A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This review is going to take a different tone than my normal ones because this book isn’t a romance. I first heard about A Little Life on the podcast Books on the Nightstand. It caught my attention because of how it affected one of the co-hosts, and I was intrigued. Now, after having read it, I know she wasn’t exaggerating. This book completely wrecked my emotions.

Trigger warnings: While I want to recommend this, I need to note several triggering items contained in this book for readers who don’t wish to read about certain things. The book contains themes and graphic descriptions of the following: physical and sexual child abuse, violent domestic abuse, drug use, cutting, and suicide.


The book tells the story of four friends after they graduate from college, each with their own issues, insecurities, and plans for the future. It spans several decades and touches on each of their lives, but at the center of the story is Jude, a quiet man who has problems with his legs due to an incident in his past that he won’t talk to anyone about. In fact, Jude doesn’t tell anyone about his past, a fact which his friends try to respect even though it brings about a good amount of resentment from them.

The Story
The story jumps times, moving forward when ready to show the characters after a span of time and going back to show the details of Jude’s childhood. Though sometimes the timeline isn’t clear, the story is well written and well paced. The reader glimpses the lives of the four friends as well as several people that come into their lives later to play important roles. There is also an evolution to the friends’ core relationship. At times they drift apart or have falling outs. Other times, their relationship changes to more than friendship, and while there is a hint of romance in this book, it’s read with caution and the worry that things are not going to turn out well.

The People
The characters are multi-dimensional, but rather than show the reader the characters in one shot of exposition, the author unfolds their stories over the multi-decade narrative. This is especially true of Jude’s story. The way this is done kept me on edge and always feeling the tension and emotion in the story. I’d no sooner come to terms with one aspect of Jude’s life before being shown another aspect.

The Emotion
I’m holding back from saying too much because I think this book needs to be experienced for its full emotional value. However, I will admit that I cried quit a bit while reading this book, and even more after finishing it. The story was so powerful to me that I was still thinking about it the next day, and still getting emotional about it. And it wasn’t a quiet cry either. It was an all out sobfest, complete with puffy eyes the next day.

Final Thoughts
I want people to read this, but I want them to know that they’re getting into a very sad story about mostly good people. This is not a feel good book, but it does make you feel things, some good, some bad. It’s also not a quick read. It’s a long book (700+ pages) and it’s one that should be absorbed, not skimmed.

Ride Steady (A Chaos Novel) by Kristen Ashley

I was on the fence about biker romances, but I grabbed this one on NetGalley because one of my favorite podcasts, Dear Bitches, Smart Authors, have talked frequently about the crack that is a Kristen Ashley novel. I decided to find out for myself why this author was so addicting.

Ride Steady

I received an ARC of this novel free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
A biker from a broken home and a woman struggling to take care of her son on her own connect years after knowing each other in high school and try to forge a relationship through the emotional baggage they’re carrying. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

The Good Stuff
They weren’t lying when they said Ashley’s books are addictive. Here’s the thing…there were things about this book I didn’t particularly like, but I had a really hard time putting it down. It’s not a one-sitting read either. The book is long because the author doesn’t just take the story over one conflict, she takes it over the whole situation. In the story of Joker and Carissa, we not only have the angst of their romance, but we also get to see what happens when their relationship settles down and becomes good. We get to see the characters’ dynamic with other people in their life, like Joker’s friends who supported him when he was growing up in an abusive house, and Carissa’s douche canoe ex-husband. It’s easy for a story to become bogged down in different conflicts and plot lines, but Ashley seems to have a knack for doing this and doing it well.


I also liked the fact that the motorcycle club that Joker belonged to wasn’t a criminal gang, but they weren’t above taking it there (on the down low) to defend or take care of a member of their family. I also liked the character development. Joker and Carissa both evolve during the book, and the author shows this, rather than tells it, especially in the dialogue, where Joker went from ignoring pronouns, which drove me nuts, to talking in full sentences.

Things That Made Me Go Hmmm
Though I really enjoyed this book, I found several aspects of it fairly jarring. For instances, even though I’ve seen it on TV shows and in movies and have read it in other books, having the bikers refer to their women as “bitches” took some getting used to. As I mentioned before, I hated Joker’s cut off sentences, and he’s not the only character in the book to use them. It was hard for me to hear him talk in a way that didn’t sound weird. Though Carissa turns out okay, there are parts of the book where she’s super whiny and annoying. Strangely enough, she was also endearing, so I wanted to hit her, but then I wanted to hug her.

The Romance Factor
I think the only reason I’m not giving this one a 5/5 romance factor rating is because of the whole “bitches” thing, because that was hard for me to get around.


But the relationship between two broken people was sweet. There was a sense of possession at first, but Joker was mostly supportive of Carissa and wanted to see her happy. Their whole damsel-in-distress meet cute (she was stranded with a flat tire, he stopped to help her) was kind of adorable. This one gets a 4/5.

The Steam Factor
There was alot of sex in this book, but it wasn’t used as filler. It was part of the story and it was entertaining and it was definitely steamy and a little graphic. I’m giving it a 5/5 Steam Factor and noting that it also fits into the romance because of the way Joker made Carissa feel about her body (typical self conscious heroine, but rather than being over the top, this interplay was done very well and realistically and didn’t go on too long).

Scrubs - So Hot

Final Thoughts
It’s a pretty easy call…I’m definitely going to read more of Kristen Ashley’s books. In fact, while in Michigan, I found another Chaos novel at a used bookstore and grabbed it up. Her writing is addictive. Even the things I didn’t like drew me into the world she created. This one is a sweet romance with some action and a few non-romantic violent scenes to add to the more dangerous plots Joker had to deal with. I’m pretty sure this author will find a place on my must-read list.

Goodreads Review: Love on the Ledge

Usually when we go out of town, I don’t get to read much, but this weekend was an exception. We visited my in-laws near Wichita, and they’re pretty low-key. Also, I tend to let J go do stuff with his brother while I take some downtime, so after we watched the new Avengers movie, they went gaming and I went back to the house to read (btw, Avengers was awesome!). This was one of the books I finished. This one comes out in just a couple days, and while it wasn’t one of my favorites, it wasn’t bad. It also seems to have some really good reviews over on Goodreads, so give it a shot. And if you’ve read the first one in the series, let me know how it stacks up. 

Love on the Ledge (On the Verge #2)Love on the Ledge by Zoraida Córdova

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This review will contain minor spoilers.

After catching her long-term boyfriend cheating on her, Sky quits her job and returns home, using the planning of her uncle’s wedding to distract herself and figure out what she wants the next step of her life to be. This proves difficult, however, with a mother who wants her to date a plastic surgeon, a bunch of meddling family members, a jealous cousin, and a friend who is in desperate need of rehab. On top of that, her ex won’t stop calling, the plastic surgeon won’t leave her alone, and she’s afraid to let herself pursue the guy who really does it for her…Hayden, the roofer who literally fell through the roof while she was trying on her bridesmaid dress.

I found the first part of the novel boring, but it got better when I started reading it as woman-finding-herself novel instead of a romance novel. Because while there is a touch of romance here, the first part of the book is Sky dealing with her own issues, mourning her lost relationship, and trying to get her head and emotions together. The romance is kind of an afterthought. Once I stopped waiting for the romance, I found that it read well, though the end turned into kind of a jumble of thrown-in minute conflicts. I like there to be romantic conflict, but other than two minor issues between the main characters, there was very little.

While Sky is fun and Hayden is likable, I wasn’t feeling the chemistry between them. The meddling/disapproving family trope is one that always carries with it some of the worst secondary characters, and this was no exception. The mother’s actions are justified with “she just wants what’s best for her daughter,” but that doesn’t make her any more likable. While Sky’s friends are better and more willing to accept what Sky wants, the one friend is a hot mess. I have a feeling this might have been a set up for a later novel? I didn’t care much for her. The ex and the plastic surgeon are complete jerks, which serves to highlight how great a guy Hayden is, which is fine, but again, I prefer there to be a little bit of romantic conflict to build up some sexual tension, and there was none of that.

Romance Factor gets a score of 2/5. There was no romantic conflict, not enough romantic chemistry between the characters, and only a secondary relationship story. The romance was there, it just wasn’t enough to make me feel warm and fuzzy. The Sex Factor gets a 3/5, because while not very frequent, the author didn’t shy away from detail when there was detail to be told.

Overall, I liked the story, but there was one part I really didn’t like. Sky has an unsettling run-in with one of her pursuers, one that involves her getting physically hurt. Yet later, instead of telling her mother what happened and insisting she not be put into a dangerous situation again, she says nothing and goes along with what her mother wants. It drove me nuts to read about someone acting like that sort of behavior could be easily overlooked and handled with no further repercussions.

This book is technically well-written, with good dialogue and good flow, though the romantic pacing seemed a little unsure of itself. It was good for a light and quick read.

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Goodreads Review: Undertow by Michael Buckley

Some of you may remember that I posted a Goodreads review on this book back in March. It’s publication date is May 5, and I wanted to make sure I re-posted that review here on the ol’ blog before it comes out. After the GR review went out, I realized that there were aspects of it that I apparently liked a lot more than I thought because the book stayed with me for a few days after I closed it. If you enjoy contemporary fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy this book. 

UndertowUndertow by Michael Buckley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of this book was interesting. A race of fish people have come from the ocean to Coney Island where they’re treated harshly by most of the residents because of their differences. While one side tries to assimilate them and allow their children into their schools, another side, led by the state governor, wants them gone and will go to great lengths to bully them out of society. Caught in the middle is Lyric Walker, who’s been assigned to partner with the Prince of the Alpha (the fish people race) by the school’s principal. Lyric, however, has her own secrets, and with the tensions in her town getting higher and more dangerous, she has to try to figure out how to save her family, her friends, and the Prince to whom she’s formed an attachment.

I’m really on the fence about this book. It had some good things going for it. The writing was good. The author didn’t shy away from such themes as bullying, death, and racism. There were also political undertones (I’m not sure if the last name of the governor was a purposeful jab at a real-life politician with the same name or not). Parts of the story flowed really well and had a strong fairy-tale aspect that mixed well with the contemporary alternate world. There was also a brutality in the book that I think a lot of YA books shy away from, and there were a couple of scenes that were realistic and terrifying.

The characters were mostly well done and interesting. While the descriptions of the fish people were strange, I thought the race itself and how it was broken down into different ranks was interesting. The dynamic of the race was very obviously meant to cause conflict between them and the humans and act as a personal conflict to Lyric.

However, there were a few things I wasn’t so much a fan of. The pacing felt off, but I think that’s because for most of the book, I didn’t feel there was an actual plot line. It was a lot of narrative about racism and riots and thugs that was eventually given a dose of a strange, forced romance. A plot eventually emerged, but even then, the story still felt off. As I read, I found myself going through periods where I really enjoyed the book and then periods where it seemed to drag.

I also felt that Lyric was very much a “Mary Sue” character. Normally this doesn’t bother me. A good protagonist/main character should have something of a Mary Sue about her. It’s also possible I missed something in the reading, but there was a part in the plot that randomly boiled down to “Oh, hey, it looks like Lyric might be able to save us.” That’s not exactly what was happening, but it seemed that Lyric’s “specialness” was very much a convenient way to tie things together.

This book was very different from what I normally read. Overall, I think it’s an okay read, and I do think that even though it wasn’t one of my favorites, I know there are readers who are going to absolutely love this book for the cool fantasy aspect it brings to the genre.

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Goodreads Review: Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

The full title isn’t in the subject line, but check out the Goodreads review and page below. My GR review itself is short, which I think is good when it comes to an instructional book like this one (longer would have meant I had more complaints). If it hadn’t been part of my training, I wouldn’t have known to read it, but it’s a good book with a lot of good information. As I read it, I realized I knew people who might like to use this as a reference and resource as they build or update their own individual or company websites. Just sharing the love.

Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web UsabilityDon’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was given to me as part of my training for a new job, and while it was the older edition, it still contained a great deal of information.

Krug lays out facts about web usability and the best ways to present information to earn goodwill from the end user. He discusses not only layout, but the key things any website should and shouldn’t have in order to be usable. He also talks about how the point behind usability is to make the user think as little as possible.

The information is written in a conversational tone and Krug doesn’t use a lot of technical jargon to trip up the reader. Everything’s presented in a concise manner, and he gives examples along the way, as well as mini “tests” the reader can do to practice understanding the concept. The result is being able to learn and process the information without feeling like you’re reading a text book.

I found this book valuable in helping me learn my new job, and I think anyone else working to build a website and trying to figure out their layout and how they’re going to use their content would find it valuable as well (and I would bet the newest edition would be the same, just updated).

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Book Review: The Burning (by Jane Casey)

If you’ve ever seen “Wire in the Blood” or read the book series the show was based on, the Maeve Kerrigan series reminds me of those. Granted, I’ve only read this one, but I kept going back to those. Having said that, this one stood on its own as an entertaining novel, so while there are similarities, don’t let those dictate your decision to read…or not to read…this. 

The Burning (Maeve Kerrigan, #1)The Burning by Jane Casey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Someone recommended the Maeve Kerrigan series to me awhile back, but I already had a long reading list. So when this one came available for me on NetGalley, I only realized after I started it that it was the series a fellow reader had said was good.

In this first book of the series, Maeve Kerrigan is trying to find a serial killer dubbed The Burning Man, so named because he sets his victims on fire when he’s done with them. But something seems weird in the latest murder. Though it matches the MO of the killer, Kerrigan believes the circumstances are different. She sets out to solve the mystery behind the murder of a young woman with a strange drug problem, a possessive ex-boyfriend, and an idolizing best friend.

Though it takes extra effort for me to pick up a mystery/crime drama, I’m planning on reading more books in this series. I really enjoyed this story. The writing was good and not dense with legal jargon. I enjoyed the way the author told the story, using the points of view from several different characters in different chapters.

I solved the mystery quickly, but that didn’t mean the read wasn’t fun. It was still a good book that kept me engaged through to the reveal. I also enjoyed many of the side characters, and I’m interested to see how relationships develop in later books. This reminded me of a lighter version of the books that inspired the “Wire in the Blood” series, and while there wasn’t a great deal of gratuitous violence, there was enough disturbing imagery to deliver some reader chills.

I’m giving this four stars since the mystery was apparent and because I think there’s definitely room for the author to grow with the characters. I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.

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Book Review: Second Star (by Alyssa B. Sheinmel)

After I wrote this review, I read some other reviews and realized how funny it is that different readers pick out different things about books to focus on. There is a lot in this novel I didn’t write about, but I usually try to just give a brief synopsis and my opinion. If any of my reader friends read this after its release in May, I’d be interested to hear what things stood out to you. 

Second StarSecond Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of Peter Pan was never one of my favorite childhood stories, but I’m a sucker for retellings, so I was intrigued by the synopis of this book when I was given the chance to read the ARC copy from NetGalley.

Wendy Darling can’t shake the idea that her two brothers, missing and presumed dead, are still. In fact, she can’t let the idea go, despite the pleadings of her best friend and parents to come to terms with it. Under the pretense of a road trip, she heads down the coast to look for John and Michael. On her search, she comes across a group of surfers, runaways who spend their days catching waves and stealing from the area’s empty houses to feed themselves. Her search starts to reveal things about her brothers, the people she’s spending her summer with, the pull of the ocean, and her own strength.

While the characters aren’t original (obviously), they are well written and good interpretations of the original characters, at least from what I can remember. A few liberties were probably taken, but that’s the nature of a modern reinvention.

I thought the writing was strong. The cadence of the prose is slightly disjointed, not because of bad technique, but because it lets the reader feel the dreamlike grief state that Wendy is in. Parts of the book become sharper and lighter, and those parts correspond to the parts of the storyline where Wendy comes out of her grief, even for short periods of time.

I doubt if I would have chosen a book about surfing, as it’s not a topic that interests me, but I enjoyed this book. For me, there were only a few issues. Some of the surfing talk got a little boring, so I found myself spacing out. The romance aspect of the book is weird and takes a different twist from both the original Peter Pan story and in general. I mostly liked it, but it was different.

Though I think this is a slower, sleepier read, it was also a good one. The narrative itself was enjoyable, and it’s the type of story that lends itself to dissection and discussion about grief, growing up, and psychology. I recommend this one to people who enjoy fairy tale retellings and coming of age novels.

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Book Review: One Man Guy (by Michael Barakiva)

I never did deliver on that regular post, but here’s another book review. This one was received from NetGalley. All opinions are my own. 

One Man GuyOne Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alek is a teenager with a traditional Armenian family, an assertive best friend, and several weeks of summer school that he’s not looking forward to. Then he meets Ethan, a classmate who seems like the coolest person in the world to Alek. As they form first a friendship, then a relationship, Ethan’s comfort with himself helps Alek find his own identity.

At times, I found the plot to be too simple. The conflicts in the book were easily solved, almost to the point where there was no conflict. Situations that could have had more tension and development were no big deal. There were some areas where this was appreciated. For instance, Alek’s coming out? No big deal. And I liked that it was something that was accepted easily by friends and family. I know there’s conflict in real life for people coming out…I like that the story encouraged acceptance as part of the norm.

Other things, such as Alek’s strict family suddenly becoming easy to get along with because their sons made dinner, seemed to be a stretch, especially when it was preceded by a heavy dose of racism and ignorance on their part (which fit the context of story, making their one eighty seem even more unrealistic).

There were a lot of good things about the book though. The story itself was cute and well told. Alek’s friend Becky is a fun character, Ethan really does come across as cool and confident, and Alek’s snarky sense of humor was entertaining. It was hard for me to like the rest of his family, which was probably the point. What I did like was the cultural descriptions of the Armenian family life and the narrative of some of their traditions and beliefs. It added to the story and gave it a second layer. Not only was this a book about a young man discovering his homosexuality, but it was also a book about a young man coming to terms with his family’s strong beliefs and mores.

Overall, a strong first novel and an enjoyable read.

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Product Review: Boots Botanics Ionic Clay Mask #powerofplants

Things are still quiet, though they’ve started to perk up a little bit. Which was what happened last March if I remember correctly. Maybe January and February are the slow months of the year? Either way, I’m planning on doing a regular update this weekend, but right now I’m hitting you with another product review from my Influenster J’Adore VoxBox (still getting some mileage out of this one). Disclaimer: I received this product complimentary for testing purposes. All opinions are my own. 

Before testing this product, the last time I used a face mask was back in high school. It was an apricot one that peeled off after it stiffened up on my face. It seemed like a lot of work, but I may have been even lazier in high school than I am now.

2014-02-15 12.30.41While I probably wouldn’t have bought a facial mask on my own, the sample reminded me that masks really are another viable skin care option. I was bad about skin care when I was young, so even though I try to keep it up now that I’m older, it’s hard to get into a regular routine. Since I’ve been sprucing things up a little bit lately (makeup, pierced ears, etc), I thought this might be another step in my quest to pamper myself a bit more. 

The first time I tried the mask, I wasn’t prepared for the texture, the consistency, or how fast it was going to come out of the bottle. I ended up with a dark gray mess on the floor. Once I finally started applying it, I really wasn’t sure how much to use, or how thick it needed to be to do the trick. I tried to apply liberally, but it didn’t feel like enough, and my application was pretty elementary.

This is my swamp thing face.
This is my swamp thing face.

As you can see, I left a lot of areas blank, but I was nervous about eating it or getting it in my eyes. The first time was a little iffy, but the next few uses got easier. There seems to be a learning curve for facial mask application.

1. Apply over the sink and be prepared to rinse the sink after use. It comes out of the bottle quickly.

2. What feels like a thin layer is actually a lot of clay. A thin layer seems to do things just as well as a thick layer.

3. It definitely dries and tightens in the ten minutes you leave it on. It might also make sensitive skin tingle.

4. Pair the mask experience with a good cleaner and moisturizer. I need to use face lotion after each application, but the combination makes for clean, smooth skin.

The burn I felt the first time I used it made me nervous, so I would definitely recommend spot testing this before just slathering it on. The burn/tingle went away after a few minutes, but I still used the lotion and have been pretty careful with each subsequent use.

As for long term clean, I feel a difference for several days afterwards. My face feels less oily. As far as looking better, I don’t honestly see a difference. Somedays are better than others when it comes to my complexion, and a lot of other factors seem to affect what my face does from day to day. For me, though, a lot of my confidence comes from how I feel, and not how I look.

Overall, I really like this mask, and I plan on continuing to use it. When it’s time to restock, I I may look into some of the other products by Boots. I’m kind of digging all this pampering.



Book Review: The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

I may have been a little bit hard on the first book in the series, but I loved this one. I’ve failed at keeping up with the Stephanie Plum books, but I’m thinking this might be my current Evanovich go-to, though it also reminds me that I really do want to go back and read all of the Plum series again (and catch up on the ones I haven’t read yet). So many series, not enough reading time!

The Chase (O'Hare and Fox, #2)The Chase by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first book in this series was okay, but it hadn’t been what I was expecting. Even so, I was excited to review this second book in the series through NetGalley. First books never quite hit the five star mark for me, but if I’m going to enjoy the series, I generally find a sweet spot in the second book. This one definitely gave me the sweet spot.

Kate O’Hare and Nick Fox are tasked with retrieving a piece of stolen art to return to its foreign owners. What could have been an easy job turns out to be a little more complicated due to the fact that the owner of the stolen art is a government big shot with his own ruthless security entourage and no conscience when it comes to taking what he wants. Kate and Nick bring together their group of talented misfits for another heist full of twists and turns in order to set things right.

As is the case with many second books, I felt there was a higher level of comfort and familiarity between the authors and the characters. The plot flowed easily, and the dialogue was amusing and quick. I liked Kate much more in this book than in the first one, but the characterization really shined when the rest of their group showed up to help with the heist.

I think part of my problem with the first one was that I was expecting a romance. Sure, there’s a little bit of sexual chemistry between Kate and Nick, but it’s taking a mini-van backseat to the action and the plot twists. I’m guessing the romance will be a slow burn over several novels, and I’m okay with that. Knowing what to expect lessens any disappointment over the lack of steam and kisses. The added humor throughout the book helped as well.

I hope Evanovich and Goldberg continue this series. It’s entertaining, and I want to see what happens next.

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