17 September 2020

Book of the month: 'Half A World Away' by Mike Gayle

Front cover of  'Half A World Away' by Mike Gayle on a tartan blanket

I'm going to kick start this by saying that this post is going to have a whole bunch of spoilers in, because I really want to talk about how this book SHATTERED my poor fragile little heart last month. I'm definitely a crier (books, films, those little facebook videos about dogs seeing their owners returning from active duty in the army, literally EVERYTHING can set me off), and I ignored all the warnings everyone made about how much this book could make me cry and then WEPT for the entire last quarter of this book.

Half a World Away is told from two perspectives: Kerry's and Noah's. Separated in the care system when Noah was a toddler, Kerry is desperate to get back in touch with her baby brother, but he doesn't even know she exists. Once Noah agrees to meet with Kerry, he realises their lives have been very different. He was adopted, but she never was; whilst he grew up in a well-off family and has now become a barrister, she was forced to fend for herself and is now working as a cleaner and single parent to her son.

Kerry tells Noah she just wants to have her brother back, and become a family again, but Kerry has an ulterior motive for reaching out. You see, Kerry has cancer, and she's not sure how to tell her son or how to sort out treatment when there's no one else she can rely on to look after him.

This really was a tough read. I fell in love with Kerry's character: she loves her son more than anything, but is stern with him and keeps him in line. Her life has been difficult and she's definitely a character to admire in her strength and her vulnerability. Noah's character is also a great one: we really see him progress from being quite a selfish twenty-something who can't quite put enough into his marriage to keep it going, or to help his wife understand him. Yet as the book progresses he not only really starts to work on himself in therapy with her, but looks out for their daughter and matures a lot in his reactions to Kerry and her son.

Now on to the sad bit. Kerry has cancer, and as the book goes on we see not only the devastating conversations she has to have with the people she loves about her treatment, but also the moment when we find out, and the characters find out, that palliative care is the only option. My heart broke a little for Noah finding out that the sister he's just come to know and love won't be here for much longer, and I can hardly think about them telling her son and him visiting her hospice bed without wanting to well up. 

Mike Gayle's writing is so incredibly emotive and well written that I can still picture the scenes of Kerry being visited in her final days, as well as the sparkliest funeral you could imagine. I read this well over a month ago now and I'm still absolutely devastated by how beautiful and just how deeply sad it is. I think I'm going to have to devour all of the rest of his books once I've had a chance to recover from this one because sometimes you just need your heart stomped on a little, and this really went IN.

What was your favourite book you read last month?

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12 September 2020

August reading wrap up

Book stack: Cinderella is Dead, The Starless Sea and To All the Boys I've Loved Before


Yet again it's basically the middle of the month and I haven't got around to writing a single blog post and thus my wrap up is pretty late. It was a month of really great reads, despite there not being *too* many of them because I actually left the house fairly often in August for the first time in months?!

Cover of 'Half A World Away' by Mike Gayle next to a candle

'Half A World Away' by Mike Gayle - 4/5 stars


This is my only kindle read of the month (again - I'm hoping to go for 2 in September) and wow it's the biggest tear-jerker I've read in a LONG time. The book is about a brother and sister separated by the care system as kids. Noah's too young to even remember that he has a sister, and when he meets Kerry he realises how lucky his life has been. Kerry was never adopted, and now lives alone with her teenage son in a block of high rise flats, working as a cleaner. She's desperate to get back in touch with her baby brother, and when she sees him all grown up with a high flying job, she's immensely proud. There's just one little secret Kerry's been keeping from Noah, and it might tear everything apart.

I started crying about three-quarters of the way through this and didn't stop until I finished. No exaggeration. It broke my heart and mended it a little and then had another little stomp on it. Mike Gayle is an incredible writer - I felt like I knew Kerry and Noah, and he wrote a really delicate story line incredible sensitively. He's definitely an author I'll be keeping an eye out for in the future, once I've emotionally recovered from this book!

To All The Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han - 4/5 stars


This is the first in a trilogy of teen books about protagonist Lara Jean's adventures in love. Whenever Lara Jean fell in love with a boy she wrote him a letter to close off the love in her mind, and stored it in a hatbox, never intending to send them. Now 16, her whole world is crashing down as somehow the letters have gotten out and been sent. And the worst thing? One of them is going to her older sister's now-ex-boyfriend! Desperate to make it seem like she doesn't have feelings for Josh anymore (though she's not quite sure), she makes a pact to start fake dating with Peter Kavinsky, another boy who got one of her letters.

Usually I'm a 'read the book before the film' kinda person, but I loved the film of this so much I wanted to read the full trilogy before watching the sequel. It was a cute love story in which I was totally rooting for the love triangle to work out the way I wanted. There was a lot of drama that kept me hooked, and I really think I would have enjoyed it as a teen. The book is set against the backdrop of Lara Jean navigating what it means to be a teen without her mum, and to feel connected to her Korean heritage now it's just her white dad raising her. It gave another really important side to LJ's character that wasn't just a bit of frivolous teen romance fun.

Title page of 'Cinderella is Dead' on a burgundy jumper with a string of fairy lights around it

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron - 5/5 stars


This is my only 5 star read of the month and boy did it deserve it. Cinderella is Dead takes place in a fictional town where 200 years after the death of Cinderella, all 16 year old girls are forced to go to a ball and have a man of the town (their prince) select them to wed, Sophia, our Black queer protagonist has no intention of marrying a man, but things aren't that easy. To not attend the ball, and not attend it in the way expected of you is dangerous not only for you but your family. Girls who are unsuccessful at the ball either straight up go missing, or are taken to work at the castle and never seen again either way. The book is a retelling of the Cinderella story, and one filled with fearless girls overthrowing the patriarchy.

I really enjoyed this - the LBGT representation in it was great, with not only one queer main character, but at least 4. I love a good fairy tale retelling, and this one was fast paced, and I so completely did not expect the twist in it that I gasped. The writing was really vivid, and although it did slow down in a few places, I'm really excited to see what this author brings out next.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern - 4/5 stars


I've never read The Night Circus, despite seeing so many people rave about it as the best book they've ever read, so this is my first foray into Morgenstern's work. The Starless Sea is a fantasy novel in which there are doors in our world that lead to harbours at the Starless Sea. Zachary Ezra Rawlins came across one of these doors as a child, but missed his opportunity to head into the world of the Starless Sea when he didn't try to use it. As an adult, he finds a mysterious stack of books in the library - one of the books has his exact story of finding the door as a child in it. Desperate to find out where the book came from and how the story got into it (he never told anyone about that day), he follows a series of clues that bring him deeper and deeper into a dangerous world.

This book was INTENSE, and definitely not something that's easy to dip in and out of. Each chapter was broken up with a couple of pages of shorter stories from various books that form a part of the main story, which all ultimately interlink with each other and the main story. The world-building in this was really great and it still feels like I can imagine some of the scenes and landscapes from it. There was a LGBT love story element to it, but it felt a little forced into the story; the character rarely engaged with one another, and I just didn't feel like there was much romance.


What did you read last month?

*Some of the books in this post were PR samples to discuss on Instagram*

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24 August 2020

Spoiler FILLED Book of the Month: A Court of Mist and Fury

Front covers of 'A Court of Thorns and Roses' and 'A Court of Mist and Fury' by Sarah J Maas

I'm majorly late to the party on this I know, but WOW I finally see why Sarah J Maas' books have been all over social media for years. I'm a big YA fan and fantasy fan (though I stepped back from reading them for a couple of years), so I was always going to love these really. This is going to be a totally spoiler filled chatty post both for this book and the first book in the series, so you have been warned!

21 August 2020

Overdue July reading wrap up!

Stack of blue, green and pale pink books on a wooden board

Somewhere between constantly listening to the Hamilton soundtrack (still, I know) and spending every other waking moment reading as much as possible in August, two-thirds of the month has slipped by without me noticing?! I've not written a blog post in ages, despite being determined that 2020 is going to be my year for actually posting regularly again. Anyway, I'm excited for writing this post because I'm pretty sure the best book I've ever read/will ever read is included?!

31 July 2020

Mid-year book freak out tag 2020

Stack of different coloured books on a grey cardigan

2020 is already over halfway through (honestly thank God for that), and it's time for my mid-year book freak out post. I LOVE writing these, and looking back over the first half of the year's reads to get to grips with exactly what I want to choose for each part of the post. With LOTS of time spent at home and nothing to do, I think I'm actually going to hit my Goodreads target this year - by the end of June I'd reached 32 books, so I've got a few more than normal to choose from!

17 July 2020

What next: staying off antidepressants once the side effects have worn off

Photo of a girl with brown hair and glasses. She is smiling into the camera

January 2019 was when I had reached a point in my life where I felt as though I no longer needed to take my antidepressants. Although at the time I felt I was on a low enough dosage to come off straight away, looking back I 100% should have done it in a much slower process and with more advice from my doctors (though they were the ones initially who said it would be fine to just stop taking them *shrugs*). I've written a blog post here where I've spoken all about the first four months of side effects from stopping taking them. 

14 July 2020

Book of the month: 'A Court of Thorns and Roses'

Cover for 'A Court of Thorn and Roses': bright red with bright yellow writing. Next to a lit white candle and blurry snake plant

Sarah J Maas is one of those authors that seems to be talked about (either super hyped or absolutely hated) by pretty much every booktuber/bookstagrammer I see on my social media feeds. Her YA fantasy is so embedded in online book culture that I've felt totally behind for not having read her books (or V E Schwab's, or Cassandra Clare's, or Suzanne Collins' *grits teeth*).

12 July 2020

June space-themed bullet journal spreads

Dotted bullet journal with poetry written on the left hand side and a hand drawn outline of a face under some planets on the right

I've wanted to do a space/planets themed month in my bullet journal for SUCH a long time, but I was waiting for a month where it really felt right. As June was my birthday month (hello 26), I decided to finally go with this favourite theme idea I've had in a long time. 

8 July 2020

June Reading Wrap Up

Book stack wrapped in string next to a candle

Every month in lockdown I expect myself to read hundreds of books, but with a general inability to concentrate, I'm pretty pleased to have read 5 in June. This was a really varied month in terms of how much I enjoyed what I read. There were a couple of 5 star reads that I've been obsessed with/recommending to everyone, and a 1 star read that actually repulsed me. I branched out a little this month in terms of genre too, with a dystopian fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, YA and general adult fiction.

29 June 2020

Self care in lockdown

Dotted bullet journal with a habit tracker for June in. There is a strip of drawings of planets and stars down the side

Self care is important to me all year round - pandemic or no pandemic. After years of not doing what's good for me and engaging in self-destructive behaviours, over the past few years I've really made loving myself and looking after myself a priority. At the start of lockdown I realised that quite a few of my normal self care activities (buying a special Friday breakfast for getting through the week, having a post payday lunch with friends, spending time with my sister etc) was no longer an option, so I was going to need to try a little harder at home. Lockdown has also meant that there's been way more time for some introspection, which has meant that I needed to make sure I was taking more care of myself to deal with some of the things that were coming up from spending time with myself.

28 June 2020

'The Existence of Amy' book review

A plain teal book cover for 'The Existence of Amy' on a brown chopping board on top of a grey cardigan, with baby's breath flowers

I very rarely read books about mental health, or with it as a key theme, despite being very passionate about opening up conversations (and the government's wallet for more treatment availability) because I feel like it's so often poorly done and it can be triggering for me, so I usually wait until I'm in a very good headspace to do so. This isn't because authors who want to write about mental health issues are innately worse authors, but more because there can be very triggering language used, especially if the author is very specific with details (e.g. how a character self harms or weights involved with an ED). I often come across it in thrillers being used as an excuse to explain why the culprit did what he did, and used more as a plot device than delving into things. Or there's the other end of the spectrum where it can be romanticised in YA books, which can be damaging for teens to read.

However, I think Lana Grace Riva did a really great job of discussing OCD and depression in The Existence of Amy. Amy is doing her best to live a normal adult life whilst struggling with severe OCD and really not receiving much help for it. Her work colleagues try to be understanding, but get frustrated when she misses events because her routines mean that she cannot leave the house on time or eat out or socialise 'normally'. 

It all really comes to a head when Amy goes to Australia with her work colleagues as part of a work trip. She's very proud of getting herself there despite struggling a lot as the plane journey made her very concerned about her personal hygiene. When she's there it becomes obvious to her that she's missing out on a lot because of her mental health struggles, including the potential for a relationship.

The book was really great at showing an accurate portrait of struggling with mental illness. At no point in the Australia trip did Amy's patterns and anxiety disappear because there was something exciting she wanted to do. The author was really great at highlighting the kind of oxymoronic feelings you get when struggling: Amy really wanted to do the activities she missed out on, but at the same time really didn't want to and couldn't do them. 

There was no 'easy fix' in the book - she didn't start a relationship and everything ended, or start therapy and things were fixed instantly. Instead, we saw Amy really hit rock bottom with her depression and be very very slowly slightly lifted out of it. There were a few points in the book that I think could have done with some stricter editing, where it became clear that the book was self published, however it really did surpass my expectations.

This book was gifted to me, but with no obligation to post this. I gave this 4/5 stars

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14 June 2020

Reorganising my priorities in lockdown

Book open on a tartan blanket with feet crossed legged next to it and a small white candle lit

It's now been three months in some form of lockdown (however loose) and I've had to spend more time with myself than I'd ever hoped to. Back in March it seemed like this whole thing would only be a couple of weeks before everything went back to 'normal', but as the weeks stretched into months it's starting to feel like it may never be that way.

11 June 2020

May bullet journal spreads

Double page journal spread with a poem on the left hand side and the word 'May' on the right hand side surrounded by bouquets of lavender flowers

It feels so weird and ... awful ... that the first monthly spread I did in lockdown was in March and here we are in June, still plugging away at home. May felt like a tough month, and if I'm honest I can barely remember what I did in it because the answer is probably nothing except take lots of naps and eat lots of snacks. Each day felt very long, but each week feels like it flew by in a matter of seconds. 

7 June 2020

May reading wrap up

Stack of four book spines: Lord of the Flies, The Confessions of Frannie Langton, If You Could See Me Now and The Existence of Amy

I've been finding reading in lockdown actually a lot more difficult that normal. My anxiety's been on overdrive making it hard to concentrate on what I'm reading and really get stuck into books. Towards the end of last month I switched things up and got back into reading chick flicks, which was helpful in getting back into the swing on things a little. Chick flicks or romance books are something I love, but I'm usually trying to push myself to read something harder and it felt good to come back to this comfort.

30 May 2020

30 goals I want to reach before turning 30

Yellow happy birthday card in front of a snake plant

I'm going to level with you: this was a post I intended to write last June after turning 25 (you can see my 25 before 25 here), but I never got around to it. However with my 26th birthday looming this week, I thought it was just about time to talk about the things I want to achieve over the next four years. At the moment, 30 seems like a lifetime away: it sounds so adult whilst I'm still making constant dumb life decisions.

25 May 2020

Cutting down on dairy: my tips

hOLDING A VIOLIFE BLOCK OF VEGAN CHEESE IN FRONT OF GREEN HOUSEPLANTS

Okay, confession time: this post was totally going to be called 'cutting OUT dairy', but as it turns out lockdown is really really hard, and after months and months of being pretty much completely dairy free (apart from the odd biscuit or milk powder in something), I've started eating little bits of dairy here and there. It's hard to keep control of everything at this weird point in history, and honestly if making millionaire's shortbread over a weekend makes me feel better, then I'm going to do it.

21 May 2020

April bullet journal spreads

Open journal with the word april written between a cloud and some sunflowers

I mean, if it's not obvious I intended to post this weeks ago and then life* (*staring at tiktok mindlessly for hours on end and eating snacks) got in the way, then I don't know what is. I've had a mixture of lots more time for bullet journalling since lockdown started, which is great, but also feeling massively drained and un-creative, the more so as time goes on. I feel like in a few weeks I won't be picking it up at all, but I'm hoping I instead start to feel a bit more inspired again soon.

17 May 2020

Supermarket sweep: Waterstones edition

STack of books with their spines turned away from the camera, tied with brown string
Between shops being closed because of lockdown and feeling a need to save money where I can because the future feels more uncertain than ever, I'm practically dreaming of a time where I can stroll back into a bookshop and pick up something I've been lusting after.

9 May 2020

Book of the month: 'Where the Crawdads Sing' by Delia Owens*

Book cover for 'Where the Crawdads Sing' by Delia Owens on a blue stripey background

I haven't done a book of the month in a long time, but Where the Crawdads Sing was such a beyond beautiful book I had to bring it back. This book is like nothing I've read in a long time, and more poignantly, like no recent publication I've come across. I feel like it's reminiscent of American literature from the 60s-80s and it was honestly the kind of soothing read I needed at such an intense time.

4 May 2020

April reading wrap up

Stack of four colourful books

I know the days are all blurring into one a bit because every lockdown day is the same but wow I actually struggled to recognise where the cutoff between March and April was when it came to writing this roundup. This was a really GOOD month for reading for me and I'm honestly not convinced May can live up to it. With three 5 star reads and 2 four star ones, there's a whole lot I really want to recommend here!

25 April 2020

Dealing with the 'not doing enough' guilt

Hand holding a candle with succulent in the background

I've been meaning to write something about this for a LONG time because wow millenials are really pressurised into turning every single moment of the day into productive time and every hobby into a money maker, huh? Anyway, during lockdown we've all been bombarded with even more messages of 'OMG now's the time to take up that hobby you've been talking about/do home workouts/get skinny/finally make a PROPER use of your time' and it's really a bit much isn't it? It's a time for all sorts of companies who are losing money on us not buying things from their stores to encourage us to shop online - you can't do weights training at home to get fit without buying some first can you? But also, the pressure seems to be coming from everyone. We've all seen how many sourdough loaves are being made on social media (no shade here, I  love the idea of making one) and have been asked by our families if we've found any new hobbies yet.

However. 

It's creating this weird divide around lockdown and how we're all coping. For starters, there are people who really have way less time on their hands now (honestly I've never been more glad to not have children) and are being bombarded with all of these mixed messages about what we should be doing when they have even less spare time. Normally no one sits you down and asks if you're using every day to its advantage, but that's what social media and often people we're in touch with are doing at the moment. 

Hand holding a book in front of notebooks and art and a succulent

Lockdown is being branded as a 'rare opportunity' - it's a time to call your grandparents when you're normally too busy, or finally learn how to knit, download Duolingo and get cracking on a new language or finally discover your abs. On the flip side of that, it's this massive time of crisis and uncertainty. A lot of our identity is wound up in the way we interact with others, our jobs or schoolwork, and how we present ourselves to the world. With a lot of those rugs pulled from under our feet we're all entering into this weird time of having to get to know ourselves better (which absolutely makes me want to retch) without any of those distractions. It's intense.

And whilst yes some people have more 'free time' to do things they normally wouldn't, we're also using up all this headspace to think about ourselves, the lives we've created, and have moments of existential crisis about our futures facing Covid-19 and the issues its creating. It's tiring and it's a difficult thing for anyone to have to face, although much more difficult depending on your circumstances.

I really come to writing this with a lot of privilege. I still have my job, I live with my boyfriend so I'm not feeling too isolated and my mental health prior to this whole situation was the best it's been in years, probably all of my adult life. And yet, almost every day I'm having to remind myself that I don't have to do it all. Yes, I love to bake and I've taken up yoga again to help with my anxiety, but I'm also ignoring all of those damned Duolingo reminders (what an angry little owl) and I've had so many days where I'm too tired and frustrated to do anything but mope and mindlessly half watch TV.

What I'm really trying to say is just don't beat yourself up. This is a scary time and just by getting through each day you're really overcoming something challenging. It's nothing that we've ever experienced before or could have anticipated (I would have a LOT more jigsaw puzzles in my house if I had done). If scrolling through Tiktok for hours or napping or watching old boxsets from the start again is making you feel better then do that, and live your teenage dream. 

This whole thing is a rough ride, and we don't need to beat ourselves up along the way for holding ourselves to a standard that we wouldn't do when we're not having to face a global pandemic. And yes, if you're finding you're capable of filling every hour with something productive and it's helping you, then that's great, but none of us should feel guilty for not doing 'enough' right now.

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17 April 2020

The Body Shop Cruelty Free Face Masks

#Five body shop face masks in a row

So last year and this year so far I've hardly blogged, which is why I bought these face masks in DECEMBER 2018 (Christ) and have been meaning to write a little something about them ever since then. Lockdown is doing wonders for me attempting to do all these things I haven't got around to yet, apart from any kind of long-standing cleaning projects I'm avoiding. Cleaning my oven is just too much of a commitment, okay?

13 April 2020

Spring (pre-lockdown) book haul

Row of colorful book spines

Stack of books with spines facing upwards next to a candle and flowers

A few weeks before coronavirus and then lockdown really kicked off in the UK, I helped organise a charity book sale where I work and I'm SO glad I did because what else is there to do indoors everyday other than read? I've got a whole bunch of books to take me to the other side of lockdown, and I'm just not sure what to read first out of these (although a lot of people have raved about The Cactus).

11 April 2020

Everything I want to do post-lockdown

A plate of chocolate cookies next to a candle

Wow, when was the last time I wrote a list post like this? I mean, not *quite* like this, for obvious reasons, but it feels like years. I'm reached that point in lockdown where I'm almost at five weeks inside (I started a week earlier as my partner and I had coughs) and honestly? I'm bored of everything inside our house, although I totally realise how privileged it is to have a home and not be alone right now. So I'm going to wallow a little and try to think of all the things I really want to do in a post-lockdown world that I'm hoping will still be vaguely recognisable as the place it was pre-lockdown.

9 April 2020

Big March and February Reading Wrap Up

Stack of colourful books on their side
I seem to say this every single time I sit down to write a blog post now, but it's honestly been forever since I last sat down to write. I put a whole load of pressure on myself to write something monumental (especially at the moment) and it seems pointless and trivial to just write something mundane and bookish. However, that basically sums up my life, especially in lockdown.

8 March 2020

Massive Winter book haul

Woman holding big pile of books
We've reached that point in Winter where it's just dragging now. I would like a bit of warmth, less rain and maybe to wake up to daylight? Phwoar. However, this time of year has one positive: I hibernate and read for months, which is slow bliss. I've managed to amass quite a few new books over the past few months either as Christmas gifts, charity shop purchases or from publishers to talk about on Instagram (I'm living my very own dream). So buckle up, and maybe grab a cuppa because I think this is going to be a long one. I'm going to go straight in now so let's get cracking:

25 February 2020

2020 Core Bullet Journal Spreads

Handwritten calendar next to black paper with stars and 2020 written on it

My laptop is finally fixed and I can actually post again?! I've spent the last few weeks focusing on finishing my core pages in my bullet journal instead of posting on here or spending hours browsing recipes on pinterest. Maybe it was for the best I had a break. Anyway, my core pages in my bullet journal are the ones I'll use all year round - calendars, book trackers, film trackers, savings reminders etc. This year I'm still using a few bits leftover from 2019's core pages, so it's a pretty concise set up.

9 February 2020

January Reading Wrap Up

Stack of books resting on a hand next to a green plant

At the start of every new year I always seem to have a LOT of time for reading, and January often winds up being the month where I spend the most time indoors. It's wet and cold and no one has any money after Christmas, so staying in with blankets and books is the only answer. I read 7 books last month and although not all of them are going down as favourites for me, I'm pretty pleased with managing to read that many.

30 January 2020

2020 goals (and how I did with 2019's!)

 2019 calendar in bullet journal

I'm not sure if it's for the best that I'm writing this at the end of January or not, because at the end of 2019 the dawn of a new decade seemed like we might be launching into things improving in our world. However, almost one month in and we're finally about to launch out of the EU, Trump's impeachment trial is getting shadier by the day, WW3 has already been trending on twitter and there's a deadly virus forcing people to be quarantined. 2020 is off to a stellar start. 

26 January 2020

2019's top 10 (and worst 5!) books

10 books stacked together with a check scarf behind them

2019 was really the year that 10 year old me emerged again with an INTENSE love for all things books. I delved into a whole lot of books that normally stay far far away from my radar, turned my instagram into a bookstagram, re-organised my shelves and *almost* hit my Goodreads target. 

16 January 2020

A 2019 Highlight Reel

Stephanie wearing a red tank top sitting in a green chair
Every year so far undeniably has had rubbish parts, and 2019 was absolutely not without the glum days or weeks for me, but I love doing a little round up of all the highlights to remember. Hopefully in years to come I'll remember my 25th birthday spent with my sister, not the days I felt lonely or that time I had a really bad cold. 

Anyway, that was a bit of a disclaimer for the post because it's a highlight reel that I'm so excited to share, but it comes with a little pinch of salt that nobody's year is perfect, no matter how good they try to make it sound online.