Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Book review : Aftercare Instructions - Bonnie Pipkin

Seventeen-year-old Genesis Johnson (don't hold it against her, she didn't choose it !) has a lot on her plate. She is the primary carer of her mum, who has mental health issues and possibly suicidal tendencies, her ex-best friend let out the secret that the tragedy of her father dying was due to a heroin overdose and, as if that wasn't already more than enough, her boyfriend Peter has just walked out and abandoned her at an abortion clinic.

The only glimmer of hope is that she is totally at rock-bottom and things can only get better from here on. After drowning her sorrows, she wakes up the next  morning with more than a hangover when she finds a note from Seth, a boy she met the night before, in her bag. She may be on the rebound, but he seems to be exactly what she needs, giving her new strength and purpose. Then Peter comes back grovelling and everything gets complicated again.

Genesis, or Gen as she is usually known, is the ultimate antihero. Although she makes dubious choices, she is one of life's survivors and keeps battling on, whatever life throws at her. It is impossible not to empathise with her and it's heartwarming to see her take back control of her life and set off on (hopefully) a new path to happiness.

It's a poignant read - more so with recent events here at The Madhouse and watching Genesis (only a year older than Sophie) having to try to come to terms with her father's death - but it is ultimately uplifting and optimistic. I've labelled it as young adult fiction because of the age of the main character but it would appeal to older readers too.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (3 May 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1787198839
  • ISBN-13: 978-1787198838
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Monday, 21 May 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #21

The end of the school year is whipping round, which means I'll soon be run off my feet with after-school meetings and day trips to London, Canterbury and Dover. This week is a relatively calm one so I'll try to get through a few bookmarked recipes, before living off pasta and frozen pizzas !


lunch - flamiche aux poireaux, a leek quiche/pie which I will probably add some bacon to, to stop the kids moaning - served with salad and baby potatoes

dinner - Avgolemono, Greek chicken, lemon and egg soup which comes from a #readcookeat recipe and sounds like an interesting way of using up the leftovers from the Sunday roast


lunch - school canteen

dinner - spaghetti carbonara


lunch - Kung Pao Chicken with rice

dinner - nachos with chilli and various other toppings


lunch - school canteen

dinner - tacos salad with Catalina dressing (to use up yesterday's leftovers)


lunch - school canteen

 dinner - pork, veg & noodles


lunch - fast food - I've given up trying to keep track of whose week it is to chose because I always seem to get it wrong and the kids remember anyway !

dinner - tartiflette - baked potatoes topped with reblochon cheese, onions and bacon


lunch - Sunday roast - probably chicken again

dinner - toasties or fridge grazing

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Madhouse Diaries : Enjoying the Warmer Weather

With the arrival of the sunshine, we've been getting out and about more, making the most of the weather and the lighter evenings. This started off with Pierre spending his eagerly-saved pocket money on a mini skateboard. He'd been trying out Sophie's skateboard, practising his balance with her pushing him along on it.

 After some big sister coaching and showing him how it's done, it was time for Pierre to have a go. 

He started off looking very nervous and wobbly but soon discovered that falling off is quite funny too !

After a few more tries, he was starting to get the knack (and this was when he decided that he wanted to buy his own skateboard, rather than use Sophie's). 

Meanwhile, Juliette and the dogs waited patiently to resume our walk !

Ahh that's more like it - they always love the chance to get off their leads and stretch their legs.

Didou had great fun jumping through the long grass - I din't take a photo because we couldn't even see him except when he jumped ! - but it played havoc with my hayfever !

We headed into town on the 8th May and caught the end of the VE Day commemoration.

This is the uniform of the French Navy and if you touch one of the red pompoms on a sailor's hat, it's supposed to bring you good luck. It was so hot, one of the female Marines fainted, but luckily someone dashed in to catch her and her gun before it (and she) clattered to the floor.

I made sure we beat the heat by grabbing some of the free bottled water being handed out and, back home, Sophie made the most of the patio for some revising under the parasol ! 

After the success of his little growing corner in the kitchen, Pierre has discovered a new passion for gardening so we've been sowing seeds and planting bulbs in various containers.

It's all a bit hit-and-miss and the sun totally fried some of the plants we bought - cherry tomatoes and a few flowers mainly - but the gladioli bulbs are looking very promising and there are lots of green shoots.

The fun part is the planting anyway and Pierre loves going around watering everything every day when it's hot !

While Pierre was busy planting, I did a quick stocktake of what has come back since last year - our wisteria flowered but it was short-lived (maybe too much sun?) but I was pleased to see that the mint is thriving.

It's nice to just be pottering around outside with the kids, enjoying some quality time together in the sunshine. Hopefully there's plenty more where that came from !

