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Based just a few minutes from Kensington High Street, this four star hotel is excellently located for a short break in London. There is parking outside, but I gather it is expensive. However, the hotel is just a few minutes from High Street Kensington tube station (Circle and District lines), so making it easy to access much of London. It is also ideal for events at Olympia or Earls Court, or a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The hotel has a number of restaurants, including a brassiere, a lobby bar, Asian food at the Bugis Street restaurant and a coffee shop. There was a menu for the Bugis St restaurant in the room. Prices for main courses were between £9-13, and vegetarian choices were poor. There is also room service with sandwiches starting from £9. The coffee shop doubled as an internet cafe as £1 for 20 minutes. There is wi-fi in the hotel but there is a charge for it. The hotel has a currency exchange service in the lobby, an ATM (I think it charged you) and a gift shop. My friend arrived before me and checked us both in at 2pm which is the earliest check in time. She said there was no queue, but there was quite a queue when I arrived at 5pm. I gather there was a little wait whilst they found an available room, but otherwise was straightforward. Our room was on the seventh floor, and one of the five spacious and efficient lifts came quickly. We were a little walk from the lifts but the floor was well carpeted, with nice, soft carpet for when you are walking back from a night out with your heels in your hands. Our twin room was a good size with light wood finish, and white bedding. There was a small wardrobe with those fiddly hangers that can't be removed, an iron and ironing board, and extra blankets. There were also drawers, tea and coffee facilities, a desk/ dressing table with mirror and a flat screen TV with freeview channels. Over the bed were individual lamps but the switches were together next to one if the beds, which was not convenient for the person in the other bed, who would have to get out of bed and walk around to use them. There was a hairdryer built in, and we spotted two free plug sockets but the one under the desk appeared to be unsafe (we didn't use it and reported it to reception upon checking out). The bathroom was also a good size, with a shower over the bath that was straightforward and worked effectively. All was spotless, with clean white towels and hotel branded toiletries (supposedly ones that used green tea). I can confirm that the shower cap worked effectively, the soap lathered and the shower gel did its stuff. No complaints here. We were staying here to attend a black tie function in the Liffey Suite on the Mezzanine level between ground and first floors. It can be accessed by the lifts (level M) or by stairs from the ground floor. The suite had a small private bar area, and plenty of space for 100 plus diners and a dance floor. There was a cloakroom just outside, and large toilets which were clean and spacious. The staff behind the bar seemed disorganised and inexperienced, at first I thought it was just because everyone was arriving at the same time, but it happened throughout the evening. The range of drinks were limited (you could go to the main bar downstairs if you wished but who wanted to do that all the time?) so there were no beers on tap, nor dark rum. A spirit and mixer was about £6 for a single. We were served warm bread rolls and butter, followed by a starter of Melon Fan with fruit coulis. This was beautifully presented, but a lot of melon, and many people didn't finish it as the melon was just "too much". I did enjoy the other berry fruits though. Mains were chicken thighs, which I though a strange cut, but as a veggie what do I know? This was served with potato and a selection if vegetables, and seemed well received. I had an aubergine parcel stuffed with rice on a bed of ratatouille style vegetables. I thought this OK but the aubergine a bit tough, and not quite as the menu described it when I booked. Dessert was chocolate fudge cake with fresh cream, and was a good sized portion that was hard to finish, but was very tasty. Mostly people enjoyed the meal and service was very good. After the meal there was dancing, although this aspect had not been organised by the hotel. The bar remained inefficient. At the end of the evening (1am) some if us retired to the hotel bar which stays open until 2am for residents. When we approached the bar we were told they were shut. I gave them my room number, but contrary to the guest services info in the room, they insisted they were shut. We returned to our friends and a staff member came over a few minutes later and offered to fetch our drinks as long as we paid cash. We were a bit confused but went with it! We slept well in our room, only disturbed by someone in the corridor once. We were woken by the cleaners as we hadn't put the Do Not Disturb on (there is a button on the control panel by the other bed, where light switches are also controlled). Breakfast was served in the brassiere on the ground floor, where you are greeted and seated. A waiter serves you tea or coffee. I requested hot chocolate but this was extra. If you don't have breakfast included it is £17 for full English (hot) breakfast, and £12 for Continental. The breakfast is buffet style, and I thought it quite small for a hotel of this size, many dishes needed re-filling, and it was small and cramped. Cold food included orange or apple juice, four varieties if cereal (adult cereals, no kids ones), fresh fruit (orange segments and a mixed fruit salad), ham and cheese (one variety). There was also yoghurt, pastries and bread for toasting. The hot food selection included bacon, sausages, various eggs (scrambled, fried), baked beans, tomatoes and congee. The latter is not something I see often in my breakfast options. As a vegetarian, I was disappointed not to see any hash browns, which would have made my cooked selection more interesting. Overall, I thought the breakfast buffet experience here, to be pretty poor. After breakfast, we returned to our room to packs and check out. The checkout queue was short and swift and we used the opportunity to report the dodgy plug socket in our room. Hopefully this was dealt with promptly. We stored our overnight bags with the concierge service whilst we had a mini-shopping trip around Kensington High Street. Despite my mini disappointment with the breakfast, I enjoyed my stay here more than a similar event I attended at the Holiday Inn Kensington Forum. Therefore if the price is similar, I would choose this place over that as I thought the rooms, function facilities and location to be slightly better here.
Maeve Binchy is an established Irish author who sadly passed away in 2012. She has written quite a few novels and I have read quite a few of them with mixed results. The important thing to remember with Ms Binchy is that she will provide you with a gentle read. There will be no complicated plot twists in her novels, which are very much character driven, and you will not find any rumpy-pumpy here. There are some romantic strands, but sex is something that happens and is not indulged. What you will get is a gentle read with some varied characters in a pretty setting. The format of this novel will be familiar to those that have read Binchy's books before - each chapter takes a different character and builds up the story (such as it is) over a week. In this instance the setting is a newly opened country hotel on the west coast of Ireland, where a variety of people have come to enjoy a week in winter... Stone House was the family home of the Sheedy sisters. Now on her own Queenie Sheedy persuades Chicky, a local woman who moved to America, to take it on and turn it into a hotel. Amongst the characters that we meet are Chicky, her old school friend Nuala and her son Rigger and Chicky's niece Orla. On top of this we meet the guests of this first week, which include competition prize-winners, a Swedish accountant and a fading American movie star. Binchy certainly has the skill to create a well-drawn character, as we really only get a chapter to learn about each person. We get background information to their story, which leads to why they are at the hotel, and in some respects the book is a selection of short stories in which each person ends up at Stone House. There is definitely a knack to this type of story-telling and there is no doubt that Binchy has it. I had read some of her books previously and was disappointed that a few peripheral characters seemed to pop up again across novels. Regular readers may enjoy this, but I found it a tad self-indulgent and felt I was an outsider in a clique, wondering if I was missing some in-joke. Thankfully I didn't get that feeling in this book, and there seemed to be only a few references to past characters that I recognised (die hard fans may spot more). I had been reading quite a bleak book and once it got to Christmas Eve I found I wanted something a bit lighter, so picked this off my kindle as a friend had recommended it to me very highly. For that time of year, when I had some quiet periods relaxing at my parents' home, I was able to take some time out to read and this book really ticked the boxes of what I was looking for at the time. As much as I enjoyed it, I won't say it is the best read I have had recently, just that it was perhaps the 'right' read. If you are not familiar with Binchy's style you may find the book a bit slow and old-fashioned (it makes modern day west coast Ireland sound like it is stuck in a time-warp), and some happenings a bit odd. At 480 pages I was surprised I got through it in two days, but it was such an easy read which sometimes suits the mood we are in. Overall, I think this gentle, unassuming last novel may be a comfort blanket during the melancholic winter months. RRP - £7.99 Kindle - £2.99 Paperback - £3.80 - check for offers on the web
Some friends of mine are regular pub quiz goers, and their favourite quiz is the weekly Wednesday quiz at the Riverside Inn, Chelmsford, so one week I went along to check it out. The inn is an old seventeenth century coaching inn and mill based on the banks of the river Chelmer (you can sometimes spot canoeists nearby) and they also have a few bedrooms for those staying in the area. It is located just 5 minutes from the town centre and can be accessed in about 6 minutes from the local rail station, and bus services come by this way too. The Riverside area is easily signposted as there is a leisure and shopping centre nearby with further parking. The pub does not have its own car park; I parked in the public pay and display opposite. Charges were £1 per hour, and £3.50 for four hours or more. I understand that this is the most reasonably priced of the nearby car parks but I have not tried any of the others to be sure. Parking in the streets would be pretty much impossible in the immediate locality due to proximity to the town centre and the station means a lot of places are permit/residents parking or double yellow lines. The pub is large with wooden beams on the ceiling and lots of wooden tables and padded chairs around, plus a few leather sofas and armchairs. All the furnishings seem well maintained and not torn or scratched, it looks like the owners and their team take pride in their pub. There seemed to be an upstairs area but I didn't investigate. The bar area is big, uncluttered and clean (no damp bits just where you were about to lean) and there seemed to be enough staff on, all who seemed friendly and helpful. There is a neat and well maintained garden area and a blanket box where you may borrow a blanket if it is chilly outside later - I thought this a nice touch as I often feel the cold, but like to enjoy the outside areas in the summer. As it was we sat inside. The loos were off to one corner and there is a disabled lavatory. Although the building is quite old they have endeavoured to make it accessible with ramps at the entrance. Unfortunately when I visited, they were looking a bit untidy (loo paper all over the floor, wet around the sinks) but otherwise were well stocked, with everything in working order). There are just three cubicles in the ladies, so there could be a queue at peak times. The pub was quite busy when I arrived at 7.15pm (quiz starts at 8pm-ish) and we had one of the last free tables. I got myself a drink (a diet coke was £2.35) and perused the food menu. Like many pubs they had a good range of wines and spirits. It is a Young's pub, so many of the cask beers are from that family. I went for the veggie burger (£8.25); a few others had the classic burgers, a soup and a pie. The burger was nothing special, although perfectly edible if sauces added (it came with wholegrain mustard on the side), it was served with lettuce, tomato and a pickle on a small wooden tray. The bun was nice, and the burger was easy to pick up and eat, which is just as well as on the tiny tray it would not be easy to cut with a knife and fork. The burger was accompanied by delicious skin on chips in a little metal bucket. I am SO over chips in a bucket. The classic burger was similarly served. The pie (chicken, ham and leek) was a good size and was described as 'nice', and was served on a plate with seasonal veggies and mash. The soup ordered was carrot and coriander (£5.50) and she thought it very nice, but thought the accompanying bread (which looked like regular sliced white bread) was pretty tasteless. Expect to see the usual suspects like fish & chips, scampi and sausage and mash on the menu also. Overall, everyone enjoyed their food but no one was especially impressed. They do roast dinners here on Sundays which are apparently very popular (booking recommended), as well as barbecues at weekends (weather permitting of course!). I wouldn't rule out eating here again. They do 'meal deals' on various days of the weeks, but not on a Wednesday, which is popular anyway with the quiz. The quiz was lots of fun! It is £1 per person and there is a cash price for the two top teams (we came second and got £15, but that may depend on the number of people who show up). I understand that there are also roll-over weeks, but this didn't happen the week I was there, so I am not sure what that is about. They also do token prizes for the lowest scoring team and a bottle of wine as a random prize (picked out of the hat). Teams were generally six people or less. As well as conventional quiz questions (I knew remembering who wrote the Mr Men books would come in useful one day) and the obligatory music round (of which I knew all the embarrassing, cheesy stuff, but none of the cool stuff) there were supplementary rounds such as pictures, anagrams, guess the lyrics and cryptic clues. The quiz lasted about two and a half hours from start to final prize awarded, with the scoring and prize-giving being a slightly long-winded process where people were getting fidgety (it was about 10.30/10.45pm). Overall I enjoyed my time here. The pub is well-looked after, the food is nice enough and the atmosphere pleasant. I recommend the quiz night if that is your 'thing', as it was a fun evening.
