Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Best Bits of 2015


2015 has been a bit of a weird year; it's bought with it some really exciting things but also some less great things; especially in terms of world events. But I thought I'd do a quick run-down of my favourite moments that happened this year.

Day-trip to Chatsworth


I wrote an entire post about visiting the ground of Chatsworth back in April, when it felt like half the country decided to descend upon Derbyshire. I do need to go back to see the inside of the house, but it was very cool to see a building which feels familiar from it frequently turning up in costume dramas (notably as Mr Darcy's home in Pride & Prejudice).

Taylor Swift's 1989 Tour


It's no secret on this blog that I am a massive fan of Taylor Swift, and I have really enjoyed her 1989 album, so it was awesome to see her live. Her concert is currently available on Apple Music and I recommend checking it out if you enjoy her music, because the evening was so much fun and Swift really works hard to put on a really great show. I came out of the evening totally buzzing.

A Week in Italy


I wrote a whole load of posts about my return trip to Italy (start here) this year but I really loved it. Beautiful weather, beautiful food, completely beautiful country and no one stole my luggage this time.

Moving to Birmingham


After almost a year of living at home after I graduated from the University of Birmingham, this year saw me get to move out and back to the city that I really fell in love with during my time at uni. It's so nice to have my own space, and whilst I could do without the financial downsides to being independent (council tax, utility bills, TV licence bills...) I've loved living somewhere as buzzy and lively as Birmingham.

Starting a new job


Going hand-in-hand with my moving away, I also started a new full-time job. Whilst I'm not going to talk too much about that for obvious reasons, it's been an endlessly interesting five months.

Rediscovering Ballet


I've always been a little obsessed with ballet; growing up I tried to teach myself via a Dorothy Kingsley book. However, I haven't seen as much as I would have liked so I finally took advantage of living in a city with its own ballet company. I have watched two productions so far (Swan Lake and Themes & Variations) and had the best time. I'm very keen to see more in 2016.

Mumford & Sons Wilder Mind Tour
I did write an entire post on this fairly recently, but I will just say that Mumford & Sons are probably one of my favourite bands to see live. I had the best time, especially as they played 'Ghosts That We Knew' which is one of my favourite songs.

A Weekend in Bath


Again, I mentioned my trip to Bath fairly recently, but I was so happy to finally visit a city that I've heard so much about. It was really nice to catch-up with my friends from school, drink mulled wine and see that bridge from Les Mis.

Christmas


I love Christmas. Even though I didn't feel completely festive this December, from the minute I got on the train home I was very excited. We spent Christmas Eve until the day after Boxing Day down at my grandparents who live near Lymington. It's one of my favourite places, I love that you can just walk to the sea, and my Nan makes a mean Christmas dinner. I was thoroughly spoiled and am currently enjoying those few days between Christmas and New Year where nothing really happens (as someone who has worked throughout this period for the past 3 years, this is a real treat).

Hope you had a lovely 2015, and let's all hope for an even better 2016!

Amy


Tuesday, 29 December 2015

A Month in Books: December


Hi again, hope you all had a lovely festive period; eating plenty of food and spending time with the people you love. December was a pretty good reading month; largely due to the fact that I travelled home and then down to my grandparents so got plenty of reading done.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (2014, Canongate)
I really wanted to love this book as Jen Campbell, one of my favourite people to get book recommendations from, loves it. It's the story of Peter, a Christian missionary given the mission of a lifetime when he is sent to another country to spread the word of God amongst an alien species. This comes at the cost of leaving his beloved wife Bea behind in an apparently rapidly deteriorating world. Faber's worldbuilding of the new planet and its various inhabitants is really excellent and felt as three-dimensional as it could do. However, I just really struggled to warm to Peter as a protagonist. He has zero empathy for anyone outside his immediate life and some of his actions and thoughts about other people are pretty far from Christian (although I'm not sure if this was Faber's point). To be honest, I wished I was with Bea on Earth; the glimpses of her story we were given seemed far more interesting, as did her back story. Yet, there was some really interesting bits about faith and the final line of the novel nearly made me cry-so Faber is certainly able to pack a punch when he wants to.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith (2014, Simon & Schuster)
I picked this up on my Kindle pretty soon after it came out, and was pushed to read it after mostly enjoying London Spy (as mentioned here), which was written by Tom Rob Smith. The Farm begins with Daniel receiving a call from his Dad, Chris, who recently retired to Sweden saying that his mother had become ill. Whilst Daniel is on the way to the airport to fly out, he gets a call from his Mum, Tilde, saying that she is not at all ill and accusing Chris of being involved in a pretty awful plot in Sweden. The novel is basically Tilde explaining her 'investigation' into the goings on in the small Swedish community she moved to, and Daniel trying to figure out what to believe. It's fairly compelling and Rob Smith is great at building a sense of place throughout. However, I felt that ultimately the ending kind of petered out which was a bit disappointing.

To the Nines/Princess Mia by Meg Cabot (2007, Macmillan)
As I've probably mentioned before, I'm trying to finally finish this series so that I can read the new instalment Royal Wedding which Cabot released this year, featuring a grown-up Mia. To the Nines is probably the best one that I've read 'as an adult' so far. I don't want to give too much away about what has happened, but this one in particular explores depression very well and sees Mia beginning to really find herself. There's still things that I find frustrating about the series but I'm looking forward to finishing it in the New Year.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (2015, Picador)
This is a fantastic non-fiction book which focuses on what happens to people who get 'shamed' in the new era of social media justice. It explores what makes people get involved in these shamings and why some people come out relatively unscathed, whilst others are deeply traumatised by their experience. You can read Ronson's article about Justine Sacco here, which will give you a taste of what the book is like. It's really one that has made me think about my behaviour online.

