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Review: Dr. Althea Herb Therapy Velvet Mask

“Just as those closest to you would comfort you during your hardest times, let this mask give a boost to your skin! This mask will keep your complexion luminous for days.”

Facetory description

I recently gave Facetory’s Lux subscription a try (the first subscription is $10 for 7 luxury masks, after that $20 a month) and the Dr. Althea Herb therapy Velvet Mask was the first mask I applied. The mask itself smells heavenly and has a rich, creamy, fabric-like feeling. Putting it on was a simple effort, the mask staying snug around my features, and after waiting for its recommended 20-30 minutes, I took it off feeling more refreshed, the serum drying within minutes. Though how effective it was is debatable (as the effect of sheet masks are most evident after consistent use), below, I’ve provided the ingredient pros and cons for a more scientific inspection.

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Dipropylene Glycol, Methylpropanediol, Caprylic/capric Triglyceride, Polysorbate 60, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Hexylene Glycol, Butylene Glycol, Hydroxyacetophenone, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Trehalose, Carbomer, Arginine, Allantoin, PEG-20 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sorbitan Isostearate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Squalane, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Coptis Japonica Root Extract, Schizandra Chinensis Fruit Extract, Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Extract, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) Extract, Citrus Grandis (grapefruit) Seed Extract, Panthenol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Disodium EDTA, Anthemis Nobilis Flower Water, Calendula Officinalis Flower Water, Acorus Calamus Root Extract, Fragrance, Chlorphenesin, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glyceryl Caprylate, Caprylyl Glycol, Perilla Ocymoides Leaf Extract, Citric Acid, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Cholesterol, Ceramide 3

Significant Pros

  • Glycerin (hydrating)
  • Allantoin (calming)
  • Squalane (hydrating)
  • Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract (calming)
  • Panthenol (humectant, attracts moisture for hydrating effect)
  • Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Extract (calming)
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) Extract (addresses hyper pigmentation)
  • Calendula Officinalis Flower Water (calming)
  • Ceramide 3 (moisturizing, skin barrier protector)

Significant Cons

  • PEG-20 Hydrogenated Castor Oil (at least, for oily skin)
  • Fragrance (unnecessary, skin irritant)
  • Citrus Grandis (grapefruit) Seed Extract (skin irritant)
  • Citric Acid (skin irritant for sensitive skin)

The Takeaway

Looking at the ingredients, there are some pretty powerful relaxing elements to the mask (allantoin, squalane, camellia, licorice extract), but conversely a variety of deeply irritating ingredients (i.e. citric acid and grapefruit extract) for those with sensitive skin. Though my skin does tend to be sensitive, I didn’t directly feel anything when applying the mask, but repeated use may reveal otherwise. Additionally, while the smell was delightful, the prioritizing of fragrance over some the more calming ingredients was worrisome. Though I definitely don’t regret using this mask, I won’t be purchasing it in the future.

A Skincare Routine for Under $35!: Dry Edition

Hi all! Just like last time, I’ve decided to create a small list of recommendations for a cheap routine aimed towards dry skin (and full disclosure, this list comes to $35, so it’s technically not under $35). As always, please consider your own needs and allergies before trying out these products. I cannot guarantee these items will work for you, I just want to provide a sort of direction to help you get oriented.

Cleanser

A simple, classic cleanser with rave reviews, Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser ($16) is perfect for those searching for a thorough, but gentle product to wipe the day’s grime away without stripping the skin. Check out my full review here.

Moisturizer

For an effective but cheap moisturizer the SKEDERM Cibon Cream ($10) may be a good place to start. Dry skin will be drawn to its ingredients, some of which include methylpropanediol, shea butter, and Ceramide NP. My only caution would be to those sensitive to fungal acne and fragrance, as they may not be able to use this product.

Sunscreen

Though there’s been a lot of controversy over the efficacy of some Korean sunscreens these days, if you’re in a pinch, you can always repeatedly reapply the Frudia Ultra UV Shield Sun Essence ($9). Positive reviews and an ingredient list boasting of propanediol, niacinamide, and Blueberry extract should further convince you of this product’s credibility. Though, if you suffer from fungal acne, beware! This sunscreen may be a minefield for you.

Review: The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

I think to myself, It is terrifying to be visible, and then I think, I have been waiting all my life to be seen.

The Thirty Names of Night

Summary and Thoughts

Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. He has been unable to paint since his mother’s ghost has begun to visit him each evening. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his longtime crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighborhood known as Little Syria.

One night, he enters the abandoned community house and finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z, who dedicated her career to painting the birds of North America. She famously and mysteriously disappeared more than sixty years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same rare bird before their deaths. In fact, Laila Z’s past is intimately tied to his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—in ways he never could have expected. Even more surprising, Laila Z’s story reveals the histories of queer and transgender people within his own community that he never knew. Realizing that he isn’t and has never been alone, he has the courage to officially claim a new name: Nadir, an Arabic name meaning rare.

As unprecedented numbers of birds are mysteriously drawn to the New York City skies, Nadir enlists the help of his family and friends to unravel what happened to Laila Z and the rare bird his mother died trying to save. Following his mother’s ghost, he uncovers the silences kept in the name of survival by his own community, his own family, and within himself, and discovers the family that was there all along.

Featuring Zeyn Joukhadar’s signature “magical and heart-wrenching” (The Christian Science Monitor) storytelling, The Thirty Names of Night is a timely exploration of how we all search for and ultimately embrace who we are.

Goodreads

The Thirty Names of Night was one of my most anticipated books of the year, and while it wasn’t the smash-hit I was hoping it would be, my lack of enthusiasm is more likely a difference in taste rather than any flaw in the novel itself. The story follows Nadir as he navigates his identity, grief over his mother, his gentrifying New York community, and the mysterious illustrator Laila Z who seems to be connected to his mother and grandmother. Throughout the novel, Joukhadar weaves his various themes and messages on acceptance, memory, death, and love by using ornate, visual language that often dazzles, even if it also veers on the superfluous. While I loved Joukhadar’s characters and appreciated the complexity of their thoughts, I sometimes found their monologues circuitous or redundant, especially as I hit the halfway point of the novel. In this sense, while I highly enjoyed the beginning and end of the book, the middle parts were hit-and-miss, plagued by uneven pacing. Still, this was only my personal experience, and I know other reviewers enjoyed this story immensely. For this reason, I’d still definitely recommend this book, though I would keep in mind what your own taste in novels is like before picking it up (and also – Ramadan Kareem!).

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating

3.5/5

Review: Bokksu Ashigaracha Green Tea

This green tea comes from the Ashigara district of Hakone. The plants grow slowly with less sunshine than other tea types, producing fewer tannins and resulting in a sweeter tea. When picked, Ashigara tea is also lightly steamed in a process called asamushi that makes a light-colored aromatic tea.

Bokksu

When I first sipped this green tea, I couldn’t really taste anything. Still, with continued sips, I noticed the rich aftertaste of unfiltered green tea, though without any of its characteristic bitterness (in fact, there’s a slight sweetness to it, similar to that of a butter cookie). For those who typically enjoy green tea, this blend may not appeal to you, as the flavor isn’t particularly powerful. However, if you typically find green tea too strong or bitter, this may be a great starter tea. Additionally, I find this tea delicious both warm and cold, making it adaptable to a variety of other drink concoctions as well.

Ingredients

Green Tea

Review: Nola Skinsentials Sweet Dreams Night Cream

Hydrate and renew skin overnight for a dreamy complexion by morning.

Nola Skinsentials

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this night cream – the ingredients seemed like a bit of a toss up, but the reviews were consistently high. At $26, this moisturizer comes at a mid-tier price-point, low enough to take a risk on, but high enough to warrant justification on its quality. The container itself is quite small, but product is thick, so a little really will go a long way. It takes some time to spread and soak, so if you plan on implementing this product into your routine, definitely complete your evening skincare ritual earlier in the evening to avoid pillow residue. This being said, while the application itself isn’t exactly a “sweet dream” the results are consistent with the positive reviews. This moisturizer is sure to keep your skin soft and smooth for the next morning.