I received a 15ml tube of this night cream in an Anti-Ageing beauty box from a company called Latest in Beauty. The product was included as it was considered to be one of the best products by testers for the book, The Anti-Ageing Beauty Bible. I was unfamiliar with LP Skin Therapy who make the cream and it would appear that LP stands for the initials of Dr. Linda Papadopoulos, a 'renowned' psychologist. No, I didn't mean dermatologist. She is a psychologist who has appeared discussing the mental state of the housemates in some of the earlier series of Big Brother so I was surprised to see she had a skin care range. On her website: 'Dr. Linda has said "After having worked with hundreds of patients it became clear to me that what was lacking in the field of dermatological cosmetics was a range that addressed the skin's health holistically, taking into account a person's emotional state as well as their physical state".' Quite frankly, I think most of us are aware that our skin suffers when we are stressed, and that is without the doctorate, what I didn't know was that this was a recognised 'ology' - Psychodermatology and it has been discovered that it is the hormone cortisol, which we release when stressed or anxious, results in blocked pores, spots and contributes to premature ageing. So, whilst the problem has been identified, how are we going to solve it? Well, I guess the manufacturers are hoping we will use their cream, and I was certainly happy to give it a go. It includes vitamins F, A, C and E (clever eh?), peptides, gold and platinum. It all sounds a bit fancy (and it appears that Vitamin F is technically nowadays classified as a fatty acid, if you were wondering why you hadn't heard of it before), so I was keen to try it. I really liked the scent, I can't really describe it exactly as it was a blend, but it seemed to be vaguely citrusy but softer - less tangy than other citrus scents I have used. On application I found it to be quite sheer, more so than I expected, most night creams tend to be a bit thicker and heavier than other skin creams, but I didn't find that with this one. Maybe this was influenced by the fact that I had a small tube, rather than a tub. However it squeezed out swiftly and was easy to apply and smooth in, soaking in almost immediately. It didn't leave my skin feeling greasy at all, just soft. At the time of application I was in the midst of a busy period at work with deadlines looming and helping my elderly parents prepare for an imminent move, and I certainly think I was run down. My skin was looking as tired as I was, but I didn't have any obvious problems with blocked pores or spots. I found no real difference to my skin the next day, but it didn't feel dry and I had no reactions so I was happy to continue to use. My little tube lasted me a good few weeks and during that time I didn't suffer any breakouts or problems, but at the same time I still looked tired and didn't feel like my skin had brightened. Overall, I did not feel my skin was as moisturised as I would have liked. It didn't feel dry the next morning, but it didn't feel especially moisturised or soft so I was always keen to get my day cream on, which seemed to have a better effect on my skin. For that reason, I will not be purchasing a larger tub. RRP £45. Stockists include QVC, Amazon or E-bay.
When my friend Juliet invited me to her birthday lunch I automatically said yes, even though I didn't know the restaurant, and it was completely on the wrong side on London to where I live. Juliet already knew where she wanted to go, having been here several years ago for her birthday. She is a popular girl, so needed somewhere that could cater for large parties thus picked this restaurant in South Croydon which is local to her. So one hot, sunny Saturday, last year fifty of us rocked up here for lunch. The invite said 12.30 for 1pm, but my sat-nav sent me in the wrong direction once I was within the vicinity. I wasn't the only one, so be warned if coming here with a sat-nav and print off directions from the Croham Arms pub/Croham Road area. Fortunately my friend Amy was kind enough to run around the streets of South Croydon to rescue me. It is also worth noting that parking (which is available on the street outside the restaurant and nearby) is £4.50 for a maximum of two hours. A lengthy lunch is always going to take longer than that, so under Amy's local knowledge we parked about 5-7 minutes walk away on a residential street at the other end of Selsdon Road where I could park for £2 for three hours. The reason that parking is difficult is that the station is nearby - the restaurant is just a five minute walk from South Croydon over-ground station, and a longer walk or a bus ride from East Croydon station. The restaurant is located on Ruskin Parade on Selsdon Road, but the end where there are lots of shops and restaurants. The restaurant in double-fronted and there were tables outside if you fancied it. It is L shaped with the base of the 'L' going across the front of the restaurant, which has tiled floor and a sort of medieval inspired theme going on with wooden doors on the walls, iron 'gates' and bright red or yellow napkins accompanying the plain ivory tablecloths that cover the red checked under-cloths. It was very bright and gave the restaurant a light, airy feel (although lack of natural light at the back, may mean you don't get this feeling there. Walls are bright or mirrored, so it all looks very modern and cheerful. They have a number of blackboards dotted about the walls with specials on, or special mid-week lunch offers. If I was to criticise the interior is that the seats could be a bit more comfy. I definitely had a numb bum by the end of the meal. Everything is at ground level, including the lavatories, so this is an option for less-abled diners. Loos were clean and in good decorative order. We had a massive table down one side, split into three to allow access to the people against the wall and to help divide the bill up. Juliet has said they were experienced with groups, and they certainly seemed to cope with fifty disorganised people (that may just have been my end of the table). The waiting staff were always helpful and friendly and not above a little flirt with the ladies. All in all, we were here just over two and a half hours, which is not bad going considering the size of the group, as the first half hour was just arriving and scanning the menu, and much of the latter half hour was sorting out the bill and saying our goodbyes. Considering there was various levels of faffing and we didn't order until 1.30pm, starters were swift to come out. To start with I plumped for grilled goat's cheese which was served on ciabatta type bread with a small garnish and drizzles of balsamic (£3.65). I really enjoyed it, it was a good size for a starter, just enough to take the edge of my raving hunger, but not enough to fill me up that I didn't feel able to cope with my main course. The whitebait was a popular starter (I think it was a special) and was a generous portion. For my main there were two veggie options on the a la carte (none on the specials board) and I fancied the spinach and ricotta crepe. I queried its vegetarian status with the waiter as it stated it had a parmesan glaze ('real' parmesan is an EU Protected Designation of Origin product and has to be made using calf rennet, so it's definitely not suitable for vegetarians). The waiter promised to check. He didn't come back to me and someone else brought the food out. I queried it again and was assured that my dish did not have the Parmesan glaze - I can only trust them on this. I would like to see a better selection of vegetarian mains hare, as their menu was quiet extensive otherwise. The crepe cost £6.95 which was very reasonable and was two rolled parcels of spinach and ricotta in a tomato based sauce and was very enjoyable. I didn't quite manage to finish it though. The sea bass and salmon were popular choices (£9.95 and £7.95 respectively) and were beautifully served. Someone else had the char-grilled rib-eye steak (£8.95) and they thought it well cooked as was the chicken with bacon and mozzarella (£6.95). I can't comment on the meals of everyone there, but the general consensus of those seated near me was that the food was well cooked and good value for money. I didn't have a dessert, finding my first two courses satisfactory. All desserts were £3.25 and the selection included tiramisu, vanilla cheesecake and apple and blackberry crumble (the latter scoring very highly with those that sampled it down my end of the table). Overall my two course meal and two soft drinks came to about £17 with service. Staff members were on hand with card machines for those who wished to pay that way and dished out menus so people could work out their share of the bill without checking the receipt. I thought the standard of food and the value were excellent, I would just prefer to see more vegetarian options on the menu.
Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason is the first novel in his Reykjavik Murder Mystery series. I had read the fourth (The Draining Lake ) previously so I don't think it necessary to read them in order. Our protagonist is a chap called Erlendur (all names are Christian names as the Icelandics don't use surnames like most of us do) who is a detective with the Reykjavik Police. Like in a lot characters in of detective fiction these days, he is divorced with a difficult relationship with his children. In this case, Erlendur and his colleagues are investigating the death of a man killed in his home. Looking into the victim's past, it would seem that he was far from an innocent victim, so was someone from his murky past responsible? For a while Erlendur seemed to be going in strange directions, pursuing relatives of a long-dead child, whilst supposedly investigating the murder of one of the city's less upstanding citizens in what is seemingly a break-in gone wrong with perhaps one or two clues to the contrary. . Thankfully, eventually the story picked up pace and we discovered an interesting, dark side to Reykjavik,where crime is solved slowly through investigation and lots of questioning. I enjoyed the book in the end but it isn't one of the punchiest, fast paced thrillers some crime fiction can be. It is just about a crime and a mystery, there is no tearing about the city waving guns, and saving the world. Whilst I liked the detection and crime solving aspect, I would have liked some more red herrings to make it harder to guess the outcome and make the book more exciting that way, as whilst the plot was interesting and original, it was not exciting or particularly gripping.. I would still recommend this book for crime fiction fans and would also read other books the same author.
As a fan of history, especially the Tudor period, the choice of this book as a gift for me was an easy one for my friend. I knew nothing of the author, Philippa Jones, but this seems to be her first non-fiction book, published in 2009. I can find no information about her on the internet, so am not aware of her experience or qualifications as a historian. In the book, she introduces us to King Henry VIII and his wives, mistresses and children. With a gripping sub-title like "Henry VIII's Mistresses and Bastards" I was expecting some juicy stuff. The cover photo, of a regal looking lady, looked like it should be better suited to a historical novel rather than a historical reference book. Whilst I learnt some new information from the book, I also had some frustrations with it. Firstly, the introduction, which tells us what the author is going to tell us in the main body of the book. This all seems a bit pointless and repetitive, because when I get to the main part of the text I think "Hang on! You've already told me this". If you are going to introduce us to some new mistresses, don't tell us all we need to know in the first eleven pages, otherwise you may as well just write an article on it, not a whole book. This is then followed by a chapter on Henry's early years (also partly summarised in the introduction). The first 'real' chapter comes some 49 pages into a 306 page book (excluding notes and index). This, relatively brief section covers the rumours of a lady-in-waiting to Henry's mother, who may have been his first sexual partner. Equally she may not have. Whilst Jones provides us with a variety of evidence, I found little of it to be more than circumstantial. Gifts to loyal servants, court members and their families were not uncommon, and there is nothing to say that the lady concerned, one Elizabeth Denton, didn't receive these generous gifts for services rendered to the Queen. Once Henry was married (to Catherine of Aragon at first) he continued to have affairs. This was typical, and often expected, of men of such high rank. There was no scandal in being the mistress of a King or Prince, and the lady and her family could expect to benefit in the form of lands and titles. Henry seemed to choose from his wife's ladies-in-waiting, going for attractive women, but not necessarily beautiful ones. There were exceptions when he travelled abroad, for example, but not all alleged mistresses are easily tracked down and identified due to name similarities and inconsistency of spelling during this period. Of course, not all alleged mistresses would actually have been a mistress, and equally we cannot be sure how many may have slipped through the net, lost over 500 years of history. In some cases, I feel that Ms Jones is clutching at straws, she spends more time discussing the potential mistress's family background and connections, and life after Henry than she does the affair. Again evidence is often circumstantial, if barely existent. I sometimes wondered if I was reading a book made up of (not very exciting) random Tudor court members, as Ms Jones spends two pages discussing said lady's brothers relationship to the king, to explain how the king may have met the lady. Evidence that said lady and the king ever made the 'beast with two backs' (to paraphrase the, as yet unborn, bard) is usually in the form of letters and documents. However when faced with a mistress and a child with little supporting evidence, phrases like "Thomas was commonly believed to be the bastard son of Henry VIII and....looked a great deal like him" don't cut the mustard for me, especially if the physical descrptions of the mother and her husband are not available. Chapters on better known mistresses, and his acknowledged bastard son Henry Fitzroy, are sharper and more to the point as some cases are better documented than others. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Mary Boleyn and Jones' take on both Mary's reputation and the parentage of her first born child (it is it not officially known whether it was her son Henry, or daughter Katherine, was born first, let alone if Henry was actually the father). Here Jones presents us with a variety of evidence and acknowledges the flaws in the availability of sources, giving us the opportunity to form our own opinions. This was more engaging for me than when the author fails to convince that a lady and/or her offspring are even justified in being included. At the beginning is a chronology of events and at the end, notes and citations, followed by an index. I found the writing style inconsistent: sometimes engaging, sometimes dull, but always way too much emphasis on family connections - each chapter was accompanied by a family tree, which was then described in the text. There are some inaccuracies which I spotted, and I am not alone, a number of Amazon reviewers spotted the same, as well as a few other errors. The book finishes with a pointless two-page conclusion. I have been quite critical of this book, and I am not saying it is poorly researched, although a good editor/fact-checker wouldn't go amiss, I just find it too padded with barely related information, some of which is just plain boring I'm afraid. It felt like an essay extended to make a book. There were too many slow, tenuously linked parts which ultimately dragged the more interesting parts of the book down, so that it barely passes muster as average. It is not like there are not any other biographies of Henry or his Queens (and even some on his mistresses), and I think you may be better reading one of those and leaving this book, which is comprehensive in all the wrong places. RRP £9.99.
