Thursday, 26 December 2013

Review - Coming Home For Christmas by Jenny Hale

Well, Christmas has been and gone for another year. I had a really wonderful day and I hope you all did too.

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by Jenny Hale
Publication Date - 1st October 2013
Publisher - Bookouture

Amazon description :- Christmas is a time for family... isn't it?
Allie Richfield loves Christmas, so when she lands a job as House Manager for the amazing Ashford Estate—which includes organizing the Marley family festivities—she is in her element. With a budget bigger than her life savings and a team of staff, how hard can it be?
As one-by-one she meets the Marleys, she’s about to find out...
Allie’s new boss, Robert, might be gorgeous, but he’s also colder than the snow outside and refuses to come home for Christmas. Robert’s playboy brother, Kip, flirts with her relentlessly; and his sister, Sloane, arrives home with baggage—both the divorce-kind and the Louis Vuitton kind. Their ninety-two year old grandmother, Pippa, spends her day grumbling at them all from her mobility scooter.
With Robert intending to sell Ashford, it’s the Marley’s last chance to create some happy memories in their family home—and Allie is determined to make it happen... even if it takes a little Christmas magic! With the festive spirit in full swing, she might even discover a little happiness of her own...

Yet another Christmassy book which I've read this year! It was an easy read, chick-lit with a bit of Christmas thrown in. Because of the location, a massive house owned by someone with lots of money, I thought that this would have such a Christmassy feel but to be honest it didn't really do it for me. The storyline was pretty non-existent and it was so predictable. I knew what was going to happen almost as soon as I started reading.

I didn't feel like Allie's feelings were explored very much, apart from when she was fawning about over men. She was apparently close with her mother and sister but when she couldn't spend Christmas day with them it was barely mentioned that she'd missed them or wanted to spend the day with them.

It also really annoyed me when her previous job as a nanny was put down. I have often found that a nanny is viewed as a glorified babysitter. Allie is described as just being a nanny to get some money, to fill a job gap. I have never met a nanny like that. To work so closely with children you have to love it and love them, and it's not just sitting around playing with kids all day. It's a hard job, physically, emotionally and mentally. Many people don't have enough respect for what nannies do and books which portray nannies like this really annoy me because it gives people the wrong idea about a really wonderful, much needed job.

It was okay, the main positive in my book was that it was Christmas themed but other than that I didn't feel like it had much going for it.Two stars (2*)


Sunday, 22 December 2013

I'm Home!

I came home on Friday and it finally feels as if Christmas is here. My mum came to pick me up from London because last year the trains were horrendous, this year the weather wasn't as bad as it was last year but I am so glad that I didn't have to drag the world's biggest suitcase across to Paddington station. I don't go back to London until Saturday 4th January so I have two glorious weeks to spend with my family and friends, I am SO excited.

I'm seeing my bestie tonight for the first time in about seven months and I can't wait. A night of mulled wine and chatting. Isn't that the sign of a brilliant friend? The fact that you don't see each other for ages but when you do it's like you've never been apart? My brother's passed his driving test too so I get to utilise his driving skills by getting him to pick me up, payback for the last four years of lifts! It's great though because public transport is pretty non-existent down here and I hate driving the morning after a night out.

Other than that I don't really have any concrete plans for my time in Pembrokeshire. I'm planning on seeing my Gran a few times, spending a night or two at her house puppy visiting. I'm taking my cousin (who was thirteen the other day, where does the time go??) for a girlie day of shopping and cinema as a birthday/Christmas present so I'm really looking forward to that. I hope to go to the beach a few times with our dogs, it's freezing but that's the best weather to go in my opinion. Also, you don't have any of the summer tourists! There are a few friends I'm planning to catch up with over the two weeks but that's about it. A time for family, friends, lie-ins, baking, reading and relaxing. Perfect.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I'll be putting a couple more posts up before Christmas Day but I'll take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas. I have a feeling that 2014 is going to be great!


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Interview and Review - Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop by Jenny Colgan

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by Jenny Colgan
Publication Date - 7th November 2013
Publisher - Sphere

As I have mentioned before there is nothing which gets me into the Christmas spirit quite like curling up with a great festive read, preferrably with a mug of hot chocolate or an open fire but these romantiscised ideas come from reading so many of said festive books. Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan has become on of my fail-safe Christmassy books so when I saw that Jenny was releasing another Yuletide novel, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.

