Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their love lives in various loosely interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England. (IMDb)
Look at this cast – it is like a who’s who of the men I would run away with. Except for Rowan – that man scares me to death. He is like a circus clown without the red nose. Me and Circuses – read all about it when my memoir comes out. This movie is so charming and even writing about it leaves me grinning ear to ear. It’s all about finding love, falling in love, and reminding us all that love is supposed to take our breaths away and make a mockery out of our knocking knees. I don’t care–can one of you gents call me?

breakfast at tiffanysBreakfast at Tiffany’s
Starring Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard and the cat
A young New York socialite becomes interested in a young man who has moved into her apartment building.(IMDb)
I have to say that this movie‘s plot is so thick with twists and turns that it left me wondering how the hell did they found love? But love does triumph in the end. I hope they never do a remake of this movie because there is only one Holly Golightly and Hepburn has the rights to that role forever.  The fashion was just so chic and cool and speaking of cool, Peppard’s performance was of a blocked writer falling in love, but he was careful to wait till Holly came to her senses. So cool.

last of the mohicans

The Last of the Mohicans
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe
Three trappers protect a British Colonel’s daughters in the midst of the French and Indian War.(IMDb)
This movie had a very strong storyline and it keeps your pulse racing through most of it because it pins love against war. Okay, who am I kidding? Great movie, but the racing of the pulses had to come from Daniel Day-Lewis running, sitting, speaking, breathing. Let’s bring back long hair for men. Do it for me. And it was an excellent movie. Blah, blah, blah.

bridget jones diaryBridget  Jones’ Diary
Starring Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, and Colin Firth
A British woman is determined to improve herself while she looks for love in a year in which she keeps a personal diary.(IMDb)
This movie is about telling the truth. We women are imperfect creatures who are looking for love. We make massive mistakes and we do it all in the name of love. And some of us keep a journal. Burning mine right now. Zellweger is the Every Woman plotting to find Mr. Right or Mr. Right for Right Now. She gets to play with Colin Firth and Hugh Grant and she wears grandma underwear.  It was a nearly perfect romantic comedy except for that dreadful Christmas sweater that Mr. Darcy, that is Firth’s Mark Darcy donned. But truth be told – he can wear anything.

touch of minkThat Touch of Mink
Starring Cary Grant and Doris Day
A rich businessman and a young woman are attracted to each other, but he only wants an affair while she wants to save her virginity for marriage. (IMDb)
Sometimes it is fun to just go back in time and find a silly jewel like a Touch of Mink. You know the boy will get the girl in the end so why does she keep fighting? Because this is the time of twin beds and no sex before marriage. You know, like life in the 21st century. Exactly. Cary Grant and Doris Day do make for a very likeable pair in this cat and mouse chase. Let’s face it – if Cary Grant showed up in a Rolls Royce and splashed me with mud, I would just jump into the back seat and pop open a bottle of his best champagne.

hannah and her sistersHannah and Her Sisters
Staring Woody Allen, Barbra Hershey, Michael Caine, and Diane Wiest
Between two Thanksgivings, Hannah’s husband falls in love with her sister Lee, while her hypochondriac ex-husband rekindles his relationship with her sister Holly.(IMDb)
Woody Allen’s movies make me joyful when he sticks to the foibles that befall his characters and their ability or inability to get love right. Watching people fall in love on the screen is not like being bumped on the head – it is more like a soft kiss on the lips because I think Allen wants you to be there when it happens. The dialogue, the funky fashion and his love of NYC are so evident in this movie. And I always found the young Allen to be kind of sexy. There I said it!

harold and maudeHarold and Maude
Starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort
Young, rich, and obsessed with death, Harold finds himself changed forever when he meets lively septuagenarian Maude at a funeral. (IMDb)
If this post just gets a few people to rent this movie, then I will be happy. It is not your typical love story, but it does make you believe in the wonderment of two souls finding each other at the exact right times in their lives. Love should teach us a thing or two about life, and Gordon’s brilliant portrayal of Maude comes to the rescue and saves Cort’s Harold from thinking of ending his life sooner than necessary.

Nicole’s Favorite Romantic Movies

when harry met sallyWhen Harry Met Sally
Starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal
Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship. [IMDb]
The perfect and wonderful combination of humor and sentiment. Well, what else could you expect from Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner? This movie is the benchmark for all modern romantic comedies. The chemistry between Ryan and Crystal (the odd couple) is delightful; they play off each other so well…making that final New Year’s Eve scene all the more fulfilling. I could literally watch this movie every day and never tire of it.

wuthering heightsWuthering Heights (1992)
Starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche
A man becomes obsessed with vengeance when his soul mate marries another man. [IMDb]
What I love about this adaptation is its loyalty to the source material. The filmmakers were very careful not to stray. When I read Wuthering Heights, I picture Fiennes and Binoche as Heathcliff and Cathy—they are so well matched. But it’s Fiennes’ intensity that will remain poignant for me. His reaction to Cathy’s death is burned in my memory…the second that scene begins, I’m already weeping like a spineless romantic fool.

pride and predjudicePride & Prejudice (2005)
Starring Kiera Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen
Sparks fly when spirited Elizabeth Bennet meets single, rich, and proud Mr. Darcy. But Mr. Darcy reluctantly finds himself falling in love with a woman beneath his class. Can each overcome their own pride and prejudice? [IMDb]
Believe it or not, I much prefer this version over the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle one. Crazy, huh? I think it has everything to do with that scene in the field near the Bennet homestead. How Darcy is walking with such distinct purpose with the sun rising at his back…and how he utters those words: “You have bewitched me body and soul and I love…I love… I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.” Sigh… Just put it on a loop and I’ll sit there gladly swooning.

age of innocenceThe Age of Innocence
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Michele Pfeiffer
Tale of 19th century New York high society in which a young lawyer falls in love with a woman separated from her husband, while he is engaged to the woman’s cousin. [IMDb]
OMG. I can’t. I just can’t even. The exquisite torture of Day-Lewis’ Newland Archer kills me without mercy during each repeated viewing. Can anyone ever get the coach scene, when he unbuttons her glove and has at her wrist, out of their head? Or, the scene in the parlor when they collapse on each other realizing their fate as star-crossed, unrequited lovers? Dear God… I will never, ever get over it. And, I don’t want to.

