Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Book review: Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas


My edition: Paperback, to be published on 2nd January 2014 by Atlantic books, 513 pages.

Description: His whole life Danny Kelly's only wanted one thing: to win Olympic gold. Everything he's ever done - every thought, every dream, every action - takes him closer to that moment of glory, of vindication, when the world will see him for what he is: the fastest, the strongest and the best. His life has been a preparation for that moment.

His parents struggle to send him to the most prestigious private school with the finest swimming program; Danny loathes it there and is bullied and shunned as an outsider, but his coach is the best and knows Danny is, too, better than all those rich boys, those pretenders. Danny's win-at-all-cost ferocity gradually wins favour with the coolest boys - he's Barracuda, he's the psycho, he's everything they want to be but don't have the guts to get there. He's going to show them all.

Rating:

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Theatre review: American Psycho

Synopsis: Living the high life in 1980s Manhattan, Patrick Bateman has it all – looks, money, style and status. He and his entourage buy the most expensive designer clothes, eat at the most exclusive restaurants and party at the hottest clubs. But privately, Patrick indulges in another kind of transgression. And people - including those closest to him - keep disappearing.

Rupert Goold directs this musical adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's iconic novel, from the composer of Spring Awakening, which casts Patrick Bateman centre stage as an anti-hero for our time.

Cast: Matt Smith as Patrick Bateman. Ben Aldridge, Charlie Anson, Jonathan Bailey, Katie Brayben, Cassandra Compton, Holly Dale Spencer, Susannah Fielding, Simon Gregor, Holly James, Lucie Jones, Tom Kay, Gillian Kirkpatrick, Eugene McCoy and Hugh Skinner.

Rating:

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Book review: Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop by Jenny Colgan


My edition: Hardcover, published on 7th November 2013 by Sphere, 432 pages.

Description: Rosie Hopkins is looking forward to Christmas in the little Derbyshire village of Lipton, buried under a thick blanket of snow.

Her sweetshop is festooned with striped candy canes, large tempting piles of Turkish Delight, crinkling selection boxes and happy, sticky children. She's going to be spending it with her boyfriend, Stephen, and her family, flying in from Australia. She can't wait.

But when a tragedy strikes at the heart of their little community, all of Rosie's plans for the future seem to be blown apart. Can she build a life in Lipton? And is what's best for the sweetshop also what's best for Rosie?

Rating:

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Dinner at Léon de Bruxelles



Léon de Bruxelles started its life 120 years ago in the heart of Belgium's capital, Brussels, and eventually made its way across the pond with its flagship eatery to England. Based in London's West End it attracts culture lovers, locals, tourists and mussel connoisseurs with a plethora of mussel dishes, crispy fries with mayonnaise and Belgian beers.

As soon as we sat down at our table and were given our menus we knew we were in a restaurant that specialised in mussels. Not only did the variety of seafood offerings comprise a large portion of the menu, but the menu itself was shaped like a mussel shell, which was a nice and quirky touch and certainly whetted our appetites for what was to come.


For a starter my guest opted for the calamari fried in breadcrumbs and served with tartar sauce, which she was very pleased with. It was a generous portion on the plate and while the little taste I had was slightly too greasy for my liking, my friend disagreed with me and was very satisfied with her first course.

I myself chose the wild mushroom croquettes, which was one of three flavourings on the menu, and they were very good indeed. As soon as I bit into the first croquette an intense mushroom flavour exploded in my mouth, which reminded me of a good creamy mushroom soup but with a little more bite. It was a very pleasant start to the evening and set the bar high for the rest of the meal.


My friend, who I believe is somewhat of an expert when it comes to the taste of shellfish (opposed to myself, I am much more of a novice), choose the fairly basic mariniere mussels as her main, reasoning that the simple sauce of white wine with parsley and shallots wouldn't distract from the overall taste of the course.