Here's the blurb :-
Curl up with Rosie, her friends and her family as they prepare for a very special Christmas . . .
Rosie Hopkins is looking forward to Christmas in the little Derbyshire village of Lipton, buried under a thick blanket of snow. Her sweetshop is festooned with striped candy canes, large tempting piles of Turkish Delight, crinkling selection boxes and happy, sticky children. She's going to be spending it with her boyfriend, Stephen, and her family, flying in from Australia. She can't wait.
But when a tragedy strikes at the heart of their little community, all of Rosie's plans for the future seem to be blown apart. Can she build a life in Lipton? And is what's best for the sweetshop also what's best for Rosie?
Treat yourself and your sweet-toothed friends to Jenny Colgan's heart-warming new novel. The irresistibly delicious recipes are guaranteed to get you into the festive spirit and will warm up your Christmas celebrations.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a sweet, cosy read which is just perfect for the run-up to the Christmas celebrations. Set in a picturesque village featuring small schools, rolling hills and corner shops. The location screams ideal Winter destination, even with the snowy disruptions. I think that the Rosie Hopkins series are my favourite Jenny Colgan books because it reminds me of my Pembrokeshire home, the positives (the community, the countryside) and the negatives (the gossip, the public transport...or lack of it!).

After reading Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams, the first installation of Rosie's adventures, I felt that everything had been rounded up nicely at the end of the story. I was a little bit worried that this book had been written purely as a Christmas follow on and that it wouldn't have much of a story line. I imagine that it would have been easy for it to become an 'everything's-great-and-wonderful-merry-Christmas-to-all' sort of book. Thankfully, I was wrong.

I won't give too much away but when the blurb says 'a tragedy' they don't just mean that Rosie runs out of candy canes on Christmas Eve! I had to read that chapter twice because I'd read it so quickly the first time round, too worried about what was going on and what was going to happen. Like Jenny's other cake, chocolate and sweet themed novels there are some wonderful recipies which I'm very much looking forward to trying out over the holidays. Recipes include fudge, candied peanuts and more which are perfect for Christmas time. As always, there was a strong humour throughout the book. There were lots of laugh out loud moments which earned me a few funny looks in the coffee shop but I really enjoy Jenny's humour and it has the ability to really lift some despairing parts of the story.

Yes, there were sweet, heart warming, tear-in-your-eye moments. Surely that's why we read Christmas stories? That's true for me anyway. But there were heart wrenching, worrying moments too. This is a brilliant book in it's own right, with a great storyline. Not a saccharine, sickly Christmas cringe-fest at all. This is another book which I'll be plucking from the shelf on December 1st for many years to come.

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Jenny Colgan is the author of numerous bestselling novels, including Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe and The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, which are also published by Sphere. Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe won the 2012 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance and was a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller, as was Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams, which won the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2013. Jenny is married with three children and lives in London and France. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions :-

How do you balance your writing with your home life and children? 
I cannot and will not lie- I have help!  A lovely woman comes in three mornings a week to help with cleaning and laundry, and the rest of the time they're at school. Before I had children I thought I'd be able to work whilst they were napping or playing- hahahah! NO! Of course not. So I pay for help. The best thing is the flexibility. 

Did you have any favourite authors or books as a child? Do you think they have inspired you when you write?
Yes, loads. Jo in Little Woman, of COURSE, I idolised her. And I loved Enid Blyton, who wrote in so many genres. James Heriot was a massive influence on me, you can see it in the Rosie books. Lipton isn't Darrowby, but they have their similarities!

Recipes feature a lot in your recent books, do you try them all out personally? And do you have a signature recipe?
Of course! I would never suggest someone cook something I hadn't tried. I change specialities all the time, but I make really really good fishcakes, and fabulous pissaladiere, which is a french pastry with slow cooked onions, olives and anchovies. I could eat it all day. Fortunately my husband hates anchovies so I don't make it that often. And I do like a nice light victoria sponge.

How difficult was it to get your first book published?
Well, I am not good at answering this question because I got my first novel published very easily, but you have to know that before that I had tried cartooning, stand up comedy, poetry and children's stories and failed dismally at all of them. 

Do you have a designated 'writing space'? If so, what is it like?
No I don't, I like to go to cafes and different places. My absolutely favourite place to write is on the train. I live in France, and there they come round the quiet carriage to make sure you've got your phone off! I have a specific seat I like on the TGV (high speed train) from Cannes to Paris, and I always get loads down there. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
It is so easy to publish now I would say, please don't rush to it. You don't want everyone seeing your very first, unpolished efforts on the internet for evermore. Practice and practice until you know you're ready (you'll know). And never stop reading. 

For more information about Jenny and her brilliant books, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop by Jenny Colgan is published by Sphere, it's available now in hardback, £12.99.


