7 December 2015

The 'Doing Good' Christmas Guide


Holiday season is well and truly here and for many of us gift buying is in full swing. As well as buying for your nearest and dearest, there are many easy ways to help out strangers.
I've put together a few quick and easy ways you can help others this festive season- and you don't even have to wrap the presents...

Give as You Live: I've talked about Give as You Live on here before but it's such a simple way to make your online shopping do good all year round. Basically you download their toolbar, choose your preferred charity and then shop as normal. For any purchases made through an affiliated website, a percentage of your spend is given to the charity you selected. Using sites you already buy from, you can raise money with no extra cost or effort- it's that easy.

Refuge's Christmas Appeals: Refuge are my chosen charity on Give as You Live. They, along with many other charities helping women and children escape domestic violence, are facing huge funding cuts, which means it's harder than ever for them to carry out their crucial work.
This Christmas, you can help support them by donating via their Christmas appeal or buying a parcel to help women and children fleeing abuse.
You could also help brighten up Christmas Day for a Refuge resident by purchasing an item from the charity wish list (enter code 651468) and picking a gift to be sent out to them.
Something so simple can have a huge impact on the life of someone in a difficult and upsetting situation

Crisis at Christmas: Homelessness is sadly on the increase, with a 55% rise in the number of people who slept rough on any given night since 2010. Crisis aims to help homeless people all year round, delivering services to help them and campaigning for changes. By reserving a place for a homeless person at a Crisis centre, you'll not only be providing them with food over Christmas, but also giving them access to healthcare, the chance to shower and change clothes and giving them the opportunity to access dedicated support and advice, which could provide lasting benefits beyond the festive period. It costs just £22.29 to reserve a place, but to someone in need the opportunity could be priceless.

Hive Minded: I mentioned in a recent post that I’m starting to evaluate the choices I make more critically, and as part of this, I no longer buy from Amazon.
An alternative site I found recently is Hive, which allows you to support independent shops with every order. You can also opt for your favourite bookshop to receive part of the total cost of your order and you can collect your order from your local shop, rather than having it delivered to your house.
I’ve ordered from there a few times now and delivery is fast (and free) and in some instances the items are actually cheaper than Amazon.
I’ve chosen to support the amazing Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester with my purchases, and love the idea that everything I’m buying is helping support a local business.

What tips have you got for giving back this Christmas? Will you be using any of these ideas?

2 December 2015

Going Cruelty Free

Image source

Recently I've been analysing the choices that I've been making and their impact on the world around me.
One of the main decisions I’ve made after some evaluation is to stop purchasing make up that’s been tested on animals. Simply put, I can't justify the pain of animals for something so frivolous and unnecessary (patriarchal expectations of female beauty aside, and that’s a story for another day)

The things that cosmetic animal testing involves are hard to stomach.  Equally hard to justify is the fact that it's not remotely necessary anymore and has its limitations so it's not even that useful. The EU has banned cosmetics testing in all its member states and New Zealand instigated a ban this year, and it's great to see . Companies that state they only test on animals ‘where required by law’ really mean ‘we want to sell our products in China', where animal testing is mandatory. I don’t know about you, but the thought of testing mascara on animals purely to earn more money is pretty difficult for me to support.

It hasn’t been entirely easy to find out what brands I can continue (or start) to buy from. I’ve been researching various companies and their ethos before I spend my money with them. One of the main issues is where a brand is owned by a parent company. This is especially true in the case of The Body Shop and Urban Decay, who are both cruelty free but both owned by L’Oreal. The Body Shop especially is renowned for campaigning against animal testing, but L’Oreal continues to test on animals. Although I've heard rumours that money spent at The Body Shop doesn’t go to L’Oreal, I’ll be steering away from this one because I’m just not sure how much I believe them… Nestle are also a main shareholder in L’Oreal and I categorically do not want any of my pennies going in their pockets!

