20 Years of Travel #14 – Galapagos

321037_10150282405697986_8079591_nThe 20 Years of Travel series continues with a very memorable family trip we took in 2011 to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. This adventure cruise was established with a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic. This would not be your typical vacation with lots of relaxation. We were there to explore islands filled with unique creatures that are endemic to the Galapagos. Our days were filled with nature walks, snorkeling and lessons on Darwin, geology and photography. It was one of the most exhausting and rewarding trips we have ever experienced.

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We flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador (pictured above) and then flew to San Cristobal (pictured below), where we would pick up our boat that would be our home for a little more than a week.

The National Geographic Endeavour (pictured on the right) was a smaller boat but had326327_10150281751942986_1913629_o everything we needed. Anyway, we wouldn’t spend a lot of time on the boat, except to eat and sleep.  Through an intercom radio in everyone’s room, the program director, Carlos, would make a morning announcement/wake-up call. These announcements would come normally between 5-7am in the morning.

Espanola Island

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We took many nature walking tours on Espanola. Our first stop was a beach full of lounging sea lions. Then we walked through piles of marine iguanas – never want to be that close to iguanas again if I can help it – to find one of the largest flying birds in the world…the albatross. We got to witness the albatross mating ritual, which was really fascinating. Our final stop lead us to some blue-footed boobies. These are marine birds that are known for their blue feet, hence the name. We got to see some babies that just look like little cotton balls – so adorable.

Champion Island

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We took smaller rafts around Champion Island to get a better visual of some of the water animals. The highlight was seeing penguins. After the rafting tour, we went snorkeling with all the amazing fish, penguins, and sea lions that like to play with you in the water.

Floreana Island

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On Floreana, we stopped to visit Old Post Office Bay. This post office box (which looks more like a barrel) has been there for hundreds of years. This postal system does not require stamps, you just leave cards for your family and friends and pick up other individuals’ cards who have addresses near you that you can hand deliver. This post office continues to operate just like this. We delivered cards and my family received their card as well.

Santa Cruz Island

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Santa Cruz is one of the four islands of the Galapagos that are inhabited by people. There is a lot to see and experience on this island. Here are some highlights from our time on Santa Cruz:

  • The Charles Darwin Research Station. At this station they look to provide safety and protection to grow endangered species. This was where Lonesome George lived, who was the last survivor of the dynasty of land tortoises from Pinta Island. While we did get to see him, he did unfortunately die one year later. It is estimated that he lived for almost 100 years.
  • The fish market. This market was bustling with activity and we were thoroughly entertained by pelicans and sea lions begging for fish scraps. Yet, the fisherman had no problem doing their work.
  • Sugar cane production. We visited a family’s farm that produced sugar cane in an old fashion style. They let us try some of their 65% alcoholic drink (130-proof) that they can produced from the sugar cane. They also produce their own coffee beans and chocolate there which were fantastic.
  • Giant tortoises. With our giant rubber boots, we wandered around in a field full of giant tortoises, who were bigger than us and didn’t mind us hanging out with them.
  • Twin Craters. We continued to enjoy the natural lushness and greenery of Santa Cruz by taking a hike to two huge craters, that were caused by the sinking of empty magma chambers.
  • Cerro Dragon. On the opposite side of Santa Cruz is a place called Cerro Dragon, where you can see an abundance of boobies, frigate birds and land iguanas.

Bartolome Island

We had more opportunities for snorkeling off of Bartolome Island. On one of these snorkeling excursions, white-tipped reef sharks were spotted. We also got to enjoy a presentation by two authors, Jonathan Weiner and Deborah Heiligman, who wrote about Charles Darwin and his research (specifically regarding his interest in the finches). As a book lover, this was a huge highlight for me. I own books by both authors (see picture above).

Genovesa Island

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The highlight of this island was the red-footed boobies and the nazca boobies.

This was such an amazing trip for so many reasons, but mostly because we found ourselves doing things we had never done. I, personally, was never an animal person, but on these islands we were walking side by side with iguanas, tortoises and hundreds of other creatures. We had only been snorkeling once before but went multiple times in the Galapagos. There is nothing like snorkeling with sea lions that are blowing bubbles in your face. We learned so much about the evolution of nature on these islands thanks to our fantastic guides and experts. These guides also gave us photography lessons that helped us capture all of these amazing moments. This was such a memorable experience!

