Saturday, 29 February 2020

My Go-To HairStyle For Date Night*

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Since George and I brought home our little Bear last April, we've really noticed the impact of date nights and how important it is we have at least one day or night a month where we get time together, just us two. I honestly don't know what we did before we had Bear and as much as we love him and he is rightly the priority for us now, some days you just need a break. I'm sure he feels the same! Recently we've been heading out to the cinema a lot, going for a romantic evening meal, lunch dates, visited the Emmerdale tour, and gone to many a Christmas market, and they've all been very much needed and appreciated. Whenever we have a date night, I always like to dress up a little. Don't get me wrong, I think my style could still be classed as casual but it's the perfect opportunity to wear a new outfit, jazz up your makeup and do something special with your hair.
collage with pink background and text. Selfie of me, closeup of curly hair and photo of me and Bear
Speaking of hair, I have a real love/hate relationship with it. At times I think it looks pretty good - bouncy, brunette and something that suits me. Other days I feel it looks dull and lifeless, but I'm sure we all have good and bad days with it don't we? When I was younger I went through a bit of a phase with dying my hair and now I often get that urge to do it again. I used to love a dark red or even a really dark purple colour and surprisingly they suited me but I've been thinking that maybe a Balayage hair colour could be next? I do think my hair is need of a freshen up.

Though I'm not quite decided on which colour to go for just yet, when it comes to a date night, I do like to put a bit more effort into my hair and makeup and my current go to look is subtle curls. 
Selfie focusing on hair in front of bookshelf
After I've washed my hair and blow-dried which always adds volume, I start on the task of curling. My hair has always been quite straight so it does take quite a bit of time and effort to get some real curls that are going to stick but it's worth it. I've used countless curling products over the years but the one I'm currently a fan of is the Remington Silk Curling Wand. I have no idea about these things really but it does the job! Curling my hair is something that has taken years to get the hang off and I'm still no expert but I do find a curling wand that you can just twist your hair around is the quickest method. I always end up with quite tight, bouncy curls so I gently brush through afterwards and I'm always happy with the results. One final spritz of hairspray and I'm good to go.
Closeup of curls
If I'm not curling my hair for date night, I'll either straighten it which is a classic go-to hairstyle for me or I'll leave it au natural which shows off natural waves. I try not to use too much heat on my hair nowadays, though when I was younger I would straighten it to within an inch of it's life but now I'm much more comfortable with it when it's natural. I do always feel so much better when I've really spent time on it though and the curls you can see in the photos are my favourite style to turn to.
Me and Bear in front of bookshelf
I'm definitely not used to sharing pictures of myself on my blog or any of my social media to be honest, I just love taking photos of Bear as you might be able to tell so this was seriously out of my comfort zone! I'd love to know what your go-to hairstyle is for a date night or girls night out too?

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Wednesday, 26 February 2020

My 2020 Reading Challenge - Update #1

Last year after I set myself a challenge of reading 30 books on Goodreads, I documented each book I read on my blog in roundups every few months so I fully intend to do the same in 2020. As last year I aimed for 30 and ended on 102, this year I've aimed high at 100 so fingers crossed I can do just aswell with it this year. I do feel I've slowed down quite a lot over the last month but I've still managed to get through 17 books so far which I'm happy with and I've been keeping notes on all of them so I better get started.
stack of books held up in front of bookshelf

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

My first book of 2020 and so far nothing has really topped it. In fact this is one of the only books I've rated 5 stars in this post so I think that says a lot. I loved the TV series of Big Little Lies so with reading the book afterwards, I wondered if I'd enjoy it as much but from the first page I was totally invested and just loved Liane's writing style. It was full of drama but also really relatable at times and if you want to know more, you can find my full review here.

Happy Ever After by C.C. MacDonald* - ⭐⭐

This was just incredibly far-fetched. I know thrillers often can be but this was just almost silly at times. It jumped all over the place and I didn't care for any of the characters so it was hard to feel any sort of urge to actually push through with it.

The Magpies by Mark Edwards - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Mark Edwards can do no wrong. He is fast becoming one of my favourite thriller authors and everytime I see a book of his on my kindle, I grab it. He just knows exactly how to write a dark, suspenseful book that will genuinely keep you on the edge of your seat right until the very end. The Magpies felt scarily real at times as it's about neighbours from hell and let's face it, that's something we've all either experienced in our lives or could have to deal with one day. The nightmare that Jamie and Kirsty go through, could I suppose happen to anyone so that only added an extra level of tense to it!

The Places I've Cried In Public by Holly Bourne - ⭐⭐⭐

This is the first book I've read from Holly Bourne after seeing her receive so much praise online and whilst I only rated it 3 stars, I did thoroughly enjoy it. Maybe that's the wrong phrase to use as it was an uncomfortable read at times and went down a much darker path than I expected but I liked how different it was to all of the other books I'd already read. It's a young adult novel but extremely deep and not fluffy in any way so I'm not sure it's personally something I'd recommend to really young teenagers.

