BIRTHDAY BOOK SHOPPING LIST

Hello, my lovely friends! As some of you might already know, my birthday just passed not too long ago. And naturally, I had to compile a list of books I reaaaally want to buy and read. My to-be-read (tbr) pile is crying from the stress of bearing too many books—so I narrowed it down to…*drumroll please*

ONLY!

FIVE!

BOOKS!

And they include:

CIRCE

by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world. (Amazon)

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

by Amor Towles

He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose. (Amazon)

FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS

(Penguin Classic edition) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

by John Green

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship. (GoodReads)

CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE

by Tomi Adeyemi

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy. (GoodReads)


All of the books listed above are different in plot and genre, and I want to make it my goal to finish all of them this May or June. I’ve been looking forward to reading Circe ever since I found out that Madeline Miller was writing it! I was a big fan of her debut novel, The Song of Achilles. I also love reading historical fiction novels, and I discovered A Gentleman in Moscow through a recommendation by Amazon’s shopping algorithm. And of course, how could I not want this gorgeous edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s collection of short stories?

Additionally, John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down and Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone seem like promising young adult books. I’ve seen so many great reviews floating around on bookstagram, blogs, and GoodReads, so I’m really quite excited to read them!

What are some books that you’re looking forward to reading in the upcoming month of May?

REVIEW: THUNDERHEAD

thunderheadTITLE: Thunderhead

AUTHOR: Neal Shusterman

PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster

SYNOPSIS (Goodreads): Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?


SPOILER-FREE REVIEW:

THAT WAS LITERALLY THE CRAZIEST POSSIBLE ENDING EVER.

Though the unexpected cliffhanger absolutely killed me, I still enjoyed Thunderhead, the sequel to Scythe. The world-building is really something else. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Thunderhead is smart and packed with enough action to keep the audience guessing until the final reveal. It deftly explores the concept of mortality and reconciliation with our humanity in a technology-driven futuristic utopian society.

I do wish that Citra and Rowan had more interaction and page time together. It was slightly disorienting to read about Rowan’s situation and then shift to Citra’s newfound life as a scythe, completing her gleanings. I also felt that some of the secondary characters who were introduced weren’t all that essential to the plot. There was definitely a surprise character that I totally DID NOT expect to make an appearance in this book…

However, I really loved the interactions between Scythe Curie and Scythe Anastasia (Citra)–give me a book all about their adventures together and I’ll gladly devour it in a single sitting! Both women are incredibly smart, and it was so interesting to delve into their thoughts and understand their perspectives in trying to manufacture a method to untangle themselves from the dangerous situation they were mercilessly thrown into.

Another interesting yet unsettling aspect of the book was the smart inclusion of the Thunderhead’s thoughts and feelings as a preface to almost every chapter. These interjections should have been jarring to read, but instead, they were almost poignant to a point, allowing me as a reader to glean (hahah) a little more insight about the history of the glittering world that the story is structured around.

Overall, though Thunderhead has a bit of “middle book syndrome,” it reads exactly like what it’s supposed to be, a (good) second book of a series that sets up a promising premise for the third. I can’t wait to see what else Shusterman adds to this series!

RATING: 3.75/5*
*Thank you to Simon Teen for sending me a copy of Scythe and Thunderhead! This in no way impacted the nature of my review, and all thoughts represented are my own.

 

HOW TO OVERCOME READING SLUMPS

We’ve all been there. There’s no new reading material that appeals to you in the slightest bit. You don’t feel like reading, or perhaps you read something and quickly lose interest. This frustrating situation has a name: the dreaded READING SLUMP.

So what do you do? How do you overcome it?

There is no one right way to approach this problem, but in this post I’ll be sharing some of the tips that I find helpful in getting over a reading slump!

Stick to old favourites. Those books you’d read and reread over again? Pick them up and get started!

Switch up your usual genres. Read a book that isn’t in a genre you usually stick to. So if you tend to read a lot of YA, try picking up a mystery or thriller–anything that is a bit out of your comfort zone.

Reorganize your shelves. Sometimes, as you’re shelving and reshelving books, you’ll find a book you haven’t read yet or an old favourite that piques your interest!

Ask for recommendations. I know. It’s a little weird. As someone who loves reading, I’m used to being the friend who gives reading recs rather than someone who asks for them.

