Christmas · Food · Recipes

RECIPE: Mocha Cream cocktail;

Hello everyone, I hope you’re all having a brilliant holiday season!

Today I thought I would share with you a recipe for a cocktail I made today when trying to combine my love of coffee, alcohol, and chocolate. This Mocha Cream cocktail is smooth and velvety with an alcoholic punch, and the right amount of bitterness to prevent it being too sickly. I love it and I’m slightly addicted, but beware because this cocktail is not for the health conscious.

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Ingredients;
2 parts cooled espresso/coffee of your choice
1 part vodka
1/2 part coffee liqueur
1 part Irish cream
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
5 parts milk (or to taste)
a splash of double cream

Method;
1. Pour the espresso over ice in a cocktail shaker, followed by the vodka, coffee liqueur, and Irish cream.
2. Add the sugar and cocoa powder.
3. Shake until the sugar and cocoa is well mixed
4. Add the milk and cream
5. Shake again until smooth and frothy
6. Serve in a glass of your choice and top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. (I used chocolate orange for that extra festive twist!)

Let me know if you try this recipe yourselves and if you have any cocktail recipes you love! Have a wonderful holiday season and I’ll see you again soon.

Bethany xo

Christmas · Lifestyle · Things to make you smile

Christmas Traditions;

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I’m writing this post from my bed, nursing a chest infection, snuggled up in blankets, and wearing a Christmas jumper. It’s beginning to get dark outside, the lights are dimmed, two sets of fairy lights are on, I’m drinking hot chocolate and I’m burning a candle called “Christmas Magic”. There are Christmas songs playing softly in the background; Michael Buble’s tender caramel voice is bringing an indulgent calm to my afternoon.

It’s cosy, warm and tranquil atmospheres like this that I create for myself every Christmas that got me thinking about the Christmas traditions my family and I still have, and those that we’ve let go of.

  1. The Christmas Table. Now, this tradition has been in my family since before I can remember. We have a little cabinet in our dining room where we keep our “posh” cutlery and crockery. Every year this cabinet ends up with the name “The Christmas Table.” My Dad, from September/October, begins slowly piling up food and alcohol on this table until it’s dangerously mountainous by Christmas Day. There’s crisps, nuts, cakes, eggnog and more chocolate than any one family could possibly eat by themselves. No one is allowed to take food or drink from this table until Christmas Day, but after that, this table ends up being a decadent buffet table until New Year.
  2. Trifle. I don’t know about you but I’m not a major fan of the traditional Christmas cake and pudding. It just isn’t my cup of tea and my parents aren’t really fans either. Instead of traditional pudding, after Christmas dinner we eat homemade trifle that’s lovingly layered with vanilla sponge, raspberry jelly, fruit cocktail, custard and cream. I then top it off with a crumbled Flake bar from my selection box. I love the Christmas trifle and I was pretty upset when my parents decided that we should have a different dessert last year. In the end, we all missed the trifle and I’m happy to say it’s back with a vengeance this year!
  3. Advent Calendars. You’re never too old for an advent calendar. They’re a Christmas staple since early childhood but controversially, we’ve faded them out from our tradition list. Last year I often forgot that I had the calendar to open – it just didn’t seem to appeal to me anymore. This year the calendar has disappeared completely, and I must admit that I don’t miss it at all!
  4. The December De-clutter. Some people think I’m a little weird for this, but I will embrace that gladly! I adore tidying and de-cluttering. It’s stress relieving, it eases my anxiety and I feel accomplished at the end of it – particularly at Christmas. Every December I like to do a deep clean and de-clutter of my bedroom; nothing is safe. My windows and windowsills are cleaned, all furniture is moved and deep cleaned, and bags upon bags of stuff ends up going to various charity shops. Once everything is tidy and minimalist again, I can relax in bed with a candle on or some incense burning away at my desk and my fairy lights on. In a way, I’m “purifying” and preparing my personal space for the new year. I don’t feel comfortable and like Christmas has started until I do the clean.
  5. Ferrero Rocher. Every year my parents give me a box of Ferrero Rocher for Christmas and because of this, I associate them only with Christmas even though they’re available all year round. Eating them out of the Christmas season just feels wrong!
  6. Bedroom Presents. When my brother and I were children, we would get up on Christmas Day at some ungodly hour and annoy our parents to death with our excited chattering. We were too young to appreciate a lie-in and we got bored in our rooms way too easily. All the presents and food were downstairs, and we couldn’t play with or eat any of it yet! To combat our restless Christmas cheer, my parents used to put presents and food in our bedrooms when we were asleep on Christmas Eve. This usually consisted of one book, one DVD, some chocolate, cereal bars and an orange. This year, the tradition seems to be one we’re getting rid of because my parents have decided they’re too old to stay awake long enough to do it! (I have a feeling I’ll be somewhat disappointed at the absence of room presents on Christmas Day this year…)
  7. NORAD. A Christmas Eve tradition that I’ve grown to love is having the NORAD tracks Santa website open on a laptop as my family gathers together to eat and celebrate as the night draws in. There’s a little whoop of excitement from everyone as we watch Santa travel from country to country whilst eating questionable party food and playing board games. (And if we’re really really quiet, we can totally hear the sleigh bells as he flies over!)
  8. The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. This is my favourite Christmas film of all time and I have to watch it every Christmas Eve without fail. If I don’t watch it, then not to be dramatic about it, Christmas is ruined. There is no Christmas without this film for me.
  9. Sickness. Someone is always sick on Christmas Day whether it’s a cold, the flu, alcohol related incidents, or overindulgence. Someone is always ill. One year I had a migraine and basically spent the whole of Christmas dinner crying in pain. Sickness is my least favourite tradition and I would really prefer it not to be one, but let’s be honest, someone is always under the weather for you on Christmas Day too, right?
  10. Chocolate Biscuits. Some of my favourite Christmas memories from when I was younger was when my brother and I would bundle into my parents’ bedroom, eagerly talking about our bedroom presents. The four of us would sit on the bed or we’d go to the living room and show off our new gifts and eat chocolate biscuits for breakfast. If Mum and Dad started eating the biscuits without my brother and I then we were devastated. Naturally there would be some squabbling over who got the last biscuit, but I enjoyed that as much as I did the simple family time in the morning before Christmas Day got truly under way. We don’t tend to have biscuits for breakfast any more; we all do our own thing, but I have to say that I miss the chocolate biscuit bed pile up.

