February favourites – book club, Balea, and the beauty box I won

It’s time to tell you what I’ve been enjoying this month. Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried any of these things, and if you’ve done a blog or video about what you’ve been enjoying this month, feel free to share it in the comments too.

1. I won a Glossybox – yay!

Do you know about Jamie Gourdon’s Youtube channel? If not, go and check her out! She’s really generous and does subscription box giveaways on her channel! I was lucky enough to win the January Glossybox. Inside there was

  1. Apicia cream blush – this was the thing that excited me the most, as anyone who’s been with me for a while knows that I love cream make-up. I hadn’t seen a blush in a tube before. Neither had I used anything from Apicia. It blends in nicely and it contains bee pollen to nourish the skin.
  2. Green tea primer from Iona Cosmetics – I can’t believe I never used to use a primer! I’ve got a little collection going now. This one absorbs quickly. It doesn’t have that silicone feel like the Porefessional, and it’s not watery, like some of the others I’ve tried recently. It creates a smooth canvas for make-up and contains moisturising ingredients such as green tea and avocado oil. I’ll definitely be using it.
  3. A nail and cuticle energiser from Nail Medic – this is an oil that you paint on with a little brush, which I find easier than the similar products where you have a little pipette thing on the end! I get very dry cuticles, which I then bite and make them worse, so I’ve been enjoying using this blend of oils and plant extracts to strengthen my nails and moisturise the skin around them.
  4. Dr Botanicals superfood facial oil – this is fantastic value and is designed to keep your skin protected and hydrated. It’s infused with Moroccan rose oil which contains vitamins A and C.
  5. Beauty beneath supplements by Boots – I haven’t tried these yet as I’m finishing up some others, but they contain vitamins C and E, as well as nutrients that help produce collagen and reduce fine lines. So it’s looking after your skin from the inside.

After this, I decided to sign up for Glossybox to try it out for myself. If you want to give it a go and get 20% off your first box, you can use my code KIRSTY-RGE when you place your first order on the Glossybox site.

2. Summer is coming – pineapple lip care

This tropical pineapple lip balm from Burt’s Bees was selling out really fast when I got mine! It’s from the flavour crystals range and 100%natural. I was already a fan of Burt’s Bees lip products – I love the mango and grapefruit ones. This range comes in pineapple, orange, and raspberry. They are not as glossy as some lip balms, but I find they need to be reapplied less often and although it’s not why we buy them … it tastes amazing!

3. Grapefruit shower foam

Do you remember my swapbox with Sazzy and Joanie? Well they got me some grapefruit shower foam from Balea and it smells good enough to eat! So fresh and fruity! I hadn’t tried this brand before. I don’t think you can get it in the UK, but if anyone outside of the UK can get Balea products, this is a good one!

4. Online book club

I like the idea of a book club, but having looked around online, there’s not much in my area. In any event, I think I like the idea of an online one more – you can meet more people, and it doesn’t have to interfere with your other commitments because you can just chat about the books online. We haven’t had our February discussion yet, but there are different book-related threads in the book which you can join in with. The actual discussion is set up as a Facebook event and you can take part over a 24-hour period. There will be a different book every month. February’s book was “The husband’s secret” – you can find out what I thought about it in the February round-up.

If that sounds like your kind of thing, visit the online book club on Facebook!

5. Did you know that coffee and sesame seeds go well together?

No? Neither did I until I tried the new dessert from Wagamama! I don’t usually have dessert. If I do, it’s the sorbet, but seriously, if you love coffee, the Wagamama Vietnamese coffee icecream is sooo good!

6. Body Shop pomegranate eye roll-on

This refreshing eye roll-on from the Body Shop is really nice because it massages your skin as you apply it. It’s from the pomegranate range, which is aimed at mature skin, but I think it’s good for anyone who wants to firm up the area around their eyes and reduce fine lines. It has a little button that releases the eye cream onto the ball, and then you massage it in with the ball at the end of the container. It’s a bit thicker than the Garnier one that I tried before, and I think the Body Shop one is more nourishing. It doesn’t leave a sticky finish, and another thing I like is that you don’t get too much at a time as you can with some tubes.

7. Ren Beauty shot

I got a little one of these in my advent calendar and I really enjoyed using it. You can get the Ren Beauty shot here. It’s a very lightweight serum that absorbs quickly. It says you can apply it over make-up, although I didn’t. I put it under my moisturiser as you would with any other serum and I loved the way it made my skin so soft. It firms and lifts the skin and claims to give short- and long-term hydration. An expensive treat because it’s Ren, but a lovely product that I enjoyed pampering myself with!

8. New primer

I know I’ve already talked about a primer, but I heard on the Full Coverage podcast (check it out if you love all things beauty and skincare!) that the Maybelline pore eraser primer is just like the Benefit Porefessional, but at about a quarter of the price! So I decided to get some and was not disappointed. I do like the Benefit one, but it is expensive. So if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, I’d recommend this pore eraser one at around a quarter of the price.

How about you? What have you been trying out this month?

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February blog of the month – the Cozy Den

Welcome to the second instalment of my blogger of the month series. It’s a way for you to get to meet the people behind some of the blogs that I enjoy.

You may remember Joanie and Sazzy from my Blogger swap box post. That was a lot of fun! For anyone who doesn’t know them, S & J blog over at The Cozy Den so go and check them out if you haven’t already!

1. What’s the link for your blog and how would you describe it in a couple of sentences?

This is our blog! We’d say that our blog is a creative outlet for everything we, two 22/21 year-old German girls/women (what even are we? Young adults?!), are interested or passionate about. So what you’ll find there is a wild mix of fashion, beauty, lifestyle, food, books, TV shows, personal stuff… the list goes ooooon and oooon!

2. Have you always enjoyed writing, or did you only start recently?

Both of us always enjoyed writing stories for school assignments but never wrote outside of an academic environment, so the blog is something new and fun for us to do and we enjoy it a lot (even though at times it can be stressful with uni or when we’re doing a blog post each day of the month)

3. What’s one of your favourite posts from your blog, and why?

Funnily enough, neither of the two we chose are online yet because they are quite personal and we haven’t put them online yet (will do though after exam season). So our favourite one that is online is our second ever post which is a review of the Jelly&Gelato range by Zoella. You can find it here.
. It is our favourite because it’s the one we met up for and took the pictures and everything together which was a lot of fun (we sadly haven’t had the time for that ever since).

4. How do you make sure that you don’t run out of ideas? Where do you get most of your inspiration?

We are two people, so that helps 😀 Other than that, we draw from our personal lives and experiences or get inspired by other bloggers. And there are always new fun recipes or products you can try and share your thoughts about!

5. What would you say is the best thing about blogging?

Doing this together? Very cheesy, but true. And friendships in general. We’ve made many new friends within the blogging community who also like to share their thoughts and feelings and be creative!

6. What’s one of your most popular posts? Why do you think people liked it so much?

The most viewed (and possibly liked) one is J.’s review of the British Rose Range by The Body Shop. Probably because The Body Shop’s products are amazing? 😀

7. If you were asked to put together a beauty and lifestyle box with 4 products inside, which favourite items would you put in?

(Each of us is putting in 2 items)
S.: I’d go for The Body Shop’s Tea Tree toner and the book ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho.
J.: I would put in a Fitbit Charge 2 and a highlighter from Tanya Burr Cosmetics.
There you go, the ultimate Cozy Den Box by Joanie and Sazzy!

8. What’s one thing you wouldn’t have done or learned if you hadn’t started a blog?

It takes up much more time than we thought! We really do struggle keeping up with social media and the pictures. But it is part of the challenge and we enjoy taking it on!

9. Have you ever bought anything because a blogger was talking about it?

Guilty as charged.

10. What type of posts do you most enjoy writing? What type of posts do you find hard to write?

We enjoy everything? S. loves writing about books and TV series (S.: I get so into them and can’t contain my excitement!). Same goes for J. but in the end it’s also food and beauty and everything 😀
The harder ones are the ones that are more personal or the ones where you need to pay attention to political correctness as to not offend anyone (we want our blog to be a safe spot for everyone) and also the ones for Blogmas or Blogtober where we had to think of childhood memories (it’s so hard!).

11. Have you read any good books lately?

Yes, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (10/10 would recommend, very inspiring) and Atonement by Ian McEwan (10/10 would recommend, very gripping).

12. Online shopping or going to the shops – which do you prefer and why?

We both agree on this one: it depends on the circumstances. Shopping with friends? Let’s go to the shops! Shopping alone? Let me stay in my cave and put a lot of items in my bag only to delete them later on because the order is getting too expensive!

13. What’s a trend that you think should stay in 2017 – something you hope will go away this year?

Glitter lips and feather brows. Byeee! We’re not feeling either. We also heard that loon trousers (we hope this is the right word, we’re Germans after all and sometimes Google is all we have – we’re talking the opposite of skinny jeans) are coming back and honestly, we hope they don’t.

14. If you were in a hurry and only had time to apply 3 make-up products, what would they be?

Funnily enough, again we agree on the exact same things: concealer, mascara and bronzer!

15. What do you need for the perfect night in?

J.: The Mentalist, pizza and cosy clothes.
S.: Netflix, tea and cosy clothes.

16. What’s one thing that you would like to do this year?

J.: Moving in with my boyfriend!
S.: Travelling the UK!

Thanks Sazzy and Joanie for answering my questions and I hope that J’s move goes well and that S’ holiday is a lot of fun! Looking forward to your next posts and to everyone else, don’t forget to go and check out the Cozy Den!

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Don’t invade my personal space

I’d like to introduce you to Dawn. She wrote a blog article called “Not a passive rag doll – keep your grabbing hands to yourself” about her experiences as a woman with a visual impairment and unwanted physical attention from random members of the public. You can check out the article here because I’m not going to paraphrase it –read it in Dawn’s own words!

I think this is an important topic and one that we usually avoid, although I’m not sure why. I wonder if wheelchair users have similar but different issues with complete strangers invading their personal space without asking or considering how it feels?

There are several issues. Firstly, even for someone who isn’t easily scared, have you any idea how terrifying it is to be walking along and suddenly feel a hand touching you, with no warning, and you had no idea that it was coming because you couldn’t see the other person?

Sometimes we do need help or directions. I know some people have trouble giving directions – “that way” or “over there” are not helpful when you can’t see which way someone is pointing, but neither is someone attempting to drag or push you where they think you want to go.

I’ve heard examples of blind people being dragged across the road even though they didn’t want to go that way. I don’t understand that, because nobody drags me anywhere, and I don’t think making sure they let go has anything to do with politeness or a lack thereof.

If I take help from a stranger in a place that I don’t know, chances are I will ask to take their arm, especially if it’s crowded and I could lose the other person. But that’s a lot different from being manhandled or grabbed. It’s a negotiated exchange, not one person thinking they have the right to make decisions for the other.

In fact, I do remember a time when someone tried to hurl me across a busy crossing before the lights had changed. I forcefully disentangled myself and told them what I thought, after which the woman asked someone behind me to “make sure she gets across safely. That guide dog isn’t very good.” I was furious. Firstly, it’s my decision, not my dog’s decision, when it’s time to cross the road. Secondly, surely the best way to ensure my own safety is to make sure the lights are actually in my favour?

On the same lines, it’s not cool to talk about people as though they’re an object or a piece of luggage. “Put her in the chair over there”. I was at an airport and decided I’d rather stand.

Another unpleasant side to this coin is the inappropriate ways in which people have tried to come into my space in an attempt to be “helpful” such as trying to lean across me in a car to reach the seatbelt (which I didn’t need, but which also put the other person much closer than I had given permission for). I turned my back on the person in question and took hold of the seatbelt myself, but that’s not the point. Sometimes it’s not clear whether people think a disabled person won’t be bothered about such a clear invasion of their personal space, and sometimes, I think people are just trying their luck because they think a disabled person won’t protest – like when someone attempted to touch me inappropriately as they were “helping” me out of a vehicle. That wasn’t an accident. Yes, I will never know how much unwanted attention I would have had as a non-disabled woman, but the fact that someone has a disability can make them appear more vulnerable and the presumption is often that they’ll be less likely to stand up for themselves. Not true in my case, but then I’ve always been direct and outspoken. What happens to the people who aren’t?

I wonder how people feel who need assistance with personal care. I don’t, but do people always treat them and their personal space with respect?

I don’t mind people asking if I need help, and if I do need help, I’ll ask for it. I’m not afraid of being touched. Human contact is a good thing, but it has to be consensual. It’s never ok to grab, push, pull, or attempt to manoeuvre someone without asking because you think you know what they want or what’s best. It’s dehumanising and really annoying!

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Trying out products from Gatineau and Nip+Fab

If you feel like seeing what’s new in skincare and make-up or trying something that you’ve seen other people raving about, you might pop to your local Boots or Superdrug. I have done this, as you’ll have seen if you read my drugstore make-up haul, but when I’m shopping online, I need a site that I can use on my own, without having to call my boyfriend for assistance. Out of the two, I think Superdrug is better than Boots in terms of accessibility for blind people, and I’ll use them if I really want things from those shops, but the last time I used each of them, I had to ask S to give me a hand. It’s ok if he’s around, and he gets roped into all kinds of projects for this website, but it’s not ideal when a girl just wants to go shopping.

That’s why I was really happy to discover Feelunique. I have already done a couple of posts about it, but I thought I’d share with you what I got in the just-before-Christmas sale. I don’t like to talk about new products as soon as they arrive. These things aren’t on offer now, but it is worth signing up to the emails because there are some really good deals. I was going to get the Nip&Fab products anyway, but the Gatineau was a little treat because at the time, it was 60% off!I usually keep an eye on this site because they often have sales with anything from 15% to 60% off, and you can pick up some real bargains. You can also end up spending a lot of money if you’re not careful, but it’s all about the self-control!

If anyone is interested in trying out Feelunique, You can get £10 off your first FeelUnique order by going onto the site using my affiliate link. This offer is open to new customers only, and the minimum spend is £30. So basically you can get £30 of products for £20. This is an affiliate link, so I also get a reward – in this case it’s £10 worth of products, which I will use to buy new things to test out on Unseen Beauty. However I only promote things that I enjoy, and I was very happy with the service I received.

So, let’s look at what I got!

Firstly I decided to treat myself to the Gatineau ultimate perfection collection. This skincare brand was new to me, but there was a mini of the night cream in the M&S advent calendar. I really enjoyed it and my skin was so lovely and soft after using it. However this is a luxury brand with a luxury price-tag.

Fortunately for me, around Christmas it was in the sale with 60% off, and although I wouldn’t usually pay full price, I felt it was worth it with such a big saving.

I think my favourite item is the serum – it has a lovely formula which is quick to absorb and which makes a good base for moisturiser and make-up. It’s not one of those oily serums, so it’s fine for daytime wear. There is a moisturiser too, and it’s tinted, so you need to make sure you get the right one for your skin tone. There is also a lip treatment, like a thick balm in a tube (no scent or taste) and a neck and throat cream. I’ve never heard of a neck and throat cream and would usually just use my normal moisturiser – but hey why not?! I was a little sad that the lovely night cream wasn’t in the set, but I have enjoyed testing out new products from this brand and am a definite fan, particularly of the serum and moisturiser.

I then wanted to try out some more of the Nip+Fab range. I’d already tried some of the NIP+FAB Exfoliate Glycolic Fix Gentle Pads and they were cheaper on FeelUnique than I’d seen them on Amazon. These are great for when you’re travelling, and they’re also good if you prefer a chemical exfoliant to a scrub as I do. No harsh scrubby bits or sandy texture, no mess in the shower, just pads to gently wipe over your face.

I also got some NIP+FAB Dragon’s Blood Fix Cleansing 60 Pads to try. The name is a little misleading because they are for after you’ve cleansed – so a bit like toning pads. I’d already tried the dragon’s blood serum, so I was interested in the toner too. I like it and would definitely get the pads again. The jars feel similar, so I marked one with an X and one with a C so that I can quickly tell them apart.

I wouldn’t say that I make any more mess than anyone else when pouring things onto cotton wool pads because I can’t see them. We have a lovely soft carpet in the bedroom and I’m always super careful… But the pads do make it really easy – you just take one out and it’s ready to go!

Unfortunately the Nip+Fab glycolic fix body cream seems to be out of stock at the moment, but as someone who doesn’t use scrubs on the body either, I thought I’d give this lotion a go. I don’t use it all the time, and to be honest I only use it on areas that I want to exfoliate, so it will last a decent length of time.

The final thing was the NIP+FAB Glycolic Fix Exfoliating Sheet Mask. I love sheet masks and was intrigued by this. I probably wouldn’t get this again as there are much more cost-effective sheet masks out there, but if you specifically want an exfoliating sheet mask, It’s a nice enough one to use from a brand that I trust.

So, have you tried any of these products? Let me know in the comments. Also, is there anything else you would recommend from Gatineau or Nip&Fab?

Also, don’t forget you can use my link if you decide to give FeelUnique a go!

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Making D&D accessible to blind players

When I met one of my partner’s friends for the first time and he asked me whether I played Dungeons and Dragons, I had no idea what he was talking about. Some kind of computer game maybe? I’d never heard of it.

No, it wasn’t a computer game – it was the Monday night thing which involved S and some of his friends getting together online talking about dragons, elves, goblins – and doing a lot of maths! So I was curious and listened in a couple of times.

After a while, he asked me if I wanted to join the group. So it would be a bit like drama, but without all the physical running around bits that I didn’t like at school. A bit like creative writing where you get to design a character and create their story, but you do it with spoken words and as part of a team. I could do that.

Ok, I would be the beginner in a group of people who weren’t, but we had something else to think about as well. How could we make the game accessible to me as a blind player?

Getting information

The first part was quite straightforward. I can’t read any of the hard-copy books that line the shelves at home, but a lot of the information is available online. This means I can access it with my laptop and screenreading software, which reads aloud what’s on the screen. Some websites are easier to navigate than others, which comes down to the web design, how well links are labelled, and how many adverts I have to get round before I find what I’m looking for. I’ve also got a bunch of people who have been playing for years who can answer questions because they just know the answers. Still, if I wanted to look something up, I can either go online or ask in one of the D&D Facebook groups that I have joined. I can’t understand some of the jokes and graphics posted there, because I can only read text, but I can learn from the discussions.

I do read Braille, but I have no idea how many Braille books there are about D&D, and in any event, sometimes looking things up online is just quicker. My “pocket dictionary” for German at school was 10 volumes and it took forever to find the right one!

Another really useful resource has been podcasts. Some are made specifically as podcasts, whereas others are pulled from a Twitch stream, but in terms of the ones that I listen to, I don’t miss anything by not being able to see the action. Some don’t even use a map, so everyone is in the same position.

Following along with the characters and their adventures has helped me to understand more of the rules, see how different people build their characters, and learn more about what adventurers may encounter along the way. It’s audio content and totally accessible. I’m used to listening to fast speech, so I play most podcasts at double speed, which means I can learn, and enjoy them twice as fast! I’ll post links to some of my favourite podcasts at the end of the article.

Creating a character

I can’t use a hard copy character sheet, so S helped me to design online ones using Excel. I already love Excel and use it all the time at work, so this was an obvious choice for us. We did look at some online character templates, but I didn’t like any of them. S may have taken inspiration from them, but he built one specifically for me after I’d explained how I use Excel as a blind person and what was particularly unhelpful for me about the templates we found online.

I don’t use a mouse, so I use the cursor keys to move between the different squares. If you merge a bunch of cells to make it look pretty, the cursor then jumps to the other side of the merged area, and it’s annoying. Also, we have all of the tables and information up against the left-hand side of the page, because if you put something in the middle of the page, I might not even find it. Simple things, but this customised template ticks all my boxes in terms of being able to get information fast!

Using the find function in Excel helps me to jump quickly to the thing that I need, and there’s also a big space for me to take notes. I take a lot of notes. Partly because I don’t have the visual information in front of me, but also that’s just a thing I’ve always done – at school, in meetings at work etc. Then I have something to trade! I don’t feel so bad about asking the players for extra information about things that I can’t see, when I know I’ve stopped the party from going the wrong way because of something I wrote down a couple of weeks before!

Using my laptop also means I can keep track of spells used, hit points etc because I know I wouldn’t be able to keep it all in my head!

Rolling the dice

I have played on Roll 20 before. I basically used a slimmed-down version of it and focussed on the box where you type your commands and the chat area. This meant I used to type all my roles, rather than clicking them on my character sheet. There are some quirks on the system that drive me crazy, and I’d love to be able to turn off the function that remembers your last entries, but I can do it when I have to.

When we’re playing at home, I have some tactile 24mm dice. The D20 is still a bit hard for me to read, but I can make out most of the other numbers and just check if I’m not sure. We got them from DnD Dice.

S did find me an enormous D20, but sadly we realised it’s a life counter, and not as reliable for rolling as a normal D20 because of the position of the numbers combined with the weight of the dice, which meant it rolled consistently badly!

One of S’ friends got him a collapsible material dice tray for Christmas, and I went onto the All Rolled Up site to get one too. It’s nice to have a specific place to roll the dice into.

We did try some 3d printed Braille dice. I thought it was a great idea, but just wish they could have been a bit bigger because there is a raised border around the edge of each face, and this is very close to the Braille number, which made it difficult for me to read.

Imagining the world

Whether we’re playing at home with the map projected on the TV screen, or with the map in Roll 20, I can’t see the diagram, so the places we encounter need to be described. I think a certain amount of description is good anyway because it helps the players to visualise what places look like, but I’m aware that I need more in terms of describing where things are in relation to each other, and where I am in relation to allies and monsters. This can take more time in combat situations.

I tend to create and play characters that don’t have to be in the thick of things, so the exact positioning is less important. You don’t have to be leading the way if you can just as easily call down lightning on some evil beast from your place at the back of the party! This wasn’t a conscious decision, but more of my characters are spell casters with ranged attacks, so I don’t have to be as concerned with exactly where people are.

Also, maps and fighting are only a small part of it. When it comes to developing my characters’ stories, understanding why they do things, deciding how they would interact with the people and world around them – you don’t need to be able to see for that. You just need your imagination!

S has an extensive miniature collection, and although I can’t see the pictures in the books, he can show me what things look like using the 3d miniatures.

What’s it like for the GM?

I asked S if he could comment on what it’s like running a game with a blind player and whether there is anything that he does differently. He said:

“Running a table top RPG with a visually impaired person doesn’t really affect the game very much. Sure there are a couple of things I need to be aware of, i.e. not being lazy with the descriptions and just showing a picture which sometimes I have done in the past, or allowing the miniatures on the map be the description of the scene. I do end up having to describe these things in a bit more detail than I normally would instead of relying only on the visual aids but this not only helps Kirsty to understand the scene but also helps stimulate the imagination of the other players.”

Player interaction

I guess I do take more advice from the other players about the best place to stand, where I’ll be in least danger, or where to go so that I’ll have most effect with my spells whilst at the same time not squishing any allies. That part is kind of in their interest anyway!!

But then I’ve heard other people advising one another on podcasts too.

One of our players said: “I was listening to the Critical Role podcast, with them in combat that is how I imagined it must be for you Kirsty as a player. I could get a rough idea what was going on thematically, but couldn’t really think how I would be able to position/act as a character specifically. To be honest I think D&D works well in all non-combat situations as it’s all descriptive and imagination-based, so there haven’t been any differences there.”

So, the biggest thing we’ve identified is that descriptions and combat situations do take a bit longer when it comes to my turn. However, my character does bring skills to the party and I’d like to think that in years to come when I’m at a table with people who know less than me, I’d be able to help them too, if in some other way!

For now, I’m happy that we’ve found a way to make one of S’ hobbies accessible to me, that I can enjoy the game and play an active role.

If you have any questions or experiences of blind people participating in your roleplay groups, let us know in the comments!

Some of my favourite podcasts

Here’s a list of some of my favourite actual play D&D podcasts. I’ve linked to Apple Podcasts, but if that’s not your thing, just use the names and search wherever you prefer to get your podcasts!

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The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

The books that I read in January

This is another new feature on my blog – the monthly book review.

Every month I plan to write about the books that I’ve read, what I thought of them, and I’d love to know if any of you have read these books too.

Don’t expect to see pictures of my books because I read them all as audio or ebooks on my phone, but I’ll try to provide links to where you can get them or read more about them – both as printed and audio books. Also, I sometimes read books in German, so in those cases I’ll try to find an English translation to link to as well.

If I hated a book, it probably won’t end up here because I don’t make myself complete books if I’m not enjoying them! There are too many wonderful books out there to waste time on one that’s not fun to read!

I don’t have a yearly challenge in terms of the number of books I want to read. When some are 50 hours and others are 10, the number doesn’t seem to mean much. However I am trying to broaden my horizons in terms of the type of books that I read, although I doubt I’ll ever be able to get excited by horror or detective novels!

1. After you

Author: Jojo Moyes
Available on Amazon in a range of print and audio formats. I bought it as an audio book from iTunes.

I got this on Christmas Day when I was downloading some other books that I’d been given for Christmas. One of my blogger friends Sophie Laetitia had been talking about it because it’s the sequel to “Me before you”, which was also made into a film.

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, I’d recommend that you first read that – but not on the train coming home from work like I did. The end is very sad, irrespective of where you stand on the question of euthanasia.

Following the death of the man that she loved, Lou has to decide what to do with her life,, made complicated by a stranger she meets after an unexpected accident, and someone from her partner’s past.

I don’t want to give spoilers, but this is an easy read and I finished it quite quickly. Having said that, I like the way the author makes relatable characters, even if they frustrate you sometimes! I wasn’t happy with the ending, but I guess a happy ending to the second book makes a bad trilogy! Maybe the idea of moving to New York doesn’t have the same attraction for me but still – you only get one chance at life – is it really worth risking everything in pursuit of something else if you think you already have a chance of happiness? It’s one of those books that take you through a range of emotions – happiness, sadness, wondering what will happen next. Ideal for the Christmas break!

2. Oathbringer

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Available as a printed book, Kindle or Audible book from Amazon.

This is book 3 of the Stormlight Archive series, so if you’re interested, again I would recommend adding the first two before starting this one. We got it as one of our monthly subscription books from Audible and S and I read it together.

Before meeting S, I never read any fantasy books. However he introduced me to this genre a few years ago and I think one of the fascinating things for me is the way they explore different cultures and the way that different societies work. For example, in this culture, the men mainly fight, and it’s the women who can read and have the education to understand how things work and develop new items to improve their lives. If you want something to be read, you have to go and find a woman to do it for you. Interesting social concept!

There’s also love, magic, fighting, and soul-searching questions about the right thing to do.

The basis is that humanity is facing desolation by the Voidbringers, assisted by the previously subservient parshmen, who had been enslaved by men.

There is not one main character, which makes the book more interesting. There’s ~Dalinar Kholin, with his violent past that prevents some of his allies from believing he wants to do good. Shallan Davar, who is exploring and developing her illusion abilities, whilst at the same time trying to keep a lid on a secret from her past and stay true to the man she’s going to marry whilst keeping in check her attraction to another. Then we see the world through the eyes of some of the Parshendi, whose take on past events is very different from what the humans have been taught.

It’s kind of complicated, but boils down to people with a range of abilities trying to work together to prevent the end of civilisation as they know it!

3. The deed of Paxanarian

Author: Elizabeth Moon
Available from Amazon in various formats and as an audio book on iTunes.

This is the first of a trilogy that I got for Christmas.

According to iTunes: “Refusing to marry a pig farmer and joining the army, even if it means never seeing her family again, Paksenarrion begins an adventure that enables her to restore an overthrown ruler.”

There is quite a lot in this book about fighting, but it helps you to understand what life was like in this kingdom for the common soldier. Ok, this character becomes powerful later, but everyone has to start somewhere, and I think this book did a good job of setting the scene for her.

Also, it’s a fantasy book, so magic, elves, dwarves all exist, but most of the ordinary people don’t get to see magic at work. In the ordinary towns, life goes on and the farmers or traders are at the mercy of the people around them with the biggest army, or maybe the most powerful magic.

It was good to see a strong female in a world where usually it’s the men who control what will happen next. For anyone who plays Dungeons and Dragons, it’s like when you have a really low-level character – but low-level characters have backstories too and sometimes the things that happen to them later only really make sense if you know where they came from.

4. Horse dancer

Author: Jojo Moyes
Available from Amazon as paperback, kindle edition and audio book.

This was my Audible subscription book for January.

This is the kind of book that filled my shelves when I was a teenager – because one of the main characters was a big horse called Boo! Having read After You, I wanted to try out something else from Jojo Moyes.

What happens when a young girl’s life is torn apart by her Granddad falling ill, and all she has to cling on to is her horse. Who can she turn to when even he isn’t safe from a man who is always used to getting what he wants? How do two people in the middle of a messy divorce cope when they find themselves living under the same roof again with a teenager who won’t open up and who keeps disappearing?

Parts of this book were a little far-fetched – but I loved the way that the relationship between horse and rider was described, and the lengths people would go to in order to protect their best friend! Overall it’s a positive book, but it does explore the way that life can spiral out of control when you feel there’s nowhere to turn, and I think this series of events was described in a believable way.

5. Divided allegiance

Author: Elizabeth Moon
Available in paperback, Kindle edition or as an audio book from Amazon or audio book from iTunes.

This is the second part in the Paksenarrion saga and according to iTunes: “Paksenarrion, once a sheepfarmer’s daughter, now a veteran warrior, meets new challenges as she breaks up a robber gang, dispells an ancient evil possessing an elvish shrine, and is accepted for training at an academy for knights. Clearly, a high destiny awaits her.”

But life isn’t all that it seems – after so much goes well for Paks, it seems like nothing will stop her. That’s not real life though. Nobody is invincible, and when the thing that is most precious is taken away, what will Paks do, and will she survive?

I actually enjoyed this book more than the first – a bit less fighting and more time spent developing the characters, discovering what life is like for the different races, and how people in authority don’t always know best.

6. Die Zwerge

Author: Markus Heitz

This book was originally written in German, and I read the original, but it’s also available in English. Apparently there’s going to be a video game too.

The Dwarves – available as a paperback or Kindle version from Amazon or an audio book from iTunes. I borrowed it from the library.

This book was recommended by one of my blogger friends from The Cozy Den. S said he’d also read it, so I decided to give it a go. I usually have a book going in German because it’s good for my German language skills, and I’ve read so many German books now that it doesn’t feel like a language exercise any more.

According to iTunes: “For countless millennia, the dwarves of the Fifthling Kingdom have defended the stone gateway into Girdlegard. Many and varied foes have hurled themselves against the portal and died attempting to breach it. No man or beast has ever succeeded. Until now… Abandoned as a child, Tungdil the blacksmith labors contentedly in the Kingdom of Fifthling the only dwarf in a kingdom of men. Although he does not want for friends, Tungdil is very much aware that he is alone – indeed, he has not so much as set eyes on another dwarf. But all that is about to change. Sent out into the world to deliver a message and reacquaint himself with his people, the young foundling finds himself thrust into a battle for which he has not been trained. Not only his own safety, but the life of every man, woman and child in Girdlegard depends upon his ability to embrace his heritage. Although he has many unanswered questions, Tungdil is certain of one thing: no matter where he was raised, he is a true dwarf. And no one has ever questioned the courage of the Dwarves.”

How do you lead an unlikely team, some of whom hate each other, and convince them all to focus on your common goal? How do you relate to a culture that you belong to, but which you’ve never experienced? These are some of the questions that Tungdil has to answer. Whom can he trust? Can people be your friend, even if they look like your enemy?

I thought there would probably be a happy ending to this book, but it’s not what I had expected. I use German most days at work, but it’s also been good for me to learn some new fantasy-fiction-related vocabulary!

How about you?

So, have you read any of these books? What have you been reading this month? Let me know in the comments!

Your chance to get a free audio book from Audible

If you’re in the UK or Germany, you can get a free ebook if you sign up for an Audible subscription. Whether or not you continue with the monthly subscription, you get to keep your audio book, and you can choose from 200,000 titles on a wide range of subjects. You can then download the Audible app on your phone and take your book with you wherever you go! (Books have to be purchased on the website – you can’t do it on the app).

Link for the UK
Link for Germany

1. This offer is open to people in Germany and the UK. Remember to use the correct link for your country.
2. You are eligible if you haven’t had a free audio book from Audible in the last year.
3. If you don’t want to pay, you must remember to cancel your subscription within the first month. You will still be able to keep your free book.
4. If you like the service, you will continue to receive a credit each month, which can be used to buy a book. Buying books on subscription is often cheaper than buying them individually.

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January empties – grapefruit, banana, and one for the bin!

14 of the skincare and bath products that I finished up this month – what I thought of them and whether I’d buy them again.

I have 14 empty products for you – well 13 empties and one that I chucked because I hated it! Let me know if you’ve tried any of these things, what you thought of them, and what else you think I might like based on this selection! Also, If you’ve done a January empties post, you’re welcome to leave the link in the comments.

1. Malin Goetz moisturiser

I mentioned this Malin Goetz moisturiser back in October and I’ve now finished it up. First of all, I got this in Latest in Beauty, and it was a really decent size, which you can’t say about all of the moisturisers that you get in there! Vitamin E is good to have in face creams because it has antioxidant properties, which help your skin to fight the effects of wrinkle-causing free radicals, both from the sun an the pollution all around us. I liked this cream – it went on nicely, absorbed quickly, moisturised and had a slight scent. I can’t do with completely scentless moisturisers! 8/10

2. Radox grapefruit shower gel

I saw “grapefruit” and had to try this! I think I prefer Radox for its bubble baths, but this grapefruit shower gel is refreshing and will help to wake you up. I don’t like it as much as the pink grapefruit line from the Body Shop, but if you’re looking for a budget-friendly alternative, this one is fine! 6/10

3. Lavera cream highlighter

I don’t even want to link this! I got it because I was so happy with the Lavera night cream. I then got a couple of satin lipsticks, and they were fine. I was excited to see that this natural brand also did some cream make-up products and got myself one of the highlighters. It was a mistake. It felt like a cream with coarsely-milled powder in it, which meant that when I tried to blend it in, I was rubbing all the scratchy powder grains across my face. Great if you like the sensation of rubbing sandpaper across your cheekbones, but that’s not for me! Maybe there was something wrong with the one I had, but that’s all I have to go on and I couldn’t bear to use it again! 1/10

4. Madara mask

This was about the only thing that made me happy in the December Lovelula box which was full of samples and make-up I wouldn’t use! I was already a Madara fan and I enjoyed using this MADARA SOS Hydra Mask, which alone was worth over double what I paid for the box – so I did get my money’s worth! I did take the mask off, but some people used it as a leave-on treatment. Its main ingredient is northern peony, which is used because it moisturises, tones, smooths the skin, and protects it from environmental damage. It also contains hyaluronic acid, which is good for locking in moisture and preventing skin from drying out.

I’m still a sheet mask kind of girl, so I probably wouldn’t get this again, but I did enjoy using it! 7/10

5. Body Shop almond milk and honey body butter

I reviewed this whole range here, but used up my almond milk and honey body butter this month. Once I’d got over the fact that it didn’t smell like the almond hand butter, and the honey scent was stronger than the almond, I found that I really liked it. It’s not as strong as some of the other Body Shop scents, but it’s fresh and clean, and great if you want something a bit less overpowering. I know that a lot of people with sensitive skin love this range too. 8/10

6. Styling spray

We got this Agario London Styling mist in a Lovelula box. I used up mine, then a friend gave me hers. It’s not something I would buy because I don’t really need a styling spray, but it does contain nutrients that are good for the hair, so I mixed a couple of squirts in with my detangler. 6/10

7. Yes to Cucumber conditioner

I’ve mentioned this before, but then I realised that there are two of these cucumber conditioners – so I wanted to be clear that I mean the Yes to cucumber volumising conditioner. I like it and have already repurchased it. There is a colour protection one too, but I don’t need that so haven’t tried it. 9/10

8. Original Source shower gel

I was actually looking for something else when I noticed this but, being intrigued by green banana and bamboo milk, I decided to give it a go. I’m not vegan, but if you are, this is vegan certified and contains natural fragrances and moisturisers. I don’t like the sickly sweet banana smells that you can get because they’re too synthetic, but this one was not like that. I’m not loyal to shower gels and I like to switch things around, so I enjoyed using this for a while. 7/10

9. Nature republic sheet masks

The masks I usually get had run out, so I decided to try a set from Nature republic.

There are 13 masks, and you get a selection of 10, which could include Olive, Orange, Chamomile, Rose, Avocado, Shea Butter, Aloe Vera, Green tea, tomato, Acai Berry, Royal jelly, bamboo, or cucumber. Not a snail mask in sight – this makes me happy!

I liked these masks because they felt a bit thicker than some of the others, which made them easier to apply. They also didn’t have such large tears, which you’re supposed to use to fit around your face, but which can result in the whole thing sticking to itself. These seemed a good size for me too – some are too big. The only problem was that two of the masks – I don’t remember which now – left my face feeling a bit sticky afterwards, so I had to remove the serum rather than just letting it sink in because I didn’t want to walk round feeling like I’d smeared my face with honey! But other than that I enjoyed using these masks. 8/10

10. L’Occitane foot cream

I cannot get excited about foot creams, but I got one in my advent calendar and used it up. Yay for citrus and not the usual peppermint scent! 7/10

11. Wileda almond body lotion

I discovered this through a sample size that I got in Latest in Beauty. This almond body lotion is good for sensitive skin and is made from a few ingredients to moisturise the body. It’s a mild formula and good for skin that gets irritated easily – I don’t have that, but it was created with this kind of skin in mind. I just liked the moisturising cream and walking round smelling like a cherry bakewell! 9/10

12. Grapeseed hand cream

I was curious to try a Burt’s Bees hand cream, so I got the honey and grapeseed one. It’s nice though and I had it on my desk because it’s not sticky and dries quickly – I’m just not a fan of the grapeseed smell, so won’t get it again. 5/10

13. Vitamin E night cream

I don’t think there’s anything in the Vitamin E range from the Body Shop that I don’t like. These products are lovely if you want your face to feel soft and silky in the morning and to treat any dry patches. I’ve been through more than one pot of this and I’m definitely a fa! Of the night cream. 10/10

14. Tea tree face cream

The last thing I used up was also from the Body Shop – the Tea tree night lotion. One of these will last me for ever because I don’t use it as a night lotion, but if I get a break-out, I just apply a bit of this to the area and it helps to take it down. 7/10

More from Unseen Beauty

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