Thursday, May 29, 2014

Meant to Be Mine.

Becky Wade has become one of my favorite authors in the Christian fiction genre lately. Back in March, I read her debut novel, My Stubborn Heart, and absolutely loved it. I read her second book, Undeniably Yours, earlier this month and really enjoyed it, too.

So of course I was excited about her latest release, Meant to Be Mine. I didn't really know what the book was about until I received a copy and read the back...I just knew that it was somehow connected with Undeniably Yours, because they're listed as part of the same series on Goodreads. It turns out that the main male character in the new book is the younger brother of the main guy in Undeniably Yours. (I'm really hoping this means that Jake's story is coming next?)

First of all, I have to say that this story might not be what you'd usually expect from this genre. It starts off with a spontaneous wedding in Las Vegas and involves a "secret baby" plotline, but I don't want to spoil anything so I won't say much else about that. (That information is included on the back cover, so I don't feel like I'm giving anything away.)

I love Becky Wade's writing style. It just seems so realistic. Her characters often think or speak in ways that I feel are really natural, instead of having that stilted or awkward feeling that sometimes happens in contemporaries. And though she's not overly descriptive, one of the things that I've noticed (with all of her novels) is that I can clearly picture the settings and characters and exactly what's going on. (There's a house in my area that I always pictured in my head as the house they're renovating in My Stubborn Heart. Every time I drive past it, it reminds me of that book, which is nice. :)

I really liked Celia as a character. She was likable and I could definitely understand her motivations for her actions and all of the reservations and mistrust she had during most of the story. The bedtime stories that she told Addie cracked me up. :) Speaking of Addie, she was adorable. Ty, on the other hand...well, it took me a while to warm up to him. He doesn't exactly start off in the most positive light! And since I had just read about his brother Bo, who's such a nice guy, it made Ty's flaws seem even more noticeable. By the end of the book, though, I had come to appreciate Ty. (One thing I did love right from the beginning is the fact that he's a bull rider. Random fact: I used to love to watch bullriding, and when I was younger, my family went to a PBR event every year. We even went to a few local bullriding events.)

The pace of this book felt a little slower and more relaxed than with Wade's first two books. I guess that's because there's a sort of deadline in both of those, but here it's just about the lives and relationships of the characters. Of course, I don't mind a slower plot in the least.

I really enjoyed Meant to Be Mine. I was honestly expecting it to be a little similar to Undeniably Yours (a Texas-style love story), but it was so different. I still think Becky Wade's first book is my favorite of her three so far, but this one cemented my love for her stories. I'll continue to read whatever she writes...and keep my fingers crossed that the third Porter brother's story is coming soon. :) And what about Dru? I'd like to hear her story, too...

*Note: I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.*

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks.

So I'm finally getting around to writing this post. :) When I first watched Saving Mr. Banks, over a month ago now (maybe closer to two), I was so engrossed in it that I didn't jot down any notes for a blog post. It was the sort of movie that I knew I needed to watch again before I tried to figure out how I felt about it. I watched it again last week, so here are my very rambling thoughts.

From the very first time I heard about this movie, I figured it would be one that I would like. I'm a huge Disney fan, and I love the era of the 60s. I like the Mary Poppins film well enough, and I love the original book (I have the first three, but so far I've only read the first one). Saving Mr. Banks was, in one way, exactly what I was expecting, and in another way, a lot more. Because of all of the back story of P.L. Travers' life, I feel like this movie will appeal to more people that I expected it to. So many more people will appreciate this movie than just Disney fans.

This film is really beautiful. The cinematography is gorgeous and there are so many stunning shots. I love all of the little details, like the retro Disney logo at the beginning. I noticed so many more of the details (and more funny little lines) when I watched it for a second time.

The casting is also amazing. I'm an Emma Thompson fan...I've seen her in nearly ten movies so far and I love that she can play so many different roles. I loved watching her as P.L. Travers, who isn't the most likable character, especially at the beginning. But somehow Emma Thompson makes us sympathize with her. I also like Tom Hanks (how could I not, with You've Got Mail being one of my favorite movies?). I haven't read enough about Walt Disney as a person to know how accurately Tom Hanks played him, but from what I understand, they tried to make the role as realistic as possible. (I do own a thick Disney biography that I should probably read at some point...) This portrayal of Walt Disney makes me think of him as sort of a gentle bulldozer. Ha, if that makes sense. What I mean is: he was driven and got what he wanted, first by trying politeness. But if that didn't work, he could be firm. Like in the movie when he tricks Ms. Travers into going to Disneyland and then tries to get her to ride the carousel. First, he tries hinting around and persuasion, but finally he gets frustrated and says, "Get on the horse, Pamela."

It was nice seeing Ruth Wilson in something other than my favorite adaptation of Jane Eyre. :) I loved Paul Giamatti as Ralph, Ms. Travers' driver. Their friendship was one of my favorite aspects of the film. I guess Colin Farrell was good as the father, but honestly, I didn't have as much sympathy for him as I think the filmmakers wanted me to have. He was so cheerful and likable at the beginning (though there is foreshadowing with him drinking on the train ride), but he spirals downward so quickly. I had hard time feeling sorry for him...I just wanted him to man up and be a better father and husband.

The soundtrack was lovely...the mix of 60s-sounding stuff and pretty scores and versions of the songs from Mary Poppins worked really well together. And I have to say, while I really like the Mary Poppins film soundtrack, I wouldn't consider it an absolute favorite. There are a lot of Disney soundtracks that I like much better. But I loved the songs so much more in this casual format than I do in the MP film itself. I loved the scenes with the Sherman Brothers at the piano and the brainstorming sessions and even the one at night when Walt comes in and listens and sings. For so reason, the songs seemed so much more charming to me that way. (And I loved the guys who played the Sherman Brothers. I'm a bit fascinated with that songwriting duo, so I'm glad they had such a prominent part in this movie.)

I have mixed feelings about the historical accuracy of Saving Mr. Banks. Part of me wishes that it was more historically accurate. But of course, I am a sucker for happy endings. P.L. Travers is such a prickly person that I don't know if I could have handled her being that way through the entire film! I feel like we needed the happy ending and the turnaround in her opinion for us to truly enjoy this movie. the historical context, I do hate that Disney ignored her two conditions: no animation and no original songs (she wanted to use popular songs from the time period of her stories). I think it's a shame that authors have so little control over film adaptations of their work, whether we're talking modern Hollywood or 1960s Hollywood. Like I've said, I do like the Mary Poppins film, but I love the book so much more. It's charming and more subtle and I actually like the cross, slightly conceited, un-Disneyfied version of Mary Poppins. So even though I respect Walt Disney, I'm biased towards P.L. Travers' side of this debate.

My only other issue with the film was sometimes it felt like they overdid the father angle. I do think that Travers' back story adds a different layer to the movie. But at times, the flashbacks felt too heavy-handed. It was like they were trying to emphasize the connections between her childhood and present day, just case we didn't get it. The connections were pretty obvious, so it felt a little over the top.

One of my favorite scenes was when she goes into her hotel room to find it full of Disney memorabilia and stuffed animals. And when she puts the giant Mickey plushie in the corner- ha! :) I love that. And of course, being the sentimental sap that I am, I get all teary in the "Let's Go Fly a Kite" scene, just like the filmmakers wanted me to. That's also true of the red carpet premiere scene at the end.

I also love the credits, with the real photos behind the scenes of the Mary Poppins film and premiere. And I loved the snippet of audio from the real P.L. Travers! I liked seeing how they incorporated that into the film. I read that Emma Thompson listened to all of the original tapes in preparation for her role, which amounted to something like 39 hours of audio. Wow. (By the way, I think she compared the experience with being poked in the ear with a fork. Ha. :)

I did love Saving Mr. Banks, just like I thought I would. It's a fascinating peek into Disney history and overall just a really enjoyable movie. :)
Have you seen Saving Mr. Banks? Do you prefer the Mary Poppins film or book?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Confessions of a bookworm.

Last week, Rissi did a fun bookish quiz on her blog. She invited anyone to participate, and I loved reading her answers so I thought I would join in, too. :)
What are your top three book pet hates?
1. Ugly covers. I own my fair share of ugly covers, but I keep them because they're my only copies (and I bought them because they were cheap or the only option) or for sentimental reasons. I really, really love pretty book covers. Also, mismatching series covers bug me. (I'm looking at you, Across the Universe trilogy!)
2. Profanity. I know I've probably said this a million times, but bad language is one of my biggest pet peeves. I don't think it's ever really necessary in books (I don't care how "realistic" it is), and I wish I had some magic machine that would automatically eliminate certain words in books before I read them...I know I'd enjoy some books a whole lot more. :)
3. Awkwardly written dialogue. Though I'm not criticizing anyone, because I'm no writer and I feel like it would be really difficult to write natural-sounding dialogue!
Describe your perfect reading spot.
It would be a big, cozy chair. I mean, like a huge that's big enough to curl up in. (No, I don't possess such a chair.) Or maybe a cushioned front porch swing. I used to love to read on the wooden swing at my grandma's house, but unfortunately it wasn't very comfortable, no matter how many pillows I tried to use. :)

Tell us three bookish confessions.
1. I hate to leave books unfinished. Even if I'm really disliking a book, I will still try to plow through and force myself to finish it. I like to think that I'm positive and want to give a book a chance to improve, but mostly I'm just stubborn. (Exceptions are when a book is super long and doesn't have much hope of improving. I would have given up on The Casual Vacancy a hundred pages in if it hadn't been written by J.K. Rowling.) I know, I is too short to read books you don't like! I need to remember that. :)
2. I hate the idea of e-readers, and I'll never own one. I'm obsessed with physical books. I want to actually own a book and have it sitting on my shelves...I don't want my books and reading to depend on an electronic device having a full battery or Internet access. (And once again, I'm stubborn. And old-fashioned.) I dislike buying anything digitally, really. Even when I buy music like that, I burn it to a real CD so I won't lose it. I like to have something tangible, you know?

3. I love middle grade books (aka, books written specifically for ages approx. 9-12). Really love them. There's something really special and different about them that's almost impossible to find in other books. I don't care how much I older I am than the target audience for these books...I'll still keep reading them. :)

When was the last time you cried during a book?

I know I cried through the last few chapters of My Stubborn Heart, by Becky Wade, when I read it a couple of months ago. But I think I also cried at the end of Blue Skies Tomorrow, by Sarah Sundin? If so, then that's the most recent one. :)

How many books are on your bedside table?

Nine. My bedside table is actually my desk, and I have a stack of books on it. I'm currently reading Meant to Be Mine. (I'm technically also reading the Jane Austen devotional, though not regularly because I keep forgetting about it. And the book below it, though I haven't picked that one up in months...) The rest of the stack consists of books that I'm hoping to read or reread soon.

What is your favorite snack while reading?
I don't really snack while reading! If anything, it's probably something dry and not messy like Goldfish or Wheat Thins. :)
Name three books you would recommend to everyone.
1. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. I'm stealing this one from Rissi, but these are my favorite books and I believe everyone should read them! :)
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This book is amazing and I feel like it's really accessible, even for people who don't read many classics (because it's a modern classic).
3. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. This series is one of those rare ones that's worth every bit of the hype. I honestly can't imagine anyone not enjoying these books! There's something for everyone: adventure, mystery, humor, romance (in the later books), etc.
Show us a picture of your favorite bookshelf on your bookcase.
It's hard to pick a favorite! I'll just go with this one, which is the top shelf in my second "fiction bookcase." I chose this one because it includes so many books I love: the Chronicles of Narnia, my Gail Carson Levine books (she's the author of one of my childhood favorites, Ella Enchanted), A Snicker of Magic (which isn't shown in this picture because it's on my desk to be reread- see above), the Sarah Plain and Tall series, The Giver series, Beauty, the Wildwood trilogy (third book is also in the stack on my desk), and Cinder (the rest of the Lunar Chronicles continues onto the next shelf).
So many lovely books that are conveniently on the same shelf! :) My shelves are organized in alphabetical order by the author's name, by the way. {And I'm hoping to do a video bookshelf tour sometime this summer. We'll see!}

Write how much books mean to you in just three words.

That's impossible- I can't communicate how much I love books in just three words! :)

What is your biggest reading secret?

I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a "bad" secret (like a confession) or a good one. Either way, I'm having a hard time thinking of a secret. :)

If we're talking about a confession: thick books are really intimidating to me. I'm not especially drawn to thin books, but I have a comfort zone from about 250-350 pages. Anything longer than that, and I get a little nervous. :) I'm usually fine after I get started with a thick book, but it's just the initial thought of it that's intimidating.
If we're talking about a good secret, though this isn't really a secret: I always take a book with me. Honestly, the only place I can think of that I go without taking along a book is church. :) It seems practical to me, because you never know when you might get stuck waiting somewhere, with nothing to do. So why not bring along a book? 
What about you? What are your bookish confessions? Feel free to answer any of these in the comments or on your blog. :)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Currently (works in progress and things).

Last week and the week before, I was full of ideas for posts. You could probably tell, because for a while there I was posting every day or every other day. :) But apparently I went overboard and drained all of my blogging ideas at once.

Since I'm short on ideas at the moment (though there should be a movie review coming soon), I thought I would share my works in progress and other things I'm doing...

Spinning: I'm spinning that beautiful Polwarth fiber from Spun Right Round into what will hopefully be my first real Navajo plied yarn. At the moment I'm still spinning it straight through into a long single. Yes, that yarn on my bobbin and the fiber in the first photo are the same...I'm just in a long section of browns and blue-grays right now. Those two tiny green skeins are my practice attempts at Navajo plying. It's harder than I expected!

Knitting: I'm on another pair of plain socks. I've finished the first one and I'm nearly at the heel on the second one. This yarn stubbornly shows up as bright blue in pictures, but in real life it's more purple than blue. (I worked on these so much while watching Dancing with the Stars lately that they will be forever known in my mind as the "Maks finally won!" socks, ha. Seriously, though, I was so, so happy that Meryl and Maks won this season. They deserved it...Maks especially. Also, they are ridiculously adorable together.) I finished knitting a hat out of this handspun! I don't have any pictures yet, but here's a sneak peek. (Speaking of no photos, I still haven't shared the sweater I knit back in March! It's just hard to get motivated to take pictures in a wool sweater when the temperature is in the 80s.)

Reading: Meant to Be Mine, by Becky Wade. I'm really enjoying it so far. I got this one to review, so you can expect to see that review in the next week or so.

Watching: I've been slowly and steadily working my way through Doctor Who again. The first time through, I got them through Netflix and was so intent on finding out what happened next that I didn't get to watch hardly any of the DW Confidential features. So this time I'm watching every special feature (except commentaries...I'll watch them some other time). I only have a couple episodes of series six left. I'm not sure what I'll start watching again after I finish Doctor Who. Probably either Sherlock or Lark Rise to Candleford. :)

Listening to: The Avett Brothers (as usual). She & Him. And the Backstreet Boys. (It's a slippery slope, you guys. I hadn't listened to them in ten years, but all it took was one time and now I'm hooked again. It's so bad and so cheesy, but I just can't help myself.)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Aristocats {1970}

{Animated Disney Film #20 of 53}

Somehow, despite the fact that I've basically been a cat lover my whole life, I managed to make it through my childhood without ever watching The Aristocats. At least I don't think I had watched the entire film until this past week. Certain scenes were familiar to me, but I think it's just because I've seen clips of them elsewhere. (The whole, "You're not a lady. You're nothing but a sister!" bit and the boy kitten spitting like an "alley cat.")

