The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Right from the beginning of this book, you know something bad is going to happen. You don’t know what that bad thing is, but you know the characters are all giving their legal testimony. Then, throughout most of the novel, the tension keeps building and building and you find yourself thinking about all the absolutely terrible things that could happen to the characters – all of whom are very interesting and likeable. I’d describe it as a definitive page turner.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot for fear of giving too much away and reducing the tension as you read through it, but essentially what happens is that a man encounters a strange woman in white out on the streets on night – soon after he gets a job creating art in the household of a rich family and finds that in that house is a woman who looks almost identical to the woman in white. What follows is the most intriguing storyline, full of twists and turns which take you in directions you’d have never imagined.

My two favourite characters were Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco. For as much as I do love ninteenth century literature, I have to admit that it can sometimes contain troublesome depictions of women. But that is not the case here. Marian Halcombe is probably a better developed and more interesting character than the book’s actual hero, Walter Hartright. She’s intelligent, pragmatic and to the point – probably one of the greatest literary heroes of that century. The section of the novel told from her perspective was definitely my favourite. Count Fosco, on the other hand, is a mysterious and unsettling character – he has a lot of jovial quirks, but you always have the impression that they’re there to hide something sinister. I won’t say whether or not my suspicions were correct, but he was a fascinating character, to say the least.

What I also admired about this book is that it highlighted that marriage as an institution, was not fair on women. It’s a very progressive book which highlights legitimate social issues and portrays abusive relationships in an eerily realistic light. Things are so intense that after one particular chapter, I was completely stunned; so shocked by what had happened, because I had been so deeply invested in the narrative.

It does have its weaknesses for sure, such as protagonist Walter Hartright being a bit of a generic hero and Laura Glyde (a very central character) never really getting properly developed, but these issues are small and take nothing away from the overall thrill of this novel. So if you’re looking for your next ride on an emotional rollercoaster, this might just be it…

Rating: 9.2/10

Buy it here.

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Fictional Character Hall of Fame: John-Boy Walton

  • Name: John-Boy Walton
  • Origin: The Homecoming: A Christmas Story
  • Media: Television
  • Debut: 1971

When watching television, reading books, playing video games, or consuming fiction via any other avenue, I always tend to latch onto certain characters; characters who I feel embody and represent certain values that I hold in high esteem. This has encouraged me to start a new series of posts on my blog, the Fictional Character Hall of Fame. And what better place to start than with John-Boy Walton?

People who know me will know that I find any opportunity I can to make references to popular 1970s TV show, The Waltons – references which they don’t get and don’t even realise until I explain them. One of the biggest reasons that I love the show much is because of its main character, John-Boy.

In its pilot movie, The Homecoming, John-Boy is a fifteen year old boy who wants to be a writer – but he’s embarrassed about that and he keeps it a secret. Throughout the course of the show, we see him grow and develop as he goes to college, becomes a journalist and eventually even a published novelist. It’s quite a journey that we get to share with him.

I first started to get into The Waltons when I was fifteen and as I myself am a writer, I found him very relatable in a lot of ways. But it wasn’t just that I related to him, I actively inspired to be like him. He was endlessly optimistic and passionate about writing and literature in all of its forms. I always love hearing him talk about the authors he admires and it always inspires me to want to write and read more.

He goes through all of the experiences that every young writer faces. He has the highs and the lows, the confidences and the insecurities. We see him sharing his early work with his English teacher after school, getting upset about criticisms from more experienced writers who read his work, feeling ecstatic when he first gets some of his work published. These are all experiences I’ve had too – there were times I felt excited to find myself going through the same things as John-Boy and times when I feel nostalgic when episodes remind me of things which happened earlier in my writing career.

It’s not just that he’s a writer, either. John-Boy stands for a great deal of the things I care very much for: integrity and authenticity in journalism, accepting people of all different creeds and backgrounds and doing whatever you can to help those in need. Whenever he encounters prejudice or injustice, he stands up for right and gives an impassioned (but not aggressive) speech and I can’t help but smile and nod whenever he does.

