- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
Hello, my name is Helen and I am bananas about Banana Republic.
First of all, let me explain that is a recent love. I new-found love, if you will. Yes, it is possible I am in the honeymoon period, but oh, BR, how I misjudged you before!
Banana Republic is pretty big stateside and there are a few branches in London, including one in the shiny New Change shopping centre. Although I had sometimes looked in the window and thought 'oooh, that's nice', I'd never actually gone in a shop. Oh, don't get me wrong, with the simple but stylish clothing on display in the windows and the trendy lights and air of sophistication, it always looked like a good shop, but way to expensive and out of my league.
Yes, Banana Republic is an expensive shop. I wasn't wrong there. But it is certainly somewhere to check out during the sale periods. It was a couple of weeks ago that I mooched in out of curiousity during my lunch hour and I was really impressed.
First of all, the shop was laid out really nicely. It was big and airy, with good lighting and all the clothes nicely displayed. Unlike a lot of shops where the sale items are just rammed on a rack and fall off hangers, even the sale items were displayed nicely, in size order and just as much time had been taken over presentation of these as it had over the non-sale items.
Another plus point on display - often in shops, the sale items are all stuffed in a corner or in one place. In BR, they were spread out throughout the shop, meaning that none of the displays were overcrowded with people grabbing, like in other shops.
I spent a lot of time looking around and eventually made a bee-line for a gorgeous jacket on sale. It was a black, military style jacket with a flare at the back - perfect for smart or casual. I reached for the price-tag, expecting it to still be around £80; imagine my surprise when it was marked down to £19.99 from £110. Now THAT is a sale. The jacket seems to be high quality; the cut is flattering, the material is lovely and soft and buttons are tightly sewn on. No loose threads or frays - fantastic for such a cheap item of clothing.
I tried it on in a changing room - the changing rooms are also pretty good. There was no limit on items, the fitting room staff were helpful, the cubicles were roomy, with doors, not curtains and they also catered for their disabled customers, with a wheelchair friendly room. They were also clean - another plus point.
Speaking of the staff, I cannot praise the checkout staff enough. They were busy, yet quick and friendly and even commented on how they couldn't believe the price of my jacket.
A couple of days ago, I thought I'd check out their website, which was also easy to use. Once again, I found a couple of cheap items - a gorgeous dress marked down to £19.99 from over £100 and a skirt for £9.99 from nearly £50. I chose standard delivery and received an email saying that my order had been received and they would email again on dispatch. I received an email within hours saying that the expected delivery date would be 28th Jan. I received it the day after placing the order. Wow. Again, both items seem high quality and I especially love the cut of the skirt.
As BR are an American company, it's worth noting that they run in an American sizes. I'm normally about a 12 and I wear an 8 from BR - they fit perfectly. I think it's standard for American sizes to be two sizes down from your normal size, so this seems like they run to size quite well.
Yes, BR at full price are expensive, as you can easily expect to spend £50-70 on a skirt and at least £100 on a dress. But whilst their items are stylish, they are classically stylish, meaning that you can keep their items in the wardrobe for years. The quality seems high and for this reason, it may be worth splashing out a bit more on some high quality, classic wardrobe staples. And while they have such a great sale on, how can you not give them a go?
I'm a convert and I love them!
I remember writing a review for 2009. It was depressing, I was heartbroken, I was stressed and I'd had glandular fever.
Oh my, how things change.
So, how was 2010?
It was very stressful, but ultimately, a life of change. In January, I met my new boyfriend's parents and thankfully all went well and he reported back that they liked me. In February, my ten-pin bowling started to fall back into place and I bowled my fifth 299 game. Surely that 300 is coming my way soon? Surely? Come March, I was stressed. Very stressed.
Work. Yes, work. I know most people see their job as a means to an end. If you're lucky, you enjoy your job, but for a lot of people, having a job is a means to an end and it's a bonus if you don't mind getting up for it too much. I liked a lot about my job. I also liked the pay packet. However, there was also a lot I didn't like and that was the general structure of my team, the constant feeling of being harassed, not being able to meet deadlines due to the pointless interruptions from my manager, being made to make tea by my manager, despite being the second most senior in my department (it was very demeaning), my manager taking credit for work I did and being checked up on all the time. Reading it back, it doesn't sound that bad, but please be assured it was hell, I was miserable and other colleagues thought it was awful.
So, I had my own idea for my own business. It played on my mind for months and months and eventually I decided "sod it." I jacked in my job and took a chance. I wasn't financially able, but I couldn't take the misery anymore and I didn't stand to lose anything as I have no house or car. Telling my manager I was leaving to set up on my own was the best thing ever. I handed in my notice that August and I felt free.
In addition to this, Oxford University were offering a part-time degree course I wanted to do. I applied for it on a whim, not expecting to be accepted. I got called up for interview. A week later, I opened my acceptance letter. Wow. What a feeling.
So, I was faced with juggling part-time study and my own business, but I felt great. I know it's going to take some time to make the business pay, so I decided it would be a good idea to find a part-time job. So, I applied for a 2-day a week job in a private school and explained my circumstances.
I got the job.
I'm now busier than I've ever been, but I love it. Yes, I work for someone else part-time, but for the most part I am my own boss and I love that feeling. I have 5 clients already - not bad when I've only been going a couple of months!
Finally, I made the decision to take up running. I'd started before and always quit, but this time, I stuck at it. I started in April as a size 14/16, 12.5 stone and ran a 10k in May, Race for Life in July and a half marathon in September, followed by another in October. Now I'm under 11 stone and a size 12. I'm running the Brighton Marathon in April. Another massive change in my life - thanks 2010!
