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Brazened Honey Face mask contains almost entirely natural ingredients, some of which you could eat, such as lime juice, organic free range eggs, sage, rosemary, juniper, fresh ginger root, almond oil, fennel and of course honey.
Because of the fresh ingredients, it is highly perishable and needs to be kept in the fridge. Ignore this at your peril! I once forgot to put a Lush face mask in the fridge until the day after buying it, and within a week it had spots of green mould growing on it! Not a pretty sight! It wasn’t the Brazened Honey one, which I have found actually lasts better than some of the others. I’ve found it’s usually better to try and use them up within a couple of weeks to avoid them going off. However, the Brazened Honey mask I currently have has been in my fridge about a month and still has a bit left which hasn’t gone off and still smells fresh, so it keeps quite well.
This mask is very pleasant to use. It has a fresh, herby tang to it, as well as the sweetness of the honey. It’s a greeny yellow colour and has a nice thick, rich texture, although it is also grainy, as it has ground almond shell as an exfoliant. After washing my skin, I apply thick dollops of the face mask and spread it over my face and down onto my neck.
After about five minutes it starts to dry and I can feel it tightening on my skin. It makes my skin feel tingly, in a way that’s quite pleasant, and makes me feel it’s doing a good cleansing job. After about ten minutes I use a hot, damp flannel to start wiping it off. It’s quite thick at this point and not easy to clean off so needs plenty of wiping with the hot flannel. I find it’s better to do it this way rather than by splashing water on my face as this prevents the almond shell getting in my eyes. When I’m sure I’ve got all the almond shell off my skin, then I splash it with plenty of clean warm water to get off any residue. It leaves my face feeling clean, smooth and tingly and I can see a difference in the pores straight away. They always look much cleaner, and I don’t feel that my skin has been stressed by chemicals, the way it does with other less natural skin products.
After trying most of the Lush face masks, I think this is one I will definitely buy again, as it smells delicious and suits my not-exactly-youthful combination skin. Although, come to think of it, I didn’t buy this one at all! It came free in exchange for five empty Lush pots. Don’t forget to save your Lush pots and take them back! They always give you a free face mask, worth about £6.00, a very worthwhile freebie.
I was given a small pot of Body Shop body butter as part of a Wild Argan Oil gift set. It contains organic Fair Trade Argan oil from Morocco, which is listed on the ingredients as Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil. I haven’t used Argan oil before but was really pleased to receive it as it’s supposedly very good for dry and flaky skin, and mine has been really irritated by having the central heating on all winter.
The body butter comes in a plastic pot with a screw off lid, which is easy to take off. Inside, the butter is a thick yellowy creamy colour. It actually does look a lot like butter! The body butter is very firm and dense to touch so there’s no need to take a lot out, as this is very rich and a little goes a long way. This particular butter has a sweet slightly nutty fragrance to it, which is gentle and unobtrusive. It’s very pleasant, but quite oily, so if I put it on my hands and rub it along my arms and legs I can see a soft sheen on my skin which looks quite nice. It starts off quite firm to touch, but then the oils start to melt as it warms up, making it more liquid, just like actual butter does. It has a lovely rich moisturising effect which I can feel straight away, and makes my skin feel smooth and moisturised for the rest of the day. It’s especially good on dry elbows.
I’ve found it better to use this with a short sleeved top. It’s not a very good cream to put on before wearing a long sleeved top as the sleeves can stick to it, so I have to leave it for half an hour to soak in.
I like to use it as a hand cream as well, and it’s very soothing on my hands when they’re dry and irritated. However, on the downside, it also leaves an oily residue on screens such as my Kindle, so it’s not really ideal as a hand cream, as it doesn’t absorb and dry out.
Overall, I’ve found it a lovely body butter to use in winter, as it’s helpful for protecting my skin from the drying effect of central heating, but I think this would be too sticky and greasy feeling to wear in summer, so I’ll stick to using it in winter. It’s currently £13.00 in Body Shop for 200ml, but as body butter is so rich it can last quite a long time, so is quite good value for money. I think this one is a new favourite for me, so I’ll be looking out for it coming on offer.
I travelled to Corfu with my family in October 2014. The airport is just outside Corfu town, next to the sea, and we got a wonderful view through the window of a gorgeous Greek sunset over the sea as we came in to land. When getting off the plane we were all directed onto buses to be transported to the airport entrance. It was quite amusing as it was only about a hundred yards, which we could have actually walked quicker than all climbing onto the bus, but this is probably for safety reasons really. The carousel was fairly quick delivering our luggage and after that we found our Thomson rep waiting to direct us to our transfer coach.
On the way back it wasn’t quite so simple. We arrived at the airport about an hour and a half before our flight. It was hectic! It’s a very small airport but a busy one. At security they were very particular about what gadgets we were carrying. Our Kindles had to be out of the bags and handed over separately. We’d already done this at Doncaster airport so knew we had to have them out. However, this turned out to be a problem at Corfu airport as one of my granddaughters had stuffed hers in the front pocket of her backpack and we thought we'd got all our Kindles out. As the bag went through the scanner the security staff detected the Kindle and got quite annoyed it was in there, rummaging through the bag to find it. Then the bag had to go through again. My granddaughter is only nine and felt she’d done something wrong, so it wasn’t a very nice experience for her, especially as this was her first time flying abroad.
Once in the departure lounge, it was very busy, but we managed to get a few seats for our group and went off to spend our last few euros on something to eat and drink. There is a counter where you can get sandwiches and hot snacks, but they’re quite expensive. You can also get last minute souvenirs, but they’re more expensive than you can get in Corfu, so it’s better to buy your souvenirs in advance and just save a few euros for essentials like drinks the airport. The toilets in the departure lounge are clean and presentable so no complaints there.
No sooner had we finished buying snacks and going to the loo, we found our plane was ready to board! We all boarded and the plane actually left about 25 minutes early. So it was really all quite a rush. Overall I think the staff were quite efficient and everything went smoothly, but we felt the whole incident with the Kindle was quite unnerving, so if you’re travelling to Corfu I would recommend making absolutely sure all your gadgets are out of your bags and ready to be shown as they won’t like it at all if they’re not!
I bought this when it was on offer at £5.00, which is half price, just to give it a try. My hands have been feeling very dry and irritated which I think is a lot to do with the central heating drying up my skin. On the tube it says that it ‘Moisturises hands and conditions nails. With sweet almond oil and Community Fair Trade Brazil nut oil.’ Well, with all that oil in, I thought it should do some good!
When I squeeze the tube the cream comes out very easily and is thinner than I would have expected for the price. It’s not quite liquid but still fairly runny. In fact, I was quite surprised at first to find it doesn’t look any better than some of the cheap hand creams I’ve used, and they don’t do much good at all. At first I didn’t expect it to moisturize my hands very much, but actually when I rub it in, it leaves a silky coating on my skin. It has a pleasant texture and straight away it makes my hands feel softer and smoother, although slightly oily. I’ve also found that although it doesn’t look very thick it does have a soothing effect when my hands are feeling irritated.
I daren’t touch my Kindle screen straight after using it, though, as it leaves an oily smudge on the screen which is a nightmare to get off! The oily feeling lingers for quite a while, so I’ve found this is a cream that’s best used when I’m just sitting around watching television, so I don’t transfer it to everything I touch! After about half an hour it becomes less oily, probably as it becomes more absorbed into my skin. It has a pleasant nutty smell, as you would expect from all those nut oils, but it’s not too strong and pungent.
I also feel it’s good for my nails, and helps soften the dry skin around the edges. I like to use it after removing nail polish to put some moisture back into my nails which the nail polish remover tends to strip off.
I’ve had this tube for three months now, and I’ve used it probably once a day. There’s still a little bit left, so I think it’s lasted quite well. I’d buy this again, especially if I see it on offer.
I bought two Malm three drawer chests in oak veneer four years ago. The package for each chest weighs 33kg so it’s a heavy chest to move around. My husband’s middle-aged back can’t deal with carrying things like that any more so we asked the staff inside Ikea to help us load them onto the trolley. They were very obliging and helpful and certainly made our lives a lot easier! There were other staff outside who then helped us load them into the car. When we arrived home, we simply opened the boxes and carried the pieces inside and upstairs a few at a time.
Because of the weight of the chests we found it easier for the two of us to assemble them together, although one person could do it if they’re physically strong enough to move them around. The instructions were easy to understand and the pieces fitted together very well. The packages even had all the fixing bits in there, which hasn’t always been the case with self-assembly furniture we’ve had in the past! Ikea furniture isn’t usually a problem, and sometimes we’ve even found extra bits.
