Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20 - Hunger Games Trilogy **SPOILERS**

(The spoilers will start later, and I'll give another warning before I get into that part of it all.)

I love to browse the book section almost every time I go shopping.  I'd seen the Hunger Games trilogy many times, had even picked them up several times, but in the end never bought them.  They seemed to be the new hot thing but each time I paused to consider them it was always that post-apocalyptic thing about them that turned me away.  Then YouTube (of course) made me reconsider.  Many of the gurus I'd been watching were doing reviews of these books and loved them.  Teenagers, adults, girlie-girls, everyone seemed to love these books.  Maybe I should give them a chance?!  But still, I kept passing them by.

Hubby doesn't read nearly as much as I do.  Well, honestly, he reads one book a year and that is whenever the new Piers Anthony Xanth book comes out.  Perhaps he's catching my reading bug now though because this spring he mentioned he'd like to find more to read.  I immediately thought of the Hunger Games books again.  He watches those futuristic type movies, the sci-fi stuff, the things I thought these books were about.  I thought this would be my chance to try reading them and if I didn't like them could pass them on to hubby.

(Ok, pause here while I explain that 99% of the time the books I read are books that I buy.  Every once in a while I will borrow one from someone.  But almost never do I go to the library.  I love libraries but I don't like the time limit I have to read the books, and I usually don't even have time to GO to the library.  So while you might be sitting there wondering why I didn't just get The Hunger Games from the library and if I didn't like it just take it back . . . well, now you now.)

While talking to a male coworker who also loves to read, I asked if he'd read these books.  He said he'd read the first one and loved it but had heard bad things about the other two.  I asked if it was too girlie for my hubby, and he said no.  I asked if it was too sci-fi for me, and he said no.  So the next time hubby was shopping with me I pointed out these books and he looked them over.

"Sure, I'll give it a shot," he decided, and put the first book in the cart.  A week or so goes by and he's having a hard time getting motivated to read.  When he finally does start, he can't get into it.  He doesn't like the writing style.  He doesn't think he'll like it or finish it, and sets it aside.  I had been struggling through an absolutely horrible book at the time and decided to dump mine and try The Hunger Games.  And was immediately hooked!  Why had I waited so long???

(Spoilers will begin now . . . )

The Hunger Games
'Winning means fame and fortune.  Losing means certain death.  The Hunger Games have begun . . . 

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.  The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards is as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games.  But Katniss has been close to dead before --- and survival, for her, is second nature.  Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender.  But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.'

Even though this is not the type of thing I'd normally read, I loved this book.  I was hooked immediately and all the way through.  It was the first book in quite a while that I didn't want to put down, and couldn't wait to get back to.  It's definitely not too futuristic or sci-fi.  My stomach was in knots, I mean full on stress, worry, fear for these kids.  Ok, maybe that doesn't sound fun, doesn't sound like something you'd like to read, but my point is that the story pulls you in.  I found myself thinking about what my own odds would be if I found out today that I was being thrown into an arena with nothing but the clothes on my back and had to avoid being killed by the 23 other people who were also trying to survive.  Could I do it?  Ha.  I'd have been dead in the initial blood bath. 

Katniss chooses distance and avoidance as her survival technique.  This may seem like the way to go, but in the end you'll have to kill at least one person to win.  Along the way she does form a couple of alliances, but again, in the end she'll have to kill her allies.  It's nerve wracking and heartbreaking to think about!  Is it better to team up with someone, get you through a few more days, knowing you'll have to kill that 'friend' at some point anyway?  Things like that was what made this book so captivating.  I like that we don't get too much information about the Games beforehand, not too many details about exactly how it all works.  It's like we are going through it too, finding out things as though we really were just another helpless child thrown into the madness.

Even for as much as I loved it, there were some weak points.  The whole 'fake romance for the cameras' part of the storyline was dorky to me.  It was supposed to be a way to draw the audience's sympathy for this doomed couple, to get more sponsors and boost their chances.  And then one would have to kill the other at some point.  I didn't like this part of the story because they kept saying it had to be done, they had to fool the Capitol.  Why?  It was weak to me.

Another part that didn't work for me was the sudden announcement that oh we're going to change the rules this year and there can be two winners as long as they are both from the same district.  What?  Why?  It seemed like a pointless thing to throw in, especially half way through the Games.  It seemed like a very weak choice for how to move the story where the writer wanted it to go, especially when that announcement was later changed and they went back to 'only one can survive.'  To me, it might have been better to leave that whole two winner thing out and still have the berries drama at the end.  It would have still be Katniss and Peeta teaming up and faced with one killing the other, and the end still could have been the same.

The heartbreaker of this book was definitely when little Rue died.  Oh my gosh, have your Kleenex handy for that.  And I've seen the girl who will be playing her in the movie.  Yep, pretty sure I'll be bawling.

Catching Fire
'Sparks are igniting.  Flames are spreading.  And the Capitol wants revenge.

Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games.  She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive.  Katniss should be relieved, happy even.  After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale.  Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be.  Gale holds her at an icy distance.  Peeta has turned his back on her completely.  And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol --- a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she cannot stop.  And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try.  As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever.  If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.'

I did not like this book.  It picks up pretty much where the first book ends, but the fact that it is almost completely based on what I found to be the weakest part of the first book (the fake romance) pretty much doomed this one for me.  Where I can maybe see pretending to be star crossed lovers in the first book could get you a few sympathy votes from viewers of the Games, I fail to see how discontinuing the charade could possibly bring down a government.  Really?  'Oh Katniss and Peeta would rather die to be together' in the suicide berries pact at the end of the Games is somehow turned into an act against the government.  And not only that (weak and stupid as it is), those secret underground rebel forces see that as the motivator they need to kick their uprising into gear.  Huh?  And oh what a coincidence, it's time for the Quarter Quell games . . .  something that was never even mentioned before this, I don't think . . . and oh, we're going to change it big time this year and punish you and keep the country in line by sending you back to the arena.  HUH???  Just because it worked in the first book doesn't mean it will again.  And this second Games was too complicated, like it just had to outdo the first book.  For me it failed miserably, went way too overboard.

I just don't like where the story went with this one.  If it was going to be about the growing unrest, ok, I might have still been ok with that if it hadn't been dependent on the cheesy points of the first book.  Maybe I'm just not 'getting' it because this is not the type of story I usually read.

There were a few good parts, like Katniss's struggle to return to her previous, normal life.  Gale distancing himself from her was sad.  Not wanting to leave the old rundown shack of a home she'd been raised in to go to a rich fine government gifted home was sad.  Peeta getting mad and being surprised that her feelings hadn't been real in that fake romance was sad.  But the heart breaker in this one, even though I hated the idea of it in general, was her reaction when she found out they'd be going back into the arena.  She hadn't been expecting it, and neither had I.  Seriously, I think I gasped and my eyes were immediately tear-filled.  I loved her reaction, trying to run from the reality.  Too bad the rest of the book couldn't match those few moments.

'My name is Katniss Everdeen.  Why am I not dead?  I should be dead.

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed.  Gale has escaped.  Katniss's family is safe.  Peeta has been captured by the Capitol.  District 13 really does exist.  There are rebels.  There are new leaders.  A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it.  District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol.  Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans --- except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for the countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem.  To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distress.  She must become the rebels' Mockingjay --- no matter what the personal cost.'

I love the name Mockingjay.  I loved to hear people say the word in the YouTube reviews I watched.  Too bad I didn't like this book either.  Well, I liked it better than the second one, but would still have to classify it as 'didn't like.'  Again, this one plays on the whole idea that one little 17 year old girl is the only way this massive uprising, years in the making, can happen.  That just does not work for me.  I understand there needs to be some trigger, something to make the rebels decide 'Now is the time!' and the suicide berries incident could have been that fuse to light this bomb . . . but don't hinge it all on one girl after that.  Include her in the rebellion, sure.  Have her work with them, for them, help them, but don't make the whole dang thing dependant on her.

This book is much more straight up war type stuff.  Again, not my preferred type of story but I found this one less annoying because it was more of just that.  Plotting, planning, training, attacking.  Not so much of the Capitol inconsistencies or cheesy plot points.  Wait, I did think Peeta's whole storyline was rather ridiculous, at least up until the very end.

The heart breaker of this one was not when a certain main character died, but absolutely when Buttercup the cat returned.  I'd forgotten all about him by that time so yeah, when he returned and what happened upon his return had me bawling, yep.

In the end, I'm glad I finally read the series even though I didn't really like 2/3 of it.  That doesn't mean they are bad books.  As I've pointed out, this is not a subject I would normally read.  Maybe fans of this type of story understand the reasons for what I found to be weak or unnecessary.  I'm not saying you shouldn't read them.  I'm saying that *I* was disappointed with where the story went.  I guess I was hoping for something more sappy, like her struggles to return to a 'normal' life, or Gale's troubles in relating to her after the trauma of the Hunger Games.  I mean, she'd gone through something with Peeta that others could never imagine, and she has a bond with him now that even Gale can't quite compete with him.  Maybe there could have been rebel action, inspired by her berry antics, that she was no more a part of than anyone else in the common world of the districts.  You know, she's trying to resume her 'normal' life and sort out her troubles while the uprising is taking place around her . . . but not involving her.  She's a bystander torn between 'Yay, topple the government' and 'Go away, you're making things worse!'

I'm excited about the upcoming movie.  Like other books I've been less than thrilled with, I'm hoping the movie versions are better for me.  Hehe!

July 20 - Candles By Victoria

I've never been a big fan of candles because I've never had much luck with them.  I could never smell them unless I practically had my face in them, or they'd burn a tunnel down the center and be a waste, and I'd wonder what the thrill of candles was . . . why does everyone love burning candles??

I stumbled across wax tarts a few years ago and they immediately became my preferred form of home fragrance.  I was content with my tarts until I started watching YouTube haul/review videos.  Seeing all those people raving about the various candles they'd bought, seeing how cute or beautiful those candles were, hearing about all the sales or amazing scents . . . I wanted to burn candles too!  Was I just candle challenged?  How hard could it be to, well, light a wick???

Around Christmas last year hubby and I went through a candle burning phase.  I decided that whether I could smell them or not, I liked the look of having a candle burning and I wanted to get rid of the few we'd accumulated.  Hubby became hooked on candles and wanted more.

Then I started paying attention to some of the YouTubers and one name kept coming up.

Candles By Victoria.

I started watching more videos.  I browsed their site.  I lurked at their messageboard.  There was nothing but good things being said, and everyone seemed to mention how strong the scent throw is.  And they have tarts!  It took me a while to finally order, and I didn't want to order tarts because it was *candles* I was in search of, but in April I finally did it.  I don't remember specifically anymore what was in that first order but I know it was small because I wasn't convinced.

I am convinced now.  These are the best candles I've ever tried.  We have a big country farmhouse, large rooms, lots of space.  We can have one of these candles burning in the living room and I can usually smell it all the way into the kitchen.  Sometimes we can even smell them upstairs.  Maybe that's too much for smaller spaces, or those who prefer lighter scents, but for me it was like "AHA!!  A candle that works as well as my favorite tarts!!!"  And I was sold.  We've only had smaller sized ones so far but they have burned perfectly, no tunneling, no waste.  And the scent throw has remained strong right to the end.

I placed a second order in May, again fairly small because I wanted to try some other styles.  These have been great so far too.  Oh!  Forgot to mention that you get a free random 'scent shot' (large tart) with every order, so I've been able to try their tarts as well.

I really have no clue why I didn't take pictures of my orders when I got them, or why I didn't blog about them at the time.  Now that I've got some free time, and it's too hot to do anything anyway because of this dang heat wave, I decided it was time to do some blogging.  And realized I didn't have pics of these things!  Luckily I still have a few left to show, and I still had some of the empty containers to help me remember what I'd bought.
The main thing I've ordered has been the smaller size jars you see in this pic.  They are the mini jelly jars and are 4oz. candles.  The ones we've burned so far have been Cottage Garden, which was green and described as 'Violet, Jasmine, Rose, lily, & hyacinth, coupled with peach, pineapple & melon.'  It was sooo nice, and hubby loved it because he's not big on the foodie scents that I always tend to buy.  We've also burned Bella Swan, which was purple and described as 'Chelsea and I put our noses together and came up with the most amazing scent... just like Edward describes Bella, sweet and floral with a warm vanilla note... so pretty!!!'  We loved that one.

Others in jelly jar form that we haven't burned yet are:
Carmen Miranda (red) - 'A sweet blend of oranges, apples, berries, and peaches with a vanilla background.'  I love this one and can't wait to start burning it.  None of the individual fruits really dominate, just a really nice blend with that vanilla to soften it.
Cherry Colada (red) - 'A combination of Cherry and Coconut.'  Another yummy one.  The coconut just slightly edges out the cherry but then that cherry comes back to remind you it's there.
Butterfly Kisses (purple) - 'Creative blend of just the right amount of juicy sweetened cantaloupe with nuances of tart kiwi; rounded out with floral notes of lilac and honeysuckle.'  You definitely get the cantaloupe and the lilac, and a very nice swirl of everything else to keep you going back with a 'Wait, was that melon?  No, floral?'  An awesome blend.

We also tried an 8oz. tureen candle.  That's the larger, empty one to the right in the picture.  The tureen style jars are so pretty, definitely something you can hang onto when your candle is gone and use it for holding small things . . . spare change, lip balms, cotton balls, pen/pencil holder.  We got the Hawaiian Hula Muffin scent for this one.  It was yellow and described as 'Pineapple, Buttercream Crunch, Caramel and cookie.'  And oh my gosh, I loved this one!!  I will be getting this scent again in some form.

I also wanted to try the votive style because I figured we can just plunk one in an empty jelly jar.  Reuse, recycle, baby!  Because I am a Twilight geek and because we'd already enjoyed Bella, I ordered Edward Cullen.  They are yellow candles, and described as 'Inspired by the book Twilight and specifically Edward Cullen, the author of Twilight Stephanie Myer describes Edward as smelling like a mixture of sunshine, lilac and honey.'   I'm not sure what sunshine should smell like (lol) and this is almost too girly but it's still a very nice scent.  My first impression is that it's perfumey but then you recognize the lilac in there.  I'm not sure what Stephanie Meyer was thinking by imagining Edward smelling so pretty.  We haven't actually burned these yet.  You get three in a pack, but I gave one away.  I'll forget this is called Edward Cullen and just enjoy the scent for what it is . . . hehe.

Because I've placed two orders so far, I've received two free 'scent shots.'  I've already melted both of them but you can see what kind of container they come in, the empty plastic cup on the upper right in the picture.  They are generous size tarts in a tartar sauce type plastic cup.  One that I received was Palm Island, was blue, and is described as 'A luxury spa fragrance! Palm Island is a private island paradise located in the Grenadines frequented by many celebrities. Home of one of the most romantic and serene vacation spots in the world, Palm Island is an escape from a busy world. Candles By Victoria has created Palm Island fragrance to embrace the feeling of complete well-being of the mind, body and spirit. This upscale fragrance begins with a rejuvenating medley of sweet orange blossoms, yuzu, and kumquat; followed by middle notes of juniper, Mediterranean fan palm, and rosemary; and creates complete ecstasy with base notes of fresh sandalwood and Tahitian vanilla beans. '  I don't even know how to describe this scent.  Although this is probably not something I'd have picked on my own I have found that I really do like it.  I've been sniffing the empty cup, trying to decide what to write about it and 'fruity sandalwood' is all I can come up with but it's soo much more than that.  Without knowing what's in it, when you just smell it, yeah I think of islands, water, high class.  Very nice, very hard to describe.

The other free tart I had was called Whistlin' Dixie, also blue, and described as 'An inviting aura of twilight skies infused with red currant and soft dewberry.  This southern cotton flower is blended with ylang petals and lily of the valley and has undertones of white amber and vanilla orchid wrapped in a blanket of warm musk.'  I don't have the empty cup anymore to refresh my memory and be able to describe it but I know I really liked it.  

So yes, I'm convinced I've found candles that I can be happy with.  You absolutely have to check out the Candles By Victoria site.  There are so many sizes and styles of candles, and SOOOO many scents to choose from.  It's almost overwhelming when trying to decide what to order, but you pretty much can't go wrong.  I'm pretty sure I'll be doing a chunk of Christmas shopping at their site!  And look at the newest lines they've come out with . . . HERE and HERE.

Victoria and her husband are very actively involved with their fans and customers.  They have a very busy Facebook page, a fun YouTube channel, a huge website, busy forum, tons of contests and sales.  And wonderful products to keep that love flowing.  Go check them out now!

Candles by Victoria on . . . FACEBOOK.
Candles by Victoria on . . . YOUTUBE.
Candles by Victoria . . . WEBSITE.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11 - Birchbox

I'd never heard of Birchbox before I became addicted to YouTube.  One of the beauty gurus I was watching many months ago did a video on her latest Birchbox and explained that for a small fee you get 4-5 samples of beauty products each month.  I thought that was fine for people who are really into makeup and such things, and dismissed it.

Months go by, I'm not really watching the beauty gurus anymore, and who do I see doing a Birchbox video?  My Bath & Body Works guru, Ellie!  (See my previous post to learn more about her.)  One thing I've come to like about her channel is that she's been doing some makeup videos too.  I'm fascinated by the bigtime beauty gurus on YouTube but I'm also intimidated by them because beauty is their thing.  Ellie's tutorials are much more average user friendly.  Her makeup videos make you feel that you can do it too, not 'Haha, you want to be me!'

Ok, I am NOT a makeup wearer.  Ever.  Never have been.  Maybe there was a day or two when I was a young teen that I played around with eye shadow in the privacy of my bedroom but that was it.  Raised with four brothers, I was not a girlie girl.  My mother (no one really) never encouraged or taught me how to wear makeup.  As I got older, especially once I was married and had my kids, I was just resolved to the fact that I was not a makeup wearing pretty girlie girl.

Watching YouTube beauty videos kinda stirred something in me.  I decided I wanted to try playing around with makeup.  My work schedule gives me several days off each week, and I figured this would be good to experiment and not have to go anywhere.  I didn't know my sister was going through something similar.  I'm not sure what sparked her but while talking one day we got onto this subject and she told me she'd been wanting to do it too.  I think she'd already started dabbling in it.  Time went on, and I did nothing about it.  I'd browse the makeup aisles while shopping, get overwhelmed, and flee.  I'd tell myself I made it this far without makeup, what did I need it for now?  But it was always nagging at me.

Then Ellie's Birchbox video came along and I decided what the heck.  And I signed up too.

For those who don't know about Birchbox you can read what they are all about . . . HERE.  Basically, you pay a small monthly fee and each month you receive a box with four or five beauty products from a variety of suppliers.  Some are big name, high end, some are new companies.  You fill out a sort of 'beauty profile' and they send you things they feel might be of interest to you.  At least I'm thinking that's how it works.  I mean, I don't think every box is the same for everyone or what would be the point of the profile/preferences?  Hmm, I'll have to wait and see what others got in their July box.

Anyway, after watching Ellie's video about her first box I started thinking maybe this would be a fun way to explore the makeup world.  You can cancel at anytime.  Everyone seems to swear the boxes pay for themselves each month (last month had a full size item included).  And I can pass things I don't want on to my sister.   I signed up a couple days after watching Ellie's video and have been excitedly waiting for my first box ever since.

And today that first box arrived!  YAY!!  I was totally freaking giddy, it was hysterical.  Opened that pretty pink box in the first pic and found this . . .
Very cool looking. 
Slid that colorful band off and found this . . .
It's a sturdy cardboard cigar type box.  Pop the cover off and find . . .
Pretty blue tissue paper and an informative card.  The front has a message about this month's designer, and the back . . .
The back has information about each sample enclosed, like what it is, what the regular size retail price is, etc.  Then open the tissue paper and you see . . .
This month's goodies!  I saw food and I was like "Whaaaaa . . . ?"  But we'll get to that.  There was another little information card . . .

I also noticed another little package in there . . .
Inside this little package were the two things I was most excited about . . .

Nail polish by Zoya, in the shade 'Shay.'  I've never heard of Zoya but I figure nail polish is an easy way to ease my way into the world of pretty things.
Before I even knew what this product was I recognized the type of logo/print and got really excited.  It's by Philosophy!  I've been wanting to try their stuff for a while now but have been putting it off because of my springtime shopping frenzy.  Now I have some!  It's just a little sample bottle of Purity facial cleanser but I'm still excited.
Also got this Mineral Hand Cream by Ahava.  Never heard of them either but it's from Germany and I'm all about that!
And this Redken product called Shine Flash 02.  I *have* heard of Redken (duh) but have no clue what this product is all about.  The card says it 'gives hair a brilliant finish.'  Hmm.

And then the food . . .
It is an Almond & Apricot snack bar from Kind.  Haven't heard of them either but it sure does look yummy!  I was laughing about there being FOOD in my intro to beauty package.  It's like, according to your profile you don't need makeup but you'll always need food.  lol

I'm still excited about getting this Birchbox but I am a bit bummed about something.  Ok, true, when I filled out my profile it was along the total clueless noob lines so I guess I can see why I didn't get any bright and shiny paint yer face products.  But at the same time, I was hoping I'd have gotten *something* in the makeup category.  All of the things I got are very useable even for me, but . . . ya know what I mean?  I'll see what next month brings me, and see what others got this month, and then maybe I'll change my profile a bit.

If you'd like to join the Birchbox fun, check out their site . . . HERE.  You can also buy full size versions of the sample items at their site.  You can shop other items.  You can earn loyalty points to spend on products.  You can learn things.  It looks quite interesting and I've only just skimmed the surface since I signed up.

Thanks once again to Ellie for inspiring me to give it a try!