Monday, August 6, 2018

One week in Europe - Hotel Edition

When planning a trip, one of your heftiest costs is usually going to be your hotel accommodations. Since a good hotel can make or break your trip, I'm typically wary of going in completely blind. When searching online, I struggled to find authentic recommendations for exactly what I was looking for - "budget" accommodation searches only got me hostels or prices that I would hardly consider "budget." For reference, our preferred price range for hotels on this trip was anywhere between $100 - $150 per night. We didn't pay more than $150 for any of these hotels! Of course, that could be dependent on the times we were searching (early July) and also how far out we were looking (basically 2-3 nights before the stay). Here's where we stayed and what I thought. Spoiler - I had a relatively good experience at each place we stayed!

Amsterdam Hotels: 

De Jonker Urban Studios and Suites 

Neighborhood: Hotel area, about 30 minutes walking from Central Station

Vibe: Modern, efficient

What I liked: There was so much space! We had a small sitting area upstairs with a kitchenette. The kitchenette had a Nespresso (the far superior cousin of the Keurig) with a variety of pods. The bathroom was INCREDIBLE - a huge waterfall shower, a modern sink area, and HEATED FLOORS. I feel as though the heated floors are a selling point for this place alone. And it was one of the few places we could find that had air conditioning. This was a priority for us because it was the first place we were staying in Amsterdam, so we wanted to ensure we could get a good night's rest after our red eye flight to set us up for success on the rest of the trip.

What I didn't like: Our room had some physical damage - the walls were scratched in a few places. Also, the decor in some places was spot on, but in other places it was a little odd. The neighborhood is also a little bit further out as well, which wasn't the most convenient. Lastly, our room was 2 stories, which wasn't an issue for me - but could be for others with mobility issues.

Things to know: There is no front door staff. You're emailed a QR code to get you into the hotel itself and also the room. This stressed us out a little bit because we had to find somewhere with Wifi to get the email with our QR code.

Overall impression: We liked this place! It was comfortable, clean, and in a good neighborhood, so what else can you really ask for?! I give it a pretty solid recommendation.

Image result for de jonker urban studios & suites

Image result for de jonker urban studios & suites

Image result for de jonker urban studios & suites

Linden Hotel 

Neighborhood: Jordaan, which is my favorite neighborhood in Amsterdam. It's a young, hip area without too many tourists, but still close to any tourist spots you'd want to hit up. The hotel itself is also right on the canal!

What I liked: Well, the location can't be beat. Also, the vibe is very cute. It's the "we are trying to be slightly high end but also not take ourselves too seriously" vibe. The decor was generally very nice looking without being over the top. The staff were friendly (all young and cool seeming) and ready to give out recommendations.

What I didn't like: Our room was the smallest hotel room in existence anywhere. That might be a stretch, but it was pretty darn small. For 2 people, we were fine, especially since we only were sleeping there, but I would venture to say that others would find it uncomfortable. Also, the shower drain is OUTSIDE of the shower, so you just plan to flood the bathroom then clean it up when you're done. I literally had to open the shower door to have enough room to wash my hair.

Things to know: There is no AC here, but being on the canal we had a breeze and could open our window. Also, noise travels like crazy over here, so if you're a light sleeper you may want to consider somewhere else. Also, the stairs are very narrow and windy. It wasn't a problem for me, but definitely could be for someone else (even just someone after a long night out!) I cautiously recommend.

Image result for linden hotel amsterdam

Image result for the linden hotel amsterdam

Image result for the linden hotel amsterdam

Tillburg (Efteling) Hotel:

The Guesthouse Hotel 

Neighborhood: Not sure what to call this area other than "5 minutes from Efteling"

What I liked: Almost everything. The hotel is new, so everything felt super clean. Also, the decor is generally minimalist, but still trendy. There was no assault to the eyes, which was especially nice after being at an amusement park all day. The continental breakfast was fabulous, and they give you tokens for a free coffee when you check in as an added perk. The staff was incredibly friendly as well! The hotel is also next to a grocery store.

What I didn't like: I really can't think of anything... The Guesthouse nailed it!

Things to know: This is a great option if you're going to be at Efteling. It's only a 5 minute walk to the park entrance and really reasonably priced. It's cheaper than the Efteling offered accommodations and probably of higher quality. I highly recommend!

