Friday, 22 September 2023

5 recent reads | September 2023

I've had a fairly decent reading month so far in September, and I'm just about on track to read 100 books this year! Here are my 6 recent reads with quickfire, spoiler-free book reviews in case you're looking for some good ones. All of these were NetGalley ARCs, so if they're not available to buy yet they'll be coming out soon...

Suddenly, A Murder by Lauren Muñoz

I LOVE a YA thriller and this didn't disappoint - it centres around Izzy, who is a working class girl in a school full of rich kids where her mum teaches. She heads off to a stunning island with a manor in the middle of it, straight from a 1920s movie, with her friends to celebrate their graduation ...and typically, one of them ends up dead. Stranded on the island in a storm with a dead body and a pair of police officers, Izzy tries to uncover the truth about what happened and why. I thought there was maybe one too many characters in the friendship group, to the point where at times I was a bit confused about who was who, but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed this and did not see the twist coming at all. Be warned, it's fairly dark...

Mayhem in Circulation by Leak Dobrinska

If you like cosy crime, you'll love this - it's the second in a series, which I didn't realise, but that didn't matter too much. It follows a librarian who has a bit of an interest in detective work (and in a particular detective...) as a spate of crimes takes place in her local area. This is a really lovely small town mystery, not too dark or scary but with a decent enough twist. There are some great characters in this one!

Small Secrets by Lucy Goacher

If you're a podcast kinda person, like me, then this will be an interesting one for you - it follows Nate and Stevie, two best friends with their own true crime podcast. They started off focusing on a case local to them, and years on they've done nearly 200 episodes. After a brief hiatus, they notice a case that very closely resembles the first one they ever covered; this snowballs into a new season of the podcast, with some very dangerous consequences for the pair. I somewhat guessed the twist, and I didn't love the way the podcasts themselves were written, but otherwise this is a great thriller.

The Soulmate by Iain Maitland

This seemed right up my street in terms of being a classic of the thriller genre; it follows a woman who has lived an incredibly miserable life, as she falls in love with her new soulmate - a woman (Pippa) from her bookclub. She becomes obsessed, and the story documents her attempts to become close to Pippa. I found the narrator to be incredibly unlikeable, which was probably the point but she just made me feel sick, and the storyline was quite farfetched. The writing style wasn't great either so as you can probably imagine, this isn't one I'd personally recommend.

Roommates by Ola Tundun

If you're looking for a contemporary romance set in the UK, you could do far worse than this one; it follows well-off corporate girly Ariella, engaged to the love of her life and living the dream - or so it seems. Then she does a 180 and moves in with self-confessed player Caleb, and it throws everything up in the air. If you're into authors like Beth O'Leary and Emily Henry you'll definitely enjoy this fun friends-to-lovers slow burn!

I head off to Copenhagen in the next couple of days, so there'll be plenty of reading time in the airport and on the plane etc - I went very hard on Stuff Your Kindle Day, so expect plenty more book reviews coming your way soon...

Monday, 11 September 2023

6 recent reads | August 2023

Since getting a Kindle for my birthday, I've been reading even more than normal - and the Kindle hasn't stopped me buying physical books! If you're interested in book hauls, I share them on Instagram and TikTok when I get new ones. Anyway, it's time to share my 6 most recent reads with you; they aren't necessarily new releases, but they're my recent reads with quickfire, spoiler-free reviews.

The Lido by Libby Page

I recently got SO lucky in my local charity shop and picked up six books, many of which were already on my TBR - at 50p each I was over the moon. One of these books was The Lido by Libby Page, which is an achingly beautiful look at Brixton and the changing of local communities over time as well as multi-generational friendships and the power of peoples' voices. I just loved the way it shone a light on so many people, all of the individuals who make up the fabric of a community in a way that is so realistic. And the storyline, about two very different women coming together to save their local lido, was just gorgeous. I highly, highly recommend this book and I know there is a sequel coming very soon...

Hook, Line and Sinker by Tessa Bailey

2023 has been the year I've *really* got into romance novels, and this is my second Tessa Bailey book; it's the sequel to It Happened One Summer, which I adored, and I really liked this one too. It follows Hannah, who works in film and loves all things music, as she returns to the small seaside town she was born in - for work, but also for the hot fisherman she met last time she was there. The sexual tension between them is evident from the get go, and there's a lot of will-they won't-they... it was formulaic in the way that friends to lovers romance novels usually are, but in a good way. I love the characters in these books and this was a definite reading highlight for me!

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

I've had this on my shelf for ages and I've been putting off reading it because it's so hyped, I wasn't sure if it would live up to my expectations. I did enjoy the book and the storyline, but I found it a bit too cutesy for my tastes. Small town romances are something I'm a big fan of, but I felt that I didn't really get to know the town that much which was a shame! It's definitely one for you if you're looking for a fun and lighthearted romance, maybe as a holiday read. I'm intrigued to see how I get on with some other Emily Henry books though...

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder series by Holly Jackson

In the aforementioned lucky charity shop haul, I managed to pick up books 1 and 2 in the AGGGTM series - book three was there, but for reasons unbeknownst even to me, I didn't buy it. It took me a few tries to get into the first book, but once I was on board with the writing style (it flits between third-person narration and first-person notes as well as visual elements) I found myself invested. The first book of the series follows Pip, who is doing her EPQ at college and wants to look into the disappearance and murder of fellow student Andie Bell, allegedly killed by her boyfriend (Sal) who then went on to kill himself.

Pip gets to the bottom of what happened on that fateful night, and finds herself falling for Sal's brother Ravi along the way. She also decides to turn her EPQ research into a podcast; the whole thing has some pretty bad consequences for Pip, and she calls it a day after just one season of the podcast. But of course, there are 2 more books and 2 more reasons for Pip to keep going with her investigative work and podcast. As the series develops, it only gets darker and more sinister; there are some scenes that really made my heart race. I really enjoyed the way it was written, in terms of the characters and plot but also the addition of scanned documents, interview transcripts and so on - it's really well put together.

If you're a fan of YA thrillers then this is 100% up your street and I can see why it's so popular; I ended up finishing all 3 books (I bought the last instalment on my Kindle!) in about 4 days. Definitely got me out of the mini reading slump I've been in. Even if YA isn't usually your bag, I'd say give it a go anyway!

What have you been reading lately? Feel free to let me know in the comments or send any recommendations my way...

Friday, 8 September 2023

Our heatwave garden accessories (2023)

My fiancée and I have (slowly) been doing up our lovely little garden over the year, and I thought I'd share my favourite new pieces with you as summer seems to be sticking around a little bit...

Metal plaque decorations

We already have a couple of these up in the garden but I was dying to add some more and make it a whole feature corner - but everywhere I looked they were so expensive or just didn't look that great. When that TEMU app launched and the free credit for signing up was doing the round (I ended up with over £100 credit in the end) I happened to spy some of these on there. Of course I was unsure what the quality would be like, but they're actually spot on. They're slightly smaller than the two we already had up, but they look and feel great and make the perfect addition to our little garden. We attached them with screws in the top holes and 'no more nails' along the bottom because we didn't have enough screws and they've held up great.

The Jack Daniels and Budweiser plaques we already owned; the rest are from TEMU

Robert Dyas Table & Chairs

Originally we were looking for a table with 6 chairs and a parasol, then we realised we definitely didn't need 6 chairs and when I found this set including a table, 4 chairs and a parasol for £125 with free delivery it was too good of a deal to pass up. They were delivered quickly and the table was easy to put together - it did unfortunately have a couple of scuffs on it, but nothing majorly noticeable. It's the perfect size for our decking, alongside the egg chair (see below) and the chairs themselves are pretty comfy. I'm on the hunt for the perfect cushions to go with them now!

Ella James Sorrento Egg Chair*

I have wanted a hanging egg chair for SO long, and when Ella James offered to send me one to complete our garden I was simply over the moon. It arrived on a palette which I had to break apart to then get the pieces of the chair out and into the garden - then began the task of putting it together! The three pieces are the base, arm, and chair itself. The base has little plastic clips to attach which help keep the chair from sliding around, and the arm slotted into it easily with some bolts. The seat itself then hangs from a metal chain and you screw through the top to attach them together. Our screw was the wrong size so it wouldn't go in at all - luckily my dad came to the rescue and sorted it out, it's not perfect but it's definitely attached!

The chair is so comfortable with thick cushions, and it feels SO sturdy. I've already spent hours upon hours just sitting in it with a book - before work, after work, at the weekend. It has genuinely made my entire year and I can't recommend it more; this is the Grey Indoor Outdoor Sorrento Egg Chair and it's my favourite thing ever.

Garden Rug

This grey and white patterned outdoor rug is waterproof and I think it looks great under our table and chairs - in my opinion, it really helps the space come together and provides a finishing touch. I do find it rolls up at the corners when it's windy, but it's not a big deal! It feels really good quality, and it's only from Home Bargains. I think it was around the £10 mark, and they still had them in store last time I was there.

Next year I plan to add some colourful cushions, and repaint some of the areas that need some love and attention. But summer is technically coming to an end & spooky season is around the corner, so that's it for now!

Tuesday, 5 September 2023

The cheapest Christmas market breaks from Liverpool in 2023

Liverpool is my closest airport, and as such I'm always looking for cheap flights and city breaks from here. Below you'll find a range of affordable Christmas market breaks from Liverpool in winter 2023 - there are some great locations in here! 

All of these deals are ones I've found on LoveHolidays; this isn't an ad, but I have used them a fair few times to book trips and I find them to be affordable with good customer service. The prices you'll see in this post include flights AND hotel, but no luggage or transfers. You can pop these dates into Skyscanner and if you want to book it yourself instead or see alternative accommodation options.

Budapest, 23rd-26th November

A three night break in Budapest during the Christmas market season costs as little as £180pp - this is to stay on the 3-star City Hotel Ring, which is pretty cool also, but you can bag the Royal Park Boutique Hotel for just £203pp across the same dates. Budapest's markets are likely starting on the 18th November, but the 23rd looks to be the cheapest date to fly out of Liverpool. I haven't been to Budapest yet but it's SO high on my list!

🇭🇺 Book this trip 🇭🇺

Krakow, 24th-27th November

This trip falls on the first day of Krakow's Christmas market, which lasts til Boxing Day. It's located in the city's main square, and you can book a three night trip from Liverpool to Krakow in November for just £172pp at the Abella Suites and Apartments. Or for only £209 per person you can stay at the Hilton! It's a gorgeous city and made even more magical at Christmas time, so I'd definitely recommend a visit.

🇵🇱 Book this trip 🇵🇱

Warsaw, 25th-28th November

I love Poland and they do Christmas really well, so is it any surprise there's already two Polish cities on this list? Warsaw is the capital, and it's such a brilliant city; the market is due to start on the 24th, so landing on the 25th is perfect timing. For 3 nights at the Plaza hotel you'll pay just £177pp - one of the most affordable 2023 Christmas market breaks from Liverpool.

🇵🇱 Book this trip 🇵🇱

Rome, 6th-9th December

Typically, Rome is quite an expensive city - but like many Catholic hotspots, it does Christmas nicely. You can stay about an hour out of the city centre across these dates for just £156pp - meaning you can pop into the city each day using their brilliant public transport network. Alongside the Christmas market itself, Vatican City has a lot going on in December so that's well worth a visit. An affordable trip to Rome from Liverpool at Christmas? Check!

🇮🇹 Book this trip 🇮🇹

Apeldoorn, 6th-9th December

This might be somewhere you've not heard of before, but this little city in Holland has something called the Spirit of Winter in the grounds of the palace each Christmas season. It looks like a great example of a Christmas market in Europe and it's one you can access via Liverpool (you'll fly into Schiphol Airport) - you can currently book a 4* hotel in Apeldoorn for just £158pp for these 3 nights. Bargain! It looks like a really sweet place, and it's always fun to go somewhere a little off the beaten track.

🇳🇱 Book this trip 🇳🇱

Valencia, 17th-20th December

By this point you'll probably be feeling *really* festive, so what better time to pack a carry on bag and head off for a budget Christmas market city break from Liverpool? You can spend 3 nights at Hotel Villacarlos over these dates for just £130pp - the cheapest Christmas market holiday on this list. There are actually 7 Christmas markets in Valencia, so it's definitely one to consider.

🇪🇸 Book this trip 🇪🇸

If any of these Christmas market holidays from Liverpool catch your eye, I hope you have a fab time! 3 days is a decent enough amount of time to explore a city without having to use too much annual leave... Be sure to also keep an eye on sites like Wowcher/Groupon to see if they have any Christmas market city break deals, but always read the small print.

Wednesday, 30 August 2023

Oceania Vista | everything you need to know

Now, if you know me you'll know I'm always thinking about cruises, watching cruise vlogs, going down to the riverfront to see cruise ships sailing past... so when I was invited to come on board the Oceania Vista when she was docked in Liverpool I jumped at the chance. This was an industry ship visit for travel agents and journalists, and we flocked on board to discover this absolutely enchanting vessel on a sunny Friday in August.

Oceania Vista docked in Liverpool, August 2023

About Oceania Vista

Coming in at 67,000 tonnes and measuring 791 feet long, Vista is a brand new ship (launched in 2023) and part of Oceania's Allura Class of ships. She has space for just 1200 guests, with two staff members per three guests for the ultimate levels of customer service. Oceania is known for having The Finest Cuisine at Sea® and Vista is no exception, with 11 culinary venues on board including a buffet, bakery, wellness café, specialty dining and more. There is a theatre, spa, art workshops, cooking classes, afternoon tea and so much more on board; this is an 'upper premium' cruise ship with incredible value for money and while not advertised as a family cruise line, there is plenty for everybody to enjoy.

Oceania Vista: ship tour

As part of our ship tour, we had a talk in Horizons - a stunning bar area with panoramic windows where they host afternoon tea each day. The colour palette in here, as well as across the entire ship, is incredibly soothing and light. From here we went back along the corridor passing the smoking room, conference centre, digital centre (where they'll help you do all things digital) and artists loft, where you can enjoy workshops with the on-board artist in residence. We then explored the spa (wow!) as well as the private spa deck, which is just gorgeous. It didn't hurt that it was such a sunny day, but honestly it was just SO luxurious.

Pastries in Horizons

Culinary venues on board the Oceania Vista

As I mentioned above, Oceania Vista has 11 eateries on board; we walked through Terrace Café (the buffet), but when I say buffet it's obviously a little bit more special than that. The food (sushi, made-to-order omelettes, lobster tails, local dishes, fresh fruit etc) is served to you, and while it's an informal space it's still intricately decorated and the food looked honestly delicious. We also visited Red Ginger (a Pan-Asian restaurant), Toscana (Italian, with Versace plates), Ember (modern American classics), and Polo Grill (a steakhouse). Specialty dining is included in your cruise fare, which is different to most cruise lines, but you do have to book! We passed through Aquamar, which is a wellness cafe and really bright/airy, as well as Baristas - a lovely coffee bar area with a bakery offering little snacks throughout the day. There is also Waves Grill, a shaded poolside eatery which I didn't see but also looks wonderful from the photos/information online, as well as afternoon tea in Horizons. It's honestly no wonder that Oceania is known as the foodies' cruise line because wow! 

We popped into the Culinary Center where you can book a private cooking class led by world-renowned chefs, with a dining space off to the side where you can eat the food you've made too. There is also Privée, a gorgeous private space where you can do a one-of-a-kind champagne tasting experience paired with delicious dishes - the floor to ceiling windows really enhance this space. We visited the Founders Bar, which is alllll about the cocktails, and we tested out the seats in Martinis piano bar as well as the really striking Grand Lounge. Every single one of these spaces is different, but they all ooze this air of luxury and something very special.

There's one restaurant I've not mentioned yet, so keep reading to find out...

The atrium; the Tranquility Bed

The rest of the tour

We also popped in to see a Concierge Level Veranda Stateroom - and when I say jaw-dropping, I mean it. Queen size Tranquility Bed? Check. The biggest bathroom I've ever seen on a cruise ship? Check. Space to sit and relax as well as your own private veranda area? Check. If you have a Concierge level room you get access to private spa deck, free laundry, complimentary champagne on arrival, priority embarkation, a free tote bag, a Concierge Lounge... it's just amazing. And of course you get all the amenities included in a standard stateroom: room service, twice-daily maid service with turndown AND chocolates, robes, WiFi, a rainfall shower... honestly, the dream. The rooms are all beautifully decorated too, with plenty of light and really nice linen! Every room on Oceania Vista is just a dream.

Private spa deck

Outdoor spaces on board

Library; spa; Grand Lounge; the piano in Martinis

Our tour of the ship took us to see the theatre, which has really comfy seats. One of my favourite spaces on board was the library, perfect if you're someone who wants a really quiet spot to relax in or you need to get some work done. Dark wood and comfortable chairs and plenty of books ...what more could you want? We of course visited the pool deck, and went to see where you can play mini golf and pickle board. And we passed through the absolutely beautiful atrium space with its colour changing lights in the middle. We walked through the casino (which is much less gaudy and loud than your standard casino, somehow) and past the shops, where I definitely spied some Louis Vuitton...

Dinner in the Grand Dining Room

The star of the show, of course, was our five-course dinner in the Grand Dining Room. It started with a bread basket and butter in the shape of flowers, as well as white and red wine alongside still or sparkling water. The first course was a potato fritter with a vodka-lime cream and sevruga caviar. I've never eaten caviar before and was fully prepared to just scrape them off the top, but I did eat it and it actually wasn't too bad. Next up was breaded jumbo shrimp with a remoulade sauce, which was tasty, followed by a choice of three main courses. I opted for the butternut squash and truffle cream risotto with pumpkin seeds and every last mouthful was simply incredible. Dessert was a Papuan chocolate volcano with a passion fruit heart and caramel lava (not sickly at all) as well as petits fours and little macarons. As I said before, Oceania is alllll about the food and it certainly didn't disappoint, even for a fussy eater like me. The service and level of attentiveness in the restaurant was amazing too; I eat left handed (fork in the right hand) and after noticing, the waiter made sure to put my cutlery on the correct side for me after each course. It's the little things like that which really set Oceania above the rest!

Potato fritter w/ caviar; breaded shrimp; risotto; the Versace plates in Toscana

So that concluded my tour of the breathtaking Oceania Vista cruise ship. She is absolutely stunning, and it's no wonder that Oceania customers are so loyal because why would you not want to come back on board these ships time and time again? From the food to the decor to the levels of comfort, Vista has it all and she does it in style. If you're looking to book a cruise on Oceania Vista, you can visit the website or book through a travel agent who will help you with everything you need.