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Best of April & May TBR

I finished a total of 17 books in April, but unfortunately, only managed 3 of the 6 books that I’d placed on my TBR List. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me, but it seems as though once I place a book on that little ‘ol list, I suddenly loose all interest in actually, you know, reading it.

MY FAVOURITE BOOK

The Diviners by Libba Bray.

WHAT THEY SAID

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.

WHAT I THOUGHT

To be honest, I’m not sure if this was really my favourite book of the month or just the most surprising. This is the third Libba Bray book that I’ve attempted – the first being A Great and Terrible Beauty, which was just okay, and the second, Beauty Queens, which was so terrible I wasn’t able to finish it.

But The Diviners was good. Really good. To sum it up as concisely as possible, I’d say it was a bit like Stephen King’s, The Stand. Only for teens. A The Stand lite, if you will.

MY RATING

4.5 out of 5. I knocked off .5 because the “Jazz speak” got pos-i-toot-ly annoying.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.

HONOURABLE MENTION

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

MAY TO BE READ

The Pulitzer Prize award winners were recently announced and I’ve decided to try and read three past winners this May. They are . . .

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Tinkers by Paul Harding

Cleopatra : A Life by Stacy Schiff

What did you read in April? Have you got anything exciting on deck for May?

our afternoon at the arboretum

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life lately, again

lifelately

Oh dear.

It seems as though I’ve been rather remiss in my blogging duties. Again. And really, I don’t have any kind of valid excuse. Our life lately hasn’t been particularly busy or stressful, but for some reason I’ve not been able to carve out any time to blog. It may have something to do with the reading jag I’ve recently found myself on, or perhaps the beautiful weather we’ve been having, or, the most probable culprit, the fact that I’ve recently been introduced to BookTube.

Anyhow, I thought I’d try and post a quick catch up by sharing a few of my recent favorites from instagram. For some reason, it’s the only social media platform I’ve been able to keep up with. We do have a trip planned for early on next month, so I’ll definitely be back then.

Happy Spring, all!

spring

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It seems as though spring has officially sprung, and I for one, am thrilled.  The weather has been absolutely beautiful and we’ve been outside, slathered in suncream, enjoying every bit of it.

Last Monday, Matt had the day off and we decided to venture over to the Japanese Gardens.  And although it was opening day, we had the place to ourselves.  We saw huge Koi, a little waterfall, and many tiny pagodas.  Perfection.

As always, there are a few extra pictures of our day over on Instagram.  Hope it’s sunny wherever you are!

Best of March & April TBR

I have somehow managed to tear through 12 (?!) books this month and since I’m trying to be a better blogger, I thought I’d share a few of them. As always, a full list of what I’ve read, for the last three years actually, can be found by clicking on the My Bookshelf tab at the top of the page.

MY FAVOURITE BOOK

The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead. This is the third installment of the spinoff Bloodlines Series and it is quickly becoming one of my favourite.

WHAT THEY SAID

In the aftermath of a forbidden moment that rocked Sydney to her core, she finds herself struggling to draw the line between her Alchemist teachings and what her heart is urging her to do. Then she meets alluring, rebellious Marcus Finch–a former Alchemist who escaped against all odds, and is now on the run. Marcus wants to teach Sydney the secrets he claims the Alchemists are hiding from her. But as he pushes her to rebel against the people who raised her, Sydney finds that breaking free is harder than she thought. There is an old and mysterious magic rooted deeply within her. And as she searches for an evil magic user targeting powerful young witches, she realizes that her only hope is to embrace her magical blood–or else she might be next.

WHAT I THOUGHT

I hesitated, slightly, to name this my favourite book of the month because in order to fully appreciate it you need to read the two books that come before this in the series, Bloodlines and The Golden Lily, not to mention the entire Vampire Academy series, but in the end, it was so good I just couldn’t resist.

It has a little bit of just about everything I look for in a story : romance, adventure, a smart female protagonist, and last, but certainly not least, Adrian Ivashkov. Plus, it’s funny! The eye patch wearing, Chihuahua training Wolfe provides just the right amount of comic relief.

I cannot wait for the next one!

MY RATING

5 out of 5

SECOND RUNNER UP

Legend by Marie Lu

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

HONOURABLE MENTION

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.

APRIL TO BE READ

And in an effort to read something a bit more substantial than the YA books that I seem to be devouring at a somewhat alarming rate, I’ve decided to try and read at least two classics and two general fiction books per month. What follows are what I’ve got lined up for April.

YA

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Claire

Prodigy by Marie Lu

CLASSICS

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

FICTION

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

What did you read in March? Have you got anything exciting on deck for April?

MIA

Well, we’ve been back in the US for about 7 weeks now and I’m afraid that my blog has taken a back seat to, well, just about everything. I did want to hop on quite quickly this evening to post a bit of an update, so here goes!

The Good

  • It’s been so lovely to live around friends and family again. We’ve been having weekly dinners at my parents house and it’s been such a joy to watch Milo play with his cousins.
  • Matt found a job! Whoop! He’s just about to finish his first week of work and he’s really enjoying it.
  • Milo’s been enrolled in a great school, and after a few grumpy weeks, I think he’s starting to come around.
  • Target. And Mexican food. And cheap, fancy cosmetics. Enough said, really.
  • I love our new flat. We’re just about done decorating Milo’s room, so pictures of that will be up soon. Ish. And there will be lots more to follow.

The Bad

  • When we left England, we boxed up some of our stuff and shipped it over, snail mail style. Every single box made it over in one piece, bar the box where I had stupidly packed every single one of our important documents. I’m talking about birth certificates, marriage certificates, our social security cards, etc. And so now we’re having to reapply for everything, minus our passports, from overseas and it’s a bit of a pain. Sorted! So sorry I doubted you Royal Mail!
  • I feel like we are living in our car. I got so used to walking everywhere in England, that having to drive absolutely everywhere has come as a bit of a shock to the system.
  • Eating organically is really, almost prohibitively, expensive here. I would love to hear any tips from my fellow Americans on how you’re able to do it.

p.s. If I know you in real life, I probably owe you an email. I really am so sorry! My regular email account was hacked last week, so it’s really no longer useable (bunch of bastards) so right now Facebook is probably the easiest way to stay in touch.

p.p.s Although I have not been maintaining my blog, I have been using instagram, so check me out over there!

Reykjavík

When I booked our tickets to the US a few months ago, I realized we would have a quick stopover in Iceland and so we decided to make the most of it and to spend a few days there before continuing on to the US.  It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.  Reykjavík was beyond description.  Rugged and beautiful, natural and clean.  And just, I don’t know . . . cool.  And so we woke up bright and early on Tuesday morning, and after a quick whip round our flat in England, we loaded up our 6 massive suitcases and headed for Heathrow.

We arrived in Reykjavík around 5 pm, got a taxi to the apartments we were staying at ( which we would completely recommend ), and after ditching all of our worldly possessions ( seriously ) we went in search of the grocery store, had a bit of dinner, and then we all crashed and had an early night.

We woke up on Wednesday morning slightly disoriented as it was still dark at 9 am, and after a bit of googling, we decided to watch the sunrise ( at 10:30! ) from the observation tower of Hallgrímskirkja – the largest church in Iceland.  The church is said to have been designed to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape, and it’s really rather striking.  The views from the top were breathtaking, although it was incredibly windy!

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Hallgrímskirkja

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The beautiful view over downtown Reykjavík

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Leif Ericson

We spent our first full day exploring downtown Reykjavík and we started on the main shopping street, Laugavegur.  Our favorite shop was the Handknitting Association of Iceland where we all picked up some lovely wooly mittens.

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Mittens for all

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Looking down a random side street along Laugavegur

We then stopped for lunch at one of Reykjavík’s most famous places to eat, Bæjarins beztu pylsur, and Milo had his very first hot dog.  Which he promptly spit out.

Day three dawned and we hopped a bus for a tour of the Golden Circle.  The first stop was Geysir hot springs.

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The rugged terrain

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Litli Geysir

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Watching the water bubble

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The best picture I got of the big one blowing

The next stop was Gullfoss waterfall, and it was out of this world beautiful.

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Gullfoss

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Gullfoss again

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The boys at the top of the windy viewing platform

Next up was the UNESCO World Heritage site, Þingvellir ( Thingvellir ) National Park.

