Thursday, 6 August 2020

The July 2020 "Summer" Degustabox review

While we were in Belgium, the postie dropped off our latest Degustabox - the July edition, with the traditional "Summer" theme. Now, I have to be honest. Looking through the contents, I couldn't really detect much of a summer-theme going on, but this summer is a bit of a strange one anyway - we're not going to beaches, having picnics and inviting everyone over for a BBQ anyway, so everything goes !

Here's the contents of the box. What I love about this box is that there's something for everyone. Sophie will enjoy trying out the dairy-free things, Juliette and Pierre will love the sweets and snacks and there are even some things that I can use in baking. So far, so good ! Here's a closer look at everything in the box.

Natvia 100% Natural Sourced Sweetener (RRP £5) is a product that we've tried before here at The Madhouse. I've used it in baking and you can't tell any difference to sugar in terms of taste or texture. It can also be used in tea or coffee. It's made from stevia, which leaves no aftertaste. With zero calories per serving, it's a simple way of cutting down on calories. It's available at Tesco, Ocado, Tree of Life and Health Food Store.

Wunda Milk Alternative (RRP £1.99) will be perfect for Sophie, as she is intolerant to dairy products. It is described as "a delicious, dairy-free alternative to milk that is high in protein and epic in everything!" It is very versatile and can be used in exactly the same way as you'd use milk - hot or cold, on cereal, in baking, in cheese sauce and custard, or whatever else you're making ! It's high in protein, low in sugar and fat and is fortified with vitamins A, D, B2 and B12. The only bad news is that it's not launching until next year !

Nesquik All Natural (RRP £1.89) is (I think) a new product from the range, but the Madhouse kids didn't make any comments about it tasting any different to usual ! It is made using just five natural ingredients, including tropical raw cane sugar and cocoa from West Africa. It has no artificial flavours or sweeteners and the paper packaging is fully recyclable and free from plastics. The kids love the chocolatey flavour and I love the fact that it gets them drinking milk. Win-win !

Plant Pops Peanut Butter Popped Lotus Seeds (£1.50) were a totally new product for us. We weren't sure what to expect but they're very tasty ... and also hard to describe ! They're crunchy, light, airy and very moreish - a bit like popcorn but different. We nibbled them straight from the bag but they can also apparently be enjoyed as soup or salad toppers, slung on top of porridge or covered in chocolate. They are made with sustainably harvested lotus seeds, popped and roasted before being tumbled with ground peanuts for a subtle peanutty taste. Available on amazon,, TheVeganKind supermarket, Harvey Nichols, Londis and Budgens.

Premier Protein Chocolate Brownie Flavour Protein Bar (RRP £1.49) is packed with 20g of protein and only 1.3g of sugar, so it's ideal as a post-workout feel-good nibble or just as a regular on-the-go snack. It tastes nice and, if you have health and wellbeing goals in mind, it will make you feel very virtuous. Also available in White Chocolate Vanilla and Chocolate Peanut Butter flavours. Available at Ocado and WHSmith Travel.

The Skinny Food Co Skinny Sauce/Skinny Syrup (gift) - We received a sample selection of four products from the range of over 70 flavours. We got Tomato Ketchup and Original Mayo (both virtually zero calorie), Garlic Mayo (zero calorie) and White Chocolate Syrup (zero calorie). They're very tasty and the kids would never have noticed that they are low calorie (or zero calorie) options. Available at Morrisons, Spar and COOP, as well as on

Golden Creek Maple Syrup Blended With Sugar Syrup (RRP £2.49) is the perfect product if you're looking for maple syrup at a fraction of the cost. It is a blend of pure, dark Canadian maple syrup and liquid sugar. Very tasty drizzled on pancakes, waffles or ice cream, but my kids are also happy eating it on toast ! Available on Ocado and Home Bargains.

