The Liebster Award – Take Two

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Some of you may remember that I was already nominated for  Liebster Award back in May.  But on Thursday, Rosemary over at ColorMePeach nominated me again! Thanks so much Rosemary!

I think the Liebster concept is really cool.  Basically it’s a blogging award made by bloggers, for bloggers.  It’s all about putting the spotlight on smaller blogs (blogs with less than 200 followers) and you are nominated by your fellow bloggers.  It’s a fun way to find new blogs and meet new people and I am all for it, so I figured why not – I’ll do another Liebster post.

The “rules” of accepting the award are:

  • Link to and thank the person you nominated
  • Post the Liebster Award button / image somewhere in the post
  • Answer 11 questions left by the person who nominated you
  • Nominate 11 blogs (and notify them) and leave 11 questions for them to answer
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself

Pretty simple rules, and they are all basically aimed at letting your followers learn more about you.   So here are the 11 questions that Rosemary left for me:

1. Do you watch youtube makeup gurus, and who are your favorites?
I do! I only very recently began watching YouTubers (and Mr. Man totally makes fun of me for it).  My favorites are Coffee Break with Dani, essiebutton, & Young Wild and Polished.

2. If you had to live in an extreme climate would it be very hot or cold?
Oh gosh.  This is hard! I feel like I do live in an extreme cold climate during the winter here in Chicago, so yeah I’d have to say cold.  You can always put on more clothes, but there is a limit to what you can take off!

3. Who inspired you to blog?
I wouldn’t say any one person inspired me to blog.  As a writer, I think it was inevitable.  Before I started this blog my friends would always ask me if I had one, so I guess you could say collective peer pressure got me here.

4. Do you try and save money on makeup? If so, how?
Oh yes.  I never met a coupon I didn’t like.  Honestly, I try to stick to drugstore brands and look for the best drugstore products.  I splurge on a couple of prestige brands, but I hate doing it.  It just feels so wasteful to me still! I also don’t buy a ton of makeup products.  I seriously budget myself to $40 a month at Ulta and I only buy things that I need or don’t have.  Plus I love the Ulta coupons every month!

5. Do you have any pets?
Yes! I have a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Ein (bonus points if you get the reference).  He’s going to be two on August 1st and I can’t believe it.

6. Under water snorkeling or skydiving?
I am terrified of water, so skydiving I guess, though I find the prospect of jumping out of a plane equally terrifying.  I’d have to do the kind of skydiving where you are strapped to another (more experienced) diver.  If I wasn’t, I’d totally chicken out.

7. What’s your favorite number?
I really like the number 244, for no particular reason.  I just think it looks and sounds nice. (Is that weird? That’s weird isn’t it?)

8. What are your plans in 5 years?
To be finished with my MFA and employed as a copyeditor in Chicago.

9. Favorite can’t-live-without makeup product?
That would be one of my splurge items – my Smashbox Always Sharp Waterproof Kohl Eyeliner in Sumatra.  I’m committed to a dark waterline.

10. What is a store you always stop at while shopping?
I don’t go shopping without a stop at Loft.  And Starbucks.

11. What’s your most unique piece of clothing?
Hmm. I actually have to think about this one a bit! I’m not sure I have any “unique” clothing.  It’s all pretty boring actually.  I do have  a pair of shiny patent leather pumps that are neon orange that I always get compliments on when I wear.  I also own reindeer leggings. Seriously.

Here are the 11 blogs that I am nominating for the award.  If you all have already been nominated, no sweat.  Don’t feel like you have to do the Liebster Award post again (unless you want to):

And here are my 11 questions for any of the bloggers I nominated who want to participate:

1.  What has been the best part of blogging for you?
2.  What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?
3.  What is your favorite meal (or the best meal you’ve ever had)?
4.  What is your current favorite song or band?
5.  Are there any events or activities coming up this summer that you’re looking forward to?
6.  What do you hope to gain through blogging?
7.  Best book you’ve read recently?
8.  If you had to pick one place to visit before you died, where would it be?
9.  What is one ordinary, everyday thing that always makes you happy?
10.  List one guilty pleasure (it can be anything!)
11.  What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever bought for yourself or someone else?

