January reads

I set a lofty goal of reading 55 books this year. And for the month of January, I managed to complete four books – that’s 7% of my goal with 333 days to go.

January reads

For the last few months, I’ve been feeling the itch to re-read. The first book of 2016 was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I re-watch the entire Harry Potter movie series every Christmas – it perfectly embodies that time of year for me – but I hadn’t re-read the books since the series ended.

I keep getting excited when I run across details in the books that aren’t in the movie – Peeves, the hint about Ginny writing in a journal all summer which sets the stage for the entire second book. Rowling does such a good job of dropping hints about where the individual book and the overall series will go.

In addition to re-reading Harry Potter, I’m re-reading the first two books of The Raven Boys series before I allow myself to read book three. The more I read, the more I fall in love with Gansey. And Ronan. I don’t have a history with YA but I’ve fallen in love it recently. With quality series like the Raven Boys, Mortal Instruments and Chaos Walking, it’s really hard not to.

I’d love to finish HP by the end of February and get back to the didn’t-officially-join-it-but-participating-in-it #ReadYourOwnDamnBooks challenge.




List 2

The prompt for week 2 is to list your favourite characters from books, movies, etc. I stuck to only books and movies. And chopped this list down to just the faves. Asking me for favourites from literature inspired a 2 day read through my entire ‘read’ list from GoodReads. 


Marya Morevna from Catherynne Valente’s Deathless

I will see him with his skin off before I agree to fall in love. For this was how Marya Morevna surmised that love was shaped; an agreement, a treaty between two nations that one could either sign or not as they pleased.” -page 24

I loved Valente before I read her. I kept seeing quotes from her books on social media and adding them to my GoodReads account. Marya Morevna is the girl I want to be – clever, comfortable being different, immersed in a fairy tale. It’s not the most common of wishes, but it’s my ultimate wish and I lived it through her story.

Katharine Blum from Heinrich Boll’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, or How Violence Develops and Where it Can Lead

“… she said she would not sign any deposition containing the word “amorous” instead of “advances”. For her the difference was of crucial significance, and one of the reasons she had separated from her husband was that he had never been amorous but had consistently made advances.”

The main character in this story is Katharina Blum. I love her for sticking to her guns, truly knowing herself, in the midst of a crisis. The thing I admire the most is her willingness to live in the moment.

Pechorin from Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time

“I was ready to love the whole world, but no one understood me, and I learned to hate.”

Anti-heroes are the best heroes. Pechorin had the sorrow of young Werther but a certain extra umph that I’ve never felt from a character before. He didn’t have to be the good guy and I didn’t want him to be.


Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.

Sometimes seeing someone else as fucked up as you are, acting it out in the same way that you want to (but are too young to). It feels like everyone of a certain age identifies with this film.

Matthew from The Dreamers

The first time I saw a movie at the cinématèque française I thought, “Only the French… only the French would house a cinema inside a palace.”

Gilbert Adair, who wrote the novel that eventually became this film, is a genius. Matthew has the curiosity and naivete that I can’t seem to get rid of.

Mihailo/Filozof from Lajanje na Zvezde/Barking at the Stars

A Bosnian film about love. Mihailo is the main character who wins over the girl of his dreams while living out his last days of high school.

List 1

One of the gifts I hinted at wanting for Christmas was the 52 Lists Project, which gives you weekly journaling inspiration and forces you to gaze inward. The book is split up into seasons – and I’m starting with List 1. Let’s see if I can do this for 52 whole weeks.

I lived fearlessly, carelessly and a bit irresponsibly in 2015. I’d never had a chance to do that before and I wanted to, no excuses. I knew going into November that I wanted to change some patterns in my life and develop healthier habits.

Read more often

Few things bring me as much joy as reading, but my heart hadn’t been in it for the longest time. Finally, in 2015, reading brought me great joy again. I’ve made a pretty lofty goal of reading 55 books this year. (I know many book bloggers easily read 100 or 150 a year, but that’s just never been a reality for me).

Choose food more thoughtfully

November marked a change in my eating habits. The food that I was eating left me feeling hungry and tired. My body couldn’t keep up with the more active lifestyle I was trying to lead on that fuel. I reached out to two of my best friends, both incredibly health conscious, to figure out how I could improve my approach to food. While I’m not on any kind of ‘diet,’ I am curbing my carb intake and focusing on vegetables and protein. So far, so good!

