Random Thursday: My favorite snack food

I should probably list something healthy, right? Since I’m on this New Year’s health kick? But don’t worry, I won’t be that person. While I do love snacking on oranges and apples with peanut butter, I have plenty of perfectly unhealthy snacks to share with you, including but not limited to…

  • Chocolate. In just about any form–in a pinch chocolate almond milk will do.
  • Ice cream. The coconut milk kind is the best.
  • Chips and dip. I rarely buy chips because I have trouble sticking to the serving size.
  • Root beer. I’m not a soda person per se and almost never drink any, but I could guzzle this by the two-liter bottle.
  • Strawberry lemonade. Which is weird, because I’m not big on regular lemonade.
  • Tapioca pudding. 
  • Oreos.
  • Homemade chocolate chip cookies.
  • Cereal. 
  • Bagels with vegan cream cheese. Another thing I try to buy very rarely, so I won’t overindulge.

What are your favorite snack foods?

Book review: ‘Hats Off to Murder’ and ‘One For the Rook’

(Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the books mentioned below in exchange for a review; however I was not compensated for writing a review and as always all opinions are my own.)

 

I’ve loved mysteries since I was a kid reading Miss Marple paperbacks, trying to unravel the clever crimes and identify the killer; so obviously I jumped at the chance to review D.S. Nelson’s Blake Hetherington mysteries, Hats Off to Murder (e-book, 65 pages) and One For the Rook (e-book, 117 pages). You can find both of these mysteries on Amazon for $1.59 apiece (£0.99 for you Brits).

In Hats Off to Murder, we’re introduced to the milliner Hetherington, a slightly older gentleman who owns a hat shop and as such finds himself making observations on his customers based on their choice of headwear. Whether a customer is wearing a Stetson or a bowler, he deduces something of their character and lifestyle based on their taste in hats. When two of his customers die, Hetherington becomes suspicious that their deaths may in fact be fowl play, and takes it upon himself to snoop about in search of clues.

What immediately hooked me is D.S. Nelson’s writing style. Her prose is very reminiscent of Agatha Christie and she’s got a talent for clever turns of phrase and the sort of sly British humor I so love. What ultimately made this story less than stellar for me was the length; things felt a little too pat, almost rushed even, as the plot wrapped up quite quickly. I felt like the author spent a lot of time setting up the premise of the story and then the quick climax and payoff was a bit disappointing. (Two stars out of five–it was okay.)

The second Hetherington novella, One For the Rook, featured the same wit and warm prose but was a much more satisfying 117 pages. I felt like the extra length really gave the plot time to develop. (Though, being the book hound that I am, I could honestly have done with an even longer book!) This time around, Hetherington stumbles over that most classic of murder mystery head-scratchers: a body in the garden, bludgeoned with Hetherington’s own prize pumpkin, no less. Who killed the man, and why? Was it a crime of passion arising from a local quarrel, or is a dangerous criminal operating in the neighborhood? And will they kill again?

Through a series of careful deductions, Hetherington once again sets out to succeed where the police have failed and catch the murderer before they can wreak more havoc. This book made me think of the various British mystery TV miniseries I’ve enjoyed over the year; you can almost see yourself standing in the allotments and uneasily eyeballing the neighbors, wondering if any of them are trustworthy! The influence of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are very apparent in Hetherington’s careful, logical deductions from the tiniest of details. (Three stars out of five–I liked it!)

Overall I enjoyed reading these stories and I’m eager to see what mysteries Hetherington will uncover in the third book in the series, slated to be released sometime this year. He’s a unique character and I really enjoy the overall color of Nelson’s writing; her novelettes a perfect little addition to the “cozy crime” section of my library.

  • You can find Hats Off to Murder on Amazon here or on Amazon UK here. 
  • You can find One For the Rook on Amazon here or on Amazon UK here. 
  • Follow D.S. Nelson on Twitter or check out her website!

 

(Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the books mentioned above in exchange for a review; however I was not compensated for writing a review and as always all opinions are my own.)

 

Seven ways to grow your blog, part seven: group (and solo) giveaways

Welcome to the end of my series on seven ways to grow your blog in 2014! To recap, thus far I’ve talked about the importance of a good layout and design, sprucing up your “about” and PR pages, crafting great content with great photos to match, and networking your blog via social media and other outlets. To wrap it all up, I want to talk about giveaways: why group giveaways rock, how to set them up, and a few legal pointers to keep in mind before you hit “publish”. Read more after the jump!