How did the year finish? Pretty well - yes I had some bad news, but it was my year in that I changed my own life and did it on my own. And a 2nd place finish in a bowling tournament in December was also a nice note to end on ;)
Bring on 2011! Happy New Year all!
Having made the decision to quit my job and set up on my own, it was very important that I had a reliable phone. I also really wanted a phone where I could access my emails on the go and after doing some research, I made the decision to opt for the HTC Desire. I have never had a Smartphone before, so this is the start of something new.
HTC have released many phones in the past and the Desire is apparently their rival to the Iphone. The phone retails for about £379.99 on Pay As You Go, or is free on tarrifs starting from about £30 a month with Orange, O2, Three, T-Mobile, Vodafone and Virgin.
On first impressions, this phone is very stylish. It's not unlike an Iphone to look at and comes in black or brown. The screen is touch-display and at 3.7 inches tall, is a decent size. The on/off button is at the top and this is also used to lock the phone. Various menu buttons are alongside the bottom of the phone. Although it is not heavy, it does feel sturdy. I have already dropped mine and can confirm that it survived without a scratch, although I wouldn't recommend trying! The phone comes with a charger and userguide which is extremely useful when you're a Smartphone novice like me.
This phone runs the Google Android operating system, which has had rave reviews. Although I am not the most technically savvy person in the world, I can certainly confirm that the phone is very fast, almost like a mini laptop. The phone also comes with a 5 mega-pixel camera built in which is very good quality for a mobile phone, in-built MP3 player, FM radio, GPS, Bluetooth, WIFI enabled, web browsing and can hold external memory of up to 32gigs. Of course, this phone boasts many more impressive sounding features but I would recommend visiting one of the mobile phone providers websites for a more comprehensive breakdown.
Is the phone easy to use? Well yes and no. It is extremely easy to enable the WIFI settings and connect to the internet - this is done through the Settings option. You can also connect to the mobile internet if you are not in WIFI range. Once this has been done, it is also extremely easy to synch your Facebook and Twitter accounts to the phone, meaning you can get updates on the go. Your phone contacts can also be synched to Facebook, meaning that when a friend calls/texts, their photo will display. This is a really nice touch as it means you know straight away who is calling you. You can also synch contact lists from Facebook and Googlemail onto the phone - this is really easily done at the click of a button.
Getting my emails on the go was one of the reasons I opted for this phone and once again, I can confirm that this is really easy. I haven't yet tried setting up a POP3 account, so it would be wrong for me to comment on this, but certainly setting up my Googlemail was extremely easy. Once again, this was just a case of synching my email account to the phone. Obviously, it doesn't work if I am not connected to the internet, but when I'm connected, the phone buzzes to let me know I have email - the little logo displays in the upper left hand corner to indicate this.
Making phone calls and sending texts is extremely easy - just the same as any other phone. I do however like the fact that each message is filed by contact - this means you can refer to your entire texting history with one person, instead of scrolling through the inbox. New text messages always go to the top.
So, what isn't so easy? Like I said, the set up of everything is brilliantly simple. However, the touch screen takes a lot of getting used to as it is very sensitive. I have also found texting slightly tricky. The keyboard is QWERTY style which is easy to use one you're used to it, but the touch screen is sensitive and the keys are so small, which means a lot of spelling mistakes and typos are made. The phone does have an impressive feature on the predictive text where it reads that you've made a typo and suggests something else. Nine times out of ten it is spot on, but I'd prefer not to keep making the typos in the first place. Like everything, this will probably be fine once I'm used to it, but it is annoying.
I have also had a few problems 'customising' my phone. You are able to drag and drop widgets onto the menu, so that you can always have what you use the most easily accessible. This is a great idea as it saves scrolling through the whole menu, but I have found it tricky in practice. The touch screen does not always pick up on the fact that I am dragging and moving something, or it selects something that I don't want to move. Again, as stated before I think it'll be fine once I'm used to it, but it is something to watch out for.
The other thing that takes a bit of getting used to is the optical trackball. The phone is touch-screen, but sometimes you need to scroll, for example to read a webpage, go through a menu etc. You can either use your finger to push up or down the screen, or you can use the optical trackball - similar to the one found on laptops. I actually really like it as it is very easy to use and you can move the screen up, down, left and right. It also makes it easy to select links etc on webpages. You then simply press it, to act as a mouse. This is brilliant - but again is very sensitive and it is really easy to accidently move it to the left.
Finally, I'd just like to say a quick word about the apps (applications). The phone comes with Peep (Twitter) and Facebook built in, amongst many others are they are a lot of fun and easy to use, as previously mentioned. You are also able to download free and priced applications in addition to ones already on the phone through the App Shop (on Orange) and the Market Place. Some of these are really useful and mean that you can really customise and develop your phone into a really useful and powerful tool. I recommend downloading the Advanced Task Killer app as this is an application which kills any apps which are running but are being unused, helping you to save battery power. You can also download all sorts of different things like Cardio Trainer, Ebay apps, barcode readers, etc.
Despite these few niggles about the touch-screen, I would definately recommend this phone. The battery life is not great and you'll be lucky to get more than a day out of it without charging, especially if you're using the apps of surfing the internet, but I think this is normal for a Smartphone. However, this is a fairly minor issue and should not put you off buying this phone. It's powerful, easy to customise, easy to use and is a lot of phone. And I'm saying that as a clueless person.