philadelphia storyThe Philadelphia Story
Starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant
When a rich woman’s ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself. [IMDb]
Name me a man more perfect than Cary Grant; I dare you. There is none. Don’t argue with me. Period. But, let’s examine for a minute why Cary Grant is so perfect: he wasn’t afraid to be slapstick then turn on a dime and sweep a woman off her feet with his irresistible charm. Is it any wonder then why Tracy Lord tosses aside two quite dashing suitors for C.K. Dexter Haven—for the second time? No, there’s no questioning her choice whatsoever.

out of africaOut of Africa
Starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford
In 20th century colonial Kenya, a Danish baroness/plantation owner has a passionate love affair with a free-sprited big-game hunter. [IMDb]
Who knew something as simple a man helping a woman wash her hair could be so heart-piercingly romantic? Of course, it helps a tremendous deal when that man happens to be Robert Redford. The chemistry between Streep and Redford is palpable. And, it’s heartbreaking. I don’t think I will ever be able to watch those final scenes without keeping myself in one piece.

bridges of madison countyThe Bridges of Madison County
Starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep
Photographer Robert Kincaid wanders into the life of housewife Francesca Johnson, for four days in the 1960s. [IMDb]
I will preface this by saying Robert Redford was supposed to play Clint Eastwood’s part, and for that reason it would have been an infinitely better movie than it is. Still, it’s a pretty damn romantic movie. And Streep is just so wonderful as the conflicted and lovelorn Francesca. Your heart bleeds for the choice she must make.

sleepless in seattleSleepless in Seattle
Starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks
A recently-widowed man’s son calls a radio talk show in an attempt to find his father a partner. [IMDb]
This movie totally ruined me for reality. Laugh, go ahead. It’s true. A part of me still believes in this soul mate crap. (Oh, let’s face it, a part of me always will.) And, Ryan and Hanks – though they share very little screen time in this film – are infectiously adorable as two people drawn to each other by the hands of fate.

end of the affairThe End of the Affair
Starring Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea, and Ralph Fiennes

On a rainy London night in 1946, novelist Maurice Bendrix has a chance meeting with Henry Miles, husband of his ex-mistress Sarah, who abruptly ended their affair two years before. [IMDb]
Adapted from the titular Graham Greene novel, and relatively loyally done, this is one of the most complicated love triangles to ever grace the silver screen. Actually, you might call it a love quadrangle, because Sarah has another being she’s devoted to (in addition to her husband Henry and her lover Miles)…God. Your heart bleeds for Fienne’s Maurice, whose love for Sarah is filled with both conflicted anger and tortured obsession. The Blitz scene is certainly difficult to loose from your mind.

room with a view

A Room with a View
Starring Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands
When Lucy Honeychurch and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without views, fellow guests Mr. Emerson and son George step in to remedy the situation. [IMDb]
Find me one woman on this planet who doesn’t swoon when Lucy happens into the poppy-strewn wheat field where George is admiring the Tuscan vista…catches sight of her, and lies upon her one of cinematic history’s most romantic kisses. The woman who is not made wobbly in the knees by this scene simply does not exist. Or, if she does, she’s dead inside.

So—what say you?
Tell us what your top Romantic Movies are in the comments section.
We’re anxious to read your responses.

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Watch out for the trees…!

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One bag? Really? Come fly with me!

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 As everyone who knows me is aware, I LOVE TO TRAVEL.

a2eefb4a646cf791b3114b1629b918e6It does not matter how near or far, by what means of transportation, or how long we are staying away. Give me the word and I’ll be packed in a flash and ready for the adventure!

I hope some of the lessons I’ve learned during fifty years of travel will be of interest to you.

There appears to be ongoing debate about how to pack our clothes.

Bundling? Rolling? Flat?

I found bundling really annoying unless everything was going to be unpacked immediately. In that case, it might be a good choice for some but I don’t find it saves much space. Looking for items in a bundling-packed bag didn’t work for me.

My preference is to pack flat and tuck shoes around the edges of my case. I also like to use the plastic vacuum bags for t-shirts, sweaters, beachwear and lingerie. They allow me to put more in my bag but be careful not to use too many or your bag may be overweight. The air gets squeezed out for more efficient packing but the weight of the clothes remains the same. I learned that lesson the hard way!

I always pack an extra plastic vacuum bag to bring home laundry and one of those fold-up-into-nothing duffel bags I can use on the return trip in case my retail therapy gets out of control!

Clear plastic baggies are my choice for toiletries and travel jewelry (never take your good baubles!) and other small items, such as electronics. That way everything is easy to locate and it also keeps most of the customs officials in a better frame of mind ~ less ‘stuff’ to unpack and repack.

UnknownIn the last few years my husband and I have tried, as often as possible, to each travel with a carry-on and a computer backpack, the latter having room for cameras, tablets, etc. I’m amazed how well it works – particularly if we are going to be staying where laundry can easily be done. We find it’s such a freeing feeling to have all we need when we get off the plane and not have to wait around for luggage.

If we are moving on to more travel by train or ferry, we are always glad to be unencumbered by more bags.

Remember you can take only small quantities of gels, creams, toothpaste, etc. I’m not going to talk about those. We buy what we need when we get to our destination.

The following is my basic packing technique.

The first thing I do is make a list and decide on a colour combination. I generally stick to black, white, and one bright colour of bottoms in the summer and black and gray for colder climes.

For a two week basic trip (spring/summer/fall) with no sports involved and laundry access – 5 bottoms (wear one on plane), including one pair of jeans and one pair dress slacks, 2 tops per bottom (most of which will work with all bottoms), two sweaters, one light dress, one shawl (can be dressy), one all-weather jacket with hood (which I may end up carrying on the plane). 7 pairs undies, 2 bras. 2 light pjs. 1 crushable hat. If I think I will need it, I will pack one bathing suit + sarong. Flip-flops for beach. Walking sandals or running shoes. 1 or 2 pair of casual/dressy shoes. On the plane I wear comfy flats. One fold-up umbrella.



Travel to cold places or in winter, calls for different planning and we always end up taking one suitcase between us, as well as our carry-on. Trips that involve tennis, golf, etc., have their own special challenges. I’ll leave that for another time.

With cell phones becoming so versatile these days, there are some items we used to pack (flashlight, gps, dictionary, travel guides, maps, alarm clock) that are now apps on the phone.

Extra essentials: adapters, phone chargers, plug converters, sewing kit, small Swiss army knife, bandaids, antiseptic cream, small hand sanitizer and wipes. Don’t forget your medications.

