Thursday, September 29, 2016

Upcoming Release: Sirius: The Little Dog Who Almost Changed History by Jonathan Crown

"Sirius: The Little Dog Who Almost Changed History" by Jonathan Crown
Release date: October 4, 2016
First published in Germany in 2014
256 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

*I received a free advance copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Short Of It:
"Sirius" was a completely different take on a WWII story. I enjoyed the creativity -- and the dog, obviously -- but it did have some flaws. Still, it was good enough that I'd recommend it to any lover of dogs and WWII fiction.

The Long Of It:
Sirius is a very special fox terrier. Not only does he have a wonderful personality -- both spunky and philosophical -- he's got an enhanced ability to understand and communicate with humans.

He's beloved by all who meet him, particularly his family, the Liliencrons, who have the misfortune of being Jews living in Berlin in 1938. One horrific night, Sirius saves them from the gestapo -- and that begins Sirius's rollercoaster journey from Germany to Hollywood to the silver screen to the circus and, in a twist of fate, back to Berlin where he winds up in the lap of Hitler himself. With inside information -- and the unique ability to express himself to humans -- Sirius begins to aid the resistance. Meanwhile the Liliencron family struggles to find a place for themselves amidst the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood golden age.

One of the things I struggled a bit with was the meshing of two very different things: an extraordinary dog and his adventures in Hollywood and beyond, and the horrors of the Holocaust. I think that may have been Crown's point -- to show the atrocities of WWII through a different lens, and he does indeed mention many actual happenings -- but it seemed incongruous at times.

I was also irritated with the writing from time to time. It's written -- at least, the advance e-book copy I had -- in one long go with no chapters, just asterisks to separate thoughts. Sometimes there would only be one sentence between asterisks, and then suddenly we're on to something else -- and it just made the whole thing seem to lack flow and transition. The writing had a choppy feel to it, which is perhaps because it was translated from German.

As well, I was under the impression that the book was narrated by Sirius, but it's told in third person with insights into what many different characters are thinking, particularly Mr. Liliencron

Despite those issues, I still enjoyed "Sirius." It was a fun read and an interesting re-imagining of history, which gives a tenacious little dog the power to affect the outcome of WWII.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Yarn Along: "The Royal We" and a Knitted Hummingbird

Yarn Along is a wonderful weekly link-up hosted by Ginny at the Small Things blog about two of the best things in life: books and knitting.

yarn along 092816

I'm almost done with "The Royal We" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, a sort of romance/comedy/drama about the joys and craziness of carrying on a relationship with a British prince. Some of the characters are loosely based on the real royal family (complete with red-haired mischievous "Freddie"), and the scripted life and hounding press are surely realistic. I love the main character, Bex, who is witty, fun, confident, loyal and no-nonsense. I thought this book would be fluffy chick-lit, but it's got much more depth than I expected and it's been such a delightful and addicting read!

I ended up enjoying "The Other Einstein," my Yarn Along read from last week, and then I blew through "Curious Minds," the start of Janet Evanovich's new series (review -- decent for a light read) and absolutely loved the sci-fi/thriller/love story "Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch.


I had so much fun knitting this sweet little hummingbird for a friend from the library where I worked in Ohio. She loves hummingbirds and asked me to knit this adorable guy after coming across the pattern in a book. It was a wonderful diversion from the disaster of my Earnest cardigan -- and after I shared a photo I have a few requests to make more! I'm excited to dig through my stash and try out some other colors for the body.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Fall 2016 Reading List

fall reading list
(This picture is from our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park last September, and I so wish I were back there right now!)

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
I've been planning to read this gothic tale forever, and for some reason I had it in my head that I should read it in October. Of course, now I'm in Hawaii which feels like summer all year long, but I am finally going to read this book this fall, proper atmosphere or not!

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I've decided it's time to jump on the Taylor Jenkins Reid bandwagon, and I've got this one on hold at the library.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin
I've got an advance copy from NetGalley of this historical fiction story set in 1880s Paris during the construction of the Eiffel Tower. It comes out in November.

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
I read the first book in the Invisible Library series last month and it was so much fun! I'm looking forward to continuing the story.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
I've been meaning to read this for years, ever since I read and loved "The Secret Keeper" way back at the beginning of 2013. "The Forgotten Garden" is on my must-read-in-2016 list and time is running out! I feel like fall is the perfect time for Kate Morton's novels, which are always set in the English countryside and always involve long-buried secrets!

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
How gorgeous is this cover?! I love reading books set in Alaska and this one sounds amazing!

Vicious by V.E. Schwab
"Vicious" is another book on my must-read-in-2016 list. I enjoy Schwab's Shades of Magic series and I'm fully expecting to love this story.

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
I've been reading more and more fantasy lately and this new novel sounds so good! The intriguing cover is what got me to look it up in the first place. I just want to step right into it!

