Friday 30 November 2012

Foodie Penpal Reveal - November

Where did November go to?  Time seems to fly away so quickly, it's hard to believe that we are almost at the end of 2012 already.

I'm still really enjoying being part of the Foodie Penpal project, I get really excited when my parcel arrives and I love creating my parcel to send out too.  This month, my parcel sender was Claire from Grimsby in North Lincolnshire, so not very far away at all.  Claire runs her own business which produces Scrubbys Crisps; really classy crisps made from root vegetables, they are well worth trying out if you like good savoury snacks.  Claire is on Twitter @scrubbyscrisps

My parcel from Claire was packed with delicious goodies, she did really well and sent things that really are perfect for me.

Strawberry covered Coffee Beans:  These are pretty unusual, but very moreish.  The coating is sweet and fruity and inside there is a whole coffee bean - strawberry coffee - yum.

Tangy Orange Drinking Fudge from Fudge Kitchen - Wow! I've never seen drinking fudge before so was really keen to try it - it's DELICIOUS!!  The fudge is liquid form, packaged in a sachet and you just add boiling water - simple, but oh so good!

Thai Rock Salt from Flavour Magic - I love herbs and spices and seasoning and have a special shelf in my kitchen with lots of different varieties but I'd never come across these before.  It's rock salt infused with different flavours, the Thai variety includes lemongrass, chilli, ginger and garlic.  I've had a little taste and am going to use this in my next Thai Curry.

A slab of Scorcher Chedder from The Cherry Tree - this is HOT HOT HOT!  Chedder with pieces of red chilli and green jalapenos running through it - I like it, I like it alot - but I can only bear a small piece at a time!

A pot of Super Sweet Chilli Jam from Mercers of Yorkshire - again, this is HOT, but yet again, this is GOOD.  Sweet Chilli is one of my favourite flavours and this one is especially nice.

A packet of Organic Oatcakes from Side Oven Bakery  - these are really delicate and crumbly and go perfectly with a slice of the Scorcher Chedder and a smear of Sweet Chilli Jam.

What a really fantastic parcel, I've been so lucky with my Foodie Penpal parcels so far.

I sent my parcel over to Anna who lives in the Republic of Ireland and has her own blog that you can take a look at here .  I sent Anna a selection of Lincolnshire goodies, including Poacher cheese and plum bread.

If you are interested in signing up for the Foodie Penpal project, just fill out the form at the Rock Salt blog here

Monday 26 November 2012

Beautiful Bargain

It's only very recently that I've started to shop at, I bought a dress from them at the beginning of the summer and was really impressed by it.  Ever since then, I've been having a little browse every now and then and adding to that good old checkout basket!

Aswell as the dress, I've had a pair of black velvet slipper shoes and some really funky black and leopard skin print ankle boots.  I've been complimented every time I've worn any of them and I'm really pleased with the items even though they really are as cheap as chips.

I ordered a skater dress a couple of weeks ago.  I've always like the skater style but I've never really been sure about the waistline, or the length.  It's pretty difficult to get things to fit nicely when you're not quite five feet tall.    The dress arrived, and I love it!     It fits perfectly, it's comfy and just the right length.  It has long sleeves and is made of a really warm material, so it's going to be perfect for the winter months.

The picture on the left is the stock photo from - the dress is a little longer on me, but still looks and feels great

I wore it with thick black tights and a pair of burgundy suede cowboy boots.  I bought the boots from Shelley's in Covent Garden about 6 years ago and they are still in great condition.   Apparently cowboy boots are 'on trend' this season - it's a good job I never throw anything away!!

Sunday 25 November 2012

Up Close by Henriette Gyland

Publisher Choc Lit were recently awarded 'Publisher of the Year' at the 2012 Festival of Romance, and quite rightly so.  Choc Lit consistently publish well-written, intelligent and grown up contemporary fiction.  Up Close by Henriette Gyland will be published on 7 December and is sure to be another winner for them.

