What I Read: February & March 2020

Beth O’Leary: The Flat Share

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time. 
But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window… 

I can’t believe I enjoyed this book so much that it will go on my favourite book ever shelf! It’s a romance book! Who am I? I don’t even recognise myself any more. The best kinds of books are those that surprise you with their perfection. I was expecting this to be a cheesy light read. It was and it wasn’t. The characters were more complex than I had expected and so was the plot.  This was an adorable fluffy chick-lit book that also deals with some heavy material like emotional abuse, gaslighting, and stalking. The book is told from the alternating perspectives of Leon and Tiffy, as they get to know each other by sharing their thoughts on those sticky “post it“ notes, (fun to read!) and by leaving food for one another! If you are looking for a romance book which will make you smile, laugh, and root for the characters to get their “happily ever after” endings, I recommend you add this one to your list.

5/5

C.J. Tudor: The Other People

Driving home one night, stuck behind a rusty old car, Gabe sees a little girl’s face appear in the rear window. She mouths one word: ‘Daddy.’ It’s his five-year-old daughter, Izzy. He never sees her again. Three years later, Gabe spends his days and nights travelling up and down the motorway, searching for the car that took his daughter, refusing to give up hope, even though most people believe that Izzy is dead. Fran and her daughter, Alice, also put in a lot of miles on the motorway. Not searching. But running. Trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them. Because Fran knows the truth. She knows what really happened to Gabe’s daughter. Then, the car that Gabe saw driving away that night is found, in a lake, with a body inside and Gabe is forced to confront events, not just from the night his daughter disappeared, but from far deeper in his past.His search leads him to a group called The Other People.

The plot, although not complex, is too complicated to explain. There are multiple threads, voices, and timelines, but all are seamlessly woven together. There are lots of characters to keep track of in the beginning, but hang in there and you will be rewarded with a great story. Part ominous fairy tale with some paranormal elements, part mystery, part thriller, I wasn’t sure where the plot will take me but C.J. Tudor delivered once again with a gripping, thrilling, dark and creepy book that just keeps you hooked from beginning till end. The storyline is full of unexpected twists and turns that was so cleverly plotted that totally sucked me right in. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because of the supernatural bit at the end, even though it made sense and fits into the story, it’s just my personal preference.

4.5/5

Celeste Ng: Little Fires Everywhere

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s. 

You should start this book expecting what it is; slow-moving, lots of character portraiting, complex family dynamics and small-town politics. There’s several stories going on in here, but the book begins with literal fires lighting up the Richardson household and the knowledge that the youngest daughter, Izzy, the wild card, has disappeared. Presumably because she is guilty. Then we move back from there. We start to get a portrait of the events leading up to this dramatic fire. Further back, we get the past stories of almost every character who comes into this book. I love how this book explores so many themes – such as motherhood, race, friendship, community, children-each one a little fire that slowly burned into an explosion. I didn’t think I would enjoy this type of book because I usually don’t but they way Celeste wrote this really kept me invested until the end. The only thing I didn’t like was the ending but mainly because I expected something else, maybe a more happy ending?

4.5/5

Lesley Kara: The Rumour

When single mum Joanna hears a rumour at the school gates, she never intends to pass it on. But one casual comment leads to another and now there’s no going back . . .Rumour has it that a notorious child killer is living under a new identity, in their sleepy little town of Flinstead-on-Sea.Sally McGowan was just ten years old when she stabbed little Robbie Harris to death forty-eight years ago – no photos of her exist since her release as a young woman.So who is the supposedly reformed killer who now lives among them? How dangerous can one rumour become? And how far will Joanna go to protect her loved ones from harm, when she realizes what it is she’s unleashed?

It is one of those novels that makes you suspect everybody and shows us how an innocent rumour can cause so much pain. There were a lot of characters so I did get a bit confused trying to remember who they all were. Also I couldn’t really connect with any of them. I have to admit, the story was a bit rocky, it went fast through some pages and slowed a bit in some but on the other hand there were plenty of twists and red herrings. The book was more like a thriller and a drama rolled into one which definitely made it better. The best thing about it was that I didn’t see the ending coming. I suspected everyone of being the child killer, everyone that is except the person who it actually was. And the author didn’t stop there, she had one final surprise that left me with my jaw dropped! However, I wouldn’t put it on my shelf of 5-star books, as I didn’t get those nail biting moments but I will definitely follow Lesley Kara in the future.

3.5/5

Peter Swanson: Rules for Perfect Murders

(US)Eight Perfect Murders

Books are time travel. True readers all know this. But books dont just take you back to the time in which they were written; they can take you back to different versions of yourself. 

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best. But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookshop in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife. To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects—and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.

I have to say, I’m one of the biggest fans of Swanson’s writing since reading The Kind Worth Killing years ago, but I wasn’t impressed with this one. This one had a slightly different feel to it than the author’s previous novels. First, I think you should read all the books mentioned on the list before you start reading this one because there are some major spoilers about each of them. I felt like the in-depth discussion into these novels halted the flow and pacing of the actual story.  Also there was too much talk and not enough action for long stretches. Aside from this, I thought the final 50% was well done and I found myself glued to this book. Swanson pulls his trademark twists and turns, which is always a pleasant experience. Another positive thing is that I finally read a book a that doesn’t involve a missing child or unstable female and that actually it’s not as much about who and why they did the killings but about more about the narrator and the power that the narrator has.

3.5/5

Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen: You are Not Alone

Thirty-one-year-old Shay is a market researcher. From a very young age, Shay realized that numbers affected the way people saw each other. She then started keeping track of stats in data books (her version of a diary).  She’s single, recently lost her job and now lives with a roommate that she is secretly in love with and has to endure his girlfriends giggles in the next room making home the last place she wants to be. One day, while waiting for a train,Shay witnesses a young woman, Amanda, jump in front of an oncoming train. Shay is horrified and can’t stop thinking about the woman. She ends up going to a memorial for Amanda where she meets her friends, The Moore Sisters. Cassandra and Jane become very interested in Shay which flatters her. Shay is not in a great place in her life and the attention makes her feel good about herself again. But what do the sisters really want from Shay? And can she stay one step ahead of them.

I am a huge fan of Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. I loved their previous novels An Anonymous Girl and The Wife Between UsSo of course, this book was immediately added to my “to be read ASAP” list. And it didn’t disappoint.

The novel is told from multiple points of view and alternating past and present timelines. The story is divided into three parts, with each part serving a purpose. I enjoyed reading from Shay’s data book, the opening to each one of her chapters, where she writes down crazy stats, and makes her character more believable. The book is fast paced and intriguing with short chapters finishing with cliffhangers which makes it very hard to put down. This book played like a movie in my head. I could easily imagine the successful Moore sisters and lonely Shay in a big city like New York. Some parts of the book made me question everything I read. I changed my mind several times on who the evil person of this book was because nothing was as it seems. I really loved the twist at the end, and even though I was on the right track I wasn’t quite there.

The only thing I didn’t like and I still have hard times to believe is why Shay didn’t question the sisters’ motives more, because she’s such a rational and smart person. Towards the end I got so annoyed with her and the way she’s blinded by everything that sisters do. But I guess that could be explained with the fact that she met them at times when she was very vulnerable. Also, without giving any spoilers away, what happened to Daphne, the Moore sisters’ friend? Her story was important through the novel but she was left out from the ending.

Overall: It was a smart, exciting, riveting, entertaining page-turner. I had a great time and highly recommend this to the die-hard thriller and mystery fans.

4.5/5

10 Instagramable Places in Dubai

Downtown Palace

The driveway of this hotel is a great place to get a full-length photo of the Burj Khalifa both during the day and at night. You don’t need to stay here at The Address to be able to access this photo spot – anyone can access the driveway and you’ll often see the odd person shooting here. The biggest problem I had though was buses picking up guests of the hotel in the background so you might have to wait for a bit.

Burj Khalifa

As you know Burj is the tallest building in the world with its 163 floors. For the price of 149AED (£30) you can go up to the 124th and 125th floor. Double that money and you can go up to the 148th! But I heard there isn’t a big difference when it comes to the view. That view though… just amazing! You can see the whole city but my favourite was the view of the fountains. It looks so good in pictures. We went there at 9am and it was pretty easy to get in. Even though we paid for our tickets online we still had to collect them and that meant queueing up. As it was early it only took us 3 minutes but when we were coming down an hour later it had started to get very crowded so I would suggest going there as early as possible, especially if you want to take pictures.

Medina Jumeirah

Shallow and clear water canals are spread all around this beautiful resort. You don’t have to be a guest to visit the public areas which you can access from Souk Medina Jumeirah. Wander through the souk and then head outside and take a traditional Abra boat that will take you on a 20 minute cruise for around £20 (bit pricey right) where you can take pictures, have a mini tour and soak up this amazing resort. If you don’t want to go on the boat, you can just walk around or sit in one of the restaurants where you will get great views of the Burj al Arab. Be aware however, there is a security guard who won’t let you cross the bridge towards the Burj if you are not a guest. But more about that later.

Desert Safari

The desert is always a great place for amazing pictures but when you choose the right safari package things become unreal. There are many desert safaris and experiences you can choose from while in Dubai but I would suggest, in my opinion, the best one, which is Platinum Heritage. They are Dubai’s only eco desert safari, their Bedouin camps are built using natural wood and stone and nestled inside the privacy of a Royal desert retreat. They have vintage 1950s Land Rovers, camels, a falcon show, the possibility of an overnight stay and even balloon rides at sunrise! We were amazed by the whole afternoon and evening here. They arrange to pick you up from your hotel around lunchtime, take you to the desert where you start by going on a camel ride or ride on a vintage land rover (depending on what you have booked) where you end up at a sunset falcon show followed by a short trip to the camp where you have dinner and entertainment until approx 9pm. The price for the safari, which we did including a camel ride, was around £120 per person. Maybe it is a bit pricy but it was an unforgettable experience and we didn’t have to pay for anything else (except for the professional photos which were optional) whilst we were there.

The Pointe

This place is pretty new so it’s crowd free and it’s filled with shops and restaurants and has its own gorgeous beach with beanbags where you can relax and enjoy the view of the Atlantis at The Palm. If you didn’t know, you can’t access Atlantis’ Beach if you are not a guest so this spot is perfect for all the photos. The Pointe is located at The Palm and you have to get a taxi to get there.

Dubai Miracle Garden

Dubai Miracle Garden is a large park filled with flower sculptures. It is outside the of the city so I would suggest taking a taxi. The entrance fee is 55 AED or around £11. I would also suggest that you arrive early to avoid the crowd. We came at around 11 am and it was packed already.

Because Dubai is in desert and it’s hot the flowers can’t bloom and stay alive in the heat so the garden is closed during summer and it opens in November.

The wings of Mexico

Located in Downtown Dubai these wings created by Mexican artist Jorge Marín celebrate victory, dreams and human desire to fly – and make a great Instagram picture! You can get here from the Dubai Mall but it’s a long walk. It’s better to get a taxi to Downtown Palace or even better Yeldizlar restaurant, that way you will find it easier. Usually there is a queue to get the picture so try to get there early.

Burj al Arab

Burj al Arab is visible from Medina Jumeirah and you can take great pictures from the bridge at the entrance to the Medina Jumeirah Souk. You can also get close to it from Jumeirah Public Beach even though I would avoid that as it’s too crowded and looks like a building side when you see it up close. For me the best view is from Shimmers restaurant and a bar, which is part of Medina Jumeirah resort. You can get there through Souk Medina Jumeirah and you need to tell the guard at the bridge you are going there. This way you can also get a good photo from the bridge. You don’t have to book the lounge area but if you want to have a meal I suggest you book in advance because it gets busy.

La Mer

If you can’t live without snapping pictures at the beach, the La Mer Dubai is a place you should check out. It consists of four zones: The Beach, The Entertainment Hub, The North Island and The South Island. Each one of these zones have their own Insta-worthy spots. Just hit up its open beach with cute huts, its quirkily-designed cafes and restaurants, or one of its lanes filled with graffiti to spice up that Instagram account of yours.

Al Fahidi Historical District

Built in the early 1900s by merchants from the Persian town of Bastak, the Al Fahidi Historic District offers a contrast to the modern glassy buildings of downtown. Earthy-toned Arabian narrow alleys are such a relaxing place and mostly empty so perfect to take a photo in. We got here from Old Souk by taking an Abra boat for 2 AED across the Dubai Creek (you will need to pay cash for this so make sure you have some if you want to take the Abra). The easier way is just to take the metro to Al Fahidi station. While there you can visit Dubai Museum and if you need a break, make sure you visit Arabian Tea House which features traditional Arabian cuisine and drinks.

Dubai Mall and Fountains

This area is beautiful from above but also from the ground. Every night on the hour and half past the hour, from 6pm-11pm, the Dubai Singing Fountains put on a show for 5 minutes. A song is played, the Burj Khalifa is lit up, and the fountains ‘dance’ to the music, like the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas. If you want a great view of the fountain, show or not, go to the balcony of the Apple store (seen in the picture below).

There are lots of places inside the mall where you also can take photos, like the ice rink, The Human Waterfall which spans all four floors of the mall and you can even see a giant aquarium too! You can see all types of sealife here, from stingrays to fish to sharks – infact there are over 140 species of sea creatures in here.

Burj Park is on the other side of the fountains and usually less busy and with its dandelions installation perfect for a snap.

What I Read: January 2020

Caroline Corcoran: Through The Wall

An apartment block in London. The neighbours do not know each other but they see and hear everything. Lexie and Tom are going through a rough patch in their marriage. They are trying to have a baby but things have not been easy. Harriet is next door who is alone and miserable after her boyfriend left her. She knows everything about her neighbours, and she wants what Lexie has… at any cost.

The book is based on a concept: The grass is always greener on the other side. In the beginning it was slow and a little confusing but once you get through the first part it does pick up. It got me thinking how we live next to our neighbours/friends with this picture already formed in our head, on how their lives are and how the photos we post on social media don’t actually say anything about who we are and what are we going through.

I found that the characters could become annoying at times, especially if you haven’t been in the situations they have, as it is hard to understand their actions, so you have to take that into account. The chapters are told alternately between Harriet and Lexie and the story covers issues like obsession, lies, jealously, secrets, controlling behaviour, mental health issues, stalking and fertility issues. It’s not a classic thriller with the big twist at the end and you can see where it’s going but I really enjoyed the psychological side of the characters.

