Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: Bitter is the New Black + Make it a Gift

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

Visit the author's hilarious blog

Review by Lauren

bought my copy; all opinions are my own. I'm an affiliate with The Book Depository, so purchase through there if you wish!

Official Summary: Jen Lancaster was living the sweet life-until real life kicked her to the curb.

She had the perfect man, the perfect job-hell, she had the perfect life-and there was no reason to think it wouldn't last. Or maybe there was, but Jen Lancaster was too busy being manicured, pedicured, highlighted, and generally adored to notice.

This is the smart-mouthed, soul-searching story of a woman trying to figure out what happens next when she's gone from six figures to unemployment checks and she stops to reconsider some of the less-than-rosy attitudes and values she thought she'd never have to answer for when times were good.

Review: I've known about Jen Lancaster for awhile now, and I even own two of her books (including this one) but when you review things, it's often difficult to find time to read the things you buy yourself. These days, though, I've decided it's important to mix up what I read and review - for my own sake and to hopefully make my blog a bit more interesting. Therefore, I grabbed Jen's first memoir, Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a condescending, egomaniacal, self-centered smart-ass, or why you should never carry a Prada bag to the unemployment office. Wow, that's one long title!

However, based on the aforementioned title, I think it's clear that this is one amusing memoir! While Jen is certainly someone who lived the high life and took that for granted, she does get knocked down quite a few pegs throughout Bitter is the New Black. Experiencing money troubles, depression in her husband, two charity dogs she just couldn't give up, her inability to find a job (on any level!!), and yes, even more, certainly changes Jen. Does she become Mother Theresa? No. But that's asking a bit much of anyone, isn't it? And besides, humor really can be the best medicine and it seems to be Jen's saving grace in the end.

I loved how atypical Jen was, even when it meant her proposing to her boyfriend in order to receive money from friends and family. She's not always doing what you might think is right, but regardless, she does have a heart. She loves her boyfriend-  turned husband - Fletch a lot and will do almost anything to take care of him when things begin to go down hill in his career as well. Fletch is a welcome addition to Jen's life when reading this memoir too because he's the calm to Jen's manic, the reasonable to Jen's crazy, and in the end, it shows that sometimes opposites really do attract.

Basically, I really enjoyed this one. I wouldn't say I laughed out loud the entire time...but that's also because this is a memoir of hardships. It's mixed with some great humor and crazy scenarios, but it's still about being knocked down and getting right back up. It's also about chasing your dreams, and who wouldn't root for that? I'll definitely be reading more by Jen (including her novel!) in the future.

Make it a Gift

As should be obvious by now, Jen is one sarcastic lady! Therefore, if you're going to gift Bitter is the New Black (or any of Jen's other memoirs) you should think about adding this Sarcastic Ball. As it says, "Ask a simple question, get a sarcastic answer." I think Jen would approve!

Site Description: Some of us need a little abuse now and then. If no one is around to dish it out, the Sarcastic Ball will do nicely. Lines like, "ask me if I care" and "yeah right" will taunt you. The Sarcastic Ball has 20 different messages to keep you in stitches. Just ask it a question, turn it over and read its answer in the little blue window.

Buy it from Office Playground for $7.99

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Celebrate That City Gift Guide

Celebrate that City Gift Guide

My Favorite City is a wonderful website to visit if you're looking to get a gift basket honoring various cities' flavor! You can see Boston above, but they have Florida, Philadelphia, and more! To see all of these cities, you visit the Welcome Gift Baskets page and you can browse the various cities, choosing between the Travel Basket and the Welcome basket. Prices vary, but they are all around the $20-$30 range, so not terribly priced!

I will say that some baskets simply use the city by wrapping. You get a city-themed mug, but then the chocolate bar will be wrapped in city-themed paper, etc. The baskets I love the best are the ones that utilize local products like the Chicago Welcome Basket. Two of the more Chicago-specific items are-

  • Chicago Coffee - Sample some gourmet Chicago roasted Gourmet Coffee.
  • Chicago Nuts - A delicious snack from The Chicago Candy and Nut Company.

  • The BBQ Pantry on etsy offers up Chili by the State, and there is even a Chili by the State gift set (pictured above).

    Etsy Shop Says: This is a party pack of chili kits. Try all 5 states that are known for their chili & my own competition chili kit. This is a chili lovers dream.

    The states included are New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. You can get these individually too, if you only want chili from one state.

    For those in the U.S. who like to try food from other countries, you might be interested in the Try the World box subscription.

    What the Site Says About Their Classic Paris Box:

    The best way to experience a culture is through food and art. Sourced from across France, this limited edition box includes delicacies made by family-owned companies using traditional recipes. For the curious ones, here are some items we selected amongst many others that will delight you:

    1. Tea blends by Le Palais des Thés
    2. Salted butter caramels
    3. Chabert & Guillot nougat bars
    4. Artisanal natural jams by Alain Milliat
    5. Sel de Guérande flower of salt (fleur de sel) from Brittany
    6. Hot cocoa by Les Confitures à L'Ancienne

    In addition, our team of local experts has put together a taste of the lifestyle through authentic cultural items, such as a handpicked playlist by French Djs, Marvin and Oscar. 
We carefully selected this assortment in order to offer you the most authentic experience of French culture.

    Another lovely etsy shop, Mary Jo Larson, offers up a Cotton Canvas Envelope Clutch Bag with the city of your choice! The above photo shows you some examples of cities people chose!

