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.

#needyAF

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.

L

 

Gluten-Free for Good: Simple, Wholesome Recipes Made from Scratch by Samantha Seneviratne

27774473No meal should be defined by what’s not there.Gluten-Free for Good has 100 easy, healthful gluten-free recipes that are so delicious you’ll never miss the gluten.

Here are dishes you may have thought you’d never enjoy again—not without resorting to expensive packaged gluten-free foods that aren’t as delicious or healthful as the real thing. These quick-cooking meals are for any time of day, all made from scratch without hard-to-digest processed additives like xanthan or guar gum. – Goodreads

I am not Celiac, nor am I diagnosed with a gluten allergy or sensitivity. That being said, I do notice that I have a reaction when I eat gluten after a period of avoiding it. Does this mean I have a sensitivity? I don’t know. Does this mean I should eliminate it? I don’t know. Do I believe that gluten is the devil? No. I have been trying to make a more conscious effort of eliminating it from my diet, though, as the digestive issues and achy joints that I experience after consuming it are annoying and probably not normal as compared to how I feel when I eat other things.

So, long story short, I saw this on Blogging for Books and jumped at the opportunity to review it.

Upon first flip through, I noticed the bright photography, tons of recipes, and thickness of the pages. This book is constructed well, and I had a difficult time narrowing down what I wanted to make — everything looked so good!

One gripe: many of the recipes were things that wouldn’t have had gluten in them to begin with, such as chicken and potatoes or sweet potato spinach hash. The recipes that included gluten-subs made up for it, but it still seemed odd.

Recipes vary from simple/few ingredients to much more laborious endeavors.

For the record — the Miso Shrimp with Snap Peas was the bomb.com. This will be a permanent weeknight staple.

I rated this a 4/5 on Goodreads — many of the recipes didn’t seem very imaginative, but the photography was beautiful and I enjoyed the idea behind it—it’s not defined by what isn’t there. I received this through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

L

Top Ten Tuesday: 8/16

Tuesday

Top Ten Books Set In Historical Times

  1. Nefertiti by Michelle Moran | This is still one of my absolute favorites — I hate mummies, but I’m a little bit obsessed with historical fiction involving ancient Egypt.
  2. Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran | This was my first jaunt into the historical fiction realm, so it’s near and dear to me.
  3. The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan by Stephanie Thornton | I also love books about ancient China, and this one was exceptionally well written.
  4. The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran | Also maybe I’m just obsessed with Michelle Moran.
  5. The Moon Palace by Weina Dai Randel | I just finished this one and really enjoyed it.

L

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel

25577005A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor’s attention. Many paint their faces white and style their hair attractively, hoping to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts, yet she will give the Emperor a gift he can never forget.

Mei’s intelligence and curiosity, the same traits that make her an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive. – Goodreads

Political intrigue, prophecies, history, ruthless killings…this is like Game of Thrones, ancient China style.

I was immediately drawn into this book and had a hard time putting it down. I really enjoyed Mei as a main character — she was strong, determined and focused on her goal (even if that was winning over an old dude who was possibly crazy, enjoyed hurting people and couldn’t keep it up). She’s not the only determined one — plenty of other girls are also determined, and will stop at nothing to get ahead of the others. Backstabbing galore!

I loved the worldbuilding in this — it was easy to picture the characters, the palace, the attire. Randel’s writing flows well and I was definitely invested in the characters, who were also constructed well.

I really enjoyed the romance aspect of this book — it wasn’t the overarching theme, and it was subtle — however, it was heartbreaking to watch Mei pursue a violent, terrible man in order to rise through the ranks while being completely in love with Pheasant, a kind-hearted prince who stood no chance of becoming Emperor.

The book isn’t for the faint of heart — there is plenty of blood, gore and violence, including a maid being trampled by horses, a flutist being killed by his forbidden, someone getting kicked in the face by a horse, someone getting beaten to death, etc. Very vivid imagery on those passages.

Overall, I rated this a 4/5 — I wasn’t so in love with it that I will be picking up the second installment, but it was a very enjoyable and intriguing read.

L

The Shadow Queen by CJ Redwine

23299513Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart. – Goodreads

I really enjoyed this book. I wasn’t IN LOVE with it, but it was a fun, quick read that was very refreshing after being in a reading slump for so long. It definitely made me realize how much I miss the Fantasy genre, that’s for sure.

I have one tiny gripe with the book, and it’s a personal problem…so I’ll get it out of the way and get on to the positive aspects of the book, which are far more numerous. I hated the names. Hated them. They felt made up and forced — Ravenspire, Lorelai Diederich, effing’ Kolvanismir Arsenyevnek…I could not stand the names. Again, tiny gripe.

I loved the characters, names aside. Lorelai was strong and confident and embodied many characteristics that I appreciate in a strong female MC. I also really liked Kol — rather than treating Lorelai like a damsel in distress, they were a team. Irina was a fabulous villain, especially because the POV would occasionally switch to her. The only character who lacked significant development was Leo, Lorelai’s brother…I’m hoping more is coming on him in future installments, because he fell flat for me.

The worldbuilding was great, especially between Ravenspire and Eldr. I could clearly picture the two, the magic system, etc.

There is some romance, but it’s not the primary focus on the story. It’s a little instalove-y, but not enough to turn me off.

In all, this is a great retelling of Snow White — if you enjoy magic, retellings, light romance and strong female leads, check this one out. I rated it a 4/5 on Goodreads.

L