Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: "Cinder" by Marissa Meyer

"Cinder" by Marissa Meyer
#1 in the Lunar Chronicles series
First published in 2012
387 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

(image source)

I was pleasantly surprised by this YA novel, the first in a four-book series that concludes next year. Meyer took familiar plot elements -- the Cinderella fairytale, a futuristic dystopia, a badass teenage heroine -- and shaped them into something unique and fresh.

"Cinder" takes place in New Beijing sometime in the future after World War IV. Citizens drive around in hovercrafts, menial tasks are accomplished by android servants, and some of the population are cyborgs -- part human and part machine.The planet is being ravaged by a horrible and increasingly devastating plague called letumosis, for which scientists are struggling to find a cure. And then there's the constant threat of war from Luna -- the moon -- and its malevolent queen and brainwashed inhabitants.

Linh Cinder is a cyborg, talented mechanic and general servant to her witch of an adoptive mother, Adri. Cinder's life is looking up -- she has plans to fix an old car and flee New Beijing and her evil guardian along with it, and a chance encounter with handsome Prince Kai, who's asked her to fix his broken android, has left her feeling quite happy. But when, in a fit of rage, Adri volunteers Cinder for plague research, Cinder learns that the fate of the planet rests more in her hands than she could ever have imagined, and she must come to terms with the fact that everything she knows about herself could be a lie.

Meyer has penned a fun, quick, enjoyable and different read. I found Cinder to be immensely likable -- she's brilliant, strong and selfless -- and I'm looking forward to seeing where Cinder's journey takes her, and what new fairytale friends she collects, in the rest of the Lunar Chronicles. The other books in the series, "Scarlet," "Cress" and the 2015 conclusion "Winter" are loosely based off the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Knitting FO: Joffrey Giraffe

Pattern: Giraffe
My Ravelry project page details the changes I made.

A co-worker at the library spotted this giraffe on the cover of a knitting pattern book called "Knit Your Own Zoo" and asked me if I'd make it for her daughter's birthday. Her daughter -- who loves giraffes -- is an adult, which is good because this guy certainly isn't safe for little ones with the pipe cleaners and bamboo skewers supporting his legs.
In the end, Joffrey turned out decently. He's pretty cute -- helped by the fact that I gave him a happier expression than the pattern-creators did -- but this was one hell of a miserable knitting project. I had to force myself to work on it, and I actually named my giraffe Joffrey after the evil, despised boy king on "Game of Thrones."

The pattern is fairly complicated and I can't understand why the designers didn't call for the giraffe to be knit in the round. Instead, he's knit mostly flat in several pieces and then stitched together. This pattern is not for the faint-at-heart knitter; it utilizes several different knitting techniques and is incredibly vague at times. The pattern would really benefit with more instructions on seaming the giraffe together.

It's hard to believe this friendly-looking fellow caused me so much grief. Joffrey's rather adorable now that he's not sitting in front of me, half-completed! He's happily residing with his new owner and I still get to choose the reward I promised I'd give myself after finishing him. Maybe a nice skein of Malabrigo? :)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: "Where Monsters Dwell" by Jorgen Brekke

"Where Monsters Dwell" by Jorgen Brekke
First published in 2011
Translated from Swedish in 2014
357 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
(image source)

"Where Monsters Dwell" was a fast-paced murder-mystery involving a killer who flays his victims (sometimes alive!) and turns their skin into vellum. These horrific deaths all tie back to a mysterious book from the 1500s, penned by a priest and featuring an astounding knowledge of human anatomy for its day.

A pair of grisly murders -- one inside a rare book vault at a library in Norway and the other at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia -- turn out to be linked, and two intrepid cops on either side of the Atlantic join together to solve the case. Odd Singsaker has just started back on the job after surgery to removed a brain tumor. Felicia Stone is a relative newbie on the force; she's good at her job but is still searching for closure from a traumatic event in her past.

This was a fairly well-done mystery and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The characters (who are beginning a series with this book, though the other novels have yet to be translated) are likeable and smart, the mystery was fascinating, grotesque and solvable by the reader, and I breezed through the book. I really liked the portions of the story set in the 16th century; learning about anatomical dissection theaters and fresh graves being dug up in the name of science and discovery of the human body was quite interesting.

One complaint I have, though, is that the book jumps around way too much. The story is told from several points of view and at several time periods. Sometimes it was hard to keep straight. And while I felt it was a decent translation from Swedish, there were a few times when a thesaurus might have been beneficial.

But those are only small complaints. "Where Monsters Dwell" is definitely worth a read if you're in the mood for a good, thrilling murder-mystery and a trip across the sea to Norway.

This book fulfills the Lost in Translation requirement for the 2014 Reading Outside the Box Challenge.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Knitting FO: Hoppy Easter from Petunia, Bluebell and Hyacinth Bunnies

Pattern: Bunny Love & Extras by Susan B. Anderson
My Ravelry project page

How can you not love these plump, happy rabbits in their sweet little cardigans? I was so enamored that I made three -- one for me, one for my parents and one for my grandma. This is one of my favorite knitting projects ever. Normally I shy away from expensive patterns, but this one was worth every penny. The design is wonderful -- the rabbits are seamless! -- and the pattern is super clear and easy to understand. They were a delight to knit.
Here's a look at Petunia's sisters, Bluebell and Hyacinth. I finished them about a month ago and sent them off to their new homes, but I wanted to wait and take more pictures with Petunia after things started to green up. The cardigan is actually meant to be buttoned -- and the pattern includes button holes -- but my rabbits are quite pudgy and their sweaters don't fit over their tummies! Too much clover, I suppose.
One last look at those adorable bunny behinds!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: "Wildwood" by Colin Meloy

"Wildwood" by Colin Meloy
First in a trilogy
First published in 2011
541 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5 (2 for the writing +1 for the wonderful illustrations)

(image source)

I wanted to love this book. I should have loved this book. It features talking woodland creatures, an evil red-haired queen and an adventure to rescue a baby brother kidnapped by crows. But overall, it was a long, hard, desperate slog to finish what became "the book that never ends." I actually skimmed good portions of the book and that never happens.

And this is a middle-grade book -- you know, for kids? If it couldn't even hold the attention of a 28-year-old booklover, how is it expected to compete with video games and Legos in the eyes of a 10-year-old?

I loved the concept of "Wildwood" if not the overall plot, writing style and execution. It opens with 12-year-old Prue's baby brother being snatched by crows and carried off into an area outside Portland known as The Impassable Wilderness. Prue feels she has no choice but to follow her brother into said wilderness, a dense and secret woods populated by humans and animals, where nary an Outsider has gone before.
Soon Prue and her schoolmate Curtis (who followed her into the IW for some reason that was never entirely clear to me) are soon mired in a war full of coyote soldiers, prisons made of tree roots, blood-drinking ivy, mystics, and a crown prince who's an owl -- and they both will play pivotal roles in saving the woods.

I was initially captivated, but I was soon lost amid the long-winded descriptions and unfamiliar words that even I (a former newspaper copy editor) and had to look up. It was so incredibly boring at times. And I never really grew to like Prue or Curtis -- they both kind of got on my nerves, actually. I think the book would be infinitely better if it were pared down to half the size... or (gasp) turned into a movie.

I have no idea what audience "Wildwood" was intended for. I highly doubt most kids would make it through the entire brick-sized book, but seeing as it IS a kids' book how many adults would it appeal to? I suspect the only grown-ups who might read and love it are fans of Meloy's band The Decemberists.

"Wildwood" has a major identity crisis. It's definitely not a typical fast-paced, fun middle-grade fantasy series like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Instead, it drags horribly in parts (i.e. the entire final 2/3 of the book), and while I suppose it's well-written, the vocabulary is far above the appropriate age level. As for me, the only reason I didn't stop reading halfway through is because a friend at work recommended it and I thought I should give it a fair shot.

I do have a few positive things to say about "Wildwood" and those mostly concern the lovely illustrations by Carson Ellis (the author's wife) scattered throughout, particularly the full-color ones. They really breathed life into the story and helped me visualize this magical land know as the Impassable Wilderness. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top 10 Bookish Things To Buy

Happy Tuesday! The theme this week at The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday link-up is the top 10 bookish things (that aren't books) you'd like to own. I had fun putting together my own list (mostly assembled from things I've favorited on Etsy over time) but I'm really excited to look at what other bloggers come up with. Since I work at a library I think it'd be fun to wear book-themed shirts to work, but I rarely come across any that I like (or that represent books I've actually read). I'm hoping the other participants narrowed down some cool finds!

1. A card catalog cabinet.
I've wanted a vintage card catalog cabinet for years, but I've never actively gone in search of one to purchase. I adore them for so many reasons -- the lovely lines and beautiful wood color, the fact that they're a link to a bygone time before computers took over our world, and of course that they housed information about thousands of books!

2. The new Harry Potter boxed set.
I'm in love with the fresh artwork on the new Harry Potter set. The drawings are similar but slightly different in style and depict completely different aspects of each tale. And when put together, the book spines create an image of Hogwarts at night. I WILL be adding this to my bookshelf sometime in the near future.

3. Bookish notecards.
I've been sending a lot of mail lately, and I really like this cute Library Girl personalized stationery. I have brown hair, I work at a library and I frequently bring home towering piles of books. Perfect!
Etsy shop: TheFoxandTheTeacup

4. Hand-tooled leather bookmark.
This Etsy shop has tons of beautiful leather bookmarks.
Etsy shop: CoastalMaineCreation

5. Hand-stamped metal bookmark.
Like the above shop, here you can find dozens of fun metal bookmarks. This is just one of my favorites.
Etsy shop: MauveMagpie

6. Snitch mug.
This Quidditch-themed mug caught my eye. I like the slightly more subtle Harry Potter-ness of it and the clever sayings.
Etsy shop: AfternoonCoffee

7. Grim mug.
This Grim mug is a cool idea. While I love the crafter's rendition here, the mug could probably be made at home with a white teacup and food-safe pens.
Etsy shop: LaapisDesigns

8. Harry Potter t-shirt.
This is an awesome "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" shirt! I love the colors!
Etsy shop: waycooltshirts

9. Groucho Marx t-shirt.
This quote cracks me up every time I read it. I love dogs and books, so it's right up my alley!
Etsy shop: SunshineMountainTees

10. Lovely bookish prints.
I already own this (and one other book-themed print from the same shop) but I wanted to show it off. FlourishCafe has tons of beautiful artwork, most of which is tied to books. Check it out!
Etsy shop: Flourish Cafe

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hello, Philadelphia!

Last weekend Jarrod and I went to Philadelphia. Jarrod had to go for work on Saturday so he just extended his trip by two days and I tagged along. I had our little getaway all planned out -- particularly what I was going to do to occupy myself on Saturday when Jarrod was away -- but Mother Nature had other ideas and decided to dump non-stop rain on the city all weekend.

I don't normally mind rain, but let me tell you: Philadelphia is NOT a city meant to be seen in the rain. And also: walking around in the blowing, pouring rain is miserable and exhausting! Thirdly: even more miserable is wearing leaky boots while walking around in the blowing, pouring rain.

Still, we got to visit some historical attractions, compare cheesesteaks and explore the food vendors at Reading Terminal Market (soft pretzel dog... yum!). I also had my first taxi ride and checked out a cute little yarn shop. And we stopped at Hershey's Chocolate World on the way home.

Many of my pictures are marred by raindrops on the camera lens, but here are a few decent ones that sum up our trip:

 While wandering around in the rain on Saturday, I stumbled into a Macy's seeking refuge and warmth. And I found this Secret Garden display -- a stunning set-up of live flowers inside Macy's. It was gorgeous. (Excuse the poor cell phone photos.)
 The grand old building housing the Macy's was beautiful too!
 Saturday night we pitted Pat's against Geno's in the great Philly cheesesteak rivalry. We got two "whiz wits" (Cheese Whiz and onions) -- the authentic style, apparently -- and split them in half. While I liked the softness of the bread and the amount of meat on Pat's sandwich, Jarrod and I both chose Geno's as the winner. The next day we tried Sonny's Famous Cheesesteaks (we got provolone and onions) and both liked our sandwiches there even better than Pat's and Geno's.
 Day 2: The Liberty Bell and its famous crack.
 Jarrod in front of Independence Hall.
 An original copy of the Declaration of Independence.
 Inside Independence Hall: The room where the Declaration was debated and signed.
 The first Senate chamber. Some of that furniture is original!
Beautiful old building, though damned if I remember what it was!
 Cobblestone street (watch your ankles!).
 Day 3: Sun (and wind) -- no rain!!! City Hall (topped off by a huge statue of William Penn) with Liberty One off to the right.
 Taking a picture with the famous LOVE sign was high up on my to-do list. In non-winter months, there's a fountain behind the sign, but I like seeing all the cool buildings in the background.
 Buildings lining Rittenhouse Square. I thought the tiny four-story building sandwiched between structures twice its size was hilarious and sort of adorable!
Rocky Statue
 We headed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art after lunch, which it very sadly turns out is CLOSED on Mondays! I was devastated (and rather appalled that Ms. Ultimate Planner forgot to check the museum hours!), but we still got to take pictures with the Rocky Steps (the steps of the art museum that Rocky trains on in the movie) and a statue of Rocky (where a homeless man will take your picture together for a small tip).
 The roofline of the art museum. Absolutely stunning. So sad we didn't get to explore the inside!
Hershey, Pennsylvania, is not far off the interstate so we stopped in on our way home. It's not an actual tour of the factory but there's a fun ride that explains the chocolate-making process. We also created our own candy bars and got to watch them make their way downa mini assembly line. It was a fun little diversion!
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