Tuesday 31 December 2013

Books Are Amazing... 2013 edition!

I've had mixed feelings about my blog this year. Reading back, there are some posts that I'm super happy with, but there are some periods where I feel like it could have been better. But one part that I really loved about my blog this year was the books posts. Books mean an awful lot to me, and asking people to post about their favourites every month was a wonderful chance to get some insight into the books that mean a lot to other people.

I am stealing back the limelight for December though, and wanted to talk about the books that I read and loved in 2014 because I really enjoyed talking books last year. I've actually managed to read a lot more than usual this year, which was great - the older I get, the less time I seem to have for it, and it makes me really sad as I used to read several books a week. On my holiday to the US though I read 5 books in 10 days, so I'm getting a bit of the old me back... and I like it.

1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
For a long time I've said that Neil Gaiman was my favourite writer, but I'd started to doubt myself. It's been a while since I'd read something of his that I absolutely adored, although to be honest, it's also been a while since he's written something new. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me why I loved him so much. It's beautiful and dreamy and sad and dark and you really, really must read it.

2. The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
I read The Raven Boys after reading this post and I just completely fell for it, and the sequel - The Dream Thieves - is just as wonderful. This YA series is about a group of private school boys and their friend Blue, but there's so much more to it than that. There are Arthurian legends, leylines, prophecies, ghosts and most of all, an underlying feeling that these books are going to tear my heart into a million pieces when they're over. I checked out her Shiver trilogy after reading these and was SO disappointed - she's come so much further as a writer since then.

3. N0S4R2 by Joe Hill
Joe Hill is Stephen King's son, and you can tell, I think, in his writing. It's very scary (Heart Shaped Box was equally terrifying) but I actually think he's a better writer. He's more concise and less samey. This book is about a sort of vampire who steals children away to Christmasland and it scared the freaking life out of me. But it was also really, really good with a strong female lead who I really rooted for. I highly recommend, unless you scare easily, in which case you will get very scared. Horns is also excellent, and a bit less horror-like.

4. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
One of the coolest things that we did in New York was to see a reading at Carnegie Hall by David Sedaris and Lena Dunham. Both of them read extracts from their books of essays. I've read Sedaris before (reviewed here, actually) and he's a really great writer. This is, I think, his best known book and it paints a fascinating picture of his life. Sedaris isn't actually the nicest guy, but he's pretty unapologetic about it and that sort of makes him more likeable. It's very, very funny but sad at the same time. If you want a taster, this is one of the essays he read out at Carnegie Hall - Now We Are Five. Beautiful, hilarious and devastating.

5. More Than This by Patrick Ness
The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness was one of my literary highlights of 2012, so I couldn't wait for his followup novel. It's entirely different to his trilogy, set in a different world and rather more scifi than Chaos Walking. But it's great. It's about a boy who dies, and wakes up in his childhood home, but how he got there is entirely unexpected. It's very clever and sad and brave.

6. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
Actually, this isn't one of the best books I've read this year, but I wanted to talk about it. Everyone knows by now that it was JK Rowling behind a pseudonym and honestly, I wouldn't have read this book if I hadn't known it was her as crime novels aren't really my thing (they're fine, I just don't really seek them out, you know?). Anyway, this is pretty good. Rowling is, as ever, very good at creating well rounded characters and is so visual with her descriptions, and while I was reading I wanted to find out what happened. But now it's over, I'm struggling to remember much about it, which is how I felt about The Casual Vacancy. In the Harry Potter books, I never noticed how she'd write speech in a character's accent because it wasn't used a lot (I really only remember Hagrid doing this), but in both this and The Casual Vacancy it's very noticeable and jarring, particularly when used on characters who are supposed to be poorly educated. It took me out of the plot and just felt unnecessary, and made the characters who spoke this way seem less real somehow. I feel like she's trying out different genres but hasn't found a natural fit, which may be why she is going back to Harry Potter in terms of screenplays and stage plays. But I admire her for trying to challenge herself - it's not like she has to ever work again, after all!

7. The Diviners by Libba Bray
I really feel like Libba Bray needs to be way more popular than she is. Her Gemma Doyle trilogy is absolutely fantastic and this, the first in a new series, looks like it's going to be just as awesome. It's also totally different to the Gemma Doyle books, set in the roaring 20s in New York and about a group of teenagers with different powers. As it's a YA book, I was expecting this to be an enjoyable romp, and it was, but it was also really quite scary in places which I wasn't expecting. The sequel is apparently due in August, and I can't wait to see what happens next to Evie.

8. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
I kept hearing about this book from my friends and eventually tracked down an ebook of it so I could read it on my iPhone. It's about a girl called Taylor who is trying to find out where she came from, in simple terms, but the book is more complex than that. The narrative is split between the present and the past, and it's not clear at first how it ties together, but by the end it all slots together perfectly and manages to be heartbreaking and wonderful.

