Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Fall 2016 Reading List

fall reading list
(This picture is from our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park last September, and I so wish I were back there right now!)

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
I've been planning to read this gothic tale forever, and for some reason I had it in my head that I should read it in October. Of course, now I'm in Hawaii which feels like summer all year long, but I am finally going to read this book this fall, proper atmosphere or not!

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I've decided it's time to jump on the Taylor Jenkins Reid bandwagon, and I've got this one on hold at the library.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin
I've got an advance copy from NetGalley of this historical fiction story set in 1880s Paris during the construction of the Eiffel Tower. It comes out in November.

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
I read the first book in the Invisible Library series last month and it was so much fun! I'm looking forward to continuing the story.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
I've been meaning to read this for years, ever since I read and loved "The Secret Keeper" way back at the beginning of 2013. "The Forgotten Garden" is on my must-read-in-2016 list and time is running out! I feel like fall is the perfect time for Kate Morton's novels, which are always set in the English countryside and always involve long-buried secrets!

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
How gorgeous is this cover?! I love reading books set in Alaska and this one sounds amazing!

Vicious by V.E. Schwab
"Vicious" is another book on my must-read-in-2016 list. I enjoy Schwab's Shades of Magic series and I'm fully expecting to love this story.

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
I've been reading more and more fantasy lately and this new novel sounds so good! The intriguing cover is what got me to look it up in the first place. I just want to step right into it!

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
This was a gift from my Broke and Bookish Secret Santa last year (I'm so excited to participate again this year!) and I'm ashamed to say I still haven't read it. It's another entry on my must-read-in-2016 list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This one's no surprise -- it's the book of the moment! I've wanted to read it ever since I first saw the blurb months ago, though. Now I've just got to wait to get to the top of the library holds queue!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I wasn't familiar with Towles until recently, when the hype began for his new release. Intrigued, I looked him up and added his first book, "Rules of Civility" to my to-read list. But I've heard so many great things about this book, and I've been wanting to read more fiction set in Russia after watching the BBC "War & Peace" miniseries, so I'm moving this one up the list!

The Likeness by Tana French
I read the first book in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, "In the Woods" just about a year ago now and I've been intending to continue the series ever since. A friend even sent me a copy of "The Likeness," so I have no excuse for not reading it sooner!

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
I'm so excited to read this new-ish book about the invention of the light bulb -- which sounds rather dull but this book promises to be anything but! Moore was the screenwriter for the amazing movie "The Imitation Game" and I'm sure I'll enjoy this novel.

Left over from my spring and summer reading lists:
I currently have three of these ("American Housewife," "The Royal We" and "His Majesty's Dragon") checked out from the library, so I'll at least be getting those knocked out soon, and I'll happily read "Saga" whenever my library finally gets it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Musings

Check out this library haul! I didn't intend to have seven holds ready at one time, but just look at all these beauties!

My week: It was another pretty quiet week here. One afternoon I put out my fall decorations while sipping a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, which was a pleasant couple of hours. And we went to the beach on Friday afternoon. I feel like I hardly saw Jarrod all week until Friday -- he was working some insane hours because of an exercise his work was doing (military speak for practice disaster) and I think I spent about an hour a day with him for like 10 days in a row. The next two weeks he'll be working 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., so our schedule will be flip-flopping again, but at least he'll be home for dinner!

Reading: I had a great reading week! I finished my advance copy of "The Other Einstein," which I'd just started last Monday. (It comes out October 18; review to come soon!) It's a fictionalized look at Albert Einstein's first wife, Mileva Maric, who may have made more of a contribution to Einstein's work than we'd ever imagined -- and regardless was an interesting woman in her own right.

Then I read the first book in Janet Evanovich's new series (review). Her books are always fast, easy and fun, and this one was no exception. I liked it enough that I'll continue the series. And then I blew through the amazing sci-fi/thriller/love story "Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch. I looooved it.

