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Hotel Chocolat Chocolate Tasting Adventure

Can you think of a better way to start off a long bank holiday weekend than doing a chocolate tasting? Anyone? No? Me neither. Callum and I had been given a gift card for Christmas and because of various different reasons (read: one reason - I'd given up chocolate for lent. A brilliantly timed decision on my part...) we've only just got around to using it.

So last Friday night we headed into Leeds for an early dinner and a mooch around the shops. At 6pm we made our way to Hotel Chocolat and were taken to a dimly lit corner of the cafe alongside another couple. The chocolatier introduced himself as Dan and then proceeded to pour us all a full glass of prosecco whilst we awkwardly fiddled with our pencils and resisted the urge to scream, "Where's the chocolate!?!"

Dan was amazing. He was funny and engaging and he clearly loved his job. It made a huge difference having somebody there who knew his craft. He would talk to us about certain types of chocolate, where it comes from, how it's cleaned and roasted and used. Then he would let us have a taste and ask us to guess what we thought the flavour notes were. We were on track for about 75% of the guesses, the other 25% came from Callum to which Dan said, "I think you should just leave now..." It was a fun, lighthearted atmosphere and being able to relax and have a laugh with everyone just made it that much more enjoyable.

We had a really lovely evening. We got to try about 12 different types of chocolate and we learnt all sorts about the process of making chocolate. We had a laugh (mostly at Callum, but he's a good sport and laughed at himself too) and discovered a new love for all different kinds of chocolate. Like we needed an excuse to eat anymore. We were also given a goody bag on the way out with some bars of chocolate and vouchers. Again, like we needed an excuse to eat anymore chocolate.

Next on my list is the chocolate making session!

What I've Been Reading Lately | April

I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read thirty books this year. So far I've only read 6 so I don't think I'm exactly on track but the good news is that I have a mammoth pile of unread books to sink into over the Easter holidays! Here are a few I've been reading in April:

The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler | This one I haven't read yet but I can't wait to delve into this book. The story centres around 17 year old apprentice Franz and his boss, Otto, a tobacconist. It is set in Austria and tells the story of how Hitler's Third Reich affected the lives of so many across Europe. This one definitely spoke to the historian within me and sounds like a touching read. This one is next on my list.

Shtum by Jem Lester | I'm in two minds about this book. I liked the idea of it - two parents battling to get their autistic, mute son into a school that would allow him to explore and learn in a way that best suits him. But for the most part of this book I just couldn't get past how much I disliked the father. And the mother for that matter. They were both selfish and unlikable and it kind of tainted the story for me.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding | Need I say more?

March by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin | I've been wanting to read a graphic novel for the longest time now but I couldn't seem to find one that I thought might be worth it. I can't remember how I stumbled across March but it jumped out at me immediately. It's about Congressman John Lewis and his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement (which one one of the most interesting topics I studied at A-level History). I bought the first one and read it all in one sitting so now I'm waiting for book 2 to find out what he did next!

Now that this blog post has been written I'm going to make a cup of tea and finish the last couple of chapters of Bridget Jones.

What have you been reading lately? What's been your favourite so far in 2017?

Books to Love: Graduates in Wonderland

There's a huge part of me that loves writing and receiving letters. When I was younger, whenever I met a new friend on holiday, as we said goodbye on the last day we always exchanged addresses so we could send each other a letter. It's not something that often happens anymore. Now when we meet someone new, we exchange numbers and spend the next 10 years of friendship texting each other our favourite quotes from Harry Potter and memes about having to wait so long for the next series of Pretty Little Liars.

So, of course, the inner letter-writing, 19th century lady within me loves to read letters by other people too. I spend a bit of time every year reading Letters of Note and watching the video clips of Letters Live. I read and reread Love Letters of the Great War and bookmarked all of my favourite letters. There's just something so beautiful and honest and warm about writing a letter.

When I first heard about Graduates in Wonderland I knew it would be a book I would enjoy. Best friends Jessica and Rachel have just graduated from Brown university and are headed off on separate adventures around the globe. They keep in touch by email, sending each other lengthy commentary on their day-to-day lives, including all their mistakes and mishaps, as well as the beautiful moments that happen during their travels. 

This book was so easy to read, it just felt like I was catching up with old friends. The stories were laugh out loud funny on occasion and their friendship was truly lovely to read about. It also made me feel better knowing that at some point they were both half-way across the world also worrying about the same things I worry about and they were out there making the same mistakes I've made since leaving university. 

I'd recommend this book to anyone that is just about to leave university or has just left. But just so you're warned: side effects include a huge dose of wanderlust and a desire to write letters to absolutely everyone. 

Books to Love: After You

Earlier this year when all the hype surrounding Me Before You kicked up, I decided I'd read the book. (it wasn't really a hard decision, books are hard to say no to... don't you think?) I'd been hearing about it for a while and everyone kept saying how good it was. Okay, so I caved!! Like always. Anyway, I really enjoyed it. It was fun and heartwarming and I didn't want it to end. 

For those of you that don't know, Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clarke (Lou), a charming, quirky cafe-worker. When she loses her job and is forced to find another one pronto, she takes a job looking after Will, a paraplegic, who is not very happy about having her company. Considering it touches on such a difficult subject, it balances Will's problems with light-heartedness of Lou's character so well. It's a story to make you laugh and cry and feel everything in between.

I knew there was a sequel and I picked it up a couple of times walking around Waterstones but always put it back, Would it be a half-hearted follow-up to the story? Where could the author really go with a storyline like that one? But I'm glad I talked myself into it because I ended up finishing it in just a couple of days.

In After You, Lou is living in her own little flat, working a job that pays the bills but means she has to wear a hideous costume every day, and doesn't speak to her family. Then, one day, she gets a knock on her door and it changes everything

Once I'd read the blurb I already had an idea about what might happen but I was completely wrong! I didn't expect the story to go in the direction it did but I quite enjoyed the storyline. And it made me laugh out loud on a few occasions: cue strange looks from Callum from the other side of the sofa. Plus, I just love Lou. She's such a relatable character - quirky, clumsy and a bit dopey. But lovely nonetheless. When I got to the end of the book I found myself wanting to know what happened to her next!

So, Jojo Moyes, if you're reading this (on the off chance that you like to read random, obscure blogs over your morning coffee) we'd love some more Lou!

Favourite Few: Beauty

I am a creature of habit. Once I find a makeup routine that I'm happy with, I tend to stick with it for a long while. But every now and then I try a new product that has been the focus of every beautiful Instagram photo on every beauty guru's social media account, and it ends up being a permanent addition to my makeup bag. So here are some of the tried and tested products I've been loving lately! 

Younique, Glorious Primer | I have a love/hate relationship with this primer. It's brilliant in so many ways - it provides a really smooth base to apply foundation, it genuinely keeps your makeup on all day and helps it look the best it can. On days that I wear the primer there's a visible difference in the state of my makeup and I wonder why I've gone so long without it. That being said, you need to use so much of it for it to work well and it's expensive too. Whilst the product is good, it doesn't really seem worth spending the  money on when you have to replace it so frequently.

Rimmel, Wonder'Full Mascara | This might just be one of my favourite mascaras ever. I did a review of it last March which you can read here. I still stand by what I said then - it's creamy and nourishing and holds well through the day. The only difference between the mascara I reviewed last year and this one is the colour. I bought it in extreme black this time but sometimes a simple black just won't do.

Rimmel, Kate Sculpting Palette | One of the only things I enjoy about wearing makeup in summer is a good highlighter. Although I'm not massively into the sculpting/contouring trend, I do like to use a highlighter or illuminator on my cheekbones because it adds something a bit more summery to your average, everyday makeup. I love this little palette because it provides the perfect compliment between the blush and the shimmer. It's subtle and understated and perfect for daytime wear. 

What products have you been enjoying using lately? Have you discovered anything new?

Books to Love: Reasons to Stay Alive

"Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself." - Matt Haig

It's a very difficult thing to listen to somebody explain their anxiety or depression to you. People have tried to explain it to me before and whilst I told them I was understanding and sympathetic, I didn't really get the full extent of the situation. It's like when somebody shows you a photograph of somewhere and you get the general gist of what it was like to be there, but you'll never know what that sand felt like between your toes, what the ocean sounded like when it hit shore or how that ice-cream tasted on a such a hot day. We see the picture but it's flat, two-dimensional. It doesn't tell the whole story.

When I struggle to put my thoughts or feelings into words, I read. I read because so often other people say what I need to much better than I do. They explain things in a way that makes total sense even though the words won't come together in my head when someone asks me, "How do you feel?"

I love Matt Haig as an author and when I bought this book it wasn't for any other reason but that. I like his writing. For the past few months it has been buried underneath a mountain of other books, forgotten. A couple of weeks ago I wrestled it out from the back of my back shelf and devoured half of it in one afternoon.

Haig share his personal experience of anxiety and depression in Reasons to Stay Alive but he understands that not everyone suffers in the same way, so he shares useful advice but not in self-help guide kind of way.  He knows that what works for him might not necessarily work for everyone. He says, "When we are trying to get better, the only truth that matters is what works for us." And it's his honesty that makes this book so special and worth reading. It highlights so many of the problems that develop as a result of anxiety and depression - physical, mental, personal - making it a useful read for not only those who suffer but also those who know somebody that suffers.

It's such a relatable and uplifting book, one that makes you realise how big the world is and how beautiful it can be.

"You need to feel life's terror to feel its wonder." - Matt Haig

Lemon & Green Tea Face Steam

My skin has been really bad lately and while I can cope with it most of the time, there are days when it just really gets me down. I've been back and forth to the doctors but haven't found anything that helped. I've tried all the usual - drink more water, eat less sugar, exercise more. I've tried a hundred different beauty products targeted at reducing acne. Nothing seems to work! 

I remembered seeing a piece Liz Earle did on the TV last year about the benefits of doing a face steam. She recommended using all different kinds of essential oils for all different kinds of purposes - rosemary & tea tree for acne, lavender for sensitive skin, rose for dry skin. It sounded worth trying. Why not? I've tried pretty much everything else going! 

The only things I had to hand were lemon and green tea. Which was fine by me, apparently Miranda Kerr swears by a green tea steam and her skin is amazing

All you need to do is pour some boiling water into a bowl. Then add whatever it is you want to use - I used both lemon and green tea. I put the tea bag in first and then squeezed the juice from half a lemon. I read it was best to let it sit for 5-10 minutes so that the heat is bearable when it comes to putting your face over it. When it's ready, drape a towel over your head and hold your face about 30cm away from the water for as long as it's hot. Afterwards splash your face with cold water to close pores. 

I've done this a few times over the past couple of weeks and I love how refreshed my skin feels afterwards. It looks much less irritated and feels much cleaner too. The first time I did it my mum commented on how much better my skin looked so I thought maybe this was something worth doing on a regular basis. I think I'll try get my hands on some tea tree oil next and see if that works just as well!

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