THIS IS IT! #HogwartsOctober STARTS TOMORROW!

#HogwartsOctober

ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?

A WHOLE MONTH of HARRY POTTER!

We’re gonna laugh, we’re gonna cry, and we’re gonna look back on the stories that defined my entire generation.

Tomorrow, it all kicks off!

If you’d like to be a part of this, a schedule of 2 weekly posts can be found here.

I’M EXCITED!  WE’RE GOING BACK TO HOGWARTS FOR A WHOLE MONTH.

Image result for avpm totally awesome

How To Survive This Political Climate: A Quick Check-In

Hi.  How is everyone?  Are you all alright?

I’m asking because it’s been an incredibly rough week or two in terms of news, with this Kavanaugh hearing thingamajig.  (I’m not even entirely sure anymore what it is, besides a circus.)  I just wanted to make sure everyone was ok, because I know it’s been stirring up a lot of repressed memories for a lot of people.

It seems almost inescapable.  Any time the TV is on or I jump on the internet, it seems like everything comes back to that.  Everyone seems to be asking: Is Kavanaugh telling the truth?  Is Ford?  Who should we believe?

As if that weren’t enough, my parents can’t stop talking about it–even as my mom says how much she hates that this is all everyone is talking about.  I went round and round with her for twenty minutes, fully knowing that neither of us were going to change our opinions.  Her side sounded old-fashioned and closed-minded to me; my side probably sounded frivolous and idiotic to her.

I have my own opinion about it, but I’m not going to foist it on you.  Just know that I’m as frustrated as everyone else.  And I don’t even had horrific memories popping out all over the place at me.  Nothing even remotely close to Ford’s case has happened to me, praise the Lord.  But I know not everyone is in my position.  (I nearly said not everyone was as lucky, but truly, it’s not about luck at all–rather, it’s about human decency and I’m so so sorry that some of you have met with some truly evil people in your lives.)

So I’ve decided to come up with a quick little guide to decompressing in the midst of all this turmoil.  Because let’s face it, we all need it.

1. TURN OFF THE TV.  UNPLUG FROM THE INTERNET.

I’m not asking you to go all medieval on this–just take some time to force yourself away from these sources for a while.  Take some time for yourself.  Don’t look at Facebook or Twitter.  Don’t turn on CNN or FOX News or whatever you watch.  Step away from the screen and find something else to do that’s more grounded in the here and now.  This is hugely the most important thing I can possibly tell you all day.  You have to take a break.

2. Do Something Productive

When I’m especially upset, sometimes it helps for me to create something.  It’s productive and I usually feel good about the results.  So paint a picture.  Write a story or a poem.  Bake a cake (which also gives you the joy of eating it!).  Clean your room/house (it’s so cleansing to have your personal space in order).  Tackle that big project you’ve been putting off for a rainy day.  The more you can get your mind off the news, the better you’re going to feel.

3. Read a Book!

Of course, I’m going to advocate reading.  Losing myself in a story is basically akin to putting on noise-cancelling headphones.  I tune out the entire world around me when I get lost in a good book.  Reread an old favorite.  Fall into that new book you’ve been dying to read.  This weekend is the perfect time to start it!

4. If You Need To–Talk To Someone Trusted

For some of you, I know you’re struggling.  Perhaps there’s a secret you haven’t told anyone.  Perhaps it’s stirred up a lot of anxiety and negative thoughts.  If it has, connect with someone who can help you.  If you need to talk to someone, choose someone you can trust to listen.  You may need to tell them upfront that you need to talk right now and it’ll be most beneficial if they just listen without commenting too much.  (I’m pretty sure if I went to my mom with something big, I might have to say this to keep her from giving advice too quickly.)  Find a friend, a family member, maybe even a professional if need be.  But if you feel the need to talk to someone, then do it.  You’ll feel better once it’s out.

5. Go On A Walk

Where I live, we’re kind of in the last hoo-rah of summer before colder temps really start rolling in.  This might be some of our last chances to go on a long walk before fall settles in.  So enjoy it!  Check out the trees that may be starting to change colors in your area.  Enjoy the little moments; breathe in the fresh air.  Problems always have a way of feeling a little smaller when you’re underneath a big blue sky.

6. Watch Something Comfortable

I love comedies.  The dumber, the better.  I have my favorites, of course, the ones that I can always quote and never fail to make me feel better.  I also love musicals and hearing problems put to song is something of a balm.  So watch something that makes you think happy thoughts.  I recommend something that isn’t going to have political overtones, since that’s what you’re trying to avoid.  (For example, I love stand-up comedy, but so many of them are political anymore that I would avoid these at the moment.)

What If I Can’t Escape It?

This is a fair question.  For some of us/you, this might be a reality.  Perhaps you have a job at a news organization and you’re constantly surrounded by it.  Perhaps your friends/family keep bringing it up.  As an INFJ with strong argument-avoidance tendencies, these are the things I do:

1. When Possible, Walk Away

I have done this to my dad before to avoid blowing up.  He’s the kind of person who thinks it’s funny to rile someone up and watch them explode.  (I’m serious–he legit finds it funny.  Thankfully, he typically knows better than to push this with most people.)  So more than once, I have just given up in the middle of a conversation and left the room.

Once, he actually followed me as I tried walk away, bellowing more incendiary comments in my wake.  I had to close myself in another room to put distance between us.  And depending on your situation, that may be something you have to do too.  Hide in the bathroom if you need to.  If it gives you the privacy to cool down and get out of that situation, take it.  It doesn’t matter how stupid it is if it helps.

2. De-Escalate When Possible

It’s very easy when you’re discussing two opposing ideas to eventually start raising your voice.  The other person just isn’t understanding!  But being louder isn’t going to help.  It’s going to shut you both down further.  If walking away isn’t an option, you might have to de-escalate things.  If you realize you’re raising your voice, take a breathe and bring it down.  First of all, you sound way more reasonable if you’re calm.  Second of all, it’s much easier to say something like, “We seem to have two different opinions about this.  Why don’t we take a break for the moment and cool down?”  (Third, if they can’t calm down, anyone watching definitely will see you as the more level-headed one and more likely to back you up.)

3. If It’s For A Job, Unplug When You Can

One of my college roommates was a journalism major.  She was a news junkie.  It was everything to her, keeping up on everything happening.  And some people are like that.  But not everyone.  So if it’s part of your job to stay up to date on all of this, then you really have to try to unplug as much as you can in your free time.  Again, I realize how hard that is.  But that distance is going to help you keep your sanity.  It’s important that you find something else to do.

*****

You guys, I totally get what you’re going through.  This is an incredibly trying time.  I find myself empathizing with all of the women who have come forward after all this time to admit what has happened to them.  To an extent (my imagination only goes so far), I can understand how that fear of it happening again can rule your life.  I can understand the anger some of you are feeling.

In the perfect world, none of this would be happening.  In the perfect world, no one would be twisting this back on the victims.  (A version of this is what I’m constantly trying to fight: “Well, if that really happened, why didn’t she tell someone sooner?”  I just can’t make certain people understand, no matter how hard I try.  And I have tried.)

I’m sorry.  I’m fired up about this too.

Unplug, my friends.  As much as you can this weekend, find some quiet, peaceful time for yourself.  The world won’t stop spinning just because you stopped looking at Instagram for a few hours.

I wish you all the best.

XO,

Holly

Prepping for #HogwartsOctober

Hi everyone!  I just wanted to let you know that I may be a little quiet on here over until October 1st when I kick off #HogwartsOctober, my Reread-a-Thon of the entire Harry Potter series.

If you’re interested in participating in any way, big or small, there’s more info here and here.

Anyway, I’m trying to get as many of my special posts done now because I know that October is going to be a busy month anyway at school, so forgive me if I’m not posting much now!  I want to make #HogwartsOctober something kind of spectacular because Harry just deserves that kind of magic.

I’m still here!  Just busy writing things for next month!  So while I may be quiet, I will definitely see you then!!

#HogwartsOctober

Top Ten Eye-Opening Books

Hey everyone!  So lately I’ve been trying to read books that somehow make me think differently about the world.  It started by accident but now I’m kind of on a roll.  And there have been a lot of books over the years that have made me realize things about the world that I didn’t know existed before.  So I thought I’d share some of those books.

Many of these do not exactly have happy endings.  I don’t think they’re meant to.  They’re meant to show the realities of the world in a sometimes very harsh light.  Some of these can be difficult to read.  But all the same, I think it’s important that we know they exist.

So here we go!

Top Ten Eye-Opening Books

1. Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

This was immediately the first book I thought of when I came up with this list.  When Gemma is kidnapped, her life turns upside down.  Ty, her kidnapper, is hot and fit and only wants Gemma’s love.  (Which, you know, completely makes up for the fact that he’s kidnapped her and taken her to the Outback of Australia.  NOT.)  Gemma is put in a very uncomfortable situation and watching her process it…you can’t help but be moved by her struggle.

2. Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

It’s not very often I read books set in Africa–maybe because there aren’t as many as there are about other cultures?  I don’t know.  Sophie follows her mother to the Congo to help her work at a sanctuary for bonobos, but everything turns deadly the moment a violent coup tries to take over the government.  Suddenly Sophie and her beloved bonobos are in danger, running for their lives through the jungles of the Congo and hiding from men who would kill both of them.  It’s dangerous and real and definitely eye-opening about what has been happening in places like the Congo where the government is (was?) unsettled.

3. Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This is a very hard to story to read.  For as much as I loved it, I will probably never read it again.  Naila’s Pakistani family is very strict.  When she falls for a boy before she’s allowed to start dating, her parents freak.  They take her to Pakistan to reclaim her roots, but it’s there that Naila finds out her marriage has been arranged to a man she doesn’t know or care for.  It’s a nightmare situation, but it’s a nightmare that some girls in the world are still facing.  And it’s hard to know that this isn’t exactly fictional.  (The author acknowledges that she pieced the story together from experiences of people she knows.)

4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I love this book so much.  Lina is a Lithuanian girl living in the dangerous time of 1941.  Stolen from home with her family by Soviet soldiers, they are sent on a journey of thousands of miles to the Siberian tundra to work in gulags for a crime Lina doesn’t even know of.  It’s a flip on the typical Holocaust story because, let’s be real, the Holocaust was not the first or the only event of its kind in history.  And it’s important to acknowledge the others who also suffered similar fates.

5. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

I knew I wanted to put a Holocaust book on this list, and I thought this one was unconventional enough to fit the bill.  The heroine is a perfect German girl named Gretchen, whose “uncle” Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.  We’ve been taught forever that Hitler is a monster–but here’s a girl growing up within the Nazi Party and loves Hitler as family.  It’s hard for us to read that, because it’s true that for many, Hitler was not the Demon we see him as now.  He was fantastic with children, for example.  It’s uncomfortable for us to acknowledge that.  And Gretchen’s not blind–we do get to see what happens as Germany changes around her and not in good ways.  I’m in no way trying to diminish the atrocities of the Holocaust–but I think sometimes we also need to see why so many Germans bought into (or pretended to buy into) what Hitler was preaching.

6. The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

This is nothing short of beautiful.  It’s a lyrical novel written from the perspective of various people–real and fictional–aboard the tragic Titanic.  Each poem has its own style, depending on the narrator.  It’s amazing how he pulls that off.  But since it covers various classes from first to crew, and it covers many races, you get to see what happened from all different sides.  Just when you thought you knew everything about the sinking…

7. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I put a graphic novel on the list!  Look at me go with all these different types of stories!  Ok, so this is autobiographical.  It’s Marjane’s story as she grew up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.  It chronicles her youth there, her time in high school in Vienna growing up as something of a wild child, and her self-imposed exile from her homeland.  It can be funny to read at times, but it’s also very real about struggles she went through.  Revolutions aren’t exactly painless, no matter which side you’re on.

8. Sold by Patricia McCormick

Even though I didn’t exactly like this when I read it, I can’t deny that it’s important.  Lakshmi lives in Nepal with her incredibly poor family.  When rain washes out the crops that year, Lakshmi is sent away by her father, only to find out that she’s been sold into prostitution.  It’s a brutal and horrific story, but it’s also something that girls around the world are dealing with every day.  So as horrible as it is for us to read it, it’s even worse knowing that it’s not completely fiction.

9. Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat

I chose this one because I think it’s an important look at social class and stereotypes.  When Ivy’s family loses everything, she’s forced to move to the poor side of town, even though she doesn’t want anyone at school to know that.  And she’s forced to confront what she’s always thought about “those people”.  It’s fascinating and you really do have to think as you read it: have I ever acted like Ivy?

10. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

This is such an important book because it shows you the consequences of your choices and how they impact everyone around you.  I remember reading this in the car on vacation and trying so hard not to cry.  It’s emotional and poignant and moving.  It’s such a valuable read.

The Valiant (The Valiant, #1)

Image result for the valiantFirst Lines: The steam rising off the backs of the cantering horses faded into the morning fog.  Our chariot raced toward the far end of the Forgotten Vale, and Maelgwyn Ironhand–my charioteer, constant companion, and frequent adversary–pulled back on the reins.

Back in high school, I was reading Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange series, about faeries and Shakespeare and a bunch of other cool stuff.  At the library one day, I saw this on the shelf and I thought it looked interesting.

When Fallon was a child, Julius Caesar invaded her homeland of Prydain and captured her father–a king of the Celts.  To get him back, Fallon’s older sister Sorcha fought Caesar’s legions–and died.  Fallon has been living in Sorcha’s shadow ever since and now, on Fallon’s 17th birthday, she can finally be a warrior like Sorcha.  But she never gets the chance.  Captured and sold to an elite Roman school training female gladiators, Fallon discovers she’s owned by her worst enemy: Caesar himself.  In a cruel twist of fate, Caesar may just be the only hope Fallon has of survival.  With enemies all around her, and not just in the arena, Fallon will always be fighting to protect herself.  And her most dangerous adversary may just be Cai, the young Roman soldier intent on stealing her heart.

This was a very interesting concept. I’ve read Lesley Livingston before and, as she admits in her own acknowledgements, this is the first time she’s written something that didn’t involve characters using magic. And I liked the result.

This covers an interesting moment in history that I don’t see many other books write about. It’s set during the reign of Julius Caesar in Rome, but it takes place not just in Rome but in Prydain or Britain as well, with the different bands of Celts that lived there. With my fast growing interest in the Celts and Anglo-Saxons who lived in England before the Norman Invasion, this was something I had to check out. And it did not disappoint.

The story focuses on the idea of having female gladiators known as gladiatrix. At the time of the story, it’s been a role that has been growing only for the last ten years or so, so there still aren’t many gladiatrix. It’s kind of interesting to see how it might have been different for a female warrior than a man, and the story makes sure to point some of that out.

The plot was fascinating and gripping once you knew what was going on. (It takes some time to set everything up, especially since we’re no longer familiar with the day-to-day of the Celtic or the Roman cultures.) When warriors of any kind are involved, there’s always danger and tempers on edge. I had a hard time predicting what might happen next because, like Fallon, I didn’t know what was normal in Rome and neither of us knew who was friend and who was foe.

I found myself really enjoying the characters in this. Fallon is strong and determined, but that determination also makes her blind to the politics of what’s happening around her. That’s where Cai comes in, as he wants to protect her as much as he can, even knowing she can fight her own battles. They have an interesting chemistry together because they push each other. I like that. It was even interesting to see people like Caesar himself and Cleopatra make appearances in this book. They were given personalities I have never really heard either of them having, but it makes sense. (Example: Caesar is nice and Cleopatra is clever but compassionate.)

I keep using the word over and over, but it really was interesting! There were so many little pieces of this story that I kept seeing that got my interest. While I’ve never been a fan of Romans (I much prefer the Greeks), I now kind of want to read up a little on their culture.

Announcing…#HogwartsOctober, A Harry Potter Read-a-Thon

#HogwartsOctober

OMG YOU GUYS I’M SO EXCITED!

Welcome to #HogwartsOctober!

You may be asking yourself, “What is Hogwarts October?  And why is she insisting on putting a hashtag in front of it?”

Well, let me tell you ALL ABOUT IT!

Harry Potter changed the world in a way that virtually no other book short of religious texts has.  It’s been 20 years since the books were published in America and look where we still are.  The Cursed Child is sweeping its way around the world.  Fantastic Beasts is turning into a huge series in its own right.

Whether you grew up with Harry Potter or found his magic later in life, the fact remains that this series was revolutionary in so many ways.  It brought about the rise of midnight premieres were people dressed up (and their costumes were AMAZING!).  There were book release parties of a magnitude I’ve never seen before or since.  Everyone, young and old, bought into it.

That’s not to mention the numerous parodies, fanfictions, and other art forms that have become just as much a part of the fandom as the stories themselves.  Potter Puppet Pals, A Very Potter Musical, all the bands that took their names from the Harry Potter world (and there are MANY).  Tattoos, paintings, wall art, and decorations.  I mean, it’s still literally everywhere.

On September 1st, which was officially Back to Hogwarts Day, I felt some of that magic again for the first time in years.  I saw how many people showed up at King’s Cross Station before 11 AM.  I saw countless pictures of people who dressed up their babies/toddlers in Hogwarts gear.  I watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix again for the first time in years and I still remembered the words.

So here’s what #HogwartsOctober is…

Throughout the month of October, I am going to be rereading all 7 of the Harry Potter books, from beginning to end.  Hopefully every day/nearly every day of October, I will also be posting other things about the Harry Potter world.  Movie reviews, book reviews, thoughts on certain characters, comments on my favorite scenes, etc.  Whatever I come up with, I’m probably going to post about it.

In essence, it’s a month where we can relive the magic again.  We can go back to Hogwarts and experience it all anew.  (Well, sort of anew.  I’m really interested in reading these again with my current understanding of global politics.)

All of it will culminate on Halloween, October 31st, the night that Voldemort attacked James and Lily Potter.  I’m hoping to do some kind of tribute to Harry on that day, but I’m not entirely sure what that looks like yet.

Would you like to participate?

If so, that’s great!  Here are some things you can do:

  • Complete the read-a-thon with me if you have time!  Nothing like reading them all again from start to finish!
  • Write your own posts about the impact of Harry Potter in your life!
  • Tag me in anything you do so I can throw your name/blog on my posts among the list of participants
  • Use the #HogwartsOctober hashtag on Twitter so others can find this and join too!

I have an entire page on this site devoted to all things #HogwartsOctober.  You can find the schedule of events and other information listed here.  You can do as little or as much as you’d like to!  I completely understand if you don’t have the time to do it all, but anything is awesome!

I’m going ALL OUT on this in a way I never have before.  I really want this to build a community of Potter fans, to show that even though we may blog about different things (YA books, travel, advice, etc.), we all are more similar than we are different.

If you’d like to be involved, please leave a comment below!  I think this is going to be so much fun!

Black Keys (Colorblind, #1)

Image result for black keys rose b mashalFirst Lines: Oh, God!  I’d never let that pig touch me!  I shot up into a standing position like the couch was on fire and looked around, finally really taking the room in.  The sheets on the bed were white with red rosebuds all over them, shaped like a giant heart.

Ok, I recently read this and had to share it with you guys, but I do have a disclaimer first: this is not YA.  It’s officially billed as Romance, but I’m telling you, it’s not explicit like, at all.  And because of that, I wanted to let you guys know about this, especially since it’s FREE on Amazon!

As a bright, young CEO of her parents’ company, Marie feels like her life is in her control.  Her life has had its rough moments, but her Catholic faith and her own strength have persevered.  When her brother Joseph returns from their Middle Eastern branch, he comes bringing news that he’s going to be married.  But when Joseph betrays her, Marie learns suddenly that he’s brokered her own marriage–to a Muslim Arab prince named Mazen.  Heartbroken, lost, and afraid, Marie struggles to deal with what Joseph has just thrown her way.  Her new husband feels equally betrayed, but all he wants is for Marie to understand and learn that he’s not the monster she believes him to be.

I feel like I’m underselling this in the blurb, but I promise you, it’s so good.

Holy Schmoly Batman, I could not put this down. Yes, there are moments that are cliche or there’s the fact that the timeline can sometimes be hard to follow, but it was still amazing.

I was completely drawn in by the culture of the story. Marie is a twenty-two year old American who runs her family company with her brother after the death of their parents.  Obviously, I’m well-versed in her culture.  Then you have Mazen, the Muslim Arab prince and his culture.  I was not as familiar with that.

It was dramatic. It was scary. It was sweet and tender. Like, most everything I could want from a book was in this. (I’ll also fess up right now and say that one of my favorite tropes is arranged marriages, for some reason. I like seeing what happens when two unlikely people end up being pushed together. So I was really into this.)

Like I was saying, I got swept up into everything to do with the culture. Mazen’s Muslim background is a complete no-no for Marie. She doesn’t understand it at all and, even though she is clearly prejudiced again them, thinks of herself as nowhere near racist. It was a really interesting study in how people can deny everything they see if it messes with the world view they’ve held so close.

On top of that, I vastly enjoyed learning more about the Muslim religion and culture. There were some things I knew, but many that I did not. I was learning right along with Marie and I’m happy that I had that opportunity.

While this is billed as a romance novel, it’s not what you’re probably picturing at all. I don’t want to say too much, but let’s just say that both Marie and Mazen can be quite stubborn when things don’t go their way.

Also, these characters are fantastic. I mean, the character development is ace. Marie obviously changes a lot throughout the story as she learns that what she’s been taught is wrong, but it was also amazing to see the way Mazen’s character was revealed in bits and pieces. I was constantly wanting more. But there are all kinds of other characters. The characters you love immediately, the characters you hate immediately, the characters that surprise you, and the characters that betray your first feelings. They all took it to new levels.

I will say that the writing style…something about it seemed a little distant.  Normally when I read stories I get swept up in, I feel everything.  I mean, I blush and giggle and cry along with the characters.  I didn’t do that with this one.  I felt like I wasn’t Marie.  Which makes the fact that I loved this so much more bizarre.

This is just so different from everything else I’ve read. I loved it.