Beauty Review: OPI Nail Lacquer in Gone Gonzo!

I am a sucker for a bit of glitter and a huge fan of the Muppets. So when OPI announced they were bringing out a Muppets collection to coincide with the new movie, I was stupidly excited. The collection is full of utterly gorgeous polishes, including loads of glittery ones I have my eye on - there'll be a lot of eBay scouring to find them! - but the one I really fell for was Gone Gonzo!, a gorgeous aqua-blue glitter with larger silver hex glitter mixed in.

I've used OPI glitter polishes before but this one was a bit of a surprise as it's very sheer and can look a bit patchy. The pictures below used three coats and I'm still not 100 per cent happy with the coverage as in some areas it looks quite thin. That said, I have a feeling that would make it great as a layering polish - I've already got plans for pairing it with a lovely Andrea Fulerton turquoise, but more on that another time. Points in its favour are that it does endure well - most of the nails were still holding up almost a week later - and it got loads of compliments!



As always, base coat is Revlon Post Trauma Nail Treatment (I will be blogging about this soon as it's so great) and top coat is Seche Vite.

Overall, this is a very striking polish but not the best consistency, and so I'd question paying  full price for it - unfortunately the Muppets mini collection didn't include the glitters, which surprised me as I thought they would be overwhelmingly the most popular. But if you do fancy picking up a bottle, eBay is probably your best bet as the line is sadly now discontinued...

Beauty Review: Barry M Nail Paint in Raspberry

There are some days when you want a trendy nail polish, and other days when you want a more classic colour. Barry M Nail Paint has a good mix of both kinds of shades and today I plumped for one which fell nicely in the middle - Raspberry, which in the bottle looks like a dark pink bordering on red. On the nail, however, as you can see, it is much more of a dark red shade - this is three coats for consistency across my polish reviews, but in the bottle it's a lot pinker


The one thing that really annoyed me with this shade was that it marks something chronic - if the edge of my nail stroked across a piece of paper at work for example then it would have a huge powdery red streak on it, which isn't great when you accidentally do that on important documents. That said though what it does have going for it is durability. I wore this for three days before I got bored of it - because, let's face it, it's not that exciting of a colour - but on the third day it was still as if I'd just applied it so I reckon I could have got at least another couple of days out of it.

Ultimately though, this is not a shade I'd be particularly keen to hang on to - it just feels a bit too ordinary and safe for my liking, and the marking is one of my main issues with it so for that reason if I were to keep it I'd wear it at weekends or when I knew I wasn't going to be on the early shift or didn't have to handle documents that were going to other people at work. If you fancy picking some up though Barry M is available in Boots and Superdrug and costs around £2.99 a bottle.

Beauty Review: 17 Lasting Fix Nail Polish in Mint Choc Chip

Continuing my aim to work through as many of my nail polishes as I can before I go travelling, I thought I'd tap into the pastel shades trend which has been dominating beauty counters all spring and seems likely to go on well into the summer. Boots' 17 range is great for dabbling with colours that might only be around for a season if you don't want to spend a fortune, and as I'm supposed to be saving up for going travelling in September it seemed like the perfect place to pick up one of these colours. I went for their Mint Choc Chip shade in the Lasting Finish line, which as the names suggest is a pale green polish designed to resist chips.


I have to say it did live up to its promise on the durability front - it lasted a whole five days before they were any chips, so well done Boots on that one. It is, however, not as it says on the tin in regards to the colour. Admittedly the picture above is with three coats which makes it look darker than it does in the bottle, but to be fair said three coats were necessary because otherwise it just came out streaky. That is something I'm finding to be pretty typical of pastel polishes though, and not just from cheaper brands like 17 (as my so far unsuccessful attempts to find a perfect yellow have shown).

Overall this is a really good polish if you're prepared to put in the time to get an opaque finish - it holds up really well and is a great colour for when you want to feel summery and a bit girly. The need for more coats to prevent streaking makes it look more like a Tiffany blue rather than a mint green, so I'd be intrigued to see what it looked like compared to a shade such as China Glaze's For Audrey.
 
If you fancy picking up a bottle the polish is £2.99 from Boots.

Beauty Review: Nails Inc Polish in Wimbledon

I love Wimbledon - both the village and the tennis tournament. It's years since I've been to either, although I'd love to go again, but I make a point of watching the tennis as much and as often as I can during those two weeks. So, with that in mind, it felt like the only colour to go for was Nails Inc's Wimbledon, a bright yellowy-green shade that reminds me of the Wimbledon grass after a fortnight's play.

As regular readers will know, yellow - and especially paler yellow - is a bugbear colour for me. I've tried a lot of different versions and formulas but they all seem to have the problem of needing a lot of coats to stop them looking patchy and streaky. Sadly I'm afraid to report Wimbledon was no exception - the pictures below took four coats, rather than my usual two or three. It also did the classic Nails Inc thing of going very 'gloopy' around the sides, even with less on the brush than I would normally use.

On the other hand, the durability was good (I did this on Wednesday and it made it until Saturday before the first tiny chip appeared - please excuse the dodgy edges from picking!), and it does have a lovely happy colour to it but looks a little less green on my fingers than it does in the bottle, although that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've got a couple of other yellow polishes that I'd be interested to see if it compared to, so I'll report back once I've tried and reviewed those. If you're prepared to put a little more effort than usual into the manicure and clean-up though this is definitely a keeper.

You can buy Wimbledon from the Nails Inc website at £11 a bottle.

Beauty Review: OPI Nail Lacquer in Not Like The Movies

 Continuing my quest to try and photograph all the nail polishes I have before I head off travelling, I've decided to finally conclude my OPI Katy Perry collection mini-series. The fourth and final polish in the line is Not Like The Movies, a silvery-blue-green duochrome with fine silver shimmer.

One coat (on the left) gives the nails a lovely silvery sheen, three (on the right) builds up a more thorough coverage but again isn't too heavy, although I think anyone hoping it'll match the colour in the bottle will be disappointed. That's one of the things I've found with the Katy Perry polishes - with the exception of The One That Got Away I think you'd need a lot more than three coats to get anywhere near close to the shades and densities in the bottles. It actually has more of a pinky pearlescent sheen to it in these photos, rather than the blue-green you can clearly see in the bottle.


