A Stack of Spooky Books

photo(4)I may have been a bit over-eager during this week’s library visit, especially since last time I only read three of the six books I checked out. I felt guilty returning some of the books unread. I decided to call it quits on a cozy mystery novel called Bran New Death (Merry Muffin Mystery #1) by Victoria Hamilton because I kept getting stuck, stuck, stuck. I think after nearly three weeks, I only made it to page 70. I loved the character’s voice, which was quite sassy and fun, but the pacing was too slow. I also returned New York by Edward Rutherford, which I’m actually really disappointed about. The idea of the story still piques my interest; it’s a historical fiction novel that spans from New York’s beginnings in the 1600s to the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.  But, I knew the first half of the book was going to drag and be utterly treacherous for me because I have very little interest in Colonial America. I may scope out some of Rutherford’s other books, especially London. From what I can tell, tomes spanning centuries of a city’s lifetime seems to be his niche.  In the end, I only kept Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, which I binge read later that afternoon.

And now, here I am with seven new books sitting patiently on my kitchen table, waiting to be read. If you haven’t noticed, there is a bit of a theme going with (most of) the books I checked out this week. October is right around the corner, so I made sure to pick out a bunch of spooky books.

Do you have any favorite spooky books?

Some Thoughts on Tea and the Changing of the Seasons

Xin Yang Mao Jian Green Tea from TeaVivre
Xin Yang Mao Jian Green Tea from TeaVivre

There are two things I have realized after brewing myself a cup of Teavivre’s Lu Shan Yun Wu Green Tea. First, all tea from Teavivre require a certain kind of care when brewing– the temperature of the water and the length of time you allow the leaves to steep are important, unlike the Twinnings tea bags I so recklessly over-steep. Second, I’m nearly incapable of giving my tea leaves the amount of attention they so very much deserve. So, after steeping my Lu Shan Yun Wu into oblivion and bitterness, I had to promptly pour it out and try something else. The second time around, I tried Xin Yang Mao Jian Green Tea, and the results were much better.

I am fascinated by the Xin Yang Mao Jian tea leaves. They are dark green, straight tipped, and ever-so delightfully fuzzy– a sign that the leaves were picked in early spring. The dried leaves smelled vegetal and even a bit like nori, the dried seaweed you might find wrapped around maki sushi. I thought the flavor of the tea itself would be overwhelmingly savory, but I was surprised when floral, smoky, sweet notes were more prominent to me. This tea is most refreshing and perfect for a late spring or early summer day when the skies are blue and delicate blossoms from tree branches flutter about in breezes and the sun is just starting to warm up the wintertime air.

And as much as I enjoyed Xin Yang Mao Jian, I felt disconnected from it because I can feel Autumn right around the corner. Even though it is still August, the mornings this week can best be described as “brisk” and the days for the most part are gloomy and overcast; somehow the melancholy of this season invigorates me. Then, Friday evening I stood out on my balcony to enjoy the cheers of the high school students and their families as the drumline’s cadence sauntered down the road, and for a little while, I felt nostalgic for my marching band days. I cannot wait for Autumn to truly settle in.

What is Autumn like where you live? Are you excited that the season is right around the corner?

Samples provided by Teavivre in exchange for an honest review.

I’m in Blogging Limbo, Which is Almost Definitely Different from a Blogging Slump

Did you know that in the span of nearly three months, I’ve changed the layout on Books & Tea about six times? Twice in the process of writing this post (mind you, I drafted this post about two weeks ago)? I mean, that’s not saying much because I’m using the free version of WordPress, and there is only so much I can actually customize. But, I digress! During this weekend’s theme shuffle, I forced myself to take a step back and think about my overwhelming need to keep changing the layout of Books & Tea. I determined I was in some kind of hazy, blogging limbo, and here is why:

1.

I’m procrastinating (which reminds me of this video created by Vlora from Reviews and Cake). I have a million ideas (roughly) for blog posts and mini series and month-long themes, which as it turns out is just as much a curse as it is a blessing. I’m not quite sure where to even start, and then I also find myself a little overwhelmed by all of the work it’s going to take to publish the articles. So, instead of tackling the projects, I find myself shuffling through WordPress themes, or worse! my feed reader, which only inspires me to add more ideas to my list.