*I received this book in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

End Of The Year Read-a-Thon 2013 - Updates

If you would like to know what this End of the Year Read-a-Thon is all about, Check out my post here. This is where I'll be posting my daily challenges and updates.

Day 2
Well, it's day two of the read-a-thon and I'm doing okay, about three quarters of my way through Christmas At Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop. I've only challenged myself to read three books before the 22nd of December but with Christmas swiftly approaching work and my evenings off are going to get insanely busy so I'm happy with that amount!

Day 2 teaser challenge, hosted by Book Loving Hippo. Open the book you're currently reading to a any page and post two sentences from that page.

"Back at the sweetshop, she smiled at every child who came in, all of them bursting with secrets about what Santa was bringing them; all enraptured by the tiny train in the window; little cheeks rosy; eyes bright and round; parents tired but happy. She knew everyone now, and they knew her." - Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop by Jenny Colgan

Day 3
Day three and I've finished Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop. I really enjoyed it, it really got me into the Christmas spirit so bring on the festivities! I've started The Book Thief and it's unusually written, from death's point of view, but I am liking it so far.

The day three challenge is hosted by Jessica at Let Me Tell You A Story and it's a list of your top ten books read in 2013. This was a hard one, especially as I've discovered a few brilliant series this year but instead of putting all of them, I've just put my favourite one to represent the whole series.

In no particular order :-
  • Sea Sick by Iain Rob Wright
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  • Sanctum by Sarah Fine
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
  • Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson
  • These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs
  • The Boy From Baby House 10 - Adam Philips
Day 4
I'm still on The Book Thief an I'm absolutely loving it. I didn't like the way it was written at first, I didn't feel that it was very emotive, but I am so into it now. I stayed up way too late last night reading it, 'just one more chapter' hehe.

Today's challenge is hosted by Lori at Writing My Own Fairy Tale. It's a spine poetry challenge! For all of the rules, check out Lori's page. I mainly use a Kindle so I can't take a pretty picture of my spine poem!

Silent Tears fall
After The Fear.
Will You Love Me?
One Step Too Far.
Pure
Pandemonium.

It's a pretty feeble attempt I'll admit but I TRIED!!

Day 5
The day five challenge is hosted by Emily at Falling For YA and she wants to know your favourite book to movie adaptation. I loved The Hunger Games, book and film version. I found that the film was actually quite true to the book which made it much more enjoyable. I'm really looking forward to seeing Catching Fire as I imagine that it'll be really good too!

Day 6
Today's challenge is a seasonal one, hosted by Michelle at Book Briefs.

  • Recommend a good book for a snowy day :-
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  • Recommend a good book for a rainy day :-
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  • Recommend a good book for a beach day :-
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  • Recommend a good book for a spooky night :-
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Day 7
I finished The Book Thief today. My God. I'll write a full review on it soon but all I'll say is that it was amazing. I've started Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver and I'm enjoying it so far.

The day seven challenge is hosted by Cindi at Mommasez. You have to pick a book you read in 2013 and describe the book in only 166 characters. 

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Foster carer, Casey Watson takes in a fourteen year old mother and her baby. They help Emma care for her baby whilst they care for Emma too.






Sunday, 8 December 2013

End Of The Year Read-a-Thon 2013


I have A LOT of books on my bookshelf and Kindle which have been sadly neglected and unread so when I saw Kimba's post on a December Read-a-Thon I was pleased to find something which will give me a little push to read some of the books which have been forgotten. The Read-a-Thon is hosted by Juliababyjen's Reading Room and Dana Square so head on over to their blogs to sign-up and read the rules. The Read-a-Thon is running from the 9th - 22nd December 2013 and the main goal is to read some great books but there will also be some challenges and prizes along the way. To get involved on Twitter, use the hashtag #ReadingCram

I don't really have anything which I have to read before a deadline but I have a few books which I would like to clear out of my library to make way for some new ones in the New Year.


   

All three of these books are for review and I might be able to squeeze in another but in the run up to Christmas we all know how busy it can get! I'm looking forward to this Read-a-Thon.


Review - Calling Mrs Christmas by Carole Matthews

by Carole Matthews
Publication Date - 24th October 2013
Publisher - Sphere

Amazon Description - Cassie Smith has been out of work for a while but she has an idea. Drawing on her love of Christmas, she begins charging for small things: wrapping presents; writing cards; tree-decorating. She's soon in huge demand and Cassie's business, Calling Mrs Christmas, is born.
Carter Randall wants to make Christmas special for his children, so he enlists Cassie's help, and his lavish requests start taking up all her time. Thank goodness she can rely on her loving partner Jim to handle the rest of her clients.
When millionaire Carter asks Cassie to join his family on a trip to Lapland, she knows she shouldn't go . . . Suddenly Cassie finds herself facing a heart-breaking choice that could change her entire life.
Join Cassie as she takes you on a romantic and emotional rollercoaster ride in Calling Mrs Christmas.

