Books reviews, book tours, cover reveals and anything else book-related.

Book Review: The Universe versus Alex Wood by Gavin Extence

Tuesday, 22 July 2014
'The Universe versus Alex Wood' is Gavin Extence's debut novel and what a surprise it was! I bought the Kindle edition of this book several months ago and didn't really know what to expect. I believe it is aimed at young adults and I imagined it to be in the same vein as Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time'.
According to the synopsis from the official website "Alex Woods knows that he hasn't had the most conventional start in life. He knows that growing up with a clairvoyant single mother won't endear him to the local bullies. He also knows that even the most improbable events can happen – he's got the scars to prove it. What he doesn't know yet is that when he meets ill-tempered, reclusive widower Mr Peterson, he'll make an unlikely friend. Someone who tells him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make the best possible choices. So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at Dover customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he's fairly sure he's done the right thing…."
The story is a quirky tale in which the hero, an eccentric boy named Alex, looks back on his life from the ages of 12 to 17 in order to explain how he has arrived at a particular point in his life. Alex acts as narrator and the entire story is seen through his eyes. Alex is one of life's outsiders, a curious mix of naiveté and intelligence, overthinking every situation to ensure that he always acts in a way he feels to be appropriate with little thought to the consequences for himself.
The story is unusual and whilst I initially had some difficulty getting into the story, once I did it kept my attention until the very end.
Without ruining the story, I can say that that I did not expect the subject matter that arose towards the second half of the book. Extence, through Alex's thoughts, manages to deal with a huge moral dilemma in a gently thought-provoking and touching way, without veering towards sentimentality. The controversial issue was tackled with a splash of humour and a lightness of touch that seemed intended not to provoke tears from the readers but to encourage people to look at the subject matter through Alex's eyes in a logical and compassionate way and to consider the thought process behind such a decision.
I was concerned that the book would try to be a bit too clever for its own good to the detriment of the storyline, however it set a perfect tone between light hearted humour and serious subject matter. It is not easily pigeon-holed into one category, it is a comedy? a drama?
The characterisation of this novel is very good and you can't help but warm to Alex and his unique way of looking at the world. The story can make you laugh out loud or reduce you to tears.
This is a beautifully written book full of wit and warmth. It is a brilliant achievement, particularly for a debut novel, and I would encourage any reader to give this one a try.  I am hoping that Extence may have a few more novels up his sleeve...
Ginger Cat x

Hair & Beauty Review: July's Birchbox

Monday, 21 July 2014

My July Birchbox has arrived and I'm very excited about the contents.

Whish - Three Whishes Lavender Body Butter

This lotion did not smell particularly of lavender to me, which was slightly disappointing but it did have a light and pleasant fragrance, not too overbearing as lavender can often be, and I like the soft,, sweet vanilla-y scent which lingers after use. I have not tried this item properly as yet, however the little bit I tried on my hand absorbed well and left my skin feeling silky smooth without any stickiness, which can sometimes be a problem with body butters. The fact that the product is sulphate and paraben-free is a big bonus for me.

According to the website write-up, Three Whishes Body Butter contains repairing and rejuvenating antioxidants and is available in pomegranate, almond, lemongrass, lavender, blueberry, coconut and limited edition seasonal scents.

Balance Me - Wonder Eye Cream

Yet another natural and organic product, Balance Me's Wonder Eye Cream is designed to firm, lift and soothes the delicate eye area. It claims to help combat fine lines, dark shadows and dull skin.

Wonder Eye Cream contains botanical ingredient including witch hazel, virgin coconut, jojoba, cucumber, rosehip, spruce knot (anti-oxidant), cloudberry, aloe vera, lavender, Roman chamomile, lemon and carrot oils.

It has a pleasant smell and feels quite lightweight and non-greasy. I look forward to seeing whether there is any noticeable difference to my wrinkles and dark circles after a week or two of using this item.

Laqa & Co - Sheer Lip Lube Pencil in Bees Knees

Laqa & Co Sheer Lip Lube Pencil is a pigmented lip balm that is perfect for everyday wear. The peppermint-shea butter formula gives a lovely minty fragrance whilst moisturising the lips. It is packaged in a handy twist up pencil, so no need for messy sharpening.

The colour is slightly too pink for me. I prefer a more natural colour with a hint of shimmer and I find that Sheer Lip Lube Pencil in Bees Knees is, as with a lot of lip pencils, slightly too matte for my taste.

I applied it before I left for work, at around 7.30am and the colour was still faintly visible at 9am.

Whilst the colour is not quite right for me, I'm sure one of my sisters will make good use of this item.

Benefit - The POREfessional

This was the product I was most excited to find in this month's Birchbox.

Benefit's The POREfessional is, apparently, the no.1 primer sold in the UK at present. It's formula is designed to "quickly minimise the appearance of pores & fine lines for smoother-than-smooth skin!" The lightweight serum can be applied either under or over makeup. The oil-free formula is supposed to help makeup stay put for longer.

I tried this item for the first time today. It comes out of the tube in a skin-toned shade, which is unusual for me as all other primers I have tried have been a clear gel. It went on easily and was of a lightweight non-greasy consistency. I will have to wait until the end of the day to know whether my makeup stayed on all day, however it did seem to reduce some of the more visible pores on my nose.

Gilchrist & Soames - English Spa Sea Kelp Extract Mineral Bath

What can I say, it's bubble bath. I can't imagine that it will be drastically different from other bubble baths. However, I like the fact that Gilchrist & Soames English Spa Sea Kelp Extract Mineral Bath contains natural ingredients and is both paraben and phthalate free. The formula is stated to be a blend of English botanicals used at the turn of the century.

The Gilchrist & Soane website describes the Spa Sea Kelp Mineral Bath as  "Delightfully rich & foamy, the Spa Sea Kelp Mineral Bath contains therapeutic marine nutrients, vitamins, and extracts that invigorate the body as the warmth of the water releases it's fresh fragrance of citrus and herbs."

Certainly, it has a pleasant fragrance and I can happily imagine myself relaxing in the bath, glass of wine in hand and surrounded by Gilchrist & Soame citrus-scented bubbles.

The Chia Co Shots

Finally, as a little lifestyle extra, a pack of chia seeds, the latest 'superfood' to arrive in Britain. The Chia Co, an Australian company, claims these tiny seeds have 'more omega-3 and dietary fibre than any other food from nature'.

According to an article in The Daily Telegraph 'What's so super about chia?', chia seeds are from a plant in the mint family (Salvia hispanica) which was originally a crop grown by the Aztecs. When the seeds are mixed with water, they swell to a thick gel, somewhere between caviar and tapioca in texture. In America, chia health drinks are sold, suspended with seeds like raspberry jam. 

On a practical note, chia seeds are a plant source of omega-3 and has a less obtrusive taste than flax seeds. The Chia Co recommends a 15g daily portion in porridge, over cereal or included in a number of other recipes.

Whilst I am happy to try these seeds, I will not be purchasing them. The health benefit would have to be proven and pretty spectacular for me to justify the cost of £4.95 per 10 shots. In addition, I imagine that in the quantity I would eat them there would be no significant health benefits over and above a usual healthy diet, certainly not enough to justify the cost.

What do you think of your July Birchbox? Did you like the selection of products? Were there any products that have surprised you, in a good or bad way, when you tried them?

Ginger Cat x