Thursday, 31 October 2013

Inferior Book Group #2:

Order, order!  I hope you've all got a cheap glass of wine to hand and have done your homework, because it's time for October's Inferior Book Group.  Don't worry, I won't be forcing anybody to read aloud.  If you saw last month's book group post, you'll know that most recently I have been reading Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace (2012).  Without further ado, here's what I thought of it:

I am a really big fan of Danny Wallace's previous books.  You are probably familiar with the 2008 Jim Carrey film, Yes Man, but you may not be aware that Danny Wallace wrote the book that the movie was based on.  You'll notice that I'm avoiding the word 'novel', because Danny actually lived as a 'yes man' for a year (saying yes to every invite and opportunity, in a bid to be less negative) in order to write the book.  

After seeing the film, I looked into its origins, bought a copy of Wallace's book and was hooked.  I went back and devoured Join Me (where Danny accidentally starts a cult), went to a reading and signing with the man himself for Friends Like These (where Danny tracks down old friends he has lost touch with) and received the more recent Awkward Situations for Men (where Danny serialises his most cringeworthy encounters) as a birthday present a couple of years ago.

Charlotte Street is different, though.  I bought my copy last year (not long after its release) and it remained patiently on my bookcase until I selected it for Inferior Book Group last month.  The truth is - as silly as it may sound - I was scared to read it.  Charlotte Street is Danny Wallace's first work of fiction.  I adored his non-fiction so much that I didn't want to risk ruining it for myself with a substandard, cheesy romance.  

Honestly, I needn't have worried.  What I came to realise whilst reading the novel is that even the author's non-fiction books must all contain at least some element of fiction.  From the renaming of friends to protect their privacy, to the re-jigging of events to build suspense - all good writing involves a little bit of artistic licence.

Source: here
The front cover of Charlotte Street describes itself as 'A heartwarming everyday tale of boy stalks girl'.  That, in a nutshell, is the plot of the novel.  Creepy right?  Without giving too much away, hero Jason (who tells us the story from his point of view) spends the whole book chasing after a girl he once bumped into on Charlotte Street.  And when I say the whole book, I mean the whole book.  The not-quite-meetings and perpetual 'so close and yet so far' element are frustrating for the reader, but keeping the hero and heroine of the story apart for its entire duration is both a unique and brave move on Wallace's part.

I recognised character types from Danny's earlier, non-fiction work.  Jason is clearly based on the writer himself, while best friend Dev is reminiscent of Danny's own sidekicks in Yes Man and Friends Like These.  Jason's super sensible ex-girlfriend, Sarah, reminded me a lot of Hanne, the girlfriend who dumps Danny during Join Me, but remains a friend in the background of Yes Man.  They say that the majority of first novels are semi-autobiographical, and even though the names were different, Jason's narration in Charlotte Street felt close enough to Danny's in past books to be familiar.

Source: here

I've already said that, in general, I very much enjoyed the book.  Danny's writing style is easy to read and always funny, and I am a sucker for a soppy romance story, even if it is a slightly unconventional one.  However, some sections (particularly around three quarters of the way in) were slower than others, and there were a few pieces of clich├ęd writing and dialogue that I found hard to stomach.  

Although it may have been an intentional reference or a complete coincidence, one fairly serious plot twist seemed to have been pinched straight from High Fidelity, pretty much word for word.  I love High Fidelity, so that didn't really sit well with me - sorry, Danny!  There were also short and extremely cryptic 'blog posts' from another character interspersed between Jason's chapters.  I understand the purpose of these, but didn't enjoy them and think the book could have worked perfectly well without.

I'm sorry to put all of the negative comments near the end of this review, because overall Charlotte Street gets a high rating from me.  It's nice to read a (kind of) love story from a male perspective, for a change, and Danny Wallace has a refreshingly honest and straightforward style.  If you're already a fan, definitely give this book a go.  If you aren't, I would highly recommend the non-fiction books too.  Finally, if you aren't a big reader, Charlotte Street is apparently being made into a film in the near future, so just wait until then!

During November, I'll be reading Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, which was recommended by one of my uni lecturers.  I picked the well loved copy above up from a local second hand book shop, and I absolutely adore the cover art!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Inferior Inspiration #9: Halloween edition!

Happy Halloween!  Even if you aren't dressing up and going out to celebrate this year, it's still fun to get in the festive spirit.  Here's some Halloween themed inspiration to put you in the mood:

1. I have a Scroobius Pip jumper in a very similar style to this Skeleton Sweater from Topshop, and it's so cosy and easy to wear.  I could see myself sporting this one all year round, but it's especially appropriate for October! (£35)

2. If you fancy a quiet one on All Hallows' Eve, you can always treat yourself to a lovely bath with the Lush Pumkin bubble bar, a nice drink and a good book. (£2.75)

3. These Topshop Halloween Nail Wraps make everyone's favourite terrifying monsters look super cute. (£6)

4. Craig and I spotted this Jack and Jones Skull Sweater for sale in USC.  It doubles up as both a Halloween sweater and a slightly morbid Christmas jumper.  Jumpers in this style are pretty unisex, and I wouldn't feel strange wearing this one.  If Craig decided to buy one, I would definitely pinch it! (£45)

5. I have a soft spot for novelty Le Creuset pieces, and this Petite Pumpkin Casserole (available at John Lewis) is adorable.  It almost inspires me to get cooking!  Almost... (£20)

6. You knew I wouldn't be able to resist including a decorative cushion, didn't you?  This embroidered skull cushion from Paperchase is cheery and creepy - what's not to love? (£22.50)

7. Another Topshop sweater, this time a cosy Knitted Pumpkin Face Jumper.  The design is almost verging on too scary for me, but I'm a self confessed wuss! (£38)

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Edinburgh on film:

 I absolutely love seeing locations that I've visited on TV or in films, maybe you're the same.  Then again, maybe it's genetic.  My parents used to watch Friends every week with my sister and me just to obnoxiously shout 'Been there!' when a two second clip of Central Park or the Empire State Building appeared on screen...  

I get the biggest kick out of seeing fictional characters in my own town, wandering through the same places I go to on a regular basis.  Living in Scotland's capital city means that I get the opportunity to see my home soil on the big screen fairly regularly, but it never gets old!  Here are my top three films set in good Auld Reekie:

Source: here

1. Ask the average person to think of an Edinburgh based film, and I'm willing to bet that nine times out of ten they will choose Trainspotting (1996).  Controversial as the film's (and original novel's) subject matter may be, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his on screen pals do make a fairly loveable gang of drug addicts and petty criminals.  If I'm ever running for a bus or train in the centre of town, I usually can't help but imagine Renton and co. jogging along Princes Street beside me, with Iggy Pop's Lust for Life blasting.  The majority of Trainspotting was actually filmed in Glasgow, but Princes Street is such an iconic Edinburgh location (and still looks virtually the same today, well over a decade later) that it's unlikely you'll notice. 

Source: here

2. Like TrainspottingFilth (2013) was originally based on a book by Edinburgh born author Irvine Welsh.  Filth paints a similarly dark picture of the capital, and this movie actually shows a great deal more of real Edinburgh than its big brother.  Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, the Grassmarket, the Cowgate - if it's a part of central urban Edinburgh, it's in the movie.  Even though Filth was also partly filmed in Glasgow, Stirling, Hamburg, Belgium and even Sweden, it captures an admittedly somewhat seedy side of Edinburgh that I recognise.

Source: here

Source: here

3. The most accurate portrayal of Edinburgh on film that I've seen so far wasn't made by a Scot, and doesn't actually feature the real city at all.  Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist (2010) is a beautifully hand drawn animation, set primarily in Edinburgh in the late 1950s.  A surprising amount of the city still looks almost identical today, and anyone who is familiar with modern Edinburgh won't have any problem recognising famous landmarks like Waverley Station and Jenners department store.  What is now The Cameo cinema in Tollcross (just down the road from me) features quite a lot, and I actually saw the film for the first time there.  It was quite a surreal experience!  

The Illusionist incorporates the stunning natural landscape of Edinburgh that Trainspotting and Filth ignore in favour of man made buildings and monuments.  It's nice to know that even though Chomet's interpretation of Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat looks like a dream, the real view is just as lovely.

Source: here

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Winter woollies 2013:

Full blown winter weather is nearly here again, and I'm sure you've all heard the rumours that we're in for a cold, wet and snowy time from now on!  You might remember my winter fashion wishlist from last year (and Craig's boy version), and I've decided to keep up the tradition.  It's highly unlikely I'll be able to afford many new clothes this winter, thanks to my new measly student budget, but a girl can dream!  

1. Khaki Fur Hood Parka (New Look): I've actually already bought this parka, as I was in desperate need of a warm, casual coat.  Despite being mercilessly teased by my Dad (apparently parkas aren't cool) and looking a little bit like a long lost member of Oasis wearing it, I'm really enjoying my first parka.  I've also spotted quite a few girls wearing them, so they must be on trend this autumn and winter!  This one is quilted on the inside, which makes it so cosy, and the furry hood is nice on a cold, rainy day. (£49.99)

2. Tan Quilted Tassel Satchel (River Island): I haven't bought a classic handbag for ages - instead I'm completely obsessed with satchels.  This tan coloured satchel is pretty as well as practical, and although they aren't for everyone, personally I really like the tassels! (£35)

3. Grey Contrast Sleeve Shrunken Knitted Jumper (New Look): I'm sure I said this in last year's post, but you can't beat a nice woolly jumper on a chilly day.  The grey front panel with black sleeves makes this one look a bit like a baseball tshirt, which is a style I'm really fond of. (£14.99)

4. Brushed Checked Shirt (Miss Selfridge): I adore the ultimate and ever versatile grunge staple that is the plaid shirt.  This one is a beautiful soft blue colour (my favourite), and would look great worn on its own, or with other layers. (£29)

5. Converse All Star Hi Leather Brown Shearling Exclusive (Office): I've had my heart set on a pair of fleece lined Converse high tops for years now, but I don't know if I'll ever really be able to justify springing for them!  This leather pair look sturdier than their standard canvas counterparts, so they would have a better chance of lasting through the Scottish winter!

6. Knitted Skater Dress (Miss Selfridge): Although I live in skinny jeans, I love wearing nice casual dresses sometimes.  This monochrome knitted skater dress looks like it could be dressed up or down very easily, depending on the occasion.  It also looks like it would be nice and cosy!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Mountain Goats at The Arches, 10th October 2013:

As is the case with a considerable number of the bands I listen to regularly and love, I discovered The Mountain Goats through my dear friend Steven.  A few summers ago, he added their amazing track No Children to a party playlist and I was immediately hooked.  This band - like many of my favourites these days - are too varied, unique and generally brilliant to be pinned down to just one genre, but if I had to I would describe The Mountain Goats' sound as landing somewhere between folk and indie rock, with a pinch of classical influence, a dab of punk and a metal mindset overseeing the proceedings.  As you probably know by now, I am a sucker for singer songwriters with good lyrics, and I happily waded into the Mountain Goats' dense back catalogue in the search of some new music.

Source: here

The Mountain Goats were formed in 1991 by John Darnielle, who was also the sole member of the band for many years.  These days, Darnielle is joined in the studio by Peter Hughes (bass) and Jon Wurster (drums), although Darnielle and Hughes are currently touring the UK without Wurster.  I was lucky enough to catch their recent gig at The Arches in Glasgow, and was extremely excited, as I turned down the opportunity to attend their last Scottish show and have kicked myself ever since!

Source: here

If you've never visited The Arches before, it's a pretty special place.  Located underneath Glasgow's Central Railway Station, the venue incorporates several original and enormous bare brick archways (previously derelict and wasted space) into its architecture.  When it's quiet enough, trains can be heard rumbling past in the station overhead, which is quite a haunting experience!  

When we arrived, my friends and I were a little surprised that the Mountain Goats gig was entirely seated (rather than standing only, or partially seated) but in the end this wasn't an issue whatsoever.  In all honesty, I actually welcomed the chance to sit comfortably for once and listen to the music, rather than hopping from one aching foot to the other after hours of standing.  Although there were a few upbeat songs on the setlist, without a drummer the remaining duo leaned towards more mellow tracks that were achievable with just an acoustic guitar or piano and a bass.

The extent of the Mountain Goats' discography means that I didn't know the majority of the set, but this didn't bother me as much as I think it would have had I been seeing a different band play.  Darnielle and Hughes put on such an entertaining and moving show that I'm sure I would have enjoyed myself without knowing a single song.  The unreleased track You Were Cool stood out for me, and actually brought me very close to tears, thanks to Darnielle's speciality of simple yet hugely powerful and insightful lyrics.  We were also treated to an atmospheric rendition of California Song, which involved the singer making his way into the audience, and a lot of spontaneous finger clicking.

I was pleased to be able to sing enthusiastically along to a few songs, including Fall of the Star High School Running Back, the aforementioned No Children and Up the Wolves.  The band were clearly overwhelmed by the audience's positive reaction to the whole evening, and by our willingness to participate - you can't beat a good old Glasgow crowd!  I managed to speak briefly to both band members after the gig had finished, and cheekily chastised them a little bit for not playing my absolute favourite song: This Year.  Apparently they didn't have the heart to play it without Jon Wurster, as it just doesn't sound the same without a drumkit.  They're probably right, although I would have loved to hear the song live!

If you like the sound of The Mountain Goats but aren't really sure where to start, I'd recommend trying No Children and This Year as tasters.  Broom People is also a personal favourite, and recently I've been listening to the remastered (but still deliciously lo-fi) 2002 album All Hail West Texas.  If its opener, The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, doesn't make you smile, put a lump in your throat and win you over all at the same time, then nothing will.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Halloween decor 2013:

It's nearly time for inappropriate costumes, extreme sugar highs and Hocus Pocus, so I thought I'd put out the Halloween decorations again this weekend.  Like last time around, I've mostly kept the decorations to the mantlepiece in the living room, with a few bits and pieces dotted around the rest of the flat.  There are some new additions to my collection, but I've reused everything from last year too.  You can read 2012's Halloween decor post and see some close up photos here.

The pumpkin and ghost lights are from the Halloween decoration mecca that is Poundland, along with the tinsel.  I bought these last year, but everything is still available to buy if you like!  A word of warning, though: I saw exactly the same tinsel for sale in John Lewis for quite a bit more money, so don't be fooled, and shop around if you're decorating or throwing a Halloween party!  The felt black cat and pumpkin garland strung across the fireplace is a new purchase, found in Asda.  It doesn't seem to be available online, but I only bought this a few days ago, so check in store if you fancy one!

I had pumpkin fairy lights already (still available from Poundland) but wanted a different way to display them this year.  This crazy felt black cat loot bucket kind of reminds me of the Cheshire Cat, and is a perfect home for the pumpkin lights, with some black tissue paper inside to bulk it out.

The ghost tealight holder is another Poundland special (new this year) and I've popped him on top of my piano.  He was too cute to resist!  You might recognise my little wall hanging ghost below from last year.  Unfortunately he doesn't seem to be on sale in Poundland any more, which makes sense as I bought him two years ago now.

Finally, the cheery skeleton below is also from Asda this year and can be bought online (although I found him in store).  He's guarding the kitchen door in case any hungry ghosts turn up, isn't he sweet?

Friday, 11 October 2013

Christmas in October! John Lewis Christmas Event 2013:

I love Christmas - that's no secret - but last week I was hurled into the Christmas spirit much earlier than even I'm comfortable with!  The fast paced nature of retail means that the Edinburgh John Lewis Christmas event 2013 for press, suppliers and bloggers was held at the very start of October.  I was lucky enough to be invited, and headed along to The Bonham Hotel in the West End with Gillian, Jade and Lianne.

The boutique hotel's small function room was a lovely and cosy setting for the event, and the decorations made it feel like we really were all at a festive Christmas or New Year party.  John Lewis's Christmas theme this year is 'inspired by reliving Christmases past', which I can definitely get on board with, as memories of my childhood Christmases are some of the happiest I have!  Around the room were little displays of different John Lewis products, from a huge pile of toys (which the four bloggers were instantly drawn to - clearly we are all still big kids!) to clothing, homeware, drinks and beauty.

Of course, I couldn't resist the offer of some Edinburgh Gin tasting, and Jane (who runs Spencerfield Spirits with the help of her husband and family) was there to tell us more about the different flavours and ingredients used in their products.  The spiced orange infused Edinburgh Gin is a new addition to the range for the festive season, and Jane recommended drinking it with cider for a mulled taste.  There is also an elderflower flavour, if that's your cup of tea/gin, and a raspberry, which was definitely my favourite!  These can both be mixed with fizzy wine as an alternative to the traditional kir royale cocktail.  I enjoyed trying all of the variations of Edinburgh Gin, but I'm going to get my hands on a bottle of the raspberry flavour as soon as I can!  It didn't taste artificial at all, and would be a great addition to a whole host of cocktails.

There were some lovely pieces of crockery and homeware on display, alongside pretty Christmas decorations.  Even though I hadn't even begun to think about Christmas shopping at that point, the evening planted the thought in my head.  Maybe I'll be really organised this year and have it all done in advance!  Or maybe that's just clever marketing...

(Can you spot Gillian snapping some photos of her own in the reflection below?  I'm like the bloggerazzi.)

We spent quite a big chunk of time chatting to Donna from Liz Earle, who works at the Edinburgh counter in John Lewis.  Honestly, we were talking about this, that and everything for ages, but we did manage to learn a little about Liz Earle beauty line, and their special Christmas releases.  I've used the famous Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish cleanser before, but haven't tried any of their other products.  I thought the star shaped tin gift boxes were a really cute idea for a Christmas present.  They contain either a nail polish or lipstick, and afterwards the box can be hung as a Christmas decoration on your tree, or (as Donna suggested) even used as a candle holder!

I wanted to dive into this cosy, Christmassy corner and have a snooze!  There's so much going on, but everything is cute and fluffy, and I would be happy to have it all in my home for the festive season!  It definitely looked like there were enough pairs of warm slippers and comfy cushions for everyone.

After chatting for hours and sipping a few glasses of lovely prosecco, we bloggers headed out into the rainy night with an extremely generous gift bag from John Lewis.  It included some samples from Edinburgh Gin and Liz Earle, as well as some lovely Christmas decorations that I can't wait to add to my tree in December!  

I haven't cracked open the Edinburgh Gin yet, but I'm looking forward to a few special G&Ts in the near future!  I have, however, tried both of the John Lewis Colour nail polishes pictured above (from left to right - Candyfloss and Festival) and they both applied like a dream!  I especially like Festival, which is a sort of toffee colour when applied.  I probably wouldn't have automatically chosen it, but it's a nice neutral that I think I'll get quite a bit of use out of!

As you can see, I had a lovely time at the event!  We hoped that we might get a sneak peek at this year's John Lewis Christmas advert for 2013, but alas no secrets were given away.  Someone did mention that the cute little panda above is a new 'character' for this year, so maybe he will feature in the advert when it's finally unveiled?  If so, remember you saw it here first!

 I hope this post has inspired some (extremely early) festive cheer!  Don't worry, I won't be mentioning Christmas much again until December rolls around, but I might try to get some of my Christmas shopping organised early.  Are any of you super prepared, or do you usually leave things to the last minute (like me!)?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Instagram #15:

1. Strawberry laces scented hand wash - such an amazing supermarket find!
2. My beautiful new piano/baby.
3. Craig having a nap in the piano box after putting it all together for me.

4. A belated (but lovely) birthday card from my fashionable friend Margaret.
5. New slipper booties for the fast approaching winter nights.
6. A snippet of shorthand from my first class.  Scary stuff!

7. Craig's youngest niece being a wee fashionista (she had adorable leopard print jeans on too!).
8. An emergency manicure repair job when most of my cheapy nail wraps fell off!
9. Wearing my lovely initial necklace - a birthday present from my best pal.  Thank you, Emily!

10. Beautiful Christmas baubles at the John Lewis Edinburgh Christmas event (more on that later this week!).
11. A cheeky pumpkin pal on the counter at Starbucks.  It's pumpkin spiced latte season, friends!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Hanging around the fireplace:

I've been collecting bits and pieces to hang above our fireplace for a little while now.  The majority of them have some kind of sentimental meaning, but none of them really match and they probably shouldn't be hung up on a wall together.  The end result is a bit higgledy piggledy, but I'm starting to think that that's just me, and it sums up my style pretty well!  For the last year, we've only the larger mirror in the middle on that wall, and it's lovely to fill up the space.

I feel like you will have already seen the majority of these keepsakes on Instagram or in other blog posts, so I don't want to repeat myself too much and run the risk of boring you all to death!  It's pretty safe to say that our flat is becoming a bit of a shrine to Frightened Rabbit, however...  If you do have any queries about anything in particular in the above photos, though, just let me know and I can fill you in on where and when it's from.

I also feel I should add that I'm experimenting with photo editing at the moment, and I'm not a huge fan of how these ones turned out.  Never mind, hopefully you can still see everything clearly enough, and I'll know for next time!

Edit - 05/10/2013:

I forgot to mention that I used adhesive plate hangers to hang both the Anthropologie plate and the guitar fret board above.  These have worked really well (even better than I'd hoped, actually) so I've decided to post some photos of the adhesive discs I used and how they are attached at the back, just in case anyone needs some inspiration or advice on how to do it!  They were very easy to stick on, and also seem simple to remove if and when I need to.  Using one of these on the fret board felt like a bit of a gamble, but I think the result looks great!  Okay, I'm really done now, I promise.