Review: Acure Brightening Vitamin C Jelly Mask

What It Is: A brightening face mask

Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, ferulic acid, and brightening banana flower extract.

Verdict: This jelly mask is meant to be put on for only ten minutes and then rinsed off. However, I left it on as an overnight mask. I liked how my skin felt the following day – smooth, soft, and supple. My only tiny gripe with this mask is that since it’s jelly, it’s incredibly watery, meaning that it’s difficult to grab hold of it to put on your skin. I’d like a mask that’s a bit firmer to grasp. But other than that, the ingredients are incredible for your skin.

Price: $19.99

Where To Buy It: https://acure.com/

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Book Review: Mothered by Zoje Stage

What made a human being turn monstrous?

PLOT SUMMARY:

Grace isn’t exactly thrilled when her newly widowed mother, Jackie, asks to move in with her. They’ve never had a great relationship, and Grace likes her space—especially now that she’s stuck at home during a pandemic. Then again, she needs help with the mortgage after losing her job. And maybe it’ll be a chance for them to bond—or at least give each other a hand.

But living with Mother isn’t for everyone. Good intentions turn bad soon after Jackie moves in. Old wounds fester; new ones open. Grace starts having nightmares about her disabled twin sister, who died when they were kids. And Jackie discovers that Grace secretly catfishes people online—a hobby Jackie thinks is unforgivable.

When Jackie makes an earth-shattering accusation against her, Grace sees it as an act of revenge, and it sends her spiraling into a sleep-deprived madness. As the walls close in, the ghosts of Grace’s past collide with a new but familiar threat: Mom.

GRADE: B-

REVIEW:

I read this author’s debut novel, Baby Teeth and had enjoyed some aspects of it – so I wanted to try out another novel of hers. Mothered is a case study of pandemic life and how it is to cope with your life dramatically changing as the world outside was full of uncertainties and how a mother/daughter relationship completely deteriorates towards the end. Grace and Jackie have been estranged for many years but now during the pandemic, Grace has allowed her recently widowed mother Jackie to move in with her. The two haven’t had the best relationship since Grace took the burden of taking care of her disabled twin Hope growing up while her mother worked – being a single parent. I wasn’t particularly fond of the protagonist Grace, so I actually found her behavior more offputting than her mother’s. My biggest gripe with the novel is that the majority of the horror happened in dream sequences and since I could easily tell when Grace was dreaming – reading the horrible gory dream weren’t as frightening because I knew that nothing truly happened in the waking world. I know the novel took place mostly at home due to the pandemic, but it still made me feel restless and I couldn’t wait for it to be over (especially since we already knew what was going to happen since the prologue gave it away). Overall, the book was well written but I’m weary of Covid and reading about it was such a chore. I recommend the book if you like protagonists with mommy issues – don’t mind a Covid plot, and are okay with slow burn thriller with no clear resolution.

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

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Book Review & Author Interview: Optic Nerve by Rebecca Rowland

Every love story is a ghost story…..

Purchase the book on Amazon!

PLOT SUMMARY:

Shawn is a scientist developing the formula for a drug that may cure blindness by stimulating
another area of the brain that controls perception. When he surreptitiously tests the drug on
himself, he accidentally accesses a neural pathway that appears to allow him to communicate
with a complete stranger through telepathy instead. When Shawn finally discovers the
significance of their connection and of the drug’s true effects, it is too late to stop the damage
their intimate friendship has set in motion to unfold.

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

A genre-bending sci-fi horror that will have you turning pages into the night. Shawn is a scientist on the quest to cure blindness – he has invented a pill that should offer such a respite – and decides to be the guinea pig for his own invention. Slowly, Shawn begins to hear a voice – is it an auditory hallucination induced by the drug, a ghost, or something else? The mystery behind the voice and how the protagonist soon finds himself smitten by the female he can only hear in his head proves to be an interesting love story, albeit a strange one. The writing is fresh and evocative – with realistic dialogue, and a plot twist that will have you questioning everything you’ve read up to that point. You don’t want to miss this one out – especially if you love your spooky to come with a side of body horror.

Short Q & A with Author

What inspired this novella?

