Book Roundup: August

So, I kind of have a thing for books. If I could, I would read all day every day (and when I was unemployed, that’s pretty much what I did). My absolute favorite thing is getting book recommendations from other people – whether friends, bloggers, or even in the “Best Books of This Year” round-ups that newspapers publish annually. Because of that, I decided to do a monthly round-up feature of my books: what I read, why I read it, and what I thought. Enjoy!

Another month, friends! And what a month for books it was. As before, there were a couple of times I dashed through old favorites while I was waiting for a new book to come in to the library, so I shan’t review them here (although if you haven’t already read The Fault In Our Stars, what are you waiting for?). Away we go with new books for August! Sorr for the length. 

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WHAT I READ: The Gray Wolf Throne and The Crimson Crown, Seven Realms #3 and #4 (the last in the series), by Cinda Williams Chima

WHY I READ IT: I read the first book in this series following a recommendation from a friend and had to see what happens, OF COURSE. Quick background: the main characters are Raisa, the young newly-crowned Queen of the Fells (one of the Seven Realms), and Han, the gang-leader/streetlord ragger turned wizard/friend of Raisa/perhaps something more…

WHAT I THOUGHT: Real talk. I kinda forgot about what The Gray Wolf Throne was about. It suffers from the classic middle-of-the-series setbacks: it doesn’t have the excitement of setting up the story like a first book does, and it often lacks the crazy battles that will happen in the last book.  I do remember constantly thinking in TGWT, “MAN. Raisa is SO COOL.” That’s overall one of my favorite impressions of the series. I love, love, love fantasy books that feature a strong leading lady. But the Seven Realms novels are interesting because unlike a lot of other YA/fantasy novels with a strong female, Chima pairs it with a strong male leading role in Han. That’s where The Crimson Crown gets so interesting. Both characters are at the peak of their development and, towards the middle of the book, tragically separated with no seeming way out. Needless to say, it all ends spectacularly. I don’t think I will buy this series for myself, but I THOROUGHLY enjoyed reading it, and if it ever catches my eye in a used bookstore or is a Kindle Daily Deal, it’s added to my cart!

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WHAT I READ: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite bloggers tweeted that she couldn’t put it down — good enough for me! I also recently read Jordan’s When She Woke and enjoyed it immensely.

WHAT I THOUGHT: It’s outside of my normal YA/fantasy selection – the things I do for you, readers! – but I still ripped through it in two days. Not because it was an easy read; it is an emotionally difficult book to get through, as it touches on so many sensitive and in recent memories topics: it’s set in rural Mississippi post-WWII. It opens with two of the main characters digging a grave for their father, and then exists mainly in a series of flashbacks. What I found most interesting was that you knew what would happen (the death of the father) but you didn’t know how you get there. I felt like the novel was a cliff: after a climb, you suddenly start plunging down. Let’s just say I sat down to read a few chapters over lunch and an hour later, finally closed the back cover.

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WHAT I READGrave Mercy by R.L.LaFevers

WHY I READ IT: Received 4.5 stars from one of my favorite book bloggers.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Uuugh you guys. Not a fan, unfortunately. I really wanted to like it since it got an “absolutely spectacular” from one who has not yet led me wrong, but I was just not into it. Interesting concept (historical fiction in 15th century France, young teenaged girl assassin), but it just did not grab me. I kept forgetting/not caring about the characters, which isn’t a good sign. And if a book is that boring, at least throw in more romance instead of approximately 5 pages of it in a 500 page book. Definitely skimmed the last 100 pages. The part I hated the most was that 90% of the dialogue would be “normal,” and then the author would be like, “OH YEAH this is historical fiction. I should probably throw in a ‘mayhap’ or something.” I laughed every time. Line that made me laugh the most? The VERY dramatic, “The desires of my convent have collided with the path of my heart.” UM OKAY. Next.

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WHAT I READThe Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

WHY I READ IT: Received a great rec from my favorite book blogger

WHAT I THOUGHT: Solid 4 star-er (loved reading it, but I don’t want to immediately rush out and read the next one, especially since it is not available at the library). 80% of it was battle scenes, 17% sexual tension, 3% exposition. That meant I was 90% confused about what was going on and I kept forgetting who the characters were, but I still LOVED it. Kickass main character who is actually a 20-something woman, which was a nice change from what I normally read. Plus she cursed a lot.

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WHAT I READ: Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon.

WHY I READ IT: This is undoubtedly the “It” book of the season (come on, people. OBVIOUSLY). I’ve been waiting months for it to come out and actually bought it the day it came out, which is reserved for only the very special books. People had been calling Shannon “the new J.K. Rowling,” which is pretty heavy stuff if you ask me.

WHAT I THOUGHT: As far as I can tell, the only similarity between Shannon and Rowling is that they are both British novelist who write compelling stories. It’s impossible for me to categorize Bone Season. It’s kinda sci fi, kinda fantasy, kinda young adult, kinda adult, definitely scary, definitely mature. Knowing that it is the first of seven books, I expected it to have a bit of a slow buildup, which it did. Shannon did an excellent job of creating this incredible alternate-history London/Oxford and pulling me into the world. I did find all the vocab a bit challenging, but luckily there is a helpful glossary! I found it different from HP in that many of those books stand on their own – while they fit into the larger puzzle over the seven book series, each is a very independent novel. Bone Season needs companion books to continue the story and continue to pique my interest. But I am definitely excited for the next book. Less excited about the fact that the author a) LITERALLY just graduated university and b) it was Oxford. So there’s a way to feel terrible about your life.

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WHAT I READThe White Queen, by Philippa Gregory

WHY I READ IT: Honestly, because it’s been made into a TV show and I love me some historical fiction.

WHAT I THOUGHT: A solid “eh.” I was a good break from the heavy book I read before it (The Bone Season) – it’s basically a perfect summer beach read for nerds. With the main character of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of King Edward and one of the main figures of the War of the Roses in 15th century England, it was interesting enough. This was a period of time that I did not know too much about, so I appreciated learning more about it in a really simple and easy-to-read way. It just got a little stupid sometimes and, real talk, I skimmed the last 100 pages. I also laughed every time the author wrote that Elizabeth had an eerie premonition about the Tower and how much she hated it (Elizabeth was the mother of the famous “Princes in the Tower” whom Richard III supposedly imprisoned/killed in order to claim the thrown). Cheeze-its, amirite? But it did result in me looking up articles about the period and listening to the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast on Richard III so if the point of reading is education, then well played, Philippa. I probably won’t read the next one, even though I got it out of the library – time to move on to something a bit more erudite.

Annnnnd that’s it for August! To kick off September, I’m actually steering away a bit from my typical contemporary novels and diving back into the classics. What shall it be? (Or you  can follow me on GoodReads and know for sure. I am not that mysterious.)

One Year

One year ago to the day, I was living in London. I had arrived to find my apartment would be in a student residence hall flat, making me the lucky recipient of three single beds and residence hall issue starchy sheets (not that I am one to look a gift rent-free apartment in posh South Kensington in the mouth…).  I remember emailing my mother photos of my apartment to have her sternly reprimand me, “You need to put something on that blank wall behind your couch! Make it more homey.” She knows me as only a mother can; I am quite the homebody and I eagerly flip through the pages of each month’s Real Simple magazine, envisioning ways to embrace my inner interior design goddess self. In stores, I often find myself wandering dreamlessly down the kitchenware and storage solution aisles and contemplate the purchase of those teeny frying pans that contain the picture of a sunny-side up egg.

I have to wonder, why do I do these things? I could wax poetic about the ever-changing world and how we crave to create stability where possible. I may not be able to understand what my government does with my privacy, how my coworkers will take to me, or why it never rains when I prepare for the forecast by wearing my rainboots. But at least I can come home to a space uniquely mine, that I have created out of thin air, that is my source of constancy.

One year ago, I arrived in a place that would be mine for a short four months. Despite the length of time, I endeavored to create home where I could: I purchase cheap throw pillow, I put pictures up on the walls.

But four months disappear in a flash, and soon I was donating those throw pillows as I prepared for a life of travel in the spring. There is perhaps no less stable life than that of a traveler; I moved from guesthouse to hostel to hotel, sometimes staying for two weeks but sometimes staying for one night. Whenever possible, I unpacked my meager belongings into the dresser in my room, eager to find some semblance of home.

Now it is one year later from my little apartment with three beds in a basement in London. I have arrived in a place that will be my home – is my home? It’s difficult for me to tell if it is still to happen or if I am living it now. For someone so eager to find a place of comfort and solitude, I have still retained my vagabond ways. Even when moving from one temporary place to another before I arrive at my permanent (at least for a year) residence, I have added touches of me: picture frames on the nightstand, a comforter with a flower on it. I can at least claim this six square foot bed as my own, my place, my comfort. And then finally, finally, one year later, I will arrive in my home. I will buy a bouquet of bright flowers from the farmer’s market and place them in a mason jar on top of my bookshelf (all of these items are still imaginary, by the way). I will print out pictures from my travels and hang them on my walls – I’ve already perfectly pictured which ones will go where. I will fill my apartment with the smell of pies, and embrace being still for once. And perhaps then I will be presently present in my home.