4/5

Kiley Reid: Such a Fun Age

Alix Chamberlain is the textbook well-meaning rich white woman: She has black friends. She’s read everything Toni Morrison wrote. She’s trying to land a gig with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Emira Tucker is the 25-year-old black woman who babysits Alix’s two young daughters. She’s aimlessly trying to figure out her life—preferably before she turns 26 and loses her parents’ health insurance.One night when Emira is at a grocery store with Alix’s daughter, she’s confronted by a security guard who accuses her of kidnapping the young girl. A white man named Kelley films the incident, and he and Emira begin dating. Horrified that this happened to Emira, Alix resolves to make things right, but as it turns out, Kelley is someone from Alix’s past, and things start to get messy.

This book is very thought provoking and gives a look at issues of class, race and privilege.I felt this was very much a cautionary tale; we all must be aware of who the people around us are and what purpose they think we serve in their lives. The two major characters going for one another in this book are both perfectly happy to use Emira as their sword – both trying to prove something to each other and neither are concerned that their battle does not involve Emira in the slightest. I loved the way the book was paced. I didn’t want to put it down and it made me angry, sad and happy all at the same time. I liked the setup of the last chapter where the writer gave us a glimpse into the future. Alix and Emira are very different characters and even though I liked Emira, I really disliked Alix. However, two very strong female voices and message of the book is also very important so I would definitely recommend this book.

5/5

Ruth Ware: The Turn of The Key

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like an opportunity too good to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all the modern conveniences by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family. What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder. Now she’s in prison and she’s writing a letter to her lawyer, trying to explain what actually happened because even though she’s not innocent by any means, she’s definitely not guilty of murder.

I can’t remember the last time a book gave me chills. I was actually scared to read it at night when I was alone. The house is super creepy, every night thing keep happening, things that you could inteprert as supernatural but you know they are not so it makes it even more creepy. The fact I was a live in nanny made it even worse because I could imagine myself in the same situation. This story kept me on edge the whole time. I didn’t see some of the twists and the ending coming….it all caught me by surprise. The only thing I got annoyed about was the ending, I thought I was missing some pages. But overall, this book will definitely go my ‘Best’ bookshelf.

5/5

B A Paris: Dilemma

It’s Livia’s fortieth birthday and tonight she’s having a party, a party she’s been planning for a long time. The only person missing will be her daughter, Marnie. But Livia has a secret, a secret she’s been keeping from Adam, her husband, until the party is over. Because how can she tell him that although she loves Marnie, she’s glad their daughter won’t be there to celebrate with her? Adam is determined everything will be just right for Livia and the party is going to be perfect… until he learns something that will leave him facing an unbearable decision.

I loved the two previous books by B A Paris but I was a bit dissapointed with this one. The whole book is set over a period of 24 hours which seemed like ages for me. The characters become very irritating the more you read and I just couldn’t understand how and why they are not talking to each other. Liv was especially annoying just because I could’t understand this big need to replace the wedding she never had with her birthday party and making the whole day about her. Adam on the other hand was a frustrating character that I just wanted to shake until he wakes up. There is no mystery really, you find out after few chapters what’s Liv’s and what’s Adam’s secret and you just spend the rest of the book waiting for something to happen. Towards the end I just skim-read the pages because it was dragging so much, I found the whole thing painful.

2/5

Tim Weaver: Never Coming Back

Emily Kane arrives at her sister Carrie’s house to find the front door unlocked, dinner on the table, and the family nowhere to be found—Carrie, her husband, and two daughters have disappeared. When the police turn up no leads, Emily turns to her former boyfriend David Raker, a missing persons investigator, to track the family down. As Raker pursues the case, he discovers evidence of a sinister cover-up, decades in the making and with a long trail of bodies behind it.

This is the 4th David Raker book but it can be read as a standalone, even though I would recommend reading the 3rd one because otherwise the beginning and the relationship of the characters could be confusing. The story takes place in Devon and in Las Vegas. It initially starts in December 2007 in Las Vegas before quickly moving back to Devon and to November 2012. At first I found this very confusing and couldn’t understand how this brief chapter connected to the story. Stick with it though because the story that follows is a real rollercoaster of a read with twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. I had my doubts about the ending but on the whole I found this to be a tension filled read. Is it my favourite David Raker book?- definitely not! Is it worth the read?- definitely yes.

4/5

Lucy Foley: The Hunting Party

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves. They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world. Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The narrative alternates between Miranda, the Queen Bee, Katie, Miranda’s quiet and less attractive friend, Emma, the mousey new girl trying so hard to fit in, Doug, the Gamekeeper hiding a dark secret, and Heather, the lodge manager who is running from a tragedy. In addition to switching POV’s, the narrative also shifts between the past and the present. It’s a lot to keep up with! I was a little confused in the beginning about why we were only seeing these characters and I think that this could have been more interesting having only one character narrate. That being said, it became apparent pretty early who was killed even though it was revealed at the end so I was only waiting to find out who is the killer. If I’m being honest, in some parts it was really boring and it took me long to finish. I expected a classic whodunit – Agatha Christie book but instead I got a book that was focused on an old friends drama and betrayal of the past.

3/5

What I Read: November and December 2019

Lucinda Berry: The Perfect Child

Christopher and Hannah are a happily married surgeon and nurse with picture-perfect lives. All that’s missing is a child. When Janie, an abandoned six-year-old, turns up at their hospital, Christopher forms an instant connection with her, and he convinces Hannah they should take her home as their own.But Janie is no ordinary child, and her damaged psyche proves to be more than her new parents were expecting. Unable to bond with Janie, Hannah is drowning under the pressure, and Christopher refuses to see Janie’s true nature.

This is one messed up book and Janie is one messed up child. You’d think that the more psychological thrillers you read, the less they will affect you. But actually, it doesn’t work like that. This book really disturbed me in some parts but still I couldn’t put it down. Probably the most disturbing part was the animal abuse bit and I think I should warn everyone who wants to read this book to be prepared . What I liked most was how wrong I was about everything. You think you know what will happen, who will die, and how they will die, but it turns out you have no detective skills because your assumptions are 5 km away from the truth.  The way the writer decided to end the book is an odd choice but I am satisfied and slightly impressed.

4/5

Sally Hepworth: The Mother in Law

When Lucy marries Ollie, she desperately wants to be accepted into his family, especially by his mother Diana, as Lucy lost her mother at an early age. But from day one, Diana appears reserved and distant. That was five years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, with a suicide note near her body. Diana claims that she no longer wanted to live because of a battle with cancer. But the autopsy finds no cancer but does find traces of poison and suffocation. 


Who could possibly want Diana dead? 

This story is told from two points of view, mother-in-law Diana and daughter-in-law Lucy, filling in the blanks of Diana’s life and leading us to the circumstances surrounding her death. I felt this was a very good way to tell the story as you could really see how much misunderstanding there was between these two women. I was expecting more of a thriller but the story ended up having more of a domestic mystery vibe with a twist at the end so I can’t reveal much. I really enjoyed reading it and never saw the last piece of the puzzle until it was added.

4/5

Fiona Cummins: The Neighbour

On a hot July day, Garrick and Olivia Lockwood and their two children move into 25 The Avenue looking for a fresh start. They arrive in the midst of a media frenzy: they’d heard about the local murders in the press, but Garrick was certain the killer would be caught and it would all be over in no time. The neighbours seemed to be the very picture of community spirit. But everyone has secrets, and the residents in The Avenue are no exception.After six months on the case with no real leads, the most recent murder has turned DC Wildeve Stanton’s life upside down, and now she has her own motive for hunting down the killer.

Let me just say, I don’t want to ever live in a street like this. This street is full of people with dark secrets which makes you want to second guess your own neighbours. The first 20% of the book was all over the place, and I was feeling pretty frustrated, I just couldn’t get into it. But then things started coming together. Even though I liked the twist at the end(which I didn’t predict), I felt something was missing. Maybe the fact I couldn’t connect to any of the characters or confused with the way the killer was narrating his life. So many new characters were introduced, and instead of giving some sort of background on each, their chapters would start in the middle of one of their thoughts. But as I said, it all made sense at the end.

3.5/5

Tim Weaver: Vanished

For millions of Londoners, the morning of 16 December is just like any other. But not for Sam Wren. An hour after leaving home, he gets on a Tube train – and never gets off again. No witnesses. No trace of him on security cameras. Six months later, he’s still missing. Sam’s wife Julia hires David Raker to track him down. Raker has made a career out of finding the lost. Once David Raker starts looking into Sam’s case it becomes obvious to him that there are untold secrets that need to be discovered. He is sure that both Sam and Julia have secrets that are being kept well hidden and will need to be exposed if this case is to be solved.

This is the 3rd book in the David Raker series by author Tim Weaver. I accidentally read this series out of order, starting with the latest one and then going back but it didn’t ruin the enjoyment. And I enjoyed reading it so much that I finished it in two days! I loved the idea of just vanishing from the packed train, which is highly believable if that train is a London Tube (if you’ve ever used it, you will know no one is paying attention to anyone). This book has a very clever and original plot, and I personally enjoyed the amount of time spent in and around the London Underground, and it’s history. I love Weaver’s style of writing, how quickly the story pulls you in and keeps you turning the pages. I already have the next book in series waiting to be read because this one ended with a bit of a cliffhanger.

4.5/5

Mark Edwards: The Lucky Ones

After his wife leaves him for another man, Ben and his 11 year old son, Ollie, move from London to Shropshire to make a fresh start. With his personal life in shambles, Ben wonders if he made the right decision to move. Very slowly, Ben’s luck changes and good things start happening for him and Ollie. However, what Ben doesn’t realize is that the good luck he has been experiencing is not what it seems.  At the same time, a serial killer known as “The Viper” is creating a state of terror. After killing his victims, he manipulates their bodies in such a way that it seems like they died in a state of “bliss.” The killer believes that dying happy makes one “lucky.” This deranged individual targets his victims, makes their dreams come true, and then kills them. Without an obvious link between the victims, the police have little to go on to find the killer. Detective Inspector Imogen Evans is desperate to find The Viper before he strikes again.

I already read and reviewed a few books by Mark Edwards. What makes his books different and more interesting is his way of writing – he makes the characters in the book become real, his chapters are short and snappy and the plot is always very clever. The story alternates between Imogen, Ben and the killer and it’s a gripping page turner. So many times I thought I had worked out who it was only to change my mind and choose someone else. It’s one that will certainly mess with your head and a definite read for fans of psychological thrillers.

5/5

What I Read: October 2019

Rachel Abbott: Shape of Lies (DCI Tom Douglas,#8)

Anna is a woman with a secret past that she has done her best to cover up, and keep from her husband and children.
She is the successful head of a primary school, and all seems well until she hears a radio program mentioning someone called Scott who wants to talk about his past relationship with a girl called Spike, and Nebraska. But Scott is dead, Anna is sure of it, or is he?
This sends her into a panic, and in a series of flashbacks we begin to understand what happened in her first year at university.

Alongside her story, Tom and Becky and the team are investigating the discovery of a body in a car park, while Tom is also facing personal problems.

This is the 8th book in the DCI Tom Douglas series, but provides sufficient background information that this novel can be read as a stand-alone. I usually love her books but I could’t really put my finger on this one. I found Anna’s story very far-fetched, how could anyone be so naïve to get into the situation she did, and not call it a day very early on rather than getting in deeper and deeper?! Also too much Anna in this book and not enough Tom Douglas. I feel in this book he wasn’t even needed because finding the killer was more by chance than real police work. It is well written, suspenseful and kept me wanting to know more more more of these old secrets but I ended up being disappointed in the end.

3/5

John Marrs: When You Disappear

Married for 10 years with 3 children it may seem that Cathrine and Simone have the perfect marriage. But when Simon disappears without a trace Catherine realises she never actually knew him. Fast forward 25 years and Simon is back, determinate to sort things out between them. The two share with one another what happened over the course of their time apart and the secrets start to emerge…

But as they share more and more, nothing really happens! For me things moved too slowly and all I wanted to know was why Simon left?!I bought this book just because of the amazing reviews and the fact that two previous Marrs’ books that I read were so good! For me, this one was not as good and I was struggling to read it so much that in some parts I ended up skim reading it. The ending had a great twist so my mark would be much lower otherwise.

3/5

Mark Edwards: Here To Stay

Gemma Robinson comes into Elliot’s life like a whirlwind, and they marry and settle into his home. When she asks him if her parents can come to stay for a couple of weeks, he is keen to oblige – he just doesn’t quite know what he’s signing up for. The Robinsons arrive with Gemma’s sister, Chloe, a mysterious young woman who refuses to speak or leave her room. Elliot starts to suspect that the Robinsons are hiding a dark secret. And then there are the scars on his wife’s body that she won’t talk about . . . As Elliot’s in-laws become more comfortable in his home it becomes clear that they have no intention of moving out Elliot delves into the Robinsons’ past. But is he prepared for the truth?

There is something about Mark Edwards and his writing that I find intriguing, no matter the topic. I have read several of his books and I have to say they just get better and better. The story is claustrophobic, unsetteling and chilling. The houseguests from hell who at first are a nuisance but quickly turn into unstable and dangerous sent my stress levels through the roof. There are twists and turns, jump scares, and chapter cliffhangers culminating in a stunning, jaw-dropping conclusion, that I did predict, but made it no less impacting. Edwards will definitely remain the ‘auto-buy’ author for me.

5/5

Søren Sveistrup: The Chestnut Man

Set in Denmark, a psychotic serial killer is terrorising Copenhagen. His signature is the chestnut man- a doll made out of matchsticks and chestnuts- which he leaves next to the body. Examining the dolls, forensics make a shocking discovery- a fingerprint that belongs to a minister’s daughter kidnapped and murdered a year ago! An unlikely pair of detectives Thulin and Hess have to put aside their differences and piece together the gruesome clues left by the Chestnut man.

When I heard that the writer of the tv show ‘The Killing’ has published his first book I simply had to read it! Well, I can only say this debut will not have you dreaming of chestnuts roasting on the open fire anytime soon! Reading the book was like solving a puzzle, classic ‘Nordic Noir’ with a dark setting and complex characters. There are numerous twists, turns, cliffhangers and an unexpected ending! For me, that’s a sign of a good book.

Definitely not for the fainthearted but if you are fan of Scandinavian fiction or the TV show The Killing this one is for you!

5/5

What I Read: September 2019

Jojo Moyes: Still Me

In Still Me, Louisa keeps her promise to Will, her love from book one to say yes to new opportunities. This opportunity brings her from her home in England—and her hunky boyfriend the paramedic Sam—to New York City to be an assistant to a wealthy young wife of a wildly rich man. Louisa acts like something of an emotional bodyguard for Agnes against the society women who assumed she stole Leonard from his first wife because she was just after his money and citizenship (she’s from Poland). There are perks to her job, like going to charity balls in $3,000 dresses purchased by her employer, but it puts a huge strain on her relationship with Sam. Can they make the long-distance thing work, or is this going to be the end of them?

