Bucket List Entry #5: Palio di Siena, Tuscany, Italy @paliodisiena @VisitTuscany @Italia #PalioDiSiena @BleuViola #Tuscany #Italy #horseracing #bucketlist #travel #wanderlust

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A lot of my bucket list entries seem to be inspired by books, as you may have noticed if you have been reading them so far. This one is a little different, as my desire to go here has been partially inspired by my love of Italy and of horses, growing up in a town fuelled by the world’s oldest Classic horse race and seeing all the excitement and razzmatazz this brings with it, partly by the opening of a Bond film starring my favourite Bond (Kate Baker will know who I am talking about!) and partly by a young adult fantasy  novel.

How can a fantasy novel inspire a trip to a real place, I hear you cry? Well, have a read of  the second book in Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza series, City of Stars, and you’ll understand. The books are set in a fictional world called Talia, which resembles sixteenth-century Italy, and this book focuses on a horse race called the Stellata, which is obviously modelled on the Palio.

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For those of you who have never heard of it, the Palio di Siena is a horse race held twice a year in the Siena, Italy. Ten horses and riders race around the city square, the Piazza Del Campo, bareback and dressed in the colours of the contrade, or city wards that they represent. A pageant or historical costume parade, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race and the spectacle attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.

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The length of the race is three circuits of the square and lasts only about 90 seconds. Riders often fall off on the steeply canted track, particularly as riders may use whips not only on their own horse but to disrupt their rivals, and riderless horses can finish and win the race, as it is the horse representing the contrade, and not the jockey that triumphs. The loser in the race is considered to be the horse that comes second, and not the last horse.

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The winner is awarded a banner of painted silk, known as a palio. Rivalry between the contrades is fierce and part of the game is to prevent rival wards winning, and celebrating the losses of historic enemies. The races date back to medieval times.

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If you are a fan of Daniel Craig as James Bond, you will have seen a filmic representation of the Palio, as the opening scene of Quantum of Solace takes place while the famous race is being run. It was my re-watching of this film over Christmas that prompted me to make this Bucket List Entry #4.

 

Merry ‘Twixmas! Looking back, looking forward @TheFictionCafe @RNATweets @lord_dodo @moleskine #RomanticNovelistsAssociation #NewWritersScheme #bookblogger #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading #amwriting #readinggoals #writinggoals #blogginggoals

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It’s a funny time of year, isn’t it, the week between Christmas and New Year? No one knows what day of the week it is or what they should be doing. Everything seems to come to a standstill, the world taking a breath between the excitement of Christmas past and the promise of the new year yet to come. A great time for a bit of introspection, muse on the year past, plan for the one about to start.

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That’s what I have been doing the past couple of days, anyway. My girls were staying with their dad, the Irishman flew off to Dublin for a few days with his parents, I had the house to myself and some time for contemplation and organisation. I tidied up the Christmas detritus, got out my new diary and calendar ready to fill with blogging and writing goals for the year ahead, and had a think about what I want to achieve and how I’m going to do it.

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2019 was a very busy year on the blog. I did loads of blog tours, read a massive 165 books in total. Friday Night Drinks grew in popularity and I had some great guests and I increased my following. On the downside, my TBR grew ever more massive and out of control, I neglected the travel and writing areas of my blog and failed miserably to complete my two reading challenges because I over-faced myself with blog tour commitments and could not devote as much time as I wanted to free reading. My NetGalley backlog also grew to the point where I got turned down for a couple of books because of my abysmal ratio. Something needs to be done.

So, bearing all of this in mind, what lies in store for 2020 and what are my plans?

My Friday Night Drinks and Tempted by… features are both fully booked and planned to June, so they will be carrying on as before. I will be setting my Goodreads Reading Challenge target at 150 again, with the hope that I can exceed it as I have the last two years. I have decided against doing any other external reading challenges, as I don’t need the pressure. Instead, I will make a second attempt at doing my Desert Island Books (more detail on that to come in January.) I am also determined to be more diligent with the Travel, Bucket List and Writing areas of my blog and have diaried in some regular features for these. I’m looking forward to getting a bit more variety in to the blog.

In an attempt to get some control over my NetGalley ratio and TBR, I have decided to go back to the original aim of the blog as set out in my first ever blog post and buy no new books in 2020, or request any more from NetGalley. I’ll just be reading the ones I already have. Unfortunately, these means cutting right back on blog tours to free up reading time. I’m limiting myself to a maximum of two per month after January and February (where I have already committed to more than two!). I am allowing myself to receive my one Book Club book each month, and spend my monthly Audible credit. I have a few books on pre-order which I will let stand. Other than that, I’ll not be buying anything new, but reviewing what I already have, as randomly selected from my book jar. I’m actually looking forward to the challenge. I got a few book-themed Christmas gifts to see me on my way too.