Of course it wouldn't be a Katy Perry manicure without the obligatory black crackle, so here's the polish with a layer of Barry M black crackle polish over the top and Seche Vite top coat (and apologies for the slightly dodgy edges!):
I am in two minds about whether or not I prefer this polish with the crackle or without - on the one hand the crackle gives it a really cool, funky, almost slightly space-age edge but at the same time because the silver colour is so delicate it feels like the crackle is almost too overwhelming on it. I think on balance whilst it was fun to try I'd probably just wear the silver shade on its own in future.

In terms of durability, it's OK but not great - I did this on Saturday, there was a small chip on one finger on Sunday and then today (Tuesday) there's a big chip on another finger. I've been having that problem lately with a few polishes and am wondering if it's my Seche Vite, so might pick up some Seche Restore in the next few days or so.

So, now I've tried all four polishes, overall I'd have to say this is a fab little set for anyone who's got a bit of a girly side but likes their manicure to have a bit of an edge, as well as for those who want something a bit more subtle. I loved all the colours but I think my favourite would have to be Teenage Dream (the pale pink glitter) as it's really easy to build it up to get the density you want and of the four looked best with the black crackle over the top.

Sadly the Katy Perry collection is now discontinued but you may be able to find some on eBay. Barry M black crackle polish is available in Boots and Superdrug for £3.99 a bottle, and Seche Vite is available from places like Sally Salon Services and Beautybay.com for around £8.99 a bottle.

Beauty Review: OPI The One That Got Away

I admit that I am one of those people who, when I find something I like, plays/wears/uses it to death, and as the weather has turned in these past few days I felt like I needed a nail colour that would cheer me up a bit. So, sticking with the brights theme of the past few weeks, as well as continuing to try out my Katy Perry polishes in a bid to have trialled every nail varnish I own before I go travelling, today's shade is The One That Got Away, an amazing metallic dark pink with fine glitter in it.


The polish applied really well and, as with the other Katy Perry polishes I've tried, it's very buildable - the shot above is with my usual three coats but you could quite easily just apply one and have something a bit more sheer. It does look slightly darker in the bottle (closer to the picture below), but I think with the shot above I just got lucky with the angle and the light.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Katy Perry manicure without crackle (I know, I'm becoming a crackle bore):


As always apologies for the mess! Base coat is Nails Inc Hyde Park and top coat is Seche Vite.

Overall I really like this, although I think it works better on its own than it does with the crackle layered over the top, but I don't know if that was because the crackle seemed much gloopier than normal this time. I do have to say however its durability wasn't amazing as it could have been as two nails peeled off pretty much instantly (which of course I didn't notice until I was at the party I'd specifically done my nails for), so I felt a bit annoyed about that. I don't think that was the polish though and is probably more down to the crappy quality of my nails. But oh well, the ones that stayed intact still looked nice!

Sadly I think the Katy Perry line is now discontinued, but there may be a few bottles still knocking around - a big bottle of The One That Got Away is £10.50 or £12.15 for four mini polishes. Seche Vite is available from Sally Salon Services for about £10 a bottle and the Barry M black crackle I used is £3.99 a bottle from Superdrug, Boots and bigger branches of Topshop.

Beauty Review: 17 Lasting Fix Nail Polish in Glisten

The gloriously sunny weather this week has made me yearn for pretty, springlike nails (well that, plus I had a few occasions this week which required me to have reasonably smart yet chic nails, and my usual penchant for ridiculously bright colours and nail art just wasn't going to hack it). So, with that in mind, I fell victim to a small impulse purchase on my lunch break and picked up a bottle of one of 17's latest shades, Glisten.

Duochrome polish has been bubbling under as a trend for a couple of years now - witness Accessorize's Aztec (which I have, and will blog about in future if I can) - but in the past couple of months it seems to have been picked up in a big way by brands such as 17 and Topshop. Most of the colours seem to be quite dark for some reason, which is why I like Glisten - it's a refreshing change to see this effect done in a paler polish.


As you can see from the photo, it's a peachy pink with gold shimmer in it, so depending on how it catches the light you'll get various different colours - I couldn't stop staring at my hand once I'd done it and kept twisting it in bizarre poses to get all the shades! It also applies really nicely - the picture above is with three coats, but I could quite easily have got away with one for a more sheer finish. Top coat is Seche Vite and base coat is Revlon Post Trauma Nail Treatment - I'm currently trying this out as my nails have been a bit rubbish lately so will report back.

Overall, this is a great spring/summer colour - pretty and casual, yet with just enough added interest from the shimmer. I'm expecting to wheel this out a lot in the next few months for those occasions when I need a nice classic polish but still want something with a twist.

If you fancy picking up a bottle of Glisten, it's £2.99 a bottle at Boots.

Beauty Review: OPI Last Friday Night

With the planned trip around the world getting closer (more on that soon - we should be booking it in the next few days), it's occurred to me that I need to start making use of my nail polishes before I go, as I'm probably going to have to sell them off to help raise money for the trip. As well as that, I also have a friend's Alice in Wonderland-themed wedding to go to in July, and have already started thinking about how I'm going to do my nails for it. Because I'm sad like that.

The outfit's mainly blue, so I was kind of thinking that I wanted blue nails, but I didn't know if I'd have the right blue in my collection as a lot of them were too dark, or too green. And then it hit me - lurking in my set of OPI Katy Perry minis was Last Friday Night, a pale blue glitter similar to OPI Teenage Dream, which I've blogged about before.

Like Teenage Dream, it's very much a building-up colour that can give different effects depending on how much of it you want to use. One coat gives a nice soft blue shimmer on a nude nail, whilst three will still give a nice subtle colour overall but with plenty of sparkle, as you can see below:


One of my policies for the Katy Perry polishes is to try them with black crackle - there are still loads of these on the market but I'm still sticking with my trusty Barry M version:


This is also with a coat of Seche Vite over the top. Apologies for the messiness, I did tidy them up afterwards though!

I think this is one where although the crackle gives it a cool, edgy look, I actually prefer it left as it is - the different sizes of glitter give it a nice effect when it moves, so you get different levels of shimmer. It would also look amazing layered over another shade of blue, like China Glaze Frostbite, but that's a manicure for another day...

