Thursday, 30 April 2015

Book review - The Soldier's Wife by Pamela Hart

Kia Ora!

The 25th of April (ANZAC day in New Zealand and Australia) tends to be a sombre day of remembrance, and reflection. Particularly as this year is the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli. I attended the dawn service and the ten o'clock one in New Plymouth this year, and was moved by the great attendance and the solemn ceremonies. The playing of The Last Post and the national anthem (Australian as well as the New Zealand version) always strikes a chord within me.

I had been sent a book to review from Hachette, and it was set in Sydney during the first years of WWI. It seemed appropriate to read it on ANZAC day. The Soldier's Wife by Pamela Hart was released on the 28 April, and should be available wherever books are sold (as cliche as that sounds). It costs $29.95. The main characters in the book are women left behind by their enlisted husbands, and how they cope with the uncertainty of their men's return (and in what condition). The blurb on the back of the book states:
Sydney, 1915.
World War One brings tragedy and loss and sweeping change for those left at home.

Newlyweds Ruby and Jimmy Hawkins are sure their love will survive the trauma of war. Amid the desperate battles raging in Gallipoli, Jimmy dreams of the future they planned together. In Sydney, Ruby reads his letters full of love and longing.

But as weeks slip into months Ruby must forge her own new life. When she takes a job at a city timber merchant's yard, she is thrown into a man's world fraught with complications. And as the lives of those around her begin to shatter, Ruby must change if she is to truly find her way. Is she still the same woman Jimmy fell in love with?

Inspired by the author's own family history, The Soldier's Wife is a heart-souring story of love and loss and learning how to live when all you hold dear is threatened.

The cover looks like a stereotypical romance novel, complete with a taster sentence. "War will change them all." Honestly, it reminds me of a LaVyrle Spencer novel from the 1980s/90s, and I wasn't expecting anything great from the book. The blurb sounds a bit lovey-dovey too, so I'm expecting a bland romance from this book. I can honestly say I was surprised about how good it was.

I'm a History buff (and majored in the subject at university), so sticking to historic details is important to me. Small details like the weather, or exact clothing choices don't matter so much, but being accurate to the social expectations, and economic/historical events from the period is important. Hart has made a great effort to make sure her characters and their actions are historically correct. This is shown by Ruby's dedication to the social customs and niceties of the time, including being expected to cook, clean, dote on her husband, and give up the job she loves in order to have his babies, as well as her preoccupation with the length of her skirt, and how much ankle is visible. Although the expectation to give up her job in favour of reproduction duties is not explicitly stated until near the end of the book, it is implicit in Ruby's actions throughout the story, as well as in the lives of the other women Ruby's life is entangled with.

Hart does take great care to note that Ruby has to go home from her job for lunch, and isn't able to use the facilities (read toilet) while she is at work. It would be considered improper for a woman to share bathroom facilities with men at this time, and she notes the great care Ruby takes to calculate how much of her morning cup of tea will be ok, without causing undue hassle or accidents for her at work. These sorts of cultural norms from the early 1900s are carefully utilised to bring greater depth and historical accuracy to the story.

Although the story has plenty of unimportant details (like just about every time Ruby has to use the toilet), Hart does a wonderful job of making the reader feel the full impact of the brevity, longing and despair that WWI had upon regular people. A man who lost his son falls apart with the desperate grief, Ruby and Jimmy express their longing for the war to be over, the unending horror of their separation, and the deep fears every person felt for the unknown future. This novel really brings home the huge impact WWI had on ordinary citizens, and their various coping mechanisms. Characters thoughts and actions help the gravity of the situation be brought across to the reader, but the letters home from Jimmy, and the telegrams received by women about their men at the front drive the message home.

I'm really impressed by the depth of this novel, particularly as I started reading it with the intention of taking detailed notes, but eventually was dragged headfirst into the story and couldn't put it down. I read it very quickly, so it isn't a particularly difficult read. It is an engrossing one, with the characters and the plot creating a realistic representation of WWI for ordinary men and women. There isn't very much discussion about the actual battles in Europe (where Jimmy is based with his unit), but the effects of his participation are noted in reference to Jimmy and Ruby. This novel helps a reader truly understand how WWI affected the lives of every man and woman at the time, in large ways, and in small unconsidered ways. I'm really impressed by this novel, and will happily recommend it.

