Monday, 30 June 2014

The Bunker Diary By Kevin Brooks Review

Do yourself a favour- stop what you're doing right now and go out and buy a copy of the Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks, which has just won the Carnegie Medal, and read it. You won't need the tv on, music in the background, frequent Candy Crush breaks, anything like that- you will just need this book. It is disturbing, tense and haunting in all the best ways.

You want bleak? I'll give you bleak
The Bunker Diary is a great twist on the group of x stranded in y genre that I so enjoy. I love Lord of the Flies and am more than a little obsessed with Lost (let's be honest though, that's mostly because of Sawyer...) I particularly enjoy the Criminal Minds episodes that feature people locked up somewhere, a psychopath their puppet master. 

This is pretty much what the Bunker Diary is- somebody ("He") abducts 6 people, puts them into a purpose built bunker and messes with their minds. The people in the bunker are very different- a nine year old girl, an estate agent, a management consultant, an elderly physicist, a junkie and the main character, a teenage runaway, Linus. The Bunker Diary is written by Linus, who documents his time in the bunker in a notebook left by Him.

The most distressing part of the novel for me was the suspense. The only communication the inhabitants have with the man who put them in the bunker is through the lift that rumbles up and down at regular (or irregular) intervals. What is, or isn't in there, dictates the mood of the prisoners. There's food (or an absence of it), a vicious doberman, newspaper clippings, and more. The lift is their only contact with the outside world and it's a very one-sided conversation.

As you can imagine, there's a lot of philosophising, resentment and tension. The psychology of the prisoners is deftly explored and still a lot is still left to your imagination- which I like. I hate when information is handed to the reader on a plate (show don't tell!), and I think Brooks strikes a good balance between believability of diarising and well, word vomit.

As for the ending, well, it was never going to be happy. I loved the fact that there is no resolution, no exposition. Spoiler Alert: it's pretty bleak. I don't want to give too much away, but rest assured if you're looking for happy, you won't find it here.

There has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding The Bunker Diary, because it has just won an award for best children's novel. I wouldn't necessarily say it was suitable for children. Teenagers maybe, but children? Hmm... It's a bit, well, distressing. In fact, on the front of my cover there is a large sticker that reads: Not suitable for younger readers. Quite.

However, far be it from me to question the Carnegie judges, who awarded this novel first prize in the Carnegie Children's book awards as some of the press have. I can see where their issues lie, but it is such a gripping novel, I can see why it won. I haven't read any of the other Carnegie nominees, but I can't imagine that they'd be anything like The Bunker Diary.

I'd definitely recommend giving this a read and not being put off by the fact that it's billed as a children's book. Some teen fiction I have enjoyed, and some I just loathe, but this is quite adult, and also quite terrifying. If you like thrillers (which I do), you'll love the Bunker Diary. 

(Also, if you have read it- let me know. I really want to talk about the ending with someone!)

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Best Knitting & Crochet Stitch Holders To Use

Ah, stitch holders. The age old dilemma of what to use. There are a few stitch holder substitutes at your disposal when your pattern asks you to move your stitches onto a stitch holder. When I was a beginner, I didn't really know what a stitch holder was. However, it's not a misnomer, it does exactly what it says on the tin: it holds your stitches for you. 

Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
The usual suspects

You need to use stitch holders when the pattern dictates you to, for example if you're knitting a jumper, or a twisted headband. They're also useful if, like me, you get impatient and want to start another project, but need the needles from your current work. You could go and buy new ones, but it's much easier to put the stitches on a holder, put the project on hold, and come back to it later.
Here are a couple of options for different stitch holders to use for either crochet or knitting. You don't have to spend a lot of money and often the cheap alternatives (read: things you have lying around your house) are the best. 
Option One: An actual stitch holder

Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
A stitch holder
Pros: Easy to use and the stitches stay on. Very easy to slip the stitches back onto the needle, or knit from the stitch holder
Cons: I find these very easy to lose! Although that could just be me.
Option Two: A spare bit of contrasting wool
Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
A spare piece of wool
Pros: Inexpensive because you'll already have it hanging around
Cons: Difficult to get the stitches back on the needle and difficult to thread through in the first place if you don't have a darning needle

Option Three: A knitting needle or pencil
Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
A spare knitting needle
Pros: Easy to transfer the stitches and you'll definitely have some spare needles hanging around
Cons: If you're not careful, the stitches can slip off (I usually get around this by putting blu-tac on the ends) and if you're really not careful, you can confuse the held stitches for the working ones! Also depending on the length of the needle, it can get in the way
Option Four: String

Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
A piece of string
Pros: It's a cheap option
Cons: I actually really wouldn't recommend this. I tried it out for this blog post and it has the same problems as wool, but it tends to fall apart. Don't do it!
So, there we have it. Obviously, you can pretty much use anything you have lying around to hold the stitches on, for example pipe cleaners, garden twine, a necklace etc etc.
I'd recommend something sturdy and rigid, because it's easier to transfer the stitches back. Also something that ties, or closes so that there's no danger of the stitches falling off. That's just personal preference though! What do you use?

Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Riverside Vegetaria Restaurant In Kingston

Last weekend, my grandparents and I took a stroll down the riverbank at Kingston to visit the Riverside Vegetaria. As the name suggests, they're a vegetarian restaurant and their food is brilliant! Riverside reminded me a lot of Crocus Cafe in Nottingham (which, incidentally, I should go back and visit because their pakoras are to die for). They serve simple vegetarian food with a lot of aubergine (good), chickpeas (excellent) and courgette (my current favourite). My grandparents are definitely meat and two veg people, so it was lovely of them to take me to a veggie restaurant, and they enjoyed it, so it must have been good!

Their Menu is the same all year round, but with some variations on a blackboard. I opted for the Courgette, Mushroom and Lentil bake and it was so creamy and delicious. Really, I should have gone for something a bit less calorific, but you know, #YOLO!!!!! (I'm least I hope I am...) My grandparents went for the veggie lasagne and the Caribbean casserole and there were three empty plates at the end of the meal. We all had the sharing platter to start, which was delicious. The highlight was mushrooms cooked in a tomato sauce, which were so plump and juicy. I must work out which spices they put in because it was perfection. A fruit crumble for pudding rounded the meal off and I was one happy bunny.

I'd recommend the Riverside Vegetaria for meat eaters and veggies alike. There's not a huge amount of variation in the dishes, but I suppose that's so they can serve you faster. My only real complaint was that the waiter was a man of few words, and by few I mean 'ok.' And that was it. Maybe we caught him in a bad mood. He could have been a huge Spain fan. Who knows?!

We also went for a wander down the waterfront and I took some pictures, which you can peruse below if you care to. I'd like to walk the whole way to Hampton Court one day, but maybe when it's not so muggy. Those were some angry, overcast clouds!

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames
Bridge Over the River Thames

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Boats
House Boats aplenty!

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Red Flower Boxes
I do like a pretty red flower box

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Path
I almost felt like I was on holiday

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Swans
The swans were going mental for scraps of bread!

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Please Don't Feed The Birds
Oh the irony....

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames House Boats
If you keep walking, you get to Hampton Court

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Crazy House Boats
These people had really gone to town with the decorations

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Riverside Vegetaria Restaurant
The Riverside Vegetaria restaurant on, you guessed it, the riverside

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Crystal Palace Football Cake Baking Fail!

I have decided that my new arch nemesis is food colouring. Why oh why does it never turn out the colour that it is on the packet?! 

For Father's Day, my brother and I always make my Dad a cake based on one of his favourite things. Last year it was David Bowie, and this year, in the spirit of the World Cup, we made it football themed- a football on the outside, with red and blue stripes on the inside for his favourite team- Crystal Palace (Power 2 da Pulis!)

It was all going well- the batter was coming along nicely- all we had to do was add the food colouring. We'd bought the Dr Oetker Food Colourings from Tesco and a word of warning: DO NOT BUY THESE! As you can see from below, they did not turn our batter "Bright Red' and 'Sky Blue'-  instead they turned it magenta and turquoise. Not quite the colours Crystal Palace play in...

The cake itself tasted pretty good and I was happy with the way I put the fondant icing on. I mean, the pentagons could have been a bit more pentagony, but aside from that, the rest was good. Except for the stupid food colouring. I've since done some research online and apparently the gel ones are the best.


There's always next year!

Crystal Palace Football Cake
A pastel coloured Palace

Crystal Palace Football Cake
Tumblr Palace, non?

David Bowie Cake
Note the different sized pupils on our David Bowie cake- detail

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Staunton Country Park, Hampshire

Last weekend I went down to Hampshire to visit a good friend. We went for a picnic (which I unfortunately didn't take a picture of but let's just say it was pretty substantial haha) in Staunton country park. The park is part of a country house, but we didn't go to the house, just the (free) park and lake. It was a glorious day, with beautiful blue skies and lots of sunshine. But with lots of sunshine come lots of kids. And screaming. And dogs. 

It did calm down a bit after a while, but the landscape is not quite so idyllic when there are families shouting and screaming... But the English countryside always pulls through.

I took quite a few photos, but have managed to whittle them down. The bright light made taking photos a little difficult, but I think I got my camera on the right settings in the end. I tried to underexpose the shots a bit to compensate for the light. No idea if that's what you're supposed to do, but it seemed to work!

The lake looks alright here, but that's because the screeching children are out of shot

I love wild flowers

The sunlight was so pretty

There was a lot of walking involved!

A creepy old door covered in ivy

The old stable block

Bizarre carved wooden statues

A lovely cowering statue...

A flower crown for the car!