I’m not a fan of science fiction traditionally, but two things pushed me to write Optic Nerve. During the pandemic, I found that a number of my friends—all of them were my age: 40s and early 50s—discovered increased strains on their personal relationships. Some ended up separating from their partners. The isolation and the stress of lockdown acted like steroids in an already anxiety-prone time of their lives, middle age. Most of my characters tend to be in their thirties, or early forties at most; I wanted to write about someone middle-aged for Optic Nerve, to address that anxiety head-on. At the same time, I started to experience a marked decline in my eyesight, and that was, and still is, terrifying to me. I’m an English teacher by day and an editor and writer by night: my eyes are my most utilized tools, so the experience of losing them is a true horror.

You’re a very prolific writer, often appearing in various anthologies. How do you stay motivated as an author?

I used to think I was alone in this approach, but I am the kind of writer who doesn’t sit down and create something unless she hears a line of it in her head, and the line usually comes out of nowhere. The experience is as close to having a muse as I can imagine. When I talked about this in another interview, a few authors reached out to me to say they, too, function that way. I wish I could say that x, y, and z motivate me to write, but the truth is, when a sentence appears in my head, I go with it. Sometimes I go months without writing anything because the lines just don’t appear; other periods, I churn out story after story. Someday, the lines may stop appearing altogether. I hope that isn’t the case, but it’s certainly a possibility.

I think we’ve all had an unconventional crush like Shawn, and usually, these unconventional crushes don’t always result well in the end. Are you a fan of unconventional crushes and love stories?

As a general rule, I’m jaded about romantic storylines. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m a realist at heart and I think Hollywood too often idealizes relationships. Whenever I stumble upon a saccharine movie on television, I have to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head. On the other hand, when authors capture the high we feel when we do make that unique connection with someone, it’s poetry. I think unconventional love stories are often the most realistic. Zora Neale Hurston described falling in love as a “soul crawl[ing] out from its hiding place,” and I think that’s spot on, but I don’t think those moments are as ubiquitous as Hollywood presents them. Those moments are rare and precious, and maybe I’m jaded specifically because of the fiction that dumbs them down.

Tell us about any other projects you’re currently working on right now or will be releasing soon.

My weird horror boogeyman-centered novelette Shagging the Boss just dropped this summer, and I had a great time writing it; it’s still one of my favorite projects. I’m proud to have stories in upcoming anthologies releasing this fall, too, including Sinister Smile Press’ Institutionalized, Omnium Gatherum’s In Trouble (100% of proceeds benefit the National Network of Abortion Funds), and Night Terror Novels’ Nerve-Janglers. In early March, my next edited anthology American Cannibal releases; it’s historical horror fiction and the stories are flat-out phenomenal. It’s like nothing else out there right now, and readers are going to be blown away.

What’s the horror book you always find yourself recommending? 

I find myself returning to Joyce Carol Oates’ The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror over and over. It’s creepy and hypnotic. I’m a fan of unreliable narrators and Oates does them like no one else. (laughs) And there isn’t one sentimental romantic tale in the bunch!

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Book Review: Family of Liars by E. Lockhart

Telling this story will be painful…..

PLOT SUMMARY

A windswept private island off the coast of Massachusetts. 
A hungry ocean, churning with secrets and sorrow.
A fiery, addicted heiress. An irresistible, unpredictable boy. 
A summer of unforgivable betrayal and terrible mistakes.
 
Welcome back to the Sinclair family. 
They were always liars.

GRADE: A-

REVIEW

We Were Liars – a book published in 2014 became a TikTok phenomenon in 2020, shooting it up to the bestseller’s lists. Since I received an ARC of the prequel – I ended up reading We Were Liars in a day, after the author warned that the prequel contained a major spoiler for book one. Now, I breathlessly tread through book one – We Were Liars. The mystery, the allure of the Sinclairs – it all aided in me needing to know answers right away. The prequel is set in the 80s and we meet the aunts as teens.

Although this book had more twists and secrets than the first one, I somehow wasn’t as compelled to rush read – but I still enjoyed the journey and spending time with the very wealthy but dysfunctional family Sinclair. I’d love to see another book but from another Sinclair, Yardley, the cousin whose family eventually falls out of touch with the rest of the Sinclairs in the first book.

