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I have to start off with saying that this is actually a Milk Frother first and foremost, but for some reason Dooyoo haven't titled it that way. It is actually called the Judge Milk Frother Sauce Pot. Anyway, on to my review... Being lactose intolerant, I often sit in a coffee shop when out and about and see everyone else having their frothy coffee or hot chocolate and wish I could have a lovely frothy hot chocolate instead of being stuck with juice (I can't stand tea or coffee!). So, this Christmas I decided to treat myself and get myself a milk frother. There are a number of different milk frothers on the market - handheld whisk-type ones, electric ones, glass ones and stainless steel ones. I decided to get one I could use on the hob, after all what's the point in having two pans to wash up?! I did a little research and the Judge Milk Frother Sauce Pot seemed like the best frother in my price range, so I paid my £16.95 and ordered it from Amazon. The Judge Milk Frother Sauce Pot is made of stainless steel and has a phenolic handle. One thing to note about the handle - The manufacturers do recommend using an oven glove or something similar as the handle can get quite hot. And I can confirm that the handle does indeed get quite hot! I suspect the heat is due to the handle being so close to the pot. You can use the Judge Milk Frother Sauce Pot for frothing cold milk, but everyone knows that's not quite as nice as frothy hot chocolate (or coffee, if that's your kind of thing). Although, I suspect the kids will quite enjoy a frothy milkshake! This Judge Milk Frother Sauce Pot is also great for making sauces in, especially if you only want to make enough or one or two people. So, to make a frothy hot chocolate: Simply pour your milk into the pot (I only do this for one mug, but you could do it for two). Then heat as you normally would heat a pan of milk (being careful not to boil it). It's best to have the pan near the edge of the hot so that the handle doesn't get too hot (if you're daring and not using an oven glove or cloth). When the milk has been heated through, take the pot off the hob and put it onto a heat-proof surface. Mix in your hot chocolate powder (I know you would normally mix the hot chocolate powder with the milk in the mug, but that would flatten the froth). Put the lid on and simply start pumping to froth the milk. When frothed until within an inch of its life, take the lid off and pour into your mug. And there you have your frothy hot chocolate! The Judge Milk Frother Sauce Pot is a quick and easy way of frothing up milk, and your arm gets a little exercise while you're pumping away at the milk (is it me or does that sound slightly rude?!). Most importantly, it makes a good froth. I've had my Judge Milk Frother Sauce Pot for a couple of weeks now and it gets used most evenings. I certainly don't make my hot chocolate without it now. It's a simple thing, but my hot chocolate drinks taste so much nicer now they're frothed! Tips: - Don't put the frother lid on while the pot is on the hob. Only put the lid on and froth once it has been taken off the heat. - Don't fill the pot more than half way, else you might find milk coming up through the hole in the top when you froth it. - Try not to lift the frother above the milk line as again you might find a little milk coming up through the hole in the top. The whole thing is easy to clean. It can go in the dishwasher (we don't have one), but it's also easy enough to wash it in the sink with everything else. All in all, I love my Judge Milk Frother Sauce Pot. I can now have homemade frothy hot chocolate, just like they do in the coffee shops and cafes!
I always struggle to find shoes which fit me comfortably. Due to having narrow heels, many shoes just seem to slip off the back of my heels even with grips inside. So I generally have to start looking for new shoes before my current ones wear out as it usually takes me so long to find another pair which fit comfortably and I like the look of. That was until I found the Clarks Un Loop shoes! Clarks Un Loop shoes are part of Clarks' Unstructured range. This range is designed to be lightweight with perforated leather linings for improved breathability. The Clarks Un Loop shoes are slip-on shoes perfect for wearing with trousers. The leather upper features stitched seam detailing and each shoe has a button on one side with a loop around it (really just for decoration). The stitching gives the shoes that professionally handcrafted look. I often get people saying the shoes look expensive and asking where did I get them from, to get a slightly surprised look back when I say they're Clarks shoes. The leather used in these shoes is really soft and so with each pair I've had I've always been able to put them on straight away and wear them all day without any rubbing or aches and pains. I've never had to "wear them in" before wearing them all day. They are so comfortable and fit really well (I'm a size 6 and the Clarks size 6 fits perfectly). I've never found a shoe that matches up to them for comfort. Clarks Un Loop shoes are really durable too. I wear them day in and day out, to work, shopping or on a day out. The only reason I end up having to buy a new pair is because I've worn the soles down and they'll get a bit slippery on wet pavements. They'll last a good 18 months to 2 years of daily wear until it gets to that though. They really are a great pair of shoes. Another great thing about these shoes is that they seem to be a staple in Clarks shoe range. After my first pair, I thought I'd have a nightmare looking for another pair, that was until I realised Clarks were still selling them. So I just went and bought another pair. I'm now on my third pair of black Clarks Un Loop shoes and I've just bought a pair of brown ones too. Clarks Un Loop shoes come in black leather, brown leather, dark blue leather and light tan leather, so there's a nice range to choose from. I usually go with black as they're suitable for work and they're the easiest to get hold of. However, I've recently got 30% off a brown leather pair in Clarks sale before Christmas. I'd been looking for a brown pair for ages! Clarks sell the Un Loop Shoes at £64.99, but they often have sales on. They can also be found at Brantano, more often than not cheaper than from Clarks. I really can't praise the Clarks Un Loop shoes enough. They fit well, feel really comfortable, my feet don't hurt even after walking all day in them and the price is decent considering the wear I get out of them. Highly recommended!