Minor Figures Coffee Nitro Cold Brew (RRP £1.95) is a ground-breaking new product. Minor Figures, an East London-based coffee company that provides plant-based products for coffee lovers, are the first to market with a ready to drink, cold brew coffee that combines specialty grade coffee with their barista Oat M*lk. The slow brew process captures the purity and depth of every ingredient, resulting in a light, dairy-free drink with no added sugar. When opened, nitrogen is released to create silky microfoam. Best served chilled, it's a lovely way to enjoy coffee during the summer.

Pravha Lighter Tasting Pilsner (RRP £2) offers all the bold, iconic flavour of a high quality Czech pilsner, yet is unexpectedly crisp, light-tasting and refreshing. The legendary brewers of Staropranem have always challenged traditional brewing techniques in search of the perfect pilsner and this is the result of their brewing expertise. It goes down very nicely at the end of a long, hot summer's day !

Bebeto Party Mix (RRP £2) offers a selection of fruity and fizzy-coated mixed gummies. Bebeto are the fastest growing brand in the UK and, having seen how quickly the Madhouse kids polished this lot off, I can see why ! Very tasty and the kids loved sorting through the different shapes too. Available at Morrisons, selected Spar stores and Bestways.

Manilife Peanut Butter (RRP 60p), available in various varieties (we got Original Roast and Deep Roast Crunchy Peanut Butter), is a tasty, natural spread. Made with 99% peanuts, the product is beautifully creamy and the chunks of peanut offer some satisfying crunch. The peanuts are sourced from a single estate farm in Argentina, roasted by experts then blended in small batches. It's a tasty spread, that needs to be stirred up before eating, to maximise the flavour and harmonise the texture. There is also a £1 off voucher in the box. Available in Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Ocado and at

The recipe card offers two options : Overnight Oats with Wunda Milk Alternative and Sugar-Free Orange & Chocolate Cheesecake with Natvia. Ooh that sounds rather nice, so I may have to give that a go !

  A subscription to Degustabox costs £12.99 per month including delivery, with each box having a value of much more than that, but the great news is, I have a discount coupon code for you which means you'll get the first box for just £9.99 - enter code PKUFE at the checkout. 

for more information :

Also now on Instagram @DegustaboxUK

Disclosure : We received the box in order to write an honest review. As a Degustabox blogger, I receive all of the products that go into the monthly boxes, but subscribers may not get exactly the same selection.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Popcorn Shed review

With travel plans being vastly reduced this summer and outdoor time limited when the crowds get too big to feel safe, we've been looking at ways to enjoy a staycation at home. We've bought a fairly big pool for the patio that Juliette and Pierre have been loving, we've started a big overhaul/revamp of the house (the to-do list is finally starting to get smaller - phew !) and, in the evenings, we all settle down to watch a film or a series on Netflix together. Well, you can't have a film night without popcorn, can you ?!

Luckily, Popcorn Shed recently sent us over a big selection of their tasty treats for us to sample. Our first reaction was wow ! They have so many surprising, weird and wacky flavours that we couldn't wait to taste them. We're used to the usual sweet, salty or, if we're feeling really wacky, sweet AND salty flavours, but Popcorn Shed gave us options we'd never even considered.

We started off with their Mini Pop! range, which initially confused me. How do you get mini popcorn? Well, there is an explanation on their website : "Japanese hulless popcorn is an older variety of corn grown with pure heirloom, non-hybrid popcorn seeds. The crop produces smaller kernels, about half the size of regular popcorn, known for their distinctive nutty flavour and crunchy texture. The kernels are smaller than typical corn kernels. Due to their tiny size and fragile nature, these “micro” kernels found in Mini Pop!® rapidly break down during the cooking process, and virtually disintegrate when chewed, improving the eating experience. Customers have commented that the hulls do not get stuck in their teeth and it is easier to digest, being kinder on tummies." Aaah, that makes sense !

