Lili's Travel Diary #8: Wales


I was initially very hesitant to sign up for this trip to Wales. It was offered by my uni here in London as part of a social programme to get students to meet each other. I ended up not signing up for it and missing the cut-off and immediately regretting it, so when the cut-off was extended I dropped the $200 and didn't look back. Tour guide? Crappy 2 star hotel accommodation? Executive coach included? Nothing could be bad in my eyes. Sure, I had been to Wales before, but it was for the same reason I came to London when I was 12 and I was homesick and barely remember my adventures.

This was my first trip in the UK and I knew it would make my travel bug bite even harder than it has already, so I was game.

We woke up at 6AM (I died a little inside when that alarm went off) to catch the bus to Wales. Did you know that on buses you are required to wear seat belts here? It is so strange to me because buses in the US don't even have seat belts as an option. But anyway, we are heading out and we know we are nearing Wales when all we are seeing are beautiful green hills and lots of sheep. The running joke is that Wales is apparently the land of sheep.

Now, this is where things start to go bad a bit. We are driving along, doing all the mandatory rest stops for food and because there are laws about how long a driver can drive for a set period of time here, and then we stop in this town called Chester. Chester is still in England, on the Welsh border, and according to our guide it is where people in the UK go to shop. There's a huge drag with everything from a Disney store to high-end fashion retailers. But at this point we made a 4+ hour journey on a bus and we wanted to get to Wales, we didn't want to spend 4 hours in England, you know?

Upon getting to Chester our guide took us along the walls of the city so that we would get to the second most photographed clock in Great Britain behind the infamous Big Ben. It was pretty! And
then at that point he's like, cool, we have four hours here so just scatter and do your own thing. So we all kind of looked at each other because we paid for you to guide and you're not guiding us, dude, but we shrugged it off and decided to make the most of it.

But we all decided to roll with the punches and find other stuff to do. We found the gorgeous Chester Cathedral and took a brief tour of it. It was absolutely breathtaking! Some pictures are below, but I can tweet out many more if you are interested.


After the Cathedral, a small group of us that linked up decided to get food. We toured around the busy streets and stumbled into a closed Central Perk (*sad face*) and even an American Candy Store! I kid you not! I walked in there and was in heaven. However, I had only been away from home for 3 weeks at that point and had my January box of sour patch kids courtesy of my lovely #otspsecretsister Sondra, and decided it was not worth buying anything. But, oh man, I hope there's one of those in London for when the middle of my trip (March-ish) hits!

At this point, we got food and just wandered for another hour because there was nothing else within the walls of Chester that we could do. We were ready to leave because we wanted to get to Wales! But we still had a long ways to go and did not end up pulling into our lovely two star hotel in the town of Llandudno until about 7:30PM. By then it was pitch black so we couldn't even properly explore the area. My roommate and I stood on our balcony taking in the fresh air and snapping our view because we knew it would be gorgeous come morning.
Our view at night.
Our view in the morning.
That night we just wandered around looking for a place to eat dinner that was open. It was a Saturday night and so many places were just...dead. And then we found out our guide texted all his friends in the area that a ton of young Americans were out and about exploring and that made it super creepy because a few people started following us. We ended up ducking into the first thing we saw which was this gorgeous renovated theater turned into a pub and shoveled food and a few margaritas in our face because we needed it after spending over 6 hours on a bus in one day.

We were all lamenting about how cute Llandudno seemed, and how we wish we could have just come straight here to explore and enjoy instead of wasting what precious daylight we had in a town in England where there was nothing we could really do. But alas, around 10PM everyone but the two of us decided to head back to the hotel with its beautiful views and really smelly bathrooms. We were exhausted and ready to relax. We all hung out in a girls room till about 1AM just talking and making future travel plans that I'll tell you about as they come together, and getting to know each other. My roommate and one other person ended up going on an epic adventure in Wales where they bar hopped for five hours with random Welsh people, which sounded awesome, but I just didn't have the energy for it.

We woke up at 7 AM to head to our hotel provided breakfast where we shoveled food in our face because, let's be honest, we'll take whatever we can get if it is free. And then we finally headed out to explore Wales! It was drizzling the entire day, down pouring at other parts, but we were determined to make the best of it.

