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4/5 STARS TO HOUSE OF SALT AND SORROWS BY ERIN A. CRAIG

In Erin A. Craig’s mystifying debut, the horrors of the mind haunt one family’s doorstep.

Annaleigh is one of twelve- or what used to be twelve -daughters. But as the years go by, her sisters keeps dying mysteriously one by one. Pushed off a cliff, drowned in a bathtub, the plague; each death weighs heavily on the family. But after the death of her eldest sister, Annaleigh begins to expect something is amiss at Highmoore Estate. Ghostly visions haunt her wherever she goes, and the magic that enchants her sisters feels too good to be true. As death draws ever near, Annaleigh will have to race fate to save herself and her family.

I’m going to start this off by saying this book was not for me. It was a little more horror and gore than I was expecting, but that being said, this book was seriously good. The characters were really well thought out, and I liked the way each sister was made to feel entirely different than the rest. I enjoyed the Graces the best, and loved that Craig incorporated childhood innocence and wonder into such a horrifying story. It added a great contrast to the plot, and gave me a bit of a break at intense moments. I really liked the plot too, horror and gore aside. It started out with an air of mystery, and I had no idea where it was going to go for nearly the entire book. Craig opened up doors for my mind to explore, then shut them abruptly until I was confused and never would have seen the ending coming. Setting wise, I loved the dark but beautiful world that was created. Most of the world building happened slowly, which allowed me to fully grasp the entirety of it; almost everything was explored thoroughly, and I felt like each setting made sense with the story. Technically, I really don’t have anything against this book. It was a solid story with solid characters, and I really enjoyed it until the gore got me. I would be aware that you’re in for some bloodshed, and there is a bit of exploration on what “crazy” means that may be triggering to some readers. Overall, a really solid read and perfect for fans of Stephen King and Agatha Christie!

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Back to School Books!

Welcome back, bookish fam!!

The start of the semester is just around the corner. I honestly can’t believe it. Summer seemed to go by way too fast, and I’m a little bit sad that it’s over. It was a really great summer filled with a lot of ice cream, some great friends, and a lot of adventures. I’m going into my sort-of-Junior year(it’s actually my 4th year of college, but I’m not graduating until 2021) of college, and I’m so excited for it. I decided to add a communication studies minor to my degree, and I’m thrilled to see where it leads. I’m hoping to spend a lot of time this semester exploring everything my uni has to offer; I didn’t really do that last year, so I really want to do some exploration. To celebrate the start of the new semester, I put together this list of YA books set in college! Personally, I think books set in or around university are super under-represented in the YA world. It’s such an important part of life for a young adult, and these books go a little bit more in depth in college life.

  1. Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi: Penny Lee is ready for the adventure that will be college. She’s looking to escape her hum-drum life and branch out in a writing major, leaving her old life in the dust. Sam is nearly ready to give up. His life isn’t going to plan at all, and his movie director dreams seem a million light years away. So when Sam and Penny Lee swap numbers as a way to stay in touch, both are looking for something new. What happens when these two become digitally inseparable? What I’m excited for in this book is the fact that it explores the bad part of college alongside the good. College is a weird mixture of endless hope and literal pits of despair, so to see a book that’s willing to explore that is amazing. I’m really looking forward to adding this to my semester TBR!
  2. Freshmen by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison. Phoebe is SO ready to redefine herself in college. She’ll be everything she never was in high school, and the girl she’s always dreamt of being. Luke isn’t super into the whole “new school, new me” mentality, but when he shows up on campus, that’s exactly what happens. When Phoebe and Luke start hooking up, everything seems perfect!…that is until the soccer team’s “Wall of Shame” goes viral and the women wronged by the raunchy “joke” seek revenge. I like the fact that this book is unapologetically realistic. It isn’t sugar-coating the drinking culture in college, especially among the younger years. Its exploring the consequences behind “pranks” that, believe it or not, are super common at uni. I think books like this are important for young adults to read; it gives us a chance to think about what’s happening around us every day.
  3. Frat Girl by Kiley Roache: Cassandra Davis has just won the scholarship of a lifetime: a full ride to her dream school, and a research project aimed at bringing down the notorious Delta Tau Chi fraternity. Cassie rushes into the fraternity, and on a lark, actually makes it in. But she isn’t worried. She knows exactly the kind of boys that live in that house…or does she? Frat Girl is one of my favorite books of all time. We’ve all seen, or rather, heard, the frat houses. We all speculate what goes on inside of them, and make judgments based on what we see. This book goes in depth to greek life, and gives the reader an opportunity to rethink their opinions on it. It explores the good and the bad, and paints an accurate picture of what greek life is really like.
  4. A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall: What happens when a meet cute goes horribly wrong, and the couple in question dances around each other for the entire school year? Follow the story of Lea and Gabe as told by everyone but Lea and Gabe: the creative writing teacher, the squirrel on the green, their friends. Maybe, just maybe, a second chance is in the cards for these two…I LOVED how this book was written. It was super cute and super original, and the fact that the main characters didn’t get a say was hilarious. The book follows an entire year in college, featuring scenes in a dining hall, a house party, and the college green. I loved how in depth it got into general, everyday college life, and how that in itself can be something worth noting. This book was freaking adorable, guys.
  5. I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski: 19-year-old Sydney is ready for the summer of a lifetime: 4.5 weeks exploring Europe with her best friend! That is…until her best friend’s cheating ex shows up at the airport and threatens to ruin the entire trip. As she explores Amsterdam, Paris, Italy, and more, Sydney will find herself in ways she never thought possible. Okay, so this one isn’t technically set in college, but it’s about a college student! I wanted to add something that was abroad on this list, because like Sydney, tons of college students are lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel abroad. The way this book explores a “late stage” coming-of-age is beautiful, and to read it from someone our age’s perspective? It’s a pretty great experience, and not to mention a hilariously fun read.

