P3IcW50pTell us a bit about yourself. 

Hey there, my name’s Melissa, and I run the blog Castles and Hurricanes! My blog covers a variety of different topics, including lifestyle, books, and sustainability. I’m a 23-year-old college graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science. It’s been hard to find a career, so at the moment I am looking into taking more classes to advance my education. In the meantime, I hang out with my cat (Tigger) and my dog (Scooby).

How did you get into blogging?

I’m more of an introvert, but I do love interacting with people. Blogging allows me to still interact with others but by writing whenever I have the time. It’s a lot less stressful for me this way. I also love using my camera to take pictures for my blog! As for how I actually began blogging-I have always loved messing around on the internet, and I’ve created various blogs in the past. I was originally going to major in English in college, and someone suggested that I start a blog. I did, but I ended up deleting it because I had so much going on and couldn’t keep up with it. Now that I’ve graduated, I figured I’d give blogging a go again because I do enjoy it and the community!

Tell us about your favorite blog post.

My favorite would probably have to be my Adventures in Austin post. I don’t get to travel very often, so reading the post allows me to relive the trip. I was definitely impressed with Austin’s vegetarian selection and was overall super excited about the whole adventure. I took so many pictures while I was there, so those were fun to browse through while I was writing the post! I’m hoping to go to Austin again this year, so I might end up making another similar post (hopefully exploring other parts of the city).

What are you doing when you’re not blogging?

When I’m not blogging, I’m likely playing with my pets. I also spend most of my weekends playing at Quidditch tournaments. A few other hobbies include reading, listening to music, watching Marvel movies, and playing PS4 games. I also work part-time at a coffee shop as well and should hopefully be taking some computer science classes soon.

What are you favorite things to eat as a vegetarian?

I really love tofu! I feel like it’s so easy and quick to make, and there’s so many variations (tofu scramble, sesame tofu, tofu nuggets). I also love falafel/hummus wraps, and I enjoy most veggies and fruits too! I tend to love anything with avocado in it.

What is a book you really didn’t like or thought was overrated?

I didn’t really like David Leviathan’s “Everyday”. I believe they even made a movie about it, but the book disappointed me. The whole thing about switching to a different body every morning just seemed like such a frustrating concept, so I didn’t really enjoy reading about it. I’m also trying to read “Dreamcatcher” by Stephen King right now, and I’m really not feeling it at the moment. Maybe I just need to read more for it to catch my attention, who knows.

Where else can we find you?

Instagram || Twitter || Pinterest || Bloglovin’


Here are my top five posts from all categories:

  1. The traveller’s guide to offsetting your flights: This post is so thorough, there’s a way for everyone to do something regardless of budget. It’s so important to travel mindfully to preserve this planet for future generations to experience.
  2. Advice to new grad students: This was shared by my old mentor and it has a lot of great tips, especially about referencing.
  3. 10 amazing transport experiences: Such an interesting way to share about travel, I wish I thought of this!
  4. Best of 2018: all things media: You know a post is good when you may not 100% agree with the content, but it’s just so damn well-written, you can’t help but adore the hard work that was put into it. This was a great way to show off media favorites of the last year in one organized but coherent post.
  5. How to overcome writer’s block as a blogger: We’ve all been there and these are great realistic ways to get a natural flow back. I find simply writing anything (whether I intend to publish it or not) especially helpful.

Science, sustainability and veganism

General travel and study abroad

Travel destinations




Photo by Andrew Knechel.


My first Unpopular Opinions post was my most popular post of 2018! I did have a few travel opinions weaved into that post (about Instagram, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon), but decided to dedicate a whole post to unpopular travel opinions.

Disney parks actually suck. If you’re a childless adult, unless you love Disney (and I mean love), it’s not worth it. The parks are crowded, hot, expensive, filled with obnoxious kids and irritable parents and the attractions are just okay.

Volunteering trips usually do more harm than good. I’ve seen several of my friends posting for months asking for donations for a charity trip as if they’ve been passionate about this issue their whole lives and will continue such work after their trip. In this case, people usually want others to pay for their travel under the guise of “charity” work. Sure, workers can do some good by building a house or two, but most of them are just going to the exotic excursions that come after, never to think of the organization or project again.

I don’t want to “quit my job to travel.” I got my degrees because I’m passionate about conservation and want to pursue that to make a difference. I love traveling but I also love working in my field. Similarly, I don’t want to travel for months on end either. I enjoy coming home to family and friends to recharge.

