Review: Mii & U Oriental Cafe in Milton Keynes

When you first arrive at Mii & U, you feel a little underwhelmed … it’s in an industrial estate, and looks nothing from the outside. Once inside, the paint on the walls is peeling a little, the seating is plastic folding chairs, and it generally feels like a canteen. Yet, it’s been voted “Buckinghamshire’s best oriental restaurant” by Trip Advisor users. So, why?

Because of the food.

The food is amazing.

With a wide variety of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes, you really are spoiled for choice. I’ve now been there several times and my favourite dishes are the Wonton Noodle Soup (full of flavour, hearty, healthy), the Crispy Sea Bass Fillet with Mango Salad (the sauce is amazing and the whole dish is balanced beautifully with really fresh mango), and the Beef Thai Glass Noodle Salad (just … yum!). But everything I’ve had there has been delicious. They do take away, too, and that always comes in well-sealed dishes that you can heat up at home (if you can resist eating it long enough for it to get cold).

The portions are huge, the prices cheap.

There’s an open kitchen so you can see everything being cooked, and there’s just a great atmosphere and vibe about the place.

Go. Eat. Enjoy.

Don’t forget to pop into the oriental supermarket next door afterwards for a little shopping.

Visit the Mii & U website to check out their opening times* and menu >

*They’re only open late Thurs-Saturday.

3 Reasons why you should write book reviews

If you read a lot of books (or even if just a few a year), chances are you have an opinion about what you’ve read. Here are some reasons why you should take the time to write a review whenever you finish a novel (especially one that you enjoyed!)

  1. Spread the word about your favourite reads. If you’ve really enjoyed a book, spread the word about how great it was with the wider reading community so more people can enjoy it too.
  2. Help your favourite authors to sell more books. The more positive reviews an author receives, the more people are going to consider that same book. The better the author does, the more great books they’ll produce for you to read in future …
  3. Make an author’s day. Writing can be a lonely life. Many hours are spent tapping away at a keyboard. I guarantee, a positive review will make that author happy; receiving good feedback makes you feel that what you’re doing is worth the effort. Who wouldn’t want to make someone else smile?

Don’t know how to review? A few sentences will do; you don’t need to go into details about the story or produce an essay. Just write about what you enjoyed about the book and why you liked it.

It only takes 5 minutes …

Ready? If you’ve enjoyed my books, feel free to make my day and leave a review on Amazon, GoodReads, or anywhere else you feel inclined :)

My highlights of 2014

So this blog is all about me, me, me and my 2014, plus a special thanks to those who helped make it incredible.

I’m writing it in the hope that it inspires a few of you to have an amazing 2015. So many people seem to post on social media that they’re bored, and lots of people tell me that they think I’m always out having fun. Well, you make your own fun!

So here’s my list. If you think yours doesn’t sound as exciting – go and make 2015 an amazing year for yourself!

My 2014 highlights:

  • I ate the best meal of my life at Theo Randall’s restaurant (read my review here).
  • I completed my third novel Independent Jenny, which was then published by Crooked Cat.
  • I saw the following live shows: Jersey Boys, Wicked, Boyzone, Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams, Miranda Hart, World Diving championships, and The Apprentice: You’re Hired.
  • I met Keith Duffy (of Boyzone fame), Tom Kerridge and Paul Hollywood.
  • I went on short breaks to the Forest of Dean and the Lake District – both were beautiful.
  • I saw Zach Braff at the screening of the movie I helped him to make.
  • I went to NYC – so much fun …
  • and saw Niagara Falls – absolutely amazing,
  • and Washington, D.C. – fascinating place (read about the whole trip here).
  • I became an Aunty again for the 8th time!

I would like to thank the following people for making my year pretty great:

  • Nathaniel, my husband and best friend – what would I do without you?!
  • Chloe, my step-daughter – it’s been a roller-coaster but you’re growing into an incredible young lady, I’m so proud of you.
  • My second cousin Laura … a year ago we hadn’t even met (that we remember!) and you’ve become one of my best friends. Thank you :*
  • The rest of my family – you’re all wonderful, supportive amazing people.
  • My friends Becky and Emma – what fun times we’ve had, and more to come ;)
  • Everyone associated with Crooked Cat Publishing – what a talented bunch!
  • My marketing colleagues in my ‘day job’ – it’s been a rocky year but we’re an awesome team!

… there’s so much to look forward to in 2015 too. I can’t wait!

Happy New Year! :)

Christmassy thoughts

A few years ago, I wrote a blog (which I’ve since deleted) which basically slagged Christmas off. I went on about how commercial it all was, and how I hated everything about it. It was a rant, and it caused some controversy – some people loved it, others called me cynical and a scrooge.

