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I bought this DVD a month ago on the basis of a glowing review on Amazon and I have not been disappointed! I own a good variety of workout DVD's, Davina and Nell McAndrew being my favourites, but this was my first workout from The Firm and given the low price (this sells on Amazon for only £7) my expectations were fairly low. But I absolutely adore this workout and it has barely been out of my DVD player since I bought it 4 months ago!
Like Davina's Superbody DVD in the SuperSculpt section, the 40 minute workout uses moves with handweights interspersed with short high intensity intervals to really get your heart rate skyrocketing. You'll need two sets of weights, heavy and medium (the DVD says 3, but I find my medium weights are fine for the light moves), I use 3kg for heavy and 2kg for medium which is enough of a challenge for me! The intervals last only about a minute but are really challenging plyo moves - mid air heel clicks etc. which are far more challenging than Davina's intervals. I find my heart rate rockets in these sections and is kept nice and high throughout the weight sections too - this is one of the sweatiest workouts I own and enough of a challenge to still feel the after effects 4 months down the line - I like my body to know I've worked out! I'm actually slightly ashamed to admit it, but I am still not able to do the split dips interval training and have to resort to jumping jacks for that portion of the DVD or my quads just positively scream!
The weights moves themselves are very well explained and build up slowly, adding on, so you never get bored. All of the moves are total body moves - the weights are combined with squats, lunges, sumo squats, plies, leg lifts, so you are really toning the lower body as well as the upper body and getting the most out of every move.
The short abs section at the end is nice and challenging as well - you use the weights for added oomph and wow did my abs ache the first time I did this! Love the addition of the side plank with weight lift at the end to really leave you feeling like you've accomplished something.
I love Rebekah Sturkie as well - given that this was my first Firm DVD I wasn't sure what to expect and I was concerned she would be too irritatingly American, but I find her slight southern accent really endearing and she really does motivate you to keep going throughout the workout (even if her phrases are a little repetitive - "You're not the only one who feels this" seems to be a particular favourite!) I found her cuing absolutely spot on and from the first workout I found it easy to follow (not being a fan of dancey aerobics having two left feet!) If anyone has used Hannah Waterman's workout and enjoyed it I would thoroughly recommend this - it's a similar type of workout (interval based) but I actually find this one really fun, whereas I couldn't stick with Hannah at all.
There's not an awful lot of cardio involved in this workout, so I think it needs to be combined with another workout in your weekly routine to really see effects, but the bonus feature of a 15 minute workout which focuses more on the cardio side of things is great to tack onto either the beginning or the end of your workout to really push yourself.
In terms of results, I bought this DVD having already lost 2 and a half stone and reached something of a plateau - possibly considering the fact that losing any more weight was going to be impossible. Well, this workout has helped me push past the plateau and I've lost a further half a stone, but the really noticeable effect has been in my abs which are becoming nicely toned and in my waist measurement, which is whittling away nicely (now down to 27 inches!)
So, negatives? As other reviews have said, the music isn't great, but to be honest, I enjoy the moves so much that I barely notice it once I'm into the workout. The 'beginner' move demonstrator Noelle is often behind the moves and seems a bit confused but I can't say that I would really recommend this workout for beginners - Noelle performs the moves without weights and although this is recommended for beginners, I really think you would need to use at least very light weights and perform the short cardio sections fully to get results from this workout.
It's worth a mention that this is a US import, but is suitable for all regions of DVD player - it certainly works on mine which is region 2 only.
Highly recommended for a challenging workout that will deliver results. If you're after an even more challenging workout, I've also bought The Firm's Maximum Calorie Bootcamp workout which is far and away the toughest one I own and well worth investing in!
Despite my fascination with all things beauty based, I am a latecomer to the Clarins party and their Peach Cleansing Water is only the second Clarins product I've tried. When it comes to my skin care routine I like to stick to a facial wash for the evening and a gentle liquid cleanser for the morning, when my skin tends to have accumulated far less dirt and grime. My combination skin can be easily irritated by cleansers which are too harsh, causing any dry areas to start flaking, but I need something which is effective in cleansing the pores to prevent breakouts in any oily patches. Having read lots of reviews on dooyoo of Clarins' Cleansing Water, I decided to fork out my £19 on a big bottle of this.
The cleanser is a typical liquid cleanser, intended to be applied to a cotton pad and then stroked gently across the face. The main ingredient is peach essential oil which is renowned for both its cleansing and skin softening properties and in aromatherapy terms is thought to brighten your outlook on life - perfect for something you generally use every morning then! It also uses Moringa Seed extract, which is thought to neutralize pollution and detoxify the skin, and Provitamin B5, which as we all know from the Pantene ads is vital for healthy hair and skin.
As with all Clarins products the packaging is simple but classy - a seethrough bottle with a white screw off lid and the traditional gold lettering. Although the screw top undoubtedly looks good, I find it's not the most practical as applying it becomes a multi step job as I simply don't have enough hands - unscrew lid and place down, apply cleanser to cotton wool pad, stroke cotton wool pad over face, apply to second pad if necessary, and then replace lid. Whenever I use the product I am constantly worried about knocking the bottle over and spilling it everywhere and a flip top lid would mean that you could easily shut the lid with one hand while holding the cotton wool pad in the other - worry eliminated! On the plus side for the packaging there is a small hole punched in the top of the bottle which allows you to control the amount of cleanser that you dispense onto the pad to minimise wastage - for my whole face I apply 4 upside down motions of the bottle onto the cotton pad and that seems to do the job and means that after just over a month of use I have barely made a dent in the bottle.
I love the smell of this - it has a definite peach smell but is lovely and subtle and makes this a lovely product to use in the morning as it is not at all overpowering. There is not a hint of chemical smell about this and it is lovely and relaxing.
It feels lovely on the skin - really gentle and leaves skin feeling refreshed but lovely and soft, not at all tight as so many cleansers can leave my skin feeling. Because it is so gentle, it's not a particularly effective cleanser for removing deep down dirt, which is why I like to use this in the morning and a deep cleansing facial wash in the evening. Although it does remove makeup, it does struggle with this and I would only recommend for light cleansing, rather than full on makeup removal.
In terms of price, this one is pretty full on at £19 for 200ml. Although in terms of initial price this is a steep investment, I find that it is proving fairly good value for money as it will last me at least another 6-8 months with regular use. Although the effects are nothing really spectacular (it's only a cleanser after all!) I find that this is a really lovely product to use and suits my needs well - it is gentle, doesn't strip the skin of oils or leave it tight, smells lovely, is lovely and refreshing in the morning, and is effective at removing any dirt and dead skin cells that have built up overnight.
As a big fan of the cult Blinc mascara which instead of coating your lashes, wraps tiny silicon tubes around them, I was keen to try L'oreal's Beauty Tubes mascara which claimed to do a similar job and with a recommendation from friend and fellow dooyoo-er Louiseypees I happily passed over the £10.99 to the assistant at Boots. I find the great thing about the Blinc 'tube' mascara is that it feels like you are barely wearing anything on the lashes as it's so lovely and light, it does a great job in lengthening, and keeps a curl really well. However, at £15 it's not the cheapest mascara out there, so I was keen to see if L'oreal could match it for a third of the price.
L'oreal's Beauty Tubes mascara works slightly differently to Blinc's offering in that it is a two step process - the mascara wand is double ended and step one is to coat the lashes with a white mascara, then after it has dried, you give a coat with the other end, making them the more traditional black again. Very similar to an old mascara I remember using from Bourjois, so perhaps not as revolutionary as L'oreal seem to claim!
Packaging is not one of this mascara's strong points - the bottle uses a maroon and white colour combo which has the disadvantage of looking rather cheap, as well as being quite chunky and curvy so I find it rather difficult to hold. The mascara brushes are pretty chunky which was not an issue at first, but as the mascara became a little older and less fluid, began to pick up far too much mascara on them and give your lashes an unattractive clumpy effect - I tried minimising this by stroking across a tissue to remove the excess and any large clumps, but this could have been avoided with a slimmer brush.
In terms of the results that I got with this mascara I am torn. When I first used it, I was very impressed, to the point where I would say I achieved the longest and thickest looking lashes I've ever had (barring the use of falsies that is!) The colour is a true black, it holds a curl really well, and I found it had great staying power, not budging at all throughout the day, even during rain. My gripes with the product are twofold: the first being that I find it impossible to remove. The Blinc mascara has a rather unconventional removal process whereby you simply apply a hot, wet flannel and press slightly and the tubes are removed. The instructions for L'oreal's Beauty Tubes tell you to apply a cotton pad soaked in eye makeup remover to the eye, hold for a good length of time, and then remove as normal. Well I have tried this method with numerous different eye makeup removers, none of which normally struggle to remove mascara, but this stuff really does not want to budge! Even using cotton pads positively dripping in eye-makeup remover, I find myself having to pick off bits of gluey mascara the next day as when I look in the mirror in the cold light of day it is clear that only half the mascara applied has been removed.
My second gripe is the short length of time that this mascara is actually useable once you've opened it - ok, I admit, I do not replace mascaras as often as I should (slap on the wrist for me!), but I found that this one gave me fantastic results for about a week, and then went progressively downhill, to the point 3 weeks in where the mascara was so clumpy it was decidedly uncomfortable on the lashes, feeling very dry and heavy.
Despite being initially very impressed with the results this gave, at £10.99 there is too much of a noticeable difference in quality for me to recommend this over Blinc's Kiss Me Mascara which for only £4 more I think is a far superior product. Sadly L'oreal's Beauty Tubes is not one I will be buying again!
As someone who has quite the collection of workout DVDs (all of Davina and Nell McAndrew being favourites) I bought this as a New Year's present to myself after being really impressed by Hannah's massive weight loss (although I can't help feeling that another half stone back on would do her the world of good and banish the slight lollipop head syndrome!) It's based on interval training which the latest scientific research indicates is the most effective way to lose weight, raising the heart rate high for short periods of time and then following with a period of 'active rest', rather than steady state cardio. According to the blurb on the back of the DVD just 20 minutes of this DVD is as effective as a whole hour of jogging (forgive me if I'm not quite convinced on that one)
However, there is no denying that this workout is tough! It's led by two young guys who lead Hannah through the workout and is split into four sections, roughly 20 minutes each - Cardio Blitz (an aerobics style workout which incorporates the warmup so you really need to do this one every time), Box Blitz (upper body boxing and kick boxing moves), Tone Blitz (burpees and other such resistance moves), all of which are interspersed with some 10 second high energy intervals to get the heart rate up, followed by a final abs section and cool down. If you sat down and watched the DVD there's not really anything in there that makes it look that tough, but I like to think I'm fairly fit and believe me, working through the whole DVD I found this workout far harder than any Nell McAndrew one I'd done and it really left me feeling the effects the next day! The abs section in particular is really tough, and the toning section is a real killer (I absolutely detest burpees with a passion and the jump to standing position that they tack onto the end of them really makes you feel it!) I did enjoy the Box Blitz section which came as some welcome respite after the intensity that is the Cardio section!
What this DVD lacks for me however is the fun factor - with Davina you find that with every move she'll be telling you how much she loves it and it's clear from the big grin on Nell's face that she enjoys working out, but with Hannah, more often than not, she'll tell you she hates this move and I'm inclined to agree with her most of the time!I find that this type of interval training doesn't give me the buzz that I get with something like Nell McAndrew which is intense but more steady state cardio and despite the fact that there's no denying you can feel the effectiveness, I think beginners would find this a tough routine to stick with as I just don't find it a very enjoyable workout - there are far too many moves, particularly in the toning section, that I just dread! It comes down to the fact that I've realised that I really dislike floor workouts unless they are specifically targeting the abs, so if this rings a bell with you then avoid - if you don't mind floor workouts then no doubt you'll find this more enjoyable than I did.
The presenting is well thought out with lots of information on the science behind weight loss and there are different options to follow depending on your level of fitness. Despite the options, I do think that this is a tough workout for anyone whose fitness level is low and you would have to be pretty motivated to embark on this from 'couch potato' level, so to speak. That said, the moves are simple, easy to follow and well explained and there is a nice relationship between the three presenters. Hannah is inspiring to watch as her change in body shape is so drastic and she really does look fabulous now. However, she isn't someone like Nell or Davina who really seem to love working out and her exclamations of hatred for moves I do find can be a bit demotivating and she does have a tendency to shout at times.
In terms of effectiveness I find it hard to see anyone with a bit of excess weight to lose (lets face it, who doesn't?!) who did even just 20 minutes of this workout 3 times a week failing to lose weight, the problem is the motivation to dig it out again as it is tough and just not much fun! I've owned it 3 weeks now and despite working out every day, I've only managed to get the motivation to dig this out 4 times - I'd much rather reach for Davina for fun or Nell if I'm feeling up for some intensity!
Since first discovering Davina's DVDs back in June this year I've managed to get fit and lose over 2 stone and I was thrilled to see she was releasing a new one - in the past 6 months she's almost become a personal friend as I 'meet' her nearly every day!
This DVD is split into 4 30 minute workouts (so great value for money!) which each have a brief warm up / cool down within the section, plus an additional 12 minute yoga cool down to tack onto the end. My only complaint with the Superbody Workout (my favourite workout DVD ever!) was that I found 40 minutes is not quite enough of a workout for me so I would often do both 40 minutes back to back which was quite tough! With this one the cool down stretches contained within the 30 min sections are brief enough (but still effective) that it's just a nice break before launching into a second (or third) section, and the warmup is energetic enough to feel like part of the workout rather than just killing time before the main event.
The aerobics section is a dance style workout but not too difficult to pick up for the uncoordinated of us - just watch out for the "grapevine" move, which first time the camera cuts away from rather unhelpfully! A nice cardio workout that's not too challenging and not too hard on the shins as I find lots of aerobics can be. Lots of fun! The short abs section at the end is a nice addition and given its brief length is still reasonably challenging and certainly had my abs hurting!
Top Fit uses hand weights and works those biceps and triceps to banish the bingo wings forever! Just like the Superbody workout there are a couple of minute long intervals which get the heart rate up and ensure you're really burning fat. Not many added squats and lunges as with the Superbody workout, but combine it with the Bottom Fit and you'll get a great total body workout. It also has a tough floor section and I have to say, I much prefer doing the tricep dips on the floor rather than a chair as in the Power of 3 - much more manageable!
