Saturday, 12 October 2019

Fab freebies of the week 12/10

Welcome to the weekend ! It's Saturday morning, which means it's time for lazing in bed, catching up with TV, internet and the kids, right? Well, no, not this week actually, as I'll be slaving away at work instead - boo ! There's a parent-teacher morning for this year's new arrivals - I can't believe they brought the time forward to 8.30 from 9am. I bet nobody will arrive until about 10am ! Ah well, once that's over, I can slob out and catch up on my chores ! Whatever you have planned, have a great time. Here's this week's freebie round-up to start things off with a smile :)


Grab a box of Kellogg's No Added Sugar Granola then claim your money back here

Send a letter to Santa at the Royal Mail and get a reply (just come backto this one if you're not feeling Christmassy yet !)

Be in with a chance to win 1 of 3,000 Animal Adventures play packs including a toy storage tin, 16 playing cards and a play mat. Enter now and you'll receive a FREE ACTIVITY SHEET to enjoy with your child

Now available on Send Me a Sample : Whisky Ginger by Johnnie Walker & Fever-Tree
Just say to your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant “Ask Send Me a Sample for a Whisky Ginger”
Get yours now!

Whether you’re trying to choose the right towel for you, or you’re just looking to switch up your daily or monthly routine, why not give Bodyform a go?

Join Friends of Krispy Kreme today and get exclusive access to all of the benefits below plus much, much more. Includes free doughnut just for joining!

Sign up below to get your hands on a free pouch of Heinz By Nature baby food

Sign up to their newsletter and request a sample of Rituals Hand Cream

With sun ripened Limonata and cool Mediterranean Aranciata, this campaign will help you discover the amazing Italian citrus fruits that make up Sanpellegrino® sparkling beverages. We are on the look-out for 1,500 Insiders to try Sanpellegrino®, then let us – and all their friends – know just how much they’ve enjoyed these great tasting and refreshing drinks! Simply register before 20th October to take part.

Over on Shopmium, don't miss out on Gourmet® Mon Petit Cat Food, Gunna Craft Soft Drink and Piccolo Organic Baby Food Pouches freebies

If you have the free Debenhams Beauty Card : From Friday 11th October, pick up your sample of Givenchy L'Interdit EDP. You'll fall head over heels for this bold and feminine scent that balances light and dark floral notes for the perfect perfume blend.

Caboodle Firsts: Be one of the first 100 to read This Lovely City

Do you have a kitten? Then make sure you sign up here ! When you sign up you will receive the following FREE:
Three pouches of ROYAL CANIN® Kitten food posted to you
A voucher for a FREE 400g bag of dry ROYAL CANIN® Kitten
A voucher for £3/€3 off a pack of 12 ROYAL CANIN® Kitten pouches

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 :

coming soon !

Friday, 11 October 2019

Book review : The Choke - Sofie Laguna

The Choke is the name of a stretch of the Murray River that runs along by the home of Justine Lee, a young Australian girl who lives with her Pop. Her Dad comes and goes, putting in the occasional visit to see his kids, and her Mum just took off one day and never came back. Things are pretty good though, as far as Justine is concerned. She's happy enough helping to look after the chickens, playing with her half-brothers in their dens and becoming friends with a boy at school. Told in Justine's narrative voice, the novel touches on a few details that - to an adult - sound slightly off, but to Justine, it's just her normal home life and she's happy enough with it.

During one of her father's visits, things take a definite turn for the worse however. After he visits a local girl, the police turn up and arrest him for rape. Her Pop is admirable and, despite his failing health and inner demons, manages to keep life on an even keel, even when things get complicated. Unfortunately for Justine though, the sins of the fathers are often visited upon the children and her life is about to get even trickier.

The book is full of so many references to things that seem to be going badly wrong beneath the surface, but these are only evident to the adult reader, not the childish narrator of the story. Sarcastic comments from the kids at school about needing a bath, the teachers' ignorance of her obvious dyslexia, her half-brothers' games full of playful violence and threat ... Justine could certainly do with a mother figure to help mould her into a resilient and fully prepared young woman. While she certainly has the moral strength to deal with whatever life can throw at her, she is sadly lacking in common sense and awareness of the world around her.

