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March 17, 2019

Book Club No.19



Gang, it's time for another Book Club post today and things are just ever so slightly different. I've gotten into the habit over the last few years of sharing 3 books in each Book Club review post because that tends to be a "nice" length post. But today's post has just two because oh boy, I had some thoughts to share lemme tell you. No, really. Let me tell you:

The Ask and the Answer: The Second Novel of Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness
If you read post No.17 in my Book Club series you will already know *just* how much I enjoyed the first book of Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness. But are you truly prepared for just how much I loved this second book? Strap yourselves in because I have so much to say. The Ask and the Answer picks up right where book one left off (spoilers are going to have to happen at this point if you haven't read the first book guys so all I can stress at this point is: go pick it up immediately!) with Todd and Viola being met by Mayor Prentiss in the empty town square of Haven. The two are subsequently separated under their confusion of him being here and beating them to the destination and thus the split-narrative of this book is born. I loved that this second book had a split-narrative between the two main characters as I feel Ness did such a stellar job of fully developing both Todd and Viola as characters that you don't even need to check the start of the chapter to know who's side of the story you're getting - you can just tell by the tone, language, emotions, and views.

The one thing I wanted to stress about the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, is that Ness masterfully created such a harrowing story that it's blew so many other plots and stories well out of the water for me and The Ask and the Answer is no different. Whilst the first novel sees a small town with almost cultish/religious undertones and dictations, The Ask and the Answer sees that spread and develop into colonialism and the idea of war, peace, co-existence and more. It grows on a scale that is unfathomable and as a reader you can't help but get swept along. There is *so* much development in this book that I could feel myself growing with each and every character. We see Todd truly grow from a boy to a man and you can feel the time lapse through the pages in such a palpable way. I feel like Ness does an excellent job of excelling the story along on the timeline to it's end destination but he manages to not gloss or skip over anything so you truly feel the journey. But? It doesn't drag. Never at any point during the time I read this did I think "come on, get on with it!" and instead was left as shocked, horrified, manipulated and moved as I predicted I would be.

I honestly didn't think this book could possibly be better than the first, but it absolutely is. The thread of "faith" throughout the whole novel that Todd and Viola share in each other is a bond you truly feel and oh my days, do you feel it when that faith is tested or shook. It brings layers and layers to their friendship and could possibly be setting them up for a romance in the future (who knows, I don't care I just want to carry on living in this world vicariously). The sacrifices and twists and turns in this novel are so gut-wrenching at times that those made in the first book seem like mere drops of rain in a vast sea. After reading this I had to take a break and read something else because I'm terrified to pick up the last remaining book in the triology - half because I don't want the thrill-ride to end and half out of concern that the ending won't top this amazing middle section. In true Ness style, The Ask and the Answer ends on another cliffhanger that would put the likes of Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones to shame and my goodness, I can't wait to find out what happens next. Grab a copy of The Ask and the Answer for £7.18 here



My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
Now for something just as harrowing but in an entirely different way. My Christmas reading gifts from Matt were a hilarious mismatch of YA fiction, true crime non-fiction, and then, this. My Absolute Darling is a Sunday Times Bestseller and appeared to have rave reviews from authors and book critics alike so I was instantly intrigued as I'd not heard of it before I'd ripped the Christmas paper off of it. Described by some as a "psychologically difficult journey", "brutal and harrowing", and "violent, gut-wrenching, and terrifying", I felt instantly sold because if a book has a dark gritty story to it, you can count me in.

So, the plot (trigger warning: rest of review will talk about physical/emotional/sexual abuse in a parent/daughter relationship). My Absolute Darling centres around a 14-year-old girl called Julia (also referred to as Turtle, Kibble, Ninja...) who lives in a very basic and isolated home with her father along the Northern California coast. She's struggling at middle school, teachers are concerned, her dad drinks as does her granddad who lives in a dingy little trailer out the back of their land, and she spends most of her time conflicted with how she is supposed to feel and how she is actually feeling. Her whole life is her daddy. Since her mother died when she was younger, it has been Turtle and her father, Martin, struggling to get by. He has taught her how to hunt, camp, shoot guns, and look after herself. He has a feverish fear of the world coming to an end and is extremely eloquent and informed in the way that people who read the horror stories in the news seem to be when they regurgitate that learned information. During this hormonal teenage time of uncertainty and self-doubt and questioning, Turtle happens to meet another teenager, Jacob, and his friend, Brett, and she gets her first glimpse as to what friendship could be (and of course, her first crush). She spends all of her time isolating herself from everyone except her father but meeting Jacob and Brett makes her start to question everything - including how her father treats her - and this sees Turtle develop into her own person.

Initially when I started reading this book, I popped it onto my Goodreads and my heart sunk. I saw a number of split reviews of people either loving this book or people rating it one star at best due to it's graphic story telling and how it approached abuse. I ignored the reviews in fear of spoiling the plot for myself and read through the first few chapters and thought that this might be the first book of 2019 I had to truly give up on. I found the excessive description of things such as the foliage so detailed and flowery (excuse the pun) with the choice of words that I couldn't keep up with the plot. It distracted me from what was happening and as a slow reader, I found this was setting me back from the get-go in terms of the story's pace. Then we get to the graphic-ness of this book and boy, do I see where so many reviews are coming from. As I said earlier, I love a book that will push boundaries and go into the details others might not, but when a father has raped his teenage daughter and the author uses the phrase "engorged pussy" at one point to describe that act, I felt myself recoil from a book for the first time. I remember turning to Matt after finishing the chapter and saying I really wasn't sure if this book was going to be for me. I carried on reading it to see if this was just a blip in the language and if the story could win me back around and thankfully, it kind of did (but only kind of).