Image result for the guesthouse hotel efteling

Image result for the guesthouse hotel efteling

Brussels Hotels: 

Hotel Hygge 

Neighborhood: Close to Ixelles. Definitely a more local area, about 20 minutes walking from the city center.

What I liked: The hotel decor is really beautiful. Understated yet upscale. It isn't as "hygge" as I expected being that it is in the name, but still modern and beautiful. The bathroom is also really pretty, having a blue and white backsplash across one entire wall. Also, the breakfast is pretty good.

What I didn't like: The hotel staff was fine... but for a hotel named "Hygge" I expected them to be really friendly. The room is also pretty small (not nearly as small as the Linden Hotel), but it's definitely functional. There is no central air and we were on a ground floor, so I didn't feel safe opening my window.

Things to know: This is a fine, modern option outside of the city center. I liked it, but I didn't love it. It gets an unenthusiastic recommendation from me, but a recommendation nonetheless.

Image result for hotel hygge guest room

Image result for hotel hygge brussels

Image result for hotel hygge brussels

Metropole Hotel 

Neighborhood: In the city center, really close to the Grand Place and other shopping areas!

What I liked: The outside of this place is like a castle. The inside is like a palace. It's unbelievable! Definitely "grand hotel" vibes. The location is also incredible, if you want to be in the hustle and bustle of it all. The room was large and had a ton of bathroom space, which I really appreciated! Finally, we got FREE MINI BAR DRINKS, which totally blew my mind - 2 waters, 2 cokes, and 2 beers!

What I didn't like: The room itself was pretty underwhelming. Minimal decor and definitely felt dated. The hotel services were also crazy expensive - I think breakfast was close to 30 Euros!

Things to know: If you want to be close to the Grand Place and feel like you're checking into a castle, then this is a cool place to stay. The rooms are a little bit underwhelming, but when you are paying so little for what seems like such an extravagant place, you can't be too disappointed. I recommend as long as you know what you're paying for!

Image result for metropole hotel brussels

Image result for metropole hotel brussels

Image result for metropole hotel guest room brussels

Final thoughts

Each place had their pros and cons, but I do recommend each place on this list. Some get a more glowing recommendation than others, but none of these places gave us a bad experience. When searching, we prioritized price, then neighborhood, then aesthetics. I feel like this is a strong sampling of those priorities. Do you have any favorite hotels in Amsterdam or Brussels? What do you prioritize when searching for hotels?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

One week in Europe - Itinerary Edition

If you're wondering what the day to day on a loosely planned trip to Amsterdam and Brussels might look like, this post is for you. I give a loose itinerary of the cities and neighborhoods we visited, along with a big picture view of the highlights in those places.

Looking back, we couldn't have planned a better trip. With a loose idea of the things we wanted to see and an open minded perspective on asking locals for recommendations, we stumbled across a perfect week in some incredible cities.

Keep reading to find out what we did!

Day 1

We arrived into Amsterdam after incredibly easy travel on the NS rail from the airport to central station. If you're traveling to Amsterdam, don't waste your money on a cab from the airport. This train line was so easy to use and super clean.

Immediately after hopping off the train, we wanted to understand our surroundings, so we grabbed a canal tour. We paid about € 15 for the canal tour, which felt like an incredibly fair price. We learned a little bit about the different neighborhoods that we wanted to explore and some history to ground our trip.

Next, we explored Centraal. This is the neighborhood of the city closest to the major train station. It is also the most touristy area, but definitely really fun to explore. Chris and I just wandered in awe of all the adorable buildings and alleys just filled with shops and restaurants.

Eventually, we decided to make the hike to our hotel. We stayed right across the street from the zoo in the museum district of the city. It was a bit far out (about 30 minutes walking), but still a beautiful area that was away from the hustle and bustle. There is a coffee bar next door, so we sat down and enjoyed an espresso.

After a rest and a freshen up in our hotel room, we decided to head back out to explore and find some dinner. We explored the De Pidj neighborhood, which is decidedly less touristy and more diverse than Centraal. I liked De Pidj - it reminded me of some of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago!

