Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2015 Bring It On!

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Let's make this one count. 

Let's open our eyes and minds, make it the year to learn something new, to explore and discover, to grow and develop as individuals, to listen to what we want, to spread kindness and knowledge, to enjoy the small, simple moments, to make the most of opportunities and to see the best in a situation, to take steps towards something new, to open doors and start fresh chapters, to embrace change, to strengthen relationships and make an effort, to broaden horizons and learn to see things through the lens of others, to love and laugh but most of all to be the best version of ourselves. 

2015 bring it on!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Turning Pages // Top Ten Books Read in 2014

The end of the year always supplies the perfect opportunity to look back over the previous twelve months, to review and observe and to reflect on another year, and to prepare ourselves mentally for the fresh new start almost upon us.

I think this is a really enjoyable thing to do, not to mention pretty important really, if you think about it. It gives the chance to look back on wonderful memories but also to objectively point out what went well, what could have gone better, what you enjoyed and not so much, and such alike. It's also a great time to take a moment to appreciate what you have. That never hurts to do, does it, and it's something I am most selfishly bad at and can often forget to notice the bloody brilliant things I've done and the precious moments I have had.

Enough of the smushy stuff, this here is a literary review post, listing my most enjoyed novels of 2014. This was the first year I really made note of the books I read, giving reviews and ratings as I went along, and it is such a fantastic tool for looking back, particularly as my memory is so gosh darn awful! Here is my selection, ranking 10-6 in order of preference and then my top 5 in no particular order, since I struggled tremendously to choose!!

10. Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson  4/5*

'As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I'm still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me...' Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love - all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine's life.

9. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn  4/5*

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims--a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story--and survive this homecoming.

8. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides  4/5*

First published in 1993, "The Virgin Suicides" announced the arrival of a major new American novelist. In a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters--beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the neighbourhood boys--commit suicide one by one over the course of a single year. As the boys observe them from afar, transfixed, they piece together the mystery of the family's fatal melancholy, in this hypnotic and unforgettable novel of adolescent love, disquiet, and death. Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the emotions of youth with haunting sensitivity and dark humour and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time. Adapted into a critically acclaimed film by Sofia Coppola, "The Virgin Suicides" is a modern classic, a lyrical and timeless tale of sex and suicide that transforms and mythologises suburban middle-American life.

7. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane  4/5*

The year is 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, have come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Multiple murderess Rachel Solando is loose somewhere on this remote and barren island, despite having been kept in a locked cell under constant surveillance. As a killer hurricane relentlessly bears down on them, a strange case takes on even darker, more sinister shades--with hints of radical experimentation, horrifying surgeries, and lethal countermoves made in the cause of a covert shadow war. No one is going to escape Shutter Island unscathed, because nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems. But then neither is Teddy Daniels.

6. #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso  4/5*

A #Girlboss is in charge of her own life. She gets what she wants because she works for it.' The first thing Sophia Amoruso sold online wasn't fashion - it was a stolen book. She spent her teens hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and dumpster diving. By twenty-two, she had resigned herself to employment, but was still broke, directionless, and working a mediocre day job she'd taken for the health insurance. It was there that Sophia decided to start selling vintage clothes on eBay. Eight years later, she is the founder, CEO, and creative director of Nasty Gal, a $100 million plus online fashion retailer with more than 350 employees. Sophia's never been a typical CEO, or a typical anything, and she's written #Girlboss for outsiders (and insiders) seeking a unique path to success, even when that path is winding as all hell and lined with naysayers. #Girlboss includes Sophia's story, yet is infinitely bigger than Sophia. It's deeply personal yet universal. Filled with brazen wake-up calls ("You are not a special snowflake"), cunning and frank observations ("Failure is your invention"), and behind-the-scenes stories from Nasty Gal's meteoric rise, #Girlboss covers a lot of ground. It proves that being successful isn't about how popular you were in high school or where you went to college (if you went to college). Rather, success is about trusting your instincts and following your gut, knowing which rules to follow and which to break. Sophia Amoruso turned her hobby selling vintage clothing on eBay into Nasty Gal, one of the fastest growing companies in America. Her rise has been covered by major media like The New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Inc., and The Wall Street Journal, and she has a devoted following on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

My Top 5

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It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.

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At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. 
Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humour, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

The plot summary on this book is in Dutch, natuurlijk, but briefly, the story is set in South Limburg during the time the Germans occupied the Netherlands and allows you a glimpse of life during the war through the eyes of an 11 year old Dutch boy. This is truly heart felt and although written for a much younger audience, I couldn't help but fall in love with the sweet main character and felt such compassion towards him. This is such a great way to teach kids history whilst opening their eyes to times gone and the lives of others, in a way they can understand and reach, without being over loaded with facts and dates.

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Here is the third volume in George R.R. Martin's magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Together, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

I didn't include the full plot summary, as I really really don't want to spoil ANYTHING from this series for anyone. Just trust me in knowing it is jam packed to the tippie top with action and huge G.O.T. story turning points!

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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...

A fantastic year in books, I really enjoyed devouring each of these and recording my thoughts on each, but I also can't wait to get started with next years pile!! Have you read any stand out novels this year or do you have anything especially exciting on your list for the up coming new year?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Festive Finishing Touches

Sinterklaas, Christmas, New Years; the Wintery season in general, what better chance to spend time snuggled up indoors with your loved ones? It is that time of year when the dusty old board games come out to play, we feast on sickening amounts of hot chocolate and expand our waistlines with our favourite food.

Whether it snows and provides a fluffy playground and excuse to wear three pairs of socks, tucked tight in your wellies, or if relaxing with a festive film is more your scene, Christmas time rules. Whether you have a hand written letter to a loved one, gifted perfume that conjures personal memories together or a hand knitted pair of mittens, giving a little something to a special someone can be a heart warming thing. What better way to make this little token as unique as a snowflake, than to head for your craft supplies and try something a touch different this year, when sealing your parcel with a kiss?!

I've hunted down some glorious inspiration for adding that finishing touch to a package, no matter how big or small. There are so many ideas you could try, whether it is brown paper and string, using paper doilies as gift tags or getting busy with the glitter! You can even use some of these methods of decoration on a Christmas card or letter!

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I've been busy making Christmas cards this season and after having taught myself the basics in crochet, a few weeks ago, I have whipped up a few little trinkets as really simple Christmas decorations to gift to my special peoples!

Are you trying your hand at a home made present this year? Do you have any time saving or truly creative wrapping techniques? Does anyone else find that their sellotape insists on picking up as much hair as possible, as an extra (gross) stocking filler?!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Thinking Out Loud

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So this season will be my first ever Christmas away from my family. I know, I'm a grown up (physically if not fully mentally), but there is still a huge part of me that finds this a harsh reality to face. It is a big part of life, spreading your wings, forging your own path into your unknown future, and this year has seen many an eye opening new chapter. Moving out of home is the exciting part, especially moving in with a partner, but moving countries has proven a whole different story!

I can't believe I've surpassed three seasons here, in my new home. To be honest, I'm patting myself on the back for having held my shhhtuff together during this year! An adventure; yes. Exciting; heck yes. But difficult beyond belief; you betcha. And as the lights on the tree begin to sparkle, the old festive tunes find their way onto the radio stations and the sky settles to that thick white grey blanket, it's this time of year that really hits hard and reminds me how things have changed, what doors have opened before me but also closed at my heel, but mostly how much I miss my family and how wonderful our Christmases have been!

On the flip side of the coin, being away from your usual and familiar surroundings forces you to get some perspective on your world. It makes you appreciate the little things you once took for granted, it brings you closer together as it takes a lot more effort to spend time but it also opens your eyes to new experiences, differing cultures and allows you to broaden your thinking and vision of how the world turns. 

This year will not be about presents and shopping and spending. It will be about spending time with my Dutch family over the holidays and planning the most amazing trip to England in the new year, to spend time with my English family. I've kept myself busy making hand made Christmas cards and tree decorations as a little trinket to post home, and to place on my very own little tree. I will be calling and skyping to no end, not to mention attempting to add a Yorkshire pud here and there with our meals here in Holland!

I spend time this year, rather than pennies. Effort instead of gifts. And plan on making all kinds of new memories whilst combining my two worlds.

Do you have any advice on how to deal with distance during the holidays? Any fun festive ideas to bring people closer despite a physical distance? What are your family plans over this wintery period? If any one has a solitary Christmas in mind, PLEASE don't hesitate to drop me a line or get in touch :)