I eventually got used to Tallent's writing style and I actually found the airy fairy-ness of the descriptions quite well suited to the plot as it provided a sense of how isolated Turtle is not just in her situation with her father/school/peers but, also in her location and the scenery/environment around her. It kind of reminded me of one of those slow burning indie movies about teenagers in a warmer climate than the UK where everything little detail seems romanticised. However I still believe the overuse of the adjectives made it a challenging read for me, cover to cover. Martin, the father, is such a despicable character because he is portrayed with so much charisma yet is nothing short of disgusting, toxic, and manipulative but I do understand why that is done - that's exactly the sort of stereotype we see in so many abuse narratives. My real problem was more the choice of violence and acts shown in this novel that appeared to push boundaries but not in the desired way. It felt like a lot of the incest and abusive acts were written in to shock the reader - they often seemed unprovoked and alien in the story despite it being about an abusive relationship throughout. I think the reason for this is because Tallent writes the majority of these plot points with a sense of romance and it's just nothing short of bizarre? Turtle struggling with what is happening to her and struggling with her feelings towards her father is understandable in that "but he's my daddy and therefore I should love him" way, but there's times when Tallent makes it seem that Turtle wants her father to touch her, that she welcomes his advances and it just completely threw me and made it unbelievable. Not to mention the use of "pussy" throughout, sometimes at seemingly random intervals, to then be exchanged with "cunt" later in the novel - I just didn't get it.

Overall this book did create a sense of suspense for me because it was a harrowing story and thus, I wanted to find out what would happen next. The problem for me though was the language and the overriding feeling that this was a middle-aged male author trying to write as a 14-year-old girl in this situation. Little things like the description of Turtle's appearance and body made me roll my eyes because, of course, she was "ugly but in a pretty 'she doesn't realise it' way" like all girls seem to be in these sort of stories. There were *so many* threads throughout the plot that were just left unfinished or characters dipping in and out that served no true purpose that it just further highlighted how under developed the main characters were. There were concerned teachers at the start who seemed to disappear when Turtle stopped attending school yet reappeared at the end. There was a young girl just randomly added into the mix that acted as some sort of "wake up call" for Turtle in her feelings towards her father but that "wake up call" had already happened many chapters earlier. Martin is sadistic and needs help. We get it. Turtle spends literally all of her free time roaming the woods or cleaning her gun - you don't need to write it into every chapter, multiple times, like it's her diary entries. The sheer amount of combined pages that must have collectively been used just to state gun types or how to clean a gun, or conversations that literally read "Turtle?" "Yeah?" "Turtle?" "What?" "Turtle?" was baffling. I'm coming off as so negative about this book and all in all, I did think it was a pretty good read and certainly one to check out if you're into grittier tales (especially given the seemingly clear divide between readers as to whether it's a showstopper or not), but there were so many flaws, I had to mention some here.

The chapters leading up to the last few were some of the best for me because the suspense written into them were great. You're suddenly thrusted into this terrifying situation and you can feel the horror Turtle and others face. The problem with it though is that the story had been so lacklustre in the lead up to this point that it comes at you completely left-field so it feels so unbelievable and over the top. The suspense then bluntly subsides and we're left with a few chapters detailing how Turtle deals without her dad around months after that suspense and unfortunately, it was a handful of chapters that just went back to the wishy-washy writing without a lot of plot. As a reader I was left curious as to how many characters are. I was left with questions but not in a "wow, I hope there's a book two!" kind of way but more of a "this book is utterly frustrating" kind of way. Despite my middle-of-the-road review, you might want to check it out still because it is dark and it does draw you in. You can pick up My Absolute Darling here for £6.47




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March 01, 2019

Milestone Myths - One Size Doesn't Fit All



Next month, I'll be 28. When I was a teen I thought I would be married, with kids, with a car, with a dog, and a house by now and I'm currently sat with only one of those things ticked off. I also thought I would be earning more money than I do, have a different job to what I have right now, and I certainly thought I would have travelled a lot more than I have. I thought I would still be living in the north of England, close to family and friends, having studied something else entirely at university. Does that mean I've failed because I didn't stick to this master "plan"? Failure is so far from the truth.

When we're 16, everything can seem so promising and certain. You can think that 25 sounds so old and that by that age, you will have your shit together and having now surpassed that age, I wish I could step back in time just to let 16 year old Amyleigh know that 25 is not the pinnacle. 25 is far from having everything sorted out. But it's not a bad thing. It's not a negative thing that my life didn't pan out as I expected because actually? It's pretty damn good as it is. It turned out that I have no real use for a car, that I work 9-5 hours that mean having a dog would be unfair on the animal, that buying a house is great but my goodness is it expensive and hard to do much else around renovations and savings. Marriage will come and it doesn't matter if that happened at 23 (I'm so pleased it didn't happen that young?!) or when I'm 53 - because it'll be right - and the same applies to kids.

Although it's easy to sit here as an adult (a term I still use very loosely in reference to myself,) and think "silly 16 year old - you had no idea!" the unfortunate truth is that many people will compare and contrast your life, how your timeline is panning out, to theirs and others and this general expectation we all seem to have. We seem to collectively have this niggling idea of what we're *supposed* to be doing at certain points in our life cycle and it can be tiring to see and feel the pressure of it all. How many times have you caught yourself comparing your progress and life to those who you attended school with for example? "Everyone is getting married or having kids and I'm sat here eating ice cream in my PJs at 8pm on wild Saturday night lmao" - the rhetoric needs to stop. There is no strict timeline that you have to follow and you should only analyse where you are in life if you're feeling dissatisfied because it's not what you want for yourself; not what other people expect or want for you or what you think you *should* be desiring in comparison to others.

It's a hard trip though. Your twenties? Fuck me, it's a minefield of awkward questions that are invasive that you usually have to politely joke about - and even more unfortunately, they seem to come from your family and loved ones more often than not.
Why don't you have a boyfriend?
When are you getting married?
Have you heard the pitter patter of tiny feet?
Wait - you're in a job without any chance of promotion?
Careful now, your body clock is ticking!

You can be single, extremely happy and content with your life and someone will still observe your life with a view that you're longing for other things or you have voids that need to be filled - it could be so far from the truth but it seems to be ingrained that there's milestones we all need to hit and if you're choosing not to pass those by and tick them off your list, there must be a reason behind this delay that's holding you back. It can be commonplace for people to ask these questions as if they're no big deal but, they're so incredibly invasive and shouldn't be normalised. Being asked these questions never makes me feel good. I am yet to meet someone who feels completely indifferent and unaffected by them.



I'm massively guilty of this over-analysing of others life decisions too, though. I've caught myself numerous times seeing an acquaintance move in with their significant other and thought "whoa, that was quick" (like I didn't do the same over 5 years ago,) or had some sort of negative thought about how someone's spending their free time or how many children they've decided to have. I've realised more and more over the past couple of years that I'm just adding to this stigma I say I'm so feverishly against and to be frank, I needed to cut it out. Everyone has their own timeline that suits them, their situation, their needs and wants. There isn't a right or wrong way of doing things. There isn't a particular order you have to stick to in your timeline and you can pick and choose what that timeline includes. Hell, you can completely scrap a timeline and start a fresh new one or branch off in different avenues in the search of happiness - do what you want, always.

It's important that we stop putting this pressure on ourselves as society because not only do we need to face people being nosy and asking questions that they have no business asking and certainly don't warrant a polite response from us but, we are then reflecting those questions onto ourselves and doubting our decisions and asking if we shouldn't be doing more in our lives. Of course pushing ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves is a good thing and wanting to better yourself is never a negative but when that enthusiasm and drive and motivation are fuelled by "maybe I should be doing this" or "*this person* is at this point in their life so I should be too" - that's when it becomes damaging. That's when we're not celebrating our lives and what we have accomplished because we're too blinded by and ideal that might not even be your ideal.

One size fits all is a lie in most capacities it is peddled within and life is certainly one of those capacities that that phrase simply doesn't fit into. Putting unnecessary pressures on ourselves means we are holding ourselves to "goals" that we might never reach nor even want to. We can be setting ourselves up to feel like failures when a few weeks, months, or years later, we could look back on a specific "failure" and realise it didn't actually make a blind bit of difference to how we've progressed or how content we are with what we have. Opportunities in life can lose a bit of their sparkle and shine if you don't approach them with the excitement and fresh eyes of just being present and wanting things at that time. If you're deciding things based on sticking to a predetermined agenda, aren't you worried you're going to miss out on the fun life has to offer?

Take all the time in the world with your life decisions. Choose what feels right and when it feels good and never compare it to what could have been or what others are doing. Stay in your lane when it comes to judging others life choices but by all means dip, swerve, and change up your own lane as often and as much as you want when it comes to your timeline. Make it work for you and don't worry about what's working for others. I'm going to finish up this post because I've already been on my soap box for quite long enough but, to coin some cliché phrases: you do you. Be happy. And just be the best version of yourself. You've got this, this thing we call "life".


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January 27, 2019

Real Talk: Educate, Don't Berate



Trust me, your eyes aren't deceiving you - this is 100% an actual Real Talk coming at you. I know, it's been a while since I published one and there wasn't many posted back in 2018, but I guess I didn't have any topics in mind that I felt passionate enough about to share. But that's certainly changed recently and today I just want to throw my two cents in on the topic of social media/the general internet not always being the nicest of places when it comes to embracing people's personalities, interests, and opinions. I am sure I'm not the only one who has shared their opinion on something - whether that be something really mundane, trivial, controversial etc. - online and felt a backlash from others condemning whatever I said, getting heated because they don't agree, or just simply being rude as fuck (for lack of a better phrase) and bringing any other aspect about you into play to criticise you further such as your appearance, sexuality, your gender... you know the sort of thing I'm talking about.

I've always been someone who sees the world online as a positive because it can be an outlet for so many great things. People can be creative, talents can be discovered, hobbies can be explored, communities can be created, and relationships/friendships can be forged and nurtured. Something that seems to be an increasingly negative side of it all though is the attitude many people have towards others. It's not something new - online trolling and cyberbullying etc. has always been present, but it seems to be especially prevalent nowadays as if we've all become so desensitised, we can't seem to link an account to actual person behind the screen. This is where we all royally fuck up as an intelligent species.

Holding people accountable for what they say is absolutely something we should always practice. It's important that everyone is aware of their words and actions and how they can come across to others and affect the environment and those around them but, it's equally as important to consider where those words or actions have come from and to not meet them with negativity. All too often the sort of confrontation I'm talking about seems to be more concerned with personal attack rather than picking apart the opinion or statement shared in any sort of constructive manner and I honestly find it nothing short of bullying behaviour. I am 100% behind folk sharing whatever the hell they please, so long as it's considered because there's a number of things I think we all need reminding of when it comes to wanting to send some sassy tweet or DM in response to a comment we've seen that we don't enjoy or agree with:



Not everyone has the same upbringing. One thing that I think is *vital* to always keep in mind is that every individual has not had the same history, upbringing, education or experiences. Every single one of us could have a shared experience but feel completely differently towards it, how we shape the memory of it, what lessons we take away from it... It can all be so very different. I think this is often something that is overlooked even in the smallest of ways. For example, I'm fiercely proud of coming from my very working class background and growing up for the majority of my childhood/teen years in council housing because I have learnt *so* much and it has shaped who I am, but it has also meant that some small, seemingly insignificant things, such as knowing how to pronounce "quinoa" becomes something to be mocked for. Try and tell me which family in a council street has fucking quinoa for tea. Aye, exactly. So when you're feeling quick to mock another for their grammar, their limited vocabulary, or their limited knowledge of pronunciation, just take a second or two to really ask yourself if it matters, or if you could just help them along by letting them know the right way to say something. Being nice isn't hard.

Not everyone has the same perspectives or perceptions. Just as I said earlier, not everyone experiences things the same way, but also all of us will never tackle things in the same way either. One piece of art might be the most beautiful, emotion-inducing thing for one person but might be literal shit for another. We all enjoy different music, food, drink, sports, holidays, social groups, events - everything is different and variety is good! Not only is there variety within things like this, but even in the way we perceive those things. It can come down simply to things such as someone being more introverted or extroverted, more pessimistic or optimistic, or it can just be a case of seeking out different sorts of enjoyment in the same activity or pastime. I have friends who enjoy the same music for me but for entirely different reasons. I tend to like a good beat but *love* a clever lyric all the more whilst they find joy in actually listening to the specific beat of the drums and the emotion that that can flare up in you. Take joy in the fact that we are all so different and can draw so much out of even the simplest things in life.

People are constantly improving themselves and growing - encourage it! If I thought about some of my actions or attitudes from 10 years ago, I just know I'd cringe and think it was those of a complete stranger. We are always growing and changing as we experience more in life and learn and we should always bear in mind that people are more than allowed to change. My personal style has changed. My interests have changed. Even my taste in food has changed. No one should be pigeon-holed to stay a certain way because it's what you have come to expect from them or it fits your agenda - let people grow and become unruly and change direction and watch them flourish and most importantly, support it.

If you see something you believe to be fundamentally wrong, challenge it. But not the individual. This is linking back to something I said earlier that seems to happen all too often and rather than people challenging the statement or opinion, they jump on the individual behind it and turn it into a personal attack. Although I will always say people have a right to freedom of speech and to their own opinion, we all know that some statements can be misguided, misinformed or worse. Let's think of the amount of times you've seen an opinion shared on terrorism and the Muslim religion for example and the person sharing a negative opinion says "because I read it in The Sun" - you know what I'm talking about. But the best thing to do in a situation like that is to challenge it, absolutely, but challenge the point. Challenge what has been said and provide a counter argument or information that can show fault with that opinion you're challenging. Linking back to the whole idea of us having different education, upbringing, views on life etc., aconsider and remember that there's room for an individual to change and grow. If you just shouted at your houseplants to "fucking grow you stupid feminist slut"; it's not going to do much growing is it? Water it, care for it, cut back dead leaves and you'll see them bloom. Just an idea.



Don't shoot down people for trying. Something that seems to be a *big thing* recently is shooting down people for trying to make positive changes and quite frankly, I get sick of seeing it happen. I see this a lot in the vegan, cruelty free, and sustainable communities most prominently and it just shouldn't be happening. Advocating growth and learning needs to happen at all stages of a process of change because no one can overhaul past mistakes or life choices overnight and nor should they. We're not super human and there's always going to be stumbles along the way to positive changes because life isn't linear. All of the cliché lines aside, someone only cutting out one type of meat is still making a positive change for themselves and the environment. Someone who accidentally buys a non-cruelty free beauty product because the brand wasn't clear on their ethics isn't the devil. Someone buying a fast fashion dress for a wedding because they can't afford or find something sustainable or ethically sourced doesn't mean they're a hypocrite. Every change should be celebrated and support is the best form of encouragement that will help someone carry on making their good changes in life that they want to make.

The past is the outdated version of someone. The last thing I want to touch on is this idea of dragging up the past. This seems to happen a lot for celebrities and influencers where tweets from when they were a teen are dragged up and berated. Don't get me wrong here - if there's some vile tweets showing racism, sexism, prejudice, violence etc. then of course, they should be challenged, just as I advocated earlier. However, you do need to think about when it was said. You do need to consider where that opinion may have stemmed from and why it may have been encouraged. Everyone should be accountable, particularly in this contemporary world where we air everything and sometimes forget to vet and check ourselves first but, sincerity in apologies and acknowledgements of past mistakes with evidence of making positive changes and alterations to outdated or negative views should again, be encouraged. Build each other up.


I know that was a long ol' waffle on my part, but I just feel so strongly about this because I see many individuals voice that they're legitimately scared to share their opinion online in fear of the backlash and surely that just sucks the fun out of life and out of what makes being a human being so interesting? How can we discuss and enjoy anything if we don't confidently share our thoughts and feelings on even something as small as which flavour crisps we like or if we enjoyed a new show on Netflix? If you ever feel feverishly annoyed with something someone has said, take a moment to shape what you want to say in response. Don't turn nasty. Don't turn it personal. Also take time to truly appreciate what the comment/statement is getting at. This of course isn't always clear, but if someone is saying "I don't like this film" that's not them saying anything about the individuals acting in it. Don't read between the lines if there's no cause to otherwise you're creating something out of nothing. Let's just all get along and help each other out, yeah?


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January 21, 2019

Book Club No.18



Hello book worms! Apparently it's been a while since the last Book Club post and really that's down to a bit of a hectic Christmas and also me being a bit rubbish when it comes to reading, to be honest. But since Christmas time, I've definitely fanned my reading flame once again and if you follow me over on Goodreads, you may have seen some of the delights I've been sinking my teeth into since October time. So here's three of my recent reads that I want to give you the low-down on - some good, some not so good!

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
First up let's talk about one of my favourite animated films and where it originally comes from. When you hear "Howl's Moving Castle" most people automatically think of the Studio Ghibli powerhouse of a movie (which is one of my favourite Ghibli films if I had to choose!) and believe it not, it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered it was in fact originally a book by Diana Wynne Jones - a UK based author. There are actually 3 books to the Howl's Moving Castle series but it's no surprise that the first book is the main influence for the film version so many people know and love.

So let's talk plot. The book focuses on a character called Sophie Hatter. Sophie is the eldest of 3 daughters who live with their step-mother after their father passed away. She sees herself as the 'boring' one as she's the eldest and doesn't feel that she has some grand plan for her future and that fate has sealed her life with some pretty shoddy luck whilst her younger sisters seem to be making headway in life. On a pretty average day working in the hat shop owned by her father and now step-mother, Sophie is put under a horrible curse by the Witch of the Waste which transforms Sophie into an old lady with the aches, pains, and immobility of being elderly to boot. The only way she can break the spell is to seek the assistance of the Wizard Howl who lives in a castle that moves around high up in the hills in the countryside surrounding her hometown. The story follows Sophie's journey to meeting Howl, making a deal with a fire demon, working with wizards and finding out secrets about Howl and truths about herself that she never expected to uncover. The story overall is great. As I was a reader who was already fully aware and expectant of the story I had seen in the movie, I was so pleasantly surprised with the book.

As you'd expect, the movie elaborates on some parts and completely bypasses others. For instance, a big part of the books narrative is that Howl is actually a sorcerer from Wales, Britain, and that he in fact has family back in Wales. Jones was whisked away to Wales when she was just 5 years old when WWII was declared and thus I imagine this played a part in the development of this part of the story. If you've watched the Ghibli movie, you'd know fine well that Wales isn't really a focus at all so those extra twists and turns in the story were certainly welcomed. I still felt the fantasy and adventure throughout the plot just as much as the film; rooting for Sophie but also at times feeling annoyed with how stubborn and sarcastic she could be about everything. I particularly enjoyed how well you got to know many of the characters and their personalities, particularly Sophie's sisters as they are seem to be just 'add-on' characters in the movie adaptation. My one disappoint in the book was that I felt that the ending was much more abrupt than I could have anticipated - it seemed like the last chapter rushed to tie up loose ends and whilst I am sure the next two books in the series create even more adventure and excitement to suck the reader in, the quick ending that suddenly resulted in romance was a bit lack lustre for me after such a page-turning read all those chapters before it. You can pick up a copy of Howl's Moving Castle for less than £5 here!



The Trouble with Perfect by Helena Duggan
If you've been a reader of my Book Club posts for some time, you may well remember just how much I raved about the first book in this series, A Place Called Perfect, back in September 2017 (go and read that post for a little more insight into what the series is about!). Like many people who praised that first book, I was ecstatic to see the second one was released late last year and knew I'd have to read it as soon as possible. The Trouble with Perfect picks up right where A Place Called Perfect left off - with the townsfolk rebuilding the town and making it a safe haven for all. The creepy macabre eye plants that were a centre-piece in the first book are firmly cemented in equal importance in this second story and we once again follow Violet and Boy on an adventure to fight evil. It all starts with the eye plants going missing - with Perfect/Town now using them as their security system to keep everyone safe - and suspicions are raised about Boy not being as good as he seems. Once Violet begins to investigate further because she just can't accept the idea of her best friend doing anything bad, she unravels much more than she could have ever expected and it's down to her and her friends to save the townspeople once again.

This second book was just as much of an easy reading page turner as the first. I warmed to Violet so much more this time around and found that I was desperate to know how the story was going to develop every time I picked it up. I loved the fact that a diverse range of characters are included in this one too, giving a platform for more timid or quiet characters that doesn't usually happen in YA fiction. Like many reviews I've read so far though, I did find the story predictable and I knew what the major twists were well before they were revealed in the plot. I've put this down to an adult mind reading a book targeted at 13-year-old's however, and at no point would I say that it's a reflection of poor writing on Duggan's part as I still thoroughly enjoyed it from cover to cover. If anything, knowing exactly what was going to unfold made me feel almost more submersed in the story as I was keen for each big reveal to happen so I could see how all the main characters would react. A little like Howl's Moving Castle though, I found the ending felt a little bit rushed as suddenly there was a lot of action and a major plot point (or at least something I considered major) happened towards the end and it was almost glossed over. This could just be down to the "a few months later..." style writing towards the end but, the incident in question deserved so much more page time in my opinion as it could have really tugged on the heartstrings. I hope by the way the book ended that Duggan will release a third and final one to make it a fantastic trilogy, but if you haven't read this yet, you really need to get your hands on it. Pick up The Trouble with Perfect for £5.37 here.



The Girls Are Gone by Michael Brodkorb & Allison Mann*
It's been a wee while since some non-fiction graced a Book Club post, but a recent read of mine in that category was The Girls Are Gone by Michael Brodkorb and Allison Mann. I was kindly sent this book to review honestly and after reading the synopsis, I was so intrigued to find out more. So, this intriguing "plot". The Girls Are Gone focuses on a trial court case from 2013 revolving around the Rucki family in the States. After father David Rucki and mother Sandra Grazzini-Rucki agreed to get divorced to try to back out of some money issues they couldn't resolve, their family situation snowballs into a lot of involvement with the social services and their 5 children, investigations into allegations towards the father David Rucki made by the children, and eventually the full investigation of 2 of the 5 children disappearing and David Rucki's efforts to discover where his two daughters had disappeared to. The whole book is full of transcripts from the court dates, information from the professionals involved in the whole case, and Brodkorb and Mann researched and collated information on the case and family involved for over 2 years so it's a very well prepared true crime book.

But now, I have to point out the flaws. Something I noticed straight off the bat with the writing style is that Brodkob and Mann don't come across as very impartial. Although as a reader of the case it's undeniable how much Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was at fault at many points of the case development, David Rucki is painted as a saint to the point where it made me suspicious as a reader that actually he couldn't possibly have been that innocent/faultless given the situations he would have found himself in. The bias aside, the writing also totally lost me as a reader partway through. The case itself was very interesting and gripping from the start - as someone who had previously not heard of the case, I was hooked as soon as the details of the divorce were revealed in the first two pages because as I mentioned earlier, everything just snowballs dramatically from there on. But. But this interest just can't be maintained. As the book crams in *so* many transcripts from the court, you kind of get lost in legal language and it just gets monotonous to read. More direct words from the children of the Rucki family themselves would have really elevated the whole book but I suspect this wasn't an option for the authors to obtain and execute. If you're a fan of true crime and want to read something a little different to your typical serial killer/murderers books, maybe give this one a go but, if legal babble and day by day accounts of a case aren't your cup of tea, you won't enjoy this one. The Girls Are Gone is available here.




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January 10, 2019

2019: The Year of No Goals or Resolutions



Surprised to see the "2019 Goals" post hasn't popped up here yet? I know, me too. But there just isn't going to be one this year in fact, there's going to be no goal setting for me this year and I've got just one small reason why.

At the end of each year, I always enjoy reflecting on that past year and all the things it has taught me, the growth I've made, analysing the decisions and choices I made (the good and the bad) and 2018 was no different. What is different this time around however is that I've got no strong desire to set out goals for myself for this year. I don't have any enthusiasm for goal-setting for this 2019. This is probably coming across as negative but, I'm actually seeing this complete change of heart as a huge positive and just another change in my personality/wants etc. that is happening as I grow as a person. I usually enjoy goal-setting at the start of each year and whilst I will always say I don't create strict resolutions because I often find them completely unattainable and destined for failure, smaller more manageable goals have always been something I've liked to put in place to start the year off with motivation and something to set my sights on. This year I've had no willingness to even set the smallest of goals though and some thoughts and some people have a part to play in that.

Over the festive period, I bumped into an old friend who I hadn't seen for over 10 years. It was surreal but lovely to have a catch up and know that despite changes like growing up and you know, being adults now, not a lot had changed at the same time. When I was asked what I was up to now and how life was treating me, I joked about how although my life is fantastic, I hadn't quite ticked off everything from 16 year old Amy's expectations list that I thought I would have accomplished by 25. You know, the whole being secure in your career in terms of knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life, being married, and having kids - those things that I certainly haven't "ticked off" yet. Although of course I am happy and secure in my life as it stands right now, my friend simply said "why would you put that sort of pressure on yourself though? Just enjoy things for what they are" and honestly? That's a simple yet profoundly wise comment that I've definitely taken with me now.

I've always enjoyed goals as I've always felt they give me something to work towards and they keep me on track however, if I think about many of my 2018 Goals and review them now, I actually feel kind of disappointed to see that most of them have dwindled, my enthusiasm for some of them have dropped or completely disappeared, and some of them simply never made it out the starting gate. I've realised that the "goals" I have been putting in place - even those smaller, seemingly less significant ones - have been creating almost a tunnel vision for my motivation and enthusiasm which often results in suffocating both instead rather than seeing any form of success formulate. I want to take a step back this year and take things as they come and just truly enjoy what comes. I tend to be someone who has to plan. I have to plan each and every detail so I feel comfortable and confident with what will happen, but this is turning out to be more detrimental than constructive. I want to get back to just enjoying life and not worrying about ticking things off.



Will I still make endless to-do lists that make me feel like a girl who has her day-to-day life and shit together? Abso-blummin'-loutely. I'm a planner and an organiser and those are things that actually help me short term but that one little comment that was said in such a throwaway conversation has made me rethink how I direct my energy in long term aspects of my life and has made me want to slip on some more carefree shoes that will find joy in simpler, easy breezy things that organically come into my life. I want to feel the surprise and wonder that life has to offer and not worry if I haven't worked out for 2 weeks - who actually gives a shit? I want to not give a left nut if I haven't created art in 2 months because it should be a fun pastime, not a chore just to validate my "goals" that literally no one is holding me to. Do I want to spend time dwelling on something so mundane that is a past decision I made that can't be erased? No. There's nothing constructive to come of it! Although analysing things like that can lead to growth and change for my future self, I am the sort of anxious mind that will wake up randomly at 3am in 5 months time still wondering why I did or didn't do *the thing* and beat myself up about it. My one goal this year is to not do that. My one goal is to just like myself. Like my life. Like my decisions, my faults, my development and growth, my moments and all that that encompasses.

There's no pressure on myself to say that in 11 months time, I hope I'm writing here that it was a good change to make; that it's had the desired effect and I feel fulfilled from it. Because why put that additional pressure on something that could just be pure? I'm just going to take you, 2019, as you come and I look forward to seeing what you bring to the table to play.


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January 06, 2019

Sustainable Sundays: Zero Waste Non-Toxic Cleaning Kit



Hello fellow eco-warriors, it's been a hot minute since the last Sustainable Sunday post and after taking to Twitter a while ago and asking what you guys wanted to see, you guys asked for some DIY cleaning recipes that would be natural, eco-friendly, and reducing your waste/plastic pollution. I realised before I could even start a post including my recipes, I needed to give you guys a bit more of a rundown of the sort of ingredients/products you need to prep yourself for making these super easy, affordable and effective recipes because although they include simple products you can find mostly in your local supermarket, I also appreciate the fact that my "kit" might include things you usually don't buy. Therefore in this post, I'm going to give you a comprehensive list of the products/ingredients you need and why. Initially I was going to share this "kit list" with the recipes themselves, but I quickly realised I can ramble for days about mundane things such as white vinegar (who knew?!) so breaking this down into parts seemed best so I don't lose half of you to sleep!

When you buy cleaning products in stores, you firstly need to think about the ingredients for a minute because realistically you're paying sometimes a lot of dollar for water. Most spray-style cleaning products have water as their number one ingredient so that alone should make you think "why am I paying £4 for this when I could make it at home?!" y'know? I'm not going to get preachy in this post because that's the last thing anyone wants to read (including me,) but one more thing I will say is that some ingredients in cleaning products have been linked to respiratory issues too and thus, making your own at home from natural safe ingredients should in turn also benefit your health. I know I can't be the only one who's had a coughing fit when they're sterilising the bathroom and the strong chemical smells have got in your lungs. Just think if it's having that effect on you as you clean out your bathtub, what effect is it going to have on the ocean and wildlife once you've washed it all down the plughole? Not a good one, I suspect. They also come in plastic bottles which aren't always fully recyclable - if they're recyclable at all - so there's that aspect too that was weighing heavy on my conscious.



So, before I start turning into one of those "think about the turtles!!" extremists, let me give you a quick run-down on what you need in your homemade/zero waste kit and why. There are very few products/ingredients you need to make your own natural cleaning recipes as the idea is they're fuss-free, effective, and as natural as possible and thus don't need lots of ingredients. They're also extremely affordable and can be bought in bulk to minimise waste. Some of these products/ingredients I am going to mention unfortunately come in plastic packaging a lot of the time, but to get around this slightly to be more zero waste and eco-friendly, I will buy big so I'm buying less plastic in the long run. For instance, if I'm buying white vinegar, I typically bulk order a massive jerry can-style plastic bottle of it online so that it can sit in the cleaning cupboard for ages but also means it a) was super affordable per ml and b) is less single-use plastic being used. So here's the bare basics you need:

White Vinegar or Castile Soap
Both products are great for cleaning in their own right but you don't necessarily need both. I typically have both to hand because I use castile soap to make handwash, washing up liquid, and to clean my makeup brushes with, but as a "starter pack" you definitely only need one product. If I had to choose between the two, I would say white vinegar is the best option as it's the most affordable out of the two and it is *so good* for getting a streak-free finish on surfaces such as glass or mirrors. It is also fantastic to use on limescale or watermarks so it is a must for shower/bathroom cleaning products. If you want to try out castile soap too however, I cannot recommend that product enough too. I typically buy Dr. Bronner's Castile Liquid Soap in a bulk size to minimise the plastic waste and it can be used for so many things. As I mentioned earlier, I predominantly use this product for washing my makeup brushes (I've had some of my brushes for probably too long - 4 or 5 years - and this stuff keeps them in great condition with no shedding etc.), but it can also be used in household cleaning products, as a floor cleaner, as a laundry detergent, to clean your dishes, as a shampoo and body wash - the possibilities are endless! If you're trying to make a minimal and zero waste change in your life, definitely check out this product. One thing to bear in mind when using these products is that it is definitely best to choose between them, rather than mixing them together. It is possible to use both at once, but mixing these base cleaning agents can often result in the final mixture curdling and therefore making it difficult to use as a spray cleaner across surfaces.

Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda
Not just great for making bread and biscuits, but bicarbonate of soda will cut through and lift grime and dirt with ease and is great for using all over the home whether it's in your sinks, ovens, on textile stains etc. It's also extremely affordable, accessible and again, can be bought in bulk/in a larger quantity to cut down on single-use waste. Bicarbonate of soda is such a great multi-purpose product and can clean anything from a makeup stain on your pillow to your washing machine drawer build up, to grease in your oven or unblocking your plughole.



Essential Oils
One of the main concerns I think people have with natural homemade cleaners is the smell of vinegar lingering and this is where essential oils step in. Not only are they great for cleaning for a number of factors, they are fantastic for your mood too. Essential oils have be coveted for years as they can be purifying for the skin, the air, your surfaces, the mind... all sorts! It's important to check which oils you're using and ensuring you're using therapeutic grade essential oils (e.g. essential oils that are not cut with other oils and don't contain pesticides) where possible as these are the most effective essential oils to use for the purpose of cleaning. When it comes to choosing scents, don't rush out and buy excessive amounts of different oils because that defeats the point of a more minimal/zero waste cleaning kit but, it is important to think about what scents you like and dislike as your home will be infused with what you use, particularly if you clean very regularly.

Whilst choosing which oils you use based on scent is a given as it's what you might enjoy, there are some I will always recommend in any homemade cleaning kit because they are usually universally liked but also have amazing properties, especially when it comes to cleaning. My top picks for cleaning kits are also scents/options that are easily accessible and most popular online, in stores like Holland & Barrett, and even often sold in sets in places like TK Maxx for discounted prices:
- Lavender: anti-microbial, calming and relaxing, can relieve anxiety, panic attacks, and irritability
- Lemon: disinfectant, purifies the body, air and surfaces, uplifting and mood boosting (as is all other citrus essential oils), and is effective cutting through grease
- Eucalyptus: anti-bacterial, relieves stress or sadness, and can promote concentration and memory
- Lemongrass: anti-bacterial, can alleviate jet lag and fatigue, an create a sense of calmness and clarity
- Peppermint: anti-bacterial, can help with fatigue and encourage clear acute thinking
- Tea Tree: purifying (which is why it's in so much skincare), gets rid of watermarks (good on shower glass), and can calm stress

If you are a first-time buyer/user of essential oils, it is not vital that you buy every single one of those mentioned above, but instead choose maybe two maximum that you like the scent of or think would be the most effective/beneficial for your home. If you're a seasoned essential oils pro however, conjuring up your own blends can be a fab way to have your fingers in multiple pies and reap the benefits of many oils at once. One of my favourite blends is cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, rosemary, and tangerine or orange as combined they are good for supporting your immune system against environmental and seasonal bacteria threats as well as fighting mould and mildew, disinfecting surfaces, and purifying the air.



Glass Bottles and Spray Tops
Storing your homemade cleaners is easy and a glass bottle will do the trick! If you don't want to or can't afford to buy some new ones outright, try repurposing some you may already have (think from bottled water/drinks) or even reuse plastic ones initially. Reuse the spray tops from old cleaning products too and just cut the stalk/straw inside down to size to fit your new bottle. Most spray tops fit most other bottles universally so you should be able to truly DIY the whole container yourself from what you might have lying around the house already. Over time it is vital you replace plastic cleaning bottles though when using cleaning products that include essential oils. Essential oils can disrupt plastic and even stainless steel packaging long term which kind of counteracts our mission to have gentle, safe, and non-toxic cleaners, so try to replace what you can, when you can!



Lemons Lemons Lemons
One ingredient that I will always recommend - even more so than essential oils (don't tell anyone I said that), is fresh lemons. Lemon juice is very acidic and is therefore great for removing stains but also disinfecting. Used alongside other ingredients I've mentioned such as white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, lemon can help counteract the odour of vinegar when cleaning but also assist with fighting grease and grime in all areas of your home when cleaning. Lemon juice can also be used alone to clean different things if you're finding it hard to stomach cleaning with vinegar. As they are a fresh produce, they're really affordable and accessible and can just become part of your weekly/monthly food shop if they're not part of it already! The whole citrus family can be beneficial for cleaning actually so if you prefer the scent of orange or lime more, I've got a little secret for you. Fill a jar/container with white vinegar and the rind/skin of a whole lemon/lime/orange. Screw a lid on it and allow it to infuse for around 1 week and then you can say goodbye to the white vinegar scent. It will completely minimise the smell and make your vinegar even more fitting for using around the home!

Filtered Water
If you're thinking "wow, what a snowflake step to include - filtered water, really Amy?!" just hear me out for a minute as there's a reason I've specifically said "filtered" water. As I mentioned earlier, most household cleaners bought off the shelves include water as the main ingredient and it should be no surprise that it will be a main contributor to your DIY cleaning products too. However, if there are any salts, fluorides etc. in the water when you add it to your concoctions, it can prevent the overall cleaner being streak-free on your surfaces so if you can filter it, just to make your life easier and to keep your house sparkling, I'd highly recommend the additional step! Of course, I wouldn't suggest going out and buying a filter jug etc. just for this reason as it's an easy step to get around (it'll just take a little more elbow grease if the water in your local area is particularly hard etc.) but if you happen to have a water filter already at home, definitely use it!

Olive Oil
The last product I want to mention that again, most of you will already have in your kitchen cupboards, is olive oil. Although this product is not as universal as the others mentioned in terms of how you can use it for cleaning around the house, it's still worth having to hand especially if you have any wooden surfaces. Olive oil is fantastic for polishing surfaces as it lifts grease/dirt/grime/dust etc. and breaks it up easily. You can then always go in with a multi-purpose/surface cleaner once you've used it if you're worried about oil residue, but generally speaking, this will polish up wood better than most other targeted products.



Now that I've shared with you all the sort of products you need in your cleaning kit in order to make your own products, I hope you can see that it really isn't daunting, remotely scientific, and will be ridiculously simple to create your own combinations at home. I will be sharing my basic cleaning recipes on the blog really soon so please keep an eye out for that post! If you guys want to see any more after that, please let me know and I can give you some more tips, tricks, and easy recipes to follow to keep your home toxic free but squeaky clean.


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