She was very satisfied with the flavour of the dish, which was served in a heavy iron bucket to keep the meal warm. It was a large portion however, so despite it being very tasty she was unable to finish it in its entirety. As with all the mussel mains, hers was served with the well-known large and crispy fries known as Belgian frites, which were delicious and complemented the seafood flavour well.


I haven't had mussels on many occasions in the past and so my eyes did wander back and forth between the wealth of other options on the menu, especially the grilled salmon with pesto sauce and the entrecote sounded very appealing, but eventually I decided that when in Rome (or Belgium in this case), I should really try one of the restaurant's specialties.

Still thinking about the grilled salmon on the next page I chose the salmon and basil mussels, which ended up being the perfect combination of flavours for me. There was a generous amount of salmon mixed in with my mussels, though I've come to realise that while I enjoyed the dish as served I'm not much of a mussel fan in general. I am pleased I gave it a try though and with a delicious dish at that.

My main too was served in a heavy iron bucket which kept it warm for the duration of the meal, even though I was taking my time as opening the mussels is quite a slow process. Another reason I didn't rush the main course is that it was a very large portion, and despite my best efforts I too wasn't able to polish off my plate in the end.


While we were both unable to finish our main courses, we of course couldn't resist the temptation of a sugary sweet dessert and as such we asked for the menu once more, before spending a fair amount of time salivating over all the options. My friend opted for the Belgian chocolate fondant because, again, when in Rome, and you can hardly go wrong with chocolate - especially from Belgium. It was a dense and very chocolatey cake, complimented well by the gently flavoured ice cream on the side.


I myself had made up my mind as soon as I laid eyes upon the dessert titled La Coupe Spéculoos. Most of you are probably not familiar with this, but I am from the Netherlands and speculoos is a well known spicy shortcrust biscuit - and a smooth and gooey bread spread, which I admit I sometimes eat straight from the jar with a spoon. So of course the idea of an ice cream flavoured with something I'm very fond of was too hard to resist.

The coupe was served with caramelised apple compote in the bottom of the glass, speculoos ice cream in the middle and a very generous wallop of Chantilly cream on top, which was decorated with some speculoos biscuit crumbs. It was an amazing combination of sweet and warming flavours and for me this delectable dessert alone made the visit to the restaurant worthwhile. Not that any of the other courses weren't well presented, cooked or flavoured, but this one was particularly enticing and memorable.


With more varieties of mussels on the menu than can be counted on two hands, and other Belgian specialties such as frites and beers to compliment their main speciality, Léon de Bruxelles has a lot to offer to those who love fresh, well-seasoned seafood and a good brew.

And even if those options don't particularly tickle your fancy you'll be sure to find something of interest on the diverse menu, which also includes other seafood dishes as well as meat and vegetarian options. My particular favourite and recommendation would be the dessert La Coupe Spéculoos, which is a slightly tart but mostly sweet and spicy little piece of heaven.

Léon de Bruxelles, 24 Cambridge Circus, London WC2H 8AA.

BLOG TOUR - Book review: A Cinderella Christmas by Holly Kingston

My edition: ebook, published on 15th November 2013 by Novelicious Books, 101 pages.

Description: Lucy Tilley dreams of a career in show business. But this isn't quite what she had in mind...

This year's Cinderella pantomime is the hottest production in town. What's more, Lucy is starring alongside Ryan Aspall: famous TV actor, sex symbol and potential love of her entire life. One teeny problem - Lucy is tripping the light fantastic as... the back end of the comedy cow. Surely nothing kills a flirty moment quite like wearing a massive set of udders?

At least she has the support of glamorous (if potentially flammable) Charmaine; a reality star diva of a Cinderella, who Lucy is completely fascinated by. But behind the fame and beauty, Charmaine is not all she seems.

With more drama off the stage than on it, and everyone wanting to be star of the show, will Lucy find the confidence to make it out of the cow suit and into the spotlight this Christmas?


Rating:

Monday, 16 December 2013

Naturally Made For You body butters



Naturally Made For You products are exactly what they say on the tin: naturally made. The brand's owner Kadifa Jones sees it as her mission to provide a collection of products are completely natural and actually work too. For this review I tried two products from the range: the Whipped Shea Butter with Nutmeg and Orange (which is naturally rich in vitamins A and E) and the Whipped Mango Butter Red Mandarin, Cinnamon and Ginger (which is high in antioxidants and rich in vitamins).

From its core ingredients I expected the Whipped Mango Butter Red Mandarin, Cinnamon and Ginger to have a heavily spiced scent, but instead it was much more nutty and earthy and admittedly not a fragrance I instantly fell in love with when opening the lid. However, once I started using the body butter I was surprised by how much the scent changed on my skin and it became more zesty and pleasant the more I rubbed it in. even more enticing on the skin and pleasantly lingers lightly long after use.

The cream initially was incredibly thick in consistency yet as soon as I applied it to my body it became more oily and was easy to spread out making a small scoop go a long way. Unfortunately it wasn't instantly absorbed. meaning that it left my skin feeling a bit sticky and I had to wait a little while before I could use my hands again. It was worth it in the end as it definitely helped patch up dry areas on my skin, but I don't generally like to wait for a cream to be absorbed.

The Whipped Shea Butter with Nutmeg and Orange smelled absolutely divine and was definitely my favourite out of the two I tried on this occasion. As soon as I opened the packaging the heavenly fragrance was released, and the warm and spicy tones that emerged instantly put me in a wintery and rather festive mood, which is of course perfect for this season. Scent aside, once applied it was very similar to the first body butter I tried; thick in the pot, oily during application, and leaving my skin feeling soft and supple.

As a body butter both do the trick very well (if you can be a little patient and wait for the cream to be absorbed completely that is), but fragrance wise my preference definitely goes to the nutmeg and orange scented body butter which not only is a very appealing fragrance when still in the pot, but becomes even more enticing on the skin and pleasantly lingers lightly long after use.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Biscuiteers event with Lindsey Kelk


Last Wednesday my friend and I got to attend a special baking event with the lovely Lindsey Kelk in celebration of her latest release, I Heart Christmas (which is brilliant by the way, read my review here), which was a super fun night!

"Bake with Lindsey" was held at the Biscuiteers boutique and icing cafe in West London (just off Portobello Road Market), which I'd never been to before but I definitely want to return to. They sold the most exquisitely iced biscuits, from ones shaped and coloured in like dragonflies and dogs to a whole advent calendar of different figures. And they also carry a lot of super cute baking supplies, perfect for those people who have been bit by the baking bug since the last series of The Great British Bake Off.

Before the biscuit icing fun commenced we were welcomed with delicious Prosecco and canapes (I particularly loved a salmon one that came on a mini crumpet) and got a chance to mingle with the other women in attendance (where we mostly talked about books, of course!).

And before we knew it it was time to head downstairs where tables were laid out with festively coloured icing and ginger biscuits shaped like Christmas baubles and Christmas trees, which we could paint to our heart's content. There was a contest for the prettiest one and mine, unsurprisingly, didn't make the cut, lol. I really enjoyed icing them but they pretty much looked like a child had been let loose on them :p

Our supplies, there was gold paint!

A blank canvas...

My wonky biscuits >.<


After the icing there was a Q&A where we got the opportunity to question Lindsey about her writing process and novels. My friend wanted to know if it was difficult to write a seasonal novel while it wasn't anywhere near December and Lindsey said that while it was slightly challenging she also found it a lot of fun to do because she loves Christmas. She also explained the differences between celebrating the holidays in the UK and America and how in the US Christmas was put on hold for Thanksgiving (cue a hilarious story regarding her organising Thanksgiving dinner for her friends in New York).

Someone else asked how it was to tackle a new series and Lindsey said that initially she was worried that Tess (from About a Girl) would be very similar to Angela but when she started writing this wasn't the case at all. She also said that if I Heart New York had been written with Tess in the lead it would've been a completely different novel.

There were a lot more questions after that, but my memory is rubbish and it has been five days since the event, so... After the Q&A we all got a chance to get our books signed and pose for photos before heading off with a lovely goodie bag (which was the icing on the eh... icing event). In all it was a brilliant evening, I mean there was booze, biscuit icing and book chat, what is there not to love? Many thanks to Lindsey, Katie, Lucy and everyone else for making this such a fab event!

Photo with the lovely Lindsey (who was wearing an awesome Christmas jumper!)

Fab goodie bag we received at the event, including an I Heart Christmas
advent calendar, nail file and Oyster card holder.

My signed copy of I Heart Christmas :)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Sunday post #17



Sunday is when I sit back with a lovely cup of tea and write about all the wonderful new books I've received and purchased in the past week. This post participates in fab memes Showcase Sunday and Stacking the Shelves.


After I Left You by Alison Mercer (review copy)
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas (review copy)
It Felt Like a Kiss by Sarra Manning (review copy)
The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O'Neal - ebook (review copy)



I have had an awful few weeks at work so thank heavens for lovely book post and literary events as a distraction! Two weeks ago my colleague (who is also my friend) and I were told that our jobs are at risk of redundancy and only one of us will be kept on going forward. We're now in the process of reapplying for the job but whatever happens it's an awful situation... Either I lose my job this Wednesday or my friend will and I'm going to feel terribly guilty for being the one to "win". It's horrible and stressful and I really wish we weren't put in this position, and just before Christmas too :(

Anyway, as I said, thankfully book post and events have been able to distract me somewhat. Now I have a Kindle I've finally signed up for NetGalley and I had my first request approved this week! Fingers crossed this is going to help me against the everlasting battle of books vs shelf space (I doubt it though, I can still not walk past a charity shop without buying new books...). Not pictured above but something cool I also received this week was a personalised Christmas card from the one and only Sophie Kinsella! That definitely cheered me up :)

Finally, friend and I had a brilliant evening on Wednesday at the Biscuiteers in London where we had booze, biscuits icing fun and book chat with the always lovely Lindsey Kelk! I'll try to put up a proper post about the event and some pictures (including of my wonky biscuits...) early next week.

Hope you guys had a wonderful bookish week ♥

Friday, 6 December 2013

The Scottish Fine Soaps Company winter range 2013



As a lover of all things Christmas - I'm one of those people who will start decorating before December has even started and if I can get away with it I will leave some cute reindeer figurines dotted around the house all year around - so I was excited to be trialling bath and body products created by The Scottish Fine Soaps Company specifically with the holiday season in mind.

The Scottish Fine Soaps Company is a Scottish based manufacturer established in 1974, which creates products that promote well-being for the mind and body. Now, 40 years down the line, the company produces a variety of bath and body items, including a special Christmas range, which is inspired by the smells and themes of the festive December feast.

There are a lot of gorgeous scents I associate with the rapidly approaching festivities; the smokiness of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the warming qualities of ginger and cinnamon used to spice up dishes and hot drinks, and of course the zesty mandarins and satsumas which are in abundance this season - and I was keen to see if the Scottish company was able to replicate these Christmas scents within their winter range.


For this review I tried the products in the Spiced Apple Pamper Tin (which includes a 75ml body butter, 75ml body wash and two 100g luxury soaps) and the Gingerbread Luxurious Essentials Drum (which contains a 75ml hand & nail cream, 75ml body wash, 75ml body butter and a 40g soap). Both gift boxes come in festive green and red colours, the tin even has a luxurious golden touch to it, making them a perfect addition for underneath the Christmas tree - and they don't even require battling endless amounts of wrapping paper and sticky tape to look the part.

The contents were equally fun and festive. With a snowflake pattern on the packaging they perfectly represent the wintery theme that became eminent as soon as I opened the boxes and I was enveloped in the warm and homely scent of Christmas. The soaps in particular emanated the holiday feel as their strong fragrance broke free without even having to open their packaging, though all the products when used had a strong festive scent that pleasantly lingered after application.

I really enjoyed trying the various products within the gift drum and tin. The scents complimented each other well and so it's perfectly fine to mix and match them by for instance using the sweet Spiced Apple body wash, followed by the spicy but still gentle Gingerbread body butter. Both the body butter and hand & nail cream were easy to apply and were instantly absorbed, leaving my skin feeling velvety soft and smelling gorgeously like a bundle of Christmas sweets.

I thought that both the Spiced Apple and Gingerbread fragrances were absolutely lush and highly addicting as I often found myself opening the tubes of cream just to get a whiff of the enticing scent within. It did make it impossible to pick a favourite so I have resorted to using them in alternating order and disappear in a cloud of Spiced Apple and Gingerbread, spreading the smell of Christmas wherever I go.

Book review: Make My Wish Come True by Fiona Harper


My edition: Paperback, published on 1st November 2013 by Mills & Boon, 384 pages.

Description: Family-orientated and Christmas-dinner cook extraordinaire Juliet is trying to keep it together in the wake of her marriage breakdown two Christmases ago, but the cracks are beginning to show.

Bright and vivacious Gemma was always the favourite daughter... So she has no qualms about leaving Christmas in her sister Juliet's capable hands; and escaping the pressures of her glamorous job, and the festive madness by jetting off to somewhere warm.

When Gemma shirks responsibility once too many and announces she’s off to the Caribbean (again!); Juliet finally snaps. Gemma offers her sister the perfect solution - to swap Christmases: she’ll stay home and cook the turkey (how hard can it be?) and Juliet can fly off into the sun and have a restorative break.

In the midst of all the chaos, there’s Will, Juliet's dishy neighbour who's far too nice to float Gemma's boat and may secretly harbour feelings for her sister; and Marco, the suave Italian in the villa next door, who has his own ideas about the best way to help Juliet unwind.

Will the sisters abandon caution and make this a Christmas swap to remember?


Rating:

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Book review: There's More to Life Than Cupcakes by Poppy Dolan


My edition: ebook, published on 10th October 2013 by Novelicious Books, 295 pages.

Description: Ellie Redford has a husband, a job and a home. According to the rest of the world, it's baby o'clock already. Shame life doesn't come with a recipe...

Ellie knows that starting a family with lovely husband Pete would be an amazing adventure. Pete would make a brilliant dad and she'd have an excuse to eat shed loads of Cherry Bakewell. But Ellie's bestie would rather she was up at 3am with a bottle of Malibu, not formula. And with redundancies looming, Ellie's boss isn't exactly going to throw her a shower if she disappears for a year, with pay.

While Ellie juggles her feelings (and everyone else's) as competently as a drunken clown, she finds herself signing up for a baking class, alongside the young, free and sizzling hot Joe. As they work buns and shape tarts, is there more to their friendship than a shared appreciation of Paul Hollywood?

Ellie's soufflés may be rising, but her personal life is one big soggy mess. If she doesn't make a decision soon, she may just lose everything that matters to her. Maybe it's time to take off the pinny and face up to the truth: there's more to life than cupcakes...


Rating:

Monday, 2 December 2013

Book review: The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes


My edition: Paperback (proof copy), to be published on 27th February 2014 by Penguin Books, 436 pages.

Description: One single mum
With two jobs and two children, Jess Thomas does her best day after day. But it's hard on your own. And sometimes you take risks you shouldn't. Because you have to...

One chaotic family
Jess's gifted, quirky daughter Tanzie is brilliant with numbers, but without a helping hand she'll never get the chance to shine. And Nicky, Jess's teenage stepson, can't fight the bullies alone. Sometimes Jess feels like they're sinking...

One handsome stranger
Into their lives comes Ed Nicholls, a man whose life is in chaos, and who is running from a deeply uncertain future. But he has time on his hands. He knows what it's like to be lonely. And he wants to help...


Rating: