For the newcomers: Alexa, DJKristin and I unofficially formed the Paranormal Book Club and the goal is to re-read (or in some cases, read for the first time) old YA paranormal books. The plan is to read a book/series per season (which I'm tracking here) and after, we'll answer five questions.

So far we've read The Iron FeyBeautiful Creatures, Sweet Evil, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Born Wicked, and Tiger's Curse together and today I'll be talking about our latest read: Altered by Jennifer Rush.

Here are my thoughts:
  1. What were your initial thoughts about the book? Were you excited to read it?
    I read Altered when it first came out and even all these years later I've never forgotten the premise: Anna's father is part of a secret government project which requires them to live on a secluded farm and.. house four hot guys in their basement. That's not something you forget! But it was actually well-written and fast-paced. I kept up with the first two books back when they came out in 2013 and 2014 but never read the last one so I was excited to read this again for our club. And much to my surprise, it actually held up and I enjoyed it just as much as I did then. Although to be fair, as an adult, I was definitely wondering why Anna didn't ask more questions about the four boys. 

  2. What was your favorite quote or passage, and why did it resonate with you?
    "'Hope is a waking dream.' I let the words echo in my head. The quote reminded me of that feeling you get when you start to wake from a dream you don't want to leave. That crushing sensation in the center of your chest, like you are losing an important piece of yourself you won't ever get back." The part about waking up from a good dream that you just want to last a little bit longer was something that resonated with me. 

  3. Which character did you relate to the most, and what was it about them that you connected with?
    I don't know if I quite related to anyone but I connected with Anna. Her life is turned upside down but instead of hiding from the truth, she wanted nothing more than to undercover it all, even if it wasn't something she'd want to hear. I admired that about her. 

  4. Was there anything you wanted to see more of in the book, like more page time for a secondary character or a plot point you wish was explored more?
    I wanted to know more about each of the boys — Sam, Trev, Nick, and Cas. 

  5. What are your final thoughts? Would you read this book again and/or continue with the series? Would you read another book written by the same author?
    The first book held up surprisingly well and I went into this reread fully intending to binge the whole series, which I did. The first and third books were the strongest for different reasons and I'm so glad I finally finished the series. I would definitely read more from Jennifer Rush! 

*** 
Don't forget to check out what Alexa, and DJ 
had to say about Altered!

And if you want to learn more about 
Paranormal Book club and our past reads, go here.
Lupin
Available on Netflix

Two important things you need to know before you start watching: (1) This is a French show (I accidentally watched the first season dubbed in English!), and (2) Arsène Lupin is basically France's version of Sherlock Holmes except he's a "gentleman thief" rather than a detective. 


Assane Diop has modeled himself after Lupin and uses his tactics to avenge his father, who's been framed for a crime he didn't commit by a wealthy family. Assane will stop at nothing and his methods are crazy, smart, and wildly entertaining. Even though he's a thief, he's someone I rooted for and I enjoyed how the show switched between past and present to show how this ordeal began and what led to the current circumstances. This particular arc spans two seasons (I hope there will be a third season with a new story!) and I can't recommend it enough. I actually want to read the Lupin books now! 


Heartland
Available on Netflix + Hulu

I was looking for a horse show to watch and Heartland kept coming up. I actually tried watching it last year but the first episode felt so dated and didn't capture my attention. I randomly gave it another shot at the beginning of February and this time it stuck. And by stuck I mean I watched all 14 seasons because I completely fell in love with the show!   

Heartland is actually Canada's longest running show and after having seen it all, it's easy to see why. It's a wholesome, family show that's centered around Amy, the series main protagonist who has a natural gift of horsemanship, and her coming-of-age story. We literally get to watch her grow up on screen, while surrounded by her close-knit family and we get to see their stories as well. While it tackles a lot of typical drama, it's their atypical themes that make the show stand out. I've learned so much about horses, rodeo, jumping, liberty, proper etiquette in caring for horses and animals, farm life, and more. I'm just so invested in their stories and the characters, as evidenced by the many times this show has made me cry and laugh out loud. I can't wait for the new season to start in October! 


Fruits Basket
Available on Hulu + Crunchyroll
I kept hearing about Fruits Basket so I decided to see if it would live up to the hype. It's about Tohru Honda, whose rough family circumstances force her to live on her own. And when I say that I mean she pitches a tent on private land belonging to the mysterious Sohma clan and when they discover her secret, they invite her to live with them and she accepts. But soon, she discovers their secret. When they're hugged by members of the opposite sex, they turn into the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. It's a curse that comes with a lot of baggage and history and a diverse cast of characters who all have struggles of their own. Through the three season series, Tohru becomes a beacon of light for the Zodiac members in different ways as she fills a different void for each of them -- familial, friendship, and love. 

Looking back, the premise alone sounds pretty incredible right? But I actually struggled with it in the beginning. I think it had to do with Tohru and her overly-polite speech. Now I appreciate that it's part of her personality, but at first it honestly kind of bugged me. So after watching maybe 6 or 7 episodes of Season 1, I took a break from the show. Then one day, I didn't have anything else to watch so I picked up where I left off and.. I became hooked. Before I knew it, I had caught up and was eagerly awaiting a new episode every week. Tohru is probably one of the kindest anime characters you'll ever meet and Kyo Sohma might just be my ultimate anime boyfriend (sorry Tamahome!). The show has made me laugh out loud at their antics, swoon, and cry. There's amazing scenes of love, forgiveness, and friendship that I definitely wasn't expecting when I first started watching. The series just ended a couple weeks ago and I can't get the show out of my head. If you haven't watched, you have to start! 

***

Honorable mentions: Shadow and Bone, WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. These shows have a ton of coverage already (and I'm lazy) so that's why I'm not saying more on them. But the tl;dr version is: you should watch these shows because they're amazing and I loved them. 

What have you been watching lately?



⭐⭐⭐💫 3.5 stars |
A book about cooking and dance might seem like an unlikely pairing but Radha & Jai's Recipe for Romance totally makes it work. Radha is starting fresh at the Princeton Academy of Arts after the biggest competition of her life as a world-class Kathak dancer ends in disaster. She wants to put her Chicago home and performing days behind her. But her aggressive stage mom and a cute boy named Jai won't let her. Jai is a captain of her new school's Bollywood Beats team and he dreams of becoming a doctor but his family's financial situation makes him feel like it can never happen. When they cross paths, chemistry and their mutual love of dance bring them together and romance ensues. 


I had never heard of Kathak before, which is a form of Indian classical dance, but I enjoyed reading about Radha's genuine love and appreciation of this dance form and all dance in general in spite of her history and fears.  Radha and Jai have a lot of sweet moments, including a very meet-cute, but what stood out to me about their relationship is how they pushed each other to be better and their straightforward honesty. It was really refreshing. The cooking part of the book comes into play because Radha's father lives back home in Chicago running his restaurant. While she's away at school, he gives her a cookbook of Indian recipes to learn. As she tries each recipe, it opens her up to the realization that she can pick up new hobbies and a closer relationship with her dad. Culture and family play a huge role throughout the book and the author weaved that, plus the romance, in perfectly with Radha's coming-of-age story. 


Do I recommend? It's a very cute book! It made me nostalgic for the dance classes I took throughout middle and high school. And the cooking part made me want to cook and eat! I'd recommend borrowing this one from the library.


***
pub 7/13/21 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Young Adult - Contemporary
Received e-ARC from pub for review


Happy Bastille Day! Technically, it's tomorrow (July 14th) but I'm celebrating today on the blog like I always do. 

I spent this past Saturday with Alexa and Kristin to check out Parisian spots in the city! We kicked things off by heading to the unofficial "Little Paris" street! (Which should totally be an official thing and in fact, there's a petition for it. Read more here.) We got brunch at Maman, walked around the block before stopping at Clic Bookstore and Gallery, and then headed over to Sézane L'Appartement New York for a bit of shopping. 

