What I Read: 2016

2016 was…pretty terrible. Not completely awful, but the stand-outs are pretty bad, you have to admit. I’m not going to list all of the crappy things that happened because we already all know went down and we’re all tired of hearing about it over and over again. Luckily we have books so we can ignore our own dystopia by reading about someone else’s!

In 2016 I visited The Book Thing in Baltimore at least once before it experienced a fire in March – but they’re rebuilding and still taking donations every weekend! – and attended the National Book Festival for the first time. I also said that I was going to do NaNoWriMo and then didn’t write a single word, so like 2016 itself, I clearly had some ups and downs with books this year. Unlike 2016, my book year was more good than bad:

  1. The Wednesday Sisters – Meg Waite Clayton
  2. Longbourn – Jo Baker
  3. Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between – Jennifer E. Smith
  4. The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide
  5. How I Paid for College – Marc Acito
  6. Good Enough to Eat – Stacey Ballis
  7. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa – Nicholas Drayson
  8. Mosquitoland – David Arnold
  9. Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  10. Yes Please – Amy Poehler
  11. Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
  12. The Summer I Turned Pretty – Jenny Han
  13. It’s Not Summer Without You – Jenny Han
  14. We’ll Always Have Summer – Jenny Han
  15. Suite Français – Irène Némirovsky
  16. The Last Summer (of You & Me) – Ann Brashares
  17. Hotel Pastis – Peter Mayle
  18. Jane Austen in Boca – Paula Marantz Cohen
  19. Pawleys Island – Dorothea Benton Frank
  20. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany
  21. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
  22. Daughter of Smoke & Bone – Laini Taylor
  23. Days of Blood & Starlight – Laini Taylor
  24. Dreams of Gods & Monsters – Laini Taylor
  25. Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
  26. I Remember Nothing – Nora Ephron
  27. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  28. Mr. Darcy’s Daughters – Elizabeth Aston
  29. Lily and the Duke – Helen Hardt
  30. A Man Called Ove – Frederik Backman
  31. Dear Elizabeth – Sarah Ruhl
  32. The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin
  33. The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher

Top five, in no particular order:
A Man Called Ove
Hotel Pastis
How I Paid for College
All the Light We Cannot See
Yes Please

Honorable mentions:
The Princess Diarist
Dear Elizabeth
Suite Français

Wouldn’t read again:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (though I would see it onstage because I’ve heard that it’s SO much better performed than read…and I can only hope that that’s true because on paper I could barely even finish it.)

Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what your favorite books for escaping the real world were in 2016!

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Why You Should Vote

…And why you shouldn’t vote third party.

As we draw nearer to the end of the 2016 presidential race (26 days!!), I’m seeing more and more people begging others on social media to be sure to vote this year. Despite that, I still know a staggering number of people who don’t plan to vote and who haven’t been able to give me a legitimate reason why not – usually just that they don’t like either candidate and don’t think it’s worth it.

If you ask me, that’s a bunch of bull. Women in the United States have only been able to vote since 1920 – that’s less than 100 years ago. Most Black Americans in the South weren’t even registered to vote until the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and since then we still have problems with racist bigots in certain jurisdictions trying to keep minorities away from the ballot box. Some countries still don’t allow all of their citizens to vote, and others don’t even have elections at all. As an American, it’s your civic duty to vote – that’s the entire reason that our country was even founded in the first place! Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch, but “no taxation without representation” sounds a lot like “please let us have a say in the governing body making our nation’s laws” if you ask me. Actively choosing to not take part in US elections is absolutely taking for granted the fact that we have any say at all, especially when you consider how many levels of government we vote on – from city council and county commissioner all the way up the the United States Congress and President (which is why you should also always vote in the off-year elections, but that’s an argument for a less stressful presidential race).

On top of the basic reason that you should vote simply because you have the ability to do so, you should also vote in this election because look at who the candidates are. I know that a lot of people don’t like either candidate and I know that Hillary has done a lot of shady things that have caused some of the public not to trust her, but look at the alternative – and I don’t mean the third party. The United States government is based on a two party system because for as much as conservatives like to say that we should base our country on the perceived beliefs of the founding fathers, we completely ignored George Washington’s warning against factions. However, we do still use the electoral system put in place by the founding fathers – the electoral college.

