The Booker Prize Challenge

For as long as I can remember, I've utterly adored reading. Even when I was a kid I'd get nervous when the cereal packets were taken off the breakfast table and I'd have nothing to read, and my mum would never let me open books first on Christmas or my birthday because I'd sit there reading them. She hid my books before we went on holiday as well, otherwise I'd read them all before we went away and then complain for most of the trip that I was bored (well until I bought a new book anyway).

However, as sad and nerdy as it sounds, one of my ambitions in life has been to read every Booker Prize-winning novel. Often considered the biggest prize in British literature, the Booker has been controversial over the years, but of the ones I have read I've enjoyed them very much so I'm keen to see how I feel about the rest. It'll also be an interesting experience to see how the winners have evolved, as well as discovering some of the more obscure winners especially from the early years.

So, this is the list (those in bold are the ones I have already read):
  1. P H Newby – Something to Answer for (1969)
  2. Bernice Rubens – The Elected Member (1970)
  3. J G Farrell – Troubles (1970, ‘The Lost Booker’)
  4. V S Naipaul – In a Free State (1971)
  5. John Berger – G (1972)
  6. J G Farrell – The Siege of Krishnapur (1973)
  7. Nadine Gordimer – The Conservationist (1974)
  8. Stanley Middleton – Holiday (1974)
  9. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – Heat and Dust (1975)
  10. David Storey – Saville (1976)
  11. Paul Scott – Staying On (1977)
  12. Iris Murdoch – The Sea, the Sea (1978)
  13. Penelope Fitzgerald – Offshore (1979)
  14. William Golding – Rites Of Passage (1980)
  15. Salman Rushdie – Midnight’s Children (1981)
  16. Thomas Keneally – Schindler’s Ark (1982)
  17. J M Coetzee – Life and Times of Michael K (1983)
  18. Anita Brooker – Hotel du Lac (1984)
  19. Keri Hulme – The Bone People (1985)
  20. Kingsley Amis – The Old Devils (1986)
  21. Penelope Lively – Moon Tiger (1987)
  22. Peter Carey – Oscar and Lucinda (1988)
  23. Kazuo Ishiguro – The Remains of the Day (1989)
  24. A S Byatt – Possession: A Romance (1990)
  25. Ben Okri – The Famished Road (1991)
  26. Michael Ondaatje – The English Patient (1992)
  27. Barry Unsworth – Sacred Hunger (1992)
  28. Roddy Doyle – Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993)
  29. James Kelman – How Late It Was, How Late (1994)
  30. Pat Barker – The Ghost Road (1995)
  31. Graham Swift – Last Orders (1996)
  32. Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things (1997)
  33. Ian McEwan – Amsterdam (1998)
  34. J M Coetzee – Disgrace (1999)
  35. Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin (2000)
  36. Peter Carey – True History of the Kelly Gang (2001)
  37. Yann Martel – Life of Pi (2002)
  38. DBC Pierre – Vernon God Little (2003)
  39. Alan Hollinghurst – The Line of Beauty (2004)
  40. John Banville – The Sea (2005)
  41. Kiran Desai – The Inheritance of Loss (2006)
  42. Anne Enright – The Gathering (2007)
  43. Aravind Adiga – The White Tiger (2008)
  44. Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (2009)
  45. Howard Jacobson – The Finkler Question (2010)
  46. Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending (2011)
  47. Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies (2012)
  48. Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries (2013)
  49. Richard Flanagan - The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014)
  50. Marlon James - A Brief History of Seven Killings (2015)
  51. Paul Beatty - The Sellout (2016)
I make that 42 books to read (48 minus the seven I've already read, although chances are I'll end up re-reading those by the time I get to that end of the list!). The goal ideally would be to read them all by the time I turned 30, in 2017, and although this may be a slight cheat as the Booker winner is normally published shortly after my birthday, I will also try to read the 2014, 2015 and 2016 winners. So that's 44 books total.

I'm really excited to attempt this challenge, I'm aware it's a huge undertaking but I'm hoping that it'll be worth it. Already I'm itching at the thought of so many new books to discover. And of course I'll be posting my reviews so you can find out what I thought, in case you want to read any of these. Wish me luck!

Beauty Review: China Glaze Nail Lacquer in Skate Night

Morning lovelies! Today I've got another nail post to share with you - China Glaze Nail Lacquer in Skate Night, from the Retro Diva collection they did for AW09. (Yes, that is how long I've had this polish. I know, I am rubbish at getting round to using things!)

The Retro Diva collection was a nod to the 1970s, which as any fellow Dazed and Confused fan will know was an awesome decade, and the name of the various shades reflect that. Skate Night itself is described as a deep crimson shimmer that suits all skin tones, and as I really like red polishes I thought I'd pick this up. It also reminded me a little of OPI's I'm Not Really A Waitress (which I've blogged about before here), so I was keen to compare the two.

The bottle is a standard China Glaze bell shape, which feels nice and solid in the hand but not too heavy so is easy enough to carry in a handbag for touch-ups on the run. I'd be quite happy to take this with me and ensure it would survive any knocks. I also like the fact that the lid is quite long and thin in comparison to lots of other polishes which helps with keeping a steady hand - useful for me as I am the least dextrous person ever when it comes to putting on nail varnish! I love it but a lot of the time it looks like I let my three-year-old nephew do my manicure. *blushes*

The polish looks more like a ruby colour in the bottle than it does when I'm wearing it; on the hands it has much more of a berryish pinky-purple tint to it. But they're both lovely colours so I'm not complaining! Plus it makes it different enough from I'm Not Really A Waitress to justify the purchase.

Application was good, with the polish being opaque in two coats but still showing a little bit of brush stroke (although it wasn't really noticeable unless you were close up to it). Durability-wise it was OK - I did this on Saturday morning and although there was a bit of tip wear 24 hours later the first chip didn't appear until Tuesday night, which isn't too bad but not spectacular either.

Overall I really like this polish - the colour is a lovely shade that's very much in keeping with the berry trend in beauty at the moment, and the fact that you don't need a lot of it to achieve opacity. I think it would lend itself to lots of different looks; you could wear it with a party dress over the Christmas period or use an effects polish like a black crackle to give it a bit of an edge for a night out.

If you fancy picking up Skate Night you can buy it from, where it retails for £4.87 a bottle.

Have you tried Skate Night or other China Glaze polishes? What did you think of it? And what's your favourite berry beauty product this season? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Book Review: Be Awesome

Hadley Freeman is one of my favourite Guardian writers - she's very acerbic in her fashion columns and often makes me laugh out loud (which causes a few funny looks in the office). So when I found out she'd written a book on feminism, I had to give it a read - not least because of its title, 'Be Awesome', which is surely something we should all aspire to be.

If you've read any of Freeman's columns in the Guardian, you'll be familiar with her sarcastic sense of humour, and this book is more of the same. Covering topics from hair removal to dating via body image and what to do when all your friends start having kids, the book presents a really rounded picture of what it's like to be a woman in the modern world. It does err a little bit on the side of rooting for singledom, which did on occasion make me feel slightly pushed out as someone who's been coupled up forever. But equally there was still lots of stuff I could identify with and plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud.

There will no doubt be an awful lot of comparisons between this book and Caitlin Moran's 'How To Be A Woman', and if Moran is like your big sister reassuring you that you can be whoever you want to be whilst always seeming ready with a hug, Freeman is much more like that friend who doles out the tough love and is brutally honest about things, but always does it in your best interests. But I actually really liked the attitude she brought to writing the book - the sense that, whilst women should do whatever they want to do, that they should only do it because they want to rather than to impress a man or to fit in with what society or the media says they should be. I particularly liked the sections on the awesome women that inspire Hadley and her dissection of various films and books - both those which portray female characters brilliantly and those which are terrible. I'm aware of how awful Sex and the City 2 is but her description of it actually made me snort with laughter on my train home!

The one thing I wish I'd done is to read it in smaller chunks, because I think it would work better as a series of small essays rather than trying to see it as a whole book as the chapters don't really flow into each other and the styles tend to hop around. Reading it over a longer period of time would also mean it would have lasted longer; it's not the longest of books and so it felt like it was over very quickly. But if you're in the market for an easy quick read that will also provide you with some food for thought, then I'd definitely recommend this - though it is a little on the expensive side.

If you fancy reading 'Be Awesome' it's £7.99 for the Kindle edition or £6.47 for the paperback on Amazon (other book shops are available).

Have you read 'Be Awesome'? What did you think of it? And are there any similar books you'd recommend? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

The 2013 Christmas Tag

The 2013 Christmas Tag

Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night and my birthday have all been and gone, which means that Christmas is not too far away now. I am stupidly excited for this Christmas as last year we spent Christmas in a hostel in Wellington - where they had their hottest Christmas for 40 years! - and although it was lovely it felt very odd eating barbecue food and going to the beach instead of a roast dinner and a walk in the cold, so I'm excited to go back to a traditional Christmas. This year N and I are going up to my parents' house in Lancashire as my nanna is 80 on Christmas Eve, so all my dad's family are coming up to stay in the golf club down the road from my parents' and we're having Christmas dinner there. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone again, as I haven't seen many of my relatives since we came back from travelling so it'll be lovely to catch up.

I got this tag from the lovely Jess at Coffee and Cosmetics, and she in turn got it from Georgina at Makeup-Pixi3. So, without further ado, here are my answers!

1. Do you prefer a real Christmas tree or synthetic?
Real every time. We have a synthetic one and although it does have the advantages of being cheaper and no needle drop, it just isn't the same. I think a lot of it for me is the smell - I can remember being very small and lying underneath the Christmas tree, breathing in the scent of the pine needles. Diptyque used to do the most amazing pine-scented candle that I used to replicate the smell when I first moved to London, but sadly I think it's been discontinued now :(

2. You're in a coffee shop, it's December, what do you pick?
Starbucks Gingerbread Latte. I am a bit obsessed with them and get ridiculously excited when the red cups come out (although I'm disappointed they've scrapped their autumn drinks already, I really wanted to try the salted caramel mocha). There's just something so lovely and warm and comforting about them, especially when you're drinking one sitting in the window as it's getting dark and seeing Christmas lights and shoppers outside, like something out of a film.

3. What's your favourite colour scheme for decorating the tree?
I don't do colour schemes; they feel a bit too much like a Christmas tree in a hotel for me. The trees I really love are the ones that have been built up from years of accumulated decorations that you've picked up from travelling or that people have made. My parents' tree is like that, with decorations that my sisters and I made at school decades ago and really lovely quirky little things, and in my really sad way when I moved out that was the thing I missed the most about not having Christmas at home!

4. Giving or receiving?
Both! It's lovely to get presents and to see the thought that's gone in to the gifts people have picked out for me, but I am one of those people that loves finding the perfect present for someone so I really enjoy that whole process of picking out a really amazing gift and then seeing the look on their face when they open it. There's just something indescribable about getting that lovely fuzzy glow of seeing someone's face light up and you know you got them a great gift.

5. To mince pie or not to?
Oh yes. Always mince pies. I don't buy them before December because I know I'll just stuff my face with an entire box in an afternoon - and also because Christmas food before December just seems wrong somehow - but I absolutely love them, especially warmed up in the oven or microwave and with a bit of cream (I'm not so keen on brandy butter as I find it a bit sickly). My mum's recipe is the best though; I think it's because she makes them all herself so they've got loads of filling and are laden with booze. My mouth's watering at the thought already...

6. What's your traditional Sunday lunch?
Traditional Sunday lunch, on the rare occasions I have it (in a pub or if I'm visiting family for a long weekend), is usually roast chicken, lamb, pork or beef, complete with roast potatoes, various veggies and - if it's roast beef - Yorkshire puddings. And tons of gravy.

For Christmas, it's again the full-on traditional works. We have a turkey, a ham (which is usually all gone between the buffet on Christmas Eve, Christmas dinner and the turkey and ham pie on Boxing Day), pigs in blankets, parsnips, carrot and turnip mash, roast potatoes, sprouts, stuffing balls, gravy and cranberry sauce. Dessert is mince pies with cream - we used to have Christmas pudding as my auntie made one for us every year, but the only ones who like it are me and my brother-in-law so it was decided there was no point!

And inevitably at 9 o'clock on Christmas night I will want a 'Christmas sandwich' - turkey, ham, stuffing and cranberry sauce on bread. And maybe a bit of Stilton on the side. Mmm.

7. Christmas day fashion?
I think this is a Liverpool thing as no-one else I know does it, but my family are very big on Christmas outfits. Normally that's a new outfit and is quite smart - this is the dress I have this year to give you an idea, which I'll wear with black tights and my favourite sparkly black kitten heels. We do however nearly always get new pyjamas on Christmas Eve so will usually end up changing into those at some point in the evening, but I think my mum would go mad if we spent the whole day in PJs!

8. What's your favourite Christmas song?
Oh there are loads! I get ridiculously excited about putting my Christmas playlist on my iPod every December. But I think if I had to choose one it'd be 'White Wine In The Sun' by Tim Minchin. I played this a lot last year when I was away at Christmas and missing my family terribly, and I just love the sentiment of it - that no matter what happens or where you go in life, your family will always be there for you.

9. What's your favourite Christmas film?
Toss-up between The Muppet Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life. I always watch those two whilst wrapping my presents. There's a great film that we all watch as a family as well called Bernard and the Genie - it was made in the 90s and it follows Bernard Bottle, who finds a magic lamp after he loses his job and his girlfriend dumps him on Christmas Eve. I've probably made it sound rubbish but it is actually very funny, so if you can ever get hold of a copy, watch it!

10. Open presents before or after lunch?
It's always been before lunch, mainly because we don't eat until about 3 PM on Christmas Day, and I don't think my nephews would have the patience to wait until the evening to open their presents! Our day usually goes: get up, posh breakfast with fresh coffee and stollen and other baked goods, get dressed, presents, walk to the pub and back, dinner, Doctor Who Christmas special, sleep. But we do have 'tree presents' - silly little daft things that will make us laugh - which we open at some point after the dinner whilst eating Christmas chocolates and cheese, though I expect with going to the golf club for lunch it'll be very different this year.

I'm not tagging anyone in particular but if you haven't done the Christmas tag yet then I challenge you to do it! If you do please leave the link in the comments section, I'd love to read your post :)

Have you done the Christmas tag yet? Are you looking forward to Christmas this year? And have you started any preparations for the festive season? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Day Trips: Columbia Road Market

Despite it being very accessible to me, I don't really go to East London much. I think it stems from the fact that I've never been particularly cool and am a bit wary of overly hipster-ish areas. So when my friend C suggested a Sunday trip to Columbia Road, I have to admit I was a little bit reluctant to go there. But equally it was somewhere I'd wanted to visit for a while, so yesterday we met up at London Bridge, hopped on the 149 bus and off we went!

We started off with a visit to an amazing little shop called Vintage Heaven, which sells a fantastic array of beautiful vintage crockery and china - I fell in love with a load of gorgeous plain turquoise blue plates which would be a brilliant classic set for everyday use (one for the wedding list maybe?). They also have a brilliant cake shop called Cakehole out the back which is really reasonably priced and does amazing - and huge! - slabs of cake. I had the Victoria sponge which was really tasty, C had a scone and we shared a massive pot of tea.

Afterwards I bought C an Edward VIII coronation mug that we randomly found in Vintage Heaven as an early Christmas present, and then we had a wander up the road and looked in all the little quirky shops. Columbia Road is mostly famous for its flower market but also has loads of independent shops selling lots of cool clothes and random decorations for your house and garden, as well as lots of food shops. There's a place that sells the most amazing-smelling hot prawns and calmari and another that does Portuguese food, but I was particularly taken by Suck & Chew, the old-school sweet shop. Look at all those retro sweets and the cool vintage Coronation tins! The vintage bike is pretty awesome too.

I can't remember the name of the shop where I saw these Coca-Cola Santa tins, but they are awesome and I want them. They'd be great for storing homemade sweets or bakes in over the Christmas season.

Openhouse is one of my favourite homewares shops on Columbia Road - probably jointly with Ryantown, which is Rob Ryan's shop and sells the most beautiful papercut artwork. Openhouse specialises in signs and garden things with a few small bits and bobs for the house as well. Sadly you're not allowed to take photos inside but outside was good enough for me - I can't be the only one who wants a Hogwarts sign and a Potions planter!

I like this little gnome fella in his flowers - unfortunately the photo hasn't come out fantastically well but he still looks pretty cool!

I am a sucker for a good punning shop name. Stoned & Plastered anyone?

Queenie & Ted is one of my favourite shops on Columbia Road. They customise clothes with gorgeous one-off embroidery - the dress in the window has budgies stitched onto it but there were loads of different designs and they will embroider your own clothes for you as well. I bought the most amazing funky floral empire line dress which wasn't cheap at £45 but looks ace over a long sleeved top and paired with my riding boots.

 Alright Treacle?

The Birdcage is the pub at the top of Columbia Road - it looks brilliant and is definitely on my list for next time we're up that way - and these two guys were performing outside. They were pretty impressive too, I didn't catch it when I took the photo but the one in the hat was tap-dancing along.

All in all, we had a really good day out on Columbia Road and I really want to go back! Highlights for me were discovering Queenie & Ted and the amazing cake at Cakehole. Next time I'd like to go a bit earlier in the morning to see all the flowers in the market - we went mid-morning so most of the flowers were gone by that point - and to take N's camera as I reckon I could get some ace photos with that. It's a really cool area with a great atmosphere and not hipsterish at all. Definitely a favourite place in London.

Have you been to Columbia Road? What did you think of it? And which are your favourite unknown areas of London? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Book Review: Paper Aeroplanes

Dawn O'Porter has always been one of my favourite writers - her Twitter feed @hotpatooties never fails to make me chuckle, and her Glamour magazine column is straight-talking but always warm and friendly in a big-sister sort of way. So when I found out she'd written a book called 'Paper Aeroplanes', it went straight on to my reading list, and today I'm bringing you a review of that book!

For those of you who haven't heard of it, 'Paper Aeroplanes' is the story of Renee and Flo, who both begin their last year of high school as relative outcasts who have turbulent home lives and dysfunctional friendships. After a dramatic event brings the two of them closer together (I won't say what it is for fear of spoiling the plot), they develop a very intense friendship very quickly, with all the twists and turns you'd expect - especially those involving keeping secrets.

I was eight at the time the novel is set, but what's great about Porter's writing is that she manages to brilliantly evoke what it's like to be a teenager, no matter how recent it was for you. The novel is semi-autobiographical in some respects which I think heightens the sense of realism in the novel, as do some of the - ahem - fairly graphic descriptions. It also meant that as a reader I developed a really involved relationship with Renee and Flo - they were the first book characters in a long time where I wanted to know what happened to them next.

It's not a flawless book by any means - sometimes it felt slightly melodramatic and I missed O'Porter's trademark humour - but it is a brilliantly realised version of teenage life, and perfectly captures the turbulence of friendships at that age and the yearning for something bigger in life. Definitely recommended as a quick yet involving read that will simultaneously make you wish you were 16 again and really grateful that you're not (in a good way).

If you'd like to read Paper Aeroplanes it's £3.08 on Kindle or £4.82 for the paperback version on Amazon (other book retailers are available).

Have you read Paper Aeroplanes? What did you think of it? And what are your favourite books about teenage friendship? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Beauty Review: Accessorize Nail Polish in Magical Mocha

I have a whole bunch of Accessorize polishes but haven't really used them, just because I've had so many shades in my polish box to work through and simply hadn't managed to get around to them yet! So I'm starting off my attempt to try them out with Magical Mocha, which as the name suggests is a pale creamy brown with multicoloured shimmer going through it. I'd been keen to try it for a little while but wanted to wait for the weather change, as it just didn't feel like the right colour to wear until the leaves started to turn.

This post has been a very, very long time in the making, mainly because every time I wore this polish I had a big meeting or something coming up which meant I couldn't wear funky nail polish and had to take it off! I took the photos a couple of weeks ago, which is why the light looks different, but only actually managed to wear it for a long time this week. But hey, better late than never, right?

The bottle is small and squat, with a gold lid that has an almost antique look to it. I like the solid feel to it and the little butterfly detail on the bottle which is common to all Accessorize make-up - it makes it look cute and girly, but also adds a slightly vintage feel. I'd be quite happy to chuck this in my bag and lug it round with me; it feels like it could survive but equally it's not too heavy or an awkward shape.
In the packaging the polish looks much browner than it does on the nail. It always makes me feel a bit disappointed when that happens - after all, nail polish is one of those things that you only really buy because you like the colour in the bottle, right? That said, I do really like both colours, I just sort of wish I'd got the one I actually thought I was buying!

Application was pretty good - the brush was a nice shape and the formula wasn't too gloopy. I used two coats for the photos above which gave pretty decent opacity but the colour has come out more purply than I expected, a bit like a paler version of OPI Meet Me On The Star Ferry. I might try that one next actually so I can compare the two shades. It's a nice alternative to the typical autumn dark shades and goes well with lots of different things - you could just as easily wear it with a dress for work as with a more casual jeans and jumper combo at weekends. I like that the shimmer gives it added depth too, and that it's quiteunusual in that you don't see a lot of brown nail polishes.
The one big let-down with this polish, however, was durability. I applied the polish on Saturday morning and the first big chip appeared on Tuesday morning, which isn't really ideal (although I did have quite a typing-heavy weekend). So, overall, whilst I really like the colour of the polish I'm afraid that it's a no from me due to it just not lasting long enough - if it had held up another day or two it would have been a definite keeper.
Sadly Magical Mocha appears to be discontinued (although similar shades Mink and Truffle are available via the Accessorize website) but if you'd like to try this polish then keep an eye out for it in my £1 Nail Sale which launches soon - I'm taking the photos next week but if you're interested please leave me a comment?

Have you tried any Acessorize nail polishes? What did you think of them? And do you have a favourite brown nail polish? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Domestic Sluttery's After Dinner Mint Brownies

Yes, at long last I have finally done some baking as I've been promising for months! N and T were both away last weekend so I decided I'd take advantage of having the flat to myself. I love baking but because our flat is so small and the kitchen is pretty much constantly occupied, especially at weekends, I don't often get the chance, so it was really nice to break out

I'm a huge fan of the blog Domestic Sluttery - in fact I'd probably say it's the blog that inspires me the most - and one of my favourite things about it is their recipe section. They have the most amazing array of food, from gorgeous cakes to delicious-sounding soups, and I just want to make everything on there. This is my first attempt from their Baking for Beginners series and I have to say I found it both incredibly easy and enjoyable; having not baked in so long it was really nice to get back in the kitchen. Plus I wanted to test-drive a couple of minty recipes before I visit my eldest sister E in a couple of weeks. She loves mint so I wanted to take her something she'd like as a thank you for letting me stay over, and I think these will be absolutely perfect.

The brownie recipe is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's - I left out the sea salt as I couldn't find any and after an epic struggle up the hill with my bags of shopping (although it did restore my faith in humanity that four lovely people asked if I wanted help!) I wasn't going back out in the rain to buy it, but I suspect they would be even better with that addition to help cut through the sweetness further. Here's the recipe from Domestic Sluttery with a couple of my notes added in brackets - if you try it let me know!

Brownies in the pan before they were cut. I wish I had smell-o-vision because they smelt amazing!
After dinner mint brownies (makes 16)
You'll need:

  • 170g butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 120g light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 110g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 50g plain flour, sifted
  • Pinch of sea salt (I didn't use this as didn't have it)
  • 6-12 thin after dinner mints, depending on the size (I used 12 of Tesco's own brand ones, but I'd use After Eights next time as the Tesco ones didn't have enough minty filling for my liking)
Make it!
  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Line and grease a small baking tin (the DS recipe says this but I find baking paper a pain to use because it always moves about, so I'm not sure I'd bother next time).
  2. Melt the butter in a pan on a low heat, set aside to cool.
  3. Mix the sugars and eggs together, beating until the mixture is thick and glossy.
  4. Add the vanilla and butted until smooth.
  5. Fold in the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Be careful not to overmix - this will make for a dense brownie.
  6. Spoon half your mixture into the pan, making sure it spreads into the corners. (This is where baking paper was a pain as it moved around a lot and I ended up with a load of mixture under it and had to use my hands to spread it in the end.)
  7. Lay your after dinner mints on top of the mixture in neat rows. If you're using very little ones, you'll fit 12. If they're larger you'll probably fit six.
  8. Add the rest of the mixture on top, spreading it so the mints are totally covered.  (My mints moved about a lot when I was doing this so I wouldn't worry too much about the neatness - it's actually quite fun playing mint roulette to see if you get a really minty one!)
  9. Pop in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until the top is crackling when they're ready to take out of the oven - push a knife/skewer in to see it it comes out almost clean, but make sure you do this a couple of times - otherwise you might be going straight through a bit of gooey after dinner mint.
  10. Leave to go completely cold before cutting (although I was picking bits off the edges of the pan and they were amazing, so I knew the brownies themselves would be awesome).
    You can see the mint layer in the brownie here. Look at that cracked top too!
These are honestly the most addictive things ever - gooey centres, chewy at the edges, super-chocolately and a nice kick from the mint to cut through the sweetness. It's like the brownie equivalent of crack cocaine. I am definitely going to be making this one again, and the success has inspired me to try more DS recipes sometime soon!

Be warned though: they are messy. The mixture sticks to everything - the spoon, your fingers when you try to get it off the spoon, the side of the bowl, the work surface, the brownie pan - and you will probably end up with more on you than in the oven at the end of it. Case in point: this is what my hand looked like after I'd filled the pan with the brownie mix. But it was worth it!

Yes, I'm filthy. I know.
Do you read Domestic Sluttery? Have you ever made any of the recipes from there? And do you have a favourite recipe for brownies? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

The #2014BloggerChallenge

Challenges are like buses for me - you wait ages for one and then two come along at once! This one is by the lovely Gaby at Another Girly Blog (who also recently very kindly nominated me for a Sunshine Award - more on that soon!) and, as the name suggests, is a challenge for 2014. So at least it gives me a few months to prepare for it...

It's hard to believe we're only six weeks away from Christmas, and in less than two months it'll be 2014. Next year is a massive one for me and my family, with my wedding in November, both my parents turning 60 and my youngest nephew starting school, and as I'm already thinking about New Year's Resolutions I wanted to make one that next year is going to be the year I have a really good go at getting my blog off the ground. As many of you know I've blogged on and off for years but it's only recently I've got involved in things like blogging chats and tagged posts, and I'm hoping that a challenge like this will not only help me stick with blogging but also increase traffic and help me continue to discover new blogs and meet so many amazing fellow bloggers!

The #2014BloggerChallenge basically involves writing two blog posts a month on a range of different topics, with the aim of getting you writing about things you wouldn't normally blog about. The post will go live during the first and third weeks of the month and the challenge is open to everyone, whatever your blog is about.

I'm really looking forward to this challenge as I always like to have new things to write about so hopefully being involved will give me lots of new ideas! Plus it's always lovely to get chatting to fellow bloggers - I've met some lovely people and found some amazing blogs through doing similar things so I'm hoping this will establish lots more connections.

If you'd like to take part then all you have to do is email Gaby at with your blog URL, email address and name. The first topics will be launching at the end of the year so I look forward to seeing you there - I can't wait to read everyone's posts!

Beauty Review: Bumble & bumble Thickening Hairspray

Since having my fringe cut in a couple of months ago, I have been rediscovering the need for a good hairspray. I started off using L'Oreal Elnett - you can read my review of that here - but when it ran out I was looking for a new one, and found that Elle magazine were giving away a mini bottle of Bumble & bumble's Thickening Hairspray with their September issue. I don't normally buy magazines just because of the freebie, but I'd heard good things about their Salt Spray so figured I'd give this one a whirl to see if I liked the products.
In terms of the packaging, it's a small translucent bottle with a black pump lid and pale blue and black writing. I like that it has a very clean look to it, with no mess or fuss, which to me always suggests that the money has gone into developing a really great product than into fancy packaging (don't get me wrong though, I do like a pretty container as well!). It's a good size too - I feel like I'd be quite happy to toss it into my handbag for a touch-up after work if I was going out or if I was going away for the weekend - and the simplicity of the bottle makes it look very attractive.

In the packaging, the product looks like a clear liquid, but does foam a little on the top when you shake it up.

To apply, shake the bottle and then spray onto your hair, then run your straighteners or other heat styling tools over it - I sprayed mine all over as I mainly use it to set my fringe but also with the rest of my hair on particularly windy days, and we've had quite a few of those recently! In terms of consistency it was quite fine. It made my hands feel a bit sticky afterwards though, but that seems to be par for the course with hairspray. You can also use it before blow-drying.

The smell was a little bit chemically - I think it was meant to be floral but I actually found it slightly cloying. Then again, I openly admit I don't buy hairspray because it smells nice, because they so rarely do, and often the ones that do don't work so well anyway, so I wasn't really so bothered about that.

In terms of durability, it did hold my style the whole day and didn't make my hair too greasy, as well as brushing out nicely at the end of the day. However I quite often found that it tended to set in patches, especially if I didn't straighten my hair afterwards, which surely defeats the object of a hairspray. Unless the point was you're meant to spray it over your entire head, inch by inch, but who has time for that in the morning before work? I also didn't find it gave my roots much boost either, but instead tended to weigh them down and often made my hair look a bit lank and horrible.

Ultimately, although the spray did hold my hairstyle and the packaging is lovely, I just couldn't get on with this product. And, at £7.50 for a 50ml bottle or £21.50 for 250ml, I think I'll be sticking with my trusty Elnett. After I've picked my jaw up off the floor at those prices.

If you fancy trying this hairspray you can buy it via the Bumble and bumble website,, Boots or Amazon.

Have you tried this or any other Bumble & bumble products? What did you think of them? And have you tried any beauty products recently that you just couldn't get on with? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

#BritishBloggerSelection Week 2: About Me Q&A/Interview

Morning lovelies! Today I'd like to talk to you about #BritishBloggerSelection, which was started by Ellie at Little Vintage Camera and is basically a group of British bloggers writing about all manner of things - fashion, beauty, lifestyle, cooking, you name it we're writing about it :) Each week on Saturday there is a new theme to blog about with questions, and you can also blog about whatever you want related to that theme. If you'd like to join just hop over to Little Vintage Camera and leave your name, blog title and blog URL and Ellie will send you the latest questions!

I missed the first week (which was Halloween themed) but this week's theme is Q&A, which are always favourite posts of mine :) So, without further ado, here are my answers to Ellie's questions!

Why do you like blogging?
I have quite a stressful job (I work in PR for the diversity campaign of a business charity) and so blogging is a way for me to switch off from that. It also means I can write about something completely different from my normal day job. Plus I get to discover lots of amazing bloggers and chat to some really cool people!
How did you come up with your blog name?
I honestly can't remember, I've had it for so long now that it's just always been there. I am currently in the process of making over my blog though so I'm going to end up changing the name at some point. I have loads of ideas but think I know what I'd like to call it, I just have to make a decision...
Where in the UK do you come from?
I was born in North Yorkshire, then we moved to Lancashire when I was eight, so I consider myself a Yorkshire girl. But I've been living in London for two years and now I'm not sure I can imagine myself anywhere else!
Favourite colour?
I tend to like bright colours, but if I had to pick one colour it would probably be bright red like the colour of a Liverpool strip (spot the football fan!). I'm hoping to be able to incorporate that colour into my blog when I get it redesigned.
Do you like Lana Del Rey?
I do, although I haven't listened to a lot of her new stuff - I might have to play it at some point soon! But I thought her first album was pretty good.
Hidden talents that you have?
This is quite a gross hidden talent, but I can pull back the fingers on my left hand so they're pretty much at a 90 degree angle. I would put up a photo as proof but I know a lot of people hate it so I won't inflict it on you!
Celebrity crush?
Matthew Gray Gubler - he plays Dr Spencer Reid in my favourite TV programme, Criminal Minds, and I think he's just gorgeous. Plus from his interviews and tweets he just comes across as a lovely, sweet, creative person who doesn't take himself too seriously, and that's something I always find very attractive.
Favourite blog of all time?
I have so many favourites! But I think my top three are Domestic Sluttery, Becky Bedbug and Tattooed Tea Lady, because they all have a lovely personable writing style and the blogs just look beautiful.
What made you want to join #BritishBloggerSelection?
I joined because since coming back from travelling six months ago I've been trying to get more into blogging, and I've found doing challenges like this a huge motivation, so I'm hoping that taking part will help me stick to it. Plus it's an amazing way to meet other fantastic bloggers!

So... that's me! Thanks to Ellie for letting me take part in #BritishBloggerSelection - I've really enjoyed this week's challenge and can't wait to do more!

Are you part of #BritishBloggerSelection or any similar groups or challenges? Do you like doing these sorts of posts? And what's the strangest question you've ever been asked as part of a blogging Q&A? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Beauty Review: Benefit B.Right Radiant Skincare 6 Piece Intro Kit

L-R: Foamingly Clean Facial Wash, Refined Finish Facial Polish, Moisture Prep Toning Lotion, Triple Performing Facial Emulsion, Total Moisture Face Cream and It's Potent! Eye Cream

 Morning lovelies! Today I've got another empties (well sort of) post for you, and this time it's about skincare - specifically, Benefit's b.right range of brightening skincare products. I was given the six piece starter kit as a birthday present last year by my sister, originally to take travelling with me but it was so nice I couldn't bring myself to do it! But then, the other week I was going to visit my parents for the weekend and thought it would be a good way to save space in my bag, so I took it along with me and have been using it ever since - and I have to say I'm very impressed!

The set consists of six miniature versions of the products in the line which come in a see-through plastic zip-up bag - I like this as it means you're not rummaging for tiny bottles and could also be used as a travel make-up bag in the future. As you'd expect from Benefit the packaging is gorgeous too, all glass bottles and jars with stitching details that make me think of an alchemist's shop, and a lovely fresh blue-green colour scheme. All the products have a fantastic clean, slightly floral smell which I really like as well.

Foamingly Clean Facial Wash
First up is the Foamingly Clean Facial Wash, a lovely rich cleanser that lathers up really nicely on your face - you can really feel it lifting the dirt off when you use it. The instructions say to wet your face, apply the cleanser and rinse off, but I tend to apply mine when my face is dry and then remove it with a hot flannel. The travel size shown here lasted me about two weeks using it most mornings and every night.
Refined Finish Facial Polish

The second cleanser in the kit is the Refined Finish Facial Polish, which as the name suggests is a face scrub. I liked this one as it was gentle but still felt like a proper scrub that was taking off all the dead skin without being too harsh, which is good as I find a lot of face scrubs too scratchy. I've been using this twice a week for the last three weeks and it's still going pretty well, I think I'll get another week or perhaps two out of it.

Moisture Prep Toning Lotion
After you cleanse, the next product in the routine is the Moisture Prep Toning Lotion. I don't normally use a toner - I prefer to use serum instead - but this was actually really nice in helping my skin feel fresh and ready for moisturiser, as well as giving it lots of hydration. The bottle here lasted me about three weeks using it morning and night.

Triple Performing Facial Emulsion
The kit also contains two moisturisers, one for day and one for night. The day moisturiser is Triple Performing Facial Emulsion SPF 15. I always get a bit worried about new moisturisers because I have quite an oily forehead and tend to break out quite easily, but I needn't have been concerned with this one. The product was really nice and light, not greasy and sank in easily, and even on days when I didn't have make-up over it I still felt like my skin was protected from the colder weather. The bottle has lasted me three weeks so far using it every day and I reckon I'll get a couple more out of it yet.

Total Moisture Facial Cream
Then there's the night cream, Total Moisture Facial Cream. It's quite a bit thicker than the day cream but again a little goes a long way, and it felt lovely and rich but without being too heavy and causing any breakouts. This pot has lasted me three weeks so far using it every night, and I think it should last for another few weeks, which I think is pretty bargainous!

It's Potent! Eye Cream
Finally, we have It's Potent! Eye Cream, and it definitely lives up to its name! I've suffered with dark circles under my eyes for as long as I can remember, and this is the first eye cream I've found that zaps them almost instantly. It's a lovely hydrating cream, not too thick or heavy for the eye area, and it feels really cooling when you apply it too. This teeny tiny pot has lasted three weeks using it twice a day and is still going strong.

Overall this kit is a fantastic little introduction to the range and has some lovely products in there. It lasts quite a long time as well so would be good for a short holiday somewhere as well as for a weekend away. The only thing now is I want to buy all of the full size products! However I think my favourite product in the kit is by far and away the eye cream so I will definitely be investing in that when it runs out - even though it's such a small pot it lasts a good long while.

If you'd like to try this product then the starter kit is available for £12.50 - which in my view is ridiculously cheap for a high-end brand like Benefit - from, John Lewis and ASOS. Or you can buy any of the individual products from the Benefit website or usual Benefit stockists.

Have you tried any of the b.right products or other Benefit skincare? What did you think of them? And what do you do with your products when you go away - do you decant them, buy minis, take the full sizes or something else? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Book Review: Running Like A Girl

So, when I first came back to the UK I needed something to get me out of the house when I wasn't working, and I decided to take up running. I'd attempted the NHS version of Couch to 5K before I went away but hadn't done very well at it, and then when I came back I started on the Zombies, Run! version which I was getting on quite well with... and then hit a wall. I just stopped enjoying it and was also feeling physically ill on runs, which didn't seem like a good thing. This also coincided with me starting work again and going straight from a temp job into my current role, so I ended up falling off the running wagon for several weeks. I have slowly started up again and am trying to go out at the weekends when the weather is nice, but my mojo has deserted me a bit. That's where Running Like A Girl came in - I'd heard it had good reviews so decided to give it a go.

Alexandra Heminsley, or 'Hemmo', is one of those runners who is just like you - when she started out, after signing up to do a marathon, she could barely run round the block. But gradually, she improved, and has now run several marathons plus various half-marathons and 10Ks. The first two-thirds of the book is a memoir of her journey from complete beginner to serious runner, and is packed with the stories of the people who inspired her to run. I particularly identified with her relationship with her dad, who had run marathons back in the 70s and 80s - although my dad has never done anything like that, he has been running all his life and having that shared interest has been a lovely way to reconnect as well as having a source of useful running tips. So thanks Dad!

The book then splits off into a shorter final third with Hemmo's tips on running equipment and also the stories of some of the pioneers of women's distance running, which I hadn't heard before - for example, that women weren't allowed to run the Boston Marathon until 1972 or the Olympic marathon until 1984, ostensibly for health reasons. There were some truly amazing women in there and reading their stories gave me a boost to keep going with my own running, especially with the awareness of their fight for women to be able to run professionally.

The message of the book is fairly simplistic - everyone can run, you just have to do it - but the fact that Hemmo tells her story with such wonderful humour and is brutally honest about the struggles she experienced even in just starting to run, as well as how her motivation for running evolved. Overall this was a great book: light, easy to read (I finished it in a couple of days), warm and relevant. If you want to get into running but don't feel that you can, then I highly recommend this book; it will make you believe that, to paraphrase Barack Obama, yes you can.

If you fancy reading Running Like A Girl, the Kindle edition is £8.54 on Amazon, or you can get the airport-sized paperback for £9.09 (the normal-sized paperback comes out in January, no doubt to capitalise on people who take up running as a New Year's Resolution).

Have you read Running Like A Girl or any other running books? What did you think of it? And what kind of sports or exercise do you like to do? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Firework Nails!

I don't really tend to do a lot of nail art, mainly because I'm not the most delicate of touch so quite often it looks like I let my three-year-old nephew do my nails. But I do like the easier options, such as a specialist top coat, so as it was Bonfire Night on Tuesday and I went to a friend's party for Blackheath fireworks at the weekend I thought I'd give firework nails a go!

This is an idea I got from my friend T a few years ago, so before I go any further I just want to say thanks to her for the inspiration :)  I'll show you the look I did in stages so you can get an idea of howI got there. Apologies for the mess, I tend to only tidy up when the nails are finished so I'm aware it's not exactly the prettiest of manicures in these pictures!

I started off with the navy polish - this is Barry M Navy, which I actually really like as a stand-alone shade, but you could use any navy or dark blue polish you have. It would look really good with black as well, I think I might try that if I do this again. This is two coats on top of my usual base coat, Revlon Post Trauma, and I have to say I'm very impressed with the opacity on this one.

And then the gemstone topcoat. T's original version of this look used Gosh Rainbow, which launched the craze for these kind of shimmery gemstone topcoats, but sadly you can't get it any more. So for this one I used Andrea Fulerton's Gemstone Overcoat, which still took me ages to get - I remember checking in every Superdrug I went to for months to find it! I did one coat of this over the blue. It actually works better if you do a thinner coat because the patches look more like fireworks exploding.

To finish, I did a matte topcoat - I like Rimmel's version as it's got the most perfectly-shaped brush out of all the nail polishes I own and fits the nail so you can go over it in one sweep. But again you can use any matte topcoat you want, or even a regular topcoat if you'd prefer shiny nails.

And there you have it - firework nails! I love how the colours change depending how the light hits them, from coppery to sea green and back again. Plus it got me lots of compliments at the party and at work earlier this week :) Durability was good too - I did them on Saturday morning and the first tip wear appeared on Tuesday morning (after three days of heavy typing), with the first tiny chips on Wednesday. Definitely a look I'd like to try again some time.

What do you think of this look? Have you tried any gemstone overcoats? And did you do your nails in a particular way for Bonfire Night or Halloween? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Book Review: Madame Bovary

Continuing my quest to read more classic novels this year, today's review is of Gustave Flaubert's realist classic, Madame Bovary. This was a book I had in my head for some time - no idea why, I think it was memories of the copy at my parents' house and friends reading it for uni many years ago - so when it came to choosing my next book, it was something of a no-brainer to download this one.

For those of you who haven't read it, Madame Bovary is the story of Emma Bovary, a young country girl who falls for doctor Charles, but becomes disillusioned with her marriage when the couple moves to a small French towns. Bored and frustrated as a wife and a mother, she falls into affairs and debts. It's pretty obvious from that synopsis where this is going to end.

The main thing I have to say about Madame Bovary is that it's incredibly well written. The descriptions are so rich and vital, so packed with details, you almost feel like you're standing on the street or in the room with the characters - who are equally as well drawn. It's been a long time since I felt strong emotions towards a book character, and this book provided that in spades. I genuinely sympathised with Charles in his attempts to make his wife happy, and - at the risk of sounding harsh - actually felt quite angry towards Emma, especially towards the end of the novel when she'd brought her fate on herself. The supporting characters are equally well fleshed-out, from the almost comical apothecary Homais and his family and the cunning merchant Lhereux to the contrast between Emma's two lovers, shy young law student Leon and dashing ladies' man Rodolphe. It's also brilliantly paced - even though it's a bit predictable, especially coming off the back of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, I wanted to keep reading to find out where it ended up going.

Overall, it's a wonderfully detailed and completely immersive book with fantastically realised settings and characters whose humanity leaps off the page. I really, really liked this book and would definitely recommend it if you're a fan of classic literature. Even though the plot is a bit simple, the detail and intricacy involved in it, as well as the layers of story packed on top of each other, make it well worth a read.

I think I'm going to have a break from reading classic novels for a little while, just because there are quite a few modern books and series I want to read. At the moment I'm reading Dracula as I haven't read that before and like something scary at this time of year, and at some point I'd like to read the George Eliot and Thomas Hardy books I haven't yet got around to. I also quite fancy doing a classic novel challenge next year - reading every Charles Dickens book, in order of publication - so will let you know how I get on with that.

You can get Madame Bovary free on Kindle, but I'd been informed that version wasn't very good so went for the Collins edition which costs 99p. The cheapest paperback version is the Wordsworth Classics edition which costs £1.89.

Have you read Madame Bovary? What did you think of it? What other classic French novels have you read or want to read? And are there any characters in books you've read who you've felt really strong emotions towards (good or bad)? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Beauty Review: Topshop Nails in Smashing Pumpkin

Well, it was Halloween, I kind of had to didn't I?

Now that we're into full-blown autumn, I've already been excitedly planning my nail colours for the rest of the season leading up to Christmas (because I'm organised/odd like that). Anyone who's a regular reader of my nail posts will know that I like to co-ordinate my nail colour with the season, so with Halloween just gone it made sense to give Topshop's Smashing Pumpkin a go. (Just as a sidenote, I'm loving that nod to the 90s.)

As the name suggests Smashing Pumpkin is a rusty orange colour, not quite a bright pumpkin orange but closer to the colour of a fallen leaf or a fox's coat. This picture is with three coats; two was OK, but it was slightly streaky on the tips so I went over it again just to make sure.

I've commented before about how impressive Topshop polishes are, and this one is no exception - not only is it a lovely rich and slightly unusual colour, the polish is also pigmented really well and isn't too thick or gloopy. I also really love the polka dot packaging and the names - it's quirky, but still fashionable.

The polish lasted pretty well too - I did them on Monday night and aftet three typing-heavy days at work, the first tiny chip appeared on Thursday night, so I'm quite pleased with the durability on that. I used a new topcoat as well, Nails Inc's Kensington Caviar 45 Second Top Coat, as a change from my usual Seche Vite as I was starting to get a bit annoyed with the Seche because it took forever to dry. But I'm very impressed with the Nails Inc, both in terms of drying time - it might not be 45 seconds but it is a lot quicker than Seche Vite - and of durability.

Overall, I really like this polish. It's a great shade for autumn - still a little bit bright, but not too summery, and goes really well with other seasonal colours (I particularly like it with the teal jumper I'm wearing as I type this post). Plus the polish lasts for ages and has good opacity. Definitely a favourite.

Sadly Smashing Pumpkin is no longer in stock on the Topshop website :( but they may have some in the shop or on eBay so keep your eyes peeled if you want to try it!

Do you like seasonal nail polishes? What's your favourite orange polish? And how did you do your nails for Halloween? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!