After that, we took a coffee and tea break at Ceci Cela Patisserie (I highly recommend the honey lavender latte and Kristin said the pistachio madeleine was delicious!) and then ended our day by going to two bookstores (not French-related but we can't hang out and not go book shopping).

I just miss Paris so much so I love being able to find places in New York that remind of me of the city of lights. And of course, getting to experience them with friends! 


***
Are you a fellow Francophile?
Tell me, what do you miss about Paris?



Here are some non-bookish articles I really liked this past month and my latest loves.


Links
1 / Amber Fillerup talks about being an "introverted, sometimes shy, sometimes outgoing, confident woman" and how she came to realize that no one single label defined her. I related a lot, particularly to that quote I highlighted. 

2 / I've been following World of Wanderlust for years and she's saying goodbye to a life of constant travel. She talks about everything that's led her to this decision, starting with how this career of hers started, and I'm just in awe of her experiences. 

3 / When I read that a woman of Filipino & Chinese descent had started a campaign against James Corden's "Spill Your Guts" segment, it gave me a new perspective on these food skits which I've sadly become used to. I'm of Filipino descent too and I wholeheartedly agree that TV shows need to stop using Asian cuisine as examples of "disgusting" food. (Here's another article from Mary Sue with Corden's response.)

4 / I am all about work-life balance but it's hard if your job is unsupportive or if you work with people who don't realize that more hours doesn't necessarily mean more productivity. How this CEO cultivates balance and especially Iceland's recent 4-day work week trial should be inspiration for every company and the US.

5 / If you haven't heard about Britney Spears' recent testimony about her conservatorship, you must be living under a rock. I honestly can't stop thinking about it. Here's a recap from Verily that puts into words what so many of the reactions have been. 

6 / You know how much I love living alone and A Cup of Jo chats about the perks of doing so.

7 / One Tree Hill used to be one of my favorite shows and one I have huge soft spot for. When I heard that Hilarie Burton, Sophia Bush, and Joy Lenz were creating a podcast based on a rewatch of the show, I knew I'd be tuning in AND participating. Their podcast puts such a big smile on my face and I love that these three women have remained such good friends. If you were an OTH fan, I highly recommend joining them (and me) in rewatching an episode per week! 


Loves
1 /
I've been curious about these hot hair brushes so when I saw the Revlon one (which has 278K+ reviews!) go on sale during Prime Day, I decided to give it a try. And I love it! I've been using it every day since. 

2 / I have really oily, sensitive skin so it's been a struggle to find a good sunscreen that doesn't contribute to making my skin more oily. Supergoop's mattescreen has been great so far! I love the finish and that it doesn't leave a white cast. 

3 / Here's another Prime Day purchase! Given the extremely hot weather, I needed a better tower fan for my apartment to supplement my single air conditioner. It's sold out on Amazon now (and for good reason; it's awesome) but it's available on Walmart.


***

Do you have any links or loves to share?
Would love to hear about them!

XOXO by Axie Oh
⭐⭐⭐⭐💫 4.5 stars | If you're in the mood for a feel-good contemporary YA, regardless of whether or not you love K-pop (bonus points if you do!), then look no further because XOXO is a book you need to add to your summer reading list. It is not an exaggeration when I say that I was perpetually smiling or "aww-ing" over this story. What surprised me, in a good way, was that it was about so much more than just a K-pop star and a regular girl falling in love (although I certainly loved that part too!) 


Jenny is a cello prodigy who wants nothing more than to get into a prestigious music conservatory but recently gets some constructive criticism: she lacks emotion. So when she meets Jaewoo in her uncle's Los Angeles karaoke bar, she throws caution to the wind and has an spontaneous, fun night of adventure with him. He disappears but Jenny runs into him three months later when she and her mom move to South Korea temporarily to take care of her grandmother. It turns out that Jaewoo is not only a student at the same elite arts academy as she is but he's also a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world and he's not allowed to date. 


It's so interesting to read about K-pop culture and what these stars go through to make it. Even though I can't imagine putting myself through that, I admired their determination and the sacrifices all the different characters made at such a young age. Having Jenny join the mix by meeting Jaewoo, his bandmates, and her own aspiring idol roommate, was refreshing because she truly treated them like normal people and strived to become their friend. In fact, the bond between Jenny and her roommate was one of my favorite parts of the story aside from the romance! But of course the relationship brewing between Jenny and Jaewoo was my main reason for loving the book. It felt organic and incredibly sweet. Then there's even a familial element as tension with her mom is explored and history with her grandmother. Seriously, this book has it all and juggled all the themes extremely well. 


What was your first experience living with a roommate at school |
My freshmen year at college was my first time living with a roommate. We were so different and while we got along for the most part, we weren't friends, didn't hang out outside of our room, and lost touch as soon as that first year ended. But she is the person I credit for getting me to read Harry Potter. She was obsessed while I was skeptical of the hype since the first movie was just about to come out. She surprised me with a copy of The Sorcerer's Stone for Christmas and that's how I got into the franchise. 


****
pub 7/13/21 by HarperTeen
Young Adult - Contemporary
Received e-ARC from pub for review


Collaborative feature with Alexa. We read ARCs together and post our reviews on the same date.
I took a week-long birthday staycation and it was exactly what I needed! I was definitely out a lot more than I expected to be but I'm so happy that I got to spend almost every single day with family and friends. 

American Dream Mall
I kicked things off on Monday by going to American Dream Mall with my cousin, aunt, and uncle. We had never been before and wow, that mall is HUGE. I thought we'd only be there for a couple hours tops but we ended up staying for an entire afternoon and still didn't see everything it had to offer. We walked a lot (partially because we got lost a few times!), shopped (they have Primark and I love it!), and ate (so many options). There's even an amusement park, aquarium, and mini golf which we didn't check out but I totally want to go back, especially since it's about 15 minutes from my apartment. 

My birthday
Celebrating my birthday felt extra special this year because it was the first time the entire family had gotten together since the pandemic. I hadn't seen some of my aunts and uncles in over a year! So getting to be inside my parents' house with everyone felt like such a gift. I know that sounds cheesy but being able to gather indoors without masks since we're all vaccinated and filling the house with noise, laughter, and good food, seriously meant so much. And I could see that everyone felt the same way too. It was so much fun! 

NYC Day with Alexa
I'm not going to lie, a part of me thought Alexa and I were crazy for following through with our plans but we decided to not let the 97 degree weather stop us! We wore hats, SPF 100, carried around water bottles, and had the best time. We got breakfast at Bus Stop Cafe, which was an adorable little spot near the water. Then we walked over to Little Island around 9AM (if you go before 12PM, you don't need a ticket) and even though it was smaller than I expected, I really enjoyed it. We took a ton of photos and admired the different views. Afterwards, we took an Uber to Paintbox to get our nails done, stopped by Shakespeare & Co and the Apple Store, got ice cream at Emack & Bolio's, and ended our day at Kinokuniya Books

Storm King Art Center
Not pictured: On Thursday night, one of my best friends Mary Ann treated me to a birthday dinner at Fresco da Franco. Then on Friday, Carina and I kicked off our day with Woodbury Commons! And I definitely indulged myself, lol. 

After shopping, we drove to Storm King Art Center. I only found out about this place about a month ago because a coworker told me about it but apparently, it's been around for a while! It's an outdoor museum which covers a ton of ground with lots of interesting and colorful installations. We were only there for a couple hours so we barely scratched the surface of what's there to see. But I really, really enjoyed it. We just walked around aimlessly while talking and taking photos of the sculptures. Even though, Carina and I made the effort to hang out all throughout the pandemic, this was actually the first time in forever where we got to spend a whole day together. Which to me was the best part. Although.. I was very happy to shop and be outdoors looking at art too! 

July 4th
The weather on Sunday was perfect! I just spent the whole day at the house with family. The first half of the day was spent mostly babysitting Ian while watching Marvel movies. Then once we got the BBQ going, we all moved outside to hang out. It was a small gathering with just the usual Sunday crew and close family friends so it was really nice and low-key, which is exactly what I needed after such a busy week!


***
What have you been up to lately?


I'm turning 38 today and I swear all I can think of when I see that number is — I'm 2 years away from 40! It reminds me of when I was a year shy of turning 30 and it lit this fire in me to start making big strides forward. So I switched careers, left my very first job of 8½ years for one that I actually loved, and I moved out to an apartment on my own, which was another first. I still live here to this day. And now, I'm getting that same feeling again of wanting to move forward but something tells me these things won't magically fall into place between now and the end of this year (although I'm certainly not opposed to it). But that's okay! I just want to put into words some future hopes for myself and recognize what has happened in my life already. 

So in honor of turning 38, I'm sharing 3 moments I'm hoping to one day experience and 8 pivotal moments in my life that have shaped who I am today

1. Buy a home: I really thought I would rent forever or at least until I got married and was ready to buy a home. But I realized, why do I need to wait for marriage or a significant other to be ready? Even though I don't want the responsibility of a huge house, I'm actively looking for a townhome to own. 


2. Get a cat:
 Is this weird to put on the list? Well, I don't care because it is something I truly want. I totally dream about having a beautiful townhome with a cat to come home to. 


3. Fall in love:
 Even though I am secure with my single status and feel content with my life, I'd be lying if I also didn't admit that falling in love is something I hope to experience one day. 


1. Discovering my love of reading: It was thanks to my dad that I fell in love with books as a young child and that love has stuck with me until now. 

2. Making a website for the first time: I made my first website at 14 years old and it was at this moment that I knew what I wanted to do with my life professionally. I guess I can thank Dawson's Creek for this one! (My first site was Pacey and Andie's Place on Geocities!)


3. Going away to college:
My parents were super overprotective and definitely wanted to keep me sheltered at home, which is why I knew I had to dorm for college. I love my family but it was so refreshing to not have them constantly looking over my shoulder. Plus, I met one of my very best friends there! But that taste of freedom showed me that not only could I take care of myself but I craved independence. 


4. Traveling out of the country for the first time: I hadn't done much traveling since my mom was afraid of planes and I didn't have anyone to travel with. Of my circle of friends at the time, not everyone was financially stable to take a big trip so I was just waiting for them. Then a talk with one of my cousins inspired me to stop waiting and just do it because I was ready. Another friend felt the same way too so we booked a trip to London and Paris together and it sparked a love of travel. 


5. Switching careers: Long story short, even though designing websites was my passion, I ended up being a web developer first due to a number of reasons. I got stuck in that role for far too long and when I finally made the switch to a web designer, I couldn't have been happier. 


6. Moving out to my own apartment: Here's another instance of when I waited for friends to be ready to move out and be my roommate. And again I thought, why am I waiting? I moved out on my own and it was 100% the right decision. I love having my own place and being able to make all the decisions without consulting anyone. 


7. Traveling solo for the first time:
I had this itch to travel in the second half of 2018 but no one was able to come with me so I decided to just go by myself and I booked a trip to London. It was definitely scary when I booked the ticket but as soon as I arrived at my destination, I was good. It was an amazing experience! I remember having this moment where I thought even if I never meet someone, I know I can make myself happy. The whole trip was just super empowering. 


8. Losing my mom:
I know this is a sad one to end on but it's probably the most important to me. My mom is pivotal to the person I am today. Even though we are completely different in almost every way, we share the same values because she's the person who taught them to me and showed me through example the importance of family, kindness, hard work, and generosity. And I've said before, in the aftermath, I can still live a happy life and laugh every day while co-existing with the grief that will always stay with me too. It's just a part of who I am now. 

***

Thank you for reading this post and letting me share my birthday reflections.
Tell me, do you get contemplative on your birthday?


Welcome!
Welcome!

Hi, I’m Rachel! New Yorker at heart, Francophile in spirit, and forever wanderlusting. I’m passionate about books, ice cream, photography and finding creativity in my every day life.

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