Giveaways do two things for you: draw in new readers, and reward existing followers. I like to do giveaways to say “thank you” to those who follow my blog, but there’s so much I know now that I didn’t know (and wish I had!) when I first got started. If you’ve never hosted a giveaway before and aren’t sure how to get started, here are some things to keep in mind, along with tips for hosting a group giveaway. *Please keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, so none of this should be taken as legal counsel for hosting a giveaway. This is simply based on my own research. I strongly recommend you do your own research prior to hosting a giveaway, particularly as international law can be very different from U.S. giveaway requirements.*

Brush up on the legalese

Believe it or not, there’s a lot more to putting together a giveaway than just picking a prize and creating an entry form. Before you get started, read everything you can on blog giveaways and the law (I recommend you start with this article from Sara F. Hawkins and this one from For Dummies) to be sure you understand what you can and cannot do while putting together the giveaway. This is even more important if you’ll be hosting a group giveaway, since you’ll want to make sure everyone is on the same page.

For example, you can’t require that entrants follow you via a given channel, so don’t create an entry form demanding they follow all eight (or whatever number) of the host bloggers’ accounts before they can unlock the rest of the entry options.You can offer a freebie entry as the mandatory entry and offer “follow me” entries as the additional “optional” entries.

Decide whether to go domestic or international

There are pros and cons to both. Aside from the legal complications that can come with international giveaways (see the above article links), you have to remember that the cost of international shipping can be prohibitive, and some items (like nail polish) cannot be shipping overseas. On the other hand, many bloggers don’t want to leave their international readers out in the cold. Whether you’re flying solo or hosting with a group, you’ll need to decide on this element before you pick out a prize.

Pick your prizes

Especially if you’re going international, an e-gift card is a great way to offer an instant prize without the time and expense of shipping; it also lets each of the participating host bloggers chip in a small amount of cash towards a larger prize. (Typically, one blogger collects the money via PayPal and purchases/sends the gift card once a winner is drawn.) The downside to this is that the website might not ship to your winner’s country, so be careful to choose a store that any winner can enjoy.

If you’re shipping physical prizes, you’ll have to come to an agreement: are you chipping in toward one larger prize, or will you each contribute a smaller prize? Who will cover the shipping? You should also agree beforehand on a timeline for shipping.

Sponsored prizes–yea or nay?

I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, hosting a sponsored giveaway lets you give something away with no cost out of your own pocket (yay!) and you’ll probably get some cross-promotion by the sponsoring brand via their social media pages, since they obviously want people to come enter your giveaway. On the other hand, if the sponsor flakes out on sending the prize, you can find yourself on the hook for sending an acceptable substitute–and unfortunately, it does happen. Just something to keep in mind before you host a sponsored giveaway for a $200 item.

Put together your entry form

I absolutely recommend using the free version of Rafflecopter; it’s easy to use and makes sifting through entries a breeze. Please don’t host a giveaway in which entrants have to leave a comment for each entry (one as a regular comment, one to say they’re following on Twitter, etc.)–those are annoying and time-consuming for the reader, and they’ll be more difficult for you to moderate. Remember, you have to draw the winner at random; it’s so much easier to do with the Rafflecopter widget!

As for awarding points per entry: keep it even. Don’t award one point for a freebie and ten for following on Instagram. It’s unfair to your readers and depending on what state you live in, it could be illegal (gulp).

Write out your terms and conditions

Be explicitly clear when writing out your terms and conditions; here’s a post from Pink Heels Pink Truck that gives a good example of what to include. You can add these to the bottom of your Rafflecopter widget or just paste them into the blog post. I like to add in my giveaway posts that all entries will be moderated, and those that are “spam” entries will be thrown out. I don’t know why, but people will click all of the entry buttons without doing anything at all, and that’s not fair to the other entrants. This is where the moderation panel comes in handy! If you’re hosting in a group giveaway, decide beforehand who will be moderating (typically, the “lead” host, who will also create the Rafflecopter).

Why group giveaways rock

Group giveaways are awesome for a few reasons: it means less out-of-pocket expense for the prize, it’s just fun (co-hosting almost always is!), and it’s a great way to gain cross-exposure for your blog. Since each of the bloggers involved will be posting the giveaway on their blogs and then sharing it via their social media channels, the potential for new faces to see you included as a host is huge. This is a great way to gain new readers for your blog with very little effort.

If you want to host a group giveaway, cordially invite a few bloggers to join you and create a sign-up form that can be filled out detailing what social media links they would like to share and what they’ll contribute to the prize. You might also ask each one to send you a photo of themselves and a brief bio that they’d like shared in the giveaway post, so readers can learn more about the bloggers behind the giveaway.

Partner up with bloggers you trust

This is where I have to be a Debbie Downer and say what no one really likes to say out loud: on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. I’ve heard way too many stories of bloggers who hosted giveaways or swaps and never sent out their goods, or vice versa–bloggers who won a giveaway and never got their prize. If you want to partner up for a giveaway, make sure it’s with bloggers whom you trust. You do not want to get left holding the bag if someone else suddenly goes AWOL.

That’s it for my blogging giveaway advice! Do you have anything else to add that I didn’t cover here? If so, leave me a comment and let me know your best advice for hosting a giveaway (solo or otherwise).

Why Jezebel’s Lena Dunham photo bounty is going too far

 

If you haven’t heard by now, Girls writer and actress Lena Dunham is gracing the February cover of Vogue magazine. Landing the feature spread in the fashion Bible is usually enough to light up the Internet anyway, but Dunham’s photoshoot got an extra boost of publicity this week after feminist snark site Jezebel raised a hullabaloo over her retouched photos. The ruckus culminated in the site offering a $10,000 bounty for unretouched photos from the shoot, which were subsequently delivered and failed to impress almost everyone who saw them. (You can see an example over here on Yahoo! Shine.)

So what on earth is the big deal? (More after the break.)


I mean, this is the same website that railed for days about Jennifer Lawrence’s Flare magazine slim-down, and put out a bounty for unretouched pictures from Lupita Nyong’o’s Vanity Fair shoot, and…wait, what? You mean to tell me they didn’t? But…why not? Aren’t all Photoshopped shoots created equal?

Apparently not.

There are a lot of reasons I have a problem with Jezebel’s actions. For starters, it reeks of Mean Girl faux-feminism. The assumption seems to be that Lena is clearly so fat and squishy and non-pretty that she must require loads of Photoshop to be worthy of a magazine like Vogue. Whereas, with a thin and traditionally pretty celeb like Jennifer, well–yes, it’s a big deal that she was airbrushed, because she’s pretty. She doesn’t need it. But it’s not like there are juicy, horrifyingly unairbrushed photos to be dug up, right? But surely in this case there’s some dirt to be had, and we want to see it, dammit.

Which brings me to the second thing that makes me so queasy: Jezebel is essentially saying that Lena’s body is not her own. Never mind that Lena seems to be pretty happy with her photo shoot, apparently Tweeting about it on Thursday. Never mind that it’s a truth universally acknowledged that magazines airbrush their pictures and that, as Lena herself has pointed out, Vogue‘s photo department makes a habit of retouching photos for a fantastical interpretation of the world. No one has been misled into thinking their photos are unretouched.

In Jezebel’s world, how Lena feels about her body is of secondary concern to how everyone else feels about her body. Jezebel is trying to pretend that they’re shaming Vogue on her behalf, but let’s be real here. Lena didn’t call for the release of the photos; a bunch of voyeuristic editors decided that they had the right to see them, no matter what anyone else though of the matter. Because, you know, feminism.

It would be nice to see a round of huzzahs for a female comic, and a curvy one at that, landing the cover of what is probably the most prestigious fashion magazine in the world. Being a woman in Hollywood is hard. Being a female comic is harder. Being curvy? Now you’ve got a triple threat. But instead of showing a little female support for a woman who has taken the entertainment world by storm–not for being a reality TV star, or for dating someone famous, or for posing for Maxim–but for being talented and raw and real–Jezebel decided it was time to throw her to the wolves. Because that’s what they did: under the guise of making Vogue look bad, they invited everyone to return to the debate over Lena’s fat, fat, fat body, and everything that’s apparently wrong with it (hint: fat).

It also bugs me that Jezebel is so transfixed by Lena’s body, and not by many of the other bodies that have been altered before hers. The site has been guilty before of holding up the faux-feminist myth of “the real woman” and “the real female body”, and I feel like they’re doing it again. They’re so eager to prove that a “real” woman with a “real” shape is being altered, but what about a thinner woman (J-Law)? What about a woman of color (Lupita)? They’re not getting nearly the same press, and that’s wrong. (And yes, I realized that both of those women were mentioned on the site, but they didn’t receive nearly the same level of vitriol that Lena has.) All bodies–short, tall, fat, thin, dark, light–are real bodies. All women are real women. Sites like Jezebel need to stop selectively flying the body-positive flag only when it suits them.

And you know what, I understand that some of Dunham’s fans will be unhappy with her photos. She preaches body positivity and appears in a magazine that’s known for being anything but; I can see where someone would cry foul. But let’s be honest with ourselves: how many of us edit, crop and alter our own photos before we post them to social media? Apply filters on Instagram? Ask for a light bit of retouching for the wedding photo package that cost more than our first car? Be fair. If you were appearing in a magazine read by millions of people, wouldn’t you want your photos to be the very best they could possibly be? Maybe ask for those god-awful undereye circles to be whisked away, for your terrible posture to be digitally corrected? I think Lena probably feels the same as any other young woman enjoying her moment on the world stage–equal parts thrilled to bits and scared to death–and if someone gives her a light perk in her photos, she probably doesn’t mind.

There’s one more thing that bothers me, and that’s the nasty fact that a website actually shelled out $10,000 for what basically amounts to a publicity stunt. Jezebel is notorious for their click-bait-y headlines and this just seems like another attempt to drive traffic to the site. Sure, they’re shrouding the whole thing in self-righteous rhetoric about the evils of airbrushing and body positivity, but their angle seems to have nothing to do with being body-positive; it just seems like a chance to boost pageviews. And I can’t help but wonder: how many body-positive or feminist charities could have benefited from that $10,000?