I found Dooyoo through Money Saving Expert, like many other users. I registered, thinking it would be a good way of making some extra pennies, but after receiving my first Amazon voucher, I tailed off a bit as I became a bit bored and was so busy with other things. However, I am now back with a vengeance and desperately wanting to earn a few more vouchers
I was working as a Project Coordinator / Project Manager in local authority for three years and I was becoming increasingly unhappy. I had become very bored with much of the job, I was very unhappy with the set-up of my team and although my colleagues were nice people, I could no longer work with them. It got to the point where every tiny thing they did was really annoying me and I was no longer sleeping at night, my hair was falling out and I was starting to become depressed. Eventually, I had an idea to setup on my own as self-employed and last Friday was my last day working for them.
So, while I am convinced that making the decision to go self-employed was right for me, I don't know how long it is going to be before I start seeing a regular income that I can realistically live off. I have my first 'job' this afternoon which is going to pay me £250, but who knows when my next one wil be? For this reason, I have told close friend's, my boyfriend and my family that Christmas presents will be in the form of IOUs or cards, but it would be lovely to earn vouchers so that I can at least get my mum and sister something and a birthday present for my boyfriend.
In addition to the above, I also have made the decision to go to university. I am now going to be studying a part time Foundation Certificate in Modern History with the University of Oxford. I am extremely chuffed that I managed to get in and I can't wait to get started, however it's going to cost a fair bit of money. I have paid my deposit and my first installment of fees and I should be entitled to a grant for the rest of it, however course books are expensive! I'd like to be able to pay for as many of these as possible with vouchers, especially as I'm going to have to spend my pennies on train tickets there once a week.
Perhaps I have made risky and unwise decisions with regards to my life in this economic climate, but I am so sure that it is right for me and I already feel much more relaxed. But any dooyoo earnings to help me along the way will be much appreciated!
After splitting with my ex last year and moving into a new, unfurnished flat, I was on the lookout for cheap but functional appliances for the kitchen. I'm a big fan of toasted sandwiches, so although it wasn't something I needed, I wanted a sandwich toaster and ended up purchasing the Argos Value Range Sandwich Toaster because it was so cheap. It is currently retailing for £5.47 - I think I paid around £5.50 for it last November.
Apperance wise, it isn't the prettiest appliance. It's plain and white and while it isn't exactly an eyesore, it does look cheap and plasticy. It has non-slip feet which is very useful and ready lights on the front. However, it is sturdier than it looks and for the price, you can't really moan too much.
This is an extremely easy appliance to use and it works in the exact same way as any other sandwich toaster. You turn it on at the plug and the red light comes on to let you know that it's warming up. After a couple of moments, it switches over to the green light to let you know that it's hot enough. Simply open it up, put your sandwich in (buttered on the outside) and close it up again. It has a clasp to keep it shut - always handy when you stuff your sandwich full. It typically takes a couple of minutes to make the perfect golden brown toastie, sealed around the outsides.
You are able to make two toasties at a time in this toaster in theory, however it should be noted that the plates aren't quite big enough for the standard size slice of bread. You will either need to trim the bread down, or make them one at a time. This is my main criticism of the product.
My second criticism is the non-stick element. This toaster is supposed to be non-stick, however I find that my sandwiches do often stick. This isn't a major problem, but it is annoying having to sometimes use a knive to prise them off, as then your sandwiches end up with holes in them and the filling falls out!
However, it should be noted that this toaster is very easy to clean. I'm sure we all look at toasters with dread when cheese leaks out of your sandwich and congeals to the appliance but cleaning really isn't a problem. Once you've turned the appliance off at the plug, it cools down very quickly and any congealed food items come off extremely easy with the poke of a spatula. Then all you need to do is wipe it down with a piece of kitchen towel or a cloth. Because this toaster is so easy to clean, I do occasionally use it to grill bacon when I can't be bothered to turn on my oven!
All in all, this is a really handy appliance, despite a couple of flaws. It's not perfect, but for the money it's not going to be. However, if you just want a cheap and functional sandwich toaster, I'd definately recommend this one. I've had mine for ten months now and it's still going strong - bargain!
As some of you know, I have fairly recently taken up running and despite having a gait analysis and being properly fitted for shoes, I have really suffered with crippling blisters. In fact, I am currently sitting with Compeed stuck on my feet!
I saw many runners recommending these as a solution on various running forums and thought I would give them a go. I found these in the footcare section of Boots, in the health and medicine section. They are also available in Superdrug and large supermarkets and retail at around £3.99 for a packet of 5 plasters. They are often on offer. These plasters also come in a selection of sizes - I always opt for 'medium' which is a large sized plaster in an oval shape, about 3cm long.
When I started using these, I used the plasters very much as a cure. I have no idea how it works, but Compeed plasters apparently work to help heel the blisters you already have, in addition to preventing further blisters. They act as a second skin and providing you stick them on properly, they will stay on for days. They are waterproof, preventing water from getting into the blister in addition to protecting them from becoming infected. According to their website, "the hydrocolloid particles in COMPEED® Blister Patch absorb wound fluid, creating a gel that protects the wound by sealing in moisture and preventing scab formation. In turn, this creates the optimal wound healing environment, speeding up the healing process." (www.compeed.co.uk)
I am unsure how true this is, but within a few hours of applying these, a white patch appears where the worst part of the blister is, visible through the plaster. I assume this must be a reaction from the above process and the pain certainly seems to numb to the extent where I can resume exercising without any further pain.
I also use Compeed as a prevention measure, now that I know where I am most prone to blisters. If I am going on a particularly long run, I will apply Compeed and they act as the perfect barrier. The second skin moulds perfectly to your foot and there is no rubbing. I have never had a blister form whilst using Compeed. Unfortunately, I didn't have any whilst running a half marathon last weekend and my feet suffered!