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
This was a gift from my Broke and Bookish Secret Santa last year (I'm so excited to participate again this year!) and I'm ashamed to say I still haven't read it. It's another entry on my must-read-in-2016 list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This one's no surprise -- it's the book of the moment! I've wanted to read it ever since I first saw the blurb months ago, though. Now I've just got to wait to get to the top of the library holds queue!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I wasn't familiar with Towles until recently, when the hype began for his new release. Intrigued, I looked him up and added his first book, "Rules of Civility" to my to-read list. But I've heard so many great things about this book, and I've been wanting to read more fiction set in Russia after watching the BBC "War & Peace" miniseries, so I'm moving this one up the list!

The Likeness by Tana French
I read the first book in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, "In the Woods" just about a year ago now and I've been intending to continue the series ever since. A friend even sent me a copy of "The Likeness," so I have no excuse for not reading it sooner!

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
I'm so excited to read this new-ish book about the invention of the light bulb -- which sounds rather dull but this book promises to be anything but! Moore was the screenwriter for the amazing movie "The Imitation Game" and I'm sure I'll enjoy this novel.

Left over from my spring and summer reading lists:
I currently have three of these ("American Housewife," "The Royal We" and "His Majesty's Dragon") checked out from the library, so I'll at least be getting those knocked out soon, and I'll happily read "Saga" whenever my library finally gets it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Musings

Check out this library haul! I didn't intend to have seven holds ready at one time, but just look at all these beauties!

My week: It was another pretty quiet week here. One afternoon I put out my fall decorations while sipping a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, which was a pleasant couple of hours. And we went to the beach on Friday afternoon. I feel like I hardly saw Jarrod all week until Friday -- he was working some insane hours because of an exercise his work was doing (military speak for practice disaster) and I think I spent about an hour a day with him for like 10 days in a row. The next two weeks he'll be working 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., so our schedule will be flip-flopping again, but at least he'll be home for dinner!

Reading: I had a great reading week! I finished my advance copy of "The Other Einstein," which I'd just started last Monday. (It comes out October 18; review to come soon!) It's a fictionalized look at Albert Einstein's first wife, Mileva Maric, who may have made more of a contribution to Einstein's work than we'd ever imagined -- and regardless was an interesting woman in her own right.

Then I read the first book in Janet Evanovich's new series (review). Her books are always fast, easy and fun, and this one was no exception. I liked it enough that I'll continue the series. And then I blew through the amazing sci-fi/thriller/love story "Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch. I looooved it.

And now I'm a about 100 pages into "The Royal We" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. I've been meaning to read this one for a while; it's on my must-read-in-2016 list. I'm loving it so far -- it's funny, it's well-written and it's just a delightful read!

Knitting: I had a terrible disaster with my Earnest cardigan this week when I realized my gauge was off and it was coming out way too small. I cried. And then I stuffed it in a coffee table drawer in hopes the knitting fairy might come by one night, wave her wand, and fix this insurmountable problem for me. At the moment I'm working on a new little project that came at just the right time, a stuffed hummingbird for a friend from the library where I worked in Ohio. (I miss that job -- and my co-workers -- so much!)

Watching: I have an abysmal record of choosing new fall shows to watch, but it appears I actually did well this year! I watched the first episodes of  "This is Us" and "Designated Survivor" and really enjoyed them both! And "Designated Survivor" is one Jarrod and I can watch together, which is always a bonus.

Buying: I did some online shopping this week! I ordered some really cool wrought-iron pumpkin stands (with owls on them), a Denver Broncos t-shirt, and I finally took the plunge on an adorable mug from Etsy that says, "Oh for (picture of a fox) sake!" I'd been eyeing it forever but really didn't want to pay that much for a coffee mug, but I had a rough day this week and was in need of a pick-me-up. I love foxes, and the phrase "for fuck's sake" comes out of my mouth at least once a day, so it's perfect!

Looking forward to: Getting my hair cut later today! I've let it grow out the past several months, and there are some things I like about having it longer, but I know it'll feel so nice to chop a bunch off and have it back to my usual shoulder length.

I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr
First published in 2014
530 pages
My rating: 5 out of 5

The Short Of It:

One of the best WWII stories I've ever read.

The Long Of It:
"All the Light We Cannot See" is historical fiction at its best. Doerr masterfully packs unforgettable characters, rich descriptions and beautiful writing into a gripping and unique WWII story. I was impressed with the perfect balance he achieves between light, heartfelt, interesting moments and scenes that vividly bring home the sickening horrors of war.

Much of the story is told by two main characters, Marie-Laure, a blind French teenager who loves books and the ocean, and Werner, a brilliant German orphan with a knack for inventions who is pushed into Hitler's army. The two are on opposite sides of the war, but fate will cross their paths at the most critical moment.

