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 ├╝ber 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! 

On the Top 10 Places I Want to Go Next!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

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Top 10 Places I Want to Go Next!*



1) New England, USA

As one of the oldest parts of my country it has so much of our history that I really want to see!

2) Florida, USA

Home of Hogwarts and so many Wildlife Reserves that I could spend my life there and never see it all!

3) New Zealand

Real life Middle Earth. Need I say more?

4) Costa Rica

Wildlife galore!!! And Ziplines!!

5) Scotland

Aka my favorite place on Earth. I've been to the Highlands and Edinburgh but I desperately need to see more of it.

6) Iceland

Seeing the Aurora Borealis is at the very top of my bucket list. Where better to see it?

7) Pennsylvania, USA

The state closest to me AND YET I HAVE ONLY DRIVEN THROUGH!! PA has tons of cool stuff and I haven't seen any of it!!

8) Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Do I really have to explain why? I want to SCUBA there as long as it doesn't hurt it anymore than we already have. 

9) Peru

There's so much to see here, but mostly I want to go for the llamas. I'm not even joking.

10) South Africa


I really want to see the wildlife here. I would love to work or volunteer at a rehabilitation center!

~Laura!

*(in no particular order, actually just my top 10 as they are all pretty equal in my wanderlust.)

Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Saturday, February 17, 2018

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman


Release Date: February 7th, 2017
Publisher: WW Norton Company
Type: Adult Mythology
Pages: 299

Summary: Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.





My Review:
Like most I know my knowledge of Norse Mythology started and stopped with Marvel's limited representation. I wanted to know more, but wasn't sure where to begin. Then Neil Gaiman wrote this and TADA!

The novel is made up of short tales hat Neil Gaiman has beautifully rewritten so that they are more accessible to today's audience. They are also surprisingly funny. (I love that Thor admits that when something goes wrong he immediately blames Loki because it's faster!)

Like I said, my knowledge is solely based on Marvel comics and their cinematic universe so when upon reading I realized that a lot of what is known by most audiences is limited or changed from the original myths I can't say that I was all that surprised as that is what usually happens with popular adapations. Mostly the changes are about who is related to who and how. And of course it's 100% more in depth. This is literally the meaning of "the book is better." Neil Gaiman's tales make me want to delve deeper into the mythology and find out what else Marvel messed with. One constant is Loki (well he isn't actually known as Thor's brother) is still at the center of all the mischief.


If you are curious and like me don't know where to start you should definitely read this first just like I did. And if you have any recommendations as to which books I should read next to learn more about Norse Mythology, please let me know!


~Laura!

Review: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Saturday, February 10, 2018

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The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley 


Release Date: August 1st, 2017 
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA 
Type: Adult Fiction 
Pages: 336 

Summary: In 1859, ex-East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall after sustaining an injury that almost cost him his leg and something is wrong; a statue moves, his grandfather’s pines explode, and his brother accuses him of madness.

When the India Office recruits Merrick for an expedition to fetch quinine—essential for the treatment of malaria—from deep within Peru, he knows it’s a terrible idea. Nearly every able-bodied expeditionary who’s made the attempt has died, and he can barely walk. But Merrick is desperate to escape everything at home, so he sets off, against his better judgment, for a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon where a salt line on the ground separates town from forest. Anyone who crosses is killed by something that watches from the trees, but somewhere beyond the salt are the quinine woods, and the way around is blocked.

Surrounded by local stories of lost time, cursed woods, and living rock, Merrick must separate truth from fairytale and find out what befell the last expeditions; why the villagers are forbidden to go into the forest; and what is happening to Raphael, the young priest who seems to have known Merrick’s grandfather, who visited Peru many decades before. The Bedlam Stacks is the story of a profound friendship that grows in a place that seems just this side of magical.


My Review:

While Natasha Pulley's first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street will remain my favorite of her two books, The Bedlam Stacks is in a pretty close second. And just like my review of that book this review will also contain spoilers because it is hard to gush about this without them.

The Bedlam Stacks took me a little while to read because it is a slow paced book. This is not a bad thing. By taking her time with the plot Pulley makes sure that the reader is paying attention. As I went along with Merrick from his time at home in Cornwall to his time with Raphael in Peru and understood more and more of what was happening in the Bedlam Stacks the more I realized how well Pulley writes. Tiny clues, given slowly once understood make this book start reading faster and faster until I couldn’t go read quickly enough.

Like the characters of Watchmaker the characters of this novel are stand out. (SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD) And much like Mori the Watchmaker in her first novel Raphael is also a special kind of magical. (Mori, by the way, makes a small appearance in this book confirming that these books are in the same version of our world. One in which I would like to live in, honestly). This novel seamlessly blends historical fiction with the slight fantasy. Raphael is a bit of a mystery for most of the novel, but his unique magical talent makes him one of the most interesting characters I have ever read, just like Mori.

What I liked most about this novel is how Merrick interacts with the setting of Peru, the culture, and his own family's history there. Like I said earlier, this novel is a slow burn and it is as such because the novel is from Merrick's perspective and as he pieces it together so does the reader. As he learns more the more interesting the novel becomes. For me, I think another thing I liked is that Merrick is learning Spanish while in Peru. I, too, am learning the language and while the dialogue of this book is in English they are actually using Spanish some of the time. When they do Merrick points in out, whether the speaker is talking slowly or clearly enough for his skills. And when he brings it up I try to translate the sentences into Spanish, just to see if I can! (I mostly could get about half, which I felt was pretty good!)

I am not sure if this review has made much sense, but I hope it made you want to pick up Natasha Pulley's second novel (and her first actually. You can find my review for that one here)! 


 ~Laura!

On Penpals and Letter Writing!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

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In honor of the Month of Letters Challenge and International Correspondence Writing Month, I decided to write a post about penpaling!

I met my first penpal when I started this blog. She was a fellow book blogger and we hit it off right away. We only exchanged a couple letters but have remained friends on Facebook. I missed writing to her and to my best friends who have long since graduated from their far away colleges and have come back home. I missed writing to penpals, but didn't know who to write to!

Then NerdCon: Nerdfighteria happened last February. I joined a Facebook group of attendees and near the end of March, a woman posted there asking for penpals. Well, she got so many responses that the people who commented started to write each other and TADA! Suddenly, I had found my people! That led me to posting on Instagram a photo of my outgoing letters and I discovered a low-key sub-culture of snailmailers!

I have 10 penpals from around the States. I adore them all and they all amazing! 10 penpals is sometimes a lot for me to handle. Because no matter what I do I always get at least half of their replies during the same week! I feel forever behind in responding, but they never mind. I do have a system though. I reply to the letters in the order in which I receive them!

But how do I keep every one of those 10 people straight? Besides them all being different people with their own style and lives which makes it pretty easy, I also keep a notebook of everyone's favorites, their hobbies, birthdays, pet names, and things like that! Before I send out a letter I jot down the highlights of what I wrote to them so that when they reply back I remember what it was I even said in the first place.

But what do we write about? Everything! At the beginning it's introducing yourself and getting to know your new friend. I've been writing for almost a year now so a lot of my penpals are not so much penpals as they are friends that live in a different state. What do you talk to your friends about? Everything. We catch each other up on school and work and what we did that month or last weekend, what our pets did, our family, holidays, bad days, good days, everything! And the letters don't have to be long, they don't even have to be letters at all! During school some of my penpals may send a postcard every couple months just so I know they are just stuck in academic hell and will write whenever they can!

Why even write a letter? Because it's important to not let something die just because it isn't as "easy" anymore. Written correspondence was the only way for people to communicate for such a long time that letter writing was commonplace and incredibly important. History shows that the most remembered figures are remembered more clearly through the letters they wrote (and journals they kept, but journalling will be another post one day). Some of my favorite letter writers are Alexander Hamilton, Queen Victoria, and Vincent Van Gogh! Sitting down to spend an hour using your hand to write a letter also helps you relax and reflect on your day, week, or month (depending on how often you write back and forth). It helps you see what your life looks like from another perspective. My life can be boring to me but different and exciting to someone else. It's a chance to get to know other people and keep a lost art going!

Nowadays, writing letters is much less common and sometimes even confuses people. Like my big brother who was extremely confused as to why I was writing a 10 page long letter when I could have just texted. He didn't get the point at all. But this past Christmas I sent out cards that included a wax seal to close the envelope and several of my friends flipped out! I got so many texts about how cool the seals were and that they'd never seen one of those outside a Hogwarts letter. It also prompted a bunch of people to send their own Christmas cards back to me and on to their family and friends as well, thus spreading not just the holiday cheer but the love of posted mail, too!

 It's also really fun! Stamps and post marks are something I never thought would be so exciting, but they are! Seeing a letter in your mail box that is post marked from across the country and thinking about everything it must have seen on it's way to me is extraordinary! And don't get me started on stamps. Philately is COOL! Stationary and cards, rubber stamps and washi tapes are all things I did not care about but do now! But what's great about writing letters is that it doesn't have to cost much more than that 50 cent stamp because you can get envelopes in bulk and regular notebook paper is always pretty cheap. You can buy stamps at your local grocery or pharmacy usually! And just shove the letter in your mailbox and your postal carrier will take it with them when they deliver your mail! Easy peasy!

So in summary, all this to say: penpalling rocks! Writing letters, sending snail mail, buying stamps, postcards and stickers, and mail art is just cooler and longer lasting than sending a text. That's why I'm so excited to take part in my first Month of Letters Challenge where you write and send something in the mail every day the post runs!

Write more,
Text less,
~Laura!

Thoughts From Places: The Women March in Seneca Falls!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

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My Trip to Seneca Falls and the Finger Lakes


A week ago I went to Seneca Falls for the Women March! Seneca Falls is the birthplace of Women's Rights! In 1848, Seneca Falls held the First Women's Rights Convention! The Convention is famous for being the place the Declaration of Sentiments was presented by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 170 years later 15,000 people marched for equality for all! While there were many solidarity marches throughout the world, including one in my hometown I thought that going to where it all started was extremely appropriate!

The March started at 10:30 am, but we got there a couple hours early to eat breakfast and get a good spot for the Rally. Seneca Falls is a small place and it's main street has a lot of cute shops. We had breakfast at a place called Wildflowers, which toted on its front windows that it was "Women owned and operated!" The line was out the door and everyone in it was a woman there to support the march!

The Rally was held in the Women'sRights National Historical Park, despite the Park's Center being closed due to the Government shut down. Habitat for Humanity donated generators so that the Rally would go on as originally they were going to get the electricity for the microphones and speakers. That kind of set the tone for the day. Not the shut down but the kindness of others.

All of the speakers at the Rally were phenomenal! There were professors and politicians and even the Bear Clan Mother. My favorites were Arlette Miller Smith and Lt. Governor of New York, Kathy Hochul. Miller Smith kicked off the Rally with a poem adaptation of "A Gathering of Women." She is a dynamic performer who captured her audience in the best possible way. She was such a powerful speaker. I taped her poem and I've watched it multiple times this week. It gives me strength (wanna watch it? Here's the link!). Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul was equally powerful when she talked about how New York is always ahead of its time. We were first to legalize gay marriage, first to give free college tuition for the middle class, first to legalize abortion, and first to hold a Women's Rights Convention, of course, which led us to be the first State East of the Mississippi River to grant full women's sufferage! Basically, not only to women rock so does New York!

My friends Mary, Anja, and I were near the front of the Rally and as such we were towards the back of the March. This was fine by me because on the way out of the park I got to see the front of the March and it put the entire thing in perspective. That and the fact that by the time we got to the end of the route most people had left. The March itself was a lot of fun. Hearing hundreds of people chant the same thing with all their hearts, seeing all of the amazing protest signs, and feeling all the love and support and hope in the air made me feel so much better.

After the March ran its route, those who could convened at the Communtiy Center to hear more amazing speakers talk about great topics such as disability, reproductive, LGBTQIA, and immigrant rights, pay equity, ending systemic Racisim and sexism, environmental justice, eradicating violence and sexual harrasment against women, and passage of the proposed ERA! That's what I loved about this March. It wasn't just women's issues but a lot of the issues facing Americans right now.

The Women March in Seneca Falls was a fantastic, uplifting experience that I'm so glad I got to go to. I believe the 15,000 of us that were there were a little bit a part of History. We took over Seneca Falls for a day to gain equality for all. I'm so thankful to the organizers, Seneca Falls and its citizens for welcoming us, and its police force for keeping us safe.

When in Rome, or in Seneca Falls we couldn't leave without seeing what there was to see. So we made our way down Fall St to the National Women's Hall of Fame! Our original plans saw us going to the National Park Center, but since it was closed due to the shut down it gave us an excuse to see the Hall (and a reason to go back, I always try to see the bright side)!

The Hall of Fame, which had free admission on the day of the March but is usually $4, was only a couple of rooms but it packed a powerful punch! So many plaques telling the amazing stories of so many inspiring women. Honestly, after the early morning start and the exhausting March it was a little hard to concentrate on those plaques. I'm sure that on another trip I would have been able to read more of them, but as it is I didn't read too many that I didnt know.

We went on, up then down Fall St, going into many of the shops, most of which had women working in them, including a small boutique, a shop called Women Made, and the visitor center! I picked up post cards and souvenir pennies, my staples in travel. Our last stop was to the Statue called "When [Susan B.] Anthony Met [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton" which depicts as you can probably tell the meeting of two great suffragettes being introduced to one another by Amelia Bloomer on May 12th, 1851! Seeing the most famous names in the Suffragist Movement was the perfect way to end our time in that birthplace of Women's Rights.

Seneca Falls is in the Finger Lakes district of New York State. This marks my first trip out that way. The Anthony-Stanton-Bloomer statue looks out over Van Cleef Lake and we also got to see northern bit of Seneca Lake when we went to Geneva for dinner! We got there at the perfect time and were able to catch the sunset! It was absolutely gorgeous!

If you ever get the chance, you won't regret going to the Finger Lakes and while you're there you should make a point of visiting Seneca Falls, even if there isn't a March going on!


~Laura!

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Friday, January 19, 2018

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TheWatchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley 


Release Date: July 2015 
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA 
Type: Adult Fiction 
Pages: 318 

Summary: 1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.





My Review:

The summary above is vague because to tell the reader what makes this book special is a mild spoiler. That being said, be warned as I don't want to be vague when discussing how great this book is, so mild spoilers ahead.

This is one of those books that I felt a type of pressure to read because I just kept seeing it. At work, at the store, and online! I follow a few bookstagrammers on Instagram and this book kept popping up! I have a collection of photos saved to my account of book recommendations and when I went through this book was saved 3 different times. I'm telling you it was fate when I finally found it at the library!

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is set in Victorian London mostly and a few chapters in Japan. I love this time period and I love clockwork so right away I'm invested. The main characters are primarily Thaniel and Mori, both of whom I absolutely adore. Thaniel is a low key bloke just trying to do what's right and is intriguing in his manner of being. He works for the government as a telegraph clerk and suddenly one day his life is drastically altered because of a watch. A clock that Mori made.

Then there's Mori himself. (Here comes those minor spoilers!) Mori is a little bit magic. This book blends contemporary Victorian with fantasy seamlessly and it is beautiful. Mori can remember what's about to happen. He is sort of clairvoyant as he can see the moment one decides to do something and the possibilities that action opens up. This blew my mind. I've been thinking about it for days. Once his abilities are explained further thinking about it sent me down the rabbit hole. If one could see the various outcomes of what one only intends to do it must become maddeningly endless. And then there is Mori's work. He is the watchmaker on Filigree Street after all. His clockwork is years beyond its time and frankly even our time. Can you imagine a clockwork octopus set to random gears so it appears to think on its own? And moves like it's real?! I'm trying to and it doesn't seem logical without magic. Imagine having a pet octopus or bird that is clockwork? I wish that clockwork would make a come back. This book made me want to take apart my mom's cuckoo clock to see how it works (she would murder me dead twice over). Katsu, by the way, is the octopus and he's a scene stealer. I loved him so much.

The plot of The Watchman of Filigree Street is just as intriguing as its characters are. It's part fantasy, part thriller with some mystery and drama thrown in. There's bombs and fake marriages and domestic life and politics all rolled into one package. There was a bit about three quarters of the way in though where I wasn't sure if anything was actually happening. The plot slowed and I didn't really see how it could all wrap up together and then WHOA it started to go so fast that I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Not a bad fast, just a fast paced mystery unraveling and you're trying to keep up with the revelations. You know what I mean?


There is nothing about this book that I would change. Natasha Pulley is a fantastic author who we are very lucky to have. I read on Goodreads that she is writing a sequel and I dearly hope that it's true because I am itching to read more about Thaniel and Mori. I can see this being an interesting series for many more books to come.


~Laura!

Thoughts From Places: Turtles All the Way Down Tour

Thursday, January 11, 2018

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My Trip to New York City's Nerdfighteria

In October I went to New York City for a couple days to go to the Turtles All the Way Down tour with Hank and John Green. I left on a Monday night at about 10:30pm (by Megabus which was late. It's always late because it comes from Toronto and it always gets stuck at the border.) I got into the city at about 8:30am or so and started the long walk to my Hostel from 27th to 88th. I could have taken the subway but I love walking the city as I never know what I'll find. I did take a break in Times Square to people watch and around 62nd where I went to Lincoln Plaza Cinema to see Loving Vincent that movie that is completely painted in the style of Van Gogh! That wasn't a spur of the moment thing though. I have been following it's progress since they announced the movie years ago. Originally it wasn't coming to Buffalo and I thought I'd never see it but it just so happens that it was still playing in New York so I couldn't not go see it! I love seeing movies by myself. The first time I did was last year when I went to see Alice Through the Looking Glass while backpacking.
I love NYC!

I went by myself, but I met a bunch of nerdfighter friends, old and new, for a gathering before the show. I belong to the New York Nerdfighter group on Facebook. I joined it years ago when I went to the NYC stop of the Tour Because Awesome! In line for the concert I met some awesome people! Some of whom I met up with at NerdCon and again here! It was like a mini reunion! Seamus set up a pre-show gathering that I went to, but was late for! By the time I got there they had already written a bunch of nerdfighter notes and were just about to put them in John's (and Maureen Johnson's) books! One of the coolest parts of this was that Lori Earl, Esther Earl's mom was there. I had forgotten my TSWGO bracelet and she noticed and gave me one!! Lori is the mom of Nerdfighteria and is the loveliest person.

A bunch of us got food and then went to Bryant Park for a couple hours to kill time before making our way over to the Town Hall. We all sat in a circle and just talked about all sorts of nerdy things. There was about 20 or so of us. What was great though was that halfway through this other group of people came behind us and just started juggling? It must have been an agreed upon spot to practice or something, but either way it was really cool. One of our group actually abandoned us and they taught him how to juggle. I love how spontaneous NYC is. The venue was only a couple blocks away and I met up with Marie (who had my ticket, she bought us front row because she is amazing!) out front near the tour bus! We actually got to meet Rosianna Halse Rojas before we went in!
John and Hank Green!

The show itself was great. It was like watching a Vlogbrothers video live. John came out first and read a selection from Turtles. And then Dr. Lawrence Turtleman came out and gave a powerpoint presentation on Monotypic Taxa as windows into Modern Phylogeny (aka Hank in a turtle costume wearing a suit jacket). They took questions from the audience in the form of a mock Dear Hank and John episode, wherein they both forgot the format of the podcast. Hank brought out his guitar and sang a few songs. John did a tribute to Amy Krouse Rosenthal in the form of “We are here because we are here because we are here” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne that we all sang together which was sad and moving. Hank came back out and they both sang the Anglerfish song (which by the way is my favorite Hank song), All Star (because of course) and the first verse and chorus of Sweet Caroline BUT we couldn’t sing the BAH BAH BAH or the SO GOOD. It was so hard. John was so excited by the silence in the part that he literally jumped up and down around the stage. It was like his entire life was completed. As an encore they came out and sang the Mountain Goats.

As if just seeing John and Hank the night before wasn't enough, I was also invited to be in the audience for John's segment on Good Morning America the next morning. My friend Seamus was contacted by the producer to have him and 20 or so “mega Nerdfighters” come and welcome John. Seamus invited me and Marie along with a bunch of others! I had to get up at 5am, I fought with the 86th street station turnstyle, but I did get to the studio. We waited in the VIP line and got our IDs checked (to make sure we were on the list, how cool?!), and got bracelets to wear. Once in we were led to the studio. We could see Times Square out the window. Basically, taping GMA was incredibly boring and kind of annoying. Commercials are forever long. There is this guy there who is supposedly a comedian that is in charge of keeping the audience under control or whatever. He “taught” us how to clap and how to smile and made fun of us. He was actually horrible. One of the serious segments was about that horrible Weinstein or whatever his name is and the comedian fellow literally said, “and remember big smiles.” We all looked at him like he was nuts and he said, “you know appropriate smiles though.” I was so mad that this man was telling me to smile during a segment about sexual assault that I told him to eff off.
The GMA Green Room!

He must hear that a lot though or I didn't say it loud enough because he still chose me to be one of the ten that went backstage to the green room to film a commercial spot with John. That was fun. I can officially say that I met him. I was the closest to where he was sitting (about 5 feet away from him) wearing my Pizza John shirt and he said “Thanks for wearing my torso on your face. Wait, no. You know what I mean!” and he looked around and saw all of us wearing DFTBA merch and was excited that we were all real nerdfighters. He asked me if I liked the book and I responded that since I got it last night from the event that I hadn't started yet. He was excited that all of us were at the show and asked if we liked the “Sweet Caroline” bit because he wasn't quite sure. I especially assured him that it was fantastic and that I loved how excited he got over silence and that it was surprisingly satisfying.

When the 10 of us who were picked came back to the main stage the cast of Goodbye, Christopher Robin was there! Domhall Gleeson, Bill Weasley himself, was there along with Margot Robbie, Kelly MacDonald, and Will Tiltson. The show gave everyone in the audience a ticket to Goodbye Christopher Robin's Director's screening of his film that night. Originally, I was going to try to see Aladdin on Broadway (well actually I tried to win the Hamilton lottery and of course did not get it), but I had already wanted to see the movie so I couldn't pass up a free ticket.

After the taping of GMA, some of us went to a diner on 9th Ave for breakfast. It was so nice to spend time with other nerdfighters. From there a few of us went to Central Park with the intention of reading some of Turtles, but it was such a nice day so we sat at the top of this GIANT rock in near the children's playground. We sat there for what seemed like several hours but was only a few. Because we had all gotten up so freakin' early time seemed to be moving way too slow because of those extra hours. Eventually, we went to a Starbucks and actually read for a few hours before we made our way to Paris Theatre to use our free tickets. Goodbye, Christopher Robin is an amazing movie and I highly recommend it! What was cool was that the Director was there and introduced the movie! It was an incredible experience, the whole 2 days in New York was just bananas.

I'm so thankful for John and Hank for creating such an awesome and welcoming community. Even though I'm not from NYC the nerdfighters there are so kind and invite me to events even though I can't always attend. 

Best Wishes and DFTBA,
~Laura!