Does this sort of novel appeal to anyone else? I love historical fiction, and occasionally secretly indulge in romance novels. I hope you all enjoyed reading about this book, as I loved having the chance to review it for you. Look out for more book reviews in the future!

Until next time ...

Disclaimer: I was sent this item for free and I have been asked to review it, but I want to make clear that my opinion will not be influenced by receiving this for free. I think it is important I note when things I do receive for review purposes (i.e. for free), but also to state that I will still write an honest opinion of the product. If it is awesome, I'll say it is awesome; if it is rubbish, I'll say that too. Nobody wins from lying about the quality of something, so what's the point.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Tea with Alice March Box - Tea Review

Kia Ora!

I've been a busy bee taste-testing all of the delicious teas that were sent to me as part of my first Tea with Alice box. I've had a complete blast doing it, and have discovered a couple of teas that are going to be favourites in the future; I can tell from how fast I finished the sample bag!

I was surprised to find a second package on my doorstep a few days after receiving my first box, but after contacting the wonderful customer service team was assured I could keep it. Their system had a bit of an ooops, which is in my favour this time (that sounds like a Monopoly card). I'm really happy about this as there were two other black teas in the box for me to try. The herbal blends were the same (to the benefit of my mother), but I'm always excited by more black tea.

I've written a bit of a review of each tea, along with some pictures. If there are any questions or comments, feel free to pop them at the bottom and I'll make sure to reply ASAP. Enjoy!

I spent an afternoon taste testing the tea varieties, and enjoyed it immensely. I usually add milk (and lots of it) to my black teas, but I've photographed them here with just the infusion so you can compare the varying colours. I know some people drink black tea, well, black, but I'm a fan of milk so I tend to over-add sometimes. This affects the colour of my tea, and it all looks a bit insipid so I thought taking photographs at this stage would be better.

Afternoon Tea Please!

Long thin leaves make this tea a little difficult to get into a brewing implement, but tongs help! I'm going to be investing in some tiny tea tongs, or small glass jars to make this process easier. The leaves have a deep, dark scent, but this scent doesn't carry over once hot water is added. It is a medium brown tea, reminiscent of Bell tea. This is a great comfort brew. It tastes like 'normal' tea, albeit fresher. It is supposed to have an aftertaste of cocoa, but I didn't notice it. I think this is a good solid tea, although it isn't anything special or different, but it is a nicer version of generic tea bags from the supermarket.

Repurchase: Maybe, if I ever run out of tea.

Breakfast in Bed

This tea is my favourite tea of the moment, I truly can't get enough of it. It comes in tiny balls of tea leaves, and this creates a deep and strong liquid and aroma. The scent becomes more noticeable upon the addition of hot water, and makes my mouth water just thinking about it. It has a very strong and deep, dark flavour, and I think it works very well with milk. I find it is perfect for helping me wake up in the morning, with the depth of the flavour (and I like to trick myself that it is more caffeinated than other teas). This tea reminds me of variations of Irish Breakfast tea that I've tried previously.

Repurchase: Oh god yes, I'm saving up for some more as I write this!

No Dress Code

Another tea with long thin leaves, and has a lighter colour liquid. This one I found was a lighter tea, with very little depth. Once I added the milk it completely overpowered any tea flavour. I can see this one being good for those who like weaker tea. I have an uncle who likes the teabag dunked in for a few seconds, and then milk added, so for this type of tea preference this tea would be great. Personally, I hated this one.

Repurchase: No, too weak for me.

Kiss Me Now

This tea had long thin leaves in varying shades of brown, and looked really pretty before I added water. There was a strong chocolate scent that accompanied the leaves, and a dark liquid. The scent is actually stronger than the flavour of these teas, which is sad, but there is a significant cacao flavour that accompanies this tea. Yum! It isn't a sweet chocolate flavour, but it lingers on the tongue. I demolished this packet very quickly, as flavoured black tea is my jam.

Repurchase: Yup, can't beat a tea/chocolate combo!

Purely Peppermint

This tea has a strong peppermint scent and flavour. I'm not really a fan, so I didn't pay as much attention to this one. I know that my SO's mother loves peppermint, so this will probably head her way. The tea does smell lovely and fresh, but I don't normally drink this type so I can't definitively say much about it.

Repurchase: No, not my thing.

Detox Me Now

These tea leaves are green and yellow, look a bit like dried dandelions, and smell like grass. I was very hesitant at actually drinking this one, but it wasn't too bad once I got over my reservations. It does taste a bit like grass, but a watery version. It has less taste than could be expected from the strong scent of the dry leaves, and I actually enjoyed it once I had had half a cup. I'm not sure I'll order more of it, but I will finish the packet I currently have.

Repurchase: No.

Phew! That was actually a lot of tea, but I enjoyed the excuse to drink cups upon cups of tea for an afternoon or two. Overall, I have figured out I like my Tea with Alice subscription, and I'm really excited for the next few months to arrive in my mailbox. I might end up changing to just the black tea option, but I'll see what other herbal options come through in the next two months first.

Until next time ...

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Bonjour Jolie Box

Kia Ora!

I ordered a box from Bonjour Jolie back in September or October of last year, when they were having a sale. There were quite a few issues with international post (not helped by having Christmas postage stuffing things up), but Bonjour Jolie have the best customer service, and have resent my box, twice! I'm actually blown away by how great their customer service is, especially as they are based in America and time zones are sometimes a problem when communicating. Effectively, I can't say enough good things about this company, and that's before I even open the box.

Bonjour Jolie are a period subscription box, who supply feminine products (pads and tampons) as well as luxury pampering goods for that time of the month. They tend to have jewellery, beauty products, tea and other nice things in their boxes. I've ordered from them once before, and loved the box then too. I don't order very often as international shipping is horrendously expensive, but I like to treat myself every once in a while. Let's get into the box!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Masked Madness #4

Kia Ora!

My note-taking skills for this version of Masked Madness were terrible (read non-existant), so some masks have very little comments as I tried them once and promptly forgot their good and bad points. Sorry guys, I'll try and do better for the next round!

Etude House - Royal Jelly and Snail

Like I said in Masked Madness 3, these are great masks for a cheap price. They have plenty of essence, that soaks in well and leaves skin feeling hydrated.

Innisfree Skin Solution Mask - Wrinkle Care

This mask was great at adhereing to the contours of my face, and would work well across the board. It felt very relaxing on my face, and felt like it had some intense moisturising power. There were some brown spots in the cotton mask, but I thought this might be a feature, or perhaps a more natural makeup of the cotton? I used the mask and nothing bad happened. Other Innisfree masks I've used have had the same type of spot, so I assume it is a feature of the cotton used for the mask.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Haul - Innisfree, Bossy Cosmetics, The Body Shop

Kia Ora!

Ever since I finished my Masters I've been doing quite a bit of shopping on the internet. A bit dangerous, so now I'm on a no-buy for April (we'll see how well that lasts). I've done a Korean sheet mask haul, which will be posted as soon as the last few things turn up (international shipping can take awhile sometimes), and this is a bit of a random haul from NZ and Innisfree.

Bossy Cosmetics

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Empties March 2015

Kia Ora!

I love doing posts about the products I've used up, as I usually have a reasonable idea of what the product is like and if I like it (or not). Hopefully my thoughts are helpful to other people too. There are quite a few things this month, so I had better get started. There's also a couple of men's products that my SO used up, so he will do some mini-guest posting to tell you about those.

Project Pan Finale April 2015

Kia Ora!

Project pan is finished! I'm a bit relieved about this as I haven't really been giving it the love I should have recently, and got a bit sick of some of the products. I'll be glad to try other things without feeling too guilty now! The original post is here, and the February update is here. This post was supposed to be up last week, but I've just gotten quite sick of talking about the same products all the time. So sue me.

I know I kinda failed at doing a March update, but I was deep in research at that stage, and couldn't keep up with tracking the project pan. Because of this there are only 3 lines on each product to indicate usage (blue for how much was there when I started, green for the first update in February, and orange for how much is left now). I'm just going to have pics, as I'm sure anyone who reads regularly already knows what I think of these products. If not, check out the first two posts when I was more enthused (sorry to be so down today, but I am very over this Project Pan business).