The Katy Perry mini collection is probably only available on eBay now, but it cost me £12.15 to buy my set of four mini bottles. You may still be able to get some of the shades in bigger sizes for £10.50 a bottle from places like lenawhite.co.uk, John Lewis or Sally Salon Services. Barry M black crackle is still going strong and is available at Superdrug and Boots for £3.99 a bottle.

What I Did: Started a new blog!

I was trying to think of a way to start this blog off without sounding melodramatic, but it had me completely stumped, so I'm just going to come out and say it: N (the boyfriend) and I are jacking in our temp jobs and going round the world for six months. The families and friends have been told (thankfully they're all really excited and have basically said 'Go for it now while you're young and carefree!'), the travel books have been ordered, and every last penny is being squirreled away into the savings account. But I wanted somewhere where I could write about my experiences, and maybe hopefully offer something to other female travellers as well, as from the initial research I've done there doesn't seem to be an enormous amount of info out there that's girl-specific.

So, my new blog - Where Laura Went - is going to become my little outlet for all my travel posts and pictures. I'm going to start with a couple of brief intros by posting about forthcoming trips to Malta and Cornwall, as well as a couple of blogs about the practicalities of going round the world as a girl, from things like female-specific backpacks to how little you can really manage on clothes- and make-up-wise whilst still having a few dressy things and feeling like a girl.

I'm also in the process of setting up a new travel Twitter account to go with the blog - more to follow soon about that one - so will keep you posted on how that goes. Hopefully I'll see you over there soon!

Beauty Review: 17 Magnetic Nail Polish in Grey

As regular readers of this blog will know, when it comes to nail art I'm all for the easier methods - mainly because I'm not the most steady-handed of people and, whilst my efforts would be noble, the result would probably look like someone had let an artistically challenged three-year-old loose on my polish collection. Give me something you can use straight from the bottle, like a glitter or a crackle, and I'm a happy bunny. As a consequence, most of my nail art tends to have a slightly 'rocky' edge rather than the prettier, more delicate details of those with more finesse, and that extends to today's product - magnetic polish.

There are loads of magnetic polishes around, particularly from Nails Inc, but the shade I've picked out is a 17 version in Grey. I've blogged a lot about 17 polishes before, but this is as good an opportunity to sing their praises as any; they're very reasonably priced, they last well and they come in every colour you could possibly want, from the latest trends to timeless classics. The trendiness also extends to their styles of polish - they were very quick to jump on the bandwagon for the likes of crackle and metallics, and then followed suit with adopting magnetic polish. For those who maybe haven't caught on to it yet, the polish contains tiny magnetic particles which then react to a magnet in the polish lid, and you can move the magnet around to create different patterns.

It is a bit tricky to use to start with as you have to hold the magnet quite close to the nail but without touching the nail directly, although thankfully removing the polish with nail polish remover doesn't seem to affect the magnet. It took me about three or four goes but eventually I figured out a method of holding the magnet over the polish for about ten seconds (there is a handy little 'rest' on the top of the lid that you can place against your finger to steady it). Also first coat coverage is not all that great - I'd say you need at least two coats to get an opaque finish - and you have to use the magnet as soon as you've painted your nail. This is quick-drying stuff and leaving it too long means you won't get any effects.

All that said, once it's done you do get some amazing patterns (please excuse the slightly smudged litle finger and the tip wear). This is with three coats - I did one in the light of my living room and one in daylight outside my office:

Base coat is Nails Inc Hyde Park, as always, but I went for a matte top coat as I felt it was more appropriate to the slightly rocky feel of the polish - a shiny top coat would have made it look too glossy, which I didn't think worked with it. My matte top coat of choice is Rimmel Lycra Pro Matte Finish, as it's cheap and durable; the nails held up for the best part of a week, and probably would have survived longer if I hadn't got bored of them.

Overall, I really like this polish - it holds up well, it's easy to use and it gets loads of compliments. Yes it's a little bit time-consuming in comparison to just whacking on three coats of polish and a top coat, but it's probably a good gateway to more delicate nail art if you're that way inclined.

If you fancy picking up a bottle of 17 Magnetic Nail Polish it comes in four shades (I also have the green which I'll try out another time) and costs £5.99 a bottle from Boots.

Bar Review: Jewel Covent Garden

Obviously an awful lot of my 'What I Did' blogs will be about new places I've visited and new experiences I've had, but occasionally I'm going to throw a review of an old favourite into the mix. Jewel is definitely the latter. It's a cocktail bar on Maiden Lane in Covent Garden which rapidly became the place for me and my friends to head to when in need of a post-work drink or a Friday night celebration, not least because for some reason my boyfriend seems to get a free round of drinks from them every other week, which was the reason for my latest visit.

Upon entering Jewel, it looks like a pretty typical cocktail bar - dark woods, dim lighting, black marble bar, lots of classical-style statutes and mirrors in ornate gilt frames. However, there is one major difference: it doesn't look as busy as a cocktail bar in the West End should right after work. This is a street full of bars and restaurants and whilst the places next door and over the road seem to be constantly packed, Jewel is more often than not likely to be all but empty. But in that regard, it lives up to its name as a little undiscovered gem, as I'll go on to explain.

The cocktail menu includes around 80 cocktails, ranging from classic martinis to contemporary cocktails to creations unique to the bar, as well as a seasonal specials menu which gets updated every few months or so. I've never had a bad cocktail in Jewel so picking a favourite is really difficult, but if I had to choose one it would probably be the hibiscus bellini - hibiscus syrup mixed with Prosecco. The only thing I will say is that the degree of detail that goes into your cocktail will depend entirely on who is making it for you; for example, with some of the champagne cocktails, you'll just get the stuff mixed in the glass rather than shaken together, and it really is luck of the draw depending on the bar staff. They're still normally pretty good, but just not quite as good as they can be if they're made properly. So my tip is that once you find the person behind the bar who knows how to make the cocktail as it's described, stick with them all night as much as possible. And, which admittedly is partly down to a lack of space for a coffee machine, the menu would be vastly improved by the addition of an espresso martini.

