the masterpiece by fiona davis | book review

I don’t know where to begin when describing how much I loved The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis! I received this book earlier this summer as an advanced reader copy, and my only regret is that I didn’t start reading it sooner! I really loved how this story reminded me of the intrigue and vivid detail of The Girl You Left Behind, while still feeling fresh and new.

the masterpiece by fiona davis book review

The Masterpiece is a juxtaposition of two women’s stories, one in the late 1920s and one in the mid 1970s, both during difficult financial times in New York City. The earlier story features a female illustrator, Clara, who is teaching at an art school nestled in the top floors of the illustrious Grand Central Station. Fast forward more than fifty years to Virginia, who has not been dealt the best cards following her divorce, and is working at the information desk in a now decrepit Grand Central Station.

I loved how this story shed a light on how challenging it was to be a female artist in the beginning of the twentieth century, as well as the challenges faced by working women in the 1970s. Both characters were women you wanted to rally behind and cheer for, no matter what happened to them.

the masterpiece fiona davis book review |

Another thing I really loved about this book is that you could enjoy being a fan of art, without having to be an expert to catch on to what Davis was writing about. I like to be able to focus on books without having my phone near me when I read, and I didn’t feel like I had to google such-and-such painting by xyz artist to fully get the plot- which I loved!

Having recently stayed at the Hyatt Grand (which has an entrance that feeds directly into the Grand Concourse, read more about NYC here and here) earlier this summer, I loved reading about one of my favorite historical landmarks in New York City. Fiona Davis really brought the location and the time periods to life, and I could picture myself exactly where the characters were standing.

The Masterpiece is out in just two short weeks (August 7, 2018) and you won’t want to miss a great read that everyone will be talking about!

For: lovers of historical fiction juxtaposed with more modern times, readers who love to root for the main characters, and love some accuracy to their fiction, especially when it comes to art or architecture.

Pairs well with: a trip to New York City, either scheduled or something to think back to. Preferably with a stop at Grand Central, or somewhere else to appreciate art deco design (there are PLENTY of options in NYC).

Rating: 5/5 stars


The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

For me, I was sold on the cover of The Queen of Hearts before I even cracked the book open, but of course I had to read it too. I’d seen a ton of beautiful Instagram posts about this book, and had heard it buzzed about in many different outlets. I finally tracked a copy down from our library and jumped right in following a disappointing jaunt with an advanced reader copy of a late-summer release.

the queen of hearts by kimmery martin | summer beach read book review |

The Queen of Hearts is told from the perspective of two female physicians, Emma, a trauma surgeon and Zadie, a pediatric cardiologist. Emma and Zadie are instant best friends from the moment they meet, and their medical schooling is woven together through their residency and fellowship in Louisville, Kentucky. The story alternates between their residency, when a traumatic event happens to the duo, and to present day, when another event threatens to tear apart their years of solid friendship.

queen of hearts

I liked that this story featured two highly-educated, career-driven women who were nowhere near perfect. They juggled children, marriages and female friendship well, but still struggled with challenges at their jobs, with their friends, and being mothers and wives. All too often, I find myself reading about the *perfect* character who seems to have it all together and live an entirely unrealistic life.

The secrets and intrigue in this story make it utterly readable, I tore through this in about a day and a half with no problem. Stick this in your carry-on or beach bag and you’ll be sure to check it off your list.

For: people with a greater-than-average knowledge of medicine, readers who like strong female characters, and those who want to band together over a mutually disliked character.

Pairs well with: a generously poured glass of red wine and a night you can stay up late to finish.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Have you read The Queen of Hearts? Let me know what you thought below!


six things to always pack

When I sit down to count, my mind is blown when I realize how many times I’ve been on a plane in the last few months to travel away from home. I travel a decent amount for my job, and in case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve also been bitten by the insatiable travel bug on my own time too. I feel like I’m unpacking just to re-pack for a new adventure- minus the few times I’ve forgotten to pack underwear, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at curating what to bring (and leave behind). Here are a few of my essentials:


At the end of the day, even the best location cannot beat our home, so I’ve learned how to bring the comforts of home with me as best I can. This post features the six things that I don’t even bother unpacking from my suitcase, because they are the end-all-be-all of packed items.

Sleep mask, ear plugs and melatonin

When I travel for work, there’s a lot less to control, and many creeping thoughts come around at bedtime. I’ve found that melatonin can help me wind down in foreign territory, and ear plugs and a sleep mask can help me do the rest. I use dissolvable melatonin, in order to spare myself a trip to the ice machine.

At least three ebooks

This could be me, a crazy person speaking here, but nothing is better than cozying up with a book on a long flight, or tucking into a nice coffee shop to kill some time with a good read on a trip. I’m a little more fickle about my books when I’m on vacation, so I always like to have a few to choose from on my iPad. I also download a bunch of magazines from my library’s magazine app to flip through on the plane as we wait to take off. My love letter to the public library system will come in another post, but having a library card has afforded me so many benefits besides books!

Philosophy Purity face wash

philosophy purity face wash: must pack travel itemsI’m not sure when exactly it was ingrained in my memory, but I never go to sleep without washing my face. Even on my 21st birthday, I somehow managed to take my contacts out and wash all of my makeup off my face. I swear by Purity by Philosophy, since it’s a gentle cleanser that doesn’t make your skin feel like it’s gasping for moisture when all is said and done. I pair it with these cute little eye makeup remover mitts, and it’s a seamless, painless experience.


Have you ever been in fluorescent lighting and noticed that your eyebrows look way more out of control than they do when you’re at home? Hotel bathroom lighting tells all, and it’ll behoove you to make sure you can do something about it while you have the chance! I actually always have a set of tweezers with me in my wallet, but I digress.

Page-a-Day journal

page a day journal and other good habits to make | deniseadelek.wordpress.comIf you read my post on good habits to get into, you may know that I’ve kept a journal since I could hold a pen in my hand. My page-a-day journal has been with me to 10+ countries, and has been with me for the last five years, every single day. There have been nights when I’m too tired (or other things, in which case I get caught up the next day over some tylenol and coconut water :)), but I’m always glad to have the chance to write even a few sentences about where life has taken me.

Packing tape

Finding one-of-a-kind keepsakes and art on trips is one of the best ways to get a memorable souvenir for myself or for friends. I’ve shipped items back home on more trips than I can count, but have always been frustrated by the way I packed items, or by how much extra it ended up costing me to send things home. When I sent goodies home from Mardi Gras (at a whopping $40 for a small but heavy box), paying $7 at the post office for packing tape was a punch in the gut. Having a few things to help make shipping things back home more economical helps make the choice between “should I buy this?” and regretting not buying something a little easier.

Where is your next trip to? I’m leaving for Denver tomorrow morning and am excited to hit the ground running for an exciting work trip with some bonus hours thrown in to spend time with friends! Thanks for reading

Six items you'll always find in my suitcase, travel must-haves packing list


First Friday Book Review: How to Walk Away

As the weather has been getting warmer, it seems like I’ve had a fire lit underneath me to tear through more and more books! I snuck off to the library down the street from my office on lunch last week and picked up How to Walk Away by Katherine Center and a few other titles.

how to walk away by katherine center

By nature of the way the books landed on my passenger seat,  How to Walk Away was the first on the agenda, and I am so glad that to share this sweet story as my first-ever standalone book review on my blog! Stay tuned for more book reviews on the first Friday of every month, in addition to some lists and round-ups throughout the month.

Margaret Jacobsen is a young woman who seems to have it all- she’s fresh out of her MBA program, has an aspiring pilot and overachiever boyfriend, Chip, and has a great new career lined up. Everything changes for her when Chip pushes her out of her comfort zone and forces her to face her fear of flying head on– and crashes their plane.

Her recovery looks bleak, Chip can’t seem to handle the fact that he caused a great harm to Margaret, and to top it off, her physical therapist is completely detached and not sympathetic to her issues. Much of this story takes place inside the hospital walls, and is really enhanced by the dysfunctional-albeit-caring family dynamics.

My favorite part of this story was how real the situation seemed to be, and that the author did not try to sugarcoat what recovering from a spine injury is like. I also got an even greater appreciation for the work that occupational and physical therapists do for patients in and out of the hospital. My uncle suffered from a broken pelvis and traumatic brain injury upon being knocked off his bike in a forest preserve; I remember the incredible work that OT and PT staff at the hospital did to help him learn how to walk, swallow, and talk again, and to live a normal life.

Without giving too much away, I loved that this story had a less-than-perfect, but still happy ending. How to Walk Away was a nice break from the psychological domestic fiction I seem to find myself reading (and also find myself being too scared to get out of bed to go to the bathroom at night) lately.

how to walk away by katherine center |

For: lovers of Nine Women, One Dress, people who love adorable covers, and fans of Liane Moriarty but could do with slightly less internal turmoil and negligent domestic crimes.

Pairs well with: Hard seltzer and a sunny spot on your back porch.

Rating: 4.75/5 stars (only because I feel like there could have been more misery inflicted on a certain character who deserved it).

Have you read How to Walk Away? Let me know what you thought, and look out for more reviews coming soon!


4 NYC Essentials

As you might recall from my Rainy Day in New York City post, I had a fun opportunity to visit New York City earlier this month, and had an absolute blast. I’m sure everyone can name ten must-see spots in the city, so I wanted to give you my take on some of my faves that are under-the-radar, unique, or just a great experience. Here are four “things” you will need to pack:

nyc packing essentials |

Comfortable shoes and walk everywhere you can

I’ve been digging the High Line for many years, before rails-to-trails parks seemed to be in every city. I loved the concept of a park high in the sky, seemingly floating through the neighborhood that surrounded it. The High Line runs 1.5 miles along the Hudson River, with plenty to see, eat and do along the trail. We had a big lunch before we walked, and were kicking ourselves for having to pass up the adorable food carts at 15th Street.

the high line nyc |

There are no bikes, skateboards or pets allowed on the High Line, but anticipate this to be a slow walk, as there is plenty to see (and Instagram) along the route.

A few must visits around the High Line are: Frankie’s 570 Sputino, Artists & Fleas, Chelsea Market, and any of the side streets in this area, just to marvel in the beautiful brownstones and views of the river.

the high line nyc |

A notebook in case you get inspired

If you saw my Instagram post last week, Bryant Park is my new favorite place in the city. Tucked into Midtown away from the craziness of Times Square is the most perfect oasis of park meets destination. Bryant Park is home to more than a thousand free events every year, including fitness classes, movie nights, language lessons, a free outdoor reading room, an art cart, and the Southwest Airlines Back Porch bar.

bryant park |

We found ourselves here every day, and the mix between urban and oasis left me feeling so inspired. The New York Public Library main branch is in Bryant Park, and is open to the public. If you know me, you know I was furiously writing down book titles in a notebook as we wandered through, and of course my ears were tingling at the French lessons happening outside.

NYPL & Bryant Park |

Bryant Park is open until at least 11:00 PM in the summer, making it a great spot for trying to decide where the night should take you, or for those who aren’t ready for bed just yet.

Your most trendy outfit and be ready to rock it

New York is a seriously fashionable city, there’s no question about it. I feel like the city and its residents are always ready to be seen, and everyone and everything looks its best (except on garbage day, but I digress).

We snagged some great restaurant reservations for dinner at Vandal and Sunday brunch at Beauty & Essex and I wanted to be sure that my outfits were as on-point as the restaurant concepts, decor and menus were. Aside from the awesome vibe, the grilled cheese, tomato soup and bacon dumplings at B&E are the end-all-be-all. Every single morsel of food that we ate at Vandal was the best thing I ever tasted!

beauty & essex, nyc |

Any of the Tao Group restaurants are a must-visit when in New York, although we enjoyed everywhere we stopped to eat at, including the 99c pizza place we came across.

A return ticket to visit all the things that you missed

While New York may be the city that never sleeps, I fit into the demographic of people who need a solid eight hours of sleep every night. In the four days we were there, I saw more than I imagined I would be able to, but still had about 90 things on my list that we didn’t get to. Brooklyn and its beautiful bridge are still uncharted territory, and I only got to see the Upper West Side as we went speeding through it in a cab on a rainy day.

Hope you enjoyed my roundup of things to “pack” on your trip! I’m not here to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t bring on a trip with them, as I’m best known as someone who brings three pairs of shoes per day of a trip, but forgets underwear. Happy adventuring!

i haven't been everywhere but it's on my list
image from pinterest

3 must-pack beach reads

Something about April showers and a May that has been slow to bloom has had me tearing through books in the evenings after we wind down for the day.  In 2017, I really struggled to reach my Goodreads goal of 75 books, but this year the app let me know I’m 9 books ahead of schedule with no slowing down in sight. Here are a few recent picks that I loved and am eager to share with you!

the perfect mother by aimee molloy
The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy
I’ve been really into the “domestic fiction” genre that has emerged as of recently. I love reading about complex characters and diving into a psychological, suspenseful story. A mom’s group in Brooklyn meets with their brand new babies, and a night out turns catastrophic when one of the babies is missing. No one is what they seem, and there’s plenty of intrigue as the story takes you through a humid summer in the city.  Every page reveals a new detail, or a red herring. I couldn’t read this book fast enough, despite having to take Benadryl a few nights before bed, I found myself wanting to stay up later and later to read. When I finished this book, I was ready to start it over again knowing what I know now. Read this one carefully!
summer beach-read books | the great alone by kristin hannah

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
From the author of the poignant and powerful The Nightingale comes The Great Alone, a story about a family who has run away from it all and reached the end of the world in Alaska. Leni and her parents try to homestead in Alaska as her father tries to out run the trauma of being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. While this book did not start off as fast-paced as The Nightingale, I found myself fully invested in this story, and was left with a bit of a book hangover when it was time to be done. I’m glad to own this book, as I plan to pass along between my friends, wanting to share this artfully crafted story.

