Sunday, 28 December 2014

Food & Drink: DIY Gingerbread House Kit

Gingerbread Houses are a tradditional part of Christmas and yet I have never made one before! So, when I found a DIY Gingerbread kit in Morrisons I just could not resist buying it.

The kit cost £4.99 and included the 6 pieces of gingerbread to make the house, a bag of pre-mixed icing and 3 bags of sweets (gummies, large sugar-coated chocolate discs and small sugar-coated chocolate discs).





The instructions on the box are easy to follow. You squish the icing until it has warmed up and softened and then snip the end of the bag to make a piping bag. You then construct the house before decorating it. It is very easy to do and my main problem was simply deciding how to decorate it. I had limited time, so I mostly lazily copied the picture on the front of the box.





I did this very quickly, in about 30 minutes, and I cut the end of the bag a big to large, hence how messy my house is!




I had great fun making this on my own and I think kids and families would get great enjoyment out of it. My work colleagues all bought one to take home to their families over the holiday period and I will now be visiting Morrisons to see if they have any left over for my nieces.

Whilst I used the Morrisons kit, I have seen similar on sale in Tesco and on some other websites, although some at a much higher price. 

A great Christmas idea for the family!

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Thursday, 11 December 2014

Book Review: Timothy Other: The Boy Who Climbed Marzipan Mountain by L. Sydney Abel (*Review Copy*)




Title: Timothy Other: The Boy Who Climbed Marzipan Mountain
Author: L. Sydney Abel
Published: 29 September 2014
Publisher: Summer Solstice
Twitter: @lsydneyabel
Blog/website: www.lsydneyabelbooks.com


Synopsis 


Timothy Other’s origins are a mystery. He has lived all his life at the orphanage where he was abandoned as an anonymous infant. The Dreams and Hopes Orphanage, run by the magnanimous Mr Penny, is a happy place, filled with love. But Timothy’s world crumbles when Mr Penny dies. The orphanage is repossessed by the bank, and comes under the draconian rule of the horrid Mr Sterner (with his ‘custard-crease smile’) and the scaly-skinned Ms ‘Fishy’ Finn.

Timothy escapes from the orphanage hidden in a basket on a removals lorry, which is then put aboard a cargo plane. The plane crashes, hurling Timothy into a strange land and a bizarre, surreal adventure.

Review (Original review amended)

I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in return for an honest review.

This is a fantasy adventure story for young adults/Adults, full of villains, magical creatures and adventurous heroes.

The story follows the tale of 12-year old Timothy Other. He was left outside an orphanage as a baby and was living a pleasant life there until the orphanage comes into the possession of the shady Mr Sterner and his cohort, Ms Finn.

I have to admit that I had some difficulty getting into the book at first. The style of writing is very descriptive and 'wordy' which made it somewhat difficult for me to see past the words and into the story itself. In the first few chapters, it sometimes felt that the the meaning of a sentence was slightly lost and there were definitely some sentences that I found myself reading several times in order to take in the full meaning. However, once I got through the first few chapters I became immersed in a fantastic adventure story that older children would love. The author obviously has a great imagination!

There were a few niggles that I had with the story. The first issue was on page 39 where there is a bit of repitition in referring to the pilots as "those poor broken bodies". I am aware that I am being pedantic with this point, however I am not sure there was any reason why Timothy would know them to be "broken" when he did not see the pilots following that specific event

Another issue that really stood out to me is the fact that some of the dialogue is maybe not what I would have expected to see within the book and I fully accept that this is based upon my expectations and is not necessarily a criticism of the book. Timothy appears to use a lot of sarcasm or mocking humour in a way that sometimes seems quite unpleasant. The author has kindly explained to me that whilst Timothy does use sarcasm or mocking humour, this is because he is still coming to terms with the fact that he is having a conversation with two unusual and unexpected characters. Sarcasm is his way of dealing with the situation. The author also explains that sarcasm is often used in the real world between friends and I accept that this manner of speech has been included as a realistic element within the story. 

Finally, one item that stuck in my mind was on page 42 where one character refers to another as a "gluttonous fat fool". The author has explained that the two characters in question had only just gained the ability to speak and had not been taught the hurtful nature of calling  people names, as such they state the obvious without thought. There is also a point later in the book (which I will not divulge as I don't want to ruin the story for anyone) which explains why one of the characters was deliberately gorging on food during the earlier chapters. I accept that the phrase may not have been said between the characters in a malicious way, the two being best of friends, however I am still slightly uncomfortable with the way that a phrase about weight/size could be perceived as an insult/slur. 

My comments above are not intended to be criticisms of the story, but merely my thoughts whilst reading the book. I am aware of how easy it is to find issues/criticisms within a story/book when reading it for the purpose of reviewing and it is very possible  that someone reading the same book for pleasure will not notice those same issues. As such, I do not intend to run through every 'niggle' that I had with the book as most will relate to my personal taste rather than any fault with the story.

The characters are well developed and you really feel for Timothy and his friends, Leopold and Edwin, as they work together to try to save the orphanage from the hands of the hateful Mr Sterner and Ms Finn, not to mention the evil Mr Hargreaves.

Overall, I thought this was an imaginative and fun adventure story which I did enjoy. I would be happy to recommend the book to others. I would be interested to read one of his other stories in order to see how his writing style translates into other stories.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5 

The book is released in electronic format and is currently for sale at the bargain price of £0.77 on Amazon UK.

About the Author


L. Sydney Abel is the pen name of Lawrence Abel. The name was inspired by L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Lawrence has always used the written word, in his song writing and more recently, in his story writing. Several of his story ideas have been whispered to him by someone unknown, usually during the twilight hours.





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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Book Review: The Job by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg (*advanced review copy*)



Title: The Job (Kate O'Hare Book 3)
Author:  Janet Evanovich
Published: 18 November 2014
Publisher:  Headline
Twitter: @janetevanovich and @LeeGoldberg
Blog/website: www.evanovich.com and www.leegoldberg.com

Synopsis 

He’s a charming con man and she’s a dedicated FBI agent, and they’re about to drive each other crazy . . . again! The FBI had one demand when they secretly teamed up Special Agent Kate O’Hare with charming con man Nicolas Fox—bring down the world’s most wanted and untouchable felons. This time it’s the brutal leader of a global drug-smuggling empire.  The FBI doesn’t know what their target looks like, where he is, or how to find him, but Nick Fox has a few tricks up his sleeve to oust this particular Knipschildt chocolate loving drug lord.

From the streets of Nashville to the back alleys of Lisbon, from the rooftops of Istanbul to the middle of the Thames, Nick and Kate chase their mark. When they find themselves pitted against a psychopathic bodyguard and a Portuguese enforcer who gets advice from a pickled head, they decide it’s time to enlist some special talent—talent like a machete-wielding Somali pirate, a self-absorbed actor, an Oscar-winning special effects artist, and Kate’s father, Jake, a retired Special Forces operative.  Together they could help make this Fox and O’Hare’s biggest win yet . . . if they survive.

Review

Thanks to Random House Publishing Group - Bantam Dell and NetGalley for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I've been a huge fan of Evanovich's Plum series for a number of years, although I have not really rated the last few books, and I was therefore hugely excited to hear of another series from one of my favourite authors.

The Job is the third book in the Fox & O'Hare series. For this series, Evanovich has teamed up with Lee Goldberg, a screenwriter, TV producer and author, including the best-selling 'Monk' series.

If you haven't read the first two books, I would recommend adding them to your TBR pile. Whilst the stories do stand alone, the earlier books provide you with a background explanation as to how and why Fox and O'Hare are working together.

The story follows a standard format for the series - FBI’s Special Agent Kate O’Hare and con-man & thief Nicolas Fox work together to capture some seriously bad criminals in an elaborately creative (and largely illegal) way.

The story has an 'Oceans Eleven' feeling in the use of Fox's team of people, each with their own useful skills, including: Jake - O'Hare's ex-special forces father, Willie - the driver, Tom - the carpenter and Boyd - the actor. Fox provides the genius behind the plan/con and the team to carry out the mission. O'Hare provides the funding, some amount of legality and gun power.

As expected, the team are met with a host of surprises and obstacles along the way, but the reader knows that they will come out triumphant in the end (I don't think that I'm really spoiling the story by stating that obvious fact).

If you've read any of Evanovich's books before, then you will have a good idea as to what you're going to get out of this book. There is action & adventure within the main story, romance from the ongoing flirtation between Fox and O'Hare and humour in the situations that they get themselves caught up in.

The story is somewhat formulaic, however I think that there is a lot to like about this book. There is the 'bad guy' called Violante (a fitting name for an evil criminal), a mob enforcer who takes advice from a pickled head, elaborate cons, great interaction between all of the characters and the burgeoning relationship between Fox & O'Hare. I particularly liked that there were moments when I surprised myself by laughing out loud. This is a fast, fun and easy to read romp and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It does not have the silliness of the Plum series but is still a great light-hearted read.

I'm already looking forward to the next Fox and O'Hare adventure.

Rating: 4 out of 5 

The book is released in electronic format and is currently priced at £7.99 on Amazon UK or, alternatively, is available here in hardback for £15.99.
  
