Season's Readings: February 2016

After making a great start to my reading year, I was hoping to continue the good work in February. Unfortunately things have slowed down a bit (mainly as I have fallen back into my very bad habit of conking out on the sofa after tea then waking up and going straight to bed). However, I have managed to read a few books this month, so it's progress at least. Read on to find out more...

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
This was a Kindle freebie and, as I quite liked the recent TV series and was trying to save a bit of money, I thought I'd try it. I'm a big fan of historical fiction anyway but actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought. It's the first in a saga following Uhtred, heir to Bebbanburg in Northumbria, as his homeland is invaded by Vikings and he has to choose whether to side with them or with the Saxons in Wessex. I actually preferred the book to the TV series as it goes into much more depth, particularly with Uhtred; yes he's arrogant and entitled and self-centred, but the amount of detail as to why he's like that makes him strangely likeable and you find yourself rooting for him. The descriptions of the battle scenes are good too - although they're short and over very quickly you feel fully immersed in a wall of noise and sweat and blood and, when it's all over, strangely more bonded to Uhtred, as though you've come through something together. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series now!

The Lake District Murder by John Bude
My mum got me this for Christmas and it's awakened a love of classic crime fiction. As the title suggests, it focuses on Inspector Meredith who's called out to a suicide at a garage in the Lake District, yet rapidly realises that there has been foul play. The story is really well-crafted; there are red herrings (as any good mystery should have) but equally it feels tight and that everything, even Meredith's wrong turns, is constantly driving the plot forward. Granted there were a couple of deus ex machina moments towards the ending but the finale is utterly brilliant. It really evokes the landscape up there as well; I went on regular trips to the Lake District when I was young and the book's descriptions ring very true to my memories of the scenery. I feel a new classic crime reading challenge coming on...

The Fever by Megan Abbott
I've been intrigued by the idea of mass hysteria for a while so was interested to see what The Fever's take on it would be. It's set in a high school where, one by one, female students fall victim to a mysterious illness, and told from the perspectives of three members of the Nash family - teenage daughter Deenie, her hockey star older brother Eli and their father, a teacher at the school. Whilst it was incredibly readable and I raced through it, it was also slightly frustrating, with lots of cryptic sentences that felt like attempts to be deep and meaningful but ended up being a bit too try-hard. The ending seemed rushed too, with no real proper explanation. That said, some of the allusions to vampirism were interesting and the descriptions of the scenery were very well written,

The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh
My husband lent me this one and in a bid to economise (are we sensing a theme here?) I decided to give it a go. I am the first to admit I am not a maths person but I found this really easy to read - provided you have a basic recollection of GCSE mathematics then you should be OK with it. The chapters are short and self-contained as well which means it's easy enough to dip in and out of. That said, the format does get a bit repetitive after a while and I didn't feel I learned anything new from it. An interesting way to see how maths has been worked into The Simpsons over the years but unless you're a hardcore fan then I can't recommend it I'm afraid.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
It's a cliché to say a book is so good it makes you miss your stop, but that's exactly what happened to me with And Then There Were None. (I was meant to go from New Cross Gate to Lewisham. I ended up in Borough.) I watched the TV adaptation over Christmas and had been keen to read some Agatha Christie for a while, so as this is a stand-alone book it seemed the perfect place to start. Even though I knew how it ended, it's definitely worth reading as the characters are so well-drawn, even those who only appear fleetingly. I also loved the way it flitted back and forth between each character, really burrowing into their thoughts and revealing little snippets of their backstory. It is the kind of book that, when you finish it, it makes you desperately hungry for more whilst wanting to hug yourself because you love it so much. So, so, so, so good. Even if you're not a mystery fan I really recommend you read this - it's my book of the year so far.

Total books read in February: Five
Total books read in 2016 so far: Eight - 20% of target

So maybe not as impressive as last month, but I feel I'm doing quite well, especially as I'm ahead of schedule on Goodreads. Now here's hoping I can hold steady in March...

What have you read in February?

Birchbox February 2016: Shine Bright Like A Diamond

For Februrary, I've noticed a lot of brands tend to fall back on the Valentine's Day theme - but not so for Birchbox. Continuing their theme of making 2016 your best year yet, this month's box aims to remind readers how brilliant they are, celebrate the different facets of themselves and add a bit of something special to everyday routines. So let's see what's inside...

Spectrum Collections Tapered Powder Brush

I'm a firm believer that you can never have too many makeup brushes so this is a nice addition to my collection. The blue and purple ombre colour is lovely and the fact it's quite small makes it good for using with palettes where often a bigger brush is more difficult to manoeuvre. I tried it with the Frat Boy blush sample I got in this Birchbox (more on that below) and it was really soft rather than scratchy as some cheaper brushes can be. Definitely a new favourite!

LOC One And Done Shadow Stick in Perfect Cents

LOC (which stands for Love Of Colour) is Birchbox's new makeup brand and every subscriber this month got an eyeshadow crayon in either silvery Champagne Moments or coppery Perfect Cents. I opted for the latter and had high hopes as I really like eye crayons for on the go. Unfortunately I had to put quite a lot on for it to show up in photos so a crayon this size wouldn't last very long. Additionally I found it made the skin on my eyes feel quite tight, though I could potentially fix that using a primer. I'm also not wild about the colour; it's a bit more orange than I was expecting, though it would be nice for summer. One plus point for it is its staying power - I smudged a bit under my eye and it did not budge! So overall not for me I'm afraid.

Ole Henriksen Truth Serum Collagen Booster

I've heard many good things about Ole Henriksen products but hadn't got around to trying any, so was keen to see what this would be like. Initial impressions were that it was a very runny serum and one pump would be plenty for your face, but that it also absorbed quickly. I also liked the orange scent, which is neither too sharp nor too sweet and isn't overwhelming. It doesn't seem to have had an enormous impact on my wrinkles yet but it's only been a couple of days since I started using it so I'll keep going with it and keep you posted.

Ayres Body Butter in Patagonia

This was a surprising product in more ways than one. I normally expect body butters to be quite thick but although this was rich it spread really easily and sank in quickly without feeling heavy or greasy on the skin. The floral fragrance was a surprise too as from my own travel experiences I expected a scent called Patagonia to be a bit more earthy, but I actually really liked it; it's such a nice scent you could skip perfume if you were in a hurry. The product also worked really well on my dry patches which is always a plus point with body creams! Not sure I'd repurchase yet but definitely one of my favourite products in this box.

theBalm Cosmetics Frat Boy Blush/Shadow

Frat Boy has been on my 'to try' list for a while now so I was really pleased to get this. I applied it with the Spectrum brush - killing two birds with one stone and all that - and although I didn't feel it gave me a lot of colour at the time, looking at it in the photos it actually shows up quite well without being overly glaring. (I apologise for the horrendous spot scars by the way.) Plus you could always build it up if you wanted more colour. It's a really nice neutral matte peachy pink that I can see myself wearing all year round.

L. Erickson Grab & Go Ponytail Holder

Oh the irony of getting this just after cutting my hair short! I can't really review this one as my hair isn't long enough to tie back at the moment, but it's a pretty alternative to my plain hair ties and I'm sure I'll find a use for it when my hair has grown out a bit more.

This is going to be my last Birchbox post for the foreseeable future, mainly as I'm no longer able to afford the expense every month. I've found some great products in previous boxes but unfortunately finances won't allow me to stick with it (although I may be back in the future if things change). However I'm really glad to have gone out on a high - the only thing I wasn't keen on was the eyeshadow and I'll definitely be buying a full size Frat Boy when my sample runs out.

Did you get the February Birchbox? What did you think of it?

30 Days Of Outfits: An Introduction

Today's post is a short one, because it's an introduction to a new challenge I want to try. (You know me, I like a good daily challenge!)

Like many of us, I am a bit of a clothes junkie - I like shopping and finding new things that suit me as well as ways to adapt trends to suit my body shape. However, over the last few months, I've become increasingly aware that I have a lot of stuff (one and a half wardrobes, two big drawers and a plastic box of stuff to be more precise). Even more embarrassingly, some of this stuff has never been worn. or only been worn once or twice.

In an effort to address this, I'm setting myself a challenge: to wear a different outfit every day. I'm hoping it'll give me a better idea of what I have in my wardrobe, what suits me and what I can do without, as well as stopping me falling back on the same few outfits all the time.

So, here are the rules (although it's pretty brief):
  • Wear a different outfit every day - no repeats. Any outfit changes, such as for going out in the evening, will be featured but don't count towards the total. Workout gear is the exception as what I have is quite limited and it's still freezing so I need a thermal top for running!
  • I will also try to avoid wearing the same item for more than two days on the run, but can't promise anything.
  • Take a photograph of the outfit every day and put it on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #30daysofoutfits. Don't forget if you're not following me already (and why not?!) you can find my Instagram here and my Twitter here.
  • Write a roundup post every Monday with a summary of the week's outfits and whether I'd wear the items again (not necessarily in that combination).
  • Anything that I haven't worn at the end of the challenge (seasonal items excepted) to be sold or given away, or thrown out if in really bad condition.
  • No buying any new non-essential clothes during the challenge (of course, this means I have now seen loads of really nice stuff I want), to encourage me to wear what I have.
The challenge starts next Monday (29 February). I'm nervous to see if I can do it, but also excited at pushing myself a bit more and trying some things out of my comfort zone. Wish me luck!

Red Carpet Review: BAFTAs 2016

Hello everyone! Sorry I've been absent for a while; it's been a bit hectic with work and house stuff. But I'm back now, and am returning to an old favourite post of mine: red carpet fashion. Last night was the BAFTAs and there were plenty of beautiful dresses on show to love. Here are my favourites - were any of these on your list?

Cate Blanchett in Alexander McQueen

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Cate Blanchett always pulls it out of the bag and this McQueen number is no exception. I love how the opulet embroidery makes it feel really luxurious but the sleek shape really flatters her figure. Keeping her hair and makeup simple allows the dress to do all the talking.

Kate Winslet in Antonio Berardi

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Say what you like about Kate Winslet, but she knows what works for her and sticks to it. The dark colour of the dress contrasts her pale skin and hair, and I really like the unusual neckline. Adding flashes of red in her lipstick and bag stops it all from looking too plain.

Tanya Burr

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You can't go wrong with black and white on a red carpet, and Tanya's dress is just a perfect example of a beautifully classic dress. The simple shape and colour-blocking work really well together, and her classic waves and red lipstick bring an old Hollywood look right up to date.

Angela Bassett

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Block colours were a common sight on the BAFTAs red carpet, but Angela Bassett was one of few stars to opt for something other than black or red - and she looked amazing in it. I love the hot pink colour and the fact that everything else is kept really simple to show off the daring low back.

Bel Powley in Gucci
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This was on a lot of worst dressed lists but I actually really love it. It's bright, it's colourful and it's young - all things that an actor of Bel's age should be. The spaghetti straps give a nod to the 90s trends currently sweeping the catwalks and again keeping the hair and make-up simple means the dress is able to fully shine.

Gemma Chan in Jenny Packham
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Appropriately for an actress who made her name in a sci-fi series, this oozes space-age glamour. The sleek shape stops it from being too much and I love how the sparkle catches the light. Paired with those beautiful flowing waves and the simple black clutch, it all adds up to a stellar combination (see what I did there?).

Julianne Moore in Armani
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At the risk of this sounding like a backhanded compliment, I don't often like Julianne Moore's dresses on red carpets; there's always something about them that's not quite right. This, however, is perfect. The shape is really flattering and the colour really suits her, whilst the swept-up hair evokes Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tifanny's. I love it.

Julie Walters
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This year it was Julie Walters doing it for the glamorous older actresses, and she looks absolutely awesome in this bright blue dress - it really works for her skin tone. I love her layering up with a luxurious faux fur coat (well it was freezing cold) as well, managing to look comfortable as well as stunning.

Honorable mentions
Emilia Clarke
Stefanie Powers
Heida Reed
Laura Haddock
Antonia Thomas
Gwendoline Christie