Lists

The Most Unique (and Best) Airbnbs in the World

I take the question of “where should we stay?” very seriously when I travel. I don’t stop at a Hilton. Like food, where you stay tells the story of a place and I make it my mission to stay in a place where I want to take a picture before I mess up the sheets. Here is my list of the most amazing and unique places I’ve stayed.

A Treehouse in Plymouth, Massachusetts

That’s right. A giant, friggin’ treehouse. SQUEE. It was roomy and so unique! Beautiful grounds, luxury inside, with a compostable toilet in the tree house and rustic outdoor shower that made it feel like real tree house living. Highly recommend!

A prison cell in Ljubljana, Slovenia

This has literally been my go-to “fun fact” about myself since 2009. Because no one believes me when I say “I’ve spent two nights in a Slovenian jail.” Not technically AirBnB but still thoroughly amaaaazing.

Hammocks Galore in Galapagos

The White House in Puerto Ayora was a delight. Tiny rooms but plenty of hammock space and such a great location. I mean, I pretty much just love the Galapagos so you probably can’t go wrong anywhere but this, THIS place is a great start.

Cloud Forest Views in Mindo, Ecuador

Las Terrazas de Dana are AMAZING. Filled with tropical plants, beautiful views, unfortgettable hikes, and food we just couldn’t get enough of. Go to Mindo because it’s beautiful, but REALLY go to Mindo because this place is to die for.

Balcony Dreams in Sinaia, Romania

Sinaia is a sleepy little ski town famous for the Peles Castle. While not the most famous castle in Romania, it’s a beautiful and wonderful little spot. The Vila Camelia was a wonderful true Bed and Breakfast with a delicious spread, gorgeous house, and I scored a beautiful top floor room with balcony that looked at the most beautiful mountain view!

The Sweetest Spot in Topanga, California

She isn’t kidding when she calls this the sweetest spot. Fluffy white blankets, comfy beds, a beautiful view – everything right down to the coffee cups are absolutely adorable. Such an amazing getaway spot – just don’t let the drive up the Canyon road intimidate you!

Dar with Beautiful Rooftop in Fez

This was such a magical place – finding it was a treasure hunt and walking inside was a breath of fresh air. It’s been a few years so I don’t know if the same staff is there but I STILL remember how delicious the chicken tagine was that we had from the cook.

The Fortress in Vermont

Okay – full disclosure – I haven’t actually stayed here. But it’s run by good friends of mine and it is on my “must go” list… and it looks AMAZING. I have no qualms promising epic views and hospitality.

Keep checking back for updates! Also – I would LOVE to hear about your favorite spots!!

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Reading between the Wines – our Top Book Club Books (a never ending list)

Choosing a book for Book Club is a lot harder than it sounds. You want something people are going to enjoy but also something to talk about. Easier said than done.

Our Book Club – “Reading between the Wines” (which is, yes, the most adorable name on the planet and one I cannot claim to have come up with myself) has been in progress for ~5 years. Here is a list of the (mostly) unanimous great books that led to even better discussions.

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
This is a beautiful book to make you laugh and cry and gives a LOT of fodder for discussion!

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Verity by Colleen Hoover
Honestly, it’s not common for our books to have a viseral reaction. Some of us will gush or dislike a book, but generally we accept good as good and move on. This book, however, will change you. For the better? … Probably not. But MAN does it make for great conversation.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama
We tend to do fiction but this was such a beautiful and timely book and one we all wanted to read. It also led to a lot of amazing discussion about what we knew, what we thought we knew, and more.

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Honestly, chick list/rom com type of books don’t often play well in book club (at least not ours). They are often met with “I liked it!” and then crickets. But Eleanor packs just enough of a punch that we had a lively conversation about it in addition to generally enjoying it.

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Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
So, it certainly helps that at least 2/3 of our book club are in love with Trevor. But, that aside, this book is as fantastic as it is memorable as it is eye opening. It’s easy to spend plenty of time combing through this book and chatting about his life growing up.

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Beartown by Fredrik Backman
This was a bit of a stretch for our little group but it nestled in quite comfortably. There are a lot of pieces to this novel and topics to pick out and dissect. And a sequel to boot (we read that too!)

What should our next book club book be?

This list is ever expanding so come back to see the latest top recommendations!

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The BEST Mystery Novels and Series (an ever expanding list)

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1)
Robert Galbraith

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If you want to hear about (one of) my most recommended books – it’s this one, right here. This series blew me away. I don’t know what I expected but what I got was amazing characters, truly interesting mysteries and a perfect balance of both. Even if mysteries aren’t typically your “thing” pick this up!

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1)
Deanna Raybourn

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Can’t help it, guys, I love these books. I actually started this series on book #4 and was smitten with it. Here are some of my favorite things about this series:
1) The language – I am certain that Raybourn has a BLAST writing these books. The time period allows her to be flowery, even overly so. She uses the subtleties of archaic language to say the most absurd and downright naughty things. I constantly find myself giggling at it.
2) The play with time – I love how these books are set in the 1800s but the protagonist doesn’t quite fit. She is a protagonist of the now and her witty remarks are gold in these stories
3) The partnership – Stoker and Veronica are adorable and make me snicker-giggle constantly.

The story itself is lovely as well, but it’s really about the people and the writing. I’ve enjoyed the stories immensely. 

Caravan
Dorothy Gilman

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I’ve read this book twice now and it is truly incredible. It has everything – every twist and turn you can imagine. It’s the story of a young girl told by an old one where you can feel the truth of it but with the knowing eye of an old woman looking back. This is a book where horrible, terrible things can happen to the characters and somehow you still want their lives. This book is magic wrapped up in one neat little package and now I can’t say anything else without just positively gushing.

Gilman is a forgotten rock star of mysteries and I recommend this one AND all Mrs. Polifax!

City of the Lost (Rockton #1)
Kelley Armstrong

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I took a risk on buying this book with only a short synopsis read. I was very pleasantly surprised. It has a truly interesting and unique premise, a great main character, solid support characters, and some really interesting stories. The best part was that I legitimately didn’t know where the story was going – not when it came to friends, love interests, what was going to happen next, or, of course, “who dun it.” The whole series is a great read.

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1) –
Rob Thomas

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So, so many reasons to love this book. Let me list them for you!
1) Veronica Mars – anyone who has watched the series (and it’s horrible mid-cancellation) practically wets themselves when there is anything new that comes out. It’s with good reason. All the new Veronica Mars stuff has been fan-tastic.
2) The audio book is read by Kristen Bell – okay, this time I did wet myself. No shame.
3) It’s actually a good story – the book reads just like an episode; and I mean that in a good way. It’s fast-paced with a good mixture of characterization and crime action. The story keeps you guessing but doesn’t put you in the dark either. It was a quick read without being skimpy.

Sex, Murder, and a Double Latte (Sophie Katz Murder Mystery #1)
Kyra Davis

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This book is what I love about chick-lit. It’s silly and sassy and exciting and a read that you can breeze through in just a few days. I’m a firm believer that a story you can get sucked into – silly or not – is a fun story. Yes, this is dated and I don’t really have a thing for Russians – but I am glad I picked up this book.

I would love your recommendations for what else should be on this list!

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The BEST RomCom Books (an ever expanding list)

I am a no-shame RomCom lover and is there a better time to get into a few of these fun, delightful reads than in the midst of a global pandemic? I think not!

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
What do I look for in a romance novel?
1) Giggles
2) Spicy scenes that’ll make me squirmy
3) At least a little bit of heart
This had all of that and then some. What a great book!

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Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
So. aptly. named. The characters are in high school so definitely YA but delightful nonetheless. A+ banter and, well, cuteness.

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My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
Sophie Kinsella is pretty much my idol. I have adored multiple of her books but this is one of the latest and also one of my favorites. It’s light but also one that will speak to you.

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Well Met by Jen DeLuca
Heaaaaarts, rainbowsssss, and sunshine.
That’s what I feel about this book. I adored it. I giggled – a LOT. The characters are delightful, the setting adorable, there’s some very satisfying sexy time and ogling, etc, etc. Basically, it was right up my alley and I highly recommend.

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Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Okay, so first off, any NaNoWriMo book has a special place in my heart. But on top of this, it’s an adorable YA novel with a great setting and unique circumstances. While not perfect, it’s cute and easy to get into. Bonus – it’s a series and the rest are adorable too!

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The UnHoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Is there a better trope than two dissimilar people somehow ending up on a vacation together? I THINK NOT.

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Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
This one is a bit deeper than you typical RomCom but I really liked not only the premise but the characters. It felt really authentic and had the main protagonists communicating like I think real humans would actually communicate (shocking!)

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Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston
Mainstream LBTQ? Ugh, love it. That being said, this was a little too Disney ending for me but at the end of the day, that’s not a complaint.

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The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Confession people – I have RE-READ this one. I knooow! Mostly for one particularly epic scene involving a cabin and a yeti… this book gets delightfully spicy but doesn’t cross into the true “romance” category.

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I really enjoy the new flavor of the main character. He’s not your standard knight in shining armor – it’s endearing and energizing to see a new kind of protagonist, one with a “social handicap” so-to-speak. In that respect this story has some truly deeper ideas about love, how it manifests, as our expectations of ourselves AND others.

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Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
An oldie but a goodie. Are there issues here (re: weight concerns that are sooo not concerns, etc)? Yes. But I love the writing style immensely.

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Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
I devoured this book series a while back. This was an adorable YA – cliche as hell, but adorable. Alex is Cutie McCute and sure, there are a lot of groan worthy moments (really, Chemistry class? I mean REALLY?) But let’s face it, Elkeles had me laughing out loud at times. The best friend, Paco, is freaking hilarious.

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The BEST Ice Cream in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Headed to La Fortuna? Never fear – we tested out just about every ice cream option in town and can recommend our absolute favorites here:

ONE: The Guy in the Square

So good. So authentic.

Ok, so, to be fair, this isn’t “ice cream”. It’s shaved ice with condensed milk and your flavors -we got raspberry and coconut and I just about went to heaven. Stir it up, drink it up, all walk walking around the square. What’s it called? I’ve heard all kinds but we just ended up calling it a “Copa”.

TWO: Kiwi Caffee Gelato

Slightly off the beaten path but not far (considering you can easily walk every single block of this town in a single afternoon), it’s not the first ice cream spot you likely found but it’s definitely one to get to. It’s full service, cute, and had some legit flavors! Unique and very friendly.

THREE: Unnamed? Near Pollo Fortuneno

Ok – I’ve googled, I even have a picture of the place (not very good, but it’s there) and I still have no idea what it’s called. Honestly, even when we walked in there was almost left because there was no one at the counter… but then someone from chicken place like… hopped the counter and served us. It was strange, but the gelato was excellent and the seating adorable. So – worth it!

FOUR: Pops

If you’re in Costa Rica – you’ve seen a Pops. They’re everywhere! While not the most creative ice cream I’ve ever had, they are a solid option and were the ones open latest in town when we were there – so that’s always a plus.

FIVE: Gelatoland

Definitely our least favorite option. Don’t get me wrong, the product wasn’t bad, but the rum raisin was definitely skimping on the raisins, the flavors were only mildly creative, and they had a very string NO SAMPLE policy (excuuuuuse me?). Good in a pinch but I better be able to have a taste before I buy, I’m just saying

San Jose – Honorable Mention – Helados de Sorbetera

So, if you’re headed to La Fortuna then you will likely find yourself in San Jose at some point. If so, you need to find Helados de Sorbetera. Super authentic counter service that was packed to the gills and uniquely wonderful!

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Best Coffee Shops to Work from in San Antonio, Texas

When Zoe and I get together our main objectives are bookstores, coffee shops, and good food.

San Antonio did not disappoint! Here are the top locations we found that were excellent spots to hunker down, open up the laptop, and be productive.

Here are our rankings:

1) Press Coffee4035 Broadway St, San Antonio

Cute upper level Table at Press Coffee

We love Press place so much, we spent 2 out of 3 of our mornings there. The coffee itself was top notch – I personally had a hazelnut latte and it was spot on with taste and foam and all around yum. Our decision to share a cinnamon roll left me with regret, only because I really didn’t want to share.

But, guys, the venue. It’s beautiful unique building with all kinds of lush vegetation. Plenty of cute and unique seating with fun little multi-level hideaways. It was a bit chilly both the mornings we were there but there were 3 different patio spots that made for lots of outdoor seating while still being intimate. Definitely a must stop.

2) Candlelight Coffeehouse3011 N St Mary’s St, San Antonio

Board games available at Candelight! Couldn’t resist a little Battleship

This was my happy place. First to note – this is an evening coffee bar. It’s 4pm-12am most days and has a full bar. But it’s so much more! I can’t even begin to rank what I loved the most about this place so I’ll just make a laundry list: the patio was HUGE and amazing with quirky artwork throughout, the inside had tables and then multiple couches to provide perfect relaxation and friend time. Cool artwork, our tea was served in tea pots with strainers (and was DELICIOUS) and they have a Cake Bar. A CAKE BAR PEOPLE THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

The Cake Bar!

It was brilliant and lovely and best of all inclusive and I think I fell in love with a bar.

3) Local Coffee (at Pearl) – 302 Pearl Pkwy, San Antonio

View from our perch at Local Coffee

When you walk into this coffee shop, you may feel like you’ve been here before. Quintessentially hipster with a minimal menu – they may have had bakery items but I didn’t partake. It looked to me what Starbucks probably looked at before it became Starbucks. But the drinks were good (I had a chai and it was top notch) with a good amount of indoor seating. But I didn’t stay indoors, opting for one of the many tables in the cuteness of the square that is Pearl.

Zoe and I actually stumbled upon this place and were flabbergasted – the whole Pearl area and concept was adorable and should have been our first destination in town and yet we never saw it in any of the blogs we found. Highly recommend bopping around this adorable spot.

4) Rosella at the Rand – 114 E Houston St, San Antonio

Loved those half moon booths

Upscale little spot with easy parking downtown – we shared a plate of warm brie (drooool) and both got lavender chai lattes. One of their half circle booths was available that had an easy outlet for a good working session. They didn’t mind us camping out at all, though it’s possible they have their busier times and will want you to turn over the table. Still – a few good outdoor work locations too made this an excellent nice location to be.

5) Summer Moon Coffee – 3233 N St Mary’s St #102, San Antonio

This one is from their Frisco location but same great coffee!

There are a few Summer Moon locations around Texas. They are well known for their super-secret homemade cream that is to die for. I sampled their Cinnamon Latte which was excellent and then the true “Summer moon” which is a ton of cream with a shot of espresso. It was basically like drinking a melted milkshake and I was in some kind of heaven.

The location we found wasn’t the cutest – with a drive thru window it seems to be more of a convenience type of location. But there were plenty of seats, with even a few outdoors (though not much to look at besides the parking lot). Still, definitely an easy place to spend the morning getting through those work emails.

6) Crepeccino – 5500 Babcock Rd #104, San Antonio

This is a crepe shop and a coffee shop and it’s like my whole world combined into one beautiful, amazing pinpoint. It’s a smidge “further afield” and even though it has cute decor inside it is in one of those strip malls which made the experience a little harsh. But, other than the overly large aspect, we had an amazing savory (chicken alfredo?!) crepe with a top notch little side salad and followed it up with a truly happy dance worthy 3-chocolate crepe.

3 chocolate crepe!

Beauty and taste – who could ask for more? With more than enough seating and strong wifi it was a great spot off point.

7) Hayclon Southtown1414 S Alamo St, San Antonio

Chai at Hayclon – served with a few animal crackers!

Still along the river walk but one the path-less-traveled side, we really enjoyed Hayclon. Very hip and industrial, they advertised a drag brunch that I wanted to switch my flight to stay and watch. They had a very good crowd when we arrived right at brunch time on Saturday so we didn’t pull out the laptops, but we did see others working. We pretty much just focused on the food (my breakfast burrito was SO good) and drink. It was one of those places where you just knew every item on the menu would be spectacular.

Our only disappointment was we saw a ‘make your own smores’ on the website but it wasn’t part of brunch. We didn’t beg, so, I assume if you begged you could maybe get it, but we decided we weren’t hungry enough. It was close though – because let me tell you, the picture looked amazing.

If you come here to work, you might want to avoid the brunch hour as I personally would have felt a little strange trying to camp there at that time, but there were a few couches that seemed up for grabs (though they were full) and some great outdoor space as well, they just might have a calmer vibe any other time of the day.

We only had a few days so – what did we miss?!

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The BEST Book Series to Binge

I know binging on Netflix is all the rage, but I’m much more interested in binging book series

You can probably guess some of the main things in my life that make me happy – kids, husband, traveling, cookies with their centers still soft and, of course, reading. But let’s dive just a bit further into reading… for all your readers out there, is there anything quite so wondering than finding that amazing book series and getting completely lost in it?

One of my favorite things to do is to read book the first book in a series and then head to the library to check out ALL the remaining books so I can binge read them. You know – like Netflix but so. much. better.

So maybe that’s why I generally hesitate to pick up the first book of the series. Am I the only one? I am wary of the commitment it implies – I’m in this for the long haul, it tells me. In the time it takes to read four very different books, I may be reading, basically, one really long story. It’s enough to make my palms sweat.

So, to help any similar anxiety you have, I thought I would highlight some of my absolute favorite series. (Note – I’ve left off the ‘duh’ ones such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Those are, obviously, amazing and if you haven’t read them then you need to shut this down and start reading!)

In particular, I’ve highlighted the series I’ve truly binged. There are some series out there that, while wonderful, aren’t necessarily ones that you need to binge. (The Rockton Series by Kelley Armstrong is a great example of this) These, however, I recommend you get all books at once and settle in for the long haul.

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1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – Anyone who knows me is likely shocked this is my number one (#kidding). These are easily some of my favorite books and definitely my favorite series. Binging this is a very time consuming commitment so it is SO worth it. And then you can watch the series for a double binge-whammy!

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2. Renegades by Marissa Meyer – Let’s face it, I’m a little in love with Meyer. She’s the author of another great series, Cinder, but I decided Renegades was much more binge-worthy. Why? Because I just recently inhaled this series and loved it (especially the conclusion). YA friendly and very timely with superheros it’s both predictable and unique at the same time.

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3. The Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith – I’ve really gotten into mystery/crime books lately and I recommend these books ALL the time. They are so good and I can’t wait for additional books to come out. What I love most about them is that they are binge-worthy. Most mysteries are so stand alone you can pick them up at any stage, but these books truly excel if you go in order.

PS – Fun fact, Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym. But this is NO Harry Potter!

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4. The Veronica Speedwell Mysteries by Deanna Raybourn – these books are SO good with an incredible, sassy protagonist. They are set in the 1880s and include mystery and seduction. I regularly laughed out loud at these and can’t wait to eat up the rest (she’s still writing more *squee*)

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5. Beartown by Fredrik Backman – at only two books some people might not consider this a “series” but I still had to include it. Beartown and the sequel, Us Against You is such a beautiful story. Being from a small town myself, I tend to bristle at “small-town” books as they often are written by someone who doesn’t quite get it. But Backman does a wonderful job at building these character and town.

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6. Cake by J. Bengtsson – let’s be honest, there are few things more delightful than binging smutty romances. And Cake is easily one of my favorite binges. While, yes, they are stand along novels, this is one of the first series I’ve read where the continued story line of the characters really matters in future novels. The stories are adorable, endearing, and filled with all kinds of sexual exploits.

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7. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – I’ll be honest, I wasn’t blown away by The Paper Magician. I had my hesitations with the story, but I decided to keep reading (mostly due to a romantic component, I’m such a sucker for that) and ended up blowing through the series. I think this series works best when you can binge it – when you can really immerse yourself, you get those feels!

So – what did I miss? I’d love to find another series to add to my list!

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5 Books to Read AND Watch

Movies don’t always (rarely, even?) get the book right.  Here are what I feel are notable exceptions.  Read the book and watch the movie and you’ll love them both!

train

The Girl on the Train is the most timely of this collection.  Do you ever read a book and think, “oooh yeah, this will be a movie.”?  That was this story for me.  I could just tell it was going to work on screen. It was fast paced and gripping on paper but on the big screen the intrigue was that much better.  The things that needed to be laid out in the book were able to be short quips and scenes in the movie. This is one I actually would consider watching the movie first – suspense is great that way.

cuckoo

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an oldie but a goodie.  Seriously, Kesey’s story of the mental institution is incredible and then Nicholson’s portrayal in the movie?  Gold.  I’ll admit I like the nuances of the characters in the book better – they do change a few things in the movie that to me make certain scenes darker than necessary – but overall the movie performance is just incredible. It’s worth experiencing both.

chocolat

Chocolat was one of the rare occasions for me where I watched the movie before the book. Usually, when that happens, I expect the book to fall short.  There’s something about understanding a movie plot line, or envisioning actors for characters, that can turn a book sour. Not this one.  Chocolat, both book and movie, is full of magic and wonder and things that make my tummy growl. Harris is one of my favorite authors and Chocolat is one of my favorite movies.  A win/win.

waterforelephants

Water for Elephants bore the scrutiny of the re-read. I adored the story.  Maybe it’s because I grew up near Baraboo, WI where the Ringling Bros Circus has been for almost 150 years.  Maybe it’s the exoticism of characters, the era, the mesmerizing colors and interactions.  Maybe it’s because it’s a NaNoWriMo novel (something I always hold dear).  Who knows exactly.  All I can tell you is that the story is fantastic and, surprisingly, the Hollywood adaptation did an incredible job.

outlander

Outlander might not be a movie but it’s even better – it’s a STARZ original series that, I believe, is planning to go through all the books in this epic series.  SQUEAL. I’ve re-read Outlander at least three or four times and it’s one of my absolute favorite stories.  It just grips me.  The STARZ series has done an incredible job with bringing it to life on screen.  It is 100% accurate?  No, but Diana Gabaldon is involved in the making and I think her adjustments have actually enhanced the story.  Really, it’s lovely all the way around!

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