Category Archives: Blogging

Getting to Know You: Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group Blog

When I went to read at Edinburgh Noir at the Bar at the end of last month, I went for a meal with all the participants prior to the event. I sat beside the lovely Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group blog. I’d never met Kelly before but we chatted for a while and found that we had loads in common. 

Kelly and I have become fast friends and I am pleased to welcome her to the blog today. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Kelly – I know how busy you are! 

Vic x


Tell us about your blog, Kelly.
My blog is in its sixth month, we review books, festivals and theatre productions. We review mostly works of fiction. I have two guest bloggers who help me and it means our readers get a varied voice on the daily posts. We are also always on social media.

What inspired it?
My blog was born after my mother had been quite ill and I was spending a tremendous amount of time at the doctors or in hospital waiting rooms. To fill my time and escape from the noise and fear around me, I would dive head first into books. I may have been sat in a cold and sterile environment but my mind was off on exciting and addictive adventures. When I finished the books, I wanted to talk to people about them and say how they made me feel.  That’s when I started the tiny few clicks to find out about blogging. I did not know it would be life changing for me.

I started a very basic blog and wrote my reviews and I got excellent feedback, I then took more time to research the various types of blogs that there were. I contacted Joanne from Portobello Book Blog and I really gained a lot of knowledge about WordPress and blogging. Joanne was very positive and supportive. I will always be very grateful for all her help and for keeping me right with names!

Then I realised I really had to follow up my blog with social media. So that took off too and now I am posting from the blog everyday.

There is a Disney song from the movie Aladdin, it’s called ‘A Whole New World’ and it really captures what my blog has done to me life. Shining, shimmering and splendid, is right.

What’s been your favourite blog assignment and why?
I was honoured to be one of CoastWords Chosen Bloggers for 2017. It was an eye-opening experience.  It meant a lot of travelling and time. But it was totally worth it. I really learnt a lot and it was lovely to meet an array of varied people.

How do you choose what to feature on your blog?
I really have an issue saying no to authors and publishers. Hence the need for me to have two guest reviewers.  We are slowly working through our TBR pile and interviews, all of which will get on the blog at some point.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
In relation to my blog, my father always says to make sure I stay true to myself. Not to be influenced by other people and to remember that my light is just as bright as everyone else’s. Most days as he’s leaving for work he shouts upstairs ‘Remember to sparkle’. 

What can readers expect from your blog?
They can expect reviews with a soul.

Have you got any advice for aspiring bloggers?
Do your research on the various blogs and find your perfect fit.

What do you like and dislike about blogging?
I love blogging, I wake up and I am excited about it. The day I don’t, well, I guess that will be the day I dislike it.

What’s your favourite blogging-related moment?
Coming 2nd in the ABBA Awards 2017 for Newcomer, I didn’t even expect to place. It really meant the world to me.

How can people get in touch with you?
If you would like to feature on the blog with an interview, review or #Favfive then please read our review policy and use the contact form on the blog

You can also find us on: Twitter, Instagram,  Facebook.

What’s next?
We have lots of reviews and interviews coming up on the blog. In the near future we have The Edinburgh Book Festival, Berwick Lit Festival and Bloody Scotland.

Thanks so much for having me on the blog today Victoria, I am honoured and delighted.

Sparkles and smiles,

Kelly xoxo

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Mid-Year Review Book Tag nominated by @LoveBooksGroup

Massive thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group for nominating me to do this mid-year book tag. 2017 is whipping by and it’s interesting to reflect on which books I’ve enjoyed this year so far.

So, here goes…

  1. Best book you’ve read in 2017 so farYear of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Shonda, writer of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, challenged herself to say yes to every opportunity she was offered for a year. As an introvert who lacks self-confidence, I enjoyed this book immensely. I loved reading about Shonda’s writing process, her family life and her challenge. Oh, ok then, I loved it all. I’d love to hang out with this fierce woman.
  2. Best sequel you’ve read in 2017 so far: The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay. I read the three books from the Promise Falls trilogy this year. Linwood Barclay is my favourite crime writer and I was impressed with the way the final instalment tied things up.
  3. New release not yet read: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
  4. Most anticipated release of the second half of 2017: A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena. 
  5. Biggest disappointment of 2017: Thankfully I haven’t had one yet!
  6. Biggest surprise of 2017: Exquisite by Sarah Stovell. I first heard Sarah talk at Newcastle Noir this year and I was so taken in with the themes she talked about that I just had to read ExquisiteIt was a surprise because I hadn’t heard anything about it prior to Newcastle Noir. It’s a story that keeps you second guessing until the very end – very cleverly done. 

  7. Favourite new author: Bizarrely, I’d never read Stephen King until 2017 but I read Bazaar of Bad Dreams which is a collection of short stories. I think I bought it because it was on offer and I liked the look of the cover – yes, I did judge a book by its cover – but when I read it, I really enjoyed the stories.
    In fairness, though, Matt Wesolowski is my favourite new author. I want to tweet him every day and ask when we can expect his next novel.
  8. Newest fictional crush: Haven’t got one as I’m pretty taken with my husband – we got married in March this year. 
  9. Newest favourite character: Archie from Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland. Everyone should have an Archie in their life.
  10. Book that made you cry: Year of Yes and Lost for Words.
  11. Book that made you happy: Year of Yes.
  12. Best book to movie adaptation of 2017: I haven’t seen any film adaptations although I’m looking forward to seeing My Cousin Rachel. I am loving The Handmaid’s Tale which is currently being shown on Channel 4.
  13. Favourite review you’ve written in 2017 so far: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. The book just really captured my imagination and I loved writing about it. 
  14. The most beautiful book you bought / received in 2017: The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards. I bought it for myself last weekend at Barter Books. I just love the colours and shading on it. As previously mentioned, Bazaar of Bad Dreams is also a very colourful book. I think this has established how vacuous I am.
  15. Books to read by the end of 2017: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Girls by Emma ClineIt Devours: A Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout… The list goes on. I’d also like to read more Agatha Christie. 

I’m passing the Mid-Year Review Book tag onto Emma Welton @damppebbles, Juliet @bookliterat and Sheila Howes @thequietgeordie. I look forward to finding out what you choose!

Vic x

 

Noir at the Bar Edinburgh, 31/05/2017

In November of last year, I read at the first Edinburgh Noir at the Bar. Earlier this week, I returned to give another reading and, yet again, it was a wonderful night.


Many of the participants attended a meal prior to the event at Makars Gourmet Mash Bar which was organised by the lovely Kelly of Love Books Group blog.  The meal itself was delicious – I had ox cheek and creamy mash – and it was lovely to meet new people as well as catching up with others. The staff were really attentive and I’d heartily recommend this fantastic place if you happen to be in Edinburgh.


Hosted by Jacky Collins, and held at Wash Bar, Noir at the Bar Edinburgh sure is attracting a following in Auld Reekie – the number of attendees has grown massively since its first outing in November.

Mac Logan was first to read then it was my very good friend Lucy Cameron reading from her debut novel Night is Watching.

Then some Geordie got up and read a piece from her work in progress. The audience were very kind and laughed in all the right places. I got some brilliant feedback during the break. It’s really reassuring to hear that fans of crime are looking forward to reading my novel so I’d best crack on with it! As an aside, I will be writing soon about a method that I have found really works for me: watch this space!


I was glad that I’d read early, it left me free to enjoy the evening free of any nerves. Neil Broadfoot, Ian Skewis and May Rinaldi entertained the audience with readings that left my reading wishlist growing exponentially.

Aly Monroe read from Black Bear then we had a riotous short story by Doug Johnstone followed swiftly by a song.

Sharon Bairden and I at Noir at the Bar Edinburgh. Photo courtesy of Sharon Bairden.

