*drum roll* The 2015 Book Review!

I can barely believe it, five years ago I started my 52 books in 52 weeks challenge and this is the first time I finished before the 31st! Here is my annual read book list sorted by a very scientific star rating (click here if you missed the 2014 , 2013 or 2012 reviews). For full reviews on all of my books check out my Goodreads link on the side. My top recommendations for the year are:

The Martian by Andy Weir The movie adaptation was pretty darn close but I think if you saw the movie you’d still enjoy the book, it’s pretty funny even if there is a bunch of science.

The Pearl that Broke it’s Shell by Nadia Sashimi. Set in Kabul is the parallel stories of Rahima and her great-aunt almost 100 years earlier as they were dressed and treated as boys (bacha posh) until marriageable age is reached as per local customs.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. This National Book Award winner tackles teenage mental illness drawn from the experiences of the Author’s family. It is also illustrated by his son.

5 stars

  • Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi (Cookbook)
  • The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Circling the Sun by Paula McClain (previously read author, The Paris Wife) – Audiobook
  • My Life in France by Juila Child – Audiobook
  • The Wright Brothers by David McCullough – Audiobook
  • The Book of Mormon
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Dead Wake by Erik Larson (previously read author, Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck) – Audiobook
  • Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

4 Stars

  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – Audiobook
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
  • American Sniper by Chris Kyle
  • The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riorden
  • Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
  • The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
  • The Lake House by Kate Morton
  • I Must Say: My life as a humble comedy legend by Martin Short
  • The Swimmer by Joacim Zander
  • The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey
  • The Paris Architect by Charle Belfoure
  • Stronger by Jeff Bauman
  • The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
  • The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • Red Queen by Victoria Avenyard
  • Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

3 Stars

  • Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Yesterdays Echo by Matt Coyle
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  • Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling
  • Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
  • The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

2 Stars

  • The Mind Readers by Lori Brigham
  • The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
  • The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • China Dolls by Lisa See

1 Star

  • Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green
  • Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
  • Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont
  • Buried Giant by Kazoo Ishiguro
  • The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

 

Angkor (say) Wat?

I promise that is the last time I will ever use the Angkor (say) Wat pun (maybe). Robbo had to leave the country (again) so I went ahead and left to – for a girls weekend in Siem Reap. I met up with a few ex-Perth expats, and one Perthian, for the weekend of the Angkor Wat Half-Marathon/ 10k run.  Girl’s trips are good for the soul, especially when they’re with girls as good as mine. I’m lucky (and tired) for this great weekend opportunity. It couldn’t be perfecter.

First things first we decided to sleep in, well get up just in time to eat the hotel’s breakfast buffet and then go back to sleep again. Then after being exhausted from some market shopping we laid by the pool for a few hours waiting for dinner time. After the much needed R&R we hopped on a tuk-tuk for temple day. We managed to sweat on a lot of amazing looking old temples – obviously not as much sweat as was put into building them eleventy billion years ago – but it was still impressive.

The next morning was race day. We didn’t have to leave until 5 am which means I got to sleep in until 4:15! Woo-hoo!! We joined to throng of tuk-tuks carrying runners tying up shoes and wiping sleep from their eyes. Thankfully we got there in time to wait in line at the port-a-loos long enough to make friends (other expats living in other SouthEast asian countries). I’ve never been at such a gorgeous race starting line – complete with the sun rising over Angkor Wat. This is the only race I’ve run in which almost everyone, including myself, kept stopping to take pictures. I mean come on, we literally got to run through the grounds of Angkor Wat! When we were done we loaded up on fresh coconut water (who needs it from the can) and our tuk-tuk driver found us in the crowd to take us home. We relaxed with the pool, massages and mexican food – the way it should be.

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Sunrise over Angkor Wat

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Ready, ready to run!

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One of many tuk-tuk rides

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Chilling, relaxin, acting all cool.

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Let’s Talk About Swants Baby

One day on Facebook a friend posted something as a joke, but I wasn’t laughing. It had to do with sewing and it was marvelous. It was swants. Pants made from sweaters, I guess you could call them panters but I think swants has a nice ring to it. I was due to visit an ex-perth expat, a fellow Perth Alumn, who was is cut from the same crafting cloth as I and we were going to make them.

I arrived in town on a Friday afternoon after the long haul flight (this time it was a pleasant jaunt through Moscow). We fueled up on Chuey’s tex mex and then hit up the thrift store. We didn’t quite think this through very well given than we were looking for men’s sweaters in Houston however we found two that would do the trick. This was the perfect activity to do in the evening to fight through my atrocious jet lag. We followed the step by step tutorial provided and we eventually figured them out (I mean they are swants not gowns for the Met Gala, our best would have to do). I think Kim’s husband was horrified impressed by our new creation.

They next evening there was a swants debut to Kim’s children, and neighbors, as we decided they should be showed off in the front yard – with cartwheels. It turns out that not only can we sew a wicked stitch but we can also tumble like the best mid-30 year old women I know!

I think we’ll go on tour, be on the lookout for the Sisterhood of Traveling Swants.

We even have matching dickies1

We even have matching dickies!

Like riding a bicycle!

Like riding a bicycle!

Traveling Internationally? Tips Here.

Periodically I’m asked tips for traveling internationally so I figured with the onslaught of flights lately that I should formalize these. Hopefully you find at least one of them to be helpful!

  1. Airline selection – go foreign. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be an American but not when it comes to my in-air care. Each year the top airlines are noted through various awards and I can attest that each one is great and that’s including economy seating – and at a comparable cost to American based airlines. Some of my favorite are Qantas (if you’re heading down under), Singapore Air, Cathay Pacific and Qatar.
  2. Don’t Book Through 3rd Parties. There are a lot of search engines available and they are very useful in researching prices and routes, but don’t book through them. These same prices are available through the airline site. The issue arises when you need to make a change to your booking. Third party sites fares and deals have different codes and the airline can typically only rebook on flights that have seats with these codes available (which often times are a limited number per flight). This is even more difficult if there are multiple airlines involved which tends to be the case for International flights.
  3. Plan your in-flight experience. Once your flight is booked stay on the website and manage your booking! It’s common (and recommended) to select your seat but did you know there’s more you can do? I always select a special meal. Let’s face it, airline food is never a foodie experience but there are ways to eat better. I always choose a fruit platter meal, that way I can get something healthy while in the air (and keep the cankles down) but they also have low – sodium, kosher, vegetarian etc. You an also look at what movies and TV shows will be available during your trip.
  4. Research Your Airport Connections. Let’s face it, travel isn’t always so glamorous (says the girl who once spent 18 hours in the Madrid airport during college). Airport amenities have come a LONG way since that long Spanish night in 2001. Regardless of your connection time do a little research. If it’s a short connection you can find the best route to run to your next flight, if it’s long you can see how to keep yourself entertained. Sometimes I even book routes based on the airport. Singapore has multiple free movie theaters, a butterfly garden and amazing shopping, Doha has a fantastic gym that if you book a spa appointment (who doesn’t love a good massage) you have complimentary use of the gym and it’s impressive lap pool, it also has quiet rooms, massive play areas for kids, and amazing shopping, Dubai has amazing shopping (do you see a trend yet?). Most airports have a pay per use lounge complete with food, quiet rooms, TVs, business centers and most importantly showers.
  5. Plan Your Carry On. This is just as important of planning your layover. First, always carry your charges with you and bring a multi-country adaptor. This is important as you never know where you may end up if there are travel delays (I’ve been stuck in both Doha and Hong Kong and rerouted to Germany – glad I was able to charge my phone!)
    1. Compartmentalize. I use cute zipper bags for each category in my carry on. Electronics, Medicine, Toiletries/ Cosmetics etc. If you’re developing a cough half way through your 16 hour flight you want it to be easy to reach.
    2. Clothes. Once Qantas upgraded me to business class (a mistake they never made again) and they give you a pair of pajamas to change into. This way when you land your clothes are still nice and fresh and feel slightly more human. I have run with this by bringing a light pair of black pjs with me to change into and it makes a huge difference.
    3. Make up. It’s amazing how much make up disappears while just sitting around for 26 hours. Pack the minimal that you need to feel your best. I bring basic eye shadow, liquid eyeliner pen and tinted lip gloss to freshen up.
    4. Medicine. Nothing is worse than being in a foreign country and getting sick – and planes are a hotbed for germs. I carry a mini walgreens with me because no one wants to go on a wild goose chase in another country looking for mucinex, excedrin, Nyquil, pepto and so on and so forth.
    5. Travel Comforts. Take anything with you that will make you more comfortable. My FAVORITE investment in the last year was an inflatable foot rest. It has honestly been the best $20 I’ve ever spent.

What tips would you add?

