Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Eve of St. Agnes Hydrating Body Cream



Mostly everyone has a skincare condition which they are unhappy with and which for some actively causes issues; dry and flaky skin, eczema, an oily t-zone and rashes are just a few examples of problems women battle with on an every day basis. Walking into the health and beauty aisle at your local supermarket or chemist looking for a cure can be a daunting task. Faced with endless rows of options claiming to solve all sorts of skin issues you'll often find that when scrutinising the ingredients, the products on the shelves will probably do more harm than good.

That is where natural skincare brand Eve of St. Agnes comes in. Emma Heywood founded the company in 2011 with the vision to create a skincare company that would produce all-natural skincare products created from the best natural and organic ingredients from Fairtrade and community projects around the world. Suffering from skincare dilemmas herself, she wanted to ensure her products would not be created from generic formulas conceived clinically by people in white coats, but instead that they evolved from the heart.

And that is exactly what she has achieved. Before I'd even had a chance to see if the cream was a right fit for me (it was), I had already fallen head over heels in love with the adorable owl and rose drawings on the front of the box which presented the product as a charming and luxurious treat. And as soon as I opened the large jar it was contained in, I fell in love with the beautiful gentle floral fragrance within as well.

Besides the deliciously enticing scent, which lingered just long enough to be alluring, but not too long to become overbearing, the cream does exactly what it says on the tin. Or box in this case. It's a wonderfully rich product which absorbed quickly when applied, not leaving any white or shiny marks like so many other lotions and creams do. As soon as I used the hydrating body cream I felt the nourishing qualities working their magic, ensuring that I would no longer be walking around with a dry and tight skin.

I would also like to take a moment to admire the stunningly captivating packaging. The beautifully drawn images of flora and fauna radiate romanticism while simultaneously emphasizing the natural qualities and ethics of the brand. I am someone who frequently gushes over something simply because it looks pretty, I admit that I even sometimes judge a book by its cover, so the gorgeous packaging definitely added to the appeal of the product.

Eve of St. Agnes was inspired by the poems of John Keats and with its romantic and quintessentially British look and floral scent, this name couldn't be more befitting.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Book review: Carry You by Beth Thomas


My edition: paperback, published on 24 April 2014 by Avon, 483 pages.

Description: Daisy has lost her mum to breast cancer. She's at rock bottom and doesn't think she'll ever get back up again.

Her best friend Abi has other ideas – she tells it like it is and she's determined to make Daisy remember the person she used to be.

What Daisy doesn't know is that, thanks to Abi, her life is about to take an unexpected turn, when she signs them up to do a charity walk.

Added to which, someone is about to burst into Daisy's world in a riot of colour reminding her that life can be full of surprises.


Rating:

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Dinner at Ye Olde Saracen's Head in Coventry



Ye Olde Saracen's Head is set in a historic 16th century building and was renovated just a few years ago; perfectly balancing the rustic charm of the original features with the modern amenities we've now come to expect from a very good country restaurant. The seasonal menu offers an extensive range of dishes, all made in-house with fresh, local produce.

As soon as we walked into the restaurant we felt welcomed by the cosy atmosphere and the friendly serving staff. There is a wealth of choice on the menu and after much contemplation I eventually opted to start my dinner with the Josper grilled asparagus, crispy poached egg and truffle dressing. It is very easy to over- or undercook asparagus, but these were prepared to perfection and had a subtle bite to them. The poached egg added a lovely texture to the dish and while overall it was a bit too bland for my taste, it makes an excellent vegetarian starter for someone not too fond of spicy food.


My guest chose to start with the charcoal oven roasted marinated duck skewers with Asian salad, sticky plum dressing and toasted sesame seeds, which she called succulent. The beautiful pieces of duck were incredibly flavoursome and the dressing had a pleasant tingly aftertaste. I too had a small bite as it looked so inviting on her plate and have to agree, it was a wonderfully cooked and presented dish.


For my main course I opted for the lemon and thyme stuffed pork belly with Josper roasted garlicky baby spuds, which was served on a beautiful wooden board, which perfectly fitted into its surroundings and added to the rustic charm of the establishment. There was plenty of space on the plate for the various parts of the dish, including the gravy jar, and carving the meat on the wooden surface was much more comfortable than it would've been on a regular plate.

The pork was cooked to succulent perfection and encased in an inviting crispy exterior. The seasoning was spot on and combined with the generous helping of potatoes the dish was reminiscent of a very good Sunday roast. Good to note is that this course also comes with a serving of broccoli, which made me ordering a side of the same vegetable a bit superfluous, but we solved this easily by sharing our greens.


