Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 End-Of-Year Book Survey

Happy New Year's Eve, bookworms! This was an awesome year of reading for me. I read 80 books, gave 11 five-star ratings and 45 four- or four-and-a-half-star ratings, and ventured into audiobooks and a couple new genres. I thought today would be a fitting time to post my 2015 End-of-Year Book Survey, hosted each December by Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner. (All survey graphics are hers.)

Number of books read: 80
Number of re-reads: 2
Genre you read the most: Adult fiction.

1. Best book you read in 2015:
"Red Rising" by Pierce Brown.

2. Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t:
"The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George, "Etta and Otto and Russell and James" by Emma Hooper and "Fiercombe Manor" by Kate Riordan were books I was sure I was going to love, but they were all sadly disappointing.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read:
"Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline. For some reason I had it in my head that it was WWII fiction, but it definitely is not. It's set in 1929 and present day, and I learned a lot from this historical novel.

4. Book you encouraged the most people to read:
"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline.

5. Best series you started in 2015? Best sequel of 2015? Best series-ender of 2015:
Started: I read and loved the first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French ("In the Woods"), the Veronica Speedwell historical mystery series by Deanna Raybourn, ("A Curious Beginning") and the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache cozy-ish mysteries by Louise Penny ("Still Life").

Sequel: "The Mime Order" by Samantha Shannon, the second book in the Bone Season series. It was sooooo much better than book 1! I absolutely could not put it down!

Ender: Not a one. I've got a lot of catching up to do!

6. Favorite author you discovered in 2015:
Pierce Brown, author of "Red Rising" and "Golden Son." Ernest Cline, author of "Ready Player One" and "Armada." Deanna Raybourn, author of "A Curious Beginning." Tana French, author of "In the Woods."

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone:
"Red Rising" and "Ready Player One" are both sci-fi, a fairly new-to-me genre that I really hope to read more of in the future.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year:
"Golden Son" by Pierce Brown and "The Mime Order" by Samantha Shannon -- both second books in their respective series.

9. Book you read in 2015 that you're most likely to re-read next year:
I'm going with re-read EVER, since I rarely re-read books. I can see myself reading the Red Rising trilogy again. And I listened to "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" on audiobook and it goes without saying that I'll be re-reading all the Harry Potters many more times! 

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015:
Obviously I have a thing for color!


11. Most memorable character of 2015:
Vida Winter of "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. She's a mysterious author with a really screwed up childhood.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015:
"I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson. (Who would've ever thought I'd say this about a YA book?!)

13. Most thought-provoking/ life-changing book of 2015:
"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury (censorship and books), "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates (race), and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory" by Caitlin Doughty (death).

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read:
"The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. It's been on my to-read list for ages and I was sort of saving it for just the right time. I'm glad I waited because I ended up reading it on my birthday trip to a cabin in the Smoky Mountains. It was chilly and rainy, we were surrounded by forest, and it totally enhanced the book's eerie, gothic atmosphere.

15. Favorite quote from a book you read in 2015:
"And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure." -- Dumbledore, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

16.Shortest and longest books you read In 2015:
Shortest: "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" by Russell Brand -- 128 pages
Longest: "I Am Pilgrim" by Terry Hayes -- 612 pages

17. Book that shocked you the most:
"The Library at Mount Char" by Scott Hawkins falls under the "left me hanging with my mouth wide open category." "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins had a pretty good plot twist. The premise of "Our Endless Numbered Days" by Claire Fuller -- a survivalist dad dragging his young daughter out to the woods and convincing her they're the last two humans alive -- had me shocked, as did the ending.

18. Favorite romantic relationship of the year:
Marko and Alana from "Saga." Love these modern-day star-crossed lovers!

19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year:
Jude and Noah, twins from "I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson.

20. Favorite book you read in 2015 by an author you’ve read previously:
"The Mime Order" by Samantha Shannon.

21. Best book you read in 2015 that you read based solely on a recommendation:
"Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015:
None, if you can believe it! I guess I didn't read a lot of romance-y stuff this year, and I had a lot of female protagonists.

23. Best 2015 debut you read:
"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal.

24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting you read this year:
I've got three answers for this one in three different genres -- "Red Rising" and "Golden Son" by Pierce Brown take place on a futuristic dystopian Mars. "The Mime Order" by Samantha Shannon, book two of the Bone Season series, is set in a dystopian fantasy version of London. "Fives and Twenty-Fives," a novel by former Marine Michael Pitre, gives us a raw and gripping look at what it was like to be a soldier on the ground at the beginning of the Iraq war.

25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read:
"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal and "The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man" by W. Bruce Cameron.

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2015:
"Still Alice" by Lisa Genova. Alzheimer's is a terrible, heartbreaking disease.

27. Hidden gem of the year:
"Rubbernecker" by Belinda Bauer and "Boo" by Neil Smith, mysteries that feature narrators with Asperger's, and "The Fair Fight," which involves female boxing in the 1700s.

28. Most unique book you read in 2015:
"I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson (told in alternating perspectives by two twins, one of whom sees the world through an artist's eye), "Rubbernecker" by Belinda Bauer (a murder mystery told by a character with Asperger's), and "Boo" by Neil Smith (narrated by a dead 13-year-old trying to solve his own murder).

29. Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it):
"Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline made me mad about the way we treated parentless children a century ago, and about how they're still sometimes treated today. And "The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George made me mad because I despised one of the characters, Manon, and I really wanted to give the protagonist a good shake on the shoulders. Idiot!

30. Best non-fiction read:
"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson.

31. Best book-based movie or show:
Gah, so many! I loooooved "The Martian" and "Mockingjay Part 2." As for shows, I was all about "Poldark" and "Grantchester," both historical fiction shows on PBS based on novels (and the main characters of both just so happen to be easy on the eyes).

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2015?
Lots! This year I really went in search of other bloggers with similar tastes as me (more adult than YA reads, for one thing). Here are just a few of my new favorites, in no particular order:
Gah, so many more!

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2015?
"The Fair Fight" by Anna Freeman and "Circling the Sun" by Paula McLain.

3. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
The Broke and the Bookish Secret Santa. I got an amazing box of goodies and I had such fun putting together the package for my partner. You can read all about it here. I'm already looking forward to next year!

4. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2015?
Not exactly a best moment, but one of my goals for the year was to write more personal posts. I'm proud of myself for finally sticking with my Monday Musings posts, where I chat about what I'm reading, knitting, watching, listening to, eating and more.

5. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
Well, this is easy! The most challenging thing about my reading life is always that there are too many books and not enough time! As of this moment, my Goodreads to-read list contains 556 books. At 80 books a year, it'd take me 7 years to read everything!

6. Most popular post this year on your blog?
The Best Books I Read in 2015, no surprise there.

8. Post you wish got a little more love?
Halloween 2015: Bookish Pumpkin Carving. I carved a pretty awesome pumpkin this year AND dressed up as Hermione, complete with hand-knitted Gryffindor scarf.

7. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
Instagram! I know, I'm totally behind the times here, but I finally expanded my social media horizons last spring. Instagram has a wonderful bookish community -- and a fabulous knitting one as well! (If you'd like to be Instagram buddies, you can find me @knittinglindsay.)

8. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
My reading goal for the year was 65 and I'm proud to say I read 80 books! Sadly, I failed miserably at my goals of reading at least one of my own books every month and reading all all the books on my 12 Books I Must Read in 2015 list (here). I only read 2 of them.

1. One book you didn’t get to in 2015 but will be your number 1 priority in 2016:
"All the Light You Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr.

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2016 (non-debut):
"Morningstar" by Pierce Brown, the conclusion to the Red Rising trilogy. (Can you tell I really, really love these books?!)

3. 2016 debut you are most anticipating:
"Sleeping Giants" by Sylvain Neuvel. This sounds like the perfect book to cure my craving for some more brilliant sci-fi, a genre I'm a sorta-newbie to. I'm going to need something to read after the Red Rising trilogy is over!

4. Series ending/a sequel you are most anticipating in 2016:
Well, other than "Morningstar," we've got I'm excited for the next Bone Season book by Samantha Shannon and the second Veronica Speedwell mystery by Deanna Raybourn.

5. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2016:
Read more classics, more backlist and more of my own books. (Hahahaha, yeah right.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Yarn Along: Mermaid Tail Blanket and "Saga" Volume 3

Yarn Along is a wonderful link-up -- hosted by the Small Things blog every Wednesday -- about two of the best things in life: reading and knitting!

mermaid tail 1

Reading: I finished "This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!" by Jonathan Evison and "The Adventuress" by Tasha Alexander, the latest release in one of my favorite historical mystery series, and they were both 4-star reads. Last night I finished up volume 3 of the amazing "Saga" graphic novel series. "Saga" is my first real foray into the world of graphic novels and I'm hooked! It's amazing how so much story can be told through so few words.

Now I'm going to (try to!) take a tiny bit of time off reading. "Saga" brought me to 80 books read in 2015 and that's a nice, round place to stop, so I'm planning to hold off on starting anything new until New Year's Day. (I know, I know, that's like two days. But can I do it?!) I have so many things to watch on the DVR (and I have to watch it all before we move this spring!) and I'm hoping to get some watching and knitting done during my mini reading break. First up is finishing season one of the awesome Masterpiece Mystery show "Grantchester." If you like historical fiction and mysteries, check it out! Also, Jarrod and I just started watching "Orphan Black" and I'll definitely be knitting while we binge on that.

Knitting: I got a good start on the mermaid tail blanket I'm making for my friend's toddler. The tail fin is done and I'm a couple repeats into the body. The pattern uses quilted lattice stitch to make the "scales," which turned out to be super easy, and I'm thrilled that this project is going to be perfect TV kitting! My friend requested pink and white since her daughter is into Minnie Mouse at the moment and I thought knitting them together would help create a faux shimmery/sparkly scale effect. It looks a little more wild than I anticipated, but then again, if I were 2 I would probably love it!

mermaid tail 2

Here's a close-up of my tail progress. I'm enjoying the stitch pattern!

Monday, December 28, 2015

12 Early 2016 Book Releases I'm Ancitipating

Can you believe a fresh year is almost upon us? I had a wonderful bookish 2015 and I'm excited to find out what literary adventures await me next year! These 12 books are all on my radar for the first half of 2016. I'm particularly excited about "Morningstar" by Pierce Brown, the conclusion to my favorite trilogy! Linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for Top Ten Tuesday.

(Book summaries are adapted from Goodreads.)

2016 releases

12th Beside Myself by Ann Morgan: A literary thriller about identical twins, Ellie and Helen, who swap places at age 6. At first it is just a game, but then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioral problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered?

2nd Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson: Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years but now, flat broke, she must write a new book for the first time in decades and her publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away -- as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric 9-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders. As she gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who his father is, how his gorgeous piano teacher Xander fits into the Banning family equation -- and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

2nd Ginny Gail by Charlie Smith: A sweeping, eerily resonant epic of race and violence in the Jim Crow South. Delvin Walker is just a boy when his mother flees their home in Chattanooga, accused of killing a white man. Taken in by the proprietor of the town’s leading Negro funeral home, he discovers the art of caring for the aggrieved, the promise of transcendence in the written word, and a rare peace in a hostile world. Yet tragedy visits them near-daily, and after a series of devastating events -- a lynching, a church burning -- Delvin fears being accused of murdering a local white boy and leaves town.

2nd Youngbloog by Matt Gallagher: The U.S. military is preparing to withdraw from Iraq and newly-minted lieutenant Jack Porter struggles to accept how it’s happening -- through alliances with warlords who have Arab and American blood on their hands. As Iraq plunges back into chaos and bloodshed, Jack becomes obsessed with a strange, tragic tale of reckless love between a lost American soldier and Rana, a local sheikh’s daughter. "Jarhead" meets "Redeployment."

9th I'll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable: After losing her fiancĂ© in the Vietnam War, Laurel Haley takes a job in England, hoping the distance will mend her shattered heart. Laurel expects the pain might lessen but does not foresee the beguiling man she meets or that they’ll go to Paris, where the city’s magic will take over and alter everything Laurel believes about love. Thirty years later, Laurel’s daughter Annie is newly engaged and an old question resurfaces: who is Annie’s father and what happened to him? The key to unlocking Laurel’s secrets starts with a mysterious book about an infamous woman known as the Duchess of Marlborough. Annie’s quest takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a decaying estate kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris where answers will be found at last.

9th Morningstar by Pierce Brown: Final book in the (amazing!!!) Red Rising trilogy. The book I'm most anticipating in 2016!

16th All the Winters After by Sere Prince Halverson: Alaska doesn't forgive mistakes. That's what Kachemak Winkel's mother used to tell him. A lot of mistakes were made that awful day 20 years ago, when she died in a plane crash with Kache's father and brother -- and Kache still feels responsible. He fled Alaska for good, but now his aunt Snag insists on his return. She admits she couldn't bring herself to check on his family's house in the woods -- not even once since he's been gone. Kache is sure the cabin has decayed into a pile of logs, but he finds smoke rising from the chimney and a mysterious Russian woman hiding from her own troubled past. (I'm excited about this one as I love all things Alaska!)

16th Free Men by Katy Simpson Smith: A captivating historical novel, set in the late eighteenth-century American South, that follows a singular group of companions -- an escaped slave, a white man, and a Creek Indian -- who are being tracked for murder. In the few days they spend together, the makeshift trio are seduced by the need for money and commit a heinous murder that soon has the forces of the law bearing down upon them, led by a probing French tracker named Le Clerc. Sent to pick up their trail, he must decide which has a greater claim: swift justice, or his own curiosity about how three such disparate, desperate men could act in unison.

16th Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw: A taut, riveting domestic drama about a long-lost brother convicted of a horrifying crime and a sister’s fight to clear his name. A single mother and lawyer, Iris has a colorful caseload, a young son with behavior issues, and a judgmental mother. She also has a brother -- shocking news she uncovers by accident. Why did her mother lie to her for her entire life? Curious about this sibling she has never known, Iris begins to search for long-buried truths. What she discovers surprises -- and horrifies -- her. Her older brother is autistic -- and in prison for brutally murdering his neighbor and her daughter.

23rd A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab: Book two of the A Darker Shade of Magic series.

22nd Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye: "Reader, I murdered him."  A darkly brilliant Gothic retelling of "Jane Eyre." Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked -- but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors. A fugitive navigating London's underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr. Thornfield, seeks a governess. (Intriguing -- and that cover!)

17th The Fireman by Joe Hill:  A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country. Dragonscale is a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies -- before causing them to burst into flames. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads -- armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. Nurse Harper Grayson treated hundreds of infected patients and now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted...and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

Monday Musings

I put together a Shutterfly calendar for my parents this week and it was so fun looking back through pictures from the year. This family photo, from my trip home to Colorado in September, is one of my faves. That's my dad, mom, husband Jarrod, me, and brother Andy.

Highlight of the week: We headed two hours west to Indiana to hang out with my grandma, uncle, aunt and cousins for Christmas. Since we're moving halfway across the Pacific Ocean in 2016, it might be a couple years before we get to spend Christmas with family again so I made sure to enjoy every moment. I also got some wonderful Christmas presents that I'm so grateful for!

Reading: "The Adventuress" by Tasha Alexander, book 9 in the Lady Emily mystery series, one of my favorites. I've hardly had time to sit down and read this past week, so I haven't really gotten into it yet. But I'm determined to finish it -- and volume 3 of "Saga" -- by New Year's to bring my 2015 reading total to a nice, round 80.

Knitting: Not much. I did get started on the mermaid tail blanket while watching an episode of "Grantchester" the other night, so I've got about half a fin done. Lots more work to do!

Watching: We finally watched season 3, episode 3 of "Sherlock"! I'm so excited to watch the Victorian "Sherlock" special that comes on New Year's Day! Also watching the rain that has been falling incessantly for the past two days. The weather this year has just been crazy -- the summer was colder than normal with lots of rain, and the winter so far has been warmer than normal with lots more rain. It feels more like spring than December; I've only worn my winter coat once!

Listening to: X Ambassadors' album "VHS." (They sing that ubiquitous "Renegade" song that found its way onto the Jeep commercial.)

Eating: Sooooo muuuuuch foooooood! Including this Bailey's cheesecake, which I made for Christmas dinner. Delish!

Following: A couple new-to-me Instagram accounts, woodfolkknits and thewolfandtheblacksmithswife. Both ladies knit, live out in the country, have cute pets and take beautiful photos.

Looking forward to: Not going back to work until Wednesday! I'll be busy cleaning, catching up on letter-writing, knitting, reading and hanging out with Jarrod. Sounds like an awesome start to the week! :) Also, I finally bought a few photo albums so I can get to work organizing the gazillion photos I took this year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

TBTB Secret Santa

I participated for the first time in The Broke and the Bookish blog's annual Secret Santa swap this year and I had so much fun with it! I will definitely be joining in again next year -- and then I'll be able to stuff my partner's box with all kinds of Hawaiian stuff! ;)

There were three options for signing up and I chose option 2 -- one or two books and some goodies -- and, based on a questionnaire we all filled out, I was matched up with someone else who chose the same option as me and has similar reading tastes, Alise from Read. Write. Repeat. I had a blast shopping for her and knitting a hat to stick in her package! (P.S. Though my partners and I all have book blogs, you don't need to be a blogger to participate!)

My secret Santa turned out to be Jennifer from The Leaning Stack of Books. She sent a wonderful box filled with local chocolate, some amazing peppermint-white chocolate popcorn, an adorable stack-of-books ornament (I hope she has one for herself since it goes perfectly with her blog name!), an amazing pack of boxer dog notecards that feature a dog who looks so much like our Conan did, and two books from my wish list: "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson and "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng. I love, love, love everything Jennifer sent, and it was so much fun to experience the anticipation of receiving and opening a mystery package!


In addition to the fun of assembling a surprise for someone else and receiving my own awesome box of goodies, I made two new book-loving friends and that's the best part of all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Yarn Along: Mermaid Tail Blanket and "This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!"

Yarn Along is a wonderful link-up -- hosted by the Small Things blog every Wednesday -- about two of the best things in life: reading and knitting!

yarn along 1223

Reading: I'm a little over halfway done with "This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!" by Jonathan Evison. So far it's a solid 4-star read about an elderly woman reliving -- and hopefully ultimately letting go of -- her past while on an Alaskan cruise booked by her now-dead husband. It's got a bit of a "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" quirk to it that I'm enjoying. I'm also reading volume 3 of the "Saga" graphic novel series.

Knitting: I'm about to cast on for a new project! A friend asked me to knit one of those super-popular mermaid tail blankets for her 2-year-old daughter, Aurora. Aurora is in love with Minnie Mouse at the moment, so the blanket has been commissioned in pink and white. I'm using a pattern by Angie Hartley, one of the few knitting patterns available (most are crochet). If you haven't encountered one of these nifty things yet, basically it's a blanket/sack that you stick your legs into. When it's on, it looks like you've grown a mermaid tail.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

10 Books I'd Like Santa To Bring Me

Merry Christmas, bookworms! The prompt for this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is fun and festive: what books would we like Santa to leave under our trees this year? This was insanely easy for me, as I've now got a whopping 541 books on my to-read list. Santa is a pretty powerful dude, so maybe he could throw a signed Harry Potter or something in there... and how about lifetime free Starbucks, tickets for an Antarctica cruise and the world's cutest boxer puppy while we're at it. ;)

These are all books I really want to read. The top row is made up of books that've been on my to-read list for-ev-er, and the bottom row is newer additions to the queue; the last two are sequels to books I've read recently. I'm pretty sure I'm going to love all of them.

(ETA: Santa must have heard me! I put this list together on Sunday, and yesterday in the mail arrived "The Likeness," a gift from one of my good friends! Yay!)

What books would you ask Santa for?

books from santa

Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Musings: Almost-Christmas Edition!

tree pic

Highlight of the week: Our new laptop arrived on Tuesday and it was very much needed. It was taking me 2 hours to put together blog posts that should take 45 minutes. So yay for that! Also, the package from my Broke and Bookish Secret Santa arrived and I had so much fun opening it. I love everything that Jennifer (of The Leaning Stack of Books) sent and I can't wait to participate again next year! (Post to come on my awesome box of goodies!) And, since we've been having an unseasonably mild December in Ohio, I brought some snow to my blog, which I thought was pretty damn awesome, not to mention sorta mesmerizing. (Pats self on back.)

Reading: I've read quite a bit this week! Right now I'm on volume 3 of the "Saga" graphic novel series (so good!) and I just started "This is Your Life, Harriet Chance" by Jonathan Evison. The main reason I picked it up is because it involves an Alaskan cruise -- one of my bucket list items -- but I'm really enjoying the story so far.

I finished "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates (not even going to attempt to review this book about the idea of race and being black in America today; I'm still figuring out what I thought about it -- but you should read it), "The Mistletoe Inn" by Richard Paul Evans (meh -- review) and "Still Life," by Louise Penny, book one in the Inspector Gamache mystery series (good!).

Knitting: I finished the hat for my Broke and Bookish Secret Santa partner last Sunday and haven't picked up a needle since! (Gasp!) But a friend just asked me to knit one of those nifty mermaid tail blankets for her toddler, so I'll get started on that this week.

Listening to: I've had the new Adele CD on repeat in my car. I think my favorite song on it, other than the ubiquitous "Hello," is "River Lea," followed by "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)." I've also been listening to a lot of Twenty One Pilots and Oh Wonder. And Christmas music (below is my fave holiday song).

Watching: Friday night we watched "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials." I don't fully remember what happened in the book, but I thought the movie was just ok. Glad we didn't go see it at theater.

Eating: Coconut Cloud cookies. I've made a lot of stuff to take into work the past two years and everything has been pretty tasty, but these coconut cookies were by far the best-liked. I got tons of positive comments on them, and I actually made a second batch yesterday because Jarrod and I wanted more of them! Here's the recipe. It says it makes 67, but that's nuts -- I only got 3 dozen. And you REALLY don't need two cups of toasted coconut for topping. One cup is plenty. (P.S. There's a photo on my Instagram if you want to see how mine came out. Just click the changing picture box in the upper left corner of the blog!)

Looking forward to: Well, Christmas, of course! We're going to Indiana to hang out with my Grandma, uncle, aunt and cousins. And Jarrod and I still need to watch "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," my favorite movie. Maybe we'll save it for Christmas Eve. Also, I only work two days next week, so that's a plus!

*Merry Christmas, friends!*

Sunday, December 20, 2015

I Judge Books By Their Covers: "The Great Christmas Knit-Off"

 Hello, my name is Lindsay, and I judge books by their covers.
Confession: I always judge books by their covers. A book's appearance -- from the artwork to the font to the colors to the texture to the weight and cut of the pages (I like the ragged-edged ones) -- is very important to me. And there are certain kinds of covers I like and certain ones I'd never pick up unless I was already planning to read the book. It's fascinating to see how covers change between editions -- hardcover and paperback, or U.S. and international -- and it's so fun to see who prefers what!

U.S. // U.K.

"The Great Christmas Knit-Off" was a fun holiday novel and I recommend it even if you know nothing about knitting. (Here's my review.)

This is a no-brainer for me... I absolutely prefer the U.K. cover. The bright colors, the quirky font, the little dog, the silver and gold snowflakes, the utter charm. It pops, it's funky and modern, it looks like something a 30-year-old might want to read -- and a non-knitter at that.

The U.S. cover, while not bad, just doesn't stand a chance for me. It looks grandmotherly where the U.K. cover looks fun and exciting. You'd never expect to find an f-word in a book with the U.S. cover (but there was!). I actually like the font on the U.S. cover, but the more traditional colors, the lace background and the actual knitting make it look kinda dull. If I weren't a knitter, I might not have picked the book up in the first place.

(Aside from which artwork I prefer, the U.K. cover is a much better representation of the book. For one thing, those wee little hats on the U.S. cover aren't even part of the story!)

Winner: U.K. cover by a landslide!
I'd love to know: which cover appeals to you?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Mini Reviews: Two Christmas Cozies

Romance and chick-lit aren't my typical genres of choice, but I just can't resist Christmas novels. I love how they help enhance my feelings of Christmas cheer, and with the holidays being such a busy time it's nice to read something fun and light. I managed to squeeze in two Christmas books this year and, though their ratings are only a half-star apart, I definitely enjoyed "The Great Christmas Knit-Off" more than "The Mistletoe Inn" -- and not just because it has "knit" in the title! ;)

"The Great Christmas Knit-Off" by Alexandra Brown
First published in the U.S. in 2015
300-some pages (didn't write it down, and I don't think Goodreads' listing of 400 is correct)
3.5 stars
Image from Goodreads

"The Great Christmas Knit-Off" features just-ok writing, a predictable plot, and a cheesy holiday romance -- and yet, I had so much fun reading it! It's a fluffy confection meant to imbue Christmas cheer and it does just that.

The characters are likable, the story is heartwarming with an obligatory happy ending, and it was surprisingly funny and charming. Plus I enjoyed the storybook English village setting and the many British-isms, like Christmas pudding and Wispa hot chocolate.  And, as a knitter myself, I liked that plot point -- but don't fear, despite the title it doesn't factor in nearly enough to put off non-knitters.

Sybil's life is in shambles. Left at the alter, stuck in a mind-numbing job she hates, and possibly at fault for a huge "cock-up" at work, she grabs her sweet little dog Basil and they flee London for a weekend trip to the countryside, where her best friend Cher is managing a pub. It turns out that Cher is away for a work trip -- but that may be the best thing that could happen to Sybs because the kind, welcoming and slightly kooky residents of the tiny village of Tindledale are exactly what she needs to get out of her funk, particularly elderly Hattie and her floundering yarn shop. Handknitted sweaters featuring Christmas puddings, gallons of mulled wine, a cute village doctor and a ferret all make appearances.

This was a fun, festive and cute read and I definitely recommend it if you're looking for a light Christmas story.

"The Mistletoe Inn" by Richard Paul Evans
First published in 2015
300 pages
3 stars
Image from Goodreads

I've only read a couple novels by the "king of Christmas fiction," as the cover proclaims, but I have to say I don't think "The Mistletoe Inn" was his strongest effort.

It was hardly the worst book I've ever read, but the writing was plain and repetitive (I was so tired of reading the phrase "not surprisingly"!), the story was utterly predictable, the romance was unrealistic, it was a total sap-fest, and I never really felt connected our main character. The whole thing felt a bit of half-assed.

Kimberly Rossi's mother committed suicide when she was a child and that's had a sabotaging effect on all Kim's romantic relationships because she feels both unworthy of love and that she has to cling on with all her might to keep from being abandoned again.

"The Mistletoe Inn" finds Kimberly working as a finance officer at a car dealership with some mean-girl co-workers by day -- a job she hates -- and writing a romance novel by night. She's just gotten out of an abusive marriage. Her father has some terrible news for her. Bearing all this weight, Kimberly attends a romance writers conference in Vermont where her favorite writer -- a reclusive man named H.T. Cowell -- is scheduled to give his first appearance in years. "Not surprisingly," (hehe) the conference proves life-changing for Kimberly in every way -- on the friendship, romance, self-discovery, making-peace-with-the-past and book-writing fronts.

This is a pretty harsh review, but I think an author who makes a living off writing Christmas novels could surely have done better. That said, it really wasn't a bad book, and if you're looking for the literary equivalent of a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie this is it! (And don't get me wrong, I like Hallmark Christmas movies just as much as the next person! This is the time of year to veg out with something easy and festive with an assured happy ending.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Yarn Along: "The Mistletoe Inn" and Owl Puffs

Yarn Along is a wonderful link-up -- hosted by the Small Things blog every Wednesday -- about two of the best things in life: reading and knitting!

yarn along

Reading: Richard Paul Evans' latest Christmas novel, "The Mistletoe Inn." It's hardly award-winning literature, but it's short, easy and festive -- just right for this time of year. Since last week's Yarn Along I finished "The Great Christmas Knit-Off" by Alexandra Brown (surprisingly good), "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates (a thought-provoking look at race), and "Saga" volume 2 (just as weird and addicting as volume 1). I'm thinking I might try to squeeze in one more holiday book before Christmas. Any recommendations?

Knitting: I'm cheating a bit here; I finished up the Slouchy Copy Cat Hat for my Bookish Secret Santa swap partner on Sunday and I haven't started a new project yet. So I'm featuring the cute little owls I made last winter. I gave most of them away, but these three stayed with us and they perch on our bookshelves most of the year and in our Christmas tree during December. They were so much fun to knit up, a perfect way to use up pretty pieces of scrap yarn, and endlessly customizable. One of these days I'll make more of them. The pattern is Owl Puffs on Ravelry. (P.S. Have you seen the clearance sheep t-shirts on Ravelry with the slight misprint? They're so cute, and I'm pretty sure I need one!)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Best Books I Read In 2015

I'm thrilled to say that 2015 was a pretty awesome reading year for me. I read almost entirely good books, and as of today I've read 75 of them -- due in part to the encouragement/competition of my co-workers at the library. Oh, how I love working with fellow bookworms! I also explored some mostly-new-to-me genres like sci-fi and graphic novels, and I'm so glad to be expanding my literary horizons.

Below are the best of the best for me -- the books that've stuck with me through the year, that I've raved about and recommended over and over:

1. Red Rising and Golden Son by Pierce Brown
books 1 and 2 of the Red Rising trilogy
both 5 stars
Oh my gosh. I can't say enough good things about this dystopian science fiction series set on a futuristic Mars. Please read these books, even if sci-fi isn't your usual thing! Pierce Brown is an amazing author and he combines superb world-building and character development, a gripping plot and beautiful writing to create an utterly enthralling series. While the story is all its own, I think it would appeal to fans of the Hunger Games, "Ender"s Game," the Percy Jackson books, or anyone who just wants a damn good story. I can't wait for the trilogy ender to come out this winter! I discovered the Red Rising trilogy through this very Top Ten Tuesday list last year when it was on several other bloggers' posts and I'm sooooooo glad I did!

2. The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
book 2 in the Bone Season series
5 stars

This book was so freakin' good -- and miles better than the first book in the series. I absolutely could not put it down. The Bone Season series is an action-packed fantasy set in a dystopian England of the nearish future in which clairvoyants are enemies of the state; our protagonist, Paige, is a special type of clairvoyant who can walk in others' dreams. Shannon's world-building and writing style definitely improved in book two, and you'll fall in love with the atmosphere of the London she's created.

3. Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre
5 stars

I'm an Air Force wife so I try to read military fiction once in a while. "Fives and Twenty-Fives" was not only a gripping story of what it was like to be a soldier on the ground at the beginning of the Iraq War -- written by a former Marine who was there himself -- it was by turns funny, dark and heartbreaking. I highly recommend it even if you don't know a whole lot about the military -- in fact, it'd be a interesting way to learn more about the life of a deployed soldier.

4. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
5 stars

I'm not a huge YA fan, so I wasn't really expecting much when I opened this bright and colorful cover. Oh, but was I in for a treat. "I'll Give You the Sun" tells the story of twins Noah and Jude who, when we meet them at 13, are as close as can be, but by 16 they hardly speak to each other. In alternating chapters, their fascinating, beautiful, terrible stories gradually fall into place as Noah narrates the 13-year-old sections and Jude the 16-year-old ones. Each character has a totally distinct, masterfully written voice and I loved Nelson's unique writing style. The writing is stellar and the story transcends age. Even if, like me, you don't think YA is your thing, check this book out. It's a great read for everyone!

5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
4 stars

I only gave "RPO" 4 stars because Cline's writing itself didn't do anything to dazzle me, not because I didn't like the plot. This story has stuck with me all year and it's definitely one of my favorite reads -- possibly ever. It's sci-fi-lite with a unique premise, a lovable main character and tons of '80s references that'll have you looking up songs on your phone and requesting old movies from the library! It was just such a fun read -- but one that also manages to work in some serious and thought-provoking points -- and I urge you to pick it up!

6. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
5 stars

This book had been on my to-read list for-ev-er and I'm so glad I waited to read it, because I ended up getting to this enthralling, eerie, gothic read at exactly the perfect time, on my 30th birthday trip to the Smoky Mountains. Vida Winter, the world's most famous crime novelist, has always been mysterious about her past, making up tall tales whenever questioned on her childhood. Now she's dying, and she decides it's time to tell the world her story -- a story that is creepy, heartbreaking, horrible and full of still-unanswered questions. It was addicting, I loved it, and I think any other book-lover would be enraptured too.

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
5 stars

Imagine a world where books are considered evil, so evil that an entire occupation is devoted to burning any and all books. Gasp. The horror! Bradbury paints a frightening picture of censorship, brainwashing and government control. It's a must-read for all.

8. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
5 stars

How can it be nearly a year since I devoured this post-apocalyptic tale?! A flu pandemic wipes out most of the world's population and we get the story before, during and two decades after from a variety of interesting characters and intertwining tales. The writing was wonderful, the plot was unique and haunting, and "Station Eleven" was a totally unputdownable!

9. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
4.5 stars

Paula McLain's debut, "The Paris Wife," was on my best-of-2012 list and I'm happy to say her second effort didn't disappoint! McLain introduces us to another real-life character, the fascinating Beryl Markham -- aviator, racehorse trainer and fiercely independent woman far ahead of her time. Beryl is extraordinary, and so is the setting of Kenya in the early 1900s. There's too much to say about her for one paragraph, so read my review and then go find yourself a copy of "Circling the Sun"!

10. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
book 1 of the Bill Hodges series
4.5 stars

I hadn't read Stephen King in probably a decade, and I was pleasantly surprised by this hard-boiled detective/serial killer novel. King wrote Retired Detective Bill Hodges as a wonderfully flawed but extremely capable sleuth and the chilling look inside the mind of the Mercedes Killer was expertly crafted. I'm excited to read "Finders Keepers," the next book in the Bill Hodges series. 

Honorable Mention:
11. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (review)
12. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (review)
13. In the Woods by Tana French (review)
14. A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (review)
15. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (review)
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