Thursday, 24 March 2016

Book Review: Beneath the Surface by Heidi Perks

Beneath the Surface by Heidi Perks book cover

AD* | I don't know where you are...

I don't know what I've done...

Teenager Abigail Ryder is devastated when she gets home from school to find her family gone. Nothing makes sense. Things are missing from the house and her stepsisters' room is completely empty. But the police think she's trouble, and when grandmother Eleanor tells her to forget them all and move on, there's no choice other than face the future - alone.

Fourteen years on, Abi and Adam are a happy couple on the verge of parenthood. But when the past comes back to haunt Abi, the only way forward is to go back and uncover the truth - and reveal the dreadful secrets a mother has been hiding all these years.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Album Review: Night Swim by Josef Salvat

* Originally published here by Kettle Mag.

Australian born, London-based singer-songwriter Josef Salvat was one of the breakthrough artists hotly tipped for success in 2015. His single ‘Hustler’ (taken from Night Swim) was released back in early 2015, and really helped to catapult him into the spotlight and onto more people’s radar.

However, you may have unknowingly heard Josef Salvat even before this, as his cover of ‘Diamonds’ by Rihanna was picked by Sony to feature as the backing music in the advert for their new 4K Ultra HD TV in 2014.

Fast-forward to 2016, and after a string of well-received tracks from the album, Josef Salvat is finally ready to release his much-anticipated debut album.

Night Swim is a collection of everything Josef has achieved so far in his innovative career in music. Think of it as the road to introducing Josef Salvat, as the album contains influences from every aspect of Josef’s sound so far. As a debut album it’s stunning, bearing the hallmark of that kind of sleek, polished output usually only seen by album two or three from much more experienced artists.

The tracks on Night Swim have the pulsing beats, recognisable rhythms and sing-along choruses of pop, but combined with Josef’s honeyed vocals and powerfully emotive lyrics, they transform into a dazzling display of strangely euphoric anthems. Topped with electronic and soul influences, the result is truly remarkable. The largely linear melodies and understated yet clean production really put the vocals in the spotlight, leaving the lyrics to lead the songs and setting the precedent for the sound of the whole album.

Late-night listening

This is one of those rare albums with the ability to freely adapt to any situation. These songs would feel equally at home in a club, at a beach party, or as a movie soundtrack. However, as the title suggests, this album really comes into its own as late-night listening. It’s the perfect soundtrack for this, the lyrics speaking of lust, love, obsession and betrayal, all infused with an almost ethereal, shadowy nocturnal air.

Josef Salvat is a true musical craftsman, managing to describe situations perfectly and create moments of extraordinary drama through his songwriting. Particular stand-out tracks for the storytelling element are ‘Shoot and Run’, ‘Night Swim’, and ‘Punchline’, which I imagine would sound amazing live.

In another rare approach for a pop star of today, I don’t think there are any weak songs on the whole album. None of the tracks give the impression of being there to fill space – they are all equally as strong as each other, and each has its own story to tell. With every listen, a little more of the meaning behind the lyrics reveals itself, leaving you with a greater understanding and a greater love for the songs themselves every time. Night Swim may not be immediately accessible, but trust me – stick with it. After repeat listenings, it reveals itself as a truly original and exciting album. The songs will stick in your head long after you’ve pressed pause, making for an unforgettable electro-soul pop debut.

Aside from being my new musical obsession, Night Swim is one of my personal favourite album releases so far this year. Keep your eye on this guy - I predict great things to come from Josef Salvat.

Are you a fan of Josef Salvat? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

5 foods to eat after dental work

Last week I had to have some dental work done, which resulted in an aching jaw, sore teeth and half my mouth being numb. I'm sure many of you will have experienced something similar at one time or another, but it got me thinking - what foods can I eat while my mouth is healing?

Everyone usually heads for the go-to staples like soup, yoghurt or ice-cream, but what if you want to try something else? I am by no means an experienced nutritionist or healthcare professional, but here are 5 foods I recommend for the days following dental work.

1. Roasted vegetables

Veggies are good for you, and if you roast them they can be soft enough to easily mash up or eat without causing further discomfort. Personally I recommend chopping up and roasting root vegetables like sweet potato and butternut squash as they go all soft and fluffy when roasted for the right amount of time. Just be careful to let them cool down before eating because you really don't want to burn your sensitive gums!

2. Risotto

Risotto might seem like a weird choice, but I found it a great way to get a proper meal that I could actually eat! Try pairing the risotto rice with spinach and small pieces of smoked fish fillet to make a tasty, easy-to-eat meal. Make sure it's well-cooked so it's nice and soft.

