Tuesday, 21 March 2017

New brand alert: Button & Wilde

One of the perks of my day job is that I often get sent new products by PR teams, and a package that caught my eye recently was from a company called Button & Wilde, who specialise in bath and body care. Specifically, personalised bath and body care.

I'll be honest, I don't foresee a situation where having my name on my shower gel (because really, what is body wash, if not just a posh name for shower gel?) would put me at an advantage in my day to day life. But the packaging's pretty, so I'll roll with it.

It helps that I have a weird button obsession, and that the button in the logo is flanked by a rather cute hedgehog and a slightly wired-looking squirrel. Is he caffeinated? High? Indignant at the unnecessary 'e' on 'wilde'? Who knows.

Beyond the cute packaging and personalised aspect, the products themselves are of pretty decent quality, the scent sitting quite comfortably between the cheap-night-out and stuff-your-gran-uses ends of the scale. I can't yet vouch for the shower gel body wash, but the body creme is one of the better ones I've used, not requiring too much rubbing in, but not too oily either. Well done squirrelly Joe, you done good.

No word yet on the pricing of Button & Wilde products, but watch this space.

See Button & Wilde website for more information.

Disclaimer: Although I was sent these complimentary products as part of my day job, I only write about products that I genuinely like. That, and the fact that I didn't want to risk the wrath of that particular squirrel.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Riu Tikida Beach Adagir: hotel review

I'm not normally one for reviewing the large multi-national hotel chains - the glossy photos on the website usually speak for themselves - but our recent stay at the Riu Tikida Beach Hotel was so excellent, I've decided to make an exception.

The building itself is a whitewashed arrangement of neat stacks, two storeys high in some places, four or five storeys high in others. The balconies and verandas hint at a visual cacophony of floral colour in the summer, but in February, we make do with the few bougainvillea plants in bloom.

The entrance, beyond the airport-style scanner, is a mosaic tiled floor - so far, so Moroccan. Reception sits subtly over to the right, the hotel shop to the far left, while the centre opens up into a light-flooded atrium. An impressive black vase, filled variously with lillies and roses of ever-changing colours during our stay, hogs the spotlight on a circular glass table. The floral offerings add a splash of colour to the reception area. It's not drab, but rather stylishly muted, all browns and greys, African hunting lodge meets old English country house.

The hotel lobby is like a museum, with something different to see every time you walk through. Some of the artefacts are immediately obvious - the life-size chimp sculptures, the plethora of deliciously mismatched lampshades and bases, the wealth of inviting sofas and armchairs, stools and settees, all as comfy as each other. Other items take a bit more teasing out like the historic photos of a Natural History Museum - possibly London, possibly elsewhere - tucked away in an impressive display cabinet.

The highlight though, is the library, a mezzanine-level treasure trove lined with leather bound books, overlooking the piano bar and accessed via a rustic metal spiral staircase. Sadly, the staircase is roped off; these are books to be admired from afar rather than read up close.

The exquisite decor continues throughout the hotel. The main dining room is painted a mushroom grey - dull enough not to offend sleepy eyes over the breakfast table, but a classy enough backdrop for the stylish evening meals. The lunchtime restaurant is a treat of a different kind, with focus drawn unfalteringly to the panoramic view of the beach through the floor-to-ceiling glass.

The food is as expected from an all-inclusive hotel. Seafood features heavily, but if you're not a fish fan (don't worry, I'm not) there are plenty of other options including salads, pastas, soups, tagines and meat joints. Being an adults-only hotel, the usual child-friendly chicken nuggets give way to the more grown-up chicken tagines, but even the fussiest of eaters (again, hello) won't starve. The delicious breakfast pastry selection warrants a special mention, as does the evening dessert chef who missed his calling as an architect:

Aside from the decor, what makes this hotel so memorable are the friendly, welcoming and helpful staff. Everyone, from receptionists and bar staff to cleaners and gardeners, asks how your stay is going - lovely, but no chance of getting anywhere in a hurry when you're stopped every 10 seconds. Bar staff have a knack of remembering everyone's favourite tipple from night to night, and practically have it poured for you before you've even taken a seat.

Location-wise, the hotel is disappointingly a 30-minute walk from the centre of Agadir, and a further 15-20 minutes to the marina. Taxis are readily available and inexpensive (make sure you use one of the orange taxis to avoid being ripped off) but if you enjoy a short stroll of an evening, this may not be the hotel for you.

The beach is right across the promenade from the hotel, with a private area and sun loungers available to hotel guests. In theory, it's gorgeous, golden sand. In reality, the hotel beach is situated right next to a river outlet, meaning that heaps of rubbish, plastic, and goodness-knows-what-else ends up on the sand and in the sea.

The hotel pool is lovely though - the larger of the two is heated, but the highlight is the pool furniture. Sunbeds, wider than you'd find at most hotels, are provided with cushions and pillows, not to mention the mattress beds whittled into the terraces of the hotel's gardens.

The only niggle was the fire alarm's persistence at waking everyone at 6.30am for the first four mornings of our stay, despite us, and several other guests reporting it (it was going off across the whole hotel). The staff's disappointingly laissez-faire attitude to getting it fixed tainted an otherwise excellent holiday.

Hotel Riu Tikida Beach, Agadir. We visited off-season (16-27 February 2017).

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Holiday Reading Roundup: February 2017

For me, books are a key part of a good old beach holiday -- not just one or two new bestsellers, but any novels I can get my hands on. I don't care how old they are, I spend far longer deciding which books to take on holiday than I do picking my clothes. I've normally cracked my first spine (sorry, purists) before I've even left the tarmac at Gatwick, and spend the next ten days eating my way through the collection, before pouncing on any books whoever I'm travelling with has brought, and hoovering up any English language offerings on the hotel bookshelf. Here are some brief reviews of what I munched my way through in Agadir:

Missing by Susan Lewis *****

Most of Lewis's novels can be described as hard to put down, but getting through a 500-pager in 24 hours is a new one, even for me. The story is a bit of a slow one, with the author introducing the characters separately -- in the style of Jodi Picoult -- before revealing how their lives overlap. It's worth persevering as more and more of the plot is revealed. A missing mother, an unidentified corpse a missing baby and an illegitimate child make for an engrossing read if you enjoy solving mysteries as you go. Highly recommended.

The Bones Of You by Debbie Howells ****

One to read if you enjoyed The Lovely Bones or Gone Girl. An 18 year old girl, Rosie, goes missing, and the novel follows the fallout of her disappearance, both with her close family and more widely, in the village she lives in. As well as the usual list of suspects -- a controlling father, a clandestine boyfriend -- the narrative is interspersed with chapters from Rosie's own point of view, adding another dimension to the usual mystery. Happily, the plot isn't immediately predictable, but unfortunately it's also lacking in the sort of gasp-out-loud plot twist that I've come to love in this sort of novel. Still well worth a read though.

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas ****

I'll be honest, I wasn't looking forward to reading this one -- historical fiction isn't usually my idea of a good holiday read. The story flicks between modern-day Wales and 1940s India, bonding generations of the same family through the eponymous Kashmir shawl. Initially, the shawl is a tedious device linking two seemingly distant groups of people, but as the narrative develops, my desperation to know the full story of the shawl increased. Initially, I found the 1940s based chapters dull, wishing the author would stay in the present day, but by halfway through, I wanted the reverse. A fascinating level of research must have gone into writing this book, and yet it isn't culturally different enough to be too dull or too challenging. Takes a while to get into, but worth persevering.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty *****

Based on the lives of three Australian women, the protagonists of The Husband's Secret seem separate until it becomes clear how their lives are linked -- and then a secret is revealed, linking them even further. It's good fun trying to predict what'll happen. The plot is an unpredictable one, and all the more satisfying for it. The author manages to offer an ending that satisfies the reader, despite it not being the ending you find yourself hoping for. The novel's downfall is the dilemma faced by one character over whether or not to reveal the big secret -- I was left feeling indifferent regarding the choice she faced, the narrative lacking the urgency required to make it a real nail-biter.

What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang ***

I'm not sure if this one is intended as YA fiction but it certainly feels that way. It also falls into the science fiction genre, something I usually avoid. The opening few pages reminded me of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves but the truth here is revealed at the beginning instead of halfway through. Despite my initial reservations, I soon found myself clinging to the enjoyable if predictable story. The ending leaves a few loose ends and a lot to be desired but the concept of Hybrids will stay with you long after you've forgotten the story. It'd lend itself well to a film, with a similar audience to Twilight or the Hunger Games.

By The Time You Read This by Lola Jaye ***

This one is a sweet, touching story about a girl whose father died when she was five. Approaching her 13th birthday, an aunt gives her a book, The Manual, that he wrote for her before he died. It contains a chapter to be read each birthday between the ages of 13 and 30, plus a miscellaneous section offering general life advice. Through the book, we watch her grow up, through family issues, relationships, jobs, travelling and more. As is necessary with a story spanning nearly two decades, time is elastic, but at times the narrative dragged, and at other points it skipped over sections that I felt warranted more detail. A cross between a coming-of-age tale and a self-help tome, it's a lovely read, as much about death as it is about life.

A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson **

Best described as an easy read, A Boy Called Hope has its moments, but for the most part it's a bland, predictable story. It has some sweet parts and a couple of chuckle out loud moments, but what was missing for me was any sort of affinity with the main character, an 11 year old boy trying to get back in touch with his own father. It passed a couple of hours, but I wouldn't recommend putting it to the top of your must-read list.

Lizzie Jordan's Secret Life by Chris Manby **

Bland and cringeworthy are the two words that come to mind with this one. The story begins with a pair of college sweethearts who break up but stay penpals when they find themselves living on different continents. Six years later, they're reunited, putting the web of lies they've told each other in the intervening years in jeopardy. The one thing going for this novel is that the ending isn't the one you'd expect -- even if the rest of the story is. It feels like the character of Lizzie is intended as one the reader can identify with, but she becomes such a slapstick caricature that I found myself repulsed by her rather than enjoying her. One best avoided, in my humble opinion.

What are your top reading recommendations (holiday or otherwise)? Let me know in the comments - I'm desperate for some new reads.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.