What I Read - January 2016

I read like an absolute crazy person in January. On average, I usually read 2 books a month, but this month I read SIX. I attribute this to a few different reasons, those reasons being...

*Post holiday break depression
*Snow. And cold. 
*Downtime on public transportation
*More free time due to losing some classes at the end of 2015 and having to build my teaching schedule back up

Also, the books that I read were not super lengthy, so I breezed through them fairly quickly. Regardless, I wanted to share a little reading wrap-up for the month, so here it goes, in order from the first book I read to the last. 

Summary from Goodreads:

"Harry is waiting in Privet Drive. The Order of the Phoenix is coming to escort him safely away without Voldemort and his supporters knowing - if they can. But what will Harry do then? How can he fulfill the momentous and seemingly impossible task that Professor Dumbledore has left him?"

My thoughts:

When I first began reading the Harry Potter series, I was 10-years-old. I believe I was 17 or 18 the first time I read the Deathly Hallows, which is the last book. In November of last year, I decided to do a marathon re-read of the entire series, and I was able to finish the first six books by the end of 2015, and began 2016 with the final one. Believe me when I say, that reading this series as an adult was just as magical as reading it for the first time as a kid. I especially had a new found appreciation for this last book. J.K. Rowling is brilliant...her story telling, and her character development, and her world building, and her ability to perfect every tiny detail...it's all brilliant. This received a 5/5 stars (again) from me, of course. 

Summary from Goodreads:

"On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island--from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love."

My thoughts:

This book was much different than I was expecting it to be, but I really, really loved it. One of my friends described it as an "unexpected delight," and that really is the perfect description for it. It made my heart swell with so many different emotions. The transformation of the main character is fantastic, and if you are a book lover, you need to read it. Zevin does a really great job of connecting characters through books and reading. After all..."book people are the best people." I gave this one 5/5 stars as well. 

Summary from Goodreads:

"What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be...well...a lot less than the man of her dreams?

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad's recitation, and only the "good parts" reached his ears.

Now Goldman does Dad one better. He's reconstructed the "Good Parts Version" to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.

What's it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.

In short, it's about everything.

My thoughts:

First of all, The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorite movies. It's just so darn funny, and smart, and quotable. After reading the book, I completely understand why. William Goldman's writing and humor is just perfection. I love his over-exaggerated characters and his sarcasm. This book is such a perfect take on your typical, overly sweet "happily ever after" story. I gave it 5/5 stars. 

Summary from Goodreads:
"Libby Miller has always been an unwavering optimist—but when her husband drops a bomb on their marriage the same day a doctor delivers devastating news, she realizes her rose-colored glasses have actually been blinding her.
With nothing left to lose, she abandons her life in Chicago for the clear waters and bright beaches of the Caribbean for what might be her last hurrah. Despite her new sunny locale, her plans go awry when she finds that she can’t quite outrun the past or bring herself to face an unknowable future. Every day of tropical bliss may be an invitation to disaster, but with her twin brother on her trail and a new relationship on the horizon, Libby is determined to forget about fate. Will she risk it all to live—and love—a little longer?
From critically acclaimed author Camille Pag├ín comes a hilarious and hopeful story about a woman choosing between a “perfect” life and actually living."
My thoughts:
This book was enjoyable, but it still felt a bit generic to me, despite the difficult subject matter. Pagan is funny, and her writing is very simple to read, but I didn't deeply connect with any of the characters...and they annoyed me more than they enthralled me. Plus, I felt that it was too light-hearted for the content it was dealing with. It's fine to make things humorous, but they also teetered on the verge of unbelievable. I still liked it though, and it would be a great summer read. I gave it 3/5 stars. 
Summary from Goodreads:
"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows."
My thoughts:
I have been dying to read this book for some time. It looked like a perfect combination of creepy themes, with a dash of historical fiction. Riggs also incorporated real antique photographs that he found at various flea markets and yard sales into the story, which I thought would be a really cool touch. I did really, really enjoy it, but it wasn't everything that I wanted it to be. This may sound strange...but I just don't think it was dark enough. What was inside didn't fully match what was on the cover for me. That being said, I will still be reading the second and third books in this trilogy, and I am excited for the movie that is set to come out later this year. I gave it a 4/5 stars. 
Summary from Goodreads:
"Sometimes discovering the truth can leave you more hopeless than believing the lies…

That’s what seventeen-year-old Sky realizes after she meets Dean Holder. A guy with a reputation that rivals her own and an uncanny ability to invoke feelings in her she’s never had before. He terrifies her and captivates her all in the span of just one encounter, and something about the way he makes her feel sparks buried memories from a past that she wishes could just stay buried.

