Friday, February 24, 2017

Podcasts I've Enjoyed Recently

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Hi!

I've only recently gotten into Podcasts. I used to like Audiobooks, but I find it hard to listen to fictional books on audio (I tend to drift off) and I've had enough of celebrity autobiographies for now.

I heard about the infamous "Serial" Podcast last year, and wanted to see what the fuss was about - I find Podcasts so unbelievably handy, I can listen to them on a walk, or when I'm cleaning, or in the background when I'm blogging or editing photos.

First things first, how to listen to a Podcast. There are a number of apps, the ones I use are Castbox (free) and Spotify (partially free). Most can also be listened to on a laptop, tablet or PC. They can be streamed live or downloaded for offline use. Soundcloud, Spotify, Google Play, iTunes all have most of the ones I've listed here.

True Crime

Serial: Season One

Season One. This is a true crime story. In Baltimore in 1999, a high school senior named Hae Min Lee disappeared. Her body was found in a park a month later, she had been strangled. Hae's 17 year old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. The main evidence against him was that of his friend Jay, who said he helped Adnan dispose of Hae's body. Adnan swears he had nothing to do with it.

This is a 12 episode series about the case, each episode is around the hour long mark. Host Sarah Koenig has access to a huge amount of information and is determined to get some very odd questions answered.

In the Dark: Season One
This is a 9 part series about a true crime that took 27 years to solve - the abduction of 11 year old Jacob Wetterling in 1989 in Minnesota. Originally intended as a series to examine why the case hadn't been solved, it came full circle late last year.

This is uncomfortable to listen to at times (as any true crime case involving minors would be) - but it's a scary look into how cases can be botched and how evidence can be misconstrued.

Criminal
The Criminal Podcast is short and sweet - it's a collection of episodes about various crimes, all presented in short bursts of anything from 10 to 30 minutes. There are over 60 episodes so far, some are more enjoyable than others, but the beauty of keeping them short is that you don't feel like too much time has been wasted if an episode is boring. The first minute or so of the earlier ones is usually an advertisement, so just skip that. Host Phoebe Judge is very easy to listen to, and episodes are short enough to listen to in a waiting room or on a commute.

My favourite episodes include -

  • Episode 18: 695 BGK (a Policeman runs the wrong licence plate number and as a result shoots the wrong man)
  • Episode 20: Gil From London (a woman arranges to meet a man she has been talking to online but her son starts digging to find out if the man is being truthful)
  • Episode 37: Hastings (a school goes into lockdown when a 14 year old brings a gun to school)
  • Episode 48: Eight Years (a woman who runs a Harry Potter fan site receives  death threats and abusive messages from a stalker...for eight years)

Archive
If you have an interest in high profile or strange crime cases, this is a great podcast. A recent episode centres around Kerry Max Cook, a man who was wrongfully jailed for murder. I've actually read his book (I mentioned it here at the time) and his case is fascinating. They've also got episodes about things like Cropsey and Mothman, conspiracy theories about cases like Titanic and the suicide of Kurt Cobain, plus famous unsolved cases like the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. It's a clever, witty Podcast that's well produced and easy to follow. 


Film/TV Related

Archive
A podcast hosted by Matt Gourley, featuring interviews with people who had non-leading roles in popular movies. Really, really interesting and funny, with some fantastic episodes. I'd really recommend the Collected Stories: Vol 2 episode for snippets from people involved with Alien, Carrie, Aladdin, Pulp Fiction - it's a great podcast.

Archive
Hosts Jenny and Kristin are rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the very beginning and making a podcast for every episode. Join them on their journey as they try to only mention Smashing the Patriarchy once per episode and sing along with a new specially-written jingle at the end of every recording! One of my favourites, it only took me until the "Witch" episode recap to realise that I had found more of my people - I mean who DIDN'T try the odd spell or two then almost shit yourself in case it worked? I was also going to use this as another opportunity to put a screenshot of the time GILES TWEETED ME BACK or the time I WHITTLED AN ACTUAL STAKE but I mean, come on, the 20th Anniversary is coming, I have to leave something for that... 

