Books Read: May and June 2018

Posted on July 01, 2018 under Books

Happy Canada Day! We’re now halfway through 2018 (ahhh!) and I’m feeling very good about how this year is going books-wise.

May was a bit of a wash; I was travelling and then preparing for and executing a cross-continental move. But I got back in the swing of things in June, and I think I managed to read a respectable amount. In these two months, I read 6 books, bringing my yearly total up to 25 – which means I’m halfway to 50 halfway through the year. I set a goal of 30 for 2018, so I think it’s safe to say I’ll be meeting that. Since I’m doing so well, I’d be happy if I could stay on pace and meet (or exceed) last year’s total of 51.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

This book is based on the real-life case of Debra Lafave, who molested one of her fourteen-year-old students. (Generally the media describes Lafave’s in softer terms such as “seducing” her student, because that’s how we talk about female sexual predators, I guess.) It absolutely succeeded in getting me in the head of a pedophile, which ultimately is not a place that I care to be. Celeste’s monologues were very well-written, reminding me a lot of Amy Dunne’s self-righteous, angry narration in Gone Girl. Clearly, Nutting is truly talented, and that talent is what elevates this book above the simple category of “shock value smut”. That said, I don’t think it’s an especially complex novel, and since the subject matter is so stomach-turning it’s not one I’d ever revisit or even recommend to anyone. Needless to say, it has the potential to be incredibly upsetting if not triggering, so please proceed with caution.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I wrote a very scatching review of this book on Goodreads. Here are some of the salient points, though you are very welcome to read the whole thing (as well as some of the other one- and two-star reviews on there, because they’re amazing):

You know those people who use their extensive knowledge of pop culture as a substitute for a real personality? This is the literary equivalent of that. I’m not against a book whose primary function is spectacle over substance; sometimes you just want to be dazzled as a reader. It’s like the cinema of attractions in book form. That’s cool. It’s just that this wasn’t a spectacle that I particularly enjoyed.

[Lack] of incredible writing chops does not necessarily deter me from enjoying a book. A formulaic, predictable plot does, though. Watery social commentary that any half-sentient sixteen-year-old could come up with does. A novel that is packed full of pop culture references but completely lacking in any indication that the author has heard of a single woman in his life does. … Art3mis is afforded the wonderful plot of “Is she hot in real life and will she sleep with our protagonist?” She’s a blatant male fantasy: chock full of all the requisite masculine nerd culture references but a curvy, pretty woman instead of a basement-dwelling man. Wonderful! Emailing Art3mis to warn of imminent danger, Wade charmingly adds “PS – I think you look even more beautiful in real life,” because every intelligent, accomplished woman wants unsolicited, condescending affirmations about her appearance when she’s being hunted down by an evil corporation.

Ready Player One depicts a bleak future, but it doesn’t draw any attention to one of its most disturbing elements: the lack of female influence on the cultural, social, and political landscape. This book is a celebration of a male-dominated nerd canon disguised as an adventure novel slash social critique. If you’re into the male-dominated nerd canon, you might enjoy its spectacle. Clearly, I did not.

Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

Scarborough is a suburb of Toronto, amalgamated into the city in 1998 by an evil premier who we will not speak of. (I’m not a fan of amalgamation, but that’s another story.) It’s one of the most ethnically diverse areas of Toronto, itself one of the world’s most multicultural cities. Scarborough compassionately and complexly tells the intersecting stories of various low-income people who live in Scarborough. They are all united by a morning literacy programme offered at a local school, with many of the children attending for the promise of free breakfast. Almost all of the characters in this novel are people of colour, and Hernandez’s care and research in representing their cultures and experiences living in Canada is evident. She writes children and adults equally convincingly, affording every character compassion and nuance. The standout character is the literacy programme coordinator Hina, who you just hope is really out there supporting low-income communities, standing up for herself, and just generally being lovely and strong. Though this novel certainly has its fair share of sad – and even heartbreaking – moments, it’s not tragedy porn. It’s simply the story of a community and its resilience. I absolutely love reading novels set in Toronto, and I’m so glad that Scarborough exists to such local acclaim – these are stories that are not often told but that are so important for us all to understand as neighbours. I don’t remember the last time I was so gripped by a book that I read it in one sitting!

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Some of the best modern fiction is being written by Nigerian and Nigerian-American women, and I’m so glad that books like this, Homegoing, and of course Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works are gaining international attention. Under the Udala Trees is about Ijeoma, who comes of age during the Biafran War in the late 1960s. Sent away to be a housegirl for a grammar school teacher and his wife, Ijeoma meets and falls love with a Muslim girl named Amina. While I found the prose a bit stiff at times, the story was beautiful, the character of Ijeoma so richly-drawn and believable. In general I never tire of LGBTQ narratives, but it is true that so many are white and Western. I’m endlessly glad that this book exists, and Okparanta has so much to say about homosexuality in Nigeria, both within the novel and outside it.

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

Some of the best feminist-oriented coming-of-age stories have been produced by Canadian women. Alice Munro is best known for her short stories (she’s won a Nobel Prize!); Lives of Girls and Women is her only novel, though it could be argued that it’s a series of short stories centering on the precocious Del Jordan. Born in the 1930s, Del is raised by an enlightened, progressive mother in the small town of Jubilee, Ontario. The book follows her from age nine to young adulthood as she navigates the social and sexual expectations of a rapidly-changing world. The lives referenced in the title represent the different people Del is throughout the book as well as the different paths she could take. Her mother represents what she would have been reduced to had she been born a generation earlier; her friend Naomi represents the more conventional path taken by women. But Del is not a beacon of feminist consciousness like her mother. She is curious and sharp, but she pushes back against her mother’s progressive politics, looking for something greater than herself but also craving normalcy. She’s a fascinatingly complex character, a very convincing portrait of a young woman in the 1940s and 50s.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I got it into my head that I want to read all of the books on that fake BBC-endorsed “100 books to read before you die” list, mostly just to say I had but also because there’s probably some good stuff on it. I’m still trying to decide if I should do it or not, and the biggest deterrent is the 50,000 pages of Dickens I would have to read. I thought I’d dip my toes into it and read some of the books I’m actually interested in, and I started with The Picture of Dorian Gray. Obviously I knew the basic story, but hadn’t actually read it. I ended up really liking it – it’s full of drama, intrigue, murder, and hyperbole about how having to watch a bad play is a truly torturous experience… basically everything you need in a late 19th century novel. I thought the character of Lord Henry was the most interesting; though the novel centres around Dorian and all of his soulless indiscretions, Henry is just as terrible – and he hasn’t even sold his soul for eternal youth. Of course, the dramatic tension of the plot was enough to reel me in, but it’s also a fascinating character study.

Out of the six books I read in May and June, there was only one I really disliked – all the others were very enjoyable. Can’t complain too much about that!

Empties: February to May 2018

Posted on June 20, 2018 under Empties

My empties posts are always at irregular intervals because that’s how using products up actually works in reality. Sometimes I’ll use up eight thousand products in the span of a month and sometimes three months will pass with my only empties being, like, a lip balm and brow gel. This post features a four-month accumulation because things were slow on the empties front around here; after my last empties post, I was left with a bunch of close-to-full products.

But I had a very convenient alibi for an empties post when it came to leaving the UK – although I’m getting this up nearly a month after returning home.

No press samples in this batch. Things I received for free through work are marked with an asterisk.

Skincare

A-Derma Soothing Foaming Gel*: This is a decent cleansing gel, though it’s nothing special. I prefer more hydrating cleansers, anyway.

Vichy Idélia Peeling*: I liked this! My skin responds well to glycolic acid and this was no exception. However, if Deciem can survive their CEO’s long-term public meltdown, the glycolic from The Ordinary is like $7 and just as good.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5: Speaking of The Ordinary! I’ve honestly lost count of how many bottles of this I’ve gone through. It’s just such an effective, low-cost serum. Will keep using.

Origins Drink Up! Overnight Intensive Mask: You can see that I’ve done a number on this tube in an attempt to get out every last drop. This is my favourite night cream for winter time, and I can say that for the second year in a row the dreaded nose flakies have failed to make an appearance thanks to this rich moisturizer. A tube conveniently lasts me November through March, which is the perfect amount of time.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Intense Soothing Care*: This is a really great daytime moisturizer. It’s rich enough to really hydrate dry skin, but thin enough to sit well under makeup. I’m working through some other things right now, but I’d happily go back to this. I went through a few tubes of the thicker, richer Toleriane Ultra, but I think this one is better-suited to daytime use.

Vaseline Lip Therapy + SPF 15: This was a decent lip balm that certainly got me through a dry winter. Nivea works better for me, though.

A forgotten empty, photographed later:

Bioderma Sensibio Eye Contour Gel*: A nice thin eye cream that delivers a medium amount of moisture. My undereyes have become quite dry lately, which I’m chalking up to age, so maybe I will buy another tube.

And while on vacation I used up a mini 100mL bottle of Bioderma Sensibio H2O which I forgot to photograph. The original Bioderma remains one of my favourite micellar solutions, alongside La Roche-Posay.

Hair

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Tone Correcting Shampoo: Oh wow, more of these? I can’t help it – it’s a good blonde shampoo and I would always buy it when Superdrug had it for £3.95. That’s a bargain!

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Shampoo (mini) x2: Went through two of these while travelling, only managed to photograph one. I’ve been using this shampoo on and off for over three years, so these travel minis are a no-brainer.

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Conditioner (mini): A solid conditioner, another tried and true product that rotates in and out of my haircare routine with regularity.

Toni and Guy Damage Repair Mask: I’ve used up a lot of deep conditioner in four years as a blonde, so I feel confident in saying that this one was average. I want to say it weighed my hair down a bit, but now that my hair is actually reasonably healthy it gets greasier a lot faster, so it’s hard to say accurately.

A straggler, photographed later:

Toni and Guy Instant Refresh Dry Shampoo: This dry shampoo worked well, but not as well as Batiste. It also had a very strong smell which I did not enjoy. The only reason I bought it was because I was one second away from fully succumbing to jetlag and could not for the life of me find the Batiste in the Superdrug I was in. You know that when I step off a plane my first priority is Batiste.

Bath and Body

A-Derma Exomega Emollient Balm*: I absolutely love this product. Despite the name “balm”, it’s not a super thick lotion, yet it delivers a lot of moisture, which is absolutely necessary for someone with KP. This can also be used on the face, so it’s a true multitasker. It’s right up there with La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP+.

The Body Shop Coconut Body Butter x2: This is the only Body Butter I like, and I exclusively buy it in bulk during 3 for $30 sales. Because of the coconut oil, it has a thicker, semi-solid texture and it does absolute wonders on my perpetually-scaly, KP-ravaged limbs. Weirdly, the first of these tubs that I went through had the same texture as a regular Body Butter, which was a devastating blow. The second one had the texture I like, which was a lot better – but I’m still thinking they’ve reformulated to make the textures consistent across all scents, and I just ended up with an older tub. If this is the case I won’t keep buying it, since the texture was what I liked so much about it. (Okay, and it makes me smell like I live in a hut with a palm frond roof, which I love.)

L’Occitane Almond Shower Oil: You know I love this stuff. Is it absurdly expensive for something that is on my skin for like twenty seconds total? Yes! But it’s so luxurious, and I really cannot underestimate how dry my arms and legs are. They need every bit of moisture they can get.

The Body Shop Shea Butter Exfoliating Sugar Body Scrub: I am firmly a drugstore gal when it comes to body scrubs, but I picked this up during a 3 for $30 sale so I can’t be mad. It had a very interesting soufflé-like texture. Otherwise, it was a sugar scrub. It was fine, but if you pay full price for it you’re a fool. (Well, that goes for all products from The Body Shop, but especially sugar scrubs. Come on.)

Makeup

Benefit “That Gal” Primer (mini): Can we talk about the value of this mini? It contains 7.5mL of product, and the full size is a whopping 11mL. I mean. What. Strangely generous size aside, this is a pretty classic illuminating primer, though it has a thicker texture than others I’ve used and a very noticeable pink tinge. I enjoyed using it during the transition from winter to spring, when my skin decided to protest the change in seasons by being dry as a bone. Would not pay for the full size, but would probably spend Sephora points on another mini.

Marc Jacobs Le Marc Lip Crème in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (mini): I don’t know if it’s fair to feel this accomplished about using up a mini, but I do. I mean, this is only the third lipstick I’ve used up in my life, so it has to count for something! I really like the Le Marc Lip Crème formula and this was a very flattering neutral which I enjoyed wearing immensely.

Lancôme Hypnôse Mascara (mini): This used to be a favourite because it delivered volume and length without any clumps. Like, I dare you to try to make this mascara clumpy. It just doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, I have now discovered that it does not hold a curl at all, which is a dealbreaker for me. I don’t know if the mini just performs differently than the full size I had, but something is up here.

Lancôme Hypnôse Drama Mascara (mini): I don’t remember anything about this. The end.

Miscellaneous

Only one item in this category today, and a boring one at that. Tesco Beauty Nail Polish Remover was a nail polish remover. I got carded when I was buying it in September because I was also buying a knife and you’re not allowed to do that if you’re under eighteen. When the self checkout machine flagged me I totally thought it was because of the nail polish remover because I guess you can huff it or maybe make something explosive out of it. That story is not very interesting, but neither is nail polish remover.

The end! Now I’m back in Canada accumulating more empty things to show off at some random point down the line.

Spring 2018 Travels: Denmark and the Faroe Islands

Posted on June 12, 2018 under Life

I don’t really remember how this trip was shaped into its final form. Initially, the whole point was for my parents to visit me and show me the Scottish Highlands, since it seemed ridiculous for me to get my Master’s in Scotland and miss out on that breathtaking beauty. Then Ireland seemed like a good idea because of its proximity to the UK and the fact that me and my mom had been wanting my dad to see it for years. Denmark was just a bit of indulgence, really. I’d been to Copenhagen back in April 2015 and knew instantly that my Nordic-loving mom would love it, so it’s natural that we wanted to go. How exactly we decided to tack it onto the itinerary I’m not entirely sure. As for the Faroes, my mom has wanted to visit for most of her life, and it seemed criminal not to go if we were already going to be in Denmark.

My dad was not interested in this leg of our journey (or from being away from home for so long), so when we finished up in Ireland he flew back to Toronto and my mom and I were on to Denmark. We flew into Aalborg, a charming city in the north of the country. My impression of Aalborg is based on a very short time there during which all we really did was go out for dinner to Dalle Valle, an incredible buffet-style restaurant that I heartily recommend. That’s because we were in Aalborg overnight simply so we could get up to Skagen, which is a two hour train ride away.

Skagen is incredibly quaint. The town is lovely, filled with cute yellow buildings. However, we were not visiting for the town. No, we wanted to go to Grenen, the northernmost point in Denmark, where the Baltic Sea and North Sea meet. The quality of light at Grenen is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the colours of the beach almost otherworldly. Pictures really don’t capture its incredible, bizarre beauty, nor what it looks like when the two seas meet. I realized at many moments throughout this trip that there are some places which are so special that they can only truly be appreciated in person, in the moment. You have your time in these incredible places, and you leave, and that’s all you get. Grenen is perhaps the most extreme example of this phenomenon that I personally have experienced. In photographs, it looks like a nice beach. In person, you can see the waves coming in from different angles, perpendicular, and you feel that this place has a quality that is entirely its own. There are some places in the world where you feel very small, and Grenen is one of them.

I first found out about Skagen and Grenen back in 2014, so this trip was four years in the making. It was an incredibly blustery day and a lovely ten degrees Celsius – but after years of wanting to be here, I had to take my hiking boots off and stand with my feet in both seas at once. The water was painfully cold, but I don’t regret it for a moment.

I think this photo best captures what I mean about Grenen being almost otherworldly, its colour palette just extraordinary.

After walking about 8km out to Grenen and back to our hotel, we had a lovely sushi dinner at Genki. The next morning, we were up early to catch a train to Copenhagen. We only had one full day there, which we spent wandering around city center. We did pop into the National Museum of Denmark to see some more bog bodies as well as some wonderful archaeological artifacts. We also had the most amazing Danish brunch at Café Europa. If you’re ever in Copenhagen I highly recommend trying this out. It’s entirely different from North American brunch and incredibly delicious.

Me and my mom were just talking about this meal the other day, and we both agreed that it was the culinary highlight of our trip. Be warned, though – it’s not cheap, coming out to about $60 CAD per person.

I was not moved to cart my DSLR around with me in Copenhagen, but here are a few shots I took with my phone:

Taken at King’s Garden, which houses Rosenborg Palace. The expression on the lion’s face cracks me up.

Christiansborg Palace and its cool rectangular hedges.

On Sunday morning we were off to the airport to fly the Faroe Islands! The airport in Vágar is the smallest one I’ve ever seen, with only two gates. (There are only two airlines that fly in and out of the Faroes.) It also has the most beautifully-situated parking lot in the world:

For those who don’t know, the Faroe Islands are an autonomous country owned by the Kingdom of Denmark. They have their own language, Faroese, which to a North American outsider resembles Icelandic, though Faroese people all seem to speak Danish and English as well. The entire country has a population of just 50,000. The climate hovers between about 6 and 15 Celsius year-round. The highest temperature ever measured there was 26.3 degrees Celsius, which is just 79 degrees Fahrenheit. I mean, 26 Celsius would be quite a mild day during the peak of summer here in Toronto, so for that to be the basically unheard of extreme in the Faroes is shocking to me!

Our cab ride to our Airbnb in Tórshavn was absolutely incredible. The Faroese landscape is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s endlessly mountainous but without trees, and everything is a strange yellowy green. Tórshavn, one of the smallest capital cities in the world, is filled with the cutest houses on planet Earth. We spent our first day there wandering around the historical district of Tinganes, and I was captivated by the architecture. There were daffodils everywhere, and I noticed a lot of windowsills were crammed with plants and trinkets. And I absolutely loved the use of colour, especially against the dark grey and black that many houses are painted.

We also stumbled upon the lovely Tórshavn Cathedral as we wandered:

Tórshavn is such a wonderfully picturesque place – we wandered all around the town and it was never anything less than adorable. I mean, really:

The next day we took a boat ride from the town of Vestmanna, dipping into little enclaves surrounded by incredibly high cliffs. The scenery was stunning beyond belief, and in the shallower parts the water was a vibrant turquoise unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Elephant rock.

I mean, really, this water was insane.

On Wednesday we took a bus to Klaksvík, second only to Tórshavn in population. It was a horrible rainy, grey day, and we walked along the water with the wind whipping at us. The fog made for some nice pictures, though.

In the end, the inhospitable weather was totally worth it, because after our walk we got on a 12-minute helicopter ride back to Tóshavn. I’ve never been in a helicopter before, and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Flying above the stunning, unique Faroese landscape is something I’ll never forget. When we landed, new passengers boarded the helicopter and we watched it take off. The force of the propellors was way stronger than I’d imagined – it almost whipped my mom’s phone out of her hand!

On Thursday we were meant to take another day trip, but unfortunately it was cancelled at the last minute. It also happened to be a holiday in the Faroe Islands, so everything was closed. We walked around a little bit and took pictures of the unique Vesturkirkjan (which you may have noticed in some of the pictures above). Ultimately we took it easy since we’d already seen most of the small town and there was nothing else to do.

Bet you’ve never seen a church quite like this…

It wasn’t a complete wash – we took the money from the trip refund and had delicious sushi at Etika. We actually had Japanese food three times in Denmark and the Faroes – it might seem like a strange area to eat this particular cuisine, but they are huge fishing cultures and the food is always wonderful and fresh. I’ve had sushi several times in the UK and it’s always pretty underwhelming, whereas it’s been consistently fantastic in Nordic countries.

On Friday we had another beautiful drive, this time to the airport. We were back in Copenhagen for the weekend, our trip winding to a close. Again, we only had one full day, which we spent walking around and enjoying the beautiful, sunny weather. We checked out Christiania, the so-called hippie quarter of Copenhagen, and had Danish hot dogs for lunch. (Everyone hypes up the famous hot dog place in Reyjkavik, but I’m telling you to go to Denmark and get a hot dog wrapped in bacon. It is way better.) We also did a bit of shopping – our entire trip had been focused on experiences rather than acquisition, so we did a bit of damage on our last day, spending a lot of time in Cos as well as Sephora. We went for our third dinner at Dalle Valle (our second being the night before…) and then went to bed early.

On Sunday morning we flew into Edinburgh, where we took a bus to Glasgow. My mom went off to the Glasgow airport hotel in preparation for her flight back to Toronto the next morning, and I went back to my flat. And thus five weeks of travel were concluded!