Thursday, 17 August 2017

Beneath the surface by Jo Spain



Beneath the Surface by Jo Spain was one of the books I won earlier this year on GoodReads.
It starts with a grisly murder at Leinster House, the Irish seat of Parliament.
Ryan Finnegan, a political adviser to the Minister Aidan Blake, has been slaughtered while fleeing from his hunters.
Inspector Tom Reynolds and his team have to navigate the corridors of power and reveal dirty secrets before they find the killer. Almost everyone present at Leinster House on that evening could be potential murderers. There are so many people with their own agenda, all the way up to the highest political offices.

 The background of the thriller with all the party politics and unsavoury shenanigans is something Jo Spain delivers credibly and convincingly. Not surprising, as she has worked as a journalist and a party advisor on the economy in the Irish parliament.

I haven't read the first novel in the series - Search for a Bestseller - but it had great endorsements from the Irish authors and newspapers. Beneath the Surface works perfectly well as a standalone book.

I am not that interested in the Irish politics (sorry!), and after reading the first couple of chapters, I put the book away. I typically have a few books on the go, and knew I would return to it eventually. Glad that I did. It turned out to be a riveting read.
The corruption and sleaze in the higher echelons of power are not surprising really. We all know the value of empty election promises. It's not just the Irish politics.

I imagine this book would make a great base for a TV series, as it has all the right elements in it - murder, sex and dirty politics.

fiction books on Irish politics

Friday, 11 August 2017

SpinZipz, Spinbladez and Thumb Chucks


Fidget Spinners of all types are the latest craze this year. They have been promoted as a must toy and a helping tool for children with cognitive impairments, especially for children on the spectrum.
But as they say, if you've met one child with autism, you met one child with autism. What works for one child on the spectrum, won't necessarily work for another.

This small spinning toy claims to help children who are prone to fidgeting, they are also supposed to help with lowering anxiety and stress. And while I don't want to challenge these claims, I can only say about our autistic son. It didn't attract him much at all. If anything, he played with it for less than a couple of minutes and gave it back to me.
Our younger son (who is neuro typical) - on the other hand - is a big fan of fidget spinners. We have 6 different ones, and would have had more, if I didn't resist.

We were among the first ones in Eddie's school to buy a fidget spinner, and of course, he had to take it to school to show off.
SpinZipz spinners and Thumb Chucks skill toy are a cool summer accessory to be seen with.
You must have seen books and manuals on what to do with these toys, how to play with them and which tricks to learn. Social media is full of videos and images of cool dudes and dudettes, showing their skills.

My younger son is the perfect social media target, he loves Instagram accounts and watches videos of toys, games and gadgets on Youtube. He doesn't have yet any of his own accounts, but he has asked me already (cruel mother said No, you are not old enough). He enjoys watching unboxing videos (which I find absolutely boring), and he knew about fidget spinners well ahead of me.

If you fancy having a peek - check out #spinzips and #thumbchucks on Instagram.


SpinZipz fidget spinners (3 blades) and SpinBladez (2 blades) are colourful and mesmerising. Their distinctive LED lights make it a perfect toy to play with in the dark.
There is a pin, which you can insert in both toys, making them stackable.

fidget spinners


SpinZipz are mighty attractive. They remind of a story I have read as a teenager, I think it was called The Hypnoglyph, about a magical object brought from a different planet. It looked like a smooth wooden egg, and anyone who took it in their hand, found it impossible to part with it, as the hand would keep polishing and caressing the hypnoglyph. Does anyone know what I am talking about? It was one of the sci-fi stories (a genre which I loved in my teens).

Thumb Chucks from Zing Toys look deceptively simple, but they are actually quite tricky to master. They light up, and come in a range of colours.

latest toy craze

There are plenty of tutorials online, if you want to master the art of Thumb Chucks. Eddie is still in the learning stages.




