Month: January 2014

What I read: December 2013

I hope I won’t disappoint anyone by saying that I only read ten books this month, and one was left unfinished. Gasp. I’m slacking! Actually, I was just super-busy with work and the holidays, so reading kind of fell to the side. Nonetheless, here’s a rundown of what I did finish, starting with my five-star book pick of the month:

Night Film, by Marisha Pessl (hardcover, 602 pages). Five out of five stars. I picked up this book based on the cover, and not knowing at all what to expect. In short, it blew me away. I had to think about it for a while after I finished it before deciding to give it five stars, because I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ending, but now I think it’s really just perfection from start to end: creepy, dark, and always tinged with that air of a possible mental breakdown for the protagonist that leaves you wondering whether his narrative is trustworthy. The photos sprinkled throughout really enhance the creepy vibe of the story. (Side note: this seems to be a “thing” of late but I haven’t seen it used so effectively until now.) I don’t usually like horror but this horror/mystery/thriller hybrid really won me over.

More books I read this month:


Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, by Jeremy Scahill (hardcover, 480 pages). Four out of five stars. I suppose the mystery fan in me likes exposes because they are, in a sense, unraveling a mystery. Also, I was still a teen when the whole Blackwater/Iraq thing blew up, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to news at the time, and revisiting it all now was really interesting, to say the least. I feel like Scahill does a really good job digging into the backstory of Blackwater and how the firm’s presence in Iraq has changed the political and moral implications of private soldiers not just in that country, but in other countries and in future conflicts around the world.

The Map of the Sky, by Felix J. Palma (hardcover, 594 pages). Four out of five stars. This is the second book in the Trilogia Victoriana and as I loved the first, I was a little worried that the second might let me down. Well, if anything, it just got even better. However, I do have to say that reading these books requires Inception levels of patience: the plot lines interweave, rewind, jump forward, start over, and twist around so much that by the end of the book, you’ll either be furrowing your brow in frustration or clapping in amazement. I knock off one star because I think the writing style, which mimics Victorian serial dramas of the day, could really be a turn-off to some people and/or leave them really confused as to what’s going on in the book. And also, I will admit: the plot can move really slowly at times. But if you’re patient and have an open mind about how a story “should” be written, there’s a real treat waiting here for you.
Black Skies, by Arnaldur Indridason (hardcover, 336 pages). Four out of five stars. What made this book so interesting is that it steps away from Inspector Erlendur and instead follows one of his partners, Sigurdur Oli. And I do not like Sigurdur Oli! I never cared for him as a character in the other books, so it was really interesting to see how the author made a fairly unlikable person the lead character and managed to make you hate him and cheer for him at the same time.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (hardcover, 181 pages). Three out of five stars. My Gaiman kick continues. I think part of the magic of Gaiman is that he can write horror/fantasy in such a way that you sort of absorb it without thinking too much about it and don’t really dwell on what he was saying until after the fact. Not a lot of writers can make such simple stories stick with you that way. I liked this one because it’s so easy to see it two ways–as a series of horrific things that happened, or as a series of ordinary things turned into horror by an over-imaginative little boy. The fine blending of those two possibilities is probably the most unsettling thing about the story.

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman (paperback, 196 pages). Three out of five stars. This is a little more light-hearted than some of Gaiman’s other books. I haven’t seen the movie but I liked this as a nice fantasy break from some of the thicker books I read this month.

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, by David Sedaris (hardcover, 275 pages). Three out of five stars. I expected more from this book, but I’m not sure what–more biting humor? More witty one-liners? More wildly inappropriate laugh-out-loud anecdotes? There are some to be sure, but lots of the essays are just kind of mildly amusing. I still really enjoyed the book, it just wasn’t the snort-fest I’d hoped for.

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, by Amanda Grange (paperback, 308 pages).  Three out of five stars. I read this because a) Mr. Darcy, b) vampires and c) Mr. Darcy. Sorry to be that girl, but I am. I was hoping this would be scarier and a little more risque–I wanted vampire fights! International intrigue! Romance! Horror! But the whole thing was kind of so-so; it was very PG and none of the plot twists really felt unexpected. I will say this about Grange: she has the ability to write out a scene, a landscape, an object, anything at all really so that you can see it right in front of you. Following Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth around Europe was fun for that reason, ho-hum story aside.
Forgotten, by Cat Patrick (hardcover, 304 pages). Two out of five stars. Really interesting concept–girl can only remember forward, not backward–but really so-so execution. I wanted this to have a cooler explanation and resolution than it did.
Dualed, by Elsie Chapman (hardcover, 292 pages). Not finished; probably two out of five stars. I guess you could say I have a Hunger Games hangover; I keep searching for its successor and failing to be satisfied. I wanted to like this book, which has a pretty cool concept, but I just couldn’t get into it. Fifty pages in I gave up and shelved it, as I have a huge stack of other library books to read, plus tons of Christmas books from friends and family that I’m eager to dig into!
So that’s it for my December book list! What did you read this month? If you do a similar post leave me a link in the comments so I can come check it out, and don’t forget to hook up with me on Goodreads here!

Unboxing: Conscious Box December 2013

My Conscious Box arrived a little late because of the holidays, so I’m just now posting the contents. I honestly had really mixed feelings about this month; there were lots of items included, but some were repeats, some were just not that interesting, and a couple were just “nopes” for me. If you’re interested in Conscious Box, it’s a monthly subscription box that brings you samples of natural health, food, beauty and lifestyle products for $19.95; choose from a classic, vegan, or gluten-free subscription. There are no preview or skip windows with this subscription. You can cancel anytime. When you rate the products received in your box, you earn points to spend in the Conscious store. Learn more at their website.

Right away, I have two repeats from last month: the African Black soap and the three-pack of Mighty Leaf loose leaf teas. I have no complaints about getting soap and tea in boxes, but I don’t think you should send someone a carbon copy of an item two months in a row. It’s bad for business and irks paying customers who want to try new things.

This Floating Soap, in a brown sugar and sweet potato scent, sounds interesting. I actually tuck most of my soaps in my dresser drawers to scent my clothes, but I might try this in the bath to see what it’s like.

They really went bonkers with the soap samples this month. I’m just sayin’. This seaweed soap from Earth’s Enrichments sounds really nice, though.

The Truly You amber candle is a welcome addition to the box; I love candles. I don’t get into the whole thing about burning to purify chakras and whatnot, but it smells good.

The idea behind this Blue Avocado java sleeve is that you’ll use it instead of the cardboard sleeve that comes on your takeout coffee cup, thereby cutting down on waste. You know what else cuts down on waste? Brewing your own coffee at home and toting it in a washable reusable cup instead of hitting the drive-thru. I know, that’s snotty, but I just don’t see myself using this, ever. Maybe if your lifestyle called for lots of take-out coffee because you were on the go and couldn’t brew at home…then it would be handy. But knowing me, I’d forget to stash it in my purse anyway.

These three samples are okay, but disappointing. (Left to right: Mountain Green laundry detergent, Natural Homelogic dish soap, BumBoosa baby wipe.) I just don’t get all “woohoo” about samples of cleaning products.

Finally! A cosmetic item! This mini bottle of Piggy Paint doesn’t have a color listed on the bottom, but it’s a pretty shade. These polishes are all non-toxic and safe for pregnant ladies or small children.

I’m always up for more protein shake samples. It’s hard to find ones that taste good. This veggie protein pack from APS is in a berry flavor, which should be interesting (I normally buy vanilla or chocolate).

I didn’t like these roasted chickpeas (The Good Bean). To be honest I’m not a big “nut” person anyway, so maybe if you were, you’d like them more…they’re certainly a great alternative to roasted peanuts. Just not my taste.

I really liked this Two Degrees bar, I just didn’t like getting bits of quinoa stuck in my teeth. Kind of problematic, since I usually eat this type of bar on the go or whilst running from one office to another at work, and I really felt the need to floss as soon as I’d finished eating it!

I wasn’t sure about this Numi tea. Beet cabbage? For reals? But it was good, light and slightly spicy–a nice savory tea to go with a meal, as opposed to a sweet dessert tea. I would repurchase this in the future, once I’ve worked through my Christmas stash of tea!

The MegaFood vegan vitamins are a good sample for me, since I’m thinking of getting a multivitamin to add to my diet for the new year. You don’t realize until you go vegan that there are sources of dairy and other animal products lurking everywhere, even in vitamins!

(Slight pause) This Florax DS is, in my opinion, just a weird sample to include.

Extras. A BioBag, for picking up pet waste, and some coupons. There were also coupons included on a couple of products in the box, like the soap and the Numi tea.

Here’s a rundown of everything I got and the approximate item/total box value:

African Black soap: $0.79
Mighty Leaf tea: $1.50
Floating Soap: $1.00 (?)
Seaweed soap: $1.00 (?)
Tea light: $3.00
Java sleeve: $3.00
Laundry detergent: $0.40
Dish soap: $0.10
Baby wipe: $0.10
Piggy Paint: $4.00 (?)
Veggie protein: $2.00
The Good Bean: $2.00 (?)
Two Degrees bar: $2.00
Numi tea: $0.60
MegaFood supplement: $0.80
Florax: $14.27
BioBag/coupons: N/A
Total: $36.56

Overall I liked quite a few of the items–the teas and soaps, candle, nail polish and snack bar–and I would say out of seventeen items, ten were good, five were okay but not for me, and two were just “bleh”. I feel like the inclusion of the Florax DS bumped up the box value and that’s why they felt okay putting in the super-cheapie samples of dish soap and the BioBag, as opposed to other food, beauty or lifestyle samples.

Once again I did find some new items to try out that I would not have purchased off the store shelf at full retail price, but the total value of those items doesn’t exceed the box price, especially if you don’t count the two repeat items. That could be a deal breaker for some people. I do still feel like the box offers a nice mix of items for someone who’s new to vegan and/or green living and needs a place to start before they start buying full-sized items, but I would like to see them improve the “lifestyle” items and start offering more beauty items that are not bar soap.

In any case, while this box had a mixed value for me, I already knew before it arrived that I would be canceling most of my existing subscription boxes on the first of this month as part of my 2014 goal to reduce my unnecessary spending. While these boxes are certainly fun, they’re not a necessity and I know I could put that $20 each month toward something else, so is the last one I’ll be unpacking for some time.

Do you subscribe to any monthly boxes? Any favorites? Any you’re quitting this year, or picking up brand-new? Tell me in the comments!

January 2014 Recipe Writers: Healthy Eating!

It’s time for another round of Recipe Writers, and in celebration of the New Year, this month will focus on healthy eating! We want your favorite healthy recipes, and the easier they are to prepare, the better. This is the time of year when many of us recommit to a healthy lifestyle (especially after the Christmas cookie binges of last month) so now is the perfect time to start swapping healthy recipes for entrees, snacks, smoothies and more. Personally I’m excited to get back on track with healthy smoothies, salads and vegan burgers, so it’s going to be hard picking just one recipe for the link-up!
Here is how Recipe Writers works:
At the beginning of every month we will introduce a new theme and all share our recipes here. The link party will close on the last day of the month. 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, November was Thanksgiving Favorites and December was Christmas Cookies!
Amanda Rose from Sew Much 2 Say

Remember, this link up is open until the end of the month and we will have a new one next month starting on the 1st.  Don’t forget to check in next month to see if your recipe was featured. 
So, what are you waiting for? 
Make your favorite healthy recipes, blog about it and share them with us!

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This year…

I was browsing Twitter yesterday when I saw this Pin tweeted out by Elle from the blog ElleSees (go check it out, it’s one of my faves).

What an easy way to make a list of resolutions, right? I have lots of changes to make this year, and sometimes it can be overwhelming to think of a list of resolutions in one giant chunk. I think that’s part of the reason so many resolutions fail–it’s just too much all at once. I like how this list gives you just nine very specific things to focus on.

A bad habit I’m going to break…Spending money for the hell of it because I’m bored or sad. I’ve never been one to spend money I can’t afford to spend, and I don’t carry a credit card, so it’s not that I get myself into financial hard spots with frivolous spending. It’s just that I have a really bad tendency to say, “I’m bored and I had a crappy night at work. I think a trip to (Target, the bookstore, ULTA) is just the thing I need.” And while $20 doesn’t seem like a lot, it really adds up at the end of the year to a houseful of stuff I don’t really need and a chunk of cash I would have preferred to spend on a big-ticket item, like a vacation or a piece of furniture. I’m going to do a longer post on this later, but 2014 is going to be a year of minimal buying, partly to save money, partly to save myself from an avalanche of unneeded stuff, and partly so I can learn better ways to cope with dissatisfaction (a bike ride, reading a book, etc.).

A new skill I’d like to learn…I want to improve my yoga. I have a lot of problems with back pain and I think this will do wonders for my physical health, as well as my mental well-being.

A person I hope to be more like…I don’t like to pick out one person as a role model. I think there are a lot of reasons not to model yourself after a single person, but rather to look at the traits of a group of people you admire and emulate the things they do that you admire.

A good deed I’m going to do…I don’t talk much about stuff like this because I feel like good deeds, charity or what-have-you should be a bit more private. But I do have a couple of things in mind for 2014.

A place I’d like to visit…I don’t have a particular place in mind, but I do have a general goal of getting out of the house more. I’m hugely introverted and my idea of a good day off is snuggling under a blanket with tea, a book and my cats. I want to get out to go new places, do new things, and see new people. I don’t think being introverted is a bad thing, by the way, and I wear my badge proudly; I just know that for myself personally, my love of hiding in the house can sometimes cut me off from new and fun experiences, and I don’t want that.

A book I’d like to read…Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. I’ve always been scared away by the idea that it must be really long and hard to read, I suppose simply because it’s a classic, and we all know that classics are scary with a capital S. But I finally bought it and stuck it on the shelf, so no more excuses.

A letter I’m going to write…I’m going to write a letter to my future self and tuck it away to be opened on January 1st, 2015. I think it will be really interesting to read it and see what goals and plans I had and how I achieved them.

A new food I’d like to try…I want to be more experimental with my cooking in general. I tend to get in a rut and not try out new recipes, even when I’m bored to death with the food available in the house.

I’m going to do better at…Exercising daily. I tend to get into these modes of either exercising daily and feeling very proud of myself, or not doing it at all and loathing myself. With all of the other things in my life that eat up time and energy, it can be really hard to stick to an exercise routine, so this year I’m going to try for a simple fifteen minutes each day throughout the month of January. Obviously I can do more, but this is just a basic benchmark to hit on even the really busy, exhausting, I-can’t’possibly-do-one-more-thing kind of days. I think doing something daily will make me feel better physically and will make the routine easier in the long run.

If you decide to fill this in, be sure to leave me a comment with your blog post link so I can check it out!

Happy New Year!

Happy 2014 everyone! I can’t believe it’s a new year already. This past year seems like it really flew by, which is sort of sad, but at the same time I’m excited about the new year and all of the new things it will bring.

Being the wild party animal that I am (eye roll) I did very little to celebrate the holidays. I did manage to do some pretty nail art for Christmas Day, but the only big excitement was hitting the movies with a girlfriend. The next day we opened presents, which basically involved books and tea from everyone I know. My friends and family know me quite well!

I almost always work through the holidays so I was pretty excited to have New Year’s Eve off. And then I…fell asleep on the couch. For hours. And when I woke up shortly after midnight, I said “eh, whatever” and stumbled off to sleep in the bed for the rest of the night. See? Told you I was wild.

But lack of midnight festivities aside, I am excited for the new year. I think this is one of my favorite holidays ever, because I love the fresh start and the chance to embrace new things and big changes. Sometime in the next few days I’ll do a longer post on some of my new year’s resolutions but for now I just want to wish you all a very happy new year! Also, if you’re doing any new year posts or resolution posts, leave me a link in the comments so I can check them out!