It’s probably not wrong for me to say that most people have their traditions that make the winter season unique, comforting and nostalgic. What are your favourite Christmas traditions old and new?

Bethany xo

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Books

My 2017 Bookshelf – part two;

Hello all!

Welcome back to the second part of my bookshelf – if you haven’t read part one then you can do so right here!

Let’s jump straight back into the books I’ve read so far this year and those that are still sat on my shelf just waiting to be read.

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21. The Little Breton Bistro – Nina George (3/5)
Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage. After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany, also known as the end of the world. As the parts of herself she had long forgotten return to her in this new world, Marianne learns it’s never too late to begin the search for what life should have been all along.

22. Confessions of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella (3/5)
Meet Rebecca Bloomwood. She has a great flat, a fabulous wardrobe full of the season’s must-haves, and a job telling other people how to manage their money. She spends her leisure time … shopping. Retail therapy is the answer to all her problems. She knows she should stop, but she can’t. The letters from the bank are getting harder to ignore. Can Becky ever escape from this dreamworld, find true love, and regain the use of her credit card?

23. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy (5/5)
At a glittering society party in St Petersburg in 1805, conversations are dominated by the prospect of war. Terror swiftly engulfs the country as Napoleon’s army marches on Russia, and the lives of three young people are changed forever. The stories of quixotic Pierre, cynical Andrey and impetuous Natasha interweave with a huge cast, from aristocrats and peasants to soldiers and Napoleon himself.

24. The Cake Shop in the Garden – Carole Matthews (3/5)
Fay Merryweather runs her cake shop from her beautiful garden. Looking after the cake shop, the garden and her cantankerous mother means Fay is always busy but she accepts her responsibilities because if she doesn’t do all this, who will? Then Danny Wilde walks into her life and makes Fay question every decision she’s ever made. When a sudden tragedy strikes, Fay’s entire world is thrown off balance even further and she doesn’t know which way to turn. Can Fay find the strength to make a life-changing decision – even if it means giving up the thing she loves the most?

25. The Secret History – Donna Tartt (4/5)
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.

26. The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan (3/5)
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

27. The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton (4/5)
In 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of merchant trader Johannes Brandt. Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways. Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. As she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation or the architect of their destruction?

28. The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel (3/5)
The girls of the Roanoke family – beautiful, rich, mysterious – seem to have it all. But there’s a dark truth about them that’s never spoken. Lane is one of the lucky ones. When she was fifteen, over one long, hot summer at her grandparents’ estate in rural Kansas, she found out what it really means to be a Roanoke girl. Lane ran, far and fast. Until eleven years later, when her cousin Allegra goes missing – and Lane has no choice but to go back. She is a Roanoke girl. Is she strong enough to escape a second time?

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29. The Art of Baking Blind – Sarah Vaughn (3/5)
In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookery writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking. Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs Eaden. There’s Jenny, facing an empty nest now her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife’s death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it’s like to have nothing and is determined her façade shouldn’t slip. As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest choux bun seems the least of the contestants’ problems. For they will learn – as Mrs Eaden did before them – that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it’s very much harder in life.

30. The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller (4/5)
 Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

31. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Paul Torday (4/5)
What does it take to make us believe in the impossible?
For Dr. Alfred Jones, life is a quiet mixture of civil service at the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence and marriage to Mary—an ambitious, no-nonsense financier. But a strange turn of fate from an unexpected direction forces Jones to upend his existence and spend all of his time in pursuit of another man’s ludicrous dream. Can there be salmon in the Yemen? Science says no. But if resources are limitless and the visionary is inspired, maybe salmon fishing in the Yemen isn’t impossible. Then again, maybe nothing is.

32. The Island at the End of Everything – Kiran Millwood Hargrave (To Be Read)
Amihan lives on Culion Island, where some of the inhabitants – including her mother – have leprosy. The arrival of malicious government official Mr Zamora changes her world forever: islanders untouched by sickness are forced to leave. Banished across the sea, Ami is desperate to return, and finds a strange and fragile hope in a colony of butterflies. Can they lead her home before it’s too late?

33. Black Water Lilies – Michael Bussi (TBR)
Jérôme Morval, a man whose passion for art was matched only by his passion for women, has been found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens at Giverny, where Monet did his famous paintings. In Jérôme’s pocket is a postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies with the words: Eleven years old. Happy Birthday. Entangled in the mystery are three women: a young painting prodigy, the seductive village schoolteacher and an old widow who watches over the village from a mill by the stream. All three of them share a secret. But what do they know about the discovery of Jérôme Morval’s corpse? And what is the connection to the mysterious Black Water Lilies, a rumoured masterpiece by Monet that has never been found?

34. My Sweet Revenge – Jane Fallon (TBR)
Paula has had Robert’s back since they got together as drama students. She gave up her dreams so he could make it. Now he’s one of the nation’s most popular actors and Paula’s just discovered he’s having an affair. She’s going to remind Robert just what he’s sacrificing and then she’s going to break his heart like he broke hers. It will be her greatest acting role ever. Revenge is sweet, isn’t it?

35. Love Potions – Christina Jones (TBR)
When aromatherapist Sukie Ambrose starts using her cottage garden as inspiration – and raw ingredients – for her products, she thinks she’s just hit on a good way of saving money while offering her clients a way of de-stressing and relaxation. However, Sukie lives in a village where strange things have been known to happen. She discovers that her new improved lotions and potions are making her massages distinctly magical – and producing more star-crossed lovers than Shakespeare could ever dream of.

36. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (TBR)
In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together.

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And that marks the end of my 2017 bookshelf! What have you guys read this year? Have you got any recommendations for my 2018 shelf?

Thanks for reading and I hope you found a book you’d like to read soon too!

Bethany xo

Books

My 2017 Bookshelf;

Hello everyone!

This year one of my goals was to start reading again. Studying literature and creative writing sucked the joy of reading from me – I wasn’t reading what I wanted and I was picking apart books to their bare bones. It wasn’t fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my literature and writing courses but I was so relieved when I finished, just because I could read for fun again. As soon as university was over, I got back on GoodReads and collected new books pretty much every time I went out.

So, what have I read this year? How many stars did I give them? And what’s still on my To Be Read list? I’ll share with you all of these over the course of two blog posts this weekend – sit back, browse, and find your new favourite book!

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1. The Killing Woods – Lucy Christopher (3/5 stars)
Emily’s dad is accused of murdering a teenage girl. Emily is sure he is innocent, but what happened that night in the woods behind their house where she used to play as a child? Determined to find out, she seeks out Damon Hillary, the enigmatic boyfriend of the murdered girl. He also knows these woods. Maybe they could help each other. But he’s got secrets of his own about games that are played in the dark.

2. Victoria – Daisy Goodwin (5/5)
In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many thought it was preposterous: Alexandrina — Drina to her family — had always been tightly controlled by her mother and her household, and was surely too unprepossessing to hold the throne. Yet from the moment William IV died, the young Queen startled everyone.

3. The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George (5/5)
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened. After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story.

4. Strictly My Husband – Tracy Bloom (2/5)
Laura loves it when Tom takes her for a late night tango around the kitchen after their friends have gone home and they’re avoiding the washing up. That changes when Tom arrives on the doorstep with Carly, a professional dancer, and announces he’s offered her the spare room while she performs in a show that Tom is directing. An outraged Laura doesn’t feel like dancing with Tom anymore but Carly does. It only takes two to tango, and given Tom’s history who knows where it could end? Will Laura be left watching from the sidelines whilst Carly waltzes off with her husband’s heart?

5. Shtum – Jem Lester (3/5)
Ben Jewell’s ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope. When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

6. The Sisters – Claire Douglas (5/5)
Haunted by her twin sister’s death, Abi is making a fresh start in Bath. But when she meets twins Bea and Ben, she is quickly drawn into their privileged and unsettling circle. As Abi tries to keep up with the demands of her fickle friends, strange things start to happen – precious letters go missing and threatening messages are left in her room. Is this the work of the beautiful and capricious Bea? Or is Abi willing to go to any lengths to get attention? When the truth outs, will either sister survive?

7. The Paris Secret – Karen Swan (4/5)
Along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden for decades. High-flying fine art agent Flora from London is called in to assess these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and discover who has concealed them for so long. Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren’t all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock.

8. What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty (3/5)
Alice Love is 29, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she wakes up on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time.

9. The French Lesson – Hallie Rubenhold (3/5)
Henrietta Lightfoot trips on her silk gown as she runs for her life along the bloodstained streets of revolutionary Paris. She finds refuge in the lavish home of Grace Dalyrmple Elliott, one of the old regime’s most powerful courtesans. But heads are beginning to roll. Outside, the guillotine mercilessly claims its victims, while inside society’s gilded salons, Henrietta becomes a pawn in a vicious power game. How will she survive in a world where no one can be trusted?

10. A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard (4/5)
Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

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11. That Girl from Nowhere – Dorothy Koomson (2/5)
Clemency was adopted as a baby and the only connection she has to her birth mother is a cardboard box hand-decorated with butterflies. Now an adult, Clem decides to make a drastic change and move to Brighton, where she was born. While there, she meets someone who knows all about her butterfly box and what happened to her birth parents. As the tangled truths about her adoption and childhood start to unravel, a series of shocking events cause Clem to reassess whether the price of having contact with her birth family could be too high to pay.

12. The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane – Ellen Berry (4/5)
On Rosemary Lane, Della Cartwright plans to open a very special little bookshop. Not knowing what to do with the hundreds of cookbooks her mother left her, she now wants to share their recipes with the world. But with her family convinced it’s a hare-brained scheme, Della starts to wonder if she’s made a terrible decision. One thing’s for sure: she’s about to find out…

13. The Flower Arrangement – Ella Griffin (4/5)
Every bouquet tells a story and every story begins at Blossom & Grow, a tiny flower shop in the heart of Dublin. Florist Lara works her magic, translating feelings into flower arrangements, changing hearts and lives. Whether it’s bridal posies, anniversary bouquets or surprise deliveries from secret admirers, Lara arranges flowers for all manner of life-changing moments. No stranger to heartbreak herself, Lara knows flowers say more than words ever can. But can the flowers that heal the customers work their magic on her?

14. The Mother – Yvette Edwards (3/5)
The unimaginable has happened to Marcia Williams. Her bright and beautiful sixteen-year-old son Ryan has been brutally murdered. Consumed by grief and rage, she must bridle her dark feelings and endure something no mother should ever have to experience: she must go to court for the trial of the killer—another teenage boy—accused of taking her son’s life. As the trial proceeds, Marcia finds her beliefs and assumptions challenged as she learns more about Ryan’s death.

15. How to Find Love in a Bookshop – Veronica Henry (3/5)
Emilia has returned to her Cotswold home to rescue the family business. Nightingale Books is a dream come true for book-lovers, but the best stories aren’t just within the pages of the books she sells – Emilia’s customers have their own tales to tell. There’s the lady of the manor who is hiding a secret close to her heart; the single dad looking for books to share with his son but who isn’t quite what he seems; and the shy chef trying to find the courage to talk to her crush. And as for Emilia’s story, can she keep the promise she made to her father and save Nightingale Books?

16. The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (3/5)
Working at a job he hates, Guylain Vignolles has but one pleasure in life. Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain reads aloud. It’s this release of words into the world that starts our hero on a journey that will finally bring meaning into his life. For one morning, Guylain discovers the diary of a lonely young woman: Julie, who feels as lost in the world as he does.

17. The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barberry (2/5)
Renée is the concierge of a Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society’s expectations of what a concierge should be. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renée lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.

18. The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain (3/5)
Bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street, and feels impelled to return it to its owner. The bag contains no money, phone or contact information. But a small red notebook with handwritten thoughts and jottings reveals a person that Laurent would very much like to meet. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

19. Northern Lights – Philip Pullman (4/5)
Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world…

20. That Certain Something – Clare Ashton (3/5)
Pia Benitez-Smith has her head in the clouds. She’s a photojournalist out to prove herself with her compassionate eye, and although not accident prone, most days trouble seems to find her. On one such day, she literally falls into the arms of the beautiful Cate. Elegant, intriguing and classy, Cate is Pia’s polar opposite. When the two dispute the importance of love versus money, Cate is adamant that her perfect night will always be an expensive one. Working class Pia can’t resist the challenge and with the assistance of a beguiling summer night in London, she begins to enchant her new friend.

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Have you read any of these books, or would you like to after reading this post? Do you agree or disagree with my ratings? Let me know and I hope you’ll join me for part two of my bookshelf tomorrow!

Bethany xo

 

Lifestyle

My November Goals;

November is a strange month. It’s not quite Christmas yet and Halloween and Bonfire night are over and done with. It’s cold and wet outside and you’re frugal with your paycheck so you can splash out over Christmas. November is quite a plain and uninspiring month.

To make the month feel a little more worthwhile, I’ve set myself a few little goals to pass the time.

  1. Write more often. For someone with a creative writing degree who describes themselves as a writer, I actually write very little. I have unfinished projects in numerous folders on my laptop, a novel I’ve slowly been working on for almost a year, and tonnes of ideas rattling around my brain. In November I plan on getting a huge chunk of my novel written and at least one smaller writing project finished. tumblr_oz22xdvkbZ1raamyno1_540
  2. Get some practice with my new camera! Last month I bought myself a Sony Cybershot W810 to get myself into photography as a new hobby. As of yet I haven’t had a chance to get snappy with my camera, but I’m coming for you November!
  3. Finish reading The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughn. I’ve been trying to read this book for a month now and I’m still less than 150 pages in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying this book but life keeps getting in the way!
  4. Get a head start on my Christmas shopping. Even if I don’t buy many of my Christmas presents this month, I’d like to have a list done so December isn’t stressful. I often end up rushing around, full of anxiety about my Christmas shopping – this year, I’d like to be able to chill out and experience December more casually. DSC00020
  5. Do more baking. My parents bought me a kitchen mixer for my birthday and I’ve only used it a handful of times since! The last time I used it, I made a pumpkin and salted caramel cake and you can find that recipe right here! I adore baking and autumn/winter seems like the perfect time to carry out that particular hobby.
  6. Declutter. Some find it strange but I love tidying and cleaning. There is nothing more satisfying than spending a day decluttering, scrubbing, hoovering, and polishing and seeing the results of your efforts emerge. Every year before Christmas, I like to do a huge deep clean and declutter to “make room” for the coming year. That probably makes no sense but it’s a tradition and my anxiety goes haywire if I don’t “make room.”
  7. Keep working on my blog make-over. I have only had this blog for a mere two months or so but I get bored SO FAST. My bedroom gets re-arranged and re-decorated all the time, I want to re-invent my image constantly, my hair never knows what’s coming next. All of this translate into my blog too! So far I’ve changed my domain and my header but more changes will be on the way!

Do you guys have any goals this months? I’d love to hear them!

Bethany xo

Writing

NaNoWriMo survival tips!

It’s November 1st which means for many of us the NaNoWriMo challenge is underway and sleep is already evading participants.

If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s a project where writers from all over the world try to write a 50,000 word novel within the month of November. You can read all about the project here and on the NaNo website. It’s also not too late to join us for the challenge this year!

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I first started participating in NaNo in 2012 and I’ve had varying results every year since! It’s been great for me to learn how I work with deadlines, how to manage my priorities, and how to cope with my mental health when I’m so busy. The first time I failed to reach the 50,000 word goal in 2014, I admit I was devastated and I felt like a failure. But I had also just started studying creative writing at university. I was writing but I wasn’t writing my NaNo project and somehow, my priorities got mixed. In 2014, NaNo was more important than university.

Every year since then, when I failed to reach the word goal, I didn’t mind. I was proud of myself for trying. I put in the effort I could and did my best and that’s the important part. I’ve learned a lot since 2012 so here are my NaNoWriMo Survival tips!

  1. Write something you’re interested in reading. If you don’t, you won’t be interested in writing it.
  2. Sleep is your friend, not the enemy! It’s no good trying to write when you’re tired and unable to concentrate. Sleep, take a nap, go to bed and writing will feel easier.
  3. Caffeine does actually help.
  4. Don’t forget to eat! NaNo is a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure you set yourself up with a good breakfast and lunch. tumblr_oyqlr4l3VH1raamyno2_400
  5. Take regular breaks. When you feel like your concentration waning, stop. Make another cup of tea, grab a snack, check your social media, read a page of a book, do something else! Come back after half an hour with a fresh mind.
  6. Reward yourself every time you hit a word goal. It’s so much easier to write when you have an incentive!
  7. Set yourself time to catch up if you fall behind. Life happens, especially with Bonfire night and Christmas coming up. Figure out how long it takes you to write 1,666 words and plan extra time to catch up if you need it.
  8. Don’t bother editing. Through the whole of November, do NOT go back, re-read and edit what you’ve written. You’re wasting time and NaNo has their “What Now?” months for all the editing.
  9. Remember to go out and spend time with friends. Human contact is important! It might be tempting to shut yourself away and focus on writing, but don’t. Going outside, meeting people and speaking to friends can hugely help with making your characters more realistic.
  10. Have fun! If NaNo stresses you out then perhaps it’s not the right time for you to participate, perhaps you have too much going on, perhaps your story isn’t ready to be written. It’s nice to finish the 50,000 word count but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get there. The experience and the attempt can be just as satisfying as finishing. Make sure you can describe your time participating in NaNoWriMo as enjoyable!

I hope these tips help, especially if you’re a first time participant! Let me know if you’re participating and link me to your username on the website so we can all encourage each other.

You can check out my story for this year and my progress here.

Good luck!

Bethany xo

 

Food · Recipes

RECIPE: Pumpkin and salted caramel cake with candied cinnamon pumpkin seeds

Halloween is upon us; the shops are bursting with pumpkins, cinnamon flavoured everything is here, and toffee and caramel is even more tempting a treat than usual. With all this in mind I’ve got the perfect cake that combines all these things for you this autumn!

tumblr_oyniu36c5m1raamyno1_1280Ingredients:
200g softened butter
200g caster sugar
3 eggs
200g self-raising flour
1 small pumpkin or a can of pumpkin puree
Pumpkin spice to taste (or make your own with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove)

For the filling:
A good helping of runny caramel (you can make your own or buy ready-made caramel like me!)
Sea salt

For the candied seeds:
a handful or two of pumpkin seeds
a tablespoon of olive oil
two tablespoons of cinnamon
five tablespoons of caster sugar

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  1. If using fresh pumpkin, cut it into large chunks, removing the seeds and stringy parts. Save the seeds for later and put the pumpkin in the oven to roast for about an hour at your usual cooking temperature.
  2. Once the pumpkin is soft, scoop out the flesh and blend into a puree with some double cream until smooth.
  3. I’m a big fan of the all-in-one method so beat together your butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and pumpkin puree in one bowl. (TIP: if your mixture is curdled/split, ignore it. It means nothing. This will solve itself in the oven.)
  4. Add the pumpkin spice mix to your cake batter.
  5. Pour the mixture into greased cake tins – use whatever size you have. Bake for 30 minutes at the same temperature you roasted your pumpkin. The cakes are ready when the sides have shrunk away from the tin and a skewer/knife comes out clean when inserted into the middle.
  6. Leave to cool completely and remove from the tin.
  7. Add salt to taste to the caramel and drizzle over your sponges. Do this with however many layers you have. This will depend on the size of your cake tins.
  8. Roast your saved pumpkin seeds in a drizzle of olive oil for about 25 minutes or until lightly golden and crisp.
  9. In a separate bowl, mix together your cinnamon and 3 of the tablespoons of caster sugar.
  10. In a frying pan, gently heat a tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Add the roasted pumpkin seeds to the pan and coat them with the melting sugar. Cook in the pan for 3 minutes until deliciously sticky.
  11. Carefully remove the seeds from the pan and toss them in the separate sugar cinnamon mix you prepared earlier.
  12. Leave the seeds to cool and then break them apart. Sprinkle the seeds over your cake.
  13. Make a cup of tea or coffee, grab a slice of cake, and watch your favourite Halloween movie!

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Let me know if you try this recipe at home! Happy Halloween everyone!

Bethany xo

Beauty · LUSH · Reviews

LUSH; Christmas and Halloween 2017

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It might only be October but in my world, it’s never too early to utter the C word. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t yearning for long nights, chilly weather, and a house full of fairy lights. I’ve started Christmas shopping and festive recipes are already flying through my mind. So, when LUSH invited me to see their new products and get into the Christmas spirit with other lovely bloggers in the area, I was thrilled.

This year, LUSH is putting their focus on naked packaging. Not only are naked products more environmentally friendly but it’s cheaper, they tend to last longer, and they’re naturally self-preserving. You can read more about LUSH’s naked packaging initiative here.

Makeup and skincare;

Fan favourites Buche de Noel and Santa Baby lip scrub and tints are back for another year and my skin is already crying out for them. But what’s new this year?

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When I first got to this section of our showcase for evening, there was something shimmering gold that caught my attention immediately. Shades of Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh is a lip block of three colours that can be mixed or used separately to create gorgeous sparkly lip shades. I love metallics for winter, so I can already see myself using this across the festive period.

Sparkle Jars could be my new obsession. Fairy Dust and Mr Sandman dusting powders were insanely popular and now they’re in a naked form. This year they’re in little massage bar jars so it’s basically like getting two products for the price of one – score!

If you want something a bit lighter and fresher for your skin than the candyfloss and lavender scented sparkle jars, then I think Once Upon a Time body lotion is something you should try. It’s made with apple infusion, grapefruit oil, and lemon oil making it uplifting and cleansing and something different for the nose among all the spicy scents of Christmas.

Bath;

Thundersnow bath bomb is a mint chocolate scented delight peppered with popping candy. Its design is inspired by the view of the Earth from space and the name comes from never knowing what the weather in the UK is going to be. Will it thunder? Will it snow? It’s a mystery! I can see this bath bomb taking off in a big way.

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When I spoke to the staff members during the event, they all seemed to agree that their favourite bath bomb this year is Christmas Sweater. It’s festive in design with reindeers playing in the snow on a cranberry red base. However, its scent didn’t appeal to me. This ballistic is heavy with ginger, mustard, coriander, and clove but cut with lemon oil to add a subtle fresh note. I see the appeal and I can imagine it being great for frigid days and sore muscles. It might be one that grows on me over the next few months.

Pink and glitter are two of my favourite colours (yes, glitter is a colour in my eyes!) so the sparkly Pink Pumpkin stole my heart as soon as I saw it. Then I smelled it, realised it was floral scented and I decided right then and there it was my favourite Halloween product of all time. This bubble bar creates lots of soft bubbles, turns the water a beautiful pastel pink, and makes the water silky with the addition of cornflower. Plus, the scent is gentle and calming. But don’t worry – the original Sparkly Pumpkin is still here if you prefer something a little more traditional from your Halloween products.

Shower;

Okay, I am DYING to tell you all about my favourite soap this year. Golden Pear not only looks delectable, but it smells it too! This soap has a fresh, sweet, true pear smell thanks to the pear puree it’s made with.

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The scent is far more layered than this though, as it also has a sour note as some pears do and a warming element from the clove and cardamom. It’s almost like the smell of a warm pear crumble. This soap is extra special because every time you use it, you get a big helping of plastic-free glitter. Shimmery skin all the way!

Solid shower gels now exist, and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sold on them to begin with. They look like soaps moulded to resemble shower gel bottles, but I can guarantee you that they’re not soaps. These solid gels have a shower gel base, the only difference is that these gels are thicker so they achieve the solid form. They lather the same as liquid shower gels and feel the same as liquid shower gels on the skin. The solid version works well because they last longer, however my clumsy self has dropped this gel so many times already. Oh well, practice makes perfect.

 

After perusing the new products, we took a break to eat some delicious Saucy Snowcake cake and Pumpkin Spiced cake pops provided by the ever wonderful V is for Veggies. We swiftly moved on to seeing the gifts for this year though, and like always, I need a WOW and a Secret Garden in my life.

 

As another special treat, (LUSH really do love spoiling us!) we made our own Butterball bath bombs! Mine is very wonky but that’s just a bit of character I gave it totally on purpose…

 

Do expect more in-depth reviews of my favourite products over the coming months – these products are too good not to share!

What are your favourite LUSH products this winter?

Bethany xo

 

Travel · Updates

From Shakespeare’s Stratford to mine…

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“Britain is a world by itself…”
Cymbeline. Act 3, Scene 1.

I don’t like travelling but I do love literature.

So, when my parents and some extended family booked a staycation to Stratford-Upon-Avon for us all, I was rather torn. But now the holiday is over I wish I was still there. I wish I was still enjoying the night air by the River Avon, still going to bed eager to explore more of Warwickshire the next day, and still getting to geek out about Shakespeare without people looking at me like I’m a nutter.

To prolong my holiday vibes, I thought I’d share with you what we got up to!

Continue reading “From Shakespeare’s Stratford to mine…”

Books · Reviews

REVIEW: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. Though curiously distant, he presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations ring eerily true.

As Nella uncovers the secrets of her new household she realises the escalating dangers they face. The miniaturist seems to hold their fate in her hands – but does she plan to save or destroy them?

Jessie Burton’s debut novel hooked me from the start, or rather, the end.

The Miniaturist begins with a curious prologue set in 1687 – a funeral, gossipy neighbours, a silent figure moving through a mostly empty church, the presenting of a strange gift, and a symbolic focus on a starling trapped in the rafters. It is a creepily evocative beginning that, unfortunately, I forgot about along the way.

I found that Burton is a marvellous story-teller. I was hanging on her every word. She has a detailed way with words that is both tense and bewitching – I was desperate to know what happened next.

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The characters are realistic enough for my liking. They have contradictions and hypocrisies like you or me which makes their motivations seem reasonable. Burton’s main character of Petronella Oortman learns the secrets of the Brandt household as the readers do – we are firmly on this journey with her. Like Nella, I found myself wanting to know more about her distant husband Johannes and the Miniaturist.

Burton wound the secrets of the Brandt household like a rope into a tight knot. As we read on, the knot becomes looser and looser – it almost reads like a detective novel. I could never be sure who was at the centre of this knot of a plot. Was it Johannes? Was it Nella’s sister-in-law Marin? Was it the Miniaturist? Or was it Burton herself as she seemingly couldn’t tie one character to the events of her layered plot?

Uncomfortable events and subject matters are tackled expertly by Burton; she does not shy away from the horrific truth of religious 1600s attitudes towards people who are different/don’t conform to societal norms. It’s a truth that can still be applied to today. As such, I found comments and actions by other characters to be incredibly uneasy. I was moved to tears by Burton’s impeccable narrative.

The book is not without its faults however.

There were times where Burton felt as though she couldn’t decide if she wanted to write in third or first person. Whilst the story is told in third person, Burton slips into a style of writing that would feel more at home in a first person narrative – this would trip me up as I read and I found myself needing to re-read sentences. As a debut novel, I can mostly overlook this.

The most striking fault I found with The Miniaturist was its ending. Remember that knot of rope I compared the plot to? By the end of the book, that rope was limp and frayed.

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Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

I was left with many questions after closing the back cover. What happened to the other characters? How did certain characters end up together like that? It was so confused, important plots/characters left so alone and seemingly forgotten that the book felt unfinished. I would gladly read another 400 pages to understand more about the plot and the characters’ minds, especially that of Johannes!

There is no denying that I learned a lot about the character’s of the Brandt household, however, there was only one character I wanted to learn about. The Miniaturist herself. Sadly, I felt rather abandoned by her and Burton, and I wondered what even was the point of the Miniaturist in the first place? If the emphasis had not been on the Miniaturist in the title and blurb, then perhaps I wouldn’t be so bothered by the weak and threadbare revelation about her that eventually came.

The Miniaturist is everything I love in a book: love, betrayal, history, corruption, mystery, danger and societal critiques. If I had not been left confused and wanting by the end of this book, I would’ve happily given it 5/5 stars. Instead, I leave it with a rating of 4/5 stars and an eagerness to read it again in the near future.