Review: The Wangs vs. The World

Hello readers!

Welcome to the new literallykatrina.com – I’m so excited to unveil this refresh, which includes the same great literary posts alongside exciting travel tips and tricks. Stay tuned for reflections on my travels this summer (#kbkeuro2016!) as well as new book reviews.

To celebrate this long-awaited update, I’m thrilled to share a review of The Wangs vs. The World, a dazzling debut by the witty and wonderful Jade Chang. I received an advanced copy from Harper Collins Canada as a part of the #HCCFirstLook program – big thank you to the team at HCC for fuelling my love of books (and chocolate – my book arrived with an adorable baggie filled with chocolate coins!). Read the review below!


The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang
Photo by Katrina Sklepowich. Advanced copy provided by Harper Collins Canada.

Jade Chang’s debut The Wangs vs. The World is a modern American epic. Full of heart and humour, Chang’s cross-country road trip romp centres on the Wang family as they grapple with change during the 2008 financial crash.

The American Dream failed Charles Wang. The myth that anyone can do anything as long as they work hard enough – that Charles Wang, a Chinese immigrant-turned-cosmetics-mogul could make something from nothing – is debunked with a single mistake: the Failure. In one fell swoop, the glorious Wangs lose their fortune and must face a new reality: that money does not equal happiness.

As the Wang’s Bel-Air mansion is foreclosed and numerous vehicles and valuables are repossessed, patriarch Charles packs his wife Barbra and some family heirlooms into his Ama’s old Mercedes and drives across the country to reunite with his three children. Style blogger Grace, the youngest Wang, is snatched from boarding school in Santa Barbara with a semi-stolen laptop, while naïve comedian-wannabe Andrew is pulled out of college with a duffle bag full of designer sneakers. Together, they take off for the upstate New York hideout of the eldest Wang daughter, former it-girl artist Saina.

Each Wang family member copes with loss in his or her own way – Grace thinks she’s being punked by a new reality television show, Andrew seeks to cash in both his stand-up and actual V-cards, and Saina makes a tentative comeback in the art community. The ever-resilient Barbra grapples with leaving Charles and reinventing herself yet again – or sticking by him. And Charles stakes all of his hope on reclaiming his ancestral land in China, clinging to family folktales and the promise of a fresh start.

As each Wang comes to terms with financial destruction, Chang rebuilds each character in surprising and beautiful ways. As Charles lies in a hospital bed outside of Beijing, China, he realizes a profound truth: that there can be as much joy in destruction as in rebuilding. Though the Wang family’s financial ruin is significant, their bond as a family brings them hope and strength. The message of The Wangs vs. The World is simple: don’t let failure define you. Instead, learn from your mistakes and own them. And then go forth, a new you – a stronger you.

With laugh-out-loud wit, Chang delicately breaks down what it’s like to make it as an immigrant in America, what it looks like to lose it all, and what it means to redefine what is important. A stunning debut, The Wangs vs. The World is an essay on our resilience in tragedy and life’s beauty amidst adversity.


Thanks for following along! I’m looking forward to sharing more book reviews and travel updates with you over the coming months.

Stay well,

❤️ Katrina ❤️

Literally, Katrina: Refreshed

Hello readers and wanderers!

Literally, Katrina has a new look and new content – combining my love of literature and my passion for travel, you can now look forward to the same great posts about literary news and book reviews, alongside exciting travel tips and tricks.

Over the past year, I’ve been sharing reflections on my personal travel experiences as well as recommendations on where to go, what to pack, and what not to do when traveling on my Hopeless Wanderer blog. I’m so excited to add those posts into the mix here on literallykatrina.com. Thanks for following along!

❤️ Katrina ❤️

Away we go

Hopeless Wanderer Final CollageHello wanderers!

Thank you so much for following along on my travel blog journey – it’s been an incredible year and it’s been so much fun chatting with you about where I’ve been and where I’d like to go next. I have really enjoyed writing this blog and even though my school year (and therefore my school projects – including this blog) is at an end, this is more of a “see you soon” than a goodbye.

As I keep exploring new places, I’ll try to keep you posted. As you know, I’ll be backpacking my way through Europe over the summer and I’m sure I’ll have many stories to share with you. Make sure to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to follow along on my adventure. Now, it’s on to the next big adventure. Wishing you all the best on your journeys – keep on travelling!

Stay well,
Katrina

Episode 15: Life, Fire, Prose

Hello listeners!

I can’t believe today is the day – we’ve reached the end of Season 1 of the Literally, Katrina podcast! It’s been an incredible ride reading amazing books and chatting with extremely talented writers over the past year, and I’ve loved putting together these bi-weekly episodes. I hope you’ve enjoyed them, too!

il_570xN.948900152_86eaIn this week’s episode, I chat with budding local author Murat Ates. Murat and I met a few years ago, while we were both working at post-secondary institutions as recruiters (we were friendly rivals!). We’ve kept in touch over the past few years and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing his passion for writing grow from short stories on Facebook to full-on print projects. Things are only getting more exciting! Listen in as I chat with Murat about his most recent project, Life Fire Prose, and what he plans on doing next.

Now that we’re at the finale, I’d love your feedback. What have you liked about the podcast? Which author interview did you enjoy the most? What would you like to see more of? What would you change? Fill out this super quick survey (there are only 10 questions!) and let me know your thoughts!

You’ve all been such huge supporters of this podcast and I’m so grateful for you! This wraps up Season 1 of the Literally, Katrina podcast – thanks again for subscribing and listening in every two weeks!

Until next time, happy reading!
Katrina

Hotel, hostel, help!

 

hotelcollageHey wanderers!

It’s officially April, which means I’m only a few months away from my European adventure (yay!). My travel buddies and I are now at the point where we’re looking at what we’d like to do and see, which is very exciting! This also means that it’s time to start looking at how to get where we’d like to go and where to stay when we get there.

There are so many options for booking accommodations, and I’ve lucked out with a few of them – from Expedia to Hostelword to Booking.com, I’ve stayed in some great hostels and apartments. On the flip side, I’ve also stayed in some odd places (a Bed & Breakfast in Nice definitely turned out to be a spare room in a family’s apartment…we ate breakfast in their TV room and it was super awkward!). How do you know what kind of accommodation to choose? Do you want an apartment, guesthouse, hostel, hotel, or campsite? What are the benefits and drawbacks to each? Navigating all of the different booking sites and apps can also be tricky – how reliable are the guest reviews? Are the rates reasonable? And with new booking services popping up daily, how do you choose which site or app to go through?

Just like many of you, I’m on the lookout for answers. Here’s what I’ve heard from a few friends:

  • Read as many reviews as possible – ratings on airbnb and Hostelworld matter and are pretty reliable. Look for high ratings and positive reviews.
  • A picture really is worth a thousand words – look for accommodations that include photos and get a sense of where you’ll be staying. If the photos don’t showcase nice digs, then you probably won’t want to stay there.
  • Crowdsource – if you have friends who have been to a destination you’re planning on visiting, ask them where they stayed! Did they like the area? Was breakfast included? How close was the train station? Don’t be shy – if your friends had a good or bad experience, you want to know the truth. Friends of mine gave me a great recommendation for Barcelona a few years ago and I ended up staying right on the beach! But they were also honest about how the accommodations weren’t amazing. The location made up for what the hostel lacked in amenities and it was nice to know what to expect ahead of time!

That’s where you come in. I need your help – if you’ve been to Europe a couple of times and stayed in a really cool hotel/hostel/apartment etc., I want to hear from you! Comment below, write to me on Facebook, or send me a tweet – I’m officially taking recommendations!

If you’ve been following along with Hopeless Wanderer over the past few months, let me know how I’m doing by filling out this quick survey! Thanks for your help and for checking out this post. I can’t wait to read your suggestions!

Until next time, stay well!
Katrina

24-hour City Guide: Berlin, Germany

Sights to see in Berlin, Germany. Photos by Katrina Sklepowich
Sights to see in Berlin, Germany. Photos by Katrina Sklepowich

What to see and what to skip if you only have one day in Germany’s capital, Berlin

Hey wanderers!

This is your 24-hour city guide for one of my favourite German cities – Berlin! This post is a quick reference for what to see if you’re short on time – when I was in Berlin back in 2012, we really did only have two days to see everything. We spent one day visiting Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and the other day seeing all the city had to offer. Of course, my first recommendation is to extend your stay past 24 hours if possible, because this city has so many cool things to see…but if you only have a day, here’s what I recommend you check out.

IMGP4194Don’t forget to grab that hostel reservation

Berlin is relatively affordable for backpackers and travellers, and there are a lot of great options for accommodations. Just remember to book ahead – Berlin is a pretty popular tourist spot. We opted to stay in a suburb and it was amazing. Don’t be afraid to stay on the outskirts of a big city – you’ll get more exposure to local culture and have a more authentic experience. We still had excellent access to train stations and bus routes, so getting to and from the city centre and all the hot spots was no problem. Another great thing about our hostel was that it offered free walking tours. And, as you’ll have read in Kaeri’s post about Seville, walking tours are often the best way to see a city!

What to see:

Whether on a guided tour or not, here are some sights to see while you’re in the city:

IMGP4202Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)

A historic staple, this giant and gorgeous gate is a natural meeting place and offers a great photo op. This is where our walking tour started and it really introduces you to the city and its history. Damaged during the Second World War, it’s now fully restored.

IMGP4226Checkpoint Charlie

A relic of Berlin’s tumultuous past, Checkpoint Charlie is the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Germany. Decked out with retro insignia and soldiers in full dress, this army checkpoint will take you back in time. Here, you’ll learn a lot about the Wall that separated East from West, Soviet-occupied Germany from the Western Ally sector. It’s a pretty crazy story.

IMGP4214The Berlin Wall 

You can’t miss out on seeing the remnants of the Berlin Wall – it was so weird for us to see sections of the wall still intact. The deconstruction of the wall represents a defining moment in Germany’s (and the world’s) history. Although much of the tourist spots in Berlin are a reminder of the World Wars and everything that followed, the Berlin Wall, now, is more a symbol of the movement that brought down the Iron Curtain.

IMGP4213The Holocaust Memorial

Located in the centre of Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate, the  Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a moving reminder of the human cost of the Second World War. It’s super sad, but also important to go see. The memorial consists of a Field of Stelae (the concrete blocks pictured) and an Information Centre. It also memorializes the Sinti and Roma, as well as homosexuals and others who lost their lives under the National Socialist regime.

IMGP4196Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt 

After experiencing Berlin’s fascinating history, you will be in need of some delicious German chocolate. Stop by Ritter Sport’s Schokowelt (Chocolate World, my friends) and make yourself a custom chocolate creation, or just stock up on hundreds of amazing chocolate squares. I can’t tell you how worth it this stop will be! We each brought home several bags of mini Ritter Sport chocolate bars – they make great gifts (and are tasty snacks whenever you need a guilt-free pick-me-up). Always finish your day on a positive!

What to Skip:

Honestly, I can’t think of anything not to see in Berlin. My best advice is to take it all in if you can. I should also mention that there are great day trips to make from Berlin, like traipsing about Schloss Charlottenburg, the largest palace in Berlin, or taking a train out to Oranienburg to visit Sachsenhausen – if you have an extra day or two, I suggest doing both.

What else do you recommend seeing in Berlin when short on time? Is there any spot you love that I missed? Comment below or send me a message on Facebook – I love hearing from you!

As you know, this travel blog has been part of a school project – let me know how I’m doing by filling out this quick survey! Thanks for your help and for checking out this post.

Until next week, stay well!
Katrina

Episode 14: Yann Martel on The High Mountains of Portugal

Hello lovely listeners!

yannmartelcollageYann Martel, author of brilliant award-winning novel Life of Pi (if you didn’t read the book, you may have seen the Oscar-winning film) was in Winnipeg last week promoting his new book The High Mountains of Portugal. A novel made up of three related-yet-unrelated stories – Homeless, Homeward, Home – tied together by geography, The High Mountains of Portugal is “gleefully bizarre and genuinely thrilling,” according to The Globe & Mail.

I really enjoyed this book and had the chance to sit in on a conversation Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson of the Winnipeg Free Press had with Martel at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café last Monday. Listen in!

What a great interview! Shout out to the Winnipeg Free Press for hosting Yann Martel and supporting the Canadian arts scene, and big thanks to the News Café for organizing a lovely morning. You can pick up a copy of The High Mountains of Portugal at all major booksellers in-store and online.

I’m also excited to announce that the winner of last episode’s book giveaway is Alixe Edwards, who won a copy of Jane Johnson’s Pillars of Light – congrats!! It’s such a great book and I can’t wait to hear what you think about it.

You’ve all been such amazing supporters of this podcast and I’m so grateful for you. It’s been so fun putting these episodes together and talking to different authors and literary guests. I’ll be back in two weeks with another episode – I’ve got a really cool guest coming up and you won’t want to miss it!

Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of the Literally, Katrina podcast! To stay up-to-date on all things Literally, Katrina and books, subscribe to the Literally, Katrina podcast on iTunes or the Apple podcast app, like the Literally, Katrina Facebook page and Pinterest board, and follow me on Twitter and Insta @LitKatrina.

Until next time, happy reading!
Katrina

24-hour City Guide: Seville, Spain

seville collage
Clockwise from top: the Metropol Parasol, Puente de Isabel II (bridge spanning the Guadaquivir river), a pretty building, a gorgeous lamppost outside Plaza de España, Seville Cathedral, and Plaza de España. Photos by Katrina Sklepowich

What to see and what to skip if you only have one day in the cultural capital of Spain

Hello wanderers!

This is your 24-hour city guide for what to see and what to skip when you only have 24 hours to “see it all” in my favourite city in Spain – Seville! Written by Kaeri Rempel, this guide will help you navigate this gorgeous city when you’re short on time. She mentions all of my favourite spots and has some excellent advice on where to go and what to see. Enjoy!


When planning my last trip to Europe, there were so many places we wanted to see. My cousin, Chad, wanted to visit Seville particularly because he wanted to see the “mushroom sculpture,” also known as the Metropol Parasol. This last addition to our flight schedule was well worth it! Seville was by far my favorite stop that we made.

If you only have 24 hours in Seville, I have a few recommendations:

First off – if you plan to stay the night, do your research and find a reasonable hostel. Ours had breakfast provided, as well as a few dishes in the evening. I should also mention that they served Sangria every evening!

During the day, I suggest a walking tour. Not only do you get to wander through the beautiful city, you also learn so much about its history. The tour guides try to keep it interesting and do a fantastic job. After travelling all over Europe and going on countless walking tours, the best tours I had were in Seville and Berlin. Just a reminder: the streets are all cobblestone, so make sure to wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes or sandals!

IMGP3797
Huelva Ocho tapas bar in Seville. Great flamenco performances here! Photo by Katrina Sklepowich.

After a day of walking,  stop by a local restaurant for some “tapas”. Don’t hesitate to chat with the front desk at your hostel or ask your tour guide which nearby pubs and restaurants are worth a visit. Some pubs also provide entertainment. We went to a pub just down the street from where we were staying for drinks and a flamenco show. The dancing was amazing – and so was the live music.

MetropolParasol Collage
Views from the Metropol Parasol in Seville. Photos by Katrina Sklepowich.

You cannot forget to visit the Metropol Parasol, which is claimed to be the world’s largest wooden structure. It is built above an archaeological excavation site of Roman ruins – there’s even a museum. Throughout the structure are multiple bars and restaurants. On our trip, we decided to visit the Metropol Parasol during the day and were able to appreciate the 360-degree view of the city on the terrace. While the view was spectacular during the day, I would also suggest visiting at night. I imagine the lights from the city would be enchanting.

If you have more time, visit some of the places on the tour that piqued your interest, or simply wander the city. There is nothing quite as fun as losing yourself in a new place and simply appreciating its beauty.


 

Kaeri and Katrina visiting the Metropol Parasol in 2012.
Kaeri and Katrina visiting the Metropol Parasol in 2012.

Kaeri Rempel is an elementary school educator in Winnipeg. She loves to travel and has been to many exotic places, including India and Turkey. She also participated in an exchange program in high school, living in Germany for 9 weeks. When she isn’t teaching, she’s on the field, playing soccer and ultimate frisbee. She’s also Katrina’s bestie!

What else do you recommend seeing in Seville when short on time? Is there any spot you love that we missed? Comment below or send me a message on Facebook – I love hearing from you!  Also, a big thank you to Kaeri for writing such a great post!

Until next week, stay well.
Katrina

Great Expectations

Hey there wanderers!

One of my favourite things about traveling is that no two trips are the same. You can visit the same place over and over again and experience something new every time. You can go at a different time of year and have a completely different experience, or go with a new group of people…all of these factors can have an impact on what you do and see. And I love that. Like I’ve said before, traveling is what you make it! When you go on a trip, it’s totally okay to expect the unexpected. It’s often even more fun that way!

I visited Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany for the first time nine years ago. Two summers ago, I got to go back! It was raining and gorgeous on both occasions.
I visited Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany for the first time nine years ago. Two summers ago, I got to go back! It was gorgeous (and raining!) on both occasions.

After writing my city guide for Venice last week, I got some great comments from a few of you. What I loved most about your feedback was finding out how we had both common and vastly different experiences! What happens to your friends may or may not happen to you. Your favourite thing about Paris may end up being the very thing your sister dislikes. It all depends – and that’s the beauty of traveling.

Even though doing research before you head out on an adventure is important  (it really is!), take what you find out with a tiny grain of salt. Ask friends and family for advice, check out Pinterest for travel inspo, and hit up the travel section in your nearest bookstore for information, but keep in mind that while being informed is smart and necessary, your expectations might not be met…or they might be exceeded!  Information might be outdated (we all know how quickly situations can change) or based on one person’s experience – all of this can create positive or negative feelings toward a place before you even get there.

My best advice: keep an open mind and roll with it. Due to different circumstances, you might end up having a less than ideal time in any given place you visit, but with the right attitude, you may end up liking a place more than you thought you would! When I was traveling around Europe two years ago with my mom and cousin, we ran into some bad luck in Rome and had a few misadventures. I was kind of sour about it – I had expected more from Rome! But it wasn’t Rome’s fault that we had a few run-ins with bad luck and it certainly wasn’t personal – once we all got over taking an illegal taxi (true story) and having no power or water in our apartment for a few days, Rome really wasn’t so bad. In the end, I kind of loved it there and am looking forward to going back this summer. It really is all about your state of mind.

Until next week, stay well!
Katrina

Episode 13: Mennonite Girls Can Cook!

MGCC headerHello listeners!

On this week’s episode, I have the absolute pleasure of interviewing Charlotte Penner, contributor to the bestselling cookbook, Mennonite Girls Can Cook. Charlotte and I chat about the origins of the Mennonite Girls Can Cook group, and how this wonderful cookbook, which includes both traditional Mennonite and modern non-Mennonite recipes (all of them equally delicious!), has had an incredible impact on a community in need in Ukraine.

 MGCC contributors (standing) Julie Klassen, Charlotte Penner, Judy Wiebe, Betty Reimer, Lovella Schellenberg, Marg Bartel, Bev Klassen (seated) Annaliese Friesen, Kathy McLellan, Ellen Bayles. Photo by Beatriz Photography (Mennonite Brethren Herald)

MGCC contributors (standing) Julie Klassen, Charlotte Penner, Judy Wiebe, Betty Reimer, Lovella Schellenberg, Marg Bartel, Bev Klassen (seated) Annaliese Friesen, Kathy McLellan, Ellen Bayles.
Photo by Beatriz Photography (Mennonite Brethren Herald)

Listen in on our conversation!

mennogirlscookbooksYou can find Mennonite Girls Can Cook and Mennonite Girls Can Cook: Celebrations at major booksellers in Winnipeg, as well as online. Pick up your copies today! They also make excellent gifts. A new devotional book, Bread for the Journey, is expected to be released this year as well. Thank you to Charlotte for sitting down to chat with me about what’s next for the MGCC crew.

 

25614833Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of Jane Johnson’s stunning novel Pillars of Light, a book I reviewed for the Winnipeg Free Press a little while ago – keep your eyes on Instagram for your chance to win! I loved this book and hope you will, too.

Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of the Literally, Katrina podcast! I’ll be back in two weeks with another episode. To stay up-to-date on all things Literally, Katrina and books, subscribe to the Literally, Katrina podcast on iTunes or the Apple podcast app, like the Literally, Katrina Facebook pageand Pinterest board, and follow me on Twitter and Insta @LitKatrina.

Until next time, happy reading!
Katrina