 We received some of the more "basic" flavour options of Mini Pop!, starting off with Sea Salt (20g) and Sweet & Salty (28g). I wasn't expecting to be blown away by these basics, but they are actually very tasty. We swiftly moved on to the more exciting flavours, sampling Toffee (28g - lovely and sweet with a butterscotch flavour), Salt & Vinegar (22g - perfectly zingy for the ultimate savoury option), and White Truffle (22g - a surprising choice. The kids weren't huge fans but grown-up gourmets will undoubtedly love this sophisticated flavour). All of the Mini Pop! options are suitable for vegans and also low calorie (94 - 138 calories per pack).

Now, I have to say, moving on to the Gourmet favours, I was glad that we'd started with the Mini Pop! range. While we loved trying those flavours, we got even more enthusiastic when tucking into the remaining selection. The popcorn is big (especially when compared to the Mini Pop!), brash and absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious ! Whether you want a sweet or a savoury snack, the choice is yours and each of our family members had their own personal favourites. Some of the descriptions had me thinking they would taste disgusting, but they actually work surprisingly well. 

We started off with Say Cheese, which offers a rich and creamy mature cheddar flavour. The tangy, sharp flavour is my personal favourite. I was intrigued to try Sweet Cheesus next - a mind-boggling mix of rich, buttery caramel and aged cheddar cheese! Well, surprisingly, this does actually taste good. The cheese and caramel offer a sweet/salty combination which certainly wakes up your taste buds and makes them do a little dance of joy ! I still prefer the Say Cheese though. Berry-Licious is another pairing of opposites, with tart raspberries and smooth, rich, dark chocolate providing a sweet, creamy undertone. Delicious. I was intrigued by the name Butterly Nuts and went to investigate -  "a rich creamy peanut butter caramel with nutty notes, topped with real peanut halves for an irresistible crunch". This is as good as it sounds and I felt like I'd been indulging in a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup with an extra topping of crunchy nuts. Totally delicious !

Our favourites, though, were (unsurprisingly) the ones that combined the texture of popcorn with the rich flavours of delectable, calorie-packed desserts. The Salted Caramel Gourmet Popcorn already sounded like a winner, then we discovered that it also includes Belgian chocolate - it's as lovely as it sounds. Yum ! Pop 'n' Choc combines chocolate with a rich caramel base - imagine eating a Mars Bar alongside a bag of popcorn ! Finally, with extra points for originality, Pecan Pie Gourmet Popcorn combines smooth caramel popcorn with a topping of pecans for a crunchy, decadent treat. Other flavours that are available include Goats Cheese, Cherry Bakewell and Vegan Caramel. Imagine Willy Wonka branching out into popcorn and you wouldn't be far wrong !

A special mention for the packaging - if you're avoiding taking a break at the seaside in these uncertain times, lining up the boxes side on will give you a lovely view of colourful beach huts, perfect for imagining you're sitting on the beach with the wind floating through your hair and the seagulls squawking in your ears ! (It's actually supposed to represent the official Popcorn (garden) Shed where the product was first made.)

star rating : 5/5

for more information : www://

Also available at Ocado, Amazon, Selfridges and Harrods.

RRP : Mini Pops ! 89p, Gourmet Snack Pack £1.09, Shed (sharing box) £2.99

Disclosure : We received the product in order to share our honest review.

Monday, 3 August 2020

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 31

Wow, what a week ! We stuck to the plan for pretty much all of our meals, except for when it was just too hot and we settled for garlic bread or cheese on toast to nibble on. This week's menu involves using up what is already in the fridge, then I'll need to go shopping on about Tuesday, so I'm looking through my bookmarked recipes to see what appeals. Hopefully they'll have whatever I need in the shop when I finally make it !


lunch- chicken stir fry, with noodles and onions/peppers/carrots/mangetout, plus sweet soy sauce

dinner - chilli con carne with rice (& maybe some guacamole on the side - the kids are obsessed with the stuff at the moment - not sure if we have any avocados left now though !)


lunch-  Lemon & thyme chicken with ebly & veg (green beans? carrots?)

