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Wednesday 31 January 2018

The Best of January

At last, January is coming to an end. My least favourite month of the year, and probably most other people's also. Christmas is over, it's dull and dark. Dreary, cold and wet. 
No more sparkly lights, nights out or continuous opportunities to drink Prosecco.
Somehow though, we still managed to make the most of it!
My month in review is a simple concept but it's a nice way of stepping into a new month with a bit of positivity. I'm gonna do this in bullet points cause otherwise I'll write an essay and no one wants that. 

  • We went to see our favourite painting (and if I'm being a knob I'll say "our wedding painting" also) The Meeting On The Turret Stairs in the National Gallery's Burton exhibition, which was wonderful.
  • We finally got to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I still haven't clarified in my own mind how I feel about that film as it's so multi-layered but I definitely can recommend it.
  • I read some brilliant books and got my years goal of reading 70 off to a great start. I read 6 books this month with favourites including; Practical Magic (Alice Hoffman), Little Deaths (Emma Flint) and The Mother of All Questions (Rebecca Solnit).
  • Mostly we stayed indoors to hibernate and watched the feck out of Netflix. The Crown season 2 was enjoyed with a healthy dose of anti-colonialism and we've also been binge watching Elementary, which is surprisingly entertaining.

  • I made my triumphant return to my pilates class, which may or may not have crippled me but we'll worry about that in February. 
  • Nollaig na mBan (Women's Christmas) was spent with family in The Westin eating tiny sandwiches and sipping prosecco, which was a lovey treat (I lied about the lack of prosecco opportunities in January).
  • We booked our Copenhagen/Mälmo/Stockholm trip for May. You should know by now that I had nothing to do with that- it was all Himself (I did buy a swimsuit for our trip to the Amalfi Coast though so that's kind of the same thing as holiday planning, if you think about it)
  • We helped christen our beautiful nephew and godson, Tom. 
  • We finally got to try Hang Dai for Himself's birthday; a fancy and very cool Chinese restaurant that had been high on our list of Dublin spots to go for food. We will be back.
  • Beauty wise, I loved trying the new SOS Primers from Clarins and the MAC Lunar New Year lipsticks, which Himself has described as looking like tampons. Thanks, Himself. 
  • Lastly and most excitingly, Leo Varadkar has announced that a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment will go ahead this year and in May, no less. Got to get the old campaigning boots back on and also possibly organise a flight home for a day to vote from the previously mentioned trip to Sweden! 

    Phew! That feels better! I think I demonise January a bit too much, lots of good things happened! How was your month? What lovely things did you do to make the start of the year a bit more bearable?

    Wednesday 17 January 2018

    Favourite Books of 2017!

    I'm finally getting around to this and being a bit kinder to myself by only doing my top 5 books of 2017, instead of my top 17...mostly because I'm writing this on Blue Monday (if it's actually a thing), I'm exhausted and also because I don't think anyone reads posts that are that long anymore. I do, if it's something interesting to me, like books, but I know not everyone can spare the time, so here's my condensed version of 2017 book faves. 
    If yisser lucky (joke) I'll still get around to popping up my fave beauty products, but only if January hasn't forced me into a full-on productivity downward spiral altogether.

    Himself by Jess Kidd
    This was the first book I read of 2017 so it's apt that I start with it now. I have a thing about the first book of the year being a good one; of course I'd prefer if they all were but that's not possible. That first fresh read of January though. It just has to be a good one because it sets up my entire reading for the year. I'm not superstitious about most things but that's one I do hold stock with. Anyways, the book itself is about a swagger-y young fella called Mahony who shows up in a small town in Co. Mayo in the 70's, on a mission to find out what happened to his runaway teen mother who disappeared almost straight after she gave birth to him. All is not as it seems; the locals are not happy to see him and it looks like everyone has a secret to hide, or tell, depending on how much they fancy Mahony. Thrown into the mix is the sometimes help/sometimes hindrance that is Mahony's ability to communicate with the dead. It sounds strange but it's actually brilliantly written; very witty, clever, extremely Irish, and yes, very creepy. Loved it!! Jess Kidd has a new book out soon that I cannot wait to read.

    When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    This is the memoir of neurosurgeon and cancer patient, Paul Kalanithi. Paul had previously studied English and Philosophy so the book reads quite philosophically, unsurprisingly. He describes how drastically his life changed; going from an extremely hard working neurosurgeon, saving lives daily to being vulnerable and fighting for his own life, his marriage and to get back to the person he was before his tumour changed him irrevocably. I know some have felt the book was too sad but I found it positive and uplifting also. Paul lived his life to the fullest, he loved his family and changed how he practised medicine based on his experiences of being a patient himself. On a personal level, I found his comments about his career and how it affects who he was as a person particularly emotive. Because of these reasons, I think this would also be a great read for health care professionals, as well as everyone else.

    Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
    This is from 2013 and I've seen constant references to it in book blogging circles so I eventually got around to reading it this year and it was a revelation. Ursula Todd is born one snowy night in 1910 but doesn't take a breath and dies. In another 1910, Ursula Todd is born again on a snowy night but lives, which means little as she will continue to live different lives and die different deaths from then on. The varying lives Ursula leads are expertly woven together and left me bereft every time something bad happened to her (which happened a lot). It sounds grim but it was unlike any other book I've read and it has many uplifting moments. I didn't enjoy the sequel, A God In Ruins, however. I found it slow moving and I connected less to the characters but I really loved Life After Life.

    Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
    This was a late contender and a book club read that I became completely emerged in on our flight to LA.    
    Elena Richardson plays by the rules; in her job, her community and her own home, so she's more than a little put out when enigmatic artist Mia and her daughter Pearl arrive in Elena's affluent suburb, looking to settle down. All of Elena's children become involved in Mia and Pearl's life on some level, obsessions starting in some cases. It's not until Mia's role in a local adoption case comes to light, effecting Elena's best friend, that Elena decides they are in fact enemies- she doesn't trust Mia's motives and begins to dig into her history, uncovering long buried secrets which will have a devastating effect on all their lives. This is a really well written book. It's atmospheric and engaging and the characters are easy to visualise and relate to. Looking forward to reading more from Celeste Ng this year. 

    Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay
    I hadn't read Roxanne Gay before and so I was very excited when I saw this collection of short stories on my local library shelf.  Every story has a woman as its protagonist and they're all full, rounded people with flaws and secrets, good and bad traits. I was crying by the end of the first story while others left me completely bereft and others, fuming with anger. I still think about some of the women's stories from time to time. This for me was one of those times when you come across something so new and so different that it floors you a little bit- I'm still not quite recovered. Trigger warning for rape/child abuse if you are thinking of reading it. I need to read everything else she's ever written this year. 

    Honourable mentions go to The Princess Bride by William Goldman (the book of the famous film, the book is also well loved and for good reason), The Break by Marian Keyes (Marian at her absolute best. Loved this story of a marital break, a family in crisis and a woman holding it all together), Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine (a sucker punch of a thriller- main character Gwen is in hiding from her serial killer ex but must use her considerable talents to protect herself and her kids from a copycat killer) Eleanor Oliphant is completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (a funny, poignant, tragic and sweet story of Eleanor; not really socially capable but in need of love), Final Girls by Riley Sager (a horror movie within a thriller, with a twist), Under the Dome by Stephen King (classic King- an epically long read that'll keep you gripped throughout) and The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (a creepy, atmospheric read about family secrets).

    Dishonourable mentions go to The Breakdown by B.A Paris (extremely predictable and slow moving), Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (I didn't care about any of the characters and stopped reading halfway through. It was pretty blah), Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (a drawn out thriller with a preposterous ending), Nine Folds Make A Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan (a complicated and muddled mish-mash of depressing stories in one, a terrible book to read in January).

    And that is my lot. Did any of these make it into your top books of the year? What were your least favourite?

    Tuesday 2 January 2018

    Audiovisual Favourites 2017

    This is my chance to reflect on all things film, TV, and podcast that I loved from the last year.
    Books and beauty will get their own posts, fear not!

    This was the year I properly got into podcasts, having previously loved Serial in 2016. During the Summer I happened upon My Favourite Murder and quickly caught up on all the previous episodes I had missed. 

    I love this because it combines an interest in True Crime with witty and fun female presenters that are endlessly listenable to. At times, it can be a bit bleak and yes, I have shed a tear but Karen and Georgia have also made me chuckle warmheartedly, not something you can usually say about that genre. They have a huge fanbase, doing live shows, one of which is coming to Dublin this year (I missed out on tickets, like a fool). There's also a cat called Elvis who pops up at the end of each episode, meowing for cookies. It's heartwarming really.

    I also tuned in to My Dad Wrote A Porno for a while but after starting the second series, it got a bit samey and I tired of it. It's still fun though, if you're looking to both laugh and cringe on your commute to work. General premise is one guy's dad wrote a terrible porno and him and his two friends decided to read it out loud and laugh at the ridiculousness, which is great for the rest of us.

    A few of my favourite youtube/bloggers started podcasts this year too, including Estee Lalonde doing The Heart Of It With Estee Lalonde where she discusses a whole host of topics, including tattoos, feminism, travel and strength, amongst others. She always has a special guest per episode that is an expert in that topic, which makes it even more interesting. Looking forward to season 2!

    I also enjoyed At Home With... by Lily Pebbles and Anna Newton, two of my favourite beauty bloggers. They go to a different person's home each episode and discuss everything from their home decor to their wardrobe, work life etc. Depending on the interviewee it's interesting and the two presenters are really pleasant to listen to.

    I've also enjoyed tuning in to the Banging Book Club, presented by three book Youtubers, they take a different book about sex or where the storyline involves sex in some way and review it. There's a big variety of books but unfortunately they haven't posted in a while so I stopped listening around June.

    I actually kept a list of all the films we watched this year so I could keep track and make this post a bit easier! I won't go into too much detail cause you can really easily look these up but these are my top 17 films of 2017. I narrowed it down to 17 like a champ except that I had a leftover space in my grid, so I made it 18...cause I'm adaptable like that! Some of these came out in 2016 (like Rogue One) but I only got around to seeing them this year. 

    Moonlight (beautifully made, touching and unique), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (a late contender), La La Land (the perfect antidote to the January blues), Thor Ragnarok (extremely good fun. Plus Jeff Goldblume), Logan (not your average comic book movie), John Wick 2 (Not as good as the first but still brilliant fight scenes. Plus Keanu Reeves), Girls Trip (absolutely hilarious, I watched on the flight to LA and laughed so hard that I then put it on again for the flight home and made Himself watch my favourite scene with me), Trainspotting 2 (nostalgic, funny and sharp), Get Out (very clever and very terrifying), Hidden Figures (inspiring, emotional and infuriating), It (everything I wanted it to be- true to the book, scary, funny, smart. LOVED IT), Atomic Blonde (it's here for several reasons- Charlize, the 80's Berlin setting, the soundtrack, the clothes and THAT fight scene. G'wan Charlize, you ledge), The Invitation (a tense, slow-building, unexpectedly shocking horror), Baby Driver (fast paced, great soundtrack, adrenaline filled car-chases and Jon Hamm. The storyline goes off the rails somewhat but it's still enjoyable), Dunkirk (I spent the entire thing on the literal edge of my seat. Every scene is beautifully shot and you become completely invested in the characters. Plus, Cillian Murphy), Manchester By The Sea (leaving aside the terrible human that is Casey Affleck, this is an absolute punch to the gut of a film. Brilliantly made but very bleak),  Spiderman Homecoming (a reboot that's actually worth watching. It's fun, self-aware and has a decent Spiderman), Rogue One (a Star Wars story so not part of the official series but it does some explaining along the way and it left me extremely emotional. Sob). 

    TV shows
    There was lots of good TV this year, mostly via Netflix to be fair!

    Westworld (a truly brilliant sci-fi. A must-watch), The Handmaid's Tale (nauseating, true to the book, terrifying, excellent drama/dystopia), It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (it's on series 11 or something ridiculous but we somehow only got into it this year. All of the characters are terrible so you feel no pity for them when it all goes wrong. So funny), The Crown (I think we all watched this one this year! True story period drama with excellent actors and fascinating storylines), Stranger Things 2 (I preferred this to the first series actually, it's as creepy, funny and entertaining as the first series but a bit less upsetting. Poor Barb), Mindhunter (more true crime- this is the story of how the FBI's behavioural analysis unit was set up. Also true stories and I read the book after watching it cause it was so intriguing), Master of None (DEV, COME BAAAACK!!! Perfect television, we had to hold ourselves back from binge-watching the entire thing), Riverdale (pure trash teen drama that makes no sense a lot of the time but has a cool vintage comic vibe thanks to its origins. The murder storyline is nicely creepy and Luke Perry is playing someone's Da, so basically he's only slightly older than he was in Beverly Hills 90210), The Keepers (a traumatising documentary about the evil and depravity of some members of the Catholic Church. It's deeply upsetting and infuriating but an important watch), The Good Place (hilarious and unique- this is like no other TV show around. The storyline flips every so often, totally unexpectedly), This Is Us (we only dipped in and out of this one but we both liked it so will restart it again soon. Great cast of characters with two different timelines to keep things interesting), Game of Thrones series 7 (DRAGONS!!!!), Rick and Morty (I avoided it for a while cause it can be seriously gross sometimes but it also has full-on belly laugh moments), Peaky Blinders (I feel a fool, a fool I tell you for not watching this 'til now! We're just about to start series 3 and we are obsessed!!! Brilliant TV!), The Sinner (very creepy, sinister mystery that we spent a week binge watching, trying to look away from but desperate to know what the resolution was), Big Little Lies (a really refreshing book adaptation focusing on female friendships, domestic violence and that perfect Big Sur coastline), The Defenders (a combination of all the other Marvel superhero Netflix shows- Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage and the Iron Fist. Snooze on the last one, the rest are great), Catastrophe series 3 (as hilarious as ever and featuring the amazing Carrie Fisher in her last episodes. Sob). 

    Special shout-outs to the Youtube videos of one of my fave authors, Marian Keyes, John Oliver and his extremely sarcastic and satirical late night political show which I catch up on when I can, and ASMR, a calming series of soothing sounds, whispers, etc to help you relax and sleep. 

    What did I miss?!
    Let me know what your favourite TV, film and podcasts of the year were!