Saturday 29 February 2020

Fab freebies of the week 29/2

Well, that's the holidays done and dusted until next time. It's been lovely to spend a couple of weeks at my mum & dad's, but now we're back home and getting ready to go back to school/work. In theory, there's quite a lot to do this weekend - catch up on laundry, shopping and cleaning/tidying the house - but I did my back in a few days ago (no idea how) so I'll have to see how I go ! Whatever you have planned this weekend, have fun, and here's this week's round-up of the best freebies to catch up on. Enjoy !


Calling all Debenhams Beauty Club members: a complimentary CHANEL sample box is waiting for you from Friday 28th February. 

You may possibly be able to grab last week's sample too :  From Friday 21st February, pick up your sample of bareMinerals Skinlongevity Vital Power Serum!

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

Win hundreds of Italian prizes (including loads of pizza vouchers) from Dr Oetker Ristorante pizza - use code  31012032 (Get a 50p off voucher just for entering)

A 70,000 free drinks giveaway! What’s not love about a leap year? We are proposing that everyone joins us at their local pub for a FREE DRINK!

From Come round :Calling all families! We're excited to announce that between Friday 3 to Thursday 9 April 2020 we will be running Andy & The Odd Socks Parties. 100 lucky families will be selected and receive a party pack full of everything you need to host the ultimate album launch party for 10 children!

Join now and get FREE goodies & offers from top baby brands with Your Baby Club.

Answer 5 easy questions correctly to receive your FREE 100ml sachet of Nikwax Tech Wash!

A fab deal from Phoera Cosmetics - We're so confident you'll love our products, why not try the first item for free and see for yourself

Join the Eat Natural family and give feedback on new products

Get free tickets to the Allergy & Free From Show :  SEC Glasgow 7-8 March, ExCeL London 3-5 July, NEC Birmingham 7-8 November

Ergonomad are looking for beta testers to test cushions and provide feedback on their product.

Bzz Agent have loads up for grabs at the moment -  Apply now for a FREE IT Cosmetics Superhero No-Tug Gel Eyeliner Sample in exchange for a public review

Apply now for a FREE L'Oreal Colorista Temporary Hair Dye Sample in exchange for a public review with Bzz Agent

Try Timberland boots for Bzz Agent

Another Bzz agent freebie - apply now for a FREE BUXOM Staycation Vibes™ Primer-Infused Bronzer in exchange for a public review

FREE WILDFLOWER SEEDS! From Yes, we're doing it again! This time we're giving away a sample packet of Wildflower mix and all you've got to do is like & share this image, send us a message with your address and we'll send it out, completely free!

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 28 February 2020

Book review : A Long Way Off - Pascal Garnier

I've just finished reading A Long Way Off, which is the final book written by French author Pascal Garnier before his death in 2010. It has been translated by Emily Boyce, who is an editor and in-house translator at Gallic Books. She has done a great job and you don't even realise that it's a translated book when you're reading it.

The central character in the novel is Marc, a sixty-year-old man who seems unsatisfied with life in general and who just wants more. More what, he's not really sure, but he packs up his cat, picks up his daughter and heads off on an adventure. 

His daughter, Anne, is from his first marriage and is a grown woman. She apparently has learning difficulties and lives in a home, but she's a bit of an unknown quantity and is difficult to predict. She apparently needs supervision but her dad gives her a lot of (too much?) independence and she frequently goes out on her own, to buy a pancake or catch up with a new friend. 

It soon becomes obvious that her little trips out appear to correspond to a series of strange murders. Could she really be the culprit? Or is it just a strange coincidence? As they continue their journey, moving down to Agen and planning on going to Spain, Marc's health starts playing up, then the police come knocking on the door of their campervan. Does he really know his daughter as well as he thinks?

The early chapters are simple enough, revealing Marc's day to day routine, personal ponderings and rough plan to go on an adventure. As he travels south and gets to know his daughter better, things start to get a little strange. After the pair come into possession of an African voodoo statue, Marc's physical health starts to suffer. Does his mental health start to deteriorate too, or do the final shocking events with his daughter really happen as they are told ? I was left with a feeling of "what happened there then ?" at the end of the book, as the ending was not at all what I expected. I can see this being a big hit at reading groups, as I'm sure everyone will have a different interpretation of what really happened.

star rating : 4/5

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Gallic Books (26 Mar. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 191047777X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910477779

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Thursday 27 February 2020

DVD review : Hotel Mumbai

Last week, it was the school holidays, not just for the kids but for me too - the biggest advantage of being a teacher, in my opinion ! This gave me a chance to unwind and finally catch up on watching the latest DVDs that I'd received to review. After getting up to speed with the latest stories from Downton Abbey, I went for a complete change and switched to Hotel Mumbai.

This DVD tells the tense story of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which took place on 28th November 2008, a day which saw the bustling Indian metropolis descend into chaos. Inspired by the stories of the survivors, the film follows the events at the iconic Taj Palace Hotel in the heart of the city's tourist district, where guests and staff became trapped in a heroic day-long fight for survival.

As I've just booked this year's summer holiday, we've been looking through numerous travel brochures, and the scenes in the luxurious hotel really made me realise that terrorist attacks can happen anywhere, at the most unexpected moments. The film features a large cast of characters, many of whom come through as selfless heroes, willing to put their lives on the line to try to protect their fellow holiday-makers and guests. They all seem perfectly ordinary, just like the people we meet every year on holiday, but many of them, from young parents to the hotel staff, have a story that turn them into everyday heroes.

It's an emotional film that will have your nerves on edge as the events unfold, leaving you celebrating the selflessness of the heroes in the midst of such terrible conditions. The violence and cat-and-mouse action will have you on the edge of your seat and really help you to understand what went on in Mumbai on that fateful day.

Hotel Mumbai is available on Digital, Blu Ray and DVD from 27th January 2020.

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the dvd.

Wednesday 26 February 2020

February 2020 Degustabox review : Easter is Coming !

Last week was the long-awaited half-term holiday, but the weather wasn't great, with wind and rain keeping us in the house more than we'd have liked. This meant that the kids were frequently getting bored and arriving in the kitchen, on the hunt for snacks. Needless to say, they were over the moon when the postman dropped off the latest Degustabox at the beginning of last week.

They were even more excited when they learnt what this month's theme was : Easter Is Coming ! "Ooh, is there lots of chocolate inside ?!", they excitedly cried. Well, there was only one way to find out ! This month's box is an alcohol-free box, so all subscribers received the same products (although as a Degustablogger, I may have received additional products to try the different flavours).

The kids immediately grabbed the bars of Galaxy Vegan Chocolate (RRP £3 - Degustabox subscribers received one bar, not all three). This new addition to the Galaxy range builds on the brand's mission to encourage everyone to Choose Pleasure, using a vegan recipe with hazelnut paste to create the same smooth and creamy signature characteristics of their chocolate. It comes in three varieties, Caramel & Sea Salt, Caramelised Hazelnut and Smooth Orange, all of which were greeted with appreciative moans of pleasure. Galaxy are the first major milk chocolate brand to create a vegan alternative and I'd say it's a great success.

Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard (RRP £1.50) is a great French classic, made in the traditional way since 1777. It has a white wine base which helps bring a smooth and delicious flavour, perfect for adding a kick to everything from a ham sandwich to a pork casserole or stir fry. Add some ooh là là to your meal in seconds !

Heinz No Added Sugar Pasta Shapes (RRP 2 x 55p) were a blast from the past as I always used to buy cans of this for the Madhouse kids in their younger years. These tins feature the characters of kiddie favourites Disney's Frozen and Paw Patrol in a rich tomato sauce that even counts towards their five-a-day. The no added sugar recipe got a thumbs up from the kids.

Jacked Foods have two of their products in the box (subscribers received one or the other) : Ndizi Chunks or Jackfruit Chunks (RRP £1.89). Ndizi Chunks are 100% natural dried banana and were unanimously declared delicious. We weren't so sure about the jackfruit - I was convinced it was the smelly fruit but it turns out that that's the durian ! Jackfruit is, in fact, soft, chewy, sweet and … well, rather similar to mango. We'd definitely eat it again, which is great news, as it's packed with vitamins and minerals. Available on Whole Foods, Borough Box (online) and John Lewis.

KitKat Milk Chocolate Easter Bunny (RRP 2 x 65p) is the perfect snack-sized nibble to keep the kids (and the grown-ups !) happy over the Easter period. The cute, rabbit-shaped milk chocolate shell is filled with a rich chocolatey centre with crispy wafer pieces. They're cute, they're tasty and they contain no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. They're also gluten-free.

Lost Coast Fruit Spritzer + ACV (RRP £2.49) is a range of fruity, revitalising drinks that blend sparkling water, unique botanicals and Apple Cider Vinegar, which is a natural remedy, good for the gut and known for its health-giving properties. They are low in sugar and calories and available in three fruity flavours - we got the Mango, Turmeric & Ginger one. Well, we tried it but we weren't keen. While the fruity flavour got a vote of approval, we weren't keen on the taste of the apple cider vinegar coming through. 

Livia's Salted Caramel Squares (RRP £1.50) offer a trio of snacks that can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone, as they are vegan, gluten and dairy-free. They are made of gooey date caramel squidged between a layer of raw dark chocolate and an oaty base. Sophie munched on these and declared them delicious.

My Sweet Chickpea Coconut & Dark Chocolate Roasted Chickpeas (RRP £1.25) are a vegan and gluten free snack that taste much better than they sound. Sophie loved them and gobbled her way through the whole pack in one sitting ! Made with all natural ingredients, they contain high levels of protein and fibre to help fill you up and significantly less fat than chocolate or nuts. Available in the ASDA Free From aisle and on

There was a voucher in the box for a Shaken Udder Milkshake (RRP £1.40), which I haven't picked up yet, but we have had these before and loved them. They are made with real fruit or Belgian chocolate and fresh British milk, contain no artificial colours or flavours and are gluten free and suitable for vegetarians. They also contain less than 5% added sugar.

TREK Cocoa Oat Protein Flapjacks (RRP £2.50) are a great option as a quick snack or breakfast on the go. They are made with gluten-free oats and topped with melted dark cocoa, so they have a lovely chocolatey flavour. They are suitable for vegans and contain 9g of plant-based protein. Available in major supermarkets, either in the Free From or Cereal Bar aisle.

Very Lazy Slow Cooking Paste Pots (RRP 2 x £1.99) are a great short-cut to a delicious dinner. I got both flavours but subscribers received either Harissa Tagine or Smoky Spanish Stew. Each flavour has two recipes (one meaty, one vegetarian) and required only a handful of ingredients and very little prep If you haven't got a slow cooker, they also work in the oven. As a busy working mum, I love these and I'll definitely be looking out to see if there are other flavours available

 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 :

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.

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Book review : The Rip - Mark Brandi

I've just finished reading The Rip by Australian author Mark Brandi, who also wrote Into The River, which I reviewed last year. (Click through to read that review.) It's a short book, coming in at just over two hundred pages, but it dragged me in and I couldn't stop reading until I'd finished.

The story begins with a short preface detailing a police interview, requesting information from a very reticent man, about a missing girl and some strange chemicals found in his room. The novel then moves back in time and we meet Danielle, a homeless girl, living happily enough in a local park, accompanied by her friend Anton and her dog Sunny. They may not have much, neither in terms of material possessions nor future prospects, but they're happy enough, especially with drugs on hand to  help see them through. 

"He pulls out a large baggie, which has some smaller baggies inside. I can see the powder and I know he's got me sorted. And suddenly, our stuff in the park doesn't matter so much.