dinner- Wraps filled with leftovers (chilli or chicken) & salad


lunch- Pioneer Woman Baked Swedish Meatballs with mash (based on this recipe)

dinner- Bacon & tomato stew with cheese dumplings (based on this recipe)


lunch- Meatball subs (based on this recipe), to use up leftover meatballs, with wedges

dinner-  chicken & sausage pie with mash & veg


lunch- Jamie Oliver's Hit 'n' Run Traybaked Chicken (using this recipe) with couscous

dinner - BBQ Chicken Pasta Bake (using this recipe)


lunch- Leftovers or maybe the kids will want a trip into town (McDonald's ? kebab?)

dinner- Utterly Scrummy Sausage Flan (using this recipe) with salad


lunch- Beef Stew with baby potatoes & carrots

dinner- fridge grazing - or maybe garlic bread, pizza, toast ... there will probably be leftovers too.

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***


Sunday, 2 August 2020

Project 366 : Photo Diary week 31

Our trip to Belgium seems like a lifetime ago, even though we only got back ten days ago ! We timed it just right though as they have reinforced their Covid measures this week, reducing the number of people who can be in any place at any time (I would guess this means even bigger problems for the attractions) and, if you eat in a restaurant, you have to leave your contact details so that they can get back to you if there is an outbreak. You also have to wear a mask all the time when outside, but we were doing that anyway, as were most of the others. Our trip to the UK is looking less and less likely unfortunately. We've been watching the news on Covid measures and were happy to see that the 2-week confinement on arrival has been lifted, but now, we've discovered that the ferry and Channel Tunnel prices have gone through the roof - paying about £400 instead of £50 just seems totally wrong, especially as there's no justification. You have to stay in your car all the time in the tunnel so there is presumably no change to the number of cars that are using it. We'll have to wait and see. I haven't seen my family since February so we're a bit gutted though.

So, what did we get up to this week? Not much really ! Our big dejunk continued !


Sunday 26th July - Sophie has been making smoothies all week, using combinations of fresh and frozen fruit, and they have all been delicious. Even better, Juliette and Pierre think so too, so there have been vast quantities of fruit being consumed this week ! This has been a great way of using the food mixer that the kids bought me for mother's day. :)

Monday - We had a big sort-out in the living/dining room, going through all the drawers in the cupboards and dejunking the shelves. We had so many mugs and glasses that never get used, it was a bit ridiculous ! After tackling Pierre's room before going to Belgium, I have bin bags and boxes of stuff all over the place now though, to throw away when there's room in the bin or to donate. It's a total mess but at least it will get better soon. We finished off walking the dog along by the canal. Plants have sprung up everywhere since the last time we went a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday - We needed to replace our printer ink so I headed to the big local supermarket with Sophie. She always makes me buy totally random stuff ! This time, she found fresh aloe vera and, as it wasn't very expensive, I said she could buy it. You can eat it, drink it or use it in beauty treatments, according to the label on the shelf. Right now, it's still sitting on our kitchen table though !

Wednesday - Today's photo is of the canal in Dunkerque town centre and it suddenly made me realise how similar it looks to Belgium. I had my appointment at the bank to sort out the kids' money from their "inheritance" and it took forever. For a start, the woman who deals with my account was forty five minutes late for the appointment and didn't even apologise ! Then we spent an hour filling in the paperwork for the money transfers. We got Sophie's sorted out fairly swiftly (about half an hour) but for Juliette and Pierre, it's more complicated because they are under 18 so it's all "highly protected", as she explained. I wouldn't care but this is literally moving money from my savings account to their pre-existing savings accounts, so it surely can't be that complicated ! At the end, she said that she'd fill in all the remaining paperwork for them, send it to me by email and I could drop it back in at the bank. *sigh*

Thursday - We're in the middle of a heatwave and the kids asked if we could buy a swimming pool for the patio. Well, why not ?! It'll make up for missing out on the usual summer holiday ! We popped to the local B&M store (about ten minutes away on foot) and found everything we needed at a reasonable price (the pool, pool cover and a pump to blow up the top part for about £40 total) then Juliette and Pierre spent the whole afternoon in it. It's a good size - they can both lie down in it. The yellow rubber ring is one of the big ones that an adult can lie on, for an idea of size.

