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I'm a bit of a Janeite and love the works of Jane Austen, so when my book club picked this book a couple of months back I was surprised I hadn't already read it. Five ladies and one guy meet once a month to discuss each of the six completed novels that Austen wrote. Each chapter tells of each character, their meeting with a bit of back story and how the chosen novel interweaves with their own life (although in some cases this was more obvious then others).
The book is told from the point of view collectively of the book club, or else a mysterious (and anonymous) seventh member. Rather unusually you don't know who the narrator is, nor is it revealed and I found it rather odd as they refer to the group as 'we' and each individual by name. I got used to it after a few chapters but I am not sure I like it.
I've read all the novels and enjoyed 'listening in' to their discussion, sometimes wishing I could way in with opinions of my own. A member of my book club hadn't read any Austen and she felt inspired to read some after reading the book, so I don't think it matters if you've read Austen before or not. However, that aside I didn't really engage with the characters, in fact I didn't really like them very much. I liked that they were a bit flawed but sometimes I didn't get all of their back story, it tended to be a bit incomplete which I found frustrating.
If you are a fan of Austen then I think you'll still enjoy the discussions the group have anyway, so I would still recommend the book.
The National Theatre was established in the 1960s and has been on its present site (near Waterloo) since the 1970s. It's a rather ugly pebble-dashed building on the Southbank but inside it has recently been done up. It contains three theatres - The Olivier (the largest), Lyttleton and Dorfman (formerly Cottesloe) and now a temporary one called The Shed outside. There are a few restaurants/cafes inside but so far I have only ever used the bar, grabbing food at one of the many restaurants nearby. Drinks prices are not cheap but on a nice day you can go out onto the terrace to take in the view.
Whilst theatre tickets in London are generally not cheap, you can generally get some good deals. My most recent visit saw me watching BAFTA winner Chiwetel Ejiofor in previews for Everyman. Our mid priced tickets cost us £20 each. Programmes are £4 which is also good value. Prices often start about £15 for many shows. I've seen a number of Shakespearean plays here with stars like Adrian Lester and Lenny Henry, as well as other 'classic' plays that have stood the test of time. The theatre also brings new shows and is responsible for a number of recent shows transferring to the West End and becoming big hits like War Horse and One Man, Two Guv'nors.
I always check the NT website to see if there is anything coming out that I would like to see, and I am rarely disappointed - it's just a case of finding the time. I'd recommend it for good value, world class plays, even if the surroundings re not as elegant as some of the older West End theatres.
This novel is loosely based on Damilola Taylor, the young lad murdered on a South London council estate in 2000. In this case, new immigrant Harri lives with his mum and older sister on a London council estate. His dad, grandparents and younger sister are back home in Ghana. A young lad that Harri knows has been stabbed to death on their estate and the police have not been able to come up with anything. No one is surprised, but Harri and another friend decide to investigate secretly, suspecting a local gang.
Whilst the book is written from Harri's perspective it is very much an adult book. This is no Famous Five jolly japes solving mysteries, here a serious (and worryingly too familiar) crime has been committed and the naive Harri and his pal want to find out what happened. Harri is a charming narrator, he is young and sometimes gets words and phrases wrong. He is slightly intimidated by his older sister's brash friends, and just want to run really fast, keep an eye out for his adopted pigeon and have a girlfriend. His new non-brand trainers with the painted on Adidas stripe in marker-pen help with that. Up to this point it has not really occurred to Harri what sort of threats he might have to run from...
Using the voice of a child is a bit of a trend in books, and is not always easy to pull off. I think Kelman has observed very well the sort of things that could confuse an eleven year old boy, especially one from outside the UK. To us, the adult reader, we can read between the lines but Harri doesn't have these skills. We also hear a little bit from the neighbourhood pigeon's perspective which is unique and interesting but I'm not entirely sure is necessary.
Overall an enjoyable and easy read, as far as the writing style is concerned, but the subject matter is more of a challenge.
Eli and Charles Sisters are brothers, and notorious hired killers working for the Commodore in mid-nineteenth century Oregon. Their latest assignments send them down to the California gold-rush territories in search of Hermann Warm, who has allegedly stolen from the Commodore. The brothers don't question this, and just ride out to meet up with the Commodore's spy in San Francisco. The brothers find themselves getting into various scrapes on the way, and upon arrival they find a city in gold-rush fever and a missing Warm and spy...what to do now?
I found the book really easy to get into. It had been recommended to me and I don't think I would have bought it without the recommendation as Wild West style books are not my usual style. It isn't really a Wild West book however, it is much more character led than that. The story is told by the more amiable Eli, the younger of the brothers, and the more thoughtful, as he starts to question why they blindly follow the Commodore's orders to kill a man that may not have done anything wrong.
This is the first book I have read by Patrick DeWitt and I found his writing style to be engaging, however the book is not for the faint-hearted as the story can be quite violent and gruesome in part. It sometimes feels a bit odd to be routing for one psychopath, because he is (marginally) nicer than the other. At 325 pages it isn't particularly a long book, with short choppy chapters.
I would recommend this for those looking for something a bit different, and to extend their comfort zone with something they may not have read before. However not everyone would be comfortable with the gore and violence - think Tarantino on the page
I was looking for a cheap, central hotel to avoid rail disruptions at Easter. I didn't start looking until Thursday night, for Sunday, so there wasn't a huge choice. The best deals were for the Travelodge chain. I booked the Waterloo Central branch for £77, via their own website and my credit card held the booking. The process was quick and simple. This particular branch has a bar-café so offered breakfast (including hot food) for an additional £7.95 per person. It also offered meals in the evening such as lasagne, burgers and pizza and seemed reasonably priced, with various deals and promotions.
The hotel is on Waterloo Road about 1/2 mile from Waterloo station. There are lots of small supermarkets on the way for supplies. The hotel is close to London Eye, Southbank and the Old Vic Theatre. Covent Garden and the West End shops would be about 2-3 miles away, or just a few tube stops.
Upon arrival I gave my name to the receptionist and she checked me in and took my money. I found her and the other staff member I came into contact with to be both friendly, polite and helpful. The reception area is light, modern and airy, it looked well-maintained and was certainly clean and tidy but rather bland and generally lacking atmosphere.
Two lifts in the lobby access the rooms, you will need your key card to access the corridor from the lift lobby. Our room was as expected: small and minimalist. The king size bed took up most of the room, with a small veneer desk, and open hanging space. Light switches were thoughtfully positioned and there were enough plug sockets for our needs. The room has a kettle and basic tea and coffee sachets – there is no fridge, so UHT milk. The room has a TV, supposedly with 17 channels. There is only 30 minutes free wi-fi, otherwise you need to pay for it. The room had a radiator in it, which was off. We were not cold in the room at any point.
The bathroom had a loo, sink with space for your wash-bags and a good sized shower. No toiletries are provided other than hand wash by the sink and a basic hair and body wash in the shower. We only had one towel set and I asked for more at reception when we went out, I would like it if they could put two sets in a double room anyway.
The room was well-maintained and clean, the bed was comfy, although I found the pillows a bit too 'buoyant'. There was no outside noise so we were not disturbed.
In city like London it will be one of the better value hotel chains, especially at short notice. The double room is small so not really ideal for people who want to spend time relaxing in their room, but for one night we were happy.
My last Hotpoint Fridge Freezer had only a half-freezer and did 15 years of loyal service before having a hissy fit between Christmas and New Year. This time I decided to get a full-sized fridge-freezer, but I had a preference to stick with Hotpoint as the last one had been so reliable.
Armed with some online research I popped into a local Curry’s and bought this one for £225. Delivery was free, as was collection of my old appliance.
The appliance is available in white or black and the doors are reversible.
The fridge is the top half of the appliance and has three glass shelves, two of which are adjustable. In the door is a bottle rack and two other adjustable racks, as well as an egg holder. I can't quite get the combination quite perfect for shelf/rack height however. The fridge has two drawers under the bottom shelf which are clear for ease of visibility and a half width each. They cannot be adjusted. This is fine but some veg, such as leeks can’t fit in as they are too long. The fridge door closes automatically which is a good function, unless you push it right back.
The freezer has three and a half drawers. The top drawer is a fast freeze drawer.
The bottom drawer is a half drawer in that it only goes back half the depth of other drawers (but is full width). I use this for bread and milk and because it is the bottom drawer and the most awkward it doesn't worry me It can be fiddly to get back in when you've pulled it out though. The middle two drawers have a blue plastic ice cube ‘tray’ fitted in to the top of the front of the drawer. I tried to use them once but found it all a bit of a faff.
I find the space more than adequate for my needs.
The fridge was quite noisy for the first few days whilst it ‘settled’, but after that it was as quiet as a mouse.
I think this would be a good fridge-freezer for a single person or a couple or perhaps a small family who shopped often but a larger family would probably need a bit more room and functionality to meet everyone’s needs.
For the price I paid, I was very happy with a good spec fridge-freezer from an established brand which I have had for a few months now. As with any white goods purchase it is always worth shopping around for promotions and sales.
The Pritt stick glue is another office staple in my workplace. I also use one at home when I am undertaking any craft projects (less so these days). It is reliable and easily available.
My current office stick is 43g which is the largest size they do at 11.5cm high. Expect to pay anything from £1.50 for one this size. My home one is smaller as I use it less frequently and cost me about £1 in a stationery shop. I've seen them in supermarkets too, so I am sure you will find one for a good price.
I basically use it for sticking paper to other bits of paper both in work and at home. I believe it is suitable for other materials, but I don't find it works very well with fabrics (although perhaps lighter weight fabrics than the ones I use may work better). I understand that it is suitable for photos, but prefer to use a specialist acid-free double sided tape when using photos in crafts.
The cap sits on tightly and even though it inevitably gets sticky, I don't have a problem removing it. I twist up the base, until just enough of the sticky stick reveals itself for my uses. As my one is quite chunky I like to have a scrap of paper underneath as it is difficult to swiftly swipe the stick properly over the back of smaller pictures without getting the glue on something else. A smaller stick would be narrower and easier for small things. Of course, little people would not be very accurate with their application so keeping the surface covered is always a good idea if working with children. My stick advises it is not suitable for those under three, but for all other kids I think this is ideal as it is easy to hold, is not gloopy and won't spill so a lot less messy than the glues with brushes I remember using for school craft projects.
I've had my sticks for a while, and a long as the glue is would down slightly and the cap put on again, there is no reason it cannot last for a couple of years.
Stabilo Boss are the preferred brand of highlighters in my workplace. In the past we have tried other brands but usually they dry out quicker or are not as thick or bright. I've tried a few other brands myself, and find them lacking.
Currently my pen tray contains four of these - yellow, green, turquoise blue and what is officially a red, but in reality an orangy-pink. I use them for different things - usually to highlight (ha ha!) text that I need to draw my attention too. Often information that I receive from other colleagues is not always exclusively relevant to my job, and I can use the pens to pick out the parts that I would need to refer to at a later (and busier) point, which saves me a heap of time and lessens the chance of me missing something when under pressure. On cluttered design sheets I can be sure that I can find the info that I need easily as the highlight colours really do jump out off the page.
The pens are short and stumpy, but easy to grip and control. A little bit of effort pulls the secure cap away and the thick tipped pen gives a line of approx 0.5cm across your page. If you click the cap into place afterwards you can be sure that the pen won't dry out. I store these lid down in my pen stand. I forget how long I have had them in there, I certainly haven't needed to raid the office stationary cupboard for a good long while.
In the workplace we tend to buy in bulk as that is cheaper. If you are looking to buy for personal use for study et, then you can get a pack of four for about £5. I believe they are about £1.50 individually, and you have a choice of nine different colours. I recommend purchasing these highlighters over other brands for longevity and quality.
A Tipp-Ex has always been an office essential for me. In years past it was always the original correction fluid - which would dry lumpy and was hard to write on. These days it is the mouse correction strips, which are much easier and more practical to use.
The blue plastic casing has a face printed on it, to give it a mouse-like look. Flip up the red plastic 'snout' to expose the tape. I then press gently with the exposed tip flat to the paper, then slowly and firmly drag the mouse across the text I want to correct. This does take a few attempts to get used to. The strips are only 4.2mm wide so if you are changing larger text/writing then you may need to go over it several times. I find it is instantly dry but as it has a bit of a sheen to it, I occasionally find that the writing over it will smudge sometimes - some ballpoints are worse than others but worth bearing in mind.
I would never dream of using this on a professional document that was sent outside the department, I would always re-print with amendments - but if it is a copy for my records, then I would just make any small changes I need by hand using the mouse, to save re-printing a document. It is not perfect but is a vast improvement on the old, dried up bottles we used to have.
Mostly I use these at work and we get a good deal by buying in bulk. For individual use you could pay up to £4, but I think it is worth shopping around if you want to keep one at home.
When Noelle, a respected midwife, commits suicide, her best friends Tara and Emerson are devastated as well as shocked. They don't know why there friend would do this and start to look through her personal effects to find some clues. What they found was not what they expected and there seemed to be a long series of lies and untruths that Noelle has lived with for years.
I've always enjoyed Diane Chamberlain's novels and this one is no exception. You hear different voices throughout the book - all female - from Noelle's friends, their teenage daughters, and other characters who it is revealed had their lives impacted by Noelle. Each will take a chapter and tell their side of events. You can start to build a picture up of events that led to Noelle's death but many key pieces are missing, and it takes a while to get to the bottom of what actually happened.
Chamberlain's characters are all normal - hard-working mums and teenage daughters. They aren't perfect, they make mistakes and they have to deal with the consequences. For the most part I found the characters and their reactions to various situations believable, although I found Noelle hard to 'gel' with in her back-story. The book does cross several time-lines as Chamberlain cleverly weaves the tale to its conclusion. I didn't really try and guess the outcome, I took the story for what it was, accepting each new revelation as it came. Noelle's back-story clarified more for the reader, but of course her friends didn't have the benefit of this!
I would recommend this book as it is easy to read without being dumbed down. It would make a good holiday read as there is a good plot, engaging characters and plenty to chew on, without over-loading your beach-brain to much!
I bought this night cream in the supermarket whilst doing my weekly shop. I had been getting low and had not had chance to get to the local High Street to pop to Boots for something else. I've always thought highly of the Nivea brand, so was happy to try this one. I forget how much I paid for my 50ml tub, but I believe it was less than £10.
The product is boxed and within a wide glass jar with a plastic lid. These gives good access to the last dregs of the cream when you get towards the end of the jar. The cream is quite thick and I just scoop a little bit out on my finger tips and massage it into my cleansed skin outwardly and upwards. It smoothes on really well and starts to soak in immediately, it does not fully soak in straight away, and does leave my skin a it shiny for a few minutes, but I quite like this feature of a night cream - I'm going nowhere from here other than to bed, so it can take as long as it likes.
The cream is fragrance free but I can detect a subtle scent, much like cold cream and similar. It smells natural and there is nothing synthetic about it. I assume it comes from one of the ingredients. A full list of ingredients is on the outer box or available online, for those that are interested.
I am happy with how my skin feels the next morning, it feels soft and moisturised, not dry at all. The product claims to be anti-wrinkle and I don't think I have gained any new ones recently, but I think we have to take such claims with a pinch of salt - wrinkles are sadly inevitable...
I pot has lasted me a few months, being used most nights (occasionally I use a different product such as a facial oil or if I go away overnight) and I reckon there is still a good few weeks left so I am please with how well it has lasted. It is not my first choice of night cream but I would certainly consider purchasing it again.
I have read a number of Diane Chamberlain novels, and of those I think the Necessary Lies is my current favourite. It was one of the best books I read last year.
The novel is set in North Carolina, USA in the 1960s. There are two main characters - One is Jane, a young newly-wed who goes against the grain in wishing to pursue a career after marriage (in social work). Ivy is a poor teenage girl living on a farm with her grandmother, sister and baby nephew. She, and her family, become one of Jane's 'clients'.
Jane becomes more involved with the family than she expected, and wants to do well by them. However the system in this era is very different from how things are done in our more enlightened days and this causes a massive moral dilemma for Jane. I don't want to spoiler the plot for you (information is available elsewhere if you wish to know more) but the book is based on real life events. The 'help' that Ivy's family, more specifically her sister, receive is not something that I would normally have expected to happen in a supposed civilised country in relatively modern times.
Jane comes across as a bit wet at times, but she is inexperienced and thrown into the deep end of dealing with extreme poverty like she has never seen before. Ivy is spirited, yet young and naive. Both characters frustrated me at times. However I really enjoyed the book, and found it very engrossing. Chamberlain may not be troubling the panel of the prestigious book prizes any time soon, but her novels are well-written, well-researched and engaging and this ticks the box for me most of the time.
The key topic covered are clarified at the end of the book with more information if you are interested.
I highly recommend this book for fans of contemporary fiction. This is not chick-lit - there is no real romance, but it is all about the people and how they deal with a unique situation. The characters are flawed also, don't expect some glossy haired heroine. They make mistakes and must deal with the consequences.
I hadn't used Simple products for ages, having moved onto premium skincare products as I got older, but before my last holiday I picked up a 50ml bottle of this in Boots.
There is no pretentious packaging with this product – you get a white bottle with a green screw cap lid. All the information you require is on the sticky label attached to the bottle.
I usually prefer an SPF in my day creams, this one only has 'defending UV filters', so you would need to ensure you got adequate SPF protection elsewhere. Simple don't use any animal derived ingredients, nor do they add perfumes or colours to their products which they claim are suitable for sensitive skin. I don't have particularly sensitive skin but I am always happy to use a gentle product, if effective.
The cream is quite thick so doesn't really pour out the bottle, you may need to shake it and bash it against your palm the get it out - especially towards the end of the bottle. You don't need a huge amount of this as for a thick cream is softens and spreads easily on your skin (in an upward and outward motion as directed). It soaks in easily, even when you’ve misjudged the quantity and have a bit too much on! I tend to leave my moisturiser to soak in whilst I have breakfast and then apply foundation on top of it. I suspect I could apply it more of less straight away as it does seem to soak in well.
I don't use this as a night cream as it mentions UV filters and I prefer to avoid such chemical type ingredients in my night cream to balance it out a bit
The moisturiser is supposed to last all day (12 hours) and I have no cause to dispute it on my personal experience technically, but my skin seems better moisturised with the higher priced product, so I still prefer the premium or even mid-range brands to this. It is hard to qualify, but they just 'feel' better on my skin. Saying that, I would purchase again a small bottle for my wash-bag if I needed to. As a budget product it has a lot to offer and I do recommend people try it to see if it suits them, as you can save yourself a few quid if this turns out better.
The bottle is recyclable. I forget how much I paid for my little bottle, but 125ml bottle is available for a very reasonable £4.50 in Boots. I have also seen Simple products in various supermarkets, so it should not be hard to track down.
I first bought this novel in 2007 but as I buy far more books that I can read, it languished on my shelves for years until it became by book club's selection for April. I am so glad I finally got round to it, as it was so an enjoyable read.
The book is set in 1960s Nigeria, before and during the civil war there. I knew nothing of this war (or even that there was one) and sometimes felt the references to significant political figures (on either side) went over my head a bit. However, this is very much a character led novel, the events surrounding it are just the catalyst for the behaviour of the characters.
There are several 'regular' character sin the book but the stry is told from the perspective of three of them:
Olanna is from a middle class background, daughter of a well of businessman, she received a British university education, and is a university professor. She lives with, and subsequently marries Odenigbo, a fellow professor and they spend their time entertaining with other intellectuals.
Richard is a British ex-pat and writer who falls in love with Olanna's twin sister Kainene. On secondment to the university that Olanna and Odenigbo work at, he falls in with their crowd.
Ugwu - is Olanna and Odenigbo's young houseboy. Encouraged to continue his education, he is also going through puberty and is learning about himself as his country is falling apart.
Although Adiche is Nigerian, she was too young to remember the war herself, the historical part of the plot is based on research and family memories. I found the book engaging to read, Adiche's style is accessible and unpretentious and I was able to engage with the story and the characters. I found the dynamics between the main and the secondary characters interesting and felt that Odenigbo and Kainene were particularly well-drawn despite not getting a voice of their own in the book. It is no surprise to me that the book won much critical acclaim as well as the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction.
I would recommend this book to people who enjoy richly drawn character based novels, set against an true life background.
I have both these items which were purchased separately from Robert Dyas. The kettle had been a gift but I bought the toaster for a very reasonable £17.99.
They are almond and stainless steel and look good together in my kitchen. Obviously the stainless steel part seems to get smeary quite easily and needs to be wiped down a bit more than I would have liked.
The Kettle has a rapid boil function but this doesn't seem to make a huge amount of difference time wise, in my opinion. I like the fact that the cord is a good length yet can coil inside the base, so it not cluttering up your work surfaces. The lid is opened by a button and is a smooth operation and it is not too tricky to get a full (heavy) kettle back on the base. The kettle is fairly lightweight empty. The boil switch is right by the base and sticks out. I have often caught it when I have put down chopping boards or pot and pans nearby and accidentally turned on an empty kettle. I think this aspect could have been better designed.
The Toaster has two slices and has seven setting on a dial depending on how brown you want your toast. I like mine lightly done and find that setting 3 does the trick. It toasts evenly and there is a button to depress if cooking toast straight from the freezer so you don't need to worry about changing the dial. There is also a button if you want your toast back early for any reason (I use this for pitta). The levers and movements are always smooth. There is a small crumb tray at the bottom.
It is too early to talk about reliability as I have only had them a few months, but I believe Prestige to be a good brand and I would expect them to last well in my low usage household.
Both items function well and represent good value for money in my opinion as you get a stylish, functional and reliable product.