Wednesday 29 January 2020

Mini Film Reviews #7 - Little Women, Jojo Rabbit & More

It's been a long time since my last film roundup, in fact I think it was just before Halloween so it's safe to say I've watched many, many films since then. That being said there weren't that many that I felt were that memorable so when it came to writing this, I just chose a few of the ones I've watched and enjoyed over the last few weeks instead. Let me know if you've watched any of these too!
collage - Little Women, Jojo Rabbit, Midsommar, The Last Five Years, The Sound Of Music, Hustlers

The Last Five Years - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A film that is singing the whole way through is my kind of film. I've heard The Last Five Years mentioned many times in the past but it's only now that I'm into pretty much everything musical theatre related that I've actually paid it any attention. It's a musical that's played so many places including New York and London and it was made into a film in 2015 starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. The Last Five Years tells the story of Cathy and Jamie's relationship, from how it started to how it unfortunately ended. It's really interesting as it's not in chronological order, Cathy's songs begin after they've separated and move backwards in time to the start but Jamie's start when they first meet and go until the end of their marriage. It probably doesn't make much sense like that and when watching it, it took me a little while to get my head around it but I really like how uniquely it's been told. It's probably not favourite musical film ever but there are some songs that I've not been able to stop playing since!

Midsommar - ⭐⭐⭐

Well this was intense! I mean, where do I even start? The first of two films starring Florence Pugh in this post and she was just incredible. Midsommar is about a couple, Dani and Christian, who travel to Sweden with friends to visit the midsummer festival that's been hailed as a idyllic retreat. Whilst it starts out well, it quickly becomes incredibly bizarre and violent and Dani soon realises they've become part of some pagan cult that they may never get out of. Whilst this is classed as a horror film and it definitely has it's moments of pure creepiness, it's not a film full of jump scares or anything like that if that's usually what you prefer, it's just generally really uncomfortable. In a weird way I enjoyed it and I thought the whole cast were great but it's not one I'd be rushing to watch again.

Hustlers - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

After hearing many good things, I finally got round to watching Hustlers a few weeks ago and Jennifer Lopez stole the show! It's inspired by true events and follows a crew of savvy strip club employees who join forces to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. Their aim is to essentially get as much money out of these men as possible without having to do much so they can one day leave the job for good. Unfortunately it's not all plain sailing but I'm not going to spoil what happens. It's nothing like anything else I've watched.

Little Women - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I finally got round to seeing Little Women earlier this month and I really enjoyed it. I can totally see why it's been receiving so much praise and I'm baffled as to why Greta Gerwig hasn't been nominated for best director at the Oscars?! I knew a small amount about Little Women but if you're oblivious to it, it shows Jo March played by Saoirse Ronan reflecting back and forth on life, telling the story of the March sisters, four women who were determined to live their life on their own terms. It's got a brilliant cast as aswell as Saoirse, it also stars Timothee Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Laura Dern. I personally loved Timothee and Florence the most, I think they stole each scene they're in but overall I thought it was a great film. There was something about it that was missing though, I just can't pinpoint what, I did expect to be wowed and I wasn't necessarily.

Jojo Rabbit - ⭐⭐⭐

I actually think I need to re-watch this soon as I wasn't in the best mood when I first watched this and I think that clouded my judgement a little! It's been getting rave reviews and there were definitely moments I understood that and I do think next time I'll enjoy it more but maybe it's a case of it been hyped up so much that again I expected a bit too much. I think it's got a really unique story which focuses on Jojo, a lonely German boy who discovers his mum is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. He must then question his beliefs whilst dealing with his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. I'm sure it's not a film for everyone but it definitely had funny moments and it's the first film in a while I've actually quite liked Scarlett Johansson.

The Sound Of Music - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

And finally, The Sound Of Music. I remember watching this a lot when I was younger so it instantly takes me back whenever I watch it. I definitely appreciate it a lot more now than I ever used to so I was thrilled when I spotted it was on TV over Christmas. If you've somehow never heard of The Sound Of Music, it was released in 1965 and stars Julie Andrews as Maria, an aspiring nun who does things a little differently to everyone else. She eventually leaves to become a governess to the seven children of a Naval officer widower and over time they all surprisingly become very fond of one another. It's so heartwarming, is full of beautiful music and just feels like a bit of an escape.

Have you watched any of the films I've mentioned? Are there any films that have really impressed you lately?

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Monday 27 January 2020

My Mini Egg Cookie Slices Recipe

Yes, I know it's early and we've only just got Christmas out of the way but when the Easter chocolate comes out, I'm going to buy it. To be fair to myself, I haven't gone too mad just yet, I'm pacing myself but I would be lying if I said I hadn't had a creme egg or two yet. Every year when Easter comes around I like to try and do a few seasonal bakes and this year I really want to make more than ever. I've got creme egg brownies planned and a few cakes which I'm hoping will turn out okay but the first thing I've made is these Mini Egg Cookie Slices. I was definitely inspired by Jane's Patisserie who has all the Easter bakes you could possibly imagine on her website but I just tweaked a few ingredients and measurements to suit what I had in. If you're looking for an easy bake that is sure to impress, look no further.
Mini egg cookie slices on baking paper, mini egg wrapper to the left side, home bargains sugared plum candle in the background
115g butter
55g granulated sugar
135g light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp cornflour
Sprinkle of salt
300g Mini Eggs (I used 296g as that's what the bag was)
50g milk chocolate, broken into chunks

1. Pre-heat your oven to 190 degrees (170 fan) and grease and line a large square baking tin
2. In a saucepan, melt your butter then add in your granulated sugar and light brown sugar
3. Using an electric whisk if possible, whisk the mixture until smooth and the sugar has dissolved
4. Add in your egg and vanilla extract and whisk again until combined 
5. In a separate bowl, weight out your plain flour, bicarbonate of soda, cornflour and sprinkle of salt. Give it a gentle mix then pour into your wet mixture
6. Stir your wet and dry mixtures together until fully combined and then pour in your Mini Eggs (leave a handful to the side) and your chocolate chunks
7. When you have mixed in your chocolate and Mini Eggs, you should have a thick cookie dough so now you can tip it into your baking tin
8. Spread out the cookie dough into the tin, getting it as even as possible then gently push in your remaining handful of mini eggs
9. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes then leave to cool for 10 minutes in the baking tin
10. After 10 minutes, remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. When cool, cut into slices!
Mini egg cookie slice in the baking tin
This mixture made 16 squares so plenty for you to enjoy! What I love about these cookie slices is how they're the perfect combination of gooey yet chewy. The middle is soft and the Mini Eggs have melted slightly but the top has a nice crunch to it. They actually taste a little like blondies to me but I love them so I'm not complaining at all. 
One of the mini egg cookie slices held up in front of remaining slices
I already can't wait to make these again. They're very sweet but incredibly moreish and just the perfect bake for the run up to Easter.

Have you got any Easter bakes planned?

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Sunday 26 January 2020

Travelling To Mongolia? Read This First!

This article is published in partnership with Media Buzzer
A trip to Mongolia is probably a once in lifetime experience unless you really fall in love with the country, but you can't just book and go, some preparation is essential. If you book through a recognised Trans-Siberian railway tour operator, they can take the hassle out of the preparation and arrange everything from the necessary visa to your food, excursions and accommodation. If you do decide to do it alone and travel independently, the checklist below should be of assistance.
Image Source: Flickr

Mongolia Travel - The Essentials

As previously mentioned, independent travel to Mongolia takes planning and preparation but if you have been browsing the selection of Trans-Siberian holidays available, you will have noticed the vast majority of them offer excellent value for money. But if your heart is set on independently travelling to this vast country, please see below for some things you need to know prior to departure.

Entry Requirements - You need a visa before you travel to Mongolia. A Mongolia tourist visa is valid for 30 days from the date of issue and can be extended in-country by 30 days.

Vaccinations - A number of vaccinations are wise in advance of a trip to Mongolia. Your local GP of travel clinic will be able to provide more upto date information.

Safety and Security - Violent crime is rare. The biggest danger by far is travelling by road in certain areas. Bad conditions in conjunction with poor standards of driving can make travelling by road a hair-raising experience.

Local Laws and Customs - Possession or any use of any type of drugs is highly illegal and should be avoided at all costs unless you fancy an extended holiday in a Mongolian prison. Be culturally sensitive to Buddhist Monks and local people alike. Follow the examples of local people and you won't go far wrong. Be aware, that outside of areas frequented by tourists, the level of English will be limited or non-existent. A phrase book or an offline app may be useful.

Travel Insurance - Due to the isolated nature of much of the country, medical assistance maybe hours or even days away. Make sure you have a travel insurance policy that covers repatriation, better safe than sorry. For minor ailments, follow the advice of local people.

Packing List - The climate can vary wildly depending on the areas you visit and the season. Seasoned travellers recommend good trekking shoes, a headlamp, first aid kit and layers of warm clothing that can be peeled on and off according the current weather conditions. It is also important to take as much personal medication as you need for the duration of your stay and a little bit extra for good measure.
Image Source: Unsplash
The vast majority of visits to Mongolia are trouble free, particularly if you book a tour with an experienced tour operator. If you want to find out more about visiting Mongolia, there are a number of resources online where you can look. Government and official tourism websites are usually the best sources of upto date information.

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Friday 24 January 2020

3 Deadly Mistakes Every HomeBuyer Should Avoid*

Image Source: Pexels
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Deadly Mistake #1

Thinking you can't afford it. Today, buying the home of your dreams is easier than ever before. Many people who thought that buying the home they wanted was simply out of their reach are now enjoying a new lifestyle in their very own new home. Buying a home is the smartest financial decision you will ever make. In fact, most American and Canadian home owners would be financially broke at retirement if it wasn't for one saving grace - the equity in their home. Furthermore, mortgage rates are more flexible today than ever and tax allowances favour home ownership. Real estate values have always risen steadily. Of course there are peaks and valleys, but the long term trend is a consistent increase. This means that every month when you make a mortgage payment the amount that you owe on the home goes down and the value typically increases. This owe less-worth more situation is called equity build-up and is the reason you can't afford not to buy. Even if you have little money for a down payment or credit problems, chances are that you can still buy that new home. It just comes down to knowing the right strategies, and working with the right people.

