Wandering Through Ireland

Cliff of Moher, Ireland
Cliff oh Moher by Giuseppe Milo

I’ve romanticized Ireland the way others have romanticized France or Italy. I blame it on my freshman year of college. On one uneventful evening, I found myself stuffed up in a tiny dorm room alone and with a heart filled with wanderlust. I began looking up the cost of plane tickets to any country on my bucket list. Ireland happened to be the cheapest ($500 at the time), so in that moment I decided Ireland would be the first place I would cross off my bucket list.

I spent the rest of the school year researching Ireland– well, looking at pictures mostly, of rolling green hills speckled with fluffy, white sheep, ocean waves crashing against steep cliffs, quaint colorful houses, stone bridges over rambling creeks, and delapetated castles that hold so much history. It just seemed like a world out of a fantasy novel or a fairytale, and I wanted to see it for myself instead of through other people’s flickr accounts.

But, I never ended up going, so I’m still living vicariously through other people’s flickr accounts…and Jessie Ann Foley’s Carnival at the Bray, an incredibly heart breaking story so far, and it just happens to take place in Ireland.

Sometimes, I grow afraid that I will never get there. To Ireland, I mean. Part of me feels I will have plenty of time to get there; I’m only 27 after all. But, part of me also realizes that the time of my life when I only live for myself is coming to a close. Things like marriage and having children just seem like they’re right around the corner, and then how does one afford an adventure overseas?

…Plus, who would feed my cat?

Where do you dream of visiting, and why do you want to go there?

 

Admitting Defeat with Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

keeper of the lost cities book coverKeeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities #1)
Released:
October 2012
Publisher: Aladdin
Age Group: Middle Grade
NO RATING, DNF
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She’s a Telepath—someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. It’s a talent she’s never known how to explain.

Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s a place she does belong, and that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known.

Sophie has new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.”
There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory—secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans—that other people desperately want. Would even kill for.

Ever since I gave up on Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, I’ve become more open to the idea of not finishing books I’m just not that in to. Last week, I read three pages of Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin before calling it quits (the style of narration was really overwhelming to me), and today, after reading about a third of the book and the final chapter, I gave up on Keeper of the Lost Cities. I’m kind of devastated too, because I really, really wanted to love this book.

I felt disconnected from the characters, which is automatically a bad start, because if I don’t care about the characters, how can I care about their plight? Too many were introduced in this first novel, so it was hard to keep everyone straight, and I felt like the characters lacked development; even the main character seemed a little bland. Perhaps most disappointing of all though, this story lacked true friendships. This is a middle grade, fantasy novel, so I went in to it expecting Sophie to discover her BFF4Es (her Ron and Hermione) but all Sophie seemed to gain was allies, not true friends.

I felt similarly about the world building. Everything in the fantasy world has the potential to be new and exciting for the reader, but there were too many ideas and products and foods and activities that were introduced. Their existence often seemed arbitrary, and there seemed to be a lot of “hand waving” just to keep the story moving. That was so un-fulfilling because there were so many fun ideas, like strawberry-flavored air, which I think is some kind of snack, or the fact that wooly mammoths still exist in the lost cities, or catching rides on light beams, but they just became lost in the background.

And…is it just me, or does this book seem oddly similar to Harry Potter? Both characters spend childhood feeling out-of-place in the mundane world only to find out as pre-teens that they have magical abilities and really belong at a school that teaches them how to control their abilities. Sophie doesn’t end up at a boarding school like Harry does, but the reader does get to accompany her during all of her exciting magical classes like Multispecies Studes (ie. Muggle Studies), Metaphysics, the Universe, Elementalism, and Alchemy (ie. potions complete with an instructor that is extra harsh on her).  I actually think this has to potential to be exciting for some young readers, but…you have to understand, Harry Potter is “my jam” so I’m unfortunately extra critical when I notice such similarities. Harry Potter trumps all.

There is no star rating for Keeper of the Lost Cities (not to be confused with a zero-star rating). I didn’t finish it, so I don’t think I can rate it fairly.

It’s My (Birthday) Party, and I’ll Blog if I Want to

HappyBirthdayToday is my birthday, and I am now twenty-seven. I do not have any actual plans other than hopefully I get to go to Sugarberry, a frozen yogurt joint that has exciting flavored froyo (like taro) and toppings galore (my favorite being the mochi and fruity flavored bobas), with Jon tonight. Until then, I’m tidying up the apartment in between quests in Dragon Age II. I’ve also been feeling pretty introspective about the past 365 days. A lot has happened.

