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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Film Review: Bethany

bethany

Bethany wasn’t the usual jump-scare horror nor did it have any sort of boogie man so to speak. What I liked about Bethany is that true life trauma intermingled with a sense of dread. Claire (Stephanie Estes) is haunted by past childhood traumas that she endured at the hands of her cold, unfeeling mother (Shannon Doherty) who placed physical beauty above all. Young Claire is forced to compete in beauty pageants against her will and to obsess over her appearance, and somehow all this stress on physical perfection causes a terrible rift between mother and daughter.

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But after the passing of her estranged mother, Claire inherits her childhood home and decides to return to live there with her husband Aaron (Zack Ward). I’m still unsure why someone with such terrible PTSD linked to that particular house would want to return let alone start LIVING in said home, but the couple does just that. Unsurprisingly, Claire begins to be haunted by her past in more ways than one.

You see, as a child, she had an imaginary friend called Bethany that would speak to her from the wall. Was the friend real or had she always been a little crazy? These are the questions that surface throughout the course of this movie. There’s a creeping dread that follows the viewer and characters throughout the whole movie and I like it because it makes you question everything. You know that bad things are going to happen, but are those things merely imagined or are they really happening?

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Bethany is one trippy movie, taking you on this rollercoaster of black emotions. What is real? What is imagined? This is a slow burn horror where everything comes to a head when the climax is finally reached and the twist revealed. I was satisfied by the ending, but then again, I’ve always been a sucker for creepy dolls, childhood traumas, and flirting with schizophrenia. The film combines psychological suspense with the supernatural and the twisty reveal is one that many wouldn’t have seen coming.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the horror genre, then you will enjoy this movie as it has many things that horror junkies love such as: an old house, creepy dolls, and strange objects protruding from one’s flesh.

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Check it out, you’re in for a dark thrilling ride.

*Thank you to the director James Cullen Bressack for the free viewing of this movie for an honest review.

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My Dark Vanessa: What happens when Lolita doesn’t die?

vanessa

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“I think we’re very similar, Nessa,” he whispers. “From the way you write, I can tell you’re a dark romantic like me. You like dark things.”

This book has been on the most-anticipated lists since 2018 and ever since it was known that the author received a seven-figure advance, there have been some controversies that have arisen. Sometime around January, the author Wendy C. Ortiz of the memoir, Excavation, accused Kate Elizabeth Russell of plagiarism solely on the account of their books sharing a similar theme of a teacher and student embarking on a clandestine relationship together. I can understand Ortiz’s rage against the publishing world who didn’t seem keen on her manuscript when she was shopping it around, and that she had to settle for an indie publisher with no seven-figure advance.

However, to purposely call out a debut author’s work as plagiarizing your own when you haven’t even read the book in question? That seems mean-spirited. After all the backlash that Oprah’s Book Club received with their choice of American Dirt, Oprah was done with controversies and hence, decided to part ways with Russell’s book because of the issue with Ortiz, and it no longer was a choice for her bookclub in March. Despite all of this, the book still became a national bestseller.

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Now, is Russell’s book the same Ortiz’s? For someone who has read both, I can state, simply put, no. Sure, they both share the theme of a student falling in love with her English teacher and the teacher taking advantage of the crush for his personal gain and pleasure. But the differences between Vanessa Wye and Wendy Ortiz are many and so ultimately do not tell the same story no matter how similar the themes may be.

Was My Dark Vanessa worthy of all the hype? Yes and no. The first half of the book is compelling and there are moments when you wish the book were a love story, but ultimately it’s very glaring that Jacob Strane was grooming Vanessa and that he took advantage of her (their first sexual encounter is downright cringey and screams rape, not simply because of the age difference but because of the actions from Strane).

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The second half of the novel, particularly the portion that takes place during Vanessa’s college years really dragged. Especially since it doesn’t offer much in terms of progressing the plot. Rather, we see Vanessa falling in love with yet another English teacher who is married to a woman that is the school counselor where Strane still works. These chapters were far more laborious to get through and honestly, could have even been cut from the book entirely as they didn’t provide newer insight into Vanessa or Strane.

The ending was as expected, especially since it was obvious that Vanessa was never going to view herself as a victim and for the longest time denied the fact that Strane was a pedo, mostly because it would mean that his interest in her wasn’t because she was special, but more because she fit the nymphet package.

My Dark Vanessa could’ve been a love story if Strane wasn’t so glaringly predatory. His interest in her was most intense when she was underage. He never treated her with the same fascination once she was an adult, and instead seemed to only call her when he needed her to back up his lies. The most heartbreaking lesson you’ll learn from this novel is that trauma can truly define your life, and in this case it defined Vanessa’s relationships, career, and sexuality.

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At only 32, Vanessa felt old and could only pain sexual gratification through imagining herself as 15 and reliving sex scenes with Strange over the phone. Vanessa glamorizes the novel, Lolita so much that she doesn’t see Lolita for what it truly is. A novel about a predatory man who only remains obsessed with Lolita because she dies. Vanessa didn’t die so by that logic Strane was no longer obsessed with her. My Dark Vanessa capitalizes on what would’ve been Lolita’s destiny had she survived. I can bet that her adult life would’ve mimicked Vanessa’s very much.

When Lolita doesn’t die, she can only become a survivor.

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Review: BareMinerals SkinLongevity Vital Power Infusion Serum

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What It Is: Serum

What It Does: Hydrates

Active Ingredients: California Poppy and Lempuyang Ginger Extracts

Verdict: I’ll preface by stating that I’ve always loved BareMinerals skincare items, and this is no exception. If you’re need of absolute hydration but still want it to be lightweight, then this serum is for you. Since I have oily skin I’m not a fan of hydrating creams that are too thick or greasy. This one is very lightweight but at the same time provides the kind of hydration that will keep your skin flawless and bouncy. It will give you the so-called summery glow that we’re all aiming for and it also has a light citrus floral scent that makes you feel perked up if used first thing in the morning. I recommend this if you need a serum that doesn’t feel heavy but that packs in a ton of hydration.

Price: $58

Where To Buy It: www.bareminerals.com

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Love or Hype? Bridge Jones’ Diary Movie

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I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of the rom-com genre. Mostly because it always creates unrealistic expectations of relationships and also of love. Real life is much more brutal, and I know many girls love watching this genre as a form of escapism. Having said that, I decided that I was going to check out a very famous rom-com from 2001, Bridge Jones’ Diary. For years I’ve heard how amazingly funny this movie is and how relatable the protagonist Bridget is. Ultimately, I decided to check it out and thought that if I wouldn’t enjoy it, at least I got to see London (my favourite city ever) for an hour and a half.

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Bridget (Renée Zellweger) is 32, and somehow in 2001 that meant she was old and heading towards spinster-ville. This thought horrified me, but I guess maybe it’s something that’s still happening now and I’ve just never worried about getting married by a certain age. Bridget is a fun character and very relatable. She’s pretty but slightly overweight (for early aughts standards), doesn’t feel appreciated at her job, and has still not managed to snag the man of her dreams, Daniel (played by a very charismatic Hugh Grant).

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However, life takes a turn for the better for Bridget and she begins to date Daniel. All seems amazingly awesome, a little too awesome till her life starts to derail yet again. I really loved the fact that Bridget, although she really yearned for a stable relationship and was head over heels in love with Daniel she still had enough self-respect to know that she deserved more than his cheating lousy ass ways.

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Renée Zellweger’s performance as Bridget Jones’ was flawless despite an initial controversy that an American actress would embody such a quintessential British heroine. Needless to say, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance (although she didn’t win that year).

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the movie as much as I did and I can say without a doubt that this movie is well worth the hype. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s by far one of the best rom-coms out there.

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Book Review: Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

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“If it weren’t for us, Ana wouldn’t have died and her sisters wouldn’t have been forced to suffer at the hands of her angry ghost.”

Release Date: March 24, 2020

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Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Price: $17.02 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.

In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

Grade: A+

Review:

Despite the fact that this novel is being marketed as a modern version of Little Women (there are four sisters after all), that’s the only resemblance the novel had with the literary classic we all know and love. Instead, this novel reminded me more of The Virgin Suicides with the ongoing ennui that the Torres sisters have to deal with after the death of their beloved older sister, Ana. The fact that a group of neighborhood boys are always watching and obsessing over the sisters, adds on to the resemblance between the two novels. Some reviewers have considered this novel as a retelling of King Lear, since the father figure in this book is quite questionable, unreliable, and just lacks any real parenting skills.

However, with all these comparisons being made, Tigers, Not Daughters is a unique ghost story. Because ultimately, this is what the book is about, the ghost of Ana Torres haunting the lives and house of the remaining Torres sisters, Iridian, Jessica, and Rosa. The book is told in four points of views, from Peter’s (one of the boys that’s always hanging out at Hector’s house who lives fairly close to the Torres family as they have a good view of all the happenings that go on in the household), Rosa, Iridian, and Jessica.

I’ll admit that I enjoyed Iridian’s and Jessica’s points of view much more than the other two. Iridian was obsessed with Anne Rice’s novel The Witching Hour, and spent most of the novel re-reading that book and trying to write her own supernatural romance, while Jessica was the so-called mean sister filled with anger, but that after Ana’s death tried to fit into the void that Ana left behind to the point of wearing her sister’s makeup, taking up residence in her former room, and even going as far as dating Ana’s boyfriend.

The haunting is slow like a Southern Gothic novel (although it takes place in San Antonio in a predominantly Latino community). There are a lot of creepy moments and an underlying feeling of dread that coats this novel in a claustrophobic clutch and doesn’t let you go till the very end.

You don’t read this novel merely for the plot alone, but rather to live through the dark chilling ride that it provides.

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

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Book Review: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

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“I lie back on his pillow, my head spinning, and for one split second, I think how crazy it will be when I get home and tell Aubrey everything. But that’s wrong: that won’t happen. She and I are barely friends anymore.”

Release Date: April 7, 2020

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Publisher: Wednesday Books

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Fifteen-year-old JL Markham’s life used to be filled with carnival nights and hot summer days spent giggling with her forever best friend Aubrey about their families and boys. Together, they were unstoppable. But they aren’t the friends they once were.
With JL’s father gone on long term business, and her mother struggling with her mental illness, JL takes solace in the tropical butterflies she raises, and in her new, older boyfriend, Max Gordon. Max may be rough on the outside, but he has the soul of a poet (something Aubrey will never understand). Only, Max is about to graduate, and he’s going to hit the road – with or without JL.

JL can’t bear being left behind again. But what if devoting herself to Max not only means betraying her parents, but permanently losing the love of her best friend? What becomes of loyalty, when no one is loyal to you?

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story about the fragility of female friendship, of falling in love and wondering if you are ready for more, and of the glimmers of hope we find by taking stock in ourselves.

Grade: B+

Review:

This novel was a well-written contemporary YA that is full of heart and emotions by the bucket loads. The entire book is written in epistolary mode, as JL writing a letter to her childhood friend Aubrey that she’s no longer close to anymore (and that’s killing her inside).

JL is dealing with a lot of issues for just being a teen: her dad has left for an undetermined amount of time for California, which means that she has to deal with her mother’s depression/dissociative disorder on her own. Although she does have her grandmother check in on her and her mom (but her grandmother prefers to remain in denial about her mother’s true condition rather than face the bleak truth). JL spends her days taking care of her mother, raising butterflies, and hanging out with her 19-years old boyfriend.

This book doesn’t hold back any punches. It’s easy for the reader to become easily invested in JL’s struggles and wanting to root for this girl. This novel is raw and gritty and maybe a bit too realistic if you’re looking for any escapism, but it’s emotionally gripping from the very beginning till the very end. You won’t regret delving into this book if you’re looking for something with more heart and less fluff with a dash of darkness.

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

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Poetry: Bad Habit

I’m like a smoker

In need of a cigarette

I need you, even if

I know you’re detrimental

To my health

But the rush you give me

Is worth more

Than saving myself.

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

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