Bicycle Races Are Coming Your Way

I have a great group of international ladies here in Vung Tau and on Wednesdays we wear pink, oh wait, no, on Wednesdays we meet for coffee. I left at my normal late time to head on over to catch up on the week’s goss. I revved up my vespa and puttered on down the road. I took my normal route and as I approached the main road and I saw a cyclist coming and looked and saw more cyclists in the group. This is a typical sight in this area. There was also a big motorbike with them of two people on it who I was assuming was their support. I waited for them to pass and then turned onto the road.

I continued on my way, a bit relieved to not have other motorbikes zipping past me, and then I noticed it. Ahead of the cycling group was a mob of professional photographers – um, this was NOT normal. I mean we do get photographed periodically for being foreigners but it’s usually on iPhones. As I kept driving (and getting closer to the cyclists) I then noticed A LOT of people on the sidewalk, as in spectators, watching cyclists which then made sense of the giant INFLATABLE FINISH LINE ARCH! Holy crap I was in the middle of a bicycle race. I frantically looked for the next available turn off and took a fast right. Of course I don’t know all of the side streets of Vung Tau so I wandered around as I let my heart rate normalize eventually made it to coffee, where of course we solved all of the world’s problems except why the heck they didn’t close off the roads to the mornings race. But who knows, maybe they did, it was probably in Vietnamese and so was all of the yelling directed my way …

If you’d like to read about the bicycle race here it is.

Osborns in the Wight House

When we skipped away down the yellow brick road during our move a few years ago we weren’t sure when we’d move back to the US again and were even more unsure if it’d be back to Kansas, so we sold our home. We’ve enjoyed our series of rented abodes over the years but recently decided to become property owners again.

Location, Location, Location!

A few years ago we had the opportunity to travel the Isle of Wight to sail in a regatta, and promptly fell in love. One of the highlights of course is one of the Queen’s properties aptly name the Osborne House (we’re still trying to think of an “in” there so if you have any ideas let us know!). The island was full of tasty bakeries, beautiful home decor shops and it even had bunting hanging in the streets – this place was STRAIGHT OUTTA PINTEREST! We’ve been to a few places after that trip but we always the Isle of Wight on our mind.

On one of Robbo’s work trips he texted me with an idea that maybe that should “look at property on the Isle of Wight (read = “hey Bec, I’ve already been looking at property and I need to go put an offer on one”). So a few days later I found myself on a flight to London, then a train, then a ferry and then a bus and then at a two bedroom flat in the town of Newport (which is central to the island. In fact it’s a flat that’s on the front page of the towns website). And our offer on it was accepted. It’s in a old building that used to be a number of things that sound quaint and Britishy and was eventually turned into three flats. It’s connected to the Quay Arts center which supports local artists (oh and has a great cafe). The Isle of Wight (check out the link) is just two hours South of London (by train and ferry) and apparently the Dinosaur capital of England (which I can’t wait to discover what that means).

We close on the property in December and hope to get back over there in the new year to start putting our nautical stamp on it. Then we’ll be open for visits! (but remember you’re always welcome to visit us in Vietnam as well!) Watch this space for progress in the meantime.

Ours is the middle flat of this adores building

Ours is the middle flat of this adores building

Come have a scone with us

Come have a scone with us

Bunting in the street!

Bunting in the street!

Cross stitched maps of the island are necessary

Cross stitched maps of the island are necessary

Fancy a baked good?

Fancy a baked good?

Get Your Motor Running

I’m sure you’d heard stories or seen pictures of the motorbikes in Vietnam. I’m here to tell you, yeah, that’s how it is. At first I was pretty intimidated by all of the bikes weaving in and out of the traffic flow but then at further glance you quickly realize the traffic is like a living, breathing organism itself. When you finally brave the advice to “just start walking gosh darnit!!!” to cross the street you see the bikes all part of go in front and behind you and never (yet) hitting you and suddenly you’ve made it to the other side.

Although it does seem a bit chaotic at times but then when I think about what the traffic would look like if all of the bikes were cars I’m not sure how anyone would get around. Plus, the bikes are pretty darn convenient and easy to park. For my most recent birthday Robbo decided to surprise me with a Vespa! I haven’t been driving since we moved here (I can’t drive a car here) so it has been a real treat to be able to zip around town on this baby. Granted I’ve only been out on it twice without proper adult supervision and it was during the times of day when everyone is napping (more about that in another post) and without having to make any major turns – but I’m getting there. I figure practice makes perfect!

Um.... ummmm ... help?

Um…. ummmm … help?

in between the lines! (Always ample parking)

in between the lines! (Always ample parking)

Don't worry these streets were closed off to the general public

Don’t worry these streets were closed off to the general public

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Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to Me!