Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday Musings: It's Leap Day!


Highlight of the week: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!! It was even more amazing than I expected. Full post -- with tons of pictures -- to come! Another highlight was coming home from an 8-hour workday Saturday (after spending over 16 hours in the car on Friday) to find my husband, glue gun in hand, making me a "Monster Book of Monsters" photo album for all my Harry Potter pictures! He's a keeper. :)

Reading: I didn't get a ton of reading done on our Florida trip, but I did finish "The Guest Room" by Chris Bohjalian (not bad). I'm about 100 pages into "All the Birds in the Sky" by Charlie Jane Anders and I'm loving it so far.

Knitting: Not a single stitch this week.

Watching: This weekend we got caught up on the shows we missed during our trip: "Elementary," "Walking Dead" and "Survivor."

Eating: Tons and tons of BBQ. (Seriously, we ate barbeque four times in a week!) But you just can't get good fried okra here in Ohio (and definitely not in Hawaii, where we'll be spending the next three years) so we had to eat all we could handle!

Looking forward to: A quiet week at home. And getting my dentist appointment Tuesday over with. And seeing "Deadpool" at the theater. And going to Kohl's this afternoon to do a little shopping. AND I have a free drink to redeem at Starbucks!

Friday, February 26, 2016

I Judge Books By Their Covers: "The Road to Little Dribbling"

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.K. // Canada


If you've been following my book cover posts at all, it'll be no surprise that I prefer the whimsical, artistic covers of the U.K. and Canadian versions over the realistic U.S. cover. I'm more drawn to covers with art over photos anyway, and something about the U.S. cover just looks sort of unprofessional, like it was cobbled together on Photoshop. The sheep is obviously super-imposed and scene in the background could be anywhere -- it doesn't really scream "England" to me. I'm also not a fan of all the serif fonts and the obvious red, white and blue color scheme.

Any book with a dog on the cover automatically wins points from me -- and I do like the Canadian cover better than the U.S. one -- but the U.K. cover is the hands-down winner here. I love everything about it -- the fun and whimsical artwork, the portly man jovially skipping along the path, the white cliffs of Dover, the cheerful colors, the various fonts. Just looking at it makes me happy. And I don't think anyone will disagree that the U.K. cover definitely makes you want to visit Britain more than the U.S. one.

Do tell: Which cover do you like best?

My winner: U.K.!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Book Review: The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell

"The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue" by Piu Marie Eatwell
First published in the U.S. in 2015
300 pages plus bibliography
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:

"The Dead Duke" was an interesting and readable non-fiction tale. It fell a bit flat for me in the end, but I did enjoy learning about this strange story from early 20th century England.

The Long Of It:
I'm trying to read more non-fiction, and I'm always drawn to non-fiction picks that read like novels. That's what Eatwell aspires to here, with her book detailing an odd case that captivated the British public in the late 1800s and early 1900s, though her work is not in the realm of masters of the craft like Laura Hillenbrand ("Seabiscuit," "Unbroken") and Erik Larson ("The Devil in the White City").

The 5th Duke of Portland was a notoriously eccentric individual. He earned the nickname "the burrowing duke" after constructing a warren of tunnels and underground rooms beneath Welbeck Abbey, his countryside estate. He never married, shied away from the public eye and had all sorts of quirky habits.

After his death, a woman named Anna Maria Druce started what would be a decade-long courtroom drama/media circus when she claimed the mysterious duke had led a double life as the wealthy merchant T.C. Druce, her father-in-law (whom she never met). Since the duke had no heir, the dukedom passed onto a distant relation upon his death, but if Anna Maria's claim was true her son stood to inherit the dukedom.

There were some uncanny similarities between the duke and T.C. Druce, enough to convince many people that Anna Maria's claim was valid -- or at least deserving of further investigation. Ultimately, we do learn whether the duke and Druce were the same man, but it turned out there were many more complexities to the Druce saga than anyone could've imagined.

I liked learning about the unusual personages of the duke and T.C. Druce (who turns out to have been kind of an asshole), but the story sometimes got bogged down with random characters and events not particularly central to the plot. I did learn some things about Victorian-era journalism, policework, the lives of the wealthy, and the ridiculous gender inequality of the day.

While the mystery -- had the unmarried duke in fact led a double life as a furniture salesman with a wife and a brood of children? -- kept my interest, the writing was a bit dull and plodding at times. And the text was terribly typo-ridden. The biggest bummer of all, though, was that I kept expecting a big, shocking revelation but it never really came, and I was left feeling the book was a little pointless.

I think Eatwell was trying to showcase everyone around the bizarre case -- the police, the journalists, the lying lawyers, the mentally ill witnesses, the desperate fortune-seekers -- more than the case itself, but the title of the book led me to believe otherwise. There is indeed a dead duke, but as for "secret wife" and "missing corpse" -- ehh, not exactly in the way you'd think.

All that said, I'm still glad I read the book. For one thing, it's beautifully laid out with lovely chapter headings, quotes, photos and a family tree. I also liked that it forces the reader to consider the vast changes to our daily lives over the past 100 years; for instance, it would be far more difficult for someone to lead a double life in the 21st century than it was before phones, the internet and photographs became things we take for granted. And, though I was a little disappointed in the way the duke's story turned out, I definitely absorbed some interesting historical tidbits along the way and learned about a truly strange incident in British history.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

10 Surprisingly Good Books Out Of My Reading Comfort Zone

This week's topic for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is 10 books we've read within the last year or so that were out of the norm for us -- not our usual genre or out of our comfort zone. This was a pretty easy list to compile because I branched out quite a bit in 2015, and I'm proud of myself for continuing to expand my reading repertoire.

What books have you enjoyed lately that were out of your reading comfort zone? Do you have any suggestions for me to try?

1. Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
"Saga" was my first true graphic novel. I read it along with a few co-workers at the library and we are all hooked -- and obsessed with Lying Cat! My co-workers surpassed me and have read all five volumes, but I've only read through volume 3 so far. I want to stretch out the enjoyment since it'll be a while before volume six comes out! I was shocked at how much I enjoyed reading a graphic novel and I've been inspired to check out other graphic novel series. After I finish volumes 4 and 5 of "Saga," I want to read "Rat Queens" and Brian K. Vaughn's other series, "The Last Man."

2. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
"Red Rising" is total sci-fi -- but it's accessible and inclusive. The Red Rising trilogy is a great introduction to the genre for people who don't think they like science fiction. And since I absolutely LOVED it so very, very much (best book I read in 2015!) it's inspired me to seek out more science fiction, a genre I wasn't particularly interested in before.
(my review)

3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
"Ready Player One" is a science fiction-lite book I read after I tore through "Red Rising" and was craving more of the genre. I loved it! (And it's nothing like "Red Rising," which goes to show what a diverse genre sci-fi is. There's something for everyone here.) I also read and liked Cline's newer release, "Armada" last year.
(my review)

4. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Young adult -- not my wheelhouse. Sure, I've read and enjoyed the ubiquitous YA stuff like the Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies, "Cinder," and "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children." But my track record with contemporary YA is pretty much a disaster. I just can't do it -- sub-par writing that makes me itch for my old copy editing pen, teenage angst, irritatingly naive characters... Because of that, I had pretty low expectations for "I'll Give You the Sun" -- and no one was more surprised than I was when I ended up going gaga over it and recommending it to everyone I know. Jandy Nelson's writing was amazing and I loved the story.
(my review)

5. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
I've got nothing at all against non-fiction and I'm always resolving to read more of it, but that rarely happens. I actually managed to read three or four non-fiction books last year (I also really liked "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory" by Caitlin Doughty) and "The Devil in the White City" was my favorite. It's a dual narrative about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer terrorizing women in the Windy City during the same time period.
(my review)

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
As with non-fiction, I'm always saying I want to read more classics and then I seldom do. But I did actually read this dystopian critique on censorship last year -- and I loved it. It's the perfect classic novel for a booklover.
(my review)

7. The Great Christmas Knit-Off by Alexandra Brown
I read a lot of chick-lit through my teens and mid-20s, but I've grown out of the genre in recent years. As a knitter, I couldn't resist this cute Christmas story with a side of knitting and an extra helping of quirk. It was a totally fun, fluffy, feel-good book, and we all need one of those every once in a while.
(my review)

8. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
I never would've come across this cult classic if it weren't for one of my library co-workers raving about it. It was written in the '50s, and the story -- about a 21-year-old American girl living it up and undertaking wild adventures in Paris -- is set in 1955. It was fun and funny with some poignant moments.

9. November 9 by Colleen Hoover
Colleen Hoover falls under the "new adult" genre -- for younger twentysomethings -- and since I don't really like YA and I don't read much chick-lit anymore, it seems like exactly the wrong thing for me to read. But this was my second Colleen Hoover book and I liked it surprisingly well -- and much better than the first book of hers I read. I suspect it was all the bookish references... ;)
(my review)

10. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
I listened to "Storm Front" on audiobook and enjoyed this paranormal urban fantasy story about Harry Dresden, the only wizard listed in the Chicago phone book. I haven't decided if I want to continue the series or not, but I did like "Storm Front" and the audiobook narration was great.
(my review)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday Musings -- From Florida!


Highlight of the week: The Daytona 500 race was fun, but I think the real highlight of my week has been glugging down all the fresh Florida orange juice I can handle (soooooo much better than anything you can get at the grocery store) and stuffing my face with fried okra, not something easily found in Ohio. (By the way, Jarrod grew up here in central Florida and his first job was actually at an orange grove!)

The pre-vacation part of my week was great too. I got to spend Tuesday with my BFF, who was up visiting from Dallas. And Jarrod and I went to see Chris Janson, his favorite country singer, in concert Wednesday. We even did the meet-and-greet and got our photo taken with Chris!

Reading: I'm a little over halfway through "The Guest Room" by Chris Bohjalian. It's an intense read!

Knitting: I got a little more work done on my Stovetop Hat, but not a lot. It's mostly a TV knitting project to help me get a bunch of stuff watched on the DVR before we move.

Watching: Before our trip I was tackling last season's "Switched at Birth" on the DVR. It's one of my guilty pleasures. We also watched the first episode of the return of "The Walking Dead."

Looking forward to: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I'm so excited! I even brought my Hermione t-shirt to wear to the park. ("When in doubt, go to the library!")

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

"The Widow" by Fiona Barton
First published in 2016

324 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
Fast-paced, easy read about a pedophile creep, his submissive wife, and what she knew about a crime the police suspected him of committing. It was decent, but the comparisons to "Gone Girl" and "The Girl on the Train" are unfounded.

The Long Of It:
It occurred to me while devouring "The Widow" that it was the third book set in England about a child kidnapping that I had read in the span of a month! I certainly didn't plan that -- it just so happened that they were three of the most urgent books in my TBR pile (two ARCs and a book I'd had out from the library for two months). And, not surprisingly, if I don't read another kidnapping mystery/suspense novel for the rest of the year I'd be totally fine with that!

The other English kidnapping novels were "In Bitter Chill" by Sarah Ward (review) and "What She Knew" by Gilly Macmillan (review), and I'd say "The Widow" squeaked by as the best of the three -- it certainly had me turning pages at lightning speed! (Though I hated "What She Knew" and I'm not sure I'd fully recommend "In Bitter Chill" either, so it's not exactly a ringing endorsement!)

Jean is "The Widow" in the story -- her dirtbag husband, Glen, has just been hit and killed by a bus. The police long suspected Glen of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering a little girl but were never able to prove it it. Now that her manipulative and overbearing husband is dead, will Jean -- who stoically stood behind Glen for years, in the midst of harassment from the public, the media and the police -- reveal anything about the case? "The Detective" and "The Reporter" -- the characters who share narrating duties with Jean -- sure hope so.

I was surprised that I tolerated Jean's character so well, since I usually can't stand weak-willed protagonists. Jean's husband was a controlling, emotionally abusive, chauvinistic, despicable borderline-sociopath -- not to mention pedophile -- and as a result Jean is timid, obedient, easily bewildered and completely dependent on Glen. She automatically believes everything he tells her, including his denial of the kidnapping. But Jean begins to rediscover her sense of self throughout the book and, after Glen's death, even agrees to give an exclusive tell-all interview about the case to an intrepid newspaper reporter.

Overall, "The Widow" was a decent book -- I liked the separate narrators and the writing was ok, though the dual timelines could be a bit confusing at times. It certainly had readability; I was turning pages like crazy. But I think I once again got sucked into the comparison to "Gone Girl" and "The Girl on the Train," the magic of which is pretty damn hard to replicate. And when I see a book marketed for fans of "Gone Girl," I expect a big ol' twist at the end -- and sadly, this book had none. I also thought the ending was a bit abrupt, and I would've liked an epilogue to see where Jean is a few years later. And, though I was desperate to learn the truth about Glen, Jean and the murder, I didn't really feel connected to Jean or our other narrators, reporter Kate and detective Bob.

However, "The Widow" wasn't a bad read -- it was fast-paced, intriguing, horrifying and a passable pick for when you want a quick page-turner. Just don't buy into the "psychological thriller" hype -- while a good story, this book is not that.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Yarn Along: "The Guest Room" and Stovetop Hat

Yarn Along is a fun weekly link-up hosted by The Small Things blog about two of the best things in life: reading and knitting.

yarn along 2-17-16

Reading: I'm almost done with "The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue" by Piu Marie Atwell, a pretty good non-fiction tale about a crazy case in the late 1800s/early 1900s involving an English duke and a secret identity. When that's finished I'll dive right into "The Guest Room" by Chris Bohjalian, about a bachelor party gone horribly wrong. I've been meaning to check out Bohjalian for years, and I've got high hopes for "The Guest Room."

Knitting: I finally started a new knitting project to help me with my goal of watching a gazillion hours of stuff on the DVR before we move in just a few weeks. The project needed to be small-ish and easy enough to work on while watching TV, and I went with the gorgeous Stovetop hat by Tin Can Knits. It combines two of my favorite things: texture and cables. And I'm knitting it up in some beautiful pink Malabrigo from my stash (colorway Dusty). I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do with it when it's done -- I guess somebody will be getting a surprise in the mail!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

13 Songs That Would Make Good Novels

Man, oh, man, this was a tough Top Ten Tuesday topic: songs that would make good books. I love, love, love music of all types, but I'm bad about not always actually processing what the lyrics are about, despite the fact that I may know every word. Nevertheless, I did my best, and it really was a fun topic -- and I even ended up with more than 10! These are all songs that could be the basis for some awesome books. (I'm sure there are a gazillion obvious ones that didn't occur to me -- what songs do you think could be turned into books?)

"Dirty Paws" is one of my favorite songs and it would make an awesome kids' chapter book -- with illustrations, of course! It's supposedly a WWII allegory, but I just love the fantastical descriptions of a war between the birds and the bees, with "dirty paws and the creatures of snow" coming to save the day for the birds. (P.S. We saw Of Monsters and Men in concert last year and they were awesome. Although they were all dressed in black and kind of scary-looking, which was totally unexpected!)

"Jackie and Wilson" would be an awesome quirky romance novel with lyrics like, "We'll steal her Lexus, be detectives, ride 'round picking up clues, we'll name our children Jackie and Wilson, raise 'em on rhythm and blues." (P.S. We also saw Hozier in concert last year and he was awesome -- so humble, too!)

"What It's Like" could be the start of a novel told from several different viewpoints, where all the stories connect in the end. Everyone in the song is having a pretty shitty time of it (which is the whole point), but maybe the novel can have a happy-ish ending.

"Stan" tells a fictional tale in which Eminem discovers that a fan who wrote him a desperate letter is the same person who drove his car -- with his wife and kids in it -- off a bridge. It would make a great basis for a dual-narrative thriller.

This fun song about a prison break orchestrated by getting the warden's guard dog, Red, a girlfriend would make a great ending to a "Shawshank Redemption"-style story.

Every single time I hear this song and the line "when the dogs begin to smell her" I wonder who the murdered girl is and why she was killed. Please, someone, write a novel to tell me!

"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" -- involving the devil, a fiddle and a bet -- would make a great short story, maybe in Stephen King or Neil Gaiman style.

This old Reba McEntire song is a total family drama saga! Cheating wife, murdering sister, wrongly-convicted man. If it were a book, I see it as a psychological thriller with a big twist at the end.

In "Wagon Wheel," Darius is hitchhiking to see his significant other in Raleigh, traveling along the eastern U.S. and meeting interesting people. The song alludes to a sketchy past and a fresh start. It could be the inspiration for a "Wild"- or "Eat, Pray, Love"-style travel/soul-searching story.

The shot story told in "Austin" would be an awesome conclusion to a romance novel. The majority of the novel would be fleshing out the couple's relationship and what went wrong, and then it would end with the adorable answering machine messages. It would be set in the '90s, of course.

These lyrics are so weird! Is everything happening in our protagonist's mind, or did he really go to the creepy Hotel California, where he can "check out but never leave"? This would be a great start to a horror novel.

"Pumped Up Kicks" is a super fun, danceable song on the surface, but it's really about teenage mental illness, bullying, and school shootings. It would be a good start to a novel that delves into the "why" of school shootings.

Bonus: "River Lea" by Adele
(which is apparently not on Spotify or YouTube)
Every time I hear this beautiful song I think of a water nymph or a woman with a spiritual, magical tie to the river (even though I don't think that's what the song is really about at all). Sounds like an awesome start to a fantasy novel!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Musings

Just look at that cute face peering through the snowflakes! Our neighbors put out corn for the deer and they come up every evening to have dinner. As much as it aggravates us when the deer devour our bushes, I'm going to miss seeing them when we move. I especially loved seeing the fawns in the summer!

Highlight of the week: My best friend Katie is in town to visit her family and we got to spend some time together last week. We did some shopping, went to a local cupcakery (picture on my Instagram) and ate a delicious dinner at Texas Roadhouse.

Winter has finally decided to visit Ohio -- we had snow Monday and Tuesday, and again yesterday, and it has been coooold! But I'm enjoying it; the snow is so pretty, and I know from experience that I'll be pining for snow and cold next winter when we're in Hawaii.

Reading: I finished "Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue" by Andre Alexis (definitely a quirky book -- review here) and got about 2/3 of the way through "The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue" by Piu Marie Atwell. I'm trying to read more non-fiction and this easy-to-read tale of an English duke who may have led a double life is pretty good.

Knitting: I finally started a new knitting project, a hat knit in gorgeous pink Malabrigo yarn. The pattern, Stovetop by TinCan Knits, features my favorite things -- texture and cables! I have no idea what I'm going to do with the hat when it's done, but it's helping me with my must-do project of watching everything on the DVR before we move in 7(!!!) weeks. (I can hardly wrap my head around that... eesh. I'm not ready!) I may just post a picture of it on Facebook and mail it off to whoever says they want it first! :)

Watching: We watched "Meet the Coopers" -- the Christmas movie with an ensemble cast of A-list actors -- which was ok, though I could totally see why it got skewered by the critics. We also watched the new James Bond movie, "Spectre," which was decent, though not my favorite of the Daniel Craig James Bond films. And "The Walking Dead" started back last night -- woo hoo! (We recorded it on the DVR to watch later in the week.)

Looking forward to: Spending another day with Katie, and Jarrod and I will be going to a Chris Janson concert this week (his favorite country singer). And maybe, possibly, an impromptu trip to Florida... We shall see!

I'll leave you with a picture of my pretty kitty cat, Lily, from yesterday. Her green eyes are mesmerizing! This picture is a definite keeper.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Book Review: Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue by Andre Alexis

"Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue" by Andre Alexis
First published in 2015
171 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
What dog owner hasn't wondered what their dog would be like if it could think and talk like a human? Alexis postulates an answer to this question -- and it probably isn't what you expected.

The Long Of It:
I'm a sucker for books about dogs, so there was pretty much no way I could resist "Fifteen Dogs," a story about a group of dogs given human intelligence by the gods Apollo and Hermes for their own amusement -- and a bet, with the stakes being a year's servitude.

The bet centers on whether animals given human intelligence could possibly die happy -- and the gods choose dogs as the creatures for their experiment. Apollo thinks it likely the dogs will die even more unhappy than humans, while Hermes will win the wager if even one of the dogs dies happy.

Thus ensues the saga of fifteen dogs kenneled at a vet in Toronto, who suddenly realize they can see the color red, inherently understand how to get out of their cages, and quickly develop a language of their own.

The dogs are still dogs -- they have a pack mentality, they hunt, they sniff butts -- but they think and talk and understand and remember and learn just like humans. Alexis' look at how the dogs adjust to their new thinking-canine status is interesting -- in particular because the result is not what dog-lovers would expect when they speculate on what their pets would say if they could talk. Just like humans, the dogs have flaws; they're not just happy-go-lucky, affectionate, loyal balls of fur anymore.

Not many of the dogs survive beyond the first year or so, but you will be cheering for dignified Majnoun, a black poodle, and Prince, a mutt and a surprisingly gifted poet (and of course you'll be crossing your fingers for Hermes to win the wager and at least one of these pitiful meddled-with canines to die happy). As with any book, we've got our champions and we've got our villains too. It was weird to think of a beagle as a "bad guy" -- but given human intelligence there are selfish dogs and cowardly dogs and mean dogs right alongside the pensive dogs and kind dogs and brave dogs.

I enjoyed the story and the fascinating look at what it might be like if dogs had human minds -- and I couldn't help but imagine what our boxer dog, Conan, might have been like in the same situation. But the book proclaims itself an apologue -- an allegory or moral fable -- which means that there should be some higher meaning to take from the tale, presumably something to do with humans and happiness. I'm notoriously bad at reading between the lines and finding symbolism and hidden meanings, and I was left feeling like there was some philosophical "big idea" I should've taken away from this quirky story that I didn't quite get.

Friday, February 12, 2016

2015 Travel Recap: New York City

*Part one of my 2015 travel recap, Hawaii, is here, and part two, Gettysburg, is here.*

New York City has been on my travel wishlist for years and years, and I finally got to visit the Big Apple at the end of May when we met up with my mom and brother there for a three-day trip. It was jam-packed, but we got to see, do and eat almost all the things we most wanted. No Broadway show for us this time, but "The Book of Mormon" came to Dayton in August, so I still got to see my first musical this year.

Day 1: Circle Line Cruise, Grand Central, NY Public Library, 30 Rock, Times Square
nyc day 1 version 2
We got to New York City in the late afternoon and met up with my mom and brother, Andy, at our (surprisingly tiny!) Hell's Kitchen rental apartment. That evening we went to Times Square, which was almost as bright as day with all the signs! (That's the two bottom right pictures -- see the New Year's Eve ball?)

Our first full day in NYC started off with a Circle Line Cruise around Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Then we went to Grand Central Station, which features lovely Beaux-Arts architecture and astronomical symbols painted in gold on the soaring green ceiling.

The Chrysler Building with its distinctive terraced top. (It reminds me of a pencil.)

The one must-do on my NYC trip list: the New York Public Library.

The children's library is home to the original crew of stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne to write the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

nypl collage
The children's library also features miniature library lions constructed from Legos! (Did you know the actual library lions are named Patience and Fortitude?)

At the top of 30 Rockefeller Center, 70 stories up. That's Central Park in the background.

30 rock collage
More pictures from the Top of the Rock observation deck -- the Empire State building, Central Park, and New York City in all its sprawling glory. And more New Year's Eve ball!

Day 2: FAO Schwarz, The Met, Central Park, American Museum of Natural History
It's me!

nyc day 2
We started off our second day by taking an Uber (my first ever!) to FAO Schwarz toy store, home of the "Big" piano and Zoltar machine. Then we went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (can I just set up camp there like the kids in "From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler"?!), walked through Central Park (I was ready to cut my feet off at this point -- it probably would've hurt less!), and ended the day with a quick trip through the American Museum of Natural History, home of the "Night at the Museum" movies. (P.S. That's a Statue of Liberty made out of Legos! P.P.S. We look thrilled about our subway ride! Actually, the subway was cleaner and easier to navigate than I expected. And the cars had blessed air conditioning!)

Day 3: Soho, Wall Street, World Trade Center
Our last full day included a visit to Soho... and the knitting mecca of Purl Soho! I'm so grateful to my wonderful mom, brother and husband -- who have zero interest in fiber arts -- for accompanying me!

nyc day 3 part 1
Lunch in Soho, then on to the financial district and Wall Street. The bottom center photo shows the wonderfully curvy and slightly Dr. Seuss-ish 8 Spruce Street tower by architect Frank Gehry, who also designed the famous Dancing House in Prague.

1 World Trade Center, a.k.a. Freedom Tower. The last night of our trip just so happened to be opening night for the new One World Observatory on the 100th floor, and we managed to get tickets.

The 9/11 Memorial, with the bottom of Freedom Tower in the background.

nyc day 3 part 2
The 9/11 Memorial was lovely, but the 9/11 Museum is a must-do. Pictures aren't allowed inside most of the museum, but there are a few above, like the "Survivors' Stairs." The museum was so well-done, and it really brought the horrors of that day home for me, someone who was thousands of miles away from New York, sitting in a high school psychology class, when the second plane hit. (P.S. You may want to pack a few tissues.)

The Freedom Tower observatory was fun if a little overdone. The view from the top was cool at night, and I'd like to see it during the day on our next trip.

Have you been to New York City? What are your must-dos so I can put them on the agenda for our next trip? The highlights of the trip for me were the library and the Met.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

"In Bitter Chill" by Sarah Ward
First published in 2015
311 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:

Fast-paced English murder mystery with writing that could use some improvement.

The Long Of It:
I had "In Bitter Chill" checked out from the library for two months (hangs head) and figured it was time to finally get this book returned. I wish I hadn't waited so long, because it turned out to be a super-quick read that I blew through in two days.

The plot isn't particularly unique -- a murder in a small Derbyshire town connects to an unsolved kidnapping from the '70s and leads to the unearthing of long-buried secrets -- but the story was intriguing and easy to read, and I turned pages at lightning pace.

Rachel Price and her friend Sophie were kidnapped on their walk to school in 1978. Rachel escaped from her captors -- with very little recollection of what had happened -- but Sophie never returned home and her body was never found. Rachel, now a family historian, has been struggling all her life to leave the foggy memories of her kidnapping in the past, but a present-day suicide and murder in close succession lead detectives to truth about who took the girls and why -- and how one got away and one vanished.

"In Bitter Chill" is Ward's first novel and, unfortunately, that's apparent in her writing. The novel could definitely have used some tightening, revising and better editing (and on the editing front, I found a heinous typo -- "your" when "you're" should've been used). I also thought the narration was a little scattered as it's told from three different perspectives -- two detectives' and Rachel's -- and sometimes it was a little hard to follow.

Even though Ward's writing is less-than-spectacular, it's by no means horrible and her debut work is a page-turner perfect for readers seeking something quick, easy-to-read and engrossing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I Woof You: My Favorite Books About (Literal) Puppy Love

It's Tuesday -- time for Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. In honor of Valentine's Day, this week's topic is a Valentine's freebie. Freebie... oh no, the dreaded freebie! I tossed around some ideas (favorite couples, worst couples, etc.) but I don't read a ton of romance-y stuff and in the end I decided to go with a type of love near and dear to my heart: dog love.

I've always been a dog person, even though we just have a cat right now. We lost our sweet boxer dog Conan to canine lymphoma just about two years ago now. He was our furry baby and our best friend. He made our little family seem so much fuller, and we loved him so very, very much, from his cold, wet nose to his nub of a tail.



After Conan passed away, I couldn't bring myself to read any books about dogs. But last year I finally picked up a couple, and I managed to get through them without getting too emotional. I still haven't been able to bring myself to read "A Dog's Purpose," though. I get the impression that it's a tear-jerker at the best of times!

Below are some of my favorite books about dogs, which explore and exemplify the bond, the friendship and the love we have with our cherished canine counterparts.

"Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him" by Luis Carlos Montalvan: This is a wonderful book about the power of service dogs, told by a former Marine captain who was crippled by PTSD before Tuesday came into his life. (review)
"The Daily Coyote: A Story of Love, Survival, and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming" by Shreve Stockton: The memoir about a soul-searching woman and an orphaned coyote is good, but the beautiful photos of Charlie the coyote make the book amazing.

"Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog & the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero" by Michael Hingson: Like "Until Tuesday," this book is about the special bond between service dog and owner. Hingson was a blind man trapped in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and this book tells how he and Rosalie made it out alive. (review)
"The Dogs of Christmas" by W. Bruce Cameron: This is a sweet, fun Christmas romance that involves puppes! (Bonus points for being set in my home state of Colorado. And for having the most adorable cover!) (review)

"The Dog Master: A Novel of the First Dog" by W. Bruce Cameron: Cameron's novel, set 30,000 years ago, theorizes how wolves might have come to be domesticated. (review)
"The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein: One of my favorite books -- beautiful, sad and funny -- told from the perspective of a very special dog named Enzo.

"Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery" by Spencer Quinn: The first in a mystery series told by dog Chet and his private-investigator human Bernie. (review)
"Dog Songs: Poems" by Mary Oliver: Poignant and fun poems about our furry friends. I actually read this book out loud to Conan. (review)

"Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog" by John Grogan: The quintessential dog memoir.
"The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption" by Jim Gorant: The details of Michael Vick's dog-fighting ring will make you sick, but the stories of the rescued dogs who found new life will bring joy to your heart. (review)

Coffee Table Books:

"Find Momo: Coast to Coast" by Andrew Knapp: I love Momo! After coming across the Momo books at work (there are two), I started following the author's Instagram page (here), which is full of awesome pictures of Momo. The books are fun for dog-lovers of all ages, since they're kind of like a "Where's Waldo?" with an adorable dog and beautiful/quirky/interesting locales.

"The Dogist: Photographic Encounters With 1000 Dogs" by Elias Weiss Friedman: Another book I happened across at work. The portraits will have you chuckling and "aww-ing."

 On My To-Read List:

"A Dog's Purpose" by W. Bruce Cameron
"Surviving Henry: Adventures in Loving a Canine Catastrophe" by Erin Taylor Young

"From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava" by Jay Kopelman
"No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, And Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII" by Robert Weintraub

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