Well, I've seen it now and I love it. :) During this Disney marathon, I've been hoping that I would stumble across an older classic that I had never seen before, and that it would become a favorite...and now that's finally happened!

There's just so much to like about The Aristocats. I like to think of it as a mix of 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp, except for cat people rather than dog people (though there are dogs in this movie...more on that later). It's got the "nefarious plot against beloved pets" aspect of 101 Dalmatians and from Lady and the Tramp, it borrows the "male character from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with classy female character" plotline.

Also, it's set in Paris. So you get lots of elegant Parisian street backgrounds that feature the Eiffel Tower, plus pretty French countrysides. Not to mention all of the classic accordion music (why is it that we associate accordion music with the streets of Paris? I've always wondered that).

The animation has that familiar look...kind of sketchy around the edges, like with Madame's hair. The plot was pretty good. It wasn't anything special, but Disney movies aren't particularly known for their stellar plots, are they? I'll have to say that I was not expecting the butler to be the bad guy! He seemed so nice at the very beginning.

I really liked the geese sisters. :) They were hilarious. I didn't find the music to be especially memorable in this movie, except for, of course, Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat. I thought I remembered that song being really upbeat, so when it was slow (well, as slow as a jazz song can be) at the beginning, I kept thinking, I must be remembering this wrong. But then everything broke loose and the piano was dropping through the floors of the house. :)

There were lots of familiar voices in this one. Eva Gabor as Duchess the cat, and then Phil Harris as Thomas O'Malley. Having just watched The Jungle Book, I really had a hard time thinking of him as anyone other than Baloo. :) Sterling Holloway is there, too, of course, as the mouse. But the most surprising for me were the voices of the two dogs. I instantly recognized the first voice as one of the dogs from The Fox and the Hound. But when I heard the other one...I was like, Goober? Goober Pyle?? Yes, it's true. George Lindsey, aka Goober from The Andy Griffith Show, is the voice of one of the hounds in this movie. I loved that. It was such a nice surprise! :)

So...yes. I really, really enjoyed The Aristocats. It was charming and funny and had lots of little details that I appreciated. I'm so glad I finally watched this movie! I'll definitely be adding it to my Disney collection at some point.

Up next on the list is another one I haven't seen before: Robin Hood.

Do you like The Aristocats? Are you a cat person or a dog person? :)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

My summer reading list.

I don't know that I've ever made a summer reading list before now. That's probably because summer isn't a big deal to me. I basically spend June through September wishing that it was fall. My family doesn't go to the beach or the lake, and we don't have a pool anymore. Summers in Virginia are hot, humid, and sticky, and you can hardly walk across the yard without getting ticks on you. Yeah, I'm not a fan of summer, to say the least. :)

So, in an effort to give myself something to look forward to over the next few months, I've made a summer reading list. Because books make me happy.


Wildwood trilogy, by Colin Meloy. I've read the first two of these, and I recently got the third one. But it's been over a year since I read the second book, so I'm thinking I might read the whole series over again. And possibly do a trilogy review here?

Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. I am itching for a HP series reread. I usually get that way during the summer. It's a big time commitment, but I'm feeling so nostalgic for the series right now. :)

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. I've only ever read the first Anne book, and I feel terrible about that! I want to finally read the series this summer. (And after I make it through the series, if I have the extra money, I really want to trade in my ugly thrift store copies for these editions. They are gorgeous.)

The Montmaray Jounals, by Michelle Cooper. I own all three of these, and Ruth gave them rave reviews, so I'm excited about reading them. :)

Travel Stories (so I can live vicariously through people)

Wanderlove, by Kirsten Hubbard. A novel about a teenage girl traveling in Central America. I usually go for Europe-ish travel stories, so this should be something different.

Paris, My Sweet, by Amy Thomas. Paris and desserts? Yes.

All Roads Lead to Austen, by Amy Elizabeth Smith. Jane Austen and travel! It doesn't get much better than that.

Paris In Love, by Eloisa James. I kind of love memoirs set in Paris.

Books With Summer in the Title (because it seems appropriate)

Barefoot Summer, by Denise Hunter. I've heard good things about this one!

Summer of the Gypsy Moths, by Sara Pennypacker. This is a middle grade with one slightly dark aspect to the plot. It sounds good, though. I think I remember Natalie recommending it on her blog once?

Here to Stay, by Melissa Tagg. I'm so excited to read this book. :)

Meant to Be Mine, by Becky Wade. I'm currently reading the first book in this series, so I'm anxious to get to the sequel.

Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale. I guess this could have fit under the travel category, because I'm assuming the main character isn't English...

Any Sarah Dessen book. It seems like every girl except me has read at least one Sarah Dessen book. She writes contemporary YA, and I'm curious to see if she's as good as everyone says! I own three of hers that I picked up at a thrift store a while back. I think I'll try to read The Truth about Forever first, but I also own This Lullaby and Dreamland.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton. This book is so gorgeous, and after I read the first few pages of it at Target, I had to bring it home. Plus, Madison, a booktuber whose videos I really enjoy, loved it.

Cress, by Marissa Meyer. I'm so excited to read this book.

Going Solo, by Roald Dahl. I seem to always read at least one of Dahl's books each summer. These are his memoirs from his time in the service...sort of like a sequel to Boy.

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. This book seems like it would be a good summer read. Maybe because it takes place near the sea (I think? The Hitchcock film did, anyway).

Child Star, by Shirley Temple. I own a lot of unread biographies and autobiographies, and it would be nice to get one read this summer.

Emma, by Jane Austen. This is the next of Austen's works in my reread list.

This list is ambitious, I know. Especially with all of those series. I probably won't read nearly all of these books, but it's nice to have a general idea of what I'd like to read over these next few (hot) months! :)

What are you hoping to read this summer?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mountain stream handspun.

This is my first color experiment since I finished that wonderful Craftsy class. Instead of diving in to Navajo plying (which I've never done before, and the thought of it makes me a little nervous), I decided to try fractal spinning first.

To do that, I split the fiber in half lengthwise. Then I split one of those halves into about eight equal smaller sections. I spun the smaller sections in succession (always putting the yellow end first) to one bobbin. Then I predrafted the second half just a little (to make it easier to spin finer yarn), spun it to second bobbin, and then plied the two singles together. This is supposed to result in stripes, but more subtle stripes with areas of mingled color in between. {More about fractal spinning here.}

I started with this fiber because honestly, I liked it a bit less than the other fiber I bought at the festival last month. But oh my goodness...I am so happy with how it turned out! It was hard to get photos that showed the true colors. I feel like, in real life, the darker blues are more teal instead of TARDIS blue. In the photos it looks like it's a really similar shade to my last handspun, but it's not.

{I didn't intend for this yarn to be DW inspired, but honestly the colors do remind me of Van Gogh's Starry Night painting. Which, of course, reminds me of one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes: Vincent and the Doctor.}

This wool is from Finn sheep, which I had never used before. It didn't fluff up a lot when I soaked it (like Corriedale tends to), but it still feels pretty bouncy because I added more twist while plying than I usually do.

Even though I love the colors, the thing I'm most proud about with this yarn is that it's fingering weight! I seemed stuck in a worsted weight spinning zone, and I thought I would never, ever be able to spin fingering weight yarn. While spinning this, I thought it looked finer than usual (it turns out that worsted style makes it way easier to spin thinner than woolen style), but I didn't want to get my hopes up. But when I measured, I was so surprised! This is so exciting to me because it means that, theoretically, I could spin yarn for socks! (Once I get some fiber with nylon in it, that is.) I've been wanting to do that for quite a while. Now I feel like I can be a little more versatile with my spinning.

As you can see, I've already caked this yarn up and I think it'll become a hat soon. I need more hats. (Says the person who hasn't yet decided if she's a hat person.) And I think I'll attempt Navajo plying with my next spinning project. I'll just have to practice on some scrap fiber first, because I've heard it can take a while to get used to. :)

For more info and to see pictures of the fiber and singles before they became this yarn, see the project page.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Black cherry hitchhiker.

Hitchhiker is one of those really popular knitting patterns that has like 14,000 finished projects listed on Ravelry. I never really had any desire to knit it...until I bought a particularly gorgeous skein of sock yarn and just couldn't bring myself to make socks out of it (I couldn't bear to think of it developing holes). I looked around for a good pattern, and I finally came back to Hitchhiker. (The fact that Bethany was doing the same thing with pretty sock yarn probably had something to do with it, too...)

It was such an easy pattern, and I love that you can basically keep going until you run out of yarn. My skein was 462 yards, so I knew it would be a bit smaller than the pattern states, but I'm surprised at how big it turned out. It seems like the yarn went a lot further this way than it would have in a pair of socks! The original yardage will result in 42 of those little points, and I ended up with 39 points and less than ten yards of yarn left. (I also went up a needle size to 4. I like that this made the fabric less dense, but my reason for going up a size was purely practical: that's the smallest size circular I own.)

I love how it turned out. I love how subtle it looks from a distance but when you get close, you can see all of the wonderful colors. I'm not a fan of pink, but when it's with black and purples? Yeah...I can do that.

This is a pattern I can definitely see myself knitting again. I love the end result, and there's something really soothing about endless rows of squishy garter stitch. :)

{As usual, more details on my project page.}

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Heart's Pursuit.

When it comes to Christian novels, historical fiction is my comfort zone. Lately I've been branching out a bit more into contemporary (and loving it!), but to be honest, I love a good prairie romance or mail order bride story. Go ahead...laugh if you must. :)

I recently had the chance to read and review Robin Lee Hatcher's latest novel, The Heart's Pursuit. I've often come across the author's name while browsing books in this genre, but this is the first of her novels that I've read. Between the pretty cover and the interesting synopsis, I knew this book would fit nicely into my historical fiction comfort zone.

I enjoyed The Heart's Pursuit. The "bounty hunter" aspect of the plot was unusual and something that I'd never read before. The story was very readable and there was enough action to keep me turning the pages. There was nothing wrong with this book. It's just that I came away from it feeling slightly disappointed. I guess my main issue was that I just wanted more. The book is pretty short (around 300 pages) and the font seemed a little large. I wanted things to be fleshed out more. More excitement and romance and time devoted to the characters. We get to learn the basic back story of both Silver and Jared, but I still felt like I didn't know them at all. The dialogue between the main characters and their inner thoughts were too brief and generic. The two of them are alone on a journey for the majority of the book, and that sounds like the perfect opportunity for us to get to know them really well...but unfortunately that didn't happen for me. Also, certain aspects of the plot were very predictable and I thought the characters should have figured out things more quickly than they did. And while there's lots of action in parts of the story, one of the most important scenes in the book felt very anticlimactic.

Like I said, I did enjoy this book. It just felt much too short and lacking in the details that make a story unforgettable.
"A Colorado beauty abandoned at the altar. A rugged bounty hunter haunted by his past. In this dramatic historical novel by best-selling author Robin Lee Hatcher, two wounded hearts join forces in a pursuit across the Old West. Silver Matlock is a Colorado beauty in search of revenge against the man who stranded her at the altar and fled with the remnant of her family's fortune. She is determined to find the man who betrayed her trust. Jared Newman, rugged as the West itself, is relentless in his pursuit of lawless men---but unable to escape his own tragic past. Hardened by his life as a bounty hunter, he must learn to forgive before he loses his soul. Joining forces, the two set out in search of Silver's betrayer. The handsome but embittered Jared finds himself powerfully drawn to the beautiful woman whose drive for justice equals his own. But lack of honesty keeps Silver and Jared from fully trusting each other, even as a shocking revelation intensifies their pursuit of the cunning - and deadly - quarry."

*Note: I received this book for free from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.*

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pretty book spines.

I'm a sucker for gorgeous book covers, but lately I've been paying special attention to book spines. These are some of my favorite spines of books that I own...they're all really appealing to me, whether it's because of the colors or the typography or how the design carries on from the cover. Depending on how books are displayed, the spine and title could be more influential in drawing your attention than the cover.

What are some of your favorite book spines?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Death by the Book.

Over the past year or two, I've become a little obsessed with mysteries. Between falling in love with BBC's Sherlock, watching the series from the 80s starring Jeremy Brett, and slowly growing my collection of Agatha Christie novels, I've learned that I love a good murder mystery. (Strictly fictional ones, though. I have zero interest in those shows about grisly true crimes. I like to sleep at night, thank you very much.)

I read Julianna Deering's book Rules of Murder at the very end of last year. I enjoyed it a lot, though I didn't absolutely love it like most people seemed to. There were a few things about it that didn't quite click with me, though I can't really explain why. Still, I was excited to pick up the second book in the Drew Farthering series: Death by the Book.

(First of all, can I just mention how awesome these covers are, in their vintagey, coordinating goodness? They look so neat next to each other on the shelf. :)

I actually enjoyed Death by the Book a lot more than the first book! The beginning was a little slow (which is ironic because it opens with the first murder), but once I was drawn in, I flew through this book. I really liked the unusual mystery: several murders with apparently nothing in common but the fact that each victim has a hatpin pinned to their chest along with a mysterious message. (The messages turn out to be literary, which was a neat touch, I think.) I really had no idea how the mystery would be resolved until about fifty pages from the end, and then suddenly I had a sneaking suspicion. I rarely, if ever, guess the correct suspect, and my hunch this time seemed even more far-fetched than usual. But, amazingly, I was right! I'm still in shock. :)

As with the first book, I love the setting of 1930s England. I like Drew and Madeline's romance, though I did get a little frustrated with Madeline's inability to make a decision in this book. I loved the addition of her aunt Ruth. I've heard several people compare her with Violet (Maggie Smith) from Downton Abbey, and I think that comparison is fair...though Ruth seems to be a milder version. :) I do have to admit that I don't feel really emotionally connected to the characters, though. That's generally a big deal to me, but with mysteries I don't mind as much because I'm there mostly for the mystery. If I do happen to connect with the characters, then great. But it's not as much of a deal-breaker for me in mysteries as it is with other stories.

I also like how the author isn't preachy at all, but subtlety weaves Christianity into the plot. And considering that this is Christian fiction, but also a detective story, I'm pretty impressed that the author doesn't shy away from murders...multiple ones, in fact.

Aside from Madeline's indecisiveness and the fact that I sometimes had trouble keeping track of the many people connected to the victims, I was pleased with Death by the Book. I'm glad that this second book seemed to improve on the first one, and I can't wait to read the third book, which comes out in July! I really recommend these books to anyone who loves a good detective story, especially one reminiscent of golden age murder mysteries.

*Note: I received a copy of this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.*

Monday, May 5, 2014

TARDIS blue wrist-warmers.

