Review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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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.


~Laura!

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

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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.

~Laura!


Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

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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! 


~Laura!

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

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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! 

~Laura!

Review: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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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.




~Laura!

Review: Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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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. 


~Laura!

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

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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.

~Laura!


Bravery and Backpacking

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

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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


~Laura!

Book Hunting Adventure: Tolkien's Sir Gawain

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

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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. 
~Laura!

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

Thursday, March 24, 2016

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(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, 

~Laura

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson 


Release Date: May 12th 2015 
Publisher: Harper Collins 
Pages: 272 
Source: Library (but I wish to buy it soon!) 
 
Summary (goodreads.com): Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.





My Review: 

Right off the bat I have to tell you all that this is the very first graphic novel I have ever enjoyed. Enjoyed is an understatement, I adored this book. So much so that I’ve decided to finally try to start reading more graphic novels in general. The reason I decided to read this particular graphic novel is because of the author. Noelle Stevenson is also known as Gingerhaze on tumblr. She is brilliant, hilarious, and too talented for me to even handle. If you haven’t checked out the art on her blog go now…I’ll wait…


Nimona is a story full of heart and humor and it has broad overreaching themes that made me think a lot. Noelle's artwork is quirky and so full of life! It just comes off the page and despite it being fantasy I can totally see it happening. Nimona is such a great character! She's so complicated and emotionally strong. I adore her! I love that she's a shapeshifter and her devious impulsive streak. One of my favorite story lines was the back story behind Blackheart and Goldenloin (as well as their names themselves ha!). It was intriguing and heartbreaking. I demand another novel about those two. However, some of the dialogue felt forced at times, but I think that’s just her style. After years of reading her tumblr I find that that actually enhances the drawings and her unique type of humor. 

~Laura!

(Frustrated) Thoughts from Places: London in the Beginning

Friday, March 18, 2016

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My First Day in London



Have you ever been so excited for something and then when it actually happens it is the exact opposite of how you were hoping it would go? Well, I do and my trip to London is the perfect example. London sucked. A lot of it was just awful. When I tell the story of my trip to others I have to stress the point that while there I considered the trip 30% wonderful and just 70% absolutely horrible. I have never been so frustrated before in my life. A lot of why it sucked and I was so frustrated was because even though I have been studying London for about a decade it actually makes no sense. Don't quote me (or her) but I think Maureen Johnson once said either on twitter or in one of her books that London streets looked like they had been planned by a drunk man following a cat. I thought she was exaggerating. She was not. London is just ridiculously unplanned. I am so used to Buffalo which has been called the “best planned city in America” that London, despite all the preparation, was just stupidly unorganized. At times during our trip I actually believed that the city as a whole was out to get people unfamiliar with it. 
Our hotel room
For example, multiple times we were following signs that were obviously placed there to help tourists find the major landmarks and the signs actually led us in the wrong direction. What the hell is that all about, London?! Basically, a lot of things went wrong. I say wrong because we had to see a lot in only a few days. The wronger things got the less we got to see. Originally, the London Trip was supposed to be 2-3 weeks instead of 5 days, but Mom could only take off so much and I rally wanted her to be the one to come with me.

The frustration of day one especially, we landed a little late and customs took ages. We waited until the rest of the plane emptied out and because of that we were last in line. Then mom couldn’t find her suitcase, it ended up on the floor on the other side of the conveyor belt. When we finally got out of all that nonsense and were trying to find the Gatwick Express we were greeted by shirtless Scots in kilts. Weird, right? We bought a couple postcards and stamps then got on the train. We were supposed to be out of the airport and at Victoria Station by noon. 
The Gunner and I
No. By the time we got to Victoria it was past 3 and we decided to check into our hotel instead of leaving our luggage in lockers at the station. When we got there and checked in I cried. It was horrible because of all the time lost. Mentally, I was already taking out most of the things I wanted to see. I was freaking out. And then I stubbed my toe on the weird bed. There was a desk but no chair. There was a shower but no shampoo. There was soap, sorta, there was a hand soap dispenser in the shower. The toilet was down the hall and up half a flight of stairs. I was pretty sure there was mold on the handle; mom said it was just corrosion. There was another door in the bathroom too that leads outside, not normal! And then to make everything even weirder and worse we had to give our room key to the desk every time we left. Oh and the outlets didn’t work. When we asked at the desk where our fridge was and why our outlets didn’t work they said that we couldn’t have one and that they would check them. While I was in the room I wrote out my postcard to my work saying basically that everything sucked so far. We also decided to take out the Victoria and Albert Museum and that mom would do it Wednesday by herself while I was in Oxford instead (which was actually okay with me because they didn't have anything I really wanted to see).
The Little Duck Whisperer

We left the hotel and made our way to Hyde Park Corner so I could see the Royal Artillery Monument with the Gunner, one of the main characters from Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart. That was pretty cool, but looking back I barely even looked at him. I felt rushed. I felt like I was just checking him off my list. Next we went into Hyde Park proper and walked along the Serpentine. There were a lot of swans and ducks and a little boy who was feeding them. There were trick skaters and a weird ice cream truck. As we were looking for Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens we saw an actual cricket game! We took a wrong turn and found a woman trying to feed birds. Later, after we actually found Peter we saw her again and she had gathered quite a crowd of both birds and humans alike. One green parrot was hanging off a tree eating from a girl’s hand.
Peter Pan Statue in Kensington Gardens

When we found Peter Pan I was really excited about seeing it, but mostly I was pumped we finally found it! I went to scan the QR code to hear Peter talk and it didn’t work. It worked for everyone else but not me and I that’s when I got extremely mad and frustrated. When I get frustrated I am the meanest person in the world. I dont want to be obviously but it's one of my flaws. And so I lashed out at mom. More and more people kept coming and scanning that code and it was working for them and I just said “forget it let’s leave.” Everything was going so wrong and I was so tired. By that time it was going to be dark in an hour or so and we wouldn’t make it to the TARDIS in time if we went to the Elfin tree at the other end of the Gardens and Harrods, so we took out the tree and walked to Harrods. We also ended up taking the TARDIS out. And we got seriously, scary lost in the dark outside of Harrods trying to find a bus stop that we needed to get back to the hotel, but didn't exist. It also didn't help that we were so hungry we couldn't concentrate. So many things had gone wrong already and we hadn’t been in London for more than a few hours.


Mom and I were reminded of the bird lady from Mary Poppins
I cried a lot that first day. But I learned a lot that day. I started to learn how the Tube worked. For the first day the platforms confused me and we ended up going to the wrong side a couple times but once I figured it out the next day everything became a lot easier because we were able to get from the station we were at to the station we needed to be at. However, once we were out of said station there wasn't a clear path on how to get to the place we wanted. So much so that I am pretty positive they give wrong directions so that tourists don’t come back. Frustration should not be a part of any trip but it does happen. From now on when I plan trips that I cannot embrace getting lost (so as to find new things) I’m going to add at least 2 hours a day cushion for when we are frustrated and just need to stop.

More cheerful London posts soon, I promise,
~Laura!

Get Ready For Some Book Hunting Adventures!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

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Introducing Bookworm Extraordinaire’s

 Book Hunting Adventures



This new feature on BWE is inspired by R.S. Garnett’s 1931 Some Book-Hunting Adventures in which he relates his own tales of scouring the shops for that perfect find. As I related in my review of it, I found this book quite by chance as I was in the stacks of my library in August. As I read it the idea of this series began to worm its way into my brain. Garnett had some pretty interesting tales about how he came into his books and the more I thought about I realized that I get my books in some strange places. Everywhere from thrift stores to a sketchy old man under a bridge my books have come to me in odd ways. BWE’s Book Hunting Adventures is going to be a new series in which I share my stories with my readers. I hope my Book Hunting Adventures amuse and inspire you as much as Garnett’s did me. 