About a 20 minute ride from Llandudno is a town called Conwy. Conwy Castle is not open to the public on Sunday, so our guide pretty much led us through this trespassing back entrance from a railroad so we could walk along its walls and see the views, which were absolutely killer.

You can see how windy it is because of my hair!
Despite it being overcast and gray, this was an awesome experience. Going down was a bit scary though because it was a stone walkway that was very wet from the rain for the day. I don't really have a huge fear of heights. I can get up just fine...it's the coming down part that scared the heck out of me. My friends were kind enough to take it slow and encourage me every step of the way throughout the many times on this trip that I gave myself anxiety, and it was much appreciated. Small fear conquered? Let's say it's a work in progress.

On our way out of Conwy we passed The Smallest House in Great Britain. This thing is kind of adorable looking and it can be yours for a measly 400 pounds a month! haha A wee bit expensive if you ask me, but it is a tourist landmark I suppose. And it's a house instead of an apartment even though an apartment is probably the significantly better deal in this case.

Next we hopped on the bus to go to a small tourist stop. We spent 45 minutes in the town in Britain with the longest name. 58 letters! Crazy, right? There I was able to buy a snowglobe for my collection, some post cards for friends, and some people stocked up on food. This was how I wish our stop in Chester was. Can you tell Chester really dampened a lot of the trip for everyone who went?

After we left the long town name that I am not even going to attempt to spell we did some more driving (and much needed power napping) on the bus as he headed to Caernarfon to see Caernarfon Castle where the Prince of Wales is always given his title since the castle was built by King Edward I when he took Wales back in the day.

This castle was so gorgeous and it was everything I wanted it to be and more! I had an absolute blast exploring and falling in love with it even though the rain began falling hard shortly after I took these pictures and I got sick as a result. Places like this that are so rich with history are hard for me not to enjoy. I explored every nook and cranny, climbed all those tours and slowly worked my way down with the encouragement of my friends (no thanks to the guide who took us into the castle and again told us to scatter), and then took refuge in a Subway restaurant because that was all that was open on a Sunday afternoon when we needed lunch.

I feel like my selfies have improved significantly on this trip.
We took refuge on the bus where everyone promptly fell asleep, so I proceeded to make travel plans to Edinburgh (next weekend!!!) and start planning for Switzerland (about a month away!!!) while I watched the sheep go by outside the window. There was one terrifying moment when we were careening down twisting roads on cliffs with no guard rails where people actually started screaming and the girl next to me hyperventilated because she was so terrified, all the while our crazy bus driver and guide laughing and talking about death. Like what the hell? I have never disliked two more people after knowing them for such a little while.

They decided to take us the scenic route home, which would have been awesome if it wasn't down pouring. We were unable to see anything out of the windows, which is sad because I hear the views are amazing. We also spent about 8 hours on the bus instead of the estimated 5 because of this, so I was sufficiently exhausted, slightly sick, and convinced I no longer had a behind when we finally pulled into campus. My roommate and I headed back inside and were content for the rest of the night.

All in all, Wales was a bit disappointing in the sense that I could have gone on a cheaper trip and enjoyed myself a lot more if I went on my own and not through the school. What is the point in paying for a guide if he refuses to guide you? Why is it called a Wales Mountain & Coast Tour if we don't even get to Wales until more than 10 hours after we initially leave? So many questions that can't be answered because the school refuses to do so.

But let's look at the positives...I got to see some amazing sites. I got to cross off a beautiful country from my list. I got to travel. And then I enjoyed it so much I made more plans to travel that are set in motion. I made some really amazing friends that I have seen several times since and plan to see some more in the future. I got to learn a tiny bit of history from guide books. And I've got some crazy stories to tell about near death experiences, creepy tour guides, and how much British people crave American candy.

To sum up Wales in a single picture, look to your left. It was fun, and we had amazing friends and beautiful views, but the weather really got in the way of things and made it frustrating on top of the lack of organization. But, gosh, does this picture make me laugh! haha

Perhaps my good hair days are behind me.

Until next time!

Review: Titans by Victoria Scott

Publication Date: February 23, 2016
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 320 (ARC)
Source: From Publisher For Review
From Victoria Scott, author of FIRE & FLOOD, comes a thrilling story of impossible odds.