The setting is deepest Norfolk with it's chilling winds, deserted fens. swirling fogs and close-knit communities.  Dr Lia Thompson has arrived back to her roots; a cold, damp and unsettling old house that she must sort through after the sudden death of her grandmother.   Lia has a new life, she is a successful A&E doctor in America, engaged to a high-flying lawyer and seemingly settled, it's difficult for her to have to start dealing with the memories that are evoked as she goes through her grandmother's possessions.   Then there are the niggling doubts that start to crop up.  Why did her grandmother get a dog?   What made her order a high-spec security system and did this traditional, set in her ways old woman really order a take away curry just before she died?

And then there is Aiden, injured during an accident whilst serving in the Navy, now producing some quite disturbing works of art and most definitely hiding something.   How much does he really know about the death of Lia's grandmother?

Henriette Gyland
Up Close is a chilling story that literally sent a shiver or two down my spine.  It's a complex story, with a cast of characters that are not to be trusted, who have back-stories that interleave together to create a quite unexpected conclusion.   Lia and Aiden are complicated characters who at first fight against their attraction to each other, hurting each other in the process.  There is real passion in this story, not just the blossoming romance, but also the passion felt by the characters for what they believe in - there is also an undercurrent of hate running through the book - terrible deeds carried out in the past that have shaped the characters and their futures.

This is a clever and gripping read - with a twist.

A Guest Review of The Merde Factor by Stephen Clarke

I'm delighted to introduced another of my guest reviewers to my blog today.   Susan has read and reviewed Stephen Clarke's The Merde Factor which was published in September by Century, part of Cornerstone Publishing.

I'll let Susan introduce herself to you:
I am a 33-year-old girl (lady always makes me feel old!), who until recently worked as a retail manager, and after facing redundancy have begun working part-time hours in retail and offering more time to Samaritans where I currently volunteer.  I am unmarried, and live alone.  Needless to say, my favourite hobby is reading; mostly chic-lit, crime and thrillers.

So back to The Merde Factor   and a little about the author.  Stephen Clarke lives in France where he divides his time between writing and not writing.  His first novel, A Year In The Merde, originally became a word of mouth hit in Paris in 2004, and is now published all over the world.  Since then he as published three more best-selling Merde novels.

Here are Susan's thoughts on The Merde Factor:

I looked at the title and synopsis of this book and thought it looked like an enjoyable read.  The front cover is amusing and the storyline blurb on the back of the book had enough content to make me want to read on.
I didn't realise that the book is a part of a series, and maybe due to this, I found myself struggling to follow everything that was happening in the story.
I don't speak French, and I think this too made it a little difficult to follow at times.
However, I must say that I really enjoyed the wit and humour in the book.  I found Stephen very funny in his style of writing and there were times when I was reading that I had a little chuckle to myself.  I can honestly say that I believe Stephen has a unique style of writing which is very good.
The main characters in the story are likeable, and I was keen to find out how the story would end.  My favourite character is Jake who is a 'wannabe' poet with the inability to compose poems!

Huge thanks Susan for your honest review, thanks so much for contributing to my blog.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Every Step of the Way by Kit Domino

A couple of months ago I agreed to be a reviewer for a new book site; The Love A Happy Ending Bookshelf.    The Bookshelf is the 'sister' site of which has been up and running since June 2011 and showcases 30 authors from around the world who write fiction, poetry and real-life.  The featured authors are beginning to get noticed and 7 of them have now signed deals with publishers.  The Love A Happy Ending Bookshelf site features these authors and their publishers.

My first review is for Every Step of the Way by Kit Domino which was shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Prize in 2004 and is published by Thornberry Publishing

Beth Brixham is a 16-year-old London girl.  It's 1952 and the city is beginning to recover from the War.  Beth is desperately looking for an office job, something that will please her parents and allow her a little more freedom and independence, away from her bullish, somewhat overbearing Father and her overworked and tired Mother.  Beth is making her way to an interview when she becomes lost in a terrible 'pea-souper' of a fog, a fog like nothing ever seen before in London which becomes known as the 'Great Smog'.  Beth takes refuge in a cafe, and gets talking to the staff and owner who offers her a job there and then.    Working in a cafe is not what Beth had hoped for, but once there, she soon starts to enjoy her days.   
Eventually, after four days the smog cleared and the aftermath for the city is huge.  Thousands of people have died and lives have been changed forever.  The aftermath for Beth is that instead of getting an office job, she is now a waitress - but has met the handsome and charming Terry who has quickly stolen her heart.
Life deals Beth and her family a really hard hand.  As she encounters tragedy and disappointment her character's strength shines through.  Kit Domino paints a wonderfully evocative picture of life in the 1950s, of the newly emerging coffee shop culture, the music and the fashion.  Throughout the story, as Beth deals with the pain and grief around her, she never weakens.   Sometimes she may make the wrong decisions in life, but always for the right reasons.  Beth is loyal and devoted to her family, despite her Father's treatment of her and her siblings, and indeed, his own wife.  She is also determined to fight for her rights as a woman, often going against the wishes of others, to make sure that she as a woman can have the same opportunities as the men.
The story moves to rural Gloucestershire for a while and again Kit Domino is able to paint a wonderfully realistic picture of life on a farm in the 50s.
Kit Domino
I was very impressed by the quality of the writing, the descriptions of murky London transport the reader back into the midst of the smog.   Each of the characters were well-rounded, realistic and likeable, especially the heroine Beth, who with her forward-thinking ways really makes the reader stop and think about how much women today owe to those who fought the equality cause all those years ago.
This is a historical family drama done very well.   The ending is left wide open for a sequel and I'd like to think that Kit Domino will let her readers know what happens next for Beth.

My thanks go to Linn and all at The Love A Happy Ending Bookshelf for inviting me to be a reviewer on their new site and sending a copy of Every Step of the Way as my first review.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Wonderful Parcel from Caroline James

A little while ago I entered a giveaway hosted by Carol on her fabulous blog; Dizzy C's Little Book Blog.  Carol always has some interesting book reviews and great author interviews and giveaways.  I was delighted to find that I was the winner of a copy of Coffee, Tea, The Gypsy and Me by Caroline James.

This morning the postman knocked on the door and handed over a parcel, to be honest I'd completely forgotten about the prize so it was a really wonderful surprise to open up the parcel and find such wonderful treats inside.

Caroline had made a really special effort with my prize.  A copy of her book and a postcard all wrapped up in gorgeous pink ribbon.  Alongside these there was another little parcel, again beautifully wrapped and tied with ribbon and inside I found a really scrumptious piece of home-made tiffin.  What a great surprise!   Immediately, the kettle was on, a cup of tea made and I sat down to sample the cake - wonderful!  Moist, full of chocolate and fruit and nuts - it really is to die for.

I've since been and checked out Caroline's webpage and blog and what an interesting life she's led, I've found we have a few things in common too.  Like me, she loves Greece, and again like me, she especially loves the Ionian islands.   People who know me know just how much I love our holidays to Greece and especially the Ionians.   Arillas in northern Corfu is our very special place, we visit every May for 2 weeks without fail and this year we were lucky enough to have a second holiday - a wonderful week in a cottage on the island of Paxos.

So, huge thanks go to Carol (Dizzy C) and to Caroline for my surprise parcel.   I'm really looking forward to reading the book, and will be back just as soon as I've read it to let everyone know what I think of it.

Please do check out Carol's blog here, and Caroline's webpage here.

Friday 16 November 2012

Astray by Emma Donoghue

Definition of astray


  • 1away from the correct path or direction:
    we went astray but a man redirected us
  • 2into error or morally questionable behavior:
    he was led astray by boozy colleagues

Astray was published by Picador in October and is Emma Donoghue's latest collection of short stories.  Like her previous collection; 'The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits', these stories are based on true events and make up a collection of fictionalised fact.