~Laura!

Thoughts from Places: Starting My First Trip Across The Pond

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

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The First Leg of My London Trip

Buffalo to Toronto to London


 
I took this as we waited at the Border. Looks like Canada
is CLOSED. I thought it was hilarious.
        
I've wanted to go to London forever, practically. This was problematic seeing as it's 3,000+ miles away across the pond and I've never been on a plane, nor did I actually foresee myself getting on one. However, it turned out that the biggest problem of getting to London wasn't to be the plane ride itself (which I had been dreading) it was getting to the Plane itself! My mom and I had a plan: take the Megabus to Toronto, hang out at the Eaton Centre for a little while, then take public transportation to the Pearson Airport. Sounds simple, right? It probably would have been for anyone but us.

We got to the bus station almost an hour before the bus was to depart only to find out that the bus was going to be late. It came almost 2 hours later. But wait, that’s not all. When we finally got to the border, everything went smoothly until, of course, the bus broke down. We found out later that the battery died. Though, while we were waiting at the US/Canadian Border we did have entertainment. A man was dancing, there was a huge spider, and we discovered a poster claiming a $50,000 reward for information leading up to the capture of a clown’s murderer. We didn’t leave the border until 12:20. We were supposed to be in Toronto at 11:10, we didn’t arrive until around 3pm.
I wasn't kidding about the Clown Murderer...

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:20pm so as per instructions we planned to arrive at 6pm, 4 hours early for an international flight. Originally, we planned to eat lunch at the Eaton Center, explore it for a few hours, eat some dinner there as well and then make our way to the Pearson Airport.  Because of all the Megabus Drama, we were able to eat lunch, explore the Eaton Center only enough to buy a souvenir each as we searched for the correct door to lead us to the proper subway platform. (Let me just say here that a mall is a little too big if it has a subway station, but also ridiculously and unnecessarily large if it has MULTIPLE STATIONS!!)

Actually getting to the airport and to the proper place inside of it was also incredibly hard and frustrating. We couldn’t get on the subway unless we had tokens. Okay, so I bought 4 so that we would already have them when we came home. So, my directions to the airport said: take the subway then take this bus. We got to the bus station and the woman told us it cost $6 each and that the next bus didn’t leave until 5:45pm or something ridiculous like that. In a panic, since this was our only option we quickly bought the tickets, and just as quickly regretted it because we were now going to be late for that 4 hours before International flight thing. I went back to the window and asked how long exactly the bus ride was because if it only took 10 minutes or so we would be fine. The woman then realized that she was wrong and that the next bus would be arriving any minute and that we probably just missed it because we had been talking to her, but to run out and check! Turns out she was still wrong because the bus didn’t come for another 10 minutes but whatever! We got on the bus and to the airport.

Mom snapped this photo of me being really excited
about leaving.
And yet our problems were still not over. The bus dropped us off at Terminal 1 and we, of course, needed Terminal 3. We went in and asked a security guard how to get there. He said and I am quoting directly here: “Go up, and up, and then take the Sky Train.” WHAT?! How is that at all helpful? What is a SKY TRAIN?! UP AND UP WHERE?! So, we just decided to go up the escalators to the next floor and ask someone there. I asked at a rental car desk and they vaguely pointed over my shoulder. As I turned around another woman who had been on that $6 bus was asking a passerby where to go and we followed her since she seemed to be getting better directions than I was. She became something like our angel. She knew exactly where she was going as soon as the man pointed her in the right direction. Better yet, she was traveling on our airline as well, but to Rome. The “sky train” by the way, was just an elevated train that ran between terminals and was located on the third floor. The guard’s directions were okay but they failed to mention all the turns we had to take in between the “up and up.”
That's right, Llama George came to England with me! Here
he is poking out of my backpack.

When we got in line to get our boarding passes a woman asked us if we would be willing to switch our departure date to tomorrow because the flight was overbooked. They would give us $400 and put us up in a hotel. My response was “but we can get on this plane right? This is the plane we want, not your plane tomorrow. Are you saying we can’t get on this plane? Because we booked these in April and we are getting on this plane tonight!” And she relented and let us past her. Despite that scare though, after meeting that woman, whom my mom called our Toronto Angel (I was referring to as nice Rome Lady), things started to get better. I desperately wanted to use my backpack as a carry on. I knew that technically the dimensions were a couple inches off, but I was confident that it was under the weight limit and I was hoping that they would let it slide. They did. There was no problem at all while checking in and getting our boarding passes. I had a few panics in the days preceding the trip because I was having a hard time getting the proper info to get our passes. Finally, I had just printed out the Priceline Itinerary hoping that the ticket numbers on there would be good enough to prove that we did in fact have tickets.  Turns out we didn’t need any of that, just our passports. I was also allowed to take my backpack on board no problem at all. He also gave us a $10 off coupon to their lounge which we didn’t use but it was still an incredibly nice gesture after all the crap we had just gone through. We never saw the Toronto Angel again. She had disappeared into the crowd and we never were able to thank her.

This is the really cozy place we waited for our
plane!
Another thing I was super worried about was Security. I had spent days going over what was and was not okay to bring on a plane. I knew that everything had to be put into a separate bin and that I had to take off my shoes and belt (chose not to even wear a belt just in case). I knew that liquids had to be 3 oz or less and that they had to be in a quart bag (even though I didn’t actually bring liquids). I also had my medicine in their original bottles and in a separate clear bag. I knew absolutely all of this and didn’t need to. The woman had me put my backpack in one thing, my meds still inside, and my shoes on! I went through the metal detector and I BEEPED!! I couldn’t believe it. I DID EVERYTHING RIGHT. WHY WAS I BEEPING!? I panicked and my panicked brain said “OMG DO I HAVE A METAL HIP?!” which makes no sense because I don't, but I checked my hip and there was my phone still in my pocket. I went back put it in my bin and walked back across with no beeps. “That happens all the time, sweetie, don’t worry” said the nice lady, and then she gave me my stuff. Seriously, Canadians are almost too trusting. Mom went off too, by the way, she forgot her rings.

        We found our way to our gate which also had an incredibly over priced cafĂ© right next to it, but also outlets and comfy seats. We hunkered down for our 3 and a ½ hour wait. A little while later I went to find food and came back to find some pilot in my seat. Mom had told him not to sit there but he ignored her. He was the pilot on the flight to Pakistan. As soon as he stood up I slid into my seat. His response was: “Oh. My seat.” Mine back? “Sorry, it was mine first.” And then I ignored him. He moved to the seat next to me but asked the MAN across if he could sit there. However, the rest of the people surrounding us were little old people going home and they were adorable.
I was fascinated with the current progress of the plane!

By that time I was getting INCREDIBLY ANXIOUS. But not as anxious as I think I should have been if that makes sense. I thought that I would be inconsolably freaking out.  After the rude piloted Pakistan flight left, the flight crew for our plane arrived. I heard this conversation: “Oh I’m glad I found the right gate so quickly!” then “The big bald guy is hard to miss!” He was in fact hard to miss. He was also really nice. He was one of our flight attendants.

       Then it was time to get on board the plane. I am proud of how unfreaked out I was. Apparently, we had a very smooth take off. I have nothing to compare it to so I’m just going to go with it. Before we took off I heard an English woman behind me say, “Jolly Ranchers? *ate one* Oh, these are fruity. They’re lovely, they are, like foxy glacier mints!” I glanced at mom and smiled, if it hadn’t yet sunk in that I was finally on my way to England, it did just then.
The sunset from the plane.

I spent the last few hours of the night watching Inside Out with mom. I slept for a little while, but it was stupidly warm on the plane. I did see the sunrise from the plane though. It was incredible to see what the clouds see. I actually cried from sheer joy when we were landing. I was finally in England.

Sorry to leave you hanging, but I promise to tell you all more later!
~Laura!