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(Fear not, dear authors with books being published in 2020, I will be making a list ready for when the ban is lifted!)

I had a bit of an epiphany back in the spring when I had Bell’s Palsy and could not read for six weeks due to issues with my left eye. I had always been a little snobby about audiobooks not being ‘proper reading’ and had never counted them in my reading totals. Well, I have to say, audiobooks were my lifeline during those long boring days of illness and now I am as zealous a convert as St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I am listening to them at every opportunity and, in fact, my favourite book of the year was consumed in audio format. So, in 2020, I will be listening to even more audiobooks and reviewing more of them on my blog.

After a couple of lax months at the end of the year, I also plan on making sure I review every book I read or listen to next year (unless I hate it) and being more engaged with other people’s blogs in the new year.

On the writing front, I’m back in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for the third year, and I am determined that this is the year that I start submitting my book to agents and publishers. I’m planning on attending some RNA events again this year, including conference in July, so I hope to share some of that journey with you. My very kind and wise friends have supplied me with some lovely Christmas gifts to help me along, including this gorgeous Story Box gift from my lovely friend Mary-Louise and a Smithson notebook from the Irishman (a hint to get the book finished, perhaps?)

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As far as travel goes, I currently have nothing booked, which is unusual, but I have last year’s trips still to share and I am sure there will be things planned soon, so watch this space!

All in all, I am excited for the coming year, and all that it is going to bring for me, and for the blog. I hope you will continue on this journey with me, share the highs and the lows and, most of all, the book love. After all, it is fairly meaningless without all of you. Thanks for being here and

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Isle of Man: Half Term Trip, 31 October to 4 November 2018 @visitisleofman #travel #holidays #halfterm #familytime #IOMStory

Travel is the most neglected area of my blog since I revised the layout and categories a couple of months ago so I thought I would rectify that by posting a few pictures of our recent family trip to the Isle of Man, where my parents keep a little holiday home. We were only there a few days but we packed a lot in! The weather was kind to us in the most part, except for the last day.

We went Pony Trekking in the hills at Ballahimmin Pony Trekking Centre, the kids did the rope courses at ApeMann and, on the day it rained, we solved the Wonderland Escape Room at Exit Strategy. In between we visited Port Erin for a walk on the beach, took a tour round Castletown and visited Douglas Harbour and ate fish and chips in a gale.

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Pony Trekking at Ballahimmin under blue, but cold, skies

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Castletown

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Port Erin Beach and Harbour

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One of my favourite independent book shops, right on Port Erin seafront

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Winners! (I think I’m standing in a hole, surely the kids can’t nearly all be taller than me!)

I love to visit the Isle of Man at any time of year, it is a great place for a traditional family holiday, plus the island has such a fascinating history and a unique place in the modern world. I’ve also been lucky enough to be there for the TT Road Races a couple of times, which is a real bucket list trip, even if you aren’t usually a fan of motorbike racing! It’s also a great place for wildlife spotting, including seals, whales and dolphins at certain times of year, and for walkers.

For more information, visit https://www.visitisleofman.com

Have you ever been to the Isle of Man? Is it somewhere you’d like to visit? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“To Roam the Roads of Lands Remote” #Blogtober18 #travel #wanderlust

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One thing I have noticed since I started book blogging is the correlation between people who love books and people who love to travel, and I don’t believe that this is any coincidence. After all, what are books save a means of travel for the mind? We read to escape our every day environment and experience new thoughts, new places, new emotions; we travel for exactly the same reasons.

Travel is a huge passion of mine, so much so that until recently I have been running my own travel business. The only things stopping me being constantly on the move are lack of time and lack of money, so once my kids are grown and I win the Lottery, I’ll be off and away. In the meantime, I travel as much as I can, and spend the rest of the time travelling through stories.

I’ve been extremely lucky to have visited some fantastic places and had some amazing experiences over the years. I’ve stood on top of Rockefeller Center in the snow.

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I’ve mushed huskies in Lapland, helicoptered to the floor of the Grand Canyon, been dune bashing in Dubai, seen Little Big Town inducted into the Grand Old Opry. I’ve listened to the Pope give mass in St. Peter’s Square, watched horse racing from a private box at Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby) and ridden in an Indy 500 car.

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I’ve seen Ernest Hemingway’s six-toed cats, cruised on a steamboat on the Mississippi and tilted a thousand feet out over Chicago’s Magnificent Mile at the top of the John Hancock Building at night.

I’ve seen opera and dancing horses in Vienna, been to the birthplace of Muhammad Ali and feasted on a whole museum of Warhols in Pittsburgh. I threw a football on the home field of the Cinnicinati Bengals and hand-fed a giraffe at Columbus zoo. I’ve met Mickey Mouse, ridden rollercoasters at night in a deserted theme park, seen the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, the White House and the Liberty Bell.