The central theme of each story, and that which links them together is 'astray', not just geographically astray, but morally and in some cases criminally too.   The collection is divided into four parts; Departures, In Transit, Arrivals and Aftermaths and are mainly set in the 19th Century.

Emma Donoghue

There is a quote on the back of this book from author Colum McCann; he describes Emma Donoghue as 'one of the great literary ventriloquists of our time' - I can add nothing to that statement for it really is spot on.

Emma Donoghue has a writing style and a voice like no other, it doesn't matter whether she is writing short pieces or a full length novel, whether it is historical or contemporary fiction, or even if the voice that she is using is that of an adult or a child.   Her writing skill takes my breath away and I was totally immersed in this collection, literally reading it from beginning to end in one day.    It takes special skill to be able to transport a reader to Deep South USA on one page and then to Victorian London on the next so seamlessly.  Her voices are realistic, entrancing and so vividly written.

With many thanks to Emma at Picador for forwarding a copy for review.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The Picador Book of 40 : 40 Writers Inspired by a Number ~ Edited by Charlotte Greig

Picador celebrated their 40th anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion they asked 40 writers to respond to the idea of 40 in whatever way they liked.  The result is The Picador Book of 40 : 40 Writers Inspired By A Number, edited by Charlotte Greig.

The authors range from great established writers on the list, like Alice Sebold, John Banville and Graham Swift, to new stars, such as Emma Straub, Belinda McKeon and Megan Abbott.

What a diverse and entertaining read this book is!   Not just the traditional short stories, but pieces from the authors which range from a series of 40-word synopses of great works of literature, poems and 40 things to do before I die.   It's not only the pieces of writing that are so eclectic either, the range of authors gives the reader tastes of different writing styles, different perspectives and different ages.

Megan Abbot writes about 'forty cakes' - fairly unknown to British readers, but seemingly something very familiar to thousands of Americans.   Gavin Knight delivers a dark and quite unnerving very short story entitled 'The Forty Years War'.   There are some of my favourite new writers included in the anthology, including the incredibly talented Anna Raverat (author of Signs of Life), and Naomi Wood (author of The Godless Boys).

I really enjoyed dipping into this collection of writing.  I'll admit that I didn't enjoy every single piece that is included, but that's usually true of any anthology of short stories or essays, but on the whole it's a really well put together collection that highlights the talent that Picador represent.

The illustration on the cover of the book is also a part of the 40 collection; it's by Matteo Pericoli and is an infinity symbol in forty lines.

My thanks, as always to the Press Officer at Picador who kindly sent my copy for review.

Saturday 10 November 2012

A Curious Invitation: The 40 Greatest Parties in Literature by Suzette Field

What do Plato, Jane Austen, Dickens, Proust and Stephen King have in common?  They all wrote a great party.

A Curious Invitation : The 40 Greatest Parties in Literature was published in October by Picador, I was delighted to receive a copy of this beautifully presented book from Sandra in the Picador Press Office.

It really is a joy to look at, the cover is wonderfully illustrated, with touches of gold leaf in amongst the drawings, there are more black and white drawings dotted throughout the book.

Suzette Field is a very successful event promoter. the balls and parties that she arranges regularly attract 3000 guests.  She is a real 'party animal', and her love of a good 'do' shine through in the 40 parties that she has selected to feature in her book.   Each party has been taken from a work of fiction, although a couple of the included bashes are fictionalised versions of real historical events.    And what a varied bunch of parties she has selected, the reader is taken from the world of Plato to Pooh, with each event given as much thought and consideration as the last one.

It's not just traditional parties that are featured either, there are garden parties, proms and orgies!  Suzette Field has listed the guest lists, the food, the dress, the entertainment and the lasting legacy of each event.