Fiction 



Homecoming
Homecoming is a short 6-part fictional series set around a woman who once worked at a top secret base designed to rehabilitate soldiers using a highy experimental treatment. Roll on 5 years, and the woman is working as a waitress with no recollection of the project.....

This stars David Schwimmer, Catherine Keener, and Oscar Isaac. Every episode is around a half an hour, so this is something I devoured over an evening - I really enjoyed the style and the voice acting was spot on. Very engaging.


Limetown
A fictional 7 part documentary about a woman named Lia Haddock who is investigating the strange disappearance of an entire town. As Lia starts to dig around to find out exactly how 300 people could vanish without a single trace, someone wants to make sure she doesn't let the town's secrets escape.

The voice acting is brilliant, it's convincing (convincing enough to make me Google "is Limetown real" like an eejit), it's set up in the same way as Serial, presenting facts and results of investigations. Really good, really addictive.

Episode One
MDWAP is a comedy podcast that's part fiction, part reaction. On the back of the success of E.L. James, Jamie Morton's Dad decided to have a go at his own version of "Fifty Colours of Grey". The result is a hilariously inappropriate romp called "Belinda Blinked", a story about a woman who goes for an interview for her dream job as manager of an international pots and pans company (including an £85k a year salary and company car). Jamie reads it out along with friends Alice Levine and James Cooper. You can't listen to this around children, and definitely not at work, but it's hilarious provided you're not offended by descriptions like "her vaginal lids popped open". What makes it great are the reactions of the three readers, it's proper laugh-out-loud stuff if you're into that kind of humour. And yes, you can buy the Kindle book.

Please, PLEASE leave suggestions below if you've come across anything else that you deem worthy of a listen!




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Monday, February 20, 2017

Distance Learning and Online Courses - My Experiences

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Hi!

I've been a stay-at-home parent for a number of years now. It's good and bad in equal measure - I love that I get to see my children grow up, I love that I'm here for them, I love pottering about the house doing cooking and organising, but I hate that I've lost that little bit of independence and interaction with adults. I hate that I don't have a Christmas party anymore and I hate that in spite of the fact I'm constantly doing something for someone else from 6:30am-8:30pm that I have to say "I'm not working at the moment" when someone asks where I work.

One of the things I like to do to make sure that I'm still Sharon and not just "Mammyyyyyyyy" is to keep up to date with skills and interests. I've done a few online courses - one fairly expensive one, one bargain one, and a few free ones.

Paid Course - Nail Technician with Kilroy's College



This was a 12 month course done via online and distance learning. At the time I did it, it cost nearly €500. I paid a deposit and then paid monthly installments (I think they were around €45 at the time). It's still €495 here.

Materials Provided
Text book, starter kit (included buffer, tweezers, base coat, top coat, nail art brush, a few shades of nail polish, etc)

Content
Health and Safety, Nail Art, Business Management, Manicure & Pedicure, Anatomy & Physiology, Advanced Treatments.

How it Works
Your first module is sent in the post - essentially a workbook that you have to read through, and then answer the questions at the end. When you do that, you need to log your answers online. If you pass, you get your next module sent out. This is what I did the whole way through - not once did I interact with any tutor or have any human input. It was me, alone, with my workbook. I was particularly annoyed at the nail art module - I assumed that there would be the need to submit photographs or some kind of proof that I was taking the information in - but no, just the multiple choice questions at the end of that module. There were suggestions made in the workbook as to how to expand each module but it was very much left up to the student.

Certificate?
Yes, I was sent out a certificate at the end when I passed all modules.

Beneficial?
Not really. I could probably see the benefit if I were already in the profession and wanted to brush up on a certain area, but it didn't cover Shellac or Gel treatments, nor did it leave me feeling any the wiser about how to attempt to do somebody's nails. I learned a bit, but not €500 worth.

Bargain Course - Diploma in Photography with Shaw Academy



I picked this up on a Groupon deal for about €25. I wasn't expecting it to be as in-depth - all I wanted was to be able to understand my DSLR camera a little better and stop relying on Auto mode so much. This was a 10 week course with live webinars and homework. It's priced at €395 but pops up regularly on Groupon for around €20-€25. Info here.

Materials Provided
None, strictly an online course. You need your own camera.

