Books to Love: Graduates in Wonderland

There's a huge part of me that loves writing and receiving letters. When I was younger, whenever I met a new friend on holiday, as we said goodbye on the last day we always exchanged addresses so we could send each other a letter. It's not something that often happens anymore. Now when we meet someone new, we exchange numbers and spend the next 10 years of friendship texting each other our favourite quotes from Harry Potter and memes about having to wait so long for the next series of Pretty Little Liars.

So, of course, the inner letter-writing, 19th century lady within me loves to read letters by other people too. I spend a bit of time every year reading Letters of Note and watching the video clips of Letters Live. I read and reread Love Letters of the Great War and bookmarked all of my favourite letters. There's just something so beautiful and honest and warm about writing a letter.

When I first heard about Graduates in Wonderland I knew it would be a book I would enjoy. Best friends Jessica and Rachel have just graduated from Brown university and are headed off on separate adventures around the globe. They keep in touch by email, sending each other lengthy commentary on their day-to-day lives, including all their mistakes and mishaps, as well as the beautiful moments that happen during their travels. 

This book was so easy to read, it just felt like I was catching up with old friends. The stories were laugh out loud funny on occasion and their friendship was truly lovely to read about. It also made me feel better knowing that at some point they were both half-way across the world also worrying about the same things I worry about and they were out there making the same mistakes I've made since leaving university. 

I'd recommend this book to anyone that is just about to leave university or has just left. But just so you're warned: side effects include a huge dose of wanderlust and a desire to write letters to absolutely everyone. 

Books to Love: After You

Earlier this year when all the hype surrounding Me Before You kicked up, I decided I'd read the book. (it wasn't really a hard decision, books are hard to say no to... don't you think?) I'd been hearing about it for a while and everyone kept saying how good it was. Okay, so I caved!! Like always. Anyway, I really enjoyed it. It was fun and heartwarming and I didn't want it to end. 

For those of you that don't know, Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clarke (Lou), a charming, quirky cafe-worker. When she loses her job and is forced to find another one pronto, she takes a job looking after Will, a paraplegic, who is not very happy about having her company. Considering it touches on such a difficult subject, it balances Will's problems with light-heartedness of Lou's character so well. It's a story to make you laugh and cry and feel everything in between.

I knew there was a sequel and I picked it up a couple of times walking around Waterstones but always put it back, Would it be a half-hearted follow-up to the story? Where could the author really go with a storyline like that one? But I'm glad I talked myself into it because I ended up finishing it in just a couple of days.

In After You, Lou is living in her own little flat, working a job that pays the bills but means she has to wear a hideous costume every day, and doesn't speak to her family. Then, one day, she gets a knock on her door and it changes everything

Once I'd read the blurb I already had an idea about what might happen but I was completely wrong! I didn't expect the story to go in the direction it did but I quite enjoyed the storyline. And it made me laugh out loud on a few occasions: cue strange looks from Callum from the other side of the sofa. Plus, I just love Lou. She's such a relatable character - quirky, clumsy and a bit dopey. But lovely nonetheless. When I got to the end of the book I found myself wanting to know what happened to her next!

So, Jojo Moyes, if you're reading this (on the off chance that you like to read random, obscure blogs over your morning coffee) we'd love some more Lou!

Favourite Few: Beauty

I am a creature of habit. Once I find a makeup routine that I'm happy with, I tend to stick with it for a long while. But every now and then I try a new product that has been the focus of every beautiful Instagram photo on every beauty guru's social media account, and it ends up being a permanent addition to my makeup bag. So here are some of the tried and tested products I've been loving lately! 

Younique, Glorious Primer | I have a love/hate relationship with this primer. It's brilliant in so many ways - it provides a really smooth base to apply foundation, it genuinely keeps your makeup on all day and helps it look the best it can. On days that I wear the primer there's a visible difference in the state of my makeup and I wonder why I've gone so long without it. That being said, you need to use so much of it for it to work well and it's expensive too. Whilst the product is good, it doesn't really seem worth spending the  money on when you have to replace it so frequently.

Rimmel, Wonder'Full Mascara | This might just be one of my favourite mascaras ever. I did a review of it last March which you can read here. I still stand by what I said then - it's creamy and nourishing and holds well through the day. The only difference between the mascara I reviewed last year and this one is the colour. I bought it in extreme black this time but sometimes a simple black just won't do.

Rimmel, Kate Sculpting Palette | One of the only things I enjoy about wearing makeup in summer is a good highlighter. Although I'm not massively into the sculpting/contouring trend, I do like to use a highlighter or illuminator on my cheekbones because it adds something a bit more summery to your average, everyday makeup. I love this little palette because it provides the perfect compliment between the blush and the shimmer. It's subtle and understated and perfect for daytime wear. 

What products have you been enjoying using lately? Have you discovered anything new?

Books to Love: Reasons to Stay Alive

"Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself." - Matt Haig

It's a very difficult thing to listen to somebody explain their anxiety or depression to you. People have tried to explain it to me before and whilst I told them I was understanding and sympathetic, I didn't really get the full extent of the situation. It's like when somebody shows you a photograph of somewhere and you get the general gist of what it was like to be there, but you'll never know what that sand felt like between your toes, what the ocean sounded like when it hit shore or how that ice-cream tasted on a such a hot day. We see the picture but it's flat, two-dimensional. It doesn't tell the whole story.

When I struggle to put my thoughts or feelings into words, I read. I read because so often other people say what I need to much better than I do. They explain things in a way that makes total sense even though the words won't come together in my head when someone asks me, "How do you feel?"

I love Matt Haig as an author and when I bought this book it wasn't for any other reason but that. I like his writing. For the past few months it has been buried underneath a mountain of other books, forgotten. A couple of weeks ago I wrestled it out from the back of my back shelf and devoured half of it in one afternoon.

Haig share his personal experience of anxiety and depression in Reasons to Stay Alive but he understands that not everyone suffers in the same way, so he shares useful advice but not in self-help guide kind of way.  He knows that what works for him might not necessarily work for everyone. He says, "When we are trying to get better, the only truth that matters is what works for us." And it's his honesty that makes this book so special and worth reading. It highlights so many of the problems that develop as a result of anxiety and depression - physical, mental, personal - making it a useful read for not only those who suffer but also those who know somebody that suffers.

It's such a relatable and uplifting book, one that makes you realise how big the world is and how beautiful it can be.

"You need to feel life's terror to feel its wonder." - Matt Haig

Lemon & Green Tea Face Steam

My skin has been really bad lately and while I can cope with it most of the time, there are days when it just really gets me down. I've been back and forth to the doctors but haven't found anything that helped. I've tried all the usual - drink more water, eat less sugar, exercise more. I've tried a hundred different beauty products targeted at reducing acne. Nothing seems to work! 

I remembered seeing a piece Liz Earle did on the TV last year about the benefits of doing a face steam. She recommended using all different kinds of essential oils for all different kinds of purposes - rosemary & tea tree for acne, lavender for sensitive skin, rose for dry skin. It sounded worth trying. Why not? I've tried pretty much everything else going! 

The only things I had to hand were lemon and green tea. Which was fine by me, apparently Miranda Kerr swears by a green tea steam and her skin is amazing

All you need to do is pour some boiling water into a bowl. Then add whatever it is you want to use - I used both lemon and green tea. I put the tea bag in first and then squeezed the juice from half a lemon. I read it was best to let it sit for 5-10 minutes so that the heat is bearable when it comes to putting your face over it. When it's ready, drape a towel over your head and hold your face about 30cm away from the water for as long as it's hot. Afterwards splash your face with cold water to close pores. 

I've done this a few times over the past couple of weeks and I love how refreshed my skin feels afterwards. It looks much less irritated and feels much cleaner too. The first time I did it my mum commented on how much better my skin looked so I thought maybe this was something worth doing on a regular basis. I think I'll try get my hands on some tea tree oil next and see if that works just as well!

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The Rory Gilmore Book Challenge

I've probably already mentioned a few times that I'm trying to work on my reading habits and I've always fancied trying a book challenge. Until now I've never found one that I've been interested enough in. Then as I was scrolling through Pinterest earlier (it is Sunday, after all) I came across the Rory Gilmore reading challenge. I thought this had to be the one, right? It's pretty much the mother of all reading lists. So far I've read 17/339 books so I still have a long way to go but there are so many books on this list I'm excited to read! I wonder how many of them I'll get through!? Here's the list in case you want to have a look too!

1. 1984 by George Orwell
2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
3. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
4. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
5. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
6. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
8. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
9. The Archidamian War by Donald Kagan
10. The Art of Fiction by Henry James
11. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
12. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
13. Atonement by Ian McEwan
14. Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
15. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
16. Babe by Dick King-Smith
17. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi
18. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
19. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
20. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
21. Beloved by Toni Morrison
22. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney
23. The Bhagava Gita
24. The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews by Peter Duffy
25. Bitch in Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel 26. A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays by Mary McCarthy
28. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
29. Bridgadoon by Alan Jay Lerner
30. Candide by Voltaire
31. The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
32. Carrie by Stephen King
33. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
34. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
35. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
36. The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman
37. Christine by Stephen King
38. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
39. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
40. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
41. The Collected Stories by Eudora Welty
42. A Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
43. Complete Novels by Dawn Powell
44. The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
45. Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker
46. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
47. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
48. Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac
49. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
50. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
51. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
52. Cujo by Stephen King
53. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
55. David and Lisa by Dr Theodore Issac Rubin M.D
56. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
57. The Da Vinci -Code by Dan Brown
58. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
59. Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
60. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
61. Deenie by Judy Blume
62. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
63. The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx
64. The Divine Comedy by Dante
65. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
66. Don Quixote by Cervantes
67. Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhrv
68. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
69. Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales & Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
70. Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook
71. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
72. Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
73. Eloise by Kay Thompson
74. Emily the Strange by Roger Reger
75. Emma by Jane Austen
76. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
77. Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol
78. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
79. Ethics by Spinoza
80. Europe through the Back Door, 2003 by Rick Steves
82. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
83. Extravagance by Gary Krist
84. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
85. Fahrenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore
86. The Fall of the Athenian Empire by Donald Kagan
87. Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Critser
88. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
89. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
90. Fiddler on the Roof by Joseph Stein
91. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
92. Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce
93. Fletch by Gregory McDonald
94. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
95. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
96. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
97. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
98. Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
99. Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers
100. Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut
101. Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
102. George W. Bushism: The Slate Book of the Accidental Wit and Wisdom of our 43rd President by Jacob Weisberg
103. Gidget by Fredrick Kohner
104. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
105. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
106. The Godfather: Book 1 by Mario Puzo
108. Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Alvin Granowsky
109. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
110. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford
111. The Gospel According to Judy Bloom
112. The Graduate by Charles Webb
113. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
114. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
115. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
116. The Group by Mary McCarthy
117. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
118. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
119. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
120. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
121. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
122. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
123. Henry IV, part I by William Shakespeare
124. Henry IV, part II by William Shakespeare
125. Henry V by William Shakespeare
126. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
127. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
128. Holidays on Ice: Stories by David Sedaris
129. The Holy Barbarians by Lawrence Lipton
130. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
131. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
132. How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer
134. How the Light Gets In by M. J. Hyland
135. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
136. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
137. The Iliad by Homer
138. I’m With the Band by Pamela des Barres
139. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
140. Inferno by Dante
141. Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
142. Iron Weed by William J. Kennedy
143. It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton
144. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
145. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
146. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
147. The Jumping Frog by Mark Twain
148. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
149. Just a Couple of Days by Tony Vigorito
150. The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
151. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
152. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
153. Lady Chatterleys’ Lover by D. H. Lawrence
154. The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000 by Gore Vidal
155. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
156. The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield
157. Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
158. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
160. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
161. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
162. The Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway
163. The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen
164. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
165. Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton
166. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
167. The Lottery: And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
168. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
169. The Love Story by Erich Segal
170. Macbeth by William Shakespeare
171. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
172. The Manticore by Robertson Davies
173. Marathon Man by William Goldman
174. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
175. Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir
176. Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman by William Tecumseh Sherman
177. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
178. The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Cofer
179. Mencken’s Chrestomathy by H. R. Mencken
180. The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
181. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
182. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
183. The Miracle Worker by William Gibson
184. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
186. Moliere: A Biography by Hobart Chatfield Taylor
187. A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman
188. Monsieur Proust by Celeste Albaret
189. A Month Of Sundays: Searching For The Spirit And My Sister by Julie Mars
190. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
191. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
192. Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
193. My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and It’s Aftermath by Seymour M. Hersh
194. My Life as Author and Editor by H. R. Mencken
195. My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru by Tim Guest
196. Myra Waldo’s Travel and Motoring Guide to Europe, 1978 by Myra Waldo
197. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
198. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
199. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
200. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
201. The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin
202. Nervous System: Or, Losing My Mind in Literature by Jan Lars Jensen
203. New Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
204. The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay
205. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
206. Night by Elie Wiesel
207. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
208. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism by William E. Cain, Laurie A. Finke, Barbara E. Johnson, John P. McGowan
209. Novels 1930-1942: Dance Night/Come Back to Sorrento, Turn, Magic Wheel/Angels on Toast/A Time to be Born by Dawn Powell
210. Notes of a Dirty Old Man by Charles Bukowski
212. Old School by Tobias Wolff
213. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
214. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
215. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
216. The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life by Amy Tan
217. Oracle Night by Paul Auster
218. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
219. Othello by Shakespeare
220. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
221. The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan
222. Out of Africa by Isac Dineson
223. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
224. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
225. The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition by Donald Kagan
226. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
227. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
228. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
229. Pigs at the Trough by Arianna Huffington
230. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
231. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
232. The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
233. The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
234. The Portable Nietzche by Fredrich Nietzche
235. The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill by Ron Suskind
236. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
237. Property by Valerie Martin
239. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
240. Quattrocento by James Mckean
241. A Quiet Storm by Rachel Howzell Hall
242. Rapunzel by Grimm Brothers
243. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
244. The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
245. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
246. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
247. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
248. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
249. Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories From a Decade Gone Mad by Virginia Holman
250. The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
251. R Is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton
252. Rita Hayworth by Stephen King
253. Robert’s Rules of Order by Henry Robert
254. Roman Holiday by Edith Wharton
255. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
256. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
257. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
258. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
259. The Rough Guide to Europe, 2003 Edition
260. Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi
261. Sanctuary by William Faulkner
262. Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
263. Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller by Henry James
264. The Scarecrow of Oz by Frank L. Baum
266. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
267. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
268. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
269. Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman
270. Selected Hotels of Europe
271. Selected Letters of Dawn Powell: 1913-1965 by Dawn Powell
272. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
273. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
274. Several Biographies of Winston Churchill
275. Sexus by Henry Miller
276. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
277. Shane by Jack Shaefer
278. The Shining by Stephen King
279. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
280. S Is for Silence by Sue Grafton
281. Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut
282. Small Island by Andrea Levy
283. Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway
284. Snow White and Rose Red by Grimm Brothers
285. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World by Barrington Moore
286. The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht
287. Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos by Julia de Burgos
288. The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker
289. Songbook by Nick Hornby
290. The Sonnets by William Shakespeare
291. Sonnets from the Portuegese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
293. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
294. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
295. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
296. The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
297. A Streetcar Named Desiree by Tennessee Williams
298. Stuart Little by E. B. White
299. Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
300. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
301. Swimming with Giants: My Encounters with Whales, Dolphins and Seals by Anne Collett
302. Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber
303. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
304. Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
305. Term of Endearment by Larry McMurtry
306. Time and Again by Jack Finney
307. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
308. To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
309. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
310. The Tragedy of Richard III by William Shakespeare
311. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
312. The Trial by Franz Kafka
313. The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson
314. Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
315. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
316. Ulysses by James Joyce
317. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962 by Sylvia Plath
318. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
320. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
321. The Vanishing Newspaper by Philip Meyers
322. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
323. Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground and Nico (Thirty Three and a Third series) by Joe Harvard
324. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
325. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
326. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
327. Walt Disney’s Bambi by Felix Salten
328. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
329. We Owe You Nothing – Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews edited by Daniel Sinker
330. What Colour is Your Parachute? 2005 by Richard Nelson Bolles
331. What Happened to Baby Jane by Henry Farrell
332. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
333. Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson
334. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
335. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
336. The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
337. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
338. The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
339. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

27. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
54. Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
81. Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

107. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

133. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

159. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken

185. The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion by Jim Irvin

211. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

238. Pushkin: A Biography by T. J. Binyon

265. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

292. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

319. Unless by Carol Shields

'Paint it With a Pen'

It has only been over the past few months that I have really thrown myself into my writing, even though it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed. I grew up cradling notebooks in my arms, thinking of stories I could tell and people I could write about. I’m still the same now. I’m still cradling notebooks in my arms thinking of what to write about. I have an endless amount of notebooks filled with ideas, quotes, references and thoughts about anything and everything that strikes a chord with me in any given day. I don’t know what I’ll do with them all but I always hope it’ll be something worthwhile.

It’s not just that I enjoy writing, it’s more than that. It helps me make sense of everything that’s going on in my head. Some days there’s just too much happening in my head to rationalise and understand everything. When I write, it helps me see what looks and sounds right, natural, normal and what doesn’t.

It also helps me project myself to others around me. I’m a quiet person and sometimes find it hard to find things to talk to people about, especially if it’s in a group. I tend to just retire into the corner and listen to everyone else. But that makes it really hard for people to get to know me, to find out that there’s more in my head than comes out of my mouth.

But it’s not always easy. There are some days when writing just flows from my fingertips. I sit and write 1000 words in 20 minutes because my mind is just an endless flow of thoughts and ideas. Whether those are any good or not is different question. On those days I feel like I’m doing something right. I feel like I've found my thing and it pushes me to write more and challenge myself.

Then there are days when I can sit at a computer for hours with nothing but specs of ideas in my head that won’t translate themselves onto my page no matter how long I stare into the bottom of my cup of tea for. Nothing seems to come together and a line or paragraph I loved ten minutes ago makes me stop and think twice. On those days I think, can I really do this? Do I have the patience, the drive and the determination?

I hope the answer is yes.

Despite how I feel and whether or not writing comes easier today than other days, I still try to write every day. I have a journal I write in as often as I can (read: hardly ever because I always forget about it.) I write bits and pieces for my blog and SheDid What She Wanted, even if I decide never to share them. I make notes of ideas and thoughts I have during the day that could be adapted into something else. I write down quotes and sections from books and articles that I love. 

It took a while to share my writing with people. I had a blog for years that was a bit of an experiment, something to distract me from school and exams. I never told anyone about it and eventually ended up deleting it. Not long after that I decided to try again, but for real this time. I decided that if it was something I was proud of then why not share it with people? Of course I was worried about what people might think or what they might say. I thought they might not understand or even be interested. But all of my friends and family have been incredibly supportive and I've been really surprised at how encouraging people have been of it. After reading this article, my mum said, "I'm just really surprised at what's in your head sometimes." Which makes total sense. I'm way better at expressing myself through writing than talking so writing allows me to share things that I otherwise wouldn't know how to get across to people. 

These past few months, or even this past year, I'm fallen completely in love with writing. And although I have bad days (like today, it look me an hour and a half to write a journal page. It just wasn't happening) with every positive conversation I have with someone it builds my confidence that I'm doing the right thing. 

Books to Read: Martin, Thériault & Strayed

This year I'm trying really hard to read the books I already have gathering dust on my bookshelf before I buy anymore. And I've got lots. I've read some incredible books already this year and I can't wait to get stuck into more. Here are the three that are next on my list of books to read.

Dangerous Women Part I, George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois | It's hard not to get stuck into a series when it's literally everywhere you turn your head. I'm slowly making my way through the Game of Thrones books and I bought Dangerous Women on a whim in Waterstones. It contains seven short stories. The first is entitled The Princess and the Queen which is basically a prequel to Game of Thrones, set in Westeros and focusing on the Targaryen's during the civil war. It's also comprised of more tales by different authors and I'm really interested to see what they're like. 

Wild, Cheryl Strayed | I fell in love with Strayed after reading Tiny, Beautiful Things and she's one of the reasons I've thrown myself into writing like I have done this past year. Wild is the story of Strayed's hike along the west coast of America which she took after the unexpected death of her mother. Riddled with grief she sets off on the eleven hundred mile journey on her own. I've heard nothing but good things about this one so I can't wait to read it and follow her along that journey. 

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman, Denis Thériault | I'm actually half way through reading this one and it's only 108 pages so I can't imagine it will take much longer. I was immediately taken in by the idea of this book when I read what it was about. Bilodo is a lonely postman who fills his days by secretly reading the letters of a long-distance couple and soon enough he gets entangled in their lives. I was hooked in the beginning but the storyline took an odd turn and I found myself losing sympathy for the central character. That being said, I'm intrigued to find out what happens at the end!

Ever since I started working full time I've found it really hard sleep in for very long on a weekend. I hated it at first, it drove me mad but I've learnt to love it. This morning I woke up at 6.50am, brewed myself a cup of tea and sat under a blanket with a book. The world feels peaceful at this time of day and I find I can get lost in a book for hours. 

Let me know if you have any book recommendations. I'm always searching pinterest and blogs for my next read! 

Books to Love: Very Good Lives

"We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better." - Very Good Lives, J.K. Rowling

It's authors and women like J.K Rowling that make me feel proud of being a part of this generation. She's intelligent, she's down-to-earth, she stands up for what she believes in and she cares so deeply about the influence Harry Potter has had on people. She understands what position she's in, the platform she's on and how she can use it for good.

I've kept up-to-date with her writing because I enjoy it. I read The Casual Vacancy and bought The Cuckoo's Calling the Christmas that it was released (even though I haven't got around to reading that one yet.) Then I stumbled across this post from Sian Louise who recommended Very Good Lives, something I'd never heard of before.

Very Good Lives is the 2008 commencement speech Rowling delivered to the Harvard University graduates. True to Rowling's style, it's witty and powerful and has something that everyone can take away from it. In it she talks about failure and how it isn't always a bad thing. She talks a bit about her journey, the problems she faced and why she made the decisions she did. She encourages those who can to use their positions to do good, much like she has. 

My favourite aspect of it was when she touched on imagination. When I first read the cover I wondered how she was going to talk to hundreds of 21 year old graduates about imagination without sounding like she was delivering a Year Two literacy lesson. But she talks about how you can use your imagination to empathise with other people, to imagine yourself in their position, which is so important in building an understanding and tolerant society. 

There's something about people and society that she just gets and if she'd have delivered that address at my graduation then maybe I'd have left knowing there's so much more to offer the world other than a degree. 

Very Good Lives is a book I imagine I'll be returning to often and I hope it's one that you'll decide to try. It's beautifully written and illustrated too so what's not to love?

How Do You Use Your Voice Online?

"I mean, all this stuff you're involved in, it's all gossip. It's people talking about each other behind their backs. That's the vast majority of this social media, all these reviews, all these comments. Your tools have elevated gossip, hearsay and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication." - The Circle, Dave Eggers

When we're young we're taught the difference between our indoor and outdoor voices. The difference in tone, the difference in the way that we speak to different people and the difference in what we say. We're taught respectful and polite things to say, we're reprimanded for misusing our voices in an inappropriate or negative way. As the internet grows, adapts and integrates itself into our every day lives, it's becoming increasingly normalised to project our voices across the internet in a negative way, often hurting people that we don't know and have never met. For some reason, people seem to think that's okay. 

I've always been very careful about how I use the internet. My rule of thumb has always been to never post anything that I wouldn't want my grandma to see, be it photos, comments or conversations. It was a choice I made when I first started using social media and it's one that I've always stuck by. I wasn't giving anything the power to come back and bite me. I've done pretty well. I've never made any catty, bitchy or unnecessary comments, direct or indirect. When I scroll through my twitter or facebook profiles I see photos and happy memories, not streams of arguments and petty remarks. I listen to others, hear their point of view and talk to them about it. I research and read opposing opinions before I make my mind up about anything. I try not to let my beliefs and opinions cloud the way I talk to people that don't agree with me.

Not everyone has those rules.

My guilty pleasure is watching youtube videos and one of my favourite channels is the Saccone Jolys. For the most part, their videos are fun and entertaining to watch. I mean, they have two children and six dogs which says it all. They're loving and light-hearted. It feels like watching your best friend's home videos, there's a familiarity and a feeling I don't know how to describe other than homely. They seem to be a family that understand that life has its ups and downs which is why, on occasion, they're happy home videos are interrupted with bad news. A few weeks ago, the Saccone Jolys had a miscarriage. They chose to be honest and share that part of their story with the internet, as heartbreaking as it was. It must have been tortuous for them both to sit down and work out how to turn their celebrations into news that they felt that had to break to a million extended family members who had subscribed to their lives. 

Not long after they'd learned and shared the news the internet opened fire. The Saccone Jolys were attacked and not for a reason that is in any way justifiable, no matter how the light is shone on it. There were comments made that were incredibly personal and incredibly brutal, nothing anyone should ever have to hear said about themselves. But of course, as disappointing as it is, they aren't the only ones and it's become so commonplace for people to use their voices online to do more harm than good. But they put their whole lives online, they're opening themselves up to scrutiny. It's not an excuse and it's extended past the stage of directing the scrutiny and judgement to people in the limelight. It's spreading to ordinary people that dare comment on news article or discuss a taboo subject, even if it's in a constructive way. We should be channeling our positivity instead of dimming it's light with negativity, rumours, allegations, name-calling and abuse. 

We, as the internet generation, need to learn the difference between healthy expression and unhealthy expression. We need to learn to discuss instead of argue, challenge instead of attack and disagree without being closed minded. We need to learn how to use our online voices and extend the social media etiquette beyond not liking your best friend's ex boyfriend's sister's photo from 42 weeks ago.  

I love the internet and all the information it provides. I love how news is instant. How ordinary people can have their own websites and blogs to share their lifestyles and their point of view. We have a way to use our voice that no generation before us has had. We have the ability to share our stories and messages with people across the world instantaneously. We have a million extra branches of support that spread across the globe. We have a platform that has the potential to be used for so much good and yet it's being tainted by those that feel the need to aggressively push their opinions onto others.  We should be using it as a chance to education ourselves, listen to another side of the story, not use it as an excuse to verbally attack someone whether we know them or not.

There's a way to discuss issues without turning the tone of the conversation sour and personal.

In a way I'm still thinking like a child. Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? If ever I've been tempted to get involved with an argument on facebook or post a 300 word response to a comment that ultimately, I won't gain anything from, I've asked myself 'is it necesaary?' And sometimes that's just enough to make you really think about your choices. 

It sometimes make me feel disappointed to be a part of this generation. It's such a forward-thinking, innovative and clever society that we should be so proud of and yet we're letting the internet give us a degree of anonymity that makes us think we're safe to say whatever we like. We need to think about using the internet as a tool to strengthen our society, not as a weapon to beat each other down with. We need to think about how we're using our voices, on the street and online, to build our generation back up to being inclusive, understanding, open and all-encompassing. 

Let's use our voices for good.

Books to Love: All The Bright Places

I fell in love with this novel almost immediately and not once did it lose its tight grip on my heart. Violet and Finch are strangers until they meet at the top of the school Bell Tower, both leaning over the edge prepared to jump. She’s a writer who lost her sister in a car crash, an accident she blames herself for. He’s an eternally troubled soul with a lot to say about everything. It’s clear that his mental state is vulnerable but he still manages to breathe life into Violet. As their stories unfold and their lives entangle it becomes clear that they both have their own mountains to scale. As they begin to explore Indiana for their school project, they learn a lot about their home, a lot about each other and a lot about themselves. They fall in love in the most perfect way and teach each other about all the little things in life that matter. Something that we all need reminding of every now and then.

I have a pull towards these types of novels, especially ones that brace the subject of suicide but in an uplifting way. I didn't get to the end of this book feeling depressed and cheated, instead I felt satisfied, like it had served its purpose. I loved the characters and I thought for a while about whether I identified more with Finch or with Violet. In the end I think there are parts of them both that resonated with me and I devoured this book from cover to cover wanting to know where their journey would take them next. 

This novel is a bittersweet story but one that delicately and honestly explores the issues surrounding mental illness. It’s beautiful and heart-breaking and one that you will keep with you for long after you’ve turned the last page.

Have you read All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven? What did you think?