Vacation shopping!

I did plenty of shopping while I was on vacation, some of it for myself and some of it for other members of my family.

I already talked about the books that I bought in a previous post (you can see that here if you haven’t already), but I also bought a couple other random items. I got a really cute metal bracelet with a cat charm on it (shown below), and a little pig statue for my husband (this might seem strange, but it’s a little joke between him and me).

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As far as clothing goes, I got some new leggings and sweaters. I’m pretty excited about these, since as far as I’m concerned, you can never have too many of either of these. I even got a pair of leggings with a blue/purple space pattern (even though the picture looks mostly purple), which are pretty much the best thing ever. They’re really soft too.

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I also got two pairs of shoes. One is a pair of black ankle boots. I currently have a pair of black boots, but I’ve been wearing them a lot since I bought them more than a year ago, and they’re pretty beat up. This is my new pair, pictured below, and I’m really happy with them (which is good, since I’m a bit picky about boots).

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(photo courtesy of DSW, although I bought them at Marshalls)

The other shoes I bought are a pair of slip-on vans, which I didn’t strictly need, but are really cool. I haven’t had a pair of vans since high school, and I forgot how comfortable they are. These are the ones that I bought, and the pattern just felt very appropriate for me (sorry it’s a little bit hard to see in this picture, but if you’re interested in seeing a better picture, click on the link below).

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(photo courtesy of Vans)

I don’t do a lot of clothes shopping on my own anymore, because I don’t have a lot of expendable income. But it’s always fun to go shopping on vacation. I especially like to go shopping with my mother when I see her. It also helps that she tends to buy me things, which I really appreciate. This year, I specifically asked for her to take me out clothes shopping as my Christmas present. But it’s mostly good just to spend time together, and we always have a good time.

What fun things did you do over the holidays? I’d love to hear what you did in the comments.

Alyss

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Travel insanity

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything in the past couple days, but my husband and I ran into a bit of trouble on our drive home from Rhode Island.

It wasn’t really snowing until we got to New York, and then it started snowing a lot, and there were a bunch on signs and travel advisories for lake effect snow. And then I guess there were a bunch of accidents on the highway we were on. So they had to close the highway, and were diverting people into the city. Oh, and did I mention that all of this happened during rush hour on Thursday night? It did, so we got stuck in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY for five hours.

It was really terrible. We were finally able to take a different way out of the city, but we still had to stop for the night soon after that because of the snow.

Which meant that we had to drive longer than we intended yesterday, just to make it home. But we finally did, and although I’m sad that my vacation is over, it’s good to be back in my own home.

Alyss

Vacation book haul

It wouldn’t be a complete vacation if I didn’t do a little book shopping. I did plenty of clothes shopping over the week, but yesterday I finally got to go out and do a little book shopping as well. My husband actually went with me, which he hardly ever does, since I tend to linger in bookstores. But we had fun, and we both bought a couple things.

Here’s what I bought:

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

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I’d heard about this book before, and when I saw it I decided to pick it up. It’s about a society that has conquered disease and death, so they only reason people die is to keep the population under control. This is what Scythes do, and the story follows two apprentice Scythes as they’re learning the trade. This seems like an interesting take on the dystopian novel, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

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Okay, so I was totally one of those teenagers who read the Twilight series and The Host. I’m not saying they’re the best books every written (though I think The Host is a lot better than the Twilight series), but I’m the kind of person who appreciates reading books that aren’t necessarily good. All reading gives me perspective, and makes me a little bit less pretentious, I hope.

But I did look through this book while I was cataloging it at the library, and it did look interesting. This book follows a former government agent who’s on the run from her former employers. I don’t usually go for this kind of book, but the description reminds me of another series that I read and liked in the past (the first book in the series is called Exit Strategy, and it’s by Kelley Armstrong, if anyone is interested). I also happened to catch it when it was on sale, which always helps sway the decision to pick it up.

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart

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This book has been on my list for a little while, since I’m a fan of Youtube and follow quite a few creators. I’ve been excited to see that quite a few Youtubers have come out with books recently, Hannah Hart being one of them. It seems like Youtube creators are coming more into the mainstream of creative content, and it’s nice to see them being recognized for their hard work and skills. I also really enjoy memoirs, so this book checked a lot of my interest boxes, and I’m really looking forward to reading it.

I can’t remember the last time I went out and bought multiple books, so I really enjoyed this outing with my husband. It was a great addition to a really nice vacation.

Happy reading!

Alyss

Local history museums

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Today, my husband and I went to a museum located in Woonsocket, RI, which is the town I spent part of my childhood/adolescence in. I consider it to be my home town, even though I spent the first years of my life in Florida, because all of my mother’s family is from there, and most still live in the area.

The town has a long history of French Canadian immigrants and textile mill work, and this museum focuses on that history and culture. Amazingly, I had never been to the museum when I actually lived in Woonsocket, so I was excited to go now. Especially since I’m getting into museum studies in my library science program.

But there was still so much that I didn’t know about the town I lived in. Of course, I learned about textile mills in school, since it’s part of the culture of the area. And there are still mill buildings around, but many of them are empty or have been converted into other things. So it was really interesting to learn more about that work and lifestyle.

Because I’m learning about museum studies, like I mentioned, I also think it’s interesting to see how different museums treat their collections and subject matter. Art museums are pretty similar a lot of the time, since art is art no matter where you go. With the exception of really out there modern art, a lot of it is treated the same. But local history museums are a little bit different, since each one has different local history to portray. And different subject matter requires a different presentation. A lot of these types of museums have to use more interactive means of representation, with exhibits that you can walk through, videos you can watch, or audio you can listen to. So I think it’s interesting to see how each museum works with the collection that they have.

This museum was small, but it was no less interesting for its size, and I thought that the curators had done a really good job with their local history.

Alyss

(photo courtesy of the Rhode Island Historical Society)

Technology in the Star Wars universe

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So, my husband and I went to see the new Star Wars movie today, and I had some feelings about it. Really, it brought up some feelings I have about the whole Star Wars universe. Rogue One wasn’t a terrible movie. It was a little long and filled with space battles, but overall it was okay. I like Felicity Jones as an actress, and she did a good job in this movie.

However, I couldn’t help thinking about the technology in the Star Wars universe. So many of these different planets that are inhabited have these old crumbling temples and stone buildings on them. And people live in them with very little in the way of current technology or amenities. Except for their lasers and space ships and future technology.

My question is how did civilizations like this occur? Were there ancient people who lived there and died out in an old world/new world (literally?) situation, and then the space settlers just took over and put all their fancy future technology into these old temples?

When I mentioned this to my husband, he said that maybe it was because the Star Wars universe was created back in the 1970s, so it’s limited by the technological advancements of the time. So it makes sense that a lot of the supposed future technology looks old. The original creators were limited by what they knew and what they anticipated that future technology might look like.

This might also explain why the technology is so disjointed from our modern perspective. There are so many mundane aspects of technology that the creators might not have bothered to imagine, like modern cameras, information storage that doesn’t look like floppy disks, and even the internet. So these are missing from the Star Wars universe, despite the fact that so many of these mundane things would be necessary in order to achieve that future technology.

So while I understand this, it makes for a really confusing movie-watching experience. Especially since I’m not enough of a fan of Star Wars that I can suspend my disbelief or be swayed by fan service. And there was a lot of fan service in Rogue One. Arguably the entire story is fan service, since it’s all a lead up to the events of the fourth movie.

But those are just my thoughts. If you’ve seen Rogue One, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments.

Alyss

(photo courtesy of StarWars.com)

All the baking!

I’m visiting family for the New Year, so of course, we’re having a lot of different family gatherings. And because I’m one of the designated bakers in the family, I’ve been baking a lot. I made the gingerbread cookies that I’ve posted about a couple weeks ago (here’s a link to that post), and then gave my grandma the recipe because they were so well received. I also made two different kind of cupcakes, although those were from box mixes, so there’s really nothing much to say about those.

