Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Yarn Along: BlueSand Cardigan and "In the Woods"


It's Wednesday, time again for the Yarn Along link-up at the Small Things blog.

Knitting: I finished the second sleeve of my BlueSand Cardigan a few days ago but haven't had time to do anything else. Today I'm hoping to get the awesome striped pocket linings sewn (via crochet hook) to the body. It seems a little complicated, which is why I've been putting it off. I know basically nothing about wielding a crochet hook! My sweater is soooo close to being done and I just want to get over the hump of the tedious tasks, admire my finished product and move on to something new!

Reading: I just finished up the last few pages of the fantastic mystery "In the Woods" by Tana French, the first in the Dublin Murder Squad series. It was just the kind of mystery I've been in the mood for: taut, psychological, thrilling, scary -- and well-written. It was rainy here in Ohio all day yesterday and I spent an embarrassing amount of time curled up with this book. It was a great read and I will definitely be devouring the other four books in the series! Next up: "The Library at Mount Char" by Scott Hawkins.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Reading Recs: If You Like That Book, Try This One!

One of my favorite things about working at a library is the opportunity to chat about books, both with patrons and my awesome co-workers. At the library, recommending reading material to patrons is called "readers' advisory."

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic, provided by the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish, is all about readers' advisory: if you like that popular book or author, try this one. I decided to do 10 (well, 12), separate books and recommendations.

I'm excited to browse everyone else's lists this week; I'm sure I'll be adding to my to-read list! And I'm seeking some suggestions as well. I've enjoyed reading some "lite" sci-fi and fantasy lately, like "Ready Player One," "Armada," "Red Rising" and "The Bone Season," and I'd like to read more in the same vein. Any recommendations, my lovely bookworm friends?

If you enjoyed "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, you might like "I'll Be Seeing You" by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan. 

Why: Both are heartwarming WWII novels written in letters.

My review of "I'll Be Seeing You."

If you enjoyed "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins or "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, you might like "Red Rising" by Pierce Brown.

Why: "Red Rising" is an oppressed-lower-classes-rising-up dystopia like "The Hunger Games" as well as a space-y sci-fi story with plenty of battle strategy planning like "Ender's Game."

My review of "Red Rising."

If you enjoyed "Euphoria" by Lily King, you might like "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver.

Why: "Euphoria" involves ill-fated anthropologists studying primitive New Guinea in the 1930s; "The Poisonwood Bible" is about an obsessed missionary dragging his ill-fated family to primitive Africa in the 1950s. Both are gripping stories that feature fascinating looks at indigenous populations.

I picked "Euphoria" as the "popular" book in this equation simply because it was published far more recently than "The Poisonwood Bible," but I'm really not sure which is more popular overall, so here's my review of "Euphoria."

If you enjoyed "Wonder" by R.D. Palacio, you might enjoy "Boo" by Neil Smith.

Why: Like Auggie in "Wonder," Boo is bullied at school because he's different. Both ultimately triumph, though, and find their identity in the process.

My review of "Boo."

If you enjoyed "The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion, you might like "Rubbernecker" by Belinda Bauer.

Why: Patrick, the main character in this fantastic mystery by Belinda Bauer, has Asperger's like Don in "The Rosie Project." But where "Rosie" is lighthearted and sweet, our look at Patrick's life veers more toward heartbreaking, even if he ultimately redeems himself by finding a killer.

My review of "Rubbernecker."

If you enjoyed "A Dog's Purpose" by W. Bruce Cameron, you might like the Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn.

Why: Quinn's Chet and Bernie books are fun and cute -- and written from the dog's perspective, just like "A Dog's Purpose."

If you enjoy watching "The Walking Dead," you might like "The Girl With All the Gifts" by M.R. Carey.

Why: Well, zombies, obviously. But "The Girl With All the Gifts" comes at the undead with an original perspective.

If you enjoyed "Delicious" by Ruth Reichl, you might like "My Life in France" by Julia Child.

Why: Food descriptions so vivid you will find yourself wiping drool from your chin.

My review of "My Life in France."

If you enjoyed "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon, you might like "The River of No Return" by Bee Ridgway.

Why: Major plot points: time travel and romance.

If you enjoyed "One Plus One" by Jojo Moyes, you might like "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple.

Why: Both are funny, lighthearted reads that feature a quirky main character and a totally lovable daughter.

If you enjoyed "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien, you might like "Fives and Twenty-Fives" by Michael Pitre.

Why: "The Things They Carried" gave us a heart-wrenching, realistic look at the Vietnam War. "Fives and Twenty-Fives" does the same for Iraq. Both are penned by veterans.

If you enjoy the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, you might like the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews.

Why: Funny, lighthearted cozy mysteries. Donna Andrews is like Janet Evanovich-lite. (Though Janet is definitely better.)

Monday Musings


Highlight of the week: On Friday afternoon, Jarrod and I decided totally last-minute to see if we could get tickets to a Toby Keith concert in Cincinnati that night. The opener, Chris Janson, is Jarrod's new favorite country singer and that was our main motivation. We scored amazing seats (7th row center!) for a really good price. Must've been cancellations. The concert was a blast -- Toby Keith, Eli Young Band and Chris Janson all put on great shows, and it was fun to do something spontaneous.

Reading: I finished up "The Dog Master" by W. Bruce Cameron (3.5 or 4 stars, review forthcoming) and started "In the Woods" by Tana French. I'm about 60 pages in and it is exactly the kind of mystery I've been craving! Totally loving it so far.

Knitting: Almost done with my BlueSand Cardigan! The sleeves are finished; now I just need to sew the pockets to the body of the sweater, weave in all the yarn ends and block. It's been a really fun project, but now I'm just ready to get it done -- mostly because everything that's left is really tedious. My next project is going to be a quick, bulky multi-colored cowl (Rainbow Twist), and then I'll start my next sweater!

Watching: I've been watching movies on the laptop while Jarrod watches football; that way we're still sitting together, but I can cross some movies off my very long to-watch list while he watches football five nights a week. (Yes, he's kinda obsessed.) "Song One" (an indie starring Anne Hathaway) was a super-cute music movie in the vein of "Begin Again" and "Once," and I immediately requested the soundtrack from the library (couldn't find it on Spotify). I also watched "What We Do in the Shadows," which is a documentary-style film about modern-day vampires living in New Zealand, and it was a total riot! Jarrod kept giving me funny looks when I laughed out loud. Sometimes those ironic, darkly funny movies don't click for me, but this one totally did.

Listening to: Added some new songs to my Spotify playlist this week: "All About It" by Hoodie Allen (featuring Ed Sheeran), "S.O.B." by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, and "Dreams" by Beck.

Shopping: Old Navy just had a 30% off online sale, and inspired by my favorite fashion blogger, Audrey at Putting Me Together, who had a wonderful Old Navy review post, I ordered a few things -- an olive green field jacket, a dress, a cardigan and a pair of purple shoes. I can't wait for everything to come in the mail!

Looking forward to: Our Of Monsters and Men concert tonight! And our trip to Cleveland and Niagara Falls this weekend. We've got to finish our regional to-do list before we move this spring and we're crossing off a ton of stuff this trip: Ohio Amish Country, Cuyahoga National Park (did you know there was a national park in Ohio? I didn't until we moved here!), the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, the "Christmas Story" house and museum, Niagara Falls, and buffalo wings at the original restaurant in Buffalo, New York!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Mini Book Reviews x 5

Books read: 5. Book reviews: 0. Oops.

I've been on a reading roll the past couple weeks -- but between two vacations, work, and knitting my fingers off, I sorta forgot to write book reviews! Thus we have mini reviews (otherwise known as lazy cop-out). I hate to short some of these books -- particularly the awesome "Rubbernecker" -- but the thought of writing five separate reviews at one time is too overwhelming to contemplate (and think of how much reading time that would take away!). So, here we go:

P.S. Two of these reads, "Rubbernecker" and "The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor," can count toward R.I.P. X!

"Rubbernecker" by Belinda Bauer
First published in the U.K. in 2013, in the U.S. in 2015
313 pages
My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Image from Goodreads

This unique murder mystery is told from the perspective of an anatomy student with Asperger's. Patrick Fort has been obsessed with death ever since he saw his dad killed when he was a young boy, and that's why he's excited about starting a college class that involves dissecting a cadaver and determining the cause of death.

But Patrick soon notices that something is fishy with his group's cadaver, and his logical mind can't stop churning until he works out the inconsistencies. In the process, he crosses paths with a murderer.

"Rubbernecker" was a great read that was by turns funny, sad and fascinating. Patrick was an intriguing main character and Bauer did a great job showing us what it's like to see the world through the lens of Asperger's. I also enjoyed the book's setting: Cardiff, Wales. This was an unusual mystery but a page-turner nonetheless, and I plan to read the other two books by Bauer available in the U.S.
*For R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril

"War of the Encyclopaedists" by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite
First published in 2015
429 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

First: I love this cover. Second: I was totally intrigued by the premise of two friends -- one in a war zone -- keeping in touch via a Wikapedia page. Third: So, the Wikipedia page thing wasn't really a big part of the book. But I liked the story anyway.

Two twenty-something BFFs -- Halifax Corderoy and Mickey Montauk -- are living it up hipster-style in Seattle, where they (the "Encyclopaedists") host ironically themed booze- and drug-filled house parties at the perfectly-nicknamed Encyclopad.

But their friendship -- and the characters themselves -- changes drastically when Mickey, a lieutenant in the National Guard, is sent to Iraq. This is a coming-of-age story that's by turns funny, depressing and poignant. And along the way, readers gets a glimpse at what it was like to be a soldier on the ground at the beginning of the Iraq War, told by a war veteran himself.

"The Book of Speculation" by Erica Swyler
First published in 2015
339 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

It seems like forever ago that I read this book, and I feel like I'm going to do it a disservice because I don't remember the finer details. I will say that after some distance from it,  I downgraded the rating from 4 to 3.5 stars because of predictability and a narrator who, despite being a fellow librarian, got on my nerves a few times.

It's about an old book, a curse, the circus, Tarot cards, a family with the special ability of holding their breath underwater for impossible lengths of time; it's about tragedy and love. The story takes place in two totally separate parts that eventually converge. We're alternately in present day with a lonely librarian who receives a mysterious old book in the mail that opens up a treasure trove of family secrets and history, and at other times we're traveling with a circus in the 1700s.

"The Book of Speculation" has magical realism, plenty of dark plot points and some cool tidbits of circus history. The writing was lovely and I enjoyed the story (of course I did -- it involved a book and a librarian!) but if you don't manage to work it into your reading pile, it wouldn't be a devastating loss.

"Storm Front" by Jim Butcher
Audiobook narrated by James Marsters
First published in 2000
My rating: 3.75 (3.5 + .25 for narration)
Image from Goodreads

Harry Dresden is the only wizard listed in the Chicago phone book. He runs a little consulting business and helps the police with matters of the supernatural from time to time.

"Storm Front," the first in a long series, is generally classified as urban fantasy. I'd call it a supernatural mystery. It's a decent whodunit (Harry is enlisted by the police to help solve some particularly gory murders) and an introduction to the ways of this supernatural world and the creatures that inhabit it.

I had been planning to start the Harry Dresden series for a while, and when I came across "Storm Front" on a list of good audiobook narrators I figured I'd give it a shot. Marsters' narration took some getting used to -- lots of sighing and breathing sounds -- but it fit perfectly with Harry's overall put-upon, somewhat condescending air. I'm planning to listen to the second book in the series, "Fool Moon," on audiobook soon.

"The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor" by William A. Clark
First published in 1971
249 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
Image from Amazon

This book was making the rounds among my co-workers at the library and of course I had to join in the impromptu book club! It's a true crime story written by a former Dayton Daily News reporter about a still-unsolved murder in a Dayton, Ohio, suburb in the '60s.

The local element was one of the book's only redeeming qualities; I'm not sure I would've finished it if I wasn't intrigued by reading about the area where we currently live. The murdered woman was a young teacher at a middle school in our town, and she was found dead of strangulation under a blanket in her car in a store parking lot about 25 minutes away.

The other interesting part of the story was the consultation of a psychic to assist in the investigation. Completely stumped and facing pressure from the public to find the killer, the police secretly asked our intrepid reporter to follow up on the idea of enlisting a psychic, who ended up being either the real deal or batshit crazy.

Several of my co-workers really liked the book, but I was sorta disappointed. The first third of the book was horrendously boring and repetitive, and I was put off that neither the mysterious method of strangulation (the victim only had marks on the sides of her neck, not the front or back) or the killer's identity were revealed. I didn't know going in that it was a cold case... but that makes me wonder, what exactly was the point of the book then?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review: "Kitchens of Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal

"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal
First published in 2015
310 pages
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

This book has a really beautiful cover that might give the impression that it's totally lighthearted and charming and full of yummy recipes -- which is sorta is, but with laugh-out-loud humor, some poignant moments and plenty of f-bombs thrown in.

 "Kitchens" was one of the best books I've read this year. I'm STILL wavering between 4.5 and 5 stars; I'm tempted to give it a full 5 but I kinda feel like it could've used just a little something more -- but what, I don't know. Overall the story is pretty simple and pared-down; maybe I just wanted more book!

The novel's main character is Eva Thorvald, a spunky, unusually tall, hot pepper-obsessed, vegan sorbet-loving child who overcomes a lot of unfortunate circumstances to grow into a mature, admirable, talented chef. Eva herself is pretty awesome, but it's the book's composition that sets it apart.

The book only has eight (long) chapters -- each named after a food that's the centerpiece of that particular story ("Venison Meatballs," "Chocolate Habanero," etc.). Only one chapter is told from Eva's perspective; the rest are narrated by people around her, from relatives to passing acquaintances, so we watch Eva grow and change through other characters' eyes. This method of storytelling was unique and satisfying; by the end we've found out the fates of all our assistant characters, but somehow, despite not being the direct focus of most of the book, Eva is the glowing star.

"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" is more about the people in the kitchens than about food. It's not really a book that'll make you drool reading descriptions of culinary delights (except maybe the peanut butter bars). It's about way more than food, and it was a fast, entertaining, fun and unique read. I loved it!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yarn Along: "The Dog Master" and BlueSand Cardigan


The other day I stumbled upon an awesome link-up that combines two of my favorite things: knitting and reading! It's called Yarn Along and is hosted by the blog Small Things. I'm sure this feature -- a photo of my current read alongside the knitting project I'm working on -- will be a weekly thing for me!

Reading: "The Dog Master" by W. Bruce Cameron. I'm on around page 100 of this novel about the first dog -- a domesticated wolf -- and enjoying it. This is the third W. Bruce Cameron dog-themed book I've read and I think he's become a must-read author for me.

Knitting: Almost done with my BlueSand Cardigan! I'm about halfway done with the second sleeve. After that's done, I'll have to finish the pockets and weave in the gazillion yarn ends. Then my first sweater will be complete! I can't believe I waited six years to knit a garment; it's been so much fun and so gratifying that I already bought yarn to make another sweater! (Malabrigo Rios in Teal Feather, which will be turned into a Recoleta cardigan.)

Baking today: Apple dumplings with my grandma's recipe and apples from a local orchard. Yummmm!

Monday, September 21, 2015

14 Books On My Fall Reading List

Happy almost-fall, fellow bookworms! Reading is awesome in every season, but there's just something about fall that makes me feel like cozying up with a book (the spookier, the better!), a cup of coffee and a warm blanket. Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic, provided by the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish, is about the books we're hoping to read this fall.

I had plenty of books to choose from -- my Goodreads to-read list is now at a whopping 438 books -- and it was hard to narrow down the ones I want to read right now (because, obviously, I want to read them all right now!). I ended up with a nice mix of old, new and upcoming books (plus the five leftover from my fail of a summer TBR list), including some fiction, mysteries and non-fiction. I'm participating in R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (R.I.P. X) this fall and I've got several books on my list that'll fit the required bill of mystery, suspense, horror, etc.

Do tell: what books will you be snuggling up with this fall? Does fall put you in the mood for creepy mysteries and gothic page-turners like it does me?

 For R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (to read by October 31):

 Leftovers from my summer TBR post:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Monday Musings


Highlight of the week: We had a wonderful Sunday! It was the perfect weather for doing something outside -- which was lucky because I was already planning to drag poor Jarrod to the Wool Gathering festival in the next town over, a big event all about fiber arts! We also scoured the fields for our perfect pumpkins and enjoyed apple cider slushies from a local orchard. Oh yeah, and we had a super-healthy lunch of white cheddar cheese curds with house-made ranch dressing. Mmmmmm. Pumpkins, yarn, fried cheese and sunshine. Pretty damn good day!

As for a bad but interesting highlight, some kids set off a stink bomb in the library while I was working on Saturday. I had never experienced the horrors of a stink bomb before -- and I actually initially blamed the rotten-egg smell on a poor elderly gentleman I was helping before we all realized that it was something waaaay worse than mere flatulence.

Reading: I am SO terribly behind on book reviews, but I have actually been doing a lot of reading lately. I finished "War of the Encylopaedists" by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite (4 stars), blew through "Kitchens of the Great Midwest" (4.5-5 stars, not yet decided), and read a local true crime book called "The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor" (3 stars) about an unsolved murder in a Dayton suburb in the '60s. The book had been circulating among my co-workers at the library with good reviews, but I was a little disappointed in it. At least I read it in a day! Now I'm on to "The Dog Master" by W. Bruce Cameron. I also signed up for R.I.P. X, a fun event centered on reading scary books (mysteries, thrillers, horror, etc.) this fall!

Knitting: This week I finally had a chance to finish sleeve #1 of my BlueSand Cardigan. It went from looking like a wonky vest-y thing to a potentially wearable garment! I got started on the second sleeve last night while Jarrod was watching football. After that I'll have to finish the pockets, sew in a gazillion yarn ends, block and then... I'll have knitted a sweater! I've enjoyed this project so much that I already picked out -- and ordered yarn for -- my next sweater. It'll be Recoleta by Joji Locatelli, knit in Malabrigo Rios in teal.


Watching: "The Age of Adaline." I really, really wanted to see it in the theater but didn't have time. And I'm actually kind of glad I didn't. It wasn't bad by any means, but it definitely wasn't as fantastic as I expected. I thought the movie would be focused mostly on Adaline's "past" lives, but it was really just about present-day. I wanted so much more information and background. We're also still really enjoying "Fear the Walking Dead."

Considering watching: A lot of the new fall shows start this week! I always seem to pick the absolute worst new shows to try, but I'm considering checking out "Code Black," "Quantico," "Blindspot," "The Bastard Executioner," "Limitless," "Life in Pieces"  and "The Grinder" Or maybe none of them... I still have tons of stuff on the DVR to get caught up on -- and as I said, I have pretty much the worst track record ever when it comes to deciding which new shows to watch!

Eating: Young's Dairy cheese curds. De-lish.

Shopping for: Ankle boots. And I'm having a pretty tough time finding some that match the vision I have in my head. I bought five new shirts this week, so my fall must-do shopping is pretty much done other than the elusive booties.

Following: @andrewknapp on Instagram. Processing new books at the library Saturday I came across one called "Find Momo," which is kind of like "Where's Waldo" with beautiful photographs and a cute border collie. Check it out! (Andrew Knapp is Momo the dog's daddy.)

Looking forward to: Making apple dumplings with the fresh Cortland apples I picked up at a local orchard yesterday! Perfect dessert for the first week of fall.

Friday, September 18, 2015

R.I.P. Challenge: Readers Imbibing Peril

R.I.P. artwork by Abigail Larson, used with permission.

I'm a bit late to the party, but after seeing this awesome new-to-me reading challenge on a few other blogs, I've decided I just MUST participate, especially after last week's Top Ten Tuesday post in which I talked about all the mystery series I want to start. I'm craving some peril, dammit! (And I couldn't resist those gorgeous graphics!)

So what is R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril), now in its 10th year? Hosted this year by The Estella Society, it's all about spooky reading for fall. The challenge goes through October 31, and reading material (or movies -- there's an option for those too!) can fall into these categories: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror and supernatural. Well, that's about half my to-read list right there -- and what better time to cozy up with a creepy book than autumn?

Since I have so many books that fit that bill on my to-read list -- and I could totally use an excuse to move them to the front of the queue -- I decided to go with Peril the First, which means I'll read four books that fit the R.I.P. theme. In the process I'll start at least one new series and hopefully knock two books off my list of 12 must-reads for the year (of which I've only read one so far!).

I've picked out eight potential peril-filled books and from those I'll read (at least!) four. My first will be "The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor," a true-crime book about a local murder from the 1960s. It's being passed around amongst my library co-workers and I'm up next!

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