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Beautiful

On our last day of the trip, we decided to spend the morning before our flight at The Blue Lagoon.  It was simply magical.

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The milky blue water

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Muscle man

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Watching the sunrise over the mountains while relaxing in the warm water

p.s. If you’re after more pictures, I took quite a few and posted them to my instagram feed – enjoy!

life lately

sopretty

And exhale.

I cannot be the only one having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that we’ve already entered the third week of December.  I would ask where the time went, but I know.  We’ve been a busy bunch this December.

We’ve . . .

  • paid a visit to Santa in his grotto
  • explored the Christmas markets here in Nottingham and further afield in Lincoln
  • seen Rise of the Guardians and Two Little Boys ( both brilliant )
  • put up and decorated our tree
  • written, posted and received a letter in return from Father Christmas
  • made orange pomanders, festive gingerbread men, and spicy cinnamon ornaments
  • written and posted our Christmas cards
  • and finished up our Christmas shopping

We also had a small health scare concerning Milo which resulted in some tests and monitoring at the hospital but, never fear, all is well.

Phew.

We’ve also been busy trying to wrap up our lives here in England as we are scheduled to be viewing the Northern Lights ( fingers crossed! ) up in Iceland in no less than six weeks time!  And from Iceland we fly directly to the US!  To like live.  As permanent residents and everything!

So yeah . . .

I suppose this is my way of saying hello!  sorry!  we’re still here!  and regular blogging might not be returning for a while!

hello december

gingerbreadmen

Our December started off with a holiday themed bang as we took Milo to see Rise of the Guardians.  It was completely brilliant and one we’ll definitely add to our collection once it’s released.  Afterwards, we explored the Christmas Market in town, had a bit of lunch, and then came home and baked off the gingerbread dough we’d made the night before.  It’s the first year I’ve used this particular recipe, and they turned out really lovely.

You’ll Need

  • 400 g plain flour
  • ¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 180 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125 g soft dark brown sugar or dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 125 g black treacle

Method

  1. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and beat in the egg and treacle, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  3. Turn the mixer back down to slow speed and slowly add the flour mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time, stopping often to scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Once an even dough has formed, take it out of the mixer, divide into 3 and wrap each piece in cling film.
  4. Leave to rest overnight in the fridge.
  5. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 170°C / 325°F / Gas 3.
  6. Take the dough out of the fridge and leave to soften for about 10 minutes. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the dough to a thickness of about 4 mm with a rolling pin. Cut out shapes with the biscuit cutters. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking trays and bake in the preheated oven for about 10–15 minutes.

Roll on December!

have a nice day

I was recently talking about our impending move with my friend and fellow expat, Emily, and after sharing a few of my hesitations and concerns with her, she helpfully suggested that I make a detailed list that looked something like this :

  • things I’ll miss about the UK
  • things I’ll be happy to leave behind
  • things I’m looking forward to in the US
  • and anything to do/buy before we leave

The idea really appealed to my neurotic side and so for the past few weeks I’ve been dutifully writing things down as and when they pop into my head.  But to be honest, there weren’t very many items in the ‘things I’ll be happy to leave behind’ column.

Until today.

This afternoon I ordered a bed for Milo from The American Iron Bed Company and spoke to a woman called Sherie.  She was lovely.  A little too lovely.  She asked about our plans to move back, made sure to go over all of the finish options, explained what would happen when the bed was delivered, and told me what we should do if any problem whatsoever arose.  And then she thanked me for calling, wished me a happy holidays, told me to have a great day, and to have a safe journey back to the US.  To be honest, it made me feel a little bit suspicious.

I’m sure this sounds ridiculous to someone living in the US.  Someone who is accustomed to people in customer service positions being, well, nice.  Helpful, even.

But I am not.

I’ve lived outside of the US for 7 years now and have only been back to visit once.  And so I’ve grown used to the abysmal customer service that seems to be the norm here in the UK.  Having to pack my own bags at the grocery store, never being able to find someone to help or answer questions on the shop floor, and being completely ignored during entire transactions no longer phases me.

But after speaking to Sherie, I realized that I will be more than happy to leave crappy UK customer service behind.

Result.

p.s. um, a bed is coming for Milo mom – make room!

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