18 Dec
2014
Posted in: Home Renovation, Life
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Christmas Spirit

I’ve been having a bit of a time getting into the Christmas spirit for reasons that will soon be clear. I did make a few attempts to get in the mood though.

Giving Tree

One of my 30before30 goals was to adopt a family for Christmas. I had no idea how hard this would be. I work for a satellite location of my main employer so I couldn’t easily join their program, my church wouldn’t be doing theirs until far too late for me to be prepared, and when I called the country social services program they were all out before the middle of November. That’s an amazing thing for all those families but I knew there still had to be a market. I managed to find one via my last employer’s giving tree, getting a mom and her daughter. I made sure to get them everything on their list and threw in a few extra holiday treats and gift cards so they can do some extra shopping too. It was an easy project but one that did make a difference.

The other way I got into the holiday spirit was by going on my last date night of the year. Another of my 30before30 goals was to go on a monthly date night for all of 2014. Date night had to be a meal + an activity. Can I just say I chose the absolute worst year for such a goal? (Don’t even get me started on the goal for Peru…) I had my job go from decent to destructive, I got a new job, had to start a new satellite office for my employer, my husband’s job took up a lot of his time, I stopped working out, my commute doubled/tripled, someone hit my car, a beloved high school teacher of mine passed away from cancer which sent me on a minor freakout, I decided to buy a house in January and spent all year looking, and decided to sell my own home. I don’t mean to say that my year was a bad one but it was unnecessarily stressful and I really just want to move on to 2015 and all its potential. Date nights for this year were hard due to scheduling, snow, stress, and at times being a little unhappy with where things stood in life. That’s probably why I wanted the date nights more than ever but there were moments when trying to grab a meal and a movie seemed like the most painful experience in the world.

Lafayette Parlor Tour

Thankfully our December date night was a much better ending to the series. All those issues from before were over. My husband and I decided to take some time off work so this past weekend didn’t have work looming over us. We took my parents out to the Lafayette Square Holiday Parlor Tour in St. Louis. Lafayette Square is an old historic neighborhood in one part of the city. It was hit by a tornado years ago and parts of the neighborhood fell into decay while others aged and needed improvement. Starting in the 1980s the neighborhood improvement picked up the pace and they started renovating what could be fixed and doing matching infill to keep up the historic charm of the neighborhood. Now upscale bars, small businesses, art galleries, and brunch spots have moved in. When you see bad things about St. Louis on the news, know that the city and county are huge places and there are so many great things here.

Lafayette Tour 1

A few times a year homes open their doors for tours. It’s a great chance to see how people have improved their homes, their antique decor, or just their fun touches on the houses.

Parlor Tour 2 Parlor Tour 3

After making it to most of the homes we jumped to the county for a meal at Pastaria. Pastaria is run by one of the top chefs in STL and the country, Gerard Craft. Pastaria isn’t one of those snooty kinds of places though. You can get pizza, pasta, and gelato and go home happy. The gelato is always a fun experience. Last time I went I got a salted caramel. This time I ended up with a blackened carrot while my parents ended up with a parsnip one. You just never know what you’ll get except you’ll be stuffed when you leave.

Date nights ended on a good note. I hope in 2015 we can keep making our best attempts to go on date nights and they can be a bit more spontaneous and convenient.

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8 Dec
2014
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Podcasts

I mentioned in my last post that I am obsessed with Serial. Really, I’ve become obsessed with podcasts as a form of entertainment. I drive over an hour each way to work and sometimes my commute turns into 3-hours round trip. It’s all temporary but my sanity was slipping listening to talk radio. My mind wanders too much right now for audio books so I decided short blurbs of topical programming would be a good form of entertainment.

The Equipment

iTunes podcasts

If you have an iPhone, iTunes is set up to catch and download most programs. It’s really easy.

Podcast Republic

For me, I have an Android phone and tested out a few apps before settling on Podcast Republic. I like the interface and love that it has some car-friendly options.

The Programs

Finding out what kind of programming you like is a lot of trial and error. There were some programs I wanted to like but didn’t. Just sample and dabble in what’s out there. Some of my favorites:

Serial

This one got its own post but really, if you like crime, True Detective, mysteries, or the #1 podcast in America then start with Serial. Start from the beginning and try not to binge listen (but you won’t be able to avoid it).

Radiolab

Radiolab was the first podcast I’ve listened to. While not without controversy, most episodes touch on scientific topics but it also includes philosophy and individual narratives. Colors is a beautiful episode to start with.