What a stunning sunset- it reminds me of Hercules

A nice hobbity bridge

The English countryside is a beaut

Just chilling with nature like Wordsworth, yo.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Loaf's New #BonjourBlighty collection

Loaf Logo

I recently discovered the furniture shop, Loaf, and I am in loaf...I mean love. Lame joke, but my love for this shop is no joke. The furniture is absolutely beautiful. It's my sort of thing- individual, comfy and absolutely gorgeous. They've recently released a new collection- Bonjour Blighty- which is a mixture of French elegance and relaxed British style. Since I got back from Paris, I have been coveting French style and this collection is the perfect marriage of my two favourite styles of furniture.

I couldn't tear my eyes away from the beautiful pictures on the Loaf website and did spend an embarrassingly long amount of time drooling over everything on sale. In the end, I whittled it down to just four items from the Bonjour Blighty collection that are my favourite:

Schnuffle Pouffe, which would look so good in my imaginary dream living room. I particularly like the knitted top. I do like a bit of stocking stitch.

Loaf Schnuggle Pouffe
Loaf's beautiful footstool from the #BonjourBlighty collection

Indiana Lampshade is a rustic beauty. I can see this on my porch, or maybe over the dining table. I think it helps that the photographs on the loaf website are so beautiful. Definitely aspirational living.

Indiana Lampshade Loaf
Loaf's rustic Indiana lampshade

The Tuppence Runner would subtly brighten up any room in the house. I'd love to put this in my bedroom, but alas, I don't think it would go with my purple walls... Maybe once I've redecorated. I can almost feel how soft this rug would be underfoot.

Tuppence Runner Loaf
The Tuppence runner is beautifully muted

And you can't mention Loaf without mentioning one of their beds. I am in love with their Claude bed, which is the perfect blend between French elegance and British heritage. I think I'll definitely be saving my pennies for this one. Especially once I move out and can get a double bed- because Claude is what dreams are made of!

Loaf Claude bed
Loaf's gorgeous Claude bed

So now I have major furniture envy, I'm off to pin as much as I can to pinterest and cry about how my bedroom is too small to fit a double bed in. Jk, I will actually be on the Loaf website. I encourage you to have a look-see too. You won't be disappointed!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Adventures In Baking- Hot Cross Buns!

Yes, yes, I know it's not Easter anymore, but I forgot to put these pictures of Hot Cross Buns on my blog and I'm pretty proud of them! My brother and I made them at Easter and used this Paul Hollywood recipe, which had very good reviews on BBC Goodfood. As we all know, the best bit about BBC Goodfood is reading the comments, and there weren't the usual slew of "I didn't have red peppers, so I used a yellow pepper instead and it was fine." ...You don't say....

Hot Cross Buns
One a penny, two a penny

Anyway, we decided to be all traditional and make Hot Cross Buns and were pretty impressed with how these turned out. The only thing I will say about this recipe is that although they taste good in the end, they need to prove three times, which means that they take forever to make if your house isn't particularly warm. It wasn't the hottest weekend ever, so it took pretty much all day to make them. This seems to be a recurring theme with my cooking...

Since making these, I tried a different recipe, which wasn't quite as prove-heavy and they tasted, I have to admit, a bit better. I did like this recipe, but the extra steps were a bit unnecessary. Soz, Paul, I  can't be bothered with proving dough three times when I can do it twice and get the same results. Lazy baker for life.

Hot Cross Buns
Adding the necessary butter

Hot Cross Buns
The glaze was made with apricot jam

Hot Cross Buns
Dat crumb

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

My Trip To Paris - The Photos!

Basically, I didn't do much on my last day in Paris apart from get a flight home, so here's a quick post with a few of the shots I took! I took a lot of photos, so it was hard to whittle it down, but you know, nobody needs to see my 100+ failed selfies...

My Trip To Paris
English Literature student 4 lyf

My Trip To Paris
A different view of the Notre Dame

My Trip To Paris
A cool fish padlock on the Love Lock bridge

My Trip To Paris
A cool corridor running around the Louvre

My Trip To Paris
The Louvre really stepped up their no flash photo signs

My Trip To Paris
My favourite statue in the Louvre- Michelangelo's Dying Slave

My Trip To Paris
If you squint, you can just about make out the Mona Lisa in the background

My Trip To Paris
Dis creepy guy

My Trip To Paris
Heeeeey Mary Magdalene!

My Trip To Paris
The view from the top of the Arc Du Triomphe

My Trip To Paris
A statue (and pigeon) in Des Tuileries

My Trip To Paris
Beautiful stained glass in Pere Lachaise cemetery

My Trip To Paris
A modern metro sign- how unusual

My Trip To Paris
This really cracked me up- Kentucky not good enough for ya?

My Trip To Paris
It appears that I took a disproportionate number of pictures of the Louvre...

My Trip To Paris
Trying to be arty

My Trip To Paris
The Eiffel Tower and the Seine- what beauts!

So, there are a few photos from my trip. I really enjoyed Paris and would like to go back to see some of the places I missed- Versailles, Sacre Coeur, Galleries Lafayette. How soon is too soon to go back?!