Sunday, August 30, 2015

Interview with Emma Chase, Author of Sustained + Giveaway! (US/Can only!)

I'd like to welcome the lovely Emma Chase, to the blog today to celebrate the exciting release of Sustained, the long-anticipated sequel to Overruled, from Gallery Books!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Emma! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief introduction with us?

By day, Emma Chase is a devoted wife and mother who resides in a small town in New Jersey. By night she is a keyboard crusader, toiling away the hours to bring her colorful characters and their endless antics to life. She has a long standing love/hate relationship with caffeine.

Emma is an avid reader. Before her children were born she was known to consume whole books in a single day. Writing has also always been a passion and with the 2013 release of her debut romantic comedy, Tangled, the ability to now call herself an author is nothing less than a dream come true.


It's amazing to get to feature you today! Readers, here's a bit about the book, which just hit shelves last week:

Emma Chase, New York Times bestselling author of the Tangled series, returns with a brand new funny, romantic, sexy story!

A knight in tarnished armor is still a knight.

When you’re a defense attorney in Washington, DC, you see firsthand how hard life can be, and that sometimes the only way to survive is to be harder. I, Jake Becker, have a reputation for being cold, callous, and intimidating—and that suits me just fine. In fact, it’s necessary when I’m breaking down a witness on the stand.

Complications don’t work for me—I’m a “need-to-know” type of man. If you’re my client, tell me the basic facts. If you’re my date, stick to what will turn you on. I’m not a therapist or Prince Charming—and I don’t pretend to be.

Then Chelsea McQuaid and her six orphaned nieces and nephews came along and complicated the ever-loving hell out of my life. Now I’m going to Mommy and Me classes, One Direction concerts, the emergency room, and arguing cases in the principal’s office.

Chelsea’s too sweet, too innocent, and too gorgeous for her own good. She tries to be tough, but she’s not. She needs someone to help her, defend her... and the kids.

And that—that, I know how to do.

Describe Sustained in six words (or less!).

Fun, sexy, heartwarming, hilarious, sweet, memorable.

How did you arrive at writing romance? Are there any other genres you’d like to try your hand at, or any you want to stay away from?

I started writing romance because that was mostly what I read. I love books that I’ll smile thinking about after I’ve read them and romance fits that bill perfectly.

I would love to try my hand at horror one day. I was a big horror movie kid growing up and every once in a while I’ll get the urge to write something spooky, dark and thrilling.

I adore reading historical romances, but I’m not sure I could write one. I’d be too caught up in the research—the clothes, the mannerisms, the endearments and phrases—to ever actually write the book.


I agree; writing a historical seems like too much work! What was the inspiration for the book?

The idea for the series came when I was in Washington DD for a book signing; I fell in love with the vibrant energy of the city. The three male leads in the series all have very distinct personalities: Stanton is the southern charmer, Jake the serious protector, and Brent, the carefree playboy.

With Jake being the tough, silent type, I thought it’d be fun to throw a sweet, beautiful woman and a bunch of precocious kids at him and see what happened. 



As a huge fan of first lines, I'd love to hear the first line of Sustained. Could you give us a brief commentary on it?
I don’t use an alarm clock.
It’s funny, because I didn’t think too deeply about it at the time, but these few words really say so much about who Jake Becker is. He’s very regimented, disciplined—even in his sleep. He’s also very self-sufficient, an “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself” type of guy. He doesn’t like to depend on anyone; he’s the kind of man other people depend on instead.

Tell us about your road to publication, such as how you first queried, unexpected challenges, and things you picked up along the way.

I finished writing my first book, Tangled, when the Fifty Shades phenomenon first began. It gave me the idea to try sending my manuscript out to publishers. I received about a dozen rejection letters, and got to the point where I thought maybe the story just wasn’t good. My husband pointed out that though the manuscript had been rejected, the feedback was pretty positive and that I should keep trying. So I did—and within a few weeks, I’d had three offers from small houses to publish my book.

Throughout the process I revised my query letter and summary several times. There’s a lot of information online about what makes an eye catching query letter and for me, this was very helpful.

Are the characters from your book based off anyone you know in real life? How much else of your actual life gets written into your fiction?

None of my characters are based on one individual person I know. But pieces of my husband and friends definitely make their way into their personalities—particularly with my male characters. Sustained has the most real-to-life inspired situations, in that a lot of my children went into the McQuaid kids and many of Jake’s interactions with them were inspired by my own experiences with them.

Which character from Sustained was most difficult to write?

None of them were really difficult. One area that was tricky was how much page time the kids should get. This is a romance so I didn’t want it to be all about squabbling children and changing diapers. But it was important to show Jake falling in love with Chelsea and the family as a whole.

It turned out wonderful, because each of the kids has their own personality which brings something different out in Jake. And his interactions with them—the honest, tender way he deals with them is very entertaining and attractive.

What do you consider your biggest strengths and weaknesses as an author?

My biggest strength is writing from the male point of view. There’s a freedom when I’m in a male character’s head that makes the writing so humorous and snappy.

My biggest weakness is procrastination.

Who DOESN'T have that weakness? :) What's the greatest thing you ever learned?

Never pass up an opportunity to try new things.

How do you react to a negative or harsh review to your books?

Everyone has their own experiences and opinions. Reviews are feedback on the work—but they’re also a reflection of the tastes of the reviewer. I’ve read reviews of books that I love—that other people absolutely hate, and books that I thought were “meh” that others adore. The world would be horrendously boring if we all liked the same thing. When you know that, negative reviews become par for the course.

Blog babes, click "Read more" to find out Emma's random favorites, her best writing and personal advice, and what makes Sustained stand out as a book from all the rest. We're also hosting a giveaway for a finished copy of Sustained, so you don't want to miss that either!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

4 Heart Review: How to Bake a Man by Jessica Barksdale Inclán

How to Bake a Man
Jessica Barksdale Inclán

Page Count: 280

Release Date: October 21st 2014 (paperback edition)
Publisher: Ghostwoods Books
Source: Complimentary advanced reading copy provided by tour publicist via publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, TLC Book Tours and Ghostwoods Books!)
Rating♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

When 27-year-old Becca Muchmore drops out of grad school, all she has left to fall back on is her baking. Ignoring her mother’s usual barrage of disapproval and disappointment, she decides to start a small business hand-delivering her wares. A friend introduces her to an office of hungry lawyers, who agree to give her a try. Her lizard-booted neighbor Sal is happy to help out when he can, and almost before she knows it, Becca’s Best is up and running.

Before she can settle into a routine, things get complicated. The office ogress could easily be Becca’s sister and has absolutely no patience with cookies or other frivolities. Even worse, her boyfriend is the man of Becca’s dreams—kind, funny, successful, and brain-meltingly gorgeous. As the dark undercurrents threaten to pull her down, Becca swiftly finds herself neck-deep in office politics, clandestine romance, and flour. Saving her business (and finding true love) is going to take everything she’s got, and more.

Packed with charm, sparkling humor, and a genuinely unforgettable cast, this delicious tale of a woman struggling to find her path just might be Jessica Barksdale Inclán’s finest novel to date.

Review


Coming-of-age stories are typical for YA audiences or teenage characters, but when they involve late-twenty-somethings in the backdrop of the bustling Bay Area, they unfold into an entirely different genre. Add a self-doubting underdog—our protagonist, Becca Muchmore—who has the power to cheer anyone up with her incredible baked goods, as well some ridiculously corny mishaps she encounters on her path to finding true love, and you've got How to Bake a Man, Jessica Barksdale Inclán's latest novel.

I'm new to this author, but was drawn to How to Bake a Man because it reads very contemporary—very feathery and cheerful and cutesy. The lightness of mood, however, comes at the expense of substance and depth, which this book thinks it has—slightly worse of an offense than a book that intentionally has no substance at all.

There are so many issues with the plot in terms of believability and (personal) tolerability, even for a romantic comedy-sque novel:

1. Becca Muchmore is a grad school dropout experiencing a crippling crisis after a terrible breakup.
Have we ever encountered anything more cliché?

2. To make ends meet, she starts a baked goods company, since baking has always been her lifelong passion. Immediately and effortlessly, she is picked up by the town's most prestigious law firm and asked to cater for their entire office; her business is a success right away.
Naturally.

3. At work, Becca meets Jennifer, the "ogress" of an antagonist of the story, who is her skinnier, prettier, smarter, wealthier, and more successful doppelgänger. She develops an obsession with Jennifer.
It is very uncomfortable.

4. Becca begins to suspect that Jennifer's equally perfect boyfriend is her soul mate. Her, as in Becca's, absolutely not Jennifer's.
Unrealistic dialogue and some very heavy petting occur.

5. Becca realizes she is terribly, terribly wrong about the soul mate thing... but all's okay because her actual soul mate turns out to be (at the last minute) her best friend. It was him all along! Surprise central!
As if the plot wasn't enough of a mess already.

Being a romance fanatic myself, I don't say this often... but the main love story should have been kept out of this book entirely. It would have made for a much cleaner, sharper novel about the coming-of-age of an unlikely heroine who finds herself, along with her true passions, by first being slammed with the harsh reality that is life. Instead, How to Bake a Man went the typical, overused route where Becca Muchmore faces a few career-related and personal complications (which, judging by the degree of their silliness and lack of depth, would only happen in some chick flick... or in this book) but instead ends up finding the love of her life in an unexpected—but entirely obvious—place.

Becca's obsession with Jennifer, her lookalike, is also really, really weird, and I don't understand how it even fits in with the main plot. There's so much concentration on this strange coincidence of her meeting a woman that could be her twin, that I thought the book was heading in the direction of The Parent Trap; alas, the situation didn't really give me such satisfaction, as it didn't have much purpose. 

