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English Language Lab Asturias (ELLA): New Units

ellaEnglish Language Lab Asturias (ELLA) is a project created with the intention of promoting the use of ICT in English teaching. I’m proud to say I’ve been part of the ELLA team from its beginning. Now we present a new set of units, of all levels. We will publish one every ten days, alternating levels. There are two new units already published: ‘How to Tie a Tie’ (basic level) and ‘You Are What you Eat’ (Intermediate).
If you are a teacher, you can subscribe to ELLA and you will have access to the zip version of the units (to be used offline), pdf documents of the different sections, and direct links to audio and video files.
Have a look and let us know what you think of it!

Book review: The Road

By Desirée García Valdés

THE ROAD – Cormac McCarthy
Publisher: Vintage
287 pages

A father in his 40’s and his son, whose age he doesn’t remember, go walking by the road among a world in chaos, trying to reach the south to avoid those freezing nights sleeping over a blanket of ashes. Are they alone in this trip to death?

The earth is completely devastated: no people, no animals, every sign of life seems to have disappeared. Two of the survivors, a father and his young son, go walking by the road. Nothing on the road sides, the fires have destroyed everything. Days and nights walking by foot in an endless trip to nowhere. Which is the reason to continue with this journey plenty of starvation and freezing weather?

This novel written by Cormac McCarthy was awarded with the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. McCarthy said the inspiration for The Road came during a 2003 visit to El Paso, Texas, with his young son. Imagining what the city might look like in the future, he pictured “fires on the hill” and thought about his son.

I find the story quite moving and very readable. With a lot of vocabulary and some adjectives a bit difficult to understand, but this doesn’t affect the reading. The characters come alive for me in a very well written tale. The only thing I disagree with is the novel’s ending, too weak (really common in this kind of writings with a such powerful plot).

Everyone should read THE ROAD to think about their own perfect ending.

Book review: The Book of Illusions

By Begoña Suárez

Feeling deeply depressing about his family’s loss in a plane crash, the professor of comparative literature David Zimmer tries to drown his sorrows drinking a lot and watching old movies on TV. One of these films makes him laugh. The main actor is Hector Man, a silent comedian from the twenties who nobody had heard of in almost sixty years. Trying to get away from his depression Zimmer gets involved in a thorough study of Man’s films. The publishing of the book triggers a series of incidents that make Zimmer go deeper into the actor’s past.

After having read “The Brooklyn follies” I couldn’t resist the temptation to read another Auster’s book. A hopeful and antidepressant novel as the previous one, “The book of illusions’” shows how the enthusiasm for a project helps people to overcome a personal tragedy.

As well as this, it seems to me a very enjoyable book where the author often leads you down the wrong path. An unpredictable plot from beginning to end that includes an unexpected ending.

Book review: Brooklyn Follies

Brooklyn FolliesBy J. Félix

Are you depressed? Do you feel uncomfortable these days, alone or don’t you know how to deal with people in the street? Well “The Follies” is the book you must read. Paul Auster, the author, reminds us that our social and emotional personality will bring us unexpected ways to live whether we like or not, whether our personal life is ok or not, but, it is also true that we must considerer his good social skills and abilities to engage with people, maybe because Nathan Glass, the narrator of Paul Aster’s novel, was a retired insurance salesman. Nathan passes form a “silent end to my sad ridiculous life” to endless possibilities for chance connection, finding the Brooklyn suburbs charms that soon energise him, maybe because he never wanted to die, he had just been bored.

In the long conversation with his nephew, Tom, we can find the crucial idea:  “you love life too, Nathan”, he tells him, “but you don’t believe in it. And neither do I”. Nathan is ready to chat up to any person he meets seeking a relationship. How much happiness we will wonder if he had been loved back by the waitress of the coffe bar where he used to eat.

The Brooklyin Follies is always a pleasure to read, sometimes with strange vocabulary for me but I can follow the meaning progressing in it without effort, and find it difficult to put the book down.

In conclusion, a novel with wonderful characters, intriguing conflicts, humour as well as humanity and warmth. The reader will enjoy the novel. We don’t worry even though death is close, even if  two planes are flying directly into the World Trade Center.