Twenty-six was a heck of a year. I did a lot of growing and a lot of adulting, like buying my first car, moving in with Jon, actually having to budget my money and pay my own bills, and re-establishing my savings account that I completely demolished right after graduating college. Not that my twenty-sixth year can only be measured in the amount of things I can cross off my “Finally Becoming an Adult” list. I was also a bridesmaid in a wedding, and I gave a speech in front of people without totally losing my cool (okay, I lost my cool. I forgot to actually raise my glass and toast the happy couple at the end of the speech.). I celebrated my 1 year anniversary with Jon. I actually had enough money in my piggy bank that I could splurge and buy Jon (and me) an Xbox One. I spent the year enjoying the company of friends and acquaintances over beer and BBQ sammies at Leo’s Pub after work or the occasional weekend cookout.

Perhaps the pinnacle of it all occurred about a month ago when I was offered a job in Tulsa. More responsibilities. A significant pay increase. The adventure of moving to a new city. And…I decided not to take it. I haven’t decided if I’m crazy for passing on the opportunity or not. It truly would have helped to establish my career, and when I say significant pay increase, I’m talking a $6,000 a year leap, which is a lot for someone who is a bookkeeper with an English degree. Moving would have been the easy choice because it’s what I’m used to; my whole childhood and adolescence was filled with saying “goodbye” just as soon as I started to fit in. So deciding not to move, not to take the job– that’s probably the scariest decision I’ve made in a really long time. Possibly ever.

I should probably mention, it was my mother who offered me the job. That doesn’t diminish the magnitude of the opportunity at all, but it was a major factor in my deciding to stay. Gosh, where would I be without my mom? She helped me get my foot in the door at my current place of work, she put a roof over my head off and on post-college, and she helped me rebuild myself this past year. But now, I have to navigate the rocky waters of adulthood on my own. I have to establish my own identity, and I don’t think I could have done that very well had I moved to Tulsa.

Even though I lived it, I still find it hard to believe that all of that could happen in the course of one year. How did I accomplish so much in such a short amount of time? Granted I’m not winning awards or changing lives (except my own), but they are accomplishments none-the-less, and I am proud of them.

So, I’ve been 27 for a few hours now, am I’m pretty excited to see what this next year will have in store. Of course I expect to re-read the Harry Potter series, and I hope to also spend way too much time playing Fallout 4 (’bout damn time!). I also need to stop thinking about my career path and start making progress on it. Am I satisfied in my current field? Am I satisfied with the organization I work for? Is this something I can see myself doing for the next five years? If not…then do something about it. Finally…I’m going to take a vacation this year. Not my typical “vacation”, where I work 40 hours in 4 days and take a three-day weekend to recuperate. I earned 64 hours of PTO last year, and I couldn’t figure out how to use it all. What a shame. But this year, I’m going to take a real vacation. Jon and I have been day dreaming a lot about Montana, and I hope to make it a reality for us.

Five Reasons Why Magical Cats are Awesome (and Five Reasons Why My Non-Magical Cat is Awesome)

via the <a href="https://instagram.com/oreohmygosh/" target="_blank">Books & Tea instagram</a>

In Sleight of Paw by Sofie Kelly, amateur sleuth, Kathleen Paulson, has two magical cats, Hercules and Owen; one can turn himself invisible, one can walk through walls and closed doors, and as you can imagine, this makes searching for clues easier. Not to mention, Hercules and Owen are such charismatic kitties, that I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to have magical kitties myself

Five Reasons Why Magical Cats are Awesome

1. Magical cats can walk through doors and walls (kind of like a ghost), so they could get themselves out of locked up walk-in closets if they sneaked in there while I was getting ready for work. I lost count of how many times Fargo got himself locked up in my closet only to be let out after I got home from work.
2. Magical cats could help me find important things that I’ve lost like my laundry card, my keys, or my chapstick.
2. We could solve mysteries together…if I ever picked up sleuthing as a hobby.
4. They could turn themselves invisible, so I wouldn’t have to pay pet fees at my apartment. Not sure how I would explain the litter box though…
5. I could communicate with my magical cats. Kathleen swears her cats understand her; then again, she could just be a crazy cat lady.

Five Reasons Why My Non-Magical Cat is Awesome

1. He doesn’t have expensive taste. He prefers not to eat the expensive brand of cat food, and he is capable of entertaining himself with an ocassional stray gum wrapper.
2. He is like a security system because he hates everyone but Jon and I, and he immediately starts growling and hissing when a stranger walks through the door.
3. He makes me feel good about my cooking because he wants to eat everything I make I’m eating.
4. He is the antithesis to a lap cat (and he doesn’t like to be pet), which makes the moments he curls up on my knees extra special. Granted, it’s usually in the wintertime, and he’s probably just a little chilled…
5. He sits like this in the armchair, and I find that extremely amusing:

Fargo Sitting

Getting Cozy with Sleight of Paw by Sofie Kelly

Sleight of Paw book CoverSleight of Paw by Sofie Kelly
Released:
September 2011
Publisher: Penguin Books
★★★☆☆
Synopsis:
Small-town librarian Kathleen Paulson never wanted to be the crazy cat lady. But after Owen and Hercules followed her home, she realized her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her-her cats have magical abilities.When the body of elderly do-gooder Agatha Shepherd is found near Kath’s favorite local café, she knows Owen’s talent for turning invisible and Hercules’s ability to walk through walls will give the felines access to clues Kath couldn’t get without arousing suspicion. Someone is hiding some dark secrets-and it will take a bit of furtive investigating to catch the cold-hearted killer.

I don’t remember who put cozy mystery novels on my radar, but as far as I could tell, they revolved around cats and baked goods and dead people, and since those are a few of my favorite things (with the exception of dead people, of course), I knew I had to read at least one cozy mystery novel. So, when I went to the library two weekends ago, my goal was to check out one cozy mystery novel. Enter Sleight of Paw by Sofie Kelly. I devoured this book in two sittings, and by the end I was positively charmed and certain I had just discovered a new, favorite genre.

This is what I loved:

1. The setting: Mayville Heights. This small town in Minnesota is practically the Stars Hallow of the Midwest– at least, that’s what I imagined. Mayville Heights is the kind of town where it is probable that everyone knows everyone, a sense of community is valued, so there is always an art/food/music festival going on, and once a week (probably more) the main character and her pals meet at Luke’s Diner for amazing food and a cup of coffee. Oops! Did I say Luke’s Diner? I meant to say Eric’s Place.

2. The friendship between Kathleen Paulson and her two pals, Roma and Maggie. I accidentally started on book 2, so I missed out on Kathleen’s debut in the small town. But, it sounds like the trio solidified their friendship by playing Charlie’s Angels to reveal the killer in book one. But, the friendship in book two is satisfying nonetheless. As I read, I kept wishing that I had friends like Kathleen, Roma, and Maggie in my life. They meet up for brunch a few times a week, they volunteer to plan events in the community, and they exchange lines of witty banter.

3. The cats. Just because they are freaking cats, and I may or may not be on the verge of crazy cat lady-hood. But, Owen and Hercules are not your ordinary house cats. They came from the abandoned house that the community turned in to a feral cat sanctuary. And…they are magical! They can turn invisible and slink through closed doors, which definitely comes in handy during sleuthing.

4. The humor. This book made me literally laugh out loud, which is unheard of because I am usually a very stoic reader. (I didn’t even cry during Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). But, how could I not chuckle at golden moments like this?

Kathleen is talking on the phone with her mom:

“I wasn’t hovering,” were the first words out of her mouth.

“Okay.”

“I was lurking,” she continued.

“What’s the difference?”

“It’s all in how you hold your upper body.”

5. It’s “fluffy”, and that’s a good thing. There is nothing wrong with reading a light, feel-good novel. Dare I say it– sometimes, that’s what the mind needs, especially after an intense week at work. I felt so refreshed after reading Sofie Kelly’s Sleight of Paw.

Things that were just okay:

Instead of “Things I didn’t like” because there was nothing about this novel that I didn’t like.

1. The pacing. While I appreciate all of the exposition about the small town and positive friendships and cats (especially cats), I thought the middle was a little slow. The suspense finally started building in the last 100 pages, but I went into reading the novels expecting to be on the edge of my seat the entire time.

2. I picked out the killer before he was even a suspect. Common’ Kathleen! The motive was so clear! Why didn’t you try looking for the means sooner?

3. There wasn’t as much magical sleuthing as I expected. According to what I’ve read about the series so far, the cat’s abilities are utilized more in book one compared to book two (which just means I really have to track down book one!) Still, it was fun. BECAUSE CATS.

By the end of the novel, I felt giddy. Had I found my new favorite genre? I wanted to rush back to the library to check out more cozy mystery novels. Check out Sleight of Paw if you’re looking for a light-hearted mystery, or check it out if you’re a budding crazy cat lady.

I’ll be checking out another cozy mystery novel during my next library visit. Do you have any recommendations?

I Got a Library Card!

Library loot via the Books & Tea instagram
Library loot via the Books & Tea instagram

I used to walk into book stores without an agenda, spend hours perusing bookshelves, and walking out happily with $70.00 worth of books. When I walk into book stores now, I am overcome with anxiety. It’s this weird pressure that developed once I entered the book blogosphere, and it makes book shopping an awful experience. Seriously. The new releases offend my pocketbook and I’m still waiting for the hype for last years books to fizzle out and how do I find a book that hasn’t made its rounds on blogs yet anyway? And when I’m spending money, I become reluctant to venture outside my comfort zone because what if I don’t like the book? Most of the time I walk out of the bookstore with empty hands and a heavy heart.

So on Saturday I decided to go to the library instead.

I had been meaning to for the past five months, but I kept coming up with excuses for why I couldn’t go. Mostly I was afraid to go there by myself, but this Saturday was perfect library-going weather– chilly and rainy. The library staff wasn’t nearly as warm and welcoming as I expected them to be, but the atmosphere was still delightful. My library is open and spacious, and large windows line the walls letting in plenty of natural light. Perhaps the shelves aren’t stocked to the brim, but there are more than enough books to choose from. The library also has a fireplace, so I already know I will want to spend cold, winter afternoons here. And perhaps, once I pluck up enough courage, I’ll attend the writers group that meets twice a month. We’ll see…

I spent two hours studying the stacks trying to decide which books to bring home with me. My goal was to bring home books I would never pick out at a book store, books I’ve never heard of, genres I’ve never read. I’d say I was pretty successful, too. I feel like this has rejuvenated my desire to read because as soon as I got home, I brewed myself a cup of coffee, I snuggled in to my armchair, I cracked open Sleight of Paw, and devoured the first half of the book in one sitting.

Have you experienced a reading slump recently? How did you reignite your passion for books?

Staycation

If I Stay and Coffee
via the Books & Tea Instagram

We are entering busy season at work, which is why I was up until 3:30 on Tuesday morning working on payroll. Luckily, this weekend has been all about R&R, so I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for work on Monday. Jon and I were asked to dog-sit for his aunt, so we’ve turned this weekend into a Staycation. We’re in the super nice part of town, where all the houses are big and the backyards look out on to the golf course. Of course it’s sunny and warm too, there is a case of Bells Two Hearted Ale in the fridge, and it’s quiet. So, so quiet.

Last night, we treated ourselves to Max & Erma’s for dinner and an evening in Schuler Books, but for the move part, I’ve been drinking too much coffee and binge-reading. Which makes me feel simultaneously relaxed and productive considering the reading slump I fell in to recently. Jon’s aunt had a copy of If I Stay by Gayle Forman, which I devoured in two sittings– sadly unheard of in my world these days. The only thing missing is chocolate and my cat, Fargo. Truly, I miss him, and I feel guilty leaving him alone for so long, especially since I’m just across town with another person’s pets. Of course I swing by the apartment to check up on him. To make sure he has food and water and to play a couple of rounds of fetch with him. Yesterday I left the TV on the Animal Planet for him (with a TV timer of course). This time spent away from each other makes his heart grow fonder of Jon and I though. He actually paid attention to us when we stopped by to check on him yesterday. Today I suspect he may even let us pet him without biting our hands!

Have you enjoyed a Staycation recently, or perhaps a real vacation where you had the opportunity to steal away to some place exciting? Where did you go? What did you do?

Caramel Tea is a Sweet Treat

Via the Books & Tea Instagram
Via the Books & Tea Instagram

If there is anything good about my work office running out of coffee for two weeks, it’s this:

I’m rekindling my relationship with tea because I have to wake up earlier to get my caffeine fix at home.

Actually, the tea thing was happenstance. I normally have a stash of coffee beans in the freezer for weekend mornings, but I had run out this particular week, so I brewed myself two mugs of Irish Breakfast and read through a couple of blogs instead. Then I ran out of Irish Breakfast, so I’ve been working my way through my shoe boxes full of tea. Aside from rekindling my relationship with tea, I’ve also discovered two things: first, I should buy tea tins, because who stores their bags of tea in shoe boxes, and second, Adagio’s Caramel Tea is really, really good.

It’s a little strange that I ended up with Caramel Tea since I don’t go out of my way to buy caramel anything. However, when you are checking out online at Adagio, you have the option to “share” your purchase with your followers on social media, and in return Adagio lets you choose a free sample from a long list of teas. I’m pretty sure I thought to myself, “What would I never want to spend my money on?” as my attention settled on Caramel Tea.

The joke is on me though, because this is me after drinking Adagio’s Caramel Tea:

shut-up-and-take-my-money

The ingredients are just black tea and caramel flavoring, and just like Adagio’s Chestnut tea, how much I enjoyed the Caramel Tea took me by surprise.

The Caramel Tea was a fairly mellow cup of tea considering it was a black tea with “natural” flavoring. The black tea seemed a little thin, and it wasn’t astringent, which allowed for the aroma of the Caramel to take center stage. And, unlike some of the flavored black teas I’ve reviewed in the past, the flavoring didn’t assault the taste buds at all. I took my Caramel Tea with sugar, which is rare, but it transformed the mug in to dessert; it tastes like the burnt sugar topping of creme brule, which is only one of my favorite desserts ever.

I’m used to drinking black coffee in the mornings, so I need something unsweetened and bold, but Adagio’s Caramel Tea is a great after-lunch pick-me-up. And, I feel less guilty about drinking that than consuming Meijer brand pound cake, which I’ve been over-indulging on during the weekends.

Do you have a favorite dessert tea?

Fairy Tales and Tea

Fables_Book-Cover“Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale adaptation?” I thought to myself as a perused the internet in search of fairy tale themed mugs; I was certain this Fables-inspired edition of Just My Cup of Tea would be a breeze to put together. In the book world, there are so many fairy tale adaptations, so I assumed the world of hot beverages would have just as many fairy tale themed mugs. I was sadly mistaken. Or at least it was a challenge to find fairy tale themed mugs that didn’t have Disney characters plastered across them.

While I definitely find these mugs charming, it’s Taryn K.’s fairy tale inspired tea collection that I have my eye on– especially the Princess Aurora blend! I’ve never actually watched Sleeping Beauty, but how could I say no to a blend of chamomile, cream, and wild strawberry. It sounds dreamy!

Fairy Tales and Girl Powa!

Fables_Book-CoverFables Vol. 1 & 2 by Bill Willingham
Released:
October 2009 (Fables originally released 2002)
Publisher: Vertigo | DC Comics
★★★★☆
Synopsis:
 When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters created their own secret society-within an exclusive luxury apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side-called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Bigby, Fabletown’s sheriff, and a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the culprit is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber. (from Goodreads)

Aside from the occasional manga I read back in middle school and the handful of Batman comics I’ve read since I’ve been dating Jon, I haven’t read too many graphic novels. But, that doesn’t mean they’ve never been on my radar throughout the years– granted, my wish list has grown significantly longer over the past couple of months as more and more bloggers seem to be featuring graphic novels. The series that has been on my wish list the longest though is Fables by Bill Willingham. I stumbled upon it about ten years ago, and it took me that long before I finally purchased myself the first two books. I was a little reluctant to start reading Fables. First, it’s such a popular series, and how disappointed would I be if I didn’t like it? Second, I had been building it up for nearly ten years, so even if I just thought it was mediocre, Fables would still have a long way to fall. I am happy to report though that what I’ve read of Fables has met my expectations. Whatta relief!

Fables takes all of our favorite fairy tales and turns them in to reality. Kind of like the Sisters Grimm or the TV show, Once Upon a Time, but seedy because it takes place in New York City, and it’s meant for mature readers. Beware, there is violence, foul language, and sexual situations amongst the pages. Vol. 1, Legends in Exile, is a twisting, turning whodunnit story complete with a parlor room scene that took me by surprise, and Vol. 2, Animal Farm, is a suspenseful tale of revolution. The cover artwork is stunning, but the artwork frame-to-frame is just good (and that’s absolutely just a personal aesthetic  taste). And sure, the banter between characters is a little silly at times, but that doesn’t detract from how fun and magical the story is. Perhaps most satisfying of all is (so far) women take charge in this series. Snow White is a Director of Operations of Fabletown. Goldilocks is a radical revolutionary leader. Cinderella goes toe-to-toe with Bluebeard in a fencing match. Girl power!

As a graphic novel newbie, there was a lot to take in while reading Fables. The artwork is rich with detail, the world is wonderfully complex, and a diverse cast of characters have their own unique story arcs. It was a rewarding read, and I look forward to picking up Vol. 3, Storybook Love.