Book Review: Squad by Mariah MacCarthy

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A Cheerleader loses her squad but discovers herself.

Release Date: March 12, 2019

Purchase on Amazon

Price: $12.88 (hardcover)

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Plot Summary:

Jenna Watson is a cheerleader. And she wants you to know it’s not some Hollywood crap: they are not every guy’s fantasy. They are not the “mean girls” of Marsen High School. They’re literally just human females trying to live their lives and do a perfect toe touch. And their team is at the top of their game. They’re a family.

But all that changes when Jenna’s best friend stops talking to her. Suddenly, she’s not getting invited out with the rest of the quad. She’s always a step behind. And she has no idea why.

While grappling with post-cheer life, Jenna explores things she never allowed herself to like, including LARPing (live-action role-playing) and a relationship with a trans guy that feels a lot like love.

When Jenna loses the sport and the friends she’s always loved, she has to ask herself: What else is left?

Grade: B+

Review:

After embarking on a creepy, twisty journey with Will Haunt You, I decided I needed a moment of respite from all things horror (at least in books) so I decided to give this book a try. Although when I told a friend of mine that I was reading a book about cheerleaders he said, “Why would you do that? They’re scary!” So I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the first page, I was hooked. Not because anything compelling was really happening (there wasn’t much action throughout the whole novel), but I just loved Jenna’s voice and her way of telling a tale of friendship gone awry. How one single social misstep can instantly make you the outcast of your own group (which I’m sure most of us can relate to, to some extent if you’ve ever been in high school or ya know, just been a teenager).

So Jenna finds herself having to learn to navigate school life without her best friend Raejean, and not being part of the cheerleading squad anymore (something dramatic happens, that’s all I can say as to why she’s no longer in the squad). But I love how this novel explored bullying in a way that wasn’t so over the top, but rather how ignoring someone can in itself be its own form of bullying too. Also, kudos for the author for including a transgender (female to male) character. I haven’t seen that many transgender characters in YA novels, so that was refreshing. The book overall was an easy read and although it wasn’t one of the best I’ve read this year, I did enjoy it, mostly for the realism of teenage relationships with their parents and siblings, dating, and friendships.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Will Haunt You by Brian Kirk

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You don’t read the book. It reads you. 

Release Date: March 14, 2019

Purchase on Amazon

Price: $11.91 (paperback)

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

Plot Summary:

Rumors of a deadly book have been floating around the dark corners of the deep web. A disturbing tale about a mysterious figure who preys on those who read the book and subjects them to a world of personalized terror.

Jesse Wheeler―former guitarist of the heavy metal group The Rising Dead―was quick to discount the ominous folklore associated with the book. It takes more than some urban legend to frighten him. Hell, reality is scary enough. Seven years ago his greatest responsibility was the nightly guitar solo. Then one night when Jesse was blackout drunk, he accidentally injured his son, leaving him permanently disabled. Dreams of being a rock star died when he destroyed his son’s future. Now he cuts radio jingles and fights to stay clean.

But Jesse is wrong. The legend is real―and tonight he will become the protagonist in an elaborate scheme specifically tailored to prey on his fears and resurrect the ghosts from his past. Jesse is not the only one in danger, however. By reading the book, you have volunteered to participate in the author’s deadly game, with every page drawing you closer to your own personalized nightmare. The real horror doesn’t begin until you reach the end.

That’s when the evil comes for you.

Grade: A

Review:

Let me start off this review by saying that this book is creepy. But not creepy in the slow burn atmospheric way that The Exorcism of Emily Rose was (or A Head full of Ghosts at its best before the dismal downfall of an ending), but rather it’s creepy in the way that only Rob Zombie and Eli Roth movies know how to be. Meaning, we’re creeped out because we can envision these horrors happening to us, and we squirm and wish that we could do something to save the protagonist. And yet, we’re also kinda worried for our well being, after all the book is about a cursed book, and the cursed book in question is the one you’re holding in your hands right now. Don’t have chills yet?

Now, if you’re not a fan of Rob Zombie films, I can see how this may not be the kind of horror book for you. This book was very much reminiscent of Zombie’s newest film, 31, with its bizarro villains, and the location of being enclosed in one of the creepiest mansions known to man.

I’m not sure why I have a penchant for has-been rock star stories (of any genre), but when it’s combined with a cursed book, it just amps up the interest level for me. This book has you questioning everything and everybody, but mostly it will leave you wondering who are the real monsters, the others? Or yourself?

Must read for those who love strange, gory tales with a writing style of an enraged demon on speed.

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

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Throwback Thursday: TLC – No Scrubs

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When the single NO SCRUBS came out twenty years ago (February 2, 1999), TLC was the best-selling girl group in the world and fierce feminists at a time when the music world was suddenly getting overrun with Lolita-esque divas like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

I chose this song for my Throwback Thursday because when the song came out I loved the message it promoted. For the first time, you had women who were confident enough to say, “NO.” No, they didn’t want a man who had no ambitions and was a deadbeat parasite. And if you think that this message wasn’t bold, you’re gravely mistaken. For centuries women have been groomed to always say, “Yes,” that stating a “NO,” loud and clear, for women to actually have standards of which men could pursue them, this was a big deal.

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Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes were known for being bold, independent, and outspoken young women. They were no damsels in distress, these women were ambitious and hardworking and didn’t expect anything less from their men. This song actually had men questions themselves for the first time, ask themselves if they fit the “scrub” list or not. Ironically, usually, the men who did fit the “scrub” list were the ones who got the most upset over the song.

Of course, this song wouldn’t have been the same without Hype Williams amazing futuristic music video, especially in an age where music videos could make or break a career (this was back in the day when MTV still predominantly only aired music videos on their channel). Hype Williams at the time was considered to be one of the best music video directors around with his bold colours, anime style sequences, and notorious for his fish-eye view which distorted the image in central focus. In his vision, Chilli, T-Boz, and Left-Eye were futuristic warriors that could be both sexy but ferocious, in other words, they were fierce.

The video went on to win the MTV Video Music Award for that year, beating out the all-male competition of boy bands like Backstreet Boys and Nsync at their career highs, which was no small feat.

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Listening to this song twenty years later only emphasizes how much this message is still relevant today. Not that long ago when just idly chatting with my boyfriend in the car, he said he couldn’t understand my need for all this ambition, that he’d still love me even if I were a slob who’d spend all day at home and wait for him to return and he said something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t you love me still the same way if I were like that?” And I replied, “Look, as TLC taught me, I don’t want no scrub. I’d never date someone with no ambition or dreams to be better.” Probably not the kind of response he was relying on (after all, most men would hope that women are “romantic” enough to like them even at their worst), but it’s the truth.

I expect a lot from myself and would never dream of being someone who’s just looking for a way to get out of work to stay at home. So for anyone to think that I’d expect less of them just because out of romantic notions is kind of absurd. TLC taught many girls the power to say no, and that’s a lesson that many of us took to heart. I know I did.

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Review: Maybelline Snapscara in Pitch Black

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I haven’t done a beauty post in so long (and not because I’m lacking any new products, I have lots to share!) that I decided that it was long overdue for one. Since mascara is one of the beauty products that I absolutely LOVE, I wanted to share with you my latest find.

What It Is: Clump-free voluminizing mascara

What It Does: Creates volume in one sweep

Active Ingredients: Wax-Free Pigments

Verdict: I’ve always been satisfied with Maybelline mascaras and products in general, so I was really looking forward to trying out this new product cause from the ads it looked amazing and even the packaging was cuter than your usual drugstore buy. But that’s pretty much where the love stopped. And it stopped cold. The wand itself should be fool-proof to use, but I don’t know whether it’s small to larger bristles combo or the formula itself, but once you try to layer this mascara, it starts to get seriously clumpy like you’re dealing with a decade old product, rather than a brand new one, and for some reason it was also very messy (in my attempt to lengthen my lashes, it would also transfer colour over onto my lid whatever I’d wiggle the wand, which I’ve never had this problem with any other mascara before so I know that my application wasn’t to blame). And for those of you that might say, why layer if it creates a mess why can’t you go with only one layer? To put it bluntly, one layer doesn’t provide you with the lift and colour you need (or at least I want), so you’re better off sticking to any other trustier mascara, for this one is a total fluke in my book. Such a shame, because I do love the packaging. Sigh.

Price: $7.77

Where To Buy It: https://www.maybelline.com/eye-makeup/mascara/snapscara-washable-mascara/pitch-black

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Film Review: Ovunque Proteggimi (Wherever You Are)

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I had been planning on attending the Santa Barbara Film Festival, then work got busy and I only knew about which films were going to be screening at times the same day that they were screening so trying to take time off at the last minute was kind of difficult. However, out of the films that I was proposed to watch, I was curious about Bonifacio Angius’ film (maybe I was biased cause he’s a fellow Italian as myself), Ovunque Proteggimi (Wherever You Are for the English public) that was competing at the festival. I contacted the director and he graciously allowed me to stream the film since I couldn’t make the screenings.

I didn’t read the plot summary before plunging headfirst into the film, but I often find that going into a film blindly renders it more enjoyable as I have no expectations. The film is about Alessandro, an aging singer that primarily does gigs at local events with his childhood friend. One night, after a particularly failed gig due to the low audience outcome, his friend tells Alessandro that he’s no longer going to play backup for him and that he too, should think about quitting the local music scene. Depressed, Alessandro decides to hit up a club where he meets a group of young girls who want to buy coke. To show off, he assures them that he can get the money to buy the coke, he simply needs to stop by home first.

Once home, we learn that Alessandro still lives with his mother, and it’s her who he begs for the money. That’s when we learn that the protagonist has probably been doing this for years, abusing drugs and alcohol, and on this hapless night, his mother, fed up, decides to have him taken away to rehab. At rehab, Alessandro meets Francesca, a misfit like himself, whom he feels some affection towards, although he doesn’t readily admit to it at first. When the two of them are released on the same day, on a whim, he decides to accompany her to her house and that’s when Francesca learns that her parents had the child services take her son away.

This is when Alessandro begins to see the injustices that women who don’t follow societal norms befall to. Throughout the movie, we’re told by her parents and the child services that Francesca is a former junkie and “whore,” however, we never witness her using drugs, being promiscuous, nor crazy. The only time we see her lose her composure is when she is told that the child services has taken her son away (so in a way it’s understandable).

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Just like the audience feels sorry for Francesca and her plight, so does Alessandro who decides to help the woman reunite with her son. This journey allows us to understand that Alessandro deep down is a man with a good heart who can rise above his own flaws to do what he thinks is morally right, whether that is viewed right by society.

Throughout the movie, we can’t help but cheer for these two unlucky lost souls who clearly mean nothing to the people closest to them. This film isn’t overly dramatic, but it explores some heavy themes such as mental health stigma, motherhood, and the cost of following your dreams. The two leads Alessandro (played by Alessandro Gazale) and Francesca (played by Francesca Niedda) have quiet chemistry and they play their characters in such a broken, vulnerable manner that they manage to steer clear of any tropes or cliches. These characters feel real and because of that, we’re invested in their story, and we want to see them have a happy ending.

Ovunque Proteggimi is a film that will seize your heart and squeeze it ruthlessly, leaving you brutally breathless. Watch this if you want to experience a film that is full of heart and humanity. Hats off to Bonifacio Angius for directing a film that gives voices to those in society who usually aren’t allowed to have one.

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Book Review: The Winter Sister by Megan Collins

winter sister

“The green and flowering land was icebound and lifeless because Persephone had disappeared.”

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Purchase on Amazon

Price: $17.10 (hardcover)

Publisher: Atria Books

Plot Summary:

Sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s sister Persephone never came home. Out too late with the boyfriend, she was forbidden to see, Persephone was missing for three days before her body was found—and years later, her murder remains unsolved.

In the present day, Sylvie returns home to care for her estranged mother, Annie, as she undergoes treatment for cancer. Prone to unexplained “Dark Days” even before Persephone’s death, Annie’s once-close bond with Sylvie dissolved in the weeks after their loss, making for an uncomfortable reunion all these years later. Worse, Persephone’s former boyfriend, Ben, is now a nurse at the cancer center where Annie is being treated. Sylvie’s always believed Ben was responsible for the murder—but she carries her own guilt about that night, guilt that traps her in the past while the world goes on around her.

As she navigates the complicated relationship with her mother, Sylvie begins to uncover the secrets that fill their house—and what really happened the night Persephone died. As it turns out, the truth will set you free, once you can bear to look at it.

Grade: A

Review:

The Winter Sister is a lush, atmospheric mystery thriller that will delve under your skin. I don’t know what it is about winter or Christmas, (maybe it’s due to utter isolation of The Shining or Dario Argento’s Deep Red with the creepy Christmas carol being sung before someone gets stabbed to death), but I always find books or movies in the horror or thriller genre to be that much more effective when placed in a cold environment.

There’s something utterly haunting in the book when you think about Persephone, the murdered sister, lying in a bed of snow, her red coat a stark contrast to the stillness of the night. From the very beginning of the novel, I was sucked into the story. And I know that some reviewers have complained that the plot isn’t original (dead sister, alcoholic grieving mother, troubled traumatized adult sister), but I think one can easily cast that aside with this book, as it’s not truly plot-driven, but rather more of a character study of what grief causes to a family (much like in The Lovely Bones) and since I found the characters likable in their own ways and most genuine and real, I couldn’t help but want to know more about what had happened, and who could’ve possibly have done Persephone harm.

The writing lingers with melancholy and for this piece, it works perfectly well. I truly enjoyed delving into the mystery and honestly, if I didn’t have so much going on in my personal life (ya know, work, editing a short story, keeping up with my blog, and promoting my new book) I probably would’ve finished this much sooner, cause it was THAT GOOD. The Winter Sister is the perfect read for a cold, wintery evening in which you can curl up with this delicious thriller as your snuggled with your warmest Sherpa.

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

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Book Review: Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson

butterflies

That night when you kissed me, I left a poem in your mouth.

Release Date: November 27, 2018

Order On Amazon

Price: $13.01 (paperback)

Publisher: Button Poetry

Plot Summary:

Andrea Gibson’s latest collection is a masterful showcase from the poet whose writing and performances have captured the hearts of millions. With artful and nuanced looks at gender, romance, loss, and family, Lord of the Butterflies is a new peak in Gibson’s career. Each emotion here is deft and delicate, resting inside of imagery heavy enough to sink the heart while giving the body wings to soar.

Grade: A

Review:

Andrea Gibson has been one of the most potent voices in poetry for the LGBTQ community at large. Although since this genre of poetry (spoken poetry) is best consumed if heard live (or watching a video of one of their readings), I suggest that in conjunction to reading this book that you also see them live, because they’re a force to be reckoned with. The poetry comes alive in ways that wouldn’t be able to on print, making you feel just how raw, visceral, and gut-wrenching this experience can truly be.

Many of the topics they explore are things that society is still dealing with such as gender identity, gun control, homophobia, and mental illness. I’m usually not a huge fan of contemporary poets as for someone who majored in Classics, I’ve got a penchant for the likes of Charles Baudelaire, Poe, John Keats, and William Blake. However, much like Sylvia Plath in her days, Andrea Gibson has the courage to shed her skin and allow us to see what’s inside and challenging us to do the same.

I recommend this book if you’re okay with having to nurse a cracked heart afterward because Gibson’s poems cut deep.

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

 

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Review: Tarte – Lights, Camera, Lashes Mascara

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It was my birthday recently (January 8 like the awesome David Bowie & Elvis), and so I stopped by Sephora to get my free birthday gift. While I was there I saw this new Tarte mascara and since I’ve liked other mascaras from Tarte in the past, I decided to give this one a go. Especially since this one promised that it was the “wonder-bra of mascaras.” With that kind of promise, how could I NOT want to have the Pamela Anderson of lashes, right?

What It Is: 4-in-1 Mascara

What It Does: Lengthens, curls, volumizes, and conditions

Active Ingredients: Plant Waxes, Rice Bran, and Olive Esters

Verdict: All right, my only real gripe with this product isn’t the product per se, but the packaging. I’m not a fan of mascara wands that are bulky, cause it makes for a difficult application, I prefer sleeker packaging. And this packaging is way too bulky for my tastes. Apart from the packaging, this mascara is AMAZING. It truly does help with creating longer and curlier lashes. This mascara doesn’t dry your lashes out, probably cause of the olive esters that help condition the lashes. Even if you have puny lashes, this product will pump them up like you wouldn’t know! What I love about this mascara most, is that it really amps up your lashes, it gives you that false lashes look without having to wear falsies! I truly recommend in checking this one out if you get the chance. It’s easily become one of my favourite mascaras.

Price: $23

Where To Buy It: Sephora

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Lashes using the Tarte Mascara, no primer, just the mascara

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Book Review: A Danger To Herself & Others by Alyssa Sheinmel

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Four walls. One window. No way to escape.

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $17.99 (for hardcover)

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Plot Summary:

Hannah knows there’s been a mistake, She doesn’t need to be institutionalized. What happened to her roommate at that summer program was an accident. As soon as the doctor and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can go home to start her senior year. Those college applications aren’t going to write themselves. Until then, she’s determined to win over the staff and earn some privileges so she doesn’t lose her mind to boredom.
Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own baggage, and she’s the perfect project to keep Hannah’s focus off all she is missing at home. But Lucy may be the one person who can get Hannah to confront the secrets she’s avoiding-and the dangerous games that landed her in confinement in the first place.

Grade: A

Review:

It’s been a recent trend lately where the female protagonists are named Hannah (think Thirteen Reasons Why, Pretty Little Liars, Hanna Fell From The Sky) in novels, and both films and shows haven’t been immune to this phenomenon either (think Girls, Hanna, and recently The Exorcism of Hannah Grace). So when I started reading this novel I noticed that the protagonist’s name was Hannah, I somewhat groaned. I hope you five me, but I’ve overdosed on Hannahs as of late.

On the upside though, is that the author writes with such clarity and poise that I could forgive her naming the protagonist Hannah. And it helped that the story was narrated in the first person, meaning that the name would be used even less.

Apart from my dislike of the name choice, I really, really, REALLY enjoyed this book immensely. I don’t know what it says about me that I LOVE books that take place in any sort of mental institution whether it be contemporary fiction, nonfiction, or historical. I really enjoyed having the story being told by Hannah’s point of view. She’s smart, sarcastic, and somewhat manipulative. This is probably why the reader initially may believe Hannah into thinking that she has no place being in the mental institution, after all, her best friend Agnes falling out of the window could’ve been an accident, right? The majority of the book focuses on Hannah being stuck in the institute and finding a way to get out (but not as in breaking out but proving to the doctor that she’s sane). The reader receives hints and flashbacks and those are compelling enough to make one want to know what exactly happened the night that Agnes fell. Was Hannah to blame or has she been placed in the institute by mistake?

Some of the twists in the book I suspected, while others completely took me by surprise. It was one intense wild ride. If you’re into books about mental illness, asylums, deception, and unreliable narrators, then this book is right up your alley.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

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Review: Etude House Zero Sebum Drying Powder

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Oily skin has been the bane of existence since I hit puberty, and although many people assure me that having oily skin means that my skin will age slower (since essentially your skin is hydrated 24/7 and thus means fewer wrinkles will appear), trying to battle acne due to oily skin well into adulthood can be rather annoying. Not to mention that without any primers, any makeup I wear essentially melts off within three hours or so and if someone craves glowy skin, mine is like J.Lo’s glow phase times ten (meaning more an oil-slick than glow). So I’ve always been on the search for powder or cream that could help me keep my oily skin under control.

What It Is: Oil Control Sebum Powder

What It Does: Controls the production of oil on your skin.

Verdict: This product is what Urban Decay’s DeSlick wish it were. The thing is this powder WORKS. Even on uber oily skin as my own. The downfall? Well, apparently keeping the oil in check also means that my skin doesn’t breathe, so it actually broke me out more in areas of my face where I don’t usually breakout at. However, I may have used too much of the product, so I stopped using it for a week till my skin stopped freaking out and reused it again afterward using only a tiny amount and no breaking out occurred AND it kept my oil in check. So essentially if you’re looking for a powder that will help you curb your oiliness, then this is the way to go. Prior to this, I haven’t found one that actually works and I’ve used a billion others from various brands that provided no true results on the oil spill that is my skin. So, I’d recommend this product, however, use sparingly as it may break you out, but it DOES work on keeping oily skin at bay.

Price: $6.85

Where To Buy It: Amazon

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