Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ten Popular Books I've Yet To Read

 This week's Top Ten Tuesday list at The Broke and the Bookish is a FREEBIE (which is great after a busy Memorial Day weekend)! I'm sure many bloggers will have much more thought-provoking topics than mine, but I went the easy route with:

Ten Popular Books I Haven't Got Around To Reading Yet

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are any of them worth moving to the top of my TBR list?

In no particular order:

1. This is one book that seems popular with book bloggers and "regular" readers alike (I've noticed a disconnect there -- oftentimes I'll mention a book I've seen over and over again on blogs to a friend or co-worker at the library and they'll have never even heard of it). Anyhow -- "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" seems to be popular with everyone, and I've never read anything by Neil Gaiman before, so I hope this will be a good introduction to his work.

2. I love the TV show and I'm pretty sure I'll love the books. I think having watched the TV show will help me navigate all the characters and subplots in the book better, and conversely I think reading the books will give the show greater depth.

3. I love WWII novels, and I've read lots of good things about this YA one.

4. Ah, "Eleanor and Park." We met once before, and then I had to take you back to the library to be withdrawn because you were smeared with a horrible substance. Maybe next time I'll get farther than page 30.

5. It won the Pulitzer... but it's extremely long and heavy (I mean physically heavy -- you could work out with this thing)! I have it on hold at the library but luckily I won't get it for several weeks. I'll go into this one with some trepidation, I think.

6. I remember being intrigued by this little blue middle-grade novel way back when we got it in at the library I worked at in Hawaii. Now it's really popular, and it seems like a quick, easy and relevant read.

7. I've heard the audiobook is the way to go on this funny memoir.

8. Time to see if this book lives up to all its hype!

9. I finally watched all the movies back in 2012 and loved them. I now understand about hobbit holes and orcs and the One Ring. It seems that Tolkien is a master storyteller and I'd like to experience the tale in literary form.

10. To be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure what this book is about exactly. But it seems like it's a a huge hit in the book blogging community and I intend to pick it up next time I feel like a little YA dystopian fiction.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review: "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin

"The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin
First published in 2014
260 pages
My rating: 5 out of 5
(image source)

"The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" is a book for bookish people -- and therefore I loved it. It's possibly the best novel I've read all year, full of charm and humor and plenty of literary references.

A.J. Fikry is a widower who owns the only book store on Alice Island in Massachusetts. A.J.'s depressed, apathetic and prickly, and he spends his nights drinking too much and heating up frozen Indian food. He thinks things really couldn't get much worse, until a priceless book -- which he was planning to sell and retire on -- is stolen from his shop.

But A.J.'s whole world changes when a toddler is abandoned at his store, with a note from her mother saying she would like her baby to grow up around books.

I enjoyed the wry, self-deprecating humor, the simplicity of the story, and the author's pure and true love of books that shone throughout the story. I laughed out loud. I smiled. I swooned. I loved all the protagonists -- old-fashioned and grouchy bookstore owner A.J., adorable and intelligent little Maya, and Amelia Loman, an eccentric and upbeat publishing house representative who finds herself making extra trips to Alice Island to see a certain bookseller.

If you're a booklover -- and you probably are if you're reading this review! -- then you should pick up this light-hearted, funny and touching tale of love, loss, friendship and books.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs
First in the series
First published in 2011
348 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

I really had no idea what to expect when I opened this book with the eerie levitating girl and chalkboard scrawl on the cover. But I was delightfully surprised when I discovered that the pages contained time travel, women who turn into birds, a modicum of romance and strange vintage photographs.

At 16, Jacob Portman has stopped believing the fantastical stories his grandfather has been telling him since he was small -- tales of blood-thirsty monsters, children with unusual abilities, and a cozy mansion where they were all kept safe, watched over by their protector Miss Peregrine.

But when Jacob witnesses his grandfather's murder -- by what looks to Jacob like a horrific beast -- he begins to suspect that they weren't tall tales after all. Unable to reconcile what he thinks he saw with the fact that monsters don't exist and compelled to unravel the mystery of his grandfather's murder, Jacob convinces his father to take him to a small island in Wales to visit the orphanage where his grandfather grew up. Once there, Jacob discovers that the "peculiar children" of Abraham Porter's stories do indeed exist, and he learns that he's not nearly as ordinary and boring as he always thought he was.

The spooky cover of "Miss Peregrine" brings to mind some type of horror story, but it's really more of a fantasy/adventure book -- and a wonderful page-turner. I really enjoyed Riggs' conversational, laid-back writing style, and the main character was likeable with great voice. But the real show-stealer was the odd old (real) photos spread throughout, perfectly meshed with the story. They really brought the novel to life for me and I loved the innovative idea of crafting the plot around these unusual pictures, taken from the stockpiles of a handful of collectors of found photos.

The sequel, "Hollow City," came out earlier this year and I'm looking forward to learning how Jacob's adventure with the peculiar children continues.

P.S. Apparently Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi (whose Shatter Me trilogy I read earlier this year and have yet to review) are a couple!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Book Review: "Boy, Snow, Bird" by Helen Oyeyemi

"Boy, Snow, Bird" by Helen Oyeyemi
First published in 2014
308 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

(image source)

"Boy, Snow, Bird" was not at all the re-telling of Snow White I expected it to be; it was a decent story in its own right, but I was never quite sure what the author wanted me to get out of the tale. I finished and thought: "Well, that was kind of interesting. Now what was the point?"

It's 1953. Our main character is Boy Novak, who runs away from New York City and her abusive father and winds up in a quaint Massachusetts town. There she marries a widower and becomes stepmother to an unusually beautiful and perfect little girl named Snow. When Boy gives birth to her own daughter, Bird -- who pops out much darker-skinned than expected -- she learns that her husband's family are actually light-skinned African Americans passing as white. Meanwhile, Boy has the ever-worshipped Snow sent away to live with relatives and we get to know Bird as a spunky, likeable young adult. Then there's some journalism taking place and a random plot twist. The end.

This novel had a rather disjointed feel to it. There were so many plotlines, ranging from big to insignificant, but they didn't ever mesh together and many were never really resolved -- and I'm not even sure I know which of the issues was meant to be the main storyline. On top of that, the book changed perspective too often for my taste -- from Boy to Bird and back to Boy, and a portion was totally in letters.

It was as if Oyeyemi just dumped every halfway interesting story idea she had floating around in her head and created the mish-mash that is "Boy, Snow, Bird." (And a unique mish-mash it is... I've never given much thought to how one would fulfill the occupation of rat catcher in New York City as Boy's father does, but I will never forget Oyeyemi's description of the job. Yikes!)

Also, the idea that this is a deconstructed fairy tale is totally off-base. Other than a few mirror references, a stepmother who doesn't really like her stepdaughter (but is far from wicked) and a "fairest of them all" line, this book has absolutely no connection to Snow White.

That said, I did enjoy reading this novel. As soon as I realized the book title represented the names of the book's major players, I was worried it would be too pretentious and literary for my taste -- who names a woman Boy? But the writing turned out to be extremely easy, conversational and full of voice, with some brilliant prose and great lines thrown in every so often. And I did love the '50s setting -- Oyeyemi gave the book a great sense of atmosphere in both New York City and the Massachusetts town of Flax Hill.

I'm not sure if I'd recommend "Boy, Snow, Bird." It had beautiful writing and an innovative plot, but it left me feeling unfulfilled. It ended too abruptly and I wanted more. Perhaps you, fellow readers, can find a deeper meaning in the story than I did.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Top 10 Book Covers I'd Frame As Pieces Of Art

I had so much fun putting together my contribution for The Broke and The Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday link-up this week. The theme is books with frame-worthy cover art.

I'll confess: I always judge a book by its cover. Unless it's been recommended to me or I've already heard about it, I won't pick up a book unless the artwork speaks to me. This is not always a good thing, because a lot of crummy books have really appealing covers. Take this one:

I kept seeing this come through at the library last summer and finally had to grab it. I just want to BE where that woman is, walking through that stunning garden at twilight. Except that the book was awful. I couldn't get through 100 pages before giving up. I eventually learned my lesson: working at the library I see tons of gorgeous books every week, but now I often check reviews before taking them home with me.

Anyway, here are 10 (plus a bonus 3) lovely book covers that I would totally frame as pieces of art. They're all books I've read or that are on my TBR list. I'm sure you'll see a trend here: I don't like covers with photos of real people on the front (most common with YA books); I like flowers and artsy covers, pretty fonts and happy colors.
(All images from Goodreads.)

10 Beautiful Book Covers

Bonus: Children's Books
Oh, how I adore all the kids' picture books at work. I take every opportunity I can to flip through them, not so much for the story but for the beautiful artwork. I've already decided that if we ever have kids, I'm going to decorate the nursery in book pages. Here are just a couple of my favorites:
This is a newer book -- about counting! -- that is full of the most beautiful illustrations. It will definitely be considered next time I need to buy a baby shower gift!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Knitting FO: Peony Cowl

Peony Cowl
Pattern: Spring Lace Infinity Scarf by Linda Thach
My Ravelry project page (with notes and changes)
Yarn: KnitPicks Comfy Fingering in Peony
When I first came across this pattern on Ravelry a few weeks ago, I knew I had to drop everything and make it. Something about it just called to me -- it seemed like the perfect accessory for spring, so light and drapey, yet cozy enough for those chillier days. I immediately ordered some yarn and anxiously awaited its arrival.

Turns out, I made it at just the right time because we're now experiencing "those chillier days" that, despite the green, green grass and flowers poking up their heads, feel more like fall than spring. I've already worn my cowl twice this week and I'm thrilled with it.

 The pattern is undeniably pretty, but I especially like the cotton/acrylic blend yarn. I've never used cotton before, but I have now officially fallen in love. All of my wool cowls and shawls make my neck sweat, especially when I wear them to work at the library. But this yarn is so much more comfortable and breathable -- and at $2.99 a skein it's super affordable. An added bonus is that it's machine washable!
This was a fun, easy pattern and I learned something new -- the elongated stockinette stitch It involves making YOs on one row and then dropping them on the next to create a larger, more open V-shape. That stitch is a bit of a pain in the ass -- especially when you already have 360 stitches on your needles -- but I like the added drapiness and texture it lends.

I love my soft, beautiful new cowl. It's perfect for spring (and fall and winter). The pattern's free, so check it out!
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