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Reading Challenge 2016 Update 4

My best effort to read 20 books for my 2016 Reading Challenge has slowed of late. I found the Summer a distraction of other activities and days out, allowing reading to slip from my radar. However, as Autumn arrived I was sent a reprieve, well unfortunately for me it was in the guise of a bad chest infection. Not able to do an awful lot for 3 weeks I did make progress during sleepless nights with my reading, and have added 3 more books making 12 books read. 

Catch up with my reviews below. They include a brief story synopsis, absolutely no spoilers and my views on how I found the book and if I would recommend it. 
book review reading challenge Tomes of Dead The Good Life CXVI Beginning the End

CXVI The Beginning of the End by Angie Smith
I scored this book 4/5 on Goodreads.

Who will survive?

When the murder of a colleague is linked to a series of suspicious deaths, Detective Superintendent Greg Woods’ team are tasked with solving the mystery. New to the team is Maria Barnes, whose besmirched character sadly precedes her. However Woods quickly discovers there is more to the detective sergeant than meets the eye: her skill level, knowledge base, and investigative talents far outshine his own formidable qualities…

And why is the Secret Intelligence Service so interested in Barnes and the investigation?

It’s a race against time to stop the killer, but he’s meticulous, cunning and ruthless. He leaves the police and intelligence service questioning if they are all out of their depth…

When forces contrive against them, Woods’ life hangs in the balance and for the first time in his career he risks breaking the rules… He and Barnes decide to go it alone to uncover who or what CXVI really is… The shocking truth lies at the heart of the Government and is trapped deep underground.
My Review
Wow CXVI The Beginning of the End, what a read. A fascinating story in the murder/thriller genre. I won this book in a giveaway, and was  really taken by surprise at the quality of the writing of this little know author. The story is very well written with intriguing characters and quite complex storyline. It is a crime detective with depth, not predictable and keeps you on your toes. Whilst the book contains violence I found it refreshing not to be littered with unnecessary swearing and sexual references on every page.

Written in a way that I felt I was part of the crime team and desperate to uncover the details of this disturbed serial killer. There are multiple story lines within the book that now lend themselves to the next book, and continue the story of detective Marie Barnes. A bargain read too just £1.99 as an ebookI scored this book 4/5 on Goodreads.

The Good Life: Up the Yukon Without a Paddle

I scored this book 5/5 on Goodreads.
Dorian Amos — a painter from Cornwall — and his wife decided that they were in need of adventure. Having searched their world atlas they decided to sell up and move to Canada in pursuit of a better life. Having bought Pricey the car, Boris Lock their faithful dog, a canoe and their fishing equipment they set off into the Yukon Wilderness to find a place they could call home. After months of camping alone in the great outdoors — where they encountered bears and wild men of the mountains — they eventually arrived at Dawson City, home to one of the great gold rushes of the 20th century. It was here that they found a run-down log cabin in the mountains nearby and began a new and gratifying life. A life they had always known they wanted.
My review
This book belongs to my sister and has been sitting on my bookshelf for a number of years, had I heeded her recommendation I would of read it sooner. What an inspiring read! 

I love that Dorian is just an average englishman, who one day decides there must be more to life than bills, working and monotony. He makes a decision most of us may ponder over briefly, and actual puts his dream into action. What follows is an exciting, unpredictable adventure in the couples effort to discover a new and fulfilling life in the wilds of Canada. At times they scared me witless with the encounters they faced, and there were situations that would have had me turn back to civilisation. The extremes in temperature they endure will leave you feeling cold to the bone. But they had a dream to follow, even if it did not always go to plan. 

I read this book in a day I was engrossed in following Dorian and Bridget's story. A thoroughly good read!

This book is available as both an ebook and paperback currently costing just over £7.00.
I scored this book 5/5 on Goodreads.