With a new touch-screen mobile phone comes the need for a screen protector. My previous mobile phone had thankfully come with it's own screen protector, but when my Sony Xperia SP phone arrived I realised I'd need to buy a pack. I decided to go with the iBPM Sony Xperia SP Screen Protectors as they came in a pack of 10 - I thought that would be plenty as the Sony Xperia SP phone has a large screen, so I doubted I'd be able to get a screen protector on first go! These screen protectors are made specifically with the Sony Xperia SP in mind. There are holds and slots cut out specifically for the speaker, microphone and camera. These screen protectors are in three parts - the bottom layer which peels off, the middle layer which is the actual screen protector and the top layer which peels off once you are happy with the placement of the screen protector. The instructions are easy - Peel off the bottom layer, place the screen protector on the phone, ensure there are no air bubbles (you may need to push these out) and then peel off the top layer. In reality, it isn't all that easy... Following the instructions, I peeled off the bottom layer and neatly placed the screen protector on my mobile phone. Amazingly, I'd managed to get it lined up tidily on the first go and with no air bubbles at all. I was well pleased! So after giving the screen a good rub to make sure the screen protector was stuck down on the screen, I pulled off the top layer. Looking at my screen I couldn't even tell it had got a screen protector on. I was even more pleased! Then I came back down to earth and decided to just check the top layer a bit more carefully. Sure enough, I soon realised the top layer was in fact two layers... I'd somehow pulled both the top layer and the screen protector off the screen! Ah well, I'd managed to get the screen protector on right first time (apart from peeling the damn thing off, that is), so surely I'd be able to do that again? Was I heck?! Each and every time I tried, I kept getting air bubbles and even after pushing them out there'd still be little ones. I ended up using 6 of the screen protectors to get it on right and actually stuck down. But now the screen protector has been on my phone for a few months, how has it performed? Rather well, as it happens. My Sony Xperia SP mobile phone is kept in a phone sock when I'm not using it, but, of course, that doesn't stop it getting knocked about when I am using it. Also, my 4 year old niece and my 2 year old nephew love to use my phone to go on the CBeebies Playtime app and everyone knows toddlers generally don't give two hoots about how they use things. Invariably the screen gets covered in toddler drool etc, but the screen stays protected and it's all easy enough to wipe off. Most importantly, to date after several months of use by me and my niece and nephew the screen protector has held up very well and there's not even a mark on it, let alone a scratch. So the leftover screen protectors are hidden away in a draw in case the day ever comes that I need to replace it. If I would have just been able to get that first screen protector to stay stuck to the phone, this would have been a 5 star review, but I'll have to make it a 4 star review. The iBPM Sony Xperia SP Screen Protectors cost me just £1.25 plus £1.75 postage for a pack of 10. I think you'll agree that at £3 in total that's a very small price to pay for protecting the screen of my mobile phone.
I recently bought a brand new mobile phone - a Sony Xperia SP to be exact. The phone has a pretty large screen (much larger than my previous phone) and I wanted something to protect the phone against knocks and scrapes. I took a good look around at the variety of mobile phone cases on offer, but most seemed to make the phone look cheap and tacky or bulked it up whilst I was using it. So I decided to go back to what I knew best... A phone sock. I'd had one for my previous phone and it had done a great job, but, alas, that was too small for my new phone (I thought technology was supposed to be getting smaller not bigger!). My previous phone sock was a Clean It one and I've yet to come across any as good as them, so I decided to get another. The Clean It socks come in a range of designs, colours and sizes. This time I went for the "Pink Stripes" one which has pink, white, grey and black stripes (picture above), but there are other combinations available. To protect available bumps and scrapes, the sock has 3 layers of material, giving it a nice amount of padding but not too much that it's bulky. The outside of the sock is cotton and feels just as you would expect a sock to feel. There is also a small rubber "it" logo in the bottom corner of the sock. However, it is the inside of this mobile phone sock which puts it above all the other phone socks. Inside the phone sock, there is a very soft microfibre lining which contains an antibacterial agent. This microfibre lining is excellent at protecting the screen against scratches and it will clean the screen when you insert or remove your phone from the sock. I also find it helps to give it a little rub with my thumb while the phone is in the sock. (However, I would also recommend you also use a screen protector on your mobile phone to protect the screen while the phone is out of the sock). Whilst the socks can vary in size, this sock is described as a "multi-fit" sock for medium to large phones or MP3 players. My mobile phone is definitely a large mobile phone, so when I ordered the sock I really hoped it would fit. And it does! It's an almost perfect fit. But why only almost perfect? Well, the sock covers all but the top edge of the phone. However, the case does stretch a bit, so over the last few days I have been pulling at the top of the sock in the hope that if I was to bang the top of the phone while it was in the sock it would be OK. It seems to be working as the sock now goes over the top lip of the phone. The only downside to this phone sock? As with my previous one, I know that over time it will start to bobble from being pulled in and out of my pocket or bag, but that's to be expected. I paid just under £6 for this phone sock and I really think it was worth it. I've had a few people comment on my fancy stripey phone sock and they're even more impressed when I tell them to feel the inside of it. So, if you want good protection for your phone, but don't want a hard or rubber shell case, you can't go wrong with a Clean It Microfibre Self Cleaning Sock.
With tickets to see veteran rocker Meat Loaf at the LG Arena at Birmingham NEC, we decided to stop at a hotel rather than take the 2 hour drive home straight after the concert. There's a number of hotels available around the NEC and airport with a variety of prices. I did a bit of research and ended up going with the Ibis Birmingham Airport Hotel. Why? Well, it's a brand I know well as I've stayed in a number of Ibis hotels before, and their prices are usually very competitive. A tip for those thinking of staying at the Ibis Birmingham Airport Hotel or ones nearby. Book the hotel as soon as you can, don't leave it until just before your event or flight! When I first looked into hotels for the night of the concert, the Ibis was only around £40. When I finally booked the hotel a week before the concert (I'm usually more organised than that!), it had gone up to £69. Still a reasonable price, but it's all in the timing when it comes to booking hotels! I booked the hotel room through the AccorHotels.com website (Accor Hotels is the parent company of Ibis) and their booking system is quick and simple to follow. They have a number of offers on throughout the year and so I booked a standard twin room under their UK Ibis Easter Offer and added the "All-you-can-eat" breakfast buffet option for both of us (which was £7.95 each). So in total we paid £84.90. Accor Hotels took prepayment for the booking, so we didn't have to worry about that on the day. On the day, we took the train rather than having the hassle of a two hour drive and airport parking (plus it probably worked out cheaper!). The hotel is easy to find from Birmingham International train station... Once you alight from the train, take the stairs or the lift up to the concourse and then turn left, following the signs for the airport. There is an "Air-Rail Link" (basically a mono-rail) which runs every couple of minutes throughout the day and less often at night. The Air-Rail Link will take you directly to the airport in under 2 minutes for FREE. Once at the airport, simply exit the building, cross the road and walk around the corner - the Ibis Birmingham Airport Hotel will be in front of you. The hotel also has a free shuttle bus, but we didn't have any need to use it as the Air-Rail Link is so easy. Checking-in was swift and the receptionist friendly. We were given a room on the 9th floor, so took the lift adjacent to reception. To use the lifts, you need to swipe your room key card, so it adds an element of security. Our room was a typical Ibis hotel room with twin beds, a desk, chair and seating, tea/coffee making facilities, storage space and a compact bathroom with a roomy shower, toilet and sink. Our window looked out over another hotel, but we could also see the airport runway. I don't like flying, but for some reason I quite enjoy watching the planes taking off. Birmingham Airport isn't a large airport, so there was a bit of a gap between flights. As we could hear them taking off during the day, I did worry that they would disturb our sleep at night, but I needn't have worried as there didn't seem to be any night flights from the airport. We headed back to the LG Arena at the NEC via the Air-Rail Link and had a fantastic time seeing Meat Loaf's Last At Bat concert (supposedly his last UK tour), before heading back to the hotel. Obviously, quite a few others were also staying at the airport hotels after the concert, so you may find you have to wait for the Air-Rail Link as it fills up. We were hungry after the concert, so popped into M&S Simply Food at the airport (there are plenty of places open there during the day, but only a few at night) to grab sandwiches, salads, crisps and drink, and we took them back to our hotel room. The hotel does have a bar/restaurant area but I didn't want a full-on meal at that time of night. The beds were comfortable and we actually had a great night's sleep. I often don't sleep well when staying away from home and having to share a room with somebody I don't normally share a room with, so I was surprised to find I'd had a good night of sleep. Breakfast is served downstairs in the bar/restaurant area next to reception, so we headed down for breakfast to fill up before going home. Surprisingly, it was quite quiet there that morning, with only one or two others down for breakfast. As with most Ibis hotels, there was plenty of food to choose from - cooked breakfast (sausages, bacon, hash browns, egg, beans etc), croissants, bread, cereals, juice, tea, coffee etc. It's a relaxed affair there and the staff are helpful if there's anything else you need. I was also quite surprised to see a couple of uniform policemen walk in and have their breakfast too! Check-out was very swift and we headed back to Birmingham International station via the Air-Rail Link. All in all, despite being a brief stay, it was an enjoyable stay. An ideal location, comfortable, quiet and at a reasonable price... What more could you ask for? I'll certainly consider staying there again when attending concerts at the LG Arena or events at Birmingham NEC, or even if I've got an early flight to take from Birmingham Airport. Recommended!
As I was going to see one of my favourite American bands (Matchbox Twenty) at the Wolverhampton Civic in April, I decided I'd stop in a hotel for the night. The drive home from Wolverhampton would be around an hour and a half on a good night and the trains don't go our way much past 8pm. Having previously stayed in the Travelodge at Wolverhampton (and not had a particularly great experience), I decided to go with Premier Inn. Booking through the Premier Inn website is quick and simple. I booked via the Pre-payment option as this is often the cheapest method (but means that you can't cancel the room - well, you can, but they won't refund you). It cost me £39 for a twin room, which I thought was a decent price. The Premier Inn is directly behind the train station in Wolverhampton, so if you arrive by train simply exit the train station and turn right. There's a well-lit tunnel which leads underneath the train station and out the other side. If you're arriving by car, there's ample car park spaces. The reception was quiet when we checked-in and we were served in what must have been record time! Before I knew it, we'd been checked-in, armed with breakfast information etc and were on our way up to the room. I really don't think I've been checked-in that swiftly before! The receptionist was very nice and made sure we knew we could go to him should we need anything. The room was average size for a Premier Inn room. As it turned out, it wasn't a twin room we were given, but rather a family room with a double bed and a single bed. As I'd booked the room (and suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so like to be as comfortable as possible... that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!), I grabbed the double bed! The room was clean and tidy, and there was plenty of room for luggage (not that we had much as we were only stopping one night). What impressed me the most was the massive TV on the wall opposite the beds! It really was massive for a hotel room. Normally, you only get a small TV, but this was at least 32" or even bigger. We didn't spend much time watching TV, but what we did watch was crystal clear with excellent sound. The bathroom was a nice size... Not big, but not cramped either. Premier Inn supply both soap and shower gel (which can also be used as shampoo), so there's not too much to worry about there. There wasn't a bath, but the shower was easy to use (some can be a right nightmare) and the water was lovely and hot. One thing I did worry about was noise. With the hotel being right next to Wolverhampton train station (a fairly busy station), I worried if we'd be hearing trains rumbling through the station late at night or early in the morning. As if happened, I didn't need to worry at all. We barely knew the train station was there and couldn't hear the trains, so the hotel is obviously well sound-proofed. I also wondered what the tunnel beneath the train station would be like when we were on our way back from the concert at gone 11pm. There were two of us, so it didn't worry me too much, but you just never know what those kind of places are like and who is hanging around in them at night. Again, I didn't have anything to worry about as quite a few people from the concert at the Civic were staying at the Premier Inn too, so we weren't the only people walking through the tunnel at that time of night and it is well lit. A good night's sleep was had by both of us (especially me with a lovely, comfy double bed all to myself!), so Premier Inn had kept their "Good Night Guarantee". If you haven't heard of Premier Inn's Good Night Guarantee, basically if you haven't had a good night's sleep for various reasons then they'll refund you the price of the room for that night. They do make good on their promise too, as I didn't sleep well once at a Premier Inn in Bristol last summer due to some party revellers at around 3am and we got the refund. We didn't have breakfast there, but the Premier Inn at Wolverhampton City Centre has a Table Table restaurant on-site which serves breakfast (cooked and continental) and there was plenty to choose from on the dinner menu (there were menus in the room, so I had to have a look!). Checking-out was even quicker than checking-in (as you'd expect) and once again it's just a short walk through the tunnel to the train station and the shops just a 5-10 minute walk away. I'd definitely stay at this Premier Inn again as it's so convenient when going to the Civic or the Grand in Wolverhampton. Recommended if you're stopping in the area!
Having booked tickets to see Robbie Williams at Wembley Stadium, we needed a hotel as it just would not feasible to get back to Mid Wales straight after the concert. I've been to Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena a few times now and stayed in a couple of different hotels nearby, but knowing how fast they get booked up for big events, I had to act fast. The Ibis London Wembley Hotel is right by the stadium, and having stayed at numerous Ibis hotels, I thought I'd give them a go. Rather than rush down the morning of the concert, I decided to book the hotel for two nights (the night before and the night of the concert). For a twin room, it cost £52 for the first night and £169 for the second night... Yes, if a big event is on at Wembley Stadium, you can expect the rate per night to triple! The event rate isn't unique to Ibis, the other big hotels in the area also double or triple their rate per night on event nights because they know the hotel is going to be full whatever the rate. It's scandalous, but that's the way the tourism and hotel business works. I booked the hotel through the AccorHotels.com website (the Ibis brand is a part of Accor Hotels) as I have one of their loyalty cards. The booking process with quick and simply and took no time at all. As I was booking months in advance, I chose to prepay so I wouldn't have to worry about having that money at the time of the concert. Breakfast wasn't included in the cost of the room (although it is with some rooms) and I could have added it on at the time of booking (for £7.50), but as my friend wouldn't be with me for breakfast on the first morning but would for the second, we decided to pay for breakfast at the hotel (more about this later). If you have any special requirements (connecting rooms, a disability etc), Ibis recommend that you contact the hotel at the earliest opportunity so they can be sorted for you before your arrival. On the first day of my stay, armed with my luggage and hotel reservation, I headed down to London and to the hotel. For those who are arriving via public transport, I'd recommend getting the train to Wembley Stadium train station rather than either of the Wembley tube stations, as the train station is right outside the hotel and stadium, whereas the tube stations are a good 10 minute walk away. My train arrived at London Euston, so I headed to Marylebone via the tube, before catching the train from Marylebone to Wembley Stadium. If you've got an Oyster card then there's no need to get an extra train ticket as you can use your Oyster card to get there (just remember to swipe out when you get to Wembley Stadium!). Check-in at Ibis hotels is from midday, which is a couple of hours (and in some cases, 3 hours) earlier than most hotels. I checked in around 2pm and there were just a couple of people in front of me (but be aware to expect a queue on event days!). Check in was swift and I was up in my hotel room in no time. The Ibis London Wembley Hotel has a couple of lifts, as well as stairs. Again, expect these to be busy on event days. On the morning after the concert, the lift ended up stopping at pretty much every floor on our way down for breakfast (despite there being no room for anyone else to get in!). Our room was on the 9th floor of the hotel and the window looked out toward the hotel next door, looking to the side gave us a view of Wembley Stadium (which was handy for judging the size of the queues before the concert!). The room was a bit bigger than most Ibis hotel rooms I've stopped in before as it was fairly long (they're not the biggest of hotel rooms, but then they're not cramped either). Near the door was the shelving and storage space (including a few hangers and a hairdryer). At the other end of the room were the twin beds (narrow and only 15cm apart, but each with it's own bedside shelf) and a long desk containing tea/coffee-making facilities, a keyboard for connection to the internet and a couple of plugs (handy because I needed to charge my mobile phone!). I found the room (and the hotel itself) to be quite warm (although it was one of the hottest weekends of the year), but thankfully the room had aircon and we were able to cool the room down. The bathroom was one of those self-contained type things (where you step up into it) in a semi-circular shape. It was fairly small, but in no way cramped, and contained the usual toilet, sink and shower. The shower was fairly spacious and probably took up half of the bathroom. There was only a small lip down into the shower and so I worried the water might flow out when I had a shower (but there was no need to worry as it didn't!). There's no need to worry if you haven't got any soap or shower gel as the hotel has it's own squeezy bottles of soapy gel hanging in the shower and by the sink (it's an OK soap/shower gel, but I did find my skin a little dried afterwards). Both the room and the bathroom were clean and tidy. My only real gripe was that the one and only bin was in the bathroom and it was rather small. There always seems to be some kind of construction work on near the stadium (at least there is when I've been in Wembley), but you only seem to hear it on weekdays and they tend to put down tools at 5pm. At night, we did hear emergency vehicle sirens going off, but I didn't seem to notice them after 1am. Unfortunately, on the first night of my stay, I did hear some people going in and out of their rooms (and talking on their mobiles) in the middle of the night, but I suspect they were ones who were going to go and queue at the stadium VERY early! I had a meal in the bar on my first night at the hotel (there is a restaurant on the mezzanine above the bar too). The bar has seats and tables, as well as some lovely comfy leather armchairs and sofas. I decided on a chicken breast burger and was delighted with my choice. It wasn't actually a burger but a couple of chicken breast fillets in a bap with salad and chutney (utterly delicious!). It was quite big and I ended up cutting it in half before attempting to eat it! It also came with a small bowl of chips and a side salad. Not bad for under a tenner! There is plenty of choice on the menu (including starters, mains and puddings), some of which is available 24/7 (items such as baked potatoes, sandwiches, pizza etc). Handy for after a concert! There's plenty of choice of drinks at the bar too, but do expect slightly higher prices on event nights. As I was gasping for a drink after the Robbie Williams concert, I was pleased to find that the bar staff were swift to serve us. Breakfast is available in the restaurant on the mezzanine. As we hadn't pre-booked (or paid on arrival at reception) we paid on arrival at the restaurant. I was slightly annoyed to find that instead of costing £7.50 as it said on the website and on my reservation (and as is usual at the other Ibis hotels I've stayed at), the breakfast actually cost us £8.95 each. I don't know if this was another of their "event" rates or if Ibis have upped their prices since my last Ibis stay in April. Breakfast at Ibis hotels consists of an all-you-can-eat buffet, so there was plenty to choose from. If you fancy a cooked breakfast then there was sausages, bacon, beans, cooked tomatoes, scrambled egg and hash browns. There was also bread (which could also be toasted), croissants, muffins, cereals, jams, chocolate spread, honey, fruit salad, sliced ham, yoghurts, milk, water, fruit juice, tea and coffee, and probably one or two other things! Both mornings, I loaded a plate with a cooked breakfast, before helping myself to some fruit salad, a croissant & jam, and several glasses of cranberry juice (What? I was thirsty!). It's certainly enough to set you up for the day. Check-out is before midday and it only took us a minute, despite them being busy. Then it was across to Wembley Stadium train station and onwards on our journey home. A day or two after your stay at the hotel, Accor/Ibis like to check that you've enjoyed your stay and send an email asking you to fill in a short questionnaire. I usually do this as it only takes a few minutes. So, to sum up... The Ibis London Wembley Hotel is in the perfect location should you be going to an event at Wembley Stadium or Wembley Arena (which is just a short walk down the road). It might be pricey for event nights, but then it's not much more pricier than staying in a similar hotel in central London. I'd definitely stop there again, as well as recommending it to others.
Clare Balding has been presenting sports on TV since 1998. One of the very few highly respected female sports presenters, Clare is there for her knowledge and quick thinking, not just her looks. Clare has presented the Olympic Games, the Winter Olympics, the Paralympics, the Boat Race, the Grand National, rugby, tennis and much more, and has even earned herself an OBE for her services to the sports journalism and broadcasting industry. Although, if you read Clare's autobiography, you might wonder how she ever got her OBE after more than one run in with a certain member of the royal family! As the title suggests, this autobiography is about the animals (mainly the horses and dogs) Clare Balding grew up with. It's also about her family life. But it's much more than this. The animals, Clare's family and her experiences have all helped shape the woman we see before us today. Without her family and the animals she grew up with, I doubt she'd be who she is today or where she is today - presenting the Grand National, the Olympics and many other sports on our television screens. My Animals and Other Family is very much a tribute to the people and animals who have helped shape her life. The animals even grace the chapter titles, each with it's own sketched portrait. Clare Balding's autobiography is a funny and enlightening story. It certainly had me chuckling away to myself a number of times! Clare definitely got up to quite a number of antics as a child and certainly tested her parents' patience. She usually meant well, but the outcome would usually be quite different to what she'd planned! Growing up as the daughter of a racehorse trainer gave Clare an interesting, privileged, but not always easy, childhood. Her father's clients often visited to check on the progress of their horses. His clients included American philanthropists, British entrepreneurs, members of the British aristocracy and even the most famous person in the United Kingdom - The Queen! Imagine bursting into the dining room for breakfast only to find the Queen sat at the head of the dining table with the rest of your family. Imagine bursting into the room, delving into breakfast and sending half of it flying across the dining room table towards the Queen! That's how funny some of the stories in this autobiography are! There are, of course, some sad moments too. The death of family dog or racehorse felt particularly hard in the Balding household. The earlier chapters give us a great insight into Clare Balding's family history. For instance, I didn't know her great-great uncle was the brewery magnate, Sir William Bass. Clare would make an interesting participant in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?. My Animals and Other Family is full of adventures and such, and is very honest. So honest that Clare admits that and her brother came to learn their place in the family pecking order - behind the horses and dogs! I must admit that I'm not a big lover of horses... On the few times that I've ridden one, it's either refused to move or galloped off with my clinging on for dear life! However, watching the Grand National and placing a bet or two has become an annual habit, as has the Boat Race and one or two other programmes Clare presents. I've always enjoyed Clare's presenting. She's very knowledgeable and doesn't panic when faced with the unexpected. If you've ever watched Clare presenting sport on TV, then I'd definitely recommend reading My Animals and Other Family, and getting to know the woman behind the TV personality. The book itself takes us up to her university days and can only hope there'll be another book to follow.
