Saturday 20 July 2019

Book review : The Woman In The White Kimono - Ana Johns

Tori Kovac has been through a tough few weeks, caring for her beloved father in the final days of his battle against cancer. He hands over an old letter to her, which reveals details of his first love - a young woman in Japan who he was married to, and apparently had a child with, before returning home to The States and starting a family with Tori's mother. Shocked and deeply moved, Tori decides to head to Japan and see what she can find out about her father's past life and this unknown half-sister who may still be out there.

In alternate chapters, the action moves back to Japan in 1957, where 17-year-old Naoko Nakamura is happily in love with her boyfriend Hajime. Her rather traditional parents are hoping to set up an arranged marriage with a wealthy local man - a marriage which would secure her and her family's status within the traditional Japanese community - but Naoko wants to introduce her own love to them. When they learn that he is an American sailor, he is cast out - her father, in particular, cannot bear the thought after the dishonour of World War II - but Naoko will not give up, especially when she learns that she is pregnant.

While Hajime is away at sea, Naoko's grandmother arranges for a medical visit at a local nursing home for her granddaughter. Eager to ensure that her pregnancy is evolving correctly, Naoko is happy to assist but once inside, she discovers that she can no longer leave. Speaking to the other pregnant girls, many of whom are also pregnant with American/Japanese babies, she soon discovers the horror of her situation. If she wants her happy ending, she must find a way to escape the locked garden before it is too late.

The story is beautifully written and really gives you a sense of what life was like at the time in Japan. While it is hard to sympathise with the father, I could understand his sense of shame and longing to get back to how life was before the war. I was nevertheless left with a desperate desire to find out what really happened to the American sailor - there are a few things left unsaid so the reader is not really sure of his intentions.

As well as being a heart-breaking work of fiction, The Woman In The White Kimono is also inspired by a multitude of true stories, including some from the author's own family, which just makes it even more poignant. Make sure you read the Author's Notes at the end to see where some of the people and places came from in real life.

star rating : 5/5

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (15 July 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1789550696
  • ISBN-13: 978-1789550696
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm

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

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Get More Vits Orange & Mango Drink review

The summer has arrived - yippee ! School's out so it's time for long summer holidays, hot sunny days and lots of trips out with the kids. If we're heading into the countryside or to a beach - anywhere where we may not be close to shops - I always make sure I have some drinks (and usually some snacks too !) stuffed into my bag to tide us over. We were therefore very pleased to receive some bottles of Orange & Mango Get More Vits drinks to try out - and even more so once we'd tasted them !

Get More Vits are a range of kid-friendly fruity drinks that include extra vitamins - we reviewed them a couple of years ago as Get More Kids drinks and the kids loved them all. We've just been trying out the Orange & Mango flavour which is totally delicious and perfect for the summer. They taste even better straight from the fridge, in my opinion, but the kids like them whatever the temperature. 

This flavour includes a blend of B vitamins to support energy levels and the immune system, plus vitamin D and calcium for growing bones. They are fortified with 50% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of B1, B3, B6, B7, B12 and D. They are made with natural spring water and aren't fizzy, which is great news for Juliette who doesn't like fizzy drinks. They taste beautifully sweet and fruity but they are nevertheless sugar free. What's not to like?!

They come in a 330ml bottle which can be resealed, unlike a can, making it better value when you're out and about. Available at Ocado, you can pick up five bottles for £4. We'll definitely be stocking up !

for more information :

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

Monday 15 July 2019

Book review : You Would Have Missed Me - Birgit Vanderbeke

Peirene have released another book from the There Be Monsters series : You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke, skilfully translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch.

The author, who is one of Germany's most successful authors, was born in Dahme, East Germany, in 1956. When she was six years old, her family fled to the West and she grew up in Frankfurt. I have no idea if the book is autobiographical or not, but it certainly could be.

The narrator is a seven-year-old girl who has arrived in West Germany in the early 1960's from a camp for displaced people. She lives with her parents - a mother who largely ignores her and a father with a violent streak who doesn't seem to like her very much - but she has a few friends outside of her home who offer her a few moments of light relief. 

For her birthday, the girl wants just one thing - a cat - but she already knows that she has no chance of receiving one. Instead, she is given an illuminated globe, which initially leaves her feeling disappointed, but ultimately offers her a way to escape the misery of her depressing homelife.

In terms of action, not much happens, but the text is strangely enchanting and I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting. The childish, innocent interpretations of things add a sense of humour and allow the reader to read more into certain statements or situations than the narrator actually understands.

The whole thing should be depressing, but it is strangely heartwarming. The young girl needs so little to find happiness and, despite their problems, the family are slowly moving upwards so there is a sense of hope for the future. I always think of East Germany as a bleak, hopeless place, so it was interesting to see the little girl's memories of her grandmother keeping rabbits and baking wonderful cakes. 

Hardly anyone talks about Berlin in the times of the Wall any more, so it was interesting to take a look back at life in Germany after the war.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £12

  • Paperback: 154 pages
  • Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd (1 Jun. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908670525
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908670526
  • Product Dimensions: 12.3 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm

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

Saturday 13 July 2019

Fab freebies of the week 13/7

Wow, how can it be Saturday already ?! I've already been on holiday for a week and we've been so busy, I haven't even had time to blog (apart from a post that was scheduled a few weeks ago !). We decided to start off the holidays by going to Lille for the day, hitting the shops and grabbing a few bargains in the sales. On Wednesday, we headed to Paris, checking out the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and having a lovely river cruise on the Seine. It actually worked out quite cheap on the train as Pierre has a kids' travel card which means he can take 3 guests for €1 each - perfect ! Now, we're getting everything sorted for our trip to Alaska - can't wait ! - and I'm also trying to have a sort out in the house,as well as catch up on laundry. I'll get there in the end, but it would be nice to have a clone of me to help out ! Right,on to this week's freebie roundup - fill yer boots !


Join the URBAN DECAY STAY NAKED Community tour in Debenhams! It's only hitting five towns but hopefully some of you might make it :)
Join us in store to receive a colour-matched sample of the new Stay Naked foundation before it launches! If you're one of the first 50 Community members to arrive in each location (you can sign up on the day!) you'll also receive an Urban Decay complexion goodie bag worth over £50
London Oxford Street - Sat 20th July
Birmingham - Tues 23rd July
Dublin - Wed 24th July
Glasgow - Fri 26th July
Manchester - Sat 27th July

The Insiders are looking for another 2,000 Insiders who are parents of babies aged between 0 and 6 months to try Bepanthen® Nappy Care Ointment. Last few days to sign up :)

Complete the form below to receive your £1 off Magnum Ice Cream coupon in the post. Will you opt for a single bar or get money off a multipack? :)

Win NEOM's new Intensive Skin Treatment Candle – we've 30 of these multi-taskers to be won!

Win 1 of 50 sensational cookery sets worth over £100 each from Gressingham Duck.

Fill in your details for a full refund on your Carlsberg Danish Pilsner 6x 330ml Snap Pack.

On Fold3 (by Ancestry) - Discover your own American history.
To commemorate Independence Day, find the patriots in your family who helped give birth to a new nation with FREE ACCESS* to our Revolutionary War Records - free until July 15th


Be one of 50,000 people that Grow Wild will help grow and enjoy UK native wildflowers in containers and small urban spaces with free seeds. No growing experience required!

New additions to our #ecofriendly range of packaging. Biodegradable & Recyclable fluted mailing envelopes offering protection for your products in transit. Request a sample today! …

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 12 July 2019

Book review : Sea of Bones - Deborah O' Donoghue

Sea of Bones is a chilling, spine-tingling new novel from Deborah O' Donoghue, which reminds me of the highly popular Jo Nesbo books. The opening chapters are incredibly short and give brief glimpses into goings-on that the reader has no hope of understanding. The rest of the book will slowly look for truths that will uncover their meaning.

The action takes place in and around an isolated Scottish coastal region where Beth, a promising young textiles student, has been staying in her aunt Juliet's beach cottage. We see her running along the beach, then, in the next chapter, her body is found washed up on the shore. For the police, suicide seems the likeliest explanation, especially as a note is found alongside her shoes, but to Juliet, this is totally impossible and she sets out looking for clues to what really happened.

She chats with the neighbours, a group of musicians living in the nearest cottage along the beach, and digs deeper into her niece's belongings, but the truth is hard to uncover. Calling on those around her - an old friend who works on the local police force, her bi-polar sister (Beth's mother) and her ex-husband (Beth's father), her own long-suffering husband, ... - she starts to see some suspicious details and soon puts her life at risk, following them up. Chasing these hints further south leads to the discovery of some horrific events in Manchester's sordid underworld that will finally reveal what really happened.

I can't really tell you any more without giving you some serious spoilers, but it is a fast-paced, exciting novel that will take you to unexpected places. Juliet is ruthless in her quest to uncover the truth, which puts some very dangerous noses out of joint. I could really believe in the main plotline, but some of the extras - notably the political and journalistic aspects - seemed a bit excess to requirements. It's a great read though, perfect for whiling away a pleasant hour or three by the pool this summer ! 


star rating : 4.5/5

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (1 July 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1789550025
  • ISBN-13: 978-1789550023

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Monday 8 July 2019

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2019 week #28

We made it to the summer holidays - woohoo ! My plan this week was to buy the absolute minimum (just toilet roll, orange juice and toothpaste !) and just work through everything already in the kitchen and freezer, to make some space, save some money and just generally have a clearout. Could be interesting ! I'm also planning lunches and evening meals, although the lunches will be subject to change, if we go out places.


lunch - pasta with pesto for me, tomato sauce or cream for the kids, bacon, cherry tomatoes and cheese for those who want it

dinner - pizza


lunch - paella - just using up what we have so I think it will be with white fish, chorizo, prawns, red pepper, onions, .... sounds good to me !

dinner - cottage pie


lunch - sausages, chips & beans

dinner - chicken thighs with roast potatoes, veg & gravy


lunch - chicken curry with rice & salad

dinner - creamy pork (with red pepper, onions, mushrooms, spices and whatever else I find in the fridge) with spaghetti


 lunch - pork chops with boiled potatoes and ratatouille

dinner - Southern fried chicken (but baked), coleslaw & rice


lunch - McDonald's or similar

dinner - sandwiches, salad or fridge clearout


lunch - spicy chicken with rice & salad

dinner - sandwiches, salads or leftovers

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


Saturday 6 July 2019

Fab freebies of the week 6/7

Well, what a crazy busy week that was last week ! I barely had any time to post on my blog, so hopefully, I'll be catching up next week, because ... ta da da ... school's out for the summer ! Woohoo ! Even better news, Sophie's exams results are through and she passed ! So, that's two bits of great news - I wonder what the third will be :) Well, I hope you all have a great weekend too, starting off with this week's freebie roundup.


A great giveaway from Foxdenton Gin Liqueurs - Enter your email for your chance to win one of the 133 bottles Foxdenton is giving away

Bodyform are giving away free towel and liner samples

We are looking for another 2000 Insiders who are parents of babies aged 0 to 6 months to try Bepanthen® Nappy Care Ointment. Are you interested? If so, then make sure you apply before 19th July.

Win 1 of 10 hampers or 1 of 100 Good Housekeeping subscriptions with Always Discreet

This looks like a great offer from The Body Shop : Simply register for a voucher to receive a free 60ml product and take it to your nearest participating store. *One free Travel Size product per customer. Subject to availability. Voucher must be submitted by 12th July 2019. If successful, voucher must be redeemed instore by 14th July.
You can choose one free 60ml product rrp £2 from the following, depending on stock availability: Banana Shampoo, Banana Conditioner, Green Tea Shampoo, Green Tea Conditioner Ginger Shampoo, Strawberry Shampoo, Strawberry Conditioner, Coconut Shower Cream, Mango Shower Gel, Satsuma Shower Gel, Shea Shower Cream, Pink Grapefruit Shower Gel, Moringa Shower Gel, Olive Shower Gel, Argan Shower Gel, British Rose Shower Gel, Green Tea Shower Gel, Almond Milk & Honey Shower Cream

For your chance to win one of 30 Tenderstem® broccoli branded hessian bags every month, sign up to our nifty newsletter.

From Poshly : Coming soon! 💄 Get ready for National Lipstick Day on July 29! We are sending out 20,000+ lipsticks from brands like @MilaniCosmetics (like this gorgeous Color Statement Lipstick in the shade Matte Love) to celebrate! Sign up on - AND tell your friends to sign up! - before July 29 so you get the alert when lipsticks are available to claim! 💋⁠ #NationalLipstickDay #LipstickLover #MakeupJunkie

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 :

Thursday 4 July 2019

Book review : The Frozen Shroud - Martin Edwards

I've just finished reading The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards, which I picked up in the 3-for-£5 deal at The Works. It is labelled as book 6 in the Lake District Mysteries series, but it can be enjoyed perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.

The action takes place in a charming, remote village called Ravenbank, on the shores of Ullswater, which seems to have a sinister, little-known identity as a hub of murder. Back before the First World War, a young woman's body was discovered with a makeshift shroud frozen to her battered face, then, five years ago, another body was discovered in similar circumstances. In both cases, a likely suspect was discovered but died before they could be charged - one by suicide and one in an accident.

The murders are a spine-tingling topic of conversation for the locals and, as it is Halloween, they decide to end a boozy night-in with a ghost hunt. They don't find any spirits though (apart from those in a bottle) and head for home. The next day, another young woman, one of the party guests, is discovered, dead, on Ravenbank. Is this place cursed or is someone copying the past crimes?

A historian called Daniel Kind, who happens to be a specialist in the history of murder, is soon drawn to dig deeper into the past crimes and their possible links with this new murder. DCI Hannah Scarlett, is also drawn in, on a personal level, but she has a lot on her plate, coming to terms with the break-up with her long-term partner Marc Amos and worrying about the budget cuts that will scale down her Cold Case Review team. Slowly, they will start to put everything together, challenging the past events that were recorded and looking for new leads.

It's an interesting and evocative setting, with lots of foggy nights and red herrings. I often had the impression that I was reading a slightly old-fashioned crime novel, along the lines of Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple, with lots of discussions instead of big action. The scenes leading up to the party and the final murder introduced a lot of characters and I found it hard to keep track of who was who - I'm not sure if these characters have already appeared in previous novels or if they are all new ones. It's an interesting novel though and I would definitely look out for other titles from the series. 

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Allison & Busby; UK ed. edition (19 Jun. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0749014652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0749014650

Monday 1 July 2019

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2019 week #27

Phew, what a sweltering week it's been - we swapped over to salad on a couple of days because nobody was really hungry and I didn't fancy slaving over a hot stove ! That may happen again this week - we'll see. On Monday and Tuesday, I have exams to invigilate, then Thursday and Friday are various meetings ... then school's out for the summer ! Right, what are we eating this week ?


dinner - spaghetti carbonara


dinner - Mexican pork chops with mash & veg


lunch - baked ham with rice & veg

dinner - curry wraps (from a kit) with rice and salad - the kids can use up something from the freezer if they prefer


dinner - quiche lorraine (or I might have a change, maybe with roasted veggies or something, depending on the weather !) with baked potatoes and salad


 dinner - Chinese style stir-fry with pork & veggies, served with noodles or rice


lunch - McDonald's or similar

dinner - sandwiches, salad or fridge clearout


lunch - spicy chicken with rice & salad

dinner - sandwiches, salads or leftovers

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


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