Welcome to my Blogger page, thank you for visiting. This is where I will share my reviews of books, movies and other things I enjoy. If you would like to see my ramblings, fanfiction and other general posts, please visit my Livejournal: beren_writes. Visit my pages to learn about me and my books.
Top set of links above are external links, second set are pages local to the blog.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Herbal sleep aid - Rescue Night - it's awesome

Over the years I have been pretty good at sleeping (touch wood), especially since I had to give up caffeinated tea and coffee. However, just recently I was having some trouble - tossing and turning a lot, not being able to relax properly.

Now my husband has had the same problem every now and then and took herbal pills to help him through a bad patch. It worked really well for him. My problem - I can't swallow pills. I thought I was out of luck, but then I discovered Rescue Night.

I was a bit sceptical to begin with - four drops on the tongue and it's made from flowers. However I willing to give it a go.

It's wonderful stuff. I can't honestly say how it does what it does, but it allows me to relax and drift off with far more success than lying there and hoping my brain will shut up.

I've been using it on and off for a about six weeks now and it's brilliant. If I can't sleep I put the drops on my tongue (it's just sugary to taste) and I drift right off. I know several of you out there suffer from sleeping issues, so I thought I would share how well this has helped me.

At first I used it every night, but now my sleep schedule had worked itself back into a normal routine I use it only if I can feel the tossing and turning coming on. Rob has tried it too and it works for him as well.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Fantastic Macaroni Cheese Recipe

Had to share this because it's so easy and it's a Nigella Express recipe. I made it last night for the second time and it really is to die for.

The full amount will serve ~3 as a main dish and 4 as a side. I made it and then froze half and we had it as a side dish with some chicken - it was lovely.

Ingredients

  • 250g macaroni (it says that's 4 cups cooked on this site)
  • 250g strong cheese (2 cups grated) - I used mature cheddar
  • 250ml/1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • grating of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook the macaroni until tender as instructed on the packet.
  2. Mix the cheese, milk, eggs and nutmeg together in a bowl. If you didn't buy the cheese pre-grated (I know, pre-grated is lazy, but so easy) then you can pop everything in the food processor and whizz it all up together. No need for hand grating unless you have to.
  3. Drain the pasta and put it back in the saucepan.
  4. Add the other ingredients and mix, add salt and pepper to taste (be aware the cheese is relatively salty so you won't need much of that).
  5. Now I let mine cool down now because I made it in advance (and pasta is better for you reheated or cold)
  6. When ready to eat, pre-heat the oven to 220C/428F/7Gas or 210C/410F Fan assisted
  7. Put the mixture into a shallow, oven proof dish.
  8. Cook the macaroni cheese for 10-15 mins until browning slightly (it only took mine 10 mins). If you cook it too long it will go dry, so ere on the side of caution. Mine was nowhere near as browned as the image above, but it was colouring gently.
  9. Eat :D
I know most of my US friends are probably used to making macaroni cheese all the time, but I'd never made it before I found this recipe. Now I am never eating it out of a can again! The longest part was waiting for the pasta to cook and then waiting for the oven - so very, very easy. This is soft and fluffy and basically, heaven :).

Anyone have any recipes for mac and cheese that are a must have, or other pasta favourites?

Sunday, 16 November 2014

D.I.Y. Update - Shelves with books!


So most of the books are in now. We have discovered we need to add another section of shelving for the big books, but that will have to go on the other side of the room near the door. We ran out of space :).

All of my art books and a significant number of history books do not yet have a home. You can see them stacked on the floor in this photo:

I have left the images large, so if you want to click on them all and judge me for my taste in books you can ;)

The paperbacks are all in sections and alphabetical, but the hardback and extra-large books in the two left hand sets of shelves are somewhat random.

In this piccie you can see the corner shelf properly too and Rob has kindly moved the ladder.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

D.I.Y. update - New Shelves! :)

Do our new shelves are up. Can't compliment the company we bought them from enough:
  • great service (we ordered them Thursday and they had them with us by Friday lunchtime even though their delivery date said Monday - we rang them up and asked nicely and they were so helpful and got everything done for us).
  • Easy to assemble, we put ours up in a couple of hours
  • Very stable and strong
Only down side - definitely not cheap. 

This is our study as of last night:

We have been filling it with books since. I'll post another piccie when we've put everything in it :)

In case you are wondering that's 3m wide by 2.4m high. The shelves to the left of the picture are 30cm deep, the second bay is a 30-18cm transition and the last two are 18cm deep shelves. You can set the shelves anyway you want at 5cm intervals.

