Friday, October 31, 2014

First Impressions: The Flash

So it's ridiculous how much good television is out right now. How could any normal human being possibly have the time to watch it all? It is completely impossible to keep up. The problem is that while some tv stations have figured this out and make sure that the entire current season of their shows are available through On Demand or Hulu or something legal, CW is not one of them.

Which basically is why I will never try to keep up with Supernatural's actual airing schedule (plus being four seasons behind) and last year we totally gave up on trying to keep up with Arrow because the show is good, but we couldn't watch it for a few weeks and then we couldn't catch up legally and we gave up. Seriously CW, stop it. Just stop.

Unfortunately The Flash just looked too darn good to give up without trying to watch it.

So basically we ended up doing a couple days marathon watching Arrow in order to catch up just in case there were some cross-over stuff. Really, we only needed to have watched the two episodes with Barry Allen guest starring, but I wasn't sure. So I'll review the second season of Arrow later.

But for now, I'm all about The Flash instead because wow, do I like this show. And it's almost 100% because of Barry Allen/actor Grant Gustin. When we watched his guest star spot on Arrow, I told my husband, "Barry is my new favorite." His reply was, "well, I've got good news for you."

I'm actually excited to watch it every week, because Barry is the kind of character I love to see, and that I feel like we're running low on guys like him. Oliver Queen is great and all, but he's still tortured (literally), troubled, and all Broody McBroodface most of the time. You know, like half the heroes on television aimed at the younger crowd. Stuff aimed at adults these days are almost entirely stocked with anti-heroes and what I simply call "terrible people being terrible." And I'm tired of it. I want optimism, I want good people trying to be good.

And that's what Barry is. At his very core, he's a good person. He's super smart, and mostly unapologetic about it. The only reason he ever regrets being smart is if it leaves somebody out. He's funny, sarcastic, charming, and definitely very nice to look at. He is, in short, one of my ideals when it comes to male characters. Sure, you want to watch Oliver Queen training but you'd want to actually get lunch with Barry.

It doesn't hurt that his mentor and adopted father Joe is amazing. I like pretty much every moment Joe is on screen, and the two of them play off each other perfectly, the actors were paired perfectly for this set of roles. And Dr. Wells is such a perfect mix of motivations that you can't get a read on him, which I think is exactly what they're aiming for.

The rest of the cast is good, though some of them need to find their feet a little more than others. But I suspect that will come with time. The villains are okay, but honestly I don't care if they never got any better, because I'm just in this for Barry and Joe (and I'm sure the rest of the cast will win me over, I'm not worried).

I also love that The Flash and Arrow fit so perfectly together as two sides of the same coin, they're very clearly the same universe but from different perspectives and that's something that I think might be missing a bit in the way that comics are transitioning to other media. One critique of the Marvel movies is that they all look and feel the same, and that's pretty true. But the world doesn't all look the same, and people see it differently.

So in short, The Flash gets an enthusiastic recommendation from me, and as annoyed as I am with CW's system for on demand, I'm too anxious to see the next one to notice it might expire.

I wouldn't mind being able to go back and rewatch later though. So CW, if by some slim chance you see this, I still think you should keep the entire current season up on some free streaming service like xfinity or Hulu because I would be watching episodes again and again and you could put whatever ads you want on it, I don't even care.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Julep Round-Up: Final Post - The Polish

So, I've told you about Julep's hand and foot care products, reviewed their makeup selections, and explained why I think the plie wand is a waste of money.

But what about the thing they're actually about, the nail polish?

Because I was a Maven, and I got a little carried away, I actually have dozens of bottles of Julep nail polish. Possibly upwards of 75, I haven't counted lately. I don't really think anybody wants me to review each and every one so I thought I'd just give a general thought on some of their finishes and the product as a whole.

I'll divide the finishes into the categories they use on their website.

Creme: Sadly we have to start with creme because it's alphabetical. Julep's creme polishes are generally just not that good. Actually, I typically avoid them and have gotten rid of most of mine. Well, to be fair they're really hit or miss, with the emphasis on miss. The ones I have kept, because they're just too good for designs or because I really love them, tend to separate and get goopy looking in the bottle, which I don't think bodes well for the formula, not that I'm an expert. My bottles of Alexandra and Sylvia look terrible whenever I pull them out. They go on okay, with a bit of work, but in general if you like a creme finish don't bother with Julep. You'll just be disappointed, especially for the price they charge. You can get similar colors in the same finish for much cheaper at the drugstore, and they'll be just as good if not better. You can see a look I did with a blue creme called Amy in this pic:

Glitter: There are a lot of really fun glitters in Julep's store, don't get me wrong. But I've gotten to a point with glitter polish where I want really small and subtle glitter (and usually mixed into the formula instead of a top coat) because of ease of removal and the flatter texture. I don't like bumpy nails. That said, I've got a few I really love that give a color an extra sparkle, but are discontinued now. Autumn and Vanessa were particularly pretty. The glitter in this pic is Autumn, along with the Alexandra creme I mentioned.

I do want to address the birthstone polishes specifically. The only one I've bought and tried myself was my own birthstone, Martina. I was pretty disappointed really, first because like I said, I like smoother nails and this is a very textured look. But it's also really hard to get a consistent color, and is just a bit messy to use and terrible to remove. The color is very pretty, but I'd rather have a metallic than this texture.

Metallic/Chrome: Speaking of metallic, metallic colors are probably my favorites when it comes to nail polish, I have a lot of them. Again, Julep's are hit or miss, but this time with more on the hit side than the miss. Oddly enough the more it's actually meant to look like a metal, the more likely it is to be streaky and difficult. But polishes like Angela and Boris and Nicole are very nice. If you're going to buy a polish from their metallic section, I would suggest searching for swatches by bloggers, so you'll see how streaky it really is when it goes on. The silvers are especially bad.

Neon: The only neon that I have is Bette, and it's pretty nice in the bottle, I don't think I've actually used it yet. But the neon "finish" is actually just a bright creme, and so it falls victim to all the problems of cremes, which means they're usually just not a good formula.

Sheer/Frost/Pearl: The frost polishes actually are going to be similar to the metallic but in softer colors. A few of these I've gotten in mystery boxes and gotten rid of, but that's because I don't like soft pinks for my nail polish. In general, they tend to be okay, but again, look up swatches.