Justine is a lovely girl, with a kind heart and a great sense of self-sufficiency and resilience. She is totally gullible and unprepared for the dangers of real life though, and watching her in the scenes when she is growing up and turning into a young woman had my mum-sensors kicking off big time. I just wanted to reach into the book and hoik her out to safety, giving her a big hug and a decent meal to keep her going. It seems unbelievable that social services wouldn't step in and keep an eye on this dysfunctional family, but Australia is a big place and I'm sure the story echoes many real life situations that exist, especially on the edges of society.

While the book may seem hopeless and sad, Justine becomes the hero of her own life, taking things into her own hands and making sure she gets the future that she wants. She is pretty much the lone female figure in her surroundings, besides a few classmates and their mums, so it was heartwarming to see her come out on top, calling on her aunt to help her out when she hits rock bottom. Against all odds, I can see Justine having a happy life - in any case, it's certainly what she deserves.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Aardvark Bureau (28 Mar. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1910709573
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910709573

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

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Get More Vits the easy way ! (review)

Just a quick glance out of the window today is enough to prove that autumn, and not too far after that winter, is definitely on the way. Brrr ! The leaves on the trees opposite our house are all turning a lovely shade of yellow, the spiders' webs are all dotted in little globules of water and the sky is decidedly grey - nothing like the brilliant blues of summer. While we're all (touch wood) in perfect health here at The Madhouse at the moment, heading into my classroom at work is a different matter. I spend most of the day trying not to be coughed or sneezed on and seem to be constantly reminding the kids to put their snotty tissues in the bin. Anything that offers the slightest chance of boosting my immune system is therefore a very good thing in my eyes !

You may remember, back at the start of the summer, that we tried out the Get More Vits Orange & Mango Drink . All three of the Madhouse kids loved the flavour and the fact that it also contains a blend of extra vitamins is just an added bonus. We were delighted to receive a selection of more of the range to sample, including both kids' and adults' versions, which was extremely good news for me !

I opted to try the Sparkling Orange bottle, which contains Vitamin C and is great for helping to support your immune system - perfect to help keep those pesky winter bugs at bay. It has a lovely orange flavour that isn't overly sweet. I was actually very pleasantly surprised to see that the drinks are sugar free and contain only 5 calories per bottle.

Also in the big bottle range is Still Mango & Passionfruit, which Juliette grabbed as she doesn't like fizzy drinks, which severely limits her choices. It contains Vitamin D, which is labelled as good for helping support healthy bones. Vitamin D helps you to keep the right level of calcium in your blood, which actually helps you maintain healthy teeth and muscles, as well as bones. Above all, it tastes delicious.

In the smaller kid-friendly bottles with a sippy lid, we got to try the Raspberry & Blueberry naturally flavoured still spring water. This was much enjoyed by everyone - even I had a taste and approved of the fruity flavour so it's not just for kids. It is another sugar free option and contains multi vitamins. It is fortified with 50% of your daily allowance for vitamins B1, B3, B6, B7 and B12 to support energy levels and the immune system, plus vitamin D and calcium for growing bones.

If you want a great-tasting drink that offers a little something extra, look no further !

Get More drinks are currently available from Ocado,, Sainsburys, and Tesco.

for more information :

Disclosure : We received the products in order to share our honest opinion.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Book review : Broken - Karin Slaughter

As a crime fiction lover, Karin Slaughter is one of those names that just leapt out at me when I was browsing the bookshelves of a local charity shop recently. I'd promised myself that I wouldn't buy any more books as I was trying to clear my backlog and make some space on the shelves but, well, you know how that works ! Plus it only cost 50p - how could I say no ?! I'd heard lots of good things about Karin Slaughter but this is actually the first of her books that I've read. It's the fourth Will Trent book and the seventh Grant County book, but I totally enjoyed it as a stand-alone novel. That said, I think it would definitely be interesting to read the previous books, as I'm sure they explain a lot of the bad feeling that is evident from the very beginning of this book. It's a great story too, so I'm sure the others offer equally enjoyable reading material.