The Words of Their Roaring by Matthew Smith
I scored this book 3/5 on Goodreads.
London's Falling! London – a city overrun by the zombie hordes. Most of the human survivors live from day to day, scraping together an existence amongst the ruins, avoiding the shambling, flesh-hungry undead that stalk the streets. But for others the situation is an opportunity, a chance to establish a powerbase within the capital now that all authority has virtually collapsed. For gang lord Harry Flowers, the plague is his chance to finally rule the city unopposed. Operating out of his well-protected mansion on London's outskirts, Flowers sees a chance to use the zombies and the havoc they wreak for his own ends. The way he sees it, the ghouls aren't going to be around forever, and when he re-establishes a functioning society, it's going to be on his own terms. All he needs is a way to control the dead. But Flowers is not the only one with designs on the city...
My Review
I picked up The Words of Their Roaring with little expectation and had not even read the story summary on the back cove, but I do enjoy a post apocalyptic read. An enjoyable book in the zombie genre, and well written. I liked the fact that story did not stick to the usual predictable zombie themes. 

You explore the  zombie world through the main character Gabe, and his history with crime lord Harry Flowers. Whilst humans are trying to survive the rampent spread of a zombie virus this does not stop others from seeing an opportunity to build empires. The story cleverly flips between past, present and future of the zombie out break. I would of given this book an extra star but I found the last 40 pages of the story less enjoyable, as I felt it rushed the ending. But well worth the read. 
I scored this book 3/5 on Goodreads.

I am just starting book 13 a literary classic, which may just help keep me in reach of my reading challenge for 2016. You can keep up to date with my past and present reads by visiting my Goodreads page, see the link in the sidebar on the right hand side of your screen. 

Have you read any good books of late?

Follow my Book Shelf Pinterest Board 

If you purchase any of the books above using my link, I will receive a small commission. This income allows me to share my recipes, review and crafting adventures with you.
book review reading challenge Tomes of Dead The Good Life CXVI Beginning the End

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Glamping Lodge Break Oxfordshire Discovering Superglamp

There is nothing I enjoy more than holidaying in the UK. I really do enjoy a staycation, there is just so much to explore on our fabulous island. I have stayed in holiday cottages, hotels, bed and breakfasts and caravans, importantly when holidaying I want to be able to relax and be comfortable in my surroundings.  Which is probably one of the reasons why I have never tried camping, but then some clever person invented the concept of Glamping.
glamping UK holiday oxfordshire swiss farm camping hideout house
What is Glamping? 
Glamping "a form of camping involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping." 
Glamping gives you the chance to enjoy camping without the need of buying all the equipment and with the luxury of many modern amenities. The permanent nature of glamping lodges is perfect for none campers, everything you need is provided. It makes a bid for a quick escape from a busy home life to exploring the countryside just a step away. 

So the lure of glamping with the promise of luxury really appealed to me, I love the countryside and nature and an escape that combined all these elements sounded exciting and different. So given the opportunity my sister and I packed our bags and headed off in the car to Oxfordshire.
glamping UK holiday oxfordshire swiss farm camping hideout house
Perfect package of luxury
glamping UK holiday oxfordshire swiss farm camping hideout house
Comfortable and surprisingly spacious interior
We stayed in an amazing wooden pod lodge created by The Hideout House Company, it had everything you needed, whilst you relax, kick back and enjoy being surrounded by nature. Situated on the outskirts of Henley on Thames, our lodge at the Swiss Farm Camp site sat on edge of a lake surrounded by trees.
glamping UK holiday oxfordshire swiss farm camping hideout house
Relax and unwind on a pod lodge break
When we walked up to the lodge we were amazed by the setting and the lodge. It had a fabulous veranda with outside furniture and a hot tub! So pleased I packed my swimming costume.  Inside the lodge the surprises continued, tv, fridge, sink, toaster, electric heater, shower room and toilet, double bed and a sofa bed and pull out bed. All so cleverly designed to make the most of the space without feeling cramped. 
glamping UK holiday oxfordshire swiss farm camping hideout house
Stunning lakeside setting 
It was not long before the kettle was on and the biscuits open, sitting out on the veranda watching the Red Kites flying above and the ducks swimming on the lake. It was lovely just sitting and letting time slip by.  As it was early October we did use the electric heater in the evening and early morning, which soon had the cabin toasty warm. 
glamping UK holiday oxfordshire swiss farm camping hideout house
Red Kite 
The following day having woken early my sister and I enjoyed a breakfast of tea and toast whilst watching the rabbits hopping around and the ducks flying in and landing on the lake. Is that not the perfect way to start the day. Having spent the day exploring Henley on Thames we returned later in the afternoon to enjoy the luxury of the hot tub. Drinks in hand - a box of chocolates - face masks on! What a sight, but what fun, relaxing in the fresh air submerged in the hot tub looking up to the sky watching the Red Kites soaring above us. 