2.

Suddenly I feel the need to brand myself. I’ve been present in various blogging communities for sixteen years, and all it has ever been is a hobby, a creative outlet, a way for me to make connections with people with similar interest. But the dynamics of blogging has changed drastically over these past sixteen years. People can actually make an income from their internet presence, which has driven this branding phenomena. Everybody is a brand nowadays, and I’m starting to feel the pressure that in order to have any kind of presence or influence in the blogosphere, I must be a brand too. I’m trying really hard to resist that because I perceive that there are so many more responsibilities and restrictions that go along with it, yet I keep gobbling up post after post about how to brand yourself effectively.

3.

It’s for the best that I’m not diving head-first into branding myself though (or rather Books & Tea) because I’m not really sure what role I play in our book blogging niche anymore. It used to be easy when, aside from reading two or three non-fiction books during the year, all I wanted to read was young adult novels. But now, when I go to the library, most of the books I borrow are not young adult novels, which complicates things when you’ve been writing for an audience interested in young adult novels for the past 4+ years. How do I shift gracefully and without losing my entire audience to a blog that reviews ALL THE BOOKS? Is that even possible? Is that too ambitious? And don’t even get me started on the whole tea aspect of Books & Tea. Did you know that the last five Instagram photos I posted that featured a beverage were of coffee instead of tea? (Although, for the record, I’m currently brewing myself a mug of peppermint tea).

Perhaps all of this is rooted in my identity, which I feel has shifted so much over the past few years. This is not to say that I feel like I’ve lost my identity in any way. If anything, I’m just finally starting to discover it– this wonderfully (and obviously biased) creative and curious and happy version of me. Despite all of this, I feel like I’m stuck at a starting line– Ready…Set…HOLD ON! It’s times like these where I wish I had deadlines or obligations in blogging– something that would force me to take a step in creating and changing even though it’s going to take work. Instead, the only changes I have been making are the superficial ones to Books & Tea.

Which leads me to the part of the post where I am supposed to enthusiastically declare that as a result of this epiphany, today is the day I launch myself from the starting line, but that would seem disingenuous because I’m a pretty stoic person in real life. Truly though, I’m going to launch myself from the starting line today. I am going to work my way through my idea list, and even though floral wreaths are the antithesis of me, I am absolutely NOT going to change my layout until  I have something to show for myself…!!!

Have you ever been in blogging limbo? How did it affect you and your blog, and how did you overcome it?

Four More YA Books that Rock

I recently read and LOVED the Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley, which has great 90’s alternative music at its core (among other things), and that got me thinking about other great books I’ve read that centered around music. If you’re a music lover, check out these four books:

Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Menothe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen ChboskyIf I Stay by Gayle ForemanJust Listen by Sarah Dessen

I especially recommend Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno, although some parts are pretty vulgar, so it’s a read for older teens. It really embraces the whole sex, drugs, and rock and roll idea, but the books was funny, and Joe Meno’s style of writing is always unique and exciting. I think what really captured me was the music though because I never expected to read a book where the main character loved the band, the Misfits, which happened to be one of my music obsessions when I discovered the book.

Have you read any books where music played a prominent role in the story? What book was it?

This is a Five Star Review: The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

Carnival at BrayThe Carnival At Bray by Jessie Ann Foley
Released:
January 2014
Publisher: Elephant Rock Productions, Inc.
Age Group: Young Adult
★★★★★
Synopsis: It’s 1993, and Generation X pulses to the beat of Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. Sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a windswept town on the Irish Sea. Surviving on care packages of Spin magazine and Twizzlers from her rocker uncle Kevin, she wonders if she’ll ever find her place in this new world. When first love and sudden death simultaneously strike, a naive but determined Maggie embarks on a forbidden pilgrimage that will take her to a seedy part of Dublin and on to a life- altering night in Rome to fulfill a dying wish. Through it all, Maggie discovers an untapped inner strength to do the most difficult but rewarding thing of all, live.

My Thoughts

I finished reading the Carnival at Bray by Jessie Anne Foley last week, and I forced myself to not write a review immediately or even think too hard about star ratings because this book, my friends, was teetering on the fence between four stars and five stars. Let me be clear, this almost NEVER happens, so I needed the decision to be organic instead of one fueled by a book high. A week later, I find myself thinking that this book, without a doubt, is a five-star book. However, when I sat down to write the review, I was at a loss for words.

