Season's Readings: March 2015

As regular readers will know, I am a big reader; I never go anywhere without my Kindle and am constantly on the hunt for new books and authors. With that in mind, I thought I'd start a new series on the blog of what I've been reading this month. I will be adding books depending on which month I finish them and will also be keeping track of how many I've read against my Goodreads target of 50 books for the year.

It's been a bit of a TV-based reading month this March - there are a ridiculous amount of TV and film adaptations of various books coming out soon so I'm trying to read as much as I can in order to get ahead of those (is it just me who hates reading a book after I've seen the screen version?). So without further ado, here's what I've read this month...
Season's Readings: March 2015
The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
I wrote about Shannon's first novel, The Bone Season, in a previous favourites post and had been waiting with eager anticipation for the sequel. We open after Paige Mahoney has escaped the clairvoyant penal colony Sheol I, getting herself on the most wanted list in the process, and in this novel she gets drawn into shady goings-on in the London mime-crime underworld. Whilst I loved the world-building and the characters, and that it took a step back from the burgeoning love story to focus on Paige's development as a person, I wasn't so keen on the plot; it felt very predictable and like the ending was very telegraphed even early on, although the twist at the end isn't necessarily the one you'd expect (though it does become increasingly obvious). Plus it felt like it was a bit rushed - it all seems to tail off towards the end and there are some quite clunky passages that made me wonder if it needed more time for development. However, the ambiguous ending suggests Shannon might be getting some breathing space so I'll stick with it when the next book comes out.

Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
A TV-inspired choice ahead of the new version (on that subject, can I just say that Aidan Turner: WOULD). The first of a series of 12 novels, Ross Poldark is the story of the eponymous Ross, who returns from fighting in the American Revolutionary Wars to find that his father has died, his family mine is losing money and his fiancee Elizabeth is now engaged to his cousin Francis. When he meets spunky peasant girl Demelza Carne at a fair, things take an interesting turn.

This is the second time I've read this book - the first was on holiday in Cornwall last year, and whilst I thought that would detract from reading it this time, it didn't at all - if anything the vivid descriptions captured it brilliantly and gave me the yearning to go back! The book is incredibly well-written and the characters, particularly Demelza and Ross' servants Judd and Prudie, spring to life off the page. There's also a nice balance of humour, drama and more serious social observation. It's not a taxing book, but definitely one if you like well-written historical fiction with a dash of romance.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Another tie-in - this time ahead of the sequel, Insurgent, coming out at the pictures, I thought I'd refresh my memory of the series by re-reading Divergent. Set in a dystopian Chicago where people are divided into factions by personality, the series follows Tris Prior who finds she is divergent - meaning she has no dominant trait - and how she is drawn into a conflict between the factions and to the mysterious Four. Whilst it might seem a bit formulaic in terms of plot, I actually felt that Tris was a really well-rounded character and her emotions were captured brilliantly, plus it moved along at a great pace and ended on just the right note for a cliffhanger.

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
Some more TV-related reading - this has just been adapted into a series starring Martin Clunes as Arthur Conan Doyle (yes, the one who created Sherlock Holmes). It tells the story of Doyle's investigation of a case in turn-of-the-century Staffordshire, where solicitor George Edalji was accused of what became known as the Great Wyrley Outrages. This was a bit of a strange one; whilst it's very well written, I always felt a little bit distant from both characters - although I suspect that's partly the point. But it's very enjoyable as well as making you think, and I came away with a little more knowledge about an often-forgotten bit of English history that's still very relevant to the modern day.

Demelza by Winston Graham
This is the second of the Poldark novels and opens with Ross and Demelza happily married and about to become parents. However, despite the best intentions, things rapidly take a turn for the worse, with relationships damaged and their love tested to its limits. Demelza is a much darker novel than Ross Poldark - the ending in particular is utterly heartbreaking, even if you can see it coming - and amps up the previous novel's themes of equality, fairness and justice with devastating consequences. I also really liked the shift in focus to Demelza; she's always been my favourite character and in this novel we get to delve much more into her psyche and the struggle between her desire to fit into society and to be the woman Ross wants her to be. Despite the subdued note it ends on, it's a brilliant read and I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

Total books read in March: 5
Total books read in 2015: 13/50

Let me know if you've enjoyed this post and would like to see more in this series, or if there are any books on here you'd like full reviews of - feedback is always appreciated!

Have you read any of these books? What have you read this month?

The Breakfast Club

It's been a while since I've written a food review on the blog - mainly because what with the whirlwind of house buying (which has been a rollercoaster to say the least!) my weekends have been swallowed up with viewings and every spare penny is going into surveys and solicitor's fees and saving for furniture. But after a hard workout at BOOM! Cycle last Sunday - which was amazing despite having a very sore bum to show for it the next day - I decided to treat myself to a nice breakfast as a reward and so headed off to the nearby branch of The Breakfast Club, just round the corner from Old Street station.

This branch is unsurprisingly incredibly popular on weekends - I got here around 11.15 and, whilst I was lucky enough to get a seat straight away as I was by myself, the people in front of me in twos and threes were being told it was a 25-minute wait - so my advice is, if you want to go, be there for the doors opening at 8 AM to guarantee you'll get a spot.

Once I was inside and in my comfortable window seat I could drink in the atmosphere. The Breakfast Club feels very much like a mash-up of a greasy spoon and an American diner with quirky touches thrown in such as a disco ball, fairy lights, mismatched lights and deer antlers on the wall. And I love it.

Got to love anywhere that quotes Men at Work on its walls.

Because I am a creature of breakfast habit, I went for the pancakes with bacon and maple syrup - because bacon is always justified, right? - and a latte. The coffee was really good; served in a cheery yellow mug, it was smooth yet still had a nice strong kick to it - just the thing to re-energise after a serious sweating sessions (sorry).

The pancakes, on the other hand, were ever-so-slightly disappointing. Don't get me wrong, whilst they were thick and fluffy - just how I like them - there didn't seem to be enough maple syrup (and no way to top it up). Similarly, the bacon was lovely and crispy but without being over done or too fatty, but I would have liked more of it as a lot of the time I was eating my pancakes with either tiny bits of bacon or no topping at all. So overall it was all cooked nicely but I just would have liked more of it! That said, it was very reasonably priced; my pancakes and latte together cost £11, which is pretty similar to other similar places and I'm quite happy to pay that for a 'treaty' breakfast.

Overall I really liked the vibe at The Breakfast Club, particularly the jumbled-up quirky nature of the decor and the brilliant music (when I was in there they were playing an epic mix of 90s and early 00s tunes), and thought the food and particularly the coffee was good. That said, I'm keen to give it another go so will definitely be coming back to try the breakfasts again - maybe the All American or something involving eggs - as well as the smoothies and burgers.

Have you been to The Breakfast Club? What did you think of it?

Salon Review: Barber & Parlour

As those of you who follow me on Instagram may have seen, I recently cut my hair. I'd been growing it for just over two years (a combination of backpacking and getting married) and, although I liked it, I didn't really do anything with it in terms of styling apart from my fringe. Plus it had a really bad habit of tangling which drove me absolutely crazy. So I decided to go for the chop, and I also decided to try a new hairdresser - in for a penny, in for a pound, right?

I'd heard many good things about Barber & Parlour in its former incarnation as the Cheeky Parlour, a younger, funkier offshoot of Soho House's Cowshed spa. (Those clanging noises you hear are various names being dropped.) Whereas previously their hair offerings had been limited to blow-dries and updos, alongside make-up application and mani-pedis, they've now expanded to include a hair salon led by top stylist Josh Wood, a café downstairs and even a basement cinema!

As I hadn't had lunch I decided to pop into the café before my appointment so I wouldn't be sat in the chair with a rumbling tummy (nothing more awkward than that, right?). It's got a really cool relaxed vibe, a little bit industrial-chic but equally feels nice and homely at the same time - the kind of place you can imagine hunkering down for several hours and chilling out with friends. Plus you can buy loads of the things they sell there, from photo frames and storage to cushions and toiletries.

Got to love a place with a specific 'on toast' section on the menu.

I opted for the poached eggs on toast with avocado, chilli and lemon and it was absolutely delicious - perfectly cooked but still runny eggs, lovely fresh avocado and really well done toast. Healthy, nutritious and really filling. I also got a ginger juice which has ginger, apple and lemon in it and was perfect for kicking the slightly sniffly feeling I've had in recent weeks.

Once lunch had been eaten: to the salon!

Love the epic collection of brightly coloured wigs in the shop area!

I opted for a 'heavy' cut, the most expensive option at £66, as I was having so much taken off - but I should point out a 'light' cut, ie a trim, is really good value for London at £42. My hairstylist, the lovely Harry, was great; he made me feel instantly at ease and was also able to give me really good advice about whether the look I wanted (a loving rip-off of Anna from Vivianna Does Makeup's razor chop but keeping my full fringe) would work on me and how to style it. He then got to work and I happily buried myself in my book - I'm not a chatter at the hairdresser's so it was actually really nice to feel like I could do that without being awkward!

I didn't manage to take any photos of me in the chair - or, sadly, of the excellent coffee (the best I've had in a hairdresser's) - but here is the finished hair look :) I really like it and it's exactly what I was after, though I think I could be persuaded to go a little bit shorter next time...

Overall I'd really recommend Barber & Parlour; it's really well-priced, very relaxed and somewhere that you could quite happily spend plenty of time even if you're not going to get pampered. I think next time I come I'll definitely stick around for a bit longer to try some of their delicious-looking desserts, get a manicure and maybe even watch a film!

Spring Style Wishlist

Spring has sprung! And so have the new season's clothes; most of the shops are now filled with springlike pieces, despite the lingering chill in the air. I'm most excited about the 60s/70s trend - there are so many funky prints and retro designs out there (even if, alas, I can't quite pull all of them off). With the days getting longer and (hopefully) warmer, today I thought I'd do a wishlist post - are any of these on your list?

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Regular readers will know that I always go for skirts because they're really easy to dress up and down. This one from Joy is a great example of the 60s style that's everywhere at the moment - I love the pink accents in the floral print and the cool-girl leather-trim pockets. Definitely one to invest in now and wear with long sleeved tops and ankle boots, then with a T-shirt and ballet flats once the weather gets warmer. It also comes in a dress if that's more your style.

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Sticking with Joy, I have talked about their dresses before, but they always have a lovely selection especially for work. Whilst I love this one - perfect for important meetings or if you have a night out planned after a day in the office - I am an absolute sucker for a red dress and so I had to include the one above. It's a beautifully flattering shape with the slightly scooped neckline and flared skirt and would work for loads of different occasions both in and out of work.

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I'm sure you've all seen Topshop's various SS15 adverts with Cara Delevingne - don't they just ooze cool? I did slightly struggle to pick a favourite from them but I think this daisy print shirt dress just edges it for me. The colours mean it would work for winter as well as spring and depending on your work dress code you could get away with it for the office - although I think its natural home would surely be in a rock club and worn with ankle boots and lashings of eyeliner.

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More skirts, more 70s (I know, I know). Suede skirts are going to be massive this year and the fact that they're often in a neutral colour means they will work with loads of other things in your wardrobe. This one is from Miss Selfridge and would look great teamed with a white skirt and either knee-high boots or wedges. If your budget won't quite stretch to suede, they also have a very similar design in denim.

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For something a bit more summery, I am in love with this skirt from Cath Kidston - the cloud print is just so cheery and fresh. I can imagine putting this on on a grey rainy morning and instantly feeling better. Again it would be a great casual skirt with a white or yellow T shirt and white trainers, or for a slightly smarter occasion with a white top and tan pumps.

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OK, I will fully admit that these are completely impractical, but it's a wishlist so I can pick out what I want, right? These gorgeous Nike Air Max 1 trainers are from Liberty, who have done a range printed with flowers in all colours of the rainbow. However, the monochrome lover in me won out and, in the unlikely event I had that much cash to splurge on one pair of shoes, I'd go for these black and white New York-themed beauties. Again these are shoes I would wear just to run round town in with jeans, skirts - whatever I felt like! They also do a London version with red roses if you want some more colour.

I will admit there are a few other things I'm on the hunt for - specifically a black skater skirt, a cricket jumper that doesn't make me look too 'chesty' and a new satchel - but these are the things I'm currently hankering after. Do any of them catch your eye? And what's on your spring wishlist?

Birchbox Benefit Mascara Masterclass

If any of you are London locals you might have noticed a new pop-up appear in the streets of Soho recently - Benefit's Curl's Best Friend parlour, a 50s-style makeover boutique in honour of their new mascara, Roller Lash. (Which is amazing by the way - more on that coming soon!) Earlier this week I was lucky enough to be invited to a Mascara Masterclass with Benefit and Birchbox, and as a massive Benefit fan of course I jumped at the chance.

The sign on the window says 'Curls, Cakes & Cocktails' - and what's not to love about that?!

Upon arriving we were taken upstairs to a special secret room at the top of the building. It was all decked out like a cool retro-style bar - thinks 20s speakeasy meets glamorous nightclub.

Love the old-school studio light (and the goodie bags in the background - more on those later...)

Believe it or not, the mirror actually gave you compliments when you stood in front of it!

The dream for all those of us who love big lashes - an entire cabinet of mascaras! Is it a bit wrong I want one of these in my house?

How cool are these cupcakes? I had one of the ones with black icing and silver balls - it was chocolate and so delicious (though my hands did look like I'd had a fight with a toner cartridge and lost afterwards).

Possibly the most Instagram picture ever - an espresso martini (my favourite cocktail), a cupcake and popcorn...

After our cakes and cocktails Lisa Potter-Dixon, Benefit's Head Makeup Artist, showed us three looks for the new season, each using one of the three Benefit mascaras subscribers can get in their Birchbox this month - Roller Lash, Bad Gal and They're Real!. All three looks - Peach Perfect, The Undersmoke and Pantone Colours - were really wearable and easy to replicate at home, though I think Peach Perfect was my favourite as it's a great fresh look for spring and would work for day or a relaxed evening.

I also picked up some really interesting tips from Lisa including putting mascara on bottom lashes first (I've been doing this since the event and it really does work!), and that literally everything can be used as eye make-up including lipstick and bronzer. I have a Hoola bronzer which I've always been a bit scared of as I'm so pale, but can definitely see myself using it as an eyeshadow now.

Following the masterclass we all went downstairs to the Curl's Best Friend salon. Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of all things vintage and retro, and this was honestly like stepping into the beauty parlour of my dreams - all fresh spring pastels and big dryers and lightbulb mirrors. You can pop in to get your hair, brows and make-up done here and of course we all took full advantage of that!

I got my make-up done by the lovely Alyson who gave me the biggest lashes ever and actually made me less scared to try contouring as you can see from my selfie (taken in the slightly less glamorous setting of my flat). My eyelashes almost don't look real!

As well as getting to keep the notebooks you can see further up the post (because you can never have too many notebooks, right?), Benefit also very kindly gave us these awesome goodie bags with two mascaras - Roller Lash and They're Real! - The Porefessional primer, High Beam highlighter and a gorgeous fold-out mirror.

I had a fantastic time at the Mascara Masterclass, particularly getting to meet so many lovely bloggers including Emma, Alex, Jade, Zinita and Tina (do check out their blogs, they're all great!). A massive thank you to Birchbox and Benefit for such a lovely evening and hope to see you all again soon!

If you're in London before the end of March I'd definitely recommend popping down to Greek Street and having the Curl's Best Friend team glam you up - it's a fab pampering experience and loads of fun. And if you haven't got your March Birchbox already then don't forget to sign up and choose your Benefit mascara!

NB: I was invited to attend this event free of charge. All views are my own.