Winter Reading List 2018

My favourite thing about winter is how cozy it is, I just love the idea of snow falling gently outside while I am curled up on the couch, with a hot drink, reading a good book.

Unfortunately, in the past couple of years, my winters have been filled with bitter wind, heavy school work loads and stressful meltdowns. Reading has not nearly been high enough on my priority list. In fact I think the only reading I've done in the winter, in recent times, has been compulsory - as shameful as that is. To make sure this year isn't a repeat of the last; one of my New Years Resolutions for 2018 is to always have a book on the go. 

This winter I am trying to broaden my literary horizons by reading some more challenging texts, as well as branching out into genres I normally steer clear of (a.k.a. Science Fiction).
Most of the books I've chosen for the winter season are either extremely cozy, and therefore perfect for a wintery (or in a perfect world: snowy) afternoon or transport me to another part of the world.

Here is my 2018 winter reading list, I hope you get inspired and maybe get some ideas for your own winter reading!

1. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney - A suspenseful murder mystery set in a small village in Northern Canada, the winter of 1867. 

2. Villette by Charlotte Brontë - The first classic I'll read this winter, and quite a heavy one at that. I love that it's set in the small french speaking town of Villette.

3. Persuasion by Jane Austen - I love Jane Austen, and always enjoy her writing (Pride and Prejudice is my favourite of hers). I can't wait to dive into this account of love and second chances.

4. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles - Saw this on The Modern Jettsetter's reading  list, and knew I had to get my hands on it; Russian aristocracy, 1920's glamour and a 4.37 on good reads, yes please!

5. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan - When I asked my Dad for some winter reading recommendations, telling him I want to start reading some different genres, he provided me with ample choice. This is one of his favourite books, and so I'm very excited to give it a try - even though it's a sci-fi!

6. To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin - Everything about this novel sounds so very romantic. A chance meeting on a hot air balloon in Paris during the construction of the Eiffel Tower which leads to a blossoming love despite a controversial difference in social status.

7. Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres - An insightful love story that explores culture, capitalism, religion, and war in Greece 1941.

8. I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheikh and Richard H. Schnieder - An encouraging testimony of a Woman's journey from Islam to Christianity.

9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - Another classic. I was hoping we would study this at school, but since we're doing Othello for our novel study, I'm definitely adding it to my list.

10. Dune by Frank Herbert - Another recommendation from my Dad. It's considered by many to be one of the most influential science fiction novels, although I'd never heard of it before now!

11. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - I first read the Harry Potter series two years ago, although I wish I'd started on them much sooner. To me nothing embodies the coziness of winter more.

12. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - I'm sure to cry over this tragic WWII novel, but having read it before I know it's worth the tears. 

13. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky - I'm reading this as a intro into psychological novels - I think it will be a challenge, but thats the whole point of this reading list!

14. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - Dungeons, thieves, murder, pirates and stolen treasure. It's not my usual romance/historical fiction, but this adventure filled novel sounds perfect when the school term begins to drag.

15. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - A beautiful historical Fiction (my favourite) about a blind French girl and a German boy in Nazi-occupied France during WWII.

16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - A classic full of tragedy, passion and mystery.

17. Magician by Raymond E. Feist - Something fun and adventurous to keep me captivated after some heavier reading.
18. Under A Pole Star by Stef Penney - Another from thrilling novel Penney, this time set in the Arctic.

19. The Kite Runner  by Khaled Hosseini - A thought provoking novel about the friendship of a young, wealthy boy and the son of his father's servant in Afghanistan. 

20. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis - A family favourite that I'm hoping to read with my little sisters as winter melts into spring this year.

Amesmames xx

17th Birthday Party - Girly, Autumn Picnic

Planning birthday parties is probably my favourite thing ever. From the moment my birthday party is over I am straight into planning the next one. I would spend hours a day on pinterest if I could, scanning through the holiday and event section. For myself I generally stick to very girly parties; slumber parties, tea parties, and for this year a picnic party.
Throwing a picnic for my birthday was a bit of a gamble considering I'm an autumn baby. It would be absolutely miserable to put in all that hard work only to have pouring rain outside! I watched the weather all week leading up to my birthday, hoping and praying that it wouldn't be cold and wet. Fortunately for me the weather managed to improve for Saturday (as it had been raining for three days before hand), and there was no rain and no wind!

