Monday, March 30, 2015

Cheap London: 5 ways to go to the cinema for free!


As a Dutch person I love my freebies and discounts and having lived in London for nearly 5 years now I've accumulated a wealth of knowledge on how to enjoy the capital's joys without bankrupting myself. So I thought I'd write this series of posts to help other Londoners, or visitors, to make the most of the city's art, culture and other fun things it has on offer.

This first post will provide tips on how to go to the cinema (an increasingly unaffordable expense) completely for free to see the latest films, most of the time even before their nationwide release!

These top tips aren't only valid for London, they can help you go to the cinema for free all around the UK, however, there are definitely more opportunities for special one-off events in the capital – such as red carpet premieres or previews with a cast and crew Q&A. At these special screenings you often get drinks and snacks as well (usually a bottle of water and popcorn or chocolates) so you can much your way for free through the film too.

1. Showfilmfirst – This provider has teamed up with film distributors to put on preview screenings, from big blockbusters to indie films, to spread word of mouth before a film's release. Sometimes they have a media partner, such a Heat or Radio Times, in which case you can find all the details to booking tickets in the respective magazines. Other times you'll get an invite straight to your inbox based on your previous bookings, location and other preferences. Just make sure you're quick, as screenings often book out within minutes of a ticket release. If you do luck out, it's worth checking back in the days before the preview takes place as cancellations oftentimes go straight back into the pot.

2. Competitions – Without a doubt the best way to get access to special screenings and premieres is hunting down competitions for the film you want to see. Good sources for regular film giveaways are places such as Empire, OK! Magazine, The Evening Standard (mainly online), Glamour Magazine and Metro. Keep an eye on their Twitter accounts and dedicated competition pages on their websites to see what's coming up next. As an example, throughout the years I've been to the UK/European/World premieres for films such as Iron Man 3, Rock of Ages and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and seen people such as George Clooney, Helen Mirren, Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock in the flesh.

3. Free Movies UK – This forum has a a group of dedicated contributors scouting the Internet for the latest Showfilmfirst codes, film competitions and much more. It's your essential resource to not miss out on any of the above, and you can even make film buddies in your area of London or local town in the process!

4. Telegraph, Times+, The Sun – If you have a subscription to any of these papers it's worth checking your membership for special privileges besides getting the paper conveniently delivered to your doorstep or mobile device. Each of the newspapers has its own way of rewarding customers and one of them is by offering tickers to advance screenings of the latest flicks.

5. Cinema vouchers – This one isn't a given and you shouldn't should set out to expect this freebie, but I have in the past been given gift vouchers at major cinema chains simply because I raised an issue that occurred during a screening I attended; from a film starting far too late to the picture and sound being out of sync. Like I said, don't expect to receive anything in return for your complaint but definitely make a point of raising the issue in person with the manager after the screening. At the very least you'll ensure they'll be aware of the issue and they can fix it for fellow patrons and your own future visits.

Bonus: Not free, but good ways to go to the cinema for less are: 2-4-1 tickets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Meerkat Movies, Sky's £3 Movie Mondays at the O2 in Greenwhich, and if you're a real movie fanatic you may be able to knock a few quid off your monthly cinema bill by getting a Cineworld Unlimited Card.

I hope these tips help! If you have your own advice to help others go to the cinema for less in the UK then do drop a line in the comments. And if you've used any of the above to see a movie, or two, for free I'd love it if you could let me know about your experience as well.

In future posts I'll cover (West End) theatre, cultural outings and much more! If there's anything in particular you'd like me to give you some tips on for discounts or freebies in London, just leave a comment below.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book review: The Museum of Things Left Behind by Seni Glaister


My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 21 May 2015 by Fourth Estate, 421 pages.

Description: Vallerosa is every tourist’s dream – a tiny, picturesque country surrounded by lush valleys and verdant mountains; a place sheltered from modern life and the rampant march of capitalism. But in isolation, the locals have grown cranky, unfulfilled and disaffected. In the Presidential Palace hostile Americans, wise to the country’s financial potential, are circling like sharks …

Can the town be fixed? Can the local bar owners be reconciled? Can an unlikely visitor be the agent of change and rejuvenation this broken idyll is crying out for?