    I think this is such a cute gift idea! Maybe you have a favorite city you like to visit, or want to visit. Maybe you want to honor the city you grew up in...or the place you're moving too. So many options!

    This next item is pretty gender neutral, which I love! The list of cities isn't long, but if the city you want is there, these City Map Glasses would be a wonderful addition to any kitchen! Some cities included are Chicago, Boston, and L.A. Check the link for the rest!

    These City Dish Towels come from Uncommon Goods, just like the glasses above. There are more city options for these towels, so that's a plus! And it includes one European city (Paris).


    Hopefully some of you will find a lovely gift celebrating your favorite (or current) city from the list above! If you need any more ideas, just email me at lauren51990 AT aol DOT com and tell me what you're looking for (as well as the city you want).

    Wednesday, September 25, 2013

    Fall Movies: Actor Edition

    I love the fall; the weather, the caramel apples, Halloween. Where I live, though,  I feel like we don't get the fall weather for as long as I'd like. It tends to get cold really quick. Regardless of weather, the time change means it will be dark super early. Cold weather? Dark out? That just screams, GO SEE A MOVIE! And luckily, there are a lot of interesting films coming out in the next few months that I hope to see! I'm going to make two of these posts though - one for actors and one for actresses! Obviously, there are many people that make up these films, but for each movie, I'm going to list just one actor or actress that I particularly love.

    Fall Movies: Actor Edition
    movies are listed in order of release

    Movie: CBGB
    Actor: Alan Rickman
    You Know Him From: the Harry Potter films, Love Actually, etc.
    Out: October 11

    Actor: Daniel Radcliffe
    You Know Him From: the Harry Potter films
    Out: October 16

    Movie: The Fifth Estate
    Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch
    You Know Him From: Sherlock Holmes in the BBC Sherlock
    Out: October 18

    Movie: Thor- The Dark World
    Actor: Tom Hiddleston
    You Know Him From: Midnight in Paris, War Horse, etc.
    Out: November 8

    Movie: The Hobbit- The Desolation of Smaug
    Actor: Martin Freeman
    You Know Him From: John Watson in the BBC Sherlock
    Out: December 13

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013

    Review: Fairy Tale Comics by Chris Duffy

    Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told By Extraordinary Cartoonists (edited by Chris Duffy)

    Review by Lauren

    Buy a Copy via The Book Depository (I'm an affiliate)

    copy sent for review, but all opinions are my own

    Official Summary: From favorites like "Puss in Boots" and "Goldilocks" to obscure gems like "The Boy Who Drew Cats," Fairy Tale Comics has something to offer every reader. Seventeen fairy tales are wonderfully adapted and illustrated in comics format by seventeen different cartoonists, including Raina Telgemeier, Brett Helquist, Cherise Harper, and more.

    Review: This collection of fairy tales is the perfect gift for any fan of the original tales. Instead of merely hearing the story, you get wonderful illustrations in a variety of styles to add enjoyment. I could see families reading these aloud or older readers perusing them on their own. No story is particularly long so it's perfect to grab and read when you only have a few moments of free time (or to use as a fun bedtime story for the younger crowd).

    As each story is told in the comic format, it reads quickly and keeps your attention. Every story is written and/or illustrated by a different artist so you're always getting something new. Some drawings are more cartoonish, while others are detailed such as the story Rumpelstiltskin by Brett Helquist.

    One of the most unique stories in the bunch is probably Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Graham Annable as there are no words. Instead, the illustrations give you plenty of details to understand this classic tale. Obviously, this is one that would be harder to read as a bedtime story (unless you added in the words yourself) but it's a nice addition to the book.

    I also loved that each story includes where the original came from. Most of the stories included are, of course, from the Brothers Grimm but they did try and mix things up and I found many stories I wasn't aware of before. Examples of the latter were The Small Tooth Dog by Charise Mericle Harper that came from the English tale as told by Sidney Oldall Addy and Rabbit Will Not Help by Joseph Lambert that came from the Bre'r Rabbit tale as told by Dora Lee Newman.

    Definitely an enjoyable collection! It includes plenty of tales to excite any fairy tale fan!

    Sunday, September 22, 2013

    Gift Guide: Random Assortment of U.K. Gifts

    I feel bad that a lot of my gift guides include items that don't ship to the U.K. or cost a lot to ship there. I know there isn't much I can do about it, unless more online shops would have same or free worldwide shipping. At any rate, I thought I'd make a fun (random) gift guide of items that all come from U.K. shops/sites.

    First Dance Didi Disc from The Gold Disc

    Cost: £39.99               

    Since we were talking about wedding gifts recently, I had to share this! I would love to get this for a couple I knew who really appreciated music. You can pick various colors (disc, frame, and mount) so it's suitable to your taste. Obviously, the disc includes the song and artist of the couple's first song...and you can include a dedication note at the bottom. Isn't this awesome?

    I Fell Cushion from Ohh Deer

    Cost: £35

    I know a couple people that love France, so I think they'd really enjoy this quirky Eiffel tower cushion pillow. I think it would make a wonderful addition to any house that enjoys to have fun and doesn't take life too serious.

    Ferris Bueller's Day Off Womens T-shirt from Ohh Deer

    Cost: currently on sale for £5

    If I could get this shirt, I totally would! I love the movie, but I also just really enjoy this quote. It's so true! I'd take advantage of this sale if you can, because this is a great deal.

    Sound Asleep i-Music Pillow from PrezzyBox

    Cost: £14.95

    I think if I could listen to music when lying in bed, I might be able to fall asleep quicker some nights. I know sound is disruptive for some, but there are a lot of people that like noise - music, the TV, etc.

    Doodle Case for iPhone 5 from

    Cost: £9.95

    While this would be good for anyone, I could really see teens enjoying it. They can utilize their free time by doodling on their phone case instead of getting up to gosh knows what! :)

    Large Retro Sweets Hamper Box from Love Your Sweets

    Cost: £24.95

    Who doesn't love some good sweets? I chose to feature a box in the middle price range, but there are a variety of choices you can choose from.

    Saturday, September 21, 2013

    Discuss Unique Factors of E-Books

    I'm currently working with author Brian S. Alexander with his novel, Waiting for the Real World to Catch Up. This novel is available as an e-book and includes a variety of fun additions to make the reading experience more exciting. For example-
    Readers get to see and experience some of Scottrick's wacko inventions first-hand, including his entry for the Color-a-Song contest, the joke booklet from Clothing for Telephones, the label from Nixon Dog food, the barbeque recipe from a contest on Live with Regis and Kelly, song and video clips on YouTube, and a playable game on the fold-out back cover, complete with cut-out money and playing pieces!
    My idea is to have a few blogs post about e-books and what could make buying them more of an investment. I know many people enjoy physical books over e-books, but if more titles included fun additions to the e-book (like Brian did), would people be more willing to read the novel?
    I think it could be an interesting discussion and I figured if a few different blogs posted about what they like in e-books or would love to see in them, it could build up discussion about this novel and others doing unique things. The only thing I ask is that the bloggers that agree to post about this topic include the book cover, summary of the book, and a link to somewhere online (amazon, the author's website, etc.) You can place this at the end and say the post is in honor of this book...or even simply that this book is doing unique things with e-books and feel free to state what you think about that. It's up to you! It doesn't have to be an endorsement, since you haven't read the book...just an example!
    I know a lot of bloggers have features on their blog where they discuss various topics, so if you want to use this there, that's totally fine!
    I'd really appreciate any and all blogs helping out! I do hope it opens up some fun and interesting discussions about e-books as well. As for the posts, I would love to have some in October and some in November, so it's spaced out among people's blogs. If you're interested, this means you have a bit of time to post!
    Get in touch if you want to help: lauren51990 AT aol DOT com

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman + Make it a Gift

    The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

    Review by Lauren

    copy was a gift, but all opinions are still my own

    Official Summary: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy. Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touch paper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie--magical, comforting, wise beyond her years--promised to protect him, no matter what.

    Review: This is the first Neil Gaiman novel that I've read. I've experienced this author through a couple of his graphic novels, but I'd been wanting to read something a bit more complete from him and I was finally able to do so when a friend of mine gave me this book for my graduation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a strange little book and it's a bit difficult to talk about when trying to avoid spoilers.

    I'd suggest that if you read this book, you go in without much knowledge concerning the actual plot. Forget that and just remember that the book is magical and fascinating, and a little bit horrifying if you place yourself in a child's shoes. As this is an adult novel, I wouldn't say it's terribly scary, but it certainly contains some spooky beings (I won't say human) that are interesting in their originality.

    The story is fascinating as it's narrated by an older version of a seven year old. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the voice speaking isn't a seven year old, only the actions presented. At the same time, there were a few things the narrator actually says when he's seven that seem beyond his age. Personally, I can chalk that up to its fairy tale nature. Everyone seems older, able to understand the world a bit more because of the terrible beings they come across.

    For someone who hasn't read anything by Gaiman, I do think I started at a good place. It might put some people it's very much an adult fairy-tale in my mind, though populated with child-like nightmares. However, I enjoyed that it was a shorter book and I could take it all in and prepare myself for another novel by Gaiman. Despite it's shorter page-length, The Ocean at the End of the Lane felt quite full.

    I will certainly be back for more from him. The same friend that give me this book gifted me with two books full of short stories by Gaiman (she's a big fan) so I'll definitely be checking those out as well.

    Make it a Gift

    At the heart of this novel is a middle-aged man who suddenly remembers a most extraordinary time in his childhood, and the people that made up the backdrop. In honor of that, I think if you were to gift someone this should also add a Time Capsule, so they can preserve their own memories for future recollection.

    The above time capsule comes from Our Sweet Home Alabama on etsy. It's described as a memory box for a child, but I think anyone could use it. It comes with a lock and key, which is even better for a capsule, since it's not something you can just flip up and look in. I think this would be a great box to collect letters, photos, and little mementos from a time in your life that you will then open up years later to enjoy: births, weddings, a childhood summer, a year in your life at school, etc.

    Visit the etsy shop to find more memory boxes and other fun items!

    If you want to find other time capsules (with a specific theme, etc.) then simply search "time capsule" in the etsy search engine! There are many other ideas.

    Thursday, September 19, 2013

    Candy and the Cankersaur + Make it a Gift

    Candy and the Cankersaur by Jason Sandberg

    Review by Lauren

    Buy the Kindle Copy today for $1.99

    copy sent for review, but all opinions are my own

    Official Summary: This is the sweet and funny tale of a young girl named Candy and her Cankersaurus Rex! Candy receives a dinosaur as a gift and is determined to train him to be a good pet.

    Review: Candy and the Cankersaur is an adorable picture book written and illustrated by Jason Sandberg. The illustrations throughout are like the cover above, so you get cartoon-ish (in a good way) drawings full of color and whimsy. The overall story is about a girl named Candy whose father gives her many unique gifts in order to spend all his time working. The next door neighbor, Chucky, is jealous of Candy and makes his parents buy him larger versions of the gifts Candy gets. However, when Candy is gifted an actual dinosaur, named Cank, Chucky must come up with a new plan to beat Candy.

    There are various messages in this book if you're looking for that, though nothing is stated outright. There are no big "lessons learned" portion of the novel. It simply ends in a happy manner for all. However, if you want to find some lessons or message to talk about with your children, you could. There is the aspect of Chucky's jealousy and the right way to go about making friends. On a bigger scale, you could discuss Candy's father and how he gives her gifts instead of spending time with his daughter.

    Each page in this book has a large, colored picture and the narrative of the story is below. I liked this, especially for a younger reader or for reading aloud, because there is plenty of illustrations to keep their attention. I think a lot of kids would enjoy this one because it has adventure, some humor, and a loveable dinosaur that most kids would want as a pet by the end of this novel!

    Make it a Gift

    Since the book is only available as an e-book, I think it would be fun to add something else to this story for the child to enjoy. How about a dinosaur stuffed animal they can cuddle with while you read the story at night?

    Aurora World has a T-Rex stuffed animal for only $13.00, though Amazon might have it for cheaper.

    Wednesday, September 18, 2013

    Waiting on Wednesday: The Extra

    Waiting on Wednesday is brought to you by Breaking the Spine

    The Extra by Kathryn Lasky

    Due Out - October 8, 2013 (so not too long!)

    Official Summary: One ordinary afternoon, fifeen-year-old Lilo and her family are suddenly picked up by Hitler’s police and imprisoned as part of the "Gypsy plague." Just when it seems certain that they will be headed to a labor camp, Lilo is chosen by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to work as a film extra. Life on the film set is a bizarre alternate reality. The surroundings are glamorous, but Lilo and the other extras are barely fed, closely guarded, and kept in a locked barn when not on the movie set. And the beautiful, charming Riefenstahl is always present, answering the slightest provocation with malice, flaunting the power to assign prisoners to life or death. Lilo takes matters into her own hands, effecting an escape and running for her life. In this chilling but ultimately uplifting novel, Kathryn Lasky imagines the lives of the Gypsies who worked as extras for the real Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, giving readers a story of survival unlike any other.

    Why I'm Waiting: I just recently came across this one and I immediately knew I had to read it! I'm fascinated by stories that deal with WWII and Hitler. I have been ever since I was younger and read books like Number the Stars, leading all the way to now when I adored Code Name Verity. The Extra sounds like another great book that has a feisty female at the center, ready to do what she can to survive. I also love that it focuses on a topic within the Holocaust that I haven't seen elsewhere.

    Tuesday, September 17, 2013

    Top Ten Books On My Fall 2013 TBR List

    Top Ten Books On My Fall 2013 TBR List
    brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish
    I made a Summer TBR list for Top Ten Tuesday a few months ago and I'm pretty sure I didn't get much read off of it. Alas, I'm still going to make a list for the fall. Some of these are released in the fall, while others are things I just want to read in the upcoming months.
    Books Released in the Fall (not in order of release, sorry!)
    1. A Stranger Thing by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal - the sequel to the book, Mothership, which I highly enjoyed. It's quirky and odd, but kind of amusing too. Out Nov. 12
    2. Made of Stars by Kelley York - I've been meaning to read Kelley York, and I think this one sounds really interesting! Out Oct. 1
    3. The F-It List by Julie Halpern - I really liked Julie's novel Get Well Soon, and I think this one sounds awesome. Out Nov. 12
    4. Reality Boy by A.S. King - Yeah, I'm one of those people that still haven't read something by A.S. King. This might be my first though! Out Oct. 22
    5. Eat, Brains, Love by Jeff Hart - I just came across this one but I love humor and I love zombies, so win-win! Out Oct. 1
    Books I Just Want to Read
    6.. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein - I chose to put this on the second list because it's already been released, albeit only a week ago. Loved Code Name Verity so I need to read this ASAP.
    7.. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith- I was so excited when I learned J.K. Rowling had another adult novel available to purchase, and it was a mystery story no less! I just need to get my hands on a copy now.
    8. Far Far Away by Tom McNeal- I don't know where I came across this novel first, but it sounds really interesting! The MC hears the voice of one-half of the Brothers Grimm! Cool, huh?
    9. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes- I knew I had to read this one when I realized I had it on my Amazon wish list as a hardback and a paperback. I need to get on it!
    10. Feed by Mira Grant - Everyone seems to love this book and it's been on my radar for a long time. Hello, zombies!

    Monday, September 16, 2013

    Review: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

    Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

    Review by Lauren

    copy sent for review, but all opinions are my own

    Official Summary: It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives.

    But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

    Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone ever imagined...

    Review: Sometimes I get random books sent my way, obviously hoping that I will find something I like and review on the blog. Dangerous Girls was one such novel and I probably wouldn't have gotten to it as quick as I did if it wasn't for the reviews I started seeing around the internet. People seemed to really enjoy this suspenseful YA thriller, and I knew I had to see what all the fuss was about!

    Really, I could say that this was book was amazing and leave it at that. I could say it gets 4 (or even more) stars and maybe that will be enough for people to pick up this title. However, I think I'll give you a bit more.

    Anna is the main character, and we're given her point of view. I liked this because it puts the reader in her immediate thoughts. She's stuck in Aruba, somewhere that should have been a pleasant vacation and that's it. Now, she's in jail awaiting trial for her best friend's murder. It's certainly not something she expected to happen and she's unsure just how to process everything that is going on. One of the worst aspects of her ordeal is hearing about her life from outside sources. Newspapers and news channels are constantly showing photos from her life, talking to people who used to be friends, and reporting on an angry party girl that Anna swears isn't the real her.

    The young, murdered girl, Elise, is given depth from the flashback chapters. It shows how Anna and Elise met each other and became the close friends they were up until Elise's death. These background moments allow us, as a reader, to see Anna develop. She becomes more vocal, more willing to go out and have fun. Elise pushes her from the corner to center stage. Anna even finds her wonderful boyfriend, Tate, while at a party with Elise.

    Seeing Anna, and others in the friend group, grow and change is important to the overall story. Haas develops tensions, jealousies, friendships, and love throughout the book. Anna is put through the ringer when in jail, from the prosecution, to the media, and even her own friends; people she thought she knew and understood. They pick apart aspects of her life and moments she's experienced in order to create a monster. It's hard not to think about yourself or people you know. If your best friend was found brutally murdered, and people began to suspect you, what would they find in your past? Could people say you're the bad influence? Are you a partier? Are you an angry person? Everyone has aspects of their life they wish could stay hidden, but for Anna, that's not possible.

    Before I go on and on, let's just finish the way I started. Give this book a chance. It's a fantastic YA novel, full of questions and thrills. You're bound to find yourself angry, happy, confused, and shocked. It's one hell of a ride!

    Friday, September 13, 2013

    Who Says You Have To Do All Your Holiday Shopping Alone?

    do not own; a Microsoft word photo
    Who Says You Have To Do All Your Holiday Shopping Alone?

    It's that time of the year, when people start to plan Christmas/holiday gifts! Unless you're like me, and you've been gathering actual gifts and ideas for gifts all year long. What can I say? I like to plan early! Plus, it's fun to shop for other people...I love trying to find new, unique presents that they can enjoy and be excited about.

    However, I know a lot of people that don't have time to really shop as well as they want. They either make the recipient give them some ideas of what they want, or they simply get the most basic thing they think the person would like. There isn't anything wrong with this. After all, you want the person to like their present, right?

    But what about those people you really want to go the extra mile for? I don't mean spend a lot of money...but just get them something a bit different, do something unexpected. Is there anyone in your life you'd like to surprise with a unique gift this year? Maybe a spouse, a parent, or even a life-long friend?

    Well, I'm here to help, if you need it. I like to do gift guide posts with random topics when I can...but if you want help with a certain person, just get in touch. I can try and make a gift guide post for the blog to help out or I can just take the information you give me about the gift recipient and see what I can come up with. You can even add price restrictions as well, if you like!

    This isn't just for the holidays either. Maybe you have a wedding, baby shower, or birthday coming up! I can always search for those items too. I know some difficult people to shop for are men, so if you want some unique ideas...let me know! (I should have a men's gift guide up soon, but I'd be happy to search out more for a specific person).

    While I'd love to do all of this for free, I am going to offer up a way for you to give back. Gift guides on the blog will always be available for free of course. If you want more specific help, though, any donation through paypal would be fab. I won't necessarily turn you down if you can't do anything, and you don't even have to mention it unless you want too. My email via paypal is easy (you can email me here for help: lauren51990 AT aol DOT com) so if you want to donate something (especially if I find something you can actually use) then awesome! I'll use some of this money on gifts for people in my own life...and I'll even try and host a fun holiday giveaway closer to Christmas (open worldwide!)

    At any rate, if I think I can help, then I will try. If, in the end, I give you some good ideas...feel free to donate to what I like to call the "holiday fund" but you're not obligated. I'm happy to help if I have the time!

    Beyond that, who else is already preparing gifts? Any new gift guide ideas you want?

    Thursday, September 12, 2013

    Reviews: Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

    Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

    Buy the boxed set today

    Review by Lauren

    copies for review, but all opinions are my own

    Official Summary for Boxers: China,1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

    Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers - commoners trained in kung fu who fight to free China from "foreign devils."

    Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of "secondary devils" - Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

    Boxers Review: Boxers and Saints is one of the most fascinating graphic novel projects I've seen. Author and illustrator Yang has created a full-bodied story of the Boxer Rebellion in China. Both Boxers and Saints is needed to get the complete story of both Bao and Vibiana (the young lady in Saints), but you're obviously able to read them as separate novels since they are companions to each other.

    Bao is a young boy who is desperate to be seen as a good fighter; he wants to be someone worthy of Chinese history. When he's finally given a chance to lead men toward eradicating the foreign devils (foreign Christians and any Chinese that have become Christians), he finds a purpose for his life. He follows a list of edicts that guide him, but he is not always fair. Bao's life is interesting because he's the youngest brother, but the one with the most power and that often comes into play.

    a scene where some of the men turn into their gods

    I will admit that both of these books are difficult to explain because they involve a bit of mysticism. For example, Bao and his band of brothers do a ritual before entering battle, where they "become" Chinese gods, able to defeat more experienced armies. The god Bao becomes is Ch'in Shih- huang, the man who united China. He is not a fair being, unable to see beyond China as a whole. He would have done anything to keep China from falling to the foreign devils and he expects the same of Bao, making him do horrific things in the name of his country. Boxers definitely has some good character development when it comes to Bao. He does not completely change throughout the book, but there are moments and experiences that help him evolve.

    I didn't know anything about the Boxer Rebellion going into these novels, but I feel like most aspects of it were easy enough to understand. If anything, it makes you want to learn more.

    Official Summary for Saints: China, 1898. An unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn't even given a proper name by her family. She finds friendship—and a name, Vibiana—in the most unlikely of places: Christianity. But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie . . . and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

    Saints Review: Four-Girl, or Vibiana as she becomes, appears a couple times in Boxers, but it is not until you read Saints (or vice-versa if you want to know more about Bao) that you really come to know this young woman. She was not deemed worthy enough by her grandfather to be given a name, so her family simply calls her Four-Girl. When Four-Girl meets a Christian man, though, she begins to learn more about the religion and finds a place away from her family. She is baptized and given a name of her own: Vibiana.

    Vibiana ultimately leaves her home and enters a village, where she lives and works in an orphanage. It's not the job she feels is right for herself, and she's desperate to find her vocation, or "calling." When the refugees of the Boxer Rebellion begin to seek safety within her new village, Vibiana knows that she must become a Maiden Warrior. This idea comes from Vibiana's knowledge of Joan of Arc. Ever since Vibiana started learning about Christianity, she started to see the image of Joan, who ends up teaching her far more about her religion than anybody else.

    Again, there is quite a bit of character development in this novel. Saints is noticeably shorter than Boxers, which is just another reason to read both books. I liked that Vibiana's story was included in this "collection" and not just Bao's point of view, because it does show both sides of this war against Christianity. It shows how people view it as a means of separating China, as well as helping its people come together. Vibiana is a feisty girl, who believed herself to be evil, because of the way her family treated her when she lived at home. Her ideas of devils led her to the Christian religion, but it ultimately becomes much more to her than a means of getting away from a family who never even gave her a name.

    Vibiana seeing Joan, before the latter became a Warrior

    The characterization doesn't just focus on Vibiana (or even Bao in Boxers). Secondary characters are given their chance to shine and share their stories. For example, in Saints, Vibiana's mother explains why she cannot allow her daughter to continue to be a Christian. It allows readers to enter her mind and see how history has shaped her beliefs, just like Joan's history will help shape Vibiana's own.

    As for illustrations, the drawings are not entirely realistic, but more animated. Everyone has a unique look and it's fairly easy to follow. The coloring is different for each book. There is more color in Boxers, such as yellows, reds, and blues. I think this works because Boxers is the longer novel, and therefore, it adds a little something different. However, Saints is more black and white throughout, with the most color coming from the scenes with Joan. She always appears in gold, as well as any other aspects of the scene that come from her time, like horses, etc.

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    Since You Liked the Last Mugs (plus mugs for the U.K.)

    Since a lot of you seemed to really like the couple mugs in my Wedding Gift Guide post, I thought I'd share some more (couple or otherwise) - as well as some mugs for the U.K. readers!

    The website Bold Loft has some other adorable couple mugs! The above set is titled Say I Love You. It's it cute? The other mugs all have similar illustrations, with various designs that connect the two mugs. And for those that were upset the woman's cup was smaller in my previous guide, you'll be happy to see these are both equal!
    The above mug isn't double, but you can get a personalized drawing of the couple on one mug and that's pretty adorable if you ask me! The etsy shop, Draw Me Closer, also offers mugs for one person, so you could get one of each person or simply one for yourself!

    Not all of you are getting married, or know someone who is, so I thought it would be fun to share a mug I think most of us could enjoy for ourselves! This Reading is My Super Power mug comes from the etsy shop Lenny Mud. This shop has a lot of other fun items too, mugs and otherwise, so be sure to browse.

    And finally, we have the Funky Mug Shop, where those of you in the U.K. can find some fun mugs!

    If you're looking for couple mugs, then you can always go for the His Royal Highness/Her Majesty mugs. They even allow you to put names at the bottom, so it's personalized!

    Obviously, there are a lot more options on the site, so enjoy! I hope those in the U.K. will find something they enjoy.

    Monday, September 9, 2013

    Review: Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy

    Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy

    Review by Lauren

    bought a copy, but opinions are still my own

    Official Summary: The most important things in Simon Murray's life are football, friends, and film-in that order. His friends despair of him ever meeting someone, but despite his loneliness, Simon is cautious about looking for more. Then his best friends drag him to a party, where he barges into a football conversation and ends up defending the honour of star forward Declan Tyler-unaware that the athlete is present. In that first awkward meeting, neither man has any idea they will change each other's lives forever.

    Like his entire family, Simon revels in living in Melbourne, the home of Australian Rules football and mecca for serious fans. There, players are treated like gods-until they do something to fall out of public favour. This year, the public is taking Declan to task for suffering injuries outside his control, so Simon's support is a bright spot.

    But as Simon and Declan fumble toward a relationship, keeping Declan's homosexuality a secret from well-meaning friends and an increasingly suspicious media becomes difficult. Nothing can stay hidden forever. Soon Declan will have to choose between the career he loves and the man he wants, and Simon has never been known to make things easy-for himself or for others.

    Review: Tigers and Devils had been on my radar for a long time, as I kept seeing it on Amazon and reading a lot of good reviews. It sounded like something I would enjoy, so I finally took the plunge and bought a copy. Boy, am I glad I did! I will definitely be trying to get my hands on the sequel, Tigerland, soon.

    Simon works for a film festival, while Declan is a professional football (soccer in American terms) player. The two unexpectedly meet at a party, where Simon is defending Declan to other football fans...not realizing the player in question is actually there and listening to the entire thing. Declan immediately crushes on Simon and the two of them start a tentative relationship.

    Personality-wise, Simon is more outgoing and sure of himself. He's out and he's happy about it, even if his family doesn't seem to completely understand. As for Declan, only a few close friends know he's gay and he's definitely not ready to out himself to the public. Despite this, the two men really like each other and want to make their relationship work. It's hard for Simon to continually keep things secret though, and it's just one thing that puts a strain on the relationship.

    I love that this is an adult LGBT novel that doesn't read like straight-up erotica. I'm not a prude about books, by any means, but I want to have an actual storyline, with characters that are realistic. Tigers and Devils definitely carries out this requirement. There is talk of adult things, like drinking and sex, but it's never too much or overly explicit. I would say older teens and up would be a nice fit for this novel.

    As for the characters, I liked that everyone seemed genuine, even when you wanted to yell at them to wake up. The book is told through Simon's perspective, and I loved that he was aware of his feelings and actions, even if he didn't always do the right thing. For example, he gets into a couple fights with his best friend and while he knows he should apologize or get in touch, he stubbornly refuses for awhile. It just makes you roll your eyes and groan "boys!" While moments like these might frustrate a reader, it just makes the world Kennedy created so much more real. Yes, it's a contemporary novel, but the author makes you believe these people could be real. They are stubborn at times, but they always want the best for themselves and those they love. They fight, but they also make up. They aren't perfect, but that makes them more human.

    Obviously you can see that I really enjoyed this novel. It's not an amazing epic, but it's a good story, and sometimes that's all you need. I will certainly be back for more by Sean Kennedy.

    Friday, September 6, 2013

    Gift Guide - Cheap, but Meaningful, Wedding Gifts

    photo from Microsoft Word, do not own
    Gift Guide for Cheaper, but Still Meaningful, Wedding Gifts

    gifts chosen by Lauren
    Gifts for the Home -  I think these would make nice wedding gifts because they are either double (so it's obviously for the couple) and/or personalized for the recipient. They would be great for the newly marrieds' home!
    Blown Away by Love Personalized Mug Set - Buy it for $24.95 at Personalization Mall
    From the site: This personalized Coffee Mug Set is the perfect pair for any perfect pair you may know.

    The mugs fit together perfectly, featuring sculpted heart handles to complete look.

    Soup and Cracker Mugs (Set of 2)- Buy it for $11.99 at Vat19
    From the Site: The clever ceramic bowl features a built-in pouch for storing your crackers until you're ready to dip them into your soup.

    Each set includes two dishwasher and microwave-safe Soup & Cracker Mugs.
    LOVE Glass Coasters- set of 4 - Buy it for $19.99 at Personal Creations
    From the Site: Add some flair to your bar with our sophisticated etched-glass Love Coasters. Perfect for any décor. We personalize with any 2 names, up to 10 characters each, inside the heart.
    Gifts for the Romantic - These gift ideas could still be wedding gifts, but they also work for wedding showers and/or bachelorette gifts since they are a bit more sweet and romantic.
    The Honeymoon Wedding Candle (you can personalize your own too) - buy it for $25 (standard) or $30 (Deluxe) at Lumnique
    From the Site: Build your own candle-
    Choose An Option From Each Tab
    1. Choose Intention
    2. Choose Color
    3. Choose Fragrance
    4. Choose Gift Set
    5. Personalize

    Engraved Wooden Spatula - Buy it for $6.50 at decadent designs on etsy

    From the Site: Laser Engraved Silicone Spatula
    Heat Resistant to 450 degrees
    Each handle is personally engraved with wording of your choice.
    Colors available: purple, teal, white or raspberry

    Wedding Baseball - Buy it for $19.95 (extra $4.95 to personalize) at Unforgettaballs on etsy

    From the Site: This is an official size and weight baseball. It comes in a Lucite cube with a white gift box.


    There you go, six different gift ideas for any upcoming wedding events you may have - and all of them are quite a bit under $50! Hopefully some of you will find something worthwhile from this list. If you have a specific person you're hoping to buy for and still need help, just email me and let me know more about them! I can always try and find more items.

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013

    Amy and Roger's Epic Detour + Music Pick

    Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

    Review by Lauren

    bought a copy, all opinions are still my own

    Official Summary: Amy Curry thinks her life sucks. Her mom decides to move from California to Connecticut to start anew--just in time for Amy's senior year. Her dad recently died in a car accident. So Amy embarks on a road trip to escape from it all, driving cross-country from the home she's always known toward her new life. Joining Amy on the road trip is Roger, the son of Amy's mother's old friend. Amy hasn’t seen him in years, and she is less than thrilled to be driving across the country with a guy she barely knows. So she's surprised to find that she is developing a crush on him. At the same time, she’s coming to terms with her father’s death and how to put her own life back together after the accident. Told in traditional narrative as well as scraps from the road--diner napkins, motel receipts, postcards--this is the story of one girl's journey to find herself.

    Review: This book has been on my list to read for a long time, and I've even owned a copy for awhile. When I was getting ready for vacation, I knew I had to bring this one along since it follows two teens traveling cross-country. Perfect for some time away from home! The book only took me about two days to finish, mostly read on the beach, and it was a wonderful experience. I will certainly be reading more by Matson!

    Amy is going through a crisis of identity. She has recently lost her father, who she had a close relationship with, and now she's forced to travel across the U.S. with a guy she barely remembers...only to reach an uncommunicative mother on the other side. Amy has a twin brother as well, but he's currently away from the family and anyway, him and Amy haven't really talked in years. For all intents and purposes, Amy is alone. Until she meets Roger and they decide to take a detour on their way to Connecticut.

    Throughout the book, Amy and Roger decide to visit different places for personal reasons; memories of her father lead Amy, while an ex-girlfriend possesses Roger's own actions.

    Honestly, there wasn't much about this novel that I didn't like. It's a regular narrative, but also includes playlists, receipts, notes, and more, which was a lovely touch and really made me feel like I was traveling with the duo. I will say that Amy was a bit slow sometimes. There were moments where she couldn't perceive what was going to happen. These are small instances, and they mostly just show that Amy isn't the best at reading people...until she begins to understand Roger more and more.

    I loved that the book included flashbacks in Amy's life, as it brings her father to life for the readers, as well as her past relationship with a college guy. It explains Amy as a character since she's not very forthcoming for awhile. Roger is much more open and I loved how he tried his best to help Amy, even when she tried to push him away.

    Definitely a lovely book that has a nice mix of light and heavy moments. I personally thought it was exciting when they visited Kentucky, as that's where I live!

    Music Pick!

    Anyway, now I wanted to share a song I thought would fit this book. The novel is full of playlists but I chose a song that's not mentioned.

    "Say Goodnight, Not Goodbye" by Chantal Kreviazuk

    I think this song fits the book because Roger doesn't tell people goodbye, and I think it could also represent Amy and her father.

    "Don't you fear, when you dream
    Waking up is never what it seem
    Like a jewel buried deep
    Like a promise meant to keep
    You are everything you ought to be
    So just let your heart reach out to me
    I'll be right, by your side
    Say goodnight, not goodbye"

    Read more: Chantal Kreviazuk - Say Goodnight, Not Goodbye Lyrics | MetroLyrics

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013

    Top Ten Tuesday: Contemporary and Classic Novels Paired Up!

    Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish

    Top 10 Contemporary Books That Would Be Great Paired With A Required Reading Book (like Perks of Being A Wallflower with Catcher in the Rye)

    I love the idea of pairing contemporary novels with a classic. I think it would help people read more in school if teachers actually did this. My list below includes books I have and have not read; but based on what I know of them, I think these pairings would work!


    1. Looking for Alaska by John Green and A Separate Peace by John Knowles (take place in boarding schools, deal with boys growing up...-I have read both of these)

    2. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson and On the Road by Jack Kerouac (I feel like road trip novels ultimately have similar themes, so this would be an interesting pairing - I have read both of these)

    3. Ten by Gretchen McNeil and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (I have read Christie's novel and I own Ten, but have not read it. However, based on the summary, Ten seems to  be a modern remake of And Then There Were None)

    4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (both are narrated by boys with mental disorders - I have read Curious Incident and a bit of Algernon)

    5. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray and Lord of the Flies William Golding (both deal with kids being stranded on an island without adults...- I have only read Lord of the Flies as of yet)

    6. It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next by Ken Kesey (both deal with guys in a mental hospital - I have read both of these)

    7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (one is a dystopia, the other is a utopia- or supposed to be- and I find the world people live in in Brave New World is similar to the Capitol in THG. Just wait until an outsider enters though! - I have read both of these)

    8. Maus I and II: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman and Night by Elie Wiesel (both deal with the Holocaust. Maus I and II are graphic novels and Art shares his father's time in the concentration camps, while Night is a memoir of Elie's time in the concentration camps - I have read all of these)

    And that's it! I hate to stop at 8, but I guess it's a bit better than being only one away! What other matches can you come up with? Link your post if you did Ten on Tuesday as well!

    Monday, September 2, 2013

    Debut Spotlight: You Knew Me When

    You Knew Me When by Emily Liebert
    Out: September 3, 2013 (tomorrow!)

    Visit Emily's website to learn more about the author

    Purchase the book on Amazon - you have until the end of the day to pre-order this novel for only $9 in paperback. Don't miss out on a great deal!

    Official Summary: Best friends forever…until life got in the way.

       Katherine Hill left her small New England hometown in pursuit of a dream. Now, twelve years later, she’s a high-powered cosmetics executive in Manhattan and a much glossier version of her former self, unrecognizable to her family and old friends. Not that she would know—she hasn’t been home in over a decade.

    Laney Marten always swore she’d never get “stuck” in Manchester, Vermont. No, she was destined to live out her glamorous big-city dreams. Instead, she wound up a young wife and mother. That was when her best friend ran out.

    When Katherine receives word of an inheritance from former neighbor Luella Hancock, she reluctantly returns home to the people and places she left behind. Hoping for a second chance, she’s met by an unforgiving Laney, her former best friend. And there’s someone else who’s moved on without her—someone she once loved.

    Tethered to their shared inheritance of Luella’s sprawling Victorian mansion, Katherine and Laney are forced to address their long-standing grudges. Through this, they come to understand that while life has taken them in different directions, ultimately the bonds of friendship and sisterhood still bind them together. But are some wounds too old and deep to mend?

    I've been Emily's intern for about a year now, and I'm so excited that her novel is finally coming out! The summer might be ending, but You Knew Me When would make a lovely end of summer/beginning of fall book. Only $9 for a new paperback is pretty great too, so hopefully some of you will take the chance and pre-order a copy today! If you don't pre-order, then be sure to check out The Book Depository, as it's on sale for $11.03 (with free shipping!)