Compeed is applied much like any plaster, however I found that it is useful to rub it with your fingers first, to warm it up as I find it moulds slightly better to your skin. It is also important to apply them slowly and firmly, to make sure that they stick properly. If you just slap them on, they do fall off! If applied properly, they can last for days. Do not remove Compeed yourself - wait until it falls off on it's own, or you will unstick it from the blister and risk opening the wound up. This is very painful and shows just how strong the plasters are!
Do be careful when shopping for these. They come in a small, plastic box which is easy for storage in a handbag, but the packaging for all their products is very similar and I have on occasion picked up callous plasters instead, so do double check! The plasters, like any other plaster, are also individually wrapped, which makes it very handy to keep one in your pocket when out for a run.
Although I have focussed mostly on the benefits of these for runners, rest assured that these are very good blister plasters and I also use them when wearing my killer heels! They are expensive, but they definately do the job well.
Alright then, we all know that Heinz make the best baked beans. But, let's face it, they're not the cheapest and in times like these, we all need to save some pennies. I have been experimenting with value and discount brands recently and thought I would share my experiences.
Oak Lane, for the unaware, is a discount brand available at Tesco. It is a notch up from the 'Value' range with much more attractive packaging, but is still cheaper than their own brand.
The beans can be found in the canned food section of Tesco, suprisingly enough, with the other baked beans. They are fairly easy to find as they come in a distinctive blue can with a picture of beans on the front, with 'discount brand' splashed on a yellow square. Despite this, they do not look as cheap as the Value brand. Unfortunately, there is no ring pull, but I would assume most people own a tin opener! They retail at 29p for a 420gram tin.
When I opened these up to make beans and cheese on toast for myself and my housemate, I was quite impressed with how full of beans(!) the can was. Often with the discount and value brands, there is an awful lot of sauce padding out the can, but these were definately packed at least as full as Heinz. Size wise, they were about the same size as Heinz beans, but were a slightly brighter orange in colour and not quite as mushy. They smelt like baked beans, which is always a positive. One can served both myself and my housemate a generous portion of beans on toast.
I sincerely hope that you all know how to heat up baked beans, so I am not going to go into the specifics of how to put them in a pan and heat them up. Upon cooking, the beans smelt really pleasant with a nice hint of tomato. The sauce wasn't as thick as I would have liked, but it wasn't watery either, which I really hate.
Taste wise, these were nice, but nothing spectacular. The sauce was decent, tomato-y, but not as thick as I would have liked, though it did have a pleasant after taste, tasting almost slightly buttery. The beans themselves were slightly hard, texture-wise and I have to say I prefer the mushiness of Heinz. They did look slightly too orange, which always concerns me with regards to e-numbers (says the girl who loves sweets!) but they didn't taste processed.
Onto the health benefits. We all know that beans count as one of your five a day and these are low in fat. There are approximately 165 calories in a half can portion - meaning that they make a quick, easy and reasonably healthy meal if served on wholemeal toast or a jacket potato.
How much more can I say about a humble can of baked beans? Not a lot really. These aren't as good as Heinz, but they don't taste any worse than any of the other premium brands or supermarket-own brands, so if you're someone who eats a lot of them, you could probably save a fair bit of cash by switching to these.
Running. Where to begin?
If you'd told me a year ago that I would be running a half marathon tomorrow and training for the Brighton Marathon 2011, I'd have laughed at you. But somehow, that is exactly what I am doing.
I wasn't planning on taking up running. I'd done a Race for Life and that was it. However, over a drink one day, I stupidly agreed to do the Bupa London 10k on May 31st 2010 and promptly forgot about it, until I was reminded in April. As I'm sure you can imagine, this didn't leave enough time for a fairly unfit lazy girl to get herself in shape and I completed the course in a rather slow one hour seventeen minutes, after run/walking my way round it. I hasten to point out that I did lose five minutes waiting for the toilet!
However, upon completion, something happened. I had what is known as The Running Bug. I felt elated and cheerful and I wanted to do it again. Over another drink I agreed to do a marathon and something changed in me - this was no longer about getting round a shorter distance in one piece, this is a marathon and serious. Gulp.
So, I recruited a friend as a running partner to shout at me and joined a gym for cross training purposes. And I signed up for a half marathon to keep myself aiming at targets. I invested in a second sports bra and had a gait anaylsis done to make sure my shoes were suitable. This was serious.
By no means am I a skinny girl. I am very curvy and when I started running I weighed over twleve stone, which at the height of 5'5, is too much. I will hasten to point out however, that I was still in size 14s - curvy with hips and a bum I may have been, but somehow I seemed to carry the weight well. Probably because my boobs weigh a ton. Another reason ladies, why it is so important to have a good sports bra. Anyway, my waffling aside, I did not look like your typical runner. But I laced up my shoes and started pounding the streets, ignoring the heckling, the wolf-whistling and on one occasion, spitting of the general public. I now weigh just under eleven and a half, have lots of size 12 clothing and have really toned calves and I have much more energy. My skin is also much clearer - if these aren't reasons to take up running, I don't know what is!
I feel I should point out that I definately haven't found running easy and there have been points where I have wanted to give up. I remember the first time I managed to run thirty minutes without stopping and I felt absolutely elated. Until a few weeks ago, I always used to get twenty minutes of pain before I managed to settle into a rhythm. This is normal and you just have to get through it. I have suffered from very painful shin splints, which is normally a sign of doing too much, too quickly and not warming up properly. How I learnt the hard way.
