Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Top Ten Books I've Read in 2016

For the most part, this year has been rather lackluster book-wise in comparison to where I was this time last year. Last year I'd already read what ended up being my favourite books of the year. (In fact my end of year list was practically the same as my half-year.) It's not that I haven't read a lot of good books so far, I just haven't read many great books so far. Hence me highlighting them now - I'm not expecting most of these to make it to my end of year list, but they are worth highlighting!

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

Only Ever Yours

Thanks to Kirsty for putting this book on my radar!  If I hadn't read The Handmaid's Tale multiple times, and this was my first experience with the subject matter this probably would make end of the year list! It's even bleaker than The Handmaid's Tale, and while it tackles the same concepts, author chose to focus on different aspects (I.e body image and mental health) which made it refreshing. I highly recommend reading this author - if you can brave the emotional trauma.

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen, #1)

This was so fun! I can't WAIT for the next book to come out! I'm a big Alison Goodman fan, and this is very different from the other books I've read by her. 

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South

Ah the swoons! It's like Jane Austen if she wrote 50 years later and focused on the working man instead of the gentility. There were so many issues Gaskell looked at from multiple angles that still feel so relevant today. Plus of course the swoons, although my heart was not satisfied by the very short swoon confessions at the end, but that's ok. I can watch the miniseries again if I need heart palpitations.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

I really loved this one. If you're looking for a book with diversity where a character isn't entirely defined by said reason, look no further. This was funny, and heart breaking, and so, so real. I may even reread this one I enjoyed it so much!

The Bone Knife by Intisar Khanani

The Bone Knife

So you've probably seen me mention Intisar Khanani on the blog a few times - but trust me, it's not nearly as many as she deserves. Of all her works (and I read them ALL this year, but I'm limiting myself to one per author) this is my favourite. Which was honestly a surprise since I don't tend to like short stories much, but this one is perfect and I love it.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)

Oh god this book. Of all the books on this list, this is the only one I am 99% sure will be on my end of the year list. It pretty well destroyed me, I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing, but it was unique and basically my brain goes AGH FEELINGS every time I think about it for more than 2 seconds so I'm going to not talk about it any more.

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

Magic Study (Study, #2)

Soooo I have had a very, very, VERY rocky relationship with this series. That being said, whatever I may think about the third book in her second trilogy of this series, it doesn't change the fact that the fast paced nonstop action of this series paired with the really interesting world building and politics of this book in particular had me super addicted to this series.

Attack of the Ninja Frogs by Ursula Vernon

Attack of the Ninja Frogs (Dragonbreath, #2)

Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath books have become a staple choice for dinner reading with the kids. I think we've read at least four, maybe five at this point but so far the second book is hands down the funniest (in an already funny and wonderfully informative series).

Sleeping With Her Enemy by Jenny Holiday

Sleeping with Her Enemy (49th Floor, #2)

A romance novel with an Asian (well, half anyway) man and a white woman? Whaaaat? It was hot, and hate to love, and I'll take half-Chinese if I can't get Korean in my romance novels. Particularly since Asian men of any nationality (race? I'm not actually sure which word makes sense here) in a romance novel are hard to find (especially paired with a non-Asian partner). So if any of you have recommendations on that front...

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakani

The Strange Library

The impossible has happened! I found a Murakami book I actually liked! I even really liked it! It's cheeky and surreal and basically the few things I had liked about his previous writing without all the things I hadn't liked. It showed he actually had a sense of humour which helped greatly too. I think his writing style is really well suited to shorter works, so I'll likely read his shorter works from here on out.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Day in the Life #43: In which Elizabeth has all the links

Linking up with Kimba from The Caffeinated Reviewer

This will be a decidedly unglamorous post after my last one, but that's probably enough excitement for a whole year so that's alright!  Since my last post I've become 26, so I'm officially now in my late twenties.  I'm feeling surprisingly ok with that - I've hit the time in my life where birthdays are officially less exciting than they were when I was a kid.  But 26 isn't one of the BIG birthdays so it doesn't have any added pressure, which is nice.  I had a low key birthday, but I grabbed a drink with some friends and it was loads of fun.  Sejoon also bought me a SUPER EXCITING birthday present!!! I am now a proud owner of AN XBOX ONE!!!!!  I only have three games so far - Just Dance 2016 (which is one of the reasons I'd been thinking of getting a console - it's just so damn fun! And I get a good workout from it), Assassin's Creed Unity, and The Witcher 3 which is like....guys.  I didn't know video games could be like this.  It's so detailed and fun and there's just so bloody much to do! And the story is super intense.  Basically, if you get the opportunity to play it, you should.  