Sky struggles to keep him at a distance knowing he’s nothing but trouble, but Holder insists on learning everything about her. After finally caving to his unwavering pursuit, Sky soon finds that Holder isn’t at all who he’s been claiming to be. When the secrets he’s been keeping are finally revealed, every single facet of Sky’s life will change forever."
My thoughts:
I love contemporary novels, and with Colleen Hoover being the new queen of contemporary/new adult, I figured it was time to read one of her books. I really liked Hoover's writing style, but halfway through this book I was frustrated. It was appearing to be yet another "girl falls in love with brooding, complex boy, but we never quite find out why said boy is brooding and complex" type of story. Then, the switch flipped and everything made more sense. I appreciate all of the themes that this book dealt with, and although a lot of it was quite cheesy, I am glad that I chose to stick it out. I gave it 4/5 stars. 
Whoooo...finally to the end. Did you read any books in January? Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts? 


A Well Overdue Bratislava Post

I recently spent a couple of days in Slovakia. (And by recently, I mean last month.)

My boyfriend and I took a trip to the city of Bratislava to spend a couple of days over my Christmas break. Since we went over the holidays, the Christmas markets were in full swing, and the weather was cold, but not so cold that it was miserable to walk around in. It was the perfect time to visit.

Although Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, the city is still fairly small. We walked everywhere, and didn't use public transportation a single time. It is a quaint city with an abundance of beautiful old architecture, plenty of unique and cozy cafes and restaurants to spend time in, and rich history to be surrounded by. Something that I really loved was the fact that Bratislava was not nearly as crowded as other European cities I have visited so far. It is still very tourist friendly, but it was nice to meander down the streets and view the sites without having to fight off hundreds of other people. 

The biggest attraction is definitely the Bratislava Castle. It looks over the city, and it is definitely the first thing that attracts your eye, making you feel like you have stepped far back in time. Plus, the walk up to the castle is half the fun. Not only are the sights along the way beautiful, but being up on the hill gives you a great view of the rest of the city. 

Another one of my favorite experiences was stumbling across Narnia Pub, which is inspired by C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia book series. Whether you are a nostalgic book nerd, or just someone who is looking for a nice atmosphere in which to drink something hot, this is a place you will love. Shahid and I both enjoyed a nice mug of hot apple cider, and while we didn't try any of the food, the dishes that we saw other people enjoying looked great. 

It was a very laid-back, relaxing couple of days. Bratislava may not be the most exciting or well-known capital city in Europe, but I will still suggest giving it a visit...especially if you are in need of a low key trip. I thoroughly enjoyed everything it had to offer. 

Now for the photo overload...


Pushing Through the Weirdness

I've recently realized that the older I get, the more I reflect on the past. 

Not in the negative "regretting my mistakes" sort of way, but in the way that I just really want to take the time to deeply think about things, so that perhaps I won't forget them as easily in the coming years. Being closer to 30 now than to 20 can be a scary thing sometimes, especially because at the age of 26 I still have to remind myself that I'm not 18-years-old way too often. Really though, how long does it take to grow out of that?

If you had asked me at the age of 18 how I thought my life would be by the time I was 26, I probably would have told you that I would be teaching 10th grade English, living a comfortable life with a husband I met in high school and possibly a child or two. My least likely answer would have been the one with the life that I am actually partaking in now...living halfway across the world in a foreign country, teaching English as a second language, traveling whenever I can, being deeply in love with someone who lives in a country that is not the one I'm from, but also not the one that I live in at the moment, and still constantly thinking about what my next step in life will be. 

This life would definitely surprise my 18-year-old self. Not because I would have been against a life like the one I'm living, but more so because I would never have believed it was actually attainable. However, when I was 18, I also wouldn't have expected that I would still be questioning myself and my choices at 26 as much as I am. I'm happy in Europe, and I'm happy living a more "nomadic" lifestyle right now, but then I see people I went to high school and college with having children, and buying houses, and landing really good paying jobs, and the concept of the "American dream" pushes its way back into my mind and makes me wonder if the way that I'm happy living is just completely wrong.

I guess the best thing for me to do would be to ignore this argument that I so often have within myself. Everyone is unique, and everyone prefers a different way of life. When it comes down to it, I have done the 8-5 job thing, and I know it's not for me. I also know that working my way up the corporate ladder and striving for the white picket fence and the best of everything that materialism has to offer doesn't leave me feeling happy or fulfilled.

I had no idea what I was going to write when I sat down to blog, but apparently this is what was on my mind. Life is weird. And, it's up to each of us to keep pushing through the weirdness and create the lives that make us content...not the ones that society tells us are needed. If we don't at least try, the confusion we have now will pale in comparison to the regrets we will have in the future.

I hope you all had a great weekend, and best of luck to everyone as Monday rolls back around. 


It's Going to be a Year of Music

Switchfoot back in October 2013.
Holy cow, this week has been crazy.

To make a long story short, I have had my full teaching schedule, I have been trying to get some financial things sorted out, and I also had an interview at a second language school. (Because, even though I feel like my entire life consists of lesson planning, teaching, or traveling from class to class...I'm still not making enough money.) Also, interviewing for an ESL teaching job isn't like your typical "go sit in front of an intimidating person and answer a bunch of random questions" interview. Teaching interviews involve a vocal interview, teaching a demo lesson that was written to the school's specifications and requests, and taking grammar and language tests to prove that you really do know the difference in their, there, and they're. Therefore, the preparation for that on top of the classes that I already have was a bit overwhelming.

P.S. I did get the job though. ;)

Anyway, there is one major silver lining that has really gotten me through this week. And that thing is...

I'm seeing Imagine Dragons on Saturday. 

They have been one of my absolute favorite bands for the past few years, and I'm going to experience them live, here in Prague. I'm so excited! Also, a huge shout out to my sweet boyfriend Shahid who bought the ticket for me. (I really wish you could be there with me, but I will make sure to tell you all about it!)

However, seeing Imagine Dragons is only the beginning of my musical enjoyment for the year. In May, I will be seeing Mumford and Sons here in Prague with my friend Tegan. They area another one of my all-time favorites so I'm extremely pumped about this as well.

And...I have saved the best for last. In June, I will be going to the UK to see Shahid, and on the 16th of June him and I will go to London to see, are you ready for this???



(This obviously deserves more exclamation points, but I'm trying to keep the level of obnoxiousness in this post to a minimum.)

Back to the point...I am seeing Colplay. In June. In LONDON. Now, if you are close to me, you know that Coldplay is my most favorite band on the face of the planet and they always will be. You may also know that one of my life goals is to see them live in Europe. This has been planned for a month or so now, but I still get overly excited every time I think about it. Overly excited to the point that I want to cry a bit.

One year. Three concerts. Three favorite bands. Since I have already seen Switchfoot live, the only other band I will have left on my list is OneRepublic.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. I just wanted to get some excitement out. I will leave you with three of my favorite songs, one from each band that I will be seeing this year. (The Coldplay one is from their newest album A Head Full of Dreams. You should go check it out.)

Happy Thursday!


Goal Setting is Always a Good Idea

It's 2016!

Okay, so technically it's been 2016 for about 8 days now. But, sometimes I like to be fashionably late. And, blogging fashionably late has always been a specialty of mine.

2015 was a great year for me. I really followed through with the goals that I set for myself, and at the end of the year I realized that I am the happiest I have been in a very long time. Stressed and still adjusting to being abroad, but happy.

I like to think of 2015 as the year that I began to get my life back. I took some risks, and I am a better person for it. I think risk-taking was appropriate for me, especially after the low year that 2014 was. Sometimes, you have to do drastic things to get to the place in life that you want to be. Luckily for me, the risks have paid off for the most part.

Last year, I moved abroad, changed careers, traveled to five new countries, adjusted to life in a non-English speaking country, and even met someone that I have fallen head over heels in love with. I would go so far as to say that 2015 has been the most challenging, but also the best year of my life so far. Things that I have only ever dreamed of became a reality for me. I'm still in a bit of a shock.

So, now it is time to look forward. I have never been a fan of "resolutions," but I do believe that the beginning of a new year is the prime time to set new goals and think about things you want to change or accomplish. Therefore, I have made a list of 2016 goals and I thought that I would share them with you. If you're interested, keep on reading. ;)

2016 Goals

1. Make 20,000 to 30,000 Czech crowns per month. 
Living in a different country means surviving on a different currency. Since I began teaching, money has been really tight for me. I really want to get to a more comfortable place so I can not only pay my living costs, but also continue to travel Europe. Therefore, I am looking into teaching for a second school. I actually have an interview next week!

2. Be more social. 
I have always tended to be the type of person who hangs out with a very small circle of people. While there is nothing wrong with that, I want to take advantage of the situation I'm in and really get to know a lot of people. As an introvert, I also like to spend a great deal of time by myself. And, while there is nothing wrong with that, too much alone time can also damage my overall mood. So, being more social is something I really need to work on.

3. Visit at least 5 new countries. 
Last year, I visited the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and Slovakia. This year, I want to visit at least five new countries. I could honestly probably do more. However, it does depend heavily on free time and finances. I really want to be able to make travel a priority.

4. Read 30 books. 
Reading is something I really like to do consistently. Books have been a lifelong addiction of mine, and I don't feel completely like myself when I'm not reading regularly. Last year I read 18 books, which is not as many as I would have liked. This year, I'm confident that I will be able to read at least 30.

5. Write, write, write. 
I have decided that blogging 4-8 times per month would be ideal. I would also like to think that this could be the year that I finish the novel I've been slowly (and I do mean slowly) writing. Writing is kind of like reading for me. I'm happier when I have it in my life.

6. Lose 20 more pounds. 
Since moving to Prague, I have lost around 25-30 pounds. It's honestly not something that I even tried to do...the lifestyle change just caused it to happen. However, I am really happy with the change and I want to keep it going. I would be over the moon happy with my body if I lost about 20 more pounds.

7. Get rid of the distance. 
I haven't mentioned anything about this here yet, but I have met a man that I am absolutely crazy about. It is currently a "long distance" relationship. He lives in the UK, and I live here in Prague. We see each other every month or so, but we both hope to be able to remove the distance from the equation by the end of the year. This is the goal I want to achieve more than anything, and I'm confident that we will figure out how to make it happen.

Do you have resolutions or goals for the new year? I would love to hear about them! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and that the transition back into the routine of life is going smoothly. Have a great weekend!
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