SantaFor several years, I refused to celebrate Christmas; I didn’t want the tacky decorations, and I didn’t agree with all the money spent on gifts or the gluttony of the food and drink consumed. I treated it as any other day and I rolled my eyes at all the Christmas-lovers …

So what about now? Well, now I see things a little differently. I still think Christmas is too commercial. I still think there’s too much pressure on people to spend lots of money and eat lots of food and see relatives that they don’t necessarily want to.

But, what I’ve realised as I’ve gotten older is this: things are rarely black and white. Back in my 20’s, I thought if I couldn’t see proof of God, he didn’t exist (and I’m still not religious, but as David Attenborough put it; an ant doesn’t know we are watching it going about it’s business … so how do we know for sure that nothing is watching us?) and I thought that if I wasn’t religious, then why celebrate something that, when you take away the religion, is just about over-indulging in presents and food, with pressure to see relatives? (sorry, family, I love you all, honest)

But now I think Christmas is a time to take a step back from life. To spend it with your family and friends. To spoil them (just a little). To relax and take time to think about the year you’ve had, and the year ahead.

Speaking of which, I’ve neglected my blog somewhat lately. One of my 2015 goals is to blog more often! So catch you again soon.

Merry Christmas!

My New York – Niagara Falls – Washington DC Adventure

I recently travelled to the US and Canada for quite an adventure. Here’s the story of my trip…

Some trip facts:

smiths

Me and my family <3

  • Other characters in my real-life story include my husband Nathaniel & 13 year old step-daughter Chloe.
  • We flew approx. 7,000 miles there and back.
  • We drove 1127 miles in our rented Toyota RAV4 (driving in the US & Canada was a dream compared to the UK).
  • We walked almost 46 miles in 8 days.
  • We visited/travelled through New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ontario (Canada), Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and D.C.

Day 1 – Saturday

Me in Washington, D.C.

Me in Washington, D.C.

We were a pretty excited threesome, flying from Heathrow to Newark. I enjoyed the airplane food (just like Zach in my first novel!) We collected our rental car and drove towards NYC. It was dark and we noticed Manhattan lit up as we approached – the new World Trade Center (a.k.a. Freedom Tower), and the Empire State Building standing out among all the other skyscrapers. The skyline is so familiar from all the American TV shows and movies we’ve seen, yet it is kind of surreal to actually be here.

Driving through Manhattan was much easier than I imagined, and we found our hotel quickly. Nathaniel went to a local store and came back with cinnamon and sugar flavour Pringles… not my thing but Chloe loves them. Exhausted, we are now going to bed, excited to start our holiday (vacation!) properly tomorrow…

Day 2 – Sunday

It was a beautiful sunny day so we decided to walk to the Rockefeller Center, and the walk in itself was pretty cool – you see so much more walking than you would on the subway. We looked up at the skyscrapers, saw yellow cabs, lots of people everywhere, hot dog and pretzel vans were on the corner of each block. It was just like I remembered it from my last trip here nearly 20 years ago … Chloe kept saying “I love it here!”
Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

We reached Rockefeller plaza and watched people ice skating … then went inside to go to the “Top of the Rock”. The staff were very friendly and amusing, making jokes. After successfully passing security, we rode the elevator which has a clear ceiling so you can see how fast you’re travelling up – 45 seconds to get to the 67th floor.

central park from top of the rock

View from Top of the Rock

The views are amazing as soon as you walk out with Central Park in one direction, and the Empire State Building in the other -just awesome.

empire state building from top of the rock

View from the other side of Top of the Rock

I’m not sure I’ve seen Chloe as happy since we went to Disneyland, Paris – she’s wanted to visit NYC forever. She kept saying she couldn’t believe we are here (I felt that way myself on my first trip, about the same age as her).
My favourite tree in Central Park

My favourite tree in Central Park

After spotting all the famous landmarks and taking a million photos, we travelled back down the elevator and walked from there to Central Park. As soon as you step inside, it’s peaceful – despite being surrounded by busy roads and Skyscrapers. We walked up the east side, stopping for a hot dog from a van on our way for lunch.

Next, Grand Central Station. As we walked in Chloe said: “It’s just like in Madagascar!”
More photos, then another walk – to the Empire State Building. Although we’d seen it from our hotel and Top of the Rock, standing on the side walk looking up is still pretty amazing. We paid a quick visit to Macy’s – the largest store in the world, and after enjoying a great dinner, we headed back to the Top of the Rock for our night time viewing. It was much quieter now, and we went straight up to the top deck.
Top of the Rock view at night

Top of the Rock view at night

NYC at night is very different than during the day. You see different things, and Manhattan is pretty amazing all lit up. We could just about make out Laby Liberty, lit up on her island. I usually prefer a mountain view to a city one, but it was really rather beautiful.

A quick stroll to Times Square – busy and crowded but cool to see … and now we’re back at the hotel, exhausted – but wow, what a day.

Day 3 – Monday

A yummy breakfast … then a cab ride to Battery Park, which is being re-landscaped, but looks like it’ll be lovely when complete. The queue for the ferry boat, despite the fact that we pre-booked (thankfully!) was long and the security staff were rude and abrupt, which spoiled it a little (they may do this every day but this is a once-in-a-life time trip for most – I wanted to yell this at them but I’m British and reserved so I just took their rudeness and rolled my eyes, of course).
Manhattan from Liberty Island

Manhattan from Liberty Island

Lady Liberty up close

Lady Liberty up close

The ferry ride itself was a bit crowded with school kids, but when we got on the island our day improved. We walked around the perimeter – the view of Manhattan is very impressive and we were bathed in glorious sunshine. Seeing the Statue of Liberty up close – really the most iconic recognised statue in the world, which stands for everything I love about USA – liberty, freedom, spirit, the American Dream – was just awesome. We had a nice lunch there before moving on.

Next, Ellis Island – which has so much interesting history about the “peopling” of America, and reading about diversity of the people who came through looking for a new start was rather inspirational. We sat for a while on a bench in sunshine – looking out at the views of Manhattan again, eating ice creams – you’d never believe it was October!
As our return ferry approached Manhattan, I spotted my friend Sam waiting for us. Sam and I met on a student exchange trip back in 1995 (almost 20 years ago!) and we’ve kept in touch ever since. I haven’t seen him for 5 years before today so it was great to give him a hug and catch up.
9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

Now a merry foursome, we walked to the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero. I visited the Twin Towers with my school mates and Sam back in ’95, and went to the top, so going back there when those towers have gone was really quiet weird, sad and surreal. But I loved the fountains, which cover the footprint of what used to be. The names of those who lost their lives are cut out of the sides, and we spotted a white rose – the staff there put a white rose besides the names on their birthdays. There’s something quite lovely about that. It was rather moving.

Walking Brooklyn Bridge

Walking Brooklyn Bridge

Next, we walked to Brooklyn Bridge and crossed over on the wooden board walk, which was pretty cool. The sun was setting and the view was pretty… Once in Brooklyn, we found Grimaldi’s – a famous pizza restaurant. We ordered a large pizza between us, choosing one topping each (Italian sausage, onion, garlic and pepper with mozzarella cheese) – it was very yummy indeed.

After filling ourselves with pizza we walked down to the water, it was dark by now and pretty cool to see the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan all lit up. The Empire State building was changing all different colours.
Manhattan from Brooklyn

Manhattan from Brooklyn

Another hug for Sam and we were bidding him farewell and in another cab back to our hotel. It felt like it was about 11pm, so I was pretty shocked to see it was much earlier. What an amazing two days we’ve had.

Day 4 – Tuesday

Time to move on… we picked up our car and drove for a few hours before stopping at a Walmart. Chloe said “I love it here!” – the variety is pretty overwhelming. She stocked up on sweets and candy that you can’t buy at home, particularly excited about the different flavours of M&Ms and Pop Tarts.
Then, we continued our journey to Niagara, which despite taking several hours was really rather beautiful due to the fall trees – beautiful shades of red, orange, yellow, browns – stunning.
Niagara Falls - wow

Niagara Falls – wow

We passed into Canada via the Rainbow Bridge and got our first sights of Niagara Falls – wow. You can see all the photos you want and watch videos, but seeing it with your own eyes is so different, it’s just spectacular.

We drove through Niagara ON, passing lots of hotels, gift shops, casinos, and restaurants to the Marriott Fallsview hotel. We’d paid extra for this hotel, and hoped it was worth it. The valet took our car, we checked in, and went up to our room on the 16th floor… Wow, was it worth it. The view was so amazing that Chloe and I just started giggling happily. There are floor to ceiling windows with panoramic views of both the American and Canadian falls.
After pulling ourselves away from the window, we went and had dinner at Applebee’s, which was delicious. Love it here.

