Saturday, 28 February 2015

Review: Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery

"Summer has arrived in the Cornish town of Mount Polbearne and Polly Waterford couldn't be happier. Because Polly is in love: she's in love with the beautiful seaside town she calls home, she's in love with running the bakery on Beach Street, and she's in love with her boyfriend, Huckle. 

And yet there's something unsettling about the gentle summer breeze that's floating through town. Selina, recently widowed, hopes that moving to Mount Polbearne will ease her grief, but Polly has a secret that could destroy her friend's fragile recovery. Responsibilities that Huckle thought he'd left behind are back and Polly finds it hard to cope with his increasingly long periods of absence.

Polly sifts flour, kneads dough and bakes bread, but nothing can calm the storm she knows is coming: is Polly about to lose everything she loves?"

Well- what a fantastic, comforting read!

I'm a big fan of Jenny Colgan, I love the Cupcake Cafe series, and one of my all-time favourite books is The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris. So I was really excited for the publication of the second novel in the Little Beach Street Bakery series.

For those of you that haven't read the first in this series - Little Beach Street Bakery, I would really recommend you go out and buy that first to read it, just because of what a lovely read it is. However, if you have this in your grasp and can't wait to get stuck in (I know I couldn't) then don't worry, you don't really need to have read the first one to understand this book, Jenny very helpfully provides a couple of pages as an introduction to tell you what happened in the first book and introduce you to the characters.

The second in the series doesn't disappoint. It follows the adventures of Polly, who loves being a part of the local community and getting stuck in with her baking. She has just bought a lighthouse (to everyone else's dismay) and ha a pet puffin, Neil. Her bakery is going well and she finally seems to have approval of the locals. But just as everything seems to be looking up, she is faced with the prospect of loosing her fantastic bakery. 

My favourite thing about this novel is the fantastic range of characters. I LOVE Polly, she is a fantastic main character lead and is an empowering, interesting character. I love her gritty determination to succeed, and how personable she is - I really related to her and firmly believe that, if she was real, we would be great friends. The relationship between her and Huckle is brilliant, they seem so comfortably and easily in love and straight away you pick up on the strong connection they share. I liked reading about their 'easy' lifestyle - cooking together, lolling about on the sofa, and snuggling up in bed for an early night. It makes you smile, and happy that Polly is so content. 

The description of the beautiful seaside location is memorising and on a cold February morning I really felt like I had been transported to the small Island of Mount Polbearne, the sun shining on my face and the sea lapping against the coastline. Jenny's use of description always amazes me - she manages to take you on the journey with the characters and emerse you in the sights, smells and sounds of the place she is talking about.

As well as the delightful location is the food! I can't express how hungry this book made me! the description of Polly's baking - the bread, pizza bases, deserts - it all got a little much! A lovely touch is that Jenny has put some recipes in the back of the book so you can try and bake as well as Polly. I'm definitely going to be trying the cheese rolls!

I enjoyed this book from beginning to end - there's nothing I'd have changed. I enjoyed seeing the journey Polly goes through and how that effects her as a person. The last few chapters of the book are intense and have you skipping the pages as fast as you can to see what happens. I felt the ending wrapped up this novel well, but perhaps allowed room for another in the series - let's hope so! 

If you haven't got this book yet, then what are you waiting for? It's a lovely, scrumptious read that gives you the feel-good factor. Any novel that has food and a friendly puffin in it is one for me.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Chocolate Cake Goodness!

Let them eat cake!

Yesterday one of my colleagues from work had her leaving do. We often have 'fuddles' in the office (FYI for those of you wondering what a 'fuddle' is, it's where you all bring an item of food to have as a buffet - a bring and share lunch really) and I use these opportunities to bake. I really enjoy baking, but my other half isn't a pudding person, meaning if I bake for no specific reason I end up eating it all myself. Not good. Well, it tastes good but it doesn't help my waistline! 

 My mum has been using the same tray bake recipe for years and it's delicious, so I took a copy of the recipe and this is what I use now. It's a Mary Berry tray bake recipe, but I don't know which book it's from (other than a really old one) as my mum also uses a photocopy of of it which she's scrawled on and adapted over the years. It's really straightforward, which is why I love it, but it also makes a really tasty cake. 

