I used to be a voracious reader. My favourite book when I was 7 was The Dark Is Rising sequence; I had all five books in one volume and I remember it being so thick it wouldn’t fit in the drawer under my school desk. This continued all the way through school, and then… stopped. Perhaps it was university culture, the internet, the awkwardness of holding and reading a book once I’d had my spinal fusions. I don’t know. But I haven’t properly read for a long time, and that needs to change. I love reading! I love books!

The turning point for me was getting myself a Nook. I have the Simple Touch which I got for about £29 on sale. Bargain! It’s a fantastic e-reader and I’d highly recommend it. In a nutshell, it’s functional, super light, amazing battery life, easy to hold, has a touchscreen, holds plenty of books, and supports all formats (epub, PDF etc) unlike the Kindle. The downside is that the online store is rubbish, and the page turner buttons can be a bit tricky to use – although you can use the touchscreen to turn the page, so that doesn’t bother me. Did I mention it was super cheap?

Then I got given some books for Christmas, and I found a few around our house that I fancied reading. I decided I was going to get better at reading in 2015, because really there’s no excuse not to.

So I joined Goodreads. You can find my profile here, if you are a Goodread-er too. I’ve set myself the target of 25 books this year, to which my first thought was “Pah! That’s nothing!” and then I thought about how many books I read last year and it didn’t seem so low after all.

The first book I read this year was The Girl With No Name, a book I was given for Christmas. It’s the story of a lady called Marina Chapman who had an incredibly difficult childhood growing up in Columbia, and the tag line declares it as ‘The Incredible True Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys’. That’s certainly an attention-grabber, and you can read my review here. Overall I enjoyed it, but most of all I enjoyed reading on my commute. So much better than idly flicking through social media!

Now I have a little story of my own for you. Bear with me on this one.

On Friday, I was working from home, minding my own business when I heard a knock at the front door. Outside, I found a guy about my age who introduced himself as a local author, selling his book door-to-door. I was impressed by his courage and, having just finished The Girl With No Name, looking for my next read so I decided to buy the book. I wished him luck as he went on his way, and thought how lucky it was that I’d found my next book to read.

Of course I did a quick Google on the book to find out if anyone else had read it and what they thought. Not that I’m a sucker for groupthink, or anything. And here’s why I’m not going to post the title of the book or the author’s name – it turns out that not only was the book written about/for a girl he was properly stalking (like, call the police stalking), but he was also arrested for tracking down a (different) lady who gave the book a poor review on Goodreads and assaulting her, landing her in hospital. I wish I was making this up. What in the ever living name of all that is holy – why are people so loony?!

Side-eyeing the violent stalker’s book which I’d just paid the princely sum of £5 for, that night I picked up Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson instead, which I borrowed from my sister. For free. Anyway, I quite like it so far; the writing style is decent and the characters have some interesting depths. It’s set in WW2 and follows the two protagonists through their experiences – of course, it’s a man and a woman in love with each other but we’ll see whether it turns into a straight romance or whether there’s a twist.

So, trying to put to the back of my mind the fact that aforementioned violent stalker knows where I live (and reads Goodreads), I’ll be over here curled up with a good book. It’s certainly the weather for it. Any book recommendations? What should I move on to next?

-Rachel


Linking up with Meg at Mingle Monday

Middle Head is a beautiful headland that isn’t particularly near the middle of Port Jackson, better known as Sydney Harbour. Here are my three favourite things to do in one of my favourite parts of the city.

Gunners Barracks Tea Rooms

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That’s the contents of the gluten free afternoon tea you can see there, right before I inhaled the lot in about five seconds flat. We’ve got sandwiches, scones, cake, panna cotta, macarons, cheesecake… I suppose I should point out there is tea too, but nobody goes to afternoon tea for the actual tea, do they?! Now, not only is the food absolutely divine (see review coming soon over at A Gluten Free Nomad), but the view is possibly even better. I mean… Just look.

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Swoon.(And, oh hey Manly ferries!)

Middle Head Gun Emplacements

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After our afternoon tea, we took a digestive walk around to the Middle Head gun emplacements. If you’ve eaten a little less cake than we had, then you can walk around from Gunner’s Barracks itself, but we chose to drive to a car park a little nearer the action, from which you can walk along a pleasantly tree-lined path.

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You soon get to the furthermost point of Middle Head, upon which stand the remains of the gun emplacements. You can clamber up all around them, and from the top of the edge on the circular rampart you can gaze out on this killer view, out between North and South head and right into the Tasman Sea beyond.

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You can watch the boats and the birds to your heart’s content, and then seek shade in the cool tunnels under the gun emplacement.

Burnt Orange

You may have noticed a strong bias towards food and beverage establishments… And you’d be right. I do love a good afternoon tea. Burnt Orange is a cafe/restaurant with a beautiful gift shop attached. It will soon be launching as an events venue as well, and I wonder why they haven’t done it sooner – it’s a gorgeous location and building.

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There’s a glimpse of the harbour through beautiful mature gum trees, a gently sloping lawn, and rabbits hopping around just to give it an even more idyllic atmosphere. The building has a wide verandah which you can sit in and enjoy your meal. In our case, we went straight for the good stuff (predictably).

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The whole place is full of homely touches, from the cute patterned plates they use to serve the food (which are also available in the shop), to the friendly service. It’s also great for babies, with neighbours graciously cooing over my rather-too-noisy-at-times 8 month old nephew. There was a good selection of gluten free cakes, too, so I was happy.

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Stopping to take a whiff of the frangipani by the front door on the way out, and beaming happily relaxed are the overwhelming feelings I have when I think of Burnt Orange.In case you’re in the area, here are the places I’ve mentioned mapped out for you.

Have you been to Middle Head? Did you try any of my Top Three?

-RachelLinking up with #traveltuesday hosts BonnieCynthiaYalanda and Courtney.

Of course I couldn’t go through Sydney and pass up the chance to check out Sephora, newly opened in Pitt St Mall. I popped along early one morning and here are the products that came home with me again:

Let me take you through each carefully considered purchase…

Bite Beauty Matte Crème Lip Crayon in Glacé ($30) ¦¦ My first ever Bite Beauty product, this is a matte lip crayon twist up situation. The colour is probably best described as a nude, but with sort of mauve and muted brick red undertones. I’m terrible at describing colours so please just look at the swatch instead…. 

I wore this a fair amount while I was still in Australia, and it lasts reasonably well and isn’t too drying on the lips. I like it much better now I’m in the UK – I think it’s more of a winter shade for me, to be honest. That said, I love that it’s an all natural product, it’s got a delicate vanilla scent which is just lovely, and the packaging is super stylish (although showing signs of wear already, darn). 



Clean Skin rollerball perfume ($27) ¦¦ Oddly enough, rollerballs are pretty hard to get hold of in the UK. I’ve no idea why, because they’re so convenient. So I was keen to get my hands on a decent scent – sadly the range was a bit depleted when I went, but I found this scent which I like. I’m quite picky about perfume but this is clean and fresh but also quite girly – a good Summer fragrance but it does fine in Winter, too. The notes are Honeydew, Lotus Blossom and Fresh Air Accord, Dewy Petals, Aquatic Notes, Blue Rose, Musks, Amber Wood, Vanilla. So if that means anything to you, congrats! It lasts well throughout the day and I am really pleased I made this purchase.

VIP Pass Eyeshadow Palette ($18) ¦¦ Here we have the impulse purchase – this was sat by the tills and they got me, you guys. This is an eight shade palette which contains a range of matte and shimmery neutral eyeshadows. I think this is fabulous capsule collection and one of those magical “day-to-night” palettes. I also like the inclusion of a little tutorial, although the purple-and-yellow look they suggest seems a little bold. 

The swatches come out a little lacking in pigment for some shades, and some of the mattes are a little chalky, but considering the price I’m not particularly surprised. They’re still decent enough to work with; overall I’m very pleased to have this and look forward to giving it a proper try.


Things I didn’t buy even though I really wanted to:
Marc Jacobs eyeliners ¦¦ The gel eyeliners from this range are stunning – such a gorgeous range of shades and they do. not. budge.
Tarte Bon Voyage holiday collection ¦¦ All sold out. Wah, wah. (Saved me a lot of $$$ though, so probably a good thing)
A few things to note:
Prices are still high but I took advantage of buying a few brands I can’t get my hands on in the UK.
They had no Boxing day sales (just a reduced price for a hideous looking eyeshadow palette when you spent over $200. Er, no thanks.).
The staff were all super friendly and it wasn’t too busy, although I was there shortly after opening time…
Have you been to the Sephora in Sydney? What did you think? Did you buy anything??
-Rachel



This year is shaping up to be fairly travel-filled, and I couldn’t be happier about it. In 2014 we didn’t travel a great deal, because I was saving my annual leave (and funds!) up for a trip out to see my sister in Sydney. Next year is shaping up to be quite different, however… 


So here’s where I’ll be heading off to this year:

January – Sydney ¦¦ Ok so I’ve already returned from this trip, but it spilled over into January so it still counts. I’ve started big with this one, and it’s basically my favourite place on earth so, no pressure on the rest of the year.

May – Bangkok, Mae Sot and Siem Reap ¦¦ This involves a slightly long story. Stick with me on this one. Mr ANN and I will be travelling on the same plane as my sister when she flies solo (with my niece and nephew) all the way back to Australia. We’re only going as far as Bangkok, where we’ll stay for about 24h with them while they try to catch up on some rest ready for the second leg of their journey. Once we’ve done our Aunt-and-Uncle duty, we are free to head into full tourist mode. We’ll spend a few days in Bangkok soaking up the culture, then we’re off to visit some friends in Mae Sot who are working for a charity there. We support their work and can’t wait to catch up with them. Finally, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go and visit Angkor Wat which I’ve always dreamed of seeing. Ever since I saw the slides my great-grandfather brought back from his visit to the site when it had just been rediscovered, I knew I must get there one day.

June – Mallorca ¦¦ My work is holding its summer event in Mallorca this year, in a rather fancy looking hotel on the west coast. Work are putting me up for one night, but it falls on a Thursday/Friday so Mr ANN is coming out to join me for the rest of the weekend. We have no idea what we’ll do, but it’s for such a short time that I think we’ll get an AirBnB in Palma and enjoy the food, drink and sunshine for 48 hours!

Of course we also plan to visit interesting sites in our locality, and get to know the great town of Bedford a little better. I’m also keen to take some weekend trips to cities around the UK which I’ve (shockingly) never been to, e.g. Cardiff, Liverpool, and Brighton, which is at the other end of our train line. We might even revisit some old favourites like Oxford, Bristol and Bath.

I’m super excited about all this… can you tell?!

-Rachel