Deadly Mistake #2

Not hiring a buyer's agent to represent you. Buying property is a complex and stressful task. In fact, it is often the biggest single investment you will make in your lifetime. At the same time, real estate transactions have become increasingly complicated. New technology, laws, procedures and competition from other buyers require buyer agents to perform at an ever-increasing level of professionalism. For many homebuyers, the process turns into a terrible, stressful ordeal. In addition, making the wrong decision can end up costing you thousands of dollars. It does not have to be this way! Work with a buyer's agent who has a keen understanding of the real estate business and who is on your side. Buyer's agents have a fiduciary duty to you. That means they are loyal to only you and are obligated to look out for your best interests. Buyer's agents can help you find the best home, the best lender and the best inspector. Best of all, in most cases, the buyer's agent is paid out of the seller's commission, even though he/she works for you. Trying to buy a home without an agent at all is, well... unthinkable.

Deadly Mistake #3

Getting a cheap home inspection. Buying a home is probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make. This is no time to shop for a cheap inspection. The cost of a home inspection is very small relative to the home being inspected. The additional cost of hiring a certified inspector is almost insignificant. As a homebuyer, you have recently been crunching the numbers, negotiating offers, adding up closing costs, shopping for mortgages and trying to get the best deals. Do not stop now. Do not let your real estate agent, a patty-cake inspector or anyone else talk you into skimping here. NACHI front-ends its membership requirements. NACHI turns down more than 1/2 the inspectors who want to join because they can't fulfil the membership requirements. NACHI certified inspectors perform the best inspections by far. NACHI certified inspectors earn their fees many times over. They do more, they deserve more, and yes they generally charge a little more. Do yourself a favour...and a pay a little more for the quality inspection you deserve.

This is a collaborative post*

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Thursday 23 January 2020

4 Musicals I'd Like To See In 2020

Time for more theatre content because I would write about it every single day if I could and today I'm talking about the musicals I'd like to see in 2020. I did plan on sharing this a few weeks ago so we have actually booked a few of these shows since but still, I'm gonna include them anyway! Last year I did something similar and I ended up seeing two of the three shows I mentioned but I have a feeling 2020 is going to be the year of musicals for me 🤞. We already have quite a few lined up and there are so many others that are set to tour towards the end of the year, that I'm just determined to get to. 
collage - Dear Evan Hansen, & Juliet, Six, Pretty Woman

Dear Evan Hansen 

The second show of 2020 for me will be Dear Evan Hansen (we saw Les Miserables a few weeks ago if you want to read my review) and honestly I don't think I've ever been so excited for a show. I've said many times on my blog recently that reading the book of Dear Evan Hansen was hugely comforting as an anxiety sufferer and there were so many parts of it that I found relatable so I think seeing the actual show is going to be emotional to put it lightly. It's a tough story but the score is beautiful, I can't wait to see how the songs are staged and the current cast have had fab reviews since they started in November. I'm counting down the days and fully expect to cry my whole way through it.
Dear Evan Hansen - Evan and Connor on stage

& Juliet

I love a double show day in London so after seeing the Dear Evan Hansen matinee, we're seeing & Juliet that evening. Quite a contrast but I think & Juliet will be just what we need after an undoubtedly heavy afternoon. I was lucky enough to be invited to see the show whilst it was playing in Manchester last September so I'm really looking forward to seeing it in the West End this time with the same incredible cast. I see it very much as the new Kinky Boots - a piece of theatre that whilst has it's serious elements and moments that will pull on your heartstrings, it's all out fun and you leave on such a high. We need something like that in the West End now Kinky Boots has left so I hope & Juliet sticks around for a very long time. I have the soundtrack on repeat and I just can't wait for what I know is going to be an amazing night out.
& Juliet cast on stage


Six is seriously hard to get tickets for in London now as it's popularity has just grown and grown over the last year so I pretty much resigned myself to not seeing it for a long time but then they announced a tour! It's currently touring the UK and it will be playing in Leicester in Summer so we've recently booked tickets as we've been after an excuse to go back to Leicester anyway. If you're not a long time reader of my blog, George and I used to live there whilst in Uni but moved back a few years ago. I'm sure it will be strange to be back after such a long time but I'm looking forward to it. Six tells the story of the six wives of Henry III but with a little twist. It's had rave reviews and looks so much fun.
Six Tour cast on stage

Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman opens at the Piccadilly Theatre next month in London and whilst I would absolutely love to see it, I do think the chances I will are pretty slim. The ticket prices are absolutely insane! I mean, it's Pretty Woman, I can understand to some extent but currently they go way beyond what I'd be willing to pay so I'm going to keep an eye out for any deals that come up. It's only set to stay in London for a year so it would be a shame to miss it but I do have a feeling it will tour afterwards which I imagine will be much more affordable. It looks like such a fun show and the music is brilliant but whether I'll actually get to see it or not, I'm really not sure.
Pretty Woman on stage
There are quite a few other musicals touring this year actually so I'm hoping we can get to another one or two of those. Trips to London aren't cheap so I think it's great that more shows are starting to branch out now and taking the show on the road so more people get to see them. The Phantom Of The Opera is on my theatre bucket list and that's touring for the first time soon so that would be a dream but there's also Hairspray later in the year, Beautiful The Carole King Musical and Everybody's Talking About Jamie which I think would all be incredible!

I'd love to know if you're planning on seeing any musicals this year? Or have you seen any of the ones I've mentioned?!

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Make Your Home Move Easier*

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Moving home can be a stressful time. In fact, it's often cited as one of the most stressful things that we can do alongside divorce and redundancy. As we also know, moving home is also a really exciting period in our lives. It can be an upgrade in living standard, moving closer to friends - even a new job! The trick is making the home moving experience as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. To help you in doing that we're going to cover three tips to help your next home move go as smoothly as it can.
grey blanket, white book and black mug on coaster
Photo by Isabelle Taylor from Pexels

Spending Under Control

According to Barclays, the average home move in the UK costs £8,855. That's expensive. The crazy part is that we all tend to overpay for products and services when we're moving home. There are lots of reasons for that, but one of the more unknown ones is because of something known as the 'primacy bias'. The primacy bias is something we all naturally have being human. It essentially means that our perception of something is influenced by what we have just seen beforehand. The classic example is if you were to walk into a high-end bridal shop and are shown dresses entirely in the £6,000 - £7,000 range. Then, they bring out a dress for a the low-low price of £3,500. In this scenario we have a tendency to see this price as much cheaper than it actually is, because it was preceded by something twice as expensive. Had you walked in and see the £3,500 dress initially you wouldn't perceive it to be as cheap. When it comes to moving home, this applies to everything. You're spending tens of thousands, so when you're asked if you would like the legal on-top for £1,200 we say, 'sure'. Because we're spending such high sums of money we don't question the price as much despite the fact we can get it much cheaper. In short, try and reduce the amount you spend and be aware of your natural biases.

Get Planning

When someone tells us to 'plan better' we tend to have the reaction of 'of course!'. In reality though, most of us don't do proper planning when we're moving home. And we need to. There are two key things to stay on top of when it comes to moving: your budget and your timeline. It is best practise to start by outlining how much money you need to spend on the move. If you're buying a home this might involve separating out the costs for things that you need when you move in and other items you could wait for - like that Jacuzzi you have your eye on. In terms of timing, find a really good online moving checklist. Understand what needs to happen and when it needs to happen by. Moving is very busy so invariably we will all forget one thing or another. Having a comprehensive list or plan to follow will make your home move much smoother.

Save Time & Cut Costs

With the growth of accessible technology the ability to save both time and money has never been so accessible. SlothMove is one such company. They actually enable you to update your address online, cut costs on setting-up your bills and get you access to free stuff - like Tastecard. Instead of having to make 20+ phone calls repeating the same information, you can just 'say it once' and update them all at once. It's also completely free - so whether you need to 'change address on driving license', update your councils or anything else, be sure to check them out. You can also cut costs by creating a thorough written budget and, more difficulty, sticking to it. This is more difficult to do when you're buying a home but also more much important.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you are now fully prepared to make your home move easier. Some of these tips are simple, but can carry a significant impact in terms of making your home move much more enjoyable. And the final thing to bear in mind is that moving home ought to be fun. And that means making time for yourself amidst the chaos of moving. That could be an evening completely off during the week or a day trip. Whatever it is, make sure you take time for yourself.

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Tuesday 21 January 2020

Personal Goals For 2020

Well, as we're almost at the end of January (FINALLY, why does this month drag more than any other?) I suppose I better get on with my 2020 goals. I didn't actually share any of my personal goals last year and just spoke about my blogging goals but this year I'm going back to what I used to do and sharing both. I think with having a blog it can something feel like you're oversharing so when it came to writing my goals last year I felt like pulling back a bit, so I did, but I'm really excited for some of the personal things I'm aiming for in 2020 so when it feels right to share, I will and this year it does. So, let's get started.
Borough Market, London

Travel More

One of my main goals for the year is to travel more, but not necessarily far and wide which I think people always assume when you mention the word travel. George and I have already had a break in London with Bear this year which was the perfect start to the year and we actually have another little trip planned in April for a double show day which I'm of course incredibly excited for. We've also decided on a weekend break in Krakow for the Christmas markets which has been a dream of mine for years so fingers crossed that all goes to plan but we're still torn on where to go for a little Summer holiday with Bear. He's just as much of a part of this family so we definitely want to take him away again and he just absolutely loved it last year, I'm just really struggling to find somewhere. Part of me wants to just jump on a plane and tick another place off our city bucketlist but I don't know. I just can't wait to take Bear to the beach loads this year regardless of whether it's for a proper holiday or not. When we can I just want to get out more, go on different day trips, go to places we've never been but also visit old favourites.

Finally Work On My Anxiety

I'm going to get a little deep here for a minute which I don't feel I really do much anymore on blog. I've been an open book before and I think shared too much about certain aspects about my life so it's always a fine line for me between being honest and telling everyone, everything. It's no secret if you've read my blog for a long time though that my mental health has taken a bit of a battering and it's still something I'm working on. In fact, I'll probably always have to. I've tried various different things in the past to help but I still don't feel life I'm much further forward so 2020 is the year I really try and sort my life out a little when it comes to anxiety. It's taken a lot from me and now I'm starting to get a little older, I'm really noticing areas I can't afford to let it control anymore. 