These feel like the sort of wrist-warmers I would wear if I were traveling through time and space with the Doctor. :)

This is only the second project I've knitted from my handspun, which is something that needs to change really soon. I love knitting with just adds something even more personal and special to a knitted item. I feel like this yarn wasn't very consistent because I hadn't spun in several months, but I feel like the inconsistencies are hidden well in the finished mitts unless you look really closely. The color is also a lot darker than it looks here. It's almost the exact same shade of blue as this shawl.

I used this pattern, but made them a little less slouchy. I started out following the pattern exactly, but they were turning out huge. So I went down a needle size and cast on 56 stitches instead of 64, and now they fit perfectly.

As usual, more details on my project page here.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Jungle Book {1967}

{Animated Disney Film #19 of 53}

Today I'm going to be talking about The Jungle Book, which was the last animated Disney film that Walt Disney personally supervised...he died in 1966 during the production of the movie.

We owned this movie on VHS (that's how I watched it this time, too, since I haven't bought it on DVD yet), and I remember watching it a lot as a kid. It seems like my brother liked it, but I don't remember it being a favorite of mine. So I was curious to see what I would think about it now.

Well, I really loved it. :) It was even better than I remembered it being, honestly.

The Jungle Book feels different from your typical Disney films. I guess the biggest reason is because most of the previous films have an American or English feel...I mean, setting-wise. This one is set in India. So while there's definitely still an English influence (Rudyard Kipling was English, after all), it feels different somehow. Also, I think the animation style of the 60s is definitely a change from the earlier films.

This movie is just so much fun. You've got an animal story set in an Indian jungle, with jazz music and 60s pop culture references slipped in. I haven't read the book, by the way, but apparently this movie is not at all faithful to the book. According to several people connected with the film, including the writers, Walt Disney asked them to not read the book. He wanted to make it lighter and more fun instead of having the darker tone, and honestly, I like the direction they took.

The best part of The Jungle Book for me is the music. It's so random that they put jazz music in a jungle story, but I love it! It makes this movie feel firmly set in the era it was made: the 60s. The Bare Necessities was a song already written for an earlier vision of the story, but the Sherman Brothers wrote the rest of the songs. I never would have guessed that one song was written separately, because it fits in so well with the rest of the music. I love The Bare Necessities, but by far my favorite song from the movie is I Wan'na Be Like You. I have lines from that song stuck in my head all the time. :)

My other favorite part of the film, which ties in with the music, is the voice acting. While still using some of his usual voice actors (the always awesome Sterling Holloway as Kaa the python, for example), Disney also bought in several big personalities to do the major voices of the film. And even better, he let the characters be influenced by the real-life or on-screen personalities of the actors he used. Phil Harris was the inspiration and voice for Baloo the bear, and he improvised most of his lines. (P.S. I wasn't sure if there were wild bears native to India, but I looked it up and there really are!) Louis Prima did the voice of King Louie, and for his song,  they incorporated his trumpet playing and the way that members of his band would dance along in a line while playing their instruments. George Sanders, who often played suave, sophisticated villains, was the voice of Shere Khan, the smooth-talking but evil tiger. They even animated Shere Khan's face to look a little like George Sanders.

I think the voices are absolutely perfect! I love how they fit the personalities of the characters. I especially love the contrast between lazy, jazzy Baloo the bear and the prim and proper, serious Bagheera the panther (or Baggy, as Baloo likes to call him, ha).

The story is okay, but I feel like it probably wouldn't hold up as well without the amazing music and casting and characters. I don't love the end, feels sort of silly.

A couple of things that I never noticed before: the vultures are spoofs of the Beatles! When I was watching them, I was thinking...this was the 60s. The vultures have mop-top hair and accents. They have to be referencing the Beatles and the British Invasion. I had to look around online to make sure I wasn't imagining it, and it's true! Apparently at one time they were even trying to get the Beatles to do the voices of the vultures, but it ended up not working out. Also, I was somewhat surprised that Bagheera basically references the Bible towards the end ("Greater love hath no one than this, that he would lay down his life for his friend").

The Jungle Book is a pretty significant movie in the Disney animated canon, if only for the reason that it was the last one Walt was involved in. The Sword in the Stone hadn't done so well in theaters, and after Walt's death there was talk of shutting down the animation department. But this movie did so well that they didn't. And I say thank goodness for that! :)

But even more than being significant, it's just incredibly fun, with memorable songs and characters. I love and appreciate it now more than I did as a kid.

Next up on the list is one that I don't believe I've ever seen (or if I have, only parts of it): The Aristocats! :)

What do you think about The Jungle Book? Who's your favorite character? Have you ever read the book?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Thoughts on knitting (and spinning).

Warning: lots of random, rambling fibery thoughts in this post. :)

Ever since I went to the fiber festival, it seems like I've been even more obsessed with knitting and spinning than usual. I'm generally a one project person, as far as knitting goes. I like to work on something and have it finished in a reasonable amount of time, and then move on to something else. Tons of unfinished projects (knitting or otherwise) sitting around make me feel guilty and overwhelmed. Every once in a while I might have two projects going, if one of them is too complicated to take along with me in the if I do happen to be knitting on two things at once, it's probably a pair of socks and something else.