Ever since the Titans first appeared in her Detroit neighborhood, Astrid Sullivan’s world has revolved around the mechanical horses. She and her best friend have spent countless hours watching them and their jockeys practice on the track. It’s not just the thrill of the race. It’s the engineering of the horses and the way they’re programmed to seem so lifelike. The Titans are everything that fascinates Astrid, and nothing she’ll ever touch.

She hates them a little, too. Her dad lost everything betting on the Titans. And the races are a reminder of the gap between the rich jockeys who can afford the expensive machines to ride, and the working class friends and neighbors of Astrid’s who wager on them.

But when Astrid’s offered a chance to enter an early model Titan in this year’s derby, well, she decides to risk it all. Because for a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, it’s more than a chance at fame or money. Betting on herself is the only way she can see to hang on to everyone in the world she cares about.
~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

Prior to reading this book I only had two experiences with horse-related books: Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Obviously, I had high hopes for this one and I am very happy it delivered. It was a truly emotional roller-coaster that I blasted through in a single sitting.

Not going to lie, the start of this book is a little slow. It took me a while to get into it, but after a few chapters I was hooked. Scott gives us a main character that is easy to get behind and a best friend that any girl would kill for. This amazing female friendship is reason enough to read the book because it is so well done and something that isn't always found in YA lit these days. But, wow, do I want a Magnolia for myself.

Similarly, Scott's world is equally as interesting. Astrid and her family are very poor. They are facing getting kicked out of their house, college is not even an option and completing high school is a major question mark when it comes to the future of her and her sisters. I think this is a way of living that is not always found in literature these days despite it being very, very real. Gambling has torn this family apart, causing her father to wallow in his misery about not being able to provide for his family while her mother sneaks out late at night to tend to her neighbor's garden as a way to control some aspect of her life. Seriously though, this gardening thing had me smiling so hard. While the Sullivan's are incredibly dysfunctional, they come together as a family unit when it is most necessary and such a thing is always refreshing in YA lit. I feel like ridiculously strong female friendships and functioning families are hard to find together, let alone apart, so that in and of itself makes this book a true gem.

But the best part of this world is the Titans. They are so dang creative! The fantastical elements of these gorgeous sounding beasts (I imagine them as Ferrari's in mechanical horse form) are freaking awesome! And the relationship that Astrid forms with her Titan, name redacted for you to discover it yourself, is so moving. Yay for positive relationships and unbreakable friendships between human and animal. It is a beautiful thing.

The ending of this book was solid. It'll bring smiles to readers faces as the tears simultaneously fall. I am happy and unhappy (I mean, I cried but I still smiled?) but I understand why Scott chose to end this book where she did. I just found myself wanting a little more and for her to go a step or two further. I also understand why it is a standalone, but I would happily delve back into this creative world again.

Perfect for readers looking for a fantastical adventure with an amazing cast of characters, beautiful friendships, and a story that is not dominated by romance, I would recommend picking up this single sitting read whenever you need a mind-blowingly intense pick-me-up that will get your heart racing. That pretty much sums up every book Scott writes, though.

3.5 stars

~*~Links~*~

FTC Disclaimer: I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for my honest review.

Lili's Travel Diary #7: Taking a moment to be grateful


Sunday marks one month abroad for me. ONE. MONTH. It is crazy to think that I have been living away from home on another continent with people I have never met before that are slowly becoming some of my best friends for a month. WHAT EVEN?! I sit here waking up sometimes and just ask myself "what is my life right?!" over and over again. It's still crazy to me that I have followed through with my decision to take this journey and just roll with it. I am doing this! I am braver than I think I am.

One thing I have realized since coming here is that I've grown significantly closer to my family since leaving the states. This isn't something I necessarily expected. I expected to contact them every now and then like I did while away at uni in NYC, but it's different here. I find myself mainly reaching out to them at night when I've retired for the night, just wanting to know how their day is or to get something off my chest. And they're always ready and willing to listen. I find myself reaching out to them when I am lonely, when I am panicking because I don't understand how to do something, and when I am simply bored. This journey is strengthening my bond with them.

I've always been close with my Dad, so I find myself often calling him to help me with things that I am currently unable to take care of...financial aid, bank issues, how the hell do I work this weird laundry machine moments, travel advice from his days backpacking across Europe that helped inspire me to go abroad anyway, food shopping, figuring my way out around here, etc. But I also reach out to him as I normally would...to discuss football, ask about GREASE LIVE since I know he secretly watched it, the cats, to just talk cause a girl needs to talk to her Dad every now and then.

I've also grown to appreciate living with him a lot this past term to save up money for London. Commuting sucked. I hated it with a passion and not being in the city I've fallen in love with within easy access of my friends was emotionally draining at times, but I can't complain looking back on it anymore. I had a large room surrounded by books and a Dad that would make my bed if I forgot to because he wanted me to come home to a comfy bed, a father that would wake me up in the morning if I slept through my alarms, a roommate that left me alone when I needed to be left alone but would hang out in the living room watching bogus TV while we talked when I needed that too, someone who took care of me when I was sick and kept the kitchen stocked with my favorites and surprise sweet treats, someone willing to cook for me because I didn't know how to, was overwhelmed with work, or just plain lazy, a cat that cuddled with me every night, and readily available laundry that if I fell asleep doing it I would suddenly find folded on the machine the next morning. I miss the convenience and camaraderie and familiarity of home. And I am ten times grateful for it having experienced living in a kitchen that isn't often cleaned, that is understocked, where a load of laundry costs around $15.00, and there is a bathroom the size of me in a room that feels more like a jail cell than a bedroom because it's so dang tiny.

And then there's my Mom too, who I am not as close with but have grown closer to since coming here. I talk to her nearly everyday, and often find myself waking up to her text messages. We talk about homesickness a lot, and how though I am happy here I do not see myself ever 100% getting over my homesickness because I miss the familiar and the comfortable. It took me so long to be comfortable in NYC, to get to that level of comfort in London in the remaining 4 months of my stay is a lot to ask for. But my Mom is working to just help me adapt, to always have a buddy to vent to and rant to and talk to, and tear up to once or twice (like on my terrible first day) because it is necessary. She's turning into my overseas confidant and late night FaceTime specialist when I am in need of it, though the camera is more pointed towards the ceiling than anything else on her end. *shakes head*

I talk to my Aunt a lot, who is constantly wondering when I am going to post more of these and pesters me to do so because she's living vicariously through me. It's very sweet. I am trying to convince her to come out and visit me because I think it would be nice to see a familiar face from home, but also because I think she would love it here. She is the biggest supporter of this feature that I know of, and she's never been to Europe. What better time than to visit while your niece is here and able to show you around? I am hoping with all hope that it works out, but I also understand if it doesn't. Either way, I have strong feelings about her engaging in this adventure with me...and I didn't see that happening until I already came here.

And then there's my sister, who anyone at home could tell you I am not close with at all. Her and I are very different people with strong personalities that tend to clash more than compliment each other. But things have been nice since coming here. Aside from her getting mad because I respond to her texts upon waking up, thus waking her up around 6AM because I was not informed that she doesn't turn her volume off when sleeping, things have been good. We talk a lot about TV shows and she rants to me about her schoolwork if I catch her in the middle of the day. I don't find myself texting her often, but there is more communication between us now than there ever has been before. I think the distance is helping us.

All in all, I would say that this journey has been a blessing. I am proving myself capable of handling anything, of doing silly things like budgeting, of taking care of myself and providing for myself, traveling and perhaps working my way up to a solo travel trip in May. But most importantly I am growing closer to my family. I still talk to my best friends at home. It's interesting to see who does and does not reach out, but everyone I want there for me is there, but my family is being the real MVP of this journey, which surprises me and makes me happy all the same. Something to look forward to upon returning home.

Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell Blog Tour | Interview & Giveaway

Everyone knows I am a sucker for a kickass fairytale retelling, so I am so happy to welcome Lisa Maxwell to the blog today to talk about one of said kickass fairytale retellings! Thank you, Rockstar Book Tours, for having me.

Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
For as long as she can remember, Gwendolyn Allister has never had a place to call home—all because her mother believes that monsters are hunting them. Now these delusions have brought them to London, far from the life Gwen had finally started to build for herself. The only saving grace is her best friend, Olivia, who’s coming with them for the summer.

But when Gwen and Olivia are kidnapped by shadowy creatures and taken to a world of flesh-eating sea hags and dangerous Fey, Gwen realizes her mom might have been sane all along.

The world Gwen finds herself in is called Neverland, yet it’s nothing like the stories. Here, good and evil lose their meaning and memories slip like water through her fingers. As Gwen struggles to remember where she came from and find a way home, she must choose between trusting the charming fairy-tale hero who says all the right things and the roguish young pirate who promises to keep her safe.

With time running out and her enemies closing in, Gwen is forced to face the truths she’s been hiding from all along. But will she be able to save Neverland without losing herself?

Author Interview

Hi, Lisa! I am so excited for your book because I am a huge sucker for fairytale retellings. For those who may not know what UNHOOKED is about, can you sum it up in five words? The world’s shortest elevator pitch!
Hi! Thanks so much for having me! How about 6 words?
Nothing’s more dangerous than a story.

And now that we have my obsession with fairytales out of the way, I was wondering if you can share your top 3 fairytales?
What a great question! I love the original version of The Little Mermaid, where she doesn’t get the guy. I also loved the older version of Aladdin and the Amazing Lamp, and strangely enough, Bluebeard.

More importantly, how did this AWESOME idea for a book come to you?
To be honest? I wanted to write a book about a pirate that wasn’t a historical. When I finally came to doing a retelling of Peter Pan, I went and actually read the source text, Peter and Wendy. I was really struck by how dark Barrie’s story was and how much it had always been a tale of the dangers of childhood and believing too much in heroes, as much as it is a tale of adventure. Once I read the line, “when they grew too old, or he grew tired of them, Pan thinned their numbers,” I knew I had a story I wanted to tell.

It took longer to figure out how I wanted to retell it, because I didn’t want to rehash the same story. I wanted to add something to some of the themes I thought Barrie was dealing with in the first place. I was doing some research on Barrie and the Llewellyn Davies boys, and I saw that two had served in WWI and one had died in combat. It struck me that the same generation of children who would have been the first to grow up with Barrie’s Pan would have also been the young men who were taken in by tales of battlefield glory and rushed off to fight in WWI thinking it would be over by Christmas. There were actually thousands of child soldiers who lied about their ages to go off on an adventure, and I wanted to play with that connection—between tales of glory and adventure, and the reality of those tales.

What is your favorite quote from UNHOOKED?
Oh, gosh—there are so many I love! But this is probably my absolute favorite. It’s Gwen wrestling with what she learns in Neverland:
Since being brought to this world, I’ve come to understand that everything I’ve ever learned about good and evil, about the choices we make and the choices we must live with, have been nothing more than convenient fictions invented by those who have never been confronted by the darkness and actually forced to choose.

Was it easy for you to come up with the title for UNHOOKED? As a fairytale buff, I can’t help but smile whenever I hear it!
This book was SO hard to title! When I was writing, the file was called Neverafter, but there was another book by that name. So my husband, of all people, came up with UNHOOKED, which is what I queried the story with. When we went on submission, my awesome agent, Kathleen Rushall, thought we needed something darker to fit the flavor of the book, so we came up with HEARTLESS THINGS, which is a quote from Peter Pan. The publisher wanted to change that, so we went with THE STARS TURNED AWAY, until they changed their mind and wanted something that said Peter Pan more explicitly, so we went back to UNHOOKED. I still love HEARTLESS THINGS, but I think UNHOOKED fits the book so well! (Just don’t tell my husband I admitted to that!)

I am absolutely terrible at naming characters. How did you name yours?
Gwen is a derivative of Wendy (Gwendolyn), so that’s where she came from. Rowan just kind of came to me, and it seemed to suit an Irish pirate. Olivia was just a name I liked, and a lot of the lost boys’ names come from a range of places. I wanted to give a feel for children being taken from a variety of times and countries, but still keep the British feel of Peter Pan. Most of the names are English or from one of the British colonies.

Obviously this question is the most important of all: chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry ice cream?
Hagaan Dazs vanilla bean

About the Author

Lisa Maxwell is the author of Sweet Unrest, Gathering Deep (Flux, Fall 2015) and Unhooked (Simon Pulse, Spring 2016). When she's not writing books, she's an English professor at a local college. She lives near DC with her very patient husband and two not-so patient boys.

Find Lisa:  Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Tumblr | Instagram

 

 Giveaway!

This is a US only giveaway offered up by the lovely Simon and Shuster and Lisa Maxwell.

1 winner will receive a Funko Pop Captain Hook, a large Neverland map, and a signed finished copy of UNHOOKED.

5 additional winners will receive a swag pack containing an NVR sticker, bookmark, postcard, and other assorted stickers.

Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!


a Rafflecopter giveaway
 
The last stop on the tour will appear tomorrow at Mundie Moms, but hop on over to Rockstar Book Tours to get the full tour schedule here! 

Waiting on Wednesday #63

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.

My pick of the week is...
Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

Publication Date: February 9, 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Reading Level: Young Adult
Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.

Edward "Teach" Drummond, son of one of Bristol's richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There's just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.

Following her parents' deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to CuraƧao—where her mother was born—when she's stuck in England?

From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.

Why I Am Waiting

Everyone knows I am a sucker for a good fairytale retelling, and boy, does this make me curious! I haven't seen many Blackbeard stories floating around, so I am curious to see where this one takes us. And it's more or an origin story than anything else?! Uh, yes please! Origin stories are the bomb diggity!

Are you equally as excited for this book as me? Is there another book you are even more excited about? Please share your thoughts with me below!

January 2016 Monthly Recap


~*~On The Blog~*~
Holy cow...It is the end of the January! I cannot believe it. I have been in the UK for just over three weeks. And, fun fact, as you read this post I will be on my first trip out of London since arriving. I am currently on a Saturday-Sunday trip to Wales! AHHHH! This month has been a rollercoaster of emotions, but I am settling in and loving every minute of it. At the bottom of this post you will see my London recap so far. I haven't read much because there is so much to be seen, but this long bus ride to Wales is determined to change that! This month has flown by...and I cannot wait to see what is in store for me next on this crazy adventure.

Books Reviewed:
Remembrance by Meg Cabot - 4.5 stars
Truthwitch by Susan Dennard - 4.5 stars
The Imposter Queen by Sarah Fine - 4 stars
Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan - 3.5 stars

Books Read This Month:
I have challenged myself to read 75 books this year, let's see if I can! I'll be keeping track in this section.
1. Remembrance by Meg Cabot (eARC: 400 pages)
2. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (ARC: 509 pages)
3. Edward II by Christopher Marlow (eBook: 92 pages)
4. King Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare (eBook: 160 pages)
    DNF's of the month 
    1. None
    Total Pages Read This Month: 1,161 pages
    Total Pages Read This Year: 1,161 pages
    Total Books Read This Year: 4
    Total Books DNF'd This Year:0

    The Broadway Review:
    • I saw my first show in London! Perhaps that will be enough to bring this meme out of retirement.
    Giveaways:
    • I was part of The Imposter Queen blog tour and I adored this book! The giveaway for 3 finished copies is almost over, but trust me, you want to enter this one!
    Lili's Travel Diary:
    • I launched my new series with a pre-arrival post detailing what exactly caused me to want to study abroad. And now I am here! OMG, I cannot believe it.
    • Day one in London was really hard, so I used my second travel diary as a way to get the feels out because I was alone and struggling. 
    • However, I did some touristing around London for the first week and things began to slowly look up. Things are pretty great right about now. And I totally got to do some serious touristing.
    • But let's be real, Platform 9 3/4 deserved its own post because this was a fandom bucket list goal that was finally achieved!
    • I haven't experienced intense culture shock the way my friends going to Africa have, but there are some things that are very different in the UK than they are in America, so I did a post sharing 20 pieces of culture shock I have experienced so far.
    • I also had to compare education between the US and UK because now that I am two weeks into classes, I am drawing constant comparisons between the two. I think both countries can learn a thing or two from each other.
    Discussion Posts:
    • I talked about the fact that I was heading to London and my blog would probably experience changes. It's kind of ironic that it took going to another continent for my blog to be ridiculously active again. Anyway, this post launched my new meme Lili's Travel Diary so I can keep track of my travels around Europe.
    • I also took a moment to talk about what I perceive as the downside of ARCs. There's been a lot of drama about ARCs lately, so I just wanted to get my thoughts out. I am curious to hear any comments!
    • My 2015 End of the Year Survey went up and it was super hard to complete since I only read 55 books last year. The shame!
    Guest Posts and Bonus Content:
    • I was part of the Truthwitch pen pal blog tour where I linked up with a UK blogger to ask Susan Dennard a question. It was such a cute idea! Find my post here.
    • I also got to interview Alison Goodman, author of THE DARK DAYS CLUB, EON, and EONA about her latest novel and had a blast. Definitely one of my favorite interviews ever done on the blog!
    ~*~What I've Been Watching~*~

    Broadway/West End Shows:
    • I saw The Master Builder at The Old Vic after a few UK book bloggers were kind enough to invite me. Thank you Cait, Jim, Deb, and everyone else. I had so much fun seeing Ralph Fiennes blow my mind with his amazing ability!
    TV:
    • The Challenge: Bloodlines is coming to an end but it has been a great season. I am not a big fan of any of the remaining teams minus Cara Maria and Jamie so I hope they bring home the W. I am, however, super happy that Bananas and Vince are gone because, dang, did I hate Vince (even more than Bananas!). Their elimination took out all of the entertainment from the show though, so let's see what happens next.
    • My first binge since coming to the UK was Making a Murderer and boy, do I have thoughts. I'll probably be doing a post about this later, but I think Steven Avery is innocent. What about you? There are definitely a few failures in our justice system with this one.
    • I am watching Sherlock as a movie night with a couple of the girls I am friends with here in my residence hall. We are four episodes in and I am absolutely obsessed. I am 100% a Sherlockian, except I think the fandom should be referred to as the Sherlock Holmies thank you very much.
    • I have been streaming a few American Football games because I am so ready for this Super Bowl!
    Movies: 
    • I saw the movie Sisters with Dana before I left for London. It was a lot funnier than I thought it would be, but it does not measure up to the amazingness that has been Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's previous collabs. Also a few cameos from Parks n Rec characters which is always lovely.
    ~*~Reading Challenges~*~

    Fairytale Retelling Challenge:
    0/10 Completed
    • not yet
    Flights of Fantasy Challenge:
    2/30 Completed 
    • Remembrance by Meg Cabot
    • A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
    Contemporary Reading Challenge:
    0/16 Completed
    • not yet
    Backlist Books Challenge:
    2/12 Completed
    • Edward II by Christopher Marlowe
    • King Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare
    Contemporary Romance Challenge:
    0/6 Completed
    • not yet
    Finishing The Series Challenge:
    1/7 Completed
      • The Mediator Series by Meg Cabot
      ~*~Around London~*~
      London, I am slowly falling in love with you. I cannot wait to see more.

      Countries
      I came to England with the goal of exploring 10 countries. Let's see if it happens.
      2/10 unlocked.
      • England- Though I have been here when I was 12, I am counting this because it is my home base and I plan on exploring the heck out of it.
      • Wales- I am currently in you, so more thoughts will be coming later.
      Sights Seen
      • Museums: The British Museum, The Tate Modern, THe Natural History Museum
      • British History: Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, The Tower of London, Kensington Palace
      • Parks: Hyde Park, Regent's Park, Green Park
      • Theater: The Old Vic
      UK Food Eaten
      • Holmes Fish & Chips was cute. Really there's a ton of fish and chip shops around London, but this is close to me on Baker Street and I wanted to say I had a London delicacy, even if I only ate the chips due to my vegetarianism.
      • Wahaca is one of the few Mexican restaurants that you can find in the UK and it is so good! It is created by someone that won UK Top Chef in the past, and the best part is that it is affordable. I will definitely be going back.
      • Gourmet Burger Kitchen gave me the absolute best veggie burger I have ever had. I am definitely going back, even if they make my wallet cry. Thank God for student discounts!
      • Nandos is also a UK rite of passage and I did not allow my vegetarianism to get in the way of experiencing it. Salad and peri fries, I am in love with you. Give. Me. More. Now!

      Food I Cooked
      It should come as no shock to you that I am a terrible cook, but I have vowed to cook more on this trip because I need to experiment and save money.
      • Macaroni and cheese- It was meant to be fried mac n cheese but the fried bit failed so we just had a lot of regular mac n cheese
      • I cooked my first ever omelette! I know that is silly, but it was a big deal to me. haha

      US v UK Food
      This is more a section for fast food comparisons since there's not a lot of US and UK shared foods otherwise, but why not?
      • I had UK Chipotle and I have to say it is better than the US. Firstly, their chips are SO MUCH BETTER! And yes, they are called chips here even though the proper terminology is crisps. Anyway, everything is fresher and I just love it.
      • I also snacked on some UK Shake Shack fries by complete accident and can say they are quite the same as back home. No big difference here.

      Do you have a monthly recap or thoughts on anything I'm reading/reviewing/watching? Share your thoughts below! Every comment is greatly appreciated! <3

      The Imposter Queen by Sarah Fine | Blog Tour & Giveaway

      I am beyond excited to finish out The Imposter Queen blog tour for Sarah Fine. She is an amazing author friend of mine that I have been with since book one, and I knew I needed this book in my life the day she told me about it such long ago. Trust me, it lives up to the hype! Check it out:

      ~*~*~

      Series: The Imposter Queen #1
      Publication Date: January 5, 2016
      Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
      Reading Level: Young Adult
      Pages: 415 (ARC)
      Source: From Publisher For Review
      Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

      But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

      Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.
      ~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

      This was one of my most anticipated books for 2016, and I am so happy to have been able to participate in this blog tour. This book was everything I wanted it to be and more with the only disappointment being a few pacing issues here and there. The beginning of this book is especially slow, but it's almost like it is a reflection on Elli's life in the Temple on the Rock because it is such an unforgiving, dark place. 

      At its core, this book seems to take a stab at the crazy concept of fate. Elli was raised under the impression that she would one day become the Valtia and wield a crazy amount of magic to protect her kingdom of Kupari. However, that fated future was brutally ripped away from her when the magic of fire and ice failed to enter her after the death of her predecessor. At its heart, this is a story about a girl struggling to find her place in the world after everything she thought was right proved to be wrong. And the romance, crazy battles, ridiculously interesting lore, and love just make her journey even better.

      I really like Elli as a character. She's flawed, and everyone knows that I love me a good flawed heroine. Her biggest flaw, though, is that she is kind of a doormat at times, but one can't even be mad about that when it becomes apparent that there is no other way for someone raised to sacrifice her life for the good of her people to act. She is strong, selfless, intelligent, and determined to prove herself to the world, and all of that overshadows the occasional frustration of her turning into a doormat.

      Plus, it's hard to not love a girl who is so loved by such an amazing man. I am not going to reveal the love-interest, but I will say he is on Malachi's level for me (the very first male love interest I ever fell in love with from Sarah Fine's SANCTUM), and he is so cool he is ice-cold. What really caught my attention is that there are also traces of an LGBT love story in this novel. I've been racking my memory and I do not think I have encountered any LGBT romances in fantasy recently--most of my ventures have been in the contemporary genre--so it is refreshing to see something so important and beautiful explored in this book as well.

      The lore is worth mentioning too because it is the driving force behind the war that erupts in the pages of this book and it is so intriguing. This lore is so expansive that it seems real instead of something conjured up from the depths of a skilled writer's mind. It explains everything, it is interesting, it is beautiful, and it can also be horrifying. In other words, it is perfect for this world ruled by fire and ice.

      Full of the darkness and grit that has caused me to love Fine's writing style, this new series is one that will appeal to fantasy lovers. Elli and the gang are experiencing some of the most fantastical adventures of 2016, and fantasy readers will revel in its awesomeness while they beg for book two.

      4 stars

      ~*~Links~*~
      |Goodreads|Amazon|Book Depository|Author's Website|

      FTC Disclaimer: I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for this honest review.

      Giveaway

      Simon & Schuster is awesome and they are offering 3 finished copies to 3 lucky winners!

      a Rafflecopter giveaway
      Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor!