9 Things I Love About the Holidays

holiday ideas, holiday traditions, holiday favorites, holidays 2016, christmas 2016

All of my friends know that I’m an absolute nut when it comes to the holidays. I can’t help it- I just love Christmas so much. As we’re getting into the holiday spirit, I thought it would be fun to share a few things that I love about this season.

1. Decorations: Being in the city during the holiday season is the best because it’s so festive everywhere. The city gets all dressed up for the holidays and I freakin’ love it. Some moments, when I’m strolling through the streets and see all of the lights and decorations, it really feels like there’s holiday magic in the air.

2. Holiday music: Give me all of the Christmas albums. Of course I love the classic songs, but I love a good pop Christmas album as well. My absolute favorite song though is The Christmas Song (the Nat King Cole version), which I’m listening to right now as I type up this post.

3. Holiday cards: I’ve been sending holiday cards for several years now and it’s one of my favorite traditions. I remember that the first year I sent holiday cards on my own (my first Christmas after college), I felt so adult. I’m a big fan of snail mail in general and I think it’s lovely to send a note to my friends to let them know that I’m thinking of them and wishing them a happy holiday season.

4. Christmas trees: Christmas trees line the streets all over the city and it definitely adds to the festive feeling (see item #1). Plus they smell so amazing…

5. Traditions: I’m someone who likes to have a routine and stick to it, so our family traditions make me feel very comforted. When we were younger, we’d spend a day decorating the house together as a family. My dad and brothers would tackle the lights outside, while my mom, sister, and I would pull the decorations out of storage and deck the inside of the house. My favorite family tradition is this one though: each year, my mom, sister, and I (and sometimes my brothers help too) have a baking extravaganza and make an assortment of cookies. We then package some of them up to give to our neighbors and friends. We also keep a reserve of cookies at home so that we have homemade cookies to offer when people come over to visit.

6. Baked goods: This ties in nicely with my previous point. I just feel like there’s an abundance of free baked goods during the holiday season. As someone who has a major sweet tooth, I’m not mad about it at all. Each year when I’m home in CA, people bring over cookies, fudge, and other sweet treats, and I sample it all. There’s this one pound cake that our family friend makes for us each year and my mom actually has to hide it and ration it out to the kids because we would devour it all in one sitting if given the chance (it’s that good).

7. Holiday parties: Let’s be honest: I’m a total homebody. But, even I enjoy getting gussied up from time to time and going out to socialize! There are the work parties and the parties hosted by friends, and even when my introvert self wants to stay at home, I typically have a lot more fun than I think I will.

8. Quality family time: I love my family and I’m always telling them that I wish California was not quite so far away from New York. I usually only make it home 1-2 times a year, so I always appreciate the time I’m able to spend with family. This year I get an extra special treat: I’m going to see my immediate family, as well as some of my cousins, because we’re traveling to London for Christmas (more on that soon)!

9. Rest and relaxation: I love doing nothing. I know some people get anxious or restless when they’re stuck at home, but give me hours and hours of free time to read, blog, watch TV, etc., and I’m a happy camper. When I go home, there’s not that much to do in my hometown, so most of my time is spent hanging out with family and friends. When I was in school, I remember that it felt amazing to have a mental break, and now it’s the same way with work. It’s so nice (and necessary) to not think about work for a little while, and to just rest and relax.

What’s your favorite thing about the holidays?

images via 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 – my image // 9 – pajama set, slippers (similar)

Disclosure: This post was created in collaboration with Shutterfly, but the content and opinions expressed here are all my own. I’ve used Shutterfly’s services multiple times in the past and I’ve always been happy with the products created!

Hello December

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Well, somehow we’ve made it to the final month of 2016. The pictures in this post were actually taken in December 2015 though, but I never got around to posting them! In case you were wondering, this is what December looks like in my hometown in California.

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The weather has been fairly mild in NYC so far this season, and I’ve worn a similar version of this outfit here (with a coat). I’m trying to appreciate these days of 40/50 degree weather before it becomes bitterly cold and the first snow falls.

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I’ve had a good start to December so far. This weekend, I celebrated my friend’s birthday in Brooklyn. She hosted a group of us over at her place and served homemade pizza, which was delicious. Yesterday I met another friend for brunch at The Wren, a place I’ve wanted to try for a while. My eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach- I ordered the bulgar wheat pancakes and rosemary home fries. Both were tasty, but I was only able to polish off some of my plate before I was too full to continue. The restaurant itself was really cute. Our coffees were delivered in mini French presses, accompanied by dainty teacups, and the front of the restaurant was covered in pine garlands, which was very festive.

sweater weather, black jeans outfit, gray sweater outfit, h&m sweater, simple fall outfit

After brunch, I popped into the Strand because I had a little time to kill. I was on my best behavior and didn’t buy anything because I have plenty of unread books on my shelf, and because I’m trying to focus on holiday gifts for other people (and less shopping for myself). I hadn’t been to the Strand in a few weeks, so it felt really nice to be there and just browse for a bit. I’m sure I’ll be returning soon because I might pick up a few gifts there, and I want the free holiday tote you receive when you spend over $50.

sweater weather, black jeans outfit, gray sweater outfit, h&m sweater, simple fall outfit

Then I hopped on the L to head over to the Whitney Museum. It was my first time ever visiting the museum (I never had a chance to go when it was uptown) and my friend was kind enough to take me in with her membership. I think the space is beautiful and the outdoor portions showcase pretty stunning views of the city. There’s a great exhibit there right now titled Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection. It’s all about portraiture and it’s arranged by different themes, such as self portraits and portraits without people. I really enjoyed that exhibit and I think it’s worth checking out if you have the time.

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Outfit Details: H&M sweater, LOFT tank, American Eagle black hi-rise jeggings, Zara lace-up flats, H&M sunglasses, Fossil Erin Satchel | photos- my sister

Pike Place Market

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Remember the family trip I took over the summer? Well, today I’m finally kicking of my recaps of the trip. There are so many pictures to sort through and places to talk about, so I decided it would be easiest to do this bit by bit. I’m also thinking of doing a round-up post towards the end to link all of the posts and places in one mini guide.

I thought we’d start with one spot that many people have heard of, whether or not you’ve been to Seattle: Pike Place Market. This was one of the first destinations I added to my list and the one place that everyone named when I asked for Seattle recommendations. Most of them said, “It’s touristy, but worth it” and they were right.

Even though we had a relatively short journey from LAX to SEA, we were pretty tired when we arrived in the afternoon of our first day in Seattle. We had a chill, relaxing night, and rested up to go exploring on Day 2. And oh boy, did we explore. I think we visited the most places on this day. But there I go, getting ahead of myself again!

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Our first stop in Seattle was Pike Place Market. After reading a few travel guides, I knew that the market is more crowded in the afternoon, so I wanted us to head there on the earlier side. But, I’d forgotten what it’s like when you travel with family, and by the time all of us were ready, it was already late morning/early afternoon.

Driving to the market was my first experience with Seattle hills. I was not prepared for the incline on some of those hills. After driving around for a bit, we finally found a parking spot at what felt like a 75-degree angle, and then walked down the hill to Pike Place.

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I enjoy markets in general and Pike Place has something for everyone. There are restaurants, groceries, flowers, handcrafted goods, food stands, and much more. We spent a few hours wandering around the market and of course I went crazy with the pictures because there was so much that caught my eye.

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Some highlights of the market and surrounding areas for me were:

– Hot mini donuts: these were so yummy and there were some topped with maple and bacon bits (!!)

– Rachel’s Ginger Beer: this place was recommended to me by a friend who lived in Seattle and a refreshing drink was just what I needed after walking around for a while

– The flowers: the flowers were lovely and not crazy expensive. I was sorely tempted to take some back to our Airbnb, but I knew we’d be walking around for the rest of the day and I didn’t want them to wilt before we made it back. If I lived near the market though, I’m pretty sure a good chunk of my money would be diverted to those pretty flowers

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We were able to see the flying fish too. Somehow, in all of my research before the trip, I hadn’t heard about the flying fish before we got there. Then my mom mentioned it, but I had no idea what she was referring to. We happened to catch the show and it was pretty amusing to see the men tossing this huge fish around. One of their tricks is to throw a fish towards you and then catch it right before it seems like the fish will smack you in the face (I have a clip of my mom reacting to this- it’s so funny!).

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After we’d walked around for a bit, we grabbed some fish and chips and sat outside behind the market to enjoy our food. The weather was fantastic and sitting in that open area provided some good people watching, mostly of other tourist families just like us.

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I realized early on that one of my favorite things about Seattle is that there are views of water everywhere. Sitting on a bench overlooking the water and munching a tasty meal is something I could quickly get used to.

After our lunch, we packed up to head to the next spot on my list. But this wasn’t our only visit to Pike Place- we actually went back another day during our trip. My mom wanted to pick up some more souvenirs and I was happy to go back for another round. On our second trip, we saw the gum wall and the hula hooping guitar man, two important things that we’d missed on our first go-around!

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Pike Place Market was such a wonderful, vibrant place, and I’d definitely go back. I’d love to experience it earlier in the day too, when it’s a bit less crowded and the market is just coming to life.

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Book Reviews: August and September 2016

perfect days review, purple hibiscus review, under the harrow, jane steele review, book reviews, august book reviews, september book reviews

Under the Harrow*

Throughout the week, Nora has been looking forward to spending the weekend at her sister’s house in the country. However, when she arrives at Rachel’s house, she’s greeted with a shocking scene- Rachel has been brutally murdered. As Nora drowns in grief, she becomes obsessed with finding her sister’s killer.

I really liked that this is more of a psychological thriller. It’s written in first-person perspective throughout, so we are really in Nora’s head as she struggles to accept what’s happened to her sister. Berry does a great job of creating an eerie and unsettling atmosphere, giving me that same feeling of unease that you get when you sense someone is behind you.

That being said, the chapters are comprised of shorter, choppier sentences with a stream-of-consciousness feel, which isn’t my favorite writing style. For me, that created some distance and prevented me from connecting with the characters fully.

As the story unfolds, the reader learns that Nora and Rachel had a close, but fraught relationship, as many sisters do. I found the exploration of this sister relationship quite fascinating, particularly since both sisters are flawed.

Nora’s world is completely shaken after her sister’s death and the description of her thoughts and feelings felt true to me. Although I struggled to connect in certain sections, there are parts of this novel that I felt were well done. I’ll be keeping an eye out for future work from Flynn Berry.

Jane Steele

YAAAAASSSSSSSS!

Ok, now for actual coherent thoughts. I’ve wanted to read this book since the beginning of the year and I’m so glad that I finally got around to it. A novel inspired by Jane Eyre with Jane as a feminist murderess? Yes, please, sign me up!

I love the original Jane Eyre and was really curious to see how Faye would handle this story. The answer is very, very well. This line from very early in the book says it all: “Reader, I murdered him.” So simple and so good!

There are lots of tidbits like that sprinkled throughout the book- references to the original text that will have you nodding along in agreement if you’ve read Jane Eyre. But Jane Steele is also her own, fully-formed character. She shares some personality traits with Jane Eyre, but differs in other areas, which I’ll let you discover when you read this book. Also, to be clear, Jane Steele is a straight-up serial killer. And yet, I love her.

This might be blasphemous for those who ship hard for Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, but I feel that Jane Steele and Mr. Thornfield, Jane Steele’s love interest in this book, are a better match (agree or disagree? Let’s discuss this).

I think the key with a retelling (of sorts) is to treat the original text with respect, while still creating a unique story, and Faye has done a brilliant job in both areas. This was a truly enjoyable read that I would recommend to those who liked Jane Eyre.

Perfect Days

Boy meets girl. Boy thinks girl is perfect and everything he’s every wanted. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy kidnaps girl so that he can force her to fall in love with him. Uhhhh, wait a minute…

The scariest part of this book is Teo’s psychopathic behavior. He knows how he is supposed to act, but has no problem twisting the narrative to support his desires. There are certain moments in this book that made my jaw drop or made me think, “How can he get away with this?”

Something about the writing threw me off though. I’m not sure if something was lost in translation, but the writing felt stilted to me. Despite that, this was a quick read (one particular scene stands out and still makes me a bit queasy when I think about it!) that I’d recommend to some people for it’s uniquely disturbing nature alone.

The Rosie Project

I’m glad this is being adapted into a movie because this is the kind of light, enjoyable romantic comedy that I’m a total sucker for. Don, a professor of genetics, has developed the perfect solution to his quest for a partner. He’s created a tailored questionnaire that will weed out all of the highly unsuitable matches and hopefully lead him to his ideal mate. Then he meets Rosie, who’s not at all suitable in most areas. I bet you can guess where this is heading!

Although this is very predictable, it was also a lot of fun. This is a good summer read- breezy, decently written, and fun. I couldn’t help but chuckle at some of Don and Rosie’s personality traits and certain scenes that I feel will translate well on the big screen.

Rosie’s character felt like a bit of a manic pixie dream girl, but from time to time she did call out Don on his sexist behavior, which I liked. Also, there were opinions expressed by certain characters that rubbed me the wrong way, but I reminded myself that the characters’s views do not necessarily equal the author’s views.

In the end though, I liked this novel, and plan to watch the movie whenever it comes out!

The Raven King

The fourth book in the Raven Cycle series continued the formula that I love the most: the gang working together on a singular quest. I really enjoyed reading this final book in the series and it made me remember the wonder and delight I felt when I read the first book.

I know I’ve mentioned this before in a review of one of the earlier books in the series, but I truly admire the author’s ability to establish a certain mood and ambience with her words. Her writing really lends itself to the otherworldly nature of the events that take place throughout the series. Since she created such a vivid environment that I’ve become very familiar with while reading the series, finishing this final book really felt like coming home again.

I was satisfied with the conclusion of the series. For me, it was surprising, but not shocking, and if I’d considered it more thoroughly, I feel like I would have realized what they would find on the hunt for Glendower. There were also some moments that had been building up for several books and I was really glad that they were finally explored here. I could certainly read more pages about this world and these characters, and I do feel like the author has left enough ambiguity to create a spinoff series (I believe she’s confirmed that she’s working on a trilogy from Ronan’s perspective).

The Widow

For quite a while, Jean suspects that her husband has done some bad things. Despite this, she remains by his side and defends him against his accusers. However, when her husband dies, there’s no reason to be quiet anymore. Jean is a widow, finally free of her husband, and can say whatever she wants…

This book was so straightforward. Like, way too straightforward for a thriller. Let me clarify- I mean way too straightforward for a book that’s been compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I knew right away that Glen, Jean’s husband, was a bad man, and my opinion of him didn’t change throughout the novel. He’s controlling, sexist, and emotionally manipulative.

The book is told from a few different perspectives, including Jean, a reporter named Kate, and the detective working on the case. In Jean’s chapters, I think we’re meant to see a woman rediscovering herself after being freed from her husband, but what I really saw was a woman that remained a puppet, rather than the orchestrator of her own life.

Despite the fact that I continued to turn the pages, I was not emotionally invested in this story. The writing was fine, the characters were fine, and the setting was fine, but there was nothing in this thriller to thrill me. After reading this, I craved a book with some real intrigue!

Purple Hibiscus

Before reading this, I was certain that I would love this book, and I was right. Let’s just take a moment to bask in the glory of Adichie’s writing. Reading her words makes me actually want to act out the *raised hands* emoji in real life.

Kambili and her brother Jaja grow up in a strict household, with a father who has strong beliefs about religion and about what is proper. When Kambili and Jaja visit their aunt in Nsukka, they are exposed to a world filled with laughter, love, and endless possibilities.

First of all, there’s so much that I identify with in this book. My parents are also Nigerian and I also felt like I grew up in a strict household (or at least, it was much more strict than most of the other kids I knew, but not nearly at the level that Kambili and Jaja experience in this novel). So I completely understand that feeling of wanting to break free and follow a different path (and who hasn’t experienced that feeling from time to time?).

Kambili is awkward and tongue-tied because she has been raised in a home where silence is much more common than expressing your thoughts or opinions. It’s such a powerful feeling to recognize parts of yourself in a character. There are so many times when Kambili is straining to say or do the right thing, the thing that other people view as “normal,” and I can understand that feeling. At times, Kambili feels inadequate because her view of the world has been limited, and I know that feeling as well.

This is a story about family, about religion, about growing up. Adichie explores the relationships between parents and children, and siblings, and considers how we can still love the people that hurt us the most. We also watch Kambili come of age in this novel, and throughout I was cheering her on and hoping that she would find the freedom she didn’t even know she needed.

There’s so much more I could say about this novel (if you’ve read this book, let’s talk in the comments below!). The writing is absolutely beautiful, the characters are deep and real, and the setting is wonderfully evocative. In short, if you haven’t read any of Adichie’s work yet, what are you waiting for?

Tipping the Velvet

This is the first Sarah Waters book that I’ve ever read, but I think I can safely call myself a fan of her work. This book was beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Nan is an ordinary girl living in the seaside town of Whitsable in the late 1800s. In her spare time, she loves venturing to the music hall. On one of these trips, she sees Kitty Butler, a saucy, male impersonator, for the first time. Nan is thoroughly captivated by Kitty’s demeanor and performance, and once the two actually meet, Nan’s life will never be the same.

Did I mention how much I loved this novel? The writing is so wonderfully descriptive and wistful. Nan’s family is in the oyster business, and when Waters writes about preparing the oysters, I can nearly taste them in my mouth. The descriptions of the hustle and bustle of London were fascinating and gave me further insight into that time period. I also loved the use of Victorian slang and sometimes paused to look up these words that were entirely new to me.

I’m a secret romantic (or maybe everyone already knows by now), so I loved the slow burn of these two young women falling in love. All of the sweetness and the pain and the uncertainty of first love is captured in this story. On top of that, it’s a love that must be kept secret because it’s considered “unnatural,” which of course makes things even more complicated. There are quite a few sensual scenes in this book, but they don’t feel like they were included for shock value, but instead to show the natural progression of the relationship between these two women.

What I found most astonishing was Nan’s transformation over the course of this novel. I could not have predicted that the Nan we meet at the beginning of the story would end up where she does. Nan is around eighteen when the novel begins and we witness her becoming her own person, which is rather exciting. Physical transformation is also explored, as Nancy falls in love with a woman who dresses like a man. In fact, the act of transformation through clothing is an important theme throughout the book.

So, in short, I loved the history, the romance, the discussion of gender roles, and pretty much this entire book. I found this to be an immersive reading experience. I’d look up from the book after a while and realize that I’d been reading for an hour or more (usually when I should have been in bed, asleep!). I already cannot wait for my next Sarah Waters novel.

*Disclaimer: Under the Harrow was sent to me by the publisher for review purposes, but these are my honest thoughts and opinions.