Rating:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book review: The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London #3) by Maureen Johnson


My edition: Paperback, published on 5 February 2015 by Hot Key Books, 374 pages.

Description: Grieving, shaken, and feeling very much alone, Rory's life as a member of the Shades of London has changed irrevocably. It's only been a matter of hours since Stephen was taken from her, possibly for ever. Her classmate Charlotte is still missing, kidnapped by the same people who tried to take Rory. Rory is no longer a schoolgirl haplessly involved in the dealings of a secret government unit. She is their weapon in a matter of life and death.

With hardly a moment to think for herself, Rory is back to work. Charlotte must be found -- as must Stephen, if he is even out there. Lines must be drawn and forces rallied. Something is brewing under London, something bigger and much more dangerous than what has come before. The Shadow Cabinet holds the key to everything, and it is up to Rory to unravel its mysteries before time runs out...

Rating:

Friday, March 20, 2015

10 highlights from the Country Living Spring Fair



I love going to the Country Living Fairs to find unique, non-high street gifts for my friends and family and beautiful decorations for my own home. Last night I went to the gala evening of the Spring Fair in London and rather than writing an extensive post about it I thought I'd show you pictures of my 10 favourites stands.


> Swoon Lounge was the very first stall I stopped at and at the end of the night it was still one of my favourites at the fair; a beautiful collection of unique, vintage and bespoke homeware gifts.
 

> The second stall that caught my eye was Shabby Sheep Crafts. My phone image does not do it justice, but the felt creatures created by this mum are simply stunning.


> The beautiful colours of the ceramics by Material Pleasures are perfect for Spring and Easter (and the rest of the year!). And how cute are the mice?


> I love figurines (especially cats and woodland animals) and I spent quite some time rummaging around the extensive collection at Rummage and Rootle.


> This beautiful cheese from The Haciendas Company is something very special; a unique flavour that is highly addictive.


> I love soap and I love books so these soap books from Heyland & Whittle are right up my street. They don't only smell amazing, but they're puntastic too. I mean, Grime and Punishment? Genius.


> Every single time I find a Jane Means stall at a fair I have to stop by to stock up on ribbons, gift tags and other wrapping supplies. They're unique and perfect to turn every present into something special and eye-catching. Jane also hosts great gift wrapping workshops at events!


> Candle Le Fleur was a super cute, girly stall and they did a brilliant job on the Easter theme.


> Having a dry skin I am always keen to try new body products to help me battle the dryness and when I tried the rich, manuka honey-infused Restore Me Honey Nut Body Butter by Apicare I was sold.


> I collect mugs and how beautiful are these Katie Alice ones? I am in love and definitely need a set to brighten up my kitchen *hint hint*

Honorary mentions: Heck sausages, I always pick up a pack of their sausages when I see them at a fair and this time around they had a new one I'm looking forward to trying: Chicken Italia; Truckle Cheese, I had to buy a jar of their onion marmalade, which is unrivaled; Green & Blacks chocolate have new 'thin' bars, the salted caramel flavour is particularly scrumptious; and Alula's Garden, a beautiful collection of crafty gifts.

The Country Living Spring Fair is on at the Business Design Centre in Islington (London) until Sunday 22 March 2015, though I linked the individual shops too so you can visit them even after the fair has finished. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Books and the City's Spring Blogger Evening


Simon & Schuster have been at the forefront of the dedicated female fiction websites with their wonderful Books and the City for four years now, and I have been to some brilliant events organised by them in the past few years, such as cocktails with Melissa Hill's to celebrate A Gift to Remember and a preview screening of Oscar-nominated film Still Alice (based on a S&S book of the same title).

So I was thrilled when I received an invite to their Spring Blogger Event to celebrate some of their amazing authors; three of which (Milly Johnson, Jane Costello, Andy Jones) I had already read books by before the event, one (Iona Grey) whose novel I coincidentally just started reading for the Curtis Brown Book Group and one debut author (Heidi Swain) whose first novel will be released as a digital exclusive in July.


