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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.

Review: Naked Flamingo Dragonfruit Serum

Hyaluronic Acid + Dragon Fruit are a killer combo for moisture retention.  Your skin will feel fresh, vibrant, and amazingly soft. Cucumber is packed with Vitamin C and can soothe dry irritated skin.

Naked Flamingo

One of my most eagerly awaited products, Naked Flamingo’s Dragonfruit Serum has piqued by attention through its advertised ingredients and a hefty flow of positive reviews. The product boasts of its various attributes online, primarily focusing on the serum’s moisturizing and anti-acne benefits. The product comes in a sizable white glass container, the liquid inside milky and thick. Application is easy and the product soaks into the skin within seconds! Overall, it’s a simple and delightful process that soothes the skin and preps it for final moisturization.

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Water, Aloe Vera, Cucumber Water, Glycerin, Mushroom Extract, Dragon Fruit Extract, Niacinamide, Chamomile Extract, Sweet Almond Oil, Panthenol, Propanediol, Hyaluronic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Leuconostoc-Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate

Significant Pros

  • Aloe Vera (soothing, calming)
  • Cucumber Water (brightening – vitamin c-, soothing)
  • Glycerin (moisturizing)
  • Mushroom Extract (antioxidant, anti-acne, moisturizing, anti-inflammatory)
  • Dragon Fruit Extract (anti-acne, moisturizing)
  • Niacinamide (anti-acne, anti-hyperpigmentation)

Significant Cons

  • nothing, my dude

The Takeaway

As much as I enjoyed using this product, I can’t say I’ve noticed any differences in my skin after weeks of usage. Perhaps more time is necessary, however, I am reluctant to repurchase due to the fact that its promise of moisturizing the skin fell a bit short with me. It was quite clear that despite its effectiveness in keeping acne at bay, it wasn’t delivering enough moisture to my skin to ward of dryness as well. I’ve found noticeable difference between using my Paula’s Choice Nutrient Probiotic Moisturizer (with no Dragonfruit serum) than in using Naked Flamingo’s Dragonfruit Serum and Tumeric & Kokum Butter PM Mask. While the prices of both combined may be comparable, the results lean heavily towards Paula’s Choice’s favor. Perhaps in the summer, this evaluation would skew towards Naked Flamingo’s favor, but for now, that’s not so. If you have oily skin during the winter, you may get better mileage with Naked Flamingo’s Dragonfruit serum. Otherwise, I’d say to consider your own skin needs when deciding if to purchase this.

Book Recommendations: If You Like This . . . Then Try This!

I’ve noticed a trend among various book-tubers I enjoy watching where they recommend books based upon their viewers’ enjoyment of other books, and thought I’d give it a try! Here, I’ve listed a few book recommendations based upon other books you may have enjoyed. If you like THIS book, then perhaps you should try THIS one!

If you liked Dietland by Sarai Walker, then try What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon. Both books tackle the complexities of fatphobia in the US, though one is fiction and the other, nonfiction. Both books are witty, sharp, and sincere, making for educational reading with complementary messages that support each other’s statements. One provides statistics and studies and the other offers a lived, fictional example of their play-out. Finally, their readability can’t be ignored – enjoyable and enlightening!

Motherhood and womanhood do not have to go in hand, and these books show how tumultuous and emotionally complex this relationship is. In Look How Happy I’m Making You, Polly Rosenwaike looks at a variety of women in different circumstances reconcile their complicated feelings on becoming mothers, while Meiko Kawakami notes the social discourses and barriers that prevent Japanese women from recognizing their full humanity in relation to their desire (or lack there of) to be mothers in Breasts and Eggs. Though I, personally, tend not to connect with books with themes of motherhood, these two have stood out as clear favorites of mine due to their wisdom and empathy.

Both Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo give off what I call “Spirited Away vibes.” In these stories two young women explore the fantastical worlds of their mythological cultures guided by a mysterious otherworldly young man (? spirit? other creature? I’m not spoiling anything . . . ) as they complete a quest that will challenge their characters before they return to their human realm. Lush with evocative visual details, historical tidbits, and a subtle romance that will linger with you after the story ends, both of these books contain captivating adventures and I would absolutely recommend the two in conjunction.

If I could sum up of the vibe of both The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Charm Buyers by Lillian Howan, I would say, “Sad boy has a bad time and loves a seemingly unattainable childhood friend in a Dickensonian epic.” Some real Great Expectations vibes. While The Goldfinch takes place in New York, The Charm Buyers takes place in Tahiti (the main character being a young man of Chinese-French-Tahitian descent), and the complex history of colonization is more prominent, offering a nuanced historical lens to Howan’s tale. If you like the long-winded appeal of one book, you’ll most likely enjoy the other.

Finally, I’d like to recommend The Bridge of the Beyond by Simone Schwartz-Bart to those who enjoyed The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor. Both books take a deep dive into the emotions of various Black women in light of their intertwined lives and conflicts. What I also loved about these novels is that they both take such beautiful care of language – I really felt the author’s intention in each sentence written. If you’re looking for sensitive portrayals of Black women, neither of these books will let you down.

Review: BOKKSU Hoshino Hojicha Latte

A shift from the more commonly known hojicha, we bring to you Hoshino Hojicha Latte, an instant latte that can be enjoyed both hot or cold. An ideal progression for hojicha due to its nutty, caramel flavor, grab a cup to enjoy and keep you warm this winter!

BOKKSU

A unique, nutty herbal tea that’s complimentary to a variety of savory and sweet dishes, BOKKSU’s Hoshino Hojicha Latte works well with both water and milk (personally, I enjoy it with almond milk), cold and hot (personally, I enjoy hot). A subtle sweetness echoes the nutty tone of this woodsy tea, solidifying it as a winner for me. If you’re interested in trying Hojicha or nutty tea, this is a solid start for beginners.

Ingredients

Hojicha Tea

Review: Paula’s Choice Probiotic Nutrient Moisturizer

A moisturizer made with pre, pro and postbiotics that help maintain skin’s good bacteria for a stable microbiome and a healthier, more balanced complexion.

Paula’s Choice

Looking for a night moisturizer to get me through the winter, I recently purchased Paula’s Choice Probiotic Nutrient Moisturizer when it was on sale. I’ve wanted to implement probiotics into my skin routine again after cycling out Biossance’s Gel Moisturizer from my morning application. As for use – Paula’s moisturizer has a sticky slime consistency and though it’s not super thick, it does take a while to spread and soak into the skin due to its texture. While I don’t particularly enjoy application, after a few minutes the moisturizer sets in just fine. Now that I’ve used this moisturizer consistently for about 2 weeks or so, I feel confident in its results . . . it’s absolutely outstanding! My skin is soft and supple every morning after using this.