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Aqua, Rosa Damascena, Kiwi Water, Saccharide Isomerate, Kiwi Extract, Citrus Aurantium, Cananga Odorata, Olea Europaea, Melia Azadirachta, Ubidecarenone, Thioctic Acid, Mangifera indica, Tamanu Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (herb), beta vulgaris (herb), Punica granatum, Zea Mays Seed Flour(**), Retinyl Palmitate. Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Leuconostoc Radish Root Ferment Filtrate. Natural (fragrance) oil,* Phthalate Free* *reformulated*

Significant Pros

  • Kiwi Water/Kiwi Extract (antioxidant, vitamin C + E)
  • Saccharide Isomaerate (soothing, hydrating)
  • Canaga Odorate (gentle exfoliant)
  • Melia Azadirachta (anti-acne, anti-aging)
  • Ubidecarenone (anti-aging, antioxidant)
  • Thioctic Acid (antioxidant, anti-aging)
  • Mangifera indica (antioxidant, anti-aging)
  • Tamanu Oil (hydrating)

Significant Cons

  • Citrus Aurantium (fragrance, skin irritant)
  • If you’re sensitive to Rosa Damascena then perhaps avoid this product. While Rosa Damascena does have many antioxidants and antimicrobial properties, it is also heavily scented and carries within it essential oils which may irritate sensitive skin.

The Takeaway

I enjoyed the results of this product, but I’d be wary of casually recommending it to others because some may have sensitivities to the ingredients. Personally. I think I’ll continue looking for other moisturizers that can provide the same moisturizing effect without fragrance (and possibly at a lower-price point), but I’m happy I gave this product a try. It’s a thumbs up for me!

Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

People find unusual habits more charming when they are included. Eve had always known that, in the back of her mind, but it was something she’d resented, and so she tended to ignore it. Now, though—now, here was Jacob, laying it out like a military tactic rather than some sort of moral directive. Like a strategy they were smart enough to deploy upon people who just didn’t understand, rather than a behavioral correction.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown

Summary and Thoughts

Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong—so she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It’s time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she’s not entirely sure how…

Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry—and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.

Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help. Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore—and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior.

Goodreads

This was an incredibly sweet novel. As a fan of Talia Hibbert’s previous works, particularly those in the Brown Sister series (Get a Life, Chloe Brown and Take a Hint, Dani Brown), I was excited to see how she would end her trilogy. This story follows sunshine creative Eve Brown and grumpy B&B owner Jacob Wayne as they crash into each other’s lives (literally via car) and fall in love. Additionally, there’s some great Autism representation here, which is especially heartening as Hibbert is Autistic as well (#OwnVoices).

Like all of Hibbert’s books, Act Your Age, Eve Brown has great banter, lovable characters, and spicy scenes written to uplift and entertain. I loved seeing Eve and Jacob develop as characters and found their love for each to be genuine and sweet. The plot itself is very character-based, with little propelling action except for a cooking event at the novel’s conclusion (there isn’t too much anxiety leading up to it though – aside from the main romantic tension). For me, personally, I think the novel could have benefitted from more plot tension, as I found my attention wandering towards the middle of the novel. As much as I loved the main romance and understood the ups and downs of its development, I still felt like the pacing caused their interactions to drag on and on and on without much pulling them forward. All that being said, though I really enjoyed this romance, I think Hibbert’s previous books were stronger. Perhaps start with those before picking this one up!

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating

3.7/5

Review: David’s Tea Caribbean Crush

Dreaming of palm trees and soft white sand? Escape to paradise with this tropical fruit infusion of pineapple, papaya, cranberry and hibiscus. Refreshing, juicy and slightly tart, it’s got all the vibrant, crowd-pleasing flavours of a perfect summer fruit punch. The only thing missing is a little paper umbrella… 

David’s Tea

If Fruity Pebbles cereal was a tea . . . it would be this. And yet, I’m not mad about it. David’s Tea Caribbean Crush definitely nails the fruit flavor – apple, pineapple, and cranberry notes immediately flood you at first sip. Still, despite this mix of powerful flavors, they aren’t overly sweet nor do they leave any unpleasant aftertaste. Though I would be wary of pairing this tea with pastries, I still think this tea perfectly toes the line of “fruit flood” and “superficially sweet.” Consider your own tastes before picking up a cup.

Ingredients

Apple, Pineapple (pineapple, sugar), Papaya (papaya, sugar), Hibiscus, Cranberries, Artificial (strawberry, cream, red fruit) flavoring

Review: Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Serum

Superfood for your skin! Omega fatty acids in this serum strengthen skin’s surface with the essential nutrients needed for healthy, hydrated, visibly stronger skin.

Paula’s Choice

Looking for a powerful moisturizer to protect my skin during the dry, cold night, I picked up Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Serum after reviewing its many ingredients. Though I had read some alternating reviews of the product, I was happy to find that this serum suited me well. Despite the many Ceramides and oils packed into this small bottle, the serum itself is light and non-greasy, spreading and absorbing into the skin with ease. Most importantly, it fulfills its grand moisturizing claims and kept my skin supple all throughout the skin into the morning. The only downside here then, is the fact that it runs out quickly (perhaps about one month of daily night usage).

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Glycerin (skin-replenishing ingredient), Diheptyl Succinate (emollient), Candelilla/Jojoba/Rice Bran Polyglyceryl-3 Esters (texture enhancer), Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Oil (flax seed; non-fragrant omega -3, -6, and -9 plant oil), Linoleic Acid (skin-restoring omega-6 fatty acid), Linolenic Acid (skin-restoring omega-3 fatty acid), Passiflora Edulis Seed Oil (non-fragrant omega-6 plant oil, Salvia Hispanica (Chia) Seed Oil (non-fragrant omega-3 plant oil), Ceramide EOP (skin-restoring/replenishing), Ceramide EOS (skin-restoring/replenishing), Ceramide NP (skin-restoring/replenishing), Ceramide NS (skin-restoring/replenishing), Caprooyl Sphingosine (skin-restoring/replenishing), Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil Unsaponifiables (skin-smoothing antioxidant fatty acid), Caprooyl Phytosphingosine (skin-restoring), Sodium Hyaluronate (skin-replenishing/hydration), Cholesterol (skin-replenishing), Ceramide AP (skin-restoring/replenishing), Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter (antioxidant emollient), Tocopherol (vitamin E/antioxidant), Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer (texture enhancer/stabilizer), Prunus Domestica Seed Oil (non-fragrant antioxidant plant oil/omega-9 fatty acid), Lauryl Laurate (skin-softening opacifying agent), Glyceryl Behenate (emollient/emulsifier), Hydrogenated Lecithin (skin-restoring ingredient), Sodium Phytate (chelating agent), Trehalose (hydration), Isohexadecane (texture enhancer/solvent), Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate (emulsifier), Capryloyl Glycerin/Sebacic Acid Copolymer (film-forming agent), Xanthan Gum (texture enhancer), Cetyl Alcohol (hydration), Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (vitamin C/antioxidant), Agar (binding agent), Glyceryl Stearate (emulsifier), Ceteareth-25 (solubilizer), Cetearyl Alcohol (hydration), Behenic Acid (opacifying agent), Glyceryl Rosinate (emollient), Citric Acid (pH adjuster), Benzyl Alcohol (preservative), Ethylhexylglycerin (preservative).

Significant Pros

  • Glycerin (moisturizing)
  • Candelilla/Jojoba/Rice Bran Polyglyceryl-3 Esters (moisturizing, soothing, evens skin tone)
  •  Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Oil (moisturizing – omega -3, -6, and -9 plant oil)
  • Linoleic Acid (moisturizing omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid)
  • Passiflora Edulis Seed Oil (moisturizing omega-6 plant oil)
  • Salvia Hispanica (Chia) Seed Oil (moisturizing omega-3 plant oil)
  • Ceramide EOP (moisturizing)
  • Ceramide EOS (moisturizing)
  • Ceramide NP (moisturizing)
  • Ceramide NS (moisturizing)
  • Sodium Hyaluronate (hydrating)
  • Cholesterol (moisturizing)
  • Ceramide AP (moisturizing)

Significant Cons

  • This is choc full of fungal acne triggers, so if you’re someone who is prone to fungal acne, I would stay clear

The Takeaway

Overall, I’m pleased with my experience with this product. Though I can’t recommend it for everyone, especially those who struggle with fungal acne, it’s worth a try for those with dry or dehydrated skin. The price is a bit high ($37) but not unreasonable, so while I may continue to search for other moisturizing serums, I can also see myself repurchasing this sometime again in the future.

March Reads

March has been an up and down (but productive) month for me, but I’m glad to have read such a diverse collection of books (including some manga which I haven’t listed here, as they were all continuations of earlier mentioned series.) I also completed weird zeal‘s Women’s History Month readathon bingo sheet, which I shown below. Though I don’t have any particular readathons planned for April, I do plan on selecting a few reads to celebrate Autism Awareness month. Al that being said, I’m excited for what’s next!

All Photos Courtesy of Goodreads

Carry:A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen

It’s okay, I’ve learned, to love the things that make you, even if they also are the things that unmake you.

Short Description: A collection of poetic recollections on the intersections of gun violence in indigenous racism, sexism, poverty, and more.

Critic Quote: “This beautiful assemblage of essays braids a visceral reminder of America’s current troubles, and a deeper understanding of how they came to be.” –Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: I appreciated the lyrical writing and insights on legacies of violence, though I sometimes got lost in the chronology of the narrative.

Aphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista Matter

I treat my greatest loves like seeds. When I’m ready, I put them down and I seldom look back at what has grown behind me. I keep my eyes trained ahead. There is always more ground to cover.

Short Description: A collection of short poems covering the author’s insights on trauma, sexuality, gender, violence, and more.

Critic Quote: “There was something so unique about this collection and I love that the author included her illustrations and art work. She is incredibly talented and I think she has a lot of important things to say. I am confident that a lot of readers will feel heard by Mateer’s poetry and I found them to be extremely accessible.” –Kristin Kraves Books

My Verdict: The simplistic writing just didn’t do it for me.

Full Review Here

Under Red Skies by Karoline Kan

I was more certain than ever that being poor was the most unfortunate thing in the world.

Short Description: The first English-language memoir by a Chinese Millennial, Under Red Skies documents Kan’s adolescence and career in 1980s China.

Critic Quote: “Kan—a former New York Times writer, and currently an editor at China Dialogue—is a clear and straightforward writer, walking readers through her own life and that of her family.” –Asian Review of Books

My Verdict: A fascinating memoir that, despite its direct, simplistic writing style, provides an engaging in-depth view of growing up in China from the perspective of a Chinese millennial.

The Roommate by Rosie Danan

Isn’t that what all of us want deep down? Someone to hold us at the end of the line?

Short Description: Anxious socialite Clare Wheaton’s world shifts when she moves to Los Angeles to follow a childhood love, only to have him ditch her last minute, leaving her with a handsome, mysterious roommate whose life quickly becomes entangled with her own.

Critic Quote: “A deliciously fresh romance with strong characters and feminist themes.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: Very sweet and witty. I loved the main duo – though I did wish there was more of an explanation of the inevitable fallout with Clare’s family at the book’s conclusion (also, as someone who is terrified of driving, the driving sequence really did not appeal to me, lol). 

Hunger by Roxane Gay

There is an anxiety in being yourself, though. There is the haunting question of “What if?” always lingering. What if who I am will never be enough? What if I will never be right enough for someone?

Short Description: Professor and writer Roxane Gay recounts the story of her body, covering the intersection of gender, race, poverty, and fat phobia.

Critic Quote: “This memoir of suffering and survival subtly questions not just how we judge ‘fat’, but how we dare to judge at all.” –The Guardian

My Verdict: This is the second time I’ve read this memoir and it still hits just as hard. An outstanding narrative I’d recommend to all.

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card

Norma tried to warn them, to put fear in them, because it was clear that they had none. Norma would say what her mother told her: fear is what keeps little girls alive. What about blood? they asked Norma.

Short Description: A compact, generational family epic beginning with a Jamaican man who changes his identity, altering the lives of his children and the ghosts surrounding them.

Critic Quote: “Card is a natural storyteller. Whole family histories are compressed into two pages, stories building upon stories like strata of earth.” –The Washington Post

My Verdict: Intense, rich writing with a complicated plot that can be difficult to follow. Consider your own reading tastes before picking up.

Full Review Here

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

The default assumption tends to be that it is politically important to designate everyone as beautiful, that it is a meaningful project to make sure that everyone can become, and feel, increasingly beautiful. We have hardly tried to imagine what it might look like if our culture could do the opposite—de-escalate the situation, make beauty matter less.

Short Description: A collection of essays on race, sexuality, feminism, internet, and “hustle culture” written by prolific essayist Jia Tolentino.

Critic Quote: “And [Tolentino’s] work is marked by that environment – in which you must be swift, bold and flexible, playful but persuasive, willing to perform yourself close-up and ready to be attacked for it, constantly aware of how you’re seen, competing for elusive attention, preparing for immediate counterargument. It would be easy to call this a context in which reflection, robbed of the requisite time and space, simply can’t exist, but Tolentino is one of several examples to the contrary; she’s learned to reflect differently, and part of what her pieces reveal is that harsh, seductive, disorienting environment itself, as bleak and fragmented as it is glossy..” –The Guardian

My Verdict: I unfortunately found Tolentino’s writing superfluous and often predictable. While there were definitely excerpts I enjoyed, I can’t say I’ll be picking up her future works.

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Tonight, I’ll tell the young women my story. They’ll hear me, take my words, and work them into their souls.

Short Description: A historical fiction focusing on the incredible live of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a woman born into slavery who later rose to freedom and riches through her business savvy, tenacity, and bravery.

Critic Quote: “Richly detailed, vividly depicted, and sweeping in scope, Island Queen is historical fiction at its absolute finest. A stunning must-read!” –Author Chanel Cleeton

My Verdict: Engaging, visual writing with an interesting story, even if it runs a bit long.

Full Review Here

Fairest by Meredith Talusan

I came to understand that what I wanted was to be seen as my complete self — my gender, my race, my history — without being judged because of it. I wanted people close to me to see an albino person who had learned how to look and act white so the world would more readily accept her, and understand how that had been part of her survival. 

Short Description: The memoir of an albino Filipino transgender writer and her coming of age.

Critic Quote: “Ultimately, Fairest rejects the prescriptive qualities of the gender/sex system and functions as a rallying cry for whiteness to be rethought of as a blank canvas.” –LA Review of Books

My Verdict: I unfortunately did not enjoy this memoir. Personally, I felt like there was a surprising lack of introspection from the author, which is a pretty critical element to a memoir.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Solving a problem for which you know there’s an answer is like climbing a mountain with a guide, along a trail someone else has laid. In mathematics, the truth is somewhere out there in a place no one knows, beyond all the beaten paths. And it’s not always at the top of the mountain. It might be in a crack on the smoothest cliff or somewhere deep in the valley.

Short Description: A housekeeper comes to work for a math professor whose memory only lasts eighty minutes at a time.

Critic Quote: “The book as a whole is an exercise in delicate understatement, of the careful arrangement of featherlight materials into a surprisingly strong structure.” –The Guardian

My Verdict: Calm, pensive, and simple, but full of emotion and depth. A quick read worth picking up.

Go With the Flow by Lily Williams

I have three best friends who mean the world to me. With them at my side, I’ve spent the entire school year focusing on making a difference and changing people’s minds about periods.

Short Description: Four high school best friends join together to confront stigma, discrimination, and fears of menstruation.

Critic Quote: “There’s so much to love about the honest, loving friendships in this graphic novel, and the realistic, vulnerable ways conversations about menstruation fit into their lives. Every period is different, and Go with the Flow shows both the physical and financial costs, and empowers women to stand up together to normalize a biological function.” –Common Sense Media

My Verdict: Incredibly sweet and well-structured. I wish I had this book in middle school.

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Hold it gently, this hungry beast that is your heart.

Short Description: A lush, emotions tale of two estranged two and their otherworldly mother who wishes to see them reconnect.

Critic Quote: “One of the most compelling elements of Butter Honey Pig Bread is the way that it explores trauma. Ekwuyasi does not tie pain up in a bow and endeavour to solve it through the use of cloying cliches. Instead, her work honours its thorny reality. As the book comes to an end, the weight of its impact lingers. Butter Honey Pig Bread is more than a book — it’s an experience.” –Hamilton Review of Books

My Verdict: Absolutely outstanding. Beautiful writing, fluid pacing and structure, a heart-breaking story filled with so much light.

Full Review Here

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

You will never remember the great if you do not remember the small.

Short Description: A fantastical tale of the legacy of a mysterious queen, recounted by an old woman to a wandering cleric.

