Thoughts From Backpacking: Vatican City

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

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This is the account of my day in the Vatican City in May 2016!

Are you saying you wouldn't have been curious as
to what he was looking at?
The very first thing I did when I got off the metro to the Vatican was to follow the crowd in the hopes that they lead me to the Vatican Museum. They did, of course, but before I got there I made a spontaneous pit stop. I was walking down a street I saw a statue of a Knight that was holding flyers, one of the flyers said Harry Potter. I stopped dead, scaring the people behind me, and didn't even think about it. I just went through the doors and down a passage that led me to a statue of a wizard announcing the Storia e Magia. Honesty, it is probably dangerous how I will just follow things randomly if they relate to Harry Potter. The store was great and dark and magical. It was expensive though because of how almost everything was from the Noble Collection! There was so much cool things, including HP and LOTR and fairies and journals! It was amazing! I want to go back one day!

I left before I could spend my entire budget and followed the crowd. At one point I did ask for directions and was informed that the line into the Museum was just stupidly long. Oh gosh it was at this point as I was walking that I was corralled by SEVERAL pushy Italian men trying to get me to go with them to “Skip the Line.” But then I found an actual shop that sold passes to skip the line and I googled up and down and realized it was in fact legit so I payed the 17 Euro, I skipped the line and it was so worth it.

My long lasting general impression of the Musei Vaticani is that it was a never ending rush of humanity following signs that promised that the Chappella Sistina was that way, but seemingly never actually getting to the promised Chapel. I was there for weeks following the people and the signs. I traveled an entire country trying to find that Chapel and while it was incredibly worth it, it was also slightly ridiculous to be lied to by signs for that long and still follow them.

Laocoön and His Sons!
The musei itself was huge and imposing, filled with so many people that you went with the crowd or you got trampled. But I managed to break away several times and found treasures when I did like a Van Gogh in a little chamber no one else was in and a room of animal statues and a mosaic floor! It was here that I found out that a lot of sarcophagus look like ancient tubs (for instance Priscus's was totally a tub, you can't tell me other wise)! Oh and somehow in my research I forgot that one of my favorite sculptures was in these museums, Laocoön and His Sons which was a delight to see in person! But mostly the Museums had a lot of statues and a lot of stunning ceiling paintings and after a while they all blend into one giant thing that makes my head spin.

The Sistine was, of course, stunning but a little disorienting as you have to crane your neck to look at Michelangelo’s ceiling, which looked a little 3D and that freaked me out because HOW!? From there I once again became just a small part of a sea of humanity following signs that said “Uscita” trying to for the love of goodness get the heck outta there.

I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to go back to Rome and back to my hostel but I couldn't very well leave the Vatican City without seeing St. Peter's Basilica! So I made my way over to the famous Church! Originally, my plan was to go to a Papal Audience that morning but I had trouble with faxing the invite request so that didn't end up happening. The Square was still set up from the Audience that morning but luckily the line into the Basilica was short as it was later in the day.

You thought I was joking about those skulls didn't you?
My first impression when I walked into St. Peter's Basilica was entirely inappropriate. Yes, upon walking into one of the most holiest place in the Christian World, I said aloud, “HOLY HELL!” Because I clearly have no class when startled. Luckily the Nuns behind me were very kind, and after laughing at me one whispered, “I thought the same thing the first time I walked in!” I quickly ran away to a basin of Holy Water and vaguely crossed myself because it seemed like the least I could do to make up for my mouth. I am completely uncomfortable in any type of Church and this was no exception. Mostly I was just confused and alarmed. Alarmed that there were actual dead Popes in caskets, confused by the strange lighting, alarmed at the random, graphic skulls and ugly baby angels, and once again confused by the sheer amount of different styles in Architecture. Seeing the Basilica was a bit of a roller coaster and there was so much to see that in my tired, near delirious from hunger state that it is mostly just a blur.

Overall, it is possible to do the entire country of the Vatican in one day, but I don't recommend it because it makes you weird by the end of the day. The Vatican Museums were extraordinary though! And the Basilica is everything I thought it was going to be and maybe even a bit more. I ended my day by hanging out it the Square, on the phone with my dad, watching little kids chase gulls that were almost as big as they were. It was there that I realized while I was very far from home some things, like kids chasing birds were universal.

~Laura!

Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Thursday, May 31, 2018

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Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer


Release Date: April 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Type: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Pages: 400
Other Titles in the Series: More Than We Can Tell (#2)

Summary: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope. Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past. When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.










My Review:
Holy crap! This book blew my mind. I stayed up late to read the last two thirds of the book. I haven't done that in ages.

Let me back track. Brigid Kemmerer was at TBF, but somehow in all my research I didn't realize I wanted to read her books. I noticed her book at the Barnes and Noble they set up in the gym and I bought it. When I went up to meet her and get it signed I embarrassed myself. Because, of course I did. She thanked me for getting the book and I fumbled and said I hadn't read it yet, but wanted to because I like letters. She handled the situation way better than I did. But I am so sad that I hadn't read it beforehand because I would have loved to have told her in person how much I absolutely loved it!

This was a fantastic story. I normally don't like contemporary fiction but the premise of this drew me in. This was so real, I felt like I knew Juliet and Declan, like I went to school with them. It was convincing, it left me thinking, it was so normal, but extraordinary at the same time. I don't know, you could read the book and not be blown away. You will probably not cry buckets and buckets and swear at the characters for being idiots. But I did. I did those things because the depth of the writing demanded it of me. This is very character driven. The pain of these two kids pulls you in and the suspense of their letters holds you on the edge of your seat so you can't stop reading even if you tried. I loved them both so much and I can't wait to read the story of Declan's best friend Rev.


~Laura!

Thoughts From Backpacking: Rome, Italy

Sunday, May 27, 2018

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This is an account of the first leg of my huge backpacking trip!

I chose to start my backpacking trip to Europe in Rome for a lot of reasons but honestly the biggest reason is because I wanted to avoid going to Italy in June. Thus I spent 5 days there at the end of May and let me tell you it was still too freakin hot.

I only had 34 days in Europe so why did I spend 5 of them in Italy? In the words of Hillary Duff, “Why Not?” I felt like Rome was one of those quintessential places that one has to see when in Europe and I knew I would regret it if I didn't add it to my list.

My first day in Italy I actually left and went to the Vatican City, but that is a story for another post. As for my first day in Rome I did a lot of touristy things and tried not to melt in the never ceasing sun. Okay so I knew the line at the Colosseum and Palatine Hill were going to be stupidly long because I researched it. That research told me to go to the Forum first and buy tickets there, saved at least an hour of standing in line doing it that way.
A view of the Forum from above!
 I went to the Forum because of the Temple of the Vestal Virgins which plays a big part in my favorite book 13 Little Blue Envelopes. First thing you need to know is that all ruins look basically the same which is why I wandered endlessly back and forth for HOURS looking for something that I actually passed 8 times. I want to write a post about how I did as much as I could of Ginny's journey in 13 Little Blue Envelopes so instead of writing about the Virgins I'll tell you about what else I did at the Forum and on the Hill. Since I had spent hours looking at the ruins I figured I would rest and spend some time just soaking in my surroundings. I sat under an olive tree (I knew it was an olive tree only because some guide kept yelling about them) and watched the people around me. I also started to collect plants and tape them into my journal, like a poppy and a daisy.

I had to do it, I couldn't resist!
After getting completely lost trying to leave the ruins I was ready to call it a day and go back to my hostel because I do not to well in the sun and by that point I had had more sun than I had my entire life, but I couldn't because I hadn't been to the Colosseum. I couldn’t go to ROME and not see the COLOSSEUM. I took it extremely slowly and gained bits and pieces of its history by eavesdropping on several different tours. My dad loves the Colosseum so I made sure I got a ton of photos from the inside for him. You aren't allowed to go down to the floor but you can see it which is cool.

My second day in Rome was spent walking the city with Stefano from New Rome Free Tour and a nice group of people. The tour was wonderful, especially Stefano who was a great guide! His two stand out features were being incredibly knowledgeable and was a fan of SHADE! The tour started at the Spanish Steps (which were under construction at the time), went to some churches, to the Pantheon, and ended at the Trevi Fountain (which had a million people there). He took us on a winding path down a lot of tiny alleys and I loved that because it felt authentic. Stefano was great and took that theme of authenticity to heart and taught his tour how to be a proper Roman by showing us how to use one of the many fountains around the city. IT IS A SECRET THOUGH. I promised I wouldn't tell, but let me tell you that I was spoiled with those fountains. They are revolutionary and every city in the world needs to follow suit.
I really liked Trevi Fountain, but jeez the crowds!

Day three found me dying with a cold but with a MISSION to do some shopping! I had a few things that I wanted to get from each city: postcards, coins, Harry Potter books, smashed pennies, and patches! Success for all of them! I enjoyed having no real goal other than seeing what there was to see and of course that brought me into some odd situations. Like sketchy grocery shop owners and scammers trying to put bracelets on me and giving me random elephants. I will never understand street scammers. I loved the bracelet though it had a sea turtle and the elephant would have looked great on my shelf, but I know their game. They aren't being nice, they want your money and I did not have any to spare!

Picture it: Rome, my last day there, me in some random park CRYING because I was so lost. I just wanted to go to the art gallery but instead I got lost in a sea of trees. I am so bad at navigating parks. I was so tired and so hot that I gave up on Rome. I went back to my hostel, grabbed my pack, and headed to the main train station to rest for a while before my train to Vienna where I would catch another train to Prague!

My general memories of Rome are warm, both because I was always sweating and because of the colors of everything. Rome wasn't one of my favorite cities but I would go back again, but in the winter. I never want to feel the boiling hot sun of Rome again. I still want to see the Capitoline Museum, the Capuchin Bone Crypt, the Appian Way, the National Gallery of Modern Art and the Cimitero Acattolico! 

(I know, there should be a lot more to this account right? Like the food I ate, where I stayed, the amazing people I met, and how I got around! No worries those are all going to be rounded together in blog posts of their own!!)
~Laura!

Thoughts from Places: My Fourth Teen Book Festival in Rochester!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

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This was my fourth time going to Rochester's Teen Book Festival! This amazing event that brings authors and readers together from all over the country is pretty unique! First of all it is free, which is amazing. Teens all over fund raise to keep it that way all year long and it makes it so incredibly special. Another reason it is so special was Stephanie Squicciarini, the founder of TBF. She passed away earlier this year and is truly missed, but I think everyone could feel her there though. She put so much time and effort into making the festival as amazing as it is. She put everything she had into it and would do some really crazy things to raise funds (my favorites were dying her hair into a rainbow of colors and wearing a prom dress)! This year during the opening ceremony they did a wonderful 13 second cheer to honor her and the 13th TBF and I have got to be honest I was pretty much sobbing while I yelled my heart out. I had met her a couple times in passing throughout the years. I remember thanking her once for creating such fantastic event and she was so happy to hear that I enjoyed it. Stephanie was a truly remarkable woman and I hope TBF goes on in her memory for many, many years to come.


This year I was incredibly excited to go with two TBF newbies! I went with my friends, Allison and Katie. Rochester is a couple hours away from us so we had to leave pretty much at dawn to get there and had a great ride catching up (we've not seen each other in a while) and singing to Disney songs!
The Authors show off their fan made capes!

Most of the big events at TBF take place in the Nazareth College's Gym, including the opening ceremony with the annual game show hosted by Charles Benoit, most of the signings, the door prizes, TBF Shop, and the books that BN sells! This year all the authors had handmade TBF capes and played two facts and a fiction (which for some reason was really hard for them)! It's a great way to kick off the day!

One of the other great things that makes TBF special is that teens are 100% the focus. Teens volunteer during it, make the designs for the t-shirts and the program, have their own panel of teen authors, and most importantly they have priority seating at the panels! Usually every year there is at least one of my favorite Young Adult authors that I must meet. This year was different as it was Allison's favorite, Tamora Pierce, that we were determined to make seeing her panel with Bruce Coville a priority. So that was our first stop after the game show, but we couldn't get in as there were so many teens! Which is of course a great problem to have at a teen festival!

Roshani Chokshi and Claire Legrand during
their panel in the Chapel!
We decided that we would try again for Tammy and Bruce's next panel and went to see Roshani Chokshi and Claire Legrand! I am so glad we did because the two of them were hilarious! They were fantastic together and I truly believe that they should write a book together because it would be the funniest and creepiest thing I have ever read. Both authors talked about ideas for books that they have had that are horrible and honestly I think it made everyone feel better, because not every idea is good. They chatted about Hogwarts houses and their patronuses (Roshani is pure Slytherin with a shrew and Claire is a RavenPuff like me with an ocelot)! At one point, Roshani mentioned that her daemon would be a crow because she once almost fell off a cliff looking at a shiny shell! I also loved their advice about writing: finishing a story is the hardest thing so find the stamina to just see everything to the end and then decide how you feel about it!

By the end of that first session the three of us were starving so we headed out to see what food trucks had come! Katie and I had great poutine and Allison had some pretty good burgers! Once fed, we made our way back to see if we could get into the Tamora Pierce and Bruce Coville panel and this time we were lucky enough to be able to sit on the floor on the side of the room! Tamora and Bruce are best friends and critique partners and you can tell! They are amazing together! Allison has been telling me for years that I need to read one of Tammy's books and when I finally did in preparation for TBF I was so glad I did (I read Alanna, by the way)! Allison has every right to tell me “I told you so” because Tamora is beyond words. She is in her 60s and her health isn't the greatest but oh my gosh does that woman have spirit! She is hilarious and her friendship with Bruce is fabulous. At one point she warned a reader, “don't start with him. He will challenge you to a duel” over the proper color of a unicorn (white, obviously). They are both such characters themselves that it is no wonder that scores of people around the Globe absolutely adore them and their books! They, too, gave brilliant advice, such as always drawing a map of your setting no matter how big or small, get a partner that is honestly straight with you, and when you are stuck for an idea go back to those obsessions you had as a kid because your brain was obviously doing research when you didn't even realize it!
Bruce Coville and Tamora Pierce during their
talk! 

After experiencing Tamora and Bruce, the three of us headed to a different building to hear Jennifer Castle speak. All day I had been telling Katie and Allison about how much I enjoyed her book, Together at Midnight! After hearing her talk about it and how it is about random acts of kindness they both were sold on reading it which made me so happy! Jennifer told us about how she has a key word that sums up each of her novels and how she is always thinking about “What if” to think of plots.

Then it was the big moment! The time for meeting the authors and getting autographs. After 4 festivals I have mastered how to maximize the Authors I am able to meet and the key is having a friend with you. One of you stands in the longest line while the other goes into shorter lines and then you switch! I also do not own books for all the authors I want to meet as I read a lot of books from the library, but I always have something for them to sign! A little known fact of TBF is that their website has downloadable posters of the authors that can be printed! I always do this and all the authors are always so surprised and excited! Authors I met this year include (asterisk indicates book signed instead of poster) :

Margaret Peterson Haddix signs my copy of
The Palace of Mirrors!
Jennifer Castle*
Roshani Chokshi
Bruce Coville
Margaret Peterson Haddix*
Rachel Hartman
Justina Ireland
Brigid Kemmerer*
Brendan Kiely
Alisa Kwitney
Claire Legrand*
Taran Matharu
Dana Mele
Tamora Pierce*

A question I often get is what I talk to the authors about! Well, usually I start off my telling them that it is an honor to meet them. I never forget how lucky I am to be able to have such a cool and unique experience. Before they sign or sometimes during I tell them about bits and pieces of their books that I loved! I told Claire Legrand how much I loved her ghosts in The Year of Shadows and how original they were! I mentioned to Roshani Chokshi that I loved that she mixed Hindu Mythology with Hades and Persephone legends in The Star-Touched Queen! And to Jennifer Castle, I started to cry because of how much I loved how well she wrote about kindness in her novel, Together at Midnight!
Allison and Katie meeting Tamora Pierce!
I think my favorite part of the day though was seeing Allison interact with her heroine, Tamora Pierce! I was so excited and happy for her that I almost couldn't contain it! In fact I basically didn't, as I think I talked to Tammy more about how excited about Allison talking to her than I said how much I was glad to meet her!

Teen Book Festival in Rochester is without a doubt the best book event in the World. Everyone who has been agrees. I am fortunate that I live so close and am able to go so often! I completely recommend going! Keep an eye out on my Signings page for more in depth descriptions of meeting the authors listed above as well as more photos of me with them!! They will be posted shortly!


~Laura!

Coming Soon to BWE!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

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As you may of may not have noticed, I have been posting almost every week this year. I've taken a couple breaks, but mostly this has been my most productive year yet on Bookworm Extraordinaire! Why? I have no idea. Maybe because I am more organized? Maybe because I have no longer boxed myself in to just reviews? Maybe because it is fun again? Who knows! But what I do know is that within the next few months I have a lot of great posts planned!