If this is glamping, I love it!
glamping UK holiday oxfordshire swiss farm camping hideout house
Hot tub luxury
glamping UK holiday oxfordshire swiss farm camping hideout house
Hello Mr Bunny
glamping UK holiday oxfordshire swiss farm camping hideout house
Heron by the Lake at Swiss Farm Camping
Other ways to SuperGlamp 
Wooden lodges are not the only way to enjoy glamping,  you can stay in Yurts even re purposed old train carriage or a shepherds hut. 

There are dedicated glamping sites located all around the UK, some have many pods or lodges on a site other maybe quite isolated and more basic. I know of site in rural Shropshire where country estates and farms have diversified into glamping by setting up a self contained lodge in a countryside setting. 

Have you been glamping? I would love to know your thoughts and recommendations for locations.

Disclosure: I received a stay at the Swiss Farm Camping courtesy of The Hideout House Company.
Glamping ideas uk travel oxfordshire henley

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Homemade Flower Food Experiment

Many of us enjoy a vase of flowers in the home. You may have treated yourself to a bouquet whilst shopping or have received them as a surprise gift. Wherever they are from you expect to enjoy a beautiful display of flowers for many days. Homemade Flower Food Experiment
How you care for your flowers can have an impact on just how long they may last. My recent homework task, for the FlowerStart online flower arranging workshop I am enrolled on has me conducting my own flower experiment. 

What to add to the water of your flowers?
Most purchased flowers will come with a special sachet of food for you to add to the water. But you may also have heard many an old wives tale about adding lemonade, or a coin to your water to prolong the life of your flowers. 

My experiment? How long will flowers last in water with different types of flower food.

The flowers in water experiment commenced... 
Homemade Flower Food Experiment
Homemade Flower Food Experiment
I took 5 single Zinnia flowers, cut fresh from my garden. I used 5 very clean glass vases / glasses, which contained tap water. I then added different ingredients to each and then added the flower.

1 Tap water + homemade flower food
Tap water + lemon juice
3 Tap water + bleach
Tap water + sugar + 2p coin
5 Tap water

Six days later I checked on each of the flowers.
Homemade Flower Food Experiment
1. Home made flower food - the flower with the homemade flower food is dead and you would normally have removed the flower from any display.
Homemade Flower Food Experiment
2. Lemon juice - the flower is in good condition but the water has gone cloudy has a gloopy mould around the stem of the flower. I have left the flower in the water but if I was not doing this experiment I would change the water but still add lemon juice.
Homemade Flower Food Experiment
3. Beach - the flower is in very good condition and the water is very clear.
Homemade Flower Food Experiment
4. Sugar and coin - the flower petals are starting to die, and the water has turned cloudy.
Homemade Flower Food Experiment
5. Just water - the flower is in good condition but just starting to turn at the edge of the petals.

There is still a few more days to go and I will watch the remaining flowers with interest. At the moment there is not much to choose between flower 3 and 5, that's bleach + water and plain tap water.

Final Results
After 12 days, it was a close call between the bleach and just the plain water. I think the bleach may just have won this one. 
I do plan to try this again using sachet flower food and not my homemade version, just to be sure. 

Find Out about the Online FlowerStart Course
It has been an interesting and fascinating course, who would of thought it was possible to complete a flower arranging course online. You can see how my flower arranging has progressed with my previous blog post about my Flower Arrangement in a Teacup, which by the way is super sweet and far more beautiful than I had ever hoped. Yes that is me giving myself a pat on the back!

Thank you to those of you who have found me via the fabulous Five on Friday link up with Amy at Love Made My Home, see my sidebar for the badge and to join in.

Do let me know if you have a tip you use for prolonging the life of your vase of flowers.

About Julie Davies
Julie is a trained florist, and also teaches flower arranging workshops in Kent. The use of technology now allows Julie to teach anyone with access to a computer how to arrange flowers. The FlowerStart courses were created especially for those of us whose home or work commitments prevent you from signing up for traditional evening classes.

Enrol in the next course
If you want to enrol and learn how to flower arrange the next 4 week FlowerStart Classes  start 30 September and costs £99. Do not worry too much about not having all the kit to take part. Julie also suggests alternative items eg. jam jars that you are sure to have at home.

Disclosure: I received a subscription for the FlowerStart course in exchange for this review.

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Easy Apple Pie Recipe without a Pie Dish

There is nothing quite so nice than a warm apple pie straight out of the oven. This recipe for Apple or Apple & Blackberry rustic open fruit pie (also known as galette) is so easy to bake. You do not even need a pie dish, use either a baking tray, an oven proof plate with a lip to it, use a dinner plate or side plate if you want smaller pies. I find by baking this easy Apple Pie recipe on a plate it removes the worry of lifting it off the baking tray, also a pretty plate or pie dish looks nice on the table too. 

Easy Apple Pie Recipe without a Pie Dish

4-5 cooking apples
Optional handful of blackberries or raspberries
granulated sugar for sweetening 
lemon juice (optional)
Shortcrust pastry (make your own using my recipe below or buy a pack of shortcrust pastry)
milk or beaten egg for brushing
How to Make Shortcrust Pastry
10oz plain flour
5oz butter
for sweet pastry add 1 oz caster sugar

This amount of Shortcut Pastry is enough to make the bottom and lid for a pie, or 2 open pies, or use it to make lots of smaller apple pies, jam tarts or mince pies so many options to choose!

Cube or grate your butter into the flour. Using your finger tips rub the butter and flour together, until it resembles small crumbs. If you are making a sweet pastry sprinkle in some caster sugar (1-2 tablespoons). Carefully add small amounts of water to bring the mixture together to form a firm dough - but not too sticky. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill (optional).
easy apple pie recipe no pie dish
Apple & Blackberry Pie ready for the oven
To Make the Easy Apple Pie without a Pie Dish
  • Roll out the shortcrust pastry, the same size as your plate or pie dish and make sure you do not roll it out too thin. Plenty of flour sprinkled under the pastry will prevent it sticking to the work surface. Place your pastry on your plate or pie dish.
  • Peel and core your apples and cut into large chunks, toss the apple in lemon juice to prevent browning if you are not placing them in the pie immediately. 
  • Arrange your apples in the middle of the pastry, you can also add your blackberries if you choose. 
  • Fold the edges of the pastry up around the fruit to create a rustic open pie. 
  • Brush the pastry with a little beaten egg (or milk) and sprinkle plenty of sugar over the apple and pastry. If you have any small pieces of pastry left over you can add strips over the pie, again brush with egg or milk and sprinkle with sugar.
Oven Temp - bake in the oven for approx 20 minutes on 220 degrees, then turn the temp down to 180 degrees and bake for 10-15 mins. The apples should be nice and soft and the pasty brown and cooked through. 

Tip, if you bake smaller pies, these may cook quicker so keep checking the oven. If you do decide to try adding a top to your pastry then this would require longer in the oven. 
Follow my baking Pinterest board

easy apple pie recipe no pie dish

Spare Pastry - you have lots of options if you have made too much pastry. You can either freeze the uncooked pastry, so the next time you want to bake a pie or tarts you just have to defrost it. Or you can bake with it and create an extra pie or tarts and freeze them once baked.

Check out my other recipe for mini gooseberry tarts.

I'm linking up with Cooking & Crafting with J & J, see my sidebar for the link badge.
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Flower Start - Online Flower Arranging Classes

The opportunity to learn something new is one I will rarely refuse, particularly when it is something creative and can be combine with my love for the garden. For the last few weeks I have been enrolled in Julie Davies Flower Start classes, a 4 week online flower arranging class. You may have spotted my first week of flower arrangements on my Instagram, Twitter or Facebook accounts. 

I like this way of learning, no early mornings, not travelling, an most importantly no pressure. The course allows you to work at your own pace, no set deadlines.  
Each week you create one main flower arrangement. To prepare you for your weekly project you receive 3 emails, these help you to start thinking like a flower arranger. They may focus of colour, greenery or texture or how to prepare your flowers. They are also supported with some very inspirational Pinterest boards too. 

I have found the step by step photos, video and written course notes, easy to follow and very helpful. It is not just about the arranging of flowers, but also understanding how to care for and treat your flowers before you start the arranging. It really does make all the difference to how long your flowers will last, whether they are shop bought or cut fresh from your garden. Or learning how to use flower foam correctly, so many invaluable tips and I am only on the second week.

You are able to share your creations or ask any question through the private Facebook group set up specifically for the course. Julie gives constructive feedback, but you also get to virtually meet your fellow students too, along with all their amazing creations.  I enjoyed sharing my arrangements with the group and it was also nice to see how everyone else did, it is such a relaxing group there is no competitiveness to it.  I was lucky that I could use flowers and foliage from my garden, although initially I did buy some flowers. 
Week 2 Homework - Flower Arrangement in a tea cup
Week 2 Homework - Flower arrangement in a tea cup
I am thoroughly enjoying learning how to arrange flowers. I have quite a collection of vases in the cupboard, so it is refreshing that I can now understand the right way to use them and create a beautiful display from a bouquet of flowers. So far I have created a flower display in a square glass vase, and a display in a tea cup.
This method of learning has been such a pleasurable experience, I have particularly enjoyed this weeks arrangement 'the tea cup'. All the flowers and foliage I used were from my own garden, and I am over the moon with how it looks. I feel this could be the start of a regular tea cup display!

About Julie Davies
Julie is a trained florist, and also teaches flower arranging workshops in Kent. The use of technology now allows Julie to teach anyone with access to a computer how to arrange flowers. The FlowerStart courses were created especially for those of us whose home or work commitments prevent you from signing up for traditional evening classes.

Enrol in the next course
If you want to enrol and learn how to flower arrange the next 4 week FlowerStart Classes  start 26 September and costs £99. Do not worry too much about not having all the kit to take part. Julie also suggests alternative items eg. jam jars that you are sure to have at home.
flower arrangement glass square vase
Week 1 Homework - Arrangement in a glass square vase

Disclosure: I received free FlowerStart classes for the purpose of this review
Flower arrangement inspiration ideas tea cup afternoon tea
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Easy Chocolate Caramel Brownies Recipe

Chocolate Brownies are one of the most delicious chocolate baked treats you can enjoy. This recipe for Chocolate Caramel Brownies takes them to the next level. A happy accident having intended to make the Triple Chocolate Brownies recipe, only to find the shop had no white chocolate. So easy to make, and so decadent you, your family and friends will want you to bake these Chocolate Caramel Brownies again and again. genius decision to use the bar of Caramel Milk Chocolate. 
Easy Chocolate Caramel Brownies Recipe
Easy Chocolate Caramel Brownies 

  • saucepan
  • scales  
  • wooden spoon / spatula 
  • buy a 8 inch square baking tin 
  • bowl
  • jug
  • baking parchment to line tin
  • knife
  • chopping board
Easy Chocolate Caramel Brownies Recipe


makes 16

Oven temperature
oven temperature 180 degrees C / 160 degrees C fan

200g dark chocolate chopped
100g milk chocolate chopped
150g milk caramel chocolate (I used dairy milk caramel)
185g plain flour sieved
2 eggs
125g butter cubed
110g caster sugar

  • Preheat the oven.  Line square baking tin. 
  • Break the dark chocolate into chunks.
  • Melt the dark chocolate and the butter in a saucepan on a gentle heat. Then leave to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Chop the milk chocolates into smaller chunks.
  • Mix the sugar and eggs together, add to the chocolate mixture and mix together. Then add in and mix in the plain flour.  
  • Add the chopped milk and caramel chocolate and mix.
  • Pour the chocolate mixture into the square baking tin.
  • Bake in the oven for no longer than 35 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and leave brownies to cool in the tin.
  • Once cooled, lift the brownies out of the tin using the parchment paper. Cut into squares, these are very rich brownies so you may want to think small.

Follow my baking Pinterest board

Easy Chocolate Caramel Brownies Recipe

Store the brownies in an air tight container, they will keep for a few days. But to enjoy the 'caramelness' I would recommend a few seconds in the microwave to warm them up. Mmm lovely and gooey!
Easy Chocolate Brownies Caramel Recipe

Disclosure: contains affiliate links
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Join My Pinterest Crafting Group Board

I have created a crafting group board on Pinterest perfect for anyone with a love of crafting. Anyone can join, you do not need to be a blogger, just a lover of Pinterest and crafting. 

Love sewing, knitting, crochet, card making, mosaic work, printing or any other creative make. Share an idea, inspiration, tutorial or creation of your own on the group board. This will create a great source of project inspiration for us all. Just be sure to share the create love, all Pinterest lovers enjoy a comment, repin or heart.

Why I set up a Group Crafting Board

I recently looked to join a crafting group board on Pinterest, and I was not alone. A call out on Twitter and it soon became apparent that other crafters were on the look out too. I found a great many group boards, which was great! However, almost all of them were closed to new members, boo! So rather than wait to find one that would open up again for new members I decided, like any good crafter to make my own. 

I do hope you will join in the fun with me on Pinterest. If you have any questions just leave me a comment below. 

Craft Inspiration | Lets Get Creative Group Board a happy and creative board for all. 
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Learning Crochet with Beautiful Things - Intermediate Course

My understanding of crochet is growing rapidly. I have now completed the intermediate learn to crochet course from Beautiful Things.

Having already learnt the basics on the beginners crochet course I was very eager to take my crochet to the next level and get creative. You do not need to have completed the beginners crochet course, if you already have the basic skills of the main stitches but lack confidence to progress further this course would be perfect for you. As with the previous course you have access to exclusive video tuition and a pdf instruction manual.
Learn to Crochet Intermediate Level
My parcel of crochet goodies for the course arrived. These essential items are perfect for the beginner who will have little or no crochet equipment or yarn. I have left a link at the bottom of this post for you to watch my unboxing video, you can see all the goodies I received. 

What did I learn on the intermediate crochet course?

  • Reminders of some of the basics (always good for a beginner!)
  • Creating crochet circles
  • How to join in a new colour
  • Creating a granny stripe for a blanket
  • How to create a granny square in a single colour
  • How to create a granny square of different colours
  • How to darn in the ends
  • How to flatten your work technically this is called blocking, who knew!
I was amazed at just how easy changing colour was, for some reason I had thought it was going to be so tricky. Just like the beginners course, tutor Claire shares plenty of tips and tricks that only an expert knows and makes learning so much easier for someone new to crocheting.

As always the private Facebook group that also supports this course was very helpful. Even having completed the course you can still share your creations, it is such a nice group of fellow crocheters. 
Learn to Crochet Intermediate Level Beautiful Things

What have made? 
With all these skills you must be wondering what I have been up to. Having completed the course it has given me the confidence, I am now happy to walk into my local wool shop with out feeling like I have no idea what I need. I purchased some wool in red and cream and decided to keep things simple and make a blanket made from large granny squares. I have made quite a few granny squares, they all need the ends darning and blocking.
Giant Granny Squares
Giant Granny Squares
What I plan to make next
Inspired by all the wonderful crochet creations on Instagram and other blogs. I have just ordered more wool, this time to create a striped blanket. I have also added to my crochet hook collection with a 9mm hook, specifically to use with some chunky wool I have, hopefully to make myself a snood for winter. I can see I am going to have a number of crochet projects on the go, but I am sure in the world of crochet this is not unheard of! 

Watch my unboxing video to see what goodies are included in the intermediate course.

Read more about my earlier crochet adventure

Learning to crochet has opened up a whole new hobby and interest to me, as well as acquiring a new skill. If you have been thinking about it but have not had the courage to try, I can not recommend it enough, both the beginners and intermediate course have been fantastic. 

Find out more about the course on the Beautiful Things website. You can now purchase this course without the materials, perfect if you already have some experience, wool and a crochet hook.

Follow my crafting adventures on Instagram at ShropshireCrafter.

Disclosure: I received the intermediate crochet course from Beautiful Things for the purpose of this review. 

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