Forks, Knives and Spoons by Leah DeCesare
I’ll be the first to admit that a good book cover sometimes is enough to lure me in, and Forks, Knives and Spoons was one of those. I belong to a Facebook group led by Jen Cannon of the page In Literary Love, a fun bookstagram account to follow, and it seemed like I was seeing this book all over. The story is set at Syracuse University and New York City in the late 80s & early 90s, and I absolutely loved how the story is helped along by the lack of social media, cell phones and email. The main character’s father has a theory about males that characterizes them as either a fork, knife or spoon, and this silly theory characterizes everything the characters do during their time in school and in the post-grad world. You’ll definitely be thinking about silverware in a new light after this!

Did you read all the way to this part? Good! If you got here, I want to send you an Amazon gift card so that you can get yourself one of these books (or something else on your to-read list). Everyone who leaves a comment below with what their top pick would be of the books listed will be entered to win an Amazon gift card (contest open until Monday, May 28 at 9:00 PM CST).

summer beach-read books | the perfect mother, the great alone and forks, knifes and spoons



a picture-perfect rainy day in nyc

Our first full day in New York City was a rainy one, but we wanted to make sure we got out to enjoy the city, with or without rain in the forecast. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt right next to Grand Central Station, but most importantly, in the shadow of the Chrysler Building.

The Grand is situated in the middle of the city, making it pretty easy to get uptown, downtown and across town for less than $20 a ride, and probably even less on the Subway. My rationale on this trip was that our time was limited, so I was all for springing for Lyft and Uber to save time.

With rain in the forecast on Friday evening, we knew that our Saturday would have to be spent inside avoiding the downpour. My mom and aunt, who met me in New York after my work obligations ended, voted to go to the New York Botanic Gardens, and off we went. Believe it or not, the NYBG is a great place to get out of the rain.

rainy day in nyc | grand central, ny botanic gardens, joe's shanghai and the library hotel |

A large part of the botanic gardens is an enormous conservatory, sheltering visitors from the elements and housing the NYBG’s seasonal exhibits. We woke up in rainy New York and were transported to Hawaii for the opening day of the Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii exhibit. For Chicagoans reading this, the Haupt Conservatory reminded us a lot of the photos of the Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.

rainy day in nyc | new york botanic gardens

Admission covers the entire grounds, as well as a covered tram ride around the park, which is for sure the driest way to get to see everything. The gift shop is next level, and the gray skies brought out the beautiful colors of all the plants that we saw.

rainy day in nyc | NYBG botanic gardens |

We couldn’t count it as a trip to New York without wandering through Grand Central Station and admiring the beautiful art deco architecture (see the trend here? Art deco is hands down my favorite design style). The Grand Central Market is a great spot to browse and nibble your way through into the station, a la Eataly or other European-style markets. For those on a budget, trying to picnic, or in a hurry, this is a great spot to snag some goodies that will please anyone.

grand central station | rainy day in NYC

Our next stop was for drinks at Bookmarks, the rooftop bar at the Library Hotel right off Bryant Park. If I could live in a Library Collection Hotel forever, I would be the happiest bookworm alive. The Library Collections hotels incorporate literary elements into their design, and the Library Way location had more than 7,000 books on the premises.

library hotel | rainy day in nyc |

Bookmarks is the perfect spot to enjoy views of the city from above, without worrying about rain or wind. The majority of the bar is covered with a glass ceiling, full of cozy corners to have a drink and dive into a book, or meet a group of friends in a more social space. We loved our cocktails and feeling like we were outside.

bookmarks rooftop bar at the library hotel nyc |

We ended our rainy day at Joe’s Shanghai, a popular place in the heart of Chinatown. The narrow streets are reminiscent of China itself, and there are plenty of spots to duck in and out of the rain into. We loved Uniqulee, a beautifully curated vintage store with home items, jewelry and delicious smelling Apotheke candles.


Have you visited any of these spots? Stay tuned for more posts about my trip to New York, including my new favorite place!