2013 books and films

My favourite books read (for the first time) in 2013 were:
  • The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald
  • A Song of Ice and Fire series - George R.R. Martin
  • Capital - John Lanchester
  • The Elephant Whisperer - Anthony Lawrence
  • Lace - Shirley Conran
  • The Perfect Present - Karen Swan 

Which books did you enjoy reading this year? x

Books read in 2013:
  1. The Killing - David Hewson [B]
  2. The Missing Man - Andrew White [B]
  3. Meet Me Under the Mistletoe - Abby Clements [B] 
  4. The Perfect Present - Karen Swan [B] 
  5. Beautiful Creatures - Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl [B]
  6. The Secret Supper Club - Dana Bate [B] 
  7. The Dead Room - Robert Ellis [B] 
  8. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl - Harriet Jacobs [B] 
  9. Audrey Hepburn: Fair Lady of the Screen - Ian Woodward [B] 
  10. Selected Tales - The Grimm Brothers [B]
  11. The Clearing - Shalini Boland [B]
  12. The 39 Steps - John Buchan [B]
  13. Torn - Cat Clarke [B]
  14. Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor [B] 
  15. You Had me at Hello - Mhairi McFarlane [B]
  16. The Pollyanna Plan - Talli Roland [B] 
  17. Days of Grace - Catherine Hall [B] 
  18. What Have I Done? - Amanda Prowse [B]
  19. The Escape Artist - Diane Chamberlin [B]
  20. Pandemonium - Lauren Oliver [B] 
  21. Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld [B] 
  22. Ice Diaries - Lexi Revellian [B]
  23. A Possible Life - Sebastian Faulks [B] 
  24. Prima Donna - Karen Swan [B]
  25. Breaking the Silence - Diane Chamberlain [B]
  26. Christmas at Tiffany's - Karen Swan [B]
  27. Mortal Chaos: Deep Oblivion - Matt Dickinson [B]
  28. Missing You - Louise Douglas [B]
  29. Don't Tell the Groom - Anna Bell [B]
  30. Legend - Marie Lu [B]
  31. Prodigy - Marie Lu [B]
  32. Human Remains - Elizabeth Haynes [B]
  33. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn [B]
  34. Lace - Shirley Conran [B] 
  35. The Bay at Midnight - Diane Chamberlain [B] 
  36. Finding Emma - Steena Holmes [B] 
  37. The Perfect Retreat - Kate Forster [B]
  38. The Armada Legacy - Soctt Mariani [B] 
  39. A Day at the Office - Matt Dunn [B] 
  40. The Family Trap - Joanne Phillips [B]
  41. Life... With No Breaks - Nick Spalding [B]
  42. The Edge of Never - J.A. Redmerski [B]
  43. Deadlocked - Charlaine Harris [B]
  44. Leftovers - Stella Newman [B] 
  45. Cupidity - Holly Hepburn [B]
  46. The French House - Nick Alexander [B] 
  47. Little Men - Louisa May Alcott [B]
  48. The Case of the Missing Boyfriend - Nick Alexander [B]
  49. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald [R]
  50. Jump Start 2013 - Penny Golightly [B]
  51. The Perfect Location - Kate Forster [B]
  52. Before the Rose Petal Beach - Dorothy Koomson [B]
  53. No-one Ever Has Sex on a Tuesday - Tracy Bloom [B] 
  54. The Forbidden Queen - Anne O'Brien [B]
  55. Dinner with a Vampire - Abigail Gibbs [B]
  56. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson [B] 
  57. Revenge Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger [B]
  58. The Elephant Whisperer - Lawrence Anthony [B]
  59. Changeling - Philippa Gregory [B]
  60. Jamrach's Menagerie - Carol Birch [B] 
  61. The Hanging Shed - Gordon Ferris [B]
  62. Bitter Water - Gordon Ferris [B]
  63. Business Reimagined - Dave Coplin [B] 
  64. While the Savage Sleeps - Andrew E Kaufman [B]
  65. Working it Out - Nicola May [B]
  66. The Bow Wow Club - Nicola May [B]
  67. Virago is 40: A Celebration - Various [B]
  68. Summer Loving - Nicola Yeager [B]
  69. My Soul to Take - Rachel Vincent [B]
  70. Stormbringer - Philippa Gregory [B]
  71. I've Got Your Number - Sophie Kinsella [B]
  72. Gray Justice - Alan McDermott [B]
  73. Underworld - Meg Cabot [B] 
  74. The Magpies - Mark Edwards [B] 
  75. Forbidden Pleasure - Lora Leigh [B]
  76. The Cornerstone - Nick Spalding [B]
  77. The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst [B]
  78. Nameless - Joe Conlan [B] 
  79. Capital - Jon Lanchester [B] 
  80. The Sea Sisters - Lucy Clarke [B] 
  81. Gray Resurrection - Alan McDermott [B]
  82. Breathless - Louise Marley [B]
  83. World War Z - Max Brookes [B]
  84. Cupcakes at Carrington's - Alexandra Brown [B]
  85. The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells [B]
  86. The Descendants - Kaui Hart Hemmings [R]
  87. Kismetology - Jaimie Admans [B]
  88. April Showers - Karli Perrin [B]
  89. Diary of a Mummy Misfit - Amanda Egan [B]
  90. The School Gates - Nicola May [B]
  91. Sealed with a Kiss - Rachael Lucas [B]
  92. Charlotte Street - Danny Wallace [B]
  93. Sunlounger - Belinda Jones [B]
  94. A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin [B]
  95. A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin [B]
  96. A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow - George R.R. Martin [B] 
  97. One Step Too Far - Tina Seskis [B]
  98. The Arcade: Episode 1, January, The Vintage Boutique - Kitty Charles [B] 
  99. A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold - George R.R. Martin [B] 
  100. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling [R]
  101. Kiss Me First - Lottie Moggach [B] 
  102. The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes [B] 
  103. Necessary Lies - Diane Chamberlain [B] 
  104. The Sweetness of Forgetting - Kristin Harmel [B] 
  105. The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard - Robert Bryndza [B] 
  106. The Jackie Chan Fan Club - Sharon Sant [B]
  107. The Most Beautiful Thing - Satya Robyn [B]
  108. A Golden Age - Tahmina Anam [B]
  109. Soul Protector - Amanda Leigh Cowley [B] 
  110. The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald [B] 
  111. The Bourne Supremacy - Robert Ludlum [B]
  112. Wonder Women - Rosie Fiore [B] 
  113. About Last Night - Adele Parks [B]
  114. The Sign of Four - Arthur Conan Doyle [B] 
  115. Bleeker Hill - Russell Mardell [B]
  116. The Runaway Princess - Hester Browne [B]
  117. The Radleys - Matt Haig [B] 
  118. In Too Deep - Bea Davenport [B]
  119. The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon [B] 
  120. The Last Letter from your Lover - Jojo Moyes [B] 
  121. Coco Pinchard's Big Fat Tipsy Wedding - Robert Bryndza [B]
  122. One Summer: America, 1927 - Bill Bryson [B]
  123. Single Woman Seeks Revenge - Tracy Bloom [B] 
  124. An Unlikely Safari Guide - Ella Craine [B] 
  125. A Feast For Crows - George R.R. Martin [B]
  126. A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin [B] 
  127. Don't Tell Penny - Anna Bell [B]
  128. The Best of Everything - Rona Jaffe [B]
  129. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell [B] 
  130. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins [R] 
  131. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins [R] 
  132. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins [R] 
  133. Outside - Shalini Boland [R] 
  134. The Clearing - Shalini Boland [R] 
  135. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling [R] 
  136. The Perimeter - Shalini Boland [B] 
  137. The Giver - Lois Lowry [R]
  138. A Cupid Kind of Day - Lindy Dale [B]
  139. Christmas Deliverance - Amanda Egan [B] 
  140. The Flavours of Love - Dorothy Koomson [B]
  141. The P45 Diaries - Ben Hatch [B] 
  142. The Storyteller - Jodi Picoult [B] 
  143. Wicked Wives - Anna-Lou Weatherley [B] 
  144. Inferno - Dan Brown [B]
  145. David Jason: My Life - David Jason [B] 
  146. Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn [B] 
  147. Requiem - Lauren Oliver [B] 
  148. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding [R] 
Cinema trips in 2013:
  1. Les Misérables - Seen on 19/01 - Was never a fan when I saw it on the West End. The story is just too long! 6/10
  2. Warm Bodies - Seen on 20/02 - Humorous with warmth. 8/10 
  3. Cloud Atlas - Seen on 21/04 - Complex stories that weave in out and throughout time but worth persevering with! 7/10 
  4. Iron Man 3 - Seen on 04/05 - Love the tech, but the action was too OTT! 6/10 
  5. The Great Gatsby - Seen on 25/05 - Gorgeous cinematography, scenery and costumes. 7/10
  6. Rush - Seen on 12/10 - Thrilling insight into the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. 8/10 
  7. Catching Fire - Seen on 26/11 - Better than expected! 8/10

Irish cuisine

There are two places in Dublin that Olly and I ate at that deserve a massive shout-out for their deliciousness - both places we ate at on his birthday. (Lucky thing!)

For Olly's birthday lunch we headed to Pitt Bros, which has the most amazing BBQ food. I went for the pulled pork bun which was utterly juicy and divine, and Olly had the Pitt Masters combo which has pulled pork and brisket in it. Now, I'm not a fan of beef, but I had a taste of his brisket and Irish beef is something else. Seriously yummy!

Pitt Bros is definitely better than a lot of the BBQ places we've eaten at in London - can they open a branch over here please?

For dinner we went to the Michelin-starred restaurant l'Ecrivain - a totally different vibe and feel to our lunch! If you're ever in Dublin on a Monday and want to sample some Michelin-starred food, l'Ecrivan is actually the only Michelin-starred restaurant open on a Monday. 

We went for the six course tasting menu, which for €65 is brilliant value, although I wouldn't classify the amuse-bouche, palate cleansers and tea/coffee/petit fours as a course in their own right, which is rather sneaky for them to do that!

My starter was the 43ºC organic salmon with oxtail consommé, watercress and lemon aioli, herb spätzle and girolles. I have never had herb spätzle before but it was delicious - it's like a a green meaty vegetable. Olly had the pheasant and ham hock terrine with Jerusalem artichoke purée, raisins, parsley emulsion and walnuts.

For our main we both opted for the rare breed pork belly with confit, mustard gnocchi, turnip, sauerkraut and apple and mustard gel - heavenly - and I had the chocolate, orange and almond warm brownie with white chocolate parfait, orange and almond tuile and burnt orange jus for dessert. Neither of us can remember what Olly's dessert was but he did like it! Mine was a little rich but still very tasty.

Despite the slight sneakiness of "six courses", we had a beautiful meal at L'Ecrivain to celebrate Olly's 30th birthday and enjoyed a bottle of 2012 Walnut Block Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with our meal - that is a gorgeous wine. 

I'd definitely recommend you pay them a visit if you're ever in Dublin but after two trips to Ireland in the space of three weeks for me, I think it will be a good few months before I return again. I definitely will though as there's still lots to do, see and, of course, eat delicious food in Ireland. x

Ireland: Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Gaol

Like the Guinness Storehouse, I also ended up at Dublin Castle twice last month (and it's a place I've been to the first time I went to Dublin).

Luckily, the second time I went last month they had put up all the Christmas decorations and opened a few new rooms up which meant that I got to see something new at least!

Dublin Castle costs 4.50 to get in and you can either go round it on your own or take a guided tour (it's the same price either way). Just to note, if you do go round it on your own, you won't get to see the Medieval undercroft.

Like Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol is also full of history - it's a very sobering and worthwhile place to visit. If you do go, wrap up warm as it's very cold there. The cells were severely overcrowded and conditions unimaginable but a lot of people would still commit a crime to get sent there. This is because most prisoners would get more food inside the gaol than outside.

Kilmainham Gaol is also where a lot of prisoners were put who fought for Irish independence and the guided tour you have to take to see the gaol - the tour costs €6.00 - tells you all about that. It's definitely worth going there to hear about the gaol's rich history and the important part it played in Irish history.

(The Kilmainham Gaol photos aren't as great as I had to take them on my phone.)

L'atelier des Chefs review, London

Last Christmas Olly and I got cooking lessons for L'atelier des Chefs from his sister and her fiancé... which we completely forget about. We ended up having our lessons the day before our gift card expired, as you do!

Because of this rather last minute booking of our class, we only had a few classes to choose from. We picked the Moroccan 90 minute class. As Moroccan is not a type of food we cook often, this seemed the perfect choice. If you book far enough in advance though, there are lots of other classes available - from Japanese to French, mastering macaroons to perfecting bread rolls.

Our class ended up been a class of six people (three couples). I wasn't sure what to expect from the class, though I did think that we would have our own set of ingredients to work with to prepare our own food. This wasn't the case and instead we prepped it all as a group.

This was a bit unfortunate for Olly as he had cucumber in front of him and he ended up spending all of his time peeling and finely slicing enough cucumber for six people. He did however, and so did I, pick up a few new tips from the chef's demo before we started prepping, so that was good!

Once we had prepped our ingredient(s), it was on to learning how to make a flat bread. I am a big fan of making bread so I was very pleased with this part, and I've made this flat bread since our lesson. (You get sent the recipes afterwards.)

Once that was done it was on to the cooking part. We all got a turn to do little bits and pieces, before we sat down to taste our efforts. I was a big fan of the lamb kofte with tomato and red onion salsa that we made and the wraps were nice enough. As I don't like salad though, the Moroccan chickpea salad really was not for me!

We had an enjoyable time cooking some new dishes and picked up a few tips and tricks. Unless someone bought me this as a gift again or there was a significantly more advanced and hands-on class, I don't think I'd give it another go.

But, if you are not very confident in the kitchen or just want a fun few hours out, definitely give them a go. I was very impressed with the kitchens we cooked in and our teacher was super friendly and happy to answer any of our questions.

What's your favourite type of food? x

Ireland: Guinness Storehouse

Last month I ended up at the Guinness Storehouse twice - the first time on Olly's 30th birthday, and the second time a few weeks later on his sister's hen do. It's safe to say that I am all Guinnessed out for the year!

The Guinness Storehouse is one of the most popular tourist attractions there is in Dublin and if you are a fan of the black stuff (though it's actually a dark ruby red in colour), then you will probably love this place! I'm not a fan of the drink but I still had an enjoyable visit (the first time; I had serious déjà vu the second time as you can imagine), although some people do dismiss the Storehouse as one giant advertisement for Guinness... surely people should realise that's the underlying point of it?

That aside, the Guinness Storehouse is set in a giant pint glass, about a fifteen to twenty minute walk from central Dublin, or it's one of the stops on the bus tour. The inside and history and production of Guinness is still pretty impressive, regardless of whether you think it's a tourist trap or not.

There are various levels to it - some of the information and displays are definitely more interesting than others - and you get shown how to properly taste a Guinness, as well as having a pint to enjoy. You have the choice of being taught how to pull the perfect pint, or you can have your pint on the top floor and enjoy a 360° view of Dublin.

Personally I'd go and enjoy the view! If you're not a fan of the stuff, you could always be generous and let someone else have your pint, or you can always get half a pint of Guinness and half a pint of a soft drink with your voucher.

You should definitely have a try though as it's the freshest Guinness you'll ever taste; it tasted a lot nicer than the sips I've had before. (Although that doesn't mean I am in anyway converted and will be drinking Guinness from now on, let me just set the record straight here!)

The Guinness Storehouse costs €16.50 to get in at the door; if you book online you can save yourself 10% (and jump the queues - it was quiet on a Monday afternoon and quiet first thing on a Saturday morning, but when we came out Saturday afternoon there was a big queue outside).

If you take the time and look at everything properly, you should hopefully enjoy yourself. At the very least, you'll find out a lot about Arthur Guinness who did a lot for the city of Dublin.You can also take a few silly photos as well!

Are you a Guinness drinker? x

Musical review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Last week we headed to Drury Lane to go and see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is obviously the musical based on the absolutely amazing book by Roald Dahl. As this happens to be one of my favourite Roald Dahl books (though I love them all, obviously), I sat down to watch with a very close eye. Well, it had to do the fizzcrackling Roald Dahl justice, of course!

First things first, the set is amazing. Seriously, it is amazing. Some serious moolah has gone into its design and it shows. It's all cleverly done and the scenes that look so scrumdiddlyumptious in the two film versions are just as impressive on the stage. My favourite bit had to be when Charlie and his family are learning who the winners of the golden tickets are on their battered old TV - pure genius!

All the children are brilliant in this, but the ones we saw who played Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt had it spot on. Douglas Hodge as Wonka was perfect and if you sit in the front row like we did, you might just get a surprise wink from him at the start of the second act! The Oompa-Loompas made me smile too.

The plot stays true to the book (unlike the Tim Burton version which sees Wonka having "Daddy issues") but the songs the Oompa-Loompas sing are new and not the ones Roald Dahl penned. (Minus points as I can't sing along, but plus points for original and awesome songs.)

All-in-all, this is a swishwifflingly fabulous West End musical, and you won't be disappointed if you go and see it. It's not my favourite one ever, but it would definitely make my top ten. x

Christmas presents

When I was a child, my Christmas (and birthday) lists always had several books on it. (Understatement.) Now I'm an adult (and an author), books are my favourite presents to give.

Both my nephews and niece will be receiving a glorious book for Christmas - my niece is getting this beautiful Pippi Longstocking book - but I won't tell you which adults are getting a book from me in case they are reading this!

Have you bought a book as a Christmas present this year? x

PS: If you fancy buying someone a copy of Kept or Geli Voyante's Hot or Not this Christmas, I'm sure they'd love that gift!

Life of Late - December 2013

I have no idea where the time is going - it's going to be Christmas Day before we know it, but before then I still have lots of Irish adventures to share, plus a few London ones... Not to mention my round-up of 2013, and whatever comes up in the next nine days!

Over the past few weeks, food and Christmas have featured heavily for me - from wearing a Christmas jumper to Street Feast's Hawker House and putting our real Christmas tree up, to having Moroccan cooking lessons and baking awesome cupcakes.

Even the musical I saw last week had a food-theme. That's because I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I'll be sure to review soon. (It was awesome.) Are you all set for Christmas? x


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