Monday 27 May 2024

Reasons that I give up on a book

There are so many books in the world, and although I'm a fast reader there's no way that I could ever read every book that I want to. I usually give a book a good go, but I won't stick with a book that I'm not enjoying. There are always plenty more waiting!

Here are some of the reasons that I'll put a book aside before finishing it:

  • Too many similar characters are introduced quickly, or the names of individual characters are too similar. I enjoy books with varied and interesting characters, but I need to be able to distinguish them from each other.
  • I can't relate to the main character - maybe they make decisions that I don't agree with or they are simply so unlike me that I can't imagine them.
  • Complicated family histories - I can only enjoy books like this if they have a family tree to refer to at the beginning!
  • It's badly written with spelling or grammar mistakes. This is rare, but happens sometimes with the free self-published books that I download for my Kindle. Similarly with sentences that just don't flow, geographical errors or unrealistic dialogue. It just bothers me too much!
  • It was a book that was recommended to me or that 'everyone' should read, but once I start it I realise that it's not my thing at all. 

Woman sitting on the sofa reading
Photo credit Lenin Estrada via Unsplash

  • It is too violent, especially violence against women. And although I'm not averse to a bedroom scene or two I don't always need to know all the details!
  • It's very long or the print is very small. I can handle a long book but only a couple of year - the last one was The Count of Monte Cristo which I loved but it took weeks and I'm used to finishing a book every couple of days! I have War and Peace lined up in my reading pile but it's just too daunting at the moment!
  • I started it at a bad time - maybe just before we went away on holiday and so I forgot where I was up to, or I was given a more enticing book to read which took my interest away. Sometimes I come back to these books, but I usually have to start them over again from the beginning!
  • It's a book that has been written in the hope of cashing in on the popularity of another book. I usually discover very quickly that I preferred the original!
  • It wasn't what I was expecting. Similar to the above, I'm easily persuaded into picking up a book with a similar cover to one that I've enjoyed, only to find it's not what I wanted at all.

Do you stick with a book to the bitter end, even if it's not your thing?

Friday 24 May 2024

Some good things that have happened this week

I thought I'd share some of the things that have made me feel happy this week!

I've reached a weight that I'm happy with and I'm feeling confident about maintaining it. I started to think more carefully about my diet back at the beginning of the year, motivated by reading Ultra-Processed People by Chris van Tulleken and doing research into ultra processed foods and modern nutrition science. I stopped drinking diet coke, and I cut down massively on crisps, biscuits and other junk food snacks. 

I don't calorie count, and I've probably increased the number of calories in food that I eat as I've started regularly eating full fat yoghurt, handfuls of nuts and I've always eaten plenty of cheese. But I've upped my fruit and vegetable intake, and I make an effort to eat plenty of beans, seeds and different grains. I didn't have a huge amount of weight that I wanted to lose, but because I lost the weight gradually I'm hoping that I can continue with these healthy changes and not fall back into old habits.

Bean and sweetcorn salad

I've been enjoying my exercise this week now that the weather has turned warmer - I've even switched to my shorts for running! I've joined a local running group that run a 5k route three times a week from near my house, although I've only been out with them once and they ran a little faster than I'm used to - I managed a new personal best after years of running! I won't be out with them every time, but it's good to know that they are there if I want to join them. 

I've started doing some volunteering work with a local 'in bloom' group. It's a group of local volunteers who spend time brightening up the village with floral displays and just generally making everything look lovely. I don't have a huge amount of gardening experience but I've been really enjoying helping to plant flowers and meeting lots of friendly locals.

Colourful planters filled with flowers

Finally, earlier this week we had an incident with a lost mobile phone, and thanks to the kindness of a stranger the story had a happy ending. Someone actually took time out of their day to take the phone to the police station, even though it wasn't even open at the time they picked it up. I feel like I owe the universe some kind of karmic debt, I was so grateful!

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Some books that I've enjoyed recently

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

I always have a book on the go, and I'm pretty selective with what I read. I won't stick with a book that I'm not enjoying, although sometimes I'll skip through a mediocre book just to find out what happens!

Here are some books that I've enjoyed recently and that have earned a 5* rating on my Goodreads account.

The Island Home by Libby Page

This was borrowed from a friend, and it's a cosy story about a young women returning to the island where she grew up with her teenage daughter, having left suddenly and secretly at the age of 18. We learn about her childhood as she tries to reconnect with her brother and the islanders that remember her before she left. She makes a lovely group of diverse female friends and is generously welcomed into the community. Maybe the storyline is a little cheesy, but we all need a little escapism now and then!

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

This was one of my recent Wob purchases, chosen as I really enjoyed Hamnet. I wasn't disappointed - even though the story and characters are completely different I love the writing style and I found the book really engaging. It's a story about a family reunited when the father goes missing. His wife and three adult children come together and learn a great deal about themselves and each other as the story unfolds. Published in 2013, it's set during the heatwave of 1976 and there is plenty of historical detail. Although I wasn't alive during the heatwave it did make me think about how when an event like this happens it changes how people behave, a little bit like during the pandemic.

King Solomon's Carpet by Barbara Vine

My Mum asked me to look out for this as she wanted to re-read it, and so after I bought it on Wob I gave it a quick read myself as I remembered enjoying it when I was younger! It's set in and around a dilapidated house in London, home to a group of misfits and owned by a man writing a history of the London underground. When I read it as a teenager the parts that stuck in my mind were about a young boy and his friends who 'surf' on the roofs of the underground trains. However this time my attention was caught by the character of Alice, who runs away from her husband and baby to pursue her dream to become a musician. It's funny how a book speaks to you differently when you read it at a different life stage!

The Wrong Daughter by Dandy Smith

This book was borrowed for free through Amazon Prime Reading. I read quite a few 'psychological thriller' type books and many of them don't really stick with me, but this one I found to be particularly good. It's about two sisters, left alone by their parents one evening with the result that the oldest daughter is kidnapped, witnessed by the younger who is traumatised by her failure to prevent it. Years later a woman appears claiming to be the missing daughter, but there are lots of holes in her story and her younger sister starts to become suspicions. Plenty of twists and turns to the story and I found it a gripping read.

One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson

I bought this book on Kindle a few years ago when I think it was on special offer (I very rarely buy Kindle books but will make an exception for a Bill Bryson!) and then I re-bought it in paperback when I spotted it in a charity shop a few months ago. The reason that I bought it twice is that my Kindle edition doesn't have the photographs, which really help to bring the history to life.

The book takes a long look at the summer of 1927 in the US, and some of the memorable things that happened that year. I can take or leave the sections on baseball, but I really love the part on early aviation and the first Atlantic crossings. I've read the book several times but I wanted to re-read it before we went on holiday to Washington, as I remembered enjoying the chapters on Charles Lindbergh and his plane The Spirit of St. Louis which I knew was on display at the Smithsonian museum. Unfortunately the museum is being renovated so I wasn't actually able to see the plane, but I still enjoyed the re-read!

Pile of books on a sunny windowsill
Photo credit Florencia Viadana via Unsplash

Monday 13 May 2024

A weekend spent outdoors

It might be a grey morning today, but we had such a lovely weekend that I don't mind! It felt like the first real warm days of the year and I spent almost the whole of the two days outside.

On Saturday morning we did our first cut of the grass. It was very overgrown so it took two cuts to bring it down to a reasonable height. I had already gone around and cut down the large thistles (our 'grass' is mainly weeds!) then it was just a case of ploughing through with the lawnmower. Along with some weeding we filled up both our brown bin and the overflow bin! 

That left plenty of space to get out the garden toys - I set up the swing ball and the children discovered our old badminton racquets and shuttlecocks in the summerhouse. It was lovely to see them out in the fresh air enjoying playing together. We also treated them to a couple of new water pistols as the old ones were broken. Then for lunch we had our first barbecue of the year - delicious sweetcorn, halloumi and burgers!

I also retrieved our nicer garden chairs from the garage - I'm not sure they even came out last year because there just weren't that many warm days. I spent time sitting in the shade, dozing, reading and watching the birds.

On Sunday we ate outside again, and this time it was pizza. Over the winter we treated ourselves to a new Ooni pizza oven. We've been enjoying the Ooni Koda outdoor pizza oven for several years, but we mainly used it over the summer. We now have an Ooni Volt which is an indoor pizza oven and it's amazing, we've used it almost every weekend this year. It's so much easier to make an evenly cooked pizza, and you can use it all year round (once you've cleared space for it in the kitchen that is!) 

Pizza from the Ooni Volt indoor pizza oven

We enjoyed three long walks - up on the Downs from our house and twice along the beach just outside Worthing. I love going down to the beach when the weather is good and seeing everyone out and about enjoying themselves. There's always something interesting to see! Last night it was two people flying over the beach in contraptions that some googling today has told me are Paramotors. It's a single seat attached to a powered paraglider and they were flying really low over the sea and the beach. It was fascinating to watch them!

Paramotoring over Goring beach near Worthing

The weather might have turned again this week but at least the temperatures haven't sunk too low - this morning I even went out for my run in shorts which is a very rare occurrence! Fingers crossed we'll have plenty more weekends like this over the summer.

Friday 10 May 2024

What I've been up to lately - May 2024

I am so happy that summer is making an appearance at last! I can't believe that last week I was wrapped up in jumpers and winter coats, huddled under a heated blanket, and today I've got washing hanging outside, I've pulled out the garden furniture, and dug out my sunglasses!

I've been a bit quiet over here lately, so here are some of the things that I've been up to recently:

Reading 

With a friend to borrow books from and a big order from Wob I've had plenty of reading material to keep me going! Last night I finished Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell. Set during the heatwave of 1976 it follows a family brought together unexpectedly when their husband and father disappears. I loved the exploration of the characters and their interactions, and I couldn't put it down! Before that I enjoyed The Martian by Andy Weir, bought for my son inspired by his love of space exploration. It's a very technical book and a lot probably went over my head but it was an exciting read. I remember watching the film a few years ago and will look it out to watch again. 

One of my favourite borrowed books was The Housemaid by Freida McFadden, with a story full of twists. Now I've just started The Island Home by Libby Page which is shaping up to be another great read.

Watching

We've been box set binging over the last few weeks! With my son we watched all four seasons of For All Mankind, a series on Apple TV that I can't believe we've only just discovered. It's an alternative history - what might have happened if the Soviets had landed on the moon first and the impact that could have had on the future of space exploration as the space race continued. Each season is set about ten years apart, so it starts in the late 60s and the most recent season was set in the 2000s. Things have moved fast, and by the last episode they have colonised Mars and are capturing asteroids for mining! My son loved it because it takes scientific concepts that have not yet been fully developed and shows how they could work. I enjoyed it for the relationships between the characters and how I could imagine what it would be like to live on both the moon and on Mars.

Footprint on the lunar surface
Photo credit NASA via Unsplash

We also watched the entire second season of Bridgerton over the span of a few days. We really enjoyed the first season but never got around to watching the second, and with the third due out shortly we decided to catch up. It was very enjoyable, perhaps not as steamy as the first season but that's not why I watch it - I enjoy the romance and imagining what it would be like to live that kind of lifestyle!

Listening to

I do like a podcast when I'm driving over to school, and lately I've been enjoying ZOE Science and Nutrition. It's really interesting to read about the latest scientific developments when it comes to nutrition, especially as a lot of the advice that I've heard over the years has now been disproved and there are new guidelines which should be followed. It has given me lots of inspiration for new foods and exercise to try.

Eating

I've made a huge change to my diet since the new year and it's paying off. I've slowly lost several kilograms and now I'm feeling fit and in shape for the summer. I've cut back on the ultra processed foods and introduced a range of different plants and I'm feeling really happy with the way that I eat. I do need to be a bit careful - I've noticed that eating bread based products like pizza and soup with bread is what makes me put the weight back on and I've also started indulging in some 90% dark chocolate most evenings which is a bad habit to get into!

Mixed nuts and dried fruit
Photo credit Maksim Shutov via Unsplash

Planning

We are going ahead with some building work later in the year which we've been thinking about for a long time. It's a big project and there is lots of planning to be done and decisions to be made. It's very exciting!

Decluttering

With building works in mind I've been busy decluttering, not just the areas to be affected but also the whole house and garage. I had been feeling that things were getting a bit on top of me so I've been making a big effort to clear out things that I had been putting off. I've passed on a juicer and blender set which filled up a whole cupboard, an old metal desk is waiting for the scrap man to collect it, and lots of large and good condition toys have been passed to a friend who teaches in a primary school. 

I've also been going through all the kitchen cupboards and clearing them out, working through my stockpile of cans to keep the numbers down and getting rid of some unused kitchen equipment. I'm feeling much happier with the state of the house now.

Enjoying

The sunshine! I love sitting outside and feeling the warmth of the sun, I love going for a run and not having to wrap up in long leggings and jumpers, I love popping out for a walk and not having to grab a coat.

Don't let a bad book ruin your trip - how to find the perfect book for holiday reading

This is a collaborative post

I love sitting back and relaxing with a good book while on holiday. I love sitting on a peaceful beach listening to the waves lapping, relaxing on the deck of a cruise ship and enjoying some sunshine, or whiling away the time while travelling by train or plane. But I'm very particular about my reading material, and I spend a lot of time making sure that I've packed the right books to take away with me. 

Whether boarding a cruise or embarking on a different type of holiday, it's essential to pick the best holiday reading. So in this article I'll be looking at some tried and tested strategies for choosing the best books for reading on your travels.

Choose a book that complements your destination

A perfect holiday read is one that matches the destination. I often like to choose books that will take me away to a similar setting. For example if you are going to be enjoying a cruise holiday then you might want to find a book that will take you on an adventure on the seas. If you are visiting a historic destination look for a book set in that place during a period that interests you. I love reading a book that it set in the place that I'm currently visiting and it can give you inspiration for places to visit and sights to keep an eye out for.

Pick a book that sparks your interest

Think about your own interests and the genres or themes that most appeal to you. That might be historical fiction, fantasy or romance, or perhaps a non-fiction book on a subject that you want to learn more about. 

How to pick the perfect book for holiday reading
Photo credit Link Hoang via Unsplash

Find a book which will get you in the right mood

Consider the type of reading experience you want while you are away. Maybe a light beach read to enjoy while you're soaking up the sun on a pristine shore, or perhaps you need a more thought-provoking novel to distract you from the more mundane aspects of travel. 

I tend to choose a book for my holiday reading which isn't too complicated and that I can easily pick up and put down. If I'm on a cruise holiday, for example boarding an eastern Caribbean cruise, I want something relaxing that I can fit in around daily cruise stops and activities on board. I need a book that I can easily get stuck into when I have the time to sit and relax.

Check reviews and recommendations for the perfect match

To help me choose my next book I look for reviews on social media and shopping sites, or from blogs that I trust. I like to know what a book is about, the style in which it is written, and whether it's similar to other books that I've enjoyed. I also chat with friends that have similar reading tastes to see what they've enjoyed recently, and I'm very careful before purchasing a book so that I don't waste my money and time. 

Travel light with an e-reader or by passing on books when finished

Books can be heavy and awkward to pack, so I love my e-reader which means that I can take a huge library of books and I always have the perfect book at my fingers. I also look for bookshelves in hotels and on cruise ships where people have left behind books that they've enjoyed. I like to browse through and swap a new book for one that I've finished. 

Try something new and embracing unexpected delights

While you want to find the perfect book, going on holiday is also a great opportunity to try out some new literary genres. Maybe that might be a book that you spot in the library on a cruise ship or on a bookshelf in the hotel reception and pick up just on the off chance that you might enjoy it. You might also have the chance to visit a bookshop or two and pick up something new to read.

Seeing what other people are reading on the beach is also a great way to find new reading material, you can ask people what they think of a book and whether they would recommend it.

But if you do start a book and it fails to ignite your interest don't be afraid to stop reading - there are far too many books in the world to waste time on one that doesn't grab you! 

Conclusion

I really enjoy spending the time before I go away choosing the perfect book to enjoy on my holiday. In fact it's just as important to me as packing clothes and toiletries. I love unpacking into a hotel room or cruise stateroom and placing my pile of books by the bed, it makes me feel as though the holiday has really started. 

Friday 3 May 2024

How to transform a rental into your personal sanctuary

This is a collaborative post

Renting a home doesn’t mean you have to settle for a bland, impersonal space. With a few clever tricks and removable updates, you can transform any rental into a cosy, personalised sanctuary that reflects your unique style and taste. 

Here’s how to make your rented space feel more like your own, without risking your security deposit.

Start with Colour

One of the simplest ways to inject personality into a space is with colour. If painting walls is off-limits, consider using removable wallpaper or large, colourful artwork to brighten up your rooms. Removable wallpaper comes in a dizzying array of designs and is easy to take down when you move out. 

Alternatively, vibrant curtains or a statement rug can add a splash of colour and warmth to any room, creating a focal point that draws the eye.

Embrace Flexible Furniture

In a rental, versatile furniture is your best friend. Opt for pieces that can serve multiple purposes or be easily moved around. 

A storage ottoman, for example, can double as a coffee table, extra seating, or a footrest, while modular sofas can be reconfigured to fit different spaces. Investing in quality, versatile pieces ensures they can travel with you and adapt to future homes.

Create Layers with Lighting

Lighting can dramatically alter the feel of a room, and it’s something you can easily control. Swap out dated light fixtures with stylish, modern alternatives, like those provided by Corston —just store the original fixtures to reinstall before you leave. Here, you can see the different types of switches and sockets and take your pick! 

For a less permanent option, an array of lamps can create a warm, layered lighting effect. Floor lamps, table lamps, and even string lights can add ambience and cosiness to your rental without the need for electrical changes.

Focus on Soft Furnishings

Soft furnishings are a renter's secret weapon. They’re affordable, impactful, and completely portable. Scatter cushions, throws, and rugs can transform a room, adding colour, texture, and warmth. These elements are also perfect for creating a unified look, tying together different colours and patterns in the décor.

Sofa with green and cactus cushions
Photo credit DESIGNECOLOGIST via Unsplash

Personalise with Accessories

Accessories are the jewels of home décor, allowing your personality to shine through in even the most temporary of spaces. Displaying collections, photographs, and artwork can instantly make a rental feel more like home. Consider using shelves or picture ledges to display personal items without drilling holes in the walls, a smart move that landlords appreciate. 

Plants are another wonderful way to personalise your space and bring life to any room. From ferns that can brighten a shady corner to vibrant succulents on a sunny windowsill, plants not only beautify your environment but also improve air quality and can increase your sense of wellbeing

Use Window Treatments to Your Advantage

Window treatments are a powerful decorating tool, playing a dual role by enhancing privacy and adding substantial style. 

Choosing curtains or blinds in luxurious fabrics or with intriguing textures can dramatically change the character of a room, infusing elegance or a touch of whimsy, depending on your choice. They're also perfect for concealing less-than-perfect windows or frames, a common issue in rental properties. 

You may want to try layering sheer curtains with heavier drapes to achieve both privacy and style flexibility. This approach lets you adjust lighting and privacy levels throughout the day while also adding depth and richness to your interiors.

Invest in Wall Art Without the Commitment

Hanging art is vital for personalising your space and expressing your artistic taste, but many rental agreements prohibit nails or screws in walls. To navigate this, use adhesive hooks or strips that can hold substantial weight without damaging the paint or plaster. This allows you to hang your favourite artwork and enjoy an art-filled home without concern for your security deposit. 

You could even lean larger pieces against walls on top of consoles or dressers for an artsy, laid-back vibe that can be changed up with ease.

Create Zones

In smaller spaces or studios, creating distinct areas for different activities can significantly enhance your living experience. 

Use room dividers, decorative curtains, or strategic furniture arrangements to carve out separate zones for sleeping, working, and relaxing. This not only helps in organising your activities but also infuses a structured, aesthetic appeal into your space. 

For instance, positioning a bookshelf as a room divider can offer privacy while displaying books and décor items, serving dual purposes. 

Make It Smell Like Home

Never underestimate the power of a familiar scent. Whether it's scented candles, diffusers, or incense, having a signature scent can make any place feel more like home. It’s a subtle yet powerful way to enhance the atmosphere of your home and create a comforting, familiar environment.

Reed diffuser on shelf
Photo credit Mindaugas Norvilas via Unsplash

By implementing these tips, you can turn any rental property into a personal retreat that feels as cosy and unique as any "forever" home. Remember, the goal is to create a space that reflects who you are, using elements that can be easily set up and taken down when it’s time to move. 

With a little creativity and some smart choices, your rental will quickly become your personal sanctuary.