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Blackjack Pasta Bar

I happen to be a gigantic fan of Italian food, and in case you haven’t heard, Boston happens to have a bunch of Italian restaurants. HOW PERFECT! Recognizing that everyone I know has a different favorite joint, I decided to start a series where I go to all the different top-recommended-by-friends restaurants and give them a go. Hence, I Eat All The Pasta So You Don’t Have To. In related news, I’ll also be starting a series where I document my pasta-weight gain.

After a bit of a lackluster start in my genius-inspired Italian food tour of Boston, I was eager to find a restaurant worthy of the K10 Stamp of Approval. Luckily, I went to the right source: two of my former student staff members from London, who are current/recent grads of my university employer and therefore have great restaurant selections exactly in my price range; in this case, Blackjack Pasta Bar by Fenway.

These guys.

These guys.

THE K10 LOWDOWN: I was a little surprised to see that it wasn’t really a restaurant, but more of a take-out/delivery place with a few tables. For that, the menu is SUPER extensive, with an excellent option to make your own pasta dish (pick a pasta, sauce, topping), all for the low, low price of $10. Throw in a drink and it was a wallet-friendly $12. I did my usual gamble and ordered the “spicy tomato” sauce (I LOVE spicy food, and whenever I go anywhere that offers it, I say very seriously to the waiter, “I want a spice level of 6 on a level of 5. I’m not joking.” 90% of the time it’s only medium hot. Come on people – I CAN HANDLE IT). This time around, it was actually pretty spicy! Hurray for you!

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Throw in the fact that the cashier had a Boston accent, which still tickles me, and I wish that I lived closer so I could patronize this fine establishment more often.

Bonus: Afterwards we wandered around to get ice cream (of course) and walked by Fenway park, where the Sox were playing the Yankees, RIGHT when something exciting happened judging by the cheers, and cheered lustily along. Beantown pride!

They pointed out that in the first picture, there was no food included and this is, after all, a restaurant review. Hence the roll.

They pointed out that in the first picture, there was no food included and this is, after all, a restaurant review. Hence the roll.

The Art of Eavesdropping on an Awkward Date

I had every intention of doing a “postcards” style post of the favorite reading spots I’ve found in Boston, although that is probably interesting only to me because I read there and my mother because she gave birth to me and is forced to be interested in what I say. So instead, I am going to share with you a story about just how intrusive I can accidentally be.

Recently, on the eve of a rainy day, I made my way up to Harvard Square in order to acquire some rain boots from a nearby shop. As when I make any excursion to a new place, I hopped online beforehand to see if there were any good coffeeshops around there – during my unemployment period, I delighted in playing “America’s Next Top Coffeeshop” and trying out all the ones in my neighborhood, partly because I adore sitting in a cozy cafe reading and partly because it gave me a reason to leave the house. Lo and behold, I found a charming little place called Tealuxe around the corner.

I could go on and on about Tealuxe itself, a wonderful little teashop with a huge selection of teas, tea drawers stacked up to the ceiling, and the most wonderful aromas a tea-lover could ask for. But the real part of my experience was the possibly-a-couple on a possibly-a-date in the corner.

Let it be known that this is a tiny shop and they were speaking very loudly. One cannot help but overhear. To the best I could determine, they were either on a first date going really well or a second date — they clearly felt comfortable with each other and had good rapport, but were still trading pretty basic life information.

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At first, their conversation was SO typically Harvard I actually rolled my eyes and thought, “HARVARD. Apparently not just clam bakes and trips to the Cape.” They were talking about, like, social darwinisms and the pros and cons of democratic republics and the current flaws in our governmental system or whatever. Either way, they knew how to sound lofty and important.

And then… it got a little weird. From social darwinism, they started talking about their own personalities (they are both introverts technically but consider themselves ambiverts) and different personality tests one can take to determine where you fall on the introvert-extravert scale. Still interesting but they kept going onnnn and onnnn.

And then, I don’t even know how, they fall into talking about various bodily ailments they have and, I kid you not, the woman said, “Yeah, I highly recommend custom orthopedic shoes, they really help me.”

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I left before they did so unfortunately I cannot say how the date turned out, but if you feel comfortable enough throwing down the custom orthopedic line that early in a relationship, then more power to you, sister.

And in case anyone is wondering, I later went back and took that test to determine where fall on the introvert/extravert scale. I’m 45% an extravert/55% an introvert, which totally makes sense. Thank you, awkward daters, for introducing it to me.

Top Things I Have Learned About Boston

Image via pintrest

Image via pintrest

So I recently moved to Boston for the foreseeable future for a real-person life and a real-person job, after living in DC for six years and then spending most of May 2012-June 2013 abroad or living with my parents (gents, form a line). Although I’ve visited the city as a tourist a few times and lived here for a month in the summer of 2012, my time thus far has taught me several important things about the Hub. And because I am selfless, I shall share with you.

  • The Red Sox are literally always playing a game at Fenway as I am on my way home from work. The T line I take from work to my house includes the stop for Fenway, one after where I get on. And it doesn’t matter what time of day I get on the train, from 4pm to 8pm — the Sox are inevitably playing 20 minutes later. Meaning that the train is CRAMMED full of sweaty fans in Sox gear. Why does the baseball season last from essentially April 1 – March 15?
  • I may be smart enough to keep my (negative) opinion of Boston sports teams to myself – mostly – but I shan’t be quiet any longer about Dunkins coffee. Guys, it sucks. Admittedly, I don’t drink coffee coffee, but I tried their latte and it was terrible. The best chain latte I’ve ever had? Panera, actually. Get down wit yo bad self.
  • Pretty much everyone hates the T, but those people have apparently not commuted much in DC. Yes, the lack of transfer points is infuriating (most of the lines intersect in downtown Boston and then extend to Cambridge in the north and then out to Brookline/Allston/Brighton in the west, where I live, but to transfer to another line you have to ride alllllll the way back in to Boston and allllll the way back out). So that’s annoying, but in my experience the train has been pretty prompt and speedy. Try getting down to a DC metro platform and being greeted by, “The next train will arrive in 25 minutes.” THAT is the pits.
  • Boston pride is a thing, and it’s awesome. Besides the pride in the sports teams, which is cult-like, the slogan of “Boston Strong” is everywhere, and I love it. Walk up and down Bolyston (where the bombings occurred) and you will see sign after sign — even “Public Library Strong.” Walk past neighborhood bars, and you see that they have a special collection for X victim going. Even street graffiti professes the Boston pride.  Image

In order to do some Very Important research on this topic, I also watched a couple of Boston-centric movies, aka ones with Ben Affleck. And the top thing I’ve noticed in those movies (besides the accents and, you know, the robbing-of-banks-ness) is the incredible amount of Boston pride. It’s not quite like anything I’ve experienced before. I have plenty of pride for my hometown in Virginia and my adopted hometown of DC, but Boston is such a tough little nut that people will always defend. And while I may have slung some choice curse words towards the Patriots just yesterday (okay, I may already be an un-fan of the Pats, but because of their STUPID pre-season game, JEOPARDY WASN’T ON!!! Unacceptable), I’m still excited to make Boston into my home and to wrap myself up in some Beantown spirit. 

Image via Boston Magazine

Image via Boston Magazine

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Greg’s Restaurant

I happen to be a gigantic fan of Italian food, and in case you haven’t heard, Boston happens to have a bunch of Italian restaurants. HOW PERFECT! Recognizing that everyone I know has a different favorite joint, I decided to start a series where I go to all the different top-recommended-by-friends restaurants and give them a go. Hence, I Eat All The Pasta So You Don’t Have To. In related news, I’ll also be starting a series where I document my pasta-weight gain.

I could not be prouder of myself than when I came up with this genius plan. I get to eat a ton of Italian food while hanging out with friends, all in the name of research and writing?! You guys, I am so freakin’ smart I blow my own mind.

I kicked off my explorations with a visit to the favored place of Lauren, aka college roomie, aka bff, aka lady whose apartment lease I took over. Called Greg’s (Lauren: “I know… not very Italian), the only thing she told me was, “It’s wonderful and cheap and the waitress is funny.” My response: “I’m so there it’s insane.”

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THE K10 LOWDOWN: For what the menu offers (pretty standard steak and Italian fare), the decor of the restaurant (fairly chintzy checkered tablecloths), and the prices (my meal was $15 with tip), I shouldn’t be surprised that I wasn’t overly impressed. They brought out free bread which is my standard for determining if I like a place or not, and salad came with the meal, which was nice. But my cheese ravioli was pretty drenched in the meat sauce and overall didn’t have a particularly inspiring flavor. Luckily the serving was so big that Mama has lunch tomorrow. YESSSS.

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Also, we got ice cream at JP Licks afterwards, which was so good that I’m uncomfortably full now.

So, overall impression on Greg’s  — you could take me back and I wouldn’t be kicking and screaming, but there’s gotta be better out there. Onward!

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