Tuesday, 12 January 2016

bookworm #43 and #44


That's right, a bumper edition!

I've managed to find plenty of time to read this Christmas holiday - in coffee shops, at home, at other people's house, at the doctor's surgery... it's been a real literary break! To me, taking time out to sit down, phone away and distraction-free, and throw yourself into a book is complete bliss. If there happens to be good coffee or cosy pyjamas involved then even better.

So over the past two weeks I've managed to read two books. Quite a feat for me; I'm a slow reader and usually struggle to find the time to read without falling asleep after a paragraph!

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. 

This modern classic, published in 2003, has been in my reading pile for months. It tells the story of Sheba and Barbara - both teachers in a London comprehensive school. The novel is narrated by Barbara, in fact it is her diary account of the scandal surrounding Sheba's relationship with a fifteen year old pupil. Yes, Sheba, an art teacher in her early forties begins an illicit affair with one of her pupils, despite being married and having children of her own... oh and it being hugely legally and morally wrong! Barbara doesn't find out for some time and when she does is horrified - but has a weird fascination and admiration for Sheba, perhaps explaining why she doesn't tell the school.

This book is excellent; incredibly well written, engaging and pacey. I found the whole topic fascinating and actually really difficult to read, as a teacher myself. Barbara's obsession with Sheba is captivating and Heller manages to make her appear really quite unhinged - it's creepy. I thought the fact that Sheba, a female teacher, seduced a male pupil an interesting topic. Had it been the other way round - a male teacher having an affair with a female pupil - I think the book would have read very differently. Double standards maybe? Something interesting to think about, anyway!

Little Girl Gone by Alexandra Burt.

Little Girl Gone is Alexandra Burt's first novel - given the title you may have guessed this was another in the series from Gillian Flynn. No such luck! Estelle Paradise (what a choice of name) has no memory of how she is in her current state; in hospital after being in an apparent car accident. Oh, and missing an ear. She soon understands that her daughter (Mia) is missing, and she is suspect number one. It becomes apparent that when Estelle discovered her baby is missing, she failed to report it to the police - hence her becoming their chief suspect of kidnap... or murder.

This book was an odd one, and I actually found it really difficult to follow! It's unclear whether or not Estelle is mentally stable - which I know is the point of the book - but when Estelle is finding out the details of Mia's disappearance I just couldn't keep up. Is her account reliable? Is she lying? Or can't she remember? This was, I assume, to help paint the picture of her mental state, but it just didn't work for me. The ending is Hollywood movie ridiculous, but satisfying that the 'what happened' became clear.

It reminded me of other memory loss stories; Before I Go To Sleep (SJ Watson), Remember Me (Sophie Kinsella), Still Alice (Lisa Genova)... and the like. An okay read, but overly long in my opinion and difficult to follow.
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Tuesday, 5 January 2016

finding my genre in 2015


Last year I really discovered what I enjoy reading. I'm definitely one of those people who is swayed by pretty covers and media buzz. A bestseller? Yes please! Unsurprisingly, this way of selecting reads hasn't proven successful.

Elizabeth is Missing - nah.
Us - nah.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - meh.
The Miniaturist - nah.
Life After Life - meh.

So what don't I enjoy reading? My least favourite type of book is one where nothing happens. Ha, I know, sounds unsurprising. But you know the ones I mean - stories of ordinary people, who live ordinary lives, narrating the humdrum of everyday life and emotions. No thanks! I read to escape reality, not live it in its dullest form.

I like my books to be pacey, action packed and eventful. But most of all I like a mystery. Not like a scary ghostly mystery (...I don't do scary), but one where there is a secret and/or darkness. I've managed to collect and read lots of books which fit into this genre over the past year, and I've tried to pick my top four.

Woman being stalked by her crazy ex, scarily realistic, terrifying and haunting.
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes; review here

Someone hiding from their past on an Irish farm. Don't be fooled by the lame cover.
The Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson; review here. (sorry, awful synopsis)

Riley spends her whole life thinking her teenage sister died... everything changes when she discovers she is still alive.
The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain; review here.

A kill club, a brother in prison charged with his family's murder and the sole survivor, Libby.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn; review here

So thank you 2015 - you educated me!
More importantly, what does 2016 have in store for me? I'm looking forward to travelling and (hopefully) having lots of time to read. I'll be taking my tablet and using the Kindle app which I'm slowly getting used to. These are currently topping my to-read pile - some mystery/thriller types, and some others thrown in for variation. I don't plan on blogging whilst I'm away (we go in February) but keep an eye on my instagram for short book reviews!


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Saturday, 2 January 2016

preparing for travelling


This is it! Twenty sixteen - the year we pack up our home, say farewell to Farnham and jet off to SE Asia. 

43 days, and counting. Blimey. 

I've posted twice before (here and here) about our forthcoming adventure; today I thought I'd share with you how we've done it. The thought of travelling for any amount of time can be both exhilarating and terrifying - so many opportunities, things to see and do... but lots to consider before hand. As the new year begins, now is the perfect time to think about fulfilling those dreams you may have had to explore the world. 

When discussing our plans with friends, so many people have said they wish they could pack everything up and do the same. As I said in my last post - if not now, when? Those with children, mortgages and the like may be more tied down than we are, but if you want to travel there may never be the 'perfect' time to do it. For us it was a case of we want to do it, that desire to travel hadn't been satisfied with holidays, and we knew once we'd bought a house we'd have roots that are harder to dig up. 

You want to travel? Do it. I promise you it's not as idealistic or unattainable as you may think. Here are some of the things you may want to consider...

1. Where do you want to go?
This is obviously pretty important! Decide on which area of the world you want to visit (or all of it!) and do some research. Countries, cities... and don't just stick to what you know. Travel blogs are great for this, as well as sites like Lonely Planet and apps like Instagram and Pinterest. We knew we wanted to see more of SE Asia (more here) so I searched for blog posts, images, insider information etc. into individual countries. Instagram is great for bringing the dream to life - just search different locations and see what's going on there right now. I have to admit I've done that nearly every day for the past month... Palawan (Philippines) you're looking delicious!

2. Figure out a time-frame.
This is two fold. First, how long do you want to go away for? Yes I know, ideally forever! But realistically how long will work for you? My job played an important part in this decision; being a teacher I am governed by term dates, and although I was lucky enough to be given a sabbatical this still was an element we had to consider. It might be family, work, money or other commitments. Second, when do you want to go? This year? Next? Be sure to look into the climate of where you are visiting to ensure you'll get what you want out of your trip. 

3. Work out your budget. 
This can be tricky. We spoke to well-travelled friends, and then went into STA Travel and were given advice on how much we should expect to spend per month given what we want to do. We've budgeted £1000 a month each - this will vary depending on which country we're in (Cambodia for instance is much cheaper than some parts of Thailand) and takes into account the fact we don't want to completely slum it. Break this cost down per day and you'll have an idea what you can afford for accommodation, food, experiences and the like. 

4. Be realistic, and work out a saving plan. 
Are you going be able to afford to go for the time frame you had planned? We planned to save a minimum of £6000 each, as well as saving for pre-travel expenditure. Flights, vaccinations, backpacks, travel insurance, anti-malarials... you will need to pay for these in advance of travel so be sure to budget for this. This meant our saving goal was higher than just the £6k needed whilst we're away. 
Once you know how much you need to save, you need to figure out how long it'll take you - and be realistic! This is probably the biggest hurdle for most wannabe-travellers. Obviously, it depends on your personal income and outgoings - work out how much you earn a month and how much you can therefore afford to save. Remember to account for rent, bills, living expenses, etc. And once more for clarity - be realistic! As my Mum said to me last year when we started saving, you can't live in misery for the entire period leading up to your trip, it just wont work. We've found this to be true; as much as it's an amazing goal, we still want to have a life. When you're cutting back on socialising for a trip 10 months away, it can be hard. We've both managed to save £500 (each) a month. It's tough but do-able! This will help give you a clearer time-frame for planning your trip. 

5. Consider what you're leaving behind. 
What are you going to do with all your belongings? Do you have a mortgage to pay? What about other expenses? For me, my car is a biggie. I'm paying monthly as I bought it on finance, and I'm not able to pause or stop this. You may need to factor this into your saving plan. We can't afford to put all our things into storage, so have had to find an alternative. Thanks, parents! Again, these may cost a lot of money and you'll need to factor this in to your plans. What about when you get back - where will you live? What about work? Get these in order (as much as you can) before you go and it should make your trip more enjoyable, and gives you time to put things in order. Snooze, I know. Worth it? I hope so!

6. Keep going. 
Saving, researching, planning, dreaming...
Saving is tough, but with an amazing goal like travelling it eases the blow a little! For times when motivation is low, just picture yourself on that beach. As the months go by, step this upand start researching accommodation, specific areas you want to spend time in. Plan your route. Lo ok into transport. Book your flights. With each exciting moment, you'll be closer to the big trip. 

This all sounds pretty intimidating, right? When you get the ball rolling I promise it becomes less stressful and more exciting. Is it worth it? I can't answer that yet, but I do know that I have no regrets. All the hard work, expense and planning is starting to come together and I can't wait!
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