Between the major storylines of Marie-Laure and Wener -- from childhood to 1944, when things are at the worst for both of them -- are woven many fascinating details and subplots: a huge, storied, and sought-after diamond that may or may not be cursed; secret messages baked into bread loaves; a kooky but lovable old man; a sweet and wonderful boy with a passion for birds; radios; mathematics; seashells and snail shells; Jules Verne; puzzle boxes; European history; and so very much cruelty and kindness. I was amazed at the author's breadth of knowledge about things like trigonometry and the inner workings of old-fashioned radios.

What set the book over the top for me was Doerr's gorgeous writing and rich descriptions, which were only enhanced by the casting of a blind character. Some of my favorite passages were when young Marie-Laure was exploring the Paris Museum of Natural History where her father worked. Though she couldn't see it with her eyes, I could picture detail after detail in my mind as she took in smells -- bone dust, chemical preservatives, paper -- and textures -- the curves of a shell, the smoothness of a beetle, the softness of a feather. Marie-Laure's blindness also added to the intensity of many scenes. Can you imagine being trapped in your house, not able to see a thing or even tell if it's night or day, when someone comes in searching for you -- and will not hesitate to kill you if he finds you? I was on the edge of my seat with stress!

Something else I loved about this novel was the easy flow to the writing. For some reason, I imagined it would be a heavy, long book but, even at 530 pages, it was a quick read. I absolutely blazed through it. This was aided by the very short chapters -- sometimes only a page or two each -- that made the book nearly impossible to put down. I can't tell you the number of times I said, "Just one more chapter. Oh wait, this one's only three pages, might as well read that too..."

"All the Light We Cannot See" is a must-read, not just for fans of WWII stories, but for fans of human stories. Anyone who likes fiction should enjoy this book, which is fully deserving of all the accolades it received.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review: Curious Minds by Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton

"Curious Minds" by Janet Evanovich
Book 1 in the Knight and Moon series

First published in 2016
323 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5

The Short Of It:

Typical Janet Evanovich: nothing mind-blowing, but a quick, fun diversion.

The Long Of It:
Janet Evanovich is one of the few fluff authors in my life. I will stick with Stephanie Plum through the end (even though the end should probably have come already), I actually really like the Wicked books, and I enjoyed "Curious Minds" enough that I'll continue with the new Knight and Moon series when the next installment comes out. Sometimes a lighthearted, easy, silly book is just what I need, and Janet almost always comes through.

"Curious Minds" is a sort of action/slight mystery/humor blend that involves investigating a plot to steal gold from both the Federal Reserve and private individuals and replace it with fakes. Yeah, ok. What really carried the book was the characters.

Riley Moon is a Texas girl with degrees from Harvard Business and Harvard Law who just started work as a junior analyst for the biggest banking corporation in the world. She doesn't have any of the Stephanie Plum ditziness to her -- she's bright and capable but still completely likable. She rolls with all the craziness, she's a crack shot with a gun, and she favors bacon cheeseburgers and the expression "crap on a cracker." And one of her first assignments at Blane-Grunwald is to babysit eccentric millionaire Emerson Knight as he looks into the disappearance of the firm employee who was managing his gold.

Emerson's father recently died and Emerson inherited the family pile, Mysterioso Manor, and all that comes with it, like a free-roaming menagerie of animals including zebras, a capybara and an armadillo. He's incredibly handsome and extremely smart in an out-of-the-box way, but not so hot with people and common sense. He oozes a sort of utterly wacky charm that was impossible not to fall in love with.

The two form an unlikely detective duo as they look into what could possibly the world's biggest monetary conspiracy, and their investigation takes them from Washington, D.C., to New York to Area 51 in Nevada. There's plenty of danger, there are some kooky and lovable characters, and of course there's a sprinkling of romantic tension.

In typical Evanovich fashion, this was a super-quick read and I had it done in a day and half. If you're looking for a fast, fun, fluffy new series to start, you might enjoy following Knight and Moon on their first adventure.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: The Hike by Drew Magary

"The Hike" by Drew Magary
First published in 2016
288 pages
My rating: 2 out of 5

*I won an advance copy of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.

The Short Of It:
Huh. Apparently this very strange and (in my opinion) poorly written book worked for many readers, but it just didn't click for me.

The Long Of It:
I was really expecting to like "The Hike." It's billed as a fantasy melding of folk tales and video games, and doesn't that sound intriguing? But, for me, the only redeeming quality this book had was a sarcastic, foul-mouthed talking crab. And given that our only protagonists are the crab and a rather dull 38-year-old man, it's hard not to love the crab.