Following another short break, during which I got to catch up with some more folks, Sara Sheridan kicked off the third act with an intriguing reading. Claire MacLeary followed with a great excerpt from Cross Purpose featuring the fantastic character of Big Wilma. CG Huntley was the final reader on the bill but there were two wildcard readings given by Jackie McLean and LP Mennock.


A huge congratulations to my friend Jacky Collins for another successful evening in Edinburgh. Jacky and I may have some exciting news to share with you very soon…

Vic x

Guest Post: Dawn Tindle on Literary Prizes

I’m not sure how I first came into contact with Dawn Tindle, the brains behind Book & Brew, but this year we’ve bumped into each other at countless book events and I like to think we’ve become bookish friends.  Dawn’s dedication to literature is really inspiring and I love the articles she posts on her site.

Here’s Dawn sharing her thoughts on literary prizes. Thanks to Dawn for being involved today.

Vic x

shadow-judging-the-man-booker-prize

Literary prizes: are they for readers or for authors?
By Dawn Tindle

The literary calendar is full of prizes honouring the great and good of the book world. From specialist awards to international accolades, prizes recognise authors who push the boundaries of literature to create new narratives for their generation. But, who are they really for? The reader or the author?

Books and brews

My book group, Book and Brew, started in January 2015 and we’ve met every last Sunday of the month since in Pink Lane Coffee. We started as five but have grown to seven. We huddle around the distressed (hipster) table with our favourite brews (they range from Americano to white hot chocolate) and (not so) healthy breakfasts (red velvet cake, croissants, bagels, sometimes toast) to discuss our latest read.

We are fairly like-minded when it comes to our taste in books but there is always a lively discussion about the text in hand. Would we read something by the author again? What did we learn from it? Did this book stay with us long after we had read it? Did the author keep us gripped or did we finish just because we had a book club deadline? All valid questions that get their fair share of the typically two-hour debate.

Meeting monthly has helped us all hone our critical skills. Sharing our thoughts on the books is a really valuable experience, both in terms of developing our own confidence in shaping and presenting our ideas, and because we get to consider the book from a different perspective with every comment offered by our members.

We didn’t know it, but the last year of reading and reviewing was training for some pretty import roles to come.

the-book-and-brew-book-club

Becoming official readers

The Reading Agency is a fabulous charity that promotes the joy of a good book. They have a fantastic website called Reading Groups for Everyone that has resources, competitions and reviews to inspire and support book clubs. I registered Book and Brew with the site very early on and still use it to source freebies from publishers keen to get book clubs’ opinions on their latest titles (check out the noticeboard section if you’ve not already – it’s a hidden gem for review copies of books).

So, when I saw a feature on the site asking for book clubs to shadow the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction I signed us up. There’s nothing to lose, right? There’ll be loads of clubs entering so little old us up in Newcastle won’t have a look in, will we?

Well, we bloomin’ did. I got an email in May to say we’d been chosen as one of only 12 groups in the country to shadow the prize, and would receive a box full of The Portable Veblen to review. Sweet!

reviewing-our-baileys-book-at-pink-lane-coffee

Our Baileys gig was so successful that we were picked again in August to shadow none other than the Man Booker Prize 2016, one of (if not the most) prestigious literary prize of the year. This time we were one of six clubs to be selected. Not bad, eh?

We were clearly doing something right. But what was it?

Hashtags, retweets and online stalking

The role of a shadow judging group is to read your given book prior to the prize announcement. Each member of the club reads the book, shares their thoughts on social media and then we all get together to discuss our views on the novel before logging our reviews on the Reading Groups for Everyone website. Using the prize hashtags and Twitter handles means you get attention from all kinds of people who are also following the prize, and you get to join conversations with bookworms you didn’t even know existed.

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram you’ll know I’m obsessed with taking pictures of books next to an assortment of hot beverages, as well as pretty book stuff in general. So is the rest of the book club, and our social media feeds during shadowing duties are packed with pictures, quotes, comments and content about the book.