Watch shows or series. I’d recommend:

  • While You Were Sleeping (thriller/suspense, romance, kdrama)
  • Goblin (supernatural, romance, cinematic-quality kdrama)
  • The Crown (historical)
  • Daredevil (action)
  • Sherlock (mystery/action)

Browse Pinterest. This has absolutely nothing to do with books or reading, but that’s the point. It’s okay to be in a reading slump. It’s okay to not constantly think about books. In fact, I think it’s a great idea to take your mind away from the constant pressure of trying to conquer your never-ending tbr list and focus on something else that doesn’t take much effort instead. Pinterest is great for garnering inspiration on almost any topic!

I hope this post helps those of you who are struggling to get out of your reading rut. I’d also love to know what you do to recover from the dreaded reading slump, let me know in the comments!

 

MY DISILLUSIONMENT WITH YA

Some of my favourite and most-loved books fall under the umbrella of the young adult (YA) genre. However, my recent impressions of YA books have been lukewarm at best. This isn’t because I don’t think YA is real literature, because it is. Society tends to brush off what young women (and men) like to read as frivolous fluff, but hey, if it’s a book everyone loves, it must be good in one way or another.

My recent disenchantment with the YA genre mainly stems from four problems.

SAME CONTRIVED, UNORIGINAL PLOT. How familiar does this sound: 16-18 year old girl on the cusp of womanhood vehemently denies that she’s beautiful and suddenly discovers a shocking secret that threatens to unravel her life as it is. She is “the chosen one,” destined for something greater. There is an evil force of villainy X that goes against everything she stands for and all that she loves. Along her journey to rid herself of such villainy, girl meets boy who is Mr. Perfect and way-too-good-for-her, and there is an instant, electrifying attraction that defies the laws of nature.

And that brings me to my next problem with a lot of YA books—

INSTA-LOVE. Fact: It doesn’t happen. It just isn’t realistic. Sure, you might be attracted to someone you just met because you laugh at the same dumb jokes, or if that person is really easy on the eyes, but you don’t profess your grand three-word declaration and stake your claim on that person’s heart within 27 pages.

GENERALIZATIONS AND STEREOTYPES. If I were to tell you that I am a total nerd at heart, what comes to mind? A girl with thick glasses and braces? Someone who is always at odds with the “popular, preppy” (yet another label) kids? I don’t get the chance to tell you that I love roses and baby’s breath, or that I enjoy listening to Oh Wonder and DEAN. You wouldn’t know that traveling is one of my favourite things to do, or that I’m part of my university’s figure skating team. Most everyone has a wide scope of interests, and that’s because we are people, not caricature-like stereotypes.

LACK OF DIVERSITY. This can be interpreted in more than one way. While I think that many new releases have done a decent job of including more diverse characters in terms of ethnicity and sexual orientation, I still lament the fact that there isn’t more complexity in story premises. I don’t want to read another re-telling of a childhood classic or fairytale. I don’t want to read another book about a two-dimensional girl who looks the same as every other protagonist in a YA novel. There needs to be more representation of characters from all walks of life, and it’s up to our generation to fulfill this desire for diversity.

That being said, I don’t think I’ll necessarily stop reading YA altogether. Instead, I would like to branch out and read more contemporary, classics, and anything thought-provoking. Some titles I’ve been eyeing for a while include:

  • Pachinko (Min Jin Lee)
  • Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng)
  • A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)
  • The Great Alone (Kristin Hannah)
  • The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
  • The Beautiful and the Damned (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky (Mark Sullivan)
  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (Lisa See)

If you have any recommendations for me, please feel free to message me or leave a comment!

 

 

THOUGHTS: LUNAR NEW YEAR

Every family and culture has its own traditions, passed down through generations and history more colorful than one can ever begin to imagine. At home, I celebrate the Lunar New Year as a testament to my Taiwanese and Chinese heritage. There are so many finer points to the 15-day celebration, but I will mostly be writing about the ones significant to my family. But before that, a bit of background information on the Lunar New Year may be needed:

The start of the Lunar New Year is on a different day each year. Unlike the western new year, which always falls on January 1, the Lunar New Year is dependent on the time that the moon takes to orbit around Earth. Therefore, the lunar calendar is always roughly 21-51 days behind the Gregorian calendar!

The Lunar New Year is also called the Spring Festival (chūnjié / 春節) and Chinese New Year, though it isn’t just Chinese people who celebrate it. Aside from China and Taiwan, countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia also take part in the festivities.

It’s a 15-day celebration. Yes, you read that correctly! People participate in different activities and consume various foods on each day. I won’t go into detail about that, but if you’re interested in reading up on each day of the lunar new year, you can do a simple Google search.

The twelve animals of the zodiac represent each year, and 2018 is the year of the Dog. According to legend, the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig had a race to determine the order in which they would represent the years to come. Since the Rat rode the Ox’s back and jumped off just before the Ox crossed the finish line, the Rat was able to finish first and be the first to represent the new year, the Ox was second, and so on and so forth in the order described above.

Red (and gold) are lucky colours. Red symbolizes good luck and joy. You’ll often see it adorning decorations and the red envelopes that elders hand out to children. So how exactly did red become such an auspicious colour? Legend says that there used to be a fearsome dragon named Nian (年, literally: year) who would, on a yearly basis, come down from his mountain habitat to terrorize villages. But one day, an old man claimed that he knew a way to scare off Nian. He hung up red paper and set off loud firecrackers, and the villagers soon realised that Nian was afraid of loud noises and the colour red. Nian never came back again, and henceforth, red became a lucky colour!

It’s a time to celebrate family togetherness as well as honor the deities. On the eve of the lunar new year, it is customary for families to gather together for a reunion dinner. Traditional foods such as dumplings (餃子 / jiaozi), fish, and “new year” cake (年糕 / niángāo) are served and savored.

I’ve been helping my grandmother make dumplings for Chinese New Year dinner as long as I can remember, but I really learned how to make dumplings with my mother. When I was much younger, I had no idea what I was doing. I mixed the stuffing with all the strength my chubby arms could muster. I pounded the sticky dough until it didn’t look like dough anymore, and I almost always ended up with a fine dusting of flour all over my fingers. Basically, I was a mess! But now that I’ve had more than a decade’s worth of experience in making dumplings, I’m welcomed back into the kitchen.

 

As we fold the dumplings into their final shapes, my grandmother sneaks a coin (washed thoroughly, of course) into a “lucky” dumpling and places it on a plate amongst the other dumplings so that it is impossible to discern from the rest. She then transfers the finished dumplings into a pot of boiling water to cook, and when they’re finished ten minutes later, I help bring the never-ending supply of dumplings to the dinner table. Our family eats, and the person who consumes the “lucky” coin dumpling is said to have good luck for the rest of the year.

There is always a fish on the table as well, though it remains untouched throughout the dinner for symbolic reasons. There is an ancient proverb that says, 年年有餘 (nián nián you yú), which roughly translates into “May you have an abundance of what you need.” The last Chinese character, 餘 (meaning: abundance), has the same pronunciation as 魚 (meaning: fish). So essentially, there’s a bit of word play at hand (have I ever mentioned how much I LOVE puns?) because 年年有魚 sounds just like 年年有餘. The fish is thus used as a symbol of abundance, and it isn’t eaten until later because it’s considered bad luck to “eat away” your good fortune prematurely.

fish
whole steamed fish! courtesy of bettysliu.com

For dessert, my mom and I make niángāo. Using chopsticks, I help mix the batter that’s used to coat the red bean paste filling that our family enjoys eating. We then cover the sweet red bean with the batter, on all sides, and fry the niángāo briefly in a pan until golden brown. It tastes absolutely delicious when hot!

niangao

On the fifteenth and final day of the lunar year celebrations, my mother makes tāngyuán (湯圓), sticky rice flour balls with sweet fillings such as taro, red bean, and my personal favourite, BLACK SESAME! These glutinous rice balls are eaten to commemorate the Lantern Festival, or 元宵節 (yuán xiāo jié). They used to be called 元宵(yuán xiāo), or “first evening,” instead of tāngyuán. There is such an interesting backstory to the different names and the Lantern Festival in general, and I’d highly recommend reading up on it!

