Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Secret Santa Gift Guide: Gifts for under £5

Secret Santa is a fun thing to do at Christmas time with a group of friends or workmates. This year, I'm doing it with both sets of people! Basically, all the participants' names go into a hat and you choose one at random to buy a present for, then spend no more than the previously decided budget. This is a great idea for if you are a little low on cash, which most of us are at this time of year. I have put together some bits and bobs that you could give someone this Christmas as 'Santa'. Better yet, they are all under £5. The budget for my work is £10, so you could even combine a few things together and get a little bit more. It's surprising how much you can actually get for your money when you look hard enough! Lucky for you, I've done all the searching for you. Sorry though, I ain't paying for it too. 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Book Review: Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson

You may have read my review of Sarah Alderson's Hunting Lila and if you did, you will remember how much I raved about her written work. Well, to my utmost delight, she has a new book release on the 12th of February 2015 and I had the pleasure of reading it early. Enter Conspiracy Girl*.

"Everybody knows about the Cooper killings. There was only one survivor - fifteen year old Nic Preston. Now eighteen, Nic is trying hard to rebuild her life. But then one night her high-security apartment is broken into. It seems the killers are back to finish the job. Finn Carter - hacker, rule breaker, player - is the last person Nic ever wants to see again. He's the reason her mother's murderers walked free. But as the people hunting her close in, Nic has to accept that the best chance of staying alive is by staying close to Finn. And the closer they get to the truth, and to each other, the greater the danger becomes."

I am going to start of by saying that nothing comes close to the story of Lila and my expectations were right when this didn't quite beat it. That's not to say I didn't adore the story, however, because I absolutely did. Sarah Alderson has a way of writing that really appeals to me, and her stories are always full of drama and excitement that keep you turning the pages for hours on end. I finished this book in 2 days because I really struggled to pry myself away from the screen of my kindle. 

Just like Hunting Lila, the story of Nic is not one that happens to the average person but I actually don't mind that. In fact, I love it. Sometimes it's fun to drift away from the usual boy-meets-girl soppy YA novel and inject a bit of thrill into your reading. There are twists and turns that you don't expect, although it is pretty inevitable that the two main characters are going to end up with each other - sorry if you see that as a spoiler, although it is pretty damn obvious when you are reading it. I also liked that added character of the dog, Goz, which I never thought I would say. I thought it was cute.

Another thing which I have to mention because it is something that I love in a book, and it is that you are told the story from the viewpoint of both Nic and Finn. I love when an author alternates narrators, and you get a real feel for the story when they do so. It really helps me to connect with the two main characters, because you get to see things from their point of view as well, and see what both characters are thinking when something happens. It's like, one character could say something and mean it one way, but the other character takes it a different way and you get to see the thought process behind each person and what they say. You don't get that opportunity when there is just one main speaker, so I was really happy to see that this book was set out this way whereas the Lila series is not.

Well done, Sarah. You won me over once again.

*This book was provided by Netgalley for review purposes.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

November Birchbox First Impressions | Cosy At Home

This month's Birchbox is a real winner, with the theme being 'cosy at home' now that we are coming in to the colder month's and the dark nights are creeping in. The contents of the box I received are particularly good, aimed at achieving the perfect ultimate beauty night-in. Keep reading to find out what I got...

English Laundry Signature For Her | £60
This perfume apparently has 'rosy top notes with hints of musk', according to the information card that came with my box. I wouldn't say this is my favourite perfume when it is first sprayed but it isn't bad after a couple of hours when it has died down a little bit. I haven't actually worn this properly yet, I just sprayed it when I got the box, so I will get back to you! It is awfully expensive though so I doubt I will every be actually buying this, unless it miraculously starts smelling incredible to me.

LipGlam Natural Lanolin Lip Balm | £9.99 (full size)
I love this stuff! Because it had just come in from the cold when my box arrived, I actually couldn't get a single bit out of the tube for about a day because it seemed to have frozen solid! It is still really difficult to get out and you have to press it so hard, anyone know if it is meant to be like this or if mine has permanently frozen?! This reminds me of the Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream, it's a similar texture but a fraction of the price.