And finally, 11 random, potentially silly facts about myself:

1. I organize my books by color
2. I could watch HGTV 24/7 and be totally happy
3. I hated tea until I moved to Chicago and discovered Argo Tea
4. Corgis are my jam
5. I got my first smartphone last year
6. I (secretly) wish that I could be a doctor
7. Taking long walks is one of the most relaxing things in the world to me
8. I once owned a Dawson’s Creek “tell-all” book that I bought at an elementary school book fair
9.  The first “grown up” makeup I bought was a Dior bronzer and it. was. awful.
10. I can’t make it through the day without at least one cup of coffee and one piece of chocolate
11. I love earrings, but I have a nickel allergy, so finding cute ones is a pain in the bum.

Do We Really Need a ‘Netflix for Books’?

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The e-book world is buzzing today since Amazon announced their new program, Kindle Unlimited.  For $10/month, you get access to unlimited Kindle e-books – over 600,000 books to be exact.  This isn’t really a new concept; services like Oyster and Scribd already offer the same service with the caveat that their e-books aren’t Kindle compatible.

When I first heard about this, I was totally on board.  Instant access to basically any book I want to read? Sign me up, take my money. But then I really stopped to think about it.  Do I need access to 600,000 books every month? No, probably not.  I have been speeding through books this summer, but that’s not always the case.  It typically takes me two weeks to finish a book.  It can take more or less depending on what else is going on in my life, what assignments or reading I have to do for classes, and if I leave myself time to read during the day, instead of, say, binge watching bad reality TV shows.  So on average, I’d say I could read two books per month.  A typical Amazon e-book costs around the $10 mark.  Some are more, some are less – it just depends.  So would this really be saving me money?  Depends on the month, but I’ll go out on a limb and say no.  Plus, I think Amazon’s advertising of this service is misleading.  The commercials hit you with popular titles - Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Endless Love, Life of Pi.  But if you dig deeper, you’ll see that the big publishing companies are not participating with Amazon, meaning that those new releases you really want to get your hands on aren’t going to be available. Definitely something to ponder as Amazon’s increasingly bad relationship with publishing houses rears its head again.

What is really rubbing me the wrong way is this moniker that Kindle Unlimited has already earned – “The Netflix of Books.”  No.  Just no.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Netflix.  I use that service almost every single day, but let’s be honest.  Netflix is a luxury service.  I don’t need it (even if I might say otherwise).  I am fully aware that my ability to subscribe to Netflix is a luxury.  Books and access to books should never, ever, ever be a luxury.   Some of my fondest memories as a child were weekly trips to the public library that was just up the street from my house.  I would get to pick out 2 or 3 books at a time, knowing that even if I ran through all those, we could go back and get more.  The library is where I ripped through every book Lois Lowry and Beverly Cleary ever wrote, where I discovered that there truly are books for every taste.   It makes me so sad that I can’t get a library card in Chicago (as I am not considered a true resident of the city).

But wait? Don’t you read primarily on a Kindle yourself?

Yes.  It’s true.  I have made the transition to an e-reader.  But if e-readers were outlawed tomorrow and e-books disappeared? You can bet I’d be figuring out how to get a library card or making (even more) frequent trips to my local bookstore.  If Amazon’s venture into unlimited books can encourage more people to read and even encourage binge-reading (if we’re going to keep up the Netflix metaphor) then that is truly wonderful and I hope that does happen, but I hope even more that people remember that the do have unlimited access to books already.  Public libraries exist for a reason and continue to exist now, even when bookstores are crumbling.  You don’t need fancy e-readers and tablets, just a few hours to browse and lose yourself in a story.

What I’m Loving Right Now

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Sometimes, it is really about stopping to take in the little things.  I am trying to take more notice of the little things that are making me happy right now.  These things may not have any long term effects; they may be fleeting moments, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t special.

What is making me happy right now is my little work nook.  We have two couches in our apartment.  Technically, they fit together to make a big sectional, but our living room is too narrow to make it fit.  So we have one couch close to the TV that we sit on all the time, and one in the back of the room that rarely gets used.  I’ve taken to setting up on this couch to do work.  It feels cozy and secluded, the perfect spot for doing a little writing and doing a little research (today I’m learning all about the origins of secrets).   Setting up camp here with my notebook, a cold drink (I’ve been loving Trader Joe’s spicy chai tea latte mix), and a snack (frozen grapes) makes it feel less like work.  I’m also loving the effect that adding a few fresh blooms to the room is having.  I picked up the cheapest bouquet of flowers from Trader Joe’s last night and they just make the room seem more lively and fresh. They are an instant mood booster – how can you not feel content looking at the gorgeous colors?

What are you loving right now?

July 2014 Julep Maven Unboxing

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This is a very unexpected unboxing.  If you remember the fiasco with my May Maven box and the Plié Wand debacle, you’ll remember that I canceled my Julep subscription.  It is still canceled, I haven’t resubscribed.  Julep reached out to me and offered to send me a free July “It Girl” box, in hopes of luring me back in, so I figured I would go ahead and unbox it for you all.  To be clear – my issue with Julep was never their product.  I think they do have one of the best nail polish formulas on the market.  I just think their business practices could use a little help and that maybe it’s an issue of their Maven subscription service taking off a little faster than anticipated.  Maven boxes are a great value at only $20/month, since they include at least two polishes, but $20 is a bit pricey.

July’s collection is called the Poolside Collection.  This is the “It Girl” box, so it features three limited edition polishes.  Other boxes this month featured two polishes and a beauty product.  This month’s colors are:

Braiden, a graphite colored polish in Julep’s stardust finish.  This polish dries matte and textured.  You can feel all the glitter in it.  This is very pretty, but it’s a bit harsh for summer I think.

Linden, a pool blue creme polish.  This is surprisingly opaque and is a really beautiful, cerulean color.

Dawn, a citron creme polish.  Again, this is surprisingly opaque for a yellow polish.  It’s also giving off a neon vibe, which is really in this season.

Overall, I’m really happy with these colors.  They’re really different from other colors in my collection and ones that I know I will end up wearing.  Does this box make me want to resubscribe? Not really.  Honestly, even if Julep’s business practices hadn’t gone sour for me, I was thinking about canceling anyways.  I have so many polishes that I will never finish, so I certainly don’t need 36 new polishes over the course of one year.  I do think the service makes a nice treat every four or five months, but for me it’s not something I want on a monthly basis.

July 2014 Ipsy Unboxing

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Here we go again! My July Ipsy bag came this morning, and of course, being the patient person I am, I tore into it.  If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that this is only my fourth Ipsy bag.  I subscribed in April because I wanted to see what the hype was about.  It is often compared to my favorite subscription, Birchbox, because both services are at the very affordable $10/month price point.  Since this is my fourth month, I am really getting a feel for Ipsy and the type of company they are and the type of product they provide.  I will get into that at the end of the post though, because I know people just want to see the goods.

The theme of this month’s bag is “Sensationally Sunkissed,” and the bag itself is pretty plain.  It’s a hot pink, pleather bag with scalloped edges, and the interior lining is white felt.  It’s pretty cheap looking and feeling, but it would make a good bag to take to the pool or beach because I believe it is waterproof (to some extent).

The first product I got is a sample of bareMinerals 5 in 1 BB Advanced Performance Cream Eye Shadow in Divine Wine.  Gosh that is a mouthful.  I am excited about this because bareMinerals is a great brand.  It can be used as an eyeshadow or a primer and it is supposed to have 12 hour staying power.  The color I got is pretty dark, but it’s a beautiful mauve, purple brown color.  Not sure how wearable it is for me, but the formula is very silky and glides on smoothly.  It also seems to go on matte and dry with a bit of gold shimmer.

