Now 2018 has come and gone. I ended the year one book short of my Goodreads goal, reading just 24 books in 2018 instead of 25. I blame that on picking up East of Eden with only two weeks left in the year. John Steinbeck’s epic novel spans over 500 pages in paperback and it would take some time to get through it. Toss in the holidays and there just wasn’t enough time to finish it. Of all the books I read last year, there were two amazing books that absolutely stood out and I highly recommend reading.
Author: Alexandra Hazlett
In a span of 36 pages, the story makes a sudden change from a mundane road trip to “We’re lesbians” to “OMG, someone is following us, let’s kill him.” Carol by Patricia Highsmith is a slow-paced novel that has a surprising, but deeply satisfying ending.
Sitting by myself, anticipating Afternoon Tea to start, a familiar tune flows in from the Piazza. The Romantic Strings Trio opens with Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” and my worries start melting away. My shoulders relax, the tension releasing. The live trio of two violins and a cello are lovely on the ears and the perfect accompaniment to Royal Afternoon Tea on the Regal Princess cruise ship.
I adore High Tea: the fun finger sandwiches, cream puffs, scones, and delicious tea. If you checked my pantry, you’d think I was running my own tea shop. After trying different treats in what I like to refer to as “The Hall of Desserts,” I was curious to taste the samplings offered in this exclusive event — well, as exclusive as you can get on a cruise ship.
I missed the first sign up day and had to go on a waiting list until a spot opened up on the final sea day of the cruise. For an additional $10, fellow passengers like myself could sit down to enjoy three rounds of tea matched perfectly to a coordinating tier of featured treats.
The first tea was a black Darjeeling designed to pair with the sandwiches on the bottom tier of the serving tray. Of course, sitting by myself meant double the delights. I tried a chicken salad sandwich and then a cucumber sandwich. I was surprised that the cucumber sandwich, the one I had been looking forward to the most, and have made several times over the years, was the least appetizing. Everything about it was wrong. The cucumber was more of peelings, rather than slices, and the peeling consisted mostly of it’s hard outer layer.
The good news was, if you really liked a sandwich, you could ask for another one. I had plenty to spare. The passenger to my left asked for another tuna sandwich, but I think she meant chicken.
The second tea featured was a tropical green tea that was meant to compliment the sweets on the middle tier. Whoops! I already got a head start on that one. The cream puff was exactly what I hoped it would be and it was luscious. With no hesitation, I then went straight for the chocolate roll with the strawberry swirl.
I was only half-listening to the history lesson on the background of afternoon tea when my eyes focused in on the fruit tart, which actually looked like a little fruit canoe. It was so good that I started dribbling drool as I took a tiny bite and I thought, “I’ll definitely be eating another one of these!”
There was a break in the music as the lead musician announced that they would be playing two pieces by Strauss next. I took a minute to examine the other offerings on the table. I wasn’t sure what to do with the glass of mixed berries next to me, but the couple at the next table poured some cream into theirs, so I decided to try the same, just to see what it tasted like.
When the waiter walked around and placed new cups for the third round of tea, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in Alice in Wonderland with the Mad Hatter shouting, “Clean cup, clean cup. Move down, move down!” The Strings began playing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memory.” I noticed the 20 people accompanying me all happily chatting among themselves in the roped off area. It was definitely the most relaxing common area on the ship.
The third tea was a white orchard tea with hints of melon and peach. The peach scent was strong from the moment it was poured into my cup, very aromatic. The scone — like heaven. From the first bite, I experienced soft, sweet, buttery baked goodness. Too much?
And then it was time for dessert. Oh yes, there was a dessert on top of all this great food. It was a traditional English pudding. I couldn’t help myself from bringing the cup close to my face and inhaling its sweet scent. The taste, however, was not as amazing. The fruity layer under the marshmallow clashed with the cold cream under it.
I was stuffed. Impressively, the meal concluded on time at 4:45 p.m. as a pianist sat down in the Piazza, ready to start his set.
Drink of Choice: Tropical Green Tea
Time for the L.A. County Fair again, one of my favorite times of the year. For the 3rd time in a row, I purchased a season pass. Debuting this year is Mi Poco L.A., a section of the fair dedicated to celebrating Latin-inspired food and drink, vendors, music (including a DJ), every Thursday – Sunday of the fair. I had been following the L.A. County Fair on Instagram when I learned of Mi Cafecito, a local coffee shop with a Latin flair. My tongue tingled in anticipation of the flavors of cinnamon and spices. I knew I had to sample their tasty offerings right away!
Though only hinted at, it’s clear from the prologue that something terrible has happened to Gemma. It’s 15 years later and despite the past, Gemma appears to be living her best life: owner of her own real estate business, and married with a child. However, that drastically changes after a chance encounter with a new client. The Girl I Used To Be by Mary Torjussen explores the lasting effects of violation, harassment, and victim shaming in a novel that I feel is important to read and discuss with others.
With new posts up on the blog, I feel like I’m getting back into the rhythm of writing. It makes me wonder, what kept me away all these months? Part of it was inspiration, but the other part was an overwhelming influx of social events. Here’s a highlight of some of the “Life” events that kept me from updating this blog.
My reading journey has taken me to a number of places around the U.S., backwards and forwards in time, and to alternate realities. Reading can be a great escape for those of us interested in retreating from the stresses of everyday life. However, after months of dystopian fiction, memoirs, an even a one-off fiction story about the complications of marriage, I need a break from all the reality.
When I set out to write my novel last year, I never intended to stay away from my blogging for so long. Back in October, I was so excited to start writing my novel that I burrowed myself into a cave for all of October, outlining and brainstorming how my novel was going to take shape. On November 1, I thought I was ready. I was so not ready.
I am preparing for my second attempt at NaNoWriMo. November has been deemed National Novel Writing Month and the goal is to write a novel (estimated at about 50,000 words) in 30 days. Last year I persisted for eight days before I gave up. I didn’t get very far because I was just free-writing, but this year, I’m determined to finish. I am ramping up with a story outline and character ideas.
I have always loved to write stories since I was a child. In third grade I wrote a story that was chosen to be performed by the local theatrical troupe visiting my elementary school. It was based on the board game Candy Land, imagining a world where the characters came to life. I was thrilled to watch my story performed. That was just the beginning of love for writing and creating stories.
You will feel sick reading this book. It will make you frustrated, melancholy, curious. I suffered nightmares and stomach aches.
Renting it from the library gave me only 21 days to cover the extensive 509 pages, which meant I was reading this book every moment I had free. The details surrounding the incident (how victims were killed, bodies left behind by the police, a teacher left for dead) left me feeling nauseous and appalled. Reading words from the killer themselves brought them back to life. Columbine by Dave Cullen is an enlightening, yet, stomach churning examination of the events leading up to, during, and following the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999.