For me, Christmas films just don't cut it. Of course, I have a few favourite festive movies I like to watch with my family. Oliver! is an absolute must in the run up to Christmas. But they aren't what I rely on to get me into the Christmas spirit. Christmassy books are what I love, the things which make me feel the most festive and excited. As soon as December the first comes around (I make myself wait until this date, it's very difficult) I buy about five books with the world 'Christmas' somewhere on the cover and get lost in a soppy, sickly, snow-covered world.

One of the first books I read this December was Calling Mrs Christmas. I must say that I wasn't expecting much from this book. I thought that it would be a quick, easy read, girl with horrible boyfriend, meets rich, lovely man, they fall in love and that's the end of that. No other stories in the background, not too much concentration needed. I was completely wrong. I won't give too much of the plot away but the ending was really not what I had predicted.

I really enjoyed this book. Cassie is a strong, likeable main character and I was willing her to do well for herself throughout the book. Jim was a kind, supportive partner and I thought it was nice that he was given a small story line of his own with the boys in the young offenders unit. It gave the story a bit more depth and threw an extra few weepy moments in too. That can never be a bad thing can it? I found Carter Randall to be quite pushy and annoying. He was a sweet and attentive father but the way he wouldn't take no for an answer really got on my nerves at times.

This book really was Christmas through and through. The trip to Lapland was written so beautifully that I really felt I was sleeping in the Ice Hotel and cuddling Huskies myself! It seemed like an amazing trip of a lifetime yet it stayed believable, the description of the scenery and Cassie's surroundings were in-depth enough so that I could totally imagine where she was but not to the extent that I was bored.

There were quite a few bits which made me cry, not a difficult task, and there were plenty of sweet moments but they didn't seem saccharine. I think this will definitely be going into the archive of Christmas books which I read every December. Four stars (4*).


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Blood Brothers Review

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You may say that I'm a fan of this musical. Well, to tell you the truth I have now seen it four times! There have been a few musicals over the years which I've really enjoyed and wanted to see again but I always feel guilty buying a ticket for a show I've already seen rather than broadening my horizons a bit and trying something new. With Blood Brothers I feel absolutely no guilt whatsoever. Admittedly, I studied the text for my drama and English GCSEs so I went twice with school.

The first time I saw it was when I was about fourteen, in Cardiff with my Gran. Linda Nolan was playing Mrs Johnston and I was completely in love with the hilarious, often naughty and deeply sad musical. I saw that Blood Brothers, after spending 24 years in the West End and closing last November, was now touring and it was showing in the New Wimbledon Theatre. I persuaded a couple of my friends to join me and I eagerly booked the tickets.


The cast during 'Kids' Game' Source
Here is the description from their websiteBlood Brothers Musical is, at first, a heart-warming story of Mickey and Edward, two brothers separated at birth, brought together again through friendship. However, their familial relationship is concealed by their guardians who strive to keep them apart because of superstitious beliefs.
      Despite relocating, their lives continue to intertwine, although the deep divisions between the privileged life of Edward and Mickey’s poverty-stricken existence are wholly apparent. As they try to conquer the social divisions which hinder their friendship, they must deal with the harsh realities of class consciousness; Edward goes on to study at Oxford whilst Mickey is forced into a life of crime through unemployment.
      As adults, they are caught up in a vicious love triangle with Mickey’s childhood sweetheart Linda. Mickey’s imprisonment and subsequent depression pushes Linda into the arms of the conciliatory Edward. A desperate Mickey takes drastic action against his fraternal twin which will ultimately expose their true identities.


Mrs Johnstone (Maureen Nolan) and Mickey (Sean Jones) Source
Even though I have seen it quite a few times, I was definitely not disappointed by this production of Blood Brothers. Maureen Nolan played Mrs Johnstone and her voice was beautiful, protraying so much emotion during 'Tell Me It's Not True' that I (and many other audience members) were reduced to tears. Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson who played Mickey and Eddie were brilliant. I am always astounded at how two adult men can act so convincingly like children. It wasn't ridiculously over the top, as is so easily done with an adult playing a child. It's quite subtle, with body language and they way they talk. Pulling their jumper over their knees, an awkward wave or talking about an older sibling. I completely forgot that I was actually watching adults. I suppose it would be pretty hard to get children to swear like Mickey does too!