When finding dinner, our jet lag caught up to use. We could hardly get our bearings and couldn't make up our mind to save our lives. We walked past about 20 different food options, but we couldn't settle on a solution. Finally, we opted for burgers because we literally couldn't walk another step without getting food.

On the way home, we took a quick lap through the Red Light district. It truly was fascinating, and we determined to take a tour to learn more of the history when we returned.

Image may contain: Heather Otto, smiling, stripes, child and outdoor

Image may contain: Heather Otto and Chris Poche, people smiling, stripes, outdoor and closeup

Day 2 

We woke up early to travel to Efteling! Efteling is an amusement park based on old fairy tales, and it was really the reason why we settled on visiting Amsterdam in the first place. Though the order of the trip was a little funny (fly into a city, only spend the day there, then immediately head out to another part of the country), it was important to us that we were visiting the park on weekdays to avoid crowds.

We took the NS rail to Tillburg, then a bus directly to Efteling. The commute couldn't have been easier and took less than 2 hours.

To prevent our ravenous experience from the evening prior, Chris and I deemed it important to eat BEFORE entering the park. We also had to drop off our bags at the hotel, so we opted for our hotel's continental breakfast, which was lovely. We got to the park just after opening, and we stayed until close. I'll do a dedicated post about Efteling another time, but just know that the park is fantastic, and we had what we consider to be the perfect day.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, crowd and outdoor

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, tree and outdoor

Day 3 

We dedicated two entire days to Efteling, so we were off for our second day in the parks after eating breakfast at the hotel. Again, we had the continental breakfast and got to park right at opening. The second day was as charming, magical, and perfect as the first.

We didn't stay until close this time, but instead only until mid afternoon. We ate a large lunch, went back to the hotel to gather our bags, and took the bus back to a train station that would get us to our next generation - Brussels.

Getting to Brussels was also simple (deceptively so, we were sure that somehow our good luck with travel across cities would catch up to us).

When we arrived in Brussels, it was a bit eerie... Everything felt quiet... too quiet... until we realized that Brussels was playing the World Cup and virtually everyone was inside of a pub watching the game! We took the time to enjoy the quiet (albeit a bit eerie) nature of the city when headed to our hotel.

We were staying in Ixelles, which felt like an up and coming part of the city. Definitely local vibes, not touristy at all. Upon checking into the hotel, we knew that we wanted to head out for a bite to eat and a drink. We hadn't eaten since our last meal at Efteling, so we were starving. It turns out that Belgium won their game in the 16 to 8 round, so the city was rowdy. So rowdy, that most restaurants and pubs we discovered were too busy to serve their normal menus. We decided to drink our dinner.

This was one of our favorite nights of the trip. The energy in the city was incredible. The pubs in this neighborhood were around these community squares, so everyone took their drinks and celebrated outside. Being Americans, where most things surrounding us were built in the last 100 years, it was almost surreal to be sitting next to a church built in the 1500s with a beer in hand. Additionally, the relaxed nature around drinking in public in Brussels was pretty foreign to us. In the United States, bar owners are so particular about keeping drinks confined to patios because of our liquor consumption laws.

Finally, we headed home - having consumed no real calories aside from beer or cider. At this point, everything was closed, so we relied on the snacks we had from Albert Heijn. Chris had gluten free Ontbijtoek (a ginger flavored Dutch breakfast cake) and I had stroopwaffels (thin waffle cookies with a creamy caramel in between).

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

Image may contain: one or more people, tree, plant, outdoor and nature

Day 4

Again, we had the continental breakfast at our hotel. By this point, we were decidedly sick of continental breakfasts. The only item on the agenda today was exploring.

We took our time getting to our next hotel - basically, we took the extra long way, so we could see some of their public park spaces. It was so nice to see how well Brussels used their park spaces. So many people were out and about! We also walked around the palace, which was gorgeous!

Of course, we had to get Belgium frites, so we chose a spot that appeared several times in our perfunctory research. The pubs surrounding the frites stand all had signs that said "frites allowed with drink," so we ordered a cider and a beer, sat on the patio, and enjoyed the frites and beer.

We then headed through the shopping district as we got closer to our hotel. I couldn't believe that the Les Galeries Royales was a shopping mall! It looked like it should be a museum. The buildings in this part of town were magnificent. We stopped and watched a 3 on 3 basketball tournament for about an hour. It was so wild to see a basketball court set up in the middle of these beautiful, ornate buildings.

