What I Read This Summer

Hard to believe it, but my roommate texted me this morning to remind me that she and I will be moving back into college exactly two weeks from today! It may be a bit premature, but since I will no doubt spend these next 14 days in a whirlwind of work and packing, I thought I’d spend time today doing a comprehensive write-up of some of the best books I read this summer.

The Lockwood & Co. Series by Jonathan Stroud

Speaking of my roommate, Lockwood & Co. was one of the first series that she insisted I read. And boy, I am glad she did. These books, about a small ghost hunting agency located in a ghost-ridden London, are atmospheric and thrilling and oh, so, funny. The characters are witty, charming, and hilarious; and I think one of my very favorite parts of the series is the use of swords against ghosts. I highly recommend these books, and I can’t wait for the finale of the series to be released in September.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

I will admit that Tash Hearts Tolstoy has had a bit of a special place in my heart ever since I read the synopsis, and I discovered as soon as I’d finished the first chapter that my interest in it was well deserved. This book, while not the best or most unique I’d ever read, definitely resonated with me in a lot of ways.

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

If you’ve been around for a while, then you know that I am always on the hunt for the next great superhero novel. While Not Your Sidekick was by no means ~flawless~ I found it thoroughly enjoyable, if a bit predictable. I fully figured out two of the most major twists within the first 70 pages or so, but it honestly didn’t bother me too much. Besides that, I found the romantic subplot pretty adorable, and the world had a lot of potential. Hopefully, I’ll pick up the sequel(s) at some point!

Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2) by Victoria Schwab

After being completely floored by This Savage Song a bit over a year ago, I will admit that I was a teensy bit disappointed by Our Dark Duet. I would say a lot of what the sequel was missing was the discovery elements that made the first book so compelling – unfortunately, not much more was revealed about this duology’s universe within the second book. Without revealing anything, I would say that the ending did feel fitting, though I did not find it to be very satisfying.

The series almost feels like it needs another book, though I’m not quite sure how another one could be managed.

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

I will start out by saying I have no clue how to rate this book, because while I didn’t love it, it was a very compelling novel that I think explores a lot of issues that need to be explored in fiction right now, such as Islamophobia, and the experience of growing up in America as a second generation Indian immigrant. While a lot of the romantic elements of this book were really not for me, I think it is a very timely one that is certainly worth reading, even just for the perspective that it gives on the life of someone very different than me.

The Adventurer’s Guide to Dragons (and Why They Keep Biting Me) by Albert Wade White

This book is the sequel to a book I read over winter break, and while I found the first book extremely odd, I was also amused enough that I found myself compelled to pick this one up. And let me tell you, I feel about the same after reading this one as I did after reading the first one. Except, I will admit that I very much want to know what is going on in the world this series is set in. It seems to show hints of either being set inside a computer or of the world being controlled by a computer, and that’s just very fascinating to me. They’re hilarious books that have a lot of fun by playing with the classic tropes of the epic fantasy genre, and I think the right person would very much enjoy them.

I’m not sure if I’m necessarily the “right person,” but I will be reading the next installment for sure.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken

This is the fall book release I’ve been most excited for this year, and so I was even more hyped when I was able to read an advanced copy! I think Alexandra Bracken is an absolutely wonderful writer, and Halloween-y, demon-filled middle grade is just the thing I love. Prosper Redding did not disappoint. It was utterly fantastic, with such a great story. I adored the back-and-forth between Prosper and his resident demon, Al. It was just hilarious, with just the right amount of angst and indecision. I would’ve loved to get a little more knowledge of Prosper’s family, but all in all, I really enjoyed this book. I’m definitely excited to read the sequel, even if I’ll most likely be waiting a little more than a year to read that one.

What did you read this summer? Did you find any new favorites? I’d love to hear about them!

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Madrid + Barcelona

Hi, all! I’ve been done with school since about the second week of May, but I haven’t been around much since just a few days after arriving back me and my family jetted off to Spain! Despite speaking Spanish, I’d never been to Spain proper, and as my mom and dad both had art they wanted to see there, it seemed like the place to go.

We first flew into Madrid and were there for a few days. We mostly walked around the city and saw a few art museums such as the Prado and the Reina Sofia.

After seeing our fill of Madrid we took a (super fancy) high-speed train across the country to Barcelona! Madrid was wonderful, but I honestly preferred Barcelona by far. My photos seem to show that too since I have many more from the second city.

Barcelona is really the city of architecture, and it seems like there’s something designed by Gaudi on every third block. It’s also a really great city to walk in, and I feel like we definitely did walk the entire city.

We had a lot of great food while in Spain, but the very best was El Quim, which is located in a market called La Boqueria. I encountered El Quim about a year ago when it was featured in the Barcelona episode of the show I’ll Have What Phil’s Having (which is wonderful and well worth watching, by the way) and I knew we had to go there.

Being a restaurant in a market, it took a little bit of patience and some finagling to get a seat, but the food was fantastic. I was also rather pleased to be served by the owner of the place.

Out of the more special locations we went to in Barcelona, we visited two Gaudi designed places, Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia. The park is very cool and fun but the Sagrada Familia is amazing. I’ve been dragged to seen a lot of European cathedrals in my time but this one really wow-ed me. It’s very modern and sort of timeless, and the stained glass windows are truly beautiful. They don’t praise Gaudi for nothing, y’all.

Probably one of the best parts of the experience was also going up one of the cathedral’s towers. We choose to go up the Passion, which is on the side that is still under construction and also looks out over the city centre. There is an elevator to take up to the top of the tower, but you do have to climb the stairs down.

The climb down was actually really great since there are windows all along that you can look out to see either the city or the details of what was being built as we watched.

Another cool thing we managed to see is an Olympic stadium! In case you don’t know, I love the Olympics, so even though we couldn’t seem to find the aquatic center / it’s not there anymore, it was still nice to walk around the former Olympic park and imagine what it might have been like when the games were played there in 1992. Nearby to the park, there was also an architectural installation that my dad wanted to see. It was super minimalist and not something I’m a huge fan of, but all the reflective marble was nice.

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Life Update: I declared a major and joined a sorority?

This spring semester has turned out to be a very eventful one for me. Beyond a full course load of classes, some very exciting changes have happened in my life!

First off, I declared my major! You may or may not know that I entered the University of Illinois college of Engineering as an Undeclared Engineering student. Essentially, this is a very cool and very selective program at my school where you are in the engineering college but have yet to be tied to a set major. In our first semester, we take the basics that all engineers must complete (Calculus, Physics, Chemistry…) and have the opportunity to explore all 16 majors through tours, shadowing students, and special seminars held by professors and advisors from each department.

This process was really hard for me because I came into school thinking I wanted to do one area of engineering and ending up loving something on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I started off with a lot more course work more related to structural and large-sized things, (Civil or Industrial engineering) ended up kind of hating it and thinking I might not even want any sort of engineering, and then discovered I loved a certain class I’d barely even thought of as engineering.

I can now proudly say that I’m a Computer Science major at Illinois! I even got a sweatshirt to prove it.

Another sort of different things that happened is I rushed and successfully joined a sorority. Greek life was something I never considered coming into school because I never really knew anything about it, and also had some rather false assumptions. But being here and seeing some of it in action (and also being at a school with one of the largest greek systems in the nation) made a sorority something I actually really wanted. So, I decided to participate in an informal spring rush, and am now a member of the Theta chapter of Alpha Omega Epsilon.

Now my experience is a little non-traditional, my sorority is specifically for technical science majors (though it’s still a social organization!) and does not have a house. But what it does have is a great, close-knit group of supportive women and a slightly smaller community than I would have in any of the big social sororities on campus. I honestly love everyone in my chapter who I’ve spent time with so far, and this next week after spring break is our big little week, (where we are matched with an older sister who will be our “big”) and that’s extra exciting!

♥, Tamara

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Always Looking Up: A Review of The Upside of Unrequited

I thought Albertali’s first novel, Simon Vs the Homo Sapien’s Agenda was sweet, adorable, and wonderful. It was light on the plot, and heavy on the mystery of who Simon’s secret online boyfriend was. It was kind of cliched, but in a good way, and it brought a few twists of its own.

Her sophomore novel, however, is anything but typical. Instead, it is real, plausible, and relatable, while still being as heartwarming as Simon Vs. The meet-cutes are more odd than cute, the teenaged characters often have no idea what (or who) they want, and they are flawed in the most normal ways. They remind me all of people who I could know from class or someone I could meet at a party. They are very real modern day teenagers.

The other thing I loved about Upside is that even though our main character has many struggles and insecurities to work through, overall it is a delightfully upbeat novel. The characters continue to care for each other, and understandings are amicable. At the end of the day, the book is about a rather “unusual” family who loves each other during any hardship, large or small.

I say the family is “unusual” because, well, they just aren’t a common nuclear family. Molly has two moms and is not related at all by blood to her brother. There is a lot of diversity in this book, and a lot of it is represented just within her home.

There was a lot of this book that felt like the cute contemporary I needed, and parts of it that had such good insight on life in general. If Simon Vs was like a fresh plate of cookies, then Upside is like a refreshing cup of tea. Yes, it’s still warm and sweet, but it also wakes you up a bit and helps you see the world in a slightly different way.

The Upside of Unrequited will be released on April 11th, 2017.

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My Spring Semester Classes

Hey, y’all! I am about halfway done with winter break right now, and I’m actually pretty excited to get back to school. I really wanted to be done with my fall semester near the end, but it was more that I wanted a fresh set of classes than anything else. My first semester was kind of just all the (slightly annoying) prerequisites of general chemistry and calculus I and intro seminars, and now I get to start more classes I like! Unlike fall semester, where I almost took a full course load and then dropped one class I now don’t need, this spring semester I will be taking max credits.

Intro to Computer Science

At my school I am currently in the Undeclared Engineering program, which means I am guaranteed a spot in one of the engineering majors of my choice, but I am not part of a department and don’t have a major quite yet. Over first semester I narrowed down my choices to just a few, and right now my top choice is Computer Science! This CS class is the first one for majors in the subject, and I’m really excited to see how I like it. Even if I don’t choose it as a major, luckily this would count for the coding class I would need as a part of any engineering major.

Calculus II

So this is just kind of the necessary annoyance of being a technical science student. I like math as a subject, but math classes can be a little gruelling, (read: amazingly difficult) especially at my school. I’ve heard from many people that Calc II is better than Calc I at least, and I plan to do Calc III (the final one) over the summer to free up that room in my schedule next fall.

Physics: Mechanics

If I don’t end up as a CS major I think I might end up studying physics, so this class is going to be pretty important. And either way, since I’m in the college of engineering it’s still a required class! “Mechanics” is the basic, probably a little boring kind of physics, but I’m thinking I’ll still enjoy this class. Plus, most of my friends are also taking it next semester so at least I’ll have plenty of people to study with.

Indian Cinema in Context

What I’m super happy with this for this class is that it not only will it count for my media minor, it will also count as one of the last gen-eds I need to take! I’m thinking I’ll learn a lot from this class too. India actually produces the most movies per year in the world (much more than the US) and I don’t know a ton about Indian culture in general, so I’ll be glad to find out more about something foreign to me.

21st Century Documentaries

I picked this last course kind of on a whim but I’ve turned out to be really pumped about it. I was kind of just looking for another media class that worked into my schedule, since I had the extra credits, and I found this one. It is a 300 level, which makes me a little nervous, but it’s taught by a professor who also makes documentaries, which is just super cool. Hopefully I can handle the course load, and have a bit of fun with this one!

How much longer is your winter break? If you’re in school, are you taking any cool classes this year/next semester?

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