 

I love spending time with my family (as crazy and weird as they are), so I’m a bit saddened that I can’t take part in the lunar new year festivities this year. Because I am away studying at university, I am unable to go home and enjoy my family’s food and company. It’s the first time in years that I haven’t helped with the traditional cooking and cleaning, and a small part of me misses the work. I miss making a mess of the flour. I miss hearing the sizzling niángāo in the pan. I miss eating way too many black sesame tāngyuán. But mostly, I miss the familiarity and comfort of home and being able to bond over shared laughter and kitchen catastrophes. It seems strange to be alone during a holiday that places so much emphasis on family togetherness, but I made sure to call my parents and grandparents and wish them well. I can’t wait to go home and see them all again. And with that, 新年快樂 (xīn nián kuài lè / happy new year)!

dumplings

GOALS FOR 2018

Today I’m going to share my goals for 2018 with all of you. I know I’m definitely (really) late to the party, but the reason why I still want to write this post is so that I can hold myself accountable for actually going about and achieving what I want to accomplish this year!

I have a lot of big and small goals I want to meet throughout the year, and since many of them are quite different from one another, I’ve decided to group them by category.

So without further ado…

FOR UNIVERSITY ACADEMICS

  • PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE!!
  • Don’t skip lectures every day. That’s what I did last semester and it bit me in the ass. I went from being a straight A student my whole life to…well, a not so great student in just one semester.
  • reconcile myself with the understanding that it’s okay to not be the best at everything
  • set aside studying time every weekend instead of going to San Francisco with friends
  • study in between classes instead of going home
  • get a GPA of at least 3.8
  • go to the library more often than just the days leading up to exams
  • take notes in class!

FOR PERSONAL GROWTH

  • visit at least two new countries
  • create spreadsheets for monthly money spending and budgeting
  • go to the gym at least three times a week
  • attend a concert
  • journal every day
  • go a month without complaining
  • quit chewing my nails to pieces
  • learn to cook five more dishes
  • listen to a news podcast in German (I’m currently studying German, so I’d love to get more practice with the language.)
  • land a single axel
  • learn how to edit video through Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro
  • grow vertically instead of horizontally (this has been a dream of mine since forever, seriously)
  • join a lab or research team!

FOR BOOKSTAGRAM AND BLOGGING

  • read 50 books
  • post at least every other day on #bookstagram
  • write a new blog post every week
  • set aside time to read on Mondays, Fridays, and the weekend
  • finish This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • tackle an intimidating classic volume, such as Anna Karenina or War and Peace (why are all the big books written by renowned Russian authors?!)

So as you can see, there are quite a lot of things I want to do this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to refer back to this post at the end of 2018 and reflect on what goals I did or didn’t meet. This list might seem overly ambitious, but that isn’t going to stop me from trying my best to accomplish as many as possible! What’s your biggest aspiration/dream/goal for 2018?

WINTER IN GERMANY

Imagine– the warmth of roasted chestnuts seeping through your gloves, the enticing smell of currywurst wafting in the air, and the low murmurs of seasons greetings in German. Visiting the Christmas markets in Germany has long been a dream of mine. This winter break, I finally had the chance to cross it off my family’s bucket list!

Germany, known as Deutschland to native Germans, is located in central-western Europe. It has 16 states and a population of 82 million, making Germany the most populous country in the European Union.

Reichstag
German flag waving over the Reichstag, photo courtesy of google images

The main language is of course, German, though visitors will find that most Germans can speak at least ein bisschen (a little) English. They will understand if you ask, Sprechen Sie Englisch? Do you speak English?  However, it is still useful to know simple phrases and words such as bitte or dankeschön, so that you can read signs, ask for directions politely, and thank others for helping you.

In December, Germany is quite cold, but not quite cold enough for the ground to freeze over and the sky to create blizzards. But it is still chilly enough to just barely reach the negatives in centigrade, which is practically unheard of from where I live. It even snowed a little during my first morning in Berlin! To stay warm, layering is definitely key! I felt adequately prepared for the weather with thermal underwear, cozy knit sweaters, an outer coat or jacket, waterproof Timberland boots, and a grey scarf and hat. I’d also recommend investing in a quality down jacket–they’re sooo warm!

During my holiday, I stayed in Berlin’s Stadtmitte, with easy access to the historical roads of Friedrichstraße and Französischestraße. Transportation is simple and without headache–there is an underground U-Bahn station every block or two, and it works in similar fashion to subways and metros. There is the occasional busker, with his violin or accordion. Be wary of pickpockets, especially during rush hour!

Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt square happened to be right by where I was staying. There, in front of the Konzerthaus (concert hall), was a Weihnachtsmarkt–that is, a Christmas market. (Weihnacht: Christmas, markt: market)

My first full night in Berlin consisted of copious amounts of food and three steaming mugs of Glühwein (mulled red wine spiced with cloves and cinnamon), shot respectively with Amaretto, Cointreau, and rum. Rest assured, not all of it was for me! The hot drinks seemed to banish the frigid air around us, if only for a moment.

To make the most of your Christmas market experience, I’d suggest going with family or friends. It’s not something you’d want to experience alone! You do have to pay €1 (~$1.20) to enter this Christmas market in Berlin’s bustling city center, but most others are free entry. Be sure to try the Glühwein and the famous currywurst! The mugs that are used to serve the mulled wine are collectible and vary in design year to year. You can opt to keep your mug as a souvenir or return it to get your deposit back. (You pay the deposit when you buy the drink.) I’d also suggest purchasing some hot, roasted nuts to crunch on as you watch the Christmas carolers sing on the steps of the Konzerthaus. Another delicious traditional treat to try would be the Quarkbällchen. It seems strange in name only, and it looks like a large donut hole topped with powdered sugar, but I guarantee you that it tastes better than a donut!

Though I had a wonderful time in Berlin’s Christmas market, I’d recommend Dresden’s Striezelmarkt to anyone looking for THE essential Christmas market experience. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is the oldest known Christmas market in the world. Founded in 1434, the Striezelmarkt was originally a one-day market for locals to buy fresh food for Christmas dinner after pre-Christmas fasting. I had the opportunity to take a day trip with my family to Dresden, a two hour train ride from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Dresden Hauptbahnhof.

The Striezelmarkt is beautifully decorated, and each booth has its own unique Christmas decor. Some of them are even animated! I saw a toy train making its way around tracks laid around the top of one booth, and another had a small bear riding a unicycle across a tightrope. Dresden’s Christmas market is also home to the largest Christmas pyramid in the world (14m tall!), shown below. The food is quite similar across all the Christmas markets I’ve visited. There is always an abundance of roasted chestnuts wrapped in paper, candied nuts, Glühwein (sometimes spiked with spirits), currywurst and bratwurst, pommes frites, Quarkbällchen, and gingerbread hearts with frosted inscriptions that read ich liebe dich (I love you) or Frohe Weihnachten (Merry/Happy Christmas). Visitors can also purchase goods such as warm hats and socks, utensils made of wood, glassware, and hand-poured candles.

My father found a café called Viba situated in a building with an amazing view over the Striezelmarkt. I had a rich heiße Schokolade (hot chocolate) and a bite of sweet Apfelstrudel (apple strudel). Our waitress didn’t speak much English but we got by just fine, with my father’s German and my own flimsy attempts.

The Christmas markets were mostly an evening affair, so during the day, I did just about every other touristy thing. I visited the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, sat down for some afternoon tea at Einstein, and took a trip to Potsdam to see Sansoucci Palace, once owned by Frederick the Great of Prussia. For the history buffs, the Pergamonmuseum and Neues Museum hold a wealth of artifacts, including a reconstructed Ishtar Gate and the famous limestone bust of Nefertiti.

In short, I had the most wonderful time in Germany during this past holiday season. I find that the famous Christmas markets of Germany are quite like the busy night markets of Taiwan, only neater and more beautifully decorated. If you’re willing to brave the cold to experience something truly magical, visit Germany in December and take a stroll through the Striezelmarkt with a mug of steaming Glühwein in your hand.

By the way, I apologize for the lack of photographs. I took way too many videos and ended up making a short travel vlog of the whole experience (not just the Christmas markets!) which you can view here. Next time, I’ll be sure to take equal amounts of video and photo when I travel! There are so many places that I have yet to see and learn about. Countries close to the top of my “to visit” list include Iceland, Italy, Peru, New Zealand, and South Africa. What are some countries you wish to visit this year?

what to do when you’re running low on inspiration

Hallo, my loves! I’d like to apologize for my long hiatus from blogging. I really don’t have an excuse. I just wasn’t inspired or motivated to take photos and come up with creative posts for all of you to read and enjoy. This creative slump of mine lasted for months–it hit me in April and continued throughout the summer, well into the tail end of August.

I was constantly unhappy and insecure about what I was putting out for the world to see. Every photo had to be carefully scrutinized and put through a rigorous editing process that was very time-consuming. Every caption had to be absolutely perfect, with the paragraphs lined out properly, with no spelling errors. On top of that pressure to be perfect, I felt as if I had run out of my creative juices, and I just couldn’t possibly squeeze out another post. (What would this post be without a pun by yours truly? Hah.) I was under quite a bit of stress and distress because I felt like bookstagram was feeding on me like wildfire, consuming and burning me out with brand rep posts and sponsored book reviews and the like. I realized that most of my posts were structured around sponsored posts, and that I was doing most of it out of duty and obligation rather than pure love for my own content. This led me to doubt myself and my own abilities. I was always thinking about how I could improve my content, but suddenly, there I was, standing on a plateau with no upward climb in sight, face-to-face with an intimidating wall of black obsidian blocking me out from continuing forward. It was all psychological, of course.

Luckily, this perspective recently shifted into something much more positive. I slowly got back into posting on fragilemyths, even if it were only for two or three times a week (as opposed to none whatsoever). And now, I’m happy to say that I’m back on the bookstagram grind, posting daily like I used to! Even better, I’m back to posting here, in my true creative space.

So how did that happen?

It took me a while to figure it out, but the answer is simple. I moved. I moved away from the comfort and familiarity of home, and into a college dorm.

Now, you’re probably thinking, Zelle! Stop being ridiculous. I can’t move just for the sake regaining inspiration! And you would be right, of course. But you see, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a big move like mine. Any change of scenery would help. The important thing is that you gain exposure to something new, whether that means moving to a different city or simply changing one aspect of your daily routine.

And so, without further ado, I’ve compiled a list of things you should consider as an alternative to moving, should you ever run low on inspiration!

  1. Reorganize your bookshelves. Have you been eyeing the way Lara (bookishsolace; you should all be following this wonderfully sarcastic and sassy friend of mine, by the way) turns all her books around, so that the pages, not the spines, are facing outward toward you? Or perhaps you love Fi’s (readsleepfangirl; my friend and fellow Slytherin) collection of “rainbow books.” So what are you waiting for? DO IT. REARRANGE YOUR BOOKSHELF THE WAY YOU WANT IT. Change it up! See the gorgeous photos below, to get an idea of what I’m referring to.
  2. Take a walk around your neighborhood. Or your own backyard. Or in Dublin. It doesn’t matter, just move away from your comfortable bed and approach the outside world. Take note of what you see and feel– a falling leaf, the wind running its course through your hair, the smell of pine– take it all in.
  3. Browse Pinterest. Create a new board of photos and scenes you like! Take others’ ideas and use it as a starting place to build your own.
  4. Exercise. I’m serious. It changes you. Exercising allows your brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for all the happy feelings we feel. And who wouldn’t want to be happy?
  5. Listen to music you normally wouldn’t listen to. I recently started listening to more underground Korean rap and R&B, especially the playlists by danielions.
  6. Make time for the important people in your life. Haven’t talked to your mum for a while? Visit her, or make a phone call. She’ll be delighted to hear from you. Or, schedule a time to grab lunch and chat with a good friend you haven’t seen for months.
  7. Move furniture around and redecorate your walls. You’d be surprised at how refreshing it feels.
  8. Take time off to focus on yourself for once. Instead of worrying about others’ opinions of you and your school/work performance, sit down and reevaluate how you want to be perceived and how you could improve on your soft skills. And then, treat yourself!
  9. Visit a museum. Go to an art museum, science museum, or a natural history museum–take your pick! It’s an easy way to learn something new on a day you don’t have any other plans. Many museums offer youth and student discounts too, so be sure to take your student ID with you!
  10. Take a class in something that you’re interested in, but never had the chance to learn before. Ceramics, zumba, flower arranging, philosophy– the possibilities are endless! You might just find a new passion. I’m currently taking a German language course, and I could not be more excited about it! I think it would be cool if I could converse with my German followers and friends (there are a lot of you!) in German. And hey, if you have any tips and tricks for learning German, or languages in general, please send them my way!

Thank you all for reading this and sticking with me. Be sure to tell me about some of the things you do to stay inspired because I’d love to know. And do let me know if any of the activities included in this list helped you move out of your creative slump!

 

review: forgotten reflections

I had been in somewhat of a major reading slump recently, after my disappointment with ACOWAR and other recent young adult book releases. One fateful afternoon, I received an inquiry requesting a review for a novel called Forgotten Reflections, pegged as “a historical thriller set during the Korean War era [that] sheds light on the brave women who handcrafted hanji paper and made their mark on the unseen pages of Korean history. In the current international climate where North Korea takes center stage, Forgotten Reflections weaves a thrilling tale of family, lost memories, folklore and an unforgotten history, spanning three generations as South Korea rises from the ashes.”

Interesting. Very interesting.

I then read the following synopsis and fell half in love with the book right from the start. Keep reading and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Prepare yourself for one hell of a cultural journey.

51lbfp2bocvl-_sy346_SYNOPSIS (Goodreads): DARE TO DREAM IN THE MIDST OF WAR. 1945. Rice fields seem endless in a quaint farming village of South Korea, yet Iseul and the villagers have been on the verge of starvation for as long as they can remember; the last of their Japanese colonizers have taken every last grain with them. In the newly independent Korea, Iseul dreams of what her future might bring. Yet, war is on the horizon, and the boy she has fallen for is an alleged North Korean communist spy. Amidst war, Jung-Soo and Iseul embark on a comic journey of self-discovery across the mountainous peninsula, as they are aided by the occasional appearance of figures from legends long forgotten. Music helps them pass the time, as does the radio and the crafty carpentry skills of Iseul who would eventually make history with her handcrafted hanji paper. Unexpected friendships are forged, love burgeons and betrayal taints their elusive dreams.

THOUGHTS: Forgotten Reflections, written by Young-Im Lee, is a powerfully poignant novel set in South Korea, during a particularly tumultuous time period remembered as the Korean War. There are occasional interjections that take place in the present, told through the narrator’s (Iseul’s granddaughter) point of view in a relaxed, conversational tone that almost seems to be beckoning readers to join the story.

I was totally cheering for young, fiery-tempered Iseul, who–excuse my language–gave zero shits that Jung-Soo was the son of a wealthy and influential politician who may have been a North Korean spy. She absolutely refused to simply accept his arrogance and proceeded to take him down a notch. After their rocky first encounter, the two eventually grow up to become great friends, along with a disabled boy named Yeong-Hoon, in Yeoju, a rice-farming province situated in the sloping valleys of central Korea. But when war threatens to tear apart the Korean peninsula, the trio’s happiness is disrupted, as Jung-Soo is conscripted into the army.

As history would have it, the war does not go well for South Korea. The army is worn down and short on supplies. Their American allies want to be home by Christmas. Jung-Soo, who loves tinkering with radios and guitars, and Dae-Gun, a friend he saves from the front lines, are reassigned to an intelligence unit, where they learn that the North Korean and Chinese armies are strategically poised to wage war in Yeoju, where Iseul still lives. Meanwhile, Iseul uses her knowledge of crafting and carpentry to create hanji paper for neighboring villages and soldiers in the South Korean army. She is wildly successful, and people begin mailing blank pages to their sons and husbands serving in the army, circumventing the severe shortage of paper. Worried for the safety of Iseul and his hometown, Jung-Soo desperately wants to warn her and the others living nearby to evacuate, knowing that the North Koreans and the Chinese may be headed to Yeoju due to rumors of a massive rice storehouse, enough to feed the two starving armies.

The character development was phenomenal, especially for Jung-Soo. I watched as he grew and matured from a spoiled, entitled child into a young man acutely aware of the world around him and his role in it. The plot was well-paced and never dragged. The drama, tension, emotion, all of it— was interwoven neatly together, creating this emotionally evocative masterpiece.

This fine piece of writing kept me at the edge of my seat, constantly worried for Jung-Soo and Iseul, and wondering if they would ever find each other again and start a new life together. I laughed at their banter and bickering. I almost sobbed my eyes out. My emotions were played again and again, and it was wonderful! My heart is full, yet it hurts because of the bittersweet ending that I won’t be spoiling here.

I actually finished this book a few days ago, but did not start writing this review until I sorted my feelings out in order. The novel really stuck with me over the last couple of days, and I’m happy to say that Forgotten Reflections is my first five-star read of this year.

Don’t be intimidated by the sheer size of this book. I promise you that every one of the 500+ pages are worth it. I consumed them all in one sitting because I just couldn’t seem to put the book down! Rarely do I see such a well-written historical fiction novel with a cast of characters from Asia. If you love modern cultural and historical fiction infused with elements of the bildungsroman genre, please, PLEASE give this literary gem a read!


Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the author, but this did not in any way impact the nature of my review and my original thoughts on the novel. (A big thank you goes to Young-Im Lee for providing me a copy! And for blessing the literary world with this beautiful book.)

another life update? YES!

hi everyone! I know I haven’t posted AT ALL during the month of February (yes, I know, I’m horrible!) and I’m so sorry for being dead.

Couldn’t resist channeling my inner Moriarty here–

Hahah. Andrew Scott is the perfect villain.

Just thought I’d update you a bit on the comings and goings of my life–

To all the authors out there whom I owe reviews to, I’m sorry for being so unfashionably late! I WILL get your reviews up this month, I promise!

Life’s been incredibly busy on my end. So many unexpected things happened to me in February and to top it all off, it wasn’t a great reading month. I’m pretty sure Goodreads says I’m six books behind on my reading goal. Oops. Not a great start.

And because I love making lists…

Things That Happened to Zelle in February

  1. YA GIRL GOT INTO COLLEGE!! (somehow) and not just one, but TWO!!? what the frickety frickle actual frick frack. I still can’t believe it.
  2. I flew to one of the colleges I was admitted to in order to do an interview for a scholarship.
  3. I met up with one of my best friends who attends the college I flew to and he took me around and bought me boba. With matcha! (See, that’s how you do it. Buy me food and you’re golden. This is real friendship, guys. ;))
  4. I walked into a college lecture and DAMN, there were a lot of people!
  5. I learned that Mata Hari’s real last name was…Zelle.
  6. Visited my grandmother’s grave the day after I received my first acceptance letter (the day I visited was the anniversary of her passing) and thanked her profusely in broken Mandarin and mixed English for always supporting and believing in me.
  7. Finished The Crown. WHICH WAS ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL AND LITERALLY EVERYONE NEEDS TO WATCH IT OKAY? OKAY. definitely 5/5.
  8. Finished the first season of Reign. I’m torn. I want to love it but I can’t.
  9. Finished Victoria. Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes have some seriously SIZZLING CHEMISTRY HOLY CRUD THEY MAKE ME SO HAPPY SCREEEEEEEEE
  10. I reached 9,000 followers on Instagram. Wonder how that happened. Huh. THANK YOU ALL. ❤
  11. So I learned that the 8-year-old son of one of the teachers at my school was shot and killed during a drive-by shooting, and it makes me absolutely sick to think about it. And to make matters even worse, the person at fault was never caught.
  12. School was randomly cancelled on the 10th because our main transformer malfunctioned and went out.
  13. I had like a bazillion orchestra rehearsals because I’m flying out to compete on March 1, and I have another orchestra that I participate in because I can’t get enough of musical torture. (just kidding, I actually really love classical music)
  14. I WENT TO THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER ON THE 24TH. THAT. IS. ALL. I THINK CAPS LOCK CONVEYS MY EMOTIONS WELL ENOUGH. I will do a full blog post on this later, but just look at this!!! It’s so beautiful that I almost burst into tears!

I probably had other stuff as well but since I had the insane idea of blogging at an ungodly hour of night right before my flight (wow so many rhymes), I probably forgot some things.

Oh yeah, like this one reunion I attended. Whoops. That was a thing.

And driving lessons. Can’t forget those.

Okay, now I’m just writing like I’m delusional. I’m probably going to publish this and then regret it later. In other words, I should stop here.

Hope you’re all doing well! Feel free to email me at fragilemyths@gmail.com, friend me on goodreads, or talk books with me on Instagram at fragilemyths.