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The ULTIMATE book tag

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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?