Bella Naples is a family owned and run restaurant in South Woodford, East London. Situated on the High Road, opposite the cinema, I parked in nearby Sainsbury's car park and walked over to the restaurant, when I dined there as a part of a group of seven one Friday evening. There are local buses that run nearby or you can walk up from the tube station (Central Line) which will take about 10 minutes up hill. The restaurant is fairly small, but has a lay out that means it isn't too cramped. Upon arrival at 7pm, there was only one other table occupied, and only a few others got taken throughout the evening. The décor is simple and understated - wooden tables and chairs in a well-lit, glass fronted space. To be honest, a week on and I can barely remember what it was like, so it obviously didn't make much of an impression on me. At the end of the day we were here for the food, and if that is nice, does the décor really matter? The lavatory is at the back, up a few steps. It was clean, but running low on toilet paper. The food menu doesn't mention all the drinks; they have a separate wine list that wasn't on our table when I arrived. I decided just to have a glass of house white (£5 for 250ml) whilst we waited for the rest of our party to arrive. The House white was perfectly chilled, crisp and refreshing, leaning towards the medium end of the scale. People mostly had wine, bottled beer (Peroni, Stella and Bud were available) or soft drinks. Prices are not on their online menu when I went to double check, so are based on my memory. It does, however, clearly highlight dishes that are home made. To start, many of us had one of the different types of bruschetta that they offer. The Bruschetta con Funghi (mushrooms) was popular, as was the Bruschetta Melenzana (aubergine). I went for the Bruschetta Napoli, which was more like the classic bruscheeta with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and olives. All were priced about £4. I was a bit disappointed with mine, as I found the toasted bread a bit overdone and hard to cut with my knife. Others didn't seem to have this problem, so I guess I was a little bit unlucky. One of our party had the Parmigiana (Tomato, Mozzarella, aubergine, Basil) starter as it was recommended by our server. He was a little bit disappointed with it. I am not sure of the exact problem, but he felt it didn't deliver what he expected. It was a good size though, and I am glad I didn't have it as it would have been too large for me as a starter. It would have been a good size to share though. Most people had pasta or risotto for their main courses. The seafood spaghetti and risotto were both well received and made with fresh fish. I was the only one to have a pizza, the Pina Colada Hawaiiana (Tomato, Mozzarella and Pineapple) which was about £7. I was quite excited about having a vegetarian Hawaiian pizza. To be honest, it wasn't that exciting, although nice enough. I think if we visited again I would try a different one - they had a good choice. It was a good size and I couldn't finish it, but it was well cooked on a thin base. All fairly full, we decided not to have a dessert except for one person who went for a chocolate mousse cake. He kindly asked for six extra spoons so we all had a taste. It was very nice, and a large portion, so again, ideal to share. Some of our party had coffees, and we decided to linger and chant for a bit longer in the restaurant than go across the road and fight for a spot in the pub. They seemed quite happy to oblige. The bill was itemised so you only need to pay for your share, but we split it for ease. I believe it came to £108 without service for the seven of us, which I think is very good value as we all had two courses, and perhaps one alcoholic drink apiece. Service was friendly but I think our waitress was a little bit inexperienced, although polite and helpful. We did meet the chef-owner who came over to answer some questions and had a little chat. The restaurant has been open for two years now, and surrounded by pizza-pasta chains in all directions, so it is nice to have one that is a bit different. I enjoyed my meal here but wasn't blown away by it. I don't think I was alone in that opinion amongst my companions, although some others did love all they had. I would certainly return, and perhaps try something different. Bella Naples 83 High Road South Woodford London E18 2QP T.: 020 8616 4345
To congratulate ourselves on a job well done, some colleagues and I decided to go out for a curry. We decided to visit Bengal Spice, on Forest Road, Loughton, Essex. A few of us had been here before, but not recently, so decided a re-visit was on the cards. We booked a table for 5 at 8.30pm one Friday. I believe the restaurant was an old furniture showroom, and it has a bit of a strange layout. There is an open reception area where you can wait if collecting takeaways, but the actual restaurant is quite a way back, down a long corridor. I sometimes find not being able to see the restaurant quite off putting, but it has been here over twenty years now, so they are obviously doing something right. The restaurant wasn't that busy - about a third full and we were seated promptly and handed menus. We ordered poppadoms (I had a spicy one, everyone else went for plain) and they came over promptly with dips - mango chutney and the mint yoghurt are always my favourites. They also have the onion dip as well as a pickle one. We skipped starters and got on with the mains. I am a creature of habit in Indian restaurants and went for my vegetable dhansak (£6.90). It is a hot and sour dish with lentils, and the Bengal Spice use the spices to enhance flavours rather than blow your head off. The curry was flavoursome, with good sized pieces of vegetables, cooked so they can be cut with a fork, in a lovely, spicy sauce. Others in the party went for the Cashew Chicken, Dargiling Chicken Tikka (marinated in spices to make it look brown, it was supposed to come with a dip, but my colleague didn't realize until after) which was described as tasty, well cooked and having a pleasant kick to it. Another colleague had green chicken tikka which was also tender and marinated in different herbs and spices before being cooked in a clay (tandoor) oven. Most of these main courses were about £7.50-7.95. Alongside these dishes we had some pilau rice (£2.60 per portion), plain naan bread (£2.40) and an assortment of sides. I love saag paneer, a spinach and cottage cheese dish - some places make this quite spicy, but here it was mild, but pleasant, with plenty of cubes of cheese. We also went for a courgette bhaji (which was pieces of courgette chopped up small and served with ginger and herbs and aloo gobi which is potatoes and cauliflower in a mild sauce. They have a good range of side dishes at £3.45. The toilets are back along the corridor to the front of the restaurant. There is only one Ladies cubicle, but it is clean, spacious and well stocked. Service was polite and attentive. I really enjoyed my meal and would come back here again. Overall our main dishes, side dishes and a couple of rounds of drinks came to approx £22 each.
Wanting a change from my favourite fragrance (Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle), I had a sniff around my local department store over a period of a few months, and eventually decided on Calvin Klein's fragrance Beauty, which I asked for as a birthday gift. I was lucky to receive a 50ml bottle of eau de parfum. The bottle was in a slim, glossy box and was quite heavy. The glass is oval and was cased in a silver look metal outer shell, with a classic, oval shaped silver type stopper over the spray nozzle. Design wise, it is nothing special, not even a particularly classic or simple design which can look sophisticated. It is quite modern, but plain and as it is generally inoffensive I still keep it on my dressing table. Even now, when my bottle is almost empty, it feels heavy and chunky. Calvin Klein is and established American fashion and luxury goods brand, initially founded in the late 60s. This perfume is one of an extensive selection and as launched in the Autumn of 2010. Overall the perfume would be classified as floral, but is quite different from other floral scents I use. I read a blurb that claimed this fragrance was for the mature woman (eek!) in her 40s. Whilst that may be me technically, and I do think this is a sophisticated and elegant scent, I would not want this to put a woman in her twenties or thirties off, as I think a perfume either suits you or it doesn't, and these are personal factors. I also see no reason why a woman in her 50s, 60s or beyond would not wear this also. The top notes are listed as Ambrette seeds, something I wasn't familiar with but is commonly used in perfumes to provide a musk scent, even in generally floral fragrances like this one. Whilst I do detect musky notes, it is not immediately obvious. This is quite different from the top note floral scents I normally prefer, but is slightly sweetly musky, without being sickly. The mid-notes are jasmine, and this is when I prefer the fragrance. I can detect these notes quite easily and enjoy the overall floral-oriental blend, which is what I feel suits me best, and this lasts about three hours or so before settling down. The base note is supposedly cedarwood and I can detect a woody tone to the overall floral scent in the end. I was pleased with the longevity of the scent which lasts a full day, although I would top up if I was going out in the evening, to keep it fresh. With some perfumes, friends and colleagues will comment on it (complimentarily) or ask what I am wearing, but this has not happened with this perfume. Whilst I buy fragrances for me, not to get compliments from others, it is always nice when someone tells you that you smell nice! I like the perfume but it is missing that certain 'je ne sais quoi' that makes a perfume 'me'. For that reason, I will not be re-purchasing. If you want to try this perfume, it is available in the Calvin Klein section in most department stores and specialist perfume retailers. Expect to pay about £50 for a 50ml bottle of the eau de parfum.
