Friday, July 31, 2015

A Month in Reviews -- June and July

Merrifield Garden Center
Last month, instead of a typical monthly wrap up, I discussed the books in my life over the first half of 2015. But I missed my monthly update due to this (and the holiday) so here we are, the end of July, and I'm going to throw a bunch of links at you covering the past two months. 

What's been going on? A lot!

June was a quick month for me. After returning from my late-May vacation, I had to get back into the swing of things and before I knew it, I was reaching the end of the month and with it a two week telework schedule for my job. Aside from these two weeks that I worked from home, I managed to come down with a horrible two week cold to go with it, followed by a four day vacation in the name of patriotism and my birthday. Still, the two weeks I was able to work at home were probably the most restful two weeks of my work career. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself!

The beginning of June we spent plenty of time outside. A local garden center was a hot spot for the beau and I as we filled up our tiny garden and created an herb garden for our porch. If you're ever in Northern Virginia and like flowers, I would highly suggest you visit the Merrifield Garden Center. Rumor has it that their Christmas displays are awesome and I hope to check that out in the next few months as well. It's just such a pleasant place to go (I should just write a Wanderlust Wednesday about this place!) We even took my parents there for a visit while they visited for a long weekend.

World War II Memorial

We also made a trip out to Washington, DC to show my parents many of the monuments they never had the opportunity to see. This was an important trip for me as both of my parents have ties to the war memorials on the mall. My father's dad fought in the Korean War and he has many friends who fought in Vietnam. My mother's father and all of his brothers fought in World War II (this being one of the newest memorials on the mall). It was important to see this memorial particularly since my grandfather passed only a few years ago and we still miss him so very much. 

It was a hot day and we were sunburnt to the extreme, but it was still lovely. The beau and I also cooked for my parents and his: a pork roast covered in an herb rub (fresh from our garden)! It turned out delicious and was well worth the effort.

It was so exciting to have my parents here. They live in Pennsylvania and do not often come to Virginia but having them here was lovely. It also gave us the opportunity to put our guest bedroom to use for the first time. Luckily, we have plans to fill that room up with guest many more times this summer. Hosting can certainly be fun! (Particularly if it means we get to spend money on extra flowers for the house -- I love filling the house up with flowers!)

Love Won during June as well. As an LGBT ally, I was so thrilled and am still joyful over the news. Already we have a couple wonderful weddings to look forward to in the future. June was just such a happy month, filled with love for all and I'm so proud of my country for this (finally).

Love wins!

June also was the month for storms (but July seemed to be as well). Typically, Virginia is filled with humidity and heat during the summer. The sun beats down on everything, making it wilt and die. I kind of hate it. All winter I look forward to warmer weather where I can go outside to take walks, hike in the woods, or any other various activities. Then spring arrives and we have a few weeks of perfect weather before suddenly, bam, there's the summer heat and we have to hide indoors. But this year has been particularly soggy. We've always had good thunderstorms roll in here or there but never anything too extreme. June, however, presented us with a number of heavy storms and even a tornado warning. 

That was just fun in a bun, let me tell you.

But then we were catapulted into July. My birthday month and that start of "my favorite holidays of the year." I love the Fourth of July. As a child, the Fourth of July meant parades, BBQs with my neighbors, slip and slides and sprinklers, and fireworks at night. It also usually meant birthday cakes and presents as my birthday is just after the Fourth. I loved preparing for the holiday and now, as an adult, I still enjoy it. I always have to do something for the Fourth, as annoying as that is to those around me who do not have the same level of joy for the holiday as I do. In the past I've attended the Capital Fourth festivities on the lawn of the Capitol. Last year, I went to Colonial Williamsburg. This year... it rained. But I was lucky enough to go to Old Town Manassas and see their firework show. I was blown away (pun not intended). It was a great firework show for such a small town and I hope to go back next year. It's a lot more manageable and less annoying than going into DC. 

The weekend was a long one for me because I fully believe in taking time off for your birthday. It was the best decision, I haven't had that relaxing of a day in ages. But prior to my birthday, we roadtriped for the day and visited various small towns in Northern Virginia: The Plains, Middlesburg, and Leesburg. I love small, historic towns and going to little shops. I love doing this at just about any time of the year and find it to be a really fun way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. We had a lot of great food that day as well and even had time to go home for a nap before dinner. 