I wanted the cake to be simple, considering I'm sugar-free and wouldn't actually be having any. I found a very easy Mary Berry recipe (see here) for a lemon sponge cake which I whipped up the night before the party and filled with cream and lemon curd, topped with roses from our garden. While I did not taste any myself, I can confirm the cake was a success!
I'm a sucker for a cheese board (or in this case bowl). I know that the first thing I go for at any party is the cheese board, so I like mine to be well done. The great thing about a cheese board is it's so simple to put together. For this one I had brie, camembert and cumin gouda (my absolute favourite), rice crackers and grain crackers, a zucchini relish, some thinly sliced dried beef, salami, prosciutto salami, grapes and cashews.
 I wanted to have a couple of different options for lunch, so I had three kinds of salads and two different sandwiches. For the sandwiches I made Italian sandwiches with salami, cheese, and lettuce in a french stick, and I also made some salad sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, cheese, cucumber, zucchini relish and grainy bread. To make them look pretty I wrapped them with grease proof paper and pretty string.

The salad options were Greek orzo salad, roast vege, and rainbow mexican salad. The cute jars were a total bargain from the warehouse. After lunch I also had fruit salad in jars to go alongside the lemon cake.

The party was held at the picturesque Christchurch Botanic Gardens Band Rotunda. It was just perfect, nice and cozy with a covered roof surrounded by beautiful big trees and punting on the Avon river next to us.

I was so happy with how everything turned out on the day, it was exactly as I planned it! It was such a lovely afternoon spent with me friends, I'm so glad it all worked out!

Amy Katrina xx

Swiss Exchange Trip Week 7 - Saying goodbye & Paris

From our last day in Switzerland.

I still can't fully believe that only three weeks ago I had just said goodbye to my host family and hopped on a train to Paris. It feels like months ago now. My last few days in Switzerland passed slowly and quickly at the same time. I'm a very organised person, so I was all packed four days before leaving - though I had started packing a week earlier. School was finishing up, and there wasn't really much left for me to do. Despite my lack of work to do, time still managed to fly by until I was in the Geneva train station saying goodbye to some of my favourite people in the world.
I didn't talk about my host family very much in previous posts, but they were amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better family. They were so incredibly welcoming and generous towards me, always doing their best to make me feel at home. I got on very well with my host mother in particular, so leaving her was the hardest of all. There were many, many tears that day. I cried first at the train station, but we were hurried onto the train, so I had to calm down in order to organise my luggage, and find a seat. I thought that maybe I wouldn't cry again, but about 30 minutes into the train ride, when it was very obvious by the landscape that we were not in  Switzerland anymore I had another quiet cry to myself, on and off for the rest of the trip.
All 25 New Zealanders who had gone on the exchange had a four day trip to Paris before heading home. I had imagined this trip would be a good thing, because we'd be able to have fun in Paris and then not be as sad when travelling home. I'm not sure about the other kids, but for me this was not the case. I was so distraught about leaving my family that the last thing I wanted to do was traipse around Paris with a big tour group for four days. All I wanted to do was curl up and sleep. Paris of course was beautiful, but my bad mood combined with our limited time meant that I wasn't able to fully enjoy anything. I would love to go back there for a couple for weeks get a proper feel for the city. The trip felt very long for me since all I wanted to do was go home (to either NZ or Switzerland). I was quite relived when we finally got on the plane. One thing in particular that I did enjoy in Paris was the bike tour we did. This tour was a lot of fun, it felt a lot less busy than everything else we did. We hopped our cute red bikes, which was such a relief for my very overworked feet, and cycled around the main tourist spots at a leisurely pace, all the while actually learning the history of Paris and how everything fitted together from our tour guide. The bike tour was definitely the highlight of my Paris trip.

 I always knew that 2 months was all I had, but I was so settled in in Switzerland I really didn't feel like I was going to leave. Switzerland was my home, I lived there. For the last month at least, I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else. It makes me incredibly happy to feel that I have a second home all the way across the world, and a second family. There is no doubt in my mind, I am definitely going back to Switzerland some time. 
This exchange was one of the best things I've ever done, and I cannot recommend it enough. I'm trying to convince all my younger siblings to go on one. The amount that you learn about different cultures, languages, and yourself is worth every penny that you pay - if not more. 

I hope you've all enjoyed following my time abroad, and if you have any questions about exchanges you can reach me either here or on instagram, I'd be more than happy to answer.

Amesmames xx

Swiss Exchange Trip Week 6 - Gruyeres and La Mer de Glace

I'm currently sitting on my bed listening to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack because all the photos from the past week put me in such a fairytale mood! As I'm writing this I only have 5 days left in Switzerland! The mood of the entire trip has become very desperate as those of us on the trip try to fit in as much as possible before our departure. 
Last weekend is a great example of said desperation. I did something every day of the weekend, and even skipped school on Monday to fit even more in.
Saturday we started out by going to Aquaparc, which was a really cool water park with about 10 different slides as well as hot pools and saunas. For anyone from Christchurch it's very similar to QE2 (Before it fell down). Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures there, but it was a lot of fun. I think it's a great family activity and totally recommend it.
Next on our weekend agenda was Gruyeres. I, along with my host father and a couple of other girls on the exchange, drove there sunday morning. The drive was beautiful as per usual. I love going on drives in Switzerland because it is such a different landscape to anything we have in New Zealand. I also love going on drives here because we always end up in some beautiful village, and Gruyeres was no exception. I felt like I had been transported into a disney movie. I made everyone stop every five seconds to take another photo because it was all so beautiful!
We toured the well maintained castle  before having fondue and Gruyeres' well known meringue and double cream for lunch. We completely stuffed ourselves, making the most of some of our last Swiss treats. 
Before heading home we also toured the Cailler chocolate factory. Once again I didn't take photos, but this was a really good experience. I didn't actually see that much of the factory, but I did learn a lot about the history of chocolate, and I got to eat a lot of chocolate (you finish the tour in the tasting room).

Last on our list was Chamonix, France. It took about an hour to drive from Geneva to Chamonix, and I find that so crazy, you can just drive to another country! You can't drive anywhere else when your in New Zealand.

When we first arrived in Chamonix I thought it couldn't get much more beautiful, nestled in the French alps with stunning views in any direction. Of course the view got a million times better when we actually took a train into the mountains. I wish my phone camera was better, because the photos I took do not do the view any justice. I had never seen such steep, jagged mountains in my life, it hardly looked real! Once again I felt like I was in a fairytale (actually I felt like I was in a barbie movie).
From the train you can take a gondola down to La Mer de Glace - the famous glacier. Each year they did out little tunnels/caves which they then open for people to walk through. I had never actually seen a glacier up close before then. It was so much more blue than I imagined, and so smooth to touch.

 Ending it with a very durpy picture of myself having the tie of my life in the glacier. I really can't believe this whole experience is actually coming to an end. No matter how hard I try to slow down, the days seem to be flying by faster and faster. I know that I will come back here (hopefully this time with my family), but it's never going to be like this again, and so I'm savoring every last moment.

Amesmames xx

Swiss Exchange Week 4 and 5 - Crans-Montana and Venice

My time in Switzerland is very quickly passing by, I feel like it was just yesterday that I arrived, and now I have only two weeks left in this beautiful country. I remember being so freaked out by the idea of spending two whole months here, but now I'm certain that two months just isn't enough.
The past couple of weeks have been winter holidays, and I've been fortunate enough to have two amazing trips; one to Crans-Montana for a little bit of skiing, and another to Venice.

We arrived in Crans-Montana on the 27th. I took the train up, and it was absolutely beautiful. First we travelled alongside lake Leman, and the weather was reasonably nice, so I had a great view of the swiss alps. Eventually though, we passed the lake and journeyed into the mountains. I had originally planned to nap for this part of the trip, but once I saw the stunning snow-capped mountains, there was no chance that I would give up that view for sleep. 
My host family have an apartment in Montana, and ski there very regularly, so they knew all the good restaurants to take me to, and all the good ski slopes. My first night we went to a traditional swiss restaurant, and I had my first rosti (basically a swiss hash brown) which was extremely delicious. I loved all the decor, the cow bells and red, checkered table cloths. 
 Our apartment had the most beautiful view of the swiss alps from the living area, and from my room. picturesque fur trees covered in snow. I took a photo out my window everyday.
 On our first full day we skied. I was so nervous, because I'd only been skiing once before on a school trip, five years ago. However, I managed the bunny slopes without any dramatic falls, my host family were very impressed with how quickly I picked it up. Over the course of the five days I skied four times, each going a little higher, and a little steeper than the last time. I had one skiing lesson which immensely boosted my confidence levels, and once I felt in control I really enjoyed myself. I scared my host mother to death with my 'need for speed', but I was having the time of my life.
Of course there were many spectacular wipeouts, most of which I managed to do sliding backwards down the slopes. But I managed to end the trip with minimal bruising, and no broken bones!

Crans-Montana is beautiful, I loved the view when I could ski high enough to see it! You could see the matterhorn at the top, although I'm not sure if it is in this picture.
The next big trip was Venice. We had one day after Crans-Montana to somewhat recover before we were off again. This trip was very eventful and fast paced! We started off our travels with insanely turbulent flights. We flew Geneva to Zurich, and the Zurich to Venice, which took much longer than planned because of weather delays, Our first flight was like nothing I've ever experienced before. We had a veeery shaky take off, but the captain kindly informed us that the plane was handling everything just fine. Even so, there was no point throughout the flight where passengers could get up from their seats. One lady and her kid ignored this a got up to go to the bathroom and the air host literally yelled at them to sit down! Stress levels on the flight were very high, people were puking all over the flight, each lurch sent the cabin into a mini frenzy. I didn't actually notice any of this as I was sitting at the window seat, and actually found the flight pretty enjoyable, kind of like a roller coaster. The most thrilling part of the flight for me was when we were struck by lightening. The bright, purple flash and loud pop noise on the side of the plane made me jump. Once we landed the entire cabin joined in a round of applause and breathed a sigh of relief, that was until we were informed that Zurich airport was shut down due to bad weather, and we had to wait on the plane for half an hour. And then we had to wait another three hours until our next flight took off. This was much longer than our intended hour and 15.
I didn't know what to think of venice when we first arrived. I had imagined it to be very sophisticated, much like Switzerland. Some things did feel very glamourous, like the water taxis, glittering Christmas lights, and designer boutiques. But to me the city seemed like it didn't fit together. I thought the small little alleyways, crowded footpaths, and rundown buildings didn't make sense. The whole place was disorganised to me. But my host family go to venice almost every year, and I know they have good taste. I made it my mission to find out what it was about venice that my family couldn't get enough of.
On our first day we visited Murano, which is part of Venice, but separate from the main island. Murano is known for glasswork. They have a big glass factory, that you can tour, where they make all sorts; from pandora beads to life size sculptures. The winter holidays are reasonably quiet for Venice, so rather than seeing the glassworkers making junk (and then shattering it right away) I got to see them making what I believe was part of a chandelier. It was very interesting, and I think very worth the trip.

On the evening of the first day I asked my host family what they really love about Italy. One of the main things my family appreciates is the carefree, joyful character of italians; the men don't work too hard, they eat good food, they laugh, they talk to anyone, they play little games with tourists. Suddenly the city made sense to me. I had expected it to be so similar to Switzerland, and - consequently - was disappointed when it wasn't. Once I better understood the italian culture, then I loved Venice, it fits with the carefree, happy nature of Italy. How interesting that countries so close to one another can be so very different! 
 The next day we tackled the big tourist attractions; Basilica di San Marco, Campanile di San Marco, Rialto bridge.  These are popular for good reason, they are absolutely stunning. The Campanile has the most stunning view of the entire city, the gold mosaics and huge domed ceilings of the Catholic Church are unmissable. Unfortunately you can't take photos in the church, however it is unlikely to be something you will forget!

 Our last day was the gondola ride, which to be honest, I thought was overrated. You got to tour the city a little bit, and I guess it's at a different angle, but I didn't find it to be a highlight of the trip at all. Of course, venice looked beautiful, it was particularly romantic because of the fog that settled in that morning.
I wish that I had more time to explore venice some more, do some really serious shopping (although I did manage a fair amount in three days), and stuff myself with even more italian food. I'm sure that this will not be my last time in Venice. Once again, it's a spot I can't wait to bring my family and show them where I've been!
My trip to Venice made me realise some of the things I love about Switzerland. The swiss people are so prim and proper, you will rarely see a swiss person snacking, everything has a place, almost everyone has a gym membership and uses it regularly, and the style here is amazing. The country inspires me, and I have made a few new years resolutions based on the sophisticated culture. I can't believe i only have two more weeks!

Amesmames xx

Winter Reading List 2018

My favourite thing about winter is how cozy it is, I just love the idea of snow falling gently outside while I am curled up on the couch...

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