Review: The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

The Futures cover

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak (Michael Joseph, 2017)

On the surface, everything about this appealed to me: the beautiful cover, the blurb, the themes. I still love of all of these, and the setting was brilliant, but unfortunately I didn’t find the novel quite as compelling as I’d hoped.

Part of the blurb reminded me of 500 Days of Summer, one of my favourite films:

This is Evan and Julia’s story.

This is a love story.

But no one says it ends happily.

This is a good start as far as I’m concerned. Most of my favourite novels have broken my heart!

Evan and Julia meet at Yale and fall in love. The couple move to New York City after graduating, where Evan has lined up a top job at a hedge fund. However, the financial crisis is beginning, Julia isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life, and as Evan dedicates more and more time to his career, we see the strain it puts on their relationship.

The temporal setting really appealed to me, since I also graduated during the recession. It was the first novel I’d read that dealt with the crisis from the perspective of a new graduate. The author did a great job of capturing the feeling of being completely lost after finishing university – at least for those of us who get to the end of however many years of study without knowing what we’d like to do.

There was a blend of the familiar and the fascinating, because although I could relate to this part of the novel, the world of hedge funds and bankers in New York City is a million miles away from what I know. I found this interesting, despite the detrimental affect on the characters. The series of events – and even the everyday niggles – that upset their relationship are carefully orchestrated by the author, so that we understand how the characters are led to the choices they make.

The main problem was that I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I needed to in order to really feel sorry for them when their relationship started to fall apart. There needed to be more build-up of their relationship during university, more evidence that it had once been good, in order to feel the loss when things went wrong.

Another aspect of the structure that added to the feeling of disconnect was that for the first half of the book, it didn’t feel like there was a main narrative holding the story together. It read like a series of vignettes, rather than interspersing flashbacks and anecdotes to illuminate aspects of the present storyline. I would also have been tempted to delete the prologue entirely: although parts of it are beautifully written, it made me question why they ever move in in the first place.

I am sure that there are fans of character-driven fiction that will enjoy The Futures, but, for me, the pacing meant that it didn’t quite have the emotional impact I had expected.

Thank you to NetGalley and Michael Joseph for the proof in exchange for a review.

16 in 2016: Results

Since it is now the second day of 2017, it is probably time (ahem, a little late) to look at the progress (or otherwise) of my 16 goals for 2016.

Some were no problem: visiting new places, seeing new shows, reading two books per month – easy! (Although I didn’t do the best job of keeping track as I went along, so there was a bit of trawling through my photos to remember everything.)

I have updated my 16 in 2016 list here if you want to have a look, but some standout memories were:

The new-to-me shows I’ve seen this year – all seventeen of them!

Dublin. We went here for a long weekend to see Postmodern Jukebox. The band was absolutely amazing, Dublin Zoo was a brilliant day out and the Guinness Storehouse is easily one of the best tourist attractions I’ve ever visited. We also saw the Long Room at Trinity College – a bibliophile’s paradise.

My friend’s hen do and wedding. A group of 22 of us went to Puerto Banús for my friend’s hen do. They were a brilliant group of women, and we had such a nice weekend. The wedding was completely beautiful.

St Paul’s Cathedral. I had wanted to visit since moving here, and it was as stunning inside as outside.

St Paul's sunny

St Paul’s

Cork and Bottle. This restaurant is hidden away downstairs in Leicester Square, and has all the cheese and wine you could wish for. Continue reading

Review: Raspberry and White Ginger candle, Skye Candles

I was recently sent a Skye Candle to feature on the blog, which was a lovely offer – thank you!

candle-unpacked

Skye Candles is – funnily enough – based on Skye, and was set up by James Robertson following work at a local soap company, where he discovered he enjoying mixing scents.

From the first sale in August 2006, the company has gradually grown to a team of eleven people, with shops in five towns/cities of Scotland. I must have walked past their Edinburgh shop so many times on the way to my old job, as they have a prime location on a little street just off the Royal Mile, within minutes of the Castle. They can also ship from their online shop around the UK, EU and rest of Europe. (Apologies to readers from elsewhere!)

handmade-label

The company produces candles, diffusers and air fresheners. Their founder’s flair for working out scents that will work together can be seen in the range of fragrances: there are some classics, like lavender or cinnamon, but there is also pomegranate and plum, pimento and cranberries, or vanilla and fig. Then there are blends like ‘Sleep Sensation’, designed to help you relax, which uses lavender, tea tree and grapefruit. I really want to try this one!

However, as a Scot not in Scotland, of course I love the country more than ever, so I had to pick something from the Scottish range. This collection captures bluebells, pine, heather, not to mention bog myrtle (which sounds fantastically un-candle-like) to evoke some scents of the country.

It was very difficult to pick one as they all sounded brilliant. I ended up choosing Raspberry and White Ginger because, frankly, the colour of this label would go well with my living room…

candle-matches-throw

(Matches the throw on the sofa.)

So what was it like? It arrived well packaged in a box, protective paper net and lots of straw, and included little notes about the company, candle care and who packed my order, so thank you, Karen – lovely job!

just-a-note

The candle container itself was gorgeous, with a tartan cylinder around the candle and a minimalist white lid with the company’s logo on it.

opening-candle

Excuse the Artex.

The candle comes in a glass tumbler with a logo sticker. My suggestion here would be that it could be nice to carry the tartan theme onto this logo (perhaps as a border?), but I am sure they tried all these things when designing the range and decided the plain label was best!

skye-candles-raspberry-and-ginger

I was really pleased with my choice – it smells lovely! It’s not overpowering (I’m not sure if this is because I have an orange one that is very strong!) but when you leave the room and go back in you can smell it again.

These candles are made from oils mixed with soya wax, which has a couple of advantages over paraffin-wax candles: they are better for the environment and better for you, as it’s a cleaner burn; plus, the candle should last longer as it burns at a lower temperature.

The wicks have apparently been designed so that no wax should be left in the glass when the candle has burnt to the bottom. I haven’t finished mine, so can’t vouch for this yet, but the candle care instructions included should help people to get the most from their candle, e.g. trimming the wick after burning, and allowing the candle to burn to the edge of the glass before extinguishing so it burns out rather than down.

candle-in-dark

When the candle is finished, if you return the glass for recycling you get a 10% discount. I love to see companies that have considered their environmental responsibilities, as well as their ethical policies – they do not test on animals.

Candles make such good gifts for housewarmings, Secret Santa, aunties’ birthdays, those occasions where you forgot you might need a gift…! I think I will be like my mother and buy a couple to ‘have in stock’. The fact that it is an independent Scottish company is a big appeal for me, so I will be more tempted to opt for these over bigger brands.

top-of-candle

There is a great offer at the moment where all their three-wick candles are buy one, get one free, so this is a good time to buy!

Thank you so much to Skye Candles for sending this on, and to Ari for organising. I look forward to trying more!

A little gem: Gem Bar, Soho

Recently my friend and I attended the relaunch of Gem Bar in Soho. Just off Beak Street, five minutes from Oxford Circus, it’s perfectly placed for a post-shopping drink.

Before the event we were asked our favourite spirit and whether we preferred sweet or sour drinks, so we could have a bespoke cocktail waiting for us on arrival. I was given a Zamora, which included Amaretto, Oakheart rum, lime and Cola, and tasted like cherry cola. Sarah had a Watermelon Fresco, which she enjoyed so much she just kept having the same.

Mine was good, but the next cocktail I had was a Zoom, which was even better: Midori, vodka, Triple Sec, raspberry, cranberry and orange, unmixed to appear like traffic lights.

zoom-cocktail

The place looks great following a massive refurbishment. The basement floor seems to be more of a club area, although they also have events there, while the main floor is a fairly big bar with plenty of booths and tall tables. I imagine it will get busy on Thursday and Friday evenings, but at least with this amount of space there is more chance of a seat! (And as an old lady at heart, these things are important to me. And no, the music wasn’t too loud either!)

As well as a little arcade area on the first floor, I also appreciated the lighting:

good-vibes-only-gem-bar

poopy-face-sign

I need to get myself a light box!

An added bonus was that we had a chance to try the bar snacks. (Or, more accurately, stuff ourselves with a platter between the two of us). We got a classic sharer platter, which comes with garlic bread, calamari, chicken goujons, Bloody Mary meatballs, nachos and sweet potato fries. We also got some barbecue chicken wings, which were great, but obviously messy!

I don’t like calamari, so Sarah was delighted to have it all to herself, but I thought everything else was great, especially the chicken and Bloody Mary meatballs. As well as platters, they also have an offer where you can order three small plates for £10, or five for £15.

menu-gem-bar

For those who work centrally, Gem Bar is a handy, laid-back place for a few after-work drinks, and, as I said before, ideal for those who have braved Oxford Street. The cocktails were great, the food is ideal for snacking and we really enjoyed our evening here.

Thank you to the Gem Bar staff for your kind hospitality, especially Mark and the lovely toilet attendant who complimented my accent!

BYOC ft. James Cochran

Last week, my friends and I went to a launch event for the new BYOC in Soho. BYOC is ‘Bring Your Own Cocktail’, so you can bring along a bottle and the bar staff will mix you something. It aims to capture the spirit of American bars in the twenties, when prohibition led to the birth of the speakeasy. They ‘strive to deliver everything that was great about the speakeasy without the danger of being busted by the coppers at any moment’!

Mango solero cocktail

The evening started in the bar on the first floor (there is another on the second floor) with champagne and oysters if you fancied them. Grace loves them so she and Sarah tried them – they were giant!

Oysters and champagne

If you go for the bar, you would be asked to pay £25 on arrival to cover the cocktail-mixing for the night. Depending on what bottle you bring, this could end up cheaper than your average night out in Soho. (In most bars outside happy hour, the average price of a cocktail is around £10.)

Making cocktails, BYOC

This very dapper-looking man mixed us a mango solero and a lime and lemongrass cocktail. The mango solero had a marshmallow in it, which was an added bonus.

At this point, there were Scotch eggs and chicken as snacks.

BYOC chicken

I am glad Sarah tried the chicken before me, as she took one bite and immediately reached for the nearest drink. Tip: the red sauce on the chicken that looks like ketchup is seriously, seriously hot. Sarah loves all food, whereas I am only just starting to like spicier food, and it took about ten minutes for her taste buds to go back to normal. I only tasted the tiniest bit of the sauce and it was very, very hot. The chicken was great though! (Another tip: it could have been a placebo effect, but the marshmallow might have helped take the edge off the hot sauce.)

We then got to sample the menu in the restaurant on the ground floor, as BYOC have teamed up with James Cochran, former chef at the two-Michelin-starred Ledbury.

It is pricey, so it is probably a place for a special occasion or one for any dedicated foodie friends. Fortunately, I had brought two of mine! We got to choose four small plates each, which allowed us to taste almost the entire menu.

BYOC menu

We had everything from the mackerel to the end (except for the cheese, which they forgot to bring, but we had eaten so much by this point it was probably OK). I am not a massive fan of seafood (just fish and chips), so I left most of that to the other two.

BYOC salmon

Smoked salmon, apple and whiskey jelly, radish, smoked cod’s roe, mustard cress

They agreed the smoked salmon was probably the best salmon they have ever had, and enjoyed the mussels but not so much the ray wing. (I can now say I have tried ray wing, which is definitely a new one for me.)

BYOC mussels

Mussels, savoy cabbage, mace, granola

As for the meat dishes, the beef and the pork belly were amazing. Sarah managed to eat most of the beef without us realising, and she was unapologetic.

Beef

This is my phone’s attempt at a photo in dim light. After editing…

I am a dessert person, so I was very happy with the four we got to try. There was the chocolate malt parfait; elderflower, strawberries and long pepper meringue (elderflower and strawberries – amazing); raspberries with feuilles de brick; and the rhubarb doughnuts.

BYOC desserts 2

The parfait was too far away from the others to get in the group photo.

Despite being a chocoholic and never normally one to choose meringue, I would probably pick the meringue as the best one. My friend confirmed she was completely full by this point, but just had to have another piece.

It was a brilliant opportunity to get to know BYOC, and experience their foray into the world of food. The staff were brilliant, especially the man in the restaurant who found Sarah a New Zealand Sauvignon. (And then poured the biggest glasses of wine I’ve ever seen.) Photos of the Brighton and Camden branches also look amazing.

Thanks to BYOC, James Cochran and PR&EI for inviting us along. Thank you also to Sarah for the photographs, since I forgot to bring my new camera! Oops!

Cocktails, BYOC

16 Goals in 2016: Half-Year Progress

1. Visit fifty new places. I checked my list two days ago and saw the last thing I wrote was Puerto Banus, which was in March, so obviously I have forgotten a bunch.

I think my favourite new places are the Tattershall Castle, the pub on a boat; Dublin, because it was great to see a new city, and visit the zoo and the Guinness Storehouse; Puerto Banus, where I went for my friend’s hen do holiday; Rabot 1745, where I had my birthday meal; Cork and Bottle, a wine bar hidden away in a basement in Leicester Square, where we had all the cheese and charcuterie; and most recently, the Tower of London.

2. Go on two holidays. I had checked off my goal to have two holidays by mid-March, which is pretty amazing: a weekend in Dublin and a weekend in Marbella. However, I think I need something else in the diary – perhaps a week off around September time – to look forward to. I have started a list, featuring more city breaks like Vienna and Budapest, as well as the unrealistic – New York! Canada! Iceland!

3. Do three day trips. I have done zero day trips. Possibilities to consider are Stonehenge, Canterbury and Oxford.

4. Make a scrapbook or memory box. I haven’t made a scrapbook or even bought a memory box. I’ve certainly collected enough to fill one, however!

5. See three ten new shows. I achieved ‘see three new shows’ in January alone, so I adjusted the goal to ten, and I achieved that by the first week of May. This goal is a complete cheat, because I am always going to go and see lots of shows.

Most had a limited run and are now finished, but I can recommend Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for an entertaining family show; Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare, for a decidedly un-family-friendly take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream; How the Other Half Loves, which has some outrageously old-fashioned ideas of relationship roles, but is in some ways still very modern – and funny; and Motown the Musical – if you love this genre of music (who doesn’t, really?) then this show is packed with classics.

6. Read two books a month. I have managed to read at least two books a month, and I’ve enjoyed every single one. I’m making excellent reading choices in 2016! My recent obsession was the Throne of Glass series, so if anyone likes YA fantasy (or perhaps just plain fantasy) then you should definitely try this. Another special mention to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Reading The Infernal Devices trilogy on my friend’s recommendation meant I decided to go and see Cassandra Clare when she came to London. I’m so glad I did, as it was really fun and I got to meet Dominic Sherwood, who plays Jace in the Shadowhunters TV series – added bonus!

IMG_20160416_130535

7. Do something different. This was vague to begin with, but I will be honest and say I haven’t done very much different.

I want to find out more about Age UK’s befriending service, which helps tackle the problem of loneliness faced by many older people. There is so much wrong with the world, there is more bad news every day, and it feels like there is nothing we can do about any of it. I need to do something, even if it only helps one person on a tiny scale.

On a lighter note, I have decided I’m going to buy a harmonica, so learning to play it can also be trying something new.

8. Take a chocolate tour. I have not done this yet, sadly, but you know it will happen.

9. Read a book in French or Spanish. I have so many great books waiting to be read that I haven’t yet sought out any French or Spanish books yet. Perhaps translations of Harry Potter are the answer!

10. Run for twenty minutes without stopping. I don’t know why I set this goal! I tend to go to the gym either post-work, when I’m too tired, or for zumba, so I’m not in the gym itself. I went this morning and can definitely run for ten minutes without stopping – and without breakfast, so perhaps if I were properly fuelled I could improve this.

11. Take care of myself. I have been eating more vegetables than I used to, but these are still outweighed by the amount of chocolate I eat. I am going out less in the week, but I’ve been reading such good books that I’m staying up late anyway just to find out what happens! Again, I don’t really remember what I meant by this goal, so I’m not sure what I wanted to achieve here. This needs a rethink!

12. Make my money go further. I have been taking advantage of free nights out, like blogger events and things advertised on Time Out, and using discounts on OpenTable and lastminute.com a fair bit. I think the most expensive show I’ve seen this year was £25, whereas there are some ridiculous top prices in the West End (£125, anyone?!) so I am definitely finding better deals.

13. Dedicate three hours each week to blogging and writing. I have definitely not done this. Perhaps this week, and this week only.

14. Write more list posts. I could do more, considering how many lists I write each day.

15. Take a photo a week. I am sure I have, but have I been carefully selecting a photo for Instagram/the blog to remind me of each week? No, no, I have not.

16. Keep a happiness jar. I moved this and forgot about it for a long time, so it’s back on my desk, ready to add to in the coming months.

So approximately four goals out of sixteen are on track, which is not the best result halfway through the year. However, that just means that tomorrow I should spend time finding a chocolate tour or a good time for a day trip, so I can’t complain!

Weekend Coffee Share: June’s Happy Days

Weekend Coffee Share is a feature hosted by Part-Time Monster. Read other posts in the link-up here.

Hello, Weekend Coffee Share! I haven’t taken part in a while – actually, I have struggled to blog for a while – but let’s change that today.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that there has been a lot going on in June, both good and bad. I would like to focus on the good, but first I have to at least mention this week’s big news for me: the result of the UK’s EU referendum.

I cannot yet articulate how sad, angry, disappointed and confused I am by the result (so I have opted for a few basic adjectives). Perhaps in the future I will be better able to convey exactly what I think we’ve lost, but for now I am just grateful for the opportunities afforded me by being a member of the EU, and for being born at the right time to take advantage of these. Whatever happens after our years of disentanglement and renegotiation, I really hope that today’s children and any children I may have are able to have similar chances.

However, this post is for my happy days this month. It is going to be quite photo-heavy, making up for my poor attempt at my photography goal so far.

It was my birthday this month, so I have been completely spoiled. I was treated to a camera, a handbag, a musical, a concert and lots of cake, so it was incredible and lovely.

My boyfriend organised the day itself, so everything was a surprise. It began with a walk up Primrose Hill to take advantage of the sunshine – with a stop at Primrose Bakery, for a birthday cupcake.

Primrose Hill

Cupcakes, Primrose Bakery

It was the only day of good weather that week (there have been so many storms, it’s weird!) so it was great to be outside, even if I got a tiny bit sunburnt!

Primrose Hill 2

After that, we went to see Motown the Musical. It is full of brilliant songs from the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross among many, many more. It was really fun, and was another new show to add to my list this year.

We went for dinner to a restaurant called Rabot 1745 in Borough Market. Every dish on the menu uses cocoa beans in some way – as do many of the drinks. I had a chocolate orange cocktail, which I think was called the breakfast cocktail, and it was a very good choice.

Rabot drinks

We shared a starter of Yorkshire pudding with beef and white chocolate mash. I know how weird white chocolate mash sounds, but it was actually amazing. For mains we had mac and cheese (in cacao nib pastry) and the pork stack (where the crusts and glazes used cacao) and I had a chocolate tart for dessert. It was a really brilliant choice of restaurant for me, and I would recommend it to any Londoners who are looking for somewhere a bit different to try.

I couldn’t believe how much thought he had put in to the day, so thank you to him for making it so special.

A few days later, I went for afternoon tea at Brumus restaurant, part of the Haymarket Hotel. The best thing about the décor was obviously that the chairs had dogs on the back of them:

Brumus chairs

The afternoon tea itself was lovely (although I don’t think any have topped BB Bakery yet), and we all left stuffed with sandwiches and cakes.

The next day I went to the Riding House Café for brunch (why does socialising so often revolve around food?!) with friends from uni I hadn’t seen for ages. I got the pancakes, and did not appreciate just how large a portion it would be when I asked for a side of bacon… they were great though!

Brunch, Riding House Cafe

We also had a wander around the British Museum, where I used my new camera and took this excellent photo (if I say so myself) of a violin:

Violin, British Museum

The next weekend I went to West End Live, where the casts of most of the musicals perform a few numbers in Trafalgar Square. I completely underestimated demand and the queue to get in was insane, so we missed a lot (or heard a lot without seeing anything), but we got in on time for Les Mis, which is the main thing.

Les Mis, West End Live 2016

Mamma Mia and Matilda also contributed a couple of great sets, before Jersey Boys topped everything off, getting the whole crowd singing ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’. We had to leave after that, but there was a whole weekend of free entertainment from West End shows – a big treat for musical lovers!

Finally, last Sunday I got to see Nashville in Concert at the Apollo. I was so disappointed to miss out on tickets a couple of months ago, and then my friend presented me with one for my birthday! It was a fantastic night, easily one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to, and I just love them all even more now.

Nashville, Eventim ApolloNashville in Concert, LondonCharles Esten, London

(Look at this photo! It’s like Charles Esten is looking right at me! I know he wasn’t, because we were halfway up the balcony, but look how far my new camera zooms!)

It has been an eventful month! Hope you’re all doing well and enjoy the rest of your weekend.