February Reading Wrap-up 2018

Wednesday, February 28, 2018
January was an amazing reading month and I hoped that it would continue into February but sadly it didn't and it is the shortest month of the year so now my March TBR is huge! In the month of February I read six physical books, three e-books (from Netgalley) and four audiobooks (from BookBeat).

*The Feed by Nick Clark Windo (368 pages - 25th January) ★★★
When I requested this book on BookBridgr, it sounded so interesting and unlike anything else I've read so I had high expectations and on the whole it did meet them but I did have some issues with it. It's unusual for me as I don't tend to read too many post-apocalyptic or futuristic books but I'm glad I did as the world is so interesting, unique and devastating.

We follow Tom and Kate after The Feed has gone down and society has crumbled. The Feed, to me, seems like the internet, social media, health trackers, GPS and more as a chip implanted within your brain. Almost everyone has it, you can communicate with so many people, experience their memories, their emotions and what they are doing. The concept of The Feed is just incredible and it was the most interesting part of the book for me.

The Feed has bought so many advantages but it has it's own problems as no-one interacts with each other as they used to, everyone is completely reliant on The Feed for knowledge, connectivity, community and memories so that when it goes down, there is so much devastation, killings and a phenomenon where people are 'taken' in their sleep. The premise was amazing, the writing was fairly quick and easy, I loved the world/setting and the first half of the book was so promising but after that it became slower, a little confusing and to be honest, I did lose some of my interest and motivation to read it after the 55% mark which is why it only reached a three star rating. I'd still recommend it though!

*The Waking Lands by Callie Bates (400 pages - 25th January) ★★★
This is a book that I've already reviewed as part of a blog tour at the beginning of the month. In the book we follow Elanna after she was taken hostage by a king who subsequently dies and now she is framed for his murder. She seeks safety with her father who wants to use her as a figurehead for his plans of rebellion. I liked the writing, the world and most of the characters but the best thing was the magic! I did have a couple of issues, for example, it was a little too slow and predictable at times, the ending wasn't what I expected and I didn't really like the main character but I would recommend it as a quick, easy and entertaining YA fantasy read.

*The Binding Song by Elodie Harper (304 pages - 22nd February) ★★★
I'm going to review this book already as part of a blog tour soon so I won't go into it too much here but it follows Dr Janet Palmer as she takes up a new job at HMP Halvergate, a prison with secrets and disturbed inmates. I liked the writing, it was a very quick thriller with horror/paranormal elements and it was an entertaining, creepy and very quick read. The ending was a little predictable and less dramatic than I thought it would be and it's a little slow at times but it's a good read for fans of thrillers.

*Scythe by Neal Shusterman (448 pages - 1st February) ★★★★
I've been interested in this book since it was first released back in 2016 and I was very kindly sent a copy of the newly released paperback - the cover is amazing! The concept is so unique as we enter a world where everything is controlled, even death. There is no disease, no conflict and very little crime so the only way people die is with the services of the Scythes who randomly choose people to be 'gleamed' each week. We follow Scythe Faraday as he takes on two unwilling teenage apprentices to teach them for a year to become Scythes and after the training, only one will become a Scythe.

This is my first Neal Shusterman read and I've heard nothing but great things about his YA reads online and I can see why he is a popular YA author as his writing is so quick, easy and vivid. I loved the overall story, the world is so unique and the concept of the novel is amazing. I didn't find the twists that shocking and overall the ending wasn't as dramatic as I thought it would be but I did find it thoroughly entertaining, enjoyable and I am excited for the second book in the series which is out now!

*Between The Blade And The Heart by Amanda Hocking (416 pages - 22nd February) ★★★
Another book I was very kindly sent (thanks to the lovely Jamie). I was instantly interested in this book as it has a lot of references to mythology, especially norse mythology which I've become much more knowledgeable about over the past few months and I've been interested in mythology since primary school. Also the cover is stunning and I love a good YA fantasy read.

We follow Malin, a Valkyrie in training with a formidable Valkyrie mother, Marlow. Valkyries kill immortals and send them back to the afterlife so their lives are full of fighting, danger and facing various demonic, hellish and mythic creatures but thankfully Valkyries are mortals with immortal like strength and abilities. However, Malin's world is thrown into even more danger when secrets emerge about her mother that not only threatens her safety and those around her but the entire world.

I loved the writing style, it was such a quick and easy read and my favourite part of the book has to be the world and all of the amazing mythical and magical creatures within it inspired by various mythologies - also I need a Bowie in my life! I liked the characters, LGBT characters (the main character is bisexual) and the romances on the whole but it definitely wasn't my favourite part of the book. I also didn't like the relationship between Oona and Malin as whenever a love interested turned up, Malin seemed to focus on them rather than her best friend - I'm so over relationships like that portrayed in books, especially YA, where a love interest of a week or so replaces or take precedence over a long term friendship! However, aside from that annoyance, it was a good read and I'd recommend it if you like mythology or YA fantasy as I do.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K Rowling (640 pages) ★★★★★
Along with the rest of the world, I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, I've watched the films more times than I can remember, I've visited the studios and I grew up with the series but...I haven't read the full series. Last year I read the first three and now I'm onto the four which is the point where the books get BIG. I've been putting off reading this book, even though it's one of my favourite films, as it is over 600 pages but I gave myself a goal for 2018 of reading big books so why not read Harry Potter!

I'm not going to go into the plot as we all know it so I'll mention the differences between the book and the film. As with the previous three books, I've noticed that there's so much more quidditch in the books compared to the films and it's much more detailed in the books as well. Another difference is the trials which are the same as the books but the events and specifics of the trials differ. Also there is so much more Sirius in this book than the film, the ending is aways a little rushed in the books compared to the films and Dobby tells Harry about gillyweed, not Neville - those are just some of the differences. Additionally, one of the main differences that doesn't make any appearance in the films is Hermione's campaign for house elf rights and to stop house elf slavery!

I did take me longer to read this one as it's significantly longer than the other books at over 600 pages but as always I loved the writing, the book feels so comforting and I cannot recommend them enough. If like me, you have watched the films so many times and you think that there's no point in reading the books, just read them because the books are definitely different and so much more detailed than the books including a surprisingly large about of information, details and backstory that you just don't get in the films!
*The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (384 pages) ★★★
This book has been everywhere recently and I've had it as an e-arc for months but I've only just got round to reading it. It follows three sisters as they are taken by a father they never knew who is part of the faerie world and they are trying to fit into a world were they are viewed as illegitimate and human by the unusual magical creatures around them.

I liked the writing style, it's my first Holly Black read and I can see why she's a popular YA/childrens author as this was a fun, entertaining and interesting read with political intrigue, a hate to love almost romance, secrets and a range of magical creatures. Overall, I did enjoy it but it wasn't as amazing for me as the hype led me to believe.

*Everless by Sara Holland (368 pages) ★★★
This is another YA read that I've seen everywhere recently and again, the concept is so unique! We are taken into a magical world filled with folklore, where blood can be turned into payments but it takes away some of your time/life. The payments go to the rich family, the Getlings, for protection but as poor get poorer, the rich become richer.

Into this world we follow Jules who tries to eek out a living with her dying father until one day when she takes a job at Everless, the Gerling's vast estate. Everything takes a turn for the complicated when feelings for one of the princes, who happens to be a childhood friend, resurface (as they always do in YA....) and Jules has to make some difficult choices and discover secrets about herself, her parents and the royal family.

I did love the writing as it was so quick, easy and compelling and I also adored the overall story, especially the concept of blood irons and selling the time you have left of your life. The world was interesting and it was an overall entertaining, enjoyable and a fun YA fantasy read that I always devour but it was very YA at times, it was a little predictable and the romance felt very flat and typically YA. I would still recommend it but it wasn't quite as incredible as the premise made it seem, for me personally. However, I do want to read the sequel when it's released.

*The Sin Collector by Daria Desombre (334 pages) ★★★ (3.5)
After the fantasy reads and audiobooks, I wanted something a little different so I read this e-arc which is categorised on Amazon as a mystery thriller and police procedural novel. In this book we follow Masha, a university law student who wants to join the police force after the murder of her father. She joins Moscow’s Central Directorate Headquarters with detective Andrey Yakovlev as she starts to uncover a mysterious string of seemingly related murders involving the symbolic world of ancient Moscow.

The chapters are fairly short, focusing on one character's thoughts and actions which make it a relatively quick and easy read. I liked the flow of the novel as well as the mystery, the setting of Moscow and the general feel of the novel as to me it definitely felt like a Dan Brown film! However, I did not like the instalove, it felt very info-dumpy at times and it was a little to slow at times as well. I would recommend it especially if you like the Dan Brown films as I do and the author herself is very impressive but sadly it wasn't quite as fantastic as I'd hoped although I will definitely check out the second book in the series which is hopefully coming out soon.

*Ned's Circus Of Marvels by Justin Fisher via BookBeat ★★★ (3.5)
I had to DNF two audiobooks in January so I wanted to listen to something magical and lighthearted and that's what I got with this audiobook. It follows Ned, a seemingly ordinary child and his farther as they live their ordinary lives...until something happens that takes Ned's father away and puts Ned in danger. Ned has to seek safety with the Circus of Marvels who hold secrets about his father, a mother he never knew and about himself.

I liked the audiobook as it was very entertaining, easy and quick to listen to. Some audiobooks need you to concentrate but this one is light-hearted, fun and great to listen to as you are doing other things. I mainly listened to it as I was taking blog photos and I'd definitely recommend it as a magical, YA audiobook.

*Secrets Of The Human Body by Chris and Xand Van Tulleken via BookBeat ★★★
I've watched a couple of documentaries by Chris and Xand Van Tullenken over the past few months and really enjoyed them so I wanted to check out this short audiobook and while I did like their narration and some of the information (some of which was entirely new to me), I found it fairly forgettable but I think that just comes down to the way I learn and retain information. I'm definitely more of a visual person so maybe non-fiction audiobooks aren't the best format for me.

*Spell Slinger by Sebastian de Castell via BookBeat ★★★★
This is an audiobook that instantly caught my eye and I'm so glad that I listened to it as it's such a fun, easy to listen to and entertaining audiobook in which we follow Kellen who unlike the majority of the people within his village, cannot perform magic and faces a life as a servant, until a mysterious woman arrives in the village. I liked the narrator and it's such a fun, easy and entertaining audiobook. I'm now definitely interested to read and listen to more of this authors books.

*Plato: Philosophy in an Hour by Paul Strathern via BookBeat ★★ (2.5)
I've listened to a few of these one hour audiobooks and to be honest, while I like the narrator and they are interesting to an extent, they are very forgettable, far too short and overall a little unimpressive in my opinion but again that might come down to me being a more visual person.

Have you read or listen to any of these books? What are you currently reading or listening to? 

January + February Favourites

Monday, February 26, 2018
Today's post is a little different but it's also very overdue as I haven't published any monthly favourites posts for so long and I'm starting with a round up of beauty favourites, food favourites and general lifestyle favourites of the year so far as well as a few recommendations of places to visit in/near Manchester.

*Lyons Coffee (£2.60)
I'm definitely a coffee drinker, I drink at least one cup of coffee a day otherwise I won't feel as though I can be productive. I usually drink lattes but recently I've been drinking the Lyons Coffee No.3 which is basically fresh ground coffee in a giant teabag...I haven't come across anything like it before and it's so convenient, quick and delicious.

There are 18 within each box and they would be perfect for work! All you have to do is pour water over the gigantic coffee bag, steep and and enjoy - I usually add in a little gingerbread syrup. Every time you purchase a box, they will make a donation to Project Waterfall which is committed to providing sustainable and safe water supplies for coffee growing communities around the world which is fantastic!
*Light Bites Chocolate Cookie Caramel Flavour Bar (£1.25)
Snack bars are some of my favourite sweeter snacks, I used to eat so many cereal bars growing up but now I'm looking for a healthier alternative as some cereal or snack bars can be full of sugar. This chocolate cookie caramel flavour is so delicious, it's almost a healthier Mars bar. It's suitable for vegetarians, the bars are high in fibre and a good source of protein.

*Earthwater - Fulhum 
Now onto something a little unusual in it's packaging and appearance - it's black water. I personally like the unique packaging and I have been trying to drink more water this year and these have definitely been helping this month, even though it is a little disconcerting drinking black coloured water!

The water contains over 70 trace minerals which can help to lower blood pressure, maintain nutrient levels in the body's cells, remove toxins, enable a more restful sleep and enable a better hormone and electrolyte balance. There are a couple of variations available but I have the Fulhum version which contains fulvic/humic mineral complexes. Don't be put off by the black colour, it just tastes like mineral water and it's been helping me reach the recommend water intake each day!
*Light Bites Popped Crisps (99p each)
When it comes to snacking, the main snack I am always drawn towards are savoury snacks, especially popcorn and crisps. The Light Bites popped crisps are a healthier alternative to other crisps as they are only 95 calories per bag, they are high in protein because they contains soya and chickpeas and they are low in saturated fat.

I was kindly sent three of the flavours including: sweet and smoky chipotle, pesto and sun-dried tomato and roasted shallot and cider vinegar, the latter was definitely my favourite as they were so moreish. All three flavour options are so unique, they're a great healthier snack and they are very inexpensive.
Perricone MD No Makeup Concealer 
Next up, I wanted to mention a couple of beauty favourites that I've been loving over the past two months including my current favourite concealer - Perricone MD No Makeup Concealer. I have very dry skin especially during the winter but this concealer (and the matching foundation) is perfect for the colder weather as it doesn't emphasise dryness at all but it still provides coverage!

Beauty Blender 
Another makeup favourite has to be my new Beauty Blender which I was very kindly sent a few weeks ago and I've been using it constantly since then. I've tried numerous beauty blender dupes as well as the real thing a few years ago and I loved it so I'm glad to have another. It's been my go-to beauty tool especially with the Perricone MD foundation and concealer - I cannot recommend the original Beauty Blender enough.
Chetham's Library 
One of my goals for 2018 was to visit more historic places, parks and interesting sites within my own city and I've started really well with this goal as in January and February I've visited Ordsall Hall, Chetham's Library, Manchester Cathedral, Tandle Hill and John Rylands Library, most of which I've wanted to visit for a while but haven't got round to until now.

Chetham's Library is very close to Manchester Cathedral so we visited both in the same day and I cannot recommend a visit to Chetham's Library enough if you live in or near Manchester as it's an incredible historic gem in the city that I don't think many people know about.

Chetham's Library is the oldest public library in the English speaking world and it's based in my home city! The building itself dates from 1421 and it was used as a library since 1655. As it is part of the Chetham's School of Music, you can't go in without a guide as it is a working school, just as you can't just walk into any high school!

We went on a guided tour and it was amazing, the guide was so knowledgeable and the library itself is straight out of Hogwarts! There are chained books, furniture dating from the 1600's and a table where Karl Marx sat. If you are visiting Manchester then you need to visit Chetham's Library - check out their website for times to visit.
John Rylands Library 
Another library we visited this year is John Rylands which is definitely more well known and visited than Chetham's Library but it only dates from the late 1800's. They hold guided tours every Wednesday and Friday so we went on a tour and it was well worth it as the guided gave us the backstory of the building, it's history and more. Both the tours for Chetham's Library and John Rylands Library were free.

As well as Chetham's Library, John Rylands Library is an incredible building with impressive Hogwarts-like architecture! The historic reading room is almost part Hogwarts, part cathedral. It's another historic site in Manchester that we hadn't been in before and I'd definitely recommend visiting. If you follow me on instagram you will have seen all of the historic places and parks I've visited already.
Those were just some of my favourites for the year so far, there are more including the Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk foundation (which I was wearing constantly last week), my amazing Black + Blum Eau Good Filter Water Bottle and the Follow Your Heart Vegan Ranch (a very random trio of products, I know). I've also been loving the BookBeat app for my audiobooks which I'll have a post on very soon so stay tuned.

What have been your stand out products from this year so far? Have you visited Chetham's Library or John Rylands Library? 

Initial Impressions: Nano Intensive Whitening Strips

Saturday, February 24, 2018
I've reviewed various at home teeth whitening products over the past few years but today's post is a initial impressions post featuring White Wash Nano Teeth Whitening Strips (and a few of samples). Let's just mention that everyones experiences with products like this will differ and I do have sensitive teeth (annoyingly) so your experience and results with teeth whitening products might not be the same as mine.

*Nano Intensive Whitening Strips (£24.99)
I'm always interested to try new teeth whitening products as I do drink quite a lot of coffee and my teeth aren't bad by any means but I would like them to be a little whiter and brighter - in comes the plethora of teeth whitening products. There are so many to choose between from basic teeth whitening toothpastes, at home strips, professional teeth whitening products and a few more dubious products.

Nano Teeth Whitening Strips have been designed and approved by UK dentists which makes me feel so much confident and less worried by using these strips compared to other brands. The strips are safe to use on the enamel of your teeth.
I was very kindly sent the two week whitening course kit which contains 28 strips and an instruction booklet. I also received minis of the whitening mouthwash (25ml), floss and the whitening toothpaste (14ml). This post is an initial impressions review as I've been using the products for about a week, including the strips, mouthwash and toothpaste so I will update this post in a week or so with any more results and thoughts.

The whitening toothpaste is quite gritty and abrasive as well as very thick so it's not the nicest to use, if I'm honest but it does leave the teeth smooth and squeaky clean before using the whitening strips. Before using the strips, the instructions state to brush your teeth and apply the strips but I'd definitely recommend drying your teeth with a towel as it really helps the strips stick otherwise they just won't stay on your teeth at all!
I'm always honest on here, there's no point in being anything but so I'll say that yes, the strips aren't the most comfortable to have in your mouth for an hour and yes, it might be a little fiddly but when in place and after an hour or less (the first time I used them I only kept them on for 20 minutes as I didn't know if I'd have a reaction or negative side effects) they aren't too bad. The strips are fairly thin and narrow, they aren't very thick with the gel so it doesn't get all over your mouth and they don't feel too uncomfortable, unlike a lot of others like used.

In comparison to the other teeth whitening strips I've tried over the past few years (I've tried about four different brands of strips), these are the most comfortable, they stay in place the best (only if you dry your teeth) and they are the easiest to apply. I did notice some positive results after a few days of using the strips as my teeth looked brighter and whiter which is fantastic; however, the whitening only happens if the gel on the strips is fully in contact with your teeth and even though I tried to push the strip over the teeth fully, some areas of my teeth didn't whiten as much as the others as those surfaces weren't in contact with the gel as much. Additionally, I did experience some sensitivity but I've experienced this with every teeth whitening product I've used, apart from toothpastes.

Overall, my first impressions are very positive as I've seen some results already and they are the most comfortable, easiest to apply and they stay put the most compared to other brands. However, the strips might be a little fiddly if you don't dry your teeth first (which is such a weird sentence to type), I did experience some sensitivity and the strips are difficult to fully push into all of the angles of the teeth so the gel gets everywhere which could lead to some areas being a touch whiter than others but so far I'd definitely recommend giving this kit a go especially as it's one of the more reasonably priced kits and it's currently on sale for £19.96 as I'm publishing this post.

Have you tried the White Wash Nano Teeth Whitening Strips or any other teeth whitening products? 

Obachan Japanese Subscription Box

Friday, February 23, 2018
I think everyone likes subscription boxes, myself included as I've reviewed boxes
numerous times on my blog and I also write for the All Subscription Boxes website in which I've reviewed boxes from My Geek Box, Wootbox, LookFantastic Box and many more. When the opportunity arose to review a special Obachan Box, I had to say yes!

*Obachan Subscription Box ($35.99 per month or $39.99 for a one off box) - value of this box is $52
Obachan Box is a Japanese lifestyle subscription box which contains a range of carefully selected items. All of the items are made in Japan that you can't quite find anywhere else unless you visit Japan yourself. The items can vary from traditional Japanese ceramics, stationery, prints, toys, textiles and other homeware items that will bring unique japanese culture and craftsmanship into your own home.
The box I have is a special box rather than the monthly boxes customers would have received last month or will receive but the items are of a similar nature, quality and style. You will receive at least five items in the box all of which are high quality, unique and quintessential of the Japanese culture. All of the boxes are shipped from Japan so delivery will take a little longer, especially for me in the UK but I didn't experience a huge delay, there weren't any customs charges or delays and it arrived well packaged, everything arrived safely and the items were very well protected for it's long journey. 

Porcelain Plate 
Let's get into the items! The first item I'm going to talk about is an adorable little plate with a blue 'uroko' scaled pattern. It's a small dish that would be absolutely perfect for rings, earrings, loose coins or stationery (paperclips, tacks, pins). I think I'll be using it for earrings and earring backs as I always tend to loose them!
Pop-Up Postcard 
Next up is a beautifully illustrated postcard by the artist, Yamaoka Susumu. It depicts "his favorite shops, streets and typical building from the old Japan, with fold-in and fold-out sections that add a 3d look and feel. This postcard depicts the entrance of a typical old restaurant." I love the illustration style, the minimalist design and the unique pop-up style which is something I haven't seen before - a pop-up postcard. It's almost too gorgeous to sent to anyone and potentially become ruined in the rainy English weather so I might keep it instead. 

Maneki Neko Magnet
The cutest item in the box has to be this adorable cat magnet! It's one half of a black and white Maneki Neko siblings set and they're meant to bring money, prosperity and fortune to their holders. It is handmade in Japan which makes it even more unique and special. The uniqueness and niche quality of this subscription box for me is what makes it stand out!
Porcelain Mug
Even though there were two porcelain items in the box, they were well protected with newspaper so thankfully even after the long journey from Japan to the UK, they arrived intact! The mug depicts "Kabuki 'the art of singing and dancing' which is a classical Japanese theatrical performance. Matsuomaru, the character on your mug, belongs to a tale called 'Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy' based during the Heian Period which is considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, especially poetry and literature."

I love the design, it's so unique and unlike anything else I own (and I have a ridiculously large mug collection). I'm not very familiar at all with Japanese culture so I'll have to look into the performance and character more. I'm not sure what I'm going to use it for, maybe brushes or stationery. 
Kendama Toy
It's one of the most traditional Japanese toys and it originated as an adults drinking game! It looks like a toy I had growing up - a kind of ball catcher toy that was very popular back in the 90's in the UK. I'm not quite sure what age range it's for as the writing is Japanese but I think my friends son would love it!

Bamboo Bookmark 
Last but not least is probably my favourite item from the box! It's a bamboo bookmark and we all know that I love reading so this is perfect for me. Within the Japanese culture, owls are thought to bring good luck and protection. The owl illustrations on the bookmark are so adorable, I love the colours and I know I'll be using it for years! 

Overall, I've tried so many subscription boxes from beauty, food, lifestyle, stationery, craft/DIY and even a hosiery subscription box but nothing like this. I think what makes this lifestyle subscription box so unique is that it contains so many culturally specific items that are made within Japan so you can experience some of their culture in your own home. I'd definitely recommend this unique, special subscription box made with love from Japan. 

Have you tried any international subscription boxes? Have you tried the Obachan boxes? 

DegustaBox - February 2018

Thursday, February 22, 2018
Another month means another DegustaBox, it's a subscription box that I always look forward to receiving, not only as I like the mystery of each box but I also love so many of the products and snacks I've received in the previous boxes. I am an ambassador so I am lucky enough to receive boxes to review including a couple of items that aren't included in all of the boxes.

*Primrose's Kitchen Raw Beetroot & Ginger Muesli (£4.99)
Let's start with the most gorgeously packaged muesli from Primrose's Kitchen which is the product of the month. It's handmade and slowly dehydrated to preserve the nutrients and flavour of the English beetroot, ginger, british gluten free oats, nuts, seeds and virgin coconut oil. The beetroot makes the oats a little pink, is amazing and it's 100% natural and vegan. I love the seeds, coconut and oats - it makes the texture interesting and it's great with oat milk but beetroot isn't a favourite food of mine. I'm definitely going to look into other flavours from this brand.
*Dr Karg's Emmental Cheese & Pumpkin Seed Crispbread (£2)
Next up, these delicious looking crisp breads from a German family bakery which contain organic wholegrains, pumpkin seeds, oats and Emmental cheese. They're suitable for vegetarians, they don't contain additives and they are high in fibre. They taste amazing, I love the inclusion of Emmental cheese (it's one of my favourites) and they would be perfect with dips.

*Tootsie Rolls (£2.50)
Last month's box contained Hersey chocolate and this month has another American product that's kind of a classic, even for a Brit. Tootsie Rolls are chewy almost caramel/taffy style candies. I'm not a fan of caramel or taffy so I don't think I'll like these especially as they have so many calories per serving.
*Haribo Fruitlicious (£1.29 each)
Back in primary school, Haribo were one of my favourite sweets! However, since becoming a vegetarian when I was 11, I couldn't eat them as they contain gelatine (an ingredient made from proteins extracted from the skin, bones and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs and fish). Sadly, I can't eat these Haribo sweets.

*Millions Vimto Sweets
I've received the sweets in a previous box and I'm glad they're in this months box as they are so nostalgic for me. I love Vimto and these sweets have the exactly flavour of Vimto! Thankfully these sweets are suitable for vegetarians as they are gelatine free.

*The Protein Ball Co - Cherry & Almond (£1.99 each)
I was recently sent the two new flavours from The Protein Ball Co, my all time favourite being the raspberry brownie option so I'm glad that they're included in the February DegustaBox although they aren't my favourite flavour as I've never really been a fan of anything almond and cherry flavoured. I do love these snacks and I cannot recommend the amazing raspberry brownie flavour enough.

*True Nopal Cactus Water (£3.49)
I've tried all kinds of unusual drinks since starting my blog including black water but this has to be one of the more unusual - it's made of prickly pear cactus pulp and filtered water. The water is a pink colour and it tastes like very watered down berry flavoured cordial. It has half the calories of coconut water, it doesn't contain added sugar or sweeteners and it's a great alternative to sugary drinks or cordials.

*Emilys Crisps (£0.99)
This was the first item that I had to try as I've tried a few products from this brand before, in subscription boxes and I've purchased items online. I do like this brand, the packaging is amazing and they're great healthier snacks but I do prefer baked fruit snacks rather than these crunchy fruit and vegetable 'crisps'.
*Indie Bay Snacks - Pretzel Bites (£2.49)
The theme for the February box seems to be focused on movie snacks, on the whole, which I love as I've been looking for more unusual and healthier snack options. Firstly, can we take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous packaging! I love pretzels so these are great snacks for me as they are basically just small pretzel balls covered in black pepper. You could have received sunflower pretzel bites instead of the black pepper option that I received.
*KitKat Chunky - New York Cheesecake (£0.65)
We're not the final item, I feel as though this box had less items or maybe that's just because a couple of products had duplicates in the box. I have to admit the I'm not really a fan of biscuits and most chocolates bars and KitKats are among that group; however the various flavours that KitKat come out with every so often are intriguing - especially the international flavours. I haven't tried this one yet and I'm not sure if I'll like it but I'm sure so many people would be very happy to receive it in the February box.

Overall, I love receiving the boxes each month as I like the mystery, there's always something new in the boxes and I've found amazing cooking ingredients, drinks and snacks from these boxes that I've absolutely loved. I'm glad that this box was mainly snacks, there's a great range of snacks and my favourite items have to include the crisp breads, pretzel bites, millions and the cactus water along with the muesli which has the most gorgeous packaging.

Use the code KVAA2 to get your first box for only £7.99 which is amazing value! 

Have you tried the DegustaBox service? Have you tried any of these snacks? 

*Small Office Changes That Bring in Big Worklife Improvements

Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Image from House Beautiful via Pinterest
No matter the type and size of the office, productivity is a major concern for every office, because it determines the growth and decay of the organisation. If you can get quality work done in minimum time, you are sure to achieve. However, this is not as easy as it seems. The industry estimate says that an average worker remains truly productive for 3 to 4 hours a day, this might even be lower for those who work in a home office with more distractions.

You may notice that employees are mechanically hovering over the keyboard and staring at the monitor with blank eyes when it is hardly three o’clock. This is not uncommon in an office, and it reduces the productivity. Most of the people think that such things arise when there is a lack of sleep, or having a heavy lunch. However, it could be due lack of work-life balance. Balancing the career and family has always been a challenge for the workers in the USA. Every worker has to manage the stress at the workplace with daily pressure of family, friends, and self. This is why the present offices are trying to make the workplace as relaxing as possible for the employees to attain a perfect work-life balance. Here are some tips on how making small changes can boost up productivity.

Come out of the assigned sitting arrangement - Change Your Environment
As most office work is now done electronically using internet, laptops, and tablets, it is high time that you change the conventional assigned sitting arrangement. This is an improvisation of the open office plan where one is needed to be glued to the same sit during the office hours. One can sit anywhere in the office and work, they also change place during the day. This breaks up the monotony and enhances productivity. Changing your seating throughout the day is also essential if you work in an at-home office as I know all too well!

Create overlap zones 
Studies show that unplanned interaction helps to enhance productivity. When people run into each other they tend to collaborate and this is great for improving the office efficiency. Design the office space and the pathways accordingly so that they run into each other frequently or for a freelance perspective, there are numerous shared workspace options to look into.

Create a quiet space 
Everyone may have a bad day sometimes. It is ideal to have a designated quiet zone where people can take a break from the daily chores and relax for a while. This should not be mistaken with a breakout area. Such places should be clear from all official material. Have light reading materials and comfortable sitting arrangement. There should be soft music so that people can calm their mind, music is a great tool for anyone who works in an office to break up monotony and to create a more pleasant environment.

Make the office pleasant with colorful walls 
Studies indicate that colors influence the mood of the people. Blue helps clear thinking, yellow boosts up creativity, red being a stimulating color improves productivity when used sparingly and green makes one calm and quiet. While orange tends to deliver a feeling and contentment, gray and white are the neutral colors. You should also choose the tone carefully as bright shades stimulate and the lighter tones are generally soothing. Install 3d wall panels in the office based on the activities and if that is not possible, you may include some colored accents for improvising the ambiance.

Use fragrances for increasing performance 
Fragrances engage senses and have a strong impact on human moods. Studies suggest that scent of pine makes people alert, cinnamon improves concentration and lavender makes one relaxed. So, you must pick up some good scents and spread those in the office in cycles for keeping the office or your home office environment refreshing.

Invest in illumination 
Light is vital for maintaining a productive office environment. If you have large glass windows, that are well and good, otherwise keep the windows open to let maximum natural light in. In case it is not possible to let natural lights in, then invest in lighting fixtures that mimic sunlight. Using indirect lighting is another option to increase productivity.

Ergonomics improve productivity 
Staying glued to the sit for long is a major cause of musculoskeletal disorders. Having ergonomic furniture helps to relieve such things. Better invest in adjustable furniture and make sure that the screens are in level with the eyes and the and perfectly aligned with the mouse and keyboard and improve efficiency. A standing desk is another great option!

Include greens in the office 
Humans have psychological bonds with the greens and several studies indicate that when people are near to nature they have better cognitive function and mood and it also helps them to be relaxed and productive. Decorating the office exterior and interiors with green elements elevates the ambiance and also influence people to give their best. Including live plants in office is no doubt great, but it has many associated pitfalls. Since they are living, they demand constant care and attention to keep them healthy but faux greeneries have no such hassles. These are now made absolutely lifelike and as such, offer a beautiful green landscape.

These are now made from high-quality silk foliage. Other than being a mirror image of their live cousins, these have many other advantages. Since these are infused with UV blocking substances, these never fade or discolour and can withstand varying weather conditions. The faux green needs no light and, therefore, can be placed in the dimly lit office interiors and coming in standard bases these are easily installable. Containing special fire-retardant chemicals, the faux plants have self-extinguishing properties and render safe decorating option.

Do you have any office decor tips, either for your work or at home office? Do you have any productivity tips for those who work in an office or home office? 

*The Perfect Online Dating Profile Picture

Tuesday, February 20, 2018
When it comes to creating the perfect online dating profile, it is likely that your profile photo causes you the most stress. What type of photograph should you choose? How many photos should you upload? Should you go for your best photograph? What if it does not really look like you? How recent does your photograph need to be? There is no need to fret; read on to discover how to nail the perfect online dating profile picture.

Think about the type of person you are trying to attract – The first rule when choosing the best profile photo for your online dating profile is to think about the type of person you want to attract. For women, smiley, colourful photographs work really well. This doesn’t mean you need to be wearing every colour of the rainbow; simply smiling in front of a colourful background will do the trick.

Be honest – It is better to stay away from photographs that are overly flattering or are several years old. The key is to give an accurate representation. After all, isn’t it better for someone to tell you that you look better than your pictures in person, rather than the other way around? You may be worried that people won’t contact you, but the truth is, honest photos are the key to securing first, second, and third dates. Misleading photos may secure you more first dates, but you probably won’t get the second. Stay away from the Instagram filters, and stay true to yourself. After all, you want someone that is going to love you for you.

Choose quality over quantity – It can be very tempting to include as many photos as possible because you feel this is the best way to show your true self, and because you simply can’t choose between your pictures. However, every photo counts, and so it is vital to be careful with your selection. Carefully study all of your photos and choose a select number of your favourite shots.

Use photos to spark conversation – A headshot that shows what you look like is vital. However, for your other shots, use them as an opportunity to create an interesting conversation. This could be a shot of you on holiday or a photo of you doing a sporting activity, for example.

Remember the big turn-offs – Last but not least, you need to be wary of the big turn-offs. Is vaping or smoking more attractive on Tinder? Well, actually, it is probably better if you don’t include either in your profile photo.

Hopefully, you now feel more prepared for creating a winning online dating profile. Follow the tips that have been provided above and you should have no trouble selecting the perfect shot to attract potential suitors. And, most importantly, don’t stress about it! Online dating is meant to be fun after all.

Do you have any profile photograph tips? 

*This is a collaborative and pre-written post

Mother's Day Gift Guide: Home Bargains + Naissance

Monday, February 19, 2018
Mother's Day in the UK isn't far away but there's still time to find the perfect gift! I've already published a Mother's Day gift guide focusing on sweet treats from Treats Direct, Bomb Cosmetics and Sudio Sweden which you can check out for more ideas but today's post is focusing on more inexpensive, practical and spring-time gifts for mums, guardians or grandmas from Home Bargains and Naissance.

*Home Bargains Hanging Heart (99p)
Let's start with the Mother's Day gift ideas from Home Bargains! I do love home bargains for inexpensive home items and essentials and this hanging heart is one of my favourites. My mum loves anything like this, we have a couple in the house and the summer house already and the colours of this one will be perfect for the kitchen.
*Home Bargains Chocolate Heart Lollipop (59p)
Speaking of sweet treats, chocolate is always a safe, easy gift for Mother's Day or any occasion and how cute is this pink foil chocolate lollipop! It's suitable for vegetarians and it's made of milk chocolate (there's a full ingredients list on the back). It would be great to include within a card or to add to a Mother's Day gift hamper.

*Home Bargains Vanilla Fudge (99p)
The final sweet treat is an adorably packaged set of vanilla fudge. My mum doesn't have a big sweet tooth but she does like fudge and chocolates so this would be perfect for her. It is so inexpensive but I love the packaging and as with a lot of these items, it could be added to a gift hamper to make a special, personalised gift hamper this Mother's Day.
*Home Bargains 'Best Mummy' Keyring 
Next up is an adorable keyring which features a cute grey bear (similar to the Tatty Teddy bears that were everywhere when I was growing up). It would be ideal for a hamper or card and it would also be great for a new mum.
*Home Bargains Mum's Treats Tin 
Another adorable gift idea and this one is very practical (we all know by now how much I love practical but aesthetically pleasing gifts). This tin could be a great gift on it's own or it could be a gift and container for home baked sweet treats to surprise your mum on Mother's Day with! It would be the ideal size for mini cupcakes or muffins, cookies, biscuits, scones or if you are a skilled baker, lots of macarons! I know my mum would love this cute floral tin!

*Home Bargains Mother's Day Bunting (79p)
One thing I've never really thought of for Mother's Day is decorations! I usually print out photos to pin up around the house for birthdays but I've never decorated for Mother's Day but it will be easy with this cute floral bunting. It's so inexpensive but it looks great and I'll definitely be hanging it up over the fireplace on Mother's Day.
*Home Bargains Flower Tote Bag 
The final item from Home Bargains is a very Ted Baker looking tote bag which features a gorgeous, very spring-like floral design. The colours are definitely my kind of thing and I love the simple design. It's huge so it could be used for work, groceries or even the gym. It's an almost plastic material so it's easy to wipe clean and it could be used as a gift bag for other Mother's Day goodies. Thanks for much to the generous people at Home Bargains for these cute Mother's Day gifts!
*Naissance Lemon Fizz DIY Bath Bomb Kit (£17.99)
Last but definitely not least for this gift guide is a little more of an unusual, unexpected gift from the super lovely people at Naissance. They make amazing products and gift sets that are more natural and cruelty free and some of which are organic and vegan. I was very kindly sent their lovely lemon fizz bath bomb kit which contains all of the ingredients and products you need to be able to make your own bath bombs! I know so many of friends and family members who'd love this kit!
I love the packaging, it's well laid out, the instructions are very simple but comprehensive and it will make a very unique, hands on gift for Mother's Day but not only do you get a fun experience out of the kit, you only get relaxing bath bombs to use whenever you want so it's the gift that keeps on giving.

The kit comes with everything you need to be able to make luxurious lemon, geranium and rose bath bombs, there are even rose petals included in the kit so you just know that the bath bomb in action is going to be so pretty. The kit also contains organic virgin coconut oil (we all know how good coconut oil is for our skin) and lemon and geranium rose essential oils which smell incredible.
There are various 'Made By You' kits to choose from such as the lip balm, bath salts and body scrub kits as well as a second bath bomb kit in a grapefruit and bergamot scent which sounds amazing too. I'd recommend checking out the Naissance website as they have an amazing range of natural cruelty free and vegan products as well as gift sets essential oils and certified organic products, so many of which would be perfect to treat your mum with this Mother's Day.

What do you think of my Mother's Day gift guide? Have you bought anything from Naissance? 

*Laser Hair Removal: How It Works

Saturday, February 17, 2018
Image from The Frugality
Laser Hair Removal is something I've been interested in for a few years and while I've tried numerous at home devices including the Silkn Glide HPL System and the Love My Skin Laser Hair Remover, both of which worked to an extent but I'd love to try professional laser hair removal.

Dore Aesthetics offers a wide range of treatments from cellulite removal, tattoo removal, acne scar removal, pigment removal, wrinkle reduction and various cosmetic procedures that don't require invasive surgery. Additionally, they also offer laser hair removal that has been used by over 2,000 customers from influencers to celebrities.

While laser hair removal is something I've tried at home, it isn't something that I have looked into how it works! Laser hair removal involves intense light that is absorbed by the hair follicle and the heat destroys follicles which in theory should prevent the hair from growing back again. It is a safe treatment and it doesn't damage the surrounding skin in any way, it is only effective on the hair follicles.

Laser hair removal is the most effective for those with pale skin and dark hair and it might not be able to be used on certain skin tones or hair colours - a consultation is always needed. I've used various at home treatments and they have been effective and that might be in part because my skin tone is ghosty pale...the only benefit of almost glow in the dark skin.

It's a non-invasive hair removal treatment that has been a popular choice for many years and it's offered at various prices so always look for the best deal. The before and after photos on the Dore Aesthetics website are very impressive and make me want to book a session! Shaving is such a chore and I always manage to cut myself so not having to shave would be amazing and save money in the long term.

Have you gone through laser hair removal? Or is it something you'd want in the future? 

Vegan: Chinese New Year

Friday, February 16, 2018
It's Chinese new year today! While, I won't really be celebrating, I will be making some delicious vegan Chinese inspired meals using the amazing Very Lazy ingredients which I was very kindly sent. I have actually bought the Very Lazy garlic previously and I definitely recommend it but I was also sent the chopped red chillies, ginger, lemongrass paste and chilli paste.

*Very Lazy Chopped Garlic (£1.85, 190g)
Let's start with my favourite product of the five that I want sent! I love garlic, I add it to almost everything I cook but it is such a pain to prepare so recently I've been using the Very Lazy garlic and it's so much more convenient to use as it's pre-chopped so you can add it straight to your pan.

*Very Lazy Chopped Ginger & Chopped Red Chillies (£1.85 each, 190g)
These are two options that I haven't tried from them - both of which will be perfect for any Chinese new year meals today! All of the jars state that the are suitable for vegetarians and vegans on the label. I've only used the ginger in this recipe and I'm too much of a spice wimp to use the chillies just yet!
This is just a very basic recipe that I've been making quite a lot recently as it is so quick, healthy and very easy especially using the Very Lazy chopped garlic and ginger. It is suitable for vegans and vegetarians but you could obviously add in any extras that you want. I'm not adding measurements to this recipe as you can change it depending on how many servings you want to make.

Veggies (carrots, green beans and spinach)
Brown rice ramen noodles
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
Very Lazy garlic/ginger
I've chosen carrots, green beans and spinach for my recipe but you can use whatever veggies you want - bean shoots, water chestnuts or sugar snap peas could be added too. Also I've used brown rice noodles, it's my first time using them and to be honest I wouldn't recommend them - stick to rice noodles or egg noodles.
Firstly, I cooked the veggies in some spray coconut oil along with the Very Lazy garlic and ginger but make sure they're still fresh and crunchy. I then cooked the brown rice noodles, added them to the cooked vegetables and stirred in some sesame oil, soy sauce and seasoning including salt, lime pepper and fresh chervil.
I cannot recommend the Very Lazy garlic and ginger enough! They're all perfect to make a quick, easy and fuss free Chinese new year inspired meal. I love the chopped garlic and I've used the lemongrass paste before in a Thai coconut soup that I'd definitely recommend.

Have you tried the Very Lazy range?

Little Greene Living Room Redesign

Thursday, February 15, 2018
Last year we went through a huge kitchen redesign and since then we've been slowly redecorating and updating all of the other rooms and next on the list was the second living room which looked awful with white walls, a faded skirting board, old curtains and compared to the newly redecorated rooms around it, it looked horrendous! 

Thankfully the wonderful people at Little Greene have helped to transform an underused, tired room into a cosy, homely and gorgeously decorated space that we actually want to spend time in. I was very kindly sent the paint and wallpaper from Little Greene a few weeks ago and now it's finally complete. 
Little Green was establish in 1773 within the outskirts of Manchester and now provides a high quality selection of paints and wallpaper with a unique depth of colour that alters depending on the light to give it a complex, unique appearance that you won't find anywhere else.

Their products are manufactured in the UK and are environmentally friendly, for example, the wallpaper I chose has an emissions rating of A+. Little Greene, throughout their entire product range from paints to paper, are as environmentally friendly as possible without compromising quality. The paper is obtained from sustainable forests and their paint tins are made from 50% recycled steel which can be recyclable again which is amazing!
*Little Green Archive Trails II Wallpaper - Crowe Hall Lane (£80 per roll)
The wallpaper I chose is from the new Archive Trails II collection which includes patterns from various archive material sourced from "precious remnants discovered and conserved by English Heritage and Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery". I opted for the gorgeous Crowe Hall Lane design from the collection which is composed of sustainably soured stock and printed using water based inks which are environmentally friendly.

The design is also featured in a curving stairwell in Crowe Hall, a Suffolk manor house. Little Green work with English Heritage and the National Trust to discover true historical colours and Little Greene wallpapers have been used in the restoration of various historic buildings within England. In addition, a percentage of the sale of any of the English Heritage items will contribute towards English Heritage’s work in preserving our ancient buildings and landscapes.
I adore the wallpaper design which features exotic birds and botanical illustrations in an almost pencil sketched design. It's available in various colour options but I chose the Nuage colourway as it suits our adjoining kitchen and utility perfectly. The colours are ideal for the room, I adore the minimal iridescent and shimmery finish to the wallpaper and the quality is amazing.

The wallpaper was very easy to hang, the paper was much thicker than the paper used in previous rooms and for two walls, the paper was a perfect fit with three rolls. Despite the large pattern, the design was quick and easy to match up and the room was painted and papered fully in just one day. Unlike other, cheaper wallpaper we'e used, this one had little to no air bubbles.
*Little Greene Intelligent Matte Emulsion (£47 - 2.5 litres)
I was also very kindly sent a 2.5 litre tin of paint to finish off the room. I wasn't sure which colour option to go for as it will look a little different online but thankfully Little Green have an option on their website where they suggest paint colours to compliment each other as well as paint options to match their wallpaper designs. The paint shade Shallows (223) was matched with the wallpaper I chose and they are a perfect combination.

There are numerous paint finish varieties to choose from but I chose the intelligent matte emulsion which is an environmentally friendly, water based paint which is ideal for walls and ceilings and can even be used on woodwork and radiators. I have the 2.5 litre size but there's also a 1 litre and 5 litre option. I wasn't sure if the amount would be enough for two walls but the coverage was fantastic and it was even and opaque with two thin coats and a little left over.

Overall, we're so impressed with not only the wallpaper design, range of paint finishes and shades, the environmentally friendly ethos of the brand and the quality but also the finish and opacity of the paint and how easy the wallpaper was to hang. I cannot recommend their products enough!

What do you think of the makeover? What do you think of the Little Greene products? 

Blog Tour: The Owl Always Hunts At Night

Blog Tour: The Owl Always Hunts At Night

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
I have been taking part in quite a few blog tours this year with various publishers and today's post is another! I was very kindly sent an early copy of this book from Transworld books which is an imprint of Penguin. I couldn't wait to read it so I did finish it last month - it was one of the quickest books I've read in a while!

*The Owl Always Hunts At Night by Samuel Bjork (480 pages - available now)
Nordic noir and Scandinavian crime dramas are some of my favourite TV shows to watch but I haven't read many books of that genre...that needs to change. This book is categorised as a psychological thriller/mystery on Amazon and it already has so many fantastic reviews online so I was excited to give it a go.

We follow Holger Munch and his team of detectives including the mysterious and troubled but intelligent Mia Kruger, as a gruesome crime is revealed when a women is found dead in the woods covered in bird feathers and surrounded by satanic, ritualistic objects...

I haven't read anything by this author before (there is a previous book in the series that I haven't read but they can be read as standalone books) but I'll have to look out for more of his books in the future. The writing style was so quick, easy and compelling! I found myself reading for what seemed like a fairly short period of time but in that time I'd managed to read over 100 pages so if you're looking for an extremely quick, compulsive mystery thriller set in the wonderful, atmospheric country of Norway then check it out.

The setting was fantastic, as I read it, it felt like episodes of a Nordic noir crime drama rather than a book. The mystery was intriguing, if a little disturbing and I wanted to find out how the book would conclude. Now onto the couple of negatives, the first is minor but something that is so unnecessary - so many of the main characters have fairly similar names - Munch, Mia, Marion, Miriam, Marianne...WHY!

I think it was typical of Scandinavian and Nordic crime dramas, whether books or TV shows, so it wasn't wonderfully unique but still well worth reading, particularly if you like that genre. Overall, it was entertaining, super quick and compelling but not quite as incredible as I hoped it would be; however it is definitely still worth checking out!

If you want to know what I'm reading, updates or ratings then follow me on GoodReads!

Will you be picking up this book? What are you currently reading? Do you like Nordic/Scandinavian crime dramas (books or TV shows)?