Duolingo 31-day challenge: let’s learn a language together

Duolingo 31-day challenge

Bonjour mes amis. Hands up if, like me, you wish you could learn another language? It just seems like it’s so time-consuming though, but maybe it doesn’t have to be. 

One language I have always loved, but have always struggled with, is French. I love the way it sounds – it’s one of those languages where I listen to people speaking it in awe, wondering how it actually makes any sense to them. 

I did French at school for eight years but I found it tough. It was the genders that caught me out. How do you know what gender a chair is for example? Do I just have to memorise it? Or what? 

Tom and I recently changed our Christmas travel plans and we’re going to Paris instead. (DISNEYLAND!) I know that the majority of people I will speak to in France will speak English but I like being able to say basic things in the language of the place I’m going.

I’d like to point out that this isn’t a sponsored post or anything like that, it’s a challenge I want to set myself and I know lots of people would like to learn a language so I thought it would be a fun thing to do together because we can all spur each other on and the app I’m about to talk about is fun. 

You may have heard of a language learning app called Duolingo. It’s a free mobile app and you can also use it in your browser. At the moment, the following languages are available for English speakers; Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish and Swedish.  

Like most language learning software, Duolingo uses a mixture of learning techniques including listening, filling in the gaps, speaking (though you can turn this off if you are unable to speak at the time), writing and flashcards. 

I’ve used Duolingo before and I enjoyed it and could feel my basic skills improving but I didn’t really make a conscious effort to use it every day for a decent period of time, so I can’t help but wonder how much skills might improve if I use it regularly for a few weeks, and longer hopefully. 

The challenge I’m setting myself, and anyone who wants to join me, is to use the Duolingo app at least once a day and meet my points target during the 31 days of March to improve my French skills.

Talking of points; Duolingo uses gamification to keep you coming back for more by awarding you points when you complete sections. You choose your daily points target and reminders pop up on your phone telling you to practice and reach your target. 

It’s not time consuming and you probably only need to spend 5 – 10 minutes per day to reach and exceed your points target.

There are plenty of times during the day when we might be just waiting and have nothing to do so let’s turn them into opportunities to improve our language skills: 

  • Waiting for the kettle to boil
  • Waiting for toast to toast, cooking breakfast or any cooking that doesn’t require much attention
  • Waiting for the washing machine to do the final minute that actually takes five minutes 
  • On public transport 
  • Waiting for someone 
  • During TV ad breaks 

We can all spare 10 minutes throughout the day. No excuses, download the app or open up your browser and let’s do it!

I know it’s not quite March yet but I’ve already started – there’s no time like the presence. 

 Are you going to join me? If so, which language are you going to begin learning?


The Guinness Storehouse tour

The Guinness Storehouse

While going through my external hard drive the other day, I realised I’d not typed up a few adventures from my trip to Ireland last October, so let’s pick up with our trip to the Guinness Storehouse. 

I’m not a big drinker at all but I do like Guinness and it’s probably Tom’s favourite alcoholic tipple, so the Guinness Storehouse was a must when we went to Ireland. 

Guinness is still brewed at St. James’ Gate, which Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on back in 1759 for £45. That’s what you call vision (and a good deal) isn’t it?

I can’t help but wonder whether or not it will see it to the end of it’s 9,000 year lease because that’s a hell of a long time. 

Everyone's Irish on March 17th

The tour was pretty interesting, though I will say it’s not the best brewery tour I’ve been on. It is the second best though.

When I worked in a bar a few years ago, we went to the Banks’ brewery and you actually got to walk around the brewery itself and see the beer being brewed but to be fair to Guinness that would probably be hugely impractical for them. 

As well as reading about how it’s made, you got to see the old adverts and advertising posters. The one I found most interesting was a campaign run in the 1920s which said ‘Guinness is good for you’, because market research told them that people felt better after a pint of the black stuff.

Can you imagine seeing an advertising campaign today which said an alcoholic drink was good for you? It kind of reminds me of my Grandad who once told my Dad that smoking was good for you because it makes you cough and that clears his lungs…let’s just ignore the reason that you need to clear your lungs is because of smoking shall we?  

Guinness taps

Mini Guinness tasting glass

One of the best parts of the tour for me was the Guinness tasting class. We were given adorable little Guinness glasses and the taster told us about how you would taste different things in different parts of your mouth. Somehow I managed to do that wrong because she told us we would be able to taste sweetness at the front of our mouths and I didn’t get that. 

