I always take a week-long staycation during the week of Thanksgiving and it couldn't have come at a better time. To kick things off, I spent a (mostly) solo day in the city, which I hadn't done in forever! I started my morning with breakfast at Bluestone Lane (pricey but the food & coffee was great!) and then headed across the street to the Van Gogh: Immersive Exhibit. I was a little worried because I had heard mixed reviews but I genuinely enjoyed it a lot! I think it helped that I went right when it opened on a Monday so it was fairly empty and I had a ton of my room to myself. Which was great because I will say the room was smaller than I expected it to be. That said, I was super impressed with the design details that went into projecting his art onto the walls. It was beautiful and so soothing. I was happy and relaxed just sitting there for 30 minutes watching the walls change. That may not be everyone's cup of me, but it was certainly mine. 

From there, it was all about walking plus (window and actual) shopping around Soho. Again, since it was a Monday there was hardly anyone around.  I went into Rebag, Celine, Chloé, Kendra Scott, & Other Stories, The RealReal, Kendra Scott, Cuyana, and Everlane. I tried on designer bags at every spot (but didn't walk out with anything - although the Chloe Tess Day bag is on my wishlist now!) and I bought a new necklace and macarons from Laduree but that's it. 


I took a lunch and reading break at Cafe Gitane (first time eating there and really liked it but I wish it hadn't been so crowded; I braved the cold and ate outside). Then I got a gel manicure at Think Pink Nails & Spa, who did a great job with my nails while another technician gave me a chair massage, which I happily paid extra for. And finally, I ended the day by meeting up with Alexa at The Alley for Ube Brown Sugar Deerloca Milk bubble teas! 


The rest of the week flew by in a blur of me time and family time. I watched Eternals by myself and I really, really liked it. I know that's an unpopular opinion but I enjoyed it and the secondary characters, especially Angelina Jolie, were so great. Then I started prepping for Thanksgiving! I made my usual red velvet cupcakes and green bean casserole and spent all of Thursday with the family. I can't begin to explain how good it felt to have a normal Thanksgiving together. To just sit, eat, talk, and eat some more. These were the moments I missed most during 2020. The next day, my cousin RJ and I went to see Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which far exceeded my expectations. Not only was it a fun movie, it was just really good and a solid successor to the originals (which I now want to rewatch!). 

Then I ended my staycation with putting up my Christmas tree and all the holiday decor, wrapping presents, doing far too much online shopping, and binge-watching Roswell, New Mexico (it's awesome, please watch it). 


*** 
Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving too!
Life lately
I swear, I blinked and November was over! It's been a fun two months though. I had my first real vacation since the pandemic started, NYC days either on my own or with friends, a day trip to Cold Spring, going out for dinner, and of course, Thanksgiving! Technically there was Halloween too, but I've never cared much for that holiday, except now I like seeing my nephew Ian in his costumes. Time just flies when you're having fun, super busy (and stressed) at work, and trying to find time to do the dozens of things I want to do. Which is a mixture of house stuff (the cleaning never ends), hobbies (my Animal Crossing obsession has re-started), and relaxing. At this point, I'm just counting down to Christmas so I can be on yet another staycation. 


Oct-Nov Superlatives
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One-sentence reviews
These are books (physical + ebooks) from my TBR or the library aka the non-review books.

 ***
How's your month been?


Since Denise Williams' debut, How to Fail at Flirting, I pretty much knew that I'd read anything she writes and The Fastest Way to Fall only reinforces that decision. The heroine, Britta Colby, should be everyone's role model when it comes to body positivity and just owning who she is. She works for a lifestyle website and is itching for a chance to prove herself as a writer when she's given her next assignment: try a popular new health-focused fitness app that includes personal coaching and take readers on that journey with her. 

I loved her approach to the app and how it actually worked (all fitness apps should work like this!). It was never about fixing herself or changing who she is. It was about her health and being surprised to find joy in exercising. And through the personal coaching, she finds herself talking more and more to her trainer, Wes Lawson, and developing a genuine attraction to him. What she doesn't know is that he's the CEO of the FitMe app she's writing about and technically, he's not supposed to be training. But that's the part of the job he's always loved and soon, he's falling for her as well. Even before they met, the chemistry between them was palpable through their messages so you can just imagine the sparks that flew when they inevitably met in person. I really enjoyed seeing both the personal and professional journeys these two individuals were on and their evolution from trainer-trainee, to friends, and something clearly much more than friends. The romance was just so good! 


Do I recommend?
Yes! It's romantic, honest, and has a genuine, great story. 


