{Books} What To Pop In Your Beach Bag

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Personally I believe books are as essential to a holiday as your passport! I remember using my two week summer holiday as an excuse to take part in some unorganised readathon where I seemed to compete against myself to clock up the most books I could devour in one holiday. My selection of beach reads would add some serious weight to my bursting suitcase (long before I got my sweaty mitts on a kindle) and I would sit by the pool or on the warm sand devouring book after book forgetting about the daily stresses of life back home.

For me a beach holiday or a lazy day spent in the park  or back garden is perfect for some R&R and to unleash your inner bookworm. I am going away for a week to the south of France on a family holiday soon and thought I would share with you what is on my Summer reading list and what I recommend for you to grab a copy of.

If you like : To dip in and out of short stories

Sunlounger 2 – Belinda Jones

I loved the first Sunlounger anthology enjoying the feeling of being taken to far flung exotic destinations as I sat in my bedroom. Jam-packed with the cream of the crop of womens fictions writers including my amazing mentor Rosie Blake, whose short tales will inspire you to grab your passport even if you had no plans to leave the country. The hotly anticipated second anthology has just been released and it is currently in the Amazon Summer sale for a tiny 99p  – a blooming bargain if you ask me!

If you like: Beautifully descriptive scenes

The Sea Sisters – Lucy Clarke

I read this when I was under the weather the other week as Clarke’s beautifully written words easily pulled me into the worlds of sisters Mia and Katie, definitely aiding my recovery process! The mixture of family ties, exploring why we travel plus some hidden secrets and lies makes for a compelling page turner.

If you like: The latest chick lit

What A Girl Wants – Lindsey Kelk

I have been a fan of the way Lindsey Kelk writes honest, real and hilarious books for years now and I think she is getting better with each new release. What A Girl wants is a follow up to About A Girl where Kelk teasingly left us on the edge determined to find out if the lead character Tess would pick perfect on paper Charlie or cocky love God Nick.

If you like: The celeb author

You’re The One That I Want – Giovanna Fletcher

You know you could easily dislike someone who is married to a celebrity, lives in a gorgeous house, has just had a baby and looks freaking beautiful and can actually write. Yep the green eyed monster came out in me but as I read Giovanna Fletcher’s (married to Tom from McFly btw) first novel Billy and Me I realised this girl has talent and didn’t get the book deal based on her connections alone. From the interviews I have seen with her and the rave reviews her latest book has received she seems like a genuinely talented writer and lovely lady.

If you like: The follow up

The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden – Jonas Jonasson

From the author who loves lengthy titles such as his previous hit novel: ‘The 100-year-old man who jumped out of the window and disappeared’ comes this latest release. The 100 year old man is currently being turned into a film which I cannot wait to see as I fell in love with the lead character, Allan Karlsson, when I read this book last year. Jonasson’s latest book has received mixed reviews with some saying the translation from his native tongue to English loses some of the natural prose but I am looking forward to making my own mind up.

If you like: Young Adult Fiction

Paper Towns -  John Green

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last year you will have heard about/read the book/seen the film ‘The Fault in Our Stars’. I told you about my love for this book here and also how I may have trekked round Amsterdam trying to recreate certain chapters. It is by far the best selling young adult fiction book Green has written but I want to get lost in his wonderful way with words once more so will be trying Paper Towns, which is also being made into a film apparently.

If you have read any of the books I am recommending or taking away on holiday with me then I would love to know what you thought! Or share with me what’s made your summer reading list.

Remember you can send me an email: katynotwedordead@gmail.com, find me on twitter, facebook or bloglovin as I’m always ready to talk books!

A Guide To French Etiquette

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Since living in France for just over a year (where the hell has that time gone?!) I have picked up on a few etiquette do’s and don’ts along the way. So if you are planning a trip to France this Summer then check this list out to ensure you don’t make any social faux pas or blunders. Learn from my mistakes my friends!

Queue – If you thought the British were well known for starting a queue and waiting patiently then you have never seen a popular boulangerie where locals will snake out of the door and down the street for the best baguette in town. No digging in elbows or slanging matches to get the last stick of freshly baked pain this is polite bread buying at its finest.

Kissing – French kissing is a mindfield that I touched upon in this post here. No not that kind of tongue sandwich French kissing but the one where you offer your cheek for an air kiss with a lip-smacking sound. Depending on the region you may start from the left or the right side and it can be up to two kisses on each cheek. To avoid embarrassment let the person you are meeting take the lead and only go in for the kiss or faire la bise if you feel comfortable.

Dinner Time Rules OK – What I love about living here is the importance of meal times, not just because I am a big fat pig well ok maybe that has a small part to do with it, but because the French have impeccable table manners and really like to make a meal out of a… er… meal. So you must wait for everyone to have a drink in hand before you take a sip, don’t even think about touching that tempting bowl of olives or apero crisps until others have started and unless the house catches on fire you stay at the table until everyone has finished (this may take hours depending on the amount of course you will be ploughing through).

Greetings – When you enter a shop no matter how big or small you are guaranteed to have a smiling (ok sometimes they may have a face like they are sucking a lemon) shop assistant greet you with a friendly bonjour which you are expected to return out of politeness.

Top Tip – It is not a country of big tippers for services or in bars or restaurants. Most bills will come with a service charge already included but sometime you may have to check how you can donner un pourboire (leave a tip) as it is not always expected.

On the 7th Day – As many villages and cities become practically deserted ghost towns on Sundays, it is the perfect time to join other French families having walks by the beach, a lazy long lunch or a siesta. Definitely easy like a Sunday morning over here.

Gossiping – The French are very social and love a good chinwag no matter the time or the place, if two friends spot each other in the street and want to have a little catch up then the world can move on around them even if they are stood in the middle of a zebra crossing for 5 minutes or so. True story.

Patience Is A Virtue– The motorways (autoroutes) usually make for an enjoyable and calm driving experience as they are empty compared to the ones back in England. I think this leisurely driving style also equates to rather zen drivers as, in my French town, it is very rare to hear a car horn blaring out in annoyance at some petty road rage.

Have you ever been to France or made a complete idiot of yourself in another country as you didn’t understand the social etiquette rules?

You can now email me: katynotwedordead@gmail.com or tweet me or facebook me. Get involved peeps!

The ‘Must Do’ List: Thailand

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When I decided to follow my heart and make one of the biggest decisions of my life by leaving a job I loved, friends and family who had helped me through the craziest time in my life and luxuries such as my own (albeit prone to crashing) little car and fine collection of shoes and makeup, this decision to cut loose and travel alone was made easier by focusing my mind on the things I would be seeing, doing and experiencing rather than focusing on the things I would be leaving behind.

Surrounded by piles of travel brochures I would daydream over glossy pictures of pure white shores, ridiculously pretty bright flowers, mouth-watering exotic food and smiling local faces. I knew Thailand was on top of my list of places to go. Ok so I guess it is kinda cliché that you don a backpack and find your feet in Bangkok before going island hopping and raving at beach parties but even if it is a well-worn travellers route that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth adding your footsteps to it. For a first time traveller I took courage in the fact so many before me, in a similar confused state of mind, had paved the way and I am sure for many years to come others will follow.

So if you are in search of jaw dropping temples, doing a Leo hunting for a paradise beach or wanting to get lost in the debauchery of Bangkok then here is a list of things you shouldn’t miss during your first time in this wonderful country:

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Bridge on the River Kwai – Kanchanaburi – Also known as ‘Death Railway’ for the thousands of prisoners of war who lost their lives building the tracks in the Second World War, a section of the railway still stands crossing the River Kwai and has become something of a tourist hotspot. You can take a daytrip from Bangkok to visit the site, wander round the nearby museum and experience the rugged terrain surrounding the River Kwai.

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Full Moon Party – Ko Phangan – A must for any party animal to spend your night under the bright spell of the moon dancing on a packed beach with strangers from across the whole world, truly an experience you won’t forget any time soon.

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Thai Massage - Chiang Mai – Ah the spine stretching vigorous rub of a Thai massage. Why not experience this at the hands of a con? In Chiang Mai the local women prisoners have opened a massage parlour as part of a job-training rehabilitation service. As well as getting pampered you can also pick up handmade gifts and munch on freshly baked treats in the cafe.

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Street food – Bangkok – Don’t be put off by the people who tell you that street food equals instant sickness. If you chose the stall that has the largest queue of locals then you know the food is fresh, authentic and most of all extremely cheap. Get challenging those taste buds I promise you it will be worth it!

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Fire Show – Koh Toa – Sat on comfy cushions in the sand with a cold Tiger beer in your hand admiring the athleticism of Thai men swirling sticks of fire, in a combination of acrobatic and dancing skill, is a great way to spend an evening. Then with your new found dutch courage (thanks to the buckets of cheap spirits) have a go limboing under a flaming rope -  just make sure to get down low and tie your hair back as the smell of burning flesh or cindered locks is a real party atmosphere mood killer.

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Night Market – Chiang Mai - The Sunday evening market is chocka block full of locals spread out over the floor nabbing any free space to lay down rugs displaying their handicrafts. Go early to avoid the crowds, soak up the atmosphere and practice your bartering skills for some beautiful handcrafted wares at this lively bazaar.

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Chilled Bliss – Koh Lanta Leo may have found paradise beach set on Koh Phi Phi but that is now a tourist hotspot so for a real feeling ‘of you’ time head to Koh Lanta where they are the masters of chillaxing. Embrace your inner sloth where your biggest decisions will be when you next stuff your face, take a dip in the clear warm waters or find a spot on the practically deserted beaches. Tough choices.

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The Beach -Koh Phi Phi – Maya Beach was thrust into the limelight after the 2000 hit film ‘The Beach’ was shot here. 14 years later and thousands of tourists still flock en masse to see the azure warm waters, limestone cliffs and multi-coloured long boats gently bobbing on the surf, unfortunately hunky Leo isn’t included in the trip.

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Jungle Trek – Chiang Mai – Spend the night deep in the lush green jungle with the darkest night sky you have ever seen and the call of tropical birds and bright sunlight to wake you. There are various trekking companies that cater for every level of fitness that also allow you to cool off in natural inviting waterfalls, get up close to elephants in a locally run sanctuary or sample the hill tribe villagers way of life during your trip.

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Khao San Road – Bangkok – The street where anything goes. Want to drink snake blood, eat a fried cockroach, see a woman shoot objects out of her private parts, drunk travellers murder an Oasis song on Karaoke or just be dazzled by the neon lights and noise of this world famous street? You can have it all and more down on this must see strip.

Have you visited Thailand before? What have I missed out of this list that you would urge other backpackers to see/do/experience? I would love to hear from you!

(Remember you can also find me by dropping me an email: katynotwedordead@gmail.com, on Twitter here, Facebook here or Bloglovin’ by clicking here – Lets be friends!)

My Recent Reads

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Ah books, like an old comforting jumper you just know that when you put it on it makes you feel better (the jumper not the book – that would be a tricky look to carry off), especially when you are feeling down in the dumps after being knocked sideways from a bout of gastroenteritis. I am never without a book close by and find getting lost in the worlds and words of others is probably my most fave hobby (as well as blogging, travel and sampling the whole cake counter in the local boulangerie. I swear the girl who works there thinks I have a problem).

These are some of the latest reads I have been filling my little head with, let me know if you have read any of them as I am ALWAYS in the mood to talk books! (Remember if you also like to chinwag with fellow bookworms why not join us every Tuesday at 7pm UK time for @bookblogchat #bookbloggers on twitter?)

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The Sea Sisters – Lucy Clarke
Two sisters, one life changing journey…
When Katie’s younger sister Mia is discovered dead in an apparent suicide during her travels in Bali it makes Katie change how she views everything around her and she embarks, using her sisters travel journey, to retrace her steps to uncover the mystery around her death.

This book (which made Richards and Judy’s Summer Reads List 2013) pulled me in immediately with its focus on the bond between sisters and family ties mixed with a love of travel. The adventurous Mia whose life made me wish to become a better backpacker (without the death part obvs) and the sensible Katie who many of us can relate to had me devouring pages determined to soak it all up. I was mesmerised by the descriptive and evocative language Lucy Clarke uses especially the many ways she describes the sea. Just a beautiful special book that I would fully recommend.

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The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty
A letter that’s not meant to be read...
Mother-of-three Cecelia discovers a hand written letter addressed to her in the loft one day from her husband that says it is to be opened in the event of his death. Curiosity getting the better of her, she reads it and that’s when everything changes.

This book had so much hype around it I have had it on my kindle wish list for ages so when I finally got round to reading it I was beyond excited and had high hopes. For me the expectation didn’t match what I read. It was a good story, don’t get me wrong, but I much preferred the tension of ‘The Accident’ (see below) I guess I shouldn’t have listened to the hype and made my own decisions on this one.