These books are sure to get you ready for the semester in more ways than one. Each one is full of “college themes” and will give you a second to stop, breathe, and appreciate where you are in your schooling. College is freaking weird, man. These books get that. What year are you at uni? Let me know in the comments!

Hogwarts Founders: Style Book

What’s up, nerdy birdies?!

I’m participating in the N.E.W.Ts Magical Readathon hosted by @bookroast for the month of August, and let me tell you: It has put me in SUCH a Harry Potter mood. What I love about the O.W.L and N.E.W.T readathons is that the prompts give me a chance to explore my shelf a little bit, and read some things I normally wouldn’t. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the readathon, here’s a quick rundown: You pick your wizarding career(I chose Herbologist). Then in April, you participate in the O.W.Ls, where each reading prompt finished is the completion of an O.W.L test. Your wizarding career has certain tests that need to be completed, so the main focus is on those prompts. Then in August, you participate in the N.E.W.Ts tests! These are a bit harder as they have three levels, and each career has multiple levels for multiple subjects. For example, in order to pass Herbology I need an O, which means I have to read three books to get that O.

It’s a really fun and creative readathon, and it inspired me for today’s post! I wanted to do a style book for the Hogwarts founders in celebration of the readathon, so I put together some outfits to share with you! Let’s get started!

First up is Godric Gryffindor! Gryffindor house is considered brave, and they’re always getting into some sort of…situation…trying to save the day. I wanted this outfit to be free flowing and ready for action, so I chose this flowing red dress with shorter sleeves. No long robe sleeves get caught in anything! I completed the look with a pair of gladiator sandals because I think they look cool. And gladiators are brave, right?

Next up is Helga Hufflepuff! I really love the way it turned out. Hufflepuffs are the sunny, funny, loyals bunch of Hogwarts. I wanted to capture the sunshine with the yellow sweater, paired with an embroidered skirt that adds a bit of quirk. Hufflepuffs are nothing if they’re not practical, so I accessorized with a scrunchie. Who knows when you’re going to have to tie your hair back and get stuff done? I opted for comfort in the shoes with a black pair of birks.

Ah, Salazar Slytherin. One of the scariest founders of Hogwarts, 11 year old me belonged to his house for quite a while. Slytherins are known for their elegant and put together personalities, so I wanted to create an outfit that screamed ambition. I paired a knee length black skirt with a slytherin colored sweater to create a business casual look. My hair, though it’s hard to see in the photo, is tied into a high pony. The black stilettos complete the look and add a bit of weaponry to the outfit. What, you think a Slytherin is going to go out without a weapon? HA!

Last but not least is Rowena Ravenclaw. I grew up to be a true Ravenclaw, so this outfit holds a bit of my style in it. I wanted to create something timeless and creative to represent the Ravenclaw traits, so I paired my favorite blue checkered dress with a pair of white sneakers. Because it’s always cold in that Ravenclaw tower, I chose a plain white cardigan to put over the outfit. Lastly, I tied my hair up into a practical bun. You can’t have your hair accidentally getting into ink while you’re doing your homework!

This style book was so fun to put together. I loved creating the outfits and trying to find something that really spoke to how I view the houses. What do you think? Can you see the Hogwarts founders in any of these outfits? Let me know in the comments!

Shabbat Reading 8/16

Welcome back, nerds and nerdettes!!

The weekend is finally here! I started my new job at the university hospital on Monday, and I have to say I really love it. I think I would like to do this kind of work for a living someday. I also moved into my new apartment this week, which I am so thrilled about. The place already feels like home; there’s plants and books everywhere!! Another big life event this week was sitting down with my sponsoring Rabbi! We’ve decided to move forward with the lengthy application process, so I should be starting my conversion in full within the next month. I was given the curriculum to get working on, and the books are so amazing. I can’t wait to get into them! Unfortunately I won’t be able to read any of these books over Shabbos as I haven’t ordered them yet, but hopefully by next week I will be diving in!

My only read for Shabbat is the second pick for Beyond the Book Club! We ended up choosing With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo! This book follows Emoni during her senior year of high school. When Emoni got pregnant her freshman year, her entire life changed. She’s had to focus on making the tough decisions: the ones that will benefit both abuela and her two year old daughter in the long run. But Emoni finds her own life in the kitchen, and dreams of becoming a chef. Dreams and reality are two different paths however, and Emoni will have to try and find a way to merge her two lives together. I’m really excited for this read. It isn’t the kind of fiction I normally read, and I’m really looking forward to the exploration of this kind of situation. I’ve heard amazing reviews about this, so let us hope it lives up to the hype!

Jewish Learning:This week, I’m headed to a shul about 4 hours from me! My partner and I are going to visit family, so lots of learning will be done. I’ll be having Shabbat dinner with everyone, and am hoping to get a little bit of a handle on the zemirot, or table songs. I’m also looking forward to attending shul; I learn so much every time I go,  so I’m not really putting a label on what I want to learn this week. I’m hoping to just immerse myself and let the learning happen organically.

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend, and I will see you back in a few days for some really exciting new posts! Stay tuned and Shabbat Shalom!

5/5 STARS TO IT’S A WHOLE SPIEL ANTHOLOGY

Y’all, settle in. I got to review my most anticipated release of the whole entire year. Let me tell you how it went.

It’s a Whole Spiel is a set of Jewish stories told by diversely Jewish authors. You’ll find tales from David Leviathin, Nova Ren Suma, and so many more. Each story takes an in-depth look at what it means to be Jewish; From love at summer camp to a whole plate of spilled latkes, this anthology gives a voice to Jewish people of all walks of life.

Guys, I really loved this book. As most of you probably know by now, I’ve started my conversion process into Judaism. I’m always looking for literature that’s in a Jewish setting to read and share with my fellow converts and my Jewish friends. I will be screaming the praise of this book to everyone for the unforseeable future, and that’s because it focused on a wide range of subjects in Jewish life. Some stories reflected on being “Jewish enough”, while others explored love in its many forms. There wasn’t a topic that was off limits. Every single character in this book had some sort of issue with their Judaism, whether it wasn’t feeling like they belonged, how to navigate being young and Jewish in today’s world, or even something like eating kosher. Each story approached Judaism from a different denominational perspective, too: orthodox, conservative, reform, and so many others. I think this is important because it forces the reader to look at all aspects of Jewish life, not just one. It gave voice to Jews of color, LGBTQA+ Jews, disabled Jews. There was even a little bit for converts in there! The representation in this book was insane, and I’m serious: I won’t stop screaming about it. This book is a must read for everyone. Jews, non-Jews. Heck! Even read the story out loud to your hamster. A book with this kind of representation from own voice authors is so important in today’s world, and literally everyone will benefit from these stories. This book comes out on September 17th, so get those preorders in!

4/5 STARS TO A SORCERY OF THORNS BY MARGARET ROGERSON

In Margaret Rogerson’s sophomore novel, sorcery and good old fashioned library magic collide in one compelling story.

As an apprentice in one of the Great Libraries, Elisabeth has been raised with this simple truth: Sorcerers are bad, and the librarians help keep their power in check. She was abandoned on the Great Library of Summershall’s doorstep as an infant, and has grown up surrounded by the lull of rustling grimoires. She dreams of becoming a Warden, a protector of the library. In order to do that, she must never speak to a sorcerer, let alone help one. But when disaster strikes and Elisabeth finds herself face to face with the enigmatic and oddly charming sorcerer Nathanial Thorn, she will have to decide for herself if the truth she’s always known is really the truth at all. Thrust into a world of magic, books, and danger, Elisabeth’s will be put to the test…and the fate of the world just might rest on her shoulders.

This book made me fall back in love with reading. The simple fact that someone managed to put all book lover’s feelings about libraries and books onto a page is simply magical, to say the least. My favorite part of this book was the grimoires, the books of magic that the Great Libraries shelved. The books were sentient in a way, rustling and even sometimes speaking to Elisabeth as the story went on. I loved how the magic of books was woven throughout the story and played an important role in it; the main characters learned a great deal of knowledge from the books themselves. Speaking of the main characters! They were a riot. Elisabeth was the bookish and, sometimes unwilling, heroine of the story. She was so well written that after the book closed, I truly felt as if I had lost a good friend. You really got to know Elisabeth as a character, and the development that happened was incredible. Nathaniel Thorn is my new book boyfriend. He was charming, a little bit of a rake, and overall the perfect counter to Elisabeth. His character helped make the story dynamic and fun, and added a touch of sarcasm to everything. I adored all of the settings, especially the libraries. Overall, I really don’t have an ill word to say about this book. Everything was sound, and most importantly, fun. I recommend it for anyone who might be in a reading slump, or who’s just looking for something to remind them of the power of books. This book was nothing if not powerful, and a stunning reminder that books can be our greatest assets.

Outfits as Book Characters

Hey there, book nerds! Welcome back!

I’ve had this obsurd fascination with bookish fashion since my first year of college. Everyone night as I was laying out my clothes, I would pick a different book/character that I wanted to embody for the day. I don’t go that in-depth nearly as often anymore, so I thought I’d put myself to the test and attempt to create outfits for four of my favorite book characters of all time!

First up is Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice. I have been in love with this novel for ages, and I admire Lizzie Bennet with a burning passion. “Headstrong, obstinate girl” is the highest compliment! I wanted to try and capture Lizzie’s simplicity with a plain blue day dress, paired with a bow to match her spunk. I didn’t add any jewelry to the ensemble, and put my hair up simply with no added flourish. A pair of simple, white shoes completed the look. I love how this outfit came together! I really did feel like I stepped right out of an Austen novel.

This prettily pink outfit is inspired by Lara Jean from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. I think we’re all aware of my slight obsession with the series so when I decided to put together this post, I knew I had to add my favorite girl in there. I chose to capture Lara Jean’s timeless style with a fun, tucked in color-blocked top and a pair of blue jeans. The white cardigan and white shoes add a bit of comfiness to the outfit. Knowing Lara Jean, she’d want just a bit more quirk. So, I put my hair into a side ponytail to complete the ensemble. This one is perfect for everyday wear for me, and is pretty close to my normal style. I will definitely be taking this outfit out for a spin in the near future!

Okay, nobody laugh!! This outfit was inspired by the hilarious Mr. Smee from Peter Pan! I created this look using a simple striped dress from target with a built in belt, and the same old pair of white shoes. I was originally just going to leave it at that, but I felt like it was missing something extra. Tucking in my cardigan added that perfect sailor look I was going for and while I didn’t have a red scarf to complete the look, I’m seriously happy with how this one looks. I feel like I’m ready to be the comic relief in a swashbuckling adventure!

Now, I couldn’t do a fashion post without including a character from one of my favorite books by my favorite author. This one is inspired by Kate Harker from This Savage Song. I wanted to go for a more toned down version of what I imagine her style to be, so I started with an all black ensemble: black skinny jeans, black converse, and a black cardigan. But I didn’t think Kate would want an entirely mono-color ensemble, so I threw in a breathable maroon top perfect for slaying monsters. This is surprisingly one of the most comfortable outfits I’ve ever put on, and I could really kick some butt in my everyday life with this.

Creating these outfits was so fun. I love getting to express my creativity through clothes, and getting to find some more bookishly fun outfits was so exciting. I’m hoping to put all of these outfits into regular rotation; it never hurts to feel like you stepped right out of a book! Do you have any bookish outfits or pieces of clothing you’re fond of? Let me know in the comments!

My Conversion Process: The Early Stages

Hello, friends!

It’s been a while since I did an update on my conversion to Judaism. Right now, I’m in the fledgling stages of the process. In order to convert to Judaism, I need a sponsoring Rabbi who will help me through this process. This Rabbi will be a key player in my conversion; he or she will help me grow, integrate into the community, and be responsible for helping to teach me everything I need to know in order to actually convert. I met with a local Chabad Rabbi a few weeks ago, and am reaching out to another, just to talk about my process and hopefully find someone who is a good fit for me. If you’re looking to convert yourself, the best piece of advice I can think to give is to be picky about your sponsoring Rabbi.

One thing I wasn’t sure of until now was what the conversion process itself actually meant. From what I can gather from speaking with my Rabbi, there are two parts to a conversion: the learning stages, and the actual conversion(taking the Mikveh, sitting for the beit din). The learning stage is difficult. I’m going to be learning Hebrew, the inner and outer workings of the religion itself, and different norms within the community. I’ll also be learning more about the Torah, holidays, and rituals. I’m so excited for this part. The more I learn about Judaism, the more sure I am that this is the right path for me. I started my learning process months before I sat down with Rabbi. This isn’t something you have to do, but I would strongly recommend it for those looking to convert. Converting is not a simple choice to make. It’s a choice that will follow you for life, and learning the basics of the religion itself can help prepare you and help you make sure that this is something you truly want to do. Aside from learning, there are a few other things I will have to do. In order to be considered Jewish, I will have to convert via the orthodox tradition. This means a lot of things to a lot of people, but my Rabbi explained it as three big points: Keeping kosher, learning the ins and outs of the religion, and shomer negiah. Since I’ve already talked a bit about the learning process, let’s unpack what Kosher and shomer negiah are.

The kosher laws are the dietary laws followed by Jews of all denominations. In the orthodox setting, kosher is followed strictly. The basics are this: don’t eat meat and cheese together, wait a few hours before consuming dairy after having meat, wine must be certified kosher, anything from pigs is a no-no, and only certain cuts of meat from certain animals are acceptable. Don’t be alarmed, it really isn’t as scary as it seems. Keeping kosher is actually really easy; it’s not hard to find kosher certified foods, and it’s not hard to adjust to the dietary laws. I’ve been given a lot of advice on how to adjust, and the easiest way I’ve found is to just keep vegetarian for a few days. It really helped me to get into the kosher style and when I added meat back into the equation, I found it wasn’t difficult keep it separated. Now, that’s not saying I’m perfect at keeping kosher; I slip up way more than I would care to admit! The difficult part of kosher is the cooking laws. If it isn’t cooked in a kosher kitchen, it isn’t kosher. This means if your meat and cheese touch on the same counter, your counter is no longer kosher, and a whole bunch of other rules. This can be a bit of a tangled mess to sort through, but it gets much easier with time. I learned a lot from just watching my boyfriend’s eema cook over Shabbat, and she even guided me towards some kosher recipe books. A lot of people do freak out over the price of kosher certified foods. I won’t lie to you, kosher certified meats and dairies can get expensive. But it’s important to remember that loads of other things are kosher, too. Vegetables, fruits, and many of your favorite snacks are all certified. Its entirely possible to keep kosher on a budget, you just have to watch what you’re buying and always make sure the O-U is on the packaging. Overall, not something to stress yourself, or your budget, over.

What is shomer negiah? Quite literally, it means “observant of touch”. This is the part of conversion a lot of people tend to freak out over. Shomer negiah law dictates that you are not allowed to touch the opposite sex in anyway, even if its just a friendly pat on the back. I’m a very touch oriented person; I have no shame in saying I have some trust issues. Touching people(a hand on the shoulder, a hug, etc), is how I normally communicate and receive sincerity. This is why shomer negiah is potentially going to be the hardest part; I’ll have to try and rework my brain into taking people, specifically the men in my life, at their word. If you’re one half of a couple like I am, it’s also a bit of a struggle for the relationship. I’m very lucky to have a supportive significant other who understands my commitment to Judaism and is wanting to grow with me during this process, regardless of some of the requirements. If you’re looking to convert, talk with the important people in your life about shomer negiah. It’s a big change that can sometimes not be well-received; having the conversation early will help you find a middle ground with those you love.

I’m not going to lie to you, the biggest challenge I’ve had so far is a sense of not belonging. At this point, I’m not Jewish. But I’m also not, not Jewish. I’m in an in between, and will be for the next year and a half to two years. This feeling isn’t unfamiliar; as I said in my previous conversion post, I was never baptized. I’ve felt “outside” of any religious community for a really long time, but the reality that I finally found a religion that fits me and means so much to me has finally sunk in. I want nothing more than to belong, and I know I will with time, but that doesn’t mean the feeling isn’t hard. I think it’s important to talk about the specific trials I’m having; I know from experience that most times, my experiences mirror other’s. My hope is that with a candid discussion about this process, about the trials and triumphs I’m facing, a conversation will be started about conversion. It is easy to feel alone in a process such as this. You don’t belong to the community yet, you have fears that you never will. My hope for this is that someone who needs this comes across it, and knows they aren’t alone.

Despite some of the trials, I’m extremely excited with how my conversion is going so far. I’m looking forward to starting my lessons in the fall, and am slowly working my way to going to synagogue more regularly. Check back periodically to see more updates on my journey! In the meantime, if you have a conversion story or piece of advice that you don’t mind sharing, let me know in the comments!