The story begins like a classic crime novel. A young student is killed as she walks along the side of a lake on a cold night. Medical examiner Sara Linton, currently back home visiting her family for Thanksgiving, is called to the police station to check on the main suspect, who is hysterically crying in his cell and won't calm down. When she arrives, he has committed suicide after making a confession.

However, where this book instantly skives off into different and original territory is that the police and other investigators aren't working together like one big happy family. There is actually an awful lot of resentment and mistrust, as Sara is the widow of the former police chief and holds the detective in charge of the case, Lena Adams, who was his partner, responsible for his death. Is she kicking up a fuss just to get some kind of revenge on the woman she hates or is it really justified ? Lena's boss, Frank Wallace, is another complex character - he seems to be hitting the booze a bit too easily these days, but is he still doing everything he should ? Special Agent Will Trent is brought in to figure it all out and make sure that everyone is doing their job properly. Unsurprisingly, he is not welcomed with open arms as he tries to take a neutral look at everything that is going on.

It's an interesting read, both in terms of the unfolding crime scenes, as Will starts to put things together and make serious headway, but also the complex relationships between the characters. As a widow, Sara deserves some sympathy, but is she really being level-headed in her criticism of the local police? I was surprised by the ending and didn't see it coming at all, which is actually quite rare for me when reading crime fiction. Karin Slaughter definitely deserves her good reputation and I'll certainly be looking out for more of her work.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £6.99

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow (23 Jun. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099509768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099509769
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.3 x 19.8 cm

Monday, 7 October 2019

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2019 week #41

Brrr there's a distinct chill in the air, so we're looking for lovely meals to warm us up this week - out with salads, in with casseroles, cheesy baked potatoes and anything else to put a smile on our faces ! I definitely need to start using my slow cooker too - I'll dig it out and give it a good clean next weekend :)


dinner - pork chops, rice and ratatouille


dinner - sausages, mash & beans


lunch - meatballs and spaghetti

dinner - chicken curry & rice


dinner - sausage & veg casserole with potato wedges (I'm thinking onions and red and yellow peppers, maybe whatever else is lingering in the veg box of the fridge !)


lunch - tacos with spicy mince, salsa, guacamole, salad, sweetcorn, grated cheese and I think there's a spicy cream sauce lurking in the fridge

dinner - cheesy veggie & potato bake


lunch - McDonald's or similar

dinner - leftovers or toasted cheese sandwiches


lunch - tartiflette - baked potatoes, onions, bacon and stinky reblochon cheese. Perfect for winter ! (Pierre's choice - and a great choice, I must admit)

dinner - leftovers or toast

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


Saturday, 5 October 2019

Fab freebies of the week 5/10

This week has been manic, so I'm very glad it's the weekend at last. Time to ignore the alarm and just chill out. For two whole days ! :) Hope you have something nice planned. Or just a weekend slobbing out on the settee would be great too ! Here's this week's freebie roundup, to kick things off in style, whatever you're doing.


Premier Inn has decided to bring the nation… Pillow Fight Club. Get free tickets - go along and get yourself a free pillow ! Details here (and there may be more dates to come)

This is your chance to exclusively try out Énielle's innovative skincare product before you can find it on the market. You will receive a full-size sample of Énielle Serum to use throughout the pretest campaign. We want to know what do you think! Answer the questionnaires throughout the campaign to let us know.

Sign up for the chance to test the new Caudalie Purifying Cleansing Gel (sachet 3ml), for skin that is clean, purified and blemish-free.

Sign up to the Pukka Collective and get a sample pack of their tea

KIND snack bars are giving out free samples - first come first served on a daily basis so good luck !

BEAR Nibbles are scrummy snacks made from the good stuff – gently baked to keep goodness in. Submit your details and we’ll post a pack to you (or your cub). Whether you tell them it’s one of their five-a-day is up to you.

Just say to your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant “Ask Send Me a Sample for free Lidl Lupilu nappies

Try the NEW Tiffany & Love fragrance! Debenhams have 50 bottles up for grabs

Also from Debenhams, if you have their free card - From Friday 4th October, pick up your sample of the Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Serum Ceramide Capsules, handy single dose capsules of lightweight dry oil serum that diminish dullness and perk up tired-looking skin.

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 :

coming soon !

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Book review : Angels Passing - Graham Hurley

Angels Passing is the third novel in the Joe Faraday series, but, as is often the case when I grab a few random crime-fiction titles from the 3-for-£5 section at The Works, this is the first of them that I have discovered. There are twelve titles available in this series, the last of which was published in 2012, so it's presumably the last. It looks to be an interesting storyline and I'd be intrigued in starting at the beginning, to learn more about the background stories that flesh out the characters.

DI Faraday is an interesting and multi-layered character, central to the police investigations going on in this book. He has a deaf son, J.J., who turns up halfway through the book, having split up from his partner in France, and the memory of his own wife, who died of cancer, still lingers. He now has a relationship with a married woman called Martha, which is going on in the background in this book - I would presume she played a larger role in the previous tomes. He is an experienced cop who seems to be weary of the bureaucracy and restraints put on him by his superiors, who seem to have their own ulterior motives in their relationships with the press and their future career moves.

The story takes place in Portsmouth, or Pompey as the locals call it, and it seems to be an incredibly bleak place to grow up. The book begins with a 14-year-old girl toppling to her death from a tower block. Her divorced parents add to the tragic story of their unhappy teen, revealing tales of drink, drugs and sleeping around. The mysterious ten-year-old who was present at the time of her death, according to the CCTV cameras, seems to have an equally uninspiring life - his single mother has hit the drink and has no idea where her son is. The bleak setting of the closed-down cinema where he, and several other local kids, play and often sleep, really shows the lack of prospects that the younger generation have before them.

The older generations don't seem to be doing much better though, and the body count continues to rise. A small-time drug dealer is found dead, hanging from a local tree, but given his injuries, it doesn't look as if he took his own life. As Faraday and his fellow police officers round up the usual suspects, we are shown the hopeless tit-for-tat lifestyle (and ultimately death style) that causes more than a few headaches for the police. 

It's an interesting portrayal of the police service, with DI Faraday trudging through life, dealing with whatever fate throws his way on a daily basis, both in the professional and private sphere. He doesn't come across as particularly heroic - there are no high-octane scenes of him dodging bullets or climbing out of crashed cars as you would see in the Hollywood movies - but I think this gives his character greater depth as he seems truly believable. 

It's not a particularly optimistic novel, even if Faraday and his team do manage to clear up all of the crimes that he was dealing with. The story ends with him taking a birdwatching trip with his son, ignoring the phone call from his girlfriend and putting the recent crime spree to the back of his mind. That's about as heroic as his life can get for Faraday !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £9.99

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (16 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1409120074
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409120070

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Elastoplast Paw Patrol Plasters review

I'm sad to say, summer is definitely drawing to a close. In fact, as of today, we're into October, so I think that makes it officially autumn. Boo ! Nevertheless, Pierre is still desperate to play outside, heading to the park with his football to find his mates or riding his bike around the block, even in the rain ! I'm all for these last minute outdoor adventures before winter sets in, with its cold, wet weather and, above all, lack of light that makes playing outside difficult. These outdoor escapades invariably end up in grazed knees and elbows though, so we were delighted to receive some plasters from Elastoplast, revealing their new partnership with Nickelodeon's Paw Patrol.

These colourful plasters are sure to bring a smile to any fan's face as they feature all of the four-legged heroes from the show. Whoever your child likes best, they're bound to find a character they love as Chase, Skye, Marshall, Rubble, Zuma, Rocky and Everest all feature on the plasters.

If they've grazed a knee or have maybe just had an injection, there are even six larger plasters which feature group shots. Guaranteed to raise a smile !

Elastoplast children's plasters are especially developed for the sensitive skin of children. The plasters are dirt and water resistant, as well as being very skin friendly and easy to remove. Perfect for packing into your first aid box for all of life's little accidents !

RRP : £2.90

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

Monday, 30 September 2019

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2019 week #40

There's a distinct feeling of autumn (if not winter !) in the air, so we're craving casseroles, baked potatoes and warming comfort food. Maybe it's time to dig out the slow cooker ! I made some chicken soup with the leftovers from our roast chicken dinner last night and everyone (particularly Pierre !) was enthusing about it being the perfect warming meal, so I'll definitely have to make that again too. It's so quick and simple, so I'm not complaining !


dinner - leftover roast chicken with rice, veg & gravy


dinner - sausages with mash & beans


lunch - spare ribs with ebly & coleslaw

dinner - breaded fish fillets with rice & carrots


dinner - spaghetti bolognese (or maybe carbonara)


lunch - leftovers if there are any - if not chilli con carne & rice

dinner - twice baked potatoes with cheese, beans and maybe some bacon or ham stuffed inside - hmmmm !


lunch - McDonald's or similar

dinner - toasted sandwiches - I'm craving cheese and ketchup as I write this menu plan but I may go for something more grown-up sounding by next weekend !


lunch - chicken & veg with noodles & lashings of soy sauce

dinner - chicken soup will probably be a big hit, otherwise sandwiches or leftovers

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


Saturday, 28 September 2019

Fab freebies of the week 28/9


We're already at the end of September - time is flying by and we'll soon be into the mad run up to Christmas. Well, I suppose we've got Halloween to get through before that ! The leaves are rapidly turning brown on the trees and temperatures have dropped. I'm not complaining though - I like autumn. Whatever you're up to this weekend, have a good one, kicking things off with this week's freebie roundup :)

On Tuesday 1st October 2019, all participating Costa Express machines in the UK will be free of charge for 24 hours, excluding Northern Ireland. The offer commences from 00:15 on Tuesday 1st October 2019 – 00:15 Wednesday 2nd October 2019. Subject to location opening times and availability.
What drinks are available from a Costa Express machine? We serve the following drinks menu:
Latte, Americano, Cappuccino, Espresso, Hot Chocolate

On Instagram, for men's skincare Mesoa : As of October we’ll be giving away 30,000 FREE samples of MESOA For Men products, allowing you to see and feel the difference our products make - no strings attached. Simply send us a DM with your email address and we’ll arrange delivery.

Sleep & Chronic Health Survey - The survey will close on 31 October 2019. After this date, all participants who have completed the survey in full will be entered into a prize draw. Winners will be chosen at random with one person winning a £25 Amazon voucher and 50 runners up to win one of 50 x Nivea Cream pots.

Join our FREE mydryskin support programme today and receive lots of practical help, tips and support on how to deal with your dry skin condition. Plus, we have a free Balneum Dry Skin & Itch Relief Cream sample to give away to people who sign up to the programme.

Get your free sample pack of TENA Lady Discreet Mini & Normal, TENA Lady Extra & Extra Plus, TENA Lady Maxi, TENA Silhouette and more.

Sign up to our FREE mywellbeing support programme and get 19 weeks of dedicated information on a wide range of health topics for both men and women. If you sign up today you will also have the chance to get a free sample of Biofreeze as we have 100 to give away.

Get a free sample of Natvia sweetener

You can claim a free gluten free Glutafin Taster Box if you've just been diagnosed as Coeliac

Sign up to our FREE myeczemachild support programme today and unlock access to exclusive, expert information to help manage your child’s eczema. We also have 100 samples of Epaderm Junior Ointment or Epaderm Cream to give away when you join this programme.

Join our FREE myIBS support programme now and get exclusive advice from our medical experts about how to manage your condition. Plus, if you suffer from IBSD, we have 100 free packs of Enterosgel and £30-off your next purchase vouchers.

Sign up to our FREE mywound support programme and get expert advice on how to care for your wounds and limit the chance of infection. If you sign up today you will have the chance to get a free Kelo-Cote Gel, as we have 100 samples to give away when you join.

Get a free first aid guide - First aid knowledge at your fingertips

300 Deluxe Samples Of Murad’s “Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel” Up For Grabs

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 :

coming soon !

Friday, 27 September 2019

Madhouse recipe : Chocolate Sheet Cake

Last weekend, Pierre asked if we could make a cake. I wasn't against the idea of baking in itself, but I couldn't be bothered going to the supermarket for supplies because it was pouring hard. This recipe was ideal as it used nothing that wasn't already lurking in the cupboards. It actually made a huge cake - what you can see in the top picture is only half of the finished cake - so you could easily halve the measures if you want something smaller. That said, it didn't last long, so you may want to stick with the bigger size ! I was intrigued by this recipe, as I'd never made a cake by boiling a mixture of butter and cocoa, so I was keen to see how it would turn out. When it was just out of the oven and barely cooled down, it tended to fall apart after cutting it, but the next day, it was perfect and held together very well. I used a recipe on The Alaska Life blog, but transformed the measurements from cups to weight and swapped quite a few ingredients around. Head over to see the original version though.

 Chocolate Sheet Cake

ingredients :

285g flour
1tbsp baking powder
450g sugar
225g butter
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
25cl water
1 yogurt (I used peach but it makes no difference)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs (slightly beaten)
to decorate : Philly with Milka + sprinkles

Put the flour, baking powder and sugar into a bowl and stir.

Put the butter, cocoa powder and water into a saucepan and gently bring to the boil, stirring to melt the butter.

Once it starts bubbling, pour the melted butter/cocoa powder mixture into the flour/sugar and stir it all together.

Add the yogurt, cinnamon and slightly beaten eggs and stir until well combined.

Pour into a greased baking tray - as there was such a large quantity, I ended up using a foil-lined roasting tin !

Bake for about 30 minutes (dependent on the size of your baking tin) at 180°C. 

Take the cake out of the baking tray and leave to cool. I then chopped ours in half, slathering one half with Philadelphia with Milka (check out my review if you've missed out on this delight so far ! - you could use icing or chocolate and hazelnut spread instead). Scatter over some sprinkles, nuts, meringues or whatever else you may have.

The original version used buttermilk, so if you want to have a play around with that, head over to the original recipe, which also has an option for homemade icing. This was a great cake for using up various odds and ends hanging around in the cupboards. The kids had just one word to say - hmmmmmm !

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Book review : Dead In The Dark - Stephen Booth

Dead In The Dark is one of the books that jumped out at me recently when browsing the 3-for-£5 section at The Works. Two things attracted me in particular - the words "brand new, stunning and gasp-inducing" on the back cover and also the mention that it introduces the Peak District's dark subterranean world as a setting. What I hadn't realised is that this is the seventeenth book in the series focusing on detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, but it can also be perfectly enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

I felt slightly unsettled at the start of the book because too much seemed to be going on at once, without giving me time to collect my wits and work out the lay of the land. The first two pages describe someone lying in the dark knowing that they are about to die. The next chapter describes a Polish man who has been found dead in his flat. The third chapter goes back ten years and shares the tense scenes of a man, Reece Bower, being persuaded to phone the police about his wife, Annette,  who has gone missing while out walking the family dog. How, if at all, do all these different scenes fit together ?

Well, it turns out that Reece Bower's name has been brought up at the police station again, but this time because he has gone missing himself. His new wife called in his disappearance but nobody can work out where he would have gone. He was seen as the main suspect in his wife's murder until her father told the police that he had spotted his daughter, very much alive, thereby getting Reece off the hook. Maybe he knows that something new has come up, putting him back in the role of suspect, and has decided to disappear? Maybe someone was out to get him? The police go back to looking at Annette's story to try to figure out if they missed anything in the previous investigation.

Meanwhile, other stories are going on in and around Lathkilldale. A racist group are meeting up regularly, surely not helping to reduce the anti-Polish feeling in the town. A young man is killed when a barn is burnt down. At times, I felt that there were too many separate leads - many of them going absolutely nowhere - that made it hard to keep your mind on the main case. This does give you an idea of how busy and hectic life can be as a policeman though.

Watching the detective follow through every tiny lead, looking for the one that would break open his case, was enjoyable and believable. I was slightly disappointed by the ending though, as it seemed just a little too convenient and tidy to be completely believable. The setting, with its contrast of beautiful natural scenery and hostile local residents, often seemed the perfect location, showing that murder and wrongdoing can exist even in the most perfect and unlikely places.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (17 May 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0751567574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0751567571

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

September 2019 Degustabox review : Family Sharing and Home Cooking

There was much excitement at The Madhouse this week when the postman dropped off our latest Degustabox. The kids couldn't wait to see what kind of goodies would be stuffed inside this month's box. Grabbing the information card, I discovered that this box has a theme that really appeals to me : Family Sharing and Home Cooking. Sounds perfect for our family.

Carefully unpacking everything on the table, I could instantly recognise most of the brand names, but as always, the Degustabox is a great way of trying out new product ideas from well-known brands that may well have passed by under the radar, as well as some new, unknown brands. Time to take a closer look at the contents of this month's box.

First, we pulled out two packs of Chum Fruit Bites (RRP 2 x 79p), in Peach and Berry flavours. As it says on the bottom of the packs, these snacks are 100% Wild, with No Fake Stuff. That means they are made with 100% fruit, no added sugar, they are non-GMO, Kosher, Vegan, Gluten-Free and even count as one of your 5-a-day fruit and veg portions. They are slow baked to retain vitamins, protein and fibre and, best of all, the kids loved them. Great as an after-school snack or for popping into a school lunchbox. The company even donates 15% of profits to, to help save their "chums". We'll be looking out for these again, as an occasional treat, as they have so many good points going for them.

There were lots of oohs and aahs when the kids spotted the next product - two bags of Milkybar Buttons (RRP 2 x 55p). I used to love eating these when I was a kid but I hadn't tasted them for ages, and I loved rediscovering the unique, smooth, creamy taste. The kids loved them too, obviously !  I'd never really thought about it, but as it says on the pack, milk is the number one ingredient in the chocolate, which is great. They are also free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives and these packs have a QR code on them which gives you access to '80 Awesome Things To Do'. I'll definitely be popping some of these in the trolley again too !

Another snack option that the kids already know and love - Hartley's Jelly (RRP 55p per pot). The Madhouse kids love jelly - both making it and eating it ! - so I knew they'd love the fruity taste of strawberry jelly. Having it in ready-to-eat pot form is great for packed lunches or instant snacking, when you can't be bothered to wait for jelly to set !

After lots of snacky things for the kids, I was pleased to find a more grown-up oriented product next, that I could sneak aside for me without feeling guilty ! - Alpen Protein bars in Berries & Yoghurt and Chocolate flavours (RRP £2.69 for a multipack of five bars). I have eaten Alpen muesli for breakfast before, but the bar format was a new idea, so I was keen to see what I'd think. They are designed to fill you up and keep you going for longer than a regular cereal bar, so I thought they'd pack in the calories, but looking closer, I was impressed to spot that they contain less than 130 calories per bar. They provide 19g of protein and are also high in fibre. They're great as a snack mid-afternoon when energy levels are slumping and you still have a couple of hours to get through at work !

Boka Cereal Bars (RRP 79p per bar or £2 for a multipack of four) are another great snack to pop in your bag for when you get the munchies. They come in Caramel and Choco Mallow flavours and, amazingly, they have four green traffic lights, meaning they are low in sugar, low in fats, low in salt and under 100 calories. They taste great and I was very surprised to see how "healthy" they are. Perfect for when you want something delicious as a guilt-free snack.

Back to the kids for the final snack option - Paw Patrol Yummy Bakes from Appy Kids Co (RRP £1). You get 5 bars in a box, making this great value. They are made with real fruit, fortified with fibre and baked with wheat and oats. No artificial colours, flavours and preservatives are added and no palm oil is used either. The kids thought they were nice and if you have a Paw Patrol fan in your midst, they'll be even more appealing.

Moving on to the 'home cooking" ingredients, I was very intrigued to discover a jar of Zhoug Pesto from Epicure (RRP £2.99). This is one of five products available in the box, with the others being Chermoula Pesto, Mojo Verde Pesto, Chakalaka Pesto and Chimichurri Pesto, giving you the chance to try out the flavours of Africa, the Middle East and the Canary Islands. The Zhoug Pesto promises to be a "spicy sauce with coriander and green chili" and can be used in a multitude of ways -stirring through pasta or rice, using it as a dip or marinade or even just dolloping some on the side of the plate (perfect for jazzing up your own dinner while cooking something "plain" for the kids, if they don't like spicy or exotically seasoned food).

