Year: 2013

Review: Graze Box December 2013

Today I have another Graze box to open up for you. Graze offers bi-weekly or monthly boxes full of nutritious and natural snacks for $6; you can choose from special options like gluten-free or vegan (my choice, obviously) and you can rate the snacks you like or dislike to streamline the offerings in your future boxes. If you’re interested in learning more you can visit their website.

This month’s box sadly had no chocolate (boo). The America’s Nut Mix, with almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans and redskin peanuts was just okay, but it didn’t seem like anything different than what you can buy at the regular grocery store.

The Pina Colada was a mix of pineapple, coconut and mango. It was a little chewy but tasted good.

My Thai was a tray of soy bites with a spicy sweet chili sauce. This was my favorite of the box and I would certainly love to have a full-sized portion to munch on during movie nights on the couch!

Finally I got a tray of Fruit & Seed Flapjacks, which are oat granola bars with seeds and dried fruits. These were soft and chewy and very tasty.

So that’s it for my December Graze box! Have you ever tried Graze? Any favorite snack or subscription boxes that you look forward to each month?

Product review: Steamcream

Disclosure: I was sent a product in exchange for a review. However I was not compensated for writing a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.

Hey beauties! Are you enjoying your winter? We got several inches of snow here yesterday and I’m loving it. If there’s one thing I don’t enjoy about winter, though, it’s the fact that colder temps and drier air turn my skin super-dry and sensitive, and my regular body and face lotions just don’t cut it anymore.

Hence, I was pretty excited when Katie from Steamcream contacted me to ask if I’d like to try a tin of their all-in-one moisturizer, suitable for use on face, body, hands and feet ($20/75ml). After a couple of weeks of testing, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts with you! Steamcream is vegan and natural and contains ingredients like almond oil to soothe and moisturize without piling on heavy synthetics that can actually do more harm than good. You can learn more about Steamcream’s ingredients and sourcing here

The Steamcream formula comes packaged in your choice of a variety of different beautiful tins. I opted for Thalia, with a pretty orange and white floral design, but if you browse their design gallery you’ll see they have nearly two hundred tins to choose from, meaning there’s something there for everyone! The metal tin is very sturdy but small enough to fit in your hand.

Steamcream has what I would describe as an earthy fragrance, due to the combination of almond oil, lavender, chamomile and neroli. It’s not terribly strong and doesn’t linger long, but if you prefer preppy or uber-fresh scents to what I like to call “hippie” scents, you might be disappointed with the fragrance. Just an FYI. Personally I love natural scents, but I’ve also gotten the side eye for saying I like patchouli, so to each their own. I like that the scent fades away quickly so you can add your own perfume or body spray without creating a competing mix of fragrances.

Surprisingly, the formula is very thin–I expected it to have the consistency of a body butter, but it’s thinner than even a facial lotion. Obviously if you’re used to piling on heavy moisturizers in the winter, such a thin consistency seems odd; it’s hard to imagine how Steamcream can moisturize so heavily when it feels like there’s nothing on your skin. However, when I tested out the cream on one side of my face and body versus a thicker face cream and body butter, I found that there was no noticeable difference in moisturization even after several hours. At the twelve-hour mark, the side with Steamcream actually felt like it was retaining moisture better without reapplication–no dry or itchy patches!

The really lovely thing about Steamcream is that it’s truly an all-in-one product: it moisturizes my dry legs and hands like a much thicker product, but it’s still lightweight enough to use on my face without triggering a breakout. Also, since it’s so light and non-greasy, it’s very good for layering under makeup. I think it would be great for someone who didn’t like using very thick products, or for someone who wanted to layer products without feeling that they were slathering a layer of buttercream frosting over their limbs.

If you’re looking for a new cream to add to your winter skincare routine I highly recommend heading over to the Steamcream website and browsing their tins–it’s a great way to treat yourself this holiday season!

Full ingredients: Oatmeal infusion, orange flower water, almond oil, cocoa butter, glycerine, stearic acid, triethanolamine, organic jojoba oil, lavender oil, chamomile blue oil, orange flower absolute, rose absolute, neroli oil, cetearyl alcohol, coumarin*, geraniol*, citronellol*, limonene*, linalool*, perfume, methylparaben, propylparaben. (*Occurs naturally in essential oils)

Disclosure: I was sent a product in exchange for a review. However I was not compensated for writing a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.

Recipe Writers December 2013: Christmas Cookies

Well, I dropped the ball this month…I put my monthly Recipe Writers HTML into Blogger and thought I had scheduled the post, but instead it went into a draft, where it’s been sitting for the past three weeks collecting dust. Oops! Obviously it’s far past the first of the month, but there’s still time to link up for this month’s theme: Christmas cookies!

I did a big round of baking this week but since I’m under the weather and also working overtime right now, I haven’t taken any decent pictures worth sharing…I’ll try to remedy that tomorrow and write up a separate post with an easy recipe for homemade peppermint bark, one of my favorites! In the meantime, you can browse the links at the bottom of this post for other great Christmas dessert recipes, or add your own!

Here is how Recipe Writers works: On the first of every month we will introduce a new theme and all share our recipes here. The link party will open on the first of every month and close on the last day. This way you will have time to share a recipe before and after the holiday (if there is one) so others can try it, check out other recipes to try yourself  and impress your family and friends with the delicious flavors of the season. For example, last month we had Thanksgiving favorites and next month will be healthy recipes for the new year!

Amanda Rose from Sew Much 2 Say

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Product review: Immortal Herbs Immortal Sleep

Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial.

Happy Saturday everyone! I hope you’re all having a great December, enjoying the holidays and the snow. (I love it.) Today I have another short product review for you–the Immortal Sleep deep sleep formula from Immortal Herbs. Vegan, gluten-free and GMO-free, this blend of Chinese herbs works to decrease anxiety and stress, help you relax, and promote a deeper, more restful sleep.

Like a lot of people, I’ve tried plenty of different “deep sleep” over the counter medicines over the years and I’ve never found one I really liked. Too much melatonin seems to make me have nightmares (not an uncommon side effect, I’m told) while the regular Tylenol PM type of sleeping pill just doesn’t do enough to help me fall asleep and stay asleep. When I do find something that lets me sleep through a full eight hours, I inevitably wake up groggy and feeling drugged.

Immortal Sleep is different. It worked well to help me relax and fall asleep, and I was able to stay asleep through the day. I’m a very light sleeper and once I’m awake, I have a lot of trouble falling back asleep, so being able to sleep through the day is kind of a big deal for me. And happily, once my alarm went off for work, I was able to get up and get going without any of the usual draggy incoherent after-effects of a sleeping pill.

Overall I really liked this, and while I still try to avoid taking supplements no an everyday basis, I would definitely take this if I was having trouble sleeping and needed something to ensure a good night’s rest!

Immortal Sleep can be purchased through the company website for $54.95 (90 capsule bottle), but it’s currently on sale for $34.95. You can find Immortal Sleep here.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

What I read: November 2013

Hey long-suffering readers, I’m finally sitting down to write some fresh posts! I’ve been a bit AWOL lately between long hours at work and getting ready for Christmas, and then a pet emergency last week left me really out of whack. My older cat, Max, was feeling poorly last week and when he stopped eating on Wednesday, I took him in to the vet and made an appointment for the following morning to find out what was going on. (Any time he won’t eat it’s cause for alarm, since he’s an elderly insulin-dependent diabetic.)

We thought it was a dental issue, as he had a broken off tooth, and that a bit of dental surgery would fix him right up. However the next morning (Thursday AM) he was so weak from the combo of not eating and his wacky diabetes (not helped by the whole not eating issue) that he could barely walk or meow, so when he got to the vet they did a series of blood tests and discovered that his kidneys were shutting down. He’s been in the kitty hospital since then with an IV and lots of medical attention, and the good news is that he’s making a speedy turnaround–when I saw him yesterday he was purring and gave me head boops, though he’s not moving around a lot. Hopefully tomorrow the vet will call and say that he can come home–I miss my baby boy!!

Anyway, obviously being in Fur-Mom Crisis Mode makes it hard to think about blogging. But now that I’m not fretting I wanted to get some posts up for my November books, November empties, etc. I also have a couple of videos to film, a few reviews to post, more giveaway link-ups with Hello Frances that will continue throughout the month of December, and some holiday nail polish posts to throw together! So without further ado, here’s a look at the (many, many) books that I read last month, starting with my two all-star books of the month…

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern (hardcover, 387 pages). Five out of five stars. Magical is the only word that describes this book, a fantasy about two young magicians trained since childhood to compete in a massive challenge to see who has the more powerful magic. Their competition is interrupted when they meet and fall in love. The storytelling sucks you in from the first page and the atmosphere Morgenstern has created in these pages is so lush you can almost see the candles on the Wishing Tree and smell the popcorn in the circus. This book reminded me a little bit of the movie The Prestige, probably mostly because of the dueling magicians, but also because it had that certain hard to explain quality of seeming perfectly possible, even though everything that happens seems like something from a fairy tale. It’s honestly hard to believe that this is a debut, and not a work by a more seasoned author. It’s hard to explain, so I won’t waste time trying; I’ll just tell you that you need to go read this book, stat. Recommended for purchase and future re-reading.

Vegan With a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (paperback, 280 pages). Five out of five stars. Cookbook time! Everything here is easy to make and pretty affordable, and there are recipes for everything from brunch items to burgers and soups to yummy desserts. I went ahead and bought this when I found it on sale, and have a feeling it will become heavily stained and dog-eared, as do all excellent cookbooks.

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) (hardcover, 485 pages) and City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments #2) (paperback, 453 pages), by Cassandra Clare. Two out of five stars. A lot of people, myself included, have issues with Clare for her clunky writing, alleged plagiarism, YA cliches, etc.; but I won’t rehash all that here, because everyone else has already done so at great length on Goodreads and elsewhere. I liked Clare’s The Infernal Devices but these books were tiresome; they were full of poor plot points, totally predictable, and peppered with so many unlikeable characters it was ridiculous. Also: what’s with all of the (very weird) love triangles? It’s almost like Clare isn’t sure how to write about a relationship, so she just throws everyone into overlapping love triangles, each with some weird twist in it, so none of the relationships ever reach a resolution. Overall: not the worst YA I’ve ever read, just not enough to make me finish the other four books in the series.

Allegiant (Divergent #3), by Veronica Roth (hardcover, 526 pages). One out of five stars. I loved the first book in this series and was pretty “meh” about the second. I hated this one. For starters, the author makes a late-game switch to multiple POV that is not only kind of clunky, but also left me totally confused: since the narrative voices are identical, I found myself frequently rechecking the chapter headings to see whose POV I was supposed to be reading. I also got really annoyed with both Tris and Tobias; what happened to the strong, fearless characters from book one? Who are these whiny people in book three?

Finally: the much-debated “twist” ending. It wasn’t so much that Roth chose to end the book in that fashion, I just think there were better ways to do it; as is, the last chapters are so clunky and events happen in such a way that there’s no emotional payoff, and it just feels like a poorly tacked-on gimmick. The way the last chapter wrapped up seemed to have so little to do with the original story arc of the trilogy that I wasn’t even sure how to feel about it. I don’t know, for a series I was so interested in at the start, this one turned out to be a real waste of time.

Bridget Jones’s Diary (paperback, 271 pages) and The Edge of Reason (paperback, 338 pages), by Helen Fielding. Four out of five stars. These were light, funny, and perfectly escapist. I’m sure somewhere out there is a Very Good Feminist who would never be amused by books about a thirty-something singleton who journals her thigh circumference and failed relationships with men, but I don’t care; they were a hoot. Eventually I will get around to reading Mad About The Boy, as well.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey (hardcover, 277 pages). Three out of five stars. This book was not as funny as I thought it would be, but that isn’t to say that it was unfunny; it just wasn’t burst-out-laughing funny. I felt like Tina spent a lot of time talking about topics like her Sarah Palin impersonation not because she had something genuinely hilarious to say, but rather because she felt (or the publisher felt) that readers would expect her to include a chapter on those skits or incidents. On the plus side, and strangely enough, Tina spends a lot of time talking about being a boss and working your way up in your chosen industry, and she actually has some pretty savvy advice to share. I will not, however, be telling my boss that I learned a lot about how to succeed in my new management role by reading a book penned by a former Saturday Night Live writer/cast member.

The Thirteen Problems (paperback, 315 pages), The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (paperback, 224 pages), A Caribbean Mystery (paperback, 224 pages), They Do It With Mirrors (paperback, 224 pages), and Nemesis (paperback, 224 pages), by Agatha Christie. Ah, Miss Marple. I would give all of these three stars with the exception of They Do It With Mirrors, which gets an extra star just because I love the layered illusions and sleight-of-hand tricks involved.

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman (paperback, 162 pages). Three out of five stars. This kicked off a spate of really, really weird books. I know this book is supposed to be for kids or teens, but my goodness, it’s creepy. I think the movie didn’t seem as bad because, you know, cartoon animation. Whereas the book, with the straightforward descriptions of things and simple black-and-white drawings, forces you to conjure up some unpleasantness with your imagination, and that’s much scarier. As an adult, I liked the story, but I could see more sensitive kids/pre-teens finding this book kind of unsettling.

The Returned, by Jason Mott (hardcover, 352 pages). Three out of five stars. The premise of this book is simple: around the world, the dead begin to reappear, frozen in time as it were from the time of their death. Young children come back to parents who are now elderly and adults who had lost someone years earlier now find that person walking the earth once more. Mott spends less time dealing with how people have returned and more time exploring the impact of the return, which is fine; he has a gift for painting pictures with his words and the story moves along pretty quickly.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (paperback, 288 pages). Three out of five stars. This book requires patience, because it’s told in the first person, through flashbacks, largely in a non-linear fashion, and often in a layered way that gets partway through a flashback within a flashback and then goes, oh, by the way, to explain this thing let’s flash back a ways…  It’s like Flashback-ception. So with that said: the rambling narrative works really well, with the story starting out so-so and slowly building to a sinister climax as you start to read between the lines and figure out what’s really going on with the youngsters at the supposedly idyllic English boarding school.

The Coma, by Alex Garland (hardcover, 208 pages). Three out of five stars. To be honest, I only picked this up because of Garland’s screenwriting credits (including 28 Days Later), and I wanted to see what he could do in a novel. While this is well-paced and Garland does a great job capturing that uncertain feeling of being in a dream state, I felt like I missed something along the way. The book just sort of trails off and I’m not sure what, if anything I was supposed to conclude about the story. Still interesting, though.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, by Steve Hockensmith (paperback, 287 pages). Two out of five stars. A sort of prequel to the original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this one was just not as good. It wasn’t nearly as funny or witty, the action scenes weren’t that great, and perhaps most importantly: there’s no Mr. Darcy! I repeat, people, no Mr. Darcy. Sad face.

No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (paperback, 309 pages). Three out of five stars. I think I liked the movie better, but this was pretty good. McCarthy’s grammar and overall writing style is frustrating to follow at times, but the story is worth it, and it was hard to put this down until I’d finished it, even though I remembered enough of the movie to know how it ended.

The Bat, by Jo Nesbo (paperback, 425 pages). Three out of five stars. The first Harry Hole detective mystery. I didn’t like this as much as Headhunters but I do think I’ll grab some more Harry Hole mysteries in the future. Nesbo is one of the Nordic/Scandinavian writers filling the void left by Stieg Larsson.

Jar City (hardcover, 275 pages), Voices (hardcover, 320 pages), The Draining Lake (paperback, 320 pages), Arctic Chill (paperback, 344 pages), Hypothermia (hardcover, 314 pages), and Outrage (hardcover, 288 pages), by Arnaldur Indridason. Four out of five stars for all. My friend Katrin introduced me to this Icelandic series about Detective Erlendur, and I’m hopelessly hooked. They’re such speedy reads and not only are the mysteries really good, they contain a lot of unexpected humor and the characters are very well-written, so you actually develop a connection to them over the course of the series. That said, they’re also very enjoyable as stand-alone novels, and you don’t necessarily have to read them all in order to follow the story. Apparently there are more coming out soon, and they cannot be translated into English quickly enough for my taste.

Emma and the Werewolves, by Adam Rann and Jane Austen (paperback, 346 pages). Not finished; one out of five stars. I picked this up and put it down about fifty pages in; it’s basically a poor copy of the original text of Emma, with hardly anything thrown in to explain the titular werewolves. I wanted bloody werewolf action and supernatural suspense; I got none of that. Scratching my head as to what the point is supposed to be. I think a lot of people saw how much success Seth Grahame-Smith had with his zombie spin on Pride and Prejudice, and now everyone is trying to “rewrite” the classics with vampires, zombies, werewolves, and other creatures. And the result is not always worth reading.

Round Ireland With a Fridge, by Tony Hawks (paperback, 248 pages). Not finished; two out of five stars. This started out okay and had some real flashes of humor, such as when the British comedian describes a deceptively large-looking rucksack as an “inverse Tardis”. However, the book quickly starts to feel repetitive and the humor becomes forced, and all of the laying-about in pubs got kind of old. About halfway through I frankly got kind of bored and quit. I don’t think it’s that bad of a book, I’m just really spoiled by Bill Bryson’s razor-sharp wit and lyrical prose, and all other humor/travel hybrids must now rise to his standard to be acceptable to me. Unfair maybe, but there you have it. 

It Looked Different on the Model: Epic Tales of Impending Shame and Infamy, by Laurie Notaro (paperback, 240 pages). Not finished; one out of five stars. This is the sort of collection of humorous essays that is mildly amusing at best, but not really hilarious. I suppose it would appeal to a certain group of people, but I found nothing “epic” here and to be honest some of the stories were kind of dull. I will go ahead and shrug and admit that I also found the chapter dissing the hippie and vegan populations of Notaro’s hometown to be really, really dumb and a little offensive. It’s the sort of chapter that just comes across as narrow-minded and makes me picture the author as Janice from Wanted. You can live a different lifestyle and not be snotty and condescending to other people who aren’t like you, yunno?

Wow…that was a pretty long list this month! If you want to hook up with me on Goodreads and send me your book recommendations, you can do so here! I always love getting ideas for new books to read.