Bottom Fit I find is the hardest section on the DVD and will really really work your thighs. The 30 minutes are pretty much constant squats and lunges in all directions - side lunges, forward lunges, backward lunges, they're all here - and you can really feel it working the bottom and the thighs. Just keep thinking of that nice pert bottom as you feel the burn!
Kick Fit is a kick boxing style workout and my favourite section of the DVD - you'll work up a sweat but it's not so challenging that you'll never face doing it a second time. Lots of punching and kicking and varied enough that it's not too repetitive.
I love the addition of the Yoga Stretch/Cool Down and it really calms you down and relaxs you leaving feeling ready to face anything. It's nicely instructed and simply put together and the perfect close to the workout.
The instruction from Jackie and Mark is as good as ever, with constant reminders about form and how things should be feeling. The three of them make a great team and are really motivating throughout - I find Davina's obsession with knowing how many repetitions are left helps me to push myself to the end when otherwise I might have stopped!
The big improvement on the previous DVDs is the music, which is actually really good and very motivating. The only downside I think is that if you are one of those people who find Davina irritating then you may want to avoid as she is quite vocal on this one - personally I love her, she really makes you feel like she is working hard along with you and keeps you going. Anyone familiar with Davina's DVDs might want to note that this one doesn't include the infamous skipping story! I have to say I almost miss it!
It has quite a nice extra section called "Davina's Big Day Out" which sees her take 3 women who've used her DVDs with lots of success in terms of both weight loss and fitness on a shopping spree. I found this really motivational and a nice addition.
In terms of level, I don't feel that it is quite as challenging as the Super Body workout, but this is a plus for me, as it means that 2, 3 or even 4 sections are perfectly manageable run back to back and working through this way still has a nice flow to it and gives you a nice lengthy workout. If you are out of shape and looking for a good home workout, then this is the perfect DVD for you as it will provide a challenge without being too intimidating and you can build up to doing more and more of the DVD as your fitness levels improve.
This year, to save me from tears ... I decided to do all my Christmas shopping online! Despite being a big shopping fan, I hate the Christmas crowds and being pushed for time this year thought that the comfort of armchair shopping would be a great bonus. All in all it's been a great decision, with the monumental exception of my experience of online shopping with Boots.com, which has been an unmitigated disaster. Let me tell you more...
The website itself:
As a brand, I am a big Boots fan - I love makeup and cosmetics and nothing pleases me more than picking myself up a few pampering treats. Boots online store is actually a very well stocked place to shop for all your health and beauty essentials - they stock all the premium brands, such as Clinique, Clarins, Dior, Estee Lauder, as well as more specialist and hard to get hold of brands like Origins, Bliss and the increasingly popular Soap & Glory range.
The website often has great offers on and when I was shopping there was a 3 for 2 on Soap & Glory products which I took full advantage of, as well as offering a free Soap & Glory gift bag when you bought 3 items. Advantage card holders can also link their advantage card to their online account by entering the card number, although beware that to claim the points you actually have to enter your card into one of the instore machines within a certain timeframe or the points expire - rather defeats the point of online shopping!
The website itself is a little dated to navigate around - you need to pick the category you think what you are looking for will fit under from the various tabs along the top. All fine when you are just generally browsing, but trying to look for a specific item becomes more problematic as the search facility is quite frankly pants and rarely turns up what I'm after. Once you are in a category you can browse by price bracket or brand, which I normally find is an easier way to locate the item I'm looking for.
Boots accept payment from all the usual credit/debit cards, as well as accepting payment through Paypal.
Standard Delivery is free when you spend over £45, but under that amount is a pretty steep £4, so naturally I bulked my order up to £48 to take advantage of this. You can also choose other delivery options such as nominated day delivery, or even collect in store (read on and you'll see why I'll probably choose this option if I ever shop with Boots.com again!)
Returns must be made within 28 days (unless the item is faulty in which case you have longer) and you can either post back the item using the prepaid label provided, or you can return to your local Boots branch.
The ordering experience:
For me, the real problems began when I tried to place my order and most likely this may be a long and tedious story, but my ordering experience has been exactly that - long, tedious, and very frustrating. Because like many people I work between the hours of 8-6, I can't have packages shipped to my home (and my billing) address, so I always have items shipped to my work address. Quite a standard thing for online sites to allow these days you would think and the Boots website certainly seemed to offer that. Once I had entered my delivery address, it then prompted me to enter my billing address - all fine you would think, but it had copied the postcode from my delivery address to the billing address and would not let me change it no matter how many times I tried. Eventually the order did go through, but when I received the order notification email I noticed that it had managed to put together a delivery address that combined the first half of my billing address with the postcode for my delivery address, thus creating a completely nonsensical address. Before you all think to yourselves "Tsk, what an idiot!", I order a lot of items online and have never before had an issue like this! Boots use DHL to deliver their items and sure enough the tracking on the DHL website said that the packages (because my order had been split into two parts) were being held due to an inadequate delivery address. A quick phone call to Boots customer service helpline and the advisor assured me that she had updated my order with the correct address and that both packages would now be on their way to me.
Flash forward to the next day and the status of one of the packages changes to "out for delivery" and sure enough my package turns up! Sadly, despite my order forming a total of 7 items, the only items contained in this first package were 2 free gift bags that I received for purchasing 6 Soap & Glory items - a total waste of packaging as the two flat gift bags arrived in a very large box, there really was no need whatsoever to split my order into two!
A quick check on the DHL website tells me that the second package is still being held due to the inadequate delivery address, so contrary to what I had been told, the address on that had not been corrected. Queue another phone call to Boots, who clarify the address and tell me they are sending another note to DHL.
Two days later and there has still been no sign of movement of my parcel until... an email pops up in my inbox informing me that my payment has been refunded and my order has been returned! Confused phone call to Boots becomes even more confusing when the customer service chap tells me that it was delivered to my work that afternoon and signed for by someone named Wilson. "No Wilson here" I tell him. "Hmmm...." A little detective work from him and he establishes that no, he was wrong, it had been sent back to the depot and my payment had been refunded as the delivery address was "inadequate". To rectify the situation he re-places my order for me and promises me that it will be with me on Monday (this being a Friday) and since he can't find a way to place my order without getting the 2 free gift bags, I end up with another two free gift bags. And "as a gesture of goodwill" they waive the delivery charge - um, my order was over £45 so delivery was free anyway, so not too much goodwill there, but since I'm now getting my order on Monday, I'm not too bothered.
Monday rolls by still with no sign of my order and strangely the DHL website still says that the delivery address is inadequate. Another call to Boots reveals that their system and the DHL system don't appear to be compatible with each other because they have cut off half of the first line of my address so that it reads only "Company name, 3rd, London..." , as in 3rd Floor, Building number... so I can see why DHL are having issues. The nice lady at Boots customer service tells me she has updated my order (again both packages) with my correct address and added in my phone number for DHL to contact me if there are any problems, but says that it was actually never the case that the order would be with me Monday, Wednesday was the delivery date. Disappointed to feel that I was lied to when replacing the order but happy that things finally seem to be sorted, I hang up the phone.