I also bought six Skubb drawer organisers which Ikea recommend for use with the Malm range. They are handy for storing things in separate sections. I use these in the top drawer for personal items like make-up, face creams and jewellery boxes which I don’t want cluttering up the top of the chest.
The drawers in these chests are very easy to use as they slide out very smoothly and easily. When I want to close them, a light push is all it needs as the drawers pull themselves closed the last inch or two, so that means they’re never left sticking out. Ikea instructions warn that it’s best to attach the chest to the wall. We haven’t done this, but I can recommend doing this if you are using one in a child’s room. We’ve found that if all three drawers are open at once, it starts to tilt forward. I’ve only made this mistake a couple of times, but it’s quite alarming when it happens. Another problem is that because they are heavy they are hard to pull out to vacuum behind, so I have to take the drawers out first.
The two chests we have are still in good condition. I wipe them over with wood cleaning cloths and the veneer is not showing any signs of wear and tear. Also the edges of the veneer are not peeling off, which has been a problem in the past with furniture from other suppliers.
An amusing thing I have noticed since buying them, is that I keep spotting drawer chests from the Malm range on films and tv series! They have popped up in teenagers bedrooms and in American hospital scenes several times and they always create a very modern and stylish effect. If it’s good enough for Hollywood, it’s good enough for me…
I used to love doing a big new jigsaw at Christmas as they’re a lovely way of passing time on a horrible winter’s day. Especially when I’m stuck in the house with a cold, as I was all over last Christmas! I haven’t had a new jigsaw for a few years though, so I was really pleased when this one was bought for me as a present.
‘I Love Christmas’ is part of a range of ‘I Love’ puzzles designed by Mike Jupp, who was a storyboard artist and scriptwriter for several USA tv series before turning his talents to jigsaw puzzles. It is 485mm by 680mm and has 1000 pieces. It’s made by Gibson’s who make excellent quality jigsaws. Their jigsaws are made with good quality, thick board that doesn’t bend easily and the pieces fit together nicely. I hate thin, cheap jigsaws that won’t stay in place properly!
The colours of the jigsaw are lovely and vivid, and the picture is full of funny little details to discover. For instance there’s a car which has somehow ended up on the church roof with the number plate BUM 1 and the model number FART 400! There are also two ghosts outside the church doors, which I didn’t even notice until I was about halfway through the jigsaw. Gibsons also have a sneaky way of inserting themselves into a picture and in this one they’ve done this by having a puzzle shop in the scene called Gibsons. There are a lot of funny little scenes to find, such as the chestnut vendor, and the man beside him breathing fire after eating a scorching hot chestnut.
A thing I really like about this jigsaw is that there aren’t too many big blocks of colour that are the same. There are quite a few snowy areas, but they have a lot of small things in them such as teddy bears or presents to break up the monotony, so they’re not dreary to do. It’s not a really hard jigsaw to do but it is a complicated one that trips you up sometimes. For instance there are quite a lot of snowy bushes that are easy to get mixed up.
As it has 1000 pieces it’s not very easy for children to do. My nine-year-old twin granddaughters wanted to have a go though, so to help them out I sorted things into little colour groups so that they could put together a section themselves such as the Christmas tree on the right, or the car on the roof with the cheeky number plate. I wouldn’t recommend buying this as a gift for a child though as they’d probably get bored and frustrated. It’s more suited to an adult, or an older child who’s used to doing jigsaws.
Overall this is a fun jigsaw to do, and although I rarely ever do a jigsaw more than once, I’ll probably bring it out again next Christmas for the children to have another go.
Several months ago I tried a different face cream from a well known brand. Without naming names, this is a brand I often use without any problems, but while using this particular cream over a few weeks, I developed some really unpleasant red lumps on my face and neck. Then I read an article in the news about preservatives in certain creams causing skin reactions in a lot of people. I was horrified to realise this cream was one of them and I had been cheerfully slathering it on every day thinking it would be good for my skin! I immediately stopped using it, and my skin stopped getting worse, but it didn’t get better either. And I was due to go on holiday!
In desperation I decided to go as natural as possible to help my skin recover, and went off to Lush in search of help. I got myself a face mask to clean out my pores, and a Full of Grace serum bar to moisturise at night.
