Year: 2014

Book review: ‘Bend Your Brain: 151 Puzzles, Tips, and Tricks to Blow (and Grow) Your Mind’

(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review from Blogging For Books. However I was not compensated for writing a review and as always all opinions are my own.)

Bend Your Brain

Bend Your Brain: 151 Puzzles, Tips, and Tricks to Blow (and Grow) Your Mind (paperback, 192 pages), by Lindsay Gaskins. Four out of five stars.

If you’re looking for something to challenge your mental faculties–during a boring stint in a waiting room, on a rainy day, or to keep you and a partner entertained during a lull in the family festivities this Thanksgiving weekend–then this book is for you. It contains a variety of brain-bending puzzles that range from the visual to the wordy to the numerical, so whether you’re a trivia buff, a dictionary lover or a math nerd, there’s sure to be a puzzle here to entertain you.

The book is the product of the team behind Marbles: The Brain Store and they’ve used neuroscience to craft puzzles covering five categories–visual perception, word skills, critical thinking, coordination, and memory–for a full brain workout. (Think of it as hitting a circuit at the gym rather than sticking to one machine or type of exercise.)

The mix of puzzles is great for that reason, but it can also be challenging if you’re limited in one or more areas. Of course, you might be less limited if you work those areas of the brain, but still–someone who prefers passing leisure time doing crosswords might not appreciate numbers-related puzzle pages, and vice versa. I found the word association puzzles fairly easy but found the other types of puzzles much more challenging.

For that reason, you might have more fun with this book if you do the puzzles with a friend. I found this book more enjoyable when I curled up on the couch with the husband to take a tandem whack at it–for example, one visual/memory puzzle with pictures of famous landmarks was much easier to decode with two heads instead of just one.

This book isn’t really labeled strictly for adults; it would also be great for older kids or teens who needed something to keep them entertained (besides a smartphone) during a long car ride or flight this holiday season. It’s a great way to sneak some learning into a fun activity. I’m not even a “puzzle book person” per se (I’m a New York Times crossword gal) but I still enjoyed it!

Ten on Tuesday: cold weather, tablets and Christmas decorating

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1. It’s finally cold here–down in the teens–but no snow yet, thank goodness. And at least it’s nice and sunny.

2. The cats are not thrilled about the cold. This little lady in particular is feeling extra-snuggly now.

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3. Even though it’s cold I’m still eating ice cream. I’m just sitting under a heated blanket to stay warm.

4. I need to go shopping so we can have Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. I’m just feeling too lazy.

5. One of my friends have me a new tablet as an early Christmas present and I’m pretty sure it’s the Best. Thing. Ever. Now I have Kindle books and Instagram and everything else I was missing. I’m pretty sure I don’t even need a laptop now.

6. I’m feeling a need for gradient glitter nails…

7. I really wish we could replace our tub/shower, but we rent so we can’t. It’s just old and it doesn’t look so hot (like, to the point that I feel a little embarrassed when we have company). I know, #firstworldproblems, but it irritates me. Renting has a lot of perks, but not being able to DIY and fix things whenever you want gets old.

8. How early do you decorate for Christmas? We’re definitely waiting until after Thanksgiving. I know some people start super-early but I would get sick of having all that stuff in my way!

9. I just got a serious whomping head/chest cold for the first time in years. (Quite literally, two or three years.) And it sucked. And now I’m doubling down on vitamins and healthy food!

10. Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a copy of The Hunger Games trilogy–it’s open worldwide!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 sequels I can’t wait to get

Top Ten Tuesday

Ooooohhhhhh, sequels. I have a love-hate relationship with sequels. Sometimes I find a book so great that I can’t wait for the sequel, and then…it disappoints. Other times I kind of want to know how the story continues, but the book wasn’t good enough to drive me through additional installments. Nonetheless, there are a few sequels I’m eagerly awaiting and probably won’t be able to procure fast enough for my tastes!

1. The Winds of Winter (A Song of Ice and Fire #6), by George R. R. Martin. Seven Hells, man! I know you have a writing “process” and I get it that you don’t want to rush the story. I don’t want you to rush it either, per se…I just kind of want you to get the damn thing written so I can read it. Preferably before I’m 87.

2. Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3), by Robin LaFevers. I’ve been waiting for the conclusion to this trilogy for months. At least it’s finally on hold at the library.

3. The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3), by Justin Cronin. Another trilogy wrap-up that I’ve been waiting for way too long. This was supposed to be out this year, but now it’s apparently been pushed back to October 2015. A WHOLE ‘NOTHER FREAKING YEAR. Gaaaaahhhhh.