And now I'm a about 100 pages into "The Royal We" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. I've been meaning to read this one for a while; it's on my must-read-in-2016 list. I'm loving it so far -- it's funny, it's well-written and it's just a delightful read!

Knitting: I had a terrible disaster with my Earnest cardigan this week when I realized my gauge was off and it was coming out way too small. I cried. And then I stuffed it in a coffee table drawer in hopes the knitting fairy might come by one night, wave her wand, and fix this insurmountable problem for me. At the moment I'm working on a new little project that came at just the right time, a stuffed hummingbird for a friend from the library where I worked in Ohio. (I miss that job -- and my co-workers -- so much!)

Watching: I have an abysmal record of choosing new fall shows to watch, but it appears I actually did well this year! I watched the first episodes of  "This is Us" and "Designated Survivor" and really enjoyed them both! And "Designated Survivor" is one Jarrod and I can watch together, which is always a bonus.

Buying: I did some online shopping this week! I ordered some really cool wrought-iron pumpkin stands (with owls on them), a Denver Broncos t-shirt, and I finally took the plunge on an adorable mug from Etsy that says, "Oh for (picture of a fox) sake!" I'd been eyeing it forever but really didn't want to pay that much for a coffee mug, but I had a rough day this week and was in need of a pick-me-up. I love foxes, and the phrase "for fuck's sake" comes out of my mouth at least once a day, so it's perfect!

Looking forward to: Getting my hair cut later today! I've let it grow out the past several months, and there are some things I like about having it longer, but I know it'll feel so nice to chop a bunch off and have it back to my usual shoulder length.

I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr
First published in 2014
530 pages
My rating: 5 out of 5

The Short Of It:

One of the best WWII stories I've ever read.

The Long Of It:
"All the Light We Cannot See" is historical fiction at its best. Doerr masterfully packs unforgettable characters, rich descriptions and beautiful writing into a gripping and unique WWII story. I was impressed with the perfect balance he achieves between light, heartfelt, interesting moments and scenes that vividly bring home the sickening horrors of war.

Much of the story is told by two main characters, Marie-Laure, a blind French teenager who loves books and the ocean, and Werner, a brilliant German orphan with a knack for inventions who is pushed into Hitler's army. The two are on opposite sides of the war, but fate will cross their paths at the most critical moment.

Between the major storylines of Marie-Laure and Wener -- from childhood to 1944, when things are at the worst for both of them -- are woven many fascinating details and subplots: a huge, storied, and sought-after diamond that may or may not be cursed; secret messages baked into bread loaves; a kooky but lovable old man; a sweet and wonderful boy with a passion for birds; radios; mathematics; seashells and snail shells; Jules Verne; puzzle boxes; European history; and so very much cruelty and kindness. I was amazed at the author's breadth of knowledge about things like trigonometry and the inner workings of old-fashioned radios.

What set the book over the top for me was Doerr's gorgeous writing and rich descriptions, which were only enhanced by the casting of a blind character. Some of my favorite passages were when young Marie-Laure was exploring the Paris Museum of Natural History where her father worked. Though she couldn't see it with her eyes, I could picture detail after detail in my mind as she took in smells -- bone dust, chemical preservatives, paper -- and textures -- the curves of a shell, the smoothness of a beetle, the softness of a feather. Marie-Laure's blindness also added to the intensity of many scenes. Can you imagine being trapped in your house, not able to see a thing or even tell if it's night or day, when someone comes in searching for you -- and will not hesitate to kill you if he finds you? I was on the edge of my seat with stress!

Something else I loved about this novel was the easy flow to the writing. For some reason, I imagined it would be a heavy, long book but, even at 530 pages, it was a quick read. I absolutely blazed through it. This was aided by the very short chapters -- sometimes only a page or two each -- that made the book nearly impossible to put down. I can't tell you the number of times I said, "Just one more chapter. Oh wait, this one's only three pages, might as well read that too..."