***

pub 11/2/21 by Berkley Romance
Adult - Contemporary Romance
Received e-ARC from pub for review


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here's a list of big, little, sentimental, and silly things that I'm feeling grateful for right now. 

being able to spend Thanksgiving with the whole fam
that myself, fam, & friends are all healthy and vaccinated 
that I'm currently on staycation 
solo days spent in the city
that I finally saw the Van Gogh: Immersive Experience
the Animal Crossing 2.0 update
new gold jewelry to add to my collection
fun sleepovers at my childhood home
getting to baby-sit my adorable nephew
finding my old diaries
having an amazing group of friends
 my close relationship with my cousins
having a good, stable job (even when I hate it)
making work friends that I genuinely enjoy hanging out with
indulging in some shopping at the moment 
finding out that Roswell: New Mexico is actually great (who knew!)
books, books, books - always!
my apartment which has been my home for 8 years
slowly getting back to normal
a much-needed recent trip to Vermont
road trips being a safe way to travel
learning how to cope with my anxiety
going to the movies for the first time since the pandemic!
discovering new ways to be creative
my online daily photo journal
being able to find joy in the little things

***
What are you thankful for?




One of my favorite tropes is the one where the heroine creates a bucket list of things to do before a significant birthday or event. It's because I relate -- I created summer bucket lists for years and I had a super mini-one to try and complete before my 30th birthday. In Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships, Jo Walker has been attempting to complete a bucket list of thirty things to do by her birthday. She's made good progress! Plus she loves the life she's built for herself with her condo on the beach and as a yacht stewardess, she gets to travel the world. But a family tragedy changes things for Jo and her loved ones. Until her two nieces show up unannounced ready to the spend the summer with her. They find her list and with only twelve weeks to go, they're determined to help her complete the final eight items. As impossible as it sounds, Jo wants to make it happen. 

I really loved the sense of family and friendship throughout the book. Yes, Jo has this list of things to do (like sleep in a castle or kiss a stranger — more on the latter in a bit!) but it's about so much more than that. She and her family are grieving and this list gives them something to work towards and hopefully a way to start healing too. The author did a good job of highlighting how everyone grieves differently and the struggle to talk about those feelings. I also loved seeing the aunt and niece relationship play out as someone who is very close to her aunts. And Jo's best friend is constantly supportive throughout too. Especially when it comes to kissing a stranger, which is how she meets the love interest, Alex Hayes. 


The romantic tension and chemistry was there but it felt a bit lacking at the same time with the execution. I went into this book expecting a full-on romance, complete with steamy scenes (if I'm totally being honest) but that's not really the case. That's not a bad thing but that wasn't my expectation. It's a lot of back and forth, missed signals, and angst. Which is fine, but I wish there has been less of it. I also struggled a bit to connect with Jo, even though I did like her. If you plan to read this book, I do think you have to readjust your expectations because despite the cute cover, it's less rom-com and steamy than may be implied. 

Do I recommend? Like I said, even though it's not a new favorite, I did like it and there were things about it that I thought were well done so if you're still curious about the story, I'd recommend borrowing it from the library. 


***
pub 11/23/21 by Berkley Books
Contemporary Romance / Women's Fiction
Received finished copy from pub for review

Downton Abbey
Available on Netflix

I watched Season 1 of Downton Abbey in 2012 but I honestly couldn't have told you a single thing that happened. For whatever reason, the show just didn't click with me so I was convinced it wasn't as great as everyone said it was. Cut to this past summer when I decided to randomly give it another shot and guess who binged all 6 seasons and the movie? I am such a huge fan of the show now! It only took me 10 years to get the hype but I can safely say this show is one of my all-time favorites.

Downton Abbey
is a British historical drama set in a fictional Yorkshire country estate in the early 1900s and follows the lives of the Crawley family, who own the estate, and their servants. The theme of rich versus poor runs through every episode and we see life, especially as the times begin to change, from their different points-of-view. And for all their social standing differences, there are unexpected friendships, loyalty, and romance "within their station" and possibly even outside of it (the scandal!). You become invested in both sides: their hopes, their trials, their joy and anger, and everything in between. Six seasons is a long time so the show and its characters did have its ups and downs but for the most part, I thought it was all excellent.

My favorite characters are: Violet, Mary (this might be surprising but I adored her), Sybil, Anna, Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, and Matthew. Then eventually Tom, Edith, and Cora make it on that list as well. I really could just go on and on. So if you're a fan of period pieces, I can't recommend this enough.


Only Murders in the Building
Available on Hulu

Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin are the crime-solving trio I didn't know I needed in my life. This show took me completely by surprise with how well-told the story was. I'm admittedly terrible at predicting things but this plot genuinely kept me guessing! Mabel (Gomez), Charles (Martin), and Oliver (Short) are three strangers who are obsessed with true crime and live in a ritzy Upper West Side apartment building called the Arconia. When one of the tenants is found dead, they're determined to prove it was murder and not only do they begin to investigate it, they start a podcast to share their findings.

There are only 10 episodes, at 30 minutes each, so I couldn't wait for a new episode to release each week and while a part of me wished the episodes were longer, it really was the perfect format. It's funny, well-written, and despite its heavy storyline, it has a lot of heart. We learn a lot about Mabel, Charles, and Oliver's backstories and watch them become real friends. I absolutely enjoyed their dynamic and couldn't be more excited for a season 2. 