My guest was served the beautiful roast rump of lamb, which came with watercress purée, gratin potatoes and a fricassée of fresh peas and smoked bacon. The potatoes looked particularly inviting in all their creamy goodness and I made sure to have a taste as well. It was just as delectable as it looked; crispy on top with a beautiful, buttery melt-in-the-mouth layer underneath. My friend went as far as to call this part of the dish "sinfully delicious". The lamb was cooked beautifully as well and complimented by the smoky flavour of the bacon and the freshness of the peas.


Even though we were satisfyingly full at this stage, the dessert menu looked incredibly inviting and we were easily tempted to order a pudding each. My friend chose the Granny Smith apple and butterscotch crumble with vanilla ice cream, which looked beautiful country chic displayed on a pale blue and white striped serviette. While the butterscotch flavour wasn't overwhelmingly present, the rich crumble went down a treat.


I'm always partial to anything chocolatey when on offer and the warm gooey chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream ended up being the perfect choice for me. It was a very generous portion so I struggled finishing it, though not for lack of trying. Beautifully crisp on top and melt-in-the-mouth gooey on the inside, each little bite was an intense cocoa-flavoured sensation. My mouth is watering just by thinking back to this, it's one of the best brownies I've ever had - and there have been many throughout the years.


After dinner we had the opportunity to peak in the stunning private dining room, located in the older part of the building. Low ceilings, wooden beams and a variety of other original features make this a cosy space for a private party; seated in one of the old-fashioned carved seats on either end of the table you almost believe you've been transported back to a more rustic and simpler time.

This was in stark contrast to the modern open kitchen in the part of the restaurant we were dining, which is build around a centrepiece wood-fired pizza oven. Combining old and new in this instance worked very well, bringing the best of both worlds together in a unique and very charming setting.

When night fell the fireplaces were lit up, adding a gentle smoky fragrance to the homely atmosphere already lingering in the pub. This feeling was amplified by the fairy lights twinkling in the trees just outside, the country charm of the establishment entrancing passers-by before they'd even had a chance to glance at the delectable menu.

Ye Olde Saracen's Head, Balsall Street, Balsall Common, Coventry CV7 7AS.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Book review: A Place To Call Home by Carole Matthews


My edition: paperback, published on 10 April 2014 by Sphere, 432 pages.

Description: In the dead of night, Ayesha takes her daughter, Sabina, and slips quietly from her home, leaving behind a life of full of pain. Boarding a coach to London, all Ayesha wants is a fresh start.

Hayden, a former popstar, has kept himself hidden away for years. He's only opened up his home to two people - Crystal, a professional dancer with a heart of gold, and Joy, an ill-tempered retiree with a soft spot for waifs and strays.

When Crystal asks Hayden if Ayesha and Sabina can stay with them, he reluctantly agrees and, as different as they may be, they quickly form an unlikely bond. So when enemies threaten their peaceful home, they will do all they can to save it and each other.

Rating:

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Blog Tour: Interview with Carole Matthews



Carole Matthews is one of my favourite authors, her amazing novels always make me feel warm and fuzzy inside and not just because they often cover two of my favourite things; chocolate and Christmas. I'm thrilled to be part of the blog tour for her latest book, A Place to Call Home.

Hi Carole, thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions as part of the A Place to Call Home blog tour. I'm a huge fan of your beautiful and heart-warming stories and I loved your new novel!

CM: Thank you, Zarina! That's very kind. Thank you for letting me visit your blog!

What does an average writing day in the life of Carole Matthews look like? Do you have any special writing tools and/or rituals?

CM: I'm quite a disciplined person, so my writing day is very structured - and probably quite dull unless you're in my head! I work an eight-hour day, Monday - Friday. That's the only way I can manage to write two books a year. There's no lying around on a chaise longue waiting for the muse to arrive! I just switch on my computer and crack on.

The only special tools are lots of tea and the occasional bar of chocolate. That's enough to keep me going. It's all very unglamorous, I'm afraid!

Your novels cover a wide range of topics from a chippy make-over to a life-changing journey through Africa, where do you find the ideas you create your stories around?

CM: It tends to be either something I've seen in a newspaper or magazine, or a conversation I've had with someone. I like to look for something contemporary, a little issue that's bothering women. I also write a lot of books set where I live in the Costa del Keynes, so it's sometimes nice to go to somewhere a bit more exotic if the 'research' fun will allow.

I particularly liked writing Wrapped Up in You which was set in the Maasai Mara and also Calling Mrs Christmas which involved a trip to Lapland. I hope my love of the countries and the colour comes through in the stories.

Even though it's not anywhere near December, to me you are the Queen of Christmas. Is it difficult to get in the spirit and write a seasonal novel months before the holiday is in sight? And please tell me you have another one planned for this year?

CM: Thank you! I feel like the Queen of Christmas. Since doing a Christmas novel every year I have fully embraced the festive season and there doesn't seem to be a time when I'm not thinking about it. I’m probably one of the few people who craves mince pies in July. It's sometimes hard writing about cold and snow when it's sweltering outside!

There will, indeed, be another Christmas novel this year. It will be my 25th book, so quite a landmark. It's called The Christmas Party.

This is a bit of an evil question, but which of your characters is your favourite and why?

CM: I think Lucy Lombard from The Chocolate Lovers' Club and The Chocolate Lovers' Diet. She always tries to do the right thing and ends up making a terrible hash of everything. She's more like me than I care to admit. I haven't finished with the those ladies yet and am currently writing a third book in the series for Christmas 2015.

And finally, what is the absolute best thing about being a writer?

CM: Being able to work from home. I live in a three-story house and I'm lucky to have the top floor as offices. I used to commute into London every day and am so very, very glad that I don't have to do that anymore. All I have to do now is walk up a flight of ten stairs. Bliss.

Thank you!

Thank you very much to lovely Carole for stopping by my blog today! Her latest novel, A Place to Call Home, is published by Sphere and is out now. You can (and should) buy a copy from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or your own preferred retailer.

The Christmas Party will be published on 8 August in hardback and can be pre-ordered from Waterstones and Amazon.co.uk. The paperback will follow 23 October.



For more blog posts about A Place to Call Home make sure you visit the other stops in the tour over the next two weeks:

Monday, 14 April 2014

Book review: Ghostwritten by Isabel Wolff


My edition: paperback, published on 27 March 2014 by Harper, 361 pages.

Description: Jenni is a 'ghost': she writes the lives of other people. It's a job that suits her well: still haunted by a childhood tragedy, she finds it easier to take refuge in the memories of others rather than dwell on her own.

Jenni has an exciting new commission, and is delighted to start working on the memoirs of a Dutch woman, Klara. As a child in the Second World War, Klara was interned in a camp on Java during the Japanese occupation – she has an extraordinary story of survival to tell.

But as Jenni and Klara begin to get to know each other, Jenni begins to do much more than shed light on a neglected part of history. She is being forced to examine her own devastating memories, too. But with Klara's help, perhaps this is finally the moment where she will be able to lay the ghosts of her own past to rest?

Rating:

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sunday post #26



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.


Call The Vet by Anna Birch (unsolicited review copy)
Carry You by Beth Thomas (won)
Ghostwritten by Isabel Wolff (review copy)
Ivy Lane: #Spring by Cathy Bramley (ebook)
Return to Mandalay by Rosanna Ley (review copy)
Sugar and Spice by Angela Britnell (Choc Lit event)
The Headmaster's Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene (review copy)



It's been a few weeks since my last Sunday post. At first there was a bit of a dry spell in new additions to my TBR pile (which was a good thing, it meant I could take a breather from review novels and read some books I've purchased in between as well), then I became incredibly busy at work due to ever continuing changes and more and more work piling onto my desk, with finally a family emergency consuming most of my time last weekend/this week (things are looking slightly better in this regards now, thankfully).

The books that had me most excited when they came in recently were Ghostwritten and Ivy Lane: Spring. The former wasn't on my radar until the author contacted me with the question if I'd be interested in receiving a copy of the novel for review (highlighting the Dutch aspect and appealing to my inner-patriot) which after reading the blurb I was only more than happy to agree to. And I am so glad I did as this was a beautiful novel that has enlightened me on a historical event I knew shamefully little about before (my full review will be up next week). I also got the opportunity to attend the book's launch which I've written about for Novelicious (find full report here).

The other novel I was very excited for was Ivy Lane: Spring by lovely author Cathy Bramley. I read her self-published debut novel last year (one of the few self-published novels I've read), which I adored - it was such a lovely and funny read (find full review here). So I was very pleased when I heard about her exciting deal to write a serialised digital novel for Transworld though I was also slightly gutted as it meant that I'd have to wait a while for the full novel to be published. Nonetheless, I told myself I could do it as I'm terrible with open endings/cliffhangers and so it'd be much better if I wait. But when Cathy's editor emailed me the first part out of the blue, my patience faltered completely as I put it on my Kindle straight away and what a lovely read it was!

I haven't been to a huge amount of book events lately, but I did go to the Choc Lit launch party last week where I had the opportunity to meet the team and some of their writers while enjoying wine, chocolate and a lot of chat with fellow bloggers. We also received a super cute goodie bag upon leaving containing one of their books (see above) and lots of chocolaty goodness. And to continue on with the chocolate theme, Friday I went to see one of my favourite authors, Carole Matthews, at the Chocolate Festival here in London. The festival wasn't great but Carole was, such a lovely lady and I'm thrilled I had the chance to meet her (full report to follow).

How have all you lovely people been? Link me to your Sunday posts below and I'll be sure to check them out!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Book review: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith


My edition: ebook, published on 10 April 2014 by Headline.

Description: Owen lives in the basement. Lucy lives on the 24th floor. But when the power goes out in the midst of a New York heatwave, they find themselves together for the first time: stuck in a lift between the 10th and 11th floors. As they await help, they start talking...

The brief time they spend together leaves a mark. And as their lives take them to Edinburgh and San Francisco, to Prague and to Portland they can't shake the memory of the time they shared. Postcards cross the globe when they themselves can't, as Owen and Lucy experience the joy - and pain - of first love.

And as they make their separate journeys in search of home, they discover that sometimes it is a person rather than a place that anchors you most in the world.

Rating:

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Book review: Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter


My edition: Paperback, to be published on 17 April 2014 by Corsair, 352 pages.

Description: Jack and Meredith are non-identical twins. Their father died before they were born and now they both have to watch as their mother sinks further in to the grip of early-onset dementia.

Jack's career has crashed and burned, all that remains is a Maserati and a nervous disposition. Meredith's world is also crumbling the decomposing yogurt in her fridge a symbol of her newly-expired marriage. Her children, Jemima and Luke, offer little support, too consumed with the world of online dating and amateur taxidermy.

One day, a throwaway comment starts Jack wondering if their father really died. As they begin to untangle the revelations, the twins are forced to ponder both the past and the future: their memories of their mother, their hopes for finding their father, and the fear of what's in their bloodline.

Rating:

Bronnley's Citrus collection and Easter collectible tins



I associate spring time with the warming sun tentatively poking through patches of rain clouds, brightly coloured delicate flowers popping up in the most unexpected places and the gentle fragrance of blossoming trees filling the air; and that essence is exactly what Bronnley has captured in some of the products I got to try for this review.

Based on traditional family recipes, the business has been creating luxury soap, fragrances and toiletries in the United Kingdom since 1884 when founder James Bronnley returned from a year studying the art of soap making and perfumery in Paris and borrowed £300 to set up his business from a small shed in Holborn, London. The toiletry brand is now in its 130th anniversary year and for the occasion they have revamped their Citrus collection with subtle reformulations, new products additions and fresh new packaging.


The company is particularly well-known for its lemon soap, which has been in UK households since 1892. Part of the Lemon & Neroli scent range, it doesn't only smell like a lemon, but it looks like one too. As a big fan of fruit-shaped and scented soaps (my previous favourite was one that resembled a juicy slice of watermelon) this was right up my alley. Not only that, but the zesty freshness of the lemon is incredibly suiting, as it makes you feel all nice and clean after use. To expand upon the fun fruit-shaped soaps, the brand also has limes and oranges and I loved the latter as well. Less sharp than the lemon soap, it's the perfect cleaning companion when you feel in a sweeter mood.

The fruity Orange and Jasmine fragrance of the orange soap is mirrored in the other products from the range and the two I got to try - the Bath & Shower Gel and the Eau de Toilette - were both delightful. The beautiful flowery jasmine scent was complimented well by the fruitiness of the orange and mandarin and I found myself opening the bottle just to get a whiff of this heavenly fragrance. Sadly neither of the products are ones where the smell lingers very long, but I'd happily bottle the Orange and Jasmine fragrance as a perfume and spray it all day long. I'm normally not much of a perfume person, but I thoroughly enjoyed this and wanted to douse myself with the scent so it would linger longer than the brief moment after use.


For a little Easter in your home of the non-chocolate variety, Bronnley has created these super cute Daffodils and Tulips collectable tins. The stunning designs fit the season very well and the scent of the soap was gorgeous too; super fresh and delicately floral it reminded me of the lovely smell of freshly laundered sheets. The fragrance was quite strong too, so leaving the tin open in the bedroom gave the whole space an aura of having just been spring cleaned, without any of the hard work. The two limited edition tins would make great gifts, however once you've seen them in person and had the chance to smell the gorgeous scent you'd likely want to keep them for yourself.