The Girl In The Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz - ⭐⭐⭐

I absolutely loved the film version of this in 2018 so I was keen read the book before moving onto others in the series but I just couldn't get into it. David's writing style was just not for me and I think if I'd not already seen the film and knew certain scenes, I'd have not been able to finish it.
The girl in the spider's web by david lagercrantz held up in front of bookshelf

The Chain by Adrian McKinty - ⭐⭐

I can't quite put into words how disappointed I was with this and I'm disappointed in even saying that as The Chain was such a big hit last year and all I ever saw online about it was positive. The premise of someone kidnapping your child and you having to do the same to another to get yours back sounded brilliant and I honestly thought it was going to be one of my top reads of 2020 but I just didn't get the hype. At all.

People Like Us by Louise Fein* - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

One of the most heartwrenching books I've read in a long time and whilst I didn't rate it 5 stars just because of a few minor details, it's definitely up there as one of the best I've read in 2020 so far. I've posted a review of this so I won't ramble too much but anything centered around WWII, Nazi Germany and Auschwitz really appeals to me so when I was kindly sent this, I had a feeling I was going to like it. It's such an important story but the ending was incredibly bittersweet, it made me very emotional!

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I'd never heard of this book until recently when I noticed a sudden influx of people talking about it on Twitter, a bit similar to last year with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society so I had to buy it for myself and I'm so glad I did. Ove is a grumpy old man, pretty much done with life after the loss of his wife but then a young family move in next door and maybe they can be the ones to show him there's more left to life than he realised? It's heartbreaking in places but also a story full of hope and love. Yet another book that made me cry.
A man called ove by fredrick backman held up in front of bookshelf

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan - ⭐⭐⭐

This is another book that I'd have struggled with if I'd not watched the film beforehand. I absolutely love the film but with the book, I just didn't connect with it and couldn't get my head around the amount of characters there were to keep up with. I can't see myself reading the next two books in the series just yet.

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher* - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was really impressed by this and the ending left me SHOOK. It was similar in a way to I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke which I read in 2019 which genuinely messed me up a little and completely blindsided me with a certain twist. It's a fast paced thriller that's really dark and gritty and you honestly can't predict where it's going to go from one chapter to the next.

A Murder Of Magpies by Mark Edwards - ⭐⭐⭐

A short story sequel to The Magpies which I spoke about earlier in the post which I really enjoyed. Not a great deal happens throughout compared to the first book but it builds nicely for the final installment in the series which I read straight after this.

The Last Of The Magpies by Mark Edwards - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Finally, the conclusion to the Magpies and I was actually a little sad to end the chapter on Jamie and Kirsty. It was just as gripping as the previous books, as tense as ever and just a really brilliant story. I do think A Murder Of Magpies and this could have been combined to make one book rather than two short stories but it was just nice to have more to The Magpies at all as it wasn't until I was browsing recently that I spotted the final two in the series which took me by surprise. I can't wait to read more from Mark soon.

The Girl You Gave Away by Jess Ryder* - ⭐⭐⭐

This had a great premise, starting with Erin receiving a birthday card from a daughter she gave up for adoption years ago. What should be a happy moment soon turns dark and Erin is left wondering if the girl really is her daughter and if so, has she got in touch for the right reasons? I did find the book quite up and down though. There were moments I couldn't put it down but then others where it just felt seemed so far fetched and the ending in particular felt rushed and like there wasn't really a conclusion to the story. Since first reading this, the author has now changed the ending and added an extra chapter which I do think improves it greatly.
The girl you gave away by jess ryder on kindle held up in front of bookshelf

Miss Cecily's Recipes For Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman* - ⭐⭐⭐

This was very similar to The Lido in a lot of ways, mainly being that it's focused on the friendship between 40 year old Kate and 96 year old Cecily Finn which isn't something you often find in books, so much is often focused on romantic relationships so I always hunt down novels like this. That being said, it wasn't quite on the level that The Lido was for me. It was a nice read but on the whole I wasn't blown away.

They Did Bad Things by Lauren A.Forry* - ⭐⭐

From the beginning I didn't really get on with this. You know when as soon as you start a book, you can just tell it isn't gonna be one for you? I'll give any thriller a chance but every time I put it down, it took such a long time for me to want to pick it up and continue. I found there were too many characters that were similar so it was hard to keep track at times and nothing major really happened. I was always waiting for more.

The Summer Of Wishful Thinking by Eve Edwards* - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ahh I loved this! You can't beat a classic will they, won't they love story so from the moment I started this, I was all in. I loved the character of Gemma and really believed the chemistry between her and Sam, I was just willing for them to end up together as soon as they met.

The Five Year Plan by Carla Burgess* - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I just adored this! This reminded me of Paige Toon in many ways and you all know how much I love her books. Just pure romance that I didn't want to end. I think I might write up a review of this next week as it's one of those books I can't stop thinking about.
The five year plan by carla burgess on kindle held up in front of bookshelf
So that's where I'm at with my 2020 reading challenge so far. It's been a real mix and though there have been quite a few books which did unfortunately let me down after going in with high expectations, there have also been some real stand out novels that I'm already sure I'll re-read one day.

