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Review: A Discovery of Witches (Deborah Harkness)

{taken via Instagram}

 Last night was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had in a long while thanks to a fabulous pairing of Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches and a bottle of Santa Barbara Landing chardonnay. Ten pages into my book, I could not believe that I hadn't picked it up sooner. (It was receiving rave reviews last February.)

The book... A Discovery of Witches is a delight for anyone who enjoys occult fiction (and this includes you Twilight lovers out there), history, wine, and travel. Most of the book is written from the pespective of Diana Bishop, a young tenured Yale professor whose historical focus is on (mainly) 17th century alchemy. While researching in Oxford's Bodleian, she accidentally requests for a magical manuscript, which, as a powerful but non-practicing witch, she unlocks. Thus begins an adventure--and a romance--that will keep a reader enthralled for all of 579 pages.

I personally could not stop gushing about it each time Michael peeked his head in our bedroom (every hour or so) to ask me how it was going. To a history lover, the book will be such a joy. Given that Diana's romantic interest is a very, very old vampire, there is a treasure trove of history facts and artefacts mentioned in the book. Same said vampire has an excellent wine cellar, and bottles and bottles (including an ancient Dom Perignon) are opened and appreciated throughout the text. A Discovery of Witches was sheer pleasure to read. Give the number of so-so novels I have read throughout the break, I had almost forgotten a book could be like this. Now to wait till July for the second part of the trilogy...

The wine... Michael and I are firm believers in the below $10 weekday bottle. Trader Joe's is the perfect place for such a find, and we were both v. happy with our bottle of Santa Barbara chardonnay. It was light, not too crisp, and not oaky (for those of you who do not like Napa chardonnays). It was a lovely entry-level chardonnay, and sipping it throughout the book made me feel just a little bit better about reading all about characters carelessly consuming fabulous vintages.


winter mornings


This is what I feel like when I wake up in the winter.

They say I'll get used to it, and to some extent, two or three hours into my day, after a huge cup of tea, I do. But it's precisely like this every morning.

This + Good Book (the photo is Wharton-esque, don't you think?) = Winter Bliss.


Review: Love Always (Harriet Evans)


Love Always is a story that revolves around Natasha Kapoor and her mysteriously-deceased aunt Cecily. When her grandmother dies, Natasha returns to the idyllic coastal home that her grandparents lived in, saddened not just by the loss of her grandmother but also by the crumbling of her marriage. The book is told first from her perspective before going backwards in time to the summer prior to Cecily's demise, before returning to the present for a resolution. likens Evans to Emily Giffin, which, having read all of Giffin's work, is a comparison that I personally disagree with. There are a number of mixed messages in Evans' work beginning with her cover art which looks cheery and romantic, a promise that the book itself does not quite live up to. Its advertisement as chick-lit is something I also find misleading. Love Always could not seem to make up its mind on whether or not it was a dramatic novel or light reading fare, and the result is a story that seems unfulfilled on both these goals. The prose doesn't hold up to the mystery that the writer is trying to weave, and the resolution on that portion is weak. On the other hand, the lack of romantic flare makes it a lackluster chick lit book.

For the reader who is looking for something along the same vein, I would recommend The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro instead. It has many of the same elements--slightly lost protagonist, family mystery, beautiful estate, and, of course, romance--but succeeds with much more charm.


Bonne année et bonne santé

{taken via Instagram}

so everybody put your best suit or dress on
let's make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
as thirty dialogues bleed into one

i wish the world was flat like the old days
then i could travel just by folding a map
no more airplanes, or speedtrains, or freeways
there'd be no distance that can hold us back.

- The New Year (Death Cab for Cutie)



pansies and the new year

When I was a little girl, I just knew there was something special about the first of the month, the first day of school, my birthday (the first day of a new age), and the best of them all, the first day of the year. On the 31st of December, I would take some time by myself (usually taking a stroll down the shore since the beach is where my family tended to be during the holidays) and think about what I had done during the year and what I wanted to improve. There was magic in New Year's Resolutions. I was sure of it. The world was out there and Life was going to happen. How wonderful!

Somewhere along the way, as I got older and life got more hectic and those trips to the beach ceased, I lost that sense of magic and eternally fresh possibilities. It became easier to look at a wine glass and say it was half-empty rather than half-full. Even when life gave me a bounty of blessings and love, it was more difficult to appreciate because I had gotten stuck in that mindset. Then one day I woke up and it finally hit me how lucky I am in ways both big and small and how something as inconsequential as having a new thought each day is a gift.
The word "pansy" is derived from the French word "pensee" which means "thought." Pansies are also known as heart's-ease (to ease one's heart—isn't that such a lovely concept?) because of St. Euphrasia whose name means cheerfulness of mind. All of these are precisely what I hope to experience on a daily basis—the deliberate appreciation of thoughts, ease in my heart, and a cheerful mind.
With just one thought, lesson, idea, or fancy in a day, there are 366 ways to make a year feel special. These can be frivolous or profound (and, let's be honest, I lean towards the direction of frivolity), but they are magical. Cheers to 2012 and all the wonderful, fanciful, beautiful things ahead.



a sunny christmas greeting to you

{taken via Instagram}

Happy holidays from sunny San Diego. Can you believe, directly behind me was a skating rink! Only in California...


Once and Always (Judith McNaught)


The heroine of the novel, Victoria Seaton, sails from America to England as an orphan. All of the traits she has learned from her parents--her charming optimism, caring thoughtfulness, and innate kindness--are sorely lacking in the man she meets upon her arrival. Jason Fielding, Marquess of Wakefield, is jaded and uncaring, which is unsurprising given his difficult childhood. Against the backdrop of Regency England, McNaught takes her readers on a sumptuous, lavish whirlwind of a fantasy that at its heart is about two extraordinary people falling in love. It is a joy to see these two characters interact, and one cannot help but root for both of them--Victoria for her courage and Jason for surpassing all the obstacles in his youth and adulthood.

I have very fond memories of "Once and Always," the first romance novel I ever read that to this day remains one of my favorites. Among all of Judith McNaught's historical novels, these are her best characters. Female readers will identify with Victoria, and even though there are many moments when Jason is difficult and even cruel, he is forgiven because of what he has been through. Against insurmountable odds, he has succeeded, and one cannot help but believe he deserves someone like her.

The only (slightly) unsatisfying part was the ending. For some of her other historical novels, McNaught has released additional conclusions, and I wish she had done the same for this one. It ends a bit abruptly, and I think other readers would agree with me when I say it would have wrapped up nicely with an epilogue (much like Something Wonderful) or at the very least another twenty pages.