2016: A year in DIY

And so goes another year in the house. A year of slightly failing to blog, but actually, not failing at all where DIY and house progress was concerned.

I started this year disappointed with the slow progress we were making with the house, but I end the year feeling very proud of ourselves, and with a sense that we have very much turned a corner and the end is in sight. Which, is a good place to be, finally, after 3 and a half years!

Last Christmas I was lamenting the fact that our upstairs bedrooms were still unfinished. This Christmas we hosted six people, in our three, almost complete, spare bedrooms. Sure, one of them was just painted white and had no floor, but it did have a window that finally closed, a blind that worked and a room for a double bed.

This year was the year that we dug deep into our own DIY skills, (well, hard work rather than skills) and took on as much of the remaining work as we could. Furniture was ripped out, floors pulled up, ceilings and walls were painted and flat pack furniture was put together. Even if painting my first ceiling ended up with me having a face like this:

My face after painting the ceiling

Our own bedroom sadly remains unfinished, for now, (while we prioritised readying the guest rooms for Christmas) but our biggest transformation is in our loft conversion. Badly done in the past, we always planned to redo the whole thing, but time and money told us we probably weren’t going to do that for a long time and so during the May Bank Holiday we just resolved to paint the whole thing white and see what we could make of it. The transformation is remarkable; a room gone from bright pink and purple, with a fogged up window, half a floor and a lime green bathroom, into a clean and serene guest room. A new floor, new glass for the window, ripping out old fitted units, a lick of paint all round and suddenly we have a beautiful space that we almost fought over this Christmas. (See gallery below)

And we finally have a kitchen roof that doesn’t leak! This was the year that we closed our eyes and swallowed the cost of a new flat roof, and thank god we did as the mess our builder found when he pulled it off was unbelievable. Three different layers of essentially a patched roof over the years made it pretty obvious why we’d had so many leaks. A hot week in August saw the laying of a new liquid fiberglass roof. Only marginally more expensive than asphalt but much, much durable – it should last years!

So, without further ado here’s how things have come along this year in the house…

Spare room 1

Loft conversion

Kitchen Roof

Final spare room – still missing a floor

All in all, a lot achieved!

The Christmas deadline pushed us on, but it was worth it that’s for sure. We now have 3 spare rooms! And we filled them with our family. It was busy, noisy, the cats hid under our bed for most of the period, but it was great fun and we loved every minute.

And now, we sit still for a while…

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Merry Christmas!
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And they all had a jolly good time…

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and wishing everyone a peaceful New Year.


What we used/bought:

  • Paint for the first spare room was Green Blue, from, you know it, Farrow & Ball. We just loved this shade.
  • Cornicing was from a great place in Leytonstone. Made to order, fast and fitting available.
  • We must have made a least a dozen trips to the wonderful Webster’s in Forest Gate, for paint and materials. Love them.
  • Our favourite, basic, white paint for walls and skirting became Johnstones, which we bought from Webster’s above. Goes far and great coverage.
  • IKEA provided our daybed for the loft that transformed into a truly enormous king size bed. Comfortable and not too tricky to put together.
  • My good friend saved the day in our makeshift bedroom with a raised double airbed, a lot like this one. It was incredible and I am very tempted to buy my own now!
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The really boring DIY jobs

Since Christmas, while the weather has been cold and wet (is spring ever coming?) we have mainly been inside progressing with jobs that give you almost no pleasure at all.

Jobs that you really want to pay someone else to make go away, but you know you can do them yourself and so…you force yourself to. But, they are really horribly time consuming and really completely boring.

Jobs on this list include:

  • Painting architraves
  • Painting skirting boards
  • Stripping wallpaper
  • Painting doors
  • Touching up paint on walls that have been chipped while doing something else

Repeat until you want to kill yourself.

Over the last few months we have painted three doors, three rooms worth of skirting boards, stripped wallpaper from four walls and moved furniture around several times a day it would seem.

We’d just put these things off, knowing they’re no fun, but when you finish you go, ‘oh, wow, why did it take us two years to do that?’. Sound familiar?

A few pictures of our progress since January…

I think most weekends  in 2016 we have been doing something with a paintbrush…but, it’s the little jobs that can sometimes make the difference. The beautiful ornate skirting boards we had made based on the original old ones look absolutely stunning with the white beads really complimenting the orange walls. The kitchen door – although it took 4 days to paint (16 hour drying time, WHY?) – now looks super smart re-hung. And I definitely don’t miss the awful flowery wallpaper in the hall and landing greeting me every time I come home now.

Some lovely other finishing touches downstairs too. We got this stripy rug from John Lewis which we love for the lounge:

IMG_1174And it’s amazing what finally hanging long lost pictures can do for your sense of achievement…IMG_1043So next up is our spare room. Plastered last autumn but since then filled with “stuff”, we’re currently laying a new floor, replacing a window (first time we’ll have double glazing in that room for almost three years!), new skirting boards (groan, more painting), new radiator already in, new cornicing being ordered, walls and another old/new door to paint.

Currently in the exciting stage of choosing the wall colour (my favourite part!). I think we are in the blue/green zone currently, with front runners being Vert de Tere or Dix Blue – cue more sample pots…

IMG_1277So, watch this space – we have some guests schedule late May so I’ve given myself that deadline…fingers crossed.

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Things I’m loving & recent reads:

  • I only recently read my first Maggie O’Farrell, after several people couldn’t believe I’d never read her. I read Instructions for a Heatwave and devoured it. Did not want it to end. Definitely will be reading more!
  • I was lucky enough to get a proof copy of the upcoming Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Again, my first Chris Cleave and I absolutely loved this. Set in World War II, with a fantastic leading female I whipped through this and then cried at the end. He’s doing an event with Newham Bookshop at Wanstead Tap in June which I’m hoping to go to. Thoroughly recommend (out this Thursday).
  • I read Fiona Barton’s much hyped The Widow in January on release. I enjoyed the beginning, but for me, it didn’t quite deliver…fantastic concept though.
  • Post Serial (enjoyed the second season but not as much as first…) I am having a love affair with This American Life podcast. You can get recent episodes free through your podcast app, but I was recommended their own app – £2.49 and over 500 episodes at your fingertips. Each one explores fascinating real life stories and I cannot get enough of them at the moment. People are just so interesting.
  • We’re doing this thing of trying to watch everything we record on our box, rather than having series of things building up for months (a common habit for us). Just watched the absolutely stunning, and moving Show Me a Hero – the latest by David Simon (The Wire) about the Mayor of Yonkers in New York during a controversial public housing bill in the late 80s. Oscar Isaac plays the Mayor and wow,  a six-part masterpiece. Look it up!

On never, quite, achieving what you set out to. (Another year, lots done, more to do)

I was feeling a bit melancholy on New Year’s Day, and not even down to a hangover. No, I was trying to write a blog but feeling a little bit of a failure due to the last post I wrote and being sure we would be finished all the bedrooms upstairs by Christmas. Needless to say, we didn’t. We didn’t really get close. And I was feeling stupidly annoyed with myself about it, for really no reason.

We progressed as far as having one room plastered, and my plan was to try to get the rest done before Christmas so I could paint them all over the break. But, the only thing I managed to actually paint in the end were the doors to the ensuite and wardrobe (three, maybe four months after they were hung, but hey ho…).

No, in hindsight I wished I had started the year just giving myself a break really. Last year we did actually achieve a huge amount in the house, but all I could see was the fact that whole upstairs is still a mess and there is still so much to do…

What I should have been doing was feeling proud that in the last year we have actually completely rebuilt and redesigned the downstairs bathroom, have a lounge that is almost, so very nearly, finished with lovely shelves, a nice new floor and new sofas, that we lived through the restructuring of our bedroom dividing one room into two and now have a shower and a wardrobe that everyday I love. We have achieved a lot this year and what’s left, compared to what we’ve done is really quite small now. And I should be telling myself we will get there. Repeat after me: we will get there. (And then we’ll just go round again, right?)