Have you set yourself a reading challenge this year?

*Books marked * were sent either via Netgalley to review or as a PR sample

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Monday, 24 February 2020

Current Netflix Top Picks #13

It's been quite a long time since my last Netflix recommendations but at the moment they are smashing it with shows you could easily binge-watch in one sitting! I love finding TV shows that you can just get so invested in and want to watch episode after episode and without a doubt all of the shows I'm about to mention today are perfect examples of that.
collage - Netflix logo, The Stranger poster, Living With Yourself poster, AJ & The Queen poster, Wanderlust poster, Spinning Out poster

The Stranger

It's the show everyone is talking about at the moment and rightly so. I just want everyone to watch this! If this has somehow passed you by, it all starts with a stranger who makes a shocking claim to family man Adam Price, about his wife. Within seconds she manages to plant seeds of doubt in his mind and he's left wondering if he ever really knew his wife at all. He's desperate for answers as are many other people who the 'stranger' has targeted. Based on the novel of the same name by Harlan Coben, The Stranger is one of those shows that once you start it, you won't be able to stop. It's a thriller that will keep you guessing until the end. I honestly think it's one of the best shows that has ever been on Netflix, I was hooked.

Living With Yourself

Another series which I got through quite quickly is Living With Yourself starring Paul Rudd. It's an American comedy about a man who is pretty tired with life and stuck in a rut so undergoes a mystery treatment that promises him a better life, but actually he's been replaced with a cloned version of himself. It's a completely mad concept but the episodes are short, snappy and funny so it's easy to just keep going and going with it. I think Paul Rudd is brilliant in everything so it's no surprise this has done well. I'm really intrigued to see where they take it if there's another series.

AJ & The Queen

If you need a bit of sparkle and sass in your life, AJ & The Queen is the perfect show to turn to. Starring the fabulous RuPaul, it follows Robert, a down-on-his-luck drag queen who performs under the name Ruby Red and is preparing for a tour across America. Unbeknown to Robert at first though is that someone else is joining him. A 10 year old stowaway AJ. An unlikely bond forms on the journey and they realise they may have both needed each other more than they could have ever envisioned. It's got its heartfelt moments but it's also so funny. You can't help but like RuPaul can you? Another great series to get stuck into.

Wanderlust

I actually watched Wanderlust when it was originally on BBC a few years ago but it's now been added to Netflix and I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching it all again recently. Starring Toni Collette, it's about a therapist trying to find a way to keep the spark alive with her husband Alan after an accident causes her to reassess where she's at in her life and her relationships with people. It looks at whether lifelong monogamy is possible and actually desirable and we see how different stories of love, lust and forbidden desire emerge not just from Joy and Alan but also their family, friends, neighbours and more. It's quite an out there show I think with the topic it's based around but it's just SO good. Really relatable characters and I think Toni and Steven Mackintosh who plays Alan were just perfect casting.

Spinning Out

One final series which I ended up watching in a matter of days is Spinning Out which has 100% not received the attention it deserved. Starring Kaya Scodelario, she plays Kat Baker, a solo skater who is ready to give up after a fall takes her out of a competition until she's given a second chance when paired with bad boy Justin. With her own demons to face though, can they really overcome everything to realise their Olympic dreams? Unfortunately this hasn't been renewed for a second series and it was left on a bit of a cliffhanger which is always annoying but I still recommend giving it a watch. The cast are excellent and it's just something different to all the other binge-worthy shows on Netflix at the moment.

Have you watched any of the shows I've mentioned?

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Thursday, 20 February 2020

5 Things To Know About The Harry Potter Studios Tour

I've spoken before on my blog about I kind of dread my birthday so it's safe to say when my 25th was looming, I was not best pleased. I knew I wanted to do something special because 1. I wanted to actually be able to look forward to it as it got closer and 2. It's a big birthday! I wanted to be able to look back one day and feel like I really celebrated it. For my 25th we booked a trip to London and aswell as seeing Les Miserables, we also did the Harry Potter Tour and I can honestly say it was worth every penny. I am so happy with what we decided on and as George's birthday was also in January, it felt like we both got to really celebrate together and there was something for both of us during our little break. 
Harry Potter studio tour entrance
I've been meaning to write up a review of the studio tour since we got back but as we're now almost two months on, clearly I haven't but recently an idea came to me that instead of doing a detailed review and essentially giving away everything that's included in the tour, why not do something a little different. Before we went I didn't really know what to expect, I'm a huge Harry Potter fan so I'd have been pleased regardless I'm sure but I did have a few questions so if you're hoping to visit one day, hopefully this will give you a little insight and answer any questions you may have about it without spoiling the experience.
The great hall at the Harry Potter studio tour

What Is There To See?

Well, pretty much EVERYTHING you see in the films. It's unreal how realistic the sets are and it's crazy to see just how much detail was put into every single costume, set and more throughout the years. To start you see Harry's room under the stairs and you're then taken into a cinema like room to watch a short video from the cast on how the tour works, what sorts of things you'll see, when you can stop for breaks etc. It's all really clear from the beginning which is useful. You then properly start at the Great Hall and if you're lucky you might get a chance to open the doors yourself. Walking into the hall after watching the films repeatedly was just so special. It was actually Hogwarts In The Snow when we went so there were still Christmas trees up and it was set out like it would be for Christmas in the films so that only added an extra magical element to it for me as I've spoken many, many, MANY times before about how much Christmas is my favourite time of year. You then follow the tour round to see the common room, Dumbledore's office, the potion room, Diagon Alley, Platform 9 3/4, Privet Drive, Gringotts Bank and more. Everything you could possible remember from the books and films is there. 
Hogwarts in the snow at Harry Potter studio tour

How Long Is The Tour?

As stated on the official Warner Brother Studio Tour website, it's expected to last around 3 and a half hours though there's no time limit. Our tour was booked for 2pm and we finished around 5pm and that was with a stop halfway round for food and drink so I'd say 3 and a half hours is accurate. There is obviously a lot of walking involved which is something to be prepared for but there are benches everywhere so plenty of opportunity to stop if you need to and as I'm about to get onto, there are several opportunities to sit for food and drink.
Dumbledores Office at the Harry Potter studio tour

What are the food & drink options?

As soon as you arrive and have had your tickets checked, you are greeted by The Chocolate Frog Cafe. This is right by the entrance and exit so it means you can go either before or after the tour. As we had time spare before our 2pm tour, we stopped here and had some of the most delicious baked goods I've ever had in my life. And trust me, I've tried a lot of baked goods. At the Chocolate Frog Cafe you'll find ice cream, milkshakes, hot drinks, cupcakes, brownies, cookies and more. We tried one of their brownie bars which I can still taste if I think about it and also a marshmallow cookie pie which was uber sweet. We may have also stopped off at the end of the tour for ice cream and god that was good. Next to the Chocolate Frog Cafe aswell is the Hub Cafe which is essentially a Starbucks so another useful option if you want to grab a drink before or after the tour. Also in this area is The Food Hall which serves breakfast, hot food, sandwiches and more. Finally, let's talk about the Backlot Cafe which is located halfway round the tour. This is the ideal time to stop for a break and here you'll find an array of hot and cold food aswell as a stand for the famous Butterbeer. Even better, it can all be enjoyed with a view of the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and the Hogwarts Bridge. There are so many options for food and drink at the Studio Tour and I'd definitely recommend treating yourself to something at some point during the day.
The Chocolate Frog Cafe at the Harry Potter studio tour
Butterbeer at the Harry Potter studio tour

Can it be done on a budget?

If you're willing to skip the food hall and gift shops, it can definitely be done on a budget. Bear in mind, the ticket prices aren't cheap at around £45 each but once you're there, you're under no obligation to buy anything. The prices for food and drink aren't extortionate but you could definitely save money by taking your own to enjoy halfway round the tour where there's the opportunity to relax for as long as you want. I also wouldn't say there's anything in the gift shops that you couldn't find elsewhere but obviously because it's the official tour, the prices are more than you'd pay anywhere else.
Inside of privet drive at the Harry Potter studio tour
Ministry of magic at the Harry Potter studio tour

Is it worth it?

YES. 100%. If you're a Harry Potter fan, you will absolutely love it. Even if you're not the biggest fan ever, you learn so much and it's just utterly magical to see all of the sets there right in front of you. From the moment you enter, you feel like you're part of the Harry Potter world and as you go from room to room, it just gets better and better. Aswell as seeing the sets and costumes, there's also opportunities to see how the special effects work, there are videos all the way round from an array of people who worked on the films explaining how they brought the magic to life and there's several photo opportunities throughout. I honestly couldn't recommend the tour enough. My personal highlight was probably Gringotts Bank, it genuinely took my breath away when I walked around the corner and saw it, it's just unreal the detail that has gone into it! It's all mindblowing though and just such a special experience.
Hogwarts Express at the Harry Potter studio tour
Gringotts Bank at the Harry potter studio tour
Hogwarts in the snow at Harry Potter studio tour
I hope if you're planning a visit to the Harry Potter Studios Tour or if you're just a fan of the books and films, that this has been useful! If you've been before, let me know what you thought of it. I'm already hoping to get another visit in one day.

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Tuesday, 18 February 2020

My Triple Chocolate Brownies Recipe

Maybe one day I'll stop posting brownie recipes but I don't think it will be for a little while yet. They're probably my all time fave baked item and I just enjoy making them so much. I find it therapeutic to be honest and now I've made such a variety of brownies, I know they'll always turn out okay so I sort of feel I can experiment a bit more now with different flavours and ingredients so that's why there's been so many variations over the last few months. In case you somehow haven't seen, I've shared recipes for Bourbon brick brownies, Lotus Biscoff brownies, After Eight brownies, Oreo brownies and finally Jaffa Cake brownies so if any of those take your fancy, feel free to try and let me know how you found them! Anyway, out of all the brownie recipes I've shared, this is the most basic but sometimes a simple bake is the best and let's face it, anything with triple chocolate in the name is always going to be good isn't it?
triple chocolate brownies stacked on heart shaped chopping board
Ingredients:
100g butter
200g golden caster sugar
300g dark chocolate, broken into chunks
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
100g plain flour
100g milk chocolate, broken into chunks
100g white chocolate, broken into chunks