    It's funny how it makes everything else just fall away like that - that's one of the great things about it. It gives you focus, you know? It's like all those other thoughts and worries just disappear so quickly, and all you can think about is how you're gonna feel.

Tomorrow doesn't matter so much. Or the next day. Or even the day after that."

A chance encounter with Steve, a figure from Anton's past, gives them a new opportunity as he welcomes them into his home. It's not much, but it's a step up from the park. He seems to have some kind of a hold over Anton and pushes Dani into begging, taking Anton out with him on local burglaries. Dani starts to have doubts about their future with him, but Steve gives her enough drugs to keep her on side. Until one day, Anton doesn't come home. And people start looking for Mary, the girl who used to live in Steve's flat.

Dani and Anton seem surprisingly upbeat, especially in the early part of the book, given the grim setting and the harsh life that they have. They never seem to be hungry, despite apparently eating nothing but toast and a few meals from the Salvos. Dani looks through Mary's wardrobe and wishes she could change her dirty clothes, but they never seem to want or need anything, despite having very little. There are various allusions to stories of abuse in the past but they seem to live perfectly safely and happily enough in the park. You can't help but wonder how much of this vision is down to the drugs though.

The title left me wondering about hidden meanings. A quick google search revealed that it is the name of a stretch of dangerous water providing access to Melbourne and I could imagine the characters bobbing about in a rough sea with their eyes on the horizon, never knowing if they'd actually make it that far in one piece. 

star rating : 5/5

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (17 Feb. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1789551110
  • ISBN-13: 978-1789551112
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Monday 24 February 2020

DVD review : Downton Abbey - The Movie

I was a bit of a late-comer to the world of Downton Abbey. I didn't watch it at all when it was on TV, but, after seeing all my friends oohing and aahing about all the stories on their social media accounts, I was intrigued so I gave in and bought myself a DVD boxset last year. I was instantly enchanted, catching up with all the upstairs-downstairs drama, and when I came to the end, I was lost. What would I use to fill my evenings ? 

Last month, I was delighted to be welcomed back inside Downton Abbey with the DVD release of Downton Abbey : The Movie, a sumptuous visit to catch up with all the latest goings-on of the original cast. The story picks up one year after the end of the series and the Crawley family and their intrepid staff have a new moment of excitement and stress to deal with : an impending visit from the Royal Family !

As you may expect, there is scandal, romance and intrigue that will leave the future of Downton hanging in the balance. I loved watching the much-loved family members, in particular my favourite, Violet Crawley, the matriarch of the family, with her witty one-liners, as they got to grips with their royal guests. Things are even more stressful in the servants' quarters and the kitchens, as they struggle to put on the best show of their lives.

Downton Abbey - The Movie is available on Digital from 13th January and Blu-ray and DVD from 27th January, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the DVD.

Sunday 23 February 2020

Project 366 : Photo Diary Week 8

This week was half-term, for me and the kids. Even better news, in France you get two weeks off, so we're still on holiday for another week - woohoo ! We've headed over to England to see the grandparents and my sister and we're having a great time, despite the pretty constant wind and rain. Here's what we've been up to this week.

Sunday 16th February - Back together again ! My dad came and picked us up and drove us all the way home. It was pretty windy so I was glad we were on the Channel Tunnel rather than the ferries ! There were a few delays on his way over but it didn't really matter, as we were all heading back together - it would have killed it if it had been just for the usual day trip though.

Monday - It was Juliette's birthday just before we came over, on the 14th February - we had a strawberry cream cake on the day itself but we'd already eaten half of it before I realised I hadn't taken a photo. Oops, it shows how hectic things were when I was at work last week ! I knew we were having another cake with the grandparents though so I made sure we took a photo this time. Happy birthday Juliette, 15 years old and still smiling so hopefully we'll avoid all the teenage angst that I was expecting ! lol

Tuesday - I actually left my camera behind by accident so I've asked the kids to take over on taking the photos this week. They said OK but they wanted to take a photo of me for a change. Well, OK, I guess !