Day 5 – Wednesday

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Why go and eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant when you’ve got this amazing view? We opened some Pop Tarts, pulled the chairs to the window, and ate in our room looking out at Niagara. Just amazing. We then walked down to the falls, there’s a ballustrade all along and you can walk from Horseshoe Falls down to the Rainbow Bridge. We kept stopping to admire the views and take yet more hundreds of photos. Next up: the boat trip.

Now, when they give you a red poncho, you kinda wonder if you need it. Then later on, you’re so grateful you didn’t turn it down. We boarded the boat opposite Bridal Veil falls, which are pretty amazing, even if they’re overshadowed by the Horseshoe. Almost as soon as the boat starts off, you get wet from the spray – and everyone screams and squeals, and there’s lots of laughter. We were really wet, but it was rather thrilling.
So on the boat went, towards the Horseshoe falls – and they get you pretty close – it was choppy with lots of spray, and you get a face full of water – it’s a better thrill than any theme park water ride I’ve ever been on and totally exhilarating. We got soaked. I’d been holding my phone up to video and take photos and even got water up inside my sleeves. We laughed a lot. Amazing.
After a gift shop visit, we walked back towards the hotel and the sun came out, slowly drying our cold wet clothes. We took yet more pics and walked right up to the top of the falls where the water travels over. It’s so fast… again, you have to see it with your own eyes…
Niagara Falls lit up at night

Niagara Falls lit up at night

Back at the hotel, we got some panini’s and hot chocolates and sat looking out of large glass windows at the falls. Then, up to our room to just chill, mess about, and admire that view some more. There was a lot of laughter that afternoon. When our stomachs started to growl we headed out and walked through town for a while and got some dinner.

Back at the hotel, there was less spray tonight so you could see the lights on the water a bit better. Very pretty. They shine different colour lights at the water, which change regularly; red, white, blue, yellow, green, purple.

Day 6 – Thursday

Niagara from our hotel room at sun rise

Niagara from our hotel room at sun rise

Eating breakfast in your hotel room while watching the sun rise over Niagara Falls = just awesome. Time to move on again, though.

The drive to Washington DC was really quite something. We passed a lot of beautiful fall trees, rural villages and very typical American small towns, just like you see on the movies with the porches and wooden slating, shutters, and flags out front. Most homes were decorated for Halloween which was pretty cool. We saw a lot of snow mobile signs and one place had them for sale like you might at a car dealership.
After driving through New York state, Pennsylvania, and Maryland we finally came to DC. There was a lot of traffic but we eventually got into the centre and passed the White House and Capitol building which were pretty cool, can’t wait to see them in the daylight tomorrow. The hotel here is lovely and the staff very welcoming. We got a take out pizza and ate it in our room. Cannot wait to explore here some more tomorrow.

Day 7 – Friday

The Capitol

The Capitol

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

After some delicious cinnamon French toast at the breakfast buffet, we set off this morning to walk all around the centre of Washington DC. We saw the Capitol building, the Washington monument, the White House – front and back & with Halloween decorations – and went to the White House visitor centre. Stopped for lunch at a nice little place … then on to the WWII memorial – really amazing, they should have something similar in London – then the infamous Abraham Lincoln memorial which I loved, then the Martin Luther King memorial, and a good look at the Jefferson memorial from across the Tidal Basin.

White House Halloween Decorations

White House Halloween Decorations

Loved this :)

Loved this :)

Martin Luther King Jr Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr Memorial

All of these sites are so iconic and recognisable and it’s so cool to see them for real. The architecture in Washington reminds me a little of London. I really, really like it here, it’s just kind of clean, quiet, and elegant. So glad we came here.

Day 8 – Saturday

Panda at the National Zoo

Panda at the National Zoo

Grabbed a quick breakfast from Starbucks this morning, picked up our car and drove to the Smithsonian National Zoo – where we headed straight to the Panda enclosure. There aren’t many places you can see pandas, especially a cub. The zoo is free entry, and it’s very open and relaxed. We were delighted to see three pandas including baby Bao Bao, up in a tree. So cute.

More time in a gift shop, and a quick visit to see a few other animals, then we went to a large shopping mall in Virginia for a wander around before returning to DC … This afternoon we went to the Air and Space museum in the national mall, which was really cool … lots about war planes, the Wright brothers, moon landings, exhibits about the universe – all very interesting and I’d like to go back and spend more time there.
Dinner tonight was at the Hard Rock Cafe in Washington. Pretty cool. Chloe loved it.

