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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.

The Autumn Bundle

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness–that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling

Persuasion, Jane Austen

It’s finally sweater weather! Below I’ve listed some autumn season suggestions as we head into the windy, chilly, cozy, spooky months!

Changing Leaves (And Mindsets)

Spooky Shenanigans

  • Book: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
    • A classic spooky tale that can be followed with watching the movie adaptation.
  • Tea: Adagio Pumpkin Potion
    • A unique autumnal tea to drink during the chillier days.
  • Skincare: Algenist Genius Collagen Calming Relief
    • A thick cream to lock down moisture as we head into winter. Though it’s definitely on the pricer side, its power is in its ingredients and ability to address a variety of skin concerns.

Falling Into Old Habits

  • Book: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
    • A moving tale of an Indian Muslim family and the events leading up to one of their daughter’s marriages and their son’s disappearance.
  • Tea: Adagio Black Dragon Pearls
    • A smooth black tea for when you’re looking for something reliable and simple.
  • Skincare: COSRX Acne Healing Patches
    • The classic COSRX Acne Healing acnes may be my favorite pimple patches so far (though they do slip and slide a lot) and work well for those who just want to simplify their acne routine, get up, and go!

Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

I try to imagine how Gifford Place must have looked to the people who lived here back then. Big-ass trees and thick underbrush. Darkness unbroken by streetlights. And in that darkness, the sudden arrival of men who’d decided the land was theirs. . .

When No One is Watching

Summary and Thoughts

The gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

Goodreads

Wow – this was one ambitious book. In Cole’s thriller novel, When No One is Watching, she takes on the horrors of systemic racism in gentrification and provides an incredible historical background to Brooklyn – from colonization to the notorious Opioid Crisis – and threads it into an enthralling mystery that makes history exhilarating to consume. Though I found the pacing a bit slow in the beginning, overall, this was a delight to read, with the last 30% of the book being absolutely shocking. I personally saw the merit in such an extreme ending, as it set in stone the themes and messages the book had set up prior, though I can understand if for others, there was too big of a shift in action to be believable.

That being said, while the messages and history in the book are commendable, I found the characters only serviceable in their memorability — really just existing to keep the themes and action moving. I would have enjoyed seeing Sydney on one of her better days, or at least more of her memories, in order to get to know her better, as well as more on Theo’s past. All side characters felt pretty flat, and while this wasn’t necessarily distracting, I do think more could have been done to make them more memorable, especially in relation to the book’s themes. Overall, though I feel privileged to have read such a unique tale, there were still some areas in the writing that needed some work. If you’re somewhat familiar with gentrification in New York then this will be a read that clicks with you instantly, however, if not, I’m not sure how much context will need to be explained in order to understand all the references and the severity of the issue. Still, I’d definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in reading a social thriller/mystery.

P.S. The way Cole writes white people’s dialogue . . . seriously sent a shiver up my spine, lol! Always the scariest parts of the book.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating

3.7/5

Review: Peak and Valley Balance My Stress Adaptogen Blend

Balance My Stress® uses adaptogens to help protect against stress, and medicinal mushroom extracts and herbs to decrease fatigue, protect the immune system and improve blood flow. This adaptogenic blend of reishi mushroom extract, eleuthero root, ashwagandha, and cocoa is carefully crafted to promote overall well being.

Peak and Valley

Peak and Valley is a wellness company focused on making drink mixes filled with healthy adaptogens to promote well-being in a variety of ways – and in this case, stress management. Though there are a lot of adaptogen blends out there to try, I started with this one for a variety of reasons: the company is lead and owned by a black woman scientist, the data she provided showing the efficacy of adaptogens was convincing, the price/amount ratio seemed reasonable ($35 for about a month’s worth of product), a plethora of positive reviews, and lastly, the simplicity of the ingredient list since this is my first time using adaptogens and I wanted to make sure that if I had an allergic reaction, I could narrow down what may have caused it. Luckily, no such reaction occurred.

This adaptogen blend contains ashwaganda (an ingredient that works well for me), eleuthro root, and reishi mushroom to help with stress, fatigue, and focus in that order, mixed with cocoa powder to give a gritty, semi-hot chocolate taste. Each serving is about one tablespoon, which is larger than you’d think when mixed, and has a somewhat bitter, crumbly taste even when mixed. I found this blend most tolerable when I combined it with David’s Tea Vanilla Matcha, almond milk, and honey (equally good cold and hot). Though I don’t often take my tea (or anything for that matter) with added sugar, I highly advise adding at least honey to your drink if you decide to try this mix. To put it frankly . . . it does not taste good at all, haha.