Here's a sneak peek:


  • To celebrate two years (!!) since I went solo backpacking in Europe I figured I should probably finally write about my amazing and life changing experiences! 
  • I have plans to see a lot of musicals and plays this year and I would love to write about my experiences seeing those!
  • I have also enjoyed writing blog posts about various topics like penpaling and journaling and I hope to write more about things like that!
  • Including looks into my own journal, tips on how I continue to write every day, and what you can write about (a surprising number of people ask me about how I keep filling journal after journal)!
  • Next week I will be posting about my 4th Teen Book Festival!
  • I have a couple trips coming up this year that I can't wait to tell you about!
  • I am in the process of reorganizing my library which means I will have a couple posts on how I like to keep my books and a look on my shelves!
  • I want to continue my series of posts on Wanderlust Fuel and Book Hunting Adventures!
  • I have been to so many amazing museums and galleries around the world and I really want to put some spotlights on those!
  • And of course many more books I would like to review!

I hope you all are as excited about what's upcoming on BWE! I know I sure am! Do you have a topic you'd like me to write about? A book you'd like me to review? Or any questions about anything at all? Don't hesitate to contact me through BWE's Facebook Page!! 

~Laura!

Some Thoughts on National Geographic Live with Ami Vitale!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

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I'm not sure I can explain to you the overwhelming excitement I felt when I found out that one of my favorite photographers, Ami Vitale was coming to Buffalo! No one ever comes here so it was a huge surprise! There was no way I was missing it, especially since it was at Kleinhans!

Ami gave a talk on Rhinos, Rickshaws, and Revolutions. If you are a fan of National Geographic you may have seen her recent photos of the passing of Sudan. He was the last male of his species, the Northern White Rhino. Ami told us about how she had done a story on Sudan and his daughters were being moved from the Czech Republic to Kenya and that she had grown close to their keepers. Close enough that when Sudan became too old for him to have a good quality of life and his keepers made the hard decision to put him down they had Ami come to Kenya to say good bye. If that doesn't tell you how special a soul Ami is then I'm not sure what will.

Ami dropped everything secure in her life to become a photo journalist so that she could bring stories to the World. She spent a decade covering conflicts that most people have forgotten, such as Kosovo and Cashmir. She made such strong connections there and through her photos brought those connections to the rest of the World. She has the ability to empower and amplify voices of the individuals like no other photographer I have seen.

But at one point, enough was enough, Ami couldn't be around war anymore. She wanted to take a break from everything, but then she was offered to do story about trees. And that opened her up to nature and wildlife conservation photography, which is my favorite. She got to go to China and observe how scientists there choose which babies should stay in captivity and which should be trained to go into the wild! She even had to wear a panda suit. Ami, once again, showed how special she is because of how she photographed one of the Pandas going into the wild for the first time: she donned a special camouflage suit that made her look like a bush while no other journalist thought to take Hope's feelings into account. Ami did and was rewarded by Papa Panda! She got to hold not one but two baby pandas. A dream come true for most people. (Obama only got to hold one if that tells you anything!!)
Ami Vitale and I!

I could go on and on about Ami's talk, (I took a copious amount of notes) which will stay in my heart and mind for a very long time, but I don't want to spoil too much in case one day you are lucky enough to hear her speak as well! I wholly encourage you to try to! And she has a book on her experience with the pandas coming out next month! You can pre-order Panda Love: The Secret Lives of Pandas by Ami Vitale at any of your favorite booksellers!!

Oh and not only was I able to hear her speak about her long and amazing career I was lucky enough to meet her after! I was a bundle of nerves, but I didn't make a fool of myself! In fact, even she agreed that we were kind of sharing a wave length! I couldn't help but mention how my work mirrors hers in a way I didn't realize until hearing her speech! She is frequently in the company of people who live their lives in service of orphaned wildlife, which is what I do in my rehabilitation work. And she told a story about how while at the World's Largest Camel Fair people would take photos of locals without even asking their names or even for something as simple as permission! This hit home with me because of my own photography project on Instagram called The Name of Strangers, where I do just the opposite of those tourists, I purposely go up to strangers and ask them their names, ask them the stories behind their names and ask if I may take their portrait! I was honored that Ami loved the idea and took one of my business cards. Having a World renowned National Geographic Explorer and Photographer think my idea is a good one means so much I cannot even begin to tell you!

The takeaway for me from meeting Ami was about how empathy is the most important thing individuals can use to make the world they want to live in, remembering to see the whole picture and look past the doom and gloom headlines because inevitably there will be something or someone who warms your heart just behind it!  

~Laura!

The Phantom and the Victorian Tea!

Monday, May 7, 2018

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This weekend it was finally warm in Buffalo so my mom and I had some great stuff planned!  I love the first few warm spring like weekend because everyone comes out in droves! It's nice to finally see people again after a long, hard winter!

My mom and I have made it our new Mothers Day tradition to go to dinner and see a musical at Shea's every May. Last year we saw Wicked and this year it was the Phantom of the Opera. I remember my mom listening to the original cast soundtrack a lot when I was little, but I didn't remember anything about the musical except that when my Aunt saw it in Toronto the chandelier swung. It was VERY important to us that this lighting fixture moved. 

I always take a photo of my playbill in front
of the stage before it starts. 
And it did not disappoint! I think that the Phantom was the best production I have yet to see at Shea's! It had everything! Amazing sets, stunning costumes, brilliant actors, and astounding singing of course (and don't get me started on how cool the chandelier was)! I'm going to have the main theme in my head for weeks I'm sure. And just being at Shea's makes one feel *fancier* I think.  Shea's was opened in 1926 and the interior was designed by the famed Louis Comfort Tiffany (yeah, the lamp guy) and is based off of a combo of Rococo and European Baroque styles. It is truly gorgeous inside. No matter how many times I go I am always finding new details in the decor! And it always vaguely smells like those addicting cinnamon roasted nuts they sell which is just an awesome added bonus. 

Our table was definitely the prettiest! 
The next day we were also invited to a proper Ladies Victorian Tea as a fundraiser for my uncle's church! It was spectacular! It all seemed very old fashioned! My mom and I dressed in our very best with fancy hats included! I wore a lace light blue dress with a sun hat that's underside and brim had a pretty blue fabric with pink flowers on it! There were 400 diverse, amazing, beautiful women there all dressed to the nines. Each table (about 40, I think) had their own hostesses that decided on everything from the place settings, favors, tea sets, and most importantly their table's food. Every table was great but our table was obviously the best as my Aunt and cousin did a wonderful job! I have never had those tiny cucumber sandwiches before and they were surprisingly tasty. It was as if we were playing tea party for real, we even had a fancy waiter (also known as my uncle, haha)! It was a really special event that I am so glad I got to go to! 

The first weekend of May and of good weather was a whole hearted success! I'm so glad that it is nice out again! 

~Laura!

On Hostels

Monday, April 30, 2018

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Recently I was asked about hostels and I thought it would be a good blog topic!

The first time I stayed in a hostel was in Rome during my backpacking trip in 2016. I stayed in hostels the entire time I was in Europe because I was on a budget. Hostels are the only reason I could afford going abroad for 6 weeks.

Hostels are fabulous for solo travellers because they are cheap, you meet a lot of likeminded people, and they are a great resource for things to do while you are wherever you are! But how are you supposed to choose which one? I have become a pro at hostels.

The first thing I look for is which is the cheapest hostel in the area I would like to stay in. Now, the price depends on which kind of dorm you want to stay in. I do not mind mixed dorms because they are usually cheaper, but if the female only dorm isn't too much more I choose that (mostly because I have found that guys snore way louder than girls). Size of the dorm is also a factor on the price. The largest dorm I have stayed in was a mixed 36 bed dorm in Prague (the Czech Inn. Ha, get it?) and the smallest is usually 4 beds. I've stayed in a few of those and they are pretty nice. But that 36 bed wasn't awful! It was a huge room, but had wall dividers and had 4 to 6 beds in each so it seemed smaller. (An unimportant, but amusing side note on the Czech Inn: the guy that checked me in looked like a young Orlando Bloom so it has that going for it too). I also always try to find the right hostel in a centrally located area. It doesn't always work out though so I try to make sure I can access public transport easily as well.

While in Europe the second big thing I looked for was 24 hour reception, security, and luggage storage as my arrival and departure times were so wonky. I needed to be able to check in late and needed to leave my pack some place safe on my last day in whatever city before I left. (Oh be sure to bring a lock! Try to make it TSA approved so you can also use it on your luggage! I used it a lot on lockers. I also brought a bike chain cause I'm nuts. When my pack didn't fit I would lock it to my bed. Honestly, though no one wants your dirty underwear. Just don't keep important crap in there and you'll probably be fine!)

The third thing that I had no idea to look for when I first booked all those hostels for Europe, 8 in all, was a booklight under the listed facilities. I noticed that every hostel that had a booklight usually had plugs for each bed. Plugs are so important. But remember to look under the facilities listed for things you may prioritize, too, like towels or breakfast. I also email the hostel beforehand to ask them if they assign specific beds. I do this because I am horrible with top bunks because hostels always have bunk beds, it's like a rule and if they do I ask for a bottom one. I've never been denied if they are assignable. Sometimes they are first come first serve and then I just have to pray.

Finding hostels in major European cities is easy! Finding them here in the USA has been a little tricky. They just aren't as big here. I've stayed in only 2 here so far, one in Boston and one in NYC. Finding the NYC one particularly difficult because a lot of them do not allow New York State residents which is obnoxious. Before booking a hostel you should always look to see if they have restrictions such as residency or age. I don't know what I'm gonna do when I'm older and travel. Cry probably.

Oh and always read the reviews! They are always helpful. Although take some of them with a grain of salt as people complain about the silliest and most minor things. Sometimes a hostel can look fantastic and then you read the reviews and you run away. A lot of the time with those complaints listed the hostel will reply with an apology. I think that sometimes cancels out most of the bad review because obviously if they are really paying attention to their reviews logic says they probably would have tried to help if the complaint was lodged in person instead of in a passive aggressive review weeks later.  (Oh by the way, I always use hostelworld.com. I'm not like a paid sooner or anything I just like their site).

Told you my Scottish Hostel felt like
a castle! This is a mural painted in a
staircase! 
Only once have I felt unsafe in a hostel (here's looking at you Birmingham Central Backpackers and your creepy live in people), but on the whole they are pretty great! (No, I have not seen the movie Hostel. I am not going to either. Don't worry my brother gave me all the ridiculous gritty details). My favorite hostel was Castle Rock in Edinburgh, Scotland! It was literally next to the castle and it had a castle vibe inside and was beautiful and they did your laundry and sold amazing backpacking tours (hey shoutout to Macbackpackers whoo) and so much more. I want to stay there every time I go to Edinburgh. I would be one of those live in people, but not creepily so. I just really loved that hostel. I'm almost home sick for that hostel and Edinburgh and Scotland.

Anyway, my love of the Scots aside, what I'm getting at here is that hostels are the best. Hostels don't have to be scary. They are amazing and they make cheap travel so much easier and better!

~Laura!

On Earth Day!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

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Confession time: I love Earth Day. So much so that in college I wrote an entire paper on it's history and why it is so important! I believe every day is a day to celebrate and protect our planet, but I particularly love April 22nd! I love that everyone talks about the facts, create beautiful art work, and share tips on how each and every one of us needs to change our ways to protect the only place we have to live.

Here are some Earth Day Facts. Some of these are about how Earth day came about and some are about why every day needs to be treated like Earth Day.

-Earth Day as we know it today was created in 1970 and marks the anniversary of our modern version of the environmental movement.

- It was a bipartisan effort. It was founded by Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, whose co-chair was Pete McCloskey, a Republican Congressman.

-The first Earth Day led to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Endangered Species Act!

-It was originally just a US holiday, but in 1990 it went Global thus creating an even bigger impact.

I mentioned beautiful art work right? One of my favorite photographers, Joel Sartore's work is a big influence on me. His photo project the Photo Ark brings endangered animals to the forefront. He takes studio portraits of animals before they can go extinct. When you see his photos of these animals you can see their souls and you can't help but want to protect them. He always shares his work but it is particularly important when he shares on Earth Day. I also follow a lot of animal, environmental, and worldwide charities and they all share their favorite work. I always adore that google has a special doodle! This year it is of Jane Goodall!

And perhaps the best part of Earth Day is people talking about how we can all be better. There are so many small ways you can change your daily routine that will help so much in the long run! Some of my favorites are:

-Shut off the water when you are brushing your teeth! You can save gallons of water just by switching off that tap because you don't use it when you are actually brushing just when you rinse! So simple, but so important!

-Pass on plastic straws. When in restaurants just don't use them. There is no real need for them. If you are like me and use straws to avoid upsetting sensitive teeth, you can ask for no ice because your drink is already going to be cold. Plastic straws cannot be recycled and are so often found in oceans. If you really do need one for whatever reason you can get a heavy duty one and bring it with you! Every piece of plastic ever created since its invention is still on Earth. It takes near 400 years for it to break down.

-Another thing you can do in restaurants is bring your own tupperware when you think you will be bringing left overs home! Styrofoam isn't regularly recyclable and it takes 500 years to degrade. I got this tip from a friend of mine! I couldn’t believe I never thought of it!

-Bring reusable shopping bags when you shop! They are better for the environment and they fit more items which means less trips out to the car to bring them in the house.

I love celebrating Earth Day as well. For the past two years I have gone to river and park clean ups the weekend of April 22nd. A team of people do a couple hours of work and all the trash that accumulates over the winter is easily removed! Last year on Earth Day I also Marched for Science! Earth Day is so important and it is so easy to change the world for the better if you just try.

~Laura!

My To Be Read Pile for April and May!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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My To Be Read Pile for April and May!

Jhereg by Steven Burst- I've got this on the top of my pile because it is the beginning of my best friend's husband's favorite series!

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson- MJ is one of my favorite authors and is one of my personal heroines and I am beyond excited to read her latest novel which I have heard nothing but good things about!

Brave Birds by Maude White- I have waited so long to get my hands on this book! My friend Maude is an incredible artist who cuts stunning birds out of single sheets of paper!

Teen Book Festival Preparation!

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi- I have actually started this one and it is good so far!

Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland- Modern day Harpies? Sign me up!

Alanna by Tamora Pierce- One of my good friends has wanted me to read this for YEARS and since Tammy is coming to TBF this is the perfect time!

The Novice by Taran Matharu- I've been looking into reading more fantasy and this book seems really interesting!

Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg- Epic Road Trip books are amazing and I think this one will be too!

The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely- This novel about helping an old man remember his love sounds like it will move me to tears.

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand- Stories come to life? Y E S!

The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand- A kid's gothic novel? Of course I want to read it!

On Birding!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

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Today's post is about one of my favorite outdoor activities: birding! I decided today was the day to write about it because I was supposed to go on a birding trip to Owl Woods in Rochester, but I couldn't go due to a horrible headache. I'm pretty bummed, but I figured I'd still devote today to our feathery friends!

On any given day you may find me inside because mostly I find the outside usually horrible, but at least once a month you'll find me outside in the woods looking for birds! I am one of those people who never really thought of birds. Why is that when they are the most visible wildlife we see? Why because they are so common of course! I mostly ignored them. I noticed them, but I never really tried to tell them apart other than the obvious. I knew the easy ones like crows, pigeons, robins, cardinals, blue jays and owls (but not what kind of owl). Other than that I had really no idea. Once I realized that I only truly could identify a few types of birds I was disappointed in myself. I began birding because I wanted to learn more about them!

What is birding, though? Basically, it is just watching the birds. Watching, observing, listening, and learning about them! You can do this no matter where you are! Sure it helps to have binoculars, but you don't really need them. And if you do get them they don't have to be über fancy or anything.
I saw this black capped
chickadee at our nest box!
I am lucky enough to have a pair of nice binoculars that my parents bought me for Christmas, but my everyday birding is done just by sitting at my window looking out at the bird feeder or on neighborhood walks!

I love birding because there are so many things to learn. I can't imagine knowing everything there is to know about ornithology, the study of birds. If you're gonna go out birding you may want to get a field guide. It doesn't have to be fancy, and you don't even have to buy one as I'm sure your library probably has a good one! I have a pocket size guide to birds that are just in New York State. These are helpful for identifying the birds that aren't always recognizable at first, like a male cardinal.

I'm getting better at recognizing birds that I see pretty often, but what I'm still horrible at is recognizing the sounds of birds. I think it would be nice to be able to tell which bird it is I'm hearing because that is the first thing most people notice first: the birdsong that is waking them up at the crack of dawn. But, goodness, it is almost stupidly hard. I can't even remember the common birdsongs. I think the only one I can identify with any ease is the red wing black bird which makes a wholly ridiculous sound of CONK-ER-REE! 

