product review

Book review: ‘Learn ANY Language: A Practical Guide to Learn Any Language to Any Level of Fluency’

(Disclosure: review copy/affiliate links)

Why 'Learn ANY Language' is helping reenergize my lanuage self-study course in 2017!I have always been one of those people who assumed that I am “just not good” at learning foreign languages. I’ve dabbled in a wide range since high school, trying to find something that would “click” for me: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Arabic, and even American Sign Language. I’ve tried text books, language tapes, online programs, flashcards—you name it. And every time, I’ve inevitably been frustrated by my inability to hang on to what I was learning. After a while I kind of put the attempts at language learning on the back burner, because it was too frustrating.

Recently, I decided that I wanted to get back into language study. I still have my instructional CDs in Spanish, German, French, and Italian. There are tons of resources available at the local library and online. And it’s winter now—if I’m going to be stuck inside because of the cold weather, why not take up a learning hobby to pass the time?

Once again, though, there’s that general feeling that I’m “bad” at learning a language. So my interest was definitely piqued when I got an email asking if I’d like to review a copy of Learn ANY Language: A Practical Guide to Learn Any Language to Any Level of Fluency. Any language? Any at all? Even if I’m “bad” at languages? I definitely wanted to see what tips and tricks I could glean from this book before tackling a language program again.

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May 2016 Birchbox (six months of BB so far)

Peek inside my May 2016 Birchbox and see all the goodies I got!

It’s time to unbox my May 2016 Birchbox! I completely skipped out on unboxing my Birchbox in April but I didn’t forget this month. When I first signed up for this box six months ago I didn’t expect to be wowed, but so far I’ve been very pleased with each month’s box. Almost all of the samples have been veg-friendly (and many are Leaping Bunny certified); there’s a good mix of skincare, hair care, and color cosmetics; and with the luxe skincare items and seasonal makeup items, I feel like I’m getting a good deal for my money versus shopping at Ulta and trying to decide what product will work best for me.

Plus, not only does the box value always massively beat the $10 monthly fee—many of the products are deluze samples of very pricey items I could never afford to try otherwise—that fee is cut in half by the points I earn for rating the items in each box on the Birchbox website. I get $5 worth of points from each box to redeem on the site toward full-size versions of the products I love—the only hard part is picking which ones I want! It all works out to a hell of a deal.

Read on for a peek of this month’s products!

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February 2016 Birchbox: the best yet

See what I got in my February 2016 Birchbox!

I kind of forgot my February 2016 Birchbox was coming last month. We had a lot going on, in between school, work, spring cleaning, and home remodeling (that unexpectedly took about two weeks to complete—not the promised four days). It was a busy month and so it was a real treat to find this cute little box in the mail one rainy day!

I’ve been decently pleased with Birchbox so far, but this box was easily the best yet. The theme this month was “What’s the occasion?” and these products are definitely perfect for getting you ultra-glam for a date night or just because you want to feel pampered. Read on for pics of what I got and my thoughts on the products!

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Product review: Keranique Volumizing shampoo and conditioner

(Disclosure: I received a sample of this product for review from iFabbo and Keranique; however I was not compensated for writing a review and as always my opinions are my own.)

Keranique--did it give me fuller hair or leave me feeling flat?

You guys know how much I dislike writing “meh” reviews but sometimes it has to be done! This is a product I was recently sent for review and was so completely underwhelmed by that I put off writing a review because I struggled to come up with positive things to say about it. Ouch. It’s not terrible, it’s just…so meh. Read on for the details:

The product: Keranique Volumizing shampoo and conditioner; typically retails for $49.95 for a set of one 8-oz. shampoo and one 8-oz. conditioner. Available here through the company website. Check them out on social media @KeraniqueHair and by searching #KeraniqueHair.

The claim: Cleans and nourishes the scalp to stimulate the hair follicles and provide thicker, healthier-looking hair. Adds body and volume to thin hair, strengthens breakage-prone hair, and provides shine and smoothness without weighing hair down.

I tried it: I’ve always been a little jealous of girls who seem to have naturally thick, glorious hair. Mine is pretty thin and flat and no matter how I style it I always feel like it needs a little help. So I gave this shampoo and conditioner a shot in the hope that it might boost my hair a little, even though, to be honest, I’ve always been a little skeptical of products that claim to transform your hair. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The first thing I noticed about this shampoo is that it has a very strong peppermint scent and a tingling feeling on the scalp. Some people might like that but I think lots of others might find the scent too strong. The shampoo definitely leaves your scalp feeling squeaky clean yet not stripped, if that makes sense, and I like that it’s safe for color-treated hair. However, I felt like my scalp felt oilier on the second day (when I skip a wash) than it does when I use my regular Giovanni Tea Tree shampoo, so that was a downer.

I was less impressed with the conditioner. It’s okay, but as a long-haired gal, I’ve tried tons of conditioners and have very high expectations, which this product did not meet. It did an okay job, didn’t weigh down my hair, and detangled nicely; but by the second day my ends felt much drier than they do when using my regular Giovanni or Organix conditioners. I used this product continuously for a month and in conjunction with a variety of other styling products and the result was the same every time.

Did my hair look fuller? Slightly, and it was definitely shiny and pretty, but I was incredibly bummed to go into my second day with oily roots and dry ends. It’s even more of a bummer when you consider the price tag on these shampoos versus my typical drugstore buys. The volumizing effect was nice but way too temporary, in my opinion.

My final thoughts: From such an expensive shampoo with such lofty claims, I expected really amazing results, but I was left disappointed. I think in a blind test you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this shampoo and conditioner and many other cheaper brands. Overall, it’s definitely not the worst product I’ve ever tried, it was just so middling that I would not recommend it.

Have you ever tried Keranique? What’s your favorite hair-boosting product? Do you have any tips for making thin hair look fuller?

Product review: StriVectin Advanced Retinol Pore Refiner

(Disclosure:  I received a sample of this product for testing purposes from iFabbo and StriVectin; however I was not compensated for writing a review and as always all opinions are my own.)

StriVectin Advanced Retinol Pore Refiner

The product: StriVectin Advanced Retinol Pore Refiner, $99/1.7 fl. oz. at beauty retailers like ULTA and Sephora or online through Strivectin.com. Catch up with StriVectin on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @StriVectin and check out the hashtag #StriVeSTORY for more on the brand.

The claim: A lightweight treatment that combines the power of retinol with skin-soothing hydration for skin that looks smoother and tighter. No irritation, redness or peeling as with traditional retinol treatments.Reduces the visible size of pores and delivers an instant mattifying effect. Wear alone for a #nofilter #nomakeup day or use as a primer under foundation.

I tried it: It seems like ever since I passed my mid-twenties, my skin needs more attention than ever. This winter especially, I’m fighting uneven texture and dullness. It seems like every beauty magazine I’ve opened recently is shouting “retinol!” as a solution but I’ve been leery of trying anything with retinol since it’s notorious for causing irritation, and my skin is already sensitive in the winter.

So, I was really intrigued by this hybrid treatment, which promises long-term skin improvement without any short-term side effects. It layers quite nicely over other skin care products and under makeup without adding shine or making my face feel slick. Worn alone, it gives skin a soft-focus effect that blurs imperfections and lets me skip a full face of foundation.

This product has a very faint, clean fragrance but it fades quickly upon application. I experienced no redness, dryness or other irritation while using it. It isn’t a moisturizer, so you’ll definitely want to layer it—I used it over my facial oil, moisturizer, and sunscreen.

I got several compliments on my skin while wearing this product sans makeup, which surprised me, since I don’t think my skin has been in its best shape this past month. I was very pleased with what a boost I got from a teeny, tiny dollop of product. With the size of the tube and the pump packaging, this will last me quite a while, even if used twice a day as recommended.

In summary: My biggest hesitation with this product is the steep price tag, but considering that a tube will easily last you several months, and if you could snag it on sale, I think it would be a worthwhile splurge.

Anyone else tried the StriVectin Advanced Retinol Pore Refiner? Any favorite retinol products you can recommend, or are you, like me, a retinol newbie? What’s your favorite skin care product for a no-makeup day?

Quickie review: ‘The Grownup’, by Gillian Flynn

A quickie review of the short story 'The Grownup', by Gillian Flynn(Thank you to Blogging For Books for the review copy!)

It’s hard to not sit down and read Flynn’s short story The Grownup all in one sitting, for two reasons:

1. It’s awesome.

2. It’s short.

Thus, this story is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s a great mystery/suspense story and I devoured it. On the other hand—ten freaking dollars for a sixty-page story?! No thank you!

The story centers around an unnamed protagonist, who earns her living posing as a psychic. She’s a little bit jaded from spending her whole life conning, in some way or another, but when she encounters a woman who believes her house may be haunted, her careful game of deceit and control begins to unravel. She’s forced to ask herself, the ultimate skeptic: are ghosts real? Or has the con artist now been sucked into the ultimate con?

I think if you can get ahold of this from your local library, you should, because it’s not only one of the tightest short stories I’ve read recently, it’s a great lesson in how to maintain tension and create clever plot twists in a story, for those of us who are writers and are learning as we read. However, I wouldn’t buy it. There’s just no way I can justify the cover price!

The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn (hardcover, 64 pages). Published November 2015 by Crown. Genre: mystery, suspense, horror. Four out of five stars.

Book review: ‘The Heart Goes Last’ by Margaret Atwood

'The Heart Goes Last' by Margaret Atwood: great message, but horrible packaging.(Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy!)

This was one of those books that contained a lot of thought-provoking scenarios packaged in an utterly un-entertaining story. If I was looking at this book purely in light of possible book club discussions then I would have rated it much higher, but as something to read for fun, I hated it, and I only finished it because of a read-along.

Set in the near future, the plot follows a young couple, Stan and Charmaine, who have very nearly hit bottom. Living in their car, living hand to mouth in a world torn apart by greed and violence, they’re desperate for respite, so when they see an advertisement for a community called Consilience, they eagerly sign up. The housing project has a unique approach: live one month as a member of society, spend the next in the community prison; members alternate months and share a house with another couple, swapping back and forth and in exchange for their labor, receiving housing, meals, security—the whole nine yards. Of course, not everything is hunky-dory, and once Stan and Charmaine both develop obsessions with the “alternates” who share their home, their lives begin to fall apart. Consilience once seemed like a haven, but now even their “free” months are a prison.

Let’s first take a look at why this book didn’t work for me, after the jump!

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Book review: ‘Food: A Love Story’ by Jim Gaffigan

I found Jim Gaffigan's 'Food' to be a bit stale...(Thanks to Blogging For Books for the review copy!)

Warning: food puns ahead!

Imagine you see a stand-up comedian and think he’s pretty funny. Imagine he releases a book about, coincidentally, one of your all-time favorite topics–food!–and you salivate as you think “Wow, I can’t wait to read that! I bet it’s going to leave me in stitches!”

Now imagine that when you pick up said book, it turns out to be comprised in part of jokes you’ve already heard from his live routines. Like a day-old salad, this is disappointing, and yet you imagine that surely, no one would sell it if it wasn’t palatable. But furthermore, even those jokes that seemed so funny on stage have lost their luster in print, without inflection, facial expressions or body language to color the tone.

Such is the problem I had with Food, which seemed like it’d be hilarious but ended up feeling kind of stale. Even jokes that I found hilarious live didn’t impress me on the page.

There’s also the basic math problem of a 300+ page book dealing exclusively with one topic. How many topics do you think a comedian chows through in a one-hour special? After a while I had to put the book down because, as much as I love food, my fellow reviewers–I was tired of reading about it. I think this book might be better handled in very small portions, so you can chuckle and then move on to another course.

Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan (paperback, 352 pages). Published 2015 by Three Rivers Press. Genre: humor. Two out of five stars.