Thursday, 1 October 2015

4 Recommended Reads for October

With Halloween fast approaching, I thought I'd share four appropriately themed reads for those of you who might want to spend October feeling suitably unsettled.

1. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I first saw The a Woman in Black as a play when I was a teenager. I found it really scary so I didn't read the book until many years later. The book is about a young solicitor who is sent to wind up the affairs of a client who lived in Eel Marsh House, unaware of the tragic event which took place there. Before long, he begins to see a wasted young woman, dressed completely in black and soon learns why the locals are so reluctant to speak of her presence.  This book isn't about blood, guts or gore.  It's a proper ghost story; eerie and unsettling.  A perfect read for the autumn and winter nights ahead. 

2.  Prey by Graham Masterton

This one is definitely not for the faint hearted. I actually read this book over 10 years ago now but it's always stayed with me. A recently divorced man takes a job restoring an old 19th century orphanage. He begins hearing scratching noises in the attic and what ensues is the most terrifying story I've ever read. Masterton has a knack for being able to completely immerse the reader in the story. I couldn't put this book down when I read it but it still makes me shudder thinking of it. 

3.  The Small Hand by Susan Hill

No one tells a good old-fashioned ghost story like Susan Hill.  This one is about a bookseller who takes a wrong turn when returning from visiting a client.  He stumbles upon a old derelict house and is so curious he decides to explore.  Just as he starts to explore the house, he is aware of the sensation of a small, cold hand slipping into his hand (*shudders*).  This one isn't as scary as the two above but it's a bit creepy and also a nice short book which won't take up much time to read.  

4.  Blood Harvest by S J Bolton

S J Bolton is really a crime writer but the three books of hers that I've read so far have all had a sort of supernatural undertone to them which I really enjoy.  This one is about strange happenings in a village with various different things going on at the same time.  A psychologist is worried about one of her patients who believes her daughter is alive despite having died years earlier, the new vicar is made to feel very unwelcome and a young boy keeps seeing a girl playing alone in the churchyard.  Anything with churchyards is usually a bit spooky, in my opinion.  I would highly recommend this book or Sacrifice and Awakening by her also.  

Have you read any of these books? Do you intend to read any of them now?  I would love to know what you thought of them.  

Friday, 25 September 2015

Dunino Den

Dunino Den is somewhere I've wanted to visit for a while.  Dunino is a small village situated between St Andrews and Anstruther in Fife.  The den can be found within the forest behind Dunino church.  It's said to have been a Pictish ritual site at one time and I'd heard people go there to leave all sorts of offerings.  Naturally I had to check it out.  Being a bit of a scaredy cat, I roped my friend Thomas into coming along with me.

We decided to explore the churchyard first.  The house below is situated just beside the church. 

We made our way through the forest to find the small stone steps into the den...

A flag made up of coloured strips of material marks a place in along the path...

We soon found the steps leading down into the den...

A ravaged looking rope swing hangs from a large tree.  I salute whoever was brave enough to tie the rope to the top and anyone who decides who have a swing on it.

We had a look around the den at the some of the offerings people have left and the various coloured ribbons hanging from trees.

The den is very quiet and there's a real sense of solitude here.  I did find it a bit eerie and a bit more 'Blair Witch' than I'm comfortable with.  I certainly wouldn't have come here alone although I know people who do and they've lived to tell the tale.  I think I've just seen too many horror films.

It's obvious from some of the offerings and letters (I didn't read them) people have left that they find some peace, comfort or even magic from being here. After spending a little while in the den, we decided to ascend the stone steps back to the forest and head home.

It was great to get out exploring with my camera again.  I am planning my next adventure. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Back to school - tips for mature students

Last week, I went back to university to study a part-time Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling.  Even though I have done some introductory courses over the past 4 years in preparation for this one, it has been over 10 years since I've studied at academic level.  I spent the final few weeks on the run up to my start date thinking that I must be off my head to take this on but it's something I really want to do.
So, last Monday I dusted the holiday sand of my Kanken (literally) and off I went to begin my new course armed with cat highlighters and a Frozen pencil case.

It's exciting and scary all the same time although most of the people on my course are in the same boat.  Most of us are juggling work, coursework, voluntary work and life in general and none of us expect it to be easy. For anyone in the same position, here are three tips I can share so far:

1.  Invest in a proper academic diary

I can be really absent minded at times and I was paranoid I would forget things or end up missing appointments so I decided I really needed a decent diary.  After perusing various options, I opted for The Palgrave Student Planner over and above the cutesy kitty/pony/dog/cupcake varieties I'd normally go for.  I can't recommend this diary highly enough.  It contains everything you could possibly want in a diary and tons more besides.  As well as lists of student contacts and general advice, it has timetable planners, space for notes and deadlines and to-do lists. If like me and so many other mature students (or any students for that matter) you are juggling various things at once, I would certainly advise using and checking your diary regularly.  The monthly to-do list pages are my favourite feature so far.

2.  Make the most of your student card

Regardless of whether you are full-time, part-time or how old you are - take advantage of the student discounts available to you.  Attending university can be expensive and any savings you can make elsewhere are a bonus.  I also invested in a NUS extra card which costs £12 per year but entitles you to a 5% discount from Amazon, 10% off Superdrug, 10% off Co-operative Food and up to 40% off Pizza Express among other things.  However, the student card issued by your university or college entitles you to discounts in loads of high street shops such as New Look and Paperchase and will get you money off cinema tickets.  Also download the UniDays app on your smartphone or access their websites for details of special offers and discounts available to students.

3.  Read

I realised very quickly, on day one to be exact, that I hadn't put quite enough importance on reading academic books and papers.  Yes, I got the recommended reading list weeks before and I invested in the book I thought would be most relevant but I hadn't really given much thought to the rest. Lecturers (particularly at graduate level) assume a certain amount of knowledge and my knowledge is slightly rusty.  Thankfully, I'm not the only one in this position but that's not the point.  I can't emphasise enough the importance of reading around your chosen subject particularly if it's been a while since you studied.  You don't have to buy every book on the reading list.  Make use of your university/college library and the services available there. For example, having been out of the loop for several years, I was surprised to learn that I could access library books and journal articles online from home.  This is hugely helpful and saves a lot of time and money in some cases.  Failing that, look on Amazon or Ebay for second hand books if you don't want to fork out for new copies.

Kanken backpack - / The Palgrave Student Planner - Waterstones / Cat highlighters - Paperchase / Frozen pencil case - Tesco

Monday, 31 August 2015

What I've Read Lately #2

1. Gather Together In My Name by Maya Angelou

This is the second volume of Maya Angelou's five part autobiography series.  In this volume, she is now a young mother who leaves home to embark on a new life with her son.  The book details the challenges she faces as a young black woman in 1940's America.  The book is written with a naïve honesty and courage showing triumph over adversity and unwavering love for her young son.  I would highly recommend this book but would definitely advise reading the first volume (I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings) if you haven't already done so. 

2.  #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

I think everyone has been raving about this book over the past few months so if you haven't already read it, you've probably at least heard of it.  This is a real rags to riches story (I know that sounds cliché but it really is). Sophia Amoruso started off shoplifting to pay her rent and dumpster diving for bagels before selling vintage clothes on eBay and is now the CEO of Nasty Gal (a company worth millions which I admit I'd never heard of before reading her book). I found this book funny, straight to the point and really inspiring.  I'm kind of at a career crossroads just now and sometimes feel like I'm caught in a bit of a humdrum (if that makes sense).  #GIRLBOSS shows that with hard work and dedication to what you love, you can succeed.  Highly, highly recommended particularly if you are also feeling a bit blah!

3.  Kid Me Not: An anthology by child-free women of the 60's now in their 60's by Aralyn Hughes

I stumbled upon this book completely by accident while looking for something new and exciting to read.  As the title suggests the book is a collection of essays by childless women about why they don't have children and how their lives are now without them.  Some of the women don't have children by choice and others don't have them through circumstance.  The stories completely resonated with me at this point in my life.  I think the decision to have or not to have children is often taken for granted and it's difficulty is greatly underestimated.  It's a decision I've struggled with for several years going from definitely wanting to have a child to definitely not.  Now that time is most certainly running out I feel caught between what my heart tells me and what my head tells me.  Sometimes even those messages are confused.  Reading this book really helped put things in perspective for me and actually helped me realise that my feelings and fears are ok and completely normal.  I would recommend this book to any women feeling the same way about motherhood. 

Have you read any of these books or do you plan to read them now?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

What I've read lately #1


I've always loved reading but since I got a Kindle last year I've been enjoying it even more. For some reason, I seem to be getting through books much faster than I ever did before. Seeing as none of my friends are as enthusiastic about reading as I am, I thought I'd start sharing my recent reads here. Well...I need to tell someone about them. Especially the good ones. 

Here's what I've read lately: 

1.  Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This book (recently turned into a film starring Reece Wotherspoon) is a memoir starting when Strayed was in her early 20's and going through a particularly rough patch.  Having just lost her mother and divorcing her husband after a series of meaningless sexual encounters with other men, she turns to drugs in order to dull the pain of her loss. Strayed then decides to hike solo along the Pacific Crest Trail in order to regain some control of her life.  Wild tells the story of her trek and some of the characters she encounters. I've read some pretty harsh reviews of this book where people are slating Strayed for being stupid, unprepared and self-indulgent. I think they're missing the point entirely. The fact is she was unprepared and perhaps didn't always make the best choices but that's what makes her story so interesting. It's a really honest account of grief and survival which demonstrates that we can go through tough times in life and come out ok at the other side. I would definitely recommend it and can't wait to see the film. I hope it does the book justice. 

2. Simplify by Joshua Becker

This is a short, basic guide on the principles of minimalism. I've read a couple of similar books over the past few months during my journey to let go of my less meaningful possessions.  While I have no desire to be minimalist and found some of the book to be a bit extreme,  I would say that it offers some common sense advice as well as some brief personal insights into what motivated some people to de-clutter or become minimalist. I found it interesting but it wasn't as motivational as I had hoped it would be.

3.  The Kindness of Strangers by Mike McIntyre

This is another memoir starting off when McIntyre, stuck in a rut with his job as a journalist and generally afraid of life, decides to set off on a penniless journey across America. His account of his journey and the people he meets will make you laugh, cringe and restore your faith in humanity all at the same time. As a person who is also scared of just about everything and a born worrier, I could relate to some of the feelings he describes in the beginning of the book. I thought his decision to take the journey penniless was both crazy and awe inspiring at the same time. The story itself was heart warming at times, it's funny how the people who have the least often give the most. I would highly recommend this book. 

I plan to post reviews of more books soon. Meanwhile, have you read any of these books? Or has this post inspired you to read them? I would love to hear your comments. 

Friday, 1 August 2014


When I'm feeling a bit stressed or under the weather, a trip to the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh always lifts my spirits and leaves me feeling restored.  I decided to take a trip there last month when I was in need of some alone time with my camera. Here are some of the pictures I took that day.  


Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Review - Garnier Ultimate Blends Conditioner: The Silky Smoother

I'm always on the lookout for the perfect conditioner and I hate to think how much money I've spent over the years trying to tame the frizzy/split ends of my hair.  On a recent shopping trip I came across the relatively new Garnier Ultimate Blends range.  There are six different blends within the range and I chose 'The Silky Smoother' because I have mid-long hair with split ends.  

From the first use of this product, I was hooked.  It's absolutely fantastic.  The ends of my hair are noticeably smoother and my hair is softer in general without being weighed down.  The whole range is inexpensive so suits pretty much any budget, it smells fantastic and it's also paraben-free.  What's not to love?

I would highly recommend trying Ultimate Blends the next time you need to replace one of your hair products.  
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