My 4 favorite books that I read in 2015

favorite books 2015 review

One of my goals in 2015 (and every year) is to read more, and I definitely stepped it up. I love sharing the ones that I enjoyed (and couldn’t stop thinking about); here are my top 4 from 2015.

The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsThe “girl on the train” is Rachel, who commutes into London and back each day, rolling past the backyard of a happy-looking couple she names Jess and Jason. Then one day Rachel sees “Jess” kissing another man. The day after that, Jess goes missing. 

This one has been a best seller for months but I’d heard a few negative reviews. I borrowed a copy and decided to give it a try. I was completely engrossed, which is interesting because I really didn’t like Rachel, who tells most of the story. (Actually, I don’t think that I really liked any of the characters.) I did figure out what happened pretty early on, but it was a quick read and I was satisfied with the ending.

The Interestings: A Novel by Meg WolitzerThis knowing, generous and slyly sly new novel follows a group of teenagers who meet at a summer camp for artsy teens in 1974 and survive as friends through the competitions and realities of growing up.

I started this one back in 2014 but just couldn’t get into it. The first few chapters are about Jules, Ethan, Jonah, Ash, and Goodman — a group of friends from summer camp. (Ash and Goodman are sister and brother.) Again, I didn’t really like any of these characters and I’ve never been to summer camp, so it didn’t reel me in. I came back to it a few months ago, determined to not waste my $9.99. I’m glad that I did, because once you pass the summer camp days, you follow the group into their post-collegiate lives in NYC, which is much more fascinating. The characters and setting reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Marriage Plot. It’s one of those coming-of-age books with complicated friendships and relationships that sticks with you, even if it’s about annoying rich kids.

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper: Simultaneously hilarious and hopeful, This Is Where I Leave You is as much about a family’s reckoning as it is about one man’s attempt to get it together. The affectionate, warts-and-all portrayal of the Foxmans will have fans wishing for a sequel (and clamoring for all things Tropper).

I admit that I definitely pictured the actors who play the characters in the movie while reading this, but I think that made it more real for me. Imagining Tina Fey as Wendy, the sarcastic sister in a sad marriage, Jane Fonda as the sassy Jewish mother, and Jason Bateman as Judd, the lovable main character who just found out that his pregnant wife is having an affair, made it all more realistic and funny. (The only one I struggled with was the youngest brother, Phillip, who I kept picturing as Dax Shepard. He actually plays Wade, Judd’s boss and who his wife is cheating with.) Long review short, the Foxman siblings have to sit shiva after their father has passed and the novel is about dealing with family, returning to a hometown, and all of the hilarious and heartfelt craziness that goes with it.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellSet over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.

I’m such a sucker for books like this. I love a good, witty, interesting love story and there’s nothing like remembering a first love. Eleanor has a sad life and is the outcast at school, but Park becomes her friend and eventually falls in love with her. Their first time holding hands, sneaking out to meet, etc. is all so well described by Rowell that you can remember when you were in that place, too. Since the book takes place in the 80s, there are also awesome throwbacks to mixed tapes. I have an issue with book endings — I’m often frustrated or annoyed with how the story wraps up — but this one ended just as I felt it should.

I’m always looking for great new reads! What are your favorites from this year?

Review: Iron Rooster’s adult pop-tart and more

Iron Rooster

Restaurant: Iron Rooster

Neighborhood: Canton (at Canton Crossing)

Architecture/Ambiance: Iron Rooster occupies the former Farmstead Grill space, which is open with soaring beams and a nice whitewash.

Service: It was a media event, so I’m sure it was turned up a notch, but they were quick, friendly, and up for a little bantering.

Food, food, food: Pro tip: Leave room for the homemade pop-tart! Some of my OrderUp crew joined me for a media tasting and we sampled the watermelon feta salad, shrimp and grits, chicken and biscuits, and the pop-tart.

The watermelon feta salad was diced watermelon, feta, arugula, jalapeño vinaigrette and a balsamic reduction. In December, the watermelon is definitely not local, but the sweet flavor with the balsamic was so fresh.

The shrimp and grits, a Southern favorite, was a bowl of  jumbo shrimp, poached eggs, stone-ground grits, chipotle bacon butter (WHAT!?) and white wine. This stuff is rich. We had a ramekin to sample and that was enough for me. I could definitely taste a little bacon, which was delicious.

