Saturday, 17 October 2015

Eats | The Brasserie, Aldwark Manor Golf and Spa Hotel, York

As part of my recent stay at Aldwark Manor Golf and Spa Hotel, we had dinner at their Brasserie restaurant. 

Decor was not brilliant - rather reminiscent of a Travelodge - but that is down to the restaurant being used for breakfast and lunch as well, I think. Service was somewhat haphazard as well - very friendly, but not as slick as a normal restaurant. Still, the food made up for this.

To start, Alan has the chicken liver pate, which he said was very nice; I enjoyed a very interesting dish of pig cheeks, black pudding cake, celeriac and red wine jus. The dish was unusual but all the elements went very well together, and this was the highlight dish of the meal.

Main course we both had steak, which came with mushrooms, tomatoes, very nice thick cut chips and a choice of sauces if desired; I had a beautiful roquefort sauce, which made the succulent steak even more delicious. Very good.

Finally, we had dessert, both of which were well put together dishes. Alan had lemon curd with raspberry sauce, granola and dried fruit, which he said was excellent. I partook of the dark chocolate mousse with chocolate soil and toffee popcorn. I enjoyed the mousse and the soil, though the toffee popcorn was a little sticky for my taste. However, I could see how the textures were put together to make for an interesting plate of food.

In conclusion, this was good food which was somewhat let down by the surroundings and the service. Still, worth a go if you are in the area or fancy a stay at the hotel itself.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Eats | Cosy Time Cafe, York

There are a number of little cafes/coffee shops that have sprung up in York recently, one is now spoilt for choice. I recently headed over to Cosy Time on Fossgate.

The little coffee shop had a good range of teas and coffees, together with a hot chocolate option. There were also a small number of cakes to choose from. I opted to try the hot chocolate and also a slice of white chocolate and passionfruit cheesecake. 

The shop was very comfortable, with some nice sofas and good service. The cheesecake - massive and very tasty - came with cream and dried cranberries, which was an unusual touch. The hot chocolate, unfortunately, was rather on the basic side; a confection which was half squirty cream and the other half indifferent standard machine hot chocolate.

What I liked particularly about this place were the little selection of books at each table; encouraging my favourite pastime whilst serving me good cake is always a winner. However, I am still in two minds about this place, so perhaps a second visit will help with making my mind up...

Sunday, 4 October 2015

What I've Been Reading | September 2015

September 2015 was a good reading month for me, as I had a week off and was able to get my teeth into the above beauties, plus an audiobook. Read below for details.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

I'm not always keen on YA books these days as they are sometimes written in a way that I find quite dull (I'm looking at you, The Maze Runner). However, having heard multiple book tubers raving about this series I decided to pick a copy up. The story follows Celaena, a notorious young assassin who was captured and forced into slavery in a salt mine. At the start of this book she is whisked away from her miserable slavery existence to compete in a deadly competition to become the chief assassin for the odious King of the country. However, in the midst of this fight to the death against other criminals, assassins and warriors, Calaena stumbles on a more dangerous magic hidden inside the royal court itself.

The book's plot is quite fast paced and whilst the characters themselves remain slightly one dimensional, it is absorbing enough to be forgiven that. I was intrigued enough to purchase the next book in the series.

Poseidon's Gold by Lindsey Davis

This is another book from the Marcus Didius Falco series, following Falco, an informer in Ancient Rome. Following directly on from the previous book I read, Falco returns to Rome to find his apartment has been abused by squatters and his mother is hosting one of his older, war hero brother's friends. This friend, however, is not what he seems and is seeking repayment of an old debt - and things become even more complicated when this friend is found dead and Falco is the chief murder suspect. 

I really enjoyed this novel as the story gave us an opportunity to explore Falco's family a bit more, particularly his absent father. Whilst keeping with the historical setting, Davis never fails to make these characters seem incredibly human. There are a couple of twists in the tale towards the end which really make this book an enjoyable and touching read. 

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas

Following on from Throne of Glass above, I was pleased to find that the world building and character development, some of which had been missing a little from the first book, were improved and expanded here. Without going into too much detail, this book had some good plot twists and some important set up, I suspect, for the next books (of which there are currently 2). A decent read and entertaining.

Victoria: A Life by A N Wilson

I really enjoyed this one and offered a review of it to a history blog I guest review for. That review can be checked out here. Readable biography which didn't feel as long as it appears.

The Inspector and Mrs Jeffries by Emily Brightwell

This little Victorian mystery follows a young Police Inspector, who is not very good at solving crimes and is secretly assisted by his housekeeper, Mrs Jeffries. The plot of this book centred around the poisoning of a local doctor and follows the usual collection of 6-8 suspects. There was some amusement to be had from the premise and the story was reasonable. I enjoyed this for what it was but I won't be reaching for any of the sequels any time soon.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Recently having subscribed to Audible, one of my first selections was this novel, which has been referred to as the new Gone Girl. Having read Gone Girl and found it mildly disappointing, I was hoping for more from this one.

I was not disappointed and I would say that this was much better than Gone Girl. The story centres around Rachel, a woman who commutes every day on the train past the same sets of houses. She watches the residents out of the windows and becomes interested in one couple in particular, until the woman in the house is reported missing in the newspapers. What follows is a rollercoaster of a story, as you soon discover that all is not what it seems and you begin to question whether Rachel is as reliable a narrator as you thought.

I enjoyed this one a lot and found it particularly stimulating to have it as an audiobook. The novel has 3 narrators and so the change in narrative voices on the audiobook made it easy to follow and powerful. I would recommend this one - if you're savvy you'll work out the conclusion before the end, but it's still well worth reading.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Book Review | Victoria: A Life by A N Wilson

Queen Victoria is a figure who does not want for biographers, and when we conjure an image of Victoria, most people have a sense of a short, stout woman, dressed in black and looking out of a sepia photograph looking pretty miserable. Some of us may have a further sense of Victoria, as a complex woman who was - until a few days ago - the longest reigning monarch ever in Britain. The benefit of A N Wilson's new biography is that he approaches the subject from a middle ground - an assumption that the reader already has a certain depth of knowledge of Victoria - which is refreshing and allows for an insightful and flowing narrative.

Starting from the context of Victoria's birth to her final moments at Osborne House, Wilson treats us to a story which, relying on some previous understanding of Victoria's life, brings some more interesting tidbits out of the woodwork. I knew, for example, that Victoria's first name was actually Alexandrina - but I did not know that during her early childhood she had been called 'Drina' by her relatives and only later became known as Victoria. Wilson is also able to scotch some of the traditional myths of Victoria - some of which she wove around herself - including that of the miserable, lonely childhood at Kensington. As Wilson gently reminds us, Victoria did suffer at the hands of the 'Kensington' system and Sir John Conroy during her teens, but most of her childhood was actually peopled by half siblings - in the form of her half brother and sister from her mother's first marriage - and the devoted love of her mother, the Duchess of Kent, something which the adult Victoria failed to acknowledge and recognise.

As we follow Victoria to her accession and beyond, Wilson is able to branch out from the family saga - namely Victoria and Albert, their children, and the sagas throughout her life with the likes of John Brown and the Munshi - to also give a broad overview of the politics of the period. We are introduced to the successive prime ministers, their policies and the wars of the empire. These are covered on their own merits and also through Victoria's reaction to them, but they never feel intrusive on this personal biography. I personally felt that I got a lot more out of this overview of the political scene than I have ever done with previous books about Victoria herself.

Wilson's biography is completely chronological but occasionally allows for reflections on the future, which allow us a greater understanding of the events he is speaking about. These diversions enhance the narrative rather than detract from it - especially in a family as large as Victoria's, it is often important to know where relatives come from, and where in the future they are going. Towards the end of the book, nothing could be more interesting that the tensions between familial loyalty and national pride which beset the likes of Wilhelm, the German Emperor and Victoria's grandson.

This book is a long one, but it does not feel it; the writing is light and readable, whilst maintaining a sense of authority, excellent research and a broad approach. Wilson is affectionate towards his subject without being sycophantic; he recognises all the faults in Victoria as a woman and a sovereign whilst still acknowledging her as a great Queen. Highly recommended.

This post was originally published on a history blog, History ASM. Please check it out. 

Days Out | York Does Vintage Fair

York regularly hosts Vintage Fairs and I was able to pop along to one the other weekend. Held at the medieval Merchant Adventurers Hall, as well as snooping round some lovely vintage stalls this was also an opportunity to have a look round the medieval hall itself.

The fair had a large number of stalls, including clothes, homeware and jewellery. There were also live music acts, workshops and a nice little cafe serving tea and cakes. I picked up a nice couple of cushion covers and a 70s blouse, so I left very happy indeed.

If you fancy popping along, the next fair is on Sunday 4th October, entry £2.