Birding was the first outdoor activity I really looked forward to doing. I love birds now. I love the sheer amount of them. I also love how loving them can bring people together. I go to a birding 101 class every month and there is a core group of people who have never missed a class! Our instructor is amazing! She is so knowledgeable and she is extremely patient.
I didn't need binoculars to
see this Canada Goose strut
its stuff!
She has a passion for birding that she is eager to pass along. She took me under her wing and sometimes takes me on adventures outside of class to look for birds. It's with her that I took my two first place winnings in a photo contest, it was with her that I first saw a foggy sunrise, and it was with her that I was supposed to go searching for owls with at the crack of dawn this morning. I don't think I would care as much about birding now if it wasn't for her enthusiasm! And my birding has helped me greatly as a wildlife rehabber! The more I know about birds the easier it is for me to take care of them!

Birds are fascinating. They are so common and yet we still don't know everything about them. Like how do catbirds know they are a catbird when they were raised by a different species of bird after they were hidden in a different nest? Why do birds of paradise dance so specifically to capture the attention of a mate? How can crows identify faces? How can some crows make tools? How can crows be so smart? (Basically, how do crows become crows? How?! I love crows). Why are some birds so colorful when others are really dull? It is really just their environment? If so why are sparrows all mostly brown when the blue jay is so bright and they both live in my neighborhood? It is all so mysterious!

I hope this post has made you curious about birds and that maybe next time you see a bird you'll try to figure out who it is or when you hear a bird singing you'll wonder who's song it is!

~Laura!

Review: The Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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The Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn


Release Date: January 2018
Publisher: Berkley
Type: Adult Mystery
Pages: 352
Other Titles in the Series: The Curious Beginning (#1), The Perilous Undertaking (#2)

Summary: London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker.
His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.
But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past.
Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .




My Review:

Much like the first two novels in this fabulous series, what makes me love it so fiercely is the main character Veronica Speedwell, lepidopterist adventuress and her “sidekick” Stoker, a taxidermist who would challenge me to a duel if he heard me refer to him as such (if I wasn't a woman of course, he is a gentleman after all). This installment like its predecessors is set in Victorian London, where ladies are meant to act like it. Veronica could not care less about what society thinks of her and pushes the boundaries of what is appropriate, more often than not she breaks it all together. I love her. I admire her, I wish I could be half as cool and have even a quarter of her sharp as knives wit! She is what brings me back to these mysteries over and over. The relationship between Veronica and Stoker gets stronger and stronger the longer they know each other. It is the driving force behind the books and it is so important and Raybourn gets it exactly right!

This volumes still finds the detecting pair in London and not on an expedition like they dearly wish. It takes place shortly after the end of the last volume and once again it contains a great mystery! I like these mysteries because they are never straight forward and I can never guess who the culprit is. This one surrounded a missing person and a missing Egyptian diadem, betrayals and revealed secrets! I really like that every novel is an extension of the last. This is a world that I feel so welcomed in because of how true to life it is portrayed. And again it is because of the characters! Every one is vivid and feels real with honest feelings and motives that ring true. To be honest, though, this book didn't draw me in as much as the first two because the plot felt a little bit elongated and it bored me a bit, but due to the characters coming off the page I kept turning those pages! I cannot recommend this series enough!




~Laura!

Thoughts from Places: Guillermo del Toro's At Home with Monsters Exhibit

Saturday, March 10, 2018

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The outside of the Gallery advertises the exhibit!

My Trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto!


In honor of Guillermo del Toro winning Best Director at this year's Academy Awards I decided it was an appropriate time to post about the amazing exhibit of his that I saw in Toronto last October.

I did a quick over night trip up there shortly after my trip to NYC for the Turtles All The Way Down Tour (by shortly after I mean two days later. When I travel I tend to do it all at once). Toronto is only a couple hours away so despite being in a foreign country technically it is the closest BIG city to me so I go there often. I went to see a concert, and the next morning I made it my MISSION to go to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see their exhibit, Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters!

Basically, del Toro has a house that he calls the Bleak House that is filled with his collection, including everything from his props, props from his favorite movies, comics, and books. The exhibit is all things he lent from his house and was set up in its image. It was extraordinary! It was the coolest thing I have ever seen in a gallery.

The Pale Man
To get up to the exhibit they had the stairs looked like bookcases. Right away I was excited. When I went in the exhibit, there was a video of del Toro explaining what his Bleak House was and why he had to have another house for his collection (his wife doesn't want it in her house haha). Turning a corner the first thing I saw was a life size statue of the Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth! What a terrifying thing to see first. I knew I would love the rest of the exhibit.

It took me a couple hours or so to walk through because there was so many rooms with so much interesting, strange, one of a kind items. The vast majority of it, to my excitement, was concept art and other treasures from del Toro's movies. Lots of life size statues of his unique creations were around every corner ready to scare the bajeezus out of me. Del Toro, of course, has many amazing and terrifying movies most of which had something on display. The Shape of Water, the movie that just won the Oscar for del Toro wasn't yet out so there wasn't any of that, of course. Another unique feature was the interactive displays that featured copies of del Toro's sketch books and journals! This was a fascinating look into the mind of such a brilliant storyteller.
The Crimson Peak section of the Exhibit was my favorite!!

My favorite movie of del Toro's is Crimson Peak which is the biggest reason I went. It is half set in Victorian Era Buffalo and is a twist on the classic Victorian trope, starring four of my favorite actors: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Jim Beaver!! I adore every single thing about it and now that I'm thinking about it I should probably write a review for it! The exhibit had some of the props and costumes from the movie and it was fascinating to see them up close. I loved seeing the tea set and Enola's key! Oh and the dresses!! They had two of Lucille's magnificent gowns as well as my favorite of the exhibit's Edith's dressing gown that even had all the stains on the bottom!!!!!! (Sorry for the exclamation overload, I'm still excited months later!)

The bust of Dickens that del Toro wrote on!
Other than things from his own movies, del Toro has a lot of other amazing things in his collection. He had original art from several Disney movies, Victorian mourning objects, Victorian portraits that would change as you looked at them from normal to creepy, a Shrine to Charles Dickens including a bust that del Toro wrote on the back of, crystal balls, vintage vampire hunting kits were among some of my favorite things! Del Toro also loves Frankenstein. He has a HUGE head of Frankenstein's Monster that greets visitors to his Bleak House when it is back at home. For the exhibit it was at the entrance to the room that held del Toro's Frankenstein collection, which included life size statues and wallpaper made of the many covers of the famous book. There was a room devoted to del Toro's comic book collection with copies on a big table that visitors were invited to sit down and read.

Besides all of that amazing stuff my favorite non-Crimson Peak parts of the exhibit was the atmosphere created by being around so many odd things in one place and the fact that there was a woman playing the scores of del Toro's films in one of the rooms that echoed eerily throughout the entire exhibit. All except one in one room: the rain room, which is exactly what it sounds like. Guillermo del Toro set up a room in his Bleak House that has the sounds of a thunderstorm raging outside that he works in! I decided right there and then that before I die I need to have a room like that because I too work best when I'm listening to rain. He even has it so that when you look out the “windows” you can see the rain lashing at the panes! In this exhibit there was a caged in bookcase lined with old books and a life size wax figure of Edgar Allan Poe (something else that I never knew I kinda wanted).
Poe in the Rain Room!


I loved my time at Guillermo del Toro's Bleak House. I was in awe for almost the entire time as well as properly creeped out. I haven't seen The Shape of Water yet but I can't wait to. I am so excited and happy for him on his Oscar win as I believe he is one of the most creative and interesting people alive. I am so glad I got to see that small glimpse into how he spends his time, as it was a truly unique experience to have someone donate most of their property to a gallery while they are still living! Thank you, sir, for allowing it to be on display for your fans to see, and congratulations on you well deserved Oscar!!

~Laura!

Review: The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke

Saturday, March 3, 2018

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The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke


Release Date: October 2017
Publisher: Del Ray Books
Type: Adult
Pages: 299
Series: The World of Lore

Summary: They live in shadows--deep in the forest, late in the night, in the dark recesses of our minds. They're spoken of in stories and superstitions, relics of an unenlightened age, old wives' tales, passed down through generations. Yet no matter how wary and jaded we have become, as individuals or as a society, a part of us remains vulnerable to them: werewolves and wendigos, poltergeists and vampires, angry elves and vengeful spirits.

In this beautifully illustrated volume, the host of the hit podcast Lore serves as a guide on a fascinating journey through the history of these terrifying creatures, exploring not only the legends but what they tell us about ourselves. Aaron Mahnke invites us to the desolate Pine Barrens of New Jersey, where the notorious winged, red-eyed Jersey Devil dwells. He delves into harrowing accounts of cannibalism--some officially documented, others the stuff of speculation . . . perhaps. He visits the dimly lit rooms where seances take place, the European villages where gremlins make mischief, even Key West, Florida, home of a haunted doll named Robert.

In a world of "emotional vampires" and "zombie malls," the monsters of folklore have become both a part of our language and a part of our collective psyche. Whether these beasts and bogeymen are real or just a reflection of our primal fears, we know, on some level, that not every mystery has been explained and that the unknown still holds the power to strike fear deep in our hearts and souls. As Aaron Mahnke reminds us, sometimes the truth is even scarier than the lore.


My Review:

One of my friends told me to listen to the Lore Podcast for a spooky time! Anyone who has read my blog for a long period of time will notice that I love spooky paranormal type books and The World of Lore is right up my alley! This book is a companion to Aaron Mahnke's amazing podcast. It contains a lot of the podcast episode scripts plus a few extra stories!

My favorite thing about Lore is that they are real stories. Mahnke did not make these up. He has done his research and these are all real folklore and the history behind them! Mahnke is one of the best storytellers I have ever encountered. He talks to you, he tells you the story instead of just relating it. He uses colloquial language and yet remains lyrical. While he knows he is writing for a wide range of people he is also able to make it seem as if he is writing just for a single reader, just for you. He is funny at times, but never cheaply, he takes his work seriously as you can tell how important these truths are to him. And the stories, most importantly, always gives me chills down my spine. He pauses in all the right places to maximize, for lack of better term, the spookiness factor. Mahnke doesn't just tell you these spooky stories though, he touches on why these stories are important to us and why they resonate with readers.

I couldn't pick just one favorite tale as I like all of them, but there are some that stand out. Some of the stories are ones that I was already familiar with such as the one about Robert the Doll (“Unboxed”) and the gremlins (“Tampered”). But most stories I had never heard of such as the Beast of Bray Road (“Trees and Shadows”), John McMillian's grave site (“Dinner at the Afterglow”), and the Phelps' Haunting (“Passing Notes”). All of these stories stick out in my head because each of these, to me, were some of the creepiest!

This review is for the book, but to be honest I recommend listening to the podcast more as I think Mahnke's readings of these stories enhance their spookiness factor exponentially. I do encourage you to check out this book, though if you already love the podcast or if you prefer to read your stories. Personally, I plan on getting my own copy as soon as I can because I do adore the podcast, but also because it is great to have a hardcopy to reference. Also, because of the crazy macabre artwork by M.S. Corely! I think this artwork enhances Mahnke's words. It takes the place of the cadence of Mahnke's voice and adds that missing factor!


The entire World of Lore is incredible and I was excited to find out that Monstrous Creatures is only the first collection that Mahnke is planning! I for one cannot wait to read Wicked Mortals and Dreadful Places (out this May and October respectively)! I hope that these books bring a lot of attention to the podcast as well so that Aaron Mahnke can continue telling us these amazing, true, and spooky tales!


~Laura!