The weather here has been pretty nice so Sejoon and I went hiking today.  We did a short hike - probably only 4 or 5 miles, but it mostly followed a river so it was scenic.  I did have the misfortune of choosing the ONE day they were hosting a cycling race for a hundred or so cyclists, but they were all very friendly, and luckily I could make my way mostly down back baths so we didn't get mowed down by a cyclist.  Also this happened:

Around the middle of the hike we found this giant field which is everything Sejoon has wanted for the past couple of weeks so he got really excited and reenacted "The Hills Are Alive" from The Sound of Music.  (Also ever since that horror film The Hills Have Eyes came out it's ruined the title of that song for me. BOOOO).

In any case we had fun, and also we didn't get killed by cyclists or horses, so that's good.  And now, as promised in my last post, lots of links!!

Nonbookish Links

- In a week full of bad news, it's great to hear that California is making sexual consent education mandatory in high schools.
- Anyone watching the Tonys tonight? You're going to want to watch James Corden's Carpool Karoake from this week for sure then!
- Two names: Abbie Mills and Sleepy Hollow. Spoilers to follow.  And also probably rage. Lots and lots of rage.  I remember back when this was my favourite show.

Bookish Links

- Gillian Anderson has been cast in the American Gods adaption!!!! 
- More casting news: Elisabeth Moss is Offred in The Handmaid's Tale (aka one of my favourite books of all time)
- You guys KNOW I'm all over the Tamora Pierce news - she's just wrapped up the first book in her Numair trilogy!
- IT'S FINALLY HAPPENING!!! Two of my most awaited books are going to be published this fall (no, not Abarat *grumbles*) - Scott Lynch's next Gentleman Bastards book The Thorn of Emberlain and Garth Nix's next Old Kingdom book (LIRAEL AND NICK FINALLY IT'S BEEN LIKE A DECADE I'VE BEEN WAITING SO LONG FOR THIS BOOK) Goldenhand.
- Tessa talks about how much the interpretation and direction of a performance matters in interpreting Shakespeare. (So how about go see some plays instead of just reading them if you can)

Blogging Links

- Heather (hilariously) compares to compares two different con worlds - the world of book cons, and the world of vet cons.
- Mitchii talks about why she loves being a multilingual reader.

Ok, so actually this list ended up not being super long, but guys I'm trying to type this while the Tonys are on AND LIN MANUEL MIRANDA JUST WON GUYS AND I CAN'T TYPE ANY MORE BYE.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Memories of Ash Release Week Blitz + Giveaway + Review

Regular readers of my blog know that I never do blog tours and the like - it's just generally not something I'm interested in doing.  But as soon as I saw that Intisar Khanani was releasing the next book in her Sunbolt Chronicles, I knew I was going to do whatever it took to help promote it!  

In the past six months I went from not having read any of her books to now having read ALL of her books - they're that good.  The writing is gorgeous, the world building is layered, and the characters are so human and flawed.  Looking for diversity in your fantasy?  Look no further.  I really can't recommend any of her books more (because you can bank on all of the above in any thing she's ever written), and if you're looking for somewhere to start, The Sunbolt Chronicles are definitely worth checking out.  The first book is actually a novella - and my only real complaint was that it felt like it needed more.  It packed so much action and world and characters and I just wanted a little more space to explore all of that.  And now here we are!  As much as I can say without spoiling the first book, I felt like Memories of Ash took everything I wanted and liked from the first book and just built on it.  We got more world, more magic, more Hitomi (and lots here that I can't talk about because of spoilers).  It's action packed and I have to say, in both books the plot never went where I had assumed they were going to go - in a very refreshing way.  I don't know what else I can do to convince you to pick this series up (other than hey look! There's a giveaway down below so go check that out!), so I will leave you with this checklist:

Do you like fantasy novels? Read this series.
Do you like fantasy with different communities in them, particularly ones that aren't Western based? Read this series.
Do you like characters who feel like three-dimensional people? Read this series.
Do you like your characters to not all be white? Read this series.
Do you like beautiful prose? Read this series.
Do you like Robin Hood/band of heroic thieves? Read this series.
Do you like magic with real consequences? Read this series.

