Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

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Well, we made it. The clock has turned, the calendar’s been flipped, and it’s officially 2017. You know, I’ve been reflecting on 2016 and it wasn’t the worst year in regards to my personal life. I think 2016 was an absolutely terrible year for humanity in general, but personally, 2015 was much worse for me. So let’s just say that it’s been a rocky two years and I’m ready for better times to come around again.

Best of 2016

In the spirit of focusing on the good, here are some of my 2016 highlights:

Weddings: 2016 was the year of weddings for me (they were right when they said that the number of weddings really starts to pick up in your late twenties). I was able to see my cousin get married, as well as a close college friend, and best of all, I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding. Such good times and I have so much love for my friends and family that got married.

Family Vacation: I love traveling and exploring new cities and this year we decided to go to Seattle and Vancouver for our family vacation. It was my first time in Canada and my first visit to Seattle. I really enjoyed both cities and the time we spent there was a good mix of exploring and relaxing. I suppose it’s not too early to start planning our 2017 vacation!

Christmas: I spent Christmas in London with my immediate family and London fam and it was so much fun. I hadn’t seen some of my cousins in ages and I loved being able to spend time with them. And I’m so happy I got to see all of my immediate family. Before we’d figured out all of our plans, I wasn’t sure that I’d get to see everyone and it made me really, really sad. But it all worked out in the end and even for those I only saw briefly (my mom only had a layover in London), a little time spent together was certainly better than nothing. As you know, I absolutely love Christmas, but I’ll admit that Christmas 2015 was really, really rough (it was our first Christmas without him). This year was better though and reminded me that I’m so grateful for the family that I have.

Looking forward in 2017

I like to set goals at the beginning of the year and I usually post them on the blog (I missed last year, but here’s 2015 and 2014). I’ve tried to keep my resolutions short and sweet this year:

Creativity: Last year, my energy really faded when it came to my blog and booktube channel, but I’d like to get back into my creative mode. I still enjoy blogging so much (obviously, or I would have shut this down a long time ago) and whenever I’m not working on a creative project, I really miss it. So in 2017 I’d like to get back to pursuing my creative passions because they continue to be important to me.

Movement: I tend to settle into a routine and get stuck in it. This year, I want to break out those ruts and push myself out of my comfort zone a bit.

Travel: All of my 2016 highlights involved traveling and in 2017, I’d really like to take advantage of any opportunity I have to get out and explore the world. In particular, I’d love to go on a solo trip. This was one of my goals last year, but I didn’t get the chance to make it happen. This year, I’d love to save up some money and go somewhere. It doesn’t even have to be far away- I’d just love to plan and experience a solo trip.

What was one of your 2016 highlights? Do you have any goals for 2017?

(image via Death to Stock Photo)

London, Here I Come!

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I’m so very excited- a week from today, I’m jetting off to London to spend Christmas with my family! My family is flying over from California and we’ll be visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousins who live there. It will be so great to see my relatives again and to meet my littlest cousins, who weren’t around yet when I last visited.

I’ve been to London twice before and the last time was in the summer of 2010. This will be my first time going as an adult though and I can’t wait to do some exploring. Just thinking about seeing London all dressed up the holidays brings a happy tear to my eye!

Since we’re going to visit family, I imagine a good chunk of time will be spent at their home, but there are a few places I’d like to visit if we have the time. I’m still putting together my list, but here are a few of the spots on my radar:

Sketch (afternoon tea): This place is pretty pricey, but also very pretty. Also, I’ve never done a proper sit-down tea before and I feel like it would be really fun.

Persephone (books): You know there will be at least one book store on any travel list I’m making! This company publishes really beautiful books and I’ve always been jealous of my bookish friends in the UK who have easy access to their store.

National History Museum: I’d love to go to a museum or two while I’m there and my cousins suggested that we go to one with an ice rink outside. Museum-hopping and ice skating sounds like the perfect winter day to me.

If you have any London recommendations, I’d love to read about them in the comments below. What do you have planned for the holidays?

(image via)

Book Reviews: October and November 2016

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Eligible

I’ll start right off by saying that this was a disappointing read for me. I expected to like this novel much more than I actually did. I will also state that my reading experience may have been colored by my troubles with the ebook. I borrowed this ebook from the library and constantly had trouble loading the chapters. Since this book is split up into more than one hundred short chapters, you can imagine how stilted my reading experience was.

Plot-wise, you’ll already know what happens in this retelling of Pride and Prejudice if you’ve read the original. The story pretty much sticks to the original script, except that it’s set in the present day in Pittsburgh. In a recent review, I mentioned that my main criteria for a retelling is that it remain respectful of the original story, while adding a new twist. In this aspect, Eligible really fell short for me. Yes, the location was changed and the setting updated, but it wasn’t enough to make the story feel new and fresh. Structurally, as I mentioned before, the novel is divided into many short chapters. Because of this, I felt that the reading experience wasn’t smooth because the story was constantly stopping and starting. In addition, some of the chapters didn’t seem to add anything to the story and I was left wondering why they were included in the first place.

Let’s talk about the characters too. Most of the characters were terrible people. You know I don’t mind an “unlikeable” character (in fact, give me a twisted, diabolical main character any day), but my cardinal rule is that a character must be compelling. I didn’t find these characters very compelling. In fact, they were rather tiresome. I believe that they were purposefully written this way, but I still grew weary of these characters. The character that concerned me the most was Mrs. Bennet. She’s described by her own daughter as racist and makes offensive comments. The other characters react to her statements with embarrassment, but I felt that they should denounce her, or at least call out her bad behavior. I guess what bothered me the most was that Mrs. Bennet has this huge character flaw, but it’s written off as a kooky character quirk.

I guess I’ll stop carrying on about what I didn’t like in this book, but I was just really disappointed. To give the author credit, P&P is a difficult story to tackle. My disappointment in this book won’t prevent me from trying one of her other novels to see if the author and I might get along better with a different story.

In the Woods

I am now one of the many people who sing Tana French’s praises. October was the perfect time to tackle my first Tana French novel, which was sitting on my TBR shelf for months.

When Adam is a young boy, he goes into the woods with his two best friends, but he is the only one to make it back out of the woods. The disappearance of his friends is investigated, but the case is never solved. Several years later, Adam has become a detective, and picks up a case that brings him in contact with his past.

Oooo, this was so good. The pacing is slow and steady, but so engrossing throughout. More than two-thirds of the way through the novel, I still had no idea who did it and only slowly began to understand what happened at the very end. The book is set in Ireland and the descriptions of the setting are vivid. With the woods in particular, I could feel some of the terror that Adam felt on that fateful day when his friends disappeared. French’s characters are rich and I felt like I was investigating this case alongside them. I was wholly invested in the story and felt each defining moment keenly.

In this book, French explores relationships between family members and between friends. There is definitely an air of nostalgia here, as the novel switches back and forth between the present day, the recent past, when Adam is investigating the case, and the more distant past when Adam was a kid. There is much more I could say about this, but I don’t want to discuss anything that might give away the plot. If you’ve read this novel, let me know, so I can talk about the thing that I’m dying to talk about! This was the perfect blend of literary fiction, mystery, crime, and suspense, and I cannot wait to read the rest of the novels in this series.

Through the Woods

I picked up this graphic novel based on a recommendation from Book and Quills in her video on Halloween Reads and I’m so glad I did. This is a collection of short stories with spooky, supernatural elements. I think I’d psyched myself out and expected the stories to be scarier, but actually, I think they had the perfect amount of creepiness. I loved the style of the illustrations as well, and the bold, vibrant colors utilized in some of the stories. One page in particular did give me a real fright- I turned the page and flinched! Anyways, I really enjoyed this book and it made me decide that I need to add more graphic novels to my TBR.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales

I hadn’t read Poe since high school, but I remembered being introduced to his work for class and loving it. October seemed to be the month of switching up my reading habits, as I don’t read many graphic novels and I don’t read many short story collections. I was craving some old school horror though and decided that Halloween was the best time to read the master of the creepy short story.

I’d read a few of these stories before, but many were new to me. Even for the stories I’d already read, I found myself delighted by the twist, as if it were all new to me. The stories that I enjoyed the most are some of the most well-known ones, including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Cast of Amontillado.” I also loved the stories that reminded me of the classic detective stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie (although I suppose Poe came first!). Since the language is a bit dense, I decided to read one or two of these stories a night, and I really enjoyed dipping in and out of the collection.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The only thing I knew when I started this book is that is much beloved. I was excited to read my first Shirley Jackson novel and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Since I didn’t know anything about the plot, I didn’t know what to expect. I was soon captivated by the voice of our narrator, Mary Katherine Blackwood. After finishing the novel, I was surprised to discover the she is 18 years old when she recounts this story, even though it’s one of the very first things she tells us. However, her voice in the novel feels much younger, which I believe works well with the background story we are given.

Since this is such a brief novel, it’s hard to talk about it without giving things away. I will say that Jackson has a way of making the ordinary seem very interesting. I also had a hard time narrowing down the exact time period and the setting, although the introduction in my edition led me to believe that the setting is somewhat obvious if you are more familiar with the area or Jackson’s work than I am. It’s a story about people who are odd ducklings, who don’t fit in, which is a feeling that I think we’ve all felt at one time or another. At first, I couldn’t believe the behavior of some of the characters in this novel, but then I thought about it a little more, and I could. Jackson’s novel clearly contains a timelessness that makes this story as pointed today as it was when it was first published.

A Monster Calls

This book made my heart ache. At the beginning of the novel, Conor’s mother is very sick, and recently he’s been having the same nightmare each night, in which a terrible monster appears. This is a beautifully written story about grief and pain. I found this so moving (yes, I did cry) and so adept at capturing the feelings that you experience if you’ve ever been in a similar situation as Conor. The book is written in a storytelling style which I found very engaging, with conversations between Conor and the monster and stories told within the novel itself. I believe this book is technically middle grade, but I think it would be compelling to readers of all ages. I definitely want to see the movie, but I’ll be sure to have my tissues handy. If you’re in the mood for a lovely and heartbreaking story, then I highly recommend that you pick this one up.

We Love You, Charlie Freeman

I’ve been meaning to read this book since the beginning of this year and I’m so glad I finally got around to it. The Freeman family has been selected by the Tonybee Institute for a unique opportunity. They will adopt a chimpanzee into their family, treat him like a family member and teach him sign language. As you can imagine, each member of the family feels differently about this experience and we follow them as they begin their new life at the Institute.

The premise is certainly wacky and different, which is what drew me in initially. The author uses this premise to explore race. The Freeman family is black and hearing that they’ve been selected to participate in an ‘experiment’ automatically raises some flags, as we know that horrible things have been done to black people in the name of science. There’s a fascinating overlap between race and language in this novel as well. Greenidge writes about the way that race can affect the way that your words are interpreted, and how language can be racially coded. There is language both spoken and unspoken, since the family communicates orally and with sign language. In one anecdote, we learn that the mother of the family stopped speaking for a period of time when she was younger. When she spoke, her words could be twisted or misinterpreted, so instead, she communicated with handwritten notes.

The novel is also about growing up, and how lonely and confusing it can be. Compound that with the fact that they’re black and newcomers, and you can understand why Charlotte, the teenager in this family, feels so isolated. It’s human nature to want to be seen, known, and loved, and Charlotte tries to navigate those feelings throughout the book.

I thought this was a well-written, insightful debut novel. The book is written from various perspectives, including members of the Freeman family, and a character in the past. Race is one of the main themes, but the author also discusses class, family relationships, sexuality, and more. I was reading this book right before and after the election and it felt really timely. I identified with the “otherness” that the characters were experiencing because I was feeling it too. I found this to be a very compelling read and I think that if the premise interests you, you should definitely give it a try.

9 Things I Love About the Holidays

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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)

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