For the cake, you will need: 
3 eggs 
225g self-raising flour
175g caster sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
175g soft margarine (I use stork) 
3 tablespoons milk 
3 tablespoons Cocoa powder

For the buttercream: 
250g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar, sifted
50g cocoa powder 

For the topping: 
75g margarine 
50g cocoa powder 
225g sieved icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk 

Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Put all the cake ingredients (eggs, flour, caster sugar, margarine, baking powder, milk and cocoa powder) into a large roomy bowl and whisk until it forms a smooth, beaten mixture. Put into a cake tin and cook for 35-40 minutes until the cake has shrunk from the sides of the tin and springs back when pressed in the centre with your fingertips. Leave to cool in the tin and while waiting, make the icing and buttercream. 

For the buttercream, whisk together all the ingredients (butter, sugar and powder) until it forms a light, fluffy mixture. 
The finished buttercream mixture 

For the icing, melt the butter in the microwave and then gently stir in the sieved cocoa. Add this mixture gently into the sieved icing sugar, stirring as you pour it in. Then add in the milk and stir together to make a creamy, thick mixture.

Finished icing 

melt the butter and cocoa powder

Add cocoa powder to melted butter

Cut the sponge cake in half and when completely cool spread the buttercream into a thin layer on the bottom sponge. Don't add too much in as this will take a long time to set and could cause the two sponges to move apart. It will also spread out of the cake when you add the top layer onto the cake, which will make it hard to get an evening icing spread around the edge of the cake.  

Put the top sponge layer on top of the buttercream and spoon the icing onto the top of the cake, using the back of the spoon to spread evenly. Then using a knife, spread the rest of the icing round the edge of the edge of the sponges, ensuring any gaps are covered. 

When all the icing is covering the cake, decorate it before the icing sets. I sprinkled smarties on the top of mine, but be creative with it! 

Finally - eat and enjoy! 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Happy Wednesday!

Happy Wednesday, or, Happy Hump day (?!)
I've seen this phrase being thrown around mainly since I joined Instagram, and I think it makes alot of sense. For those of you thinking 'what is she talking about?' or for those of you thinking I'm being rude (my other half just saw that phrase and raised an eyebrow at me) what it actually means is: 
"The term alludes to the fact that Wednesday is the middle of the work week, meaning that one has made it "over the hump" towards the weekend."
See? all makes sense now doesn't it!

This week has been busy and quite tiring, but I'm enjoying it - especially blogging. I've had a really warm welcome to the book blogging world and it's made it even more enjoyable.

So, despite it being 'hump day', and the weekend not quite being in sight yet, I thought it was time to share some positivity with a post about what's making me happy at the moment.

1. Winter nights
I know most people spend all of winter longing for blue skies and sunshine, but I don't. I actually really enjoy winter. Sure, I prefer the early winter months in the build up to Christmas, where there's that magical excitement waiting for the day to arrive. January and February are the months you spend tucked up inside, waiting for spring and, although they can drag on a bit, is there anything better than curling up in your PJ's with a cuppa and some chocolate and reading, while the wind and the rain lashes against the windows? 

2. Reading 
Obviously I couldn't post about what makes me happy without mentioning reading. It's a key part of this blog and also my day-to-day life and I love it. At the moment, I'm reading an old Cecilia Ahern novel and I'm engrossed. I like re-visiting some of my favourites from time to time, there's a certain comfort in going back to something you now. 

3. Finding the perfect pair of jeans
Don't knock it until it happens to you. I have very short legs (I'm 5"3) and finding jeans that fit right is a nightmare. I bought a pair last week from New Look and they fit perfectly, not too long, not too short and they fit snug around the middle without cutting me in half every time I eat something! 

4. Comfort food
Food, in general, is the way to my heart. Lately, I've indulged in some fantastic food, but my fave at the moment has to be the other half's homemade pizzas. He got a pizza stone for Christmas, and it's amazing! He makes the dough base himself and we customise with our own toppings. Not only does it make a fantastic dinner, but I also love prepping and cooking together, chatting about our days with music blasting in the background. 

