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text 2017-11-02 21:21
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 5 - Advent

Tasks for Advent: Post a pic of your advent calendar.

 

The cat wasn't in a festive mood (he thought it safer to watch my photo antics from under the living room table and wait 'till I was done), so a red background will have to do.

 

Anyway, the Lions' Club branch of a small town north of Cologne named Leichlingen publishes these calendars every year as part of a charity lottery: The featured picture is painted by a kid -- it's a different picture each year.

 

A former colleague of mine is a member of that branch of the Lions' Club and has been sharing these calendars for (at least) the past 10 years.  I got mine today, so it's a perfect fit for my first "16 Festive Tasks" post: square 5 -- Advent.

 

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review 2017-07-23 14:45
Lions At Lunchtime - Mary Pope Osborne

As with the other Magic Tree House books, I loved this one. Lots of adventure and cool ways to learn about Africa.

I love how Annie's inclusiveness and Jack's researching skills work together in the book. In this books, Jack and Annie work on their third riddle in order to become Master Librarians. I really like this plot and think it adds new depth to the series instead of just having Jack and Annie wander around in books.

I also love how Osborne uses fan suggestions in her writing. These books really feel like they are written for the reader.

A great quick read. I can't wait to continue Jack and Annie's adventures.

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text 2017-07-09 10:53
For the Love of the Game: "Lions vs. All Blacks - 2017 Series - Third Game"

 

Series tied 1-1 (third's test score: 15-15).

 

What a game, the Lions put on a defensive effort. I don't think any other country or countries could have withstood the All Black onslaughts, so good and heavy was the defense that I have never seen the All Blacks drop so much ball. At one stage the All Blacks had 78% possession and whilst the Lions never looked like scoring a try they continually repelled the All Blacks.

 

I don't think the All Blacks tight 5 have received enough praise, they virtually dominated the scrum and negated the Lions platform over the advantage line, something they could do in the 2nd test although with a man advantage. I was slightly perplexed with some of the penalties given in the latter stages of the game by Poite to the Lions that evened up the possession somewhat. Warburton was fantastic at breakdown and stole or slowed down so much ball, with Johnathon Davis a colossus in the mid field.

 

The question asked earlier in the tour who of the Lions players would make the All Blacks team, currently I would say Davis and Warburton, whilst Itoje is the flavour of the month in the press, I still don't believe he could oust Retallic and Whitlock. I was skeptical with Hansen calling in Laumape and Barrett for their first run on debuts however they were both fantastic, I am not saying Smith and Crotty could have done better however we will never know. It was also good to see the fridge running over people as is his want, with himself and B Barrett making incredible running metres along with the Lions Williams.

 

If you're into Rugby, read on.

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review 2017-06-28 21:35
A solid and entertaining cozy mystery set in the world of the circus, and a must for those who love big cats
A Spark of Justice - J.D. Hawkins

I was sent an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This book is classed as a cozy mystery and is set in the world of the circus, probably in the recent past, although this is not specified and the novel has a somewhat timeless feel.  There are mobile phones (but hardly ever used, and most people rely on land lines as nobody is located unless they are at home or at work), computers (but only an old-fashioned one is ever mentioned or seen and reports are paper based) but most people do not seem to use any modern commodities, although the mauling of Rolo, the lion tamer and the victim whose murder/accidental death is the mystery at the centre of the novel, is available on YouTube. And of course, the circus where the story is set still has performing animal, including big felines (lions, leopards, tigers, and panthers). In the US there is no federal ban as such yet (although they are banned in many countries) but most of the big circuses have stopped showing those numbers (and indeed Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus gave its last performance in May this year) and there are many local bans, so that adds to the feeling of a somewhat idealised and old-fashioned world.

The story is told in the third person but from the point of view of John (Juan) Nieves, an insurance investigator of Puerto Rican origin, born in New York, who left his studies as a vet to join the police, and after working for the police for a time, moved to the Mid-West and changed his job to try and save his marriage. Unfortunately, it did not work, but he loves his son, thinks about him often and lives for his visits.  His lifestyle is itinerant and he feels no strong attachment to his current job or to his apartment. For some reason, he feels irresistibly attracted to the world of the circus from the moment he sets foot in it. Although he does not like clowns and he is less than welcome by the circus artists initially, he cannot stop going back, even when he does not have a very good reason to. At first, it seems it is due to his attachment to detective work and to his wish to solve the mystery, but later we realise there is something else at play.

As happens in all good detective or mystery novels, the story is not only about the mystery but also about the investigator. In this case, John’s motives and sense of self and identity are put into question from the very beginning, and eventually, the process of self-discovery becomes more interesting than the case itself. If circuses have traditionally been places where people could run away from their circumstances and become a new person, this novel shows them as a big family happy to accommodate those who might not fit into normal society and others who want to become who they feel they really are, no matter how alternative. It is perhaps significant that Rolo did not spend all year with the circus but lived at times with his outside family, and was not as fully invested as the rest of the artists and did not truly belong.

The mystery is pretty intriguing too, don’t get me wrong. A death by a deadly tiger attack is not everyday news, and the fact that the tiger had been spooked by an electrical spark from a damaged cable makes it even less common. There are a suitably large number of suspects (both from within the circus —as Rolo was not very well liked, for reasons we discover later—, and from his personal life, including a wife, a lover, and a brother), a complex web of deceit and betrayal; there are threats and warnings to John to keep out of circus’s business, and there are wonderful descriptions of the world of circus, wild cats, clowns, and behind the curtains insights that will delight anybody who has ever felt curious about this world.

Although there are anxiety provoking and scary moments (near- miss accidents, close calls with a knife thrower, eerie moments with a lion and a panther, and also more run of the mill human violence), there is no actual gore and the investigation itself is not precise and full of detail (in fact, once some of the suspects are removed from the scene they practically disappear from the story).

I liked John (Juan) Nieves, the main character. He is not the usual noir detective, full of clever repartees and sarcastic comments. He thinks before he acts (mostly); he is not unduly violent and uses no foul language; he thinks of his son often and is kind towards animals and kids, and he acknowledges his weaknesses, his doubts, and his mistakes. He is happy to let certain things drop and to hide others that have no real bearing on the matter and will not affect his employer. He is not a rigid believer in the value of finding the truth and revealing it at all costs and is more interested in human beings (and big cats) than he is in some perfect vision of duty.  The author, who describes a personal background in carnival attractions, creates some interesting secondary characters, particularly the circus’s performers, although due to how different clowns look with and without makeup, it is quite easy to get confused as to who is who, but this does not prevent us from following the plot and enjoying the story.

I have read some comments that describe the ending as a let-down and this is true if we think of the novel as being only about the investigation of Rolo’s death. On the other hand, if we see it as a process of investigating and revealing who the real John (Juan) Nieves is, there is no disappointment at all.

Recommended to lovers of cozy mysteries set in original settings, to those who like big cats (or cats of any size), and to readers who appreciate a good background and an inside knowledge of the world of circus, especially those who feel nostalgic about a world that seems to be on the verge of disappearance. A solid and entertaining read.

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review 2017-05-06 20:22
Review: The Lions of Al-Rassan
The Lions of al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay

The Lions of Al-Rassan is the second book I’ve read by Guy Gavriel Kay, the first being Tigana.  I really enjoy his writing style.  One thing in particular that I’ve enjoyed about both books is that they each managed to satisfy my epic fantasy cravings within a single, standalone novel.  I enjoy a good epic fantasy series, but a standalone does have the advantage of being easier to fit into my reading schedule.

 

The story involves the cultural and religious conflicts between various factions in a peninsula on a fictional world.  We follow some of the more influential characters from those different cultures, most of whom are very likeable, as their goals coincide and conflict with each other.  The author writes characters and camaraderie very well.  Sometimes I thought there was a little too much melodrama, and sometimes events were a bit too coincidental, but mostly it was a well-written and engaging story. 

It did get to the point where I was laughing every time yet another person ended up in Ragosa, though!  And I laughed even harder when one of the characters remarked on it also.

(spoiler show)

 

It’s probably arguable whether this book really counts as fantasy.  It definitely has a solid epic fantasy feel, depending I guess on what you think of when you hear “epic fantasy”, and it’s clearly set on a fictional world with two moons.  However, there weren’t really any actual fantastical elements aside from one secondary character with an unexplained special ability.  The story and setting are inspired by and have some parallels in real-world history.

 

It was easy to decide on a 4.5 star rating on the sites where I can give half stars, but it was much, much harder to decide whether to round up or down on Goodreads.  In the end, I decided to round down.  There was just a little too much bitter in the bittersweet ending, however much I expected it.  I also felt frustrated with some of the characters’ choices, and there was the aforementioned melodrama and coincidences.  Overall, though, I really enjoyed reading this book and I was completely engrossed by it while I was reading it.  I’ll likely try to fit Kay’s work back into my reading schedule sooner rather than later.

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