Book Review: The Girl on the Train

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image from amazon.com

I am a huge fan of mystery novels. I love the fast paced nature of them, the suspense, and well, the mystery. Mystery and thriller novels get a bad rap sometimes as being “pulp.” Now, it’s true there are a lot of mystery novels that are poorly written, but I think most get deemed un-serious literature based on the fact that mystery and thriller novels tend to cut out a lot of exposition and filler information and just get to the action.

Enter the literary thriller, which takes everything people love about literary fiction and smashes it together with a fast-paced thriller novel. The most popular recently has been Gone Girl, and this novel, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Many people have actually been comparing the two novels, but I’m not sure that is a really fair comparison. The Girl on the Train takes place in 2013 and is told from the perspective of three women, all of whom are extremely flawed, unreliable narrators. There is Rachel, who is the girl on the train. She is an unemployed alcoholic, still reeling from a divorce that happened a couple of years prior. Every day, to keep up the pretense that she still has a job, she takes the train in to London, which takes her past her former house, where she sees her ex-husband, his new wife Anna, and their baby daughter. It also takes her past the home of Jess and Jason, a couple she doesn’t know, but names and imagines a happy life for.

As the reader, we know that Jess and Jason aren’t happy, and aren’t Jess and Jason. They are Megan and Scott. Megan narrates several of the chapters from the past, and much of the novel centers around her disappearance, and the fact that Rachel can’t remember exactly what happened that night, but that she was possibly outside of Megan’s home that night. The other chapters are told from the perspective of Anna, who married Rachel’s ex-husband and who loathes Rachel entirely. All three women have things to hide, things to be ashamed of, and it’s clear early on that all three aren’t exactly trustworthy and may be bending their sides of the story. You never know who to trust, and I think that is one of the great successes of the novel. Hearing the story from several perspectives keeps you guessing up until the end.

The novel does a great job of keeping the suspense high, and I honestly hadn’t guessed who was responsible for Megan’s disappearance and death until close to the end, which for me is the mark of a good thriller. Nothing ruins a mystery faster than knowing who did it within the first one hundred pages. That said, at times I did find the book to be dragging along, particularly at the beginning. Once Megan disappears and the real meat of the story gets set in motion, the pages really fly by and go quickly. Would I say that this is as good as Gone Girl? No, but it is a good read nonetheless, especially if you enjoy thrillers.

On Being Intentional With My Time

Left to my own devices, I’m kind of useless.

This is something that has been hard to come to terms with, and I don’t mean it in a self-deprecating way, or that I can’t do the basic functions of daily life. No, I mean that left to me own devices, I don’t get anything done with my day. I’m fortunate right now that, where work and school are concerned, I set my own schedule almost entirely. It sounds like a nice  idea doesn’t it? Total control over how I spend all 24 hours in my day? It is great in theory, but I need more practice at it.

It is too easy to say I’ll allow myself one day, just this one day, to be lazy and watch YouTube all day and not get dressed and lay on the couch. But one day bleeds into another, and before you know it, weeks have passed and there is nothing to show for them. So I’ve started thinking a lot lately about how to be more intentional with my time, and what that even means.

I feel like “be intentional with your time” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot and is code for get your shit together and do something. But I think it’s more than that. When we say something is intentional, we mean that someone meant to do something. The action was thought through, premeditated, planned ahead of time. It wasn’t spontaneous. So if I’m being intentional with my time, it is more than just doing something to feel like I’m being productive. It’s thinking through what I want to accomplish and purposing to take the steps to get there. But that is hard too.

My entire life, I’ve had people or institutions planning out my time, and I always thought I was good at time management, but I realize now that I had a lot of help in that area from school and activities that took place at set times, and that I had to plan around. Basically, it boils down to the fact that I used to have a routine, and now I don’t. And I wish I did. Routines are an essential way to be intentional with your time because they are essentially daily tasks that you do at the same time, in mostly the same way, on the same days. So how do you build a routine when you have few outside forces making demands and impositions on your time?

That is what I am struggling with at the moment. I like the idea of routines, and I used to have routines that I liked and followed religiously. But time passed and things changed and those routines got thrown to the side and across the room, and now I’m trying to pick up the pieces. I’ve been making some small steps toward a routine for the last week, and I do mean small. I’ve been setting aside an hour every afternoon to be away from my computer, to read or write without the distraction of a screen. I’ve been trying to get up a little earlier every day, go to bed a little earlier, hoping that those small changes will jump start something.

So my question is this: how do you set a routine? What is helpful in thinking of ways to be intentional with your time, and once you’ve decided to be intentional, how do you actually put your plan in motion and follow through?

July 2015 Birchbox Unboxing

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Happy July, everyone! It hardly seems like July to me, I think probably because Chicago hasn’t quite hit it’s summer heat wave yet. Still, I am loving (semi) lazy summer days of reading, walking out to the lake, sipping iced coffee, and late sunsets. My July Birchbox actually made it’s way here about a week ago, but I’m just now getting around to posting about it. It arrived while my family was in town visiting, and I was soaking up all the time with them I could. Before jumping in with July’s samples, let’s look at how June panned out.

June’s box was the best I’ve had in a while. I have used every single product. My favorite was definitely the Marcelle eyelinerI have seriously used it everyday since I got it. It doesn’t irritate my eyes, comes off easily even though it’s waterproof, and I love the eggplant color. The Klorane mango butter shampoo and conditioner are a close second favorite. My least favorite sample was the W3LL People mascara. It’s a basic black mascara, and I wasn’t horribly impressed with it, but it isn’t awful either.

On to July!

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July’s theme is “go bold,” which is pretty great for summer, when colors are brighter and the weather is hotter. I’m not the biggest fan of the pattern on the boxes this month, but I still love how vibrant and fun it is.

My first sample is Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray. This is supposed to soak up oil and give hair body and bounce. I’ve heard of this brand and always wanted to try something. I’m a sucker for a good dry shampoo, especially during the summer when I have no desire to wash my hair. This also smells really amazing. I haven’t gotten to try it out yet, but I have high hopes.

My second sample is Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Bella. Everyone got a Stila liquid lipstick this month, and for sample choice you got to pick your shade. I picked Bella, the hot pink. There was also a coral and red shade offered. This lipstick is so pigmented. I was shocked when I put it on. It is super bright, and I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off, but I wound up loving it! It does dry the lips out a bit (like most all long wear lipsticks), but I love the color and it stayed on for quite a while without fading or becoming patchy. Definitely a keeper, and the sample size is really generous!

My third sample is StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Eye Treatment. I’ve used a retinol before from another brand, and I do like them. This one promises to not cause irritation, which is a plus. Sometimes retinols can break out my sensitive under eye skin. I’m not hugely worried about treating lines and wrinkles around my eyes right now, but it’s always good to try these products out. The sample size is teeny tiny, but since it’s eye treatment, a little goes a long way.

My fourth sample is theBalm Balm Desert Bronzer / Blush. How cute is the packaging? theBalm does packaging so well. This is a 2-in-1 bronzer and blush that is supposed to be long wearing and perfect for the summer. It looks really dark in the pan, but when I swatched it on my hand, it sheered out to a nice rose gold color. I don’t typically wear bronzer or blush, but I actually really like the shade, and if I don’t like it on my cheeks, this will be a perfect eyeshadow.

My fifth and last sample is Whish Three Whishes Body Butter in Blueberry. Now, you might remember that I got a shave gel in blueberry from this company in April, and that was after receiving their shave gel in Acai Grapefruit several months previous. I don’t have the best impression of Whish products, mostly because I’m allergic to the shave gel. The blueberry body butter smells amazing, and I’m hoping I won’t have the same problem with it.  It’s full of antioxidants that are supposed to firm, soften, and smooth the skin. I am always up for a good lotion, especially in the summer, so fingers crossed that I’m not allergic to all of Whish’s products.

So that is my July 2015 Birchbox! Overall I am really pleased with this month’s samples, both in variety and sample size. There is a good mix of products and I feel like I got good sample sizes to really test things out this month. Plus I already know I love the Stila liquid lipstick. 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.

June 2015 Birchbox Unboxing

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It’s the middle of the month and you know what that means – time for a Birchbox unboxing! This month’s boxes are super cute, and it wouldn’t be Birchbox if there weren’t some drama, but more on that later. I can’t believe June is half over and that summer officially starts in a couple of days. It just doesn’t feel like summer to me yet, and maybe that’s because the weather here has been insane. One day it’s blazing hot, the next raining, the next it’s back in the 50s. Hopefully with the official beginning of summer next week, we can get some serious summery weather.

From my May box, I’d say my favorite item was definitely the Coastal Scents Revealed 3 sampler. The shades are all super wearable and easy, and I don’t wear a lot of eye shadow, but I am seriously considering buying the entire palette now. The Aruba Aloe foot creme was really nice too, but nothing special. The LA Fresh makeup remover wipes were a joke. I tried one, but it couldn’t even remove non-waterproof mascara (and the wipes claim to be for removing even waterproof makeup), and I didn’t use the Number 4 thermal styling spray because, well, I don’t heat style my hair ever, and the Dr. Jart+ Night BB Cream was just weird. Weird consistency, weird smell, weird color, weird feeling on my face. May wasn’t a bad month, but it wasn’t a good one either. It was definitely just OK.

On to June!

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The theme for June’s box is Say Yes, and the boxes are super cute this month. You could get one of three box patterns, each with a little saying on the front. I’ve said it before, but I really do love that Birchbox is doing special patterned boxes every month this year. I hope this is something permanent – it would be really hard to go back to the brown craft paper boxes after this year. Now, I never look at any of the product sneak peaks Birchbox releases, but I do follow them on social media, and I always watch the sample choice video they release each month, that usually has a tiny sneak peak of the box design and a couple of products. In June’s sample choice video (which was deleted by Birchbox), they told subscribers that everyone would be getting any Eyeko liquid eyeliner in their boxes, but of course when box previews came out, people looked and noticed that it wasn’t there. Birchbox said that their Eyeko liners got caught up in customs and would come in a future box. Now, personally, I don’t really care. I don’t use liquid liner so it really made no difference to me, but let’s just say people on Facebook and Twitter were mad. And I get that too because it is really not cool to promise something before it is official. This is just one in a string of incidents that have happened with Birchbox this year that have really made me stop and think about the type of company they are and if I want to continue supporting them. Overall, I’ve still been happy with what I’m getting from them, but moments like this make me stop and think, you know?

Wow. That was a downer, so let’s perk things up and get in to this month’s samples!

My box was packed this month with seven samples. I’ve been subscribed to Birchbox for two years now, and I’ve only gotten seven samples a couple of times. Six is usually the max, so this is definitely not the norm, but hey, I’m not complaining!

My first sample is CoTZ Sensitive SPF 40. Now, sunscreen isn’t exactly exciting, but it is totally necessary. I burn so easily, so sunscreen is a must in summer, but it is so hard finding a good one. This one says it is for sensitive skin. It is fragrance free, and goes on a lot like a moisturizer. It definitely doesn’t have that greasy feeling a lot of sunscreens have. The full-size is $20, so it’s pricey, but might be worth it.

My second and third samples are Klorane Shampoo and Conditioner with Mango Butter. Klorane makes my absolute favorite dry shampoo, so I have high hopes for this shampoo and conditioner. Plus, how cute is the little shampoo bottle? These products are supposed to smooth and hydrate dry hair, and the mango butter is supposed to nourish and restore. The shampoo smells amazing and like it could be edible (but of course, it’s not) so I’m super excited to try these products out.

My fourth sample is La Mav Green Clay Detox Mask. This is a clay mask that is supposed to extract impurities, shrink pores and brighten skin. I love clay masks. This sample is pretty tiny, so it is likely only one masks worth. It’s green in color and it smells good. I can’t pinpoint the exact scent, but it is very fresh and slightly citrusy. I will definitely try this out.

My fifth sample is Marcelle Waterproof Eyeliner in Mulberry. This is the eyeliner Birchbox sent as a replacement for the Eyeko one. Everyone got a different color, I believe, and mine is a really beautiful eggplant purple. I really love this color (and own another similar liner) because it looks like dark brown or black, but has just enough color to be different. This eyeliner is super smooth and creamy, and I love that it is hypo-allergenic. I have sensitive eyes, so I always look for that in eyeliner. It is also shimmer-free which I greatly appreciate because nothing is worse than little flecks of glitter under your contacts or in your eyes.

My sixth sample is W3LL PEOPLE The Expressionist Mascara. I’ve tried a W3LL PEOPLE highlighter before, and wasn’t super impressed. The brand is all-natural, and while I like the idea of that, I usually find that the products just don’t work. This is a black mascara that is supposed to lengthen and lift lashes. The wand is a silicone wand, which I’m typically not a fan of, but I am in need of a new mascara so I’ll definitely try this out. I do love the simple, matte white packaging though. It’s very chic.

My seventh and final sample this month is an Emi Jay Hair Tie. It’s a pretty leaf green color, and is a ribbon style tie. I love the way these look, and have gotten other brands before, but they usually don’t work on my hair. They’re always too small and not stretchy enough to go around my hair enough times to actually hold it up in a pony tail. Still, it’s really cute so I’ll at least see if I can make it work. If not, I guess it can double as a bracelet!

So that is my June 2015 Birchbox! This seems like a really great box. I can already envision using each of the products, which is a good sign, and I love the variety in this box. Some skin, some hair, some makeup. 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.

Happy June!

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

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Courtesy of Amazon.com

“Open your eyes and see with them what you can before they close forever.”

I am not typically drawn to historical fiction novels. I don’t know why, I have just never been a huge fan of them. Perhaps most of them feel like reading history books – they can be dry and bogged down by the historical accuracy and detail. It’s a bit of a catch-22 that I, myself, as a writer, have experienced many times. I first heard about this novel through an Instagram post by a friend, but then I kept hearing about it, kept seeing other friends, and authors talking about it on social media. It had been rattling around my “to-read” list for a few months, and when the novel won this year’s Pulitzer, I knew I had to read it. The novel tells the story of two children – a young, orphaned German boy, Werner, and a young, blind French girl, Marie-Laure, whose paths meet in a coastal French town in 1944.

At almost 600 pages, it is a long read, but it feels incredibly quick. Doerr sections the novel so that each chapter is about two pages, sometimes less, sometimes more. Those quick chapters, coupled with the fact that each chapter switches perspective make for a read that feels incredibly fast paced. Once I began reading, it was a serious struggle to put it down. I just wanted to know what was going to happen.

Something I greatly appreciated about this novel was how much it subverted my expectations about what a novel that takes place during World War II could be. Usually, I think most readers would expect a novel that takes place during that time to deal with the concentration camps and the Holocaust, but this novel steers very clear of that. It is mentioned in passing, but this novel is about the lives of these two young people and how they are both dealing with a world that has been turned upside down on them. For Marie-Laure, she is blind and is essentially orphaned when her father and uncle are arrested by the Nazis at various points in the novel. She must navigate the world without sight. For Werner, he must navigate a world he never expected to inhabit. The two main characters are connected in such wonderfully subtle ways for most of the novel, and their alternating chapters and stories resonate and rub up against each other beautifully. Doerr created such a rich world in this novel, and in many ways it felt like reading a literary thriller. Doerr is able to create tension and suspense, which is quite a feat given that, as it is historical fiction, we already know the outcome of the war. Still, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next, and the writing itself -the phrasing, the descriptions, and reflections- is absolutely stunning.

Book Review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

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Courtesy of Amazon.com

I typically shy away from what I will call celebrity nonfiction. I don’t care for books written by public figures, and I suppose in some ways the reason is a little snobby. Typically, those public figures had a lot of help writing the book, or else, the book is not very well written and thought out. I also shy away from books that skew towards self-help and empowerment, mostly because I find them hopelessly cheesy. For those reasons, I steered clear of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for a very long time. I first heard about the book very close to it’s release in March of 2013, when Arianna Huffington spoke at length about it on an episode of Bill Maher’s HBO show. I thought the concept sounded nice – how do we get more women in the workplace – but I was also skeptical. I consider myself a feminist, but I ultimately shy away from most of the feminism that makes it into the news, which is to say radical feminism. So I unfairly judged Sandberg’s book and stayed far away from it. This past weekend, I was scrolling through Amazon, looking for something new to read, and came across it again, as a book recommended for me, so I decided to give it a shot and download a sample. I knew within two pages of that sample that I needed to download the entire book.

Sheryl Sandberg does so much right in this book. For those who don’t know, Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, and I would say is one of the most influential female voices in North America right now. She doesn’t dance around the issue at hand, which is examining why so few women reach top leadership positions in the corporate and political world, but instead dives right in. Upfront and honest, she says that the book isn’t meant to be a self-help guide or a tool for empowerment (though she hopes it does empower women and men). Instead, it is a thinking through of the issue that lays out the facts as we know them and bounces those facts off her own personal experiences. Sandberg doesn’t claim to have the answers or the solution; the book is simply her thinking through the issue at hand. And that is what good nonfiction is.

The balance of research and personal anecdotes about her own experiences as a woman and mother in a largely male dominated industry is superb. If the book were all statistics, I don’t think it would ring as true as it did getting little snippets of times that Sandberg herself didn’t lean in. As I read, I found myself agreeing with Sandberg more than I thought I would, and also recognizing that I fall into a lot of the same behaviors Sandberg says are traps for women wanting to advance in careers. There are many issues at play in the topic of gender equality in the workplace, but I really appreciated that Sandberg steered far clear of any man bashing or blaming of anyone, male or female. The tone of the book is relaxed, but firm and truly encouraging. It felt like chatting with a friend who was saying, “I’ve been through this. I know what you’re going through. I’ve made the mistakes. Here is what I’ve learned.”

Ultimately, I am so glad I picked up this book. I wouldn’t say that I feel “empowered,” but again, that is not the point of the book. The book definitely gave me a lot to think about, and shed some light on some of my own behaviors that I maybe haven’t given much thought in the past, such as fraud syndrome or downplaying accomplishments and experience. I am certainly guilty of all those things, but I think the mark of this books true greatness is that I didn’t come out of the book feeling guilty about my own behaviors and tendencies. Instead, I felt validated in a way because Sandberg lays herself bare and shows the reader herself doing those same things, falling into those same patterns. I am certain that I will be thinking about this book for quite a while to come. It is a nearly 200 page book, and I devoured it in less than a day. If you’re at all interested in the topic, I highly recommend giving the book a read, or checking out Sandberg’s 2010 TED Talk, Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders, which ultimately inspired the book.

My Summer Reading List

Even though it is still another month or so until the official start of summer, now that Memorial Day has passed it feels like everyone is in summertime mode. I’ll admit that I am too. It is finally consistently warm in Chicago. We have gotten some truly gorgeous sunny days that just exude summery vibes. All of that got me thinking about my summer reading for this year. Not gonna lie, I was totally that kid all throughout elementary, middle, and high school who looked forward to summer reading. Granted, I didn’t always care for the assigned summer books, but I always looked forward to a trip to the bookstore early in the summer time to stock up. Most summer days, I could be found with my nose in a book from the time I woke up until way after it was time to go to bed. I also spent over $500 at Borders over the course of one summer. I can remember many trips to the library to bring home a stack of books that I’d devour in a few days time, and many hours spent pouring over Amazon’s extensive list of books, writing down the ones I wanted to get. I just love reading, and for some reason some of my fondest memories of reading and discovering some of my favorite books have come during the summer. I am well past the time of assigned reading, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped making lists of all the books I want to read!

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Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg // I admit I was hesitant to grab for this book at first. I have heard many people talk about it for a while now, but I’m typically not into books that skew towards self-help and empowerment. I typically find them overdone and cheesy. I am so glad I gave this book a chance. I have just begun reading it, and it certainly is defying my expectations so far. It is interesting, informative, and relatable. It is the perfect mix of research and personal anecdotes. I anticipate finishing this book very quickly.

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All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr // This book won the Pulitzer Prize this year, and I have been wanting to read it for a while now. This is a period novel, set during World War II, and tells the story of a young French girl and a young German boy, and how their lives intersect and are affected by the war. It is a long one, at nearly 600 pages, but from everything I’ve heard, it is impossible to put down once you start reading it.

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins // Ever since reading Gone Girl a year ago, I have been all about the literary thriller, and I have heard that this novel does not disappoint. My mom actually turned me on to after she began reading it, and it has been at the top of the bestseller’s list for months. Definitely looking forward to this one.

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Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso // This is actually 1 of 2 books by Sarah Manguso on my list. My thesis advisor has been constantly recommending her as an essayist I should read, and it is finally time to heed that recommendation. This is her latest book, which examines her relationship to time, living in the present, and fear of forgetting the past through a diary Manguso kept for 25 years.

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The Guardians by Sarah Manguso // This is the second book by Sarah Manguso that I want to read. The book centers around a friend of Manguso’s who committed suicide by jumping in front of a train, and grapples with his death and reflects on friendship.

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Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs // The “Bones” series of books is definitely on of my guilty pleasures. I love the thriller genre and fast-paced, all action books. When it comes out on July 21st, this will be the 18th book in the series, and I have enjoyed every single one.

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The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer // This is a holdover from last summer’s reading list. I have wanted to read this novel for a long time, so I am definitely making it a priority to read this summer. The novel centers around a group of friends and examines how creativity, friendship, and talent interact.

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Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King // Stephen King was my first introduction to the horror / thriller genre, as I’m sure is true for many people. This novel came out last year (and actually has a sequel that was recently released). This one is a bit of a departure from the typical horror genre for King, who describes the novel as a “hard-boiled detective novel.” Stephen King’s novels are always fast-paced, immersive reads.

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Dietland by Sarai Walker // I became interested in this book honestly about a week ago, when I listened to a review on NPR. The story centers around an overweight woman who writes an advice column for a teen magazine and dreams of the day she’ll be thin. She eventually stumbles into a sort of “fight club” for the overweight. It seemed like a quirky, fun read, but also one that challenges some of the beauty standards of the real world.

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The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson // I actually had the great pleasure of e-mailing back and forth with Maggie Nelson and seeing her read at Northwestern this month. This is a nonfiction book that takes a look at love, family, and language. It is part memoir, part theory, and I cannot wait to dig in to it.

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Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll // This book was recommended to me, and falls into the category of literary thriller. It centers around a 20-something named Ani whose life seems perfect, but who is also harboring a big secret. Like I said earlier, I am all about the literary thriller, so I hope this one lives up to expectations.

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Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot // This is a bit of a nostalgic pick. As a teenager, I devoured Meg Cabot novels. I seriously could not put them down and it would be fair to say she was the author that defined my reading life between the ages of 12-15. I read a few of her adult novels, but I haven’t kept up with her much as an adult. This, however, changes all that. Royal Wedding is the latest book in the Princess Diaries series, and is the first adult novel in the series. It focuses on, of course, Princess Mia’s wedding. I am greatly looking forward to this book being released on June 2nd and diving back into a world that was so familiar as a teen.

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In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume // My final pick for summer is also nostalgic. Judy Blume used to rule my reading life. I am almost positive that I checked out every single one of her books from the public library at least two times. This is her first adult novel in quite some time, and is set against the backdrop of a series of plane crashes that occurred in her home town in the 1950s. Again, I seriously can’t wait to stay up reading this all night once it is released June 2nd, the same way I stayed up all night reading her middle grade and young adult books.

So those are my picks for summer reading this year! What books are you excited for?

All book cover photos taken from Amazon.com.

May 2015 Birchbox Unboxing

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It is that time of the month again – Birchbox time! I am pretty impressed by how quickly Birchbox has been shipping out their boxes lately. I seriously can’t believe it’s May – it seems like it was just yesterday that I was moving into my new apartment, and dealing with two feet of snow,  but that was over three months ago now! Crazy. Also, as you may have noticed, I kind of dropped the ball when it came to my “100 Happy Days” challenge. It has been a busy, busy time as I work on my thesis, but what better way to restart the challenge and pick up where I left off than a beautiful Birchbox? Before we dig into May’s box, let’s look back at how April’s samples actually turned out.

Now, if you remember from my April unboxing, you’ll know I had some problems with my April box.  Now, ultimately my issue was resolved.  I was sent what I consider to be a duplicate sample (same product and formula, but different fragrance), and after talking to reps from Birchbox, I was told they consider this a completely new and different sample.  They ultimately sent me two free samples (both of which I had also previously sampled), but it was a nice gesture on their part.  Others had the same thing happen to them, and received no compensation, which frankly isn’t right.  Birchbox should treat all it’s loyal subscribers equally.  It certainly made me stop and think about the type of company Birchbox promotes itself to be, versus the kind of company it actually is.  Anyways,  of last month’s samples, I honestly don’t have a favorite.  I used up both the Beaver Shampoo & Conditioner samples completely. I didn’t find them to be life altering products, but they were good quality and smelled nice (Mr. Man tried them and liked them too).  I haven’t tried the WEI Manuka Bee Venom Mask, and I’m not sure I will.  I rarely use face masks, and there is just something about the bee venom that is freaking me out.  The Jouer Tintis nice, a good color, but again just not a product I ever use, and of course, I got rid of the Whish Shave Cream as I had already sampled it and knew that I was allergic to it.

To say I was disappointed with April would be an understatement.  It was the worst box I have gotten from Birchbox in almost two years of subscribing, so I suppose that is actually a good thing that it took so long to get a real dud, but it came on the back of less than stellar boxes in February and March.  The box itself is, however, the most beautiful box Birchbox has ever printed.

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May’s box is also so beautiful.  I love the soft, peachy diagonal checkerboard, and the rosy gold foil on the logo. I feel like the design is perfect for the May theme, which is ‘Elevate Everyday.’ It’s about taking the basics of your daily routine and punching them up a bit. This month, Birchbox teamed up with the blog Cupcakes + Cashmere and features samples curated by blog runner Emily Schuman.  All the promotional material and sneak peeks for May’s box have been so cute and really springy – lots of pastels and soft colors, and lots of sweet treats.

The first sample in my box is Aruba Aloe Luxe Foot Creme.  This is a pure aloe and shea butter foot creme that is supposed to hydrate and nourish dry, cracked feet. At first I was a little meh about this, but we are heading towards summer, which means flip flops and sandals, and also means really dry heels. I will likely get more use out of this than I first thought. It’s a really generous sample size, and the creme itself is very soft and moisturizing, but not sticky. It also has a very light, pleasant mint fragrance.

My next sample is the Coastal Scents Revealed 3 Eyeshadow Quad in Desert Bloom. This is a little four-pan sample from their new Revealed 3 palette, which is their third eyeshadow palette, all of which are lower cost alternatives to the Urban Decay Naked palettes. I received a sample of Coastal Scents eyeshadows in one of my very first Birchboxes nearly two years ago, and they are good quality.  They do not have the staying power of an Urban Decay or MAC shadow, but they are good and pigmented.
IMG_1739_FotorThe four colors in this quad are really pretty, and very wearable I think.  Right to left in the above picture, there is a matte brown, a sparkly metallic gold, a matte red that has purple undertones, and a lavender / mauve color with gold sparkles. These are all good colors for me, so I’ll definitely be adding this to my eyeshadow routine.

My next sample is Dr. Jart+ BB Night Beauty Balm. This is a tinted BB cream that is safe to wear while you sleep that is supposed to hydrate and brighten skin. I’ve tried a BB cream from Dr. Jart+ before and I hated it.  It was watery and way to dark. This product comes out of the tube as a clear gel with little silvery flecks, but when you rub it in to your skin, it changes color. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a product that changes to match your skin tone, but it definitely does mine no favors. It turned a very dark, almost red bronze color when I rubbed it in. It is also a bit sticky on the skin. I’m not entirely sure why you need tinted BB cream to sleep in, so I’m not sure how much I will use this.

The next sample is LA FRESH Eco-Beauty Waterproof Makeup Remover. These are two individually wrapped makeup remover wipes that are supposed to work well on stubborn, waterproof makeup. It says ‘for eyes and lips’ on the packaging, and says it removes makeup while nourishing the skin. I don’t wear waterproof makeup anymore, but I will definitely get some use out of these. Since they’re individually wrapped, they’d be great for throwing in my purse.

My final sample this month is Number 4 Thermal Styling Spray. I’ve sampled Number 4 shampoo, conditioner, and leave-in conditioner before, and it is definitely a good brand, but I’ve never found the products life changing, or worthy of their high price tag. This product is supposed to be sprayed on before using heat styling tools, and promises to protect your hair from heat and enhance hold. I never use heat on my hair. Ever. I don’t even blow dry it, so this is a bit of a miss for me. It also smells very chemical-y, so not sure I will get a ton of use out of this, but I’ll probably spritz it in my hair and just see what happens.

So that is my May 2014 Birchbox! I think it is going to be a really good box, actually. These are all products that I can see being ‘everyday’ items, like lotion and makeup remover, and I know I will at least try everything in the box. 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.

Happy May!

Day 15: An Office with a View

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With the weather warming up, I’ve been loving taking the L downtown and working at Northwestern’s Chicago campus.  There is a nice little courtyard with tables and benches that is perfect for getting some thesis editing done.  It is right across the street from the Museum of Modern Art, a cute little park, and the Hancock building.  Does the view get any better than this?

Day 14: Bubble Toes

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Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is allow yourself an hour or two of complete relaxation time.  I love taking bubble baths because it is a time with no screens, no distractions, just fluffy bubbles and warm water.  I’ve been using the “Dorothy” bubble bar from LUSH lately, and I adore it.  It’s fresh and relaxing, and the perfect way to pamper myself a little bit when I need some “me” time.