Wednesday 19 June 2024

What I Read In The First 6 Months Of 2024

 One of the posts I always love writing each year is my reading roundups. A few years ago I was book mad and I had 2 years in a row where I read over 100 books and then another year where I read about 80, which now seems crazy. I'm not sure how I did that and now I struggle to get about ten in! Here are the books I've read so far this year though, let me know if you've read any of them too.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was one of my Christmas presents and I wasted no time in getting stuck in. I read The Silent Patient by the same author a few years ago which was genuinely incredible so I'd been really excited to read his newest book. The Maidens focuses on Cambridge University's most exclusive society, a group of members selected by charming & charismatic professor of Greek tragedy, Edward Fosca. When a series of murders occurs at the university, grieving therapist Mariana Andros is drawn back to Cambridge where she was once a student herself. She uncovers a web of secrets, jealousy and lies and when the killer threatens the person she loves the most, Mariana will do anything to stop them. This was one of those books that had you guessing from the beginning and every time you think you've sussed it out, another dubious character or twist would be thrown in and you'd be back to square one! I loved that it was written in quite short, snappy chapters and that we got the killers perspective occasionally too. Just a great read to start off 2024.

Never Never by Colleen Hoover & Tarryn Fisher - ⭐⭐

Oh I did not enjoy this and it's such a shame as I'm usually a really big fan of Colleen Hoover's books. I think this must be one of her older ones? I'd never heard of it until I saw it in a second hand bookshop in Bath but I'm glad I wasn't paying full price for it. Never Never follows Charlie and Silas who have been best friends since they were kids and they've been in love since they were 14. But as of one random morning, every memory has vanished. They must work together to figure out what has happened to them and why but as they find out more about themselves and the couple they used to be, they start to wonder why they were ever together to begin with. This was just such a slog to get through, I didn't particularly connect with any of the characters and it never really got going for me.

None of This Is True by Lisa Jewell - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Lisa Jewell is just one of those classic authors for me. I haven't read every book of hers but the ones I have, I've always enjoyed and whenever I see a new one out in the shops, I'll always add it to my to be read list. None of This Is True is a psychological thriller about a woman who finds herself at the centre of her own popular true crime podcast. One night whilst celebrating her 45th birthday at a pub, Alix meets Josie, a lady also celebrating her 45th birthday - birthday twins! After bumping into each other various times over the next few weeks, Josie becomes more and more entwined in Alix's life and she soon suggests an idea for Alix's podcast. Josie wants to change her life and she wants Alix to document it. Whilst finding Josie slightly unsettling, Alix still gives into temptation. What she doesn't know is Josie has some very dark secrets and getting involved with her might be the worst mistake Alix could have made. This was just a thriller you don't want to put down. The alternating point of view chapters were snappy and gripping and I could never really guess where the story was going. I loved the real podcast that was released to coincide with the book, starring Nicola Walker who is just brilliant in everything she's in and I thought that was such a cool idea too so I listened to that after!

The Fury by Alex Michaelides - ⭐⭐⭐

When I spotted the latest by Alex Michaelides in York in February, I grabbed it, despite knowing very little about it and it being a hardback which I usually don't prefer. The Fury is a pacy thriller about an ex-movie star and her famous friends who take a trip to a private Greek island. Something they do most years, no reason to suspect this is any different? That is, until a murder happens on the island. Old friendships unravel and what follows is a game of cat and mouse with everyone trying to figure out who is to blame and if anyone else is in danger. Narrated by a very unreliable Elliott Chase, the readers are left guessing can any of these people be trusted? Overall, this was still a really good book and I did find I was racing through it a bit faster towards the end but initially it did start off quite slow and therefore didn't hook me in quite as quickly as Alex's books usually do. It takes so long for things to be revealed that by the end when there was so much information at once, I was having to stop and really think about what was going on and I just found it a bit confusing. Despite that, I will absolutely be buying Alex's next book as I've loved his others.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I'm a huge fan of the Hunger Games films. We did a big rewatch of them all not too long ago after watching the prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and for some reason this time round it made me really keen to finally read the books. I never read them when they were first released and I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy them now quite in the same way as the films so I just bought the first one initially. Pretty much straight away I could tell I was going to enjoy it and I found it a really easy read. I just think it's such a unique idea for a book and despite knowing what happens I was still gripped when reading it and I'm excited to get the next in the series.

Seven Summers by Paige Toon - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

If there's anyone still around who read my blog years ago, you'll know how much of a fan I am of Paige Toon. She's my all time favourite author and I've loved pretty much every book of hers so it's no surprise her latest, Seven Summers, was another 5 star. In Seven Summers we meet Liv and Finn who after a night of passion have to go their separate ways. Finn's life is in LA with his band and Liv's is in Cornwall with her family but they make a promise that Finn will return every year and if they're still single, they'll spend the Summer together. What starts off exciting soon becomes more difficult than they predicted and eventually Liv meets Tom, who might be able to offer her a life that doesn't leave her heartbroken every year. Can she ever really give Finn up though? This just pulls on your heartstrings the whole way though as every book Paige writes does. It was perfect in every possible way and I know I'll re-read it one day.