The right most set is for normal paperbacks, the middle for bigger paperbacks, the transition for all the hardback fiction and the 30cm for all the really big books.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

NaNoWriMo - Update 4 and D.I.Y. Update

Sorry, I forgot to post NaNoWirmo Updates 1,2 and 3 here, but you can see them over at my Livejournal if you would like :).




As you can see from my graphic, my progress had been a little up and down. I am currently ~400wds behind thanks to my missed days (both the yellow ones were only about 200wrd days and red was none at all :)). However, I finally know who the murderer is! Yay!

For those who haven't seen my other updates, I was bemoaning the fact that I knew who all the players were in the novel, but I didn't know which one of them had committed the murder. For those who have seen nothing of me wittering on about NaNo at all, my novel is as follows:

Mirabel's Bad Day and Beyond (Working Title)

Miri, or Mirabel if you're her mother, is a very powerful witch. When she wakes up on an obnoxiously bright morning she knows it's going to be a bad day. First of all her familiar, Ran, has decided being a cat is no longer interesting enough and has taken to walking around as a naked young man. Not good for her equilibrium, not good at all. Then she bumps into a friend, Ed Hanson, she hasn't seen in five years and she starts feeling the witch's mating urge. Think hornier than Sid James in a Carry On film, only worse. Being a demisexual with few close friends, this is kind of new and confusing.
Oh and her next door neighbour has been murdered, which might be a problem.

The idea is growing as I write and changing a little bit, but the basic premise is still there :). The time line is different, but it's still a murder mystery and Miri is still a witch with something of a personal magical problem. I'm having a lot of fun with it as the universe evolves.

D.I.Y.

I helped lay underlay last night! I know, this might not be news for anyone else, but I am completely D.I.Y. incompetent and I actually managed to help Rob without messing anything up. In fact I actually came up with some sensible suggestions.

The flooring you can see in the picture isn't actually laid yet, it's just in place to make sure we didn't choose really badly and need to go and exchange all the packs we bought for something else :).

The underlay is actually thermal and you can see from the roll sitting to the top of the picture it looks quite space age when you can see the metal surface. We've laid 2/3rds of it, but we can't do the rest until we've put the floor down on the first part and can move the weights machine to where it will be in the room.
As you can see from this second picture, now we have taken out the old carpet and old lino that was on top of it, we actually have a rather nice old wooden floor. Unfortunately we learnt last time we uncovered one of the floors that they may look pretty, but they make for a very cold house.

The floors are open to the elements looking straight under the house and they have gaps between the boards. This means cold winds come straight in. Hence the thermal underlay and the laminate flooring to go on top :).

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Nate Laven - An Introduction (Vampires: The New Age)

In honour of the fact that I have signed up with BooksGoSocial.com to promote The Avebury Legacy, I thought I would introduce you to my main protagonist, Nate (not that he'd get anywhere without Lexie, but she will have her own post). You can read the first page of the book over at BooksGoSocial.com and if you like that you can check out the whole first chapter at The Avebury Legacy's book listing on Wittegen Press, or use the look inside functionality over at Amazon or download the 20% sample at Smashwords. There are also sample options on all sites where the book is listed that offer that service, so you can try before you buy.


Name: Nate Laven
Age: early twenties
Description: Think surfer dude - blond, classically handsome, tall. He looks like he should be on a beach or in a frat house, not chasing vampires. That's him on the front cover above, but he's a little beaten up and has a small vampire issue going on.

Background:

Nate is British born, but his family moved to the USA when he was nine, so he mostly sounds American. He became a hunter when he was seventeen after his best friend was killed by a vampire and he became aware they existed. He was trained by an experienced hunter and started off as part of a group, but went solo after one of his comrades shot him while being careless.

Nate likes to rely on himself and no one else and he trusts only when he has to. Lexie, a white witch and his travelling companion, is the exception, because she saved his life. Nate was infected by vampirism himself when Lexie, already infected, had to use her blood to connect them and save him from a vampire's magic. They are stuck together, because Lexie's magic keeps them partially human and Nate has come to care for her more than he is comfortable with.

He's a good guy, but he definitely has trust issues.

He gets his jobs from a man called Macintyre, who is the main man when it comes to freelance vampire hunting. Macintyre pays well and has a network to rival the combined world churches who are the biggest players on the world stage of vampire hunting. Nate almost trusts Macintyre ... almost. Hunting keeps Nate's bank account healthy and his adrenaline dose high.

