Tuesday, June 16, 2015

November 2014 Birchbox

More old Birchbox reviews! This box was a mixed bag, some really great things and a few I took a while to give up on, but no big misses either. Well, maybe one.

Bain de Terre Argan Oil & Passion Flower Color Therapy Styling Oil: I think I've since changed my profile to take off that I color treat my hair, because I do dye my hair once a year or so, but I also don't really have good luck with something like 90% of the hair products designed to make your color last longer. My color might last longer but my hair looks awful.

That said, this styling oil actually worked quite well for what it is, but my hair just doesn't need extra oil on it. It did make it smoother, but I don't need it to look more slicked at the same time, that's not my style. And I don't use any heat styling tools or curl or iron or do anything like that. So really it's not a product I ever was going to use much. But since I did kind of like it, I'm sure if you were looking for something like this it'd be a good choice.

Ellovi Lip Butter: Man, I tried so hard to like this, I really did. I got the tinted lip butter, and the color was great, I really liked it. But there were two major problems - first for some reason there were a ton of bubbles or crystals or something that made it rough and flaky to apply which is NOT what you want in a lip product. Second, there was a smell (which also probably made it seem like a bad taste) that I never got used to. I tried valiantly for a few days before I gave up. Definitely not on my to buy list.

Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Sensitive: This was my sample choice, because I was super excited to try it. I have super sensitive skin and problems with some mystery ingredient that's in a lot of face products. So I had high hopes for an all-natural sensitive skin peel that maybe it would finally help me solve my exfoliation conundrum. Alas, it was not to be. Whatever ingredient it is that sets off my skin, it's in here. Or it's just still too harsh for me. I turned lobster red and my face stung, so I gave up and gave away the rest because I couldn't risk it. Also, I wasn't a fan of the texture or smell.

Not Soap, Radio Body Wash: The titles of these products are half of what makes it so great, I got "When life gives you one too many lemons (and you've misplaced your happy place)." I loved it, it was a fabulous scent, not too strong, and I really liked the body wash too. it also can be used in the bathtub, and it doesn't make a ton of foamy bubbles, but instead just gives you a good scent and some bubbling but not too much. It was exactly right, I'm buying more as soon as I use up the bath tablets I have.

TOCCA Crema da Mano-Hand Cream: I really love this hand cream, I actually am kind of hoarding it and won't use it until I've used up my lesser samples so I can enjoy it just that much longer. The scent is lovely and lasts a good bit of time, and the lotion itself is very moisturizing and lovely. I'm a big fan.

Justin's Chocolate Almond Butter Squeeze Packs: I have been wanting to try almond butter, so I was pretty happy to see this sample. Though it was kind of hilarious that it arrived in November so mine was frozen solid, I couldn't eat it until it thawed out. I eventually spread it on some toast, and I really liked it. If it wasn't so expensive I would have started buying it regularly, though probably I would get it through REI so I'd get my dividend from it.

So overall, I think it was a good box. I loved the body wash, lotion, and almond butter. The other products weren't a great success but that's a really personal thing for most of them, the peel and the hair oil weren't bad products. The lip butter, I don't know, maybe I got a bad one.

Don't forget if you think Birchbox sounds awesome (and it is) then please consider using my referral link!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

October 2014 Birchbox

Still playing catch-up with my Birchbox reviews! Now we're up to October of last year. Maybe one day I'll be posting current reviews again. This month they included a card to talk about some of your favorite things, and my card wanted to know a book. I picked Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith because I actually had recently stayed up too late re-reading it. It's one of my favorites.

This box was a little light on the samples, but I've had so many months with tons of samples that I was okay with that.

Balance Me Wonder Eye Cream: Maybe one day when I'm old and wrinkled I will regret not using excessive amounts of creams and potions and lotions but right now, the only thing I get out of using regular eye creams is more milia around my eyes, so I skip it and just use some puffiness reducing products when my eyes are feeling swollen and unhappy (or when I know they will like going to bed late). So this cream was a good eye cream, I just don't use eye cream because milia are a much bigger problem for me than wrinkles.

Dr. Lipp Original Nipple Balm for Lips: Okay, so this is basically where I'm going to diverge from the popular opinion. This is a highly reviewed, well loved item for Birchbox customers apparently. But I hated it. I didn't try to use it on my lips because it was this thick, goopy, sticky mess. There was no way that was going to look even remotely natural on my lips and I didn't want to accidentally smear it on my sheets or pillowcases by wearing it at night either. So I just used it on my ultra-dry skin. And I do have some pretty bad dry patches, regular lotion doesn't even make a dent half the time. This stuff was awful, maybe it sealed in some moisture or something but it didn't do any better than a tub of vaseline would have managed to do, and as I mentioned it was a gross sticky mess. It was so gross, and it was impossible to use because I didn't want to get it all over everything so I couldn't use it and get on with my life either, I had to walk around not touching stuff if I used it on my cuticles, or hold my arms away from everything if I put it on my elbows. Ugh.

Essentiel Elements Wake Up Rosemary Shower Gel: This was my sample choice for this month, because I loved the Essentiel Elements Wake Up Rosemary Lotion so much previously. I think it's a fabulous scent, and I really love the style of both the sample bottles and the full size ones. I did really like this lotion, it's on my list of ones to buy when I run out of what I have (though that list is now getting pretty long!)

Harvey Prince Petaly Noir: Perfume can be pretty polarizing, and a lot of reviews said this scent was "old" or too "flowery." I didn't think it was either, I really love how it smells on me. But it is a strong scent that just feels very "evening" to me, not like something to wear to work but something to wear out on a date or to a party. So that's what I use it for now, I do really love it, and this just cemented my love for Harvey Prince products.

Lord & Berry Paillettes Eye Pencil: You can't really see this one in the picture, it's kind of hiding behind the balm and the lotion. A lot of people complained kind of a ridiculous amount about the size of this sample, because it is a pretty small pencil. But I was THRILLED because I already have two full size eyeliner pencils I've gotten in other boxes, plus I had bought a set of colored eye liner not long before this so I didn't need another huge pencil I would never use up. Especially because this particular liner is black with silver glitter, which I'm going to use once in a great while when I'm doing really fun makeup and not trying to look professional. So anyway, it's the perfect size for me, and I do really like the pencil itself. It's very fun, and if I did this kind of look often I would totally be up for the full size.

So this is where we finally talked about the sample I've gotten that I liked the least out of all of them, (the Dr. Lipp balm) and a few new favorites too. Overall, it was a pretty good box.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

September 2014 Birchbox and Birchbox Plus

Back to talking about my old Birchboxes! This time we're going back to September 2014 and my first time trying out Birchbox Plus!

Ruffian Essential Blush Collection & Remover Towelettes: I've gone on several times about my love for Ruffian's nail polishes, and when I saw this gorgeous collection, I had to have it. I'd been wanting some more feminine but neutral-ish tones. These colors are gorgeous in person, and they're a fantastic base to do more fancy nail art, or put a bit of glitter on top and have a more simple look (for me that's simple). They go so well together, and my favorite is definitely No More Tears. I used it for my Valentine's Day manicure this year. These will also definitely be good colors for the Ruffian Manicure Look!

Now to my actual Birchbox items!

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser and Cloth: This was my pick for the sample choice this month, and I actually got it because I already own a full size (thanks to a birthday present from my sister, yay!) and loved it so much I wanted a travel size to take with me on trips. It's a really lovely cleanser, and it works so much better than most I've tried. And while I think the muslin clothes are a bit expensive on their own, as a package deal they're quite nice to use and worth it.

Dear Clark Resurrecting Wash and Dear Clark Resurrecting Rinse: These were kind of a rare product that I absolutely did not like. The smell was awful, I don't know which aspect of it that I didn't like, but the scent was just gross to me. I didn't like it going on, and then throughout the day after I used it, I would turn my head and catch a whiff of it again and be grossed out all over again. Not a fan at all. That said, I gave mine to my best friend who said she liked the smell, so who knows.

Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum: Honestly, I'm so very over serums. I don't see a difference in my face when I use them (except maybe the oily spots get oilier) and they're usually ridiculously expensive. Which this one is, it's far too overpriced for what it is. Sure, it was a good serum, but like I said, I've never noticed a big difference between when I use a serum and when I don't, so why spend $79 on one ounce of a product like that?

Smashbox Be Legendary Long Wear Lip Lacquer: I do really like Smashbox products, and this lip lacquer is nice, but it goes on a little thick and bright for my current style of makeup. But it is fun to try a brighter color once in a while, so I've kept it and use it once in a great while. It is a lot thicker than what I would consider a "stain," but I still liked it okay.

So that's it for this Birchbox. I'm a fan of the plus upgrade option, though I haven't used it again since this one, just because the one other time I thought about it the item I wanted was sold out. They are usually good deals, but on pricier items that are above my range anyway, or things that I wouldn't use/aren't my style. But I'm always excited to check them out, and if they have some cool nail polish again I'll definitely go for it.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I know, I'm very behind the times, but I only just got around to seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron last weekend. To be honest, absolutely none of the trailers or pre-release buzz really got me hyped, and then a bunch of stuff happened, so it took a while to get around to it.

The short version of my feelings on the film were how I summed it up right after I left the theater. It's a mixed bag, but trending positive. There were a lot of things to like, a lot of scenes I enjoyed, and quite a few characters that I just love seeing no matter what (Hi, Captain America and anybody from his film series). I was surprised that I actually really enjoyed pretty much anything with Hawkeye in this film. Up until now, Clint has been kind of a non-character in the movies, but this time he got some valuable development.
I know some people probably disagree with my opinion here, but there's a particular spoiler-y development with Hawkeye that quite a few people hated and felt came out of nowhere, but I actually thought it was great. Could there have been more set up? Sure, if Hawkeye had really had any character at all in any of his previous appearances. Yeah, throw rotten fruit at me all you want, but he spent most of The Avengers mind controlled and then being angry about being mind controlled. That was about all you got. Instead this time we got a lot more out of him and I liked what we got. His sense of humor was really well done, and I liked it.

I know I'm probably a little biased, but I also really enjoyed all the bits with Steve. Captain America is clearly my favorite of all of them, so that's no surprise. I like his sense of leadership and responsibility and how he still is funny despite being very heartfelt. I don't know, he's just very much what I like in characters. He's what I always want Superman to be, very powerful, understanding the responsibilities that come with that power, but not breaking under the weight of it either. He's serious without being grave. And I think a lot of that comes from Chris Evans, who plays every moment with a lot of nuance.

But that leads me to one of my greater problems with the movie, is that there is a LOT of stuff there and a lot of it doesn't need to be there, or need to be as long as it is, because then they leave very good stuff on the floor instead of exploring it. Every character in this movie is shown their greatest fear, a vision that is meant to destablize them and make them unable to fight. Iron Man is shown all of his friends dead, Black Widow flashes back to her traumatic childhood, Thor sees himself as a destructive menace.

And Captain America finally sees VE Day, which he didn't get to experience the first time around. He's told he can go home, that the war is over, they are all finally done fighting. And Evans clearly shows us that this is just as tragic, and not just because he missed it the first time. It's because he knows it's not true, it's never true, they're never done fighting, and for him and his best friend and the love of his life, there was nothing real about going home.

How interesting is all that? I wanted to see it, at least hear Steve acknowledge it, something. But instead we get my major problem with the entire film, and something a lot of people are talking about, which is some sort of flailing attempt at romance between Bruce and Natasha.

I'll avoid the spoilers, but basically absolutely no scene about this particular pairing works. The characters have no chemistry on screen. I think both the actors were trying so hard to hit the beat that these are two broken people who aren't sure if they're worthy of a relationship that they didn't get anything else. There's no longing, no attraction, nothing. Natasha's relationship with Steve is so much more interesting and compelling in The Winter Soldier, so it makes this feel just clunky and terrible. I can see why the writers thought it worked on paper and wanted to try it, but they should have dropped it as soon as the first scene they shot wasn't working.

I'm not getting into the line/dialogue everybody is talking about right now and discussing if it's sexist or not. Listen, we can have all the debates we want about intention or context or whatever, but at the end of the day what's on the screen is all there is, and what's on the screen is a brick of a stupid scene that never should have happened, was framed poorly, and yes, came across as a very sexist moment and that I personally found more than a bit offensive even as I understood what they really were trying to do with it.

There are two action sequences that go on too long, but the final fight scene could have taken longer and I wouldn't have cared because it was well done. And the fight scene in Seoul was fantastic. Maybe it just took halfway through the movie before they started being more willing to kill their babies in the edit suite to cut down the fight to the important bits. Or maybe those two fights weren't necessarily chocked full of things that were there to sell toys to older comic book fans (I'm sorry the Hulkbuster was there because why? Sure, you could have it, but that fight was WAY too long for no reason besides OOH, HULKBUSTER). There are too many characters, and too many plot lines that aren't developed. There are too many moments, most of them centered on Iron Man, that are there just because "we need X to happen" and not because of something that felt really fleshed out and set up.

But in the end, I'm still thought it was generally good, I had fun watching it. I'd watch it again, but I wouldn't buy a second movie ticket for it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

August 2014 Birchbox

Time for another Birchbox catch up post! I'll get through these eventually, I swear! This box was pretty good, I got another new favorite, and no huge disappointments.

Amika Perk Up Dry Shampoo: I actually had just finished my previous sample of dry shampoo when this one came in, so perfect timing! I actually did like the smell of this one more, it does have a nice-ish scent, but it does also still smell like aerosol too. In the end I've decided I just don't like dry shampoo and I likely never will, but if I was going to keep some around just in case, it would be this one. What a glowing review, huh? It really is nice, it's just dry shampoo feels like a lot of hassle for little reward to me.

nugg Beauty Soothing Face Mask: I loved this face mask. Enough that I ordered the variety pack from the same brand before the month was up. It's a fantastic face mask, and each little tub actually does two, maybe even three masks for me. I just keep a sample container around from The Body Shop that I put the extra in when I'm done with the first use, to keep it more fresh. It really did make my face look better, and it was a really nice texture and everything. I enjoyed it, I need to restock actually.

Supergoop Forever Young Hand Cream: I have absolutely no idea why you need a separate sunscreen for your hands. Or maybe it's supposed to be a lotion that happens to have SPF in it? I don't know, it doesn't matter to me because I don't see the point either way. It's a nice product, it smelled good, but it also separated like the other Supergoop product I've gotten, and I generally wasn't impressed, especially for the price. I'll stick to my Neutrogena sunscreen stuff, it works great, it smells nice, and it costs far less. My hand lotion doesn't need sunscreen, I use lotion and sunscreen at entirely different times so I have no problem with using different products.

Dr. Jart+ Dis-A-Pore Beauty Balm: I was not a big fan of this product, partially because it went too thick for me and it was hard for me to be sparing with it, which I have to do because otherwise it made my skin look weird rather than minimizing pores. In the end it wasn't really awful, but it wasn't anywhere near as good as The POREfessional which does the same thing but so much better.

ModelCo Bronzer: This was my sample choice for this month, and I'm pretty happy with it. Honestly I still don't know what to do with bronzer, but it's a great product to experiment with, and I can put it on very lightly to get just a touch of color, a lot of bronzers are far too dark for me even at the lightest application, so that was good. And it wasn't too sparkly either. Overall I really like it, I need to practice with it more.

So there's another Birchbox for you! I highly suggest trying the nugg masks, and if you're in the market for a dry shampoo Amika's smells pretty nice overall, even if I don't like dry shampoo. But in general, this Birchbox was exactly what I want from my box, a set of stuff I really wanted to try so I could make some decisions about if I want to buy them full price, plus a surprise (the masks) that turned out to be a new favorite brand.

Remember, if you want to try Birchbox out, please consider using my referral link!

Monday, June 01, 2015

The Sweetest Kisses Series by Grace Burrowes

Okay, so I know my taste in books is probably pretty darn eclectic. But I do sometimes enjoy a good romance novel because in the end I really love to read love stories. I can be specific in my tastes about them (I like happy endings, hence the romance novels. I can't stand love triangles, I don't like stories that have any kind of cheating, etc).

I discovered Grace Burrowes kind of accidentally when I found a freebie deal on a book of hers in her Wyndam series of regency romances. I enjoyed the series enough that I've got an alert set up on BookBub for any deals on her books, and that's how I ended up picking up A Kiss for Luck, a novella that starts off her "Sweetest Kisses" series of contemporary romances. As of this writing, it's still free to download.

In the end, I didn't actually like A Kiss For Luck all that much. It was okay, I guess, but as a novella it just moved too fast. See, in filmmaking one thing that bothers me is when filmmakers don't understand that a short film is it's own art form, it's not the same structure, style, and storytelling technique as a feature but crammed into a shorter run time. It's different. Novellas are the same way, and short stories. You shouldn't go through the exact same structure but faster just because your page count is shorter.

A Kiss For Luck does that. It goes through every familiar story beat that romance novels always go through, but at such a pace that I felt like none of it really gelled and became genuine. I did feel like the characters cared for each other, but the typical romance novel "no, we can't really be falling for each other" stuff didn't work because it didn't have time to be set up or steep before it was gone again. Plus I think all the action took place over like a few days, or at least it felt that way. The characters aren't bad, neither is the setting, but I think it's actually NOT the right way to intro a new reader to the Sweetest Kisses series, because it didn't actually make me want to read more.

What made me want to read more was that the novella ends with the first chapter of A Single Kiss, the first book in the series. And the first chapter of A Single Kiss is very good. It completely pulled me in, and I bought the e-book right then. The actual novels are the love stories of three brothers, all of which are lawyers, who run a law firm together and have different specialties. They all appear in A Kiss For Luck, but oddly none of the characters from A Kiss For Luck are ever mentioned in any of the trilogy itself, which makes it feel even more disconnected and unnecessary.

A Single Kiss is about Trent Knightly, who practices family law, and Hannah Stark, who has recently passed the bar exam and is looking to go into corporate law. She gets hired into family law, which is the last place she wants to be, but she takes the job because she has to provide for her daughter. Trent, incidentally, is also a single parent, having dealt with a particularly nasty divorce years before the story starts.

There's just something about Hannah and Trent, and their daughters, that just kept me reading long after I should have stopped and gone to bed. The story was a bit convenient and full of coincidences at times, but what romance novel isn't? The characters were really just fantastic, I cared about them, I wanted them to get what they wanted most. So I didn't care that everything was wrapped up so neatly in the end.

The second book, The First Kiss, deals with the youngest Knightly brother, James, and the once widowed-once divorced Vera Waltham. Vera also happens to have a young daughter, who happens to know Trent and Hannah's two girls. I actually don't mind this, it just is part of why these books start to get a little old a little quickly, because they went beyond being a bit formulaic and straight into feeling a bit like rehashes of each other. I don't know how to describe it, on paper the books seem completely different, but there's so many trappings in common that I just don't know.

The other problem I had with this particular book is that the "why we can't be together" stuff was just...tired. The whole thing with James having his little black book but being tired of sleeping with any woman that asked him just came across a bit overdone. Of course, his past romances have to be forgiven because he was emotionally wounded or something, and her past marriages are basically explained away into almost not existing. It was just felt like the old the rake and the virgin thing that I'm not into, despite how popular it is with romance readers. At the least, the threats to Vera and her daughter felt real and the parts where they were dealing with that were much more interesting than James' inner angst, so I did still at least enjoy reading it.

The big problem came with Kiss Me Hello, the last book in the series, which is about MacKenzie Knightly, the oldest and most serious brother, and Sidonie Lindstrom, a foster mom to a sometimes troublesome, sometimes troubled, teenager.

There was a lot about this book I liked. I liked Mac's character for the most part, I loved the focus on horses and how therapeutic riding can make a difference in a kid's life. I liked Sid for the most part, and I thought her backstory was particularly interesting.

But the entire plot of the book hinged on Mac being a complete and total idiot. Not even slightly idiotic, not making one small mistake and forgetting about it. No, he intentionally and willfully spends the entire book not telling Sid he's a lawyer, that his brothers are lawyers, and that they all own a law firm, because she keeps saying "I hate lawyers." Sure, she has reason to be mad at lawyers, most people do. But there are something like fifteen points where it would have been easy for any one of them to have said "I know you've had a bad experience, but I actually have knowledge, expertise, and the ability to help you solve this problem you have because I am a lawyer." Instead they find ways to try to fix things WHILE keeping everything under wraps. It just gets more annoying every step of the way. Sid's stance on lawyers is partially from an honest place, and partially just childish, and a good conversation could have solved it on page 20, considering everything else about her character. It wasn't the right plot device and it felt off the entire time.

The other problem that really rears it's ugly head in this book is one that's common to all of Burrowes' writing, that she's more than a little bit fond of the "Babies Ever After" ending. And I won't spoil the book, but the ending was so unrealistic that it actually made me mad. I thought for a second it was going to be a book about people making a non-traditional family and exploring the fact that family is made of more than genetics. And it tried, but it punted at the last second anyway, though it still scored a point or two I guess.

There's another novella, Kiss and Tell, which focuses on a completely different set of characters, but between my lukewarm feelings about the first novella, my bitterness at the ending of the third book, and the kind of weird cover, I haven't bothered to pick it up.

Overall, I would say I absolutely recommend A Single Kiss, and if you just need to know what happens for the other two Knightly brothers, then the other two books aren't awful, but if they start to annoy you then it's safe to put them away.