Book Review: Haunted by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Haunted
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Women of the Otherworld, Book 5
Publisher: Spectra Books
Paperback: 495 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Former supernatural superpower Eve Levine has broken all the rules. But she’s never broken a promise–not even during the three years she’s spent in the afterworld. So when the Fates call in a debt she gave her word she’d pay, she has no choice but to comply.

For centuries one of the ghost world’s wickedest creatures has been loosed on humanity, thwarting every attempt to retrieve her. Now it has fallen to Eve to capture this demi-demon known as the Nix, who inhabits the bodies of would-be killers, compelling them to complete their deadly acts. It’s a mission that becomes all too personal when the Nix targets those Eve loves most–including Savannah, the daughter she left on earth. But can a renegade witch succeed where a host of angels have failed?

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Eve has always been an interesting character to me, and was made even more so from the last book, where we meet her in the ghost world and she helps Paige. So, I was happy when I found out that the next book in the series followed her as a main character. She’s the sort of badass heroine who takes an incredibly pragmatic approach to situations; she sets her own moral standards and lives by her own rules. If a person is a bad person, kill them. Killing isn’t morally justified? Says who? That’s sort of Eve’s stance on a lot of situations.

This story is more of a thriller than anything else — an evil possession demon is on the loose; one who gives her host courage and power to do horrible things like go on a serial murder spree or shoot up a YMCA. She’s been running rampant for centuries, possessing such famous killers as Lizzie Borden, among others. In exchange for them helping page, the Fates have called on Eve to return the favor by helping them out and catching this demon. Along with the chase and investigation, we get lots of Eve and Kristoff moments; he still loves her and wants to make an afterlife together with her — one they never got while living, but she’s still hesitant. One of the best parts of this book is Eve’s slow acceptance/realization of just how much she loves this man.

It’s a fun read that had some nice plot twists while also staying within the realm of possibilities (though it’s a really, really big realm for this series). Eve has taken the place of one of my favorite characters ever. I’m not as invested in her relationship with Kristoff as I am with Paige and Lucas, but I like her overall way more than I enjoy any of the other characters. She’s just awesome and smart and complicated and really, really fun to have as a main character. As always, familiar characters make their appearances throughout the course of this story, and it’s always fun to see them from another character’s perspective. With the thriller aspect and the amazing characters Armstrong has created, you really can’t go wrong with this series, and this book is no exception.

Beauty Review: Paul Mitchell Lavender Mint Shampoo and Conditioner

I have fine hair that is susceptible to buildup and getting oily, along with a dry scalp, which is not the greatest combination of things. My skin in general tends to be very sensitive, so it’s hard to find products that don’t irritate it. While I hate spending a fortune on personal care products, sometimes it’s important to spend some money to take care of yourself, and that’s what I did when I bought Paul Mitchell Lavender Mint Shampoo and Conditioner from Ulta.

First, this stuff smells amazing. When I use it, I’m always smelling my hair, or brushing it to release the scent, or telling my husband to smell it. It’s the perfect combination of scents and it is heavenly. Second, it’s works so, so well for my hair and scalp type. I feel like it actually gets my hair clean which a lot of the drugstore brands like TRESemmé and Pantene Pro-V do not. When I use the drugstore brands, my hair is left feeling heavy and my scalp is dried out. After using this, it feels clean and soft and luxurious, like I just took a trip to the hair salon. I feel my hair getting healthier and my dandruff is going away (finally!). The shampoo is $35 for a liter and the conditioner is $38.50 for a liter, so overall, it’s a bit more expensive than a lot of us would like. In order to get a lot out of it, I try to wash my hair every other day, or even sometimes switch off with the cheaper stuff like TRESemmé once in a while so I’m not quickly using it all up.

Just a note for shoppers who like putting their wallet where their activism is (I know I do!): Paul Mitchell is also cruelty-free (they refuse to sell in China, where it is required to test products on animals), this shampoo/conditioner in particular is safe for colored hair and it’s vegan! I love it when brands listen to consumers to become more conscious of how they make their products.

So, if you’re having some dandruff/scalp issues and you think it might just be a matter of dry skin, definitely give Paul Mitchell Lavender Mint Shampoo and Conditioner a try; I have certainly fallen in love with it. It’s the right amount of moisturizing that will take care of your skin and help your hair become soft without getting too oily. In general, mint does wonders for irritated scalps, so if this doesn’t sound like your thing or is a tad too expensive, look for something with mint in it.

Book Review: All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Title: All Our Yesterdays
Author: Cristin Terrill
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Hardcover: 360 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

What would you change?

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it… at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.

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Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I am a sucker for time travel books, always have been, always will be. The fact that this particular time travel book is paired with a sort of sci/fi thriller element? Sold. This story has two timelines: the future timeline, which is about two young adults who are stuck in a time loop, desperately trying to make sure that time travel itself is never invented, because it led to a lot of killings, some wars, and turning the US into a police state; one man is responsible for that: the Doctor, who invented the machine that allows people to travel back in time. He is keeping these two prisoner for reasons that become clear later in the story, interrogating them and torturing them for information. The past timeline is about Marina and James, two neighbors who have been best friends since forever, who are faced with a tragedy once James’s brother is assassinated.

It’s so hard to talk about this without spoiling everything. I think the structure lends itself well to the story, and though I think some of the twists are predictable, it’s still a genuinely entertaining and exciting. Everything flowed together nicely, and because of that it was a quick read! I didn’t have to waste any time in trying to figure out what was happening or going on; it all just worked. Also, this is a GOOD time travel book in that the time travel itself isn’t explained in too much detail; some authors go to far in making it scientific or realistic, but this gives a simple explanation for paradoxes and moves on. Because it’s not too detailed, it doesn’t seem weird or too convenient.

I love that the romance aspects were done in moderation; there’s no making out or weird love scenes while the characters are in danger or need to escape. Mostly, it’s just two people supporting each other and being invested in the other’s well-being, and I am all for that. It’s nice to see a realistic portrayal of what a romance would actually look like in a high stress situation.

More than anything, though, the characters are absolutely wonderful. The premise of this novel is a look at what choices mean for each of our lives; how we are shaped by our environment and the people around us, and how even the smallest decision can change that environment, which in turn enacts upon and changes us. This is all reflected in the portrayal of the characters, and it’s done beautifully. I’m guessing this is going to be one of my favorite YA reads for this year (yes, it’s early, but it’s so good!), and if you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, I highly recommend you think about doing so.

Beauty Review: Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer

I got this as a free sample from Ulta when I finally restocked on some Paul Mitchell shampoo, and I have to say that I’m not impressed. I typically use the bareMinerals Prime Time foundation primer ($25/oz), which is smooth and silky and I feel like it provides a nice surface for my foundation to glide on over my face. Not so with the Smashbox Photo Finish foundation primer, which I’m glad I didn’t actually purchase, because it’s more expensive than my normal brand, at $36/oz.

Putting it on feels nice — it has that same silky feel and I did feel as though it moisturized my skin a bit. I let it set for a few minutes and when I put the foundation over it, it was a complete mess. The foundation settled into my pores and felt almost gunky getting it on my face; it didn’t smoothly glide on at all. After I was finished with it, I almost just wanted to go without makeup, it looked so bad. Definitely going to stick with my bareMinerals and while I love Smashbox lip gloss and lip lacquer, I’m wary of trying anything else from them, this was such a disaster.

Book Review: Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever by Patrick J Buchanan

Title: Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever
Author: Patrick J Buchanan
Publisher: Crown Forum
Hardcover: 336 pages
Source: Netgalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From Vietnam to the Southern Strategy, from the opening of China to the scandal of Watergate, Pat Buchanan–speechwriter and senior adviser to President Nixon–tells the untold story of Nixon’s embattled White House, from its historic wins to it devastating defeats.

In his inaugural address, Nixon held out a hand in friendship to Republicans and Democrats alike. But by the fall of 1969, massive demonstrations in Washington and around the country had been mounted to break his presidency.

In a brilliant appeal to what he called the -Great Silent Majority, – Nixon sent his enemies reeling. Vice President Agnew followed by attacking the blatant bias of the media in a fiery speech authored and advocated by Buchanan. And by 1970, Nixon’s approval rating soared to 68 percent, and he was labeled -The Most Admired Man in America-.

Then one by one, the crises came, from the invasion of Cambodia, to the protests that killed four students at Kent State, to race riots and court ordered school busing.
Buchanan chronicles Nixon’s historic trip to China, and describes the White House strategy that brought about Nixon’s 49-state landslide victory over George McGovern in 1972.
When the Watergate scandal broke, Buchanan urged the president to destroy the Nixon tapes before they were subpoenaed, and fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, as Nixon ultimately did in the -Saturday Night Massacre.- After testifying before the Watergate Committee himself, Buchanan describes the grim scene at Camp David in August 1974, when Nixon’s staff concluded he could not survive.

In a riveting memoir from behind the scenes of the most controversial presidency of the last century, Nixon’s White House Wars reveals both the failings and achievements of the 37th President, recorded by one of those closest to Nixon from before his political comeback, through to his final days in office.

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

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

Woo-boy!  Ok, so a couple of disclaimers up front.  I am definitely a left leaning person politically (if not a bit more than leaning) and was honestly mostly interested in this book to learn more about Watergate.  That being said, I also just have a fascination with history and have been trying to learn more about all the presidents since I discovered the Washington Post’s Presidential podcast a few months back.  I also have heard people compare the current White House to being most similar to Nixon’s so I was curious about that as well.  All of this is leading to say I hated this book so much.

I genuinely wanted to learn from this book.  I wanted to know more about Nixon than just the scandals.  I wanted to hear a well thought out justification for some conservative policies that I generally find abhorrent.  Unfortunately, it seems the primary purpose of this book is for Buchanan to simultaneously take a victory lap for being the genius that got Nixon elected and was behind every move that could be conceived of as good by him and at the same time bemoan how unfairly Nixon and therefore he was treated throughout the presidency.  Again this is ok.  I get it he is telling his part of the story and naturally most people make themselves more of the protagonist in their own stories, but it gets very tiresome after a while to hear that if Nixon just followed his advice he would be seen as the greatest post-war president.

However, even this is not what drives me to dislike this book.  For that, I have to credit Buchanan’s abilities to take political potshots at current politicians and situations in a book about the Nixon years.  At one point he brings up Bill Ayers and the Weathermen and cannot resist the urge to bring back the attack on President Obama from 2008 that he was friends with him.  He also does not ever explain why his conservative views (which he is very proud of being the rightest of right wingers in the administration) were correct, but instead just insists that the idea of the silent majority proves that these views are politically worthwhile.  Again, he brings up current events by saying that the only people who are still allowed to be discriminated against are white males (I almost threw my kindle) and then proceeded to say that the rise of Donald Trump shows this is true.  To be fair to him, his goal was probably not to explain his views in the book and it reads a lot more like political strategy than actual political theory, however, I think it makes it very hard to engage anybody who does not share his views since the book is so aggressive and sanctimonious about how correct all his political ideas are without offering much justification.

It was somewhat fascinating to read someone actually try to defend Nixon when it came to Watergate.  Again he casts himself as a hero, saying that if he was listened to Nixon would not have been forced to resign.  He also makes the point that the whole investigation was started over leaks which are also illegal which sounds eerily similar to arguments being made now about investigations into the current administration.  Again, to give the book some credit it was fascinating to read someone have these views and also to see the inner workings of a White House that hated the press, especially since Buchanan was tasked to deal with this in a lot of ways.  My advice to you would be if you can overlook his hack-y, conservative-cable-news style that this book is kind of an interesting read.  If not, stay away.

Book Review: The Travelers – Book One by DJ MacHale and Carla Jablonski

Title: The Travelers
Authors: DJ MacHale & Carla Jablonski
Series: Pendragon Before the War, Book 1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Hardcover: 240 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Before Bobby Pendragon.
Before Saint Dane.
Before the war . . .

Every territory of Halla has a Traveler. They lived for years—some even for decades—before learning of their true destiny. What was life like for Bobby Pendragon’s fellow Travelers before they joined him in the fight to save every time and place that has ever existed? What led up to their becoming the guardians of Halla? The answers are here!

In this first of three thrilling Pendragon prequels, read about Vo Spader’s death-defying adventures in the underwater world of Cloral, Gunny Van Dyke’s race to find a murderer in 1930’s Manhattan on First Earth, and the tough challenges Kasha faced on Eelong well before Bobby Pendragon arrived . . .

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a cute collection of side stories of the various Travelers before Bobby became one. This edition features Kasha, Spader, and Gunny, and offers a little insight into their lives before Bobby and Saint Dane arrived. The stories go by quickly — I feel like they’re written at a much lower level than the main series, and offers interesting perspectives to each character. Kasha starts wondering that maybe the humans that serve her species are intelligent and capable of emotion after all; Spader finds common ground with a person who was his rival at the Academy; Gunny helps keep a young boy who’s just lost his father on track while also trying to track down a murderer. All very different stories!

It’s been a while since I’ve read these books, so it was a little hard to get back into the worlds. This was definitely written for someone who is already in the midst of the series, since it gives very little background information on the worlds or characters. Because of that, I can’t see anyone who hasn’t read the main series at all enjoying this series. It’s purely for nostalgic value and a way to revisit old friends before they become embroiled in a war with Saint Dane.

Overall, it’s a fun, fast read. Fans of the series will enjoy this, but they’re also not at all necessary to enjoy the main series as a whole.

Beauty Review: Clinique Rinse-Off Foaming Cleanser

This was another gift from my mother-in-law, who stocked me up with Clinique samples a few weeks ago. Now, this was great because I typically use the Neutorgena Cream Cleanser for my daily face wash, so I was interested to see how this compared. While Neutrogena makes no claims about being able to get all the makeup off your face by using it (which is good, because it certainly wouldn’t!), the Clinique cleanser claims to be able to remove long-wearing makeup, sunscreen, and basically anything you have on your face.

For what it claims to do, this cleanser actually does a pretty good job; I wear a lot of waterproof, long-lasting makeup, so it wasn’t able to get all of that off, especially the gel eyeliner, but it did better than most other cleansers I’ve tried. As a bonus, it’s creamy and didn’t dry out my skin too much when I use it. The heavy-duty make-up removing cleansers tend to strip my skin of moisture, but this has a balance between being effective and being gentle. Because of the foam, it doesn’t take a whole lot of it to do the job, which is a definite benefit, because this stuff runs fro $20 for 5 oz, as opposed to $7-$8 for 6.5 ounces from the similar Neutrogena product.

Is it worth it? I think so! I wouldn’t use it as an every day wash, because of the price, but when you feel like your skin needs a little pampering, I think this is a great cleanser to invest in to give it some extra care. Especially if it’s a heavy makeup day and you don’t want to kill your skin by using a lot of makeup remover and then washing it a few times with cheaper cleanser. I’m quickly becoming a fan of these Clinique skin care products — I might just have to rethink my bias towards not buying Clinique makeup.

Book Review: Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

Title: Gregor and the Code of Claw
Author: Suzanne Collins
Series: Underland Chronicles, Book 5
Publisher: Scholastic
Hardcover: 412 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Everyone in the Underland has been taking great pains to keep the new prophecy, The Prophecy of Time, from Gregor. Gregor knew from the beginning that it must say something awful, but he never imagined just how awful: The prophecy calls for the warrior’s death.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a decent ending to an overall pretty good series. I feel like the later books don’t quite capture the magic of the first ones, but overall, it was a nice wrap-up that answered most of my questions without tying it into too pretty of a bow and leaving the future up to the reader’s imagination.

Code of Claw is the final battle of all the battles they’ve done in the Underland — the only problem is that the prophecy they’ve been following says that the warrior must die — which means that Gregor has to not only prepare for the end of the war, but also has to deal with the fact that everyone (including himself) believes that he will die in the war. For the most part, this creates a nice conflict where Gregor has to come to terms with his actions and his life; yes, he’s too young for that, but it leads to great character growth and helps him resolve a lot of the things that have been bothering him. It also causes some outside conflict where the leaders of the Underland are worried that he’ll run away to escape his death, so they’re keeping a close eye on him and assigning guards so that he can fight to win the war. I did like the fact that Gregor’s other sister has her time to shine in the Underland — every other one of his family members contributed in some way to the Underland’s struggle, and this time it was her turn, which was awesome. Her character also brought out some new dimensions in Ripred, which was also great to see.

The one thing that bothered me was that this novel a little too introspective. I expect the last book of a series to be exciting and dramatic (especially when there’s an ongoing war), and I didn’t get enough of that in this book, because too much time was spent on Gregor trying to figure himself out. So, I do think there could have been a better balance between the war and Gregor’s inner character growth.

Overall, however, I greatly enjoyed reading this. Some parts felt like a slog, but this is a great book that deals with the meaning of family, friendship, and love, while also touching on aspects of courage and selflessness. I would recommend it for people who love adventure books; it is most suited for early middle grade readers.

Beauty Review: Clinique Moisture Surge Extended Thirst Relief

My mother-in-law is a hero and picked up some Clinique Moisture Surge Extended Thirst Relief for me when a department store she visited was having a special. I’m not a huge fan of Clinique makeup — their foundation just doesn’t do it for me, and I haven’t found their products to be all that exciting, but this changes the game. This is a moisturizer that is intended to hyper-hydrate your skin for 24 hours. It’s supposedly made for all skin types and can also be used as a moisture mask or over makeup.

This stuff is no joke. It is heavenly. The cream-gel formula is silky and luxurious and beautifully lightweight. Just a dollop was able to completely moisturize my face and get it ready for the next day. Walking around in a city is super drying for my skin, and when I add makeup on top of that, I’m in for a lot of recovery work. Not when using Clinique Moisture Surge, though. My skin looked FANTASTIC after using it as a moisturizer. It also wasn’t oily at all — my skin is crazy and is often really dry but has a hard time actually soaking up any moisturizer, so if I do try to moisturize it, it just ends up looking oily. Not so with Clinique Moisture surge. It just looked dewy and gorgeous. (I can’t wait to try this after flying!)

It’s on the spendy side — $52.50 for 2.5 ounces, but it should last a while. The tiniest dollop goes a long way, so for me, I’m thinking it might be worth the investment — maybe not as an everyday moisturizer, but as something to have when my skin decides it’s not happy with the weather or environmental conditions. If you can get a sample of it before spending a lot of money, or want to try the smaller size (Sephora has a 0.5 oz one for $12), I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot! It’s wonderful.

Book Review: I Love My Computer Because My Friends Live in It by Jess Kimball Leslie

Title: I Love My Computer Because My Friends Live in It
Author: Jess Kimball Leslie
Publisher: Running Press
Paperback: 240 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Love My Computer Because My Friends Live in It is tech analyst Jess Kimball Leslie’s hilarious, frank homage to the technology that contributed so significantly to the person she is today. From accounts of the lawless chat rooms of early AOL to the perpetual high school reunions that are modern-day Facebook and Instagram, her essays paint a clear picture: That all of us have a much more twisted, meaningful, emotional relationship with the online world than we realize or let on.

Coming of age in suburban Connecticut in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Jess looked to the nascent Internet to find the tribes she couldn’t find IRL: fellow Bette Midler fans; women who seemed impossibly sure of their sexuality; people who worked with computers every day as part of their actual jobs without being ridiculed as nerds. It’s in large part because of her embrace of an online life that Jess is where she is now, happily married, with a wife, son, and dog, and making a living of analyzing Internet trends and forecasting the future of tech. She bets most people would credit technology for many of their successes, too, if they could only shed the notion that it’s as a mind-numbing drug on which we’re all overdosing.

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

For those of us who are part of the generation that remembers the internet suddenly being a thing in their pre-teen/teen years and embracing it wholeheartedly, I’m sure we can all relate to what Jess Kimball Leslie’s thoughts and feelings about growing up in a sudden digital age. When I saw this title, I had to read it, because I am definitely a computer geek and very proud of it. This is a collection of essays that details Leslie’s personal experiences about how her social life has been shaped by the internet while also giving some brief historical details about how the internet was back in its early days.

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