Read 100 Books

One day I'll shut up about reading 102 books last year. Just not yet. I'm really proud of myself! I know they'll be people that read loads more than that and good on you, but as I aimed for 30 and thought that would be a huge achievement, I'm really happy with what I ended the year on. This year I'm actually aiming for 100 books, if I've done it once, I can do it again? Fingers crossed but reading is supposed to be enjoyable so I'm not going to put myself under pressure.

Be More Comfortable Doing Things Alone

Going back to when I said anxiety has taken a lot from me, well one of those things is my ease at doing things alone. For a long time going to the shop alone was a huge deal whereas now I'm quite happy doing things like that but there are some areas I still feel I need to work on. I'm just never 100% comfortable being alone now and my mind goes into overdrive with all the things that could happen or go wrong. That being said I do feel I've come on leaps and bounds with my social anxiety, there are things I do now which I could have never a few years ago so I suppose I just want to keep going with it and keep pushing myself.

Save, Save, Save

I've got so much better at saving money over the last year or so, so in 2020 I'm determined to keep up with it. We're currently saving for a house and we want this year to sort of be the final push towards it so whenever we can we're just ploughing money into our savings and making sure we're being much more careful with spending and not buying things for the sake of it. We've also got a few trips planned for the next 12 months too so that's something else to save for. I used to be really bad when whenever I got paid, I just wanted to treat myself all the time but now I much more prefer experiences over stuff and obviously a house is the end goal too so I find it far easier to put that money aside and let it build.

Push Myself More With Cooking & Baking

I'm sure you're able to tell from the amount of recipes I've shared on my blog over the years, that I adore cooking and baking. Give me a few hours in the kitchen and I'm a happy girl. I just love making something new from scratch and it turning out well - granted, it's not always a success, but it's fun regardless. This year I want to continue pushing myself with the meals I'm making, I want to get more into meat free and plant based meals (we currently aim for 1 meat free night a week and 1 meal with fish a week so simple changes but it's a start) and I really want to perfect more of my baking recipes. I really feel I'm there with brownies now, it's not like I've not shared enough varieties over the last few months so now I want to get creative with cakes and decorations, really find that perfect cookie recipe and finally try and improve on cupcakes! I'm not sure where baking can take me but I just know I want it to go somewhere one day so I'm going to keep trying, keep handing my bakes out to others and keep sharing on my blog, and who knows where it will go.

Start To Take Proper Care Of My Skin

I really need to start looking after myself more, especially my skin and my health. When I'm going through a bad phase with anxiety, everything sort of falls away. I stop cooking, I don't get out of the house much, I don't particularly want to talk to anyone and I just generally don't look after myself and whilst that all starts up again when I'm feeling brighter, it's not great that every so often that happens at all. I'm sure as I work on my anxiety, those moments will get less and less but I still had various times in 2019 where I just felt utter crap. This year I want to be eating healthier foods, drink more water as I'm so bad with that at the moment, go on longer walks and get back into a skincare routine. I've always had temperamental skin but I don't think having phases where I don't do much at all to care for it is helping. I used to be quite good at making sure each morning and night I took time out for it so I'm determined to get back to it as it always makes me feel so much better.

And that wraps up my personal goals for 2020. There's a few more than usual but they're all achievable (I say now) so hopefully in a year's time I'll be able to look back and see that I managed everything I wanted to. Fingers crossed!

Have you set yourself many goals for 2020?

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Monday 20 January 2020

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty Book Review

2020 is the year I get back into book reviews. There, I've said it, no going back on it. I used to love sharing book reviews and for a while I was reviewing every book I read but then I sort of picked up the pace last year and it would have been way too much if I'd carried on like that. I've sort of gone the complete opposite way now though and I very rarely share book reviews at all on my blog, I think I convinced myself I was repeating myself all the time and no-one was really interested but even if they're not, who cares? When I feel really passionate about a book I've read, I'll share, and one book I've read recently which I actually keep thinking about is Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. 
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty book held up in front of pink bedding
'Three mothers, Jane, Madeline and Celeste appear to have it all...but do they? They are about to find out just how easy it is for one little lie to spiral out of control. Single mum Jane has just moved to town. She's got her little boy in tow - plus a secret she's been carrying for five years. On the first day of the school run she meets Madeline - a force to be reckoned with, who remembers everything and forgives no one - and Celeste, the kind beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare, but is inexplicably ill at ease. They both take Jane under their wing - while careful to keep their own secrets under wraps. But a minor incident involving the children of all three women rapidly escalates: playground whispers become spiteful rumours until no one can tell the truth from the lies. It was always going to end in tears, but how did it end in murder?'

My review

Big Little Lies was my first book of 2020 and yes I know it's very, very early to be thinking like this but I can already see it being a contender for my top books of 2020. There are several reasons I'm saying that which I'll get into soon but first of all if you've not heard of Big Little Lies, where have you been?! To be fair, it took me a long time finally watch the TV series, after it had been hyped up for months and months, I was worried I just wouldn't 'get it'. I did finally watch the show last year though just before series 2 was released and I had no idea what I was getting into. Now I've read the book and seen the show, I really do think they've done a brilliant job in translating the story to screen but that's something else I'll get back to later.