Disclosure: We received three fidget spinner toys for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Admiral Benbow, Penzance

where to eat out in Penzance


Just a week ago, after a long walk along narrow cobbled streets and a visit to the playground nearby Penlee gallery, my guys and I had lunch at Admiral Benbow in Penzance.
Admiral Benbow is one of the oldest drinking places in Penzance. It has a unique history and an extraordinary interior design.



We first visited this pub in 2009, when Sasha was the same age as Eddie now, and Eddie hasn't been born yet. My in-laws were travelling with us then. It was a horse-riding holiday, and we have very fond memories of staying at The Old Vicarage in St Hilary. If you are looking for a great place to do horse-riding in Cornwall, check out The Old Vicarage.
Eddie knew of this place, as he has seen our old photos.

Sasha and I in Admiral Benbow, 2009
He was particularly interested to see the wooden carved statue. I remember Sasha was fascinated with it.

Sasha, 2009
Admiral Benbow, 2017

The pub was nearly empty when we arrived.
When we have taken seats around one of the tables, the lady who brought the menus snapped at Sasha as he had a half empty bottle of Pepsi with him, saying that he's not allowed to drink anything bought elsewhere. Fair enough, but she could have been more polite about it.
We did get drinks for everyone in the pub, including one for Sasha which he didn't touch. Being autistic, he has his own ideas on which drink is acceptable while going out to a cafe or restaurant, and that in his opinion is Pepsi (which they didn't have).

The menu wasn't very inspiring. I wanted something light and ordered soup of the day, which was borlotti beans and savoy cabbage. At about a fiver, it was reasonably priced. The bread was fresh and tasty, the soup could do with more flavour.
I asked for half a pint of local ale, and it was lovely. I think it was called Proper Job, or something funny like that.


Kids had chips and sausages. Eddie enjoyed the chipolatas, but didn't finish the chips, saying they were not very good. He did nick some of ham from his Dad's plate though.
My husband had ham and eggs with chips. When he asked for some bread, it took ages for it to arrive. He almost finished his meal by the time bread was brought to the table.



The food is the typical pub grub, nothing special.
What you pay for is the ambiance. The pub is a maze of small rooms and enclosed spaces, with maritime ephemera covering all the walls.

Cornish pubs


 In that, it is a pretty unique space, with some amazing finds, from beautiful vintage artefacts to total kitsch. It can compete with any local museum.



When we had lunch, the pub wasn't very busy, so the staff wasn't rushed off their feet. Yet they were not very friendly, and the service was pretty slow.
Also I don't like loud muzak, when I am eating. I found it quite annoying.
So, a mixed bag: a fascinating place with an average food and mediocre service.

old pubs in Cornwall


We visit Penzance every year, and we might come back, if boys decide they want to see it again.
Eddie certainly wanted to explore its nooks and crannies, and apparently there are lovely views from the rooms upstairs.


And of course, for fans of Treasure Island this pub holds a special place, as Jim Hawkins' parents own it. For that reason alone I would suggest visiting it. As long as you don't expect much food-wise.



Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Baked halloumi with caramelised onions and tomatoes

vegetarian cheese dishes


Waitrose is running a 25% price reduction for their own Waitrose 1 range at the moment, with a wide selection of foods offered. While checking out what's on offer, I spotted a pack of halloumi with mint which I haven't bought before.
Just the day before I was recycling newspapers and saw a recipe for baked halloumi with tomatoes printed in The Observer magazine. This was one of Nigel's Midweek Dinner recipes.

I have adapted the recipe, if you want to see the original recipe, follow the link above.