The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes
What happened to the girl you left behind?
During the First World War French artist Edouard leaves behind his beloved wife Sophie to manage their family hotel as he goes to fight at the Front. When their small French village is overtaken by Germans, Sophie has to risk everything in the bid to see her husband again including a portrait that he painted of her that the Kommandent falls in love with. Fast forward a century later and this portrait is now owned by recently bereaved Liv who discovers its passion-torn history threatening her own sense of the past and the future.

Sigh. Jojo Moyes is the queen of the romantic tear jerker clutch-your-heart sob-fest novels and this was no different. Just a beautiful well written novel that will have you cracking open the chocolates and tissues not wanting it to end.

Do You Remember the First Time – Jenny Colgan
Life doesn’t have a rewind button, ever wish it did?
Flora isn’t too content with how her life has panned out, at 32 years old she is not where she thought she would be and makes a wish during her best mate’s wedding to be 16 again. When this comes true and she has swapped serious office meetings for snogging and sauvignon blanc for spots she realises that this fun comes at a price.

This was a fun light-hearted read which did make me think how you reckon you will have life sussed the older you get but with age doesn’t always come wisdome. It reminded me a lot of the film 13 going on 30 with Jennifer Garner but like that rom-com it had me laughing out louds in parts. It’s also currently just 99p on kindle at the min. A great fun summer bargain!

The Guestbook – Holly Martin
One visit to Willow Cottage and you’ll wish you could stay forever
As landlady of Wilow Cottage Annie Butterworth goes out of her way to ensure guests have their every needs met at this idyllic cottage in Devon. Always putting others first and generally just being a good egg, her only wish is that guests document their stay in the guestbook leading to pages full of love, mystery, guilt and some naked rambling!

When I first read the blurb I wasn’t sold on the style of this book as the story is told through a series of entries in a book, with changing font to match. I thought it would be too disjointed and difficult to piece together but this totally worked (as many other reviewers who raved about this book would agree with). Holly Martin I salute you. The change of characters perspectives completely mixed up the mood of the chapters and I found myself laughing, holding back the tears and getting frustrated all in one go.

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The Accident – C.L.Taylor
Keeping this secret was killing her
Sue Jackson has the perfect family but one day her daughter Charlotte is seen deliberately stepping out in front of a bus and falls into a coma. Sue comes to realise she didn’t know her family as she once thought. Sue will do anything for her daughter but what if the reason that Charlotte is in danger is down to her?

Usually I like to be able to associate with the leading character so following the journey of a mum in her mid-forties I wasn’t sure how into this book I would get but I was proved wrong. For such a normal suburban setting this book is pretty jumpy. I really like a good thriller when you don’t know what’s coming but it still has to be believable and this was full of it. Frightening but unputdownable I really enjoyed this tale. This is currently a tiny 69p on Kindle at the moment!

Sorry this is a longer than usual post for me, think I got a little carried away! Please let me know what you have been loving reading recently or even the ones that made you feel a bit meh after?

In Need of a Free Read?

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Usually free magazines are a bit pants. I remember the local free pages that used to get scrunched through my mums letter box where every inch of space was taken with badly written articles and bright, dodgy designed ads for locals businesses or loan companies. However, watching the pennies but still wanting to be in the loop with life back in the UK (and around the world) doesn’t have to mean forking out on pricy monthly magazine subscriptions.

Stylist magazine is a free weekly mag that has been out in the UK for a few years now, with the look of a glossy but bang on with a mix of thought-provoking articles, funny columns and awesome food, fash and beauty. It definitely doesn’t need to worry about filling space with discounts to Barry’s Tile Shop down the road. I used to love picking up a copy of this when I lived in Manchester as they would hand it out free all over the city.

When I moved to France I was going to ask my dad to stockpile copies for when he came to visit me but luckily enough I discovered they have created an ipad/iphone version that is available outside of the UK. Hurrah I thought but feeling quickly deflated that this would come at a price surely. Nope. It’s still free!

You can download copies via the app store and subscribe so they automatically appear every week (when you are connected to wifi) and they stay in your newstand section for how long you choose meaning you don’t have to quickly read one before the following weeks arrives. But also that you can store them up to read in one long binge fest (as I did last week when I had the energy of a sloth with a hangover) if you are waiting for a flight, a long bus journey or don’t want to be lugging round bulky and expensive mags on your hols then this works a treat.

If you have an ipad or iphone (even if you live in the UK) I would recommend subscribing to it. It’s weekly, it’s so well written and it’s free. Free I tell you. Which backpacker doesn’t love a bargain?