Not everyone wants you to play your music on your speakers. I cringe every time someone recommends Bluetooth speakers as a gift for a traveler. I’m usually quite busy when I travel and want to relax when I come back to the hostel in the evening, not arrive to a mini-rave. Playing music out loud in a common area is so disrespectful of others.


I don’t go for the window seat on planes for most flights. I have mild O.C.D. when it comes to the bathroom and sleeping. In my undergraduate degree, it used to be really bad where I would have to use the bathroom up to a dozen times before I could fall asleep to make sure my bladder was as empty as could be before falling asleep. It’s gotten a lot better over the years, but flying is still my weak spot since it usually takes me a while to fall asleep. I don’t want to disturb others in my row, so on flights where I need to sleep, I’ll take the isle seat so I can use the bathroom at my leisure.

Cruises don’t appeal to me. While ports of call can be exciting and cruises are a great way to see several places in one trip, you don’t get a lot of time in each destination. I also  wouldn’t be eager to spend time around so many people (especially kids) and wait in line for everything. Finally, I can take in activities and entertainment offered between ports of call at home probably for a lower price. While I won’t say “never,” cruises aren’t my first holiday choice (or second, or third…).

I avoid drinking while travelling. I almost never drink in excess on travel. Yes, that means I’ve never been on a pub crawl, but I’d love to some day! My Europe trips were always so short and wanted to make the most of it by hitting the pavement early, you can’t always do that with a splitting hangover. I also avoid drinking to save money and keep my head when I’m alone in an unfamiliar place. I might have a cheeky pint at the end of the day at most.

I have no problem with delayed flights as long as I don’t have a connecting flight or important obligation waiting for me at the other end of my journey. At the airport, I have a bathroom, WiFi and all the overpriced food I need. I think I’ll live.

Do you strongly disagree with any of these? Fight me.

Photo by Zoran Borojevic.


I had a good time with my first clean-up post and to keep my books in order and focus on the ones I really want to read, I’ve decided to do a little housekeeping every three months.

Changes to my books since last update:

  • Keep, high priority to read: In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
  • Keep, high priority to DNF: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (I will make a DNF post in the next couple of months but basically, this book is more history than anthropology and evolution as I thought it was)
  • Kept, medium priority to read: Room by Emma DonoghueReady Player One by Ernest Kline
  • Kept, low priority to read: Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King

Check out my reviews of the books I’ve read in my wrap-ups posts (vol. I and vol. II)

A few changes I’m going to make to my sorting:

  • I am going to get rid of my medium priority shelf. If it’s not high priority, it won’t be on my immediate radar
  • I am also going to get rid of my library book shelves (books available at the different libraries I’m a part of) because virtually all of them are

I have also added a lot of classics to my list but as I’ve read a few consecutive ones, I’m taking a little break for February I think. Without further ado, here are some highlights of my most recent GoodRead adds as I sort through them:

Kept (classics): I kept the 10 or so most interesting classics to me on my list, in order of likelihood of getting to them anytime soon

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell: currently reading
  • Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman: one of my all-time favorite movies
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Kept, high priority

  • All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • 438 Days by Jonathan Franklin and Minus 148 Degrees by Art Davidson: Into Thin Air got me hungry for more non-fiction survival/ adventure books
  • I Robot by Isaac Asimov
  • The Firm by John Grisham: I’ve never read his work and I’m a sucker for a legal thriller
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: I bought this book and am really looking forward to it!


  • Travel memoirs
  • Series I am not crazy about (e.g. His Dark Materials)
  • The surplus domestic thrillers I’ve added because let’s face it, Gone Girl is the best one that has ever been made
  • Non-fiction that isn’t science (e.g. Prisoners of Geography)
  • Anything below 4.0 rating

Other miscellaneous adds

  • Re-read The Art of Racing in the Rain and the Percy Jackson books
  • I went kind of H.A.M. in the historical fiction lists for potential reads
  • Biographies (Michelle Obama, David Attenborough and more)
  • Popular books recommended by multiple book YouTubers and bloggers (Circe, Children of Blood and Bone, Simon vs. the Homo sapien Agenda)

Are there any books I should un-bin? Move up in priority? Forget about? Let me know if you see one of your favorite books!

Photo by Florencia Viadana.


As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:

  • (★★★★★): Loved it
  • (★★★★): Really liked it
  • (★★★): Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it
  • (★★): Barely finished it

Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I also try to watch as many adaptations as I can, just to compare, so I will comment on all the ones I’ve seen.