This is the 3rd book in the Me Before You series and I was pleasantly surprised. I am a huge fan of Louisa and her personality and I enjoyed the journey she took. First things first ‘Still Me’ is not ‘Me Before You’. Its not even close. There are a few situations that border on being cliches and the whole novel reads like a rom-com. But I did not care, not one bit. I can genuinely say I absolutely love this book. 

4/5

Alice Feeney: I Know Who You Are

Aimee is an up-and-coming movie starlet! Everything is falling into place for her…at least professionally. Her home life however, could use a little Hollywood magic. Her husband has grown distant as her star-power has risen, leaving him in the shadows. 

After a long day of shooting on the set, Aimee returns home to find her husband missing. His wallet, phone and shoes are still in the house the car is parked in the garage, and most disturbing of all, a bouquet of flowers on the table with a simple note that chillingly says, “Sorry”.

I read all of the comments about this book before starting it, and they were so bad that at one point I was just going to give up. But I managed to finish it and I have to say, most of the bad reviews are true. To be honest, the book is gripping, and I couldn’t stop reading it because I was curious as to what happened next but some things just didn’t make sense. I’m not going to say much so I don’t spoil the story but the fact Aimee kept going to work and acted like nothing was wrong while her husband was missing is just too stupid. Also the ending had the most ridiculous, unbelievable and revolting twist!

2.5/5

Greer Hendricks,Sarah Pekkanen: An Anonymous Girl

When Jessica signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money and leave. But as the questions grow more and more invasive, she begins to feel as though they know what she’s thinking . . . and what she’s hiding. As Jessica’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what is real in her life, and this is one of Dr Shields’s manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

I’ve enjoyed reading the authors’ breakout book The Wife Between Us (which is now being turned into a movie), so I was excited to read this one as well and in my opinion is even better than the first one. I wasn’t hooked from the beginning but once when I got into it I couldn’t stop reading. Until the very end I didn’t know who was good and who was bad and what their motives are. Chapters are short and alternate between Jessica’s and Dr Shields’ point of view, the story is very fast paced, full of twists and turns and it kept me glued for hours.

4/5

Shari Lapena: Someone We Know

Neighbourhood gossip and hidden secrets makes this an addictively gripping and thrilling story that was impossible to put down. 

In a quiet suburb where everyone knows everyone, there has been a string of break-ins. A teenager has been sneaking into houses and hacking into personal computers. Secrets are uncovered. Then a neighbour is found dead in the trunk of her car. Could the exposed secrets uncover who is responsible for the murder? Whose secrets will be revealed and whose will be kept hidden? Is anyone in the neighbourhood safe?

I have read and loved all of Shari Lapena’s, books. There is something about her writing that keeps me on the edge of my seat. A classic whodunit book where literally everyone is suspicious at one point and until the very last end, when you are absolutely sure the case is solved, you will be wrong. Well, at least I was!

4.5/5

Michelle Frances: The Daughter

Katie had her daughter Becky when she was a teenager and bought her up as a single mother. She has sacrificed a lot to give her the best start in life. Although life as a single mother is hard, the 2 of them are very close and Katie couldn’t be prouder of her daughter getting a position as a trainee journalist.

Without giving this amazing plot away, there is a terrible accident involving Becky, Katie’s life is changed forever and when she discovers what Becky’s undercover story is she carries on investigating even though she is going against dangerous people who do not want this becoming public.

The narrative moves between the present and the days leading up to Becky’s accident with the occasional flashback to Kate’s earlier life with Becky.While I don’t want to mention anything about Becky’s secret investigation in order to avoid spoilers, it does focus on an important subject. In the author’s end notes she outlines the real life issues that inspired this story.

I loved Michelle’s previous book The Girlfriend but this one wasn’t as amazing. I found the flashbacks a bit boring so I just skim-read it. I would probably give it a 4 otherwise because it was an intersting subject.

3.5/5


What I read: August 2019

So, as I am a big reader and don’t have anyone to share my opinions with about the books I read most of the time, i’ve decided to write a blog post on a monthly basis and give my honest opinion about each one.

The Silent Patient

Painter Alicia Berenson lives a seemingly a happy life with her photographer husband in a big house overlooking Hampstead Heath, until one night Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word. Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivation.

The book is narrated through Alicia’s diary before the murder and through Theo’s point of view. I don’t want to talk too much because I might spoil the big twist at end- and I mean it’s so big that I stopped and re-read the page. Nothing is as it seems in this novel. This story is complex and multi-layered with a labyrinth of characters, each playing their part in the development of the plot.

4.5/5

The Family Upstairs

25 years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old in her crib. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a suicide note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

There are three stories entwined in this book. First storyline is about Libby, she’s twenty five. She had been adopted and has now inherited a large family home from her birth parents. She’s about to learn some terrible events that led to her being adopted. Story two is about Lucy. She’s a single mother of two children who is trying to get back to Britain from France. She has no money and they are living on the streets. Story three is about Henry. It’s told twenty years ago. It tells what happened to his family when people started moving into his Chelsea Mansion.

There are 432 pages in this book and I finished it within two days. I read Lisa’s previous books and I have to say this one is my favourite. At the beginning the story line might seem confusing because there are different characters and timelines but once when you get going the story flows. This isn’t your average domestic thriller, or classic family drama… this is twisted, dark, emotionally disturbing, Netflix documentary level crazy! I can’t recommend it enough.

5/5

The Perfect Wife

Abbie wakes up without a memory of who she is, the man next to her claims to be her husband. He’s the owner of one of the biggest and innovative tech companies in Sillicon Valley. He says she had a terrible accident 5 years ago and he brought her back. She’s a miricle of science. But of course when her memories start to return, she starts to question his motives and his version of events.

Some of you probably remember The Girl Before success a few years ago. Everyone was reading it. That was the first book by J.P. Deleney so I naivly expected The Perfect Wife would be just as good. I got hooked and I read it very quickly because I expected something good to happen with some amazing twist…it was the biggest let down! The book is actually in my opinion complete science fiction where the main character is a robot (this is not a spoiler as it’s revealed in the first few pages) so it’s very hard to connect with her.

3/5

Everything is Lies

The lead character Sophia discovers her mother is dead and her father critically injured in what appears to be a murder, suicide. Sophia does not believe this to be the case and searches for the answers when she discovers her mother has finally written a book of her life. The story switches between present day and excerpts from Sophia’s mothers book which really adds to the suspense.

Despite some plot flaws the book was a real page turner with lots of twists. I’m not going to say much more, except that this book did take me by surprise and I felt everything from being annoyed, to feeling sad, and that kind of fear where you know something bad is going to happen but you can’t take your eyes off of what is going on.

4/5

The One

A simple DNA test is all it takes. Just a quick mouth swab and soon you’ll be matched with your perfect partner—the one you’re genetically made for. That’s the promise made by ‘Match Your DNA’ a decade ago. Millions took the test but it has its downsides – breakups, divorces, and changed views on romance and dating.

The book switches from 5 different characters stories and the individual journeys they embark upon when they discover who they are gentically destined to be with – their so called perfect ‘one’. What could possibly go wrong…? Well, it turns out absolutely everything.

If you are a fan of the Black Mirror series this book is for you. I thought at the beginning I was going to find it confusing to retain 5 stories, with subplots, and many characters that literally don’t intertwine but the author did such an amazing job at keeping me invested it was clear which story I was reading. You have to know, this is not a love story…far from it.