Friday - Juliette and Pierre spent the day in the pool again, while Sophie and I cracked on with sorting out the living/dining room. We reduced the size of the table, taking out the add-on segments so it is now round rather than long. Having already emptied out Pierre's cupboard in his bedroom, we moved a huge pile of games and puzzles upstairs. We found a big bag full of stuff (official documents, ticket stubs, plane tickets, travel plans written out by Madhouse Daddy) from his year as an au-pair in America, which was nice for the kids to look through. We finished off cleaning the floor and the windows and the room looks so different now ! We finished off walking the dog along the canal, just as the sun was starting to set. I love this photo with the moody reflections in the water, but I still can't work out why we can see three suns !

Saturday - Having received a message on my phone, asking for me to go back in to the bank to sign the papers (that we had decided she was going to email to me - grrrr !), we popped back in at 11.30am as arranged. The bank closes at midday and she finally appeared at ten to twelve. No comment ! I signed everything ... then discovered that this was just the official request to transfer money. (So what was all the stuff I signed last time ?!) I'll have to go back in again next week once the request has been authorised, to sign more papers to finalise the transfer. Talk about making a song and dance about it ! Just as well I'm on holiday at the moment with all these appointments. We headed to a pizza restaurant for lunch afterwards which was nice, but the pizzas weren't as good as usual. The eggs were overcooked (they're supposed to be runny but they were rock hard !) and they just lacked a bit of oomph. We popped into a shop (our version of HMV) where Pierre wanted to spend the end of his birthday money on a pair of headphones. He found a pair in the sales, €10 instead of €24.99, and was utterly delighted when, for some reason, they went through with a bonus €3 reduction so he got them for €7 !

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Fab freebies of the week 2/8

Phew, it's blooming hot out there ! As we're not jetting off on holiday this year, we've invested in a pool that's big enough for Pierre and Juliette to lay in (there's even room for Sophie if she wants to cool off !) and the kids are absolutely loving it ! It probably won't last but I'm loving a taste of summer, after all the drizzle and grey skies last week. Hope you have a lovely weekend too. Here's this week's freebies for you to peruse :)


Clarks promise to swap new children's shoes for free if they grow out of them before February.

Play every day on the Costcutter 'Bringing Summer Home' game (spot the difference + spin the wheel game every day)

Win one of hundreds of Corona coolers

Win a free Dominic Cummings face mask courtesy of the Daily Star! (150 up for grabs !)
Uniqlo App sampling programme - Simply choose an item of clothing, collect it for free from one of our stores and leave us a review online letting us know what you think!

Fancy your chances of winning 1 of 1,000 Southern Comfort Hot Lips cocktail bundles ? Enter here

Sign up today to receive Cif Squad exclusives. We’ve got something pretty exciting launching in August, so go ahead and click YES below. We’ll be letting you know soon how you could try the range, for free!
Win a KFC Hot Wings lipstick ! (First 400 - probably all gone but this made me laugh !)

Gift Card Host@CardHost Get FREE Beauty Samples From Clinique/Garnier! If you interested to get FREE samples email us on (NOTE: APPLICABLE IN THE UK, GERMANY, FRANCE & ITALY PEOPLE ONLY)


You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

You may also like to enter my current giveaways :

Giveaway #738 : Win 2 x The New Legends of Monkey merch pack - closing 15/8

Friday, 31 July 2020

Giveaway #738 : Win 2 x The New Legends of Monkey merch pack - closing 15/8

Emmy-winning adventure series THE NEW LEGENDS OF MONKEY is back on Netflix for a second series (launching Friday August 7th) and to celebrate I'm giving you the chance to get your hands on some amazing Monkey merch! 

Series two sees fallen God, Monkey, and his band of fellow misfits, Tripitaka, Sandy and Pigsy back for more adventures, continuing their search for the sacred scrolls they need in order to overcome the chaos of demon rule in their kingdom.