Two days later and a parcel arrives for me! Joy! But just one of the two parcels, and what do you think it contained? You've got it - it's the two free gift bags! So I'm now 4 Soap & Glory gift bags up, but have none of what I actually ordered and Christmas is creeping closer and closer. Bearing in mind my original order was placed on the 3rd December and it is now the 16th, with still no sign of delivery, I am beginning to get a little worried. A quick check on DHL confirms that my second package is still "held due to inadequate delivery address". Trying a different tactic this time, I decide to email Boots rather than phone. Two hours later I get a response acknowledging my query and telling me that they will respond within two days. Another two days and my order will have been sent back to the depot and refunded based on the last experience, so I pick up the phone again! I'm told again that they are updating DHL with my delivery address and phone number and they seem confused as to why it's not being sent out. Finally, 2 hours after phone call to Boots #6, I get a call from DHL and am able to read them out my correct address!
Of all the sites that I ordered presents from this Christmas, Boots has uncategorically provided me with the worst shopping experience. I placed my original order on the 3rd December, and have only just received it on the 17th, and that is only due to my perseverance with pestering their customer service team! Compare that to the super speediness of lesser known stores such as Cheapsmells.com (shipped next day and received the following day, and this is from Jersey!) or the fantastic customer service I had from BeautyExpert.co.uk (order placed on 3rd December sent by Royal Mail 1st Class not arrived by 16th, emailed customer services and got response within 30 mins confirming another would be sent out by special delivery that day) and it's really not good enough for such a big brand store to be so utterly inept when it comes to customer service. It's not so much the fact that their website isn't properly functional, but when you are forced to make 8 phone calls to customer service just to receive the order that you placed and correct one simple detail, it all adds up to make a more frustrating shopping experience than tackling Oxford Street in mid-December would have been!
I have been a big fan of Sophie Kinsella for many years now, having first discovered her Shopaholic series and her stand alone books Can You Keep A Secret, Remember Me?, and The Undomestic Goddess. Kinsella has clearly conquered the chick-lit world and remains one of my favourite authors, but I find her stand alone books a bit hit and miss - although I enjoyed Can You Keep A Secret even more than the Shopaholic series, I found Remember Me and The Undomestic Goddess rather disappointing. That said, it was always a given when her new book, Twenties Girl, was released that I would be eager to read it.
When Lara Lington finds out her 105 year old Great Aunt Sadie has died it's the least of her worries - having recently been inexplicably dumped by her boyfriend Josh, and having just set up her own headhunting business with school friend and professional headhunter Natasha, only for Natasha to go swanning off to Goa with no sign of return, leaving Lara desperately trying to hold the business together, she has more than enough to worry about. But when Lara finds herself being haunted by Great Aunt Sadie, reinvented as her 23 year old self and determined to track down her favourite dragonfly necklace, she finds her life turned upside down as she tries to find the necklace. But who would have taken the necklace and why? Sadie is not your typical 'old lady' and her attempts to live vicariously through Lara see Lara behaving in ways she would never have considered - asking out strangers, dressing in 1920's flapper dresses, and dancing the Charleston to name but a few, as well as desperately trying to win back ex boyfriend Jason.
As always, Kinsella's writing is easy to read, fresh, engaging and full of humour. Initially I found the character of Lara a little dull and lacking in humour compared to some of Kinsella's other characters - if I'm entirely honest, I don't think she's ever quite replicated the magic of Becky Bloomwood - but as the story moved on I found the interaction with Sadie made her more interesting and I really warmed to her and was rooting for her. The story initially was a little slow to get off the mark with what seemed to be a pointless diversion around a false murder accusation that served as little more than a blatant plot device. Sadie was an interesting character with her seemingly unreasonable demands and very direct manner and the story definitely livened up once she appeared on the scene. In terms of the male talent, I found the love interest, Ed, a little bland here - normally Kinsella's men are quite similar and I have to say very attractive! It's generally your typical rich, hard working, successful man who's worked his way up and puts on a sleek, slightly arrogant business front but underneath it all is a lovely down to earth guy - typical stuff, but if you find a winning formula, stick with it I say! Unfortunately I just found the love interest here a little bit lacking in interest and charisma. Ditto really for Lara's parents - unlike Becky Bloomwood's hilariously middle class Mum and Dad, Lara's were just a little run of the mill. I did enjoy her sleazy self made coffee chain millionaire Uncle Bill and It-girl cousin Diamante though which added a touch of glamour and had you rooting for him to get his comeuppance.
In terms of plot, I have to admit that I found it a little predictable (I could tell exactly where the story was heading and a lot of Kinsella's stand alone books do tend to follow a typical formula) but was entertaining nonetheless and I read the story pretty much in one go, only stopping to grab a night's sleep. I don't think anyone's really reading chick-lit to be surprised by the ending! In the inevitable comparison with Kinsella's other books this one holds up well - I enjoyed it more than Remember Me, and although I wouldn't rank it up there with the Shopaholic series and Can You Keep A Secret, it's still a must read for chick lit fans and a really enjoyable read.
Over the last 6 months I have built up quite a collection of home workout DVD's and currently own all of Davina's, 2 Nell McAndrew ones, and Charlie Brooks' one. My favourite by far is Davina's Superbody workout and I go back to that one without fail at least a couple of times a week. However, every now and again you need a change! Her 3 30 Minute Workouts DVD is a great idea for anyone short on time - everyone can find the time to squeeze in 30 minutes 3 times a week into their life and even that short space of time should be enough for you to start seeing results.
The DVD is split into 3 sections - Pump, Cardio Box, and Core Stability, all of which include a brief warmup and cool down. The Pump section requires a set of light hand weights to get the most out of it and sees you doing various squats, lunges, floor work etc. to work your whole body and get a more toned look. The routine is interspersed with high energy intervals which get your heart rate up to ensure you are burning fat through the whole routine. Davina has two trainers, husband and wife team Jackie and Mark Wren, and this section is lead by Jackie with Mark and Davina following. I really like workouts that involve weights so this gets the thumbs up from me, although when compared to the Super Sculpt workout on her later Superbody DVD it's not as challenging. Jackie's instruction is nice and clear here and she explains how things should feel as well as what you should be doing.
The Cardio Box is probably my favourite section on this DVD and this time you are lead through it by Mark. It combines intervals again with a kickboxing routine, similar to the SuperFit routine on Superbody, or Nell McAndrew's Maximum Impact, although I have to say that I don't find it as challenging as either of those. There is also some floor work to work the abs at the end. Although I like this workout as I find punching and kicking always appeals to me, it is quite a difficult routine to follow as Mark is particularly bad here at explaining what is coming next, so the first few times you do it you are likely to be standing there confused for quite a while rather than getting the maximum out of the workout.
The Core Stability section Davina describes as "working your insides" and is a Pilates style workout with lots of floor work which really works your abdominals. I really like Pilates and find that although it's not a typical 'drench yourself in sweat' workout, the results you get from it are really good and give you a much leaner, more toned figure. This is lead again by Jackie.
For those who find Davina a bit annoying then this is one to avoid - I don't find her annoying at all on other DVDs but on this one her constant gurning and collapsing after each section is actually really irritating when you are just left standing there waiting for her to get up again! There is the option with this one to shut Davina up and have just music which might be just the thing you're looking for after a few times through if you can't face hearing the skipping rope story again!
Although I do dig this DVD out occasionally, it's not one of my favourites. It would be perfect for anyone who is not very fit and not very motivated as the 30 minute chunks make it very manageable, but I don't really find it challenging enough to really make me feel like I've worked unless I do two of these back to back, and even then I don't feel it as much as I do with a tougher 40 minute workout. I don't feel that it's as well instructed as either Davina's Superbody or Power of 3 and I would recommend either of these over this. A good workout DVD for beginners but there are better ones out there!
Flashback to last May and my idea of exercise was walking to the freezer to grab the tub of Ben & Jerry's! But the realisation that I had piled a fair amount of weight on over the last couple of years made me realise that getting an exercise regime going was a must if I wanted to get back to a comfortable size 10/12. At first I started with just following Davina's Superbody workout a couple of times a week, but soon I was doing more and more, to the point where I am now combining that with some running and some pilates and am just 2lbs short of having lost 2 stone. As I reach landmarks in my weightloss I like to reward myself with a little treat - where before my treat would have been something chocolatey and comforting, now I tend to buy myself something new to wear for my workouts, after all, what is a better motivator to get exercising than having some fab clothes to do it in!
Sweaty Betty was launched in 1998 with a small store in Notting Hill and the website followed two years later. It's the perfect place to shop for women's sportswear, whether you're looking for running gear, yoga wear, swimwear, or even ski-wear, everything they sell is trendy and looks great. Everything they sell first has to pass 3 key questions: does it look beautiful? Will it help us perform better? Will others covet it? The whole ethos of the site sends out a very positive and healthy message - the emphasis is on fitness promoting happiness and well being rather than obsession, and they have numerous blogs written by members of their team describing their preparations for marathons amongst others, and every January and September run a "Get fit 4 Free" scheme where you can try out a new sport for free - boxercise, running, yoga, ballet have been some of the sports offered. There are also links to running clubs and yoga classes across the country so it's hopefully easy to find something near to you.
The website looks great and is easy to navigate. It uses a classy muted purple colour scheme and the clothing is divided into sections: Sweat, Yoga, Beach and Snow, so you can browse according to activity. Within these sections you can categorise further by selecting (for example) vest tops, or shorts, which I find allows you to quickly find the type of garment you're looking for. The photos of the items are great - everything looks attractive and you can easily see all of the different colours available. I've always found the colours shown on the website to be very representative of the actual colours, which isn't always the case when shopping online. The sizing is good and they don't just do clothes for ultra skinny runners - the collections start from an XS (size 8) and go to an XL (size 16), but most are available from S - L (10 - 14).
Most of the clothing available on the website is Sweaty Betty's own, but they also sell the Stella McCartney range for Adidas, and in the accessories section they sell Asics, Nike, MBTs and FitFlops. I've now bought a good range of clothing from here - a number of yoga tops, some running shorts, some capris for aerobics, a running vest top, and some trainers - and I've been thoroughly impressed with the quality of all of it. I particularly love the little details - my running top has a little zip pocket in the back - so discreet but just big enough for you to fit your house key into. It's those kind of little details that I think make an outfit. That said, you would expect good quality for the prices they charge - a basic yoga vest top will set you back between £12 - £40 depending on the style you go for, while my running vest top was £49. They tend to bring out collections each season, which means that it's easy to build up outfits which coordinate well - this seasons yoga wear all uses lovely muted colours, slate greys, dark maroon reds, while the running wear uses a bright blueberry blue, lime green and silver theme. The website also allows you to browse by collection so you can clearly see which items will work well together and build an outfit - very clever marketing on their part as it's easy to get a little bit carried away! As an online customer you receive a catalogue each season which is really beautifully put together showcasing the new season's items - it shows clearly which items will work well together and has caused me to have to severely restrain myself from running over to the computer and placing a massive order then and there!
However, the sale is when you really want to make the most of Sweaty Betty - the prices plummet and as long as you get in quick you can pick up some great bargains. It was in the sale that I picked up my Asics trainers - Gel Foundation 8 - and it was with this purchase that Sweaty Betty really impressed me. That style of trainer normally retail at around £75, but were available in the sale for £35, with only one size available which happened to be my size - it was like it was meant to be! When you buy in the sale you are informed that stock is not guaranteed and your order may not be able to be fulfilled, and when my order was not showing any signs of appearing ten days later I was beginning to expect that I would not receive my bargain trainers. But two weeks came around and my order was delivered, not the old style Gel Foundations which I had bought, but the new ones which had not been in the sale! I was absolutely delighted and really pleased that Sweaty Betty had honoured the order I placed despite not being obligated to. As well as the sale, they often send out email vouchers for 20% off which see me flocking to the site to see what I can pick up.
Selecting your size and purchasing an item is easy - you simply select the size you want and add to your basket. Payment can be made at the checkout via Visa, MasterCard, Delta/Connect or Maestro and PayPal. My only real disappointment with using the website is the lack of information after you have placed your order. There is no facility to change anything about your order after you have placed it without telephoning - you can't combine orders to save postage, you can't remove an item, both minor features but ones that I do find slightly irritating. You are able to login to your account and see whether an order has been dispatched, but that is about the limit of the functionality there. Delivery is also not particularly swift - my orders normally arrive within a week to 10 days, which is fine but if you want something quickly it's worth bearing in mind! Given that postage is £4 a time I think it's fair to expect a swifter response. Postage is free though if you spend over £75 (which is remarkably easy to do if you are buying a few things!)
If you did want to head to a store to have a look at the clothing in person, it is easy to locate your nearest store. There are stores in numerous locations in London (Soho, the City, Battersea, Canary Wharf, Chiswick, Fulham, Kings Road, Kensington, Hampstead, Selfridges and Harrods) as well as Bath, Bristol, Bluewater, Brighton, Cambridge, Guildford, Kingston, Manchester, Nottingham, Wilmslow and Walton.
Overall I really rate the Sweaty Betty website - the range of clothing is fabulous and the whole vibe it gives promotes a healthy lifestyle. I love the addition of the blogs which give a wealth of information on lots of different exercise regimes and the whole feel of the website manages to create something more than just an online shop.
To set the record straight from the get-go, I am a big lip gloss fan - I have at least 20 on the go at any one time with colours ranging from reds, through pinks, to browns. Much as I am a massive fan of nearly all things MAC, I just can't quite bring myself to say that I love their Lip Glass.
The one thing that annoys me about lip gloss is the stickiness of it - we've all been there, walking down the street one blustery Autumn morning, when the wind sweeps a chunk of your hair onto your perfectly applied lip gloss and smack! Both hair and lips are ruined in one fell swoop! Aside from the wind disaster potential, I dislike the constant feeling that there is something on your lips that you get with sticky glosses, and MAC's Lip Glass is one of the stickier high end products I've come across.
All credit to MAC , the colour range is superb - currently around 30 shades from subtle washes to bright neons, pinks to reds, frosts to metallic, any shade you are after you won't have much trouble finding a good match in a Lip Glass. The colour when applied is great - slightly more subtle than it appears in the tube, but the tube colour is a fairly accurate representation so no horrible surprises on application. The colour goes on evenly and is highly pigmented so looks nice and strong on the lips and means that you only need to apply a little to get a really strong look. It also has a slight sweet vanilla scent to it which is lovely but not at all overpowering.