Full of Grace is a very unexciting looking little 20g bar of solid serum which costs £8.25. The main ingredients are Portobello Mushrooms, Calamine Powder, Rose Petal Infusion and Murumuru Butter for their protecting, calming, soothing and moisturising effects. I was a bit unsure about smearing mushrooms all over my face, but by now I was desperate! After using the face mask to cleanse my pores, I rubbed the Full of Grace bar between my fingers to melt a little onto my hands. Wow, it was like an oil slick! Fortunately I didn’t find any bits of stray mushrooms in it, and although I was slightly worried it might smell like part of someone’s fried breakfast, it didn’t. It actually had a gentle smell that was a mixture of nutty and flowery, very pleasant in fact.
Feeling hopeful, I massaged it into my face and neck. I’ve got combination skin, but even on the dry parts I couldn’t actually make it soak in. It just lingered on the surface looking all shiny. I must admit it felt nice and soothing on my irritated skin but, oh dear! I looked very much like I used to when I was a teenager with greasy skin and spots! But, the young chap behind the Lush counter had sworn it made his skin look lovely the morning after using it, so off I went to bed.
He was right! The next morning, my skin felt smoother than usual, and not greasy as I had thought it would. In fact the blemishes had calmed down noticeably. I used this for a week and by the end of it they had gone entirely. I now use it twice a week as a change from my usual cream and find it gives my skin a lovely health boost. A bar lasts a couple of months, and any odd scraps left over make a brilliant moisturiser when my hands are dry.
Thanks Lush, for saving my skin!
The Hotpoint Aquarius washer dryer measures (H)85cm (W)59.5cm (D)60.5cm. It comes with 16 programmes and has a 1400 spinspeed, an 8kg washload and a 6kg drying load.
I chose this model because of the 8kg washload which means I can use it to wash duvets and sleeping bags. The spinspeed is only 1400, so not the best I’ve had, but it does do a good job of washing and spinning out my summer weight double duvet and single sleeping bags and they dry very quickly afterwards. I’m not sure it could deal with a winter weight double duvet though.
I particularly like that this model has a 30 minute 30 degree fastwash, which is great for lightly soiled items such as t-shirts. There is also a time saver button which reduces the wash time by about 50%, so a fastwash load can be done in 15 minutes! I also use the time saver function when washing towels and sheets, as the wash cycle for cottons on a 60 degree wash is ridiculously long at 3 hours, so I can reduce it to half of that and everything still comes out clean and fresh.
I don’t use the dryer for everything, mainly underwear, towels, teatowels and sheets. On the cottons setting it will dry a duvet set, or a couple of large bath towels and a hand towel in 90 minutes. The towels come out a lot fluffier when they’ve been through the dryer, and in winter it saves having soggy towels hanging around. For an underwear load I use the synthetics setting, which will be cooler than the cottons setting. I usually find 90 minutes is enough to dry an underwear load, and everything comes out dry and ready to put in neat piles to put away. I never iron pants! Life is too short!
Before buying this washer I read reviews which sounded a bit worrying as people complained about it giving off a chemical smell when it’s drying. I decided not to let this put me off as some people had said this gets better over time. Well, they were right. I discovered on the first day it gives off a really awful chemical smell once the dryer gets hot and I was beginning to wonder if I’d made a big mistake. I had to open the front and back doors to let a breeze blow through and get rid of the smell, it was so bad. I would strongly advise not using this in an enclosed area!
This went on for a few months, every time I used the dryer. The good news is that the smell gradually faded out and a year later it’s not a problem at all.
Overall, I like this machine. It’s quiet when washing, although it’s noisy on the final spin, and it does a good job compared to other washer dryers I’ve had. But because of the smell I’m only prepared to give it 3 stars.
I bought this toaster in a hurry after my last one fizzled out and shorted out the power. It measures 31x30x21cm and, due to the square shape, has a very stable base which doesn’t tilt over when I press the sliders down.
It has quite a short lead at 61cm long, so it needs to be fairly close to the socket. It’s quite stylish looking in appearance with glossy black metal walls and stainless steel trims on the front and top. It’s supposed to have cool sidewalls, but believe me they’re not! If children touched the sides, they probably wouldn’t get burnt, but it would feel very unpleasant and I wouldn’t like my grandchildren to touch it.