3. Stir fry

Perhaps another unusual choice, but a homemade stir fry can make another filling dinner for those recovering from dental problems. I recommend using the thicker udon noodles as they're both softer and easier to break up. Personally I'd avoid meat for this (some meat can be quite tough when stir fried) and go veggie. Throw in softer vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and bean sprouts. Team all that with a sauce of your choosing (I recommend nothing too spicy as it might irritate your mouth) and there you have another easy-to-eat meal.

4. Scrambled eggs

Scrambled eggs are a good source of protein, and a great food for this kind of thing. Tasty on their own or with some soft bread, eggs are filling and good for a lunchtime meal. If you're feeling adventurous, you could even try making an omelette to get some variety.

5. Sponge pudding

So you want something sweet but you're fed up of ice-cream? Try a sponge pudding. You can buy them ready made in the chilled section of most supermarkets or, even better, you could try your hand at making your own. There are plenty of recipes out there, but this is one of the simplest. Customise your pudding by adding your choice of flavouring - for example, jam, marmalade, lemon curd, syrup, chocolate sauce, or treacle (though I personally wouldn't recommend treacle as it can sting sensitive teeth because it's so sweet). Make sure it's cooled down to eat, and serve with custard (or more ice-cream!)

What foods do you recommend for after dental work? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Interview: Kara Keen

As you may know, this week I'm participating in the blog tour for Romancing Vegas by Kara Keen. You can find my review of the book here, but today I have the pleasure of interviewing the author herself!

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

I always loved to read and started out as a journalist, then worked for a publisher, then went into public relations and advertising. I wrote my first two books, both non-fiction, ten years ago. I love hanging out with family, traveling with my husband (we are museum and musical theater geeks), and I cross-train at the gym five mornings most weeks. I’m not the fittest person there, but I’m consistent.

How did you first become interested in writing? 

In high school, I wasn’t much of an athlete and I sucked at flirting. I could whip up a killer essay though, and that led to being part of the newspaper/yearbook crowd. Needless to say, I graduated high school a virgin.

How do you get inspiration for your books? 

Captain’s Orders takes place on a cruise ship and I have actually taken the trip described in the novel (no hot twin captains on the real ship though). The idea for Romancing Vegas came completely out of the blue while writing Captain’s Orders. If you were a dancer and you inherited a bunch of money from a man you barely knew, what would you do with it? My heroine Oksana, a Ukrainian woman recently sprung from a human trafficking situation, has to overcome terrible trauma and form a new kind of family to create the Vegas dance show she’s always dreamed of. Of course, complications ensue.

What draws you to writing romance? 

I thought romance was too formulaic for years, and then I read Sylvia Day. I began romance reading with her and have loved Megan Hart, Robyn Carr, Christina Lauren and Bella Andrea along the way, along with many, many others. Realizing that romance is hopeful and real to women and can help them solve problems and understand people in in their lives keeps me writing it.

How did Romancing Vegas come about? 

I’ve been to Vegas many times for conventions and I’ve seen many of the Cirque-style shows like the one I describe in Romancing Vegas. These people are super human, dancer’s heaven! And Vegas is so unique. When you get off the airplane in so many American cities, they all look the same. But when you walk into Las Vegas airport, you know you’re in Vegas baby! The city is inspiring and alive with adult fun.

I’ve previously read your book Captain’s Orders – how does that differ to the new release? 

Captain’s Orders takes place on a cruise ship and the story focuses on Tania and Cole. We get a peek at Primo and Oksana’s relationship, but in Romancing Vegas they take center stage and everyone loves Primo! Tania and Cole continue to explore their relationship in the Las Vegas setting, and some really hot times are had by all!

What’s your writing process? 

 I start out with characters and some kind of a setting or “hook,” but I have no idea where it’s all going. Direction appears like a deer in headlights. Much of writing doesn’t involve typing and doesn’t look like writing – it takes place all the time, especially (for me) while exercising in the mornings. So though my “golden hours” for words on the paper are between 3 and 8, thinking happens all the time. I also think of ideas in my dreams.

What’s the hardest thing about writing? 

Waaay too much sitting! I try to change locations and stand sometimes, but so many of us spend too much time on our butts. Have you heard that sitting is the new smoking in terms of health?

What do you love most about writing? 

Of course, when someone genuinely loves the book and they tell me they couldn’t put it down. A friend emailed me that she was stuck in an airport and hardly noticed because she loved the book so much!

Which authors inspire you? 

Sylvia Day, Megan Hart, Christina Lauren, Robyn Carr, Bella Andre and many, many others.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? 

Turn the critic off and just do it. Then revise. Again, sit in the chair and do it! Read a lot. Look for some other writers to get useful feedback from. Hire a professional editor if you’re self-publishing.

What’s your all-time favourite book? 

