Thursday, 17 April 2014

Book review : From Dust To Dust and a Lifetime In Between - Katherine Anne Lee


The front cover of From Dust To Dust and a Lifetime In Between says that it is inspired by a true story (that of the author's grandmother). It tells the story of Mollie's life which, though far from being a fairytale happy-ever-after affair, doesn't really seem particularly outstanding to me. In fact, in many respects, it could be the tale of my own grandmother's life. After suffering a tragic loss in World War II, she manages to find happiness again, becoming a wife and mother, only for illness to strike those closest to her. That's certainly all very sad but not particularly unique and I did find myself thinking that this story could be that of so many people around the world. 

The blurb says : "Growing up in a sheltered dream world in a little English town called Church Stretton, falling in love and getting married. That’s the way it should be, a future life that every little girl dreams of. A constant line, a perfect path to follow. That’s how it all began, shortly before the 1920’s. But that’s not how life is, is it? Life’s not always fair, and takes turns that are not understandable. And so it was that the first plunge into the deepest dark wasn’t far off. An icy cold blizzard hit me, leaving a trail of devastation, only to move on without any explanation. Life didn’t let me go, and getting back to my feet rewarded me with the greatest gift. Rocketing up, I touched the highest mountaintops of love. But life doesn’t stand still and moments cannot be frozen. It moves on and tells its own tale. It wasn’t long before I encountered the next fall. This is my story. This is Mollie’s story. Our yesterday’s fortune doesn’t belong to us anymore and what’s to come tomorrow isn’t ours yet. It’s only the now that is ours for a short moment."

Certain parts are very well written and extremely poignant. I particularly appreciated the skill of the writing in the nightmarish cancer dream sequences and the final chapters, seen through Molly's eyes as she slowly loses her sense of personality and memories to dementia. These scenes are very potent and will haunt me long after finishing the book.

But other parts seemed overly self-pitying and depressing. Molly has some tough breaks, but no more than the average person on the street, so it seemed a bit self-centred to wallow in the doom and gloom. What goes up must come down and I came to expect an impending tragedy as soon as some good news or something positive came into the narrative !

If you want a bit of a tearjerker or something to make you ponder on life's meanderings from youth to old age, it's a pleasant enough read. On the other hand, if you want something light and uplifting to escape into at the end of a tough day at work, it's probably not the best reading material you could find !

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : £12.99

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Katherine Anne Lee; 1 edition (24 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3952420506
  • ISBN-13: 978-3952420508
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 13.8 x 21.3 cm




Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to give my honest opinion.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : Tiny Acts of Love - Lucy Lawrie

Madhouse recipe : Fruity Tasty Toasted Muesli Bread


Dorset Cereals have just launched Tasty Toasted, a new lighter crunch muesli which comes in three flavours: Spelt, Fruit & Nut, Raspberry & Apple and Hazelnut and Brazil. They sent me through the whole selection to try out and invited me to get creative in the kitchen and come up with a recipe.


I decided to try out the Spelt, Fruit & Nut Muesli first, which contains pineapple, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds. I thought this would nice a nice addition to some bread.

Fruity Tasty Toasted Muesli Bread


ingredients :

500g strong bread flour
200g Dorset Cereals Tasty Toasted Spelt, Fruit & Nut Muesli
1/2 tsp salt
1 sachet dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
350ml warm water
small pot of yogurt
1tsp cinnamon (optional)

Put the water, yeast and sugar in the bread machine while you weigh out the rest of the ingredients.


Mix the flour, salt, cinnamon (if using) and muesli in a large bowl.


Add to the bread machine, with the pot of yogurt, and set the machine to the basic cycle.


This created a lovely loaf with a hard crust and a soft inside.


The kids loved coming across hidden pieces of dried fruit as they munched through their sandwiches !


Just like the muesli, it's tasty toasted too, topped with butter. Yum !

Disclosure : I received a selection of muesli, in order to get creative in the kitchen.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Globe-cooking recipe (South Africa) : Bobotie and Geelrys en Rosyntijes (Yellow Rice)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Book review : Tiny Acts of Love - Lucy Lawrie


The blurb on the front of the book says "Never has marriage, motherhood and being a working mum been so seriously funny". As I read the first few laugh-out-loud pages, I thought I'd found a serious contender for giving Kathy Lette a run for her money. Lucy Lawrie's willingness to shine a light on the unmentionables of motherhood, as well as pointing out the humour of those situations that we've all been in where we wanted to die of embarrassment at the time, had me smiling in recognition - the Babycraft mums (and dads) may be stereotypes but I think most parents will recognise at least a couple of them and the group email scene at the very start was hilarious!