July was both busy and lazy. The first half of it was lazy, at the very least, with some time off and a chance to relax. I could have filled those days with activities but I was vying for a break because I knew once mid-July hit, things were going to get crazy.

We went on bookstore dates and I worked on a quilt that I was giving to friends as a gift. Fabric stores were a friend as I visited them repeatedly for more and more fabric. A friend also surprised me with an awesome messenger bag that she had made herself! Later on in the month, I sat down and put together a messy skirt for a woodland fairy outfit that I hope to wear when I go to the Pennsylvania Ren Faire this summer.

But I wanted this, the weekends and weekday nights that were lazy and all that I had to do was make dinner or read. I did both and I enjoyed each moment.

Why was I so desiring of time off? Because on July 13 I began graduate school. Having taken courses before toward a copyediting certification, I knew how little free time I would have and I expected it would be even more hectic since this is graduate school, right? At the beginning of class I struggled to find a balance with all of the different things that were vying for my attention. School, work, personal matters were all clambering for attention and I felt a little lost.

Being granted a third day to telework helped a lot and I began to ease into a more consistent schedule as the month came to a close. We also took an impromptu trip to Pennsylvania to help celebrate a new home and surprise my parents for an early birthday present!

Book Reviews:

So many book reviews in two months!
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Poetry of Lang Leav
Shadows on My Heart by Lucy Rebecca Buck
Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Paper Towns by John Green
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Other Posts:

Big Basin State Park in California
Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia
Six Months of Books
Anney's Book Nook

And I have a NEW Tumblr that you should give a look/follow.

Must Reads from the Web:

Build the ultimate reading chair with a built-in bookcase
My friend published a book! Check it out!
A Rare Look at Shakespeare's First Edition at DC's Folger's Library
In reference to fans of YA literature and authors
The man who builds up private libraries -- book by rare book
11 Ways to make your rainbow bookshelf look extra-gorgeous to celebrate pride
Biloxi teachers transform old lockers into literary work of art
26 literary landmarks in America to visit before you die
Thoreau, the First Decluterer
Book Lovers on Instagram vs. Reality
First Chapter of Go Set a Watchman
Boy Who Couldn’t Afford Books Asks Mailman For Junk Mail To Read; Mailman Responds Spectacularly
Bakers Around the World Celebrated JK Rowling's Birthday With Incredible "Harry Potter" Cakes

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

To Kill a Mockingbird, like many people, is one of my most favorite books. Of course, I have plenty of favorites but To Kill a Mockingbird (referred to as TKaM from this point on) was one of those few assigned readings that I adored in school. I went back to it after high school and read it again, then again after college. I wanted to read it once more prior to Go Set a Watchman's release, but didn't have the time. 

Go Set a Watchman is receiving a lot of mixed reviews so I'll try to break this up as clearly as I can. I feel, first and foremost, that the reviews are edging toward negative due to the majority of the publicity it has received. Harper Lee is famously known for shunning the lime light given to her due to the success of TKaM. Her elder sister and lawyer was fiercely protective of Harper and for years, Harper made it very clear that she would not publish anything else nor be interviewed. It does seem strange that only a few months after her sister's death there was an announcement that Harper Lee would have Go Set a Watchman published.

There's a lot of distrust and speculation driven toward Harper Lee's new lawyer. She has given multiple accounts of how and when she has come across the draft of Go Set a Watchman and Alabama had an elderly abuse investigation done. All of this negativity certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth when concerning this book.

On one hand, the fans of TKaM rejoiced to hear that Harper Lee would publish another book, but it was quickly followed by uncertainty and dismay. Is this what Harper Lee really wants or is she being forced to do something against her will because the lawyer has more control than we realize? These speculations have followed the creation and publication of this book and still are spoken of today. For me, personally, I found myself struggling over whether or not I wanted to even purchase Go Set a Watchman. On one hand, I wanted to pay for this book and show (among the masses who have also bought the book) that I support her and her artistry. On the other hand, I didn't want to support the lawyer who honestly leaves me feeling uncomfortable.

I've spoken to many friends who are bookish and had interest in Go Set a Watchman and they all feel the same way. Support the writer... but not wanting to support the lawyer. It generally makes one feel a little uncomfortable and uncertain about the entire situation. But... I still purchased the book and even still I feel a little strange about that purchase. 