Also the big news came last Spring that ‘The One’, will be turned into a 10-part series on Netflix, with filming beginning this summer and ready for its debut in January. How exciting is that?!

Mini Guide to Positano

Getting There

The quickest way to get to Positano is to rent a car in Naples and drive. The car gives you freedom and the drive takes around 90 minutes. The downside of this is that you will have to drive in Naples. There is no simple way to put this…driving in Naples is nothing like driving in a typical city. You’ll encounter intersections without traffic signals or stop signs, dogs and babies on Vespas, and drivers who break every traffic law. Also parking in Positano is hard to find and it costs around 30€/day.

Another way to get to Positano is by train. There is no direct train to Positano so if you want to take a train, you can only travel from Napoli Centrale to Sorrento, and then you need to travel from Sorrento to Positano by SITA bus. The Circumvesuviana train heads to Sorrento every half hour from 6 AM to 11 PM in the high season, and a bit less frequently in off seasons. A one way trip takes an hour and ten minutes; you can purchase your ticket at the station for 4€. Keep in mind that these tickets can’t be purchased in advance, so trains tend to be overcrowded or sold out. It’s worth spending the extra 4€ for the Campania Express, which makes the trip from Naples to Sorrento in under an hour and is generally considered more comfortable.

As we wanted to get to Positano as early as possible we took the Circumvesuviana train. We read so many bad expirences online that we honestly expected this train would be full of criminals and mugging would be the best case scenario. In our experience there is nothing wrong with this train. Of course, you have to be vigiliant and use common sense but for anyone who’s ever been on the public transport there shouldn’t be a problem.

Once you reach Sorrento, you’re halfway done with your trip! Now you’re just a short bus or ferry ride away! The Sita bus company runs from Sorrento Railway Station along the coast, all the way to Amalfi with stops in Positano. The bus runs daily, in the peak season leaving every 30 minutes from 6:30 AM until 7:30 PM and takes about 45 minutes. Tickets cost between 10€ and 12€ and can be purchased at local cigarette shops, newspaper stands, or the Circumvesuviana station. However, a ticket doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a seat as these busses are often oversold. Get there as early as possible to secure your seat.

Where to Eat

Tagliata

Settled in the hills above Positano, this charming restaurant is something you can’t miss. This family run restaurant doesn’t have a menu but instead you are offered a set meal of antipasti, first course (selection of pasta), second course (selection of barbequed meats), dessert and a bottle of wine for a fixed price of 45€ per person. The view makes the dining experience so enjoyable, but the food was truly the highlight. With many of their ingredients grown right on the property, even the simple vegetable dishes had an amazing flavor. After lunch we had a walk around their vegetable and lemon gardenwhere they also keep chickens, rabbits and donkeys.

Bar Buca di Bacco

 Casual spot right on the main beach! In the morning you can get your coffee & croissant fix, and during lunch a pizza and a glass of wine! A more affordable option amongst the other sit-down restaurants on the main beach.

Where to take pictures

Spaggia Grande

What is a visit to Positano without a visit to its famous beach? We didn’t have a chance to swim because it was very windy but did manage to wander around the beach until it got too busy. The Spaggia Grande is actually a private beach. To rent a beach chair you are looking at 22€ per chair, while the front row chairs are 25€. If that’s not your jam, you can bring your own towel and lay in a small section just next to the chairs for free.

Shops in Positano

Head to the Church in Positano and you will find the perfect little shop selling ceramics. They don’t allow photos inside but the outside is just perfect.

Chez Black and Beach Promenade

Chez Black is a restaurant right on the main beach in Positano. I loved the charm it had, and it felt like a perfect photo opportunity! If you keep walking along the beach promenade you’ll find pretty spots to shoot like this beach entrance!

The Deli

At the crossroad between two main walking streets Piazza dei Mulini and Via Cristoforo Colombo lies The Delicatessen and the stairs that lead to the street where famous La Sirenus Hotel is located. It’s a bit hard to get a good picture here during the day for the obvious reasons so try mornings.

Hotel Poseidon

Well not the actual hotel but actually down the road from it. The hotel is amazing for photos as well but I acidentally found this spot which turned out to be my favourite view of Positano. And guess what, it’s not busy so you can have it to yourself.

Le Sirenuse Hotel

Most of the photos you find online while searching for Positano are probably taken from this hotel. Some lucky people have the opportunity to stay there but for those less lucky you can book a lunch or a dinner or go for a drink at Franco’s bar. Franco’s don’t take bookings so make sure you arrive as soon it opens, at 5pm. In case you were wondering, this famous balcony is located at the hotel’s lobby.

What to do

Unlike Rome where there’s a plenty of historical sights to see, the Amalfi coast is reserved for relaxation (except the many stairs that you have to walk everyday).

Spend your days at the beach. There are two beaches in Positano. Spaggia Grande is the main beach that acts as the center of town! If you are looking for something quieter head to Fornillo, just a 5-10 minute walk along the coastal pathway.

Take a ride around the Amalfi Coast on a private boat.

Enjoy fresh Italian food and have more than one Aperol during aperitivo.

Take a day trip to Capri.

Capture the views from every angle.

How to spend 4 days in Rome

You know what they say : “All Roads Lead to Rome” and that’s why you just have to visit it at least once in your life. I don’t know why it took me so long to visit but I have to say it’s now one of the top 5 places i’ve ever been to. Here are my top tips about what to do and how to get around.

How to get around Rome

The best way to get from place to place in Rome is on your own two feet. Rome is a highly walkable city, assuming you’re not trying to walk all the way from Vatican City to the Colosseum in one go. We were staying very close to the Colosseum so we were two metro stops (5minutes) from the main Roma Termini station and around 17 minutes walk from Trevi Fountain.

If you’re not up for walking or simply can’t, the local bus system in Rome is easy to use and cheap. Buses are frequent, but not necessarily always on time or reliable. I suggest using an app like Citymapper to plan your route. One-way bus tickets or all-day passes can be bought at most newspaper kiosks,convenience shops or metro stations in Rome, just be careful though, most shopkeepers we spoke to wanted cash and wouldn’t let us pay for tickets with our debit cards.

What to eat & drink in Rome

Grazia & Graziella

Grazia & Graziella

This vintage-style restaurant, located in Trastevere relies on tradition and creativity, with their 60s and 70s inspired decor . The name comes from Grazia, the name of the owner’s grandmother (who is also to thank for the unique recipes) and from Graziella, the traditional Italian bicycle.

Largo M.D. Fumasoni Biondi, 5,Rome

Tonarello

Just across the street from Grazia & Graziella is this very popular and very busy restaurant so come early or be prepared to wait in a queue. It’s a classic italian restaurant but with very tasty food and amazing service.

Via della Paglia, 1,Rome

Mr. 100 Tiramisu/Two Sizes

These two tiramisu places couldn’t be more different but hey are both delicious.

As the name says, Mr. 100 Tiramisu is the place where you can choose from 100 different types of tiramisu. Unexpectedly, the place is very small and serves tiramisu at the bar because the tables are reserved for food and wine (you can have tiramisu for dessert), the food mainly consisted of chacuterie (cheese and dried meat). Because it’s a bit off the tourist track, it doesn’t get overly busy. After a long debate and looking at the menu, we chose banana, dulce de leche and cinnamon and dark chocolate with orange, it was great watching them create our tiramisu for us right in front of our eyes whist we sat at the bar!

Via dei Sediari 11/12,Rome

Two sizes is a much more touristy and straightforward tiramisu place, classic tiramisu in mini and normal size. It’s ideal if you want to grab something quick and not hang about.

Via del Governo Vecchio 88, Rome

Salotto42

Known as one of the coolest bars in Rome (and one of the most instagrammable because of pink flowers on the facade) with its cool rotating art on the walls, magazines and vinyls scattered around,plush chairs and beautifluly made cocktails. The €10-12 cocktails always come with a simple side of olives and chips and mini sendwiches at end so make sure to pop by and sample one of the signature Spritzes. Yes,that’s right Spritzes. The trendy bar has a cocktail menu dedicated entirely to the spritz!

Piazza di Pietra, 42, Rome

Bar del Cinque

Another gem in the Trastavere neighborhood. With a beautiful facade often seen on Instagram. I felt this was the most authentic place we visited as we were the only tourists inside.

Vicolo de’ Cinque, 5, Roma

Les Etoiles

This is the hotel which I chose only because of the amazing view of the Rome. Coffee or anything else is a bit pricey so we paid €5 for coffee, €5 for water and 5€ for selection of biscuits but it was worth it, don’t you think?

What to see in Rome

The ancient city of Rome is literally an open air museum, and tracks back to 753 BC. There are certain sights everyone will see but here are my top picks and advice how to beat the crowd, take the best pictures and generally enjoy stress free sightseeing!

Colosseum and Roman Forum

It’s not surprising that the Colosseum hosts 4 million tourists a year being one of the 7 Wonders of the World. That means you can expect the queues to be very long any day of the week. Add the hot sun and humidity to the mix and you are asking for a recipe for disaster.

When you google tickets, you will get dozens of different websites and tours, many of them very expensive. Also we didn’t want to take a guided tour, they take too long and we wanted to go and see things at our own pace, so I was very happy when I discovered the perfect ticket for us on the tickets website Headout. Our ticket was a skip-the-line with escorted entry which included the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill and cost only €28. So how does this work? We (and lots of other people) meet the guide down the street from Colosseum at an agreed meeting spot and he accompanies us through a special tour groups entrance where we jumped the queue and got inside within minutes without needing to queue. The only thing you can’t skip is the security bit (same as the airport) but that was quick as well because we took the earliest ticket we could find which was 8:30am and there weren’t as many groups.

If you want to capture a good picture of Colosseum or Roman Forum you actually have to be outside of it. The street Via Nicola Salvi, just above the metro station Colosseum is the perfect spot to capture an iconic Colosseum photo. You won’t be alone there but it’s doable as people move fast.

We got to spend around 2 hours in the Coloseum, which was more than enough to see the entire thing and read all of the information about the building and it’s history, and we then went back to the meeting point to meet our guide and be escorted to the Forum.

To get great a Roman Forum picture head behind Museu Capitolina to Via di S.Pietro in Carcere.

Trevi Fountain & Spanish Steps

Trevi fountain is the fountain of all fountains, one of the most iconic spots in Rome and literally the most crowded spot of all time. One of the reasons is the legend about throwing coins into it. The legend claims that you should throw three coins into the fountain. The first coin guarantees your return to Rome, the second will ensure a new romance, and the third will ensure marriage. It’s no surprise that around €3,000 is collected from the fountain every evening! That money is donated to a non-profit organisation providing food to the homeless in Rome.

This fountain is a real masterpiece but in order to see it you have to get up early. And by early I mean 5am. We got there at 6am thinking we had the jump on the other visitors and dozens of people were already there! It was mainly bloggers and newly weds trying to get that perfect photo but there were also regular tourists. From my experience, in the afternoon you can’t even see the fountain,it’s that crowded and sections of it are closed off by the police so you can’t even access them.

The Spanish Steps are another place which you have to visit early. We got there at 7:30am and it was okay but I think that’s due to the fact you are not allowed to sit (or eat or write) on the stairs any more. In fact, you can be fined €200 or even €400 if you damage the stairs in any way.

Trastevere neighborhood

Trastevere, my favorite neighborhood in Rome, and from the looks of it- it’s everyone else’s favorite too! This neighborhood has such a local vibe and tons of character! I’d walk around the narrow cobblestone streets and find place for an aperitivo and soak in the energy! (I included my favourite spots in the Eat & Drink section)

Also this area has some of the best and the most popular restaurants so don’t think it’s any less busy than central Rome.

Because we stayed near the Colosseum, we took a bus there which took us around 20 minutes but we walked on the way back.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved building of ancient Rome. The former temple now converted into a church has a massive dome on top with an opening that allows natural light to light the entire building. The beam of sunlight creates a magical feeling inside the dome. How about rain? A draining system makes sure the Pantheon doesn’t flood. Outside the Pantheon at Piazza Della Rotonda there are lots of terraces where you can sit for breakfast or cappuccino.

Altare Della Patria

In front of Piazza Venezia is a gigantic pure-white marble moment that has a panoramic view of the entire city. To honor the first king of Italy, the Italians built the Altare Della Patria (also known as Vittorio Emanuele II Monument).

The first part is free to visit but to visit the top,an entrance ticket is required. Sitting on the monument or stair steps is not allowed.

Borghese Gardens & Piazza del Poppolo

The Borghese Gardens are Rome’s version of Central Park and stretch for 226 acres from Piazza del Poppolo to the top of Via Veneto. The lush, green Borghese Gardens have it all: bust-lined paths, statues, a carousel for the kids, an artificial lake that you can rent a row boat on, and even a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.

We spent one whole afternoon wandering around and enjoying gelato and much needed shade.

Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel

The famous spiral staircase, the papal throne, the Gallery of Maps, the Sistine Chapel. If the opportunity to take in the beauty of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, possibly the most famous work of art ever doesn’t convince you to visit the Vatican Museums (or Rome for that matter), nothing will!

There are 54 different galleries and several courtyards within the Vatican Museums, featuring chosen paintings and sculptures collected over the centuries. Like the Louvre in Paris, the Vatican Museums contain more works of art than can be seen in a day, but if you give yourself around three hours, you’ll still be able to see the museums’ most famous bits.

Once again we chose Escorted skip-the-line ticket on Headout and explored the museum at our own pace.

We spent a while looking for the new Bramante spiral staircase. We’ve were even told that it wasn’t open to the public! But this is the big disadvantage of taking a guided tour, if you are part of a guided tour, you won’t pass the staircase because you will end up going straight to the St Peter’s Basilica but if you’re not part of a tour, it’s most likely you will exit the museum and pass the staircase. It is located in the main entrance hall of the Museum.

Unfortunately, we missed the chance to visit St Peter’s Basilica and to see the iconic view of St Peter’s Square but the queues were just too long and it was far too hot. I suggest going there as soon it opens in the morning, or look into buying a ticket which lets you jump the queues. Tickets for St Peter’s Basilica are available on Headout and start from around €19.50 (at the time of writing).

Top things to do in Marrakech

Marrakech is a place that you either love or hate but it’s also a place like no other and before you go you need to prepare so that you don’t get dissapointed. The first thing that everyone asked me was is Marrakech safe?

Before I went I heard lots of bad experiences mainly from women, how they were hassled or scammed by random people. Personally, I didn’t have any bad experience but you need to be alert and keep in mind that people will try to scam you, starting from the taxi drivers. Any drive within Marrakech by taxi shouldn’t be cost more than 50 dirhams (€5). You need to be prapered to bargain. If they don’t want to lower the fare, you should leave or pretend to leave because they will probably accept your offer or in the worse case you will find another taxi driver.

