Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Review: "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury

"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury
First published in 1953
190 pages (with afterword and author Q&A)
My rating: 5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

Look at that book sitting there next to you, or that shelf crammed full of beautiful and well-loved reading material, or your Kindle. Now imagine living in a time when all books are banned, considered the evilest of evil, and firemen are employed solely to set books ablaze rather than extinguish flames. Oh, the horror!

Guy Montag is one such fireman. He's made a living destroying books for a decade. But something has been building in Guy -- a curiosity about what's inside the books he burns. And then he meets a young girl, a breath of fresh air, a slap in the face, and everything changes: Guy decides to read.

"Fahrenheit 451" is indeed about books, but more than that it's about the knowledge contained within the covers, the dangers of censorship, the government keeping its citizens in check by keeping them wholly ignorant and glued to their TV programs like so many zombies. In a world whose motto is that everyone should be happy all of the time, nobody is truly happy, nobody is fulfilled, nobody is really living despite the Fun Parks, the cars that you can drive over 200 mph down city streets to get a thrill and the fictional "family" booming out at you from your TV walls to make you feel loved and important.

My only complaint about "Fahrenheit 451" is that it was too brief. This dystopian tale takes place over a very short time period and a lot of things happen very quickly. I wanted more information about the society in which Guy lives, the war that's alluded to, and how America got to the terrible place it's at.

But still, I loved it for what it was -- a treatise on the power of knowledge and the slippery slope of censorship. I recommend this short, thought-provoking novel for anyone and everyone.

Quotable quote: It's from the afterword, in which Bradbury talks about the stage version of "Fahrenheit 451," but I just loved this Dr. Seuss-esque turn of phrase.

"I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunchbacked for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name 'em, I ate 'em."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My 10 Favorite Literary Heroines

Hello, book friends! It's Tuesday, which means it's time for Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. The prompt for the week is: 

Ten Favorite Heroines From Books 

This was surprisingly hard for me... I have such a bad memory and it's hard to recall books I read back before I started blogging and keeping track of things on Goodreads. Plus, it seems that a lot of my favorite books with really memorable main characters feature males! Interestingly, all but one of my heroines came from a series.

Below are 10 fabulous female protagonists ranging from genius to bad-ass to hilarious. Who's your favorite heroine?

 1. Hermione Granger

 2. Diana Bishop

3. Lady Emily

4. Katniss Everdeen

 5. Lisbeth Salander

 6. Mary Russell

7. Stephanie Plum

 8. Skeeter

 9. Claire

10. Meg Langslow

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Review: "The Forgers" by Bradford Morrow

"The Forgers" by Bradford Morrow
First published in 2014
258 pages
My rating: 2 out of 5

Image from Goodreads

I expected a heck of a lot more from a book that starts off with the discovery of a brutally murdered forger whose hands have been chopped off at the wrists. Instead of a fast-paced, thrilling mystery, what I got was a total snoozefest.

Our narrator, Will, is dating the sister of the murdered man. And the death stirs up the ghosts of Will's past -- he was once an extremely successful forger, "improving" rare books by adding inscriptions from authors like his favorite, Arthur Conan Doyle, or even creating entire missives and documents and passing them off as real.

Until, that is, a mysterious stalker of sorts turned him in and he was forced to swear off the profession. Except that, more than a way to make money, forging is an addiction for Will and it is a constant battle to keep from succumbing to his passion. Will, who's now gainfully employed as a handwriting expert, thinks he's managed to leave that world behind, but after the murder he starts receiving threatening notes -- in the forged handwriting of famous authors, and from the same man who turned the authorities on to his forging -- accusing him of killing his girlfriend's brother.

Between the captivating cover, the interesting, book-centric synopsis and the murder-mystery, I was totally expecting to love this book. But it's really not a whodunit at all -- more of a life story being related to us by the narrator, who, by the way, I never really warmed up to. Eventually we do find out who committed the murder and why, but it's wholly unsatisfying. I guessed the killer's identity very early on and I kept hoping for a twist to mix things up -- which, sadly, never came -- and the motive was as bland and boring as a motive could ever be. And there was never any tension, never any build-up to a climax. If it hadn't been such a short book with admittedly decent writing, I never would have finished it.

I suspect this book is meant more as a literary commentary on obsession, love and secrets than a mystery, but it was just so completely dull. You may be tempted to delve into the world of the rare books trade like I was, but I'd suggest skipping this one.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Style Challenge: Wear Something That Hasn't Left Your Closet in 6+ Months

I was really excited about this week's Putting Me Together Style Challenge -- wear something you haven't worn in more than six months. I browsed through my closet and, let me tell you, I'm almost ashamed of how many things I found that fit the challenge.
After digging out a bunch of pieces that haven't seen the light of day in quite a long time, I put together several outfits for the week. But Ohio decided not to cooperate, and I didn't get a chance to wear two of the cutest ones because they'd really look better with flats -- and our weather this week has been snow, snow, and bitter freakin' cold -- and I wasn't about to freeze my little tootsies off! (In just over a week I'll be sinking my feet into some warm Hawaii sand I'd really like to have all my toes for that experience!)

Monday: Jarrod and I both had the day of work so we went out to lunch at Panera Bread -- the perfect lunch for a snowy day. Although who am I kidding? I could eat soup and a sandwich for lunch every day forever!

The gold-sequined tank top has languished in my closet for at least two years. I can't remember the last time I wore those gold earrings. And I bought the boots from Target over Thanksgiving and (for some crazy reason!) hadn't ever gotten around to wearing them. Paired with my workhorse pink sweater, I think everything came together to make a pretty cute outfit!
 Tuesday: Work.

I'm really not much of a dress person, and I last wore this dress over two years ago when we lived in Hawaii. And this cream cardigan... it's a perfectly good sweater, but for some reason I never think to grab it. I guess I always gravitate  more toward my gray and tan sweaters. This was my favorite outfit of the week; it was cute and surprisingly comfy.
Wednesday: Work and grocery shopping in horrendous weather. (Snow and slippery roads followed by sunshine, wind and extreme cold. Brr.)

I bought this sweater from Macy's a couple years ago on clearance and with an extra coupon. Its original price was over $100 (!!!) and I guess since it's so fragile I was afraid to wear and wash it too often. Which is too bad, because while the color is still gorgeous the silhouette is a bit outdated. The paper-bead necklace and freshwater pearl earrings also don't get enough wear -- and they match perfectly with the pink sweater!

In case you're wondering, no, I didn't wear these slippers to work. Though wouldn't that be nice?! I had on the same boots from Tuesday's outfit, but after grocery shopping they were covered in snow and salt and I couldn't bring them in the house. Alas, you get to see what I wear all day, every day, when I'm at home. I have two pairs of these L.L. Bean slippers and I really could not live without them.
I loved this challenge! It was fun and forced me to look through all my clothes and re-discover some great pieces that don't get enough wear -- or else are just completely forgotten about, like the poor lonely dress from Tuesday. I encourage you to take a browse through your closet and see if you have as much luck as I did!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

4 Bookish Problems + 3 I Solved

It's Tuesday -- time for Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're talking about book-related problems -- serious or not -- that we as bookworms have. Here goes:

1. The biggie -- too many books, not enough time. I have 317 books on my Goodreads to-read list, and that's after recently deleting a few that I'd lost interest in. Last year I read 61 books, so by that average it would take me over five years to read all the books on my list -- not including all the books I'm inevitably going to add to it!

2. I work at a library. That might sound like a great job for a book-lover, but the workplace hazard is that I'm always finding new books to read. When I'm bored at work I'll peruse the new releases shelf under the guise of putting a basket away or shelving holds, look at the latest issues of BookPage or Library Journal, browse Goodreads or my favorite book blogs, or chat with my co-workers about what they're reading. Plus, I'm surrounded on every side by books and I just want to READ ALL OF THEM!

3. Another problem with being a very frequent library patron/employee -- I always put reading library books above reading my own books. Why? I really can't say. But I do know that it is 100% more likely that I will read a book if I check if out from the library rather than buy it. For three years running it's been my New Year's resolution to read at least one of my own books every month. Hahahahaha. Needless to say, it hasn't happened yet. Last year I only read one of my own books, and that's because I signed up to do a buddy read on Goodreads and I just happened to have the book we chose tucked away on one of my overflowing bookshelves!

4. I am super anal-retentive about keeping books in nice condition. I despise spine-creasers and corner-folders and people who eat Doritos while reading and leave orange fingerprints on every page. But -- confession time -- I did something hideously awful a couple weeks ago and it is just killing my conscience. I was reading a brand spankin' new library copy of "The Girl on the Train" while eating leftover lasagna for lunch on my break at work. I'm sure you can see where this is going. I somehow got lasagna sauce on my hand... and smeared it on the page. I am a horrible person.

But we'll finish off on a positive note with some bookish problems I used to suffer but have cured!

1. I used to be among the hordes of people who read a book right before the movie version comes out. I'd even re-read all the Harry Potter books before seeing the films.But then I'd sit and nit-pick every little difference between the two -- and invariably the book would be better. So now? I try not to read books within six months of their movie release. And I remind myself to view the movie as a completely separate entity -- allowed some creative license and to be appreciated as its own tale. This leads to a lot more enjoyment and a lot less frustration on my part. (What a crazy phenomenon this is! Working at the library it cracks me up. Up 'til a couple months before the movie release, nobody really cares about the given book. But suddenly "The Giver" or "The Fault in Our Stars" or "Gone Girl" is coming to the theater and everyone and their brother wants to read the novel; the hold list grows from 0 to 100 in a flash!)

2. I used to press on reading a book even if I hated it. I shudder to think of all the time I wasted reading crap or a novel I just wasn't into when there's sooooo much fabulous reading material to devour. Now, if I'm not feeling a book I put it down. I'll give it a fair shot -- just recently I read 100 whole pages of a sleep-inducing "mystery" ("Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman," if you must know) before giving it up. But I no longer feel that compulsion to suffer through to the end. If I don't like it, I remember Bookish Problem #1 and move on to the next story.

3. I used to use library receipts or random pieces of paper to mark my place in books, despite the clutch of beautiful bookmarks in my possession. I solved this by simply reminding myself to get a bookmark! And it's kind of fun to select my place-marker. Do I feel like a Dr. Seuss quote, a scene from the Smoky Mountains, a gorgeous koa wood bookmark from Hawaii, Monet's water lilies?

Ah, it's a tough life being a book-lover! ;) What are your bookish problems?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Book Review: "Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography"

"Choose Your Own Autobiography" by Neil Patrick Harris
First published in 2014
294 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

I like Neil Patrick Harris well enough, but I really only picked up his autobiography because I was intrigued by the innovative and fun choose-your-own-adventure format. I had imagined that, no matter what route I selected, I'd eventually read the whole book. Not so. Choosing your own adventure will only take you through certain parts of the NPH saga.

I was disappointed, and I almost put the book down when I realized it wasn't quite as special as I thought. But I had already laughed out loud a handful of times in the first 20 pages, so I decided to soldier on and read the book straight through, forgoing the choosing of my own adventure.

Since this autobiography is not really meant to be read like a normal book, I had to do a bit of flipping back and forth to get my bearings at times. It's roughly chronological but not entirely; it starts with Neil's birth in a small New Mexico city and ends with a variety of untimely deaths -- or the amazing 40th birthday surprise organized by his partner, David.

I enjoyed reading about Neil's time as a child actor on "Doogie Howser," acting on Broadway and hosting awards shows. Neil's full of jokes and many passages made me chuckle. It was particularly interesting to learn about the surrogacy process through which Neil and David had their adorable twins, Gideon and Harper. And did you know Neil's a magician and president of the board of directors of the famous Magic Castle in Hollywood?

There are magic tricks, recipes and hilarious alternate endings mixed in with Neil's life story, as well as anecdotes from several of Neil's friends and co-workers like Whoopi Goldberg and Seth MacFarlane.

Most of the book was lighthearted, but I didn't like the occasional gossipy tone when Neil named names and talked about the difficult actors and directors he's worked with in the past. I was also irritated by the excessive number of puns; they were funny at first but got old quickly. "Gay-teaseburg Address," Neil? Really? And, though Neil tries to adopt an everyman voice, it's clear that most of his life has been anything but average.

If you're into celebrity memoirs or a big Neil Patrick Harris fan, check out this autobiography. Otherwise, you can probably skip this one and not miss out on a too much.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thinking Warm Thoughts

Today in Ohio it's bitterly cold (i.e. "feels like" -11). And for some crazy reason I volunteered to leave my cocoon of coziness by the fireplace and go to work. But I'm comforted by the thought that in a few short weeks I'll be lounging on a warm, sunny beach in Hawaii -- my feet in the sand and a book in my hand. Sigh... I promise to send sunshine-y thoughts to all of you!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book Review: "The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man" by W. Bruce Cameron

"The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man" by W. Bruce Cameron
First published in 2014
319 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

Sometimes you just need a silly, charming, feel-good kind of book, and that's exactly what W. Bruce Cameron delivers here -- with some mystery, a little romance, an absolutely loveable dog and the ghost of a murdered Realtor thrown in.

Once destined for the NFL, Ruddy McCann lives in small-town Michigan and works as a repo man, a thankless job taking back vehicles when people default on payments. One night he has a strange dream -- a dream in which he's chased down and murdered -- and the next day he starts hearing a voice in his head claiming to be Alan Lottner, victim of a homicide.

Ruddy, of course, thinks he's going crazy. But Alan is really inside Ruddy's head, and he was really murdered, and he wants Ruddy to solve the crime. Once Ruddy comes to terms with the bizarre situation, he sets out to find the killers.

I loved the dialogue between Ruddy and Alan Lottner, by turns hilarious and heartwarming -- especially after their relationship is complicated when Ruddy meets Lottner's pretty twentysomething daughter. I loved the moments Ruddy shared with his dog, proving that he's really just a ol' big softie at heart. I even loved learning the tricks of the repo trade -- especially the scenes in which Ruddy battles it out with a guard goose. I even loved meeting the crazy residents of Kalkasa, Michigan.

"The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man" reminded me a bit of one of Janet Evanovich's early Stephanie Plum books -- just replace somewhat hapless bounty hunter with somewhat hapless repo man. They've both got a great mix of mystery, humor, romance and a couple of almost unbelievably idiotic characters. "Midnight Plan" was a romp of a novel that made me smile and kept me turning pages. It was definitely a departure from "A Dog's Purpose" or "The Dogs of Christmas," but Cameron did a good job with his first funny mystery and I'm interested to see what he writes next.

Quotable quote: "I had my book, my dog, and my chair. What else did a man need?"

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Style Challenge: Wear A Valentine's Color

The Style Challenge at Putting Me Together this week is to wear red, pink or purple in honor of Valentine's Day. We don't celebrate Valentine's Day as a couple (Jarrod thinks it's a totally commercialized fake holiday, and really, it is) but I still like to send cards, decorate and wear appropriate colors.

I actually had planned for this post to feature three outfits with a different color each day. But the pictures of my coral sweater from yesterday didn't come out at all (thanks, perpetually gloomy Ohio weather, for the horrible lighting) and today it's snowing so I can't wear the red flats I had planned. So! That leaves just one outfit -- the pink one!

I really love the way this outfit came together! I just bought the striped sweater from Old Navy and this was the first time I'd worn it. It's super-comfy, although a little lightweight for this time of year.
The pink flats... oh, I love them. But horror of horrors, I somehow got mud or some random library goo on them at work Tuesday! Any tips on cleaning suede would be appreciated! I found some info online, but I'm nervous to mess up my favorite shoes even more!

I'm really excited about next week's Style Challenge: wear something you haven't worn in over six months. I definitely have some things lurking in the dark depths of my closet that haven't seen the light of day in quite a while. Maybe I'll make a week of it!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: "Red Rising" by Pierce Brown

"Red Rising" by Pierce Brown
First published in 2014
First in a trilogy
382 pages
My rating: 5 out of 5

Image from Goodreads

Darrow is a Helldiver. He lives and works deep under the surface of Mars, mining an element critical to making the Red Planet habitable for humans. He's bold and fearless and brave. He's never seen the sky.

He's a Red, the bottom of the totem pole in the new world order of the future. Golds, godlike men and women, are at the top of the color-based caste system.

Darrow has been told he's a pioneer, paving the way for the weaker Colors, saving mankind. He's been lied to.

It's a shattering revelation. While Reds have toiled away underground -- oppressed, starving, miserable -- the surface of Mars has been inhabited by every other Color for generations. It's time for a revolution.

Debut author Pierce Brown has put together a gripping and unique dystopian masterpiece with "Red Rising," the first in a trilogy. The plot has elements of "The Hunger Games" and "Ender's Game" with a little Percy Jackson thrown in -- and plenty of fantastic new material of its own. The word-building is superb. Brown's vision of the distant future is both thrilling and horrifying.

"Red Rising" is the best book I've read so far this year and I'm positive it'll make my list of top reads from 2015. It's the kind of book that speaks to you, that sticks with you, that you find yourself thinking about long after you closed the back cover.

The sequel, "Golden Son" came out last month and I can't wait to dig into it. It'll be my reading material on the long flight to Hawaii when we head there for our vacation in a couple weeks. Just another reason to look forward to our trip!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Knitting Update + Valentines and Sushi

Valentine's Day is fast approaching and I just got the last of my valentines in the mail this afternoon. I'm sensing a trend here... the top two cards are from my grandma and my mom, and the bottom two are from the packs I sent out to friends and family. I guess you could say I'm a dog person! ;) 
Saturday was a beautiful day for winter in Ohio -- it was in the upper 40s and not overcast for a change! Jarrod and I decided we needed to get out of the house, so we went to a new sushi place someone had told him about called Fusian. It's basically a build-your-own sushi restaurant where you go down the assembly line and point out what you want on your roll, from a variety of proteins to several different sauces and toppings to finish off. I was super excited because I always end up with vegetarian sushi since I don't eat seafood, but Fusian had chicken! It was so fun to customize what we wanted on our rolls -- I got chicken, avocado, carrots, cucumbers, green onions and cream cheese with spicy mayo and tempura crunch. Mmmm, I can almost taste it now!  Yum yum yum! We'll definitely be frequenting this place!
 And here's my progress on the Follow Your Arrow 2 MKAL. (Here's my Ravelry project page.) I was really loving my shawl up to this point, but I'm a little disappointed in this clue. I think I should've gone with the other option, which made more of a chevron shape and would've flowed a lot better with clue 3.

On the other hand, I do like how clue 4 continued on with the nature theme I've decided I have going. I think the pattern is supposed to represent a quiver of arrows, but to me it looks like a bouquet of flowers. It's so pretty that I can't bear to rip it out, so I'm just crossing my fingers that the last clue ties everything together. I can't believe we only have one more clue left -- it's bittersweet! Mystery knit-alongs are so much fun, and there's an extra anticipation factor with this one because there are two totally different choices each week. I'll miss waking up Monday mornings and logging onto Ravelry first thing to see what beautiful clues await!


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Knitting Update: Follow Your Arrow 2 MKAL


My Ravelry project page

I am totally loving this mystery knit-along! So far I've chosen all clue Bs. This week I selected B because of the word "cables." Cables are my very most favorite thing to knit, so I didn't even consider the other option. It turns out these cables weren't exactly run of the mill, but rather "elongated cables," and they created these super-awesome arrows!

I'm thinking I'll name my shawl something like A Walk in the Woods or Winter Woods... or A Walk in the Winter Woods; all the design elements so far remind me of nature. And the gray yarn just complements the theme so nicely!

I actually have some darker gray yarn that I had planned to use as a contrast color, but I didn't have it on hand for clue 1 or 2 (it arrived the day clue 2 came out, but I couldn't wait to dive right in) and I thought it might look strange to suddenly introduce a new color in clue 3, so it looks like I'll probably have a one-color shawl. But that's fine -- this oh-so-lightly vareigated light gray Malabrigo is just beautiful!

Monday, February 2, 2015

16 Historical Fiction Books I Can't Believe I Haven't Read Yet

Happy Tuesday, fellow bookworms! I had a crazy hard time narrowing down my selections for this week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt hosted by The Broke and the Bookish: the top 10 books I can't believe I haven't read in the genre of my choosing. That was easy -- historical fiction. A quick glance at my to-read list shows that it's bursting with fabulous historical fiction novels just waiting to be devoured. But whittling my list down to 10? Impossible! So I present: 

 16 Historical Fiction Novels I NEED To Read

Some are by authors I've read and loved before, some are recommendations, some are war novels, some are tearjerkers, some are cozy mysteries -- but they all transport readers to a different time. Have you read any of these titles? Do you have any recommendations (not that I need any, clearly) that I must add to my historical fiction reading list?

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