The founding fathers believed that the general public was too ignorant to be able to cast an informed vote in major elections, so rather than allowing for direct popular elections, they instituted the electoral college system. Each state has a certain amount of electoral votes depending on population, and a candidate needs to win 270 of the total 538 electoral votes to become president. As each state gets a certain amount of votes, each political party has a corresponding number of electors who will cast their electoral college vote. When you go to the polls in November and cast your vote for president, you’re really voting on which political party gets to send its electors to vote for president. 48 of the 50 states are “winner take all” in the electoral college, meaning whichever candidate gets the majority vote in a state gets all of that state’s electoral votes – meaning the candidate who wins in California gets a whopping 55 votes and the winner from Vermont only gets 3.

This is why people say that voting third party will “take votes away” from a major party candidate – they don’t mean your personal vote. If you were never going to vote for that person, they obviously never had your vote anyway. The problem with “taking votes away” comes in when a popular third party candidate “splits the ticket” – or when people in a certain state who might normally have voted for one of the two major parties choose to vote for the third party instead. This almost always results in the other major party getting that state’s electoral votes. That’s exactly how George W. Bush was elected president in 2000. Al Gore actually won the popular vote across the US, but enough people in certain states voted for Ralph Nader and the Green Party that Bush managed to get more electoral votes than Gore.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a discussion about political parties in the US in which people argue that if only enough people would vote third party, then we’d actually be able to have more than two major candidates to vote on in the future. I’m not saying that that kind of optimism is totally misplaced, but what it really comes down to is that even if enough people were inspired to get out there and vote third party, it would only further cement the Democratic and Republican parties in their love of the electoral college – the more people who break away and vote third party, the more likely it is that the other candidate will win the election. In order to really have a political party revolution, we need to get rid of the electoral college first.

Many people who hate both major candidates seem to already know this, and rather than “wasting their vote” on a third party candidate, they choose to not vote at all as a form of protest. THIS IS NOT AN EFFECTIVE FORM OF PROTEST. It doesn’t matter if the people who don’t care about either candidate don’t vote, because the people who are total die-hards for a specific candidate will absolutely be out there at 8 am on election day, ready to cast their vote for the reincarnated devil of their choice, and in my experience they tend to be on the more conservative side while those who refuse to vote are more liberal. By not voting, you’re just making it easier for the greater of two evils to win the election.

This is what it really comes down to. Choosing not to vote is actively allowing someone who you did not choose to create policy that could determine the future course of your life – especially if they manage to get elected during a time period when there are openings on the Supreme Court. I know that it’s hard to pick when neither candidate seems right for the job, but wouldn’t you rather have your vote associated with someone who you might not entirely agree with than know that your next four to eight years will be lived under someone who you didn’t have a say in at all?

If you haven’t registered to vote yet, the last date to register online in Maryland and West Virginia is October 18th and in Virginia is October 17th. Don’t forget to request your absentee ballot!

What I Read: Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

My family has always had a very good relationship with the owner of our local book store. He always had a reading suggestion for my sister and me when we were kids, and the last time I was in the shop was no exception. Knowing that I’ve always had a thing for YA fantasy (I was 12 when Twilight came out, sue me), he recently suggested that I check out the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor. He warned me that it would start out sounding like a vampire book but that it’s not a vampire book and that it would be worth it if I could make it through the first chapter or two, and he was right.

Without giving away too much, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is about a centuries long war between angels (though not quite as we know them) and chimera (half human/half animals) in a universe parallel to our own. The protagonist, Karou, is a 17 year old girl living in Prague who finds herself caught up in the war in ways that she never expected. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an engaging read, full of enough romance and adventure that I was Googling for the sequel as soon as I finished reading. Days of Blood and Starlight, book 2 of the trilogy, fell slightly flat, but it honestly wasn’t the plot’s fault – I’ve found this happens often in sequels (it took me three tries to get through The Two Towers). While it’s full of action and character & plot development, it drags without much actual movement as most of the characters are stuck in one place for almost the whole book. Remember the camping chapters from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? It’s kind of like that. Days of Blood and Starlight was also a lot darker than Daughter of Smoke and Bone – I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a trigger warning for attempted rape in my review. Things get a little bit lighter and the momentum picks back up in book 3, Dreams of Gods and Monsters. The trilogy actually ends in such a way that could have left the possibility for at least a book 4, but instead Taylor wraps things up in an epilogue, leaving the reader to assume future successes rather than dragging the plot out past where anyone could even want to follow (hem hem Supernatural, Pretty Little Liars, I could go on). 

The Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy was very well thought out, with specific language and terminology invented for the plot’s mythology. The tone felt very reminiscent of fan fiction – there were a lot of tropes and cliches that I’ve seen before (teenage girl somehow allowed to live completely on her own even in high school, her spunky best friend who is of course only 5 feet tall but who comes with twice the personality to make up for it, romance with little present development based on a past life, etc.), and some of the dialogue definitely seemed stylistically familiar. As I’ve said before, you can wait and try to pry fan fiction from my cold dead hands, so the stylistic choices and tropes didn’t bother me at all, but they were noticeable and I can see where another reader could be turned off by the tone before getting far enough to be engaged by the actual plot (see: my sister).

Despite how much I did enjoy the trilogy, I was frustrated and disappointed by a romance that seemed very shoehorned in at the end of the last book. SPOILERISH: A character who definitely seemed coded as aromantic ends up surprising even herself by falling for someone at the end of the war. Is it really too much to ask to have some queer representation in a YA series? I mean especially in fantasy, out of everything that we read in the whole trilogy, having a character who isn’t romantically attracted to other people doesn’t seem like the most far-fetched thing in the world.

Overall, despite my disappointment with some of the romantic subplots, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy was a super entertaining read that I devoured in about three days, and I would definitely recommend it to other lovers of YA fantasy.

Comment below if you’ve read it – what did you think?

Labor Day 2016: Ocean City

This year, two of my friends and my boyfriend and I were lucky enough to be able to take a mini vacation for Labor Day, driving east across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Ocean City, MD. Ocean City is definitely a Maryland landmark, with 9 miles of beach and boardwalk stretching up the Atlantic coast all the way to Delaware. Thousands of high school graduates flock to Ocean City for Senior Week every June, and OC hosts an average of 8 million tourists each summer.

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We stayed at the Sea Breeze Inn, one block behind the Ocean Gallery on 2nd Street. The motel definitely wasn’t the nicest place I’ve ever stayed but it wasn’t the worst either, and it was a nice, inexpensive option for our 3-night stay in OC. There weren’t many electrical outlets available in each room, the pillows were kind of crappy, and the bathroom windows wouldn’t close, but the rooms were clean and the bed that I slept in was comfortable. They do charge a security deposit for people under age 25, but you get it back at the end of your stay if you haven’t damaged your room.

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We happened to make landfall on the same night as Hurricane Hermine, so we spent Friday night through about noon on Saturday locked in our rooms away from the wind and rain, then made it out Saturday afternoon to get lunch and hang out on the boardwalk. Many of the restaurants and shops on the boardwalk were closed due to the storm, so we hung out at the arcade and then put up with driving wind and stinging sand to walk down to the shoreline. The waves that day were about the biggest I’ve ever seen – the pictures really don’t do them justice – and we didn’t go in the water at all for the whole weekend. We went to Harpoon Hanna’s for dinner, then played the weekend’s first round of mini golf (I lost).

Sunday was much nicer, and we spent hours on the boardwalk and were able to hang out on the beach and get some Ocean City staples for lunch – Thrasher’s fries and milkshakes from Dumser’s. We also found a yarn shop called the Salty Yarns and definitely spent too much time there (worth it), and then we spent more cash than time at the arcade (maybe not so worth it). On the beach, we warned Jim about not messing with seagulls, but he insisted on walking away to feed them the remains of his fries. This resulted in our being stalked by a flock of birds, but Jim denied any fault, of course.

Sunday night we had our second round of golf at Nick’s Mini Golf, which was definitely not as fun as the first (I lost, again). We were conned by a coupon with no fine print for “a free round of golf per group of four” which really meant “buy 3 rounds, get 1 free”, but when the man working the desk realized that we were about to leave after the explanation, he gave us 4 rounds for the price of 2, so we stayed. After, we visited a hometown favorite for dinner – The Crabby Pig, a restaurant from the town where I grew up, recently opened a new location in Ocean City! We got there around 9pm and the dining room was almost empty, but the food and drinks were really good.

