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May 2012 Reading Wrap-Up

Happy June everyone! I love this time of year, especially when we actually get nice weather. It was glorious and sunny over one recent weekend and as such I’ve really been in the mood for summer, even though functionally summer is the same as winter for me. Still, there’s something about sunlight until nearly 10 pm that makes me feel like the days are longer and I have more of a life outside of work.

May was not the world’s most spectacular reading month, for me – I read 10 books. As I briefly mentioned in a post last week, I’ve spent a slightly ridiculous amount of time playing Crusader Kings II. I thought I’d write more reviews when I got my own PC – instead I’ve been gaming!

Here’s what I read:

Fiction

Non-fiction

Favourite of the Month

code name verity

I haven’t even managed to write a review for this book yet – I’m not sure how I will, in fact, especially when others have reviewed it so much better than I can. But let me tell you, you should read it, and I will soon tell you why I think so.

Have a wonderful month and a great start to summer!

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A Mini Blogging Break …

Taking a little break from blogging over the bank holiday weekend. I’ve recently become obsessed with a PC game (Crusader Kings 2 – essentially my perfect medieval game come to life), and whenever I’m not playing, I feel like I have a million different things to do, most of which is unfortunately work.

When I do have free time, I’ve spent it outside in the recent brilliant sunshine:

Fountains Abbey

It’s cloudy again now, but I’m using the upcoming Jubilee weekend to recharge, and as such I’m waiting until afterwards to come back. I’ll see you all on June 6th!

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April 2012 Reading Wrap-Up

I am so glad to see the back end of April! It was one crazy month, with no less than 3 business trips and a visit to the US to see my parents. Amazingly, my plans for May don’t involve leaving York, and I am thrilled about that for once! I have the rest of the year to take more time off and travel, so I’m grateful for a few weeks and weekends just at home.

This travel meant that I actually did a lot of reading, but little to no reviewing. I managed to read 16 books in April, including rereading 4 Harry Potter books. I have a lot to catch up on, but we’ve got a 3 day weekend ahead, and I am very much looking forward to having an extra day to relax and get everything in order. So these reviews will be appearing in May.

Fiction

  • Girl Reading, Katie Ward
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
  • The King’s Agent, Donna Russo Morin
  • When She Woke, Hilary Jordan
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • One for the Money, Janet Evanovich
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
  • A Night Like This, Julia Quinn
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
  • Chime, Franny Billingsley
  • Discount Armageddon, Seanan McGuire
  • I, Iago, Nicole Galland
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
  • Web of Lies, Jennifer Estep

Non-fiction

Favourites of the Month

i, iagogirl readingchime

I would whole-heartedly recommend all three of these books, and I simply can’t wait to tell you about Chime.

Ahead for May

As I mentioned, May is going to be a blissfully quiet month! I intend to finish my Harry Potter reread and move on to A Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve started watching A Game of Thrones (I am now fully caught up) and I’ve really been longing to read the series again. I hardly remember what’s happened now that we’ve moved on to the events of the second book, and I want to catch up. I’ve not had a chance to post about the Harry Potter reread, but I do plan to.

I’ve also given myself a temporary ban on buying books in May. I’m up to 522 unread books and that number needs to go down, and the money that I would normally use towards buying books can be channeled temporarily into other causes, like a potential trip with a couple of my college friends this summer.

Hopefully this means that my total unread count will go down. I have plenty of books I feel like I can’t wait to read, so I certainly won’t get bored. From last month, I still haven’t read Blackout by Connie Willis or The Girl King by Meg Clothier, both of which were on my list, and I’m also planning to read Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy next.

Mainly, I’m looking forward to nicer weather, free time, and a little bit of relaxation without all that travelling!

What’s ahead for you this May?

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Merry Christmas!

Our tiny, living Christmas tree for 2011!

Wishing you all a wonderful day today spent with family and friends, full of many bookish gifts and happy memories. Merry Christmas!

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Book Blogger Secret Santa!

Last Saturday, a pleasant surprise was delivered to me through the postman – my Secret Santa gift!

In case you haven’t been around for very long, you should know I haven’t had too much luck with Secret Santa gifts. The first year I participated, I didn’t receive anything at all, but the lovely Ana sent me a book herself anyway, for which I was incredibly grateful. Last year, I did get a couple of nice books, but I still haven’t read them, so I guess I wasn’t as enamored with them as I thought. I wondered what I’d get, but I hadn’t really thought much about it.

This year? I was completely blown away by my Secret Santa gift.

I was thrilled to open the box and discover more and more goodies spilling out. Here are the gifts all wrapped up:

Secret Santa wrapped

Two large, book-shaped silver packages, plus a couple of mystery items, a lovely card, and bookish swag!

Secret Santa unwrappedAnd there they are unwrapped! Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, an author I’ve not read but have had my eye on for a couple of years, Wither by Lauren DeStefano which I’ve been picking up longingly in the bookstore, plus a cute bookmark and some chocolate. The card is absolutely adorable, too.

Even better? I opened the books …

I think my mouth dropped open! What a wonderful gift. I only wish I knew who my Secret Santa was so I could thank them – but the card didn’t have a name. So thanks, Secret Santa – you honestly made that day for me (and that entire week!). I know what I’ll be doing with my free time over the Christmas holidays!

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Bruges

Our next stop was the lovely small city of Bruges. It’s a place I’ve decided to call Disney World for medievalists. Just walking around is amazing with the number of old, medieval buildings, but all the time you’re aware that the city has been restored and cleaned up just for tourists. Doesn’t make the experience any less amazing, although I’m not a huge fan of the many horse-drawn carriages that others seem to delight in.

Anyway! Walking into town, approaching the Markt, the sights begin:

We visited a house that gave refuge to Edward IV and Charles II, both kings of England:

And a gorgeous church, where we saw Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child:

One thing I noticed is that churches in Bruges tended to be very colorful, with paintings and decorations everywhere. It was in stark contract to the churches we saw in Amsterdam and those I’m familiar with here in England, which are still beautiful but very austere. I know they used to be colorful (at least in England) so I’m sure that has something to do with the Protestantism of both the Netherlands and the UK, but it was still very cool to see what churches look like with all that decoration.

The city is also simply gorgeous to walk around, with canals and parks and beautiful buildings everywhere (many of them emanating the smell of chocolate):

minnewater park

We also decided to spoil ourselves just a tiny bit because my part of the trip was almost over:

Unsurprisingly, I am definitely planning to go back. Bruges was just a nice place to spend some time. If I ever look for a relaxing weekend away in a gorgeous setting, I know exactly where to go.

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European Adventures: Amsterdam

My friend and I started out our trip in Amsterdam. We are definitely not the target audience of Amsterdam, as neither of us had much interest in smoking pot or doing anything in the Red Light district besides gawking during the very safe daylight. Nor did we visit any of the more famous art museums. Regardless, we still had fun, even though it rained a lot.

We arrived first to discover that Dutch people seem to drink tea in clear glass mugs. And you add the teabag into the hot water rather than pouring the water over the teabag. I kept seeing this happen, and even tried it myself (we needed tea after finding the hotel in the rain!).

tea - glass mugThe narrow houses lean a lot but are still ridiculously cute. The older ones all still stand on wooden pillars. They have to carefully monitor the canal levels to prevent the wood from rotting away – when it starts, the houses lean, and they have to be shored up with other materials.

Did you know many of them used to be warehouses? Now, instead of hauling goods, they use the little hooks on top to haul furniture through windows:

leaning dutch housesThey have ridiculously steep staircases because of their narrow size, which also explains why they bring big furniture in through the windows:

staircasesAlso, Darth Vader likes to hang out around the palace in Dam Square and lure small children to the Dark Side:

darth vader amsterdamBy far, though, the best part, if you can call it best, of Amsterdam was visiting the Anne Frank House. I don’t have any pictures of the experience, aside from a very dark one of the exterior of the building:

anne frank houseThat is the warehouse / office that the Frank family hid in over two years. Like most young girls (and probably boys), I read Anne’s diary, more than once, and it’s something that has stayed with me all of my life, and which I’m sure will stay with me for the rest of it too. Seeing the rooms where she walked, the pictures she posted on her walls to cheer up, and pages that she wrote while in hiding was incredibly moving and memorable.

The museum compiles information about Anne’s life, living conditions in hiding, videos from survivors and friends and Otto Frank himself, and actual items from the period. It also ends in a fantastic bookstore. If you go to Amsterdam, you simply can’t miss it. We spent three days there in total and that was definitely the most significant and memorable part of the city for me.

I probably won’t go to Amsterdam again, as I felt like we saw everything we wanted to really, but I’m really glad we stopped there. My favorite, though, was Bruges, which is the next stop for next week!

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Where Have I Been?

As you may have noticed (or maybe not!) I have been very absent from this little blog lately, at least for me. I haven’t abandoned it, and have no desire to, but my life has gone a bit crazy and I’ve found both my weekends and my evenings full over the past month or so. Things aren’t looking likely to calm down, as I’ll be away a few more weekends, two full weeks, and am going to be moving in the next two and a half months. I’m really hoping everything will be back to normal by the end of August.

In the meantime, while I struggle to actually write anything, I thought I’d share a few photos of my recent adventures with you.

We went to visit the Brontes first:

bronte parsonageI actually enjoyed this quite a bit, possibly because my expectations were lowered and a bit conflicted after reading about Ana’s visit. It wasn’t particularly crowded when we went, and I loved seeing everything that actually belonged to the sisters and their family. Finding out that Charlotte was smaller than me, for example, and seeing her dresses for myself, really humanized her.

We then had a bit of a walk along the countryside:

english countryside

We had the somewhat misfortune of visiting Haworth during a 1940’s festival, and it was more crowded than possibly anywhere I’ve been in my life, so no pictures of the town from me. I’m not kidding; it was so crowded that we were trapped unmoving on the High Street until policemen got involved. But many of the participants were wearing 40’s outfits, which were really fun to see, and were distracted from the Parsonage itself by the festivities, so I credit this with the reason it was very quiet within the museum.

Just last weekend we visited Oxford, and for me the highlight was clearly the Bodleian library:

bodleian libraryI loved seeing Duke Humphrey’s library, as it’s called, with its medieval roots, especially as I’d learned about Humphrey previously. It was enough to make me wish I’d studied in Oxford, just for the right to go in there every so often. (To be fair I had York Minster Library which is amazing in its own right).

As for the rest of Oxford, we were left a bit disappointed by the culture. I was shocked by how many beggars there are on the streets; it seemed so wrong that the richest people in the country go to university here when the streets are lined with people who are begging for spare change. You’ll have some obviously well off students in expensive dress striding past these poor people without giving them a glance. It felt wrong and made me quite sad. I don’t know why Oxford is such a focus, but I’ve never seen so many beggars in one city before.

Oxford did have its excellent points, with extensive history, free museums, and a burrito place among them, but unfortunately that is the image the city has left me with.

Our last stop was Blenheim Palace, the only non-royal secular palace in the whole of the UK:

blenheim palaceIt’s quite stunning, inside and out, and was especially interesting for me as I’ve read a couple of books featuring Sarah, the first Duchess who was behind much of the construction. Most notable of those books is Duchess by Susan Holloway Scott, which focuses quite a bit on the romance between Sarah and her husband and Sarah’s tempestuous relationship with Queen Anne.

And that’s a summary of all I’ve been up to lately! I do hope to write a couple of reviews this weekend, but I am off on Saturday to meet the exceptionally lovely Kathy of Bermudaonion’s Weblog in London, so it’s mostly crossing fingers that I’ll have time on Sunday. In the meantime, enjoy the slight lessening of the burden on your feed readers, and I hope to be back in full force soon.

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Blogger Feature: MWF Seeking BFF

rachel bertscheWhen you move to a new place in adulthood, making new friends isn’t easy. I’ve moved three times since graduating college and, everywhere I go, it seems difficult to meet people with whom I have a common interest. It certainly isn’t as easy as it was when I was in school. Blogger Rachel Bertsche at MWF Seeking BFF has precisely this problem. Having moved only a few years after college to be with her now-husband, she’s found herself without a best friend locally.  Though very successful in her professional life, she’s spent two and a half years best-friend-less and thus decided that the time has come to step it up a notch and find one. She’s spent the past year blogging about her efforts to find someone and she’s writing a book about her search, which will be published in early 2012. When Jen at Booklicity contacted me and asked if I’d feature Rachel, of course I said yes.

One of the posts which struck a particular chord with me was Rachel’s discussion of how a husband isn’t quite enough in the friend department. This is something that’s also been true for me; I love my husband, but having him as my sole in-person anchor just doesn’t provide the same emotional satisfaction. He doesn’t always want to converse about people’s reactions in death, he’s not interested in what I’m wearing and whether it goes, and really sometimes he’d rather just go off and play a video game (or head out to snooker with one of his own friends). It’s so nice to find someone who feels similarly, and this is only one of the reasons I’ve become a reader of Rachel’s blog.

I also really enjoyed this post, wherein Rachel writes about how we think others won’t want us as friends. I think after school, we expect friendships will just pop up naturally, but in reality they just don’t always. People often love being your friend as much as you love being theirs – which is why, as she writes, going for it is actually a great move. This is something I’ve heard from others as well, but shyness is always a barrier. It’s a fantastic reminder that it it’s sometimes worth going out there and just meeting people. If you hit it off at work or in a book club, it’s worth trying to be friends outside too.

One of Rachel’s most recent posts, A Case of Friends That Could Be, hit a particularly relevant note for me, too. I have made friends towards the tail ends of time in particular places – in high school, in college, even in grad school – where I felt that those friendships could have definitely been more. I had plenty of close friends in college, so I didn’t think I needed more, but now I do often regret not chatting to those people more, not making an effort to be real friends while we had the chance. I did with one and it turned out to be a great friendship. Of course, I now don’t have the opportunity to see them and follow up like Rachel does – but should that come my way in the future, I am determined to do so.

In addition to these reflections on friendship issues that will resonate with all women – whether or not our best friend lives next door – Rachel is a fantastic writer, also loves to read, and has plenty to say about pop culture. I definitely recommend checking out her blog. I suspect you’ll become a subscriber just like I did.

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Reading Goals for 2011

Happy New Year everyone!

To be honest, I was relatively pleased with my reading in 2010. I read mainly what I wanted to read, when I wanted to read it. I started a new system of rotating different kinds of books, so for the last few months of the year I evenly read from my own books, library books, and review books. So really I have only a few goals.

1. Read 25% non-fiction. I think this should actually be fairly easy for me, as I was approaching this at the end of last year. I’ve found lots of fantastic non-fiction this past year and I really want to continue learning in all different subjects.

2. Read more of my own books. I know this is a problem everyone seems to have, but I’m definitely reading out of proportion these days. I have shelves and shelves of my own books, but only one shelf of review books. When I get through those, I want to continue accepting fewer review books and start reading 2 of my own books for every 1 review book.

3. Review books more promptly. I want to get into a system where I review the last book I read before I start a new one. Right now I’m about two weeks behind and I just don’t like it; I start to forget things. It gets so overwhelming that I then don’t review anything and just read more! I’d just like to be more punctual.

4. Most importantly, don’t feel guilty! I aimed for this last year, but I don’t think I succeeded (and to be honest I doubt I will this year). I want blogging to be less stressful; to not worry if I don’t post for a week or if I want to do something that isn’t reading a book for a while.

Do you have any reading or blogging goals for the new year?

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