Today, I made sour cream pound cake, because we’re having another gathering which includes dinner out and dessert at home afterward. This pound cake recipe is from a book I bought awhile ago, called All Cakes Considered.

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(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

It’s seriously one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever used, because the recipes are very detailed and helpful if you’re a new baker, or are just hoping to improve your baking technique. It’s also mostly cake recipes, so there’s a lot of variety for everyone’s particular tastes.

This pound cake recipe is especially good. It’s technically sour cream pound cake, but the flavor is so nice and citrus-y, because it has both lemon and orange extracts in it. And the texture is thick and dense, yet fluffy at the same time. If you know anything about good pound cake, you’ll know what I mean, and this one is the best I’ve ever had.

However, it’s definitely a lot of work, and I feel like people should go into baking aware of what they’re getting themselves into. There aren’t a ton of ingredients, but the batter requires a lot of mixing and adding each ingredient slowly in portions. I should also mention that this is the first recipe in the book, so it goes into a lot of detail about exactly how to make this cake right. So you’ll spend a lot of time mixing, especially if you don’t have a stand mixer. I have one at home, which makes things a bit easier (though you still can’t cut corners on mixing if you want the pound cake to come out right). But the problem this time is that my mother doesn’t have a stand mixer, so I had to use her hand-held mixer, which is really hard work for thick pound cake batter. And did I mention that it takes an hour and a half to bake? This cake is definitely an all afternoon endeavor, but it is so worth it, especially with some strawberries on top.

It all turned out good, and there was even enough batter left over to make a loaf to keep for ourselves. Which was a good thing, since it was completely devoured! Also, my grandma (who loves pound cake) asked for the recipe, so that’s always flattering.

This book is really worth the investment if you love baking. It includes great recipes, pictures, helpful instructions, and the funniest baking insights throughout.

Happy baking!

Alyss

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (includes spoilers!)

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Here’s a link to the Goodreads page, if you’re interested.

This was another one of those books that I picked up at the library after cataloging it. It seemed interesting, if maybe a bit lighthearted from the the blurb on the back cover. The story focuses on Naila, a Pakistani-American girl who is a senior in high school. She’s about to graduate and go off the college to study medicine. However, her parents have always said that when the time comes for her to get married, they will arrange the marriage, and she isn’t allowed to date before then. So when her parents find out that she’s been dating a boy named Saif, they’re furious and decide that Naila and the family need to take a trip to Pakistan to reconnect with their roots (and keep Naila and Saif apart).

It’s not until her parents extend the trip and start being vague about future plans that Naila begins to worry. She finds out that her parents and extended family intend to arrange a marriage for her, like right now, and that she’s not going back to America. All of those friends and family members who have been coming to visit, they’re the families of her suitors. And it seems like everyone knew about it except her.

Well, Naila’s not having that. She wants to go to college to become a doctor, and she wants to be with Saif. So she tries to escape, and this is where the book gets really dark really fast. Her uncle catches her, takes her back to his house, and she’s drugged and locked in her room until her wedding can occur. And when she tries to say no, that she doesn’t agree to the wedding, she is forced to sign the marriage contract anyway. She’s quickly sent to her new husband’s home, where the family is nice to her at first, but her mother-in-law gets very upset when she finds out that the marriage hasn’t been consummated. So Naila’s new husband essentially rapes her because his mother made him, even though he seems like a nice guy in general, and is trying to make the whole situation as easy as possible for her.

She does eventually escape, with Saif and his father’s help, but not before being beaten by her husband’s family and miscarrying her husband’s child. So the ending is happy at least.

This book was such a surprise, since the blurb was a little misleading. As I said, I was expecting it to be a lot lighter. And after the first few chapters, it certainly wasn’t light. At the beginning of the book, her parents seem strict and traditional, but they don’t ever seem to treat Naila poorly. They do, however, always treat her brother better than they treat her. But as soon as Naila has broken one of their rules, everything changes. They’re not physically or verbally abusive, but they basically tell her to trust them and not question any of their decisions anymore. They take Naila’s money and passport, and they take her cellphone once they realize she has still been talking with Saif. You quickly get the sense that she is being watched everywhere that she goes, and her entire family is keeping her on a very tight leash. Part of that is traditional Pakistani culture, I think, but things go downhill so quickly once she tries to run away, and the reader realizes just how controlling her family is.

She doesn’t get much help from anyone, except Saif and his family. Her cousin tries to help her and gives her the money she uses to run away, but as another unmarried daughter, the cousin is under similar close scrutiny and control. Her husband’s family has no idea that she was forced into the marriage or was held against her will beforehand. When her husband finds out, he’s sympathetic, but does nothing to alter her situation. He basically tells her to move on and accept the situation, because things can’t change.

The reader really gets a sense of the Pakistani culture from this book, and especially from the way different people act. The women are much more willing to be nice and try to help, but only to a certain extent, because things are the way they are. And the men, although many seem nice and genial at first, quickly show how violent and controlling they can become if they are disobeyed. It was really interesting to experience, since as an American, I’m not used to that way of life at all. I think this book also shows (and the author’s note confirms this) how prevalent forced marriage is throughout the world, in Middle Eastern culture as well as others. I know that arranged marriage doesn’t necessarily coincide with forced marriage, since many people very willingly enter into arranged marriages. But this book really shows how easily the situation can become forced.

This turned out to be a really great, eye-opening book, especially in the YA genre. There are so many YA books that tend toward lighter topics or fantasy or science fiction topics that aren’t real. But I think it’s so important for anyone, but especially young adults who are learning about the world, to be exposed to things like this. Because not everyone has privilege, and not everyone is in control of their own life.

What do you think of serious topics like this one? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Happy (or maybe not so happy) reading!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

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(photo courtesy of Sigrid Rodli Illustration. On a side note, you should go check out their illustrations. They’re really cool and creepy.)

I’ve had a couple forays into the horror genre. I read some Edgar Allen Poe in school, like everyone else, and I’ve read some more modern horror stories that include vampires and werewolves and the like. But this is the first time I’ve ever read a story by H.P. Lovecraft, who is arguably one of the masters of the horror genre.

I was introduced to H.P. Lovecraft by my husband and brother-in-law, both of whom are huge fans of Lovecraft. They’ve read the stories, and they play all of the board games and card games based off of the Lovecraft Mythos. I’ve played the games with them as well, and they’ve been encouraging me to read the stories. I was definitely intrigued by the universe that Lovecraft created, so I decided to finally give it a try.

The collection that I bought is called The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. I picked it mostly because it has an awesome cover (pictured below), but my brother-in-law assured me that it has a good selection of Lovecraft’s stories as well. It also has an introduction detailing Lovecraft’s life and writing, which is pretty interesting.

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(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

The funny thing is, though, this collection doesn’t include The Dunwich Horror. I also checked out an audiobook collection of Lovecraft stories, and listened to this story instead. It was an interesting first story to choose, because it is a later story for him, and takes place within the more developed universe that he created during his writing career. So a lot of the details were somewhat recognizable from my experience with the board games based on his Mythos. Which probably wouldn’t have been the case had I started right from the beginning of his body of work. I think I’m going to go more that route in the future. At the very least, I’m going to read the stories in the collection I bought in order (I checked, and they are in the order in which he wrote them).

Now to talk a little about this story specifically. The Dunwich Horror focuses on the fictional town of Dunwich in Massachusetts and one family who lives there, called the Whateleys. There are rumors that the father practices “witchcraft,” and the daughter has a child out of wedlock, who turns out to be very strange. This child not only looks odd, but he grows and learns very quickly, and his grandfather is teaching him “witchcraft” as well. And they are doing strange things in their house and up on the hills near the town, which lead to some interesting happenings and a monster that terrorizes Dunwich.

I like the perspective the story takes, following the Whateleys and their strange doings as well as the other families in the town, and later a librarian who ends up investigating and trying to stop the monster. It makes for an interesting view that is both distant at times, and close at others. I really felt like I was a part of the action of the story, which made the whole thing feel a little bit more creepy and disturbing.

I definitely recommend this story and Lovecraft’s work in general for anyone who likes to read horror. I’m going to be reading more of his stories, and I’ll continue to talk about them as I do.

If you like Lovecraft, do you have a particular favorite story to recommend? Leave it in the comments!

Happy reading!

Alyss

Can you ever have too many pairs of leggings?

I came late to the cult of leggings. For the longest time, I was one of those people who swore that leggings were not pants, and should not be worn as such. I might wear a pair of leggings with a skirt or dress, but never on their own. I was just never comfortable with the idea of all of my business being on display through thin, tight fabric.

But I still like to be comfortable. I don’t like a lot of pants and jeans because they’re tight and uncomfortable and unforgiving. So for the longest time, I wore a lot of skirts, dresses, tights, and stretchy jeans, because they were the most comfortable things I could find. They were also more in line with the way that I like to dress, which is reasonably modest. I’ve never been one to show a lot of skin, and tend to favor looser clothes.

Somehow though, I started to see the upside of leggings. I don’t have to dress very professionally on a daily basis, since I work in a public library. And they go great with a long sweater, which I’m a fan of. I still don’t wear them so that my business is on display, because that makes me uncomfortable. But as long as my butt is covered, I’m definitely on board with leggings. Really, there’s no reason not to be comfortable, and they look good too.

What do you think? Are you a fan of leggings or should they be for exercise only? Let me know in the comments.

Alyss

If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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As promised, I’m finally talking about the book I read most recently, called If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. This book is about a transgender girl who moves to live with her father in Tennessee after being assaulted. She transitioned as a teenager, and passes very well, but she is still coming to terms with being a girl and living the life she wants to live. She meets new friends in her new school, and even meets a boy that she likes, but she doesn’t tell anyone that she is transgender. She worries that if she does tell her new friends or boyfriend that they will react the way that other people she knows have reacted and she will get hurt again.

I really find stories like this interesting, and have read a couple other similar books in the past. But this one was a little bit different, in that Amanda has already fully transitioned at the start of the story. There are a few flashbacks to events during and before her transition, but the bulk of the plot takes place in the present. So the story shows her trying to make friends and fit in, to really experience what it’s like to be a girl and have friends and a boyfriend, since this is all new for her.

One thing that I thought was really cool is that this book is actually written by a transgender woman. That’s not to say that stories like this must be written by someone who has directly experienced the difficulties they write about. Writers are definitely capable of doing enough research to write competently about their subject matter. Of course, this is a very general statement, and some writers write more authoritatively than others just as some books are better written than others. But what I’m saying is that I feel like writers who have some experience with what they’re writing about can bring a really interesting perspective to stories of this nature.

However, after reading the book, I read the author’s note at the end, which changed my opinion a little bit. In the author’s note, Russo talked about how she decided to write Amanda as a transgender girl who passed very well and who was able to transition at a younger age than might realistically be possible. This gave me a little bit of pause. Not that I wanted the character to have it harder than she already did, as unfortunately tends to be the reality for many transgender people. I just expected that the story would feel more realistic since it was written by a woman who could better share the experiences of transgender women. Maybe that’s too much to ask from a YA novel, and maybe the writer just wanted to make Amanda more relatable to readers, but I was a little bit disappointed.

Despite that, I thought this was an interesting take on a transgender coming of age story. While it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, nor was it the best book on this subject matter that I’ve read, I think it was still worth reading. Stories like this one are important to read, since they broaden our understanding of people who aren’t like ourselves, and don’t share our experiences.

Has anyone else read this book or any other books like it? What do you think of this subject matter? Let me know in the comments.

Happy reading!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Goodreads)