Tuesday, 18 January 2022

My recent reads | December/January 21/22

This is my first recent reads post of 2022 but honestly, most of these books were ones I read in December. A pretty good reading month it seems! I've added a quickfire review for each book, and if you've read any of these definitely leave me a comment and let me know what YOU thought.

How Do You Like Me Now by Holly Bourne

Holly is queen of YA, but this is a more adult book. It follows girl boss Tori, author of a wildly successful memoir about how happy and amazing she is. But it's all a lie and her life is crap, really, and her best mate is falling in love while Tori's boyfriend won't propose to her and it's all very sad. I didn't like Tori much (I pitied her really) but I did enjoy the book as a whole and the message behind it. Buy it here.

Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis

I featured this in my 22 books to read in 2022 post, because I absolutely adored it. Boy meets girl in a traffic jam and it turns out maybe they were destined to meet all along - sounds cheesy and not my kind of book at all but it's so well done and I just adored it. Buy it here.

New Friends by Daniel Hurst

I've read a couple of Daniel Hurst books now, and I wasn't a huge fan of this one - something about it just seemed a bit lacklustre. It's a clever plot, though, following a couple who meet another couple on holiday who are only out to scam them... If you want an easy thriller-ish style book to read, though, get it on the Kindle! Get it here.

Dead Girls Can't Tell Secrets by Chelsea Ichaso

I got this through NetGalley, drawn to the cover and blurb. It's a YA book about the sister of a girl who is currently lying in a coma following a fall from a nearby viewpoint; the protagonist Savannah is on a mission to find out exactly what happened that day, all while covering up her own involvement... If you like YA mysteries this definitely fits the bill! Pre-order it here.

The Daughter by Liz Webb

Another NetGalley pick, this isn't out yet - but I'd recommend it when it is. It follows Hannah, an alcoholic looking after her dementia-ridden dad with no help from her estranged and now-famous brother. Her mum is dead, and Hannah is convinced there's more to the story so we follow her as she vows to find out. I really enjoyed this one. Pre-order here.

Playdate by Alex Dahl

Looking for a really really really long thriller? This is it. It's too long, in my opinion, because as much as I wanted to know the ending I almost gave up. But I'm glad I persevered, as it's a great story about a little girl who is abducted during a playdate, vanishing into thin air alongside the woman and child her parents left her with. It's such a fascinating story, with so many layers... 99p on Kindle here!

The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce

I got this in a charity shop - it's by the author of popular thriller Blood Orange, which I didn't love. But I thought I'd give this a go nonetheless, and I'm glad I did. This one's better, in my opinion, following a woman and her daughter who move to England after a major fallout with the husband/father. They return to the mum's childhood home, and it all goes massively wrong. Buy it here.

Her White Lie by Jackie Walsh

Did I like this or did I not? I'm genuinely not sure - but I didn't love it. It follows a girl called Tara, just due to get married, and also her ex best friend Faye. It's a dual narrative but where I usually like that, this time I just found it confusing. The storyline is good if you're into thrillers/whodunnits, but something was definitely amiss here... Buy it here.

Am I Guilty by Jackie Kabler

This is a horrible but fascinating story about a baby dying in a hot car (obvious trigger warnings for this one), allegedly due to the mother leaving him there while drunk. But she's convinced that something isn't right, and she doesn't know what. The book unravels a horrifying tale of deceit, and the overlap of two families with a lot going on. It's so well written and the twist is one I simply did NOT see coming! Get it here.

The Hiding Place by Simon Lelic

This was another NetGallery arc, so it's not out yet, but is brilliant if you want a seriously twisty and layered crime thriller. When it comes out definitely get your hands on it! It follows the age-old murder of Ben Draper who disappeared from a high and mighty boarding school - his body is found and we get to see how the investigation unfolds, involving some really interesting people... Pre-order now.

Pretending by Holly Bourne 

I'm flying through books at the minute but this is the last one I'll include here as this post has gone on long enough! I genuinely absolute despised this book - and I love Holly Bourne as a YA author. But this, an adult fiction book following a woman who is fed up of horrible men and pretends to be someone else (a fake/"perfect" woman) to attract a man, then ends up falling for him because he's different. It's written from the perspective of a rape victim, so obvious trigger warnings there, but it is basically an essay about how awful men are and nothing else. Not for me, honestly! Buy it here.

Have you read any of these books - or do any of the ARCs I've read appeal to you? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 14 January 2022

The Old Smokehouse, Rugeley | review

Believe it or not, I'm not a huge fan of Christmas. It was my grandad's favourite time of year and one that he made so special for us all - I've struggled to truly enjoy it since he died, which I know he would hate but it is what it is. He's been gone for 10 Christmases now, and 2021 was the year I decided to get a grip and do something special for the occasion. So I booked my boyfriend and I into the Old Smokehouse in Cannock Chase/Rugeley for the festive period!


I booked through Snaptrip - the booking process was straightforward and I was able to pay a deposit and then pay the balance at a later date. We paid £474 for four nights, from the 23rd-27th December. This meant we were there for the whole of 'actual Christmas', so I was more than happy with the price! We got an email from the owners around a month before we went with all the information we needed, and they communicated with us so well answering any questions we had.

The accommodation

The house is absolutely tiny, but for two people for a couple of nights it was perfect. I wouldn't have liked to stay there any longer as we were both starting to feel a bit cramped, but we did
genuinely adore the house. You enter into a small kitchen complete with mini oven, microwave, toaster, a 2-ring hob and a sink as well as ample cupboard space and all your cutlery, plates and so on. It has a fridge but no freezer, so do bear this in mind. There was a bedroom with a small double bed, a little living area with a sofa and table, and a bathroom which had a toilet, sink and excellent shower. 

The best bit, though, was the hot tub just next to the bedroom - with french doors leading out to this bit straight from the bed, it was just glorious. The tub itself was spacious and had all sorts of bubble settings and so on, and I spent a lot of time in there just relaxing and thinking and daydreaming.

The Old Smokehouse is ideal for a couple, and genuinely does have everything you need. We were even provided dressing gowns and slippers! The heating works brilliantly, and we couldn't fault the place. One tiny snag would be that the wifi isn't great, but it's the countryside so we weren't mad about it...

The area

We don't drive so we got the train to Rugeley Trent Valley, then a taxi to Tesco where we did our Christmas food shop, and then another taxi to the accommodation itself. It's at the bottom of a really long country road, next to a campsite, and opposite Cannock Chase park itself. We definitely felt like we were in the middle of nowhere - meaning it was quiet, beautiful and very green.

We love a drink so we turned right out the driveway and left off the road, onto a main road so we had the Cannock Forest on our right. Here's you'll find Go Ape, a cafe, play area and loads of walking trails. It's an ideal place if you're an outdoorsy person! We, however, are not so we carried on straight down that road in search of The Chase, which is a big Marstons pub that do food and show all the football. There's a dart board and fruit machines, and all of the staff were so friendly - as were the locals. We felt at home immediately and everyone was so welcoming. It's around a half an hour to 40 minute walk but so worth it, and taxis are easily available around here.

As much as we loved The Chase, we did venture further into town and visit some other pubs. One was the Vine Inn, who have their own brewery and also do food. It's a much smaller pub, full of character with a pool table and some outdoor seating too. In the middle of Rugeley (it's a very cute market town) we popped into Bar No3 for some cocktails which were well priced and lovely. Someone had jokingly recommended we go to the Shrew, a strange bar/nightclub that probably would have been bouncing were it not 9pm on Christmas Eve when we visited... if you want cheap drinks and sticky floors though, this is for you!

One thing we both said time and time again during our trip was that the locals are so bloody friendly. Everyone we met was lovely, chatty and full of banter. 

All in all

We absolutely loved our time at The Old Sokehouse. Paul and Lesley, the owners, couldn't do enough for us. They even cooked our roasties for us on Christmas Day, and knocked with hot chocolates for us on Boxing Day. I would recommend a stay here just for them alone! It really is a lovely little secluded haven, with the added hot tub bonus of course, and we adored everyting about it. Take us back...

Is this somewhere you'd stay? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, 10 January 2022

8 amazing January sale picks from LookFantastic

I bloody love a bargain, so a good old January sale is right up my street. I always get a bit of Christmas money and enjoy picking some bits out for myself - so with that in mind, I've popped together a list of the best bargains to be had in the LookFantastic sale right now!

The Natasha Denona Bronze Cheek Palette is down to £20.40 - it's RRP is £51 which is so expensive for a little face palette... but at just over twenty quid it's a really nice treat from such a fancy and luxurious brand.

Everyone raves over the L'Oreal Dream Lengths Wonder Water, which is meant to leave your hair feeling absolutely lush. You can grab it for just £4.95 in the LookFantastic sale!

The liquid eyeshadows from Stila are so pricey, but the Mint Myth shade is currently down to £12 on LookFantastic. Still expensive but these come very highly recommend by make up artists and beauty gurus.

The Active Ingredients set from ESPA is a blooooody bargain right now. You'll pay £45 for a whopping £204 worth of products - you get 5 things including a cleanser, serum, mosituriser, mask and peel!

My favourite eyeshadow palettes are the Zoeva ones, and their six-shade Spice of Life Voyager palette is only £7 right now. Run!!!!

Another eyeshadow palette, but the Illamasqua Firework palette is gorgeous - so colourful and a brand you know you're getting good quality from. It's under £20 in the LookFantastic sale too.

If there's one skincare brand I would recommend 10x over, it's ARK. Their Hydration Injection Masque is down to £17.50 and worth every penny!

The Foreo UFO Mini 2, which you use with specific Foreo masks, is one of those beauty tech products that everyone falls in love with. I've not tried it yet but it's currently £79.50 in the LookFantastic sale and I'm having to seriously talk myself out of ordering it...

Have you ordered anything from the LookFantastic sale this January? Or some beauty bits from elsewhere? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, 7 January 2022

Hand luggage make up hacks

Here's hoping 2022 might see us all travelling a bit more - supporting the tourism industry, experiencing new places and cultures, having a break from reality and so on. If you know me you'll know I love a short city break (like my recent solo trip to Vilnius) and that generally means hand luggage only. I wanted to put a post together with my tips, hacks and product recommendations for making the most of your limited space but still being able to do a full face...

Base products for hand luggage

So one thing that can make packing a hand luggage beauty bag quite difficult is the limitation on liquids. I take two bags; one with dry make up in it, and one with ALL my liquids (shampoo, conditioner and so on too). Primers tend to go in your liquids, at least my favourite ones do. Currently I'm loving the Too Faced Hangover Primer! If you're really struggling for space in your liquids bag, though, you can get primer sticks. I've personally never tried one but Yes To do a 'Cooling Hydrating Primer Stick' and Revolution Pro offer a 'Blur Stick' too. You'd get away with putting these in your dry make up bag for sure.

Foundation is another one that is so often liquid - and for me generally I will take a liquid foundation as they work best on my skin. Again, though, there are alternatives if you need the space! Revolution do a fantastic Fast Base Stick Foundation which I highly recommend - and Make Up Forever do a much more expensive version which is also fantastic. Powder foundation is an option too; not for me with my dry skin, but Jane Iredale do a pressed powder foundation which doesn't take up much space at all in your dry make up bag.

In terms of powder, don't take a big bulky loose powder - everyone knows Rimmel Stay Matte is one of the best in the business, and it's really compact. IT Cosmetics do a great pressed powder too! Concealers are generally tiny anyway, but remember these will have to go in your liquids!

Adding in some colour

When it comes to adding colour to your face, I would definitely recommend a face palette instead of taking a separate contour, bronzer, blusher and highlighter. I've tried a few different ones and here's my verdict...

Charlotte Tilbury Instant Look in a Palette - this comes in a few different 'looks', and each one includes 7 pans with bronzer, blusher, powder and/or highlighter as well as 3 eyeshadow shades. If you don't mind having a limited eyeshadow selection then this is a perfect (albeit expensive) all in one! Excellent quality too.

Pixi Glow Cake Blush - this is an ombre-style palette which stretches from highlighter into blusher into bronzer. It's all very sparkly, but if you are limited on space then it has all the face colour you need AND it lasts well on the skin.

Sleek Face Form - this is a small compact palette with a blusher, bronzer and highlighter shade included. This is great for a budget option and it's definitely a space-saver!

You can get similar products from Nars, Benefit and loads of other brands - they're a great idea for your hand luggage make up bag.

Eye products for hand luggage

One small-ish palette can do wonderful things - especially if you pick something with a wide range of colours. The Urban Decay Naked palettes are a good option, though they can be quite bulky; Charlotte Tilbury quads are fantastic for saving space but then you're obviously limited on colour. My recommendation would be something like the Wet n Wild Colour Icon palettes; they have a fair few shades in them but they're still quite small. They're also really affordable so if you lose your bag while travelling it's not a huge waste of money...

In terms of brows and mascara this can be a tough one because everyone has their staples. These do usually tend to be fairly small so won't take up too much room anyway; if you can get a mini or travel sizeof your favourite mascara though, every little helps! These tend to show up in gift sets, so keep your eyes peeled!

And the rest...

If you're the type of person who needs a setting spray (like me) see if you can get a travel sized one! Urban Decay do a travel-sized All Nighter, which is a really popular option, and plenty of other brands like Pixi, NYX and Smashbox offer minis too.

When it comes to lipstick, this is where I struggle because I want to take every possible shade just in case. In reality though, I know I won't wear them so I just pick out a few that match the eyeshadow colours I've packed as well as my outfits of choice. Liquid lipsticks go in your liquids bag (duh) but you can usually get away with bullet lipsticks or crayons going in your dry make up bag.

I don't compromise on skincare, because my eczema-and-acne combo wouldn't thank me. But again I do always look out for travel sizes, or decant my chosen skincare into smaller containers to a) save space and b) stick within the regulations. Perfume can be decanted into an atomiser to save space too! Get a sturdy clear bag to use, and make sure everything is packed and separated ahead of time. Those airport ones are a waste of money and terrible for the environment. Birchbox do a nice one, and they're cheap in Boots and Primark too.

Another long-ass post from me so thank you for sticking with me to the end - let me know your hand luggage make up hacks below...

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

22 books to read in 2022

I love the start of the year, seeing everyone's reading goals and new book hauls and so on. I know it's a time for resolutions and forward planning so with that in mind, I wanted to share 22 books I think everyone should read (this year or otherwise) to help you out if 'reading more' is on your to-do list...

stronger, faster and more beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

There are few fantasy novels that make it into my 'favourite books ever' list but this is one of them - I think about it often and recommend it to everyone. It's a beautiful story about human modification in the future, told via six interconnecting perspectives as time moves forward. Step into the future and discover what it means to be human, and where the boundaries really lie... Buy it here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Another one I recommend all the time, and one I still think about now despite reading it 5+ years ago. I truly can't say much at all about this one because it would be far too easy to spoil it - there's a huge plot twist that essentially forms the entire basis of the plot, so I don't want to give it away. But this is a tale about family, love, and the strength of a sibling bond... Buy it here.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

If you've ever spoken to me in real life, about books or otherwise, you've probably heard me mention this beautiful book. It is honestly my top #1 book in the whole world and I re-read it at least once a year. It follows Lily, who along with her Black housemaid Rosalie, escapes from her nasty father and sets out on a mission to discover everything she can about her mama. And of course, there's bees. This is a story about finding a family you fit into, and also about the importance of the civil rights campaign in the American south. Buy it here.

The Furies by Katie Lowe

If you want a book about witches that is modern, clever and so very cool - then this is the book for you. Katie writes flawlessly, and this is a teen/coming-of-age drama without the trash; instead, it's peppered with facts and myths, everything so well-researched and relevant. Just an all-round incredible book that I can't speak highly enough of... Buy it here.

Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

All of his books are amazing if you're into twisty thrillers, but this is my favourite of his. It's about a guy who never leaves the house, spending all his time obsessing over online maps and learning the layout of every town and city. One day he sees something in a window in a satellite image - and he's determined to uncover the truth as to why it's there. Buy it here.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This is from 2014 but has had a resurgence recently, thanks to Tik Tok I believe. I got it free on my Kindle while I was away and had loads of time to read - and I was so glad. It's a great book, aimed at younger readers but definitely one everyone can read. It follows a girl who spends her summers on her family's private island, and she's struggling to remember anything from a couple of years ago when there was some sort of incident. With the help of her cousins, she pieces that summer back together... Buy it here

Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

This is sooooooo beautiful. It's set in the near future, with a bit of sci-fi edge to it, and it follows a couple who are trapped in space looking back on the memories of their relationship as they try desperately to save themselves over the course of 90 minutes. Love love loved this book. Buy it here.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

God this is beautiful, and raw, and sad and everything in between. It follows a Black couple and what happens to their marriage after a wrongful conviction - it had me bawling at parts, and it's so well written. So tender. It really examines love, and the fragility of life. Highly recommend! Buy it here.

The Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

If you need a good cry then read this. Another book aimed at a slightly younger audience, this can still be read and enjoyed by everyone which is why I've included it. It's set in a reality where you will be notified when you're about to die, so you can spend your End Day as you wish - and the book follows two young boys, both dying, both wanting to live the whole life in this final 24 hours... Buy it here.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

If you love a psychological thriller like me, then pick this up for sure. I read it during the first lockdown and really enjoyed it - the intesity definitely took my mind off everything going on. I've recommended it to a few people who've enjoyed it, too. It follows a group of women who did *something bad* when they were at school, and it's coming back to haunt them in adulthood! Buy it here.

Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

I couldn't leave Jodi Picoult off this list - I devour all of her books and wanted to choose one of her best to recommend here. Second Glance is definitely up there; set in a tiny town in Vermont where all sorts of unexplained things are happening, it follows ghosthunter Ross who is dealing with the loss of his fiancé. Like all of Jodi's books, it is deep and meaningful with a profound message, as well as being so well written. Buy it here.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I probably don't need to recommend this because I think everyone and their mum has already read it - but in case you haven't heard of it, allow me to introduce it! The story follows Monique, a journalist tasked with writing the life story of movie star Evelyn Hugo. She doesn't know why she's been asked to do it, but it's clear that there *is* a reason. You'll absolutely fall in love with Evelyn as she recounts her dramatic life of fame and fortune! 10/10 would reecommend. Buy it here.

Sleep by C L Taylor

Another thriller for you - this time, set in a hotel on a remote island where some really nasty stuff is going on. The twist is one I genuinely could never have seen coming, which is why I'm recommending it. Just a fantastic read! Buy it here.

Just Before I Died by S K Tremayne 

I loved this book so so so much and have recommended it to a lot of people. It follows a woman who almost dies in an accident, and everything that unfolds after the event. There is so much drama and intensity, and a lot of questions. Was it really just an accident, or is there something more sinister going on? Buy it here.

Haven't They Grown by Sophie Hannah

If you know me or you've read this blog before, you'll know Sophie Hannah is one of my top 5 authors ever. I love literally every book she's ever written, and this is no exception. It's a strange story about a woman who sees her friend's kids 12 years after a fall out - and the kids haven't aged a day... Buy it here.

The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent

This is the perfect book to read on holiday but genuinely you can read it whenever - and you should! It follows Birdy, who secretly takes her friend's place as a sommelier in a posh hotel; it's a hilarious and sometimes intense story about friendship, wine, falling in love and discovering hidden parts of yourself. I absolutely adore this book (and Lizzy) AND it's being turned into a TV show! Buy it here.

Wild Boy by Jill Dawson

I read this for uni in my first year, but I fell in love with the story and it's stuck with me ever since. It's about Victor, the wild boy of Aveyron - the book is based on a true story! It's so well written and weaves a fictional narrative into a real life situation in such a beautiful way. Sad and poignant, this is well worth the read and it's not too long either. Buy it here.

The Switch by Beth O'Leary

If you want a book that is pure fun, this is it. Many people recommend The Flat Share by Beth O'Leary but I really didn't love that one - The Switch is much better in my opinion. It follows a young woman and her grandmother who, for various reasons, decide to swap places for a bit. The whole book is just lovely, funny, clever and of course a bit deep in parts too. Definitely a good easy read if you need one! Buy it here.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

If you're a writer yourself, this is definitely an interesting book - but non-writers will love it too, especially if twisty thrillers are your thing. It follows a college professor who steals the plot from a deceased ex-student. He sees huge success with his novel... but at what cost? Such a good storyline, and really well written too! Buy it here.

The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams

This is a book about sisters, and secrets, and moths. It follows Ginny, a moth expert living as a recluse in her childhood home - the story is set around the return of her sister Vivien, who is coming home after 47 years. This is one of those stories that has stayed with me years after reading it, so I'd definitely recommend it. Buy it here.

The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett

This is the first in a series of books about a foresenic anthropologist - if you like a murdery/thrillery kind of book then add this to your list. It's really detailed in terms of the science behind death, and just a really bloody interesting read. Simon Beckett is a fantastic writer, too! Buy it here.

Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis

When I was sent this book last year I thought it definitely wouldn't be my sort of thing; I generally tend to gravitate towards generic thrillers, with a bit of YA thrown in and then some curveballs. This was definitely a curveball for me and I'm so glad I read it - it follows a man and a woman who meet in a traffic jam, completely at random. But were they destined to meet all along? Buy it here.

If you're still reading this then thank you and sorry it's so long! I've linked to all the books I've recommended via Waterstones (and I get about 2p commission if you buy through these links) but do shop around and save yourself some cash. Sign up to Zilch to get a FREE £15 Amazon voucher to spend on books, and don't forget about cashback sites like Quidco and TopCashback when book shopping!