Amy


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Clicklist #11: The Vaguely Festive Edition


I don't normally like to do these posts in such quick succession, but I also know that the Christmas season is upon us (when you're reading this I'll finally be heading home for Crimbo) and whilst it can be the most wonderful time of the year, it can also be a bit of a stressful one. So I thought I'd put together some links for when you need a break from all the Christmas action.

21 Ways to Instantly Feel More Festive

The Best Books You Didn't Read in 2015

Lauren Cuthbertson prepares for her performances in The Nutcracker 

Sometimes I Feel Guilty for Writing About Clothes, Pandora Sykes (aka Style's Wardrobe Mistress) writing about the guilt that (mostly women) can feel for showing an interest in anything deemed 'shallow'.

Also whilst perusing Pandora's blog, I found this post about the sheer weirdness of women's clothing sizes. As someone like the colleague in the post with size 4 & 5 feet, who literally feels like the happiest person alive when I find shoes that actually fit properly I would love standardisation.

I love it when karma happens.

19 Things Everyone Who is Obsessed with Paperchase Understands

There is nothing funny about a Donald Trump rally; Donald Trump feels like a caricature, but the level of support he has managed to acquire is mad.

Signs That You are Writing the Next Bestselling Thriller Aimed at Women

Sierra Boggess is one of my favourite Broadway performers, and I love this interview with her.

The Ultimate Gift Guide for the Girl Who is Really Good at Instagram (tbh I'd take most of this list)

A Year of Living Comfortably, or how to claim your physical space in the world as a woman (and manspreader is my new favourite term)

Carrie went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I am super jealous.

A double dose of Emma Gannon; 30 Things I Realised in 2015 and Why Your Perfect Online Image Isn't Inspiring

22 Winter Dinner Ideas

Gingerbread. Martinis. This sounds like alcohol heaven.

Tiramisu Swiss Roll. Again, this sounds like cake heaven.

As this has a slightly Christmassy vibe, I thought I would give a brief shout-out to some of my favourite Vlogmas videos from YouTube.

Fleur DeForce: Fleur was the first beauty YouTuber that I got into back in about 2009 and she has kept me onboard as she has become pretty well-established with her own make-up line and everything. I am basically pretty jealous of her gorgeous house, husband and menagerie of animals.


Rosianna Halse Rojas: Rosi is probably the very first YouTuber I ever watched and she introduced me to so many other excellent vloggers. Her Vlogmas is full of really intelligent discussions and crafty videos and I'm going to miss seeing her everyday (in a non-creepy way)


Sunbeamsjess: I've definitely spoken about Jess and her wonderful vlogs before, and her Vlogmas is so well-edited. She's pretty down-to-earth and I love the little glimpses she gives us of her time studying English.



Kate La Vie: Kate is best known for her great beauty blog and so her Vlogmas has been a really nice to learn a bit more about her and her seriously adorable cat.



Jen Campbell: Jen is an ace booktuber and her recommendations are the best, and so her releasing many videos makes me happy.


Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

2015 Resolutions: Check-In


Back at the beginning of the year, like most people I made a list of things that I wanted to achieve over the year. I approached 2015 with a degree of trepidation, as 2014 had been a pretty massive year and I was a bit scared of having basically life ahead of me but on the whole it's been pretty good (I'll do some kind of Year in Review post closer to the end of the year). But, I'm not entirely sure how I did against my resolutions (because I basically forgot I made any).

1. Cultivate a positive self-image and attitude.
This is definitely one of those easier said than done resolutions. However, I will say that I've generally felt okay when it comes to my image (at least until I see myself in photos), and my attitude has generally been fairly positive (give or take a few bumps over the year as is expected).

2. Learn to drive
This did not happen. And I know it needs to happen. But living in the middle of a city makes it an expensive and pretty unnecessary thing to do. I'm considering at the very least retaking my theory in the next year though, so at least that'll be up-to-date

3. Get a full-time job
This did happen! Whilst it's not the forever job that I would love (but do forever contracts even exist anymore?!), I am working full-time in an industry I'm happy to be in and I'm not living at home.

4. Make an effort to communicate with friends more.
Again, yep I did this. 2015 has been a good way of working out the people who will make the post-uni/job change cut and those that...won't.

5. Stop feeling bad about removing people from my life
Neatly fitting in with number 4, there are definitely a handful of people that I'm probably going to stop making an effort with, as it clearly doesn't work. This is on the one hand pretty upsetting, but on the other something that I need to do in order to help that positive attitude I mentioned earlier. You don't need people in your life who drain you or who make you feel like you're not quite interesting enough for them.

6. Make a regular exercise routine
Hahahahahaha (unless you count walking to work)

7. Own less
In my original post I mentioned feel 'antsy' for owning so much stuff, and I definitely had a bit of a cull before I moved out. However, especially as my space is small, this is a feeling that has persisted. I think post Christmas, if Santa is kind to me, I might have a bit of a refresh because there are definitely things in my wardrobe that I just haven't reached for. I have, however, gotten way better at culling books that I only rate 3 or less stars on Goodreads because I'm unlikely to either re-read them or want to lend them to anyone else.

8. Burn more candles
This has definitely been a thing, especially since moving out. I could probably buy shares in Yankee Candle, though I haven't quite plucked up the courage to go full beauty guru and spend over £20 on something I'm going to burn.

9. Be kinder to the family
This point was really a reflection on the fact that I was living at home, and feeling like I was regressing into my stroppy early teenager stage; which I think is something anyone who has lived at home after being away can probably relate to. I probably have more chats with my parents now I don't live at home than when I did, so this is definitely one that I can tick off.

