The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton

15808671Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth-century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds and rose from common theater tart to empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. The woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told….

After her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation and a life on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a backdoor entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and, by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the emperor’s nephew. She thrives as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it? – Goodreads

I ate this up in an all-consuming-couldn’t-put-it-down kind of way. I was on vacation when I read this, so I was able to binge read the hell out of it while the graveshift boyfriend slept until noon.

To put it simply, Theodora’s life kind of sucks for, well, most of her life. The suffering was almost too much (rape, prostitution, poverty, abuse, etc.) — but her resiliency and strength was what kept me reading. Rather than accepting her fate, she took matters into her own hands and made it work.

Thornton navigates these topics expertly and in a non-exploitative manner — these events are what shaped this woman and drove her to take her future into her own hands, to refuse to be a pawn.

The book is in first-person through Theodora’s eyes — this gives the reader a firsthand account of her emotions, thought process and world. She is a multi-dimensional character, and I came to really care about her and her future by the end of the book. I hurt when she hurt. I was upset when she was upset.

If you’re looking for a fabulous historical read on a woman who rose from the bottom — this is it. It’s powerful, it’s well written. I rated it a 5/5.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

25574782#1 internationally bestselling author Karin Slaughter returns with a sophisticated and chilling psychological thriller of dangerous secrets, cold vengeance, and unexpected absolution, in which two estranged sisters must come together to find truth about two harrowing tragedies, twenty years apart, that devastate their lives.

Sisters. Strangers. Survivors.

More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed.

The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it. – Goodreads

Damn it, I’m so torn on this one. On one hand, yes, I finished the massive 688 pages of this. On the other, I was horrified and only kept reading because I paid $10 for the damn thing.

The story is told from three points of view: third-person POV from Claire (wealthy, wife of dude who is killed in the beginning), third-person POV from Lydia (Claire’s estranged sister) and first-person POV from their father, who committed suicide many years prior. His POV is told through letters to their dead sister, Julia.

Claire is the stereotypical trophy wife — thin, wears expensive clothes, plays tennis, lives in a big house, super gorgeous, etc., etc. I found her to be a little unbelievable most of the time — she came from humble beginnings yet seemed to forget literally everything about that and has zero regard the wealth around her.

Lydia is also an annoying stereotype. Single mom, dating an ex-con, she’s an ex-drug addict, all she does is complain about her weight.

Lydia and Claire haven’t spoken in years (as in — Claire doesn’t even know Lydia has a teenage daughter). But after Claire’s husband is murdered, they run into each other, some crazy ish goes down and they *sort of* become friends again. For the sake of not ruining the plot, we won’t go into that much more.

Anyway, the characters were okay. Some were flatter than others. I really hated the extreme corrupt cop vibe throughout the entire book. That also wasn’t believable to me.

I don’t mind thrillers. I don’t mind blood and gore. But the blood, gore and sexual violence in this book was over the freakin’ top. There is torture, murder, rape…usually in that order. Slaughter’s descriptions in these passages are very detailed and definitely paint a picture — though graphic — for the reader, so I can’t really fault her writing there.

I will give her credit — there were some twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting. The second half of the book definitely made it difficult for me to put it down — I think I was desensitized to the graphic material by that point (though every time I thought that, something else would happen and I’d be all surprised again).

My personal rating of this book? 3/5. However, if you like graphic violence in your psychological thrillers, you might enjoy this one. I will definitely be checking out other Karin Slaughter books.

The Comprehensive INFP Survival Guide by Heidi Priebe

32319547Despite their agreeable demeanor, INFPs represent one of the most passionate and complex personality types within the Myers-Briggs Inventory. Employing a wholly unique stack of cognitive functions, this type sees the world around them not just as it is but also as it could be—making them a deeply imaginative and highly idealistic personality.

In this detailed, type-based survival guide, seasoned MBTI author Heidi Priebe explains the strengths and struggles INFPs face as they navigate the world around them as one of the most creative and emotionally intense personality types. – Goodreads

I know, I know. Another MBTI book, Lauren, really? Weren’t you an ENFP? Literally, didn’t you just read Priebe’s ENFP book?

Okay, okay. Yes. Yes, I did. However, after reading this, I’m 99% I mistyped myself, as INFPs are prone to do. Afterall, I’ve been testing as an INFP for YEARS. What, suddenly I like to surround myself with people and I’m an extrovert? Yeah, so I retook the test and answered all questions with an extrovert angle. Thus, ENFP. I’m dumb. Apparently we’re also guilty of mistyping often.

This type lives in a world of identity possibilities and they are constantly shifting their perspective and redefining exactly what it means to be themselves.

Anyway, this book made me realize I’m just not operating on a healthy level as an INFP, which is really messing with me.

One thing that I have a difficult time coming to terms with — especially pursuing the career path that I am — is that I am a very emotional person, in the sense that I feel deeply and am constantly processing everything around me on an emotional level.

emotional intensity of the INFP is this type’s greatest blessing as well as their greatest curse.

But enough about me. The book was good — though I did enjoy the ENFP guide better. This one was VERY heavy on the cognitive functions and I found myself flipping back and forth to make sure I was getting it all. I had to stop often to make sure I was absorbing the information; it was a lot of heavy stuff to take in, whereas the ENFP guide was a lot more fun-centric. This one was very deep and definitely hit the darker points of my type, which was needed. If you’re looking for a funny read on what your type does at a party, though, THIS IS NOT IT.

One of my favorite parts of the book was how INFPs work with other types — though it was phrased in the context of relationships, it was pretty easy to ignore that language and relate it to how I interact with other types in a day-to-day sense. It was also helpful from a romantic angle, though, as my boyfriend is an ENTP and we often see the world very differently. All of our challenges were spot on and provided helpful tips on how to understand where the other type is coming from.

The ENTP may feel smothered by the INFP’s need for reassurance and commitment, whereas the INFP may feel neglected by the ENTP’s need for independence and freedom.


Overall, the book was exactly what I needed to identify my funk and figure out a plan of action on how to get out of it. I’ve definitely been rolling in a tertiary loop and need to work on strengthening my functions.

If you’re an INFP, I recommend this. If you are close with an INFP, I recommend this. I rated it a 4/5 on Goodreads.

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

6340471At the dawn of the Roman Empire, when tyranny ruled, a daughter of Egypt and a son of Rome found each other…

Selene’s legendary parents are gone. Her country taken, she has been brought to the city of Rome in chains, with only her twin brother, Alexander, to remind her of home and all she once had.

Living under the watchful eyes of the ruling family, Selene and her brother must quickly learn how to be Roman – and how to be useful to Caesar. She puts her artistry to work, in the hope of staying alive and being allowed to return to Egypt. Before long, however, she is distracted by the young and handsome heir to the empire…

When the elusive ‘Red Eagle’ starts calling for the end of slavery, Selene and Alexander are in grave danger. Will this mysterious figure bring their liberation, or their demise? – Goodreads

I have pretty mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I’m a biased, loyal Michelle Moran reader who adores reading historical fiction about Ancient Egypt.

On the other hand, this one definitely wasn’t my favorite.

One thing I typically love about Moran’s books is the strong sense of connection to the main character. I found that I didn’t really care about Selene that much. Sure, I appreciated the fact that she was smart and cared about her studies, whereas other women were only interested in parties (I identified with Selene a bit there), but that was where it ended. I had a difficult time with believing their emotions when they were sent to Rome and how quickly they bonded with the people there.

Many of the characters fell flat and were obnoxiously predictable. Actually, much of the story was predictable, down to the identity of the Red Eagle, which was a pretty big plotline.

I was also a bit sad at the lack of romance. There was some, but not a lot. Mostly the love interests annoyed me.

It was an okay read — I read it in Mexico and finished it in a day, but I definitely recommend Moran’s other books more. I rated this a 3/5.


The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

29405093In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is—a woman with the courage to bare her soul to stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.

Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friend—an unforgettable and fun adventure that you wish could last forever. Whether she’s experiencing lust-at-first-sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her cross-fit instructor’s secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller that will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably—but only because it’s over. – Goodreads

I. Can’t. Even.

It has happened. Someone has dethroned Mindy Kaling in my book of comedic royalty, and that someone is Amy Schumer. From the first chapter, I was sucked in and couldn’t stop. Which was good, because I read the first three-quarters on our journey to Mexico and the last quarter in the first day.

Seriously, I couldn’t stop laughing. Snickering. Inhaling sharply. “Is Amy writing about penises again?” the boyfriend would ask. This book is not safe for children and if profanity and vulgarity offends you, don’t pick it up.

Despite the naughty humor — which you should expect if you’ve ever watched Amy’s show or standup — the book tackles some pretty serious topics, too, such as gun control, sexual assault and multiple sclerosis (her father suffers from it). There is some sass and humor mixed in, but she does a very good job and shedding some light on these serious issues. It definitely showed me another side of Schumer and made me appreciate her so much more.

If you enjoy self-deprecating humor, stories about sex and being blackout drunk, feminism and some serious stuff, check this out. I had a ton of laughs and really enjoyed it. I rated it a 4/5.


A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

23203252I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she is brought to London to train with Her Majesty’s sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she’s the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city–and the one she loves? Goodreads

I knew nothing about this book before requesting it. Sure, I read the description – but I’d never heard of the author, and I was a little bit nervous from reading the description.

No need to worry. This book was fabulous.

Henrietta can set herself on fire. That’s cool, but not in a time when witches are burned at the stake. She keeps her abilities a secret, until she is discovered — not as a witch, but as a sorcerer. She’s sent to study with Her Majesty’s sorcerers in an effort to destroy the Ancients, a group of magical creatures who slaughter people.

The worldbuilding was freakin’ awesome. I enjoyed the magic — it’s split between witches, sorcerers and magicians. There’s some history laid out in the book behind the three. London is surrounded by a ward which helps protect the people inside from the Ancients. The people in the slums outside of London are SOL, though.

The pacing was fantastic — I read this pretty quickly and stayed up late too many nights reading it.

I enjoyed Henrietta as a main character — she was strong, independent and didn’t rely on a man to get her out of any situation (I am slightly sad about the lack of romance, though).

There were lots of questions that were left unanswered at the end of the book. History of the Ancients, Henrietta’s father, the ivy on her stave, etc. I wished those had been answered, but hello, that’s the point of a series, amiright?

Overall, excellent read and I look forward to the second installment! 4/5 on Goodreads!

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review A Shadow Bright and Burning in exchange for an honest review. 

Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion by Danielle Walker

From the two-time New York Times best-selling author ofthe Against All Grain series, comes 125 recipes for grain-free, dairy-free, gluten-free comfort food recipes for holidays and special occasions.

When people adopt a new diet for health or personal reasons, it’s the parties, holidays, and events with strong food traditions they worry about most. In Celebrations, best-selling author Danielle Walker provides recipes and menus for twelve special occasions, from a child’s birthday party and baby shower, to a backyard barbeque, romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for two, and even a Halloween party. Of course, Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, New Year’s Eve party, and Easter/Passover brunch are also covered–along with suggestions for beverages and cocktails and the all-important desserts. Nearly every recipe is photographed, and food and party images shot on location provide beautiful and creative entertaining ideas. Delicious and easy-to-prepare dishes encourage the whole family to get into the kitchen and create lasting memories–no matter what the occasion. – Goodreads

This is hands-down my favorite gluten-free book that I own. I enjoyed Walker’s original Against the Grain, but this one is awesome. I don’t usually go out of my way to make special GF dishes — it’s pretty easy to avoid it and still eat well. However, holidays and special events are HARD. This is nice to have on hand to make a substitution for myself or to bring something GF friendly. It includes major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas and Easter, but also throws in Mother’s Day, birthdays, New Year’s Eve, etc.

First, the photography is awesome. I want to eat everything in there. Most of the ingredients are pretty standard GF materials, so as long as your GF pantry is already stocked, that shouldn’t be an issue.

A bonus? Most of the recipes are paleo-compliant, and also tend to eliminate other ingredients that folks may be allergic to, such as nightshades, dairy, eggs, etc. The recipes themselves are easy to follow.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this to those with allergies and intolerances. I’m looking forward to the upcoming holiday season to test these recipes out!

I received a copy of this from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.