40th Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop

My sweet friend – and Brit lit author – Pauline, contacted me about joining a blog hop and, considering my love of putting things together, I had to say yes! The idea is that you’re gifting a few items to your best friend, sister, etc. and money is no object. That sounds right up my alley 😀

The categories are: book, beauty product, snack food, music album, and “my choice.”

Book – It would have to be Outlander, the first in a brilliant series by author Diana Gabaldon. I gave away a copy a few months ago, and if you’ve been thinking of reading it or need something new to read, I urge you to give it a try, especially because Starz will be airing the miniseries starting on August 9! Here are the protagonists of the series, as portrayed by Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan.

Beauty Product – I have been completely won over by Nail Butter, a nail and cuticle enhancer that has turned my nasty, dry, cracked cuticles into soft and smooth skin. Love this stuff, love the gardenia smell, and it’s all natural and cruelty-free, which is also a great thing. Here’s the gross before, and I apologize in advance:

And the lovely after:

Snack Food – Being the complete Hershey bar-loving peasant that I am, I cannot possibly suggest something like Pauline’s choice of Hotel Chocolat’s Chocolate Dipping Adventure, but I do have something from England – McVitie’s digestives.

Of course, being me, I prefer the ones with milk chocolate. They are wonderfully filling and during my first trip to England, often kept me fed and happy during long days of sightseeing.

Music Album – Hmmm. This one is kind of tough. I like all sorts of music, from Classical to Country, and what I listen to often depends on my mood. I absolutely love the voice of one Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, aka Lorde, so I will suggest her smash album Pure Heroine.

My Choice – Hmmm, trip to Paris? That would always be my choice, but if I had to pick a thing instead of an experience, I would choose something beautiful and endlessly versatile:

The Sutton Necklace in green.

Outlander giveaway!

One of my all-time favorite books is being made into a series. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, is only the first on an ongoing saga that includes romance, time-travel, historical fiction, etc. It is a wonderful story and this week I am giving away a copy so that the lucky winner can catch up before the series is broadcast next year.

Diana herself gives us a synopsys on her site: “In 1946, after WWII, a young Englishwoman named Claire Beauchamp Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband, Frank. She’s an ex-combat nurse, he’s been in the army as well, they’ve been separated for the last six years, and this is a second honeymoon; they’re getting re-acquainted with each other, thinking of starting a family. But one day Claire goes out walking by herself, and comes across a circle of standing stones—such circles are in fact common all over northern Britain. She walks through a cleft stone in the circle….and disappears. Back into 1743, where the first person she meets is a gentleman in an 18th-century army officer’s uniform. This gentleman, Jack Randall, looks just like her husband Frank—and proves to be Frank’s six-times-great-grandfather. Unfortunately, he also proves to be a sadistic bisexual pervert, and while trying to escape from him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Highland Scots, who are also trying to get away from Black Jack Randall—though for other reasons.

In order to avoid being handed over to Captain Randall, Claire is obliged to marry one of the young clansmen. So she finds herself trying to escape from Castle Leoch and her Scottish captors, trying to get back to her husband Frank, trying to avoid being recaptured by Captain Randall—and falling in love with Jamie Fraser, the young man she’s been forced to marry. The story rolls on from there…”

Would you like to win your very own copy of Outlander? The only rule you MUST follow is:

1 – Leave a comment on this post, I’d love to know what kind of stuff you like to read, but if you just want to say “I want to win!” that is okay, too 😀

For extra entries, you can:

2 – Follow me on Facebook, and let me know in a separate comment.
3 – Subscribe to my RSS feed, and let me know in a separate comment.
4 – Follow me on Twitter, and let me know in a separate comment.
5 – Follow me on Instagram, and, yeah, you guessed it! let me know in a separate comment.

Y’all have until October 27 to enter, I will announce the lucky winner on Monday, October 28.

Good luck!!!

Saving Saffron Sweeting – review, excerpt and Q&A

Most of you probably don’t know, but I was a book reviewer (on the side) in a past life. I am happy to put on my reviewing hat on today to share a great debut novel by a Bay Area author. Here is an excerpt:

“‘I’m not sleeping with her. It was just one time. One stupid bloody time. I’m so sorry.’

‘I don’t believe you. You knew about that goddamn purple wall.’ I was looking around wildly, seeking my escape route. I didn’t want to be in the same room with him.

‘All right, so I happened to see her bedroom! That doesn’t mean anything.’

‘No, it means everything.’ I was sobbing now. ‘It means I’ll never trust you again.’

I wish I’d had the panache to storm out of our apartment in an expensive cloud of Chanel perfume. I wish I’d owned a Louis Vuitton bag to grab on my way to check into a luxury hotel, where I’d instigate a passionate revenge fling with a nineteen-year-old bellboy. Unfortunately, I clambered off the sofa with pins and needles in my legs and tripped over my blankie instead. Then I trailed soggy tissues across the floor and locked myself in the bathroom, where my only company was a dog-eared copy of National Geographic.

I had followed my British husband – and his job – from London to California, but my own attempt at the American dream had flopped. I’d been working crazily, had failed to see my marriage falling apart, and felt like a total fool.

I certainly couldn’t afford to kick James out and stay in our apartment on my own. My so-called business was barely breathing. I had no idea how many months or years of scraping by might be ahead of me, if I attempted to build a list of design clients who weren’t going to thank me by stealing my husband. Did I have the energy to move out, find a job, and rebuild my life in the fast-moving world of Silicon Valley? What the heck was I doing in this country, anyway? All I wanted was to crawl under the bed covers and hide, preferably with a packet of imported Cadbury’s biscuits.

In the small, mocking hours of the next morning, I found myself unearthing a suitcase from the closet. With safety, seclusion and comfort food as my primary motives, I booked a flight home to England.”

My review:

I found Saving Saffron Sweeting to be a very engaging debut novel, with charming supporting characters (well, except one) and a well-crafted lead in the form of Grace Palmer. Her world has just come undone and it is a satisfying journey to see her go from being an isolated, emotional wreck to the self-assured and confident woman she is by the end of the book. The transformation doesn’t happen overnight; no magic wand or fairy godmother, instead we cheer Grace on with each small triumph and see her become her own best advocate.

The charm of the village and its inhabitants is plentiful, Ms. Wiles’s writing is polished and doesn’t get in its own way, and I am glad that she is planning further adventures for the people of Saffron Sweeting. If you are looking for a book to read this spring, I highly recommend Saving Saffron Sweeting.

I recently had the chance to ask Pauline a few questions:
1. Was the balance between writing of what you know (being an ex-pat, English vs. American idiosyncracies, etc.) and what was new an easy one to achieve?

For this book, I stuck pretty closely to what I know, although I’m happy to report the cheating husband plot line was fiction. Although Saffron Sweeting itself is fictional, I have visited all the real places in the book at least once and I took tonnes of weird photos on my last trip to England. Nonetheless, the small details still needed lots of research, including oddities such as locations of bio-tech companies, flight times to Manchester, and horse-racing protocol. And naturally, I had to research afternoon tea at Dukes Hotel with great care!

2. Saving Saffron Sweeting is your first novel – how was the writing process, and actually completing a book, different from what you had envisioned?

When I began the book, I definitely saw myself aiming for a ‘traditional’ publishing deal and pitching the novel to an agent. However, as I got further through it, impatience and irreverence took over; I decided that readers should be the ultimate judge of whether my work is enjoyable. My age had something to do with it, too: I needed to speed this career choice up a little! And I love the overall creative control which indie publishing gives the author.

The second surprise was how much the book changed, compared to my original outline. I’m a super-organized person but I now feel a bit more planning wouldn’t have hurt. And the characters themselves came up with some great plot twists, too.

3. What three words (or more!) would you use to describe your main character?

Thoughtful, cautious, foodie.

4. Did you ever have a different ending in mind for Grace?

Grace’s love life was mapped out from the start, but how she would get there wasn’t clear until quite late in writing the process. However, her home and career choices were more fluid in my mind. I don’t like books where everything ends too tidily: life is messy!

5. What can we expect next from you? Are you working on your next book?

Yes: I have a basic plot nailed down but have some more work to do on my main character. I’m pretty sure, though, that she will either live or work in Saffron Sweeting and the action will take place a year or two before the first novel. So, you can expect to encounter some familiar characters and locations. If the Sweeting Bakery isn’t in there somewhere, I’ll be very surprised.

5 Reasons Writing Makes a Great Hobby ~ Pauline Wiles

Aside from the terrible short stories I wrote when I was twelve, my first consistent pieces of writing were for my blog, as a pure hobby. Within a couple of years, I began producing magazine articles to promote my organizing business. The business nose-dived, but my wordsmithing survived… and here I am, with a full-length novel now preening itself on my desk. Writing is a great hobby, and here’s why:

· It’s free. Assuming you can get your hands on a pencil and a bit of paper, ideas are limitless and cost nothing. Between fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry and script-writing, there’s probably a style of writing to suit you.

· You can indulge any time, any place, anywhere. Unless, that is, you’re in a dark cave, in which case you might need to add a candle to your equipment list.

· Unlike running, rock-climbing or roller-blading, writing doesn’t get harder as you get older. In fact, it keeps your brain sharp and the longer you’ve lived, the more you have to write about.

· Writing is a form of therapy. Not only can you explore past pain and regret, but if anything embarrassing happens to you, just put it in a story. This insight occurred to me when I panicked that I hadn’t locked the restroom door, directly off a busy hallway at a posh San Francisco hotel. What’s more, once your acquaintances know you are a writer, they will think twice about being mean to you, for fear of ending up in your next book.

· It’s one of the easiest hobbies to turn into a business. Admittedly, you probably shouldn’t plan to retire to Barbados on the strength of your debut novel, but if you enjoy what you do and friends like your work, it has never been simpler to share your work commercially.

With over 2 million books published each year and and an estimated 1 million new blog posts each day, it’s possible that more words are being written than ever before. And I think that’s just fabulous.

British by birth, Pauline Wiles moved to California eight years ago and, apart from a yearning for afternoon tea and historic homes, has never looked back. Her work has been published by House of Fifty, Open Exchange and Alfie Dog Fiction. Saving Saffron Sweeting is her first novel.

Connect with Pauline!

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17411115-saving-saffron-sweeting
Website: www.paulinewiles.com

Meeting the YHL peeps

A few days ago I was thrilled to go to the Young House Love book signing in Palo Alto, California. My sweet friend J went with me and was not only lovely company but also at times, was my “stuff holder” and “photo taker”.

Having worked at a bookstore long ago and being a voracious reader, I have seen my share of book signings and I have to say, this one was very well put together. First, and most importantly, people in line were fed. It was 90 minutes or so we waited in line so let me say that this was super important:

J holding some cookies for her psycho friend to photograph.

These were so YUMMY, although J was more taken by the adorable little cups. I snuck around while J held my place in line to take some pics of John & Sherry – can I say she has the most perfect skin?

I also caught sight of these STACKABLE little bottles. Aren’t they perfect?

Ninety minutes later, it was my turn. I’ve tweeted John & Sherry before to say I think that I think Sherry looks just like Emilia Clarke, the actress who plays Daenerys on Game of Thrones – yay or nay?

Sherry agreed and John mentioned she’s playing Holly Golightly on Broadway, which I didn’t know.

I also brought a little something for Miss Clara:

Got my book signed and then hit up a Chinese restaurant for lunch with J. Then we wrapped up the afternoon by going to IKEA ;D A fabulous day with a wonderful friend and lots of yummy goodness!

Life in Grace e-book giveaway!

I’ve been following Edie at Life in Grace for a while, I learned of the devastating fire that destroyed her family’s home and have been in awe of the way she has handled rebuilding her life since then. She recently wrote an e-book on hospitality that is full of heartfelt ideas for truly opening up your home (and heart) to others. As someone who loves to have people over, I know that I can always make the experience a better and happier one for both parties.

This week I am giving away TWO copies of Edie’s wonderful e-book, 31 Days to a Heart of Hospitality – believe me, it is so worth purchasing it for only $5 if you can’t wait for the giveaway ;D

The rules are easy peasy:
1 – Subscribe to my blog or Like my blog on Facebook
2 – Leave a comment on this post

That is it!!!

Thank you Edie for the giveaway!

I will announce the winners on Friday, before I start my Super Bowl weekend freakout – Go Niners! #questforsix

Table transformed

I was generously given a coffee table by my dear friend K. She was reconfiguring her living room and I happily took it off her hands. I forgot to take a picture of it before I took off the hardware and started sanding it, but it was pretty close to this one.

Here she is after some sanding:
As you can see the center drawer is pretty wide and there are drawers on both sides, which I loved for all the storage possibilities.

I gave her a new coat of paint in Valspar’s Meadowlands. One of the knobs was missing so I got a cheap ORB set from Tarjay (it was 14.99 in the store):
But it didn’t look right.

So I spray painted them Heirloom White:
But still, I wanted something more vibrant because I knew what I wanted this table for.

So in came my friend Bauhaus Gold et voila!
It was exactly what I wanted. I added some number stickers in black, to pop off the golden yellow knobs.

My oldest approved:

And immediately started to set up a Godzilla monsters battle on top:

My plan, however, was to make this a homework/craft table for the boys – the storage is great for all their workbooks, paints, stencils, crayons, markers, etc.

And the height is also perfect for them – the table is bright and cheerful, and a great addition to my kids’ playroom.
I am very happy with the finished result – it is my first time re-doing a piece of furniture and now I have plans for my youngest’s dresser. You know how it is, the first step is the hardest and now I am off, running in search of furniture to paint.

Hope you enjoyed my super-secret project!

Weekend Bloggy Reading Ladybird LnDesigner Garden