But somehow down the line, I've got faster. I'm now about a 10 minute miler, which may not be super-fast, but isn't bad at all for long distance running. Especially for a non-runner. And somehow, my 30 minute runs have now turned into easy-to-handle 60 minute runs. Last week, for the first time, I managed to run 12 miles in 2 hours without stopping and felt ok afterwards. I can run up hills. I want to pound the streets.
Yet a few months back, I couldn't even run for fifteen minutes without stopping. How things change!
I definately recommending running to anyone. It has so many health benefits, it's cheap, you can go as fast or slow as you want and you can go as far as you want. It's great for clearing your head and stresses away and you feel great afterwards! The first month is hell, but after that, you'll have the bug.
Just remember to get good shoes from a specialist shop and a good sports bra (if you're a woman).
A couple of Saturday's ago, I was feeling a bit bored and in the mood for baking. I adapted a couple of recipes I found for cheese muffins and came up with the idea for cheese, bacon and Marmite muffins. These came out really well and were really delicious - the bacon making them slightly moist and the Marmite giving the cheddar cheese a good kick. For a veggie version, simply leave out the bacon. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a massive Marmite fan and in my opinion, the only thing to make these better is to use Marmite XO instead of normal Marmite. Mmmm.
Savoury muffins are a great alternative to the usual sweet muffins and make an ideal with some soup - I'd definately recommend experimenting with them to everyone!
250 grams of plain flour
1 tablespoon of baking power
2 rashers of smoked bacon, roughly diced
100 grams of cheddar cheese, grated, plus some extra for the top
1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of Marmite
175 ml of milk
75 grams of chilled butter
**Method (makes 10)**
First of all, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees f.
Add the flour, baking powder, bacon and cheese to a bowl. Grate the butter, add to the dry mixture and stir with a fork. It's fine for the mixture to be lumpy, but make sure that there are no huge lumps of butter.
Beat the egg into the milk and then add the Marmite and stir together. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until everything is lightly blended. The mixture should be lumpy.
Transfer to muffin tins and add a small sprinkling of cheddar cheese to the top of each. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. They're done if a fork comes out clean when you poke one! Add a dusting of Parmesan to the top before baking for a slightly crusty finish. Mmmm. These should be golden brown when done.
*This recipe is also published on my personal website.*
Ok. Don't panic. Don't panic. I can do this. It's just a matter of writing a book review, I mean, how hard can it be? Right, Helen. Think. I can do this. And they'll call me 'The Girl Who Reviewed Mini Shopaholic.'
For the unaware, Mini Shopaholic is the latest instalment in the popular Shopaholic series of books by Sophie Kinsella. The protagonist, Becky, is a fun-loving, stubborn, friendly former financial journalist who is a shopaholic. Following the crash of her career as a financial journalist turned television financial expert in previous books, she now works in a department store called The Look as a personal shopper. This is the sixth book in the series and picks up where the previous title, Shopaholic and Baby, left off.
Meet Minnie Brandon. She's two years old, her favourite word is 'mine' and is the daughter of the loveable Becky Brandon nee Bloomwood and Luke Brandon. She is stubborn, knows how to hail a taxi and really likes shopping. In fact, she is a 'minnie' Becky, but as you can imagine, this leads to all sorts of chaos including being banned from Santa's Grotto. And if Becky didn't have her hands full already, scarily-intelligent, entrepreneur husband Luke is working even more hours than usual with his business, Brandon Communications and relationships with her parents who they currently live with are becoming strained. On top of that, a massive financial crisis occurs which involves everyone having to Cut Back, a skill our Becky still fails to master. Add to the equation the recent death of Luke's stepmother and the sudden appearance of Elinor, his stoney-faced, birth mother, it's a really stressful time. Becky, being the optimistic character that she is decides to throw Luke a surprise party on a budget to celebrate his birthday, to cheer everybody up, but in the typical Becky Bloomwood way, complications arise and it's down to Becky's resourcefulness and the help of her friends and a very surprising acquaintance to help her out.
The book is written in the first-person and this is extremely effective as you really start to feel for Becky as a character, becoming frustrated with her when she does one of her many silly things and willing her to sort it all out in the end because she's just so damn likeable! As in previous books, there are various letters dotted throughout the book, all responses to letters written by Becky. These are very amusing as the responses are written in such a way that you can imagine the original recipient wanting to pat on the head in a patronising manner. I have always loved these touches to the books as I think they make Becky even more believable as a character.
We see the return of the usual cast of characters, Danny the stereo-typically gay fashion designer, Janice the fusspot neighbour of Becky's parents, Jess the very frugal half sister and of course dependable Tarquin and best friend Suze. Elinor, Luke's birthmother makes an appearance and we start to see another side of her usually ice-queen like character, as she starts to bond with Minnie. We also see the introduction of Bonnie, Luke's personal assistant who is incredibly efficient and a bit of an enigma. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Becky as they bond over the party plans. A very colourful set of characters who create much excitement, setting the tone perfectly for the book.
Flaws? There are a few. I am a massive fan of Sophie Kinsella and eagerly awaited this instalment in the series. Although I was not disappointed (I read it in one sitting!) I do feel that this was not her best piece of work. The characters have become almost caricatures of themselves, with their personalities being overly exaggerated. Although this is amusing, it does make the book a bit less believable. For example, Luke has always been a high-flyer and Jess always frugal, but now Luke flies by helicopters and Jess has given up money. It's almost like a ghostwriter has written the book and exaggerated everything to show that they've read the other books.
I also felt that the character of Bonnie was a bit under-developed. Although she played a key role in the book, it felt like an anti-climax at the end when she hadn't been more involved. I know she had her reasons for acting shady around Luke, however being the quiet character that she is and the fact that she doesn't give anything away, I would have loved to have seen a twist with her character, e.g. selling company secrets as it all felt anti-climatic.
I am not going to give away the ending, but die-hard fans will be pleased to know that things wrap up in the typical Becky style, with the perfect opener for hopefully a seventh book in the series.
All in all, this was a very entertaining and enjoyable read, by the Queen of Chick Lit. However, if this is your first book in the series, I would recommend reading some of the others, especially The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic and Shopaholic and Baby to give you a bit of background. As a story, it stands alone very well but the total over-exaggeration of the characters in this book does let down the series very slightly.
Diehard Shopaholic fans will like it as this is a feel-good read, new readers will be entertained by it but I have deducted a point as I don't feel that this is the best in the series, due to the characters becoming caricatures of themselves. This book is hardback and is currently retailling for £8.99 on Amazon.
I love cashew nuts and I adore Marmite, so when I saw a packet of these in Sainsburies, looking oh-so-lovely and distinctive in the traditional black and yellow Marmite colours, I obviously had to buy them.
These are 'oven baked cashew nuts coated in marmite yeast extract with marmite yeast extract flavour.' The nuts themselves are a decent size and look like they are slightly stained with brown (I'm sorry, I've probably just painted a vile mental image for some of you) - this is obviously the marmite. The packet smells delicious when you open it as you really get a good whiff of the non-alcoholic black stuff. Mmmmm.
Taste-wise, these are delicous. The Marmite complements the nuts really well, without overpowering them. You have the sweetness of the cashew perfectly balanced with the saltiness of the Marmite and there is just enough of it to give that distinctive flavour, without being too salty. I will also say that these are fairly messy to eat - like Twiglets, you'll end up with stained fingers! The nuts are also really fresh tasting, most likely down to the foil packaging.
Lovely as these are, they are high in calories and fats, as most nuts are and they have a fairly high level of saturated fat. These contain 565 calories per 100 grams, with 39.5g of fat. A portion size is 30 grams, however these are extremely morish and it is very easy to demolish the whole packet, which is 90 grams. So, probably best enjoyed in moderation - I occasionally pop a handful in my lunchbox!
I paid £1.60 for a packet of these from Sainsburies, which I think is slightly expensive, however it is nice to treat yourself every now and again. I also think that these would make a great alternative to the normal peanuts served as nibbles when you have your friends over for drinks!
All in all, a very tasty snack - 'my mate' and I love it!
Dragon Quest IX is the first non Final Fantasy RPG I have played in a very long time and I am pleased to say that after 45 hours of gameplay, I finally completed it last night.
Unfortunately, I can't say too much about the background of the Dragon Quest games as this is the only one I have played - a present from my boyfriend after I saw it on TV and said it looked fun. It is available on the Nintendo DS and I have to say that it has made several train journies go much quicker.
DQIX is a Role Playing Game (RPG) and one that I believe will appeal to a wide variety of ages. You are the hero, a Celestian (angel) from the skies and the Guardian of the village Angel Falls. The Celestians have been trying to move into God's Land for a very long time, but before this can happen, they require fruits called 'fyggs.' These grow on Yggdrasil, The World Tree and are empowered by benevolessence, which is obtained by helping mortals. One day, the Starflight Express (no prizes for guessing where the name is ripped from!) arrives to take the Celestians to God's land, but an earthquake hits, scattering the fyggs and knocking you to the world below. You wake in the village of Angel Falls, but without your halo and wings and many powers. On a mission to help Angel Falls, you find the Starlight Express and Stella the Fairie, who promises to help you return to the Observatory if you can prove you're a Celestrian. Without giving too much away, you must prove that you're a Celestrian and gather the lost Fyggs to eventually save the world.
One of my favourite parts of this game is the ability to create your own characters. 'Helsie the Minstral' ended up looking like me (in anime form) with pink hair. Later on in the game, when you are able to extend your party to a total of 4 members, you may also create them from scratch, although you also have the option of choosing from 'ready-made' characters. The story focuses around the main character; your party members serve no purpose other than fighting the battles. This may sound like a shame, but you have so much interaction with other characters along the way, it doesn't matter.
In a style similar to the early Final Fantasy games, you are also able to choose the classes of your characters, for example, mage (magic user), priest (healer) and so on. This leads to the battles having a tactical element and it is important to make sure you have the right line up and tactics for the battles! As is traditional in RPGs, you must level up your characters through battles to make them stronger, however in an interesting twist, you can allocate skill points earnt and choose which skills you'd like each character to develop. Battles are semi-random, as in you can see the monsters and avoid them as much as possible, but sometimes they will chase you! Battles are turn based, again standard for an RPG. This can sometimes be boring - but not in this case as the names of some of the moves and the monsters are just too funny. Just "fluffing around", are we, "singing that seriously gritty ditty?"
The graphics in this are absolutely gorgeous. Although I am a fan of RPGs, I am very traditional in how I like the graphics, and loved the 2d-ness of early RPGs and sprites. DQIX has done a wonderful job of making the graphics look slightly traditional, yet in a 3d setting, with a slight anime look about the characters. They are not overly flashy, but extremely eye-pleasing. The motion scenes are fantastic - again, they have gone for anime style, but it works brilliantly in the overall setting of the game.
