Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Musings

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Daddy and furbaby!

My week: Yet another blur of a week! Tuesday Alohi had a vet appointment for her third set of shots, and afterwards we took her to my library so my co-workers could finally meet the adorable furball I talk about incessantly. Saturday we took her to puppy playtime at Petco, and she had fun interacting with other puppies her size. She was definitely the most exuberant of the bunch. She looooves people and other dogs. Some dogs were too nervous to even get off their parents' laps -- not her!

Reading: I finished "A Perilous Undertaking," the second book in Deanna Raybourn's fun Veronica Speedwell historical mystery series and, though it wasn't quite as good as book 1, I really enjoyed it. Then I read the much-touted "Lincoln in the Bardo" by George Saunders. I had a super-hard time getting into it because of the very unique format, but eventually I got used to it and the story really took off. In the end I had mixed feelings about it... right now my rating sits at 4 stars: 3 for the story plus 1 for sheer creativity.

Now I'm about a third of the way done with "Murder of Crows" by Anne Bishop, the second book in The Others series. I read the first, "Written in Red," back in the fall and loved it, despite it being a bit out of my wheelhouse (urban fantasy with a twist of cozy). I'm a little less enthralled with "Murder of Crows" but I'm still enjoying being back in Lakeside, and I can definitely see now where the rest of the series is headed.


Knitting: Nada! :(

Watching: I had a bit of time in the evenings this weekend to watch some stuff from the DVR, and I'm finally caught up on "Grey's Anatomy"! I also watched episodes 3 and 4 of "This is Us." I started watching it when it originally came on but quickly got behind and decided to just record everything for a binge-watch. I've got 14 episodes on the DVR, so this'll be my next project. I can see why it's become the show of the year!

Eating: Ice cream cake! Jarrod's birthday was last week.

Buying: Jarrod's promotion ceremony is this week, and since this one's a bit of a bigger deal I decided to get him a gift. He loves bourbon, so I ordered him a wood watch made out of recycled Kentucky whiskey barrels. (The company I got it from is called Original Grain, if you're interested.)

Feeling: The urge to do some spring cleaning! But I don't even have time to keep to my regular cleaning schedule right now, so that's probably not going to happen! (I am in awe of women who work full-time and have kids -- and sometimes blog on top of all that?! I only work 24 hours a week and have a puppy, and I can't seem to get my shit together!)

Blogging:
Monday Musings
YA Reviews: Carve the Mark and A Monster Calls
Yarn Along: "Lincoln in the Bardo" and Hufflepuff Scarf (sadly, the Yarn Along link-up is no more!)

Looking forward to: STILL seeing "Beauty and the Beast." One of these days!

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Yarn Along: "Lincoln in the Bardo" and Hufflepuff Scarf

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

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I finally picked up the Newt Scamander Hufflepuff scarf again! I've got quite a long way to go, but it's nice to have TV knitting again. I still haven't had time to block my teal heart hat or make the pompom for the top, but I hope to soon. And then I'll post some pictures!


I'm just a little ways into the much-hyped "Lincoln in the Bardo" and I'm not too sure about it. The format is reeeally different and I'm having a tough time getting into the story. I'm intrigued by the plot (to do with Abe Lincoln's son Willie, dying and Abe visiting him at his crypt with several ghosts for company) and I'm hoping the unique, experimental style will grow on me. (Here's an example: entire chapters are told in short couple-sentence excepts taken from non-fiction books. And this is a novel.) People generally seem to love it, though, and I'm going to persevere!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

YA Reviews: Carve the Mark and A Monster Calls

"Carve the Mark" by Veronica Roth
First published in 2017
468 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5


I really liked Veronica Roth's Divergent series, and I was excited to read her new release -- especially since it has a significant sci-fi/fantasy bent, which is more and more in my reading wheelhouse these days.

The bare bones of "Carve the Mark" are similar to Divergent: a futuristic society, a tyrannical leader who needs to be relieved of power and a boy and a girl from opposite sides of the metaphorical tracks (who, obviously, fall in love) banding together to do so.

But "Carve the Mark" takes place in space and the battle is planetary, not factions in one city. There are oracles who can see versions of the future and who dole out immutable fates for members of certain families. And the "current" runs through everything, including people. Everyone has a particular currentgift, though Cyra Noavek's is more of a curse -- she's in constant, terrible pain, and no one can touch her without feeling that pain. Her brother is the aforementioned tyrannical leader, and he uses Cyra as chief torturer and executioner, an assignment she's extremely conflicted about but has no real way of rebelling against... that is until Akos comes into her life. He's from Thuve, the sworn enemy of Cyra's Shotet nation. But his currentgift is unique and so are his views. Life quickly changes for both of them, and I can't wait to continue the adventure in the next book.