Can’t really pick one book! In nonfiction, there’s a book about women’s health called Screaming to be Heard. In high school, I loved One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The World According to Garp, Good in Bed and I still love all of Jennifer Weiner’s novels. In romance, I love Sylvia Day’s Bared to You, Christina Lauren’s Beautiful Stranger, and Megan Hart’s Stranger. (Maybe there’s a kinky theme there?)

Where’s your favourite place to write? 

I have a screen porch to use in warm weather and I absolutely love working outdoors!

What are your ambitions for your writing career? 

My husband says he’d like to quit his job and be my full time manager. I’d like that too! I would love my books to be a movie or TV series like Outlander.

What are you currently working on? 

Two Much, a New Adult spin-off from Romancing Vegas, is about Anne and Ariana Carleton, the twin sisters of the hot twin captains in Captain’s Orders and Romancing Vegas. After that, Anne and Ariana’s friend Taylor stars in a novella about finding out that the wrong guy might actually be the right guy!

Do you prefer e-books or traditional books? 

When traveling, e-books are better but at home I like traditional books.

To find out more about Kara and her books, visit her website, her Amazon page, or her Goodreads page.

Have you read any of Kara's books? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 11 March 2016

Book Review: Romancing Vegas by Kara Keen

Romancing Vegas by Kara Keen book cover

AD* | Three sizzling affairs began on a cruise ship... But what happens in Vegas might be more than the lovers bargained for!

Oksana must transform herself from victim to confident choreographer and producer of the sexy Las Vegas show she’s always dreamed of creating. Primo, who loves her, is with her all the way, risking his own life in a deadly grudge fight to finance the show. Will Oksana rediscover the passionate soul she learned to hide, or will the dark realities of her recent trauma drag her down, pulling the lives of her loved ones along with her?

Tania knew she was in love with Cole a few days after they met. They love hanging out, having fun, and working together to help Tania’s sister Oksana develop a successful show. They also love exploring the electrifying edges of desire together. So what will it take for Cole to say those three little words, “I love you?”

Daniella didn’t plan to fall for Jack, but she can’t stop thinking about the crazy, sexy times they’ve shared. He’s into fast, edgy living and so much fun – but is he ready to ditch the Peter Pan act and be her Number One?

What none of them know is that an old enemy lurks in the background, waiting for the right moment to take his revenge.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Review: Online Art Lessons

Interested in art? Wanting to improve your art skills? Always wondered how to get that painting or drawing just right? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then read on!

For the last month, I've been trialling a new online art subscription service. Online Art Lessons basically does what it says on the tin - it offers new, returning and developing artists the chance to learn how to create more artwork across a variety of mediums.

I'm not an artist by any means - receiving a disappointing grade in my art A-Level kind of killed my desire to create artwork - although art is subjective and I never picked projects my teachers liked, which I think may have had something to do with it... Though that's a whole new debate for another time!

The Online Art Lessons website is still in beta, so some of the videos are currently unavailable as content is still being added. It also struck me that a lot of things you'd expect to see on the site (how to guides for basic things like trees, buildings, different poses and positions etc) aren't there. Instead, there are some really specific or obscure tutorials - for example, how to paint a Zulu woman on a mat. I mean, specifics are great, but surely it would be better to focus on a wider, more general perspective while the site is still gaining popularity?

Personally, I would like to see more abstract tutorials. I love experimenting in my own work, and as you can see from my pieces I've added into this post, one of my favourite styles is pop art - some less realistic tutorials would be great to see in the future. I'd also be interested to see some tutorials working with different mediums, like charcoal, chalk, or textiles.

However, the tutorials that are on the site are great. The ones I've tried are really detailed and in-depth, with the tutors talking you through the process step by step. I like that it's not aimed at a high-brow 'artsy' audience, it's just aimed at regular people with an interest in art.

One thing I would say though, is not to get your hopes up. Don't expect to join up, take a tutorial, then suddenly transform into a master of art, because that's not how it works. Online Art Lessons are designed to gradually hone your existing skills and help you through specific tutorials. It's more of a hobby than a would-be artist's tool.

But despite that, I've really enjoyed my month of personal art improvement with Online Art Lessons. If you want to try your hand at art but maybe don't want to attend a class (for financial or time reasons), I'd recommend you give Online Art Lessons a go.

If you're interested in finding out more, why not sign up for a 7 day trial?

Will you be trialling out Online Art Lessons? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Book Review: You Can't Get Blood Out of Shag Carpet by Juliette Harper

You Can't Get Blood Out of Shag Carpet by Juliette Harper book cover

AD* | Wanda Jean Milton discovers her husband, local exterminator Hilton Milton, dead on her new shag carpet with an Old Hickory carving knife sticking out of his chest. Beside herself over how she’ll remove the stain, and grief-stricken over Hilton’s demise, Wanda Jean finds herself the prime suspect in the case.

But she is also a member of “the” local Study Club, a bastion of independent Texas feminism 1960s style. Club President Clara Wyler has no intention of allowing a member to be a murder suspect during her administration. Aided by her younger sister and County Clerk, Mae Ella Gormley; Sugar Watson, the proprietress of Sugar’s Style and Spray; and Wilma Schneider, Army MASH veteran and local RN, the Club women set out to clear Wanda Jean’s name — never guessing the local dirt they’ll uncover in the process.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Book Review: Twisted Mind by Mia Hoddell

Twisted Mind by Mia Hoddell book banner

AD* | GP2 race car driver Dustin Coates has been made irrelevant…

For the past year, Dustin helped his best friend, Raine Wilkins. It was a good diversion from his twisted life. Now she’s settling down with his brother, and without the distraction from his own toxic relationship, Dustin is rapidly spiralling out of control.

​​Everyone warned him to leave his girlfriend, Elora, yet they knew nothing about the baby…

It’s up to Dustin to protect the innocent life hanging in the balance and to do that he must endure Elora’s twisted games of manipulation and violence. However, when she does the unthinkable, Dustin finally snaps. Leaving her, the light-hearted jokester people have come to love is replaced with a grief-stricken man intent on one thing - earning a Formula One contract.

​​Everything changes when Tazia Nixon moves in next door…

Dustin clings to the Latin beauty who soothes his aching heart and helps him forget. But beneath her eternal optimism is a distressing past she refuses to share. Dustin must decide if he can risk his fragile heart a second time. She might ease his pain, but she could also break him like no one else.

​​Will Dustin be able to overlook the deceit to find his forever with Tazia, or will he see nothing more than a ​​​​Twisted Mind?

Monday, 7 March 2016

Bloggers Against Poverty

I am a big supporter of the work that Oxfam do - I donate when I can and regularly hunt through my local Oxfam bookshop to find great bargains! So today I've joined up with Oxfam as part of the Bloggers Against Poverty initiative. 

The fight against poverty is an incredibly important issue, and one that we in the West maybe don't think about as much as we should. Sure, if we see a homeless person on the street many of us will give them some spare change, but as far as our personal experience with poverty goes, that's pretty much it. 

Oxfam - Irina Werning

We all see the charity adverts on TV about how poverty affects people in less privileged countries, but many of us don't see it as an important issue - it doesn't affect us, so it isn't a direct priority for us. But things shouldn't be that way, which is why I've joined the Bloggers Against Poverty initiative.

For me, one of the most important things about this is a child's right to an education. Too many people take education for granted, and don't stop to think about the countless children around the world who can't have an education, for whatever reason. And what a lot of people don't realise is that education has the power to lift communities out of poverty forever.

One of the biggest problem areas for education is Pakistan. Only 1 in 3 women in rural Pakistan have ever attended school, and more than half of Pakistani children aged 6-16 wouldn't be able to read this simple sentence. The classes are crowded, teaching methods are outdated, and school buildings are appallingly poor quality. In a nutshell, Pakistan's education system is at breaking point.

Oxfam - Irina Werning

Everyone has heard of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban in 2012 for her activism about women's rights and education, but it was reading about Pakistani student Shazia's story (pictured above) that really put things into perspective for me. Shazia's local school was destroyed in a flood, but with the help of Oxfam the community have been able to build a bigger, better school to replace the old one. Speaking to Oxfam, Shazia said:

"When I wake up in the morning I pray to God that we get more education. We will be able to learn more in our new school, this is good, I am happy and excited to see the building. I spent almost one year not at school.

Some of my friends come to school but some don't. Many drop out as their fathers do not allow them to come. They should come and continue their studies and be educated." 

However, Oxfam are committed to making education more accessible to Pakistani children. Oxfam continues to help in Pakistan by:

  • Training more teachers.
  • Engaging with governments.
  • Building more schools in rural Pakistan.
  • Getting as many children (especially girls) in classrooms as possible.
  • Inspiring communities to value education.
  • Campaigning for children's rights to go to school.

Last year Oxfam were able to help almost 12 million people. Regular donations can go such a long way in the fight for education, for example:

  • £8 can provide 32 children with textbooks. 
  • £12 can buy soap for 100 families for 6 months.
  • £18 can teach 50 young women about their rights.

Education is vital in the fight against poverty as it ensures young people have the best chance to succeed. If you want to get involved with the campaign yourself and make a donation, visit the Oxfam website.

Are you supporting the appeal? Let me know in the comments below!