Friday, March 21, 2014

Book List: 2014 January & February Edition

I've been something of a reading fiend this year, already. If I'm honest, I've been going through some challenging personal things, and though I'm always attached to some book or another, I read more when I have things I need to figure out. There is just something about being in a fantasy world that relieves a lot of stress and takes the pressure off for awhile. So, here's what I've been reading:

1. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon; Well, I loved this novel. I loved it so much that I'm busy devouring the series. Please don't mind me as I hide in my apartment for the next few months. OK, it's not *quite* that bad but I am definitely hiding in Starbucks and staying up late to read these novels.

2. American Savage, Dan Savage; I feel kinda bad saying this, but I don't like this one. I mean, nothing is wrong with it. I generally agree with most things Dan Savage says, but I bought this book after watching a lot of Dan Savage YouTube videos, and well, it's the same stuff. It's worth a read if you haven't really read or watched Dan Savage before {he's a sex advice columnist with some interesting opinions on sex and monogamy}, but there wasn't anything prolific inhere. Check it out from the library.

3. Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon; The first novel in this series follows Jamie and Claire. This one follows Claire who is looking for evidence of people she knew at the time she came back from the past, and to a much lesser extent, her daughter Brianna. She discovers that Jamie survived the battle at Culloden, and goes back to find him. We're privy to the details of the search, the marriage Claire had with Frank, and  Claire's final decision to go find her love. A wonderful sequel!

4. Voyager, Diana Gabaldon; Out of the four novels I have read in this series, this is my least favorite. Claire goes back to find Jamie, and they end up sailing all over the place, getting caught up in smuggling and other sketchy ventures, witchcraft in Jamaica, etc. I still loved the characters, it was still a fast-paced novel, but it seemed out-of-place for some reason. Jamie is such an earthy figure that it seemed really odd for him to be sailing around and running into trouble. I enjoyed the next book much more.

5. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin; I reviewed this book here, and I wasn't sold. It had some nice ideas, but I thought the author was whiny.

6. The First Sinners, Kate Pearce; Just a run-of-the-mill erotic novel. This one is the prequel to a new series by Kate Pearce called The Sinners Club. Based on this book, the series should be interesting, though this particular novel didn't have a lot in the way of plot.

7. Sleeping in Paris, Juliette Sobanet; Where to begin? The idea behind this novel was great: an American moves to Paris and starts a new life after she finds out her fiance is cheating. I don't like the main character's attitude towards men, but I think that's part of the growth of this character and there are the requisite happy endings by the conclusion of the novel.

8.  Weak at the Knees, Jo Kessel; I had mixed feelings about this one, and most of them are due to the attitude of the main character and infidelity. You can read my review here.

9. The Shoemaker's Wife; Adriana Trigiani; Oh, how I adored this book! It is everything I love in a historical fiction novel: well-written, great characters, a sentimental story. Yes, it has it all! We follow two characters who originally meet when they are young in Italy, but independently emigrate to the United States. It's a rich, complicated story that made it tough to put down. I definitely recommend this novel.

10. The White Princess; Philippa Gregory; Honestly? This one wasn't her best work. The story line works, but I felt myself growing annoyed with the characters. It reminds me of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenox.  You know how everyone grew impatient with it because Harry was angsty and whiny all the time? Yeah, that was my issue with this book, as well.

11. One Night For Love; Mary Balough; Before I read this novel, I read it's sequel, A Summer to Remember. Both are great {even the second one can stand alone} and follow the usual historical romance plotline: lost love, someone wants to marry someone who is not their social equal, etc. Both novels are cute and easy to read. Solid choices if you read historical romance.

12. The Magpie Lord; KJ Charles; This is one of those novels that combines a whole lot of things into one. There's historical romance and fantasy {witchcraft and magic and the like} and intrigue and mystery. It moves pretty quickly {I read it in a day} and there are a few surprises along the way which keeps things interesting. A word of warning: this is a m/m novel, meaning that the pairing is of two men. So, skip it if that's not your thing.

13. 1984; George Orwell: Believe it or not, I did not have to read this in high school, and we didn't even touch it in my Science Fiction Literature class in college. Weird, I know. A lot of folks herald this as a prolific, well-written novel. I don't necessarily think it was an excellent novel, but I do think it is a powerful essay on information control and trusting our government. I happen to live somewhere that the media is state-owned, and you can definitely see the difference in the way information is disseminated. There is also a stark difference in how people regard the government and the things I know about their country that they simply do not.

14. Drums in Autumn; Diana Gabaldon: I loved this one! Claire and Jamie have settled in the new world and try to decide whether to stay with Jamie's aunt on her plantation or to start their own homestead with tenant farmers. They end up choosing the later and we follow their progress on that front. In a {sort of} parallel timeline, Claire's daughter, Brianna, travels into the past to find her mother. She is followed by her beau, Roger. This eventually creates a big mess, and the plot line gets very exciting. It was worth the last novel to get to this one. Jamie is back in nature, and it's really fun to watch how the characters progress.

So, what have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shanghai: Tea at the Roosevelt

One of the perks of knowing people around the world is that when I visit various places, I get to see my friends. And, often, they have great perspective on good things to do. So, when I went to Shanghai, I met up with a friend of mine who used to live in Tianjin. The plan was to go find an old Jewish Synagogue {Shanghai has an old Jewish quarter as it turns out}. But, then, I called the museum, found no one who spoke English until  they passed the phone around and someone said, "not open today, come Friday." This is normal for China {things close all the time for no discernible reason, with no advanced notice}, but then we were stuck. What to do?

My friend had always wanted to go to the old Roosevelt Hotel for high tea, and so we walked over there from the Bund, made a reservation, and then went to grab lunch. At 2pm we came back, and were escorted to a gorgeous patio with two glass rooms over looking the skyline across the river. How awesome is that view?

There were cute little cakes, delicious sandwiches, macaroons, and endless {good} coffee. Of course, the company was the best part. We munched on our treats all afternoon, chatting and staring at that gorgeous skyline. I could get used to this!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shanghai: Night Eats

Ever since my trip to Bangkok, I have adored food tours. We ate some of the most delicious food that I never would have found otherwise, and so when I planned my trip to Shanghai, I knew I had to take one. I ended up choosing UnTour, a company run by bi-lingual expats who have combed the city for all kinds of delicious fare. They have a lot of tour options, but I was there during Spring Festival which limited my choices a bit. Big cities like Shanghai and Beijing clear out for about two weeks because everyone goes back home to their families. So, some restaurants and vendors were closed and UnTours didn't run tours for a few days.

I had to wait until my very last night to go on the tour, but it was quite worth the wait. We walked through parts of Shanghai I never would have known about as a visitor, and I ate some of the most delicious food I've had since coming to China {that's saying something. I love Chinese food}.

 In China, things tend to group themselves on streets, so you might have electronics street, or eyeglasses street, or linens street. We started at the seafood street, and boy, was it good. All of the restaurants were holes-in-the-wall, but the service was friendly, and the food was delicious. On the menu were spicy crawfish {Lousiana, y'all have a few things to learn}, garlic grilled eggplant {to-die-for}, and scallops cooked on a clam shell, also smothered in garlic. Delicious!

Then we walked through some of the older parts of the city to reach a street where there were several Muslim noodle places {a common scene everywhere in China}, stinky tofu stands {I didn't try it. That is a line I draw}, and lots of stir fry street food. This food was more familiar to me, but still delicious, and it was cool to watch the noodle restaurant guy hand pull the noodles.

I loved how knowledgeable our tour guide was, and how Untours gave a lot of information on what to do and where to go in Shanghai. It felt like I was chatting with a friend the whole time, not on a paid tour. If you ever find yourself in this wonderful city, please look up Untours. You won't be sorry!

*Disclosure: I wasn't paid or given anything in compensation for this review. I just really loved this tour and I like to spread the word to fellow travelers about great things to do in China.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

FIVE on Friday

I'm really excited to jump on the FIVE on Friday bandwagon. Sometimes I have little ideas or things happen that I want to blog about, but don't have enough for an ENTIRE post. Plus, isn't it great to talk about the little things from time to time? I think so.

I made this thai chicken curry soup for dinner this week. It was pretty fabulous, super easy, and the ingredients are very accessible if you know your way around the Asian market {or aisle}.

I've been sending a lot of money back to the States recently to start saving for a few pretty big goals. I'll talk more about it as it begins to take shape, but I have been bitten by the travel bug {and, um, the Scotland bug, thanks Outlander} and I'll need money to feed it.

Speaking of travel, for the first time ever, I've decided to book a getaway for my birthday. I live in a huge and gorgeous country, and travel within it is pretty cheap. So, you can look forward to a few fun posts around May or so.

AND, also speaking of travel, I get to be home soon! I'll be in the States for a dear friend's wedding, and I cannot wait to catch up with the family, meet some new babies {goodness y'all, give it a rest!}, and eat some great Tex Mex.

A little closer to "home," I'm preparing for my upcoming move by crossing things off my Tianjin and Beijing Bucket Lists and purging all sorts of unnecessary things from my apartment. This is, thankfully, fairly easy as all of the furniture in my apartment belongs to my landlord. So, a big clothing/household goods box will be up for grabs for my Tianjin friends, but no need to figure out how to move the couch!

What are five things happening in your life these days?