5. A good nights sleep
So underrated but so important! I've started going to bed early (about 9.30pm) so I have plenty of time to relax and unwind with a book before going to sleep. Now I'm getting at least 8 hours sleep a night and I feel so much better! 

So that's a little of whats making me happy at the moment! What's making you smile? let me know in the comments below. L x 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Review: The Year of Taking Chances

The Year of Taking Chances
Lucy Diamond
January 2015 

'It's New Year's Eve, and Gemma and Spencer Bailey are throwing a house party. There's music, dancing, champagne and all their best friends under one roof. It's going to be a night to remember.
Also at the party is Caitlin, who has returned to the village to pack up her much-missed mum's house and to figure out what to do with her life; and Saffron, a PR executive who's keeping a secret which no amount of spin can change. The three women bond over Gemma's dodgy cocktails and fortune cookies, and vow to make this year their best one yet.
But as the months unfold, Gemma, Saffron and Caitlin find themselves tested to their limits by shocking new developments. Family, love, work, home - all the things they've taken for granted are thrown into disarray. Under pressure, they are each forced to rethink their lives and start over. But dare they take a chance on something new?'

For those of you that are fans of Lucy Diamond, this post will be slightly behind the times as it's been out just over a month. When I read it I hadn't started blogging, but I enjoyed it so much I feel it justifies a backdated post.  For any of you that may have somehow missed this delight - GO! BUY IT NOW! 

The novel centers around three women in a small village, who form a friendship after meeting at Gemma's New Years Eve party. Written in dual-perspective from Gemma, Caitlin and Saffron's point of view, this book is engaging, witty and a fabulous chick-lit read. 

My three favourite things about it: 
  1. Fast paced
  2. Strong lead characters
  3. Self-belief

Point 1: Pace 

One of the things I love most about Lucy Diamond novels are the pace- I finished this book over the course of two days, as I had to know what happened and couldn't bring myself to leave the book alone! 

The changing of character for each new chapter keeps you interested and wanting to read on. I sometimes found myself hooked on a particular characters situation during a chapter though, so when I turned the page to a different characters view point part of me thought no! let me carry on! but, soon enough I'd be hooked on the next characters story, and so the cycle continued on and on.  Before I knew it, It'd be three chapters on and I'd be back to the first character I didn't want to leave in the first place. This isn't in anyway a negative point, more so it highlights to me how much you become emerged in the story being told and the character involved in that particular situation.

Point 2: The characters

Gemma, Caitlin and Saffron are engaging, funny and intriguing - from the very first page you want to find out more them- is Gemma's marriage really this perfect?  Why can Caitlin not bring herself to pack up her mum's things and leave the village? Why does Saffron stick with her difficult PR job in London if it drives her mad? 

Each character has their own strong personalty traits, allowing you to easily distinguish who's point of view you are in, even without the chapter heading of their name. I think my favourite character was Gemma as I love how she embraced the challenge she is faced with head-on and made it a positive. 

Point 3: Self-belief

I know this is a corny point and apologies for any vomit-inducing reactions this may cause! I felt this was a valid point though, as this book really is about believing in yourself and embracing your passions. Gemma (as mentioned, my fave character!) turns her hobby into a career, starting her own dress-making business and really following her dreams. 

On a personal (and another corny!) note, this book really inspired me. I read it a couple of days into the New Year and, having not made any New Year's Resolutions, it inspired me not to give anything up, but to start doing things I love. Which is why I'm typing this blog now! 

So thank you Lucy, not just for a fantastically addictive and funny read, but for kick-starting my 2015 and making me follow some of my dreams! 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Review: I'll Take New York

'I'll Take New York'
Miranda Dickinson
Publication date: 4th December 2014

'Have you ever given up on love? When her boyfriend lets her down for the last time, Brooklyn bookshop owner Bea James makes a decision – no more. No more men, no more heartbreak, and no more pain. Psychiatrist Jake Steinmann is making a new start too, leaving his broken marriage behind in San Francisco. From now on there'll just be one love in his life: New York. At a party where they seem to be the only two singletons, Bea and Jake meet, and decide there’s just one thing for it. They will make a pact: no more relationships. But the city has other plans . . .'

This is the first Miranda Dickinson novel i’ve read, and it certainly won't be the last. What a treat! It's a 'will they, won't they' romantic novel, but it keeps you hooked from beginning to end and guessing throughout! 

The novel centres around Bea, a bookshop owner in Brooklyn who has recently split from her long-term boyfriend and Jake, who leaves his home in San Fransisco to return to his New York roots after his wife files for divorce. Bea and Jake meet at a party and they form a new friendship, bonding over the fact they have both just come out of long term relationships and forming a pact: they are now done with relationships completely. They set about exploring the city in which they live, visiting tourist attractions, hidden gems the city has to offer and going out to eat. They form a close bond, meeting each others friends and families, and helping each other when difficult situations arise. As time goes on, feelings inevitably develop... but they made a pact for a reason, and both decide they have to stick to it. 

The journey the two characters go on is one easily recognisable for anyone that has been unlucky, or let down, in love. There were many things I loved about this book but my top 3 points would be: 

  1. The location 
  1. Character voice
  1. Bea's conversations with her Grandmother

So, point 1: the location 

The book is set in New York and Brooklyn, and Miranda has done a stellar job in describing the location - you really feel as if you have been transported into New York! I loved all the little touches, like how each chapter is titled by where the character is at the time (including street names) and how if a character was travelling somewhere, either on foot or in a taxi, there would be very detailed descriptions of the route they were taking to get there. 

You can really tell how much time and research has been put into making sure this novel is exact. I’ve never been to New York myself, so I wouldn't be able to say if something was wrong, but you can tell there’s been an awful lot of time spent to get the detail exactly right, and it's worked! Below is an extract from one of my favourite location descriptions:  

“Until she had moved to New York, she’d only known about the famous interior of New York’s major train terminus from the guide books and friend’s photographs: when she’d visited for the first time she had been blown away by the classically ornate exterior of the station, looming proudly above the corner of 42nd street and Park Avenue. It was grand in every sense of the word” 

There are some really great places in this book, and Miranda's detailed description ensures you have an image in your mind anytime a character heads somewhere new.  My favourite place was Bea's bookstore - straight away I built up a picture as to what I thought it would look like, and it’s the kind of store I’d like to visit! I particularly enjoyed the way Bea and Russ decorated the store for different seasons or events, like Christmas or Celia’s book launch. Straight away your imagination was working overtime to picture the store in its re-vamped way. 

Point 2: character voice

The novel is duel-perspective, being told from both Jake and Bea's point of view. I enjoyed the balance of a female and male narrative throughout the book. This is the first romantic fiction novel I've read that has a first person perspective from a male point of view. It made it more interesting, to see what Jake was thinking as well as Bea, and I felt it gave you a bit of an insight into the male mind.  

Point 3: Bea's conversations with her Grandmother

Throughout the book, Bea and her English Grandmother keeps in touch by writing letters and emails to each other. Her Grandma sends her packages that contain her letter along with a book, highlighting a quote from it that is relevant to Bea's current situation.  This form of communication provided an interesting alternative to what could have been pages and pages of dialogue. It was also a clever way for the reader to find out what Bea's current thoughts and worries were.

As I said before, this is the first Miranda Dickinson novel I've read. I know that this is a 'kind-of-but-not-really-a-sequel' to her other novel 'Fairytale of New York', it re-visits some of the locations and characters that were so popular in her debut novel - Kowalski's the florist, Rosie and Ed (Jake's brother), but through meeting a bunch of new characters. I'll Take New York stands in it's own right - you don't need to have read Fairytale of New York to know what's happening. 

Now she’s on my radar, Miranda Dickinson is here to say and I can’t wait to get stuck into another book of hers - I have 'Take A Look At Me Now' and 'When I Fall In Love' downloading on my Kindle as I type!