It’s this passion for books that keeps getting us shadowing roles. We are utterly thrilled if an author likes our tweets – there is something magical (and quite meta) about the author of the book you’re reading knowing you’re reading it. It’s even more exciting when they read our reviews and thank us for commenting on their work. Reviewing someone’s book is not easy – especially when you know how much of an author’s heart and soul goes into their writing – so it’s nerve-wracking to produce a critique you know the author, their publisher, The Reading Agency and anyone else following the prize could see. But, so far, all of our comments have been received gracefully. Phew!

We’re not professional reviewers, and we’re not analysing the books to examine which ideologies they purport or what faction of the literary cannon they are subverting or supporting. We just give honest reviews. We love books – they sustain us, entertain us and enrich us – and we’ll shout very loudly about the ones we admire.

Does it really matter?

With every book prize comes the inevitable media coverage about their worth. Do we still need a women-only prize in the 21st century? Yes, if you look at the divide between the number of titles commissioned by female and male writers.
Is it just a marketing tool to increase the sales of the big publishers? Yes, sometimes but the little guys are increasingly getting their share of  the pie.
Are they just pretentious, back-patting events for the London literati? They can be but that’s changing, too.

I recently attended the announcement of the Gordon Burn Prize on the first night of this year’s Durham Book Festival. The nominees sat patiently on the stage for the Q&A and were asked by the chair whether literary prizes are important. The room went silent. No one answered. A few of them shuffled nervously in their seats, swapped over their crossed legs, recrossed their arms. Seconds felt like minutes as not one of the authors said anything. Then the room burst into laughter. I wasn’t sure if the authors were being very British in their modest reluctance to extol the virtues of being elevated above their peers, or if they were genuinely struggling to answer the question. Obviously, saying prizes don’t matter when you’re at a prize-giving event would not go down well, but the fact that none of them were forthcoming with a positive response really made me think about the prize process.

Some authors will lap up the attention, while others will shy away from it. Sales will rocket until the prize is announced when they’ll slowly trickle back down the charts. The prize winner will have their fifteen minutes (or two-book deal) of fame while the shortlisted nominees go back to their writing desks. It’s all part and parcel of any process in which only a few writers and books are selected for attention above the thousands of others printed in the same year.

Whether an author views prize giving as prestigious or painful, I guess, is up to them and their level of comfort in the spotlight. What I do know, however, is that book prizes are a wonderful thing for readers. And shadow judging them is even more special.

We’ve read more books than ever (we usually try to get through the full shortlist before the prize is announced), we’ve talked to more authors than before, we’ve engaged with more bookworms than we ever thought possible, and we’ve been retweeted by publishers countless times. We’ve become better reviewers, more confident in our critiques, and our debates are more eloquent and considered.

Our experience as shadow judges and the response from the nominees at the Gordon Burn Prize leads me to one conclusion: literary prizes may be enjoyed more by readers than by authors.

Guest Post: The Real CSI by K.A. Richardson

Today, my good friend K.A. Richardson is here to tell us about the real CSI. 

As well as being an author, Kerry passed her BSc in Crime Scene Science in 2008, progressing into a CSI role with the police. After working for 2 separate police forces for three years as a CSI, Kerry was redeployed following government cuts and continues to work for the police, though in a different role. 

Kerry keeps her skills and knowledge up to date by going out on jobs with CSIs every now and then so she’s definitely the woman we need to write this post!

Vic x

With Deadly Intent

The world of crime scene investigation can seem very daunting to those whose knowledge consists of what they see on TV. Shows like CSI and NCIS glamorise the role, portraying female CSIs with long flowing locks of hair, high heeled shoes, and smart dress suits, and male CSIs with chiselled appearances, trained to disarm people with a single glance. It shows evidence is always recovered at a scene, fingerprints bring forth identifications virtually instantly, and DNA is obtained without any PPE (personal protective equipment) being worn by the CSI, and almost always has identifications through by the end of the show.

If only it were really like that!

If only real CSIs could get the idents that quick, or even have DNA authorised for submission. This blog is to show a little about the ‘real’ CSI – the men and women out in the field who recover the evidence and help catch the bad guys. 

What is a CSI?

A CSI – Crime Scene Investigator (also known as SOCO – Scenes of Crime Officer) is a civilian who usually works for the police – there are CSIs used by other agencies but I’ll focus primarily on those employed by the police. They are men and women who have either trained to degree level at university, or have done a forensic training course through the police. Some are ex-police officers, some just had a love of investigation and pursued this as their career. They are generally pretty poorly paid for the job they do – as an example the basic start wage for a CSI in the North East is around £17,500 per annum – this does vary slightly with each police force but as a general rule of thumb it provides an accurate overall start wage. It’s not a lot considering the responsibilities the CSI has to forensically recover evidence that could potentially be the turning point in getting people jailed for a crime.

The CSI will be required to work varying hours, participate in on-call rotas, and occasionally have rest days cancelled to facilitate the demand of work. A CSI reports to the CSM – Crime Scene Manager, who in return reports to their supervisor.

What does a CSI do?

A CSI works alongside police officers to facilitate an investigation by recovering evidence from crime scenes, examining property recovered, providing forensic training to probationary police officers, completing paperwork and statements, managing the evidence recovered and submitting this to relevant agencies, completing notes for each scene attended, attending court when required, and a melee of other duties.

They have to drive a van filled with equipment like boxes, recovery pots, evidence bags, ladders, stepping plates, casting kits (for tool marks and footwear marks), DNA test kits, scene suits, gloves, spare powders etc. They must be able to take photographs during the day and night using various techniques to ensure images are taken to a high standard.

Generally a CSI will carry both a camera case, and their ‘kit’ which is usually a case containing various fingerprint powders, swabs, acetates, rulers, evidence recover containers, evidence bags, cellotape, scissors, Stanley knife, brushes galore, and too many other tools to mention. My case was always highly organised – everything had its place and I could cram more than you would think into my silver aluminium case (lots of CSIs use the standard issue black plastic case but I like the aluminium ones better). I also had a folder – which had things like fingerprint elimination sheets, inked acetates, note forms, paper (for diagrams), pens, permanent markers, ruler etc.

PPE is worn in some form or other for all scenes – CSIs have safety boots, and uniform generally consists of combat trousers, polo shirt and jacket. All scenes generally require the CSI to wear at least one pair of nitrile gloves, and if recovering DNA evidence then masks and additional gloves would be worn to prevent contamination. For major scenes such as murders, rapes, serious assaults etc, then scene boot covers, suits and hoods would also be worn.

Most people would presume that CSIs attend lots of murders – that’s what the TV would have you believe. In fact there are a lot less murders than you’d think. The majority of the day for a CSI consists of attending crime scenes such as vehicle break ins, burglaries, cannabis farms, allotment break ins, taking injury photos in the studio for people who have been assaulted, and dealing with property. In the event that a murder occurs, then it’s not a case of everyone running to the scene to assist – CSIs will be allocated, usually with a CSM, and they will attend, wear appropriate PPE, and process the scene accordingly.

A CSI attends and participates in Post Mortem examinations – there are 3 roles within a PM – a photographer who takes images throughout the examination which is conducted by the pathologist, who is generally assisted by the technician. A dirty CSI who takes the evidence recovered from the pathologist and places this into appropriate packaging for the clean CSI who then writes the bags out, seals them, and completes the relevant notes. Most people will never have seen a PM – there are several you tube clips available and some mortuaries are open to observers if requested and authorised by the pathologist. The CSIs attending will be in PPE, including gloves, masks and suits, not just to prevent contamination of evidence, but also because the PM environment can produce biological health hazards.

CSIs generally head out alone to handle the jobs allocated – they have a personal radio, the same as police officers use, to keep in contact with the control room and each other but generally it’s a pretty solitary job. The scenes processed can be spread across the county in which they work, so there’s a lot of driving involved. A CSI will have passed a police vehicle driving course but this doesn’t mean they get to drive with sirens and at high speeds – the CSI vans aren’t equipped with lights and CSIs have to abide by the standard speed laws, the same as everyone else. In a normal 9-10 hour shift, a CSI can potentially deal with 6-8 standard jobs – often more if the jobs involve property examination etc, or less depending of the nature of the jobs allocated. Examining a plastic bag recovered from a suspect which held possible stolen goods, for example, would take hardly any time at all compared to a burglary where every room has been ransacked.

This post is a brief explanation of what a CSI does – my next CSI blog post will be A Day in the Life of a CSI – it’ll be a more in depth look at the techniques used by a CSI as they perform their vital job.

Escape

Guest Post: Graham Wynd on Noir in the Desert.

I’m really happy to have Graham Wynd on the blog today to talk about an unusual setting for noir… Please feel free to comment beneath the post. Thanks again to Graham for being involved.

Vic x

Noir in the Desert. 

My story ‘Bonkers in Phoenix’, published in Rogue by Near to the Knuckle, steps outside the usual noir sort of setting. When you think noir, you think darkened city streets, rain falling incessantly and tough men and women skulking in the shadows of doorways as neon signs flash through the murk of the evening. There might even be a little fog hovering around.

Rogue

But the desert isn’t without precedent as a noir setting.

All the way back to the classics like Ida Lupino’s Hitch Hiker, a low budget noir that sweats through the Sonoran desert on the Mexican border, finding all the shadows that the bright sun brings (she was a genius after all) and then there’s Dorothy Hughes’ Ride the Pink Horse, that got the movie treatment, too. It takes place in New Mexico, but it’s got a the weight of the mythic past of the desert, an inexorable weight that spells doom for anyone who tries to face it. Sailor learns that power as he hunts down the Sen.

Who can forget A Touch of Evil, with Welles’ tour-de-force opening tracking shot that seems to go on forever—alas, if only it didn’t have Charlton Heston playing a ‘Mexican’ in a perma-tan, because it’s got Welles himself hamming it up large and the one and only Marlene Dietrich stealing the film.

In more recent times, Robert Rodgriguez has brought the thrill back to the desert with From Dusk ‘til Dawn and of course Once Upon a Time in Mexico, which have stolen the western back from the spaghetti westerns of Italy, putting them into a thoroughly modern context.

Maybe the ultimate desert noir these days is the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. The relentless Chigurgh stalks the wide open spaces, meting out his own idea of vengeance at the flip of a coin. The baking sun of the desert becomes oppressive, a trap—leaving you exposed and vulnerable.

The desert of “Bonkers” is the strip mall ugliness of suburban sprawl. The two strippers at the start just get fed up with the boredom their go-nowhere life offers. So they go a little bonkers and do the things that make life more exciting if dangerous. I haven’t been to Phoenix in years, but I hear the stripmall-o-rama has got worse. The endless strips of hair-nails-tanning places, endless parking lots baking in the sun, and tacky tourist trade trying to capitalise on the people passing through continue to thrive.

Sounds noir enough for me. Check out Near to the Knuckle for all kinds of hard-hitting, hard-boiled stories, especially ROGUE, their second anthology, which includes my story.

Is it hot in here?

http://GrahamWynd.com

http://Twitter.com/GrahamWynd

I (belatedly) review my 2014.

As explained in my previous post, my blog was private for a few months and, therefore, I didn’t get the opportunity to review 2014. All told, it was an amazing year so I’d like to recap it now.

Wishing you all the best for the remainder of 2015 and, remember, it’s never too late to make a positive change. 

Vic x

17300_690179324426870_4632853876586823700_n

2014 was a great year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?

There are a few! Following a performance evening in 2013, where the theme was Thrills ‘n’ Chills, Wild Wolf Publishing offered to produce an anthology of work written by members of my Creative Writing groups. Receiving my copy of that book, which featured poetry and short stories, was exhilarating but the highlight was seeing the reactions of the writers when they received their books.

Some of the writers featured in ‘Thrills ‘n’ Chills’ with Rod Glenn of Wild Wolf Publishing.

In December, I was invited to give a talk about writing at Dar Al Atta’s Let’s Read bookshop in Muscat, Oman. I wasn’t expecting many people to come but there was standing room only and it was incredible being able to discuss writing with people from lots of different cultures. I found it really interesting to have so many people with differing religions and experiences from a range of cultural backgrounds who found that the experience of writing was something that they had in common.

Me following my talk in the Let's Read bookshop, 30/12/14.

Me following my talk in the Let’s Read bookshop, 30/12/14. Photo courtesy of Cio Datan, Times of Oman.

And how about a favourite moment from 2014 generally?

My highlights were the bookshop talk, the performance evening I arranged in July thanks to the lovely folks at the Avalon in Whitley Bay, ‘Thrills ‘n’ Chills’ being released and completing my PGCE. It was great to finally go to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and meet up with lots of writing friends.

However, I will remember 2014 mainly due to the amount of travelling I was lucky enough to do. I went on three amazing holidays as well as visiting London a couple of times. The first was to Vegas with my friend to celebrate my 30th birthday. The second was a family trip to Florida and the Caribbean and the third was to Oman to visit The Boy Wonder’s family.

Vegas was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. I read some awesome books during the flights there and back (come on, you must have known books would feature somewhere in there!). I tried IHOP for the first time, wandered around the incredible malls and hotels, spoke to a man called James Pond and played a touch screen Sex and the City game that I still don’t understand (but I did win $32 on it).

The night before I turned 30, my friend and I were ID’d at the Britney Spears show in Planet Hollywood so ended up drinking pop. Lady Gaga was also in the audience and we just had an absolute blast, even though we were totally sober! I was privileged enough to take a helicopter ride into the Grand Canyon on my actual birthday as well as doing the SkyJump at the Stratosphere and having a steak at the Wynn Hotel.

I loved Florida because I got to ride a lot of incredible rollercoasters, do a lot of shopping and experience another aspect of America. We stayed in a brilliant townhouse that was central to everything we wanted to do. I loved Universal and, even though there were some pretty serious storms while we were in Florida, it gave us a good opportunity to shop without feeling guilty about wasting the sunshine! The Boy Wonder and I went to see The Blue Man Group – it is a show that I would encourage everyone to go and see. It’s family friendly, very clever and lots of fun. On Thanksgiving Day, my parents and I went to a town called Celebration which reminded me of Wisteria Lane!

Following our week in Florida, we jumped aboard Oasis of the Seas for a Caribbean cruise. I really enjoyed visiting three beautiful locations – the Bahamas, St Thomas and St Maarten. Each of the islands were unique with their own attractions, we visited Blackbeard’s Castle in St Thomas for example. I loved St Maarten, it was so laid back.

And as for Oman, it was as beautiful as usual. Going to Oman, for me, is like going home. ‘Nuff said.

Favourite book in 2014?

Although ‘Gone Girl‘ was a big hit last year, and I thought it was a good read, I preferred ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn. That said, I also really enjoyed ‘The Miniaturist‘ by Jessie Burton and I loved ‘Lies We Tell Ourselves‘ by Robin Talley. Oh, and I can’t miss out ‘Yes Please‘ by Amy Poehler and ‘Girl Walks into a Bar…‘ by Rachel Dratch. 2014 was the year I discovered the joy of audiobooks.

Favourite film of 2014?

I actually really enjoyed ‘Gone Girl‘, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a more faithful adaptation. ‘Nightcrawler‘ was also really creepy. My guilty pleasure was ‘Jersey Boys‘ on the flight to Florida.

Favourite song of the year?

Uptown Funk‘ by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. I  also loved the latest albums by David Gray and Coldplay.

Any downsides for you in 2014?

I was disappointed that my blog was on temporary hiatus but it was for a good reason.

Are you making resolutions for 2015?

Keep on keeping on. Although I do like the idea of a happiness jar.

What are you hoping for from 2015?

World peace.