The final, and my favourite, part of the tour was The Gravity Bar. 

Here you’re entitled to your free pint of Guinness and you get to drink it while taking in panoramic views of Dublin and out across the beautiful Wicklow mountains. 

Unfortunately it was incredibly busy up there, even in the middle of the week, and the place seems far too small considering this is where people will really take their time and won’t be in a hurry to move on, so we couldn’t find anywhere to sit. 

That being said, the views more than made up for it and it was only when we were up there, that we realised how far we had walked because we spotted the Aviva Stadium, which we’d visited in the morning, and it looked so far away.

I’ll try to post about our tour around the Aviva Stadium next week. It seems very apt with the Six Nations going on at the moment.  

I can also confirm that it’s true that Guinness tastes better in Ireland. 

Do you like Guinness? 



When a predictable book has you hooked – Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder was probably one of the first books I put on my to be read list when I joined Goodreads and after hunting it down in a library near me (book buying ban remember?), I finally found out what all the hype was about. 

In case the name and description hadn’t given it away; Cinder is a retelling of the fairytale Cinderella. This is the first retelling I’ve read and I think it’s set the standard pretty high.

Since it’s a retelling, it is predictable but that doesn’t mean it’s boring or isn’t worth the read. I knew how it should end but I felt myself worrying for Cinder and hoping that everything would turn out right. 

I also felt myself willing Prince Kai to make the right decision and turning each page with a little bit of dread, just incase he didn’t.

If that isn’t the sign of a great author, then I really don’t know what is. 

Meyer allowed me to feel Cinder’s feelings, and her stepmother / guardian? Jeez, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to punch a character so much since Dolores Umbridge. I’m getting a little riled up just thinking about her, she was so horrible to Cinder and I could feel that.

The first half of the book a little slow in places but the second half onwards was much more action-packed and gripping.

It’s books like this that make me want to read more sci-fi based books. The very idea that Cinderella is a cyborg is AWESOME and I want to read more books like that.

Scarlet is the second book in The Lunar Chronicles series and to be honest I’m a little miffed that another seemingly important character comes into play because I like Cinder and I want to read about her and just her. I don’t want another new main character.

I guess I feel like when one of your parents has a new boyfriend / girlfriend and you meet them warily for the first time and in your head you’re thinking: “YOU’RE NOT MY MUMMY! Don’t you try and be cooler than her!” I’m sure Meyer will win me over though.

Cinder book rating

Have you ever read a fairytale retelling?

Cinder Book Cover Cinder
The Lunar Chronicles
Marissa Meyer
Young adult, fantasy, retelling,
January 3rd 2012

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.  

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. 


What I read in January & February to be read

January roundup February TBR


It seems like such a long time since the start of January now, it feels like it was months ago that I read The Raven Boys. 

As always, I’ll list the books I read with a link to any reviews in case you don’t care for my waffling!

Books read in January:


Books read in February

  • Insurgent Collector’s Edition – Veronica Roth


Books I want to read in February

  • The Dream Thieves – Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J. K. Rowling

What did you read in January & what do you want to read in February?



Vinyl diaries: Same Trailer Different Park – Kacey Musgraves

Same Trailer Different Park vinyl cover

Last year I started a collection of vinyl records and since my last music post was so well received I thought I’d start a music series, called ‘Vinyl Diaries’. 

The idea of my vinyl collection is that it becomes a collection of my favourite albums and since most of my favourite albums have particular memories attached to them, I thought it would be fun to talk about them, share a few pretty pictures and recommend a few songs. Sound good?

Same Trailer Different Park vinyl back cover

Same Trailer, Different Park by Kacey Musgraves was the first vinyl record I bought so it makes sense to start the series with this.

I came across Kacey on Spotify and it was love at first listen; she’s a country artist with a punk attitude, what’s not to love about that?

Same Trailer Different Park vinyl side a

As well as having a brilliant voice (you should listen to her live, she sounds just as good live as on record) her lyrics are so well written. Merry Go Round is perhaps the best example of clever writing I can think of.

Listen to:

 In return, I want you to tell me about one of your favourite albums.


Share the love – January ’15

Share the love January montage

This is a little later than usual, I intended to put it up on Monday but my cold had other ideas. (I think I’ve officially mentioned that I had a cold about a million times now) 

Music – I’ve really been into listening to my favourite albums recently, so I put a playlist together of all of the albums I mentioned in my favourite albums post last weekend. It’s a mix of: Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne, The Killers, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and Paramore.