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it's not the monster from Conor's nightmare. It isn't the one that has haunted him nearly every night since his mother became ill and started her treatments. It isn't the one with the burning darkness, the booming noise and the screaming. It has come to get him, but Conor isn't frightened of this monster. It's different. It's ancient and wild. But it wants something from Conor, something dangerous, the most dangerous this of all. It wants the truth. A Monster Calls was born out of an original idea by author Siobhan Dowd. Tragically, Siobhan ran out of time when she was cruelly taken by breast cancer, and the baton was firmly passed to Patrick Ness. Patrick took Siobhan's characters, premise and beginning, and ran with it. Siobhan's ideas suggested new ones to Patrick, and so A Monster Calls came to life; a book he thinks Siobhan would have liked. I think she would have liked it too. I think she would have been proud of what Patrick has produced. Despite this book being a powerful and moving read, despite it being one of the best books I've read this year, despite being totally absorbed by it, despite all of this... I am struggling to write this review. A Monster Calls is a moving story, so much so that I was wiping tears out of my eyes by the end of the book. This book has touched me on so many levels and it's one of those rare books which will stay with me. It's a book I won't forget. I think anyone who has lost someone close or has come close to losing someone close, especially a parent, will connect with this book. A Monster Calls deals with a difficult subject, one which is individually unique to each and every person it has affected, but Patrick Ness has dealt with it very well and in a compassionate, honest, understanding and sensitive way. It's a story of love and hope, life and loss. There's so much feeling in this book. You might be forgiven for thinking this could be too much for the 12+ readers it's been written for, but I don't think it is. Despite the subject, this story is beautifully and sensitively written. I won't give it away, but there is something to be learnt from this book. There really is. I'd recommend getting the illustrated version of this book. It is illustrated completely in black and white and even the illustrations are atmospheric, there's just something about them. Probably best read on a dark and stormy night... but then again, maybe not. Either way, it's a book that's best read. Despite being heart-wrenching, it is utterly compelling and insightful. Don't leave it on the shelf. Grab a copy and read it, you won't be sorry (but you might need a box full of tissues).
For those who don't know... Bryant & May are a crime-fighting duo created by the author Christopher Fowler. The Peculiar Crimes Unit's octogenarians feature in 10 novels, with an eleventh due to be released at the end of this year (2013). Now, they star in their own graphic novel! With the help of illustrator Keith Page, author Christopher Fowler has transformed his aging detectives into graphic novel form. For me, bringing characters to life on the pages of a graphic novel can be a dangerous area. How I imagine characters to be will most likely be different to how other readers imagine them and even how the author imagines them. Also, the last time I read a graphic novel I was probably in my teens reading the Garfield books! But, being a Bryant & May fan, I just had to have a copy of The Casebook of Bryant and May. Not just any copy either. I got the limited edition (print run of 300), slipcased hardcover version*. So, was it worth it? Definitely. Inside the pages of The Casebook of Bryant and May there is more than just a graphic novel. Christopher Fowler starts proceedings with How Do You Invent A Mystery Series?, telling us the story of how Bryant & May came to be. Next up is the main story itself - The Soho Devil. Whilst complaining about the lack of teaspoons in the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a call comes in. A man has been found dead in Tottenham Court Road. Mr Bryant isn't interested. The body is tied up in a phone box, upside down. Mr Bryant is still not interested, he's seen it all before. The unusual bit, the bit that will pique Mr Bryant's interest? The butterflies. From here we're taken on the journey of a Bryant & May investigation. One which will get more and more bizarre and seemingly unreal and outrageous. But, as always, there's a simple explanation. We're then treated to Arthur Bryant's Secret Library. A bibliography of some of the bizarre books to be found on Mr Bryant's shelves. Books such as Code-breaking in Braille, Kabalistic Pentagrams of the Absolute and Fifty Thrifty Cheese Recipes! Next up is another story - The Severed Claw. This time we're taken back to a case in Autumn 1967 when Bryant & May are invited to a swanky bash at the Post Office Tower in London. A young Arab Prince in fancy dress has his hand severed at the party, but has no recollection of it. Bryant & May are on the case! Alongside illustrations, we are also given details of each of the novels currently in the Bryant & May series, as well as a sketch gallery of the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Keith Page has done an excellent job in bringing to life the characters of Bryant and May. His illustrations of the two aging detectives really aren't far off how I imagined they would be. He's done a great job in capturing their personalities, especially that of Arthur Bryant (who just happens to be one of my favourite characters ever). Not being an avid reader of graphic novels or comics, I can't really compare this to other graphic novels. In fact, I don't think it can be compared to other graphic novels. Surely this must be the only graphic novel to feature two octogenarian detectives from London! There are no superheroes to be found in here. Some dubious acquaintances of Mr Bryant's and definitely some bad guys, but no superheroes. There is just one thing in this book that disappointed me - some of the images are low resolution. Not the main graphic panels of the graphic novel, but some of the character sketches in the supporting pages are low resolution (slightly pixelated), as are some of the Bryant & May novel cover images and the illustrations on the inside cover pages. This, for me, is disappointing, especially when I've purchased a limited edition, signed, slipcase copy. Surely the novel publishers would have supplied high resolution cover images for inclusion in this book (published by a different publisher) and the illustrations could either have been re-scanned at a high resolution or re-drawn at an appropriate size. These things really are important when it comes to a production of a book. Despite the handful of low resolution images, these don't take away the fact that this is a fantastic addition to the Bryant & May series. The story panels feature wonderful illustration and the story is classic Bryant & May. This is a "must-have" for fans of Bryant & May. I'm seriously hoping there will be more of these graphic novels! * The Casebook of Bryant and May: The Soho Devil is also available in hardcover format without the slipcase (unsigned print run of 1700).