What's so ridiculously unappealing to me is how lacking in dimension and originality all the secondary characters are. They are written with such forced humor that they become laughable tropes. The only non-singular character is Becca, whom I'm conflicted about because I at once hate her and like (not love) her. On one hand she's delusional and really slow-witted—neither lovable nor admirable—but on the other, she's genuine and klutzy in an endearing way. Inclán could have strengthened the book immensely just by revising Becca's character (not to mention that of the rest).

The saving grace of the book is how much attention is given to all the desserts Becca bakes. Scattered among the chapters, are anecdotes on how each of her sugary, buttery treats is meaningful to her, along with full recipes. The absurd story made me really angry, but the recipes left me starving.

I now have felt everything, having finally experienced what it means to be hangry.

Pros


Light-hearted tone, like a cheesy rom-com movie // Well paced // Inclán has a warm, attentive writing style that makes Becca, the narrator, seem more personable // Actual recipes from the story included!

Cons


My opinions are Becca are polarized; I find her at times endearing and at others, completely intolerable // Predictable friends-to-lovers romance subplot // Would have been better without the "happily ever after" romance, just as an adult coming-of-age novel // All secondary characters seem like plot devices rather than real people // Voice is easy to read, but tries WAY too hard to be funny... ends up being not even remotely funny

Verdict


If you're in the mood for a cheesy contemporary romance whose premise will give any far-fetched soap opera a run for its money, you'd best give How to Bake a Man a try. Following the quarter-life crisis of a woman with little confidence but lots of baking vision, this friends-to-lovers story has an amusing story line, but is abundant in problems with characterization, voice, and authenticity. I like that Jessica Barksdale Inclán pursued a baking enthusiast's take on chick lit, but found it to be too all over the place to take seriously. I could have appreciated it more if it was satirical, extraordinarily well-written, or "packed with charm, sparkling humor, and a genuinely unforgettable cast" as advertised, but sadly, it was none of the above Americanflag

4 hearts: So-so; reading this book may cause wrinkles (from frowning so much) (x)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

On Titles and Naming Characters by Scott Wilbanks, Author of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster + Giveaway! (US only)

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster
Scott Wilbanks

Page Count: 400
Release Date: August 4th 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Literary fantasy, Magical realism, Time travel

Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.

Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

6 Heart Review: Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols

Perfect Couple (Superlatives #2)
Jennifer Echols

Page Count: 336

Release Date: January 13th, 2015
Publisher: Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Simon Pulse and Itching for Books!)
Rating♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

In this second book in the Superlatives trilogy from Endless Summer author Jennifer Echols, Harper and Brody think they’re an unlikely match—but the senior class says they belong together.

As yearbook photographer, Harper is responsible for those candid moments that make high school memorable. But her own life is anything but picture perfect. Her parents’ bitter divorce left her wondering what a loving relationship looks like. And ever since the senior class voted her and star quarterback Brody “Perfect Couple That Never Was,” her friends have been pushing her to ask Brody out.

Brody doesn’t lack female admirers, but Harper can't see herself with him. He’s confused about the match too. Yet they find themselves drawn together—first by curiosity about why the class paired them, then by an undeniable bond.

The trouble is, though they’re attracted to each other, they have a hard time getting along or even communicating well. If they’re the perfect couple, this shouldn’t be so difficult! Soon it becomes clear their class was wrong, and they throw in the towel. But they feel so changed from making the effort, they can’t forget each other. What if this match made in hell is the perfect couple after all?
We'd been in various advanced classes together since middle school, but the way he dressed made him look like he'd taken a wrong turn from the gym. That's how Brody had always been: grinning, a bit of a mess, and a world away from me.

Jennifer Echols's Superlatives series stands out to me because it follows three best friends, Tia, Harper, and Kaye, and their romantic lives—each book designated for each respective girl—in a modern-day high school setting. Contemporary YA romance is probably my favorite genre (ever!) so I quite enjoyed Biggest Flirts, which is Tia's story. Perfect Couple is Harper's story, and while it does contain the same youthful charm as the first book did, I didn't find myself enjoying it as much.

This book wasn't boring or hard to read in the least bit; overall, I got through it quickly and did not regret picking it up. It's just that I wasn't very invested in the main characters, whose realness was one of the primary strengths in Biggest Flirts.

Harper, our first-person narrator, is rather bratty and immature for being the smart one, which irritated me a lot. At first I was thrilled that this second book was told in her perspective since she's the bookworm of the three friends, but I found myself rolling my eyes at her so-called intelligence frequently. It's one thing for a protagonist to be Type A, but completely another for her to overreact at every "injustice" that she is slammed with and to have the most redundant obsessive tendencies-slash-paranoia. She isn't just anxious, but also a generally bad person: flighty, superficial, completely absorbed in what other people think of her and her social status, instantly in love with Brody even though she has a boyfriend.

I think I feel this harshly because she isn't just unlikable, but she's also weakly characterized. Echols doesn't give her enough of a personality or relatable voice, as she did with Tia. Harper's dialogue comes off as rather stilted and her point of view is very info dumpy.

The second-most annoying part of the book: the insta-love. There are SO many things I can contribute to this topic (considering ~80% of the romance novels I've read involve an undeveloped romance plot line) but I'll refrain from using this review as a ranting space. But literally, Harper has always known Brody as the hot unachievable athlete, but suddenly decides she's worthy of him because of the yearbook superlatives—because other people think so. Not because she discovers she likes him, or because she discovers he likes her, but because other people told her so. Being voted for Perfect Couple that Never Was (is that REALLY a thing, people? Really?? Anyone have that in their own yearbook?!) does not mean they're together... but Harper thinks it means they're immediately in a relationship. Unfortunately, Brody doesn't see it that way (as expected) even though he does find her attractive, which is where things go awry.

Speaking of Brody, he's fun, but still a rather flat and undeveloped character. The instant love may have been problematic, but in addition he was just too plain—nothing special. More importantly, I didn't feel he and Harper had any chemistry, despite their superlative nominations. The whole relationship, the basis of the novel, just didn't convince me. A poor romance plot could be justified by likable leads or tons of character development, but in Perfect Couple, I found none. Brody remains the same dull "hero" until the end of the book, and Harper the equally snooty "heroine."

One thing I do applaud is how Harper has other things going on at home; her attention isn't solely fixated on Brody. She feels tied down to her mom's B&B, rarely lending her time to do what SHE wants—which, okay, isn't the toughest family situation YA has ever encountered, but it's still a refreshing break from the hardly believable Brody mess. Eventually, being named to the Perfect Couple title with him makes her realize something more than her attraction: that her world is smaller than it needs to be since she is doing what other people want or expect, instead of exploring all her possibilities. I think this is a valid lesson that all young adults will learn at some point in their lives, so I'm glad it was a part of Harper's story.

Pros


Light, easy-flowing plot // Lots of drama (that every good high school romance needs) // Recurring characters (Tia, Sawyer, Will, etc.) make the cast seem more familiar, like revisiting old friends // Grounding and realistic lessons about teenage love, not just a formulaic boy-meets-girl story

Cons


Weak dialogue // Unremarkable and unrealistic plot // Harper is unlikable and melodramatic // Brody is unmemorable // No character development. At all // Internal and external conflicts are too disparate // Echols's style isn't anything to write home about // Disappointing after Book 1, Biggest Flirts

Verdict


Fresh and entertaining yet still full of high school relationship drama, Perfect Couple is a decent continuation of the Superlatives series. Unlike the first book, whose characters really stood out and left an impression on me, this one seems more plot-driven—although admittedly, the plot itself isn't that strong either. I was more excited to revisit Tia and Will from Biggest Flirts in this book, and given the opportunity, I'd try Book 3 for Sawyer and Kaye, no doubt. While I am glad I got to read the second installment in this light-hearted romance series, I'm even gladder to leave Harper and Brody behind Americanflag

6 hearts: Decent for a first read, but I'm not going back; this book is decidedly average (whatever that means!) (x)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

7 Heart Review: The 100 by Kass Morgan

The 100 (The Hundred #1)
Kass Morgan

Page Count: 323

Release Date: March 18th 2014 (CW tie-in release)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Hachette Book Group)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, FSB Media!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

No one has set foot on Earth in centuries—until now.

Ever since a devastating nuclear war, humanity has lived on spaceships far above Earth's radioactive surface. Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents—considered expendable by society—are being sent on a dangerous mission: to recolonize the planet. It could be their second chance at life... or it could be a suicide mission.

Clarke was arrested for treason, though she's haunted by the memory of what she really did. Wells, the chancellor's son, came to Earth for the girl he loves—but will she ever forgive him? Reckless Bellamy fought his way onto the transport pod to protect his sister, the other half of the only pair of siblings in the universe. And Glass managed to escape back onto the ship, only to find that life there is just as dangerous as she feared it would be on Earth.

Confronted with a savage land and haunted by secrets from their pasts, the hundred must fight to survive. They were never meant to be heroes, but they may be mankind's last hope.
"At least we know you'll be able to hold your own with the other delinquents when you get there."
"Get where?" Clarke grunted, trying to free herself from the guard's grip.
"We're clearing out the detention center today. A hundred lucky criminals are getting the chance to make history." The corners of his mouth twitched into a smirk. "You're going to Earth."

Having interviewed Kass Morgan at my blog last year and given the success of the CW series based on the books, I was plenty eager to give The 100 a try. While I haven't read a staggering amount of YA dystopian, the books in the genre that I have tried (e.g. classics like The Giver and the Uglies series), I absolutely loved; given my background, my initial impressions of the premise were highly anticipatory.

The book is told from four different teenagers' perspectives—Clarke, Wells, Bellamy, and Glass. All narratives aside from Glass's are told in a concurrent timeline, through the eyes of the delinquents who have been forced to settle on Earth for the first time in centuries. While Glass's story, which takes place back on the mothership, was initially the least interesting, it eventually pans out to serve as an anchor—a tie to the surviving, but still unstable lifestyle back in space.

Kass Morgan creates a vivid high-tech world in The 100, where citizens are divided by social standing and resources are limited—of course, except to the upperclass. Back on Earth, the prospects are obviously grim, but it's still a thrill of a journey to follow Clarke, Wells, Bellamy, and the other 97, as they each rediscover a planet that they've only read about in books, yet have such a deep internal connection with. I appreciate the idea of providing different points of view, but think it was slightly too ambitious for the author to try to squeeze a Lord of the Flies-esque conflict AND a love triangle AND an undercurrent of radiation's aftereffects (say what?) into everything. It's all interesting until it just becomes too much; I'd have much preferred one central conflict with stronger relationship-building and more background insight.

While there is no one thing fatally wrong with any of the characters, all four of them are too generic, too idealized. Everyone loves having attractive/smart/clever characters to read about, but they all start to blend together when the author tries to make them all perfect, especially since everyone thinks in close third person. The unrealistic and unextraordinary characterization prevented me from developing any sort of attachment to any of them. The only one that seemed remotely human and believable was Bellamy, our resident rebel. But then again I've always been a sucker for bad boys with a past...

That said, the story itself is filled with drama and tension between the main characters (and secondary characters!) which makes The 100 exciting to read. The sheer nature of the resettlement of our planet is enthralling; Morgan does well with engaging readers to the surprises and twists scattered throughout the novel. There's definitely lots of action-filled scenes and, love it or hate, an INTENSE cliffhanger ending, that just leaves you thirsty for more.

Structurally, I found The 100 quite hard to work with. The constantly changing perspectives get a bit disorienting because it's not just a "he said, she said," but rather a "he said, she said, another he said, another she said." Kind of exhausting. On top of that, each of the narratives are very heavy on backstory which, in good fiction, is absolutely necessary. But when it takes up 50% of the book in the form of italicized flashbacks, it gets out of control.

Pros


Fascinating storyline and world-building // Engaging; keeps you hanging on constantly // Dramatic Earth-bound adventures and minor plot twists // Bellamy is a strongly written character // Ending makes me want to read the second book! That's what ultimately matters, right?

Cons


Abundance of flashbacks is annoying; causes disorder in the flow of the storytelling // Constant narrative shifts also gets chaotic // Stylistically unimpressive // All the characters are grossly idealized (i.e. sweet, pretty/handsome, kind, brave, etc.) and thus pretty forgettable (with the exception of Bellamy) // Cliffhanger ending may cause distress

Love

Bellamy brought his hands behind his head and tilted his face toward the sun, exhaling as the warmth seeped into his skin. It was almost as nice as being in bed with a girl. Maybe even better, because the sun would never ask him what he was thinking.

Verdict


Despite my numerous quips with the lacking characters and structure of The 100, I found myself enjoying it while reading and left wanting more once finished. It's definitely a plot-driven sci-fi novel with lots of action and lots of suspense; if that's your thing, you should totally give it a chance. Kass Morgan's debut is one of those books that isn't mind-blowing, but is still hard to put down, so I definitely understand its appeal to mainstream young adult audiences. While unimpressive in a literary lens or by composition, The 100 is still a promising first installment in an exciting dystopian series Americanflag

7 hearts: Not perfect, but overall enjoyable; borrow, don't buy! (x)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Top 10 Summer Beauty Essentials: 2015 Picks ft. Uriage, theBalm, and Korean and French Makeup (Products I Actually Use!)

Summer is one of my favorite makeup seasons not only because the bright, splashy colors and bronzed, golden looks, but because it's what I consider the most minimal makeup season. The warmer weather calls for lighter coverage, while the humidity and beach- or poolside-oriented days require makeup and skincare that will last all day. Here are my favorite picks for summer so far, plus why I depend on them so much (and why you should too).


Summer Beauty Essentials


Skin


'Tis the season for perfect skin! Okay, so maybe that has less to do with the sunshine and more to do with how we're caking on less product, but I really feel summer skincare is more simplified. That said, with all the extra sun you're getting, you should definitely be taking extra precautions to take care of it!


1. Cleansing Water

Since I don't wear heavy foundation in the summer, I find myself not doing the whole triple cleanse thing every night, and just opt for a cleansing water (like the famed and ridiculously priced Bioderma Micelle) and face wash on a daily basis. I live for the Vichy Micellar Solution (my #1 pick!), Nature Republic Jeju Sparkling Water which is ubiquitous in Korea, and Simple Cleansing Micellar Water found at any drugstore in the States, whose price you can't beat either!


2. Facial Mist

Facial sprays are a must-have for me not only for setting makeup, but also to refresh your sweaty, heated faces from being out in the sun so long. I personally fancy the Eau Thermale d'Uriage because of its soothing and cooling benefits, and Caudalíe Grape Water for an instant moisture and mineral boost. Both sprays come out of a nitrogen can in a very fine mist rather than an annoying squirt, and contain NO alcohol or other irritating ingredients, which most other facial mists have. While these aren't exactly makeup extending sprays, they do help get rid of that powdery makeup finish, in the same vein as Mac Fix+.

3. SPF

Sunscreen is probably the NUMBER 1 summer necessity for me (although really, it should be year-round). Even a few minutes of unprotected sun exposure can harm your skin that won't only result in immediate discomfort (sunburns!) but also long-term, irreversible damage. One of my biggest gripes with sunscreen is how uncomfortable or tacky they feel, especially under makeup, so I opt for sheer, more fluid mediums that you can't even detect on the face, such as Uriage Hyséac Fluide SPF 30, which dries down to a silky matte finish, perfect for oily/combo skin. A Korean (and more affordable) alternative is the Etude House Sunprise Mild Watery Light, which has a really watery texture as its name indicates. The Uriage one contains physical SPF while the EH one is purely chemical, so make sure you know which works better for you.

A typical SPF routine should also include protection for your lips, a very sensitive but often forgotten part of your face. If you don't enjoy the idea of slathering sunscreen on your lips (as would anyone.....), invest in a lip balm that contains SPF. J'adore Maybelline Baby Lips in Quenched (in the blue tube), which goes on clear but smells DIVINE and Grape Vine (in the green tube), which gives off a gorgeous sheer barely-there berry-toned tint.

Face


4. Tinted Moisturizer (in lieu of foundation)

As much as I love the coverage of my holy grail BB creams and concealers, the summer months are when I feel most confident about letting my natural skin shine. On an every day basis, rather than applying my normal base products, I prefer to use light coverage tinted moisturizers that will just color correct any redness or minimize any enlarged pores I have. A favorite of mine is the Urban Decay Beauty Balm, which flatters any medium-toned complexion (it may not match fairer or darker skin tones, its biggest flaw!) by smoothing out skin imperfections but still being lightweight enough to look like you're wearing no makeup. As an added bonus, it includes SPF (yay!) and fares well in the water too. Since it doesn't provide super high coverage, it wears off beautifully too—no worrying about touchups or makeup melting throughout the day!

5. Blush + Bronzer in One

Contouring is any beauty blogger's obsession, but I actually ditch it in the warmer months (eep!). The entire chiseling and sculpting routine is way too much for me, especially when my summer philosophy is less is more. That said, I can't ever skip my blush, so I love bronzier or even downright brown-toned blush shades that can serve as a blush+bronzer duo. Blushes like Benefit Dallas, a "rosy bronze," and theBalm Balm Desert really give you that sun-kissed blush effect. That "I just ran a few miles in the sun and now have a flawless tan" effect. That "I'm naturally rosy and glowy and bronzy" effect. You know what I'm talking about.

6. Highlighter

So, forget about contouring; STROBING is what 2015 is all about! Basically, it's a technique where you skip contouring altogether and just go straight to highlighting... everywhere. Cream highlighters are all the rage for this effect, but who has time for adding more sticky goopy stuff onto your face? I abide by my classic theBalm Mary-Lou Manizer for a golden glow, and when we're talking 2015, you can't forget about Jaclyn Hill's fancy collaboration with Becca ChampagnePop either.

Eyes


7. Cream or Potted Eyeshadow

I go pretty minimal with summer eye makeup, just because I can't be bothered to mess with smudging eyeliner and powdery eyeshadow fallout. My go-to look involves smudging a long-wearing cream eyeshadow like Stila Smudge Pot in my crease and blending it out with a lighter all-over shade like E.L.F. Smudge Pot in Cruisin' Chic (SO cheap yet SO good. This stuff won't budge on your eyelids).

8. Waterproof Mascara

This is something I reserve solely for the summertime because it's such a pain to get off. That said, it's an absolute summer necessity, whether you're splashing around in a pool or sweating up a hurricane in the sun. My favorite picks include the Maybelline Volum'Express The Rocket which keeps your lashes curled all day with no drooping, and Innisfree Skinny Microcara, a Korean alternative which has a super skinny brush and bristles for clump- and mess-free application—perfect for lower lashes. Make sure to get the waterproof versions of each for summer, as both come in regular formulas (that I show love to every other season) as well.

Color


In all practicality, when it comes to minimal summer makeup, color cosmetics would be the last to go for me. But why would you even bother wearing makeup if you couldn't take advantage of the trendy bold and beautiful colors that scream summertime?


9. Vibrant Lipstick

I can't go a day without thinking about ColourPop, whose storefront boasts $5 products all over. Yes, you heard me right: FIVE DOLLA PRODUCTS. The $5 Lippie Stix are a lip lover's dream, especially because of the color selection they offer. As a normal neutral lip-lover, I venture out of my comfort zone when wearing Julep, a universally flattering "bright red coral in a Cream finish, perfect for getting down and dirty in the infield or classing it up in 'Millionaires Row'." If you aren't as feeling as daring, you should try Crunch, a more muted peachy coral in the Sheer line that will give you a hint of color, but not stand as much as a Cream finish.


10. Equally Vibrant Nail Polish

Zoya Selene takes the cake on mermaid nails—doesn't the sparkly teal remind you of a shimmering ocean? For a classic orange/coral summer color, try OPI Is Mai Tai Crooked? from the 2015 Hawaii Collection—it's the perfect fruity orange creme!

Tell me:
What are your summer beauty essentials? I'd love to hear what products you're loving this year!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Behind The Scenes of Fury’s Kiss by Nicola R. White + Giveaway! (Open internationally!)

Fury's Kiss (New England Furies #1)
Nicola R. White

Hawthorne, Massachusetts has always been a nice place, a safe place—a boring place. At least to waitress Tara Walker, who dreams of more excitement than slinging plates of seafood for Cape Cod tourists. But as Tara learns when she is attacked and forced to fight for her life, fate sometimes has a funny way of giving you exactly what you wish for. Faced with strange new powers and embroiled in a murder investigation, Tara must now race to uncover the secrets of the ancient Fury that has woken inside of her—and of the evil that stalks her.

As if Tara’s life hasn’t gotten complicated enough, she is forced to ally herself with Jackson Byrne, witness to her assault and uncle to a pint-sized oracle whose fate is intertwined with hers. Skeptical, stubborn, and oh so sexy, Jackson wrestles with demons of his own. He is determined to ignore the attraction rising between them even faster than the body count, but like it or not, he and Tara need each other if they are to unravel the mysteries that surround them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rome in Love by Anita Hughes Giveaway! (US/Can only)

Rome in Love
Anita Hughes

When Amelia Tate is cast to play the Audrey Hepburn role in a remake of Roman Holiday, she feels as if all her dreams have come true. She has a handsome boyfriend, is portraying her idol in a major motion picture, and gets to live in beautiful, Italian city of Rome for the next two months.

Once there, she befriends a young woman named Sophie with whom she begins to explore the city. Together, they discover all the amazing riches that Rome has to offer. But when Amelia's boyfriend breaks up with her over her acting career, her perfect world begins to crumble.

While moping in her hotel suite, Amelia discovers a stack of letters written by Audrey Hepburn that start to put her own life into perspective. Then, she meets Philip, a handsome journalist who is under the impression that she is a hotel maid, and it appears as if things are finally looking up. The problem is she can never find the right time to tell Philip her true identity. Not to mention that Philip has a few secrets of his own. Can Amelia finally have both the career and love that she's always wanted, or will she be forced to choose again?

With her sensory descriptions of the beautiful sites, decadent food, and high fashion of Rome, Hughes draws readers into this fast-paced and superbly written novel. Rome in Love will capture the hearts of readers everywhere.

Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of Rome in Love—yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is tell me:
If you could play the protagonist from any movie, who and what movie would it be? Is this one of your favorite films or does the character just appeal to you?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Anita and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher—a huge thank you to the lovely folks at St. Martin's Press!
Giveaway ends August 19th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US and Canada readers only—sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar for the list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide. There are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Top 5 Surprising Things About My Writing Process by Pam Jenoff, Author of The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach + Giveaway! (US/Can only)

The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach
Pam Jenoff

Adelia Montforte begins the summer of 1941 aboard a crowded ship bound for America, utterly alone yet free of Fascist Italy. Whisked away to the seaside by her well-meaning aunt and uncle, she slowly begins to adapt to her new life. That summer, she basks in the noisy affection of the boisterous Irish-Catholic boys next door, and although she adores all four of the Connally brothers, it’s the eldest, Charlie, she pines for. But all hopes for a future together are throttled by the creep of war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home.

Needing to distance herself from grief, Addie flees—first to Washington and then London, where the bombs still scream by night—and finds a passion at a prestigious newspaper. More so, she finds a purpose. A voice. And perhaps even a chance to redeem lost time, lost family—and lost love. But the past, never far behind, nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned with. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

6 Heart Review: Little Black Lies by Sandra Block

Little Black Lies
Sandra Block

Page Count: 352

Release Date: February 17th 2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Wunderkind PR!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

She helps people conquer their demons. But she has a few of her own...

In the halls of the psychiatric ward, Dr. Zoe Goldman is a resident in training, dedicated to helping troubled patients. However, she has plenty of baggage of her own. When Zoe becomes obsessed with questions about her own mother's death, the truth remains tauntingly out of reach, locked away within her nightmares of an uncontrollable fire. And as her adoptive mother loses her memory to dementia, the time to find the answers is running out.

As Zoe digs deeper, she realizes that the danger is not just in her dreams but is now close at hand. And she has no choice but to face what terrifies her the most. Because what she can't remember just might kill her.

Little Black Lies is about madness and memory—and the dangerous, little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.
I pop the pill into my mouth and climb back in bed. My brain slows to a thrum, listening to the Xanax. Arms jelly, legs jelly, brain jelly, melting into the bed. But before I fade off, the finest gossamer of a thought sticks in my brain like a burr.
The fire. After twenty years, why am I dreaming about the fire?

Even after the finality of my 3-out-of-5-star rating for Little Black Lies, I still find the premise completely fascinating. The psychological thriller genre is one among my favorites, and combined with my personal/professional interest in the field (I'm currently studying psychopathology), I couldn't resist picking this one up. While the originality of the plot and extensive psychiatric research and experience that went into this book impress me greatly, I do have to say this book isn't exactly the thriller I expected—or wanted—it to be.

Dr. Zoe Goldman has a tragic past, having lost her birth family in a housefire as a baby. As an adult though, she's doing quite all right because she doesn't remember any of it. This was a fabulous starting point—I love the idea. Sudden dreams and flashbacks of the fire, which she hasn't had since she was a very young child, coincide with the arrival of her newest patient, Sophia Vallano, a beautiful sociopath who murdered her own mother. As both the nightmares and paranoia intensify and Zoe's own psychiatric care begins to go awry, she becomes obsessed with questions about her birth mother's death, including what really happened in that fire, especially when her adoptive mother begins to slip up on Zoe's own life facts, which are too eery to be due to the dementia.

The premise is excellent, and in summary, the book sounds complete. Completely for me. Unfortunately the poor characterization and technical annoyances disappointed me immensely, rendering the book to fall short of what I was initially hoping for.

My first problem was with Zoe herself; even acquainted with her as a first-person narrator, I just couldn't connect with her voice. She's clearly intelligent and very grounded, but as a character, she is stiff, more intellectual and mechanical than relatable. The few sequences of emotion she displays (sympathy for her mom, attraction to her boyfriend, etc.) come off very unconvincingly, which I feel is more an issue with Block's writing than anything else. In the same vein, I didn't like any of the characters in the book, so this reinforces the notion that Zoe isn't just a megabitch, but that the author created weak characters in general. While well edited and concise, Block's hand lacks the fluidity and style that a good novel needs to really reel me in.

That being said, I had no problem reading the book or following the plot. The directness and clarity of the story's progression made it effortless to get through, which is saying a lot, provided the disorientating nature of Zoe's random, mentally unstable flashbacks of her childhood. Block takes two distinct story lines—one in the present and one in the past, that, together, would otherwise be very confusing—and has produced a readable, manageable novel, which is a feat in and of itself.

The rising tension in the novel is so prolonged, that it actually eventually got boring... but I still didn't hate it. I was definitely engaged in following Zoe's journey of discovering the inconsistencies between her unreliable memory, actual childhood, and what she was told by her adoptive parents growing up.

My biggest quip is with the climax/ending. The entire point of the book was to culminate in a dark dangerous secret (which I will abbreviate as D.D.S. from now on) that even the synopsis on the back cover hints at, but it just didn't enthrall or terrify me, as a good thriller should. The climax isn't predictable necessarily—by which I mean, it did surprise me. However the D.D.S. revealed didn't exactly have me reeling, either; it was rather inevitable, and even the back cover teased it in the back of my mind from the beginning, so it was rather anticlimactic.

Pros


Original plot // Interesting medical/psychiatric background and terminology // Creative intentions

Cons


Not the most stylistically written // Inevitable, not-so-frightening D.D.S. // Hopeful premise, but overall not memorable or remarkable // Romance subplot not only is irrelevant/disjointed, but also cringe-worthy and clichéd // Zoe is a straightforward, no-nonsense protagonist, but rather irritating and unlikable // Weak secondary characters

Verdict


Slow paced, technically flawed, and lacking in developed and believable characters, Little Black Lies was a let-down for me all-around—mostly due to my enormous anticipation for it as a psychological thriller. Psychological and at times thrilling? Well, sure, but it's not one of those searing, edge-of-your-seat, mind-blowing thrillers, mostly due to its languid, stretched-out rising action and unavoidable climax. There are moments in the story, especially regarding the solidly researched and written medical topics, that did indeed excite me, but overall Sandra Block's debut novel doesn't particularly stand out to me as a top recommendation Americanflag

6 hearts: Decent for a first read, but I'm not going back; this book is decidedly average (whatever that means!) (x)