Ben is your basic average joe family man, occasionally frazzled and irritated but mostly he adores his wife and kids. After traveling to a remote Pennsylvania hotel for a business meeting, he decides to take an afternoon walk in the woods -- except his leisurely hike turns into a seemingly endless battle for survival against strange and mythical beings, like men with rottweiler heads, a massive cricket, a man-eating female giant and some very mean smoke wisps. Oh yeah, and he's been informed that if he steps off the path, he'll die. Determined to get through the world's most horrible hike and be reunited with his family, Ben soldiers on, defeating obstacle after bizarre obstacle (none of which, I'm sorry to say, were particularly creative).

Basically, that's the whole book. Ben fights off strange creatures that want to kill him, doesn't stray from the path and pines for his family. There's no plot. On top of the aimless nature of the story, I struggled with the author's writing, which was the most bare-bones, basic, boring sort, and it lacked polish and beauty. (Since I read an advance copy, I'm hoping it was tightened up at least a bit before going to print.) I mean, at one point, the protagonist screams, "FUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKK!!!! Goddamn you, you fucking asshole shithead path! FUCK!" (And, yes, I actually counted the number of Us, Cs and Ks. And, yes, it annoyed me that there wasn't a consistent number of each letter. Maybe I'm too anal retentive for this book.) To me, this doesn't seem like something a seasoned author would write; it feels more like a line a kid who knows he's not allowed to say the f-word would jot down in his notebook. Maybe that's part of the appeal -- to some readers, it feels fresh? But to me, the book mostly just seemed amateurish.

I read some reviews after finishing "The Hike" to see what I might have missed (it does, after all, have over 4 stars on Goodreads and Amazon!). Many readers said they were prepared to give it a lower rating until they got to the "wow" ending, which just brought everything together. I agree that the conclusion held a bit of a surprise, but what I was hoping for was a point to the story. What was the purpose of Ben's forced adventure? Without that -- and I'm pretty sure it didn't go over my head, but perhaps it did -- the story is just a sequence of absurd events.

This is a rather harsh review and I can see that I'm in the minority. But "The Hike" just did not work for me on any level.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Yarn Along: "The Other Einstein" and a Knitted Hummingbird

Yarn Along is a wonderful weekly link-up hosted by Ginny at the Small Things blog about two of the best things in life: books and knitting.

yarn along 092116

Reading: I'm a little over a third of the way done with the October release "The Other Einstein" by Marie Benedict and I like what I've read thus far. It's based on a real person, Albert Einstein's first wife, Mileva Maric, a brilliant physicist in her own right. It's reminiscent of "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain, about Hemingway's first wife Hadley, and "The Atomic Weight of Love" by Elizabeth J. Church, about a gifted female scientist who's overshadowed by her husband. Most of what I've read so far has taken place in late-1800s Zurich, where Mileva is the only woman in the physics program at her university, and I'm enjoying the atmosphere: the boardinghouse where Mileva lives with three other university girls, the cafes near the campus where Mileva goes to sip coffee and engage in heated scientific discussions, and the beautiful Swiss wilderness where Mileva and her friends love to hike.

(I will say that I'm anxious to be done with this book... usually advance-read copies are set up for iPad reading, but not this one. And reading a book on the computer is really no fun. I'm longing to hold a real book in my hands... and my wish will soon be granted because I have seven holds ready for me at the library!)

Knitting: If you've visited for Yarn Along lately, you'll have seen me making progress on my gorgeous Earnest cardigan by Joji Locatelli. The pattern is really not that hard, but I just had one problem after another, ranging from mismatched dyelots to uncharacteristic difficulty with the provisional cast-on to discovering many, many rows on that I had miscrossed three cables. But the death knell for the cardigan came Monday when, after doing the waist decreases, I tried it on... and it still only came to the bottom of my bra -- about 2 1/2 or 3 inches above where it should have been. I did some measuring and apparently my gauge is quite a bit off, which I think must be the fault of the yarn, which, though it's 100% merino, has a sort of elasticity to it. I am absolutely devastated and I will admit to shedding a tear or two. All those hours... And I don't have enough of any other yarn on hand to use, so my Earnest cardigan is officially on pause for now. (Sob.)

Luckily, in a wonderful coincidence of timing, I have a diversion! A co-worker from the library where I worked in Ohio came across this hummingbird pattern in a book she was flipping through at work and asked me to knit it for her. She'd like to hang it from her rear-view mirror. I dug around in my yarn stash (why, oh, why don't I have 1,740 yards of fingering in there somewhere?!) and found several greenish options for the hummingbird body, but none seemed to capture the beautiful iridescence. So I played around with knitting two strands together, and I think I'm going to go with the combo in the photo above, a teal fingering weight and an old skein of Caron that's grass-green with flecks of red, blue, green and yellow. I think I'll only use the portions that have red flecks, which will nicely set off the ruby throat.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My 10 Favorite Musicians/Groups Right This Minute

One of my biggest passions besides books is music. Not a day goes by that I don't listen to music, concerts are one of my favorite things to do, I played the clarinet for years and one of my dreams is to learn to play the piano. I've loved music forever, and as I've gotten older my tastes have broadened significantly. Now there are few genres I don't enjoy, and I listen to everything from classical to country to R&B. This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is about any and all things audio, and since I'm not a fan of audiobooks (other than the ah-maze-ing Harry Potter ones read by Jim Dale) I'm going the music route.

My Spotify playlists are a jumble of different types of music, but the 10 artists and bands below are the ones I'd choose if you asked me right now to pick my current faves. It was tough to narrow down, but I pretty consistently like everything they put out and I would love to see them all in concert! (I've already seen three but I'd gladly see them again! Though that's not likely anytime soon... not many shows come all the way to Hawaii. That was one awesome thing about living in Ohio for three years!)

Do tell: Do you like going to concerts as much as I do? Who are your favorite musicians?

My 10 Favorite Musicians/Groups Right This Minute
(Because It's Always Subject to Change!)

Broken Bells
I got to see Broken Bells at Lollapalooza in 2014 and they were awesome live. I adore every single song on both of their albums. Other favorite songs: "The High Road," "Leave It Alone," and basically every other song they've recorded.

Florida Georgia Line
I'm a big fan of country, but Florida Georgia Line is my absolute favorite county band. We've seen them in concert twice and the second time is currently holding the spot of my favorite concert ever. I like the rock influence that shows through their Southern twang. Other favorite songs: "Dirt," "Get Your Shine On."

Helen Jane Long
I love, love, love contemporary piano music and Helen Jane Long and another pianist, Alexis French, are consistently my most-listened-to artists every month. Their gorgeous music is perfect to listen to while cooking, reading, knitting, writing letters or just relaxing. Other favorite songs: "Passes," "Fountain," basically every single one.

Glass Animals
This band has such a unique sound and I really don't even know if they can be pigeonholed into a certain genre. I like their first album slightly more than their new sophomore effort -- but I can still listen to it on repeat. Other favorite songs: "Toes," "Cocoa Hooves."

X Ambassadors
"VHS" is a great album that I could listen to over and over. Bonus: Colleen Hoover mentioned the band in her book "November 9." Other favorite songs: "Gorgeous," "Renegades."

We saw Hozier in concert at a small outdoor venue last year and it was such an awesome, intimate show. I was surprised how humble and un-famous he seemed. I love his first album and I hope he puts out another one soon! Everyone probably knows "Take Me To Church" (which is not exactly about the joys of going to church), but the rest of his music is beautiful too. Other favorite songs: "Jackie and Wilson," "Arsonist's Lullaby."

Twenty One Pilots
Another band I'm not quite sure how to put into a genre... alternative? I love their newest album, "Blurryface." Other favorite songs: "Heathens," "Polarize."

Blake Shelton
I like so many different country artists, but Blake Shelton is someone whose music I consistently love (although, incidentally, I don't like his newest song). One of my favorite songs of all time is the hilarious "Ol' Red," about a bloodhound and a prison break, recorded all the way back in 2001. Blake has come a long way since then -- I'd say he might be the most famous male country musician right now, probably thanks to "The Voice" (which I don't watch, but which I know is crazy popular). Bonus: The song below mentions my homestate of Colorado, so it gets a couple extra points! Other favorite songs: "Boys 'Round Here," "Honey Bee."

I've liked Adele since 2008 when I first heard "Chasing Pavements" and she just keeps putting out awesome music. Other favorite songs: "Set Fire to the Rain," "Rumour Has It."

Flume is a newer like for me, and he's not even a singer, he's an electronic musician who often mixes in the vocals of other artists. Unlike the others on this list, I don't like everything he's ever done, but I do consistently love his top-40 tracks. Other favorite songs: "Say It," "Never Be Like You."

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Musings

Raindrops on our plumeria tree last Tuesday.

My week: It was a pretty quiet week here. I think the most interesting thing I did was go to Bath and Body Works and pick out some fall-scented hand soaps! Also, after using the same shampoo and conditioner for over 10 years, I bought something new this week, Coconut Curls by OGX. I haven't been so excited to wash my hair in a long time!

Reading: I thoroughly enjoyed Emily Giffin's latest, "First Comes Love" (review), and then breezed through "All the Light We Cannot See," Anthony Doerr's beautiful WWII story. I'd been meaning to read it since it first came out two years ago, and I'm so glad I finally did. (Yay for crossing another book off my rather long must-read-in-2016 list!) Though completely different, both books were impossible to put down!

Last night I read the first few pages of an advance copy of "The Other Einstein" by Marie Benedict, a novel about Albert Einstein's first wife, also a physicist, that comes out next month. (Isn't that cover eye-catching? Also... what a crazy coincidence that "All the Light" has the same cover font!) I'm hoping it's a quick read because I have seven (seven!) books ready to pick up at the library.

Knitting: I'm chugging along on my Earnest Cardigan! I had a rather humongous disaster with some mis-crossed cables, but I'm back on track now. You can see a progress picture from last week here.

Watching: I've been watching a delightful BBC period drama, "Lark Rise to Candleford," while working on my sweater. It's set in 1880s England, in the hamlet of Lark Rise and the market town of Candleford, separated by about 8 miles. Our charming main character, Laura, grew up in Lark Rise and then headed to Candleford to work at the post office. It's a pretty idyllic show, almost a little twee, but it's grown on me quickly! I love the characters, and the show does cover interesting themes at times, like strife between economic classes, politics and forbidden love. It's easy and enjoyable, and it's been absolutely perfect to watch while knitting. (Also, it's based on a semi-autobiographical book series by Flora Thompson.)

Listening to: "Kids" by OneRepublic.

Eating: We tried a new recipe this week that I'd say is a keeper, chili mac from Damn Delicious. If you haven't checked out this awesome food blog, you should! I think we've liked every recipe we've tried so far. (Her Swedish meatballs are a favorite and I make her ranch baby carrots as a side dish all the time.)

Looking forward to: Jarrod has been working some insane hours and I feel like I've hardly seen him at all in the last week. I'm so ready for his schedule to get back to some semblance of normalcy! Ah, the joys of being a military spouse... I'm also looking forward to putting out some fall decorations. I'm excited to unpack the pumpkins I made out of old books last year!

I'm linking up with Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

"The Magicians" by Lev Grossman
First published in 2009
402 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Short Of It:
I enjoyed this book about a secret university for magicians, but not quite as much as I expected to. I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure if I'll continue the series.

The Long Of It:
I've seen "The Magicians" described as Harry Potter for adults over and over again, and while the connection is obvious -- both are about secret schools of magic, a group of friends, and magic manipulated for dark purposes -- "The Magicians" lacks a lot of the things that make Harry Potter special.

Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy is for college-age students, and apparently with age vanishes all the whimsy of a school for magicians. There's no cozy atmosphere, no pumpkin pasties or mail delivery owls, and in their place is a crew of competitive, jaded, moody teenagers who drink to excess and ponder existential questions like the key to happiness in this miserable world.

Brooklynite Quentin is our main character, and we follow him as he excels at Brakebills, graduates, pines for meaning even as he plows ahead with a completely hedonistic lifestyle in Manhattan, and as he finally finds that adventure he's been waiting for his whole life -- which just so happens to take him to another land filled with talking animals (including bunnies!), horse-drawn carriages, mythical beings, and one corrupted man bent on taking it all over.

One of the reasons I didn't find the book to be as engrossing as I'd hoped is that I felt like it focused too much on the wrong things. Instead of Quentin philosophizing and whining incessantly about his life lacking purpose and happiness, I'd rather have had more worldbuilding: I wanted to know more about Brakebills and how magic is taught there; what kind of magic, magical implements and magical creatures exist; what kind of magical government is there? Instead of trailing after Quentin & Co. drinking and screwing their way through NYC, I'd rather have spent more time getting acquainted with the magical land of Fillory. That point goes hand-in-hand with Grossman's writing, which started off strong but was often a bit wordy and tangential. I actually skimmed from time to time.

Despite my gripes, I did enjoy this book. It was creative and interesting (can you imagine living for months as a goose?), and it was nice to read a magical fantasy involving pseudo-realistic characters. And, though it was a bit over the top, I also liked the "adult" element: bad language, sex, drinking, drugs, intelligent conversations, general malaise with the idea of adulting. I'm not sure if I'll continue the series (though I do admit that I'm curious about where Grossman takes the story) but I am glad I finally read "The Magicians." I'd recommend it -- just maybe not so much as a "Harry Potter" equivalent for grown-ups. I think I would've enjoyed it more if I hadn't gone in with that expectation.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review: First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

"First Comes Love" by Emily Giffin
First published in 2016
380 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

The Short Of It:
After the slight flop of "The One & Only," Emily Giffin is back in top form as a premiere writer of women's fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

The Long Of It:
Emily Giffin is a master at writing addicting, heartfelt, relatable stories with characters who are far from perfect but ultimately likable and easy to root for. It's hard not to see a little of myself in every Emily Giffin protagonist.

Her latest novel is a tale of two sisters, Josie and Meredith, whose already complicated relationship was strained even further after a terrible tragedy -- the death of their beloved older brother -- rocked their family when they were teenagers. Now they're all grown up -- and they could hardly be more different.

Josie is a first-grade teacher, a free-spirit and a lover of good times who can sometimes come off as selfish. Thirty-eight and husbandless, what she wants most in the world is a baby. Meanwhile Meredith is a type-A lawyer with a wonderful husband and an adorable 4-year-old daughter. But her seemingly perfect life is fraught with unhappiness: her marriage is on the rocks, she sometimes gets frustrated with motherhood, her job is ridiculously demanding. Neither feels fulfilled and each secretly envies aspects of her sister's life, though they would never admit as much. With the 15-year anniversary of their brother's death -- which has so greatly affected both their lives -- looming, their tenuous relationship seems to be barreling toward a make-or-break point.

As usual, Giffin tackles with ease the topics that are relevant to her readers: things like marriage, motherhood, adult friendships, dating, work, family -- and the joys and difficulties that come with each. So much about this novel works. Giffin's writing is easy to read and it just flows -- this was one of those books that had me constantly saying, "Just one more chapter!" And I loved that the chapters alternated between Josie's and Meredith's narration, often mentioning the same event in each, which made me think about how easily miscommunication and misunderstandings happen, and how differently two people can view the same situation. You'll be cheering for both Josie and Meredith to discover what's missing from their lives, to make up, to really see each other, to overcome the issues they've been carrying for 15 years, to be happy.

If you haven't read Emily Giffin before, this is a good book to start with. I hope you'll fall in love with her realistic characters and her insightful writing just as I have.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Book Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

"Sleeping Giants" by Sylvain Neuvel
First published in 2016
Book 1 in the Themis Files series
304 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

The Short Of It:

Totally not what I expected, but I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the second installment in the series.

The Long Of It:
For some reason I had it in mind that "Sleeping Giants" would be long and complicated and heavy on the science fiction (aliens, in this case), but it really wasn't any of those things.

Told entirely in interviews conducted by a nameless (but powerful!) showrunner, as well as mission reports and journal entries, it's an incredibly easy and fast-paced read, and though it's 300 pages there's so much spacing that in actuality it's probably more like 2/3 of that. And the aliens themselves are really not in play at all -- though I imagine that'll come in future books.

"Sleeping Giants" is instead about the discovery of an ancient alien contraption left on Earth -- a giant metal female form, separated into pieces and buried deep underground across the planet 5,000 years ago -- and the process of uncovering its mysteries, which involves a somewhat volatile conglomeration of scientific, military and government powers.

The main characters are a physicist, two military helicopter pilots, a geneticist and a linguist -- not to mention the mysterious unidentified man keeping track of them all, definitely the most interesting character of the bunch. In addition to unearthing and learning how to work the extraterrestrial metal giant, the novel deals with relationships and personality conflicts, ethics and conspiracies. What is seen as an amazing discovery by some is seen as an amazing -- and very dangerous -- weapon by others.

The plot kept me engaged and the writing was decent, though not anything to write home about. "Sleeping Giants" was a quick and easy read that left me wanting more, and I'll definitely be picking up the second book when it comes out next year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Yarn Along: "First Comes Love" and Earnest Cardigan

yarn along 091416

Reading: I'm a little over halfway done with Emily Giffin's latest book, "First Comes Love," which is told in alternate chapters narrated by adults sisters who have a pretty tenuous relationship. They could hardly be more different: one is a type-A lawyer and mother in an unhappy marriage and the other is a fun-loving, free-spirited first-grade teacher who dreams of having a baby but is missing the husband component. Both have a lot going on in their lives, and -- completely unbeknownst to each other -- both envy parts of their sister's. Meanwhile, the fifteenth anniversary of a terrible tragedy that drastically changed their family is looming -- and Meredith and Josie seem to be rapidly barreling toward the make or break point in their sisterhood.

I don't read a ton of women's fiction anymore, but Emily Giffin has stuck with me as I've put some other chick-lit authors by the wayside. She just has a knack for writing addicting, heartfelt stories and imperfect, flawed, lovable characters.

Knitting: We have arm holes! I split off the sleeve stitches on my Earnest Cardigan yesterday, which is major progress considering I was re-starting the whole thing just over a week ago. Jarrod has been working some insane hours, so I've had a lot of extra free time to work on it.

I decided I needed a show to watch while knitting and after browsing Amazon Prime I started "Lark Rise to Candleford," an older BBC/PBS period drama set in the 1800s. It's a bit twee and quaint, but it's great to watch while knitting because it doesn't require my full attention. And the main character works at the town's little post office, which I love as I've got a bit of an obsession with mail. (P.S. I often checked in and out DVDs of the show when I worked at the library in Ohio and was always a bit confused by the title, but FYI, Lark Rise and Candleford are two villages in the English countryside separated by a few miles. The protagonist has grown up in rural Lark Rise, but her parents send her to bustling -- by comparison -- Candleford to work with her aunt at the post office. Also, it's based on a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels by Flora Thompson!)

Enjoying: A Starbucks salted caramel mocha and a yummy guava-cream cheese pastry thingy. They were having a promotion for $1 pastries and I was powerless to resist. I'm glad the fall drinks are back -- I love salted caramel mochas, I like pumpkin spice lattes, and I'm intrigued by the new chile mochas.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My 12 Favorite Memoirs

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is about the best of the best: our favorite books in the genre of our choosing -- and what a tough thing to narrow down! After much debate and list-making, I veered toward non-fiction, and from there I decided to go with memoirs.

These books are all wonderfully written accounts of personal experience. Some are funny, some are serious. Some are written by well-known people, some aren't. But they are all fantastic reads and I highly recommend them! (These books are all great in their own way, and they're in no particular order.)

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
This is not only one of my favorite memoirs, it's one of the most memorable books I've ever read. It's full of quirky, hilarious adventures and anecdotes, and I still don't think I've yet to laugh out loud reading a book as much as I did this one. Lawson's second book, "Furiously Happy," was wonderful too. (review)
Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him by Luis Carlos Montalvan
As a dog lover and military spouse, I knew I had to read this book the moment I saw it -- but it's a great memoir for every kind of reader. It's well-written and heartwarming, and it has a lot to teach about both the brilliance of service dogs (and the mechanics of linking up a service dog with a human) and the horrors of PTSD. (review)

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
This book, which details Doughty's surprising decision to take a job in the funeral industry in her twenties, has completely stuck with me in the years since I read it. It answers all your morbid curiosity questions about dead bodies, but Doughty brings up more serious issues too, like the history of the death industry, how different cultures deal with death differently, how our society has become so distanced from death, and the emerging trend of natural burials. (review)
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Well, I didn't mean to put two books about death next to each other, but here we are. "When Breath Becomes Air" couldn't be more different from "Smoke." It's a very poignant, elegant memoir written by a brilliant neurosurgeon/neuroscientist who, at just 36, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. It's about what makes life meaningful, and about dying with grace, but it's also an interesting look at Paul's quest to become the best physician he could be. One of the best books I've read this year. (review)

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson has a talent for educating his readers while making them chuckle, and I'm gradually working my way through his work. So far "A Walk in the Woods" has been my favorite. I love the mountains and hiking, and I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson's humorous account of his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with an overweight and somewhat bumbling pal. (P.S. The book is way better than the movie.) (review)
The Daily Coyote: A Story of Love, Survival and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming by Shreve Stockton
"The Daily Coyote" is about a twentysomething city girl who winds up in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming, seeking a change and some direction for her life. She gets all that and more when she adopts an orphaned coyote pup. The book, a chronicle of Charlie the coyote's first year of life and the author's first year in Wyoming, is worth reading for the amazing photographs of Charlie alone!

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Written in the form of a letter to his teenage son, Coates's book deals with the issue of race in America through the lenses of current events, history, and his own experiences as a black boy growing up in Baltimore and a student at Howard University. It's a quick, fascinating and important read -- and it couldn't be more timely.
My Life in France by Julia Child
Julia Child's memoir is one favorite books of all time. I didn't know anything more about Julia than what I learned watching the movie "Julie and Julia" when I picked up her book on a total whim years ago when Borders was going out of business. What an amazing surprise -- it's about food, it's about travel, it's about France, it's about love. This is a must-read for any Francophile or foodie. (review)

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
This book is about Josh's struggle with Tourette's -- as well as his adventures as a reference librarian and a strongman. It's a funny, heartfelt, honest look at a fascinating person finding his way in life. (review)
Poor Your Soul by Mira Ptacin
Ptacin's memoir is a brutally raw, honest look at an unexpected pregnancy that turned into an unimaginably difficult decision when Mira and her husband learned their baby wouldn't survive outside the womb. Mira's story is interspersed with glimpses of her childhood and her mother, who also had to deal with the loss of a child. It's about grief, love, family and moving on -- but what I liked most was how open Mira was in her lovely writing. I felt like I had known her for years after I closed the back cover. (review)

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
I just read this book a few weeks ago, but I know it'll stay with me for a while. It's an inside look at what it was like to grow up (in horrible conditions) in a Mormon polygamist colony, where Ruth was just one of over 40 full- and half-siblings. At 15, she escaped with her three younger sisters. It was written from the perspective of Ruth as child, a technique that definitely works here as Ruth gradually comes to observe the world around her. (review)
A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
I thought it was incredibly brave of Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold, to write this book; I can't even imagine how difficult it would be to rehash the worst time of your life -- the day your son and his friend murdered 14 people and the horrific years that followed -- and serve it up to the public. But Sue had a purpose in writing down her story, and that's to promote mental health and suicide awareness. This was an intriguing read with an important message. (review)
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