Wednesday, April 16, 2014

VoxBox Lipstick Review

From my instagram 

I got the Influenster voxbox about a month ago and I've become obsessed with how bright and lush the moisture renew lipstick from Rimmel London makes my lips. You would think that for this kind of color saturation, you'd need at least two coats, but let me assure you that it goes on bright with the very first coat.
The color is vibrant and slightly glossy when it first goes on, but you can pat it down with a tissue for a more matted, lip stain look. The color won't fade when patted down. I've also made a vine of the application process, so you can see what I mean by the vibrancy of one coat.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Historical Heartthrobs" is WAY More Than a Sexy History Book

"The dreamers by day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes to make it possible" --The real life 'Lawrence of Arabia'

We've been hearing for ages now that Nerdy is the new sexy, but it seems the author of Zest Books' Historical Heartthrobs is ready to prove that that's always been the case.

Kelly Murphy has created a book that makes history romantic, and focuses on figures who don't often receive their due. Case in point: the tagline of the book is "50 timeless crushes", but JFK is nowhere to be found, and Marie Antoinette only gets a 2/5 on the "Heat factor scale". Looks aren't everything in this surprisingly measured title.

This book could have quickly turned into a weird objectification of historical gents and ladies, but Murphy establishes early on that she's not here to play that game. The figures included are rated based on a variety of elements. First they each have a mini-biography along with a photo, the tale of their sex lives (or lack thereof), why they matter, their best feature, how high their "heat factor" is, and quotables either from or about them. The book is put together like a middle school scrapbook, but like it was created by professional middle schoolers (if that were a thing). The result is a collection of portraits that humanize men and women who we may not think about as, well, men and women.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Jen's Initiation into the Gorgeous World of Mushrooms

Well, not really a story so much as a fact about me: I love eating mushrooms. I've been fascinated by them since I was a little kid. I used to pick them out of the backyard and collect them in baby food jars, and leave them lined up in the little fort part of my swingset above the slide. Someone probably should have stopped me.
I was smart enough to never eat them, or I was taught well enough, but that didn't stop me from wanting to. My favorite dish when I was little was Swedish Meatballs. I also ate Cream of Mushroom soup like it wasn't something you were supposed to mix into dishes. No lie I had a thermos of the stuff for lunch like once a week for a while there.
I was obsessed with beef stroganoff. Any time I could put mushrooms on anything, I did. And when I went out to restaurants, if there was something on the menu with mushroom anything, I was all over that shit. I've had mushrooms on pizza, mushrooms on burgers, in my spaghetti and stuffed in chicken... I keep a little Styrofoam box of mushrooms in the fridge for snacking.
Image Source: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. See Also: my brain.
The problem with this mushroom love is that I've only ever had a great deal of experience with your typical, white cap button mushrooms (see? they even have adorable names. what's not to love?), but I knew there was a whole wide world of edible fungi out there somewhere, waiting for me to gnash away on it.
Enter Chronicle Books and A Cook's Initiation to the Gorgeous World of Mushrooms.

Don't call it a cookbook. 

Yes. There are recipes in this book. However, there is so much more, and the recipes are SO not the point. Calling it a cookbook would be doing this title a serious disservice. First, there's sciencey stuff. The biology of a mushroom has a lot to do with a lack of chlorophyll. In fact, mushrooms are somewhat like icebergs in that the cap is simply the fruit of a much larger living organism underground. 
Whatever you call them, mushrooms of all shapes and sizes are fascinating to look at, to study, and to 
test out in new cooking styles (so long as they aren't toxic, obviously).
Somewhat on that note, the authors are careful to warn amateur mushroom hunters against...being amateur mushroom hunters and to instead leave the finding and the harvesting to the professionals. Everyone will be significantly less dead that way.
From Amazon, A selection of the mushroom porn found within.
The concept behind the book is to chronicle the world of mushrooms, both raw and cooked, in a collection of photographs. While there are 100 recipes included in this book, there are also tons of photos, as well as cooking tips in general, and photos of tools and cleaning techniques recommended. The next section of the book is a visual index of the mushrooms primarily used in the recipes. Not only is this a beautiful collection of photographs, but it will also ostensibly come in handy while picking out specimen for the recipes themselves.
Once you've picked out your mushrooms (at the market, or the store. NOT the forest.), it's time to get cooking, and the recipes walk you through how to Choose, Cook, and Clean the mushrooms before you begin the dish proper.

These Guys Just Don't Know When to Stop...and I Love Them For It.

If this is a cookbook, then I want to see more cookbooks like it. After the recipes that have been separated by the type of mushroom found within, there are two additional sections, titled "Outdoor spores" and "Street-Style" food. The book continues on into the history of mushroom cultivation, as well as how to dry mushrooms, make preserves out of them, how to properly use truffles, and on and on and on. Somehow, even when I got to the end of this 280 page tome, instead of feeling like a newborn expert, I feel as though my training has just begun. I suppose, then, the book holds up to its titular promise of "initiation" rather than "complete lexicon". 
The included bibliography is doubly appropriate, as it serves to show where some of the research came from, and as a launching pad for my continuing trek through the "Gorgeous World of Mushrooms".

Chronicle Books' Gorgeous World of Mushrooms

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tell Me More, Tell Me More!, or "100 Ghosts": A Review

There are a lot of "gift" books out there, mostly filled with nice sayings about sisters or Jesus or the meaning of life. Some are filled with lovely photographs of the ocean or historical information you never wanted to know. 100 Ghosts is the kind of gift book that is filled with jokes, but unfortunately I think author Doogie Horner misses the mark he sets out to make.
100 Ghosts: A Gallery of Harmless Haunts is, to be fair, exactly what the title promises; a pocket-sized encyclopedia of 100 examples of ghosts that are probably more scared of us than we are of them. Each one is a variation on the classic sheet over your head--perhaps the simplest of Halloween costumes ever to exist. Some are ironic or clever, some are just pop culture icons in sheets. So far, so good.
The prologue, however, promises something that it never achieves, namely that the book will prove ghosts are just like us and wouldn't it be funny if they roamed around the world trying to open jars and stuff? It's not to say that the jokes aren't funny, but I think this is a concept that would have or still could be better executed online, perhaps in a webcomic format. I read this book with my sister, with two of my best friends, with my boyfriend--and we all came to the same conclusion. This is the kind of thing we would find hilarious shared on facebook, or on a website where each ghost came with a daily post explaining its quirky life story. Horner achieves this with the graphs and charts on his webpage, where he posts the image and a small paragraph explaining the inspiration or idea behind it. Certainly, the Harry Potter ghost doesn't need much explaining, but why not do a whole series--further breaking the variations into collections. In fact, Horner has since done this three seperate times for EW magazine, creating Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Orange is the New Black collections for the online version of the publication.
The prologue talks about pregnant possums posing a larger threat to you than ghosts in your kitchen...I would love to see Horner take that a step further and tell us what happened when he met each ghost. Perhaps, to keep things simple, he could pose their life stories in interview format.
Maybe I'm over-thinking this, but having flipped through the book several times, I keep coming to the same conclusion. That was fun, but I wish there'd been more.

Check out 100 Ghosts for yourself at Quirk Books' official site.
For more on author Doogie Horner, check out his site, too!
Follow my posts at IHOGeek for more reviews

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This "Little Fish" May Not Be as Different as She Thinks

Almost a month ago, I rode with my mom to drop off my little sister at college for her freshmen year. My sister is seven years younger than me, and while we have a lot in common, there is one major difference between the two of us: while I have always jumped at an opportunity to travel and live somewhere new, she never even liked going on sleepovers.
That's why I was delighted to see Ramsey Beyer's Little Fish on my review pile. In fact, Caitlin (the sister headed off to her freshmen year) was also super excited to see in on my desk, too.

While Ramsey grew up in the Mid-west, our hometown is decidedly city-based. Ramsey had no familiar faces on campus, but Caitlin chose a school where she knew some of her friends would also be attending, and her boyfriend is just fifteen minutes away at a different college. Ramsey headed off to an arts school in Baltimore (fun fact--also where I went to college!), and Caitlin is enrolled in a five year program for early childhood education.

For all their differences, I had to put the book down more than once due to an uncomfortable feeling that I was reading Caitlin's journal rather than a published auto-biography by someone I'd never met. And after a few moments of reflection, I realized the simple truth: we all go through the same shit. While Little Fish's tagline is "A memoir from a different kind of year", it could easily be a memoir from my freshmen year, or Caitlin's, or any of my friends and/or other sisters, too. The details would be different, and I definitely wouldn't have thought of the format, but the meat of the story would be the same. Rather than disappointing, there was something warmly comforting about that fact.

It would seem that it doesn't matter when we go to school, or how much technology there is connecting us with our family and friends. College will always be a tough adjustment. In today's world full of tragic endings, bullys at all levels of school, and feelings of disassociation for a variety of reasons, it's nice to read a coming-of-age tale with a happy ending.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Super Pop" Is Poppin' (Too Bad One of the Lists isn't about Making Better Blog Post Titles...)

Yay! Today The Empire Strikes Forward is being featured on a blog tour for Zest Books! I am reviewing their new title by Dan Harmon: Super Pop! Pop Culture Top Ten Lists To Help You Win at Trivia, Survive in the Wild, and Make it through the Holidays. Harmon has taken on a lofty goal and broken it into bite-sized pieces for our short attention spanned culture--tackling all of pop culture in just 300 pages seems an impossible task, but it's certainly one for which Harmon was well prepared.

Instead of reading the book cover to cover, I decided to use this book the way it in which it was intended. I started with the introduction, to find out exactly what that intention was, and was rather encouraged by Harmon's unique voice and sense of humor. The introduction purports that Super Pop is sort of a field guide to any situation one may find themselves in, and I found myself bored on a Tuesday night, so I started looking through the book for anything that would make me less bored.

The book is split into five major sections for surviving the modern world: "Be More Interesting", "Get Smart(er)", "Stop Doing it Wrong", "Find Happiness" and "Survive the Holidays". Each section then breaks down even further into a handful of top ten lists, and then the lists recommend the top ten examples of pop culture that will help you to navigate, or educate yourself about the indicated situation. My personal favorite (so far) is Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales (the television show) as the number one example of "explorers who can take you to the unknown". Mind you, this is the same list that contains The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo himself.

Using DuckTales at the top of a list normally dominated by Han Solo Indiana Jones Harrison Ford is a perfect example of how Super Pop functions, because, let's face it: you're reading a book about pop culture, so there's a good chance you already know how iconic both Star Wars and Indiana Jones are, and why they are still so popular. You've probably heard of Duck Tales, and there's a good chance you've even watched an episode or two (or you're me and you've seen them all...), but then there's less of a chance that you've read The Travels of Marco Polo. Or maybe you've read it multiple times, and then there's a good chance you never had time to watch Duck Tales, because you were super busy reading books from explorers in the 1200s.

One of Harmon's goals with Super Pop was to change up the game of recommending things, if there is such a game. Harmon explains in an interview with Zest: "I was tired of seeing the same old things recommended all the time, and I thought that if I could just start out with some new list ideas, that the rest would take care of itself". Sometimes Harmon succeeds, but largely because he is recommending things for a list that's never even been written before, like "preparation for every eventuality (and several alternate universes)". This list may be the only place in the world that you can find Spirited Away, Tuck Everlasting, Children of Men, A Wrinkle in Time, Flatland, A Handmaids Tale, Misfits, and Groundhog Day all on one list.

Some of Harmon's explanations of things are somewhat reductive, for instance he explains all of Doctor Who in one paragraph and urges readers to introduce themselves to Star Trek with the 2009 movie (TOS all the wayyyyy). But I suppose if you're unfamiliar with either of those franchises, you're going to have to start somewhere, and you may as well start small. These simple explanations of massive franchises work towards another of Harmon's goals: "I, for one, have a very hard time enjoying a book or a movie unless I feel it's in the service of some greater good--sounding informed, for example, or feeling better about myself, or actually learning something new. With a little planning and ambition, I am convinced that pop culture can lead to a more fulfilling existence." Sounds like a more solid reason to catch up on Star Trek than "are you SERIOUS? how have you never seen STAR TREK BEFORE?".

As I said at the start of this post, I haven't read all of Super Pop yet, but I haven't had to survive every scenario put forth in the list of lists. Harmon set himself a lofty goal with this project, but the love and effort he put into it has paid off, and Super Pop is definitely a success!

You can order your copy of Super Pop today at!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

If Home is Where the Heart is...

My parents are getting divorced. Before you get upset or try and think of what to say...please know it's been on its way for like two years (conservatively) and honestly at this point it's long overdue and I'm sick of most of the circumstances around this situation.

That being said, I'm still obviously not "okay" with it. I'm never going to be "okay" with the end of my family as I've known it my whole life. I'm not really alright with the fact that my mom and dad won't be in one location anymore, and holidays won't be shared all together, and getting them to attend events at the same time is going to be awkward as hell.

I've had a few good grump sessions over this whole situation and more than one or two cries, but today was the first time in a long time when I got really properly sad over it. Today was different because tomorrow there's a realtor coming to look at the house, apparently. There's knowing your future will be changed forever, and then there's knowing, and this was the day when I shifted from regular to italics. It's sort of this pit that I accidentally swallowed a long time ago, but today the pit finally started to get digested. I could feel the weight shifting from my throat to my stomach, sit there like an impossible knot and challenge me to untangle whatever it was that had slid its way down my digestive system.

Now, something else to keep in consideration is my Stella Bean. My tiny 19 month old cousin is battling stage four neuroblastoma but she's constantly happy and light-hearted. She throws up, then motions for another donut. Her life is so full and positive and wonderful--even on the very worst of days. Stella inspires me, and she reminds me that focusing on the negative is a conscious choice that we make as "adults". So often we give in to the temptation to just feel that weight settle in when really we are the ones who swallowed the pit to begin with. If we'd just spit it out, or maybe never picked up the cherry from which the pit came in the first place, then perhaps we wouldn't be up late with stomach pains.

So yeah, I'm really upset. My family is dissolving into smaller pieces, my home is not going to be mine for much longer, my safety net has a huge hole right in the middle of it and I'm this close to falling through like a brick off a cliff. But from another perspective, there's a good chance family gatherings will actually be pleasant from here forward. My parents have shots at individual happiness. And knowing there's no safety net to catch me if I fall simply means I can't fall--I've got to find places that will pay me for my writing and pay me what I'm actually worth.

Anyhow I'm exhausted. I'm going to turn over and fall asleep with Doctor Who on in the background, because this is one of those weird things that soothes me whenever I'm feeling particularly grumpy.