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Isoamyl Laurate (emollient), Glycerin (skin-replenishing), Butylene Glycol (texture enhancer), Sodium Polyacrylate Starch (texture enhancer/stabilizer), Cetyl Alcohol (emollient), Lauroyl Lysine (texture enhancer/hydration) Lactobacillus/Rye Flour Ferment (probiotic/skin-soothing), Lactobacillus Ferment (probiotic/skin-soothing), Bifida Ferment Lysate (probiotic/skin-soothing), Glucomannan (prebiotic/hydration), Saccharomyces Lysate (postbiotic/hydration), Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate (probiotic/skin-soothing), Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract (antioxidant), Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract (antioxidant), Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (vitamin C/antioxidant), Acetyl Hexapeptide-1 (skin-restoring/skin-soothing), Palmitoyl Dipeptide-10 (antioxidant/skin-restoring), Ceramide NG (skin-replenishing), Orbignya Oleifera Seed Oil (non-fragrant antioxidant plant oil), Palmitoyl Proline (amino acid/hydration), Glycine (amino acid/hydration), Serine (amino acid/hydration), Threonine (amino acid/hydration), Alanine (amino acid/hydration), Valine (amino acid/hydration), Arginine (amino acid/hydration), Proline (amino acid/hydration), Lysine HCl (amino acid/hydration), Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Fruit Extract (prebiotic/antioxidant), Niacinamide (skin-restoring/skin-replenishing), Adenosine (skin-restoring), Lecithin (skin-restoring), Phytic Acid (chelating agent), Yeast Extract/Faex (prebiotic/postbiotic/hydration), Tocopherol (vitamin E/antioxidant), Sodium PCA (skin-replenishing) Sodium Lactate (postbiotic/hydration), PCA (skin-replenishing), Magnesium Palmitoyl Glutamate (skin-softening), Sodium Palmitoyl Sarcosinate (skin-softening), Isopropyl Palmitate (emollient), Glutamic Acid (amino acid/hydration), Betaine (hydration), Glyceryl Stearate (texture enhancer/emulsifier), Hydroxyacetophenone (antioxidant/hydration) Sodium Acrylates Copolymer (texture enhancer), Ceteth-20 (solubolizer), Steareth-20 (emulsifier), Polysorbate 20 (emulsifier), PEG-75 Stearate (cleansing agent), Caprylyl Glycol (preservative), Propylene Glycol (texture enhancer), 1,2-Hexanediol (preservative), Phenoxyethanol (preservative), Ethylhexylglycerin (preservative).

Significant Pros

  • Glycerin (moisturizing)
  • Lactobacillus/Rye Flour Ferment (probiotic/skin-soothing)
  • Lactobacillus Ferment (probiotic/skin-soothing)
  • Bifida Ferment Lysate (probiotic/skin-soothing)
  • Glucomannan (prebiotic/hydration)
  • Saccharomyces Lysate (postbiotic/hydration)
  • Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate (probiotic/skin-soothing)
  • Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract (antioxidant)
  • Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract (antioxidant)
  • Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (vitamin C/antioxidant)
  • Acetyl Hexapeptide-1 (skin-restoring/skin-soothing)
  • Palmitoyl Dipeptide-10 (antioxidant/skin-restoring)
  • Ceramide NG (skin-replenishing, moisturizing)

Significant Cons

  • Isoamyl Laurate (fungal acne trigger)
  • Isopropyl Palmitate (fungal acne trigger)
  • Glyceryl Stearate (fungal acne trigger)

The Takeaway

This is definitely a product I’ll be using up this winter. A rich moisturizer that works immediately to satiate the skin, this product contains a bevy of pro, pre, and postbiotics alongside other antioxidants and soothing ingredients. If you struggle with fungal acne, this moisturizer may be too much for you, but otherwise, I have no problem in recommending this moisturizer to those searching for a good winter refresher for their dry, dehydrated, sensitive, or normal skin.

Top 25 Books of 2020

I read over 200 books this year and I’d like to take a moment to reflect and highlight 25 of my favorite reads (in no particular order). This was an especially difficult list to curate since I read so many awesome books! From romance to historical to literary, these books carry a diversity of engaging plots and complex characters (and I did my best to highlight some specific favorites from each genre). I chose each piece based not only on their execution, but also their personal effect on me, so this entirely my own opinion as well!

Reading Challenges Completed:

All photos and title links go to Goodreads.

Notable Mentions: The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho, Feminism for the 99% by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu, Colonize This! edited by Daisy Hernandez & Bushra Rehman, Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, Blood Sisters by Kim Yideum, Brute by Emily Skaja, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee, Life of the Party by Olivia Gatewood, The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver, The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Frida in America by Celia Stahr, Disability Visibility collected by Alice Wong, Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett,The Henna Wars by Adina Jaigirdar, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, As Long as Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Educated by Tara Westover, Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, The Little Old Lady Killer by Susana Vargas Cervantes, The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor, The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman

Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis

It seemed, at times, that this was the only way the world would be remade as the heroes had dreamed: one woman holds another woman, and she in turn lifts the world.

Short description: Five women navigate their sexuality, relationships, and aspirations during an oppressive government regime in 1970s Uruguay.

Critic Quote: “In this way, De Robertis’s storytelling feels trauma-informed, even healing-centered.” – Lambda Literary

Why You Should Read This Book: Heart-breaking and heart-mending, De Robertis is able to access and reveal the complex stories of these women with incredible empathy and beauty.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story, too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.

Short Description: A chronicle of the lineage of two Ghanian half-sisters beginning in the 1700s, one who escapes the ravages of slavery and one who does not, and how their winding paths separate and converge.

Critic Quote: “In Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi has given rare and heroic voice to the missing and suppressed.” – NPR

Why You Should Read This Book: An absolute must-read! Awe-inducing in its scope and grasp of precise characterization simultaneously.

Full Review HERE

The Tradition by Jericho Brown

No matter how sore the injury

Has left you, you sit understanding

Yourself as a human being finally

Free now that nobody’s got to love you.

Short Description: A gorgeous collection of poetry centering on black masculinity, sexuality, and violence.

Critic Quote:The Tradition is a major step forward for the poet; the collection is assured in its handling of autobiography and public history, as well as in its formal variety and play. It’s a collection full of ghosts, a complex and multifaceted Liebestod; its images, figures, and statements draw close and fade away, haunting its reader.” – LARB

Why You Should Read This Book: Sharp and lush at the same time, I’d definitely recommend this collection to everyone for its quality and accessibility.

Full Review HERE

Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions by Briallen Hopper

To give us back to one another—there lies the great, the singular power of learning to lean on others. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: One runs away to find love, and finds only oneself.

Short Description: Hopper examines the many manifestations of non-romantic love, the importance of forming and relying on one’s many relationships, and how these observations developed throughout the scope of her own life.

Critic Quote: “Part of what Hopper does so artfully in her work is to disrupt the foregone narrative conclusions imposed on American women by 21st-century late capitalism.” – LA Review of Books

Why You Should Read This Book: Powerful, skillfully crafted, and moving, Hopper’s essays are a must-read for all!!!

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

You think this is a big deal because, no offense, you’ve had a lot of people in your life who claimed to care about you but didn’t act like it. That’s not me. I can cook, and right now, you can’t. So I’m doing it for you because that’s how people should behave; they should fill in each other’s gaps. Don’t think about it too hard.

Short Description: After a brush with death, Chloe Brown decides to take her life by the reins and create a list of things to achieve, asking for the help of (and perhaps falling for) her superintendent along the way.

Critic Quote: “Talia Hibbert’s Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a tour-de-force romance that tackles tough problems like insecurity and chronic pain while still delivering a laugh-out-loud love story full of poignant revelations about human nature.” – NPR

Why You Should Read This Book: A light-hearted romantic read starring characters with emotional depth and electric chemistry.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. Van der Kolk

When people are compulsively and constantly pulled back into the past, to the last time they felt intense involvement and deep emotions, they suffer from a failure of imagination, a loss of the mental flexibility. Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach.

Short Description: A well-researched and extensive study of how trauma impacts people’s physiology.

Critic Quote: “Van der Kolk’s book is informed by years of practice, research, speaking engagements, collaboration, and experiment, and is written in an easy-to-follow style . . .Van der Kolk’s 2014 book provides the reader with an excellent account of the effects of trauma.” – Journal of Loss and Trauma

Why You Should Read This Book: Yes, this book is well-researched and accessible, but more than that, it’s written with evident empathy making it a wholly unique book – highly recommend.

See full review HERE

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

And, as the Migration spread the issue of race relations across the United States, forcing the entire country to face its centuries-old demons, it also helped inspire and pressure other racial regimes such as that of South Africa and, thus, was a gift to other parts of the world.

Short Description: A historical look at the history of the Great Migration, observed through the lives of three different individuals.

Critic Quote: “The Warmth of Other Suns shows how hope can get people through the most intense situations, but action is required to make them something more than a dream.” – The Guardian

Why You Should Read This Book: WOW! Not only did I gain a deeper understanding of the Great Migration, but Wilkerson’s ability to make history vividly intimate and present is something to admire.

See full review HERE

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings

Discussion about racialized and gendered fat/slender bodies circulated largely in elite white spaces… They served as a mechanism for white men and women to denigrate the racially Othered body. They also worked to police and applaud the “correct” behaviors of other white people, especially White women.

Short Description: A thorough history of western fat phobia and its basis in othering and oppressing black women.

Critic Quote: “This fascinating and carefully constructed argument persuasively establishes a heretofore unexplored connection between racism and Western standards for body size, making it a worthy contribution to the social sciences.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Why You Should Read This Book: Comprehensive, well-researched, and educational, this book is a must read for anyone – especially those who are new to casually reading academic texts.

The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee

The history of Asian Americans is lastly a history of America in a global age. Like many Americans today, Asian Americans live transnational lives and form their identities across national borders.

Short Description: A historical account of the impact, struggles, and legacy of Asian Americans of various origins.

Critic Quote: “A powerful, timely story told with method and dignity.” – Kirkus Review

Why You Should Read This Book: Factual but engaging, this is a great addition to anyone’s knowledge base on U.S. History.

Full Review Here


Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

What if you were alone? All the books and blogs catered to couples. What about the rest of us, who were alone and planned to stay that way? Who has the right to have a child? Does not having a partner or not wanting to have sex nullify this right?

Short Description: A thirty-something Japanese woman considers her views on womanhood and motherhood as she interacts with her family, co-workers, and friends.

Critic Quote: “Kawakami lays open a wealth of philosophical ideas, and writes with a clean, lively directness that evokes the unruly creativity of the Osaka dialect. ” –  The Japan Times

Why You Should Read This Book: Thoughtful and well-written, this book is a must-read, especially for those interested in translated fiction.


When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors

If I die in police custody, know that they killed me. If I die in police custody, show up at the jail, make noise, protest, tell my mother. If I die in police custody, tell the entire world: I wanted to live.

Short Description: BLM co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors narrates her childhood and growth as an activist against police brutality and racism.

Critic Quote: “Love here is imagined as a political force in addition to an interpersonal one, and the two aspects are joined in the fear and protective drive for those we care about deeply that keeps us going when we might not be able to persevere for ourselves alone, that keeps us committed to a collective future even when it may be difficult to imagine ours individually.” – The Georgia Review

Why You Should Read This Book: ESSENTIAL READING! This was an excellent memoir and I highly recommend it.

Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin

Life is so much more complicated than I ever imagined, and nothing is as easy as it seems. We meet at the border of mutual attraction and repulsion, and between us is a row of thorns. The two of us … have been ravaged, yet no one can walk away. Tell me, is love – along with honesty, patience, and determination – strong enough? Is it?

Short Description: A group of Taiwanese LGBTQ young adults must navigate graduating college, tumultuous relationships, and facing a world unable to accept them.

Critic Quote: “The is an important work that explores the liberation of gender during a time when anything behind a façade of hetrosexuality in Taiwan was still considered taboo. Candid and creative, Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin is a classic of Taiwanese contemporary literature that stirs the imagination as it confronts social inequities of gender and sexuality.” – Asian Review of Books

Why You Should Read This Book: A ground-breaking text in Taiwanese LGBTQ literature, this book is necessary read for all. Though the end drags on a bit, I highly enjoyed this book and found myself highlighting scores and scores of paragraphs.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

I am doing my best to not become a museum of myself.

I am doing my best to breathe in and out.

I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible.

But in an American room of one hundred people, I am Native American—less than one, less than whole—I am less than myself.

Only a fraction of a body, let’s say, I am only a hand— and when I slip it beneath the shirt of my lover I disappear completely.

Short Description: A collection of poetry focusing on indigenous rights and struggles.

Critic Quote: “Here, Diaz revels in one of the greatest marks of her poetic genius: her move from realism to the fantastic made real, bound and anchored by theme, language, metaphor and allusion.” –NPR

Why You Should Read This Book: Masterfully constructed, memorable, and visually rich, this is a poetry collection you must pick up!

Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha

Disability Justice allowed me to understand that me writing from my sickbed wasn’t me being weak or uncool or not a real writer but a time-honoured crip creative practice. And that understanding allowed me to finally write from a disabled space, for and about sick and disabled people, including myself, without feeling like I was writing about boring, private things that no one would understand.

Short Description: A rich text that dissects a variety of aspects surrounding disability justice and experiences as well as how disability intersects with race, gender, sexuality, and class.

Critic Quote: “Written very accessibly, these essays cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on the ways that disabled people, particularly those also marginalised due to race, gender, sexuality and class, work to help each other survive through ‘care webs’, when the state and non-disabled people will not provide care, or when the existing systems do more to harm than help. This book is full of both eloquent personal reflection on what it’s like to live as a chronically ill person of colour, and hard-won practical experience and wisdom about community organising.” –Spoonie Hacker

Why You Should Read This Book: An essential text on disability justice – dense with knowledge and empathy and a book I’ll be reading again and again and again and again.

Read full review HERE

Disfured:On Fairytales,Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc

Give me a story about a disabled man or woman who learns to navigate the world and teaches the world, in turn, to navigates its own way around the disabled body. Give me power and also weakness, struggle but also reams of joy. Our lives are made of this fabric–our stories deserve nothing less.

Short Description: An analysis of how disability is represented (or more accurately, misrepresented) in various European fairytales, interlaced with the author’s childhood.

Critic Quote: “Read this smart, tenacious book.” –The Washington Post

Why You Should Read This Book: A bit circuitous at times, but an overall insightful and well-written exploration of ableism in European fairytales. I especially enjoyed how the author wove her own adolescence with her analysis and found her dissection of The Little Mermaid, The Maiden with No Hands, and Beaty and the Beast expertly done

Read full review HERE

Dietland by Sarai Walker

We can’t hide it or fake it. We’ll never fit society’s idea for how women should look and behave, but why is that a tragedy? We’re free to live how we want. It’s liberating, if you choose to see it that way.

Short Description: The electric tale of how a plus-size advice columnist’s pursuit of weight loss intersects with a radical feminist terrorist organization that seeks to take revenge on rapists, abusers, etc.

Critic Quote: “Disguised as a light chick-lit novel about body image, Sarai Walker’s debut is scathing about the images to which women have tied their value and worth.” –The Guardian

Why You Should Read This Book: I was expecting a bit more from the ending, but overall this is a fantastic, electric read.

Last Night with the Earl by Kelly Bowen

Beauty can be found everywhere, should you only look. It is not a finite commodity. It changes with time and circumstance to become something new and different, but no less valuable. Your aunt is no less beautiful now than she was fifty years ago.

Short Description: After a disastrous parting, a haunted earl returns to his home to find it leased to a women’s academy where a past love now teaches art, unsealing old feelings and deep wounds.

Critic Quote: Last Night with the Earl is one of those books that, when upon finishing, made me wonder why the hell I waited so long to read it in the first place. It’s rich in emotional development and has one of the wittiest heroines I’ve ever read.” –Smart Bitches Trashy Books

Why You Should Read This Book: Some pacing issues, but otherwise a sweeping, emotionally rich, romantic read (perhaps now one of my favorite romances).

The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart

But that evening, sitting alone in my cabin, I didn’t yet indulge in such thoughts. I didn’t weep, I didn’t touch my bottle of rum, I only thought that the door of grief is never shut.

Short Description: This story follows the Guadeloupe lineage of a group of women as they find their own unique paths during a time of historical and social change within their country.

Critic Quote: “Any course on women or black writers of the western hemisphere will be enriched by its inclusion.” –Scholar’s Compass

Why You Should Read This Book: Absolutely breathtaking, masterful descriptions that astonish even through translation. Highly recommend.

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

Why You Should Read This Book: 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.

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

Why You Should Read This Book: An excellent collection of short stories – each 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.

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

I mean, think about it. Our childhood memories are about murder and mayhem. How many others can’t bear their own thoughts?

Short Description: Five Indigenous children endure the brutality of Canada’s residential schools in the 1950s-60s and must learn to face and make sense of life beyond it.

Critic Quote: “This book is a must-read for everyone in Canada so that we all can begin to understand and respond to the intergenerational impacts the residential school system has had not just on the students and their children but on the entire country.” –Miramichi Reader

Why You Should Read This Book: Absolutely outstanding. Each character was vividly and artfully written – superb structure and emotionally devastating. Definitely pick this book up!

Full Review HERE

Jezebel Unhinged by Tamura Lomax

The problem is also that, though black Americans have historically been interpreted as ‘problem people,’ reifying diasporic subjectivities into an undifferentiated mass of difference and second-class citizenship, the problematizing of black femaleness, womanhood, femininity, and sexuality within black religion and black popular culture as the difference within black difference attempts to not unhinge but breathe immortal air into jezebel and other tropes.

Short Description: A highly detailed analysis on misogyny (or in this case, misongynior) in the Black Church and how it works, and how it harms Black women and LGBTQ+ people.

Critic Quote: “Lomax’s writing is undeniably scholarly. The notes for each of the book’s seven chapters are extensive, and its bibliography is gratifying and dense. However, Jezebel Unhinged is still readable, accessible, and provocative.” –Foreword Reviews

Why You Should Read This Book: Incredible, insightful, and wonderfully fresh. 100% recommend for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of Black feminism.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliot

In this age, the natural world is spared only if it can be photographed; if its beauty can be sold; if it doesn’t get in the way of more pipelines and more profit.

Short Description: A series of essays on the intersections of Indigineity and mental illness, colonization, sexual assault, food, photography, and more.

Critic Quote: “The author is not inclined to shrug off such things, and her larger views on the treatment of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian and American governments and critiques of racism, sexism, and other such offenses are well thought through and elegantly argued.” –Kirkus Reviews

Why You Should Read This Book: An absolutely fantastic collection of essays. Highly recommend.


The Rape of Nanking
by Iris Chang

Looking back upon millennia of history, it appears clear that no race or culture has monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin – one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war.

Short Description: A historical account of the destruction and horrific massacre of Nanking leading up to WWII, all recounted from a variety of perspectives, articles, interviews, diaries, etc.

Critic Quote: “Chang, a Chinese-American, has written a searing account of the sack of Nanking. . . . Although it is clear that she is passionate about the subject, Chang gives a balanced account.” – HistoryNet

Why You Should Read This Book: Devastating to read, but expertly written, organized, and presented.


What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat
by Aubrey Gordon

Fat people are frequently spoken about or at, but we’re rarely heard. Instead, bodies and experiences like mine become caricatured and symbolic, either as a kind of effigy or as a pornography of suffering. Bodies and experiences like mine are rarely allowed to just be ours.

Short Description: A searing series of intersectional essays on fatphobia in the US, covering air travel, medical abuse, clothing sizes, diet culture, sexual assault, and more.