James Cracknell - a two-time Olympic gold-medal rower and a great endurance athlete having rowed the atlantic, ran the Marathon des Sables and raced to the South Pole. James, having once pushed limits and boundaries, was now struggling to deal with even the simplest tasks in life. In July 2010, while taking on a new challenge (to cycle, run, row and swim from LA to New York in record time, James suffered a near fatal accident having being struck from behind by a truck when cycling through Arizona. As a result, James suffered several frontal lobe damage and the doctors weren't sure if he'd recover and, if he did, if he'd ever be the same again. In Touching Distance, James and his wife Beverley Turner give us an honest, powerful and sometimes emotional account of this extraordinary man and his life. We're told of his childhood, family life, career, and of the accident and the lasting effects it has had on not just his life but of his family's too. It also tells of one man's fight to be the man he used to be, to be the best husband and the best father he can be. I felt rather guilty for laughing while reading Beverley's words about things James would say and how he would say them in the aftermath of the accident, but I think it's a case of if you don't laugh you'll cry. Brain injuries are terribly cruel as, unlike other injuries, they can affect a person's personality. James talks a lot about this in the second half of the book as he's aware he's changed and that he's 'not quite James Cracknell'. Beverley and the family are even more aware of the changes in James's personality than he is and it is they who have taken the brunt of it, yet Beverley has stayed by his side and continues to support him. Even before the accident Beverley didn't exactly have it easy. Being an Olympic rower meant James focused almost solely on his rowing and his endurance expeditions, leaving Beverley practically alone to raise the family whilst still pursuing her own career. Beverley is one understanding woman! James obviously doesn't remember the crash, but he doesn't attempt to fill in the gaps, instead he leaves that to his wife, Beverley. She can see the difference in him, in his personality, his ability to do things and in the way he reacts. The book gives us a great insight into how a brain injury affects not just the injured, but the whole family. I found this especially interesting as a family friend suffered a brain injury having been attacked on a night out a few years ago, leaving him a different man. Whilst James has been called brave for some of the endurances he has undertaken, the same can be said of Beverley. A high percentage of couples have divorced after one has received a brain injury, but Beverley and James have so far managed to avoid being a part of that statistic. Beverley has steadfastly stood by James and has been a pillar of strength for him, even when things have gone beyond tough. It is said of a lot of autobiographies, but Touching Distance really is an honest account. Both James and Beverley have opened up their lives and hearts to readers in this book and they haven't held back. Beverley even writes about the time (post-accident) when James attempted to strangle her. It's not sensationalised, just honest. Whether you're a fan of James Cracknell, rowing, endurance challenges or not, I'd wholeheartedly recommend this book. We get to see the man behind two Olympic gold medals and the determination of a sportsman, as well as how and accident can change a man and how that affects those around him. Inspirational, in more ways than one.
When Harold Fry receives a letter from a long lost friend, he has no idea just how much it is about to change his life. As he leaves home to post his reply in the postbox at the end of the road, he walks on, with no idea that he's about to walk from one end of the country to the other. With only the clothes on his back and his yachting shoes, no hiking boots, map or mobile phone, Harold keeps on walking. Sure in the knowledge that if he keeps on walking he might just save someone's life. I've heard many a good thing about this book, but did The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry live up to all the hype surrounding it? It certainly did! I thoroughly enjoyed reading Harold's adventure as he walks his way from Kingsbridge, Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland. This book is about everyday people. I'm sure many readers out there can connect and sympathise with the characters, not just with Harold and his wife, but with the people Harold meets on his journey, too. As his journey progresses Harold recounts his past and confronts his personal demons, regrets and missed opportunities, trying to make sense of his life. Don't get me wrong, while a portion of this story may be sad, on the whole The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a story of hope, of courage and of redemption. We learn more about the man as he walks on. The story is moving, yet humour is weaved in here and there. It is a simple story with the odd twist and turn thrown in, but it is one that works very well. Rachel Joyce gives such life to the story that it's so easy to imagine being there with Harold as he walks on. I enjoyed the story so much that I found myself racing through the book and I read two-thirds of it in one go! The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is charming, heartbreaking, funny and inspiring. Once you start reading, you can't help but follow Harold on his pilgrimage. Having finished reading the book now, I think I'll miss Mr Fry, but I also think this is one of those books that will stay with me. Definitely recommended!
