Season's Readings: May 2015

It's the end of another month, so that means another Season's Readings post! May has been a bit of a slow month for me on the reading front; I decided to get back into my Charles Dickens Challenge and that, plus having various magazines to get through, ultimately slowed me up a bit. But I still managed to read three books, so here's what was on the list this month...

Half Bad - Sally Green
There has been a glut of supernatural young adult fiction in the last few years, but Half Bad stands out because it's just that good. It follows Nathan Byrne, outcast son of a white witch mother and a black witch father with a fearsome reputation, who sets out to find his destiny before his seventeenth birthday. The book moves along at a rollicking pace, creating a great sense of the frustration and desperate energy pent up within Nathan and its rush of release throughout the novel, and the settings - particularly the mountainous areas - are captured so perfectly you can feel the rain and smell the earth. Additionally, the characters are all brilliantly realised; as well as getting inside Nathan's head, you get a great understanding of his family, love interest Annalise, enemies and those he meets along his journey, even if they're only mentioned in a few snippets. It was a book I completely lost myself in and I can't wait to read the sequel,

Little Dorrit - Charles Dickens
Having fallen off the wagon of reading Dickens for a few months, I decided to pick up where I left off with Little Dorrit. The titular character, Amy, is born in debtors' prison following her father's being sent there, and grows up within its walls. Along the way she meets Arthur Clennam, recently returned from China and trying to make something of himself, despite the opposition of his mother and her servant Flintwinch. Although the book is a shrewd observation of how money - or the lack of it - changes people and on what constitutes a 'good' marriage, I found it dragged a lot and often the subplots were more interesting than the main love story between Amy and Arthur. Similarly, Amy Dorrit and her story felt like a retread of Esther Summerson in Bleak House. Not my favourite Dickens so far, but by no means the worse, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
As I was down in Cornwall last week and have a thing about reading books set in places I'm visiting, I decided to finally pick up Rebecca, arguably her most famous novel. It tells the story of the second Mrs de Winter, young wife of Maxim who owns the Manderley estate, and how she is affected by his first wife Rebecca, whose spirit seems to haunt the house. The book is brilliantly atmospheric, creating a strong sense of the oppression the narrator feels as Rebecca's presence lingers at Manderley, supported by the obsessive housekeeper Mrs Danvers (one of the most brilliantly creepy characters in all literature). du Maurier's writing is brilliantly haunting - making you pause over lyrical passages before turning the page in desperation to find out what happens next - and the book has stayed with me since I finished it, like a dream you're not sure was real. Definitely worth a read especially if you like the Gothic feelings of the likes of Jane Eyre.

So overall, not a bad month's reading! I think my favourite was Rebecca which just narrowly pipped Half Bad to the post, but all three books were decent reads on various levels. I'm expecting June to take a little while as I've just picked up Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for a re-read and it is massive (over 800 pages), but we'll see how it goes...

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

Vitality Run Hackney 5K

In the past few months I've really been trying to get back into running. What with buying a house and being busy at work, it's been difficult to find time to fit it in, but when I can get out for a run round Greenwich Park it's a great way of blowing off the cobwebs. Recently though I've been kicking the training up a notch in preparation for the Vitality Run Hackney 5K, which took place a couple of weeks ago.

As Stratford was the easiest station for me to get to and the information sheet said it was a 25-minute walk, I decided to make my way through the Olympic Park to get to the race village. As I've never been before (I know, terrible) I took advantage of the fact I had plenty of time to take a few pictures.

Unfortunately there wasn't anything really indicating the way once you were through the park however and I actually ended up arriving about five minutes before the race was due to start, despite allowing myself plenty of time. From what I understand it was because they didn't get enough volunteers, but I still think a few signs would have helped.

Once I got to the race village I checked in my bag and made a dash for the start line. (Word of advice: do not pin your number on whilst running. You will poke yourself.) Thankfully I made it there just in time for the race to start, and then we were off!

Sadly I didn't manage to take any pictures on the run itself as I was focusing on getting round, but it was a really lovely run - under the trees in the sunlight and then snaking across the Marshes past the cricketers in their whites, before finishing up along the river and then turning off back to the start.

I managed to complete the run in 34:50 - not my best time, but considering I hadn't really had time to prepare beforehand I don't think it was too bad. It was a flat course though so I would have liked to go faster, but at least it's something to aim for next time!

Me (very hot and sweaty) and my medal. Is it wrong to be weirdly proud of that?

Overall I enjoyed the Run Hackney 5K - it's a great course with a really nice atmosphere and the volunteers were really friendly and helpful. As I said I'd have liked to see some better signs to the race village but next time I'll just arrive earlier. And I'm definitely going to try and come back to do the half-marathon some day...

Happy Birthday, Cherry Soda...

Some exciting news (well for me): on Monday, Cherry Soda turned two! It feels like only yesterday I was coming back from travelling, fed up of endless job applications, and thought 'Right, I'm going to sit down and write about something I really love'. Since then it's grown more than I could have hoped - whilst it's small fry compared to some of the mega-bloggers, it still gives me a sense of awe that so many people actually want to read what I have to say. So, whether you're a long-term follower or are only reading the blog today for the first time, I just wanted to say a massive:


In particular I wanted to say thank you to the lovely fellow bloggers I've met both in person and online. There are too many of you to name here but you've all been fantastically welcoming, helpful and supportive and have made me feel so welcome in the blogging community.

The blog has come a long way in the last year (not least in my photos being marginally less terrible) and I have so many plans for it in the coming months: finally buying my domain name, a possible redesign and getting into vlogging. But the one thing that hasn't changed is that I love sharing the things and places that I love in London and beyond, from beauty to books and everything in between, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. Here's to the next year being even better...

And to finish, this:

Birchbox May 2015: Free Your Mind

I've been really impressed with my Birchboxes over the last few months so when the latest one landed on my doorstep, I had high hopes for it. This month's theme is 'Free Your Mind' and is all about doing new things, which is always something I feel keen to do at this time of year - I think it's something about the days getting longer and the weather (hopefully!) improving. So let's see what we have...

Birchbox is knocking it out of the park with their box designs lately and this month's is no exception - it's designed to be one that you colour in yourself! I haven't jumped on the 'colouring for relaxation' bandwagon yet but this has inspired me to give it a go. Plus I really like the idea of being able to personalise your box in this way and unleash your creative/childlike side. Birchbox is also offering a prize of £500 worth of beauty products for the best box so make sure you enter if you haven't already!

I really like this new booklet design for the information about what's in the box and how to use it - it's much easier to flip through and keep than the previous pile of cards. The sneak preview for June was particularly exciting (though I won't spoil that in case you haven't seen it yet...).

WAH London Nail Polish in Be Better Not Bitter

This month Birchbox let subscribers pick their product from WAH Nails, and I opted for a nail polish. Be Better Not Bitter, the shade I received, is a British Racing Green type colour - very nice but seems like a bit of an odd choice for a spring box when maybe a pastel or bright colour would have been better. I also wasn't wild about the wear time; it started chipping after a couple of days even with top coat. So I'm afraid it's not for me right now, but maybe one I'll come back to in the autumn months.

Mirenesse Mattfinity Lip Rouge in Paris

I'm a big fan of a bright lip but tend to only stick to certain colours - red, hot pink or maybe a coral - so initially was a bit unsure about this Mirenesse Mattfinity liquid lipstick in Paris, a kind of purply-pink colour. However, once I got used to it, I actually really liked it (even if my facial expression doesn't look like I did!). Again it's possibly something I'd wear more in autumn or winter than spring but it's quite a nice alternative to berry lips, even though the wear time wasn't great - it had worn off within about five hours. Not one I'd necessarily buy again but it was nice to try something different.

Parlor by Jeff Chastain Moisturising Sea Salt Spray

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm trying to slowly ease myself back into wavy hair, and I think this is the best wave-creating product I've tried so far. It doesn't look as messy as some of the others I've tried, smells nice and doesn't have that 'crispy' texture that lots of salt sprays can have. Plus it held my natural waves nicely and that they didn't drop too quickly over the course of the day. I think it's still a look I'm getting used to but this is definitely a product I'll come back to when I want to try it again.

Whish Three Whishes Body Butter in Almond

I am a sucker for anything almond-scented so was very excited to get this body lotion in this month's Birchbox. Having tried the lavender version of this product, which I really liked, I was optimistic about it and my good faith was rewarded. It's rich but without being too heavy, sinks in nicely, moisturises for a long time - my skin still felt really soft the next day, even on my dry patches - and the almond smell is sweet but without being overwhelmingly sickly. This is definitely my favourite product in this month's box!

Jelly Pong Pong Caribbean Sun Bronzer Duo in Martinique

(Yes I know it looks messy. I'll explain why in a future post.)

Bronzer is one of those products that has always scared me a bit; I think because I'm so pale I worry I'm going to end up looking orange. However, this product has made me rethink my views on it. It's not too heavy and adds a nice subtle glow and contour but without looking too 'done', especially when teamed with the pretty mid-pink blush - though you could quite easily build it up too. I also found the wear time was quite good at around six hours, but suspect if I'd applied a bit more it might have held up longer. Definitely one I'll be reaching for when I want to add a bit of colour this summer.

Number 4 Lumiere d'Hiver Reconstructing Masque

The final item in this month's box was this lovely hair mask. Firstly, it smells absolutely amazing - a gorgeous creamy, slightly sweet scent that adds an extra touch of luxury. It also made my hair feel really soft and smooth but without weighing it down too much in the way lots of masks can. Finally, as it's so rich a little goes a long way, so even though it's not cheap it's definitely worth the investment. A really nice treaty product to finish off the box.

Birchbox Colouring Pencils

Finally, a set of colouring pencils to decorate the outside of the box. I really liked that as a little extra touch as it means you're not forking out on other products to colour it in. And there's always a use for pencils...

Overall I was really pleased with this month's Birchbox. It definitely lived up to the theme as I tried lots of stuff I wouldn't normally experiment with, plus I found some really lovely products in the bronzer and the hair mask. The one misfire was the nail polish but if that had just been in a more springlike colour then I'd have no complaints, Looking forward to seeing what's in the June box now...

Did you get this month's Birchbox? What did you think of it?

Peyton & Byrne

Do you ever have those days where you set out somewhere with the intention of writing a post, and then something happens where it just doesn't go quite right? That happened to me the other week with my original attempt to review Peyton and Byrne's most recent bakery outpost in Greenwich; but it was just too busy to take photos without getting in people's way and then halfway through my phone died anyway! (Note to self: buy a portable charger ASAP.) #bloggerproblems But on the other hand, it gave me an excuse to go back, and so a couple of weeks later I found myself in there again - this time with a fully charged phone!

The Greenwich branch of Peyton and Byrne is one of six bakeries, though they also own several other restaurants in London (including the lovely Inn The Park and two eateries at both the National Gallery and Kew Gardens). I haven't yet visited any of the others so can't compare across sites, but on first visit it's a lovely atmosphere - a bright and airy building decked out in shades of grey and yellow, with bright globe lights and scrubbed wooden tables.

Peyton and Byrne's two most famous dishes are their carrot cake and Chelsea buns, so of course it was only right to test out both (though if you're not a fan of either of those, the rest of their cakes and pastries look equally amazing as you can see above!). Interests of thorough research and all that...

The carrot cake was lovely - really moist but without being too heavy, with plenty of crunch from the nuts that were baked into it and scattered on top. However, the icing was what won it for me; it had the perfect consistency of not being overly creamy or runny and with just the right amount of sourness in the cream cheese. They also sell it as a massive full-size triple-layer cake which I haven't dropped hints about wanting for my birthday cake this year. No, no hints at all.

I love these special plates for the Chelsea buns! They were delicious too - sticky but without being overly sweet with plenty of fruit and spice. Lots of these types of buns often just taste of dough but these had lots of flavour without being too overwhelming. My only issue with them was that I would have liked them to be bigger, but you can't have everything...

As for the coffee, I can safely say it's some of the best coffee I've had in London. It's strong and rich, but without being overly bitter, and on both times was a nice balance to the sweetness of the baked goods. Peyton and Byrne also do a really good pastry and coffee breakfast deal for £4.50 to eat in which is even cheaper than places like Starbucks so if you're passing by in the morning I'd take advantage of that!

Overall I really liked Peyton and Byrne; it's a great place to stop off in Greenwich if you fancy a snack and a sit-down (I really want to try the savoury food there next as there were some lovely-looking quiches there last time). My main tip though is be prepared to wait a bit even early on weekend mornings - though they do do takeaway so if it's a nice day you could do that and then go and sit in the park or by the Cutty Sark - but I'd say it's definitely worth it if you fancy something different from the usual chain cafes.

Have you been to Peyton and Byrne? What did you think of it?