His parents think he works as a business consultant which keeps him travelling all over North America.

If you would like to read how Nate became infected with vampirism, then you'll enjoy my novelette, The Beginning (Vampires: The New Age, Prequel #1). The book is usually 99c, but if you have read The Avebury Legacy (Vampires: The New Age #1) and are willing to give it an honest review on one of the major book sites, I'll happily send it to you for free. There is a Google form at The Avebury Legacy's main page with easy fields to fill in to point me at your review and let me know how to contact you to send you the free book.

I've also written a piece of flash fiction for The Avebury Legacy (Vampires: The New Age #1) this week over at the Wittegen Press blog.

Monday, 10 November 2014

I'm not sure how we got this much stuff in the study in the first place

So anyone who's been to our house and seen our study knows it's the room where all the junk ends up. We have just emptied it so we can redecorate. We have filled 10 64L plastic boxes with memorabilia, craft stuff, tool and other random things. Most of these are going in the back bedroom where the boxes with lost of VHS tapes used to be (we dumped those earlier in the year).

What is going back in are the exercise machines, the books and the craft stuff and tools that are used more than once every five years. Then the plan is to add a sofa bed of some sort so the room can be used to house sleeping guests from time to time :).

We've taken the door off to give more space, but we'll be putting up a nice insulated curtain over the doorway like we have to our bedroom most of the time.

We have taken down all the current book shelves and we're buying some new ones - very sturdy ones. We are going to lay a new laminate floor (when I say we, that's a royal we, Rob's going to do that because I am totally incompetent at such things). We have already redecorated the walls and that's not a royal we, I helped with that. We spent most of yesterday doing it after spending Friday afternoon and Sat emptying it.

This is what our study looks like at the moment:
 

As you can see in the first picture we haven't done the skirting yet - that's going to be white rather than the half red, half green it is at the moment (most of it used to be hidden so we never actually finished painting it when we first decorated the room ;)). The second image is where all the book shelves used to be. The wall furthest from the window to the left of the picture is getting book shelves back, but the corner is remaining free of them.

This is what parts of the rest of our house look like at the moment:

The Old Dining Room



In the first picture you have the exercise bike and a whole stack of boxes and paperwork. This all came out of the large cabinets we had in the study which have now gone to the tip. Most of the paperwork is headed for the shredder (it's so old it's no longer required), but some of the boxes are going back in at some point. In the second picture you can see about a third of the books all stacked up, with games on top. They are all going back in. Then to the right of the image are some of those plastic boxes I mentioned - 2.5 of them are full of Avengers stuff :). They're all headed for the back bedroom.

The Lounge

As you can see the lounge is hosting most of the books at the moment.They all have to go back into the study once we have book cases. Luckily we don't have to deal with the hats in their boxes (the stripy things). Those are going back to my mother,

Oh and I'm going NaNoWrimo at the same time ... I think I may need my head examining ;). Amber (our kitty) is very unhappy with us at the moment - she dislikes change and all this moving of stuff is freaking her out somewhat. I am sure she will forgive us once she has a nice new sofa to make all her own.

We're trying to get it all finished before our annual Christmas party at the beginning of December, so we're running on a time limit. Once Rob has a 3rd of the floor laid we can order the bookshelves and I can start putting things back in while he works on that. If worst comes to the worst all the stuff will have to be piled up in there and sorted out afterwards :).

Anyone else decorating or have any decorating stories? 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Review - Insidious (2010)

Title: Insidious
Rating: 15
Cast:
Patrick Wilson ... Josh Lambert
Rose Byrne ... Renai Lambert
Ty Simpkins ... Dalton Lambert
Lin Shaye ... Elise Rainier
Summary:
When Dalton, son of Josh and Renai Lambert falls into a coma that isn't really a coma, after they move into their new house, evil things start to happen around him.

So Insidious, I finally managed to see the whole thing. On the first watch my husband was so jumpy that he couldn't finish it. However, as I discovered he turned off at just the wrong point.

This is a film of two halves.

The first half is really quite spooky and scary. It made me and my husband jump and hide behind cushions and when I watched it a second time with my sister and mother so I could see the end, it did the same to them.

However, I have to say, the second time through the first half was spooky, but not really scary like it was when I didn't know what was coming. It doesn't have lasting scare factor unlike something like Ju-on - The Grudge which gets me every time. I think it's the noises in Ju-on that do it.

So the first half isn't bad and it's worth a watch. The acting is fine, the plot is reasonable and when you don't know what coming it will scare you nicely.

