I’m loving a few things lately. Constantly wearing them or using them. So I thought I’d show you.

IMG_8583That hot tomali handbag is my recently purchased Rebecca Minkoff Hudson Mini Moto. I’ve been using it since I bought it back in early May. You can’t fit much in the bag so it’s really made me downsize the stuff I was lugging around. I have a very small wallet, my iPhone, one lipstick and keys. That’s it.

Starting from the left:

  • Heritage Store Egyptian Oil. This is a new discovery. I bought it off iHerb and it’s a blend of olive, peanut, sassafras, fir needle, and lanolin oils. You massage into tired muscles or sore joints. It does smell a little bit like Deep Heat but nowhere near as potent. I find it really effective. The product is based on a formula from Edgar Cayce.
  • Alba Botanica. Pretty sure this is an American brand and I discovered it this year, again on iHerb. I’m loving the distinctive yellow, green and brown packaging of the brand. I bought the Drink It Up Coconut Milk Hawaiian Leave-In Conditioning Mist. The mist smells like you’re spraying a tropical garden into your hair and the scent lingers for some time. Hair feels soft too.
  • But the real find from this brand is the Jasmine and Vitamin E Hawaiian Moisture Cream – wow. Beautiful, but subtle jasmine scent, not too heavy on the skin; absorbs quickly and is great under makeup. I think this might be a HG product for me.
  • The Body Shop Early Harvest Raspberry Body Butter. You know I love body butters from TBS. Normally, I buy the Shea Body Butter or the Cocoa Body Butter. Recently, I tried the Olive one and loved it, so thought why not try a totally different scent. I was a bit worried I’d smell like a fruit bowl but nope, the Raspberry Body Butter is very subtle. I liked it so much I bought the Frosted Cranberry variety at Christmas time. I have a couple of body butters to use up before I get to this one. And I am very keen to try out Alba Botanica’s Hawaiian Kukui Nut Body Cream.
  • Now Solutions Moroccan Red Clay Powder. Another iHerb find. Actually, I’m buying most of my stuff off iHerb these days. I saw this product on a YouTube beauty video and thought it would be great to use as a detoxifying masque. It feels slightly warm once on the skin and certainly tightens up the pores and skin. I use it once a week.
  • Hourglass Ambient Lighting Bronzer in Radiant Bronze Light. I have quite a few bronzers but I keep coming back to this one. It isn’t orangey and gives you a wonderful sun-kissed glow. In the pan, it looks like there’s a lot of shimmer going on but it doesn’t show up on the skin. The texture is silky and smooth and blending is a breeze.
  • Kat von D Shade and Light Eye Contour Palette. I’ve not tried anything from this brand before and this was a very good start. A great matte eyeshadow palette that is very easy to travel with. It’s arranged into three colour quads – neutral, cool, and warm. I mix it all up and I find the eye shadows very velvety with minimal fall out.
  • Jewellery. There are two pieces of jewellery in the photo. One is just above the Hourglass bronzer. I bought it up in the North Island and it’s a cuff filled with sparkly gold beads. A great piece of costume jewellery that I seem to wear a lot.
  • The second piece of jewellery is in the photo below and I bought it a few months ago in Wellington. It was instant love. I walked into a shop in Cuba Mall full of amazing rings and earrings. I was just looking and was in the shop for 5 minutes or so before setting my eyes on the ring.
  • I was so attracted to the light blue colour, which is unusual because green is my favourite colour. I would not have said that I was a fan of blue but, since getting this ring, I’ve noticed that a lot of my clothes are shades of blue. And a favourite handbag is navy.
  • I didn’t know what the stone was and ended up in a long conversation with the shop manager who told me it’s a Larimar. I’ve since found out that Larimar is a fairly recent find from the 1970s and is only found in the Dominican Republic. It’s also known as the Dolphin Stone, Blue Pectolite, Atlantis Stone and Stefilia’s Stone, and is a rare blue variety of the silicate mineral pectolite.
  • When you look at the stone, it’s like seeing the sun dancing on turquoise waters. It’s said to be a crystal of serenity and aids communication. The ring is handmade and I really like the thick shank, which has a hammered effect. I haven’t taken the ring off since I bought it a few months ago. IMG_8741

We’re a third of the way through Winter and, so far, it’s been surprisingly mild. A couple of chilly Arctic blasts passed through quickly and that’s about it. No snow – yet.

We bought Zeph and Zsa Zsa new pet beds. They’re orthopedic dog beds and designed to give support to arthritic or senior dogs. Neither Zeph nor ZZ are arthritic or senior but I reckon younger dogs can benefit from having excellent quality bedding to support their joints.

I found Zeph snoozing by the fire the other day on his new bed. He loves it.

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We’ve up to the North Island for a few days. I must say that the vegetation there is lush. You get giant ferns, stunning Kauri trees, Totora and beautiful Pohutukawa trees boasting crimson flowers.

We stayed in a lodge and our window looked over a small white church nestled amongst Winter foliage. You can just see the red roof of the church in the photo below.

IMG_8681What really caught my eye though is the tree in the middle of the photo. What a stunner.

How handsome is this dog? I turned around the other day to find Zeph sitting like this. Thank goodness I had my trusty iPhone on me.

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I often call Zeph my little ray of sunshine. And indeed he is.IMG_8637

Here we go with more products finished up. Very satisfying. I’ll give you an idea of whether I’ll repurchase or not.

Hair stuff. The usual dry shampoo, Batiste, this time the Blush scent. Used it before, will always repurchase Batiste. Also finished up Big shampoo from LUSH. This is for fine, limp hair and provides volume. You only need a teensy amount to suds up. Really liked the ocean salt scent and will repurchase.

I also finished an OLD conditioner from The Body Shop – when they had the Honey moisturising conditioner. Must have brought it with me when we moved from Australia. I discovered it in a cupboard and, since it didn’t smell funky, thought I’d use it up. The Honey range is discontinued, but it was a pretty good conditioner.

Cleansers. Quite a few gone. One I REALLY liked is from Lavera, a German brand. I’m pretty sure I bought it in Sweden and it’s called Basis Sensitiv Cleansing Gel with Organic Lemon Balm & Organic Mallow. OMG the smell of this cleanser is amazing. It is very effective and calming on the skin as well. Will have to buy another tube of this.

Eucerin Dermato Clean Mild Cleansing Milk. This was okay, nothing great. Very mild and didn’t irritate my skin but not as good as the Lavera cleanser. Won’t bother repurchasing.

Chanel Mousse Exfoliante Purete. I bought this at some duty-free shop at some airport. I liked it but there’s no exfoliating going on in my view. The tiny exfoliating beads can get in your eyes if you’re not careful. The tube lasted for ages, but I wouldn’t buy it again as it could be quite drying on the skin.

Neutrogena Nourishing Cream Cleanser – Night Calming. Yeah, this was okay. Nothing great. It was creamy but I didn’t notice it being very calming. Wouldn’t buy again.

Shower stuff. I picked up a large bottle Soap & Glory’s Clean on Me Creamy Clarifying Shower Gel. A very creamy body wash, with a gorgeous mandarin smell due to the mandarin peel extract. Lasted for ages, gentle on the skin and I would certainly buy again.

I found an old Lux shower gel in the same cupboard I find The Body Shop conditioner. Amazing how you can stash things away and then forget about them. This was a caramel and shea butter scent; don’t remember the actual name. It was a delectable scent with some exfoliating beads. I’d probably buy it again should I stumble on another bottle.

OMG yet another Nivea Natural Oil Shower Oil. I thought I had finished them all up, but no, I found another one. This product is quite watery, so I finished the bottle in one week. My love affair is over!

Body stuff. Made my way through another body butter from The Body Shop. You know I love these and will never be without a body butter from TBS. This was a second tub of the Vanilla Spice body butter. Every Christmas, I go berserk over the vanilla spice range (which is now called Spiced Vanilla I think) and I bought about four of these body butters back in 2006 or 2007. They’ve never been opened so are still okay and I have one left. Sugary, cinnamon-y, gingery, vanilla goodness at its best!

Also finished a small body butter from Melaleuca. It was a berry scent. Nothing remarkable.

Soaps. One I finished up was really creamy and soft on the skin. It’s by NZ brand, Henrietta Soaps, and it was the Goat’s Milk Natural Soap. No parabens or nasties. Had a very delightful but delicate scent. Would certainly buy again.

Olivella Gentle Beauty Soap. This soap is luxurious and good for the skin since it’s made from olive oil. I’m a great fan of the Olivella range, having polished off a shower gel and eye cream. The bar is quite hard and doesn’t do that horrid melt in the shower thing, and is a lovely moss green colour. A definite repurchase.

Eco Store Goat’s Milk soap with no nasty chemicals. This an NZ brand and I keep hoping the brand will wow me, but it doesn’t. I didn’t find this soap as creamy or as luxurious as the Henrietta soap. It’s an okay soap, nothing special.

LUSH Karma soap. Always sad to finish up anything from the Karma range. It’s my fav scent from LUSH – full of spicy patchouli, lemongrass, orange oil, and pine. Can’t get any better.

Face stuff. Evolu Facial Toner. I think this is my third bottle. Evolu is an NZ brand and I’ve used quite a lot of their products over the years. The toner has aloe vera and rosa gallica and I find it really calming on my skin. At the moment, I’m using a toner I make myself, with lemongrass essential oil from Bhutan, so I won’t buy this again for a bit.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunscreen with SPF70. Yeah, I have to admit to not always using sunscreen. I do go out in the sun but usually wear a hat. But when I remember, I do like a sunscreen from Neutrogena. This one is great: not greasy and absorbs fast. Wears very well under makeup. Will repurchase.

Eye creams. Three finished up. The first one is from Bobbi Brown and it’s the Extra Eye Repair Cream. You get 15ml in the glass jar and it lasted me for over a year and a half. Why? Because you need just the teeniest amount to moisturise the under-eye area. Creamy, velvety, silky – choose the word because they all apply to this wonderful cream. Expensive but worth it. Will definitely repurchase once I finish up my current eye cream.

Also polished off the Divine Eyes from L’Occitane. This is touted to be anti-ageing and will help to smooth fine lines and reduce puffiness. It’s a creamy gel-like consistency but I didn’t think it did much at all. It was too light in texture for my liking and I prefer the thicker consistency of the Bobbi Brown cream. Won’t repurchase.

Melvita Naturalift Youthful Skin Complex (Eyes & Lips) cream. Pretty sure Melvita is a French brand. I bought this eye cream in Hong Kong at a Melvita store. Quite liked it. Glided on easily and seemed quite moisturising. I would buy it again but more intent on buying the Bobbi Brown eye cream.

Makeup. Three mascaras finished. Two from Essence and one old Revlon mascara (which had dried up). Both Essence mascaras were volumising and I will repurchase. However, I’m currently having a love affair with the new Revlon mascaras. They are amazing.

Essence All-In-One CC Cream Clear and Correct #10 Natural. I like to use a CC cream to even out the complexion. Just a little bit. And I really liked this cream. I do prefer the Rachel K CC cream though. Right now, I’m using a Revlon one, not bad but not great either.

Royal Nectar Original Face Mask. This is an NZ brand and, sadly, I had to throw it out. I was about half way through the tub and it started to smell funky. A combo of bee venom and manuka honey, it is supposed to have a tightening effect on the skin. I didn’t really notice this but did like the cream. I wouldn’t buy it again though.

Neutrogena Oil Free Moisturiser SPF 15. A pretty simple moisturiser. Absorbs well but nothing special. Because it’s oil free, I didn’t feel it was moisturising enough and I prefer more hydration.

Clinique Sculptwear Lift & Contour Serum for Face & Neck. I had a sample sachet of this and there was hardly any product in it. So can’t comment!

Makeup. FINALLY, finished my bottle of Estee Lauder Double Wear Foundation (shade 1C1 Cool Bone). LOVE this foundation. It’s full coverage and stays put all day. You do have to work reasonably quickly to blend but not as quickly as with Revlon’s ColorStay. Really didn’t have to use a lot to get good coverage, which is why the bottle lasts a long time. I will certainly repurchase but I’d like to try Double Wear Light.

MAC eyeshadow in Naked Lunch. A long-time favourite. Love using it with MAC Bronze. Naked Lunch is a champagne pink with a hint of peach and reminds me of Stila’s Kitten eyeshadow. Part of my permanent eyeshadow collection.

Essence eyeshadow in shade #14 Chilli Vanilli. Not a fan of the Essence single eyeshadows as they are chalky and not very pigmented. I think their palettes are far better. So I’m tossing this eyeshadow.

Essence Long Lasting Eye Pencil in #19 Hot Scorch. A great fan of these eye pencils. This is my second Hot Scorch pencil – a lovely soft golden bronze shade that is perfect for lining the waterline. Lasts most of the day – just a bit of fading.

Toothpaste. I thought I’d try out Colgate Optic White toothpaste as it claims to give you a visibly whiter smile. Not sure it does that but I did like the mint flavour. However, it contains fluoride, something I’m not keen on.

Yet another tube of Red Seal (NZ brand) Natural toothpaste. A great minty toothpaste and I’ve been through countless tubes of Red Seal over the years.

Vitamins. Not something I usually include but I thought I’d talk about Berocca Performance effervescent tablets in Orange flavour. I have been taking this for YEARS and I mean yeeeearrs. A long time in other words. Berocca contains Vitamin C and essential minerals, like calcium, magnesium and zinc. Any time I go away, I take enough tablets with me. Can’t do without Berocca.

I also finished a bottle of Nature’s Way Boswellia Standardized. Due to my fall in Rome in 2012, I’ve developed a hip issue. Basically, a loss of cartilage, so I take Boswellia as it helps with joint mobility and support.

Makeup remover pads. Normally, I use The Body Shop’s Organic Cotton Rounds but bought three packets of remover pads from Vitacost. They were the Organic Essentials Swisspers Cotton Rounds. Quite liked them although they are thinner than The Body Shop cotton rounds. You get 80 pads in a pack and I’ve finished one pack.

Perfume. A long-term favourite of mine is Chanel’s Coco Eau de Parfum. I always have a bottle of this perfume in my collection. It’s a very spicy Oriental with top notes of coriander, mandarin orange, peach, jasmine and Bulgarian rose; middle notes of mimosa, cloves, orange blossom, clover and rose; base notes of labdanum, amber, sandalwood, tonka bean, opoponax, civet and vanilla. So you can imagine how magnificent this perfume is to wear. It’s my Winter perfume.

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I’ve actually been writing more than reading lately, but here are the books I’ve finished and my thoughts on each.

Rachel’s Legacy by Julie Thomas. This is the sequel to The Keeper of Secrets, which I reviewed here. Rachel’s Legacy is an equally good story, continuing the saga of the Horowitz family and their WWII experiences. I did find the second half of the book dragged somewhat (focusing on the biological daughter of Rachel and her mother, Sabine). The ending was unexpected and poignant.

I don’t like adverbs in writing and there were some annoying ones throughout this novel. I also find it irritating when writers feel they have to tell you that a character is angry or intrigued, following a line of dialogue (e.g. “he was intrigued). The dialogue alone should convey how the character is reacting or feeling. Thomas was guilty of this occasionally but, aside from this, it was a good book and I look forward to her next novel.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. This sweeping 400+ page debut novel is about love and a famous lost (but fictional) painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau. We get a glimpse into the seedy underbelly of the art dealing world. Rothschild is a descendant of the wealthy banking family and is the first female chair of the National Gallery in London. Art knowledge is a strength for Rothschild and it adds texture to her novel.

Rothschild does a great job – a confident plot and she managed a huge cast of characters extremely well. I was initially put off that the painting by Watteau actually speaks and is a character in its own right, but you get used to it. In fact, it adds to the originality of the book. The painting speaks in pre-revolutionary French and is, therefore, susceptible to pompous and flowery language. Here’s an example: “I was painted to celebrate the wild cascades of love. The rollicking, bucking, breaking and transformative passion that inevitably gave way to miserable, constricting, overbearing disappointment.

You learn the history of the painting through the painting itself, which I found entertaining. I had an advance reading copy so, hopefully, editing resolved the description of the eye colour of Jesse, the male main character – variously described as “tawny-colored eyes”; “deep-set green eyes”; and “summer-blue eyes with dark edging.”

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter by Dinah Jefferies. I really enjoyed her first two novels – The Separation and The Tea Planter’s Wife. This third novel? Not so much. I wonder if she is churning them out too fast. In the first 12 pages, Jefferies dumped any description of the garden or interior of the house she could get in. There was a lot of glancing about by the main character, Nicole, which afforded Jefferies the opportunity for descriptive writing.

The story is set in 1950’s colonial Vietnam and I found it all rather formulaic – young half-French, half-Vietnamese girl, not knowing who she really is, falls in love with handsome and mysterious American. It was amazing how the American, Mark, just appeared out of nowhere, to save Nicole when she was in trouble. I didn’t find the tension between Nicole and her sister, Sylvie (who doesn’t look Vietnamese) believable. I also found some paragraphs suddenly swapped to another topic, so at times it all seemed a bit rushed and the sex/romance scenes were a bit bodice-ripping type stuff.

Good research and Jefferies recreated the early 1950s when the French were losing control of their colonial world. Not really a fan of this novel though. I read that her next book will be set in India and I hope she returns to the style of her first two books.

All Under Heaven (1973) by Pearl S. Buck. When I was a teenager, my mother always had a Buck novel in her hands. I wasn’t interested but, when I was in Wellington recently, I went to a second-hand bookshop and what did I see? A slim book entitled All Under Heaven by Pearl S. Buck.

I was intrigued after all these years – why did my mother so like her writing? I couldn’t find the novel for which Buck is really well-known for – The Good Earth – and which also won her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1932. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 as well. So we’re in serious writing territory.

Buck lived in China from the late 1890s until around the 1930s, both as a child of missionaries and as a missionary herself. So her knowledge of China during this time period, particularly of women in a Chinese household, is detailed and colourful. After leaving China in the 1930s, Buck became a humanitarian.

I don’t know what I was expecting but wow….this is very fluid prose. Effortless writing.

It’s the story of an American diplomat returning home from China after 25 years’ service. He brings with him his Russian wife and their two children. Basically, it’s the story of integration into American society and how our identities are shaped by our cultural roots and surroundings. The diplomat (Mr. McNeil) is American-born but feels a stranger in a strange land, after a quarter of a century in China.

No doubt based on Buck’s personal experience, the novel gives us a glimpse of America as a rather closed society, not so much the melting pot it is today. Because the wife (Mrs. McNeil) is Russian, we hear about Communism and its anti-intellectual stance. It did get a bit preachy towards the end of the book.

I suspect this is a book I’ll need to reread because Buck is using the novel to say a lot of important things –  the state of American society; suspicion of people from the Soviet Union; prejudice in general and the need for tolerance of different cultures and political world views.

I’m amazed at Buck’s ability to take something that isn’t much of a plot and produce a book that is engrossing. I’ve now managed to lay my hands on The Good Earth. Can’t wait to read it.

About Grace by Anthony Doerr. This is Doerr’s debut novel from 2004. His 2014 novel, All The Light We Cannot See, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is my favourite book. I reviewed it here. His writing is poetic and he has the ability to turn the most mundane weather into a vision of stunning beauty.

I loved About Grace simply for the richness and drama of his writing. But…..it’s too long at 402 pages. There are chapters or sections that could have been edited out and I wouldn’t have missed them. As much as I love descriptions of clouds and weather, there was a bit too much focus on snowflakes and water.

It’s the story of David Winkler, who is a hydrologist and prescient: he has dreams of future events, a fate he inherited from his long dead mother. He dreams of a catastrophic flood and the story takes off from here.

The plot is a bit obscure at times and even I found the constant references to snowflakes a bit tiresome. But heck, Doerr can turn out a perfectly-turned sentence, so I hung in there, despite the writing often being self-indulgent. Mind you, if I could write as brilliantly, then I too would be self-indulgent:-)

Although Nature features a lot, I found the characters didn’t engage with it and roamed the novel as though they were separate. I couldn’t engage with Winkler. At times, I wanted to smack him around because he’s dreary and wallowing in misery. I didn’t feel connected to any of the characters actually; they were all a bit bizarre or flat.

Although Doerr is a dizzying talent, the book became laboured and I almost gave up when the plot (such as it is) reached a small hut in Alaska, set against bone-chilling weather. What went on there I just couldn’t believe.

The ending of the book was too fairy-tale for my liking, but I get it: the story is about achieving a state of grace. I stuck with it so I could enjoy Doerr’s stunning writing (“the million distant candles of the stars” or “All day . . . a sensitivity had been building within him: the slightest shift in light or air touched the backs of his eyes, reached membranes inside his nose. It was as if, like a human divining rod, he had been attuning to vapor as it gathered in the atmosphere, sensing it — water rising in the xylem of trees, leaching out of stones, even the last unfrozen volumes, gargling deep beneath the forest in tangled, rocky aquifers — all these waters rising through the air, accumulating in the clouds, stretching and binding, condensing and precipitating — falling.”) The latter excerpt is an example of how Doerr can get carried away but, at the same time, delight with rich imagery. I wonder though – if you’re THIS talented, could you be more confident about your writing and do away with some of the purple prose?

I’m a great fan of Doerr’s collection of eight short stories (his writing debut) – The Shell Collector (2002).  There are similar themes – clouds, stars, weather, sky. My view is that he is a better short story writer than a novelist but, whatever he decides to write, I’m reading it, studying it, envying it!

The Invitation by Lucy Foley. This is her second book and I very much enjoyed her debut novel, The Book of Lost and Found (reviewed here). I read the advance reading copy of The Invitation.

Set in the 1950s on the Italian Riviera, it is the story of an English journalist (Hal) living in Rome and his obsession with a married woman, who has her own secrets. In fact, obsession is the major theme of this novel.

It’s choppy to be honest. We go back and forth between Hal and the journal of a sea captain from an earlier time period, and his own obsession with a mysterious woman rescued from the sea. We never learn who this woman was and I don’t think the thread between the two narratives is convincing enough.

Foley writes with a confident pen and her writing is like watching a technicolour film of the early 1950s. I found the changing points of view in the book annoying at times. The ending was predictable and, I thought, a bit rushed. The first half of the book is not as powerful as the second half, but Foley manages a cast of characters extremely well and I thought the book was engrossing, despite its drawbacks.

There are shades of Victoria Hislop’s writing in The Invitation as both authors have an ability to paint film-like imagery.

So a mixed bag! I am currently re-reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and published in 1955. What are you reading at the moment?

 

 

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