I can tell you that you should read this book because it takes place in Ireland, and all books that take place in Ireland are instantly on my wish list. I can tell you that this book rocks a pretty great playlist because 90’s alternative music was boss. I can tell you this book tackles some pretty heavy issues like mental illness and divorce and sex and totally uprooting a family and flying it clear across an ocean for a fleeting moment of love. I can tell you that the prose is poetic without slipping into the realm of “purple prose”, that the author made a good choice by writing it in third person because it would probably become too melodramatic otherwise, that the narration seems stoic sometimes understated, which somehow only plays up the gravity of the conflicts Maggie, our main character, faces. I can tell you that every character is wonderfully developed and charming and utterly flawed. And…did I mention it takes place in Ireland?

But, what I’m truly struggling with is verbalizing all of the abstract feelings I have about this book. I can’t adequately explain the light I felt emanating from me every night Maggie visited Dan Sean, an elderly Irishman, who somehow understood Maggie better than anyone else. Or when Maggie tasted freedom when chasing after Italy or Nirvana tickets or a boy she loved. Nor can I adequately explain how heavy my heart-felt when she was uprooted and transplanted in this foreign country where she was always the outsider. Or every time she was with that skeevy fellow, Paul. Or as she watched her uncle disintegrate. The Carnival at Bray is a fairly short novel at only 230 pages, yet it took me nearly two weeks to read because it was such an emotional novel; it’s like it knocked the wind right out of me every day I read the book.

I only wish this book was around when I was 17 and not 27. It’s a coming of age novel I would have carried with me always like Stephan Chbosky’s the Perks of Being a Wallflower or Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned or Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love.

Read this book. Read the Carnival at Bray because it’s real and it’s raw and Maggie’s story matters.

[On an unrelated matter, I wasn’t really sure how to categorize this book. Is it contemporary fiction? Is it historical fiction? It’s pretty strange to think my childhood happened long enough ago that it could now be considered “historical”.]

A Saturday Morning Particular

Library Loot
Library Loot via the Books & Tea instagram

My library days are turning in to quite a delightful routine. I wake up on Saturdays, shortly before my alarm goes off and usually to the sound of Jon getting ready for work. I always contemplate rolling back over and going to bed, but I manage to talk myself out of it, peel myself from the bed, and brew myself a cup of coffee. On this particular morning, I stood out on the balcony and enjoyed unseasonably crisp, morning air with my Maple-Walnut blend coffee, planning out the chores I needed to do for the day and then promptly tossing the idea away favoring a few hours with the blogosphere and a good book before the library opened instead.

I usually get to the library shortly after it opens, but the parking lot is already getting full by then. This surprises me for some reason, but it also makes me happy. Today’s patrons were the usual library gamers who gab at each other while mowing down enemies and taking advantage of the library’s wi-fi and mothers with fussy children (who I discover do not annoy me in libraries like they do in restaurants– the children, not their mothers).

This week, I chose 4 books with nothing in common:

  • Gotham Academy #1: Welcome to Gotham Academy, a graphic novel, by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl
  • New York: the Novel, a historical fiction…tome by Edward Rutherfurd. Seriously, I don’t know what I was thinking when I pulled this one from the stacks.
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About God, a non-fiction book about…you guessed it– God– by Rob Bell.
  • Kissing in America, a contemporary YA novel complete with a road trip (or so says the book cover) by Margo Rabb

My next stop is the grocery store where I pick up soup, a pre-made chicken salad sandwich (because I think I’ve bought a loaf of bread once while at my new apartment, and all but six slices went to waste), and a bag of bon-bons. Then I return home and relish in good books and good soup.

I intended to finish Bran New Death, a cozy mystery novel about murder and baked goods, which I picked up during my last library visit, but I was distracted by the new and shiny. Instead, I read Gotham Academy, which was fun in a novelty sort of way, and What We Talk about When We Talk About God, which I devoured in one sitting. How much I appreciated that book caught me by surprise.

For not accomplishing much, this day was well-spent. I just wish I could stretch the afternoon out for 3 or 4 more hours more. On my library days I just feel so…at peace.

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