Wednesday - After a trip to the Old Town in Hastings, wandering through all the quirky boutiques and spending some time in the amusement arcades (where Pierre would happily spend half of the holidays !), we headed to the main town centre for some last minute shopping. Sophie treated us all to a smoothie in Muffin Break.

Thursday - We all headed out for a family meal for Juliette's birthday at the local Brewer's Fayre. Alongside us four, my parents and sister and her boyfriend, my aunt came along too, so it was lovely to catch up with everyone. After some lovely Smothered Chicken (chicken breast topped with mozzarella and bacon, served with chips, coleslaw and garlic bread), we still all found space for dessert ! Yum !

Friday - We headed to Eastbourne for the day, as the weather wasn't looking great. They have a shopping arcade so at least we'd be under cover if it poured hard - which it did. We managed to fit in a quick trip to a park next to where we parked the car before heading to the shops, which was perfect. We grabbed some clothes, some books and - Pierre's favourite purchase of the day - a giant tennis ball !

Saturday - My mum and dad bought a dog bed for each of their dogs when we went to Lidl for supplies. They are very comfortable ... according to Pierre, who spent all evening laying in there until the dog pinched his space back !
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Saturday 22 February 2020

Fab freebies of the week 22/2

Well, it's been a week of wind with its fair share of rain, but hopefully, you still managed to have some fun during the half term holidays. We did ! Enjoy the last weekend and hopefully, you'll grab a few of these freebies to start things off in style !


Another Debenhams Beauty Card freebie - From Friday 21st February, pick up your sample of bareMinerals Skinlongevity Vital Power Serum!

It's back! This Pancake Day… Pop into your nearest Bella Italia for 2 free pancakes and your choice of chocolate or strawberry sauce while stocks last. Just mention the "Big Bella Pancake Giveaway" and receive two buttermilk pancakes, with no other purchase necessary

We are looking for 1,000 parents with a baby between 6 and 12 months old to try SMA® PRO Follow-on Milk. Are you interested? Subscribe before 2nd March on The Insiders.

We're giving 100 Caboodlers the chance to read Camilla Lackberg's gripping psychological thriller The Gilded Cage, before it's out in April.

You Could Win Free Greggs Delivered To Your Door For A Year If Your Name Is Greg (or Gregory or Gregor, etc)

Insiders, we’re looking for 100 of you to take part in this campaign to try Nestlé OptiFibre® and let everyone know how it has helped you with your digestive issues.

Join the SmileStones Club and look out for freebies of children's toothpaste

Become a Vinosculpt Tester! Try your luck: sign up now to be one of the first to try the NEW Vinosculpt Lift & Firm Body Cream (250ml).

Gressingham Duck have teamed up with their friends at Bloom&Wild to give you the chance to win one of 100 letterbox bouquets.

A team of lucky trndsters will be recruited to test the new Braun Male styling and Female Hair Removal devices! (500 participants)

Are you on BzzAgent? You're Invited! Apply now for THREE FREE KAJA Lipsticks in exchange for a public review of your favorite shade!

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 :

Friday 21 February 2020

Book review : One Good Reason - Susan Stairs

One Good Reason is a book (another one !) that I picked up at The Works in their 3-for-£5 deal. I usually go for crime fiction but this book is a tense family drama. Reading the blurb on the back of the book, it appealed to me though, and I wasn't disappointed.

It tells the story of the Pierce family, who are going through the wars. After a violent house break-in, which ended up with them being tied up and brutalised by the intruders, they manage to get one of the offenders into court. When he walks free, however, with insufficient evidence to condemn him, the father ends up having a fatal heart attack.

