Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Year in Books: 2015 Reading Stats & Survey

Goodreads inspired me to make a short post about my reading stats for this year, but then I remembered Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner makes a book survey at the end of every year, so this is a culmination of my Goodreads reading stats, the 2015 book survey, and some other stuff I threw in. P.S. I've deleted a lot of the questions from the original 2015 book survey (linked above) because they didn't apply to my reading year. Share your answers with me in the comments!

Book Data:
Number of Books Read:

5 stars - 12
4 stars - 15
3 stars - 12
2 stars - 3
1 star - 1

Number of Re-reads: 1
Never Never by Colleen Hoover & Tarryn Fisher

   First book started in 2015:
Started with a bang with Ask the Passengers by A.S. King.

Last book finished in 2015:
And ended with a bang with Puddle Jumping by Amber L. Johnson

Number of Pages Read: 

Shortest Book:
After the Bridge by Cassandra Clare

Longest Book:
City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

Average Book Length: 

Most Popular on GR: 
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Least Popular on GR:
Mussolin's Rome by Borden W. Painter, Jr.
Lol, no kidding.

My Average Rating:

My Most Read Genre:

Survey Questions | Books from 2015:

1. Favorite Book You Read:
Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher and Puddle Jumping by Amber L. Johnson - 
I'm sorry, I know it's supposed to be a singular answer 
but this is the worst question for a book addict!

2. Book You Didn't Love As Much As You Were Anticipating:
Confess by Colleen Hoover - Sad.

3. Book You Weren't Expecting To Enjoy As Much As You Did:
On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves  - 
I could have put so many books under this category. SO MANY. But. 
Just goes to show.

4. Most Surprising Plot (Good or Bad):
Never Never: Part One by Colleen Hoover & Tarryn Fisher - Seriously. What just happened?

5. Favorite New Author You Discovered:
Tarryn Fisher - I'm kind of addicted to her writing. 
And her as a person. #PLN4LIFE

6. Most Unputdownable Book:
Puddle Jumping by Amber L. Johnson - 
Seeing as how I read it basically in one sitting... 

7. Book You Read That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:
Titles and authors stated previously - I'm not trying to be unoriginal here, but I can't stop thinking about them!

8. Favorite Cover Of A Book You Read:
Because it is perfection.

9. Most Memorable Character:
Olivia from
The Opportunist by Tarryn Fisher - She is somethin.

10. Most Thought-Provoking/Life-Changing Book:
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King.

11. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read:
"He stayed all winter." -Senna, Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher

12. Best Book From A Genre You Don't Typically Read/Out Of Your Comfort Zone:
Straight up poetry! I never read poetry books, but this was nice!

13. OTP Of The Year (You Will Go Down With This Ship!)
Olivia & Caleb from
Love Me With Lies series by Tarryn Fisher - 
They're so awful to each other, yet, so right for each other.

14. Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year:
Chloe & Will from

A Matter of Fate series by Heather Lyons - 
The BEST platonic girl-boy relationship ever! Love them so much!

15. Best Book That You Read SOLELY Because Someone Recommended It/Pressured You To Read It:
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen - I gave it 3 stars, 
but it was the only one someone convinced me to read. 
John Green made me do it. 

Survey Questions | Looking Ahead:

1. Top Books You Didn't Get To Read In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority In 2016:

Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer
Marrow by Tarryn Fisher
Thief by Tarryn Fisher
You by Caroline Kepnes

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2016 (non-debut):
On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher (Not yet covered)

3. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2016:
Never Never: Part Three by Colleen Hoover & Tarryn Fisher

4. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life in 2016:
I hope to become more consistent with blogging! 
My 2016 Reading and Personal Goals will be up within the week :)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Puddle Jumping by Amber L. Johnson | Book Review

About the book: 

When it comes to love there’s no such thing as conventional. 

Everyone thinks Colton Neely is special. 

Lilly Evans just thinks he’s fascinating. 

Once friends when they were younger, their bond is cut short due to her accident prone nature and they go their separate ways. Years later, they meet again and Lilly learns that there is something special about the boy she once knew, but she has no idea what it all means. And she’s not sure if she’s ready to find out. 

When he walks through the corridor of her school the first day of her senior year, she knows that it’s time to get to know the real Colton Neely. The more she learns, the deeper she falls. 

Their friendship grows into love, even as Colton does not express it in words. But one decision threatens to break down the world that Lilly has tried so hard to integrate into and she must figure out if the relationship can survive if they are apart.

Genre: YA Contemporary/Romance
Pages: 121
Publisher: Self-published
Publication Date: June 29, 2014

My Rating: 
5 stars

Sale Alert: Puddle Jumping is 66% off it's original price until December 31, 2015 at 11:59PM! You need this beautiful story on your kindle (read my review for reassure) so seriously grab it now while it's on sale! Link to purchase on: Amazon Kindle
Spoiler-free Review:

"It begins with a boy. It begins with a boy and ends with a boy, but what story doesn't?"