Of course, I’m mainly talking about the character as portrayed by Richard Thomas (my favourite interpretation), but there is something to be said for his later recasting as Robert Wightman. When John-Boy returned with a new actor, we got a new view of the character – someone who was much more world weary and a lot less self-assured. His passion isn’t gone, but he’s much more withdrawn and he struggles to find success with his writing, unlike his younger self. As sad as it is to see John-Boy weakened by his horrible experiences in the Second World War, these later appearances further develop the character – we see him try and fail and it’s assuring to see that even a hero like John-Boy goes through rough times.

So that’s why John-Boy Walton is the first inductee in my Fictional Character Hall of Fame. I feel it’s very fitting that he should be the first, considering the impact this character has had on my life. Look forward to further entries in future – I certainly look forward to writing them.

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Top 5 Zelda Games

Thanks to the YouTuber PeanutButterGamer, November is sometimes referred to as ‘Zelda Month’ and it just so happens that I’ve been particularly enthusiastic about Zelda recently, so I thought I’d make a post about the series in honour of Zelda Month. So today I’m going to talk about my five favourite games in the series.

5. Link’s Awakening

This is probably one of the most unique games in the series. Instead of being an epic story to save a kingdom, it has Link trying to figure out what’s going on on the mysterious Koholint Island. Many of the characters are quite strange and there are even lots of Nintendo cameos. As a child, I explored every inch of that island and I love its atmosphere. It’s soundtrack in particular is pretty great, even though it’s just a Game Boy game. I can’t wait to play its remake in the near future.

4. A Link Between Worlds

When I first heard about this game, I was dubious – I thought Nintendo was just cashing in on nostalgia and that this game wouldn’t be very original. As it turns out, I was wrong and I loved it. I’d say that with this game, the gameplay of 2D Zelda was refined to reach its highest point. The game has an item rental system, which really opens up the way that you play by giving you access to all the items from the start. The story was great too – I was particularly fond of the character Ravio and his backstory.

3. Ocarina of Time

This is the game that most people would describe as the best in the series – and I can see why. This one really is an epic tale about saving a kingdom, but it also has elements of time travel. You get to play as Link as both a child and an adult and the story introduces many beloved characters (e.g. Malon and Darunia). It defined the series in a lot of ways and I will always feel nostalgic about the many locales in this version of Hyrule.

2. Majora’s Mask

To be honest, this is probably about equal to Ocarina of Time, but if I really, really needed to choose one over the other, it would be this one. Again, it’s a game with a very different story to the others – the world is ending in three days and you relive those three days over and over as you try to resolve it. You also get to play as a Goron, a Deku and a Zora with the help of magic masks. It’s a dark and creepy game and one which really drew me in.

1. Breath of the Wild

This might be surprising to some and to be honest, I was surprised too. With video games, you expect the old ones to be your favourites forever, but Breath of the Wild showed me that that is not always going to be the case. It enhanced and expanded the series in many ways – it had the most open world and the most comprehensive physics system to let you do what you wanted in that world I was really pleased with this game and I really can’t wait to see what the future holds for the series.

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Halo 3

Halo 3 is probably the Halo game which most people know about. I remember when the game came out and just about everybody was talking about it. Back then, I was a little rigid in my gaming and wouldn’t really bother with non-Nintendo consoles, but as time has gone by I’ve mellowed and now I’ve finally had the chance to play this iconic game.

The first thing that anybody who played the first two games will notice is that it looks a lot nicer. A good game is never just about the graphics, but when you’re having fun and you’re enjoying what you’re looking at at the same time, it certainly adds to the experience. It seems like developer Bungie were keen to show this off too, as the game starts out in a large and beautiful jungle. Obviously, at the time, it had the advantage of being on a brand new console with higher capabilities than would have been available to the first two, but even looking back now, I think it’s a pretty nice looking game.

Gameplay-wise, I felt it played just as well as the last two. It’s a decent, all-round first-person shooter adventure. It’s not a genre I’m an expert at, so if I can pick-up and enjoy the game, I feel that that says something of its merits. Of course, there was also a pretty comprehensive online mode to go alongside the story campaign and it’s great that that’s there, but for me it’s the ongoing story that is most appealing. But it’s good that the strong FPS system they’ve built up has more than one outlet.

I think probably the biggest improvement over its two prequels is in the story department. It felt a little bit more emotional than the previous too, with more of an insight into the characters’ feelings – although I still think that it didn’t quite go deep enough. It was also great to have the cliffhanger of the last game resolved and what felt like a conclusion to the story which had, at this point, run through three games. The end of this game certainly felt a lot more satisfying than the end of the last game.

There’s one thing that I was disappointed about though. In Halo 2, we were introduced to The Arbiter and he was presented as pretty much as important as Master Chief himself. He was playable in many of the missions and central to the story. I hoped that he would have as much of a focus again, but this time he’s been demoted to a support character. He has less focus and is not playable (outside of co-op mode). As I prefer him to Master Chief, I felt that this was a shame. Honestly, this put the game just slightly behind the second one.

Overall, it’s a great piece of escapism. An immersive sci-fi adventure, with great visuals and excellent controls.

Ratings: 9.1/10

Buy it here.

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Vigilante

A couple of months ago, my housemate Sophie and I were heading down to our local Morrison’s (this isn’t part of the story, but I just want to say that Morrison’s is a pretty great supermarket) and it was fairly late in the day. It was the end of summer, so it still stayed light pretty late, but it was already dark.

As we approached the entrance, a gang of young teenagers started yelling nonsense at the pair of us. To be honest, I didn’t really even register that the shouts were directed at us – I just thought they were making mindless youthful noises, but as it turns out, they were shouting ‘shorty’ at Sophie who, depending on what you classify as tall and what you classify as short, could possibly be described as short.

After picking up some delicious items of food for sale, it was time to head home. Our antagonists for the evening were still circling around on their bikes and the ringleader in the anti-social circus started shouting ‘shorty’ once again.

“You’re about twelve,” said Sophie. “I don’t care what you say.”

“I’m not twelve,” he protested.

“Yes, Sophie,” I interjected, “he’s obviously not twelve. You can tell he’s only seven.”

And we kept on our way. However, for some reason, this young child continue to shout words at us.

“If you have a problem with me,” said Sophie, “come and say it to my face – don’t just shout from a distance.”

I admired her resilience. As we came around the corner, so did the teenager – evidently he had decided to take up Sophie’s offer to come and say his nonsense to her face.

He rolled up on his bike and Sophie grabbed hold of the handle. “Do you have a problem with me?” she asked.

Now that the space between them was very limited and she had laid hands on his bike, his confident demeanor left him instantly

“You can’t hit me,” he kept repeating. “Don’t touch me. I’m just a kid.”

He stammered incoherently for a while, so I thought that it would be a good idea to play the good cop to Sophie’s bad.

“As an impartial passer-by,” I said, “might I interject? Nobody’s going to get hit today.”

He looked up at me with vacant, uncomprehending eyes.

“I don’t think it was very nice of you to shout things at my friend,” I said. “Also, have you considered that what you said was very ironic? You called her ‘shorty’ while you yourself are the very same height.”

“Nah, nah, nah,” he said. “I’m just a kid. You can’t touch me.”

Clearly, Sophie’s assertive response to him and rendered him completely senseless. A few moments later he was speeding away in the opposite direction on his bike.

I’m sure he thought twice before the next time he shouted abuse at a random stranger. Our work was done. We made a good vigilante team of good cop, bad coppers and I look forward to conforming many more villains and delinquents in the future.

Who knows? Maybe the next person he would have called ‘shorty’ (if not for us) would have been a drug baron who then riddled his small body with bullets from his tommy gun. A tragedy. We may have saved his life. I am sure once he receives his PhD in pediatrics in fifteen years time, he’ll wait outside Morrison’s to give us his thanks.

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StreetPass Mii Plaza game reviews:

Small but fun download games to play with the Miis of 3DS owners you pass on the streets!
YearGameScore
2011StreetPass Quest6.5/10
2011Puzzle Swap7/10
2011StreetPass Quest II6.7/10
2013StreetPass Garden6.6/10
2014Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS ¹8.9/10
2015StreetPass Zombies8/10
2015StreetPass Fishing8.3/10
2015Super Mario Maker ²9.4/10
2016StreetPass Trader6.8/10

Connected Series:

Footnotes:

  1. There is a stage based on StreetPass Quest and the StreetPass Quest ghosts appear as enemies in Smash Run mode.
  2. Ella Mentree is a playable character via Mystery Mushroom.
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The First Day of University

I was watching The Waltons the other day and I came to the classic episode “The First Day” which is about John-Boy’s first day at Boatwright University. I always enjoy watching it, because it always reminds me of my own first days of university and so I felt inspired to write about the start of my time at Bath Spa University.

I would write about my first day specifically, but the truth is, I can’t really remember it. I can remember my first time on the campus (that was during Freshers’ Week), which was pretty nice. I went along with my (then new, now old) friend Tulin and they had turned the Student’s Union into a kind of night club. I remember speaking to a couple of people and I remember somebody telling the pair of us that we should be making more effort to interact with other people (because obviously, they said, the two of us had known each other for ages).

But I’m not sure that really counts as the first real day. I can vaguely remember the car ride in – an old schoolmate drove me, as she lived in the same town and was going there too. It was a sunny day and I was quite excited. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I felt that it was the beginning of a new era of life and anything could happen.

I can remember, on one of the first days, sitting to have lunch with a table of people I didn’t know – one of them I’d been talking to and had invited me. None of us knew each other and I didn’t feel that comfortable. I thought to myself that I wasn’t likely to form any meaningful connections with them if I just sit among them all at a table and don’t get a chance to interact with them individually. Turns out I was right, because I never saw any of them again and I can’t picture any of them.

The campus, during those first few days, seemed like this far away, unknown location. An unfamiliar environment as I branched off to new horizons. It’s funny because, less than a year later, I felt it to be a comfortable and familiar environment and now I think of it as a sentimental and nostalgic environment.

I remember the end of my first day quite clearly too. I was tired. Very tired and I wondered how I was going to do that every day. Especially as I had to get the buses back and that meant two of them. But as it turned out, it was never a problem. For all the uncertainty of my first days, university turned out to be one of the loveliest times of my life. Not at all taxing or tiring.

On Monday, I’ll have another first day. The first day on a new job. Although I am sure it will seem different and maybe imposing, I can’t wait for the inevitable feeling of comfort and familiarity once I am settled.

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Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

It’s hard to even begin to describe Orlando. It’s such a weird book, but that’s not to say it isn’t good, because it is actually amazing. It starts as if it’s a fairly straight autobiography of a man named Orlando living in Elizabethan England, but slowly and surely things start to become a little weird. Firstly, when Orlando magically becomes a woman (a process which they take in their stride and which barely bothers them at all) and, secondly, when they continue to live for such a long time (literally hundreds of years) and are clearly not aging – although, again, they are not surprised by this and even the people they interact with seem unsurprised.

So, yeah, that’s what this book is about. I’m sure to some people it might sound a little artsy and pretentious, but I love it. Orlando is a very interesting character who changes very much as the story progresses (and not just in terms of gender!) I enjoyed their reflections on the ways the country changed over time and how the literary world changed alongside it. You even get Alexander Pope appearing as a character. As someone who loves discussing literature, Orlando’s unique immortal perspectives were a joy to read.

Meanwhile, Orlando changing from man to woman also brings with it several interesting points of reflection. They remember how they used to interact with women when they were a man, they reflect on the different things they can do as each gender and even take the time to think about which they think they liked being most! They also think about their sexuality and the implications of their changing sex and what their desires truly are. Again – stuff I love reading.

Overall, it’s pretty darn great, but I suppose I have to mention that it’s not without its flaws. The chapters are all very long, so it’s not a book you can quickly sit down and read for ten minutes in a busy day, you need to put aside at least an hour. That’s fine if you’re not bothered about reading less than a chapter at a time, but a bit frustrating if, like me, you always like to leave off at a chapter end. Also, a product of its time, I did feel a little uncomfortable from time to time due to the casual racism that pops up occasionally – which is probably the biggest issue with this otherwise fantastic novel.

But I wouldn’t want the last impression that I leave of this to be negative. I loved this book. There was a dream-like quality to it, where everything seems to blend together even though hundreds of years were passing. Orlando was so strange and mysterious and I must say that they are now among my favourite literary characters. Reading the tale of Orlando’s life in England and across the world was thoroughly enjoyable and it’s a book I can strongly recommend.

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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The Optimist

I recently returned to a call centre that I’d worked at a couple of years previously. It was interesting to see how much the workplace had changed in that time, both in terms of their policies, but also in terms of the people there. Only two of the old colleagues I’d befriended were still there and I was largely working alongside new faces.

Indeed, I was part of a whole team of new people who were working on a specific client. One who left a particularly good impression on me was a young woman who had a very positive an optimistic disposition. I admired that, but unfortunately, most of the people there didn’t take it too seriously. They often joked that she was naive, or that she didn’t know how the world worked, or that her perspectives would all change after a couple of years in the real world.

This quite resonated with me, because these are all things that have been said to me in the past and which (in some instances) are still said today. What I also found quite interesting is that while I shared many of her viewpoints and expressed this fairly regularly, I wasn’t branded as naive like she was. Perhaps her age was the factor in them dismissing her.

At one point, she was talking about how she doesn’t swear – something regular readers of this blog will know that I never do either. Everyone was telling her that she wouldn’t be able to keep it up and that it was unrealistic to think she could do that. It had come up once before and I pointed out that I never swear either. This time, she said “Well, Adam doesn’t swear either, why don’t you say the same to him?” and one person said “It’s just because he’s a nice chap.” But why couldn’t the same be said of her? Is she not a nice chap as well? (or ‘chapette’ I suppose I should say, but I hate that word).

I was only there for a short while (one month overall) and on my last day she said it had been a pleasure to know me, even if only for a small amount of time. I thanked her and wished her good luck as the only optimist left in the office.

She said to me that meeting me had given her hope. Made her realise that her optimism isn’t a naive flower growing out of her youthfulness, but a legitimate way to see the world. If I, quite a few years older than her, held all the same views, then she could hold them for just as long as I could and wouldn’t change and become cynical like they all said.

“Yes,” I said. “Don’t let anybody tell you you’re wrong to be optimistic or that you haven’t realised how bad the world is. Really, the world needs more optimism.”

“I worry,” she said, “that I might one day become really sad and lose my positivity and everyone will be right.”

“No,” I said “Everyone will be wrong. Even positive people are sad sometimes. You don’t have to act happy when you’re suffering. Even the most positive person in the world is sad sometimes. If you become sad, you’re still a positive person. At your core, you’re positive, but external factors may dampen it. But you have a positive soul and that’s all that matters.”

And shortly after, we said our final goodbyes. Though we didn’t exactly become close friends, I still feel that this brief encounter was a significant relationship – I am touched that I was able to give her hope and, honestly, her optimism gives me hope too. I hope that she will continue to be a positive influence on people’s lives for years to come – and I’m sure she will!

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Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer

Spyro 2 is pretty much the ideal video game sequel. At its heart, it follows the same formula as its predecessor, but it enhances that formula while adding in several new features. Though I loved the original, it didn’t take long for me to decide that this one was better.

In this game, Spyro inadvertently ends up in the world of Avalar and soon finds himself caught up in a plot to defeat Ripto, a villian who’s been causing trouble in that area. Assisted by new friends Elora, the Professor and Hunter (all of whom I was quite fond of, especially Hunter), Spyro has to visit various worlds in order to collect orbs and talismans so he can open more worlds and eventually reach Ripto.

The worlds were interesting and fun to explore. They were all fairly distinct and never really felt repetitive. My favourite was probably a place called Aquaria Towers, where you explore a base at the bottom of the ocean and later get to swim around outside it – finally getting out into the open ocean was really exciting. Another was Robotica Farms – some farmland which is run by robots, which was a rather quirky setting. I was also pretty fond of Magma Cone, a level which has you flying around the inside of a volcano.

With a game like this, the quality of these levels is one of the most important things. Though I enjoyed the levels of the first game, they were all essentially deserted locations, with the exception of a few enemies. This time, each level is full of wacky characters who’ll have a problem for you to solve upon your arrival (e.g. rescuing baby turtles, restoring a water supply or catching thieves) and once you’ve done this initial (usually linear) task, you can then go wherever you want and find other tasks to complete.

On top of the improved levels, this game also gives Spyro himself a more versatile play style. I was very pleased, for example, that he can swim now, as it opens the doors for a wider variety of settings and challenges. Spyro is also given the ability to fly much more often and in more fun and interesting ways than before.

So if you’re looking for a delightful slice of 90s 3D platforming, then look no further. This is a lovely game and one which has aged very nicely. I played it for the first time roughly twenty years after its initial release and I still had a lot of fun.

Rating: 8.9/10

Buy it here.

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