Baked halloumi with caramelised onions and tomatoes
Ingredients:
a punnet of mixed baby tomatoes (220g)
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
1tbsp soy sauce
1tsp maple syrup
1 big red onion, sliced
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
1tsp maple syrup
1 pack of halloumi (250g)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme

First start by roasting tomatoes. Put tomatoes in a small roast dish and pour olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and maple syrup over them. Place the dish in the oven preheated to 180C and cook for about 20 minutes.
I used mixed baby tomatoes, but any colour would do. If you have bigger tomatoes, just halve them and cook the same way.

vegetable side dish

In the meantime cut a big red onion in half and slice into crescents. Add oil to a medium sized frying pan, and fry the onions on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, and a pinch of salt. The onions will turn a lovely dark colour. Once cooked, set aside. Take the tomatoes out of the oven.

Take two square pieces of foil, first layer the caramelised onions as a base. Cut the halloumi in half, then in half again. Put two pieces of halloumi on caramelised onions (two per foil pocket).
Add the roast tomatoes, any juice from the tomatoes and fresh thyme.

vegetarian dinner ideas

Pull the edges of the foil up together and slightly scrunch them to create a pocket. Place the pockets on a tray and into the oven. Cook at 180C for 20-25 minutes.
Serve hot, with a nice chunk of bread to mop up the onion sauce.

best vegetarian dishes



In this recipe I used Waitrose 1 traditional halloumi with mint. It has a firm texture, and is made from pasteurised ewe's and goat's milk. Flavoured with mint, it is hand folded the traditional way in Cyprus.



Baked cheese was tasty enough, though I do prefer halloumi fried or grilled.
I also recently cooked Foil-baked feta with caper berries and Greek basil, and prefer the texture of baked feta.

Which baked cheese is your favourite?

Adding this post to #KitchenClearout linky hosted by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews, as I have conveniently used the end of the bottle of maple syrup in this recipe.


She Be Damned by M.J. Tija

Image credits: Legend Press


The story takes place in London in 1863. It begins with a very graphic scene of a woman being "scraped" and mutilated. Prostitutes around the Waterloo area turn up dead, with their sexual organs removed.
Heloise Chancey, a professional courtesan and detective, has been approached by the police to help find one of the missing girls from the good family who ran away and ended up in the dangerous area. Heloise has to find her before she becomes the next victim.
She leaves her house in the prosperous area of London to find a temporary place where to live and start her investigation, and visits her old haunts. She started as one of those unfortunates she encounters during her search for Eleanor.
The police is as usually totally useless. It is up to Heloise to find Eleanor and get the killer.
She is getting closer and closer to finding the truth, with the assistance of her half-Chinese maid Amah Li Leen. And then Amah is accused of brutal murders...
Can Heloise trust her? Will she be able to acquit and save her?

Heloise is a plucky girl, resolute and determined.
She is also portrayed as a flawed character. For all her talents, she chooses to live a life of a courtesan and depend on men's whims. She might pretend to the others that she is content with her choices, but it is clear that she has a greater potential than just simply being a man's plaything.
When Heloise has a conversation with Dr Blain, he talks of courtesans as "nothing more than leeches with no morals who are in search of riches..." He is not entirely wrong there. The low level prostitutes have no other choice, they are desperate and destitute, prostitution is the only job they can do to survive.
Heloise has brains and could use them accordingly, if she chose to.

MK Tija portrays a believable historic scene - the world of the Victorian London comes alive in this book. It is dark and gruesome, and haunting.
As a woman who sells herself to the highest bidder, Heloise has compassion and sympathy to the lowest of her sisters.
I'd love to see her abandon her rich men to their own devices and start her own detective agency, though that might have been impossible in Victorian England.

If you love your mysteries cozy, where violence and sex are downplayed, perhaps move away - there is plenty of graphic detail here.

This novel reads as the first in the series. Some of the storylines - mostly of Heloise's background - are left untold. I can only presume there will be a sequel, where we will find out more about how exactly Heloise managed to raise up in the society from the very bottom, and also why she got there in the first place, knowing who her mother is (and I'd like to know something about who her father was).
There are references to the previous sleuthing jobs Heloise did as the private detective, but not much is disclosed.
Too many questions were left unanswered for me.