After a slow reading year, fate has me ending 2015 with a bang. This incredible, heart-warming and -twisting bang of a story. Take one look at Puddle Jumping's official synopsis and you might have a guess as to what this book is about. A chapter into the story you might have a pretty good guess what makes Colton special. But you don't really know Lilly, Colton, and their stories until it all unravels...or blossoms or whatever you want to call it.

This story is so much more than just a love story, and yet, it's normalcy at its core. It's not a "disability" or a pity story and by no means is it romanticizing something that never should be. It's a story of the struggles and triumphs that come with the complexities of life and love. It's a story about how scary new waters are and no matter how ready you think you are, you cannot control the outcome. It's a story about people and understanding and not focusing on the differences.

"When you love someone, their differences fall away. 
I don't look at him and see anything but him."

Puddle Jumping hit me right where I needed it and then some. I needed the honesty, the raw pain and love it delivered. I needed the doses of selflessness, understanding, and reality that changed my heart on the topic of disability, and without being too forward, I would say others need these things too. By no means would I say I was prejudice or ignorant on this topic, nor am I implying that anyone else is, but the realness of this story put my prior understanding into even greater focus. Before, there was pity in my heart. Now, there is none. I look at this story and there's no "Oh, good for them" or "Bless her heart" about it. I look at Lilly and Colton and love this story for exactly what it is. As the Amber L. Johnson summed up, "It's a true story about a girl falling for a boy. Nothing more. Nothing less."

Although Puddle Jumping is her most well-read book, Amber L. Johnson isn't as well-known or highly-raved as so many of our favorite authors. So if you're hesitant about reading this book you haven't heard of from an author you're not familiar with, please let me reassure you: you need this book in your life. If you can't end 2015 with this incredible story, please start 2016 with it. It's a quick read (121 pages), which is not enough as much as it's just right. By any means, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Callum & Harper by Fisher Amelie | Updated Book Review

Official Synopsis 

Life sucks for orphans Callum Tate and Harper Bailey. Kicked out of their foster homes because they suffer the 'eighteen disease' with nothing but a hundred dollar check from the government and a pat on the back, they're forced to rely on a system that failed them miserably. So they sit. They sit inside Social Services, waiting for their social workers to call their names and offer them the miracle they know will never come but they sit anyway because they have nowhere else to go, no other options on their very literal and figurative empty plates. But as they sit, they notice the other. Although captivated, they each come to the conclusion that life is complicated enough without throwing in a boiling tension that can't ever be acted upon because they're both too busy thinking about where their next meal will come from but when their names are called and both are placed on a year long waiting list for permanent housing, suddenly relying on each other seems like a very viable plan B. And, oh, how lovely Plan B's can be. Well, except for the psycho from Harper's past that haunts her and, oh, yeah, there's the little issue that neither of them knows they're in love with the other. Needless to say, Callum & Harper's life just got a bit more complicated. “One day, you and I are gonna’ wake up and be alright. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but one day. One day. I promise you.” - Callum Tate

Pages: 256
Published by: Fisher Amelie
Genre: mature YA/NA romance

My rating for Callum & Harper (The Sleepless, #1):

This is a story about what lengths someone will go to for love and the romance of this novel was one that tore me in half with how much I simultaneously hated and loved it. Eventually, my love for these characters and their relationship came out on top of the frustrations I had, but I'll first discuss my distaste. Callum and Harper grew to love each other super (at times eye-rollingly) quickly. Instalove at its finest. Here were two eighteen year olds, just released from the State's custody with next to nothing in life, and their attraction, trust, safety, and belonging to each other was just as bizarre as it was immediate. I was able to overlook this by keeping an open mind (because if there is such a thing as love at first sight, this duo is the epitome of it), but as the story continued and they fell harder for each other, they both made the same unbelievably ridiculous decision, which snowballed into one big lie where neither person was 100% happy. And this lasted years. This was unfathomably frustrating because if someone in real life had been in this situation, all they could have (probably would have) done is tell one little truth and all would be swell.

Another downfall had to do with Callum and Harper's values and faith. Although I admired how these often neglected topics in YA literature were discussed, these conversations seemed out of character. Callum and Harper had really crappy lives before they met. No one cared enough about them to even introduce or influence any sort of faith in their lives so I find it hard to believe that they would be so optimistic and faithful about the cards they had been dealt.

"I loved her so much I could barely see straight. I wanted her so much I could barely breathe straight. I needed her so much I could barely think straight."