I will say, though the writing was impressive for a YA novel, parts of the book did drag. At one point I felt like I'd been reading it for-ev-er, but things really picked back up toward the end. And I also wanted more information on the all-important current, but maybe that'll come as the series continues.

Overall, I really enjoyed the new direction Roth went here and I'll definitely be continuing the series.

(Holy wow, I just stumbled onto the huge controversy surrounding this book, which was totally unbeknownst to me. I personally didn't find it to be racist or ableist or full of "unflagged triggers," and I wonder if so many people really did or if they're just happy to be seen jumping on the PC bandwagon, which is the cool place to be these days. Either way, you may be interested in typing it into Google and reading up on the whole drama.)

"A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness
First published in 2011
206 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5


I had to read "A Monster Calls" for the adult book club I took over at the library where I work, and I wasn't too enthusiastic about reading yet another young adult book (all the books have been YA so far and it's far from my favorite genre) -- until I saw that it's illustrated by Jim Kay, the same artist who's doing the gorgeous illustrated Harry Potter editions.

The story is a sad one -- it's about a boy coming to terms with his mother's breast cancer. It's also about a monster who takes the form of an ancient yew tree and visit's Conor's house to tell him three stories, after which Conor will have to tell the monster his story -- the deep, dark secret he's been hiding, even from himself. I enjoyed the monster's three stories, which had a fable-like feel and reminded me a bit of "The Tales of Beedle the Bard." And I also liked the monster, who's no match for the horrible monster in Conor's heart and quickly becomes a friend.

Grief, anger, shame and loneliness are all important themes in this heartbreaking story and the beautiful black and white illustrations perfectly enhanced Ness's writing. In fact, they made the book for me and I don't think I'd have rated it quite so highly if it hadn't been an illustrated novel.

"A Monster Calls" is quick enough to read in a couple hours, it'll give you some food for thought and the book itself is beautiful with thick, heavy pages and those lovely, intriguing illustrations. I recommend it, especially if you're planning to watch the movie.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Musings

alohi and lily
It's been Alohi, Alohi, Alohi around here the past several weeks, so here's a picture of Lily! She still doesn't know what to think of her new sister, but she's finally starting to come around. At least she's sleeping in the bed with us again!

My week: Another blur of a week here. Where does the time go?! I can't believe it was just four months ago that I had never-ending free time and had to search for an excuse to get out of the house. Now, with a job and a puppy, all I want to do is curl up on the couch with a book and some peace and quiet! I did finally get to the beach for a couple hours last week, which was nice.

Are you into basketball? I'm really not, but Jarrod likes to watch March Madness and I usually do a bracket on ESPN with some of his friends. It makes the hours of games more bearable if I have a stake in them! Since I know hardly anything about the sport, my picks are a mix of schools I like and educated guesses. Last year I got second place in the group, but this year my bracket's sucking it up! (P.S. I named my bracket BookWorm -- just in case there was any doubt about my interest in basketball.)

Reading: I started off the week with "A Bridge Across the Ocean" by Susan Meissner (I had an advance-read copy and it came out last Tuesday) and was kinda disappointed. The writing was nothing to get excited about, and I was totally thrown that this apparently ordinary past/present dual narrative historical fiction novel ended up being centered on a character who can communicate with ghosts and and who's having something of a midlife crisis about her ability. I enjoy paranormal novels in the right context, but the blurb didn't mention anything about that plot point (for a reason, perhaps?) and I just had a really hard time getting on board with it. (Here's my full review.)

Because of all that, it was so refreshing to finally dive into "A Perilous Undertaking," the second Veronica Speedwell book, which I've been looking forward to forEVER. The writing is so, so much better than "A Bridge Across the Ocean," the story and setting pulled me in right away, and I love the characters. If you haven't read "A Curious Beginning," the first book in the series, I urge you to check it out!

I'll be done with "A Perilous Undertaking" soon -- as if I needed extra motivation, it's due back at the library tomorrow -- and I've got quite a selection of books to choose from next: "The Dry" by Jane Harper, "A Murder of Crows" by Anne Bishop (the second The Others book), "Lincoln in the Bardo" by George Saunders or "Swimming Lessons" by Claire Fuller, plus an advance-read copy of "Sputnik's Children" by Terri Favro. Decisions, decisions!


Knitting: Nothing, sigh. I still need to block my teal heart hat and make the pompom for the top. And I really need to get back to work on the Hufflepuff scarf.

Watching: We watched "Allied" on Friday night and I thought it was decent. We also watched a couple more episodes of "House of Cards"; just one more episode to go in season 1. And Alohi and I did some more DVR binge-watching while Jarrod was at poker night this weekend and I'm finally almost caught up on "Grey's Anatomy."

Listening to: "Love is Mystical" by Cold War Kids.


Making: Giant paper flowers for my big April Showers Bring May Flowers wall display at work. This next week I'll be making a big 3-D papier-mache cloud for the display.

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Mulling over: Taking up quilting. I've always been interested in sewing (though I can barely operate my sewing machine -- I actually took a several year break from it because something was wrong with the bobbin and I couldn't get it figured out; it took my dad about two minutes to fix it when I finally asked) and lately I've seen some gorgeous quilting on Instagram. It's got me thinking about trying it... and it would fulfill my New Year's goal of taking up a new hobby (or at least attempting one).

Blogging:
Monday Musings
My Spring 2017 To-Read List
New Release: A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

Looking forward to: Seeing "Beauty and the Beast"!

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

New Release: A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

"A Bridge Across the Ocean" by Susan Meissner
First published March 14, 2017
384 pages
3 out of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Short Of It:
I had such high hopes for this WWII novel, but it was a bit of a disappointment.

The Long Of It:
I was all set to love "A Bridge Across the Ocean," what I expected to be a typical WWII/present day historical fiction dual narrative. But I was quickly thrown for a loop when it was revealed that the modern day protagonist communicates with ghosts, and that's how the stories are linked (something conspicuously absent from the book blurb). Usually in books like this the past/present connection is accomplished with something like a letter, or a found diary, or a mysterious old manor, and perhaps I should've been excited that Meissner did something fresh but it just did not work for me (and I did try to keep an open mind at first!).

Brette, our ghost liaison, rubbed me wrong from the start; she's experiencing something of a midlife crisis with regard to her "ability" and I found her to be whiny and hard to empathize with. (Also, see how I said "midlife"? I think Brette is only in her 30s, but she's written like she's twice that age.) The whole thing, especially the ghost-centric ending, just felt incredibly hokey to me and I absolutely could not suspend my disbelief when it came to Brette's encounters with "Drifters." I'd get into the two historical narratives and then turn the page and be flung back to Brette and modern day San Diego and ghosts, and it'd just completely take me out of the story. I'm a fan of the paranormal in the right books, but not here. (Also, how the hell are you supposed to pronounce Brette?)

Additionally, I was far from impressed with Meissner's writing, which was quite basic and plain. Where was the interesting word choice, beautiful analogies and linguistic creativity? Not here! I was also missing that vivid sense of atmosphere and setting that good authors can achieve, and there were plenty of missed opportunities for it.

Now for the positives: I actually did enjoy the stories of Simone and Annaliese, two strong women -- each with secrets to hide -- who meet on the RMS Queen Mary, a ship filled with war brides traveling from England to the U.S. to be reunited with their new husbands. Simone and Annaliese's backstories of hardship and courage during the war were intriguing and, despite the terrible things they'd been forced to do to survive, they were easy to root for.

If you can get past the ghost aspect and the lackluster writing and you're a WWII historical fiction fan, this might be a novel for you to check out. But if you don't get around to it (and perhaps select a better WWII novel instead, like "All the Light We Cannot See" or "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" or Jojo Moyes' "The Ship of Brides" which also deals with war brides; I haven't read it yet but I know it will be better than this one because Moyes is a way better writer) I don't think you'll be missing out on too terribly much.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Spring 2017 To-Read List

spring 2017 to read list

Happy almost-spring, bookworms! Here in Hawaii it's perpetual summer, so it doesn't mean much to me (other than the time change adding an extra hour between me and my family in Colorado), but last year at this time we were still in Ohio, working on selling our house, preparing for our move and enjoying watching stuff pop up in our garden for the last time. In a crazy coincidence, the crocus picture above was actually taken exactly a year ago today, March 14!

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish to share my list. What will you be reading this spring?

spring to read

1. The Dry by Jane Harper: I'm looking forward to this mystery set in Australia. Apparently it was a big hit in its home country! I've hardly read any books set there, and I'm looking forward to it since we'll be going on a trip there sometime in the next two years before we leave Hawaii.

2. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: Magical realism + secret romance + Middle East country in shambles = totally intriguing!

3. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: Historical fiction + Abe Lincoln + ghosts = also totally intriguing!

4. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel: I try to be open-minded, but I don't really know a whole lot about the transgendered community. This recent novel centers on 5-year-old Claude, who wants to be a girl when he grows up, and his family. It's written by the mother of a transgendered child, and it's well-reviewed so far.

5. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers: A friend at work recommended this time travel novel (to 1800s London!) to me and I'm anxious to give it a try.

6. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney: I won this book, which came out in January, in a Goodreads Giveaway. Since it arrived after the release date, I didn't feel like I had to read it immediately, but I'm definitely looking forward to it.

7. Saga, volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: If you haven't gotten into the "Saga" graphic novel series yet, check it out!!! Volume 7 comes out in a couple weeks.

8. The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth: Another Goodreads Giveaway win that came after the release date (which was in February). I really enjoyed "The Things We Keep" and I'm expecting to like Hepworth's new book just as well.

9. A Terrible Beauty by Tasha Alexander: Alexander's Lady Emily historical mystery series is one of my favorites, and somehow I still have not read the latest installment, which came out back in October! Oh well, it just means I don't have to wait as long for the next one!

10. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab: I've thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in the Shades of Magic fantasy series and I'm excited for the conclusion (though a little sad that it's ending!). One of these days I'll get around to reading the rest of Schwab's work.

11. Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel: The second book in the Themis Files series comes out next month. I loved the readability of the epistolary format the first time around, and I'm excited to learn more about those aliens...

12. Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners by Therese O'Neill: I've had this one on hold at the library for-ev-er. I think there's only one copy in the entire library district. One day it'll come in for me, right?!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday Musings

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My week: Another quiet week that passed in a blur. I work three 8-hour (really 9-hour, with lunch) days every week and now the other two weekdays are basically devoted to entertaining Alohi, and the weekend means cleaning, laundry and (hopefully) some relaxing, so time has just been flying by. (Of course, that means the weekend goes way too fast, too!)

Alohi has started growing so fast, it's crazy! As much as I won't miss certain things about the little-puppy days, she's so freaking cute right now and I wish she would just stop growing right where she is! It was a little sad to realize she's outgrown her baby collar (she was tiny when we brought her home, so it was basically a cat collar). It's hard to believe she's already been with us for five weeks!

Reading: Last Monday I had just started "Carve the Mark" by Veronica Roth, but I had to set that aside for a couple days to read "A Monster Calls," the March book for the library's adult book club. I was kinda dreading yet another YA book (sadly, I didn't get to choose the books for the club I inherited) but this one pleasantly surprised me. It's an illustrated novel, and I found that the artwork (by the same guy doing the illustrated Harry Potter editions) really enhanced the story, which was a very sad one. I didn't love it, but I did like it more than I expected to.

Then I finished "Carve the Mark," and overall I really enjoyed it. Despite the fact that I was invested in the characters and interested in the plot, I did think it dragged a bit; I got to a point where I felt like I had been reading it forever. But I enjoyed the writing, the story and the sci-fi/fantasy elements, and I'll definitely continue the series.

Next up is "A Bridge Across the Ocean," a historical fiction novel about WWII brides journeying across the Atlantic to their new homes in the U.S. (Of course, secrets and intrigue are involved.) I'm a bit late reading my advance copy; the book comes out tomorrow.


Knitting: I finished my hat -- the teal one covered in white hearts! Now it just needs a pompom. I'll have a picture in my Yarn Along post on Wednesday.

Watching: We watched "Arrival" over the weekend and we both liked it. It reminded me a lot of "Sleeping Giants" by Sylvain Neuvel (I'm looking forward to book 2 in the series next month!). I also got caught up on a few more episodes of "Grey's Anatomy" on Saturday night when Jarrod went to play cards. I've got three more to go, and then I'll start working on "This Is Us." I've only watched the first two episodes, but it seems like it's the show of the year and I'm excited to get back to it.

Listening to: I've been playing a lot of music when it's just Alohi and me at home, and I wanted something kinda mellow the other day so I pulled up one of my favorite albums, "Morning Phase" by Beck. I'm so grateful for that whole wacky controversy with Beck winning the Grammy that year over Beyonce and everyone (aka Kanye West) freaking out about it; otherwise I might never have listened to it! (Favorite tracks: Turn Away, Waking Light, Morning, Blackbird, Say Goodbye.)


Blogging:
Monday Musings
Book Review: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Yarn Along: "A Monster Calls" and Je T'aime Hat
Etsy Wishlist: Puppy Edition!

Looking forward to: One of my jobs at the library is coming up with something for the big display wall in the kids' section every month, and I'm starting prep for the April wall, which will be April Showers Bring May Flowers. I'm going to make big 3-D clouds (with balloons, paper mache and polyester fiberfill -- wish me luck!) with raindrops coming down, and giant paper flowers. I'm looking forward to being crafty!

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