The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

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Hello, World.

My second choice for Book of the Month for July was The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams. This is also the third book of four for my August to-be-read. I’d heard really great things about this read, and after loving The Lost Vintage, I wanted to read more historical fiction. This book takes place in three different years: 1930, 1951, and 1969. All great years! It also takes place on a small island off the east coast and it felt like the perfect summer read.

Book of the Month called this book “movie-ish” and I think it’s a good descriptor. It read very much like a movie. It was romantic, descriptive, and engaging. I will say the first chapter was a bit confusing, but Williams ties together the three storylines so well that after the 50/60 page mark, I was deeply invested. I didn’t think I’d finish this book by my goal, but I blew through the last 170 pages pretty quickly.

This book is so beautifully written. The language is lyrical and thought-provoking and I loved the way she described love, where new and young or old and matured. I appreciated her understanding of relationships and it’s hard to explain why without giving spoilers, but just know that this read depicts relationships in a real, raw way. Sometimes it felt far-fetched, but then I thought about my first serious boyfriend, and I thought, ‘yeah, I felt like that.’ It captures the naivete that love can create within people. Even when know something is bad or dangerous or uncertain, we dive head-long into it, ignoring signs or exits.

Williams creates real characters in a detailed manner. You really feel like they’re people you know and you’re watching their story unfold quietly around you. The level of detail is something I enjoyed about this book. The characters didn’t feel like cookie-cutter stereotypes, despite the fact that this book very much depicts class issues. However, no character feels like a trope. They feel real and connected and separate all at the same time.

I highly recommend this!

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

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Glossier Products I’m Loving

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A goal for myself this year is to try to embrace simplicity. I try to streamline the time I spend on things that aren’t really filling me up and spend more time doing the things that do fill me up. One thing I’m trying to also embrace is my natural self. This means I’m trying to wear less makeup and go for a more “natural” look most days. One method through which I’m implementing this change is by buying more Glossier makeup because the brand’s motto is “skin first, makeup second.” Since moving to Virginia two years ago, my skin has undergone some changes for the worse. My skin is so much drier than it’s ever been and I’m hoping that wearing less makeup most days will help keep my skin moisturized.

So, I wanted to share the products I purchased recently and how much I’m enjoying them! my top product is the moisturizing face mask, Moon Mask. It goes on almost clear and needs about 20 minutes on the skin before rinsing, but it left my face feeling soft, moisturized, and glowing. I don’t usually use face masks, but I know this one is going to be a staple in my routine now.

The next two products I picked up are Cloud Paints in dusk and beam. Both are great neutrals and I love how easy they are to use. Granted, I definitely over applied on my first wear, but you get the hang of it and once you do, applying blush becomes so easy! I also wear them on my eyelids in lieu of eyeshadow. I saw one of the Glossier reps, Emily Moline, do this on her Instagram and I loved the look.

I’d seen a ton of bloggers saying the Glossier Mascara, Lash Slick is amazing. After trying it, I think it’s important to note that because Glossier is designed to heighten your natural look, the mascara is much thinner than most mascaras I tried in the past. This isn’t bad, just different than what I’m used to. However, I like the look of it because it makes you look like you have eyelash extensions without looking clumpy.

I also picked up the Boy Brow in clear. I’ve used Boy Brow for years in brown, but I recently lightened my hair color so didn’t want to make my eyebrows any darker. The clear is great! It gives my brows shape and definition without adding color. Obsessed!

So here’s to a more natural look and the end of summer. I’m definitely trying to add products to my routine that will keep the glow of summertime going strong into the academic year!

Truly,

Callie leigh

The Late Bloomer’s Club by Louise Miller

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Hello, World!

I recently got a notification from Goodreads that I met my year-long reading goal, which was to read 12 books. So far this summer, I’ve read nine books. That’s more than I’ve ever read during summer and more than I’ve read for fun in a long time. When I realized Louise Miller had a new book coming out so soon after her first book, I was so excited. I read The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living last December and fell in love with it. I loved Guthrie, Vermont, the cast of characters, and the writing. It felt cozy and warm and happy.

So, when her new book came out I went and bought it immediately and added it to my August TBR. I was not disappointed. While I like her first novel a little better, I still really enjoyed this story. Following Nora Huckleberry, the owner of the Miss Guthrie Diner, this is a book about sisters, finding yourself late in life, and loving again after a failed marriage. It was hard for me to fully relate to Nora, as we don’t have similar experiences, but I still really loved her character and wanted her to succeed. I loved that she was strong and independent and compassionate and loving. What I liked about this story was it had themes of starting over and loss, but also loving again and not being afraid to venture out into the world again. So many of us get comfortable being alone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t lonely.

Bon Appetit said that Miller’s first novel was, essentially, Gilmore Girls. This may explain my deep appreciation and love for her stories. As my longtime readers know, Gilmore Girls is my favorite show of all time. I adore Guthrie, with its cozy vibes and eccentric but deeply connected community. I love Miller’s metaphors and similes. The way she compares experiences is so honest and accurate. When reading her stories, I find I have trouble putting them down. Her novels are, in my opinion, more character driven. There is always a plot and a good plot that works itself out in an authentic way, but its the characters that keep me turning the page. I’m desperate to know what happens to them and where their stories are going.

If you want the coziest summer read, I highly recommend this book! I also will, once again, recommend Miller’s first novel. Both are seriously the coziest reads I’ve ever read. It’s almost like a Hallmark holiday movie but one thousand times less cheesy and more real. Until now, I’ve read books where I liked the setting, but the way Miller describes Guthrie makes you feel like you’re there, enjoying the beauty of rural Vermont. It makes you crave a slower, calmer life that is simple but so full.

What are you reading?

Truly,

Callie leigh

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

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Hello, World.

I recently finished my first August book, which was Ghosted by Rosie Walsh. I’d heard really great things about this book, and loved the episode of “No Thanks We’re Booked” where Katie and Mollie interviewed Walsh. I recently joined Book of the Month club, and I’m so excited. I wanted to join for roughly a year and I never thought I’d be able to read enough to justify the subscription, but after reading so much this summer, I want to make reading for fun a bigger part of my daily life. If that means waking up a bit earlier, so be it. I decided to sign up when there was a special where you got a bonus credit, so I got two books for the price of the subscription. I also love that you can skip months (which is partially why I ended up going with this subscription). Anyway, Ghosted was my pick and The Summer Wives was my bonus book.

Ghosted was so cute! The perfect light, summer read that starts out addressing the ghosting trend in modern dating that turns into a romance (a complicated one, but a romance). It’s hard to discuss this book without giving away spoilers, so my review probably won’t be as in-depth as it usually is! When I started this book, I immediately liked the characters, but it did feel a bit slow for a portion of the beginning. However, once I hit the fifty-page mark, it was such a page-turner. I appreciated this book because all the plot-twists actually felt like twists. Usually, I can predict where a book is going, but with this one as soon as I thought I knew, it went somewhere else that still felt true to the story. I don’t like twists that seem really out of left field but I also don’t love when I already guessed what was happening. So, know that if you read Ghosted, and think you know what’s coming, you most likely don’t! This makes the reading experience far more fun.

Something I enjoyed about this book was the protagonist is older, and successful, and intelligent, and still does some crazy stuff when she’s ghosted. I think Walsh addresses really well the panic and self-doubt that comes with being ghosted and how hard it can be with how much social media stalking someone can do. We can get answers so easily, but usually, the information we find just makes things worse. Still, even when it’s perfectly obvious our date didn’t’ die, lose his phone, or fall off a cliff on his way home, we can convince ourselves something must have happened, something other than he just didn’t pick up the phone. Dating is rough and it’s even harder when we can check whether the person is alive and well and just choosing not to reach out. Also, having so much access sometimes sends even the most rational, confident people in a downward spiral. I really enjoyed how this book highlighted dating and ghosting and self-doubt, and how they intersect and interact.

This being my first BOTM pick, I was very happy and looking forward to the months ahead! I also recommend Ghosted if you like romances and want to read a thoughtful book.

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

August TBR

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Hello, World.

I am so excited to announce my August TBR. Honestly, reading so much this summer has reminded me how much I revel in a good story, how excited I get when I read the last paragraph of a book I loved, and how fulfilling reading stories can be. As an English major, reading became sort of rote. I did the reading, took the notes, participated in the discussion, and moved on. But after two years of law school, reading just to read and enjoy a good story feels so right.

This month’s TBR list is a bit like a class syllabus. I have the four or so books I definitely plan to read, and then, time allowing, a few others. I’m hoping my reading streak will continue and maybe even grow while I’m visiting my family in California. I won’t be working anymore, so I theoretically have more time to read. However, I want to ensure I’m spending quality time with my family. Still, I predict a lot of reading by the pool and in the morning and evening. So, without further ado, here is my August to-be-read:

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh | I recently signed up for Book of the Month. I know, I know… no money on books was my goal. BUT, I’m loving reading and I think one book per month is manageable during the academic year. Also, the monthly subscription is cheaper than buying one hardcover book at a bookstore, and even some paperbacks, so #winning. Anyway, Ghosted seems like a great summer beach read. I think this will be a fun read on modern dating! The synopsis reads:

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call. Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened—there must be an explanation. Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams | I don’t typically reach for historical fiction. My best friend from college would just die to know that, as she typically always reaches for it. However, I prefer contemporary stories for whatever reason. Still, this read caught my attention. I love a good romance and this story seemed particularly interesting. Also, I used the Goodreads app to preview the first few pages, and it seems like just my kind of book. The synopsis on the BOTM website reads:

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island as a schoolgirl from the margins of high society, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda’s catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans: the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph Vargas, whose father keeps the lighthouse with his mysterious wife. In summer, Joseph helps his father in the lobster boats, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph’s enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and as the summer winds to its end, Miranda’s caught in a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the landmark summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same—determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather 18 years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naïve teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice for the man she once loved … even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.

The Late Bloomer’s Club by Louise Miller | I LOVED The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller’s debu​t novel. I had originally chosen a different book for this month, but once I remembered this book was coming out at the end of July, I wanted to make it a priority for August reading. I love Miller’s writing style and her stories are so cozy and real. This novel also takes place in Guthrie, a fictional Vermont town that has serious Gilmore Girls vibes! I’m so excited to get my hands on a copy! The description reads:

Nora, the owner of the Miss Guthrie Diner, is perfectly happy serving up apple cider donuts, coffee, and eggs-any-way-you-like-em to her regulars, and she takes great pleasure in knowing exactly what’s “the usual.” But her life is soon shaken when she discovers she and her free-spirited, younger sister Kit stand to inherit the home and land of the town’s beloved cake lady, Peggy Johnson.

Kit, an aspiring–and broke–filmmaker thinks her problems are solved when she and Nora find out Peggy was in the process of selling the land to a big-box developer before her death. The people of Guthrie are divided–some want the opportunities the development will bring, while others are staunchly against any change–and they aren’t afraid to leave their opinions with their tips.

Time is running out, and the sisters need to make a decision soon. But Nora isn’t quite ready to let go of the land, complete with a charming farmhouse, an ancient apple orchard and the clues to a secret life that no one knew Peggy had. Troubled by the conflicting needs of the town, and confused by her growing feelings towards Elliot, the big-box developer’s rep, Nora throws herself into solving the one problem that everyone in town can agree on–finding Peggy’s missing dog, Freckles. When a disaster strikes the diner, the community of Guthrie bands together to help her, and Nora discovers that doing the right thing doesn’t always mean giving up your dreams.

You, Me, Everything by Catherine Isaac | The cover of this book screams “beach-read.” I just love how inviting it is, and yes, this is me judging a book by it’s cover. However, I also have on good authority that it’s a fun beach read that is perfect for summer (i.e. – all the bookish Instagram accounts I follow and Carly Heitlinger). I’m so looking forward to getting my hands on a copy. It seems like it has the makings of a great read. The description is:

Jess and her ten-year-old son William set off to spend the summer at Château de Roussignol, deep in the rich, sunlit hills of the Dordogne. There, Jess’s ex-boyfriend—and William’s father—Adam, runs a beautiful hotel in a restored castle. Lush gardens, a gorgeous pool, delectable French food, and a seemingly never-ending wine list—what’s not to like?  Jess is bowled over by what Adam has accomplished, but she’s in France for a much more urgent reason: to make Adam fall in love with his own son.

But Adam has other ideas, and another girlfriend—and he doesn’t seem inclined to change the habits of a lifetime just because Jess and William have appeared on the scene.   Jess isn’t surprised, but William—who has quickly come to idolize his father—wants nothing more than to spend time with him. But Jess can’t allow Adam to let their son down—because she is tormented by a secret of her own, one that nobody—especially William—must discover.

By turns heart-wrenching and hopeful, You Me Everything is a novel about one woman’s fierce determination to grab hold of the family she has and never let go, and a romantic story as heady as a crisp Sancerre on a summer day.

So, there you have my current list. ​If time allows, I plan to add All We Ever Wanted, the new Emily Giffin novel and potentially one more pick, depending on the BOTM options for August!

Truly,
Callie leigh

Reflecting on 23 and Hopes for 24

Hello, World.

I’m saying goodbye to my 23rd year and hello to 24! I feel like my 23rd year was my fastest year yet. I blinked and it was over. With law school, job searches, working in D.C., and traveling home to California, it was over so quickly. So, what can I say about 23? It was an odd one, honestly. BUT, I had some incredible experiences. I had my D.C. summer, which really was my first truly independent experience. I came to love my body more and focus more on myself. I struggled with law school, but I solidified friendships and banished some negativity from my life. I think going into 24 I feel more like an adult and while I struggled a lot over the last two years, I’m finally gaining some clarity and trying to put my best foot forward.

I have some hopes for 24 and they include finishing law school strong with a lot more positivity than I’ve given previously. In college, I always felt hopeful, happy, excited, and enough. I gave things my best and I was happy with the outcome and I became a positive person. In law school, I’m not sure when or how, but those feelings diminished. This year I’m focusing on loving myself, being less hard on myself, making more time for people, and just generally being more positive.

I spent so much time this summer reading and now I feel like I have to keep up a daily reading practice. While I read a ton for school, I want to actively make reading novels part of my day. I also want to continue working out regularly, hopefully with a predominantly spin-class oriented routine. I loved loved loved Soul Cycle and am so bummed there isn’t a studio in Williamsburg. But I think self-care is so important and I want to give things that give me nothing but happiness and positivity more time.

Still, my biggest goal is to be less hard on myself. I put too much pressure on myself and I need to let some of it go. I think I’m going to try to do something once a day to remind myself I’m enough and I’m doing my best. Whether its a few lines of journaling, meditation, or a musical interlude before bed, I’m going to dedicate a few minutes to checking in with myself.

Cheers to 24!

Truly,

Callie leigh

Euphoria by Lily King

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Hello, World.

For the first time all summer, I’m actually ahead on my to-be-read! I just finished up Euphoria and I’m glad I read it. It’s a good book with insightful passages and honestly, a book I probably wouldn’t normally read. I like to challenge myself with narratives outside my norm. I think having no TV helps me push through a book I’m hesitant about. I knew I was having reservations about this story when I started it, so I pushed through the first fifty pages pretty quickly. I’m glad I did because it ended up being a worthwhile read.

Based on anthropologists Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson’s brief time together in Papua New Guinea in 1933, this read is a love-triangle centered novel. This novel follows Nell (Mead) and her husband, Fen (Fortune) who are in New Guinea but are headed to a new study area in Australia when they run into Bateson, who convinces them to stay in the area and study a new tribe there. Bateson, lonely and battling his own demons, is desperate for interactions with them after spending years alone in the jungle. The three become fast friends, working and studying together. However, Fen is a bit more aggressive than it first seems and there is a struggle between Fen and Nell for power in their relationship. Meanwhile, Bateson and Nell share undeniable chemistry, both physical and intellectual.

The writing in this novel is rhythmic, poetic, and well paced. It’s fairly short read, coming in around 250 pages, and I read quickly. Knowing nothing about Mead going into this read, it was fun to watch this story unfold. However, it is important to note this is a fictionalized work, so while it’s based on real people and events, their story doesn’t track the real one exactly. Now that I finished the novel, I plan to read up a bit on the real events just to see what was true and what King took liberties within her writing.

I enjoyed Nell’s character a lot, but I also loved Bateson. Fen, well, I didn’t like him. I liked that Nell was strong, unapologetic in her pursuit of understanding, warm, and so intellectual. I appreciated that what drew people to Nell was her intellect and her instincts. Bateson was likable, funny, warm, and I adored his interactions with Nell. I will say, I expected a bit more sex, but I like that this love-triangle was more about intellect than a physical connection.

There is an unexpected twist at the end. I don’t want to give too much away, so I will just say I didn’t see it coming but also found it so appropriate. I really enjoyed this book. While it wasn’t my favorite book, I’m glad I read it and enjoyed the story. I do recommend it to anyone interested in anthropology, travel, love triangles, and strong women. There are some really beautiful passages in the book that made me pause and absorb! Up next, I’ll be reading Ghosted by Rosie Walsh. I’ve heard it’s the perfect beach, summertime read, which will be great for the beginning of my time in California. I will be sharing my August TBR soon!

Truly,
Callie leigh

My Experience with Soul Cycle (aka a love letter)

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Hello, World.

I’m sad this post is going live simply because it means my time of going to Soul Cycle (regularly) is coming to an end. I haven’t been someone who enjoys working out. It’s a struggle to get to the gym and while, once I”m there, I enjoy it, I’m not the gym rat some people are. But when I got to D.C. this summer I decided to give Soul Cycle a try. I’d seen people raving about it all over social media for a long time, and I was curious to see what all the hype was about. Just to be clear: a few years ago the idea of group fitness would have given me way too much anxiety and I never would have gone. But, over the last few years, I’ve gotten more confident and working out in a gym regularly has made me get over the gym anxiety.

I had my first class at 8:30 am on a Sunday morning with Victoria at the West End studio. I was greeted by the cheerful Soul people when I arrived and once I told them it was my first time, this super nice employee gave me a tour of the studio, let me get my locker set up and then showed me how to set up the bike properly. They do this for all first-time people, but it took away a lot of the discomfort and concerns I had at the beginning of the workout. I will also say having a bike that is set up correctly immensely improves your workout. I have terrible knees and they usually start throbbing after a bit of biking. I didn’t have one problem with my knees during my class! I also love working out with loud music, so the energy in the room is incredible. I was able to just focus on the music and my instructor and have fun. After that first class, I was hooked. I also have to note that the vibe in that class reminded me a lot of the movie Center Stage when the main girl takes a break from her stuffy ballet academy to try a different kind of dance for the first time and she’s smiling the whole time. Soul Cycle was so different from law school in every way and I found myself smiling for the entire class. It was, in a word, incredible.

Due to my work schedule, I typically went on the same days and times so typically stuck with the same instructors. I’d like to give a shout out to Cher, Melu, Victoria, and Abby at the West End studio because they made my weeks so much better. I tried to go three times a week and it was the first time I really cherished my workout and looked forward to it during the day. The energy in the room is so positive and uplifting and it makes you want to push harder, dig deeper, and focus on you. I spent most my high school years hating my body, college was better, but I gained weight in law school and went back to being incredibly hard on myself. Soul Cycle, however, has taught me the beauty of a fitness journey. It doesn’t need to be perfect and results don’t have to be immediate, but you have to keep pushing and grinding and working on yourself. Victoria always says “wherever you are in your journey, you are exactly where you need to be.” I like that idea and it was always a bit of positive reinforcement on Sunday morning before beginning another week.

I think Soul Cycle worked well for me at this point in my life because I’ve been filled with self-doubt and uncertainty pretty steadily for the last two years. I was so nervous about spending the summer in D.C. and not being in California, but each week I became more confident that D.C. was the right place for me right now and that there is a reason I’ve spent my summer here. With each workout, I slowly started gaining confidence in my body for the first time. While I may not be the size I was in college, this is the first time I’ve felt proud of my body. Sure, it’s not perfect, and I still want to keep working on it, but I actually feel proud of it and comfortable in it. Body love and self-love are great concepts, but I think they can be hard to practice, especially when we are infiltrated with social media and extremely high standards of beauty. I remember a moment this summer when a woman said curves were “gross” in a conversation about what it means to be beautiful in America and I felt deeply insulted. I’ve spent many years wanting that straight up and down, perfectly toned body. But that’s not me. I’m an hourglass through and through. And you know what? For the first time, I don’t think, “ugh I wish my hips were smaller,” I think, “I like my curves.”

Soul Cycle welcomes and celebrates all people and all shapes and sizes. Throughout my classes, I would find myself realizing that we, as a society but also specifically as women, put way too much pressure on ourselves to fit an abstract idea of beauty. We’re all beautiful, we’re all unique and we should celebrate all bodies. The energy in a Soul Cycle class is so positive and it honestly made me wish more of that energy existed in all spheres of life. People cheering other people on, being kind, being happy, focusing on yourself and not comparing yourself to others. I’m a perfectionist and the pressure I put on myself is crushing sometimes. Through cycling, I’ve found a release and a perspective I couldn’t’ quite wrap my head around previously.

In many ways, that 45 minutes on a bike is a metaphor for all of life. Now, excuse me as I get sappy. The point of the resistance knob is to challenge yourself. It’s supposed to be hard, it’s supposed to be uncomfortable, and from the difficulty and discomfort comes a breakthrough, a reminder you are much stronger than you think. If we stayed where we are comfortable, as Abby said class after class, we aren’t going to get very far. We need challenges and the ability to push through it to live better lives. We are strong; we can put ourselves first. Soul Cycle has choreography and the first few classes I struggled to grasp it. If we’re being honest, some of it still feels weird for me (like a push up with a clap), but each time I grasp something I’m so excited and it makes me want to keep going. We don’t always understand things in life the first time and it can take time to grasp, but we shouldn’t give up. We should keep pushing. Working on yourself while also being part of a group is also something I love. I like pushing myself but it’s also fun to see everyone crunching together and putting in the work. We all leave drenched in sweat, a little tired, but ready to do it again.

I will end by saying this: if you have a Soul studio near you, try it. If you try it, also take a guilty pleasures class because the one I took with Cher was the most incredible thing ever. If you aren’t sure after the first time, go again. If it’s not for you, that is completely fine. I found my favorite exercise at the West End studio and while there isn’t a Soul in my law school’s town, I plan to continue cycling and listening to music and visiting a Soul location whenever I can.

Truly,

Callie leigh

A Podcast: No Thanks We’re Booked

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Hello, World.

Today I wanted to share a podcast I’m currently listening to with all of you. I recently shared Bad on Paper (name changed from Young Adulting after a trademark infringement claim), which I’m still loving. I love a good book-ish podcast, and I recently discovered No Thanks We’re Booked, a podcast from YouTubers Mollie (@molliereads) and Katie (@lifebetweenwords). This podcast is ultra book-focused, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it! I really enjoy both Mollie and Katie’s YouTube channels and their podcast is even better. They’re great friends, who met through YouTube, and they discuss everything book-ish for an hour. Whether it’s reading ruts, internet friends, favorite books, mid-year favorites, mood reading, etc. they got it covered. They are funny, insightful, and caring and it feels like you’re suddenly part of a book club with really great people. If you’re looking for a new podcast and are a book lover like me, this one is for you!

Truly,
Callie Leigh

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

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Hello, World.

I am so excited for my review of this book. I actually finished this book in Starbucks and had to try very hard to not tear up. As you know, I’ve been trying to read as much as possible this summer, and I’m really proud of myself for actually accomplishing that goal. It’s been so refreshing to reach for a novel rather than a TV show (though I still watch The Bold Type each week because it’s amazing). Anyway, I’ve read seven books (!!) this summer so far. Of the seven, I think The Lost Vintage may be my favorite. This book was a perfect blend of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, coziness, intrigue, and romance. Honestly, it’s the total package. Also, wine snob that I am, I was so happy with the wine component of this book. I now kind of want to read up on the Master of Wine test… *begins thinking about taking the exam someday*

I’m one of those people who likes to research a book before I buy. I usually read reviews, look at what press attention the book receives, stalk the Instagram hashtag to see first impressions, etc. This book, however, I saw on Instagram and decided to just go for because the person who posted it had similar feelings about The Female Persuasion as me and I decided that was enough for me to plunge into The Lost Vintage. Also, there is the fact that upon my third re-watching of Under the Tuscan Sun and my fourth re-watching of Eat, Pray, Love, I was desperate for a book that would transport me to a wine-filled, cozy corner of the world and Burgundy, France seemed like just the place. I’m mildly concerned this review is going to be too long, so bear with me, and pour yourself a glance of wine if you want!

This book follows Kate, a young woman who lives in San Francisco, but her family has owned a vineyard in France for generations. Swearing to never return to France after a disastrous break-up, Kate is now living her life in San Francisco where she is studying for the Master of Wine exam, an intense exam where you have to identify all aspects of wine by blind taste and answer a series of essay questions on wine theory. The test is a “three strikes you’re out” kind of test, and she’s already failed twice. So, in an attempt to pass, her mentor recommends she go spend time on her family’s vineyard to learn more about French wine, the only wine she consistently messes up on the exam. So, she heads to Burgundy, France to assist her family in the year’s harvest. Running alongside her narrative is the narrative of her relative during the German ccupation of France in WWII. Only the reader is privy to this story, though it is interwoven in Kate’s narrative as well.

Two narratives, two heroines, can be hard to accomplish as a writer. When I read books that are written in this manner, I often greatly prefer one story over the other. This one, however, kept me wanting more from each story. The reason I think this book works so well is that we watch Kate and her family attempt to piece together her relative’s life and fate through the history left behind, despite holes and uncertainties. But as the reader, we know the truth, so when Kate missteps or misunderstands we feel anguish and sadness for her relative’s legacy is remembered incorrectly. The other reason I enjoyed the WWII aspect is that I was largely unfamiliar with the Occupation, the separations that occurred within families as some members resisted German control and others believed succumbing to the Germans was the only means of survival. I also have never studied what the French did to Nazi sympathizers or collaborators. While I think the actions of the people who supported Nazis were despicable, it was hard to swallow what happened after the war, especially knowing women were often bearing the brunt of French anger while the men who collaborated went largely unpunished. In this regard, this novel gave me so much to think about and absorb and made me want to learn more about the Occupation, post-liberation France, and the familial divides that occurred.

I adored both heroines of this story. Kate was spunky, stubborn, but also funny, warm, self-aware. Helene was strong, unwavering, and so very intelligent. I loved that this book explores what happens when we learn things about our ancestors we don’t like, how we can take accountability, how we can be better than those who came before us. While I did think one part of the resolution-portion of the novel was wrapped up a little too quickly and perhaps not tenderly enough, I still adored this novel. I found myself thinking about it all day, trying to figure out how much reading I could squeeze into the day. To be honest, this was the first book where I really liked all the characters (well, all the characters I was supposed to like). I read this book so quickly because I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to figure out the mystery, I wanted Kate to know the truth about her relative, and I wanted to know if she’d pass the exam. I was thoroughly engrossed in every aspect of this story and did not want it to end.

I will say, without giving any spoilers hopefully, that I felt like Kate’s inability to master French wine, specifically white burgundy, was intertwined heavily with an emotional block. She had repressed so many emotions she had for the people who produced the wine that in doing so she became unable to learn the wine. This mirrored, in my mind, some actions by people in the WWII narrative and how, upon refusing to acknowledge certain people or realities, they became unable to fight. I’m not sure how to articulate this idea without spoilers, so I will just say read the book!

I’m surprised this book hasn’t received more critical attention. The only press attention I could find was pretty meager in comparison to books I read earlier this summer. Perhaps because Ann Mah is a newer author The New York Times, The New Yorker and other publications haven’t reviewed her yet. But they certainly should as this novel is so important and places Mah among some of the strongest voices in contemporary fiction. This novel was touted as Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale and though I haven’t read The Nightingale, I would say that the description is accurate. The Nightingale focuses on WWII France (beautifully from what I hear), and the amount of wine and wine culture in this book clearly aligns with Sweetbitter, though our protagonist is more akin to Stephanie Danler (author of Sweetbitter) than her protagonist, Tess, because Kate is very well-versed in wine unlike Tess, who is only beginning an appreciation for good wine. So, if you pick up one book from all the books I’ve read this summer, make it this one. I have a serious book hangover and will probably need a day or two before I start Euphoria, the next book on my July TBR.

Important takeaways as a reader: I should reach for more historical fiction. When done well, historical fiction can be a mesmerizing, humbling, deeply emotional experience.

I am so excited for Ann Mah’s future books and I sincerely hope this book begins capturing the attention of more readers. Again, if you need a new read, make it this one! I never say this, but I may re-read this book in the future. I went through it so quickly, I hope to revisit the story again. For now, next up is Euphoria by Lily King… I won’t lie, this one is a bit outside my comfort zone and I debated swapping it out for Emily Giffin’s new novel, but alas… I will read it! It’s going to be my last book while in DC and then I have some Book of the Month books waiting for me in California.

Truly,
Callie Leigh