Jewel has a fairly extensive happy hour, running from 5 PM to 7.30 (5 to 7 in December and January), where all cocktails are £4.50 (apart from the champagne cocktails which are £5 each), as well as discounts on beer, wine, food platters - a fairly standard mix of chicken wings, garlic bread, mini pizzas etc - and champagne. Outside of happy hour, they're fairly standard central London prices at about £7-8 a cocktail. Its staff are also very good about accommodating parties of varying sizes (including getting on the guest list afterwards, although once you're in that make sure you specify cocktails as part of the free round as sometimes they can be fussy if you don't) and you can get the same happy hour deals as you would otherwise.

The Covent Garden branch is one of three dotted around the city, and you check them all out on the website.

Restaurant Review: Souk Medina

I admit that I will eat pretty much any type of cuisine, and I don't really have a favourite cuisine, but after a trip to Turkey a couple of years ago I developed a bit of a 'thing' for Middle Eastern food (the proper stuff mind, I'm ruined for kebab vans for ever after having the real thing). And trying a new restaurant is one of the highlights of living in a city like London, where you can eat whatever kind of food you want, whenever and wherever you want. So when the two things came together last week and a friend invited me to Souk Media, I jumped at the chance.

The restaurant is in the heart of Covent Garden near Seven Dials and would make for a great place to grab a quick dinner after a day of shopping and wandering around or before heading off to the theatre. From the outside, it's hugely open and welcoming, with a big canopied front. Inside, it's absolutely cavernous; it goes back for what seems like forever, and there's a downstairs section as well, which was where we sat. For anyone who has been to Istanbul or Morocco, the decor is very reminiscent of that - all flagged stone floors, dark woods, lamps in sconces on the wall and comfy low sofas with loads of cushions.

In true Mediterranean style, we ordered a mixture of snacks - they come with pitta bread so I think about two or three each would be plenty, depending on your appetite. All the food was delicious, particularly the chicken briouat (chicken in pastry with Moroccan spices and spinach), the grilled aubergine and the merguez (lamb sausage with tomato sauce). However, I think next time I might go for one of the tagines; the couple on the table next to us had them and they smelt absolutely amazing. We also had really lovely cocktails with figs, vodka, mint and rosewater, kind of like a mojito - I can highly recommend them.

Overall, a great place to grab a relaxed dinner with friends, due to the great food and perfectly pitched staff (they know when to leave you well alone and when to come over, and will happily let you sit and chill out long after you've finished eating), and pretty reasonably priced - admittedly we got 50% off the food with my friend's Tastecard, which are a great handy thing to have if you eat out in London regularly, but for a treat it seems like a pretty good deal at about £15 for three plates of mezze or a tagine.

Souk Medina also has a nearby sister restaurant, Souk Bazaar. I'll post about it if I ever get a chance to visit, to compare and contrast, but if you want to check it out yourself in the meantime, you can visit the website.

Picasso & Modern British Art @ Tate Britain

Art exhibitions have been like buses for me lately: you wait ages for one and then two come along at once. I was lucky enough to be invited to a couple of evening events at art galleries recently, but I'll start with the one that came first - the Tate Britain's new exhibition looking at the influence of Picasso on modern British art of the 20th century.

The exhibition is split into sections, interspersing periods of when Picasso was working and exhibiting his paintings in Britain with the work of artists such as Wyndham Lewis, Francis Bacon and David Hockney. My particular favourite was the Henry Moore section; I am a huge fan of Moore's sculptures and was gutted to miss out on his retrospective at the Tate Modern a couple of years ago, so even getting to see some of his work was a treat for me. I loved seeing how his sculptures tied in with Picasso's depiction of the body in some of his paintings, even though the styles were very different. It was also a great opportunity to see some of the most famous of Picasso's works, such as Child with a Dove (which is apparently going up for sale so could well get pulled out of the exhibition), Guernica and Weeping Woman, as well as discovering some new artists. I'd never heard of Duncan Grant or Ben Nicholson before this exhibition, but wandering through exposed me to some really fantastic gorgeous paintings.

The undoubted highlight though is Picasso's enormous Three Dancers painting. Situated in a room on its own at the end of the exhibition, with only a single spotlight, you do feel slightly overwhelmed by looking at it. It feels like a beautiful way to marry the whole exhibition together, as an example of all that's great about Picasso whilst reflecting the works of the other artists in the exhibition - things like the body shapes of the figures recalling the Moore sculptures. That said, it was run a close second by discovering a side of Picasso that I hadn't been aware of in terms of, which was his work on designing the costumes and scenery for Diaghilev's ballet 'The Three-Cornered Hat'. I'm not much of an art gallery person, but when I am I'm a sucker for sculpture and beautiful costumes, so this room delivered in absolute spades - the work was absolutely exquisite.

If you'd like to check this out it costs £14 for a ticket - possibly a little bit on the expensive side for me to have gone of my own accord, but I'm very glad I did - and is running at Tate Britain until the 15th of July.

What I Did: Fell out of the blogging loop

I tried. I really did. But, you know, sometimes life (read: weekends away and crazy long hours at work) gets in the way, which is why despite my twice a week blog promise I made at the start of the year I fell off the wagon for the whole of February and a large part of March. *embarrassed* However, I am now back to blogging and I will do my best to keep up my two blogs a week rate.

So, here's a brief recap of what's been going on with me in the last month or so...

I got back into Zumba, as part of an effort to get toned up before heading off on holiday to Malta at the end of April, and because my doctor told me that if I don't lose some weight then she might have to take me off the medication I'm on. I've also gone cold turkey on the snack table at work, which seems to be working - I've got no idea if I've lost any weight or not, but I do feel like I've got my shape back and that I'm sleeping a lot better, which is always an advantage.

I've also been working on looking for a new job and have had a couple of interviews, but sadly no success yet. It's getting to a stage where I'm starting to think about what to do with my career; I do like my job, but I'm wondering if I need to start looking for something that's a bit closer to what I actually want to do with myself. But we'll see what happens in the next few months I guess. And at least I've got a bit of security for the next couple of months due to having my contract extended.

The other thing that's been taking up a fair bit of my time is my writing - I was a member of a local writers' group on and off last year but since January I've been making a real effort to go to every meeting, and have been working on my assignments for that as well as the Roman murder mystery novel I've been harbouring for the last nine months or so. It's been a fairly long haul, but I think it's starting to come together, although I don't expect to have the novel finished for at least a year

And finally... one potentially huge plan, which I'm not sure I want to say too much about just yet, as it may well not happen depending on what happens with my employment situation over the next few months. But suffice to say it would be an amazingly epic adventure, and whilst I am a bit scared about taking the plunge and what happens afterwards, if it all comes together then I absolutely cannot wait.

So, that's where I've been for the past few weeks, in case you missed me. Now back to the serious business of regular blogging...

Book Review: War Horse

I've mentioned this before on these blogs, but I have a bit of a thing about reading the book of something before I see the film, and as we're in prime adaptation season I'm having to do a lot of reading! This is the first in a double-header of reviews of books which are hitting the big screen, and I've chosen Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, mainly due to its relative slimness as I was waiting for my Kindle to be delivered when I bought it (more on that later).

If you don't know the plot of War Horse, then presumably you've been living under a rock for the last few months, but to recap: it follows the story of Joey, a horse bought by a farmer who gradually develops a strong friendship with the farmer's son Alfred, before the First World War and family money problems mean the pair are separated and Joey is shipped off to fight in France, with Albert pledging to come and find him as soon as he's old enough. What follows is an epic tale of human nature and how war draws everyone into its grasp.

I really liked the originality of using Joey's voice to show the war from both sides, as well as those who weren't involved directly in the conflict. It seems like a really obvious way of going against the typically over-simplified war narrative of 'British good, Germans bad' but it's incredibly effective, and really gives a sense of both the fear and cameraderie of battle. However, it does have a slightly episodic feeling and a sense of 'it was like this, and then this happened', which made it feel a bit simplistic, although I suppose that's the way that a horse would think in terms of distinguishing the passage of time.

The book is peppered with beautiful snapshots of the relationships Joey develops with specific people as well as brutal moments where they are snatched away, often in the full-on battle scenes but equally in the slow, painful way that life so often takes people. There are also two heart-rending if predictable scenes near the end, where if you don't at least get sniffly then you have a heart of stone. Overall, whilst it's not exactly the most dense of novels and you do need to get into the right mindset to truly appreciate it, it is heart-warming and uplifting and great as a quick read. I can't wait to see if the film matches up.

Beauty Review: Missguided Nail Splash in Misstaken

I love bright colours, especially on my nails, and particularly in the winter - when it's cold and dark and wet outside, a bright colour on my nails makes me feel like summer isn't too far away. Back in the days when I was still buying magazines - as mentioned in my New Year's resoultions post a few weeks back, I'm currently trying to give them up - I got this beautiful fluorescent orange shade free with one of them over the summer, but just hadn't got round to trying it until now.
I have to say that I haven't tried any Missguided products before, but I was really impressed with this one. It's easy to apply as it's got quite a wide brush, and the coverage is great - I would have felt happy to use just one coat but as always I used three to keep the comparisons the same.

However I think my favourite thing about this polish is its durability. It took around five days to start showing even tiny chips, which in my book is really impressive because I know my nails get quite a battering from typing and taking notes all day at work, so I'd definitely invest in more Missguided shades based on how well they'll last and the fact that they tend to be lovely and bright. They're also very reasonably priced at £5 a bottle - I think you can only get them through the Missguided website but they do also sometimes give them away free with women's magazines, so keep an eye out for them!

Overall this is a lovely vibrant polish which makes me feel more positive every time I look at it. I think I can definitely get through the winter with nails this bright! It'd also make a fabulous polish for toenails in the summer.

Lates @ Science Museum

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I take advantage of London's cultural opportunities far less often than I'd like, and particularly its museums; so often I'll be standing on a train platform and see an ad for this or that exhibition and think 'that looks really cool, I must go to that'. However, one of my goals for this year is to go to more exhibitions and museums, and I've started as I mean to go on with last night's trip to the Science Museum Late.

For those who don't know, Lates are after-hours, adults-only events held by museums and other attractions, normally about once a month and often with special talks and activities going on. Last night's event had a space exploration theme, so it included stargazing sessions, talks on the end of the universe, a silent disco, postcard workshops, live experiments to take part in (there is now a 3D photo of my face somewhere in Great Ormond Street Hospital's research), science-based comedy, a pub quiz and even getting to drive the Mars Rover and operate robots.

The highlight however was the Launchpad, which is basically a huge area full of interactive machines and experiments that you can have a go on - technically it's for kids but as the whole point of Lates is that there are no children it basically ended up being a bunch of adults having enormous fun messing about with levers and pulleys and building bridges and experimenting with heat and light and energy and all the rest of it. That's a really ineloquent sentence but I genuinely don't think it's possible to sum up how much fun it actually is. They also run the talks normally given to school groups; we went to one about rockets, complete with loud bangs and explosions and all the rest of it, and I was ridiculed by the presenter for my weedy attempt to push someone along in a demonstration of Newton's Second Law (and subsequently squealing like a girl when it was my turn to be pushed). But it was an absolutely brilliant evening and I'll definitely be going again next time if I can.

Science Museum Lates take place on the last Wednesday of every month - the next one is on the 29th February - and are free to get in, although there may be a charge for some of the activities.

Beauty Review: Essie Lollipop

There are some nail colours you just need to have in your collection. Sometimes it's because you fall in love with them on the spot, sometimes it's because it's the 'it' shade of the season, and sometimes it's because it's an absolute classic. A great red definitely falls into the latter category, and whilst I have a fair few - more on them another time - today I thought I'd show you Essie's Lollipop, which is described as a 'candy-cane' red.

This is the first Essie polish I've tried, and I acquired it by virtue of a happy accident - I ordered a different shade (Lilacism) from an eBay site in the US, but was sent this one instead. I was very tempted to send it back but it looked so pretty in the bottle I decided to keep it.

That's not a chip on my index finger by the way, just a reflection of the trees outside the bedroom window! As usual, base is Nails Inc Hyde Park and top coat is Seche Vite.

I really can't fault the formula of this polish - it's quite thin but the coverage is still brilliant, even with just one coat (as always, I used three for comparative purposes). I love the colour as well - it is super-bright but it's also got a lovely classic feel to it without being too brash. Sometimes a brighter red can look a bit too tarty but this is just a nice, bright, funky shade. I think it'd look great with a monochrome outfit to add a splash of colour or perhaps with a little black dress.

Essie polishes can be bought in the likes of John Lewis or at BeautyBay.com for about a bottle, but I got this one from an eBay shop called beautyzone2007 - they're based in the States so admittedly the shipping costs aren't cheap, but they're great for brands like OPI, Essie and China Glaze, especially discontinued colours.

Film Review: Adventureland

Do you ever get to that stage where you seem to have been saying you'll watch a film forever and then never get round to watching it, and then it randomly shows up on TV? That's happened to me a couple of times recently with two movies, both of which I'll be blogging about this week. First up is Adventureland, a coming-of-age comedy set in a Pittsburgh theme park in the 1980s. It stars Jesse Eisenberg as James, a college graduate whose parents tell him they won't be able to afford to help pay for his trip to Europe before he goes to grad school, and who ends up getting a summer job at the Adventureland of the title, where he sets out on a summer of love and self-discovery.

I am a sucker for a good 80s-themed movie - an awful lot of my favourite films are either made or set in that time period - and so I had high hopes for Adventureland. I can safely say I wasn't disappointed. Admittedly it's more a film to raise a smile and a giggle than outright laughter, but the setting is captured perfectly in the music and the characters' looks which gives it a great, authentic feel.

I was also particularly impressed with the performances, especially Jesse Eisenberg in the lead role and Kristen Stewart as the love interest. Granted I haven't seen The Social Network yet, and admittedly since making that Eisenberg seems to have gone back to these types of low-budget comedies, but Eisenberg is perfectly cast as the sweet, geeky, nerdy, socially awkward James. And it's quite nice to see Kristen Stewart playing a character with a bit of personality - it's a shame she's been typecast by the Twilight films as from what else I've seen of her she's a much better actress than those films allow her to be. The supporting cast is also really strong and adds great depth to the film, particularly Martin Starr as James' deadpanning fellow games worker Joel, Bill Hader as Bobby the games manager, who is brilliantly ridiculous, and Ryan Reynolds playing completely against type as Connell, the womanising, guitar-playing maintenance guy.

Overall, this is a charming if lightweight comedy which is perfect if you need something to chill out watching on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I'll definitely be watching it again if I can.

Bar Review: Barrio Central

I freely admit that I don't often tend to have 'proper' nights out - maybe one every couple of months or so at most - and that when I do we generally don't go into Soho, preferring to stay around Covent Garden and Charing Cross Road. However, when I went out last weekend we decided to wander deeper into Soho and head to a bar called Barrio Central on Poland Street.

I have to say it was a real little gem - it's tucked away but as it's quite tiny it can fill up quickly, although we noticed there seemed to be a rush about eight, then it went quiet for a couple of hours and then got busy again. There's a main bar area upstairs, which I think is also a restaurant during the day, and then a club area downstairs, although we spent most of the evening in the bar as they played the same music but you could still have something resembling a conversation. The mix of music was really good as well, with everything from current chart to 80s and 90s hits and decent old-school hip-hop.

The bar menu is mainly cocktails, most of which are exclusives to the bar and come in around £7 or £8 each depending what you have, although they also have a three for £20 deal on cocktails specific to certain regions of the world. My personal favourite was the Ramos Gin Fizz (gin, cream, lemon and orange flower water), which was absolutely yummy and very drinkable. The only quibble I have is that it was quite expensive outside of happy hour, when there's a smaller classic cocktail menu for £4 a pop, but they do have that every day until 8 o'clock which is quite surprising to see for central London on a Saturday night, so I suppose I can overlook that.

I'm definitely going to be coming back to Soho, as sadly we didn't stay out as long as we might have liked to, and when I do Barrio Central will be my first stop for its choice of drinks, friendly staff and good music. Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Night Circus

I freely admit that I get reading recommendations from anywhere and everywhere - book blogs, friends' bookshelves, Amazon emails, train station posters, magazine reviews and cover blurbs. The Night Circus definitely came under the latter two categories, as just before Christmas every magazine seemed to be raving about it and the two main reviews on the cover were from Audrey Niffenegger (author of one of my favourite books) and Tea Obreht (whose novel, The Tiger's Wife, I am absolutely desperate to read). So I put it on my Christmas list and Father Christmas was kind enough to bring it for me.

For those who've been living under a rock for the past couple of months, The Night Circus is the story of two magicians, Celia and Marco, who are put into a competition against each other when they are children. The venue for the competition is the mysterious black and white circus of the title, which travels across the world throughout the late nineteenth century. There appear to be no definite rules and the winner will only emerge when one or other can no longer endure. As time progresses, the pair gradually fall in love, risking the survival of the circus and its company.

I have to say that the book does initially seem frustrating as it took what seemed like forever to get going and to pull all the different threads of the narrative together due to its jumping about in the chronology, with the consequence that it then feels like the last third of the book is rushed in order to get everything in. That said, when the book does finally get to Marco and Celia's relationship it is utterly gorgeous and I got completely drawn into it. In a way it feels a lot like the relationship between Henry and Clare in The Time Traveler's Wife, in that they are kept separate for a lot of the book and express their love through creating tents in the circus for each other, and particularly in the similarity of the ending (although I'm trying not to give too much away).

Other than Marco and Celia, there doesn't seem to be an enormous amount of depth to the characters; granted there are some who can be glossed over because they don't have a huge part in the narrative, but there are others who I would loved to have known more about, such as Tsukiko the contortionist who ends up playing a key part in the narrative. That said, Morgenstern more than makes up for that in the beautifully realised setting - every little detail of the circus is perfect, right down to the stripes on the confectionery bags - and you feel completely immersed in the world, almost to the extent that you don't mind the lack of depth to the characters. Normally that is a massive bugbear for me but looking back now it marries better with the shadowy nature of the circus.

Overall, a slow burner of a book with an ending that made me get a little teary, and one that has stayed with me even though it's been a few days since I finished it. I'd hesitate to say I loved it, but I think that's partly due to the amount of hype it's had which never really seems to bode well for me - if everyone is raving about a book it always seems to make my expectations of it a bit too high. I will definitely go back to it in a few months though as I think there is more to be uncovered it in on a second reading.

Beauty Review: Rimmel Lasting Finish in Lemon Drop and 17 Lasting Finish Nail Polish in Sherbet Lemon

As we move towards the spring, my hankering for nail colours always turns to sunnier shades, and a really good shade of lemon yellow is something I've been looking for for a while. I spotted two at similar price points - Rimmel Lasting Finish polish in Lemon Drop and 17 Lasting Fix polish in Sherbet Lemon - and couldn't tell the two shades apart in the bottle, so I thought I'd do an alternating manicure to see which one I preferred.

To start off with the Rimmel, unfortunately it's quite sheer and does streak which meant I ended up going over each nail twice on the first layer to get decent coverage. The 17 shade was better in terms of coverage but still a bit streaky, although considering that happened with both polishes I'm not sure if that's a formula thing or if it's more to do with how pale the colours are, as I've noticed similar things with pale polishes in the past. The other concern I have is that both of them, but particularly the Rimmel shade, chipped quite easily - I took this photo about a day after I originally painted them, with top coat, and already you can see there are a couple of tiny chips on my middle and ring fingers.


Base coat is Nails Inc Hyde Park and top coat is Seche Vite, same as always.

When they're on though, I can't tell the difference between the colours (little and middle fingers are 17, index and ring fingers are Rimmel), which seems to be in keeping with the theme of this blog post. These two seem to be the twins of yellow polishes - similar formula and near-identical shade - but at this point it all feels like much of a muchness, because I've got to say that neither of them really made me excited to wear them. They're just a little bit too bland for my liking and I think I'd prefer something brighter.

I think this might have to be the first time on one of these blogs where I admit defeat and that I just can't get on with these polishes. The Rimmel in particular I was very disappointed in as I've come to expect a certain level of quality from them and that just wasn't there this time. If I had to choose one though then I'd go with the 17 shade, purely because it had a marginally better formula and lasted slightly longer, but part of me also thinks that maybe with another coat of polish I might have felt a little less 'meh' about them.

Both polishes cost £2.99 a bottle, which is a reasonable amount to pay for a nail polish in my view, but I think my expectations of these two brands were just too high this time. Oh well, onwards and upwards to find that perfect yellow...

Beauty Review: 17 Fast Finish Nail Polish in Fury

Ah, 17. I think this range was probably some of the first make-up I ever bought back when I was a teenager - and even now it's a brand I come back to more often than I'd like to admit, as it's well priced and has a good range of fashionable colours as well as more classic shades if you're in need of a cheap beauty fix. I've sung the praises of the 80s neon Poncho Pink before, but today I'm wheeling out something a bit more on-trend - Fury, a metallic shade from their Fast Fix line (17 has three different nail polish collections which regularly rotate their range of colours).

First thoughts are that it definitely lives up to its claim of being a one coat polish - the coverage was absolutely perfect after the first application, although I did do three coats for consistency with my other nail blogs. It also dries really quickly which is great if you're a bit pushed for time but still want to do your nails before you go out. The shade can be a little bit deceptive though as it almost has a duochrome feel to it - in the bottle it looks quite golden but when it's on it looks like more of a bronze.

As always base is Nails Inc Hyde Park and top coat is Seche Vite.

This probably seems too good to be true - it dries quickly, it doesn't streak, the coverage is fantastic and the range of shades are great. However, there is a fairly major catch: it's not exactly the most durable. I put this on last night and within 24 hours two of my nails had chipped majorly. That said, for £2.99 a botttle I suppose you can't complain.

I'd recommend this if you're hankering for a new nail polish but don't want to spend too much and aren't time-rich enough to do a full manicure, but it's definitely a formula for a quick fix before a night out or a special occasion.

Newton's Last Alchemist @ the Wellcome Collection

One of the best things about living in London - and one which I'm ashamed to say I make use of far too little - is the sheer variety of things to do. So, in a bid to make better use of the available opportunities for fun and unusual activities, a friend and I headed off to the Wellcome Collection last night for a talk by Dr Richard Barnett on the early history of gin, complete with a Renaissance philosophers' drinking game. :)

I have to say it was absolutely brilliant - the 45 minutes simply flew by as Richard hopped through history, from the early alchemists of the Middle East in the seventh and eighth centuries all the way to Isaac Newton, via the Dutch East India Company. Most of the time referrals to gin in history only ever look at the gin crazes of the 1800s and vilify it as 'mother's ruin', so it was really interesting to learn the history of the spirit and how it went from being more like a sticky medicine to something closer to what we have now, although even at the end of the period - and in Holland today - it was still very much at the stage of being something that was drunk neat as a sweet liqueur rather than the slightly sour, citrussy spirit mixed into cocktails. I've never really been a sciency person but hearing about the chemistry of gin and how it evolved was absolutely fascinating.

What amazed me was the sheer scope of the talk; it wasn't just around the science elements but also took in literature, military history, economics and the rise of an empire. Richard himself is also a fantastic speaker and struck the perfect balance between a serious lecture and some more light-hearted moments, which made the event even more enjoyable and completely immersive. The only slight quibble I had about the evening was that I wished it could have gone on for longer, although (shameless plug alert!) Richard has written a book on the history of gin which I may have to purchase to find out what happened next. And of course, there will be a blog when I have finished reading it...

The evening also featured a delicious gin and tonic from the guys at The Travelling Gin Co., made with Sipsmith gin, Fentimans tonic and lime - yum yum yum. The guys who ran it were also really friendly and I've signed up to their mailing list to see where they'll be next. I loved the concept and think it would be absolutely great for a summer garden party for a special occasion or - although my boyfriend would no doubt freak out if he knew I'd said this - a wedding.

Overall, it was a fantasic way to spend an evening, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on the Wellcome's website to see what other talks they do - the others in this series which were mentioned before the talk sounded fascinating, so it's a place I hope I'll be coming back to a lot over the coming months.

Beauty Review: Topshop Nails in One Hot Minute

I must admit I'm not normally a big fan of the clothes in Topshop - it always seems a bit too trendy and cool for the likes of me - but I do adore their nail polishes. The Oxford Street store has a whole little section tucked away near the entrance for its make-up, including walls of nail polishes, and I can never resist popping in there to have a look at the latest shades. I spotted One Hot Minute a few weeks ago and completely fell in love with the name and the colour (Topshop polishes always seem to have brilliant names!).

As always with Topshop nail polishes, the application was really good - even in one coat it goes on really well and two coats was plenty to give perfect coverage, although I did three coats for fair comparison across my other polishes which I've blogged about. I do think this affected the colour of the polish though as it says 'magenta', which I would expect to be more of a bright purply-pink, but when it's on it's actually more like a reddish hot pink. Not that I'm complaining of course, it's a fantastic colour in and outside the bottle!

However, the day after I did this manicure I went to the zoo as my lovely boyfriend bought me a 'meet the penguins' session as a birthday gift, and the penguins kept pecking my fingers, which apparently is because they love bright colours and shiny things. However, amazingly despite the sharpness of the penguins' beaks, the polish stayed on and there were no chips! I may have just given Topshop and Seche a new advertising slogan: 'Our polish is penguin-proof!' :)

Overall, this is a great polish: well priced, lasts a long time, applies well with good coverage and bright enough for a night out whilst still smart enough for the office. If you fancy picking up some up it costs £5 a bottle and is available in larger Topshop stores or via the website.

Book Review: The Return of Captain John Emmett

I have to admit that I didn't do as well with the amount of reading I did last year as I'd like, mainly because it got swallowed up with fairly arduous books that I took a while to plough through. However, this year I'm aiming to read a book every ten days, preferably more, so I'm starting off with my first book review of this year - Elizabeth Speller's 'The Return of Captain John Emmett'.

Set in the early 1920s, the novel follows Laurence Bartram, a former captain in the British army during the First World War, who receives a letter from the sister of his old school friend, John Emmett. John has been admitted to a hospital for shell-shocked veterans but committed suicide just when he seemed to be turning a corner, and his sister has asked for Laurence's help to find out why. What follows is the unravelling of a mystery that stretches back years and causes Laurence to question everything he knows.

First of all, I have to say that Speller's research really shines through but never overshadows the narrative; both the trenches and 1920s London are both beautifully realised. The gorgeously drawn setting sucks you in and you become completely immersed in the environments. The transitions between the two worlds are also beautifully realised; where some war novels drop you back into the present with a jolt, this is much smoother and consequently enhances the feeling of getting inside the characters' memories. By contrast to the settings, the characters always remain tantalisingly distant, even as more is revealed about them. Normally a character I can't connect with really frustrates me, but for a novel like this where no-one ever seems to really know the full story, even right up until the end, I think it works incredibly well. And for once, the twist at the end is one you don't see coming.

Ultimately, if you like a good historical mystery then this is the book for you, although I will warn you it's not for the squeamish. The blurb on the front says 'The new Birdsong - only better', and whilst I haven't read Birdsong, I can safely say that this is a fantastically slow-burning book which will completely draw you in. Highly recommended for a long winter's night.

New Year's resolutions

Another year over, a new one just begun... So, after my brief foray into John Lennon's contribution to festive tunes, the time has come to make New Year's resolutions. I have to admit I'm

Learn to drive. This is my big one. I've been saying I'm going to do it for years and years and years - I did have lessons when I was a teenager but I was far too nervous for my own good (a shouty instructor didn't help) and I just didn't have the confidence to keep going - but now I think I finally feel ready. That, and I have a bet with my boyfriend that I'll pass my driving test before he does, and I really hate losing. :P Ideally I would love to get to the stage where I could drive up to visit my family by Christmas.

Stop wasting money. For me, this mainly means not buying magazines - I do buy a fair few of them and having worked out the amount of money I spend on them I definitely need to give them up. I've decided I'll subscribe to one magazine (I've settled on Company because it seems to have the best mix of decent articles and affordable clothes) and get Stylist at the train station because that doesn't cost anything, but that is it now! I'm also cancelling my Graze boxes as they just cost me far too much money. The savings will go towards my Kindle fund which hopefully I should have enough for by the time I go on holiday in the spring, and then into my main savings account.

Exercise every day. I was really good about doing my Zumba over the summer and then massively fell off the wagon after my boyfriend's sister's wedding, so I'm determined to get back into it to tone up for my holiday - the boyfriend has hinted that he'd like to go somewhere hot so I need to look my best! I actually kind of miss the workouts, they were fun and made me feel a lot better about myself and I feel a bit sad to have lost the confidence I got from it, so I'm looking forward to being back on that particular wagon.

Sort out my finances. This is kind of tied in with the 'stop wasting money' resolution, but hopefully both of these will help me in my ultimate goal which is to start saving for the future. I've also had a little bit of a pay rise due to the new regulations about temporary workers which came into effect last month so will be putting that extra money in my savings account. The other thing I'm going to do is match any winnings from surveys etc by putting the same amount of cash into the savings account. Ideally I'd like to have savings of around £15,000 by the end of the year.

Sort out my style. Again linked to not wasting money, ie by not wasting money on clothes that I don't like or that don't suit me, because they constantly end up languishing in the back of my wardrobe for ages and I just never wear them. So this will mainly consist of promptly trying on and returning stuff I've ordered from the Internet and not keeping anything I don't love when I try it on as opposed to just on the hanger. I also want to get myself out of a rut of constantly buying the same things all the time and stop dressing like a teenage boy.

Cook more. I used to cook a lot when I was at university, and I like to think I was pretty good at it - I loved finding new recipes to try and making yummy food - but since I moved back home and then down to London I just haven't done it as much as I know I should, for various reasons. So one of my goals this year is to try at least one new recipe every week.

Write more regularly. I touched a little on this in my Priscilla blog, but I definitely need to get back into the habit of writing regularly, both on my blog and in terms of working on my novel. So the plan is to set aside an hour a day to blog or write, depending on the day, which hopefully will mean that by the end of the year I've written a good chunk of the novel and have blogged a few times a week.

I also have one particularly big plan which I don't want to say too much about just yet - mainly because I haven't the foggiest how I would go about getting it off the ground and I want to see how much of a market there might be for it first - but I think that's a pretty good set of goals to be getting on with for the year. Now, let's see how well I do at meeting them...