Book Roundup: September

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!

(Note: I’ve changed the “What I Read” to a quick one-line [or sometimes two or three lines…] roundup, given the number of books I read! You can find full reviews at my GoodReads Profile.)

ROUNDUP OF THE ROUNDUP – for the TL;DR crowd:

If you liked Gone Girl… read The Dinner

For a good old-fashioned excellent adult Fiction novel… read Rules of Civility 

For a poetic, sad, heartwarming, beautiful novel… read Sea of Tranquility (tied for a September Favorite)

If you are looking for the next Hunger Games and want to be ahead of the masses (I promise, this is going to be the next huge franchise) and/or you love the Passage series by Justin Cronin (another awesome book) and/or you love dystopian literature and/or you think you won’t like sci fi books featuring aliens but you want to test yourself (I was in the same boat I promise!)… read The 5th Wave (tied for a September Favorite)

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And away we go with the books I read this month!

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WHAT I READEarthbound, by Aprilynne Pike (Young Adult Fiction – Fantasy/Sci Fi)

WHY I READ ITErrrm I can’t remember. I’m the worst.

WHAT I THOUGHT, IN ONE LINE: Confused about 73% of the time and mildly interested in the next book in the series, but not enough to count down the days.

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WHAT I READThe Dinner, by Herman Koch (Adult Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: I’ve been waiting to read this book for most of the year, so I’m fairly certain it was featured on a bunch of “Best of 2012” lists newspapers put out in December

WHAT I THOUGHT: Absolutely worth the hype: Koch layers in the information and plot throughout the course of one dinner in flashbacks, conversations, and present-day action, building a lot of tension and creating a fascinating and scary book (akin to Gone Girl).

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WHAT I READRules of Civility and Eve in Hollywood, by Amor Towles (Adult Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: I joined a book club and wanted to be able to discuss the selection, Eve in Hollywood, but since it was the followup to Rules of Civility

WHAT I THOUGHT (in three lines – I couldn’t resist!): ROC: It was just incredibly splendid and wonderfully written and many other flowery adjectives that made made me love New York, the 1930s, the way of speaking, the characters (even though you kind of hate them too). Towles’ writing is just simply so magnetic, this is my top choice if someone wants a recommendation. Five shining stars. EIH: Not quite as loved, but it was a novella of short stories which is never my preference.

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WHAT I READThe Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Milljay (Technically Young Adult Fiction, but very mature themes)

WHY I READ IT: Another top recommendation from a top book blogger (4.53 out of 5 rating on Goodreads out of 20,000 reviews, which is nothing to sniff at)

WHAT I THOUGHT This is a YA book, technically (presumably because the main characters are in high school), but this is so, so, so adult: the words, the turns of phrase, the themes. It’s dark and scary and depressing and romantic and funny, all at the same time. EDIT: Immediately on my “to buy” list and I loved it so much, I went back and read it again right after I finished. September Favorite! (Tied)

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WHAT I READThrones of Glass by Sarah Maas (Young Adult Fiction – Fantasy/Sci Fi)

WHY I READ ITGoodReads Recommends!

WHAT I THOUGHT:  I struggle with this one; on the one hand, I felt a little bored at times and not sure if I wanted to go on, but by the end I was mildly intrigued by what happens next. Solid 3 stars (I enjoyed reading it, probably wouldn’t read it again or buy it).

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WHAT I READ (almost): Clay by Melissa Harrison (Adult fiction)

WHY I READ ITA favorite author (Samantha Shannon, who wrote The Bone Season) tweeted that she loved it.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I internally fought over whether to include this or not because honestly – I didn’t finish it. It just didn’t grab me, and life’s too short to read bad books.

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WHAT I READBetween the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (YA Gothic fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Needed an easy palate cleanser after attempting Clay!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Given its Gothic horror genre, it was super creepy. One of the creepier books I have ever read, and quite gory as well (in a tasteful way, not in a classless way). I’m not sure if I will read the next book, but this did pique my interest to read more of this category.