Heidi Swain, Andy Jones, Milly Johnson, Iona Grey and Jane Costello

The evening started with a mad-dash from work (5.30pm finish near Victoria) to the Books and the City offices (near King's Cross), praying to the TFL gods to not have me stuck in a tunnel for once so I wouldn't miss one fabulous minute of the evening's programme, scheduled to start at 6pm sharp. I made it on the dot and managed to grab a can of coke before the huge group of bloggers present (it was like my entire Twitter feed came together to meet in person) sat down to listen to readings from the authors' upcoming novels, followed by a Q&A hosted by their lovely editor Clare Hey.

While I was particularly excited to meet the wonderful Milly Johnson after I had the pleasure to review the delicious The Teashop on the Corner for Novelicious last year, all authors present at the event were such a joy to listen to and their upcoming novels all sounded wonderful, so make sure to keep an eye on them; The Love Shack, Letters to the Lost, The Two of Us, The Cherry Tree Cafe and Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe. We received a brilliant sampler book in our goody bags with chapter extracts from the upcoming books, so I know how I will be spending my weekend!


These were just SOME of the books on display in the BatC offices

After the readings and Q&A it was time to dig into the masses of paperbacks on display (I may have picked up most of Milly Johnson's back catalogue – all of her novels which I did not yet own) before chatting to the guests-of-honour (aka authors), get some books signed and mingle with my fellow book bloggers (while enjoying a glass of fiz and one of marketing manager Dawn's amazing carrot cake cupcakes, which was the ACTUAL best).

We were warned that the office tiger would be released at 8.30pm and we should leave by then but I had so much fun chatting to fellow book bloggers I met at the end of the night that I reluctantly left nearer 9pm, oops. (Next time I'm bringing my sleeping bag, my commute to work the next day would be so much quicker than from home as well!)


The AMAZING cupcakes by Marketing Director Dawn

I feel very fortunate to have been a part of such a brilliant evening filled with fabulous authors, the lovely BatC team (SJV and Dawn, I'm looking at you!) and fellow bloggers. Many thanks to everyone at Books and the City for organising such an amazing event and for the glorious books + filled BatC-branded tote bag (I've always wanted a bookish... and proud of it notebook, how did you know?!?).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book review: Under My Skin by James Dawson


My edition: Paperback, published on 5 March 2015 by Hot Key Books, 301 pages.

Description: Seventeen-year-old Sally Feather is not exactly a rebel. Her super-conservative parents and her treatment at the hands of high school bullies means that Sally’s about as shy and retiring as they come – but all that’s about to change.

Accidentally ending up in the seedier side of town one day, Sally finds herself mysteriously lured to an almost-hidden tattoo parlour – and once inside, Sally is quickly seduced by its charming owner, Rosita, and her talk of how having a secret tattoo can be as empowering as it is thrilling. Almost before she knows what she is doing, Sally selects sexy pin-up Molly Sue, and has her tattooed on her back – hoping that Molly Sue will inspire her to be as confident and popular as she is in her dreams.

But things quickly take a nightmareish turn. Almost immediately, Sally begins to hear voices in her head – or rather, one voice in particular: Molly Sue’s. And she has no interest in staying quiet and being a good girl – in fact, she’s mighty delighted to have a body to take charge of again. Sally slowly realises that she is unable to control Molly Sue… and before long she’s going to find out the hard way what it truly means to have somebody ‘under your skin’.

Rating:

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book review: Coming up Roses by Rachael Lucas


My edition: Paperback, to be published on 21 May 2015 by Pan Macmillan, 300 pages.

Description: Would-be gardening expert Daisy can't believe her luck when her parents announce they're off on a midlife crisis gap year, leaving her in charge of their gorgeous garden, much in need of her expert TLC. And coming just after a break up, some peace and quiet in the countryside is just what she needs. Only, village life turns out to be anything but - with nosey neighbours and greedy developers instantly stirring up trouble.

What Daisy really needs is a good friend, or two. So when she comes across Elaine and Jo, she's relieved to have multiple shoulders to cry on. But her new friends are dealing with dramas of their own - a marriage in crisis, a family secret and managing the local gossips.

As Daisy wrestles the garden into something like beautiful order, can she get a grip on her new feelings for handsome Irish rogue George and stop her parents selling up to a developer?

Rating:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book review: Ivy Lane by Cathy Bramley


My edition: Paperback, published on 12 February 2015 by Corgi, 464 pages.

Description: Tilly Parker needs a fresh start, fresh air and a fresh attitude if she is ever to leave the past behind and move on with her life. As she seeks out peace and quiet in a new town, taking on a plot at Ivy Lane allotments seems like the perfect solution.

But the friendly Ivy Lane community has other ideas and gradually draw Tilly in to their cosy, comforting world of planting seedlings, organizing bake sales and planning seasonal parties.

As the seasons pass, will Tilly learn to stop hiding amongst the sweetpeas and let people back into her life – and her heart?


Rating:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Food review: Graze variety box


I have been interested in trying Graze for a while now and a few weeks ago I finally took the plunge and ordered a trial variety box. The idea of healthy snacks arriving conveniently in the post seems fantastic on paper, but is it really as good as it sounds?

After trying Graze, my main issue with the concept was the lack of control when picking what to receive. They have a wealth of tasty snacks on the website, but rather than picking which ones I wanted, I had to sort them all (which is a lot of work) by 'bin', 'try', 'like', 'love' and 'send soon', from which the company will try to match my wishes as close as possible. Fun if you like a surprise, but inconvenient if you know what you want, because even selecting 'send soon' means you don't necessarily get it straight away.

I also though that for the amount of snacks you get in a single box the full price of £3.99 is simply too much. Yes, the box is packaged well (each snack wrapped in its own little plastic container) and the price includes postage too(so I do understand where it comes from, but for four bite-sized punnets of food, it is unfortunately too expensive to treat myself to on a regular basis.

Now for the most important bit, my thoughts on the snacks I received:

The Graze Brownie – This was the one I was most looking forward to but it was unfortunately my least favourite. It was small, dry (no gooeyness within) and lacked the brownie's iconic crunchy top. Bin. 

Deconstructed Carrot Cake – I love Graze's idea of deconstructing cakes and the combination of flavours in this instance definitely resembled a carrot cake. Though the pieces of dried fruit and nuts combined to quite a dense and dry texture, making this experiment a bit underwhelming. Try.

Smoky BBQ Corn – I didn't remember seeing this on the website and it's not something I would normally buy but I loved this one. It has some fantastic flavours and crunchiness, and I was sad when I'd finished the punnet. Like.

Marvellous Macaron – Just like the deconstructed carrot cake, this snack punnet contained individual ingredients that once combined should taste like the real deal. In this case the 'macaron' was made up of almond slivers, amaretti drops, coconut flakes and white chocolate buttons. It sounds plain and simple but it is soooo good. By far my favourite and I would happily receive this one again! Love.

Overall I really like the idea of Graze and I was reasonably satisfied with what I received. However, the fact that I can not select exactly what snacks I get, combined with the steep price, means I will likely only order this again as a rare special treat to myself and/or at a discount.

Do you want to try a Graze completely for free? Just visit their website and sign up with the code ZARINA6FB. If you don't want to continue your subscription (and get charged!) after your free box has arrived, just go into your account and click 'cancel my deliveries' :)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Theatre review: Lardo at the Old Red Lion Theatre



©Photo Gus Miller

Continuing on with my exploration of London's fringe venues, last week I ventured over the the Old Red Lion Theatrein Islington, which I walked past daily for years when I worked near Angel Station but hadn't actually set foot it until now. After The King's Head Theatre (also in Islington) and the Landor Theatre (in Clapham) this was my third encounter with the 'theatre pub' set-up and I think it's my favourite yet. The seats were comfortable enough for the space and, most importantly, the incline was excellent, so the view from all angles was unrestricted.

Lardo is a young lad who is obsessed with wrestling. And even though it doesn't seem like he'd be fit for the ring, his sheer determination and unique outlook on life lead him to Tartan Wrestling Madness; a group of Scottish hard-core wrestlers. While joining them has been what he has dreamed of ever since he started wrestling, when he actually becomes part of the elite group he realises that it doesn't necessarily give him the satisfaction he was craving. He was hoping it'd make him feel closer to his father, who died in the ring, but instead he has to face the egos and nasty games of his fellow wrestlers.

Admittedly, a play about wrestling normally wouldn't be on my radar as I know little about the sport and it doesn't interest me in the slightest, but when I saw that Daniel Buckley would be taking on the role of Lardo, my interest was definitely piqued. I've seen the actor in several other shows in the past – most notably Loserville and Ushers – and I always enjoyed his performances, so I was keen to see how he would handle the lead in a non-musical production. And he did so admirably. He was charming and genuine as the naive Lardo and despite a what seemed ludicrous dream to join to big guns in Scottish wrestling, I soon started rooting for this underdog.

The entire small cast was excellent, in fact, especially Zoe Hunter as Whiplash Mary, one of the female wrestlers of Tartan Wrestling Madness; Stuart Ryan in his dual role as wrestler Wee Man and Derek, a man who has taken Lardo under his wing; and Nick Karimi as Stairs, the egotistic boss of the Scottish wrestling group who shows a surprising side towards the end. Despite their all-around good performances, I did have difficulty following the story in the beginning because of the very strong Glaswegian accents. There was no doubt they were authentic, but having to strain to hear the dialogue did distract me from the actual focus of the story.

The play really shone during its impressive fight sequences, directed by a real wrestling director (Henry Devas). The full-size wrestling ring took up the majority of the small theatre space inside of the Old Red Lion Theatre, which added to the realism of the play though its grandness in the confined space was also somewhat claustrophobic. This was multiplied by the heavy use of strobe lighting and sound effects, which would've been fine to use once at the beginning to transport the audience to the wrestling setting, but the continuous use throughout became excessive; creating a feeling of unease.

Lardo hasn't converted me or made me any more interested in wrestling, but filled with impressive fight-sequences and a lot of heart at its core, the play of the Scottish underdog fighting his way to the top is one that even non-wrestling fanatics can resonate with.




Lardo is running at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 29 March 2015. Buy tickets here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Book review: The Cake Shop in the Garden by Carole Matthews


My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 23 April 2015 by Sphere, 421 pages.

Description: Fay Merryweather runs her cake shop from her beautiful garden. She whips up airy sponges and scrumptious scones, while her customers enjoy the lovely blossoms and gorgeous blooms.

Looking after the cake shop, the garden and her cantankerous mother means Fay is always busy but she accepts her responsibilities because if she doesn't do all this, who will? Then Danny Wilde walks into her life and makes Fay question every decision she's ever made.

When a sudden tragedy strikes, Fay's entire world is thrown off balance even further and she doesn't know which way to turn. Can Fay find the strength to make a life-changing decision - even if it means giving up the thing she loves the most?

Rating:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book review: The Glam Guide by Fleur de Force


My edition: Paperback, published on 12 February 2015 by Headline, 224 pages.

Description: Fleur De Force is a YouTube fashion and beauty sensation with over a million followers and a two-time winner of the Cosmopolitan 'Best Vlogger' Award.

Fleur started a video blog in 2009 that shares her passion for everything beauty and fashion. What started out as a hobby evolved into something much bigger, and she has since become known as one of the most influential young personalities in the online fashion and lifestyle vlogging community.

Over the past five years, Fleur has sought out the best beauty products, style tips and shortcuts to share. In The Glam Guide, she spills all her secrets and discoveries, from makeup tips, to wardrobe advice, to healthy lifestyle motivation, to first-date pointers.

Rating:

Monday, March 2, 2015

Theatre review: Loserville at the Union Theatre



©Photo Darren Bell

The year is 1971 and American high schooler Michael Dork is in a race against computer firm Arch Systems to be the first to make computers communicate; if he succeeds he won't just be a geek in a garage, but he will finally get recognition rather than ridicule at school. However, when he is banned from the computer room it seems that all his hard work has been for nothing and Arch will beat him after all. Luckily for Michael, equally brainy Holly Manson joins his school and all he has to do is ask her if she wants to help him. After all, she isn't banned.

Unfortunately for the awkward Michael, talking to a girl is easier said than done. And to make matters worse, popular playboy Eddie Arch (son of the man who owns Arch Systems) has his own reasons for beating Michael to the finish line of computer communications, and his interfering tests tentative romantic connections as well as life-long friendships. Among countless Star Trek references, bowling evenings and the Starship Awards, will Michael be able to keep his friends by his side and beat Eddie and Arch Systems?