A Curious Invitation is a fascinating read, told with humour at times, it is really accessible and will be enjoyed by anyone who loves books and especially those book-lovers who love to party.

This the sort of book that you can dip into at any time and find another fascinating party, it's almost like being a constant gatecrasher!

Find out more at 

Friday 9 November 2012

The First Cut by Ali Knight

Back in August of last year, I read and reviewed Ali Knight's debut novel Wink Murder (you can read my review here).  I was impressed by her writing then and having just read her second novel The First Cut, I'm still very impressed.

The First Cut is another very cleverly written psychological thriller.  The lead characters are not the most likeable of people, they are flawed and damaged individuals who constantly make the wrong decisions, yet the story is compelling.

In the prologue, Nicky's best friend Grace is brutally murdered.  Her throat is slit and her body is dumped in a lake.  Nicky finds the body and the murderer is never found.

Grace's murder shapes the rest of Nicky's life.  The story then begins proper, five years later, and the reader discovers that Nicky is now married to Grace's widower Greg.

Nicky writes for a newspaper, Greg works in film and is often away from home.  Life seems pretty normal until the day that Nicky meets Adam on a flight home from Spain.  This meeting turns her life upside down.  What starts out as pretty harmless flirting with a sexy younger man soon turns into a nightmare for Nicky.  What really happened to Grace?  Does she really know the man that she is married to?  Could Greg really be a murderer?

Ali Knight
The First Cut is a roller-coaster of a read, full of suspense, red-herrings and an intricate if sometimes over complicated plot.  At times I found the cast of characters a little confusing and this is certainly not a book that can be rushed.  Despite being fairly short at just over 300 pages long, it took me quite a while to read this.  It needs to be digested fully in order to follow the plot line completely.

Although this is definitely a thriller, it is also a relationship study and looks at how a marriage can work even when there are secrets being kept that could change everything.  With themes of guilt and betrayal, this is much more than a murder story.

It is clear that Ali Knight's writing is going from strength to strength, she has mastered the art of creating characters that the reader does not have to particularly like, but will care about what happens to them.

The First Cut was published by Hodder on 11 October 2012.  Ali Knight has a website here.

Monday 5 November 2012

Foodie Penpals ~ October 2012

As the nights are drawing in and it's most definitely getting colder and greyer by the day, I do begin to feel a bit down in the dumps.  Autum and Winter are not my favourite times of the year by any means, although I do love chunky jumpers, scarves and boots!

Being part of the Foodie Penpals scheme is great, and my parcel this month arrived on a particularly horrible day - very cold and sleety rain, so I was really happy to have a box of surprise goodies to open up.

This month my parcel came from Simon and Karen in Manchester.  Karen puts together the parcels and Simon blogs about them, his blog is great, full of food, fashion and travel and you can check it out at   Simon had contacted me before they put the parcel together, so they had a little idea of some of my likes and dislikes.   The parcel was perfect, full of unusual and very tasty goodies!

Included were; a pot of Simon's Bacon Jam - now this sounds a bit weird, but it really is delicious, both myself and Martin can't keep away from it.  It's really savory and bacony and tastes great with cheese and crackers.  Another home-made treat was a jar of marinated feta cheese, made from Nigella Lawson's recipe - I adore all things Greek and I'm going to enjoy the cheese, maybe alongside some juicy stuffed olives.

Also in my parcel is a packet of Mrs Crimbles Cheese Biscuits - I've never tried these before but I'm hooked.  They really are moreish, thin and crispy and very cheesy!

To finish the foodie delights, I discovered a bag of gorgeous praline chocolate that Simon and Karen had bought from the Old Fashioned Sweet Shoppe, a couple of pieces of that alongside a cup of coffee made with the Italian Ginevra blend that they included is the perfect way to end the day.

Another wonderful parcel from the Foodie Penpals scheme, if you'd like to sign up, just fill out the form at the Rock Salt blog here