Earlier this year I took a subscription to Glossybox, a beauty club that sends you monthly boxes of beauty based goodies. I my first box contained a 5ml sample of So Elixir Purple eau de parfum by Yves Rocher. Although I was familiar with this French mail-order beauty company, I had not used any of their products before. Inside the box, decorated with a purple lily design, was a dinky miniature bottle. The bottle design is fairly unremarkable, clear glass with a bulbous bottom, with the name printed on it. The liquid inside is purple (no surprise there!). On the box is the text "Reveal your seductive power with an incredibly feminine flora-woody elixir". I am a big fan of feminine, floral fragrances, usually with an oriental twist, so was looking forward to trying this. The bottle did not have a spray nozzle, I think that this is just because it was a miniature, so I applied it to my wrists and neck with my fingertips. I always think of Yves Rocher as budget fragrances, and at first found it quite strong. Official top notes include bergamot essential oils, but whilst I got a heady fruity scent, I didn't pick up the citrus aspect that I associate with bergamot. This smelt more like Welches Purple Grape juice, if you have ever had that (it is very nice, I do recommend it!). As much as I love the juice, I am not sure I want to smell like it. I found this first layer a bit too sweet and cloying. Fortunately the scent settled down within the hour and I could pick out the tuberose as the scent took a more floral turn. However at intermittent points I did pick up a fruity tang, but it no longer seemed like grapes, more like berries. Although it is highly possible my nose was just confused by this point. I should also have been picking up vetiver, but I didn't recognise it (or at least what I thought it smelt like). It is claimed the base notes contain benzoin, vanilla, tonka bean, frankincense and patchouli. I can't really detect any of these strongly, I think there is a tiny bit of vanilla that I can pick up (although it could be any of the first three) and it is not something I can easily identify without knowing it was there. The patchouli is also very subtle. Overall, to me, the scent still is quite sweet and is a fruity-floral blend. I struggle to detect any woody aspect as claimed. I do like how the scent settles down and isn't over-powering and sickly, like at the beginning. I am pleased with the longevity of the fragrance, which can easily last twelve hours or more, even when applying a modest amount. It does attach itself to fabrics, and hangs about on a velvet scarf that I own where it is still distinctive and identifiable a week later. I tend to wear this as a day fragrance, as I prefer it once it has settled down. I hate how the initial sweet, cloying scent smells on me, so don't want to go out smelling like that. I have a vision of leaning in to kiss a friend hello and have them choke. Let's face it we have all experienced friends wearing over-powering perfumes and I don't want that to be me. Hence I wear it to work, where it has settled down by the time I get there, and I am not expected to greet anyone with a kiss, if it hasn't! Occasionally colleagues and friends have complimented me on perfumes I have worn in the past. This hasn't happened with this one. A 30ml bottle can be purchased from Yves Rocher online for £19.90 (reduced from £29) plus delivery fee of £3.50 (on orders under £25). I will not be purchasing as, quite frankly, I don't like it enough and I don't think it is really 'me'. If your personal preference is for fruity-florals and the sweeter end of the spectrum then you might like this more. It's been a while since I have tried it, but it reminds me slightly of Dior's Poison perfume, if that helps anyone decide if it is for them.
I received a Nails Inc nail polish in a Beauty Box that I purchased from Latest in Beauty. Whilst I was familiar with the brand, I had never used one of their polishes before and it was included in my box as Nails Inc was a finalist in the Best British Brand category in the CEW (UK) Beauty Awards. The company have been going almost 15 years, and have their own stores as well as being found in Boots and Debenhams. I received a 4ml bottle of Notting Hill Gate, a full on bright neon pink, which is a great summer colour, or looks fab giving a flash of brightness to a little black dress or other darker outfit. The colour has got me a few compliments when I have worn it. In an ideal world I would get my nails done professionally using gel polishes, so that they last a good few weeks, but time and money doesn't always allow this. Hence, for my first Christmas party of the season, I got the opportunity to try out this polish. I didn't do any nail prep beforehand, as I am too lazy. I unscrewed the silver top and was pleased to see a brush of a decent length. It was also quite slim, and not too wide. I started on my toes, which are not always easy to paint, but I found that even my littlest nails got painted without splodging. I only gave them one coat, which I thought was sufficient for the toenails, which won't get seen so much. My fingernails were a slightly different experience. I am right handed, so whilst application on my left hand wasn't too bad, I did make a bit of a cock up on my right hand, splodging and getting it on the finger. The first coat went on quite sheer, but I had always planned on two coats of colour. I waited a few minutes to let the first layer dry and was impressed that is was touch dry in about 3-4 minutes. I cannot comment when using darker shades in the Nails Inc range, but I think most paler shades may need three coats of colour. I only used two layers and I could see the line underneath where my finger ended and the pink part of my nail became the white tip, instead of the solid block of colour that I was going for. I did put a top coat on (Boots own brand), to help make the polish last but I was overall disappointed with the longevity of this polish. My right hand thumb nail went patchy quite soon, so maybe it wasn't quite as quick drying as I thought. My right index finger tip chipped within 24 hours. After 48 hours (and a day at work using a computer keyboard), my right hand was quite badly chipped and I needed to take it off. When I tried to correct my cack handedness and remove a little bit from my finger, I found it quite hard to remove with a cotton bud, but I am pleased to report that it was a lot easier to remove when I tried it properly, being a swift and hassle free exercise with a cotton pad. My nails were in good condition, and didn't seem to have been damaged by the polish. At times I was pleasantly surprised by this varnish as far as easy application, and quick drying, but overall I was disappointed, particularly with how it lasted and the need for three coats. Prices start at £11 for a 10ml bottle, so I am unlikely to purchase at full price, and will stick to Essie, which lasts longer and is cheaper. Need three coats, doesn't last well even with a topcoat (chips).
The pleasant Hotel Bukovyna was the hotel selected by our tour company for our one night stay in the University town of Chernivtsi, in Ukraine. The town is in the country's smallest region, which is called Bukovina, and nestles between the Carpathian Mountains and the borders of Moldova. It is a fairly large hotel, I suspect one of the largest in the city, at 154 rooms. My guide book certainly didn't offer up any larger alternatives, and is apparently one of only a few hotels in the city which accept credit cards, which I didn't expect to be a problem, but worth checking if you are browsing hotels in this area. The hotel is based just outside the centre of town, which is just 10-20 minutes' walk away depending on how far into town you wish to go (there is a lovely pedestrian street with some nice cafés at the closest end). The hotel is opposite the attractive and vibrant Shevcheko Park (there are restaurants here, as well as concert facilities), there is also a supermarket just a few doors away as well as a restaurant on-site, so you do not have to go far if you don't want to. I believe the hotel also houses conference facilities, a gym, a salon and a tourist office. The communal areas were fairly unremarkable. We had room 512 which involved negotiating the small, quick lifts which liked to shut their doors just as the second person entered. This is often quite typical in Ukrainian hotels and we were sort of used to it, so tended to get ourselves into position ready for when the lifts arrived. There was often a long wait, so plenty of opportunity. Whilst quick to go, strangely, they were slow to arrive! If you have luggage, one of the porters will do 'something' with the door to hold it, although I ended up sending my luggage up, and meeting it at the top of the stairs. The twin room was a good size, but a tad dated. We had twin beds opposite the TV, and a separate area with a sofa opposite a desk, telephone and fridge (with complimentary bottled water and mini bar). It would seem a bit odd to not be able to watch TV from the sofa, but I didn't linger in the room enough to be worried. We did find BBC News 24 and an English language music channel. The room had air-con, which wasn't loud and was effective. We had individual lights over each bed, and there were enough spare plug sockets. Free wi-fi was available also. There is plenty of parking, but I think it needs to be paid for. The bathroom was also quite dated also, with a shower over the bath. They had a good selection of slightly different freebies (comb, vanity set - basically cotton buds and cotton wool pads) but the shampoo and shower gel were pretty basic. Despite the fact that the room and bathroom needed some updating, the room was clean. The restaurant is called Restaurant Chernivsti and is located on the right of the lobby, as you go in, and is open to non-guests. It is an attractive, high-ceilinged room, designed in grander times, with lots of large tables around the outside, and smaller ones in the middle. The breakfast buffet was wide with a good assortment of cereals, breads, cheese, cold meats and hot foods including eggs and sausages. I believe there is another restaurant towards the back of the hotel. I had lunch in the terrace café outside the restaurant when we arrived. Typically service was slow, but they had worked hard to make the area pleasant and green, with shaded areas and good spacing between tables, so you felt you were in a private and tranquil space, in spite being only a little way set back from the main road. A pleasant vegetable and cheese pita was UAH39 (£3.20), which is reasonable, even by local standards. As it was included in my holiday price, I cannot comment on value for money. Costs would no doubt depend on standard of room (there are several available from VIP, down to economy single) and time of year. If functions or conferences are on, this also could affect it, so I suggest browsing various hotel booking sites well in advance to get a good deal. In summary, this was a pleasant enough hotel, but far from the best I stayed in during my trip to Ukraine. It is supposed to be a four star, and although the public areas were in good order and well-maintained, my room was getting shabby and needed some updating. The restaurant had one of the better breakfasts of the hotels I experienced over here, and could be a good dining option for other meals. Whilst the hotel seems a little way out of town on the map, the distance is not that bad, and does not have to be a factor when choosing a place to stay. If you do come here, be prepared for a room that may be looking a bit tired.
During a recent visit to the Lake District we did a long walk up Helvellyn one day, and knew we would want an easier time the following day. Thus we decided to get the Ullswater Steamer to another part of the lake to explore at our leisure. As it was, the weather was fairly nasty (it was midsummer after all...) so we didn't really explore much more than a pub. The Ullswater Steam Navigation Company was founded in 1855 and has been doing sailing on the river ever since. In the beginning, they didn't just carry passengers, but mail and commercial and industrial goods around the lake. We embarked on our trip at Glenridding where we were staying. There is parking by the steamer 'port', but as we were staying in the village, it was only a few minutes walk. The boats traverse the lake year round, but times depend on the time of year, to cater for the tourists in the summer, so this is worth checking if you have a specific schedule to maintain. In winter only two boats a day go to Pooley Bridge, for example. The boats don't run particularly early (the earliest in Summer departs at 9.45am) or run late (the last one in summer departs Glenridding at 4.45pm, and the last one from Pooley Bridge at 5.05pm) which is something worth factoring in, if you are planning on doing a walk around the lake and are relying on the steamer to get you back to base. The journey time to Pooley Bridge is just over an hour, but it is only 35 minutes to Howtown if you prefer to get off here and walk to one or the other. You can buy single tickets or returns. The cheapest single ticket for an adult is to Howtown from either Pooley Bridge or Glenridding which costs £6.20. Alternatively you can purchase the Lake pass, which is an all-day pass, and costs £13.20 for an adult and £6.60 for a child. There is also a family ticket available. If travelling as a group there are discounts - as a group of four adults, the fourth travels half price, which gave us a small saving. The Lake Pass also gives you discount admission to their sister attraction the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. They also do a Sail Saver if you are staying in the area for up to two weeks, allowing you five days of travel on the boats. As well as an annual pass for regular visitors. At the Glenridding ticket office there is a small shop selling snacks and gifts, and you queues at the counter to pay for these and your tickets. There are toilets here also. I paid by card for our party of four, but other members of our group paid cash individually. I believe you can also book online. We had aimed for the 11.15am sailing and arrived with time to spare but there isn't really that much to do apart from hang around, so we boarded as soon as possible. As it was windy we headed downstairs where there is a bar area serving alcohol and snacks like crisps and chocolate bars, as well as hot drinks. There are toilets on board each vessel, but I managed to refrain from using them. Seats downstairs are cushioned with benches along the sides and stools around some (fixed) tables. to see what life was like above deck. After a while I decided to venture from the busy downstairs area. Wet and slightly windy would be the correct answer. I imagine on a sunny day, the sun reflecting off the still lake and the lush greenery would be a lot more photogenic that the grey water and dull, dark green hills. There is seating up top; there is a cover overhead, but with open sides. All the wooden seats were wet however so we stood up and tried to imagine what the views would be like in the sunshine, but without venturing too near the edge of the boat where we would get (more) windswept and wet. The weather was even worse on our return journey, so we stayed below and sampled the bar. The two boats we went on were quiet old (Western Belle on our journey to Pooley Bridge, Raven on our return). They seemed clean, and well-maintained. There was nothing a lick of paint wouldn't have fixed. Life vests were in an (unlocked) chest to be distributed by the crew in case of emergency. Fortunately this wasn't necessary, and we all felt perfectly safe. I understand that the boats don't run in very poor weather. With your ticket you are presented with a small, colour printed leaflet containing a hand-drawn map. If you look at Ullswater on a conventional map, it is actually at a different angle, they have levelled it up to fit neatly in the leaflet. The map does explain the walks that you can do and the distances, which is handy. It also details the fleet of five steamers for the boat-spotters amongst you. Technically not all boats are steamers. We didn't disembark in Howtown in the end. It had been on the schedule originally but the weather caused a general lack of enthusiasm for any of the walks, and we decided to stay in Pooley Bridge which had a wider range of facilities (and pubs). I understand that the Steamer pier doesn't have anything here either. Pooley Bridge is a charming village with a few pubs, shops and places for tea and cake. You can, of course, so a number of walks in the area. The pier (which has toilets, a shop and facilities much like Glenridding) is just a few minutes walk from the village. However there is no waiting area, so in the rain, you either cram yourselves into the shop or huddle under umbrellas outside to embarkation time. You can hire these boats for private functions and the company also organise special tours and cruises - check the website for details. If you stay in the area taking a little cruise is a fun way to get around the lake to start or finish a walk, or even to have a little mooch about and I recommend taking a trip if you get the chance.
I picked this book because I thought the topic of British hostesses working in Tokyo bars could potentially be an interesting one. Many will probably remember the case of British air hostess, Lucie Blackman who was kidnapped and murdered in 2000 whilst working as a hostess in Tokyo. The newspapers obviously had a lot to say and various publications made certain implications as to the lifestyle of these hostesses. So what is the real story? Well, Susanna Quinn's novel is just that, a novel, but I hoped for a well-researched one, which would give me an insight. Although published in 2012, the book does not allude to Miss Blackman in any way (I am not sure if the book is set in the current day or perhaps longer ago - e-mails are mentioned, but not mobile phones). Ms Quinn, an Essex girl (I like her already), also worked as a hostess in Japan which makes this book seem quite scary. Hostessing is not for the faint-hearted or those with limited alcohol tolerance! Firstly I would like to debunk a few myths, as covered within the novel, but not covered by reading a Daily Mail article on the web (for example). Hostesses are not geishas. Being a geisha is an art form to the professional Japanese geishas, who train from a young age for many years and are skilled in music and dance amongst other things. Nor are hostesses prostitutes. Some may indeed sleep with clients, for money or just because they want to, but it is not expected. The idea of a hostess is to keep a wealthy client (usually a businessman) company in a bar and ensure he spends as much as possible on drink and returns to the bar. To make the most money, ideally the girl makes the client her dohan which means he is her 'regular' and takes her for dinner, before returning to the club that the girl works at for drinks, which incurs bonuses for her, as the dohan will return to the club to come to see her. Back to the novel. Steph has flown to Tokyo to make her fortune and to pay for an acting course back home. Two old school friends are out there and she hopes to meet up with them and work with them. Annabel has already sorted her out with a contact for a place to stay, but had moved out herself. Steph tries to look for her but to no avail and is understandably concerned. Especially as her other friend Julia is very discouraging about Steph working as a hostess, and telling her to forget about Annabel. Paying her rent and buying food is Steph's main priority as she manages to get a job at a famous club, now declining, called Sinatra's. Steph annoyed the hell out of me. She seemed very naïve and unprepared about what she was getting herself into. She had no idea how much her room was going to be, for example, and did not have the right clothes with her. People gave her advice but she continued to disregard it and get herself into debt. I found it quite frustrating when she proceeded to do the very opposite of what she was advised, and started to think that I didn't really care about what happened to her, as it was all of her own making. One thing she did well was make a friend of an elderly Japanese lady who she called Mrs Kimono, a former geisha, who gave her some advice. When advice she took worked out for her, did Steph continue listening? Did she heck. She just took the lady for granted and just visited her when she was in trouble. Steph had a backstory which was alluded to a various points in the novel (by Steph), but not expanded on until about two-thirds in, and even then the 'reveal' was rushed as if she wanted to get it over with. It made no real difference to the story for me, and was just a waste of time. Fortunately, Steph isn't the only voice we hear in the book. Mama-san, the founder of Sinatra's Club is telling her story to George, a British journalist, for publication and we get to sit on these sessions. Through her voice we learn more about Roppongi (the Soho equivalent district in Tokyo which houses a lot of the bars, nightclubs and caters to the sex industry) and how she worked in various bars and 'trades' to get to the top. Mama and Steph's chapters are occasionally interspersed with e-mails sent by a hostess called Chastity, who works at rival hostess bar, Calamity Jane's, where she writes to a friend and tells her everything that happens to her, so we see a bit of the contemporary life of a hostess, which we also hear through Annabel's diary which she conveniently left behind for Steph to find. So does Steph do well as a hostess and make her fortune? Does she ever find Annabel? Can her determination to make money and find her friend, whilst treating people appallingly, work in the end? You will have to read yourself! For me, the 'neatness' of the end compared to the mess of Steph's life to that point was a tad frustrating, but I was more gripped by the latter chapters than by any other part of the book. I believe this book is Quinn's debut. According to her website she specialises in ghost-writing and Fifty Shades type books. Whilst this book is not representative of that genre, I doubt she will publish anything else I am likely to read. To be fair, her writing style is easy to read and get into, I have no complaints there, but I could really have done with a more likeable lead character. I understand why she introduced Mama-san to tell her story and give us some back ground, but it did seem a bit contrived at times. I didn't get why we needed to have Chastity in there, she only cropped up every four or five chapters, and then briefly. She didn't offer anything that we didn't learn from Steph or from Annabel's diary about the work of the contemporary bar hostess, and she wasn't in there often enough for you to give two hoots about her. Nor did I think Steph's dramatic back story particularly dramatic, or even relevant. If I have learnt anything about the hostess world from this book is that it is hard work, risky (drinks get spiked) and you need a liver of steel. That and the fact that the girls who work in this sphere are mainly greedy, money-grabbing, back-stabbers. In summary, I would tentively recommend this book. The writing is fine, not outstanding, and the setting and premise of the story is original and interesting if occasionally implausible (Steph's naivety/stupidity), and I have already mentioned my problems with this book in that respect. If you want a light, holiday read that is a bit different, and you can live with an annoying lead, then this book is probably as good a read as any.