Ryn is the main character, and she's a badass gravedigger who also slays bone houses (living dead) in her spare time. This YA fantasy reads like a step back in time but it packs a modern punch. Ryn and her siblings live on their own in a small village surrounded by an iron fence built to keep the bone houses out. Much of the folklore surrounding the bone houses in Colbren is viewed as just that - old stories, but Ryn knows better. She comes upon a mysterious man named Ellis being attacked by one of the risen dead, and after she saves him (hooray for females who do the saving) she finds out he's a mapmaker who has gotten himself lost. I felt very distant from the characters when I first started reading this, and the magical elements felt too separate from Ryn's story, but I stuck with it and was not disappointed. In fact, I was riveted. Things pick up when Ryn and Ellis team up to figure out why the bone houses are suddenly attacking in mass. Some of the plot elements surprised me so much that I had to reread parts to make sure I was understanding what happened. I love when books take me by surprise.
I especially love how both Ryn and Ellis' characters were developed slowly and expertly. Ellis may have some physical weaknesses but Ryn's strengths make up for it, and they complement each other in a way that doesn't leave one overpowering the other. They become a team that isn't based on stereotypical gender roles. When Ellis is tender, Ryn is tough. They bond as orphans and the agony of not knowing exactly what happened to one of their parents.
Without spoiling anything, there's also a zombie animal that plays a big part of Ryn and Ellis' journey to stop the bone houses. This decaying pet becomes their savior in many ways and was a fascinating supernatural element. Bravo to Emily Lloyd-Jones for a fantasy zombie book that is so satisfyingly unique and special.
The Office is one of those shows that I put on when I need a guaranteed laugh, and it never lets me down. I really enjoyed hearing all of the actors, writers, and directors talk about the entire process in their own words. The style of this book highlights just how unique and special this show is. They reveal some of the actors that were originally imagined for Michael Scott's role, and how much work went into making sure the set and wardrobe were as authentic to the everyday world of a small paper company as possible. The actors/actresses also revealed the scenes that made them break, and of course, one that had them in fits was the dinner party episode. Between Dwight's dinner date, Jan's candle business, and Michael's tiny TV, the episode slays. I also really appreciated how much they thought through the characters and developed them in ways that were so much more than just comedic effect. If you're an Office fan, this is your Bible.
My husband and I, as inexperienced international travelers, embarked on a six country European travel blitz a few years after getting married. We had no idea what we were doing, but this trip is what started our travel obsession. Out of the six cities we stopped in, Budapest was the one that left me with the most wonder. Split into two parts, Buda is the western, hilly side with grand views and thermal spas. Pest (pronounced PESHT) is the flat, commercial business side. The two sides united into one city in 1873, but they couldn't be more distinct. Budapest has a beauty and grandeur that I wasn't expecting. There's a curious juxtaposition of atmospheres here that entranced me from the moment we arrived.
Turning Pages: Places to Check Out
Hungarian Parliament Building
This was under renovation when we visited, and we didn't end up visiting the interior of the building at all. Taking in this grand structure from across the Danube both during the day and night are some of the most vivid memories I have from our entire Europe trip. The symmetry of all the arches and spires is dazzling. I can't imagine living and working in a place where this is your view on a daily basis. How does this thing even exist?
Younger, thinner, and sporting natural, unprocessed hair, I couldn't get enough of these bridges. They're everywhere. I loved how each bridge has it's own character and personality. The Elizabeth Bridge is modern while the Chain Bridge is more historic and the most recognized in all of Budapest.
This street is known as the soul of the tourist district. Here you will find tons of shopping and cafes, all located along a pedestrian walkway lined with sophisticated buildings.
We were surprised to learn that Budapest is well known for its thermal waters, and there are many baths to choose from, each with it's own unique features. The baths all use the mineral-rich water from the ground and are great for entertainment, healing, and just general relaxation.
Completely unprepared and having done zero research ahead of time, we chose one, Szechenyi, and showed up with suits in hand. The man in the window knew we were idiots as we couldn't figure out what to do. He spoke no English, and this was before cell phones so we couldn't look up anything to translate. As I said before, we were very inexperienced and should have been prepared to ask for help in Hungarian. There was a menu hanging up above the ticket window, so we randomly pointed to something and hoped it was an entrance ticket we were paying for. He pointed to a door and off we went. We went to separate gender changing rooms and then met up on the other side in a beautiful room with tall columns and a long, skinny pool. There are varying temperatures in each of the different indoor pools, and we tried several. The outdoor pools weren't open when we visited which was a bummer because they're incredibly grand. See photos and videos of both:
Menu Pages: Eats and Drinks
Great Market Hall
This indoor market is located on the Pest side, and is an overwhelming assault on your senses. You can definitely spend hours here eating your way through the first floor food vendors. Try the langos. These are a deep-fried bread that you can get with various sweet or savory toppings. We tried the cheese, and it was amazing and incredibly cheap.
Hungary's national drink, Unicum is everywhere. We had it in shots before a meal. It's bitter and has a piney taste that was just too medicinal and herbal for me, but it obviously has its fans all over this country.
Appendix: A Hodge Podge
Holocaust Memorial Center - a moving tribute to the more than half a million Hungarian citizens/deports who became victims in the Holocaust
Heroes Square - largest square in Budapest
Folk Dinner and Gypsy Show - lots of places offer folk shows, and these are fun to watch people in traditional Hungarian costumes dancing with bottles on their heads and cracking whips. They often grab tourists out of their seats to join in on the fun.
Postscript: What I Missed
There are oodles of places that we didn't get to and wish we had. These are just a few on our list for next time.
Royal Palace (Buda Castle) - includes the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Széchenyi Library, and the Castle Museum
Gellert Baths - has an Art Nouveau style and an outdoor wave pool
Danube river cruise - we did one in Amsterdam instead so we decided to skip it here
Faust Wine Cellars - sample wines underneath Buda Castle
Budapest is only one of the stops in this impressive historical fiction monstrosity, and the city fits the vampiric, moody vibe of this book like a sleek, black velvet glove.
Vampires and librarians and history, oh my! It's a nerd trifecta, and I loved every bit of it. You have to love historical fiction to read this. It's very dense in the history department but in an exquisite, luscious, romantic kind of way. It's also a beast of a book, literally. At 642 pages, I found myself slogging through it at times and just wishing it would wrap up. In the end, I was satisfied and glad to have stuck it out.
The narrator begins the story as a young girl who finds a book with a woodcut of a dragon in it among her father's things. She asks him about it, and Paul slowly and reluctantly unravels the story. The book mysteriously appeared in his study carrel when he was a younger man studying at the library during his graduate program. Interested in it's origin, he takes the book to his mentor, Professor Rossi and is stunned to find out that Rossi also has a copy of the same book. Rossi explains that in his research of the strange book, he uncovers information about Vlad Tepes (Dracula) and believes he is still alive. Soon after, Rossi goes missing, leaving behind a blood-smeared office. Paul is devastated and heads off on a whirlwind world adventure to figure out what happened to his beloved mentor. All three characters are presumed to be white. The book weaves in and out of libraries, small villages, quaint cafes, and monasteries. The adventures span various cities including Amsterdam, Istanbul, Budapest, and a host of other eastern European locations.
I was spellbound by the vivid descriptions of each location. Elizabeth Kostova does an incredible job capturing the hypnotic effect of traveling around the world. Not only was the travel meticulously detailed, but the historical backgrounds of every, single location were weaved in so seamlessly, you felt like you were part of each page. Now I love historical fiction, but this one really crammed it in. The middle pages got repetitive, and I was wishing for a change of pace in the plot elements. I wasn't sure if I would ever finish this book, but you could tell this was a dramatic labor of love for this author. Without spoiling too much, I can't stop thinking about how awesome it is to have beady, little librarian vampires roaming around. I keep imagining scrawny, bat-faced men dressed up in tweed suits. Libraries are pretty much my world and combining these two elements is almost too much for my bibliophile heart to take.
This book made me think about racism in a completely different way. Here I am, thinking I'm just fighting the good fight and trying to be anti-racist, and then this books knocks me down a few pegs, rightfully so. While a lot of this information is likely obvious to some readers, I found the material to be thought-provoking and discussion-worthy, which to me, is always the mark of a good read and will definitely inform my life going forward. Robin DiAngelo is white and is speaking specifically to white readers after years of training as a sociologist and working as a diversity trainer in the business world. She talks about how racism is not an action but a systemic fact. Racism exists pure and simple, and it's not in the binary good/bad ways we've always framed it. When people think of racists, they think of the Klan or those angry whites from the Civil Rights era screaming in the faces of little black children on their way to school. But racism is so much more than these scenes. Racism exists in structures. It exists because blacks have not been able to accumulate generational wealth. It exists because most of the "top ten" lists of wealthiest people are white men. It exists because most of the people serving in positions of power in Congress are mostly white men. Award winning movie directors are all white men, and the list goes on and on. Racism will continue to exist until whites give equality to people of color. She starts the book explaining this concept with the example of suffrage. Women were not given suffrage until those in power changed the laws. White men gave white women the right to vote. Women of color were not given that right officially by law until much later. It's up to the group holding the position of power to change it. Nothing will change unless white people stop acting defensive when talking about their racism and recognize these structural deficiencies in this power imbalance.
One thing that really struck me since I'm such a big reader is the idea of white as the default race. When I read and even write book reviews, race is only mentioned when a character is of color. Why is white the automatic default? Why do we assume that someone is white unless we specifically point out their race? I do this all the time in my reviews. I'm white, and the reason I do this is because of my own racism. Do I wear a pointed hood or scream at black children? Do I make racist jokes or say the N word? Never, but I've learned racist things without recognizing them as such just simply because I'm white living in a world where white has always been the default. This is something I'm going to commit to working on, and it's ever-evolving. Another poignant moment for me with this book was the section on segregation. Sure there have been laws to abolish segregation, but we still live in a mostly segregated society from housing to schools, etc.
This book angers a lot of people. If you read it without being open to the idea of discussing your own white race, you won't gain anything from it. The fragility exists when we are unable to talk about how whiteness is entangled with racism because we're afraid to be labeled bad or good. Our social environment insulates us from ever having to deal with stress related to discussions of our race, and therefore we become ultrasensitive to any kind of conversation about it. It's not up to people of color to end racism. It's our responsibility as white people to learn from POC about their experiences. I like how DiAngelo points our her own racism and what she did when she learned of it. Her personal examples and sociological points are the highlights of this book and cement it as one of those reads I just can't get out of my mind.
The Galvin family consisted of 12 children born between 1945 and 1965 which is worthy of a story just based on the sheer insanity of having that many children within a span of 20 years. The shocking thing about this family is that six of the children (all boys) were diagnosed as schizophrenic. Robert Kolker goes on to describe Mimi and Don Galvin's remarkable family as years of seeking, blaming, violence, denial, and abuse tear the family apart and break down their seemingly ideal lives. Kolker not only goes through the history of schizophrenia research, but he also does justice to the family by telling their devastating story in a humane way, showing empathy for the mentally ill boys, siblings, and parents despite the family's dark secrets and dysfunction. Eventually the Galvin family is studied by researchers at NIMH. Their case study informs genetic research and debates on nature vs nurture. The most fascinating part of this entire family study is that it helped researchers find a dietary supplement, choline, to add to prenatal vitamins in an attempt to alter or eradicate the illness completely. The trial is currently in progress. This book reminds me of another terribly sad history, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The authors in both tell the stories behind medical and scientific progress with particular attention to the sacrifices, humanity, and callousness in which these advances are often gained. It's important to hear the full stories and recognize what has been given and often taken behind the grandeur of progress.
This is a prototypical, young adult, dystopian series that leaves teen girls swooning in a science fiction love triangle between Cassia and two super hunky, brooding boys. All is not as it seems in Cassia's world where young people are paired up with their spouses at age 17 at a special banquet. She's matched with her best friend, Xander, but when she views her Match video giving information about Xander, a picture of mysterious Ky flashes into view and makes her question whether the Match is destiny or not. The Society has close control over romantic partners, death, jobs, and food intake, and Cassia begins to wonder why everything is chosen for them. Matched is an interesting YA exploration of free will and how a tightly controlled environment always has dirty secrets lurking in the shadows. This was a very popular series when it first came out, and a classic constant in the dystopian genre.
Looking for something Fall festive to do on weekends? We love Milburn Orchards in Elkton, Maryland for many reasons. I started going there to buy apples to make my own applesauce but ended up staying longer each time to enjoy all of the family fun activities they have.
This is quintessential Fall fare, and I'll never tire of going to places like this.
This book is best for reading on Fall nights, snuggled under a blanket next to a cozy fireplace. It's the type of read that although sad at times, just makes you feel warm on the inside.
Author Juliet Ashton is in London trying to rebuild her life after the war and trying to find something new to write about. Happenstance delivers a letter from a man on Guernsey, a Channel Island off the coast of Southern England, and through their correspondence, Juliet finds her next great story. Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during WWII, and a group of unlikely people banded together to form a society for lovers of literature, and a front for gatherings during the time of occupation. This group of interesting characters leans on one another through harsh times, and Juliet finds inspiration in their stories. She begins correspondence with the members and discovers a taboo love, sweet friendships, heroic acts of bravery, and all manner of other intriguing, memorable stories. Juliet becomes so enamored with the people of Guernsey that she becomes intertwined in their lives in ways that ultimately change hers as well.