Day 9 – Sunday

My travel buddies, Nathaniel & Chloe :) <3

My travel buddies, Nathaniel & Chloe :) <3

Breakfast and then the drive back to Newark Airport – so sad to be leaving, it’s been such a whirlwind, fast holiday and we’ve seen so much in just 9 days! We drove through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey and arrived at Newark a little early… plenty of time to read in the airport and now we’re just about to fly home. What an amazing trip, what amazing things we’ve seen and I’m so happy to have shared it with Nathaniel and Chloe – two awesome travel companions :)

The End.

Thinking of taking a similar trip? Feel free to email me for tips :)

Guest post from author Nancy Jardine

Today fellow Crooked Cat author Nancy Jardine is taking over my blog for a guest post:

How comfy is your genre butt-cushion?

Some authors find themselves a neat little genre niche, they pop into it and continue to write there, happy as a burrowing bunny. Other authors don’t settle into place so easily. If they’re like me, they’re trying out caves, tents and corners of old houses seeking the perfect place to spend the next writing phase as they produce work in different writing styles and across sub-genres. This isn’t necessarily due to a scattershot mind- it’s more of finding butt-comfort in many different locations and writing as the heart dictates.

Does the idea of different butt-cushions appeal to you?new crannog pic

What’s absolutely spectacular about butt-comfort writing is finding a publisher – like Crooked Cat Publishing – who accepts those different writing styles because they choose to publish quality work across diverse genres. The Crooked Cat Publishing cradle of authors has produced an amazing variety of work in a very short time. I’m delighted to be one of them, and reading a newly published Crooked Cat novel is a treat I look forward to when I can snatch some precious reading time.

However, appreciating the variety that’s produced by Crooked Cat doesn’t mean I want to try to write in every one of those diverse writing styles. I don’t see myself as forming a dystopian cushion dent, a political thriller one, or a pure fantasy one just yet – though who knows?

How many genre styles would you be prepared to write in?

To date, my personal butt-dents are in squashy moss-filled cushions in Celtic roundhouses, Ancient Roman tents and Roman Fortresses- in my Celtic Fervour Series of Historical Romantic Adventures (Crooked Cat). For Topaz Eyes – a mystery thriller (Crooked Cat), I needed to sit on a deep-filled cushion. The hidden jewellery cache contained in it prodded and poked me very regularly till I got the details of the complex family tree structure, and the murderous and grasping family members, smoothly into place.

Two of my contemporary novels are in between first and second publishers just now. One is a contemporary mystery set in an old Yorkshire manor house: an antique tapestry cushion was perfect for this ancestral based mystery. The second is a contemporary mystery thriller with humorous romantic elements. This needed a large and squashy cushion with a humorous ‘highland-hero image’ adorning it- this writing being a real mix of romantic sub-genres.

Where’s my current comfort to be found?

A cushion I’ve completely butt-flattened recently has been filled with a curious mixture of bracken and polystyrene chips. This time-travel for early teens zips from present day back to third century AD Scotland. Picking out the jagged bits of bracken from my butt is almost complete, though it has been a painfully slow process.

I’ve a new filling for Book Four of my Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures (Crooked Cat Publishing) – my current WIP. It’s now got heathers as well as mosses and brackens since my Garrigill warriors are heading even further north in my far northern Britannia of AD 84. I might have to top it up a few times as I conduct more research, to ensure I give my readers an authentic backdrop. I want them to be able to really live the lives of my characters during this ancient era. I don’t fancy adding any stones to the filling but the ancient brochs of northern Scotland are very interesting structures and are begging to be included!

In the corner of my writing area, there’s a trio of tartan covered cushions dating from 1850. A complex family tree adorns them: the ancestral details of my family saga. This tree is easier to read than the one in Topaz Eyes (Crooked Cat) since the names are mostly Scottish and not German and Dutch, but the structure of the plot is also a complex challenge. The first cushion for book 1 isn’t dusty at all because as soon as I sit on it and ponder, my resident 24/7 grandchildren find me another occupation. It’s a nice springy cushion, though, and accommodates me every now and then.

What about you? Got a nice place to sit?

12Feb2014Find Nancy Jardine at:

Blog: http://nancyjardine.blogspot.com

Website: http://nancyjardineauthor.weebly.com

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1hLgWT7

Twitter: @nansjar

Also found as Nancy Jardine on Pinterest, Goodreads, Google+, LinkedIn …and many more places.

 

Nancy’s Crooked Cat Bookstore Page: 
http://www.crookedcatbooks.com/index.php?route=product%2Fmanufacturer%2Fproduct&manufacturer_id=24

 

Amazon US author page http://amzn.to/RJZzZz

Amazon UK author page http://amzn.to/1ehiqSt

*Celtic Fervour Series – 3 full length reads for less than £5 from Amazon UK.*