In spite of the negatives, I'm thrilled I was able to work through my frustrations because Callum & Harper has become my guilty pleasure instalove. They are sweet as honey, perfect as peach, delightful as a dandelion, bright as the sun, and all those lovely metaphors wrapped into one. The unconditional love they had and showed each other was incredible. It was a such a joy to read about the small aspects of their relationship such as their daily encounters, time spent with great friends, and their efforts to build a life together. Their love filled this book and my heart. Sometimes their ridiculous snowballing decisions I previously mentioned wasn't such a bad thing either because it urged me to keep reading and wishing for a HEA. I couldn't get enough of them and their story amounted to a feel-good tale. In fact, according to my original review, the ending was so "frighteningly wonderful" I "literally sunk OUT OF MY CHAIR and onto the FLOOR". So yes, I think I was quite able to overlook its faults and love it for everything else.
"One day, you and I are gonna wake up and be alright. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day. One day. I promise you."
Recommended for readers who like: Fisher Amelie, instalove, love at first sight, angst, sweet relationships, not entirely realistic tales.
Sexual content: Medium - mature thoughts/feelings; the end is less conservative. I would recommend to 16+. 

Find everything Fisher Amelie and her novels HERE!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Favorite Music | Fall 2015 Semester

In the midst of the semester I realized the songs I've been listening to these past couple months have been swiftly changing as I discover new songs. I'm one of those people who listens the crap out of a song for a good couple weeks. sometimes a month or two, and then drops it cold, but if a year goes by and I listen to it again, my love for it reawakens. My feelings and memories from that time wash over me and whether they're positive or negative, these instant flashbacks are one of my favorite ways of remembering my past. Does anyone else associate music with time like that? Anyway, because there have been so many tunes running through my head this semester, I haven't gotten sick of them as quickly. Most of these songs I can firmly say are still on my playlist. Also, when I relive the moments these songs will later erect, I'm going to think, "Wow. You were really on a pop grind."


Zara Larsson Talented singer, surprisingly young, and catchy pop. The first of her songs I liked was Uncover, but She's Not Me is it. I'm surprised she's not bigger in the USA.


Wildest Dreams - Taylor Swift Drop what you are holding! Drop it! Pause what you are doing because I can say that, for the first time, I willingly listen to a Taylor Swift song. And not just listen to, but sing along. I know. We're all floored alongside that book you just dropped. I don't a solid explanation for this one. Something about the melodic quality to her voice during the chorus. It makes me feel light.

Same Old Love - Selena Gomez Big fan of Selena Gomez as a person since I was a youngin. She's been through so much and she's handled it all with such a grace and resilience in the public eye. This whole album is a breakthrough for her and I could definitely feel it. Same Old Love is one of the catchier pop songs on her album, but as of November, the playfulness of Hands to Myself can't keep the smile at bay. (See album work below.)

Flaws - Vancouver Sleep Clinic Vancouver Sleep Clinic is my new obsesh. It's filling the same void that Bon Iver does so if you're a massive Bon Iver fan...

The Weekend - The Hills Absofuckinglute guilty pleasure. Am yet, I'm not even guilty.  (Couldn't locate video to insert.)

Missed - Ella Henderson One-clicked (is that a iTunes term too? Just amazon kindle? Okay.) this soul shredding beauty and belted nonstop with Miss Henderson for days. Sorry roommates.

A While - Gabrielle Aplin Beautiful vocal arrangements. That is what I look for most in a song and this delivers 100 percent. And this LIVE recording? Gorgeous. Or in my roommate's words, depressing.

What Do You Mean - Justin Bieber
Like the rest of the world, I've felt the ever unexpected foot tap and heart flutter at the new JB music. Unlike pockets around the world, my newfound love is unapologetic. (See album work below.)



Wild - Troye Sivan All of his songs are gold, but this was the first of his songs that really honed me in. Although I've known of Troye and his YouTube channel for the past few years, I never was a devote fan or even knew of his music pursuits. I'm happy his music has been spotlighted to share with the rest of the world!

I Found - Amber Run My calm side.

Tough Love - Jessie Ware Never heard of her before, but this single is catchy.

Dark Star Album - Jaymes Young Merely stumbled across this guy, but he became my go-to when I spent long hours in the computer lab on my graphic design projects. That might be why when I listen to it now, I have a distaste for some of the songs... I still enjoy Moondust, Parachute, and Northern Lights.



Cinematic Orchestra - To Build A Home After being introduced to this as one of the pieces in my performing RSO's fall show, I cried, fell in love, and cried some more. That's how it goes.

I'll Show You - Justin Bieber I mean, have you HEARD him sing LIVE? I could have listened to his vocal harp strings all day long. I'll Show You, Sorry, Children, The Feeling... they're all on the table for me and they've been the center of my playlist since he started dropping new singles.