Critic Quote: “Everyone who has a fat family member, friend, acquaintance, or coworker should read this insightful book.” –Library Journal

Why You Should Read This Book: I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this book. An excellent analysis of fatphobia in the US with Gordon’s own experiences effortlessly woven throughout. Not only is the information itself deeply insightful, but the way Gordon presents her knowledge reveals the precise, smart writing at play. Recommended for everyone. 

Review: STASH Spice Dragon Red Chai

Get your senses ready. We’re about to surprise your taste buds with both the smell and flavor of this tea. It’s yet another primo example of Stash Tea doing what we’ve set out to do: brew boredom out of the world! We dare you to take a sip of this uniquely sweet and spicy chai and tell us it’s boring.

STASH

Just enough spice makes this tea delicious, memorable, and perfect for a chilly morning. Complimenting both savory and sweet palettes, this tea may be a perfect staple for those looking for a chai with some kick, but intimidated by anything that may veer on medicinal. Receiving this in my Sips Box subscription, I’m delighted that I have the opportunity to try this blend during the winter season, as it truly is a perfect winter tea. The cinnamon and clove pop (even if the ginger is so subtle it’s undetectable) and it lacks caffeine, so I can see this being popular with a wide array of people.

Ingredients

Cinnamon, rooibos, ginger root, clove

Top 5 Skincare Products of 2020

I’ve tried a variety of wonderful, serviceable, and unfortunate skincare products throughout this year, and I’d like to highlight a few that stood out. These products may suit those with any number of skin sensitives and conditions (though you should always check the ingredient lists for any specific allergies, etc), and have become fall-back staples for me. I look forward to finding new hits in 2021!

Mizon Black Snail All-In-One Cream: A reliable, long-lasting moisturizer perfect for all seasons (though dry skin types may need something more powerful for the winter), packed with incredible ingredients like Niacinamide and Snail Mucin, which work together to fight acne scars while also soothing the skin. Absorbing relatively quickly, this moisturizer goes well under both sunscreen and makeup and is priced at a reasonable $17.

Thank You Farmer Iceland Cleansing Foam: This affordable cleansing foam is perfect for those who want to fight their acne without drying their skin out. Packed with a variety of plant extracts, this foam works quickly to keep the skin clean and fresh. Often times I’m not a stickler for cleansers, since they’ll be washed off anyways, but this is a product that really does its best to be a powerful addition to your skincare routine even if its only on your face for 60 seconds.

COSRX Propolis Vitamin C Serum: A powerful serum that uses its simple ingredient list to uplift the concentration of its star components – propolis and vitamin c, which work together wonderfully to not only moisturize the skin, but also combat fungal and inflammatory acne and lighten scars. Though I may be trying other vitamin C and propolis serums in the future, this is a great staple product for anyone searching for an affordable vitamin C serum complimented with other great ingredients to bolster its effects.

Be Plain Vitamin Brightening Ampoule: A unique catch-all ampoule with a variety of soothing, moisturizing, hyper-pigmentation fighting ingredients that make it appropriate for all skin-types, even sensitive ones (though of course, always consider your own allergies, etc.). This ampoule can compliment any routine, regardless of whether your current focus is on acne, hydration, hyper-pigmentation, anti-aging, etc.

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Exfoliant Liquid: A favorite product of many, Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliant Liquid may be a simple combination of Green Tea and Salicylic Acid, but it delivers on its anti-acne message. If you’re looking for a simple but effective exfoliator, this is a great place to start.

December Reads

The year has finally reached its end and I have surpassed my goal of reading 200 books! Let’s be honest . . . 2020 was a terrible year. However, I’m glad for all the books that have kept me company during difficult times. For this month (and for next month) I’ve focused on reading books that have been on my TBR list for a while as well as books that I own (regardless of whether or not they’ve been on my TBR list on Goodreads). Additionally, I’ve attached my filled out Reading Women Book Challenge List (completed!) and my badge from Year of the Asian Reading Challenge. Here’s to hoping more great reads in 2021 (and on overall better year, to be honest . . . ).

All Photos Courtesy of Goodreads

Light From Other Stars by Erica Swyler

She’d been little when he’d told her about the beginning of the universe and how the solar system was born. How the sun was like an island, and the planets were ships sailing around it. He’d said, “Pluto is our far star sailor,” the way other people said Once upon a time. His words opened a door inside her.

Short Description: A brilliant eleven-year-old girl fascinated by space must reconcile her dreams with her complicated relationship with her parents.

Critic Quote: “As the novel wends its way toward a Hawking-esque ending, it elicits wonder and sadness in turn.” –Foreword Reviews

My Verdict: I really could not get into this one – I had no idea what was going on for maybe 70% of the novel. I guess this writing style just isn’t for me.


We Are Displaced
by Malala Yousafzai

I wrote this book because it seems that too many people don’t understand that refugees are ordinary people. All that differentiates them is that they got caught in the middle of a conflict that forced them to leave their homes, their loved ones, and the only lives they had known. They risked so much along the way, and why? Because it is too often a choice between life and death. / And, as my family did a decade ago, they chose life.

Short Description: A collection of narratives focused on displaced young girls and women edited by activist Malala Yousafzai.

Critic Quote: “Poignant, fascinating, and relevant read.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: Though I wish these segments were expanded upon more, I overall really enjoyed being able to listen to the stories of so many brave young women and girls and found their courage, perceptiveness, and ambition heartening. Definitely recommend.


Shrill
by Lindy West

Denying people access to value is an incredibly insidious form of emotional violence, one that our culture wields aggressively and liberally to keep marginalized groups small and quiet.

Short Description: A series of feminist essays on fatphobia, comedy, and relationships all told through a light-hearted, honest memoir.

Critic Quote: “West brilliantly articulates the thoughts and feelings about body image that many women and girls struggle with on a daily basis. With often witty, even humorous, prose, Shrill offers intelligent arguments on serious and frequently sensitive topics. It is a must read for both women and men.” –Women Across Frontiers

My Verdict: Such a delight to read – especially the essays on comedy, West’s boss, and trolls. Recommend.


Feelings: A Story in Seasons
by Manjit Thapp

I realise everyone is huddled in their own cocoon. They’re either happy in the warm. Or waiting to thaw in better days. I’m not alone in feeling this way but I’m alone all the same.

Short Description: A short graphic novel told through simple, poetic prose narrating the author’s moods through the seasons.

Critic Quote: “Though Thapp’s subject matter and visual metaphors (namely plants) aren’t uncommon, the notion that artistic and personal satisfaction might be cyclical rather than solvable via willpower, religion, or life choices, feels subtly radical.” –Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: What a beautiful book – from its rich color scheme and stylistic art, to its message, which, while delivered through simple sentences, is heartwarming and calming all the same.


The Women of Brewster Place
by Gloria Naylor

And she looked at the blushing woman on the couch and suddenly realized that her mother had trod through the same universe that she herself was now traveling. Kiswana was breaking no new trails… she stared at the woman she had been, and the woman to come.

Short Description: A loosely connected series of stories following a variety of black women and their lives in Brewster Place.

Critic Quote: “[A] moving portrait of the strengths, struggles, and hopes of black women.… Gloria Naylor weaves together the truths and myths of the women’s lives, creating characters who are free to determine the course of their lives, embodying the self actualization tradition of the Harlem Renaissance.” – Sacred Fire

My Verdict: A beautifully written, emotionally powerful novel. Highly recommend.


All Boys Aren’t Blue
by George M. Johnson

When people ask me how I got into activism, I often say, “The first person you are ever an activist for is yourself.” If I wasn’t gonna fight for me, who else was?

Short Description: A YA memoir following Johnson’s acceptance and growth into his sexuality as a Black man.

Critic Quote: “Unflinching, vulnerable, and so resilient, this memoir really touched my heart. I hope everyone gives this one a try, and practices compassion and open-mindedness.” –The Book Sandwich

My Verdict: A valuable resource for Black LGBTQ+ teens. Honest and full of hope.


Do Not Say We Have Nothing
by Madeleine Thien

If you’re trapped in a room, and nobody is coming to save you, what can you do? You have to bang on the walls and break the windows. You have to climb out and save yourself. It’s obvious, Li-ling, that crying doesn’t help a person live.

Short Description: A story of three gifted musicians who live through China’s Cultural Revolution and the legacy they leave behind.

Critic Quote: “History is deftly woven into a moving story of the musicians who suffered during and after the Cultural Revolution in China.” –The Guardian

My Verdict: Though I enjoyed the actual story as well as the historical context woven throughout, this book felt like it was overwritten. I felt easily overwhelmed by mountains of details and tangents that felt unnecessary. This resulted in constant confusion over what was happening, when and to whom, and which characters were important and worth remembering. Even the family tree provided in the beginning did not help.

Full Review HERE


Friday Black
by Nana Kwame Adjei – Brenyah

People say “sell your soul” like it’s easy. But your soul is yours and it’s not for sale. Even if you try, it’ll still be there, waiting for you to remember it.

Short Description: A collection of short stories following a variety of black characters in the present and future.

Critic Quote: “He [Kwame Adjei-Brenyah] conveys joy, pain, longing, rage—especially the rage felt by those who experience racism—with talent and force, writing through genres and styles ranging from the fantastical to the cartoonish, the dystopian, the morbidly stark and the surreal.” –Harvard Review

My Verdict: Though there are definitely some memorable pieces in here, ultimately, this wasn’t a winning collection for me.


Love in Colour
by Bolu Babalola

ISome nights we would talk with words, others just with our bodies, developing our language, discovering new ways to say I love you; I see you, I hear you, me and you.f

Short Description: A series of short, romantic vignettes following a variety of couples inspired by global mythology.

Critic Quote: “If anyone knows about romance, it’s Babalola and her new book, Love in Colour, is further proof of this. The anthology of love stories spans countries and history – from Greek mythology to Nigerian folklore – each retold by Babalola in imaginative new ways.” –Vice

My Verdict: This was a lovely collection of light-hearted love stories – retellings that position BIPOC in unique and fresh ways. As others have noted, this is a collection that’s best spread out over time rather than read in one or two sittings due to the overall inevitability of each story’s ending. If you’re a romantic, then perhaps pick this up.


The Good Immigrant
Edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman

The question “Where are you from?” has punctured most days of my life, and has been both innocuous and frightening. “Where are you from?” usually means “How did you get here?” or the clearer: “You don’t belong here.

Short Description: A variety of essays from American and British Immigrants and their perspectives on race, class, nationalism, gender and more.

Critic Quote: “. . . this collection is a resounding success on multiple fronts. Its righteous rage is perfectly matched by its literary rewards.” –Washington Post

My Verdict: Essential reading full of incredible, insightful essays. Highly recommend.


The Black Unicorn
by Audre Lorde

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid

So it is better to speak

remembering

we were never meant to survive

Short Description: Poetry from the renowned Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde.

Critic Quote: “While I do think hope is at the crux of Lorde’s beliefs, it’s a radical hope that we make an impact and force a change on this world while we inhabit it. One of her most well-known works, “A Litany for Survival,” is heartening in that soothes as much as it emboldens.” –Autostraddle

My Verdict: Though Lorde will always be one of my favorite feminist essayists, this poetry collection didn’t quite resonate with me.


Women & Power
by Mary Beard

You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession. What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually

Short Description: Inspired by her speeches, this short book elaborates on Beard’s observations on gender and power dynamics.

Critic Quote: “There are two things you need to know about it. The first is that what Mary Beard has to say is powerful: here are more than a few pretty useful stones for the slingshots some of us feel we must carry with us everywhere we go right now. The second is that most of its power, if not all, lies in its author’s absolute refusal to make anything seem too simple.” –The Guardian

My Verdict: A well-written, brief piece perhaps better oriented towards those who are new to studying/learning Western/White feminism.


At the Bottom of the River
by Jamaica Kincaid

The night-soil men can see a bird walking in trees. It isn’t a bird. It is a woman who has removed her skin and is on her way to drink the blood of her secret enemies. It is a woman who has left her skin in a corner of a house made out of wood. It is a woman who is reasonable and admires honeybees in the hibiscus.

Short Description: Short, meditative stories by Caribbean novelist Jamaica Kincaid.

Critic Quote: “. . . Kincaid shows vivid promise in this slim debut.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: Beautiful writing, but the stories blended into one another for me. 


The House of Broken Angels
by Luis Alberto Urrea

Big Angel could not reconcile himself to this dirty deal they had all been dealt. Death. What a ridiculous practical joke. Every old person gets the punch line that the kids are too blind to see. All the striving, lusting, dreaming, suffering, working, hoping, yearning, mourning, suddenly revealed itself to be an accelerating countdown to nightfall.

….This is the prize: to realize, at the end, that every minute was worth fighting for with every ounce of blood and fire.

Short Description: The story of a beloved family patriarch as he reminisces on his past and his connections with his family as he approaches death.

Critic Quote: “And all that vulnerability, combined with humor and celebration and Urrea’s vivid prose, will crack you open.” –NPR

My Verdict: Could not get into this book for the life of me. The characters and writing simply didn’t click with me.


Such A Fun Age
by Kiley Reid

I don’t need you to be mad that it happened. I need you to be mad that it just like… happens.

Short Description: A tight narrative following a Black babysitter, her white boyfriend, her wealthy white employer, and a police encounter that permanently alters their relationships.

Critic Quote: “The title of Kiley Reid’s debut, Such a Fun Age, works on so many levels it makes me giddy — and, what’s better, the title’s plurality of meaning is echoed all over the place within the novel, where both plot and dialogue are layered with history, prejudice, expectations, and assumptions.” –NPR

My Verdict: Sharp, enjoyable, and representative of the pitfalls of white saviorhood, this is a a great novel if you’re interested in a quick, entertaining read.

Full Review HERE


We’re Going to Need More Wine
by Gabrielle Union

And anything I have accomplished, I did so not in spite of being a black woman, but because I am a black woman.

Short Description: Actress and activist Gabrielle Union recounts the lessons, laughter, and tribulations she’s gathered throughout her life and career.

Critic Quote: “Well, We’re Going to Need More Wine is like that moment of intimacy between girlfriends. You can feel that same closeness as you tear through the pages of this book. .” – Essence

My Verdict: I really enjoyed listening to the stories of Union’s life and the lessons/advice she has to share with others. Still, I wish there was a bit more cohesion in the structure and aim of each chapter.

Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller

There’s no way to win. You’re a monster if you get an abortion, a slut if you had sex, a moron if you decide to keep the baby.

Short Description: When a high schooler realizes she needs an abortion, the most popular girl at her school and her ex-best friend team up to drive her across her conservative state to find a medical provider.

Critic Quote: “Waller’s book is highly informative, filled with frank, detailed descriptions of our nation’s restrictions on reproductive health as well as the emotional and physical experiences of abortion..” – Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: A wonderful read that provides empathetic insight on an important issue all told through an honest, approachable, emotionally realistic tone.


The Rape of Nanking
by Iris Chang

Looking back upon millennia of history, it appears clear that no race or culture has monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin – one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war.

Short Description: A historical account of the destruction and horrific massacre of Nanking leading up to WWII, all recounted from a variety of perspectives, articles, interviews, diaries, etc.

Critic Quote: “Chang, a Chinese-American, has written a searing account of the sack of Nanking. . . . Although it is clear that she is passionate about the subject, Chang gives a balanced account.” – HistoryNet

My Verdict: Devastating to read, but expertly written, organized, and presented.


Solaris
by Stanislaw Lem

We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can’t accept it for what it is.

Short Description: A pivotal science fiction classic following a young man’s alien encounter.

Critic Quote: “Solaris is a superb science fiction novel, but also asks very philosophical questions about what it means to be human, and how exactly could humans communicate with a truly alien entity with very little terms of reference between both species?” – TechLeaderPro

My Verdict: Painful to read (in a negative sense. The writing, the characters, the science . . . all of it was a let down). Can’t recommend.


What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence
Edited by Michele Filgate

There is a gaping hole perhaps for all of us, where our mother does not match up with “mother” as we believe it’s meant to mean and all it’s meant to give us. What I cannot tell her is all that I would tell her if I could find a way to not still be sad and angry about that.

Short Description: A collection of essays by a wide array of writers who discuss their complicated relationships with their mothers.

Critic Quote: “. . . this is a collection of intimate and authentic personal essays, with each piece telling its own heartfelt story of silence.” –LA Review of Books

My Verdict: Some hits, but overall, not the collection I was quite expecting or hoping for (perhaps many were just too mellow for me, haha).


The Death of Vivek Oji
by Akwaeke Emezi

Love and guilt sometimes taste the same, you know.

Short Description: A brief novel that examines the death of a Nigerian LGBT youth and the atmosphere of shame and heteronormative expectations that clouded his death.

Critic Quote: “This tender, visceral novel follows a character who is both dead and alive, male and female.” –The Guardian

My Verdict: Beautifully written, but also slow and sometimes a bit too distant. Consider your own preferences before picking this up.

Full Review HERE


Blood Moon
by Lucy Cuthew

#Itsjustblood

Short Description: A high schooler gets her period during an intimate moment with her crush, only to have her menstruation be exploited for public humiliation by her classmates.

Critic Quote: “The plot holds few surprises . . . but Cuthew’s verse is sensitively written, enlivened by hashtags and typographical flourishes that successfully convey Frankie’s feelings.” –Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: Pleasant and meaningful, if a bit too overly optimistic.


What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia
by Elizabeth Catte

The average Appalachian is not, then, a white, hypermasculine coal miner facing the inevitable loss of economic strength and social status, but the average Appalachian’s worldview may be impacted by individuals with cultural capital who are constantly assuming we are all made in that image.

Short Description: A short text that dispels misconceptions and rumors about the Appalachia region.

Critic Quote: “This phenomenon is why a book like Catte’s is so essential. It is a very practical form of deconstruction that pokes holes in the operative myths and narratives that define Appalachia and determine how those in power make decisions concerning it. It has the power to make these conventional narratives less dangerous, and can potentially lead to the promotion of narratives that are less homogenous. This book is an act of resistance, both as a work of deconstruction and positive assertion of different narratives that get no coverage. On top of that, it is also an easily digestible but well researched cultural history and genealogy of how a region has come to be defined over time.” –Cleveland Review

My Verdict: A deeply informative beginning guide to learning about the Appalachia region and the various misconceptions surrounding its people. Recommend if you want a more nuanced account of “Trump Country,” so to speak.


Year of the Dog
by Grace Lin

They say the Year of the Dog is also for thinking. Since dogs are also honest and sincere, it’s a good year to find yourself. 

Short Description: A year in the life of a young Chinese/Taiwanese-American girl and the lessons she learns about her culture, her family, her friends, and life in general.

Critic Quote: “The Year of the Dog is the book I wish I’d had as a younger reader, in elementary school. I first read it when I was in 8th grade, which was beyond the target audience range, but I still found it highly enjoyable and relatable.” –Reading Asian America

My Verdict: Sweet and heartwarming – a perfect elementary school read.


What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat
by Aubrey Gordon

Fat people are frequently spoken about or at, but we’re rarely heard. Instead, bodies and experiences like mine become caricatured and symbolic, either as a kind of effigy or as a pornography of suffering. Bodies and experiences like mine are rarely allowed to just be ours.

Short Description: A searing series of intersectional essays on fatphobia in the US, covering air travel, medical abuse, clothing sizes, diet culture, sexual assault, and more.

Critic Quote: “Everyone who has a fat family member, friend, acquaintance, or coworker should read this insightful book.” –Library Journal

My Verdict: I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this book. An excellent analysis of fatphobia in the US with Gordon’s own experiences effortlessly woven throughout. Not only is the information itself deeply insightful, but the way Gordon presents her knowledge reveals precise, smart writing at play. Recommended for everyone. 


The Devil of Downtown
by Joanna Shupe

I know you are brave – I knew it within seconds of meeting you – but there is brave and then there is daring. The latter requires fearlessness with a sense of adventure.

Short Description: A determined charity worker with a focus on aiding women and children encounters the most dangerous gang leader in 19th century New York and both reluctantly fall for each other despite their differences.

Critic Quote: “From beginning to end, The Devil of Downtown was a swoon-worthy, well-developed tale fans will be sure to love.” –Caffeinated Reviewer

My Verdict: Exciting and fun, though the love developed a quick too quickly for my taste. If you’re a regular romance reader, you may enjoy this, but perhaps not the best introduction for a newbie.


Afterlife
by Julia Alvarez

A part of you dies with them, Antonia now knows, but wait a while, and they return, bringing you back with them. So, is this all his afterlife will amount to? Sam-inspired deeds from the people who loved him?

Short Description: Following the sudden death of her husband, Literature Professor Antonia comes to terms with her grief while searching for her sister and aiding a young, pregnant immigrant woman.

Critic Quote: “But the novel rewards precise, close reading, savoring the simultaneous pleasures and failures of language.” –Columbia Review

My Verdict: Incredible, intricate writing woven through a complex plot. Though the story itself won’t be a personal favorite of mine, there’s a lot to appreciate about this book.


Look How Happy I’m Making You by Polly Rosenwaike

Everyone knows that only children smile out of sheer delight. In a real adult smile, there is always something other than happiness.

Short Description: A series of short stories on the mystery, fear, joy, desire, jealousy, and overall complicated feelings of all kinds surrounding motherhood.

Critic Quote: “She deftly navigates emotionally difficult terrain while getting at the heart of both her characters’ and readers’ hopes and anxieties.” –Seattle Book Review

My Verdict: Really fantastic collection. Usually stories about motherhood alienate me a bit, but these were all told so wonderfully – so full of complexity and skillfully written. Every story was memorable and unique.  Regardless of how you feel about motherhood, I’d recommend picking this collection up.


Midnight’s Furies
by Nisid Hajari

If we don’t make up our minds on what we are going to do, there will be pandemonium. If we do, there may also be pandemonium.

Short Description: A detailed historical text analyzing how the violence of India’s Partition manifested.

Critic Quote: “. . . a fascinating, provocative, and ultimately heartbreaking read.” –Columbia Magazine

My Verdict: Though there was quite a bit of writing that went over my head, overall, I learned a lot about this time in history and am grateful for Hajari’s condensed account. If you’re new to learning Indian history and don’t mind a very matter-of-fact tone, then this might be good to pick up (though, I would advise preparing yourself with some basic world history first).


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi

You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving for.

Short Description: A neurosurgeon on the cusp of his big career break learns he’s been diagnosed with lung cancer, and writes a memoir chronicling the last of his days.

Critic Quote: “A moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring..” –The Washington Post

My Verdict: This unfortunately did not resonate with me at all. Though I appreciated Kalanithi’s honesty, his language was somewhat superfluous and made any meaning come off as more pretentious than profound. While I admire his resolve to write this memoir, especially in a time of turmoil and physical weakness, it didn’t reveal any new revelations on death or living (at least, for me).

Review: Uji Matcha Au Lait

Feel free to laugh at my terrible attempt at writing Hiragana characters . . . I’m just doing my best ya’ll

Traditional matcha from Uji, Kyoto is known by tea aficionados as some of the richest green tea in the world. This matcha has a modern twist to abmake a creamy cup of matcha au last instantly.

Bokksu

A light, frothy matcha tea that has a slightly sweet, milky taste, even when added with only hot water. This was a fine tea – though I think I may have added too much water since the flavor is a bit thin. Still, it’s a delightful morning drink that may suit those who are new to matcha or typically don’t enjoy matcha for its bitter taste. I probably won’t be repurchasing this blend since I usually enjoy a heavier/straight matcha flavor, but I’d definitely still recommend this (especially if you intend to mix it with other flavors – this is a perfect base!).

Ingredients

Uji matcha powder

Review: TONYMOLY I’m Real Ginseng Mask

Replenish your skin with our I’m Real Sheet Mask Collection! Available in sets of 2 in an array of ingredients, the 3-layer pulp sheet is filled with natural ingredients and soaked in different types of enriched essence (Water-type, Micro-Emulsion Type, Milky Lotion Type) to yield maximum hydration for your skin. Transform dull and tired skin into healthy, moisturized skin in as little as 20 minutes!

TONYMOLY

I found this mask at Marshall’s for $6 for a pack of 10 – a great deal considering the ingredients! Ginseng is an awesome all-around ingredient for all people and I’m so glad to find a mask that prioritizes this. The mask itself is quite stiff and easily rips, so be careful with your application. Though this mask is definitely wet with serum, it’s not very goopy, so don’t except any residue in the package or any dripping after application. Though some face masks can easily be left on the skin for after its 20 min. recommended time, this is a mask you’ll want to take off as soon as your time is up. Once you hit the 20 minute mark, the mask starts to lose some of its wetness – now absorbed into the skin, and its important to take the mask off before it’s dry (otherwise it will absorb YOUR moisture rather than vice versa). Afterwards, the serum will quickly set into the skin, easy-peasy.

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Methylpropanediol Glycereth-26, PEG/PPG-17/6 Copolymer, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Panax Ginseng Callus Culture, Extract Sodium Hyaluronate, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Allantoin, Panthenol, Carbomer, Tromethamine, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Hydroxyacetophenone, Chlorphenesin, Disodium, EDTA Fragrance

Significant Pros

  • Glycerin (moisturizing)
  • Panax Ginseng Root Extract (addresses wrinkles, dullness, oil production, and hyper-pigmentation, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory)
  • Panax Ginseng Callus Culture (addresses wrinkles, dullness, oil production, and hyper-pigmentation, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory)
  • Extract Sodium Hyaluronate (hydrating)
  • Hydrolyzed Collagen (skin healing, moisturizing)
  • Allantoin (calming)
  • Panthenol (moisturizing)

Significant Cons

  • EDTA Fragrance (skin irritant, but it’s the last ingredient in a sheet mask, so I really don’t think it’s worth worrying about)

The Takeaway

Though this is a pleasant mask, don’t expect any miracles. I couldn’t really tell any difference in my face after using it (unlike my Bombee Honey Mask), and that seems to be a sign that multiple consistent uses may be the best way to yield a result. Still, I’d rather buy an actual ginseng serum than cross my fingers for this to work after 10 uses. I’ll still happily finish the rest of this mask set (it’s ginseng after all) and I see no harm in recommending it to others if you want to try a simple, affordable, fun face mask with no mess.