Monday morning we checked out from the motel and spent a few hours on the beach before heading for home. We cashed in all of the arcade tickets that we’d earned all weekend, hit up the Candy Kitchen, and got one last milkshake before we hit the road. Overall I had a really good weekend, though the weather could’ve definitely been nicer. Hopefully it’ll be better next year!

What I Ate: 4-Cheese Tortellini & Spinach Tomato Soup

You know what’s the perfect meal when you love pasta, cheese, spinach, and tomatoes? It’s 4-cheese tortellini & spinach tomato soup. I found Gal on a Mission’s recipe on Pinterest the other day and immediately decided that it needed to be inside my body, ASAP. Her recipe is actually for 3-cheese tortellini (but really whatever tortellini you want to use is your choice) and uses carrots instead of spinach, so I tweaked the recipe a bit to my own liking.

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Ingredients
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1/4 cup basil (shredded)
5.5 cups chicken stock (can replace with veggie broth for a vegetarian meal!)
1 1/4 cup half & half
1 jar Ragu pasta sauce (I think I used a 7oz jar)
14.5 oz diced tomatoes (don’t drain!)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
20 oz 4 cheese refrigerated tortellini
2.5-3 cups raw spinach

Gal on a Mission’s recipe actually calls for 5 cups of chicken stock and 16 oz of tortellini, but the best value package at my grocery store was 20 oz so I just added an extra half cup of chicken stock to the recipe to make up the difference.

Instructions
1. Simmer onion over medium heat until translucent (or close).
2. Add garlic, simmer like  1-2 more mins.
3. Add basil, chicken stock, half & half, ragu, diced tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Stir, simmer 20 mins.
4. Add tortellini & spinach, simmer another 15-20 mins.
5. Serve with shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese and basil!

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This soup was seriously delicious, and made enough that I’ll definitely be able to get another 3-4 meals out of it. I might make garlic bread too if I’m ever making it for a group. I’m really looking forward to having this as a cozy go-to this winter, especially on snow days!

Let me know how it turns out if you try it!

 

Ipsy Bag Review: August 2016

I was an Ipsy subscriber for a few years in college, and after cancelling my subscription earlier this year as part of a process to get my budget in order, I have resubscribed to the $10-per-month beauty bag subscription program. If you haven’t heard of Ipsy before, it’s a subscription bag service started by YouTuber Michelle Phan that provides subscribers with five deluxe sample and full-sized products per month, based on a survey of each subscriber’s personal style, coloring, and product & company preferences. They provide a variety of drugstore and high end brands, and even the sample sizes are always packaged such that the products can be used more than once (as opposed to single-use shampoo or moisturizer packets, etc). For a while I was receiving Ipsy bags at the same time that one of my roommates was also subscribed to Birchbox, and I always preferred my monthly packages as compared to hers, as far as the quality of samples and the affordability of the full-sized products.

My ratings will be based entirely upon the usefullness of each product in my own lifestyle, though I will still describe the potential pros of lower-rated products.

This month’s theme was Sugar Highness, and the bag was designed by Michelle Phan herself.

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I received the purple bag, with the following items:Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 3.26.41 PM

IT Hair Care 12-in-1 Amazing Leave-In Treatment
Rating: 3/5

This product leaves my hair feeling nice and soft,
but my hair is already pretty healthy so while
it’s nice for days when I’m doing face masks
and scrubs and the whole shebang, I don’t really
need it and it probably wouldn’t make a difference
to the quality of my hair if I didn’t use it.

Beaute Basics 3 Tone Bronzer
Rating: 2/5

Let’s get into it – this bronzer isn’t super dark, but I am usually super pale. When I tried it on it did give me a healthy glow, but I will probably never actually be tan enough for a long enough amount of time to wear it regularly, so I will probably either see if one of my roommates wants it or just throw it away.

the bronzer is applied to the right side of my face in the photo.

Nomad Cosmetics Intense Eyeshadow in Spice Market
Rating: 1/5

This shimmery eyeshadow is very pigmented and it blended well when I swatched it on my wrist, but I usually wear more nude and brown shades. Now that I’ve graduated from UMD and don’t really have occasions (see: football & basketball games) to wear more spirited makeup for, I can’t really see myself using an eyeshadow in this reddish shade, so I will probably throw it out.


Ciaté London Paint Pot in Spinning Teacups
Rating: 5/5Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 3.28.15 PM

This nail polish is so nice! I love the lavender shade
and it has a really smooth formula. I was making
lunch and washing dishes within half an hour of
applying the nail polish and it didn’t chip or smudge at all. In fact, I had it on for nearly 3 days before it even started wearing off at the tips of my nails, and I didn’t use any base or top coat. I’ll definitely be wearing this all the time, though at $17 per bottle I’m not sure if I would actually buy it again – maybe Ciaté London will find its way onto my Christmas list this year!

Tarte Cosmetics Tarteist Lash Paint Mascara
Rating: 5/5

This mascara arrived just in time – my old tube was drying up, and as soon as I used this sample, I fell in love. I had previously been using Benefit’s They’re Real! lengthening mascara, and tarteist lash paint is so much better in my opinion. Tarteist wore much more like Benefit’s Rollerlash (which I’d been using for a year before trying out They’re Real!), and I love the applicator wand. It doesn’t transfer onto my eyelids/above my lashline when I apply it like They’re Real! did, and it’s much easier to take off as well. I’m already a huge fan of tarte anyway, and tarteist lash paint will definitely find its way into my makeup bag again after this tube runs out.

lash paint is applied to my right eyelashes in the photo – please excuse my dark circles!

Overall, this month’s bag averaged a 3.2/5, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next one! Let me know if you’ve tried any other subscription boxes and what your preference is!

What I Read: Mr. Darcy’s Daughters

Is it intellectually acceptable to squeal over published fan fiction of classic works (although let’s be real, so much classic fiction is just fan fiction in disguise anyway)? Because I did it in my living room for an hour the other night and I’m about to do it here. Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, a 2003 work by Elizabeth Aston and published by Simon & Schuster, was a wonderful soap opera of a novel.

The year is 1818 and Mr. Darcy has traveled to Constantinople for business with Elizabeth following close behind, because can you really imagine Lizzie Bennett turning down a free trip to a new exciting country with her beloved, brooding Darcy? I don’t think so. In the meantime, their five daughters, aged 16-21, are staying in London with their cousin Fitzwilliam (the one who spilled the beans about Darcy sending Bingley away!) and his wife Fanny (but fear not, the Darcys do have 2 younger sons at home preparing to safely inherit Pemberly – this isn’t a total rewrite of Pride and Prejudice). The girls have a magical first season in London, making friends and enemies and enduring more drama and scandal in just a few months than I hope to ever experience in my whole life. The novel wraps up nicely by the end, everyone ending up with their perfect match, 90% predictably with 10% unexpected squeals from the reader.

Aston does a fair job imitating Jane Austen’s tone and style, though I have to admit that it’s been years since I last read Pride & Prejudice or Persuasion and don’t tell Professor Wang but I only read the first third of Emma in ENGL312, so I may not be the best judge of the attempt.  I enjoyed it at any rate – as an unabashed lover of fan fiction, I’m usually not a harsh reader of works like this, and I always appreciate a good cliche or well-written trope. The five daughters are clearly the Bennett sisters born again, though in a different order with some personality quirks traded around. There was enough new life breathed into each girl that I didn’t totally get caught up in the similarities, but they were definitely there. You’ll easily spot Darcy’s doppelganger as well, and will be happy to know that Caroline Bingley – excuse me, now Lady Warren – hasn’t changed a bit. I was able to guess most turns taken by the plot and continually put the book down to exclaim to my empty living room when my predictions were correct. I squealed for most of the last 50 pages and was literally upside down in my chair by the end from rolling in excitement.

Mr. Darcy’s Daughters was a pretty quick & easy read, perfect for a Sunday afternoon & evening after doing chores and running errands. It was nice to escape into someone else’s dramatic life after a week of my own family vacation, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves a good romance.