10. Read 50 Books
Another one that I can say I have accomplished. I've currently read 53 books this year which makes me very happy.

11. Stick to a skincare regime
Whilst my skin hasn't miraculously cleared up (tragically), I do now have a set of products that work well to keep any breakouts firmly in check. I would like to explore the more face mask/treatment route in 2016, to really work at reducing redness on my cheeks and the angriness of some of the spots that I do get.

12. Journal more
This was sadly a fail. I've probably written about 10 entries for the whole of 2015 which is really bad. Especially as I do love getting all my feelings down on paper; this may well be something that appears on next year's resolution list as well.

13. Wear more lipstick
This has been achieved, working in an office environment rather than retail definitely lends itself to being able to wear slightly more interesting make-up!

14. Embrace the song '22'
A bit of a tongue-in-cheek one, but I did turn 22 in March and embraced this song so much so that I actually saw Taylor Swift perform in May. She was wonderful, and if you fancy experiencing the 1989 tour its currently in video form on Apple Music (and I cried about four times watching it...despite...you know...having seen the concert myself).

On the whole, I would say that this year has been a fairly positive one in terms of achieving the things that I wanted to at the start of the year, especially in achieving the pretty big 'proper job' goal.

How have you done against your resolutions? Or do you think resolutions are daft?



Friday, 18 December 2015

Life Lately #2


I realised I haven't really done any proper 'life' posts recently,so I figured I'd do a bit of a catch-up post to prove I occasionally do things other than read books.


Sporting one of my favourite work outfits and jewellery pieces from Zara. One of my better days when taking part in the 10,000 step challenge with work. Going to see Suffragette as a Halloween treat (review here). Another selfie wearing a favourite shirt from Primark (it was £10!!) which is a very late discovery for me.



Taking a break from the sea of red cups to enjoy the Caffe Nero festive cups. Having a proud parent moment when the team that I'm a mentor for through Envision were granted their £100 to help launch their social action project. Wild night in with the best type of Roses. Bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to my flat (& yes I really need pictures for my frame).

video

I went to see Mumford & Sons and wrote an entire post about it. They were amazing. I think I'll always be a little bit in love with Marcus Mumford; and I'm seriously considering buying tickets to see them at Hyde Park.


Probably the most fun I had over the past few weeks was last weekend when I decamped to Bath to meet up with my friends from school; finally visiting one of my friends who has been studying there for the past four years. It's so beautiful and whilst completely heaving thanks to a combo of Christmas market and rugby, we had a really great time (and we found the Les Mis bridge). Followed the next day by me and my friend getting slightly lost in Bristol but managing to track down some very nice mulled wine (with bonus Amaretto because it is Christmas after all).

Then most recently was my work Christmas party, which is the first time I've had a Christmas party at actual Christmas time...possibly ever. I loved my jumpsuit which I bought on ASOS and felt really great in.The actual party was at the Old Crown in Digbeth and whilst I'm generally confused by the idea of having a party in a marquee in December, but the food was amazing (and there was loads).


Finally this past weekend was just a bit of a chilled one. I popped into town to do some Christmas shopping (pretty much finished now, yay) and spied this t-shirt in Zara which I very nearly picked up but wasn't sure if I was ready to indulge my basic side. I did however pick up this teeny tiny Christmas tree to add a bit of greenery to my flat after getting jealous of everyone's lovely trees all over social media.

So, now we're finally all caught up!



Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Clicklist #10


It's time for the tenth installment of things I've enjoyed on the internet lately.

A bit of a long one, but this article about how Twitter helped one of the people at the forefront of the Westboro Baptist Church leave the church (cult?) is super interesting.

Brilliant, brilliant article by Helen Lewis about how certain parts of the internet are totally derailing the ability to debate anything.

I've been a little dubious  about healthy Nigella, but this muffin recipe sounds delicious.

Where are the characters of Gossip Girl now?

Iceland is definitely on my bucket list, and Tea's posts about her time there, starting here, have made me want to visit even more.

A little closer to home, Cat compared Ightham Mote to Manderley from Rebecca, which basically sold a visit to me.

Anna's fuss-free meal menu sounds seriously delicious, I'm here for anything involving tiramisu.

And now two heart-attack recipies; pepperoni chicken by The Pioneer Woman and a bacon & brie toastie that looks so darn good from Rose

Five of Amber's favourite places to see in Scotland, a country that I love every time I visit but definitely haven't explored enough.

Jen's picture guide to Lisbon yet another place that I want to visit.

10 Unexpected Things I Learnt from the Year I Spent "Not Having a Real Job"

21 Things We All Secretly Miss from Sixth Form

Geraldine tried every pumpkin-flavoured thing on sale in Trader Joe's.

I loved Lily's post on things that she's learned since living alone.  Even if it's made me miss my cat even more.

I'm not even sure why I haven't made Jack's two-ingredient coconut hot chocolate yet.

Meg wrote this really lovely post in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

Liverpool is one of my favourite cities which I visited a lot when one of my friend's from school lived there. So I loved Rebecca's post featuring the bombed-out church (and I love her new style of posts in general) and Olivia's guide to places to visit (Leaf is ace).

Lauren at Buy Now, Blog Later is one of the people on the internet that I have followed for the longest time and I love her blog posts as they are just so honest. Especially love this comparison post about concealer.

Some lovely words of wisdom from Michelle.

19 Signs You're Completely & Utterly Addicted to Social Media

Also, I don't talk about work much on here for obvious reasons, but Birmingham was recently declared a City of Sanctuary for refugees which was a good day in the office.


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Current Favourites

(Can you tell my concealer exploded over my make-up bag?)