Maid
Available on Netflix

Even though Netflix was heavily promoting Maid (I swear, every time I logged on the trailer would play), it wasn't until my best friend encouraged me to watch it that I gave it a chance. And wow, I am so glad I did. It's an emotional ride for sure but the acting was top-notch and knowing it was based on a memoir made it all much more heart-wrenching to watch.

Alex Russell is a single mom with a two-year old daughter who flees her partner and domestic abuser to start a new life, which is of course extremely difficult. She goes to a shelter, gets a job cleaning houses at Value Maids, and slowly faces the abuse she's suffered in order to take steps to heal. But at every turn, it seems like the hits just keep on coming. I kept thinking, goodness can't this woman catch a break? It would be easy for all the struggles to weigh down the whole show but the cinematography, Margaret Qualley's superb acting (she better be nominated for all the awards!), and eclectic cast of characters who really brought their personalities, prevented that from happening. As a viewer, you really believe there will be a light at the end of the tunnel for Alex and her daughter and it is so worth it to watch them get there.


***
What have you been watching lately?



⭐⭐
💫 3.5 stars | If you've looking for a rom-com that's just as much about love as it is about friendship, then The Wedding Ringer is for you. Willa Callister was a super successful blogger who seemed to have it all, until she found her fiancé and best friend in bed together. Since then, she's moved in with her sister and her family and started working for her event company as Princess Sparkleheart. It feels like she's hit rock bottom but she truly does want a fresh start. First, she needs money though. That's where Maisie Mitchell comes in. She needs another bridesmaid for her wedding and after randomly bumping into Willa at a coffee shop, she offers to pay her to be a bridesmaid. It sounds crazy but against her better judgement Willa says yes and that's when her life starts to turn around. 


Even though the book is technically a romance, I want to talk about the friendship first because we meet  Willa after she's lost two important people: the man she thought she was going to marry and her lifelong best friend. The author shows how it's the latter that hurts the most and why it was so hard for her to open up to Maisie initially. But both women are inherently kind and empathetic and it's not long before their friendship becomes real. That was probably nicest thing to see in the story, although I still can't imagine paying someone to be my friend nor could I totally relate to either woman but you know me, I love seeing a wonderful friendship unfold. It's through Willa's bridesmaid duties that she meets the best man Liam Rafferty and sparks fly immediately, even though she was determined to dislike him. But like I said, as cute as the romance was, it really wasn't at the forefront (at least for me). Willa's journey was about letting go of her past to appreciate what's right in front of her, romantically and friendship-wise, family (born into and found) and getting back on her feet on her own terms. 


Do I recommend?
Yes, but I'd borrow it from the library. I liked it but didn't quite fall in love with it. As much as I enjoyed the overall themes of the book, I didn't fully connect to the story or the characters. There was just something missing for me. 


***
pub 11/9/21 by Berkley Books
Adult - Contemporary Romance
Received e-ARC from pub for review


Alexa and I met up in Brooklyn this past Saturday for a fun-filled day of fashion, books, and food -- three of our favorite things! We got breakfast at Ciao, Gloria, which I cannot recommend enough if you're in the area. We both got ricotta toast (I added a poached egg to mine), a raspberry filled donut to share plus coffee (latte for me, cappuccino for A) and we devoured it all. So good! 

Then we walked to the Brooklyn Museum, which was our first time visiting, for the Dior Exhibit. There was already a line when we got there so I was glad we decided to get there early and that we chose our exhibit entry time to be right when it opened. 


The exhibit was gorgeous! If you're interested in reading about Dior's life, there's plenty of photographs, snippets of articles and letters, and more. But if you mostly just care about the fashion, like the two of us, you will absolutely love this exhibit because that was truly the focus. It was just room after room of beautiful dresses starting from the beginning of his career until the present, when other designers took over to continue his brand. The attention to detail and how the museum chose to lay out his work was super impressive. 


After the exhibit, it was all about the bookstores since we decided to stop by three! First stop was The Center of Fiction, which neither of us had visited before. We had seen pictures of their wall of books and wanted to see it for ourselves. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint! We fell in love with the display, as you can probably see from the multiple pictures we took. Next stop was Greenlight Bookstore. What I appreciated about this location is that they limit the number of shoppers that can go inside. They also had a great selection and for the second bookstore in a row, we walked out with books. And lastly, we went to Books are Magic. The store was packed! I was really surprised by that to be honest. We ended up not lingering too long but we walked out with books (of course) and merch (I couldn't resist their branded Baggu bag or mug, while A bought a very cute hat). 

And after all that walking and shopping, we took a short break to enjoy ice cream at Malai. I had been wanting to try this place and wow, I wanted to taste every single one of their unique flavors. I ended up with sweet milk and rose with almonds while Alexa got sweet milk and mango; both in pink vanilla cones, and we loved it! 

From there, we probably could've gone home but we decided to actually try for a 4th bookstore, except when we got to Kinokuniya Books, there was huge line out the door and it looked packed. We didn't feel comfortable so instead we went across the street to see the Winter Shops at Bryant Park. It was still packed but at least it was outdoors. Plus I can't complain because I totally walked out with a couple things. I'm so ready to shop for myself and for others for the holidays! 


***

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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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