Do you get what I'm saying here? READ. THIS. SERIES.

You know. Just in case I wasn't stating the obvious there.  And now I leave you with all the information and means to go do it: (with a warning to skip the summary underneath the picture below so you don't read spoilers, although it wouldn't be the end of the world)

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

                                              Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble |  Apple  |  Kobo


I start forward, my eyes on the bundle ahead of us. I cannot quite make out what it is.  Something sticks out from the bulk of it, reaching across the floor like an errant branch, dried twigs.

Filled with foreboding, I draw closer, straining to make out the thing in the light of the glowstone. The mage slows beside me. My throat closes up. I stare, frozen mid-step, at the shape stretched out before me: a body that is nothing more than papery skin curled over the brittle bones within. A mummified corpse, preserved by the endless heat, untouched by nature, its clothing long since dissolved away. Its bones protrude obscenely: each rib tracing a line around its chest, the pelvic and hip bones encased so tightly in skin that the gaps, the natural spaces formed by the bone, seem translucent, as if the light were shining through thin parchment.

My stomach tightens into a ball. I swallow hard, forcing down the bile in my throat. The skull bears no expression, dull teeth showing through leathery lips, the eyes long since shriveled away. But that hand, outstretched... A plea. Or a single, hopeless attempt to escape death.

Beside me, the mage breathes a curse.

Other books in this series:

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

About the Author:

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters.

Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy.  Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, following the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles, an epic series following a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, a dark mage intent on taking over the Eleven Kingdoms.

                                                           Website | Goodreads | Facebook Twitter

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Co-Review: Think of England - Part 2

Once again, I'm joined by the lovely Yash from The Book Wars as we wrap up our review of Think of England!  You can read the first half of the review here.

Chapters 9-16


Y: While the first half of the novel was fun to get introduced to the characters and the world, I think I preferred this half of the novel because Curtis and da Silva really seem to come into their own. It feels less like I’m reading about Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane and more like, hey, there’s Curtis and da Silva! Hope they get to cuddle! You know? Also, remember those ladies that Curtis made snap judgements about? Oh, yeah, they are kick-ass and Curtis owes them so much.

E: I love the lady characters SO MUCH.  I really want to read a book about them, actually - I’m going to have to look up and see if she wrote a book about them (it seems doubtful, but a girl can dream).  Otherwise Curtis and da Silva progress in a fairly expected way - Curtis has a lot of self-reflection, da Silva becomes more open to intimacy so good things happen.  But really, the lady characters are THE BEST (Other than da Silva, of course).


Y: I also think Curtis develops in some interesting ways over the novel. As someone who is the closet without really knowing that he is in the closet, Curtis sort of fumbles his way through his relationship (if it can be called that) with da Silva. Just as you can display racial prejudice while being a person of colour, I suppose one could be gay and still have to fight years of heteronormative biases. I think we get to see Curtis grow on that front and I appreciate that. Much of these developments (and shortcomings) are revealed during romantic interludes with da Silva and we get to see how their relationship grows (or suffers) as a direct result. I still can’t tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

E: The first half of the second half (I feel like there must be some way to phrase this better) is where the relationship really shines for me.  Da Silva is at his most vulnerable, Curtis gets to be strong and protective, and it becomes significantly more about physical attraction at this point, which is what I had really been waiting for. There’s cuddling and cute moments and it’s perfection.  The epilogue kind of lost me a bit - that last encounter reminded me too much of all the things I hadn’t liked about the second encounter, and it kind of felt like the character development regressed because of that, despite all the progress Curtis has made in self awareness.


Y: The ending is ridiculous. So. Very. Ridiculous. Like, Quentin Tarantino would have shook his head and gone, maybe that was a bit much? But I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes and giggling, so obviously I didn’t hate it. I just wanted Curtis and da Silva to be okay. TBH, I wouldn’t even have minded if a giant unicorn had come trampling through the fields and crushed their enemies. So, plot-wise, don’t expect anything mind-blowing, but do be prepared to laugh at the ridiculous.