After a few chapters, she seems to mellow out though and the book moves into a new, slightly more serious phase. New mum Cassie, an employment laywer, goes back to work and the plot starts to focus more on her separation anxiety and her new case, advising a funeral director who has an employee seeking compensation for work-related stress after seeing ghosts. As if that wasn't enough to deal with, her ex-boyfriend Malkie - the one that got away and that she never really got over - reappears and starts working at the same firm as her . All of this emotional turmoil, added to a hefty dose of post-pregnancy hormones and Cassie's tendency towards hypochondria, make an explosive mix and leave Cassie wondering if she made the right life choices or if she should have followed - and in fact could still follow - a totally different path.

It's a light-hearted but poignant read, looking at what it means to be a mother, a wife, a friend and also an ex, as well as exploring what love really means. At times, I wanted to shake Cassie and tell her to stop being a drama queen, but I could still relate to her and empathise with her most of the time. The end left me slightly unsatisfied - I won't give the game away but I felt that Cassie made her choice by default, rather than because she'd actively decided it was the right choice.

 Learning that perfect happy endings only exist in fairy tales is all a part of entering adulthood and I'm sure the book will strike a chord with any parents. 

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Black and White Publishing (6 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845027213
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845027216
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2.6 cm



Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : With or Without You - Helen Warner

Bye bye Discovery, hello Santa Maria canapé challenge


I recently received an email telling me that from May, Discovery Mexican Foods will be no more. This made me quite sad as I love their fajita kits and enchilada sauce but luckily there was good news. They're rebranding as Santa Maria rather than disappearing altogether.

Their official relaunch preview will be taking place on 24th April at a Taste Emporium extravaganza and they've asked people to take part in a canapé recipe challenge, with the winning canapé being served exclusively at the event, which will be attended by the most illustrious people within the world of food and drink.


They explain that to be in with a chance of winning, the canapé needs to be exciting, delicious, new and most importantly include a Santa Maria product of your choice. To help me on my way, they sent me through a jar of Piri Piri Seasoning from the new Santa Maria Herbs & Spices range. The obvious choice was to use it with chicken, but I decided to be a bit more daring and innovative.

The first thing I wanted to know was, was exactly is a canapé? I think of canapés as dainty little sandwiches but does the name extend to all finger food? In French, it means settee which is no help whatsoever ! I had a quick Google and found this definition : "A canapé is a type of hors d'oeuvre, or small, single-bite food, that is traditionally made with a base of a small piece of bread with some sort of topping. Modern canapés may use a cracker, a small pancake or pastry as the base." OK, time to get creative.



Tortilla-crusted Fruity Salmon with a Zing Canapé


ingredients :

Base : Bread or mini blinis (or even better, Santa Maria Flour Tortillas, if this can be served as a mini-wrap and still defined as a canapé !)

Topping :
fresh salmon fillet
Santa Maria Piri-Piri Seasoning
squirt of lime juice
garlic salt, garlic pepper
Santa Maria Sweet Pineapple & Jalapeños Glaze

Santa Maria Mango Chutney
Fresh or tinned pineapple

Santa Maria Original Tortilla Chips

Put the salmon fillets on a baking tray. Sprinkle with piri piri, garlic salt and garlic pepper and drizzle with lime juice. Put in a pre-heated oven at 180° for 10-15 minutes. Brush over the Sweet Pineapple & Jalapenos Glaze and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes. Remove from the oven when cooked through and leave to go cold.

Finely chop the pineapple and put it in a sieve, above a bowl. Leave for 1/2 hour for the excess juice to drain. Push with a spoon if you want to remove even more liquid (especially if using tinned pineapple which will be wetter). Transfer the drained pineapple to a bowl and mix in 1tbsp mango chutney.

Take your canapé base and spread with one teaspoon of spicy pineapple mixture. Top with a large chunk of cold salmon. 

Crush the tortilla chips in a bag with a rolling pin. Sprinkle tortilla crumbs on top of the salmon. (Alternatively, spread a tortilla with pineapple, top with salmon and crushed tortilla chips. Roll up and slice into mini wraps.

Disclosure : This is my entry for the Santa Maria canapé challenge. I received a jar of Piri Piri for inspiration.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Globe-cooking recipe (South Africa) : Bobotie and Geelrys en Rosyntijes (Yellow Rice)

Seedling Pirate Excavation kit review


12-year-old Sophie has developed a real interest in fossils. We saw some huge ones (and bought a few small ones) in Morocco and I've promised we'll go looking for some at the bottom of the local chalk cliffs so that she can hopefully add to her prized collection. With this in mind, I knew she'd love the Pirate Excavation Kit by Seedling, for sale on the Lovably Me website, so we were delighted to get the chance to review it.