The toaster is 1800 watt and throws out quite a lot of heat. It has 6 heat settings, although I rarely need to go above setting 3 to make medium brown toast. Both sides have independent settings which is useful if two people want different levels of browning. There is a choice of defrost function, warming function and bagel function and it also has the option of a mid -cycle cancel.
To use defrost I just pop in a slice of frozen bread, push the slider down and press the defrost button. The time is automatically adjusted to give the same level of browning as with unfrozen bread. Toast comes out lovely and crisp and warmed right through so I'm happy with the result.
The warming function can be used if you just want to rewarm a slice of toast that’s gone cold. The bagel function is for things you might just want to toast on top. The bagel has to be sliced then placed in two slots with the two cut sides facing each other. This toasts the cut side while warming the other side. I haven’t used it for bagels but it works very well for muffins, as they come out nice and soft underneath but crispy on top. I’ve burnt them a couple of times though so I have to remember to lower the setting.
Although the toaster is advertised as not having a high-lift eject, I find it lifts quite high anyway and have no problem getting out small things such as muffins. The slots are quite wide and take thick items such as a bread crust without them getting jammed in. Also they’re quite deep enough for a decent sized slice of bread without it sticking out and leaving an untoasted edge. I’ve had no problems with the standard size supermarket loaves such as Hovis.
So far as cleaning goes, I just wipe the surface down with a damp cloth, then give a quick buff with a dry cloth and the stainless steel comes out nice and shiny. There are two crumb trays at the back and these slide out easily for emptying.
Overall it’s quick and efficient and I especially like the bagel function, but I'm only giving it four stars because it doesn't have cool walls.
I always buy this conditioner for mid to long hair whenever I see it on offer. I switch around between different conditioners depending on offers, but this is the one I like the best.
L'Oreal Elvive Nutrigloss promises a mirror shine and cashmere touch. It also promises to detangle instantly and smooth the surface of the hair so that it better reflects the light.
I always use a good palm full of this as my hair is waist length so I actually need a lot of conditioner. I'm careful not to apply to my scalp though, and only apply it from around the level of my ears down to the tips. The roots don't actually need conditioner adding as it would just make my hair lank on top. I have normal hair and find it's better if I leave the roots alone once I've used shampoo. I rub it in right down to the tips and rinse off thoroughly in the shower. The conditioner has a pleasant floral smell that leaves my hair smelling fresh and clean. As I am rinsing it off and squeezing it through with my fingers I can straight away feel my hair smoothing out and feeling sleek. I don’t rub my hair, which is very bad for long hair, but just gently squeeze it and wrap it in a towel.
The real test of a good conditioner is when I brush it out afterwards, and this is where I find L’Oreal Nutrigloss very effective. I don’t have any trouble brushing it through at all. It really helps with detangling. I mostly leave my hair to dry naturally if there’s time, then I brush it out again. Now I can’t actually say that my hair shines like a mirror because that would be completely impossible for hair. Neither does it feel like cashmere, which, come to think of it, would be a bit odd. However, I can honestly say my hair does feel smoother than with other conditioners, and when it catches the light, looks super shiny. So it does most of what it says on the bottle.
Another advantage I find, that isn’t actually promised on the bottle, is that my hair is less prone to static when I use this. If I use a conditioner that is too thin and ineffective I find that when I’ve been out in cold dry weather, then when I go inside and take my coat off my hair crackles and flies all over the place with static. It also makes it hard to brush! This conditioner seems to counteract that effect, so that’s another reason it’s my favourite.
I also use a drop of it on my hairbrush sometimes and just rinse it through. A little of it stays on the bristles and makes my hair easier to brush in between washes.
I would recommend this for anyone with long hair who wants to keep it, shiny, sleek looking and under control. Just don’t expect a mirror shine!
My two year old grandson loves dinosaurs, so I bought him the Buddy character from the series Dinosaur Train. This goes with his other dinosaur Morris from the same toy range. The two dinosaurs are interactive which means they can detect each other’s presence and communicate with each other. Toys are getting very smart these days!
Buddy is a cute little fella just 20.3 x 11.4 x 20.3 cm, and and has posable arms and legs. He is smaller than the Morris character. To make him talk, you just press the button on his chest and he will come out with various random phrases and facts about dinosaurs, beginning with a yawn each time he is woken up. If he’s close to Morris he will interact with him and say things like ‘Watch out for his tail!’
The different dinosaurs seem to have different attributes, and Buddy’s special attribute is that he will sniff or sneeze when you tap his nose. I’ve found it’s a bit tricky tapping it in the right place though, so it doesn’t work every time but that's a minor issue.
If you put a finger in his mouth he will say ‘Mmm, meat!’, which my grandson really likes. For some reason known only to two year old boys, he loves having his fingers eaten by dinosaurs! Under Buddy’s arm there is a slider button so you can choose English phrases, Spanish phrases, or just sound effects. The sounds effects are growls and other dinosaur noises rather than speech.
Buddy also makes stomping sounds when you stamp his feet down. When you leave him alone for a few minutes he starts snoring and goes to sleep. This was hilarious when my husband and I first heard it, and it’s even funnier when the two dinosaurs are together and they both start to snore!
I should point out that Buddy is recommended for three years and over, so it’s not really appropriate for a two year old. Having said that, the only risk I could see is that a boisterous toddler might break off one of the posable limbs, but it’s not been a problem up to now. It's recommended that these toys are used under adult supervision, and with my grandson they are.
I would recommend getting more than one Dinosaur Train character to get the full use out of them, as some of the phrases are only triggered by other dinosaurs being around.
I bought this dinosaur for my 2 year old grandson who is mad about dinosaurs and he loves it. It's not recommended for children under three years due to small parts, but there don't seem to be any parts he could actually swallow. At worst, I think the tail spines could poke a child in the eye, so that's something to be wary of. The main thing that seems to be an issue is that the swishy tail could break off with rough handling, so in that respect the warning is probably appropriate. However he's had it three weeks and it's all still in one piece up to now.
Morris measures 30.5 x 14.6 x 21.6 cm, so a nice size for small hands. The legs are posable, but it doesn't move on it's own at all.
If you press his spine down he starts to talk and says things such as 'I'm no carnivore!' If you put your finger in his mouth he makes chomping noises, which my grandson loves. If you swish his tail he makes swishing noises, and if you stamp his feet down he makes stomping noises. However, he only makes one noise at a time.
He's supposed to have 40 phrases and sounds but doesn't seem to use that many. The reason for this is some of the phrases are only triggered in response to other Dinosaur Train interactive characters, so to get best use out of Morris it's better to buy at least one other character, which can turn out expensive. I bought this along with the Buddy character, so they do things such as say 'hi' to each other and start roaring together. If you stop playing with them they start snoring, which is really funny. They then go to sleep which preserves battery life.
Overall it's a lovely toy for dinosaur mad children.
The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy of young adult books by Suzanne Collins. It is set in the land of Panem, a post-apocalypse North America. The land is divided into 12 districts, ruled over by the Capitol. As punishment for a long-ago rebellion against the Capitol, each district must hold a lottery and draw out the names of a boy and a girl over 13 to take part in the Hunger Games. These are live televised games where the 24 participants must fight to the death in a vast landscape specially created with unpredictable dangers. The reward for the winner is a new house for their family and a lifetime supply of food. Sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen is responsible for feeding her family after the death of her father in the mines. She resorts to illegal hunting with a male friend, Gale, who also has a family to feed. When she finds herself taking part in the Hunger Games, she sees it as an opportunity to save her family from poverty. Fortunately, her hunting skills give her an edge. But to win, she must be the only survivor and that would mean she might have to kill the kind, gentle Peeta, who she has known since childhood.
There are obvious parallels with Stephen King's The Running Man: the gameshow scenario, and the Roman Arena type of entertainment where people fight to the death to entertain a bloodthirsty audience. This is a society where the poor farmers, miners, manufacturers etc all struggle to feed their families on a pittance, oppressed by an authoritarian Capitol where the decadent rich elite feast on luxurious foods, change their appearance to suit the latest bizarre trends, and dress in the latest fashions. Hmmm.... sounds familiar doesn't it? The whole book is an indictment of modern governments and their willingness to wage war with the supposed aim of keeping peace... but with other people's sons and daughters. But in this story it's not adults killing each other off, it's teenagers, and this makes it hard reading at times. However, this is also what makes it such a powerful story.
Told through the voice of Katniss in present tense, it has an immediacy to it that makes it gripping, carrying the reader along with it. The technique of telling the story in the first person means that secrets can be kept from Katniss and therefore from the reader - if she misunderstands something or doesn't know it, we don't know it either. She is a fallible character who makes mistakes because she misjudges people. It all keeps the reader guessing about what's really going on and what the other characters feel about her. It's not always easy to tell who will be a friend or a foe, and this keeps an edge of tension and fear running through the book which makes it a real page turner. I found it hard to put down.
Katniss is a feisty character, who resists authority, and has no hesitation in killing and gutting animals for food. Although she sometimes comes across as ruthless, she is made likeable by her love of her sister, her close bond with Gale, and her worries about whether she will have to kill Peeta. Though living in a harsh culture that requires her to kill she does not lose sight of her humanity and compassion. It's a book filled with strong characters that leap off the page. The first third is somewhat slow going in parts, and puts a lot of emphasis on preparation for the games, with all the backstage training of the characters, and descriptions of their appearance and outfits ... subjects that would no doubt appeal to teenage girl readers. It's all heavily publicised in a way we're familiar with on reality tv shows, adding a disturbing level of realism to the story. However, the tension builds up and I was really interested to find out how the games would play out. Once it got going with the games I was gripped! I rapidly went on to read the second and third books in the trilogy.
Suzanne Collins really knows how to write for young adults and taps into the subjects close to their hearts: friendship, the confusion of first love, and the perils of finding their way in a society full of adult rules. It's a book I can recommend for teenagers, but it's also highly readable for adults. It's already been made into a film, which is to be released next year, and I suspect it's going to be a hit with young adults... and me.
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Scholastic; 1 edition (5 Jan 2009)
I had my new Hotpoint double built under fan oven fitted when I had a new kitchen fitted by Homebase last summer. I'd been wanting a double oven for some time as the single oven was so limiting. I could use the grill or the oven but not both at the same time, so this time I decided I wanted an oven with as many functions and as much flexibility as I could afford.
The Hotpoint build under oven, as you would guess, is designed to fit under a worktop with a hob on top. I like a built in oven and hob as they make the cooking area look streamlined and neat, and there are no edges or gaps where spillages and crumbs can gather. It has mirrored finish doors, that are beautifully reflective and shiny. I wanted as many shiny reflective surfaces as possible in my kitchen to give the impression of light and space, so this oven works nicely in that respect. On the downside, it shows up smudges easily so I have to regularly give it a spray with diluted Flash and a buff with a paper towel. Each oven has a long bar handle, handy for drying damp towels on if you want to. At the top, there are three control knobs, one for the grill, one for the top oven and one for the bottom oven. There's also an LED clock and oven timer, which shows up nice and clear at a glance, even when I'm not wearing my reading glasses, so it's great for dodgy middle aged eyesight! The top oven comes with one shelf and a grill pan with handle, and the bottom oven comes with two shelves.
What it Does
The top oven is a convection oven, and variable grill, with five shelf positions. As it's a fairly small oven at 33 litres oven capacity, this is okay for fairly small joints of meat and things such as pizzas, scones, cupcakes and Yorkshire puddings. When used as a grill, the door has to be left open. As it's a variable grill, it means you can use the full grill element or just half the grill element. This is very handy for grilling items that cook at a different rate as I can then switch off half of the grill if something has finished cooking. When the grill is switched on a cooling fan emits a gentle flow of air below the control panel. It's worth noting that even when it's switched off, the top oven gets quite warm when the bottom oven is on, so it's useful for warming plates.
The bottom oven is bigger at 51 litres capacity. I can easily fit in a large chicken on one shelf and roasting potatoes on the other, and I had no problem fitting a turkey in there at Christmas. This one is a fan oven so heats up more quickly than the top oven, and cooks things at a lower temperature. As well as the normal temperatures settings it has a fan only setting which can be used for defrosting as it only circulates cool air. There is also a slow cook setting, which is handy for casseroles, and recommends a minimum of six hours cooking. The bottom oven is fitted with a safety device which means it switches off when the door is opened.
The timer can be used as a minute minder and emits a buzz when the set amount of times is up. This doesn't interrupt cooking. There is also a programmable cooking function which allows you to set the oven to switch on and off at the required time.
The power consumption is 5.2 kw/h which is higher than some double ovens, but then again this is a good sized one compared to many built under double ovens.