The music is wonderful. It's an album I frequently listen to, the songs are so funny and often rather rude. They are upbeat and jaunty with some real belting notes in there to give your vocal chords a good stretch in the shower! There is often an element of sadness and some of the songs are heart breaking, 'Easy Terms' is another song which is heartwrenching but still beautiful. The musical is based in 1960s Liverpool and there are a few cultural references throughout the show, giving it depth and making it part of the larger British story. I think it ticks all the 'musical soundtrack' boxes.


Sammy (Daniel Taylor) and Mickey (Sean Jones) Source
If you haven't yet seen this show then I thoroughly recommend that you do. I am absolutely in love with it. If you've already seen it before, go again! I'm not going to judge you ;)


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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

I'm Back!

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Right, well, after a much longer than planned break, I am back. I'd felt a bit fed up in general and decided to give my typing fingers a rest! I really enjoy blogging but my heart wasn't in it, I felt like I was writing for writing's sake. But I have missed it. REALLY missed it. I'd see something and think 'Oh, that would be a good blog topic' and then just not put pen to paper. I've also gotten a bit behind on reading all my favourite blogs, my Bloglovin' feed is choc-a-bloc with awesome posts which I have yet to read. So I am sitting here with a cuppa and getting down to business.

Not much has happened in my world. I've seen a few plays which I will be writing up on here, got back in touch with some friends who I've been neglecting (anyone who knows me knows that I am TERRIBLE at keeping in contact, I try my best but I'm just rubbish!!) and I've started my Christmas shopping. Yaaaaay!!

Christmas really is my favourite time of year. As soon as the wind gets that nip in it and the leaves start falling from the trees my countdown begins. Actually it begins on the 4th of July, the day after my birthday, but that makes me sound a bit Christmas obsessed, which I probably am!

I started potty training one of my charges today so watch this space. She got on really well, one proud nanny here. When we've both got into more of a routine with it I'll write a post about different methods we used, any tips or tricks which I found helpful, and ones I didn't! It's not something one really thinks about, going to the toilet, but there's a lot to learn and control. Bring it on I say!

I have become a tad bit obsessed with Instagram! I love it! I can spend hours looking through the different pictures. I don't like posting too many pictures on Facebook because it's really annoying but on Instagram you're SUPPOSED to post pictures all day. You can follow me here. Shameless, I know.

Well, you will be hearing from me very soon I hope! Thanks for reading,

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Gran's Granny Square Crochet Blanket


It was my Gran's birthday last week. For Christmas I crocheted her some coasters which went down very well (she cried when she opened them!) so I decided to make her something special for her birthday.

I'm a bit obsessed with granny squares. They're so quick and versatile, you can make a beautiful item in just one weekend. I love that granny squares come together so quickly and I love how many different effects you can make. I had a look on good old Google and I found this tutorial on Signed With An Owl. I really liked the design, it was striking but simple and I knew that I'd be able to have some fun with the colours.


I used DK yarn in yellow (Y), orange (O), red (R), light blue (LB), dark blue (DB), green (G), cream (C) and pink (P). I made six squares with the first round made with O, second round made with R, third made with LB, fourth made with DB, fifth made with G and sixth made with Y. I then did the outline in C. For the next six squares I brought the middle colour to the outside so the pattern was R, LB, DB, G, Y, O. I did this a further four times, bringing the middle colour to the outside each time and making six squares in each pattern.


When I had made all thirty-six squares I started to arrange them. I decided to arrange them in this order (the colour refers to the yarn used on the sixth row of the circle), Y, O, R, LB, DB, G. For the next line I took the colour used in the first column and brought it to the end, giving the colours a diagonal effect. The second row's colour pattern was O, R, LB, DB, G, Y. I did this for the next four rows until I had aranged the whole blanket. I then sewed the squares together. I was very new to crochet and didn't know that there is actually a crochet technique to join granny squares, which you can see here, so I just sewed them with a running stitch.


Once I had my whole blanket pretty much done I started to go right around the edge. Now, as I mentioned just now, I was very new to crochet so some of the squares were a little wonky, causing the edge to ripple a little bit. To try to minimise this I went right around the outside in C. I then crocheted round the outside again using a different coloured yarn for the length of one square using the pattern G, DB, LB, R, O, Y, repeating on each side. I went round it all again with C.

I was happy with it, it looked much tidier, but I wanted something which would really finish it off. After trying out a few different borders, I found this one on Attic 24. It was quite time consuming but I felt that it really finished the blanket off nicely. I did mine in P.

To completely finish it I ironed it on the wrong side (I tested the iron on a small piece first to make sure it wasn't going to melt into nothing), folded it up and wrapped it in some pretty paper. My gran was so pleased with it, she wore it for the rest of the afternoon, once she had opened it. All together it took me about nine months! But I like to flit from project to project leaving some unfinished to come back to later so it wasn't a whole nine months spent on this one thing!


I hope that people are able to understand this blog and it's not just a screen of weird letters, it's the first time I've written a tutorial (I use the term tutorial VERY loosely!). I'm sorry for the lack of useful pictures too, I'll try to take more for my next project! If anyone has any pointers then please leave a comment, suggestions are very welcome!


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

'Soul Sister' Review

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A musical inspired by the lives of Anna Mae Bullock (known as Tina Turner) and Ike Turner. The story line was simple, it didn't go into too much detail about the segregation which was going on at the time and later there are about two minutes dedicated to feminism so it skims over some important historical details. It was quite wooden and some of it seemed obviously written just to point out certain details rather than allowing you to come to the decisions yourself. I knew nothing about her life before watching this and I was really interested to find out more. There were moments which were incredibly sad. Tina seemed like such a strong, independent woman but at times she seemed miserable and resigned to the fact that she would be treated badly by Ike.

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The story was good but my God, the music was fantastic. Featuring hits like 'River Deep, Mountain High' and 'Proud Mary' they were definitely songs to get you singing along and dancing. The band on stage were absolutely flawless, playing their instruments very well and really bringing the songs to life. The Ikettes sang beautifully and had voices which really complimented Tina's.

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Jenny Fitzpatrick, who played Tina, was amazing. Her dance moves were so like Tina's that you could have mistaken her for the real thing, hip thrusts, fluttery arms and stiff legs in all the right places. It really was uncanny. Her voice was flawless, belting out a strong song one minute then the next caressing a gentle note. Ike, played by Chris Tummings, was also very believable. At times he seemed so vulnerable and you felt sorry for him but there were other times where you hated him for the things that he was doing.

At the end everyone was up on their feet dancing and having a great time. The sometimes weak story line was really supported by the great music and the sing-along soul songs were great.


I saw this musical in the New Wimbledon Theatre which was a great venue, old fashioned and ornate. I sat in the upper circle and it was almost empty which was such a shame. Surprising too because the show was on tour, only staying in each theatre for a few days, and I think the tickets cost about £12. I would have thought that the price would have enticed people but sadly not, There was only about five percent of the seats filled in the upper circle.

I would recommend this musical, the songs really made it for me, who can go wrong with a bit of Simply The Best??


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Getting Rooted in New Zealand Review and Author Interview


Craving change and lacking logic, at 26, Jamie, a cute and quirky Californian, impulsively moves to New Zealand to avoid dating after reading that the country's population has 100,000 fewer men. In her journal, she captures a hysterically honest look at herself, her past and her new wonderfully weird world filled with curious characters and slapstick situations in unbelievably bizarre jobs. It takes a zany jaunt to the end of the Earth and a serendipitous meeting with a fellow traveler before Jamie learns what it really means to get rooted.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a funny, down to earth account of moving to and living in a new country. There was no sugar coating, it seemed that Jamie had a really difficult time living in New Zealand and it made me think hard about what it means to move abroad. I have already moved from England to Wales for my job and that was extremely difficult at times so would it be even worse in a different country? Especially with all the cultural and environmental differences. I love books which are set out in diary form. It usually makes them concise and to the point, I find there is much less rambling. Some of Jamie's 'diary entries' were just a sentence long but they were often observant and hilarious. It surprised me as to how much of the vocabulary in New Zealand and the UK is the same, crisps not chips, biscuits not cookies, and these little language details which Jamie included were so interesting. Overall, four stars for this book.


Jamie Baywood grew up in Petaluma, California. In 2010, she made the most impulsive decision of her life by moving to New Zealand. Getting Rooted in New Zealand is her first book about her experiences living there. Jamie is now married and living happily ever after in the United Kingdom. She is working on her second book. Jamie was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

What was the most difficult thing about moving abroad? And what was the best?
Following my dream to live abroad by moving to New Zealand was absolutely liberating. New Zealand turned me into a writer. I have absolute gratitude for every experience and everyone I met. It taught me to trust myself and believe in myself. New Zealand is such a beautiful country. Beaches, mountains, glaciers, lakes, forests, islands, New Zealand’s got it all. It has such freshness about it, like the islands just emerged from the sea. It feels like anything is possible in New Zealand. I also loved the quality of light in New Zealand. It was like looking through a polarized lenses, but more intense. Everything is so colourful and vibrant.

Dealing with visa restrictions has been the most difficult things about moving abroad. In New Zealand, it greatly limited my options for employment. Overall, I found the New Zealand immigration office significantly easier to deal with than the UK Border Agency. From my personal experience the New Zealand immigration office were efficient. All of my visas in New Zealand were processed in a couple of weeks. Although I was married in January 2012 in the UK, my marriage visa was not approved by the UK Border Agency until September 2012.



What attracted you to eventually living in the UK?
I’m from California. In my mid-twenties, I had bad dating experiences in California and a dream to live abroad. I read in a tour book that New Zealand’s population had 100,000 fewer men than women. In the attempt to have some ‘me time’ I moved to New Zealand. I eventually met a Scottish man that was also on a work visa living in New Zealand. We’ve been trying to figure out where in the world to live together and how. We have been living in the UK since winter 2011. I am currently on a visa in the UK called an Extension to Stay as the Spouse of a UK Citizen. This visa will expire in 2014. We are deciding now if we should go through another round of visas for me to stay in the UK or if we want to try living somewhere else in the world. We are seriously considering moving back to New Zealand next year.


How do you balance your writing with your home life and children?
My funny writing style was one of the things that initially attracted my husband to me when we began dating. He wants me to succeed as an author. He is currently working on a MA in Landscape Architecture. As a couple we give each other time and space to work on our own independent creative projects and encourage each other to follow our dreams. A lot of the time he will be in the same room with me as I write working and he works on his own projects.


Do you have a designated writing space? If so, what is it like?
Although I have no trouble committing to my husband, I’m having trouble committing to furniture. Once you get your life in a suitcase, it’s hard to go back to having things again. The idea of having a full set of furniture like a desk makes me feel claustrophobic. I’ve been sitting on pillows on the ground and typing on a coffee table.


Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I constantly make myself notes. This summer in Wales, I was scribbling stories on the backs of maps and Google directions as a passenger in the car. I also send myself text messages or emails riding in
trains or buses. It might not look like I’m writing a book if one was to observe me, but I am constantly watching, listening and thinking about writing.


Did you self publish? How did you do it?
I’ve just completed an MA in Design. Designing, publishing and marketing my book was my dissertation project. I had to do everything within a couple of months. Self-publishing was the fastest way to publish within the very limited time scale I had. Self-publishing is one person taking on all of the responsibilities typically held by teams of people in traditional publishing companies. It has been a steep learning curve. Publishing my book was my way of transforming poison into medicine. I hope that it can help people that have had bad dating experiences or bad work experiences – make them laugh and not give up hope.


How long did it take you to get your book published?
Most of the book was written as the events happened; it just took me a few years to work up the nerve to publish. To write my book Getting Rooted In New Zealand, I relied upon my personal journals, e-mails, and memories. In February 2013, I organized my stories into a cohesive narrative. It went through several rounds of editing and then I published in April 2013.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Be yourself and find a good editor.


What is your next book about?

I’ve been living abroad for over three years. I plan to divide my books by the countries I’ve lived in. The next book will be about adventures in Scotland. The third book will be about living in England.


I'm very much looking forward to Jamie's next book, especially if this one is anything to go by!

Getting Rooted in New Zealand is available for kindle and in paperback from Amazon.
Follow Jamie on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon and Goodreads.


Monday, 16 September 2013

My Week #7

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Over the weekend I went back home to Pembrokeshire. I don't usually go home just for the weekend because it works out that I only get about 36 hours there so it's normally pointless. However, this was special occasion. It was my Gran's 72nd birthday. Also, all of our immediate family came to my mum's house for a bit of a party so I would have hated missing it.

Altogether there was thirteen of us, my gran, my mum, her two sisters and their partners and kids. I say kids but the youngest one is nearly 13 and the oldest is 24. I wonder when we'll stop being 'the kids'. Probably when we have kids of our own! My brother, myself and two of my cousins are really close. We spent a lot of time together when we were growing up and we are basically all brothers and sisters. We get on so well, most of the time, and we can really have a laugh together.

We don't all get together as often as we should, I think the last time we were ALL there was about a year ago but my Gran loves it so much when we're all under the same roof. We told her she was like the Don, sitting around with her family proudly and her chest puffed out. We are her achievements in life though. She didn't really climb the career ladder, she was a housewife when her children were young so we are the thing which she's put her life into, her family. She enjoyed the whole day. All of the women in the family can talk for Britain and I don't think the boys get a word in edgewise sometimes but they're used to it by now.


It was also nice to see Oscar, my Gran's puppy, again. I hadn't seen him for four weeks, since I was last home, and he has grown quite a lot! The one thing I hadn't counted on though was her utter devotion to him. When I gave him to her I knew that she would enjoy his company and like going for walks with him but she is absolutely besotted. She took him off on their own in the living room for a while so her could 'have a nap', she held him whilst we were eating AND fed him at the table when she thought nobody was looking. I'm telling you, if that had been one of us with our dogs she'd have killed us!! My mum and her sisters have all had dogs for a long time and we've been trying to persuade her to get one for a while and I think it has been one of the best decisions she's ever made.

It astounds me how attached people become to their pets. At the end of the day they're just animals, but it doesn't stop them worming their way into your heart. When our old dog died eighteen months ago we were devastated and the house seemed so quiet even though we still had two other dogs. We still talk about him almost everyday now, we grew up with him and loved him with all our hearts. I'm just glad that she's so happy with her new baby (her words, not mine!).

I gave her a crocheted blanket. I'd been working on it for about nine months and I was really pleased with how it turned out. It was the first big(ish) blanket I've ever made so it was a learning curve, there are definitely things I would do differently next time, but all in all I was pleased with it. My Gran loved it which was the main thing, she wore it around her, and Oscar of course, for the rest of the day. Here's a sneak peek at it but I'll be doing a full post on how I made it another day :)



I hope you've all had a lovely weekend and you have a great week ahead of you :)

Monday, 9 September 2013

My Week #6

Yet again, another week which has been crazily busy. I apologise for the lack of posts.

Last Tuesday I had asked previous Great British Bake Off contestant Holly Bell a few questions which she was kind enough to answer. You can see that post here.

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I had a busy weekend. I went to a friend's house for a few (much needed!) drinks on Friday after work and on Saturday it was an au-pair friend's birthday so six of us went out for a meal and drinks. We went to Wahaca, a Mexican restaurant in Soho. It was really busy when we got there so we had a few drinks in the bar downstairs first. They serve tequila cocktails (alongside Mexican beers and other cocktails), they were so strong! Usually cocktails just taste like juice to me but I could definitely taste the alcohol. They were nice, I had a grapefruit one which was really refreshing and a passion fruit one which was nice and sweet, but I don't think I would have them again. The decor was really cool, empty tequila bottles on shelves, chairs suspended from the ceiling and chain link curtains gave it a really Mexican but modern and unusual feel.

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We sat at a table for six, it was plenty big enough for us all to sit around it comfortably. We ordered and the food came pretty quickly which was good because we were all starving by then. There was about 10 minutes between the first dish coming out and the last dish being served though so some people had to start their meals before some of the others had anything. I ate the grilled steak tacos, the black bean and cheese quesadillas and the sweet potatoes, the food was divine. It was slighty spicy, enough so that your lips burn from the heat but not too much, the flavours were delicious and the service was quick. I asked for a glass of tap water and the waiter came back in about a minute with glasses for the whole table. I was so full, I really shouldn't have had dessert but they had churros with chocolate sauce which I really could not resist. I was definitely right to have them. YUM! All together, including a nice cool Corona to wash it all down, my bill came to around £22 which I thought was excellent value for a Central London restaurant. It is a chain but it feels so individual and with those prices I wasn't really going to turn my nose up. The music was quite loud, meaning you had to shout across the table if you were talking to each other but other than that a great place.  I would definitely return. In fact, there was lots of cool, unusual looking places to eat around that area in Soho, if you are looking for somewhere new then maybe go for a browse.

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I went on a date this week to the cinema to see The Conjuring. I enjoyed it, there was some really jumpy bits and there was quite an interesting story line which is what I like in a horror film.

I'm working on a pretty exciting (if incredibly lame!!) Harry Potter knitting project at the moment so watch this space!!

I was featured in Bonjour, Blogger's Saturday Summary, which you can see here. How exciting! I keep forgetting that people actually read what I am writing! And I hope you're enjoying it. A couple of people have come up and started a conversation with 'I saw on your blog' which is pretty surreal, and brilliant :)

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I have just booked tickets to see Blood Brothers AGAIN!! This will be my fourth time. It is an unbelievably good musical, I love it. It's definitily one of my favourites, if not my all time favourite. This will be the third Nolan sister I've seen playing Mrs Johnston. I am excited.