Book Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

Title: Things I Should Have Known
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcout
Paperback: 320 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From the author of Epic Fail comes the story of Chloe Mitchell, a Los Angeles girl on a quest to find love for her autistic sister, Ivy. Ethan, from Ivy’s class, seems like the perfect match. It’s unfortunate that his older brother, David, is one of Chloe’s least favorite people, but Chloe can deal, especially when she realizes that David is just as devoted to Ethan as she is to Ivy.

Uncommonly honest and refreshingly funny, this is a story about sisterhood, autism, and first love. Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan, who form a quirky and lovable circle, will steal readers’ hearts and remind us all that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

We are not supposed to judge books by covers or at least that is how that platitude goes, however, the cover for this book was a large factor as to why I picked it up.  I found the description of the book to be an interesting one, and adding in another element to a typical YA book of having an autistic sibling related to the main character drew me in.  I thought it was clever playing with the title on the cover to change the tense of when the character should have have/did “know” these important things.  I was a little let down by this idea not coming up more in the book itself.

Let me start with what I think is my really positive takeaway from the book.  I think that the autistic characters in the book were written very well and respectfully.  There is some interesting nuance used both in developing those characters themselves and, maybe more strikingly in the book, the way that family members interact with these characters.  Any time the book was focused on these relationships I was really interested, and I think that it did a wonderful job portraying these things.

Unfortunately, I found the rest of the novel to be a bit boring and predictable.  I did not particularly like the main character Chloe and think that although there is some growth throughout the book she starts off in such a ludicrously stereotypical place that this character growth doesn’t feel satisfactory.  The same can be said about her dating life in the book.  Things are not just telegraphed but explicitly stated at times in the book in a way that makes them feel a bit inevitable and like a slog to get through.  I kept hoping that something would happen to subvert this or at least be propelled forward in an interesting way, but at least in my opinion it did not.

That is not to say the book was entirely predictable.  There were a few moments that genuinely seemed to work against the overly simplistic and predictable nature of the majority of the book which were greatly appreciated.  For that reason, I think the book may be one that high school students would enjoy reading.  The more I think about it, the more I feel my criticisms may come from a place of not being the target audience.  Overall I would say it is decent but definitely not something I would go out of my way to read.

Book Review: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Title: Cork Dork
Author: Bianca Bosker
Publisher: Penguin Books
Paperback: 352 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Like many of us, tech reporter Bianca Bosker saw wine as a way to unwind at the end of a long day, or a nice thing to have with dinner and that was about it. Until she stumbled on an alternate universe where taste reigned supreme, a world in which people could, after a single sip of wine, identify the grape it was made from, in what year, and where it was produced down to the exact location, within acres. Where she tasted wine, these people detected not only complex flavor profiles, but entire histories and geographies. Astounded by their fanatical dedication and seemingly superhuman sensory powers, Bosker abandoned her screen-centric life and set out to discover what drove their obsession, and whether she, too, could become a cork dork.

Thus begins a year and a half long adventure that takes the reader inside elite tasting groups, exclusive New York City restaurants, a California winery that manipulates the flavor of its bottles with ingredients like Mega Purple, and even a neuroscientist s fMRI machine as Bosker attempts to answer the most nagging question of all: what s the big deal about wine? Funny, counterintuitive, and compulsively readable, Cork Dork illuminates not only the complex web of wine production and consumption, but how tasting better can change our brains and help us live better.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.*

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Andrew and I started learning more about wine when we first read The Judgment of Paris by George M. Taber. Once we started earning money from having jobs (rather than being rather poor full-time students), wine became a favorite drink of ours to start off and end our weekends. We were fascinated with the history of winemaking and the culture that surrounds it. We’ve lately taken our drinking a step further and joined a wine club where we very rarely drink the same bottle twice — we love trying new wines, seeing what they pair with, and comparing them to other wines we’ve had. So, when I saw Cork Dork available on Netgalley, it seemed like the perfect fit.

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Beauty Review: Formula X Full Strength Nail Polish – Pink Prowess

I love nail polish and recently started trying to build up my nail polish collection in an effort to save money by doing my nails myself — when Sephora  had a sale on these, I had to try them out! Unfortunately, Sephora recently stopped selling these, but you can find great deals for them right now on Ebay.

I’m very neutral about this nail polish. While I think the color is fairly pretty, it’s sort of plain by itself. It’s incredibly creamy-looking and brushes on rather thickly — I only needed one coat for complete coverage! You definitely need a top coat for this one, first to add some shine, and second to protect it. I experimented with it and the nail polish started to crack and chip almost immediately after it dried. The color itself is kind of weird. Too pink for me to wear “just because,” but something that would definitely work with the right outfit/look.

Live shot of the nail polish at work (please excuse the very messy pinky)

In terms of the strengthening effect it’s supposed to have on your nails, I would say that it’s not a miracle worker by any means, but it certainly doesn’t weaken the nails like many nail polishes do. I think that’s sort of the trade-off between how creamy/chip-able it is.

Overall, I’d say this is fine. If you get it on sale, like I did, it’s a pretty good bargain. A slight step up from a drugstore brand. But, it’s nothing I would pay top-dollar for.

Book Review: Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Industrial Magic
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Women of the Otherworld, Book 4
Publisher: Spectra Books
Paperback: 528 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Paige Winterbourne, a headstrong young woman haunted by a dark legacy, is now put to the ultimate test as she fights to save innocents from the most insidious evil of all…

In the aftermath of her mother’s murder, Paige broke with the elite, ultraconservative American Coven of Witches. Now her goal is to start a new Coven for a new generation. But while Paige pitches her vision to uptight thirty-something witches in business suits, a more urgent matter commands her attention.

Someone is murdering the teenage offspring of the underworld’s most influential Cabals—a circle of families that makes the mob look like amateurs. And none is more powerful than the Cortez Cabal, a faction Paige is intimately acquainted with. Lucas Cortez, the rebel son and unwilling heir, is none other than her boyfriend. But love isn’t blind, and Paige has her eyes wide open as she is drawn into a hunt for an unnatural-born killer. Pitted against shamans, demons, and goons, it’s a battle chilling enough to make a wild young woman grow up in a hurry. If she gets the chance.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

While I am usually very strict about only reading series in order, for some reason, I’ve skipped around in this one a lot. Maybe because different books are from different perspectives? Anyway, I picked this up after being away from this series for a while, so it took me a bit to figure out exactly where I was in each character’s storylines. Having already read sequels, I must say it was way too much fun meeting Jaime the necromancer for the first time. Her first impression is as ridiculous and wonderful as I wanted it.

This book is a fun mystery/thriller with supernatural aspects involved, and of course, it includes all of our favorite characters from the Otherworld series; I love that the werewolves make an appearance in this novel. (Since the series started with Elena, I have a feeling that she and Clay will always be my ultimate favorites.) But I really would recommend this book for thriller lovers, I kept referring to it as the “supernatural serial killer” novel I was reading, and it fits so perfectly. Basically, Paige and Lucas agree to help the Cabals (supernatural mafia-like groups) to help find the person who’s been killing teenagers of Cabal employees. It follows the typical thriller-style of stories where they think they have the whole thing solved, but it turns out that they were missing a couple pieces of the puzzle, which makes for an interesting, surprising read.

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Beauty Review: Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk

I have always wanted to love dry shampoo, but I have never found a brand that worked for me; a lot of the drugstore shampoos, like Garnier Fructis or Herbal Essences, just didn’t work for my fine hair. They left too much residue, or left my hair with that sort of lank, unwashed feel to it, even though it didn’t look oily. Or, it tried to hard to smell “fresh” and had an overwhelming perfume-type odor. I resigned myself to just suck it up and wash my hair every day, not wanting to deal with spending money for a product that didn’t work.

I caved last week when I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep and was too exhausted to do much else but get my lunch and coffee ready for the next morning and roll into bed. I couldn’t even bring myself to hop in the shower to wash my hair. Now that I’m earning a bit more money, I’m able to spend a little more on beauty products, so I searched for the best dry shampoos, especially for my fine hair and sensitive scalp. Yes, Klorane is expensive at $20 for a 3.2 oz bottle at Sephora, but I was going to try just one more time, and if the expensive one didn’t do it, I’d be done with dry shampoo forever.

Luckily, Klorane is so, so different from the dry shampoos have tried before.

Just a couple of sprays, and my hair looked like it had just been washed; the volumizer in the shampoo lifted it just enough to not have that lank look I hate so much, but it didn’t volumize it so much that it looked like I just flipped upside down and hairsprayed my hair. It was a little sticky, so it definitely felt like there was product in it, but again, not to the point where it bothered me. The smell is very subtle and pleasant, and it didn’t irritate my scalp at all, which was a plus. It worked so well, that my hair looked ready to go even the morning after I used it.

I’m so excited to have found a shampoo that works for me, and it’s going to save me a couple of hours every week of unnecessary showering, which is a great plus. So, even if dry shampoos haven’t worked for you in the past, maybe you should give this one a shot!

*As a note, if you color your hair, make sure to get dry shampoo that is made specifically for color treated hair — this is not one of those.*

Book Review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Title: Masque of the Red Death
Author: Bethany Griffin
Series: Masque of the Red Death, Book 1
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Hardcover: 319 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population, and those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery makeup . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club, and Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find not just something to live for, but something to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This was a huge hype book when it came out, so I was excited to (finally) pick up a copy and read it. I enjoy Edgar Allan Poe’s short story that this is loosely based upon and was interested to see what sort of world Griffin would create around that idea — especially one that would hold up for an entire novel and its sequel.

Masque of the Red Death is basically a post-apocalyptic dystopia rather loosely set in Victorian times, with some steampunk elements to it; for example, Araby and her friend April ride in steam-powered carriages, created because horses died from the plague that killed off most of the population in the city. While Poe’s short story focused on the Prince Prospero’s parties and how he locked everyone up to escape the plague, this story mostly focuses on outside Prince Prospero’s castle and what’s happening while he hides from the city’s problems. We get to briefly meet him and hear about him because April is his niece and Araby is the daughter of the scientist who invented a mask filtration system that allows the rich to go outside and survive.

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Beauty Review: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Peel Extra Strength Daily Peel

This daily peel is supposed to combat aging skin and wrinkles, and is also said to help with some acne. Basically, it uses 7 safe-to-use-at-home acids to exfoliate and smooth out your skin. It comes in pre-soaked pads, so you don’t need to measure anything, just pick up a pad, rub it on your face. Wait 2 minutes. Take a step 2 pad, rub that on your face. And voila! Beautiful skin.

This stuff did work for me and didn’t at all irritate my skin like I thought it was going to. As I always warn in skincare reviews, I have very sensitive skin. I thought this would cause a lot of redness, like my prescription acne creams used to, but it didn’t at all! It just gave me very smooth, healthy looking (and feeling) skin. I’ve only used it for a few days, so I can’t attest to its amazing anti-aging properties, but it has definitely given me smoother, softer skin. However, this is something that you’ll have to use regularly in order to enjoy the benefits. There are some products out there that say you can use them daily, but I feel like it’s unnecessary because the effects last long enough. This is not one of those. After a full day of living (working, being outside, doing chores, etc), you’ll need another treatment. I’ve heard some people say they use this as a boost to their regular routine and only use it 2-3 times a week. If you have a really good cleanser/toner system that you’re already using, I can see how only using it 2-3 times a week would work.

The one con about this is that it’s definitely medicinal. Don’t think that just because it has a cute orange color theme that it’s going to smell citrusy and give you that feel-good feeling when you pamper yourself with products. It smells like medicine. But, it’s a great product and it WORKS. It costs about $84 at Sephora for 30 treatments; if you want a better deal, you can get 60 for $148, which slightly lowers the pre-treatment cost.

Book Review: Console Wars by Blake J. Harris

Title: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
Author: Blake J. Harris
Publisher: It Books
Hardcover: 576 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Following the success of The Accidental Billionaires and Moneyball comes Console Wars—a mesmerizing, behind-the-scenes business thriller that chronicles how Sega, a small, scrappy gaming company led by an unlikely visionary and a team of rebels, took on the juggernaut Nintendo and revolutionized the video game industry.

In 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the video game industry. Sega, on the other hand, was just a faltering arcade company with big aspirations and even bigger personalities. But that would all change with the arrival of Tom Kalinske, a man who knew nothing about videogames and everything about fighting uphill battles. His unconventional tactics, combined with the blood, sweat and bold ideas of his renegade employees, transformed Sega and eventually led to a ruthless David-and-Goliath showdown with rival Nintendo.

The battle was vicious, relentless, and highly profitable, eventually sparking a global corporate war that would be fought on several fronts: from living rooms and schoolyards to boardrooms and Congress. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-holds-barred conflict that pitted brother against brother, kid against adult, Sonic against Mario, and the US against Japan.

Based on over two hundred interviews with former Sega and Nintendo employees, Console Wars is the underdog tale of how Kalinske miraculously turned an industry punchline into a market leader. It’s the story of how a humble family man, with an extraordinary imagination and a gift for turning problems into competitive advantages, inspired a team of underdogs to slay a giant and, as a result, birth a $60 billion dollar industry.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I came across this book a while ago and, growing up in a hardcore Nintendo family, I was interested in learning the history behind Sega and Nintendo, especially since I was a kid in the 90s and while I don’t quite remember how Sega became a thing, I remember it being novel to me when one of my friends said they had a Genesis rather than an SNES. It’s been sitting on my to-read list for quite a while and my interest in it was renewed when my husband (who’s way more knowledgeable about video games than even I am, and that’s saying something) decided to read it as one of his summer reads. After not too much cajoling by him, I finally picked it up to read it.

Console Wars is interesting, because while it mostly follows Kalisnke, who was the CEO who got Sega to become a household name, it’s not told in any sort of biography or memoir format and mostly heavily focuses on marketing, the partnerships between the different gaming companies, and the games/systems themselves. So, if you’re not interested in the history of video games or how feats of marketing can completely change a company, this book is very much not for you. I studied marketing at university, so reading the different techniques the companies used to get ahead was fascinating. Also, like I said, I come from a hardcore Nintendo family and grew up playing the NES and SNES (if I remember correctly, actually, my family purchased every single system Nintendo came out with), so it was fun to see things from the “competitor’s” side and also read about how Nintendo responded to what was happening.

Overall, this gives a fairly comprehensive look at how Sega and Nintendo originated and also touches on the history of some well-known video gaming companies like Electronic Arts and Namco. I love that the human element is included and we get to learn about who the people are that drove video game innovation, even while so many were saying that it was bound to die. It was a slow read for me, but I very much enjoyed the steady pacing and the sheer volume of information that this book contained.

Beauty Review: Korres Greek Yoghurt Foaming Cream Cleanser

I love cream cleansers, because my skin has a tendency to be flaky, and I feel like these do the job while also keeping my skin a bit more moisturized than a normal gel cleanser would. The Korres Greek Yoghurt is super foamy and a small amount goes a long way — I just used a pea-sized drop and it worked for covering my entire face. It felt very gentle and silky against my skin, and my skin felt a lot better than it usually does after a wash with the Neutrogena cream cleanser. I think this one leaves less residue or something, which makes sense, because it goes for $26 for 5 oz. Not a terrible price, but when you can something similar for $5, it’s something to think about.

It didn’t blow my socks off or anything, and it doesn’t seem to be ruining my skin or helping it either — it is saving on moisturizer, because I don’t feel the need to slather it on my face after using it, so there’s that. I have very sensitive skin, so if you’re looking for a decent cleanser, this one could be a good one to try and see if it works for you.

Reading Aloud to Grandma: A Story

My book addiction started as a hobby — not something that was a large part of my life, but a thing that I enjoyed doing when nothing else was going on. It strengthened the older I got, and by the time I was about eight or nine years old, I was hooked. My sisters and I spent a lot of time at my grandma’s house in those days, since my parents worked nights, and I would bring over an entire stack for the evening, “just in case.” Even now, I always have a charged Kindle and a physical copy or two, “just in case.” And just in case of what, I couldn’t really tell you. A dull moment? My reading speed becomes phenomenal and I finish a whole book in a free fifteen-minute period and have nothing to do for the next five minutes? I really don’t know. All I know is that I never want to be without a book, so I bring extras, in case the book I bring doesn’t work or is whipped away by a hurricane or something. I know it sounds crazy, but hey, I’m a book addict: I’m kind of crazy when it comes to books.

I’m not sure what led up to the conversation about reading, but my grandma in some way mentioned something about me reading, so I asked her what books she liked to read. Partly, I was truly interested in what she might like. But mostly, I was looking for guidance. In those days, I exclusively read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and was perilously close to finishing the shiny, yellow and blue hard-backed series. I figured that my grandma had already read Nancy Drew, since she probably finished them at my age (as I imagined was the case for all the adults in my life). So, I threw the question out there, looking to see what might come next for me.

“Oh, honey, I don’t read. I can’t see the words very well,” my grandma replied.

My mouth dropped open at the same time my heart broke. She didn’t read. The words played over in my head like some sort of horror movie tagline. My grandma didn’t read. I was no longer concerned about a post-Nancy Drew world, because this, this was a true catastrophe. How did she get through the dull moments in life? What did she do with her time? How could she not read? To not fall in love with characters and become friends with them, to not solve daring mysteries, or go on adventures with them — how? I really didn’t understand that sort of life or that sort of world, and I felt overwhelmingly sad for my grandmother. How could she live such a deprived life? I had to fix it for her. This sort of thing could not stand — I would not let my own grandmother suffer, if I could help it. “Come here, Grandma,” I said, patting the spot next to me on the couch. “I’m going to read this book to you.”

It’s funny, being an adult and looking back at your thoughts as a child. I knew, I was absolutely certain, that not being able to read was a misery for grandma. She probably cried about it at least once a week, wishing her eyes were better so she could live a better life. It never once occurred to me that maybe reading wasn’t a priority for her, that she could have found a way to enjoy stories if she really wanted it. No, she was suffering from lack of books and never mentioned it, because she didn’t want to be a bother. But I was having none of that.

Luckily, my grandma was accommodating and aimed to please her granddaughters, because she got right up from her super comfortable recliner to sit next to me on a semi-comfortable couch and listen to me read. I’m not sure exactly what our first book out of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series was, but that’s what started a years-long tradition of us going over to grandma’s house and reading to her. Usually it was me who did the reading, but my two sisters also joined and took turns. Sometimes, it would be all four of us, sitting on the couch or outside, listening to the adventures of Nancy Drew, sometimes just three while a sister played the PlayStation, and sometimes, it was just me and grandma. We went through almost the entire series of Nancy Drew, a good portion of Hardy Boys, the first 4 books of Anne of Green Gables, and the first 3 books of Harry Potter (my sisters eagerly joined in for those ones). And my grandma once again experienced the joy of stories. (As a kid, I truly believed in this sentiment, though I will say that she genuinely loved Anne of Green Gables.) I’m not sure how much of it was her indulging me, how much was her just wanting to spend time together, or how much she really even enjoyed the stories, but until she moved away to Oregon when I was fourteen, there was always some reading time built into our visits together.

Now, there are babies in the family that I can read to. They’ve quickly figured out that storytime is a guaranteed from me — I will never say no to a child who asks me to read a story to them. And at family gatherings, I’ll be curled up in the corner with a couple of the kids, a nephew, niece, or cousin, reading them whatever book they thrust into my hand. We’re often caught by one of my sisters or my parents, who rolls their eyes and smiles when they see what we’re up to. “Of course,” they mutter.

But I can’t help but notice that even though they were most likely sent to fetch us, they sit down right next to us and take the next reading shift, unable to drag themselves away from sharing a story with the family.