Colors - Halsey Halsey is a bit trendy now, but eh, what can I say? I'm digging her crass and word play. Color is my song when I wake up, when I need some lulling to the soul, when I am trying to forget that I'm running for twenty minutes straight...

Selena Gomez This month I purchased tickets for her Revival tour so November was all about the Gomez pre-game.


Thank the earth and everyone on it for music because I truly would have lost my sanity this semester without it. What have you been addicted to? - Holly

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Be Happy. Be Kind. We All Can Do It.

Many people tell me I'm generally a happy, positive, and kind person. They tell me I smile often and look at the brighter side of things. They tell me that even when I'm upset or stressed, I'm still composed to an extent.

The way I look at it, there's no other way to be.

I believe that happiness and kindness are choices no matter who you are or what you're going through. That statement probably would get a lot of people riled up because Holly, you're seriously telling me that people who are being abused should be happy? You don't honestly believe that someone who just lost their family shouldn't be sad. Depression is a real thing--are you saying mentally ill people are CHOOSING to not be happy?! To which I say no, no, and no. I don't believe you're ALWAYS supposed to be happy. That is not realistic nor healthy. I struggle with mental illness so by no means am I trying to imply that people are choosing to be ill! But let's step away from the extremes for a hot second and think about this:

Everyone is going through something. Every person on this planet has their own set of struggles, is going through a rough patch, has something that is causing them distress. My life isn't perfect. I'm never 100% okay. I struggle with mental, physical, emotional, and everyday issues that give me excuse to not smile. But when I take a step back to evaluate things, there's always a way the situation could be worse. And then I smile because I have something to be grateful for. And when I smile, I feel better. When I think about the wonderful things in my life, I am happy.

I can always find something to be happy about and I believe everyone can too.

I'm grateful about so many aspects of my life and every time I think about them, I am happy. I'm happy that I have a great boss. I'm happy when the sun peaks through the clouds. I'm happy when I have food to eat. I'm happy when I discover a new favorite book. I'm happy I have the resources to see (glasses). I'm happy I have the capability to go to school on scholarship. I'm happy there are people in my life who I can laugh with, who I love, who help keep me standing when I cannot carry my own weight. And I'm happy about so. much. more.

When I am happy, I'm able to extend it to others. But it doesn't stop there. When I focus on the bright side, I literally see the people and world around me differently. I'm able to tune in on people and appreciate their special, incredible qualities. I'm able to see all the things that make this world wonderful and then try to expand upon them to make this world a better place. I wouldn't notice these aspects about the people and world around me if I didn't open my mind and attitude to them. By focusing on the good in life, I've managed to change my perspective, my attitude, my thoughts, and my actions so I can continue to spread the good.

I believe happiness and kindness go hand in hand. I believe that anyone can be happy and anyone can show kindness if only we change our perspectives. Happiness stems from gaining perspective on the matters we go through and when we choose to focus on the positive, we are choosing to be happy. When we are happy, we have even more reason and the capability to share the kindness of our hearts with others.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reawakened by Colleen Houck | ARC Review

About the book:

When seventeen-year-old Lilliana Young enters the Metropolitan Museum of Art one morning during spring break, the last thing she expects to find is a live Egyptian prince with godlike powers, who has been reawakened after a thousand years of mummification.

And she really can't imagine being chosen to aid him in an epic quest that will lead them across the globe to find his brothers and complete a grand ceremony that will save mankind.

But fate has taken hold of Lily, and she, along with her sun prince, Amon, must travel to the Valley of the Kings, raise his brothers, and stop an evil, shape-shifting god named Seth from taking over the world.

From New York Times bestselling author Colleen Houck comes an epic adventure about two star-crossed teens who must battle mythical forces and ancient curses on a journey with more twists and turns than the Nile itself.

Publisher: Delacorte Press
Expected Publication Date: August 11, 2015
Pages: 400
Genre: YA Fantasy/Romance/Adventure
Subgenres: Mythology, Magic, Zombies

My Rating: 3 stars

My ARC Review:

To begin, I would like to thank Mary from Delacorte Press for providing me this ARC of Reawakened. Because this is an ARC, some of the aspects I talk about below might not be the same for the copies readers receive after publication.

Fans of Colleen Houck's The Tiger Saga will not be disappointed with this first installment of her new Egyptian mythology series, The Reawakened. Reawakened was packed with intriguing mythology and mystery, exciting travels, an intimate list of characters with diverse traits, and forbidden romance. Overall, I enjoyed the story that was told, but my expectations exceeded the results. It's been three years since I read The Tiger Saga and I think what I look for in a paranormal-adventure-romance story has shifted. I'll go into a little detail below on a few of the aspects I mentioned above, but to anyone who has read Tiger's Curse recently or still adores these types of paranormal-romance-adventures, you will love Reawakened too!

I loved the heart of the mythology and how Houck weaved it into the plot, but it also bogged down the story a little when the beginning of the book (and other sections) were showered with a list of Egyptian gods. From the little I know about Egyptian mythology, it is quite complicated, and I applaud Houck for tackling this subject, but some parts were a little hard for me to grasp with everything else going on. The adventure and setting in New York and Egypt were vivid and some of my favorite parts. The action sequences were written similar to how they were in Houck's original series: like a video game with the characters moving from one room of trials to the next before they faced the big battle. This set up made the plot easy to follow, especially with Houck's strength in setting description, but it made the plot feel too structured for me and I personally wish there had been more spontaneity. 

As for the characters, readers could draw distinct lines of similarity between specific characters in both series, but there was enough differentiation between them to make each character their own. Unlike Kelsey, Lilliana was sarcastic and defiant, but her sarcasm struck me the wrong way. Her words and actions reflected her personality, but I didn't enjoy her snide comments or banter like I have with other sarcastic heroines/heroes. I liked the three Egyptian brothers (not a spoiler) and their interactions with Kelsey. It was a nice dynamic, but one I've seen before so it wasn't a game changer for me. My favorite interactions revolved around little moments Amon and Kelsey shared as Amon tried adjusting to modern-day life.

The most redeeming aspect of Reawakened was the pace. I grew very familiar with our lead heroine and the setting right off the bat. By the end of the first chapter, the mythology was already introduced and from there, the plot continued to steadily build. Despite any divots along the way, Houck's quick writing style allowed me to hop over them and flip through the 400 pages at a decent pace. Reawakened was true to Colleen Houck previous work and I recommend fans of her tigers books to pick this one up too.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fury by Fisher Amelie | Book Review

About the book:

Revenge is an euphoric thing. Trust me on this. Nothing compares to the release you get when you ruin someone’s life. When they’ve stolen important things. Things that didn’t belong to them. Things I revel in making them pay for.

What? Have I offended you? I’m not here to appeal to your delicate senses. I have no intention of placating your wishes or living within your personal belief system nor do I care if you hate me. And you will hate me. Because I’m a brutal, savage, cold-blooded murderer and I’m here for my revenge.

I’m Ethan Moonsong…And this is the story about how I went from the world’s most sacrificing man to the most feared and why I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Publisher: Fisher Amelie
Release Date: May 3, 2015
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Pages: 387

My Rating: 1 star

My Review: To my extreme disappointment, I did not enjoy this book as much as I had hoped.

When I read fiction, I suspend a certain amount of disbelief for the pacing, luck, and small things that help aid the plot, but there were too many elements in this story that when they added up, I was not sold. The blunt of my qualms boiled down to flaws I saw in the characteristics and character development. Each book of this companion series focuses on one of the seven deadly sins, this one being fury/wrath. Two things that were added to enhance Ethan's characteristics while he acted out of fury was his training as a kid and works of God; however, I found his extreme stamina during these states unbelievable because plenty of faithful people (even if they were his size with his skill levels) would not last half as long as Ethan had during the action scenes. For the romance, I did not think there was enough development between the two main characters. Although it is explained in the beginning that they had known each other for a while and actually crushed on each other prior to the book, I was not convinced of their current connection before they began fully expressing their love and need for each other.

On a smaller scale, Fury was the first book of this companion series that was written in dual POV. The dual POV didn't enhance my reading experience; I would have gotten the same information and feelings had it only been written from Ethan's perspective. In addition to the action I mentioned above, I was not convinced of these sequences' outcomes since it was Ethan against many. Lastly, I have a hunch that the similar epilogues in this series are symbolism for a common theme, but after this third installment, it's not quite working for me.

My favorite aspects of the story were the setting and the awareness that was brought to its difficult subjects. Despite my issues with Fury, readers who enjoy heavy romances, dominant love interests, anti-heroes, and action may be interested in picking this up for themselves. At the very least, I fully recommend the first installment of this companion series, Vain, because of its blossoming romance and the fact that the story's subject completely changed how I look at life! I have my original reaction review available to read if you're interested in learning more, just please ignore my blunt of my youth as it truly shows through in the review. I'll get around to rereviewing it at some point. ;)

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Friday, June 5, 2015

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves | Book Review

About the book:

When thirty-year-old English teacher Anna Emerson is offered a job tutoring T.J. Callahan at his family's summer rental in the Maldives, she accepts without hesitation; a working vacation on a tropical island trumps the library any day.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to leave town, not that anyone asked him. He's almost seventeen and if having cancer wasn't bad enough, now he has to spend his first summer in remission with his family - and a stack of overdue assignments -- instead of his friends. 

Anna and T.J. are en route to join T.J.'s family in the Maldives when the pilot of their seaplane suffers a fatal heart attack and crash-lands in the Indian Ocean. Adrift in shark-infested waters, their life jackets keep them afloat until they make it to the shore of an uninhabited island. Now Anna and T.J. just want to survive and they must work together to obtain water, food, fire, and shelter.

Their basic needs might be met but as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.'s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.

Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: August 16, 2012
Pages: 346
Genre: Contemporary Romance

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: I've had this on my kindle for a good two years now and just last week, while I was on a 10 hour flight flying across the Atlantic, my brain decided it was a good idea to read about a plane wreck in the middle of the ocean! Oh, the irony of my own mind.

I went into this read knowing only that it it's a bestselling self-published-turned-traditional-published novel about two people who were stranded on an island. What unfolded was a wonderfully-paced tale with physical, mental, and emotional struggles on a levels I have never experienced. It was like "Cast Away" meets... well, I guess I haven't read a romance like this so I don't have another book to compare it to, but it was a tasteful romance nonetheless.

Despite all the controversy wrapped around the two main characters, Anna and T.J., their relationship was hard-hitting and understandable for the situation they had been dealt. I felt as if I could empathize with them, even though I've never experienced anything close to what they went through. I enjoyed the route the author took with Anna and T.J. as individuals and a couple; from start to finish nothing ever seemed rushed, ill-timed, or out of character so it was still relatable. The pacing of the romance and being able to understand Anna and T.J.'s feelings and motives so well made me love and appreciate the development and strengthening of their relationship. I also appreciated how light the sex scenes were, that even though this book is adult fiction, we were given more of the characters' emotions than their actions. I haven't read a romance with a 13.5 year age gap between the romantic partners, but Tracey Garvis Graves approached this topic with a lot of caution, honesty, balance and humor, which made this reading experience a great one. 

My two negatives about the book deal with T.J.'s voice and the conflicts that arose on the island. In the beginning, T.J.'s voice wasn't very strong and I didn't find him entirely relatable until Anna started seeing T.J. as having matured. I wish he had a stronger voice in the beginning, to accurately represent the depth teenagers possess. Additionally, Anna and T.J. ran into a lot of conflicts on the island, as one would presume, and while most of them were fitting and kept the plot moving smoothly, some of the conflicts seemed a bit too predictable or plotted. For example, Anna was the only one who got hurt by sea creatures, which was a handful of times. With each new incident I thought, what about T.J.? This aspect wasn't a real bother, but I would have thought with how much time they spent on the island that they would both have their share of life threatening events. 

The ending was incredibly satisfying and I only had loving feelings toward the story and its characters. When I started this book, I wasn't sure what to anticipate, but the delivery was delightful. I don't typically finish books thinking, "This would make a great movie" but this is definitely an exception because I think this would translate to film beautifully! I'm looking forward to exploring Tracey Garvis Graves other books, especially the sequel novella to On the Island

If you've read, On the Island, I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

Monday, June 1, 2015

My Italian Adventures! Part One

There's this Italian phrase my study abroad professor said we need to learn and it simply goes like this: "It's Italia!" which roughly means "stuff happens" or "it is what it is". Although this phrase had been stressed on us so we would know to accommodate any influxes in our daily schedules, I didn't realize we would have to apply the concept before we even left the country.

Day 1: Psych!

I'll be honest. This day was a waste. Having already packed the day before (which was also kind of a waste since all I did was slowly pack) my brother drove me to my friend's house where we did nothing until our other friend picked up us and drove us to the airport. We made it through baggage claim and security without any qualms and some Mickey D. Then our 7:50 PM flight to Boston didn't leave for another hour and a half due to the airport delaying us to help and we missed our connection to Rome. It was a ball of stress and frustration as we sat on the plane for basically two hours doing nothing. We got off the plane 15 minutes before our Alitalia flight was supposed to leave, but they wouldn't hold the doors for us so I paced in a circle while the two professors on my trip sorted out our next connection with the lovely Delta employees. Two flights were booked for the following evening, splitting our group of 17 so ten of us would fly directly to Rome and the other seven (myself included) would have a layover in Amsterdam before arriving at our final destination. The remaining hours of the night were spent eating bad Chinese food in our Boston hotel room and allowing it to sink in that we would not be in Rome in 7 hours.

Day 2: Good ol' Italian food... in Boston

The next day we wandered along the Freedom Trail. I enjoyed it quite a bit since the last time I wandered the trail I did it alone. Being with a group who was in the same predicament made it a new experience, but I could still feel that dark cloud hanging over us. We were supposed to be in Rome. We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant in Little Italy, which only added to the disappointment everyone was feeling. We departed from Boston around 8:00 PM and I tried not to worry about whether 1.5 hours was enough time to make it through customs before our connection to Rome. Thankfully, I had the fabulous international flight accommodations (movies and music) to hold me over between naps.

Day 3: Tulips, Vespas, Bodais, and Nutella

Six hours later we landed in Amsterdam where I squealed at the sight of Dutch tulips and wished I could take a tour of the Anne Frank house. My inner Nerdfighter was tempted to make a break for it. The flight over Europe was really interesting, seeing the different landscapes. The shuttle ride from the airport to our hotel was the most fascinating transportation experience I ever had. Driving in Italy is so different than driving in the U.S.! Before we were even out of the airport property our driver narrowly avoided a pedestrian crossing the road and continued on weaving in and out of lanes. Cars here are small. There are no SUVs, Grand Caravans, or trucks. They're all stick shifts, smart cars, Pandas, Volkswagens, vespas, and the like, which contributed to everyone smooshing themselves between other cars. When they change lanes, they don't make immediate shifts but rather drift between lanes for as long as they wish. I cannot recall the use of blinkers and after we started walking around the city I learned there's a specific way you have to cross the streets. If you don't have the go-ahead, you wait until the coast is clear and walk anyway. When you do have the right away or when you need to cross and there isn't a crosswalk sign, you just walk and wait for the other cars to stop because they like to go even when they have red. The crosswalk etiquette took a bit to get used to but within a couple days we were pros.

The hotel was a new experience too. The floor of the lobby isn't known as the first floor because other rooms typically aren't on the same floor. So the first floor doesn't begin until the next flight up stairs. In our first hotel, our room key was also our way of accessing the lights, which was rather weird, but also really convenient because that way you could never lose your room key. The bathrooms had bodais, which we all got a kick out of, and I'm pretty sure you weren't supposed to
throw away toilet paper in the toilets... It was weird to get used to.

First thing we did after settling in was hit up the ATM and grocery store. It took me forever to figure out what food I wanted to purchase because most of their bread products, snack foods, and nonperishable items were things we don't have here, or were entirely different brands that I had to scour the shelves to figure out what each thing was. I ended up getting some bananas, apples, strawberries, bread, peach jam and peanut butter (which was really expensive) for sandwiches, and crackers and a nutella white chocolate spread which was really good. Speaking of fruit, it is incredibly sweet here! Before arriving in Italy I realized I didn't know much about Rome's climate. I was expecting the Mediterranean to be warmer than Michigan climate but cooler than the Carolinas since Rome is sort of parallel to Pennsylvania location wise, so I was surprised to see palm trees and learn that their fruits were really great.

Day 4: All Around the World

Because we had a couple crazy days of traveling, our professor gave us the morning to sleep in (bless her) before heading off on our first big Roman adventure! First place we ventured was Piazza Navona, which is a square lined with shops, one of the oldest churches in Rome, and interesting fountains.

This is also where we were introduced to peddlers. Specifically, Bangladeshi men who were trying to sell us selfie sticks and stupid splat toys. In the beginning, our reactions were "No, grazie" before walking away but after being asked a dozen times within a 30-minute period we either a) ignored them completely or b) bitch-stared them as we walked by. This lasted for the next two weeks so I'm sure you can guess how much we grew to love those guys. Next, we visited the famous Pantheon. Fun facts: the Pantheon is a church and they asked you to be quiet inside, but no one is. Also, it was the first dome shaped ceiling to successfully be standing today due to the hole in the ceiling.

We had lunch outdoors (as we did most days) at a ristorante near the Pantheon. I took a gamble on ordering an "everything" salad without asking what that entailed and ended up with soggy tuna-flavored vegetables. YUM. But I didn't mind. It was a beautiful day spent in freaking Italy and it marked our group's first meal selfie, which became a thing. Just look at those beautiful people! I'll get to them later ;)

Next on our loose schedule was to see the Trevi fountain but we came across Basilica Di S. Lorenzo in Lucina so we stopped to take a look and I'm so happy we did because it was by far my favorite church.

And when we finally made it to the Trevi fountain... it was under construction. Which was kind of a theme you'll see continued during the trip.

I know, such a great selfie of me and the Trevi. But as you can see: construction. On our way back to the hotel we visited the , a church called Santa Marta degil Angeli (where we were kicked out pretty quickly for not having our shoulders and knees covered) and the Baths of Diocletian.

Later, I and three others went to check out some gift shops when my friend spotted a bookstore and I made a mad dash for the loves of my life. It was like I had entered candy land and every time I recognized a book I won a piece of candy.