I’ve also had some very sobering experiences, – at the Berlin Wall, Auschwitz and the 9/11 Memorial – where the memories of unbelievable human pain and suffering permeate the stones and we are sharply reminded why we all need to love more and hate less, and treasure each day we are given on this earth.

This year I’ve been to Krakow, with its beautiful square and turbulent history, in a freezing cold February to fulfil a long time ambition of the Irishman’s.

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I’ve visited Washington and Philadelphia where we saw Trump fly overhead in a chopper on his way to Florida while the Stormy Daniels controversy was raging, ate Philly cheesesteaks and visited Arlington cemetery and the iconic Iwo Jima memorial.

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We’ve also been over to Dublin, to visit the Irishman’s parents, which is always a joyful experience, not least to drink pints of the black stuff at McDaid’s or visit the beautiful library at Trinity College and marvel at the Book of Kells.

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In a couple of weeks we will be visiting the Isle of Man for half term where the most excitement we get is shouting greetings to the Little Folk as we cross the Fairy Bridge,  riding the steam railways and eating the delicious local ice cream.

Next year already promises a return visit to Key West with the whole family, plus a surprise trip for the Irishman’s big birthday in February (I can’t say where yet – don’t want to give the game away). I’m hoping we’ll fit some more trips in, maybe to Belfast where I’m desperate to see the Titanic Exhibition and visit the Giant’s Causeway. The Irishman keeps promising to take me to Galway and ply me with oysters. Or maybe he’ll plan a surprise trip to Europe (Venice, Niall, I want to go to Venice! If I keep saying it, he might take the hint). Who knows where adventure may yet take me?

I’ve been so lucky to have been able to visit so many amazing places, but there are so many more on my list. That’s what the Bucket List category of this blog is for – making plans and recording hopes and dreams for the future. In the meantime, I can go wherever I want, whenever I want, through the pages of my books.

Where have you been? Where would you go if you could? I’d love to hear your traveller’s tales.

“The Time Has Come,” the Walrus said … @gilbster1000 @RNAtweets @NaNoWriMo #Blogtober18

of-dodos-karma-free-software-in-the-library-3-728Hello and welcome to the first day of October! Anyone who has read my blog religiously (probably no one, but one never knows) will recall that this is my favourite time of year. I just love autumn and everything that goes with it. It is also a time of year that feels like a new beginning for me. Odd, I know, when this is traditionally the time of year when things begin to die off but it you read my post Hello, Autumn from last year, it will make a lot more sense.

In the spirit of new starts and new adventures beginning in the autumn, I have a few new projects on the go. I have recently taken the big decision to change careers and I am embarking on some training to take my career in a different direction which will lead to more involvement in the publishing world, I hope. I am, with some sadness, leaving behind the world of travel, but only in a career sense, and have more trips planned, both actually and in my dreams, but more of that to come. I am also pushing on with my own writing plans, eagerly awaiting feedback on my manuscript from the Romantic Novelists’ Associations’ New Writers’ Scheme so I can improve it, whilst also prepping for starting work on my second novel for NaNoWriMo.

I also have some new plans for the blog. Some of you may have noticed that the format of the blog has changed slightly over the past week – that’s right, pay attention at the back there! – and I have some new categories set up. Truth be told, I have found myself a little jaded over the past few weeks. I made the rookie book blogger mistake back in the spring of getting over-excited and taking on way too many blog tours. This all came to a head in September, when I was just so over-extended that I found myself really not enjoying my book reviewing, or reading constantly to a deadline. I got to the point where I felt like I had nothing original or interesting to say about the books I was reading and I was boring myself, so heaven knows what I was doing to you lot! My blog stopped being fun, which is the really the whole the point of the thing. I was suffering from the dreaded blogger burnout. So, I have made a couple of big decisions regarding the blog which I hope will shake it up and make it fun for me again, which in turn I hope will make it more fun for you to read.

Books will still be at the heart of the blog, because that is why I set up the blog in the first place and they are fairly central to my life. Also, I just love talking about them with other book lovers and helping to support and promote all the great authors out there. However, I have decided to cut back on the number of blog tours I am doing, limit them to one, or at most two per week and be really choosy about which ones I join. (I can hear Rachel Gilbey laughing like a drain as she reads this, given how rubbish I am about turning down her tempting tours. Rachel. I’m serious. I really mean it this time, cross my heart and hope to die!). This will hopefully give me time to read some of the other books I have on my TBR which I have been dying to read but have had no time on my schedule to get round to.

Along with the books, I am going to write about some other topics that interest me. Travel is a big one, both in the UK and overseas, as that is something I just love to do. I’d like to share more about my own writing journey and how that is progressing, and I am sure bits of stuff about my family life might creep in. I’ve also decided that, as i approach my fiftieth birthday, I’d like to draw up a bucket list of things I’d like to do and, what better place to explore this and keep a record than here?

I’ve decided to kick the new look blog off by taking part in Blogtober, with a new post every day on a mix of the new topics, starting with this as number one. So, I hope you will come along with me on my new journey and pop back each day this month to see what is happening, and maybe link me in to your blogs if you are doing Blogtober too. Hopefully we can learn a bit more about each other, outside of a mutual love of books. Maybe you lovely folks might have some comments or suggestions on the things I plan to do that will help me along the way. Feel free to chip in any time, I love to hear from you all.

Happy Blogtober then, to all my lovely followers and thank you for supporting my little blog. I really do appreciate you taking time to visit my tiny corner of the internet and interacting with my inane ramblings and I hope you will like where it is going.

 

 

 

A book shop with a difference 📖📖📖📖📖

A great friend’s thoughts on a great day.

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Yesterday I met with a new friend; a fellow aspiring author and a successful book reviewer and blogger – ALittleBookProblem

It was a true honour to meet someone I’ve been chatting to for a few months now – an avid reader with a book obsession and a to-be-read pile even larger than my own! She will, and already has been, a huge resource of great advice on my writing journey, because she is on one of her own 👯‍♀️

We spent an hour in and around this beautifully welcoming barge called Word-on-the-Water and TimeOut have written this article about them.

We enjoyed a coffee in the sun and listened to some lovely lazy tunes while we chatted about books and writing… and life.

We both love a good story and thankfully so does the publishing world and the agents who work within it. We meandered our way down to The…

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Happy Birthday to Me!

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Well, this isn’t going very well so far, is it?!

By that I mean this blogging malarkey – which I just cannot seem to make time for or get into a rhythm with at all, but more on that later.

I bet some of you thought I meant that the goal I set for myself this year, which is the subject of this blog, wasn’t going well, didn’t you? The goal of not buying or borrowing any new books in 2017 and only reading from my TBR. Well no, that project is going surprisingly well, and no one is more amazed about that than I am, I can tell you. So far, so good. Despite many temptations, including a visit to The Book Loft in the German Village in Columbus, Ohio that has 32 ROOMS OF BOOKS*, I have stood firm, and have not bought, begged, borrowed or stolen any new books yet this year, and its now June! Big fist bumps to me, I don’t think anyone thought I would hold out this long, least of all me.

(*If anyone is ever in the vicinity of Columbus, Ohio, I highly recommend a visit to the charming German Village, which is a unique and beautiful neighbourhood and the fabulous The Book Loft, where any book lover could spend hours lost in a world of literature. And I mean literally lost, this place is a labyrinth. Walking out without a couple of new tomes was one of the hardest things I have ever done. My fellow traveller and blogger, Liz, is made of less stern stuff and succumbed to the lure of the amazing array on sale. What the hell, go to Ohio anyway, even if you don’t love books. It is a truly wonderful state with a raft of delights to tempt a person with any interests. Make sure you combine Columbus with a trip to the equally fascinating Cincinnati, and maybe pop over to Kentucky while you are down there. The American Midwest is a much over-looked travel destination that I would not hesitate to recommend, whilst wearing my travel agent hat. Contact me via my business page at Jaunt Travel if you would like to hear more.)

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Luckily, in this barren new-book wilderness, a small oasis appeared last month in the shimmering form of my birthday. You may recall from my initial post setting out the rules for my challenge, my nearest and dearest were to be allowed to gift me one book each as a token of their love and affection on my birthday (If you missed my original post, Here it is). I may have added one or two (or 30) much desired titles to my Amazon wish list to encourage this largesse, and those that know me best were duly generous. So I now have 8 shiny new books to gladden my deprived heart and strengthen my resolve for the second half of the year. The titles I received are pictured above and I must express my sincere gratitude to the kindly souls who bestowed them upon me. I particularly want to thank my step-daughters, Twin 1 & Twin 2 and the Tumbling Tornado for abandoning their usual joint present approach and buying my one each to maximise my book haul. I know, as all my children are avid readers, they feel my pain and wanted to ease it as much as possible and I am very grateful.

So, the next major hurdle to get over is sacrificing my annual ‘beach read’ book-buying session and selecting my lounger literature from the pile I already have. And given how unusually well this resolution is going, I have decided to make a few mid-year ones, first and foremost to get to grips with this whole regular blogging thing. However, I move in to the rest of the year with newly strengthened resolve and a belief that I might actually do this impossible thing – go a whole year without buying any new books. And if I can do that, what other impossible thing might I achieve?