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
So many of my friends recommended this book, I had to check it out. It's about a future world that's lived almost entirely online, packed full of pop culture references. It's a really interesting read, and I really enjoyed all the references, but it's not a book that I would rush to recommend to everyone. I feel a little like there could have been more to it, by the end, but I enjoyed getting there.

10. Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi
This book is about the Ally McBeal and Arrested Development actress and her battle with an eating disorder. It's a sad, brave memoir about how hard it is to have insecurities, particularly in Hollywood where you're expected to be perfect. Portia nearly killed herself through starvation and the scary part is, her unhealthy eating habits were often encouraged and enabled by nutritionists. There's a happy ending though as she regains control and finds herself again. I understand this kind of book could be triggering for some people, and of course I wouldn't recommend it in those circumstances, but it is a very well-written, honest book that was really interesting.

At the moment I'm reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple which is really good so far and next it's going to be one of my Christmas presents from Laura, Wool by Hugh Howey.

I'm planning to continue the series into 2014, so if you want to contribute, please do let me know and drop me an email! You don't have to be a blogger to contribute, you just have to love books. If you don't love books, then I just don't get you. I don't. Shoo.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Life, lately.

1. Festive nails | 2. My old room - not like this any more, totally empty! | 3. Christmas jumper (it's in the sale!)
4. My new room - look familiar?
5-7. Presents! I'm a lucky lady.

Let's give it up for the pure joy of sitting down, shall we? This is my first chance since before Christmas to sit down and not have anything important to do hanging over me. It's kind of a nice feeling. Take it from me - Christmas Eve is not a great time to move house, there's enough to think about without having to spend hours cleaning and moving boxes and cleaning and cleaning and cleaning.

I hate cleaning.

In case I haven't mentioned - I've moved back in with my parents for a year, which is frightfully uncool but it's so I can try and save up to buy my own cute little flat somewhere... or stunning and huge, but I am realistic about my budget. It's actually kinda nice being back in the countryside (my outfit photos are about to get a lot more scenic), in my cosy old attic room with a very fluffy Lola at my side. It's kind of hard not to slide back into the habit of being looked after by my mum, I have to say.

I had a super lovely Christmas, and my break is even lovelier now all my things are put away and I can relax! It was so nice to spend time with my family and play with all my nephews and neices. Plus, I was super spoiled this year. Hooray for presents! I've even managed a tiny bit of sales shopping, which is probably my last chance to spend money before I start saving every penny towards a mortgage (now there's a scary word).

I hope you've all had a wonderful Christmas! What are you up to for New Year's? I'm off to a wine and cheese party, although with my friends that's basically a normal party. I'm not sure I'd like to go to a party with no wine or cheese. That just sounds wrong.

Merry Christmas!

8. Found somewhere to put all my shoes | 9. Lola!
10. Awesome leftovers sandwich
11-12. Sale purchases via New Look, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Pop Boutique and Sugarhill Boutique

Friday 20 December 2013

Friday Frocks #144 - From AM to PM

I live about a 20 minute train ride from London, so I'm pretty accustomed to hopping on a train after work on my way to meet friends or an event, and spending the duration of the journey squeezed into the toilet of the train, trying to keep myself steady enough to apply eyeliner whilst the train rocks about. It's a life skill every girl should have, really. And when M&S sent me this dress, asking me to style it as part of their Prim to Partywear campaign, that's what I instantly thought of. I can manage applying makeup in a train loo, but I'm not sure I'd want to change in one of them (not least because I don't really want to put any of my clothes down on that grubby floor!).

Here's my daytime look - I very much believe that lace can be workwear. Why not, eh? I made it a little more casual with a red cardi and matching belt, flat shoes and neutral makeup. I think in a lot of ways it's easier to make a smart dress look casual than vice versa, so if you're trying to dash from work to a party, that's my recommendation.


Wednesday 18 December 2013

Macy's Christmas Hall

As much as I enjoy Christmas, some of the sheer tack around at this time of year does baffle me. I mean, you can buy a singing Christmas pudding in Wilkinsons. What even IS that.

When I visited the Christmas Hall in Macy's in NYC, I wasn't intending on taking photos, but I couldn't resist. I've never seen such a weird selection of decorations before. Don't get me wrong - some were absolutely stunning (I'm sad I didn't photograph the replica Faberge eggs) but for every pretty one, there were twenty WTF ones. You wanna see, right?

So many novelty nutcrackers. Lord.

You know what's a good theme for ANY party? Under the sea!
Okay, truthfully, I kinda love those jellyfish.

Do you love your phone? Like, REALLY love your phone? Express it on your tree!

Look, we all love shoes. I have sparkly shoe decorations on my tree. But... really? Ugg boots? Those pink things? I just... I don't... I can't.

The questionable 'Chinese' tree, featuring pandas, dragons, takeaway cartons and... sushi. Um. Really?

Take the hint, Santa.

And finally, a few things that were actually kind of nice. But they're not as fun, are they?

Friday 13 December 2013

Friday Frocks #143 - Baby blue eyes.

I love Christmas, I really do. I love decorating the house, I love buying presents, I love finding excuses to make calorific baked goods. But I think, honestly, if you put a gun to my head (please don't), what I love most about this time of year is all the excuses there are to dress up.

Weirdly, I find it harder to pull off an 'undone' look than a 'done' one. It's probably my reluctance to wear jeans and my hair's inability to be worn naturally without being enormous and frizzy that means I can never pull off the casual look, so if there's an excuse to look glamorous, I'm much more at home with a structured dress and a more formal hairdo.

Pretty much since we were old enough to celebrate it, New Year's has been spent at one of my friends' houses, drinking wine and - in later years - eating excessive amounts of cheese. I usually make a bit of an effort, but it's never a hugely formal affair, so my work Christmas do is probably the most dressed up I get all season. And I bloomin' love it.

This year, we held the party at one of our holiday parks and I brought my sister along to celebrate. It was an amazing night with fireworks, awesome entertainment, a dance off and, er, a free bar. The party was still going when I crawled to bed at 2am, and I still felt wobbly come Monday. Pretty much everyone there had a go at using my camera at some point, which means lots of random photos - many of which did NOT make it onto Facebook!

I wore the blue sparkly dress that I bought for my 30th last year, which my Mum had customised by adding straps. It fits a lot better than it did then - but I'm still happy that I have the straps - strapless dresses are never wise when you dance like I do. I wore it with a little tuxedo jacket that I've had for years and black tights, and if I'm honest, I felt totally cute. Hooray! I'm glad I wore it, actually - the dress has a lovely spinny skirt (although it's not advisable to spin a lot with a dress this short) and the cut of it meant that I could nom away on the buffet and not worry about showing my belly. Earlier in the year, I did seriously consider buying myself a bodycon dress but after eating all the things in America, I decided I was in denial and stuck to a skater style. It's still a goal for next year though, and the nice thing is that even if I still feel a little insecure about it, I can just pop on some amazing silhouette smoothing shapewear and no one will know that I have a bit of a tummy. :)

In addition to wearing a pretty banging outfit, I also achieved the perfect glamorous side ponytail through trial and error, so if I remember at some point, I'll pop a tutorial up. It was so easy! AND my smoky eyes didn't smudge everywhere. Everything's coming up Sarah!

Dress - Topshop via eBay
Bracelet - Swarovski
Rings - Topshop
Earrings - Accessorize
Jacket - H&M (not recently)
Necklace - New Look (recently!)

Thursday 12 December 2013

A walk in the park.

Just before I went on holiday to the US, the nice people at Olympus got in touch and asked me if I wanted to try out their Olympus PEN Lite camera. After checking that they trusted me to leave the country with it, I took it away with me.

It was a great call - although I love my Nikon DSLR, it can get pretty heavy when I've been lugging it around all day, and so having a mini version that took photos fit for - well, my blog - was ideal. Once I started using the Olympus, I found it hard to take my Nikon out again, because I got so used to the lighter, more portable camera.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

New York, New York.

After I left school, I took a year out. I’d love to tell you that I spent it building shacks in Africa or teaching English to kids in some other exciting part of the world, but honestly, I spent most of it in an office. I learned some valuable things though, such as how to stretch an hour’s worth of work over a whole day (hint: spend a lot of time on the internet) and that a career in admin is definitely not for me. In truth, the year was pretty bleak. I spent my days in a job I hated, and my evenings doing another A-level to ensure that I’d actually get into uni when the year came to a close. I needed something to look forward to, so I roped two friends into organising a trip to the States over the summer.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Have a Happy Hen Do!

SO. I decided recently that it's high time I use my wedding-going powers for good, not evil. But there are a ton of wedding blogs out there, and I'm definitely not qualified enough to start another one.

But along with millions of weddings, I also go to lots of hen dos (and have even organised a fair few of them). And you know what I discovered? There aren't any blogs about hen parties, and I don't really get it. There's so much to say!

Anyway, I promptly started one, which is here. And guys, I need your help! As much as I can chat away until the cows come home about hen dos, I really want the blog to have plenty of input from other hens and brides and bridesmaids. Becks has just done an awesome guest blog - that's the kind of thing I'm after.

So if you have any great experiences I'd love to hear them so get in touch by emailing happyhendoblog@gmail.com.

The cool thing about starting a blog about something that interests you is that you find out new stuff that you might not have known! For instance, Spabreaks sent me some research about what people prefer on hen dos. Turns out the majority of people prefer relaxing to things like white water rafting (um, I'm with you, majority) and most girls say 'What happens on the hen do, stays on the hen do.' Vegas rules, basically. I did a more detailed post on my hen do blog, because that's what it's there for! Go read it, people! And then send me your hen do stories!

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