Following their Emmy-winning adventures in series one, where the team escaped Jade Mountain with the Scroll of Immortality, their next step sees them looking to get their hands on the Scroll of Knowledge, hidden in the ‘Infinite Archive’, and then journey on to find five more sacred scrolls scattered across the world.

 In this season they must battle scroll guardians, wicked demons and legions of demon warlords in the hope of gathering seven scrolls to take to the distant Western Mountains in order to empower the gods’ resistance. Inspired by the victories of Monkey and his companions, humans begin to rebel against demon rule and the demons reform their ancient armies to fight the resistance.

  Action-packed fun and hand to hand combat ensues as Monkey and co travel the world, facing demons and working together to secure the scrolls and restore balance to the world. 


To be in with a chance of winning, simply watch the trailer and answer the question below: 

 What colour is Monkey’s headband? 
A) Gold
  B) Silver
 C) Purple

I have two The New Legends of Monkey merch packs including a tote bag and character colouring book to give away. Just enter your details in the Rafflecopter widget below to go in the draw. Good luck! 

UK only. Closing date : 15/8/20

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook 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 28 days, 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. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. The winners' personal contact information will be passed on to the PR / Brand responsible and used only for delivery of their prize.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Book review : Intruders - E.C. Scullion

This summer, what with the lingering fears of all things Covid-19, our travel plans have been put on hold, or, at least, vastly reduced. The first thing I loved when I started reading Intruders was therefore its exotic locations. The descriptions of places in South America and dialogue in Spanish (don't worry - I don't speak Spanish but you still manage to understand it !) gave me a sense of discovery and had me imagining myself in exotic and far-flung destinations, without even moving from my own home.

Author E.C. Scullion - that's E for Emma which instantly threw me, as, for some strange reason, I assumed it was written by a male author ! - has experienced life in a number of foreign countries. After working in British Embassies in Beijing, Bangkok, Panama City and Montevideo in Uruguay, she now lives in Rome with her husband and two children. Intruders is her first published novel, but I can see many more on the way ! 

The novel focuses on Tom Holt, a disgraced security consultant who has baled out on his fiancĂ©e and his job. Initially, he comes across as a bit cold, but my impression of him soon warmed up as I realised that he's a good guy with a real sense of right and wrong. Following a mysterious job offer, he heads off to Buenos Aires to recover something from a safe. That's all he knows. The job came from a lawyer, who seems to know all about Tom's past, on behalf of a mysterious client named Capricorn, but who is hiding behind this strange moniker ? 

Whoever he or she is, they appear to have a whole host of sinister characters looking out for them, but Tom has a few people helping him out too - Anil, a safe-cracker with a dodgy past, Ray, an ex-cop who works on logistics, and Becca, a sassy red-headed thief who is as impressive on account of her attitude as her skills ! They work together well and come up with a great plan for getting into the safe, but things don't always go to plan, adding extra excitement for the reader as they switch things around to make it all work. Their antics had me reading way past my bedtime on several occasions !

As Tom starts to question what is in the safe and who he is working for, he will discover how far he will go to expose the truth, even if it means risking everything, including his own life.

The characters are interesting and well described. They are mostly believable, although they tend to fall simply into "good" or "bad" guys. The obligatory romance is in there for good measure, but it is ultimately a fast-paced, tense and exciting read that could easily be transformed into a Hollywood film. E.C. Scullion is definitely one to watch and I'm looking forward to her next book.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: RedDoor Press (18 Jun. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1913062295
  • ISBN-13: 978-1913062293
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 3 x 12.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Book review : The Shadow Bird - Ann Gosslin

When you hear about a psychiatrist making an important decision about someone's life, you always assume that they know exactly what they are talking about and have confidently ticked all the right boxes. Should this person be locked up in prison for evermore or released back into society? Should they get a second chance at life or are they too dangerous and unpredictable? Or ... what if things just don't add up? What if the wrong man has maybe just spent over half of his life in prison for something he didn't do?

 Erin Cartwright, fresh in her new job as a psychiatrist in a New York clinic, has to make such decisions about her latest case, Timothy Stern. At the tender age of seventeen, he apparently murdered his mother and two sisters and he is now up for release. Having been found not guilty by reason of insanity, he has just spent twenty-seven years in a maximum-security psychiatric facility. 

Erin is reluctant to take on the case. The murders took place in the same village she lived in as a child and it just doesn't feel right. She appears to have her own secrets and hidden agenda. What has gone on in her past? Why is her own personal history so full of holes? 

She ultimately starts to look into this case to find out if Stern really is a brutal murderer, visiting the crime scene, building up a picture of this fragile, damaged man's past, looking at those who surrounded him in a small town where everyone seems linked. But a startling discovery starts to bring things up from long forgotten depths - things that Erin would rather not remember. Will she be prepared to continue her search for truth?

The book takes its time looking into the character's psyche and slowly revealing what really happened on that fateful night. But Stern isn't the only one with secrets to uncover - Erin also has hidden depths just waiting to be explored. Some of the novel's twists and turns were quite predictable, while others came as a surprise. It's an intriguing, enjoyable read and I could see Erin coming back in future novels.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (15 July 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1789551153
  • ISBN-13: 978-1789551150
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm

Find out what other bloggers thought on The Shadow Bird book tour ...

Disclosure : I received a free copy of the book in order to share my honest review.

Monday, 27 July 2020

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 30

We're back, after a ten day trip to Belgium, travelling about and visiting Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Brugges. It was nice and we saw lots of interesting places, but it's good to be back home for a rest ! As we had to eat out all the time, we swapped between restaurants, fast-food places and sandwich/salad type meals from the supermarkets, so the kids are off fast food now and want to catch up on my cooking. No arguments from me ! I bet it won't last though ! 


lunch- I have some leftover cooked chicken to use up and some ebly - I think I'll chop it all up, add some mushrooms and bacon and cream and bingo !

dinner - Spicy brown sugar pork chops with mashed potatoes and grated carrots


lunch-  Chicken cordon bleu with spaghetti & baked tomatoes

dinner- Garlic & herb chicken with rice & salad


lunch- Pork burgers with baked potatoes & beans

dinner- Paprika chicken with rice & ratatouille


lunch- BBQ ribs with potato salad (or leftover rice)

dinner- Chicken & veg stir fry with noodles


lunch- Chicken burgers with cheesy potato bake & salad

dinner - pasta with bacon, onions, mushrooms and either a cream or tomato based sauce


lunch- there will probably be leftovers - if not, something from the freezer (chicken? fish? fishfingers? sausages? I'm not actually sure what's in there at the moment !)

dinner- cheese on toast or pizza


lunch- roast potatoes and veg with whatever meat I picked up when shopping yesterday

dinner- a picky salad/sandwich/leftovers/fridge-grazing kind of thing

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***


Sunday, 26 July 2020

Project 366 : Photo Diary weeks 29 + 30

As you may have noticed, I didn't post last week. That's because we'd headed off to Belgium on the train for our holidays. I'll probably be posting more about the places we went but here's a quick overview of our ten day trip.

Monday 13th July - Our dogsitter kindly dropped us off at the train station in La Panne, the train station just over the other side of the French border from Dunkirk. We had a few head-scratching moments as the train station didn't open until 11.30 and it was only 9am. As we didn't have a Belgian travel card, we couldn't use the original tickets we had planned, but we bought three ten-trip tickets in the machine (one adult and two children's, as the three kids could share). You just have to fill in the town of departure and arrival each time you travel for each person. This leaves us with enough trips for another Belgian adventure at some point in the future (it's valid for two years) and it wasn't that much more expensive that what we had originally planned. Our first destination : the capital city, Brussels ! After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we went to check out the Mannekenpis (who is smaller than I imagined !) and the main square, then popped into the Hard Rock Cafe for souvenirs.


Tuesday - Our first full day in Brussels. We headed to the Mannekenpis Museum, which displays all the different national costumes that this statue possesses, gifted by the different countries. As today was 14th July, the French national holiday (or Bastille Day, as British people call it), he was dressed up in the French costume, which made us laugh ! We had a good look at the Grotemark main square, did a museum, then some thrift stores and finally ate waffles. A pigeon pooped on my head, which had the kids in total hysterics ! lol


Wednesday - Our final day in Brussels and we got the tram to the Atomium, a huge atom-shaped construction that you can visit, going right up to the top (luckily in a lift). There are exhibitions, displays and viewing stations in each of the balls. This is the only time we've been so I can't compare, but there was absolutely no queue, despite a huge zig-zag queue marker like you get in theme parks. We had a joint ticket to visit Mini Europe, a model village featuring many top European landmarks, with lots of things for the kids to do, like pushing buttons to make music and sound effects start up or playing racing games, trying to be the quickest in a cycle race, for example. We finished off at the Design Museum (also included in the joint ticket). Heading back into Brussels, we went to Five Guys for dinner. Then slept. A lot !

Thursday - After packing our bags, we were back on the train to Antwerp (or Anvers in French, or Antwerpen in Dutch). Although Brussels is the capital, this is known as the biggest shopping town - it sounded like it was going to cost me a fortune, but I got away with a box of Dunkin Donuts to share back in our hotel room ! We were staying in a lovely hotel, just opposite the train station, in the Jewish district (posh jewellery shops and gold shops everywhere !). We had a wander around town then back to the hotel to chill.

Friday - Today was Pierre's birthday - eleven years old, where does the time go ?! - so we went for a trip to the zoo, which was literally 2 minutes from the hotel. As elsewhere, we felt totally safe in terms of Coronavirus as everyone was wearing a mask and was pretty much spaced out. There was a one way system in place and, if there started to be too many people in one area, we just went for a drink or an ice cream, then came back when it had calmed down. There were no crowds as you had to sign up for a time slot which vastly reduced the number of visitors. After having lunch at Pizza Hut, we headed off to see a mural that Sophie wanted to see, for a programme she's been watching called Scam.

Saturday - Our final day in Antwerp, so we used up our tram tickets, heading down to the bottom section of the town, below the main square, to check out the riverside promenade and the castle. We did some more shopping, bought some more Dunkin Donuts (sigh !) and ate in a local restaurant just opposite the cathedral. Lovely !

Sunday 19th July - We left Antwerp and Brussels, the two big towns that we had been visiting, to head to the quieter towns of Ghent and Brugges, where we had two-night instead of three-night stays planned. On arrival in Ghent, we had a long walk to our accommodation (the youth hostel, but the only people there were families and older people as far as I could see !) so we headed straight for lunch and some welcome drinks in a restaurant just opposite the castle. We looked around town and wandered up and down the canals, soaking up the atmosphere.

Monday - Our final full day in Ghent and, as breakfast was included at the youth hostel and we had to be downstairs to eat within our specified time slot (another Covid restriction, reducing the numbers of people in the big room at each time), we were at the castle just as it opened so managed to avoid having to reserve a time slot online. After a wander around town, we went on a boat trip on the canals. 

Tuesday - Our final destination - off to Brugges, a town that we had visited before, but only really for the Christmas market. Our last visit here was with Madhouse Daddy, so it seemed a little bit strange at times, but  the atmosphere was very different, as it's the summer season rather than all festive. We wandered around, letting ourselves get lost in the alleyways and canals, checking out the shops.

Wednesday - A lazy day, checking out the shops, spending some time in a nearby park and soaking up the atmosphere in the main town square. I wasn't really sure what we'd make of our trip, as it's a definite change to what was originally planned, but it worked well and the travel/hotel options were much easier than I had initially thought. The only things to think about with the coronavirus measures are making sure you have enough masks to wear (we had about twenty-odd for us four and regularly washed them but you could buy a box of disposable masks to take with you instead) and make sure you have internet/phone access to book timeslots for all the museums and attractions, otherwise you won't get in.

Thursday / Friday / Saturday - No photos for the end of the week, which involved shopping, washing and settling back into our normal routine !

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