What My Book Ratings Actually Mean

I think it's probably safe to say that everyone's rating system differs (at least to some degree).  While I try to consider a site's definition for each rating (like the five star rating scale on Goodreads, for example), most of the time my ratings take on a more personalized life of their own.

I know that Steph and Jana's Show Us Your Books link-up won't be for another couple of weeks, which means that my book reviews for January won't be posted until then.  However, I wanted to go ahead and share some insight into the way I rate the books I read.

A 5 Star Rating Means:

- The book touched me on a serious emotional level (a.k.a. I probably sobbed hysterically at least once while reading it)

- I thought about the book a lot, whether I was currently reading it or not

- I couldn't be bothered to do much while I was reading the book because I couldn't bear to put it down

- The writing was beautiful, and inspired me to want to work on my own creative writing

- There were a lot of shocking or surprising twists (this is mostly just for thriller/crime/suspense/mystery novels, but really any type of book could earn a five star rating if it shocks or surprises me in some way)

- The book really made me think -- whether I'm learning about a different culture, considering an issue from another point of view, or simply being challenged intellectually, this type of book will stick with me for years to come and be well deserving of a five star rating

- The character development is fantastic -- if I really care about the characters, I'll fall in love with the book

A 4 Star Rating Means:

- The story was very unique/different from anything I've ever read, but, for whatever reason, it didn't quite captivate me the way a five star read would

- The majority of the book was compelling, but something about it just didn't quite work for me (side note: I have given a few books five star ratings in the past if I really loved everything but the ending, but I don't intend to do this going forward)

- The writing was very good, but not what I'd consider great

- The book was enjoyable overall, but not something I'd really think about beyond the final page

- I would recommend it to others, but with much less enthusiasm than a book I rated five stars

- I'd remember the book as being good, but I may not be able to fully articulate why I liked it

A 3 Star Rating Means:

- It took me a while to get into the story, and it may not be the right book for someone quick to add things to their DNF pile

- It wasn't a bad book in any way, but nothing about it really stood out

- The plot was very promising, but the execution was just okay

- The characters weren't particularly relatable or interesting, and I didn't really care about their fates as the story went on (though the story itself kept me interested enough to continue reading)

- When giving recommendations, I wouldn't say that someone shouldn't read it ... I would, however, say that it's not something I would prioritize when choosing my next book

- I didn't expect much from the book (maybe because it fell under a category/genre I don't normally read or because it generally received lackluster reviews), but it was pleasantly engaging -- I didn't love it, but I thought it was enjoyable enough

A 2 Star Rating Means:

- The writing was pretty awful, but the overall plot was decent

- The story had a lot of promise, but the author failed to engage me in any meaningful way

- I liked something about the book, but it was kind of a mess overall

- The book was fairly well-written, but the subject matter felt overdone and cliché -- I didn't really gain anything from reading it

- Too many things are going on at once -- a book doesn't need a bunch of half-assed subplots floating around, detracting from the real story

- The characters felt like two-dimensional cardboard cutouts of what a "police officer," "best friend," "serial killer," etc. should be

- The supposed "twist" is something ridiculous that either makes no sense based on the information provided in the story or is something I saw coming early on (again, this mostly applies to thriller/crime/suspense/mystery novels, but could pertain to other genres as well)

- I feel like I wasted my time on the book, but I think it could potentially appeal to other readers

A 1 Star Rating Means:

- I fucking hated the book and will rip it to shreds in my review

- I most likely threw the book across the room (or wanted to) at least once while reading it

- There was no saving grace here: the writing, plot, characters, etc. were all horrible

- I would recommend avoiding it at all costs

As you can see, there are a lot of reasons why I might assign a book a certain overall rating.  Sometimes it's easy to rate a book ... Other times I waver between two ratings.  I don't give partial ratings (like 3.5), so sometimes it's tough to determine where a book falls on my scale if it has several characteristics from two different ratings.

I try to put real thought into my ratings (and, of course, my reviews).  While I think everyone should come to their own conclusions about the books they read and the books they should consider reading, I also know that sometimes it can be helpful to hear/read the opinions of others.  (Especially if they have similar taste in books.)  You can always expect honest reviews from me, even if I do sometimes feel bad for shitting all over another person's work.

I'd love to read other posts about personal rating systems for books!  If you've already written something like this, please share your link in the comments.  If you haven't, I'd love to read your thoughts about this topic in the comments (or in a future blog post).

Monthly Gratitude: January 2018 Edition

I know I'm not alone when I say that many events within the last year have been enough to make any sane person feel like they're losing their shit.  There is so much negativity and corruption and, for lack of a better word, bullshit going on that it's easy to lose sight of the good things -- the things that give us hope and happiness.

These thoughts inspired me to begin a monthly series of gratitude.  While I know gratitude posts aren't a new or innovative concept, I also know that it's important to take a moment once in a while to remember the good things in life ... And a monthly gratitude post is how I choose to do that.  I'll be using a variety of gratitude journal prompts (found on Pinterest) for each of these posts in order to further challenge myself to think beyond the obvious.

- A personal gift or talent:

I am grateful for my ability to express myself in writing.  I will always be practicing and improving my writing skills (and I will never be perfect!), but it's amazing to be able to put words to feelings.  I know this doesn't come naturally to everyone, so it's a talent I will forever be grateful for.

- Something that always brings me peace:

No matter what I'm feeling before I step into a yoga class, I'm always filled with peace by the end of my practice.  I love that something so simple can stop all the noisy chatter in my head and heart.  It's the one form of exercise I can honestly say I love, and I'm grateful that my body is healthy and strong enough to practice yoga regularly.

- The best compliment I've ever received:

While it's always nice to receive a compliment along the lines of "You look really nice today," the best compliment I've ever received had nothing at all to do with my physical appearance.  For me, being told I'm an incredibly empathetic person made a much bigger impact than any other compliment I've ever received.  I am grateful not only for the compliment, but also for my ability to empathize with others.

- Something that inspires me:

I have always been (and probably always will be) inspired most by music.  To say I love music is a huge understatement.  Music is a powerful thing, especially when you listen to a song that speaks some truth of your own.  I will always be grateful for the musicians who make beautiful, inspiring music ... And especially for those who write the songs that make me feel like they got deep inside me and came out with all the feelings I needed to express.

- The best thing about January:

I love that January brings about the start of a new year.  I know I don't have to wait until January to start setting or working on goals, but, for me, there's something about starting a new year that feels like turning a page in a book: the previous year and all that came with it isn't gone for good, but it's time to move on to the next chapter.  I'm grateful for the opportunities that each new year brings.

Each month, I'd like to end my post with a quote that really resonates with me.  This month's quote comes from the song "Disillusioned" by A Perfect Circle:

Three on Thursday: Things I Can't Get Enough Of

Once again, I'm following Stephanie's lead and posting three more things I'm loving right now. 

1.) Pentel EnerGel pens

I'm left-handed and have therefore never been able to use gel pens without smearing ink all over my hand and the page.  I'm going to go ahead and admit that I'm a complete nerd (as if you couldn't already tell) because I was researching the best pens to use in my planner and stumbled upon a YouTube video that gave me all the information I needed.  I immediately ordered some Pentel EnerGel pens from Amazon, and I'm in love!  I chose the needle tip 0.5 mm, and they've suited my needs perfectly.  They dry so fast that I never have any issues with smearing.  I also think they make my handwriting look better, so that's an added bonus.

2.) Manduka Journey ON Commuter Yoga Mat Strap

I took the plunge and ordered a yoga mat from Manduka last year.  If you're not familiar with the company, I'll just say that their mats are expensive (mine was over $100), but extremely durable and well worth the initial investment.  (Side note: I actually got my mat for free because I ordered it using a gift card!)  My old yoga mat was pretty thin (which was one of the main reasons I wanted/needed a new one), but easy to just roll up and tuck under my arm for class.  My Manduka mat ... Not so much.  I ordered this strap in odyssey (blue and grey) to match my mat, and I love it!  It makes carting my mat around much easier, and it has some light padding for your shoulder so the strap never digs in.  I also like that it's quiet, unlike some of the yoga mat straps that use velcro.  I'm usually early to my yoga classes, but if I get stuck in traffic or held up at work, it's nice to know I can get set up without disturbing the other people in the class.

3.) Sweet potato enchiladas skillet casserole

As I mentioned in my last post, Eric and I have been eating vegetarian meals a lot lately.  We tried this recipe last week, and it was delicious!  It was also an easy one-pot meal ... And who doesn't love those?  I did make a few changes to the original recipe, though.  If you'd like to see what I did differently, my notes can be found once you click on my pin.  I definitely recommend making this if you're trying to fit more vegetables into your diet (or if you're simply looking for a quick and easy meal for a weeknight).

And, just to be completely transparent, I'm not making any money if you click on any of these links.  I'm linking these things because I genuinely love them and want to give you an opportunity to purchase and/or try them if you're interested.  Please let me know if you decide to try any of these things, or, if you already have, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Currently ... January 2018 Edition

I don't know what it is about lists like these, but I always enjoy reading about what other people are currently doing, loving, hating, etc.  I think I just appreciate the glimpse into someone else's life.  (Or maybe I'm just nosy?)  Whatever the case, I enjoy these types of posts.

I shared a few posts like this on my previous blog, and I knew I'd probably continue to do so with this new blog as well.  As of now, the plan is to share one of these posts once a month.  So, without further ado, here is January's "currently" post.

Currently I'm ...

- Reading: The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen.  It's my fifth book for the year and also my fifth book for Erin's reading challenge.

- Watching: More reality TV than I ever thought I would.  Right now I'm really into The Amazing Race and Hell's Kitchen.

- Listening To: My latest Spotify playlists.  I've been making a new playlist about once every couple of weeks or so, and they're all very random.  The only thing that unifies all the songs on each list is that I'm really into all of them right now.  

- Cooking: A lot of vegetarian dishes.  Eric and I have been eating vegetarian at least once a week for the past couple of years or so, but lately we've been eating vegetarian meals a little more often.  There's no real reason for this other than the fact that we're trying to be a little healthier (and that means more fresh fruits and veggies in our diet).

- Working On: My blog posts for the next two weeks.  I'm usually not so far ahead, but Eric and I are planning a romantic staycation this weekend and I doubt I'll be spending any time on blog-related stuff during that time.

- Buying: Very little.  I'm not on an official spending freeze or anything, but I have been very motivated to save more and spend less this year.  So far the majority of my "fun" (nonessential) purchases have been food-related.

- Feeling: Very motivated and productive.  I didn't feel this way very often in 2017, so I'm very pleased to report that I've been more on top of things in 2018.

- Loving: My Erin Condren planner.  I know I've mentioned it several times already on this blog (and I talk about it a lot in real life as well), but I seriously love it.  It's helped me get my shit together, and I'm learning that I really enjoy planning out each week and tracking all kinds of random things in my life.  I never really understood how planning could be considered a hobby until I started using a planner.  Now I get it.

- Hating: The bullshit going on in the world right now.  I know that's generic as fuck, but I honestly don't even know where to start. 

- Discovering: The Dear Hunter.  On a more positive note, Spotify introduced me to this awesome band from Rhode Island.  I'm pretty much in love with Casey Crescenzo's voice.

- Pinning: Pretty bookish pictures and simple, quick recipes.  I've pinned a few other things as well, but I feel like my most recent pins have fallen into one of those two categories.  (If you'd like to connect on Pinterest, I can be found here.)

- Considering: Joining a local meet-up group in the near future.  The group I'm looking into meets twice a month to work on individual creative side projects.  It would be a great way for me to not only carve out time to work on my writing, but also to stay on top of it.  If I say I want to set a goal of writing 10 pages a week, this group will encourage me to stick with that goal.  This kind of thing will also push me out of my comfort zone, which is something I'd like to do more often in 2018.

- Planning: My goals for February.  I'm trying to keep my monthly goals simple, while also pushing myself toward completing my other, bigger goals for 2018.

Why I Love Goodreads

If you've stumbled across my blog, chances are you're an avid reader.  You probably also already have a Goodreads account.  (I can be found here, if you'd like to be friends.)  If you do have an account, you may be thinking, "Why am I reading this post?  I know Goodreads is a cool website."  And I get that.  The thing is, we all have our reasons for loving Goodreads.  Today I want to share some of mine.

If you've ever struggled with finding books to add to your "To Read" list, Goodreads is the perfect resource.  If you're like me, though, you probably rarely have trouble finding tons of books to add to that list.  But, once in a while, I fall into a reading slump.  Maybe I just haven't been picking great books lately.  Or maybe the opposite is true -- I just read an amazing book and I'm finding it difficult to want to move on.  Regardless of the reason, I tend to get out of a reading slump by searching Goodreads and adding books to my "To Read" list that I can get excited about.

One of my favorite ways to search for books on Goodreads is via the "lists" option under the "browse" tab.  There are literally lists for everything.  I use the lists most often when I'm searching for books to satisfy reading challenge categories, but sometimes I also use them when I'm in the mood to read about a specific topic.

Goodreads is also a great resource for finding books you may like based on your reading preferences and ratings.  I've found quite a few books by taking a couple of minutes to click through my recommendations (and they're usually pretty spot on).

In addition to simply finding books to read, Goodreads also makes it easy to organize these books.  A lot of people have tons of shelves.  I don't.  Sometimes I think I'd like to have a more elaborate system for organizing my books on Goodreads, but, for now, this works for me.  Each year I create a new shelf for my personal reading goal.  (For example, this year's shelf is labeled "my 2018 70 book challenge.")  I add books only as I begin to read them, and can then easily keep track of how many books I've read for the year as well as how quickly/slowly I finish them and my overall rating.  My only other shelves are for the book challenges I'm participating in.  Again, it just makes it easy to see my progress in each challenge.

And, speaking of challenges, there are tons of groups available on Goodreads for book/reading challenges (as well as for a wide variety of other book-related things).  Some groups are obviously more active than others, but I've enjoyed participating in the groups I'm involved in.  I'm also planning to join a few more over time because I don't think I utilize this area of the website enough.

Another area of Goodreads that I haven't utilized to its full potential is the "creative writing" section under the "community" tab.  So why am I adding it to my reasons for loving Goodreads?  Because I love that it's available.  It's a really cool resource for people who want to share their writing, and maybe one day I'll feel like sharing some of mine.  It's nice to know it will be there if/when I'm ready.

One of the coolest features of Goodreads is the fact that many published authors are part of the community.  It's always interesting to see what questions readers have about a book and what answers the author has for them.  As with music, I often prefer to create my own interpretation if there is any ambiguity, but I also appreciate knowing what the musician or author actually had in mind.

But my favorite thing about Goodreads is that it truly acts as a community.  You can see what your friends are reading and what they thought of a book.  You can read short and simple or incredibly in-depth reviews.  You can join groups to participate in challenges, expand your horizons, or simply make new book loving friends.  You can share your own work and offer helpful tips or praise for those brave enough to post what they've been working on.  You can discuss books with other readers or with the authors themselves.

Put simply, Goodreads is an amazing resource for book lovers.

Now it's your turn: what do you love about Goodreads?  Or, if Goodreads isn't your thing, why don't you like it?  (And what bookish site(s) do you prefer?)

Things I Don't Share On My Blog

Since I started The Book Life, I've been thinking a lot about what I want out of this blog.  When I stopped blogging for a year I realized I missed a lot of things about it, and the reasons I had for blogging in the first place became much clearer.

I've also been thinking a lot about what I don't want to do when it comes to blogging ... And those thoughts inspired this post.

I won't say I'll never share any of these things here because I've been known to change my mind about things.  (Even big things!)  But, as of right now, these are a few of the things I won't be sharing on my blog:

- My last name.

It's a privacy thing.  The only two people I know in real life who currently know about this blog are my husband, Eric, and my mom.  That's it.  So I really wouldn't want someone I knew stumbling upon it because they Googled my name.  (Though why they'd be Googling my name, I don't know.)  And, in general, I'm just not comfortable putting it out there.  Maybe one day, but not right now.

- My hometown.

Again, it's a privacy thing.  If I'd grown up in a large city, it might be different ... But I didn't.  I grew up in a small suburban town.  And if you know where to start, it's not that difficult to find tons of information about someone online.  That kind of creeps me out, so I don't share it.

- How much money Eric and I make.

Honestly?  I just feel like that's nobody's business.  I'm comfortable saying that we're comfortable (not rich, not poor), but I'm not comfortable giving specifics.  And, really, who needs to know this anyway?

- Specific financial goals.

This kind of goes along with disclosing our household income.  I'm happy to tell you that I'm aggressively saving money this year.  I'm just not comfortable writing something like, "In 2018 I plan to save $x" on my blog.  I don't know why ... It just doesn't feel right to me. 

- Certain personal goals.

This is obviously similar to the financial goals, but it's much more general.  There are a couple of things in particular that I've been talking to some of my friends and family about, but I'm not ready to disclose them online.  Of all the things I've listed, these are the things I'm most likely to share eventually.

I'm sure a lot of bloggers wouldn't disclose some (or all) of these things, but I also know that there are probably just as many who do.  It all comes down to what you're comfortable sharing.  

If you're a blogger (or even if you just love posting on social media), what things do you try to keep private?

Bookish Goals for 2018

I posted some of my more general goals for 2018 earlier this month, but only one of those was book-related.  Since this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is Bookish Resolutions/Goals, I've decided to share my more specific, book-related goals for the year.

- Set a reading goal of 70 books.

This is a repeat from my previous post, but it's a book-related goal and therefore belongs here as well.

- Set smaller monthly reading goals.

Breaking that big number down makes it seem much more doable.  Monthly reading goals also keep me on track.

- Track my reading using my planner.

I have a specific place in my planner to write down what I'm currently reading, what page I'm on out of the total number of pages, and how many pages I read each day.  At the end of the week, I tally the total number of books completed and total number of pages read.  Yes, this is totally nerdy, but I like being able to see my progress.  And, honestly, I'm tracking a lot of things this year ... So why not track my reading as well?

- Read at least half of the books on my 10 Books I Meant to Read in 2017 But Didn't list.

I'd obviously love to check all ten of these books off my list, but I think reading at least five of them is a more realistic goal.  If I read all ten, great ... But I know there are always going to be other books out there that capture my interest more than any of these, and I'll probably prioritize those books instead.

- Complete Erin's latest reading challenge and read at least five books for the bonus round.

I usually finish Erin's reading challenges (though not always), but I feel like I should really push to not only finish this one, but also participate in the bonus round because the categories worked so well with my "To Read" list.  I usually have trouble finding books I want to read for at least a couple of categories, but not this time!

- Complete at least 50% of the 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge.

I love reading challenges, but I also love reading books simply because I'm in the mood to read them.  For this reason, I'm not going to commit to reading a book for all forty categories (or fifty, if you count the "Advanced" section).  Twenty books, though ... Sure, why not?  There are at least twenty categories I could easily satisfy by using books on my "To Read" list.

- Read only YA for an entire month.

This is probably a really easy goal for a lot of people, but not for me.  I've mentioned before that YA can be pretty hit or miss for me, so it's not a genre I always go for.  However, I've noticed that more and more YA books are making their way on to my "To Read" list ... So I'm going to give them a little extra love this year.

- Join NetGalley.

I've been saying that I should join NetGalley for at least a couple of years, but I just never have.  I definitely prefer reading physical books, but I think I've been using my Kindle enough lately to make good use of this site.

- Read at least one book by the following authors: Dean Bakopoulos, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Tana French, Patrick Ness, and Nickolas Butler.

These are all new to me authors with multiple books on my "To Read" list.  There are a few others that could have made this list as well, but I thought five was a reasonable (and doable!) amount.

- Make notes as I finish each book to use in my reviews.

I've been doing this since the start of the year and plan to continue.  I usually write book reviews in one post (used for Jana and Steph's Show Us Your Books link-up each month), so I need to have some notes available as I'm writing that post to ensure I'm giving an adequate review.  I don't always feel like writing my reviews immediately after finishing a book, so these notes are a lifesaver.

I think these goals sound like a lot, but they also actually seem doable.  I'll plan to post a mid-year and end of the year update on these to share where I'm at.

Linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday!  Also, if we're not friends on Goodreads, we should be.  I love checking out what others are reading and recommending!

Our Experience at Tickets in Barcelona

Since I wasn't blogging last year, I could only share bits of our November anniversary trip to Barcelona on Instagram.  I'm hoping to eventually cover a few more experiences from this trip (as well as some of our previous trips elsewhere) on this blog.

Today I'll be discussing our experience at Tickets.  If you're not familiar with Tickets, it's a Michelin-star tapas bar that focuses on creative, whimsical dishes in a fun atmosphere.  Eric and I first heard of the restaurant when it popped up on The World's 50 Best Restaurants of 2016.  (It also appeared on another, similar list in 2017.)  After reading about it, we knew we had to get reservations!  We were already planning on Barcelona for 2017, so Tickets made it to the top of our "To Do" list.

I'm not going to lie -- getting a reservation at Tickets is just as difficult as online reviewers claim it is.  I obsessively checked their website for months in an effort to figure out the best way to go about it.  There always seemed to be a couple of available tables, but they were always for larger parties.  (And they don't allow you to reserve a table for two if, say, a table for eight is the only available reservation.)  Obviously that wasn't going to work for us.

I knew that reservations are required two months in advance, and that reservations open at midnight ... But every time I checked the website around midnight, I still always saw tables available for larger parties and nothing for two people.

Thank God for TripAdvisor!  Someone posted that the secret is to change the time zone on your phone/tablet/computer (whatever you're using to make reservations) to Barcelona, and then at midnight their time the website should update to allow for reservations two months from that date.  And, oddly enough, that little trick worked!

After the initial excitement of securing a reservation, we then had to wait two months to enjoy our anniversary dinner at Tickets.  It was definitely worth the wait!

At Tickets, you're given two options: you can either order off the menu or your server can select the food for you, surprising you with each dish.  We chose to be surprised.  (Though we did still select our main course, which was shared.)  They make sure you don't have any food allergies, are open to eating raw foods, etc., and then they literally keep bringing you food until you ask them to stop.

The "olives" are one of their most famous tapas.  (I say "olives" because they aren't actually olives.) They have the consistency of Gushers, in that they explode in your mouth with olive flavored goodness.

These were like little crispy sandwiches filled with pancetta and delicious Iberian ham, or jamón ibérico (which is, as I learned on this trip, my absolute favorite type of pork product).  We were instructed to eat the end dipped in paprika last.

These are exactly what they appear to be: prawns with the head on.  The body was delicious, but Eric and I both didn't enjoy sucking the heads.  That's supposed to be the best part, but honestly?  It had the consistency of a booger.  Not for us.

This is an oyster filled with caviar.  Neither of us had ever tried oysters before (shocking, since we both love raw seafood), and this was incredible.  I probably could have eaten twelve of these.

This is tuna belly with a side of apple flavored jelly.  The jelly was to be consumed after the tuna.

This is their take on nigiri.  I'm not sure exactly what was in this, but I remember it had a delicious smoky flavor that I loved.

This is Wagyu beef tartare (yes, we ate raw beef) on a potato puff.  This was one of my favorite tapas of the evening.

These are their famous "mini airbags."  The puff is filled with manchego cheese foam, and topped with more manchego cheese, hazelnut dust, and caviar.  I was most excited to try these, and they're a classic Tickets dish for a reason!

These are "airbaguettes," which, as the name suggests, are light and crispy and delicious.

I didn't get the best picture of this (you can see my hand in the bottom left corner), but it was still one of the most beautifully presented (and delicious!) tapas of the night.  This is woven avocado filled with crab and chipotle mayonnaise and topped with chia seeds.  Yum!

And, speaking of gorgeous presentation, here we have the Nordic Landscape.  This had bits of beef, pickled onions, and smoked cheese on top of a crispy wafer dusted with vinegar powder.  It was almost too pretty to eat, but the taste was just as amazing!

These are razor clams with a lemon dipping sauce.  The clams were delicious, and the sauce was so good that I wanted to drink it.

This is foie gras roasted with smoked eel in the center and served with some crispy bread.  They slice it at your table, and, after eating it, I wanted to say, "Could you please come back and slice off some more for us?"  I'm a fan of foie gras anyway, but this was the best I've ever had.

After that, we asked them to stop bringing the tapas so we could get our main dish.  This is quail stuffed with eggplant, cilantro, and quail eggs with a vegetable sauce.  They cut it up at our table (after it had already been cooked!), which I thought was a neat touch.  I think we chose the right entrée, because it was not only delicious but also the perfect amount of food after all those tapas (and the desserts to come).

Once the main part of the meal is over, a server will ask you to follow them.  You want to do this.  They lead you back to another room specifically for dessert.  There are berries hanging from the ceiling, and monitors playing scenes from Willy Wonka on one wall in the dessert room.

And, like the tapas at the beginning of the meal, the desserts keep coming until you say stop.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this until after we'd already eaten the dessert, but this is a real rose that once held a lychee, raspberry, and rosewater gelatin sphere.  These were handed to us as we entered the dessert room.

I'm going to be honest ... I don't remember what this is.  I know they torched it in front of us, and it was light and airy and tasty ... But that's about it.

These are mini pumpkins filled with mandarin orange and pumpkin sorbet with toasted pumpkin seeds on top.  The perfect fall dessert!

This is the famous Tickets cheesecake.  It's not a cheesecake in the traditional sense, but it was creamy and delicious.  

This was my second favorite dessert of the evening: a hazelnut and chocolate torte.

Our final dessert was also my favorite: chocolate cookies with coconut, basil, and passion fruit.  These were so good, and the perfect way to end an amazing meal!

This experience was one of our favorites in Barcelona.  Eric and I are both self-proclaimed foodies, so a place like this was the perfect way to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary.

It is rather expensive (we spent nearly $400 with the entire meal and two bottles of wine), but it's well worth it.  The food was both delicious and beautiful, and we had an opportunity to try a few things we'd never had before (like the razor clams).

If you're planning a trip to Barcelona and consider yourself an adventurous eater, I highly recommend visiting Tickets.  You won't be disappointed!

Three on Thursday: Things I Can't Get Enough Of

Stephanie has been doing these Three on Thursday posts for a while now, and I love the idea behind them.  If I'd been blogging last year, I probably would have posted quite a few of these.  It's a great way to share a few things I'm loving right now, and (hopefully) inspire others to check them out as well.

1.) "Disillusioned" by A Perfect Circle

It was a happy accident that I stumbled across this on Spotify last week.  I used to be so on top of new releases by bands and artists I love, but I haven't kept up with it as well in recent years.  When this popped up, my exact reaction was, "Holy shit!"  I may have even squealed a little like the silly Maynard James Keenan fangirl I am.  And this song ... So beautiful.  Maynard's commentary on the current state of the world usually isn't uplifting (Tool's "Ænima" is a perfect example), but "Disillusioned" is just that ... And that's something I think many of us need right now.  But don't just take my word for it.  You can listen to the song below.

2.) Apple AirPods

I got these for Christmas from my mom, and they are awesome!  I've been looking for a nice pair of wireless headphones for a while, but I wasn't a fan of the ones with really large earpieces or the ones that still had a wire running between the two earbuds.  When I saw these, I knew I had to try them ...  And they're everything I hoped for and more!  I was worried they wouldn't stay in my ears very well (this seems to be a common problem for me), but they actually stay put even if I'm jogging or bending over/moving around a lot while doing things at home.  And, not only do they stay in place, but they're comfortable to wear ... I forget I have them in sometimes.  The sound quality is even better than I expected, and the Bluetooth range seems to be really good.  I haven't gone really far with them in, but they've worked everywhere I needed them to.  If you're on the fence about these, I say go ahead and buy them.

3.) Spotify Premium

I initially didn't plan for this post to be all about music, but that's the direction it took.  I love music to a ridiculous degree, so I'm sure more music-related recommendations will appear in future posts.  Since I love music so much, it may surprise you that I just recently opted to upgrade to Spotify Premium.  (Well, I had it once for a month long free trial, but that was in 2014.)  I got a great deal on it, though, so I couldn't resist!  I was offered 3 months for $9.99 (plus tax), and, because I used my Capital One Quiksilver card, I got 50% off that ... So I got 3 months for a little over $5!  I'll probably keep the subscription once the special runs out, though, because I feel like I'm using it a lot more.  It's nice to be able to download my playlists for times when I'm offline (like on flights), and I love not having ads.  It's worth it to me.

10 Books I Meant to Read in 2017 But Didn't

When I was still blogging regularly at Divulge and Indulge, I kept telling myself I would link up with The Broke and the Bookish for at least a few Top Ten Tuesday posts.  Unfortunately, that never happened.

Since my new blog is placing more focus on books, it's much easier to find time and space to join this link-up.  (Though I guess my first Top Ten Tuesday will also be my last ... At least at The Broke and the Bookish.  I plan to continue linking up regularly once it moves to That Artsy Reader Girl on the 16th.)

Today's topic is all about the books I never seemed to find time for last year.  I thought this topic seemed especially fitting for my first Top Ten Tuesday post since, as I said, I never seemed to find time to join this link-up in previous years.

Here are ten books I'll be prioritizing in 2018:

I'm actually planning to start this one today, but I still thought it deserved a spot on the list.  I loved Everything I Never Told You, so I've really been looking forward to this one.  I didn't get to it last year because the library waiting list was long, and, as I got closer to the top, Erin posted the categories for her latest reading challenge.  Since I wanted to use it for the challenge, I had to wait until at least January 1st to start it.

Two of my favorite book loving bloggers, Steph and Jana, gave this one rave reviews.  And, since I feel like I have similar taste in books, I'm guessing I'll probably love this book as well.

3.) Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

I'm currently on the waiting list for this book at the library, and plan to use it for a category in Erin's book challenge bonus round.  (Assuming I make it to the bonus round, anyway.)  I think this will be an emotionally difficult read, but those are often some of the best stories.

4.) In the Woods by Tana French

I've wanted to read this book for a long time (as well as the others in the Dublin Murder Squad series).  Somehow, though, I've never gotten around to it.  It's exactly the kind of book I love, and I think 2018 will be the year I finally read it.

5.) Only Child by Jack Ketchum

This book has been sitting on one of my bookshelves for at least a year and a half (probably longer).  I keep telling myself I'll get to it soon, but then I get distracted with books from the library.  I need to remember to pick things from my own shelves once in a while -- I mean, it's literally sitting right there!

6.) The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I read her novel The Little Friend many years ago and loved it.  (I actually loved it so much that I read it again a few years ago.)  Her first novel has been on my "To Read" list for what feels like forever.  I even checked it out from the library pretty recently, but had to return it without reading it because I just didn't have time to get to it.  I'd love to finally mark it off my list!

7.) Swear on This Life by Renee Carlino

I don't usually read books that fall under the "romance" category, but several of my favorite bookworm bloggers (Kristen, Steph, and Heather, to name a few) had great things to say about it ... So I should probably check it out.

8.) The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

YA fiction can be really hit or miss for me, but I loved I'll Give You the Sun.  Jandy Nelson seems to write the kind of YA books I love, so I definitely think this one is worth a read in 2018.

9.) Please Don't Come Back from the Moon by Dean Bakopoulos

I've wanted to read a Dean Bakopoulos book since Jana started blogging about how awesome he is a few years ago.  I'm pretty sure all of his novels have made it on to my "To Read" list, but this one in particular has always captured my interest.  (Maybe it's the title?)  At any rate, I think 2018 will be the year I read a book by Dean Bakopoulos.

10.) The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

I used to carry a physical "To Read" list in my purse when I went to bookstores years ago.  This book was on that list and has since made its way to the number one position on my current (electronic) "To Read" list.  In other words, I've been meaning to get to this book for a very long time.  I've checked it out from the library and returned it without reading it.  I even read a different book by the same author last year (The Killer Next Door) because the ebook was conveniently available to be checked out from the library while I was traveling.  (Though I didn't actually get to it until I came home.)  I feel like I need to cross this one off the list!  It's been a long time coming.

This list is completely doable, especially since I'm trying to hit a total goal of 70 books this year.  The only problem is that there are always new books coming out that I want to prioritize.  #bookwormproblems  Even so, I plan to squeeze these ten books in this year.  Fingers crossed I can actually stick to this plan!

My Book Habits: Things That Will Make Me Want to Read a Book

I've noticed patterns in my reading/book selection habits over the past few years (especially after I started using Goodreads regularly).  This isn't an exact science, but here are a few things that will pretty much guarantee a book will end up on my "To Read" list.

- It's labeled as a "thriller," "suspense," "crime," or "mystery" novel.

Everyone has a favorite genre.  I like the thriller/suspense/crime/mystery genre.  New releases that fall under any of these categories are usually added to my "To Read" list immediately.

- I've previously read and enjoyed another book by the same author.

This is a pretty obvious one.  I've been disappointed in the past when choosing books for this reason, but, for the most part, an author will continue to work his/her magic on me.

- Reviewers refer to it as "weird" or "fucked up."

I love a good mindfuck, so I can't stop myself from adding books that other readers found disturbing, confusing, twisted, or any combination of these things.

- It was recommended by someone with similar taste in books.

This is probably another obvious one, but the recommendations aren't always "typical" books for that reader.  I actually think I'm even more likely to add a book to my "To Read" list if it falls under that category.  So, for example, if someone who also reads a lot of thrillers gives a glowing review for a romance novel, I'll probably read it (even though romance novels aren't really my thing).

- It has a cover I find aesthetically pleasing.

No, I don't always choose books solely based on the cover art.  But, if I'm scrolling through Goodreads in search of some new books to check out and a cover catches my eye, it will usually end up on my "To Read" list.

- It contains specific topics either in the main plot or in a subplot.

We all have things that pique our interest.  Mine happen to be on the darker side (for the most part).  If I'm looking for a new book to check out, certain topics will immediately grab my attention.  A few of these include: kidnapping/missing person, mental illness, suicide, adult books about teens (I do read YA as well, but I tend to prefer adult fiction), murder, cults, love lost (though I'm usually not interested if the book falls under the "romance" genre), and memory loss.

- It has a person's name in the title.

I'm especially drawn to books with titles like The [fill in the blank] life of [person's name].  There are a total of 8 books I've completed within the last three years (since I started using Goodreads) and 41 books on my current "To Read" list that contain a person's name in the title.

- The title contains certain words.

This is completely silly and random, but I've noticed that certain words seem to catch my eye when I'm looking through a list of titles in search of books to add to my "To Read" list.  Here are a few of those words, as well as a count of how many books I've read since 2015 and how many are on my current "To Read" list that include each word in their title:

girl - 24 read / 31 to read = 55 total
lies - 4 read / 12 to read = 16 total
child - 4 read / 9 to read = 13 total
little - 2 read / 6 to read = 8 total
everything - 4 read / 2 to read = 6 total
monster - 3 read / 3 to read = 6 total
devil - 1 read / 4 to read = 5 total

I could probably go on and on about the things that will make me want to read a book ... But I won't.  This list is comprehensive enough, I think.

So now I have to ask ... What will makes you want to read a book?  Are there specific topics you like to read about, or are your choices a little more random?

I'm also always looking for book recommendations, so please feel free to leave some in the comments!

10 Best / 10 Worst Reads of 2017

One of the main things I missed about blogging was sharing my thoughts on the books I read throughout the year.  Today I've compiled a general list of my ten favorite and ten least favorite reads of 2017.  They are listed in the order I completed them.

Since I only reviewed my books using the Goodreads star system last year, I'm relying heavily on my memory for this post.  For that reason, these reviews may not adequately explain just what made me love (or hate) a book.  I'll do my best, though.

*ETA: I decided to use this post for the first Show Us Your Books link-up of 2018 with Steph and Jana.  Since I wasn't blogging last year, I didn't get to share my favorite books of 2017 in the previous link-up.  (I also haven't finished many books since the year started, so there wouldn't be much to talk about here if I shared those reviews.)  Next month I'll share my January reads.

10 Best Reads of 2017

I really didn't enjoy Fangirl, but I wanted to give Rainbow Rowell's books another try.  Everyone seems to love her, and she's from Omaha ... So I pretty much had to give her that second chance.  Thankfully I did, because Eleanor & Park was one of my favorite reads of 2017.  The story is both sweet and sad, and it seemed to perfectly capture the intensity of young love.  I also loved that the main characters weren't perfect and didn't look like supermodels -- they were awkward teenagers with real problems, and I cared very deeply for them both.

This book was one of those that make you think, "Oh my God, what the fuck am I reading?" about a hundred times.  I typically love those types of books, and this was no exception.  The Smaller Evil wasn't really what I was expecting it to be, but that wasn't a bad thing.  It was weird but completely engrossing -- I finished it in about 24 hours because I just couldn't put it down.

I love a story with lots of twists, and The Woman Before Me definitely delivered!  The pace was perfect for this type of novel, as the pieces of the main character's story were slowly revealed.  Everything I thought I knew about her would suddenly shift to form a very different picture (and then another and another) as more of her story was brought to light.  And the ending ... Whoa!  I'm the type of reader who loves a shocking or surprising ending, and that's exactly what I got.  I remember thinking about it for days after I finished the book.

4.) Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre

This was yet another twisty thriller that continued to surprise me as I read.  I was genuinely shocked by many (if not all) of the reveals, and I found myself needing to know what would happen next.  While Blood Wedding wasn't as realistic as some thrillers I've really enjoyed, the story was told in such a way that I did believe it.  Thank you for fucking with my head, Pierre Lemaitre.  (And I mean that sincerely.)

5.) Confessions by Kanae Minato

Clearly there is a bit of a theme when it comes to my favorite books of 2017.  Once again, I fell in love with a completely disturbing and twisted thriller.  (Basically total mindfuck = amazing in my eyes.)  Confessions was full of surprises, and the story itself stuck with me for a long time after I finished the book.

6.) The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

This book was actually quite different from what I expected, and as I read, I grew to love it more and more.  It was unlike anything I'd ever read before, and parts of it just broke my heart.  The Boy Who Could See Demons isn't a thriller, though it does read like one at times.  It contains just as many twists as some of the other books on this list, but it also has an emotional element that can evoke plenty of tears.  (Or maybe that was just me.)

7.) The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

As an adult, I think it's sometimes easy to forget the cruelty and jealousy of the teenage years.  The Girls in the Garden brings the reader right back to those days.  This twisty thriller sucked me right in -- I finished this book over a weekend because I just couldn't put it down.  Every time I stopped reading to do something else, my mind would wander back to the story and I'd have to abandon everything and pick it back up.  If that isn't a sign that a book belongs on this list, I don't know what is.

8.) The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

This book was written in a way that probably wouldn't work for some people, but it really worked for me. The storytelling in The Bluest Eye was amazing.  I read this in about 24 hours, though its hold on me was much different than that of a thriller.  It's a brutally honest look at racism and self-hatred, and definitely worth a read.  (Particularly in these troubled times we're living in.)

9.) All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

I finished this book in two days because I couldn't deal with anything else until I knew what really happened the night a young girl was brutally raped.  This story offered plenty of the twists I love, and the ending delivered that "Oh my God!" moment I crave in thrillers.

10.) Bird Box by Josh Malerman

I checked Bird Box out of the library a long time ago but never got around to reading it before it was due.  I finally decided to check it out again a few months ago, and I'm so glad I did!  I loved the sense of dread that existed throughout the novel.  I loved the strong female main character.  I loved the mindfuck of a terror that cannot be seen or named.  Basically I just loved this book, devouring it in a couple of days.

10 Worst Reads of 2017

1.) Alice by Christina Henry

I don't know why I continue to read reimagined fairy tales when I so obviously hate them.  Maybe I'm hoping I'll eventually find one I love?  In any case, Alice was definitely not the one.  I pretty much hated everything about this book, from the story to the writing itself.  I was actually relieved when it was over.

2.) The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

This was a case where a book was nothing like I expected, but the direction it took was so terrible that I felt cheated.  (It also didn't help that the book began with such promise.)

3.) All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry

The synopsis claims "this startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you."  None of that rang true for me.  It bored and annoyed me, and every time I thought it might be getting better it just let me down again.

4.) The Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn

I consider myself a fan of the horror genre, but I'm often disappointed by horror novels.  The Bird Eater just wasn't scary.  At all.  If I'm reading a horror novel, I expect to be scared (or, at the very least, unsettled).  This one just didn't do it for me.

5.) Fledgling by Octavia Butler

I was so disappointed in Fledgling.  I was expecting an intriguing vampire story with a very young looking main character (similar to Let the Right One In, which I really enjoyed) that also touched on themes of race and feminism.  Unfortunately, the execution of the story was so poor that it just fell flat.  Everything was just too damn convenient.  And, to be honest, it also felt a little gross since the very young looking vampire was portrayed as a hypersexual girl in a totally "normal" and "healthy" relationship with a human adult male.  No, just ... No.  She looked like an eleven-year-old child.  (Not to mention the fact that he didn't even know she was a vampire when he was first attracted to her.)  I can handle a lot, but the way this relationship was portrayed was just too much for me.

6.) Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall

I wanted to love Daughters of the North, but it just felt like a cheap imitation of The Handmaid's Tale.  I understand that novels with similar themes may seem, well, similar ... And that's okay.  I just felt like the author was trying too hard to write the next great feminist dystopian novel without putting in the effort to create interesting characters the reader could care about.

7.) Everland by Wendy Spinale

This is yet another case of a reimagined fairy tale that was definitely not for me.  I think I must have blocked most of this book from my mind because I can't remember any of the specific reasons I hated it ... Just that I did.

8.) Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

While Hex was not horrible in the way that some of the other books on this list were, it deserves a spot here because it was such a let down.  There were some genuinely scary parts, and it was well-written.  Unfortunately, at some point it just got really boring.  It took me a week to finish it because it was dragging so much.  I wish it had been a little different because it had such promise.

9.) Last Days by Adam Nevill

No book I read in 2017 was as boring as Last Days.  (And there are few things worse than a boring thriller/horror novel.)  I spent two weeks slogging through the fucking thing!  Eric kept saying, "That book must really suck since you seem to fall asleep after like two minutes every time you open it."  That's no exaggeration.  I know I should have just quit it, but I can never seem to quit books no matter how awful they are.  I'd also heard so many good things about Adam Nevill that I was convinced it would get better.  It didn't.

10.) Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen

I picked this book up at the library on a whim because I was curious to see what a Christmas thriller would be like.  This book wasn't horrible (it even had some interesting twists that made me want to keep reading) ... It just wasn't really good either.  Dying for Christmas annoyed me because it could have been a great thriller.  The problem was that, at some point, it began to feel like a Fifty Shades of Grey fanfiction.  In addition, the bad guy was annoying as fuck, and by the end so many over-the-top things had happened that it just felt silly.

Overall, 2017 was a year filled with great books.  I feel like I left a lot of amazing books off my favorites list (mostly because I wanted to keep it down to ten), and had a difficult time trying to determine which books were bad enough to make it on to the "worst" list.  I'm hoping 2018 will be my best book year yet!

And, of course, if you've read any of these, I'd love to hear your thoughts!