About the Author


Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the Lizzy and Diesel series, twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Trouble Maker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, as well as the Fox and O'Hare series with co-author Lee Goldberg.



New York Times Bestselling author Lee Goldberg is a two-time Edgar Award and two-time Shamus Award nominee whose many TV writing and/or producing credits include "Martial Law," "SeaQuest," "Diagnosis Murder,""Hunter," "Spenser: For Hire," "Nero Wolfe," "Missing." "Monk" and "The Glades." He's also the author of the Fox & O'Hare series with Janet Evanovich (The Heist, The Chase, The Job), "The Walk," "Watch Me Die," "King City," the "Dead Man" series, as well as the "Diagnosis Murder" and "Monk" series of original mystery novels.


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Monday, 1 December 2014

Food & Drink Review: Hii-Tea's Bubble Tea


You may not have heard of bubble tea before. It originates from Taiwan and is also known as pearl milk tea or boba milk tea. According to Wikipedia, the term "bubble" is an Anglicized imitative form derived from the Chinese bōbà (波霸), meaning "large". The "bubble" refers to the chewy tapioca balls added to the drink. The drink itself is usually a tea base mixed either with fruit or milk.  I'm afraid that my photograph was taken on the run and isn't great, however you can see the 'bubbles' at the bottom of the drink.

I was introduced to bubble tea by a Taiwanese-American friend living in Chicago, where it seems to be very popular. I initially tried an iced milk tea without the tapioca balls. Unfortunately, even asking for only half the sugar syrup (as recommended by my friend) it was still way too sweet for me.

Logo taken from Hii-Tea's website


On traipsing into The Oracle in Reading today to start my Christmas shopping, I noticed a new concession opened on the lower floor of the mall called Hii-Tea. Their website  explains that Hii-Tea, a "UK based bubble tea brand, partners with East Asian (Taiwanese) drink and desert experts, focusing on delivering delicious and trendy drinks/desert to Europe."

I talked to the man serving behind the counter and he was extremely helpful in explaining the options.

First, I was told to choose the drink I wanted. There was a choice of coffee, tea, chocolate and yoghurt drinks and included both hot and cold options. I chose a passion fruit iced tea. Whilst tasting strongly of passion fruit, there was a definite green tea twang to it which ensured that it tasted like iced tea rather than squash/cordial.

I was then advised about the different types of boba and jelly that can be added to the tea. There was a sign displayed which helpfully gave suggestions as to popular flavour combinations, such as passion fruit iced tea and mango boba, classic milk tea and tapioca pearls, honeydew iced tea and lychee jelly etc...  I chose to add mango boba to my passion fruit iced tea.

I was not asked about ice or sugar levels, however I note on the companies website that you can ask for this to be tailored to your own personal taste. There was no ice in my drink, which I prefer, and the sugar level was about right.

Finally, paying for the tea, I had the regular size and whilst I cannot remember the exact cost, it was around £3.50. This is relatively expensive, however it was too large for me so in future I would get the small size.

To drink the bubble tea, you use a very large straw which allows you to suck up the balls whilst drinking the tea. The 'bubbles' vary in texture. Some tapioca balls are chewy all the way through and have a slightly caramel taste which compliments the coffees and milk teas. Other boba balls 'pop' and release liquid flavour. You can also choose to have coconut water fruit-flavoured jellies in the tea rather than the bubbles.

The bubbles that I had were popping boba balls. The mango flavour complimented the passion fruit flavour of the iced tea.

I have to say that I quite liked this bubble tea. It's probably not something I would have on a regular basis since I don't visit Reading that frequently, however I'm interested to try some of the other flavour combinations when I'm next there.

Are you a fan of bubble tea? If so, let me know what flavour combinations you would recommend for my next visit!
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Hair & Beauty Review: Volume Million Lashes Waterproof by L'Oréal Paris




Good afternoon all!

It's been a while since my last beauty post. I'm trying to be good and save some money by using up all the products that I've bought this year before buying anything new. This beauty drought is why, after running out of my regular mascara, I was keen to try something it new.

I have to walk a distance from my car to the office, so I always wear waterproof mascara to avoid any rain-related disasters. I am also a contact lens wearer and find that waterproof mascara prevents panda-eyes on those occasions when my lenses are playing up. 

After checking the beauty aisle at Boots, I decided to try L'Oréal's Volume Million Lashes Waterproof Mascara. It promised a 'Millionizer Brush' specially designed with both long and short bristles to "coat the lashes from root to tip" whilst separating the lashes for a fanned-out effect, along with an anti-clump wiper to help remove excess mascara. L'Oréal describe the mascara as "a formula to achieve maxed up volume with no overload and no clumps".

On trying the mascara, my initial thought was that the brush was not easy to use. It is quite chunky which made it difficult to reach the little lashes on the inner corner of my eyes. 

I applied a first coat which went on fairly well and without too much clumping. My lashes did look long and volumous, however the problem was when I tried to apply a second coat. The mascara started to clump immediately and I had to find an eyelash comb to sort out the clumps quickly before it dried. Not great when I was rushing to get to a party and didn't have time to remove it and reapply!

I will use this product again from time to time, now that it's in my make up bag. However it will be a stand-by product and not something I will be using on a regular basis. 

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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Monthly Tea & Coffee Subscriptions


As a customer of a monthly beauty subscription, I started looking at what other monthly subscription boxes are around. What really appeals to me are tea and coffee boxes. I'm a big tea drinker, although I don't drink 'normal' tea but rather green tea or other herbal and fruit teas.



Bluebird Tea Co. do a 6 month tea subscription at a cost of £59.70 (which works out at £9.95 per month). For this, you get 3 new blends delivered to your door every month. This is 20g of loose tea in each of the 3 monthly flavours. I've only come across Bluebird Tea Co. today but I'm guessing I'll be spending quite a bit of time (and money!) on this site in the coming months.


Charbrew also have Monthly Tea Club subscription service. The cost starts at £24.99 for 3 months, for which you get 2 packs of their specialist teas delivered every month. Each pack contains 15 x bio-degradeable pyramid tea bags.




Whittards do both tea and coffee clubs. Starting from £10 per month, you get 2 packs of either tea or coffee per month.



Kopi have a Coffee Explorer Club at £7.95, which gives you a 250g bag of different-origin coffee every month. The coffee will be either beans or ground.


Finally, another new site that I've come across today is Book and a Brew. For a cost of £12.99 per month, you get a hardback novel and a pack of either tea or coffee from stockists such as Teapigs and Taylors of Harrogate. This is a fantastic idea, however I read a lot and would have some concerns that I might receive a book that I already own.

I should point out that I have not personally tried any of these subscription services and, as such, I cannot say if they are good value or not. However, I would be interest to hear if you are signed up to these or any other tea or coffee subscription boxes.

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Quick Look at Advent Calendars for 2014



The gorgeous Mr GC surprised me with a Yankee Candle advent calendar this week.  It's temporarily out of stock on the official website, however it is currently available elsewhere online. At a cost of £21.99, it's significantly more expensive than a usual chocolate advent calendar, however I definitely appreciate it! I may be one of the only women who has not tried Yankee Candles before. I always stop to smell them when shopping but have not treated myself to one before. Containing 5 or 6 Christmas-themed scents, I cannot wait until 1st December arrives!

Bearing in mind how excited I am about my advent calendar, I thought I would have a quick look around and see what else is available this year.




My favourites (other than my Yankee Candle advent calendar) were Not on The Highstreet's tea advent calendars. There's one from Posttea at a cost of £38 and one from Victoria Mae Designs at a cost of £19.50. I love my tea and I think these are a great idea. I hope that my favourites, Teapigs and Beanies, will consider doing advent calendars next year!

Benefit are doing an AMAZING advent calendar containing 24 mini beauty treats. It can be found on their website or at Debenhams, however at a cost of £60 it's more than I can justify for a pre-Christmas treat. 


Tesco are doing their first ever beauty advent calendar. At a cost of £50, it contains brands such as Nip+Fab, Korres, Katy Perry, Dr LeWinns, Bayliss & Harding and Tanya Burr behind every door.

Masters of Malt are doing unique vodka, tequilla, whiskey, rum and cognac advent calendar, costing between £99.95 to £279.95. These are well beyond my means, however if I ever win the lottery, my dad and husband would love one of these!

Topshop appear to be doing a jewellery advent calendar at a cost of £25.00. According to the write up, it contains 12 pairs of stud earrings, 4 bracelets and 8 necklaces.

The big shops (Asda, Tesco, Toys-R-Us and Argos) all appear to be selling Lego advent calendars containing 7 mini figures and accessories. The cost varies from £14.97 to £20.00.

In looking into this subject, I've barely scratched the surface. I've also come across advent calendars from Bodyshop, Jo Malone, Selfridges, Ciate and Primark amongst others. There really seems to be something for everyone out there.
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Book Review: Difficult Husbands by Mary de Laszlo (*review copy*)



Title: Difficult Husbands
Author: Mary de Laszlo
Published: 31 October 2014
Publisher:  Bookouture
Twitter: @adelica
Blog/website: http://www.judithmurdoch.co.uk/our-authors/mary-de-laszlo/


Synopsis 

Three friends. One surprise inheritance. And the perfect plan to deal with troublesome husbands at Christmas time…

Newly divorced Lorna is struggling to adjust to life on her own. When she discovers that her beloved godfather has left her the grand (and crumbling) Ravenscourt House in the heart of Sussex, she soon has a project on her hands.

Nathan sells delicious goodies at Mulberry Farm. When he meets Lorna at a Christmas market, neither of them can ignore the chemistry. But as they get to know one another, Lorna wants to know one thing – is he after her or the house?

Together with Gloria – whose marriage to alcoholic Adrian has hit rock bottom, and Rosalind – struggling to deal with her womanising husband Ivan, the three friends hatch a plan. They’ll ditch their difficult husbands at Ravenscourt House and enjoy stress-free Christmases with their families. But nothing is ever that simple…

An entertaining story of family, friendship and new beginnings that will delight fans of Trisha Ashley, Carole Matthews and Katie Fforde.

Review

Thanks to Bookoutre and Net Galley for sending me a free review copy of this book.

This is a tale of family, friends and new beginnings. It deals with some difficult subjects such as marriage breakdowns, alcoholism, adultery, financial difficulties and death, whilst emphasising the importance of friendship, support and family.

I first want to say that this book was okay. Whilst the start of the book felt a bit slow going, it started so pick up half way through. It is an easy read and the story had potential. However, I also found some parts of it incredibly irritating.

Lorna, the main protagonist, seemed somewhat feeble to me. Married young to a much older man, she feels understandably betrayed when he enters a mid-life crisis and leaves her for a younger woman.

Gloria, a supporting character, is in a similar situation, except that her older husband is an alcoholic, refusing to seek help for his problems.

Finally, there is Rosalind, whose older husband is ignoring his wife and children whilst focusing his attention on worthy causes. We learn very little about Rosalind and it feels as though she is only there to add another 'difficult husband' to the mix.

The ladies feel as though their husbands (and ex-husband) are ruining and endangering their relationships with their children, so when Lorna inherits a large country house they come up with a plan to leave the husbands stranded in the countryside for Christmas.
Unfortunately, whilst the story had potential, there are areas where the story could have been improved, such as going into more depth about their lives before the problems and by considering the husbands' point of view. No mention is made of any fault on the wives’ part in contributing to the failing marriages or that upon retirement the men may have realised that they have simply grown apart from their younger wives and need to find something new in their lives. There are always two sides to every story and this book very clearly only presents one side of the coin.

I didn't feel that I could really empathise with the characters, maybe because I am younger and have never been in a similar situation to them, but also because I did not like the way in which they reacted to their difficulties. Why, when informed of her daughter's premature labour, did Lorna become hysterical to the extent that she was unable to continue with the call or have a coherent thought? I did not understand this.

In additon, the author seemed to feel the need to keep re-emphasising the theme of the difficult husbands and not in a very subtle fashion. This inserted a degree of repetition into the story which felt unnecessary.

In addition, I felt as though the author was not just telling a story, but also putting forward her own strong views about subjects to the point that I felt this book to be almost a piece of propoganda. She obviously has quite a strong dislike of anti-depressants, referring on a number of occasions to how Lorna's husband went off the rails after being given medication by his doctor. She also appears to be opposed to age differences within marriages. The story contains numerous digs at older men marrying younger women, with mentions of impotence and disgust at the idea of an older man fathering a child with a younger woman. The author really seems to be intent on showing a stereotypical view of older men going though mid-life crises and what women should expect when marrying an older man. It has an odd feeling of bitterness to it.

There were some other aspects within the story which I found difficult to relate to. For example, Lorna’s children expecting that their divorced parents would be spending Christmas together. In a world where divorce now seems, regrettably, to be the norm, I do not know any children of divorced parents who would expect those parents to still come together at Christmas. For the children in this story to make such an issue of their mother refusing to contemplate this idea, seems unlikely and unrealistic.

On a positive note, the book seemed (other than a couple of typo's) to be well edited and I quite liked De Laszlo's style of writing, however the story would have been more enjoyable for me had is focused more on the story of the inherited house and Nathan, rather than the depressing storyline involving the husbands.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The book is released in electronic format and is currently priced at £0.99 on Amazon UK.  

About the Author


Mary De Laszlo


Mary de Laszlo worked for Queen Magazine in the 1960s. She also worked in Paris, in the fashion department of Jardins des Modes. She now lives in London and writes full time.
 





 
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