Reads For The Road: "The Witches of New York" by Ami McKay

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


This is one of those books that weaves you into its spell and has such interesting and dynamic characters that you are heartbroken when the story ends because you so badly want to continue to be a part of their lives. 

Yup, it's a page-turner. 

Ami McKay's third book (she is also the author of the bestselling novels The Birth House and The Virgin Cure), The Witches of New York takes place in 1880, two hundred years after the Salem witch trials.

It is a time when some still believe in the supernatural, others find truth in science, and then there are those that think the only way to live is under the rules of strict religious practices. The narrative follows three magical women who are figuring out their power in this world, and the people that move in and out of their story. 

It is an enchanting tale that is equally maddening in the historically unfair treatment that they face as women, and delightful when they discover their power and use it to protect each other. 

This is a fantastic read, perfect for the plane or a day at the beach!  




Reads For The Road: "The Improbability of Love" by Hannah Rothschild

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,


When Annie finds and purchases a small, dingy painting hiding in the corner of a junky antique shop, she has no idea that it is about to expose her to some of Europe's darkest secrets — if you are hunting for the perfect beach read that is smart, entertaining, and well-written I've found it! 

Don't let the title of this book fool you (I was almost fooled), The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild is not a sappy romance. Though there is a romantic element running through the book, the title is actually the name of the painting that various storylines in the novel revolve around.

With a focus on Annie who, by no choice of her own, is single and living alone in London, the narrative is beautifully woven around the lives of multiple different fascinating characters who all play a part in the re-discovery of a famous work of art. The story will take you into the minds of these characters, who are all going through some major life changes, and into the depths of London's secret art and auction-house world. 

Rothschild is a talented writer who does a great job of creating complex and unique identities for her characters — there are one or two in this book that I would love to meet! 

And, of course, there is a travel element in the story, which offers some beautiful descriptions of one of my favourite parts of travelling — spontaneity and the realization that there are so many different ways to live in the world. 

The chatter of boys playing cricket in the street drifted up through the open window; a tea seller called out; strange birds rose above the honking cars and bicycle bells; a broom scraped rhythmically in the passage outside her room. Annie lay there, her mind blank and her emotions strangely abated. This abandonment of time felt almost wicked; a new and entirely foreign thought occurred to her — perhaps there were other ways to live.
— page 142 of "The Improbability of Love"

It is definitely a page-turning work, and a lovely summertime indulgence!




10 Things That Are Illegal In Singapore

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


Singapore is known for having very strict laws and a zero-tolerance policy, which is why the country has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. 

But some of the things that are considered illegal are, well, kind of normal — especially to a visitor. Avoid getting fined or arrested by NOT doing the following ten things.  

1. Chewing Gum

Yup, you read that right. It is against the law to buy, sell, or chew gum. In fact, according to the Singapore Customs website, it is prohibited to even bring it into the country unless it is "oral dental and medicated gum [approved] by the Health Sciences Authority."

2. Smoking & Tobacco Products

A lot of countries now heavily monitor where people are allowed to smoke, but in Singapore, it is prohibited in basically any public place. In other words, don't smoke unless you are locked in a room by yourself. 

According to the Singapore Customs website, it is also prohibited to bring in chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes, shisha, smokeless tobacco products, dissolvable tobacco, topical products like Nicotine patches, and basically anything else that could possibly contain nicotine or tobacco of any kind.

3. Nudity

Not only is it illegal be nude in public, you can be fined up to $2,000 and be put in jail for up to three months if you are nude in your own home and someone catches a glimpse of you through the window! 

According to the government website, “Any person who appears nude in a public place; or in a private place and is exposed to public view, shall be guilty of an offense.” Make sure the curtains are closed before changing into your pajamas! 

4. Spitting

If you are caught spitting in a public place expect a fine of about $1,000!

5. Littering

Dropping anything on the ground (even by mistake) can lead to fines of between $300 to $1,000 for first-time offenders. This includes birdseed and bread crumbs too, so don't even think about feeding the birds! 

6. Vandalism 

This is a serious offense in the country but doesn't just refer to the destruction of property or graffiti. Hanging posters advertising a concert, banners for a festival, or flags is also prohibited. Penalities include fines and even jail time in more extreme cases.

7. Drugs

This isn't a surprise, right? Drugs are illegal in most countries. But Singapore takes things up a notch.

The country's police are authorized to run a random drug test on both locals and visiting foreigners WHEREVER THEY WANT TO. If you are in the country and you test positive, even if you didn't take the drugs in Singapore, you're looking at some serious jail time.  

8. Jaywalking

Unless you are in a marked crosswalk, DO NOT CROSS THE STREET.

Police are authorized to give you a $20 fine on the spot, a $1,000 fine that you will have to pay later, or up to three months in jail — it is the individual officer's decision which one you get. So ya, use a crosswalk. 

9. Connecting To Someone Else's WiFi 

Using a Wifi signal, even if it is an open signal, is considered hacking unless you have permission to use it. This is a serious offense that is punished with a $10,000 fine and even jail time.

10. Drinking or Eating On The Metro

Eating or drinking anything (even water) on the public transit system is prohibited and, you guessed it, will result in a fine if you are caught. 

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The Eruv Wire: Did You Know That There's An Invisible Wire Hanging Above Manhattan?

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


Nope, that web of wires you might notice above your head while wandering through Manhatten are not all for carrying electricity. 

There are actually 18 miles(!) of translucent wire that run throughout the borough called an eruv. The eruv (or eruvin) is there because of the Jewish Sabbath. A day of rest in the Jewish tradition, people observing the Sabbath aren't permitted to do any sort of work in public places, which includes carrying things like groceries, laundry, or books. 

What the eruv does is act as a boundary that symbolically transforms the public streets into a private space. What this means is that those observing the Sabbath can carry things, socialize and act as they would at home while within the boundary of the wire, and not break Jewish law!

How cool is that?! 

According to an article in Mental Floss, a rabbi inspects the wires every Thursday before dawn to ensure they are still attached. The wires are all a quarter-inch thick and must be at least 15 ft off the ground. Orthodox synagogues pay to maintain the wires, which can cost more than $100,000 a year!  

The location of the eruvin wires in Manhattan (source) 

The location of the eruvin wires in Manhattan (source

Manhatten isn't the only city where there is an eruv — they can also be found in cities all over the world. Check out the full list of where they are located here

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Reads For The Road: "Escape From Camp 14" by Blaine Harden

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


North Korea is a fascinating country because there is so little that we know about it. Most of the information that we have is either propaganda fed to us from the country itself or hearsay from people who have heard stories from someone who has heard a story.

That's what makes Blaine Harden's book Escape From Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West so fascinating. A veteran reporter, Harden wrote the original book (and this updated version with new information) after meeting and interviewing the only known person who was born and raised in a North Korean prison camp to escape — Shin Dong-hyuk. 

Like Nazi concentration camps, labor camps in North Korea use confinement, hunger, and fear to create a kind of Skinner box, a closed, closely regulated chamber in which guards assert absolute control over prisoners. Yet, while Auschwitz existed for only three years, Camp 14 is a fifty-year-old Skinner box, an ongoing longitudinal experiment in repression and mind control in which guards breed prisoners whom they control, isolate, and pit against one another from birth.
— page 107 of "Escape From Camp 14"

We know that prison camps in North Korea exist because they can be clearly seen in satellite photos — though the North Korean government denies their existence.  But little is known about the conditions inside the camps and what the people who live in them go through,

That is, until Shin told his story. 

Imagine being raised by parents who, when they are around, look at you as competition for food and basic needs. Or, not being able to confide in a single human being because anything you say may be used against you and lead to brutal beatings, or worse. How would you feel if you only had one set of clothing that you had to wear until it literally fell off of you, and you had no soap — or time — to wash it. 

This, and much worse, was Shin's reality. But, because it was something that he was born into — a world where being suspicious, hating others, and having zero loyalty to another human being — he had no idea that there was a different way to live. 

The book is a heartbreaking, eyeopening, and shocking true story about a mysterious part of the world that is told through the eyes of someone who lived immersed in it, and is now slowly trying to come to terms with who he is now that he has been removed from it. 

If you have any interest at all in North Korea and the conditions of the people who live there, I highly recommend it. It's a riveting, quick read, and I guarantee you won'r be able to put it down.