The next item in my bag is Elizabeth Mott Tints & Sass Fabulous Lip and Cheek Stain in Cherry.  And when they say cherry, they aren’t just talking about the color.  This smells likes cherries, which I love.  It’s a beautiful, deep red lip stain, but it’s not over powering.  It goes on pretty sheer, so you can build up the color.  I was hesitant about this because deep red is not my color, but I actually really like this.  It is a stain though and boy does it stain. Also, this is a full-size product that retails for $23, so I definitely got my money’s worth from this Ipsy bag.

My next item is POP Beauty Sunkissed Bronzer in Secret Sunshine.  I have a lip gloss from POP that is one of my all-time favorites, so I know I like this brand.  I avoid bronzers like the plague.  Side story: my first “grown-up” makeup product that I got when I was 17 was a Dior bronzer.  It was horrid.  I had no idea what I was doing, the shade was way too dark, and I walked around with an orange face and a pale body.  Since then, I just never learned how to use bronzer and honestly, I’ve never been interested.  I am very fair and have come to terms with that.  I have zero interest in tanning or being tan really.  That said, I actually do like this product, but I am using it as an eyeshadow. It’s a gorgeous neutral shade of brown and looks great swiped across the eyelids for a little something extra.  It’s also quite creamy.  This is also a full-size product and it retails for $10.

My last two items feel very repetitive and in fact, the next one I’m going to talk about is a repeat from my May bag.  It is the pur-lisse essential daily moisturizer with SPF 30.  I got this exact product in May, the only difference being this one has sunscreen and the May sample didn’t.  I was initially excited about this moisturizer, because I am always hunting for a good, lightweight daily moisturizer, but this one just left my skin oily and made me breakout.  I’ll try this one to see if it’s any different, but I’m not super excited about it.

The final item in this month’s bag is Faith Aromatherapy Anti-Oxidant Body Lotion in Citrus / Ginger.  I haven’t had this brand or product before, but it feels like a repeat because it smells identical to the Balanced Guru hair oil from the May bag.  The scent is really not great, so I’m not sure how much I’ll use this.  I will try it to see if the brand’s formula is good though, and see if it comes in some other scents.

So that is my July 2014 Sensationally Sunkissed Ipsy bag.  Overall it was a solid bag and a really good mixture of makeup and skincare items and I think it does reflect my beauty quiz results pretty well.  Being my fourth month as a subscriber, I do feel like I’ve got a handle on the type of company and service Ipsy is and I will say that my overall impression is not that positive.  For the most part, my bags have been fine, but I am really talking here about the business end of the company.  Last month, there was some controversy over an item that came in some bags.  I did not get the item in question, but I know people who did and I watched the saga play out on social media.  Some June bags included Be a Bombshell mascaras that were legitimately rancid and were dangerous to use and Ipsy stayed completely silent about it.  It was a widespread issue and even though I wasn’t personally affected, it really made me think about wanting to do business with a company that doesn’t seem to care about it’s subscribers when bad, dangerous products are being sent out.  It also makes me question the safety of the products I’m being sent each month. I am going to continue to get Ipsy for the next two months, because I think six months is a fair trial period, but I’m unsure if I will be continuing to support this company.

I hate ending on such a down note, so here is something a bit happier.  Now through August 10th at Ulta, you can get free shipping on any order if you buy a bareMinerals product by using the code IPSYBAREFS, which is a great deal.   I’d love to hear in the comments what you guys got in your Ipsy this month or just general thoughts about the company.

July 2014 Birchbox Unboxing

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Yes, it is that time of the month – unboxing time! This morning I got my July 2014 Birchbox in the mail.  This is probably the fastest I’ve ever gotten my box before and I hadn’t even had time to sneak a peek at what’s in my box.  First though, I thought I’d change things up and give you guys an update on how I fared with the products in my June box, since I do use them (I’m not a crazy sample hoarder, promise).

Benefit They’re Real Mascara: I’m going to post a really unpopular opinion about this mascara – I didn’t like it.  I didn’t feel like it worked that well and I had some serious clumping issues.  Also, the brush was super rough on my eyes and lashes.

Davines Hair Care:  I got three products from this brand – shampoo, conditioner, and hair milk.  I loved the shampoo.  It smelled so good and left my hair looking great.  Same for the conditioner.  The hair milk smelled great too and did tame some frizz, but it left my hair feeling weighed down.  Will I purchase these products? Probably not.  I liked them, but the price is a bit out of my reach at the moment for shampoo.

Caudalie Anti-Wrinkle Defense Serum: There was next to nothing in my tube.  This went straight to the trash.  Big dud for me.

Perlier Almond Milk Body Cream:  Loved this. Loved it.  The scent was fantastic and it made a really great hand cream.  I’ve reached for it every time I have washed my hands this past month.  Definitely going to purchase a full size soon.

Catherine Melandrino Fragrance:  I liked this okay.  It’s a fine scent, nothing really special in my opinion.  I’m certainly not buying a full size.  Even if I loved it, spending $100+ on a perfume is just not something I’m about.

As you can see there were some hits and some (unexpected) misses from June, but overall it was a great box.

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Now onto July! The theme of July’s box is Power Up, and Birchbox partnered with Women’s Health magazine to curate this box.  How cute is the packaging this month? Instead of the traditional brown cardboard box, this month’s is jazzed up.  The top is white with a colorful print that features all kinds of workout clothes and gear, and the bottom is a bright red.

In addition to the usual postcard that tells you the theme and the products you got in your box, every subscriber received a little “Power Up” booklet.  It features the same print as the box top and has 12 bite-sized challenges.  These are things you can do to power up your month and they all seem really do-able.  Some of the challenges are skipping the mirror for a day, parting your hair differently, or improving your posture.  As always, the design of this little booklet is SO cute.  It’s colorful, but crisp and clean.  I may actually be taking on the challenges in the booklet this month, so stay tuned for that.

Every subscriber also received a business reply mail postcard from Women’s Health that is good for a free 1-year subscription to the magazine.  Yes, that’s right - free.  It’s a $10 value, so this box already paid for itself.  All you have to do is fill out your info, check the yes box, and send it in to get the magazine, or if you aren’t interested in the magazine, you can check the no box and Women’s Health will give you a $10 refund.  That is really cool.

On to the samples!

The first thing I got is Ruffian Nail Laquer in Rosary.  I wanted to talk about this product first because it is part of something really cool Birchbox did this month.  At the end of June, some subscribers got an e-mail to pick one of the samples that would be in their July box.  The options were a Ruffian polish from their new Rapture Collection, or a Cynthia Rowley lip stain.  Once you picked your product, you got to pick your color.  I chose the nail polish in Rosary, which is a really gorgeous metallic rose gold color.  Ruffian polishes are fantastic.  I own a couple already and it’s not a lie when they say you only  need one coat of polish to get opaque, full coverage.  Plus, this polish is a full-size product that retails for $11, so it more than paid for the box.

Birchbox also sent along a Ruffian Nail Polish Remover Towelette.  I’ve actually never used nail polish remover towelettes, so I’m curious to see if it’s easier than my current method.  This one is acetone-free and is perfumed.

Up next is Benefit Cosmetics Posiebalm.  This is a tinted, hydrating lip balm.  It’s the balm version of Benefit’s Posie Tint, which is a lip stain.  This smells so good.  It’s floral and rosy.  The balm itself is a very sheer pink, so it didn’t give me a lot of color, but it feels so creamy on my lips.  The packaging of the sample is adorable, but kind of misleading.  There is enough product to test it out and get a feel for it in the tube, but let’s just say there is a lot more tube than product.

Next is a sample of Agave Healing Oil Treatment.  This is a hair oil that is supposed to hydrate and protect hair.  The package says it smooths and restores frizzy, unmanageable hair.  Well, that definitely applies to me.  It’s so funny – just yesterday I watched one of my favorite YouTubers talk about this product in a monthly favorites video, so I’m excited to try it.

Next is Vasanti Cosmetics BrightenUp! Enzymatic Face Rejuvenator.  This is a facial scrub that is supposed to mimic the effects of microdermabrasion.  I love face scrubs and use one every day in the shower, so I’ll be curious to see how this stacks up against my current fave.  It smells pretty good, nice and fresh.

My final sample is Harvey Prince Hello Body Creme.  I’m glad they sent me another lotion since the one from June is almost out! This is of course the lotion version of Harvey Prince’s Hello perfume.  This smells so so good.  The tube says it’s a mix of Sicilian lemon, Spanish mandarin botanicals, and shea butter. I’m also picking up some coconut or amber. It honestly smells really familiar to me, but I can’t quite place it.  It’s a really light weight lotion and a little dab went a long way on my hands. I seriously can’t stop smelling them now.  This is a great summer scent and it kind of makes me want to go out and buy the perfume.

So that is my July 2014 Power Up Birchbox.  Over all I think it’s a great box and a great mix of products.  Plus, I loved being able to pick one of my products this month.   If you are interested in signing up for Birchbox, it is a $10/month subscription service.  You can pay monthly or pay for a full year up front.  Everyone gets 4-6 different samples each month, tailored to the beauty profile you fill out and you can review your samples to earn Birchbox points.  Birchbox has the best points system, hands down.  You get 10 points per review and 100 points  = $10 to spend in the Birchbox shop on full size products they sample.  It’s like they pay you $4-6 every month just for taking your box.  If you’re interested in learning more or signing up, you can click here for more details.

How are you Powering Up your July?

The Vacationers

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If you read my summer reading list, you’ll probably see that Emma Straub’s latest novel, The Vacationers, is nowhere to be found on it.  Honestly, after reading it, I’m kind of kicking myself for not initially including it.  It’s been on my radar since it’s release this May, but I wrote it off as a breezy beach read and didn’t include it in my list.  I know, that is really silly, especially considering this book is taking the place of Mindy Kaling’s memoir on my summer reading list.  Sigh.

So here is what happened.  I was all set to move on from Megan Abbott’s fantastic novel The Fever and into Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? but you know what? I just could not get into it.  I tried, I really did, but for some reason it just was not gelling.  I think I’ve become something of a snob when it comes to memoirs and nonfiction and I couldn’t turn off the literary analysis part of my brain.  So I did what my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Crow, always implored us to do, which is to put down a book you don’t like and pick up another (though, funnily, that never translated over to required texts).  Really though, I think Kaling’s memoir is more suited to be listened to as an audiobook, so I might still give it a go, just in another medium.

That is how I landed on Straub’s The Vacationers, and I am very glad I did.  I devoured this book in about two days.  It is fast paced and a fairly easy read, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot going on.  The Vacationers tells the story of the Post family’s two week summer vacation to the island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain.  The vacationers are Franny and Jim, the husband and wife who are experiencing marital and mid-life turbulence, Sylvia, their 18-year-old daughter who will be going to college in the fall, Bobby, their 28-year-old son and his forty-year-old girlfriend Carmen, who the family doesn’t approve of, plus Franny’s best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence, who are anxiously awaiting news about adopting a baby.

Whew.  That is a lot of characters for a 300 page novel.  The book never feels crowded though.  Straub manages to find time in each chapter to deal with each character individually and by the end of the novel I felt like I knew them all well.  That is a feat for any writer, and I have to say, I’m kind of jealous of that skill as I always find myself fumbling around with too many characters.  It’s hard to give everyone equal playing time, and I noticed that Straub did give some characters more page time than others, but she crafted scenes, dialogue, and thoughts so well that it didn’t matter.

The Vacationers is a novel where not a lot happens.  The main actions of each day in Mallorca are generally swimming, eating, reading, and napping.  I mean, come on, the Posts are on vacation after all.  That doesn’t mean that nothing happens of course, but the main conflicts come through conversations between characters.  In that way, I think this novel is very internal and psychological, and Straub does an excellent job of weaving the internal and external together to advance characters and rocket readers through 14 chapters, one for each day of the vacation.  That’s also why I felt like I knew each of the characters by the time the novel was finished, since I got to spend time looking at things from every view point.

Still, I did find the ending a little too perfect, a little too neatly wrapped up.  While there wasn’t a lot of physical action in the present of the story (most of it takes place in flashbacks), there was still room for turbulence and, without giving too much away, I’ll say that I felt like Straub let several of the characters get away easy and mess free.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that a good vacation can change a lot of things, but fourteen days seems an awfully short time to fix the types of issues facing many of the characters in this book.  I’d love to see a Vacationers part two: the aftermath.

This was such a fun read, that I’m willing to over look the ending.  I am so glad I picked this book up.  I won’t say that my opinion of it has totally changed – it was a super easy, quick read – but there is definitely a lot of substance to The Vacationers than I was expecting.

What I Liked In June

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I cannot believe that it is already July.  I am firmly in the camp of people who have no idea where June went.  Seriously, no idea.  June felt like a blur to me, but there was a lot going on.  Here are a few things that I liked in June:

Summertime: It finally began to feel like summer in Chicago.  April and May were pretty miserable months, temperature wise, but June got things back to “normal.”  The weather has been so lovely and sunshiny.  It’s warm, people are finally out walking around, and I’ve taken full advantage.  I love hanging out downtown in the summer, grabbing an iced coffee, and just stopping to watch all the performers who come out.

Froyo Fever: I may have gone a little frozen yogurt crazy this month.  A Red Mango just opened up less than a 5-minute walk away.  I’ve been too many several times and am loving having a refreshing, sweet treat that is moderately healthful right in my backyard.

Reading Rainbow: At the beginning of the month, I made a list of the ten books I wanted to read this summer.  I’ve already checked two off the list, Peggy Shinner’s You Feel So Mortal and Megan Abbott’s The Fever.  It’s been so relaxing to grab my Kindle, curl up on the couch with a blanket and my dog and just lose myself in the story.  I made a teeny tiny change in my list.  I started Mindy Kaling’s memoir, but I just couldn’t get into it for some reason. So instead I added a whole new pick to my list, Emma Straub’s The Vacationers.  I’m 100 pages in and loving it!

Unintentional Staycation:  Any vacation I was going to have this summer was going to be a staycation, but then I got sick.  Now, I won’t say I liked being sick, but I liked that it gave me an excuse to lay on the couch for a couple of days, play video games, watch Netflix (I’m currently marathoning House), and nap.  Never underestimate the power of a good nap.

OITNB:  Speaking of Netflix marathons, I barreled through the second season of the Netflix show Orange is the New Black.   I love this show.  The cast is amazing, the characters are equal parts relatable, hilarious, heart-breaking, and psychotic.  It just feels so fresh and unformulaic to me.  It also inspired me to add the memoir that inspired the show to my summer reading list.  I’m looking forward to season three next June!

100 Happy Days: I finished the 100 Happy Days challenge this month.  100 days felt really long and really short, and I’m not gonna lie – I kind of miss doing the challenge.  It was a fun experience and one that I think was really important for me, and I’m so glad I did it.  You can look back on my 100 days here.

People Watching:  Because of the warmer weather, most cafes and restaurants are putting out patio seating on the sidewalks.  This month, I loved stopping to hang out at coffee shops and people watching in new neighborhoods.  My travel writing class wrapped up this month, and it definitely taught me that there is travel everywhere.  Just sitting outside a Starbucks in a new neighborhood can be a travel experience.  I foresee many L rides to new ‘hoods this summer.

Those are just a handful of things I liked in June.  What did you like?

The Fever

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The Fever by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)

I have always been a big fan of mystery / thriller novels.  When I was a teenager, I went through every Stephen King novel the public library had and I distinctly remember asking my mom to take me to the bookstore each October so I could pick out a thriller to read around Halloween.  I love the fast paced nature of a good mystery and that feeling like you can’t stop reading until you find out what happens next.

I got into medical thrillers when I was in 12th grade.  My biology teacher assigned us a book report on a book that dealt with science or biology.  I blindly picked Robin Cook’s Outbreak from a list she gave us and went on to read most of Robin Cook’s novels.   What is it about these books?  Well, I suppose it is the feeling that these things could actually happen.  They aren’t horribly far removed from reality and there is something exciting about that.  One of my favorite mystery / thriller series is Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series.  These are the novels that the TV show Bones is based around and at the end of each novel, Reichs always has a little snippet about how she came up with the idea.  She usually pulls from cases that she actually handles as a forensic anthropologist.   Do I want any of the things I read about in these books to come true? No. Absolutely no.  But it’s fun to read about.

Admittedly, mystery and thriller novels get a bad rap in the academic world, where I spend 99% of my time.  The general perception is that these novels are “cheap” or “pulp.”  There isn’t much substance to them, the writing is subpar, they don’t develop characters, blah blah blah.  I would say that to some extent, that is true.  Most thriller novels on their own don’t expand a lot on the characters.  They get right to the action and blaze through.  There isn’t anything wrong with that; it’s just a different style of writing than literary fiction.  Lately, the trend seems to be combining literary fiction and thrillers, which I am all for.  I jumped on Gillian Flynn’s fantastic novel Gone Girl that blends the two expertly, so when I heard about Megan Abbott’s new novel The Fever, I knew I had to read it.

The Fever centers around the Nash family, headed by father and high school chemistry teacher Tom, his hunky hockey star son Eli, and his popular daughter Deenie.  One of Deenie’s friends, Lise, becomes strangely and violently ill at school and no one knows the cause.  The next day, her friend Gabby gets sick, and the next day her friend Kim.  The town is thrown into mass hysteria by the unexplained illnesses and Deenie  becomes convinced she is the cause – she is the only thing these girls have in common.  Throw in a creepy town with a potentially radioactive lake, a handful of secrets, and some stellar plot twists and you’ve got the makings of a great literary thriller.

Abbott captures the heart of being a sixteen-year-old girl so perfectly and in such a way that the characters are both likable and horrifying at the same time.  It’s not just about teenagers though; Abbott does a really good job of balancing all the characters.  I felt like I came to know each member of the Nash family, plus all of Deenie’s friends and frenemies well and I became sufficiently creeped out by the town that seemed to have a mind of it’s own.  This is one I would read again and again, and one that I wish would have a sequel.  I finished the book feeling both satisfied by the ending and wanting to know how the Nash family would recover.  Abbott captures everything I love about the thriller genre – the fast-paced action and page turning pace – with the detail and sophistication of literary fiction.  This is a  novel about teenagers that any adult will enjoy.

You Feel So Mortal

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You Feel So Mortal by Peggy Shinner (University of Chicago Press)

This book has been high on my reading list since it was released in March.  Admittedly, I’m a little biased on this one, as the author is one of my professors at Northwestern and is going to be my thesis advisor.

Even if I didn’t know Peggy, I would feel like I did after reading this book.  It is not a memoir specifically, but every writer knows it is hard to keep yourself out of the work.  The essays cover topics like feet, bra shopping, autopsy, even Leopold & Loeb, and Peggy skillfully finds ways to incorporate her own connection to those things, weaving between the personal and the completely impersonal.  It was fun to read about things she had mentioned in class previously, to hear anecdotes expanded upon, and to learn more about her as a person.   Gone are the elementary and high school days where teachers are only teachers (seriously – I used to think they lived at school).

The writing in this collection of essays is more lyrical than straightforward narrative, a style that I so desperately want to be able to imitate.  The stories just flow, stemming from an obvious place of genuine curiosity.  Peggy essentially lays her brain out on the page and allows us to follow along as she begins with one topic – nose jobs, say – and traces her own curiosity and connection.  She’s also not afraid to turn the camera on herself.  She doesn’t let herself and her perceptions and opinions off easily.  She gives us access to her insights, her wit, and her own struggles and confusions.

It’s that level of honesty that I so appreciate in nonfiction writing.  Most of the topics in the book can be easily researched on Google, but it’s those moments of personal reflection, musing, and questioning that make this book more than just essays about body parts and the things we do to them.