Tuesday, December 18, 2012

{read: light-hearted quest} Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This is a fun, light-hearted read about a genius architect who doesn't fit in with the in-crowd of moms at her daughter's school. Bernadette moved her family to Seattle after her husband took a job with Microsoft, but it's turned out to be a nightmare. She hates the city and its configuration of streets, the other moms ("gnats") at her daughter's school look down on her, and she soon runs into trouble after trying to outsource her life to an assistant in India, whom she asks to do everything from hiring a contractor to tear out her blackberry bushes to booking a cruise to Antarctica.

The plot is twisty, the tone is light, and this book is one of the best fun books (maybe THE best) I've read this year. I definitely recommend it! The movie rights have recently been sold, and I hope they do the book justice.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Little, Brown, 2012)
My rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

{read: mystery from the archives} Just One Look by Harlan Coben

If you're a Harlan Coben fan, you may have read this one years ago. If you're not, this is a good intro to a popular mystery author. I discovered it thanks to my mystery book club and found it to be tightly paced, if a little confusing. 

I admit I had trouble keeping track of all the characters and eventually went with a just-keep-reading-and-it-will-all-become-clear eventually approach. (I don't believe in keeping lists of characters if I'm reading for fun.) This strategy left me a little baffled at the end, but mostly I got it.

The story starts with a U.S. attorney meeting with a mafia hit man, who confesses to killing his sister years ago. The attorney thought his sister had died in an accidental dorm fire. Fast forward three months, and Grace Lawson's world begins to unravel when she picks up her roll of pictures (yes, some people still use real film and get pictures developed) and finds an old picture with several people, one of whom appears to be her husband. Then her husband disappears without a word after she shows him the picture. No one can be trusted, everyone who wants to help her has their own agendas, and Grace is thrown into a world she doesn't understand.

Some of the secondary characters, like the next-door neighbor and the paid assassin, are just as engrossing as the main characters (and perhaps more so). While female characters often end up being the victims, the women in this book take charge and don't wait around for things to happen. They assess the situation, make a plan, and get moving. Maybe that's why I liked it.

Just One Look by Harlan Coben (Signet, 2005)
My rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

{read: escaping the past} This Bright River by Patrick Somerville

A reader review on Amazon described this as both thrilling and boring, and I have to agree. While the prose is readable and drew me in quickly, the meandering story arc threatened to lose me in the middle.

Ben and Lauren barely knew each other in high school. Now they both have complicated, checkered pasts and have returned to the town where they went to high school as they try to move forward and embark upon the next chapters of their lives. One of many questions they wrestle with is whether their next steps will be together or apart. Yet the past, of course, is not really over and threatens to destroy the present.

After some drug- and alcohol-inducted rants in the middle of the book which nearly lost me in their length and reduced me to skimming, this book turns into a thriller before wrapping up on a softer note. The transitions in tone were a little jarring, although the thriller section did keep me turning the pages. The author also alternates first-person POV and nearly lost me the first time he did it. I suspect that was a criticism many others had offered, as after I had re-read the first few paragraphs of the chapter several times and finally gave up and read on in confusion, he noted the change of POV in parentheses.

For me, one of the most interesting things about the book was its setting in southeastern Wisconsin, where I live. That part was spot-on. I loved the mention of the apothecary with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle parked outside, as that could have happened in my small town.

This Bright River by Patrick Somerville (Reagan Arthur Books, 2011)
My rating: 3 stars

Friday, November 9, 2012

{read: World Book Night 2013} What's your favorite?

World Book Night announced its 2013 selections!

The selection seems more diverse than last year. It includes titles translated into Spanish, young adult books, memoirs, classics, and fiction. My favorite of those I've read on this list is City of Thieves by David Benioff.

What's your favorite?

You can sign up to give away books on April 23. Just go to http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/how-do-i-get-involved/apply-giver-us to get the application and guidelines.

Also, a small disclaimer: {th}ink's book reviews are on hold until December, thanks to National Novel Writing Month. Need a book fix before then? Follow @think_books on Twitter.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

{crafts} Etsy Treasury List

Are you familiar with Etsy? I have created a treasury list titled First Snow. Have a look, and if you are getting your first snow, I hope you are enjoying it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

{read: end of the world} The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

I'm usually not one for post-apocalyptic novels, so I previewed the beginning of The Dog Stars first before putting it on my TBR. The language on the first page drew me in, and I was hooked.

This story of Hig (Big Hig, if you want two names), his dog (Jasper), and his neighbor (Bangley). Hig and Bangley survived the flu that killed Hig's wife and most of the rest of the country, and they live at a small, deserted airport. Hig owns a Cessna and he and his dog, Jasper, make reconnaissance runs. During one of these runs, he hears a radio transmission and wonders if there is someone else out there. The trouble is that if this transmission is real, the person is outside the point of no return, or the distance that Hig can travel and have enough fuel to return. Yet one day he decides to take the chance, knowing he may never come back.

The language is beautiful, the story is compelling, and Hig is a character that you'll root for from the first page. This is one of my favorite books of 2012.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Knopf, 2012)
My rating: 5 stars

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

{read: the end of the world as we know it} The Age of Miracles

This story about the end of the world is more of a coming-of-age story that happens to be set in a time when the days on Earth are slowly getting longer, causing all sorts of other changes: There's not enough sunlight for the crops, the nights are so long that they get frigid, the tides roll in over the beachfront homes, the magnetic field of the Earth is changed, and the atmosphere lets the sun's radiation in.

I liked the contrast of the narrator growing up and encountering the normal adolescent challenges like falling in love at the same time that the earth is dying. In the post-apocalyptic category, this definitely trumps The Leftovers.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (Random House, 2012)
My rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

{read: coming of age, finally} The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D'Agostino

I enjoyed this story of Calvin Moretti, a 20-something guy with a college degree, tons of student debt, and no real plan for his life now that he's dropped out of graduate school. He's living at home, trying to figure out what to do with his life.

Yet aside from his own personal struggle, his family is faced with a series of challenges and he has to decide whether to step up and help them or opt out and save himself. Will the small amount of money he's saved up make a difference in the end? Is it important to make the gesture anyway? Will he be stuck forever at home? Should he try to make it on his own? Can he stand living at home for one more minute? He wrestles with all of these questions and more as events unfold around him.

I was afraid this would end up being whiny, but the narrator's voice ended up being mostly engaging and sometimes funny. The conversations and arguments around the dinner table and the description of some of the scenes with the mother and grandmother are hilarious. This is a great read that made me laugh out loud. Yet if the first line, "I work with retards," offends you, it's probably not for you. I was immediately drawn in.

The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D'Agostino (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2012)
My rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

{read: historical fiction} The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

This was another book on my fall TBR list, and I was eager to read it after hearing Chris speak about it on his book tour this summer. Pieces of it are autobiographical (he is Laura's brother) but the story itself, which revolves around the Armenian genocide that the Turks committed in WWI, is fictional. (It's not his grandparents' story that he's telling.) The genocide, however, is true, and it's amazing that we as a society have erased this from our collective conscience while we remember the Holocaust. The details of the genocide in the book are horrifying, but the storyline kept me turning the pages.

Some of the suspense was lost, however, because of the way the story was told. The reader knows from the beginning that Armen and Elizabeth both survive and get married, so the story is more about how they manage it. I thought the story would had more suspense if I hadn't known that, but it would have changed the entire structure of the plot, which is Laura (the granddaughter) investigating her grandparents' history. The book also felt a little stilted to me, pushing me away. Laura's sections are told in first person, but the sections about Armen and Elizabeth are in third person. Also, truth be told, I didn't find Laura to be that interesting as a character.

I think this is an important book to read because we should learn about the Armenian genocide and, for me, fiction is a more pleasant way to learn history than reading nonfiction. However, as a story, this was only average for me and didn't measure up to his previous work.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian (Doubleday, 2012)
My rating:  3 stars

Monday, October 8, 2012

{crafts} Halloween Balloons

Pumpkin Balloons from MarthaStewart.com

From felt fiends to sinister silhouettes, these handmade touches are sure to give your home an extra-spooky feel this Halloween. A gaggle of helium-filled jack-o'-lantern balloons hovers near the refreshment table. The simple features are drawn onto the inflated balloons with permanent marker; choose an assortment of geometric shapes that are easy to create freehand.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

{read: Danish thriller} The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

I was eagerly anticipating The Absent One after enjoying the first one in the Department Q series, The Keeper of Lost Causes, and it made my fall TBR list. While it was enjoyable, it wasn't the pageturner that I was anticipating. I felt like I was plodding through it, waiting for the action to pick up.

Carl, the new head of Department Q, returns from vacation to find that a case with a conviction has landed on his desk. This is odd because Department Q, located in the basement, was created to investigate cold cases, not ones that were already solved. But the more he and his trusty sidekick Assad investigate, the more they realize that all is not as it seems. On the personal side, Carl has his own problems to contend with — a shooting that left one of his colleagues dead and the other paralyzed from the neck down, and for which he feels guilty. To add more drama, Carl and Assad get a new colleague, Rose, who has feminist views, and Carl begins to realize that Assad has a complex past.

One complaint I had about this book, in addition to its pacing, is that a female character, Kimmie, is motivated by a vicious gang rape in her past.  This is a predictable plot device, and I expected more from Adler-Olsen.

All of that being said, I'll still read the next one in this series when it gets translated.

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dutton Adult, 2012)
My rating: 3 stars

Monday, October 1, 2012

{crafts} Marbling


Here is a tutorial with directions on marbling. You just need a special marbling paint to get started, but the results are fabulous. The original tutorial can be found at http://www.minieco.co.uk/i-marbling/.

saw these chocolate wrappers on Oh Joy ages ago and they completely changed my mind about marbling (I always used to think marbled paper looked a bit dull and assumed you needed loads of equipment).

It turns out it’s not so hard…and the results can be really colourful (Yay!).
- – – – – – – -
You will need:
// Marbling paint. I used Marabu Easy Marble (not a sponsored plug!)
// A tray (I used a recycled foil food container)
// Paper (make sure it fits inside your tray)
// Water
// Cocktail sticks (a twig will do!)
// White spirit for cleaning up (or cooking oil…see comments section below for details)
// Newspaper
// An old top or Apron
- – – – – – – -
1. Fill your foil container with some water….a few inches is fine. Then pop some drops of marbling paint onto the water. Limit your palette to three or four colours.
2. Give the water a swirl with a cocktail stick.
3. Shake a few more drops into the water if you fancy!
4. Once you are happy with the pattern gently lower your paper on top of the water and leave it for a few moments.
5. Then carefully lift the paper off the surface of the water.
6. Pop your design, face up, on some newspaper to dry.
- – – – – – – -
  • Use a scrap of cardboard to ‘scrape’ the top of the water in-between each go. That will get rid of any paint residue from your previous attempt.
  • I used coloured paper. Because of this, one of the marbling colours I chose was a transparent colour (crystal clear), that way you get to see the colour of the paper too.
  • If you are doing this with kids I would definitely recommend using some gloves and an apron…it gets a bit messy.
  • Have fun!! I found marbling incredibly relaxing so grab a bit pile of paper before you start…you will get through it.
  • When your paper has dried, press it under some heavy books to make it flatter & smoother! Make sure you sandwich it between greaseproof paper just in case it leaves a mark.
  • If you want some more inspiration then check out my Pinterest marbling board ^_^
  • This particular marbling paint is oil-based so you will need white spirit to clean up any spills.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

{read: mystery} And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

Many people love the bestselling mystery author Laura Lippman and this August release is supposed to be a great read, but I was disappointed. I was expecting a mystery, a thriller, and a twisty plot in this standalone book. What I got was details about how a suburban Baltimore madam runs her business that bogged down the plot to the point where I would characterize this book more as fiction than mystery.

There was an interesting back story that I found more compelling than the present-day story, and I wondered if Lippman had to weigh the present story down with inner workings of the business side of prostitution to give her enough time to tell us the back story, since she switches back and forth between the two storylines. If so, I wish she had found another way to fill those pages. The back story was compelling, and I wanted the current story to keep up. Despite the high-profile cases in the news about other suburban madams, these sections ended up being boring reading. Finally, the ending was predictable. All in all, this was not one that I'd recommend if you're looking for a compelling page-turner or even a mystery.

Full disclosure: I haven't read any of Lippman's Tess Monaghan books, so I don't know how this compares. I did read her standalone novel Life Sentences a few years ago and enjoyed it.

For those of you keeping track, this is the first one I've finished on my fall TBR list. So far, I'm 0-1 in good reads.

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, 2012)
My rating: 2.5 stars

Monday, September 24, 2012

{crafts} Washi Mural Tutorial

Have you ever wanted to decorate a wall, but weren't sure you wanted it to be permanent? Here is a great create a temporary, but colorful mural. This one is from How-Tuesday on Etsy.
Here’s a little tutorial on how to make a mural using only removable washi masking tape.
  • A variety of washi tapes
  • A blank wall
  • Scissors
  • Pencil and paper for designing
  • Cutting knife (optional)
Make a design. It may be wise to first draw a design on a small scale on paper, or maybe with very thin pencil lines on your wall. If you choose the latter, be careful: washi tape is transparent, so you may see the drawing underneath. Also, since the tape is removable, you can remove it easily from your wall when you don’t like the mural anymore, but this may be a lot harder with pencil lines. Of course, you can also do what I did: just get started without a plan, with lots of complaining, swearing and ripping misplaced tape from the wall until you finally get somewhere. I started with the big house image in the middle and then worked from there towards the sides.
Choose a style that works with the tape. Lucky for me, I happen to have a naive, childish and folkloric design style, but if you have a super baroque and detailed or extremely subtle design style, it is wise to realize that washi tapes have their limitations. It is hard to cut really detailed shapes from sticky pieces of tape (if you really want to cut something difficult, you can stick the tape to a piece of paper or a cutting mat first, cut it in the right shape, and then remove the paper again. Be careful — this may lessen the sticky strength of the tape, and you do need the tape to be sticky enough if you want the mural to last on your wall for some time).
Also, most tapes have great length but aren’t very wide, so if you want to create wide (solid) images, you have to assemble them from various pieces of tape, which gets complicated. Curly lines and shapes are possible, but require more precise cutting and pasting. Optimally, it’s best to use the characteristics of the tape, and work with straight lines and simple shapes.
Be ready to make a mess. Or maybe that’s just me… After some fanatical cutting and pasting, little sticky pieces of tape were literally everywhere: on the floor, under my shoes, in my hair, and even on my sweet baby’s neck. (I often worked on the mural in her room, sitting next to the bed where she was napping, and when she’d wake up, I had to take her out of bed with those sticky fingers!)
Finishing up. Once the mural is to your liking, rub the pieces of tape with your fingers so that they won’t come off the wall that easily (though with a bit of scratching you should still be able to remove the tape at any time).
Voila! Here’s your washi tape mural! I hope I’ve inspired some of you to use some of your washi tape in a creative splurge.
All photographs by Ninainvorm.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

{read: South African psychological mystery} Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer

The title of this book led me to expect a plot-drive, character-light, predictable mystery with a few twists and thrills. I couldn't have been more wrong. The characters were well-developed, and it was as much an exploration of why people behave as they do when they commit crimes as it is a police procedural.

Capt. Matt Joubert is still in bad shape two years after his wife, a vice cop, was killed in the line of duty. His work has suffered, and his new supervisor has laid down some clear expectations. Not only must his work improve, but he must also become healthier, losing the weight he's gained. He's also required to see a psychiatrist. Joubert complies, although not always happily, and in the meantime tries to solve a series of murders in which seemingly unconnected people are being shot point-blank. Could it be politically related? Are the Chinese involved? A series of bank robberies may be connected, and it's up to Joubert to untangle both cases while confronting his personal demons.

The style of this reminded me of the Scandanavian authors such as Jussi Adler-Olsen, and the exploration of the psychology behind the crimes reminded me of Irish author Tana French. If you like either of these writers, I'd recommend this book.

Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer (Little, Brown and Company, 2008)
My rating: 4 stars

Monday, September 17, 2012

{crafts} Googly Eye {Halloween} Frame

Googly Eye {Halloween} Frame

Here is a cute tutorial for a Halloween themed frame from A Diamond in the Stuff.

I just couldn't contain myself anymore....I am just SO in the mood for some "Fall" projects!!! I had this idea floating around in my head and just couldn't wait any longer to make it.

Wanna make a fun googly eyed Halloween frame too?

Gather your supplies:

-$1 Michael's picture frame
-Some lime green craft paint
-Lots and lots of googly eyes
-A couple embellishments (I used ribbon and chipboard letters)

I painted the picture frame with the craft paint and started gluing the google eyes on and glued some more eyes on.....and then glued even more on. This took quite awhile!

Once all the eyes were glued on...I took a breath...and then cut "EEK" out of some chipboard with my cricut. I painted the letters the same color as the frame. I decided to attach the letters to the frame with a sparkly black piece of ribbon. Of course I didn't have any glittery black ribbon so I just decoupaged some glitter onto some plain black ribbon.

Look at all that googly eye goodness!!!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

{a thought for Thursday} Magic

Those who don't believe in magic will never find it. — Roald Dahl, who would have turned 96 today

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

{read: hot fall books}

There's a lot of buzz over all the hot fall releases: new titles from Michael Chabon, J.K. Rowling, Barbara Kingsolver, and Junot Diaz. The shortlist of 6 titles for the Man Booker prize has also been announced. Yet my initial reaction when reading all of these lists was relief. None of these authors, none of these titles, none of these descriptions, grabbed me. After a summer filled with releases that I wanted to read as soon as they came out, this was almost a relief. Finally, time to catch up!

Here's what my fall TBR looks like:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (I know, I know - everyone's already read this one!)
The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen
And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

And here are two on my TBR that were released a while ago:
A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin (this series was my summer series, now extending into fall)
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (and it has such a great cover!)

What are you reading this fall?

Monday, September 10, 2012

{crafts} Glow-in-the-Dark Q-Tip Skeleton & Garland Tutorial

Are you hosting a Halloween party? Here is a great tutorial for a party decoration, that is cheap and easy to create. This tutorial can be found at http://www.thecraftycrow.net/halloween/.

Glow-in-the-Dark Q-Tip Skeleton & Garland Tutorial

The Crafty Crow q-tip skeleton garland 1

Glow-in-the-Dark Q-tip Skeleton Garland Tutorial 

The Crafty Crow q-tip skeleton supplies

handful of Q-tips
scrap of white cardstock
black permanent marker
glow-in-the-dark acrylic paint
paint brush
thick white glue
black felt
needle and thread 

The Crafty Crow q-tip skeleton
break Q-tips into bones for the skeleton

How to draw a skull 800
Draw and cut a skull from white cardstock;
click on the image above for directions on
how to draw a simple skull.

Paint your skull with the glow-in-the-dark paint
and let dry before adding the face details.

Paint your bones with glow-in-the-dark paint and let dry.

The Crafty Crow q-tip skeleton on felt
Cut felt rectangles large enough to hold the skeletons and
with at least two inches of space at the top if you are
going to make it into a garland.

Glue the skeleton and skull onto the felt and let dry.

To make a garland:
Fold over top edge of felt, about 1", and stitch with black
thread and a running stitch to create a channel
for the yarn.

Run the yarn through the felt channels and
your garland is ready to hang!

The Crafty Crow q-tip skeleton garland 2

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

{crafts} Heating Pad Tutorial

I made a heating pad out of rice years ago and used it over and over. My favorite time of year to use it was on cold winter days. Just pop it in the microwave and you have an instant source of warmth. It is also great for aches and pains! Here is a detailed tutorial from thegreenwife.com.

Heating Pad Tutorial

So this is a project that’s been in the back of my mind for months, but it took finding the perfect fabric to get motivated and get going on it.  When I laid my eyes on Amy Butler’s LOVE flannels, I knew it was time.  I chose this vibrant, yet soothing flannel and got busy.
See, there’s a particular day each month *ahem* that makes me yearn for a good, heavy heating pad, but by the time my body reminds me that I want it….well, I’m just too crabby to sew. ;)   This month, though, I’m prepared.
Gorgeous, right?  If only you could feel, smell and pet it.  It turns out that Amy Butler’s super-luxurious flannel + rice + lavender essential oils = heaven.  In case you were wondering.
I didn’t have the details for the heating pad worked out in my mind, but I find if I just start cutting fabric….it just all works out.  Usually.  This was one of those fortunate times and I’m thrilled that it only took my one shot to achieve the sectioned heating pad glory I was after.  I was nervous that I would fail at achieving the sectioned design that I was picturing in my mind, but I came up with a little trick that makes it super easy.
Ready to begin?  You know you want one!  I knocked this one out in under an hour while still in my pajamas this morning.
Cut two 19″ x 8″ rectangles of high quality flannel.  I bought 1/2 yard of this one and it’s enough to make 2 heating pads.
Serge (without cutting fabric) one of the short ends of each piece.  (I don’t like raw edges.)
Pin your pieces right sides together.
Serge 1/4″ along the two long sides and the other short end.  This short end will be the “bottom” of our project for tutorial purposes.
Then, on your open end (top) start sewing approximately 1″ from the side with a 1/4″ seam allowance.  Continue around the fabric until you return to the top edge and stop when you’re about 1″ into it again.  That makes very little sense, so here’s a pic:
Now you’re nice and reinforced.  We want this thing to be sturdy and never leak so much as a grain of rice!
Cut diagonally across all 4 corners without cutting into your seam.
Turn it right side out, make your corners nice and square, press it and topstitch along the edge.
Starting at the seamline at the bottom of your project, mark the pad into six 3″ sections using a chalk pencil.  My lines didn’t show up very clearly in the pictures, but you get the idea.
I think.
Put 4 1/2 cups of uncooked rice (or flax seed or whatever filler you prefer.  I like the weight of the rice. ) in a large zip baggie and throw in some of your favorite essential oils.  Shake!  Shake!  Shake!
Now, take 3/4 cup of your rice/oil mix and dump it into your heating pad.
My concern was how to contain the rice long enough to sew the barrier seam.  Hmmmmm…..A-HA!  A temporary barrier!  I pinned the rice back about 1/2″ away from my marked line leaving just enough room for the presser foot to pass by.
The problem with that was that it was a tad difficult doing it with the pad lying flat on the table (or my bed as you see in my pics. ;) )  So…..I hung it from my ironing board using my iron to weight it down.  Work with gravity, baby.
Stitch it up and repeat for all 6 sections.
After filling your final section, sew your barrier seam near the top edge and then the folds in and zigzag the very edge.
That’s the toughest part…and it’s not even so tough.  And…you’re done!
You’re final product will measure 18″ x 7″ which is ideal for abdominal cramps, sore lower back or tense neck.
It rolls up nicely to tuck into a bedside drawer.
And I’m pretty sure that my next project will be a cute little drawstring bag in a coordinating fabric.  Perfect for storage and for gift-giving. I’ll keep you posted on that project. :) EDIT:Drawstring Bag Tutorial has been added!
Stick it in the microwave for around 2 minutes.  Of course, this time varies from one microwave to the next.  Just be very careful not to overheat (it will stink and can hurt ‘cha!).
Also….you can store it in your freezer for cold therapy on an injure knee, back, etc…
So…there you have it.  Now get busy!