Here is what I read since my last reading wrap-up:

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

36680980Rating: ★★★

Genre: Fiction, mystery

GoodReads rating: 3.96 / 5 (115,700 ratings)

Medium used: E-reader (borrowed from library via OverDrive)

Date started/ finished: 8/1 – 11/1

Summary: Jenna’s mom, an elephant researcher, has been missing for over ten years. Now with the help of a disgraced psychic and former detective, Jenna retraces her mom’s research notes and personal life to figure out where she is… with a Picoult twist.

Thoughts: I’m sorry to say but if I didn’t love conservation and animals, it would have been rated even lower. Picoult has set the bar high with some of her other books like The Storyteller and My Sister’s Keeper, I’ve come to expect a bit more. The twist was interesting, but kind of required you to go back and re-read the book to fully appreciate it and I can’t be bothered.

Finders Keepers and End of Watch by Stephen King

1501142062Rating: ★★★ and ★★★★

Genre: Fiction, mystery, crime, supernatural

GoodReads rating: 4.04 / 5 (86,100 ratings) and 4.09 / 5 (65,900)

Medium used: Audiobook and e-reader (borrowed from library via OverDrive)

Date started/ finished: 9/1 – 12/1 and 12/1 – 20/1

Summary: These books are #2 and #3 in the Bill Hodges trilogy, following Mr. Mercedes. With that, I will try  to limit spoilers to who lives, who dies and basic plot points relative to the other books. Finders Keepers follows a race to valuable unpublished work by a beloved author of great personal and monetary value. Morris has stolen these works and hidden them, but is put in jail for a different crime. In the meantime, young Pete finds them and uses them to help his father who was hurt in a tragic terrorist attack that happened in the first book. Once Morris is out of jail, Bill Hodges and co. help protect Pete and the priceless literature from the blood-thirsty criminal. In End of Watch, the terrorist from the first book awakes from a coma to find they have special abilities such as bodily possession and mind control. They want to exact their revenge on Hodges and co. by causing a suicide epidemic. Hodges races against his terminal cancer to stop the terrorist from hurting the ones closest to him.

Thoughts: My main criticism of Finders Keepers is that it had little connection to the first book other than Pete’s father being hurt in an attack in the first book. Hell, Hodges and co. didn’t even come into the story until halfway through. The book would have been fine as a stand-alone, but it failed to connect the dots with the first and final book both with the plot and character development. It was also kind of been-there-done-that with the crazed novel fan (Stephen King thinks really highly of authors, doesn’t he?) possessed by a love of a series that drives him to crime and murder. End of Watch, however, was great. King at his strongest with crime and suspense (a la the first Bill Hodges book) and the supernatural (a la The Shining and more) with unforgettable characters. This was my first time doing audiobooks and I was not disappointed! It makes going to the gym and long drives a lot more bearable. I didn’t know the narrator (Will Patton) is an award-winning narrator!

Other adaptations: I’m not going to watch two long seasons immediately after reading the books, but I did watch a few YouTube videos on it, skimmed a few episodes, and read the synopses. I’m sure there are plenty of other changes, but here is what I could collect so far: the first season seems to follow the close book quite closely with a few additional characters and subplots as to be expected. The second season seems to skip the second book entirely (probably a good idea) and goes straight to our reborn villain. There are more additional subplots I would be really interested in, such as the issue of taking our villain to trail in a questionable mental state and how the doctor came to administer the drugs that game him his powers. Harry Potter fans will be happy to know that Hodges is played by Brendan Gleeson a.k.a. Professor Moody. Although I think keeping his Irish accent for this role was… an interesting choice.

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

81KCLYk2ASLRating: ★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, autobiography

GoodReads rating: 4.48 / 5 (18,900 ratings)

Medium used: Audiobook and e-reader (borrowed from library via OverDrive)

Summary: A young Indian boy gets separated from his family and gets adopted by an Australian couple. In his adulthood, he retraces his steps to find his family and hometown in India.

Date started/ finished: 20/1 – 22/1

Thoughts: This book was incredible. A short and easy read but at the same time very captivating.

Other adaptations: The film Lion was inspired by this book and it, too, is amazing. It follows the story almost exactly and even includes clips at the end of the movie with the “real” Saroo (start spoiler) meeting his family after 25 long years (end spoiler). Dev Patel is fantastic (and extremely handsome) and child Saroo is adorable and convincing. The movie doesn’t miss a beat and is even more emotional than the book, have your tissues handy.

Have you read any of these? Which did you enjoy most?

Photo by Radu Marcusu.