Inside the wooden box (which will be upcycled in an upcoming crafts project), you get a block of pumice stone hiding a pirate's skeleton that you will need to put back together, a brush, some digging tools and a blank treasure map.


Now, one word of warning - put down a big piece of plastic sheeting before you start because things will get very messy ! There's a lot of dust, similar to chalk dust or crumbled plaster of Paris, as you dig your way through the block looking for bones.


It didn't take Sophie long to excitedly exclaim that she'd found something.


After a lot more patient digging, scraping and brushing, she could start seeing what she'd discovered - it definitely looks like a ribcage to me !


A little while later, she excitedly uncovered a skull - oooh spooky ! As you can see, it's quite small scale but it's got great detail and looks very realistic.


The kit became Sophie's pet project over a whole weekend, but it would also be great as a shared activity, for example at a pirate-themed kids' party. If you have a would-be fossil hunter in your midst, they'll get a real kick out of uncoveing the bones and putting them all back together to form the skeleton is also quite educational.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £25


Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Cadbury Egg 'n' Spoon kids' craft activities

Butterfly Magic Night Light review



When Lovably Me got in touch and asked me if there was anything on their website that I fancied reviewing, I scuttled off and had a look. It was hard to choose because they have lots of original and quirky gifts that I knew the kids would love, but I settled on this Butterfly Magic night light (along with a Pirate Excavation kit that I'll tell you about in a separate blogpost).


This beautiful butterfly with shimmery wings is attached to a little LED bulb so it lights up and looks even prettier.


But that's not all. It changes colour, going from blue to orange, red, green and yellow. Who needs to count sheep when you can count colours instead ?!


All three of the Madhouse Mini-testers were suitably wowed. Just like real butterflies, it is quite fragile though and after some overly rough handling from excited little fingers, the butterfly got pulled off the bulb. I did manage to put it back together but it was very fiddly.


It's not designed as a toy though, so this shouldn't be an issue, as long as you put it up on the wall or out of harm's way fairly swiftly. It gives off a pretty glow more than a bright light so if you need quite a lot of illumination, you may want to buy several and dot them around your child's room.

It's a very pretty addition to any child's bedroom and, as the pictures show, it doesn't only appeal to little girls ! As an adult, I appreciated the fact that it came with a battery, as well as a spare. If the purple one doesn't fit in with your colour scheme, they are also available in white or pink.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £10


Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Cadbury Egg 'n' Spoon kids' craft activities

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Giveaway #382 : Win a Kids 'Tweedy Rabbit' Easter Bunny Sewing Kit - closing date 29/4


Introducing Tweedy Rabbit! A beautifully made sewing kit to make an Easter Bunny, what a lovely  alternative to chocolate eggs! Tweedy Rabbit comes pre-cut, with its mouth, eyes, nose and whiskers all ready to sew on. The detailed instructions will help your little one to make this Easter Bunny complete. A lovely kids' gift idea that involves an activity and a present!

Tweedy Rabbit is 25cm tall and 15cm wide when complete. He is on sale for £12.50.

This kit contains:

Felt and fabric pre-cut pieces
Ribbon
Thread and cotton, including thick cotton for the fluffy tail ball
Needle
Wool stuffing
Buttons

Recommended age 6+, younger children will need help. Not suitable for children under 3 due to small parts.


This is just one of the lovely gifts available on the Lovably Me website - I'll be sharing my reviews tomorrow of two other products that I received from them, a beautiful butterfly night light and a unique pirate excavation kit.

Lovably Me have kindly offered to send a 'Tweedy Rabbit' Easter Bunny Sewing Kit to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries on the Rafflecopter widget below.



UK only. Closing date : 29/4/14

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook, twitter and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after a week, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !


Other giveaways you may be interested in :

Springtime looks at Shopcade Store


We've already had two Sunday lunchtime barbecues this month, which is about the sum total we had for the whole of last summer because the weather was so rubbish. I've packed away the scarves and gloves and I'm even thinking of putting away the winter coats and getting out the lighter springtime jackets. As I look out of the window to a clear blue sky, I think I can (hopefully) safely say that spring has sprung and the warmer weather and sunshine are here to stay.