The Other Mothers by Katherine Faulkner - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I picked this up randomly when doing the food shop recently and despite the blurb hooking me in, I didn't expect to enjoy it quite as much as I did. When I say I couldn't put this down, I genuinely mean it. I think I read it in two sittings! Tash is desperate to be part of a friendship group. It's something everyone else seems to have apart from her so when spots the other mothers at her sons new playgroup, the sleek & sophisticated mothers that is, she's keen to get to know them. Their lives are exactly what she's been dreaming of, they have it all. But she soon discovers they have their secrets too and everything isn't always as it seems. I'm really keen to read more from Katherine Faulkner now, this was just brilliant.

Cat Lady by Dawn O'Porter - ⭐⭐⭐

I've read a few books from Dawn O'Porter and have enjoyed them so when I spotted Cat Lady on offer on my kindle, I grabbed it and hoped it would be a good read. That it was but it's definitely not one of my favourites this year. Cat Lady follows Mia, a woman who seems to have it all. She's married, has a nice house, a good career, what more could she want? But for Mia that isn't enough and there's another woman inside just waiting to get out. There were some really funny moments in this and for the majority of the book I genuinely didn't know how it was going to end. Whilst I'm more of a dog person than a cat lady, I could definitely relate to Mia's pure love for her pet and some parts made me really emotional because of it!

A Song of Me and You by Mike Gayle - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I read Half A World Away by Mike Gayle a few years ago and loved it but for some reason he's never an author I think to look for in bookshops so it took me by surprise when I spotted this a few months ago. A Song of Me and You tells the story of Helen, a divorced, part-time teacher and Ben, a world-famous millionaire rockstar, who dated when they were young but lost contact. That is until Ben turns up on Helen's doorstep twenty years later. He needs help and even after all this time, Helen is the first person that came to his mind. So much has happened in those twenty years but it's clear feelings are still there. Can there really be a happy ending though? This was a lovely read and I loved the characters of Helen and Ben. I was rooting for them from the moment Ben turns up in her life again but as with the previous book I read from Mike, there's always a heartbreaking twist thrown in! I really recommend this if you just want an easy, romantic read and I know I'll be looking out for more of his books now.

Keep Her Secret by Mark Edwards - ⭐⭐⭐

I've really enjoyed some of the books I've read from Mark Edwards before so I was intrigued when I saw Keep Her Secret on offer on kindle. This follows Matthew & Helena who have rekindled after 20 years apart. When a shock accident happens whilst on their first holiday together, Helena reveals a shocking confession which makes Matthew realise, does he really know who Helena is anymore and what else has she been hiding? I found this so easy to whizz through and it never felt like it was dragging at any point. I tend to find that with books by Mark Edwards and it never takes me long to read them. That being said I didn't love this and I'm not really sure why!

No One Saw A Thing by Andrea Mara - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was so excited to read this! 'Two children get on the train. Only one gets off... No one saw it happen. By the time you get to the next station to catch up with them, only one of them is there. Someone is to blame. Has the other daughter got lost? Been taken by a stranger? or perhaps the culprit is closer to home than you think?' I was so intrigued by where this was going to go and whilst I had a few ideas quite early on, there were so many twists and turns! Every time you think you've got it figured out, something else happens which makes you re-think. I'd really recommend this if you want a tense read.

The Switch by Lily Samson - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Switch is about Elena and Adam who have recently moved to Wimbledon to housesit. Not long after settling in, they meet Sophia and Finn, their new beautiful, enigmatic neighbours who seem to have the perfect life. Making it even more shocking when Sophie proposes a twisted game to Elena whereby they swap partners in secret. It's not long before Elena's life is thrown up in the air when she finds herself in an illicit love affair that she's not even sure she could give up now. Unfortunately for her, Sophia has a further twist to the plan that Elena could never have imagined. This was just everything you want in a thriller. Pacy, exciting, tense, I just raced through it! I really liked the characters of Elena and Finn and the chemistry between them was noticeable from the beginning. There were several twists and turns throughout and I'd urge you to read it.

So, that's everything I've read so far in 2024! I'd love to know if you've read any of these books or if you have any recommendations?

