Book Roundup: October

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!

Looking for full reviews? Leave me a comment or check out my GoodReads profile.

This was a slightly lighter month for me – I had a lot of life things going on (hey lookie at me, I have friends and a social life!), and I also did a lot of re-reading of favorite books in preparation for their sequels coming out (namely the Divergent series). Don’t hate.

For the TL;DR crowd…

If you liked If I Stay/Where She Went (WHY HAVEN’T YOU READ THEM THEY ARE WONDERFUL)… read Just One Day/Just One Year. Okay, if you like great books that are sad and happy and funny and romantic, read all four of those. I’ll wait.

If you like quirky, light, heartwarming books, read pretty much anything by Rainbow Rowell (this month I read her Fangirl and Attachments, both of which I adored)

If you haven’t already heard of Divergent… oh go on then and read it, everyone else is. If you have and you want a similar book… read The Darkest Minds + Never Fade 

_____________________________

And here we go!

15801763

WHAT I READ: Untold (Lynburn Legacy #2), by Sarah Rees Brennan (YA fantasy/paranormal)

WHY I READ IT: The next book in the Lynburn Legacy series! I read the first one this summer and immediately put the second on a to-read list.

WHAT I THOUGHT (in three lines or less): The things I love remain the same: Kami’s way of speaking (she’s just SO CLEVER), the relationships between the characters (obviously a YA is not a YA without some rooommaaance) and of course magic. I knocked off a star because the plot felt just a teeeensey bit thin (looking back on it, not that much actually happened), and try as she might, a magic fight between sorcerers cannot ever compare to JK Rowling’s scenes. Still highly recommended!

The-Night-Rainbow-by-Claire-King-333x500

WHAT I READThe Night Rainbow, by Claire King (contemporary adult fiction)

WHY I READ IT: If I remember correctly, one of my favorite authors Tweeted that she loved this book, and it was also included on a list of “best books narrated by children” or something of that nature.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Lovely little story about the relationships between people – people old and young, relationships fresh and stale – and the power of imagination. I found it a little slow at times and really not a lot happens, but the power of this book is in its narrator Pea (a 5 year old girl who speaks in quite adult and humorous ways) and the “slow burn” as you learn to know her better and learn her situation better.

12151801

WHAT I READ: The Starboard Sea, by Amber Dermont (contemporary adult fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Whilst perusing at one of my favorite local bookstores, I noticed this was in the “highly recommended by staff” table and jotted down the title

WHAT I THOUGHT: I’m going to be real – this was a DNF, but only baaarely (I got hit with a sudden urge to read another book when I had about 50 pages left of this one and decided to ride it out).  Overall, a pretty sad book that explores teenage cruelty and the pains of growing up, and how that impacts people in different ways.  I would be interested in reading more things by this author, but maybe not reading this one again, although I did enjoy my time in it

12842115

WHAT I (re)READ: Just One Day, by Gayle Forman (YA/NA [“New Adult,” that nebulous space between “young” and “adult”] Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: I originally read this gem in the spring as I’m a fan of the author (If I Stay and Where She Went – PLEASE read them, they are gorgeous). The companion novel, Just One Year, came out on October 10 and in the middle of a yoga class I decided I wanted nothing more than to reread this book (or I should say rereread it because I’ve read it several times already…)

WHAT I THOUGHT: I could tell I loved this book based on the act that I tore through it in about four hours and, when it ended of a cliffhanger and a promise that the story continues in another character’s POV in a yet-to-be-released book, I slammed in shut in anger… and then immediately reread it. Forman is just a magnificent author and capturer of the young adult experience. One reason I love this book is that it so neatly covered the different phases of young adulthood that I myself am going through or have gone through: self-discovery through travel, friendships, the transition from high school to college and beyond, and more. I wanted to BE Allyson, to be there with her, seeing her in her growth.

FANGIRL_CoverDec2012-300x444

WHAT I READFangirl, by Rainbow Rowell (NA Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: About fifteen million book bloggers recommended it.

WHAT I THOUGHT:  What a wonderful book that perfectly captured the awkward, sad, uncomfortable, wonderful parts of the freshmen year experience. I saw so much of Cath in myself and loved to see her growth throughout this book. The only thing I didn’t like is that everything wasn’t perfectly wrapped up with a bow at the end – I wanted more resolution, damnit! So 4.8 stars out of 5 for that. Still a quick, delightful read that made me love the characters.

justoneyear-3_4_r536_c534-1

WHAT I READJust One Year, by Gayle Forman (NA Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Follow-up to Just One Day, of course!

WHAT I THOUGHT: For as much as I loved about this, I didn’t love it AS intensely as Just One Day. I think that’s partly because I naturally identify with female leads, especially when those female leads are on a journey of self-discovery through travel, friendship, and their own growing bravery.But it was also set simultaneously to Just One Day – so both start with Willem and Allyson meeting in Paris, and then JUST ONE DAY goes over Allyson’s events for the next year and JUST ONE YEAR goes over Willem’s events. It isn’t until the VERY LAST PAGE that they are together again and you really never see what happens to them as a couple – just to Willem as an individual. I selfishly wanted it to be more romantic and full of details about their relationship than it was, I guess. I still loved loved loved reading it and will continue to read both for years to come – I guess I will just have to create my own ideas for what happens to them next!

divergent-trilogy

WHAT I (re)READ: Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth (YA/NA Dystopian/Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Over a year and a half ago a friend of mine recommended this up-and-coming book series to me, and boy was I glad she did. It’s now become the Hot New Thing – the movie comes out in March and has heavy-hitter stars like Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet. As the third book came out in late October, I reread the first two in anticipation.

WHAT I THOUGHT: (briefly):  [First two books]  Just… incredible. The type of book where, after finishing it for the first time, I immediately turned back to the beginning to reread it. Veronica Roth  has done a fantastic job of building her world and adding so much depth and texture to the characters. It’s nearly impossible to tell who are the “good guys” and the “bad guys” because everyone has flaws – even (especially!) Tris, the main character. I feel that the world established by Roth is so scarily close to what our world could be that everything she writes resonates intensely.

[Third book] Well… hmm. Not sure what to think about this one. I love love loved the series as a whole, and this book did not disappointed in the wrap-up (although I know a lot of people VEHEMENTLY disagree). Maybe I’ve just read a LOT more YA dystopian novels by this point so it’s not so novel. It’s also because this book had a lot of ‘splaining to do about the world and everything like that, so there wasn’t a lot of action – mainly just exposition. Either way, I’m disappointed I didn’t cry, but I just wasn’t feeling it, ya know? It gets a solid 3.5 stars, but I’m knocking it up to 4 in appreciation of the series and my excitement for the movies.

file92862

WHAT I READ: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (Adult contemporary fiction)

WHY I READ IT: After Fangirl she’s definitely becoming a favorite author – I have more on her books on hold at the library!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Rainbow Rowell is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors with this and FANGIRL. Just an all-around quirky, lighthearted, heartwarming book. It wasn’t anything necessarily mind-blowing or ground-breaking, but was oh-so-enjoyable to read. Must read more of her books

Never-Fade-Alexandra-Bracken-Cover

WHAT I READ: Never Fade (Darkest Minds #2) by Alexandra Bracken (YA Dystopian/Sci Fi fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Follow-up to the wonderful, wonderful Darkest Minds

WHAT I THOUGHT: I REALLY liked The Darkest Minds, so I guess it was only inevitable that this would slip a tad. It suffered from middle-of-the-trilogy-itis: you don’t have the fun of exposing a new world like in Book One, but you also don’t have the dramatic, end-of-story showdown like in Book 3. So Never Fade felt a little draggy, a little too similar to the first book without adding new information, and there’s still SO much I want to know that wasn’t revealed. Still much better than a LOT of other YA out there, and I will absolutely read the third book.

jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-calling

WHAT I READThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling) (Adult  mystery/thriller)

WHY I READ IT: Um hi, this was QUITE the buzz in the literary community. Secret book by JK Rowling?! I was on the wait list at the library for four months!

WHAT I THOUGHT: I’ve never been one who is all WHY IS SHE NOT WRITING HARRY POTTER I HATE HER SHE IS THE WORST UNLESS IT IS HARRY. I actually love Casual Vacancy. That being said, I enjoyed this book, but thought it was a little one-dimensional. My favorite mystery/detective books (Tana French) have a strong “A” story of the mystery, but a solid “B” story of the main character’s life/love/etc. This had a great “A”, but the “B” story, while present, seemed more like a “N” or “S” story. It was just so minimal, and for an author famous for her characterization I would have liked to see more. Still a fantastic read!

Aaand that’s it for this month! In retrospect, this was a month REALLY heavy on the YA. My b. Too many follow-up books came out! I have a HUGE pile of library books I had on hold that came in, so I’ll be trying to knock those out in November… in between my week-long international travel, that is! 🙂

Advertisements

The Be Brave Book Club

I like to call myself an ambivert. While I inch closer to an introvert,  I find that a little limiting to my actual personality traits: I’m typically completely at ease in situations with a lot of people, I am a friendly, bubbly person who enjoys meeting new people and getting to know them, but after a while I get really exhausted and just want to curl up with a book and read (there goes my introversion showing again!). I’ve found being an introvert to be a double-edged sword in new situations (like traveling solo or moving to a new city): I am comfortable and happy being by myself, but sometimes I am too comfortable and I can easily fall into a rut of being alone that quickly folds into loneliness (my kryptonite is that I love being alone but I get nervous and sad if I am alone for too long. Don’t we all, though?).

One of my biggest struggles in the past has been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and endeavoring to meet new people. If I am already thrown into a situation where I have to interact with new friends (start of college, a new job, a party) I can do just dandily, but I shy away from having to make the effort myself. I failed miserably at making new friends while in London. I kept intending to find some friends outside of my immediate circle of coworkers, but with the business of work, my hectic travel schedule, and the knowledge that I would be leaving in December, I figured there was no point. There’s a similar vibe with traveling solo: I met plenty of people through activities, hostels, and guesthouses, but since everyone is on their way to somewhere else, these were mostly one-off situations (or, in the smaller cities, multiple run-ins, which was fun but still had an expiration date).

I wanted this to be different when I moved to Boston. This was my first time moving somewhere new where I would be living for the foreseeable future since I had left for college when I was 18. Even when I graduated college, I stayed in DC, as did most of my friends. No need to make new ones! But I made a leap of faith when I decided to move to a new city 500 miles away from DC and 700 miles away from my hometown, and this time, I was going to get out of my comfort zone.

I am incredibly lucky that I already have a strong support system in Boston, with several friends from different parts of my life who already live here. But now that I’m past my two month mark, I’ve started to acknowledge that I need to have friends here who I didn’t already have before. Enter: book club.

As you may have gathered by the fact that I tend to read about 7-10 books per month (and that’s a slow month), I really enjoy reading. Meetup.com is full of book clubs; what better way to meet new people than to have a set topic of conversation, I figured? I joined a bunch and waited for the stars to align with the perfect date, time, and group.

Despite my resolve, I was nervous as all get out when I was walking to meet the group. I actually texted my mother, “I’m about to go to a book club where I don’t know anyone. Mommy I’m scared but you should be proud of me!” I figured that if I hated it, I could just leave. And so I steeled my resolve and found – not so scary after all! I loved the ladies, loved talking about the book and other things, and will definitely return. Most importantly, I discovered an amazing new bar in Boston and I shall definitely return – probably with one of my ready-made friends, but who knows? Maybe I’ll go there with a new friend!

This reminds me of one of my favorite mantras from my favorite person Laura Maas: “Keep calm. Be brave.” I repeated it over and over when I was traveling in Asia and when I was working at a tough job in London. I can already see where this sometimes tough and stressful year has helped me grow: I might have been nervous when I walked into the new situations, but I still did it and look forward to the next time. I’m going to carry this thought around with me in my pocket as I continue to build my life here.

My Weekend at (Actual) Home

Although I love spending time at my Boston “home,” there’s nothing quite like coming back to your hometown and spending time with family and friends. As soon as I could, I had planned a long weekend back to Virginia at the end of September – partly to get my fall and winter clothes and figure out how to move up the rest of my stuff, and partly because America’s First Region is a rockin’ place to be and I (usually) genuinely enjoy it.

The mini-vacation was pretty much perfect: about 4.5 days spent sleeping in, reading, watching TV, and enjoying time with my best friends who still live in the area.

Including a shopping trip with this lil' lady wearing one of the most attractive dresses either of us had ever seen.

Including a shopping trip with this lil’ lady wearing one of the most attractive dresses either of us had ever seen.

A few very important things also came to light. While going through boxes of my belongings, my friend Jenny and I stumbled upon my old elementary school yearbooks and delighted in finding the photos of our friends, namely this classy broad:

Luckily she's married now, so you can rest assured that she has found love.

Luckily she’s married now, so you can rest assured that she has found love.

We also discovered, while flipping through my 4th grade yearbook, that I literally cut out the picture and name of someone a grade older than me. Who did I obliterate with such a vengeance?! We cross-referenced it with my 3rd grade yearbook where I cut out this lad’s picture again but this time left the name. I have honestly no memory about why I cut out this person’s picture (who I knew well in high school, but have no younger memory of him). Was it hate or love? As Catullus says, “Odi et amo.  Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio. Sed fieri sentio et excrucior.” Amirite? (I’ve really just been looking for an excuse to include Latin in my blog, you guys. But it’s true.) Either way, I was clearly a very passionate little kid. I also violently scribbled out the names of my enemies and starred my friends. Even back then, I was apparently keeping a Grudge/Revenge/Dead to Me list.

Most importantly, I got to spend some lovely time roiling about in confusion. I naturally vacillated between the feeling of utter contentment in this home of mine and fear that I would crumble when I returned to Boston, and excitement about getting back to Boston and continuing to unpack my life and get everything set up. I am well known for taking transitions poorly; when I went to music camp for the first year (I AM SO COOL), I had such a nervous breakdown after the first week my parents had to bring me home. To be fair to me, I was only 12 and went back every year after that for the full length of time, but still. I’ve had many other instances since then where I have struggled against changes in my life and wanted to go back to what is familiar. That’s why I have been so surprised at my relatively smooth life I’ve established in Boston – no nervous breakdowns yet! (minus one in the middle of the Boston Commons, but that was partly related to TJ Maxx and hanger). I don’t know if it’s because I am lucky enough to have good friends who live there, I’ve moved so often and I’ve grown up enough to handle it, or I’ve spent so little time in one place for the last year that I’ve fooled myself into thinking it’s only temporary. Either way, I’m nervous as all get out to go back and see what will be different, and if I will be different.

Nothing to do but just jump in though, right?

If only I could bring the Gabsters...

If only I could bring the Gabsters…

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Carmelina’s North End

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED – this is very ranty. Hey, it’s my blog!

I had high hopes going into my dining experience at Carmelina’s in the North End. It’s one of the better reviewed places on the main drag in the North End and came highly recommended by two of my favorite people in Boston (and the world), Katie and Josh. Moreover, the Beyonce to Katie and my’s Michelle and Kelly (despite the fact that she hates Beyonce) was in town and the dinner promised to be a fun gastronomic adventure.

This lil lady in the middle! Of course she's in the middle. She's our Beyonce.

This lil lady in the middle! Of course she’s in the middle. She’s our Beyonce.

Our first hint that something was amiss at the restaurant was when we took a look at the special note in the menu…

image

…I mean, okay, you’re a fancy restaurant and that’s fine, but just a little bit sassy, no? Of particular Sasquatch note, in my humble opinion:

  • “Please refrain from asking us to add or delete any item from a dish.” Why? According to your previous little sassy blurb you are carefully and conscientiously preparing each and every dish. Is it really so difficult to refrain from putting peanuts into mine if that’s my dietary preference?
  • “We do not accept credit cards for charges under $20, cash only.” REALLY?! Come on, people. This isn’t a little taverna in Greece run by somebody’s grandma. This is a major, high class restaurant in Boston. If I can use a credit card to pay for a 75 cent stick of gum at CVS, are you really telling me I can’t use a credit card for something that’s $19?

Anyway, as I said, that’s just fine. We were shown to our table and after a nice long wait (enough time for us to select the wine and our dishes and do the whole, “awkwardly making small talk while we wait for the waiter to finally come around” dance), the waiter swung by our table and hurriedly took our orders, assuring us bread would be on the way. I’m not going to string you along, gentle readers – the bread was not, in fact, on the way.

That was the theme of the night – we received minimal to zero service at our table, despite the fact that every other table around us did. We asked for the bread literally five times, each time being told it was on the way/in the oven/just a minute. About ten minutes after we got our meals (well, three of us did), the bread finally arrived… strangely enough, not piping hot and fresh from the oven, but lukewarm at best. Strange also is that every other table around us, most of which were seated after us, received bread almost immediately after sitting down.

Of course, someone’s dinner at our table arrived about 15 minutes after everyone else’s did. If you read the sassafras message from their menu, that is only to be expected,  capice? But you have to admit — 15 minutes (more than enough time for everyone else to finish their meal) is a bit much, especially considering she ordered the same thing someone else at the table did.

The icing on the cake was that at no point did anyone come around to refill our water or ask if we needed anything (which we did). After begging them for our check (to be fair to them, they did take the late meal off the check), the coup de grace was finding out they can only split the check on two cards – which apparently isn’t even true, as by that point we engaged in a conversation with the manager about our dissatisfaction and he told us that we were lying and could split the check on three cards (perhaps tell your staff that…?).

I was, most of all, SHOCKED by how they treated our concerns. They were rude and dismissive, stating that it was busy. I understand that, but if you cannot handle that amount of clientele, don’t seat that amount.  I was so shocked when, after the manager listened to our concerns, we could see him and his staff LOUDLY complaining about us and then he just threw the check back to us without another word. I didn’t want a gift certificate or something, but at least a polite if insincere, “I’m so sorry for your experience and I hope we can see you soon” would be normal human behavior – particularly when you are paying $16+ per entree, not to mention alcohol and extras.

Needless to say, I shan’t be dining here again. I took my complaint to Twitter and the Executive Chef Damien engaged in some back-and-forth with me, but never followed up with an email as he promised. Luckily for me, there are about fifteen thousand other places that serve exactly the same food. The hunt continues!

Thankfully, we got a lobster tail at Mike’s after, and all was right in the world.

581247_753904866656_112588251_n

Why I Hate Traveling Solo

I have a secret that I’m a little ashamed to reveal: I hate traveling solo.

IMG_3677

I know that this is 2013 and I am a modern, capable woman, and I can do anything I want by myself without a man or anyone else by my side! Okay, okay, I am capable of traveling solo. In addition to a solo weekend jaunt to Ljubljana in the fall, I also spent five+ weeks in the spring exploring Southeast Asia on my own before hooking up with family for the last few weeks. I didn’t die, suffer any terrible accidents (aside from destroying my  right calf after I crashed my motorbike, the scars from which I still bear today), or even get sick. Probably because I went through three bottles of mozzie spray to ward off dengue fever. Yes, I am physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially capable enough to travel on my own.

Never forget. I know I can't.

Never forget. I know I can’t.

But you guys? I hated it. I don’t know if I have really explored this fully with anyone. It makes me feel a little embarassed to say that it was just something I hated doing. I don’t want to give off the impression that I hate traveling or hated Asia, because neither of which is true. I still have so many travel plans in my future – most immediately South America and hopefully the Balkans soon. I just hate doing it alone.

I’ve read all the treatises about how amazing solo travel is. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Eat when and where you want. Spend a day wandering in a museum or reading by a canal or just lying around doing nothing. Get up and go at a moment’s notice. Having once traveled in a group of five friends (which is way too many), I absolutely appreciate that it’s wonderful to not have to run your decisions past anyone else. You can be your own boss.

Top bummer of traveling solo: you have to take awkward selfies ALL THE TIME.

Top bummer of traveling solo: you have to take awkward selfies ALL THE TIME.

But now that I’ve spent so much time on my own, I’ve found it’s just not something I like doing. Besides the obvious benefits of traveling with another person (split costs, a bag-watcher when you go to the bathroom, another mind when you are too mentally drained to figure out logistics), I just like sharing things with others. My ideal travel partners have been family and friends who spend approximately 40% of their time with me exploring the city and the other 60% doing whatever, leaving me to wander alone. I love being able to spend whole afternoons exploring back alleys or reading in a coffee shop in a foreign city, meeting up with loved ones to share stories from our days over dinner. And so my future travel is going to be framed around visiting friends who live abroad or finding like-minded travel partners to come on a grand adventure with me.

Going on an adventure

And you know what? This life is too short to do something I hate just for the sake of appearance (this is also my reasoning behind not eating 100% healthy. It’s not like I WON’T die if I don’t eat that crepe, after all). And so I will continue to travel as often as I can, exactly as I like, and nobody can say a damn thing about it. Unless you want to travel with me, because if I do say so myself, I am an excellent travel buddy.

They can attest. One of my favorite traveling-with-friends trips.

They can attest. One of my favorite traveling-with-friends trips.