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The ideal 'hard to buy for' Christmas gift (plus 20% off at Thorntons!)

I love Christmas shopping - at least in theory. Spending a day seeking out the ideal gifts for loved ones by ducking in and out of festively decorated shops, stopping off for a hot chocolate to warm up and then heading home to wrap them to the sound of carols. But the thing is, it's not always so easy!

In my circle of family and friends at least, there's always someone who's very hard to buy for. They either have everything they could possibly want or I just can't find what I'm looking for. As December 25th approaches at the speed of light I usually find myself stressing about that one last present!

Novelty gifts are one way to tackle this problem - they tend to be readily available and there's probably something that the recipient will sort of laugh at and maybe half appreciate. It probably won't make their face light up upon opening though.

When Thorntons approached me about their Christmas gift finder the email couldn't have come at a better time - I've never really thought about getting someone a box of chocolates at Christmas before, but it suits this purpose perfectly.

I mean, think about it. A pair of Keith Lemon socks doesn't really say 'I saw this and thought of you' (no offence Keith, love you long time), a hand soap set sort of screams 'I picked this up in the supermarket Christmas isle at the last minute' and don't get me started on buying somebody a celebrity chef chopping board as a gift because you seem to remember they like cooking a bit now and then. Why.

Chocolate on the other hand has a real 'I appreciate you and want you to take some time to totally treat yoself' vibe to it. You can either go all in and get something really luxurious like this Prosecco hamper (ideal for mums, aunties or gal pals), or give the gift of yum in the office Secret Santa with these cocktail chocolates. There are even personalisable gifts made to order by Thorntons' chocolatiers.

There's definitely something for everyone when it comes to giving a sweet treat at Christmas. Unless they don't like chocolate, in which case you should consider excommunicating them.

Thorntons are also currently running a 20% off everything promotion (ends 9am Mon 21st) with the discount code 'XMAS20' so get in there while you can. Other than the box of chocolates Thorntons sent me as a thank you for collaborating with them, I was not compensated for this post in any way - what you read is my own honest opinion.

If you've yet to start your Christmas shopping (naughty!) then don't forget to check out my gift guides for him and for her!

4 reasons to watch Marvel's Jessica Jones right now

Here's the thing. Until now I had really not been a fan of these superhero spin-off shows. I couldn't get into Arrow, found Agents of Shield wooden and cheesy, and zoned out of Daredevil within two episodes. My experience watching the Jessica Jones series, all of which is currently on Netflix, could not be any further from this. 

It. is. brilliant. This raw, gritty and totally unapologetic anti-hero is right up my street and the focus on girl-power has me hooked. Here are 10 reasons you should 100% binge watch this right blimmin' now.

1. This is not your stereotypical female superhero. Jessica Jones is a straight-talking, take-no-shit private investigator, who just happens to have a few super powers to help her along the way. There are no tight costumes, no saving babies from burning buildings and some of her actions are sort-of morally questionable as she struggles to come to terms with the fact that only she can stop the story's villain.

2. It gets close to the bone. The story is heavily focused around PTSD and also deals with the concept of sexual consent, It's extremely well done which makes it so believable. I think it's about time issues like are tackled head-on and the impact that these things can have on someone's life are dealt with in a way that doesn't paint victims as weak. Expect drinking, sex, and gore throughout as the show isn't restricted by ratings and censorship the way the Marvel film adaptations are.

3. It's totally hoes over bros at all times. My favourite part of the series is the relationship between Jessica and her best friend Trish Walker. The two couldn't be more opposite but will defend each other 'til the end, even to the point of near death. Their friendship is a pivotal part of the plot's conclusion and it had me welling up.

4. The cast is amazing. The show starts Kristen Ritter, who I adore, as Jessica Jones. She's just perfect for the part with a balance between total badassery and vulnerability. Rachael Taylor and Eka Darville also really stood out to me. David Tennant stars as a mind controlling villain and I can't think of anyone who could have made Kilgrave's character any creepier. 

Have you been watching the series? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

The best pieces of advice I've ever been given

When I was younger I honestly thought that at age 23 I would have gotten everything figured out. To be fair, I also thought by this point I'd be married to a rich man with several of my own published novels floating around in Waterstones. Lolll. Thinking about it now this was obviously quite an ambitious vision. The truth is, feeling a bit lost doesn't really stop - ever. Luckily I've grown up surrounded by people that also totally get it. Adulting is hard but I've been given a few great nuggets of advice from people along the way, so I thought I'd share them with you.

Always make time to do things you enjoy - I get massively stressed over the silliest things. I always have. That said, Mat has always pushed me to switch off and sit and do something I love for a bit to take my mind off of things. I used to think he was crazy - what could possibly be more important than completing/stressing over the task at hand? Turns out it's really helpful to take a step back and to give a bit of time just to yourself.

Only you can change something you're unhappy about - My mum has told me this on countless occasions. It definitely holds true. If you don't like your job, find a new one. If a friend is taking advantage, ditch them. If you feel like a slug, change your eating habits. Nobody is going to do it for you.

The important people in your life will always support you no matter what - My dad is like the human embodiment of this statement. I swear me and my sister could decide to go into the circus clown business and he'd still be there for us all the way. If someone is nay-saying about a decision you've made or a career path you've taken, then they don't understand what's important to you. Stuff 'em.

What are the best pieces of advice you've ever heard?

Why I'm addicted to Fallout 4

Usually I hate apology posts. You know the kind: "oh sorry I haven't been blogging I've just been super busy/mildly ill/lazy" (delete as appropriate). I don't feel like anyone should be such a slave to their blog and readers that they need to ask for forgiveness every time they opt to spend a week or so in the real world dealing with real issues. This is just a website guys.

This week however I do want to talk about the reason why I haven't posted anything for 5 days - I've gotten addicted to Fallout 4. Really badly. And I wasn't going to even acknowledge it but I know there's still a stigma around girls and gaming. This game really changes that. It's a game changer. Pun intended. I tried SO hard not to say that.

I've always played games of some description. From Gameboys (good old Mario Tennis) to PS1 to Sims and beyond. I wouldn't describe myself as a girl-gamer as such as I don't do it religiously, but I am definitely a girl who enjoys a game. In college I spent my evenings playing Call of Duty in the dark. 

Since uni though I've all but grown out of gaming. There's always dinner to be cooked, family to see, blog posts to be written, stuff to be tidied, gym classes to go to. I've also struggled to find a game that actually grabs my attention enough that I'll go back to it after all those real life adulty things get in the way. It's all war games and robots and macho-men - not that I turn my nose up at those things, but nothing felt like it was marketed towards me. 

I knew all about the previous Fallout games of course, having watched Mat play them through and having had a go myself. They always seemed interesting, and stylish. The latest installment breaks the mold and raises the bar set by other game franchises, because not only does it feature the option of playing as either a man or a woman, but the female character isn't a complete joke.

Yep, ya heard me. You control her looks and proportions, so there are no massive, sculpted butt cracks and boobs protruding into shot, and it's pretty clear from very early on that she's a strong, independent 200+ year old badass that don't need no man. Also both the man and woman wear identical tight blue suits (X-men styley) so there's nothing to complain about in terms of unfair representation in the fashion department.

Couple this with a really cool environment (set 200 years after a 1950s-retro-style America is devastated by nuclear war) and an awesome story development system that's just a little bit different to most open-world games, and I'm nothing short of hooked. It's beautiful and exciting and pretty addictive.

I know there are girls out there who might read this (most of my readers are ladies) and be baffled at the very idea of gaming. It's not everyone's cup of tea. That said I think more can still be done to make these big, blockbuster games more accessible to women. Too often we see them sexualised or presented as weak - Fallout 4 shows it doesn't have to be that way. 

So yeah, a game has totally taken over my life this week. Since Tuesday night I've literally just come through the door after work, fed myself as quickly as possible and then played until way past bedtime. The best thing? I don't regret it one bit. I'm sure normal service will resume as soon as I realise I haven't washed my hair for 5 days and should probably do something productive. 

Do any of you guys play games or are you put off by them?

The High Tea Club, Cambridge

Photography from The High Tea Club website as my camera and the evening mood lighting did not get on well!
On Thursday evening I made my way over to The High Tea Club, a brand new concept that's popped up on Mill Road, for their press launch. You can imagine my excitement to be invited along for an event just about tea! I met up with some of the girls from the Camb Meet Up blogger group, which was lovely, and we sat down to enjoy a gorgeous range of teas and cocktails as well as afternoon tea.

The Mill Road area in Cambridge is widely known as a sort of 'cultural quarter' of the city, with various restaurants and speciality supermarkets available. Hop over the bridge however and it's all a bit gentrified, with coffee houses galore and quirky names and store-fronts to boot. It was refreshing to see The High Tea Club pop up, as its simple sign and friendly (but beautiful) décor bridge the gap between Shoreditch-style swank and that famous cosy Cambridge feel. Owner Danielle Xiao created the relaxed, modern space with this in mind, with the Club being one of the only places in town to offer such a wide range of loose teas. Her family back in China has been in the tea business for centuries, so we felt sure her recommendations on what to choose from the 55 varieties on offer would be perfect.

The 'club' is part cafe, part bar, and the menu is a fusion of Chinese and British food and drink. This means that you can opt for your standard afternoon tea stack, or venture into the oriental with dim sum. As dim sum isn't something I'd ever tried before until this point I couldn't wait to get stuck in. The flavours were divine, with our favourites being the marshmallowy, custard-filled dumplings at the bottom. The standard afternoon tea was also not to be sniffed at with an unusual range of pastries and sweet macarons to indulge in. The pastries were from a local supplier, although much of the menu is made in-house. We were all pretty hungry so it didn't last long, but either stack would be the perfect size for sharing!

Something rather unusual about the Club is that it's open until 11pm, with plenty of cocktails on offer as well as an evening menu that offers nibbles and cheese boards in addition to the classic afternoon tea and dim sum, as well as desserts. The cocktail menu is reasonably priced for Cambridge, and there are some funky tea-based cocktails on offer that I'll definitely be going back to try. My favourite thing from the menu was the range of flowering teas. A small dried ball is dropped into the water and slowly unfolds into a beautiful floating flower as it infuses. Cool or what? I can't wait to go back for more.

The High Tea Club can be found at 160 Mill Road, Cambridge and is open 9am-11pm (10pm on Sundays).

My creepy visit to Les Catacombs, Paris

It's Halloween! What better to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year (I was a witch in a former life, I swear) than with a nice, creepy blog post! We had been to Paris about 5 years prior and had no idea then that the catacombs beneath the city even existed. This time around I was researching some more unusual places to visit and when I read about this it went to the tippy top of my list.

We had to get the Metro out to the south of the city as the entrance is a little out of the way, but it was really easy to find - I would recommend going at the beginning or end of the day as we arrived at about half 11 and there was a considerable queue. As the entrance and walkway down underground are tiny it takes a while for people to be let in and out. It was quite a cheap attraction, about 8 euros each, as in France if you have ID to prove you're under 25 and live in the EU you get reduced or free entry to places like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. We just showed our passports everywhere we went.

I thought it would be claustrophobic so I wasn't sure how I would get on, but the ceilings are deceptively high down there and some of the outlets are cavernous. If it wasn't for the dark and damp (although it's also fairly well lit as you're not permitted to use flash photography) I wouldn't have known how far underground we were. I felt absolutely fine.

A bit of fun history for you: The catacombs were formerly a very old (as in pre-12th Century) disused mine. In the 1700s a series of cave-in incidents led to them being rediscovered. They run for many kilometers (about 300 I think) with various pockets being connected by 'roads' underground. By the time they were discovered, Paris had a huge problem with overflowing cemeteries, some of which had mounds metres high full of the dead because there was nowhere else for them to go. As people had to live so closely to improperly buried corpses there were huge problems with disease, and an overwhelming smell of decomposing bodies. Yummo.

The ossuaries within the catacombs hold the bones of around six million people, making it the largest grave in the world. The bones are not arranged as whole skeletons but certain bones are grouped together and packed in so that they are structurally sound. They are however 'sort of' categorised as every so often a plaque detailing a hospital name, month and year is seen which indicates when these people's bones were brought down there. The final lot of bones was interred in 1860, and 7 years later the catacombs were open to the public.

If you go down with a guide, they will tell you all kinds of horror stories, but I was getting the heebie jeebies so we went it alone. It's very quiet down there, and you're so far underground that you can see layers of sediment in the walls from millions of years ago. The walls of bones go back meters and the ceiling drips with limestoney water. Despite it having a kind of deserted feel though you can see from the various signs and plaques, as well as intricate patterns put into the bone arrangements, that this is actually a project that was undertaken with great care and respect.

I would highly recommend a trip to the catacombs to anyone with a bit of a morbid fascination, but I think anyone would enjoy it. There were little kids in there who didn't seem scared but were just so fascinated.

Have you ever been anywhere as creepy as Les Catacombs?

15 blogging prompts to help you get over writer's block

It happens to the best of us. One day you wake up and the inspiration has left the building. Sometimes with blogging I feel like I've exhausted all my content ideas, but I know I just need to take a step back and wait for the next big idea to come. To help you get out of that blogging funk I've put together a list of 15 post prompts to suit everyone from beauty bloggers to creatives! I'll be trying out a few of these over the next couple of weeks and I can't wait to see what you guys come up with!

1. Make a list of 5 happy things that happened this week

2. Write a letter to your 16 year old self - what would you say?

3. Go out walking for the afternoon and see where you end up. Write about it.

4. Share your thoughts on the last book you read.

5. If you could have 5 fictional people over for dinner, from books, films or TV, who would you pick and why?

6. Talk about where you see yourself in 10 years time.

7. Give readers a tour of your home or bedroom through photos.

8. Do you have a travel bucket list?

9. Visit a royalty free stock image site like Unsplash, pick a random image and describe what you think might be happening or the feelings it gives you.

10. List the best pieces of advice anyone has ever given you.

11. Show readers how you've organised your makeup/clothes/books/stationery or something else in the home.

12. Share your fondest childhood memory.

13. Write about something that really annoys you.

14. Put together a playlist.

15. Tell readers about your favourite place, it could be anywhere!

Comment below with links to your posts so I can have a read! Do you have any ideas you can add to my list?

How to have the ultimate cosy weekend

So I felt like a proper adult this year as I've managed to remember the clocks are going back tonight. With the extra hour in bed (read: extra hour to stay up scrolling Instagram in true zombie-like fashion), come darker evenings. I tend to go into hibernate mode this time of year and it takes a lot more effort to leave the house - I'll always stay in if I can - but there's more to do from the comfort of your sofa than just vegetate! Here are my fave cosy weekend activities, which can all be done whilst snuggled up with a blanket.

Whip out a box set - This one is pretty obvious, but TV gets so good around October and I don't need to tell you that Netflix is also there to amuse you. My favourite comfort watch though has to be my Harry Potter box set. Nothing like a trip to Hogwarts to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Paint those nails - Every weekend I sit and give my nails a file and a coat of something. It makes me feel like I've got my shit together come Monday. Plus it's a great excuse not to move for half an hour because they need to dry! My most used this time of year is always Bordeaux by Essie as its the perfect wine shade.

Read, read, read - If you're not the binge-watching type or want to get back into reading, this time of year is perfect for unleashing your inner bookworm, Whether you're into magazines, novels, poetry or self-help there's something out there to keep everyone entertained.

Ditch the makeup - Whenever I have a busy weekend out and about my skin gets a bit congested and the spots start popping up. A cosy weekend at home is a chance to go makeup free, stick your hair in a top knot and slap on a face mask. My favourite at the moment is Lush's Cosmetic Warrior which smells really weird because it contains garlic and apparently eggs (what) but has such a calming effect and you sort of get used to it!

Keep the hot drinks flowing - We like to keep  constant flow of teas and hot chocolate on the go when having a cosy day. I'm a big fan of Options as they contain less sugar but still satisfy my sweet tooth!

What are your top tips for a cosy weekend?

6 reasons Mondays are actually pretty awesome

Yep, you heard me - I don't hate Mondays! The first day of the week gets such a bad rap, but there are plenty of reasons to embrace it.

1. A clean slate - Whatever happened last week at work or school, it probably doesn't matter this week. Treat every Monday like it's the first and you'll feel the stress melting away! Pack your lunch, hit the gym and own it. Set your goals and intentions for the coming week and keep them in mind as the days progress.

2. You just had the weekend! - Weekends are awesome (unless you work through them, in which case I'm sorry!) but don't hate so much on poor ol' Monday. If anything you should be fresh-faced and raring to go after a good Sunday reset.

3. You've probably planned your outfit - I always start the week with the notion that I'll plan out all my outfits for work the night before, and while it rarely lasts beyond Tuesday it means that every Monday I feel like I've really got my shit together.

4. Your hair is probably clean and straight too - Every Monday everyone turns up to work smelling of shampoo and face masks. Beautiful.

5. You get to catch up on the goss - I can't lie, it's always fun to hear about what antics your colleagues got up to!

6. Even if the rest of week isn't all you want it to be, there's another weekend at the end of it - It's a fact of life that even if you love your job, sometimes a day or two off brings a sigh of relief. There's still nothing like getting home on a Friday night and spending the next 48 hours eating pizza in your pjs.

What do you love about Mondays?

4 tunes to add to your October playlist

I must admit I don't blog about music as much as I should. I spent most of this year in a state of obscene business, and so didn't keep up much with music at all - that's all changed thanks to a new job and I've been spending many an evening listening to Spotify playlists and our DAB radio. Here are the tunes I'm loving right now:

Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart, Chris Cornell - This man can do no wrong in my eyes. OK maybe that Bond theme song was a bit out of character and the haircut was a bad marketing decision, but I forgive you. Soundgarden are one of my favourite bands of all-time and Chris's voice is so luxurious I could listen to him all day, so his new solo material is getting some serious play in my household. It's much more chilled than a lot of stuff I listen to. Have a listen to the whole of 'Higher Truth' on Spotify and I'm sure I'll convert you.

Better Place, Saint Asonia - When I first heard 'Better Place' on a Spotify curated playlist I was hooked. So catchy, so punchy, slightly angry, so new but strangely familiar. That's when I looked the band up and realised it's a supergroup! I'm a big supergroup fan - they mostly produce some really good music, and these guys are no exception as members hail from bands like Staind and Three Days Grace. Adam Gontier's voice is so gritty but melodic and I'm slightly in love with these guys. Can you tell?

The Other Side, Red Sun Rising - I can't believe I've never heard of these guys until recently, because Red Sun Rising are like the Soundgarden of their generation (sorry Soundgarden, like I said you'll always be my number 1 and I'm basing this statement on one debut album, but I'm placing bets!). They also have beautiful beards and hair but that's besides the point because it's about the music, don't you know. Anyway, one tune that's been getting a lot of airplay is 'The Other Side'. Check it out!

Don't Wake Me, Aranda - This band have been around for a little while now, but recently released a stonker of a single from their new album that is making the rounds and really putting them on the map. Aranda have also got a celebrity fan in the form of Kelly Clarkson, who has covered a couple of their songs. They are definitely rocky in roots, but also have some lovely ballad tunes in their back catalogue. 'Don't Wake Me' is the song that got me really excited - it's moody and catchy and perfect for this time of year.

What music are you loving this month?

6 awesome TV shows to watch this autumn

Autumn. Tis the season of endless cups of tea, dark evenings and blanket forts. What better way to supplement this cosiness than with a does of good telly. Here are my personal picks to keep you entertained:

1. Supernatural - So you may already know if you follow me on Twitter that I am a huge fan of Supernatural. Season 11 premiers in the US tonight, so if you're naughty and keep up with things on American time there's that. Season 10 however for those who are tracking behind with the UK will begin next Wednesday on E4. So much Winchester lovin'.

2. Downton Abbey - I have to admit I haven't kept up enough with the last couple of series, but Sundays won't be the same for many of us without Downton. The final series is already in full swing but you can catch up on ITV player in no time for a giggle and probably a few tears.

3. American Horror Story: Hotel - I have such a love-hate relationship with this show, and for good reason. American Horror Story is as gross and creepy as it is slick and cool. It's something I always want to watch but end up doing so with a pillow over my eyes. This season I'm intrigued by the casting of Lady Gaga, and the annual Evan Peters fix is of course catered for.

4. Peep Show - Cold, dark nights call for some comic relief, and so November will see Channel 4 airing the last ever series of Peep Show. This was one of the first 'grown-up' (a.k.a. slightly rude and sweary) comedy shows I ever watched, so it's going to be a nostalgic one for me! I'm not sure it's quite as funny these days as it was back in the earlier series, but Mitchell and Webb antics are always a good shout.

5. Luther - I'm so happy that Idris Elba agreed to come back for a mini-series of Luther. There is no exact date yet but we'll see our favourite emotionally unstable detective back on screens before the year is out. If you missed the original three series you simply have to go back and watch them (I think they're still available on Netflix).

6. Parks and Recreation - So technically Parks and Rec has sadly now finished after 7 seasons of hilarity, but luckily if like me you're still not totally over it, Dave is bringing Pawnee back to our living rooms. Season 5 will kick off this coming Monday (12th October) so be sure to tune in.

What are you looking forward to watching this autumn?

The ULTIMATE book tag

tea books eyeliner

After a very stressful few months in which I really didn't have much time or energy for reading. I thought it was time to break up the monotony of random book reviews and travel posts here and there and give you a sizeable bookworm post to sink your teeth into. I chose the 'Ultimate book tag' questions because I think they give you a pretty good idea of the kind of books I like to read, and hopefully you can get a few recommendations from me while you're at it. There are a LOT of questions and it took me ages because I'm an indecisive human, so here you go!

Book Q&A Rules:
1. Post these rules
2. Post a photo of your favourite book cover
3. Answer the questions below
4. Tag a few people to answer them too
5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them you’ve tagged them
6. Make sure you tell the person who tagged you that you’ve taken part!

1984 Orwell

What are you reading right now?
I'm currently reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It's my first Gaiman experience and while I'm only 60 pages in I can already tell why he's so popular. Such a distinctive style!

Do you have any idea what you'll read when you're done with that? 
I have a few in mind. I keep wanting to read Elizabeth is Missing but I can't seem to get myself into the right mindset. I think it's going to upset me! 

What 5 book have you always wanted to read but haven't got round to? 
I don't know if there are 5 but White Teeth by Zadie Smith comes to mind. I love post-colonial lit. I also really want to read The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, and The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson. I'll probably go and order all of these tonight now!

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now? 
I go through fits and starts with magazines these days. Some months I look at the shelves and they just don't grab me and right now is one of those times, so the closest I have to a magazine is the George home catalog!

What's the worst book you've ever read? 
During my university studies I had to read a very chunky novel by John Lanchester called Capital, and I'm sorry to say I absolutely hated it! I can't put my finger on exactly why but the whole thing felt so contrived and just too topical to be believable!

What book seemed really popular but you didn't like?
I'll have to be obvious here and go for 50 Shades...I actually gave it a shot but the quality of writing (the structure, the descriptors used, everything) was just so poor. It might have been good as fan-fiction but I can't believe any editor let it go to print like that. The promotion of abuse also left me feeling pretty stale.

What's the one book you always recommend to just about everyone? 
Either The Hunger Games Trilogy or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Both changed by perspective in some way and I think anyone of any age can find meaning in these books.

What are your three favourite poems? 
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, for it's classic horror feel, The Lady's Dressing Room by Jonathan Swift, because it's hilarious albeit kinda gross, and Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats, because I love his work.

Where do you usually get your books? 
Mostly online but I do make a habit of buying things in bookstores when they grab me. I can't afford to pay £12.99 for every book I read but it's nice sometimes to go in and pick up a hardback.

Where do you usually read your books? 
I used to read on my commute but these days I drive to work, so if I ever get time for a lunch break I'll read a chapter or two, but mostly these days I read at home on the sofa at the weekends.

When you were little did you have any particular reading habits? 
Only if you count writing my name (badly) in the inside of the cover!

What's the latest you've stayed up reading? 
When I was reading Mockingjay I stayed up until half 3 to finish it. That's saying something for me cos I like my sleep!

Have you ever 'faked' reading something?
No - I don't get that. I really think it's fine if you haven't read a certain classic or very popular book as reading is a very individual thing.

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
Not solely. Often a pretty cover attracts me to read the blurb but if it's of no interest to me I'll put it down.

What was your favourite book as a child?
Well I got started on the Potter pretty early and we all know how that ended up!

What book changed your life?
I'll refer you to the above...

What is your favourite passage from a book?
'Together, they would watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse, and they would smile at the beauty of destruction.'

What are your top five authors? 
J.K. Rowling, Sebastian Faulks, Daphne du Maurier, Suzanne Collins and George Orwell

What book has no one heard about but should read? 
The Bone People by Keri Hulme is such an amazing read and I never would have encountered it if t weren't for my uni course. It's set in New Zealand and is primarily a tale about domestic abuse and parental love but the story also draws deeply on folk culture, to the point that there's a sort of Kiwi dictionary in the back. It made me cry my eyes out.

What three books are you an 'Evangelist' for? 
The Book Thief, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Station Eleven. Look 'em up.

What are your favourite books by a first-time author? 
I cant actually think of any although I'm sure I've read some! I think Anita and Me was Meera Syal's first novel, which sticks out as something I really loved. It paints such a vivid cultural picture.

What is your favourite classic book? 
Probably either Dracula by Bram Stoker or Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Both turned out to be total page-turners when I was expecting them to be drab and old fashioned. Everybody should read them.

Five other notable mentions? 
Regeneration by Pat Barker, The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside, Saturday Night & Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe and Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell.

I found this tag on a few blogs while hunting for something fun and bookish to write for this post, but they were all from over a year ago so I reckon most people have done this already. Hooowever, if any of you lovely lot have yet to do so, I'm tagging you all! Please make sure you link to your answers in the comments below so I can have a cheeky ganders!

Paris in black and white

Something on our visit to Paris last week really struck me. Everything about the place is so timeless and classic, but my over-saturated photos didn't seem to match the autumnal atmosphere. When we got home I set about choosing some favourites and editing them into black and white. I try not to crop or change travel images too much once taken as it takes away from the snapshot of the moment, but something about these images once transformed into greyscale actually seems to add to the mood. Here are my personal favourites: 

Tourists crowd around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre

The Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre, beneath the museum and home to the famous 'La Pyramide Inversée'

Napoleon III Apartments, Louvre

Taking in the view from the Napoleon III Apartments, Louvre

Looking across to l'Arc de Triomphe

A mother and son play with birds in the Jardin de Tuileries

Notre Dame Cathedral, side view
Candles lit in prayer by visitors to Notre Dame

Skulls line the walls of the underground Paris catacombs

All images taken by myself, all rights reserved. 

A lil' Paris beauty and skincare haul

So I went to Paris for a few days this week (more on that to come) and being from the currently Sephora-deprived UK the first thing I did was head to their massive store on the Champs-Élysées. I also dragged Mat around CityPharma on our last morning for some skincare goodies. As we did the trip on kiiind of a budget, I was restricted to hand luggage only and just used backpacks for our 3-day stay, so had to be picky about what I brought home. Here's what I picked up:

Sephora Cream Lip Stain in 13 'Marvelous Mauve' - A cream lip stain was coming home with me whatever happened, as I had heard so much about them. I opted for a safe shade as I'm not a bold lip girl, but was surprised how pigmented and long-lasting these are. I didn't touch up once and the finish is super matte. It's such a lightweight formula so I had no idea it was even on. If I get the chance I'll get the classic red next as I'm sure it's just as divine.

Sephora Green Tea Face Mask - I am a sucker for packaging and these colourful masks caught my eye. This one promises help with blemishes and oil control so hopefully it'll sort out my current facial problems (thank you, womanhood).

Sephora Nail Polish - I hadn't seen these on the website but I couldn't resist picking up a couple to try as they were very cheap. I went for 'Sea, sun and sand' which is a blue that reminds me of Baker Street by Nails Inc and 'Time to Rock' which is a deep, purpley wine colour. I've only used the purple so far and while I found the application a bit sticky it dried very quickly and even without a top coat didn't chip.

Claudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Tinted Moisturiser in 01 'Light'- I fell in love with this stuff about a year ago after receiving a sample tube in a Birchbox, but my god is this stuff pricey over here at £27 a tube. I found it in CityPharma for 21 euros which is about £15 so this was obvs coming straight back home with me. It offers light coverage that evens out skin tone and adds a lovely glow, as well as boasting a broad spectrum SPF of 20.

Claudalie Hand Cream - So I got sucked in my this while queuing for the tills, who hasn't done that before? I was in need of a hand cream anyway and the wet and windy Paris weather wasn't doing my dry hands any favours. This stuff smells so lovely and fruity and doesn't leave your skin feeling greasy at all.

Avène Cleanance Mask-Scrub - This was on offer in CityPharma and I've heard a lot about the Cleanance range, so I thought I'd take the plunge. I'm not sure I totally understand the concept of thermal spring water but anything that might sort my skin out is a welcome new adventure.

What are your favourite French skincare brands?

My favourite creepy classics

I was brainstorming some book-related post ideas the other day when something struck me: I'm not a massive fan of stereotypically 'classic' literature. Austen doesn't do it for me at all, Virginia Woolf sends me to sleep and Hardy is not my friend. Sorry-not-sorry. God, it feels good to get that off my chest! Generally speaking regardless of a writer has done to shape literary history, I need a story to have either some kind of sinister/mysterious element or a lot of forward momentum for it to really hold my interest and entertain me. After a poke around my bookshelf I realised that all the classic reads I really love are actually pretty creepy tales. Here's the stellar line up:

1. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe - This gorgeous Barnes & Noble volume was a Christmas present from Mat a few years ago and something I whip out every Halloween, because girl's gotta get Gothic on October 31st. Being an American writer Poe is not someone we generally study in detail in the UK, however his work featured on both Gothic modules I studied and there's something about the carefully crafted moodiness of his stuff that just hooks me. My all-time favourite short story is The Tell-Tale Heart, which you might remember from a Simpsons episode, but seriously - give it a read.

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker - If you've never thought about giving this a read you're missing out. I wasn't sure I'd like it as some of the screen adaptations of this classic legend are very old fashioned, but the writing is snappy and fast-paced. This book features on a lot of my reading lists - read more about why in this post.

3. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde - This fable is a book that I find pretty creepy. If you've read it or seen the film you'll get what I mean. There's something about the way Wilde writes though that is to beautiful and poetic that you're kind of guided gently through what at the time was a fairly scandalous moral tale.

4. The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson - This is a weird one because not only is this Victorian novella really short, it's not quite what I expected it to be. We read it at university as part of a theory module and straight away I could see why the story was such a classic and why there are so many derivative works out there.

5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - Again when I read this it was easy to see why the story has been adapted for screen and re-appropriated by other writers so often. This tale is the one that scares me the most - it's so creepy and the use of light and shade when the house is described and the creepy children just give me the ultimate in heebie-jeebies. The fun (or frustration, depending on your view) of The Turn of the Screw is that you aren't supposed to know for sure whether the ghostly goings on are real, or a figment of the protagonist's imagination. It's the stuff of nightmares I tell you.

6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Hear me out guys. I know this isn't a typically scary story, but there's something about Dickens, and Great Expectations in particular, that I find so inherently Gothic. It's a character novel at heart, and those that stick out to me all have something fundamentally awful about them: Mrs Joe and her domestic violence, Mrs Havisham and her sinister home, Estella and her cruel ways. The landscape is also bleak and haunting and adds so much to the story. It's no horror story, but there are plenty of ghosts if you read between the lines,

What are your favourite creepy tales to read?

How to improve your blog writing skills and develop a clear blogging style

At a time when it seems like there couldn't possibly be room for any more bloggers on the internet, new sites seem to be springing up everywhere. In all the noise it can be hard to stand out, and even harder to think of things that haven't been blogged about before. There are some badly written blogs out there, full of spelling mistakes and bland, unexciting content, but there are some brilliant ones too, so I've learned a lot in my 2 years on the scene. A well written blog can take you from strength to strength. so here are some of my top tips for improving your blog-writing style.

Never stop reading - My whole life I have repeatedly been told that the best way to learn, develop and grow is to read. Read widely and diversely. Read at random. Hell, read a cereal box packet if you're so inclined. I found when I went to university my literature course exposed me to so many different kinds of writing that even though I wasn't consciously trying the quality of my own work sky-rocketed. There's such a wealth of material out there on the blogosphere and each of us has something to learn from the other.

Develop a distinct style - Over the time that I've been blogging I've slowly developed a writing style that (I hope) is individual to me, and is consistent post-to-post. Some really great examples of this are Hannah Gale, who injects every post with some train of thought and TMI goodness, and Anna over at Vivianna Does Makeup, who might be one of the sweetest bloggers in all the land. Their styles are very distinct, to the point that I could tell who they were by if you read them to me. I'm not saying you have to give any private details away, but try to give a little of your personality to every post, whether it's a line or two about life or a little humour. Your readers will identify with you more if they feel like they know you.

Proof every post twice before publishing - I cannot tell you how many blog posts I've read on very established, professional sites that contain spelling mistakes, don't quite make sense or go on for way, way too long. Before you hit that publish button read through and edit your post at least twice. Have you spelled the product name correctly? Have you said the same thing twice? Could you cut out some of the rambling? Every paragraph should tell the reader something new or present a new point - if it doesn't, cut it out. I've written many a late night post before only to go back to them the next day to find I went way off-piste and sound like a madman. Editing your posts will dramatically up the quality of your work.

Use more than one post format - Someone who does this really well is Dana over at Wonder Forest. She balances blogging and design tips with posts about makeup and style, health, fashion and more and often switches up between classic blog post format, lists and image-based posts, all while ensuring the written style is consistent across the board. If you feel like your usual type of post is getting boring, switch it up a little.

Write passionately - Bridget at Deer Circus is one of my favourite bloggers because she writes about precisely what moves her or is on her mind. Depending on what your blog is about, you may not want to splurge your thoughts onto the page, but it's important that you feel passionate about your subject. If you're writing about something you love and enjoy. this should come across in your posts. Let people know why what you're writing about is important. Some of the best blog posts I've ever read haven't even been about anything at all, the blogger was just moved to write, and as a result I was moved too. Not everybody is confident about their writing, but you don't have to be the next Shakespeare to write an interesting, meaningful post.

What are your top tips for improving your blog writing skills?

Read this now: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

I try not to judge books by their covers, but when Station Eleven caught my eye as I was having a browse for a new read I kind of knew it was for me. The bold title, the gorgeous artwork, the strategically placed peer review quote, I was sold. I'm a sucker for a post-apocalyptic tale as it is, but there was something about this that sucked me in. What was Station Eleven, and why was it so important?

The timeline of this novel stretches from the 'present day', as a pandemic outbreak of a deadly and uncontrollable flu virus brings about the collapse of life as we know it worldwide, to two decades after this point. Throughout we switch between the before, during and after through a set of characters that are connected through their encounters with a famous actor, who dies on stage during a performance of King Lear in the tale's opening scene, and a comic book written by his ex wife. The balance between past and present scenes is pretty 50-50 within Station Eleven and this helps to build the pace as well as fill in any blanks. I found it very hard to put the thing down. Everything comes full-circle in a way you probably won't be able to predict.

I appreciated the use of Shakespeare as a motif throughout the story on so many levels - after the collapse, a band of misfit survivors travel between remaining settlements performing Shakespeare for the communities. Little survived the collapse in the way of technology, culture as we knew it was gone for good, but good stories like those of the bard himself still resonate. The Travelling Symphony's trailer is painted with the words 'Survival is insufficient' (a Star Trek quote, would you believe), and this really struck a chord. We can always carry on in life, no matter what hits us, but as human beings our souls need more. Music, poetry, entertainment, love, purpose. It gives the Symphony members a reason to carry on other than merely surviving.

Something that really stuck out for me when reading this was Emily St John Mandel's deep understanding of the human condition. The way her characters react and interact with the events that unfold is so incredibly realistic, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were really there yourself. To write a global catastrophe that is so unprecedented but keep the reader focused on the individual protagonists immediate fate is a real achievement and part of what makes this such a haunting read. Every thought a character has, every action they take, is so considered, so laden with meaning and detail that there is no need to waste paragraphs describing the post-apocalyptic setting.

This is the best book I've read so far this year. It moved me, it surprised me, it made me think and most importantly it really, really entertained me.

What have you been reading lately?

The British 10k - fundraising update!

You might remember this post from a few months ago where I talked about having signed up to run the British 10k to raise money for Alzheimer's Society. Well, that was six weeks ago now and I thought I'd give a little update for you all on how much you've helped me raise. The target I pledged to raise for the charity was £250, but I was so blown away by the response from friends and family - the final figure now that everything's in is just shy of £600! I couldn't be more grateful and am so chuffed that everyone dug so deep for such a personal and important cause.

The race itself went a lot, lot better than I expected. I struggled with cramps towards the end of my training but on the day the adrenaline seemed to keep this at bay. I was a whole 14 minutes faster than I was projecting my time to be too having never attempted a full 10k with no pit-stops before. I got into a weirdly superhuman state of mind and seemed to be going faster and faster every time I checked my tracking app. I swear the buzz really is addictive, even if you don't enjoy actual running that much!

It was also a huge boost to see the Alzheimer's Society cheer gang waiting at the top of a hill about two thirds of the way round. Thank you guys for coming out to support us! The route itself is just amazing, starting this year by Green Park and ending just around the corner from Big Ben. I kept getting distracted by all the iconic landmarks like the screens at Piccadilly Circus and St Paul's Cathedral. The weather spared us too and a welcome drizzle began just after I crossed the finish line.

If you've ever thought about getting involved in a sporting event for charity I would highly recommend it. Whether you go it alone or get yourself a team together it's such an exciting thing to get involved in - I got so caught up in the mentality of it all. What's more is that there are so many events like the British 10k that allow you to choose and take part for whatever charity you choose. I saw such an array of charity running shirts and it was definitely a 'faith in humanity restored' kind of day.

If you'd like to donate to Alzheimer's Society then my Just Giving page will be up-and-running for a another month or so. You can sign yourself up for the 2016 British 10k event here. Visit the Alzheimer's Society website to find out about all the brilliant work they do.

My favourite jewellery

I'm not the kind of person who owns boxes and boxes of jewellery and accessories, but there are a few statement pieces I unfailingly turn to just to add a little something extra to an outfit, whether for work or a social outing. I thought I'd share some of my favourites with you all.

Rings - Generally speaking I don't wear a lot of rings. I struggle to find anything that fits my fingers properly as they puff up and shrink down on what seems like an hourly basis! My wreath ring from Pandora however fits me perfectly and is something I wear nearly every day. I think Pandora are amazing for rings as there's such a big range and they're great quality.

Bracelets - I've calmed down on the bracelet front in the last few years. I used to wear stacks of them and it was probably a tad OTT. These days I favour something a bit more minimal. Primark have a fab range of bracelets for every day wear (the gold one pictured is from a multipack), and I also picked up a few hamsa bracelets for myself and friends in the souks in Marrakech. One of my more 'fancier' favourites is a Links of London heart bracelet which was a present from my parents for graduating, but that mainly comes out for special occasions.

Earrings - I have slightly stretched ears (no regrets though, before anyone says anything!) and two holes per ear above these, so I have to be creative if I want to dress them up. You can get some really lovely plugs over on Etsy that look just like earrings - perfect for weddings, work or if you just feel like wearing them. I also tend to wear hoops or drop earrings in the second hole as there are some from my pre-stretch days I just can't part with.

Watches - I was never a watch wearer until I started full-time work after uni. Then I realised it's so much easier than rifling around in your bag for your phone just to check the time on the way to a meeting. I absolutely love Olivia Burton watches - the designs are so delicate and timeless.

Necklaces - Probably the piece I always neglect! I have a few simple necklaces, but usually only add them if my outfit is looking pretty plain. I love the trend at the moment for big stone pendants though so will probably end up collecting a few. The one pictured was only £1.50 in the Topshop sale.

What are your go-to jewellery pieces?

Wimpole Hall Estate

This post is long overdue and somehow doesn't quite fit in with the drizzle that's coming down outside my window, but a few weeks ago Mat and I headed up to Wimpole Hall Estate for a day out. We get two free family passes to National Trust sites a year with our Natwest Select bank account but had yet to use either, so a 31 degree sunny Saturday seemed the perfect opportunity. We packed up a picnic, slapped on a bit of sun tan lotion and were on our way. Living in Cambridge this place is a mere 15 minutes down the road in the direction of our hometown, Royston, and while I'd been here a few times as a kid it's been a very long time! 

There's so much to do at Wimpole. Outdoors, you can take a hike around the extensive open grounds, enjoy the beautifully kept gardens, or for a small extra fee take little ones onto the farm to see the animals. If you head over in less than perfect weather or out of season, the hall itself is open to visitors as a museum of sorts, plus there's a lovely cafe and some shops selling local wares to browse.

We spent the entire day plodding around, taking in the beauty of the place. There are even the ruins of a very old (I want to say Medieval but I risk being wrong) tower over past the lakes and on top of a hill, but we found the walk a bit tough for such a hot day!

If you live anywhere near Wimpole I'd highly recommend a visit!

To be read

Slowly but surely I'm getting back into a reading rhythm (by which I mean I'm trying to curb my Netflix addiction!), and there are a few books I've got lined up to help. 

Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth - As you can probably see by the ragged post-it note bookmark, I first picked this up just over a year ago. While I liked what I managed to read before Mat and I moved it's a very long book and I didn't have the time or energy to pick it up again after that! I only got about 80 pages in before so I'll be making a conscious effort to get it finished. The story is looking to be a good one even though it's not my usual genre of choice.

Emma Healey, Elizabeth is Missing - This has been on my radar since it graced every shortlist possible last year! Again this isn't my usual kind of novel, but something about the story appeals to me.

Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Is it wrong to pick up a book purely because of the title? I've heard so many good things about Gaiman's storytelling, not least thanks to the popularity of his comics and graphic novels, but this was the book that convinced me to try his stuff. From what I can see there's quite a darkness to Gaiman's stuff and I can't think of anything more up my street.

I'll be reporting back on these over the next month or two so stay tuned! What have you got lined up to read this summer?

Sometimes you just need new PJs

I swear until now my pyjama drawer has been a constant rotation of 'old and comfy but no-one should ever see' and 'Christmas/penguin themed so really not appropriate for the time of year'. I'm not really one for sleeping naked (thanks to a lifelong fear I'll be burgled and have to chase someone down the street in my birthday suit), so I figured it was time for an overhaul.

Naturally, popping into Primark to pick up a new set of PJs snowballed a bit, and I left with the comfiest Hogwarts lounge pants known to man and magic, plus a sleep shirt, some shorts, AND a totally unrelated but very necessary Jurassic World t-shirt. Love them dinosaurs, so on point. Oh, and I also didn't make it to the check out before I spied a snazzy geometric print duvet cover set in the home selection and added a few more little bits to the basket.

I slept amazingly last night, all clean and bathed in new jammies with new sheets. There's something about it that makes you feel totally reborn. Now, if someone could also explain to me why no human being can enter a Primark and leave with only the thing they went in for, that would be really helpful...

6 books I will always re-read

Because I don't have quite as much time for reading these days as I did when I was in school and college (and uni if you count my gargantuan English Lit reading list), choosing to re-read a book isn't a decision I take lightly. There are however a selection of books that I will always revisit and will forever have a place on my bookshelf. Here they are...

Harry Potter - The HP series was my first literary love. I was addicted to the wizarding world and would read the books cover to cover, over and over until the next one came out. By the time the final instalment came out I was about 15 so was actually allowed to queue up at midnight with my dad to get a copy. Fast forward to me aged 23 and I have a tattoo and a decent stash of merchandise to my name that's dotted about the house. You can take the girl out of Hogwarts...

The Hunger Games - This trilogy sort of helped ease the Potter deprivation I experienced in the years after it had ended. I can't explain how good of a young adult writer Suzanne Collins is. The story is a haunting one and the hype is so beyond justified. I remember finishing Mockingjay and immediately picking the first book up again at 2am to start again because I just wasn't ready for it to end!

Dracula by Bram Stoker - Although I like my reading material dark, I had never even thought to read Dracula until it appeared on the Gothic module of my university course. It's an epistolary novel in format, that is, the story is told through a series of diary entries and accounts by each of the central characters. It's definitely dark and mysterious, and at times scary but wasn't what I was expecting. I've reread it a couple of times and am always blown away by the pace and urgency Stoker creates.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe - This is a book I also picked up at uni. It's famous for being part of the 'Angry young men' movement of the 1950s, in which much of male socitey, especially the working class, felt disaffected. It's also where the band Arctic Monkey's picked up the title of their debut album - you'll know it when you read it!

The Bone People by Keri Hulme - This is such a weird and wonderful book. Keri Hulme is a New Zealand based writer, and the story is full of Mauri words and poetry. There's even a dictionary in the back! It's a very emotional story about love and violence, and it's also tinged with magic realism thanks to a heavy focus on mythology. It was difficult to read at first but will eventually suck you in.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - This is a book I never expected to like. I certainly have my favourites here and there in what you might call the classic canon, but I'm not a huge fan of classic literature in general or 'wholesome' stories. Rebecca was a book I always considered to fit in to that category, until it was recommended to me by a college tutor. It has that element of mystery about it that keeps you reading and is full of good old-fashioned scandal!

What books would you always go back to for a good read?

How to be a tourist in your own city

Cambridge was always my nearest city growing up. I lived just down the road in Royston for 22 years. Having said that, I've always left the exploring to the millions of tourists that flock to Cambridge every year to swarm the streets. I never really appreciated how nice this place is! Now that I've lived in Cambridge itself for over a year I feel like I've pushed myself to explore a little bit more of the place, and it's definitely been worth doing. In the past I always felt the need to get out of the country (or even better, the continent) to truly travel, but there's often a lot more to see on your doorstep than you might think.

Get out and about before the crowd - Cambridge is obviously pretty famous for it's beautiful university buildings (like the iconic Kings College), and these areas are always incredibly crowded with tour groups over the weekend. If I explore these areas I'll come out nice and early before the shops even open and just sit and take everything in.

Go off the beaten track - Some of the loveliest parts of Cambridge can be found just by taking a stroll down an alley or two. Get away from tourist attractions and shopping districts and just have a wonder. You never know what you might find, and being local you'll be able to navigate your way around fairly easily with the help of Google maps.

Go into the places you always walk past - If I'm shopping in the city centre or out running errands I completely places that could be really interesting. Last weekend I wondered into a craft faire that runs every weekend, which I would usually whiz straight past and head for Space NK. If there's a coffee shop, museum or boutique that's always caught your eye but you've never ventured into, just go for it.

Seek out the niche - There are all sorts of quaint little shops around Cambridge, the sort in which most people would never buy anything. I had always heard of The Haunted Bookshop but never bothered looking for it. If you've seen or heard a place or activity recommended but always ignored it and dismissed it as touristy, just this once allow yourself to check it out. You might be surprised.

So what are you waiting for? Get out and explore your town or city with fresh eyes!