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Wednesday 17 April 2024

Moulin Rouge At The Piccadilly Theatre Review

If you're a long time reader of my blog you'll know all about my love for London. We tend to go once a year or so and those trips are something I look forward to every time. We went in March for 2 nights and had a great time seeing the sights, visiting some of our favourite places like Borough Market and this time we even did a little bakery crawl to find some of the places we've been wanting to try for ages. Of course while we were there we had to see a show or two. I'm still a big fan of all things musical theatre and for our first night we decided on a show we hadn't seen before, Moulin Rouge.Moulin Rouge is currently at the Piccadilly Theatre and as far as I'm aware it's currently booking up until September 2024. Despite knowing a bit about Moulin Rouge and having a feeling we'd enjoy the show regardless as I'd already heard some of the soundtrack, we didn't actually watch the movie until a few weeks before we went. I'm glad we did as it meant we had a better understanding of the story and we both ended up really enjoying it! If you're not aware of it though, Moulin Rouge is set in 1980s Paris and it follows Christian, a writer, who has travelled to join the Bohemian revolution. It's here he visits the city's biggest night club, Moulin Rouge, and he meets and falls in love with its star performer, Satine. At the Piccadilly Theatre you'll find the film come to life on stage in a spectacular way.

'A celebration of truth, beauty, freedom and - above all - love.'

As with any musical we've been to see, I was blown away by the cast. We visited on a Monday evening which meant we had the alternate Satine played by Angela Marie Hurst. She was incredible and a had a beautiful voice. She partnered up perfectly with Dom Simpson who plays Christian. He was probably the standout performance of the night for me, partly due to the way he sang one of his big hits of the night El Tango De Roxanne but he was also funny and just fitted the character perfectly. The whole cast are great and I'm not sure how they do that show so many times a week, it seems so full on to perform! A few other special mentions though have to be Matt Rixon as Harold Zidler who holds the whole show together and also Ben Richards as The Duke who I recognised from Footballers Wives which I was bizarrely rewatching a few months ago.

Another thing I loved about the show was the soundtrack. It's classed as a Jukebox musical so similar to shows like & Juliet, it uses songs that aren't all original to the film and it has integrated some more current music to the plot which is really fun. I really enjoyed the Elephant Love Medley in particular which features snippets of In The Name of Love, Everlasting Love, Don't Speak and Fidelity, just to name a few!The last thing to mention is the theatre itself. Piccadilly Theatre has transformed into something sensational and as soon as you walk in to find your seats, you're transported to what feels genuinely like the Moulin Rouge. There's so much to look at and I enjoyed having some time to just take it all in as it was unlike any staging I'd seen before. The set up is incredible, music plays the whole time you're waiting for the show to start and the cast even enter the stage early and are near you dancing and performing so it feels like the show starts before it actually does!This is a show I'd love to see again one day so hopefully it stays in the West End for years to come. I'd love to know if you've seen the Moulin Rouge musical or if there's any other shows you recommend?

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Wednesday 14 February 2024

Birthday Trip To Oxford

 I'm starting to get a bit of a buzz again from writing so while I do, I thought I might aswell go with it and share another of our recent trips. George and I love going on little city breaks as you might know from various blog posts over the years and we tend to do a few throughout the year rather than one big holiday. In December we went to Bath for the Christmas markets and then for my birthday in January, George had planned a little getaway to Oxford for us. We've been to Oxford a few times, the last being in 2021 and I've even shared a travel guide on my blog before, I loved it so much so I was really excited to be heading back and this time doing a few new things.First things first, we stayed at the gorgeous Malmaison Hotel which is a converted prison. We've stayed there before, I weirdly find prisons fascinating so it's such a cool experience to walk through but this time was even better as we actually stayed in one of their cell rooms. Their cell rooms in the A wing where prisoners used to stay have been done up with just about everything you could need from a hotel room and we were really impressed.After we'd got checked in on the first day, we headed out to explore Oxford and find some of our favourites from previous trips. We walked through the Covered Market which is full of lovely shops, florists, cafes and more and we of course had to stop and take in the beauty that is Radcliffe Camera.Our trip to Oxford this time was mainly to find some Harry Potter locations. We're big fans of the films and one place we knew we could fit in on the first day was the Divinity School in the Bodleian Library. I'll probably do a full blog post on the Harry Potter locations to go into more detail but this particular place was used in the Philosopher's Stone as the Hogwarts Infirmary and you might also recognise it from Goblet of Fire as it's where the students practise for the Triwizard Tournament. This was such a cool experience and it's only about £3 a ticket to get in!That evening we went to one of our faves for my birthday meal, Mowgli. They do the best Indian food, it's almost tapas style the way dishes come out as & when they're ready and the cocktails & mocktails are always delicious. Some of our fave bits on the menu are the Himalayan Cheese Toast, Yogurt Chat Bombs and the Treacle Tamarind Fries. The whole restaurant is beautiful too, I couldn't recommend it enough, the Oxford one in particular is always perfect.Our second day started out with pancakes at The Breakfast Club. I went for the classic blueberry ones which were delicious as always and of course, got to have a side of hash browns. After a bit of shopping in Westgate we grabbed a coffee at Paul then headed to our next Harry Potter destination.I'd been particularly excited to visit New College as it was used in the Goblet of Fire which is probably my favourite film of the series. Here you'll find the famous tree from the scene with Mad-Eye Moody and Malfoy and the Cloisters too which were used for some of the hallway scenes. We spent quite a bit of time here taking it all in and getting lots of photos and videos before heading to Christ Church College.Christ Church College is one of the more expensive places to visit but I think it's worth it as you get to see so much and a lot of it isn't Harry Potter related so great if you're not as bothered about that. If you are though, one of the first places you'll see is the Bodley Staircase which is used in several films including Chamber of Secrets. At the top, you'll find the inspiration for the Hogwarts Great Hall and lastly you'll find the Christ Church Cloisters which were mainly used in the Philosopher's Stone.We continued our final day with some lunch and a walk through Oxford in the sun, stopping in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin which was still a little festive and then ended with Shake Shack at the hotel with a film which was a lovely end to the trip.We had such a great time and it was nice to go back to a city we love again.

I'd love to know if you've been to Oxford? or do you have any recommendations for other UK city breaks?

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Thursday 4 January 2024

A Festive Few Days In Bath

 A few weeks ago George and I had a festive break in Bath and I thought for my first blog post of 2024, I'd share some of it. I still love looking back on blog posts from trips we took years ago so I think this type of post is something I'll always try and keep up with.We actually visited Bath for the first time in July 2022 and we absolutely loved it. When we left we didn't think we'd plan a trip back anytime soon as it's quite a drive for us but then when we were thinking of places for a Christmas trip last year, Bath was somewhere that kept coming up again and again. We thought it would be really nice to see the city in a completely different time of year, get to experience the Christmas markets and also return to some of our fave places.

We ended up making really good time on the way there so once we checked in, we headed straight back out and went to one of our top places from last time, Mrs Potts Chocolate House. I have thought about their cakes and milkshakes numerous times over the last year as I definitely didn't appreciate them enough last time. We grabbed a slice of their Dream Cake and some sort of brownie chocolate milkshake and both were insane.We walked it all off via the Christmas markets which were so pretty in the dark but to be honest over the 3 days we were there, it was always chaotic, I can't even really remember getting a proper look at any of the stalls bar a few because it was just so mad. I know you expect it to be busy - we'd already done a few Christmas markets by then which weren't quiet but the Bath ones which are actually spread out over most of the centre, were next level.After working our way through the crowds though, we headed to Joya for a lovely meal. This is such a lovely independent restaurant in Bath. The steak is amazing (we had pasta last time and that is also gorgeous), the focaccia is perfectly salted and the desserts are beautiful.The next day, after a delicious breakfast at Rosarios, we had a day of wandering around the shops, mainly some of the really nice homeware shops which we don't have at home. I picked up some more little Christmas decorations that we definitely didn't need and we also spent a good amount of time in Toppings and Company which is basically book shop heaven. After a visit to Bath Abbey that afternoon which is a really nice calming escape from what's going on just outside, we were both shattered so had a chilled evening in the hotel with pizza from Dough and some baked goods we'd picked up that day.After a chilled evening the night before, we were much more awake and ready to explore on our final full day in Bath. After starting our morning with another delicious breakfast and coffee, we walked upto the The Circle and then headed down to the Royal Crescent. Unfortunately we got caught in the rain whilst we were there but it was still beautiful to see and we found some really cute little side streets with independent book shops and cafes all decorated for Christmas.  That afternoon we took in more of the Christmas markets, made a final visit to Mrs Potts for hot chocolate this time, took lots of photos of the gorgeous tree at the Abbey and the surrounding views and then that evening we headed out to Bandook. This is the restaurant we went to on our final night last time so we thought it would be special to do that again this time as it's genuinely one of, if not the best restaurant we've ever been too. It's an Indian restaurant and the food is just out of this world. In fact, everything about it is - the service, cocktails, atmosphere, all of it. We had an array of different foods which were all just as good as we remembered and then we had a slow walk back to the hotel and saw Bath lit up for the final time. The next morning we pretty much just grabbed some coffees and pastries and then set off on the long journey back. We left having done everything we wanted to do and I think now we've been twice in 2 years, it will probably be a while before we add Bath to our travel plans again. It's such a picturesque city and full of so many amazing independent shops and restaurants, there's so many museums we've not even had chance to do yet too. I do think I preferred it in Summer just because of how busy it was this time, it was hard to take things in sometimes but I'm still so glad we went and I know it'll be a trip I remember for a long time.I'd love to know if you've been to Bath before? or do you have any recommendations of where we could go next Christmas for a festive trip?

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