Thursday, 25 July 2013

Carpe Beachem


Just a quick post to say I am in fact not dead, only on holiday. The WiFi connection here is notoriously iffy, as well as being extremely unreliable, so I'm posting this on my phone as it seems to have a better signal than my laptop.

I haven't been up to all that much, just sun, sand and sea - with the occasional frozen yogurt for a dash of variety. I'll be back on the Tuesday after next - hasta la vista!


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Nadia Esra


I've decided that every Sunday I'm going to do a 'spotlight' post, where I present one of my favourite YouTubers or bloggers, and explain my thoughts about them.

First up is Nadia Esra, a blogger from the Netherlands. I discovered her blog They Call Me Redhead through Polyvore quite a while ago, and I fell in love with her gorgeous style and her famous red hair.

Quick Facts
Name: Nadia Esra (her first name is Nadia, but Esra is the surname she uses on the internet)
Age: 21
Nationality: Dutch
Profession: fashion blogger

Nadia set up her blog in February 2010, when she decided to make one after hearing about it on Lookbook, a site where people post fashion looks. In the beginning she used the blog to talk about her everyday life, but gradually she started posting more and more of her fashion shoot photos onto her blog, and this is round about when I came across her. Nowadays the situation is reversed, and she posts more about her life, including her boyfriend, her dog and her rabbit Melle. She blogs in perfect English, but occasionally puts in a few sentences in Dutch, which is fine as I understand Dutch fairly well.

Here are some of my favourite looks of hers:

I absolutely adore Nadia's style! She combines earthy colours and textures effortlessly, with so many quirky piece I'd just love to be able to pull off. I also desperately want her hair, which is normally in an artistically wild mess yet still looks amazing.

I hope you find Nadia as amazing as I do - if so, follow her blog!


Thursday, 18 July 2013

10 Ways to Satisfy your Nostalgia


I've spent a lot of these past few days looking at the photo albums, watching home videos of my brother and I when we were little and generally wallowing in nostalgia. All this inspired me to compile a list of things which remind me of my childhood, some of which are great to fill the endless days stretching out in front of you.

1. Build a den
I used to do this all the time with my brother. In can be done inside or outside, but either way all you need is a few blankets, rope, garden pegs, a chair or two and some creativity - we used to use our old climbing frame to make one space on the flat square part, and another directly beneath it, then set up a pulley system to transport stuff from one level to the other. You can use anything from sofa cushions to large books to create a den, including tables, broom handles, and coat stands - as long as the finished product is your space where you can spend a few quiet hours undisturbed.

2. Make mud pies
Since my garden is mostly in the shade and therefore perpetually damp, a part of it has soil which is more or less pure clay. I used to collect this in bucketfuls, and then model it into different shapes with my hands and a little water. This is best done on the hottest of days, as your creations can be left to bake hard on a patio or similarly sunny place. I still have stacks of painted clay pots hanging around somewhere!

3. Watch Disney movies
An idea for when the weather is a little less kind, perhaps. I did this at a friend's house a few months ago, and it was a lot more fun than you might expect. If you can, try and find one of the older Disney movies, none of this new-fangled 'The Princess and the Frog' or 'Tangled' nonsense - think Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Bambi, Peter Pan, The Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, or even the first ever Disney picture film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). If you have a VCR, better still is to watch something on a video cassette! Sure, it's not high-res, but it's great fun and a real blast from the past to watch a film with retro 80s/90s quality.

4. Make a car from cardboard boxes
The last time we moved house, I remember there being tons of massive cardboard removal boxes being left around - at age 6, for me the obvious thing to do was turn one of them into a car for my 2-year-old brother. Just cut parts of the cardboard out until the shape resembles a car (or any other vehicle, I particularly remember creating a train during my brother's train driver phase), decorate it however you like, insert a wriggly toddler and away you go!

5. Run through water from a hosepipe
Only for those very hot summer days here in Northern Europe! I have tons of videos of my mum watering the garden with the hosepipe and me running and cartwheeling through the spray. More pleasant if the hose has been warming up in the sun for a few hours, but certainly bracing even otherwise, and an entertaining way to cool down on a hot day.

6. Make fairy cakes
One of my earliest memories of baking was no doubt making a batch of fairy cakes with the help of my grandma, complete with pink icing and sprinkles. That was by no means the last time I've made cupcakes (they're definitely a baking staple), but I still associate them with my childhood - being allowed to crack the eggs over the mixing bowl, laboriously mixing the batter while gripping the spoon with both hands, putting it into paper cases and finally tasting the rather wonky results.

7. Build a chain reaction
This is something I did a lot when I was younger, and bored. Just assemble a heap of random items, from books and tennis balls to pipes and skittles, and try and set up a system that will act as a chain reaction, each stage triggering the next, when you set off the first part. Very time consuming, quite frustrating, yet strangely satisfying when it goes without a hitch - although then you have to rebuild it, of course!

8. Play board games
From The Game of Life to Snakes & Ladders, we have a cupboard stuffed with every board game imaginable, all of which feature heavily in my childhood memories. As soon as my brother was old enough to understand concepts such as taking it in turns and fair play, I roped him into lengthy game of Ludo or Draughts, after my parents' refusals to take part in games where I constantly made up new rules or modified the existing ones. Not content with the ones we already owned, I even made up a few games, loosely based on the format of Monopoly but with themes like shopping, cooking, or (once, memorably) Harry Potter, all of which involved travelling around a game board and collecting items or cards. So for a true childhood experience, get off the computer and get out a few family games.

9. Draw
I used to spend a great deal of time drawing or painting when I was younger, and most of my creations are still around somewhere, even if only buried under a heap of other stuff in a draw. Grab a pen or pencil, or even a set of paints if you're feeling adventurous, and release your inner child onto paper.

10. Go to the park or forest
Visits to parks or the forest were an integral part of my childhood. Equipped with little more than a skipping rope and a plastic hoop, I would spend hours running around, then sit down to a picnic with my family.

I hope my nostalgic ramblings have inspired you to engage in some wonderfully childish activities this summer. Please note that none of the photos are mine, they're all from Google images.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Book Review: Code Name Verity


I finished the novel Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein almost a week ago, but it's taken me about that long to get my head organised enough to write this review. Which may I remind you is my first one here on this blog, so it might be a little rough. This is one of those books which it's almost impossible to talk about without revealing elements of the plot, but I'll do my best not to give away too many spoilers.

The Basics
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Country: United States
Genre: YA fiction, historical fiction, thriller
Publication date: May 15, 2012
Pages: 337

Why I Read It
I discovered this book in Waterstones, when I was in the UK last Easter. I was struck first of all by the cover, which in the version I bought is a murky grey with the silhouette of a girl sniffing a rose, with the name 'Verity' circled in red, and the words 'I have told the truth' under the title. I read the blurb, realised it was set in WWII and immediately added it to a list of absolute must-buys.

What I Thought
For some reason it took me a while to get round to reading Code Name Verity, but when I did I was instantly sucked into a much darker world than I expected. The first chapter is written by 'Verity', who the reader soon learns is a British spy who has been captured by the Gestapo in German-occupied France. Tortured and ill-treated to the point of inhumanity, she has struck a deal with her captors to write down all she knows about the British war effort. She knows cooperation is the easy way out, but she's willing to do so to gain an extra two weeks, in spite of the certainty that they will shoot her at the end of it.

To begin with, she writes about her best friend, Maddie, who trained as a pilot despite women not being allowed to fly as part of the war effort. If not for the war, their paths would never have crossed - Verity (or Lady Julia Lindsay McKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart, as we discover her real name is) is from a rich Scottish family, and Maddie is a working-class Stockport girl. It was easy to get lost in Maddie's story, told in such striking detail, but the chapters are interspersed with heartbreaking descriptions of Verity's life in prison, the harsh conditions she lives in and the precarious deal she has made. She narrates the story of her friendship with Maddie - or rather Maddie's friendship with her, as she talks about them both in the third person -  up until the point when Julie bails out of a crashing plane over France, flown by Maddie. Her narration ends with the words 'I have told the truth', repeated over and over again.

The second part, 'Kittyhawk', is told from Maddie's point of view, picking up where Julie left off. Her voice is so different from Julie's, as she despairs over whether she will ever see her best friend alive again, and it was fascinating to have the story told from two perspectives, as Maddie learns snippets about Julie's predicament and pieces together her own picture of what happened after they separated. Although Verity's account seems genuine and highly detailed, when reading Maddie's the reader realises there is so much more to the story. The two halves complement each other, true to a phrase which crops up again and again in the novel: 'we are a sensational team'.

'Code Name Verity' is one of the most authentically realistic books I've read for a long time. Julie and Maddie are vibrantly drawn characters, patriotic and courageous in the circumstances, and both with a thrill for adventure. But don't get me wrong - this book isn't lighthearted in the least, and should definitely be avoided by the squeamish. There's no scrimping on gory details, including torture methods, shootings, beheadings and fatal injuries, which all adds to the realness of a story set in German-occupied France in 1943.

If I were to have any criticism at all, it would probably be the colossal amount of information related to aeroplanes. Although essential for the story, as well as being part of the information Verity is supposed to be giving the Gestapo, I felt it was slightly overwhelming at times. As someone who doesn't know the first thing about planes, I was getting bogged down in the details. Having said that, I think without it there would be something missing from the story.

The storytelling is flawless, the characters vividly alive, the circumstances bitterly pitiful and the plotting fiendishly intricate, Code Name Verity is one of those books which had me pressing my hand over my mouth in nauseated horror one minute and crying the next. With a heartbreaking ending which left me in floods of tears, I would definitely put it up there in my top ten favourite books of all time.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥


Monday, 15 July 2013

Good Gravecious Me


One hot, sunny afternoon when I was in the UK, I wandered down to the church of the little village where my grandparents live. Even after my trip to find and photograph the graveyards where my ancestors rest, I had by no means had enough of churches - I'm not in the least religious, but I find it so peaceful walking through a deserted graveyard, surrounded by history and people long forgotten. This particular one has a rabbit problem, and the grass is dotted with warrens, invisible from the surface, but which can't be relied on to support a person's weight - around one headstone I had to tread carefully so as not to find myself with one foot in the grave! (See what I did there?). Anyway, despite the tricky navigation, the light was good and I managed to get some halfway decent photos.

Not content with just wandering around during the afternoon, I decided to go back later, when it was dark, as my grandparents only live about a minute's walk from the church. I took a few photos, but they're decidedly worse quality than the daytime ones, thanks to my phone not being good at dealing with night shots!

I did, however, manage to capture one grave in a creepy light using the flash and a greyscale setting:

It was actually a lot less dark than it looks on the photos, so I managed to return home with nothing but a few mozzie bites, no grave injuries. (See what I did there again?!). I stun myself with my own wit sometimes, but I think the title of this post leaves something to be desired...


For the Record


When I got my typewriter a week ago, my little brother was immediately obsessed with it, and I could hardly get near it on that first day. Since then, he's jumped on the retro bandwagon and ordered himself a record player off Amazon, which prompted my mum to dig out her enormous record collection and spend hours reminiscing over 80s classics. My brother only listened to a few of them before selecting a few firm favourites, to which I now know all the words as they've been playing on repeat ever since he got the player.

It's not a vintage model, it's new, which is apparently important to make sure it all works properly. I think it's highly awesome, so I'm thinking of getting Lana Del Rey's album Born to Die on a vinyl record to play on it. I'm not massively into music, but there's something so much more satisfying about dropping the needle onto the record, and the slightly glitchy sound it produces, compared to listening to an iPod or a CD.


Sunday, 14 July 2013

Holiday Haul


While I was in the UK I did a fair bit of shopping, so now I'm back home with more time on my hands, I decided to do a haul post showing what I bought. As usual I went to Forever 21, Primark and New Look, since the first two of those we don't have over here and I always go a bit nuts when I shop there! Please bear in mind these photos were taken using my phone camera, which doesn't have a timer so the only way I could do it was to hold it out in front of me, press the shutter and hope for the best. Anyway, let the haul commence:

Rust-coloured shorts from Forever 21

I set out wanting to get some red shorts, but when I saw these rust-coloured ones in Forever 21 I just had to have them - also they were a bargain in the sale.

 Keep Calm is Overrated top from Forever 21

Now I'm a huge fan of all this 'Keep calm and...' business. 'Keep Calm and May the Odds be Ever in Your Favour', 'Keep Calm and Don't Blink', 'Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake' - not forgetting the original 'Keep Calm and Carry On', so I love this top so much!

Green Plaid Shirt from Forever 21

I already have one checked shirt, in red, but this green one is such a lovely material - really lightweight and summery. I got it in a slightly bigger size as it's so comfy and works well with the oversized look.

Galaxy Print Leggings from Forever 21

This is probably my favouritest purchase of all time! I have wanted galaxy leggings for so, so long (ask anyone), and gone to so many different shops to look for them, so when I saw these in Forever 21 I practically sprinted across the shop!

Eastern top from New Look

This looks a bit creased on the photo because hey, I just unpacked it yesterday and it's the kind of lightweight material which creases really easily. It's so summery and has these amazing elephants on it, I love it so much.

Heart Patterned Dress from New Look 

I really needed some new summer dresses, and I was so happy to find this one in New Look, at £12 reduced from £25! I liked it so much I got two.

Blue Paisley Dress from New Look

The second dress I bought in New Look, I just love the cornflower blue colour with the paisley pattern. It's so summery and can easily be dressed up or down.

I actually got two more tops in New Look, but I've already worn them so they're currently somewhere in the vastly complex network that is the laundry system in my house, so I haven't included them here.

Denim Dungarees & American Flag top from Primark

I desperately wanted to get some new dungarees, as the ones I have don't really fit that well, and I wasn't disappointed when I found these in Primark. They're a little baggy since the smallest size was an 8, but I'm really pleased with them. I also got this American flag print top which goes quite nicely underneath.

Maxi Skirt from Primark

This maxi skirt was quite impossible to get a decent photo of, so in the end I just took a snap of the pattern. I already have about 3 maxi skirts, but I love this one as it's so colourful and ideal for summer.

Cream Shirt from Primark

There's not much to say about this shirt, it's quite simple and plain, but hopefully also versatile. I think it would look nice with the buttons done up and tucked into a high-waisted skirt, or just worn over a simple top.

Black Lace top from Primark

This is a fairly awful photo, of both me and the top, but never mind. I have this top in white too, and I love it to death. It's a great alternative to a cardigan as despite the holes it has a really soft, velvety feel, so it's actually quite warm and cosy.

Basic Tops from Primark

I got a few basic tank tops in Primark, in pale pink, white, turquoise and black & white polka dots.

More random stuff from Primark

I also got some tights (may as well get them cheap as I invariably ladder them within the first ten minutes of wearing them), a flower headband and a plain black umbrella to fend off the rain.

Stars and Stripes Leggings from M&Co

Hooray for patterned leggings! I found these in the kids section of M&Co, and decided they were a must, as I've wanted a pair of these for quite a while. Sadly just a little too late for 4th of July!

Agatha Christie novels from Amazon

I didn't actually buy these when I went shopping, but I thought I'd include them here anyway. I absolutely love my Agatha Christies (I have 24 now), and I read them at a rate of knots. I got 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles', 'Mrs McGinty's Dead' and 'Appointment with Death'. I finished the latter yesterday night (or was it this morning?) - it was thoroughly satisfying and I'd definitely recommend it to any Christie fans.

I also got this book, 'The Boy Who Could See Demons', which looks highly interesting. Apparently it's similar to 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time', which I admit didn't exactly thrill me, but nevertheless has won countless awards.

I hope this was mildly interesting, let me know if you want to know the price of anything or if you're read 'The Boy Who Could See Demons'.


Friday, 12 July 2013

“The atmosphere is always very grave when I walk into a cemetery.”


I'm rather pleased with the title of this post, I thought it was marginally droll - it's a quote by Jarod Kintz from Who Moved My Choose?: An Amazing Way to Deal With Change by Deciding to Let Indecision Into Your Life. Apparently.

Anyway, a couple of days ago I went with my mum and grandad to visit a few towns where our family used to live, in about the 1600-1800s. It was fascinating, as they're both really into family history and turned out to be veritable mines of information as we went along, hopping out the car to photograph several buildings which used to be the family pubs back in the day. We had lunch at this particularly picturesque one, which dates back to the 14th century and was owned by our ancestors in the 1700s.

Afterwards we went grave hunting in the nearby graveyard, in the hope of finding and photographing some graves belonging to our family. The abbey has a long and colourful history, but the long and short of it is that the half of it belonging to the parish and the townspeople is well-maintained, but the half which used to be a monastery is now falling into ruin, as you can see below. 

We found a fairly imposing tomb belonging to one of our ancestors and tried - unsuccessfully - to do a rubbing of the inscription.

 We went to a couple more churches to search for more ancestral graves, such as this one:

I have quite a selection of shots of graveyards, cemeteries and churches now - I think there's something hauntingly beautiful about them. A lot of the headstones are crumbling away, often with the names illegible and the people forgotten, and looking at some of the ones in the worst condition, I wonder how long it's been since someone visited them or remembered the person.

All in all it was an interesting experience, and I learnt a lot, from how best to photograph nearly unreadable inscriptions to details about life in the 18th century.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Top 3 Summer Reads


We're well into July, and for most countries in the northern hemisphere summer is well and truly underway! If you're planning on going away during the summer holidays, or just lazing around the house, what better way to entertain yourself than read a book? It's ideal for the beach, as unlike any electronics you don't have to worry about keeping it charged up or getting sand in it. But now you're convinced yourself to leave the iPad at home, you might be wondering what book to choose, and so today I'm presenting my three top perfect books for summer.

Summers of the Sisterhood: The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
Ann Brashares

This book, the first in a series of four, represents to me the epitome of a summer read. It follows the lives of four girls, Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget, who have been best friends their entire lives and usually spend every moment of their summer together. But this year is the first time they have separate plans, and when Tibby buys a pair of jeans in a second-hand shop, they have the idea of sharing them throughout the holidays, and sending them on to the next friend when they feel the time is right. The 'pants' travel all over the world, and witness encounters of first love, family problems, and illness, in a one-of-a-kind tale of friendship which is quirky, emotional and above all, memorable. I love these books because they embody summer to a T. I just wish my summers were anything like as idyllic as the ones described in the books!

Moving Times Trilogy: Bloom of Youth
Rachel Anderson

Set in the late 1950s, this trilogy is one of my favourite finds of recent years. When I stumbled across it on Amazon a year or so ago, I was somewhat dubious, but after devouring the first, promptly ordered all three and loved them to bits. There's something so special about these books, I almost didn't want to post about them here because I love them so much! Anyway, they are centered around two girls, Ruth and Mary, who struggle with the chaos of their parents' attempt to run a holiday home for children in their rambling country house. Over the course of the books, Ruth and Mary grow up quite a lot, turning from schoolgirls into young women of the world as they experience more and more of life. What I love so much about these books, apart from the wonderful post-war England setting, is the sheer disregard for telling the story in chronological order - the reader is thrown about in the chaos that is Ruth and Mary's life, seeing it often retrospectively from different points in time.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour
Morgan Matson

Sun, a road trip, and a dash of wanderlust - this is definitely one of my top reads for summer! Amy Curry is moving from California to Connecticut, and her mother has asked her to drive the family car across the country. But since father died in a car accident, in which Amy was behind the wheel, she has been terrified of driving. Roger, a family friend who also needs to make the trip, volunteers to drive, and together they cross the States in a road trip destined to change Amy's life. This book is far more than your average YA contemporary novel - it deals with overwhelming grief as much as it does with love, in what is, in my opinion, the perfect balance of light-heartedness and depth.

I hope these brief reviews have sparked you interest, and that you might even read one of these books. I would recommend all three of these for ages 12-13 and up. Please let me know in the comments if you've read, enjoyed, or even just heard of any of these!