As a sub-goal, I am keeping track of all of my food/water intake and exercise on Fitbit. If you have an account, you should add me as a friend!

Go to bed, stupid!

I feel the best when I’m awake and moving at 5 am and can start my day at home well before I need to go to work. But I’m stubborn, and it’s hard to talk myself into going to bed early. I’m consciously going to bed at about 9:30 PM so I can have breakfast at home, read a book or even watch a movie before work. Having done this for a week now, I am convinced that this is the right thing for me.

Take better photos

Last year I had the goal of taking more photos. I did sort-of well with this. In order to really be happy with myself about my photography, I need to stop being self-conscious when I bust out my phone or my camera to take a photo, giving myself the time to get multiple shots so I can make sure I’m left with a great one.

Be better about saving

I spent this year without really saving any money at all. That isn’t sustainable and there are tons of ways to save money that I can easily do. Example… do my own nails! Doing my nails every 2 weeks at a shop is at least $60 (but closer to $80). I own something like 50 bottles of nail polish and love pampering myself at home. I’m asking the boyfriend to help keep me on track here (though my friend Lesley is helping out as well). If I can create good habits, this will become second nature. The long term goal is to buy a condo – and then a house!


Social media would have me believe that I’m one of the few setting resolutions/intentions for 2016 but that can’t be true. Does writing goals down make you feel more accountable to yourself? (I’m hoping it will for me!)

Reading Notes: People of the Book

My boyfriend purchased the new Geraldine Brooks novel for my mom’s birthday. And it started a discussion about how much my mother loved People of the Book so I borrowed it. It was actually my surprise last-read of 2015.

Brooks wrote Bosnia convincingly. She was there during the war as a journalist covering what was going on. She managed to capture both the magic of the city and the fear that the war created. It was comforting to read accurate descriptions of home, words like ‘rakija’ (a popular alcohol) and ‘fildzan’ (coffee cup) were sprinkled within the text.

I have some pretty disjointed thoughts, less about the book itself and more about what it reminded me of.

The wide avenues of Austro-Hungarian Sarajevo had gradually given way to the narrow, cobbled footpaths of the Ottoman town, where you could stretch out your arms and almost touch buildings on opposite sides of the way. The buildings were small scale, as if built for halflings, and pressed together so tightly that they reminded me of tipsy friends, holding each other upright on the way home from the pub. Large parts of this area had been out of range of the Serb guns, so the damage here was much less evident than in the modern city. From a minaret, the khoja called the faithful to aksham, the evening prayer. It was a sound I associated with hot places – Cairo, Damascus – not a place where frost crunched underfoot and pockets of unmelted snow gathered in the crotch between the mosque’s dome and its stone palisade. I had to remind myself that Islam had once swept north as far as the gates of Vienna; that when the haggadah had been made, the Muslims’ vast empire was the bright light of the Dark Ages, the one place where science and poetry still flourished, where Jews, tortured and killed by Christians, could find a measure of peace.

The khoja of this small mosque was an old man, but his voice carried, unwavering and beautiful on the cold night air. Only a handful of other old men answered; shuffling across the cobbled courtyard, dutifully washing their hands and faces in the icy water of the fountain. I stopped for a moment to watch them. Karaman was ahead of me, but he turned back, and followed my gaze. “There they are,” he said. “The fierce Muslim terrorists of the Serb imagination.” – page 27

There’s this homey feeling to being in the old part of Sarajevo that she perfectly captures. It made me recall the first time I saw Sarajevo, when I went back to Bosnia (I lived there until age 7 but not in Sarajevo).


There’s a brief reference in the book about ‘Sniper Alley’ now being safe to walk through. Sarajevo is surrounded by hills, a perfect place for snipers to set up shop. There’s a Bosnian-made film, black humour, that uses Nike to frame the Sniper Alley narrative. That only someone quick and fast (with funding) could have actually made it across and back during the war. Getting through that alley was one of the few ways to get food and supplies – run or perish.

“I’ve always kind of admired Sarajevans for being so surprised by the war,” I said. It had seemed the rational response to me. Who wouldn’t be in a state of denial when your next-door neighbor suddenly starts shooting at you, casually and without remorse, like you’re some kind of unwanted introduced species, the way the farmers at home eradicate rabbits.

“It’s true,” he said. “Years ago, we watched Lebanon fall apart and said, ‘That’s the Middle East, they’re primitive over there.’ Then we saw Dubrovnik in flames, and we said, ‘We’re different in Sarajevo.’ That’s what we all thought. How could you possible have an ethnic war here, in this city, when every second person is the product of a mixed marriage? How to have a religious war in a city where no one ever goes to church? For me, the mosque, it’s like a museum, quaint thing to do with grandparents. Picturesque, you know. Once a year, maybe, we’d go and see the zikr, when the dervishes dance, and was like theatre – like, what do you call it? A pantomime. – page 28

I didn’t know about the Siege in Dubrovnik until I was in my 20s. I researched the war, but never what happened before it. It’s easy to say that the signs were there, that hindsight is 20/20. That’s how my parents describe it. Having the character reference it here hurt, the truth of the words stung.

He told the group that he couldn’t wait to get back there, to Eretz Israel. “I am jealous of every sunrise I am not there to see the white stones of the Jordan Valley turn to gold.” – page 49

(This passage was just pretty.)

The rich aroma made Lola’s mouth water. She stared around her. She had never seen so many books. The apartment’s walls were lined with them. It wasn’t a large apartment, but everything it it had an easy grace, as if it had always been there. Low wooden tables, inlaid with mother-of-pearl in the Turkish style, had yet more books open upon them. Celims in muted colors warmed the gleaming waxed floors. The mangala was very old, the copper burnished, the hemispherical cover decorated with crescents and stars.

Stela turned and handed Lola a delicate porcelain fildzan, also with a crescent and star glazed into the bottom of the cup. – page 54

I remember walking through the shop where the fildzan sets are made. The shop feels like a small closet that you have to take a step down to enter. It’s been family owned for as long as anyone can remember. And it’s been a shop that makes just those fildzan sets for as long as anyone can remember.

On the last trip I took with my parents to Bosnia, some long-time friends of the family went with us. They spent more time in Sarajevo, in Bascarsija, prowling through the tiny shops than we did. At the end of the trip, they gifted my parents with a hand-hammered copper crescent-inlaid fildzan set.

Who would have thought that a single suicide – or a double suicide, more properly – could put an entire city in a sour temper? Vienna valued its suicides, especially those that were dramatic, conducted with some flourish – like the young woman who had decked herself in full bridal regalia before flinging herself from a speeding train, or the circus artist who, in the midst of his performance, had cast away his pole and leaped from the high wire to his death. The audience had applauded, because he jumped with such verve that all believed it was part of his art. – page 112

The way this was phrased felt a bit… uncomfortable. It reminded me of an equally uncomfortable cover of Life magazine. A photographer captured Evelyn McHale, who committed suicide by jumping from the Empire State Building and landed on a car. The photographer said she looked beautiful, like she was sleeping. Taking a photo of someone in that manner, calling it beautiful, glorified the suicide. The words that frame the photo were, as expected, ‘tragic,’ ‘melancholy.’ And yet it still felt uncomfortable.

The conventional thing in Arabic is to say, “May all your sorrows now be behind you.” But I didn’t have a clue what Bosnian Muslims said to each other to express condolences. – page 270

The proper thing to say, in all of Bosnia is ‘primite moje saučešće.’ It isn’t exclusive to one ethnic group or another. We all mourn the same way.

Year in Reading

I’m no Millions but here’s a YIR anyway. 

I thought a year of emotional distress and living alone would bring me more time to read but I maxed out at 41 books this year. I don’t mind. They were what I needed at the time. And 40 was my goal anyway.


Of the 41 that I read, here are my top 5 and the reasons why:

  1. Deathless by Catherynne Valente
  2. Crush by Richard Siken
  3. The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
  4. Please Undo This Hurt by Seth Dickinson
  5. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater


Deathless made me a Valente-crazed reader. I think I underlined 3/4 of this book and it immediately joined my ‘favourites’ shelf. It is everything I love in story-writing and it brought all of my Russian fairytales to life into one world where they somehow co-existed perfectly.

Crush is a collection of poetry about love and loss and life that I re-read as soon as I finished it. I read parts of it out to the people around me, friends or acquaintances, without much context, because I needed to share it. Siken made me feel his pain and his strong desire for that long-lasting, life-long love. His words made me feel stronger and planted my feet firmly in the cement  – I was going to hold my ground until I felt it the way he feels it.

The Faraway Nearby whet my appetite for Iceland. And then May came and my wishes became reality. Solnit prepared me for Iceland and for constantly having to say yes to live the kind of life I envied in others.

The shortest book I’ve read is actually a Tor short story. I keep seeing GoodReads reviews for Tor.com stories and this just happened to be the one I clicked on. Seth writes about the negative emotions we all feel once we realize our mortality and feel those feelings of smallness and insignificance.

If you haven’t heard about The Dream Thieves, let me tell ya… stop reading this entirely and just buy it. It’s a ‘you’ll thank me later’ kind of situation. I didn’t seem to fall in love with the characters the way that most of the Instagram #bookstagram community seems to have… but I did fall in love with the world that Stiefvater created.

Shakespeare & Company

This book shop has been on my list for ages. I think it is on every booklover’s list.

I know that the current location of Shakespeare and Co isn’t the original that Sylvia Beach opened up (that notable folks like Hemingway and Joyce frequented) but it has the same tenets. The current incarnation of the store still serves are refuge for artists in need.

2015.06 - Paris

I spent about a few hours browsing and sitting on the coach upstairs with the cat (because of course they have a bookshop cat). The staff is intermixed between employees, volunteers and artists who work for their stay at the shop. I ended up making friends with one of them, sitting and smoking outside of the bookshop after her shift had passed.

2015.06 - Paris 2015.06 - Paris
2015.06 - Paris

She had helped me find a book while I was in the shop and wanted to check out what else It was perfectly comfortable opening up to a near stranger and having her do the same. I’d say we smoked through half of a pack on the stairs outside of the shop chatting.

She left Ireland after her MFA program lost funding, unsure of what her future would be. She didn’t know where to go so she went to S & Co to stay for a few weeks until she figured it out. We talked at length about Ireland, where my lovely best friend lives. And literature. There’s a certain energy and enthusiasm that builds in a conversation about books. It begins with one book and keeps building as the recommendations and favourites are shared.

A young man sat down next to us with a very old typewriter and put up a sign, he’d write you a story while you waited and you could give him a donation. His name is Luke. He joined our conversation and we got in line to receive a story from him.

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His story was one of travel, meandering around making a living writing stories for folks on that gorgeous typewriter. You can give him a theme or pick from a large stack of photos that he carries around. I asked him to write me a story about a lost person traveling. A thinly veiled request to write a story about me. He got this strange look on his face and said that he’d already written it earlier that day and that I was meant to have it.

I still haven’t read the story. I told him I’d read it when I came back and sat on those steps again, whether traveling alone or with a partner this time. The letter is patiently waiting for me in my journal.

He is he’s still traveling around, writing beautiful stories for people. I hope he can write one for you, too.

Find him here:


P.S. You can get your books stamped with a S & Co Kilometer Zero Paris, if you so choose, a forever memory of my trip. 


aka a non-Parisian girl’s guide to the best restaurant (she visited) in Paris

I didn’t know if I’d fall in love with the food in Paris. I love macarons, but it isn’t quite the same as falling in love with the meals. I haven’t ever fallen in love with a Parisian-style restaurant in the states… it was all I had to go on.

When Yves was in Seattle, I took him to the best we had to offer and I knew he’d do the same. But he was leading me to a train station. Mind you, one with interesting statues.

2015.06 - Paris He and his lovely girlfriend took me to Lazare… 2015.06 - Paris 2015.06 - Paris

…where I had some of the best food I’ve ever tasted…

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…and where I learned that I actually like wine. (The girlfriend chose this particular bottle – it sold me instantly and paired perfectly with our dinner).

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And the creme brulee wasn’t bad either.

It has been months and I’m still dreaming of those delicious perfectly fluffy mashed potatoes. I think they had at least one box of butter melted into them to make them so deliciously whipped. And I don’t care one bit.

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