December 19, 2014

Reading List Recap: Le Femme Fatale(s)

This has been a slow reading season for me as the only time I have had to get lost in a good book was while confined to a seat on a plane or in a hotel room. Never the less, here's a short recap of what I have read lately- a few new favorites! I already have quite a few books lined up for the New Year but I am definitely open to any and all suggestions! Unless it's a book on astrophysics... in which case the review will be on how effective it was as coffee table decoration.

Overall: *****

Summary: The embellished, yet true rags-to-riches story of Josie Arlington; infamous madam of the most lucrative and controversial brothel in early twentieth century New Orleans! Art lovers, history buffs, jazz fans, and feminists rejoice, this is a great read that you won't regret.

What I loved: By now you may know that I have an affinity for historical fiction novels with rebellious heroines and dark and twisty turns, and this book is no exception. Mysterious characters, romance, political controversy, history... it's all here. I read this book on our flight to New Orleans this summer and loved walking around the neighborhood where the story took place. I kept pointing out street names and buildings and launching into lengthy wikipedia searches about things I had read. A fun, quick, and entertaining read, and definitely one of my new favorites.

Not so much: It has been a few months since I read this book, but honestly there isn't anything that I can think of that I would have changed about it. Just when you think it's a cliche romance tale, you remember that it's based a true story and not all true stories have happy endings...

Overall: ***

Summary: A coming of age story about a young girl named Ibby Belle who is forced to live with her eccentric and mysterious grandmother in her New Orleans mansion. Set in the 1960's, this story weaves around the civil rights movement, life in the deep South, and the rise of rock and roll. 

What I loved: This story reminded me of The Help mixed with a Judy Blume book. It's a good read for tweens or anyone wanting a light, easy read with enough historical weight to keep it anchored. 

Not So Much: It was sweet, easy to read, and somewhat entertaining, but didn't totally pull me in. If I hadn't been on a plan while reading it, I may not have pushed through it in one sitting. 

Overall: ****

Summary: Korobi Roy is raised by her wealthy grandparents in Kolkata, India. Believing her parents to be dead, and despite plots to defeat her, Korobi plans to marry the son of a prestigious family with prominent political and financial connections. However a hidden letter reveals details about her family that sends Korobi to America to try to track down the mystery of her parent's disappearance.

What I loved: My favorite thing about this book was the setting and the Indian customs and culture that is woven throughout the story. In a society where patriarchy and marital unions mean everything for a person's future, Korobi chooses to listen to her heart. I borrowed this from the library based on the cover alone and I am glad that I did. It was a good read and one that I would recommend it to anyone who loves coming of age stories set in faraway locations.

Not so much: Perhaps because much of the Indian culture is so foreign to me, and so drastically different from modern American or western culture, I found some of the circumstances hard to believe. I wanted to scream at Korobi to "just knock it off, forget the outdated bullcrap, and do whatever you want!" but I couldn't because it was a book, and because it was all part of the bigger story...

Overall: *****

Summary: One-Eyed Charley Parkhurst, the most fearless and notorious stagecoach driver in the West, spent his entire life searching for the man who murdered his family... and on his deathbed was revealed to be a woman! Inspired by a true story (you can google her!) this story will entertain and fascinate you from beginning to end. A quick read (chapters are only a few pages long) and well written story. 

What I loved: Everything about this book (see "Madam")! After my mom passed it on to me, I read it over a weekend, then immediately lent it to my boss, before mailing it to my book buddy Kristin in Colorado (hi!). This is easily one of my favorite books of the year and one I will recommend for many more to come. 

Not so much: At first I thought the story seemed a bit slow- I didn't realize how all of the details were going to fit together- but once I got a few chapters in, I was hooked. This is the kind of book you read while walking around, eating, cleaning, and sitting on the toilet (well it's true), because you simply don't want to put it down. 
Happy reading!

December 17, 2014

Hey, New Orleans! You're fun.

Aside from my habit of perpetually delayed blog posting, I can't believe it has been three months since our trip to New Orleans in September! Looking through photos, I can still hear the jazz pouring out of smokey bars, taste the salty and sweet indulgences we feasted on, and feel the cobblestone streets under my feet as we dashed around from one historic spot to the next. I'm not exaggerating when I say New Orleans absolutely blew my mind. 

I don't know what I was expecting as I had previously only associated New Orleans with Mardi Gras, fried food, and hurricanes, but I quickly learned that this is one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the world. In the historic French Quarter, with buildings, roads, and bars dating back to the 1700's, you imagine being in Europe, but just a few blocks over on Frenchman street, saxophone blues and neon signs transport you back to present day. With so many unique cultures alive and thriving in New Orleans you would think there would be a sense of incongruity or rivalry between the neighborhoods but the beauty is that everyone seems to take pride in the collective diversity of the city.  

Our friends Jen & Eric moved back to New Orleans (from Denver, where we met) last year and kept begging us to come visit. We found a good deal on flights and away we went for a long weekend. They took us all over town and made sure we had our fill of food and fun, starting with crepes that were bigger than our faces. 

Walking along Bourbon Street, something everyone has to do once... if only to experience what booze, smoke, cheap cologne, incense, and urine smells like mixed together. Keep smiling!

swoony colors, artist studios, and knitting shops!

 I tried to take a photo of every single corner in the French Quarter. I couldn't get enough of the buildings and balconies and old bricks, oh my!

I'll take one of everything, please.

 I could have moved right in!

 Po boys! My mouth is watering just thinking about this. 

You can live in a Doll House!

3 parts sugar, one part paper cup. 100% Heaven.

The Voodoo Queen's grave

My favorite travel buddy

Steamboat Natchez, riverboat cruise

Be still my heart.

Even the wildlife is friendly! Hey little fellas!

(((objects in photo are actual size)))

shrimp & grits on our last morning

Overall, New Orleans completely surpassed all of our expectations and we can't wait to go back next year to celebrate during one of the city's famous festivals or parades!

Things you should know about visiting New Orleans:

The Food! Plan on gaining at least 5lbs without even trying. I can honestly say that we did not have a single bad dining experience between breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, and dessert each day. Luckily, you can walk anywhere between downtown, the Quarter, and the river, so you can easily justify all those beignets, fried oysters, martinis, and more. 

Getting around- the city is built on a crescent-shaped curve that follows the bend of the river so standard directions (N, S, E, W) don't really apply. I don't generally get disoriented easily while driving, etc. but I was genuinely confused regarding our whereabouts the entire time we were in New Orleans. There are tons of landmarks that make it easy to get your bearings but I would have kept walking in circles if our friends weren't there to guide us.

It's tropical! I couldn't get over the climate while we were there- balmy and humid, it felt like we were on an island! The colorful colonial-style buildings and cobblestone streets reminded me of parts of Guatemala and the Caribbean islands. The weather is deceiving- it feels like you are sitting on the ocean- but the city is actually pretty far from the coast.

It's so freakin' fun! Whatever you are looking for in a vacation destination- historic charm, nightlife, local art scene... New Orleans has it! It's like a real-world Disneyland - think Pirate's of the Carribbean meets old world France meets Gone with the Wind meets blues and soul food meets Las Vegas... you'll love it.

It's still recovering. Mother nature certainly did not discriminate when she tore through New Orleans. Historic mansions and housing projects alike were ravaged and the lasting effects and damage from Hurricane Katrina are still obvious throughout the city. It was a bit of a shock for us to drive from a pristine, fully restored block to the next, where houses are leaning on each other and graffiti symbols still mark doorways where survivors were rescued. Our friends told us that many of the people who were forced out of their homes never returned, simply because they had started their lives elsewhere, but now many young people and companies are moving to New Orleans which will certainly help breathe new life and resources into the city. 

xoxo 'til we meet again, New Orleans xoxo