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What a full month! My friend Molly arrived from England early in the month for her summer trip in the US. We spent a week just hanging out and going on a few nearby adventures after I got home from work, and then when school let out on the 10th, we headed for Miami with Josh on our tail.

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Despite some heavy thunderstorms, the 3 of us had a wonderful weekend as Josh and I showed Molly our favorite spots in Coral Gables, we all explored Miami Beach for the first time, and then we embraced our inner tourists by doing a bus and boat tour to see other sites in Miami.

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Molly and I left Miami to head for Bradenton, where we spent a day being chased out of my favorite parks and preserves by bloodthirsty bugs and then opted to spend our remaining 2 days reading under a beach umbrella as the gulf waters tickled our toes.

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After we got home from Bradenton, we spent the rest of the month at Disney; Molly had never been to a Disney park before, so she had splashed out for a 2-week ticket, and Josh and I were happy to help her discover the magic.

Oh, and somewhere in all of that, I moved. By which I mean, I put all my stuff in a storage unit, and I’ll pick it up in another month or so once I get back from my summer travels and can find a new apartment that has fully functional appliances and AC, and that is hopefully a little closer to Orlando but still within 30 minutes of my school.

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On the last day of the month, Molly and I kicked off our summer road trip with an afternoon in Savannah, and that was just the beginning of our adventures!

What I’ve Been Reading

Okay, so I picked up a book as soon as I finished work on the 10th, and I pretty much didn’t stop reading all month. I’ll be as brief as I can with my commentary since this list has 8 titles!

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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith: I haven’t read much fiction set in Africa, so it was good to dive into another culture. Even though I’m not usually huge on detective stories, this one had just enough of a feminist bent and compelling characterizations that I zoomed right through it. I doubt I’ll pick up another in the series, but it has been a reminder to incorporate more African lit into my reading.

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst: This is an adaptation of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” which is my favorite fairy tale and is sort of like an Arctic version of “Beauty and the Beast,” but with trolls as the bad guys. Ice was a modern retelling of the story, and while I had a few small issues with storyline, I loved it anyway!

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This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison: The description for this book reminded me of the movie Up, so naturally I had to pick it up. When 79-year-old Harriet’s husband dies, she finds out he had left 2 tickets to an Alaskan cruise and she ends up going on her own. Along the way, she has to grapple with dark family secrets. The writing style was interesting, and while I didn’t love the story overall, I did enjoy parts of it.

Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer: This psychological, supernatural trilogy throws you into the middle of a mysterious exploration of a geographical anomaly called Area X and at times, the anticipation I felt while reading this reminded me of how nervous the Goosebumps books made me feel as a kid: you just know that there’s something nefarious lurking in the basement, and until the books describe exactly what it is, your mind supplies all the creepy details. I loved these books so much, and I highly recommend this to other lovers of weird fiction.

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The Moon Opera by Bi Feiyu: Chinese lit is my favorite, but this slim novel fell a little flat. If you’re interested in opera, and especially Chinese opera, you’ll probably enjoy this; it was just a little too niche for me.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: Such a wonderful young adult read about a girl in her first year of college who struggles to fit in socially but is a huge deal online, where she writes fanfiction based on a book series about a boy who goes to a magic boarding school. Definitely found myself identifying with the main character a lot.

What I’ve Been Listening To

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt: Other than the original characterization of the people and city of Savannah at the beginning, I found this audiobook soooo tedious. I’ve never heard anything but praise for it, so I expected to enjoy it (especially as I had been listening to it on my drive to Savannah), but I’ve started to realize that true crime may be one of the few genres I have no interest in whatsoever.

For most of the month, I found myself awed at how many good podcasts there were. Here are some of my favorites:

“Episode 196: Jon Favreau” on the Longform podcast: This interview with the former chief speechwriter for Obama was really great for a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the White House.

“215 – H-Day” on the 99% Invisible podcast: This episode documented the happenings of September 3rd, 1967, in Sweden; H-Day was the day that Swedes switched from driving on the left side of the road to the right side.

The Invisibilia podcast: After more than a year, the second season of this podcast finally came out this month, and I’ve loved all their episodes so far.

“Working at the White House: Director of Presdential Correspondence, Fiona Reeves” on Slate’s Working podcast: Another glimpse behind the scenes of the White House. Essentially, Reeves reads all the letters and emails sent to the President, and she chooses 10 each day to pass on to Obama so he can respond personally.

“‘Nobody Is Immune’: Bracing for Zika in the U.S.” on the Fresh Air podcast: I am still stunned at some of the facts I learned from this episode. (Josh listened to it before me and urged me to listen to it ASAP because it was “crazytown banana pants.”) I’m not panicked about zika, especially since it’s not likely to affect me even if I were to contract it, but it’s something that is still interesting to know about.

“079 – Separate Spheres” on the You Are Not So Smart podcast: Why do men and women use separate bathrooms? It all stems from the industrial era, where women were starting to leave their homes more in order to get factory jobs, but of course those poor weak creatures needed a paradise away from home; thus, gendered bathrooms became widespread.

“Radio Hour: Fathers and Children: Adventures, Joys, and Predicaments” on The Moth podcast: This episode earns the title of “First podcast to make me cry,” especially in the story told by the grandson of President Harry S Truman about how he had to grapple with the legacy of his grandfather’s decision to drop bombs on Japan.

What I’ve Been Watching

Orange Is the New Black: I don’t know how believable some of the plotline is at this point, but it does bring up a lot of really important issues dealing with the corruption in the prison system. I’m really glad that the focus has fully shifted away from Piper as the main character and spends equal time on the other inmates.

Game of Thrones: I was very satisfied with the season finale and already can’t wait for next year. I’m cheering for Khaleesi!

West Wing: I’ve worked my way up to Season 6, and a common thread with this show is that it is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. I’m already worried about how I’ll fill the void once I finish all 7 seasons. Any suggestions?!

On the Blog

Love, Elizabeth

How is your summer going? Let me know in the comments below!