Luckily, some brands I already love, such as Barry M and Soap and Glory, are cruelty free, and Superdrug’s own range is great for toiletries. I’m also excited to dive into some new ranges that I haven’t properly tried before, like Illamasqua and Pixi. There’s been some surprises as to what I can use too- for some reason I was sure Bare Minerals and Charlotte Tilbury would test on animals but now I know they don’t I’ll probably be giving them a try very soon.

I’m not here to judge anyone who buys tested makeup because that’s obviously a jerk move, but for me there's no excuse to continue to sanction cruelty.
One bonus I’ve found is that I can’t always take advantage of the offers Boots and Superdrug run, and I’ve noticed a marked decline in the amount of makeup I’ve accrued this year which is great for my bulging makeup bag.
I’ll be honest- I’m not going to throw out the make-up I already own that isn’t cruelty free because I just can’t afford to replace it all in one go. However, anything I finish up that is tested on animals I won’t repurchase and anything new I buy will be cruelty free.
I’m looking forward to exploring new brands and products and finding new staples and dupes to replace my current items (if anyone has a good cruelty free dupe for Double Wear then please send it my way!) 

There’s still a lot of research for me to do and I’ll probably need to draw up a list of brands I can buy from to help keep myself right, but to me it’s becoming increasingly important to make purchases that only damage my bank balance and not the world around me.

What cruelty free products do you love?
You can find more information on going cruelty free here and a useful infographic here.

30 October 2015

Hallowe'en is coming...


I'm quite the wimp when it comes to all things terror but when All Hallow's Eve rolls around I try to stop peeking through my fingers and embrace the spirit(s) of the season.
Here's a few spooky suggestions for this Hallowe'en.

Lore Podcast: Podcasts are a recent discovery of mine, helping me get through many a long day at work, and Lore has quickly become one of my favourites. Host Aaron Mahnke explores the truth behind superstitions, folklore and terrifying legends that make up our history and culture. Extremely well curated, meticulously researched and full of atmosphere, Lore is informative, entertaining and occasionally chilling. It's the perfect soundtrack for carving pumpkins.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman: Turing the classic horror standard of 'there's something inside the house' on its head is Josh Malerman's debut novel. This time, something is outside, it's everywhere, and those who see it are almost instantaneously driven to enact fatal (and often gruesome) harm on themselves. We experience this terror through the eyes of Malorie, who finds herself pregnant just as the horror begins to unfold. Genuinely creepy and unnerving, I had to stop reading more than once and allow myself to calm down. If you're looking for a great horror novel then I'd recommend Bird Box- just make sure you're not near a window...

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson: Not as overtly scary as Bird Box, Jackson's sinister Gothic novella is perfect for dark and stormy nights. I've done a full review of this before; it's a great quick read with a dark undercurrent and a wonderfully unreliable narrator.

Funny Games: I'm not generally a fan of horror films, mainly because I'm a wimp with an overactive imagination, but I also think they're too gratuitously violent and gory rather than genuinely scary. Funny Games is different. There's not much violence and the majority takes place off-screen. Instead, the torment is more controlled, which in turn makes it more terrifying. Two polite young men call at a family's summer home and ask for some eggs. From this seemingly innocuous beginning comes a horrifying evening of torment as the victims fight to survive until morning. Innovative and original, Funny Games is a great unnerving film to watch- just make sure you only open the door to trick-or-treaters.

What are your favourite Hallowe'en horrors?

17 October 2015

Best Endeavour Book Club: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Ahead of Station Eleven's release there was a lot of buzz that piqued my interest in reading it, but when it came out I just didn't pick it up. Thank goodness I rectified that this month because it's brilliant. Truly thrilling, unexpected and moving, I loved it.

In a seemingly present-day Canada, an actor dies on stage during a performance of King Lear. Almost simultaneously, the (thankfully fictional) Georgia Flu touches down and wipes out the majority of the world's population in mere days.
Moving forward twenty years, we meet those whose lives were unravelled by the virus. Chief among them is Kirsten, a member of the Travelling Symphony; a band of actors and musicians who perform Shakespearean plays in the settlements which have sprung up following the collapse.

Through flashbacks Mandel recounts the way the world fell apart. I thought the way this was done was simply wonderful. It's not heavy handed or overwrought in the slightest; in contrast, the end of everything is so quiet and understated that it's like it just slipped away.
The writing throughout is beautiful and elegant, not revealing everything but giving enough flashes of the world before and after to allow you to be truly invested in this new world and the survivors that inhabit it. Indeed, such is the beauty of Mandel's writing that a brief passage describing a newsreader addressing his wife on air during the uncertainty of everything moved me to tears.

The way the multiple strands of the story and the various characters merge together throughout the course of the novel, and the reveal of the title's meaning, are fantastic. The world Mandel has built is so vibrant that I spent a large part of the novel feeling so sad that our world could easily end like this and there would be no way to say goodbye to my loved ones if I wasn't already with them.
I really like speculative fiction at the moment and loved the real plausibility of this scenario.

My only complaint about Station Eleven is that it finished long before I was ready and that little cliffhanger at the end, again just a glimmer of what might be, left me wanting more. I know I have to the rest of Mandel's catalogue to read and I'm looking forward to that, but I wish I could have travelled with the Symphony for a little longer.

Have you read Station Eleven or any of Mandel's other novels? You can get Station Eleven via my affiliate link on Book Depository or support your local bookshop by buying it through my new obsession, Hive (not an affiliate link!)

31 July 2015

The Quarter Century Bucket List


Since turning 25 a few months ago I've been doing a lot of thinking. I'm in a state of flux at the minute; I've just finished up work and moved out of London so I'm back on the job hunt and trying to get myself back on track. Inevitably, I've got myself into a bit of a flap about the way my life is going- everyone else seems to be really thriving (which is obviously great!) while I'm just middling along not really achieving much yet. I've also been extra mean to myself and have cursed myself for all the things I haven't got round to doing in life thus far- so I thought I'd compile a list of the things I really, really want to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil (which hopefully won't be for a long while, but who knows?)
  1. Make an impact: I don't necessarily mean become famous or have my name well known, but I hope the things I do in this live are good and help other people in some way. I want my actions to help make someone's life better- it may not be in a tangible way, but if I can make somebody else happier in some way I'll be pleased.
  2. Accept myself: Over the past few years I can honestly say my self-esteem has improved so much, but I still have a long way to go. It's not just physical- there are a lot of complex feelings about myself as a person swirling about in there, but I'm getting well on the way to appreciating myself for who I am and what I can do.
  3. Take part in and complete a physical challenge: I just want to be able to do something difficult and know that I managed it and feel that pride in myself. I have an image of myself somehow dragging my carcass round a half-marathon course but I think a 5k might have to be my first port of call.
  4. Swim more: I'm a real water baby at heart but a teenage complex about my thighs has stopped me dipping my toes as often as I'd like. I've recently got myself back into swimming, taking advantage of the beautiful lido in Cheltenham. I want to swim in as many places as possible- pools, oceans, lakes, ponds and I definitely need a go in an infinity pool some time.
  5. Source
  6. See Cristo Redentor: There's something about this statue that makes me feel so excited and a little bit emotional, even just on TV. I'd love to time my visit to Rio during Carnival as well, but seeing the statue looming above the city is something I have wanted for a very long time.
  7. Eat gumbo and jambalaya in New Orleans: Another place I've wanted to see for a very long time. Pete and I would love to go here, explore the French Quarter and listen to the authentic music (while eating all of the food!)
  8. Have a cruelty-free make up bag: I own a fair bit of make up (my mum can attest to the ridiculous size of my lipstick collection) but recently I've been feeling a lot of guilt regarding animal testing. It's so unnecessary, and as good as I look in winged liner and lipstick it's not right for an animal to suffer for it. There are so many great brands out there now that don't test on animals so I don't really have an excuse not to purchase them. I've already started taking steps and researching what brands I can start to incorporate into my routine. I'm still going to use up the items I have that have been animal tested but I won't be repurchasing them.
  9. See the Northern Lights: They're so beautiful! I really want to see them in Iceland so I can also visit the Blue Lagoon and do some whale watching.
  10. Go to a drive in movie: I just think this would be really fun!

  11. Swim in Lake Palau: I used to be terrified of jellyfish when I was younger, and anything floating past me in the sea used to elicit screams of fear. Lake Palau, or Jellyfish Lake, is filled with jellyfish who don't sting as they have never needed to defend themselves from predators. I imagine swimming through the swarms of jellyfish but not getting stung would be an amazing sensation. Plus the island itself looks so gorgeous and I'd love to spend some time there.
So they're the top ten things I want to do/achieve in my lifetime. I'd like to own my own home at some point and (probably) have children, find the perfect pair of jeans and my holy grail (cruelty free!) foundation.
I hope I'll still have the same passion for books, film and travel that I have now and still be the same person overall, just perhaps a bit fitter, more confident and well-traveled!

What's on your bucket list? Have you managed to tick off anything you hoped to achieve yet? 

8 January 2015

Best Endeavour Book Club: Favourite Reads of 2014

I know, I know; who do I think I am publishing a 2014 round up post over a week into the new year? Well,  lucky bookworms often receive books tokens for Christmas so I thought my recommendations might give you some ideas of what you could spend your vouchers on if you're struggling through these January days.

These aren't in any particular order but, of the 30 books I read in 2014, these are the ones I keep thinking about, talking about and recommending.

The Shock of the Fall- Nathan Filer: I did a full review of this so I'll try to keep the gushing to a minimum, but it's hard with a book as wonderful as this. Struggling with mental illness and memories of his brother who died in childhood, Matthew Homes' distinctive voice permeates this novel on love, grief and mental health. Each of the characters is rendered so wonderfully and realistically that I could see glimpses of my own relatives in them. The writing is so beautiful and at times almost painful that there were moments where I was close to tears without being sure why. The Shock of the Fall is truly wonderful and I urge you to read it.

The Girl With all the Gifts- M.R. Carey: Another one that I've reviewed in full. I'm not one for horror really, being a huge wimp, but this is so much more than that.  A fungus has infected the human race, turning people into 'hungries'. 10 year old Melanie lives on a military base with survivors of the infection, but it's apparent that she's not like other children.
Part post-apocalyptic survival story, part road movie and full of ideas of redemption, sacrifice and humanity, The Girl With All the Gifts is a fresh take on horror fiction.
In my full review I mentioned I'd love to see it on screen and M.R. Carey is currently working on the screenplay! With him adapting it my hopes for a faithful take are high and I'll be running to the cinema as if there's a hungry behind me when it's released. (p.s. If you're involved in making the film and somehow reading this, make my dream come true and cast George Mackay as Private Gallagher!)

Bastard out of Carolina- Dorothy Allison: A genre I really love is Southern Gothic and novels of the American South. One of my favourite Booktubers, Mercedes, did a series on Southern literature and raved about Bastard out of Carolina so I knew I'd have to give it a try
Ruth Anne 'Bone' Boatwright is the titular bastard, whose relationship with her beloved mother crumbles when Glen Waddell enters their lives. Waddell is angry, violent and abusive and intent on distancing Bone and her mother from each other.
It's a dark and difficult read at times, especially when coupled with the fact that it's semi-autobiographical, but Allison's writing is brilliant. Bone is an excellent narrator and her large family of aunts, uncles and cousins are all unique and distinct, adding  rich tapestry of characters.
The acts of physical and sexual violence are extreme in some instances so it's not a pleasant read, but it's one that I found extremely powerful.

Honourable Mentions
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • Tampa by Alissa Nutting
  • The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
What were your favourite reads of 2014? Have you read any that I've mentioned above?

You can be my pal on Goodreads!
These books are all available on The Book Depository if you want to check them out via my affiliate link.