A London Holiday

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Our second trip into London involved books, a museum, and ice skating, so it was pretty perfect. There were several bookstores on my London to-do list, but perhaps the store I was most excited to visit was Persephone Books.

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Persephone is a small, independent press that focuses on works by female authors that have gone out of print or been forgotten. We visited on a quiet Thursday afternoon and the shop was just as nice as I expected it to be. Each of the titles on the shelves was accompanied by a brief, handwritten note describing the book. Checking out the staff picks is one of my favorite things to do in a bookstore, so I love that this personal touch was used at Persephone.

The books are beautifully published as well and I took my time selecting a book to take home with me. You also get a free bookmark with each purchase. Their bookmarks feature patterns that match the different endpapers in each book, so then I had another hard decision to make about which pattern to choose. The book I picked up was The Making of a Marchioness, which is written by the same author that wrote A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. Although this was my first visit to Persephone, I certainly hope it won’t be my last.

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After Persephone Books, we popped by The British Library (and caught a glimpse of the stunning St. Pancras Hotel as we were walking over to The British Library). I particularly wanted to see their free permanent exhibit titled Treasures of the British Library. There are amazing artifacts in this collection, including books from the Middle Ages and manuscripts by Jane Austen. I love history and the fact that this exhibit has a literary focus made me even more excited. Best of all, that exhibit is completely free to visit.

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We couldn’t linger for too long at The British Library because we’d booked tickets to go ice skating at a rink outside The Natural History Museum. I’ve only been ice skating a handful of times, but every time I go, I throughly enjoy it. I thought that this rink was particularly picturesque, with the beautiful architecture of The National History Museum serving as a backdrop and trees covered in twinkle lights. We skated for around an hour, but that was a decent amount of time, because boy, ice skating is a workout! As an hour came to a close, the sun began to set, and it was a lovely moment.

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We had time for one more bookstore before we had to hop on the train back home and it was a good one- we visited Foyles on Charing Cross Road. This store is beautiful and massive. We were there for about 30-40 minutes, but it did not feel like enough time. There are just books everywhere- so much to see and explore. We only made it about halfway through the fiction section before we had to leave, but I’ve decided that I simply must go back. I did manage to purchase two more books in that time though. I bought Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (one of my favorite books, but I didn’t own a copy because I borrowed it from the library when I read it) and The Mothers by Brit Bennett.

That’s all I have to report from my trip to London! I had a great time and I’m so glad that I was able to spend time with my family. If all goes according to plan, I’ll hopefully be able to have more London adventures later this year!

Tomorrow, we’re throwing it back to warmer days and talking about Seattle in the next installment of travel week!

London at Night

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Welcome to the first post of travel week! We’re going to work our way backwards in time, so I’m starting with my trip to London a few months ago.

Ahhh, London, you magical city, you. I was so excited to visit London over the holidays and it did not disappoint. My family lives in the suburbs of London and we managed to make it into the city twice during my visit. The first time, we spent an evening browsing the shops in some of London’s busiest areas- Oxford Street, Carnaby Street, and Covent Garden.

I loved walking around these streets and didn’t even mind the crowds. There’s just something about being a tourist in another city, you know? We were able to see the festive lights and decorations everywhere and it was wonderful, simply wonderful.

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Where We Shopped

– Liberty London: This department store was at the top of my must-see list and it was lovely. There was a whole section for haberdashery (isn’t that an excellent word?) and fabrics, where I was able to browse through some of the beautiful fabrics that I’d only seen online. They have home goods, clothes, shoes, beauty, craft supplies, and more. There was another section just filled with Christmas supplies and I was so tempted. If we’d gone even a day or two before Christmas, I’m sure I would have bought something. Basically, it’s a store full of all the things that I like and I wanted everything. I’m really glad we were able to visit and I’m making it a point to go back there on my next trip. I’d love to see it in the daytime as well!

kikki.K: I was thrilled that we were able to make it to this stationery store. Really though, my cousin actually snapped a picture of me in the store because I was clearly overjoyed, like a kid in a candy store. I’ve coveted many kikki.K products online, but last time I checked, the shipping expenses were rather high, so I’d never bought anything. I knew I had to take advantage while I was in London since they don’t have any stores in the US yet. To top it all off, they were having a sale while we there! I managed to restrain myself somewhat and picked up some pretty gold binder clips, a notebook, a birthday card for a friend, and a beautiful copper pen.

South Kensington Books: We stumbled onto this bookstore. It wasn’t on my original list, but of course I am happy to drop into any bookstore. It’s a small shop, but they have a good selection. I’ve now started my collection of Penguin Little Black Classics, beginning with the two titles I bought at this shop: The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen and Femme Fatale by Guy de Maupassant. I also bought The Muse by Jessie Burton, which has the loveliest book cover.

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What We Ate

Ben’s Cookies: My cousins asked if we wanted to stop for warm, gooey cookies and I said, “Lead the way!” As promised, the cookies were warm and fresh, and the chocolatey chunks that they use are massive. I went with my favorite, white chocolate chip macadamia nut, and it was rich and delicious.

Mod Pizza: This place is a choose your own toppings pizza bar and it’s a great deal. After a few hours of tramping around, my cousins and brother wanted some proper food. I was still rather full from my cookies and other snacks I’d eaten earlier, so I didn’t get my own pizza. I did watch as everyone built their pizzas (you can add as many toppings as you want for the same price) and sampled a couple slices. We were there later in the evening, so the place wasn’t crowded at all. It’s a relaxed, casual place and it was the perfect spot for us to rest and set down our bags before we headed back home.

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Check back tomorrow for another postcard from London!

Currently 05.

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I don’t know exactly why (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the recent bout of beautiful weather had something to do with it), but I’ve felt more motivated recently. I’ve noticed a pep in my step these last few days and I’ve been bitten by the blogging bug again. I want to roll along with this feeling while it lasts and take advantage of the motivation.

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while and now I’m finally getting it together- I’m going to have a travel week on the blog. Starting tomorrow, I’ll recap and share recommendations from my last two trips (one in July 2016 to Seattle and Vancouver and the second to London in December 2016). I think we could all use a getaway right about now. Since I can’t jet off right this second, I’m doing the next best thing and reliving my last trips.

Before that kicks off though, I wanted to check in and give a bit of a life update. 2016 has been rough for a lot of people and so far, 2017 seems to be following in 2016’s footsteps. At the beginning of this year, I had to take a step back because everything just felt wrong wrong wrong. I stopped checking Instagram, Snapchat, and most of my usual social media haunts, except Twitter. I’d get home from work and trepidatiously open up Twitter to see what fresh horrors had happened during the day, because I wanted to stay informed. Believe me, staying informed and being aware was not one of my strong suits until last year. But now I have to pay attention, I don’t have a choice anymore. There are things going on that affect all of us as a nation, women, black women, and on the most personal level, people in my life that I care about.

It all felt extremely surreal and it continues to feel that way. I didn’t know what to say or think that I had anything important to say. I didn’t know what to do or how I could help. At the same time, I can’t ignore any of this, or pretend it’s not happening. As much as I want to curl up and hide sometimes, I can’t do that.

I’m not sure if I’m making any sense and I certainly don’t have any answers, but it’s always helped me to write about what I’m feeling. In the meantime, I’m continuing to pay attention, working on educating myself, making an effort, and trying to help in the small ways that I can. I don’t know that it’s enough, but at least it’s a start.

Now that you have a sense of how I’m currently feeling, let’s talk about some other things that have recently caught my attention. I’m currently:

Listening to Lemonade and A Seat at the Table a lot recently because they give me something hold on to when everything seems too overwhelming. At the moment though, as I type this, I’m listening to Tom Misch. His music is a great combination of upbeat and relaxed, perfect for background listening when you’re working on other things.

Watching Buffy. A few years ago, my roomie and I started to watch Buffy all the way through (I’d never watched it before), but then we trailed off somewhere around the end of season 2 or beginning of season 3. Fast forward to a month or so ago and I decided to start watching again. I couldn’t remember where we left off, so I started from the very beginning again. I’m in the middle of Season 4 now and so much is happening!

Reading The Sellout. I’ve been focusing on books by black authors for Black History Month and this is one that I’ve been meaning to read since it was first published in 2015. This book is wacky and funny and bananas, but not really that bananas in this current political and social climate.

Eating at home more often. This month, I’ve been trying not to eat out at all (except for last weekend when I was in Philly. I gave myself a pass for that weekend since I knew I’d be out and about with my friends). I’ve been pretty good about making my lunches for the last couple of years, but this month, I’ve been cooking more often so that I could eat better, home-cooked meals for lunch and dinner, and to cut back on spending. It’s been a bit of an adjustment, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. I’ve been getting groceries every week now, instead of every two weeks, and I like trying new recipes. I think I’ve also cut down my food expenses, which was the main goal, but I still have to check exactly what the difference is.

I think that’s it from me for now (until tomorrow)! In the meantime, let’s chat in the comments below- what’s going on in your life at the moment?

(image via Death to Stock Photo)

Book Reviews: December 2016

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White Teeth

I’m so happy to have read my first Zadie Smith. Reading her work has only deepened my crush on her as an author. She always comes across so intelligently and elegantly in interviews and articles (similar to my other love, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). It was a pleasure to read her first novel and confirm that I enjoyed her writing just as much as I thought I would.

This book follows two families living in London from about 1950-2000. Samad and Archie fought in World War II together and remained friends when Samad moved to London after the war. The book explores race, immigrant experiences, displacement, family dynamics and much more. I loved seeing snippets of what life in London might have been like during this time period.

Smith’s writing is so sharp and witty, and even funny at times, which I wasn’t expecting. Her intelligence seeps through in every paragraph, though not at all in a way that makes you feel like you’re reading a textbook. Zadie Smith discusses Eastern vs. Western ideals and how the two cultures often clash. Samad desperately wants his children to be proper Muslim children, but feels that their lives in London make this impossible.

There’s so much to unpack in this novel that I can’t do it justice here, but I can sufficiently say that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

What Belongs to You

I had to add this novel to my list of favorite books of 2016 because I loved it that much. The narrator is an English teacher living in Bulgaria who strikes up a relationship with a young prostitute named Mitko, and the book is mainly about the relationship between these two men.

Greenwell’s writing is simply excellent. It’s so lyrical and flows beautifully, and he does such a wonderful job of capturing human emotions. This story asks how well you can truly know someone. The narrator doesn’t know much about Mitko. He only really knows the face that Mitko has presented to him. He begins to realize, however, that Mitko has many different faces. Perhaps everyone does.

Language is also an important theme. The narrator speaks passing Bulgarian, but isn’t always able to translate everything that Mitko says to him. So there are misunderstandings and meanings that are lost to the narrator because he’s not fluent in the language.

The difficulty with language is only one of the barriers between the narrator and Mitko. The narrator pays Mitko to spend time with him, so he can never really know if Mitko has genuine feelings for him, or if he’s simply there to complete their transaction. Mitko invites the narrator to get to know him and makes him feel important, while at the same time, keeps parts of his life and background hidden.

This book is worth reading for the writing alone, but in addition, there are so many interesting topics discussed in this novel. If you haven’t already read this one, I’d highly recommend that you do.

Everything, Everything

Madeline is the girl who lives in a bubble. She has a severe autoimmune disease and contact with anything in the outside world could cause a reaction and kill her. So she lives in carefully controlled environment and is content with her life, until a new family moves in next door. She starts talking to the boy next door, Ollie, and begins to dream about what life is like outside her four walls.

I thought this was a sweet and charming story. I enjoyed Maddie as a character; she’s mixed race (and it was great to read a novel with a mixed race protagonist) and bookish. The book also features different mediums (there are emails, notes, handwritten illustrations, and more) and I thought the incorporation of those formats was well done. I was really enjoying it and thought it was light-hearted and fun until a thing happened. And after the thing, I liked the book less. Not to the point where I wanted to stop reading, but still, the thing threw me for a loop. Even now, I’m trying to untangle my feelings about the thing and I think my problem is that it felt very inauthentic. Overall, I still liked the novel and I plan to read Nicola Yoon’s other book.

Here Comes the Sun

This was another excellent read that nearly made my favorites of the year. It’s set in Jamaica and tells the story of three women: Delores and her daughters, Margot and Thandi. Each woman has struggles to overcome and goals that they want to achieve.

Delores and Margot have placed all of their hopes and dreams on Thandi because she’s book smart. Both of them work really hard to provide for her because they believe that if she does well in school, she can become a doctor or a lawyer and really make something of herself. Meanwhile, Thandi feels this immense pressure and is apprehensive about sharing her own dreams.

The characterization is excellent in this novel. I felt like I really knew each of these women and understood what motivates them. I also loved the setting and getting a taste of life in Jamaica. The author discusses race and beauty and the idea that darker skin is ugly, while light skin is beautiful. Delores even says something along the lines of, “There is nothing worse than being dark, poor, and ugly” and this idea is ingrained throughout the community.

The author also explores the lives of the residents of this town in Jamaica. The jobs at the resorts are considered cushy jobs because they pay relatively well, but at the same time, the development of new resorts is driving people out of their own homes.

I thought this was a fascinating, well-written novel, filled with true, yet heartbreaking observations. It’s definitely one to add to your TBR if you haven’t read it.

In a Dark, Dark Wood

Nora is invited to the hen (bachelorette) weekend for her friend Clare, but it’s strange because she hasn’t spoken to Clare in nearly ten years. She decides to go anyway, at the very least to find out why Clare has decided to reach out after all these years. The invitees travel to a house in the woods in the English countryside, where things take a dark turn…

Meh. I felt pretty ambivalent towards this book. About two-thirds of the way through, I noticed that I kept putting the book down and tuning into something else. It just wasn’t holding my attention anymore. But I still finished it because it was an easy read and I wasn’t that far away from the end.

This was so predictable, to the point where things happened exactly as I thought they would. I didn’t care about any of the characters or their relationships because they were all one-dimensional. Also, Nora is supposed to be a crime writer in this book, but I just didn’t buy it. I think that if she were a good writer, she’d also have been able to predict where the story was headed. I enjoyed the setting and thought the premise had promise, but this book didn’t thrill me.