With all this negativity, I feel it has been reflected into the general reviews of the book. Many people are quick to point out the story behind the book's publication and focus more on that then the book itself. So with all of this out of the way, let's take a look at the contents of the book.

Go Set a Watchman is a great read for any writer. Yes, writer. Not reader, specifically (but we'll get to that). TKaM was actually derived from Go Set a Watchman as advised by Harper's editor. He wanted to know more about the main character's, Jean Louise, childhood. One of the struggles of progressing as a writer is the discovery that not all that you write is great. You may love a particular point of your story but an editor or publish may rather focus on another aspect of it. This is a perfect example of that situation. Go Set a Watchman has many flashbacks to Jean Louise's childhood when she was called Scout and the adventures with her brother but also the heavy influence of her father's courtroom appearance as the lawyer to a black man in a time where this very action was highly unusual. TKaM focuses completely on that and it's a marvelous book, but with Go Set a Watchman, you get a glimpse of her writing process. This was the original story and TKaM was taken from that, brushed off, made better and published with great success. All in all, it's a wonderful study of the writing process and for that I truly appreciate what I read. 

By terms of the story itself, as a reader, I have mixed feelings. It's not as perfect as TKaM and I feel that Harper Lee grew with her rewrite and truly hit the nail on the head with what she published. This book could have been better... another indication of the world of editing. It's an unedited publication because Harper Lee, in her current state, is unable to edit (this brings us back to the uneasy feeling of the publication in general). We're lucky to have this glimpse of the material but I think when people frown at how it was written, they must keep that in mind: it's unedited and yes, I think that's a good excuse.

The book focuses on Jean Louise's trip home which she makes every so often, but this particular trip brings a startling revelation that things are not as they seem. Often we grow up with these clear ideas in our minds only to have them shattered as we age. We assume someone is good but when we're older, and therefore have a little more experience in the world and a clearer idea that  not everything is so black and white, we come to the realization that no, that person isn't just "good." We grow up and out of our hometowns and when we return it's different, changed.

Jean makes a few stops to an ice cream place where her original house used to stand and she takes a lot of time considering her childhood that was spent there while also studying how her world has been shaken when she realizes that her father whom she viewed as a saint, isn't so saintly. I feel every child goes through this: they return home and the house isn't as big as it was (or you can't even enter it because you don't own it anymore). You realize that uncle is inappropriate, or that parent is cruel, or that sister is much more giving than you ever thought, but often it's those negative understandings that stand out the most.

Jean Louise's father, a man she always idolized, becomes a racist in her eyes (and to ours as well). She's shaken by this as she sees all around her there are more and more people who are blatant racists. For most of her adult life, she's live in New York City where people are much more accepting (despite the assumption that New Yorkers are rude). She's been removed from her small southern town long enough that when she returns, she sees everything with new eyes. It's hard for her and hard for the reader. I've never seen the n-word mentioned so often in a book (and I suspect it'll quickly rank high on banned book lists). But one of my most particularly favorite scenes is when Jean and her uncle discuss it all and he points out that their town needs someone like her and it's so fitting, especially in today's world where prejudices and racism still, unfortunately, exist. There may be plenty of people who dislike it, but we need a central voice to speak up against the discretion. In this case, Jean. 

If I look at this book with only the mindset of the book itself, no regard for the drama of its publication or the older publication that has such raving reviews, I think it's a decent read. Groundbreaking? Maybe not. But it's still a book that strikes a cord; something the reader can relate to as well and still find it a pleasurable reading experience. I feel this book's message, in many ways, comes at an appropriate time in America when race is such a big topic.

Generally speaking, I definitely find Go Set a Watchman to be a greater study in the writing process and publication than a marvelous novel. I'm glad I have it, but I still cannot shake the odd, negative feeling in my belly from all of the negativity that surrounded its publication.

Last Week's Review: Paper Towns by John Green
Next Week's Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Paper Towns

Oh, John Green. I haven't read all of his books, but I've read a handful. Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars for starters; both books were relatively good and held my entertainment, so when I saw that Paper Towns was being made into a movie I figured it would be worth giving it a shot but, ultimately, what ended up happening was that I realized how similar Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns is by one major point: the women in the book.

But I don't want to start a review this way, just diving into my dislike or enjoyment, it needs to be set up first. Paper Towns follows senior Quentin Jacobsen as he looks for his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, who has run away. Margo and Quentin were closer when they were kids but then school came in the way, sending them spinning off into different school cliques and entertaining different friends, but Quentin always maintained his crush on Margo. Literally, he's had a crush on her for years.

