Book Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

One of my favourite trilogies of recent years has been Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I reviewed the second book, Days of Blood and Starlight, at the end of last year, and at the end of that mentioned that I couldn't wait for the third book to come out; they're the kind of novels that you simultaneously inhale because they're so good to read yet try to drag out so they don't have to end. That feeling was turned up to 11 by Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the final book in the series.

A warning before I say anything else: here be spoilers for earlier books in the series.

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The book opens after an army of Seraphim has appeared on Earth, staging a mass invasion in the form of the Second Coming. Meanwhile, lead character Karou is attempting to unite the chimera army with the siblings of her angel lover Akiva in order to fight this greater evil.

As the final book of three Taylor had a lot of loose ends to tie up, and consequently I feel that created a bit of a shift in her style; the sparse but beautiful prose I loved from the first two books is still there, but it did feel slightly like that had been sacrificed to keep the plot driving forward (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). It also seemed like the themes that have been lurking in the background earlier in the series - the nature of good and evil, the conflict between love and duty - were pushed much more to the fore, though it never felt like the reader is being pandered to or preached at.

After they spent much of the previous novel separated, the love story between Karou and Akiva is also far more present in this book, and it's probably the first time in the series I've warmed to Karou; I always thought she was cool, but often she's come across as cold and this time around I felt she was much more humanised. That said, it's still the peripheral characters I love - Karou's feisty best friend Zuzana and her violinist boyfriend Mik, the utterly heartbreaking fate of Ziri and the change seen in Akiva's sister Liraz over the course of the trilogy.

Overall, this was a bit of a bittersweet book for me; whilst it's gorgeously written, even when Taylor talks about terrible things, it also felt very sad to leave the series behind. That said, the gripping plot and wonderful descriptions kept me hooked from beginning to end and so immersed in the world of the book that finishing it felt a bit like saying goodbye to a good friend (though there are plenty of loose threads left hanging for a sequel). Definitely a series to sit down with on a rainy weekend and race through.

Have you read any of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy?

Day Tripper: York

York will always be a special place to me. I was born thirty miles away and so often used to go there for school trips - one of my earliest memories is going to the Jorvik Viking Centre and making our own coins with a dropped weight. Then I went to university here, and recently have been back and forth ahead of our wedding earlier this month. Every time I come back I want it to be permanent - I've really missed the relaxed feel of the place and the fact that it's got everything you need yet is really small and easy to get around.

As we had a couple of days in York recently before our wedding, I took advantage of the opportunity to have a good wander around and take a ridiculous amount of photos, so apologies that this post is very pic-heavy!

After we arrived in York we went up to our wedding venue, the Hospitium in Museum Gardens, to finalise the last few details and had a wander round the park whilst we were there. The colours in the leaves were utterly beautiful and it was really atmospheric.

We then went back to one of our favourite haunts when we were students here for a late breakfast: Coffee Culture on Goodramgate. It's a great little cafe tucked away off a side street with kitschy decorations and delicious food. I had the best scrambled eggs I've eaten for a long time there!

Nick then had to get a few bits and pieces so I took advantage and had a bit of a walk around the city. It's the most ridiculously photogenic place I think I've ever been to and there's always so much going on - hopefully this will give you a flavour of it!

Guy Fawkes is one of York's most infamous sons and there are lots of links to him throughout the city, such as a hotel and this plaque on the side of what is now the Cath Kidston shop.

The gorgeous and imposing Minster, which dominates the city's skyline.

York makes a big deal of its Roman history - it was a garrison town on the frontline in Hadrian's time and was also where Constantine (who brought Christianity to the empire) was proclaimed emperor.

I think we can all agree Barry is a brilliant name for a sheep. But please don't sit on him.

York streets have the best names, but I think the Shambles wins. It's the most wonderfully ramshackle street with all the buildings crowding in on each other.

York also has history as a chocolate manufacturing town - this was the home of the first Rowntree's factory. The chocolate also led to its reputation for social justice; Joseph Rowntree published an infamous report into the plight of the working poor in 1902 which kick-started the modern idea of welfare.

See what I mean when I say that the Minster dominates everything?

The legendary Bettys Cafe and Tea Rooms and the massive queue outside it! Sadly I did not go in, but if you go to York I insist you try to get a table (go early though!). There's nothing quite as good as a Fat Rascal and a pot of Tearoom Blend.

I love the detail in this bridge with the symbols of the Bishop of York and the Yorkshire white rose.

York is located on two rivers - the Ouse and the Foss - and consequently is a bit perilous when the river floods (I remember having to get into the pub on wooden planks more than once in my student days!) but makes for lovely views.

The legend that is Thomas the Baker! Lots of happy childhood memories - my mum would always take me here for a cheese straw after a Saturday morning shopping. And it's probably one of the last few places anywhere where you can buy lunch for two quid.

So that was my day out in York! Sadly I must admit the rest of our time there was a bit more hectic as we were meeting people as they arrived for the wedding and doing a couple of last minute jobs (though if you're a fellow chocolate fiend I must recommend the chocolate afternoon tea at York Cocoa House), but I hope it gave you a flavour of the city.

Have you ever been to York?

No Brushes Needed Everyday Makeup

I am the first person to admit that using makeup brushes is one of the best beauty things I've ever done. I only have high street ones at the moment (though in my opinion they're just as good as many high-end brushes - however I do have a couple of MAC brushes on my wishlist!) but they do make a huge difference in terms of making cheaper products look good and being able to do lots of different looks, especially with eye makeup. However, some days my brushes are out of action because they're taking ages to dry after being washed but tinted moisturiser just won't cut it, so I thought today I'd show you a look I like to do when I need to wear make-up but can't (or don't want to) use brushes.

Here's what I used to create this look (though obviously you can use your own products):

Clockwise from top left: Lord & Berry Twistick in Arizona, Wild About Beauty Creme Eyeshadow in Olivia, Maybelline Dream Touch Blush in Berry, Bourjois Healthy Mix Serum in Light Vanilla, Benefit They're Real Mascara, Collection Lasting Perfection Concealer in Fair
Apologies for the terrible photos by the way, it's really hard to take photos with one hand and apply makeup with the other! I definitely need to get a proper camera and a remote soon...

Apply foundation all over your face. You could use primer beforehand but I don't tend to bother with it when I do this look as it's more casual and I'm not too bothered about it lasting.

Add concealer where needed and blend with your middle or ring finger.

Take the cream eye shadow and stroke it across your eyelid with your clean ring finger. Build up by dabbing more on if you want to.

Add mascara - two coats on top, one on the bottom.

Take the cream blusher and do three dots in an upside-down triangle shape on the fattest part of each cheek. Blend up and out with a clean finger. Repeat on the other side. (Please excuse ridiculous grin.)

Take the lip crayon and draw a cross to mark out your cupid's bow, then apply on each side of the upper lip and on your lower lip using the edge of the crayon to guide you.

The finished look... (with apologies for terrible fringe)

And there you have it! Really quick and simple but looks great and will work for loads of different occasions. I like to do this when I want to look 'done' but am feeling a bit pushed for time or I can't be bothered to mess around with lots of products, but depending what products you use you could easily do this for work or an impromptu night out.

What do you think of this look? Let me know if you'd like me to do more of this type of post - I'm thinking of doing one on my wedding makeup next...

Charles Dickens Challenge: Dombey and Son

It's the seventh instalment of the Charles Dickens Challenge, and this one is on Dombey and Son, one of Dickens' lesser-known works. I must admit I had reservations about this one after my previous experience with less well-known Dickens novels, as I suspect there's a reason why they're not so well-known, and unfortunately it lived up (down?) to them.

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The book tells the story of Paul Dombey, a businessman who longs for a son to continue his family business and neglects his daughter Florence because she's not a boy. At the start of the book his wife gives birth to a son, but he turns out not to be everything his father hoped for...

My initial impressions of the book are that it's a bit odd - I can't say too much as it'll give a lot of the plot away but there's a particularly significant event about a quarter of the way through that makes the rest of the book feel almost like a separate novel, and I'm not sure how well it works. That said, the way the second part is structured is very enjoyable and I like the fact that it takes a different turn from lots of other Dickens novels, whilst being a nice bridge to the more 'classic' Dickens style that came back in his later years.

The characters were a little under-developed and two-dimensional for my taste, especially Mr Dombey, who becomes greedier and more cruel as the novel goes on, and Florence, who just felt like a rehashing of Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop for large parts of the book - she's almost too horribly good to be likeable. As always, the secondary characters, particularly Captain Cuttle, friend of Walter Gay (a young clerk at Dombey & Son and Florence's love interest), the amiable Mr Toots - a school friend of young Paul whose story has one of the most heartbreaking endings of all Dickens' characters - and Florence's feisty maid Susan Nipper are the most enthralling. By far the most rounded though is Edith, Mr Dombey's second wife who gives Florence the love she never knew from her father, and there is also a brilliant villain hiding in plain sight (again I won't say who for risk of spoilers).

Overall, I think Dombey and Son is my least favourite Dickens book so far. It felt particularly wearisome as Mr Dombey increasingly seeks to oppress Florence and punish her simply for being born a girl, with no hope of happiness for her. Consequently I felt like I was slogging through it a lot of the time which is partly why this review has taken so long to go up! The ending felt a bit too rushed and almost like it was trying to make up for the rest of the novel by being overly upbeat; I would have preferred something much darker in keeping with the tone of the book overall. It's only just saved by those wonderful secondary characters from being truly awful.

And with that, I'm now finally out of the obscure Dickens period and into his renaissance with David Copperfield. I remember seeing the TV adaptation of this with a very young Daniel Radcliffe about 15 years ago so am hoping the book turns out to be pretty good.

I'm also planning to condense my book reviews into a monthly 'What I Read This Month'-type posts - do let me know if you'd prefer to see that or a review of each book individually!

#2014BloggerChallenge: October Favourites

Hi everyone! This is a long-overdue #2014BloggerChallenge post and, happily for me, the theme this time is 'Top Lists' - so essentially an excuse to write up my favourites for October. I almost feel like this is going to end up being some kind of triple-decker of favourites as I didn't do posts for August or September (I know, I know), so apologies if this post goes on for ages! But hopefully it'll give you an idea of what I've been liking in the last few weeks...

Image sources: Marks and Spencer boots, Bourjois Healthy Mix Serum Foundation, Only Ever Yours, Ben Howard, Gotham

Favourite piece of clothing: Marks & Spencer brown leather riding boots
These were on my autumn/winter wishlist but I was lucky enough to get them as a birthday present (thanks Mum and Dad if you're reading!) and they are just as perfect as I hoped they'd be. A pair of knee-length flat boots are my best friends at this time of year as they can be worn with jeans as well as skirts and dresses and are great for all occasions from a day in the office to a casual dinner or trip to the pub, and this pair are easily the best I've ever had. The chocolate leather looks smart, they're ridiculously comfortable - I wore these for a ten-hour day recently and my feet were totally fine afterwards - and they go with everything in my wardrobe. Definitely going to be wearing these right through the winter.

Favourite beauty product: Bourjois Healthy Mix Serum foundation in Light Vanilla
I know, I am so epically late to the party on this one that everyone else has packed up and gone home, but this foundation has been an absolute revelation. Light Vanilla - the palest shade - is a really good match for me and despite the fact the bottle says 'light coverage' I actually find I need very little concealer on top of this (though I'm not sure how much of that is the product and how much is the fact that my skin's improved). Plus it smells really nice which is always a bonus! I can see this becoming a make-up bag staple for me for some time to come.

Favourite book: Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill
Set in a dystopian future where women (known as 'eves') are 'designed' for their future husbands to be completely perfect, this is one of the best books I've read this year. It follows freida and isabel - no, the lack of capitalisation isn't a typo - as they enter their final year of school before finding out whether they become companions or concubines. What's really stayed with me about it, however, is the various inventions and punishments to help the girls stay slim and pretty - healthy and 'fat girl' buffets, drugs to block calorie absorption, young women being called forward to have their looks judged by their classmates - that seem worryingly close to becoming reality sooner than we think. It's disturbing, but I think vital reading.

Favourite TV programme: Gotham
I'm a bit of a sucker for a dark crime drama, and Gotham has that in spades. A Batman prequel of sorts, it follows the young Detective (and future Commissioner) James Gordon as a rookie cop investigating the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents and trying to clean up corruption in the city. The main things I love about it are that it looks incredible (there's a wonderful 30s/80s mash-up going on alongside a real sense of oppression and grimness) and the fact that not all the loose ends get tied up at the end of every episode, which is something a lot of other cop shows don't do. But the thing that lifts it up for me is the acting, particularly The OC's Ben Mackenzie as Gordon and Robin Lord Taylor as a brilliantly creepy Oswald Cobblepot (aka the Penguin).

Favourite music: Ben Howard - I Forget Where We Were
Ben Howard's first album, Every Kingdom, was one of the soundtracks to my trip around the world (hard to believe that was nearly two years ago now!), so when the follow-up came out I went straight on Spotify to give it a spin. It's a brilliantly atmospheric album - the opening track, Small Things, sets the tone with a really sparse and haunting tone and dark lyrics that linger with you long after it's finished. That said, the driving rhythms and singalong choruses that were the centre of Every Kingdom are also present in spades on songs like I Forget Where We Were and She Treats Me Well, making this feel like an album for walking in a wintry city or driving down a long deserted road. Perfect seasonal listening.

Favourite thing I did this month: Went to see Strictly Come Dancing
OK, I didn't actually do this in October, but seeing as I didn't do a September favourites and October wasn't actually that much of an exciting month for me I think I'm allowed to post this. I won't gush on about it too much - you can read my post on what it was like here - but it was utterly fantastic and if you're a Strictly fan I really, really recommend that you persevere with the ballot. Yes it's lots of waiting around but once you're in there the atmosphere is completely overwhelming and you'll find yourself cheering, booing and clapping along. Life goal fulfilled!

What were your favourite things this month?