Review: Black Bird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel

Monday, September 4, 2017


Black Bird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel

Release Date: September 5th, 2017
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Genre: YA Contemporary Paranormal Fantasy
Pages: 300

Summary: A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full. Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human. What's more, she knows something most don't. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.

When I went to Book Con in June this was one of the titles I knew I had to try to get an ARC of. After waiting in line for seemingly ages I was successful! But not only did I receive a copy, I met the author and got it signed! Meg Kassel is so kind and enthusiastic about meeting her readers! I was also pleased to be the first fan to ever ask her for a photo! I started reading the book as soon as I got to the bus stop back to Buffalo! I sat in the rain under an umbrella for hours waiting for the night bus that would take me the 8 hours back and once the bus finally came I continued reading well into the night. I couldn't put it down!

Meg Kassel and I at Book Con in 2017

Black Bird of the Gallows was truly an original read and incredibly well researched! Kassel did an amazing job describing the mythology around death and its relationship to both crows and bees! The reason I was so keen to get my hands on Kassel's book was actually due to my fascination with crows! They are both the birds I see most often around my home and the birds I know most about. Crows are amazing birds. They are among the smartest, they recognize human faces, and remember when they have been wronged. I also happen to work closely with these birds in my day to day life as a wildlife rehabilitator and Kassel's crows were true to life (I mean, except for the paranormal aspects, of course). And then the enemy, the beekeepers. Not many people are familiar with the myths surrounding bees and I was beyond pleased and impressed that they were included. Bees and Crows! Could there be a better combination in a book about the harbingers of death? I think not!

This is not part of a series. No, it is a standalone book, which makes it rare in the world of trilogies and I find that it is better for it. Kassel was able to create an entire world within the confines of one book and not many can achieve that even half as well as she did. The plot is vivid and grand, with all the points one hopes to see from daily life to edge of your seat apocalyptic action! The novel is perfectly paced, thrilling, funny, romantic, and never dull. I felt at home in Angie's life, even with the battle between good and evil occurring.

Speaking of Angie, she is a wonderfully authentic character, with hopes and anxieties that every reader with recognize in themselves. As are the people who populate her life! There wasn't any character in the novel that didn't pop of the page. Her friends, family, even her enemies don't just fill up the pages, but have a purpose.

Black Bird of the Gallows is a fantastic read, one that I will be sure to re-read many times over! I can't wait to read more by Meg Kassel! I would like to thank both her and Entangled Publishing for an amazing Book Con experience!


Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Release Date: May 12th, 2015
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Type: YA Retelling
Pages: 388
Other Titles in the Series: The Rose and the Dagger (Book #2)

Summary: One Life to One Dawn. In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph's reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she'd imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It's an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid's life as retribution for the many lives he's stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

My Review:

You would think that by now I wouldn't go into a book thinking that I won't like it. Authors know what they are doing and I should really just trust them. Okay, let me explain that. This is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, where the reason behind brides being murdered every morning is a mystery. I hate the idea of people falling in love with “monsters,” despite knowing they should not. I went in with that feeling of knowing that they are going to fall in love, dreading the inevitable and yet Ahdieh wrote this retelling so beautifully that I couldn't not root for them! Shahrzad was not helpless, she was not unaware of what Khalid did. In fact, several times she hated herself and what she saw was her traitor heart. It was that awareness that drew me to the character of Shahrzad. Her strength, cunning, wit, and that awareness all make her one of the best characters I have ever read. I devoured this book. But there isn't just one reason why. It was compelling in a way I can't put my finger on, especially because of the whole “falling in love with those you know you shouldn't thing.” But Shahrzad's story, the one she tells Khalid to stay alive and her own story of how she came to tell that story are fascinating.

The point of view of The Wrath and the Dawn is not just of Shahrzad, but multiple perspectives. Readers get a glimpse into how Shahrzad's family and friends are dealing with her new position. How they are dealing with the “loss,” by taking matters into their own hands. Later into the novel we read Khalid's perspective and suddenly things start making sense. I kept turning the pages so that I could discover why. Why did the brides have to die at dawn? How is this being allowed? I needed to know, the suspense was strong enough to keep me up into the wee hours so that could find the answers.

There are subplots that add a richness to this novel that I adored. This is not just a romance. There is that suspense, the mystery that kept me turning pages. But there's also political intrigue and magic. Secrets run rampage and magic is slowly coming into play in ways that the readers don't quite understand yet and leave us begging for the next chapter, the next book.

The setting and language all felt time period appropriate and the research shone through! There was a moment when other leaders from around this world come to see the new Calipha of Khorasan and Shahrzad sees one riding in on a striped black and white animal that looks like a horse. A zebra, of course, but back then they were not widely known. It's little details like that, that people take for granted that she added and it created a depth. There was also a glossary of mostly Arabic terms in the back of the book. I loved the way Ahdieh effortlessly introduced phrases, words, suffixes, and terms of endearments into the story. Reading The Wrath and the Dawn was a much needed glimpse into a world I don't know much about and want to know more of.

I have expressed my wariness of the relationship that evolved in this book, but I did end up liking it. I liked the back and forth of it, even Shahrzad and Khalid were wary of their relationship. We watched them get to know each other while walking on eggshells. We got to watch their resolve towards one another breakdown. It was romantic in a way that wasn't focused on the trope of forbidden love and I was impressed by how Ahdieh handled it. I cannot wait to read the sequel, I want to, no, need to know what is next for Shahrzad and Khalid.


Book Hunting Adventures: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


The story of how I found two editions of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll in his hometown, Oxford!

While in England for the first time in the fall of 2015 with my mom, we split up for a day. She stayed in London and I went off to Oxford, home of Lewis Carroll. 150 years earlier Carroll's Alice in Wonderland was published and while I hadn't gone to Oxford with the intent of purchasing not one but two more copies of the novel that is what happened. After seeing where the real Alice and the Mathematician who wrote for her and her sisters lived at Christ Church College, I went to Alice's Shop. It is not only a shop that sells only Alice merchandise, but is in fact the shop that Alice Liddell herself would buy candy in. It is also the model for John Tenniel's drawing of the “Old Sheep Shop” in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. 
Alice's Shop and St. Philip's Book Shop next door.

He drew it as if it was in a mirror so it was all backwards. Being there felt like being in a strange world where I was in the looking glass myself, but one where Alice was still a book. Every where I looked in the small shop I saw Tenniel's art, everything you can think of was there including a small, blue paperback copy of Alice that was the 150th Anniversary edition. It was only £5 and it was light so I didn't think twice before buying it with some other souvenirs.

The story of buying Alice in Oxford should have ended there, if I had not followed a sign that said “books” down an arch covered alley and up a flight of small stairs next door to Alice's Shop. Honestly, that's how most of my adventures happen, accidentally following signs. St. Philip's Books was a lovely crowded shop. I noticed that English independent shops are different than ours here. It is hard for me to explain, but the workers seem to be in a constant state of cataloging the shop's collections at small tables overflowing with books. The atmosphere was studious and calm. Upon walking in the one of the first books I saw was a yellow cloth edition of Alice and Through the Looking Glass that had an illustration I did not recognize.

 From the 1930's, it was illustrated by J. Morton Sale. A slightly rare edition that they were only asking £10 for it, so what could I do but buy it? It still intrigues me to this day because of the illustrations because Alice appears more like a scantily clad teen than a seven year old! While paying for Alice I noticed a glass fronted cabinet that contained first edition Inkling books, including many of Tolkien's. The woman who was helping me saw my gaze and said “You're free to look through them, but I'm going to be honest you probably can not afford them. We've priced them properly and thus ridiculously high.” I was sorely tempted, but did not take up her offer. I had plans to see if I could find cheaper Tolkien works at another shop I had on my list!

Until next time,
keep hunting those books,

Review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

 Release Date:  January 10th, 2017
 Publisher:  Berkley Books
 Type:  Adult Mystery
 Pages:  338
 Other Titles in the Series:  A Curious Beginning (VS #1)

Summary:  London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....

My Review:

This is a marvelous edition to a great series. In this book, Veronica and Stoker find themselves trapped in London instead of on an expedition. As is seemingly their new normal they find themselves involved in a mystery. This time they've been hired to clear an innocent man's name before he hangs for a crime some don't believe he committed.

Now that we know Veronica and Stoker, we are past initial first impressions and are learning more about them as they are learning about each other. Their friendship is getting stronger by the day, secrets are coming slowly out of the shadows, but they still bicker like the proverbial old married couple. We learn a little more about Stoker's past, we meet his family and see why he's the odd Templeton-Vane out, and get a glimpse as to what happened in Brazil. As for Veronica, we finally get a glimpse into how she hunts for butterflies, which I found fascinating. I hope that they get to go on an expedition soon so we can see more of their careers and passions on display. Throughout all, though Veronica remains a strong willed, steadfast, independent woman and still she is what draws me to this series.

Set in the heart of London from royal residences, art houses, and opium dens we meet a variety of new, unique characters. Lord Rosemorran and Lady Cordelia's great-aunt Wellingtonia, who is as eccentric as they come, as well as her hard of hearing friend, Cecil, a member of the Royal family, and a handful of artists who live where the victim resided. Lady Wellie was my favorite because like Veronica she speaks her mind. We also see old favorites such as those men from the Scotland Yard that keep popping up Sir Hugo and Mornaday.

The mystery was a fine one, with twists and turns, blackmail and threats. I, personally, wasn't quite sure who the murderer was. I liked how even when there is the one straight forward who-done-it mystery, Raybourn weaves in smaller ones as well. Everyone is connected, but what key factor that binds them is within itself a mystery. I cannot recommend this series enough.


Book Hunting Adventure: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


The story of how I found my first edition of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling at Henry Pordes on Charing Cross Road, London!

After successfully finding the third, fifth, and seventh books under Waterloo Bridge (read that adventure here) I only needed a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to complete my UK Childrens' Edition set. I was determined to find it later that day when we went to Charing Cross Road, even if I had to go into every single book shop, which is exactly what I did. I went into each shop and looked around. If their children's book section was not easily found I'd ask if they had copies of Harry Potter.

A quick photo of me on Cecil Ct!
Most didn't have any and those that did, none of them were HBP. In the third or fourth shop, Henry Pordes, I found a copy fairly quickly at the bottom of a pile. It was a nice shop with multiple rooms and high shelves. However, this shop wanted £20 for the first edition. Normally, I would fork that out no problem, but since I had just hours before bought two first editions and one early edition all for only £5 more I was leery to spend so much. I figured I would check out other shops and if I couldn't find a cheaper one I'd come back. I tried several more after that. I found one in a set of firsts that the owner wanted a few thousand quid for the set which obviously wasn't for me.

The last shop I went to was Marchpane, a shop devoted to children's books, down Cecil Ct. I was excited because I saw a copy in the window. I walked in and was immediately alarmed by the union jack covered Dalek that stood near the door. It set the tone of the room better than anything else could. It consisted of one tiny room packed with books. There was a man behind a desk that was on a risen platform. He was grunting at a couple who were asking the prices of some Alice in Wonderland books that lined his platform thing. He seemed so annoyed with them when he said they ranged from £5 to several thousand that I didn't ask any questions at first. I noticed their Harry Potter books were on the left wall behind a cart of other books. I became a contortionist to carefully extract them from their shelves to look at them. I was alarmed at the prices I saw on those covers. Several hundred pounds and they weren't even firsts!
The Dalek
By this time the couple had left and I asked Mr. Grumpypuss about the book in the window. He said he would gladly sell it to me for £800. My jaw hit the floor. I said back, “Wow, ok. I hope you sell it to some inexperience collector some day!” I planned to leave immediately, but plucked up the courage to ask to take a picture of the Dalek (who knew when I would see another terrifying alien again?).

Needless to say, once I left I told my mom to hang about in Cecil Ct. for a bit because I was going to run back to Henry Pordes and buy that extremely reasonable £20 copy of Half-Blood Prince and thus completed my UK Childrens Collection.


Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan 

Release Date: February 5th, 2013 
Publisher: Tor 
Type: Adult Fantasy 
Pages: 334 

Summary: Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world's preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

My Review:
I adored this book. I love it so much! Isabella is an amazing, strong-willed, intelligent woman who is like the Jane Goodall of dragons. She lives in a place that parallels our own 18th Century World that believes that women have no business in the field of science. Isabella was the curious kind of girl who instead of loving fashion trends she dissected a dove to see how it worked. After a misadventure, her days of unladylike curiosity are stiffed so that she may find a husband.

Luckily for Isabella she met a man who would, against society and often times his better judgment, let her follow her dragon-mad passions. Thus led Isabella and Jacob on an expedition to Vystrana. The expedition is what makes me love A Natural History of Dragons because it is like reading the beginning of zoology. This World knows next to nothing about dragons because they haven't been studied, much like our animal world wasn't. I am fascinated with how we learned about our natural world and reading this “memoir” gave me a glimpse into that. I liked reading about how the expedition crew dealt with hardships and with foreign languages and customs. I enjoyed the cast of characters in the town the crew settles in.

Another fantastic addition to this book is the art work by Todd Lockwood. In the story Isabella is allowed on the expedition to sketch the dragons they will study and Lockwood's drawings enhance the memoir so much so that at times I forget that the memoir isn't real. Besides being a parallel to Victorian age, the worldbuilding Marie Brennan does is quite extraordinary when it comes with they types of dragons, where they live, and their differences. She created a new set of ancients to explain a world with dragons, complete with curses and ruins. Brennan has forgotten nothing and it shows in her work. I cannot recommend this book enough and I look forward to reading more of Lady Trent's memoirs! 


Book Hunting Adventure: Harry Potter PoA, OotP, & DH

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


The story of how I found my UK Children's Editions of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Order of the Phoenix, and Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling at Southbank Book Market in London!  

 On my first trip to London in 2015 I was determined to finish my collection of UK Children Editions of Harry Potter. Ideally, I wanted to find cheap editions. It didn't matter if they were first editions as long I had them. I knew that the best place to look in multiple places would be Charing Cross Road, but I wanted to try something more unique first. I'm not even sure where I first heard of the used book sale that takes place under the Waterloo Bridge, but once it was in my head I knew that it was exactly the right place to start. I had visions of stumbling across copies of Harry Potter there and would do anything to go.

I was sitting on one of those nice benches when I took this of
the market under the bridge.
Anything is practically what I gave. My mom and I got hopelessly, frustratingly lost. London (well, in my opinion England in general) is horrible with street signs. We were lost for about an hour and were miles away from our target when we finally realized what had gone wrong. I was cranky and I'm pretty sure my mom wanted to throw me in the Thames more than once. I wasn't sure that getting to this book flea market type thing was even worth it but when we finally got there I knew it was. It was such a nice, peaceful place. Right on Southbank, it is a nice place to buy books and then sit there on a bench reading them. If I lived near there I'd have no pay check because I would be there every day reading and people watching.

While searching the tables I found Prisoner of Azkaban, Order of the Phoenix, and Deathly Hallows (the later 2 were first editions)! The market was set up weird. At least weird to me, maybe because I'm not British, I'm not sure. At the first table I found one of them, snatched it up, and moved on to the next table to search. I noticed, however, that this sketchy old man kept looking at me. I was a bit freaked out, but then realized that it was because he thought I was stealing. Each table or so, though very close together, belonged to separate people. Here in the States at least, vendors have clear separations, there it wasn't nearly as clear. I did figure it out and paid the man. I paid closer attention after that and no more sketchy people bore holes into me with their gazes. All in all I bought 2 first editions and 1 early edition for a grand total of £25! It was definitely one of the most unlikely setting for such a find, but my book hunting paid off! 


Review: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Release Date: September 1st 2015
Publisher: NAL/Penguin
Type: Adult Mystery
Pages: 337

Summary: London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

My Review
What drew me to this book was actually the cover of the sequel ̶ a Victorian style silhouette of a woman wielding what looked like a butterfly net. What?! Intrigued, I sought out the first volume and discovered Veronica Speedwell, lepidopterist and my new heroine. A butterfly hunter who finds herself in the middle of a plot against her life. She teams up with a fellow naturalist, a taxidermist, named Stoker and they go on an incredible adventure to discover the mystery of Veronica's past.

I loved this book. Veronica's character herself is the main fuel behind my love. Picture the standard Victorian woman, now picture the exact opposite: that's Veronica. Always surprising, always witty, always prepared to gouge a hat pin in an attacker. She captured my heart with grace, style, poise, and insults. The chemistry she shares with Stoker, their bickering, the many battles of wits, and naturalist knowledge are written so well that I felt as if I was in the room with them.

As I said before it was Veronica's butterfly net that drew me to the book. I have been in a naturalist reading kick (as it mirrors what I would like to do in real life). Raybourn has done her research when it comes to the natural history portrayed in this book. How the scientific mind sees the world is on display subtlety here. Veronica and Stoker are both great scientists and they use that intellect to solve the mystery which is interesting to me on a personal level.

I wasn't sure what to expect, mostly just hoping for a good mystery. I got that and so much more. I feel bad saying this but I didn't think I'd end up loving it so much. But I do and I want everyone to know that. It was incredibly entertaining, with more than one actual laugh out loud moment. I recommend it highly! I can't wait to see what the next book has in store.


Review: Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird

Release Date: November 22nd, 2016
Publisher: Random House
Type: Adult Non-Fiction Biography
Pages: 752

Summary: Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.

Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty years old, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.

Drawing on sources that include revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings to life the story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning.

My Review:
This book came highly recommended to me by a coworker. She said that the writing was very readable for a biography and that she wished the author had written more books. I can't agree more! Julia Baird did an amazing thing with Victoria the Queen. I had previously seen the movie Young Victoria and I had seen the Doctor Who episode “Tooth and Claw” that featured am elderly Victoria. One featured a young, driven, mischievous woman who was a abused as a child yet was still fierce, laughed easily, and fell in love completely. I could not connect that woman with the old, grieving woman who was “not amused.” What had happened to completely change her? I knew it dealt with Albert's death but I didn't know how.

Baird's tome, because any other word won't do a book of this magnitude justice, is rich in details. The sheer amount of research that she had to do to create this masterpiece blows my mind. I also live that she has new information that had never been published widely before. Victoria is a queen who has been misconstrued for years. Baird cleared up a lot of these notions. She was given full access to everything. During her research she found some of the important things such as Victoria's relationship with John Brown that hadn't been published before. Baird published everything she could to complete Victoria's story despite the Royal archivists advising her not to. I think that because of this new information and the tasteful way Baird handled Victoria's entire life the biography was incredibly readable. In fact, I forgot that it wasn't a historical novel at times and it was hard to put down.

Victoria led a magnificent life. A life that, unlike most, has distinct sections: childhood, teenage queen, life with Albert, life without him, life with Brown, and finally life without him. Each part of her life was equally important and fascinating. I was most interested in her life with and without Albert because I knew that she considered her time with him the most important of her life. Before marrying Albert, Victoria was insistent that she did not need a husband that, she was perfectly capable of managing the country all by herself. I admired that a woman dug her heels in and refused to do anything she didn't want to because she knew she was the most powerful woman in the world. She used that power to her advantage all of the time from keeping Lord Melbourne in office to marrying who she deemed worthy. All that changed when she married Albert though.

Baird paints a mixed picture of Albert. An extraordinary intellect who wanted power not just to have it but to use it to help the British people. At times I loved what he was trying to do for his adopted country but I was also annoyed that he just kept trying to take over the sovereign. His ambition was too much for his place at times, but his ethic and moral code was admirable. While Victoria was pregnant she went from not allowing him anywhere near anything to do with her work to basically handing everything over to him. During this period and for years after his death she insisted that he was the one who kept the country going because she simply couldn't due to being a woman. No, she allowed him to do it because she believed he was better than she. In the years following his death she belittled herself to make Albert seem larger than life and I don't believe it. Victoria was extraordinary in her own right. After decades without Albert, Victoria found her way back to being that headstrong young Queen. From talking to her troops to consoling fellow widows, she was an active monarch who had a hand in all things.

Baird's biography went into details about the good and the bad. She addressed rumors and misconceptions, she treated everything with the same critical non-biased eye that one expects from a great biography. At over 700 pages long (this includes the notes and introduction, the bibliography and index) it took me quite a while to read. As such, I found myself thinking about Victoria and her time often. Even if you only have the slightest interest in Victoria this biography is worth a read. 


Book Hunting Adventure: 1st Edition Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Thursday, May 12, 2016


The story of how I found my first edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling at my local Amvets Thrift Store!  

My best friend and I have a tradition of going to all of the thrift stores in our neighborhood every month or so to check them out. Rachel looks for anything and everything, while I am constantly looking for Harry Potter merch that I don't yet own. Any one who knows me knows that Harry Potter means everything to me and I will do anything to acquire anything related to it. 

1st ed. UK Children's GoF
So it was no surprise to Rachel when suddenly the book she had just pulled off the shelf at my favorite thirfty was plucked from her hands before she even read the title, accompanied by a gasp and a high pitched “It can't be!” Rachel had unknowingly picked up a first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I had recognized the spine colors. I couldn't even imagine how this book made it's way to this place, but before I could think too hard about it I immediately went to the front and bought it. There was no way I was going to let that book about of my sight until it was officially mine. That is the book that started my collection of UK Children's editions of Harry Potter. 

One never knows what one will find in a thrift store if one looks hard enough. They are magical places.


Bravery and Backpacking

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hello there, fellow Bookworms!

In the months leading up to my backpacking trip the number one thing that people want to talk to me about is a variation on,
"Aren't you afraid of going by yourself?" and "Wow, you're so brave to be going by yourself." 
I'm never really quite sure how to respond to this. I don't feel braver than anyone else. The truth is I'm going solo because I couldn't talk anyone else into going with me, not because I am exceptionally brave. 

I don't remember when I decided that I was going to backpack through Europe. It was a combination of reading 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson and Rory and Lorelai planning their own on Gilmore Girls. I think I've had the idea vaguely in my head since maybe 2007 or 2008 but it wasn't until about 2010 or so that I decided that it was gonna happen. Originally, I wanted to go with my best friend, but when it become increasingly clear the closer I got to my college graduation that there would be no way she would be able to go. So for about 4 years I was going backpacking with her, but if I'm being honest when I envisioned going she was never actually there with me in my mind's eye. I was always by myself, doing what I wanted when I wanted without anyone to run the ideas past. Just me.

However, going by myself wasn't actually an option according to my parents. So I scrambled and tried to see if anyone else wanted to go. Plenty of people thought it was cool and said they'd like to but couldn't afford it or couldn't get time off. I was starting to give up hope. And then, while literally standing in line with my cap and gown on, ready to walk into the gym to receive my diploma (holder), a friend said she'd do it. She'd make it work. Suddenly the trip was back on!

The friend who offered to help me achieve my dream was more of an acquaintance than actually friend at that point though so in the coming months as we planned we learned about each other (and did become fast friends!), but as much as we liked each other it was glaringly apparent that we have VERY DIFFERENT IDEAS about travel. The 3 month spontaneous backpacking, staying in hostels, eating rough in Europe trip became a month in the UK with a home base, restaurants, and wifi. It was neither of our faults but I came to realize that, besides the fact that she truly couldn't afford it my dream, there was no way either of us would enjoy the trip. It wasn't fair for her to spend money on a trip that was just for me. And so it got cancelled. 

I was devastated. I felt like I couldn't start my life until I went on this trip (I still feel like this, honestly). That's when my mom offered to do a week in London, the place on the top of my list, if I could help pay for it. I LEAPED onto it, thinking that if that's as close as I could get I would take it.

However, as great as I knew going to London with my mom would be it just wasn't enough. It was not backpacking through Europe. But I knew that if I went alone without my parents' blessing, everything would be miserable. Then personal catastrophe struck and I spiraled into a deep dark depression that I saw no way out of. My saint of a mother recognized this and said that I should go solo if I really wanted to. She would be worried, of course, but she knew I could handle going alone. Now if only everyone else in my life was like her....

Other than comments about how "brave" I am the questions I am most often asked are a variation of the following:

"Aren't you afraid something will happen? Aren't you afraid you'll get mugged or oh, God, raped by a stranger?! You are a young woman alone and vulnerable in a foreign country! It is foolish of you to be so naive about your safety. The world is dangerous place for single woman!"

Honest to God, next time someone comes at me with this crap I may punch them in face. It is infuriating. Society dictates that women need a man around to be safe and to that I say f*** you. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I am intelligent enough to avoid dangerous situations. The world is only as dangerous as you make it.
If a woman doesn't do something because "society" tells her not to that, to me, is even worse than society saying it in the first place! Nothing is going to change the perceptive about solo female travel unless more people like me stand up and call out their shenanigans. If you think the world is dangerous then don't go, don't broaden your horizons, don't live, stay home but stop bothering those of us who could not care less about what "society" says is proper. Screw you, Society, I've got a life to live. 

"Aren't you afraid something will happen? Aren't you afraid ISIS will plan another attack and you'll be blown up?"

If I don't go, they win. If I don't go, I will spend the rest of my life wondering "what if." I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, but that's not gonna stop me from going outside. You think I'm being caviler about my safety? Never forget that this rant is coming from someone who sees the dangers in everything, big or small, including using our gas stove because it could potentially, maybe, but probably not explode! Internally, I am Aunt Josephine from A Series of Unfortunate Events, I see danger in everything. I see worst case scenarios and make contingency plans in my head about everything from making soup to, yes, what would happen in case a bomb or active shooter.  But unlike Aunt Jo I refuse to let that stop me. I don't let in run my life. Terrorism has a 100% failure rate. Every city terrorized comes out stronger. Don't let the terrorists win. Travel, go see that not everything is horrible. 

My mom, who was the number one opponent of going solo has become my number one supporter. She will fight you if you say I shouldn't go alone. Why shouldn't I go alone? I am a level headed, intelligent, independent young woman with a dream and a determination to make that dream become a reality! You know what? Maybe I am braver than I give myself credit for. And you should be too. Don't let anyone tell you you CAN'T because if you listen to them you definitely WON'T.

I leave on my month and a half long solo backpacking trip in under 2 weeks and I am not afraid


Book Hunting Adventure: Tolkien's Sir Gawain

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


The story of how I found my copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by JRR Tolkien at Commonwealth Books in Boston!

In 2013, I went to Boston with my Aunt and cousin. While we were doing a self-guided walk of the Freedom Trail I happened to notice a little pedestrian alley. I really liked this, we don't have anything like that back home in Buffalo. I was just mentioning the cute little street to my Aunt when I noticed a sandwich board type sign that advertised “Commonwealth Books.” 
You can just see Commonweath Books down
the alley of Spring Lane.

Well, of course, I immediately wanted to go in. My Aunt was not into it. We had been walking for a while and it was really hot so she told me to go on and have a look around while she and my cousin ducked into a small cell phone shop on the corner to hide in the A/C.

Commonwealth Books was a nice shop. It was one of those shops that was like a little tornado of books. Organized, but packed. I looked around for a bit, but couldn't really find anything that I considered “must have.” However, just as I was leaving I overheard a couple girls talking about JRR Tolkien and how they didn't realize he translated famous old tales, not just Lord of the Rings. I kinda hovered in their general area being a creep until they moved because I love Tolkien and I didn't have any of his translations. I was really excited to see that the book the girls was looking at was the Professor's translation of
This is the book I found on my adventure in front of some of the
other Arthurian books I gathered for the project.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight! 

I was super excited! I didn't even know he had done a translation of that! I had read bits of it a few semesters previously and it was interesting but the translation wasn't very good. I knew that Tolkien's had to be better. At the time of this trip I was getting ready for a strange, invitation only class starting the next semester and I was planning on doing a lot of research on the Arthurian Legend as part of the class. Score! I knew that I had found that elusive “must have” book! I purchased it and went back to the air conditioned cell phone store to tell my Aunt about my find. 

Thoughts from Places Spotlight: London As Seen Through 13 Little Blue Envelopes

Thursday, March 24, 2016

(Please beware: this post contains 13LBE Spoilers)

Standing in front of Harrods
My beloved copy of 13LBE opened to the
Harrods chapter!
As long time readers of my blog will know, Maureen Johnson's 2005 novel 13 Little Blue Envelopes inspired me to travel. One of the most important places that the main character, Ginny goes to is London. There she follows the directions in envelopes 2 and 3. The entire adventure her Aunt Peg leads Ginny on comes to an end in London as well.

When I went to London I knew that I had to try and see some of the places that Ginny went to. First on the list was Harrods. Harrods is where Ginny's uncle Richard works and where Aunt Peg ultimately led Ginny to find her paintings. When Ginny first gets to London Richard takes her to Harrods. So of course I wanted to make sure that one of the first things I did was head to this huge department store. I underestimated it's size. This place is almost too big. I don't think I seen even a quarter of it because it was getting very late and my mom and I were exhausted. Originally, I was planning on finding Mo's Diner, where Richard and Ginny eat in the novel. I didn't though. Honestly, I'm not 100% positive it existed. I could have been searching for a fiction, but I didn't mind.  
Ginny "looked left" but in front of Harrods
you must look right! These were very
helpful in London.
The Egyptian Escalator
I also wanted to find the chocolate counter that Ginny went to so often in the novel to have the woman working there page Richard for her. I found it and was extremely pleased with myself. I didn't buy any chocolate there though because I had already bought a bar from another shop just in case the counter was a fiction too. The chocolate bar I bought even had a picture of Harrods on the wrapper (which I saved and pasted into my copy of 13LBE). I was amazed by the sheer size and weirdness of Harrods, just like Ginny was. They really do have a escalator that looks like it was ripped out of stereotypical ancient Egypt. I was so astounded by this that I stopped dead in my tracks and some guy bumped into me! Harrods was a strange, sort of wonderful place and I could see why Aunt Peg liked it so much!

Envelope #3 instructs Ginny to “become a mysterious benefactor.” Aunt Peg tells her to give an artist she likes £500. I do not have that kinda cash so I settled on a fiver. 
Alex and Jim!
I wasn't kidding about all
the sheep!
Richard tells Ginny she should check out Covent Garden and while Ginny didn't find her artist there I did. Jim and Alex performers who haunt the Garden regularly. They were fantastically entertaining and I wished I had more to give them. They did everything from juggling to unicycles. I really liked how they asked a young boy from the audience to help. I encourage you to go on youtube to look those two up. Covent Garden itself was a strange place though. It is an indoor/outdoor market type place where a lot of artists busk for a living. Among Jim and Alex there was also a man playing this crazy multi-piece instrument, a man who could make a creepily accurate sculpture of you in a half hour, and for some very odd reason a hundred or so Shaun the Sheeps. I could have stayed there for hours just watching all the people perform.

Standing in front of Aunt Peg's favorite painting.
My small tour of Ginny's London also took me to the Courtald Gallery where they have in their collection a very important painting to Aunt Peg, Manet's The Bar at the Folies-Bergere. Aunt Peg loved this painting so much she had a print of it on her wall where ever she lived. She also hid the key to the cupboard that held all her paintings under the left top corner, directly under the famous green slippers. I needed to see this painting for myself and so very early on our last morning in London I made my mom go to the museum when it opened. I was a girl on a mission! I was here to see Peg's favorite painting (also to see Van Gogh's Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear but that is another story). I am so glad that I went to see this painting in person. I never really understood why Peg loved this painting until I went to London. You stand looking at it like you are the artist, facing the bar. It portrays a young woman who looks terribly bored despite all the action that is happening in front of her (we see what is happening behind us through the mirror behind the woman). All of this excitement is happening and yet the girl is not enjoying it. That was sort of me in London at times. I was doing exactly what I had always wanted but I wasn't enjoying it, more like checking it off a list. However, here in this gallery with only my mom, the guard, and this painting I was finally seeing. I was seeing Peg's love of this painting and my own love of London.
My copy opened to the page the painting is first mentioned.
I pasted in a print of the painting ages ago. MJ herself took
a picture of this page when she saw what I did to it.

13 Little Blue Envelopes came alive for me in London. This year I plan to follow more of the envelopes as I backpack across Europe almost like Ginny does in the novel. I encourage you to read this amazing book if you haven't already. You can read my semi-incoherent-because-I-was-too-excited review of the book here, and my post about meeting the book's author, Maureen Johnson here.

More to come soon,