2013 books and films

My favourite books read (for the first time) in 2013 were:
  • The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald
  • A Song of Ice and Fire series - George R.R. Martin
  • Capital - John Lanchester
  • The Elephant Whisperer - Anthony Lawrence
  • Lace - Shirley Conran
  • The Perfect Present - Karen Swan 

Which books did you enjoy reading this year? x

Books read in 2013:
  1. The Killing - David Hewson [B]
  2. The Missing Man - Andrew White [B]
  3. Meet Me Under the Mistletoe - Abby Clements [B] 
  4. The Perfect Present - Karen Swan [B] 
  5. Beautiful Creatures - Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl [B]
  6. The Secret Supper Club - Dana Bate [B] 
  7. The Dead Room - Robert Ellis [B] 
  8. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl - Harriet Jacobs [B] 
  9. Audrey Hepburn: Fair Lady of the Screen - Ian Woodward [B] 
  10. Selected Tales - The Grimm Brothers [B]
  11. The Clearing - Shalini Boland [B]
  12. The 39 Steps - John Buchan [B]
  13. Torn - Cat Clarke [B]
  14. Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor [B] 
  15. You Had me at Hello - Mhairi McFarlane [B]
  16. The Pollyanna Plan - Talli Roland [B] 
  17. Days of Grace - Catherine Hall [B] 
  18. What Have I Done? - Amanda Prowse [B]
  19. The Escape Artist - Diane Chamberlin [B]
  20. Pandemonium - Lauren Oliver [B] 
  21. Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld [B] 
  22. Ice Diaries - Lexi Revellian [B]
  23. A Possible Life - Sebastian Faulks [B] 
  24. Prima Donna - Karen Swan [B]
  25. Breaking the Silence - Diane Chamberlain [B]
  26. Christmas at Tiffany's - Karen Swan [B]
  27. Mortal Chaos: Deep Oblivion - Matt Dickinson [B]
  28. Missing You - Louise Douglas [B]
  29. Don't Tell the Groom - Anna Bell [B]
  30. Legend - Marie Lu [B]
  31. Prodigy - Marie Lu [B]
  32. Human Remains - Elizabeth Haynes [B]
  33. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn [B]
  34. Lace - Shirley Conran [B] 
  35. The Bay at Midnight - Diane Chamberlain [B] 
  36. Finding Emma - Steena Holmes [B] 
  37. The Perfect Retreat - Kate Forster [B]
  38. The Armada Legacy - Soctt Mariani [B] 
  39. A Day at the Office - Matt Dunn [B] 
  40. The Family Trap - Joanne Phillips [B]
  41. Life... With No Breaks - Nick Spalding [B]
  42. The Edge of Never - J.A. Redmerski [B]
  43. Deadlocked - Charlaine Harris [B]
  44. Leftovers - Stella Newman [B] 
  45. Cupidity - Holly Hepburn [B]
  46. The French House - Nick Alexander [B] 
  47. Little Men - Louisa May Alcott [B]
  48. The Case of the Missing Boyfriend - Nick Alexander [B]
  49. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald [R]
  50. Jump Start 2013 - Penny Golightly [B]
  51. The Perfect Location - Kate Forster [B]
  52. Before the Rose Petal Beach - Dorothy Koomson [B]
  53. No-one Ever Has Sex on a Tuesday - Tracy Bloom [B] 
  54. The Forbidden Queen - Anne O'Brien [B]
  55. Dinner with a Vampire - Abigail Gibbs [B]
  56. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson [B] 
  57. Revenge Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger [B]
  58. The Elephant Whisperer - Lawrence Anthony [B]
  59. Changeling - Philippa Gregory [B]
  60. Jamrach's Menagerie - Carol Birch [B] 
  61. The Hanging Shed - Gordon Ferris [B]
  62. Bitter Water - Gordon Ferris [B]
  63. Business Reimagined - Dave Coplin [B] 
  64. While the Savage Sleeps - Andrew E Kaufman [B]
  65. Working it Out - Nicola May [B]
  66. The Bow Wow Club - Nicola May [B]
  67. Virago is 40: A Celebration - Various [B]
  68. Summer Loving - Nicola Yeager [B]
  69. My Soul to Take - Rachel Vincent [B]
  70. Stormbringer - Philippa Gregory [B]
  71. I've Got Your Number - Sophie Kinsella [B]
  72. Gray Justice - Alan McDermott [B]
  73. Underworld - Meg Cabot [B] 
  74. The Magpies - Mark Edwards [B] 
  75. Forbidden Pleasure - Lora Leigh [B]
  76. The Cornerstone - Nick Spalding [B]
  77. The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst [B]
  78. Nameless - Joe Conlan [B] 
  79. Capital - Jon Lanchester [B] 
  80. The Sea Sisters - Lucy Clarke [B] 
  81. Gray Resurrection - Alan McDermott [B]
  82. Breathless - Louise Marley [B]
  83. World War Z - Max Brookes [B]
  84. Cupcakes at Carrington's - Alexandra Brown [B]
  85. The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells [B]
  86. The Descendants - Kaui Hart Hemmings [R]
  87. Kismetology - Jaimie Admans [B]
  88. April Showers - Karli Perrin [B]
  89. Diary of a Mummy Misfit - Amanda Egan [B]
  90. The School Gates - Nicola May [B]
  91. Sealed with a Kiss - Rachael Lucas [B]
  92. Charlotte Street - Danny Wallace [B]
  93. Sunlounger - Belinda Jones [B]
  94. A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin [B]
  95. A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin [B]
  96. A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow - George R.R. Martin [B] 
  97. One Step Too Far - Tina Seskis [B]
  98. The Arcade: Episode 1, January, The Vintage Boutique - Kitty Charles [B] 
  99. A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold - George R.R. Martin [B] 
  100. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling [R]
  101. Kiss Me First - Lottie Moggach [B] 
  102. The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes [B] 
  103. Necessary Lies - Diane Chamberlain [B] 
  104. The Sweetness of Forgetting - Kristin Harmel [B] 
  105. The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard - Robert Bryndza [B] 
  106. The Jackie Chan Fan Club - Sharon Sant [B]
  107. The Most Beautiful Thing - Satya Robyn [B]
  108. A Golden Age - Tahmina Anam [B]
  109. Soul Protector - Amanda Leigh Cowley [B] 
  110. The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald [B] 
  111. The Bourne Supremacy - Robert Ludlum [B]
  112. Wonder Women - Rosie Fiore [B] 
  113. About Last Night - Adele Parks [B]
  114. The Sign of Four - Arthur Conan Doyle [B] 
  115. Bleeker Hill - Russell Mardell [B]
  116. The Runaway Princess - Hester Browne [B]
  117. The Radleys - Matt Haig [B] 
  118. In Too Deep - Bea Davenport [B]
  119. The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon [B] 
  120. The Last Letter from your Lover - Jojo Moyes [B] 
  121. Coco Pinchard's Big Fat Tipsy Wedding - Robert Bryndza [B]
  122. One Summer: America, 1927 - Bill Bryson [B]
  123. Single Woman Seeks Revenge - Tracy Bloom [B] 
  124. An Unlikely Safari Guide - Ella Craine [B] 
  125. A Feast For Crows - George R.R. Martin [B]
  126. A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin [B] 
  127. Don't Tell Penny - Anna Bell [B]
  128. The Best of Everything - Rona Jaffe [B]
  129. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell [B] 
  130. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins [R] 
  131. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins [R] 
  132. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins [R] 
  133. Outside - Shalini Boland [R] 
  134. The Clearing - Shalini Boland [R] 
  135. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling [R] 
  136. The Perimeter - Shalini Boland [B] 
  137. The Giver - Lois Lowry [R]
  138. A Cupid Kind of Day - Lindy Dale [B]
  139. Christmas Deliverance - Amanda Egan [B] 
  140. The Flavours of Love - Dorothy Koomson [B]
  141. The P45 Diaries - Ben Hatch [B] 
  142. The Storyteller - Jodi Picoult [B] 
  143. Wicked Wives - Anna-Lou Weatherley [B] 
  144. Inferno - Dan Brown [B]
  145. David Jason: My Life - David Jason [B] 
  146. Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn [B] 
  147. Requiem - Lauren Oliver [B] 
  148. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding [R] 
Cinema trips in 2013:
  1. Les Misérables - Seen on 19/01 - Was never a fan when I saw it on the West End. The story is just too long! 6/10
  2. Warm Bodies - Seen on 20/02 - Humorous with warmth. 8/10 
  3. Cloud Atlas - Seen on 21/04 - Complex stories that weave in out and throughout time but worth persevering with! 7/10 
  4. Iron Man 3 - Seen on 04/05 - Love the tech, but the action was too OTT! 6/10 
  5. The Great Gatsby - Seen on 25/05 - Gorgeous cinematography, scenery and costumes. 7/10
  6. Rush - Seen on 12/10 - Thrilling insight into the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. 8/10 
  7. Catching Fire - Seen on 26/11 - Better than expected! 8/10

Irish cuisine

There are two places in Dublin that Olly and I ate at that deserve a massive shout-out for their deliciousness - both places we ate at on his birthday. (Lucky thing!)

For Olly's birthday lunch we headed to Pitt Bros, which has the most amazing BBQ food. I went for the pulled pork bun which was utterly juicy and divine, and Olly had the Pitt Masters combo which has pulled pork and brisket in it. Now, I'm not a fan of beef, but I had a taste of his brisket and Irish beef is something else. Seriously yummy!

Pitt Bros is definitely better than a lot of the BBQ places we've eaten at in London - can they open a branch over here please?

For dinner we went to the Michelin-starred restaurant l'Ecrivain - a totally different vibe and feel to our lunch! If you're ever in Dublin on a Monday and want to sample some Michelin-starred food, l'Ecrivan is actually the only Michelin-starred restaurant open on a Monday. 

We went for the six course tasting menu, which for €65 is brilliant value, although I wouldn't classify the amuse-bouche, palate cleansers and tea/coffee/petit fours as a course in their own right, which is rather sneaky for them to do that!

My starter was the 43ºC organic salmon with oxtail consommé, watercress and lemon aioli, herb spätzle and girolles. I have never had herb spätzle before but it was delicious - it's like a a green meaty vegetable. Olly had the pheasant and ham hock terrine with Jerusalem artichoke purée, raisins, parsley emulsion and walnuts.

For our main we both opted for the rare breed pork belly with confit, mustard gnocchi, turnip, sauerkraut and apple and mustard gel - heavenly - and I had the chocolate, orange and almond warm brownie with white chocolate parfait, orange and almond tuile and burnt orange jus for dessert. Neither of us can remember what Olly's dessert was but he did like it! Mine was a little rich but still very tasty.

Despite the slight sneakiness of "six courses", we had a beautiful meal at L'Ecrivain to celebrate Olly's 30th birthday and enjoyed a bottle of 2012 Walnut Block Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with our meal - that is a gorgeous wine. 

I'd definitely recommend you pay them a visit if you're ever in Dublin but after two trips to Ireland in the space of three weeks for me, I think it will be a good few months before I return again. I definitely will though as there's still lots to do, see and, of course, eat delicious food in Ireland. x

Ireland: Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Gaol

Like the Guinness Storehouse, I also ended up at Dublin Castle twice last month (and it's a place I've been to the first time I went to Dublin).

Luckily, the second time I went last month they had put up all the Christmas decorations and opened a few new rooms up which meant that I got to see something new at least!

Dublin Castle costs 4.50 to get in and you can either go round it on your own or take a guided tour (it's the same price either way). Just to note, if you do go round it on your own, you won't get to see the Medieval undercroft.

Like Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol is also full of history - it's a very sobering and worthwhile place to visit. If you do go, wrap up warm as it's very cold there. The cells were severely overcrowded and conditions unimaginable but a lot of people would still commit a crime to get sent there. This is because most prisoners would get more food inside the gaol than outside.

Kilmainham Gaol is also where a lot of prisoners were put who fought for Irish independence and the guided tour you have to take to see the gaol - the tour costs €6.00 - tells you all about that. It's definitely worth going there to hear about the gaol's rich history and the important part it played in Irish history.

(The Kilmainham Gaol photos aren't as great as I had to take them on my phone.)

L'atelier des Chefs review, London

Last Christmas Olly and I got cooking lessons for L'atelier des Chefs from his sister and her fiancé... which we completely forget about. We ended up having our lessons the day before our gift card expired, as you do!

Because of this rather last minute booking of our class, we only had a few classes to choose from. We picked the Moroccan 90 minute class. As Moroccan is not a type of food we cook often, this seemed the perfect choice. If you book far enough in advance though, there are lots of other classes available - from Japanese to French, mastering macaroons to perfecting bread rolls.

Our class ended up been a class of six people (three couples). I wasn't sure what to expect from the class, though I did think that we would have our own set of ingredients to work with to prepare our own food. This wasn't the case and instead we prepped it all as a group.

This was a bit unfortunate for Olly as he had cucumber in front of him and he ended up spending all of his time peeling and finely slicing enough cucumber for six people. He did however, and so did I, pick up a few new tips from the chef's demo before we started prepping, so that was good!

Once we had prepped our ingredient(s), it was on to learning how to make a flat bread. I am a big fan of making bread so I was very pleased with this part, and I've made this flat bread since our lesson. (You get sent the recipes afterwards.)

Once that was done it was on to the cooking part. We all got a turn to do little bits and pieces, before we sat down to taste our efforts. I was a big fan of the lamb kofte with tomato and red onion salsa that we made and the wraps were nice enough. As I don't like salad though, the Moroccan chickpea salad really was not for me!

We had an enjoyable time cooking some new dishes and picked up a few tips and tricks. Unless someone bought me this as a gift again or there was a significantly more advanced and hands-on class, I don't think I'd give it another go.

But, if you are not very confident in the kitchen or just want a fun few hours out, definitely give them a go. I was very impressed with the kitchens we cooked in and our teacher was super friendly and happy to answer any of our questions.

What's your favourite type of food? x

Ireland: Guinness Storehouse

Last month I ended up at the Guinness Storehouse twice - the first time on Olly's 30th birthday, and the second time a few weeks later on his sister's hen do. It's safe to say that I am all Guinnessed out for the year!

The Guinness Storehouse is one of the most popular tourist attractions there is in Dublin and if you are a fan of the black stuff (though it's actually a dark ruby red in colour), then you will probably love this place! I'm not a fan of the drink but I still had an enjoyable visit (the first time; I had serious déjà vu the second time as you can imagine), although some people do dismiss the Storehouse as one giant advertisement for Guinness... surely people should realise that's the underlying point of it?

That aside, the Guinness Storehouse is set in a giant pint glass, about a fifteen to twenty minute walk from central Dublin, or it's one of the stops on the bus tour. The inside and history and production of Guinness is still pretty impressive, regardless of whether you think it's a tourist trap or not.

There are various levels to it - some of the information and displays are definitely more interesting than others - and you get shown how to properly taste a Guinness, as well as having a pint to enjoy. You have the choice of being taught how to pull the perfect pint, or you can have your pint on the top floor and enjoy a 360° view of Dublin.

