Review: Akar Skin Balance Toning Mist

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What It Is: Toner

What It Does: Helps tone and balance skin.

Active Ingredients: Rose, Neroli, Saffron, and White Willow Bark

Verdict: If you’re one of those people who has always avoided toners because you’re afraid of alcohol stripping you away of essential skin oils, then throw away all your fears with this toner! This toner isn’t alcohol-based, but rather it uses soothing floral waters to hydrate AND keeps oily skin under control. I’m a bit picky when it comes to toners, they need to feel as though they’re getting rid of any dirt or grime there might be, but at the same time, I don’t wish my skin to feel like it’s dangerous to be near a match cause of the high alcohol content. I recommend this toner if you’ve got normal to combination skin. The only downside to this toner? Its hefty price. If you can splurge, the toner is worth it. If you can’t, then Pixi has more economical options.

Price: $55

Where To Buy It: www.akarskin.com

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Book Review: Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

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Keep a fire burning. A fire is what saves you – that’s what she always said. She tried and tried to tell me. This time I’m finally listening.

Release Date: July 7, 2020

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Publisher: Delacorte Press

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

Grade: B+

Review:

This is Powers’ sophomore novel and although I enjoyed her debut very much, and there were elements I loved about this book, as a whole, I didn’t think it was as strong as Wilder Girls. The book is being marketed as Children of the Corn meets Sharp Objects. And maaaaybe there’s a slight similarity, but apart from the book being mostly set in cornfields, there’s not much to suggest that it has the creepy religious vibes that Children of the Corn had. And that’s okay, however, sometimes the way publishing houses promote novels leave you wondering if they have actually even read the book.

First of all, let me just state that Powers is a master class in prose. Her writing is beautiful and she does an awesome job at creating a feeling of disquiet terror in the reader. There’s something unsettling and you know that there’s something not quite right about Fairheaven when Margot reaches her destination, however, we don’t what it is. I know of figured out what was happening, and I did enjoy all the body horror elements of the story.

Where the novel fell short for me is the fact that it would’ve benefited if there has been more of a backstory and history of Phalene (the town where the story is set). Because I feel that the story would’ve been richer with more info about the town in the past (there were some details provided but they felt very scarce). Another place where the story fell short for me was that the side characters were barely there and we hardly got to know much about them. I would’ve liked a bit more scenes between Tess and Margot, or at least to see a deepening of their friendship/relationship.

The novel is paced much like a horror film, where events take place in a span of a week. I wish the pacing hadn’t been so rushed, because I wanted Margot to feel more conflicted about her relationship with her grandmother had she gotten to know her better over a period of time. Maybe the story should’ve spanned a month or so. I just feel like we spent so little time with the characters and I was enjoying the book and would’ve have minded a longer novel (maybe another 50-60 pages more, nothing crazy).

Margot’s mother also stresses the importance of burning a candle at ALL TIMES. And although fire comes into the picture once again in the novel during a pivotal scene, I feel like the meaning fo the candles and fire wasn’t fully explained as it could’ve been. There should’ve been an entire mythology built around why a candle should always be burning at all times.

Overall, I did enjoy the book very much and it did a good job at creating a creepy atmosphere as well as explore a highly dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship.

I recommend this book if you love rural horror combined with lush descriptions.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

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What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried….

Release Date: June 30, 2020

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Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

Grade: A

Review:

This novel has been receiving a lot of buzz in the past few months, and with good reason. Thrillers for me are always a hit or miss since some thrillers latch onto the systematic formula and then I’m capable of figuring out the killer 30% into the book. This book is different though. We know the narrator is unreliable, but at the same time, we also know that everyone else we meet is just as unreliable. Plus, we’re given memories that we’re unsure whether they’re true memories or merely false memories. Thing is, I could never truly tell what was going on in this novel and that’s a good thing! I like being puzzled and pretty much suspecting EVERYONE for murder rather than it being easy and having the one creepy person in the book be the killer.

I rather enjoyed the varied story-telling that was provided in the book. The past was told in the first person present tense by Anna, a girl who bears a striking resemblance to the dead girl in question, Zoe Spanos. While the present is told in the third person and we also get a podcast transcript. So the book has a lot of variety in story-telling.