I tried finding Colleen Hoover's books, but to my disappointment, I didn't manage it. But look at these beauties! My friend Lydia and I were quite proud of ourselves when we managed to translate the John Green book "Citta di Carta" into "Cities of Paper" aka Paper Towns. No biggee.

The day ended with hanging out with the gang and going out for dinner, which I didn't eat because I wasn't hungry for a big meal and had snacks back at the hotel. This (me not eating a lot) became a norm during the trip and I got crap for it every day despite my reassurances that I was a-okay.

Day 5: Just Roming Around... I'll Leave Now

Our days consisted of lots of walking and this day was no different. Rob, one of the guys in our group quickly took over as our fearless leader and human GPS and led us to each location our professor wanted to take us. Of course, Rob had no idea where we were headed but he managed to take us there anyway.

As I learned from my studies, a lot of what Rome is today is historical buildings and monuments standing right next to modern buildings, busy streets, and every day life. Mussolini did this intentionally to create his vision of Rome (grandeur and power of both ancient and modern descent) and he did this by clearing away rubble and buildings too decrepit and/or insignificant for his plans and then rerouting traffic so he could pave direct access to these symbols of power. It's kind of weird because as we would just be walking along what appears to be all businesses and apartments and then we've stumbled across a little piazza with beautiful marble fountains. This is what happened as we were looking for Piazza de Popolo. 

I don't even remember what piazza it was we stumbled across first because like I said, there are quite a few little piazzas in Rome and to be honest, this one didn't hold as much significant as many of the other piazzas we visited. In comparison, Piazza de Popolo had two massive churches, an obelisk in the center, two fountains, and then a series of stairs and roads that led to a beautiful overlook of the piazza and the rest of the city. This happened more than I expected, where I would find one thing marvelous and then be completely floored by the next.

At this point, standing on top of the overlook of Piazza di Popolo, the battery on my camera died because I'm sometimes careless like that so what I didn't document was our visit to Largo di Torre Argentina, also known as the cat sanctuary. Julius Caesar was executed here, but all our group really cared about were the stray cats that made a home there. One of the girls on the trip was absolutely enthralled by this area and bought a shirt with "Gattos di Roma" on it. On our way back to the hotel we traversed through Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, which is where Mussolini announced to the Italian people their declaration of war. The monument of Vittorio Emanuele II and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier face the piazza and our class thought it was brilliant. Fortunately, we revisited the monument later, which I'll post pictures of in a later post.

Now, I don't remember at what point during the trip I was given the nickname, but I soon became known as the Lilo of our group because I enjoy taking candids of intriguing strangers. I took pictures of homeless people (which is very common in Rome), elderly who liked to people watch from their windows, little children playing in puddles... I could never get the angles I wanted to while still being slightly discreet, but they make wonderful memories nonetheless. At least I don't plaster the pictures of strangers all around my room like Lilo. ;) Anyway, since I don't have any pictures of the afternoon, here are some of the strangers I took on the way to Piazza di Popolo.

Day 6: Fascist Tour Muhaha

Our class centered around fascism and Mussolini's affects on Rome so this day was the peak of our studies in Italy. We visited the Foro Italico, previously known as the Foro Mussolini, which is a sports complex made up of track fields, stadiums, Olympic-sized swimming pools, as well as a school.

The following pictures are of statues that circled the track we toured. The statues were gifts from Italian city-states and each depicted a different sport. We started the tour at 9:00 AM and already by this time I was marveling in the beautiful day and the beautiful pictures I was able to capture.

Our tour lasted four hours, but the stuff in the middle didn't make for the greatest pictures so I'll skip to the end, which is where we visited the EUR. This is the business district of Rome and is located outside the city walls. The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, aka the modern day Colosseum, is here along with buildings that now hold offices and congregations. It was a quaint area with wonderful architecture, history and it is not a tourist spot so I'm grateful I had the chance to check it out.

Before this trip I had been powering away at my final projects and papers for my classes that were wrapping up, trapped inside on most days because the weather in my home state is incredibly fickle and April isn't its prime. Going from that to walking miles every day in the sun was quite the change in pace for me and the rest of our group, but all was well because Italy has what they call siestas,  or midday breaks, and we fully utilized most of them for midday naps before going back out on the town. After this particular siesta our group split off and explored. We checked out an Italian McDonald's because we are Americans and #noshame.

No, we did not eat there, but we were surprised to find that some of their menu items are cheaper than ours while others are a lot more expensive. Beef in particular is an expensive meat in Italy. I guess cows aren't their thing.

One of the guys on our trip has a friend who lives in Italy and whose family own's a restaurant so that night we went to his family's restaurant where I ate incredible pasta. I would insert a picture now of the food, but I didn't realize until just now that it's rather blurry so I'll just leave you with our meal selfie. Until next time... prego!