When buying my brand new Kindle Paperwhite, I knew it would need a protective cover. When you're paying over £100 for technology, you need to make sure it is properly protected. In the past I've gone for Belkin covers as they've done a fantastic job, but I spotted the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover and was quite taken with it. This genuine Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover fits very snuggly around the Kindle Paperwhite to give it a nice protective cover. Unlike some covers, this really doesn't make the size of the Kindle much bigger and it certainly doesn't feel much heavier. Plus, once it is on there is no need to take it off. The soft, textured leather gives it a lovely feel and a premium look. It's easy to keep clean too. I think my Kindle Paperwhite now looks like a posh diary or mini portfolio! The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover is really simple to fit to your Kindle Paperwhite. You simply push your Kindle Paperwhite into the molded cover and away you go. It literally takes seconds. I was quite impressed as I was expecting it to be quite fiddly. The inside of this cover is made of a black microfibre type material featuring the Kindle logo. The material is soft to the touch and protects the Kindle's screen from any scratches whilst in transit. However, you may want to consider investing in a clear screen protector to prevent it from scratches/dirty fingers while you are reading (They are available, however I don't use one). The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover protects the edges of the Kindle Paperwhite with a solid rubber edge that clings neatly to the Kindle. Once the cover is on, the only exposed part of the Kindle is a small area at the base which holds the USB plug and on/off button. Talking about the on/off button, I've yet to find a need for it! That might seem a silly thing to say, but this case has a special magnetic catch. Not only does this catch keep the Kindle cover closed, but it also turns the Kindle Paperwhite on when opened and turns it off when it's closed. How cool is that?! You simply open the cover to begin reading and close it when you've finished - no faffing around pressing buttons. When reading on your Kindle Paperwhite with this cover on, you can either hold it as you would a book (as I do with my thumb along the inside of the spine) or you can bend back the front cover so it rests upon the back (I don't do this as it reminds me of books with creased spines!). Either way, it's very comfortable and easy to hold. The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover comes in a variety of colours (with posh names!): Fuchsia, Honey, Ink Blue, Onyx Black, Persimmon, Royal Purple and Saddle Tan (I told you they were posh names!). I chose Royal Purple and despite the colour actually being a little darker than displayed on the Amazon website, I'm happy with my choice. My Kindle looks fantastic and a little bit regal! Of course, all this goodness does come at a price. At around the £30 mark, this cover isn't cheap. It might be one of the most expensive Kindle Paperwhite covers on the market, but when you compare it to how cheap the other covers look and feel, this case comes out tops for me. So, to sum up, if you are after a Kindle Paperwhite cover which looks good and is robust and protects your Kindle, you can't go wrong with the official Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover. It might be a little pricey compared to other covers, but I think it's worth it.
I have had Black Swan Rising on my wish-list since the publishers, Transworld, mentioned its release. So when it was listed as one of the books to choose from in Transworld's Book Group Reading Challenge, I picked it as my first book for the challenge. So, was my first choice a good one? Definitely! Did it live up to my expectations? It did! I can safely say that I really enjoyed reading Black Swan Rising. The setting of New York and the creepy fog that drifts in is the perfect setting and atmosphere for this story. We follow Garet James as her life goes from bad to worse. For a young woman, Gary has her fair share of problems... money-issues, a struggling business and an elderly father to look after. On her way home after receiving bad news from her lawyer, Garet is forced to duck into an antiques shop by unexpected weather. The store owner recognises Garet and asks for her help in opening an old silver box which has been sealed shut. She agrees, but upon opening it things start to change... Garet's world, once normal like yours or mine, is now a world in which magic, fairies, vampires, dragons and the like exist. Black Swan Rising takes Garet and the reader on a journey of discovery, hope, love, possibilities and more. The story makes use of real-life historical events (including more recent ones) and characters throughout, which I found added an interesting aspect to the book. Black Swan Rising doesn't just rely on one type of fantasy creature either, there's a whole array of them. This book encompasses a number of my favourite fiction genres... urban fantasy, crime, adventure and a little bit of love thrown in (OK, maybe more than a bit)! But it's not just my favourite genres all rolled into one that made me love this book, it's the atmospheric story and the ease with which I could read it. Black Swan Rising is the first book in a trilogy, and, conveniently, the second book The Watchtower has just been released. My paperback copy of Black Swan Rising contains a sneak preview of The Watchtower's first chapter and I've no doubt it's a book I'll be reading in the near future!
Having read and loved Tom Rob Smith's debut novel Child 44, I had no doubt I'd be reading the follow-up novel The Secret Speech. The Secret Speech takes us back to 1950's Russia where former Secret Police Officer Leo Demidov lives with his wife Raisa and the two young girls they adopted. The young girls have not forgiven him for his part in their parents murder. It seems they're not the only ones who haven't forgiven Leo... Stalin's successor Khrushchev has written a secret speech and it is distributed to the nation. The speech denounces Stalin as a murderer and, as such, the police are now enemies. With someone intent on revenge, Leo finds himself and his family in more danger than they've ever been. So, did The Secret Speech live up to its predecessor? It certainly did. Tom Rob Smith must delight in giving his readers tense and gripping reads. I kept telling myself I'd put the book down at the end of the chapter and go to bed, but found myself reading on through the chapters, needing to find out what happened next. Once again, the reader gets a real feel for 1950's Russia and the regime its people lived under. The book had me wincing at some of the treatment the characters sustained. How people could do that to other people is beyond my comprehension, but it happens and Tom Rob Smith writes it so you can imagine the scenes all too well. Admittedly, I didn't think The Secret Speech shocked me as much as Child 44 did, but, nevertheless I found it a thrilling read. If you enjoy thrillers that are tense, gripping and ruthless, then this is a series for you! If you haven't already read Child 44 then I would recommend doing so before reading The Secret Speech. I'm already looking forward to reading the 3rd book in this series, Agent 6, to find out what Leo Demidov must overcome next.