Then we have the second half. It turns out my husband should have kept watching because the second half totally kills any scare in the first half. The main protagonist flips from being the mother to being the father and the explanations come out and it's just, meh. It's over done, it's heavy, it's predictable and it's not frightening at all. I watched my sister go from hiding behind a cushion to wondering when it would end.

There was only one point in the whole second half that made any of us remotely jump.

It needed a twist or a more interesting big bad, but there wasn't anything. The reveal is supposed to be a big shock, but if you didn't see it coming I think you might have been watching a different film. I don't mean the details exactly, but definitely the general gist.

We're supposed to be afraid and we definitely weren't. It went from good old fashioned horror to more of a dark fantasy without the scare factor. I don't think I will be watching it again.

I do have Insidious 2 and I will give it a go, but I'm not holding my breath for a masterpiece.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween - All Hallows Read, Halloween Blog Hop & Trick of Treat Book Blog Hop


So this year, rather than just doing a book for All Hallows Read, Soph and I have also signed up for a couple of blog hops: Sara C. Snider's Halloween Blog Hop and Patricia Lynne's Trick-or-Treat Book Blog Hop.

Soph is also doing the hops over at her blog and both of us are doing them over at the Wittegen Press Blog where there are lots and lots of drabbles for all our books with horror or paranormal content.

All Hallows Read 

All Hallows Read is a Halloween tradition supported by Neil Gaiman where the idea is to give someone a scary book on Halloween. As with the past two years Soph and I have written a short story each and put it in a book and it is free just for today.


by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

If Wishes Were … by Natasha Duncan-Drake

Essie and her friend Beth are taking a trip to commiserate Beth’s loss of yet another boyfriend. When they visit a spooky old graveyard and Essie makes a wish on a haunted mausoleum things don’t turn out how she expected at all.

Happy Families by Sophie Duncan

Bridget loves Happy Families, so when she finds and old pack in a junk shop she buys them. She lives to regret it as strange and nasty things start to happen to her house-mates.

You can download it for free from either Smashwords, Google Play or iTunes - just use the buttons below.

Cursed from Smashwords. Cursed at Google Play Cursed at iBooks

Halloween Blog Hop

Sara's Halloween Blog Hop is all about sharing something to do with Halloween, be it fiction, poetry, art or something else entirely. To see everyone taking part, scoll to almost the bottom of my post and this Hop is the first list.

I decided to write a little flash fic for you all. I do hope it makes you shiver :).
The Dead of Night
by Natasha Duncan-Drake

Maggie shifted yet again and demanded that her brain turn off. Of course it didn't. It was one of those nights where she kept dropping off, but then something would prod her mental map and she'd wake up again. Unfortunately that was how her mind worked and it made for the odd sleepless night.
She was just contemplating picking up her phone and playing something mindless when the bed beside her shifted.

"Can't sleep?" she asked as the bed dipped and then lifted, creaking along the way.

"Hmm," was the inarticulate response from her husband Jack, "pee."

Such was her other half's ability to communicate when mostly asleep.

In response Maggie rolled over and tried to find a comfortable spot to actually get some sleep.

It couldn't have been more than two minutes later when there was a thud at the base of the bed. She had just been drifting off, finally, so she wasn't overly pleased.

"Did you walk into the bed post again?" she asked, not overly sympathetic.

Her night vision was absolutely crap, but she looked over to the vaguely familiar silhouette against the streetlight diffusing through the curtains. A grunt was the only response.

"Well get back into bed then," she said and rolled her eyes even though Jack wouldn't be able to see her.

Jack when almost comatose was not exactly the life and soul of the moment.

There was some shuffling that made her feel guilty; maybe Jack had actually hurt himself this time, but then the bed dipped and there was the expected creaking as Jack settled in. Maggie put her hand out in a silent apology.

"Shit you're cold," she said; "is the bathroom freezing again. We really have to have that radiator replaced. Want to snuggle to warm up?"

There was only a hum of response. Maggie took that to mean no, but she moved a bit closer anyway to share some of her body heat. The last thing she wanted was a sick husband to deal with. A very cold hand settled on her hip, so she figured the gesture was appreciated.

"Bugger," she said as she tried to fall asleep again, "I'm wide awake."

She really didn't expect a low chuckle to come back at that and Jack's fingers tightened on her hip for a second.

"Don't tell me you took that as an innuendo," she said, but smiling to herself; "you can get horny in under a second can't you?"

Another laugh replied.

"Well don't get any ideas, because you might be the love of my life, but I have a big meeting tomorrow and I have to sleep," she told him firmly.

Jack just laughed again, this time a little higher and he didn't stop.

"Jack," she said, "don't."

He didn't comply, in fact he laughed harder.

"Jack," Maggie tried again, an edge coming into her voice, "that's enough; you're starting to weird me out."

Jack just kept going and the laugh was getting higher all the time. Maggie wasn't exactly afraid, but her heart began beating faster and she didn't like it at all. She slapped his hand. He just laughed more. Her annoyance began to morph into worry; this wasn't like Jack at all.

"Jack," she said, turning over to face him; "what's wrong?"

Then, just as suddenly as Jack had started laughing, he stopped.

"Mags," said the voice of her husband from behind her, "who are you talking to?"

Then the light flicked on and Maggie began to scream.

Trick-or-Treat Book Blog Hop

Patricia's Trick-or-Treat Book Blog Hop is all about giving away books instead of candy (much easier to do through the internet, wouldn't you agree :)). To see everyone taking part, scoll to the bottom of my post and this Hop is the second list.

Soph and I have taken all our horror or paranormal related books that were greater than 99c and reduced them to 99c for one day with a Smashwords coupon. We also have a collection of titles at Wittegen Press that are always free, and, of course, our All Hallows Read book (Cursed - A Horror Collection) is free for today.

The following books of mine are discounted (see their individual pages for details by clicking on the covers):
Here's a tip, if you want all the stories in the books with the orange covers, buy Myriad Imaginings, if you want just the stories by me buy Half of Everything and only go for the other three if you just want a particular genre (Bright Young Things = YA Speculative Fiction, Supernature = Paranormal Romance and Book of Darkness = Horror). Since they are all discounted to 99c I'd personally go for the one with the most stories in it ;).

What is your favourite thing about Halloween?

Halloween Blog Hop List


Trick-or-Treat Book Blog Hop List

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review: Dracula Untold (2014)

Title: Dracula Untold
Rating: 15
Cast:
Luke Evans ... Vlad
Sarah Gadon ... Mirena
Dominic Cooper ... Mehmed
Art Parkinson ... Ingeras
Charles Dance ... Master Vampire
Summary:
Vlad, as the prince of his people must maintain peace with the feared Turks, but when the Sultan demands 1000 boys for his army and Vlad's son, he can no longer pay the tribute. Instead he goes to the monster living in the mountains and makes a bargain to give him the strength to defeat his enemy.

I really enjoyed this film. It could have done with some more female characters who actually had lines, but it was still entertaining and had a good story line.

There are no surprises as far as how the plot goes because we all know this is about Vlad becoming Dracula so he has to make certain choices and go a certain way, but I really liked how they did it. It was exciting even though we all knew where it was heading. This is not a film with grey areas and the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, in this case good guys are Vlad's people and bad guys are the Turks are bad. Charles Dance might be the monster in the mountains, but he's more of chaotic neutral as far as the plot goes.

One of the things I really enjoyed was how Vlad is the hero all the way through. It doesn't matter that he's a monster, he is still the hero and it is awesome. Luke Evans does a great job in the part. He's sexy and tormented and wild around the edges; just what you want of Dracula.

Then you have the rest of the cast. Sarah Gadon is vital as Mirena, Vlad's wife. Her passion for Vlad and her need to protect her son come through so clearly. She is strong and a force to be reckoned with without ever picking up a weapon. Dominic Cooper is delightfully nasty as Mehmed, ruthless in his demand for Vlad's people and son. He is a character designed to be hated and Cooper makes you want to stab him between the eyes the moment you first meet him. Then we had Ingeras, Vlad's son played by Art Parkinson who is brilliant. He is a loyal son and brave, but still a child - a great balance.

And, of course, we have Charles Dance as the Master Vampire. He is delightfully evil and yet the lesser of two when it comes to the Turks. The scene where he and Vlad meet properly for the first time is so beautifully filmed. I do hope they make the sequel the whole film points to, because I would love to see more of him.

The rest of the cast is like spot the actor and then you have to work out if you saw them in Midsomer Murders or Game of Thrones :). I exaggerate, but this is a cast you will recognise from all over the place and they stand up well.

The film is only 92 mins long and I think this is perfect. It has action and enough character building that it's satisfying and any longer and parts would have dragged. There are plot points I have not seen used before in Dracula and it was a refreshing take on his legend. This is by no means a perfect movie, but it is good. I hope they make a sequel because I think that will be even more interesting and I will definitely be adding this to my collection as soon as it turns up on Blu-ray.