Method:
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (160 fan) and grease and line a large square baking tin
2. Put your butter and sugar into a large saucepan and warm over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has completely melted
3. Take the saucepan off the heat and add in 200g of your dark chocolate, stirring until it's completely melted
4. Add in your vanilla extract and mix
5. Add in your 2 eggs, then using an electric whisk, whisk until you have a thick velvety mixture
6. Sift in your flour then fold in until fully combined
7. Add in your remaining 100g of dark chocolate chunks, along with 100g of milk chocolate chunks and 100g of white chocolate chunks before giving one final thorough mix
9. Pour your brownie batter in your prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes
10. When a skewer inserted comes out clean, your brownies are done! Leave to cool in the tin then remove and cut into squares
tray of triple chocolate brownies
triple chocolate brownie held up over tray of brownies
This recipe will make at least 16 brownies and decent sized ones too so great for anyone with a sweet tooth. As these have so much chocolate in, they are very sweet but still incredibly moreish and they last so well. You should get at least 3-4 days out of these, if you don't eat them all fresh out of the oven which is always tempting!

Are you a fan of chocolate brownies?

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Monday, 17 February 2020

The Books On My Current To Be Read List

It's been a long time since I last spoke about the books on my to be read list. In fact I think I've only ever done one of these posts before and last year as I was reading books so quickly, there was just never any point as I'd have ended up reading all of the books on the list before it was even live! I have slowed down with reading quite a lot in 2020 so far, well at least compared to last year so that does mean I have quite a few books sat waiting for me. I was also lucky enough to win a 6 book giveaway just after Christmas so that's only meant I've got far more than usual ready to go. So, here are the books on my current to be read list. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've read any of them!
flatlay of various books

The Librarian Of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

'Fourteen year old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezin ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the 'living books' - prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be 'borrowed' to educate the children in the camp. But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children's block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the trangressor...'

I'm surprised I've not read this yet actually as I got it for my birthday at the start of January and I'm always fascinated by anything to do with Auschwitz. I'm not sure fascinated is the right word but I find books like this incredibly interesting and whilst some out there are sensationalised and not 'true' accounts, I always come away feeling like I've learnt something. It's a subject that I was always wanting to know more about when I was in school and it's looking like this year will finally be the year we get to visit the Auschwitz tour in Krakow so I'm finding myself drawn to books of this nature more and more.
The Librarian Of Auschwitz book

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

'You've been offered a luxury apartment, rent free. The catch: you may not live long enough to enjoy it... No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents. These are the only rules for Jules Larson's new job as an apartment sitter for an elusive resident of the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan's most high-profile private buildings and home to the super rich and famous. Recently heartbroken and practically homeless, Jules accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind. Out of place among the extremely wealthy, Jules finds herself pulled toward other apartment sitter Ingrid. But Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her. Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story - but the next day, her new friend has vanished. And then Jules discovered that Ingrid is not the first temporary resident to go missing.'

I'm really intrigued by this! Whilst I'm a huge thriller fan, I don't necessarily think this is a book I'd have picked up myself so I'm really glad this was one of the books in the giveaway I won. It sounds like it's going to be creepy, suspenseful and full of secrets. I honestly have no idea where it could go so I think I'm going to have to start this one soon.
Lock Every Door on gold background

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

'All Lina wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with two children and a husband who wouldn't touch her? All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, a hated pariah in her small town? All Sloane wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband, who liked to watched her have sex with other men and women? Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsession.'

This is another book I won in a giveaway and I really don't think it's one I'd have ever picked up myself. It doesn't really fit in with genres I usually read but the synopsis has me so intrigued. I don't really feel much has been given away about the book at all so I'm going into this with no idea what's to come but I'm definitely intrigued!
Three Women held up in front of books

The Wives by Lauren Weisberger

'Perfect marriages. Perfect neighbours. Perfect lies. Everyone is guarding a secret in this picture-perfect town. When Karolina Hartwell is arrested driving her son home, the headlines don't tell the full story. It seems nothing will stand in the way of her husband Graham's political ambition - not even his wife. Miriam Kagan is convinced her husband Paul is hiding something. But if she digs too deeply, she's afraid of what might tumble out of the closet. Emily Charlton is new to Greenwich, but she soon discovers this is a small town built on big lies. And sometimes it takes an outsider to draw them out...'