I got the book for Christmas and I knew I wanted to start the year with it so I held off until January and it was 100% worth the wait. Instantly I liked the character of Madeline. She's fussy, over the top, a bit of a gossip but oddly relatable at times and someone I just really enjoyed reading about. She is the friend we all need. I love how Liane gets across Madeline's tougher side when it comes to her friends and shows how fiercely loyal she is but also her softer side when it comes to her husband Ed and her children. Next we have Celeste who I found really intriguing from the off. I think the internal struggle she has about her relationship with her husband Perry was very interesting and probably hits very close to home for a lot of people. Perry is abusive but in a very weird way it adds an exciting element to their relationship for Celeste so throughout she's struggling to work out if what's happening is right, when enough is enough and how she gets out of it. I found her baffling at times but I also really felt for her. And finally there's Jane who I had massive sympathy for. A single mum to Ziggy who on his first day of school is dragged into a bullying row, is just struggling and doesn't know how to deal with being in a new city with these new 'perfect' friends and the dreaded topic of Ziggy's dad. 

One of the things I liked the most about Big Little Lies is how Liane has set out the book. We have short snappy chapters which make it incredibly easy to just keep going and going with it and we have alternating chapters between the women so we're always getting a different perspective. Aswell as that we also have extracts from interviews the police have conducted following a murder which until the end, we're unaware of the victim or culprit and it was interesting to see how the three women are viewed by other parents from the school. It's just such a well crafted and suspenseful plot that even though because I'd seen the show first and knew the outcome, I still felt that tension and I know if I'd read the book first, I would have genuinely had no clue. Everything just builds nicely throughout and nothing is given away until the very end. Aswell as having a fantastic plot, Liane has made this such an easy read. I was torn between wanting to read it all in one sitting because I was enjoying it so much but also wanting to savour it and keep it going for as long as possible. 

Going back to the translation from book to TV series, it just works. Since re-watching the show after finishing the book, you can tell there are a few changes that were made but they're not bad changes, they still fit and make sense. I also think the casting was spot on. Reese Witherspoon for Madeline is inspired! She IS Madeline. It's also the first time I've been wowed by Nicole Kidman, she just played Celeste perfectly, she steals each scene she's in even when she's hardly saying anything. I do have to mention Laura Dern though who plays a fellow parent, she is fricking outstanding! Anyway, before this becomes a review of the TV series rather than the book, I better wrap things up.

Big Little Lies is a fantastic book that is totally worth all of it's hype and praise. I already know I'll be re-reading it in future. I'd love to know if you've read the book too or seen the show? If so, what did you think?

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Thursday 16 January 2020

Les Miserables At The Sondheim Theatre Review

Last week I got to see my first musical of 2020, my first musical of this new decade in fact, and it was one of the longest running musicals in the West End, Les Miserables. Now, I'm usually much more about the modern musicals we have/have had in London e.g. Kinky Boots, & Juliet, Waitress but you can't deny that there are some classic musicals out there that are still running for a reason and Les Mis is one I've been a fan of for a while. I'm a huge fan of the film starring Hugh Jackman (if you've not been sure of Les Mis before, the film is a great place to start) and that's just made me fall in love with the music so when my 25th birthday was coming up, I knew what I wanted to do.
Les Miserables program held up in front of stage
25 felt like a really big deal to me and as I've said before, birthdays aren't always my favourite thing. I just get in my own head about it for several reasons, one usually being that the 'OMG I'M GETTING OLDER, LOOK AT ALL THE THINGS I SHOULD HAVE THAT I DON'T, WHEN WILL I DIE' feeling goes through my mind. I know, dramatic but I kind of am. And two, I just get paranoid that because I love treating other people on their birthday, that I won't get the same effort in return. And to be honest, a lot of the time I don't, this year a few things have really got to me but you know what it's over with now, I'll get over it. But that's why I wanted to do something special. I wanted a distraction but I also wanted to celebrate so for me nothing beats a trip to London. We've been loads over the last few years but it never loses that spark for me. I get the same excitement every single time and I don't think that will ever go. Now whenever we go to London we try and see a show so as I've already said, this time we picked Les Miserables and it was just all I hoped for and more.
View of the stage - Les Miserables at the Sondheim Theatre
The show actually only re-opened on the 18th December as the theatre has been closed and refurbished over Autumn so it automatically felt fresh and new, like it had an added boost which I suppose after running for 34 years, was needed. As the show had only been open again a few weeks, it meant a brand new cast had also started and it felt like a real treat to get to see some of these people - Jon Robyns, Bradley Jaden, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Shan Ako, Harry Apps and Mark Peace, just to name a few. I first of all have to say how amazing Jon Robyns was in the role of Jean Valjean. There are only small moments he's off stage so I can't begin to imagine how tiring the role must be, it certainly looks full on and the songs are incredibly powerful but he played it with ease. It just looked effortless for him, like he'd been doing it forever. Even more impressive to say he's not long ago finished as King George in Hamilton (we actually saw him in December 2018) so he's gone from a show where he's on stage for less than 15 minutes to a show where he's pretty much on all the time and it's certainly a contrast in characters so it just made me appreciate him even more. I also have to say how incredible Bradley Jaden is in the role of Javert. Stars is probably my favourite song from the musical so to see him sing that was truly a moment I won't ever forget. He just commanded the stage whenever he was on and he had that power and intensity you need for a man like Javert. Jon and Bradley make an outstanding pair and I think whoever gets to see them in these roles are incredibly lucky.
Les Miserables Photos - Johan Persson
I also have to mention the women of the show who I'm just in awe of. Both Carrie Hope Fletcher as Fantine and Shan Ako as Eponine brought the house down with their renditions of I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own and both definitely left me feeling a little emotional. Okay a lot, is that a surprise? I saw Carrie in Heathers in 2018 so it was lovely to see her again but in such a different role. We only had one understudy on as far as I'm aware and that was Mark Pearce in the role of
Thenardier in place of Matt Lucas. Mark was absolutely brilliant, so so funny whenever he was on stage and he and Josefina Gabrielle as Madame Thenadier were perfect together as these unlikable yet hilarious characters. The whole cast was outstanding though, you can tell they really pull together to put on the best show possible.