The packaging is typically MAC and very cute - a small 4.8g tube with a black screw top lid which contains the sponge tipped applicator. I don't actually like the sponge applicator very much as it feels a bit cheap and scratchy on the lips, not what you'd expect from a product in this price range. I tend to prefer a brush applicator, but I've used other glosses with sponge applicators that did not have the scratchiness and felt lovely and smooth to apply.
The texture for me is the biggest downside to the Lip Glasses - it's surprisingly thick for a gloss and feels very sticky on the lips when you press them together. It's a major offender for grabbing your hair which is very irritating for anyone with mid-length or long hair and although the uncomfortableness of the stickiness does die down after a little while, it is still noticeable as long as the colour stays on your lips. Despite the stickiness though, I find these don't dry out my lips as much as other sticky lip glosses do - it contains jojoba as a moisturising agent and although I wouldn't say it moisturises my lips, it doesn't make them too dry either.
However, the Lip Glasses definitely do have staying power, which comes partly from the stickiness. I guess it's impossible to have everything you want - either the gloss is lovely and smooth but has weedy staying power, or it lasts all night but leaves you feeling like you've applied glue to your lips. The length of time this stays on the lips is definitely impressive for a gloss - I would say it lasts a couple of hours before showing signs of needing reapplication.
For me, these are just too sticky for me to really love them - if you really love MAC but like me you can't take the stickiness, the sparkly Lustreglasses or the Juicy Tube style Lip Gelee's are a little bit less sticky and work much better for me. At £11.50, these aren't especially cheap and in my opinion there are better glosses around for that price.
When it comes to eyeshadows I am what can only be described as a hoarder - I have a massive collection, ranging from your bog standard neutrals, through to hot pinks, peacock greens and striking purples. Unsurprisingly for anyone who knows their makeup, there is nothing I like better than a browse through the vast colour collection that is MAC. As well as the huge selection of colours, there is also a great choice of finishes - from frosted, to pearl, to matte, there's something for everyone, whether you're looking to recreate a classic 1940's matte look, or a sparkly 1980's effect. At £11 each they are on the pricey side, but in my experience the quality is well worth the high price tag.
Each shadow pot contains 1.5g of product and comes in a small black pot with a flip top lid which has a transparent circle through which you can see the colour of the shadow. The packaging like all MAC products is simple but classy looking and is functional and sturdy.
The colours are fantastic, not just in the range available but in the quality of the shadow - they are really highly pigmented and when applied the colour is vibrant, even, and has real depth to it. They are really blendable and it's possible to achieve some really stunning effects by blending a few of the colours together - I like to use a slightly damp brush to do this. I do feel that these are products that definitely benefit from brush application rather than fingers (not always the case!) so it is worth investing in a couple of good eyeshadow brushes as the pots do not come with an applicator. Although many people claim that these have great staying power when used alone, I find that on my lids, which have a tendency to be a little oily, I need to use a primer to give the shadow something to grip to (my current favourite are MAC Paint Pots which allow the shadow to really grab the lids and make the colour even more vibrant). Without a primer I find these crease by lunchtime and I need to reapply, however, with the aid of a good primer, they can last me all day and into the evening too!
The variety of finishes that MAC Shadows come in give a slightly different performance to each - my own favourites are Satins, and Mattes, but it's worth experimenting to find out what works for you.
Matte shades have absolutely no shimmer to them and are perfect for creating a more 'period' look, or for those who dislike shimmer in their shadow. I find that these definitely need a good base or they can appear a little patchy in colour but once applied they don't budge. My favourite matte is Shadowy Lady - a deep plum that gives a really classic smokey look, very 1940's.
Frosts have a slight shimmer effect to them that give your eyes a slight metallic effect to make them really pop. Like the mattes, I find that once applied these stick and I don't tend to experience any fallout and these are really lovely and easy to blend. A favourite Frost is Satin Taupe, a lovely neutral brown.
The Satins are a halfway point between the Mattes and the Frosts. They have a smooth finish with a small amount of shimmer just to give a slight dewy effect. I love the Satins for an everyday natural look but I do find that they also need a primer to prevent any creasing. Like the Frosts, the Satins are really easy to blend. My favourite everyday shadow is Shale, a brownish purple that works perfectly for me to create a fairly natural but slightly smokey look. Another favourite Satin is Electric Eel - a bright turquoise blue with just the right amount of shimmer to make it pop but still manages to look fairly matte.
These are the glittery ones, with a really noticeable amount of glitter in. I'm not a huge fan of these as I don't tend to be a glitter girl, and I find that because of the high glitter level, they have a higher level of fallout which means I can't really achieve the polished look I aim for and I find that the depth of colour is not as great as the other textures.
Similar in texture to the Mattes, but with a smidgen more shimmer, these are good for achieving a polished look with a little more wearability than mattes often have. A disappointing range of colours available in this finish though.
Veluxe Pearls have a gorgeous smooth, soft, creamy, texture and feel lovely on the skin. Dazzlelight is one of my favourite shades and works brilliantly as a highlighter across the brow bone. Another new discovery for me is Wintersky - a lovely pinky/grey that really highlights the eyes beautifully. They have a slight shimmery metallic effect but are very wearable and one of the only textures that I don't require a primer with.
I'm not a huge fan of the Velvets as I find they feel a little chalky on my lids and have a tendency to crease. However, they have a high colour intensity and the Vanilla shade is a lovely peachy cream colour, perfect for those days when you need to look that little bit more awake!
Although initially I was disappointed that these creased on my oily lids, the performance I get out of them when used with a primer is fantastic and second to none. With so many textures and colours available, it's important to spend some time in working out which ones are best going to suit you. I would recommend purchasing 3 colours that work well together that you can use as staple products - a cream for highlighting, a brown neutral, and a grey/purple would make a good starting point. One note of caution - it's easy to end up building up quite a collection of these if you don't manage to restrain yourself!
For a long time I've loved MAC's vast range of eyeshadows - any colour under the sun is pretty much guaranteed to be included in their collection and in variety of finishes to boot! My only real gripe with them is that I find that they tend to crease on my eyelids halfway through the day which is a real problem if you tend to be drawn towards the brighter colours. I was interested in purchasing a primer to help tackle this problem, and before heading into the MAC store I was all prepared to buy MAC's standard primer for eyes - Prep & Prime. But when I got chatting to one of the makeup girls she convinced me that their Paint Pots actually make a wonderful primer, as well as a cream based shadow so essentially you get two for the price of one! According to MAC the Paint Pots are 'highly pigmented eye colour that goes on creamy but dries to an intense, vibrant finish' with a 'long-wearing, colourfast and crease free result.'
The colour range is not as extensive as their regular shadows but includes 12 shades, mostly fairly muted colours - mainly creamy nudes, pale pinks, but also including a muted green (Delf) and a dark grey/black (Blackground). The shade I chose was Painterly, a pinkish nude, which makes the perfect base colour but is pink enough to work well as a stand alone shade.
The Paint Pots come in a small glass pot with a black screw top lid, each containing 3g of product. Like all MAC packaging it looks great, and the glass feels substantial and weighty, reassuring you that it's not going to smash if you drop it on the floor. Application is straightforward - you could use a brush or sponge-tipped applicator to apply, but I prefer to use my finger, 5 year old style! Just make sure it's clean!
The application is lovely - the creaminess to it means that it goes on really smoothly with no dragging of the skin. The colour distributes evenly and is easy to apply as little or as much as you need for your desired effect - if you just want a subtle wash of colour, or if you want a striking effect, these are really versatile.
Initially I was dubious as to how well a cream shadow would work as a primer as I tend to find that creamy textures crease more easily than powders, especially on my lids which do have a tendency to be slightly greasy. But the creamy texture is great and really allows the powder shadow to grab onto it, intensifying the colour and hugely increasing the staying power. I found that when wearing this underneath my normal shadow it managed to stay put throughout the day and into the evening without the need for reapplication. It also works pretty well when used alone, but I did find that towards the end of the day it had creased, so it doesn't quite stand up to the 'crease free result' that MAC claim. But since I mainly wanted this as a base that's not something that bothers me too much and I'm very happy with how it performs in that respect.
The Paint Pots retail at £12.50 which I think is a good price for the quality of the product and the fact that you get two products in one. It's also one of those products that seem to last for all eternity, so no fear of it running out in a month's time. This is certainly a product that I wouldn't hesitate to purchase again and one that has been perfect for what I wanted.
As winter sets in it's easy to see the effect the cold weather has on your skin, leaving it dry, red and just downright irritated. I always find that I need a new moisturiser as Autumn comes around and this year I splashed out on Bliss's The Youth as we Know It after hearing great things about it.
Bliss is an uber expensive range of skin and body lotions and potions, a sideline of the fantastically successful BlissSpa in New York. The Spa and the product range was launched by inexplicably young looking Marcia Kilgore (who then went on to develop the far more affordable Soap & Glory range) and their products are lauded by beauty experts everywhere, often coming with a price tag more akin to the deposit on your first house. My own experience with the Bliss range is somewhat hit and miss - when I find a product I like it quickly becomes a must have miracle product, but the range does have it's fair share of duds which leave you feeling guilty and foolish for spending quite so much money on them.
The Youth As We Know It is a facial moisturiser intended for all ages, but marketed as being particularly suitable for those over the age of 30 due to its advanced anti-aging ingredients. Bliss claim to have poured all of the year's of experience of anti-aging technology into this one product: it claims to moisturise, smooth, prevent premature aging, fill out lines, repair the skin's natural barrier, promote faster cell regeneration, all of which helps to minimise the dreaded appearance of aging.
In the ingredients list are a whole handful of anti-oxidants: Vitamin E, vitamin C, Algae, vitamin A, Panax ginseng root extract, Grape seed extract, bilberry extract, and Orange extract - I don't think I've found a cream before that throws in quite as many as this! It contains silicone which helps to smooth the skin, a scary sounding ingredient called PPG-3 benzyl ether myristate, which is a plastificer that provides a smooth feeling similar to silicone, and moisturizing ingredients such as Glycerin, Shea butter, Olive oil, Carrot oil, Soybean extract, and Algae. Glycerin is high on the ingredients list and is a substance that is present naturally in the skin and works to prevent dry and flaky skin by transporting water from the lower skin layers to the epidermis, improving the condition of the skin. It also contains Aminobutyric acid, said to be a similar ingredient to botox, and collagen, to smooth out wrinkles. In short, all the ingredients that beauty ads on tv rave about are present here - peptides, retinols, amino acids, MMP inhibitors, anti-oxidants, you name it, they've crammed it in.
The packaging (like most Bliss products) is nothing to write home about - a fairly heavy frosted glass pot with the standard navy blue Bliss logo and writing. It has a sturdy screw top lid with a little plastic cover inside, so I've found this is great to take travelling with you as there is no chance of it leaking all over your washbag. However, for the price tag, it would be great to have packaging that was a bit more exciting, even just using funkier colours would give it that little bit of glam.
The smell is nice but I have to admit it's been a bit of a grower! The first whiff smells to me of pineapples and is quite a light scent, not one that lingers for hours after application, but at first I felt it had a mildly chemically undertone to it. It's not something that I've continued to notice and now I do like the smell, but it's one that has definitely taken a while for me to get used to.
The moisturiser is a caramel/ pale yellow colour and the texture is lovely and thick. Despite the thick texture it is absorbed instantly on application and I find that I don't need to apply very much at all to feel that my face is fully moisturised - I use 3 very small dabs, one for each cheek and one for the forehead. It does feel very rich and tackles any dry areas really well leaving my skin flake free. However, on my combination skin it can tend to make my oilier patches look a little greasy, hence why for me this is a winter moisturiser only, only to be used when my skin is drier and in need of more moisturisation than normal.
Once it is absorbed though it leaves the skin glowing and really smooth and plumped up. Since using this I've actually had quite a few compliments on my skin and even a couple of people asking me what moisturiser I'm using. Even on my skin which at the grand old age of 26 is not yet really showing any signs of aging, there is a definite fullness and smoothness to it, and my one small frown line responds really well to this, almost being 'absorbed' back into the skin and definitely less noticeable.
Having raved about the effects, there are however a number of ingredients which are potentially irritants to sensitive skin, so if you are a sensitive flower I would definitely not recommend this. Most of these irritants are in the fragrance, such as orange extract and limonene, but there are also ingredients such as sodium hydroxide, benzethonium chloride (a preservative) and hydrogen peroxide, all of which are potential irritants to skin. Having said that, I've personally not found it irritates my skin at all, but it's worth noting if you do suffer from minor or severe reactions to creams.
My other disappointment with this product is the lack of an SPF. Although it's not a massive deal for me as my foundation contains an SPF, I would like the option not to always have to wear foundation and it does strike me as odd that a cream selling itself as 'anti-aging' would skimp on this fundamental point.
The price tag on this one is predictably high - it will cost you around £55 for just 50ml. I managed to get mine in a Bliss gift set (Super Spaah) which included a 30ml pot of this and the triple oxygen energising mask for 'only' £30. Bliss products are now far more widely available than they used to be, although you'll probably still have to go online - aside from shopping on hqhair.com, you can buy them from Bliss direct (www.blisslondon.co.uk) and even from Boots online store. In the shops you'll find them in department stores like John Lewis.
Despite the fact that I really like this product, I'm not sure I would buy another when this runs out - the lack of an SPF is a big factor for me and something I think should always be included in an anti-aging cream, but I don't feel that I'm really far enough along in the aging process to justify spending this much on a face cream.
My recent health kick has seen me work my way through Davina's entire workout DVD collection from a certified couch potato to something of a home workout obsessive! Having done lots of research into different workout DVDs, I'd always avoided Nell McAndrew's output as they were recommended as only suitable for the ultra fit. But after 3 months of Davina every day I decided I was ready for a challenge.
The workout is certainly not one for those who class themselves as unfit! Nell claims she used this class when in training for the London Marathon which should give you some idea of what to expect! It consists mainly of running on the spot while simultaneously waving your arms around in the air, interspersed by hundreds of squats - sometimes fast squats, sometimes held for longer than I ever thought possible! There is a 10 minute warm up, a 40 minute cardio workout and a further weights/mat workout before the cool down. The best feature is undoubtedly the "bail out button" which flashes up around every 10 minutes in the cardio session, allowing you to skip straight to the weights workout and the cool down.
Although the DVD is titled "Nell McAndrew's Ultimate Challenge", it's not your typical celeb DVD - in fact, Nell barely utters a word throughout the entire workout! None of the inane chatter that you get with Davina, this is straight up fitness and I find I really enjoy that about it. To be honest, I'd not really heard of Nell McAndrew before buying this so I had expectations of what she might bring to the workout and it's really refreshing to have a 'celeb' workout that is more about the workout than the celeb. Much as I love Davina's DVDs and can't deny they are great workouts, it wouldn't be half as enjoyable without her personality to inject a bit of fun. The workout is led by an Army-style shouting man who I actually find strangely motivating and certainly keeps me going for far longer than I am able to run under my own steam. The moves are generally simple to do and they change often enough to keep my interest. It's not a particularly big budget production - it's shot in what looks like an abandoned warehouse with a banner in the background reading "Ultimate Challenge, Ultimate Results" that looks like it was hand painted by children and is actually falling down! It's run as a 'class' and along with Nell and Shouty Sergeant Major Man there are around 10 others all sweating it out with you.
It's a great workout for those short on space as you literally only need to have enough space to do a star jump and you're set. Those in flats however will likely see complaints from downstairs neighbours as in it pretty much 40 minutes of running and jumping which could have the potential to irritate!
Although I bought this mainly for the cardio workout, I also enjoy the resistance section and find it equally challenging. It consists of a weights workout and then mat work, working the abs with legs at a 45 degree angle and back off the floor - crunches, reverse crunches, working the obliques - all designed to work every abdominal muscle and tone up the stomach. Then follows press ups and lots of them, before working the bottom.
After all that comes the cool down and believe me you'll want it! It's actually one of the best cool down sections I've used, and you really do 'feel' the stretches and can really see your flexibility improve the more you do it.
The background music is pretty good - mostly high energy dance tracks, but more typical 'gym' music than the boring tracks Davina tends to choose. That said, the routine is so easy to follow and there is so little needed in instruction that once you've done the workout a couple of times it's great to put your own workout tunes on and mute the sound onthe tv - I always workout better to music I've chosen myself!
So, let's cut to the chase - just how hard is this? Well, it's certainly not for the unfit (despite the claims on the cover that it's suitable for all levels of fitness!) and those who aren't reasonably fit to start with will probably struggle with even the warm up as it's certainly the most intense I've encountered, but with a moderate level of fitness I managed to make it through the warmup and 20 minutes of the cardio workout my first time. For me this was exactly what I was looking for as it's been a real challenge for me to work a little further each time I use the workout. The weights workout is equally challenging - despite having moved up to 2kg weights with my Davina workouts, I was forced to move down to my piddly 0.5kg weights for this - you literally just hold the weights out in front of you which is so much harder than it sounds! After a month of using this, I can now complete the whole workout in one go which I'm very proud of and it has even inspired me to start running outside as I've become more confident in my fitness and discovered that I actually love running! If you did this DVD regularly there is no way you could fail to shape up and improve your fitness levels.
One of my only real complaints is that Shouty Army Man is a cruel liar - he will tell you only 8 more and then you'll finish those and he'll shout "Another 8!" at you! Doesn't exactly establish a relationship of trust there. The only other slight negative is the occasional cutting away of the camera to show different angles - the workout is literally on the spot the whole time so there is no need for this and it does make it slightly hard to follow at times, particularly when combined with Army Man's often sparse explanation of the moves. There is also a noticeable lack of guidance on technique and with an incorrect technique I dread to think of what all those squats could do to your knees! The main two things to remember are to keep your heels down and not put all your weight on your toes, and to make sure that you initiate squats from the hips rather than the knees. Other than that the routine is so easy to follow there's not much technique needed really.
One word of warning is that it is a very high impact workout and I would recommend investing in a good pair of supportive trainers if you intend to do this regularly - I actually managed to give myself shin splints from doing this on my wooden floors with trainers that weren't providing enough support so bear this in mind! You can see a couple of your fellow workout buddies doing a slightly different lower impact version of some of the moves so if you do suffer with joint problems it's worth keeping an eye out for them and following their moves instead.
This is a great workout for those who love their home workouts but are looking to step it up a gear. I've since bought Nell's Maximum Impact, which is slightly easier so I would recommend starting with that one if you are working up your fitness levels, but "Ultimate Challenge" is just that - a great challenge to really push yourself with. Often retailing for as low as £5, this has been a great addition to my collection.
When I go on holiday there is nothing I like more than a good chick lit book and I was very relieved when I got to the villa we were renting to find a huge selection just waiting for me to delve into! Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend was the perfect book for this occasion - not one I would have chosen myself having read one of Jenny Colgan's previous offerings, West End Girls, and found it not especially gripping, but one that I was more than happy to pick up to read around the pool while toasting myself a nice golden brown.
Sophie Chesterton is your typical spoiled rich girl, having been indulged by her wealthy Dad after her Mum passed away when she was young. Now 18 and having been through one of the best private schools in London, Sophie spends her time falling out of London's expensive clubs and society parties with her equally vacuous friends, occasionally turning up to 'work' where she has landed an internship with renowned fashion photographer. However, Sophie's entire life is turned upside down in an instant when following a scandal she loses everything is forced to fend for herself without the luxury of Daddy's money to fall back on. She finds herself scouring rental listings, looking for somewhere in her price bracket (i.e. pretty much free!) and eventually finds herself a room in a grotty bedsit on the Old Kent Road, sharing with 4 messy art students in return for cleaning the flat up. Of course, first Sophie has to learn how to clean a bathroom...!
Colgan's writing is fast paced and the story zips along at quite a speed - it's the standard 'girl has everything, loses everything, but learns some hard life lessons and emerges a better person' story and it's entertaining enough to keep you romping through it until the end (I finished this one in less than a day). However, the fast pace is essentially my biggest complaint about the book. The speed at which the opening events occur leaves not much time for character development and, quite frankly, I find it difficult to believe that spoiled rich girl Sophie would have found it quite so easy to fit in so quickly with a group of misfit art students living in a bedsit on the Old Kent Road. There's no denying the character development that Sophie undergoes over the course of the book, but it just seemed to me that she seemed to adapt to the massive change in lifestyle pretty quickly. Having said that, Sophie herself is a likeable character and it's the fact that you really root for her that keeps you turning the pages.
The fast pace of the story also left quite a lot to be desired in terms of character development. I found most of the characters to be very stereotypical - the IT girls, the Page 3 models, the scruffy but essentially middle class art students, it's all a bit clichéd and lacking depth. While chick lit as a genre is not necessarily supposed to be deep, I do think you need to engage with the characters and while authors like Marian Keyes, Anna Maxted and Sophie Kinsella manage this in spades, I just don't feel that Jenny Colgan manages this successfully.
Worth a go if you are looking for an easy going holiday read, but not one I would recommend buying - there's better chick lit out there!