Lord & Berry Mini Bronzer, Sunny | £19
I really do love this bronzer. I haven't had my box for very long but I have still been wearing this every day. It is the perfect colour for my skin tone and blends so easily. Because it is matte, it is great for adding radiance without the tell-tale shimmer and adding a bit of colour to my practically dead looking face (damn you horrible Scottish winter). I think I might have to by the full size of this! The sample size of this is actually pretty decent though.

Beauty Protector Protect & Treat Hair Mask | £16
I can't say much about this yet because I haven't tried it but I have heard good things about this brand before. My hair is desperately needing something like this so there was no better month for me to receive not one but two of these! The pots are each a decent size, with probably enough for one application each. This contains argan oil, honey, amber and even crush pearls (what!) all to smooth and revamp your hair.

Montezuma's Mini Bar | £2.39 for 100g
As you can see, I couldn't even wait till I was taking the blog photos before I ate this chocolate - it was just too tempting sitting there in the box. It. Was. Delicious.

Dr Jart+ Most Moist Water Act Skin Mist | £18 (full size)
I've only used this a couple of times so I can't say I have a proper opinion on it yet but so far so good. I love that this is such a big bottle, because I am more than getting my money's worth with this alone. Again, I have heard good things about this brand but haven't ever tried anything from it before. I will write a full post on this soon when I have used it for long enough to properly decide what I think of it. The idea of this is that it boosts your skin's internal moisture levels and helps maintain a healthy appearance. Sounds good to me!

All in all, I am so pleased with this month's box! It had a good range of products in it, including a fab lifestyle item (who could say no to some chocolate) and was definitely worth the money. This is still available for purchase here on the Birchbox site.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Nepal: The Unseen Photos

In a moment of nostalgia last night, I decided I wanted to flick through my photos from my trip to Nepal. It then occurred to me that I never actually finished showing them to you guys so here is some never seen before photos! (Well, people have seen them but you haven't). There is actually probably some photos in here that I did include in posts before but it doesn't really matter. This is like an overview of my whole trip. 

If you have been reading my blog a while, you will know that I went to Nepal this summer. If you are a newbie, I spent three weeks there in July doing various things, including a trek to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), a project in a poor school in a deprived which included building a perimeter wall to keep the kids safe and also teaching in the classrooms, a short stay in Chitwan National Park where we saw the effalumps (eeeeeh so cute!) and a jaunt round the major cities.

As you will have noticed these photos can be sort of split up into sections. I am sure you can see where it jumps from one place to the next. The first set of photos were taken in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. It is quite a run down city, but there are some really picturesque parts as you can see. They have an incredible culture there, so different to our own. 

Next was the 8 day long trek through the mountains which led to some AMAZING views, very sore legs and a very tired Holly. It was all worth it in the end and I am so proud of myself for achieving it. 

After the trek, we headed off to Chitwan. Look at those elephants! I couldn't not take a selfie with them. The baby one is so bloomin cute. The most amazing part of this section was the elephant safari where we sat on an elephant's back and it carted us around. As elephants are my favourite animal, just imagine the expression on my face for those two hours of my life.

Chitwan was followed by the project. I haven't included many photos here as I did a whole post on that here, but I included my favourites. The kids were just so lovely and would crowd round us every time they spotted us, it was so sweet! To them, they just thought it was incredible that people had come so far just to help them and their school. I don't think they quite understood how much work and money it actually took to make it all happen.

And finally, as a little treat for ourselves on the very last night, we stayed in the best hotel I have ever seen in my whole life. It wasn't just because I had been sleeping on a floor for days either. It actually was incredible, much better than hotels here! Look how happy I am to be going for a shower and staying in an ACTUAL BED!! Can I also just mention how baggy that t-shirt is when it started off the trip quite tight. I am going to let myself think that it was because I lost so much weight and it isn't because it is stretched. Although, it is possible because everyone did say to me when I got back that I looked thinner, not that I was that big before anyway.

I would go back to Nepal in a heartbeat if I got the chance. It is an amazing country full of amazing, kind people. I met some good friends there which I still keep in contact with over Facebook and I hope that, one day, I can go and visit them again. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Christmas Gift Guide for Girls: £20 and Under

It's almost that time of year again, eeeeek! I just adore Christmas, and everything that it brings. Not only is Christmas Day very exciting, but the whole month leading up to it is equally as fun. I love the pretty lights in the streets, and the dressing up for a themed day at school, and Christmas jumpers, and hot chocolates, and cosy scarves, and even that day I dressed up as an elf for work (don't even ask). 

With just over a month to go, it's time to get cracking with your Christmas shopping. However, this can mean it is also a very expensive time of the year for all of us so I have put together some bits and bobs that you could buy your loved one that don't break the bank. I will also be doing a version with some more expensive treats, but I thought I would start off with one for those on a budget (i.e. me). All of the items included in this gift guide are under £20 and make perfect gifts for friends, mums, sisters, aunties, girlfriends, you name it!

The Clarins All About Lips (£19.50) is a lovely set to suit all make-up lovers. The products are small-ish so they fit nicely in your handbag but because it is Clarins, it still isn't too expensive as it isn't full size things. I recently bought this for my friend's birthday even though it is a Christmas set, and it came beautifully packaged in a white sparkly cosmetic bag, with the contents wrapped in tissue paper.

Now this is a gift that I would love! The Essie Tart Deco Duo Kit (£12.99) certainly appeals to me, although I have enough nail polishes as it is. We all know how much Essie is loved, so you know you are getting a good present if you buy this for someone. Plus the colours are lovely.

How cute are the New Look White Robin Print Pyjama Gift Set (£14.99)?! I actually adore this print so much and they look so cosy! Screw Christmas, I am buying these for myself when I finish writing this post.

The New Look Jingle All The Way Christmas Jumper (£14.99) is probably my favourite thing in this gift guide, besides the aforementioned pyjamas. I love it! We usually do a Christmas jumper themed day at school so I might buy myself this to wear for it! Everyone needs a Christmas jumper, and this one doesn't break the bank.

I bought the River Island House Perfume (£12) for my friend's Christmas last year and she absolutely loved it. Clearly it is popular as they still sell it online and instore. It's quite Chanel Coco Mademoiselle-esque but a fracton of the price. The bottle is very pretty too for sitting on your dressing table.

For some thing cheap and chearful, how about thisForever 21 Bonjour Cosmetic Bag (£3.50)? This is a great stocking filler, or you could make up your own little gift with this by filling it with some beauty bits and bobs, maybe some lip gloss or nail polishes. Definitely perfect if you are on a budget. It probably isn't the best quality but I doubt a young girl would mind.

Another thing I may need to buy myself - the Matalan Alphabet Letter Mug (£2). I can't believe how cheap this is! You definitely wouldn't get your mug mixed up with anyone else's in the cupboard with your initial printed so huge on the front of it! Because it is literally just a couple of pounds, this is a nice thing to put in with someone's present but doesn't make you feel like you are spending far more than you can afford. Sometimes presents can look a bit small if it is only jewellery or something (at least I think so anyway, when I am buying for someone) so something like this would be perfect for that situation.

Last but not least, you can't go wrong with some toiletries. The Bomb Cosmetics Bath Bomb Gift Set (£9.94) isn't expensive and looks suspiciously similar to Lush, don't you agree?

Stay tuned for my next Christmas gift guide for girls, featuring items over £20!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

October Favourites

Sorry for the really crap picture. I wanted this post to be up as soon as possible once I realised what date it was - we would be into December if I waited any longer. November sneaked up on me without me even realising it. It wasn't until I was scrolling through the blogs I followed and noticed monthly favourites that it was that time again. For some reason, it never even occurred to me (you would think Halloween would be a clue, considering it is the same date every year). But better late than never, eh?

October has been hectic - I am in high demand, I'm telling you. One day, I had three meetings all happening at the one time in completely different areas of the school. Sorry, but that is just not possible. Ahhhh, the joys of being in 6th year. That's enough about school, on to the stuff you are actually here to read about.

Following the release of Youtube extraordinaire Zoe Sugg's pamper line, this was the main thing I wanted to get my hands on. It is every bit as lovely as I hoped it would be. The floral, sweet scent is what I usually go for so it is perfect for me. Think a cheap Marc Jacobs Daisy alternative.

I stopped using this for a while and forget how lovely it actually is. It gives you that 'lit from within' glow that all bloggers are constantly droning on and on about, which is pretty much essential at this time of year when the sun is practically non existent and my days of going out wearing a jacket without a hood are over.

This stuff makes my hair smell good enough to eat! I let my mum try it but she couldn't handle the smell, she said it made her gain a few pounds just from the scent! This smooths down my hair considerably and can be used on wet or dry hair. You have to be really careful with this that you don't add too much as it is a hair oil, but when the correct amount is used, you get fantastic results.

In an attempt to banish the imminent frizz from my hair, I nicked this from my mum and loved it so much that she didn't see it again (sorry mum!). It's great for putting in my hair when it has just been washed to help the curls look a bit sleeker and more defined. It doesn't completely rid my hair of frizz (I don't think anything will ever succeed in that) but it gets closer than anything else I have tried.

This stuff just glides on to your skin so easily. It's not like a lot of The Body Shop ones which you have to rub and rub to get them to sink in, this disappears within seconds of smearing it on, leaving you with lovely, non-greasy skin that is as soft as a baby's bottom. It has a delicious fragrance to it that isn't overpowering, but still lingers for a significant amount of time so you smell good all day long. There are so many different ones to choose from, so the link above will let you have a browse at them all. I really like the sound of the almond one! The best thing about this is just how cheap it actually is. This is just a small size, but I am going straight to Boots when it is finished for the full shabang. 

What have you been loving this October?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Book Review: Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson

I first read this book quite a while ago so I can't believe I have never mentioned it before now. I have read a lot of books in my lifetime (what a geek) so it takes a lot for me to be able to say that one has reached my top 5. This is right up there, possibly even sitting at the top spot.

Finding Lila is one of those books that you could read over and over and never get bored of the story. You know exactly what happens to the main character, and all the minor characters as well, but you are still silently rooting for them and waiting for your favourite part. Each time you read the book, you love it even more than the last time. 

This book encompasses everything I love about YA novels. There's the romance, the protective older brother, the relateable narrator and the twisting and turning plot that makes it all so exciting. Here is the official synopsis: 17 year old Lila has two secrets she plans to take to the grave. The first is that she can move things by just looking at them. The second is that she has been in love with her brother's best friend, Alex, since forever. After a mugging exposes her unique ability, Lila decides to run to the only people she can trust - her brother and Alex. They live in Southern California where they work for a secret organisation called The Unit, and Lila discovers that the two of them are hunting down the men who murdered her mother five years ago. And that they've found them. In a world where nothing and no one is quite as they seem, Lila quickly realises that she is not alone - there are others out there just like her - people with special powers - and her mother's killer is one of them...

Yes, I understand that a story about a girl with mysterious secret powers sounds corny and totally not believable, but the true genius that is Sarah Alderson has written a novel that somehow makes it all seem like it could be real. You feel like that you right there with Lila, Alex and Jack and that these 'psys' as they are called could be real. It takes real talent to make characters with special abilities relateable to the reader, by Sarah does this effortlessly. 

I am sure you can tell how much I adore this book by my ramblings so far, so just imagine my joy when I discovered this had a sequel. And I love the sequel just as much. Cue more Alex-related swooning.

I gave this book 5/5 stars on Goodreads. Add me as a friend here for more updates on what I have been reading!

Monday, 3 November 2014

I Am Basically Famous

This is a very short blog post today to basically gloat about something. A few weeks ago I posted a mirror selfie in Debenhams fitting rooms of a super cute Oasis strawberry print shirt (which I did in fact purchase) on Instagram and Oasis reposted it on their Instagram account. It got more likes than basically every other picture that they post, including ones of the oh so famous Zoe Sugg. It's fair to say that that makes me famous.

That is all, gloating session over. Thank you.