The rest of the family - the widowed wife, two grown-up daughters and one grown-up son - are left to put the pieces back together and get their life back on track. Eldest daughter Laura is determined to get revenge and tracks down the father of the liberated offender. He is an artist, living the high life in France, and she heads off to meet him, determined to make him pay. She ends up biting off more than she can chew, however, as more and more secrets and lies come out of the woodwork.

It's a gripping read and you can really sympathise with and understand the motivations of the hard-done-by family. However, the main emotions seem to be anger and a desire for revenge rather than sadness, which I thought actually made it less hard-hitting. As the events start to spiral out of control, I lost the ability to imagine myself in their position and couldn't really condone their actions.

It's an enjoyable read though, that has several surprise twists popping up at the end and I raced through it, eager to find out how things would end up.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books Ireland (5 July 2018)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 1473618134
    ISBN-13: 978-1473618138
    Product Dimensions: 18.1 x 2 x 20.2 cm

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Cookery book review : Carpathia - Irina Georgescu

As I mentioned recently, I'm planning on getting seriously back into cooking, something that I've let slide since Madhouse Daddy died, going for quick and simple "kid options" rather than trying out new recipes. But no more ! I want to get back into globe-cooking, trying out weird and wonderful dishes from around the world. With perfect timing, I recently received a copy of Carpathia : Food From The Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu, who is a born and bred Romanian food writer. Just flicking through the pages, I was frequently drooling at the lovely colour photos and reading the interesting descriptions of the dishes, which give great insight into life in this cultural melting pot.

Romania is situated in the heart of Europe, with its character and dishes shaped by the Greek, Turkish and Slavic influences from the south and east, as well as Austrian, Hungarian and Saxon from the north and west. The author says that her cooking is inspired by the recipes of her mother and grandmother and this sense of hearty, family-friendly cuisine is what really comes through. Many of the recipes use nothing that you won't already find in your kitchen cupboards and in the introduction, the author explains that the recipes can be adapted to suit what you have to hand - pork and chicken are the most frequently used meats, for example, but they can be replaced by anything from beef, veal and mutton to duck, goose, wild boar, deer and even bear meat.

As in many of my favourite and most frequently-used cookery books, there are numerous dishes that are so simple, you can't work out why you've never thought of them before. Cheesy polenta with soured cream and runny fried egg (a full Romanian breakfast but I'd eat this as a quick lunch or supper any day of the week !), Bulz (oven baked polenta balls, served with yogurt and roasted tomatoes), Scovergi (yogurt and cheese flatbread, known as 'Romanian popcorn', which was the perfect snack in front of the two hours of television diffused every day) … the kids were as enthusiastic as me, when I described the recipes to them ! The dish in the picture, called Cascaval pané, is breaded Alpine cheese (or you can just use plain cheddar) that can be served simply with a fried egg or a sliced tomato - another quick lunch or evening meal option that sounds delicious, not to mention incredibly simple. Perfect when I get home from work and I'm feeling too tired to cook up a big meal. Also ideal if I need a quick veggie option that can be cooked alongside a family meal containing meat.

If you're looking for a bigger feast, there are some lovely-sounding family dishes on offer too. We've noted down a quick list of the first recipes to try and the kids were very enthusiastic. Potato moussaka, gammon-stuffed apples (I sometimes put fruit - mainly apples or apricots - into stews, but I'd never thought of stuffing apples with a savoury filling as a main meal option - definitely one to try), smoked ham hock and butter bean casserole, chicken in garlic tomato sauce with polenta dumplings, ... There are also some desserts to try, as well as soups and stews and a few drinks. Definitely everything you need to put on the ultimate Romanian feast.

If you want to get a quick insight into the author's Romanian recipes, you might like to check out her website at

    • Hardcover: 224 pages
    • Publisher: Frances Lincoln (17 Mar. 2020)
      Language: English
      ISBN-10: 0711241821
      ISBN-13: 978-0711241824
      Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 2.7 x 25.1 cm 

The book has an RRP of £22. (See below - currently available for £17.60 on amazon.)

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.
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