European Adventures | Scotland | Edinburgh | Royal Mile, Literary Pub Tour

Continuing the photos of our European Adventures, September 2014.


After a week in Ireland, we took a very short flight over to Edinburgh, a town we originally planned to visit just so The Beard could have his fair share of whiskey (whisky) tastings. It ended up being our favorite stop of the trip, and someday, I promise, I will go back.

The view from our apartment window. I only had to lean out a semi-dangerous amount to be able to see the Sir William Scott monument (the spire-like building just to the left of center).

The first day we landed fairly late in the afternoon, so made our way to our apartment. We stayed right on The Mound, which proved to be perfect walking distance to most anything we wanted to do in town. We walked around Old Town a bit to get our bearings, then headed out for food:

edinburgh looking down the royal mile
Royal Mile

edinburgh looking down the royal mile at st. gile's cathedral
St. Gile's Cathedral

Our first meal was (shocking, I know!) whiskey with haggis, neaps and tatties, not pictured, with whiskey, also not pictured. But it was delicious.

Whisky menu at Whiski Rooms Edinburgh Scotland
Perusing a whiskey menu the size of most diner menus in the U.S. at Whiski Rooms (near The Mound--great food, great whisk(e)y offerings).
After a rousing meal of booze and strange food, we decided to dive right into a literary pub tour to see the city. (We did a similar tour in Dublin on our last night in town, and decided we'd prefer to do it earlier in our stay to get the lay of the land and make notes of places to go back to after the fact...)

edinburgh literary pub tour ticket and cider
Cider seemed the smartest choice for a tour with 6+ pub stops.
Also, if you're in Edinburgh, The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour was great.
Good entertainment, good trivia, good tour of Edinburgh and its literary history.

edinburgh literary pub tour beehive inn grassmarket starting point
Our Literary Pub Tour starting point: The Beehive Inn, in Grassmarket
edinburgh literary pub tour queens arms new town
And the last stop of the night, The Queens Arms in New Town.
Slightly blurry photo taken by a slightly tipsy (very nice) friend from the pub tour.
Seeing as I could barely keep my slightly tipsy eyes open, off to bed we went. But look at the view on our walk home!

edinburgh museum on the mound at night scotland


See the rest of our trip (or rather, what I've posted photos of so far) here.

Book Review: Dorothy Parker Drank Here, by Ellen Meister

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

Ellen Meister introduced readers to the ghost of Dorothy Parker in Farewell Dorothy Parker, imagining a spirit who refuses to cross over into the afterlife and is quite happy about it, thank you very much. By the opening of Dorothy Parker Drank Here, however, Parker is lonely in her decision, trapped in the halls of the Algonquin Hotel with a staff alternately annoyed by and terrified of her. So she sets out to find some company, some earthly soul who will agree to choose the Algonquin, when the time comes, over the bright light that has called to all the others she might have passed the time with.

Week in Reading: April 27

Readathon was a blast this weekend; though I only read one book cover-to-cover, I made some progress on five other books. And I was so sucked into The Library at Mount Char last week that I didn't manage to save any of it for Readathon; I can't wait for it to come out in June so we can talk about it. So weird and strange and think-y.

#Readathon: Blame it On the Bloggers Mini-Challenge

Readathon-ers! Who's still awake? Who's still reading? What time is it where you are? It's hour 22, which makes it 5:00am in my time zone, and I'm pre-writing this post because let's be honest, I'll likely have fallen asleep by the time it goes up. BUT who said I can't give prizes in my sleep?

No one, that's who. And so:

blame it on the bloggers readathon mini challenge & giveaway

I love a lot of things about Readathon, but I particularly love discovering so many new books AND new bloggers. So this Mini-Challenge is in that spirit: what book(s) have you discovered and added to your TBR pile because you saw it mentioned/read/discussed during Readathon... and what blogger(s) do you blame credit for making your TBR list just *that* much longer?

To enter:

1) Post up on your social media network or blog of choice (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, blog post, YouTube, Instagram) the title of the book you've added to your TBR list, and be sure to tag/link to the blogger who put it there!

2) Comment below with a link to your post (make sure it's a link to your actual post and not your whole blog/channel) and I'll draw a winner at noon EST (what would be Hour 29 in Readathon Time).

3) Make sure you leave a valid email address so I can contact you if you win!

