On My Bookshelf: The Woman on the Orient Express

I posted a cryptic Instagram post about this book a few weeks ago, but I thought I’d share a full review. The Woman on the Orient Express, by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, was a book I purchased on a whim for my Kindle. I liked the premise of an historical fiction book about Agatha Christie, whose work I enjoy and whose life I wish I knew more about. Of course, the book is entirely fictionalized, if based on real people, but it is an interesting look at characters based at least in part in history.

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The story itself is not serious literature or high art. It has intrigue, action, and plot twists, but nothing ground-breaking. Of course, because it was about Christie, I assumed the story would be a mystery, which it isn’t really. But for some reason, most of the book felt like the setup of an Agatha Christie mystery. In each chapter, something is mentioned or set up that, in one of Christie’s works, would be a clue for a diminutive Belgian detective. Likewise, this book is full of Chekhov’s guns, sprinkled liberally throughout the story.

The plot begins with Agatha Christie planning a trip to the Middle East in an attempt to escape the publicity surrounding her mysterious temporary disappearance and her divorce. She is not only hurting from being left for another woman, but she is trying to balance recovery from a breakdown that has put her in the public eye. Ashford’s picture of Christie as a character is actually quite relatable, although she is sometimes a bit thick. However, whether the Christie of the book is just too stupid to see what’s in front of her or purposely turning a blind eye because she subconsciously wishes it weren’t so isn’t so apparent.

The other main characters are Nancy, based in part on Christie’s husband’s mistress, and the archaeologist Katherine Keeling, who was based on Katharine Woolley, a noted archaeologist of the time. I like how Ashford weaves the other two women into the story, although sometimes the particular plot choices are a bit soap-opera in their dramatism. That said, the characters themselves are well-enough written that they can handle their respective overly-dramatic subplots. If anything, the male characters tend to be one-dimensional, which is perhaps a welcome change in literature, in some light.

The plot does meander a bit, but it does eventually get to the point, with a rather unsatisfying climax, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a whole. There is a bit of romance, but the central focus seems to be the relationship among the three women. And it certainly doesn’t ever get boring.

That said, the thing that really grabbed me about this book was the afterwards, in which the author explains what inspired her to write this story. You see, the story is, in some way, an imagining of how Christie met her second husband. And the author calls Christie “the patron saint of second marriages,” which spoke to me on a personal level as I prepare myself to get married for the second time.

In the time in which Christie lived, it was considered a deep failing of a woman to end up divorced, and indeed it was sometimes catastrophic to end up without a husband and without the social dignity of widowhood. But the book goes further than this, bringing up the timeless issues of personal self-doubt, children’s lack of understanding, and the feelings of helplessness that accompany a divorce. Because Christie was fortunate enough to have an independent income in her writing, Ashford can treat her as a somewhat more modern-style divorcee, which helps the story reach a modern audience.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book for what I intended it: a piece of light reading in between other works. But I found a surprising depth of insight in the words of the author about Christie and her divorce and remarriage.

Beauty Reviews: Base Products

As an occasional amateur stage actress and an office worker in my daily life, I have a love-hate relationship with base products. Part of me wishes I still worked in an environment where it was more odd if I wore makeup than if I didn’t. But the realities of my life is that I probably do need to wear a little makeup on a daily basis. I personally try to get away with as little as possible, but sometimes my skin needs a little boost.

I gravitate towards sheer, lightweight base products, and then pin my coverage hopes and dreams on concealers, especially for my hereditary dark circles and the occasional spot. But I hate the feeling of makeup on my face. So here are some of the products I’ve tried recently, which ones I like, and which ones were a bit of a miss for me.

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Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer in Nude: This one was a bit of a miss for me. I tried the “Sand” color first, but found it a bit dark. My main two issues are that it tends to oxidize on me and look orange, and I find that my face feels sticky when I use this. It was not horrible enough to return, and I still like it for very, very cold days, but it still spends more time alone on my vanity than carted around for touch-ups.

Klairs Illuminating Supple Blemish Balm: I haven’t actually used a lot of Asian BB creams lately because I find it hard to find ones that don’t go grey on my skin tone, but this one is advertised specifically to have a yellow undertone and no grey cast. So I gave it a try. It’s an interesting texture, and perhaps a touch too light for me, but it’s a nice option for days when I’m not necessarily going to be out all day.

Cover Girl Clean Matte BB Cream in Light-Medium: This is actually my current go-to for the stage. I don’t need a lot of coverage, and I don’t subscribe to the practice of wearing a darker base than my skin tone on stage. And I find that when I wear this, I can get away with skipping setting powder without the director noticing. I also wore it for my most recent head shots because it plays well under lights. It’s fantastic for humid days when I feel as though I’ve been through a bowl of soup after my 30- minute walk from the train station. It’s a bit matte for the winter and days when I’m mostly going from air-conditioned building to air-conditioned building, but it will probably be the base I use for my upcoming wedding, as it is good at withstanding the day.

Pixi H2O Skin Tint in Nude: Oh my, this is one of my favorite base products. It’s sheer, but gives a little boost in terms of evening out my skin. It feels moist (almost wet) when you apply it and is quite cooling, but sets down to feel like almost nothing. And it wears beautifully, never becoming patchy. It does fade, like any makeup, but it fades evenly and doesn’t go all greasy-looking like many bases do, especially those with as natural and satiny a finish as this. It may not hold up to D.C. summer, or very long days, but for everything up to that, it’s my favorite.

Pre-Wedding Beauty: How I Am Preparing for the Big Day

As readers of my blog probably know, I’m in the process of planning a wedding. It’s coming up, too! Of course, every bride I’ve ever seen has looked radiant and beautiful on her wedding day, but I definitely want to do everything I can to help the “wedding glow.” As an avid follower of skin care technologies, I’m constantly seeing people talk about pre-wedding beauty and ask what skin care products they should be using to get their skin ready for a wedding. So I thought I’d take a bit of time to talk a bit about my beauty treatments leading up to the wedding, and why I’ve chosen what I’ve chosen. Here are my top seven strategies for preparing for my wedding.

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1. I’m not using anything new less than one month before the wedding:

This is rule one, guys. Nothing new, less chance for an unexpected reaction that I’m frantically trying to deal with the week before the wedding. I have made minor exceptions for one-time-use products that I’ve checked ingredients very carefully, but I added my last long-term-use product one month before the big day.

2. I have a strong skin care foundation:

If you’re not like me and have over a year to prepare, start as soon as possible to get a good skin care foundation. I’ve written a bit about it here, but this post is also a great treatment of the hierarchy of what to worry about when you first start overhauling your skin care. Personally, I started my most recent skin care journey over a year ago, and one year is about when I started seeing a major difference in the resilience of my skin.

3. I focused on brightening and exfoliation:

While I’ve been using chemical exfoliants for a while, I had stopped using much in the way of physical exfoliation since I started down my science-based skin care road. But lately, I’ve found that my skin gets a little… off-feeling at times. So I started experimenting with physical exfoliation for times when I wanted my skin to be an extra-nice canvas for makeup. I also still use my azelaic acid three times a week. Plus, I’ve been loving Pixi Glow Tonic, a gentle glycolic acid toner that also has ginseng and horse chestnut extracts, which are both shown to improve skin brightness.

4. I kept up my healthy skin habits:

I drink lots of water and I use sunscreen every day, rain or shine. You know what’s a good way to avoid wonky tan lines? Sunscreen. A good way to avoid dehydrating your skin and looking dull on your wedding day? Sunscreen. Sunscreen is the best aging preventative and the best skin damage preventative, so, yeah, I use sunscreen every day. Plus, I’m using exfoliants, so it’s extra-necessary. And drinking plenty of water and trying to keep up a healthy lifestyle helps keep stress in check, which in turn comes full circle to prevent stress-induced breakouts.

5. I’m thinking outside the face box:

By this, I mean, remember that your body and your smile need love, too. I realized that my love of tea has left me with a decidedly British tooth shade, so I bought a tube of whitening, strengthening toothpaste to try to remove some of the stains. For my body, since my dress has a low back, I’m making sure to use moisturizing and exfoliating lotions there, too (as well as regular sunscreen!). I’ve also started working on taking better care of my nails, keeping them trimmed and filed, moisturizing them, and using a strengthening treatment to seal in moisture and prevent splitting.

6. I practiced my hair and makeup a couple months ahead of time:

I am doing my own hair and makeup because I’m having a low-key wedding, but even if you’re not, it’s not a bad idea to make sure you know what your face looks like with slightly heavier makeup. It’s good to go into an event knowing what you like yourself to look like. I’m actually doing a slightly heavier version of my head shot makeup look for the wedding, since I know what it looks like on me and I’ll still feel like myself. I also practiced my hair so I would know what to tell the woman making my custom birdcage veil.

7. I consulted a professional to guide my efforts:

Right after I got engaged, I realized I was still struggling with breakouts more than I wished I was, so I joined Curology. There, I learned about my personal skin care game-changers and had the benefit of some professional advice. While I haven’t felt it useful to continue my subscription, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without it.

So there you have it, my seven strategies for preparing for a day when I will be gawked at and photographed more than probably any other day in my life (and certainly from closer up than when I’m on stage!). I hope some of my efforts will help inspire you to make your own plan of attack for big-day beauty.