This book is written entirely in letters. It's charming, and really funny. I was surprised how often I found myself laughing. There is lightness and gloom, but it's done in a way that blends the multiple story lines together seamlessly and authentically.
Eleanor Oliphant is bizarre and responds to people with such a black and white obliviousness that she's rude and misunderstood. She's also deeply lonely and doesn't realize it. She lives each day with order and repetition that includes minimal contact with other people, vodka, frozen pizza, and her mundane office job. Then the order of her life gets thrown off track when she meets new IT guy, Raymond, and his warmth and gentleness show Eleanor how much friendship and love are missing from her life. She begins to slowly reveal her childhood trauma and the lingering effects of a desolate upbringing. Eleanor starts off as a pitiful, sad character, but painfully develops into a likeable oddball who braves the deluge of emotions locked away to create a better, completely fine life. Eleanor was so hard to read at first, and I thought I would dislike this book right away. Honeyman has clearly mastered character development, and it's a sweet read up until the last word.
Glennon Doyle has a very interesting voice. I appreciate a lot of what she's laying down, but some of this just felt a little selfish, to the point where it's borderline snobbery. Yet I also felt a kinship with Doyle and much of her take on the world felt like she was talking directly to me, absorbing right into my being. How can you not love a book like that? Doyle shares her experience with a divorce and a new relationship with a woman, retired soccer star, Abby Wambach. I loved the island metaphor that she uses to explain to family and friends that were not accepting of their new family unit. "When you are ready to come to our island with nothing but wild acceptance and joy and celebration for our true, beautiful family, we’ll lower the drawbridge for you. But not one second sooner." I especially related to her sections on parenting a sensitive child. She talks about how sensitivity is a superpower and not something to be ashamed of. Her mantra "We can do hard things," is something I've already started repeating to my girls especially in these last few months. Feelings are meant to be felt - all of them, not just the happy ones that we display to the world around us. Doyle is obviously a kick-ass mother but is also quick to point out when she doesn't do things right. She has a genuine ability to self-reflect, and this makes her thoughts that much more likeable and relatable.
I'm all for women taking stock of their lives and knowing when to say no. Selfishness has a rightful place in our lives, but it also needs to be balanced with empathy and awareness of others. Women often put others first to the detriment of their own sanity, but a healthy balance is what's missing not a full onslaught of self-talk, and a me-me-me-me-me attitude. But with that said, Glennon (I feel like I'm already on a first name basis with her, and I'm pretending we're friends) would probably point out that confident women all too often get labeled entitled, and to that point I agree. Quibbling over how much selfishness is too much or just right is not enough to take away from the other points in her book. She has so much good stuff in here to ignore. And then she says “When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself,” and I feel like I everything I just thought was wrong. She's so good and really makes me think about ALL OF THE THINGS.
And then she brings on the pizzazz with this gleaming pearl that I can't stop thinking about. “Mothers have martyred themselves in their children’s names since the beginning of time. We have lived as if she who disappears the most, loves the most. We have been conditioned to prove our love by slowly ceasing to exist. What a terrible burden for children to bear—to know that they are the reason their mother stopped living. What a terrible burden for our daughters to bear—to know that if they choose to become mothers, this will be their fate, too. Because if we show them that being a martyr is the highest form of love, that is what they will become. They will feel obligated to love as well as their mothers loved, after all. They will believe they have permission to live only as fully as their mothers allowed themselves to live.If we keep passing down the legacy of martyrdom to our daughters, with whom does it end?" Gut punch. Doyle has a way of just getting to the raw meat of women's lives, and this is just one of her many juicy bits of wisdom that make me keep coming back to this book, cringing and loving it all at the same time.
I really had to force myself to finish this. It was marginally interesting but not memorable at all. Larson follows William Dodd and his family as he becomes the American ambassador to Germany in 1933 when Hitler comes into power. He slowly and painfully reveals how the world underestimated Hitler's reach and volatile power. Dodd is a basic guy who doesn't like showy things. His daughter, Martha, sleeps around with everyone in Berlin, enjoying the social scene and flirting with obliviousness. The books takes so much time detailing Martha's sex/dating life (not in graphic detail at all so don't get excited) that she takes a primary role in the book. She eventually gets a "meeting" with Hitler as a possible hook-up but she's not into him. Later, Martha gets involved with a Russian spy, and she's probably the most interesting character overall which is an indicator of how boring this whole book is. Tell me more about Martha's correspondence with poet, Carl Sandburg, and her endless attempts to engage the literary crowd while she woos the Nazis. I finished this only because of an annoying promise I made to myself not to quit books.
Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.