I'll draw a winner at noon EST (what would be Hour 29 in Readathon Time).

Winner will receive one book of their choosing (maybe your new TBR addition?), valued up to $15, from The Book Depository. Open internationally to wherever The Book Depository ships. 

Happy readathon-ing!

#Readathon: Master Post

It's here! It's here! It's finally finally Readathon time! I'm in for the full day this time around, folks, and will be updating throughout the day here, with memes and (if I can make it work) a Storify of other social media activity, as well as on Instagram and on Twitter. I'll also be cheering as part of #teamfrodo on Twitter all day!

#Readathon: The Stack and the Cause

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is coming up this weekend and I. Cannot. Wait. I love this event: it brings together bloggers around the world to celebrate reading. And it's always a perfect kick out of a slump, though luckily some incredible reads lately have been helping me with that problem (that and the sunshine, I think).

I always have far too many books on hand for this event; it's classic eyes-are-bigger-than-my-stomach syndrome, and I willfully refuse to learn from past readathons that I don't need twelve books lined up.

So, willfully ignoring my past learning experiences, here are the 12 14 books I've got lined up for this weekend:

Week in Reading: Monday, April 20

I spent most of this weekend in a rented mini-van en route to Nashville and back. The drive took about ten hours each way, including stops, so naps and reading were plentiful.

European Adventures | Ireland | Newgrange and the Hill of Tara

We spent our last full day "in Dublin" actually on a bus tour outside of Dublin, booked through Mary Gibbons Tours. Unfortunately, Mary Gibbons herself--who comes highly recommended by Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the Rick Steves Ireland: 2013 book we found in our AirBnB--was in the hospital that day, so we had a stand-in. Actually, a stand-in for a stand-in; I understand Mary Gibbons' husband sometimes stands in when she can't conduct tours, but he was (understandably) tied up that day.

Unfortunately, the tour guide we did have, nice as she was, didn't have much to offer in the way of actual Irish history (but did you know that you can tell how old a wooden staff is by cutting it open to see how many rings it has?), but the bus tour was a) smooth sailing and b) arrived at all sites on time and in one piece.

So who can really complain?

newgrange tomb
The Newgrange Tomb.

Writing About Reading

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get to see Ann Patchett and Maureen Corrigan in conversation about books and the reading life at a local Frederick Reads event. The two made several book recommendations, talked about the writing process, and discussed the role of reading and writing in shaping both of their lives. At one point, Corrigan, herself a book reviewer for NPR, mused aloud:

How do you write about your experience as a reader with authenticity, when one's experience as a reader is intensely personal?

I spend the large majority of my not-work, not-sleep time either reading or writing about reading (or thinking about reading or thinking about writing about reading). This question is personal to me, especially as one prone to question my right to review books and my place in this bookish community. When I talk about books, I am very conscious of the fact that reading is inherently personal; it is by looking at that personal experience in the context of the larger world--of readers, of writers, of stories--that my experience with a book feels valid and worth sharing.

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

a darker shade of magic book review cover v.e. schwab fantasy novel

A Darker Shade of Magic is based on a simple premise that is in fact unendingly complex: a world in which there are parallel Londons. In Grey London, ruled by a mad King George, magic is rare, almost unheard of; in Red London, magic is respected and idealized; and in White London, magic is something to be tightly controlled. Then there is Black London, sealed off from the rest of the world because of the dangerous magic it contains.

Thoughts: Hammer Head, by Nina MacLaughlin

I'm not a big memoir reader, but I'm glad I made an exception for Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter. Nina MacLaughlin's reflections on quitting her job in journalism and becoming a carpenter's apprentice are captivating and interesting, peppered with anecdote and job details and the history of obscure tools and etymologies. And as if that's not enough, she also manages to include references to literary works young and old: Ovid and Joan Didion and Greek myths live side by side with stories of built-in bookshelves and learning to cut tile and laying flooring. The range of topics MacLaughlin has packed into a relatively slim volume is impressive.

Week in Reading: April 11

It's Tax Week! Which is far less exciting than all of the incredible, amazing, awesome books I read over the weekend, and the delicious stack I have lined up for this week.

Spring! at Monocacy National Battlefield

Spring has officially sprung here in Maryland, and we took advantage of this weekend's sunshine to head over to Monocacy National Battlefield. On the ranger's recommendation, we opted to wait to do the Worthington Farm Loop until the bluebells bloom (because that sounds amazing, no?), and instead walked the Thomas Farm Loop, pictured below:

thomas farm loop barn at monocacy national battlefield

European Adventures | Ireland | Kilkenny | Smithwick's, Kilkenny Castle & A Round Tower

I've been remiss in posting these photos from our trip to Europe in freaking September, so I'll be trying to work through one day's worth of photos per week from here on out. That means I should wrap up this series of travel photos in about six months (within a year of our trip!). Fingers crossed.


Because we (namely, I) didn't revel in the terrors of renting a car in Dublin city proper, with all of its strange traffic patterns and driving on the wrong side of the road, we opted instead to take a train to Kilkenny and rent a car from there. After a day spent driving around to see the Rock of Cashel and the Jameson Distillery, we spent a night in Kilkenny and had most of the next day to kill before catching the train back to Dublin.

dusk over river nore in kilkenny
Looking over the River Nore in Kilkenny.

#CloudAtlasAlong: Parts 3 & 4

Weeeee're back! I'll admit that after reading the first two sections of Cloud Atlas for last week's discussion, I was pretty much hooked, so I carved out my Saturday morning for a trip to the coffee shop and a chunk of Cloud Atlas reading. It didn't disappoint. I'm loving how Mitchell is nesting these stories within each other, and my note-taking is getting out of control as I flip back and forth to reference things I think I remember (or maybe don't). This book also has me a-Googlin' far more than I have for any book in recent memory, and I've learned so many new things (which I love).

Again, spoilers abound, so if you haven't read the book (or at least up to An Orison of Somni), consider yourself warned.

Whodunit, Whydunit, Howdunit: Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad Series

I love a good mystery, but I can be picky in what I read within the genre. Tana French is one of the authors I will unfailingly pick up: I've fallen for her slow, deliberate pacing that startles you with its occasional abruptness; for the ways that her stories explore the very human--and therefore all the more shocking--sides of crime; for the distinctively Irish voice that each of her stories takes on and represents; for her skill in picking up a secondary or even tertiary character in one novel and making him or her the star of the next.

Book Review: Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

Laura Van Den Berg's debut novel, Find Me, boasts an impressive, multi-part story that dives deep into the life of Joy, a young woman who was abandoned as an infant and raised in a series of foster care and group homes. The first part of the novel centers on Joy's life during an inexplicable plague sweeping across the United States: as victims lose their memories and then their lives, Joy realizes she is immune and goes to live in the Hospital, where she and dozens of others are studied in hopes of finding a cure. As the regimented order of the Hospital breaks down, however, Joy finds herself longing for freedom and to find the mother who abandoned her. The second part of the novel follows Joy as she escapes the confinement of experimentation and attempts to cross the country searching for a woman she's never known--and to find herself along the way.

Week in Reading: April 6th

I know it snowed in some parts of the East Coast yesterday, but for us Maryland-ers, spring has officially sprung. I slept with the windows open this weekend and finally stopped making weather-related excuses and strapped on my running shoes for my first runs in over 18 months. Damn, it felt good to get moving again.

#CloudAtlasAlong: Parts 1 & 2

It's here! The first of five posts on David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas for the #CloudAtlasAlong, hosted by S. This is my first foray into Mitchell's work (I know, I know, but I've always been oddly intimidated by his writing, for some reason?). I've since learned that Mitchell references his earlier works in each of his subsequent novels, so perhaps starting in the middle of his ouevre (Cloud Atlas is the third of his six published novels) isn't the best plan, but I'm sticking with it.

A little background on the book: Cloud Atlas was published in 2004, and was shortlisted that year for the Man Booker Prize (as well as the Nebula and an Arthur C. Clarke award in the same year). The novel was adapted for film--with, I think, limited success--in 2012.

[Spoilers follow, such as they are, so if you haven't read the book--look away.]

Looking Back: March Reading & Writing

I hit a bit of a reading slump at the beginning of March (and definitely a blogging slump), but some excellent reads towards the end of the month have picked things back up for me. Some of the best books I read in March:
best books I read in March 2015: Saga, Vol 4; Sex Criminals, Vol 1; Just like us, by Helen Thorpe; The Bullet, by Mary Louise Kelly; Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie; The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson