Yes, it’s another book post :)

If you read my post earlier in the year you’ll know that I’ve gone on a 2016 reading spree with the aim of always having a book on the go, and since April I’ve finished 7 more books. If you are looking for something new to read I’d recommend every one of the books in this post, and I’ll share what I thought of each one below. Like last time I’m ranking them favourite to least favourite, but unlike my earlier post there have been no disappointing reads (which is always good).

Another book post

  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

So this is not exactly a book – it’s the script of the stage play, and it’s also not exactly written by JK Rowling – it’s a collaboration. I’ve seen a lot of people moaning about these things in the press, but personally I was pretty excited about its release and so, it seems, were plenty of other people – it’s now the fastest selling book of the decade! I’d obviously love a chance to see the show, but in absence of a ticket I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this script. It didn’t bother me at all reading the story in this format (but some people do love a moan…) and I honestly just loved being able to read something new from the world of Harry Potter. It was a good mixture of new elements and the familiar bits that we’ve all grown to love, and with some unexpected appearances I actually found it quite emotional.

  • The Distance Between Us, Maggie O’Farrell

It may be early days as I’ve only read 2 of her books so far, but Maggie O’Farrell may be my new favourite writer! She has an amazing writing style with such lovely attention to detail that she just hooks you in to even the most mundane aspects of life. Even though you could say her books are love stories, there is much more to them than that. They all seem to have a mystery element to them which gradually unfolds until the big reveal near the end, and she writes very interesting characters whose experiences always seem quite sad. The Distance Between Us was my favourite of the 2 books, as I preferred the happier ending. It’s about love that develops between two characters with hidden secrets and unusual family experiences; and also about the very close relationship between two sisters and how it developed throughout their lives.

  • After You’d Gone, Maggie O’Farrell

Another Maggie O’Farrell book – this one was about a woman called Alice, who is hit by a car at the start of the book and is in a coma throughout. The story flicks backwards and forwards through the different events of her life, focussing a lot on her family’s story and on the one big love affair of her life. Again I found it so interesting to read because the author knows how important the small details are, but I also found the story very sad.

  • Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

I had wanted to read this book for a while after hearing that the story is told from the perspective of Maud – an elderly woman with dementia. Trusting in the little notes she writes for herself (although never knowing when or why she wrote them) she starts trying to solving the mystery of her missing friend Elizabeth, which ends up mirroring a mystery from her past – the disappearance of her sister. If you like a mystery story it may not be for you though, because Maud is an unreliable narrator, and for me it was much more about what it’s like to have dementia than about the mystery. It’s a really well written book and so interesting to see the world from Maud’s point of view. Things like sensing when she has annoyed someone but never knowing why; or wondering why there is always an increasing number of cold cups of tea at the bottom of her stairs… Definitely an interesting read.

  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson

Although I enjoyed it, this was quite a strange book – it’s the story of the different generations of a regular English family, as seen through the eyes of the youngest member, Ruby. It’s quirky, starting off with Ruby describing the moment of her conception, and her character narrates events of her own life as well as providing anecdotes from the generations that came before her, including various untimely deaths. It’s supposed to be quite amusing, which I liked, but it’s a dry humour that isn’t for everyone.

  • The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist is set in seventeenth century Amsterdam and is about a young country woman who moves to the city into a new marriage and a strange aloof family who have plenty of secrets to hide. To distract her, her new husband gives her a miniature replica of their house to furnish, but the miniature items she orders from “The Miniaturist” disturb her when they seem to reveal too much about the secrets of the household. I really liked the main character of Nella, who despite being young and out of her depth is not annoyingly naïve and is actually self-assured and intelligent, and she’s probably the main reason I enjoyed the book. The secrets are gradually revealed along the way, which keeps things interesting, but I have to say that they weren’t exactly surprising secrets(!) and the mystery of the miniaturist character was a bit weird.

  • The Island, Victoria Hislop

This was probably my least favourite of the books but still enjoyable, particularly as a holiday read thanks to the Cretan setting. I’d describe it as a family saga spanning several generations, as a young woman in the current day travels to the small town in Crete where her mother was born to find out more about her family history and how it relates to the leper colony on the island of Spinalonga. It’s quite an easy read and probably not as detailed as I’d have liked, given the subject matter.

Do you have any recommendations for what to read next?

 

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6 ways that being creative will help you feel great

I’ve had quite a creative few weeks and it has put me in such a great mood! As well as continuing with scrapbooking I also spent this past weekend painting pottery at Glazey Days, making teacup candles (see my tutorial for this here), and creating calligraphy quotes to put up around my apartment. Not only that, but it’s also been a creative week at work as we all had to decorate our desks in the theme of an Olympic sport (random, I know, but so much fun).

Pottery painting colour wheel

Painting pottery at Glazey Days

Painting pottery at Glazey Days

Pottery Painting North West

Finished pottery painting

And my great mood has made me realise all the ways that being creative is an important part of life:

  1. For relaxation. Being creative is quite a peaceful way to spend your time. It focuses your mind on one enjoyable task, and while your mind is focused on the creative details, it’s not worrying or stressing about anything else!
  2. Enjoy a device-free zone! Following on from point 1, it’s a great chance to step away from phones and tablets! Aside from a bit of creative research before I started, painting pottery and practising calligraphy managed to keep me away from my distracting devices for at least an hour at a time, and that was great for stress levels too!
  3. It’s fun! I love being creative with ideas and working to create something lovely. It’s one of my favourite ways to spend my time.
  4. Creativity breeds creativity. I find that one creative project inspires another, and once I get in a creative mood I just keep creating! If you had noticed I hadn’t posted on here in a while, then you can thank the above list of creative projects for inspiring me to get writing again!
  5. You’ll learn so many new things every time you work on something creative, and that’s never a bad thing!
  6. It’s satisfying. You can end up with something really great at the end, which is pretty rewarding and a great confidence boost. And everything will be unique and personal to you too.

Calligraphy quote

DIY teacup candle

DIY teacup candle – tutorial here

What creative projects do you have planned this summer?

 

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Be inspired: summer botanical cocktails

Warm summer evenings are the perfect excuse to enjoy a refreshing cocktail, and if you fancy mixing up something a little unusual and adding a hint of nature, perhaps you’d consider adding fresh herbs to your list of ingredients and creating a botanical cocktail. I teamed up with Ness Botanical Gardens to show how herbs can be combined with spirits to create great cocktail flavours, and they’ve put together this great infographic showing the best spirit and herb pairings. It’s a handy guide to which flavours complement each other, and a great place to start if you fancy giving botanical cocktails a go.

There are even some ready-made recipes to try. I added my own vodka, strawberry and mint concoction to the list, which I think is the perfect thing for a summer afternoon. But I think the gin, honey, elderflower and coriander cocktail sounds amazing too (I love my gin cocktails!).

Botanical cocktail guide

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Me and my Olympus go to Cornwall

After spending weeks and weeks trying to pick a holiday destination for June, me and Craig finally settled on staying in the UK and having a low-key relaxing break to Cornwall, a place neither of us has been since childhood and which deserves to be fully explored! We found a cute cozy cottage for two, which was full of books and board games and had a lovely suntrap courtyard, located right on the harbour of the tiny friendly fishing village of St Mawes on the Roseland Peninsula.

Olympus pen e-pl7

The weather was a little mixed, ranging from gorgeous sun to full-blown storms, but I really enjoyed our lovely break full of coastal walks, cream teas, coffee and pastries at the harbour, eating freshly caught fish with a glass of wine, reading on hidden beaches and taking boat trips (rather than driving) to the local city for a spot of lunch and shopping.

It was a lovely picturesque place and I loved capturing Cornwall’s pretty pastel cottages and seaside settings with my Olympus Pen E-Pl7 (which is officially the first holiday it’s been on!), so you’re getting a picture-heavy post today!

Brunch in St Mawes

Pink cottage

Cornwall cottage

St Mawes view

Cornwall beach

The sea in Cornwall

Secluded Cornwall beach

Hidden beach, Cornwall

Cute beach in Cornwall

Catch of the Day

Vintage gas pumps

St Mawes castle

St Just church

Now I’m looking forward to discovering more lovely parts of Cornwall.

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What I did for my 32nd birthday

It was birthday at the weekend and even though I’m making my way through my early 30s faster than I’d like, I had a lovely time celebrating with friends and family. I had two birthday gatherings, both involving cake, wine and games. Last weekend with my friends at Home Sweet Home in Manchester (by the way, if you’re ever looking for a piece of delicious cake that is as big as your head, make your way there!), and then with my family on my actual birthday.

Birthday party

Birthday board games

Home Sweet Home Manchester

A weekend birthday is the best sort, because it means you actually get time to play with your presents! I enjoyed a few hours trying out some new calligraphy pens, as well as embracing my geeky side with the extended edition DVDs of The Hobbit trilogy and this cute second hand Tolkien book.

Calligraphy brush pens

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

And me and Craig also managed to fit in a night away in a country hotel – The Huntsman Inn in the hills above Holmsfirth. As part of their Dine and Duvet package we ate a hefty 3-courses of amazing food, and enjoyed romantic prosecco and strawberries in our gorgeous room. We stayed in their Suite, and just how pretty is the décor?! Even though the weather wasn’t the greatest, it was so lovely to see the rolling hills and lambs right outside our window.

And how better to spend a birthday than eating drinking and enjoying the things you love.

The Huntsman Inn, Holmsfirth

The Huntsman Inn stay

Holmsfirth hills

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NYC-inspired dining at The Pen and Pencil

Manchester’s Mad Men-inspired bar The Pen and Pencil has a new evening menu, and last week I went along to check it out. I’ve never actually been before, but I’ve heard a lot about this place and as soon as I walked in I could see why it has become so popular. It has a great laid-back vibe and cool industrial Manhattan decor with bare brick walls and exposed metalwork. We got a great seat on a long low table with comfy wide cushioned benches, but there are also nice bright window seats and cozy booths. And the creative advertising agency theme (inspired by Mad Men) can be seen with the retro adverts on the walls, and it works really well with its location in the Northern Quarter.

The Pen and Pencil, Manchester

 

It’s a bar with a great cocktail menu, so I made sure I got to try one as soon as I arrived and I went for The Long Pink Stick which was pretty and pink (as the name would suggest). Made with gin, elderflower cordial, raspberry syrup, and Fentimans Rose Lemonade, it was extremely refreshing on a hot day.

The Long Pink Stick gin cocktail

I’ve checked out the daytime menu a few times because I work in the area, and it sounds pretty exciting. It is New York themed and covers off both brunch, with steak and eggs; avocados and pancakes; and lunch, with burgers and sandwiches. However I’d gone along to try out the new Supper menu (served after 5pm), which has small plates to share like tapas or large plates. There were around 12 options for each plate size, and even though that’s not too much choice I did still have a dilemma over what to go for. The NYC-inspired menu includes some classics – burgers; the “Buns of Anarchy” sliders (with a choice of fillings);steak and ribs, plus some quirkier options – Seafood Ceviche; Harissa Aubergine and Lobster Bisque.

In the end I went for a classic – New York Strip Steak. It came chargrilled to my liking and served with amazing skin-on-fries, a portobello mushroom and cherry tomatoes. I had a choice of sauces and went for peppercorn, which was delicious and creamy, and I was grateful to receive a generous portion so that I could dunk my fries in it. I thought this was a great steak dish – very tasty and quite reasonable at £13.50.

New York strip steak, Manchester

New York strip steak, Manchester NQ

And Craig also went for a classic – the half rack of sticky ribs. As you can see, this was quite massive, and I thought for £7.50 this was excellent value. You’d hardly need a full rack! Again there was a choice of sauces (he went for BBQ Cola) and it was served with skin-on-fries and fresh apple mustard slaw. His verdict? The meat was soft and tender, literally falling of the bone; the sauce was tasty; and special mention goes to the amazing slaw!

Half rack of sticky ribs with cola sauce

Half rack of sticky ribs with cola sauce, Manchester

Overall I think this is a great venue for after-work drinks and food, and I would definitely like to come along to try their brunch as well. I can see why it has become popular and I hear it gets very busy at the weekend, but I preferred it nice and quiet as it was during our visit. I also think they should seriously consider putting together a dessert menu, because I would definitely have been up for that!

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What I’ve been reading in 2016

“The more you read the more things you know” – Dr Seuss

Book reviews 2016

I’ve made it my mission to read a lot more in 2016, and it’s going pretty well so far with 8 books under my belt since January. Here’s what I thought of each of them, in order of best to worst…

The one I loved:

  • The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

Being a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, it’s surprising that this book has been on my bookcase for years without me ever managing to read it. In fact I’d tried to start it a few times but just couldn’t get into it. This time I was determined though, and even though it still took me a while to get into it (it has a very slow start), it really paid off. By the time I got to the end I loved this book! Not only is it epic, engrossing and memorable, it also adds so much background information to everything I know about Middle Earth. It’s the story of the history of that world, from its creation story to the epic adventures of the first elves and men. I’ll certainly never watch the film trilogies in the same way again and it has even inspired me to reread the Lord of the Rings, which I’m sure I’ll get around to at some point this year.

The ones I quite enjoyed:

  • The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

I enjoyed this book and managed to read the whole thing in 2 days because it’s just so gripping. But I have to say, I didn’t love it. The problem is that its full of unlikeable characters and grim situations, and I just don’t think it was my thing. The train travelling to and from London on hot summer days sounds like it could be the setting for something pleasant or inspiring, but it’s not that sort of book at all. Every character had rather a depressing story and I wasn’t really rooting for any of them. But I will say that it was a well-written and exciting mystery, and definitely one to read if that’s your sort of thing.

  • The One Plus One, JoJo Moyes

I really enjoyed my first JoJo Moyes book, although I found it slow moving at first. It’s the story of positive-thinking independent single mother Jess, her gifted young daughter and her awkward teenage stepson, and a car journey they make across the UK with the reluctant help of Ed, who has his own problems to deal with. I found Jess’s chaotic life situation quite annoying at first, but the story of the gradually developing relationships between all the characters was actually really well written and believable and not too predictable or cheesy. In general it was better than most chick lit out there.

  • Not Without You, Harriet Evans

If I had to pick one chick lit author as my favourite, it would be Harriet Evans who wrote my favourite book of this type – A Hopeless Romantic. None of her other books have ever matched it but I live in hope that she will write one that I like as much one day. Not Without You is slightly different because romance is of secondary importance to the plot. Instead it tells two parallel stories about fifties actress Eve becoming a glamorous movie star during the golden age of Hollywood; and current day A-list move star Sophie. I loved the glamorous settings and insider viewpoints of the movie industry. Both characters were very likeable and down-to-earth, and I found it a very engaging read as both of their stories started to intertwine.

  • Prima Donna, Karen Swan

After loving one of Karen Swan’s books once (review) I have tried reading some of her others, but pretty much every time I have been disappointed. I had very high hopes for this one, the story of a glamorous and sassy ballerina and a powerful man trying to pin her down. I enjoyed the ballet aspect of the story as well as the glamorous settings and quite a few of the characters, who were more interesting than you usually get in chick lit. But her writing style can be quite annoying, and as with all Karen Swan’s books, I found it very predictable.

  • A Place for Us, Harriet Evans

Another Harriet Evans book, but this time a family saga with each chapter told from the perspective of a different member of the family. It was a nice story full of interesting characters and settings and plenty of hidden family secrets. I enjoyed the read, but I think some of the story lines were better than others and I’d have preferred to read more about those than have a bit of everybodys’.

The also-rans:

  • Foreign Fruit, Jojo Moyes

I decided to read this after enjoying the One plus One, but I didn’t realise that this was one of JoJo Moyes’ first books and she has improved a lot with experience. It wasn’t in the same league as her more recent ones. It’s a story of lost love and a shabby English seaside town told in two parts, the past and the present. In theory it could have been lovely to read, but I found it a bit disappointing and dull.

  • The Summer without You, Karen Swan

Another predictable Karen Swan romance. I thought this one would get me in the holiday mood because its about British girl Rowena spending the summer at the elite US beach resort The Hamptons when her long-term boyfriend goes travelling without her for six months. Instead it just really annoyed me because it was so predictable and there wasn’t even any chemistry between Rowena and the guy she is supposed to be reluctantly falling for. There was a “mystery” element to it, which I suppose kept it all moving along, but overall it wasn’t that enjoyable to read.

I’m happy to say that none of the books have been truly awful though! And although a lot of my 2016 reads so far fell into the “chick lit” category, I have a lot more variety planned for my next batch of books. What have you been reading, and do you have any recommendations?

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Ready, pedi, go!

Summer sandals weather is here, and what better way to celebrate the sun than giving your feet a treat to get them looking their finest. Last weekend I booked in for a last minute pedicure at Spa Satori, which is my favourite spa in Manchester city centre. It’s tucked away in a peaceful corner of the Northern Quarter, and always feels luxuriously tranquil in there. I have been a few times for massages and for a pre-holiday shellac manicure but this was my first experience of a pedicure there, and I decided to give my feet a real summer treat with their Aroma Spa Pedicure.

Spa Satori Aroma Pedicure

The Aroma Spa Pedicure was a more indulgent treatment than the salon’s basic preen and polish pedicure, and started off with a relaxing rose petal foot soak before my feet were preened and my nails filed and prepped. The next stage was the most enjoyable – the pampering aromatherapy foot massage (I can’t get enough of foot massages, I think they might be my favourite thing), and of course the pedicure was finished off with a pretty nail polish. As a treatment it was so relaxing, and it was definitely worth upgrading to the aroma pedicure for that indulgent foot massage!

Pedicure Manchester

As I mentioned my booking was made at the last minute when the sun decided to show its face unexpectedly, and I used the Treatwell app to do it. If you aren’t aware, Treatwell is the new name for Wahanda, and if you aren’t aware of Wahanda or Treatwell then you should definitely check it out! Treatwell is an amazing online beauty booking service with 8000 spas and salons on their books and access to all their up-to-date booking details. This means you can find loads of last minute appointments in your area at any time, and even get them at reduced prices if they are off-peak or very last minute. You can also read reviews from other customers who have visited the salons to help you find the best one in your area. I use the Treatwell app on my phone whenever I fancy a last minute treat! And as a result I am now ready to ditch my boots and show off my feet in sandals.

Spa treatment c/o Treatwell

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Sunday brunch in Manchester

Brunch is quite possibly my favourite meal of the day. It’s not just because brunch food is the best food (and it really is!), it’s also because it’s the perfect time of day. Not so early that you’ve just rolled out of bed, yet still early enough to have the rest of the day ahead of you! Last weekend I enjoyed a boozy brunch date with my sister at All Bar One on King Street, which turned out to be the perfect spot in Manchester at 10am on a sunny Sunday. Considering it’s in central Manchester it’s such a peaceful location, and at brunch time it’s quiet enough that you may even be able to grab a table in All Bar One’s outdoor terrace. And then afterwards you are perfectly located to enjoy a leisurely stroll and a spot of shopping on King Street.

Brunch at All Bar One Manchester

The brunch menu at All Bar One covers everything from hot food to granola and pancakes, and of course includes avocado, which no self-respecting brunch menu can be without right now. We started off with some brunch cocktails (because, as the menu says “a brunch without a cocktail is just a sad, late breakfast”). I went for the deliciously orange Breakfast Martini, made from vodka, orange liqueur, peach schnapps, marmalade and orange juice, and my sister (who is pregnant but didn’t want to miss out) chose a refreshing virgin Mojito.

Breakfast Martini - All Bar One

Eggs Benedict - All Bar One

To be honest, the only downside to brunch is the choice you have to make – do you go for savoury classics, or something sweet and indulgent like French Toast or pancakes? On this occasion I went for a brunch classic – Eggs Benedict, and added the optional half sliced avocado. And I have to say I was impressed! The poached eggs and lemon hollandaise were delicious, and I really loved the toasted omega-3 seed sprinkle, which I’ve never seen as an accompaniment to this dish before and thought it was really tasty.

My sister went more rustic, with the Smoked Bacon Roll, which was served with sour cream and chilli tomato jam, and she added the optional extra – pan fried potato hash. As you can see this was an impressive looking brunch as well!

Rustic Bacon Sub - All Bar One

Brunch c/o All Bar One.

Overall it was a lovely relaxed Sunday morning where we enjoyed a tasty brunch as well as some rare Manchester sunshine. What do you reckon? Is brunch the greatest meal of the day?

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Getting crafty with Paperchase’s crafting workshops

As if Paperchase wasn’t already exciting enough (gotta to love that stationery), they have now launched a series of crafting workshops in their 3 flagship stores in Manchester, Glasgow and London. “Project Craft” focuses on 6 key crafting themes, but actually there are various different workshops to choose from within these theme areas:

  • Scrapbooking
  • Paper flowers (choice of floral crowns or wreaths)
  • Pom poms
  • Card making (choice of lino printing, die cutting or foiling)
  • Kids crafts (choice of animal masks or crowns)
  • Stationery (choice of personalised notebooks or magazine files)

Paperchase craft workshops Manchester

I’m really getting back into crafting at the moment, so it’s really exciting that the big Manchester store is one of the 3 chosen to launch Project Craft, and I went down to sample their Scrapbooking workshop. The workshop is designed for beginners (as all of them will be), and is about presenting your personal memories (photos, tickets, maps etc that you bring along from home) in a beautiful way using a scrapbook provided on the day and all sorts of crafting supplies.

scrapbooking workshop Manchester

And I really enjoyed the workshop. Even though I’m not a crafting beginner it was great to pick up tips on page layouts and embellishment techniques, and be inspired with creative ideas just from being there with the experts and other crafters, as well as having access to so many supplies. It was great to try out all the different paper cutters, stamps, printed materials, inks and embellishments that are sold in-store, because it gives you a better idea of what you like using without having to buy it first. I ended creating a few pages on the day, and have since carried on working on my scrapbook at home because I enjoyed it so much.

Paperchase scrapbooking workshop Manchester

Paperchase Manchester scrapbooking workshop

Scrapbooking

Scrapbook pages

If you love crafting and you love Paperchase products, you should definitely get along to one of their workshops. Ticket prices range from £10-£20 depending on the session and this includes all your crafting materials. You’ll have a lovely, sociable time crafting, and (hopefully) have something nice to take home at the end of it.

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