Despite the taste, I finished the entire 8 oz container, hoping that consistent sipping would allow me access to its de-stressing results. Alas, I believe the concentration of ingredients was too low for me, and I didn’t notice any difference in my stress after completing it.

For others, I’d still recommend giving this brand a try, especially if you are new to adaptogens and are looking for a simple ingredient list (all the positives I listed earlier still apply). Just because this didn’t work for me, doesn’t me it can’t work for you. In any case, before sampling this, please read Peak and Valley‘s FAQ for details on usage depending on your current conditions/allergies.

Ingredients

Balance My Stress Propriety Blend, Organic Cocoa Powder, Organic Reishi Mushroom Extract, Eleuthro Root Powder, Ashwaganda Root Extract

Review: The Body Shop Japanese Matcha Tea Face Mask

Our Japanese Matcha Tea Pollution Clearing Mask liberates your face of everyday impurities in the most relaxing way it knows how.

The Body Shop

I bought this energizing face mask a while ago, before my knowledge of skincare was as honed as it is now. Originally, I wanted to purchase a mask just to support The Body Shop, considering the company’s noteworthy production ethics, and with my living in the city, I thought the Japanese Matcha Tea Pollution Clearing Mask was the way to go. The mask itself has a creamy texture, coated in tiny beads that ease out once spread across the skin. Thick and of a jam consistency, the mask stays on without a problem, the tingling sensation quick to kick in. Washing it off is simple and mess-free, but for me, I found the mask a bit too sensitizing for repeat use.

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Aqua, Kaolin, Propanediol, Olea Europaea Fruit Oil, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Luffa Cylindrica Fruit, Butyrospermum Parkii Butter, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Phenoxyethanol, Parfum, Caprylyl Glycol, Polysorbate 60, Sodium Polyacrylate, Prunus Armeniaca Seed Powder, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder, Tocopherol, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Taraxacum Officinale Rhizome/Root Extract, Menthol, Sodium Hydroxide, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Limonene, Citric Acid, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Caramel, CI 19140, CI 42090.

Significant Pros

  • Kaolin (calming)
  • Luffa Cylindrica Fruit (antioxidant)
  • Propanediol (moisturizing)
  • Glycerin (moisturizing)
  • Butyrospermum Parkii Butter (moisturizing)

Significant Cons

  • Parfum (skin irritant)
  • Limonene (skin irritant)
  • Citric Acid (skin irritant)

The Takeaway

Though there are certainly some commendable aspects about this mask, I’m not convinced the price warrants the pay out, especially considering the cons (though it should be noted that all cons are listed after Phenoxyethanol, so this may not be sensitizing for those without sensitive skin). Additionally, I’m wary with any mask that feels like it has beads in it, worried it may cause micro-tears in the skin. As far as I’m concerned, I would advise against purchasing this product.

Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

She felt ambushed; she thought they had planned to scold her together. She wondered if they did this with Catalina. She would go into the dining room and offer a suggestion—about the food, the décor, the routine—and they would politely, delicately silence her.

Mexican Gothic

Summary and Thoughts

After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find – her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. 

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom. 

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. 

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. 

Goodreads

Mexican Gothic is a book that starts out slow . . . stays a bit slow . . . and then hits you over the head with a sledgehammer, its themes and action potent within the last 30% of the book. I had previously read Moreno-Garcia’s novel Gods of Jade and Shadow and enjoyed it immensely, despite my criticisms on its sometimes over-indulgent (though beautifully written) descriptions. That same criticism appears in this book as well, however, because the novel takes place almost entirely within the gothic mansion of High Place as oppose to the constant traveling and encounters in Gods of Jade and Shadow, there really is less to focus on or hope for as the book progresses. I also, regrettably, did not feel super creeped out within the first 2/3 of the book, unlike many other reviewers I follow, so I only felt horrified towards the end. That’s not to say that there wasn’t any important information within the first two thirds of the book, Moreno-Garcia weaves an immaculate view on the evils of eugenics, colonization, and misogyny through her characters and their histories without being too blunt, and this effortless inclusion was the highlight of the book.

The characters’ personalities were fine . . . I liked Noemí well enough, though I found her romance unnecessary and would have preferred a strong friendship instead. The other characters moreso served a thematic duty rather than one that engages the reader in an emotional connection. In the end, I can’t rate this book more than a 3.5, for while the ending was magnificent in its reveal (even if a bit over the top in believability), it was only then that I felt a sense of immediacy in reading. For others, I’d recommend reading Moreno-Garcia’s first book before this, and then decide if you like her style of writing enough to pick this up as well.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating

3.5/5

Review: Bittersweet Farm Immune Support Tea

Drink a small cup, daily, to give your immune system a lift! 

Bittersweet Farm Tea

A minty, somewhat spicy tea, this is a unique blend of flavors, all potent and coalescing in interesting, complementary ways. It should be noted that this blend takes a while to steep in comparison to other brands (perhaps around 10-20 minutes), but the flavor payoff is quite impressive. In all honesty, I’m not sure what echinacea, rose hips, and holy basil taste like isolated, so I can’t speak to their flavors, but the ginger, cardamom, mint, and lemongrass pop in this mixture – each ingredient making itself boldly known without overwhelming the taste buds. As a blend made to assist the immune system, I’m glad to say that it’s enjoyable to drink – a worry I had considering I’m often not a fan of herbal teas. Should you ever wish to try a wellness-oriented tea blend, this may be a good place to start flavor-wise (for actual effects . . . that’s harder to tell).

Ingredients

Echinacea, holy basil, lemongrass, mint, rose hips, ginger root, and cardamom

Review: COSRX Propolis Vitamin C Serum

Meticulously formulated with 23% pure vitamin C and propolis to boost radiance and leave skin plump and youthful.

COSRX

I was absolutely ecstatic when COSRX announced its new Vitamin C Serum. I’ve been a long time fan of its Propolis serum, and to see COSRX mix it with a high concentration Vitamin C is a dream combination – a product that does it all with minimal ingredients, resulting in a high-powered serum. Though the bottle is small, it will easily last you at least 2 months (which is the recommended use time), the product itself a thin, watery serum that easily dribbles down the skin (and is easily absorbed by it too). COSRX boasts that this serum can give you results within 2 weeks, and I’m glad to say that this serum has been instrumental in addressing my hyper pigmentation following an onslaught of hormonal acne. Reasonably priced ($26-29 dollars, but differs if you purchase more than one at a time, which I did), this serum is a clear winner.

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Ascorbic Acid, Propolis Extract, Niacinamide, Aronia Melanocarpa Exract, Butylene Glycol, Cassia Obstusifolia Seed Extract, Niacinamide, 1,2-Hexanediol, Sodium Lactate, Hippophae Phamnoides Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Allantoin

Significant Pros

  • Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C, brightening)
  • Propolis Extract (anti-bacterial, acne-fighting, anti-fungal, moisturizing)
  • Aronia Melanocarpa Exract (antioxidant)
  • Cassia Obstusifolia Seed Extract (antioxidant)
  • Butylene Glycol (moisturizing)
  • Niacinamide (brightening, fight hyper pigmentation)
  • Hippophae Phamnoides Extract (antioxidant)
  • Allantoin (calming)

Significant Cons

  • Nothing of note

The Takeaway

Wow, this is a wonderful serum and I can see it working particularly well for sensitive and acne-prone skin. This serum is concentrated on wonderful ingredients that work together to fight hyper pigmentation, moisturize, combat free radicals and sun damage, and prevent acne. The real results are there too, which is a game-changer for those looking to simplify their skincare routine. If you’re looking for a reasonably-priced Vitamin C that is adaptable to a variety of skincare needs and conditions, I highly recommend this product!

September Reads

During September I participated in Latinx-athon and the Bratz-readathon (Team Yasmin!) and read a variety of books to fulfill those challenges, sprinkling in some poetry and history in-between. Overall, I’m pleased with the reads of the month, especially in regards to the balancing of heavy and light reading. In October I’ll be reading some more Hispanic and Latinx reads alongside some spooky books (I’ll be trying my hand at Santreads’ readathon and The Artisan Geek’s readathon as well)!.

All photos courtesy of Goodreads

A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez

It is in those moments that I doubt myself, that I wonder if arranging words on a computer screen and sharing them with others makes any difference, if that is the best I can do with my own hands. It will take years to understand that writing makes everything else possible. Writing is how I learn to love my father and where I come from. Writing is how I leave him and also how I take him with me.

Short Description: Writer Daisy Hernandez recounts the lessons and memories she experienced during her childhood living in New York City as the queer Cuban-Columbian daughter of an immigrant family. 

Critic Quote: “Personal storytelling at its most authentic and heartfelt.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict:A short but wonderfully written memoir. Though it took a bit of time to get into at first, for the most part this book read quickly and effortlessly, the structure of the essays well-formed, flowing into each other marvelously. I really felt as though I’d been offered a true, intimate look at the author’s adolescence.

Full Review HERE

The Henna Wars by Adina Jaigirdar

It’s funny that Flávia and I are from such different parts of the world but our parents have the same philosophy. They shifted us halfway across the world, risking our culture, putting us in the middle of two nations and giving us an identity crisis, all because they believe it gives us more opportunities. It’s strange to think about how much our parents really sacrifice for us. But then, I’m stuck on the fact that Ammu and Abbu can leave their entire world behind, yet they can’t pause for a moment and consider who I am. How can they sacrifice everything for me and Priti, but they can’t sacrifice their closed view of sexuality to accept me as I am?

Short Description: Nishat is excited to display her Henna skills and Bangladeshi culture during her school’s business competition, but when her competition appropriates her culture by putting forth the same idea, Nishat must wrestle with her anger as well as her growing romantic feelings for her competition. 

Critic Quote: “Each conflict is resolved authentically and naturally, moving the story along at the perfect speed. The scenes between Flávia and Nishat simmer, and their mesmerizing relationship unfolds with just the right amount of complexity. Most satisfyingly, each character gets the ending she deserves..” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: What a sweet, beautiful book! I usually don’t read contemporary YA these days, but this book was truly a gem – it covered such heart wrenching topics while maintaining an atmosphere of hope and optimism. The characters are all so wonderful and full of various complexities, and I really enjoyed seeing Nishat’s romance blossom. 

Body of Render by Felicia Zamora

Rise To all my brothers & sisters of color, Rise; to my gay, trans, queer soulmates, Rise; to all my nasty women, Rise; to all who experience sexual assault, Rise; to the immigrants who make this nation great, Rise; alone is not us; Rise; degradation not our destiny; Rise; hateful slander in tear at our children’s ears, tear our hearts, remains feeble to our strength

Short Description: A collection of deeply sonic poetry following the election of Donald Trump and the rise of patriarchal white supremacy.

Critic Quote: “In this luminous, multifaceted collection, Zamora continues her surgical and experimental relationship with form and language, like in her previous work; however, in “Body of Render” she also debunks the idea of an America for all, an idea she “no longer apologizes for,” in preference for a more democratized, diverse form of social justice. Zamora is a singular voice in both Latinx and American letters: she is the future and present of American poetry. This book deserves to win awards. It is Zamora’s finest collection, which is saying a lot.” –Green Mountains Review

My Verdict: It’s obvious Zamora has spent time cultivating and writing these pieces, however, they just weren’t effective for me.

Reenactments by Hai-Dang Phan

the crack of a bat sent a tiny moon

into orbit,

…and you had no team, you did not know

whom to root for, home or away.

Short Description: A unique collection of poetry documenting Phan’s memories and attempts with healing following the Vietnam War. 

Critic Quote: “Phan’s debut unflinchingly presents the trauma inherited through cultural memory as a kind of endless war reenactment. In these poems, even the most mundane setting is haunted by living ghosts.” –Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: A mixed bag for me, but I’m still glad to have read this!

The Write Escape by Charish Reid

He wanted her, badly, but that want warred with an insistent message: People leave, people leave, people leave.

Short Description: When she finds out her fiancé is cheating on her days before their wedding, a heartbroken Antonia spends her honeymoon alone in the Irish countryside . . . until, of course, a handsome local literature professor joins her.

Critic Quote: The Write Escape made me feel like I was vacationing with Antonia and Aiden as they sensually explored the countryside: the smell of peat fire; the roughness of a nubby sweater; windy storms outside a warm cottage; the sounds of a small town pub where old men sing shanties. Their journey to become more confident versions of themselves was mostly satisfying, and involved surprisingly thoughtful discussions about American and Irish books and music. This was a great escapist read with a simplistic villain, but nuanced main characters.” –Smart Bitches Trashy Books

My Verdict: Some iffy pacing and a leading man I had mixed feelings for (some things he did I’m still a bit upset about), but overall a fun, adorable read. I appreciated the dialogue as well as Antonia’s character and I’ll definitely be on the look out for other books by Reid.

Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World by Kumari Jayawardena

Many people in the Third World are not aware that their countries have a history of active feminism, or of early movements for women’s emancipation, that were supported both by women and men reformers.

Short Description: A series of short histories on the coinciding rise of nationalism during pre and post-colonial Middle-eastern and Asian countries (and Egypt) and how anti-imperialist and feminist revolutions intertwined during these time periods. 

Critic Quote: “More than three decades after it first came out, the book remains the best introduction to the history of women’s movements in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. It takes us into the lives and ideas of a host of women and men who sought reform and revolutionary transformation. Their stories leap from the page.” –The Guardian

My Verdict: Literally one of my favorite books on global feminisms ever . . . it took me over a year to read but only because it’s so dense with valuable information. I highly encourage anyone interested in learning more about feminism in general to read this deeply informative text. Jayawardena’s language may not be flowery, but it’s easy to follow and efficient in relaying complex histories and politics.

A Song of Wraith and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

Even when my own mind is threatening to tear me apart, I fight. I struggle and I fail and I still fight, even when it seems pointless. That’s what you don’t understand about being human, and that’s why you can’t beat me.

Short Description: A poor immigrant boy and daring princess make deals with powerful supernatural forces to be reunited with the people they love at the cost of their lives and possibly their kingdom. 

Critic Quote: “High fantasy, epic worlds, spirits, magic, love, and murder—you couldn’t ask for a more entertaining novel. ” –The Children’s Book Review

My Verdict: It was okay! 3 stars mainly because it wasn’t my jam, but I’m sure it will be someone else’s. Brown really goes all out on world-building and mythology in this fantasy — that was this book’s greatest strength. Still, this was a very slow book and I never felt a giant push to finish it. I found it hard to care for any of the characters (I also found some of the plot twists to be a bit obvious). For this reason, though I’m happy this book is getting attention and praise, I, personally, won’t be finishing the series. 

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

It’s easy to become anything you wish . . . so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.

Short Description: A short comic detailing three interconnected stories of the mythical Monkey King, the misadventures of a racist Chinese caricature, and a young Chinese boy attempting to fit in his predominantly white school.

Critic Quote: “This story’s clear, concise lines and expert coloring are deceptively simple yet expressive. Even when Yang slips in an occasional Chinese ideogram or myth, the sentiments he’s depicting need no translation. Yang accomplishes the remarkable feat of practicing what he preaches with this book: accept who you are and you’ll already have reached out to others. .” –Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: Really enjoyed reading this! I would have preferred a longer story though (to really expand on Jin’s life), which could have helped in easing the reader into the fantastical twist towards the end.

Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods by Tishani Doshi

Tell me: was it necessary to bite that girl 

in school when all she was being 

is friendly? And why in life’s tough 

moments did I need to just lie down? 

What does that say about decency? 

Short Description: A poetry book featured visually rich mediations on women. 

Critic Quote: “ It’s impossible not to cheer the boldness and liberation enacted by much of this book, and to be stirred by its bravery. To paraphrase one interviewer, Doshi is writing the anthems of her generation.” –The Guardian

My Verdict: Some beautiful pieces in here, even if the entire collection isn’t my favorite. Definitely recommend for those looking for something new!

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Papi was a man split in two, playing a game against himself. But the problem with that is that in order to win, you also always lose.

Short Description: Two half-sisters become aware of each others’ existence when they receive news of the death of their father during a plane crash, spurring both into complicated stages of grief and a desire to meet each other. 

Critic Quote: “Heartfelt and raw, Acevedo’s verse is deft at sifting through the complicated emotions that arise in the wake of great loss, and particularly poignant in those moments when it is not afraid to linger on the characters’ imperfections. A powerful and vibrant work that will leave you thinking long after you’ve put it down.” –Latino Book Review

My Verdict: I really enjoyed this story and it may be my favorite from Acedevo yet. She artfully expresses the complicated grief of these girls through precise word choices in her poetry, creating a deeply moving piece. This being said, like many others, I often found Yahaira and Camino’s voices somewhat similar and wished to know other facets of the girls’ lives to better know their distinct characters. 

Full Review HERE

By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Visit and get whatever it is you need. But then, after that, you come back. You come back here and plant your roots in this ground as deep as they’ll go.

Short Description: A college freshman must reconcile with leaving his home and his bee aviary while pursuing an old love and fighting against gentrification. 

Critic Quote: “Heart-wrenchingly honest, fans of Brandy Colbert and Nicola Yoon will anticipate this poignant reflection on what it means to choose yourself.” –YA Book Central

My Verdict: Not a bad book, just not my jam. Consider your own tastes before picking up this YA Contemporary novel.

Full Review HERE

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

I go to them now as though it was always meant to be, as though the very day that my mother birthed me, she had chosen me to live life eternal, among the children of the deep blue sea, those who have escaped the chains of slavery to form a world beneath the heavens and the blood-drenched earth where you live.

Short Description: A collection of loosely connected stories centered on Haitian women through history in Haiti and the USA.

Critic Quote: “As we become familiar with Danticat’s characters, moved and pained by the seemingly increasing distance between their hopes and their lived reality, we are forced to realize that it is the actions of other humans that have created such painful experiences.  Not all of Danticat’s characters survive; in fact, many do not.  But what continues to remain is the spirit of hope, the determination to hold on to what it really means to be Haitian, even after one has escaped to the United States.” –Teaching Latin America Through Literature

My Verdict: An excellent collection of short stories – each was was powerful and memorable in their own right. I will be eagerly reading more of Danticat’s writing in the future and highly recommend this book to others.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

She’d pressed all her fantasies like dried flowers in books, carefully hidden where neither Martín nor Cirilo would see them. Rarely, late at night, had she allowed herself to contemplate them. If she’d declared them in a loud voice Casiopea would have let them take root inside her, and she could not have that. Instead, she polished them in secret, precious bits that they were, but bits and not wholes.

Short Description: A poor, practical young woman accidentally frees a powerful Mayan deity and must join him on a mythical quest through 1920s Mexico to reclaim his throne in the underworld. 

Critic Quote: Gods of Jade and Shadow does not offer easy or simple answers. It dazzles, instead, showing the reader a world that seems entirely inevitable, a Mexico of the 1920s that would naturally be infused with Precolumbian magic — a magic which evolves and changes with colonization and modernity, and is as current, vital, and strange as any more expected mythological underpinning for a story about figuring out how to be a woman, a free spirit, and an ethical person in a rapidly changing world. It is effervescent and surprising.” –NPR

My Verdict: Though I sometimes felt the amount of description weighed down the novel a bit, overall this was a wonderfully told story – lush, romantic, and (especially the final third of the novel) exciting. I loved how Mayan mythology was centered and the strength of Casiopea. A great, memorable tale.

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

She forced herself to stare back at him, forced her heart to beat at a steady pace, unaffected by the dark glitter of his eyes. He had no impact on her. He was the kind of man who could draw a response from a rock—but then, Violet was colder than rock. She had to be.

Short Description: Sebastian is a renowned rake and scientist within regency England, however, he’s secretly sourcing all his ideas from his childhood friend, the stone-cold widowed Violet. When he refuses to spread her ideas any longer, Violet must decide if she is ready to come public with her scientific prowess and ready to admit her feelings for Sebastian.

Critic Quote: The Countess Conspiracy is a beautifully constructed love story with vivid language and memorable characters which explores themes of family, women’s roles in society and the importance and validity of science.” –Smart Bitches Trashy Books

My Verdict: Some iffy pacing and unbelievable directness in characters’ emotional expressions – but overall a lovely read with character complexity.

Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura

It’s sad, but in society, there are lots of people who judge others based on their appearance. 

Short Description: Young adult Tsukimi finds a nerdy community with her fellow “nuns” in Tokyo, only to have her idyllic routine shaken up with the forceful introduction of a mysterious stylish girl who changes the course of her life forever.

Critic Quote: “At its heart, Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime) celebrates the power of not fitting in and the joy of being yourself.” –Women Write About Comics

My Verdict: I loved the anime and this manga is equally worthy of praise. The art, characters, and pacing is excellent and the storyline is quite unique.

Umami by Laia Jufresa

Nobody warns you aobut this, but the dead, or at least some of them, take customs, decades, whole neighborhoods with them. Things you thought you shared but which turn out to be theirs. 

Short Description: A collection of vignettes following the grieving residents of a small apartment complex in Mexico.

Critic Quote: “Jufresa and Hughes offer a version [of grief] that is complex without weight, a saffron purée. Dynamic and delicate, Umami draws our attention without pretense.” –The Rumpus

My Verdict: A fantastic look at grief through numerous perspectives (all of which are well structured, in my opinion), though I did get a bit bored halfway through due to some repetitiveness. It’s short though, so I’d still recommend it!

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The two of us back then, mother and daughter, we were ourselves an experiment. The question was, and has remained: Are we going to be okay?

Short Description: The story of a young Ghanian neuroscientist grieving the loss of her brother, the depression of her mother, and her complicated feelings on religion.

Critic Quote: “This is a quiet, ruminative story, proceeding through its ideas as carefully and deliberately as cautious Gifty proceeds when she makes her way through an experiment. Its intensity crept up on me slowly . . .” –VOX

My Verdict: Well-written, but simply not for me. If mediations on religion and science sound interesting to you then perhaps pick this one up!

Review: OSULLOC Jeju Pure Green Tea

Green tea made of only baby tea leaves that are slightly steamed and roasted for gentle and clean flavor. Enjoy the flavor and scent of Jeju tea field at an affordable price.

OSULLOC

An oaky autumnal flavor, OSULLOC’S Jeju Green tea is a unique addition to any green tea lover’s rolodex. It’s a smooth, simple blend, with nothing but the rich, deep taste of OSOLLUC’S unique woodsy leaves. On its own, it’s fairly enjoyable but not particularly memorable, and would pair well with a variety of dishes, especially as we head into the fall season. Still, I would recommend adding your own spices or mixing it with other drinks if you prefer a more complex flavor. Personally, I’ve enjoyed other green teas more, so I probably won’t be picked this up again, but I’m glad to have tasted it and wouldn’t mind if others tried it out for themselves as well.

Ingredients

Green Tea

Review: I’M FROM Mugwort Essence

The I’m From Mugwort Essence is an essence to calm and soothe irritated skin. Consisting of a main ingredient, Mugwort, the soft, thin and fluid texture quickly cleanse and detox sensitive skin. As a Korean natural herb, the mugwort has been widely known for treatments and detoxing effect. This is effective for treating acne, troubled, irritated skin.

I’m From (also found on Wishtrend)

The I’m From Mugwort Essence is a simple but popular product of which I’ve consistently heard good news. Though it’s a bit pricey (currently $30 on Amazon), I’m glad I took the plunge. The casing is a sleek, environmentally friendly glass bottle with a TON of essence inside – you are absolutely getting a great bang for your buck. I could easily see this essence lasting me all through the fall AND winter, even after I’ve used it for almost the entirety of summer. The essence itself is thin and watery, dripping straight down your face once applied. It dries quite quickly though, so there’s no mess! Because mugwort is a calming ingredient, there was no irritation when I applied it, and over the summer I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my skin as it’s been especially helpful in preventing acne from developing.

Ingredients Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Artemisia Princeps Extract (Mugwort)

Since there’s only one ingredient, here are some some interesting facts to keep in mind when applying mugwort!

  • Mugwort has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties making it great for those suffering from inflammatory and fungal acne
  • Helps soothe redness, dryness, and protect the skin barrier
  • Is often compared to Tea Tree Oil and Vitamin C, while also lauded for its compatibility with sensitive skin
  • Contains powerful antioxidants

Sources: The Klog, Korean Skincare Tips, Schweiger Dermatology Group, Yahoo Life

The Takeaway

I really adore this product. Though it’s much more simple than most essences these days, considering the high quality AND quantity of the essence, I’m certainly satisfied. Acknowledging how safe mugwort is, unless you have a specific allergy to it, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this essence for all skin types (especially those with sensitive, dry, and/or acne-prone skin). Definitely a keeper for the routine!