First of all, I absolutely love the cover of this. I know we all say we shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but that's the thing that's going to draw you in. I love that this stands out but doesn't give much away. I've not read anything by Lauren Weisberger before but she did write The Devil Wears Prada and I love that film so I can see this being my sort of story. I also get Big Little Lies vibes from it too and I think I've made it clear how much I loved that book and the TV series.
The Wives book on gold background

Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd

'Meet the forensic pathologist, Dr Richard Shepherd. He solves the mysteries of unexplained or sudden death. He has performed over 23,000 autopsies, including some of the most high-profile cases of recent times; the Hungerford Massacre, the Princess Diana inquiry, and 9/11. He has faced serial killers, natural disaster, 'perfect murders' and freak accidents. His evidence has put killers behind bars, freed the innocent, and turned open-and-shut cases on their heads. Yet all of this has come at a huge personal cost. Unnatural Causes tells the story of not only the cases and bodies that have haunted him the most, but also how to live a life steeped in death.'

I don't normally like anything too medical which is why I think I didn't particularly get the hype with This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay but Unnatural Causes has been on my list for absolutely ages. I read the synopsis ages ago and was fascinated by it so I'm really excited to get started on this. I do think it'll end up being one of those books though that I either love and really get on with or hate just because it's not a style I tend to read often.
Unnatural Causes on top of other books

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

'Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career. Summoned to Evelyn's luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the 80s, and of course the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn's story nears its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique's own in tragic and irreversible ways.'

I always get this confused with The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle! Another book that is waiting on the bookshelf to be read actually but I'm not in a rush to start it. Back to this though, again it's not a book I'd normally pick up but I've only seen positive things about it online so I'm definitely keen to see what all the fuss is about.
The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo
I've just managed to get through quite a few books on my kindle so I'm ready to get started on these now and I can't wait! I'd love to know if you've read any of these? and if so, what did you think?

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Wednesday, 12 February 2020

6 Self Care Habits I'm Introducing In 2020

Self care. We all know what it is and we've all seen a spike in people talking about it and spreading awareness on the importance of it but is it something I'm actually that great at? Not really. I've spoken about how I self care in the past on my blog and it's not that I don't at all anymore, but I seem to have stopped setting time aside for it. This year I want to get back to finding time each week to indulge in some self care and whilst I'll still definitely be doing things I've listed before - reading books, having a pamper hour, cooking and even just resting, I actually have a few new habits I want to introduce in 2020. Self care isn't all bubble baths, face masks and chocolate (though they do help) for me a lot of it is about mental wellbeing too so here are 6 habits I'm adding this year that I think will have a positive impact in several areas of my life.
flatlay on pink background. Variety of products scattered including the body shop cleansing butter, ghost perfume, patisserie de bain shower gel and hand cream, all that jazz glitter nail polish and the body shop bear body yoghurt

Practise Mindfulness

I actually don't know a huge deal about mindfulness but whenever I've heard anybody talk about it, it's only ever been in a positive way. It's a great tool for clearing your mind and re-connecting with yourself and it's something you can practise in 5 minute sessions or longer depending on your preference, but even just those few minutes can do a world of good. Focused relaxation where you literally just lie or sit back and close your eyes, allows for you to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings for that period of time and whilst it might sound a bit hippy dippy or too out there, it can literally change your life. It's only something I've tried once or twice in the past but given the positive impact it has on so many, I really think it could help me massively and be a great tool for times when I'm struggling or feeling low.

Drink More Water

I know this should probably be a given but I'm really bad with just basic self care sometimes and that to me is just as important as any other kind of self care. When I'm feeling low or struggling with my anxiety, all self care goes out the window and I become a bit of a mess. I don't want to cook, I eat all the chocolate, I shut myself away and I generally just don't look after myself. Really regardless of whether I'm having a tough few weeks or not, I just want to look after myself a little more this year. Surprise surprise, when I eat well and drink lots of water, all that jazz, I feel so much better and I look it. I feel more comfortable, my skin is clearer and my hair looks healthier so this year I'm determined to better with it. I don't think the fact I'm a bit of a pop fiend helps though so that's definitely something I need to work on.

Put Myself First More

Maybe this is going to come across as selfish or like I think I'm this amazing person, I'm really not but for a long, long time I've put others first, in pretty much every situation and I've just kind of had enough. I like to think I'm a nice person so I'm always going to want to go the extra mile for someone or do something kind for no reason but often I find I'm thinking too much about other people and allowing myself get put to the bottom of the list time and time again. I'm tired of worrying about people who I know don't give me a second thought. I'm tired of trying to second guess and understand some people's actions. I'm tired of putting my all in with people to get nothing back. I'm tired of doing nice thing after nice thing for people and not even getting a thanks. Maybe that does come across a little bitchy, maybe it does make me a little selfish but I need to start putting myself first. That's not to say I'm never going to do nice things for people again or anything like that, I like to do the things I do, but I'm not going to make some people a priority anymore over myself when it's just never appreciated.

Spend Less Time On My Phone

I seriously need to get better at putting my phone down and leaving it be. I've said before that reducing my screen time really helps when it comes to sleep so why can't I ever stick to it? It's just so easy to scroll and scroll but with that comes comparison and all those other wonderful thoughts so more often than not, I find social media can be a negative rather than positive. I am on the whole much better in the respect than when I'm at a loss at what to do or if I'm having a pamper hour in the bath, I'll read instead, I'm always picking up a book when I can now but I'm still on my phone far too much. I want to get back to switching it off an hour before bed as that always helps me sleep better and generally I just want to give it less thought. What's going to happen if I don't go on Instagram for a few hours? Absolutely nothing but mentally I'll feel better.