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WHAT I READTell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt (Adult fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Atop many a “Best Books of 2012” list

WHAT I THOUGHT: It features themes and a setting that usually do not interest me (a 14 year old girl coping with the loss of her uncle from AIDS in the late 1980s), but the coming of age aspect was beautifully written in conjunction with the relationships she builds with others afterwards. I was particularly enamored with the description of the relationship between June and her sister and how sibling relationships can shift.

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WHAT I READThe 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey (YA dystopian Sci-Fi)

WHY I READ IT: One of the most buzzed-about YA books this year (the waiting list at the library took a couple of months)

WHAT I THOUGHT: Okay, so it is about a dystopian future in which aliens take over the world, which I get isn’t your thing – it’s not mine, either. But this book was SO SO SO SO GOOD. I was legitimately scared at times and wanted to put the book in the freezer but made myself get through because it was so interesting. This is absolutely going to become the next huge book series – jump on it now.

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WHAT I READBurial Rites, by Hannah Kent (Adult historical fiction)

WHY I READ ITBeen getting a lot of buzz, dontchaknow

WHAT I THOUGHT: A relatively slow book based largely on narrative and less on action, but still interesting to learn more about the last woman (and person) to be executed in Iceland. I appreciate that the author based so much of it on history and was very persistent in being as accurate as possible, and it definitely piqued my interest in the country. Solid three star-er: I didn’t mind reading it once but probably wouldn’t read it again.

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And that’s it for September, folks! It was quite a month, eh? I couldn’t be more thrilled for October – three books that I have been looking forward to reading (Never Fade, the second book in the Darkest Minds series; Just One Year, the companion novel to the wonderful Just One Day; and of course the last book in the Divergent series, Allegiant) ALL come out in October. WAHOO! I’m trying to finish Jane Austen’s Emma and then eagerly look forward to diving into these goodies. See you in a month!

A Story-Worthy Week

I recently (as in, about a year ago) started to listen to The Moth Podcast. It’s on many lists as one of the best free podcasts to download, which first prompted me to give it a listen. The Moth Events are held regularly all over the country and feature regular people getting up on a stage to tell true, live, unscripted stories from their lives around the theme of the night.  Some of the best stories are recorded and aired via this podcast; from week to week, you can hear a story from any city, any time, any theme. Apparently the NY Times has hailed Moth events as “the hottest and hippest literary ticket,” so obviously I had to go.

My first Moth event was a StorySLAM, an open-mic storytelling event, where people throw their names into a bag if they are interested in telling stories based on the theme, “Only in Boston.” How perfect, right? Besides being held in a very cool venue of a church converted into a performance center (and being shockingly lax on alcohol regulations, leading to people bringing in their own wine bottles like it was a picnic and getting increasingly sloshed), it was just my perfect idea of an evening. Cheap, entertaining, shared with a friend, and a wonderful way to get to know this city better. Every person I’ve talked to about this has exclaimed about how cool it is and expressed disbelief that I’ve only been here for two seconds and I already know more about the city than they do. Thank you, public radio.

Ten different people got up to tell five-minute stories about their “Only in Boston” experience (some funny, some heart-warming, two about poop), and in between the emcee read little pieces of paper audience members had filled out to complete the sentence, “I knew I was in Boston when…”

“I knew I was in Boston when… an 80 year old woman hip-checked me coming off the T and told me to ‘F*$& off.'”

“I knew I was in Boston when… even my GPS got confused.”

And of course, the one my friend Lauren contributed that I adore: “I knew I was in Boston when… the cashier at Trader Joe’s asked me where I was watching the Bruins game. Not if – where.”

The main thing that listening to the Moth makes me think about is how I view my own life. Every podcast recording ends with, “We hope you have a story-worthy week.” Well, I hope so too, Moth Podcast Host Dan Kennedy. Now to go out there and live the story-worthy week is another thing. It’s so easy to just stick to the routine and never try to view things as future stories or reflections – I know I am certainly guilty of that. But that’s part of the reason of this blog – so that I can live and explore more deliberately and make sure I am not staying down in my rut, as comfortable as it may be.

And with that, I hope you, too, have a story-worthy week. As for me, I am headed to the great commonwealth of Virginia on Wednesday for a long weekend and I could not be more excited. The K10 Explorations continue down south!

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Lucia Ristorante vs Bottega Fiorentina

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 decided to shake it up a little and compare and contrast a higher-end Italian restaurant in the North End and a fast-food joint down in Coolidge Corner – I know, I am benevolent and kind. Which one will I like more?! Read and find out, hello.

NORTH END: Surprisingly, it took me three restaurants to make it to Boston’s famed “Little Italy:” the North End. According to my very intense (Wikipedia) research, it is the oldest continually inhabited neighborhood in Boston, with residents (including Mr. Revere) since the 1630s (you’re only 23 years too late, suckers! Virginia was up and thrivin’ by that point! HaHAAA). Most importantly, Italian immigrants made this area their stomping ground, which means you can’t swing a dead cat now without hitting an Italian place there.

With a plethora of options to pick from, I went with the recommendation of a good friend of mine and joined them at Lucia’s Ristorante, on the main drag of Hanover Street.

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I waffled over the massive pasta selection (food pun!) but ended up springing for the Tortellini Quattro Formaggio, a whole $2 more than the wallet friendly linguine with marina. YOLO amirite?

However, I forgot that every time I get a pasta sauce that is not tomato based I can only eat about two pieces before I get overwhelmed. The $20 price tag (including tax and tip) was a bit overwhelming, but I can stretch that sucker to about two or three meals so I’m counting it as a WIN.

Most importantly, we happened to be in the neighborhood during the Feast of St. Anthony, one of the major celebrations in the North End, and an entire brass marching band came to the bar. After playing us a tune, the manager bought them all a beer, and I got to bang on someone’s drum. Rrrr.

Also, we hit up the infamous Mike’s Pastry and I got to follow dinner with entertainment in the form of my good friend (and former boss) smearing a lobster tail all over her face, to the chagrin and disgust of nearby French tourists. Overall, it was a night in which everyone won. Except maybe the French.

COOLIDGE CORNER: A few nights later, I arranged to meet up with a friend at a little corner kinda-fast food pasta place called Bottega Fiorentina. This is my idea of paradise: delicious, simple Italian that comes up quickly. No fuss, no muss. Plus, on Wednesdays and Sundays a penne dish is only $5. Me like.

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This price tag was definitely a friendlier than Lucias, although there is something to be said about how much fun it is to go to a nice restaurant and enjoy a meal (to be honest, I could have made that at home for about 80 cents). Verdict: if I am ever in the area and in need of dinner, it’s definitely happening, but any place where I can bang someone’s drum is a-okay in my book!

The moral of the story is, I got to eat two delicious Italian meals in one week (it’s okay, guys, pasta is completely healthy. In fact, I think it’s in the same food group as kale). So K10: two points. The French: still at zero.

My Weekend at Home

I recently spent a weekend at what I secretly consider to be my “home” in Boston. Yes, I have my own home (both the one I physically live in now and the one my parents inhabit), but we all have those places that we consider to be our comfortable little oases that allow us to escape from real life for a bit. I absolutely consider my house in Virginia to be one of those oases, and I recently bumped up the house of my good friends here to be another.

This will probably surprise them since I haven’t told them how much I adore being at their house, but it is the perfect mix of physical comfort and emotional support for me (both the house and the people within it). When I first arrived to Boston, this was the house that I slept in for my initial three weeks. And it is a wonderful place to start: gorgeous, sun-drenched apartment with a balcony and all the comforts of home (including CABLE! A rarity for twenty-somethings). I loved coming back to the serenity of their home, talking with them about my day and sitting down in front of the TV to watch Jeopardy. It immediately felt comfortable, and comforting to someone in the turmoil of a transition. I am exceptionally fortunate to have two wonderful friends of mine living there.

Alas, it is apparently not really acceptable for someone not involved in the relationship to live with a married couple. Even though we make an exceptional team. And so I reluctantly moved to a sublet in August (and had a meltdown a few days later in the middle of Boston Common, partially due to leaving my paradise), and then to my leased apartment in September. But due to a fortuitous series of circumstances, I found myself back at my little slice of heaven with two of my favorite people for the weekend sandwiched in between my August and September place. It was a bit of a stayvacation: I enjoyed a delicious meal of beef bourguignon, indulged in an IKEA shopping trip with Katie, and treated my hosts to a wine and cheese party. (This was entirely done because I decided I wanted to be fancy and have a wine and cheese party a la the incomparable Mo at Mocadeaux, and they were the only friends I could think of who would indulge me. And have cheese knives. That I gave them for their wedding.)

Not to brag, but this is why you should come visit me.

Not to brag, but this is why you should come visit me.

And so on that Sunday I once again packed up my belongings to move to a new house, away from my “home.” Luckily, I’m less than ten minutes walking away from my oasis. You can bet I will be there often to enjoy the calm and the company of my favorites.

It almost looks like they are toasting their concocting an evil plan, does it not?

It almost looks like they are toasting their concocting an evil plan, does it not?

Educating My Sinfully Uneducated Readership

I’ve started into a routine where I use my half-hour commute every day to *expand my mind* (it’s important to stay active as you get older, guys). So I will read while I am sitting on the train and pop in a podcast while I am walking from the station. I love me some NPR (I need a shirt that says Peter Sagal is my homeboy), but I like to mix it up with stories from The Moth or with my new favorite podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class.

You guys. YOU GUYS. History is so freakin’ interesting! And I honestly learn so much every time I listen to this one. The best part is that I will share it in my staff meeting as my “high” for the week and therefore impress/disgust everyone with my listening skills For your benefit, I have culled a few of my favorite facts I have recently learned. You’re welcome.

  • Michaelangelo wore boots made out of dogskin for months at a time and when he would finally take them off, he would peel off a layer of skin with the boot. 

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  • Edgar Allan Poe (who, as much as UVa wishes to claim was an alum judging by their bookshop, actually only went there for a year) MAY HAVE DIED OF RABIES. It was claimed he died of alcoholism, but considering he was not drunk or have a lick of alcohol in his system at the time, that is debatable. During the four days that Poe was in the hospital, he was hallucinating and confused before falling quiet and dying; in the periods when he was lucid, he refused to drink water (hydrophobia, y’all!). While he had no bite marks, you can also be infected with rabies for a YEAR before showing any symptoms. So I probably have that.

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  • Two awesome people to know: Charley Pankhurst and Nellie Bly. Charley was born Charlotte in 1812 but lived his life as a man; the fact that he was biologically female  was not discovered until his death. Charley voted in California in 1868, making him the first female to vote in that state. Way to go, you! Also, Nellie Bly in general is a kick-ass lady. You should definitely read more about her, but to sum up: she was a female reporter in the late 1800s-early 1900s who, among other things, committed herself to an insane asylum to report on the horrific conditions; beat the Around The World in 80 Days by traveling the distance in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds; and then landed a millionaire who was 40 years older than her.

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Nothing else really important to say except history rocks.

Woody Allen Marathon

One of the ways in which I define myself is as a lover of movies and identifier of obscure movie quotes. Despite my massive, 100+ DVD collection, I carry a secret shame about my movie-watching habits: I haven’t seen that many classics. The “modern classics” I have on lockdown: Forrest Gump, Titanic (don’t hate: it’s in the AFI Top 100!). If it has Gene Kelly in it, I’ve most likely seen it and gushed about it to you already. There was also that nebulous period in high school after the AP US History test where my teacher, Mr. Meissel (the greatest teacher to ever grace this earth  – he deserves a post of his own) just showed us some film noir classics like The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. But in scanning the list of Top 100 Movies, I realize that most of them are all meshed together in my head: I know I’ve seen movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and North by Northwest, and God knows I have read the Internet enough to understand cultural references, but I haven’t really seen enough.

Nowhere is this more true than with Woody Allen movies. That man has produced approximately 1,692 movies per year for the last 100 years, and I’ve only seen a couple. No more do I want to just smile vaguely and nod sagely when people talk about Annie Hall, damnit! I want to be able to say something smart about it!

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With that in mind, I embarked on an epic quest of a WOODY ALLEN MARATHON with one of my favorite people, who just so happens to be temporarily living in New Hampshire (which works out for both of us so we are about equally as friendless and can easily cling to each other).

The most interesting part of this experiment is discovering how passionate people are about Woody Allen movies – mostly by disliking them. For example, my mother:

“I just don’t like Woody Allen on principle.”

I paused and stared at her for a moment as she laughed. I prodded, “Umm… more explanation, please?”

She immediately responded, “Well, after that movie where he was a sperm, I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

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Fair enough.

Given Woody’s 1,692 movies, this mighhhht take a while. But my friend and I kicked it off with some not-so-classic classics: Crimes and Misdemeanors and The Purple Rose of Cairo. We both agreed we are not nearly clever enough to fully comprehend C&M, although reading Ebert’s review after the fact definitely made up appreciate it more. We also decided that Sean would be a crummy reviewer because he would be terrified of making the actors anger with a poor review. His entire review would read: “I really enjoyed this movie. This actor wasn’t perfect, but you could see where he was going. Actually, I really liked him. DON’T BE MAD AT ME.” Sign him up, papes!

(Also, you should watch the Purple Rose of Cairo because it was magnificent. Plus it has the actor who plays Richard Gilmore except he’s 30+ years younger and it’s really amusing.)

Any favorite Woody movies I shouldn’t give a miss? Right now, the only one off the table is that sperm one. A lady has her limits.

My Boston

It’s taken me two months of living and working here, but I have almost, almost settled into what I consider to be my Boston. I had a heckuva start: I landed at Logan on July 7th at 8:30pm and started work the very next day. I first lived with friends, and then a month-long sublet, before finally moving into my apartment, where I can put pictures on the walls and flowers on the bookshelf. In celebration, I would like to take you on a pictorial tour of what I consider to be my Boston – my favorite places and what my daily life entails.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE PLAZA

Every day, I am so grateful that my office building is next to the reflecting pool of this gorgeous tourist destination. Besides being a fantastic location in downtown (right next to the Prudential Center and a stone’s throw from Copley Square, Boston Public Garden, and Boston Common) it’s also a wonderful place to sit and relax. Every day that the sun is shining, you can find me outside at 1pm eating lunch and soaking in the rays.

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COPLEY SQUARE 

A five minute walk from my office and home to a wonderful farmer’s market Tuesdays and Fridays, this is a must-stop after work a few times a week. Exploring the local produce available, sitting on a bench, or even indulging in a little crusty-bread-and-goat-cheese picnic, it’s my recipe for Boston.

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BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

Without a doubt, my favorite place in Boston. I’m easily here three-four times a week (largely because it is conveniently located on Copley Square!). The first time I walked in, I was a little surprised: I was definitely in a library (or so all the books told me), but it seemed kind of…. normal. Clearly constructed in the 1970s or a similar period of terrible construction tastes, it reminded me of my college library. I had heard rumors it was a gorgeous building, but I guess not?

Well, thankfully the next time I visited I entered through another side (the one facing the square) and realized, “OH. THIS is where the pretty is kept.” And so was born my favorite, favorite Boston reading spot – perfectly protected from the wind and the rain, serene and with thousands of titles just a few feet away.

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BOSTON PUBLIC GARDEN

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Garden, wouldn’t I? My normal farmer’s-market-visit to Copley Square will usually result in me wandering the few extra blocks of the Garden, sitting under a tree, and enjoying all that is around me. Also an excellent place to spy on wedding pictures.

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AND FINALLY… WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS.

I spent the last month mentally interior decorating this room and I am so happy that I can finally start putting everything into place. It’s still a work in progress, but my favorite part is genuinely the flowers on the nightstand in the mason jar.

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I guess the only question left is… when will you be visiting me?