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September 08, 2017

Book Club No. 11

Another Friday, another book review post! My last Book Club post was back in July so I haven't actually posted any reviews for a wee while, but I'm back today with some pretty perfect books - all of which I thoroughly enjoyed (for once). So if you're into fantasy fiction with a good dose of macabre or twisted magic, then you've come to the right place for some recommendations.

Anno Dracula by Mr Kim Newman
Okay so we need to start off with the most brilliantly British-feeling book but it's also easily one of the most bonkers plots I've ever had the pleasure to dive into. Anno Dracula first came onto my radar when Matt told me all about it - think Penny Dreadful but even better. The plot centres around Victorian London and follows a variety of characters from an ancient vampire from an prestigious bloodline, to Dorian Gray, to Jack the Ripper. Queen Victoria has wed Vlad Tepes - the very much fictional over-the-top version of Vlad we see tourist traps talk of today which paints him out to be Count Dracula. Dracula has killed the famous Van Helsing and is slowly dominating England as more and more vampires are swooping into the country's capital and are seen as a pest by many. He has the Prime Minister under his thumb, has his own ancient vampire soldiers roaming the streets, and impales folk in his delightful true-historical fashion if they so much as do something he's not quite happy with. The story mainly centres around a senior vampire called Geneviéve Dieudonné who helps out at what is a make shift hospital/hostel for vampire orphans and sick vampires with the aid of a peculiar doctor and a man called Charles Beauregard who is a member of the Diogenes Club and is essentially a spy trying to discover the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

As more of the story unfolds, Geneviéve and Charles meet more and more frequently as what they're both trying to investigate seems to be leading them down the same path and to the same culprit. It's a fantastic murder mystery style book but with a great nod to actual historical events, historical people, and of course many characters from popular fiction. At first, I was reading the book and really struggling with it - I don't know if it was the language or the pace of the story, but I just couldn't keep up. I found myself flipping backwards time and time again because a character's name would come up and I'd think "eh? Who?" and need to re-read parts to try and make sense of it all. However there's a distinctive part of the plot - when Geneviéve gets into essentially a street brawl with an ancient Asian being - that hooked me in for the rest of the story and everything seemed to fall into place. The focus around this ancient oriental aspect of the book really sparked my interest as there was just something about Newman's description of certain elements that ignited my imagination and my imagination took a very Studio Ghibli route visually. I found this book incredibly good for not giving you *too* much description, but just the right amount to help you form a clear picture in your mind of what *you* think is going on. It does dive straight into things so if you sometimes struggle with following storylines that don't over explain and describe, you might find you flick back and forth like I did at first but hang in there - this book is without a doubt worth the read. It is part of a series so I will 1Oo% be picking up the next book in the line up sometime soon, but if you think it sounds up your street, you can pick up a copy in various formats here.

A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan
Now onto the show stopper. This book has been hyped up so much during the last month or so and it's clear to see why. A Place Called Perfect is the debut novel from Helena Duggan and it is just the perfect (see what I did there) fantasy book for children and adults alike. First up we need to address the gorgeous cover - if that doesn't draw you in and make you want to at least read the blurb then I don't know what will. The book centres around a young girl called Violet who has recently moved to a place called Perfect with her Dad and Mam - you guys have no idea how happy I was to see that Mam was called Mam and that her family often affectionately call each other "pet" throughout the book as it made me think of home and my own family. Okay waffling aside - back to the story. So they move to Perfect at the request of two brothers who run the town as they're interested in Violet's Dad's expertise when it comes to eyes and everything optical. Everyone in Perfect need to wear glasses otherwise they have incredibly impaired blurry vision and it seems that no one knows why. So in steps Violet's Dad to try and solve the conundrum. As you might have guessed, Violet soon discovers that Perfect is actually far from Perfect and that there's actually a lot of strange and suspicious things going on in the town once you remove those rose tinted glasses.

Telling you guys anything more than that would definitely ruin the story so I won't say much more about the actual plot, but I just loved this from start to finish. Although Violet as a character annoyed me sometimes, it is so fantastic to see a children's book that has a female main character who is a gutsy heroine with lots of sass and spunk. She doesn't take no for an answer and I think for young girls to read this would be really positively influential and uplifting for them. Despite being targeted at a much younger audience, A Place Called Perfect reads so well that I'd be very surprised if any adult reads it and doesn't enjoy it. It's incredibly quick and easy to read but it's got the right amount of description and a great pace to it to make it feel like you've really went on a journey with the characters. If you're a Neil Gaiman or Tim Burton fan and enjoy those slightly creepy/macabre twists they manage to put into children's fiction so cleverly, you'll absolutely love this book too as Duggan manages to add those slightly spooky elements expertly. I'm not going to lie, as an adult reading it, there were a couple of times I thought "hang on, that can't work because of xyz" so there are some loopholes in the story, but overall I am more than happy to overlook them as they don't ruin the story at all. If you couldn't tell already, I bloody loved this and I can't wait to see what else Duggan releases as this has easily crept it's way up to one of my favourite books this year without a doubt. Pick up a beautiful copy of A Place Called Perfect here.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The third and final book to mention in this post was also a big hit with me. The Night Circus did it's rounds in popularity a couple of years ago now, but I just never got around to reading it because I knew there was a romantic element to it and y'all - I'm straight up not interested in that nonsense when it comes to my reading material choices. But after some convincing from Matt, I decided to give it a try and I really truly rate it to anyone who wants to read what would make a spectacular film. The plot is exactly what the title suggests - it centres around a travelling circus which opens at dusk and closes at dawn. It is magical, mystifies those who visit it, and just generally becomes an eagerly awaited and anticipated event in every town it pops up in. The whole story behind the circus and it's creation is down to two gentleman who are magic. They like friendly competition and for years have had apprentices that they have feverishly taught their skills and talents to who then will "battle" the other apprentice in "a game". The Night Circus follows the latest apprentices and their upbringing, training, and encounter. Characters along the way create the Night Circus as a fun project and both apprentices have some involvement in it. I know I say this at least once in every book review post, but I genuinely don't want to say much more than that about the general plot as it will honestly spoil it for any of you who want to read this in the future.

This book is very descriptive so it plants a clear image in your mind and oddly enough, I quite liked it. I usually like books that aren't overly descriptive or packed with information as it sucks the fun out of reading for me, but this one had the perfect amount to accompany the very busy and character-packed story. The whole time reading this I got instant "I could see this on the big screen one day" vibes as everything about it screams Hollywood blockbuster done in the style of The Great Gatsby crossed with Water For Elephants. The imagery is great, the range of characters and all their intertwining lives is so easy to get lost in, and there's still an air of mystery about what will happen threaded throughout the book right to very end. If you like magical, fantasy, complete fairytale style stories but also like a little bit of romance dashed in there too, this is the one for you.

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September 06, 2017

My Current Favourite Natural Highlighters

When it comes to highlighters, I am *that lass* who wants to smother herself in them but also wants them to be subtle and not blinding. So yeah, the most awkward highlighter customer. Since going foundation free many moons ago, I've looked more and more towards natural-looking products that help me not look clownish as my red blotchy skin is parading out and about and this has increasingly applied to those genius products that give your skin an artificial glow.

So with that being said, although I have now accumulated some firm favourites I rely on 9O% of the time, I also like to try out others so I have *options* because that's the sort of desperately non-minimalist life I lead. I've recently tested out some new ones, reacquainted my love with some old amazingness, and I thought I'd give you the lowdown on them all (all cruelty free of course!).

W7 Hollywood Bronze & Glow | £5.95: W7 are a brand who I love dearly for their eyeshadows but after stumbling across this palette online, I just couldn't help myself. Charlotte Tilbury is a *great* brand but y'all, I hate spending a lot of money on one singular beauty product so they purchases from that brand are few and far between. So when I saw this Hollywood Bronze & Glow contour palette that is so obviously a CT Filmstar Bronze & Glow palette dupe (if you couldn't tell by the hilariously similar name then the indentation of the powders will be yet another dead giveaway!) I wanted to give it a shot. So as you can see, the two powder products look very very similar to the CT offering and guess what? They're just as good. As I've mentioned, I prefer the natural look nowadays and these powders aren't super pigmented so they're perfect for subtle looks but they're long lasting so for me they're the best of both worlds. The highlighter is a golden champagne shade which is a shade I tend to gravitate towards and it has no chunky glitter and only gives a subtle sheen to the skin. Perfect for "no makeup days".

L.A. Girl Spice Beauty Brick Blush Palette | £8.Oo: Next up I need to mention another super natural offering but a one that is even more bargain-licious when you consider just how many products you're getting for a wee 8 quid. I fully reviewed this blush palette from L.A. Girl a few weeks ago now because it has quickly become my favourite thing to pack when I'm travelling due to the great blush shades, the easy to blend contour and surprise surprise, that subtle highlight. This palette is great all round, but the highlight is a fave for me right now because it's probably the most natural one I own in my collection. Despite it being a powder, it doesn't look heavy or chalky etc. on the skin and just gives the high points of your face a very natural shine - not greasy, wet or glittery looking like many other highlights offer, but more of a "this is where sunlight hits" look. If you are on the lookout for a great palette in general but also a highlight that makes you skin look naturally radiant without looking like highlight, this is a game changer.

theBalm Mary-Lou Manizer Gold Highlighter Powder | £16.Oo - £19.99: I know what you're thinking - Amy, this highlight is *poppin'* how can you call it a natural highlighter - well lemme tell you. theBalm's holy grail highlighter has become a cult classic amongst beauty bloggers and vloggers and that's simply because it's a brilliant product. It's finely milled, feels feather light on the skin, and my goodness does it pack a punch. So, it is a blinder of a highlight but only if you intend it to be. I used to pile this puppy on but now I use a delicate hand and only pop my brush into the powder once, tap off, then apply a light dusting to my cheeks and nose. It's my favourite option for an evening out or a special occasion as it's one of my most blinding highlights but again, it can be toned down pretty easily. It's that lovely champagne/gold shade that I seem to gravitate towards too so I think that's really why it has stolen my heart over the last couple of years.

From left to right: Colourpop Super Shock Highlighter in 'Lunch Money', theBalm Mary-Lou Manizer Highlighter Powder, L.A. Girl Spice Beauty Blush Brick Palette Highlighter, W7 Hollywood Bronze & Glow Highlighter

Colourpop Super Shock Highlighter in 'Lunch Money' | $8.Oo: It is no secret - I ruddy love Colourpop Cosmetics (particularly their lipsticks), but a product I've loved for an age now is their highlighter in the shade Lunch Money. Colourpop's classic Super Shock highlighters are a creme to powder formula that at first I absolutely hated because I prefer powder products, but the effect of this highlight made me persevere and I eventually fell in love. This shade is my favourite out of the few I own in this formula because it's that nice gold champagne shade I love but it's slightly lighter in shade so its more pearly/opal and it looks gorgeous on the skin. I like to use this alone when I'm having good skin days and therefore really do wear minimal base products as it sits really nicely on bare or just primed skin, but I also like to use this as an almost highlighter primer under some of my favourite powder ones to give more of a glow from within. This is a great trick for nights out or when you want to go a little bit more overboard with the glow and glimmer as it helps keep the powder products blinding through the day/night. Lunch Money blends out beautifully as it settles into the skin seamlessly and looks incredibly natural due to it's formulation despite also being pretty damn good at giving the cheeks that nice wet-look appearance in the sunlight.

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September 01, 2017

August in Review

I always start my review posts by saying how surprised I am at how quickly the month flew by and how far we are into 2O17, yet August was a very slow burn for me but was jam-packed with fun stuff. I did a lot, a lot happened, and let's just say I'm mega excited to see what the rest of this year brings my way.

The Personal
So first off, August sees in my little brother's birthday and despite the 1O year age gap, we have an extremely strong bond and his birthday is always a cause to celebrate in my world. I went home to the glorious north east for a whole week to see in his 16th (I know, I feel ancient) birthday and to also see my much-missed family and friends. Living down south is my life now and I do love it but I also miss the north east and closeness of my family and the fact that I don't always get to be a part of it due to distance more and more each year. This time around my trip was very oriented and was spent eating a lot of junk and homely foods with my mama and brother and also my lovely grandparents and wider family. The bowling, the cinema and just simple visits to family homes were experienced and it made me feel so thankful for the supportive family I have.

I also got to see one of my good friends whilst I was home and do some cool horror photography with him in the process. Dave is like a horror and gore film guru so I'm so happy to see he's started to do some great horror photography in his spare time. It was hilarious to prance around the woods as some sort of creepy, innocent, yet bloody rabbit girl *thing* and I can't wait to do some more shoots with him in the future (check out his great work here).

Okay so whilst everyone else was at the cinema watching Dunkirk, I stupidly opted against it and went to see Annabelle: Creation instead. Annabelle the haunted/possessed doll is a bit of a cult classic in the horror movie world so of course a film about its origins seemed like a great watch. It's set in the 194O/5Os and shows a sweet family with a doll-making husband who goes to church every Sunday with his wife and young daughter who all live in a small quaint "typically American" town. The daughter ends up in an accident and dies and then the whole story fast forwards to 12 years later when the mother is bed bound at home and the father has agreed to let a group of young orphan girls come and stay at his home with their Sister carer as long as they help out around the family home and land. Of course, it doesn't stay all sweet and quaint and before you know it, there's drama drama dram around every corner and a whole lot of jump scares. I have to admit - it wasn't an awful movie as the jump scares were regular enough and good but its as if the director thought "what kind of horror genres and *things* do we have? Great! Let's put them all in this one film!". I did enjoy it but it's not a horror I need to write home about.

A film I watched this month that I did actually really love was Swiss Army Man. I had been meaning to watch this movie for months and months but after it was finally added to Amazon Prime, I got settled in to watch it with some snacks. This indie film starring Daniel Radcliffe as a corpse really blew everything else out of the water at film festivals upon its release and the story seemed too good to pass up. So - you read right - Daniel Radcliffe plays a corpse that washes up on an island beach just as a man is about to hang himself due to being stranded there alone. Just like Tom Hanks in Castaway, he decides to make a pal except this pal is decomposing, letting his bowels empty, and getting random boners as the body goes through rigor mortis. Despite that basic description of the plot, the film is really funny and quite deep in places and well worth a watch if you like films that are a little different or have humour like The Office or Arrested Development.

Guys, if you haven't been watching Game of Thrones, have you really been existing? Season 7 is over but it certainly was a good one. Although overall the season wasn't as *wow* as some previous seasons have been, there were a couple of standout episodes and I'm also so hyped for the next season as there's been so many story developments. I won't say anything else because I know we all hate spoilers (especially over this show), but now that this season has finished I'd recommend going right back to season 1 and giving it a watch from the start. A new show that I somehow overlooked for a little while but I now love is Rick and Morty. Originally, I just couldn't deal with Morty's voice but after blitzing through 2 seasons and then eagerly awaiting each week for a new episode, I think it's fair to say I got over that hurdle. If you haven't watched Ricky and Morty, it is essentially like someone mushed together the adult humour from Family Guy with the craziness in Adventure Time then occasionally set the whole thing in space. It's got a sly nod to Back to the Future's Doc and Marty but it's even funnier.

Another show that I never really gave a chance the first time around was Penny Dreadful. Penny Dreadful is any old classic horror novel guy's fantasy as it's set in the Victorian period and incorporates Dr Frankenstein, his Monster, witches, werewolves, and the paranormal. Oh, and you've also got Dorian Gray thrown in there too for a bit more variety. It's actually a really good show and somehow the first time I watched it, I just didn't get *that* into in but by the last season this time around I was hooked. As Halloween is around the corner, I'd highly recommend giving this show a binge watch as it has some fantastic actors and actresses in it - not to mention Eva Green is absolutely amazing in it. On a complete flip, I've rewatched Modern Family from the very beginning and it's still as funny as I remember it. As a fan of Arrested Development, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia etc., I always enjoy those clever witty Amercian comedy shows so naturally, I've always been a fan of Modern Family. The show follows one large family but focuses in on each household - the grandad and his second hot young wife and her oddball overly romantic son, the classic 2.3 mother, father, and three kids family, and then the "contemporary" son, his boyfriend, and their adopted baby. If you like comedy shows that you can drift in and out of but also hook you when you do drift in then definitely give this one a try if you haven't already.

If you thought I was going to talk about any album other than Brand New's latest and last one first here, you were sorely mistaken. Brand New have been one of my all-time favourite bands (I feel like I say "all-time" a hell of a lot in this section each month but just bear with me,) since I was a young teen and a couple of years ago when they seemingly announced their future split via a merch tee that said "2OOo - 2O18" and it broke my heart. Fast forward to this August and they dropped Science Fiction - their last album and it was everything I hoped it would be. Unlike a lot of fans, my favourite Brand New abum is The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me not Deja Entendu and I think that's because I like some of the more slow and certainly more emo songs (1Oo% no shame). So when I started listening to Science Fiction and it had a similar vibe, I was pretty damn ecstatic. They're the original emo band for me but they're emo in the best sort of non-cheesy way. Some of my fave tracks from the album are Could Never Be Heaven, Desert, and 451.

Another firm favourite - Iron & Wine - released another indie folksy acoustic lovely jubbly album called Beast Epic this month too. Iron & Wine is such easy listening that makes you want to sing along but also fall asleep to it in the best possible sense. Beast Epic is without a doubt my favourite to date from him even though I've only given the album one listen thus far, I've already fallen head over heels with is very autumnal sound. A band that were new to me this August are Girl Ray and their album Earl Grey. They're a very indie band but their sound is very 7Os to me and they also sound like their tracks would be used for Wes Anderson films or films like Submarine. Another nice easy listening album and it's nice to see it's an all-girl piece.

Going back to favourites, Soccer Mommy - Collection dropped and again, it's more easy listening that just makes me think of lazy days sitting out in the sun or driving in a car when its hot with the windows rolled down. Soccer Mommy is a one-piece musical talent in the form of Sophie Allison who is a singer songwriter. Her whole sound is quite indie but acoustic and meaningful and I think she's got a simply gorgeous voice. This album is already growing on me and I can't wait to give it a little more of a listen. She's yet another musician who produces tracks that sound film soundtrack worthy and tracks such as Try and Benadryl Dreams are so damn catchy. Speaking of great voices, PVRIS released All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell and it's taken over my life. I've been super eager for PVRIS to release some new music and this new album has not disappointed. Although PVRIS are always described as a rock band, they always remind me of some sort of mash up between CHVRCHES and a band like Issues and I have absolutely no issues (ha) with that. This latest release is definitely the best they've produced so far and I would recommend this album to anyone who has never given these guys a listen.

The last lady I need to give a mention to is Amy O. I first listened to Amy O last year when she released her album Arrow and fell in love. If you like ladies who are Alanis Morrisette-level sassy but with a more modern indie twist, you will like Amy O. She's got a similar vibe to Soccer Mommy and Palehound - both of which I really like - but with a bit more variety in her tracks in a lot of ways. She has been an artist for over a decade but recently became a full band and some of her songs throw me back to Postal Service vibes due to the male/female duet pieces and calm sounds but the whole album keeps the indie flame burning brightly.

Video Games
After that whopping long music section, you might be pleased that this bit will be short and sweet as a I honestly haven't played a thing this month! Between going home, working, blogging, and worrying about house stuff, I haven't had the time to just sit and lose myself in a game. A game I am actually interested in trying out though is Mad Max after watching Matt plug quite a few unexpected hours into it. It's very much an open world, free-roaming RPG but rather than your usual mage/rogue/warrior sort of scenario typical of those style of games, this one is of course loaded with cars, mechanics, and weird post-apocalyptic vibes.

Also, would it be an August review without talking about the one game everyone and their gran seems to be excited for? Destiny 2's general release drops in September and I have to admit, the gazillion chatty videos with it's designers and the umpteen videos of early gameplay make it look pretty great. I tried playing Destiny a while after the initial hype died down because again, Matt had plugged so many hours into it I just needed to see what it was all about, but I liked the storyline of it more than the whole playing as a multi-player team with crucible matches etc. so I stopped playing. One thing I loved about the original game however was how smooth the gameplay was in terms of shooting - being a Mass Effect fan girl, I was used to controls being clunky and difficult to manoeuvre, but Destiny made my realise a game *can* actually be enjoyable to play with good controls. No doubt I'll end up giving Destiny 2 a go, but I'm just wish the whole game included that Mass Effect 3 "do you want to shoot stuff or do you kind of just wanna do the story?" option a little more.

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