The book is marketed as being a cross between Courtney Summer’s Sadie and the gothic novel Rebecca. This is what this book has in common with those two novels: Sadie: There’s a missing girl and the book is told in podcast transcript 50% of it. But that’s where the comparison ends. Rebecca: The protagonist loves to sketch, so does Anna. The protagonist is also a middle-class girl who marries a rich widower. Anna is a middle-class girl who is hired to be a nanny during the summer for a wealthy family in the Hamptons. The novel Rebecca is plagued by the memory of Rebecca and the maid who is obsessive about her. This novel is plagued by the memory of Zoe Spanos and her ex-boyfriend’s mother who is obsessed with her. Again, this is where the comparisons end.

I Killed Zoe Spanos is a taut thriller and has you second-guessing every character in the novel and for that I LOVE IT. This thriller is twisty and will leave you guessing, and like I said, NO ONE IS SAFE. Anyone could be the killer and trying to figure out what exactly happened to Zoe Spanos that fateful New Year’s Eve night will have you reading way past your bedtime.

Read this if you love twisty thrillers with unreliable characters.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Review: Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack

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What It Is: A deeply cleansing and detoxifying mask to help manage excess oil.

What It Does: Detoxifies oily skin.

Why It’s Special:

-Creamy, White Kaolin Clay gently cleanses, while vitamin-rich leafy greens and superfruit antioxidants nourish the skin.

-Minimizes the appearance of pores, so skin looks balanced with a velvety, clean matte finish.

-Draws out excess oil and impurities, particularly good for oily or combination skin types.

Good To Know: Allergy tested, dermatologist tested, appropriate for all skin types, appropriate for sensitive skin, fragrance-free, paraben-free, cruelty-free, and vegan.

Verdict: Glossier are best known for their skincare products, since their company motto is: Skin first, makeup second, and because of that I may have expected much more by their face mask. I don’t think the face mask is bad per se, but since it’s supposed to be clarifying, I was hoping that the clay at some point would’ve hardened more than it did and extracted some gunk as past clarifying masks have done (notably the Tony Moly one). I suppose since I have highly oily skin, I wanted a face mask that could temporarily dry out the oil. However, this face mask seems to be designed to clarify and moisturize. What that means is that when the clay dries down, it never makes your skin feel tight and when you wash it off, your skin feels silky smooth. So for that respect, the face mask works well, especially if you have sensitive skin. However, since my skin is very oily I was hoping for something that would leave my skin feeling a little dried out and clean. I recommend this if you have sensitive skin but need a clarifying mask. If like me, you’re on the oilier side, I’d recommend you invest in a charcoal face mask instead, as that will do the trick.

Price: $22

Where To Buy It: www.glossier.com

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Book Review: Livingston Girls by Briana Morgan

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“I see something in you, Miss Abbott, something I recognize. The potential for greatness, for channeling magic. For bending the world to your will.”

Release Date: March 24, 2020

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Price: $12.84

Plot Summary:

After an affair with her teacher, Rose’s parents ship her off to Livingston Academy, a stuffy all-girls’ boarding school. Ashamed of her past and herself, sixteen-year-old Rose just wants to chill, pass her classes, and make friends. The last thing on her mind is becoming a witch…

Until the enigmatic headmistress gives her the chance to join a coven secret from the rest of the school. Desperate to prove herself and looking for a purpose, the headmistress’s offer seems too perfect to pass up.

Rose puts on her metaphorical pointy hat and becomes a Livingston witch. She quickly discovers that the other witches don’t want her in their group—especially because she’s filling their dead friend’s space—but if they can’t band together, the witch-hunting headmaster of the boys’ school will kill them.

Meanwhile, Rose struggles to understand her growing feelings for her roommate, who may or may not hate her guts.

You know, typical boarding school stuff.

Grade: B+

Review:

Confession: I love witches, especially when they’re more along the lines of the movie The Craft. This book ha everything I enjoy about witch novels: a boarding school, a terrible reason why the protagonist was sent to the boarding school in question, and witches! Oh yeah, and there is a lot of queer rep too, so that’s awesome.

Rose Abbott ends up going to boarding school because she had a relationship with her teacher. Now, she’s ready to start anew and willing to make new friends, even if her new friends happen to be part of a secret coven.

I wished the author would’ve delved more into the history of the coven, although seeing that this book is going to be part of a series, perhaps more will be revealed in book two and book one was more of a stepping stone.

I do appreciate that the author didn’t try to sell Rose’s relationship with her teacher as love, but rather, Rose’s friends helped her see that she actually had been taken advantage of and that helped her grow and move on. It’s important for teens reading books like these to realize what is happening if they’re ever in a similar situation, rather than to misguidedly sell the unbalanced relationship as impossible love, as often is the case in my experience reading other books in the past.

Pros: I loved the queer/bisexual rep, I loved the diverse characters, I loved how poetry was used as a means to cast spells, and I loved the strong female friendships in this novel.

Cons: More fantasy-based than horror (meaning this is more like Harry Potter than The Craft).

This book will be your cup of tea if you ever wondered what a Dead Poet’s Society/Harry Potter mashup would ever look like.

*Thank you so much to the author for the hard copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Poetry: California Wildfire

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Our first kiss was in the depths of a

Fetish Room

It was summer, the time of year

For love to blossom like wild daisies

We burned bright and dangerous

A forest fire gone rogue

Suddenly, I felt more daring

Not thinking about tomorrow

The killer of passion

All I wanted to think about

Was how your kisses

Ignited fireworks in me

Exploding into the brightest colors

Whenever we were in the same room

We transformed into a danger zone

Our flames devouring the walls

And although our hearts had

No fire escape to lead us out

We kept on playing Russian roulette

Loading our guns with six bullets

Because death by love

Was ultimately better than

A slow, tedious death.

***

Did you enjoy this poem? You can find this poem and many others in Bleed Like Me: Poems for the Broken

Celebrate National Poetry Month!

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Book Review: The Vinyl Underground by Rob Rufus

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“Be whatever you have to be to get to the edge of the cliff. It doesn’t matter how you get there, what matters is you jump.”

Release Date: March 10, 2020

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Publisher: North Star Editions

Price: $11.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

During the tumultuous year of 1968, four teens are drawn together: Ronnie Bingham, who is grieving his brother’s death in Vietnam; Milo, Ronnie’s bookish best friend; Ramrod, a star athlete who is secretly avoiding the draft; and Hana, the new girl, a half-Japanese badass rock-n-roller whose presence doesn’t sit well with their segregated high school. The four outcasts find sanctuary in The Vinyl Underground, a record club where they spin music, joke, debate, and escape the stifling norms of their small Southern town. But Ronnie’s 18th birthday is looming. Together, they hatch a plan to keep Ronnie from being drafted. But when a horrific act of racially charged violence rocks the gang to their core, they decide it’s time for an epic act of rebellion.

Grade: A

Review:

I can’t even begin to explain how much I LOVED this book to pieces! The protagonist, Ronnie is still reeling from the death of his older, charismatic brother Bruce, who passed away while fighting in Vietnam. Not only is he dealing with that tremendous loss, he’s also having to deal with the very real possibility that he too will be drafted for the same war. Truth is, Ronnie doesn’t believe in this war and wants nothing more than to be able to finish senior year and figure himself out. Because ever since his brother passed away, Ronnie doesn’t have a clear idea of what he should do with his life. Before he envisioned himself in California with Bruce who dreamed about becoming a radio DJ and Ronnie would be the sidekick. But how much is a dream worth without the original dreamer? Ronnie tries to answer that question throughout the whole novel. He wants to honor his brother’s memory, although he also is trying to figure out what he wants from life and his future.

In the midst of all this, he begins a club with three of his friends called The Vinyl Underground, where they share music. For Ronnie, it’s a way to also share parts of Bruce with his friends since all the vinyls he owns used to belong to his late brother.

What I LOVED about this book were the strong bonds of friendship and how loyal the group was to one another. And although the book did use the trope started by Stephen King in Carrie (where something MAJOR happens during prom or school dance), I really, really loved how devoted the characters were to their cause. And yes, a lot of their actions would make several parents flip out, but I think the novel beautifully depicted teenagers and their will to rebel against injustice.

It takes a lot for a book or movie to move me to tears, and this book did the trick! So if you’re someone who easily tears up, keep tissues on hand! There’s much to love in this book, from the era, the music, the friendships, and one kick-ass female protagonist that will make you wish that someone would turn this book into a movie stat!

Read this book if you’re a fan of coming of age, strong friendships, and rock music.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and North Star Editions for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald

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If you can’t remember it, how do you prove you didn’t do it?

Release Date: February 4, 2020

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Publisher: Gallery Books

Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Eva Hansen wakes in the hospital after being struck by lightning and discovers her mother, Kat, has been murdered. Eva was found unconscious down the street. She can’t remember what happened but the police are highly suspicious of her.

Determined to clear her name, Eva heads from Seattle to London—Kat’s former home—for answers. But as she unravels her mother’s carefully held secrets, Eva soon realizes that someone doesn’t want her to know the truth. And with violent memories beginning to emerge, Eva doesn’t know who to trust. Least of all herself.

Told in alternating perspectives from Eva’s search for answers and Kat’s mysterious past, Christina McDonald has crafted another “complex, emotionally intense” (Publishers Weekly) domestic thriller. Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell’s I Found You and Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her, Behind Every Lie explores the complicated nature of mother-daughter relationships, family trauma, and the danger behind long-held secrets.

Grade: C-

Review:

I read this author’s debut novel last year, The Night Olivia Fell and I really enjoyed that novel. This novel, although it had a very strong premise of having an unreliable narrator (which I’m a sucker for) really didn’t hit its mark for me. My biggest issue with the novel was that for being a thriller, it seemed to fall under the formula of Lifetime movie thrillers. The so-called “bad guy” is clear from the get-go and any twist reveals aren’t very surprising either as I had figured out the whole novel by the 35% mark.

I don’t fault authors for writing about the same location as a previous novel (hell King has made a career out of setting the majority of his works in Maine), but this novel is also set in Washington state, just as her debut. Again, this novel has the same premise as the author’s debut where a low-middle class character has a relationship with an extremely wealthy man. Apart from the novel being highly predictable (for me), the thing that really irked me the most was the fact that the British characters were so stereotypical of how an American believes a British person acts or speaks. I’ve been to England multiple times and have a lot of British friends and have never heard anyone use “Blimey!” as an expression every two seconds as one of the British characters continuously does in this novel.

Not to mention that the protagonist so conveniently discovered things without any hard work. And honestly, how credible is it for someone to be able to travel TO LONDON from SEATTLE right after being struck by LIGHTENING. I am more likely to believe impossible things in a supernatural novel than a novel set in a fictitious reality of the real world.

Unfortunately, this book didn’t quite work out for me, nor did it offer that much entertainment. I honestly couldn’t wait for it to be done. However, if you’re the type of reader who loves cozy mysteries and Lifetime inspired thrillers, then you may enjoy this book very much. It’s not a terrible book and the writing flows easily. The author excels in descriptions about setting but still is incapable of writing compelling dialogue.

If you’re in the mood for a light read, you can give this book a go.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Review: Dr. Botanicals Lemon Superfood All-In-One Rescue Butter

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What It Is: Balm cream

What It Does: Hydrates

Active Ingredients: Vitamin A, Coconut Oil, Lemongrass Oil, and antioxidants

Verdict: Since we’re living during a pandemic, I’ve had to up the number of times I wash my hands (let’s just say that I now understand why OCD people feel so anxious). But all this handwashing has caused me to get hand eczema (a very unsightly and painful issue). This butter is meant to be used all over the body, and under normal conditions, I probably would’ve considered using it as a face moisturizer. But these are unprecedented times, so I decided to use this all-in-one rescue butter for my hands (because of its Vitamin A qualities). Let’s just say that this butter has been a lifesaver. In a matter of TWO DAYS, my hand eczema disappeared and I was left with beautiful pre-pandemic hands. This butter is so rich that a dime-size is all you really need for hours of hydration (or up until you have to wash your hands, yet again). Apart from this butter being a miracle-worker, it also serves as a mini-aromatherapy session as it has a light lemon scent that helps ease any feelings of anxiety you might be feeling (and honestly who isn’t anxious right about now?). I love this product SO MUCH that I’m willing to purchase it when I run out (I received this in an Allure Beauty Box). I completely recommend this butter for all of your skincare needs, you won’t be disappointed.

Price: $14.90

Where To Buy It: https://us.drbotanicals.com/

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