Get Out More

Because of my anxiety, there's been periods where I've not left the house for weeks. There's been times where I genuinely haven't been able to remember the last time I got fresh air but luckily as I'm in a much better place now with the social aspect of my anxiety, that hasn't happened for a long time. I'm actually really proud of myself and how far I've come with my anxiety as whilst I still need to do some serious work on my health anxiety, I feel I've come on leaps and bounds in other areas. I don't think working from home has helped in the past as it's been the perfect excuse to stay in but now we've got Bear, he's been my motivation to get out each day - boy needs his walks. I just feel like since we got him, I've started seeing life in a different way and he's made me so much more confident. There isn't often a day goes by now where I don't want to get out of the house which in the past would never have happened and each weekend now I'm wanting to explore somewhere new or go on a date night or book a trip, I just want to do it all. Just an hour of fresh air makes me feel so refreshed and clears my mind and that to me is self care. It makes me feel 10x better so whilst I'll always love coming home and being in my little haven, I want to continue pushing myself in this area.

Allow Myself To Feel

Deep I know. Very deep in fact but this is something I'm really bad at. I used to be quite an emotional person and I cried at pretty much anything and it's not that I'm the complete opposite now but I almost don't allow myself to get too caught up in emotion sometimes and I shut it down before it even really gets going. Does that make sense? Probably not. It's a hard one to explain but more often than not, if I feel I'm going to cry, I'm usually like 'nope, not happening' within seconds and I don't just allow it to happen. It's not like I never get tearful but sometimes you just need a big old sob and I tend to stop myself before I can get it all out meaning it all ends up just building and building which isn't good for anyone. I don't like being sad but I think when I'm feeling a certain way, I need to try and embrace it. If I need to cry, I want to let myself rather than sneaking a tear or two and brushing it under the carpet. If I need to talk, I want to allow myself to open up rather than thinking I'm being dramatic or too much or annoying. At the same time when I'm happy, I want to shout about it. Sometimes when I'm feeling really good or doing something that makes me happy, I feel I should be tame about it and I get embarrassed but I don't want to anymore. I think anxiety has a big part to play in why I feel things so intensely and that has it's pros and cons but whatever I'm feeling, I just want to allow myself to be in it for a while.

What do you do to self care? Can you relate to any of the habits I've mentioned?

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Monday, 10 February 2020

My Coffee Cake With Caramel Buttercream Recipe

I've been sharing lots of baking recipes over the last few months and whilst they've mainly been brownie recipes (I can't get enough) I did share these delish Mini Egg Cookie Slices too just a few weeks ago. Today I'm all about the cake though! Coffee cake in fact, something I'd never made before. I've shared various cake recipes in the past but until this I'd not actually made one in a long time so it's safe to say, it ended up a little rustic. I'm my own worst critic so all I see is rough edges and not the neatest looking buttercream but so many people have been lovely about it and most importantly of all, it tasted good so I think I can give myself a little pat on the back.
Coffee cake with caramel buttercream, topped with salted caramel fudge pieces on heart chopping board
I'm not actually a big fan of coffee unless it's a festive gingerbread latte topped with a heap of cream so a coffee cake wouldn't usually be my first choice but for George's birthday this year I wanted to challenge myself. I've made chocolate cakes over and over again and whilst they're great, for me this year is all about pushing myself with baking and really trying to improve in every area possible. As I'd never made a coffee cake before, I turned to my trusty Jo Wheatley recipe books. I followed her recipe for the sponge and then I improvised with the buttercream which actually went better than I expected, though my presentation skills are lacking. Anyway, here's the recipe if you want to give it a try too.

Ingredients: cake
200g butter
200g caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
220g self-raising flour
1 tbsp of instant coffee mixed with 25ml of boiling water

Ingredients: caramel buttercream
200g butter
400g icing sugar
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp caramel essence

Method:
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (160 fan) and grease and line two cake tins
2. First of all for your cake, beat together your butter and sugar until light and creamy
3. If you haven't already, beat your 4 eggs in a separate bowl then slowly pour into your butter and sugar mix, stirring as you go
4. When the eggs are fully incorporated, sift in your self-raising flour and mix until combined
5. Now add in your cooled 25ml of coffee and give the batter one final mix, ensuring everything is combined
6. Evenly divide your cake mix between the two tins and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. After this amount of time, a skewer inserted should come out clean and they should look golden on top
7. Remove from the oven and cake tins and allow to cool on a wire rack
8. While the cakes are cooling, you can prepare your buttercream. In a clean bowl, add your butter, icing sugar, 1 tbsp of milk and 1 tsp of caramel essence and whip until light and fluffy. If you find the mixture is too stiff, add in an extra tbsp of milk. Also, beware that the icing sugar will go everywhere when you mix!
9. When your cakes are completely cool, you can start to decorate. You could just spread on the buttercream but if you want to be a bit fancy, put it into a piping bag and pipe in the middle and on top of the cakes. I then topped the middle of the cake with lots of salted caramel fudge but this is optional
Closeup of coffee cake on heart chopping board
And that's the finished coffee cake! A moist, subtle coffee flavoured sponge, filled and topped with a sweet caramel buttercream and finished with chunks of fudge. The 25ml of coffee is great if like me you're not a huge coffee fan as it's only subtle and not overpowering but it's enough for coffee lovers to be able to tell it is actually a coffee cake! You could of course make a coffee buttercream too or stick to vanilla, but I just fancied adding caramel this time which added a lovely sweetness to the whole thing.

