Tuesday, 31 March 2015

VSH Book Club #2: The Girl on the Train

I almost didn't pick this as April's book because of the title and it's similarity to last month's. I promise that not all the featured books will begin with The Girl...! I am hearing about this book everywhere though so I thought let's keep it topical and go with the current number one bestseller (in the Waterstone's UK chart and Amazon books); The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Plus it is on offer at the moment to download to kindles for only £1.79 which you can't really argue with. Click here for the link.

The book is being compared to Gone Girl, but from what I have read only in the sense that both are thrillers and have risen to popularity quickly. I started reading this last night, as did Chris, as it is VERY easy to read. This does make me think it may not be the most intellectually challenging book ever, but I will make up for this next month with a serious read! 

You can read a synopsis of the book's premise here. It seems to be about a women called Rachel, in her mid 30s and a heavy drinker, who rides the same train everyday to London. During this journey the train slows or stops at a particular signal, from where Rachel can see into a number of houses, including one belonging to a couple she names Jason and Jess. I already want to know more about Rachel, whose loneliness and hints of a past life are immediately engaging. One day Rachel sees something which apparently "changes everything". Intrigued? Me too! In terms of reviews it has 5 out of 5 on the Waterstones website, 4 out of 5 on Amazon and the Guardian describes it as "inescapable tension, superbly handled". 

I hope you join me in reading this book and that you find it enjoyable. We'll compare thoughts in a month! 

Monday, 30 March 2015

VSH Book Club... The Girl With All The Gifts Review

It's quite hard to write a book review when you don't really know how you feel about the book! When I finished The Girl with all the Gifts Chris asked what I thought, to which I answered "I'm not sure". I think what this means is that I didn't love the book, but I did like it. I am torn as to whether this indifference is because of the quality of the book, or its genre. 

As I said in my original post, I hardly knew a thing about this book when I picked it as the first book to review. This is quite unusual for me as I generally know the vague concept of a book I am about to read or at least what section of a bookstore it would be found in! It isn't a bad thing though, as if I had known in advance that this was essentially a zombie story (despite never using the Z word) with a hint of science fiction I probably would have steered clear. I have since learnt that the book is being made into a film starring Glenn Close and Gemma Arteton and that, judging from twitter especially, some people really bloody love it! So here's what I thought... look away now if you don't want to read any spoilers!

The book is well written, I don't think you can argue with that. It has a great opening which gets you interested straight away, and I enjoyed the fact that there wasn't a large build up to finding out what was going on in the outside world. The first narrator of the book (told in the third person which I think works well) is Melanie, a 10 year old 'Hungry' who lives in a secure facility which we discover houses some of the few people remaining in England after what is referred to as the Breakdown. I have read a couple of dystopian stories like the Hunger Games and the Divergent series but this was a level darker, probably because it was not written for a teenage audience.  The Breakdown is described here and there throughout the book, and much of it from the point of view of Dr Caldwell who largely speaks in an overly technical and scientific rhetoric. In summary, a virus wipes out much of the population by turning them into Hungries who live in a zombie like state until they smell or hear human movement, which then inevitably leads to attack. The victims of these attacks then become Hungries themselves and so the cycle continues. 

Melanie, and about 20 other children living in the facility with her, are different however, and it is only revealed towards the end of the story in what way they are different, and why. We lean early on that Melanie is very intelligent, and has conscious thought so we know she isn't an ordinary Hungry. We are also told about her fondness of a certain teacher, Miss Justineau, who initially seems to be the only staff member of the facility who has a moral conscience. Melanie and her counterparts are kept locked up in cells overseen by Sergeant Parks, except for when they attend school-like lessons, or for weekly trips to the chemical showers and grub factory. Trust me, that bit is gross. 

The characters are well developed and the story only revolves around 4 or 5 of them so you get to know them pretty well, but ultimately I didn't feel that I could identify with any of them nor was I emotionally attached to them at all, even Melanie. To me this is one of the main downfalls of the book, as I am sure the author did not intend for a reader to be so ambivelent to their characters, especially the protagonist. Maybe this was because the story was so removed from reality, or maybe I am just heartless!  Another downside of the book was how graphically it described Dr Caldwell's work in her lab, which involved operating on live specimens. I don't have a stomach for this kind of thing at the best of times, but the detailed description of amputating a human head was to me unnecessary and indulgent. 

I found the ending to be pretty dark and depressing, but it wasn't something that I predicted which is a good thing. For one character in particular things concluded in an interesting way, and the book definitely leaves you with a lot to think about in terms of this person and their future, or lack thereof.  I did find it unconvincing how Melanie asserts authority over the other Hungry children who feature towards the end of the book, and I felt that the author having her save Miss Justineau in the way she did a little too convenient and that maybe the ending was rushed. 

What I did like about the book was that it was more than a story of the Breakdown, or the zombies left in its wake, it was about how the people left to deal with all of this developed relationships in forced circumstances, the most effective relationship being the one between Melanie and her favourite teacher. I also enjoyed the pace of the book, and its variety of narrators. It was also pretty clever to be honest, the guy who came up with this original concept knows their science! The book was very descriptive and I found that as I was reading I had a very clear (and weird) picture in my head of what the landscape looked like, so I will definitely see the film when it is out to see if the two match up. 

Ultimately I think that The Girl with all the Gifts is probably one of the best books of its genre, it's just a shame that that genre doesn't do it for me! 

What did you think? I would love to hear your thoughts if you have read it too! 

Also, come back tomorrow to see what April's book of the month will be! x

Friday, 27 March 2015

Haul Ass to... Accessorize

Less than a week to go until the long weekend folks! If, like me (yay!) you are jetting off somewhere over Easter then you may be on the lookout for the perfect travel companion and Accessorize may well be able to help with a number of reductions on their bags, in particular their 'weekenders' which currently have at least £10 off. If you are sorted for an overnight bag then you might be brave enough to try a backpack which I keep reading/seeing are having a bit of a moment. For me many of the patterned versions remind me too much of high school, but these plain leather or leather look ones have caught my eye. Failing that you can't go wrong with a cross over for a city break or a pretty tote for just about anything! 

Neon Print Weekender Bag £29 (was £39)

Ikat Print Weekender Bag  £24 (was £39)

Sophie Sporty Backpack £25 (was £35)

Leather Backpack £65 (was £85) Also available in tan 

Verity Tote Bag £30 (was £45)

Soft Satchel Across Body Bag £22 (was £32)

Happy Weekend! x

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A Bit of Drivel

Hello folks, hope you all had a great weekend. Teddy's christening was a huge success, with even the sunshine making a timely appearance. He was a superstar all day and didn't make a peep when he was pretty much drenched with the holy water. The service was lovely, and it seemed like everyone had a good time at the reception. The food definitely went down a treat as there wasn't a scrap left! I loved the day so much, although I just wish it was a little longer as there just wasn't enough time to sit down and have a proper chat with everybody like I wanted to. I guess that's to be expected when there are 70 guests though! If you are reading this and you were there, then thank you again for coming to celebrate Teddy's special day with us. 

Having Teddy baptised was very important to me. Growing up I went to Mass weekly, and I attended a Catholic Primary School, High School and Sixth Form College. I can't imagine Teddy not doing the same, and although we don't know what the future holds and I wouldn't want to force any views upon him, I plan to continue to take him to Church as often as I can. He loves going at the moment as he is essentially a nosey parker and enjoys people watching, plus he gets most excited by the singing (not mine). 

The whole weekend was brilliant to be honest, we were very lucky to have tickets to see Sam Smith on Friday night at the Manchester Apollo which is a venue I love. I am sure he will be selling out Arena tours very soon so I am really pleased that we got to see him there. He was incredible! Definitely one of the best live acts I have ever seen, his voice live is even better than recorded and his encore was so amazing that I may have shed a tear. Just a small one. We followed up the gig with a few drinks in the Northern Quarter, specifically in the newish bar Hold Fast and then went for a quick nightcap in Guilty By Association where the music was ace. Luckily no hangover appeared on Saturday which would have been a nightmare given I was running around picking up the cake, cupcakes and balloons for Sunday. And yes, I did drink Amaretto ;-)

In other news I am still *kind of* doing 30 Day Shred. I did it 8 days in a row and then reality hit and I didn't manage to squeeze it in every day. The current situation is that I have done it 21 times in 29 days. Not too bad considering I have had a weekend away and a stomach bug in that time. I am only just tackling level 3 and it is a killer! I can definitely feel and see the effects though and my dress on Sunday fit much better than when I tried it on a month or so ago. I'm going to carry on doing it everyday where I can until I hit 30 and then will write a detailed post. After that I might need a little break from Jillian (just temporary!) so if anyone has any other DVD recommendations, particularly for 30 minutes or less workouts as it's hard to fit any more in around Teddy, please let me know. Has anyone tried Davina? 

Finally, I have to confess that I haven't yet finished reading The Girl with all the Gifts for the Book Club. I blame Jillian! I used to read a book a week and now am finding it hard to read a book a month! However I am close, so I will be writing my review, inviting your comments and selecting a new book next Monday. Six days people if you haven't finished either!

Until next time! x

Friday, 20 March 2015

Haul Ass to... The Liquor Aisle!

This weekend is a big one. Teddy is being baptised on Sunday and we are having a party to celebrate at the local golf club afterwards. I am really looking forward to his special day, not least catching up with friends (some of whom we haven't seen in a while) and family over a few cheeky halves! Also tonight we are heading into town to see Sam Smith at the Manchester Apollo which will no doubt be accompanied by some pre and post drinks. 

So this week's haul ass is about my favourite tipple Amaretto. Below are some links to various cocktail recipes, some of which I have tried and love, and some of which are on the 'to make one day' list. The simple prosecco with a dash of amaretto is my current favourite and will most likely make an appearance this weekend. So head off to your nearest off licence or supermarket and bag yourself a bottle of Disaronno (or cheat like me and get Aldi's version which is a steal at £4.79!) 


Prosecco or Champagne and Amaretto self explanatory but just in case here's a link! 

Cherry Whisky Smash Cocktails This looks awesome!

Amaretto Sour And yes the best ones do have egg white in them! 

Disaronno Mule Ginger beer fans get on to this!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Baby Book Round-up

Reading Teddy a bedtime story is one of my favourite things to do. He might not have a scooby what's going on but he seems to enjoy it too! Everyone knows the benefits of reading to a child from a very early age, so I won't bore you with that here. Instead I thought I would share some of our favourite books in case you are on the lookout for something special to read with your little one or to buy as a gift. This post started out as just writing about one type of book but as I was taking some pictures of Teddy's collection I realised they are all too good to not spread the love. 

A Bit Lost & What Would George Do? by Chris Haughton  Available from Amazon here we received one of these quirky books as a gift and purchased the second this weekend when Chris stumbled across it in Newcastle. The titles are pretty self explanatory and the stories are short so these books are ideal for reading to newborns if you just want a quick fix. The illustrations are beautiful and pretty funny too. Definitely up their with our favourites. 

Forever, When and Me by Emma Dodd These books may make you cry! Especially Forever, which again we were lucky enough to be given when Teddy was born. Heartwarming is an understatement, these books are all about the bonds between baby animals and parents, and I guarantee they will even get to the Dads! The pictures are gorgeous and Teddy always seems transfixed when we read one of these to him. Never a bad thing in the run up to bedtime!

The Little Boy who lost his Name by lostmy.name I love the story behind these personalised books, that being a group of friends who put their clever heads together and set up a website selling individual stories about a little boy or girl who wakes up one day to realise that they have lost their name. Obviously such a dilema calls for an adventure! I won't say much more as the unknown content of each book is what makes them so very special, but I treasure this book and will do for years to come. 

Goldilocks and Just the One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson  and Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam by Tracey Corderoy  For something a bit different then these books are fab, they are funny and the stories will genuinely make you smile. Colourful and bold, I can see Teddy loving these even more once he is a bit older (and doesn't try to turn over each page when I am only two lines in... Mr Eager!). I'll just say that there are some twists on classic stories which you may or may not see coming! 

We also love the classics. You can't go wrong with a bag of PaddingtonEach Peach Pear Plum and The Jolly Postman are also in our ever expanding collection, and this Winnie the Pooh collection is a keeper! Definitely one to think about if you want to spoil a future book worm. 

So there you go, hopefully you might try and get hold of some of the above next time you get a visit from the book club or pop to the library. Please share any recommendations below, and don't forget not long left to finish this month's Book Club book... I'll be posting about it next week! 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Monthly Milestones... 7 - 8 Months

Time with Teddy is flying by, and he seems to be doing new things all the time. So I thought it would be nice to keep a record of his development to look back on, not least because I am dreadful at keeping his baby books up to date, plus hopefully it will be useful for any future or current mums reading! 

Teddy's 8th month saw many firsts. First go on the swings, first taste of meat and fish (and coco pops!) and first attempts at crawling. I love this age so much, I think that from six months onwards Teddy has been showing his personality more and more and this month in particular he has been demonstrating his likes and dislikes and has been constantly making us laugh with his faces. 

Food wise, weaning is going well and we have found that, touch wood, Teddy likes pretty much anything we give him. The exception to this is that whenever he cuts a new tooth (he has six now) he goes off his food for around 24 hours. I have learnt not to worry too much about this as he seems to make up for it the following few days.  Oh and he hates cucumber! We are doing a mixture of spoon feeding and baby led weaning but much more of the former. I never prescribed to the theory that you have to pick one or the other and so far the combination is working well for us. Currently Teddy is still having three bottles a day, plus weetabix or porridge for breakfast, mashed up fruit followed by some form of carbs like toast, potato cakes or crumpets for lunch, and then meat/fish/veg combos at tea plus a fruit pot or yoghurt. FYI banana and custard fruit pots are pretty tasty. 

As well as exploring new tastes and textures with food, this past month Teddy has become much more mobile. We exchanged the much loved jumparoo (thanks for the loan Sister in Law!) for a walker with wheels which Teddy whizzes along our wooden floors on and which I would highly recommend for when little ones starts to get frustrated with their inability to move independantly. Crawling looks very close, at the moment Teddy seems to get up onto two arms and one leg then gets stuck, so he rocks back and forth then places his head on the floor in desperation or exhaustion. All of this is pretty hilarious to watch. Hopefully there will be progress to report in a month's time!

Teddy has in the past couple of weeks dropped a nap most days, meaning he has two naps of 1 to 1.5 hours a day, as opposed to the 3 or even 4 catnaps of 45 minutes he used to favour. Whilst it makes me slightly sad that this means he is asleep on me less it does mean that I can get more done whilst he is sleeping. And by this I mean cooking food for him, washing bottles etc and definitely not watching 3 episodes of Revenge. Naps are now almost always in Teddy's cot or in his pram if he falls asleep whilst we are out and about. He tends to sleep for longer when in his pram, not suprising given how warm and cosy his cold weather foot muff looks.  Night time wise I have noticed that bed time is getting slightly earlier which means his wake ups are too! Whilst I did love the 8.30am starts this is no bad thing as in a couple of months Teddy will be starting nursery so we will all have to be up and out the house well before then. Bed time is between 8 and 8.30 which still gives Chris a decent amount of time with Teddy once he is home from work. Again I know this will have to be brought forward by the time I return to work but for now it works!

In between all this eating and swing going we also went to a couple of baby play centres, had a trip to Slattery's and and have continued with the baby sensory classes which are the best thing since sliced bread, and which I will write more about soon.  All in all it has been a great month and it even saw the first outing of the bow tie. Exciting times! 

Until next month! x

Friday, 6 March 2015

Haul Ass To... Cox & Cox

I discovered Cox & Cox last year when I was looking for some photo frames. I found these copper hanging frames  which I loved, and which now hang on our living room wall. I kind of wish that I had refrained from looking at anything else on the website as I love so much of it! I have kept the purse strings tight though and haven't ordered anything else... but you should!  Not least because if you enter the code MVC18 you will receive 18% off your order. Warning though the code expires tomorrow!

Here are my top picks, full prices below and 18% discount price in brackets:

Angel Wings £35 (£28.70)                 

Gold Cutlery Set £75 (£61.50)

Gold Candle  £17.50 (£14.35)

Floral Vintage Suitcase £30 (£24.60)

Wooden Birds £20 (£16.40)

Copper Bud Vases £40 (£32.80)

Display Domes From £35 (£28.70)

Glass Memories Box £20 (£16.40)

Frame wise, there are a number of variations to the ones we have below. We went for black and white photos of Teddy which works well with the copper and the lilac ribbbon. 

Anything take your fancy? It's not the cheapest place to buy home products but I think for something special or unique it's worth splashing out on occasionally. If I ever have a daughter I am totally getting the angel wings for her room! They have some cute Easter gifts in at the moment too so go and have a mooch. 

Happy shopping! x

Monday, 2 March 2015

City Break Chat

I have this thing in my head about going on a city break before Teddy is walking. I'm not really sure why, having no experience of taking a child on holiday but I figured that once he is on his feet it will be more difficult to just pop him in his pram and spend the day exploring a new city (the bars in particular!). Also, pretty soon he'll be old enough to make the holiday all about him so in a selfish way I think it would be good to get in a trip to a destination Chris and I would also have picked when we were sans child, rather than focusing on places with family pools and children's entertainment for example. 

Now there is a good chance such a trip is only a pipe dream as maternity pay doesn't exactly lend itself to holiday booking, but if we find a deal within our budget then these destinations are currently top of my wish list. 

                                                                                                     Image courtesy of Nelson Carvalheiro

Lisbon - I have been banging on about Lisbon for a while now and I'll admit it is because on a skyscanner check to 'any destination' it came up as one of the cheapest options. I then did some research and it sounds like a great choice, with a centre close to the airport, a wide variety of accommodation options and a largely flat terrain handy for a pram. It sounds like there is a good balance of cultural attractions and vibrant social scene, and that the centre is small enough for a 3 day stay. It looks beautiful and has that mix of old town hustle & bustle and the beach on your doorstep which would be ideal. 

                                                                                                    Image courtesy of Trip Advisor

Seville - This has been on my travel wish list for ages, not least because a good friend of mine spent a year studying there and told many stories of how beautiful it is and how friendly the locals are. I get the impression it is not as 'touristy' as Barcelona or Madrid (the latter I would love to visit though) and that you go for the food, drink and ambience rather than famous sights, although it does have its fair share of those. I think this would be a great place to relax in during the day and get glammed up for at night whilst sipping on some cocktails. A historical city with a strong connection to flamenco, I would love to visit here for some sunshine and authenticity. 

                                                                           Image courtesy of Huffington Post

Dubrovnik - I have heard so many good things about Croatia, especially the island of Hvar. I would still choose to visit Dubrovnik if given the chance however, as the Old Town looks stunning and full of character. I love that the city sits on the coast so you can visit the beach one day, and walk around the historical ruins in the centre the next. My only hesitation with this destination would be the amount of steps, and hills I believe, which might be difficult to navigate with a pram. Maybe we should wait until Teddy is walking for this one then we can tire him out during the day :-) I've heard the Croation beer is noteworthy too!

Have you been to any of these three? Any tips on travelling with a baby of around 9/10 months (that's the age Teddy will be if we go away at Easter)? Stories of pram pushing under the influence are particularly welcome ;-)