4. Dawn’s Early Light (The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #3), by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. It’s steampunk, and also, it has Tesla. Oh yes please. I’d hoped the library would get around to purchasing this so I could borrow it but they haven’t, so it looks like I’ll have to cave and buy it for my own self.

5. Shadows of Self (Mistborn #5), by Brandon Sanderson. Once again, waiting until freaking 2015 for the next book! I decided I wouldn’t start this series anyway until all the books were out, because a quick flip through told me I’d probably race through them. They look really good. I guess to be fair, I do have plenty of other books to read in the meantime…

6. Dust (The Silo Saga #3), by Hugh Howey. I’m reading the first book, Wool, right now, and I’m already impatiently tapping my foot waiting for the third book to arrive from the library so I can complete this trilogy uninterrupted.

7. All of the rest of the Pretty Little Liars books by Sara Shepherd. I know, these are so trashy. I’m not even going to pretend that they constitute anything other than vapid, gossipy, guilty-pleasure reading, and I should probably feel terrible for enjoying them. But goodness, they’re addictive.

8. Whatever the next book in the Trilogia Victoriana is going to be. Felix J. Palma has become one of my favorite authors, even though he’s only got two books out. They’re AMAZING. Or maybe that’s just me. (There’s a small chance that it’s just me.) Anyway, I have no idea what the third book in this trilogy will be called or when it will be released, but I need it. Badly.

9. Forged (Taken #3), by Erin Bowman. This trilogy surprised me. I like the inversion of the typical love triangle (there’s one guy and two badass girls, instead of the typical helpless girl torn between two guys). I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s one of the best YA series I’ve ever read, but I’m really curious to see how it ends.

10. The Master Magician (The Paper Magician trilogy #3), by Charlie N. Holmberg. I have the first two books on my Kindle now, and as eager as I am to read them, I dread waiting another year for the third and final installment.

 

So…any sequels you just can’t wait to get your hands on? Any that disappointed you once you finally read them? Tell me in the comments!

Unboxing: Influenster Moda VoxBox

(Disclosure: The products mentioned in this post were provided compliments of Influenster for testing purposes; I was not compensated for writing a review and as always all opinions are my own.)

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It’s been a long time since I’ve had one of these to unbox for ya! The Influenster Moda VoxBox arrived recently and I’m finally getting pics of all the products and squeezing in some product testing. For today I have a quick rundown of the box and its contents, with some mini reviews.

First up we have a trio of products from Rimmel London. The Scandaleyes Rockin’ Curves Mascara ($5.99 at drugstores). This mascara promises to give you major lash volume, with a specially designed brush that grabs even the tiny lashes at the inner corners of the eyes. This mascara does contain beeswax and silk powder, so it isn’t vegan friendly.

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The Moisture Renew Lipstick ($7.49 at drugstores), in #560 As You Want Victoria, promises brilliant color and “lips drenched in moisture”. The photo does a terrible job of capturing this shade; it puts the “shocking” in “shocking pink”. Click over to the Rimmel website (here) to see a photo of Georgia May Jagger wearing this shade.

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Finally from Rimmel there’s a Moisture Renew Lip Liner ($6.49 at drugstores) in a clear shade, designed to prevent feathering. I have to say that I don’t understand why more companies don’t offer a clear lip liner; I’m constantly reading in beauty magazines that it’s a “must-have” and better than colored lip liner. Mystifying.

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I have to say that for cruelty-free consumers, Rimmel London might be an iffy choice. In a pop-up on their home page, the company states, “We at Rimmel take the issue of animal testing very seriously, and have for many years been vehemently against animal testing products or product ingredients on animals.  We do not undertake animal testing for any of our products or even product ingredients, and do not commission such tests with outside test institutes either.” However, the company is owned by Coty, and their animal testing statement (see it here) includes the infamous “where required by law” clause that has caused many cruelty-free consumers to shop elsewhere.

I know this statement causes a lot of heated arguments, especially in light of the recent EU ban on testing and all the confusion about what that means for cosmetics sold here in America; also, the Coty statement is from 2012…so, this might warrant a longer post on another day. For now I’ll just say that as consumers we always have to make our own choices about what to buy, so you’ll have to weigh the two statements and decide how you feel purchasing from a company whose parent may or may not occasionally submit their other brands for animal testing. (Much like The Body Shop and Urban Decay being owned by L’Oreal.)

Okay, on to other products! There’s a Puffs SoftPack ($2.49 at drugstores), which will come in handy since both the husband and I have the sniffles. The soft body lets you easily stick these in a backpack, baby bag, luggage or anywhere else. Let’s face it, those tiny “travel packs” are never big enough when you have a severe cold; this is so much better!

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The Hair Food Moisture Hair Mask ($14.99 at Target) is designed to condition and smooth hair with honey and apricot oil. Because of the honey this product is not vegan-friendly, and I believe Clariol tests on animals (they’re also owned by animal-testing Proctor & Gamble).

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There’s a travel-sized bottle of Jergens Ultra Healing Extra Dry Skin Moisturizer ($4.99 for a 21-oz. bottle or $6.99 for a 32-oz. bottle, at drugstores). I’ve used this before and liked it, but more recently I’ve had trouble nailing down the brand’s animal testing policies, so I’ve stopped using their products. I have heard both that they do not test on animals and that their parent company, Kao Brands, does test.

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Next we have a Swiss Miss Simply Cocoa packet ($2.29 for an eight-count box; at grocery stores). This contains milk, so I can’t drink it, but I gave it to a non-vegan friend who appreciated the “short, sweet ingredient list” and “rich, not-too-sugary taste”.

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Finally there’s a bottle of Resource Spring Water ($1.49 at grocery stores). This is a water enhanced with “natural electrolytes”, in a 100% recyclable bottle made with 50% recycled plastic. Nifty, though I’m not sure I’ll necessarily notice a difference from any other bottled water–but I’ll certainly give it a spin!

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So that’s it for this VoxBox! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more pics as I try out these products!

 

GIVEAWAY: ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy (paperback)

Hunger Games trilogy

Who’s excited for the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 in movie theaters this Friday?! This is one of my favorite book series ever, not to mention my favorite YA series, and I’ve loved the movies, too. To celebrate the release of the latest movie, I’m giving away a paperback copy of the trilogy–so whether you want to re-read the series once again, or you’ve never read the books and want to see how they stack up against the movies, now’s your chance!

To enter, just use the Rafflecopter widget below. I’ve added some new options for you to look over (for starters, you can now follow me on Instagram!), but please remember: I do verify all entries, so don’t check them off if you didn’t complete them! The giveaway will be open internationally for one week, and I’ll be drawing the winner next Monday. May the odds be ever in your favor!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book review: ‘J: A novel’, by Howard Jacobson

(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. However I was not compensated for writing a review and as always all opinions are my own.)

 

J a novel

J: A novel, by Howard Jacobson (hardcover, 352 pages). Two out of five stars.

I don’t know how to rate this book–two stars? Two and a half? Should I be generous–three stars? Hmmm. The trouble is that the book by turns interested, irritated and confused me, and I still don’t really know I feel about it.

J is a dystopian novel set in a Britain of indeterminate future, following an event known as What Happened, If It Happened, which has altered the country so much as to be unrecognizable. Frustratingly, we’re only ever teased as to What Happened, but never given any solid hints–it seems to have been some kind of ethnic cleansing or jingoistic warfare, but we can’t be certain. There are hints that it may have been a sort of second Holocaust, but again–we’re never told for sure.

The main narrative arc follows a couple, Kevern and Ailinn, who live in this odd not-quite-dystopia where the past is a dangerous thing not to be discussed or poked into. The goal of the governing body, Ofnow, is to ensure everyone stays peaceable and in the present, rather than focusing on differences or keeping secrets that could lead to conflict. Of course, this constant striving for peace leads to its own fomented angst and secret-keeping, which leads Kevern and Ailinn unawares into all sorts of plots and scheming.

A blurb for this book described it as “1984 meets A Brave New World” but I don’t think that’s correct. While it does have its strong points, the novel is overall not nearly as brutal or as sharp as those other books, nor does it seem to have as clear of a vision in its plot. And the constant forced vagueness starts to get really irksome after a while.

At times the story does a good job of rollings its eyes at too-prevalent political correctness–the need to constantly say “sorry” for everything–and also points out the trouble with refusing to actually take responsibility for the crimes of the past–saying “if” something happened, instead of calling a spade a spade. In a way, considering the possible ethnic conflict at the center of the novel, this is a sharp expose of our tendency to be overly politically correct about race while also downplaying the Jewish Holocaust and the effect of the slave trade and Native American resettlement in America. It’s definitely something that could inspire book club discussions.

Unfortunately these flashes of brilliance are drowned out by wordy passages that might force you to dust off the dictionary. At times the author seems too preoccupied with his own cleverness to move the story along in a linear and well-paced fashion. Instead we’re dragged through a mix of third-person narrative, flashbacks, letters and diary entries, which muddy rather than illuminate the waters. The purposefully vague references to What Happened and also to relics of the past don’t help. After a while you begin to piece together a picture of what might have happened, but it’s less of a sudden realization than a frustrated attempt to force the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place.