April Reading Wrap-up 2019: Best Reading Month Ever?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019
My reading for 2019 has been amazing so far with January featuring some of my favourite books for a long time and now April is my best reading month, possibly ever as I managed to read 20 ebooks in the month of April which is the most I've ever read. Before you think I'm crazy, keep in mind that I did travel quite a lot either in the car or on the train to/from Edinburgh in April.

Also over half of the books I read were less than 250 pages each (which is a 'short' book for me) and the weather has been gorgeous in April so I read in the summer house most of the time, instead of watching youtube or TV. It's amazing how much time you can spend reading or doing something else if you reduce screen time!

My favourite books for the month include: Red Sister, Affinity and A Harmony of Fire and Earth. Sadly I did read a few disappointing reads which received very rare two star ratings from me, those books include: Waiting On A Bright Moon, This World Is Full Of Monsters and Pale Wolves, the latter I had to DNF.

*A Harmony of Fire and Earth by Antonia Aquilante (298 pages) ★★★ (3.5)
I read the first book in this series last year and loved it as an entertaining, quick fantasy with LGBT characters and magic so naturally I had to request the second book - I did have to skim read the later half of the first book before this one though. We follow on from the events of the first book so it would be best to read them directly after one another. As with the first book I loved the Edmund/Arden relationship as well as the elemental magic (I love books involving magic, especially elemental magic) and the politics of the world. I loved the new characters in this one and the relationship between Gareth and Rhys - it was very sweet. Overall, I liked the first book but I loved this one and if you like magical fantasy with some LGBT characters then check out this lighthearted, easy and entertaining duo.

*Close To Birds by Mats Ottosson (272 pages) ★★★ - coming out in October 2019
I've been craving non-fiction recently so I had to request this book all about birds from Netgalley and I was accepted for an e-arc. The book focuses on various birds including essays, thoughts and facts about each bird along with detailed photographs of the birds. Let's start with the main negative and it might be minor to some but the photographs are just 'plain' featuring the bird and a white background...I personally think it would have been much more interesting to photograph the bird in it's natural environment to give more context. Apart from that negative, I think it's a great and easy to read book for those who want to learn more about birds. I did learn more and I think I will definitely return to this e-arc in the future as a reference book. I'd definitely recommend it but I think it could have been more engaging and far more visually appealing than it was!

Fire Above, Fire Below by Garth Nix (23 pages) ★★★
The shortest ebook I read is a tiny Tor Original novella by the famous fantasy author Garth Nix. We follow the events of a catastrophic fire but unbeknownst to the citizens, the fire is caused by a dying dragon trapped beneath the ground. I haven't read anything by Garth Nix but I've wanted to for a while. It is an entertaining, interesting novella and I love anything involving dragons but it was just a little throwaway, if that makes sense. However, if you love the author then definitely check it out.

Affinity by Sarah Waters (370 pages) ★★★ (3.75)
Sarah Waters is an author I've wanted to read for a while so I started with one of her less famous novels, Affinity, in April. We follow Margaret Prior, an upper class woman with a secretive and troubled past as she visits the female inmates at Newgate prison to offer support but when she meets inmate and spiritualist Selina Dawes, she uncovers more than she expected.

Gothic novels are some of my favourite books to read as I just adore the eerie tone and writing style so I knew I'd love this book which has been categorised as a gothic historical fiction with supernatural, LGBT and horror elements - it sounds like my perfect book. While I found the ending to be convenient and predictable, I did throughly enjoy this read, from the eerie setting of Newgate prison and the spiritualist/supernatural elements to the quick but atmospheric writing style and the themes of mental health and repression of your sexuality and voice as a woman in that time period.

There were quite a few sentences and sections that struck a chord with me such as "Why do gentlemen’s voices carry so clearly, when women’s are so easily stifled?". There was an error with the ebook I bought from Amazon where the word 'and' was replaced with '&' throughout the book which was a bit distracting. I've read other reviews of this book which describe it as very slow and it is at times but I adored the eerie, creepy tone and the mystery. I definitely want to read more from Sarah Waters!

The All Souls Reading Companion by Deborah Harkness (113 pages) ★★★
The quickest read for the entire month was a 'reading companion' for the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness. I read the first two books last year and loved them and I finished the third book in February so when I saw this short ebook for free on Kindle, I had to download it. I'm very glad that I didn't pay for it because it was not what I was expecting! It's a collection of photographs, snippets of historical background and the authors thoughts while writing the series so it was an extremely quick read. I did enjoy the photographs of the locations within the books, the historic facts about some of the figures/items in the series and I also liked the authors thoughts about her series. I'd definitely recommend it if you can find it for free but if you can't then maybe skip it. 

Salt Magic Skin Magic by Lee Welch (217 pages) ★★★
Another very short fantasy read was Salt Magic, Skin Magic from Lee Welch which involves a trapped heir, a magician, LGBT relationship (far more explicit that I thought it would be so it's definitely an 18+ read), a dysfunctional family, charms and curses. I liked the curse, charms and magic elements, especially the idea of magic being contained within items and metals. I also liked the relationship between Thornby and John as well as the mystery surrounding why Thornby can't leave his father's estate. Overall, I liked this read and it was entertaining but it wasn't really what I thought it would be or what I wanted.  

Wonder Women by Sam Maggs (237 pages) ★★★
A few weeks ago I noticed an offer on Amazon where you could get a free ebook if it was one of their selected ebooks and thankfully this interesting non-fiction read was one of them so I was able to get it for free! I've read quite a few books of this nature before in which they focus on underrated and undervalued women throughout history. I have also read another book by Sam Maggs before (Girl Squads) so I already knew that I'd like this one; although I definitely like Girl Squads more. I love the cover and minimal illustrations throughout as well as the mini biography style of the book. I also liked the Q&A sections throughout the book and the resources list at the end which I wasn't expecting but I can imagine that it would be very useful for those at pre-university age.

I loved learning about so many incredible women who made me feel like I haven't done anything with my life but also very proud and inspired. I didn't know many of the women within the book and I think they should definitely be more well known. The only thing I didn't like about this book was the mixture of the extremely important information and the often very cheesy and juvenile writing which definitely made me roll my eyes at times. However, apart from that, it was a very interesting read about so many wonderful and awe inspiring women! I think this book (or another like it) would be an invaluable and eye opening read to so many people and it should be required reading for high school or college age students, in my opinion. 

The Tower Is Full Of Ghosts by Alison Weir (70 pages) ★★
Another short book and one from a great historical fiction author, Alison Weir. I read one of her books last year and really enjoyed it so I thought I'd try one of her novellas from the series. It begins with a modern day tour around the Tower of London which I did find interesting, especially as I have visited the Tower of London but the rest of the ebook were the first chapters of a couple of her other books in the series, one of which I've already read. I did like the first section of the book but the rest was a bit pointless, if I'm honest, especially if you've already read those books. 

Witch Hearts: A Novella by Angharad Thompson Rees (106 pages) ★★
I came across quite few interesting free ebooks on Amazon in the month of April so I had to download them. The first I tried was Witch Hearts in which we follow triplets who look after their ailing mother until they are taken by a witch hunter. What follows is a very brief, condensed and entertaining mini adventure involving magic, sisterly love and self discovery. I did enjoy it but it is incredibly short, rushed and very predictable. 

The Little Book of Edinburgh by Geoff Holder (204 pages) ★★★
Within the month of April I visited the incredibly beautiful city of Edinburgh for the very first time so naturally I wanted to read a book about Edinburgh! I read most of the book before I visited Edinburgh as I wanted to hopefully get some tips and recommendations of places to visit. It was a very quick book to read with easily consumable information as it is split into small sections. Throughout reading this book I had to screenshot various pages to reference when I was in Edinburgh as there were so many interesting facts throughout the entire book. I found the sections about canals and railways a little boring, probably because I had to study those topics in high school (not a joke) but other than that, it was an easy, interesting read about a city I adored visiting and want to go back to immediately. 

Half A King by Joe Abercrombie (385 pages) ★★★ (3.75)
Fantasy is my favourite genre and one of the most common authors within the fantasy/grimdark genres includes Joe Abercrombie. I've wanted to read the Shattered Sea series for so long and I finally read the first book, Half A King, in April. We follow Prince Yarvi who was born with a deformed hand therefore he is viewed as weak and unfit to rule so when his father and older brother are both murdered, he is the only one (however unlikely and unprepared) to ascend to the throne. His power is very short lived as he is brutally deposed and now he has to work his way back to power.

I loved this book as there's so much going on, even just within the first quarter of the book as plethora of events had already happened. The pace was so fast, it was a little unexpected but it did mean that it always held my attention so much so that I finished the book in two days. I loved the friendships, adventure, peril and power play as well as the characters of Yarvi and his band of outcasts. I liked the plot twist/character reveal! I thought the story was quite straightforward and in the style of a classic fantasy adventure. Overall, I really enjoyed this read and I'll probably buy the second book in the next month or two. 

The Price of Meat by K.J Charles (61 pages) ★★★
One of the shortest books of the month was this historical fiction read set in the grim London streets with references to a very famous fictional figure, Sweeney Todd. It is an incredibly short book but you do get a very vivid look into the dirty, crime infested London streets. I loved the setting as victorian London is one of my favourite time periods to read about and this little world was very vivid, disturbing and grotesque but other than that...it was too short and a little bit boring, if I'm honest. It felt like a synopsis of a much larger book but it was very cheap so if it interests you then maybe check it out.

*Death and Destruction On The Thames In London by Anthony Gavin (299 pages) ★★★
My TBR changed quite a lot throughout the month and I wanted to read more non-fiction books so I opted for this ARC from Netgalley that sounded so interesting. It focuses on all of the events that feature the river Thames in some way, from bridges, ships, cargo, accidental deaths, murder, executions, crime and more, including how the city grew up along the banks of the river.

My favourite genre of non-fiction is history and I also love very specific or niche non-fiction too and this book fits into both categories. It did contain some information that I already knew but a fair amount that I didn't. For example, I didn't know that pirates were hanged along the river with a shorter length of rope so they would strange to death...and that Guy Fawkes wasn't hung, drawn and quartered because he jumped from the scaffold causing his neck to break.

I liked the short sections of information as it made the book easily consumable and a quicker read. I also liked the more casual writing style along with a plethora of interesting facts about the river, London itself and all of the events that happened on or around the river. My only negative was that some of the information was repeated a couple of times throughout the book - even the same or very similar sentences. Overall, I enjoyed this read and I'd recommend it to those who are interested in the history of London and the Thames but it isn't the best non-fiction book I've read about the history of London. 

*Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (256 pages) ★★ (2.75)
I've had this ebook from Netgalley on my iPad for so long and I have finally got round to it after hearing great things. It's a short story collection which focuses on numerous aspects of the female body, violence towards women and how women bodies are viewed. It's a mix between raw realism, magical realism and science fiction in a way that reminded me a little of Angela Carter.

I thought I'd adore Angela Carter's work but I have mixed feelings and I feel the same with this collection. I think my favourite was a story in which all women have ribbons tied around them which they view as a special and delicate aspect of themselves but men wanted to untie them. There was one story which focused solely on the TV show Law and Order which I skipped as another reviewer recommended skipping it if you haven't watch the TV show before.

Overall, it was a fairly interesting read but I think I've come to realise that along with graphic novels and comic books, short story collections just aren't for me as they feel a little throwaway and incomplete to me sadly. If you like magical realism and themes around how women are viewed then maybe this collection would be interesting to you but I was a little disappointed unfortunately so much so that I almost DNF'd it a few times. 

A Mage's Power by Casey Wolfe (270 pages) ★★★
One of the last books I read in April was a YA LGBT fantasy read involving magic, various magical/mythical creatures, political issues, persecution of minority groups and a super sweet friendship. We follow Rowan (love that name) who is trying to become the youngest grandmaster ever - someone who has mastered all forms of magic and his werewolf best friend, Caleb, as various political changes might result in their persecution. We also follow Shaw, an inquisitor, who is charged with policing magical creatures and mages but there's more to him than meets the eye and he has secrets of his own.

I personally didn't love the world with it's mixing of modern technology with ancient buildings and medieval vibes, I'd rather it was one or the other. I also didn't like the insta-love between Rowan and Shaw, it felt very fast and unbelievable. However, that being said, I did like their relationship overall but my favourite relationship within the book was the adorable friendship between Rowan and Caleb. While it was a little too YA and slightly cringey at times, I did enjoy this book and I'll probably carry on with the series. 

They Mostly Come Out At Night by Benedict Patrick (202 pages) ★★★
Sadly, while I did enjoy almost everything I read this month (to varying extents), I did read a few books that disappointed me and one of them was They Mostly Come Out At Night. We follow Lonan, an outcast in his village and despised by almost everyone for something he didn't do. The village is plagued every night by mysterious creatures and for protection the villages pray to the Magpie King and hide in their underground cellars (it definitely has The Village vibes to it).

From the description it sounded like the incredible, dark mysterious fantasy I wanted but the reality was a little disappointing sadly. I'll start with the positives: I liked the setting, vibes of The Village and the idea that everyone has a 'knack' as well as the overall folktale/fairytale elements. However, I hated all of the characters (apart from the old women who he lives with - I can't ever remember her name), I thought it would be more fantasy based but it was more magical realism and I found it to be boring, if I'm honest. It isn't a long book but it definitely felt longer than it was and I was tempted to DNF it a couple of times.  

Waiting On A Bright Moon by Jy Yang (44 pages) ★★
One of the shortest ebooks I read in April was Waiting On A Bright Moon and it was one of the most unusual and confusing books I've read this year...I'm still not sure what it was about even after reading it. It's about female relationships, a strange sci-fi empire, death and a revolution, all in 44 pages. I feel as thought it was a novella for a series but I've checked and I don't think it was part of a series that I should have read first. Overall, it was a confusing reading experience and I don't recommend it, unless you love the author already.

*Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott (480 pages) ★★★
In April I was very kindly sent a paperback copy of Rotherweird and the sequel Wyntertide from Jo Fletcher books. I love the design of both books, especially the illustrations which remind me a little of the illustration style of Heap House by Edward Carey. We follow numerous storylines and perspectives including Jonah Oblong a new history teacher at Rotherweird school and Sir Veronal Slickstone, a sinister billionaire.

The setting is by far my favourite aspect of the book as it's set in the unusual and seemingly lawless, quirky and traditional English town of Rotherweird. It's a town with a very long and unusual history that nobody is allowed to remember or teach. Into this world, the two outsiders (the teacher and the billionaire), try to uncover the strange and hidden past of Rotherweird.

There were some aspects that I adored including the quirky setting, eccentric characters, mysteries about the town and the general whimsical, unusual tone of the book (to me it had a Tim Burton vibe to it that I loved). However...the constantly shifting perspectives, changing storylines and going back and forth in time made for a confusing read which left me with no inclination to keep picking it up so it was a much longer read that I thought it would be. Additionally, there were too many characters so much so that if I left the book for a couple of days, I would forget who many the minor characters were.

Overall, it has the most familiar and quirky feel to it which gave me vibes of X-men, Heap House by Edward Carey and Tim Burton in an eccentric English setting with secretive residents - I adored that aspect of it as well as the mystery. However, it didn't fully catch my attention on the whole, it has a fairly large cast of characters and the switching perspectives and timelines was a little confusing, if I'm honest. Although, for the most part I did enjoy it so I will probably be carrying on with the second book in May.

This World Is Full Of Monsters by Jeff Vandermeer (38 pages) ★★
Another very short novella and this one is from Jeff Vandermeer who wrote the popular Southern Reach trilogy which I read last year. This short ebook has the same surrealist, nature filled themes as the trilogy and involves an alien invasion from one mans perspective as his body is taken over and changed. It was a super quick, surreal and unusual read which was unlike anything else I've read this year but sadly, it just wasn't for me. I've reached a few conclusions in the month of April in terms of my reading and I've noticed that surrealist reads, short story collections and graphic novels/comic books aren't personally for me but if you do like very unusual, surreal and dystopian(ish) reads then check out this quick ebook.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence (529 pages) ★★★★
One of my reading goals for 2019 is to read at least one book over 500 pages each month and for the month of April, my book was one that I've wanted to read for so long, Red Sister. We follow Nona as she is saved from the hangman noose by the abbess of the convent of sweet mercy, a school in which girls are taught to use their power and learn to fight and make poisons. Basically it's an all girls assassin school that is run and taught by fighting nuns...yes!

However, it's much more than that including a Game of Thrones style world, political intrigue, 'the chosen one', prophecies and magic. The premise sounded amazing but annoyingly it took me a while to get into it - that might have been because I was on a very bouncy train to Edinburgh. I loved the world, the convent setting, the camaraderie between most of the girls, the magic system and the fight scenes, of which there are many.

There was so much that I loved about this book and even more so after finishing it and wanting to be back in that world but...it wasn't quite as amazing as I'd hoped it would be. It didn't seem to have a plot running through it, it was flashbacks and the main characters learning about their abilities and learning about the convent, gods and fighting techniques with no real aim or plot running fully throughout. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this read and I definitely want to read more from Mark Lawrence.

Overall, my reading for April in terms of the number of books was my best reading month ever but my ratings were all over the place! If I can give you one reading tip it would be: take a book with you, wherever you go! Also I tend to read SO much more when I use my iPad/kindle app rather than physical books.

Make sure you follow me on GoodReads.

Have you read any of these books? Do you read more while travelling or commuting?

*Gifted 

Eczema + Me: Update 2019

Sunday, April 28, 2019
Way back in 2013 which seems like a lifetime ago, I wrote a post titled 'Eczema and Me' which was all about the products I was using at that time for my eczema including Protopic which is the only product out of everything I mentioned in that post which I'm still using. If you want the full background information on my eczema then check out my first post but today's update only features two points as together they've almost completely banished my eczema which back in 2013, I never thought would be possible.

I've had eczema for over ten years and initially it started on my eye lids as a basic dry rash of sorts but it slowly spread over my eyes, eyebrows, cheeks and then onto my hands about six or so years ago. I tried a gluten free diet for over a month, I tried so many prescription steroid creams and lots of drugstore sensitive moisturisers, most of which didn't help in the slightest.

The only product that has helped my skin consistently for the past ten years has been Hydrocortisone which I definitely recommend as it dramatically reduces eczema flareups but it is a steroid cream and over time it can thin the skin which is a side effect I have noticed as I have been using it on/off for ten years. Thankfully I don't need to use it anymore and if I do need a prescription eczema cream, I use Protopic which is a non-steroid cream and I'd highly recommend it as well.

Vegan Diet Is A Miracle? 
I have been vegan on/off for the past four years or so (you can see some of my recipes and veganuary posts, here) but since the start of 2019, I have switched to a fully vegan diet which unlike many non-vegan assumptions, it isn't difficult and it isn't restrictive. For the first month of 2019 I didn't notice any difference in my eczema and it was only after about two to three months that I noticed the difference.

I noticed the difference first on my hands which have had a constant patch of eczema on both for years. I haven't ever shown the eczema on my hands or face on my blog as it makes me feel awful about my appearance but just to give you an idea of my eczema: it leaves my skin red, very irritated, incredibly dry, tight, very flaky, puffy and inflamed. Now imagine that all over your eye lids, in your tea ducts, over both of your hands and you have an idea of what I've had to deal with for ten years.

I was incredibly happy to see the difference in my skin as eczema is such a horrendous skin condition, not just in the way it makes the skin look (it looks like burnt, inflamed skin most of the time on me) but it has such an emotional affect too as for the past ten years I've felt incredibly self conscious of how unusual my hands and face looked - it can make me feel so deeply upset.

My hands have been 100% eczema free for a month or two now which I never thought would happen and I'm over the moon about it; conversely it has made me a little more anxious as I'm hoping it doesn't come back and I think that's the reason the eczema over my eyes hasn't completely disappeared because I know that stress/anxiety triggers the eczema on my face.

I personally haven't changed anything else about my lifestyle, the products I'm using or anything else, other than switching to a fully vegan diet so that's my only explanation of why my eczema has completely disappeared from my hands and 70% from my face. To those who haven't had eczema, especially on your face, I can't explain how painful, itchy, uncomfortable and horrendous it can look/feel and I would have given up anything to get rid of my eczema so being vegan isn't a challenge or sacrifice as it's a cruelty free lifestyle and an eczema eliminating diet in one - I couldn't be happier. I wish my dermatologist (or any doctor I've visited about my eczema) had suggested a change of diet instead of being given steroid creams, as I could have been spared ten years of painful and thoroughly upsetting eczema.

La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume 
One product that has been helping when I've had a mini eczema flareup over my eyes and also when the skin around my nose has just been really flaky and gross from hayfever symptoms is La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume which I've had in my skincare stash for years but I rediscovered after a sort out a month or two ago. I'm so glad that I rediscovered it as it's become an essential product in my current skincare routine.

Whether I have a cold and my nose is all dry and sore or if I have a mini eczema flareup due to anxiety, this cream when applied in the evening has my skin looking and feeling SO much better the next day, it's very impressive. If you have dry skin, irritated, sore or eczema prone skin then I'd definitely recommend checking out this amazing product from la Roche Posay.

Do you have eczema? Have you tried Cicaplast from La Roche Posay? Have you tried a vegan diet?

Best + Worst Books Of The Year So Far: January - April

Friday, April 26, 2019
Since getting back into reading in 2017, after over ten years of barely reading anything other than peer reviewed journal articles, my own university essays and psychology text books, I've discovered a love of reading. From 2017 onwards, especially this year, I've drastically reduced screen time and used that time for reading instead as I find reading to be calming, entertaining and it helps massively with my anxiety as well as giving me such a nice sense of achievement when finishing a book, particularly if it's a huge book or a classic.

2019 has been a good reading year so far and the first quarter of the year has produced a mixed bag of books but on the whole I've enjoyed almost everything and I have found five books that have become some of my favourite books from the past few years within 2019 already. Here's a summary of my top five books of the year as well as honourable mentions and the most disappointing books I've read this year.

Best Books:
The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch ★★★★★
Working Stiff by Judy Melinek ★★★★★
Luck In The Shadows by Lynn Flewelling ★★★★
The Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon ★★★★
*The Secret Barrister ★★★★

Honourable Mentions 
The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah ★★★
Medical London by Richard Barnett ★★★★
The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman ★★★ (3.75)
Half A King by Joe Abercrombie ★★★ (3.5)
Affinity by Sarah Waters ★★★ (3.5)

Disappointing:
*From The Wreck by Jane Rawson ★★★
Waiting On A Bright Moon by Jy Yang ★★
They Mostly Come Out At Night by Benedict Patrick ★★★
*Pale Wolves by Thomas Hulse (DNF)
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova ★★★

In terms of the most books I loved in one month, that month has to be January 2019 which contained three of my favourite books of the year so far. April has turned out to be most best reading month ever based on the number of books I've been able to read; however it has also included quite a few disappointing reads as well as one DNF. You'll see my April reading wrap-up post very soon so stay tuned!

I'm currently reading my 51st and 52nd books of the year so I'll probably publish one of these posts every quarter. Do you want to be friends on GoodReads? Have you read any of these books? 

*Gifted

Klorane Fortifying Spray

Tuesday, April 23, 2019
As some of you may know, I do suffer with thinning and hair loss and I have reviewed a couple of products on my blog over the years but only one has worked so I'm always looking for new products to help. Since using Regrowz last year, I haven't had thinning or hair loss to the same extent but it is still a bit of an issue with the main area of concern being around my hairline which makes it more noticeable than it would be otherwise.

The thinning and areas around my hairline where there's less hair and thinner hair is definitely something I'd like to change as I do feel a little self conscious about it at times. I occasionally 'fill in' those areas with a matte eyeshadow which helps but I hoped this product make my hair look stronger, thicker and reduce or prevent thinning.

*Klorance Quinine Keratin Strength Fortifying Spray (£24.50)
I was very kindly sent the Klorane Quinine Keratin Strength Fortifying Spray which claims to offer immediate and long term effectiveness against hair thinning via micro-nutrition. The active ingredients of quinine and keratin help circulation, stimulates growth and strengthens hair fibres in turn as well as encouraging hair growth. It features a non-greasy formula with green tea, jasmine and peach. Thankfully it is suitable for vegans and it is cruelty free!

As I tend to wash my hair three times per week (sometimes four times), I have been using it three or four times every week for the past three or so weeks (potentially four weeks - I should have noted down the day I first used it!). To use, all you have to do is apply a few pumps to the scalp and a couple to the ends of the hair when it is clean and wet then distribute evenly. The process of using the product is so quick and easy, especially compared to other products I've used and it smells nicer than other hair treatments of a similar nature.
March 2019 (left) - April 2019 (right)
The directions state to use around 6-8 pumps on the scalp and 2-3 on the ends but as my hair is shoulder length, I've been using much less as I don't want to apply tonnes to my hair. I use about 3 pumps on my scalp and one or two on the ends. I'm not quite sure if three or four weeks of use would be enough to see long term effects but so far I have definitely noticed that my hair feels healthier, glossy and stronger as well as a little fuller.

I haven't noticed any hair growth or a dramatic effect in terms of hair thinning but I am noticing positive effects with the look and feel of my hair as it does feel stronger and healthier which is fantastic! I don't know if my decision to use less of the product than is recommended has reduced or slowed the positives results but I'm happy with the product and I'll continue to use the product for the next few weeks to see if I get any more positive results in which case I will report back and update this post in the future.

In my experience, products like this are either very expensive, they don't work at all or they aren't vegan so if you are looking for a product to help with hair strength and hair thinning at a very reasonable price then I'd definitely recommend the Klorane Fortifying Spray from Escentual as so far it's worked for me, it ticks the vegan box and it doesn't irritate my scalp or skin at all which is fantastic!

Have you tried this product or any other from Klorane? Do you suffer with hair loss or thinning hair? If so, would you try this product? 

*Gifted 

DegustaBox - April 2019

Saturday, April 20, 2019
We all know by now how much I adore the DegustaBox boxes I'm lucky enough to receive as an ambassador and this months box is no different. If you follow me on Instagram then you'll have seen my unboxing today (@ofbeautyand) and the minor catastrophe that occurred with the April delivery. I've been receiving the boxes for a couple of years now and in that time there's only been two accidents with the boxes which I think is fantastic. This months accident was annoyingly quite messy and did ruin the item so sadly you won't see the Heinz soup pot in today's post but it is one of the 'best of British' items from the box.

*DegustaBox - April 2019 
Anyway, onto the April box and the theme for this month is 'best of British' and focuses on not only British brand but lots of sharing snacks that would be ideal for a spring picnic (the weather in the UK this Easter weekend is utterly glorious) and a selection of drinks, breakfast items and cooking ingredients, but mainly snacks. There's such a great variety within the April box, from cereal, sweets and fruity drinks to snack bars, BBQ sauce, soup and chocolatey snacks. I have five favourite items from this months selection and there's one brand that I've wanted to try for so long.
*Skinny Food Co Chocolate Crispies (£1.49)
Let's start with the chocolate snacks as it is the long Easter weekend in the UK after all! I received three packets of the Skinny Food Co chocolate crispies in the white chocolate and the milk chocolate options. They are gluten free, packed with more protein than you'd think and they don't contain any added sugar. Additionally, they are only 100 calories each and before you say anything about chocolate, calories, easter and how evil calories are - calories are not the enemy, they're important to consider. I like to think of calories as petrol, you wouldn't fail to measure the amount of petrol you put in your car so why would you not count or consider the number of calories you consume. They're both energy/fuel that needs to be monitored, in my opinion. I'm always on the look out for low calorie snacks but sadly these aren't vegan, however before the start of the year I would have been so happy to receive these crispies!

*Pachamama Bars (£1.39)
Another ideal on the go snack item are two snack bars from a brand I haven't heard of before, Pachamama. I received the Andean Berry and Raspberry flavour as well as the Cacao and Cashew bar. Both bars are vegan with no added sugar and lots of fruit, grains, seeds and nuts. Healthy snack bars are always in my handbag and car for easy, mess free and healthy snacking when needed - I had a couple of Nakd bars in my bag when we went to Edinburgh last week. I haven't tried these bars yet but they sound great, especially the raspberry one.
*Candy Kittens - Wild Strawberry (£1.50)
Last Christmas my advent calendar of choice was the amazing (and huge) Candy Kittens advent calendar and it was amazing. I'm not a huge chocolate fan and I never have been but candy/sweets have always been my downfall! Sugary, sour and gummy candies are my guilty pleasure but most of the vegan options have a strange texture or consistency. However, the Candy Kittens options have all been delicious and almost indistinguishable from 'normal' gelatine sweets in terms of the texture. From the advent calendar I was able to try most, if not all of their flavours and the wild strawberry was my favourite by far, followed by the watermelon flavour. The Candy Kittens sweets along with the Robinsons cordial and BBQ corn are my favourite items from this months box.

*London Flavours (£1)
Another vegan snack is the London Flavours crisps which comes in three flavour options - you'll receive one of the three. I received the Pho flavour which is something I've never heard of but it's a traditional street food option in Vietnam with flavours of citrus. I love that so many of the items are clearly labeled as vegan and it's amazing that more and more items are being included in the box that are 100% vegan!

*Love Corn Smoked BBQ (£1.29)
Lastly for the snacks and again, it's a vegan snack! This brand is the UK's first premium crunchy corn brand. The corn is gluten free, sugar free and vegan. I do like sweet snacks but I'll always prefer savoury snacks so these are perfect. I also love smokey and BBQ flavours and these were delicious, very moreish and relatively low in calories.
*Crafted Mango and Passionfruit Drink (£2)
Along with the sweets and corn snack, this drink is my favourite item from the box as it's the most delicious, summery and refreshing fruit drink ever! I've tried this brand before from a previous DegustaBox. Mango and Passionfruit are such refreshing and delicious fruit flavours for summer which is ideal for the summery weather we have in the UK right now. I will definitely be buying this drink in the future.

*Bull's Eye NY Steakhouse BBQ Sauce (£2.49)
Another summery item is this BBQ sauce from Bull's Eye NY Steakhouse which is a brand I haven't tried before. I love the packaging and it claims an 'ultimate authentic American BBQ taste'. It isn't labeled as vegan but it is within the vegetarian category online - it seems to be vegan based on the ingredients list. I'll look into it and hope that it is suitable for vegans!
*Robinsons Fruit Cordial (£2.49)
Robinsons cordial has been a favourite of mine for almost all of my life and I love the newer flavours they've been bringing out over the past year or so and this one is no different. The Pressed Pear and Elderflower flavour is included in the box this month and I couldn't be happier with the combination as it's so summery, fresh and sweet. I love anything that is elderflower flavoured so I knew I'd love this cordial...and I do. I'll be picking up another bottle very soon!

* Heinz Organic Baked Beans (£1)
Baked beans are such a British thing and it's something that I love as a fairly low calorie, high protein lunch. They're such a healthy food with the amount of protein and fibre as well as the lack of fat. Each tin is one of your five a day and they're perfect on toast or on a jacket potato - the latter was a staple of my secondary school lunches.
*Typhoo Black Tea (£2.20)
Another very British item, tea. I'm one of those strange British people who doesn't actually like tea, apart from herbal and fruit tea (don't hate me). I love the packaging and I know guests will love them but tea just isn't for me.

Eat Water Slim Sushi Rice (£2.55)
As I mentioned before, there's one brand that I've wanted to try for a while and it's Eat Water. They have a range of pasta which is the main product I've wanted to try - there's mixed reviews of their products but I want to try them for myself. I made vegan sushi for the first time last year and liked it so I'm interested to try it again with this very low calorie rice.
*Cheerios Multigrain (£2.69)
Last but not least is another product, along with Robinsons cordial, that I've grown up with. I do like Cherrios and they have a lot of benefits but from a little research online, the vitamin D in the cereal is derived from Lanolin which is from sheeps wool so no Cheerios for me sadly. Overall, I'm very happy with the April box and I'm even happier with the consistent number of vegan items included each month!

Have you tried any of these products? What do you think of the April box? 

*Gifted

Latest In Beauty Oh So Natural Box

Thursday, April 18, 2019
I'm lucky enough to receive a fair amount of 'blogger mail' and PR packages over almost seven years of blogging and one of my favourite categories of items I like the receive the most are subscription boxes. I grew up in the 90's and one thing I always loved to spend my pocket money on was the Claire's Accessories mystery bags (which I believe were £5 and filled with junk) and since then I've loved the idea of mystery bags and subscription boxes. While I do love the mystery, it's a refreshing change to see a great value beauty box in which you can choose all of the items.

*Latest In Beauty Oh So Natural Box - Beauty Enthusiast (£22)
Latest In Beauty is a brand I've worked with a few times and I'm very happy to again as I love their one off boxes! I was very kindly sent one of their 'beauty enthusiast' boxes which contains six items, all of which you can choose from a wide ranging selection. There's a new item each day so you might not want to order straight away. The items vary from tea, body products and haircare to hair accessories, skincare, makeup, tools, fragrance samples, nail polish, tanning items and more. You're bound to find a range of items you want to try as well as a fantastic variety of brands.
*Soaper Duper Yuzufruit and Fig Body Butter (300ml)
I opted for one nail polish set, one haircare set, three bodycare items and one face mask from a range of brands including Charles Worthington, Sally Hansen, Sanctuary Spa, Soap and Glory and more. If you click on the item description on the Latest In Beauty website then you'll usually see the size of the items as some are only small sample sizes and others are full sized items. I always try and choose the full sized or larger sample items as it's better value for money.

One of the full sized items I chose was the Soaper Duper Yuzufruit and Fig Body Butter which comes in a huge tub so it's going to last a while. I haven't tried anything from the brand and the scent sounded amazing which is why I chose it, along with the size. I'm SO glad I picked this body butter as it's one of the nicest body butter scents I've tried come across! It's difficult to describe the scent but to me it smells like fruity suncream (in the nicest possible way) and it's just so summery - the scents lasts on the skin too. I'm very happy with this body butter and I'll definitely be looking out for more from this brand, particularly this scent, in the future.
*Sanctuary Spa Purifying Charcoal Bubble Sheet Mask (22g)
Another full sized item and one from a brand that I love, Sanctuary Spa. I've tried so many products from Sanctuary Spa, probably over the past fifteen years but I haven't tried any of their skincare before! To be honest, I didn't really know that they made skincare...The mask claims to detoxify, purify and clear pores. I have tried 'bubble' masks before and they do look very unusual on the skin so I can't wait to try this one.

*Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Duo - Shimmer Me Timbers (full size)
When I made up my first box from Latest In Beauty back in November last year, I added another Sally Hansen Miracle Gel duo to my box (I added the Jungle Red Rock shade) and I've been impressed since then. I love the Miracle Gel formula and I find to be the most long lasting polish out there that doesn't require a lamp or specialist tools/polishes. I loved the red shade and I'm excited to try this one as it's very different to my regular nude nail polish shades.
*Charles Worthington Healthy Balance Shampoo and Conditioner (250ml each)
As I said, I did wait for a few days before placing my order as I wanted to see the new items that are added daily to the site and the 'star product' one day was this haircare duo from Charles Worthington. I opted for it even thought a size wasn't listed but thankfully both of the items are full sized at 250ml each. I haven't tried anything from Charles Worthington for so long but this range sounds fantastic as it claims to restore the hairs natural balance, repairs split ends, treats excess oils and keeps the hair fresh for 72 hours, that's impressive.

I love the design and packaging for this product as well as the scent which is very sweet and feminine - the fragrance is supposed to last in your hair all day long. I've only tried this duo a couple of times now but so far I'm very impressed as my hair only usually lasts two days before I need to wash it again but I managed to get three while using this shampoo and conditioner duo!
*Soap and Glory Righteous Butter (50ml)
Soap and Glory used to be my favourite body care brand about six or so years ago but I haven't tried anything from them since then sadly so when I saw a mini tub of their famous 'The Righteous Butter' on Latest In Beauty, I had to try it. Just the smell of it takes me back to college and university days as I used Soap and Glory products religiously back then. The body butter is just as good as I remember it being and I cannot recommend it enough.

*Rose & Co Hand Cream (90ml)
Last but not least is another full sized product and one that came boxed as well! As you many know, if I'm been following me on social media, since switching to a fully vegan diet at the start of the year, I'm eczema has almost fully disappeared (apart from a couple of very small areas) so thankfully I don't need to use medicated creams or hand creams as often as I used to but I still need to use one every so often. This one is so nice, it smells lovely and it moisturises very well.

Have you tried any of the Latest In Beauty boxes? 

*Gifted

Last Minute Easter Gifts

Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Today's post is my second and final easter gift guide post for the year and it's featuring so many fantastic brands including Yes To, Funky Pigeon, Bomb Cosmetics, Emma Lomax and Thames and Hudson. I think today's post features a wide range of items for various people you might want to treat this Easter and for a variety of budgets too. Thanks so much to all of the lovely brands! If you follow me on Instagram (@ofbeautyand) then you'll have noticed all of the unboxings.

*Yes To Grapefruit Unicorn Transforming Clay Cleanser (£7.99)
Let's start with one of the cutest skincare products I've received all year, the Yes To Grapefruit cleanser. I was very kindly sent a package from Yes To UK for National Unicorn Day which was a week ago but I was in Edinburgh on that day. The cleanser is part of the Yes To Grapefruit range and it's their first clay cleanser that changes colour from a salmon pink to yellow.

I adore the packaging, it has a lovely fruity scent and I like the colour changing idea. I've only used it a couple of times on my t-zone which is the areas of my skin that needs the brightening claims the most. So far so good and I can't wait to try their Yes To Grapefruit Glow Boosting Unicorn Peel Off Mask!
*Bomb Cosmetics Gold Of Pleasure Carrier Oil (£8.49)
I am lucky enough to be a Bomb Cosmetics ambassador so I am sent wonderfully scented and very colourful packages every so often (which I'm always very happy with). Within my most recent parcel I received a set of four products I haven't tried before including the Gold Of Pleasure Natural Carrier Oil which is a natural oil derived from plants (so it's vegan) and it is high in omega 3 and 6 oils that protects the skin, improves elasticity and softens the skin.

Additionally, Bomb Cosmetics supplies essentials oils that can be combined with the carrier oil to make your own skincare or bodycare products. I was sent the Orange Pure Essential Oil that naturally smells amazing and refreshing for spring. The oils are colour coded so you know instantly which oils match with which carrier oil - I think that's a great idea as not everyone will know which oils to use together, myself included.
*Emma Lomax Large Pencil Case (£18)
Next up is from a brand that I worked with years ago back when it was Sewlomax! Their makeup bags, toiletry bags and pencil cases are just adorable and this one is no different. I still have a few of mine from 2014 and use them when we go on holiday - as someone who's used their bags for years, I can say that the quality is fantastic. I think all of the designs as great but I personally love the more quirky designs.
I think my favourite design of their has to be the adorable Red Lipstick Pop Makeup Bag but coming in as a close second has to be this pencil case. The pencil case would make a fantastic gift for any teachers or students in your life this Easter and you could fill it with new stationery or chocolates! They offer free shipping on all orders and they even have a range of greeting cards too so you're bound to find something for Easter or a birthday.
 *Peter Rabbit Personalised Book (£24.99)
We all know how I feel about personalised gifts by now and this one from Funky Pigeon has to be one of the sweetest personalised books I've ever come across. Peter Rabbit was one of my favourite characters growing up and to me, it's one of the very few childrens films/cartoon characters that is still classic, timeless and loveable. Most childrens TV shows and movies now are all so incredibly tacky so it's nice to find a beautifully designed book with gorgeous timeless illustrations of a beloved childrens character.
The book comes gorgeously packaged within a Peter Rabbit box and you can not only have the recipients name but a free gift message too. I chose the gift for one of my best friends babies as I know that she loves Peter Rabbit designs as well. I thought it would just be personalised on the cover and potentially the inside the cover too but the name is dotted throughout the book which makes it even more special.

I've received a few personalised gifts from Funky Pigeon over the past few months and I cannot recommend them enough, from their wonderful Mother's Day gifts (which you can see in my Mother's Day Gift Guide) and their Easter gift ideas. Funky Pigeon has such a fantastic range of gifts from flowers, personalised mugs, canvases, postcards, wedding stationery photo calendars and more!
*Japanese Style at Home - Thames and Hudson (£14.95) 
Last but not least is a pair of gorgeously designed books from the very generous people over at Thames and Hudson. The books aren't currently available but they will be from the 13th June and they'd make great belated easter gifts, exciting pre-orders or birthday gift ideas for those book lovers or aspiring interior designers. Interior design is one of my favourite genres to scroll through on Pinterest and I love to switch up my homeware, decor and style with the seasons so these reads are perfect for me.
Both books are 'flexibound' so they have the flexibility of a paperback but more of the strength of a hardback - I don't think I have any other flexibound books but I need to search for some. I love the sectioned, easily consumable format as the information is simply laid out and there's a plethora of stunningly gorgeous photographs throughout.

Exploring room by room and explaining various materials, terms and crucial elements to each style, the book lays out a comprehensive look at each interior design style, along with specific decor suggestions, colour schemes and case studies. I resonate the most with the cosy minimalism of Scandinavian design but I do love aspects of Japanese style such as the idea of a room with a view (the outside is so important to bring into each room) and the use of natural materials. I also like the vibrant, colourful bohemian style, in moderation.

Overall, if you're looking for in-depth but interesting and photograph filled guides to bohemian or Japanese interior design and style then I cannot recommend these books enough - make sure you note down the release date. Thames and Hudson also offer an amazing range of quirky non-fiction reads, I personally love their medical history books including The Smile Stealers and Crucial Interventions.

What do you think of my Easter gift guide? 

Check out my first easter gift guide for more ideas! 

*Gifted

*How To Stay Motivated With Your Healthy Lifestyle

Monday, April 15, 2019
Image from Popsugar
Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to stay motivated to live that healthy lifestyle that you want. People fall into a rut and become unmotivated and lazy. It’s really easy to lose your focus but it’s no reason to beat yourself up, you just need to give yourself a kick start back into it and you’ll feel the benefits. Have a look at some of the tips for staying motivated with your healthy lifestyle. Look At Your Routine Sometimes changing a routine can be as important as having one in the first place. It’s nice to think that we can live without a routine and just go with the flow but reality shows that people thrive with a bit a structure in their lives. So if going to the gym every morning isn’t doing anything for your motivation have a look at changing it. In the long run, exercising at a different time each can help to keep your body guessing and alert. It will prevent you from getting bored and unmotivated. A vital part of living a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle is variety.

Try To Rediscover Your Motivation 
Have a think about what motivated you in the first place. Was it for a special occasion, was it because you were getting into an unhealthy rut and it was affecting your overall health? Relooking at what made you change your habits in the first place could be the kick that you need to get you back on track. Let's face it, exercise can be boring but it doesn't have to be, you could try introducing music to your work out, it’s proven to increase your motivation, Origym has put together a list of Rap music to workout to if you need any inspiration. Have a go at really thinking about how it would feel to achieve your goal and you may just find that your motivation comes back.

Make It Fun 
So we’ve established that exercising can be boring so let's change that. It doesn’t matter what you are doing you deserve to be having fun and enjoying it. After the fun is health benefit in itself, making you feel good also gives you good mental wellbeing. If you start to get bored with your exercise routine try to make a few changes. Don't go for that same jog every day, why not try a new exercise class or going to a hike on the weekend. It will help to boost your commitment and keep your brain active at the same time.

Try Some New Foods 
One of the many reasons people fail with eating healthily is because they don’t introduce enough variety into their diet and end up eating the same meals over and over. This would be enough to make anyone bored with their food. You could try looking at some new cookbooks and cook a few different meals. You're bound to come across ones you don’t enjoy as well as some new favourites to add to your repertoire, so have some fun with it and try some experiments. You could even get the kids involved and find some family feast too. On the plus side having the whole family on board when trying to eat healthy keeps you focused and feeling like you’re eating ‘normal’ with them. It can sometimes be difficult to stay on track when you’re eating separate meals to the family and this is supposed to a lifestyle, not a diet.

Rope In Your Family And Friends 
Turning your healthy lifestyle into a group activity could be just what you’re looking for to keep you motivated. Power in numbers! You’re able to bounce ideas off of each other, share recipes and go to that daunting late night swim with a swimming partner. Not only that you will all be able to support each other and pass along encouraging words to keep the focus and determination. You need to remember that you’re not alone in this and there are always people who are willing to help and get involved. Try arranging fun activities to do with the kids like a walk around a nature park in the school holidays.

Be Flexible 
One key thing to remember when living a healthy lifestyle is that you cannot plan everything. Yes, a routine is good but sometimes it’s ok for it to broken. Keep yourself flexible and give things a little change every now and then. If someone invites on a walk at lunchtime rather than jumping in the car to the shop why not give it a go? Also, you should never beat yourself up if you slip up, everyone has time where they feel like they have overeaten or indulged in chocolate a little too much. It doesn’t have to mean that you give up on your journey to a healthy life. At the end of the day it’s called lifestyle for a reason and in that lifestyle, you’re bound to come across cake at some point. All you need to do is pick yourself up and try to get back into it, no need for any guilty feelings.

Make Your Exercise Part Of Your Daily Life 
A healthy lifestyle can be really easy, it’s just about making small changes. Something small that you can change is by bringing exercise into your daily routine. This doesn’t mean scheduling the gym every day this means making changes such as walking the shop instead of going by car or try cycling to work. Doing things like this will increase your stamina and physical strength without you really noticing. Not only that by increasing your exercise you will naturally improve your mental health and be able to perform better at work and increase your energy levels. There is often a cycle to work schemes may be available through your employer or through your local council where you can get discounts on buying the equipment you need to do it full time.

Do you have any tips about staying motivated with your healthy lifestyle to help? 

*Collaborative post

Travel Diary: Edinburgh, Scotland

Saturday, April 13, 2019
Earlier this week, myself and my mum headed to the beautiful and historic city of Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland for a belated Mother's Day treat. I have been lucky enough to go on various family holidays growing up around Scotland including Mull, Oban, Fort William and the Isle of Arran, the latter on a geology field trip. However I've always wanted to visit Edinburgh, especially since almost everyone on one side of my mum's family is Scottish (from Aberdeen, Stirling, Glasgow) and from my Ancestry DNA results, I'm 16% Scottish.

None of this trip was sponsored (sadly, it would have been amazing if it was) and we travelled via Transpennine on seemingly the oldest and most rickety train imaginable then on a slightly disappointing Virgin Train. The Virgin First Class Train we went on in February to London was amazing but sadly this one was more than a little dirty and the driver was late for the journey back on Wednesday so our train was delayed from Edinburgh and we missed our connecting train as a result - the reason the driver was late was because of train cancellations...he had to be driven from Glasgow to Edinburgh to drive our train!
National Museum of Scotland  
Anyway, enough moaning about trains (we have asked for a refund as the delay was over 30 minutes) and onto what we did in Edinburgh. We hadn't really planned anything for the first day as you never know if there's going to be a problem with the train so after walking for a while in the wrong direction from the station, we finally found our hotel (it would have been a very simple and short journey but we came out of the opposite side of the station and Edinburgh is a bit of a maze!).

We stayed in the new Premier Inn on the Royal Mail (well, it is actually on East Market Street - a very handy street for the station and to get to most of the main attractions such as Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace). We've been to a few Premier Inn hotels as they're always so clean, inexpensive and the food is great too and this one was no different. The staff were incredibly lovely, the room was much larger than others we'd been in and it was great value for money. If you are looking for a good Premier Inn then I cannot recommend this one enough, along with the Euston Premier Inn.
Enough raving on about the hotel and onto the first place we visited, the National Museum of Scotland which is quite an unimposing building from the outside but the inside is incredibly beautiful. I adore beautiful and unique architecture so this museum was a dream to walk around and photograph! It's such a vast museum and you definitely need to take one of the maps as you'll never see all of it without one - we had a map and still didn't manage to explore everywhere.

Despite the number of people, it was a very pleasant museum to walk around with lots of seating, beautiful spring natural light, so many exhibits to see and a wide range of subjects from the natural world and space to fashion and more. The section I was most interested in was the one that seemed to be hidden away, The Kingdom Of The Scots which I would have thought would have taken centre stage in the National Museum of Scotland....However it was in a far off corner and if we hadn't asked about it, I don't think we would have managed to find it, especially as we didn't have all day to look around. If you're visiting Edinburgh then I'd recommend a quick visit to the museum as it's such a calm, open and interesting museum to visit, if a little confusing in terms of it's layout.
Holyrood Palace 
As I said, on the first day we didn't have anything planned and we seemed to waste quite a lot of time looking for the hotel and on Cockburn Street trying to decide which direction to walk in! However after having a look at the map from the hotel, we noticed that Holyrood Palace (which I thought would be quite a walk away), was only ten minutes or so from our hotel so at four(ish) on the first day we decided to walk to the palace. The palace is across from the fairly controversial Scottish Parliament building (I personally don't like the design and I don't know why they didn't choose a Scottish architect to design it). 

I didn't expect the palace to be open for much longer but we arrived within ten minutes of the last admission and it actually closed at six so I think we were quite lucky with the timing - we managed a relaxed walk around all of the palace within just over an hour. The museum was free to visit but the palace was £15 each - which is a great price in my opinion. You receive an audio/video guide to listen to as you walk around and unlike all of the other guides I've used while visiting other palaces/historic houses in the UK and abroad on holiday, this one was so easy, pleasant and fuss free to use. 
I've visited a fair few historic, country houses and palaces within the UK over the past ten to fifteen years including Kensington Palace (which I visited in February and you can see it on my London 2019 Instagram stories highlights) and Buckingham Palace palace a couple of years ago but I think Holyrood Palace was one of the nicest and most 'user friendly' palaces I've ever visited. The layout wasn't confusing, the audio guide was informative without being boring and the staff were so nice. Sadly, the only downside to the palace is that you can't take photographs inside (apart from the abby/grounds). 

The palace itself is incredibly beautiful with so much history particularly related to Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary Queen of Scots, you can even go inside her bedchamber. As well as the palace you also see the ruins of Holyrood Abby which was opened in 1128 - I did take photos here (which you can see above) as there weren't any signs prohibiting photography outside of the palace. Overall, I think it is well worth the money and the visit as it's such a gorgeous building with such a vast and interesting history. I definitely want to visit it again in the future and with a little more time so I can visit the palace gardens. If you are visiting Edinburgh then you need to visit Holyrood Palace, you won't regret it!
Edinburgh Castle 
We made a few whistle stop visits to a few other places such as Greyfriars Kirk and St Giles (from a distance was we didn't have much time) but the last main 'attraction' we visited was the famous and impressive Edinburgh Castle which sits atop Castle Rock, the remains of volcanic activity 340 million years ago. We bought tickets online for the castle in advance and it's something I'd definitely recommend to avoid queues and I'd also recommend choosing the earliest slot available (9:30 - 11am)  as we did so you have as much time as possible as there is SO much to see. We went on one of the free guided tours and the tour guide was fantastic!

I didn't know what to expect at the castle but there's so much more than a castle as there's a war memorial, the Scottish Crown Jewels, an 12th century church, various souvenir shops, cafes, a great hall (which was completely renovated by the meddling victorians...) and amazing views among a couple of museums so you need at least half a day to explore it all fully. I think there were around three smaller sections that we didn't have time to see (including the Royal Scots Dragoon Regiment museum) but we still spent over three hours at the castle after arriving there just before it opened. As with Holyrood Palace, I don't think a trip to Edinburgh is complete without visiting the castle and I think you get so much to see for your money.
I have to say that my first visit to Edinburgh wasn't quite what I expected as I didn't know just how steep some of the roads were, how many bloody annoying cobbled streets there would be (which I managed to almost trip over a good few times), how quiet it is, how clean the city would be and how much I would adore the architecture. I also have to mention that there are a fair number of Harry Potter themed shops around the city too which I deeply appreciate - you can easily see how magical the city is and how it could have inspired the wizarding world. Walking the streets of Edinburgh you get such a sense of the vast history of the city, it is almost magical in its narrow steep streets and its beautifully striking architecture. There are so many other cities I want to visit across Scotland and I would be very happy to visit Edinburgh again!

If you want to see more photographs and videos then definitely check out my Edinburgh highlights on Instagram!

Have you visited Edinburgh? If so, have you visited any of the places I've mentioned? Also, do you have any recommendations of other places to visit in the city? 

*Importance Of Capturing Memories

Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Image from Pinterest
Mother's Day for those in the UK has just passed and it's made me think a little more about memories and how I keep and display memories. I love to give personalised gifts especially with photographs of special people or important memories (which are always very well received) and it's nice to have items to remind you of lovely memories, whether it's from a holiday, important occasion or just an everyday photograph.

I have also been thinking about ancestry much more recently as I seem to have taken to upon myself to become the family record keeper, historian and researcher as I find it incredibly fascinating. I wish that my ancestors wrote down memories or had the ability to photograph their lives as we do now as visual or written memories as that information is so valuable. 

I'm planning on sorting out all of the ancestry records, family trees and photographs I have into a more succinct set of records and I also want to make more memories with family and friends which do require an investment of sorts which SunLife suggests releasing equity for as lasting and important memories are often tied to emotion such as family holidays, trying out new opportunities and taking on new challenges or hobbies, most of which might require a financial investment. 

Holidays & Day Trips 
Some of my favourite memories have been from school, funny memories with friends and amazing family holidays! My favourite recent holiday memories have to be from our family holiday to Norway which is a country that I instantly fell in love with and I definitely want to visit again. Another holiday I loved recently was visiting the Lake District with two of my best friends which was my first holiday with friends and I hope to do that again this year at some point.

Friends  
As I was thinking about the most important memories to me a few came to mind that I've already mentioned such as important events (which for me include being a bridesmaid last year and graduating from university) and lovely family holidays but some of my favourites are also just time I've spent laughing, talking and reminiscing with my friends over pizza while watching their toddlers make funny faces, grow up and start to speak. I sadly don't have many photographs to capture these memories as we're usually too busy talking!

Everyday Moments 
While important events are naturally going to be ones that you'll want to remember, I think it's equally as important to remember the little things. Trying a new hobby with a friend, baking with your children, going to the park with your sibling, going on a day trip with your family or having a girls night, all of which can be so important and valuable memories. Thankfully in the age of Instagram, it's easy to capture everyday moments that you can look back on.

Do you think that we should invest in memories? Do you want to spend more time making new memories this year?

*collaborative post

Mitch's Kitchen Vegan Meals

Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Last week I received a very exciting delivery from the lovely people over at Mitch's Kitchen which is a company focusing solely on #FastPacedPlantBased meals. As you might know if you've been following my blog for a while, I have been vegetarian since I was around eleven or twelve years old and I've been on/off vegan for the past four or so years. However, since the start of 2019, I decide to make the switch permanently and I haven't been happier, especially as my eczema seems to have almost completely disappeared since then!

I'm always looking for new and exciting vegan ingredients or meals to try and thankfully 2019 seems to be the year of the vegan as more and more companies are bringing vegan options into the mainstream which makes such a change from even a year or two ago when I was struggling to find vegetarian options in the main UK supermarkets. The creators of Mitch's Kitchen also know how difficult it can be to find vegan options which is why they created their own with Mitch's Kitchen.

*Mitchs Kitchen Plant Based Meals (from £6.75 each) 
They currently offer a range of nine meals to choose from, all of which are completely plant based and vegan. The full ingredients list for each meal is displayed online so you know what you're buying beforehand. Each meal is handmade, they are all frozen which makes them very convenient and they can be easily heated up in the microwave in ten minutes!

I received six of their meals to try, all of which came nicely packaged within recyclable packaging which is great! The first thing that stuck me, if I'm honest, is the packaging design...I LOVE it! I know it's not the most important aspect of the product but it was a dream to photograph and beautifully designed packaging makes me want to try out their products even more.
Mitch's Kitchen Gardener's Pie ★★★★★
The first meal I tried was the Gardener's Pie which contains chestnut mushrooms, lentils, mash and red wine gravy. The meal is low fat and very low in calories, especially for the portion size which is 450g and only 333 calories. The low calories and easy to discern ingredients makes it very easy for me to add the meals into my calorie tracking app. As someone who does track calories, the low (or relatively low) calories for each meal was fantastic and it helps that all of the meals are delicious too.

The Gardener's Pie was my favourite of all of the meals, although I liked all of them but I will be buying this option in the future as it's so scrumptious, filling and healthy as well as low calorie - the perfect meal. I'll also be trying to re-create this meal as it's so moreish and contains one of my favourite herbs, sage. My first try of the Mitch's Kitchen meals was off to a fantastic start!

Buckwheat Jambalaya  ★★★★
Next up is a meal I haven't even considering making or trying before, jambalaya, which is a traditional meal from Louisiana that usually consists of meat, veggies and rice but this is a vegan version. It contains rainbow peppers, tempeh chorizo, tomatoes, cayenne, lemon and buckwheat. I didn't know what to expect with this meal as I haven't tried anything similar to it before but it was SO delicious! I loved the hearty buckwheat, lemon and smokey flavour as well as the unusual tempeh chorizo, the latter was delicious but I didn't know it was tempeh as it is very different to the other tempeh products I've tried. Overall, it is not quite my favourite of the six but it's still very, very good, hence my rating.
Sunkissed Pasta  ★★★★
My final four start meal was their 'sunkissed pasta' which is such a lovely name for it and it is a very Mediterranean-esque combination of flavours from cavolo nero kale, tomatoes, artichokes and olives, thankfully for me the latter is very minimal. These meals have introduced me to various food combinations I haven't tried before such as the mix of brown rice penne and butter beans, within this pasta dish. My favourite elements of this option have to be the creamy, rich sauce, kale and the sunflower seed 'parmesan'. Sadly, as with a few few frozen meals that I've tried that contain pasta, it was a little mushy but other than that, I'd be more than happy to eat it again...and again.

Moroccan Tagine ★★★★
Another meal that is low in fat and calories is the Moroccan Tagine which contains only 375 calories! It's a flavourful combination with chickpeas, aubergine, squash, lentils, tri-colour quinoa, goji berries and citrus zest. The combination of quinoa, goji berries and citrus zest is just so delicious and also very refreshing. I also liked the mix of savoury, rich flavours and the mint and citrus flavours - very North African and very delicious.
Coconut Kathal Masala ★★★
Next up, a curry with jackfruit, coconut, chickpeas, wholegrain rice, cauliflower, coriander and lots of spices. Some of the meals such as this curry, the chocolate chilli and the jambalaya all have chilli symbols on the packaging but thankfully for me, none of the meals were very spicy. I have the most sensitive tastebuds imaginable so the less chilli and spice, the better. I loved this curry, it was very filling and moreish (as all of the meals were) and it was easy to re-heat with no spillages or mess.

Chocolate Chilli ★★★
Last but not least is the one I was, admittedly, very cautious and more than a little hesitant to try it as the words 'chilli' and 'chocolate' potentially shouldn't be seen together but it was pretty good. However, it is not something I would gravitate towards or purchase as chilli and similar dishes, just aren't for me sadly but I think a lot of people would be pleasantly surprised by this offering!

Overall, I love the packaging design and ethos of the brand as well as most of the meals with the Gardener's Pie, Sunkissed Pasta and Moroccan Tagine being my favourites of the six I was very kindly sent. They're all frozen so they are very handy, they re-heat perfectly and they are all very healthy vegan meal options. If you're looking for delicious vegan meals then look no further than Mitch's Kitchen.

Would you try any of the Mitch's Kitchen vegan meals? 

*Gifted