Holidays Are For Reading

Lazy morning in bed, a hot cup of coffee and a great book in hand. Read on for my top 3 fiction and non-fiction reads you need to have on your nightstand.
Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash
Two things I have come to notice make a positive impact on my stress levels and wellbeing are (1) Exercise (man, those endorphins really do make a difference) and (2) Reading. And this blog post is about the latter since this year is the year I have read the most. Ever. Twenty five books, as you asked. And yes, I’m counting.


I haven’t always been an avid reader, although I have fond memories of Roger Red Hat and Billy Blue Hat from my early years at school (remember them?). In truth, as a child, my preference was always to be read to and a particularly frequent request was The Famous Five (with all the voices please, Dad!) There was, of course, a moment around the late nineties when Harry Potter-mania began. It took two attempts for me to get into The Philosopher’s Stone but after that I was hooked. I may not have joined the midnight queues at Waterstones but I was first in line the next day. These remain in an elite place on my bookshelf which I have re-read once or twice since.

However, my real love affair with reading began at University. ‘I’ve got some reading to do’ sounded like a valid and rather respectable excuse to retreat to your room when you’re meant to be studying but it certainly wasn’t the course reading list I was getting through. I know I wasn’t alone there either as my fellow housemate would say she’s getting an early night only to be found reading the Twilight series at 4am when we stumbled in from a club. I managed to catch up on to that series in my early twenties when I would sneak off to a cafĂ© behind Selfridges on my lunch break determined to read the full book series before the last film adaption left the cinemas.

It was my new friend from down the halls of residence who recommended Lucy in the Sky by Paige Toon and from there, I was converted. Up until that point, I had never read a love story quite like it - my repertoire up until that point consisted of Pride and Prejudice! I was completely addicted to the place I could escape to in their story for hours at a time. Paige Toon is an author’s name I’m sure you’ve heard on this blog before – she is easily my favourite wordsmith and conjures characters and love stories like no other! For the avid fan, Toon really cleverly (and satisfyingly) intertwines characters from past books into her new stories. You wouldn’t be lost if you read her books out of order but it’s a lovely added extra for the super-fan like me! Now I follow @PaigeToonAuthor on Instagram to know exactly where she’s at with her next book and get my pre-order in (If You Could Go Anywhere coming in May 2019)! I flew through The Last Piece of My Heart and Five Years From Now this year and loved them both! Last Christmas I read The One We Fell In Love With in two days so now eagerly anticipate the next release!


When I lived in New York, I went through a sort of reading deprivation and this is when I realised just how much it had an impact on my headspace. The relocation itself meant that most of my beloved unread bookshelf were left behind and so I didn’t have reading material to hand. One of the first things I did when I came back briefly to the UK was to make a batch order from Amazon to keep myself entertained throughout the remainder of my time in NYC. That where this blog post came from and it was the best money I’ve ever spent!

At the start of this year, I wanted to set myself a target to make sure I kept up with reading – as a person I’m quite motivated by a to-do list as the satisfaction of ticking some off is just too much! I like the idea of carving out time away from screens (especially my vice of double screening) and maximising any down time I have, whether that's on the commute or before bed.

Twenty-five books down and these are my top three reading greats. Add to your Kindle/Audible Wishlist or bookshelf NOW - you won't regret it!

Top 3 Fiction Recommendations

Top 3 Non Fiction Recommendations

Each of these was utterly addictive, I-could-not-put-them-down kind of books. I found I created more time in my day than I even knew I had. Even Netflix noticed and started emailing me to ask ‘Is everything OK?' as I'd fallen off the radar. I hope you find yourself curled up under blanket by a roaring fire getting lost in the pages of these great reads very soon!

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How I'm Ending 2018

A long overdue post to fill you in on the tumbleweed that has been blowing a gale on my blog recently. My 2018 goal to post more regularly is making my cheeks redden but, seriously, where has this year gone?! I cannot believe another twelve months has passed by in what feels like the blink of an eye. Life is speeding up! It's been another jam-packed year though on reflection. Just the three new home address, two jobs and one country move. It's really bonkers to think I still lived in New York for the first three months of this year... that feels like forever ago.

Many people ask me if I miss it and I do, occasionally, but for all the pizza in the world, it's no contest against having friends and family down the road! Although we had already made our minds up we were moving home when we touched down for the last time on New Year's Eve, those last few weeks were all about ticking through the New York bucket list. I still have two pieces of confetti in my purse which I found in Times Square on New Year's Day post brunch at The Brooklyn Diner.

MRS A TO B: NEW YORK CITY GUIDE

The move itself was a giant 1-0 for womankind when I single-handedly emptied our flat, discovering the aptly-named Let Go app to sell our electric items and remained undefeated against our king size mattress that had to go down 23 floors! Quite a feat for my 5ft 3in frame! I felt (and still feel) hugely grateful for the opportunity to live in New York. I know the city is so easy to fall in love with, as I did on my first visit aged 18, and it's still one of my favourite cities even after experience 'real life' there. If either cities were a relationship, New York was the unforgettable fling whereas London is the 'The One'.

LAST WEEK REFLECTION: NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Life back in the UK has been DE-LIGHT-FUL! We have been so happy to set-up our own home, decorating it all over within weeks of moving in and getting into the swing of a new (and rather long) commute. Transitioning back into the Elemis UK team was amazing and I have loved working with my new team. It's been full-on but that's probably thanks to the social life that has come with being back on home soil. Weekends are booked up far in advance and my tolerance for alcohol is on the rise (I was basically tee-total whilst living in NYC, $20 for a glass of wine... go figure!)

LONDON: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This summer, we hopped over to enjoy some Spanish sunshine in Marbella which consisted of sleeping, eating, and reading on repeat. So good to get away and popping over to the continent was one of those things I realised I took for granted when it was no longer on my doorstep. 2019 is going to be all about using up those air miles and getting away more frequently #WorkHardPlayHard


After a quick flick through my iCal, here are some of my favourite highlights I got up to in the year!

Happy Moments: Five weddings down in 2018 and not a single one affected by jetlag - yay! The fifth and final nuptials of the year was the cherry on top as I had the honour of being bridesmaid for my absolute fave couple in the Gloucestershire hills and the squad shots are to die for!
Musical Memories: Starting big with my bae at Bey and Jay-Z's world tour. It's funny but it seems the lyrics for '99 problems' has been sitting in the recess of my brain for the last ten years! After a weekend in Suffolk and car journeys to the coast later, I was a newly converted George Ezra fan. Our most requested Alexa command ever since? 'Alexa, play George Ezra' knocking Imagine Dragons off the top spot! December's finale was Ellie Goulding's Streets of London charity gig including Dua Lipa, Bastille and Sigrid to name a few.

Theatre Time: Reinstating Theatre Club from our A-Level Theatre Studies days, I ticked off the classic Les Miserables, a new and incredible retelling of the suffragette's campaign for Votes for Women with Sylvia at The Old Vic and Heather The Musical which was dark and hilarious in equal measure!

Sport Spotlights: From Boxing at the old establishment York Hall, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars at the NFL International Series at Wembley and the FA Cup Final, to cheering on my sister in the London Marathon.

And to wrap up: Celebrating Ryan's 30th in March at Hawksmoor (the best steak in London) and family reunions in Lincoln, two hair colour changes (one accidental) and officially becoming Mrs A on paper (3 years later!)

So I've been busy, right? At what I haven't mentioned yet is we've just moved house! An eye-opening experience selling a property and being caught between solicitors and estate agents. Wow. But, finally, I can say Hello to our new home back on the Underground. Bring on exploring North London in 2019.



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Christmas Gift Buying Hacks

How to boss Christmas Shopping like a pro.
It's a busy time of year. If not, the busiest time of year. Not only do social engagements dominate the calendar but the hangovers eat into a big part of the weekend's shopping opportunity and not to mention cash-flow demands at this time! My favourite part of Christmas Day (after all the food, of course) is seeing people open the gifts I have bought them. I can't help look on hopefully that the present they open delights.

Of course, when it comes to approaching gift buying, it is obvious to say that organisation is key. After one too many Christmas Eve's spent dashing around Oxford Street and one year in which a particularly nasty case of tonsillitis found me hospital-bound for the full week leading up to Christmas, I pledged to myself Never again will I leave it so late! So, here are my tips to tackle the Christmas shopping whilst retaining a bit of ye olde festive spirit!

1. Write a list... (and check it twice!)
As an all-time lover of stationary, this first point comes particularly easy to me as I've got into the habit of having a notebook by my side when I open presents. Why? To quite simply remember who gave me what whilst my brain has left the building to focus on digestion. I used this list as a checklist for thank you notes and also transfer it to my phone where I keep a note of who I exchange gifts with and what those gifts have been over the years. Partly, I'm having to combat my own terrible memory more than anything! I keep this list in my iPhone Notes section so it's on hand whenever I see something spontaneously in a shop and make a note ahead of prime gift-buying season (told you, bad memory). It also makes sure you aren't relying on a slightly frazzled brain when it comes to, 'Do we do gifts?' when you're thinking through your gifts list.

2. One-stop-shop.
Thematic gifting is not only hugely efficient but also helps take a lot of the stress out for it. One year, it might be that you focus on books, another stationary, another... you get the picture. If that doesn't work for a particularly eclectic bunch, pick a shop and do your damage! A bit like having a wedding gift list at John Lewis, you can get a strike off ten-presents in one fell swoop!

3. Feet up 1st December
If you're the kind of person that works well to deadlines, set yourself the task of having everything bought by 1st December. Then, it's simply a case of setting up the dining table, playing Christmas movies on repeat and wrapping them all whilst sipping on some mulled wine - de-ee-lightful! Last year, a little off the beaten track of the British High Street (and Amazon), I found myself in Kew Garden's gift shop in August. Yes, August. Having flown back from New York for the first time since I'd moved out there six months prior, this was my one and only chance before touchdown on 22nd December. Never knowing how the flights, snow blizzards and my mother's intentions not to let me out of her sight once I'd landed, meant gift-shopping had to be done and dusted way in advance! So, back to the summer heat of August, post-stroll around the Botanic Gardens and I left with three large bags and 80% of my Christmas shopping done. Boom. (The fact I actually wrapped the presents in August was probably a step too far, but, being organised gives me a buzz. Loser, I know!)
4. Black Friday
There's nothing worse than the pinch of Yuletide dinners/drinks/parties (and new outfits for said dinners/drinks/parties) that hits your bank balance hard. It can feel like eleven months of socialising in the space of three weeks! The practicality of getting your Christmas shopping done earlier, either drip-fed across the year or a least two or three paychecks before the 6 week financial drought known as January, may not be for everyone. You'll have all seen those adverts that get played around this time of year to help the people manage their funds so they can afford Christmas and plan for the expenditure in advance. There's a great idea in there somewhere, but, like most us, come February/March, there couldn't be a thought further from my head than, 'Oh, just pop £50 into savings towards next Christmas'. Sounds easy enough when I write it down but somehow never seems possible. The saving grace is, of course, the American phenomenon that has hit our digital shores known as 'Black Friday'. Born out of the public holiday that proceeds Thanksgiving, it is the biggest shopping day of the US calendar, hence retailers offering up incentives to part with as much (and typically, more) dollar than you had anticipated! Still, some great bargains to be had and this is where that list from #1 comes in handy so you can snap up those items that have already piqued your interest before the 'Out of Stock' message pops up!

Here's hoping that post-hangover one weekend in December you're like me, sat on the sofa with your feet up eating a mince pie knowing that all yours gifts are wrapped to perfection under the tree. All that's left is for your mother/sister/cousin/gran to say those treasured words, 'Shall we open some presents?'

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