Saturday, September 28, 2019

Blog Tour: "Crier's War" by Nina Varela

Hey all! Today I'm excited to share with you my blog post for the Crier's War blog tour! This is one of my most anticipated releases and I was so fortunate to not only receive an advance review copy but to also participate in the blog tour for this amazing book! I'm not going to talk too much in this section just because there's a whole post exploring this awesome book, but if you are interested in this one it comes out on October 1st! 


From debut author Nina Varela comes the first book in an Own Voices, richly imagined epic fantasy about an impossible love between two girls—one human, one Made—whose romance could be the beginning of a revolution.

Perfect for fans of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse as well as Game of Thrones and Westworld.
After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will. Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.


Ok so the moment I heard about this book I knew that I absolutely needed it. Everything about it seemed amazing to me: fantasy, sapphic romance, hate-to-love romance, slow-burn, political upheaval...I was so excited. I have to say, I really enjoyed this book.

So in this book we follow two characters with alternating POVs: Ayla and Crier. Crier is an Automae, a member of the leading race, while Ayla is a human--a servant to the Automae. The two get thrown together in a twist of fate and it's beautiful. The slow-burn enemies-to-lovers was done so perfectly and I absolutely loved it. It was also super gay which I am dying over.

The world itself was so interesting and unique to me. It was easy to imagine it and the setting but I never felt like I was overloaded with information. If anything, it just sparked my curiosity and interest. I want to know everything about this world, about the histories, about how everything works together. I just want more!

Yet even with the romance and the interesting world, you're not distracted from the tension and plot. Things in this world haven't been the best in past years and the tensions just keep rising. The stakes keep getting higher and it was so addicting.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I can't wait for it to be out so that more people can read it! 


This was really fun to make. I think what made this one a bit different from book playlists that I've done before is that in the past I've focused on songs that fit certain events in a book but when I was curating this playlist, I found myself just gravitating towards songs that I thought embodied the characters. Either way, I hope you enjoy! I've included links and a list of the songs so hopefully nobody has too much trouble listening in! 

I Hate Everything About You -- Three Days Grace

Castle -- Halsey

Alive -- Sia

Finding You -- Kesha

The Night We Met -- Lord Huron

All That -- ZAYN

Praying -- Kesha

Bed Roses -- Bon Jovi 


Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.
You can find Nina at any given coffee shop in the greater Los Angeles area, or at


Amazon      |      Barnes & Noble


Click on the link to enter to win a free copy of Crier's War


Sept. 23 – Afire Pages | 21 Questions with Nina Varela
Sept. 24 – The Sparrow’s Perch | Fan Art
              F A N N A | Reasons for Game of Thrones and Westworld Fans to Read Crier’s War
Sept. 25 – Forever and Everly
              Your Tita Kate | Bookstagram Photos
              Pages Left Unread | Characters Aesthetics
Sept. 27 – Caitlin Althea 
              Pages Below the Vaulted Sky | Fan Art
              Reads Rainbow | Playlist

Sept. 30 – Boricua Reads | Sapphic Rebellious Women in YA
              Read With Ngoc 
              Read at Night | Favorite Quotes
Oct. 2 – Mel to the Any
              A Cat, A Book, and A Cup of Tea
Oct. 3 – Novel Nerd Faction | Playlist
             Shut Up, Shealea
Oct. 4 – Sage Shelves | F/F Fantasy Recommendation
              The Book Bratz

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Book Review: "The (Other) F Word" edited by Angie Manfredi

Title: The (Other) F Word
Edited by: Angie Manfredi
Genre: Nonfiction Self-Help
Page Length: 224 pages
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Rating: 5 stars

*I was sent a free copy in exchange for an honest review*

This book is SO important! When I first got the email to participate in the release buzz for it I got so excited because this is exactly the kind of book I would have loved to have as a growing teenager. For years I’ve suffered from body dysmorphia and the plethora of self-love issues I’ve had ever since. That’s why this book is so important to me.

The big thing about this book is that it includes fat people from all genders, sexualities, and ethnicities. Everyone can see themselves in it and this book will truly be able to help everyone. There’s plenty of different pieces in this book as well. There’s art, essays, stories, and more. I love how inclusive this book is in all aspects.

Mostly, I’m just so happy that this book exists. I needed this when I was younger but I also think that it’s going to help me and other adults who are still struggling with accepting themselves.

Thanks for reading!

You can follow my bookstagram here. A brand new giveaway will be posted soon!

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Book Review: "Capturing the Devil" by Kerri Maniscalco

Title: Capturing the Devil
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: "Stalking Jack the Ripper" #4
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Mystery
Page Length: 448 pages
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Date Started: September 23, 2019
Date Finished: September 24, 2019
Rating: 4.75 // 5 stars

This is such a bittersweet moment for me. On one hand, I finally know how one of my favorite series ends. On the other hand, I don't have more books to look forward to with these characters. I read the first book in this series when it first came out and I can still remember the excitement when I found out that there were going to be more books. Despite not reading the second or third book until this year, I've been following this series' journey since day 1 and I'm sad that there won't be more to come.

Anyway, I thought this was a brilliant end. I can't decide if this one or the first book is my favorite in the series because while the first book was so fresh and new in its own way, this book really stepped it up. I was in awe a lot of the time, but I'll get more into the wide range of emotions I went through while reading this in a little bit.

Forget what you think you know. There are things throughout the entire series that we've been told are true. We've believed things that we've been told. This book turns a lot of those ideas upside down to the point where you're not sure what to believe. I loved that. I was wondering how Kerri was going to go about making this a great finale and, well, I can't say I saw any of that coming.

The book and plot itself was just a whirlwind for me. It felt like I was being pulled in so many directions because of everything our main characters are dealing with. I don't want to spoil anything so I'm just going to say that they have to deal with a lot more than just a murdering psychopath in this book. The layers of tension really made this book seem that much more intense.

In terms of the plot and pacing, I thought it was well done. During reading it, there were a few times I was questioning if this pacing was good for me. Looking back, I actually really like how it was done. After finishing it, I can see how the threads being weaved at the beginning really made the ending that much more powerful.

I love when authors tie a series together in the last book and you can finally see all the threads they've woven since book 1. Not only did Kerri make this entire book cohesive in itself but she really tied the series together well. Things from the first books that were merely said in passing or hardly referenced came to importance in this one. I love when authors do that.

This book was creepy. Yea, there were a lot of scenes that were fluffy and fun but there were also a lot of creepy scenes. I loved it. Despite these books being about murder and autopsies and solving crime, I've never been actually scared while reading these until Capturing the Devil. Maybe it was because there wasn't another book coming and I genuinely didn't know the outcome? Maybe it was because of how vivid Kerri can write? I was genuinely terrified while reading the end chapters. Like, to the point where I wanted to shut all my windows, lock my door, curl up under blankets with a kitchen knife, and watch videos of puppies to make me less scared. Bonus points to Kerri for making me feel that way.

Speaking of being terrified, I went through a huge range of emotions reading this book. There are ups and downs and my emotions were no different. In no particular order I experienced: absolute terror, happiness, anger, sadness, joy, anxiousness, and more. I was really being pulled in so many directions and it's great. I will also admit to crying multiple times throughout this book.

My absolute favorite part of this book continues to be the characters. Audrey Rose and Thomas are two of my absolute favorite protagonists in any novel I've read and that love only continued to grow in this one. It's truly been amazing seeing their character growth and journeys from the first book to this one. I especially liked the fact that Audrey Rose has her chronic pain and walks with a cane yet still continues to be a badass in all areas. And Thomas...oh Thomas...I don't think I'll ever stop loving Thomas Cresswell.

Overall, I just loved this book. I cannot wait to hold a physical copy in my hands when I get back from studying abroad and for when I can add it to my collection on my shelves. It's bittersweet knowing that this is the end but I've had a truly amazing time with this series and I can't wait to see what Kerri does next!

Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Studying Abroad in London: Fresher's Week

Just like back another week has gone by! And what a busy week it was too! There's so much for me to discuss and recap about this past week, but first, I thought I'd give a little background on what exactly "Fresher's Week" is. 

Basically "Fresher's Week" is like a welcome week or orientation week in the states. My college back home doesn't do one for returning students, but I know a lot of my friends have weeks like these before they start classes. As a study abroad semester-only student, my experience wasn't quite the same as some of my classmates here. While they had enrollment meetings and introductions, I basically just had the parties and events of the week (more on that later). There were between 1 and 3 events everyday--ranging from carnival games and tag archery to epic nights out on the town--and it was both insanely fun and exhausting. More than that, it definitely felt like a  great bonding experience. After this week, a lot of my insecurities about the social side of life have disappeared for the most part as I have a bunch of amazing flatmates. 

But, without further ado, here's what I've been up to the past week! 

September 16, 2019

A few of my flatmates and I met up in the kitchen to go to Froebel Fun Day. Basically this was just a day out on Froebel Lawn where there were carnival games set up and other activities such as mini golf, rock climbing, inflatable horse races, and even a wipeout obstacle. It was fun and I ended up winning a prize from one of the carnival booths (after failing at literally every other game)!

We got lunch at one of the places on campus and I ended up with enough food to last me for two meals, which was great because it tasted wonderful. It was a pretty chill meal just hanging out before we went back to the flat. I kinda just meandered around my room (writing last week's blog post) and chilling before that night.

All of us met up in the kitchen for predrinks, Cards Against Humanity, and an intense game of Uno. It was such a funny bonding session and I can't help but laugh when I remember some of the card pairs for Cards Against Humanity. After that we all headed over to the Silent Disco on campus which, oddly, wasn't silent? There were three giant rooms that had raves going on in them and I wasn't actually able to find the Silent Disco one before I left. Even with just the regular rave it was the longest and hardest I've danced in a while and it was so fun. That's one of the things I've noticed from the couple times I've gone dancing here--back home going dancing at an ACP or party pretty much entailed just bouncing on your feed and nodding your head. Here, though, there's full on dance circles, spinning, dropping it low, etc and it's great--and a great workout. 

September 17, 2019

I woke up late, obviously, since I'd stayed up pretty late the night before. I stayed in a little bit before we all met up to go to the food market on campus. The market itself was really only three tables and there wasn't a whole lot to it BUT I had an AMAZING food bowl for lunch that had so many different things in it that I wasn't sure were going to go together but ended up being amazing. I also got a bunch of homemade bread and I ate it all in less than a day (of course).

We then went to the poster sale where I wish I could've gotten more. I got a small one that I really liked to help bring color to a room made of entirely white but I couldn't get anything big since I wasn't going to have a good way to get it home.

Then we ventured to the "Secret Shop" aka a Londis that is just hidden from the main road in the back of a neighborhood. I got some basic groceries like peanut butter (which the Brits do not know how to do correctly, I've discovered), pretzels, avocado, etc. I even got a rose and something flavored Kit Kat to try but it was disgusting. That's another thing that's different here--they have regular Kit Kats but they taste different than the ones in the US? And it's not a change I like? This is probably a good thing, though.

I accidentally took a 2.5 hour nap and it's a good thing I woke up when I did or else I wouldn't have been ready for the events that night. We all met in the kitchen and then we left to go bowling. We had to take a couple buses over to White City (it was a little less than an hour of travel) but it was a fun time. We got there and I swear it was the nicest bowling alley I've ever been to. Walking in, you would have thought it was a fancy restaurant or club but it was a bowling alley.

The others in my group got some drinks and we sat around talking for a bit while we waited for our time to be up. When it was that time, we went to go bowl and found out we'd have to wait more since we hadn't written our names down when we'd arrived. It was okay, though, because they gave us the karaoke room to chill in. It was so fun because we didn't really go up individually to sing but, rather, put on songs that the entire group sang to.

We bowled one game and it was fun--I got second place. I don't really know how since I suck at bowling but I'll take anything I can get! After we left, we messed around a bit on this stage in the middle of the courtyard before catching the bus back towards campus. We made a quick detour in Putney to get KFC since none of us had eaten dinner and it was almost midnight. It was only my second time eating KFC and it really hit the spot. I'm not saying it was amazing, but I am saying the leftover mashed potatoes with a bit of cheese and garlic were the perfect breakfast.

September 18, 2019

This day was beautiful weather. It had been sunny every day since arriving in London but I tend to get overheated if there's no breeze. Today it was sunny but cool out and I loved it since it was starting to feel like fall. I woke up at a reasonable time that day and headed off on my own to do some shopping in Putney for a bit.

I started at H&M where I ended up getting $100 worth of clothes for $13 (thank you to sales, student discounts, and Audra for the gift card!). There was also a Waterstones right across from it so, of course, I stopped in. I got Antoni Porowski's cookbook that I'd been eagerly anticipating and I can't wait to try some of the recipes in it!

When I got back to the flat I made myself some lunch and hung out with my flatmates for a while. They'd bought Nerf guns that morning so all day was filled with various levels of Nerf warfare. This was about when I started to feel sick so I went back to my room for a little bit to rest before that night.

I made myself dinner and hung out with the flatmates before getting ready for The Grand. I was actually feeling worse but I decided to suck it up and go out anyway because I'm never going to be in London for Fresher's Week again and I didn't want to miss out. I'm really glad that I didn't miss out!

We queued up for the buses and ended up having to stand and just hold on to the railing the whole way there, which wasn't too bad because the entire bus was singing and having a blast. We got there and the venue was super cool! It's an older victorian building that had been turned into a club so the interior was the coolest. Not only that, but there were a few DJs who cycled through and I thought they were all awesome!

I think we got there around 11:45 and we ended up staying until it ended at 2 am. We danced the whole time--except for a brief interlude to do the photobooth--and my feet were dying but the last 20 minutes alone were worth it! They played a whole plethora of my favorite songs including No Scrubs, Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen, Hey Ya, and more before finishing with Bohemian Rhapsody. Let me tell you, there's nothing quite like belting out Queen at 2 am in a nightclub in London. It was strangely peaceful? Overall, it was an absolute blast and I definitely took a look around at one point to just go “you’re in London having the time of your life.” I’ve only been here for a week and it’s already been amazing—I’m going to really miss my flatmates when I leave 😭

It took about 30 minutes to catch a bus and, even then, there was a lot of shoving involved. For a country of people who like to queue, I guess that goes out the window when the entire crowd is drunk at 2 am. It took another 30+ minutes for us to get back and, I kid you not, I fell asleep standing on the bus just holding on to two rails. By the time I got back it was past 3 am and it took me another 25 minutes or so to get ready for bed and write up my little notes for the day.

September 19, 2019

I let myself sleep in, which I'm grateful for since I woke up feeling more sick than the day before. I chilled in bed for the most part to kind of try and get rid of some of the bad feelings. I ended up having to take Dramamine, Airborne, Advil, and three supplements just to get to that day's event at Thorpe Park.

Thorpe Park is this amusement park right outside London that the school rented out for us. That's right--they rented out an ENTIRE theme park for us to play around in. The first ride we went on was almost the exact same as one they have at Adventureland and my shoes got absolutely soaked (it took 2 whole days for them to dry). One of my flatmates had been there a few times before so it was nice having someone who knew their way around after we split into smaller groups. We hit all of the big name rides and I enjoyed almost all of them--I can't say which was my favorite? Maybe Stealth (0-80 mph in under 1.8 seconds) or the Walking Dead themed one. I've never seen Walking Dead but it was more of an interactive ride where you're running from zombies and it was really fun.

We ate there since the buses weren't leaving until 9:30 pm and I got a great Kebob. I definitely want to search for more Mediterranean places in London because if that's what amusement park kebobs taste like then I want to see what a real place does. 

September 20, 2019

This day was the Fresher's Fair, which is kind of like an activities fair with more freebies. It was held the same place they did the Froebel Fun Day and it was a pretty good time. I went with my flatmates but ended up getting separated from them at one point (it was a donut's fault). A lot of the booths were for sports or clubs, but I don't think I'm going to join any. I may do the Writer's Club since that one sounded up my alley, but I want to travel and explore London as much as possible while I'm here. There's always going to be my great clubs and organizations back home but I don't have the same travel opportunities there as I do here.

I did get two different types of free pizza (thankfully, they have Dominos over here), and won a bunch of freebies. The library on campus had a booth where they were giving out free books so of course your girl got one (it was pretty much shoved into my hand). I found my flatmates again and we lined up for this nightclub's booth. Unfortunately, I can't get the free bottle of champagne on my birthday since that was last month but I did spin their wheel and win a onesie!

After that, I chilled a bit and unpacked all my info sheets and freebies before meeting back up in the kitchen to go out. We headed to the same mall the bowling was at and it took a bit to get there. I probably should have taken more Dramamine because I wasn't feeling too hot on the way there (if you haven't figured it out yet--I get severe motion sickness), but I made it there! We stopped by the Apple store and I played around with the new iPads. I'm considering getting one but, at the same time, it's a big financial investment that I don't think I need right now. If I didn't have a computer or phone, it'd be different, but I'd essentially just be getting one to have a digital notebook for class and watch Netflix with more ease and that's just not worth the money right now.

Then we went to Nandos. I've been to Nandos once before in Chicago but this one was far better! The one in Chicago tasted amazing and was a great experience but something about this one was just even better. Maybe it was the fact that I was actually in London and everyone was so excited to finally go there, maybe it was because I learned from my first time and ordered garlic bread as my side--who knows? I was still sick then so I didn't get anything super spicy so that it wouldn't hurt my throat but it was overall just a great time. There's one a lot closer to us within a couple miles so I'm definitely going to be going again sometime soon!

September 21, 2019

Most of the day was pretty chill. I ended up seeing some friends when I got lunch and it was fun just talking with them again! The food was pretty great, too--I had an avocado Mexican bean sandwich that was vegan but so tasty! I also did my laundry and figured out that situation, though I am a bit annoyed since one load of laundry here cost the same as two back at Lake Forest.

That night, most of us met up in the kitchen to just hang out a bit before three of us went to the final event of Fresher's Week: the Finale. I was a bit burnt out from the whole week and still feeling sick so I ended up heading back to the flat with one of my flatmates after we danced for a little bit and took advantage of the Dominos booth. Surprisingly, I stayed up pretty late on Tik Tok of all things--I'm not proud of it and I don't think it's as good as Vine but there are a few gems on there.  

September 22, 2019

I spent most of Sunday recovering from being sick. What had started as a sore throat turned into a stuffy nose and cough so I spent today with a lot of tissues and Netflix. It wasn't a totally empty day, though, since the entire flat met up that night to have a meeting and do some other stuff. I was able to have some really good pasta that night, too. I just chilled after that and went to bed at a reasonable time due to the first day of classes being the next day. 

So that was Fresher's Week. It was a whirlwind and overwhelming and fun and an all around amazing time. I definitely think studying abroad in the Fall was a great choice since they don't have a true Fresher's Week at the beginning of Spring semesters.

I'm definitely taking it a bit slow these next couple of as I don't want to burn out too fast in the first few weeks. I have all semester to see London--on nice days I can do more outdoor things and on rainy days I can hit all my indoor bucket list items--so I'm perfectly okay letting myself have chill days here and there. Besides, I do have to study at some point and considering I already have to read an entire novel for the first day of my Lit class I don't need to be out and about every second of every day. Plus, my first outings for my classes start at the beginning of October and I'll be getting to see a bunch of cool places with those!

It's Tuesday now and I'm still a bit sick with a cough but I'm pretty much back to normal. It'll be interesting to see what this next week holds with establishing a routine, getting into classes and a different academic learning system, and meeting even more new people. I also realized that it's been FOUR & A HALF MONTHS since I was last in class and I can only hope I haven't forgotten how to be a student.

Till next week!

(If you're not caught up, you can find my study abroad landing page with all my previous posts here)

Thanks for reading!

You can follow my bookstagram here. A brand new giveaway will be posted soon!

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Blog Tour: "Steel Tide" by Natalie C. Parker

Hello everyone! Today I'm bringing you a super exciting blog post to celebrate the release of Steel Tide, the sequel to Seafire, by Natalie C Parker! Seafire was one of my absolute favorite reads of last year so when I had the opportunity to be a part of the blog tour for the second book I jumped at the chance. A quick overview of what you'll find in this post: descriptions for both books, information on the author, purchase links, and a moodboard created by me inspired by the series! 


After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, who have lost their families and homes because of Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric's armed and armored fleet. 

But when Caledonia's best friend and second-in-command barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all...or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for? 


(Spoilers for Seafire)

The second book in a heart-stopping trilogy that follows the captain of an all-female ship intent on taking down a vicious warlord's powerful fleet.

     Caledonia may have lost her crew, but she's not done fighting yet. After nearly dying at the hand of a powerful foe, Caledonia is pulled from the sea and nursed back to health by a crew of former Bullets that call themselves Blades. The Blades escaped Aric Athair's clutches and now live a nomadic existence, ready to disappear at a moment's notice should trouble come their way. 

     But Caledonia wants to do more than just hide. She wants to find the Mors Navis and her beloved sisters. She wants to continue fighting Aric's fleet and to take back the Bullet seas. She'll need to do everything in her power to convince the Blades that fighting is their only option, that there has to be a life better than the one under Aric Athair's reign, and that finding the women of the Mors Navis is the first step to revolution.


Natalie C. Parker is the author of the Beware the Wild duology, the Seafire trilogy, and the editor of Three Sides of a Heart. She earned her BA in English literature from the University of Southern Mississippi and her MA in gender studies from the University of Cincinnati. She grew up in a Navy family finding home in coastal cities from Virginia to Japan. Now, she lives surprisingly far from any ocean on the Kansas prairie where she runs Madcap Retreats with her wife. She tweets @nataliecparker.


Seafire (August 28, 2018) - all retailers

Steel Tide (Sep 17, 2019) - all retailers


I hope you're as excited about this trilogy as I am! I absolutely cannot wait to reread Seafire and then dive straight into Steel Tide! If you're wondering about more of my thoughts on Seafire, you can find my non-spoiler review here.

Thanks for reading!

You can follow my bookstagram here. A brand new giveaway will be posted soon!

To get more awesome content like this post, click the follow button to the right!

I am a "BookishTextDesign" Influencer! Use my code LAUREN10 for a discount off your bookmark purchases! Check out the shop here

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Studying Abroad in London: An Introduction

Surprise! I'm in London! I'm lucky enough to be spending the semester studying abroad at the University of Roehampton in London, UK. I've been so excited about this for over a year now and the time has finally arrived! I also figured I would do a weekly study abroad update not only to let my friends and family know what's up but to also give me something to look back on a few years from now. I'm thinking I'll be uploading Monday's or Tuesday's every week and covering the previous week's adventures and fun. This first post is definitely going to be a long one, so I'm just going to dive straight in!


I have a few goals for this semester abroad. Some of them are quite small but others are large goals that I really hope to accomplish while I'm here:

  • Become more independent 
  • Learn how to french braid my hair
  • Travel to at least three places outside of London (not including school trips)
  • Spend at least one day a week exploring London either by myself or with a friend
  • Succeed academically (of course)


Getting prepared for London was something months in the making. I sent in my first of many  rounds of applications all the way back in December. I won't bore you with all the application process but it was a long one. Most of the actual preparing for London was done over the summer in terms of buying things I'd need, saving money and figuring out financials, booking plane tickets, packing, etc. More than once in the last week before leaving I went to the store only to have to go back later because I forgot at least one thing.

I ending up packing everything the day before my flight all at once. It took a few hours getting everything organized and double-checking I had what I needed, but it was overall not a very stressful process. Until we weighed my suitcase, that is. I ended up being pretty over-limit and had to take out a lot, either putting the excess in various carry-on spots or deciding not to bring it. I think I did pretty good overall with packing considering I only brought a suitcase, a carry on, and a backpack when I usually bring 2 cars worth of stuff when I move in to my regular college.

I'd say the biggest preparation for study abroad actually came in taking pictures for my Instagram. I obviously couldn't bring very many books or props with me abroad, so to maintain my book-themed account I needed to have a huge stockpile of pictures before I left. I ended up taking over 50 pictures in 5 days, which is still only about half the number I needed for London. I was able to squeeze in some scarves and small props, though, so I'm sure I can find something to take a picture of while I'm here!

The hardest part about pre-London was saying goodbye. I've never been so far away from home by myself or for as long a time. Even going to college three hours away from home I still got to see my family pretty often. I spent over a week at my dad's before I left and it was a great time. I'll be honest--I cried in the car driving home. After getting through security at the airport, I sat down at my gate and shed a few tears after saying goodbye to my mom. 

September 10-11, 2019

The travel itself was probably the easiest it's ever been in my entire life. Usually when I travel, something always goes wrong at some point. However, this time around, it was great. My flights left on time with no delays (unheard of!) and then arrived early in their respective cities. I didn't even have a seat partner on my first one!

The second flight (Chicago to London) was really nice. My seat was really comfortable and there were so many movies and shows that I could watch. Not only that but I ended up getting a few hours of sleep which I'm usually unable to do!

We landed in London at about 5:30 AM. It was still dark when we landed and I saw a glimpse of all the city lights (and the London Eye!) from across the aisle but I didn't get a super clear view. Customs was a breeze--there was no line for me to get my Visa stamp and our baggage was out really quickly.

It took me a while to walk through Heathrow to get to the meet-up point, though. At least 25 minutes of walking--and that's without getting lost. I was actually there before the representatives from my college so I ended up having to wait a little bit for them to show up. By the time they showed up, we got a pretty good-sized group, and then our coach had arrived, it was about 9:30 already. I was definitely feeling tired but didn't let myself sleep on the bus or when I got to campus. 

Day 1
September 11, 2019

Once we got to campus it was pretty chill. We stood in line to get our room key and welcome packet and then there were people who showed us to our buildings. After that, we were just able to unpack and do whatever we wanted. I unpacked, changed clothes, and ended up taking an hour or so nap.

After that, I met up with a couple of girls from my floor and we went out to walk around campus. We ended up finding the "Secret Shop" a little ways off campus and it was a fun trip out there. I'd realized earlier that my outlet adaptor was for the general Europe but not the UK, so I ended up having to walk quite a bit in order to find one that worked. However, I ended up finding some for super cheap and got a couple to cover both outlets in my room!

When we were back at campus we met with some other flatmates in our kitchen and went to the Welcome Dinner together. I'd eaten pretty much nothing except Cheez-Its since getting off the plane so it tasted really good to me, though it wasn't anything special. We all stayed around and chatted for a bit on the lawn which was fun, before a group of us explored campus a bit more. It's strange because there's free outdoor washing machines? There's indoor ones that you can use but cost money, so I think I'm going to try and take my chances with snagging a free outdoor one.

I spent the rest of the night after getting back just finishing up putting pictures on the walls and organizing other random stuff. I was up pretty late, which was surprising, but I ended up being able to watch some Netflix while I was putting up pictures before catching some sleep.

Day 2
September 12, 2019

Waking up was hard. I didn't want to oversleep and not be able to get adjusted to the time schedules so I made myself get up even though I was still super tired and a little jet-lagged. We had orientation that morning and I ate Cheez-Its for breakfast since it was the only thing I had. There was a girl from my flat in my orientation group so we chatted quite a bit during the morning and the tour of campus. I've only been here for a little while but I'm getting to know the campus pretty well--though classes haven't started yet and I don't know where any academic buildings are.

Afterwards, we went to Asda (a store comparable to Walmart) to get some groceries and last minute necessities. I definitely needed to pick up a soft comfy blanket and snacks. It was surprising to find that, at least at Asda, groceries were pretty cheap and that junk food costs more than produce and healthy food. It's a bit of an extra incentive to buy healthier food, though, which is good. Let's just say that carrying bags of groceries on a packed bus across town, though, isn't as fun as it sounds.

When I got back I had to immediately head to a dinner put on by the Catering Team for students on the plan. There were only two other girls at the entire dinner so I ended up sitting with them and we talked for a couple hours. It was really fun and I had a great time meeting them! In fact, we ended up going out to a couple pubs after leaving dinner.

The first was called Tequila Mockingbird which was pretty cool, though it was so loud I couldn't really hear the others when we were talking. We left that one and went to The Toy Shop which was so freaking cool. It was, obviously, themed around toys and I loved the vibe of the place as well. After leaving that bar, we just ended up at Five Guys for some greasy food. I got a shake (amazing) and some fries that we took out to the bridge overlooking the Thames. I think that was the moment that it really hit that I was finally in London.

Day 3
September 13, 2019

This was another instance of being really tired when I woke up, though it was easier to wake up than the day before. I met up with the two friends from the night before and we, along with a couple others, went deeper into London to Notting Hill, which was so cool. Not only do I feel like I was getting a better understanding of the Tube system, but the area was super interesting.

We had lunch at this restaurant on a street corner that was so freaking cute. The food was pretty good, too. I tried cider for the first time and it's probably my drink of choice so far. After lunch we ventured deeper to Portobello Market.

This was one of the coolest streets I've been on. There were so many antique/thrift stores, pop-up stalls, cafes, and more. I could have easily spent hours exploring everything there--and we only made it a little over a mile down! I picked up some postcards at your typical tourist store but then ventured down to The Notting Hill Bookshop. It was such a cute quaint bookstore that I could have spent a long time in.

After that, we headed back to campus. I skyped some friends and family before accidentally falling asleep. I woke up a few hours later and just watched some Netflix and had some food before actually going to bed.

Day 4
September 14, 2019

So far, I'd have to say this was my favorite day! Our group from the previous day, plus a few more additions, went into London together. We walked about 15 minutes to the Tube station and then took a few different lines in to get to Westminster.

Of course we started with seeing Buckingham Palace. I'd love to go back someday, either by myself or with a friend, to take the 5~ hour tour that takes you through all of the different rooms and whatnot. The outside was really cool, of course, but we were there on a day where there was no changing of the guard. We had fun taking a lot of pictures in front of the palace, the Victoria memorial, Canada gates, and more!

We ventured a little bit aways to find food. We walked next to St. James park and I was actually able to see the London Eye above the trees as we were walking! It was a beautiful park and I can definitely see myself sitting against a tree just reading a book.

We ended up at this little wine and tapas restaurant that was in this little off-street that wasn't too busy. I wish I could remember the name of it, though I do remember the street it was on if I want to go again! The interior was so cool and the food was really good. It was yummy and a chance to try something new, which was fun.

After that, the group split with some going back to campus and others staying in Central London. I stayed with two other girls and we headed towards Piccadilly Circus. To get there, we had to pass through Trafalgar Square and I saw my first protest (over Brexit, of course). There were some speeches and a couple big signs and even some fire, but it wasn't anything scary. What was more cool, though, were all the chalk artists out there making this big huge murals just in the middle of the square. They were really pretty.

When we got to Piccadilly, there was a dance circle with this dude dancing for the crowds. He was pretty cool but the show was completely stolen by this toddler who walked out into the middle and started bouncing to the music. It was rather adorable.

We ended up getting gelato from this place that was rating #1 Gelato in London (according to Google Maps). It was so good. It was creamy and not too cold and sweet and amazing. I probably could have eaten an entire gallon jug and not even cared. After that, we went into a few of the bigger clothing stores like Hunter and Zara. It was definitely fun to just browse and see all the different styles in each store. I had to restrain myself from buying every single soft jacket, though.

We then found a Whole Foods! I wasn't going to get anything there but as I was browsing around I saw some familiar brands from the US and some food that just looked good in general, so I did get a few things. I ended up getting some amazing bread that I used to make loaded avocado toast for dinner.

After that, we began our journey back to campus. Just going down the escalator into Piccadilly station was an adventure in itself. The platform was so packed that we couldn't even squeeze into the first train that came by. We were able to get onto the next one, though we were standing the entire way. After we switched lines there were seats available until we needed to switch trains again and ended up standing the rest of the way. Luckily, the bus we needed to take back to campus was there when we got out of the station and we were able to sang seats on that one as well.

It was pretty late in the day by the time we got back so I ended up just relaxing and chilling in my room before going to bed early. 

Day 5
September 15, 2019

I woke up so refreshed from getting extra sleep. It was amazing. The sun comes in my room in the mornings and then disappears behind buildings around 11 or 12 in the day so it's always so bright and warm when I wake up. I went and made some more fancy avocado toast but it was move-in day for all local students so I kind of stayed out of everyone's way as best I could. I mostly relaxed that day. After walking 6-7 miles every day for five days straight, I was definitely in need of a day just for chilling. I caught up on some blog stuff, watched some Netflix, cleaned up and organized a bit, etc.

Later that afternoon, I went to a general orientation event where I got to meet some of my new flatmates before we went to the free pizza afterwards. We all headed to the movie on the lawn being put on (Avenger's Endgame) but I ended up getting cold and walked back with one of my flatmates. I decided to meal-prep some food and started making pasta. Another of my new flatmates was in the kitchen and we talked for quite a while before being joined by a few others.

A small group of us then decided to go to the Union Bar (the bar on campus) for drinks and to hang out. I bought my first drink ever and it was pretty yummy. I was able to meet a few more girls and we all sat and chatted for a bit which was fun. They started kicking people out about five minutes before close and as we were getting up to leave, a guy projectile vomited all over the floor. Hilarious and gross at the same time. When we got back, I stayed up a little bit later watching Netflix (probably too late, if I'm being honest) before I went to bed.

And there's the beginning of orientation and study abroad! It's interesting because we had a few days of international student orientation and now there's a full week of events and things for all students. Classes don't start for another week yet so there's still a lot of stuff to come!

I'm having a really good time so far. Everyone I've met has been really nice and I'm feeling good about where I'm at. My flat is really nice and my flatmates are all great. The location I'm at in London is wonderful and I can't wait to spend more time exploring!

Thanks for reading!

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