"All the Light We Cannot See" is a must-read, not just for fans of WWII stories, but for fans of human stories. Anyone who likes fiction should enjoy this book, which is fully deserving of all the accolades it received.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review: Curious Minds by Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton

"Curious Minds" by Janet Evanovich
Book 1 in the Knight and Moon series

First published in 2016
323 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5

The Short Of It:

Typical Janet Evanovich: nothing mind-blowing, but a quick, fun diversion.

The Long Of It:
Janet Evanovich is one of the few fluff authors in my life. I will stick with Stephanie Plum through the end (even though the end should probably have come already), I actually really like the Wicked books, and I enjoyed "Curious Minds" enough that I'll continue with the new Knight and Moon series when the next installment comes out. Sometimes a lighthearted, easy, silly book is just what I need, and Janet almost always comes through.

"Curious Minds" is a sort of action/slight mystery/humor blend that involves investigating a plot to steal gold from both the Federal Reserve and private individuals and replace it with fakes. Yeah, ok. What really carried the book was the characters.

Riley Moon is a Texas girl with degrees from Harvard Business and Harvard Law who just started work as a junior analyst for the biggest banking corporation in the world. She doesn't have any of the Stephanie Plum ditziness to her -- she's bright and capable but still completely likable. She rolls with all the craziness, she's a crack shot with a gun, and she favors bacon cheeseburgers and the expression "crap on a cracker." And one of her first assignments at Blane-Grunwald is to babysit eccentric millionaire Emerson Knight as he looks into the disappearance of the firm employee who was managing his gold.

Emerson's father recently died and Emerson inherited the family pile, Mysterioso Manor, and all that comes with it, like a free-roaming menagerie of animals including zebras, a capybara and an armadillo. He's incredibly handsome and extremely smart in an out-of-the-box way, but not so hot with people and common sense. He oozes a sort of utterly wacky charm that was impossible not to fall in love with.

The two form an unlikely detective duo as they look into what could possibly the world's biggest monetary conspiracy, and their investigation takes them from Washington, D.C., to New York to Area 51 in Nevada. There's plenty of danger, there are some kooky and lovable characters, and of course there's a sprinkling of romantic tension.

In typical Evanovich fashion, this was a super-quick read and I had it done in a day and half. If you're looking for a fast, fun, fluffy new series to start, you might enjoy following Knight and Moon on their first adventure.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: The Hike by Drew Magary

"The Hike" by Drew Magary
First published in 2016
288 pages
My rating: 2 out of 5

*I won an advance copy of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.

The Short Of It:
Huh. Apparently this very strange and (in my opinion) poorly written book worked for many readers, but it just didn't click for me.

The Long Of It:
I was really expecting to like "The Hike." It's billed as a fantasy melding of folk tales and video games, and doesn't that sound intriguing? But, for me, the only redeeming quality this book had was a sarcastic, foul-mouthed talking crab. And given that our only protagonists are the crab and a rather dull 38-year-old man, it's hard not to love the crab.

Ben is your basic average joe family man, occasionally frazzled and irritated but mostly he adores his wife and kids. After traveling to a remote Pennsylvania hotel for a business meeting, he decides to take an afternoon walk in the woods -- except his leisurely hike turns into a seemingly endless battle for survival against strange and mythical beings, like men with rottweiler heads, a massive cricket, a man-eating female giant and some very mean smoke wisps. Oh yeah, and he's been informed that if he steps off the path, he'll die. Determined to get through the world's most horrible hike and be reunited with his family, Ben soldiers on, defeating obstacle after bizarre obstacle (none of which, I'm sorry to say, were particularly creative).

