I can’t quite believe it’s already been a year since I left York and headed to London - I’d just finished my degree and had been offered an internship for a start-up in central London. Scared was an understatement but this was probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken and I’m not the type of person to take risks. Everything has to be planned to perfection and while I did everything in my control to do that, it wasn’t guaranteed. While there have definitely been some curveballs thrown my way over the year (personally and worldwide problems), I think my first year living in London has taught me a lot and has definitely been one I won’t forget. 

I recently shared a blog post over on Olivia’s blog “What My Internship Taught Me” where I shared a bit more about my experience moving to London as a new graduate with just a 6-month internship contract. The 6-month part was definitely scary but, just a month in, I knew I wanted to stay with the company I was at, and so I pushed as much as I needed to try and land a full-time job at the company or at least extend my contract. In January, my contract ended and I started a new full-time contract as SEO Marketing Executive. I was thrilled! I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I could relax more into the job and living in London, feeling more secure in my role and my life in London. 

It can be hard to find peace in a busy city but it doesn’t mean it’s not there and it also doesn’t mean that there aren’t like-minded people who also like their own company and having small little adventures around London in the quieter hours. Visiting the best bookshops in London, meeting for coffee or visiting a gallery - all things I would happily do on my own or with a friend. Don’t get me wrong, the tube still scares me and I will always take an hour bus journey over a 45-minute tube ride with a change at King’s Cross. But, before the world made 2020 decided to flip life on its head, I was becoming more and more comfortable navigating around London. I definitely had my routines and maybe I definitely haven’t explored everything that London has to offer but I’ve definitely made a start. 

The let of my flat was due at the end of June, and we’ve decided to extend it another year. Who knows what that means for me. I think it’s another year in London for me but I type this from my family home back in the good ol’ North. After staring at the same 4 walls for 3 months, I decided to come home. While I can still work from home, it feels nice to be around some familiar sites and people. I am so happy with my job and I do enjoy living in London but I’m learning more and more about the things I love and what I want for the next few years - who knows if that involves a few more years in London. For now, I’m almost playing it by ear. I’m enjoying being back home and I love the people I work with. Let’s catch up in another year. 

Hope you’re doing great, 
Sarah x

Summer book picks and sunglasses
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While the weather doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind what season we're in, it's definitely the middle of summer. On the warmer days, there's nothing better than sitting outside with an ice tea and a good book. For me, summer is all about making my way through my reading challenge, reaching for some easy reads and ticking off some of those romantic, contemporary picks on my TBR. Here is just are just a few of my own summer book recommendations and some that I also plan on reading myself over the next few months. 

The Shelf by Helly Acton

I was sent an ARC of this book just last and I have to recommend it for a perfect summer read. Our main character Amy has just been dumped and if that isn't bad enough, her partner Jamie dumped her on live TV as she was chosen to participate in the new Love-Island-meets-Big-Brother TV show The Shelf where newly-dumped women will compete to be crowned "The Keeper". This was such a fun read that points out all the flaws of dating and the wat for women to be the perfect girlfriend for all men's needs. A simple plot to follow that still has some great feminist messages to make it the perfect summer read. 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This is a fantastic debut novel by Kiley Reid which explores great topics surrounding being black in America. It has an easy-to-read feel but written in a thought-provoking way and I just could not put it down. It follows Ermira, the baby sitter for the daughter of white blogger Alix Chamberlain. When Emira is accused of kidnapping the child she is babysitting, Alix sees this as more of an opportunity to help herself rather than support Emira. We follow both characters' stories through the months after the incident and see how life changes for each of them going forward. If you're yet to pick this up, it's a short book that is more than worth the read this summer. 

Beach Read by Emily Henry 

If the title doesn't scream "Summer Reads" then I don't know what will! Augustus and January are both writers but they can't be more different - one, a literary fiction writer who no longer believes in love and, the other, a romance writer. One thing they do have in common is they have both come down with a case of writer's block. Being beach house neighbours for the 3 months of summer, they decide to take on the challenge of writing in the style of the other, in hopes they will regain their writing spark. 

I cannot wait to give this a read soon! It's everything you want in a summer read - romance, sun, a beach setting and an easy story to get swept up in. 

Summer Days & Summer Nights: 12 Summer Romances by Stephanie Perkins and others. 

If you want to truly embrace the summery-ness then this anthology is for you. With 12 different summer love stories from 12 young adult writers, this is the perfect summer book to dip on and out of as the season ticks on. This is the perfect celebration of summer all wrapped up nicely in one single book. I've only read a few of the stories so far and I can't wait to read even more in the coming months. 

The Haters by Jesse Andrews

Is a summer reads list truly complete without a book with a road trip? Corey, Wes and Ash are spending summer at jazz camp. Convinced that musicians are born to be on the road, they flee camp to begin their road trip; "The Haters Summer of Hate Tour". This is a book about friendship, young fun and music. It's definitely one to enjoy over summer. 

What books are you planning to read this summer? 

I hope you're doing great, 
Sarah x 

This is a guest post. 

Transitioning to cruelty-free products is easier than ever. With the ever-growing interest in the cruelty-free and vegan lifestyle, more and more brands have taken the initiative to stop animal testing. 

Going cruelty-free doesn't have to break the bank. Nor does it mean having to struggle to find products in your favourite stores. With cruelty-free products becoming more of the norm, it's easy to make the switch. 

What does cruelty-free mean? 

Simply put, it is when a brand does not test their products or ingredients on animals. This also includes any third-party or supplier involved with the brand. They also do not sell in countries where animal testing is required by Law, for example in China. 

Here are 5 cruelty-free brands that I love and recommend (vegan options included!). 

1. Pacifica Beauty

Know for their Instagram-worthy packaging, Pacifica is a cruelty-free and completely vegan beauty brand with products ranging from skincare to makeup and perfume.

Pacifica also offers a recycling program where you can send up to eight of your finished Pacifica products and they will recycle them for you. This allows you to earn 100 loyalty points that can be used towards rewards on their site. 

2. Alba Botanica

Alba Botanica is a cruelty-free and vegetarian company, specialising in bath and body products. The brand's philosophy is creating high-quality products with eco-friendly ingredients that haven't been tested on animals. 

Although being 100% vegetarian, there are several vegan options to choose from. Just watch out for products that contain honey or beeswax. 

Alba Botanica is also eco-friendly. Their products are reef-friendly with biodegradable formulas, use recycled materials and contain no microbeads. 

3. The Body Shop

As the most familiar on this list, The Body Shop is a cruelty-free brand with plenty of vegan options. It's had its history, from being a privately owned cruelty-free company to being sold to L'oreal back in 2014 - a parent company known for selling in China and testing on animals - to then being resold to cruelty-free company Natura Cosmetics. After being sold to Natura in 2017 The Body Shop is cruelty-free once again. 

What I recommend: Body Yoghurt

4. Raw Sugar Living

Founded in California, Raw Sugar is a brand that specialises in plant-based bath and body products to promote clean and healthy living. 

They have product ranges from bath soaps, to hand washes, hair products and more. All their packaging is eco-friendly (note their iconic bamboo caps). plant-based, and of course, cruelty-free. 

What I recommend: Simply Body Wash

5. ELF Cosmetics

You might have seen this popular beauty brand while browsing the aisles of your favourite drugstore. This 100% vegan and cruelty-free brand is not only high-quality but also affordable. If looking to transition over to cruelty-free, ELF is a great place to start. 

Going cruelty-free has never been easier. It's important to vote with your money to help end unnecessary animal testing. These 5 brands not only make great products, but also take on the initiation to end animal cruelty and build a more ethical future. 

What cruelty-free brands have you tried? Any you'd add to this list? Let me know your thoughts!

Thanks Payton for sharing this! Payton is a lifestyle blogger over at intheflux.com where she talks about mental health, personal development, lifestyle and wellness topics. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

normal people sally rooney flatlay
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If you loved Sally Rooney's Normal People - you've devoured the book and adored the BBC TV adaptation - here are some similar books like Normal People, in one way or another, that are worth adding to your TBR. 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Like Normal People, An American Marriage is the story of relationships over time. Celeste and Roy are newly-weds and excited to experience the future together. When Roy is arrested and sentenced for a crime he didn't commit, their marriage takes a turn as they both separately try to navigate through life while Roy is in prison. You get a real, intimate look into a relationship with complications, pain and love. 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

If you're a fan of adaptations, Little Fires Everywhere has recently made its way to our screens as a TV series. Why not read the book and follow-up with the show? Elena Richardson, the mother of 4 and Lawyer's wife, lives in Shaker Heights, Cleveland where everyone follows the rules. When Mia Warren moves to Shaker Heights - mysterious artist and single mother- Elena grows curious of Mia's past. This book explores motherhood as well as relationships and social change. 

My Salary by Sally Rooney

Of course, if you love a book, read everything that author has written! Mr Salary is a short story written by Rooney. A 33-page story that managed to build some serious sexual tension between Sukie and Nathan who Sukie moves in with after her mother's death and her dad became difficult. If you're missing Sally Rooney in your life, be sure to pick this one up while we pray of the news of a new release soon. 

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

I highly recommend this new release for fans of Normal People because we see the protagonist Vanessa at different points in her life - moments poignant to the story - just as we see Connell and Marianne at important moments of their story together and apart. 

In 2000, 15-year-old Vanessa has sex with her 42-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane. 

2017 - with the rising number of sexual-abuse allegations against powerful men, a former student of Strane accuses him of sexual assault. Now, Vanessa has to face choices she didn't think she would ever have to make. How does she tell her story when she still feels love toward Strane? 

This is a difficult, yet necessary read that delves deep into Vanessa's thoughts as a bright, na├»ve teen to an adult. Covering issues of consent, victimhood, childhood trauma and more, this is such a well-written story that covers extremely important topics. 

Everything I know about love by Dolly Alderton

If you loved Normal People but now in the mood for some non-fiction. A funny yet heart-breaking book about love through life. This memoir from Dolly Alderton relives the moments of awful house parties, getting drunk, getting dumped. Bad dates and good friends. An honest, humorous look at love. 

My Fat, Mad Teen Diary by Rae Earl

Another book to TV adaptation but focussing more on the life of teens in the North of England. Set in 1989, Rae is 17 years old and from her diary, we live through the life of a teen - from bullying to crushes. While the tone is completely different from Normal People, it covers ideas universal to teens and is sure to be relatable for many. 

Have you read any of these? What did you think? 
Hope you're doing great, 
Sarah x 

care package ideas pinterest
When you're missing your friends, there's nothing that shows your appreciation more than sending them a little something. It doesn't have to break to bank, just a small gesture to show them you're thinking of them. A custom care package is a great way to do just that! If you're looking for some ideas for how to create a care package on a budget that is full of personalised ideas, this should help you out. Whether it's a quarantine care package, here is some ideas of what to put in a care package for a friend,

1. Pretty postcards

Whether you write a little note on the back of a cute postcard or it's a cute print that would look pretty on their pinboard, notecards are a perfect addition to a care package. The punnier the better - am I right? Paperchase postcards are always great or, why not check out some indie illustrators on Etsy. 

2. Hot chocolate & tea 

Keep them stocked up on their favourite hot drinks. Some single hot chocolate sachets are great. Send a mix of flavours and brands for them to try. For the tea drinkers, treat them to some calming tea bags you think they will love.

3. Stickers! 

If your friends are anything like mine with stickers all over their laptop, maybe they have room to squeeze a cute, new one on there. I pick all mine up from Red Bubble but there are some wonderful indie businesses like Minddaises, Katnipp Studios and Abbie Paulhus who have some beautiful stickers and prints, ideal for a care package.

4. Something crafty

A super-soft, super chunky ball of yarn and a set of needles is a great idea! Knitting is a really fun hobby and will be something a bit different in your care package. Alternatively, why not add a small embroidery kit? A little project to keep them busy. There are so many craft kit subscription boxes around as well that make a fun gift.

5. A personal playlist

Are they a music lover? Recommend them 10 new songs you think they'll enjoy just on a card or a piece of paper. Add some cute drawings and beautiful calligraphy - a small, inexpensive addition but really adds that personal touch.

6. A pre-loved book

I feel there's something special about passing on a book you loved - a personal recommendation. If you can't part from your copy, you can find second-hand copies around the web. Pick up one and save your pennies. Even second-hand, your friend is sure to appreciate it just as much as a new addition.

7. Snugly socks

Who doesn't love a pair of fun socks?! New Look always has fabulously punny socks that are always a fun extra. A care package staple really!

8. Candles

Lighting a candle always has a relaxing effect. Beware of their weight, otherwise, postage will cost a fortune! Maybe, stick to some little scented tea lights? They are great for around the bath or freshening up their room.

9. Hand cream

Especially at the moment but hand cream is a staple - you can't have enough. The body shop has great mini hand creams in a range of amazing scents. These are perfect to have in your handbag or just around the house.

10. A little snack (or two)

Put together a pick n mix of all their fave chocolates or sweets. Treat them to those lux chocolates they always look for. Cliff bars and cereal bars as well are sure to keep them happy! 

If you're building a care package, what would you include? 
Hope you're doing great, 
Sarah x