Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Books I Read in February


In January, I read 17 books. In February, I most definitely did not. I usually read at night, and there were a few nights over the past month where I just had zero energy and went to bed sans kindle.

I got through 12 last month, which puts me well on track for my book challenges.

No galleys or review books this month, all bought and paid for with my own moolah, bar one Christmas gift.

Up first - said Christmas gift:

Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes
This is the kind of book that I can leave on the kitchen table and dip in and out of. It's a beautiful book - it's a small thick hardback with an almost linen-like texture. It's just a pretty book. The pages are packed with words, not filled with filler pictures. Sali gives frank advice and chats about beauty and skincare as if you were meeting a friend for a chat about it. "Women have come home, time and time again, having spent the cost of a decent babysitter on an unwearable foundation that suits no one but an earthenware tagine." I don't know much about Sali, I wasn't aware of her before the book, but she came across as warm, honest and funny. I liked this a lot and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in makeup or skincare. I wish this had been around in the Panstick days.

Book Club Picks
This month, Rick O'Shea chose two Sci-Fi books as his February book club choices.

Wool by Hugh Howey
The first in a trilogy, Wool is a post-apocalyptic novel set in a distant future. Something terrible has happened to the world, nothing is out there but grey skies and the bodies of those who were sent out to "clean" - people now live in a big underground Silo, and see the outside world through cameras and a big screen. Speaking about the outside or expressing a desire to explore the old world is forbidden, and those who break the rules are given what they want - they're sent outside. They are instructed to clean the lenses, nobody knows why they always go through with it and nobody has ever refused to clean. Until now.

I can't even explain how excited I am about this trilogy - I devoured this book, downloaded the graphic novel, devoured that, bought the two sequels, devoured the second one, now can't wait to read the third but am afraid to because it will be over. Does that make sense? Just read it. It is brilliant. It's not standard Sci-Fi fare, it's very much character driven and Howey is a magnificent writer. I gasped out loud more than once while reading.

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
Written after the Second World War, this is another post-apocalyptic novel about a catastrophic event that wipes the majority of humanity out. Those who are not affected are left to maintain some kind of order and to survive. Their greatest adversaries (apart from each other) are the Triffids - enormous plants with the ability to walk and communicate with each other. As Mrs. Weasley said - "Never trust anything that thinks for itself when you can't see where it keeps its brain". Too right.

I was glad this was chosen for book club - I don't think I would have gone near it otherwise. It was a great book, really enjoyable and full of good strong characters.


Love, Tanya by Tanya Burr
I'm not very familiar with Tanya, I've watched a few of her videos and read a bit of her blog but I wouldn't be a superfan. I pre-ordered this book on amazon (WHY?!), I thought it looked pretty and was interested to read a book by a blogger. It was pretty, it was a lovely coffee table book - if you own a coffee table aged fifteen. At 31, I took absolutely nothing from it and I felt ancient reading her tips and tricks. It was a very lovely, sweet book but definitely not for me. Perfect for a younger sibling.

Nothing But the Truth - My Story by Vicky Pattison (Ghostwriter: Jordan Paramor)
Ahh, trust Vicky to bring the gossip! I love Geordie Shore, and this was brilliant. It had loads of behind-the-scenes gossip, Vicky came across as honest and down-to-earth, and was frank about the not-so-nice aspects of her personality - and the not-so-nice aspects of the show. Some of the manipulation surrounding her and Ricci's relationship (and in particular, their engagement) was just jaw dropping and left me wondering why anybody would want to star in a reality TV show. If you're not a fan of Vicky, this definitely won't change that, but it was entertaining and a good read. Much, much better than Holly's book.

Popular: A Memoir. Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
At the time of writing, Maya was fifteen years old. Her father gave her an old copy of "Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide" that he found at a charity shop (they say thrift store, I say charity shop, potato/pot......ato). Maya's mother jokingly suggested that Maya should follow Betty's rules for acquiring the most elusive of things - popularity.  Considering herself to be a social outcast, Maya applied every scrap of advice in the book and wrote about the effects. Bearing in mind that Betty wrote the book in 1951, Maya ends up doing some pretty strange things - we're talking hats, pearls and girdles -  but she learns some really valuable lessons about teenagers and about why people behave the way they do. I ADORED this book. It made me laugh, it made me bawl, it made me happy that there are young people out there like Maya who aren't afraid to step outside their comfort zone for the greater good. This should be compulsory reading for 15 year olds.

Light Reads

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
A sort-of sequel to one of my favourite Sarah Addison Allen books, Garden Spells, this also works as a standalone novel. It revisits the magical Waverley sisters, who have special gifts. Set ten years after the first book, fans will relish finding out what happened to their favourite characters. The Waverley sisters are happy - until one of them has a crisis of identity and begins to doubt herself. Throw a mysterious old man into the mix and there could be trouble for one of the girls - who is he, and why is he there? This won't go to the top of my must-read list like Garden Spells, but it was great to revisit the characters. 

The Man Who Can't Be Moved by Tilly Tennant
You're already singing it, aren't you? As was I for the duration of the book. Inspired by the song of the same name, and pretty much with the same storyline, this is a book about a man who tries to win back his ex-girlfriend by camping out on the corner of the street where they first met. Journalist Ellie is sent to cover the story, and gets a little too involved trying to get the pair back together while also acting as a go-between for her estranged parents and a help to her terminally ill Aunt.

This was a pleasant read, I enjoyed Tilly's other book Hopelessly Devoted to Holden Finn so that's why I picked this up. It was an ideal Sunday afternoon read - not too taxing, bit predictable, but with just enough in there to keep me reading. An ideal holiday or hospital book. 


The Book of You by Claire Kendal
Well, this was scary. Clarissa is being harrassed by her work colleage, Rafe. He appears to know her every movement and is obsessed with her. She is frightened by him, and he is unwavering in his attempt to get her to return his affections. When she gets called for Jury duty on what looks like it's going to be a pretty long case, she is overjoyed - weeks away from Rafe. But Rafe won't stand for that, and he won't take no for an answer. As Clarissa begins to draw disturbing parallels between her situation and the case in Court, she realises that Rafe may be more dangerous than she ever thought.

I drew similarities between this and Fifty Shades of Grey in this post - because it really reminded me of the franchise. Rafe was incredibly scary, he was completely obsessed with Clarissa, a real Christian Grey. I actually couldn't read this at night, I had to read it during the day. Excellent writing.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
I downloaded this after reading Cat's review. Mia is missing - but we don't get to hear her point of view. Instead, this story goes back and forth, from before Mia has been abducted to after she has been found, and is told from the viewpoint of her mother, her abductor, and the Detective investigating the case. I thought it was a little too long in parts, it could have been shorter, but it was a pretty good read. Anything that keeps me thinking "I'll just go one more chapter" after 12am is worth a shot!

Finally, I went back to the whole Wool universe with these:

Hugh Howey's Wool: The Graphic Novel by Palmiotti/Gray/Broxton
A graphic novel adaptation of Wool for kindle, this was the first time I'd read anything like this in a digital format. To be honest, I'm not a fan - I prefer to have a physical comic or graphic novel in my hands, because the scenes flow better on paper. Regardless, this was a fine adaptation and works really well as a companion to the novel. There's far too much left out for it to work as a standalone thing, I wouldn't recommend it if you haven't read the book. 

Shift (The Wool Saga #2) by Hugh Howey
This isn't a continuation of Wool. It's a prequel. It comprises three parts - first shift, second shift, and third shift. We get to see why and how the Silo was built, what happened to cause uprisings and downfalls, and get inside the head of someone who was integral in the initial building of the Silo. But did he know what he was building? This takes us right up to the end of Wool, and I am excited to read Dust knowing the back story. Brilliant, just bloody brilliant. 

And there we have it - I accumulated a few more books in February - unplanned, but that Amazon 3 for £10 combined with the one-click is too easy to get lost in. Then you get to £20 and think "oh another one will get me free shipping" and this happens:

On to March!

What are you reading right now? Would you recommend it? 

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

The World's Easiest Birthday Cake - Mary Berry's All-in-One Sponge


When our eldest lad turned ten last September, we had a cake made. It was nice, but it was massive and I couldn't help but feel that we had paid €45 for what was, essentially, a lump of icing on a cakeboard.

When the twins were due to turn one in October, I decided that I'd give the cake a go myself. I didn't want anything fancy schmancy - they weren't even having any of it - but I knew what I didn't want. With that in mind, I turned to the Mother of Cakes - Mary Berry.

Her all-in-one Victoria Sandwich recipe seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. A tasty cake that everyone could enjoy, with no big lumps of icing. As much as I love the gorgeous looking creations on Pinterest, I hate icing. Hate it. With a passion.

I did a practice run, and got the ingredients in Tesco. The total price (including the stuff for filling) was well under €15. Big difference from €45! There were even ingredients left over for the next time.

You Will Need:
* 4 Free-Range Eggs.
* 225g Caster Sugar.
* 225g Self-Raising Flour - or 225g Plain Flour and 2 tsp Baking Powder.
* 225g Baking Spread or Margarine.

* Strawberry Jam
* Fresh Strawberries
* Whipping Cream
* Frosting (Optional - I used a ready-made tub of Betty Crocker Vanilla Frosting)
* Sprinkles (Optional)

Take your butter and eggs out of the fridge and leave them out for a half an hour before making the cake.

Preheat oven to Gas 4/180c/350f.
Grease two 8-inch Sandwich Tins with a tiny bit of the baking spread, and then line them with greaseproof paper. Turn the tins upside down on the paper and draw around them to get the right size.

After that - throw all the cake ingredients in a bowl together and mix with a hand or electric whisk. THAT IS IT.

Divide the mixture between the two tins and put in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

They're done when they are golden brown and starting to come away from the edge of the tins. Whip your cream when the cakes are baking - don't overwhip.

Turn them out on to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Put one of the sponges on your serving plate, right side up, then spread with a layer of strawberry jam. You can add some chopped fresh strawberries if you want - I didn't bother with them for the practice cake. Then add a generous dollop of whipped cream and spread out.
Spread another layer of jam on to the top of the other sponge (right side up), then put it on top of the other cake, jam side down. That just makes sure that your dodgy bumpy tops are covered and your cake looks nice!

For the actual birthday cake, He Who is Afraid of Chemists suggested that it "doesn't look fancy enough". Hummph. So I bought a big tub of Betty Crocker vanilla frosting, some sprinkles, and went at the second version of my cake with a piping bag and some fresh strawberries.

I know it looks a bit amateur but I am not Mary Berry - it was delicious. Seriously, there wasn't a scrap of it left. That's probably a good thing, considering the amount of butter and sugar gone into it - but it was SO YUMMY.

I'm not going to go into calories, Syns, ProPoints, etc - it's a Birthday Cake. One lovely big slice of it a few times a year isn't going to kill any of us.

Roll on next family birthday!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: Maange Makeup Brush Dryer from AliExpress


Last month I was browsing Aliexpress, looking at cheap acrylic storage, when I came across this makeup brush dryer. I had never seen anything like it, so I ordered one to see what it was like. It cost $11.27 USD with free shipping which is just under €10.

The dryer took just under a month to get here, which is pretty okay going by Aliexpress shipping times. I have found that it tends to take a little longer than eBay, but everything I've ever ordered here has gotten here safely - just choose a seller with good feedback.

Anyway, I am a tit. And here is why. When I got this, I was a bit underwhelmed by the fact that the ones on the site were white or black, and I got a brown one that looked like MDF. It's plastic, and I thought it looked a bit meh, but that maybe I'd brighten it up with acrylics at some stage. I literally only just realised this minute that it's backing paper. That I need to peel off.

I'm a gobshite.

Anyway - I have the photos done and the brushes washed so we shall have to bear with the backing paper for now! Here's what it looks like in reality.

The one I chose has space for four big brushes, six medium brushes, and sixteen small brushes. I managed to squeeze face brushes into the medium holes too, which was handy. There are ones with all big holes or all small holes, you can have a look at those here.

To use this, wash your brushes (I use Daiso, aka the Holy Grail of brush cleaners), squeeze out as much excess water as you can, take the top flat part of the dryer off, and stand the brushes up in the holes. Don't push them down too hard.

When it's full, turn it upside down and pop the top back on the stand.

And there you go! Job done. Put it somewhere warm and your brushes will dry. I put mine on top of a couple of books in front of the radiator overnight, and they were all pretty much 100% dry in the morning - except my big Blank Canvas face brush, that took a little longer.

Finding somewhere to lay a long towel for brushes to dry has been, frankly, a pain in the arse lately, so this is ideal.

Monday, February 23, 2015

25 Years of Ziaja + a 1989 Flashback

***Disclaimer: Products provided for review. Opinion 100% honest and 100% mine.***


Today I want to talk about skincare brand Ziaja, who are celebrating their 25th year in operation this year.

Ziaja were founded in Poland in 1989 by Aleksandra and Zenon Ziaja. Their first product was an Olive Oil cream, so in celebration of their 25th year, they have released a range of olive leaf products.

There are five products in the range:

* Cleansing Oil
* Concentrated Nourishing Cream
* Duo-Phase Makeup Remover
* Regenerating Mask
* Gel Scrub

I was sent three products from the range to try out:

Cleansing Oil
Described as a "waterless cleanser", I wasn't 100% sure what this actually was. The first time I used it, I used it in the shower and it ran all over the place. The next time I made sure to actually read the instructions, and used it sparingly in the shower. It's very gentle on the skin, and helps to lock in moisture and prevent dryness. I do like how this leaves my skin - the only thing I would like is a pump instead of the current cap, as I found it hard to manage when my hands were wet. I'm not sure if I would use it on my face, but I will definitely use it on my body. This costs €9.99.

Regenerating Mask with Hyaluronic Acid
This is a very generous sized mask - I've used it once now and still have enough for another application. It didn't dry my skin out, some other masks have left me aching for moisturiser. My face felt lovely and smooth and felt really soft. It's not heavily scented, I had no tightening, and my skin drank it up - I didn't have anything left to wash off after a few minutes! Lovely, will repurchase. This costs €0.69 for a sachet that will give at least two good applications. Fantastic value!

Concentrated Nourishing Cream Spf 20+ Protection (UVB + UVA)
At just €5.99 for 50ml, this is my favourite of the bunch. After spending a ridiculous amount of time on Caroline Hirons' website a few weeks ago, I've really tried to concentrate on my skin in the morning as well as the evening. This is a great little moisturiser - it smells lovely, it's nice and thick, and it sinks in really well. It makes my face feel hydrated, and it doesn't leave a greasy residue on my hands. All that, and it has SPF too - winner. I do still use a separate SPF because I am Casper-like and need all the protection I can get, but this is definitely a welcome addition to my routine. My T-Zone gets very dry, makeup tends to cling to it and cake - this really has helped with that along with a change in primer.  It's not often that I will desert products I've bought myself in favour of something I've been sent - but that is definitely the case with this, hand on heart I have used it every day since I got it.

So - congratulations to Ziaja on 25 years. I will admit this is my first experience with the brand, so I can't comment on whether other ranges live up to this one - but this was definitely very positive. The range is lovely, and the value for money is very impressive. Ziaja also refrain from testing on animals, which is brilliant.

You can find the official Ziaja store for the Republic of Ireland here on Original Beauty.

Back to 1989 (not the Taylor Swift album - but thanks, Taylor, for rendering google searches for the year "1989" almost impossible). In 1989 in Ireland, we were watching as Charlie Haughey teamed up with the Progressive Democrats to slime back into power again. Well - I say "we" - I was six in 1989, so I was probably not arsed - I do know that I would definitely have been watching this:

Who remembers the People in Need Telethon? It was first broadcast in September 1989, and went on to be televised 8 more times over the next 18 years. We definitely did something in school for this, because I remember the excitement, but I haven't a baldy notion what it was.

Some of the best films of my childhood were released in 1989 - here's a selection. Did you go to see any of them in the cinema?

Given the week that's in it, I thought it would be fun to have a look at some pictures from the 61st Academy Awards in 1989. Here's a small selection:

Image: oscars.org. Geena Davis, Best Supporting Actress The Accidental Tourist. 
Image: hollywoodreporter.com. Jodie Foster, Best Actress The Accused.
Image: hollywoodreporter.com. Tom Cruise & Mimi Rogers. 
Image: toronto.virginradio.ca. Demi Moore & Bruce Willis.
1989 was also a huge year in music, with many iconic albums being released. In honour of one of my favourite bands, and of Ziaja's homeland Poland - here's a song that hit the Polish charts in 1989 and stayed on there for a massive 43 weeks. Poland, you have good taste.

Do give Ziaja a whirl - especially that olive leaf nourishing cream. It's brilliant.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Glossybox February


I was all geared up to do my second Beauty Box Battle so was waiting for my Chic Treat Club box - but there won't be one! Sadly, Chic Treat Club is no more, which I was really sad to hear. I didn't have a great first box and was sure that things would look up this month - but things were not to be, unfortunately. Still, they had a great year and I wish Amy and Darren all the best with their new adventure!

So - that leaves me with just the one monthly subscription, for Glossybox.

This month was a love themed box, and it was a cutie:

Inside were five products and a little mini pack of Love Hearts (not pictured) that I fully intended to eat on Valentine's Day but gave them to my son when he spotted them.

There were three full-sized products in this month's box, and two samples.

Wilkinson Sword Hydro Silk Razor

I was delighted to see this - it retails for €12.99 on the Boots website (refills are €11.39 for a pack of 3). I've been meaning to buy a proper razor for ages and just never got round to it, so this was very welcome. Full size.

Marsk Mineral Eyeshadow in Fifty Shades

I'm not familiar with mineral eyeshadow - this looked a bit scary in the pot. I thought it would be really dark, but when I swatched it, it's actually an incredibly pigmented steel grey colour that would look amazing with a dark smokey eye look. This is also a full size product and retails for £14.49/€19.60 on the marsk website.

Royal Apothic Tinties Lip Butter in Coral

This is so cute! The packaging is gorgeous, and the lip butter itself is really nice. It made my lips feel smooth and *insert word that rhymes with hoist*, and it had a lovely coconut scent. It's another full size product, and retails at $14/€12.30.

So Susan Rose Quarted Lip & Cheek Palette

Leaving aside my opinion that lipstick in palettes should join baked beans and ventriloquist dummies on a special shelf in the seventh level of hell, this is a complete dud. While the outside cardboard box looks cute and appealing, the compact looks and feels cheap, like play make-up from one of those sets I had as a child. It's not even filled properly - look:

I can safely say that I would not wear any of the colours on either my lips or my cheeks - I found them very old fashioned. I gave this away to someone approaching their sixties who was delighted with it. Here's a quick swatch:

This was a sample sized product, the full size retails at $12/€10.50 and you can look at it here. Sample estimated at €5.25

Face D 3-Luronics Anti Dark Circles Eye Cream

I've seen some other people get a hair product or brow product as their fifth item, but I was SO glad to receive this. Face D isn't a brand I've tried before, but my dark circles are reaching ridiculous levels over the past few weeks and this promises to reduce them FOREVER. See? Says right there on the front. FOR.EV.ER. Do I believe it? No. Will I use it? Hell yes. Delighted! The full size of this costs €22.95 for 15ml at Lloyds Pharmacy. The sample was 7ml, estimated at €11.50.

So - overall I was delighted with the box. It cost me under €18, the total value was a massive €61.64. The razor and lip tintie were my favourites, followed by the eye cream and mineral eyeshadow. I thought the variety was really good this month.

Nicely done, Glossybox.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lancome Miracle Cushion Foundation Compact

**PR Sample. Opinion 100% Mine.**


At the very start of the year, British Beauty Blogger Jane predicted that 2015 would be the year that we start seeing more of an Asian influence in the Western beauty world.

As usual, she wasn't wrong - and Lancome were quick off the mark with the release of their version of the incredibly popular cushion foundation compact. A new concept to most of us, the cushion compacts are a big deal in Asia, where they are considered a staple item in any daily makeup routine. A quick glance at eBay throws up any number of brands, and I have ordered one to have a play around with so I'll have that for you whenever it arrives.

Back to Lancome:

The packaging is sleek - a sturdy white compact with a silver lid. It just about fits in the palm of my hand.

There's a mirror in the lid when you open it, plus a little puff applicator sponge. I am NOT a fan of sponges like this when it comes to foundation, mainly because I tend to get the odd spot lately so would be afraid of spreading infection. I treat puffs the same way I look at those spongey eyeshadow applicators that come with quads - in the bin. If they are your thing - brilliant! You have hit jackpot. Me personally, I'd pop a brush in my bag with it.

When you lift the plastic part containing the puff, you get to the good stuff - the cushion foundation. It's covered with a little sticker:

That you can peel off to reveal...

Ta-da! The cushion part is springy, and looks really wet.

It actually looked a bit like mousse when I pressed my finger into it. It was light, and you could almost see the air bubbles. It's water based, and stays cool (more about temperature in a minute). It blended really well:

As you can see, the shade is far too dark for me. It does come in more shades - this is 03. There are three darker shades and two lighter shades, I'm usually an 005 in Lancome or an 01 depending on the time of year (and if I have gradual tan or bronzer on). I passed this along to my darker-skinned sister in law, who has been using it for work and says it's really handy to have in her bag for touch-ups.

Something else I found interesting about this was the claim about temperature:

Apparently, the temperature in the compact is a little lower so that the foundation is cool on the skin, leaving it instantly refreshed. I can't vouch for these claims as I haven't worn it on my face, but my sister-in-law is very happy with it. The fact that it contains an SPF of 23 is a big plus too.

Overall I'm intrigued, and I still want to try out a cushion foundation properly. I love that we are starting to see more innovative products over here, it's nice to see brands stepping out of their comfort zone to bring us a little of what the other side of the world are enjoying regularly.

Lancome Miracle Cushion foundation is available nationwide at Lancome counters and online at usual retailers for €38. The compact can be refilled, those refills are priced at €25.