This American Life

This American Life seems to be a classic for most people. Interestingly I worked for a man featured on TAL this past year. Serial is actually a spinoff of TAL. Think of this show as a glimpse of other people’s lives. A set of favorites include Harper High School part 1 and part 2.

Planet Money

What sounds more boring than a show about finances and the economy? Trust me, I took 4 econ classes in college and hated them all. Planet Money is different. It’s educating while not being boring and helps to discuss all those things you wish the news told you about. This show is a sister program to This American Life as well. When Women Stopped Coding was a recent episode that I loved.

PCHH

Pop Culture Happy Hour is the perfect palette cleanser. You get a good discussion of something in pop culture, often looked at from outside-the-box ideologies. Then you get a laundry list of what is making the hosts happy. The name of the show really says it all. I’m often inspired to consume new media or look at what I’m consuming in a new way. It’s best to listen to the current ones but I’ll always recommend It’s That Time of Year so Get Ready for the Bells for its epic rant and devotion to the heat and snow misers.

Honorable Mentions: I’m still digesting some of these but I’ll say that Pitch, Criminal, and 99% Invisible have all joined my regular rotation. While I love NPR podcasts these all deserve the love too.

Are you listening to podcasts? What shows am I missing?

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4 Dec
2014
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Thursdays

If you had told me a year ago that every Thursday morning I would wake up early just to download a public radio production, I would have laughed at you. Snorted really. I am the opposite of a morning person. I’ve been known to stay up late even just to sleep through mornings so I don’t have to live through them.

So what’s changed? Serial. It’s my new obsession and it’s likely infiltrated your life in some way. It’s one story told week-by-week and a spin-off of This American Life (TAL). I was never that into TAL but I had just downloaded a new app for listening to podcasts and downloaded a new episode called “The Alibi” the first week of October. 53 minutes later and I was hooked. There was no turning back.

Serial

Serial comes out each Thursday morning. The first episode spells out the premise: in January 1999 a teenage girl named Hae Min Lee disappears. Six weeks later her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, is arrested. He’s convicted and sentenced to life in prison. It should seem open and shut but it isn’t thanks to issues like a witness changing stories, alibis not fleshed out, emerging technologies, confirmation bias, how our court systems work, and that sometimes the justice system isn’t about justice.

The host, Sarah Koenig, does a wonderful job of focusing each week on a niche of the investigation, the disappearance, teenage interactions, the trial, and the resulting prison sentence. This past week she had us focus on the victim, Hae, and what she was like. She wasn’t always a murder victim and she had so many people who loved her and cared about her. Then Koenig focused on Adnan and what he’s like now and I realized that I want justice for both of them, even if I don’t know what that is.

So today I’ll sit in my car and drive into work listening for another week and learning more about the case and myself. I’ll hear the haunting theme music that sends shivers down my spine and I’ll continue to let Koenig weave her story and maybe I’ll learn something more about the case or just myself.

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25 Nov
2014
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On St. Louis

I’ve learned some things in my work for the legal system. I’ve learned people can be bad people and do bad things, I’ve learned people can be good people and do bad things. I’ve learned not all cops, attorneys, and judges are interested in doing what is right but rather what is easy. I’ve learned victims can be hard to sympathize with as they lash out in anger. I’ve learned money can buy a certain amount of influence. I’ve learned that the general public often knows nothing about how the system works.

What I’ve really learned is that the justice system isn’t really about justice and every group of people has outliers. We shouldn’t need the law to tell us how we should treat each other in this world, whether it is with our deeds or with our words. There’s also no shame in remembering that today when I see acts of violence in my city and words of hatred on my news feed. I try to tell myself these are good people doing hateful things because these are people I felt were my friends saying awful things or these are people who are my community acting out in violence. I want to believe in the good in people and yet I wonder how many people I feel I’m giving the benefit of the doubt I’m really just excusing.

There are 3 neighborhoods in St. Louis that were touched by the reaction to Ferguson. One was guarded and protected by police and the National Guard. One was given a chance to protest peacefully and had law enforcement step in when needed. Another was allowed to burn. It’s a perfect embodiment of our community divided in St. Louis and how easy it can be to look the other way.

There is no simple answer to describe what is happening in Ferguson and anyone who tries to give you one is ignorant of the entire situation. People are angry about many things. People are scared about many things. People are sad about many things. I don’t think St. Louis is alone in feeling that way. I woke up today deciding I can let those worries control me or I can keep working to bring about positive change in my community. I hope I don’t let me down.

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6 Oct
2014
Posted in: DIY Projects, Life
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Getting Stuff Done

On May 23, 2014, I put in my notice at my last job. The good news is, I didn’t just join the unemployment lines. I had a job offer waiting for me that’s a little outside of my usual expertise but encompasses a lot of the finer points of my background. I don’t know where this job will lead me but I definitely reached that “next stage of my career” distinction that I required for my 30before30 list. Honestly, without setting that goal I don’t know if I would have had the courage to even apply for the job let alone take it. Don’t be afraid to dream big.

I know that taking this job means I may have to sacrifice other priorities on my list, like a bigger trip or some of my activities that involve free time. It also put my family in a better position and sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Maybe I won’t achieve those dreams before I’m 30 but hopefully I’ll have the courage to keep going for them.

daenerys_targaryen_by_pinklatex-d5qv9hl

At the end of the day, I may have burned some bridges at my last job. In some ways I’m sorry because so many of the people meant so much to me. On the other hand, people there had stopped believing they deserved to be rewarded for hard work and I think some of the discomfort they felt was seeing the status quo challenged. It hurts my heart that so many people feel trapped for so many reasons and not everyone had the freedom to turn their back on the kind of job that just a few years earlier I had dreamed of. I had to leave so I didn’t feel trapped in my own way. We all have choices and we can all learn from the ones we do (or don’t) make.

Despite what people think of me, I took a big step forward.

bitches

Tina Fey had it right all along. I finally finished a cross stitch pattern the same week I left my job. Thanks to plasticlittlecovers for making a design that encompasses my life.

My summer started off completely different than I ever expected and that new job gave way to a decision to move from the country to the city. That’s another very long story though and one that isn’t quite over. I may have to come back to it.

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29 Sep
2014
Posted in: DIY Projects
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Overdue

Not only am I overdue in writing a post, I’m overdue in writing this post. Heck, I’m even overdue in completing this project. Let’s back up a bit.

I married my husband, Daniel, back in 2007. Since I know some people like origination stories, I’ll say that I met my husband while I was on the job. At Wal-Mart. Hey, it could be worse – my parents met while shoveling horse poop. After years of dating, we got married and this month we celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. I’ve posted about our 6th anniversary and this year we did the whole copper exchange where we gifted ourselves some nice moscow mule mugs, salt and pepper shakers, and spent a nice date getting pizza and gelato.

table numbers

One thing I did get accomplished this year was making my wedding shadow box. I had an entire container in my basement holding all those leftover wedding invites, some accessories, and a few other fun objects (including the table numbers featured above).

bridal tiara

I had a nice shadow box I’d bought from Home Goods forever ago so I loaded up my hot glue gun and got to work. I started with a gold fabric that had been used on the head table. My dress was a gold/champagne shade and all my jewelry had been gold so I used it as a base. The ribbon on the bottom is a strap from one of the bridesmaid dresses. I did a quick measure and then hot glued it once I’d ironed the fabric out some.

wedding shadowbox 1

Then I started doing some test placements of my invitations, the program, and my bouquet. I preserved my wedding bouquet in a slightly unusual way – with a rosary. Keepsake Rosaries turned the red roses from my wedding bouquet into a beautiful heirloom rosary.

rosary

Another decorative twist I included was a fun way of using the flower petals from our tabletops and the little note that was attached to our jams and honeys we gave out as favors. I just glued until it felt right. petals

Now getting a picture of the final product has been a bit tricky since our home is in a permanent state of reno. Here’s a picture before I placed it all into the frame.

shadowbox

I wanted to find a way to feature some of the wedding music and verses we had chosen and also some photos from the big day. My other favorite feature is that I was able to include the seal we’d used on our invites, just below the photo of me.

Once I got the frame fitted, I wanted to add some additional three-dimensional elements. In came the tiara from earlier and some more rose petals to add a fuller effect.

shadowbox

That will cross another item off my 30before30 list. Don’t worry, it’s not the only one. I did accomplish one of the biggest items on the list even before I was ready to. More on that later of course.

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18 Apr
2014
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Worth It

I don’t talk about work often but I included a goal on my 30 before 30 list to be at the next stage of my career before I am 30. I started from the very bottom with my employer first as an intern and then as a temp in a building with no air conditioning. I’ve worked my way up to a position that has very important roles in managing projects, hundreds of thousands of dollars, interacting with national press, and being on the forefront for projects that could truly change people’s lives. I’m amazed at how trusted I am with so much. I wish I could say that I’ve achieved that “next stage” definition and yet I am still at the same job title and salary I was hired in at.

Youcandoanything

I’m not giving up on my goal but I am acknowledging I might not achieve it in the way I idealized. I want a job that is a career in a path that I went to school for that is no longer considered entry level. That was all I meant by my goal. I think a better goal might be being the kind of employee who can say no. That’s the kind of lesson I think so many women have trouble with and I am no exception. I thought the way to move up in life was to smile, agree to help in any way and hope that those actions were enough to be recognized as a hard worker. Instead, I’ve seen the kind of workers who move up are the ones who play the game, who stand up for themselves, and who can move on from a battle in an effort to win the war.

fireblood

Huge ASOIAF/Game of Thrones fan. #sorrynotsorry

I might not accomplish all of my goals and I might not accomplish my original goal. I will not sit back and be passive about my future. I think too often people (read: women) are encouraged to be accommodating and to sit back and wait for our goals to be achieved. I’m realizing that I don’t want to be the kind of person who leaves my fate to other people. I’m a hard worker, I’m bright and I’m strong. Even if I’m let down by others I won’t be let down by the choices I am making today.

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17 Feb
2014
Posted in: Food
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The Best Pizza

For my sixth wedding anniversary, my husband and I each got the gift of iron. We did some research on how to use our new cast iron pans since neither of us had a history of cooking with them. I’ve found so many new recipes I can’t wait to try or have tried since. One recipe stood out to me: cast iron pizza.

The recipe I tried is from Serious Eats. I’ve made it maybe 5 times now and each time I am still amazed at how much like a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza it tastes like. Did anyone else do the Book It program in school where reading earned you pizza? This recipe brings back all my Pizza Hut days. I was always a reader but I’ll be bribed to read more any day for a slice of pizza. I am so impressed at how close this is recipe is to the real thing and I am also so impressed there was once a program that combines my two loves of reading and pizza.

bookit

This recipe starts by making the dough the day before. You don’t need a kitchenaid mixer, just a bowl, a spoon, and 5 ingredients- flour, kosher salt, yeast, water, and olive oil. I do suggest a scale for measuring but it is up to you.

pizza dough

You can top your pizza however you want. This pizza begs for traditional toppings but you can go creative if you want. The crust is so good so you will want to feature that.

making pizza

Seriously, look at the crust and the cheesey goodness. This is the best pizza in the world and you could be making it right now.

pan pizza

Don’t forget the best part: This recipe makes two crusts. If you love it as much as I do, you can make yourself another one the next day and relive the experience. Who wouldn’t want that?

Pan Pizza

Prep Time: 24 hours

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 24 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 6 slices

Serving Size: 1 slice

Ingredients

  • 400 grams (14 ounces, about 2 1/2 cups) bread flour
  • 10 grams (.35 ounces, about 2 teaspoons) kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 4 grams (.15 ounces, about 1/2 teaspoon) instant yeast
  • 275 grams (9.5 ounces, about 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons) water
  • 8 grams (.25 ounces, about 2 teaspoons) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to coat pans and drizzle

Instructions

  1. Stir together your five ingredients until all the flour is moistened and combined, adding more water if necessary.
  2. Place in a bowl 5 times the size and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rest 8-24 hours on a counter.
  3. Sprinkle dough with flour and separate into two balls. Freeze or chill second ball if making only a single pizza.
  4. Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Place 1 ball of dough in each pan and turn to coat evenly with oil. With palm of hand, flatten the ball slightly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough sit at room temperature for two hours.
  5. After 80 minutes, preheat the oven to 550°F. While oven preheats, prepare 3/4 cup of your favorite sauce and shred 4 oz of a dry mozzarella as well as any toppings.
  6. Once the oven has preheated (about 2 hours after covering pan in plastic wrap), use your fingertips to press it around until it fills in every corner, popping any large bubbles that appear. Top with sauce, cheese and toppings.
  7. Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes. When finished, check bottom for doneness with a spatula. Remove pizza by sliding to a cutting board and allow to cool 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Notes

Recipe from Serious Eats

http://www.thehyperhouse.com/2014/02/the-best-pizza/

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10 Feb
2014
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Iron Anniversary

Back in the fall I celebrated my 6th wedding anniversary. My husband and I each had a tough time with this one since we follow the traditional gift options most years. We’ve done well most years but this one stumped us. We’d survived paper, cotton, leather, fruit/flowers and wood but what do you do with iron and candy?

cast iron camping

Well, if you are us you give chocolate and cast iron. We both wanted new cast iron skillets and we’d never owned any so why not start when the opportunity presented itself? As a bonus though, I also gifted Dan a night away camping in Iron County, Missouri, where my dad has some property in the middle of nowhere. We were isolated right by a bunch of hiking ground and since 2013 was when we decided to become hikers, we made the best of my last-minute iron gift. We brought our skillets, camping gear, and hiking gear with us and we were on the road.

nova camps

Did I mention I brought a little friend? This was Nova’s first time hiking or camping. We got there late at night the first day and she was not quite ready for a world of sleeping bags or 2 hour car rides that first day. When she woke up the next morning, well, I have never seen a bigger transformation. My dainty little dog had turned into a trailblazer who found a new mission in life.

taum sauk

We went on a hike to Missouri’s highest peak. Did you know Missouri isn’t very high in elevation? While the hike itself required some major up and downs, somehow at 1,772 feet above sea level we didn’t get altitude sickness. It was this trip that made us realize that if we are going to be hikers we night need to venture out of Missouri now and then. Don’t get me wrong, I do love all our natural trails. It just seems like we might need a bigger challenge soon. Even Nova still had some energy left after the hike.

Nova hikes

ironton

After our morning hike, we explored my dad’s property with Nova. She was sniffing out deer, squirrels, and maybe even bears. Well, probably not but never say never. I’m pretty sure what my little puppy (I see no gray in any photos, thank you very much) enjoyed most was with walks around the water with her favorite person in the world that weekend.

nova and daddy

Somehow our anniversary that stumped us so much turned into a weekend full of memories and fun.

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2 Jan
2014
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2013’s Books in Review

Like my post from last year, I’m sharing my top books for the year. For 2013, I had the added goal of getting through 50 books for my 30 Before 30 list. Thankfully I got all 50 books in by December 30. This year I’ll scale it back a touch knowing I have some giant books on my “to read” list. You can see my 2013 list in full on Goodreads or follow along in my sidebar for 2014’s progress.

2013 Books in Review

This year I had 9 favorites. When I look at the list most of them seem outside of my comfort zone but they all make the list for the effects they had on me. They almost left me with a sense of melancholy since they aren’t all “fun” but the books were as a whole so beautiful that I want you to know that melancholy is a great thing here. I want a book that makes me feel or makes me think and this year’s favorites all do that.

 

My 9 Favorite of 2013

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
11/22/63
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Code Name Verity
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
The Raven Boys
Ready Player One
Eleanor & Park
The Dog Stars



Julie’s favorite books »

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

This book was a humorous take on Byson’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. I came away definitely not wanting to hike the trail but with the goal of wanting to reconnect with nature. I started running again, took up hiking and got myself a bike. I plan to spend 2 of my next trips engaging in hiking.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

I know this one is a little old but with the JFK anniversary this year, I figured why not add it to the list. I’m not the biggest King fan but give me a book about time travel, history, love, and mystery and I can’t put it down. This book left me thinking about paradoxes and marathoning Doctor Who again.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Reading this reminded me of my college dinner and a book class with its discussion of medicine and ethics. Henrietta Lacks and her family were focused on just as much as the legacy of her cells. If you don’t know about Henrietta, there are few people who have made such a dent on science as her. I owe my own life to the discoveries that came with her cells and yet her own family’s suffering continues.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

WWII, best friends, female badasses and the biggest heartbreak of the year all in a young adult book. The book itself is set as a confession at the end of a life and it made me really think about the value of my own life.

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

Again with my love of nonfiction microhistories. This one has to do with the spread of cholera in Victorian London. I enjoyed looking at the past through the knowledge of the day and seeing how “knowing” and knowing are two very different things.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I confess I read 3 of Stiefvater’s books this year and wanted to include them all on this list. The Raven Boys mixes private schools, a reversal on the manic pixie dream girl trope, mystery, fate, death, belief, and family in a crazy plot that will probably make you grab its sequel, The Dream Thieves, as soon as you finish. I read this book and was just engrossed and wanted my life to be that exciting.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The following summary is the exact opposite kind of book I should love based on the description: A teenage boy obsessed with video games and peak Gen-X pop culture tries to solve a mystery that’s unsolvable. What that summary doesn’t tell you is that this is a book about overthrowing the worst of society, reconnecting in an isolationist world, and personal growth. I read 8 books on vacation this year and this was the best of the best. It stuck with me because despite being a futuristic young adult book set with my own past, it applies so much to today’s world.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This book is on nearly every top books list of the year and it deserves to be. It pairs nicely with Ready Player One. This young adult book deals with pop culture, feeling like an outsider and living life with an overwhelming sense of courage every day. The characters were real enough that I wanted the best for them even when they didn’t always get it because life isn’t fair.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Another book set in the future, this one made me so lonely. The author explains how empty the main character feels in his solitude and it just exudes through the pages into you. While this book left me sobbing at times it gave me so much hope in the end that I couldn’t let this list go without including it.

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