DQIX is published by Square Enix, which would explain the many similarities between this and the Final Fantasy games. The story is long and engages you throughout the entire game and has many side quests and optional missions you may undertake along the way, or upon completion of the game. It took me 45 hours to play through, however this could just as easily take 60-70 hours. This is about standard for a decent RPG.
Bad points? Very few, but alas, there are a couple. First of all, it is a bit of a let down that there is only one save file, meaning that you can only play one game through at a time. I'm not sure what the reasoning was for this, but I would have thought it fairly standard for games to have more than one save file now. Secondly, the battles! I know this is most likely to make the game more challenging, but it is very frustrating near the end of the game when you want to buy more expensive armour and weapons and can't because you're making a comparitively small amount of money from battles. It means you could be spending hours on battling to buy some new armour - augh!
Unfortunately, I have been unable to test the online aspect of this game as my DS will not connect for whatever reason, but it is also possible to play this game wirelessly. However, please don't feel like you are missing out if you don't - I certainly didn't feel like I was missing anything!
All in all, this is a fantastic game which will appeal to male and females and all ages. It is cute and funny, but also exciting and action packed, making it almost the perfect RPG!
As I have recently taken up running, one of the very first things I needed to purchase as a big-boobed lady was a decent sports bra. As I am a size 36FF, it is extremely important that I have a good sports bra - otherwise I'll be running around with 2 black eyes and will have saggy boobs by the age of 30. Not good looks, I'm sure you'd agree.
I did a lot of reading around and was impressed by the good reviews of the Shock Absober Max Sports Bra and decided to give it a go. I was able to purchase it from Amazon for the price of £18.60 which I felt was pretty good value.
So, the bra. We all know that sports bras are generally ugly, as they are designed for functionality rather than style. The Shock Absorber, as style goes, isn't too bad. You have the choice of ordering it in black or white and the black has a slightly 'shiny' finish on it, making it look slightly more stylish. The cups are large and cover the full bust and the straps are reasonably wide - about 3cm, I'd estimate. They are also adjustable, which is useful. There is no underwiring for the cups.
The bra is easy to get on and comfortable. I have worn this on runs of up to 6 miles and have had no rubbing, itching or chafing. It doesn't cut it under the rib cage, like some sports bras do, the straps don't dig in and you don't feel like you're struggling to breathe - all plus points.
However, although all these are positives, I'm not convinced that this is the best bra for running - at least not for the really big busts! Although the bra does offer some support and significantly more than a normal bra, there is still a bit too much up and down movement - not painfully so, but definately enough to make it slightly uncomfortable. For this reason, I have chosen not to wear this bra on runs beyond 6 miles and only wear it if I know I'm going to be running at a fairly relaxed and easy pace. For this purpose, it is fine, but when I am running 10 miles plus, or going for speed, I have opted to wear the Enell bra, which gives much better support.
All in all, if you're looking for a reasonably priced, comfortable sports bra for a low impact sport, then this will probably provide you with adequete support. Likewise, if you only want something for gentle jogging, then this is fine. However, if you're going to be doing high impact sport, I'd recommend saving your money and putting towards an Enell bra instead.
Oh Leon, why have I been hiding under a rock? Why did it take me so long to discover you?
Leon is a recent discovery of mine. They are a small chain of cafe/restaurants based in London. I very recently visited the Canary Wharf branch for the first time and so this will be the basis for my review.
I had no idea this place even existed. I was meeting up with a friend and his girlfriend for drinks and we decided to grab something to eat first and as this was the first place we found, this is where we ended up. The restaurant itself is very small, seating maybe 30 at a push, but they do takeaway in addition to sit-in, a bit like Wasabi and Pret a Manger. The restaurant is partly waiter-service, by this I mean they direct you to a table and give you a menu, but you have to place your order at the counter and pay for it there, before they bring it over to you.
First impressions were that the restaurant was very small, but rather cute. They had candles at every table, although unlit at that time and it had a fairly 'Middle Eastern' feel about it, which makes sense as they do Middle Eastern-style food. The tables were very clean and although it wasn't overly busy, there was a steady stream of people coming in and out to buy takeaway items.
Leon is very much an ethical restaurant and they use fair trade and organic goods as much as possible. That said, unlike a lot of places who use these labels as an excuse to push prices up, their prices were very reasonable. The menu had a selection of wraps, soups, sides such as salads and rice and also a selection of light bites, hot dishes and grazing dishes to be eaten tapas style with friends. Although licensed, they had a limited selection of alcohol, but also do a selection of tea, coffee and juices. The juices, although slightly expensive (I paid over £2 for orange juice) are definately worth it as they are delicious and taste freshly made and like you are getting a healthy drink. They even look healthy.
We were really impressed with the prices - hot dishes being around £5-6, wraps at around £4-5 and grazing dishes at about £3-4 each. We all opted for wraps as we were in a rush, but next time I mean to sample the grazing dishes, boasting dishes such as halloumi, hummus, meatballs and chorizo. I opted for the chicken and chorizo wrap and it was delicous. It came in a rolled flat bread and had been grilled and was warm all the way through. It was absolutely stuffed full as bits kept falling out, making it very messy to eat. The chicken was tender and delicious, the chorizo giving it a bit of a kick and the chilli sauce was lovely and sweet. Although it was certainly warming, it wasn't too spicy, making it perfect for me. It was just the right size for lunch, however I do think it was slightly too small for a full dinner and I should have ordered a side of rice to go with it. However, it was still pretty good value for money. My friends opted for falafel with a side of rice, which looked delicous and was accompanied by the mutterings of 'mmmmmm' and 'yum yum yum.' Unfortunately, they ate it all too fast for me to sample!
The customer service at Canary Wharf Leon is absolutely second to none. The staff were very friendly and after I'd been waiting for my wrap a little while, they came over to apologise for the delay; apparantly the printer in the kitchen had stopped working and so my order never printed out. They assured me it would be out in the next couple of minutes which it was - however, in all honesty I hadn't really been waiting very long in the first place. They then offered me a free Brownie to make up for the wait. Not necessary, but who was I to say no?
My friends decided not to have a cake as they were full, so I decided to take it away with me. The selection of cakes was great - they all looked delicious and fresh on the display counter and all cost around £2. I opted for the 'Better Brownie' a chocolate brownie, with ground almonds flavoured with orange. I had this the next morning for breakfast and I can certainly say that this was a 'Better Brownie!' The slice was big and well worth the money and the flavour was delicious - very chocolatey, with a fruity after-taste, no doubt thanks to the orange in it, but not too rich. It's also suitable for veggies, glutan free and and wheat free, so definately one to treat yourself to!
All in all, I can definately recommend Leon as being a very affordable, hidden gem. Fantastic.
Ah, the Nintendo DS Lite, part of the ever-expanding DS family.
For the uninformed, the DS Lite is the successor to the popular DS console, operating in the same way, just a bit smaller in size. It currently retails at around £100-110, depending on the colour (pink, black, red amongst others) and you can also pick them up second hand for about £50-60. These are becoming increasingly available second hand as more people trade in for the newer versions, the DSi and the DSI XL.
The DS Lite is a handheld computer game console, developed by Nintendo, who as we all know were responsible for the Game Boy Phenomenon. The concept is very similar - a hand held console, with lots of different games available on cartridges from stores such as Amazon, Game, Play, Currys, etc. Different types of games are available and there really is something to suit everybody, for example platform games (Supermario), RPGs (Final Fantasy, Dragonquest), puzzles, Brain Training, simulation games, releases of Guitar Hero and even games to help you decide what to cook for dinner. Prices vary from £7.99-29.99, depending on the game and how new it is, but Game and HMV both have very good pre-owned sections where you can often pick up the latest releases at a knock down prices. These are also good for picking up the less common games as I was able to buy Final Fantasy 3 for £6.99 pre-owned. Bargain. There is very rarely, if anything, wrong with the pre-owned games as most people trading them in are people who only play a game once before moving on!
The consoles are really easy to set up - load a game at the top, turn on at the side and away you go! I like the fact that the intro screen tells you which cartridge is loaded and the date and the time. You then touch the screen to select your game and away you go.
The DS Lite is touch-screen and you can either use your fingers (make sure they're clean!) or the stylus provided. The touch-screen is very good in my opinion as they can be either too sensitive, or non-responsive. This one is virtually perfect in times of timing and where you touch it. You can also use the buttons on the console, as the D-pad typical of the Game Boy makes a return. I prefer to use buttons as I like to hold the console comfortable with my hands either side of it. The DS Lite also has two screens, which is a nice feature. However, this is not always used effectively, but this would be down to the games manufacturers. Typically, the main game play happens in the lower screen, with the top screen being used to display things such as a world map, or you may be directed to turn the console sideways whilst book pages are displayed. Some games do not make good use of this top screen and while I know it is not always needed; surely they could at least display a picture up there.
The console itself is comfortable to use. It's quite light, so it isn't uncomfortable to hold it for long periods of time. You may well start suffering pains in the wrists from playing it for too long, but this is typical of playing any console for too long! It's not bulky at all and although the screens are small, being a handheld console, you don't have to squint at the screen. It is also a colour console with a clear picture (although graphics depend on the game) and the brightness doesn't irritate the eyes.
The DS Lite has two other selling points. The first one is the ability to play Game Boy Advance games. It has a socket at the bottom where you can plug in GBA games, if you have these left from your Game Boy days. This also means you have the option to buy cheap, second hand games, if you can find them! They do stick out the console and make it slightly heavier and the games are also displayed on just the one screen, but these are very minor inconveniences which are made up for by the fact you can still play your old games. One feature of the DS Lite is that you can close it up whilst playing a game and it goes into 'sleep' mode and the game will resume when you re-open it. This unfortunately does not work with GBA games, but again it is a small price to play.
The second selling point is the ability to connect wirelessly to the internet, meaning that you can multi-player online. I haven't yet tried this function, so I can't comment on how easy it is to use, but I look forward to trying it with my new Dragonquest game. You can also purchase a DS Lite internet browser and use it for browsing the internet, again this is something I haven't tried as I'd rather use my laptop, but I can see why this would appeal.
You may be wondering whether you would be better off buying the DSi, as opposed to the DS Lite. I haven't played a DSi, however it is my understanding that they are very similar, but the internet browser crashes a lot and the only real difference is the camera feature. All DS range games can be played on the DS Lite and as most people have cameras and computers for taking pictures and internet surfing, I would be more inclined to recommend saving the money and getting the DS Lite instead.
Finally, the DS Lite is a pretty robust console. I have had mine for nearly two years and have dropped it several times, yet it is completely fine. The leather case may have protected it from scratches on the outer case of the console, but the console has never so much as blinked. The battery life is still going strong - I only charge it overnight once a week and it still allows me to play it for a couple of hours a day - sometimes longer. And after two years I'm still not bored with it - all my commutes are spent tip-tapping away!
Yes, it costs a bit of money, but for the hours of entertainment you get out of it, I think it's worth it.
Thanks for reading. And for anyone who cares, mine is pink!