7 Book reviews from 7 months

As you can see from the title of this post I am averaging 1 book a month, which has dropped off slightly since last year but I’m pretty happy with that. And since March I have been attempting a WhatsApp book group with some friends, which means that this list of recent reads is quite varied (which is the point of a book group after all). I have listed my mini book reviews from most to least favourite, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books and some recommendations for what to read next.

7 book reviews

  • The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

I am so in love with this book, I can’t even explain! I didn’t know much about it other than it being set during World War II, and I’m not sure knowing what it is “about” really does it justice. It’s narrated by Death, who tells the story of a young girl living in Nazi Germany, during which time her foster parents hide a Jewish man in their home; and she discovers her love of reading books. But it’s not really the story that I found so entrancing about this book – it’s just so beautifully written! It is poetic, thought-provoking and emotional, with characters and relationships that develop gradually though the book. I’ve thought about it so much since I finished it, and I actually cried buckets during the last chapter. There aren’t many books that have such a major effect on me, and I’m so glad that I finally got around to reading it!

  • Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

This is a little bit of a lie because I’ve only read The Fellowship of the Ring, which (depending on how you want to look at it) is either only a third of a book, or 2 books out of 6. I first read LotR when I was about 15, but decided that as I am so obsessed with the films and I really enjoyed reading The Silmarillion last year I’d give it another go, and I enjoyed it so much more this time round! In a book filled with so many minor characters, it really does make a difference being able to picture some of them. And I really loved those extra bits that were cut from the film, so it’s been a really nice adventure for me to read this. I’m looking forward to reading the other parts at some point too.

  • Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

This is not the sort of book I’d pick out for myself, but it was highly recommended by a friend so I wanted to give it a try. It was also the first audio book I’ve ever tried, which was an interesting experience in itself. Shantaram is the story of an escaped Australian convict, Lin, who ends up living in India, and it’s about the friends he makes there, his time living as a slum doctor, and his dealings with the local mafia. Many aspects of it are based on the author’s real life, which makes it all the more interesting and amazing!  It’s also a love story between Lin and a beautiful but complicated woman, Karla. But mostly it’s a book about India, and you really get a feel for the character of the country reading it. It’s very long though, and a lot of people complain that the author “over-writes”. I have to agree he tries very hard to be poetic and philosophical, which can be quite annoying at times. But overall it was one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read, so I think it was worth it.

  • The Hand that first held mine, Maggie O’Farrell

I’ve now read 3 Maggie O’Farrell books and have enjoyed them all. I just love her writing style and the way she focuses on details to make something interesting out of the ordinary. This story is set both in the 1950s, following Lexie as she leaves her rural ordinary life to make something of herself in London; and also in the current day, where we see Elina and her partner Ted struggling to adapt after just having their first child. I enjoyed reading Lexie’s story as she falls in love and starts working as a writer, and I really got a feel for the exciting world of 1950’s London through a young woman’s eyes. Elina’s story was harder to read as it was about a woman losing herself and her creativity because her new baby takes over her life, but it was very well written and I could completely empathise with her. There is a connection between the two stories which adds an element of mystery, and although I did guess what it might be about two-thirds through, I didn’t think it was obvious.

  • Life after Life, Kate Atkinson

This was my second Kate Atkinson book, and this one definitely had more of a concept. Ursula is a character who lives her life over and over again. Every time she dies (the first time being the moment she is born) she unconsciously learns something which prevents her from dying the same way in her next life. In the book we read about many versions of her life, and because her adult years are set during World War II we see different perspectives of England and Germany during this time. It’s an interesting idea – what would you do with your life if you could live it again? Some of her stories are sad and others more positive, and I enjoyed seeing the changes she made in her life after experiencing a particularly bad one. I also thought it gave a real sense of what it was like to live at that time. But it was quite a slow read and hard to get into.

  • Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver

This is a young adult book, and the only one I have read that has been set in the present day. It’s actually similar to the above book in that the main character Sam re-lives her last day on earth over and over again, making changes to see if she can escape her death. After reading the first chapter I wasn’t sure I could continue – Sam is a selfish teenage girl, part of the popular clique and not a nice person. It was like Mean Girls but without being funny or ironic! But I persevered and thought it was worth it – the first chapter has to be written the way it is to make Sam’s changes of heart rewarding to read. I liked the way different characters were gradually developed, how certain secrets were revealed and how Sam discovered new feelings each day. It also made me want to appreciate every single day and to value the most important things in life, which is never a bad feeling to have.

  • Funny Girl, Nick Hornby

On paper this sounded promising – set in the swinging sixties, Northern girl Barbara decides to move to London to try and make it as a TV comedy star. However, this was my least favourite book in the list for a reason. I thought it was very lazily written, with no attention to detail, no tension or pace, no character development and no interesting relationships… it was basically just a list of events in Barbara’s life, as if it were the biography of a real person. Except it wasn’t! And it may as well not have been set in the sixties at all, as I didn’t really get a feel for the era while reading it! It wasn’t awful, but it was very disappointing.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably like these similar book review posts:

What I’ve been reading in 2016

Yes, it’s another book post



Trend Edit: Head to the Tropics

I’m not sure about you but the recent heatwave really gave me the summer feels, and now I can’t stop looking at all the tropical trend pieces that are in the shops. There’s nothing that says holiday more than fruity, floral and foresty fashion. Even if you’re UK-based this summer, it’s still great to think of exotic destinations while filling your wardrobe with colourful summer fun! And as you can see from my tropical trend edit, it is not just limited to your clothes and accessories. Pineapples, palms and flamingos are a fun way to bring summer into the home too!

Tropical trend

If you’re feeling inspired by my exotic paradise edit, shop the trend:

  1. Cold shoulder cami top, Dorothy Perkins
  2. Copper pineapple storage pot, Oliver Bonas
  3. Frill trim swimsuit, New Look
  4. Tropical plant, Next Home
  5. Palm clutch, Skinnydip
  6. Pineapple bag, Primark
  7. Palm print cushion, JD Williams
  8. Palm strappy dress, Warehouse
  9. Tropical ruffle dress, ASOS
  10. Tropical peplum skirt, Dorothy Perkins
  11. Rose gold flamingo float, Paperchase

I think my personal favourites are the floral frill one-piece swimsuit (maybe I need to book another holiday just so I have an excuse…) and the copper pineapple pot, which ticks that rose gold box too.

What trends are catching your eye right now?

A week in sunny Salcombe

An amazing thing has happened. We booked a week’s holiday in the UK, and the weather was glorious! This never happens to us, and I can’t tell you how lovely it was to spend time relaxing in the sun instead of trying to look for things to do on a drizzly day. Seaside towns are best on sunny days!

Salcombe harbourMill Bay beach DevonKingsbridge estuary view

Salcombe is a pretty seaside town in South Devon, and thanks to the heatwave we spent a whole week lying on its pretty beaches. Our favourite one (Mill Bay) was accessible by a cute ferry ride across the Kingsbridge estuary, which took less than 60 seconds. This ferry also helped us locate our favourite drinking spot – the Ferry Inn! Situated right on the water’s edge with a view of the beaches opposite. Lovely!

Ferry Inn SalcombeSalcombe war memorialKingsbridge estuary view

Salcombe has a cute high street, which is perfect if you are looking for nautical striped fashion or lovely (but pretty expensive) unique homewares. We spent many an afternoon wandering the pretty shops before settling down in a beer garden or in harbour with some fish and chips. Have you noticed how sitting outside feels like you’re doing something amazing if it’s sunny? Another of our favourite places, The Fortescue had an extensive gin menu, complete with complimentary tonics and garnishes, and made the most amazing stone baked pizzas. Definitely a place worth visiting!

And speaking of gin… Salcombe has its own gin distillery which makes the award winning Salcombe gin. Their stylish gin bar upstairs looks out over the estuary and we made sure we paid a visit. After all, we were staying in the cottage across the road! If the main street of Salcombe is pretty and seaside-y, Island Street (featuring our cottage and the distillery) is the cool and creative back street. It was a fantastic street to stay on, full of art galleries, crafty spaces, workshops, boat building yards and independent shops (also, did I mention a gin distillery?) My favourite shop was Will Bees Bespoke – makers of unique British bags. This was such a cool store, with an entrance on Island Street and the back of the shop open to the water, and full of their gorgeous bags ready to be embossed instore.

Salcombe GinSalcombe Gin and Tonic GalleryWill Bees BespokeNautical stripesArtist on Salcombe South Sands

So… gin, beach, food, shopping… a perfect little break in the sun.

Harry Potter and the list of random stuff

I cannot believe it was 20 years ago that the first Harry Potter book was published. They say the series has shaped a whole generation of millennials and I know it will always feel like a huge part of my life. Seriously – did Hogwarts, Dumbledore and muggles really not exist before I was 13?! Anyway, to celebrate this momentous occasion, here is a list of random things about me and my love for Harry Potter.

Harry Potter List

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has overtaken Pride and Prejudice as my most read book ever.
  • Since my recent birthday I now apply my makeup with wands!

Harry Potter wand makeup wands

  • I recently discovered that my dad has no idea who Voldemort is or what a muggle is… I find this extremely shocking indeed!
  • The order of my favourite books (best to worst) goes:
    • Deathly Hallows
    • Goblet of Fire
    • Philosopher’s Stone
    • Half-Blood Prince
    • Prisoner of Azkaban
    • Chamber of Secrets
    • Order of the Phoenix
  • I am a Ravenclaw. Obviously I have always known this, but it’s been officially confirmed with this quiz.
  • I’ve recently realised how much I love Professor McGonagall. She’s so underrated and is now my favourite female character!
  • But if I was going to do a Harry Potter fancy dress costume, I’d be Luna Lovegood.

Luna Lovegood

  • When I watch the Deathly Hallows movie with Craig I always have to set aside time afterwards for him to moan about Harry snapping the Elder wand. Also for me to explain everything I know about Hallows and Horcruxes that was left out of the movie.
  • I do not find Fred and George Weasley funny in the films at all. But I do always chuckle at this guy…

Horace Slughorn

  • I own Fleur Delacour’s wand and use it to attempt to cast spells such as “Accio chocolate”.
  • I know not everyone did, but I actually loved reading The Cursed Child. I’d waited such a long time to hear something new about the characters I loved (and some who I thought we’d never hear from again!), I even had a little cry.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

  • I enjoyed my first sip of Butterbeer. I did not enjoy the rest of the glass.
  • I attempted to get to platform 9 ¾ late one night. The gate did not appear to be open.

Platform 9 3/4Kings Cross Platform 9 3/4

  • Magic is all well and good, but I always think that the wizarding world could really benefit from using mobile phones. And the internet. Imagine if Hermione could just google Nicholas Flamel.
  • In the films this irks me…

Harry Potter's eyes are not Lily's

  • I never doubted Snape for a moment. But that’s mainly because I never doubted Dumbledore’s judgement for a moment.

Happy Anniversary Harry Potter! I’ll love you… Always

Lush Spa – The Comforter?

It’s been on my bucket list for a while, and last month I finally got around to visiting a Lush Spa! I’m a big fan of Lush and their products, so I knew I’d love any of their spa treatments, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. My nearest Lush spa is actually in Liverpool (although here’s hoping that Manchester eventually gets one), and me and my sister booked ourselves in for The Comforter?

Lush spa - Liverpool

All Lush spas are themed to give the impression of a rustic English country kitchen to give off a homely vibe, and we certainly received a very friendly Lush welcome. We had a ten minute consultation before the treatments and were talked through the products that would be used – both of which are unique to the spa and cannot be bought from the store. The Comforter? is a full body exfoliation treatment and first uses a luxurious hot chocolate scrub which is melted into a teacup, and after the warm cacao scrub has been applied and removed it is followed by a delicious rose serum which is massaged into the skin. For the duration of the treatment we were kept cosy and warm under heated duvets, and only the portion of the body being worked on at the time is uncovered.

The Comforter Hot Chocolate scrub

The concept of this particular treatment is to remind you to take life less seriously and there are some cute surprises (I won’t reveal them) which add to the quirky nature of the spa. As with all of the Lush treatments a special soundtrack has been created to add that special touch to the experience, and for this one there is a chocolatey, playful and nostalgic vibe with plenty of recognisable tunes. Here you can hear a sample of the music that set the tone as we entered the room, which was glowing pink with twinkling starlight.

Lush spa - The Comforter?

I found this Lush treatment to be a luxurious, fun and magical experience, and one that I won’t forget easily. On top of that my skin felt (and smelled) amazing afterwards because of the gorgeous products that had been used. At £85 it is quite expensive for an hour-long treatment, but well worth it if you want something that is unique and a bit more special than your average massage.

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20 things to do this summer

20 things to do this summer

I love making summer plans, and this isn’t just a list for general inspiration but an actual “to do” list for my summer! Some things are on my list every year, like having a picnic… which is basically just weather dependent. But I’ll be hoping to put a tick next to everything by the end of summer…

Number 2: I’ll be reading lots of books anyway, but there’s something special about reading in the garden with a glass of wine, or perhaps on the beach. Classic summer feels.

Number 4: Going to a music festival is a big part of summer for a lot of people, but I was thinking it doesn’t even have to be the scale of Glastonbury or Coachella. In Manchester we are having an ice cream festival this summer(!) so I’ll definitely be attending that one. Plus there’s Manchester International Festival during July. So whether it’s vintage, gin, film or arts, festivals are a good one for the list.

Number 8: I love the idea of giving my home interiors a new look every now and again, even if it’s just moving the furniture around or buying a whole new set of cushions.

Number 10: Because receiving a proper letter (i.e. not bills or marketing material) feels amazing, so why not share the love?

Number 16: Summer is a great time to learn something new. Whether it’s crafty, something outdoorsy, or even something technical that could help with your career goals.

Number 17: Summer isn’t summer if you haven’t found a theme song by the end of it. And then whenever you hear this song in the future you’ll always remember summer 2017!

What summer plans do you have?

Crafting ideas using very basic items -#VikingArtyParty

Last weekend I spent a sunny Saturday afternoon getting crafty at the #VikingArtyParty in the gorgeous King Street Townhouse hotel in Manchester. Now, Viking are generally known for their office supplies, but as this event showed me, it is very possible to get crafty with some very basic and low-cost items and I came away feeling inspired and creative!

Viking Arty Party event Manchester
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking

First up I was introduced to some exclusive new calligraphy sets that are due to released, and we tried our hand at Modern Calligraphy with Joyce from Artsynibs. I’d previously attended one of her brush calligraphy workshops, and after developing those skills over the past year I loved learning this new style with a dip pen.

#vikingartyparty Modern Calligraphy
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking

Then I moved onto notebook customisation with Chloe from The Crafty Hen  where we turned very basic and boring-looking exercise books into something unique and pretty using different papers and trimmings.

#vikingartyparty notebooks
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking

And then I finished up block printing with Stacey from The Crafty Hen,  where we used lino cutting techniques to turn a plain Staedtler eraser into a rubber stamp (who knew?!), and block printed the design onto plain white magazine files.

#vikingartyparty block printing
Photo by Matt Chappell and Viking

Although I wasn’t 100% happy with how my pineapple-printed magazine file turned out, I did go on to use the same rubber stamp that I’d made to add extra touches to my customised notebook, and I even added a calligraphy label to it too, so as you can see I combined all three skills into one project that I love!

Customised notebook

My customised notebook

It’s amazing how many basic items can be turned into interesting craft projects, and here is another example; in my goody bag from the event I found a plain white mug and some oil-based Sharpie pens, and just 5 minutes on Pinterest showed me that this is a crafting craze right now! I got busy right away and created my own version of a Sharpie mug!

Monogram sharpie mug

I’m definitely feeling creative after all of this, and I hope it inspires you to see the crafting potential in some otherwise uninspiring items!

You can also read Viking’s blog post about the day here.

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