Historical mystery is one of my favourite genres, and I am always looking forward to discovering new authors and characters. Whisk me back in time!


I received an advanced Kindle copy of the book for the purposes of taking part in blog tour.
Legend Press are proud to be publishing She Be Damned by MJ Tija on 1 August 2017.

You can follow Legend Press on Twitter as legend_press
Follow MJ Tija on Twitter - @MJTija


Monday, 7 August 2017

Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night (The Grantchester Mysteries no.2) by James Runcie


I missed the Grantchester series on TV, mainly because it's an ITV production, and our ITV player on TV is awful. You cannot fast forward anything, so if you stopped watching something mid-way, the next time you go back to it, it starts from the beginning. So, I don't bother with it.

I knew of the Grantchester series of books, but haven't read any of them until I won Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night on GoodReads.
I love period mysteries, and was delighted to win a new book to add to my collection of mysteries.

Canon Sidney Chambers is a full time vicar and a part-time amateur detective. At times his sleuthing takes him away from his principal duties. He is quite endearing as a character.
He's a Cambridge graduate, and in him I recognised many of the features of boys with Oxbridge degrees, who are clever, intelligent but rather immature in practical things.
The academic rivalry is spot on.
Like many others from his background, he won't be able to function without someone doing his cooking, cleaning and washing for him.
His attitude to women is also immature. He's torn between two love interests - a posh glamorous Amanda Kendall and a German widow Hildegard. They are both patient with him, and can see his failings and shortcomings. He's truly procrastinating when it comes to love. It takes him over 6 years to come to a decision. I'm not sure why his ladies don't give up on him earlier. He's loveable, but his indecisiveness is annoying.

The book itself is a selection of six stories, which are lightly connected. It starts in mid-50s, with a Cambridge don falling to his death from a tall chapel of King's College.
I liked the description of the setting. My husband was a student at King's College, and I visited it twice, last time being to the conference Russia on the brink of the Millennium (or something along those lines).
I remember climbing the stairs of the chapel and looking over the town from the rooftops, feeling rather dizzy from the heights.
We also attended a concert in the chapel of Rachmaninov's Vespers, which was the most beautiful event. But I'm digressing from the book.
The cases vary from the don's death in very suspicious circumstances to an arson at the photographer's studio, from poisoning of Grantchester's finest spin bowler to Sidney's arrest in East Germany.
And with Sidney being a vicar, there are moral dilemmas intertwined with mysteries.
The 1950s setting of the stories is believable, Sidney's adventures are less so. If he spends so much time sleuthing, surely his duties as a vicar are suffering. The stories are unrolled at a slow pace.
I wasn't very enthusiastic about pages upon pages of cricket game or theories of physics, I confess my eyes were glazing over.

Overall, this book will appeal to those who enjoy their mysteries less violent.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

White chocolate Oreo fudge

easy fudge, delicious fudge


We are just back from a week-long holiday in Cornwall. Every day, walking to the beach we passed by a house which had a mini-counter with homemade jams and fudge on offer.
It had an honesty box with an amusing warning along the lines "Underpaying equals stealing" or something like that. Though we paid in full for our treats, I can see why someone might have been tempted to pay less. Each small jar of jam was priced at £3, and a pouch of fudge costs £2.
We've seen big boxes of fancy fudge in Penzance for the same amount.
I suppose, one can only commend them for the capitalist initiative.

One day we bought a small pouch of white chocolate Oreo fudge. My guys gobbled up all fudge in five minutes. The next few days it was rainy, and the mini-shop was not operating.
Eddie was distraught that we couldn't buy any more Oreo fudge, and I promised him that I'd make him some fudge when we come home.
Just how difficult could it be? I googled for the recipe, there are dozens of identical recipes online, so it's not quite clear who was the original author. But whoever you are, thank you from the bottom of my heart for this easy recipe, you are a genius!

best fudge recipes


All you need is a pack of Oreos (12), 5 bars of white chocolate and a tin of condensed milk (397g).
If you have a microwave, follow the recipe as, for example, found on AllRecipes.