We had already walked about 8 miles at this point and it was a hot day, so we were exhausted. After checking into our hotel, we took an hour long nap. Luckily, we woke up recharged and ready to explore. Item #1 on our agenda? The Grand Place.

Boy, is this really a "grand place." It's the most incredible public square with the most ornate buildings I have ever seen on all sides. The streets surrounding are all quaint, pedestrian roads lined with pubs, brasseries, chocolate shops, waffle stores, and quaint boutiques. It was like a dream! Chris and I feel in love. We ate at a brasserie (steak and frites, hello) in an ally with a view of the buildings in the grand place. We went to a pub that dates back to the 1400s, a spot that is known for having the best lambics, and a massive 12+ room pub that took up an entire ally. Walking back, Chris and I could hardly believe what we saw at the grand place - people just sitting on the cobble stone ground, enjoying drinks, and taking in the sights.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Day 5

The next day, we decided to explore a neighborhood outside of the downtown area that contained the "Atomium," a giant atom built for the World's Fair. We enjoyed navigating the public transit in Brussels - it was designed so efficiently!

After we had our fill of this odd structure, we headed to the train station back to Amsterdam. Getting out of Brussels wasn't as simple as getting in, and we struggled a bit to find the right ticket that we needed. After some time, we figured it out and were headed to Amsterdam.

Our last 2 nights in Amsterdam were booked in the same hotel (a first on our trip) in the neighborhood of Jordaan. This was my favorite neighborhood in all of Amsterdam - it was filled with young professionals, trendy shops, cool restaurants, and gorgeous buildings everywhere. The walk from the train station in Central through Jordaan to our hotel was one of my favorites of the trip.

After relaxing in our room for a few, we went out for a tour in the Red Light District. On the way, we grabbed pancakes at a Dutch pancake spot. Though it is neat to walk this area without guidance, understanding the history from a local's perspective made it all the cooler.

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Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: sky, bicycle, cloud, tree and outdoor

Day 6 

On our last full day in the city, we decided to head outside of Amsterdam and into a small town. Before leaving, we ate apple pie at a spot known for having the best and ate at a casual breakfast joint known for having good gluten free options. Then, we did the Heineken experience, which I actually HIGHLY recommend. Typically, major brewery tours are somewhat underwhelming, but Heinken provided a ton of guides with information and made great use of technology.

Chris and I had been joking that "if we don't see windmills, we want our money back," so we went to a small town, Zaanse Schans, known for having picturesque windmills. The town also had a wooden shoe museum and store, so we got our fill of all things "Dutch provincial." It was a great day trip (not far away, easy to get to on the train), and it made for some great, picturesque spots.

To finish out our trip, we just took a stroll around our favorite spots, stopped at a few quaint pubs (one named Chris's Cafe), got a second round of apple pie, and called it an early night.

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor

Image may contain: Chris Poche, smiling, standing, shoes and outdoor

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, plant, grass, shoes, sky, tree, cloud, outdoor and nature
So what was favorite part? I have to say that Brussels stole my heart. It was definitely a surprise - Chris and I knew very little about Brussels - but that might have made it all the better! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out! Comment below with how YOU plan trips! Are you a "plan every detail" kind of person, or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants? Let me know!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

One Week in Europe - Packing Edition

I love packing! Anyone else? I also take pride in packing light, while still having everything that I need. Unfortunately, I was a bit rushed before this trip, and didn't have time to delight in the packing process. Luckily, everything worked out beautifully! So much so, in fact, that I wanted to share it in case anyone else wants to know the secret to packing light but still having everything they need for a week abroad. Interested? Keep reading!

The bags

We packed in backpacks - not because we were "backpacking," but because we were visiting multiple cities and staying in multiple hotels, so we didn't want to roll around a suitcase when traveling between cities and hotels.

I actually loved packing in a backpack, and this one from Eddie Bauer was perfect! I bought this one especially for the occasion because I wanted a top loader, but Chris packed in this one, which he already owned. Fun fact - he's had this backpack for like 5 years now, and it is still going strong!

Additionally, we brought a "stowaway" backpack to use as a day bag and in case we needed an extra bag on the way home. It was perfect because it folded into itself, and it was just small and light to just tuck into one of our bags. We used it as a day bag when we visited an amusement park, but we ended up not needing it on any other days. It was not to have just for sake of peace of mind!

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky and outdoor
And here I am toting around the backpack. It was surprisingly comfortable and only made me look 100% like a tourist! Seriously, though, we weren't carrying them around the entire time - only when traveling between cities or hotels. 
How we packed the bags

We used packing cubes. They were a lifesaver, and 100% the only reason that we were able to travel efficiently with our backpacks. Now, we weren't using fancy packing cubes. As pretty and durable as the Eagle Creek ones seemed, we went for the Amazon basics brand, and they worked just fine. I already had a set with multiple sizes, and I knew that I liked the "small" size the best, so we each ordered a set of 4 small cubes. I stacked 3 cubes in my backpack and used the 4th for dirty clothes. 

For beauty and toiletries, I used my tried and true Orla Kiely for Target makeup bags. (Unfortunately, I can't find them on Target's website, but I did find an incredibly similar version from Sonia Kashuk).  They make these sets of 3 that include a small, medium, and large size. I usually use a combination of the sizes when I travel, but this time, I just used 2 large bags. One bag for all was for all makeup and the other included everything for face and hair. 

What we packed 

I created my packing list based off of our itinerary and also the way I was packing (splitting things among 3 packing cubes). 

The first "cube" that I packed contained socks, underwear, and bras. I also included a few camisoles in this cube for good measure. The #1 priority for everything in this cube was COMFORT. If it didn't feel like a dream, I wasn't packing it. Nothing is worse than exploring a new city in socks that don't stay put, a bra that has a pokey underwire, and underwear that ride up in all of the wrong places. My favorites for travel? Underwear designed for active wear like these, bras that hold everything in place without digging in (I'm a big fan of this unlined bra and this tee shirt bra), and no-show socks in neutral colors. I packed way more than necessary in this department - because whose worst nightmare isn't being in a foreign city without comfortable, clean underwear? C'mon! 

The next "cube" that I packed was filled with my day to night dresses and playsuits. I knew that I would spend most days in comfortable dresses (because that's just how I roll), so I started by finding dresses that 1) packed easily (took up little space, didn't wrinkle) and 2) would create a diverse set of looks. Here's a sampling of what I chose - 

Image may contain: Heather Otto, standing, sky, child, shoes and outdoor
A romper with quarter sleeves. Made out of a stretchy jersey material. Had a plunging neckline that I thought would transition well from day to night, so I layered a white cami under it for day time wear. Later, I transitioned this to night by taking off the cami and changing my shoes!
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, sky, outdoor and nature
I know this one is hard to see (and the shadow totally makes it look like I have a basketball in my tummy), but this is one of my favorite easy wearing dresses. It's a Lilly Pulitzer tee shirt dress that packs up small and hardly wrinkles. 
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This one is less cotton-y more silk-y feeling, but it's that magic fabric that never wrinkles. It's definitely a little bit short, so I just made sure not to lift my arms above my head (just kidding, sort of...) 
In addition to dresses, I strategically chose a few tops and bottoms. These made up packing cube #3. I brought my favorite skinny jeans from Good American, my favorite jean shorts (I bought them from Express yearsss ago), and my favorite "active shorts" from Lilly Pulitzer. I brought simple shirts that I could wear with any of the bottoms. I highly recommend tees from Everlane! Bonus - I threw a night shirt in this cube as well. (Stop your whining - I made sure to get extra clean before putting on the singular night shirt that I brought with me haha). 

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, shoes, tree and outdoor
Denim shorts and a cropped + striped tee. Nothing new, but you can't go wrong

Image may contain: Heather Otto, smiling, standing, stripes, shoes and outdoor
Denim jeans and a cropped + striped tee. See above. ;)
As far as shoes go, you'll see that I'm pretty much only photographed wearing a pair of Birkenstocks or my Reebok cross trainers. I also brought a pair of nice, flat sandals from Tory Burch. I never ended up wearing them. 

In terms of makeup and toiletries, I went light. I figured if there was anything I wanted that I didn't have, I could buy it at a drugstore or department store in Europe. Luckily, I had everything that I needed. 

I knew that I would be doing a minimal makeup look pretty much every day, so I packed what I would need to do that look. For the evenings, I "smoked out my makeup" (as my boyfriend calls it) with some darker eyeshadow, a second coat of mascara, and maybe a touch up on my concealer. Nothing crazy going on here. Below are the products that I brought. I used all of them without wanting or needing to make any additional purchases, so I'd say that I made a good call. 

I'm a bit of a skincare snob, so to pare down my routine this much was a little bit heartbreaking. That being said, I knew I was packing light and happy to take the challenge. Essentially, I kept only the few products that I knew would keep my skin sane. I went with a basic serum to avoid any breakouts, a lightweight moisturizer for day or night, a super hydrating mask, and that's it! I also brought a sea salt spray in case my hair was extra frizzy. Finally, I chose a lip balm that could be used lightly as a balm during the day or heavily as a balm at night. In case you're wondering - I didn't forget shampoo and conditioner! My hair is pretty tough and can survive a week on random hotel products. Below are the products that I brought. Again - I used all of them, and I didn't need to buy anything, so I'd call this a success. 


Of course, I brought my phone charger, Apple watch charger, and Kindle charger. I wrapped those up in binder clips and put them in a side pocket of my backpack. I also kept my converters here.The top pocket of my backpack (which had a super handy double zip for security) contained my passport, phone, wallet, and medications. I also was able to keep a few "luxury" extras here like an eye mask for the plane and an extra lip balm. In the front pocket of my backpack, I kept other items that I needed quick access to in the airport and on the plane - headphones, Kindle, tiny notebook (shoutout to Field Notes - I love those notebooks!), and 2 extra pens. 

I hope that this was helpful for you while planning a trip or just gathering ideas for your next excursion. Did I forget anything that is a holy grail on your packing list? Did I pack anything that you consider "extra?" Let me know what you think down below! 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

2018 Quarter 2 - Reading in Review

I can hardly believe that another quarter of the year has passed by - we are officially over halfway through 2018! In a time when the news is crazier than ever, I've been so thankful for books that take me to new lands and new stories to give my attention.

Below are all of the books that I've completed in April, May, and June of 2018. They are organized by star rating - all of the books in this quarter received a 2, 3, or 4 out of 5. Please note: I am a tough rater! A book has to really touch me in unique ways in order to receive 5 stars. Even though no books this quarter have received a 5, the books with 3 and 4 stars are still great books!

I've provided links to Amazon for each of these books, but please support your local, independent book stores if possible. I read all of these books through rentals from my local library or by purchasing or renting on Kindle.

Do This For Me by Eliza Kennedy (listened on audiobook)

Do This For Me is about Raney Moore, a successful lawyer whose life takes a turn when she discovers that her husband has cheated on her. The story follows her self discovery, which takes many twists and turns, while experiencing this trauma. Raney is such a badass, especially in the first and last 10% of the book. In between, the story gets a little bit repetitive and dry. If you love a self discovery story and you're interested in reading one about a type A, career driven woman, then give this a shot. Overall, though, it just didn't work for me.

Image result for do this for me eliza kennedy

The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

I mostly just wanted to read this because of the cover. Sue me. The story takes place in an enchanting (both figuratively and literally) Northwestern town. The setting is incredible - a town of eclectics with a history connected to a family of witches. The story? Not so incredible. It's readable, so if the setting interests you then you make like this, but the story is just meh.


The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close (listened on audiobook)

Beth, a NYC journalist, and her husband Matt, an aspiring politician, move to DC to follow Matt's political aspirations. Beth is unhappy in DC, confused by the "smallness" and the "who knows who" nature of the city. Things begin to improve when they meet another couple, Ashleigh and Jimmy, transplanted in DC from Texas. The Hopefuls is told through Beth's point of view and is the story of her relationship with Matt and friendship with Ashleigh and Jimmy. Listening to this on audiobook had major appeal as I loved the narrator's voices for the different characters. It was charming, but sometimes boring, and a bit banal.


The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Cara's family endures one month out of the year where more accidents happen, and accidents that should be no big deal end up worse than usual. The whole story isn't about accident season, though - that's just the framing. This is really a book about facing your past and how it defines your future. It's a book about relationships and acceptance and secrets. Trigger warning: there is abuse. I don't remember all of the details of this book, but I do remember speeding through it, absolutely having to know what happened next.

Image result for the accident season

Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach

Thanks for the Trouble is the story of Parker, a 16 year old boy who has been mute since his father's death. Instead, he communicates through writing in a journal, and he also enjoys creative writing, specifically fairy tales. He meets Zelda, another girl close to his age who claims to have been alive and the same age for hundreds of years. It's the story of their adventures and facing truths that aren't easy to face. I read this book in one sitting - the story was perfectly charming and sarcastic all in one! I loved the lead character to pieces. I've heard some critiques that Zelda is a manic pixie dream girl archetype, but I didn't read her that way.


The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

I picked this book up primarily because I liked the cover - the contrast of the simple portrait with the glitter letters totally spoke to me. In addition, I chose it because the content (televised Christian mega-family with pregnant teen) just sounded like an enveloping read. The book follows Essie Hicks and her determination for independence from her televised family. I liked this book, but nothing with it has stuck with me after I completed it. Nevertheless, I read it in 3 nights flat, and I was constantly racing to pick it up to discover what happened next.

The Book of Essie

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

This story follows a travel journalist who has the opportunity of a lifetime - a weeklong trip on a luxury liner. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happens - she hears someone being thrown overboard. When she investigates, there is no one missing accounted for. I love a good thriller, and this one did not disappoint. The ending was a total surprise to me, even if some parts were frustrating to read because the characters clearly had options that could have solved their predicaments. Either way, I read this book in only a few sittings and couldn't get to the next page fast enough.

The Woman in Cabin 10

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente

Even though I gave this an official 3 stars, I think it may be closer to 4. September is a 12 year old girl who gets whisked away by the Green Wind because her help is needed in Fairyland. This book is less about the story itself and more about the general whimsy and writing style that make it truly extraordinary. The writing style is beyond incredible and some of the scenes are so beautiful that it left me astounded. Although it wasn't a book I was racing to pick up (I wasn't overly invested in the story), I truly enjoyed every second of reading it because the writing was just that good. I've already picked up the second installment in this series.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)

The Good Daughter by Karen Slaughter

This is a book that I was racing to read every chance that I got. The Good Daughter is about Charlotte and Samantha, the daughters of a small town defense lawyer. Their mother is killed in a traumatic incident, which was the result of "revenge" for her father's willingness to defend anyone in court. When a school shooting occurs, Rusty and Charlotte are sure that the culprit is innocent. Without telling too much (and while still leaving a ton of plot out), if you're a fan of psychological thrillers, you HAVE to pick this one up.


The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle is a major technology conglomerate that combines all of your accounts into one. When Mae gets a job there, she feels that she couldn't be luckier. Eventually, though, things start to get a little bit weird, and her role at the company becomes increasingly... public. I absolutely loved reading this book, and it's relevance a time when all of us are grappling with the price of convenience at the cost of our privacy was outstanding.

The Circle

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Some people have described this as "Harry Potter for grown-ups." I'm not sure that that description is entirely accurate... To me, this is the story of how characters (with many, many flaws) face those faults and grow - in a world filled with magic. To me, this book is primarily character driven, while combining many elements of fantasy books that we all know and love - particularly Harry Potter and Chronicle's of Narnia. This book is wildly polarizing - the characters are very unlikable and it takes everything you expect out of a fantasy book and flips it on it's head. Those are the reasons that I love it (but also the reasons why many don't). If you're a fan of fantasy and you enjoy character driven novels, you have to give this a try. Also - I LOVE the magic system here. If Lev Grossman is good at one thing, it's describing what it actually feels like to do magic, which is incredible.

The Magicians (The Magicians #1)

The Magician's King by Lev Grossman

This is the follow up to The Magician's where Quentin and his friends are exploring the magical land that they thought was only in their childhood fantasy books but is actually real. The pacing in this one is much better than in the first one, and the characters truly grow and develop. I like each book more than the next, and I immediately got a copy of the final installment in the trilogy. If you have read The Magician's and weren't sure what you thought, The Magician's King only improves upon what Lev Grossman already started.

The Magician King (The Magicians, #2)

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think?

Did any of these books stand out to you as something you'd like to pick up? If so, which ones?