Holiday Reading List: Top 5 Books of 2016

If you’re looking for a good book to read this winter/holiday break, I’ve rounded up my favorite books that I read this year. I always like doing these year in review posts for myself as well, to look back at some of my favorite books of the year and what I would read again, gift to other people, and recommend to my lovely readers! So here it is, my top 5 books (of about 35) that I read in 2016:

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The Coloring Book Craze

For a few months, I’ve seen big tables full of coloring books in local bookstores, and then for Christmas, my friends and family asked for coloring books and colored pencils for Christmas. This new trend is pretty awesome, and hinges on the idea that coloring books are therapeutic. They can even be as effective as meditation when it comes to stress relief.

Then, to my surprise, I received a beautiful coloring book from my sisters for Christmas, one that’s also a storybook. It’s called The Time Garden, and it’s drawn by one of the “big names” of coloring books for adults: Daria Song. It’s the “story” of a little girl who crawls inside an old-fashioned German clock and enters an alternate world, and it’s utterly breathtaking.

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Reads & Recs // On the dreaded book rut

Do you ever have periods of time when you just can’t seem to sit still book-wise? When nothing you want to read actually seems appealing to you, and other things, like watching masses of Food Network, are infinitely preferable? Yeah, that’s what I’m going through now. I love reading more than I love most things (except maybe food) but there are these two competing aspects of my personality: one that loves to do nothing but sit at home and read, and the other that hates to be stuck in the same four walls day after day, and would much rather get all dressed up and do something fancy and/or adventurous.

Since around August, it’s been hard for me to sit still with a book. I’ve been restless, busy with a social life, and recently, overwhelmed with Christmas obligations (not complaining), traveling, and work stuff that’s been stressful. I began reading Edward Rutherfurd’s London in December, and only made it to page 400 in three weeks. Pathetic, Lisa. 😉

So in an effort to get myself back on track, here are the books I’ll virtually inhale during the month of January, and wish me heaps of luck! Because despite what it seems like here, I am a notoriously slow reader.

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Wandering around a bookstore

One of the most therapeutic things I ever do is take an hour or two to wander around my Barnes & Noble. The best days are the ones that I don’t have much to do, anywhere to go, and nothing specific in mind. Especially when there are exciting new releases, I love to go and explore the shelves and see what stands out to me.

This is how I used to buy books when I was kid: there was no Goodreads or Amazon in my life, and no recommendations from friends. I had to pick books based on feelings, and yes, the covers. I try to do that more often: just wander around, pick books up and see what jumps out.

Today I did that, and I found some gems. Here’s what I bought:

I picked up The Golem and the Jinni from those New Releases tables, and the thing that first hooked me was, I won’t lie, the weight of the book. I think there’s something so much better about reading a physical book that feels good in your hand. When the binding is weak and the pages are light, I’m less satisfied with buying a book. I like it to feel weighty. And then I read the inside flap and decided to had to have it.

The first paragraph of the inside flap: “Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.” Seriously, so excited.

The second was a must-have: The Occupation Trilogy, three novels written in 1968 about the Occupation in Paris during World War II. This won a Nobel Prize in Literature. I’ve been fascinated with learning more about the Occupation ever since I read Edward Rutherfurd’s Paris, so this seemed like the perfect place to start.

I’m really excited to get into these! What’s your favorite way to find new books?

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May Reads & Recs

The month of May, my favorite of the year, requires some great books as an accompaniment to beautiful weather and long warm nights. Here’s what I’ll be reading this month.

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1. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith — this book is on my Top 10 Favorite Books list, and it’s my sister’s favorite book. She pushed it on me when I was about 11 years old, and I didn’t read it in full until I was about 17. It’s a true classic, written by the author of 101 Dalmatians. It’s about a 17-year-old girl, Cassandra Mortmain, whose eccentric family lives in an old castle ruin in Suffolk, England. It’s a coming-of-age story about falling in love and finding yourself. Utterly poetic and breathtakingly beautiful. This book personifies spring for me. This is a re-read, for the third time, at last count.

2. Forever, Pete Hamill — this book was also on my December book list, but it fell through the cracks. I revisit it for the third time this month. It’s about an immortal man living in New York throughout the centuries. New York + history = magic!

3. Trilby, George du Maurier — the classic story of Svengali and Trilby, which spawned the popularity of the “trilby” hat (hey, fashion!) and coined the term “Svengali” as a controlling older man.

I tend to pick books based on the time of year and how I feel at the moment. I want to read about magic and love, and apparently, mind control…? 😉 How do you pick books to read?

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Harry Potter Book Lust | I need these very soon…

I’m the girl who went to the Leavesden Studios Harry Potter Studio Tour, the New York Harry Potter Exhibit, a half dozen midnight premieres and book releases, and the Harry Potter theme park the year it opened. It’s safe to say I’m an enthusiastic Harry Potter fan. These two books are a must-have for me: JK Rowling: A Bibliography and Harry Potter: Film Wizardry.

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JK Rowling: A Bibliography, is an exhaustively detailed chronicle of everything Jo has ever written, from books to pamphlets to her Sunday supermarket lists. Here’s what it says on the back cover:

This is the definitive bibliography of the writings of J. K. Rowling. In addition to complete bibliographic details of each edition of all her books, pamphlets and original contributions to published works, there is detailed information on the publishing history of her work, including fascinating extracts from correspondence, and information on Rowling at auction. This will be the first source on Rowling consulted by textual scholars, book dealers and collectors, auction houses, critics and researchers. The aim of the book is to record fact and dispel rumour on the fascinating publishing history of the Harry Potter series.

And Jo herself said, “As someone who respects comprehensive research, I am in awe of the level of detail and amount of time Philip Errington has dedicated to this slavishly thorough and somewhat mind-boggling bibliography.”

It may not be a gripping read, but just like any avid and slightly insane collector, I have to own it. The down side? It’s freaking $130. Is it my birthday yet?

The second book on my must-must-buy list is the much more fun and interactive Harry Potter: Film Wizardry, a beautiful glossy book which includes details on the props and production, interviews with the cast, and “removable extras,” i.e. things like Harry’s letter from Hogwarts. Need this.

From the Amazon page:

Harry Potter: Film Wizardry Revised and Expanded gives readers a front row seat to the magical journey that brought J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world to the big screen. Step off Platform Nine and Three Quarters and into the hidden world behind the scenes of the Harry Potter film series as Brian Sibley, author of The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy, The Land of Narnia, and other bestselling behind-the-screen books, makes the magic more real than ever with stunning art, removable extras, a new Harry Potter photo album, and interviews with director David Yates; actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman; and other members of the cast, crew, design and production teams.

Yes, please, all of it. And inside:

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The perfect addition to my already overflowing collection of Harry Potter crap. Love it.

last photo links to source, book covers from Goodreads

Me & My Clarisonic

I’ve had acne-prone, problem skin for most of my life, so a couple weeks ago, I finally buckled to pressure and bought myself a Clarisonic Mia 2, hoping to be one of those success-story testimonials on the Clarisonic page that the company loves to turn into catchy blurbs. And since I have such sensitive, combination skin that frustrates me to within an inch of my sanity, I also bought myself the much gentler acne brush. I’m really excited to try out this method!

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So I’m going to monitor how my skin reacts to the Clarisonic, especially since I’m trying to avoid the infamous “purging period” that most Clarisonic users experience.

Here’s a “before” picture of my skin, red spots and blackheads included:

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Let’s see how well this works.

Does anyone have any Clarisonic stories to share?

Staying Connected // Lumsing Power Bank Review

Working from home obviously requires a lot of power and constant connectivity. That’s why I was so happy when Lumsing approached me to review a product for them. I chose a mobile power bank, which allows me to keep my devices charged and working while I am. I chose the Lumsing® 10400mAh Harmonica Style Portable Power Bank in champagne gold.

Working from my desk at home gets tiring, so like a lot of other writers/those who work from home, I frequent Starbuckses, cafes, Barnes & Nobles, to get my work done. I love my little Lumsing power bank because I can keep my iPhone, Kindle, and sometimes my mom’s iPad fully charged and working perfectly.

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IMG_8276The Lumsing packaging was very careful and cute! I loved the sturdiness and quality of the unit itself, and the fact that it came with a little drawstring carrying case was an extra bonus. The unit came almost fully charged, but I plugged it into my laptop to give it a boost before I started using it, just to make sure. The four blue dots told me the unit was fully charged and ready to use.

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I plugged my nearly dead iPhone into the power bank and it charged as fast as you would expect if the phone were plugged into a wall unit: about an hour or so. After the full charge, the power bank hadn’t lost any of its charge, so that’s awesome. I brought it with me for a long writing sesh at Starbucks and it was really helpful, not taking up any USB ports on my laptop and allowing me to work freely and stay connected.

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I think a power bank is a great thing to have for any office, but especially for anyone who wants to remain mobile. It is another thing to carry, but instead of plugging into a wall outlet at work and taking up space, or sapping power out of your laptop, now I can use the power bank to charge all my devices and make my work a lot easier. The bank provides like five or six full iPhone charges and it’s just another line of defense in the business of trying to stay connected!

I also took it outside while I worked and kept my iPhone charged. I think this power bank can actually replace my wall charger. It’s certainly a lot more convenient.

So, thanks Lumsing for the power bank. It’s so cute, and I really love it!

You can get yours at this link for about $20 now, which is an insane deal.

Power Bank c/o Lumsing