I don't have a microwave, so I have melted 5 bars of white chocolate (a mixed bunch of Waitrose 1 white chocolate, Milky bars and cooking white chocolate) in a big bowl, which I put over a pan of simmering water. Once the chocolate melts, add a tin of condensed milk and mix well.

Place a piece of parchment paper inside a brownie tin and layer half of broken Oreos (not too small chunks).
I used a pack of double Oreos. I think strawberry or mint Oreos will look very pretty too.
Spoon in the chocolate mix, top up with more broken Oreos and slightly push them in.
Let the mix cool and set for at least 4 hours.

easy fudge recipes


My guys were all impatient to try it so I have cut a few pieces after 3 and a half hours, and the fudge was still soft in places. The remaining fudge stayed covered with film in the fridge overnight, and was perfectly set by morning.

It is so easy to make this fudge, yet it's so moreish. A lovely treat to go with tea or coffee.


Now that I have discovered this recipe, I imagine I will be making it again very soon.

You might like to experiment with different flavours of Oreos - double, blonde, mint, strawberry, original.
There is a variation of the recipe on CreateBakeMake blog, where the author adds less chocolate (4 bars rather than 5).
The Happier Homemaker makes very pretty fudge, by layering very big pieces of Oreos. She is obviously an Oreo lover, as in that post she adds several links to recipes made with Oreos (cupcakes, truffles etc).
I am still trying to dig out who was the original creator of the recipe to link up with them, so if you know, please give me a shout!

best fudge recipes

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Meet Me at Wisteria Cottage by Teresa F.Morgan

books set in Cornwall


I must stop buying books for the pure reason they are set in Cornwall.
When I read the blurb on the back of Meet Me at Wisteria Cottage, it was quite obvious what genre it is. There is nobody to blame but myself for buying it. The words "the Cornish coast" sold it to me.
We were going on a holiday to Cornwall, and to get me in the mood, I bought two paperbacks set in Cornwall.
I think for many people who love chick lit this will be a perfect holiday read. I had a look at Goodreads after I finished the book, and it has gushing reviews (beautifully written, passionate & picturesque, wonderful, warm and funny (funny? where?)) - it's as if we were reading different books.

I am not the biggest fan of chick lit, so perhaps I am being unfair on this book, but I struggled with it.

I didn't warm up to Maddy, an artist who opened an art gallery in Cornwall, and is recovering from a broken relationship to a controlling ex-boyfriend Connor. She is in her late 20s, but behaves like someone years younger, totally immature.
She comes back home to find it in flames. The fire brigade and the forensic team suspect arson.
There is not much of a mystery of who wanted to burn Maddy's house, it was quite obvious.

Then there is next door neighbour named Harry, a gardener who tries to come to terms with the tragic past. He's an ex-firefighter, who struggles with depression. He comes to Maddy's rescue and offers her to stay in his house until her own house is fixed.

No prizes for guessing, that they quickly fall for each other.

What looked like an innocent charming romance from the pretty fudge-box-style book cover, turned out to be quite smutty. 50 shades of Cornwall. I was quite indifferent to what was going to happen to the main protagonists, and found them both moderately annoying.
I do sound like a pearl-clutcher, but numerous references to bums mildly irritated me.

Maddy is obsessed with male bums. "Maddy followed the tall man admiring his build, and his bum, from which she quickly averted her eyes to the ground... it was hard not to admire his body". That's the builder.
"Harry kissed her again and got out of bed, and Maddy bit her lip watching his tight bum as he walked naked out of the bedroom" That's the gardener-boyfriend.
And it's not just Maddy, her middle aged friend and colleague is exactly the same. Must be all that fresh sea air.

I left the book in the cottage where we stayed for a week, maybe the next reader will enjoy it more than I did.