Content
Demystifying camera functions, Capturing the light, Motion and depth, Composition, White balance, Shutter speed & Aperture.

How it Works
When you enrol, you are given a choice of dates to start. Pick one that suits you, then you'll get an email or text telling you when your first live Webinar is. If you can't attend, you can watch back on demand. During the Webinar, one of the tutors goes through the lesson plan and invites participation. Questions are welcomed, then there's an exercise given at the end. You're encouraged to practice and share your images with the course tutor via the Shaw Academy social media pages, and you can use these to interact with others on your course. The tutor also rang me on a few occasions to see if I was up to date with Webinars and to check and see if I had any difficulties or issues with any of the modules.

Certificate?
I don't think they're automatically sent, I think you have the option of purchasing one. I didn't get one.

Beneficial?
Absolutely - I learned loads about how to use my camera and what makes a good photograph. I still put some of the tips into practice whenever I take blog photographs - the rule of thirds, perspective, natural framing, etc - I found it really interesting and useful (even if I still tend to rely on Auto a bit too often)

You can choose a free course from the Shaw Academy here - there are a great range of courses, including this photography one, nutrition, social media marketing, photoshop, lightroom, digital marketing, graphic design, beauty, viral marketing, guitar - loads to choose from.

Free Course - Identifying the Dead: Forensic Science and Human Identification with the University of Dundee via FutureLearn



This was a course I did last year - it involved author Val McDermid and took students on a journey from the discovery of a human bone right up to identifying the victim and finding out how they died. Register your interest here.

Materials Provided
Downloadable worksheets and print-outs.

Content
An introduction to the world of forensic anthropology, including biological profiling and reconstruction.

How it Works
I think it was over 7 weeks - at the start, we were all introduced to the specialists who would be working on the case. There were YouTube videos to watch, printouts to fill in, and discussions online with other participants. Then, at the beginning of the next lesson, we'd be told whether or not we were right (about a particular bone type, for example) and given some more information to try and decipher. At the end, we were given access to an exclusive story written by Val McDermid featuring the victim.

Beneficial?
I'm not ready to go out and investigate anything, but as someone who has always had an interest in forensics and crime, it was wonderful to have access to the professional people who worked on this course. I learned a lot about how forensics works at its lowest level, and how much work goes into even determining what kind of bone is found, let alone discovering who the victim is and what happened. It was really enjoyable. Some parts hit close to home too, like the exercise we were given on missing persons - it was horrendous to imagine one of our loved ones going missing, but also a lesson in how unobservant we can be - lots of us couldn't remember exactly what our loved ones were even wearing when we last saw them.

So what's next? Well...


Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation - The Open University via FutureLearn



Hosted by Graham Pike, Psychologist & Professor of Forensic Cognition at the Open University. This is a free online course beginning on March 20. Register here

Materials Provided
No physical materials provided.

Content
Exploring how the limitations of the human mind can lead to miscarriages of justice. Examining eyewitness testimonies, going behind the scenes of a police investigation to see if you can solve a crime using only eyewitness statements. Building your cognitive skills. 

How it Works
You register your interest, then you'll get an email nearer the time. When the course starts, you'll be able to log in and see your course materials. It's an 8 week course. 

Beneficial?
I'll let you know!

Upcoming free courses on FutureLearn include: An Introduction to Dutch, How to Succeed at Interviews, Modern Building Design, Talking About Cancer, Research Ethics in Society, The Many Faces of Dementia, Exploring Copyright, Archaeology, Cyber Security for Small Business - that's only a handful of a huge variety. 

Have you ever done an online course? Or would you consider one? 




Sunday, February 19, 2017

Owlcrate February 2017: Run Away With the Circus

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Hi!

I found Owlcrate last year through Instagram and try as I might, I just can't quit it. It's expensive, but I do believe that what you get is worth the money (especially as hardback books aren't as common in Ireland).


Every month, the box has a different theme. The theme for February is "Run Away With the Circus".

Honesty corner. The circus gives me the absolute CREEPS. It always has done, ever since I was a toddler and my parents brought me to a circus in Longford where a clown thought it would be a great idea to throw water over the audience. I went to the circus a few times after (what Irish child didn't see Fossetts in the nineties?), then took a liking to Stephen King aged 11 and forevermore saw the circus as a place of mystery and intense horror. Thanks, Stephen.

Thankfully, the creep is kept to a minimum in this box (I still find anything related to the Circus mildly unsettling).


I knew what the February book would be, because the sneak peek matched up with a book I'd read a preview of in a Buzz Books edition. This month's choice is Caraval, by Stephanie Garber.

As well as a beautiful hardcover edition of the book, there's a letter from the author, a signed bookplate, a card with a code to download a sample of the audiobook, and a little decorative card with a quote.


Caraval is a YA book about two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who run away from home and join Caraval, a famous circus show. When one of the girls becomes part of a dangerous game, it's up to the other one to save her sister and figure out how to win the game before it's too late. I started reading this the evening it arrived and I couldn't put it down - I really, really loved it and I think fantasy fans will adore it.


As well as the book, there's a gorgeous tote bag adorned with a quote from Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. The bag was designed by Evie Bookish. There's an exclusive circus themed badge, a bookmark, a lipbalm that tastes like cinnamon donuts from Geek Fire Labs, and a yummy caramel popcorn scented candle from Frostbeard Studio.


The final items are some very cute Circus themed Page Flags (sticky notes to you and I) from a company called Girl Of All Work and a very cute little notebook made from recycled Casino playing cards from Attic Journals. There's also a theme reveal card for March - it's going to be "Sailors, Ships and Seas". Not a theme that floats my boat (sorry, sorry) but I've been subscribed long enough to trust Owlcrate to put a decent box together.

I'm really happy with the February box and I greatly appreciate the way Owlcrate look after their International customers, I only got my shipping notice yesterday and my box arrived to Ireland today.

If you're interested in subscribing to Owlcrate, you can use the code WELCOME15 for 15% off your first order. That's not an affiliate code, I gain nothing from it. If you would like to help me earn a free box, this is my referral link - otherwise go directly to www.owlcrate.com and sign up there.






Friday, February 17, 2017

Five Star Friday: Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

Nothing to Disclose

Hi!

This is a series that I started last year and (as usual) forgot about - but I want to bring it back to let people know about some books that I think are really good. I often get asked for recommendations so hopefully this series will be useful!

Previous Five Star Friday picks can be found here.

For this week, I want to focus on Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard.


Published | May 2016
Page Count | 352
Genre(s) | Thriller | Mystery | Psychological Thriller

Shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at BGE Irish Book Awards 2016


PLOT

Adam Dunne lives with his girlfriend Sarah in Co. Cork. Adam is a writer who has just landed a lucrative deal - but celebrations are put on hold while Sarah travels to Barcelona for work. When nobody hears anything from Sarah after she departs, Adam begins to worry - did she really go to Spain? Why hasn't anyone heard from her? Has something happened or has she just left him? When Sarah's passport arrives in the post with a vague note, Adam is determined to track her down and find out what's going on. His search leads him to a cruise ship, where something definitely isn't right - and finds out that Sarah may not be the first woman to disappear.

WHY FIVE STARS?
At the time of reading this, my twins were 2 years old. Sleep was (and is) incredibly precious to me. I set an alarm for the early morning to get up before them to finish reading this book - if that doesn't tell you how addictive it is, I don't know how else to explain it. The pacing is perfect, it's full of tension, the drama is realistic and it throws up an awful lot of questions as to how cases are dealt with off land. The characters are well developed (even minor ones), the sub-plot is believable, the whole thing is just really well written and very much worth a read if you like this genre but are sick of the same old plots being rehashed over and over. It's fresh and clever. This is one of the first books I mention when someone asks for a solid thriller recommendation.

YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:
(click a cover for more information)

 





Monday, February 13, 2017

Look Fantastic Beauty Box February 2017: The Runway Edition

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Hi!

I had the Look Fantastic Advent Calendar in December and I was so impressed with it that I decided to resubscribe to their monthly beauty box. I bought a 6 month subscription and received the February one as my first box. Every month, the boxes have a specific theme. The February one was themed "Runway Ready" in honour of London Fashion Week.




Here's a quick run through of the contents:


 MyVitamins Catwalk Queen 30 Vitamins | Worth: approx €8.00 (Full Size: €15.95)
Y'all know my opinion on taking vitamins willy-nilly - if you need them, great. If you don't, pointless. This is a mix of Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, Copper, Selenium, Zinc - presumably the title "Catwalk Queen" is to do with the benefits of some of those minerals for skin, hair and nails. 

PolĂ„ar Icy Magic Instant Eye Contour Energiser | Worth: approx €24.95 (Full Sized Product)
This is a roll-on gel for the eye area that promises to hydrate and improve dull tired skin. It claims to help eliminate puffiness and dark circles, all while boosting lash growth. A really interesting product that I'm looking forward to trying out properly.

ModelCo Eyelites Eyeshadow in Shade St. Barts | Worth: Unknown
ModelCo items seem to be regularly featured in subscription boxes or given away free with magazines. They're not actually for sale on the LF website, so I find this an odd choice to include in the box when so many other brands are available. In saying that, it's a standard creamy copper eyeshadow with nice pigmentation and I will probably use it at some point.

ThisWorks Stress Check Breathe In | Worth: approx €12.16 (Full Size: €19.45)
This is a little roll-on designed for application to your pulse points during times of stress. Containing Frankincense, Lavender and Eucalyptus, the scent is really pleasant and warm. It's incredibly relaxing so I can see this being of some comfort during a stressful situation, the smell is really soothing.

Borghese Fango Delicato Active Mud Mask | Worth: approx €3.09 (Full Size: €27.45)
The packaging on this is incredibly cute, like a little Nespresso capsule. It's a 25g sample size of an active mud mask, enough for a couple of applications. It contains Kaolin clay, aloe, mango, witch hazel - I'm looking forward to using this. 

The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA | Worth: approx €5.80 (Full Sized Product)
This is a brand I'd never heard of until Lorraine posted about it - it seems to be a reasonably priced decent skincare brand with no bells or whistles. It's pretty much sold out on the LF site at the moment, but I know that ASOS stock it. This is a creamy, thick, unscented moisturiser that claims to put hydration back into the skin. It contains amino acids, dermal lipids and hyaluronic acid. 

So - overall, a nice box, I thought. Given that the theme was based on London Fashion Week and that the whole thing could have gone in a very trend-led direction, I thought the choice of skincare products was lovely. The sparkly eyeshadow is pretty, and the stress roll-on is cute. I could have done without the vitamins but they seem to be a fad at the moment so it's not surprising to see the beauty boxes follow suit. 


Total Box Worth: €54 plus the ModelCo Eyeshadow. 
Cost of Box: €16.20 approx as part of 6 month subscription.
Verdict: Really nice box, looking forward to next month.

Every box also includes a pocket sized copy of Elle magazine (I don't read it). 




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Kindle - Fire vs Paperwhite vs Free App

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Hi!

"I'm thinking of getting a Kindle, what one would you recommend?" - this is a question I get fairly often, so I put together this post to show you the differences between the ones we own.



I just deleted 3 paragraphs of technical nonsense - I was confusing even myself. Here's it broken down:

Kindle Fire HD
The Fire is available in three screen sizes. The 7 inch (£35 for 8GB, £45 for 16GB), 8 inch (£90) and 10 inch (£170).

I have an older version of the 7 inch, mine doesn't have a camera. My son has the most recent version, his has a camera, can record video, and has a slot for an SD card. Both are 8GB (the operating system takes up the guts of 3GB of that), which seems small but is enough for hundreds of books especially if you make use of the cloud (move a book to the cloud when you're done reading it). On his, he has a handful of books, Minecraft Pocket Edition and a couple of free games. On mine, I've a couple of hundred books, Candy Crush, Netflix, a GSAM Battery Monitor, Borrowbox for library books, Goodreads, some Social Media apps.

Just a note on security - parents can assert full control over a child's tablet, it can be linked to your account and it can be password protected, limited, and monitored. You can choose what to allow and what to limit. I have my son's set so that it automatically stops working at 9pm, and he doesn't have any internet or download access (it's password protected) so if he wants a download I have to do it.

Kindle Fire HD7 Current Generation

PROS:
Easy to set up and easy to use.
Slim, not heavy to hold.
Has a backlight so can be used at night.
Can be used for Netflix and other apps.
Works with standard Android chargers.
Can be used for Audiobooks.
Can be used with Borrowbox to borrow library books straight to the tablet.
Attractive colour display, great graphics.
Good value for money.

CONS:
Battery life is short (7-8 hours if using constantly).
Internet can prove a distraction.
Screen is hard to see outside.
Screen gets grubby easily.



Kindle Paperwhite
The Kindle Paperwhite has a 6 inch display and works with either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 3G. I chose the Wi-Fi only version and paid £110. The one with 3G is £170. There is an experimental internet browser on mine, but it's nowhere near good enough to surf comfortably.

Kindle Fire HD7 3rd Generation & Kindle Paperwhite Current Generation

PROS:
Has a backlight.
Has a 300ppi display - the highest display currently available on Kindle, akin to real paper.
No glare.
Works comfortably outside.
Works with standard Android chargers.
Very light to hold.
Battery lasts weeks.
No distractions - solely designed as an e-Reader.
Holds thousands of books.



CONS:
Can't be used with Borrowbox so can't borrow library books.
Black and White display can be boring.
Can't be used for games or social media.

Thank you Amanda (Go Book Yourself) who also made the (excellent) point that because the Kindle Paperwhite is lit from the front, it doesn't cause glare or eye fatigue. The Kindle Fire is lit from the back, so it can cause eye fatigue. I have to admit I prefer the Paperwhite in bed over the Fire, probably unconsciously because of that difference!

Free App




I also have the free Kindle app on my phone, it's available for PC, iOS and Android.

PROS:
If you've left your Kindle at home, you can access your Kindle books on your phone by signing in to your account.
Free.
Available on other tablets, iPads, laptops, computers - not just on phones.
Amazon's entire Kindle book selection is immediately available to purchase directly to the app, no need for a separate device.

CONS:
Can be a bit headache-inducing to read on the phone.

I do love the colour display on the Fire, but it's a nuisance that it doesn't work great outside. I also hate that the battery life is so short. If you're after a good eReader with a good backlight, I'd recommend the Paperwhite. It's a little smaller than the Fire but it's like reading off paper and it works great outside. Plus, mammoth battery life and no internet worth talking about to prove as a distraction.


If you have any other questions, just shout!






Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January 2017 Reads and a New Book Page!

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ARCs clearly defined in accordance with book review policy HERE


Hi!

One of my aims this year is to read 10 books a month. During 2016 there were months were I read 1.5 times that, and there were months where I didn't go near a book - so I'll be delighted if I reach anywhere near my target.

I'm also doing the Book Savings Jar challenge that I saw Aoife talk about - I'm putting €1 into a jar or money box for every book I finish so I can start a savings fund for something nice next Christmas - be it a bookish subscription box or just stocking up the Shelves or Kindle.

Before I talk about the books I read in January (aka the month that felt like it lasted a year), I need to direct your attention to the brand new book page for 2017 - on there you'll find information on book club picks as they're released (the Rick O'Shea Book Club and the Richard and Judy Book Club), plus as always there will be clickable covers that link to my full Goodreads reviews and links to Bookish Challenges and events like Booktubeathon, World Book Day celebrations, and any Tags or Readathons as they come along. There's a permanent tab on the top bar, plus a shiny new button on the sidebar that will take you directly to the page.


Books I Read in January - 11 


The Rick O'Shea Book Club

I read both picks this month:


      

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
I bought this one last year but hadn't gotten around to reading it, so I was happy that it was a January pick as it meant I'd finally got a push to read it. It's essentially a story about John Lennon on an island off the West of Ireland - probably one of the strangest books I've ever read, and I felt that a lot of it went over my head.

Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern
Cecelia's books are really hit and miss for me, I tend to really love her ideas but not so much her execution. This was no different, unfortunately. I loved the story about a documentary crew discovering a reclusive woman living in a forest who had the power to mimic any sound she heard - but I didn't like the direction the story went in or the amount of filler in the book.