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HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

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20 Years of Travel #13: Mediterranean Cruise

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a Mediterranean cruise that we took for our wedding anniversary in 2015. It was our first big cruise line cruise. We had done a river cruise in the USA, transportation cruise to the Bahamas, and an exploration cruise in the Galapagos, but never one like this. For beginners, I think we handled this learning experience really well and had a lot of fun along the way.

ITINERARY

Trieste, Italy

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Trieste was the port where the cruise would depart and return to. We lived in Italy at the time, so we just took a train to Trieste from our hometown but allowed plenty of time before and after the cruise to tour around the city for a bit. This town is the bridge between Western Europe and the Balkans. You can easily access Slovenia from here if you have time.

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Bari, Italy

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Our first stop on the cruise was the small coastal town of Bari in the Apulia region on the eastern side of Italy. It was a great walkable city, so we did not feel the need to take an excursion offered by the cruise line. There are forts to explore, a nice waterfront and the beautiful Cattedrale di San Sabino (Bari Cathedral).

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Corfu, Greece

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Our first stop in Greece was the island of Corfu. We again didn’t take a cruise line excursion, which you might want to consider doing if you want to get to the heart of the town in a timely fashion. However, we decided to just find a cafe, where we indulged in a drink and enjoyed the atmosphere of some locals.

Mykonos, Greece

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Mykonos was a highlight for me as I’ve been wanting to go there since I was a kid. It did not disappoint. We took a jeep tour of the island excursion, which was an amazing way to see most of the island. Plus, my husband loved driving around on the rough passageways. This excursion also included lunch on the island with an ouzo tasting, which is an alcoholic shot that looks cloudy and tastes like black licorice. After the excursion, we had time to clean up and catch sunset on Mykonos. The island lights up with amazing colors at sunset. We decided to eat a fancy dinner for our anniversary on the island, which I highly recommend. Though it is tempting to eat only the food that is included on the cruise you paid for, it is nice to give some money to the local businesses. Mykonos was just stunning!

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Santorini, Greece

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Our next island stop was Santorini, which was my favorite stop on the cruise. I had seen beautiful pictures, but pictures don’t seem to do it justice. We took the excursion transportation to Oia, which was 100% worth it. The guide gave us a great overview lesson of the island, its history and economics, and then we wandered around. We immediately found a cafe, where we could sit outside with coffees, enjoying an amazing view of the caldera. When you have finished viewing and taking pictures of the cliff-side architecture, I would do a wine tasting and purchase some bottles of wine if possible. Due to the eruption of the Santorini volcano many years ago, the soil on the island is rich for producing wine. You will have a lot of white wine choices, and Santorini’s specialty is the Vin Santo, which is a dessert wine. I loved everything about this island and especially Oia.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

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This was not part of the original itinerary, but due to some bad weather, we stopped in Dubrovnik instead of Split, Croatia. Dubrovnik was the last stop before heading back to Trieste, Italy, where our cruising adventure would end. I went to Dubrovnik ten years prior to this trip (I’ll discuss further in an upcoming post about the Balkans), and it has remained very dear to my heart ever since. I was happy to revisit some of my favorite places, including the cafe that overlooks the Adriatic, where the owners gave us coffee and drinks even though they were not officially open. The weather was not great but we still got to walk in the ancient city walls and visit the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

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Lessons Learned

  • Make sure that you have a spare set of clothing (aka dress, underwear, shorts, etc) in the small bag that you carry on to the cruise boat. We had our luggage checked prior to getting onto the boat. The luggage check-in was located outdoors in the midst of a huge windy rainstorm. When we received our duffle bag full of clothes, everything was drenched. While the cruise line had all of our clothes dry cleaned for free, this took a couple of days, where we were wearing the same clothes.
  • The drink package is sooooo worth it! After finding out about our wet clothes and having my credit card canceled (even though they knew I was traveling – thank you Capital One), we wanted nothing more than to sit at the bar and have a drink or three. We decided to purchase the all-you-can-drink package, which we definitely utilized frequently. This includes water and coffee as well, so it is 100% worth it!
  • Pack multiple sets of dress clothes. Apparently dressing up for dinner on a cruise boat is sometimes mandatory. That bit of information can often be hidden on websites and can catch you completely by surprise if you have never been on a cruise before.
  • Find a good booking site. After getting frustrated on trying to figure out how to see some Greek islands on our own, without using an organized tour, I received an email from VacationsToGo, advertising a discount on a Mediterranean cruise for the time period we were looking to travel. It seemed like a sign, so I picked up my phone and called the 800 number on the website and within a few minutes an agent had us all booked on this cruise. It took barely any of my time to plan, cost a lot less than if I had set up travel to the islands on my own, and we even got our drink package for free as part of a special deal.
  • Plan excursions prior to being on the cruise. Before going on your cruise, check out the possible excursions and make a decisions on the ones you want to go on prior to being on the boat. We did not purchase excursions ahead of time and found at least one we wanted to do was fully booked.
  • Don’t be afraid to change dining tables. Cruises love to give you assigned dining seats, so you can meet new people. However, unfortunately we did not have a great experience with our dining table, and we waited too many days to change tables to sit with some friends. If after the first night, you do not enjoy your dining experience, talk to someone, so that you can be relocated.
  • Allow plenty of time before and after the cruise. Most people will travel to take cruises. If you are one of those people, make sure to leave a good cushion of time before and after your cruising experience. The cruise line took a long time returning passports to passengers at the end of the cruise (hours after we were docked) and madness erupted. Many passengers were furious, because they missed their schedule trains or planes home. While we had allowed plenty of time before and after the cruise to catch our transportation home, it was hard not to feel for every individual who had to suffer missed connections because of this delay.

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While I am not sure I would recommend Costa cruise lines as the best option for cruising, we enjoyed our cruising experience overall. So much so that we have decided to take another cruise at the end of this year. If you have done some cruising, please feel free to leave some tips and recommendations in the comment section below. I would greatly appreciate it. Until next time…

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

WWW Wednesdays – August 15, 2018

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

2018-08-07_14-38-09I had a great time reading for the 25inFive Readathon which ran from August 9 – August 13. It was difficult to read 5 hours on the weekdays when I was working, but I made up for it on the weekend. I felt that this was a good excuse to take time for myself and indulge a bit in my reading life. The readathon helped me catch up on some library loans and NetGalley ARCs. Otherwise, I only read about an hour to three hours a day.

Currently Reading

Finished Reading

The President is Missing – This political thriller is a little too realistic. The president realizes that someone in his White House inner circle may be assisting terrorists who have planted a cyber-virus so decides to go off-grid to help save the country. While I don’t believe that any president would be as hands-on as this one was or even be allowed to be, it definitely was a thrilling page-turner. It reminded me a lot of the movie War Games. I think it is terrifying to realize that technology really does run every aspect of our lives – our electricity, water systems, Wall Street, etc. However, there is a section in the book where the discussion of cyber attacks drags on and on, so I skipped ahead a bit at that part. I also thought the end was way too wordy, though I did laugh a bit at the part where the president tells Russia to stay out of our elections. Overall, I thought this was a good book – much better than some of the reviews I’ve read.

Saved by the Cowboy – I received this ARC from NetGalley. It is a cute romantic novella that includes an exciting main character, Olivia, her crazy family, a sexy sheriff, friendly townsfolk and love letters hidden under the floor boards of an older house. While I didn’t like the Sheriff as the main love interest – found him a bit dry – and didn’t quite feel the passion between the Sheriff and Olivia, I enjoyed Olivia’s search for the meaning of lasting love, and how she thought that finding old love letters between her grandparents would shed some light on that.

Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice – I was looking for an audiobook to listen to when I came across this one. I’ve been on a true crime kick all year, and when I saw this one on RB Digital (a library app), I had to get it. I lived in Boston when they caught Whitey Bulger, and this story dominated the news for over a year. This book was published shortly after Whitey Bulger’s capture and gives specific details of the dealings (including murder) he and his crew had in parts of Boston including Southie where I used to live. I thought this was a very comprehensive telling of the Whitey Bulger story by two award-winning Boston Globe journalists.

Reading Next

What are y’all reading this week? Any recommendations?

HAPPY READING!!!

 

20 Years of Travel #12: St. Petersburg

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with our 2014 trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. While I have no interest to return to Russia any time soon, I thoroughly enjoyed St. Petersburg and would not pass up an opportunity to visit again. If you have just a short time in St. Petersburg, here are some of the highlights:

Summer Palace – Peterhof Palace

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Peter and Paul Fortress

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Winter Palace – The Hermitage Museum

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The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood

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Museums dedicated to Russian writers

  • Anna Akhamatova Literary and Memorial Museum
  • Nabokov House
  • Dostoevsky Museum
  • National Pushkin Museum

The Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad

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If you want to find out more about our adventures in Saint Petersburg, Russia, please see St. Petersburg, Russia – August 2014.

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

 

 

20 Years of Travel #11: Jamaican Wedding

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When my husband and I first got engaged in 2010 and started talking about our wedding that would be in 2012, we found ourselves gravitating toward the idea of doing a destination wedding. Our family is scattered around the country, so it would be difficult to pick one place to actually get married, so we decided to pick a place where no one we know lived and was a new travel destination for us. I’ve always loved the beach and water, so I really wanted to find an island destination. We chose Jamaica as a great island destination that we had never 457676_10150795098582986_668210987_obeen to and would also be close enough for our immediate families and closest friends to travel to. It was one of the most memorable experiences of our lives and is why it is being featured on our 20 Years of Travel series.

Once settled on a destination, we had some help picking a resort and settled on Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica. I always hear stories about how stressful the days leading up to a wedding are, but I never experienced that. I only experienced sun, swim-up bars, beach bonfires and karaoke.

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The resort set up all the wedding details. I just had to approve of flowers. While we loved spending time with our family and friends who made the trip to Jamaica, the resort also set up some private time for us, such as a candlelight romantic dinner and a couples massage. Outside of the many restaurant choices, pools and bars, the resort also provides many other activities. Some of our group went on a nighttime snorkeling adventure. Basically, we told our family and friends that they had to be at the wedding ceremony and dinner that night, but for the most part, we let them know where we would be if they wanted to hang out, but otherwise, they could do their own thing and have their own little relaxing vacation.

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We were drinking in the pool with our friends when the wedding planner (from the resort) scolded us on not being ready as we only had one hour before the wedding ceremony. I guess it was time to get out of the pool. We got ready and then all headed to the beach for our ceremony (see setup picture above). While this has been a great story to tell, if you don’t want your wedding party (and occasionally the groom) to be giggling460833_10150784920972986_248609937_o during the ceremony, make sure that your ceremony is not placed right next to a nude beach. It was actually difficult to get pictures of the ceremony without getting photo-bombed by a nudist. After the ceremony, we did a sand ceremony (see picture on the right) and then had cake with our friends and family. It was simple and lovely and stress-free. I wouldn’t change a thing about  having made Jamaica our wedding destination.

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WWW Wednesdays – August 8, 2018

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

Currently Reading

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

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I put a hold on this at the library as soon as it came out many months ago, and it finally became available. I thought it would be a fun summer read, even if I haven’t heard great reviews.

Finished Reading

The Lucky Dress – I received this ARC from NetGalley and believe it is now available to the public this week. An enjoyable romantic tale, where Emi is forced to face her ex-fiancé, Jack, when her brother marries Jack’s sister. Emi and Jack’s relationship ended poorly, and as the wedding events take place, the author takes you back to explore Emi and Jack’s entire relationship. Can Emi and Jack find their way back to each other or will they move on with the individuals (Liam and Greta) that they bring as dates to the wedding?

The Masterpiece – I received this ARC from NetGalley and have been so excited to read it, since hearing about it on the What Should I Read Next podcast. It did not disappoint. It quickly became one of my favorite reads of the year. It combines, historical fiction, drama, and mystery with fascinating characters and an almost lyrical writing style with beautiful descriptions. The story takes place in New York’s Grand Central station, which in the 20’s was home to an art school. However, in 1974, that school no longer exists, but a young woman who works at Grand Central station discovers the remnants of what was formally the art school, and her curiosity is peaked.

Lord of the Flies – I read this for my Classics book club and was not disappointed. A group of young boys are stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash and have to learn to survive until they are rescued. It is a quick read but also depressing as the premise really is that the beast on the island is actually human nature, and that there is evil in all of us.

Make Trouble – This is Cecile Richards’ memoir. She was the daughter of Ann Richards, who was governor of Texas from 1991-1995. Ann Richards was one of few women and and a democrat to hold that position in Texas. Cecile Richards tells her story of what is was like being Ann Richards daughter, but also of her own life in the world of politics and activism. She supported unions, worked for Nancy Polosi, campaigned for Hilary Clinton and fought for women’s health care, becoming the president of Planned Parenthood. Her husband and kids have also taken on roles of activism. It is an inspiring book that makes you want to go out there and fight for a better country and world.

Reading Next

I am looking forward to my next round of reads. I think the variety will suit me just fine and help me succeed in the 25infive challenge I am participating in this weekend. This challenge is to read for 25 hours total from August 9-13. Let me know if you are participating as well, and we can cheer each other on. I’ll be posting on my Instagram, Twitter and on Litsy @Morr_Books.

Tell me what you are reading or share your link!

HAPPY READING!!!!

WWW Wednesdays – August 1, 2018

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

Finished Reading

I’m playing a bit of catch-up. I had a family emergency last week, so I did not get to read a lot, but I did listen to a lot of audiobooks while on the road, including the following:

Mindhunter by John Douglas

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After thoroughly enjoying Season 1 of Mindhunter on Netflix, I decided to read the book that the show is based off of while I anxiously await Season 2. As far as true crime books go, this book does not disappoint. I’ve always been a bit fascinated by the the psychological traits of killing and patterns, which I thought made me a little strange until I discovered the podcast My Favorite Murder and the community of Murderinos like me. Anyway, this book dives right into behavioral science in relation to catching killers. It was thrilling and a bit terrifying – especially if you are listening to it while stopped at a mostly deserted gas station at 2am in West Texas.

Educated by Tara Westover

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I finished this book before I headed out of town and as per my last WWW Wednesdays post, it truly held up all the way through to the end. It is one of my favorite reads of the year. It is a memoir, of growing up in a secluded survivalist family, where public education was supporting and being influenced by the government. This is a story of a young women who decides at 17 that she wants to go to school and starts realizing the truths and lies about her childhood and home life.

Any Man by Amber Tamblyn

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This book was not a high priority for me as I haven’t seen positive feedback on Litsy, but it popped up on my Libby account, so I decided to read it. I finished it in less than two days. It was amazing and powerful. I’m a bit baffled by the negative reviews I’ve seen. The writing was very poetic and added to the emotions of the characters and the topic of rape itself. This is a story of a serial rapist, called Maude, who assaults numerous men. Much of the book revolves around the victims and how they cope with what happened to them. The whole story was moving and heart-wrenching. Plus, there are a few parts that deal with media, especially social media, that just made me so angry, as it pointed out how often we blame the victims. Male or female…assault is assault and WRONG. I am glad I listened to the audiobook, because I felt that hearing the voices made it that much more powerful a story.

I also did manage to finish an ARC book from NetGalley that I believe became available to the public yesterday:

A Tale of Two Murders by Heather Redmond

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What a delightful bit of fan fiction! For fans of Charles Dickens, you will love this fun mystery, where the main character – none other than Dickens himself – decides to investigate two mysterious deaths. While at times I found the main character a bit boring, the story kept moving nicely with a set of fantastic supporting characters. This was an enjoyable mystery, and I did not guess the ending!

Currently Reading

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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This is another classic fiction book that I am reading for the first time for my classics book club. I just started it and am a good way through it, because it is exciting, though I’m nervous it will turn dark and horrifying at any moment. I keep thinking of the TV series Lost, so I guess I know what inspired that show.

The Lucky Dress by Aimee Brown

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Just started this one, so I have no real opinion yet, but I’m looking forward to a cute romance to offset all the intense books I’ve been reading lately.

Make Trouble by Cecile Richards

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Cecile Richards is the President of Planned Parenthood and daughter of the former Texas governor, Ann Richards. Due to her life directly and indirectly involved in US politics, she has an interesting take on our government, women’s rights and activism. I’m currently listening to her narration on audiobook.

Reading Next

I have a growing list of ARCs that have become available to me through NetGalley and hope to complete the following ones before they are available to the public on August 7th.

I have a huge August TBR pile that has been growing due to some recent book mail. It is going to be a fun reading month! What is on your TBR pile?

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