The Favourites #1

Hello lovely people!

I’m back with a bit of a roundup post.  I know that monthly favourites post are super popular in the beauty blogging world, but since my blogging is sporadic at best I thought it was best not to attempt to commit to a monthly post…  Instead, here’s the first instalment of my new ‘The Favourites’ series, where I’ll round up all the things I’ve been a bit obsessed with recently.  I’ll try and do them fairly regularly, but we’ll see how we go!

Favourites 1

You’ll probably recognise most of these favourites from the haul posts I did a while ago – there were some hits and misses, so let me know if you’d like reviews of the stuff I didn’t love.

I’ll start with the beauty bits, from left to right of the photo:

  • Soap and Glory Heel Genius Amazing Foot CreamLike most of the rest of the blogging world, I love most things Soap and Glory.  I pull this pepperminty, bright blue, utterly marvellous foot cream out whenever my feet are getting a bit too hard and gross – it’s been doing it’s duty recently so that my feet can be flip-flop ready at a moment’s notice whenever the sun decides to show itself.  Slather a good amount on before bed, stick some socks on and feet are silky smooth by the morning.  Miracle worker, and it’s only a fiver.
  • L’Oreal Elvive Extraordinary Oil.  This stuff makes my hair gorgeous and soft.  It’s stopped me being tempted to shell out 30 quid on some Moroccan Oil.  And it seems like it’ll last me forever.  Enough said.
  • Barry M Gelly Polish in Prickly Pear.  Every blogger and their mother have been going on about these nail polishes lately and I’ve been loving this one.  I have to say, I’m not sure they quite live up to the hype (I have the orangey-coral Papaya shade as well, and just can’t get it to last more than a day without chipping or just peeling off!), but this is my perfect spring colour.  I’ve never really been a fan of blue nails, so this is a great shade for me to branch out from my usual pinks and corals to try a lovely lilac pastel shade.  I like.
  • L’Oreal Skin Perfection Micellar Solution.  Apparently this is the high street’s best answer to Bioderma.  I’ve never tried Bioderma, but I do like this a lot – it gets off all my makeup really easily, without leaving any horrible residue.  It seems to work on eye makeup almost as well as my Clinique eye makeup remover, which I find pretty damn impressive.  This has been an absolute saviour for me over the last couple of months as I’ve been doing a couple of shows, so I’ve been using this to get my stage makeup off backstage – much better than face wipes!  From the looks of things, this and other L’Oreal skincare is currently on 2 for £6 at Boots and Superdrug, so get in there quick for a bargain.
  • MUA Undressed Eyeshadow Palette.  I’ve been pretty shimmery with the eye makeup recently, so this has replaced my lovely Urban Decay Naked Basics matte palette for everyday and nighttime wear.  I didn’t want to pay out for the original Urban Decay Naked Palette as I didn’t think I’d get enough wear out of it, and I think I was right as this seems to be suiting me fine.  I generally only wear the lighter shades, so I’m glad I didn’t go for the expensive option, but I find them nice and easy to wear, and I like having the darker options for eyeliner.  It’s also turned me into a big fan of the gold sparkly eye for nights out – I never thought I’d be that brave!
  • Lush Popcorn Lip Scrub and Blistex MedPlus Lip Balm.  My lip-saving duo.  I have pretty dry lips – not so much that they hurt or cause me problems, but I do need to take care of them. The Lush Lip Scrub tastes amazing (it’s made with salt as well as sugar) and I’m pretty sure it’s making a difference.  I know a lot of people think these are overpriced, but I’ve been using this every day and it still seems brand new.  I can’t see myself needing to buy a new one for at least a year, and I’m positive I couldn’t make a scrub that tastes this good in my kitchen.  The Blistex is a heavy duty lip balm that’s a bit tingly, but is completely wearable.  I’m not a fan of Vaseline or Carmex as I feel like they make my lips drier overall, so I’m thanking my lucky stars that I’ve finally found something that works!

You can all see something else in the photo – my book of the last few months has been the bestseller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Blimey, that’s a good book.  I obviously don’t really want to give anything away about it, but I will say that everyone should PERSEVERE.  I was not into this book at all, then halfway through it clicks.  Trust me.  I promise.  I keep seeing people giving up before the halfway point and I just want to beg them to keep going!  If you’re one of these people, then consider this my plea to you.  I recommend this, and I’m really not a thriller girl in books or films.  Amazing characters, amazing twists, and brilliantly thought through – it kept me up reading until the small hours of the morning.

In the TV category, Mad Men is back!  This has excited me massively.  I love this show, it’s one of the few I watch.  I’m obsessed with the imperfect storylines, the unpredictable plots and, of course, how completely gorgeous the whole thing looks. This show is my weekly escape and I love that the creators have managed to keep the things we love about the show while still letting it move on – too many TV dramas end up going round in circles with the same love triangles and breakdowns.  SPOILER ALERT: If you’re watching, is anyone else a bit overexcited about Peggy being reunited with everyone?  God, I love this show…

I’ll leave you with some lovely music.  I went to see Matchbox Twenty in concert in Manchester the other week and it’s rekindled my obsessive love for them (Rob Thomas especially).  If you don’t know who they are, Matchbox Twenty are a rocky-pop band that have been massive over in the States for years.  They’re one of my mum’s favourite bands, so I’ve grown up listening to their music since I was about 3 years old.   The lyrics are ingrained on my brain!  I’ve had the latest album on repeat in my car lately, so here are a couple of my favourites from that, but you can expect some classics to pop up on this blog at some point.

Radio is a great upbeat song, guaranteed to cheer me up:

And Overjoyed is utterly lovely and chilled out.  And I’m kinda in love with the video…

If you want any more in depth reviews on anything I’ve mentioned in here, just let me know in the comments.  And of course I’d love to hear your recommendations – what have you been loving recently?

A Bit of Everything: Blogging Break

My brain is full.  I have been working kinda sorta nearly all day on the Horrible Essays and have reached the stage where you get a headache and eyeache from the computer screen and it all seems just too hard.  I have just had a chocolate break, am now having a blogging break (yes, I know that won’t help with the computer screen issue, but shh) and am preparing to plunge back in.  I have not entirely kept up with my wonderful plan and still most definitely have The Fear, but I’m on a bit of a mission to get back to up to word count targets now on at least one of the two.  So … go team!

Amongst all this essay stress I’ve still (through sheer determination) managed to keep up with one of my sort-of resolutions, and have been reading every night before bed – and it’s even been something none essay-related.  I’m quite proud of myself, I have to admit.  Yes, yes, I know it’s only the 9th of January, but please just let me have my moment 🙂

As a side note, as well as the reading I’m also finding time to watch Africa on BBC1 – second episode tonight and I am excited!  Anyone else obsessed?  I absolutely adore David Attenborough, and if you aren’t watching then you should be – it’s brilliant!

Back to the books … I finished The Slap a few days ago, and think I’ve finally made up my mind.  The bits I always thought I didn’t like (too much gratuitous sex detail, too much swearing, characters all too horrible/messed up) most definitely still stand.  While I’m not averse to a bit of gritty reality, I refuse to accept (as a couple of Goodreads reviewers have tried to assert) that this means everyone is horrible and ungrateful and entirely closed to compromise.  In fact, I feel quite sorry for people who think that these characters represent the “real world” (as though the one we inhabit is just pretend), because it gives us quite a sad window into their own minds.

Even so, if you were to remove these bits, I quite liked this book.  I’m a big fan of authors who get you to see things from multiple characters’ points of view, one reason for my adoration of The Casual Vacancy, and I did think that the author raised some interesting issues.  I just wish we could have seen at least one or two characters taking some kind of middle ground – that would have linked the story more to reality for me.  I think I probably disliked quite a lot of the characteristics that made the book such a big deal, and I disliked them enough that I wouldn’t recommend it.  Still, I’m sure Christos Tsiolkas has plenty of other recommendations coming from better qualified and more widely distributed sources than this one!

At the moment I’m just finishing Celia Imrie’s autobiography, The Happy Hoofer.  I absolutely love Victoria Wood and Dinnerladies, and have seen Celia Imrie in loads of bits and bobs, like Nanny McPhee and Calendar Girls.  I heard her on Desert Island Discs (yes, I really am 21, honest!) and found her really interesting – she came from a very upper-class family of the kind I always believed to be extinct, and had a horrendous experience of being locked up in a shocking mental hospital because of her anorexia – so I picked up a copy of her book from my Mum.

I’m finding it pretty readable, as expected, but I’m not loving it as I hoped I would.  It is quite personal in some ways, but there’s also a fair bit of name dropping, and I tend to get a bit bored in those parts.  This may well just be down to the fact that I am rubbish when it comes to celebrities, pretty much not interested in the slightest (the Mail Online sidebar is my idea of hell), so I suppose I should blame myself for picking up a celeb autobiography!  I’m not sure quite what it is that I’m not liking, because I do like a good human story, and I adored Stephen Fry’s autobiography, I think there’s just a few too many celeb-spotting moments in it for me.  Think I’m going to head back into good old fiction for a while next – fingers crossed for something I love!

Book Love: Updates, Updates

Things have been going on, honestly, they just haven’t quite made it onto the blog.  But suffice to say that I’ve been having a wonderfully busy, but somehow still relaxed, final year of uni.  I’m loving being back in Bath (especially after having such a rubbish time in Italy), am living with two amazing housemates, and am genuinely enjoying my degree – does it get better than that?!

Oh, and I might have kinda sorta got a graduate job with Teach First for next year… no doubt there’ll be plenty more to come on that!  I’m still a bit in shock.

I’ve been getting through a few books slowly but surely, some for uni and some just for fun, including J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.  I absolutely adore Harry Potter, so it’s no surprise that I ordered this pretty much immediately.  I know some people seemed a bit disappointed, but I really enjoyed it and the story’s still stuck in my mind.  I think I found it particularly relevant given that my mind’s stuck on Teach First, which works in schools with difficult kids – if you’ve read The Casual Vacancy I’m sure you’ll know what I mean.  My favourite thing, though, was that J.K. Rowling still managed to create a whole world that made Harry Potter so successful – I was totally drawn in.  More please!

At the moment I’m about halfway through The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, but I can’t quite decide what I think about it.  I quite like the story and the structure, but the characters are just all horrible and so crude.  I’ve heard people say that this is just representing real life, but my life is certainly nothing like this.  Think I need a bit more time to make up my mind.

I’m also reading That Woman, the autobiography of Wallis Simpson by Anne Sebba, but I left it in Bath while I came home for Christmas, so it’s on hold for a while.  I’m quite enjoying autobiographies and there are quite a few on my to-read list – new trend inspired by reading Killing Pablo for a uni presentation I did.  It’s Mark Bowden’s brilliant telling of the story of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and the havoc he wreaked before finally being tracked down and shot.  I found it totally fascinating, but I’d probably only recommend it to people with a bit of background knowledge/interest in Latin America and/or the USA’s war on drugs.  I am interested in both – so I thought it was great!

Now to plan for next year – bring on the resolutions (sort of)…

Book Love: So I finished The Kite Runner

Blimey.  That was a bit emotional.  Blooming marvellous though.

Even though I’ve been hearing wonderful things about Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner for years, I was a bit nervous about reading it.  This is mainly because of everyone’s comments about how moving they found the story, talking about how it stayed with you long after finishing.  Now I am a bit of a lightweight with this kind of thing.  I cried at the Harry Potter books and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I also couldn’t make it more than an hour into the film The Pianist, then couldn’t stop thinking about what I had seen for weeks.  So I was worried that The Kite Runner would just shake me up too much.

I needn’t have worried.  Yes, this is an emotional book which describes some awful events, but it is so beautifully written.  Khaled Hosseini deals with the terrible events in Afghanistan over the past 30 years with so much respect that you can’t help but be drawn in by his story, rather than repulsed by the violence.

I really cannot appreciate gratuitous violence and misery in people’s writing, be it for books, film or TV.  While we cannot ignore that awful things do happen in the world, I see no point in reporting them for their shock value alone.  Some kind of conclusion should be drawn, or point made.

Hosseini includes enough shock to create an image of Afghanistan at war, and later under Taliban rule, while keeping a very strong novel.  Violence enhances what he is trying to say, rather than being all he is saying.

And a lot was said.  I honestly had no idea.  I had no idea what really happened in Afghanistan.  I belong to a generation who has grown up associating the country with war, Muslim extremism, the Taliban, terrorism and destruction, without ever really understanding why.  In school I learned about life in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and even Thatcher’s Britain, but nobody ever taught us what was going on in the modern day world and why.

While this book is by no means a political history lesson, I found it fascinating to read, not only about everyday life under the Taliban, but also about peaceful Afghanistan.  I have no doubt that there were many problems – the main character is told when he returns in the midst of the poverty and destruction that Afghanistan was always like this, he had just been too priveliged to notice – but it was once a country like any other.  It was not always the land of rubble and bombs.  If nothing else, this book has inspired me to find out what happened to that country, rather than being intimidated by seemingly confusing Middle Eastern politics.

So I’m now on the lookout for a good book to explain it to me – any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

There was so much I loved about this book.  The setting and politics were, sadly, entirely realistic and believable, but Amir’s personal story was just poetic and coincidental enough to excite the former English student in me – themes and motifs abound.

I loved the fact that, while pure good and pure evil are certainly embodied in the characters of Hassan and Assef, the vast majority of characters lie somewhere in the middle, in that grey area that most of us spend our whole lives flitting around.  The goodies and baddies are not always clear.

I loved that the USA was hardly brought into the book from a political point of view.  Since the second half of the book takes place in the summer of 2001, while reading this I was on tenterhooks wondering what the September 11th attacks would bring.  But this was not the point.  America is not considered a villian.

On a slight side note, this did set me off wondering when we became so suspicious of the US government’s intentions.  And coincidentally (or maybe not so much, given that it’s the anniverary of the 9/11 attacks) I came across this article on the Guardian website (“Widespread distrust of US extends beyond Middle East”).  But that’s a different topic.

I could say so much more about this book, but I won’t – there’s a lot of hype about it already, and you should read and form your own opinions.  It is an incredibly touching story and somehow manages to be not entirely pessimistic.  I loved it and now can’t wait to get my hands on A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini’s other bestseller.

Book Love: Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

I have been a very bad blogger.  I have been busy and travelling and full of excuses instead of replying to the lovely people who have looked at my blog and maybe even taken the time to leave a comment.  I am still busy and travelling, but just wanted to pop in a quick post about a book I’ve read while being busy and travelling.  I picked it up in a hostel book swap without really thinking, read it in a couple of days and still keep thinking about it.

It’s called Still Alice by Lisa Genova and is written from the point of view of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  She is a well-respected Harvard psychology professor, which just makes her understanding of the disease even more devastating.  It is beautifully written to show the advancing disease from Alice’s point of view, and is incredibly moving.  Alice’s feelings and reactions of her family bring up all kinds of issues about the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients, their quality of life, and the trust they put in their carers as they become more dependent.  I honestly don’t believe anyone (other than someone with dementia) could read this book without changing the way they think about this desease.

These illnesses are so often discussed by carers, friends and family, it is refreshing to truly consider what the patient wants and thinks.  This issue of giving a voice to dementia sufferers is one that is addressing in the novel, and I personally found Alice an inspiring character.  It has completely changed the way I think about dementia and its treatment, and my mind is still being drawn back to it weeks later.  And then I discovered that the book has a 5 star Amazon rating and 4.2 on Goodreads – so it’s obviously not just me!

I can’t recommend this book enough – Lisa Genova has managed to take an incredibly emotional topic and create a novel which is not depressing or hopeless, just realistic and thought-provoking.  Quite an achievement, in my opinion.

Book Love: Starting my mission – Atonement

To kick off my challenge to read a book a week and rediscover my love of reading, I started reading Atonement by Ian McEwan.  This was mostly a choice of convenience since my friend had a copy she offered to loan me.

I have a confession – I watched (and loved) the film version of Atonement before reading the book.  As a firm member of the “books are always better than film adaptations” camp, this is pretty unlike me.  I have been known to argue with a six year old that the Harry Potter books are far superior to the films.

However.

With Atonement I made an exception.  I saw the film with friends, then before I knew it I’d acquired the DVD and never quite got round to reading the original – more because of my recent reading drought than because I didn’t want to.  My suspicion was that, having already fallen in love with the story, I was on course to enjoy the book, even though by cheating and watching the film first I would lose a lot of the benefits that most other first-time readers enjoyed.  For the most part I was right: the story was as dramatic and emotional as I expected and I became completely engrossed despite already knowing the ending.  But I am very sorry to have lost the shock value and ‘gasp’ moments that really make this story.

My “books are always better than film adaptations” belief was reaffirmed by the fantastic pacing, details and fleshed-out characters.  While this may seem illogical, I always find characters far more real on the page than the screen.  For me, Kiera Knightly will never be 100% Cecilia.  One of the great joys of reading is that characters are brought to life by your own imagination, existing with no external influences or limitations.  It’s down to the author to make his characters real and I am always disappointed by books with poor characterisation.

I am also continually disappointed by books that don’t make me feel anything.  At the very least I like to be able to empathise with a character and in an ideal world I’ll finish with something to think about too.  My god, did this book make me feel.  I followed the emotions of every character, then got angry at them, or felt sorry for them, or proud.  I couldn’t help but visualise every setting – at one point I put the book down and was surprised to find myself sitting in a freezing cold room in January instead of a summer heatwave.  And every time I stopped reading I had another big issue to mull over: family relationships, war, love and of course guilt and atonement.  It ticked all my boxes on what I like to get out of a book.

The only issue I had with Atonement can be blamed entirely on my English Literature AS level.  At school (and even now at uni) I was well trained to read in preparation for writing x-thousand words of a literary analysis essay.  Ian McEwan’s writing, as ever, is crammed full of literary techniques and themes etc etc and I couldn’t help but spot them as I read.  Not that this was in any way a surprise to me – my AS level English Literature group went on to study this book the next year for A level, so I did know what I was letting myself in for.  I just found it a shame that I was occasionally dragged out of the vivid environment I was engrossed in when a particularly obvious writing technique made me want to grab my English file and make notes.  This, however, is completely down to the British educational system and cements this book’s position as a modern classic that merits further study.

I reckon the only reason I’m not completely obsessed with this book is because I broke my own rule and watched the film first, spoiling the book for myself.  In other words, any problems I have are entirely my own fault.  I do fall in love with some film adaptations in their own right (The Time Traveller’s Wife, for example, was almost as excellent as the book), but I always find that books have more to give and like to experience them unspoilt.  The race is now on to get through The Great Gatsby before the latest film comes out at the end of this year – as a huge Baz Luhrmann fan I know I’ll be unable to resist watching.