The show itself is just so special and I'm so happy I can now say I've seen it as it really does deserve all the success it's had over the years. The orchestra, the staging, the lighting, just everything about it comes together to put on a fantastic show for the audience. The story of Jean Valjean is a powerful one and whilst he does take centre stage for most of the show, I love that so many other characters like Fantine, Javert, Marius, Eponine and Cosette get to tell their story too and have their moment to shine. Songs like One Day More, Bring Him Home, Stars, I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own all felt like real moments in the show and I know I'll remember them forever.
Outside of Sondheim Theatre
I know this review probably comes across as one long ramble which to be honest it is, but I hope I got across what a spectacle Les Mis is and why if you're a theatre lover, I think it's a show to see. The Sondheim theatre is stunning and our seats in the royal circle were better than I could have predicted so everything just added to an amazing night. As the night was so special though, I don't think I'll be heading back to see Les Miserables again just yet, I want to keep the memories of that particular night alive for a bit longer, I just don't think it could be beaten but maybe I'll change my mind in a year or two!

I'd love to know if you've seen Les Miserables? Have you got any theatre trips planned for 2020?

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Wednesday 15 January 2020

What I Got For My 25th Birthday

Just like that, another birthday is over and done with. Part of me is glad it's out of the way as there are always parts of it that I struggle with but on the whole, my birthday this year was brilliant. 25 felt like a big birthday to me so I knew I wanted to do something special and we decided on a trip to London to see a show, because you all know that's like my ultimate favourite thing to do nowadays. We went to see Les Miserables on my actual birthday and then the next day we headed to the Harry Potter Studio Tour and then we had a final few hours in London before heading home on Thursday so we packed a lot in. I'm going to do separate reviews of Les Mis and the Harry Potter tour as I have far too much to say about them both so those will be up later on in the week. For now though I wanted to share a few bits I got for my birthday. As I said in my What I Got For Christmas post, I know not everyone is a fan of these but I personally love them. Like with Christmas, George and I tend to just get each other a few bits for birthdays and then we just do something special instead so here's what I got.
collage - blurred with text over top
This year I got quite a few musical themed presents which is always going to be okay with me. I got the Les Miserables DVD which I've been wanting for a while, I absolutely love the film so now I can add this to my little theatre DVD stash. I also got the Dear Evan Hansen paperback which I've hinted and hinted about for months! I actually read the book on kindle in 2019 and it was my top book of the year actually so as I enjoyed it so much I really wanted the actual paperback to keep. It's got pride of place on my bookshelf and I'm just looking forward to re-reading it again before we see the show in April. I also got was this amazing Hamilton print! I've loved everything about the show, the music and the story for years now and every time I think about when we finally saw it in London in 2018, it just makes me so happy. I can't wait to put this up in my office this week. I'm also going to put up this little postcard that came with it which has a Dear Evan Hansen quote on it. Oh, I also got the Frozen 2 soundtrack which was played many, many times on the drive down to London. Does anyone else prefer Frozen 2 over the first film? I'm obsessed with the songs.
Dear Evan Hansen paperback book
Hamilton musical print
Next up is a book called The Chain by Adrian McKinty - 'The only way to get your child back is to kidnap another child'. I think this sounds amazing! I've heard only good things about it so far so I can't wait to get properly stuck into it.
The Chain book on blanket
Now onto the final few bits I got and let's start with this beautiful Ted Baker Gift Set. I'm such a huge fan of Ted Baker and I always keep an eye out for these sets around Christmas and New Year. This set has a bubble bath, body souffle, body wash and body spray and they all smell incredible. Their body sprays are always lovely so I'm so glad to have another now. I also got a few new bath bombs to try out including one from Bomb Cosmetics called No Problama, isn't it so pretty?! I absolutely love their bath bombs so I'm very excited for a little pamper evening with this later on in the week. I also got my fave Lily O'Brien's chocolates which of course have been devoured now!
No problama bath bomb
It goes without saying that I absolutely love everything I got, I just can't wait to get stuck into the books now! We always go for experiences rather than stuff when it comes to Christmas and birthdays but it's always nice to get each other a few bits that we know the other person is going to love. Being in London for my 25th just made it even more special and it really was a lovely few days. I now need to get writing my Les Mis review which will be up soon!

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Tuesday 14 January 2020

My Top 5 Books Of 2019

It's finally time to pick my top 5 books of 2019! After going a long, long time without even picking up a book, in 2018 I started to fall back in love with reading and then last year I decided to set myself a challenge and see just how much I could read in 12 months. I aimed for 30 books which for me is high, but I actually managed 102 books. I'm still not sure how I got to that number and not every single one of them was out of this world amazing, but the majority were actually pretty incredible. I read such a variety and the ones I gave 5 stars to were all so different that it's only made it even harder to whittle down such a long list to only 5. I've managed it though. So, here are my top 5 books of 2019, let me know if you've read any of them too!
collage - Dear Evan Hansen, The Tattooist Of Auschwitz, Sleep, The Lido, Because She Loves Me

1. Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich

At the number 1 spot is Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich. After loving the soundtrack to the musical for such a long time, I am so happy that the book lived up to expectations. Dear Evan Hansen, as I've said before isn't the most uplifting story you'll ever read, it's actually pretty tough at times given it touches on subjects such as suicide, grief and anxiety, but it does also have a message of hope. It shows that no matter how bad things get, they can and will get better. I found Evan to be such a relatable character and at times throughout the book I felt like I was reading about myself. I found it a huge comfort and like I wasn't quite so alone in feeling the way I do sometimes. Dear Evan Hansen is an incredibly powerful and compelling story that I'd urge everyone to read, especially if you suffer with anxiety/depression. I'm 100% going to be reading this again and now I just can't wait to see the musical in a few months time.
Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich

2. The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

This was number 1 for the majority of 2019 but it was just pipped to the post. I've said it before and I'll say it again I'm hugely interested in anything to do with Auschwitz so when Heather Morris released the true story of Lale Sokolov, one of the actual tattooists of Auschwitz, I was desperate to read it. Once I got it, I ended up finishing it in a matter of hours as I just couldn't put it down. The story has been sensitively told yet there was still so much tension and it was easy to become invested in Lale and Gita's love story. Heather has managed to convey a story of love, hope and friendship even in the darkest of times. It's an absolutely beautiful book.
The Tattooist Of Auschwtiz by Heather Morris

3. Sleep by C.L. Taylor

There had to be a book by C.L. Taylor in my top 5. I read 3 books of hers in 2019 and a short story, and since then she has quickly become one of my favourite thriller authors. She knows how to write a book that's going to keep you on your toes! Sleep is the book that impressed me the most from her though because from the very first chapter I felt like I was in the story with the main characters. Sleep is set in a remote B&B in Scotland and straight away it was eerie and creepy. I could feel the tension. The suspense just grew and grew throughout this and everyone became a suspect which made the reveal at the end even better. Just brilliant.
Sleep by C.L. Taylor

4. The Lido by Libby Page

When I first set out to read The Lido, I thought it would be an enjoyable read after seeing so many great reviews of it but I never expected to fall for it like I did. It's not really in any of the niches I'd usually reach for when it comes to books so I didn't really know if it would grip me that much but everything about it was just perfect. So many characters I grew to love and genuinely cared for by the end, a beautiful story about community and people pulling together, yet some harder subjects touched upon too which made it all the more relatable. It's one of those books that makes me smile when I think about it as it's just incredibly heartwarming and completely took me by surprise last year.
The Lido by Libby Page

5. Because She Loves Me by Mark Edwards

Finally, we have Because She Loves Me by Mark Edwards. Mark is another author like C.L. Taylor who just gets it so right when it comes to thrillers. I've read a few books of his now and none have been disappointing. There were so many twists and turns in this book but it never felt like too much. Sometimes authors throw one thing in after the other and it can be overwhelming but everything was relevant in this book and just led to an even better ending. It was fast paced, full of suspense and had some really intriguing characters. When I finished this, I had to sit and think for a bit as it was just crazy!
Because She Loves Me by Mark Edwards
Getting down from 102 books to just 5 was difficult but I really do think these are some of the best books I've ever read, not just in 2019. I really pushed myself to try and read a good variety of different books last year and whilst there were still many thrillers taking the lead, I did discover some really fantastic authors from many genres. Whilst these are the 5 books that have made this list, there are a few others that I think are worth mentioning. Both The Cake Shop In The Garden and the sequel Christmas Cakes & Mistletoe Nights by Carole Matthews are absolutely stunning reads. Incredibly normal which is just what you need sometimes but with characters you just can't help but root for. The Mother In Law by Sally Hepworth which is a twisty whodunnit. Unfollow Me by Charlotte Duckworth which has seriously made me re-think how much I share on social media. Truth Hurts by Rebecca Reid which has a shocker of an ending which still sticks with me. Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher which is the romance we all need in our lives sometimes. And, finally The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, a book that will just make you beam throughout.

Have you read any of the books I've mentioned? What was your favourite book of 2019?

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