But all of a sudden, I just want to cast on everything. There are dozens of patterns that I need to knit now that I never realized I needed to knit before. :) Sweaters and gloves (and mittens and wrist-warmers) and socks and such. Never mind that I won't be able to wear any of these things for months, and that it's not exactly comfortable to be knitting heavy wool in your lap all summer long. I've never been good at the whole seasonal crafting thing...I seem to always knit sweaters and gloves when it's 90 degrees outside, and I sew t-shirts during the winter.

So far I've been able to resist pretty well. I'm only knitting on my Hitchhiker at the moment, though I'm getting ready to cast on for my next pair of socks as soon as I figure out how to adjust the size for my feet. My yarn is running low for the Hitchhiker, so I hope I'll finish it by the weekend. {Edit: I finished it last night!} I'm trying to use as much of the yarn as possible, without running out while I'm binding off. :)

I've been thinking about my knitting a lot lately, probably because I read one of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's books for the first time, and it was awesome and full of knitting stories and observations. So I've been thinking about how and why I knit and other knitterly things.

As much as I want to be a process crafter, I'm honestly a product-oriented one. Of course I like knitting, sewing, etc...I wouldn't do them if I didn't. But I generally make things because of the end result. If I have a really difficult time making something, I usually forget about how hard it was if I love the item when it's finished. Knitting my first sweater was hard. I couldn't get gauge and I had to start over or frog back so much, and it was incredibly frustrating. But in the end, even though the sweater is still too big, I'm so proud of it that I've practically forgotten how much I struggled with it. On the flip side, it doesn't matter how much I enjoyed making something: if the end result isn't at all what I wanted or expected, then I'm always a little devastated. To work so many hours on something and have it turn out wrong? Ugh.

Having said all of that, I think that after two and a half years, I finally enjoy the process of knitting. It took me long enough, huh? :) From the very beginning, there have been lots of things about knitting that I love: picking out pretty yarn, how the needles feel in my hands, browsing patterns on Ravelry and finding the perfect one, and of course, wearing the finished item. But the knitting itself stressed me out for a long time. I used to keep a death grip on my needles and sit hunched over my work, hardly daring to glance away from my stitches. I was such a tight knitter that I automatically went up a needles size on every project. I was awful at spotting mistakes, and even if I did see one, there was no way I could figure out how to fix it.

I'm still not the most intuitive knitter, but I'm a lot more relaxed. :) I think I've fallen into a rhythm with my knitting, and now it's soothing instead of stressful. It doesn't even bother me anymore that I'm a slow knitter. I knit English style, so I "throw" the yarn, but I don't use my index finger...I still do an exaggerated version by taking my hand off the right needle and wrapping the yarn around. I guess I do that because I basically learned to knit through YouTube videos, and that's how they show you to do stitches in slow motion when you're just beginning. I've tried to reteach myself to wrap the yarn around my index finger and use that, but I just can't seem to do it. The yarn slips off my finger. I know I could probably do it with practice, but I'm too impatient for that right now. It used to bother me that I knit so slowly, but now I actually appreciate it. I don't want to race through my projects without enjoying it. When I watch videos of speed knitters, it stresses me out because they work so fast! :)

By the way, I've also been obsessed with spinning lately, though I haven't actually been doing any of it since my last yarn. One of my goals this year was to take Felicia Lo's Craftsy class: Spinning Dyed Fibers. I've only spun one fiber before that was multi-colored, because I've always been nervous and unsure of how to spin colorful fiber without ruining it. After I bought some dyed fiber at the festival, I finally signed up and spent the last couple of weeks watching the videos.

I absolutely loved the class! It was very inspiring and informative. I learned so much...there are different ways of spinning colorful fiber that I never would have thought of! I feel like now I can choose what I want my yarn to look like instead of just blindly spinning it and hoping that it'll turn out okay. I loved seeing all of the samples made from different techniques: what the yarn looks like on the bobbin, in the skein, and knit into a swatch. I know I'll be watching through all of the videos at least once more, and there are a couple of lessons in particular that I'm sure I'll refer to over and over.

The Craftsy platform was really nice, too. This was the first full class I've ever taken on there (I did a free mini-class once), and I was pleasantly surprised. Even though we technically have high speed internet, we live in a rural area so it isn't super fast. But all of the videos were easy to watch...I occasionally would have to pause it and let it load a bit, like I do on YouTube, but there was a lot less pausing that I expected. I love that you can take notes and then refer back to the spot in the video where you took them, so you don't have to search through the videos looking for something specific. And it's neat that you can ask the instructor questions and talk with other students and post projects. Overall, I was really impressed and I highly recommend the class. (By the way, I used a discount link that I found here and got the class for $20 instead of $30. Also, sometimes Craftsy has flash sales where all of the classes are half price.)

Since I finished the class, I'm hoping to start spinning my new fiber soon. (I also just cleaned up my spinning wheel really well and oiled it for the first time. I know- I'm a terrible wheel owner!) And all of this fibery obsession inspired me to finally finish washing my raw fleece. Yes, the one that I bought last spring...

What are you knitting or spinning?