When I was asked to have a look at Shopcade store, I decided to have a look for some nice bright springtime items to help chase away the winter blues. If you don't know Shopcade, it's a one-stop shopping app for all things stylish that enables you to discover new trends, channel your favourite celeb looks and see what's making the daily hot list. Even better, when products you want have an offer available, they'll let you know, which is very handy. Shopcade Store is where they feature up-and-coming new brands and products that are original and unique, focusing on new independent brands.


I instantly fell in love with this brightly-coloured Loved Up T-shirt by LOTA which is perfect for fun in the sun. I can almost smell the sun cream already ! I'd definitely wear more than a pair of black lacy pants with it though ! It has a bargaintastic £14.99 price tag which is very reasonable, especially with the 10% discount.


I'd never heard of LOTA so I went to have a closer look. It stands for Lillies of the Alley and they focus on  original, funny and cute illustrated logo T-Shirts, producing unique designs that stand apart from the current mass-produced options.

As well as the Loved Up smiley design that caught my eye, there are two other LOTA shirts featured in the Shopcade Store.


This quirky Tattoed Unicorn design (£20) offers just the right balance of cute and edgy. 


And this cheeky Nipple Tassel Tee looks very smart, almost like officewear, until your eyes are drawn to the tongue-in-cheek killer detail !

If you fancy checking out LOTA or any of the other brands on offer in the Shopcade Store, don't forget to use the WHYNOT10 code to get 10% off.

Disclosure : I'll be receiving a gift card in return for sharing my top picks with you.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Woohoo for Boohoo !

Debenhams Winter Style Challenge competition

Madhouse recipe : Cream of Tomato Soup with a twist


Cream of Tomato Soup is an old classic but our latest creation ended up being Cream Cheese mixed in Spicy Tomato Soup. It actually started off as our usual Black Bean Soup but I was a bit heavy handed with the chillies - in my defence, we've swapped over to Schwartz Crushed Chillies which are way hotter than the Ancho Chillies we had before. I was going to add some crème fraîche to tone things down but we'd run out so I reached for a tub of Philadelphia instead. The resulting soup was so lovely that we'll definitely be making it again !


Cream of Tomato Soup with a twist


ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
2 onions
1 tsp crushed chillies
1/2 tsp chipotle sauce
1/2 tsp onion salt
1 tbsp oregano
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin red kidney beans
water and/or chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp tomato puree
1/3 tub Philadelphia
(I also added the leftover vegetables from our Sausage, Veg & Bean Hotpot - tomatoes, courgettes, broad beans)

Heat the oil in a large pot. Fry the onions over a medium heat for 10 minutes until they've gone soft and translucent. Sprinkle over the chillies, chipotle sauce, onion salt and oregano and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring, for all the flavours to mingle.

Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and kidney beans, plus any leftover cooked vegetables you may have, then as much water or stock as you need to get the quantity desired. Leave to simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in the Philadelphia - don't worry, it will separate and look like it's curdled but it tastes fine. Reheat to just below boiling point, stirring continually, and serve.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Russell Hobbs #IlluminaWeek 'Come Dine With Me' blogger challenge

Suteki! Mega Stencil Station review


You may remember me telling you that we've been taking part in a Cool Create from Flair Creative Blogging Project. We've already tried out the Cool Create Daisy Chains and the Cool Create Swap Watch kits. This time, we've been roadtesting the Suteki! Mega Stencil Station. In case you're wondering (as we were), Suteki means awesome in Japanese - that's quite cool knowing that, actually !


Inside the box, you get everything you need to create three funky masterpieces - three picture frames (pink, green and black), three blank white cards, a series of stencils, four little bottles of paint, a gold stamper (that we thought looks like an Oscar !) and a spare sponge.


The stencils need to be used one at a time with each colour, waiting for the paint to try in between colours so there's quite a lot of hanging about.


The card and stencils fit snugly into the plastic tray so everything stays firmly in place and you get a nice clean, precise result.


I was impressed to see that there were no smudges or drips at all.


Once you've layered up the levels of stencils and used the different colours, you get a lovely vibrant design like this owl. It's quite exciting seeing the whole thing come together piece by piece.

All that's left to do is slot it into the picture frame of your choice and hang it on the wall. Great fun and very rewarding because you can proudly display your artwork for all to see.

You can find out more about the range of Cool Create kits at www.coolcreate.co.uk. You can also join the free Cool Create Club at http://www.coolcreateclub.co.uk/ for news of crafty projects and prizes to be won each month. (At the moment, you can win a Suteki Stencil kit.)



Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Shimmer & Sparkle Cra-Z Loom Bracelet Maker review