For my first attempt at a coffee cake, I'm actually pretty happy with it looking back and I definitely think I'll be making it again. Are you a coffee cake fan?

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Saturday, 8 February 2020

The Perfect Valentine's Night In With Moonpig*

AD - This is post is in collaboration with Moonpig & all products are gifted
I'm someone who always likes to have something to look forward to. Once Christmas is out of the way and I've had my week or so of mourning, seriously it's the best time of year, let me grieve, we have both mine and George's birthdays in January which is always a fun way to start the year so after that it's all about Valentine's Day for me. This year is our 9th Valentine's Day together! I know to some people it's just another day and I agree that you should show your partner you love them every day if you can but it's nice to have an excuse to really spoil them isn't it? That being said, we don't go mad about it. A cute card, a few presents and a homemade meal are about all we stretch to nowadays but I like it that way and if you're planning a cosy night in too, well Moonpig have got you covered.
flatlay - lindt chocolates, date night jar, date night dice, perfect partners game, truffles
I'm a long time fan of Moonpig and I turn to them at various points throughout the year. Not only are they great for personalised cards, presents, flowers and more but they're always on hand if you've left someone's birthday until the last minute and need speedy delivery! As I've shopped with Moonpig so much in the past, I was thrilled when I was asked if I'd like to share some of their Valentine's gifts this year. They kindly sent over a selection of gifts ideal for a romantic night in and I also chose a few bits for George I to enjoy so let's get started. 

First of all, it's not Valentine's day without chocolates is it? George and I don't get each other loads for Valentine's as whilst we like to celebrate it, it is only one day and I don't think it's a time you need to spend loads of money, but you can guarantee chocolate will be bought. Moonpig have a great selection when it comes to foodie gifts from sweet jars (ideal for sweet fiends like me), to personalised Cadbury bars, Lindt and Guylian chocolate boxes, prosecco and truffles hampers and even cocktail hampers. There is so much choice and a lot of it is currently on offer too so you've still got time to grab a bargain. I personally love their fizz & chocolates gifts which include a mini bottle of prosecco or wine and a generous bag of divine chocolate truffles for around £15. 
Small bottle of rose and lindt chocolates
If you don't want to head straight to sticking a film on after your romantic meal in, which tends to be what we do, why not try out one of Moonpig's many games? One suggestion is Perfect Partners which is a steal at £12 given how expensive board games tend to be now. How well do you know your nearest and dearest? Well Perfect Partners puts you both to the test in this game of love, friendship and blushes. There are loads of other novelty gifts available too though including activity books, scratch off bucket lists and even date night cards and ideas. I love the Date Night Money Jar and Dice which allows for you to save up for your special evenings together and gives you loads of ideas on where to go or what to do. Going to the same sorts of places each month can get a little boring so this has all the inspiration you could possibly need.
Perfect partners game
Date Night Ideas Dice held up over flatlay
Finally, let's talk about pampering ourselves and our partners. Yes, both men and women are privy to luxurious beauty & skincare products so why not treat them to something they can really indulge with? For women, Moonpig have a variety of bath bombs, candles and lotions and for men, you'll find Scottish Fine Soaps gift sets, hair kits and even beard oils. A present that caught my eye though is the You Melt My Heart Gift Set which includes a huge bath fizzer, lip balm and cooling eye pads. Everything you could want or need for a Valentine's pamper.
Scottish Fine Soap men's gift set
Heart shaped bath bomb, cooling eye masks and lip balm
There really is so much choice when it comes to shopping for Valentine's with Moonpig and they can cater to pretty much every part of your romantic night in. We can't forget cards though. To me, cards are more important than presents as you can really tell someone how you feel and they can be kept forever. George and I still have a stash of cards from our first few years together and it's a lovely keepsake. You can choose whether to personalise with photos or text and you'll find anything from cute cards to funny, rude to sentimental. They have it all and for really affordable prices too.
101 dalmations valentines card
I hope if you're still in need of some Valentine's inspiration that this has been helpful! I often find with events like this it can be hard to know how much to spend and what to get that hasn't been done before but Moonpig really have pulled it out of the bag this year so you're sure to find something your partner, friend or anyone else you fancy treating, will love. Whether you have a weekend away planned, a romantic meal or a relaxing night in, Moonpig just want to show that 'Heartfelt can happen anywhere'.

Have you got anything planned for Valentine's Day?

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