We also like to take small but high-powered binoculars, but that’s just us!

Be sure to keep copies of your passport, health card and credit cards in a safe place and leave copies with someone at home as well. Take out travel insurance.

Traveling light reduces stress and makes globe-trotting 9dd87fe39d3bf192be0d7447ace4a143all the more enjoyable. Happy trails! Bon voyage!

In case I haven’t answered all your questions, here are a couple of good travel info links:

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The Case of the Disappearing Date

Q. I’m a 25-year-old woman who lives in a big city where it should be easy to find a mate. Unfortunately, though, I’m finding it almost impossible. I’m attractive enough that I can get dates pretty easily, but they don’t ever turn into solid relationships, even when I think they are going really well. For example, I recently dated a man I met at a restaurant. He was so attentive and seemed very interested at first. I went out with him four times. We kissed a lot, but didn’t have sex. He told me how pretty I was, and how much he liked me. Then, out of nowhere, he stopped calling and texting. It’s not like he was pressuring me for sex and I said no, either. This is not an uncommon occurrence. It’s happened not only to me many times, but to several of my friends. We are baffled. We know there is supposedly a man shortage, but does that mean that they just all want to play like kids in a candy shop? Any ideas on what these men are thinking, or if they are thinking at all?

A. Well, I guess things haven’t changed much in the last 20 years, unfortunately. Yes, I’ve been a “victim” of the mysterious, disappearing man, too. In fact, this “common occurrence” is probably even more pervasive than you might think. I have two bits of good news. The first: My many experiences have afforded me a more useful perspective I can now share with you. The second: I finally found a man who never stopped calling so they do exist!

There are many reasons a man who seems interested in you may suddenly go astray. Here are my TOP 10:

1. There’s someone else in his life you don’t know about.

2. He’s got too much going on right now to get involved more seriously.

3. He’s starting to have real feelings and is too frightened to pursue them.

4. He’s unsure of his feelings (or yours) and stepping back out of fear.

5. He likes you, but not romantically, and wants to avoid confrontation about it.

6. He’s selfish and doesn’t think beyond his own desires at any given moment.

7. He’s inconsiderate and unreliable, in which case, good riddance to bad rubbish.

8. He may have realized before you did that you’re just not right for each other.

9. He likes to keep things light and fun and sensed you wanted something more serious.

10. He’s been abducted by a UFO.

Whichever one of these reasons makes you feel the best, grab onto it and assume that’s the right one, because ultimately it really doesn’t matter why he never called you back. The fact that he didn’t means he wasn’t Mr. Right.


Read more advice from Bonnie HERE

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Fly-fishing: An Addiction

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Morning comes early for the fly fisherman. Everything has been laid out the night before: chest waders, boots, vest, stripping basket, Sage fly rod, net, Islander reel. His boxes of flies, leaders, and tippet materials are packed into the vest pockets. Even the little lycra finger sock is packed. It will protect his index finger against line cuts from continuous abrasion as he retrieves the fishing line repeatedly.

He tucks a small waterproof camera into his vest and fastens the band for his headlamp. It comes in handy for lighting his way along the riverbank on days he prefers to fish the river mouth. He must truly love fly-fishing to risk running into black bears who compete for salmon there.

On one occasion he surprised two of the bruins who, fortunately for him, lumbered off into the woods at his approach, the one with a silvery salmon in his jaws throwing him a resentful look over his shoulder.

But today the headlamp helps him find his skiff at the beach just before dawn. He’ll take a run towards the opening of the inlet that reaches inland from the Pacific.


Photo by Anneli

He anchors the skiff near the shore and steps into the water, hoping he hasn’t misjudged the depth. It wouldn’t be the first time his chest waders have taken on water when he has stepped into a hole or slipped on a rock.

In the early morning light, everything is a shade of blue or green. He takes a deep breath. The tiniest hint of outboard motor gas will soon dissipate leaving only clean fresh sea air with a tang of salt and iodine from the beach. The firs from shore exude their pitchy scent as the sun warms them, while the earthy aroma of moist moss wafts out from the forest floor.

The fisherman is not the only one watching for the first splashes of jumpers. A bald eagle perched overhead also waits for a fishing opportunity.



Photo by Ken Thorne

With the incoming tide, the salmon move in. The calm surface of the water ripples here and there as fish fins break the surface. Then things become lively with splashes that at times make the water seem to be boiling. A flurry of action and then nothing. Jumpers appear a little farther out and then go quiet.


Photo by Ken Thorne

Carefully, the fisherman steps into the deeper water. He has spotted some activity farther along, and out from the beach. He loads his line in smooth arm motions, careful to take his time and not jerk the line as he whips it back and forth. When he has control of a good length of line in the air he leans forward to let it shoot straight along the fly rod. The fly he tied last night alights on the surface of the water without a ripple. Beside the line to his left, a fish jumps up to thumb its nose at him.


Photo by Ken Thorne

Quickly as he can without disturbing the water, he retrieves his line to redirect it towards the jumper.


Photo by Ken Thorne

The fly lands, sits there for two seconds, and is sucked under the surface with a zing that jolts the fisherman into action. Keeping the tip of his fly rod up he thrills to the buzz and pull of the line peeling off his reel. The coho he has caught is protesting vigorously. The fish is all muscle as he strains against the pull of the flyline in his effort to reach the safety of deeper water.

If the coho is lucky, he’ll wriggle and jump until he spits the hook, or snaps the line with a wrap around a rock or an underwater log. If he’s less lucky, he’ll have to wait until he is reeled in and the fisherman unhooks and releases him.

When the fall coho run is nearly over, there may still be the odd salmon in the ocean closer to home. The addicted fly fisherman hurries to throw on a jacket over his waders. It’s a miserable day but the fish are still out there calling to him.

Beach Fishing 2

Photo by Pat Gerrie

He needs to get out as far as possible for the line to reach the jumpers, but maybe today it’s just a wee bit too rough and he should give the fish a break.

Beach Fishing 1

Photo by Pat Gerrie

Those of us who do not fly-fish may find it hard to understand the logic behind catching a fish just to let it go. Only an avid fly fisherman can know the rush brought on by the instant surge of energy that travels from the hooked fish to his hand in the seconds after the fish hits the fly. It’s oft been said, “A tug is a drug,” and this is why he will go to extreme efforts to find that thrill again and again. As far as I know, there is no rehabilitation.