The ovens have Stayclean oven liners which means at temperatures of 220 degrees or above, the liners will destroy any cooking splatters. I just give them a wipe with a damp cloth to remove crumbs, and up to now it has stayed quite clean. The door glass can be taken out and put in the dishwasher, which certainly saves some scrubbing!
This oven comes with a 1 year labour guarantee and a 5 year parts guarantee, which is very reassuring.
I've been using the oven for a year now and have had no problems with it. It took some getting used to, but there's a fairly comprehensive instruction manual though, with charts showing what settings and shelf levels to use for different kinds of food, so it's very helpful. However, some of it is just trial and error. I've tried pizzas in the fan oven and find they come out fairly limp and soft. They're much better in the top oven where the edges crisp up nicely and the cheese seems to melt faster. Yorkshire puddings are also better in the top oven. They rise strangely evenly and then flatten out in the bottom oven, whereas in the top oven they rise up at the sides like they should and go nice and crispy around the edges. On the other hand, the bottom oven is great for roasting a chicken. It comes out moist and succulent, and evenly cooked. I've also had great success baking cakes and muffins in the bottom oven, so will stick to using it for baking. When using the grill I find it's ferocious when turned up high and will rapidly burn things if I'm not careful. I've never used such a powerful grill! It also throws out a lot of heat into the kitchen, in spite of the cooling fan, so I find I'd rather not grill things that are going to take a long time, as I just get way too hot and bothered. It's okay for quick things such as bacon or cheese on toast though. The defrosting function is very handy for defrosting bread straight out of the freezer if I want to make sandwiches.
Overall it's a very different cooking experience to my old single convection oven. I like being able to use the bottom oven for cooking something at one temperature whilst using the top oven for something at a different temperature. The minute minder is brilliant for reminding me when something is due to come out. I find the defrosting function useful although it doesn't do much when it comes to defrosting thick solid items such as meat. It speeds it up a bit but not a lot. I also like the variability of the grill. I've no regrets about buying this cooker, and would definitely recommend it.
Mobile phones offer so much these days it's hard to decide from the vast range out there. The three things that mattered most to me when looking for a phone were: I wanted a good clear qwerty keypad, a nice big screen, and internet access. After trying out all kinds of touchscreen things I decided I didn't like them - it's too easy to make a mistake texting. I finally came to the Nokia C3, which looks very much like a Blackberry but is a lot cheaper! Mine is the Golden White one, which was amazingly hard to get hold of in most phone shops, and a bit more expensive than the slate or pink for some reason.
The keypad has good sized keys that are a cushion shape and really easy to use for texting and adding notes to the calendar. Texting is something I'm not very good at, as I don't do it very often, but my speed has improved with this phone, and I don't make as many mistakes as I used to with my old flip-phone. The phone has got two shortcut keys on the front which can be set up how you want, so I've got one to take me straight to my inbox and the other one set up for text messaging. A handy feature of text messaging, is that you can have the incoming message onscreen at the same time, so you can keep track of conversations.
It's got a 2.0 mega pixel camera and video. Not the best, but it's okay for taking photos of people to add onto the home screen as favourite contacts. I have a good camera, so don't really need my phone to do anything glamorous. It also has an MP3 player and radio, and comes with earphones. The radio is amazingly loud and clear, but I haven't tried the MP3 yet. It's nice to know it's there if I want it - I'd probably use it when travelling.
If you're interested in communities such as Facebook, it's got an onscreen quick sign-in and you can receive updates on the home screen which is probably very handy, but I don't use it, so can't comment on that. I do check my email now and again when out and about, but that depends on whether I can find a free WLAN connection. Because I have BT broadband at home, I can also use BT Fon or BT Openzone and get online for free with my mobile (mobile phone salesmen pretend not to know about this - they want you to pay for their monthly tariff!) or sometimes get a free connection in cafés. It's a bit hit and miss though, so not to be relied on, unless you've got a regular hotspot you know you can go to. I'm on 02 Pay as You Go, so I'm reluctant to pay for internet connection as it rapidly chews up a £1, and then tells me I won't be charged more than that for a day, but a £1 a day would soon get to be very expensive! If you're likely to be online a lot and moving around it's probably better to pay for a monthly contract.
Overall it's a phone with good clear speakers, it's easy to use and it's got a great battery life. It looks good, but it's got a glossy surface which will scratch easily if you're not careful. I keep mine in a phone sock for protection. I paid £80, so for what it does, it's a reasonable price.