All in all, though, they have no contact despite living next door to each other and being in the same grade until one night when Quentin finds Margo climbing through his window. She's arrived with an idea: come with me as I need to make certain things right, help me out, I need you. Being the guy who has nursed a crush on this girl through his entire school career, of course he says yes.

There begins a night of rule breaking and the development of a relationship between the two characters. Remember, while they are very physically close to each other via homes and school, they don't really know anything about one another. Through their antics that night: a drive to a store to pick up supplies, breaking into homes and pulling pranks, they go from barely knowing each other to knowing one another on a more intimate level.

The following morning Margo's gone. Apparently she's known for running away and her parents have all but thrown in the towel concerning her. She's an adult, if she wants to keep running away then so be it. But Quentin finds meaning in it all. Margo is known for leaving clues to her parents whenever she runs away and this time, the clues seem to be directed toward Quentin to figure out. So off he goes on a wild goose-chase to find Margo and his friends tag along with him.

That's it, that's the idea of the story. Boy with crush on girl drops everything to find her. While I enjoyed how clever the tips Margo left were, and the thought she put behind her pranks, I found her to be an obnoxious, self absorbed character. She had the nerve to be upset with her parents when they didn't figure out her clues and find her? Are you kidding? I would have utmost disdain for her if she was a real-life person. She sounds horrible but Quentin in his glory and love for her doesn't see how horrible of a person she is. His friends (and a former friend of hers), however, tend to come around to this fact before he does.

And the relationship that they built while doing their night-time pranks? Looking back at the book I wonder, since it is written from Quentin's point of view, if that relationship and mutual "understanding" wasn't actually there because Quentin built it up in his head. He's a guy with a crush looking for greater meaning in things that have no meaning at all.

By the end of the book, I was glad it was done. John Green's writing is great and I think he handles the life of teens really well. He gives us a story that has beautiful wording and doesn't treat teenagers like a bunch of idiots who can't think for themselves. But he seems to have a tendency to write about very self-absorbed females (at least between this and Looking for Alaska) and boys who are obsessed/crushing on those girls. Margo was just such an unlikable character to me, I was glad to see her go.

I'm still interested in the movie, I'll admit that. There's such a huge following of Green's books and so many people who are in love with this book that I wonder if there's something I'm missing and if the book will manage to paint Margo in a different life. Who knows though, I suppose we'll see. But really, if you don't want to be constantly annoyed by Quentin's crush or Margo's selfishness, then stay away from this book. I wouldn't even call this a brainless read because I spent so much time being annoyed by the two main characters. I did enjoy that the entire group of teens ended up in my old stomping grounds in New York and the detail of the rural area was accurate but that wasn't enough to save this book for me.

Last Week's Review: Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Next Week's Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Scorpio Races

Alright, hear me out, this book reminded me of a reading assignment in school. I know if you're anything like me, you'll immediately groan and possibly find you have less interest in this book but you must hear me out: this book is fabulous. You've already traveled along with me as I've read up on Maggie Stiefvater's various other publications: The Raven Boys; The Dream Thieves; Blue Lily, Lily Blue; Shiver; Linger; and Forever and my general reaction to her books was either love it (The Raven Cycle) or hate it (The Wolves of Mercy Falls). Scorpio Races wasn't a book I was originally drawn to. Long gone are the days where I dreamt of owning a horse, no more are the times I read any horse-related book I could grab hold of, this book wasn't really appealing to me by the description. Well, that's a half truth. The idea of blood-thirsty horses coming out of the ocean definitely held my interest but past that, eh.

Still, since I was so sold on half of Maggie's books and disliked the other half, I wanted to try more of her tales. Apparently, The Scorpio Races is her favorite novel and something she holds close to her heart. A number of my friends, some who didn't strike me as the type who would enjoy such a book, vouched for the tale and said it was good, even great, and they loved, loved, loved it.

So I picked the book up during Independent Bookseller's Day. I had to wait a bit before I could start reading it, as I had other books sitting on my nightstand waiting for my attention, but I finally got to picking it up and diving in before I traveled to Florida in May.

The Scorpio Races is layered with meaning and if you look hard enough, you could find so many implications, so much symbolism, that you could easily write a school book report about it. That's why I say it reminds me of a summer reading assignment. It also does because it focuses on young adults in a strange world, learning so much about what it means to be alive, and that was (for me at least) another theme with school books.

Puck Connolly, the only daughter of the Connolly family, lives with her two brothers in the home her parents had prior to their death. On the unnamed island she lives, somewhere that it's implied there's a different language and it isn't America (as there is an American who arrives to the island and it's often commented on how he attempts to pronounce different words that are common on the island), every November sea horses arrive on the shores from the thrashing, late-autumn waves. They're nasty, bloodthirsty, and often known for killing animals in the area. But the people on the island capture the horses, train them, and then race them on the sandy beach. All the while the horses want to return to the ocean, it makes them wild and threatening, and many men fall during the race as the horses run to the waves or attack other horses and their riders.

A lot of readers have complained that the race itself is only a few pages long, but really, I feel this book is so much more than just the race. It's very liberating, as Puck Connolly decides to join the race with hopes of winning to help keep her family home and therefore is the first woman to ever have raced. It's breaking gender roles and stepping forward to a more united future for this tiny island. It's also the politics of the race world that isn't much different from our regular world.

We're also introduced to the island's champion of the races: Sean Kendrick. He's a horse whisperer of sorts, having a way with the water horses that others do not seem to have, and he is also competing for the title and the freedom of keeping his own water horse that has been tamed under his caring hand.

Both Sean and Puck have plenty of reasons to want to win and all are equally important. They're left with the choice of being enemies or working together and, with the chance to work side by side, they follow through and become a force to be reckoned with. Through their friendship, they both learn more about the world and themselves. It's great to see these two character easily calling each other out when needed.

Of course, and this may be a bit of a downside, there's romance to this tale. I do not feel it's romance that builds the entire plot, though. I think that's often the source of ridicule when it comes to YA books: that a book's plot is riding fully on the romantic relationship between the main character and some boy. Often enough for teenage girls, you feel that the world will end if your relationship does, so the emphasis of its "importance" is pretty accurate to that age-range. But there's also nothing wrong with showing that an end to a relationship, or a relationship in general, is not your sole purpose in life. This book could have been just as good without the romance thrown into it, and that's good and what I'd like to see. The plot could continue on its own and for what romance there is, it's not all that bad nor overwhelming.

I really enjoyed this book and felt like I was being transported to chilly autumn months. I could nearly taste the salt water and hear the whinnying of horses. After my general dislike of Maggie's Wolves series and love of the Raven Cycle, I was pleased that this tipped the scales, making me love Maggie's work even more. It's definitely a book I may read again in the future.

Last Week's Review: Shadows On My Heart by Lucy Rebecca Buck
Next Week's Review: Paper Towns by John Green

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Shadows on My Heart

My father had a healthy obsession with the Civil War while I was growing up. To be more specific, he really liked Gettysburg. I think the enjoyment of that battle (is it wrong to say enjoyment of one of the bloodiest days on American soil?) was stemmed by the movie and a trip to the yearly reenactment while I was a tiny thing.

I still remember the reenactment though. I remember the cannons and gunshots, the smell of gunpowder and hay, and the hot Pennsylvanian summer day. Watching the movie Gettysburg is tied to that memory and we would watch the movie each summer. 

When I began looking for colleges, I looked into Gettysburg. I visited the campus and town and fell in love fully. We toured the battlefield and I too caught the fascination that my father long had. I started looking up information on the battle and the war in general but found the details of the war were hard to follow. A lot happened. But I knew a few things with certainty: the Union won. 

The Union, the Yankees. I grew up in New York where no Civil War battles were fought but plenty of the Union's soldiers hailed from the state. I grew up always knowing that "our side won" and that the South was still quite bitter over it. I didn't understand why they still flew the Confederate flag and knew that while both sides suffered great losses, the South suffered quite a deal because... well, they lost.

When I moved to Virginia three years ago, I was thrilled to see that I was living near battlefields. Right down the road was the location for the Battle of Bull Run; when I moved to another location a small battlefield was in walking distance; every day I drive home from work I pass by a number of historic markers that indicate where skirmishes were. I was surrounded by Civil War history and I still knew so little. While I grew up in an area where sites of Indian raids and Revolutionary War battles were, my boyfriend was used to having the Civil War around him.