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Food Festivals and Farmers’ Markets – Caroline James explains why she loves them


Food Festivals & Farmers Markets

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It’s festival time again in the foodie world and farmers’ markets are blossoming as the weather improves…

I nearly got killed in the crush at my local farmers’ market recently, amid a stampede of genteel middle classes who swarmed around a produce stall, as they wrestled each other out of the way in pursuit of a taste of finely matured Cheshire cheese. The cheese was no ordinary cheese however, it was impregnated with caramelised onions and Rioja and I found myself battling with the best for a miniscule sliver of the delicacy.

Fresh mushrooms

Mushroom selection at a local farmer’s market

It was the first farmers’ market of the year and the sun shone as hordes of folk came out of winter hibernation to enjoy a flavour of local produce. I always vow not to take any money with me, as I too get swept away in the excitement and soon have a basket full of lavender-infused oil, smoked fish, freshly baked bread, pork and paprika sausages and a huge box of mixed fungi that I haven’t a clue what to do with. If a smiling lady, with an equally sweet child encourages me to try her walnut and apple quiche, I will invariably buy two, regardless of cost. The stalls soon empty, as does my purse and I head home telling myself that it’s not about the money.

I have to admit that I love these events and will always support small artisan suppliers, as long as the produce is good and the prices reasonable.

farmers market blackboard

A riot of fresh produce at the local farmer’s market

Farmers’ markets have exploded onto our calendars in recent years, but this isn’t a new concept. Similar forms existed way before the Industrial Age and were part of broader markets, where suppliers gathered all kinds of goods to retail on a weekly basis.

These days there’s a strong demand for produce that is fresher, with fewer food miles, traceability and a greater variety to supply the nation’s unquenchable interest in food.


Food festivals follow suit. They are descendants of medieval gatherings that date from the 13th century and are big business today.

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Lazy days at a summer food festival

Originally the festival was a means of uniting the community to give thanks for a plentiful growing season and to celebrate the arrival of harvest time.

Today, most towns and cities ensure that their summer calendars include something food related, with a good helping of demonstration chefs giving talks and showing us how to use the produce we purchase at the event. Stall-holders and suppliers thrust their produce under our noses in the ferocious belief that theirs is, quite simply, the best and a must-have purchase.

Food festivals have come a long way from pickles and jam with the occasional cider sample.

Many events include music and entertainment and make a great day out. They can be found all over Britain with new offerings appearing each year. Food festivals differ from food shows, which are generally found under cover in exhibition centres, sponsored by major brands and tend to be a more formal affair.

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Ludlow in Shropshire, hosts one of the biggest food festivals in the country and came about because the town council was against a large supermarket invading the charming country town. They came up with the idea of showing the locals what they’d be missing if a large retailer gained the monopoly and independents couldn’t compete. It’s a wonderful affair with more than 20,000 visitors over the three days (this year from 12th – 14th September).

In the south of England, the towns of Brighton & Hove host, what they claim, is the largest food festival of its kind which has been described by the New York Post as one of the world’s leading local food events.

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Taste of Chicago

The largest food festival in the world is claimed by the city of Chicago, USA, and is known as The Taste.

It’s held in the summer and one year attracted up to 3.9 million people. Foods include popular American favourites – pizza, hot dogs, ribs, and cheesecakes, but also a huge variety of ethnic and regional foods.

Festival season in Britain kicks off early in the year and you can follow your food cravings all over the country. There are events every weekend to suit all tastes, from chocolate and cheese festivals to some more unusual events, such as Chapatti in the Park, Munchies in the Meadow and a Watercress Festival in Alresford. Britain has a wonderful plethora of food markets, festivals and forums for everyone to enjoy. I for one, love any day out that focuses on food and will be hot-footing around as many as I can.

food festival overhead image

Food festivals attract thousands of visitors

My favourites…  My absolute favourite food festival is the annual Kinsale Gourmet Food Festival in southern Ireland, a three-day event of complete madness with some incredible food, drink and, of course – good old Irish hospitality at its best. You’ll need plenty of stamina for this fabulous event. Get there if you can!

Kinsale food festival

The annual Gourmet Food Festival in Kinsale, Ireland – a wonderful event!

Nearer to home I enjoy all the varied events at a new venue, Alcumlow Hall Farm, in Cheshire, from the most amazing ice cream selection you can imagine, to hot air balloon rides on May Bank Holiday. The homemade cakes are gorgeous too, in Cobbles Tearoom and there’s plenty to look at and buy, from antiques to bespoke teddy bears.

teddy and icecream

Gorgeous ice cream at Alcumlow Hall Farm


Where’s your favourite food festival or farmers’ market? Do let me know…

Here’s wishing you many happy foodie days out this year!


Spiced Mushrooms

I always end up with a large bag of mushrooms when I’ve been to a farmers’ market and this recipe is  quick and delicious, ideal to make as soon as you get home.

spicy mushrooms on toast

Spicy Mushrooms on Toast


1 small box of mixed mushrooms of your choice

1 onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped finely

2 tbsp olive oil

Small cube of butter

Salt and pepper to season

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

250ml Buckfast Tonic Wine


  • Pour wine into a saucepan and reduce to a syrup
  • Fry the onion in the olive oil until soft and opaque, add garlic and mushrooms and cook for a further 2/3 minutes
  • Add wine syrup to the mushrooms and coat
  • Add butter and lemon juice

To Serve:

Serve on griddled sourdough toast with a heaped spoon of crème fraiche


The aromatic flavour and sweetness of the mushrooms would make a great accompaniment to steak or game.

 Minty Cup Cakes

Have you ever been to a farmers’ market or food festival and gazed at the displays of cupcakes, lovingly made by local bakers? I don’t think I’ve ever come home without one prettily boxed, peeking out of the top of my basket. With fresh mint sprouting up in our gardens, here’s a recipe that’s very easy to make and a super tea-time treat.

mint cupcakes

Minty Cupcakes



225 gr SR flour, sifted

225 gr caster sugar

225 gr butter

4 large eggs

1 bunch freshly chopped mint


  • Preheat the oven to 160 deg C, (325 F/gas mark 3) and place 16 paper cases in a bun tin
  • Cream butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy
  • Beat the eggs then add slowly to the butter mix
  • Carefully fold in the flour and stir in the chopped mint
  • Spoon into bun cases and bake for approx 15 minutes until springy to touch


If you like icing on your cupcakes, make a butter icing and add a couple of drops of peppermint essence or choose your favourite topping. Melted chocolate is delicious and you could add a handful of chocolate chips to the sponge mix too. Mint and chocolate are a tasty combination.

