Monday, 5 December 2016

Five Golden Gifts: Best Reads of 2016 + Win A Year's Subscription to Magpie Magazine

For the final day of #FiveGoldenGifts, I thought I would share my favourite books that I read this year and do a wordier giveaway.

One of my aims for this year was to read more and I definitely did, averaging around two books a month. I also promised myself that I would be stricter about largely only giving books as gifts this year and, so, I thought it only fitting to compile a list of books worth gifting.


1. "The Vegetarian" by Han Kang.

Hands down, this is the best book I read this year. It was the Man Booker International Prize 2016 winner and for good reason. I read this on a bright day sitting out in the hot summer sun and I had real chills down my spine. It is tense, terrifying and beautiful all at the same time. It's also incredibly compelling and I felt a delirious need to finish it immediately, even though I was often so anxious about what would happen next that I was afraid to turn the page. I have now given it as a gift to three different people and can't recommend it highly enough. Fair warning, it's quite disturbing but, if you're into that and Gothic vibes, you'll like it. Plus, Deborah Smith's translation of Kang's work retains incredible elegance and poise, while fitting in concepts about the culture and social structure of South Korea neatly for the reader to understand.


2. "Reasons to Stay Alive" by Matt Haig.

While Kang's work made my heart race, Haig's made it break and heal over and over. This work is a honest, charming and touching account of the author's struggle with mental illness and his road to recovery. I bought it with a loved one in mind and was floored by how much it got to me. It is a wonderful balance of witty, funny, informative and heart-felt. Broken into thematic chapters that jump from personal recollections of moments in the author's life to facts about mental illness and wider discussions of society as a whole, you come away from the book feeling warm, fuzzy, a little bit rocked and as if your life has been affirmed. I cried in public several times as I read this and, as with Kang, pretty much finished it in a sitting, though its structure makes it a perfect book to pick up when you have a moment to spare. While I'm sure that many people who suffer from some of the same illnesses as Haig will find value in the book, it is also a thoroughly enjoyable read for everyone and an important one for those of us with such people in our lives that we wish to understand better.


3. "A Court of Mist and Fury" by Sarah J Maas.

Sarah J Maas is one of the most talented writers working in the field of Young Adult fantasy. Her worlds are vast and complete, her prose is fast-paced and compelling and her female protagonists are real, flawed and charming. I loved the first book in this series, "A Court Off Thorns and Roses", which was a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" but this knocked my socks off. The fantasy and adventure and magic was still all there but there was a discussion of relationships and love that was very much reality, and not fantasy, that added something extra to the story. I don't want to say much more as it would likely ruin the first and second books but if you are buying for a fantasy lover that is looking for something a little different, I recommend this series and Maas in general. Plus, if you get into her as an author, she is a serious trooper, working on two series at the same time and churning out at least one high-quality book per year, if not more.


4. "Glass Sword" by Victoria Aveyard.

This is the second novel by an author a year older than me - this fact makes me feel incredibly lazy. However, I did love it, my own self-loathing aside. Another great Young Adult fantasy series, it is seriously action-packed, easy to read and very enjoyable. I don't have quite the same grĂ¡ for it as I do for Maas but it is one of the better novels in this genre that I read this year and I finish each of her works impatient for the next one, thinking, "How can I possibly wait to know what happens next?!"


5.  "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro.

On the very first day of 2016, I picked this book up from a pile I had bought out of pity at a rather depressing local jumble sale. Sitting in my bed, the curtain pushed back to flood my room with perfect icy white light and several cups of tea on hand, I spent that entire first day reading and devoured this novel. I had seen the movie adaptation years beforehand and knew where my heartstrings were going to be tugged. And yet. And yet and I cried fat ugly tears and closed the book that afternoon feeling hollowed out. This is one of those books that scoops out your insides and leaves you raw and emotional and I adored it. It is simply well-written, beautiful and moving and asks enough of the questions you normally try to avoid, to break through your barriers and leave you open to the experience of the story. It's simply a great work of art.


When I decided to write this post and that I wanted to include it in my guides and giveaways, I wondered what the prize for the day would be. The books I mentioned? A voucher for a book store? Something about either of those options felt off, lacking in some way. And so, I was thinking about good reads, good giveaways, and culture and Magpie Magazine suddenly came to mind.

Magpie is the magazine Ireland's been needing - and I'm not saying that merely because I'm their new Fashion Editor (!). It is smart, funny, beautiful and, most importantly, does not condescend. It talks about the fun and frivolous things - the things I love - but in a slightly more challenging way than other publications might have the opportunity to. It covers culture, food, the arts, current events and a wide range of other topics that affect and matter to Irish women (the primary demographic) and others (we're all for being inclusive). And, much as I love luxe ad campaigns, Magpie's meat is not just endless pages of product placement, but a significant read and stunning photo shoots.

I decided to do a special giveaway. Subscriptions don't strictly exist yet but I'm going to specially and personally send out every issue for the next year (starting in January - my first issue on board!) to one lucky winner!

Read on to learn how to enter and be sure to check out the previous days of Five Golden Gifts! That's it for this year's giveaways. Good luck x


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1. This giveaway is open to residents of Ireland, over 18.
2. The prize is a year's subscription to Magpie Magazine.
3. All you need to do is comment below here or on Facebook with who you'd give it to - or if you want it for yourself! However, you must be following me on at least one platform (FacebookInstagramTwitter, Google Friend Connect, Bloglovin'Tumblr), let me know which one in the comment if it's not obvious!
4. Competition closes a week from now on the 12th of December 2016 at midnight Irish time.
5. Winners will be chosen at random.
6. I will then comment below the winner's comment and ask you to email my official blog email address.


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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Five Golden Gifts: Best of Beauty 2016 + Win A Viviscal Giftset

For today's post, I've compiled a list of the beauty products that impressed me most this year, which would all make great gifts for beauty lovers!


1. Platinum Fix & Finish Fixing Spray.

This is something I've only had for a few weeks but I love it. The fact that it is a spray with decent hold that isn't an aerosol is amazing. Plus, you get quite a lot of bang for your buck as each bottle is relatively slim but has a lot of product in it. A couple spritzes as I brush my hair after showering is enough to ensure that it air-dries smooth and neatly. It's basically the perfect product for someone lazy, like me, who doesn't really style their hair on a regular basis but also suffers from fly-aways and hair with a mind of its own but would also be great for someone who is really into styling their hair. It doesn't hurt that is smells really nice too - basically like you just walked out of a salon a few minutes beforehand. The whole Platinum line is great and I've heard the hair mask is magic at revitalising and giving life back to dull hair.


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2. Urban Decay's Naked Ultimate Basics Palette (RRP €47.00),

The latest in the Naked family, this palette has been incredibly well received and delivers the all-matte selection of shades that lovers of the previous palettes were crying out for. Featuring 12 all-new neutral shades that are exclusive to this palette and different from the shades in Naked Basics and Naked Basics 2. Some shades, however, may trigger memories of colours from other UD palettes, such as Extra Bitter, as they are refined versions of some of the most popular eyeshadows that the brand has produced. It has become the palette that I reach for every time I do my makeup, blends like a dream and is all filler - there isn't a single dud among the shades. This is the palette to buy this Christmas.


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3. Primark Makeup Brushes.

The Primark makeup brush line was reinvented and relaunched last year. I was immediately impressed by their quality and can safely say that they compete with much more expensive brushes. The even made it on to my Best of Beauty last year but I had to include them again this year. The eyeshadow brush that I consistently reach for is my Primark one and they have replaced a lot of my old favourites. This year, for Christmas, Primark have released a gift set of some of the most popular and key brushes in the collection that retails for just seven euro. It's a great bargain and a perfect gift for people with a smaller budget, as a Secret Santa gift or as a stocking filler.


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4. Youngblood's Brow Artiste (RRP €37.50).

One of their Hero Products, this is one of the better brow kits on the market. The packaging is sleek and sturdy and is slim and compact enough to travel well. It is also big enough, however, that the mirror in the lid is one I would actually use. Normally, mirrors in compacts are so irritatingly small that I never use them but I found myself using this one. Similarly, brushes and tools in kits are usually crap but the double-ended corkscrew and angled brush has a slightly longer handle and is quite handy, as is the little tweezers. The colours of the powders, meanwhile, are perfect for building up a natural or a more stylised brow. This is now the only brow product that I use bar a clear gel that is needed to tame my crazy brow hairs. I can't recommend it highly enough for brow obsessives and the average makeup lover alike.


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5. Viviscal's Densifying Range.

Viviscal changed my hair forever. After I took a 6 month course of the Viviscal supplements and hair growth serum, I happened to start going back to the hairdresser in my hometown, where I had had my hair cut for years, and they noticed that I had gone from having rather fine hair to healthy, thick hair. This year, they launched a new "Densifying" range that consists of a shampoo (RRP €11.95), conditioner (RRP €11.95) and elixir (RRP €24.95). I got to try the line out a while ago and didn't realise how much I really loved it until I had another batch sent out to me again last week. I love how they all smell - kind of spicy but in a good way - and my hair is incredibly silky and well-behaved. I haven't had to deal with fly-aways or frizz since I began using them. The best endorsement for the brand, however, has to be the fact that Debbie Harry is a big fan - if it's good enough for Blondie, it's bound to make for a good gift.

Which is why I picked them as the beauty giveaway this year. I have a set with the supplements, shampoo, conditioner and elixir to give away and, to be honest, I wish I could keep it for myself to have some spares ready for the (horrible) moment I run out! Read on to find out how to enter and win and be sure to return tomorrow for this year's final giveaway!


1. This giveaway is open to residents of Ireland, over 18.
2. The prize is a Viviscal giftset featuring supplements, a shampoo, conditioner and elixir.
3. All you need to do is comment below here or on Facebook with who you'd give it to - or if you want it for yourself! However, you must be following me on at least one platform (FacebookInstagramTwitter, Google Friend Connect, Bloglovin'Tumblr), let me know which one in the comment if it's not obvious!
4. Competition closes a week from now on the 11th of December 2016 at midnight Irish time.
5. Winners will be chosen at random.
6. I will then comment below the winner's comment and ask you to email my official blog email address.


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Saturday, 3 December 2016

Five Golden Gifts: The Gift of Choice + Win A €50 Penneys Voucher

We all have one of those people in our lives, right? Someone who is impossible to buy a gift for. Someone who doesn't really want anything. Someone who has very particular tastes. My dad, for example, really doesn't want much and doesn't have any hobbies that are easy to buy appropriate gifts for. Choosing a gift for him can be very, very stressful.

I'm sure you, too, have a person like this in your lives. So, I'm going to suggest a gift that isn't particularly original and isn't something many like to give: a voucher.

I know, I know. It seems incredibly impersonal or lazy. However, in reality, you're giving someone the freedom of choice to get something they really want or need, rather than giving them one more thing to add to the big pile of unnecessary stuff we all have in our lives. This isn't to bash other gifts, of course, I'm merely saying that, if you're stuck, it's really not the worst gift in the world.

And, if you're worried about seeming cold and impersonal, you could always pop it inside a handmade card or accompany it with a silly little present that references an in-joke.

There's such a wide range of possibilities to choose from with vouchers, too: You could get a voucher from an airline if the person has been talking about wanting to go to a particular place for ages; a voucher for iTunes or a ticket seller like Ticketmaster, if the person loves music; a voucher for a spa to allow them unwind after a long and rather eventful year (Jesus); a voucher for that restaurant you've been both meaning to try; or you could even get them a voucher for their favourite store...

...which leads me to today's giveaway, a €50 voucher for one of Ireland's favourite retailers, Penneys! Read on to learn how to enter to win this prize and make sure to come back over the next couple of days for more gift ideas and giveaways!


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1. This giveaway is open to residents of Ireland, over 18.
2. The prize is a voucher for Penneys and is worth €50.00. 
3. All you need to do is comment below here or on Facebook with who you'd give it to - or if you want it for yourself! However, you must be following me on at least one platform (FacebookInstagramTwitter, Google Friend Connect, Bloglovin'Tumblr), let me know which one in the comment if it's not obvious!
4. Competition closes a week from now on the 10th of December 2016 at midnight Irish time.
5. Winners will be chosen at random.
6. I will then comment below the winner's comment and ask you to email my official blog email address.


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Friday, 2 December 2016

Five Golden Gifts: The Gift of Sentiment + Win A Limited Edition Alex & Ani Bracelet

Jewellery is not a unique gift idea, I am aware. However, I do think that it can be a really powerful gift if thought is put into it. It is something that the person receiving it will likely keep and wear frequently for the rest of their lives. There is also something in the fact that they wear it, keep it against their skin, carry it around, that makes it a really intimate gift. If you give them the right piece, you are essentially giving them your feelings and allowing them to hold your sentiments close.

I'm not personally a big jewellery wearer, I don't really like the sensation of it against my skin, but there are many pieces that I have received over the years and hold very dear: the lovely silver pendant my mother gave me for my 16th birthday, the gold bangle with my name inscribed on it that my godmother gave me when I was born, the gold locket my mother gave me on my Confirmation day.

And some of the gifts that I have given and have most proud of have been pieces of jewellery such as one of my best friends' Christmas present last year. We were going to be separated for a year while she went to work in Hong Kong so I bought her a simple heart-shaped necklace and had in engraved with a message. Small and simple, it could be easily brought and packed, easily worn and could stay with her as a constant reminder that, even if she felt very homesick, I was with her and missing her too.

In my personal opinion, it is not the most expensive jewellery that makes for the best gifts, it's the pieces with the most heartfelt messages attached. So, how do you figure out how to tug on the heartstrings in the right way? I've compiled a list of questions to help you come up with a theme for the piece and then your understanding of your own budget, the tastes of the person in mind and practical considerations (such as whether they have their ears pierced, have active lives that make wearing long or dangling pieces difficult, dislike wearing certain types of jewellery etc) will help narrow down the potential list of candidates.

1. Do you have pet names for each other?
(For example, even if you just happen to call the person "dear" a lot, you could buy something with a deer on it.)

2. Do you have a memory of a moment together that you hold particularly dear?
(That one time you had too much wine and ended up staying up all night talking? Bonding over a mutual love for Bowie when you first met?)

3. Do you have an in-joke that no one else knows about?

4. Is you the person a mega-fan of any brands?
(Particularly luxury brands. Chanel offers some costume jewellery pieces that are, by no means, inexpensive but are much more affordable than anything else from the label. If someone loves a particular brand, just seeing the box will make their face light up with joy.)

5. Did you meet somewhere specific? Have you ever gone on a trip together that changed your relationship? Have you been dreaming of going somewhere together?

Which brings me on to today's giveaway. It's a piece from Alex & Ani's Liberty Copper Collection, available in Ireland from the Kilkenny Design Centre. I talked about this collection upon its launch and it is a very limited line of jewellery that features recycled copper from one of New York's most famous landmarks; the Statue of Liberty. It is, therefore, the perfect gift for someone you share important memories of New York with or plan to travel there with. It would even be a great little gift to announce to someone that you are bringing them to New York as the main gift!

If you want to win this piece, just read on and be sure to come back over the next few days for more amazing prizes!


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1. This giveaway is, sadly, only open to entrants located in Ireland, who are over 18 years of age.
2. The prize is one Kindred Cord bracelet from the Alex & Ani Liberty Copper Collection.
3. All you need to do is comment below here or on Facebook with who you'd give it to - or if you want it for yourself! However, you must be following me on at least one platform (FacebookInstagramTwitter, Google Friend Connect, Bloglovin'Tumblr). Let me know which one in the comment if it's not obvious!
4. Competition closes a week from now on the 9th of December 2016 at midnight Irish time.
5. Winners will be chosen at random.
6. I will then comment below the winner's comment and ask you to email my official blog email address.


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Thursday, 1 December 2016

Five Golden Gifts: The Gift of Time + Win Afternoon Tea For Two At The Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin

Last year, instead of doing the typical gift guides that I had done in the past, I did the 12 Days of Giftmas. This was 12 days where I wrote a post each day on a different brand, store or specific type of gift and did a giveaway to accompany each post.

I loved the result but the whole process nearly killed me. Between communicating with the brands in advance of the giveaway, posting each day (without pause), promoting the post, monitoring the entries, doing the draws, contacting the winners and arranging prizes to be sent out, I was stressed and exhausted. This year, I've already been crazily busy between the day job, trying to have a life, the blog, another big side project (see day five this year), travelling more and going back to college for an evening course in a new language. I couldn't figure out how I was going to make time for the 12 Days this year but I didn't want to not do it either. I like giving something back to people who keep returning to this blog, even if it's nothing very big or impressive, and I didn't want to skip out on that.

After stressing about it for a while, my best friend just said, "Why don't you make it 'Five Golden Gifts'?"

Which is what I decided to do. Never fear, however. There may be less giveaways this year but they are bigger and better than before and I'm really happy with them. I also really like the gift ideas that I'm putting forward this year as they really reflect how I feel about gifting, in general, and the way I plan on giving gifts myself.

The first of these gifts, and the one I believe in most, is the gift of time.

We are all so busy and spend so much time running around like idiots that it is easy to turn into a recluse and just bail on everything in favour of our pyjamas and preferred streaming sites. As a result, we often don't spend as much quality time with the important people in our lives as we should or would like to.

For me, one of the best gifts to receive is a concert ticket or a trip or meal in a restaurant. Preferably, it is one-on-one with someone and we have the chance to spend time together and talk beyond merely catching up. I have way too much stuff in my life as it is, I don't need more things but I could always do with more time with the people I love. Most of all, this gift isn't just about monetary value, it is somebody setting aside time to focus on you and you alone. Money can't buy that.

So, my first gift idea is a voucher. Not just a voucher for a shop (not that there's anything wrong with that) but one that comes with an additional gift; the promise that you'll spend some quality time together.

The 5 Star Fitzwilliam Hotel on St Stephen's Green in Dublin coming swooping in this festive season with vouchers that are perfect for this. There is quite a range of vouchers to choose from with options for all sorts of pairings, groups and price points. Whether you want to bring your dad to dinner, go on a spa weekend with your bestie, take your granny on a shopping trip, have a romantic staycation with a partner or go for afternoon tea with your mammy, there is something for everyone.

You can personalise the message on each of the vouchers and design them according to your taste and then have them posted to yourself or the person in question or, even, have them e-mailed for the environmentally conscious giftee. We've teamed up to give away a voucher for afternoon tea for two but you can browse the other voucher options here, with prices starting at just €25.00.

I had the opportunity to try out the afternoon tea a few months ago with one of my closest friends and it actually opened the door to a really lovely day where we ended up spending a good fifteen hours straight together. It was probably one of the nicest days I had with a friend all year. Afternoon tea itself took two or three hours, as we were really relaxed and taking our time, and consisted of delicious sweet and savory snacks, good tea (so hard to find) from a wide selection and cocktails. The environment was decidedly unhurried and perfect for chatting at length. The staff at the Fitzwilliam were incredibly accommodating and informed, explaining what everything was in detail and making sure we were never short of anything.

As a bit of an afternoon tea aficionado, I can confidently say that it was one of the better experiences I've had and I can't recommend it enough. If you want to try it yourself and give the gift of your time and a lovely afternoon to someone you lovely, just read on to find out how to enter. And be sure to come back for the next four days for some more amazing gift ideas and prizes!

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1. This giveaway is open to anyone, over 18, who can be in Ireland to use the voucher.
2. The prize is a voucher for Afternoon Tea for Two at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin and is worth €70.00. 
3. All you need to do is comment below here or on Facebook with who you'd give it to - or if you want it for yourself! However, you must be following me on at least one platform (FacebookInstagramTwitter, Google Friend Connect, Bloglovin'Tumblr), let me know which one in the comment if it's not obvious!
4. Competition closes a week from now on the 8th of December 2016 at midnight Irish time.
5. Winners will be chosen at random.
6. I will then comment below the winner's comment and ask you to email my official blog email address.

(Thanks to The Fitzwilliam for providing this amazing prize!)

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