Crime/Thriller


    

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
I decided to read this after I had seen the first episode of the BBC adaptation a couple of weeks ago. The TV version is staying fairly close to the book - a story about a professional woman in her fifties who embarks on a life-changing affair, only to have her life shattered by a (very graphic) event. It was a good read, but it was slow and I wasn't too gone on having the ending at the beginning of the book.

We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly * Review Copy from NetGalley
This is a story about a couple who have escaped the Rat Race for a self-sufficient life in the woods. They're members of a small community who find themselves torn apart when the threat of a Super Storm looms - the town (and the couple) are split into opposing sides: one half Preppers, the other half trying to put practical solutions in place. I really enjoyed this, I think I read it in one sitting. I felt like it was all wrapped up a little too neatly but it was a good story.

When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen * Review Copy from NetGalley 
Dubbed "Office Noir", this is about a small team in the UK who work in a recruitment office. When new manager Rachel arrives to shake things up, they all react in different ways: flattery, paranoia, sabotage - everyone wants to save their job. Meanwhile, in America, child psychologist Anne sees a horrific news story from the UK and recognises someone she dealt with years ago while investigating a House of Horrors. How are the two stories linked? And who is lying? This was an epic read, I've no problem in telling you that I walked around with the Kindle because I didn't want to put it down. It was fresh, the toxic environment in the office was a brilliant setting, and I loved Anne's story too. Highly recommended if you like a good tense thriller.

Non-Fiction


Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
Who doesn't love Mara Wilson? She starred in most of my favourite childhood films, then disappeared for a while before turning up again and gracing the internet with a brilliant site (Mara Wilson Writes Stuff) and one of my favourite twitter accounts (@MaraWilson). She's intelligent, warm, and witty. So, where did she go during the "lost" years? In this book she explains how she became disillusioned with Hollywood, and what she's been doing since (hint: she's incredibly normal so don't expect any juicy gossip). There are two lovely tributes in here - one to Robin Williams, and one to Matilda. I enjoyed this a lot.


Adult Fiction

  

Breaking the Ice by Mandy Baggot
This is one of Mandy's earlier self-published titles, repackaged with a new cover. I'm a big fan of Mandy's writing style - she writes lighthearted romance stories but her main characters are always witty and sharp, with lots of pop culture references thrown in. This one wasn't my favourite of hers, I think her work has definitely improved since this was written, but it was still a nice easygoing story about a young shy woman who falls for a famous ice skater.

Holding by Graham Norton
I got this for Christmas, and couldn't wait to read it. It took me a little longer to finish than I had expected, but it was a good enough read. It's about a small village outside Cork, full of people with their own secrets and issues. When bones are discovered on a building site, nobody claims to know anything - so it's up to the local Sergeant to investigate around the village. I've never understood the term "cozy mystery" up until now, it's a pretty accurate description of this book. There was one part that focused on a female character that went back to years before and I really loved that part, I think he's really good at writing about the past (to the point where this book felt like it was set decades ago).


  

The Wangs vs. The World: A Novel by Jade Chang * Review Copy from NetGalley
Charles Wang came to America with a dream: to get rich. He did exactly that, having started a successful cosmetics firm. Unfortunately for Charles and his family, he has now lost everything - so he has no alternative but to try and get his hands on some land he thinks he's entitled to back in China. I didn't enjoy this book - the premise was interesting but Charles was horrible and the plot was drawn out.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
This, on the other hand, was incredibly enjoyable. It has nothing to do with goats or sheep, instead it's about the disappearance of a local woman and the pair of ten year old girls who are determined to find her. Set in England during the infamous heatwave of 1976, it's a good story if a little long in parts.

Young Adult



Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
I read a preview of this in one of the Buzz Books collections last year and was intrigued by the premise of a YA book where the main character was a) male, and b) blind. Will Porter has been blind since birth, he's 16 now and he's about to start attending a mainstream high school. When he meets Cecily, he feels an instant connection - but what would happen if Will could see, and if Cecily wasn't quite what he expected? I promise it's not as shallow as it sounds, it's a quick, sweet read.

So that's it - if you've read any of the above, I'd love to hear what you thought!