So, I haven't done a favourites post in a couple of months, and after a bit of a iffy few weeks (in which I lost my debit card, lost my SD card and certain government actions made me want to cry) I thought it would be nice to put together a little list of things I've been enjoying.
I'm forever on the hunt to find a foundation that I can put on and just feel really happy with. One of my real favourites is the L'Oreal Infallible Matte foundation, but I have to use it sparingly as it appears my skin is not quite as crazy about it. This new release from Bourjois has impressed me a fair bit though. Although it does run a tad yellow (like most of the brand's foundations) and is attracted to dryness; it lasts really well even on my oily skin and doesn't feel or look cakey which is something I always hate when my skin isn't feeling too great.

Benefit They're Real Lash Primer
I got this as a sample with Elle magazine, and I'll admit to being a little sceptical at first. The They're Real mascara doesn't really work on my lashes, it tends to flake and leave my eyes feeling really irritated. However, this primer is seriously amazing. It can be worn by itself as a brown natural mascara which still gives really good length or as a first layer under pretty much any mascara. I'm a bit obsessed with giving my lashes length so I really, really love this.



Yankee Candle in Fireside Treats
It's a candle that smells like marshmallows. What's not to adore. I know I should probably be burning Christmas scents, but I like to use them after Christmas to try and keep the season going.

I'm so hoping that some of you watch this, so I can talk conspiracy theories with you but London Spy is a definite favourite. It’s a new BBC drama starring Ben Whishaw as Danny who has a chance encounter with investment banker Alex (Edward Holfcroft). Alex is awkward and this appears to be his first proper relationship and they fall in love. Until Alex ends up dead inside a trunk in a sex attic, leaving Danny reeling. When he learns that Alex, real name Alistair, was actually worked for MI6 he is convinced of foul play and sets about trying to find out what really happened. It’s written by Tom Rob Smith who is the author of Child 44, and thus far I have literally no idea what is going on but the acting is seriously fantastic (and it’s one of those shows where literally everyone pops up) and it’s excellently filmed. [Edit: I wrote this prior to watching the last episode, which was SUCH A DISAPPOINTMENT, let me know what you thought in the comments]


Master of None
This is Aziz Ansari of Parks & Rec fame’s very own series streaming on Netflix. It’s the story of Dev, an actor in New York as he attempts to negotiate the perils of adult life. There’s some great stuff about racism and immigration in it, and Ansari is a really engaging on-screen presence (although it’s pretty hard to tell where Dev ends and Aziz starts). Just fun watching, and a nice antidote to London Spy!

Hamilton
I'm kind of surprised that I haven’t mentioned this anywhere yet, but we need to talk about Hamilton. It’s a musical currently on Broadway which tells the story of the first Treasury Secretary of the United States, Alexander Hamilton, who was also the first politician embroiled in a sex scandal and was killed in a duel with long-time friend Aaron Burr. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also plays the titular character, it’s a hip-hop musical and stars mostly people of colour playing historically white characters. The lyrics are so smart and the music is catchy, the vocal performances are obviously all fantastic and you also learn a ton about the early days of the United States. You can listen to the cast album on Spotify, or download it from iTunes if you are properly keen. And then we can all cry together to “It’s Quiet Uptown”.


This is a rediscovery favourite; I got into Welcome to Night Vale quite a while ago (I think when they had about 30 episodes) and then somehow fell out of habit of listening to them. Welcome to Night Vale is framed as a fictional local news station, but it’s quite clear that some very bizarre things are happening in Night Vale. It’s funny and completely weird.

The return of Serial
IT'S BACK. Whilst the first series focussed on a little known case, the new series features one that dominated American news last year, and judging by the comments on the Facebook page-one that many people still have strong feelings about. It's the story of Private Bergdahl who spent five years captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan and who was released in a prisoner swap for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay. However, within days of his return to the US it was revealed that his disappearance was maybe a little more complicated, and he was accused of desertion and is currently awaiting court-martial by the army. It's pretty different to the first season, but I'm really intrigued in the media/government/army angle that this story is likely to have.

Monday, 14 December 2015

A Month in Books: November


So....November was a bit of a fail when it came to reading, though I can't really put my finger on why. I think I just simply didn't feel like reading, then got ill and didn't feel like doing much of anything. So, I read one very good novel and one...okay one.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (2014, Oneworld)
I'm always keen to check out winners of the Man Booker prize, especially when they're a novel that I would never have normally picked up. A Brief History of Seven Killings is the story of a group of individuals; from gang members to politicians, whose lives are all touched by the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1976. James writes largely in a stream-of-concious style which makes every character a truly complex one, even when they do pretty reprehensible things. The book is incredibly engaging (and eye-wateringly violent) and really worth a read before it inevitably becomes a HBO miniseries.

The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon & trans. Lucia Graves (2013, Phoenix)
Carlos Ruiz Zafon is one of my favourite authors. I usually love his tales of gothic mystery, so I was pretty sad that this novel didn't quite win me over in the same way that his other work had. The Watcher in the Shadows is the final in Zafon's young adult trilogy which was originally published in Spanish in the 1990s. It follows the Sauvelle family, who move from Paris to a rural sea town when the mother becomes a housekeeper for a local reclusive toymaker. Here, the daughter Irene falls for local boy Ismael and the son Dorian becomes fascinated by the toymaker, until tragedy strikes. The story just felt slightly too young, with the writing feeling clunkier than usual. The insta-love between Irene and Ismael also bothered me. It does just feel like this was a dry-run of concepts and even characters  that re-emerge, in a much better way, in Zafon's Library of Forgotten Books series for adults-which I'd recommend reading instead.

Did you do better than me this month? I'm at the stage where I've completed my Goodreads challenge so I'm not too stressed about my lack of reading.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

A (Unsurprising) Pause | Blogmas #10

Soooo.

Blogmas went well.

It's frustrating because I have a bunch of posts written, but no SD card to take photos on and no daylight to take photos in :(.

Hopefully I'm going to use this weekend to sort some posts out-I promise!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Thoughts On: Mockingjay, Part Two | Blogmas #4


This is probably going to be a little brief, as its hard to talk about this film without referring tons to the films before it. If you've been living under a rock, The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future where years before the Capital brutally suppressed an uprising, wiping out the 13th District and enforcing a 'Hunger Games' where children fight to the death on live TV.  The series follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who survives the Hunger Games and becomes a symbol of rebellion. 

Mockingjay focuses on the fight from the actually undefeated District 13 against the Capital, in order to remove President Snow (Donald Sutherland). This film picks up with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who has been rescued from the Capital having to reconfigure what his reality truly is. He soon joins Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and others as they march on the Capital, as Katniss focuses on her own plan to get rid of Snow personally.

First of, I will say that I really don't feel that Mockingjay needed to be split in half at all. It's a pretty bleak book, and making two two hour films out of it did make this a little emotionally exhausting (at least for me). I also felt like some of the scenes could have been cut and still retained their emotional pull. However, I do like the move to a focus on the dark side of rebellion and this film does carry that focus on. Also, the central love triangle in these films is the worst. I didn't like it at all in the books, and I didn't in the film either. It's really hard to care too much about two ultimately dull guys when they're fighting over a character as fascinating as Katniss, who is wonderfully played by Jennifer Lawrence.


The majority of the performances are still fantastic. Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore are both fantastic as playing the definitely sinister political leaders, and even people like Mahershala Ali as Boggs and Elden Henson as Pollux who aren't necessarily in the film that much are really great screen presences. I am also irrationally pleased when I see people from the world of theatre making it on the big screen, so seeing Patina Miller (who starred in the stage version of Sister Act) playing Commander Paylor made me very happy. Obviously the performance that lingers over this film is that of Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final film and I couldn't help but feel just a little bit sad every time Plutarch was on screen. 

Really though, this franchise has rested on the very capable shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence, whose performance as Katniss is really just great. Any problems I've had with the films are also problems I had with the books (like the hideously annoying epilogue), and I'm sure people who are more hardcore fans than me will be very happy to have seen these film adaptations. 


Thursday, 3 December 2015

Thoughts On: Spectre | Blogmas #3


James Bond films are a little bit of a guilty pleasure watch for me. I grew up going to see the Pierce Brosnan generation of films, and have seriously loved the Daniel Craig generation of films. Casino Royale and Skyfall are possibly two of my favourite films in general. So I did have fairly high expectations going into Spectre.

This film starts with Bond causing something of an international incident in Mexico, against a backdrop of changes to the security services which sees M (Ralph Fiennes) coming under increasing pressure from the new head of the combined service (Andrew Scott) to close the 00 programme. However, Bond becomes desperate to solve the mystery of Spectre, an international organisation that seems to have its fingers in many pies and is run by a shady character from Bond's past (Christoph Waltz).

This basically ticks all the standard Bond film tropes; the opening scene in Mexico City is really something to watch, there's a chase scene across the Tyrols and a car chase featuring a gorgeous car. Craig is great at playing a Bond who is definitely more worn down by his job than other generations, the throwbacks to Vesper in this film were really good. Despite the dark elements of his performance, there were also a lot of quippy one liners in this film too which prevented it from being too dark.

I also really liked that whilst Bond was having his adventure, the 'home' team at MI6 were given pretty ample screen time. Ben Whishaw's Q is adorably nerdy (and also gets a lot of the humour) and it was fun to see Fiennes and Naomie Harris (as Moneypenny) having a little more work to do in the final hour of the film against the serious creepy Scott, who seems to have made a career out of playing pretty creepy powerful men.


I do kind of wish that the central relationship between Bond and Madeline Swann (the lovely Lea Seydoux) had stayed platonic, rather than becoming a romantic relationship, especially as he appears to have been friends with her father. Though in all honesty, Bond films aren't really known for their stellar gender roles. I also would have preferred it if Waltz's character had a slightly different motivation, as it seemed rather similar to that of the bad guy in Skyfall. 

However, if the rumours about this being Daniel Craig's final film are true, then it is a really neat tie-up of his time as the face of the franchise. And we can all get excited about who could be replacing him (Idris Elba...PLEASE)

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Thoughts On: Mumford & Sons @ Genting Arena | Blogmas #2


Mumford & Sons are hands-down one of my favourite bands. I know they come under fire for being a bit middle-class and twangy but I honestly think Marcus Mumford's voice is really something else, and they're all incredibly musically talented. I saw them at probably my favourite concert experience, in Hyde Park in 2011 alongside Arcade Fire and The Vaccines when they'd only released Sigh No More, and at the LG/Genting Arena on the Babel tour. So it was a bit of a no-brainer to snap up tickets to see their Wilder Mind performance.

I will say that I didn't love Wilder Mind as an album as much as their previous works, although there are some really lovely songs on there. However, any long-time fans will be pleased to know that Babel and especially Sigh No More are given ample time in the setlist and still seem to be the songs that get the best reception although sons from Wilder Mind like 'Ditmas', 'Believe' and of course 'The Wolf' went down very well. I was also thrilled to hear them perform 'Ghosts That We Knew', which is one of my favourite quieter songs from Babel. 

They also did a really lovely acoustic few songs which was a lovely surprise, if slightly marred by some audience members who don't seem able to handle quiet songs (if you can seriously afford to spend £40 on concert tickets & then talk all the way through it you probably earn too much money).

If you're a fan of Mumford & Sons or just really great musicians I would really recommend going to see them as they are completely brilliant live (my Mum described them as being joyful, which is a pretty good way of putting it in my opinion); if you can manage to get a ticket to any of their tour dates. I'm currently trying to talk myself out of booking to see them in Hyde Park as well!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Top 5: Favourite Couples from Books | Blogmas #1


Emily from The Book Geek did a really fun video talking about her favourite fictional couples; and I really wanted to do a similar thing here. However, when I began to think about couples that I really liked, it did lead me to realise that a lot of the books I read don’t exactly feature positive relationships. There may be some some spoilers ahead.

Beatrice & Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
The ultimate fictional couple in my opinion; starring in basically the world’s first rom-com. They have some kind of history and now hate each other, so their friends and family decide that they’d actually be a perfect couple. Hilarity and a fake death ensue. Beatrice is a fabulous character, especially when you consider just how old this play is and her sparring with Benedick is just perfect. The Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh film is pure fun (also ft Denzel Washington! Keanu Reeves! The guy from Dead Poets Society), and so is the recorded stage version starring Catherine Tate and David Tennant. Just a fab play with a fab central couple.

Max & Fang from the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
So slight disclaimer, I haven’t actually read all the books in this series as by Book 3 I felt that it was 
pretty well wrapped up, but Patterson decided to drag the series on probably a lot longer than it really needed to go. However, I read these books as a teenager and was totally enamoured with the relationship between Max and Fang. This is a Young Adult series focusing on children who were genetically modified and are attempting to live a normal life away from the clutches of the evil organisation that imprisoned them. Max is kind of a Katniss Everdeen mark1 and Fang is the standard broody YA male that I really dug when I was younger. Part of me is tempted to read the next six (6!?) books in the series but I’m scared that I’ll hate them (Goodreads seems to).

Emma & Dexter from One Day by David Nicholls
This book broke my heart into many tiny pieces. Whilst Dexter is definitely bit of a tool, he’s a tool with his heart in the right place and Emma is just such a lovely character and I have never wanted a couple to get together and just be happy more. Even the film, with Anne Hathaway’s dubious accent, gets to me. Such a great story.


Christabel La Motte & Randolph Henry Ash from Possession by AS Byatt
Okay, so this is a definite spoiler for Possession but I had such a ridiculous crush on a fictional poet when I was reading this that I had to include it. The novel focuses on two academics one a specialist in La Motte and one on Ash who realise that these two Victorian (I think) poets; one a suspected lesbian, the other who was long believed to be a family man had in fact had an intense love affair. Their part of the novel is told in gorgeous love letters and poetry and I think I would die if I was sent a letter like those in this novel.

Petrocles & Achilles from The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This falls into a couple whose story doesn’t end particularly well, which you would know if you’re familiar with Greek mythology. However, Miller writes a really beautiful story between the two of them and this was another which really got me too. I really recommend checking this out, both for the love story which kills me, and the really interesting take on the familiar myth of Troy.


Do you have any particular favourite couple?

Also, I am going to attempt to give this Blogmas thing ago, because why not? 


Amy

Monday, 16 November 2015

Look for the Helpers

(Andrew Meares, via Sydney Morning Herald)

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realising that there are still so many helpers-so many caring people in this world"
-Fred Rogers

In the aftermath of any tragedy or inconceivable event, in this age of social media there follows an outpouring of noise; as people try to understand what is happening by hurling views and opinions out into the ether. 

I feel like there have been numerous academics who discussed the problems of IS more eloquently than I can (I'd recommend the most recent New Statesman podcast and my former uni's Political Worldview podcast to get an idea); and besides, anything that I might say about blowback and how frustrated I remain by the international community's refusal to act in Syria when Assad began killing his own people, isn't going to be much consolation to the families and friends of the 132 people who have died so far. Nor will shouting about the hypocrisy in the Western media's lack of coverage of the Beirut attack bring back the 41 people killed there. These issues are massively complex and can't be boiled down to click-bait blog posts or opinion pieces. The only thing I can really say, is that we are incredibly lucky to only have to feel this fear and anxiety about the future when attacks as rare as this happen. That we do not live somewhere where either our own government or fanatics with guns pose a daily threat to our lives; to the point that we would risk everything to travel to a continent that offers hope; only to discover that the things we are running from are there as well.

However, amongst the noise and the bigots who use attacks like this to further promote division, there are always people doing great things, and I'd really like to focus on them.








Friday, 13 November 2015

Clicklist #9


So I wasn't expecting to do another one of these quite so soon, but I've gotten quite into signing up to newsletters and therefore getting an inbox full of really interesting things to read. This round-up isn't quite as blog-focussed as normal, but we're all well-rounded people here.

Mallory Ortberg re-imagines literary classics via the medium of text message. They're hilarious, especially if you're a Bronte lover. My friends once bought me a book which did a similar thing but via Twitter, and I am *for sure* picking up her whole book.

Emma has launched a newsletter, and one of her picks was this great podcast which is an interveiw between the authors Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It's really worth a listen.

Rookie continues to be the site that I wish had existed when I was growing up. This illustrated article on how to be in a relationship should be recommended reading for young adults, and serves as a good reminder for us adults too.

Hannah went to Switzerland, and now...I want to go to Switzerland.

This clicklist's recipe corner: Joy's French Toast, Olivia's ideas for making porridge more interesting, and Hannah's breakfast ideas (carrot cake for breakfast guys).

Cllr Jones wrote this fabulous post about being a woman in science, politics & society. It's amazing and she's lovely.

Emma's post on why being nice isn't the drippy thing people make it out to be is great.

Rose's trip to the South Downs just looks beyond idyllic, as someone who grew up in the country, rural settings always just remind me a bit of home (even if home is no where near as pretty as this).

Jon Ronson is an endlessly compelling writer, and his coverage of a man who has created a model WW2-ravaged town in his garden is really interesting.

Great article to use against that guy on your Facebook feed who claims that women aren't included in panels or on boards because ~meritocracy~

Fast fashion tends to be a term that is reserved for the high street, but what happens when it begins to seep into 'high end' fashion too?

Vice recently launched Broadly, a section of their website dedicated to stories with women at the centre. This article on dealing with the aftermath of the Colombian civil war, in particular for the women who have faced sexual violence throughout the conflict, is really interesting.

Amazon have opened a real life bookstore (called Amazon Books). This is a really cool look inside it (and I'm fascinated by the amount of corrections at the end of the article-no one protects their brand like Amazon).

One of my internet crushes Ann Friedman was interviewed on the Am I Allowed to Like Anything podcast. Even though I'm not that interested in a career in the media, I found this interview really interesting.

Also, in other podcast news, I'm super late to the party but the Longform Podcast is pretty ace too.

Finally, this piece by Lindsay Kelk about being told you don't need make-up.

And if you need cheering up about some of the heavier pieces here....




Sunday, 8 November 2015

A Month in Books: October


October wasn't such a successful reading month, I'm not sure why but I just didn't find myself picking up a book automatically at the end of the evening; a fact that towards the end of the month could definitely be blamed on the highly addictive How to Get Away with Murder landing on UK Netflix. However whilst the first two books I read were okay, the final (which I steamrolled through on Halloween) was actually pretty fantastic. Also I've officially completed my 50 Books challenge which makes me very happy.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (1945, Penguin)
I've always been a little interested by the Mitford sisters, just because their actual lives sounds like the stuff of costume dramas. This is the first of Nancy Mitford's collection of novels following the lives of an extended family. It tells the story of Linda, a privileged young woman desperate to find true love; marrying first a Conservative MP, then running away with a Communist before meeting an enigmatic Frenchman. This was generally a pretty fun ride, with larger than life characters-especially Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie-Linda's parents. The former is hugely bombastic and his default setting is angry, whilst Sadie seems generally slightly detached from the life she's living. Mitford is excellent at skewering politics across the spectrum, with some lines making me literally laugh out loud. There is a rather jarring use of the n-word partway through the novel, the character's aren't wildly developed (the story is told from the perspective of Fanny, Linda's slightly more straightlaced cousin which is a shame) and the ending takes a sudden dark turn. However, I'd recommend it if you'd like to branch out into classics, and fancy something a little light.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (2012, Penguin)
Daring Greatly is one of those wildly popular books that I just felt I kind of missed the boat on. Brene Brown's TED talks on this topic is really interesting, and the book's focus-on allowing yourself to be 'vulnerable' and the positive impact that can have on all areas of your life was one that I found particularly interesting. Whilst Brown, a 'shame researcher' is very good at talking about anecdotes and pointing to the problems that refusing to be vulnerable can create in our day-to-day lives (I found the parts that discussed men and shame particularly interesting) her apparent solutions just didn't really jive with me. They mostly involved some kind of mantra or stopping in the middle of a sentence to tell everyone that you're feeling anxious and I just can't ever imagine a situation where I can be on board with that (perhaps it's just my stiff-upper-lip Brit coming out). It's also written in that kind of cheesy style that seems to be a trademark of empowering American self-help books which can definitely take a while to get into. I would recommend it, and I am keeping my copy because I think it could be an interesting one to lend out, but perhaps lower your expectations if you've heard a few too many "life-changing" reviews (or pick up Quiet).

Slade House by David Mitchell (2015, Sceptre)
I really love David Mitchell and really liked his last novel The Bone Clocks, so I was eagerly awaiting Slade House's release. Slade House is set in the same world as The Bone Clocks, so uses the same fantasy structure, but I feel like you can definitely read this if you haven't read the previous book-you'd just miss out on some of the references to characters in that novel, but this also means that the tension would really last right through the final chapter, whereas if you've read the previous novel it's pretty clear what is coming. Slade House is seriously creepy; not much can be said about the plot without totally spoiling it, but it is essentially the story of a house that appears every 9 years and people who visit it are never seen again. As with most Mitchell, he creates really distinctive characters and voices and I was just totally sucked into this. I really, really recommend it.

I am currently reading this year's Man Booker winner A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James which is really engaging with excellent character voices; but is also massively violent so I keep having to take little breaks from it!

How was your reading month? 

Amy

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Thoughts On: Suffragette


I decided to take myself to see Suffragette as a Halloween treat and I am so glad that I did. The film (written by Abi Morgan & directed by Sarah Gavron) follows the story of a group of working class women that become involved in the suffragette movement. It centres on Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) who works in punishing conditions in an industrial laundrette where working conditions are bleak and sexual harassment is rife. When she becomes acquainted with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), Maud becomes drawn into the movement, with heartbreaking consequences. 

The film does take a while to get started, although this does mean that you get well-immersed into the working class world that Maud lives in, with her husband (my boyfriend Ben Whishaw) and son (an adorable Adam Michael Dodd). Plus, when it gets going, it really gets going. The suffragettes are regularly taught in school, and so most people are aware of force-feeding tactics, police brutality and the death of Emily Wilding Davison. However, it's something completely different to see those events depicted on screen; the final event is the films climax and is just brilliantly done (and I spent that entire sequence somehow wishing that history was different). It's also wonderfully acted; Mulligan is always a good screen presence, Anne-Marie Duff is great and performances by Helena Bonham-Carter as a female chemist and Romola Garai as a middle-class recruiter are also really wonderful (Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst pops up for all of five minutes). When it ended, I definitely just felt incredibly grateful that these women did so much and risked so much in order that women today can vote, and women like me can study & work in politics.



But what really stuck with me is the moment in the film when the lead police inspector (Brendan Gleeson) says to Maud that people would never listen to people like her, because what she has to say just doesn't matter. The idea that the suffragettes were just somehow above their station, and just needed to shut up, is something that permeates the film...and still feels painfully familiar today.

This issue seems to have come to a head in the past week, when in the wake of the Tampon Tax debate, Philip Davies (an MP whose previous achievements include claiming that gay marriage is discriminatory to straight people) stated that he wanted an International Men's Day debate in the Commons to look at the issues that affect men. Jess Phillips dismissed this idea, stating that until women have equity in parliament there's really no need to have a specific debate on men. Regardless of the fact that it seems that important issues such as a male suicide and male domestic violence are only ever bought to the fore when women try and talk about anything to do with them-the response to Phillips suggesting that such a debate is unnecessary has been pretty grim.

(a fun sample)
The suffragettes were incredible women who help enfranchise millions to vote, yet for many the fight for women's rights seems to have begun and ended with them. Whenever any woman suggests that things could be in any way better, the response is usually that they should be grateful for what they have in comparison to women living elsewhere and, as suggested above, if they're not happy to be quiet they should be violently made to be. It's a shame that whilst we have come so far from the events in the film; in terms of women having the vote and being able to have a say in how their children are raised, and yet some people's attitudes are still very 19th century.



Saturday, 31 October 2015

I Actually Left the House: A Night in Birmingham



The title is true. Last week one of my colleagues had her leaving party, which is always the worst reason to go out, but it did mean that I finally did something with my Friday night outside of cleaning my floors (advanced apologies for poor photos). We began having a bit of a casual drink at Gosta Green, which is basically Aston University's student bar and was a pretty good place to start the night-with obviously reasonable drink prices-but probably not somewhere you should hunt out if you're not a student.


Bodega
Somewhere that is definitely worth heading to is Bodega. This is a South American restaurant in the city centre specialising in street foods such as tacos and quesdillas and favourites like massive piles of nachos. All of these are complimented by some really delicious or just plain interesting cocktails. I had fish tacos, which were so fresh and delicious and grilled halloumi because halloumi. Whilst I didn't try any puddings (although I can't imagine churros ever being a bad idea), I did have a white chocolate and passionfruit mojito which was more than sweet enough. My only advice would be to either order several little plates or go with a big plate (the halloumi burger sounded lovely, and another table's nachos looked great) if you're really hungry.

The Lost & Found
The Lost & Found is one of my favourite places in Birmingham. My parents introduced me to it a few years ago; I spent my 21st birthday there and went a lot with my housemates; and I had my pre-graduation meal there. So I basically just have a lot of love for it. A really gorgeous building decorated with birdcages and faux plants, and a hidden function room behind a bookcase (!) it's a great place for a meal or just drinks. Despite being slightly disappointed that they've changed the cocktail menu, there were still plenty of delicious options including something called a Moscow Mule (vodka & ginger beer) which is definitely going to be my go to drink for future trips.

Gas Street Social
Finally, we headed to Gas Street Social, a place whose name I've heard a lot but I've never visited. Located just outside the newly refurbished Mailbox shopping centre (home of Harvey Nichols). It's got a really cool vibe, and does a pretty amazing espresso martini which is one of my favourite cocktails.


I had a really good night, and it was one of those times that you don't really feel the need to take copious photos because you're just enjoying yourself too much. Brum seems to be having something of a renaissance amongst the blogosphere so if you have any recommendations for Brum I'd love to hear them!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Clicklist #8


October is zipping along and it feels like the internet is just spilling over with good stuff. Here are some of my favourites.

-Amber did a great post on places to find free, copyright issue-free images that you can use online; super handy for those of us lacking the light/camera/time/Pinterest worthy backgrounds that are so popular online

-If you've read enough of these posts, you'll probably know that Kate's travel posts are some of my favourites. Her trip to Denmark and Sweden looks just wonderful. Start here.



-I'm always on a bit of a mission to find places within the UK to visit whilst I'm a little too poor to afford plane tickets, and Cat's post on Rochester (a place I'd never heard of) has added it my list of places I'd like to visit

-I loved Meg's post on turning thirty, a nice piece of perspective for when I panic about my nth quarter-life crisis 

-The Cabinet Member for Children's Services at work has started writing a blog about what she does, and it's a really great insight into local government & public sector working (and yes, she really is called Brigid Jones)




-Bath is definitely a city I want to visit, and where one my friends from school lives, but is just so hard to get to. Jen's post (and that hotel room) really makes me want to stop making excuses about this.

-A trifecta of recipes; vegan caramel biscuits, amaretto tiramasu and butternut squash mac & cheese. I want to eat all of these.

-I definitely want to start talking a little more about the places in Birmingham that I love, but Megs' post on her time in the city sponsored by Premier Inn, is worth a read if you have no idea where to start


-Another one of my colleagues at work, Rachel, has also got a pretty great blog; writing about Birmingham and musings on her life exploring the world of work in general






-This article (found via Nicola) by Ann Friedman (of Call Your Girlfriend podcast fame) about establishing a personal brand is ace.

-I was fairly sceptical about whether I'd enjoy Lenny Letter, due to my kind of complex relationship with Lena Dunham, but it's really worth checking out

-If you're not subscribed to Natalie, aka communitychannel, you really should be. Her videos make me literally lol.

-Finally, everyone appears to be doing Vlogtober this year which I'm loving, but I think my favourite has to be Jess, aka sunbeamsjess, whose videos are making me miss university a lot.

What are your top internet picks so far this month? I'm always on the look out for more stuff to procrastinate with.

Amy
Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram