Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Brambling Books: May

Welcome back to this monthly series on the blog, in which I have a quick chat about and review what I've been reading this month. Despite my best efforts to stick to my Goodreads  challenge of 52 books this year, I'm currently five books behind and only read three this month, and one of those I didn't even technically finish. I was slow to start in May because the books I was reading were either heavy-going or not at all enjoyable to read, meaning I frequently wasn't looking forward to reading. It will all make sense when you see what I was reading and why I struggled so much, but safe to say that I ended the month on a much lighter note.

Crime and Punishment review, Rebel of the Sands review, Sugar Money review

Sugar Money, Jane Harris

It's rare for me not to finish a book, and I can only think of very few books I have enjoyed as little as I did this one. Sugar Money is a true story, following two enslaved brothers who are sent by their masters, and order of French monks, to retrieve a group of slaves who they believe belong to them. They travel from Martinique to Grenada on their unwilling mission, the younger brother, Lucien, enthusiastic about the adventure and the elder Emile realistic about the dangers they will face.

The book is extremely character driven, normally something I love, but ultimately this book wasn't for me. The graphic torture made me feel slightly unwell; and I found the mixture of creole and English inconsistent and distracting. I quite enjoy colloquialisms within books and generally don't have a problem, but I really didn't like the way it was done in Sugar Money.

In the end, I didn't finish this book, but I did go on to read more about the real life events that inspired it, and found the factual descriptions of the plot much more interesting than in the book. When I read a book I do so to become one with the characters and go on a journey with them, but in this case I struggled to connect with either Lucien or Emile and was frequently pulled out the plot by the choice of words. I'm sure that may people may enjoy (although perhaps that's the wrong word) this book, but ultimately it wasn't for me.

1/10



Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

I've been meaning to read some of the Russian classics for as long as I can remember, and 2018 was the year I finally got round to it. I grabbed Crime and Punishment on whim, not really knowing what to expect, and ended up really enjoying it. For all that the story was bleak, dealing with madness, murder and poverty, there was a central theme of "it will be alright in the end" which kept me going.

It follows Rodion Raskolnikov as he plans a murder. Believing himself justified by circumstance and character, he follows through with his plan, leading to period of illness and madness brought on by the trauma of the event. In the aftermath of the murder his mind drifts between senility and sensibility, as he grapples with what he has done while simultaneously becoming a generous benefactor to a bereaved family and destroying his sister's unhappy engagement. It's the tale of man who logically believes himself superior but at his core knows he is only a man, and must therefore suffer the consequences of his actions.

I was surprised by the way Crime and Punishment was written, following Raskolnikov's thoughts and travelling down unexpected paths at any moment; it's reminiscent of James Joyce's work, but far more accessible to the reader. In some ways this manner of writing makes the novel difficult to read for long periods of time, but it also has a tendency to draw the reader back into the plot. For anyone interested in crime or philosophy this is definitely worth a read.

7/10



Rebel of the Sands, Alwyn Hamilton

After those two books I found myself craving something lighter and easier to read, and Rebel of the Sands was the perfect solution. On the same day that I finished Crime and Punishment, I picked this up and didn't put it down until I finished. I absolutely adored every character, and the plot was interesting and unusual enough to keep me turning the pages until late at night. 

It follows Amani, an orphaned girl living in the desert country of Miraji, who desperately wants to escape her backwater town. She's uniquely talented gunslinger who latches onto Jin, a mysterious foreigner, and uses him to run away from her unfortunate circumstances. She becomes embroiled in a simmering civil war and is drawn into events on the world stage, despite her best efforts to avoid exactly that.

It's a light, fun and engaging read, with interesting characters and a world I want to learn more about, especially the magical creatures that haunt the nights. I'll be reading the rest of the series and have reserved the next book at the library so there's a good chance that I'll be writing about it next month!

9/10



That's all for this month, I hope you're all enjoying this little series and hopefully you'll find something new to read.

 

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Crime and Punishment review, Rebel of the Sands review, Sugar Money review

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Monday, 28 May 2018

Monday Medley #38

Happy bank holiday to everyone who doesn't work in retail! I am so sorry for you all and so glad that I made it out and into a soul-crushing office job. It's been a week of sunshine and thunderstorms, although it seems like London got the worst of the storms and Manchester was spared and suffered only suffocating humidity. This week I'm sharing a few more favourites including some really great bloggers, so keep reading to find out who they are.


Everything I've loved reading and watching in the fourth week of May.


WATCHING

My boyfriend and I have been watching Safe on Netflix as an alternative to Arrested Development, which we've been marathoning ahead of the release of season five tomorrow. Safe is kind of rubbish, and honestly doesn't make a lot of sense in some ways as it was clearly originally set in America but has been badly transplanted to the North of England. It was partially filmed in Manchester, meaning we get to hoot with laughter upon seeing how they've managed to turn a bar into a slightly different bar for the purposes of the story, and we frequently recognise the areas as local. It's basically a who-done-it, involving a missing daughter and a mystery surrounding her late mother. For all that it's kind of rubbish in terms of dialogue and the English conversion, the plot is gripping enough that we're still watching.

READING

Charlotte's post about how she's denying the old adage "comparison is the thief of joy" and instead using it as a motivation to perform better. It's definitely a fine line to walk but I know what she means about looking at others to inspire you to improve. It's well worth a read and definitely left me feeling fired up and inspired. 

Travel is one of the greatest joys in my life and I'm always looking for new ideas for where to go next (or when I win the lottery) and Beth's post on three European destinations she's adding to her list has definitely convinced me to see a little more of Europe. Somehow, I've never been to Athens despite studying Ancient History at university, and the Alhambra has long been on my list of things to see soon. Definitely one to read if you're planning your next holiday!


Imii's posts are always well-written and this is no exception, as she talks about the importance of creating content you love. I've definitely fallen into the trap of making content for the sake of it, and it was very obvious to my readers. I didn't look happy in my photos and my writing was boring, but I'm on a roll with content at the moment and thoroughly enjoying working on my blog of late.


That's all for this week, hope you're all having a warm and sunny bank holiday wherever you are, and if you're stuck inside at work I hope you at least have air-con. See you next week!




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Friday, 25 May 2018

Allowing Myself To Be Happy

I haven't always been good at being happy. Well, that's half the truth. A few years ago I was in a pretty bad place, yet on the surface, I appeared perfectly content. I've become very good at appearing happy and stable, even when the reality is quite different. Being able to laugh and have fun in the moment despite deep emotional distress isn't unusual or unique, but I do think that I do it well.

How I'm finally allowing myself to be happy and why it took me so long
Shout out to my boyfriend's reflection!
I've made a deliberate effort in recent years to be more open with my emotions, occasionally to the point of being almost blasé as I talk about how I am. It's not exactly a perfect solution, as even though I end up talking about my feelings I'm not always really communicating them. I'm working on it.

It's definitely an improvement over how I used to deal with emotions, meaning I at least manage to talk to friends and rely on them, something I was never very good at. I'm far from self-sufficient, but when I'm unhappy I actively withdraw and shut myself off from others. Recognising that this is unhealthy is what motivated me to try and speak about how I'm really feeling. I'm still not great at it, but it's a neverending path to self-improvement.

Right now, my life is more stable and happy that it has been since sixth form, almost ten years ago. I finally feel like I have my feet on the ground and can really look ahead without having to watch where I'm stepping. At the same time, I feel like I have a clearer idea of what I need to be happy and how to go about achieving and maintaining it. I've learnt what makes me unhappy, and while I'm definitely not always good at doing what's best for me, just knowing what is and isn't a good choice is a step in the right direction.

I'm finally starting to feel like I deserve to be happy; like making good choices is something my body and mind deserve. I used to get stuck in a loop of feeling miserable and making bad choices because I hated myself, which just made me feel worse. I'm finally moving away from that negative cycle. For now, I think I'm going to try to allow myself to be happy.

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How I'm finally allowing myself to be happy and why it took me so long

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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Four Summer Outfits

I'm still somewhat taken aback by the sheer heat in the UK of the last few weeks, which has reduced me to a bit of a mess, quivering in the shade because I forgot to bring the factor 50 with me for top-ups. My wardrobe has always been inadequate for Summer, as I definitely prefer Autumnal fashion and it's what I'm drawn to. I have a thousand jumpers, scarves and pairs of jeans littering the bottom of my wardrobe, half of which no longer fit, yet come anything approaching warm and I'm flummoxed. 

This hasn't been too much of a problem in the past, as I have to dress a certain way for work anyway and Summer doesn't impact that too much thanks to the air con, and I have a tendency to stay inside Gollum-like whenever the mercury edges over 15 degrees. This year I was determined to actually make the most of the warmer weather. As I'm living with my sun-loving boyfriend, if I actually want to spend time with him I either have to keep him cooped up inside or venture out into the sun. So this year, I've stocked up on the sun cream and am applying it liberally, not just on my face, and have invested a little in some outfits I can wear on hot days. 

How I've made my Winter wardrobe work for Summer
 
I bought this little black dress from ASOS as it's super flowy and casual, and goes with absolutely everything. Simply throwing on a pair of Converse and bag and I feel so good about myself, although as it's short and breezy an errant wind meant I flashed most of Manchester that day. I had knickers on and better things to do so I'm okay with it. I also think this could work in Winter with a pair of opaque tights and a coat, so I suspect that I'll be getting a lot of wear out of it. FYI I bought my normal size and it was still quite a loose fit.
 
How I've made my Winter wardrobe work for Summer

Since even in Summer I love my black jeans, I figured it would be good to figure out a way to wear them for the days when it's warm but not boiling. Black jeans and a black t-shirt are a classic for me, especially with my failsafe loafers, paired with this green Topshop bag I got from Depop. It's the kind of outfit that I feel comfortable in without the jacket and I can get away with it to work when paired with a jacket like this.
 
How I've made my Winter wardrobe work for Summer

As I'm hella sensitive to the sun a jacket seemed like a good idea for this outfit, especially since I'd run out of antihistamines, and I love this one from Monki. I bought it on the day the Manchester store opened which meant I got 20% off, and I'm a massive fan of the cropped sleeves and the yellow that's part of the check. It looks quite beige online but in real life it's more cool-toned; I'm wearing a medium and it fits me well as a size 16.

How I've made my Winter wardrobe work for Summer

You've seen this spotty black Topshop dress many times on the blog, and since I loved wearing it last Winter I was determined to make it work for Summer. Simply adding the sandals I bought in New Zealand and a hat I picked up in M&S made all the difference, combined with that green bag again.

How I've made my Winter wardrobe work for Summer

I bought these big round sunglasses from H&M after I broke my last pair; I'm still not sure if I look cool or ridiculous but I'm going with it regardless! These photos were from a really amazing walk to this bridge by a canal in Manchester that my boyfriend found and thought would be perfect for photos, and I have to say that I agree.

How I've made my Winter wardrobe work for Summer

This was the outfit I planned to wear at the Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam before I was betrayed by the weather forecast! I was so glad that I finally got to wear it for a little wander around the Northern Quarter before getting a Five Guys (you may have seen the photos on my Instagram), which was a lovely morning where I met this great cat that kept staring at me and fell in love with this green and red brick building.

How I've made my Winter wardrobe work for Summer

The hat is the same one from M&S, but unfortunately the skirt is old Urban Outfitters and the jumper is old H&M so I don't have links for you.

How I've made my Winter wardrobe work for Summer

I think overall I was successful in converting a few items to work for Summer by combining them with a few new pieces. I find that I really enjoy shooting fashion posts or even just photos that have me in them and the posts with my face tend to do better as well, so you'll be seeing lots more of my silly grin. How do you make Winter oufits work for Summer?



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How I've made my Winter wardrobe work for Summer
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Monday, 21 May 2018

Monday Medley #37

Happy Monday everyone! I hope you had a good weekend whether you're a fan of the Royals or not. Personally, I was a staunch parliamentarian as a child, having been heavily influenced by far left Grandpa, but as I've got older I've mellowed a lot more and don't have a major issue with the Royal family, especially not as individuals. They do a lot of good although I'm not a fan of what they stand for. I think by now though we've all had enough of the hype and are quite happy to just get on with our lives, so without further ado I'll get on with the usual round-up of the best things I've been reading and watching in the last week.


Everything I've loved reading and watching in May, including The Handmaid's Tale.


WATCHING

Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale is returning to Channel 4 but I've already sneakily watched the first four episodes online and guys you're in for a wild ride. Seriously, shit gets real.

READING

Visiting Christchurch in 2015 was one of the most emotional experiences of my life, as I was stunned by the devastation wrought by the 2011 earthquake that remained, which was sat happily alongside a flourishing city. Charlie visited more recently and wrote a post all about the city's street art, something which was in its nascent stage when I visited. I love street art of all kinds and Christchurch is an incredible city rebuilding from rubble; this post is well worth a read.

Last week I talked about the wonder that is Eurovision, and I've considered going to the finals in the past but never quite managed it. Well, Becky actually did and had the most incredible time and I loved her post all about her adventures in Lisbon, meeting crazy fans and experiencing a new city in the throes of a huge celebration.

I'm very excited to tell you that I'm going to Paris with my Mum at the end of June and have been looking for a few things to do that are slightly off the beaten track; Sophie's post about a library in a Parisian ghost town sounds right up our street, as it means books and not too many people, and reading and ignoring people are some of mine and my mother's favourite things to. It looks absolutely incredible, and I'm hoping we find time to visit next month.

I'll be back next week with more things I'm loving. TTFN.


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Friday, 18 May 2018

The Floating Flowers of Amsterdam

There's only one more Amsterdam blog post after this and I'm quite sad about it! I've loved talking about all the things I got up to on my trip there and it was a really wonderful time. This week, I wanted to share a few photos from the Bloemenmarkt, which is the world's only floating flower market. It's one of Amsterdam's most famous attractions, and is definitely worth a visit if you're in the city.

Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt

It's the place to go for flowers of all kinds, whether that's bouquets, potted plants, seeds and bulbs, or even artificial flowers, they have everything in a riot of colours. They also sell the traditional wooden tulips that a lot of people buy, and they're really quite pretty. Looking back I wish I'd bought some since it's a nightmare keeping plants alive in my flat, but I guess I'll just have to go back to Amsterdam soon!

Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt
Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt
Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt
Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt Cat
Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt
Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt Wooden Tulips

It's really easy to find the Bloemenmarkt, as it's centrally located and you can spot it easily once you're on the right canal. A few of the stalls sell some tacky souvenirs, but the actual flowers themselves are gorgeous. I wish I'd had the opportunity to buy some plants as the cacti in particular were great, but I couldn't exactly bring them back in my hand luggage.

Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt Cacti


Have you visited the Bloemenmarkt or have you added it to your Amsterdam bucket list?



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Talking all about the Bloemenmarkt of Amsterdam
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Wednesday, 16 May 2018

My Plants Keep Dying

I am a terrible plant owner. No matter what I do my plants seem to die, with the exception of a cactus I've had since university. The most recent loss was a gorgeous fiddle fig which has been gradually losing its leaves one by one, each mourned by my boyfriend and I. When we eventually reached one leaf we bit the bullet and binned it. As to how it died, we couldn't figure out if it was under watering or over watering, lack of sunlight or my worried hovering stressing it out, but it's safe to say that I am not the best with plants.


How I'm trying to stop my plants dying

We've been through a lot of plants since moving here, as I gradually figured out where the hot spots, cold spots, dark spots and light spots of the new space. I'm not great with plants in general, but I think our slightly shadowy flat doesn't help. The plant pictured is a relatively recent purchase, but I've had to move it from its perch in the kitchen to near the window because several leaves were turning yellow and dropping off; I think I've saved it, but we'll have to see what happens in the long run. 

I've concluded that I can only keep plants alive if they're right near the window, as we look out onto a narrow road surrounding by buildings with very little direct sunlight. I'm currently in the process of looking for a flat to buy and light is a definite priority as plants make such a difference to a space and make me feel so much calmer. In the meantime, I'm buying fresh cut flowers and lots of vases because they survive a while even in the darkness of the bathroom and bring a bit of colour to the room. I'm currently sticking with cacti and succulents literally on the windowsill, as they seem to be the only thing that lasts more than a couple of weeks, but I think I'll have to hold out for my next flat to build my ideal green palace.

If you have any tips for keeping plants alive in a dark space let me know!



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How I'm trying to stop my plants dying

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Monday, 14 May 2018

Monday Medley #36

Happy Monday everyone! I hope your weekends were as filled with sunshine as mine, although this photo from Amsterdam isn't exactly filled with blue skies I assure that here in Manchester it was a gorgeous weekend. My boyfriend and I spent a lot of time just enjoying the weather and taking lots of photos which will be popping up on the blog over the next few weeks, as well as binge watching Arrested Development in an effort to rewatch the whole thing before Season Five starts at the end of May. Although I struggled with timings a bit last week, I was really happy with the blog posts I put up, as I got to talk about something slightly controversial in one, and something very personal in the other and the whole thing was very cathartic. This week's content is a little more light hearted and features lots of plants, so keep an eye out for greenery over the next few days! For now though, here are a few of my favourites from the last week.


Everything I loved reading and watcing in the second week of May.

WATCHING


I've always loved Eurovision but wasn't this year dramatic?! Getting together with loved ones for a night of camp dancing and off key singing in foreign languages is always a highlight for me, and I spent it this year eating sweets on the sofa with my boyfriend. I really did think the UK deserved better this year, especially after the stage invasion, but Israel's song was a proper Eurovision one and I can see why people voted for it. I'm not sure how I feel about that victory politically, and I've seen the term cultural appropriation thrown around in relation to the act, but Eurovision isn't supposed to be about politics so I'm not going to get too up in arms about it. Next year should be interesting...

READING


Okay, GDPR has got to be one of the most confusing things ever for bloggers, and unfortunately it applies to almost all of us. I think I'm now GDPR compliant thanks to a very short and sweet privacy policy, but after next payday I may spring for an online custom privacy policy to make doubly sure that it's all a-okay. I had no idea that this new law was remotely relevant to me until I read this post from Wonder Forest which talks you through it. Well worth a read for anyone with a blog!

Since I'm going to be talking all things plants this week I had to include Gwennan's post all about homeware for plant lovers and I kind of need everything on this list. *surreptitiously forwards to boyfriend for birthday ideas*

I've been to Turkey before on a cruise and didn't have the best time, what with the heat and being a grumpy teenager. However, Turkey has been back on my mind lately as a place which is warm, beautiful and only a few hours away, and Hayley's post on several cities in the country has got me thinking that it might be the perfect spot for a getaway late in the year. She features some gorgeous photos and a few cities I've never heard of, and I'm definitely thinking about a visit some time soon!


Speak to you next Monday when I'll be sharing more great things that I'm loving! And pop your hot take on Eurovision down in the comments!



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Friday, 11 May 2018

When I Lost Myself

Almost two years ago I wrote a post that was absolute bullshit. I had just broken up my ex and it was an extremely emotional time. Since it's still one of my most read and commented posts even years later I thought I'd better address a few things. I was in an extremely damaged state, having been emotionally manipulated - some would say abused - and I spent the next four months just getting over him. 

A blog post all about how I lost myself while in an emotionally abusive relationship, and how I'm finally getting back to being me.
This is an outtake of a photo used in another post, and even though I don't particularly like how I look in it I love how happy I look. I felt like it represented who I am now, healthy and happy.

I said a lot of things about how our break up was due to circumstances. On the surface that was the case; he wanted to move abroad and we hadn't been together long enough to really commit and make that move together. At least, that's what we said. In reality, our relationship had been deteriorating for almost six months after he told me on a flight back from a skiing holiday that he would happily jump ship and move away if given an opportunity. Up until this point we had talked about moving abroad with words like maybe and one day, always meaning together. This shook me to my core as I struggled to deal with the fact that I meant so little to someone I loved. That night after getting home I considered leaving him, thought about calling a taxi and just running away to a friend's house, but after an argument that lasted days he convinced me to stay, told me he loved me but couldn't commit. I foolishly believed him.

The next six months were terrible. I was more miserable than I have ever been, trapped in a tiny flat with a man who claimed to love me and deep down I knew he didn't. We fought constantly and I cried daily, usually in secret. I was always wrestling with the fact that I saw a future for us and he didn't. The last straw was when we both had a week off work together and he ignored me the entire time. We had booked that week off to work on our relationship and try and fix things, but instead, he sat and worked on his Japanese for the future he was planning for himself, moving alone to Japan to pursue a PhD. I remember asking him if we could do something, anything, together, just go to the cinema, or eat a meal together where we weren't watching TV. I was politely asked to give him space, he'd say "I'm an introvert, remember?" and I would back off, not wanting to start another argument. After seven days of sitting in a room together not speaking, I dumped him.

Once again, he begged me to stay, and I listened. I dumped him on the Monday and by Wednesday he had decided he wanted me to come to Japan with him. I was excited and began working on my Japanese, thinking that by leaving him I had scared him into realising how much he loved me and didn't want to lose me. That Saturday, he dumped me for good. 

I remember the moment vividly. I had just learnt a load of new kanji and was excited to show off how much work I had done when my phone buzzed and I read a text saying that a friend of mine had just broken up with his fiancee. Shocked, I looked up as the door opened and my ex walked back in, still wet and wrapped in a towel from the shower. He was crying, knowing what this was going to do to me. He told me he couldn't do it anymore, framed it as him liberating me and doing me a favour. I screamed at him, called my mother and was gone in less than two hours.

It didn't end there, with trips to retrieve things I'd left behind in which he told me loved me, held me and said he'd never forget me. This messed me up even more, believing that it was somehow all my fault for pushing to be together and commit. It was all a lie. He was lying to himself and to me the whole time. I actually think I hit the nail on the head in that first post, saying that he loved me but was never in love with me. He probably did, but he had absolutely no respect for me. It didn't help that I had no respect for myself, constantly going out of my way to do what was best for him. He took advantage of my generally kind and giving nature, and I allowed myself to become his doormat and verbal punching bag.

In the time I was with him I wasn't myself. My mother told me in the months after that I had lost a part of myself, the vibrancy and joy I've had since I was a child. She likened it to when I became trapped in an abusive friendship with a housemate back in university, and that was when I first realised that my relationship had been emotionally manipulative. He played me like a fiddle, kept me hanging on his every word and dancing to his tune. I would have done anything for him, and looking back I hate that about myself. 

I spent two months crying at my Mum's house, a month in an absolute rage after realising just how poorly I'd been treated, and a month in a weird limbo between anger and moving on. It was during this last month that I met up with an old friend who eventually became my boyfriend, and he has made my life so much better. He loves me, but more to the point he respects me like my ex never did. I couldn't be happier and I'm grateful every day that we found each other.

What's changed the most since then is my relationship with myself. I vowed never to let myself become such a pushover again, despite my natural tendency to be a people pleaser. I still slip into this trap, but I will never allow myself to spiral down to the depths of despair I found in those last six months of the relationship. Frankly, I deserve better.

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