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Pointless - The Mini Game review

When you say that something is pointless, you usually mean that it's a waste of time, but Pointless - The Mini Game, is anything but. It's a fun, compact game, perfect for travelling, that will keep the older children and adults entertained for hours, battling out their word skills and general knowledge.

Inside the box, you get a card with the (simple) rules (not really needed if you're familiar with the concept), a score-sheet with space for the answers and a pack of cards with a clever card holder which shows you the question while hiding the answers. Just like on the TV show, you will have a category - anything from George W Bush and Ryder Cup Captains to Duran Duran Singles or Victorian Novels - there's something to appeal to everyone and some are easier than others. For each category there is a series of questions - they may be anagrams, initials, clues, have missing words or letters - and a description of the category. Here, for example, it is "anagrams of songs that were all Top 40 singles during the Christmas period".

All players get their thinking caps on at the same time so there is no boring waiting around for your turn. The youngest player begins, chooses his answer, writes it down on his score card and tells everyone what he has written. The next player can choose the same question, if he thinks it has been wrongly answered, or a different question. Once everyone has written down their answer, the Question Master slides the card up to reveal the correct answers and the number of points (a wrong answer will get you 100 points). After six rounds, the winner is the person with the lowest number of points.

It's a fun game and some of the anagrams are hilarious - who'd have guessed that A Magical Carp Enslavement is an anagram of A Spaceman Came Travelling ? (Well, 1 person apparently, judging by the score - and now I've got la la la la la la la la la la on the brain !). Eventually, when you've played through all the questions, you'll know all the answers, but there are plenty to keep you going and you could either buy a different version of the game with new questions or have fun making up some of your own !

Pointless (Aged 12+) – just like the TV show! 
For more information, head over to the University Games website

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Fab freebies of the week 19/5

Whether you're excited about the Royal Wedding or are planning to skip anything Harry and Meghan related, I hope you have a lovely weekend and enjoy this week's round-up of the week's best UK freebies.


Get a free gift (rumour has it, it's a necklace) for signing up to the Diamond Style Mailing List :
Welcome to our new newsletter, please note that this will replace the old newsletter.
Sign up now to continue receiving all of our fabulous discounts, and to receive a FREE GIFT. Once you have completed your details and clicked subscribe, you will need to click the confirmation link that will be e-mailed to you.

From Redbreast whisky : To complete your Birdhouse registration, and to receive your FREE Exclusive Redbreast Pin and future Birdhouse updates, hit the SUBMIT button below.

Get in quick - Sopost are giving away Mac lipstick samples

Fancy trying our crisp, clean, unsweetened bubbles? We simply infuse water with Nature’s ingredients and add some sparkle. Aqua Libra has no sugar, no sweeteners, nothing artificial and only 3 calories per can. Enter your détails and we’ll send three free cans to the 1800 lucky winners who will be selected at random.

Super Savvy Me have a new Herbal Essences bio-renew Argan Oil Shampoo & Conditioner sample and also a 3 Minute Mask Aussie sample on the same page

Complete the Form to Order Your FREE Protein Packed LumberJack Bar

Start looking younger today with a FREE 2-week supply of Plantscription™ Anti-Aging Power Serum from your nearest Origins counter.

Are you a #UK #Beauty and #Lifestyle #Blogger or a potential #Brand #Ambassador ? Want some #beautiful #Active #Charcoal #Soap to test? Message us for a free sample bar, we've got 100 bars to give away. Online feedback would be great!

#brides who doesn't want nourished, hydrated skin safe in the knowledge what you are putting on is pure indulgence without the toxins? UK #bridestobe DM for your free sample to nourish the skin you're in ❤💮#skincarecommunity #skincareroutine #skinfood #AwardWinning #skincare

Friday, 18 May 2018

Globecooking recipe : BBQ Pulled Chicken Sliders (USA)

The Madhouse kids aren't huge fans of red meat, so we seem to be eating an awful lot of chicken and turkey these days. This is fine by me, as it's cheaper, as well as healthy and tasty, but I do like to mix things up a bit, using different herbs and spices. I found a sachet of BBQ Pulled Chicken seasoning that was in the cupboard but you could easily recreate the flavours without (see recipe below). It gave a great summery, fun-to-eat meal that the kids loved.

 BBQ Pulled Chicken Sliders

500g chicken or turkey breast
1 onion
2tbsp ketchup 
1 sachet BBQ Pulled Chicken or 1tsp each of brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, salt, chili powder, garlic granules and cayenne pepper 
a glass of water
soft bread rolls

Put the chicken or turkey in a casserole dish.

Add a finely sliced onion.

I used a sachet of Schwartz seasoning that was in the cupboard (from a previous Degustabox?) but you could definitely make this from scratch with a mix of herbs and spices.

Mix the seasoning, ketchup and water together and pour over the meat and onions.

Pop on a lid and stick it in the oven at 180° for an hour.

Use two forks to pull apart the meat and mix through the sauce in the pan.

Spoon into soft buns.

Serve with chunky homemade coleslaw and potato wedges.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky as it used up a sachet of seasoning that was in the cupboard and also finished off some white cabbage that was in the fridge.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Book review : Tubing - K. A. McKeagney

Tubing is K. A. McKeagney's debut novel and is described on the publisher's website as a "contemporary, sexually-charged psychological thriller" that could be likened to a blend of Girl on the Train and Appletree Yard, sprinkled with 50 Shades of Gray. I would say it's pretty undefinable in terms of literary genre but it's certainly gripping, chilling and very unsettling. If you're uncomfortable reading some fairly graphic sex scenes, it may not be your thing though. 

The first chapter sets the scene and pulls no punches. After being let down by her boyfriend of three years on their anniversary and going to a wine bar with a friend, Polly is on the way home on the Tube. An attractive stranger catches her eye and, seconds later, they are having a furtive fumble in the corner of the train. Polly is a willing participant and, when the handsome stranger whispers "meet me again" in her ear before getting off at the next stop, she knows that this is an experience she wants to repeat. With all the recent publicity surrounding the #MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the USA, then the French report that over 260,000 people (85% of them women) were sexually harassed on public transport between 2014 and 2015, including kissing, groping, flashing and rape, this didn't quite sit right with me. Presenting women as wanting and actively encouraging sexual advances from complete strangers on public transport seems like a dangerous step in the wrong direction.

Polly, however, is electrified, thrilled and desperate to reconnect with her handsome stranger. She soon learns about the secret world of Tubing, where people post online with the #tubing hashtag and the station of their choice to set up these fleeting and very public sexual encounters. Rapidly disillusioned but nevertheless completely hooked, Polly continues playing this dangerous game but soon discovers that she is actually nothing more than a pawn on someone else's chessboard. As her life spirals out of control and she realises that she is in grave danger, how far will she have to go to reclaim her life?

I have no idea if tubing actually exists, but it is entirely feasible, which just makes the whole novel even more chilling. My one regret is that Polly is not more likeable as a character. She is a very fragile and damaged woman - she bears the scars of anorexia and bulimia, a vicious and abusive mother and presumably, as she takes to banging her head against the wall in moments of stress, some mental health issues - but she is also cynical, self-absorbed and considers herself completely guiltless throughout the whole novel. Not once does she stop to consider her boyfriend in all of this, and, once she turns herself into basically an unpaid prostitute, it is very hard to empathise with her, even without being judgemental.

Even without liking Polly, it is still an intriguing, compelling and fast-paced novel that I found unputdownable. It is a story that will stay with you long after you have turned the final page and will definitely make you look over your shoulder every time you use public transport !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: RedDoor Publishing Ltd (10 May 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1910453560

Check out the rest of the #Tubing blogtour.

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Madhouse recipe : Cinnamon roll apple tarts

Glancing at the fruit bowl and noticing some apples going slightly wrinkly, I decided to make some apple pies to use them up. I had a roll of ready to use puff pastry in the fridge and I remembered a recipe video I'd seen scrolling through my Facebook feed months ago which gave me the idea for these quick and simple little tarts, which were polished off as soon as I'd put them on the table !

 Cinnamon roll apple tarts

1 roll of ready made puff pastry
2tbsp (or more) of cinnamon
4 apples (I used golden delicious but any would do)
1tbsp salted butter
3tbsp sugar
1tsp vanilla essence (optional)

Roll out the pastry and sprinkle all over with cinnamon. I would have put a lot more than this, both for taste and visual appeal, but Juliette was hovering behind me, reminding me not to put too much because she doesn't like the taste !

Roll it up into a cylinder.

Chop into 1cm slices.

Lay two or three slices in the bottom of each hole in a silicon muffin tin and press them flat to cover the base and sides. Make sure they're nicely sealed at the joins.

Using more cinnamon would give you a much more defined swirly pattern, but you still get the idea. Pop them in the oven at 180°C for 10 minutes while you prepare the apples.

Peel the apples and chop them into small chunks.

Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the apple until it starts to go golden and soften. Add the sugar (more or less depending on how sweet or tart you want it and also on the variety of apple). Add the vanilla essence, if you want (I had a squeezy bottle of vanilla concentrate to flavour coffee) and add a little water if it starts to burn. Once it's soft enough but not completely mushy, turn off the heat and leave to cool.

Remove the pastry cases from the oven, press down with a fork of your fingers in the centre if necessary and leave to cool.

When everything is lukewarm, spoon the apple into the pastry and serve. They're lovely warm or cold, just on their own or with squirty cream or ice cream for a more decadent treat.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky as they used up some apples and other odds and ends from the cupboards.
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