Blogging for Books: Here and Gone

This is going to be a short review, for a short book.

Or maybe I should use the word “concise” for both.

here and gone

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck is a tight thriller that works very well, despite being somewhat different than advertised.

Audra is a former addict who, in trying to get her life back together for her children, realizes that she needs to leave her abusive marriage, so she packs up the kids and heads to California. When she’s pulled over in middle-of-nowhere Arizona, drugs are found in her car and when she arrives at the station and asks where her children are, she is told that there were no children in her vehicle. And thus begins a national news story that attracts the attention of Danny a former(ish) gang member who remembers a similar story from his own life and sets off to uncover the truth.

The blurb (and perhaps my description) made this thriller sound more psychological, and that’s what attracted me to the book. However, you know the entire time that Audra’s children were taken (you follow them along and some chapters are written in son Sean’s perspective). From the get-go you know exactly who the villains are, who the good guys are, and where everyone is. In that regards, there’s no suspense. Honestly even in terms of the ending, this book did not feel suspenseful, it was incredibly predictable, you can pretty much guess the outcome before you even hit the halfway mark.

But don’t confuse my saying that it’s not suspenseful with me saying that I didn’t enjoy it! I did enjoy Here and Gone. Beck knows how to write a story that doesn’t get dragged down with filler. This book gets straight to the point and never lulls or drags, which is why this book works so well and is so enjoyable.  The book doesn’t give you time to get bored.

This book would not have suffered from taking longer, building more suspense, and fleshing out this underworld it deals with (though blessedly, while child abuse is hinted at and heavily implied, nothing explicit ever happens in that regard- you don’t need to be explicit for your audience to get the hint and feel the urgency of the situation… looking at you Game of Thrones!). This book doesn’t suffer from being the length that is, as fast-paced as it as, and as concise as it is. If you want a light, unambiguous thriller to check out as summer draws to an end, I can safely recommend Here and Gone as a quick read.

3.5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Advertisements

Blogging for Books: The Book of Esther

I’m back! And I’m starting with a long-overdue book review. But it’s ok, because I just finished this book a week ago! It was, shall we say, a slog and a half. The only reason it got finished was because I had to much plane/airport time in the past two weeks, because I was barely 100 pages in for a year. Yeah, an actual year. I put more time into wondering if I should just write the review as a “did not finish” than try powering through. But I am glad I powered through.

book of esther

The Book of Esther by Emily Barton references the Biblical book of Esther, wherein (in a gross oversimplification) Queen Esther saves her people from Genocide and lays the basis for the Jewish holiday Purim. The Book of Esther is about Esther, the daughter of a Royal Adviser, who sees the impending threat World War II poses to Jewish culture and sets out to, well, stop a genocide. The book is written in a magical realism style and plays on concepts and place names and traditions to create a kind of alternate reality.

And fails to engage.

Esther bat Josephus decides to leave her home in Khazaria and find a group of Kabbalists who will hopefully change her into a man so that she can join the fight against Germania. Khazaria references a real kingdom which historically was located between the Black and Caspian seas in an area we’d now know as “Caucus states.”

Barton explains absolutely nothing, however, and my own research into Khazaria didn’t really translate into insight when it came to reading the book. I am not Jewish by faith or heritage but I’ve felt that I have a pretty decent layperson’s understanding of the faith, especially the mystical (Kabbalah) side of things just because of my interest in studying religions. It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong about that, but I think it’s equally possible that Barton just failed to show OR tell anything about the world she was trying to create.

Another area where Barton fails is weaving in the magical realism. I am a huge fan of magical realism and that’s a genre where I do feel that I have strong footing. A magical realism novel set during WWII and focusing on a Jewish perspective sounded like a truly, well, magical, recipe to me. But more than enchanted I was confused. One of the big “characters” in the book is Seleme, Esther’s “mechanical horse.” Which is mostly described just like a motorcycle, but actually is supposed to be a horse that is mechanical?

There are plenty of interesting threads in the book that don’t come to fruition. Esther is a teenager growing into womanhood and questioning and testing her relationship to her faith and society as she grows and begins exploring her place in the world and her sexuality. This goes nowhere.

The book has a transgender* character who is intended to (I think) represent the difficulty of managing a desire for knowledge in a restrictive and gender-segregated society, but it goes nowhere. Also this character is just the absolute WORST and part of a totally useless, underdeveloped love triangle that kind of dances around Esther exploring her sexuality but just never commits to it in any capacity.

* Using the term ‘transgender’ feels a little wrong here, the character does undergo a change but the motivation is less “I was born in the wrong body” and more “these doors are closed to me unless I am a man,” which is the same motivation behind Esther’s quest to transition. I didn’t get the impression that either character, least of all Esther, would consider this kind of change in a society without those restrictions. This seems like an oversimplified (though certainly respectable, especially historically!) view of gender identity. But I cisgender so maybe I’m getting this all wrong too.

Things I did like: the pigeons, the exploration of religious devotion and sentience that was explored in the golems, the theme of uniting people from all different backgrounds to help the common good.

2 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Blogging for Books: The Naturalist

Just in time for Father’s Day, Blogging for Books gives me the chance to get the daddiest of dad presents.

roosevelt

This is only the second time I’ve used this platform to gift books I otherwise wouldn’t read, and it does diversify my reviews.

President Theodore Roosevelt is my dad’s favorite historical figure, and he is always looking for new TR books. Unfortunately for my dad, he doesn’t care that much about the presidency, but he is 100% here for reading about Amazon explorations and Teddy’s work creating our natural parks.

So thanks, Darrin Lunde, for saving me an awkward trip to Lowe’s!*

Lunde, a Smithsonian employee, uses The Naturalist to take an interesting look at T.R.’s relationship with the great outdoors and the impact that had on his political career.

This isn’t one of my great areas of interest so it’s hard to rate the book. Certainly it was well-written but I had a hard time getting through it because I just didn’t care that much. However, if your dad is like my dad and has tried to style their life around being Teddy Roosevelt, I think this book will be a hit.

Basically, if TR or political histories are your bag of ducks, then I think this book will be a hit. If you’re like me and you’d rather read about society ladies having seances, it’s not going to have much WOW factor.

The book retails for $28 (hardcover). It can be purchased from Penguin’s website, but I suggest you hit up your nearest brick-and-mortar bookstore to snag this one for dad before his big weekend.

 

 

*I spoke too soon, after writing that intro a bat got into our apartment and I had to go to Lowe’s and ask a sales associate “which of these gardening gloves looks like they could best withstand a bat bite?” Spoiler Alert: They don’t rate for that.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Blogging for Books: Mother, Can You Not?

canunot

I first learned about @CrazyJewishMom from the New York Times. I’m not a Times subscriber but my bff gets the Sunday paper and I was drinking coffee on her couch and took advantage. I checked out the Instagram because of the article, and stayed because I saw a lot of my mom in CJM (despite the fact that we’re gentiles).

While I still follow the account, I quickly became disenchanted with it. CJM is a “drone parent” and the similarities between Kim Friedman and Momma IotI were too much in a negative fashion. When this book came up as an option, I expected to hate read it.

So I settled down on Mother’s Day to devour Mother, Can You Not? and it painted a far, far more sympathetic picture of Kim and daughter Kate‘s relationship than I had imagined possible. I still think CJM might need to get a grip, texting your daughter 100 times in one day is just not normal, it’s clear that this mother and daughter have a relationship that is built on love and respect, even if it’s a strange kind. Kate’s anecdotes about how her mother shaped her life are understandable even by those not familiar with the CJM phenomenon, and I think Kate does have a knack for writing and I’m interested to see where she goes next. It also really sympathized Kim, who in my mind had been cast as the villain in Kate’s life. I guess I was really projecting.

My favorite story involves stealing a cat from an animal shelter… I guess that’s when I felt like CJM was someone I could relate to.

There are stories that give me cringey, secondhand embarrassment that don’t entirely paint the relationship in a good light (Kate’s photoshoot, for example), but overall Mother, Can You Not? is a tale of two women who actually understand each other.

And I respect that. And actually enjoyed this book.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

[and in honor of my own fraught maternal relationship, here is the song I think best sums up what we have. “Nail in My Coffin” by The Kills]

Sephora Play! March Box

This was a great box! There were seven items total: three I love, two I haven’t tried, 1 I don’t care for, and we’ll talk about the 7th in a minute.

Didn’t bother photographing this myself. Again, the paper they use as padding makes everything super dusty and while the boxes are nice the stuff just doesn’t look that great inside it. Still love it, though!

Kat Von D Tattoo Liner in Trooper $19

s1177567-main-hero

I love this liner! Love love LOVE it. This is my favorite liquid liner, hands down. The sample size has the little foamy tip, but I love the brush tip on the full-size. Perhaps it’s because that’s what I “trained” with, but I find the brush tip easier to use.

Fresh Soy Face Cleanser $38

s487694-main-hero

I love this cleanser! I had never tried it before, but needing a new cleanser for my travel bag, I threw this in before a recent trip to NYS. It smells so good, like fresh grass and other scents, it cleans amazingly, and it left my skin feeling great. One thing that didn’t make it into my travel bag was a make-up remover, and this definitely took care of my raccoon eyes the next morning. In fact, trying this cleanser in the Play! box convinced me to take the Fresh duo (includes this and a rose face mask) as my birthday present, instead of the Marc Jacobs liner and lipstick. And I’m usually all about that liner and lipstick!

Sephora Collection: Perfectionist Airbrush Sponge $12

s1676758-main-hero

So I love this, but technically haven’t tried it. At least, not this one that was sent to me specifically, but I got a set of Sephora beauty blenders for Christmas, so I know I like this. I went years being too cheap to invest in one, and now I have 5. None of which I’ve specifically purchased. How great is that? I don’t know the nuances of sponges, but the Sephora brand ones seem pretty good to me.

Maison Martin Margiela “Replica” Beach Walk $25 (Rollerball. $135 for 3.4 oz)

s1687839-main-hero

I mean, it’s not like this is bad scent or there’s anything wrong with it. I just don’t care. It’s supposed to “to evoke a familiar but forgotten moment—a walk along a sandy beach.” but “bergamot, coconut milk, lemon, pink pepper, and musk” aren’t smells that make me think of the beach. Sunscreen, sand, salt water, rotting seaweed and a hint of something fishy are my beach-smell memories (guess who isn’t a beach person?) and like I said, this is fine and unoffensive but whatevs. I can’t even care enough to emphatically dislike it.

Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield $80

s1818533-main-hero

Moisturizing + Priming + SPF??? I haven’t tried this yet but it’s hitting all my wants and needs! Too bad about that full-size pricetag though. I know Murad is a great brand but this would have to last a long ass time and basically change my life to get me to switch from the awesome primers that are half that cost.

Smashbox Photo Finish Primer Oil $42

s1783224-main-hero

I love Smashbox’s regular Photo Finish Primer. It was the first-ever review I did for this blog! So I’m optimistic that this will be great, but a little concerned about the “oil” aspect. I know Oil cleansing is supposedly a great thing, and I’ve had great success leaving oil treatments in my hair overnight and rinsing them out in the morning. And sometimes I use a quick spritz or Argan oil as my face moisturizer, so we’ll just have to see how this works. I’m apprehensive yet optimistic.

The Final Item

Finally, there was a tiny little tub that you can take to the Sephora store and get a sample of a liquid foundation. When I unpacked the box one of my cats (I have my suspicions as to who…) promptly stole the little tub. Whatever, I don’t feel too bad. I prefer a powder anyways.

This box was definitely a hit for me! I haven’t received April’s box yet, but it’s looking pretty good and I can’t wait to try it!

Blogging for Books: The Witch of Lime Street

The Witch of Lime Street is a non-fiction book for those of us with a pretty specific niche interest: turn on the century Spiritualism.

This is the first book I’ve come across that discusses the complicated “frenemy” relationship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.

Just in time for their new show on Fox!

That Houdini casting is on point. I am so ready to nitpick historical inaccuracies in this. So. Ready.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Witch of Lime Street focuses on Houdini, a medium known as Margery (Mina Crandon), and Scientific American’s quest to find a true medium at the height of the 20th century’s spiritualist movement. Two key historical characters in the narrative are noted believer, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and noted skeptic, magician Harry Houdini. The two came together as friends who believed legitimate communication with the dead was possible and came apart as historical frenemies.

lime street

Let’s first discuss that the book cover glows in the dark. It is perfection.

The Goodreads consensus seems to be “good topic, boring book” to which I heartily disagree. I haven’t technically finished the book yet, I’m too busy having panic attacks about grad school to read for pleasure, but less than 100 pages from the end and I can say that I’ve been thoroughly engaged the whole time.

That’s what makes me think this book is not for those with a casual interest in Spiritualism/the Occult. This isn’t a high-academia text, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m so engaged because I’m reading about a topic that I love and have actually lectured on. This is my jam, yo. I think it’s a well-written book, broken up into perfect little nuggets that really capture the cultural attitude towards mediums and the cult of celebrity that followed them (and also Houdini!).

One thing I really appreciated about this book was the treatment it gave Houdini. The man was a skeptic and is often portrayed as someone who simply wanted to bust some medium balls. Houdini’s relationship with the spirit world was far more complex than that, and he wanted to believe in a way Jaher makes  palpable. It was Houdini’s desire to be proven wrong himself that fueled his anti-medium campaign.

David Jaher’s biography doesn’t tell you much about his background with the subject, but I came across a Reddit AMA he did about the book and reading through that I can tell that this man has really, really done his research- above and beyond what appeared in the book.

For me, this book was the perfect intersection of academic research and relatable writing. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Spiritualist movement.

 

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Irreverent Reviews: Edoughable

Are you like me, are you obsessed with cookie dough? Does making cookies usually not result in a finished product? Do you buy the premade tubs of the stuff, eat the damn thing in one sitting, and then wonder why something that says “don’t eat this raw” has made you feel ill?

Our days of suffering may be over, friends- I have discovered Edoughable!

Edoughable is a ready-to-eat cookie dough company that was founded by people like me, people who just want to eat some damn dough. They have a variety of flavor offerings ranging from the tried-and-true favorites to inventive novelty flavors.

My Valentine’s present to myself was their “Just-a-Taste Box,” (16.95+ free shipping!) two 4-ounce containers with your choice of flavors. I picked “chocolate chip off the ol’ block” and “snickerdude.” They only ship their fresh-made products out twice a week, so I’ve been plotting my cookie dough buying for months, and finally I was going to be at home and with weather that felt safe to have a perishable food item delivered to my porch by the unreliable postal service in my city.

I ordered Friday and they arrived Wednesday which I think is a great turn around time. I was so excited to dig in and try my cookie dough!

You’ve probably already guessed that this is going to be a positive review, I didn’t really frame this post with a lot of mystery. But I will say that when I got my first taste of the chocolate chip version, it tasted a bit sour. Not in a “spoiled” way, but it wasn’t a totally awesome piece of cookie dough. And I was sad.

HOWEVER “snickerdude” is phenomenal!!! Which makes me think that perhaps I just got a slightly off batch of chocolate chip, or perhaps I don’t like the brand of chocolate they use. Because Snickerdude tastes like a perfect piece of cookie dough, I’m a-okay with endorsing this company and am right now, as we speak, ordering another taster box so that I can try their “lady in red velvet chip” and which one?? s’mores? birthday bash? It’s so hard to decide! Maybe I’ll even hold off on posting this review until afterwards!

UPDATE EDIT: I got “Lady in Red Velvet Chip” and “Birthday Bash.” Both are phenomenal, neither has the slightly sour taste “Chocolate Chip Off the Ol’ Block” had.

The sizes in the Just-a-Taste box are smaller than the “normal” sizes (4oz as opposed to 8oz for a standalone tub and the “I’m popular” box) but 4oz is still a decent amount of cookie dough, especially since it is a perishable item that won’t last forever. It’s not a cheap product, but it’s delicious and small batch and I feel better about supporting Edoughable than I do about buying those Tollhouse tubs that don’t even want me to eat them raw anyway.

So this is my endorsement of Edoughable, are there other edible cookie dough places out there? Let me know!