Sunday 30 June 2013

Books are Amazing... June Edition!

It's the last day of the month and you know what that means... it's time for the latest Books Are Amazing post! The lovely Sarah (great name, btw) from Scandinavian On The Inside stepped in at the last minute this month as I have lost all contact details for the person I'd pencilled in (Becky Schulz, if you're out there, email me!). There are some awesome selections below - I love it when children's books come up, I still feel very strongly about my favourites. I'm already mentally compiling my 2013 round-up, maybe Ballet Shoes will sneak in there after all.

Aaaanyway. Over to the other Sarah!

Hello! I’m Sarah, and books are my happy place. Not ALL books. But a lot of them. I’ve loved reading since forever, and it’s my ultimate favourite thing to do before work, after work, at weekends, on trains, over lunch, in the garden, when I’m supposed to be doing something else.... I read all the time. And when I’m not reading, I’m usually writing. Either my blog, which also indulges my love for amazing graphic/interior/illustrative design, or at work – I’m copywriter for an advertising agency, which basically means I get paid for writing stuff other people read. I guess I just LOVE WORDS.

The words I love most of all are written in my favourite books of all time ever. There are way too many of those to include in this post, or Sarah would have to give me her entire blog to fill, so I’ve tried very very hard to narrow my shortlist down to four. FOUR. It’s taken me three days to decide which ones. And even then I went round stroking the ones I didn’t include in apology. It was going to be five, but then I wrote a lot for four and figured any more would push this over the edge from blog post into thesis material. Anyway. Here are those that made the cut, the titles that own a bit of my soul and that I’ll read over and over again until they fall apart!

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S Lewis (Narnia Book #5)
Well. If the others books on this list were hard to choose, this one actually wasn’t. This is hands down my favourite book of ALL TIME, and has been since I was 7 years old. I adore all of the Narnia series, but for some reason formed a ridiculous attachment to this one. Maybe it’s got something to do with the sea (I love the sea). Or magic. (I love that too). Or imagination, or travel, or sadness, or terror, or excitement, or beloved characters, or dragons, or myths, or life lessons, or perfect quotes, or symbolism, or pure escapism....because the Dawn Treader has all of these in spades. And more.

Lucy and Edmund (come on, you all know Lucy and Edmund) go to stay with their insufferable cousin Eustace over the summer holidays and somehow find themselves swept into a painting and out to sea, on a magnificent ship called the Dawn Treader captained by Prince Caspian and manned by a delightful mix of old and new Narnian faces alike, including Reepicheep the mouse (who, it must be said, is one of the biggest badasses in literary history). The Dawn Treader is seeking out a group of lost Lords, last known to have sailed those waters some years ago, never having return. Along the search, the ship and crew stop off at a variety of magical and wonderful and terrible and metaphorical islands, each one being so incredibly well described and imagined by C S Lewis that you LITERALLY feel as if you’re there too. Or at least I did. I wanted to be there. I PINED to be there.

I love this story for the sheer realism, and the wonder and the beauty and the way that as an adult, the adventure seems even more magical than it did when I read it as a child. As an adult I can identify the symbolism and the metaphors behind each place and each character and each fate, and this just makes the story a thousand times more amazing. I cry at the end, every time I read it. And I read it at least once a year. It’s the book I recommend to everyone and the book I’d save from a burning house. It’s brilliant.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
This happens to be one of the best books I’ve ever read in my whole life, and I want to use this opportunity to recommend it to every single person who hasn’t already picked it up. Even if you’ve seen the film (which I haven’t yet!) read the book, because it is BEAUTIFUL. Visually, prose-wise, theme-wise... utterly, utterly beautiful. And heartbreaking. And tragic. And painful. I cried more than I can remember crying at a book since I read Elie Weisel’s Dawn/Day/Night trilogy last summer, and then I cried a LOT. (I even cried more than I usually cry at the VotDT!)

Jonathan Safran Foer takes the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and writes, diary style, an account from the mind of nine year old Oskar who lost his father and is now trying to make sense of life without his biggest hero. The main plot of the novel is taken from the fact that Oskar liked to play puzzle games and treasure hunts with his dad before the latters’ untimely death, and convinces himself that a key found in a vase in his father’s office is a ‘clue’ to a final game, the ‘prize’ of which will be having his dad somehow and illogically return to him, and his determination takes him on a wild goose chase around the districts of New York City as he comes up with infinite possible destinations for his tragic hope.

Chapters written by Oskar’s paternal grandparents interject the flow of the original narration, and together, the two threads create a web of despair and misfortune so dense it hurts your very insides to keep reading. But if you’re anything like me, you WILL keep reading, out of love and desperation and hope for Oskar, and intrigue and absorption for yourself. When I finished the book I felt so full, full of emotion and satisfaction and contentment and sympathy. I enjoyed every single page, in that strange way that a book filled with sad things can be ‘enjoyable’. If you like books that really say something, read this. It says SO MUCH.

The Shell House by Linda Newbury.
The Shell House is one of those books that I never expected to love as much as I did – I got it for Christmas one year and it sat unread for months, just because I also got about 25 other books and the blurbs on those drew me in more than the blurb on this one. But once I’d finally picked it up and got to the end of the first chapter, I was hooked. Hooked and desperate to read the rest.

Like all Linda Newbury titles, the story splits between two people at two points in history, that are connected in some way to each other – here, Greg is a sixth form student in ‘our time’ living close to Graveney Hall, an old stately home that is finally being renovated after a fire that happened around the time the Hall was last inhabited; which was by 19 year old Edmund and his family back in WWII. The chapters flick from Edmund to Greg, and as the plot develops, Newbury’s talent at weaving threads of connection provides a thought provoking and poignant insight into the teenage troubles faced by the two boys, who are so incredibly similar even though they were separated by a good 60 years. Edmund struggled with the pressures of being heir to a sprawling estate, the son of rich parents and the suffocating societal norms of the times, all the while living with a deep personal secret he could never allow to be known. Greg faces deadlines and pushy friends and overly inquisitive parents and also harbours an identical secret he can’t even understand himself, let alone tell to anyone else.

Through the setting of Graveney Hall at both points in time, we witness the development of both boys as they struggle to not let their secrets destroy everything they’ve worked for and everything they hold close, and ultimately how they deal with the inevitable explosions when the strength of the secrets prove too much. I can’t write much else without giving away too many details, and having those would be too much of a spoiler – Newbury novels rely on a steady drip feed of information filtering across both characters; so all I can REALLY say is if you want to be fully immersed in a book, if you want to laugh and yell at it and hope and be shocked and play guesswork, this is the one for you. Her other titles are awesome, but this is the one I remember most vividly, and the one I’d go back and read again.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
The Rosie Project is a story about life, love, and lobster on Tuesdays. Don Tillman is an odd, charming, highly intelligent and extremely socially awkward professor of genetics at a prestigious Melbourne university. His life is lived according to conventions, timetables, rules and familiarity, and in nearly every aspect of it he has total control and complete satisfaction. The one area which isn’t living up to Don’s wishes or expectations is his love life, and so his search to find a suitable partner becomes a project, classified just like all other tasks he undergoes throughout the day. Whilst ‘The Wife Project’ is underway, Don crosses paths with Rosie, a woman he mistakenly thinks applied to date him via his extensive questionnaire. Rosie is immediately rejected as wife material – she smokes, doesn’t eat meat, drinks more than the standardized recommendation for women and has dyed hair – but as Don sees more and more of Rosie he becomes increasingly confused by his reaction to her and the experiences they share. Spending time with Rosie forces Don to abandon much of his regular timetable and repetitive habits, and propels him into a world full of social interaction, spontaneous decision making and societal norms that were previously alien to him.

The Rosie Project is not, by any means, a romantic novel, nor is it simply ‘chick-lit’ – instead being a very clever, very funny, very dry and very fascinating ‘docu-novel’ that does and should appeal to all ages and genders. Being fresh, charming and absorbing, it’s a real treat to curl up with over the course of a lazy weekend, with or without a large glass (or three) of wine. Think of it as a cross between The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time, with extra added humour. It’s brilliant.

I LOVED this post! There is nothing I love more than hearing someone's utter passion for something and I can just tell how passionate Sarah is about these books. I want to read them all now (and really, I'm far overdue for a Narnia reread). Tune in next month to hear Niki's picks and, as always, if you want to be a contributor, email me!

Friday 28 June 2013

Cotton candy, laced in gold.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a Swap Shop event by the lovely people at VoucherCodes. I have a terrible habit of throwing stuff out of my wardrobe and then never getting round to eBaying it, so this event was perfect. We all took five items of clothes or accessories along... and swapped them! Simple. I got rid of a few items that I never wore, and came away with some great bits!

It was a great chance to catch up with some blogging babes, with some photobooth fun thrown in to boot.

Me & Chloe

Unfortunately the dress that I picked up doesn't fit, but I was super happy with this green H&M cardi and this snappy grey blazer from Warehouse.

But it doesn't stop there - VoucherCodes challenged me to show how I worked the items into my wardrobe, and gave me some money to buy something that went with my swaps. So I went out on a mission and returned with this dress from H&M.

Dress - H&M c/o VoucherCodes

It's super cute and very me, but the main reason I bought it is because I could see how versatile it is. It can be dressed up or down, winter or summer. My instinct is always to think of lace as eveningwear, but it doesn't have to be at all, which my first outfit shows. I paired it with the green cardi for a bit of colour-pop wonder, and raided my wardrobe and teamed the ensemble with a lace collar necklace that I got ages ago from Girl & Bird and these cute gold Melissa flat shoes.

Necklace - Girl & Bird
Shoes c/o Spartoo Shoes
Cardigan - H&M via Swap Shop

Totally cute, and very daytimey. Plus, if the day goes into evening, you're totally ready!

The grey blazer is very power dressy, I think - it's those shoulders! And there's absolutely no reason why this dress can't work for the office. Along with these badass shoes (which match perfectly), I would totally wear this to work. It'd actually look awesome with grey tights for winter, too, for ultimate coordination. Hey, I like matching.

Necklace - Topshop (old)
Shoes c/o Matalan (old)
Blazer - Warehouse via Swap Shop

VoucherCodes are doing a competition at the moment to see which of their challengers has done the best job at styling their swaps, so make sure you head to the Most Wanted blog on 4th July to register your vote and keep an eye on the #swapshopstyling hashtag on Twitter!

Thursday 27 June 2013

Work it, baby.

Do you care what you look like when you exercise? This is the question I was posed when I was sent these new trainers by Sports Shoes to try out, as a response to the awful Jan Moir’s criticism of Kathryn Jenkins in the Daily Mail running the London Marathon whilst wearing makeup. My gut response – ‘No! I don’t care even a tiny bit!’ was then challenged when I put this blog post together.

Because whilst I like to think I don’t care, I’m still not willing to post a full body shot of me on here wearing tracksuit bottoms. At the gym or exercise classes, everyone is in the same boat and no one cares what you look like, so I wear something practical and unflattering. Some of my exercise t-shirts have bleach stains on them… caring isn’t really my agenda. You know, you’re there for an hour, and you’re gone. No one will remember you.

A blog post is much more long-lasting though, hence the lack of long shots. I loathe how I look in trousers, and will probably have to lose another 2 stone before I change that mindset. I do wear dresses because I like them, but also because I know they hide my least favourite features. They’re awesome like that.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to look nice – while you exercise or as a rule for life. If it makes you feel better on the inside, I think it’s worthwhile. Honestly, I can’t stand the Daily Mail as a rule anyway, but for having a go at someone for daring to look pretty whilst exercising? I’m rolling my eyes so hard I just fell over backwards.

Trainers c/o Sports Shoes
T-shirt - Primark
Nike Hoody & Tracksuit Bottoms c/o Spartoo

Tuesday 25 June 2013

I'm so surprised you want to dance with me now.

I’m going to Glastonbury tomorrow! It’s my seventh one so I thought I would share with you some of my top tips for a pleasant festival experience, especially if you’re Glasto-bound too.

Comfortable Sleeping
Tents are cold and the ground is hard, and those sleeping mat thingies do bloomin’ nothing. Airbeds are great, but heavy, so the next best thing is... a lilo! They add padding between you and the ground and as they’re so cheap, you can just deflate them and throw them away before you leave the festival. You can get them from Asda, or eBay!

Quiet Sleeping
People in campsites like to talk. And play music. And get out their acoustic guitars and sing Wonderwall. All of these people deserve to be shot, obviously, but a slightly less illegal alternative is to drown them the heck out. As a light sleeper, I’m a big earplugs advocate anyway – but they are never quite good enough to drown out the idiots two tents over who just won’t shut up. Last time, I discovered a method that worked perfectly – insert earplugs, then put over-ear headphones over the top and play soothing music (I recommend The National because they’re wonderful). It completely blocks out external sound, so you can drift off to sleep to your favourite song. So good! Last time I used my old iPod, but it’s on its last legs and I don’t think the battery will hold out – so this time I have gone retro and bought a discman from Argos for just a tenner. The best thing is, the battery won’t die because I can just replace it. So clever!

Keeping Warm
Let’s face it, we know that a British summer isn’t actually summer any more. It’s cold, man! Especially at night. My top tip is layers, not just on top but everywhere. You’d be amazed what popping a pair of leggings over your tights does. So warm!

Minimising Muddiness
If it’s muddy, you’ll never escape it entirely, sorry. But you can minimise its effect by dressing correctly. Short skirts, dresses or shorts are your best bet, and tights. Tights dry fast, and as they don’t weigh much it’s easy to cram loads of spare pairs into your rucksack. If they get muddy, just swap ‘em over.

Optimum Dryness
Well, that sounds like an advert for some kind of feminine hygiene product, doesn’t it? But I’m talking about rain here, people. And the most important thing to remember is that DENIM IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. Look, I’ll allow mid-thigh denim. Shorts, miniskirts, pinafores – you can stay. But jeans? GTFO. If you’ve ever experienced the exquisite hell that is trying to put on a pair of wet jeans, you’ll understand. There’s nowhere to hang clothes to dry at festivals, unless it’s sunny. If your denim clad legs get wet, you’re going to be an uncomfortable little sausage for the rest of the weekend.

Easy Access
The toilets at Glastonbury are a lot better than they used to be, but believe me, you are still going to want to get in and out as quickly as possible. That’s why skirts are the best option – tights down, tights up. Done! As practical as playsuits, dungarees and jumpsuits appear, they’re really not. Especially if it’s late, and you’ve layered your playsuit over a pair of tights, with a jumper and a kagoul on top of that – it’s a freaking nightmare! Plus, all you need is to get a portaloo with a dodgy door, and the whole queue will see you pretty much naked trying to have a wee. Plus, imagine if you lost your grip on your playsuit and it falls to the floor? You’d better HOPE that’s just mud.

Oh, and on the toilets subject – get your wristband put on your, er, non-wiping hand. You’ll feel a lot better about wearing it for four days, trust me.

Stay Sun-Aware
You can still burn, even if it’s cloudy. Wear sun cream, wear a hat, keep hydrated. As someone who has had sunstroke at Glastonbury before, I can tell you that it’s not bloody pleasant. You do not want to walk through a festival site feeling like you’re going to be sick, believe me. Ugh. The total worst.

Pack for every eventuality
What’s that? They’ve predicted sun for every day at the festival? Yeah, you’d best pack your wellies. TRUST ME. I’ve been in this situation before, and the result was the Great Wellington Boot Drought of 2005. My friend sold his for £100! I had to tramp about in a pair 2 sizes too big for me! And I was one of the lucky ones! Look, if you don’t bring your wellies, then it will rain, and IT WILL BE YOUR FAULT.

Have fun! You’re going to feel like death at the end of it, but it’ll be amazing. Trust me.


Sunday 23 June 2013

Looks like an early winter for us.

After last week’s bumper Autumn/Winter post (I’m still swooning over those coats!) and the rubbish weather we’ve had lately, I keep finding my mind wandering towards that most snuggly time of year. Heck, it’s June and I’m even dreaming of mulled things (the hot mulled cider they sell at Glastonbury is a DREAM).

But it’s so much easier to dress in the winter. When you KNOW it’s going to be cold and wet, you can layer up, you can pop on a hat, you can prepare yourself for every eventuality. In this kind of weather, it can change any minute. I haven’t made a correct outfit choice all week – I’m either too warm, too cold, or both at once. It’s a nightmare.

So, in an attempt to make a stand against summer dressing, I have compiled a WINTER wishlist. Solid, reliable winter. (Please don’t snow!)

Coat – M&S
I TOLD you I was still dreaming about it. Isn’t it a stunner? (It's not up yet. But it will be.)

Boots – DUO
This year will be the year that I finally buy a pair of knee-high boots to fit my awkwardly shaped calves.

Dress – ASOS
Both stylish and snuggly. Perfect.

Handbag – Clarks via Spartoo
I’ve been using my battered old leather number for two years now… time for an upgrade?

Hat – Accessorize
Good old Accessorize, who know full well that you’re just as likely to need a warm hat in June as in December.


Collaborative post.

Friday 21 June 2013

Save it 'til the morning after.

I love clothes that just make you think of summer, like a dress that you can just chuck on with flipflops and feel cool and fresh and awesome all day. Like this dress, basically. I know, you'd never have guessed that was where this was going.

But I adore this dress! IT'S JUST SO PERFECT FOR SUMMER. It's a good length for bare legs meaning no worries about pant flashing. It's a great cut, with a skimming skirt that's not full enough to be picked up by the wind meaning no worries about pant flashing. It's good sturdy material, not flimsy and seethrough, meaning... no worries about pant flashing! Basically, not flashing my pants is a priority for life. Especially summer, where there are no opaque tights to hide your thunder. Apart from all those cold days when there are.

Dress - Miss Selfridge
Timeless Flat Shoes c/o Spartoo
Necklace c/o GoGo Philip

It's kind of big on top which is annoying me in these photos as I often think it makes a bodice look less flattering, y'know? I suspect it was marked wrongly as it's a 12, and I'm definitely nowhere near a size 10 yet. But enough about the dress. Doesn't my hair look unusually ace? I took these photos the day after the wedding and when I brushed my unwashed hair in the morning, it basically looked amazing. If it could just dry like this all the time, that'd be awesome.

I would love to tell you that I spent the rest of the day skipping around in the sunshine. But it wasn't actually very warm, and my hangover was kicking in, so I popped my PJs on underneath and went to bed for three hours. This is why I don't do too many 'One dress, two ways' features.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Underneath, there's a perfect sky.

Ever since I wore that stripy Debenhams dress last week, I’ve been quietly venturing onto their website more and more to see what they have available. Whenever I have a special occasion, I always check out Debenhams anyway but lately I keep finding amazing outfits that would work for loads of different occasions.

Here are my favourites at the moment – I think I foresee a little wander up to the Debenhams end of town on my lunch hour tomorrow...

Dress - Red Herring at Debenhams
Headband - Crown & Glory
Shoes - Friis & Company

Dress - Red Herring at Debenhams
Jacket - Topshop
Shoes - Carvela

Dress - H by Henry Holland at Debenhams
Bag - Lazy Oaf via ASOS
Shoes - Converse

Pinafore - H by Henry Holland at Debenhams
T-shirt - New Look
Floral Clip - Crown & Glory
Wellington Boots - Hunter

You can never have too many dresses, in my educated opinion. What are your dream items at the moment?

Collaborative post.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Slip inside our winter skin.

One of my biggest moans about blogging is missing events. I know, it’s a bit of a ‘poor little rich girl’ complaint, isn’t it? So, to clarify – being invited to anything at all because of my blog is awesome and very complimentary, but living and working outside London means that I just can’t make it in for every event, especially press days. A Travelcard from St Albans is nearly £17 now, you know! Yeah... definitely NOT a poor little rich girl.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was invited to several events in one day and I decided to attempt to cram three events into two hours to truly get the most out of my Travelcard. And I totally did it! Woohoo!

First up was the M&S press day, which... oh my gosh, I could go on about for pages and pages and pages. I’ve been to press days before where I walk in and am completely ignored in favour of more important people (and to be fair, I am not very important in the grand scheme of things). But the team at M&S treated me like a VIP, talking me through the new range and going into loads of detail. I was really impressed by that alone, but then the clothes themselves were to die for. Take a look!

I’m in love with that grey coat (which Amy totally predicted) and all the dreamy vintage inspired coats. I need like five thousand new coats, stat. Plus, look at all the sexy lingerie!

This is a great idea - it's designed for ladies who don't like having their arms out, but is structured so you can wear it under pretty much anything, adding minimal bulk. Genius.

I know, right? M&S have really stepped it up lately, and what’s more they’re placing a big focus on British-sourced materials and designers, which for a brand that really does embody Englishness, is very apt. And admirable! I'm smitten.

Next up (I am so glad I wore my pedometer!) was the QVC press day. Although I don't watch a lot of shopping TV (I really don't need another excuse to shop), I'm a big fan of a lot of their products and you can get some great deals on makeup and skincare like OPI and Liz Earle, to name a couple of my faves.

There were some really lovely pieces – I was mostly drawn to all the Lulu Guinness things although I was a bit besotted by the kitchen section. Plus, I got to finally meet the lovely Leanne – definitely a bonus!

Oh, also? There were snacks. MINI DONUTS.

Finally, with sore feet, I made it to the House of Fraser press day and blogger event. So many ‘Sarah’ dresses – isn’t this spotty one a dream? I adore the suit, too - I wish I had the hips to pull off these trousers! It'd look awesome with these red court shoes from Blink Shoes.

The accessories were to die for - I love a good handbag. Again, I was drawn to the Lulu Guinness range - can someone buy me that gold lip clutch please?

There were also some great details, such as leather collars and embellished cuffs.

After so many amazing press days, my wishlist for Autumn/Winter is five miles long. I know we're meant to be in summer mode, but now I'm craving Christmas parties and SPARKLE. 

Oh, and coats. Don't forget the coats.

Thanks for the invites, M&S, QVC & HoF!
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