Also, don’t accept help from random people on the street who want to give you directions, or people who come up to you to sell you something. Always make sure you look like you know where you are going, even if you don’t.

I would advise getting a Moroccan SIM card at the airport so that you can use it for Google Maps. Before you leave the terminal building at Marrakech airport you will see many different vendors selling SIM cards with data plans included, we got a plan with Orange which cost €10 and included 4GB of data. We also found that Google Maps in Marrakech was pretty accurate unlike Venice or Seattle where it didn’t work for us, and we ended up walking in circles.

Stay

We stayed at a new boutique riad called Ksar Kasbah & Spa, it’s located in the old town just a short walk from the main attractions like Sadian Tombs and Bahia Palace or if you prefer, a 20 minute walk to the souks. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the most friendly staff. They offered us mint tea and some Moroccan pastries to enjoy by the pool. The turquoise pool is in the heart of the riad, covered in pretty mosaic tiles, luscious green plants and ornate furniture, it’s like your personal Eden! Ksar Kasbah is so peaceful and calm that you will wish you could stay here all day. This riad has a total of eleven rooms all built around the pool and furnished in a pure bohemian style (price range: from €100 to €150 per night).

I really loved the rooftop, with its sun loungers, and cacti it was especially magical during the sunset.

The breakfast, which was included in the price was a delight: tasty Moroccan crepes, fluffy lemon/poppy seeds, fresh fruits, eggs and dairy products. You can choose to eat on the rooftop or by the pool. We also opted for dinner one night, which we had under the stars. Their chicken and lemon tajine was devine and the couscous Royal was amazing!

Another feature of Ksar Kasbah is its spa, located on the rooftop. With a traditional hammam and 2 cabins for treatments and massage, the spa is open every day from 8 am to 9 pm. All the treatments are performed with natural local products.

Hotel Mamounia

Whether you’re staying there or not, you’ll probably want to make a trip to the breathtaking Mamounia, a luxury 5-star hotel set in a former royal palace. I can’t comment on the experience of staying there because, sadly, it was outside of my budget, but we did manage to go for a drink and stroll around the grounds and I have to say it felt like a glimpse of a different world. Plus if you’re looking for gram-worthy spots, you’ll find plenty of #InstaGold. Those Insta -famous monochrome pillars are now closed to the general public and only for guests so I didn’t get the snap there but the rest of the hotel is just as beautiful.

Eat

Le Jardin

Le Jardin is located in the middle of the souks and the athmosphere lives up to its name- it’s a beautiful, calm green oasis. When you walk in you will forget that you are just few steps away from the hustle and bustle of the souks. Le Jardin is owned by the same group as Nomad so you can expect delicious food, amazing interiors and even a few turtles wandering around.

Nomad

Probably the most famous food place in Marrakech, this lively restaurant serves simple “Modern Moroccan” cuisine: traditional local cuisine and international dishes with a Moroccan twist. It is spread over four floors with two levels of terraces that offer amazing views of the surrounding Medina and the Atlas mountain range. Nomad is perfect for both lunch and dinner or drinks at the bar to rest from the craziness of the souks. We went for dinner and even though I’m not a big lamb fan, I had one of the best ever (lamb)burgers.

Il Limoni

Another serene restaurant right in the middle of the chaos of Medina. It might be hard to spot at first because all that separates the alley from the restaurant is a set of tiny wooden doors. But when you pass through them you will step into an unexpected world – tiled courtyard shaded with lemon trees, calm music and the scent of delicious Italian and Moroccan food. We spent two hours there, just relaxing, people watching and listening to the birds.

No matter where you are going for food, make sure to try famous Moroccan dish tajine. Moroccan tajine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish together with vegetables or fruit. Spices, nuts, and dried fruits are also used.

More Food: Café Des Épices,Le Salama, Atay Cafe

See

Le Jardin Majorelle & Yves Saint Laurent Museum

One of the few sights in the New Town is the Jardin Majorelle, a beautiful botanical garden previously owned by Yves Saint Laurent and housing the Museum of the late French fashion designer. It’s pretty small, but well worth visiting for the striking design, colours and beautiful range of foliage where you can wander around and hide from the heat. I don’t have any pictures from inside the musuem because it is not permitted to take photos, but believe me, you will be amazed with the garments exibited inside.

Bahia Palace

The Bahia Palace is a striking example of Moroccan architecture consisting of several grand rooms and courtyards. The gardens are particulary beautiful with their orange trees and fountains. This palace was never a home of the royal family but it was a home of Si Moussa, the man who managed sultan’s household. After his son died, the servents ransacked the palace so today the palace stands completely empty and without any furniture, so when you visit you can only admire the woodwork and the tiles and try to imagine how it once looked.

Souks

You can’t really miss the souks, the main markets of Marrakech. There’s a central covered area made up of a maze of alleyways twisting through stalls selling traditional crafts, Moroccan lamps, designer fakes, and lots of beautiful crockery and it’s really hard to resist. You can easily spend hours browsing the stalls, but make sure to haggle. We found out that before going to the main market the best thing to do is to visit the smaller, local market where the prices are fixed and there is no negotiation. That will give you an insight into what is an acceptable price for the items you want to buy. Also keep in mind shopkeepers can be quite agressive if you try taking pictures, there were a few times we were told we couldn’t take photos unless we bought something so I ended up buying a tea pot, two plates and a wooden camel.

On your wander around markets, you will probably end up at Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square and market place. Personally, I didn’t like it. It was too chaotic, there were live snakes (which are my biggest phobia) I also found the people there very pushy.

Le Jardin Secret

The garden is located in the middle of Medina and from the outside is advertised as an open air museum. You enter the complex into a tiled courtyard with running water, and foliage. It’s almost unbelievable peaceful, especially because there is not many tourists inside. Originally built in 16th century these gardens were previously ruined and left decay for years until 2008 when they started renovation and finally opened it for the public in 2016. There is not much you can do inside except enjoy the serenity and Islamic architecture so if you want you can sit in one of the two cafes.Entrance fee is 50 dirhams.

Koutoubia Mosque

Other places: Marrakech Museum, Saadian Tombs, Koutoubia Mosque, El Badi Palace, Ben Youseff Madrasa(currently closed for renovation-2019)

Do

There are so many things you can do while staying in Marrakech from day trip to Ait Benhaddou and Ouarzazate, to a night at luxury desert camps in Agafay desert or 3 day tour to Merzouga (proper sand) desert. Because we were only there for 3 days, we needed to choose the most convenient one. We booked a private camel ride in Agafay desert through the Dunes & Desert tour agency. We had a private driver and a guide who picked us up at 9am from near our Riad and took us to the Berber village in Agafay desert. For those who don’t know, Berbers are people ethnicly indigenous to North Africa. Their rich cultural history dates back to prehistoric times, over 4000 years ago. Although, the Berber people today don’t live exclusively in rural areas, these communities offer an interesting insight into the Berber tradition and history. All the camels there are owned by a local family and they appeared to be very well looked after. After our camel ride, (which was overwhelming experience for me because I simply adore camels) we were served freshly made Moroccan pancakes with condiments and mint tea.

I have to say, this was one of the best experiences that I ever had. We had a chance to see communities that live in the middle of nowhere, leading a life that was so different from ours.

If you want to ride a camel, you can also do that in Marrakech, at the Palm Grove, but I would recommend a more unique and authentic experience.