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Apps for Children – recommended apps for 2014

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One of the most common questions I am asked as a teacher is for recommendations on iPad apps suitable for children. Many of the apps out there are branded (as are pretty much all childhood products, from cutlery to suitcases and everything in between) and most of these are games. Some are great fun for children to play, and come up easily when searching the app store, but some of the real educational gems are really well hidden. This article will show you some of the best apps I have found so far.

One of the major problems with the app store is that of the hundreds of thousands of apps, only a handful will come up with any search. Some of the very best apps have little chance to hit the top rankings, and for every Flappy Bird making headlines there are hundreds of good educational apps hidden away.

Recommendation is the key to providing your child with a range of excellent creative apps. All of the apps mentioned in this article are ones I have used either with my children at home or with a variety of classes aged 7-11 at school, and an increasing number of apps on my list have been introduced to me by colleagues in other schools I have visited, or indeed via a pupil running up to me excitedly and saying “Sir, I’ve got the best new app for you!”

Recommended Apps for 2014


Doodlecast Pro

This cool app is an excellent video production program that allows children to combine and narrate videos, photos, and drawings with relative ease. There is a bit of a learning curve but it is regularly updated by the makers and I’d say it has started to get easier to use in the last six months. Having said that, I have not had a pupil not grasp how to use this app with a little basic tutoring, and once learnt, the controls are logical and easy to understand. This is an imagination app; any manner of story can be created in an hour or so, and each project can be saved, exported, and emailed easily.


Doing a project on Shakespeare? Grab a portrait of the man online and use Morfo to make him speak to your class. I once had a class listen to a toilet seat for ten minutes using this app. Crazy but true! With Morfo you take any photograph, place eyes, nose, and mouth, and you instantly have a talking face. The app records your voice and maps your words to the mouth of your photograph, allowing you to create and export a video clip. It’s very amusing to use, and can really liven up an English or History project by creating a speaking, moving video character to present your child’s words.



Want something that isn’t a game but will relax your child? They can use this app to make their own games (There is no input needed from an adult. It does all the teaching work for you!) whilst Hopscotch will only entertain a child for a few days, it is a great introduction to programming, something which is making serious inroads into education as the National Curriculum for ICT is modernised. Children can also examine games other children have made directly through the apps home screen, and use these games as ways to grow their own knowledge of how various programming routines work. 


If you happen to be a teacher, this is a brilliant introduction video to show a very confused class! Whilst it may not be in English, it conveys exactly how to use the app very succinctly - providing a real life lesson on overcoming language barriers via visual prompts. Something that is, at the same time, a bit fun to add in as a unique lesson starter.



This is an amazing introduction to iPad music creation. Prepare for headaches, or buy headphones in advance! The app has been produced by two professional musicians, including the very cool Boris Blank from the Swiss group Yello (hence the name). Although this app is incredibly simple, it manages to include many of the advanced features of professional level music apps, including sample splitting, reverb, delay, and sequencing. The music that a child can make from this app is pretty amazing. My three-year-old had created a cool little tune using her voice, a simple recording of her favourite song taken via the built in iPad microphone, a little help from Dad, and a bit of a play with the buttons to see what effect they have on the song. She loved doing this. It’s so much more than just using YouTube to hear her favourite song.

The TED talk from the app inventors is a brilliant way of introducing both ‘lecture style’ talks and the app itself to children. I’m a big fan of using TED talks to enthuse children, and to encourage them to ask questions about how the world works and how it is likely to progress in their lifetime.;search%3Atag%3A%22TEDxHamburg%22



One of the most beautiful apps I have ever seen. This uses a classic animation style to inspire storytelling and the use of several media styles to introduce useful iPad skills. In this one app children can animate cartoons, structure classical music, and make short films that tell simple stories. The quality of the video files produced is quite amazing.



Let a videogame character present your work to the class. This is a great storytelling device at home or in school, and can be used to help reticent public speakers make their initial engagements with an audience.

Tellagami uses a skill that many children have already developed. Many video games let the player create their own avatar or character. Tellagami mimics this procedure, allowing a child to create a character with their selection of hair colour, skin tone, clothing choices, and facial features. Once the character is created, a generic background, photograph, or image grabbed from the Internet can be used as a backdrop for the character to stand in front of. The child records their voice, or can type the words that they want the Gami to say, and the resulting product is exported as a video file. A good example of the sort of work that can be produced by this app would be a video of a Gami talking about Roman life while standing in front of a sequence of famous Roman ruins. The result would be an excellent and evocative project that could really grab a classroom and impress any teacher.


These apps are all priced under £5 at the moment. Indeed, at the time of writing McLaren and Hopscotch are free! Choosing good apps for that expensive iPad is very difficult, but head away from the gimmicky Hello Kitty, Disney, and Marvel apps. Instead, choose a selection of apps which engage your children actively, and you’ll be helping their education to progress, and helping them to build and improve skills while having fun. Technology is great, but use it as a tool to build your child a great life, rather than just something to have fun with, and they will fly.

Mark Hulkus has worked in a teaching environment for many years. He has been a primary school teacher in a Preparatory Department in a 150-year-old boarding school in Wales; he spent several years as a Head of IT. He currently provides a range of IT services in schools, helping them gear up for the recently announced changes in IT requirements. He has three children, is obsessed with the 1980s, and runs a fun design website at

If you have a question for Mark email us at

My Gym Sucks: An Etiquette Lesson – adult satire with Adam Hornyak

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I typically enjoy going to the gym, but lately it has become an unbearable feat.  I am self-employed and work out of my home, so I try to get to the gym following the morning crowd in hopes of having unfettered access to the equipment.  Unfortunately, I am not the only one who thinks this way, making my plan a bit more skewed than I had originally thought.  Around 8 a.m., when people with jobs are at their offices, the unemployable show up.  This crowd usually tends to allow gym decorum to fly completely out the window.

Let me preface the remainder of this rant by letting you know that my gym is extremely small, and time on the equipment comes at a great premium.  I played college sports, and have always enjoyed a good session in the gym.  I like to get my workouts over with quickly and wear myself out, so having to wait to get on the machines makes my time in the gym less effective, which irritates the living piss out of me.  I’m sure that you will all say “Just go to another gym”.  That is a valid argument, but I live in the middle of nowhere, and healthy lifestyles aren’t something a lot of residents in West Virginia covet, so my choice of a gym is awfully limited.

Hopefully the following etiquette lessons will correct the problems:

Treadmill Usage

There are only four treadmills in my gym, which are always tied up with four people walking 1.5 miles per hour.  The nice part is that they are only able to last for a few minutes before having to get off the machine to grab a snack.  The downside is that the conveyor belt is smothered in Dorito cheese that has oozed out of their pores, requiring a fairly solid wipe-down for fear of my feet sticking to it.

ETIQUETTE LESSON #1:  Walking for four minutes will not counteract the Snickers bars and mozzarella that you will be shoveling into your face the remainder of the day.

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Cardio Intensity

Medical professionals recommend that you perform thirty minutes of high-intensity cardiovascular activity three times a week to maintain a healthy lifestyle and reduce your chances of heart disease.  As a general rule of thumb, if you are able to talk on your cell phone while performing a cardiovascular exercise, YOU ARE NOT DOING IT RIGHT!  Nobody in the gym wants to hear your mindless, banal drivel, so waddle your fat ass into the parking lot or get to work.

ETIQUETTE LESSON #2:  If your pulse is significantly raised by walking for two minutes, you can probably attain the same high level of heart pump by sitting on your couch and convincing yourself that there is no more fudge in the house. 

Weight Training

Once I can successfully complete jogging, I move on to weight training.  I work out one body part each day, and the limited amount of equipment forces me to be creative.  My gym only has one bench for chest workouts and it is invariably tied up with people using weights that never seems to exceed that of a can of soup.

ETIQUETTE LESSON #3:  If lifting your hands over your head gives you the same workout as you would get tying up a weight machine, go the f*** home and give those of us with a modicum of athleticism the opportunity to lift uninterrupted.


Weightlifting form is something that I take very seriously.  Twisting strangely during any exercise could potentially cause injuries that could take years to recover from.  Apparently, I am the only one in the gym who actually gives a shit about this topic.

ETIQUETTE LESSON #4:  Please make sure not to stretch before working out, and feel free to toss the weights around in an erratic fashion.  I will happily carry you to the parking lot when you are unable to walk any longer, but you’re on your own after that.


Fred is a very old man who comes to the gym every morning in jeans, always holding a big cup of coffee.  The World War II hat atop his head is a constant reminder of his service to our country, and most likely takes him back to a time in his Navy days when he was sharp, fit, and had a full life ahead of him.  Today, Fred smells like a mix of formaldehyde and eggs.  More disturbing is that Fred refuses to let any attractive woman work out without forcing them to hear “It’s gonna rain this afternoon”, or “Have ya ever had Salisbury steak?”

Every weekday for two years, I have seen Fred, and every weekday for two years, Fred hasn’t worked out at all.  He simply shows up, watches the morning news, and verbally rapes the best looking woman in the room.

I understand that the gym is a wonderful place for social interaction, but if you smell peculiar and are 70 years someone’s senior, you may not get laid from your persistent hounding.  You are unfortunately in the midst of a vicious cycle.  Your loneliness will never be cured by pissing people off, but I can assure you that pissing people off is why you are lonely.

ETIQUETTE LESSON #5:  If you want to talk to someone and drink coffee, go to Starbucks.  If you want companionship, get a cat.  In either case, leave everyone at the gym alone.


Shorts, athletic shoes, and T-shirts are all acceptable gym attire, yet the patrons in my gym tend to lean a different way.  They have a clothing comfort level more synonymous with that of Grizzly Adams.  Many members feel it necessary to don mullets, steel-toed boots, and camouflage.

Oh, the camouflage!

I am a firm believer that you should dress for the occasion at hand, so cut your hair, remove the hunter orange ball cap, and add sleeves to cover up your disgustingly under-toned arms.  Your Harley Davidson tattoos may be endearing to you and whichever one of your cousins you are currently sleeping with, but the rest of us don’t give a shit.

ETIQUETTE LESSON #7:  No man in the history of man has picked up a woman in the gym while wearing raccoon-blood stained jeans.  Change them.

Hopefully these lessons will permeate your thick skulls and make you think the next time you enter my personal space.  On the other hand, I hope you never step foot in the gym again.  I am paying for a haven of health that you are encroaching upon with your “Git-R-Done” T-shirts, and porn mustaches.  I deserve and demand more for my $19.99 a month.

For more idiocy, follow Adam on Twitter @AdamHornyak and on Facebook

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Bookshelf Reviews – a spotlight on the stars

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Forever: (Angels Among Us, Book 3) by Linn B Halton

Genre: Paranormal Romance Novella

Harper Impulse Publishing


Ceri is alone for a reason. She’s not meant to fall in love. She’s here for one purpose only. Love is a powerful emotion, but can it change the course of someone’s destiny? This is a romance story that explores the possibility of there being something more than just the ‘here and now’. Now, Ceri’s journey comes to an end in Forever – the final part of the Angels Among Us trilogy.


Heidi at Cosmochicklitian says: “This last part of the series has been an emotional rollercoaster, even more so than the other two parts. Forever is the perfect conclusion to a truly beautiful and thought-provoking series.”


Kate at Me My Books and I says: “The previous book had left me on a cliffhanger so I was pleased to discover that this picked up where that one had finished. Ceri was struggling with what she wanted her life to be and what her life was destined to be – there was a part of me which wholeheartedly agreed with her but another part of me that understood she had an important job to do. This book certainly raised some conflicting emotions within me.


JB at Brook Cottage Books says: “As usual, Linn B Halton doesn’t disappoint through her fantastic writing style, keeping the reader engrossed in the plot and causing the reader to once more have some emotional investment in each of the characters. I really enjoyed this series and would highly recommend it. It’s not only a fantastic story but a fascinating subject.”



Made in Nashville by Mandy Baggot

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Harper Impulse Publishing

 Made in Nashville

An on-stage attack left Honor Blackwood with more scars than just the one on her face. It’s been ten years since she left her spot as Nashville’s brightest country music star. Is now the time to return? Country rebel and rock star, Jared ‘Jed’ Marshall is hot property on the Tennessee music scene in more ways than one. He’s wild, he’s sexy and everybody wants a piece of him. But when he sets his sights on Honor, is it pure attraction or just distraction on his mind? Join the country scene to find out!”


Kate at Me My Books and I says: “This was a romantic, musical treat with an edge of mystery – another Mandy Baggot masterpiece!”


Kim the Bookworm says: “I loved this book with all of my heart. A really unique story line for me: music being the main background with completely lovable characters, a great plot and a whole lot of lovin’ going on!”



So You Think You’re a Celebrity…Chef?

By Caroline James

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Thornberry Publishing

 celebrity chef

When media agent Hilary Hargreaves travels to Ireland to look at a campaign for a new cookery school, she meets a blast from her past – the romantic but feckless chef Mickey Lloyd, who is hell-bent on resurrecting his flagging career. Her tough demeanour is rocked as it becomes apparent Mickey’s intentions involve more than a stint behind a stove in his quest to pursue her. Has Hilary got too much on her plate and is she really prepared to risk it all for love?


Carol at Dizzy C’s Little Book Blog says: There are some very funny scenarios in this novel, but it is not all a laugh a minute. There are some tender moments in there, too.  There is a “didn’t see that coming” shock, too, in what I can only describe as Ab Fab meets Masterchef in a soap opera.  Action packed, funny, and emotionally charged. Superb!  


Charlotte at Best Chick Lit says: “The large supporting cast (similar to those found in Jilly Cooper and Fiona Walker books) is brilliant fun, adding heartfelt and comedic moments at regular intervals throughout the book. One of the most unique reads on the market and one not to be missed.”



The Fine Art of Delusional Thinking

by Bonnie Trachtenberg

Genre: Humorous Non Fiction


This is a refreshing and fun self-help book which encourages the reader to better their life by using the art of delusional thinking, using such things as fantasy and daydreams! Written in a tongue-in-cheek way and with good humour, with such chapters as ‘Be a Star or Just Act Like One’.


Nikki at Books4U says: “The reader will find this book highly entertaining and it will really make you smile as you read Bonnie’s thoughts and suggestions. The book is not that long either so can easily be read in one sitting. This is my kind of self-help, just good light-hearted fun, nothing heavy, and I actually did learn a few things too!”



The Star Child by Stephanie Keyes

The Star Child Series, Book One
Genre: Young Adult
Inkspell Publishing

The Star


Kellen St. James has spent his entire life being overlooked as an unwanted, ordinary, slightly geeky kid. When the sudden death of his Gran takes him from the East Coast to the rugged cliffs of Western Ireland, all that changes. That is until a beautiful girl, one who has haunted his dreams for the past eleven years of his life, shows up spinning tales of a prophecy. Not just any old prophecy either, but one in which Kellen plays a key role.


Jenny in Neverland says: “This book is everything a YA fantasy novel should be; emotional, heartwarming and amusing at times with plenty of romance, excitement, and action. It’s weird and wonderful and truly unique. The epilogue gave me shivers as it indicates that Kellen’s journey isn’t over and there’s more adventure to come in the sequel. Personally, I think Stephanie will definitely be a new, upcoming voice for Young Adult readers out there.”


Charlotte at Best Chick Lit says: “The story is shrouded in mystery and Keyes very cleverly ensures the book is unputdownable by reeling in the reader within the first few opening pages. A complete joy to read and sets up nicely for a sequel.”



A Little Bit of Madness by Sheryl Browne

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Safkhet Publishing


Celia Summers, intrepid mother of two, is too cuddly for sweatpants, she suspects. But then, her class at The Harbour Rest Home are similarly clad. Celia loves her work as an art therapist. She’s proud that she gives her elderly independents something to look forward to. She’s even ready to abseil from a church steeple to bring attention to the plight of her old people, no matter that she might fall and end up splattered all over the flagstones. When she does fall, however, it’s much more painful – in love with PC Alex Burrows. Will he be her white knight in blue and ride to her rescue?


Kim the Bookworm says: “I absolutely loved this book. I have now read all of Sheryl’s books and this one is most definitely my favourite. The storyline was just so entertaining and with the normal Sheryl Browne hilarity thrown in to accompany a great storyline, I’ll guarantee it’ll put a great big smile on your face.


Carol at Dizzy C’s Little Book Blog says: “A wonderful reminder of just how great the older generation can be – A Little Bit of Madness was just what I needed to brighten my day.”


JB at Brook Cottage Books says: “This book is a lovely romantic comedy that I simply could not put down. It has a few twists and turns throughout that totally surprise the reader and the plot is fantastic, leaving you desperate to find out more. Another hit for Sheryl Browne. If you’ve never read any of her books I suggest you do so right away.”


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To Be or Not To Be? That’s the question …

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Find out more about Anneli: 

Anneli’s Website





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A Recipe for Love – Emma Calin Launches a Romance Novel with a Companion Cookbook


Another ‘Passion Patrol’ novel by Emma Calin

Cop’s Kitchen – The Companion Cookbook

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Announcing the worldwide release of Emma Calin’s steamy action-romance novel SHANNON’S LAW on February 28th, 2014, in paperback and e-book formats.

Emma’s ‘Passion Patrol’ books are stand-alone stories that feature hot cops, hot crimes, and hot romance… and now hot food too!

Read the romance… feel the passion… taste the love!

SHANNON’S LAW introduces another sassy female cop, Shannon Aguerri, who catches crooks, delivers justice, and always gets her man. Cop’s Kitchen recreates the recipes for love – all the food from the romance illustrated and described with clear instructions.

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In celebration of the launch, Emma is offering SHANNON’S LAW at just $1.50/£0.99 for all digital versions, until the 10th March.  There are special offers in place for the paperback version too – it’s at a rock-bottom introductory price of $10.99/£5.99/€6.99 until the 10th March.

Get Cop’s Kitchen for FREE…

You can win copies of the paperback and digital versions of SHANNON’S LAW, as well as other cool book-related ‘swag’ in Emma’s launch day giveaway on Rafflecopter.  ALL ENTRANTS WIN a copy of COP’S KITCHEN!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Launch Day Party…

Emma is having an online launch party “Afternoon Tea At Bloxington Manor” on Friday the 28th February and you are invited too.   Come along to share a cuppa and a slice of cake, win more prizes and find out about the book and the author…

What the early reviewers of Shannon’s Law say…

Jenny Marston, Essex, UK.

 ”Move over Mr Grey – there’s a new Earl in town! Shannon’s Law is dramatic, mesmerizing and incredibly sexy. The ultimate fairy-tale.”

Anneli Purchase, Canada.

“Shannon’s Law will draw you in from page one and hold you fast, immersed in the love and suspense until the end.”

Petra Rovere, Slovenia.

“A fast-paced and intense story where two different social worlds collide in a vortex full of love, hatred, intrigues, and passion. Emma Calin has done it again. A book hard to put down before its end.”

Kate Verrier, UK

“Shannon was a brilliant character, she was very strong and feisty, some of her comments literally had me laughing out loud! “

Myrna Canning-Symmonds, Canada

” This book truly had a little of everything. There was steamy sex scenes (not too bawdy), action & some hilarity, murder, soaked cats & a horse trampling the vegetable garden. “

Reviewsbymolly, USA

“If you are looking for a story filled with romance, suspense and characters that are full of wit and captivating charm, grab a copy of Ms. Calin’s Shannon’s Law…’s the only law you’ll ever need again! Well done, Ms. Calin and I can’t wait for another release in her Passion Patrol series! They are amazing! ”



Amazon Worldwide





OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWild child inner-city cop Shannon Aguerri walks a dangerous line between her methods and justice. When the bosses lose their nerve, after yet another maverick mission, she is transferred to green pastures to play out the role of a routine village cop. When she encounters signs of people and drug trafficking she homes in on serious millionaire criminals. As a loner she has attracted men but nothing has stuck. She meets Spencer, the hunky and widowed Earl of Bloxington and there is an immediate rapport between them. Their social differences mean nothing to their passion and need. Already in the mix however, is an upper-class female rival – who has long plotted her way into the Earl’s bed. The jealousy is an evil shade of green and the anger is a violent scarlet. Often inhibited by a sense of duty and honour, Spencer is slow to reveal his feelings. When Shannon confronts him with the need to choose between her word and that of her rival, he does not immediately support her. All the same, when they are forced together to carry out a desperate rescue mission, their love is stronger than everything ranged against them.

Find out more and watch the book promo video here:

 The Shannon’s Law Landing Page

Revealing all on Pinterest…

Emma has been posting snippets from the story, photos of places and people that inspired the venues and characters on Pinterest during her pre-launch book tour…

There is also news about the book on Facebook:


Buy Links for Cop’s Kitchen Here:


Other e-readers and PDF:


Special offer on the first ‘Passion Patrol’ book KNOCKOUT!

Passion Patrol Books 2014Watch out as well for a special discount on Emma’s first ‘Passion Patrol’ book Knockout! It’s on an Amazon Kindle Countdown Deal for 5 days at 99c/76p from 3rd-7th March.


Emma Calin was born in London in 1962. She currently lives part of the year in the UK and spends the rest in France.  She has been writing since childhood and has won numerous local, national, and international prizes for poetry and short stories.

Emma enjoys writing love stories firmly rooted in social realism.  She blogs about the contrasts in life on both sides of the English Channel, which she likes to explore on her tandem whenever weather and fitness coincide. She is a Lifestyle Contributor on Loveahappyending Lifestyle.

She defines herself as woman eternally pedalling between Peckham and Pigalle, in search of passion and enduring romance.

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For books by Emma Calin: Amazon USA  Amazon UK
Emma Calin Blog: 
Emma Calin Website:
Facebook Page for Shannon’s Law 
Twitter:@Emma Calin




Money Matters no. 1 – you CAN live well on a budget!

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To discover more about Bonnie, click on the following links:

Twitter: @Writebrainedny FB: Bonnie Trachtenberg

12 Years a Slave ~ Film Review

12 years a slave

It was up against some deservedly nominated contenders, but I suspect there are not many people who wouldn’t agree that this year they got it right, in the process making cinematic history. 12 Years a Slave, a passionate, heart-rending true story of a free man’s abduction into slavery, walked away with best film trophy at the EE British Academy Film Awards. The first black filmmaker to win the best film Bafta, Londoner Steve McQueen’s response to which was, “Faith, never give up …,” a poignant statement when imagining a soul stripped bare of everything that makes him a man, including his faith in mankind.

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Set in 1841 and based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup written after his eventual return to his wife and now grown children, 12 Years A Slave follows the story of an educated man, a carpenter and a talented musician much in demand at society functions, who is abducted (a shockingly common occurrence) and taken from his comfortable, if not luxurious, life in New York, horsewhipped and paddle-beaten until he accepts he has  no identity other than that newly bestowed on him, and then shipped off and sold into slavery in the south.

Witnessing horrors beyond our ability to conceive: brutal beatings, children torn from their mothers, ‘Platt’, as he is now called, becomes the property of plantation owner Ford, played believably by Benedict Cumberbatch. We have a seed of hope here, Ford is sympathetic to the plight of his slaves, aware of their humanity, but he is nevertheless a slaver, ergo slave to his own social constraints and beliefs. Winning Ford’s favour, his obvious intellect above that a slave should possess – and indeed should dare to boast for fear of evoking suspicions of aspirations beyond his non-human status, Platt incurs the wrath of a sadistic overseer, is sold downriver, and is now owned by Edwin Epps (Micheal Fassbender), an alcohol abuser and sexual abuser of adolescent females, his uncontrollable desires driving him to self-loathing and inevitable floggings of his ‘temptress’, Patsey (a deeply affecting role played by Lupita Nyong’o).

The real danger to Platt, however, is Epps’ wife. Aware of her husband’s ‘deviant’ lust for young female slaves, frustrated, humiliated,  and furious, Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson) wants blood, facilitated by the flesh stripped from the back of the source of her humiliation. Revealing to Mistress Epps, who would have her ‘niggers sing for their supper’ and be grateful, that he is a man of knowledge, capable of plotting and conspiring against her, would be for Platt to sign his own death warrant.

The key to Platt’s survival is suppression of the rage broiling inside him. He must feign ignorance and total subservience in order to survive. We, the viewer, pray he can hold on to some vestige of hope, whilst knowing that we ourselves could never do so in such appallingly cruel circumstances.

For me, this film ranked alongside Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List in terms of its most powerful message. It’s a stark reminder of mans inhumanity to man, a credit to its director, whose characters are portrayed honestly, evenly and with conviction; and, of course, to Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose performance was nothing short of magnificent). Simply, a must see.

Steve McQueen

John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (based on “Twelve Years a Slave” by)

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt (and many more superb actors)

Drama, history, biography



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