Book review: Stealing Heaven

by Silvia Álvarez

“My name is Danielle. I’m eighteen. I’ve been stealing things as long as I can remember.” These three sentences on the inside of the cover flap of the book introduce the readers to the story of Danielle, the main character of the book. Danielle only knows one way of living. She’s never been to school, she’s never had a job, no friends, no boyfriend, she has even never had a real name . She and her mother move from town to town, stealing silver from rich people houses. That’s the only thing she has done in her life. However, when she and her mother move to the coastal town of Heaven everything changes, she has friends and she fancies a boy. She is fed up of lying to people she loves and she doesn’t want to move to another town anymore. For the first time in her life Dani misses having a normal teenager life, and she starts considering forgetting her past as a criminal to start a completely new life, although this would be very hard for her, and for her mother.

I personally found Dani’s story very interesting. The writer really lets you get into the mind of the main character and, although her situation is unique, at the end you can feel identified with Dani somehow. From my point of view this is a highly recommended book if you want a quick, funny and captivating read.

Book review: Travels in the Scriptorium

by Yuri Privolsky

Here is one of those books that are bound to be loved or else hated, there is not any other possible reaction for the reader due to its particular style. Despite its short number of pages it’s a book that can become very heavy indeed.

The story takes place in a room, but a special one, since we don’t know where it is located. To make it more strange it’s completely sealed and everything has an etiquette whit its name on it. In that weird place an old man is held as a prisoner.

That man (referred as Mr. Blank) doesn’t remember anything about himself. The reason for him to be locked there, his name, his family, his friends…nothing. He doesn’t even realize how long he has been in the room, because his window is “blinded” and he is scared of crossing the door to find out what lies beyond that point.

During the 130 pages of the book Mr. Blank meets many persons who come to visit him while he reads the story of a fictional character that helps him to pass the time and he manages to bring some of his memories back. Who is Mr. Blank? And who might all these persons that come so every often be? And much more important…where and why is he locked?

The story remains enigmatic until the very end of the book, which has an absolutely surprising ending. But as I said in the first paragraph there’s only room for hate or love, and I have developed some negative feelings to this book. I didn’t like it at all, and in my opinion some things are not well explained and the author literally laughs in the face of the reader.

Book review: 7th Heaven

by Sergio García

The book tells two different stories, two different cases that astonish the whole city of San Francisco. The first story starts with an unexpected and extremely violent action:  the murder of a wealthy couple in their home. This is the first link to a long chain of murders committed by a couple of serial killer arsonists that keep the police department on alert. At the same time, the police department have to solve another complicated case:  the disappearance of Michael Campion, the son of the former state governor: a boy with a frail health who everybody feels affection for.

Detective Lindsay Boxer has to solve both cases with the help of her workmate Richard Conklin and her three friends, members of Women’s Murder Club.

Unfortunately, the whole story doesn’t keep the same level of interest as in the first chapters. The plot starts to be monotonous and not very interesting. The main subject of the story is the trial about Michael Campion’s disappearance, only interrupted by another murder of another wealthy couple.

So, the novel continues losing intensity without increasing its interest and at the end it is just another detective’s novel: a good start, a quite boring and slow plot and a fast and sudden ending.

In conclusion, the reader wastes his/her time following a monotonous and not very original story, trying to guess the connection between the two cases, and waiting for  “something else”. Unfortunately, that “something else” never comes..

Book review: The Big Jump

by Rocío García

The Big Jump is a fuel-injected ride into the heart and mind of Travis Pastrana, the most celebrated freestyle rider in the world and a living legend.

Since he was a child, Travis has been taught to live up to his words: “If you say you are going to do something, do it. That is the only way of getting people’s respect and it helps you to motivate yourself too”. This autobiography shows the life story of a man who breaks his limits (in order to move up and set others), and pushes himself as hard as he can. However, his madness is a big part of his success.

Inside this book you can find his insane jumps: into the Grand Canyon, from a helicopter without a parachute, from a bridge before being three years old… Furthermore, he is the first person who has been able to finish a double backflip (two rotations in the air) in a competition. There are some demonstrations of his new and successful career in rally car racing as well. Incredible? Yes. Impossible? No. For him, there is nothing to fear but his own fearlessness. He accepts no limits, and, in turn, lives a fuller life.
Countless injuries, concussions and other unforeseen factors are summarized in a word: evolution. Travis has been risking his life for it since he was a kid, and this has made him mature at a very early age.

Those awesome stories are a unique chance to live, from the front row, the exciting and travelled life of the sweetest psychopath, so I think you will really enjoy it as I do. The only problem you could find is the amount of specialized vocabulary, so you should have a dictionary near. From my point of view, it is worthwhile reading it.