Critic Quote: “Along with her fine ear for musical sentences, Vo has a gift for this kind of doled-out wisdom. It goes hand in hand with her gift for storytelling, the around-the-fire type. The layers of narration in this novella give us the sense that we are getting a long-lost true tale, passed from person to person, rather than a history coldly recorded by the victors.” –Locus Mag

My Verdict:  Beautiful writing and a compact story (that I had difficulty following at times). I’d still highly recommend this for those seeking a unique fantasy tale.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

She wanted that satisfaction. She wanted it for herself wanted it like a half-starved alley-rat watching that table through a window on a bellyaching night. She didn’t know how to get it—but she had a feeling that if she stuck with the Librarians for long enough, she might be able to figure it out. How to feast instead of starving.

How to like the person who she was instead of fighting it.

Short Description: In a western, post-apocalyptic United States, a young woman joins a group of Librarians to find a kind of freedom.

Critic Quote: “Gailey wears their heart and viewpoint on their sleeve, and Upright Women Wanted is that much better for it. Couched in tart language, hard-bitten imagery, and pulp-Western punch, the novella benefits from its brevity. There’s not a word or scene wasted, and the world-building hints at the enormity of America’s imagined collapse without overdoing it..” –NPR

My Verdict: A really fun and exciting post-apocalyptic western! Tight structure, enjoyable pacing, with visually rich descriptions.

Review: Ahmad Tea London Camomile Honey & Vanilla Tea

A harmonious blend of soothing camomile expertly crafted with the natural warmth and gentle sweetness of honey and vanilla. This wonderful herbal infusion includes sweet notes, perfect for unwinding in the evening or as a relaxing and sweet treat in the afternoon.

Ahmad Tea

No. This sweet herbal tea sounded promising, but at first sip, I knew I had made a mistake. The honey and vanilla flavors are definitely present, but they overwhelm the senses with a sickly sweet tone, devoid of any further complexity. Almost like a fruit gone bad or a cough medicine trying too hard to be kid-friendly, this tea failed in offering the subtle sweetness I was expecting from an “herbal blend.” I really can’t pick up on any other ingredients in this tea, so perhaps there’s a balancing issue in its formulation. Regardless, I would skip this tea if I were you.

Ingredients

Camomile, natural flavoring, liquorice root, fennel, vanilla, honey

Review: Nola Skinsentials Hyaluronic Aloe Cleanser

The search for a mild face wash for dry skin ends here.

Nola Skinsentials

I wasn’t sure what to expect, performance-wise, for Nola skinsentials’ Hyaluronic Aloe cleanser. Though the ingredients looked appealing, I questioned whether such a gentle cleanser could adequately clean my face of oil and dirt while still leaving me moisturized and refreshed. I’m pleased to say that this cleanser fulfilled this request (though at a pricey $25, I would have been upset if it did not). The bottle itself contains a decent amount of product – enough to last you a couple months, and the substance is thick and creamy, easily spread across the face. Washing the product off is quick and easy, and your face will feel clean – but not dry – afterward.

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Aqua. Aloe Barbadensis. Cocos Nucifera Milk. Melaleuca Oil. Cucumis Sativus. Anthemis Nobilis. Hyaluronic Acid. Camellia Sinensis. Xanthan Gum. Arame Algae Extract. Vitis Vinifera. Matricaria Chamomilla. C. Betaine. Lavender Extract. Citrus Sinensis. Camellia Sinensis. Mangifera Indica. Leuconostoc Radish Root Ferment Filtrate. Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate.

Significant Pros

  • Aloe Barbadensis (anti-inflammatory, moisturizing)
  • Cucumis Sativus (anti-inflammatory, anti-aging)
  • Hyalouronic Acid (hydrating)
  • Camellia Sinensis (calming, anti-inflammatory, hydrating, anti-aging)
  • Arame Algae Extract (hydrating, anti-oxidant)
  • Matricaria Chamomilla (calming, moisturizing, anti-inflammatory)
  • Betaine (calming, hydrating, anti-aging)

Significant Cons

  • Lavender Extract (skin irritant)
  • Citrus Sinensis (skin irritant)

The Takeaway

I really enjoyed this cleanser! Since this is a wash-off product, I wouldn’t be too concerned over the Significant Cons unless you have an allergy. Overall, this is a simple, effective cleanser perfect for those with dry or dehydrated skin (especially during the winter). I’d definitely recommend this product to others.