E: Yeahhhh...so if I had plausibility issues with the set up this ending is beyond ridiculous hahahahaha.  I mean it’s fun I guess? A bit bloodthirsty for my taste in historical romance, but to each her own I suppose.  Basically at this point I was just so happy da Silva and Curtis got all their cuteness in that I was ready for the main plot-line to be over.


Y: So much representation--and most of it done well, I feel--we have a closeted, disabled Englishman protagonist and his romantic interest is an openly gay, Jewish man from Spain. We also have a minor mention of ladies who are quite possibly a couple. It is hilarious and so full of innuendo--I laugh for five straight minutes at the mention of “buttering a roll with great care”--and it is set in the Edwardian era, which, I mean, maybe you want some historical fiction set in England that isn’t all white and all straight? I know I do. And, while this is marked as the first book in a series, I think the ending was pretty conclusive and doesn’t leave any loose threads.

E: This is more or less exactly what I’ve been looking for in my historical romances lately: non-white or gay characters (this is my first non-hetero relationship for historical romance actually).  And I have to say, as far as first books in that category go, I would recommend it.  (Also if you are looking for non-white, might I recommend Beverly Jenkins).  I would say this is for people who like: Edwardian era romance, alpha male and/or snarky male pairings, non-white, and/or disabled characters.


Y: My biggest issue with the book was the epilogue. I suppose Curtis kissing da Silva is meant to be passionate, but it mostly read like assault. Granted, da Silva reciprocates enthusiastically almost immediately, but it is an uncomfortable way to properly begin their relationship. It is also very uncomfortable to read. (Maybe da Silva feels he doesn’t have a choice? Maybe he would regret it after? I mean, obviously, they are Meant To Be in this book, but IRL reciprocation doesn’t always mean yes. Especially if you are holding them down.) I hope K. J. Charles does better in terms of consent and passion in the next one.

E: I have similar qualms - a few of the scenes were too much like assault and it made me a bit uncomfortable.  Particularly the epilogue because he’s inserting himself into da Silva’s life in every aspect.  I also think you can’t be a stickler for details - plot-wise you definitely need some suspension of belief.  Overall, though, I was pretty pleased with this book and would definitely try another book by K.J. Charles (particularly if they are about aforementioned two ladies!)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Co-Review: Think of England by KJ Charles - Part 1

Today I'm joined by Yash from The Book Wars as we take a look at KJ Charles' Edwardian era romance novel.  If you haven't stopped by The Book Wars before, I highly recommend it.  They always have a great selection of books to recommend, with a focus on younger readers and diversity, and they're funny and insightful and basically you should just go check them out.  With no further ado, let's take a look at the first half of this book!

SUMMARY:  England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Warning: Contains explicit male/male encounters, ghastly historical attitudes, and some extremely stiff upper lips.

Chapters 1-8

Y: I love the way the character are introduced. Curtis at a social event and is the reader’s eyes. Slowly we get a list of people--his hosts, their child, their child’s best friend (“a striking piece of work”), a couple of woman who Curtis cannot judge fast enough, and of course, the person you just know is going to be Curtis’ love interest, the one that gets under his skin even as he looks at him: Daniel da Silva. Truthfully, Curtis with his hesitation and suspicion and fumbling kind of reminds me of Alec Lightwood and da Silva might as well be my favourite warlock wearing a glamour. There are so many instances of Daniel da Silva resembling Magnus Bane, and since Bane predates da Silva, that I have to wonder if K. J. Charles is a fan. (Not a bad thing in my opinion. I like these kinds of proud, sharp-tongued, and surprisingly kind characters.) I have to wonder, however, if this combination of Not Out Manly Man and Definitely Out Intellectual Type is something of a cliche. As of now, I don’t think they are very stereotypical?

E: I definitely agree with Yash about Daniel da Silva - he reminds me so much of Magnus Bane! (And as such it should be no surprise that he’s my favourite character). It’s not to the point that I feel like he’s just Bane cut out and pasted in this work, but he’s got the flamboyant fashion, the snarky wit, and plenty of mystery to go around that is very reminiscent of Magnus. I always have a hard time with very alpha men, and Curtis is Very Alpha indeed. I did feel like at times the writing did him a disservice - whereas da silva gets to be cool and collected, Curtis - despite his varied background and generally open-minded views (for the time), will get lines that make him appear stupider or at least plainer than I would expect him to be. It felt a bit uneven at times - but I think some of that may be that I greatly prefer witty, flamboyant men.


Y: Oh, man. I do not know how I feel about this. Um. So, basically, Curtis and da Silva are both caught snooping in the same room. Da Silva, quick on his feet, makes it look like they merely ducked into a room for um, how shall I put it delicately …

… or, at least, making out. (Can I just state for the record how thoroughly unromantic the phrase “hard lips battering his mouth” is? Very. Very unromantic.) Except this leads to them having to “prove” they are smooshing, so. Things happen. Not smooshing. But definitely not something Curtis was expecting. Curtis did enjoy the experience, but I would have liked him to have assented to the idea a little more enthusiastically. Granted, it wasn’t something da Silva really would have wanted to do either--the situation was just so messed up? Which, of course, leads to a very messed up conversation about consent where neither of them comes to a consensus but agree that oral sex is enjoyable enough to repeat? I hate to sound like an overbearing housewife, but ugh, men. Just talk about your feelings, please.

E: I tend to avoid very alpha characters (unsurprising given my previous statement), particularly paired with rather effeminate characters, but this one works for me. I think it’s because Curtis is generally open minded and willing to talk about his emotions (comparatively), and his physical prowess is balanced by da Silva’s superior abilities in subterfuge and because he’s out (as far as one can be in this time) and very comfortable with that. I happen to love “pretend kiss” situations (I.e. For whatever reason said couple has to pretend to kiss so as not to be caught but then it becomes something they actually enjoy) and this first scene is...rather a bit more than just a kiss haha! So I’m predisposed to enjoy it a bit, but the second encounter threw me for a bit of a loop. It was...a bit violent and sudden, and while it ended up with them at least discussing the situation it was certainly not intimate. But even though this second encounter took me aback, I’m definitely aboard this ship!


Y: Plot-wise, it’s a bunch of snooping right now and I like that. I like that da Silva and Curtis have to work together. Obviously, it gives them a chance to learn about each and that was not a euphemism, stop that da Silva! Mostly, I wish they would stop saying Africa. Just. No. You don’t mean all of Africa! It also really annoys me when people say dago to refer to da Silva, or refer to his being Jewish is terrible ways, or his being dandy-like. BUT! I accept this is how annoying Regency-era English people were, so, fine. Fine. *flips a table* I am just fine. (I do love everytime Curtis mentions da Silva’s tight pants, though. It makes Curtis uncomfortable and makes me wheeze with laughter.) I also think Curtis’ disability was well-written. He’s not quite used to it, and even if he is, the presence of people around him makes him uncomfortable. I mean, obviously, as an able-bodied person I am not the best judge. So, maybe I should say that I feel it is well done. If anyone who has read the book and understands how disability and ableism works in literature, please let us know in the comments!

E: Well, this definitely moved very differently than I had thought - the mystery is uncovered (or rather confirmed) in the first few chapters and I had thought it was going to be the base of the plot. Instead it seems it’s focused primarily on how they are going to keep their covers (especially Curtis - the poor dear is a terrible liar) and how they plan to make it out of their situation alive, uncompromised, and with the evidence. It’s definitely not a bad thing that this is how the plot is laid out - it certainly ramps up the tension (and ohhhh the tension between these two is quite delightful). I did hesitate on the plausibility of the set up - for the sake of not spoiling things I’ll simply say that I’m not entirely sure how far the technology used for the said set up had advanced at that time, and that I honestly just can’t picture logistically how it worked - were there just very thick walls with hidden passageways inside? Did I just miss some detail that made the operation all very obvious? Otherwise though the plot makes a perfect set up for our two lovebirds to get up to all sorts of midnight shenanigans and a way to get around the other characters who, with their racist and homophobic comments, would ruin the atmosphere of any romantic setting.


“No, thank you.”
“It’s a jolly good one.”
Da Silva blinked, slowly, like a lizard. “I dare say, but I fear I haven’t converted since we last spoke.”
“Con--Oh, I beg your pardon. I quite forgot you were a Jew.”
“How refreshing. So few people do.”
I don’t know why this exchange kind of reminded me of this moment in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I think it’s Season Two, when Captain Holt mentions something about his old partner who was homophobic but not racist--something that was rare to find in those days. And I wonder if da Silva would agree. Which makes this moment sadder, but also clever--in just a line, we get a wealth of information about da Silva and what he has to put up with all the time.

E: Bah! Yash stole my favourite line! *frantically rifles for another favourite*

“All his previous encounters had been with chaps like himself: soldiers, sportsmen, good fellows. He had an unformed but definite idea that being queer entailed doing something different, womanish, something like the rouged men in those London clubs. Like da Silva, with his perfectly shaped brows and tight trousers and mannerisms. 
Curtis wasn’t like that. He simply didn’t feel queer, whatever that might feel like. He felt like a normal chap who, now and then, enjoyed encounters with other chaps, that was all.”

It’s just so relevant even today where being gay is significantly more expected than in the Edwardian era - it’s not that Curtis ever really actively suppressed believing he was gay - it just never occurred to him that he was because his idea of what that meant was something else entirely (and it's the norm to assume one is straight).  And I definitely still see that attitude today, on both sides of the sentiment.

And that's it for the first half!  Join us tomorrow where we wrap up the book!

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Day in the Life #42: In which Elizabeth does much traveling

This week I'm joining up to do The Sunday Post with Kimba from Caffeinated Book Reviewer  (If a bit late on my end).

Well, since my last one of these posts I've managed to travel to not just one, but two amazing places!! I will hold my bff hostage if he ever even thinks about quitting as a flight attendant.  I am way too in love with this life style!  As soon as he became a flight attendant, we knew we wanted to travel somewhere - and what better city to start with than Paris?

This is the view from one of the sides of the Eiffel Tower

First we drove up to New Jersey to see his family, for his grandmother's birthday.  It was really nice getting to meet them and see where he came from - I think his town might actually be smaller than the town I came from.  Which, considering we only had one stoplight in the city limits, is really saying something.  After that we hitched a red-eye to Paris, which got us into the city around 8 am, and it was pretty much non-stop after that.  And we walked everywhere.  Like...minimum at least 50 miles. Which is literally more than what I hiked when I did the four day Inca trail trek (although admittedly, it was also a significantly more difficult hike than walking around Paris).

First we walked around the Louvre - we only had two days in Paris, so I'd said no museums or long touristy lines for things because A. I don't like touristy, long lined things and B. It would take at least a full day to really see the Louvre at all, and I didn't want to spend half my trip inside instead of going out and seeing the city.  And...I know people talk about how big the Louvre is but...holy god...GIANORMOUSLY HUGE IN MONSTROUS PROPORTIONS doesn't even do it justice!  My entire neighborhood in Baltimore would probably not even fill up half of that place!! And judging by how intricate the architecture was (a theme that runs throughout the whole city) I can't even imagine what the inside looks like!  

From there we walked to the Eiffel Tower and chose to take the stairs rather than the elevator.  It's not something I regret doing....but I'm pretty ok never ever EVER doing that again.  It wasn't the hike - stairs don't bother me, but heights really, really do.  I'm not sure if it was because each time we reached a spot where the stairs leveled out you'd be looking directly outside the tower, or if it was because it was narrow and there were a few people coming down and I did NOT want to squeeze against the outside, or if it was because it was SO MANY stairs which makes the heart rate go up and fear already makes heart rates go up so that combination is lethal...but for whatever reason I was realllyyyy not feeling great about the whole thing.  But the views were amazing, even if I wouldn't go near the ledges, and I got a whole view of Paris so I'm really glad we did it.  

We were pretty wiped after a red-eye plus all the walking + climbing of stairs, so after a quick crepe from a nearby stand we took a nap in a park.  THERE ARE PARKS EVERYWHERE IT IS SO AMAZING!

From there we hit the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, the bridge with all the locks, and the Palais Garnier which was just....I have never seen so much outrageously extravagant....everything.  I mean there were sculptures EVERYWHERE (especially the outside of the building which pretty much just looks like it's made entirely out of sculptures).  There was a dance rehearsal inside the hall though, so we didn't get to see what the actual theater space looked like.  Then we basically wandered back to our hostel in Bastille which...oh my god I really wish we'd taken a picture.  It was crazy cheap, so I'm not complaining but Dave took one look at the tiny bed we were sharing and started laughing, and I looked at the completely see through shower we had in the room and completely lost it as well.  It's a good thing we're such good friends haha!  Then we basically spent the rest of the night stuffing our faces with amazing French food and drinking and going out for desserts.  It was SO. DELICIOUS.  And it feels like the city doesn't really shut down at all until 6 am!  So we walked around a while and saw the Notre Dame at night (beautiful) and Hotel de Ville (creepy) before heading back to bed.

Things I learned: the house wines are the equivalent of good $15-$20 bottle wine here, they aren't kidding when they say that steaks are served pretty much rare or more rare, desserts are indescribable, beers are cheap, and espresso drinks are surprisingly expensive. 6.50 euros for a latte expensive.  Good thing I just like shots of espresso!

The next day we primarily spent in parks (in the Luxembourg Gardens  there's this pond where all the kids launch tiny sailboats which is cute) and eating - we walked to one of the tiny islands where I had the best ice cream (passion fruit because that is the best flavor. No disagreement allowed), loads of baguettes and macarons, and mostly just kind of people watched/ate/I read a book because I'm antisocial like that.  It was also the day I saw my favourite place we went to (other than the parks, because although they will get little mention here, the city has SO MANY and they were beautiful and clean and ughhh I could have stayed there forever) - Saint Chappelle.  Even though I'd said basically "Whatever, it's a building we've seen so many of those we don't really need to go in", Dave overrode said opinion and said "NO WE'RE GOING YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND."  So I went, because Dave always wins.  And in this case...he was so right.  When you first walk in to the first floor, the stained glass is impressive, as expected, but nothing mind blowing.  But then you walk up to the second floor and get this:

Honestly this picture doesn't even begin to do it justice.  You walk in an it's just....overwhelming.  If you ever go to Paris and can only choose one place to go see that's touristy - this should be your stop.  The whole atmosphere is amazing and it's beautiful (without being overly opulent like a lot of the other impressive looking places).  After that we wrapped up our trip by walking all the way out to Montparnasse (which is where Cesar Franck and Guy de Maupassant and I just have a weird thing where I like to visit foreign graveyards.  So far the graveyards in Ecuador remain my favourite though).  So yeah, it was an insane amount of walking and I was exhausted by the time I came back, but it was totally, utterly, completely worth it.

That was back in April (man I've been bad about posting lately).  Fast forward to last week where I get to venture off to the beautiful land of.....


This is actually my grandfathers' back yard! Can you imagine having a back yard like this?? It's actually a huge open space shared by loads of neighbors and there's a stream that flows through, and koi fish, and waterfalls, and all sorts of flowers.  It's basically paradise.

This time it was without Dave (although I expect to have plenty of adventures with him).  My grandfather lives on the Big Island (also known as the actual island of Hawaii) where he designs and creates jewelry.  (I have mentioned this before).  Papa Peter living in Hawaii is both a blessing and a curse - on the one hand, hello I get to visit Hawaii, on the other hand it is both crazy expensive and crazy long to get to Hawaii. To put this in perspective, it is almost as easy to get to Seoul, Korea from here as it is to get to Hawaii from here.  So it's been 5 years since I've seen him, but hopefully I'll be able to make this a yearly thing because 5 years is entirely too long.  

This trip was especially nice, because I also got to see my brother who I now only see once a year usually, and I got to meet his girlfriend for the first time.  (I'm relieved to say she's very cool and that I approve).  He works remotely, so he had to spend a lot of time working while we were here, so we mostly stuck close to home.  My grandfather preserves flowers in a variety of ways for his jewelry, so one of the days we helped out in his studio which was really fun (and really long - I am now incredibly impressed with his stamina because this is not easy to do for long hours).

Here we're doing the second step in the preserving process for the larger orchids - these my grandfather preserve in a way that the flowers still feel like they do on the stem - they're not rigid in resin or fragile.  In fact, you can crush them in your hand and they'll still retain their shape with no damage, which honestly is really amazing.  They're not indestructible, but you really have to be trying to get these to break.

We also walked around the local farmers market (you can buy 5 papayas for $2 here!!!!!!!!!!) which is where my grandfather gets a lot of the sales for his jewelry, and ate so much good food (which I sadly did not take pictures of, but needless to say everything I ate that entire week was healthy and delicious and I felt great.)  

There's one important thing to know about the Big Island: there's the Hilo side, and the Kona side and they are very, very different.  The Hilo side, which is where my grandfather lives, is like a rainforest.  It literally rains every day - usually in the late morning/early afternoon.  It downpours for about 5 minutes, then clears up and does this every half hour or so.  The landscape is lush and green, and it tends to be the more residential part.  It's not very beachy on this side of the island, although they do have a few black sand beaches (and you can see sea turtles there a lot and swim with them which is super cool. In case you were wondering).  The Kona side of the island is about two hours away from the Hilo side and much more how most people imagine Hawaii: long stretches of white sand beaches and resorts.  It tends to be the more tourist heavy area, accordingly.  It also feels incredibly different than Hilo - it's actually a desert!  This is important to know for the following story.

We did want to take one day where we went to the Kona side and got the real beach experience.  It's really incredible as you drive from one side of the island to the other because the environment changes so drastically you can hardly believe all of this is possible in such a small place!  We swam for a while (the water is so clear, it's amazing!) and headed over to a nearby hotel to enjoy a drink and watch the Kona sunset.  There was a live singer/guitar player, a beautiful view, a tasty, drink, and I was with people I love.  All in all, a pretty perfect night.

After it got dark, we headed back across the beach to drive home....only to discover that the parking lot: 
A. Has a gate and 
B. it is padlocked.  

Turns out we were 15 minutes past the deadline when the park closes.  (A deadline that was only posted on one sign, way in the corner, that said nothing about locking the parking lot.)  A bit annoying, but easily solved with a phone call to the police.  About twenty minutes later we get a call back from the police to say...."HAHAHAHAHA.  Yeah. Nope. Nobody is coming to get you out."  

At this point we're a bit frantic, because my grandfather is supposed to be at the market at 6 am the following morning, it's a two hour drive back, and they don't reopen the parking lot until 7 am.  We try and move the giant rocks, we spend a good amount of time trying to pick the padlock to no avail (although I've determined that lock picking is a skill I'm going to learn because it seems like it's going to be more useful than not for me in the future), before finally accepting our fate:  the four of us are going to have to sleep overnight. In a van. In a parking lot.  This is of course including my eighty-something year-old grandfather (who surprisingly fared better that night than any of the rest of us).  And the chairs were all separated so you couldn't be sideways, and the trunk full of things for the farmer's market so you couldn't recline the chairs much, which meant we all basically had to sleep entirely upright.  There was plenty of snoring, and many narrow misses from my brother's foot to my head, and it got bloody cold in the last few hours.  

Honestly? It was hilarious.  It was just such a ridiculous situation!  ...and very uncomfortable.  But hey, I got to see a Kona sunset AND a Kona sunrise, so there's that?  And I got to start my day with a swim in the ocean (because there's not much that makes you feel grimier than swimming in the ocean, then sleeping over night in a car in your clothes, and not brushing your teeth.  You're salty and greasy and it is disgusting), so all in all it was a highly entertaining experience, if not one I'd like to repeat.

This is a panorama view of the lava fields from what I believe was the 1984 eruption of Mauna Loa...but I might be wrong about the date.

We spent our last full day on the island going on a big volcano expedition.  We walked around the Kilauea volcano and got to see lava bubbling in the crater at Pu'u O'o, which is always exciting!  (By the time we'd left for the Mainland, two new lava flows had opened up)  We then drove down to Pahoa, which was the town that was threatened by the lava flow a couple years ago.  It's crazy because they almost got completely cut off - there's only one main road in and out because the other one had already been engulfed in lava! We actually drove down to where the lava stopped literally only feet away from the new refuse station they'd built, which was very lucky since it's an expensive new facility.

Basically, my last two months have been phenomenal and full of once in a lifetime kind of things I'd never dreamed I'd be able to afford (at the very least not for a very long time).  It's been an amazing, and because I just caught you guys up on two months worth of events, this post is incredibly long...so I'm going to skip out on links!  But I promise I'll have an extra long post full of links next time :)

So what about you guys? Any recent adventures? And fun summer plans?  Hit me up and let me know!