Basically, that's the whole book. Ben fights off strange creatures that want to kill him, doesn't stray from the path and pines for his family. There's no plot. On top of the aimless nature of the story, I struggled with the author's writing, which was the most bare-bones, basic, boring sort, and it lacked polish and beauty. (Since I read an advance copy, I'm hoping it was tightened up at least a bit before going to print.) I mean, at one point, the protagonist screams, "FUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKK!!!! Goddamn you, you fucking asshole shithead path! FUCK!" (And, yes, I actually counted the number of Us, Cs and Ks. And, yes, it annoyed me that there wasn't a consistent number of each letter. Maybe I'm too anal retentive for this book.) To me, this doesn't seem like something a seasoned author would write; it feels more like a line a kid who knows he's not allowed to say the f-word would jot down in his notebook. Maybe that's part of the appeal -- to some readers, it feels fresh? But to me, the book mostly just seemed amateurish.

I read some reviews after finishing "The Hike" to see what I might have missed (it does, after all, have over 4 stars on Goodreads and Amazon!). Many readers said they were prepared to give it a lower rating until they got to the "wow" ending, which just brought everything together. I agree that the conclusion held a bit of a surprise, but what I was hoping for was a point to the story. What was the purpose of Ben's forced adventure? Without that -- and I'm pretty sure it didn't go over my head, but perhaps it did -- the story is just a sequence of absurd events.

This is a rather harsh review and I can see that I'm in the minority. But "The Hike" just did not work for me on any level.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Yarn Along: "The Other Einstein" and a Knitted Hummingbird

Yarn Along is a wonderful weekly link-up hosted by Ginny at the Small Things blog about two of the best things in life: books and knitting.

yarn along 092116

Reading: I'm a little over a third of the way done with the October release "The Other Einstein" by Marie Benedict and I like what I've read thus far. It's based on a real person, Albert Einstein's first wife, Mileva Maric, a brilliant physicist in her own right. It's reminiscent of "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain, about Hemingway's first wife Hadley, and "The Atomic Weight of Love" by Elizabeth J. Church, about a gifted female scientist who's overshadowed by her husband. Most of what I've read so far has taken place in late-1800s Zurich, where Mileva is the only woman in the physics program at her university, and I'm enjoying the atmosphere: the boardinghouse where Mileva lives with three other university girls, the cafes near the campus where Mileva goes to sip coffee and engage in heated scientific discussions, and the beautiful Swiss wilderness where Mileva and her friends love to hike.

(I will say that I'm anxious to be done with this book... usually advance-read copies are set up for iPad reading, but not this one. And reading a book on the computer is really no fun. I'm longing to hold a real book in my hands... and my wish will soon be granted because I have seven holds ready for me at the library!)

Knitting: If you've visited for Yarn Along lately, you'll have seen me making progress on my gorgeous Earnest cardigan by Joji Locatelli. The pattern is really not that hard, but I just had one problem after another, ranging from mismatched dyelots to uncharacteristic difficulty with the provisional cast-on to discovering many, many rows on that I had miscrossed three cables. But the death knell for the cardigan came Monday when, after doing the waist decreases, I tried it on... and it still only came to the bottom of my bra -- about 2 1/2 or 3 inches above where it should have been. I did some measuring and apparently my gauge is quite a bit off, which I think must be the fault of the yarn, which, though it's 100% merino, has a sort of elasticity to it. I am absolutely devastated and I will admit to shedding a tear or two. All those hours... And I don't have enough of any other yarn on hand to use, so my Earnest cardigan is officially on pause for now. (Sob.)

Luckily, in a wonderful coincidence of timing, I have a diversion! A co-worker from the library where I worked in Ohio came across this hummingbird pattern in a book she was flipping through at work and asked me to knit it for her. She'd like to hang it from her rear-view mirror. I dug around in my yarn stash (why, oh, why don't I have 1,740 yards of fingering in there somewhere?!) and found several greenish options for the hummingbird body, but none seemed to capture the beautiful iridescence. So I played around with knitting two strands together, and I think I'm going to go with the combo in the photo above, a teal fingering weight and an old skein of Caron that's grass-green with flecks of red, blue, green and yellow. I think I'll only use the portions that have red flecks, which will nicely set off the ruby throat.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My 10 Favorite Musicians/Groups Right This Minute

One of my biggest passions besides books is music. Not a day goes by that I don't listen to music, concerts are one of my favorite things to do, I played the clarinet for years and one of my dreams is to learn to play the piano. I've loved music forever, and as I've gotten older my tastes have broadened significantly. Now there are few genres I don't enjoy, and I listen to everything from classical to country to R&B. This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is about any and all things audio, and since I'm not a fan of audiobooks (other than the ah-maze-ing Harry Potter ones read by Jim Dale) I'm going the music route.

My Spotify playlists are a jumble of different types of music, but the 10 artists and bands below are the ones I'd choose if you asked me right now to pick my current faves. It was tough to narrow down, but I pretty consistently like everything they put out and I would love to see them all in concert! (I've already seen three but I'd gladly see them again! Though that's not likely anytime soon... not many shows come all the way to Hawaii. That was one awesome thing about living in Ohio for three years!)

Do tell: Do you like going to concerts as much as I do? Who are your favorite musicians?

My 10 Favorite Musicians/Groups Right This Minute
(Because It's Always Subject to Change!)

Broken Bells
I got to see Broken Bells at Lollapalooza in 2014 and they were awesome live. I adore every single song on both of their albums. Other favorite songs: "The High Road," "Leave It Alone," and basically every other song they've recorded.

Florida Georgia Line
I'm a big fan of country, but Florida Georgia Line is my absolute favorite county band. We've seen them in concert twice and the second time is currently holding the spot of my favorite concert ever. I like the rock influence that shows through their Southern twang. Other favorite songs: "Dirt," "Get Your Shine On."

Helen Jane Long
I love, love, love contemporary piano music and Helen Jane Long and another pianist, Alexis French, are consistently my most-listened-to artists every month. Their gorgeous music is perfect to listen to while cooking, reading, knitting, writing letters or just relaxing. Other favorite songs: "Passes," "Fountain," basically every single one.

Glass Animals
This band has such a unique sound and I really don't even know if they can be pigeonholed into a certain genre. I like their first album slightly more than their new sophomore effort -- but I can still listen to it on repeat. Other favorite songs: "Toes," "Cocoa Hooves."

X Ambassadors
"VHS" is a great album that I could listen to over and over. Bonus: Colleen Hoover mentioned the band in her book "November 9." Other favorite songs: "Gorgeous," "Renegades."

We saw Hozier in concert at a small outdoor venue last year and it was such an awesome, intimate show. I was surprised how humble and un-famous he seemed. I love his first album and I hope he puts out another one soon! Everyone probably knows "Take Me To Church" (which is not exactly about the joys of going to church), but the rest of his music is beautiful too. Other favorite songs: "Jackie and Wilson," "Arsonist's Lullaby."

Twenty One Pilots
Another band I'm not quite sure how to put into a genre... alternative? I love their newest album, "Blurryface." Other favorite songs: "Heathens," "Polarize."

Blake Shelton
I like so many different country artists, but Blake Shelton is someone whose music I consistently love (although, incidentally, I don't like his newest song). One of my favorite songs of all time is the hilarious "Ol' Red," about a bloodhound and a prison break, recorded all the way back in 2001. Blake has come a long way since then -- I'd say he might be the most famous male country musician right now, probably thanks to "The Voice" (which I don't watch, but which I know is crazy popular). Bonus: The song below mentions my homestate of Colorado, so it gets a couple extra points! Other favorite songs: "Boys 'Round Here," "Honey Bee."

I've liked Adele since 2008 when I first heard "Chasing Pavements" and she just keeps putting out awesome music. Other favorite songs: "Set Fire to the Rain," "Rumour Has It."

Flume is a newer like for me, and he's not even a singer, he's an electronic musician who often mixes in the vocals of other artists. Unlike the others on this list, I don't like everything he's ever done, but I do consistently love his top-40 tracks. Other favorite songs: "Say It," "Never Be Like You."

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