So here’s a few pics of this year’s progress…

For anyone about to start, know this: renovating a house is endlessly hard, at times really dull, will take way more time than you ever thought it would, and cost at least double. (These are hardly new statements). But, if you can take all that, it is worth it. Honest. I absolutely love our house, and whenever I hear friends embarking on a move or house hunt I hug my unfinished, unpainted walls and think, thank you. We love you house, we’ll make you pretty one day house. And Forest Gate continues to thrive, and grow and we’re endlessly happy we managed to move here over two years ago.

So, I won’t tell you what the plan is next for upstairs, because I don’t want to disappoint myself…but I’ll just know that we’ll get there soon. And that will be okay.

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In other news, I read a lot of books last year (when I probably should have been painting), here are a few of my recent highlights:

H is for Hawk – Helen McDonald: I read this on holiday after having it on my ‘to-read’ shelf for about a year. It won the Samuel Johnson and Costa prize for Non-Fiction and I’d been told it was a bit of a hard slog so I just kept putting it off, but I really shouldn’t have. It was remarkable. Compelling, moving, fascinating and life-affirming. About grief more than looking after a bird of prey, but also immensely insightful about how looking after and respecting another living thing can, at times, restore you.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr: This probably was my book of last year. Again one I’d had on the shelf for a while and heard many great things – all of which were justified. The story of a blind teenager surviving during the siege of San Malo during WWII – it is just beautiful.

The Versions Of Us – Laura Barnett: Kind of Sliding Doors meets Life After Life, perfect for anyone that ever asks What If I never met/said yes/no etc that person? It’s a wonderful life (or multiple life) story. It’s just out in paperback – read it.

After The Crash – Michel Bussi: I put this in mainly as I have a real fondness for it. It’s kind of a crazy, weird, compelling but little bit silly “who dunnit/who is it” thriller, translated from French. I just really enjoyed reading it while on holiday.

Tiny, Beautiful, Things – Cheryl Strayed: I loved Wild, the book (the movie, not so great). Cheryl Strayed definitely has a thing with words, and this collection of letters from her Dear Sugar advice column was just a joy. I read it in one sitting on a plane, and it deals with all of life’s big (and small) questions giving honest, direct and often hilarious answers.

And here are a few that I’m excited about coming this year (that I haven’t already mentioned – no need to say anymore about the wonderful Trouble with Goats and Sheep coming out at end of this month):

Jonathan, Unleashed by Meg Rosoff: Out in February I think. I was lucky enough to read this on submission, and very sad we didn’t get to publish it, but as a long time fan of Meg Rosoff’s teen novels I gulped down her first adult one. Set in New York, with the hopeless but hopelessly loveable Jonathan – it’s a modern day love story, both insightful and hilarious with the best characters I’ve read in a long time (and dogs).

Not Working by Lisa Owens: coming April. Read some of this on submission again and want to read more. A very funny novel of a women who quits her job to find herself, only to find out it’s not so easy…

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: also out in April. I *heart* Curtis Sittenfeld and loved both American Wife and Sisterland so her doing a spin on Pride and Prejudice was eagerly awaited. I’m lucky to be working on the book and read an early copy and absolutely loved it. So so funny and totally accurate in bringing the characters up to date, I could almost read it all over again (and I only just finished).

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And finally, I am over the moon to see a Christmas present well-received. My best friend recently quit her high-powered job in law and I bought her Nigel Slater’s Year of Good Eating (the third Kitchen Diaries book). She’s spending her time incredibly wisely (I think!) and aiming to cook every recipe in it over the next year whilst also looking after her lovely almost 2 year old. She’ll be blogging her progress here – wishing her much luck and hoping to enjoy one of two of those meals!

One room becomes two: the ensuite is shiny and new

For anyone who’s visited our house, or even read this blog, you might recall we had a very strange en-suite. It was long and thin, far too big (lengthwise) and quite a bit mouldy.

It was so green and awkward, with the loo in such a place it couldn’t be plumbed in (so as a result it was a very noisy macerator toilet…which was not pleasant), there was a tiny box-like shower, a floor I couldn’t get clean and it didn’t even have a door so we could shut it all away.

It was a happy day when we ripped out the toilet and sink, but it was another 18 months before we could actually get to do the work needed to turn it into anything you would be happy to spend time in.

Here is what it looked like when we moved in:

LOVELY en-suite (note: will not be green in future)

Here’s what it looked like when we ripped out the plumbing (and what we lived with – albeit a cleaned up version – for many, many months):

And it's gone!

And here’s what it looks like now – after turning one long room into two! A bathroom, and a wardrobe…

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We always thought the en-suite was bigger than it needed to be, and planned to split it in two so we could build in some much-needed storage into our bedroom.

You might ask why we didn’t have it the other way round, and of course, we would have loved to have had the bathroom at the front with the window, but alas, that was not possible. The original worry we had when we saw the very original macerator toilet was that because our bedroom is at the front, we might not actually be able to plumb a toilet in. But, our builder was not put off and hoped that if he could get it as far back as possible, he could just about get the height and angle he needed to plumb a toilet in, essentially right in the middle of the upstairs.  And hence how we ended up with a window in our wardrobe (soon to be covered with a blind, fear not).

The reason we’d put this job back a bit, was due to the reorganisation needed to make the structure work. Because next to the where we wanted the bathroom to be, was the back bedroom – which essentially had to be taken apart in order to put the plumbing in. And then rebuilt. So – there was yet more dust.

Here’s the ensuite from start to finish…

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Et Viola

It’s the one job we’d been most worried about, but I think it’s maybe the one that we are now most happy with. Now I stare at the clean lines and nice, bright space and have almost forgotten the mouldy green walls. It’s a real treat to have all my clothes in one place for the first time in over two years. And we have more than enough room in both rooms – and doors to close them all away!

Of course, we are not finished – now we have three bedrooms to be plastered and decorated…yet more skirting boards to add, doors to strip and paint, colours to pick, carpets to lay…but, for now, our main structural work is done in the house. For a long time we shouldn’t have to take any more walls down, or floors up…or put any more plumbing in. This is PROGRESS!

I have to recommend a few places and people that made the process easier:

  • We got all our bathroom fittings from TJR Bathrooms on Romford Road, just over in Manor Park. They were fantastic. For the downstairs bathroom we bought everything online, and then waited for various different delivery schedules, had no customer service and probably didn’t save any money in the end. At TJR they gave a great discount and got everything delivered to themselves first, checked it all and then once it was all there then delivered to us. The Sottini tap we chose was going to take too long to come so they recommended another similar one from Kohler. When there were any problems they identified them first and then replaced them, and kept us all up to date in the meantime – we couldn’t fault them. It was a great example of why shopping locally can be the best.
  • Yet again, our favourite tiling website came up trumps. Walls and Floors do next day delivery on sample tiles, which means you can get a few different things and end up with something you never thought you’d like – just as we did! I would definitely have turned my nose at the ‘wood-style’ tiles we ended up with if someone told me about them, but when I saw them online, I thought they were worth a look. Both me and my partner almost didn’t want to admit how much we liked them when they first came, and even my builder was like – “I would never have picked these, but, yeah, they’re REALLY nice”…I feel like we’re in a spa with a wooden deck – but slip-free and waterproof!
  • We love our builder. He’s helpful and ambitious, but also has a very high standard of his own. Lots of people always ask me for his details, but he’s insanely booked up with other jobs right now and only likes super local jobs that he can cycle to (he lives in Leytonstone). Obviously happy to pass on details but won’t post them here so get in touch if you have time to wait for him and live nearby.

And so, now we wait for the plasterer to be available to skim all the bedroom walls, then the decoration can begin upstairs. I’m hopeful to be done by Christmas, but as ever, I can’t imagine it!

It’s like when we first moved in giving ourselves that Christmas deadline, but thankfully this year we’re not hosting 11 people…

So, as it normally takes me about three months between posts, I’m hoping the next time I write, I’ll be saying – Merry Christmas, look at all my lovely bedrooms…(A Girl Can Dream).

 

Two years a homeowner

Last weekend it was two years since we got the keys to our house: two years since we spent the weekend assessing what we might want to do in each room; two years since we started ripping up carpets and digging into walls to rewire. Boy, how the time flies.

It’s been so long since a blog that there has been so much progress in the house! The bathroom was finished around 8 weeks ago and we are so so happy with it.

We’ve gone from this dark dingy room:

Old bathroom

To this – beautiful, bright and suddenly spacious:

Shiny and new
Shiny and new

We changed the layout slightly from previously, moving the sink and toilet from the window wall to the wall opposite the bath. This meant we could take our window down a few more brick lengths to let as much light in as possible. I love the new window so much, and it’s so light in there now we barely need the light on.

We also had to move things around to fit our bath in…IMG_0147

We couldn’t quite fit a freestanding bath but we went for the Clearwater bath which is flush to one wall – which is actually great in terms of shower splashing!  We did go to town slightly in this area…couldn’t have this bath without a fitting shower and tap, and we fell in love (and therefore sign of our budget) with this Burlington mixer...*swoon*

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But my favourite bit by far is the fact the mirror we found in our cellar when we moved in two years ago, that I cleaned up when sorting our spare room fits perfectly in the bathroom. Makes me happy every time I go in there…

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So happy with this room now it’s complete!

After many tester pots the pale green is Teresa’s Green – applied in many coats over the course of a weekend, and I also painted my first ceiling too! (Not in green though, obvs. – though our previous ceiling was BLUE which didn’t help the light…)

And then it was on to the next room straight away and finishing off our living room. Now we finally have shelves, a new floor, skirting boards and books in there! It is starting to really feel homely…(after two years!)…
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And on the subject of books, this last few months I’ve been reading:

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin – recently been working on the books alongside the TV show at work. If you’re a fan of the show, the books really do add an extra dimension, just need to set aside the time!

Hausfrau byJill Alexander Essbaum – had heard a lot of brilliant things about this debut. It’s an incredible voice, but I found the main character so frustrating that I’m not sure if I loved it or hated it!

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker – had long admired this cover but didn’t know a lot about it. But, I loved this so much. A smart, complex and compelling thriller – I just could not put this down. A great holiday read!

– Disclaimer by Renee Knight – now, I knew many people who loved this but it just wasn’t for me. There’s a great twist, but I just didn’t believe the behaviour of the main characters, so that ruined it for me. Still, one I’ve talked to many about after finishing!

Currently reading: The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett – I cannot praise this highly enough. Beautifully written, ‘Sliding Doors’-esque drama, with three versions of one relationship. Completely wonderful, and also a stunning hardback package too.

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Next on the house agenda is our en-suite which we are splitting in half to have a wardrobe and smaller en-suite. Pre-plumbing is happening now, so upstairs in a complete state, but progress should be shown soon! Next time…

Bathroom under construction: the foundations

So spring is upon us (as much as the weather doesn’t want us to believe it) and we are finally a few weeks into our bathroom reconstruction.

I say reconstruction as it really is that rather than renovation, in that very little that was there before will remain. Including four levels of previous flooring (!), the bathroom layout and a frustratingly too high window.

We are lucky, in that we have a separate toilet in the loft, and a shower cubicle in what’s left of our ensuite. So, we are surviving through the concrete, plumbing and dust. I would say we are approaching the halfway point…I hope.

So this was where we started:

Old bathroomAnd here’s the progress so far (click one to launch gallery)…

Basically none of the sexy stuff yet but actually the really important stuff is done. I missed out the day that our builder laid out our new bathroom suite with bits of the old one to find that if we had the sink we wanted, paired with the bath we wanted you might have to wash your hands from the bath…so we had to make some changes to our choices…

Instead of completely freestanding, we picked this Clearwater modern bath instead – which sits flush to one wall (to give us more space) but still has the desired effect, and I love it (well, I hope I will).

In place of our swanky sink (boo hoo, I am still sad about that…) we are going for a smaller traditional sink from Heritage, and matching toilet (our desired toilet was also too big…).

Our tiles were an easy choice, thankfully. Floor: Grey City Limestone Matt Tiles. Walls: White Gloss Smooth Brick Tiles. Fantastic service from Walls and Floors.

Next week: window gets finished, wall tiling starts…and our builders’ wife likely goes into labour, so we will be taking a rest for a week or two!

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In other news, this month I’ve been reading:

A Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins. This thriller has dominated the charts here and in the US. I was definitely gripped throughout, but I did see the ending coming
– (For work) The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, by debut Jo Cannon, which we will publish next Spring. To say I loved this was an understatement. Very Mark Haddon-esque. Look out for it next year!
– (Again for work) – Nelly Dean by Alison Case – out in August. Wuthering Heights from the servant’s perspective. This is superb. The most fantastic voice – reimagined gothic fiction at its best. Don’t miss it.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Bought this on a whim after seeing great reviews following the film – found it compelling, inspiring, emotional and made me want to go off and trek through California for a year!
– Currently reading – So, You Have Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Fascinating exploration of public shaming including through social media.

Until next time…

Looking forward to spring

This is pretty obvious, given the weather today and how bleak it’s been, but – I have more than one reason for looking forward to spring. And that is that work is about to being again on our house – hurrah!

It’s been almost a year since I last opened my “House Work Planner” spreadsheet and since then there hasn’t been a lot of progress in our house. But, we certainly haven’t been doing nothing. During that time our household has acquired two cats, got one new job that has taken up many hours, written at least one book (not by me), travelled round Southern California, survived an office move and got a new mortgage. The last of which means, hurrah – work can begin on our house again!

So, that is why I’m looking forward to Spring.

Because in just under a month, our builder will be back and ripping out our bathroom. He has to start outside with our ancient pipes and drains, and then gut the whole bathroom before he can do anything. I’m trying not to think about that stage. Instead, I am doing the exciting bits – obviously – and dream shopping for bathroom fittings.

This is our current bathroom, complete with makeshift shower held up by a decorating pole and NHS curtain.

Old bathroom shower pole come decorating pole

It’s not hideous but it is dark, and so very blue. And always just a little bit damp. I dread to think what is lurking under the lino…(Poor Kristian…our builder).

So, I think after living with this for the last 18 or so months we will be going clean, and bright. And likely white, with one bright colour splash somewhere.

I took a walk to Romford Road today to visit the excellent TJR Bathrooms, which has a surprisingly good range of lovely bathroom fixtures and fittings. There I was before I went, saying, ‘look, I definitely don’t want to spend a fortune on the bathroom’. But, ahhh – but then I picked up a Clearwater ‘Simply Exclusive’ bathroom brochure. Disaster.

My current shortlist should budget/bargain hunting allow is:

This beautiful Clearwater Roll-top basin with stand –

Swwon
Swoon

Perhaps paired with this Modern Free-standing bath, again from Clearwater –

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Pass the sponge

And, oh definitely need one of these:

Heritage Heated Towel Rail
Heritage Heated Towel Rail

Hmm. I think I might have to do some shopping around. But, for now, I will carry on dreaming!

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In other news, I’m adding a feature to this blog – stolen from a friend and colleague Be Nourished. Seeing as I read so much in my job, I thought I’d share my recent reads and soon-to-be-reads with you.

So, this month:

– The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton. Stunning debut I thought and one of the books last year that everyone was talking about. Weird and wonderful, not perfect but I loved it.
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. God, I loved The Rosie Project so much, and this sequel completely lived up to the first book in my eyes. I laughed and cried in equal measures. I love Don Tilman (though think he *might* be hard to live with)
The Wronged by Kimberley Chambers, for work – East End crime/drama at its best. If you love Eastenders, or anything to do with The Krays, you’ll love it. Coming in March – can’t wait to work on this one.
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins – this debut went to Number One last week in the Hardback charts on its first week of release and surprised everyone. I’ve just started reading it, it’s definitely compelling so far.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – maybe my favourite author, I’m halfway through this and it’s as good as I thought it would be. Just need the time to get back to it! (You can probably tell I read a lot of books at the same time, bad habit of my job)

On my to be read shelf:
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – been hearing a lot about this haunting collection of essays and stories. Bought in Waterstones January Sale and staring at me on my bookcase.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – gift from a friend at another publisher, have been wanting to read for ages. Might be next on my list!

Let me know if you’ve read or reading any of the above and what you thought!

Until next time…