Whenever I go to visit my parents I drive through Gettysburg and on the way home, I stop at the park's visitor center to use their bathroom and stretch my legs. I always browse the bookstore there and marvel at all the things I want to read, and on one of my visits I spotted Shadows on My Heart.

Plucking if off the shelf, I took a look at it and found I was instantly intrigued. Lucy Buck of Front Royal, Virginia lived about an hour west of where I currently live! Shadows on My Heart is a compilation of the diary entries she kept during the Civil War. In it, she speaks often of southern news, wins and defeats, and the local pains and discomforts of living during war times. On another trip to Gettysburg, I picked up the book and proceeded to go into Lucy's world.

How odd it is to read someone's diary. More than once I had moments where I had to step back from the passages and remind myself that this was a real person, the people in the book were as alive as I am, and what they experienced is certainly not fiction.

This book was entirely eye-opening to me. It's educational in so many ways and I hope, whether it be in High School or college, that this book is referred to. If not the whole book, just different entries would do because many were very detailed and moving. As a Yankee, I was surprised by how passionate the South was, how much they hated the northerners, and how they saw their fight to be honorable and right. I was raised with the opposite in mind. It was just fact that the South had decided to do all of these things and they were obviously in the wrong, it was just proven by the fact that they lost the Civil War.

But reading the details of Lucy's experience during the Civil War... I can understand why she disliked the northerners so much. Soldiers would appear on her doorstep, demanding entry and then proceed to go through all of there belongings--often taking things they wanted or searching for items that weren't "allowed" and would immediately be confiscated. Such things as meats or materials to make clothes. They took their horses and set up camp in the fields they destroyed. Battles were taking place around them with guns and cannons going off while the family hid in the basement for safety. How terrifying! And this didn't happen only at Lucy's home but all over the south during the Civil War.

Many of the soldiers were also just awful. If I had soldiers coming along doing all of this and then being rude and disrespectful as well, I wouldn't like them very much either. Lucy's hatred seemed to fill her and I think, in that way, it's brave and a saving mechanism. I imagine if I were in her place I would be frightened and the whole event would leave me shaking. Friends and family members are dying from the war or broken hearts but Lucy only stands by her beliefs all the more.

Smaller details weren't as often included in this book and I appreciate the editor's mindset with how she presented the material. While Lucy wrote many entries detailing the more "boring" days that are filled with cleaning, meandering in the garden, headaches or mending of clothing, the author included these but eventually tapered off with those particular entries. The point being to bring attention to how life was and what life became during the war. Christmas is written in detail and the weather is often noted--I loved this and always have found enjoyment in learning how people lived before the radio, television, and internet.

But life changes during a war and sure enough, this is reflected in the book. Passing comments are made about the shortage of different day-to-day items we take for granted. The family loses their servants and has to care for the home themselves, which is interesting to read simply because the family has little knowledge of how much work goes into the upkeep of a home.

I was, however, just endless shocked by how scary the time period must have been and the heartache these people went through. When someone Lucy cared for was killed in action, the act of finding the body and bringing it home, preparing it for burial, was drenched in the heartache of the actions taken. I can't say I understand, I don't. Even knowing people in the military in this present day this was so much different--the time was different and the battles were on American soil.

The home that Lucy grew up in still stands in Virginia and I hope to visit it someday in the future as well as look at the town I heard so much about. I feel that I came away from this book truly feeling like I had gained more knowledge and insight than I had before. Certainly a must-read for those interested in American History or the Civil War.

Last Week's Review: Poetry of Lang Leav
Next Week's Review: Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Six Months of Books -- Mid-year Review

The beginning of this year I told myself and the world that I wouldn't be buying any books. I wanted to work on what I owned, that towering to be read pile in my bookshelves, and it would also be worth saving money so that I could apply my book money to other things.

If you follow my Instagram at all, you'll know this didn't happen. I've had my friend in California sending me books which I have devoured and then I've been a fiend when it comes to getting books onto my Kindle. With traveling to Florida in May, it was my preferred way of bringing books while managing limited space in my luggage. But I also just really enjoy buying books. It's an addiction, I suppose. I feel better when I buy books and I find pleasure in visiting book stores. But I have come a long way, there have been a few book store visits in the past number of months that haven't included book buying. I've finally reached a point where I can go to a book store and not feel I have to buy a book.

Still, books were bought and read over the past (first) half of the year. I have a goal of reading 52 books in the year 2015 and to have read 100 books by the time I turn 30 in one year. Upon this posting, I've read 25 books toward my 2015 goal and 51 toward my 30th birthday goal (I began that goal about a year ago).

So from January to the end of June, what have I been up to?

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Quiet by Susan Cain
Paper Towns by John Green
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
Shadows on My Heart by Lucy Rebecca Buck
The Wolves of Mercy Falls Books 1-3 by Maggtie Stiefvater
Love and Misadventures by Lang Leav
Lullabies by Lang Leav
The Raven Cycle Books 1-3 by Maggie Stiefvater

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Quiet by Susan Cain
Paper Towns by John Green
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
Shadows on My Heart by Lucy Rebecca Buck
The Wolves of Mercy Falls Books 1-3 by Maggtie Stiefvater
Love and Misadventures by Lang Leav
Lullabies by Lang Leav
The Raven Cycle Books 1-3 by Maggie Stiefvater
You Have to Fucking Eat by Adam Mansbach
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkein

Prince Lestat by Anne Rice
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
True Refuge by Tara Brach
Taking Woodstock by Elliot Tiber
Joy in the Morning by Betsy Smith
Dancing with Mr. Darcy
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Longbourn by Jo Baker
Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull
The Circle Cast; The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay by Alex Epstein
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
The Poetry of Lang Leav by Lang Leav

And there are more book reviews coming! I begin graduate school next month but I still intend to post. So, stay tuned for more reviews.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Colonial Williamsburg

Where: Williamsburg, Virginia
When: Fourth of July weekend, 2014

I come from a family filled with female cousins and was one of the youngest kids that explored/destroyed my grandparents' home every summer. My older cousins had American Girl dolls when I was too young to handle the expensive dolls and I was completely fascinated by them. I have such clear memories of creeping around, playing in dirt and chasing chipmunks, only to find my older cousins playing with their dolls in the most respectful of ways. By the time I entered school, I had my very own American Girl doll as well--Kirsten--and she was easily one of my best friends. My younger cousin ended up with Felicity from Williamsburg, VA a few years later after the character was introduced and I happily read her books as I did with all the other American Girls. It's been years since I read about Felicity but she had a pretty major influence on me.

Williamsburg also has an essential tie to my family as my parents chose the location as their honeymoon retreat. I have, quite literally, grown up hearing stories about Colonial Williamsburg--whether from American Girl or my parents--and I've always, always wanted to go.

My senior class trip in high school was to the area--Busch Gardens, specifically, and I had nearly zero interest. I knew Williamsburg was close and I wanted so badly to just go there instead. Who knew they were literally down the road from each other?

So, after years of fantasizing about the town (seriously, I used to play pretend that I lived in Williamsburg when I was little), the beau and I packed our bags and drove south to Williamsburg to celebrate the Fourth of July and my birthday. I was, without a doubt, more excited than I have been for any birthday or holiday in years.

And then we got stuck in traffic on I-95 for hours. For non-locals, this is common place when it comes to I-95 so be prepared. But traffic began to break up and onward we went until we reached our hotel. Dumping our items into the hotel room, we headed back out to my car to find somewhere to eat as we were starving.

We located an Italian restaurant that was awesome before heading out once more. Except now it was getting dark and I didn't want to just return to the hotel, I wanted to see what we had come here for! We typed in "Williamsburg" on my Waze then discovered that the field of horses nearby was actually a part of the colonial area. Darkness was falling quickly, giving a blue quality to the world, Sheep were in different fields, little lights glowed from porches, and overall, it was quiet. Just as I pictured it.

Still uncertain about the rules of the town, I didn't go for a walk--just drove through the portions that allow cars--but oh did I want to. Later on I discovered that while you need tickets, they do not necessarily cover the town itself but many of the stores and attractions. If you want to see live demonstrations, you'll need this ticket, but to walk along the street and look at the buildings it's free entrance.

We went to bed, resting up from the drive and preparing for the heat of the following day, and were up early on the Fourth of July and ready to celebrate. Along with my beau's sister, we obtained our tickets and set off for the town. Our hotel was a 15 minute walk from the center of activity so we left the car behind and walked to Williamsburg. Along the way, we saw the horses from the day before and pet their fuzzy noses while sticking to the shade as much as we could. It was going to be a sweltering day despite a misty, cloudy morning.

The town is sprawled out with large streets and walkable sidewalks. The one thing I would advise anyone who visits is to be careful as the roads are not paved and can be uneven, but there's also the chance of suffering a shoe casualty if you step into the horse poop that occurs every so often due to the horses ridden by actors.

Shops are open by way of flags being placed in front of them (as seen above) but I still took full opportunity to look inside the closed shops to see the delicate items they sold. There are a number of places to eat, all are pretty expensive, and enough shaded trees to provide some protection from the sun. Many of the shops do not have electricity so they close near sunset. They managed to stay cool during the morning hours while we meandered about but I'm sure by the end of the day they were sweltering.

We visited the print shop (we needed to show our tickets for this) and were able to get a lot of information about the process during that time period. I've heard rumor that the people working at Williamsburg maintain character no matter what but not once did we encounter such acting. Maybe it's because we're old and there isn't any magic to obtain (as it would be for children) but I enjoyed being able to talk to the employees and get true, genuine answers to questions and not feel as if they were putting on a show.

Around noon we were able to witness the reading of the Declaration of Independence by a few actors. It was impressive and neat to hear it all during Independence Day yet funny, as Williamsburg was a place owned by Jolly Ole' England and the reenactors behave as such.

While meandering the town, we noted that there was endless activity. You could tour homes, do events, fun activities for kids, and so much more. We weren't very interested in waiting for start times or on lines, so we preferred the pointless meanderings. We may not have had the opportunity to see as much as we had intended, but we still saw a lot and got some wonderful pictures.

The governor's mansion was one of my favorite places. The building was beautiful but it had garden walkways behind the structure and even a maze. We found an old burial area and a pathway through the woods. It was hot and sticky enough that I wanted to jump into the pond that was green with algae but the break away from the Fourth of July crowds was needed.

We were also able to use a bathroom and cool off a bit with some fresh cold water. It should be noted that there are certainly bathrooms through out the area but with the signs pointing to restrooms were, at times, confusing and the larger bathroom options were often crowded.

After this, we headed back to the hotel to relax for awhile and take a break from the sun. Already we were burnt and feeling the pain from the sunburn. We had dinner outside of the area since everything within Williamsburg was so expensive, had a dress code, or a wait list and then gathered what we needed for the fireworks that would happen later that night.

People in the local area tend to arrive in droves for the fireworks. Apparently, they're pretty damn good, and with so much ground to seat yourself you have a lot of options for where to go. We asked people who were already settled if they had seen the fireworks there before and they were all helpful in providing where good spots were for photos or just general viewing pleasure.

Once getting comfortable, we heard fifes and drums. Now, this wasn't the first time that day we heard such music. It seems to be the soundtrack to the town: fifes and drums forever, but this time the beau's sister and I went to find it and discovered a fife and drum parade to the main stage where the Virginia Symphony Orchestra was going to perform for the evening festivities.

After following the corps and watching their performance, we returned to our seats where we played games and snacked while the sun slowly made its final glimmer on the world and we were sent into darkness. One fabulous thing about a town that is meant to display colonial times is that there are few locations with electric light. This allowed the light of fireworks to really stand out and we were given a great show. Everyone was happy and strangers joined in on the oohs and ahhs.

I love fireworks so much. They make me so incredibly happy and I find even more pleasure in taking photos of them. I am not a photographer by any means but I really enjoy seeing the different colors come out on my camera. I try to not spend the entire show looking through my lens so I'll set my camera up, take constant photos, but otherwise watch the show with my own eyes. It didn't disappoint. I've seen fireworks in numerous places -- the steps of the Capitol building being one of them -- and this display was just as good, if not better.

After the fireworks, we were led out of Williamsburg by a fife and drum march with torches to light the way. Best way to end our day? Most definitely.

I had a blast visiting Williamsburg and we ended up stopping into the town a few other times during our stay in the area. We meandered the streets, looked into the herb garden and some shops, and had a generally good time. The Fourth of July was certainly the busy day. The place was swarming with people by noon, but the following days were much more relaxed and with less people. It gave a better opportunity to snoop through the area. There were certainly more events on the holiday itself, but if you want a more hands on experience (with tours and events) I'd suggest going on a non-holiday.

There were so many things I wanted to do and we simply ran out of time, but meandering as we did was great and I can't wait to return.