Personally I'd go and enjoy the view! If you're not a fan of the stuff, you could always be generous and let someone else have your pint, or you can always get half a pint of Guinness and half a pint of a soft drink with your voucher.

You should definitely have a try though as it's the freshest Guinness you'll ever taste; it tasted a lot nicer than the sips I've had before. (Although that doesn't mean I am in anyway converted and will be drinking Guinness from now on, let me just set the record straight here!)

The Guinness Storehouse costs €16.50 to get in at the door; if you book online you can save yourself 10% (and jump the queues - it was quiet on a Monday afternoon and quiet first thing on a Saturday morning, but when we came out Saturday afternoon there was a big queue outside).

If you take the time and look at everything properly, you should hopefully enjoy yourself. At the very least, you'll find out a lot about Arthur Guinness who did a lot for the city of Dublin.You can also take a few silly photos as well!

Are you a Guinness drinker? x

Musical review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Last week we headed to Drury Lane to go and see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is obviously the musical based on the absolutely amazing book by Roald Dahl. As this happens to be one of my favourite Roald Dahl books (though I love them all, obviously), I sat down to watch with a very close eye. Well, it had to do the fizzcrackling Roald Dahl justice, of course!

First things first, the set is amazing. Seriously, it is amazing. Some serious moolah has gone into its design and it shows. It's all cleverly done and the scenes that look so scrumdiddlyumptious in the two film versions are just as impressive on the stage. My favourite bit had to be when Charlie and his family are learning who the winners of the golden tickets are on their battered old TV - pure genius!

All the children are brilliant in this, but the ones we saw who played Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt had it spot on. Douglas Hodge as Wonka was perfect and if you sit in the front row like we did, you might just get a surprise wink from him at the start of the second act! The Oompa-Loompas made me smile too.

The plot stays true to the book (unlike the Tim Burton version which sees Wonka having "Daddy issues") but the songs the Oompa-Loompas sing are new and not the ones Roald Dahl penned. (Minus points as I can't sing along, but plus points for original and awesome songs.)

All-in-all, this is a swishwifflingly fabulous West End musical, and you won't be disappointed if you go and see it. It's not my favourite one ever, but it would definitely make my top ten. x

Christmas presents

When I was a child, my Christmas (and birthday) lists always had several books on it. (Understatement.) Now I'm an adult (and an author), books are my favourite presents to give.

Both my nephews and niece will be receiving a glorious book for Christmas - my niece is getting this beautiful Pippi Longstocking book - but I won't tell you which adults are getting a book from me in case they are reading this!

Have you bought a book as a Christmas present this year? x

PS: If you fancy buying someone a copy of Kept or Geli Voyante's Hot or Not this Christmas, I'm sure they'd love that gift!

Life of Late - December 2013

I have no idea where the time is going - it's going to be Christmas Day before we know it, but before then I still have lots of Irish adventures to share, plus a few London ones... Not to mention my round-up of 2013, and whatever comes up in the next nine days!

Over the past few weeks, food and Christmas have featured heavily for me - from wearing a Christmas jumper to Street Feast's Hawker House and putting our real Christmas tree up, to having Moroccan cooking lessons and baking awesome cupcakes.

Even the musical I saw last week had a food-theme. That's because I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I'll be sure to review soon. (It was awesome.) Are you all set for Christmas? x

A trip to Ireland

Since I'm back in Ireland at the end of this week, I thought I better hurry up and blog about my first trip there earlier this month! As I mentioned in my post about the beautiful Glendalough, we were over in Ireland for my friend's wedding, and then we headed up the coast and back to Dublin to celebrate Olly's 30th birthday.

One of the places we stopped off on the way back to Dublin was Bray. It's just a little seaside town, but it was lovely to take in some sea air. Like Glendalough, Bray is a great place to visit if you like a spot of hill walking or, if you're a little less active like Olly and I, you could just walk the mile along the promenade and then have some chips!

After Bray, we headed to Dublin where we had a suite booked at La Stampa on Dawson Street. We were in the Athena suite, which was absolutely lovely, and it's definitely a place I'd stay in again. Doesn't it look lush?

Dawson Street is a two minute walk from Grafton Street - the posher shopping street in Dublin - and situated between Trinity College and St Stephens Green, so it really was the perfect location to explore the city from. Dublin is quite a small city; you can easily get around by foot.

The other famous shopping street in Dublin is O'Connell Street which has an abundance of statues down the middle of it, the HQ of the Irish Post Office, and also the Spire of Dublin:

I'm doing a bus tour of Dublin this weekend so I will blog more about the sights next week, but I still have to tell you all about the yummy food we ate, our trip to the Guinness Storehouse and about Dublin Castle from my first trip to Ireland this month. Until then though, have a great day! x

PS: Long-term readers of the blog might remember my trip to Dublin Castle in 2010 when I messed up my camera settings and came away with no decent pictures. Doh! Luckily, this wasn't the case this time round - phew!

Writer Wednesday: Holly Martin

Holly Martin’s first two novels Changing Casanova and The Chainsaw Masquerade were both shortlisted for the New Talent award at the Festival of Romance. She won the Belinda Jones Travel Club short story competition and her story One Hundred Proposals was published in the Sunlounger anthology earlier this year. Sunlounger 2 will be out next summer and this time Holly will be one of the featured writers.

Her debut novel The Sentinel, a YA fantasy action adventure is out now and her Chicklit novel The Guestbook will be published in January.

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I’ve always written stories, as far back as I can remember. I remember one of my stories was pinned to the wall in the classroom, a very proud moment for me. I think it was my own version of the Animals of Farthing Wood, my first piece of fanfiction. I always wanted to write a book. After a holiday in Spain where I read eight books in a week, I just thought, ‘I can do that.’ In the last four years I’ve written four chicklits and the first three books in a YA series. My dream is to see someone in a hotel, or by a pool, reading my book and enjoying it.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
I work full time and very long hours, up at five most mornings and I won’t get home till seven most nights. I make sure I write every night, but the hardest part for me is being awake enough to write something decent, to stay awake long enough that I get down all the ideas in my head. I have so much I want to write, so many ideas that sometimes I have two or three stories on the go at once, but it’s just a lack of time. Most nights I fall asleep over my laptop and I wake up to see hgjshkjglfdgdfkb k lxl xk k lpowk fflsmc;, on my screen.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
That the characters do exactly what I want them to do… most of the time. It’s complete escapism into a world where I have full control. Although I do love it when a book takes a completely different path to the one it was on at the beginning of the story, a new character, a new twist that even I didn’t see coming.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
It would have to be Harry Potter, not because of the money, although that would come in very handy, but because it’s just sooooo good, the characters, the magic. It completely transported me every time I read it and I love that it was one of those books that got strangers talking. People on the bus would see a fellow passenger reading it and stop them to talk to them about it. That’s an incredible gift.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, who would you pick and why? 
It would have to be Seth from my book The Sentinel. I just love him and I love how much he loves Eve. Although he is a being with super strength, so I imagine he wouldn’t need my help to save him.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
I’d go dog sledding in Quebec with Jacques from Winter Wonderland by Belinda Jones. Firstly because I’ve never been dog sledding before and I imagine it would be great fun and secondly - although this should probably have been a firstly – Jacques is just the loveliest person in the world and I’d want him to take care of me.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
My YA The Sentinel is out now and I also have a short story published in a Christmas anthology called Merry Chicklit, with all proceeds going to Breast Cancer charity ‘Rocking the Road to a Cure’. My Chicklit novel, The Guestbook, will be out in January and I’m also writing for Sunlounger 2 next year after my short story won a place in the anthology this year.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
I think the most important piece of advice is not to give up. It’s so hard when you get rejections but dust yourself off and do it again. Keep editing, changing, sending it to people, readers, agents and publishers. If they give you feedback try to act on it. And read. Read lots, read everything that is part of your genre, especially the ones that do well and try to work out why they do so well.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
A typical writing day normally involves around me thinking ideas up whilst I work and try to write them down before I fall asleep at night. I wish I had some great regime which would involve breakfast in some sunny conservatory, walking my dogs over the hills and beaches whilst I mulled over something great and inspirational, go for a swim and then write all night something outstanding, but I don’t. I write whenever, wherever I can get the chance.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I’ve just finished reading X by Jack Croxall and The Memory Game by Sharon Sant. Both incredible reads and I’m just finishing the Afterlife Academy by Jaimie Admans which is really good. I haven’t read any chicklit for a while and it’s a genre I really love so I’m really looking forward to starting Lisa Dickenson’s novel The 12 Dates of Christmas.

The Sentinel:

When Eve is rescued from a horrific coach crash by her teachers, she is shocked to discover they possess super strength and speed. But what happens next is even more harrowing. In the aftermath of the crash she discovers that everyone in her life from neighbours, doctors, dentists, teachers, shop keepers and even her family and friends are actually super strength Guardians sent to protect her. They all have one thing in common, a single minded ferocity that she must be kept alive at all costs.

However, she is surrounded by secrets and lies. Those in the know deny all knowledge of what happened that fateful night. Everyone else carries on as normal, seemingly unaware of the new strange world that she has stumbled against.

With the help of Seth, her best friend, Eve discovers the prophecies surrounding her true identity and the super strength she too holds. With her Guardians pledged to protect her, her closest friends ready to die for her, her own hopes and dreams are put on hold whilst she battles to control the amazing powers she has been bestowed with.

But those that seek to destroy her move ever closer. Will the Guardians be enough to protect her when so many are prepared to stop at nothing to see her dead? And will she be strong enough to fulfil her destiny when the time comes?

A fast paced fantasy adventure for young adults. With high speed car chases, airborne fights, amazing stunts and super powered beings, this is a story of loyalty, friendship and love.

Buy The Sentinel | Follow Holly on Twitter | Read her blog

Glendalough, County Wicklow

Earlier this month we were over in Ireland for a friend's wedding at Rathsallagh, followed by celebrations in Dublin for Olly's 30th birthday.

One of the places we were told we must visit whilst we were in County Wicklow was Glendalough, so we hopped in our rental car and drove the windy country roads to Wicklow Mountains National Park.

The Irish countryside is absolutely stunning. Seriously, look at this view - how amazing is that?

The Autumnal colours were so vivid, though Autumnal colour equals weather to match. We went from torrential rain and great big gusts of wind to blue skies in the space of minutes... and then back again.

Glendalough is a place well-known to hikers but, if that sounds too much like hard work, you can still have a nice walk around the lakes and the monastic city that's there.(Glendalough means "glen of two lakes" - in the ice age there was just the one lake which because of nature, and over time, slowly became two.)

One of the focal points of that city, that dates from the 6th century, is the round tower - my mum calls it the "Rapunzel Tower" because the tower doesn't have a door and you need to use a ladder to access the opening that is twelve feet high. You can definitely picture Rapunzel letting down her hair to let people up!

If you're in the area or, indeed, if you're in Dublin, make sure you go and see it for yourself. (It's only 31 miles from Dublin, so not too far at all.) If you don't want to hire a car and drive yourself there, book on a tour which will take you there (and back) from Dublin city centre. If you do go there in Autumn or Winter though, wrap up warm! x

Writer Wednesday: Julie Ryan

Julie was born and brought up in a mining village near Barnsley in South Yorkshire. She graduated with a BA (Hons) in French Language and Literature from Hull University. Since then she has lived and worked as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language in France, Greece, Poland and Thailand.

She now lives in rural Gloucestershire with her husband, son and a dippy cat with half a tail. She is so passionate about books that her collection is now threatening to outgrow her house, much to her husband’s annoyance! Jenna’s Journey is her debut novel set in Greece, a country to which she has a strong attachment. She is now working on a second novel in the series, Sophia’s Story.  

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I think the writing bug has always been there because as a child I was always scribbling stories. Then, like many people I suppose, I found that life just got in the way. I always wanted to write a novel though and ‘Jenna’s Journey’ has been waiting to be written for about twenty years or so. It was a chance encounter with another writer in my village that gave me the self-confidence to actually finish it.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?
The toughest part for me is trying to make sense of all the ideas that are floating around in my head. I’m not the kind of writer that can plot out a whole novel in advance so there are many plot changes along the way. Trying to motivate myself to write when the creative muse is not there is also tough and I have to discipline myself to try and write something every day.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
I love it when characters that only exist in my mind start to ‘speak’ to me and change the course of the novel. It’s also extremely frustrating that they won’t do what they’re told but it means they are becoming ‘real’ and in the end, most of us want to create believable characters, don’t we? The real highlight though is when someone tells you that they’ve enjoyed your book. I get a thrill every time!

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?  
That’s a really tough one because there are so many great books out there that I wish I’d had the skill to write. If I had to choose one book then I’d have to pick The Magus by John Fowles. The writing is beautiful, the setting is Greece and each time I read it, there is something else that strikes me that I missed the previous time. He captures the mystery and magic of the country perfectly.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, who would you pick and why? 
I’d like my hero Nikos to have had an easier life. He’s gone through a lot of suffering to reach the place he’s now at and deserves some happiness. I’d like to see those sad brown eyes twinkle a little more. He really needs to ‘man-up’ and stand up to his grandmother. Of course, he wouldn’t be the same person if I ‘saved’ him from all that but you may just have to wait for the next book to see if he finds happiness with Jenna.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do?
I’d love to spend the day with Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind. I read this book when I was in my teens and fell in love with Rhett – the kind of man to sweep a girl off her feet and never did understand why Scarlet couldn’t see that he was the perfect man for her. We’d go on a tour of the deep South where he’d introduce me to all the grand families. Then there would be a walk in the grounds where I would get lost and he would have to rescue me. Then there would be a great ball in the evening where my dance card would be full – with just one name on it. After such a public declaration, he’d have to marry me!

7. What can we expect next from you?
I enjoyed writing my first book so much that I couldn’t stop. I’m currently in the process of writing a second book, provisionally entitled Sophia’s Story. It’s set on the same Greek island but with different main characters although you may find some of the characters from Jenna’s Journey popping by. I can’t tell you the plot at the moment as I don’t quite know how it’s going to work out. You can be sure though that there will be lots of romance, mystery and intrigue but it’s quite different from my first book.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
The best advice I was given was to discipline yourself to write every day. It worked for me and even if there are days when the writing’s not going well, at least you have something that can be edited or filed away to be used elsewhere. If you only write 1000 words per day, you will have the equivalent of a full- length novel in three months! Of course, that’s when the really hard work starts.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
Well, first of all, every day is different for me as in addition to writing I also work part time as a distance language tutor for a French company. Typically, I may have an early morning lesson so that means getting up at 6.45 ready to be on the phone for my first student at 7am. (On a really bad day, I have been known to give my lesson in my dressing gown so thank goodness it’s by phone and not Skype where it would give my students a shock!) Then it’s a case of getting my young son ready for school. After a natter with the other mums (always a good source of inspiration for a story) it’s back home where I make a cup of good coffee and read my emails, do whatever I need to do on social media, and prepare myself mentally for writing.

By now it’s probably nearing 10am so armed with another coffee, I read through the last chapters of my wip and start to write. Sometimes the ideas just flow, other times I find myself blocked and may go back and edit while I wait for inspiration. At midday it’s time for a sandwich before I teach again for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Then it’s time to pick up my son and we spend time talking about his day, having a snack and reading. If there’s time, I might just review what I’ve written that day before it’s time for dinner.

Another lesson in the evening and then I collapse in front of the TV to watch anything that doesn’t require thought! I’d love to be able to write at night but my treat is to read  so every night if possible I try and read even if just for 10 minutes until I find my eyes closing. It’s usually at this point that my own characters start to speak and my mind is full of what I’m going to write next day.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
I usually have several books on the go at any one time. I was lucky enough to receive a hard copy of Briar Rose by Jana Oliver so that’s by my bed. I’m also reading The Art of Becoming Homeless by Sara Alexi. I love all the books in the series as I’m immediately transported to Greece.

Jenna's Journey

When Jenna decides on a whim to go to Greece, she’s trying to escape her failing marriage. Will Greg let her go so easily though? Can she make a new future for herself and how did she get involved in an antiques smuggling ring? Is fellow holidaymaker Tom all he seems and will it be happy ever after with Nikos? It’s not until twenty-five years later that some of the questions are finally answered.

Buy Jenna's Journey | Read Julie's blog | Follow her on Twitter

Life of Late - November 2013

I cannot believe that it is the middle of November and that Christmas is slowly making its presence known! November has been a busy one for me, and the rest of the month is set to continue that way.

Last week the Geli Voyante's Hot or Not tour ended, plus we returned to London after a trip to Ireland. We were over there for a friend's wedding, followed by 30th birthday celebrations in Dublin for Olly - more about those later, I promise. There are lots of stunning photos I need to share; Ireland is a beautiful country.

We managed to see the Brockwell Park fireworks from our back garden, and snapped a few of the really high and explosive ones. We watched the fireworks over the rooftops rather than face the crowds; they still looked pretty impressive, even if we didn't get the full view and experience!

Book-wise: I'm currently reading the fifth A Song of Ice and Fire book, aka the fifth Game of Thrones book. I loved the first three books but am finding this book less exciting. Don't spoil it, but I hope the plot picks up by the end of the book!

How's your November shaped up so far? What are you reading at the moment, and did you go to a firework display this year? x

PS: Geli is still on Kindle Countdown Deal today. It's 99p until 2pm, then it's £1.99 for the next few days - make sure you download your copy whilst it's still on sale!

PPS: It's currently #81 and a Best Seller in the Humorous Fiction chart. How amazing is that?! Please download it and tell your friends - let's see if we can get Geli Voyante's Hot or Not even higher up the charts! 

Writer Wednesday: Kathryn Player

Geli Voyante's Hot or Not is still 99p for the rest of today in the Amazon Kindle Countdown Deal, so make sure you download your copy right now! It goes up to £1.99 tomorrow (November 14th), before returning to its original price of £2.99 at the end of the week. x

Writer Wednesday: Kathryn Player

Kathryn Player started writing Moody not Broody after she got married when everyone kept banging on about her having children. Then, three years later, she surprised everyone and became a mum to twin girls. After deciding to have a career break, it was a perfect time for Moody not Broody to get some air.

Now, still a full time mum, Kathryn works on her second novel whenever the girls are asleep. Moody not Broody is her debut novel which is based on her teaching antics (sorry, 'experiences') over the past ten years.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
I wanted to create real people who were different from the norm, characters who were quirky and likable. Above all else, I wanted to entertain people.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Undoubtedly, finding the time to sit down and actually produce something. It’s a cliche, I know!

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
I love it when your characters do something unexpected and you smile and think, ‘well, that wasn’t planned!’ That’s when you know your characters have become ‘real’.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
I would love to have written Bridget Jones’s Diary because Bridget is so lovable and Helen Fielding is so witty.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, who would you pick and why? 
 It has to be Emma, in Moody not Broody. She is the first protagonist I ever created that made it to a finished novel. Naturally, I feel ‘protective’ over her. ;-)

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
I would spend it with Harry Potter because I would love to learn how to fly a broom! ;-) Plus, I would love to be a commentator for a Quidditch match; I’d get the crowd going for Gryffindor!

7. What can we expect next from you? 
At the moment, I’m writing a series of short stories about two sisters who work in a charity shop. The sisters and the charity shop workers are characters in a sitcom that I wrote two years ago.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
Make sure your writing is polished. It has to be the best of your best in order for you to do it justice.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
I never have a ‘writing day’ available, more like a writing half hour. I try and do some writing when my twin daughters are in bed and when all the chores are done. If you include the marketing side of my writing then, during the day, I might go on Twitter and do a promotional tweet or just have a nose and see what everyone is up to. I’m a slow writer, but I get there in the end. ;-)

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I’m reading Twinkle, Twinkle... My Year Observing the Implosion of a Little Star by Mary Roulston who is a fellow Indie author. I’m enjoying this glitzy story and the humour that goes with it.

Moody not Broody
 Emma is a newly-wed looking forward to some blissful years with her new husband, but everyone else expects her to have children. They think that because she is a teacher, she MUST want children. However, Emma has never wanted children and has to convince her husband, her family and her friends that she's not cut out for motherhood.

Emma would much rather pursue her career in teaching and work with children with Special Educational Needs, but then her plans are thwarted and she has to make a choice which will affect her and her husband, Mike, forever.

Buy Moody not Broody | Follow Kathryn on Twitter | Read her blog

Geli Voyante's Hot or Not book tour, Part II

The final post went up today on my tour for Geli Voyante's Hot or Not! I hope you've all downloaded it or ordered your paperback copy. No? OK, maybe this lot will convince you!
Throughout the story I never imagined the ending being anything like it was and this surprise made me smile but it also left me hoping that Elle will offer us more about Geli and the gang, after all it’s always nice to catch up with friends.

  • It was a 5* review from Laura over at She Loves to Read - hurrah! Laura loved the protagonist, got a bit hot under the collar with a certain hallway scene, and is super excited to see what I'm going to come up with next! {^_^}

  • Melanie from Me, Bookshelf and I gave Geli 4/5, and said it was "an entertaining read with a host of great characters, some of which will surprise you." I hope if you've not read the book yet that you'll also be pleasantly surprised!

The witty writing style was enchanting and I had many favourite moments including: Geli's marathon/politics mix up, an inappropriate crush and an entertaining trip to South Africa. Following all this was a super eventful finale that had me flipping the pages to find out what would happen next!

This was a fun read filled with drama and humour, I look forward to reading more from this author. 

 This book had a fantastic ending and I really really hope there is a sequel. I would love to see what Geli is doing a year or two down the line. I will definitely be reading Elle’s debut book Kept as soon as I can.

All-in-all, a very successful tour for Geli Voyante's Hot or Not, methinks! You can see the first half of the tour posts here. You also still have a few hours left to enter to win an Amazon gift card (two available), so make sure you do - good luck! Finally, a big thank you to Shaz for organising this.

Have you read Geli yet? x

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Writer Wednesday: Suzy Turner

Suzy Turner has worked as a journalist, assistant editor, features editor and magazine editor. Early in 2010 however, she began writing full time and has since completed six books for young adults (the Raven Saga and The Morgan Sisters series) and one chick lit novel, Forever Fredless.

Although Suzy is a Yorkshire lass at heart, she left her home town of Rotherham, UK, to move to Portugal with her family when she was ten. The Algarve continues to be her home, where she lives with her childhood sweetheart and husband of 15 years, Michael, and their two neurotic dogs and a cat who thinks she's a princess.

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I've always written - even when I left school I went straight into the publishing industry as a trainee journalist before becoming a features writer. I just love to write. But it's fiction that stole my heart. I guess I should have known that I'd head in this direction all those years ago when I would read book after book after book!

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?
Probably the editing because I get bored so easily and after re-reading the same book again and again, I find it draining.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
Apart from creating whole new worlds, I'd say it's the response and encouragement from readers. I couldn't stop grinning for weeks after getting my first fan mail!

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I first read it for A level English Lit and it blew me away. It's kind of a dystopian drama / romance kind of thing (totally useless at describing genres - lol!) and it's AMAZING.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from calamity, who would you pick and why? 
It would probably be Kate's mum in Forever Fredless. Although we don't see much of her, she's just such a fabulous character - so loving (from afar... she lives in Africa), yet so independent and fun. She's unlike anyone I know.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do?
Lol. I'd probably spend it with Rebecca Bloomwood because I do love to shop!!

7. What can we expect next from you?
Well, I've already started the next book in The Morgan Sisters (YA) series, which I'm hoping to get out before Christmas. And then I'll be starting my next chick lit novel. I can't wait - I had so much fun writing in this genre!

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
Do not take negative reviews to heart. It's so hurtful when you get them and trust me, we all get them. And some of them are simply written in spite. Only listen to constructive criticism - not the negative stuff.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
Up at 7.30 (ish), feed dogs and cats, make banana and strawberry smoothie for breakfast. Sift through emails, deal with Fiction Dreams (a women's fiction blog) and then crack on with writing. If I have a deadline, I'll work until I've reached my daily target, then I'll make lunch and watch a favourite TV show for an hour, then back to the computer for social networking / promotion / blogging, etc.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
Dead Dreams by Emma Right. I accidentally agreed to review it (I clicked on the wrong box when organizing to be a part of the book tour!), but it's pretty good actually. There are bits about it that I find a little annoying, but it's very well written. I'd definitely read more by the author.

Thanks, Suzy!

Forever Fredless 

Kate Robinson has spent the past two decades yearning to find her soul mate, the boy she found and then lost during a family holiday.

Shortly after her twenty-eighth birthday, however, she inherits a fortune from an old family friend and becomes something of an overnight celebrity. Can her new-found fame lead her to him after all this time?

 Buy on Amazon | Read Suzy's chick lit blog | Visit her website | Follow her on Twitter | Like her on Facebook


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