Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: "I'll Be Seeing You" by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

"I'll Be Seeing You" by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan
First published in 2013
313 pages
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
(image source)

I have snail mail on the brain after participating in A Month of Letters in February, so it seemed like the perfect time to finally read the epistolary novel "I'll Be Seeing You," which has been on my TBR list for many months!

I had high hopes going into this WWII story -- the cover pulled me in, I love mail and was intrigued by the novel-in-letters format, and I enjoy historical fiction. "I'll Be Seeing You" more than met my expectations -- I found it to be a delightful, easy and engrossing read.

War wives Glory of Rockport, Massachussetts, and Rita of Iowa City, Iowa, start off as strangers thrown together through a women's 4-H pen pal match-up, but their relationship quickly grows into so much more.

Glory is a young mother of two whose husband Robert is in training before shipping off overseas. And both the men in Rita's life are fighting in the war -- her beloved husband Sal and their son Toby. Glory and Rita unite over their sadness, hope and love for their families, and soon they are the best of friends, more like sisters than pen pals who've never met. Glory and Rita lend each other advice, support, ration-friendly recipes, love, and understanding as they worry over their husbands, deal with their crotchety neighbors and navigate other life issues, big and small. There are times when a letter from the other is all that keeps our characters afloat; they become rocks of stability for each other in the murky, turbulent sea of uncertainty that is having a husband fighting in a war on the other side of the world.

I absolutely loved that the novel was written entirely in letters, mostly between our two women but with some V-Mail to their soldiers and other correspondence thrown in. Glory and Rita had completely separate voices and their individual personalities (or those of the two authors?) really shone through. Rita is older and wiser, full of a natural confidence and spunk -- the type of woman we all aspire to be; Glory is a young woman who has a heart overflowing with love, all the while conflicted and trying to find herself and her calling.

"I'll Be Seeing You" was a pleasure to read. It was a fascinating look at what it was like for those -- of both sexes -- left behind while all the able-bodied men went off to fight in Europe and the Pacific. The bonds, friendship and love woven through letters was so touching and heartwarming, and I like to think some real-life women were lucky enough to find each other this way.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Top 10 Things On My Bookish Bucket List

This week, the theme for Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish is the top ten items on your bookish bucket list.

Write a book.
One day I will finally sit down and get started. First I need my winning idea!
Meet a favorite author.
The only author I've ever met was Ann M. Martin of Babysitter's Club fame when I was a little kid. That was amazing -- and I still have my signed Super Special -- but I suspect meeting an author as an adult would be a whole different kind of experience.
 Visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando and Platform 9 3/4 in London.
But I have to wait until the Gringott's part of Universal Studios opens this summer!
Read every single one of the books I own.
...and I have a LOT.
Read a book on every continent, and read books set on each of the seven continents.
This goes hand-in-hand with my lifetime bucket list goal of visiting every continent.
See a professional play or musical based on a book.
I haven't seen a play since high school, and that was a high school drama production. The only professional play I've seen was "The Diary of Anne Frank" as a middle school field trip, and that will always be marred by the memory of immature 13-year-old boys mocking poor Anne.
Take a cruise to Antarctica -- as inspired by "Where'd You Go, Bernadette."
I really have no desire to take any kind of cruise except this one. The cruise in the book sounded absolutely amazing -- a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!
Go to Paris and eat, eat, eat -- as inspired by "My Life in France" by Julia Child and "Paris in Love" by Eloisa James, among others.
I have got to get a real hot chocolate!
Visit Multnomah Falls in Oregon -- as inspired by the movie version of "Twilight."
This is the waterfall in the background of the baseball scene.
Be able to say I've honestly given a fair shot to every genre of book, from bestseller to non-fiction to smutty romance to graphic novel, and be able to recommend good reads from every category.
And stop being a book snob while I'm at it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review: "The Longest Ride" by Nicholas Sparks

"The Longest Ride" by Nicholas Sparks
First published in 2013
398 pages
My rating: 3.75 out of 5

(image source)

*This book fulfills the romance requirement for the Reading Outside the Box Challenge.

It's been a while since I've read a Nicholas Sparks romance, but something about "The Longest Ride" caught my eye. Overall, it ended up being a so-so read that got better as I went.

Sparks has penned two two separate stories that converge (rather predictably) at the end of the novel. The first tale involves Ira Levinson, an elderly man who has run his car off a North Carolina mountain embankment on a snowy night. He's badly injured and trapped with little hope of rescue until the snow abates. But his beloved wife, Ruth, appears beside him in the car, radiant at age 16, and the time passes as the two relive their long life, their love story, and the magnificent modern art collection they put together over many decades.

Meanwhile we also meet Sophia Danko, a New Jersey native studying art history at Wake Forest, and Luke Collins, a professional bull rider and rancher. The two meet through a chance encounter -- with Luke playing the knight-in-shining-armor role -- and begin an unlikely relationship. Their love is true and fast, but there are many unanswered questions -- like what will happen after Sophia graduates in a few months and has to move away for work? And Luke knows he hasn't been completely honest with Sophia about his bull riding career -- there's a huge secret he's been harboring -- and their relationship hinges on how Sophia reacts when she finds out.

When the two stories finally meet in the last pages of the book, the ending is happy and satisfying. But I felt it was a struggle at times to get there. The passages where Ira and Ruth -- while sweet and touching -- aren't as gripping as the Sophia/Luke part of the story. Typically I love historical fiction and I expected to enjoy that storyline, but the writing in those parts felt more stilted and slow-moving.

"The Longest Ride" will surely be made into a movie, and I think this might be one of the rare cases that I enjoy the film version slightly better. But it was still a sweet romance story and it had a unique feel, a bit different from the other Sparks books I've read, that I enjoyed.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Top Animal-Themed Books (Wherein We Learn Of My Love for Dogs and Rabbits)

 This week's prompt for Top 10 Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish is the top items on your spring to-read list. Surprisingly, I don't really know of any new books coming out this spring that I HAVE to read, and my goal is to finally start my New Year's resolution of reading some of the dozens of books I already own that are gathering dust on my bookshelves.

So, since I missed last week's topic -- the top 10 books in X genre -- I decided to go with that instead. Thus we have:

Top Animal-Themed Books

As you'll see from the list, I clearly gravitate towards dogs and rabbits! I've read many more animal-related books than these but I wanted to include only my favorites.

 1. The Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton
I'll be honest: the main reason I chose this topic is because I've been looking for an excuse to talk about this book on the blog for ages! I read it before I started blogging -- my best friend turned me on to it -- and I absolutely LOVED it. The author picks up and moves from New York City to the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming, raises an orphaned coyote pup and falls in love. The memoir is great, but the real winner is Charlie the coyote and the amazing pictures of him growing up, looking adorable and eventually reveling in his inner wild animal.
 2. Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan
"Until Tuesday" is the touching story of a service dog and a soldier suffering from both PTSD and physical injuries. Luis and Tuesday were clearly meant for each other. Here's my review.
 3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
This is my favorite animal-themed novel. Told entirely from the dog's perspective, it's got its funny moments but is a more serious book at heart.
 4. A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
I started reading "A Dog's Purpose" a few weeks ago and didn't get more than 50 pages in before our dear, sweet Conan started suddenly started to lose his battle with lymphoma and we had to say goodbye to our boy. Now is not the time for me to read any dog-related books -- I'm sure I would be a weeping mess, no matter how happy the story -- but I absolutely loved the chapters I did read and I know I will be giving this book 5 stars when I pick it up again. Cameron has two other books in a similar vein: "The Dogs of Christmas" (my review) and "A Dog's Journey."
 5. Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
The first in a series, this lighthearted mystery narrated by Chet the dog (and featuring his human, Bernie the down-on-his-luck private investigator) is a hilarious good time.
 6. Marley and Me by Josh Grogan
This is the most ubiquitous book on my list, already known by all. But any dog owner can relate the the tales of naughty behavior, bemused frustration, laughter and love detailed by Grogan.
 7. Bunnicula by James Howe
"Bunnicula" was a childhood favorite of mine and I'm delighted to see how many kids still check it out at the library today. Bunnicula features not only a rabbit with fangs but an intrepid dog and cat who aim to figure out their newest housemate's secret.

On My To-Read List
These all have great ratings on Goodreads and I fully expect to love them once I get around to reading them... maybe this spring. New Year's resolution, here I come!

Dog, dog, dog, rabbit. I'm sensing a trend... and a new version of duck, duck, goose!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Month of Letters

I know we're already halfway through March, but I've been meaning to share with you the results of my participation in A Month of Letters in February. LetterMo was started by author Mary Robinette Kowal ("Shades of Milk and Honey") in 2010. The goal is to send at least one piece of mail every day the post office is open in Feburary -- that comes out to 23. There are also special achievement badges that participants can strive for, such as international mail, use a new mailbox, letter to a soldier, Valentine, send a package, and Austen-style (with a wax seal and all that jazz).

I love sending and receiving snail mail, and I try to send cards and letters once in a while rather than e-mails and Facebook messages, so as soon as I heard about the project I jumped right in. I started a week late but juuuust managed to squeak by with 23 total items sent.

I expected to send letters to my friends and family, who are scattered far and wide, the product of me being a military spouse. But I didn't expect to write to several strangers and even develop a few pen-pal correspondences that I hope will be long-lasting. The website proved a wonderful place to meet others who share my love of letters.
Some of my favorite stamps received during LetterMo.
Between writing to old friends and new pals from LetterMo and participating in a postcard swap on the knitting site Ravelry, I sent and received mail from 15 states and 5 other countries: Australia, Germany, Holland, Hungary and Spain.

I had such a grand time running to the mailbox every day during February to see what bounty lay within -- and I was rarely disappointed. It was so wonderful to find little gems of postcards, hand-written notes, and many-paged letters tucked between the catalogs, bills and junk, junk, junk.

I was also quite impressed by the other LetterMo participants' lovely mail -- they often had beautiful stationery (Nancy Drew was my favorite), utilized rubber stamps, cool pens and their creative prowess. It inspired me to dress up my envelopes and letters more, and I broke out the rubber stamps I hadn't used in years as well as splurged on some nice, colorful Pilot Precise pens that are a dream to write with compared to a regular ballpoint.

I'm sure everyone I sent a letter or card to during February, particularly the non-LetterMo participants, was thrilled to find an unexpected surprise in their mailbox, and I hope to keep up this trend throughout the year. E-mail and texting are fantastic inventions, but they don't quite compare to the joy of holding a lovingly hand-written and decorated letter in your hands.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Knitting FO: Hagrid Knits! Shawl

"People stared even more on the train. Hagrid took up two seats and sat knitting what looked like a canary-yellow circus tent."
-- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Hagrid Knits! is the result of Ysolda Teague's super-fun mystery shawl knit-along, Follow Your Arrow. It was an innovative version of the MKAL because each of the five clues had two different pattern options for knitters to choose from, creating tons of possible variations. In case you're curious, my shawl is comprised entirely of option As.
But it actually didn't start off that way. I began this shawl in a cream yarn (which you can see in this post) and got all the way to the end of clue 4 before I decided to rip it all out and start over. My yarn just seemed too thin and I thought my shawl looked sloppy. Plus, the gorgeous pattern begged for a more eye-catching color choice.

The second go-round, after having the benefit of seeing other knitters' progress, I went in a different direction. The biggest change was starting with clue A (the striped triangle), which altered the entire foundation, shape and look of the shawl.

I listened to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on audiobook while I worked on the shawl, thus the name. I was so excited to learn that Hagrid enjoys knitting too!

I absolutely love, love, love my shawl. It's knit in madelinetosh in the Cousteau and Grasshopper colorways. I'd never used madtosh yarn before -- it's a bit of splurge -- but I decided it was time to give it a try and I'm so glad I did. My shawl is gorgeous, vibrant and soft, and now it reminds me of Harry Potter. Here's my Ravelry project page.

Quick and Easy Spring Wreath

Today is lovely -- sunny, breezy and in the 50s -- and it seemed like the perfect day to whip up a new spring wreath for the front door. I needed something to adorn the door between Valentine's Day and Easter, so I popped over to JoAnn and bought a grapevine wreath and three stems of silk hydrangeas. After a few minutes of quality time with my glue gun, this pretty, cheerful wreath was ready to welcome visitors -- and the first day of spring, which will be here in just five days!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Furry Friday: Goodbye, Sweet Conan

conan collage 1
Two Fridays ago we took Conan to the vet because he was struggling to breathe, hoping against hope that we'd be bringing him back home with us that night. But our vet wanted to hospitalize him and run some tests, and on Saturday we got the dreaded news that Conan's lymphoma -- which he had bravely battled for 20 months -- had spread to his lungs.

On Sunday, March 2, we drove back down to the vet hospital in Cincinnati to visit Conan and were devastated to see how much his condition had deteriorated in less than 48 hours. He was in an oxygen chamber to help him breathe, and it was obvious that just opening the doors to stick our heads in caused his breathing to be so much more labored. He was weak and tired and sick -- though still as happy as ever to see his mommy and daddy.

We cried -- and cried some more -- as we kissed and stroked and hugged Conan, and then did possibly the hardest, saddest thing I've ever done. We decided it was time to say goodbye to our baby. We were there through the end, and then we took Conan to be cremated two days later and were there for all of that too. Jarrod felt we owed it to Conan to see him through, and it seemed like the right thing to do for the dog who was so, so much more than a dog to us.

Conan came to live with us when he was 11 months old, right after Jarrod and I graduated college and moved to Florida for his first assignment with the Air Force. We didn't even have living room furniture yet when Conan joined the family! He was the ring bearer at our wedding, he licked our tears when Jarrod's parents died, he accompanied us on adventures big and small -- from cross-country moves to a quick trip to grab ice cream on a hot summer night -- and he won the heart of everyone he met. He was such a sweet, happy-go-lucky boy, and I can't even begin to count the number of smiles Conan brought to people's faces -- especially ours.

Conan had a wonderful, happy, fun life with Jarrod and me and I'm positive he knew how cherished he was, but that doesn't really make losing him any easier. We'll undoubtedly invite another boxer to share in our lives, but Conan will always be our first and best boy. Miss you, Conan.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Top 10 Popular Authors I Haven't Read (Yet)

I'm a day late to the Top Ten Tuesday link-up at The Broke and the Bookish, but I still wanted to participate because the topic caught my eye. This week bloggers are to list the top ten popular authors they've yet to read. This was surprisingly hard! Initially I thought I'd whip together a speedy little list, but it turns out I've read quite a few books by bestselling authors -- maybe only one, and maybe I didn't love it, but apparently I've worked my way through lots of popular books. For my list, I chose all authors that I'd like to try reading someday but just haven't gotten to yet.
1. Rainbow Rowell
In the past year, Rainbow Rowell has exploded in popularity -- online at least. I actually don't know a single real-life person who has read any of her books, but I see Rowell everywhere. I actually checked out "Eleanor and Park" from the library but only got about two dozen pages in before I discovered bloody boogers smeared on the pages and took it back to the library. It actually wasn't really gripping me up to that point, so I decided to just wait and check it out again in a few months.

2. Neil Gaiman

3. Jane Austen
I have seen pretty much every Jane Austen-based movie and read tons of Austen-related novels (i.e. "Austenland"), but I've never actually read any of her books! That needs to be corrected.

4. David Baldacci

5. Jo Nesbo
I've been wanting to read Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole mysteries for a couple years now and have still not gotten around to it. I'd never heard of Nesbo before I started working at the library in Hawaii where the covers of the newer books (like the one above) caught my eye.

6. Junot Diaz
Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" and it's pretty popular. But it seems people either love or hate the "Spanglish" and Cuban slang that comprises the book and I'm a little nervous that I'm going to be in the "hate" category.

7. Agatha Christie
I think I'll love Agatha Christie's Hercule Poroit mysteries, and one day I'll delve into the series.

8. David Sedaris

9. Barbara Kingsolver
I actually own two of Kingsolver's books but they're just gathering dust on my bookshelf!

10. Kate Atkinson
I hadn't heard of Kate Atkinson until all the hype about this book last year. The premise sounds interesting and I think I'll like the historical fiction aspect.

A few other notables:
Ann Patchett
Anna Quindlen
Brandon Sanderson
Elin Hilderbrand
Elizabeth George
Hilary Mantel
Jill Shalvis
Joanne Fluke
Jonathan Kellerman
Ken Follett
M.C. Beaton
Sarah Dessen

Book Review: Dog Songs by Mary Oliver

"Dog Songs" by Mary Oliver
First published in 2013
144 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
(image source)

I'm not much a poetry fan, but I just couldn't resist this little book of canine-themed poems and the adorable dog sketch adorning its cover.

Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, is an obvious dog lover and she deftly captures the joy, laughter, love and ultimately grief that comes with having dogs in our lives. Any dog owner would appreciate these short poems -- with a small essay thrown in -- and this book would make a nice gift.

I read the poems aloud to my dog, Conan, which he really seemed to enjoy. I loved watching him be lulled to sleep by the sound of my voice as I told him stories about other dogs loved (almost) as much as he.

Here's one of our favorite selections from the book:

Said Bear, "I know I'm supposed to keep my eye
on you but it's difficult the way you
lag behind and keep talking to people."

Well, how can you be keeping your eye on me
when you're half a mile ahead?

"True," said Bear. "But I'm thinking of you all the time.

I had to go away for a few days so I called
the kennel and made an appointment. I guess
Bear overheard the conversation.

"Love and company," said Bear, "are the adornments
that change everything. I know they'll be
nice to me, but I'll be sad, sad, sad."
And pitifully he wrung his paws.

I cancelled the trip.
*"Dog Songs" is fulfilling the poetry requirement in my 2014 Reading Outside the Box Challenge.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

New Harry Potter Cover Art (A Little Late To The Party)

Yesterday I reviewed the awesome audiobook version of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," and today I thought I'd continue the HP trend.

I somehow missed the news that a special collector's edition box set with new cover art was released last summer! I happened to check one of the new books in at work and was quite intrigued. The new cover art, by illustrator Kazu Kibuishi, is just stunning and depicts entirely different aspects of the stories. They're all beautiful, but the first two books are my favorites:

I just love the whimsical take on Diagon Alley and the Burrow. Don't they just look like the most cozy, wonderful places? An added bonus is that the spines of all the books create a picture of Hogwarts! I think I know what I'll be requesting as a birthday gift next October...
(Images from here and here.)

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