Gran Gallo Risotto Arborio (RRP £2.29) offers a plump, stubby grain and a high starch content, which give it the perfect balance of creaminess and bite when making risotto. Riso Gallo bring you the best Italian risotto rice, selected from the best rice fields in Italy. I used to buy this (or something very similar from Riso Gallo) years ago, but I'd switched over to regular long grain rice as a shortcut. This has reminded me that the texture is completely different and you really should buy the proper risotto rice for a genuine, traditional flavour. Delicious - I'll definitely be buying it again.

Another product that I have used in the past - Very Lazy Garlic Paste (RRP £1.85). It's perfect for keeping in the fridge and stirring into everything from curries to spaghetti bolognese. Who needs to waste time peeling, chopping and crushing garlic? Who wants to avoid pongy fingers ?! It's great as a store-cupboard basic, for adding some extra zing to whatever you're cooking with minimum fuss.

Eisberg Sparkling Alcohol-Free Rosé (RRP £4) is lovely if you want a grown-up option for anyone who is pregnant or just trying to avoid the booze. It is bursting with the fruity notes of red cherry and strawberry and each 125ml glass only contains 33 calories. This sounds great as an option for Christmas, birthdays or just a friendly (alcohol-free) drink with the girls !

And finally for this month, Lucozade Zero, in Orange or Pink Lemonade flavour (RRP £1). (Subscribers received one or the other.) My first thought on seeing the name Lucozade was that they would be packed with sugar and calories but no, this is Lucozade Zero, now without the sugar. They taste lovely and are great straight out of the fridge.

This month's card offers a recipe for Pea and Marinated Cherry Tomato Risotto, which sounds lovely - I definitely think I'll be giving that a go. I love everything in this box and the kids have happily munched their way through most of it. I thought there were slightly too many snack bars in there, but the kids said I'm talking rubbish !

 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 £7.99 - enter code PKUFE at the checkout.

for more information :

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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.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Book review : Christmas in Newfoundland : Memories and Mysteries - Mike Martin

I couldn't help but smile last week when my facebook feed started including numerous mentions of Christmas. Not just craft ideas (which may take a while to make) and festive recipes (for which you'll need to buy ingredients and maybe have a trial run before the big day) but also people saying that they'd been out Christmas shopping. In September ?! Shouldn't we at least wait until Halloween is out of the way first ?! Well, I have to admit, I'm about to be just as bad, as I've just finished reading Mike Martin's latest release, Christmas in Newfoundland : Memories and Mysteries.

If you're a fan of Mike Martin, you'll already know his key character, Sgt Winston Windflower - the big-hearted Mountie who lives in Grand Bank with his wife Sheila and their baby daughter Amelia Louise, putting just as much effort into walking the dog and polishing off a slice of peanut butter cheesecake as dealing with any local crimes. (If you have missed out on the series so far, feel free to head over and check out my reviews.)

This book is not really involved in the collection of Sgt Windflower mysteries though, so even if you don't know the series, you can still enjoy it wholeheartedly. It features a heartwarming series of nostalgic festive tales, as well as a new Christmas-themed story involving Windflower. Think of everything that essentially sums up the perfect Christmas : friends, gifts, oodles of food and a generous dollop of snow on top. It's all in there !

I really enjoyed looking back at Christmases past, when things as simple as taking a bus ride to check out all the local Christmas lights on display or walking down a massive, ice-encrusted hill with your mum to go Christmas shopping were a necessary prelude to the big day. It was lovely to catch up with some of the well-loved characters from the books but see them in a new light, taking a glimpse at their childhood lives in Grand Bank. Sgt Windflower still holds these same values deep in his heart, and the effort he puts into making sure everyone has a great Christmas is uplifting and satisfying.

When you're just about fit to have a nervous breakdown in a couple of months, because your child's much longed-for Christmas present is out of stock or you can't manage to lay your hands on the vital ingredient for your festive baking, it's the perfect book to dip into to help you remember what Christmas is really all about - as Mike Martin says himself, good food, good friends and always another chair at the table !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £10.71

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Ottawa Press and Publishing (20 Aug. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1988437253
  • ISBN-13: 978-1988437255

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