With a book and music by Elliot Davis and James Bourne (member of Busted/McBusted), Loserville first delighted audiences in London at the Garrick Theatre in 2012. Sadly only lasting a few months in the West End, the original British show was nominated for a prestigious Oliver Award for Best New Musical and rightfully so; it was fresh, fun and it really resonated with its prominently young audience. Besides Matilda, British shows unfortunately haven't done very well in the West End in recent years and Loserville was another victim of the long slew of premature closures, which is a real shame as its youthful vibrancy wouldn't go amiss among the plethora of Broadway imports and screen/book adaptations currently gracing the boards.

If you missed the musical when it was first playing in London then the new Union Theatre production is the second chance you have to grab with both hands. While not located in the West End, the performing space is close to Southwark, London Bridge and Waterloo stations and so easy to get to for anyone in or near London. It was my first visit to the theatre and its easy access and high quality of production for an Off West End venue means that I will definitely be back.

Starting with a subtle tribute on blackboards to the legendary Leonard Nimoy, who poignantly passed away on the day of press night, it was evident from the moment the audience walked into the auditorium that they were in for a geek-heavy night. And while the enthusiastic cast struggled through a what seemed sped-up version of the first song – which was performed a tad too camp even for this otherwise cheesy show and went coupled with poor sound quality – as soon as they launched into the second number, Don't Let 'Em Bring You Down, the cast was on a joyous roll.

The sound issues prevailed throughout the performance, as the majority of the actors were drowned out by the band during their solos. Notable exceptions were Lewis Bradley (of Any Dream Will Do fame) as the charismatic villain of the piece, Eddie Arch; Holly-Anne Hull as Holly Manson, who wants to be the first female astronaut; and Jordan Fox as Michael's best friend Lucas Lloyd, who is writing a sci-fi novel with the working title Galaxy Battles – an epic battle of good and evil set in the stars, I'm sure you can guess where they were going with that and the multitude of puns throughout the show were a delight.

These three actors made the performances of Brains and Looks and Holly... I'm the One particular highlights of the production, though the musical really shone in the large ensemble numbers, which not only sounded wonderful but also looked super fun with Matt Krazan's lively choreography. It was all very youthful and fresh, and for a fringe production the slickness of the visual joy on that stage was impressive.

Those who had the privilege to see Loserville in the West End will likely define this revival at the Union Theatre as a 3-star production of a 5-star show (though if the sound issues are taken care of this would be a solid 4 stars), but with an abundance of catchy pop rock tunes and an uplifting feel-good story, theatre-goers who don't have anything to compare this version with will have a brilliantly geeky 4-star night out.




Loserville is running at the Union Theatre until 21 March 2015. You can buy tickets here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Book review: The Little Shop of Hopes and Dreams by Fiona Harper


My edition: paperback, published on 3 October 2014 by Mills & Boon, 400 pages.

Description: Nicole, a born organiser and true romantic, has created her dream job when she sets up the Hopes & Dreams proposal agency - staging YouTube worthy proposals...until she's hired to plan a proposal by gorgeous photographer Alex Black's girlfriend.

Alex is the New Year's kiss that Nicole hasn't been able to forget - and now she's planning his wedding to someone else! But if she lets herself fall for Alex's charms, her reputation and business will be ruined before it's even got off the ground!

Suddenly the girl whose always prepared is at a loss...and falling head over heels.

Rating:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book review: I'll Take New York by Miranda Dickenson


My edition: Paperback, published on 4 December 2014 by Avon, 495 pages.

Description: When her boyfriend lets her down for the last time, Brooklyn bookshop owner Bea James makes a decision – no more. No more men, no more heartbreak, and no more pain.

Psychiatrist Jake Steinmann is making a new start too, leaving his broken marriage behind in San Francisco. From now on there'll just be one love in his life: New York.

At a party where they seem to be the only two singletons, Bea and Jake meet, and decide there’s just one thing for it. They will make a pact: no more relationships.

But the city has other plans...


Rating: