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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

Sephora Play: First Impressions

I signed up for Sephora Play because the email made me feel special. Yup, that’s all it takes to get me. I’m also doing better than anticipated on the money thing because I got a sweet tax return. Thanks, Obama!

Actually, I should thank Drexel. The only thing grad school is good for is the tax break, and you know, the higher earning potential.

Enough about me, let’s talk about Sephora Play. This is Sephora’s new subscription box, which sends out monthly beauty products that can also be purchased at Sephora.

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The theme for February was “Now and Later,” described as “lip tips, hairstyle savers, purse essentials […] for looking your best day and night.” Aside from one product I didn’t see much now and later. The majority seemed more… reapply as necessary.

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I liked the box and packaging overall, but the white paper left an unattractive white residue on the darker colored packaging of the items and it was surprisingly hard to wipe off. Mostly for that reason I’m going to just use brand photos of the items as opposed to individual pictures.  All prices are the full-size retail cuz fuck me if I’m going to math out what a sample is worth.

Tarte Lights Camera Lashes 4-in-1 Mascara, $21

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Woooo mascara. Didn’t even open this.

Lancome Drama Liqui-pencil in Noir, $23

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This is a good, black eyeliner pencil. Unfortunately for good eyeliner pencils and people who like a lot of text in a review post, there’s a lot more to be said about a bad pencil than a good one. I’m not going to run out and become a liqui-pencil convert… in part because I have enough black eyeliner samples to last my lifetime.

They do give instructions on how to pump up the eyeliner drama from day to night by going for a more dramatic wing, so I guess I see how this is a now and later item.

MUFE Rouge Artist Natural Lipstick in N9 (Copper Pink), $20

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God, I love MUFE lipstick (doesn’t everyone?). They just make such solid, wearable colors. I haven’t ventured very far out of their “my lips but better” shades and don’t own a single full-sized product by them, but they make a damn good lipstick.

Bareminerals Pop of Passion Lip Oil Balm in Plumberry Pop, $16

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Ignoring that something about the name “Plumberry Pop” makes me irrationally angry, this isn’t a bad product. The color isn’t intense, but it’s there (unlike Benefit’s posie balm…) and the forumla does feel creamy and hydrating.

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So here we have the swatches: Lancome Eyeliner, Bareminerals oil balm, and MUFE lipstick

Tom Ford Black Orchid, $45-$165

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This smells great but WTF at the price? A beauty expert says it is a scent for  “the person who doesn’t want to smell like everyone else,” or the person with a lot of extra money. As much as I do like this scent I don’t wear perfumes often and have a huge collection of scents that are rarely worn. I’m giving the sample to a friend who loves this scent though. Maybe I’ll make her write a guest post about her scent-hunting quest.

Bumble and Bumble Pret-a-Powder, $12-$27

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Greasy hair by the end of the day? Throw in some dry shampoo! This is the item that seemed most “now and then” to me. I’m keeping it but haven’t used it yet… it had the misfortune of arriving mere days after my first dry shampoo purchase. I’ve stuck this one in my travel kit, but haven’t traveled yet. Hopefully it’s not too hard to apply a reasonable amount.

So overall I liked Play! and am looking forward to March’s box: The Perfection Collection. I’m hoping there’s some kind of conturing product in the box so I can give that a try, I’m too wimpy to commit to a full-size kit!

I would recommend trying play if you like getting a variety of different items, love getting things in sample size, and have someone who takes your cast-offs. At this time it looks like there is a waitlist for Play! There are also no referrals for the program, unfortunately.

 

This Slacker Reviews Nadine West: June-August

I know, I’ve been awful. Part 2 of my summer break started today and I’m free from schoolwork until the 21st but I’ve still be incredibly busy bridesmaiding. I have so many posts that I need to make- I’m awful! Here’s my review of June, July, and August’s Nadine West shipments, plus a little update on the company itself.

Nadine West continues to be my favorite subscription service- though there are some changes I need to mention. But first, let’s look at two months worth of goods.

June was a pretty decent month for Nadine West. I almost kept everything!

Unfortunately this killer black necklace didn’t hold up superbly in shipping and a few of the rings holding it together had fallen out. Couldn’t justify keeping it with that knowledge.

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I have a silver bracelet very similar to this one… but I still kept this one because I think it’s such a fun design and I love a good bracelet.

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I also kept my first Nadine West top! It’s not work appropriate but it’s fun and comfy- plus it fits great!

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July was my first month dealing with Nadine West’s customer service. It was a positive experience that we’ll get to in a minute.

First, these earrings are adorable! I decided to keep them and have gotten so much wear out of them already. Arrows seem to be “in” right now, and blue is my favorite color. Adorable and perfect!

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This necklace ended up being sent back but it was a toughy. I loved the ancient, hammered gold look. I seriously felt very Mesopotamian trying this on and I did love it. But even with an adjustable chain it didn’t quite hit at a good spot for me and since I was hemming and hawing about it and not going “YES!” I decided to send it back, though I kind of wish I hadn’t.

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If this top had been a scarf I would have kept it. Alas the pattern was gorgeous but this cut was just NOT flattering. I carry my weight in my midsection, I don’t need to draw any more attention to that.

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As to why I contacted customer service… there were two tops listed on my invoice, and I had only received one. Since they bill on what is NOT sent back to them, I did not want to be charged for “keeping” an item I didn’t receive. So I emailed customer service with a picture of the top I did get and a picture of the invoice. Less than 24 hours later I had a response telling which top it was I had received and assuring me that I wouldn’t be charged for the one I didn’t. Awesome!

The pictures from August are exceptionally bad because my phone was in the process of dying and I had to send the package back before I got my new one.

August had a blue tank top that would have been much more fitting for the beginning of summer as opposed to the end. It was also an awkward cut. I was also trying to photograph it on my old phone and couldn’t get a decent picture of it.

The hammered metal bracelet was nice but I didn’t love it, especially having just kept another Nadine West bracelet, it didn’t seem justified.

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The necklace was glitzy and awesome (made me feel kind of like a sorority girl,  don’t know why!) and I was going to keep that but I didn’t think I’d wear it enough to justify $25. So this month was all returns.

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Which brings me to Nadine West’s new policy. Before, the shipments were free, you only paid for what you kept. Now shipments will be $7 which can be deducted from anything you plan to keep (so for a $10 you’d pay the $3 difference). I understand why they do this, and on the months when I decide to keep something then it’s totally whatever- I’m not actually paying any more money. But months like August where there’s nothing I want to keep I’m out $7- which is reasonable compared to most other subscription services but given how tightly I’m pinching my pennies because of vet bills…

I will probably stick with Nadine West because it brings me joy. If you’re interested even though it’s no longer free you can use my referral link to check it out!

Irreverent Reviews: Nadine West 2

I got a second April package from Nadine West! I am not sure if that takes the place of the May one, or is a special extra bonus, but I was super happy to receive two shipments in one month! Unfortunately, this didn’t have any must-have treasures for me, like the last shipment did.

Even though this package was a miss in terms of me keeping anything, I was still pleased with the quality and with the fact that they were sending me things I should like in theory (if Pandora has taught me anything, it’s that the stuff I like and the stuff I don’t like are a very thin line away from each other).

Let’s see what there was!

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I forgot to snap a photo of the invoice so I don’t have the names or prices for the items. Boo on me. This was a wrap bracelet that came in a nice little pouch and took a long time to get untangeled. It was long enough I could wear it as a necklace, and it didn’t feel like I could get it wrapped enough around my freakishly tiny wrists. I also wasn’t crazy about the way the little balls bunched.

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This necklace was also a tangled mess. It looks long but actually had a very short connecting piece at the top and really only hung at the top of my boobs. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

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This is not the same shirt as last time, I promise! Even though it is the same color. This one sort of crosses over itself, so the fabric in the lower right corner (of the picture) is different than the rest of the fabric. This was comfy and I liked it, but again, I didn’t love it and wasn’t really sure where I’d wear it.

So I sent everything back because there were no “loves” and I have too much stuff already to take on pieces that don’t make me scream “Yes, I need this!!” Overall I’m still happy with Nadine West. Not everything can be a win and the necklace I received last time was such an incredible high, it is hard to beat. They’re on the right track though, and that’s the most important thing to me, because I can be so picky.

Remember, Nadine West is free to get, you only pay for what you keep, so you can sign up using my affiliate link and get 3 pieces (on average) of clothes and jewelry delivered each month!

Plated Review: Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles

Plated, the food delivery subscription box, recently had a promotion and I was able to get six plates for the price of two. It was a great opportunity to try something new. I love cooking and trying new things, but I am the worst at grocery shopping and not super excellent at planning meals in advance. Plated sends you the exact right amount of everything and offers curated menus of dishes a little bit fancier than I’d usually think to try. As always, no one sends me free stuff, so I paid for this with my own money. The rest of the week, I’ll recap the recipes that I made from the subscription and let you know what I think.

Most recipes cost $12 a “plate” (serving) so it can get a little pricey. It’s definitely good as a treat, or I could see getting a large order if I was planning to entertain and wanted to try something different.

Let’s talk about the bad though, because the bad parts of this experience were very bad.

I had delivery set for Friday, which means we planned to make some delicious food on Friday 3/27. I got the shipping notification, the tracking number, everything. Nothing arrived on Friday. On Saturday we checked the mail around 4pm and there was nothing. I looked up the tracking number and saw that my box was labeled “out for delivery.” I sent LaserShip (the company used in my neck of the woods) an email request for more information, to which I still have received no reply. I then headed over to their FAQ page and found that they will sometimes deliver as late as 8pm, and in certain areas on Sundays. I called the number and the number provided is “not in service,” leaving me to bank on the email reply. I checked for the package again at 9pm and nothing was there. Sunday around 3pm I went down to check. The box was finally there! It was also open. This is absurd. It looked like it was only taped half way to begin with, as there were no cuts in the tape and tears in the cardboard, but I am unsure if it shipped like that or if a neighbor took the item off the porch, opened it, and then realized it wasn’t theirs. That’s why it would still be extra nice to hear back from LaserShip, to know what day my item was actually delivered. I discussed these concerns in my feedback to Plated. As it stands right now, I would not recommend Plated to anyone in an area that would have LaserShip as their delivery service.

My other gripe is with the subscription service- supposedly you can skip weeks, which is great because sometimes you go on vacation and with a box of fresh food you really want to be there to get it. We will not be home at all over Easter weekend, so I wanted to skip Friday’s delivery while I considered if I wanted another shipment (they had some great looking options) after clicking everywhere under all the available account tabs, I couldn’t figure out how to skip the 4/3 delivery… so I just canceled the subscription altogether.

What’s excellent about Plated is the food. Despite being delayed and opened, everything in the box was still fresh- and it was properly packed, the meat was placed BELOW the fresh vegetable ingredients so they would have been ok even if there had been a leak (there wasn’t). I had wanted to do a full unboxing, but was just incredibly anxious to get all my things into the fridge after the delayed arrival.

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We did the Crispy Lemongrass Pork with Long Life Noodles for our first dish, as it was the quickest and had meat (we want to use that up first, given the delay). The recipe cards plated provides are large and beautiful.

Pictured against a 15" computer screen

Pictured against a 15″ computer screen

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There are step-by-step instructions, as well as an ingredient list so you can recreate the recipe. Plated comes with the exact right amount of just about everything (except water, salt, and pepper). I almost wish there were a way to select items you already have in your pantry so those can be used up- the soy sauce packets weren’t any huge inconvenience but I have a ton of soy sauce already! Still it’s really handy, especially in dishes like this, to not end up with a lot of leftover “orphan” ingredients that you buy for one recipe and then don’t know what to do with- like lemongrass.

Lemongrass and Garlic

Lemongrass and Garlic

I was most impressed with the noodles- they weren’t the strange, wet packaged in water noodles I’ve had from some places, nor were they dried. They were fresh, lightly floured noodles, like they had just come off a pasta machine.

It the broth with the Chinese broccoli

It the broth with the Chinese broccoli

This meal was finished in less than half an hour! It could take less time if you DON’T turn the wrong burner on and melt half of your plastic cutting board to a glass lid, and if you have a nonstick pan that won’t try to claim the pork for its own.

Here’s the finished product:

Served in my Asian-esque Corningware bowls.

Served in my Asian-esque Corningware bowls.

We saved the garnish lime for my parents- they’ll use it to make capirinhas.

When/(if) you’re signing up for Plated you’ll have the opportunity to list any food dislikes/allergies/religious avoidances. They don’t allow you to get terribly specific. I had to blacklist all nuts just to avoid walnuts, but whatever.

I’m really torn between recommending this and not. I loved the food, it was a great way to try cooking something new. I enjoyed actually making the food! But I’m so disgusted about receiving an open box two days late. If it is something you want to try, and think the shipping in your area might be better, you can use my Referral Link. If they still have the promotion going

Blogging for Books: The Ballad of the Small Player

Meeeeeeeeh.

I squandered my spring break by thinking about all the packing I’ll have to do if we end up moving in June (you may need to stay tuned for a big announcement, you may not. Life is great like that). Now it’s the first day of my third term of grad school, I’m not quite halfway done but I’m getting there and it feels so good to be making progress. Something that I really appreciate about Drexel is that they very clearly lay out what classes you are supposed to take, making planning so easy to visualize (something that is truly relaxing to me).

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Empire finale. I lead an exciting life, folks.

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You know who else leads an exciting life? Not the main character in The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne.

I mentioned in my previous Blogging for Books review that I was trying to stay away from Western-Focused books written by white men. This book is a success if you really stretch my to meet my criteria. It’s by a white dude, about a white dude, but it’s set in Macau so I gave myself points for that. You are given a limited selection to chose from, so you need to make do with what you can get.

What does the publisher have to say about this book?

“As night falls on Macau and the neon signs that line the rain-slick streets come alive, Doyle – “Lord Doyle” to his fellow players – descends into his casino of choice to try his luck at the baccarat tables that are the anchor of his current existence. A corrupt English lawyer who has escaped prosecution by fleeing to the East, Doyle spends his nights drinking and gambling and his days sleeping off his excesses, continually haunted by his past. Taking refuge in a series of louche and dimly lit hotels, he watches his fortune rise and fall as the cards decide his fate.
 
In a moment of crisis he meets Dao-Ming, an enigmatic Chinese woman who appears to be a denizen of the casinos just like himself, and seems to offer him salvation in the form of both money and love. But as Doyle attempts to make a rare and true connection, all that he accepts as reality seems to be slipping from his grasp. 
 
Resonant of classics by Dostoevsky and Graham Greene, The Ballad of a Small Player is a timeless tale steeped in eerie suspense and rich atmosphere.”

Osborne is a perfectly competent writer. I have read some really boring books where the prose was just too dense, or too sparse, or whatever. Not here. Osborne is competent and knows his way around writing. And Osborne seems like an incredibly interesting person. His author bio on Random House reads: “Lawrence Osborne is the author of one previous novel, Ania Malina, and six books of nonfiction, including the memoir Bangkok Days. His journalism and short stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Newsweek, Forbes, Tin House, Harper’s,Conde Nast Traveler, and many other publications. Osborne has led a nomadic life, residing for years in France, Italy, Morocco, the United States, Mexico, and Thailand. He currently lives in Istanbul.”

Unfortunately, this book is still dull.

Set in the casinos of Macau (and Hong Kong? I think?), Small Player follows Lord Doyle, a Grade A scumbag with a gambling addiction and Dao Ming, the hooker with a heart of gold.

Doyle’s hit it rich by siphoning money from an old woman, a client from his former lawyer days, back in England. He faces no consequences for these actions, unless you count his bad luck. He squanders all his money, runs into Dao Ming (who he meets at the very beginning of the book) and she manages  to pay off his debts and save him from deportation, and then I skipped from chapter 17 to chapter 19 because nothing was happening, and then from chapter 19 to 21 (the final chapter) because still nothing was happening and then I counted the book as read. Pretty much nothing happens. Lord Doyle squanders his fortune, he begs some money off of another gambling addict, Dao Ming swoops in and saves the day, the he wins all his money back but misses out on true love or something. Supposedly the supernatural is involved (per the book jacket) but all I could count was the constant references to luck.

In order to enjoy a book, I have to like a characters. This doesn’t mean I think the characters should be “likeable”, I don’t need to want every character to be my bff, but I need to enjoy their presence. The best example of this feeling that I can give is the villains in the Redwall series. These villains are bad, they are evil, they are despicable, they deserve everything that is handed for them and I cheer when they are brought to their knees. But I still love them. Chapters from the villain’s POV are incredible and just as enthralling as the rest of the book, I may welcome their demise but I love to see them try and fail to enact their dastardly plans. I don’t like the characters in the sense that I support their cause or actions, or want to be friends with them but I like reading about them because they are developed, motivated, and exciting. Lord Doyle and Dao Ming are neither of these thing. Grandma is the most exciting character in the book but she doesn’t feature prominently at all.

Maybe I am just not the right audience for this book. I’ve been in casinos and I even won big once*. I don’t find casinos that exciting. They’re loud, flashy, and overstimulating and really kind of sad in a weird way as everyone is so isolated and so unaware of their surroundings. But I thought a gambling addict hitting rock bottom could be interesting. I thought Macau could be an intriguing setting. I thought a lot of things, but this book was just dull.

Unless casinos or disgraced Englishmen are your fetish, I do not recommend The Ballad of the Small Player. 2 out of 5  stars.

*$12.50 at a slot machine. 50 cents of pure profit, baby!.

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