Shimmer: These are my favorites, and the ones that always tempt me the most when there are sales. I haven't really come across a bad one yet (I'm sure they're out there) and all of my favorites are either shimmer or silk finish. The sparkle and glow is just perfect for what I like when it comes to polish. Some of my favs that you can still buy are Lacey, Greta, and Petra. The swatch on the site for Petra doesn't make it look as nice as it is.

Silk/Satin I have to admit, I own every single silk finish polish that Julep makes. It started with one in my maven box, but the finish is gorgeous, the color was beautiful, and it was just general fantastic. The understated colors are just very subtle and professional and I know I said I didn't like light pinks, but Abigail doesn't feel like a light pink. Especially when I pair it with black tips (like in the picture) or another very dark color. Farrah and Noelle are equally lovely, and I think the only polishes I would say you might find worth the full price (Julep is generally very overpriced). I have not tried any of the satin finish.

Special Effect: The only special effect polish I have is Casper, which is a glow in the dark white. It's really not a solid coverage white, so if you care about how your nails look during the day, this is more of a white shimmer. It's actually quite nice in the daylight, I enjoy it. Below you can see my Halloween manicure that I just did, with Casper as the base. The glow really does work, and it was really fun when I was going through the haunted houses at Howl-O-Scream, or riding the roller coasters through the tunnels. Casper is a good purchase if you want something fun for Halloween.

There are a few other things I'd planned to cover before this got long, so if anybody wants to know my thoughts about the fact that they photoshop their swatches, the way half the store is always out of stock, and their really high prices, let me know in the comments and I'll ramble.

But the tl;dr takeaway: Julep does have some very nice polishes, and if you get them on sale then they're well worth it for some of the silk and shimmer ones especially. But don't bother with the cremes for sure, and don't buy most of them full price, they're just not THAT great and there are other similar options for less money or that are better polishes.

And don't sign up for the Maven boxes. Just don't. They're difficult to cancel, they're overpriced, and there's a million reasons why they're not worth it.

Special: Busch Gardens I'm Afraid of Roller Coasters Review - Verbolten and the Loch Ness Monster

Last weekend, my best friend and I traveled down to Williamsburg to spend some time at Busch Gardens for their Howl-O-Scream event. I'd been meaning to go for years, since the park is actually pretty close to us, but I haven't managed.

What's especially sad is that for only being a few hours drive away, I haven't actually been to this park since I was a kid. As in, I was too short to ride most of the rides and was extremely disappointed not to be able to join my brother on the Big Bad Wolf or the Loch Ness Monster. I didn't even get to ride the log flume because it was closed for repairs. Basically my big memories of Busch Gardens before last weekend was that we got caught in a huge thunderstorm, and that I couldn't do anything. Though I do also remember riding the train and the skyride.

Anyway, so I had two main goals for this trip: make up for lost time and hit every haunted house. I'll review the haunted houses and Howl-A-Scream in another post, but first, I want to go through the rides.

See, one thing changed in the 30-ish years since I'd last been to the park: I'm now afraid of roller coasters. Well, I would say less afraid and more anxious. Once I was tall enough to ride and tried out a few I realized that there were just significant aspects I just didn't like. No, not the upside down parts or even the big drops. I hate the lift hills and the slow parts.

Luckily I went with someone who is both likes coasters and doesn't mind people who don't. So there was no pressure to ride something I didn't want to, and all the support I needed to try anyway.

The first night, we mostly did Howl-O-Scream stuff but we did notice that there was a very short line on Verbolten when we went by, probably because there had just been another storm and people weren't back out yet.

Verbolten was on my list of things to try for two reasons: first, because it replaced the Big Bad Wolf and since I couldn't ride that one I'd have to ride it's replacement. Second, because it's a launched coaster and has no lift hill. It was actually another launched coaster that made me realize what my issues were with the lift hills, because I rode that one and loved it.

Now my first ride on Verbolten was actually at night, so I wasn't entirely thrilled with it. Honestly, I don't know that riding coasters at night really has much appeal to me. Though with Verbolten you can see in the picture that there's a significant amount of the ride that's actually inside a tunnel, so it's dark anyway. But the light show makes it more fun.

The first ride on this was interesting to me because first, it was dark so I didn't see the last drop really at all and missed out on the part that goes towards the water (a very similar drop to the Big Bad Wolf) and second because I was just on the cusp of thinking that I wasn't actually enjoying it when the ride ended. It was in fact the perfect length for me, just enough fun stuff but not too much. So I told my best friend we'd have to ride it again the next day during daylight.

Which we did, and I really liked it the second time around. Being able to see the outdoor track made it a lot better for me, and it made me appreciate that last drop so much more. Though I do think that for Howl-O-Scream they should put some spooky, eerie lighting just under the water at the bottom of the drop to make it look creepier. They should do that for any of the coasters that go near water, just some green underglow.

But anyway, my point is that Verbolten is a fantastic coaster, and it's especially good for people like me who may have some issues with the "thrill" rides but still want to do something fun. I'm pretty sure it doesn't go upside down (in the tunnel I have no idea what the track did). The only reason we didn't ride it again was that the line was so long. And even though I'd watched the ride video above before I went, there were still some surprises, which was great. I wish we'd seen a different theme, there are three random themes for the lights in the tunnel but we saw the Wolf theme twice.

The second day we were there, the first thing we did was head for the Loch Ness Monster.

Now, before I go to an amusement park I spend a fair amount of time researching the rides. So I knew before I went that of the five coasters at the park, the Loch Ness Monster had one of the smaller lift hills, and since I had wanted to ride when I was a kid, I kind of had to do it, even though it kind of scared me.

The Loch Ness Monster is actually over 30 years old, and the first lift hill is only 130' which is a good 40' shorter than the tallest one I've ridden. But it's claim to fame is being not just the first coaster to have interlocking loops, but currently it's also the only one still running with that feature.

Now as I said, I have no problem with loops so the interlocking loops actually looked like a lot of fun to me. The funny thing about this one is that at the top of the anxiety-inducing lift hill is just this casual little turn to the side instead of a big drop. It was actually a bit anti-climactic. There is a second lift hill, but it's really minor.

One thing I didn't expect was how much of the ride was in the tunnel that's midway through the trip. I saw the tunnel on the map, and I guess I hadn't watched a video because I thought it just went straight through. But instead it loops around inside a couple times in complete darkness, which was really disorienting but kind of fun. But since I didn't expect it, it felt a bit long and I was wondering if we were ever leaving the tunnel.

All in all, the two coasters that we rode were actually quite fun, and as much as I don't really plan to ride the Loch Ness Monster frequently, I'd go on it again. I'd ride Verbolten a lot more times.

For those who might be interested, the other three coasters in the park were struck off my list because of the height of their lift hills. Apollo's Chariot is about the same as a coaster I rode that I really didn't like too much, Alpengeist is much taller and a suspended coaster which I've never done before. And I'd ruled out Griffon because of the 205' lift hill but then I actually saw the ride in action and how it pauses at the top before a 90 degree drop and no thank you. But seriously, if you like coasters, Griffon is probably pretty amazing. Next time I go to the park I might try Apollo's Chariot.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Penultimate Julep Round-Up: Plie Wand

As I've pointed out before I'm kind of over and done with Julep, despite being a really happy customer and a Maven for nearly a year. So I've been going over their products that I've tried and reviewing them, but also suggesting places you can get similar or better products, usually for cheaper.

My review of some of their makeup selections is here, and many of their hand and foot care items are here.

Now, if you've been following Julep for any length of time, you'll probably remember when they did their crowdfunding campaign to announce their new product, the Plie Wand.

The wand is a new tool that they say will "bring more accuracy, control, and fun to every manicure—especially when polishing with your non-dominant hand."

Now, I for one had no problem with them crowdfunding this venture for a lot of reasons. Primarily because they were using the term "crowdfunding" because it's a hip thing that gets attention. They weren't crowdfunding, they were offering pre-orders on a new product and some packages with extra stuff in them. Honestly, it wasn't really a thing.

The big deal with the "crowdfunding" though was that it gave their customers a chance to see this new product before it went to market and comment on it. In this case, they'd decided on an ill-advised and frankly idiotic design that would have involved every customer that had been buying polish from them to completely change out the caps for every. single. bottle. Julep gave vague promises that they weren't going to make you purchase a new cap for every single bottle, but everybody saw this as what it was-a hassle, and an expense that was just unneeded.

At least two customers that I saw spoke up on social media and stated the obvious - that Julep's bottles are already designed perfectly to accommodate switching out the top of the caps without a need for a huge redesign. And lo and behold, Julep switched up the design to do exactly that.

So once that problem was solved, I was ready to check out this new product, primarily out of curiousity.

Now, I should point out some important things about me when it comes to nail polish:
1. I've never really had a huge problem painting my nails, even on my dominant hand because
2. I really don't care that much about how perfect my edges are because
3. Cleaning up your manicure is NOT THAT HARD and also
4. Nobody notices your edges anyway. People don't even notice when my polish is half chipped off and I haven't had a chance to remove it yet. Seriously, nail polish, not serious business. Lighten up, it's just fashion.

Honestly, I think half the reason there's this stigma that it's SO HARD to paint your nails because they must be PERFECT is to sell products like the Plie Wand. If you are generally able bodied, then just practice. That's really all there is to it, practice and a smidge of patience. You don't need some $25 tool that only works with one brand of polish anyway.

So okay, you can tell I went into this with a bias - I didn't really think anybody needed this product. If you have trouble with the standard bottle cap or whatever brand you use, there's a very simple and cheap solution: paintbrushes. Just buy a pack of cheap paintbrushes at the craft store. I've been using really cheap paintbrushes to do nail art since the mid-90's.

I tried to give the Plie a fair shake, I really did. Because I thought "I use paintbrushes, this is the same thing." But the main problem is that the wand actually is very uncomfortable for me to hold. It's too big at the base, so I can't wrap my fingers around it the way I would a brush or even a polish cap for pretty much any brand. And honestly I think I had LESS control when I was trying to use it because I was trying to rest the wand on my hand the way they show in the picture, because they say that's why you get better results and that's not the way I hold pencils, paintbrushes, or anything else.

The big deal about the wand is that it bends so that you can try different styles, and they swear that doing this will help you paint your dominant hand. For me, this was a DISASTER. Here's a thing about the way I paint my nails: I rotate the brush as I go. I don't just hold it in the exact same way the entire time, I use the shape of the brush and the way the polish is situated as part of how I control where things are going to end up. Not being able to easily rotate the brush meant that it took me twice as long for poorer results and that's just not going to fly for me.

I saw somebody online say that there's a "learning curve" to using the Plie Wand. I'm not kidding, if there's a learning curve to using the wand it's probably the same learning curve for just doing it yourself in general.

I could see an argument that the Plie Wand is helpful for people with particular disabilities or hand problems. If that's the case for you, then that's absolutely awesome and kudos. I think you probably could still just use some paintbrushes (you clean them off with nail polish remover when you're done, works like a charm) but you do what works best for you.

For the average person though, that $25 could do so much more for you.

Also of note: The Plie Wand Creativity Kit which is $10 extra and includes a dotting tool and a striping tool. I picked this up as an add-on to my Maven box that came with the wand because I kind of wanted a dotting tool just to see if I could do more fun stuff with it.

I've yet to try the dotting tool actually, but I have tried the striping brush and it's RUBBISH. I cannot stress to you enough how terrible this is for what it's advertised to do. The bristles are too long to have any control AT ALL, and when I'm trying to do delicate lines like that with a paintbrush I hold the brush really close to the bristles, because you need CONTROL. But this striping brush is like an inch long, and because it's attached to the wand there's no way to hold it to really get the control you need to do a very good line. I've had better luck freehanding french manicure tips with a regular polish brush.

The worst part is that you can also buy a "precision brush" for the Plie Wand that has a shorter stem and shorter bristles, to allow for even more control. They KNOW that a short handle and short bristles is what makes it easier to control something like this, they've done it on another product, and they still released a striping brush that is unusable for striping because of lazy, poor design.

I cannot stress enough that this product is NOT AT ALL worth the price. I don't regret getting mine because it was just part of my Maven box that I would have gotten anyway, but purchasing it separately is a WASTE OF MONEY. Just go to a craft store and pick up a variety pack of small paint brushes, and maybe a pack of toothpicks. There are very few nail art techniques you can't figure out with those, especially if you add in some scotch tape or stickers for stencils. You do not need to spend a ton of money on fancy tools, all you need is some polish, patience, and practice.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Book Review: The Power of Habit

I'll be honest, I probably would have never picked up this book if it hadn't been a selection for my occasional book club. I didn't really expect it to impart anything I hadn't already read or been exposed to in one way or another. So perhaps my low expectations are to blame, but the fact is I didn't really like it at all.

The problem with it basically was that it was clearly something that should have been a science book written by a science writer, instead written by a business reporter. Now, it could have been a fascinating business book too, if it had tried to be a business book. But it didn't, it tried to be a science book and it failed.

Maybe I've just read too many amazing science books and my standards are too high.

There's one glaring problem with the book that I just couldn't let go of: the author never offers a clear definition for what he considers a "habit." How can you write an entire book about something, trying to make it scientific, without defining the term? Especially when it's a term that is used in different ways in everyday life. Whenever I thought I had figured out what he meant by "habit" he would go and do something like try to make a case for sleepwalking and parasomnias being "habits." Hint: they're not, even a little. And if you're wondering why not, read Dreamland by David K. Randall.

The author also had a habit of bouncing back and forth between three or four different topics within each chapter, telling part of a story A then derailing to story B then back to story A then a bit of story C before back to story A. This is a structure that can work, but it just really got confusing and frequently led to repetitive sections that reminded me of how irritating it is to sit through a "previously on" teaser when you're binge watching a TV series. And often the topics were only tangentially connected, sometimes the connection was so difficult to find I honestly would have no idea why I'd suddenly spent five pages reading about something else only to go back to the original topic.

So why did I actually read this entire book if it irritated me so much and it was so inconsistent? Because buried in the difficult structure and lack of scientific rigor were some really interesting stories and a couple points that I'd heard before but didn't mind hearing again. In the introduction, the author talks about an Army major who had discovered a way to curb riots in Iraq by removing food vendors from some public areas. A later chapter talks about how changing safety habits in a corporation actually revolutionized the entire company, including increasing profits. They were all fascinating stories, and I would have happily just read a set of essays or stories. It was only the analysis of the topics where it all fell apart, especially whenever the author slipped into weird self-help book language (and he seemed to be more than a little fixated on obesity and diet despite that not being something that came up in a way that suggested he did a significant amount of research on the topic, especially since several things he said could be proven untrue by reading other books about food and eating habits).

The one good thing that came out of reading this book was that while I was getting irritated at it, I was reminded of some things I already knew and ended up buying a FitBit to change some of my own habits. So even if I didn't learn anything new, the reminder did end up being useful.

But anyway, I can't really recommend this book. If you're interested in any of the topics covered in it, other authors have looked at most of them more effectively in other books.

Friday, October 03, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

As I said in my review of the first film, I was really slow to get around to watching How To Train Your Dragon. I wasn't going to make that mistake twice, so I went to see the sequel the night it came out.

I did make one mistake though, and that was forgetting that the creators of this series don't pull their punches. Ever. It's so easy to say "it's a kid's movie" and forget that some people are smart enough to know that kid's entertainment doesn't need to be stupid or simple or well, not emotionally devastating.

The animation is, of course, beautiful. Hiccup, Astrid, and most of the rest of the vikings of Berk are hilarious and wonderful and multi-faceted.

This movie has a LOT going for it. Hiccup's inventions have only become more complex and amazing, and he's embarking on a quest to map out their world. He happens upon a dragon hunter who is delivering dragons to the unimaginatively named Drago Bludvist. Bludvist is of course building a dragon army for conquering the world, or something. Let's be honest, that part of the story wasn't particularly well developed or original. Was it thirst for revenge? I don't even remember.

Because the thing is, the real main plot here are the relationships between the characters we know, and one significant newcomer - Hiccup's mom, Valka. Hiccup and his father Stoick have assumed she was killed many years ago, but instead she's been hiding out and rescuing dragons, creating a gorgeous sanctuary. Valka and Astrid are fantastic, and should be held up as examples of nuanced and interesting female characters for other screenwriters.

Name any two characters among the main set (Hiccup, Stoick, Valka, Astrid, and Toothless to be specific) and their relationship is amazing, multi-faceted, and interesting. Stoick and Valka have something that is absolutely beautiful and completely unexpected in a movie of this type. Love of this type isn't really something that's shown in "kid's" movies. Or honestly movies at all. Hiccup and Astrid still have a relationship that feels like a partnership, and the two of them model something really positive that again, is rare for teenage characters.

But obviously the centerpiece is Hiccup and Toothless, as it should be. Toothless is absolutely the star, to no one's surprise, and he makes everyone want their own dragon. I don't know how to warn you about the plot without being full of spoilers so I'll just say this: be prepared for utter heartbreak if you love these characters. I was crying harder than I have at a movie in a very long time, and almost everybody in the theater was quietly sniffling. This is an AMAZING movie but it hurts, so don't watch it if you're looking for a fun, simple, uplifting time okay? This franchise is too complex for that, and yes that's absolutely a good thing but you know, full of tears. Hiccup goes through a lot of emotions, but for once he doesn't really have much time in the wallowing "I'm being a stupid idiot" phase that most male protagonists go through after this kind of thing. Seriously, sorry for the vagueness.

Now, the movie wasn't 100% perfect. Several of the side characters actually grated on my nerves more than a little, and Bludvist is really wasted and kind of boring (especially because they got the super talented Djimon Hounsou for his voice). And honestly there was one particular twist regarding Astrid that I thought would be awesome that they didn't go for, and I really wish they had. But honestly, I will be there on opening night for the third movie, expecting it to break my heart even worse.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Anime Night

It's been a really long time since I've picked up a new anime series. There's a ton on my list of things I want to watch but I just haven't had a ton of time to devote to it. But in March I went to Japan on a work trip, and while I was there I ended up watching several anime shows that were airing later at night when I was at the hotel. I just figured out last week that one of them was online to watch, so my husband and I decided to have an anime night where we watched the first episode of a few different shows.

First up was Inari Kon Kon, the anime I'd been wanting to watch. The episode I saw in Japan was of course not subtitled, but it seemed interesting and I liked the animation, and honestly I could kind of follow the plot just from the visuals it was employing, which signified to me that it would be reminiscent of other stuff I'd liked, if a little cliche.

The plot is fun, a girl named Inari helps out a fox spirit (who she thinks is a normal dog) and in return the goddess of the temple grants her one wish. Earlier that day she'd discovered the guy she liked might actually like another girl, so she wishes to become the other girl. Of course this doesn't go as expected, when does it? I wasn't wrong that it was a little cliche, you can pretty much see almost every plot development coming a mile away and the characters are all exactly what you would expect them to be. But I don't mind, I do want to watch the whole show, especially since it's only ten episodes. This is the kind of simple and fun story that I often enjoy, and it doesn't hurt that the fox spirits are adorable.

My husband's first pick was Captain Earth. I had never heard of it, but it seemed like a pretty standard giant robot show. Which it was, I guess. I actually enjoyed the first fifteen minutes, but when the story really gets going it suddenly becomes really, really confusing.

What's worse is that the eyecatch for the commercial break says something like "all will become clear" and it definitely doesn't. I just got more and more confused. But in the end, I imagine I'll figure it out as the show goes on, nothing was too messed up that it couldn't be explained to some satisfaction. The characters were interesting enough that I do want to keep watching it.

So, I got to pick next and I finally caved and decided to watch Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club. I'd heard a lot about it, and there was a lot of merchandise in Japan, so why not? The first episode actually isn't something that would make me watch the show if it didn't have a huge following, if I'm being honest. Two of the main characters just don't really do anything other than look good in swimsuits, at least not anything that made me want to know more about them.

Two of the other characters were interesting and I wanted to know more, but they don't seem to be the focus so I'm not sure how much will be about them. But in general, there was just so much backstory in the first episode, I kind of wanted it to throw me in the middle of the action like Captain Earth did instead. But obviously I'll keep watching, everybody's obsessed with this show and there must be a reason. Plus, you know, not bad to look at.

My husband wavered for a minute before picking another giant robot anime but in the end he picked Argevollen. This was definitely my least favorite pick of the night, and kind of a sad place to end on really. I had no problem following the story even though we're not given a ton of detail, but that's because it was just stuff I've seen before over and over again. The characters didn't really become anything or do anything at all, I couldn't tell you anything about any of them after the end of the episode except that the main character is a bit of an idiot.

Honestly the only effect the first episode had on me was making me want to watch Full Metal Panic again. At least in that one the characters are developed as people, the robots aren't as weird looking, and I actually care about the conflict because they set it up. But this one, it just goes nowhere for the entire first episode, really. I don't care that the main character gets the awesome new mech because I don't know if I even want his side to win the war. Not a good start.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Julep Round Up: Makeup

So I started this with a "here's how to spend your Jules before you cancel your Julep Maven account" because I didn't realize you can't even spend Jules on regular purchases can you? You can only get "Jule" boxes or your monthly Maven box with them. What a useless bonus program. Meanwhile I got like $80 of products from Birchbox for $3 because of points, a discount code, and extra samples.

Anyway, as much as I complain about Julep, they actually have some pretty good products. So here's some more you might want to look into. Sorry for the lack of pictures, most of my stuff came in boxes and I didn't do individual photos of them.

Blank Canvas Mattifying Face Primer: I got this in a mystery box, I probably never would have picked up on my own. So, it promises to absorb shine and lock in moisture, and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and pores. In general, it does make my foundation go on smoothly and well, and it works perfectly well as a primer, I do notice a positive difference when I use it. However, I don't think it's any better or worse than any other primer I've used and I'll probably try out a drugstore brand after this is up. One thing it doesn't do is reduce the appearance of wrinkles and pores, I've noticed absolutely no change on that front. Meanwhile Benefit's The POREFessional is like dark magic or something.

Sweep Eyeshadow Palette: Neutrals: I'm not really the best judge of if eyeshadow is really high quality or not, to be honest. I know nothing about formula, pigment, and all that stuff. But this a good neutral palette, and I do really like the colors in it. The main problem for me is like most Julep things, price. This is just WAY too much to be charging for the size of this palette. Like most of their photos, they give you no context for the size and it's just smaller than you'd think and not worth $24 for sure. Maybe I'm just cheap. For less money, you can get the 28 Neutral Color Eyeshadow Palette from BH Cosmetics, which has a lot of similar neutral browns. And you wait a month or so, BH has a lot of amazing sales, plus great customer service.

Eye Sheen Liquid Eyeshadow: This is again a thing where I can't say anything bad about it, and since it's the only liquid eyeshadow I own, I can't really compare it to another product. It does go on smoothly and easily, dries quickly, and if I use a good primer it doesn't get creases. But again, the price is a killer because you can't get a sense of the size. This thing is TINY, and maybe I'm cheap but I just don't think I would ever pay $18 for it. Especially because without an applicator, you either have to put it on with your finger, which ew, or get a brush really yucky. Definitely needs new packaging.

Kajal Eye Glider: I got this in a mystery box, and at the time I was convinced I couldn't master eye liner, especially a pencil, because I'd only used cheap ones that were too hard to work well. So I have to point out this is in fact a very good eyeliner pencil, it's actually the best one I have right now. The fact that it's got both brown and black is an extra bonus. I haven't shopped around a lot to know if the price is fair or not, but since I don't wear a ton of eyeliner it's going to last me forever, so I'm really happy with it. It does blend and smudge well, and it stays on all day, and I just generally really like it. It made me go back to liking pencils over liquid eyeliner.

Julep Lip Gloss: I have two tubes of this, in Charming and Timeless. It's good lip gloss, it stays put and looks nice. Unlike other things here, the size is actually great, there's enough of it to last me forever. I think Charming is actually a really excellent color, one of my favorites. I like this just as well as some of my high end samples I've gotten from Birchbox, and the packaging is cute too. $20 seems a little steep, but it's on par with the name brand stuff I've seen. Is it better than some drugstore brand or something way cheaper? I don't know, probably not. But if you're already buying $20 lip gloss, this isn't a bad one to try.

Now, I know I haven't really been giving glowing reccomendations to the Maven program, I still think at this point until they fix their customer service it's a bad buy. But their makeup products aren't bad, I haven't gotten a bad one yet. Are they overpriced? Some of them are, absolutely. The eyeshadow should not cost that much. Their prices are pretty consistent with really high end brands like Smashbox or NARS, and quite frankly I'm not sure they're as good as that. In fact of all of these products the only one I would say I would actually think about actually buying if I ran out would be the Kajal Eye Glider. All of these I got in Maven boxes or mystery boxes, and they've been good additions to my makeup and I'm happy with them.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Julep Round-Up: Hand, and Foot care

As I posted last week, I'm pretty much done with Julep. So I'm going to review their products that I've gotten to try, other than specific nail colors, so that people might know how to spend their remaining Jules and cancel their memberships. Also, hopefully to introduce a few alternate places to get items.

I'm just going to use their shop categories to organize it. So first is Hand, and Foot Care. These are just reviews of the items I've tried in the time I've been a Maven. If I reviewed a product before (like as part of a mystery box) I'll just be copy/pasting my review and also noting that.

Vanish Cuticle Softener and Remover: I've only used this once, and I can say that it definitely softened my cuticles more than other things I've tried. I still don't exactly see the point of messing around too much with my cuticles but I wanted something for when they get a bit out of control. This definitely does the job and does it exactly how it says it will. You follow the directions and you get the results they say you will.

Update 10/8/2014: I have since stopped using the Vanish cuticle remover after a huge disaster with my nails about a month after I posted this. I don't know if it was the Vanish or the Oxygen base coat treatment, or a combination, but strips of the top keratin layer of my nails started to peel off. They're only just starting to recover a few months later, and I'm not risking it happening again. If anybody liked this product, I will sell you my bottle for cheap.

Cuticle Pusher: So, this is in fact a very nice cuticle pusher, and I'd been wanting a good metal one because the orange sticks I have never seemed all that great. It's very well made and well balanced, I'm just not entirely sure it's as good as the price tag suggests.

Both items received as part of the Memorial Day Mystery Box #4, full review here.

Doublestep Foot Treatment and Friction Stick: I had been thinking about buying this before, but I read a few negative reviews on the website and hesitated. I'm kind of glad I did, because I got one in this box. And also, because the reviews were right and I wouldn't want to have two. Honesty, there's no way this is worth even the $17.60. As soon as you apply any pressure (you know, like by actually using it like it's meant to be used) it rolls right back into the container, so you have to hold the dial at the bottom to actually use it. It doesn't go on particularly smoothly, and I haven't noticed it really doing much to prevent blisters though I admit I don't wear shoes that regularly cause blisters. I also haven't noticed it being particularly moisturizing or nourishing. There are much cheaper products that do the same thing, this is the first major disappointment I've gotten from Julep.

Moisture Mask Trio: I've only tried the nail and foot masks so far. The nail masks are interesting, and they're not lying when they say you can still use a touch screen through them, which surprised me. I wasn't going to bother but I got a phone call the second I finished putting them on, so I'm glad they worked! The foot masks were a little awkward, but they stayed on and everything did what it said it would. I didn't notice any particularly amazing difference in my skin after each one, but it was a nice way to relax and pamper myself for a little while.

Both items were part of my first mystery box, the Diamond Mystery Box, which I review (and complain about the shipping) here. Since then, I finished up the Doublestep Foot Treatment Stick and only grew to dislike it even more as time went on. And there's at least several days worth of product at the bottom that becomes unusable because of the way the stick functions, and product waste due to packaging really gets me cranky. The Moisture Mask Trio, it's worth noting that I haven't bought another one since this one even when they were on pretty drastic sales, because while I enjoyed the nail mask a lot, the hand and foot masks were only so-so and I just never felt inclined to do them again, so not really a strong recommend there, because you can't get the nail mask on it's own.

Mint Condition Pedi Creme: I got this in my very first intro Maven box, and I've been pretty happy with it. I don't really know how much it's created any kind of "soothing moisture and gentle exfoliation for rough, dry skin" or anything, but it's a good lotion and I liked that it was a little bit less thick for something that goes on my feet. I don't know why but I prefer thinner lotions that rub in more quickly. Because I haven't noticed anything miraculous over it, now that my bottle is almost empty I wasn't planning on replacing it, but partially because I'm also just trying to use up all the lotion I have right now so I can buy something awesome from Birchbox as a treat.

Instant Warming Foot Scrub: This is one item that I really, really liked. The instant warming action is no joke, and it feels fabulous. It's a great scrub, it smells good, and I really like using it. My only problem is the packaging, it's actually really, really difficult to squeeze out any amount of scrub from the bottle onto my feet, I have to use both hands to do it, so you can't put some scrub on your hand and then use it, you have to put it straight on your foot. But otherwise, I really liked this product. Replacement: I'm just going to go back to using The Body Shop's Peppermint Foot Scrub (which I reviewed here). I love it, it works just as well, it's not as expensive and at least The Body Shop has good customer service.

Luxe Care Hand Creme: I only got one sample of this and to be honest I hated it and I can't even remember why. I seem to recall it smelling funny and being a weird texture, but all I know is I've avoided it since. Sorry I can't be more helpful on this one.

Glycolic Hand Scrub: I hate this stuff. I had two small samples of it and it gets so many good reviews I tried it twice because I thought maybe I was crazy, but it smelled. It smelled weird and it made my hands smell weird and it didn't really do anything at all for my hands, and definitely was not as good as advertised. I have no idea what I'm missing here. Replacement: Any scrub from The Body Shop probably, their shea butter scrub is pretty nice.

Rock Star Hand Creme: I admit, this is a nice hand lotion if you don't need something heavy duty, so maybe not for the dry winter months. It rubs in quickly, it's not greasy, and it's just a nice lotion. It's not full price wonderful ($16 for 3 oz is far too much for something that's just "good") but if it's in a package deal or on sale, or you're using Jules, this could do. Replacement: Once the sample size I got in a mystery box is done, I'll just go back to my standby hand lotion, Look Ma, New Hands from Bath and Body Works. It has parrafin built into the lotion and there's nothing I've found that can handle my super dry winter-time hands as well as it does. And because it's so moisturizing a little bit goes a LONG way and a bottle lasts forever.

Spend Your Jules: If you're looking to spend your Jules, then the Moisture Mask Trio is a good treat, the Rock Star Hand Creme does the job it says it will do (though it's a bit pricey), and the Mint Condition Pedi Creme is a good product. I'd suggest the warming foot scrub but it's usually out of stock these days.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Julep: A general note

So, basically last month Julep had a huge "Red Marker Sale" and the experience of both the sale and the shipping of my box was so terrible that at this point I'm past "I can't really recommend this service" and into "no, you should probably spend your Jules and get out."

It doesn't help that I got this note today with the shipping notice for what will likely be my last Maven box:

Hello Maven,
I'm so excited for July's Maven Box, and hope you are too! I wanted to reach out and let you know that your box is on its way, but it might take a little longer than usual to arrive.
I know how much it matters that you get your box as quickly as possible, so we're working to expand and improve our shipping system ASAP (including opening a new fulfillment center very soon). As a token of our thanks for your patience (and with our apologies for any delay), we've added 100 Jules to your Maven account.

Dear Julep,

I'm not actually excited for July's Maven Box, because it will probably be my last one and I only ordered it to use up my Jules and to get the Secret Store for my birthstone polish this month, as a present to myself that I used to be excited about seven months ago when you announced the birthstone collection.

Despite my better judgement after how badly you presented yourselves and how terribly you treated customers (and how awful your communication was) during the Red Marker Sale, I placed an order on the first day. I got a shipping notice for it two days later. As usual, the "estimated delivery day" window was nearly five days, which is too large a window to be useful, but I just assume with your typical terrible shipping that it would be the last day possible.

An entire week after I got my tracking number, otherwise known as the first day of my estimated delivery window, I checked the tracking again and saw that my box had only just left the warehouse. One week after I been told that it had been shipped. ONE WEEK. My box was "transferred to the shipping partner" on the last day of the delivery window. What this means is that my box always sits in Maryland for three days for no reason I could ever figure out. And that's what happened this time. I placed my order on June 12th. I received it on June 26th, three days after the estimated delivery window was over.

I wrote you about the shipping issue in November of last year, after the order of my first mystery box became so messed up that I was no longer excited to receive it after it came in. Instead of the promised "3-4 business days" it took a week for me to hear back from a customer service representative, who said, "We take in all the feedback we can and we are working hard to roll out new and improved shipping options in the near future." And then it only got worse.

In other words: I have long, long ago given up hope of getting my box "as quickly as possible" and this note of "we're hoping to do something sometime soon nebulously in the future" is far too little, far too late. To give you a bit of context, I signed up as a Maven in September. It took you less three months to start souring my experience as a customer, and less than a year for me to be done. You've known about this problem for so long that I can't even imagine how it's taken you this long to switch shipping companies except that until now you just weren't losing enough money or customers to care.

You and I both know that 100 Jules doesn't actually amount to anything. It takes 20 times that much to get a free box, and it takes nearly ten times that much for a free polish. 100 Jules is insulting. Your entire Jules system isn't really worth anything, as a rewards program I've found it inadequate from the beginning.

So for the next few posts on my blog, I'm going to be reviewing some of the products I've gotten from you so that maybe a few readers will find a way to spend their Jules and cancel their memberships. I'll check back on the forums and beauty blogs every once in a while to see if you've fixed your shipping issue, and maybe started to prioritize customer service in any useful way.

As you'll probably see from the posts, I don't dislike your products (well, some of them I do) and there were some that had become staples for me. But I get better customer service and communication from other companies, and usually better prices too. So I'll just be looking elsewhere for now.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Julep Memorial Day Mystery Box


I know, it's been an age. What can I say? I released the movie I've been working on for the last three years and life has been INSANE the last few months. But I'm trying to get back into the swing of things. I'm going to reassess my schedule though, try to do something I can keep to. But who cares about that, you're here for a review!

I've not gotten a Julep mystery box in a long while, because my experience with the last one I ordered was a big hassle because of awful shipping. Which was what prompted me to actually write their customer service to complain. Since then they've added a different system for tracking boxes. Plus, their Memorial Day mystery boxes were kind of fun. There were ten of them, at different price points, and they each told you one or two items in the box and a "clue" for the contents. I liked the idea.

So I picked up box #4, which said it came with the Vanish cuticle remover and a cuticle pusher and the clue "a healthy high five." Plus a promise of $102 worth of items for only $25.

Now, if you buy a bottle of Vanish and the cuticle pusher for normal Maven prices, that costs $25.60, and I'd been considering it for a while so it seemed worth it, even if like most mystery boxes the $102 value was very inflated and went with the "value" of everything being absolutely full price, when most of it is on sale or at least available for less at a Maven discount. I also assumed that the "clues" were telling you something ELSE that was in the box, not that the clue was a reference to what you already knew was there. So I thought that since they were saying "a healthy high five" and you already knew there was Vanish and a cuticle pusher, then there would be maybe some Rock Star hand cream, or the hand scrub in there.

I really wish this review was going to end up being a glowing and positive one. But as you can probably already guess from all the times I've mentioned my assumptions, you know where this will end up. To start with, their shipping is still abysmal. Their shiny new tracking system is useless, and only solves one of the problems I had with their shipping on previous boxes, and doesn't really do that. Before, there was no estimated delivery date available, and that annoyed me because there was no way to know if a box had been lost in the mail or was just taking forever. Now you get an ETA, but it's a time span of THREE DAYS. I can predict a better time frame than that for most deliveries just by guessing based on hunches and educated guesses from years of ordering things. A three day time frame for an estimated delivery is useless.

On top of that, they don't even actually meet that delivery estimate. I almost never have gotten DHL shipped boxes within that three day window since they've started this new tracking, it's usually within those three days that it switches to being "transferred to the USPS" where just like always, it sits for 2-3 days with no updates or information. Which is a major part of the problem, Julep. DHL is a terrible shipping company who does a terrible job and your customers are tired of it, you just need to take a glance at your social media comments to see it.

Then, icing on the cake, I ordered this around the same time that my monthly Maven box shipped. I got my Maven box the day before I got the shipping notice that it was going out and that the tracking info was available. And I've seen several other Mavens say the same thing. Which makes me think that the DHL tracking info isn't emailed out until a few days after it ships, which makes it even slower and more ridiculous than it originally appears. Is that being done on purpose so you don't know how long it actually takes? I don't know, I just know that Julep needs to get it together on their shipping issues.

And on top of that, after I wait ages for my box, and after it arrives a day after the three day estimated delivery window was up, it wasn't even worth it:

The "clue" turned out to be nothing, and looking at blogs where they revealed the contents of all the boxes, it seems like all of the clues were really just talking about the product that you already knew was coming in the box. Honestly, there seemed like little to no "theme" at all to most of them.

Now, I still got the two products I wanted, obviously, because they were listed as being included. But instead of other hand products the box contained five more polishes, which would be kind of great I guess, if they were polishes I wanted.

To the individual products:
Vanish Cuticle Softener and Remover: I've only used this once, and I can say that it definitely softened my cuticles more than other things I've tried. I still don't exactly see the point of messing around too much with my cuticles but I wanted something for when they get a bit out of control. This definitely does the job and does it exactly how it says it will. You follow the directions and you get the results they say you will. $18/$14.40 Maven

Cuticle Pusher: So, this is in fact a very nice cuticle pusher, and I'd been wanting a good metal one because the orange sticks I have never seemed all that great. It's very well made and well balanced, I'm just not entirely sure it's as good as the price tag suggests. $14/$11.20 Maven

Barbara: This is one polish I'm pretty happy with, it's a full coverage purple glitter (Julep calls it a "multidimensional magenta") and I actually have thought about getting it before. Definitely a plus, and I'm happy to have gotten it, especially because it's currently out of stock. $14/$11.20 Maven

Tania: This is another glitter, not as full coverage, and is called a "mermaid teal" by Julep. I thought about buying this one before too, when it was a featured add-on one month (I think), but it was out of stock and I talked myself out of it. So again, this one was a good thing to get. $14/$11.20 Maven

Ava: This is where this box starts to go south for me. Not only is this a duplicate for a color I've already gotten in another box, but it's one I'd already decided to sell instead of using. I'd only just gotten rid of the previous bottle and now I have another. The color is a "ballet slipper pink" and I already have something similar and don't do pink nails anyway. This isn't a bad color, actually it seems really pretty if that's your thing. But it's not mine.$14/$11.20 Maven

Lois: This one is a "dusty rose frost" that goes in the same category as Ava, I'd actually just managed to sell another bottle of this I'd decided not to use because I don't need more pink. And also because Julep's frost polishes tend to be a bit streaky and fussy to apply (probably not a great sales pitch for my eBay listing but the truth). If it's a color I love then it's worth the extra effort to get a good, clean look from it. But that's not worth it for pink, for me. $14/$11.20 Maven

Fiore: This one actually really bugged me, because I know that this color has been on sale a LOT in the last few months, and at one point was only $1 as an add-on. It's been really easy to get, and easy to get cheaply. To the point where again, I already had one bottle of it and sold it because I realized I had a nearly identical color already. I've already sold this one too. $14/$11.20 Maven

Now, Julep apparently has wised up a bit and none of these polishes were currently on sale, which is what almost always tanks the estimated value of the box when people add them up after they get them. Smart move. So everything being currently full price, the advertised value actually holds up. Well, except for the fact that if you're a Maven everything is cheaper, so it's actually only worth $81.60 rather than $102. But that's a nearly 70% savings instead of 75%, so really, only a slight difference. And in the end, well worth it, financially. There is no denying it was a good bargain if you just compare money spent to value of goods received.

But once you put together the terrible shipping, the fact that the "theme" didn't exist, and the fact that only two of the five polishes were fun or interesting, then I'm not really thrilled. Since this is two disappointing experiences in a row with mystery boxes, then I think it's time for me to hold off on getting any more for a long while.

I realize that this less than glowing review isn't going to help me get any Julep referral points, but I've got to be honest, I'm just not a very happy customer of theirs right now. I'm planning to get next month's box, but probably no more mystery boxes, and after the next Maven box I'll probably be skipping for the foreseeable future unless they overhaul a few things. Starting with their shipping.

Edited to add: in Julep's recent Red Marker Sale (which is a customer service fiasco if you ask me) they've put at least two of these polishes up on sale for $2. So soon after them coming in my mystery box as such a "great deal." Yup, that's the perfect way to convince me that this box was full of polishes they just wanted to get rid of and not a great deal. Technically, I have no problem with that idea, that a mystery box or a grab bag is a bunch of things the company couldn't sell at normal stock prices and they'd like to clear out. That's a pretty normal and expected marketing strategy. It's the "worth" calculation that's so sketchy about this and makes me so grumpy. Don't tell me it's worth $14 if you can't sell it at $14 and you have to mark it down to $2 to get rid of it.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Cities at Sea by Martin Simons

I picked up Cities at Sea by Martin Simons because I was very intrigued by the synopsis. It felt like a utopian version of the dystopia in Waterworld.

Like many books I've read recently, my problems with Cities at Sea can be summed up very quickly: great idea, in need of either more writing skill or a stronger editor. The characters, the setting, the politics of the cities, the science, it all was a solid foundation. But none of it came together.

The writing was very dry, and very technical when it didn't need to be. It felt almost like a science text, spending so much time explaining the hows of the cities themselves, the climate of their world, and the process of giving people gills. Instead, I think most readers would agree they want to know about the people and the conflicts. The characters themselves are all very flat, they don't come apart as individuals and they're constantly simply saying what they're thinking/feeling plainly and without much emotion. When a romance develops, it doesn't resonate or really do anything.

A lot of time is spent on details that frankly just don't matter, and not enough time is devoted to things that are more intriguing and interesting. The summary of the book implies action that either doesn't take place, or is more of an afterthought, and those were some of the things that really should have taken center stage.

All in all, the book felt like a first draft, where a writer was trying to get down the whats and hows of the plot, and tackle the worldbuilding challenge, but then they didn't go back and actually make it readable and interesting. I can't really recommend it.

I was given a free preview copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This book no longer appears to be available for purchase.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Quick Review: P.S. You're Invited by Erica Domesek

I'm a big fan of DIY stuff, and crafting in general. But I think that this book taught me something else about myself: I'm kind of a DIY snob apparently.

Most of the projects in this book were SO simple that they didn't even feel like what I would call crafting. And for the most part, they were the types of projects and things I've been seeing around since I was in Girl Scouts. The projects also mostly LOOKED handmade, and not in the best way.

So what I learned is that I much prefer DIY guides and blogs that are about people without a ton of money making something really creative and fun, or that's meant to look store bought and luxurious for a fraction of the price. But this book really came across as people who have a ton of money and time trying to get in on the DIY "movement" because it's hip.

Overall, if these were all things I'd found on Pinterest for free, I might have been intrigued by a few, and rolled my eyes at a couple but general not cared. But $14 for the ebook version and $19 for the hardcover? If you're looking for a DIY book or to get into crafting, then you absolutely can do better with your money. In fact, just go to Pinterest, you'll find about twenty great free blogs with much better instructions and more fun projects.

I received a free preview copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.