Podcast – In January I finally decided to find out what the hype about the Serial podcast was all about and to my surprised I loved it. It’s addictive and well worth a listen. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in season two.

Books – I read a lot more books than I thought I would in January and it’s hard for me to choose just one, so here are the books I thoroughly enjoyed with links to my reviews:

Blog – Shortly before Christmas I came across Through The Thicket. Kathryn posts about life, food and perhaps best of all; Saturday is Caturday, where she shares stories about her very handsome kitties.  

Food – My love for food seems to slowly be returning and for the past week or so my Mum and I have both been trying to eat as vegan as possible and I’ve not done too badly. I haven’t been entirely dairy free but I don’t think that’s a bad start and it’s not as restrictive as I thought it might be.

Blog posts I’ve enjoyed this month:

What you’ve enjoyed on my blog in January:

Tell me about some of the things you enjoyed in January.


Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard*

Books like Red Queen are why I have such a hard time DNF-ing a book; if I’d have given up on this book before the second half I would have missed out on something excellent.

I found the first half of the book a little slow in places and it felt like a mash-up of books I’d read before. It felt like it was trying to be The Selection with super powers crossed with The Hunger Games. This wasn’t really helped by the main character being called ‘Mare’ because it reminded me of America from The Selection. 

To be fair though, the political part of Red Queen is similar to how I wished the third Selection book, The One, had gone, so I have to give it thumbs up for that.

As I approached the halfway point I was worried that this would be yet another average YA dystopian, but the second half is where Red Queen really comes into its own. It kept me on my toes, I couldn’t figure out what was coming next and I was hooked.

I felt just as surprised by things as Mare did because things were so unexpected. The second half of the book is worth 5 stars all day long.

The concept that the population is separated by the colour of their blood, which leads to them being separated by wealth, was interesting and I think there’s more of this story and the history behind it to come out during the next two books in the trilogy. I would have liked more of an explanation as to why things were the way they were, instead of the book telling us this is the way it is with little explanation.

I’ve read a few reviews on Goodreads which say the population being separated by colours reminds them of Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I haven’t read that book but after looking at the description, I can see why people might make that comparison. As I haven’t read it, it didn’t bother me at all and I enjoyed the concept.

The main characters are well developed, though I did feel like the two Princes were better developed than Mare but I think that’s because we get to see more of them in family situations than Mare, so we understand and see their frustrations a little easier.

I also felt like the two Princes underwent more character development in comparison to Mare; she didn’t really seem to change all that much throughout the book but maybe that was the point?

There are a lot of interesting secondary characters, all of whom have their own desires, history and motives, so I think this series could shape up to be very interesting series.

Red Queen does contain a bit of a love triangle but it isn’t that overwhelming and there’s not a whole load of ‘who should I chose? Oh I just don’t know.’ There’s also a touch of instalove but because romance isn’t a huge part of this book it’s barely annoying.

The action throughout is exciting, though there was one part where things moved a little too fast for me and I had to re-read a couple of pages because it felt like the characters seemed to just disappear and reappear somewhere else and I was thinking “What? We were just there, how did they get here so quickly?”

After a bit of a shaky start, Red Queen really surprised me and turned out to be a real thriller towards the end. It’s not the most original book I’ve read, and other reviewers seem to have the same opinion, but I was truly hooked in the second part and I cared about the characters; if I’m into it, does it matter how original it is? I don’t think it does.

There was a little dig at the dystopian genre, or perhaps more specifically The Hunger Games. 

“You want me to pin my entire operation, the entire revolution, on some teenaged love story? I can’t believe in this.”

I had a good chuckle at that line and thought it was nice that someone was pointing out the ‘thing’ with the majority of dystopian novels and it seems the author has got a good sense of humour.

As I mentioned earlier on, I think this could turn out to be a very interesting trilogy and I will definitely be picking up the second book, which Orion say is scheduled for March 2016 – though of course it is subject to change.

* I received Red Queen as a free ebook from Orion (thanks!) but that does not affect my opinion.

Will you be reading Red Queen? 

Red Queen Book Cover Red Queen
Red Queen Trilogy
Victoria Aveyard
YA, fantasy, dystopian,
February 12th 2015 (UK)
Orion via NetGalley

This is a world divided by blood - red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare's potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance - Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart...