Photo Friday: Columbia Road Flower Market

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My favorite thing about going to Columbia Road Flower Market was that as you get closer, you see more and more people walking in the other direction carrying flowers and plants. We concluded that buying fresh flowers must be a more common occurrence in the UK than in the US.


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London Tales: That Hipster Life

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On our first day of not being destroyed by jet lag, Amy and I headed east to Shoreditch to visit Brick Lane Market. Shoreditch is a well-established hipster neighborhood that’s famous for its ubiquitous street art. The way the locals talked about it reminded me of how Minneapolis residents talk about uptown: if they don’t live there, they probably avoid going there. However, we were tourists eager to experience that London hipster life, so go we did.

The market is found down narrow streets crowded with tiny shops and restaurants. In a bizarre moment of global culture, there was a band outside playing “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both Amy and I found trinkets in the market. I bought coasters with Queen Elizabeth’s face, and Amy went for a far classier item. We also wandered into a courtyard of sorts with food trucks and tables, which was perfect for our lunch. Even better, it was an ideal place for people-watching and eavesdropping on British accents.

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Fast forward to our last day, we visited another part of East London for a less polished hipster scene. After an English breakfast in Bethnal Green, we walked through the famous Columbia Road Flower Market. (A Photo Friday of the market is forthcoming.) Waling this crowded, narrow street was the time I felt the most oppressed by crowds during the trip. Thankfully my claustrophobia was quickly cured when we walked toward Haggerston Park and stumbled upon Hackney City Farm. I never fully understood the function of the space, but it had farm animals and rustic charm up the wazoo.

This day was also one of several walks we took along Regent’s Canal. The concept of a canal boat wasn’t completely foreign to me, but I wasn’t aware that they were found in London. In fact, both sides of the canal are packed with moored boats. In addition to classy or creative paint jobs, some boats were decorated with strings of lights or potted plants. Amy pointed out that owning—and perhaps even living in—a canal boat would be the ultimate hipster move.


My next post will return to the posh side of London when we visit a palace or two and have a decadent afternoon tea.

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Gettin’ Nostalgic with Tegan and Sara

Ten years and a few months ago, Tegan and Sara released their album The Con. It’s an album full of heartbreak and anxious hope, which happened to be just what I needed at that moment in my life. I was eighteen years old and about to leave for college. Music helped keep me sane during those first few months of intense homesickness, and in particular, walking around campus with The Con playing on my iPod. Definitely one of the formative musical moments in my life.

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That’s why I was incredibly excited when the band announced a ten-year album anniversary tour. I feel like at one point I probably said that my ideal Tegan and Sara concert would be for them to play The Con in its entirety, and this tour intended to do just that. Best of all, I was able to attend with my friend Lisa, who loves this band and album as much as I do. Our second floor balcony seats at the State Theatre were perfect for a low-key but emotional concert.

Perhaps this is a nerdy observation, but I loved the stage design for this show. The twins were on a lighted platform in the middle of the stage, which gave a more intimate feeling to a large theater. The backdrop featured album art from The Con and, for the second half of the show, smaller lights that looked like stars. There were two additional band members on keyboard and guitar.

Like much of Tegan and Sara’s work, The Con often deals with sad lyrics in deceptively upbeat ways. Not the synth-pop of their recent albums, but the quirky indie rock that came before. Although these songs were decidedly moody to begin with, this tour has new arrangements that make them moodier still. My personal favorites were “Knife Going In,” which was rendered deliciously creepy, and the last two songs from the album, “Dark Come Soon” and “Call It Off.” The other band members were utilized for eerie harmonies and atmospheric effects.

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After playing through the album tracks, they played seven other songs from their repertoire with arrangements that fit the mood of the show. At my last Tegan and Sara concert, I was dazzled by Sara singing “Now I’m All Messed Up,” and now I’ve had opportunity to hear it again. There was also a slowed-down version of “The Ocean,” one of the best Tegan tracks off of Sainthood. I almost universally love acoustic versions of songs because you can appreciate the meaning and emotion of the lyrics, which made this an ideal show for me.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Tegan and Sara concert without storytelling and banter between the sisters. There was a running bit about Sara being the cat and Tegan being the dog of the band. They also told a hilarious story about Sam Smith sitting in front of them on an airplane and not knowing how to act. Even though stage banter is one of the hallmarks of the band, their pop tours leave less room for chatter. I was happy to be back in the realm of banter.

The Con X Tour is partially in support of the Tegan and Sara Foundation, the twins’ new organization to support LGBTQ women and girls. One of my favorite things about going to concerts for artists like Tegan and Sara is feeling surrounded by a loving and inclusive community. The angsty twentysomethings who recorded The Con are now changing the world. It’s a beautiful thing.

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London Tales: A Very Posh Beginning

As an Anglophile from an early age, London has always been my most-desired travel destination. This year the wedding of a dear friend finally gave me the incentive to plan a trip. I was lucky to be there with my friend Amy, a seasoned international traveler, unlike myself. At the end of September, we spent over a week staying in Primrose Hill and exploring the city and beyond.

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Primrose Hill is a very posh neighborhood just north of Regent’s Park. In other words, an area where we could never afford to live in real life but were more than pleased to rent an Airbnb. We arrived in the early morning, utterly wrecked by jet lag, to meet our lovely hostess and her son, who was dressed in a Gruffalo onesie and very keen to show us the amenities. Behind this blue door, we had our own bathroom, kitchen, and living space in the basement of the house, but at that moment the only amenity we was interested in were the beds.

Amy and I eventually emerged from our ill-advised but completely necessary naps to have dinner with our friend and begin enjoying the neighborhood. I don’t think it completely struck me that I was in London until the next morning when I ventured out alone to buy tissues. Then I had a blissed out walk through the neighborhood, taking photos and feeling grateful. Just down the street from our home-away-from-home, a surprising incident occurred.

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It was a Sunday morning, and the sidewalk was bustling with people visiting the many shops and cafes. Up ahead I saw a young woman wearing sunglasses who looked vaguely familiar. Then I heard her speak to her companion, and it became clear. This was Emma Watson! Yes, Emma Watson, Harry Potter actress and thinking-man’s dream woman, was a few feet away from me on the sidewalk. I had no inclination to speak to her or take a sneaky photo. I did, however, blatantly stare as I passed because I needed to be absolutely sure it was her. On the scale of invasive fan encounters, a bit of awestruck staring seems forgivable.

I may not be able to top the Emma Watson story, but there’s plenty more to share. Stay tuned for tea, trains, and a strange sighting in Trafalgar Square.

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Photo Friday: Streets of London

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 I had a love/hate relationship with the street signs in London. They’re visually pleasing, but the creative placement sometimes makes them tricky for navigation. Either way, I loved collecting this series of photos.

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Sarah Dessen, Revisited

Whenever I finish reading a new Sarah Dessen book, I want to reread some of her earlier work. Usually I resist because I want to keep up with my reading goals. Not to mention, with thirteen books published, there are almost too many choices. However, this summer saw me with more free time than usual, which meant more reading. In a time of transition I once again turned to a favorite book. And then another. And another. It was all Sarah Dessen, all the time.

The Truth about Forever

I reread The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, and Saint Anything. The Truth about Forever is a fan favorite, one that I loved at the age of 15 and had certainly read more than once in the past. Just Listen is one of the few Dessen novels that I had mediocre feelings about, only to hear multiple coworkers and friends list it among their favorites. Saint Anything is her second-to-last book, released in 2015. I really liked it at the time but had only read it once. It was an interesting cross-section of her work, which I’ve been wanting to revisit for years.

Back in 2004, I remember being nervous about The Truth about Forever. I had loved This Lullaby with such a passion, and I didn’t want my favorite author to disappoint me. Then she published a novel that was equal to, if not better than the previous book. As an adult reader, the premise is still appealing. The crew at Wish Catering is one of Sarah’s best supporting casts, and who wouldn’t want to be whisked away into a quirky new social group. Wes is also one of her most swoon-worthy love interests: the thoughtful, artistic boy with a checkered past. It’s still a humorous and touching book with amazing character details.

Just Listen

Just Listen was her very next novel, and in my mind the stakes finally got too high. It may have been the similarities of Annabel’s problems to those of the previous narrator, or I may have been bothered by the made-up musicians and band names. Quite possibly I was just a jaded seventeen-year-old who was a bit of a music snob and transitioning to adult fiction. For whatever reason, Just Listen flopped for me in 2006, and I hadn’t read it since. In 2017 I’m still a music lover but significantly less snobby about it. I also have an easier time accepting a fictional reality in a realistic fiction book. More than ten years later, I could finally see why so many other readers connected with this story.

I wasn’t planning to move on to Saint Anything, especially since I noticed during my first two rereads that all three of these books cover themes of holding in emotions and feeling unheard. I also remembered drawing comparisons between Mac and Wes when I first read Saint Anything, along with some of the other supporting characters. Of course, there’s a limit to the varieties of floppy-haired teenage dreamboats, and authors tend to touch on similar themes throughout their work. Despite having just read the other two books, the similarities in Saint Anything didn’t really bother me. And not just because I’m completely biased! Isn’t the struggle to feel understood and to be seen the way we want to be seen a central part of the adolescent experience? Nobody ever got mad at Hemingway for writing about the psychological aftermath of the First World War.

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I was curious, and admittedly somewhat afraid, to see how my tastes had changed over the years. And while there were moments that affected me differently, I found myself more open to enjoy plotlines and characters that had once disinterested me. As a teenager, I also considered The Truth about Forever to be quite profound. The philosophizing didn’t seem as mind-blowing now, but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story. Finally rereading Just Listen reminded me that I probably wasn’t very attracted to Owen as Annabel’s love interest. But tastes change—thank God—and it’s easier to see the appeal of a boy with a penchant for honesty and a beyond-obscure public radio show.

Rereading these books was a way to get back in touch with myself, to see how I’ve changed and how I’ve stayed the same. It always helps to feel grounded in yourself when your life is going through changes. I’m so glad that sixth-grade Courtney picked up her first Sarah Dessen book and found an author whose work would be with her sixteen years later.


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A New Wave of YA is Coming

After several years of being less engaged with the world of young adult books, I find myself looking forward to new releases from many of my favorite authors. 2017 has already been a brighter year for YA with a new book from Sarah Dessen and the discovery of Sabaa Tahir’s series-in-progress. Join me in nerding out over four upcoming books and admiring beautiful cover art.

There’s Someone Inside Your House on September 26!

There's Someone Inside Your House

Stephanie Perkins is a delight in her Anna and the French Kiss trilogy. Having briefly met her at NerdCon: Stories, I can also vouch for the fact that she’s a delight in person. She’s been teasing this book for a while now: like a teen slasher flick but with plenty of kissing and googly eyes (she promises!). It took some time for me to warm up to the idea, but now I’m pumped. I love that she’s willing to work outside of her established patterns. Given the humanity that she can bring to a teenage romance in Paris, I predict that There’s Someone Inside Your House will have more emotional resonance than the average horror story.

Turtles All the Way Down on October 10!

Turtles All the Way Down

By the time this book comes out, it will have been almost six years since the release of The Fault in Our Stars. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if John Green would ever publish again, at least in the YA genre. He’s certainly been keeping busy with creating educational online video. In this case, I’m glad to be wrong. Turtles All the Way Down deals with mental illness, which according to John himself, is inspired by his own experiences with OCD. Although I keep up with John through his online content, I look forward to learning what his brain has been working on these past six years. It’s sure to be thought-provoking.

Truly Devious on January 16!

Truly Devious

As blog readers probably know, my deepest wish is for Maureen Johnson to publish the fourth Shades of London book. Well, it’s vying with a few other literary wishes, but it’s right up there. Luckily, Truly Devious sounds like it has the potential to fill the void. It continues Maureen’s trend of boarding school settings, this time at an American school with ambitious students and a mysterious founder. If I can’t have ghost detectives in London, I’ll take a regular teen detective in Vermont. Not to mention, the cover art is on point!

A Reaper at the Gates on April 10!

A Reaper at the Gates

This is the third book in Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series. Since I just caught up with the series this spring, a year isn’t too long to wait for the next installment. However, there was much confusion when I saw the cover. A quick search revealed that the entire series is be re-released with new cover art. I’m not a huge fan of the high fantasy mood of the new designs, not being a frequent fantasy reader myself, but this interview with Sabaa explains her motivation for showing the faces of her diverse characters. The second book left the three main characters in unexpected places, so I’m excited to see where she takes them.

It’s worth noting that only one of these books is a sequel. There are fresh ideas brewing in the YA world, and I’m all about it.

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