If you loved We Were Liars, then you’re going to love Family of Liars. It has the same type of writing style and mystery and it’s basically just a very fun, dark time.

*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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Review: Osea Essential Hydrating Oil

What It Is: Hydrating Oil

What It Does: Age-defying oil for dry and sensitive skin

Active Ingredients: Seed Oil, Flower Oil, Lavender, Rosewood, Vitamin E, and Chamomile

Verdict: This hydrating oil smells sooo divine thanks to lavender and bergamot. I’ll be frank, this hydrating oil is one that you will want to use at night, because it wouldn’t do well beneath your makeup (as in it really makes your skin ultra glowy/oily). However, it really packs in the hydration that you wake up to incredibly soft and supple skin. It says that this oil works best for those with dry or sensitive skin, however, my skin is on the oily side and it doesn’t break me out, so I think it’s safe to say that even those with oily skin would benefit from using this hydrating oil. All you need is a dime size amount to spread along your face and neck. The scent is so calming that you’ll be sleeping your way to beauty in no time. If you’re looking for a cleanser to amp up your skincare routine, I highly recommend Osea’s Ocean Cleanser.

Price: $68

Where To Buy It: https://oseamalibu.com/

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Excerpt: Number One Fan by Meg Elison

CHAPTER 1

 The car rolled into view, the lit decals on the dashboard letting Eli know that her driver was typical: working for all the rideshare services at once.

Gotta hustle, she thought as she quickened her pace away from the airfield. She hoped he hadn’t been waiting long.

“Elizabeth?” He seemed bored, not even bothering to turn around.

“That’s right. I go by Eli, though.”

“Sure,” he said, tapping his phone.

She settled in, her satchel beside her. “Thank you.”

The car was air conditioned against the cushion of heat that pressed against its tinted windows, and as they headed toward the freeway, she finally began to relax. She was grateful the driver didn’t seem to want to talk. She was tired of talking from the event, and her throat was dry and sore.

“There is a cold drink there in the cup holder. Down in the door.” His voice was low, a raspy baritone.

“Oh, cool, thanks.” Eli reached down and felt the blessed condensation on a plastic bottle. She pulled up a blue Gatorade and wrenched it open, suddenly very thirsty. She drank half of it in huge gulps, disliking the weird, salty taste of the electrolyte mixture but unable to stop herself. It felt good, after hours of talking and the dry air of the flight. She breathed deep and drank again, coming close to finishing it off.

Must be the heat, she thought. That and the two miniature bottles of Jack Daniel’s she’d had to calm her nerves on the plane.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket in an unfamiliar cadence and she slid it out to check.

Her notification from the rideshare app blared BRENDA HAS CANCELED THE RIDE FOR REASON: NO-SHOW. YOU HAVE BEEN CHARGED A CANCELLATION FEE OF $5.

Eli frowned at her phone. Had she summoned two cars by accident?

She unlocked it with her facial scan and checked. The app showed only one ride: a black Prius driven by Brenda, which had arrived five minutes ago and canceled four minutes after that.

It wasn’t a busy day at the airfield. It certainly wasn’t curbside pickup at SFO, but it was still possible that she had gotten in the wrong car.

But he had known her name.

She leaned forward to get the driver’s attention. “Hey, just clarifying—you’ve got my info, right? I just got a cancellation from another driver, and I’m worried that I got someone else’s ride.”

The driver tapped his phone and his eyes darted between it, the rearview mirror, and the road. “Elizabeth Grey. Headed to the Sheraton, right?”

The phone displayed a highlighted blue route along the freeway. It was a map program, rather than the rideshare’s software, but Eli had seen drivers toggle between those before. She glanced up at the rearview mirror, but his eyes were on the road and he had put on a pair of dark glasses.

“Right,” she said. “Huh. Wonder what happened.”

Eli settled back into her seat. She stared out the window and thought of home, of the deep grey fog rolling down over the hillsides and the wind coming in, salty from the Bay. She was homesick. Even in the same state, the air felt wrong on her skin. Los Angeles had been an endless parade of palm trees against a blameless sky, and the tacos were so good she could barely stop shoveling them in, but the traffic had left her feeling exhausted upon every arrival.

And then there was the way that people looked you over in Los Angeles, deciding whether you were famous or fuckable or useful in some other way before sliding on to the next thing. Her audiences had been lively and engaging but draining, and after each of her events, she’d wanted nothing but some dinner, a hot bath and sleep. Maybe a couple fingers of bourbon over ice.

Traveling always left her wrung-out and unmoored. It didn’t help that the sun was so all-encompassing outside the car it could have been anywhere, any time of day, the hot, white light blinding. She couldn’t look at a surface other than the black asphalt without squinting. Living in San Francisco gave her what she had thought was a passing acquaintance with the sun, but the glare as the 10 freeway led out of Los Angeles county and into the high desert landscape was just too much.

How are people here not dog-tired all the time? Doesn’t the heat suck all the life out of them? How do they ever leave the house? Christ, it’s March. Imagine later in the year. I gotta get some sunglasses.

She set the phone beside her on the seat to avoid pawing it in and out of her jeans. She belatedly buckled her seatbelt as they picked up speed. Out the window, the freeway was sliding past, one unfamiliar mile blending into the next.

The driver turned his radio on. It annoyed her at first that he had not asked, but then she reminded herself that he probably spent the whole day in his car. She wasn’t talking; he was probably both lonely and bored. Let him have his Oingo Boingo.

He changed lanes to get into the faster flow of traffic and the motion of it made her feel a trifle ill. This heat had produced all kinds of new feelings. She ignored it, drinking the last swallow of the Gatorade.

She looked around for a polite place to deposit the bottle. The motion of her head made her dizziness worse and she tried to blink it away. “Do you have a spot for trash?” she asked him. As the words slid out of her mouth, she realized she was slurring like she was very, very drunk. She was horrified to realize she was drooling, too.

Eli tried to get a hold of herself. She pushed with her palms and worked to sit up straight but found that she could not. Her head felt far too heavy for the wet noodle of her neck to have ever supported. Her abs were slack and her spine was a worm. She sagged against the seat; the seatbelt the only thing keeping her from sliding to the floor.

“Whass going on?” The words seemed to take a long time to reach her ears.

Oh shit, I’m having a stroke. An old classmate  of Eli’s had had a freak stroke event a week shy of her thirtieth birthday. Frantically, she tried to recall the diagnostic that the woman had posted on Facebook right after. She couldn’t speak clearly. She couldn’t lift her arms at all. Her hand flopped uselessly in the direction of her phone.

“Ooogoada tachme to ahspital,” she slurred at him in molasses-thick nightmare slowness. “Shumding wruuuuunnnnng.”

“Relax,” he said clearly, his voice less deep than before. “You are fine.”

With her last spasm of strength, Eli pulled at the door handle, intending to tumble out of the car. The child safety lock held her in place.

I’m not fine, she thought with her last clear and lucid moment. As her eyes fell closed like heavy curtains, she finally registered that they were going the wrong way. The steely spike of panic that stabbed at her heart was almost enough to counteract the soporific effect of whatever was wrong with her, but not quite. Fighting, terrified, she slipped out of consciousness.

Excerpted from Number One Fan by Meg Elison, Copyright © 2022 by Meg Elison. Published by MIRA Books.

Purchase the book on Amazon!

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Spotlight: The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

In The Book of Delights, one of today’s most original literary voices offers up a genre-defying volume of lyric essays written over one tumultuous year. The first nonfiction book from award-winning poet Ross Gay is a record of the small joys we often overlook in our busy lives. Among Gay’s funny, poetic, philosophical delights: a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, cradling a tomato seedling aboard an airplane, the silent nod of acknowledgment between the only two black people in a room. But Gay never dismisses the complexities, even the terrors, of living in America as a black man or the ecological and psychic violence of our consumer culture or the loss of those he loves. More than anything else, though, Gay celebrates the beauty of the natural world–his garden, the flowers peeking out of the sidewalk, the hypnotic movements of a praying mantis.

Purchase the book on Amazon!

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Review: Kinship Brightwave Eye Cream

What It Is: Energizing, brightening eye cream

What It Does: Brightens and hydrates eye area

Active Ingredients: Red Algae, Chaga Mushroom, and Vitamin C Ester

Verdict: There are three things I look at when judging an eye cream – Is it thick and nourishing? Is it hydrating? And most importantly, is it fast absorbing? Kinship’s eye cream hits all three of those requirements and exceeds my expectations. I love how hydrating and smooth this eye cream is but the fast-absorbing component makes it possible for this cream to be used during the day under concealer and makeup with no problems. If you’re looking for an eye cream that can multi-task as both day and night cream, then this perfectly fits the bill. Soft, rich, and incredibly restoring – you’ll easily find yourself grabbing this cream as your go-to for your skincare routine. Does it actually help with banishing dark circles? Well, I’m plagued with hereditary dark circles, so for me, I didn’t really notice a difference, but it probably works for everyone else out there that only has mild dark circles. But I’m not at mad about it because I still love how it feels on my skin.

Price: $34

Where To Buy It: https://lovekinship.com/

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Film Review: The Immaculate Room

Typically, it’s always a challenge to have a movie with only two actors carrying the film for a good portion of it, especially when the setting doesn’t change. From the very beginning, a couple, Kate (Kate Bosworth) and Mikey (Emile Hirsch) are contestants in a strange game in which they agree to spend 50 days living in a white room. If they manage to do that, the couple will win $5 million dollars, if for some reason one of them chooses to leave the room prior to 50 days, the prize money drops to $1 million.

The room has the chilly aesthetic of a chic art gallery, and with no form of entertainment whatsoever, the couple must learn to live with boredom for 50 days. We soon learn that Kate views the money as a means to put her mind at ease after spending a life worrying about her finances, while Mikey comes from a wealthy family and it’s still unclear why the money would mean much to him other than to be supportive of his girlfriend. For most pre-lockdown people, staying in a room for 50 days would’ve seemed like an easy feat, but as lockdown made us all realize, being confined is actually much harder than it looks.

Hirsch is animated as Mikey, as he explains what he would do with the money if he were to win, or how to kill boredom he begins to read the tag on his shirt in different accents. Bosworth’s performance is more contained as her character Kate tries to keep herself together with daily affirmations. It isn’t until the addition of external people that she gets triggered and her balance begins to tilt. The couple’s shut-in world begins to shake the moment Simone (Ashley Greene Khoury) enters the room, which sparks jealousy and tension to rise between the couple. It doesn’t take long for the ugly emotions to surface for it to bring things to a head.

The film begins with a study on boredom and if it’s possible to be driven mad by it, but it quickly devolves into the malice of greed and how far would one go to keep the prize in question. Again, for being a film that focuses mostly on two characters and one location, the script was interesting, although this film is less Squid Games than I had anticipated and ends on a positive note.

The movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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Deacon: Just a Kid EP

To today’s youth Deacon Phillippe could very well be the Calvin Harris of Gen Z, but he also has the good fortune of inheriting leading man looks from his actor parents Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon.

If you’ve ever been to a party in the Hollywood hills, then at some point of the night someone will start playing EDM tracks – and this EP is reminiscent of that in beats and style, making for easy dance music that you can sway to while clutching a White Claw (props if it’s Black Cherry). However, if you happen to listen to this EP at the end of the night, coming down from the dance high and driving down Sunset Boulevard at 2am, then your experience will be completely different.

A careful focus on the lyrics and you begin to notice a theme of loss and heartbreak that give these songs a deeper meaning. California Reaper is moody and dark the whole way through. A Love Song is likens love to extracting a knife out of someone’s heart, while Breaking Away lulls you into thinking it’s gonna be a ballad but then morphs into the most personally intimate track on the EP – and perfectly describes the numbness of going through the motions but being detached from everything when you’ve experienced too much pain that they only way not to fall apart is to break away.

There’s no doubt that Deacon has talent and the capacity to convey emotions through music, so it’s interesting to see the direction his music will go in the future. In the meantime, I think this EP is best experienced while you’re gilded like Cassie in Euphoria, crying into her mirror as dozens of flowers surround you, or dancing your heartbreak away like you’re Robin in the club knowing that you’ll be dancing on your own.

You can check out the EP on SoundCloud!

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