Next up was my personal favorite — the chicken and biscuit. It’s buttermilk-marinated crispy fried chicken breast with balsamic honey and raspberry preserves on a freshly baked biscuit. The biscuit was crumbly and sweet with just the right buttery-ness and the sweet honey and preserves were amazing against the fried chicken. I may have had two …

… but I still had room for the pop-tart! These aren’t the silver-packaged ones of your youth, my friends. These are fresh pastries packed with sweetness, topped with sauce, sprinkles, and a dollop of whipped cream. You have to be prepared to go into a sugar coma, but it’s worth it.

Iron Rooster

Biggest pro(s): Who can hate on breakfast all day? There are many times where I’m craving waffles at 3pm. These dishes are decadent, so just one is likely enough to fill you up. Also, free and plentiful parking, which is hard to find in the city.

Biggest con(s): Canton Crossing reminds me a little of an office park, so Iron Rooster ends up feeling a bit like a chain restaurant, but it’s not an overwhelming sense. Also, as someone with a weaker stomach, the Southern-influenced menu can feel a little heavy.

Have you been to Iron Rooster? What did you think?

How I totally failed ClassPass BUT you should try it for $10 for a week!

Classpass review

Remember how I had the amazing opportunity to try Classpass for free for one month and I wrote about the classes that I did in the first week? After that, you’d assume that I tried a bunch more and fell deeply in love with some new form of exercise, right?

Don’t be so silly.

I realized that the only class that I liked was yoga (preferably hot, to burn maximum calories) and that I wouldn’t go outside of a short drive from home. If I had to go more than 10 minutes, it wasn’t happening. So I only tried those two.

Regardless of what a failure it was for me, I’d totally encourage other people to try it. I think it’s a good deal if you love classes (which I learned that I don’t) and are willing to go outside of a 10-min radius to try new ones (which I learned that I won’t).

ClassPass has rolled out an awesome opportunity to try a week — unlimited! — for just $10! That’s a steal, kids. Most classes are at least $10 EACH. Click on this pretty pic to try it:

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Review of ClassPass: Week 1

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I started with ClassPass last week and, while I didn’t get to as many classes as I had hoped, it did at least get me off my butt.

I started with Hot Vinyasa Express at Charm City Yoga in Fells Point. I like yoga for the occasional stretch, but if I am using it as a workout, I really want to sweat. Hot Vinyasa offers me the best of both worlds. I get the deeeep stretch of yoga while sweating buckets.

My next class was a hip hop class at REV Cycle in Locust Point. I’d been to REV almost a year ago, so I knew what to expect, but I forgot how much cycle bores me. Jami was awesome, the music was amazing, but I just can’t get into it. I’ll definitely go back at least one more time, but I’m not sure if it’s the exercise for me.

My review of ClassPass (<— affiliate link) so far? I love the flexibility to try classes, but the $99 monthly cost is a bit steep in Baltimore, where most gym memberships are less. I do love it in the winter when I have little motivation to run! Plus, they sent me this super cute tank top:

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I’m excited to try a class with my friend, Jess, who is also doing ClassPass. Check back next week!

 

 

Review: Stitch Fix #11 (or the one after a very long break)

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Let’s pretend it hasn’t been exactly one month since I’ve posted and just dive into this Stitch Fix order.

Laina 3/4 Sleeve Striped Tie-Waist Dress ($38)

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It’s super soft, which is nice, and I love grey, but it’s kind of a terry cloth material, which makes it feel more like a beach cover-up.

Esten Button-Up Sleeveless Blouse ($58)

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Love the fun grape color and I love a good sleeveless top, but this doesn’t really feel special. It’s kind of like any top that I could get at Marshall’s or something — and definitely spend less than $58.

Jaclynn 3/4 Sleeve Button-Up Cardigan ($38)

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I loooove cardigans and this is a nice dark grey (although it looks a little brown in the pic), but I prefer slightly longer cardigans. It also didn’t feel different from an Old Navy cardigan that would cost half of what this does. It is had some special embellishment or something different about it, I might consider it.

McQue Solid Lace Sleeve Blouse ($48)

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Do we have a winner here? I love the navy and the lace sleeves are so pretty. (Don’t worry, I wouldn’t wear it with a tank underneath, so there would be no line.) I lean toward v-necks, but I could dress this up with a necklace.

Trinidad Chevron Print Henley Blouse ($48)

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I know that it’s wrinkly and hard to see, but this is a pretty blue chevron pattern. Here’s a closer pic to show the pattern and buttons:

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So, what do you think? Which Stitch Fix picks are keepers and which should be returned?

UPDATED review: Stitchfix #10 (or the one where I can’t decide)

 

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UPDATED: Includes my comments, your comments, and what I kept.

I can’t believe this is my 10th Stitchfix (<– referral link). They still feel so new and exciting! (Want to read about my past nine Stitchfixes? Click here.)

When I peeked online, I was excited to see three sleeveless tops and two dresses, which sounded perfect for summer. I did quick Google searches for images and found a few that all looked good. I was very hopeful going into this Stitchfix. Could it be the one where I keep ALL FIVE?

I’m posting without any commentary because I don’t want you to be swayed by my opinions. Okay, go!

ROSCO FLORAL PRINT CROCHET DETAIL TANK, $58

I thought: At first glance, I thought this was cute. Not my color, but nice details and something different. I did think that it’s something that I could likely find at Forever 21 for 1/4 of the price, but I kept the option open.

You thought: “This first tank top is cute but I don’t think it does anything for you.” – Michelle

Verdict? Returned.

SF1

ABIGAIL COLORBLOCK LACE TRIM TOP, $58

I thought: Uh oh. These cap-sleeve style tops tend to make my shoulders look very broad, so I’m hesitant. I do love this color of blue, and oddly, I think it kind of makes me look thinner.

You thought: Rave reviews! “LOVE the colorblock + lace top – great color and versatile.” – Katharine

Verdict? Kept it.

SF2

CLYDE CENTER PLEAT SLEEVELESS BLOUSE, $48

I thought: Love this color, but it looks pretty big. It fit better on, but the neck was a little wide.

You thought: It had tepid reactions. Everyone said it was nice, but nothing amazing. Good tip: “Target has much cuter & more flattering pleated sleeveless tops for much less than $48.” – Ariana

Verdict? Returned.

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AMIRA POLKA DOT FLUTTER SLEEVE DRESS, $68

I thought: Polka dots! Navy! Ruffles! I’m in love … but maybe too many ruffles?

You thought: Most people liked this one, but I still couldn’t quite get on board with it. There was just something about it …

Verdict? Sent it back.

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TOULOUSE SLEEVELESS COLLARED WRAP DRESS, $68

I thought: Love the color and I LOVE wrap dresses. I’m not crazy about collars. It buttoned at the bust, but needed one more button below it. (You can see that it’s doing a weird puckering in the middle. ” It looks weird in the boob area,” said Brianna.)

You thought: “What is that, a lab coat?” “No, it’s a wrap dress.” “You say that like I’m supposed to know what that means.” – Convo w/Steve

Verdict? Sent it back, too.

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Note: How FAT is my cat?!?

 

So, what should I keep??

Review: June 2014 Birchbox

Birchbox review

For the past three years, around the 10th of each month, I anticipate the arrival of my new Birchbox. (If you don’t know what Birchbox is, it’s a small box full of sample- or full-size products for you to try. You fill out a profile with your likes, dislikes, hair color, eye color, etc. The team at Birchbox puts together a box of 4-5 samples for you to try for just $10.)

Here’s the rundown of what was in my June 2014 Birchbox:
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Supergoop!® Everyday SPF 30 with Cellular Response Technology

I’ve had a few products from this brand, and while there is nothing wrong with it, I am never very impressed. I threw this into my overnight bag so that I have sunscreen if I need it.

 

Folle de Joie eau de parfum

I put in a request to not receive more than six perfume samples per year, but I am glad that I still get a few because ones like this one are amazing. (I actually found my current perfume, Kate Spade Twirl, via Birchbox.) It’s been less than one month and I’m out of it already. I think this may be a future full-size purchase.

 

Number 4™ Super Comb Prep & Protect

I’ve also tried several products from this line,and think that they work pretty well, but I can’t get past the smells. Maybe it’s more of a lack of scent, but they have sort of a salon scent to me. My hair is really soft when I use it, though.

Jasmine Seven™ Wipes

I’m not sure why I would ever really need foot wipes. Is that a thing that people do? Wipe down their feet? Sure, everyone’s feet smell a little bit, but do we really need to be wiping down with specialty wipes? I tried one and it had a nice peppermint sent, but I passed them along to a friend who always talks about her foul-smelling feet. (She knows who she is.)

Coastal Scents® Revealed 2 Palette Set

This sample size of eyeshadow is awesome because it has four different shades and each one is a pretty good size. I love, love, love the colors and they are pretty pigmented, so they stay on for most of the day. It reminds me of the Naked palette from Urban Decay. Big fan of this and may also buy a full-size palette.

As you can see, I think I definitely got my $10 worth. I will use everything to at least some extent, and found two things that I may ultimately by as full-size products. AND I just learned that I’m now a Birchbox ACE, so free shipping for me!

Have you tried Birchbox yet? Are you a fan?